Draco had read