Chapter Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Summary: Wherein Madam Pomfrey disapproves, Draco doesn't exist, Millicent and Daphne gossip, Narcissa suspects nothing, Pansy extends an olive branch, and Harry is strange.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 17 - Askew
"Awake, are you?"
Why Madam Pomfrey sounded so disapproving was anyone's guess -- one would think that Draco had deliberately flown in the path of that Bludger. In any case, he could not speak to answer her -- the thought brought up a fresh wave of panic -- so he merely blinked and hoped that the tears had dried. Having a tantrum after that Hippogriff slashing had been well and good, but he'd been a child, then. Though from the look on Madam Pomfrey's face, Draco Malfoy was no less of a child now.
She waved her wand at him, her face still set in a displeased almost-scowl. At first, Draco didn't understand what she'd done, but then he noticed that he could feel the bed underneath him, the blanket over him. He worked his jaw and it obeyed: Draco could have wept again with relief. A Full Body-Bind, not... something worse. He moved to sit up, but Madam Pomfrey's scowl became fiercer suddenly. "Don't even think about it. I only removed it so you wouldn't panic."
"A bit late for that," said Draco dryly -- tried to, anyway. His voice was so hoarse that it sounded like rats scratching in a corner. He made no more movements, though. Whatever had happened to him must've been serious to necessitate a Full Body-Bind.
"You're right that it was serious. Your neck was broken!" She sniffed, and Draco forgot to kick himself for speaking his thoughts out loud. "I don't know why they let you children play at that horrible sport."
"I'm not a child," muttered Draco.
Abruptly, Madam Pomfrey's features softened. "Of course you aren't. I do have to put the Full Body-Bind back now, though--"
Draco was about to protest that he felt fine, but at that instant, pain flared in his back, radiating from the length of his spine outwards, like thin tendrils of fire reaching all the way to his fingertips. Just as instantly, the pain vanished, and Madam Pomfrey tucked her wand into her belt. She peered down at him, the scowl completely gone, now. "You almost died," she said. "You'll be in a great deal of pain while your spinal cord rights itself."
"Why do you need to use a Full-Body Bind?" asked Draco, surprised that he could still talk -- he no longer felt the rest of himself.
"Partial, now," she said, shaking her head. "The only pain relieving potion strong enough to help is forbidden for use on students."
"How long will it take for my spinal cord to... right itself?"
"At least a week."
So he hadn't dreamt that, then. "Will I--"
"No more questions," said Madam Pomfrey, and planted her fists on her hips. "You need to rest, and I have to write to your mother."
When Draco woke, his mother was sitting motionlessly by the side of the bed, her face etched with worry. He could turn his head, now, at the cost of painful echoes at the base of his neck. Still, being able to move even a little was better than not at all.
"When did you get here?" he asked, and she jumped a little.
"Not an hour ago," she said. "Are you feeling...?" She broke off and shrugged, rueful. "Of course you're not feeling all right. I'd like to get my hands on that whelp who did this to you--"
"It's Quidditch, Mother," muttered Draco. "Who was it, anyway?"
"One of the sixth-years. A boy."
Emmett Kinney was the boy Beater for the sixth-years. Draco realised he'd been hoping for Cornfoot. It would have given Millicent a reason to kick him off the team. He didn't know why he disliked Cornfoot, but it was certainly not because of Cornfoot's friendship with Smith or his views on the likes of Potter. Suddenly, he wanted to laugh. Here he was after nearly dying and still he thought about Potter. He hoped that Potter hadn't done anything as stupid as coming to visit him here. With Potter being what he was, the Hogwarts rumour mill would make all sorts of things out of that.
Draco's mother spent nearly all her time with him during the week that followed. Madam Pomfrey took the Body-Bind off only during meals and bathroom visits -- the first of those had been so painful that Draco thought death would have been a better alternative. By Wednesday, Draco felt well enough to demand that she take off the Body-Bind altogether. That earned him stern looks from both his mother and the matron, and then they began talking about him as though he weren't even there.
"He's always done this sort of thing," his mother said. "If he pretended to be ill, he'd moan and thrash about for hours, but even a hint of a real sniffle, and he insisted he was just fine."
"Both my sons were like that," said Madam Pomfrey, nodding. "I think the oldest still is, and he's a Mediwizard--"
A knock at the door interrupted their clucking -- Draco felt only vaguely guilty at thinking about his mother clucking -- and Madam Pomfrey strode over to admit Millicent and Daphne, both stretching out their necks to see over her shoulder. Millicent grinned at him, and Draco grinned back. Daphne eyed Narcissa and cast down her eyes immediately. With an inward wince, Draco remembered having told her that his mother didn't approve of her. Well, Daphne had sense enough not to bring up things like that in polite company. He hoped.
"Can we talk to him now, Madam Pomfrey?" Millicent asked in her best contrite tones. For all her effort, it sounded vaguely like a command. The matron exchanged glances with Narcissa and sighed. "Don't take too long," she said.
Draco's mother rose swiftly and smoothed the front of her robes. "I'll just leave you with your friends," she said. "I think I need to find something to eat, anyway."
"I'll take you down to the teachers' lounge," offered Madam Pomfrey. "You can have a meal there--"
They moved out of earshot, and the girls approached Draco's bed. Daphne took his mother's chair, and Millicent sat down on the neighbouring bed.
"Don't tell me," said Draco. "We lost the game."
Millicent shrugged, twisting her mouth. "Wasn't your fault. Bloody Kinney was too quick. I was at the other end of the pitch and couldn't do anything--"
"You mustn't blame yourself!" said Daphne quickly, and Draco gaped at the pair of them. Millicent blamed herself?
"I'm not," said Millicent, but she wouldn't meet Draco's eyes. "But he had no one to guard him--"
Daphne made a noise of frustration, and Draco suddenly had the feeling that they'd had this same conversation before. Not that he hadn't thought about blaming Millicent. She was a Beater, after all, and a Beater's job was to keep the Bludgers away from her teammates, but he didn't want to blame her. That, in itself, was strange -- for as long as Draco remembered, he had always insisted on finding someone to blame for whatever happened to him. But Millicent was a friend, and not the sort that could be bought.
Draco blinked at her. She was a friend, at that. How strange. All his life, he'd thought friendship an empty word. Crabbe and Goyle had been his friends, he supposed, but he'd felt no affection for them the way he did for Millicent. "If you must blame someone," he said, his voice somewhat gruff, "blame Cornfoot. He was closer. But I'd rather you didn't blame anybody. I had to talk my mother out of murdering Kinney as it is."
Millicent snorted. "He wanted to come with us today."
"He walks around with his head down and flinches every time you're mentioned," Daphne piped up.
Draco wanted to sit up, but couldn't. "Every time I'm mentioned? Who's talking about me?"
"Well, no one specific," said Daphne with a curious quirk of her eyebrow. "But it was a very dramatic fall."
Millicent shuddered. "You were lucky that Madam Pomfrey was near the bottom of the stands."
"Well, my luck had to kick in sooner or later," said Draco without humour. He'd never had much luck with anything he attempted, especially if Potter was involved.
Why was he thinking about Potter? He clamped down on the thoughts and cast about for a different subject. Yesterday, he'd let his mind wander and ended up with a stiff cock that was hard to miss even under the thick blanket. His mother had pretended not to notice, but Draco wasn't a fool.
"So," he said quickly, "How's Auror training coming along?"
Millicent groaned and rubbed the back of her neck. "You're lucky you aren't there. You'd think he's trying to train us up for a Triwizard Tournament."
"I'm sure he'll expect me to catch up," said Draco. He was suddenly not looking forward to being free of this bed.
"Speaking of catching up," said Daphne. "Slughorn's told me to catch you up on the classes we have together." There was a fiendish gleam in her eyes. "As your... lady friend," she added with a suppressed giggle. "Old Sluggy's behind the times."
"I'd expect he doesn't even know that Potter's gay," said Draco, and instantly clamped his jaw shut. Bloody Potter.
On Friday, Draco sat in his bed with the pillow propped up behind him, reading his Arithmancy textbook. It was his first day without the Body-Bind, and he was more than anxious to leave, but Madam Pomfrey had been adamant about making him stay the full week. Narcissa was at a social function of some sort and wouldn't return until the next day. When the door opened and he glanced over, he expected to see Millicent, Daphne, or Madam Pomfrey.
It was Pansy. She looked determined.
Draco raised an eyebrow. They'd maintained a cool, barely cordial distance from each other, and he saw no reason for her to be here. He knew from Daphne that Pansy was aware of Draco's "mother's" plans for his future -- his fabrication that he was not to marry for some time. Pansy Parkinson was not the sort to bother with a man who wouldn't promise her anything.
"Hi," said Pansy, stopping well short of the chair at his bedside.
"Hi," replied Draco, marking his place in the textbook with a thin strip of leather attached to the cover. "This is a surprise."
"Everyone else is in Hogsmeade," she said, and folded her arms under her breasts.
"Not your new friends, surely? They're in sixth year; they can't go to Hogsmeade whenever they like."
Pansy frowned. "They have a Transfiguration test on Monday."
Draco eyed her. He was beginning to get impatient. Pansy always did this when she wanted something from you: she wouldn't say anything outright. Instead, she would wait until you asked the right questions, so that it did not seem like she had volunteered the answers on her own. There had been a time when Draco had thought it endearing. Now it was just irritating, so he purposefully asked a question that would not give her an easy out. "Why didn't you go to Hogsmeade?"
Pansy opened her mouth to speak, and shut it. She had expected him to ask why she was here, no doubt. That would have led to another answer that demanded a counter-question, and so forth until even Draco would have believed that he'd sent for Pansy himself.
Pansy sighed and walked closer to sit down next to him. "We haven't spoken in months." She was right, in a way. They hadn't had a civil conversation in months, more like.
Nonetheless, Draco gave her a look. "Whose fault is that?" Two could play the question game.
Pansy sighed again, heavier this time. "It's possible that I was a bit... unreasonable."
Draco turned to stare at her. "That was quick."
Her rueful smirk told him she agreed. "I saw you fall," she said. She didn't add anything, but she didn't need to. I've missed you.
"Was the fall as dramatic as Daphne tells it?"
Pansy's mouth twisted a bit at mention of Daphne -- why, Draco couldn't imagine; the two of them had made their peace as soon as Draco broke up with Daphne -- but she smiled. "It would have been a memorable death."
Draco chuckled. "'Memorable' isn't the word I'd use for being splattered on the grass."
She poked at his shoulder. "Don't be so morbid."
"You're the one talking about memorable deaths," said Draco, laughing now.
He didn't feel the same affection for Pansy as he did for Millicent -- Draco never forgot so much as a slight, and Pansy had done more than slight him. But she had been a part of his life, once, back when things had been normal. Back when his wits hadn't been addled by Potter. And he had missed her, too, even if he hadn't realised it until now. Besides, Pansy had her uses, especially when it came to the rumour mill.
On Sunday, Madam Pomfrey proclaimed Draco ready to leave the hospital wing. He was to continue taking some vile concoction that would strengthen his spine further, but he was free to go. The first thing he did was walk his mother out to the school gates.
"Promise me you will be careful," said Narcissa, and reached to adjust his robe's collar. Draco gave her a sharp look, and she let her hands fall to her sides, shaking her head with an amused expression. "You have made it clear that you will not stop playing, and I suppose your father would disapprove if you did after a little fall..." Her voice dripped sarcasm, but she sighed and shook her head. Draco was grateful that she didn't start trying to convince him not to play Quidditch again. Women just didn't understand these things.
"I will be careful, Mother," said Draco.
There was a distant look in her eyes as she patted his shoulder. "Poppy told me that if we'd been Muggles, you would have died. And if you hadn't, by some miracle, you would have been paralysed for the rest of your life."
"It's a good job we aren't Muggles, then," said Draco, frowning. Muggles! What a preposterous idea. And his mother on first-name basis with the school matron. Just great.
"All right, then," she said, blinking as though fighting tears. "I'll see you at Christmas?"
"Yes, Mother." Draco waited, his heart racing. Any second now...
"Oh! I almost forgot. What do you want for Christmas?"
Yes. "A Pensieve." Narcissa's eyebrow went up, and Draco hastened to add, "a small one. For my studies."
She looked thoughtful. "I suppose you cannot use your father's Pensieve for that. It's a good thing you told me now. Those aren't found on every street corner--"
"I know." Did he ever.
After seeing his mother off, Draco made his way up to the common room. It was strange walking through the castle again; it felt like he'd been away for longer than a week. Nothing seemed different, but something had changed. Maybe he was just trying too hard not to think about seeing Potter again. Draco scowled and kicked at the floor, startling the painting of a prancing stallion with a cavalryman on his back. The stallion reared and galloped away, its rider shouting something incomprehensible that would probably make the Bloody Baron blush.
"So is it true that you were actually dead for a bit?" asked a voice next to him, and Draco very nearly leapt out of his skin.
He directed his scowl at Finnigan, for that was who had startled him. "I don't know. I don't remember being dead," he said. "But I do remember a bright, white light at the end of a dark tunnel." Finnigan's eyes widened, and Draco tried to hide his grin. "There was writing on the walls of the tunnel," he continued. "It said: 'tell Finnigan to stop asking stupid questions'."
Finnigan rolled his eyes. "Really witty," he said, without any edge to his voice. "But you're all better now?"
"We can't win without a Seeker," added Thomas, and Draco jumped again.
"This Seeker might end up dead if people keep sneaking up on him," he muttered, but Finnigan only laughed.
When they reached the common room, the first thing Draco saw was Potter, sprawled on the Gryffindor sofa in a pose just short of scandalous, one leg slung over the edge. A book lay open in front of him, but Potter wasn't reading; he was listening to something Ginny was saying.
Despite his best intentions, Draco felt like his breath had been knocked out of him. Potter glanced up, his eyes sweeping across the three of them. He nodded vaguely and turned back to Ginny.
Draco knew he should've felt gratified: nothing in Potter's behaviour had betrayed even a hint of what the two of them had been up to before Draco's fall. So why did his stomach twist so, and why did disappointment flood his chest?
Later that evening, Draco was preparing for bed when Potter walked into the dormitory. Draco straightened up, expecting... something, but Potter strode past him as though he weren't even there.
"Hi there, Malfoy, nice to see you again, so glad you're not dead," muttered Draco before he could stop himself.
Potter's shoulders seemed to stiffen, but he kept his back turned as he pulled his robes off. Draco studied the backs of Potter's legs, covered with coarse dark hair that should have repulsed him but didn't, and then looked away abruptly, realising he was staring. Why would he fret over Potter's lack of concern? It was better this way, really. Never mind that he'd been looking forward to...
To what, exactly? A tearful reunion? Don't be ridiculous.
Potter pulled on a pair of rumpled pyjama bottoms and climbed into his bed. Draco blinked at the curtains sliding shut, and shrugged. Potter seemed to have lost interest, and that was all to the good. He just wished he could stop bitter regret from nearly choking him as he stood there, staring at Potter's bed and wondering why.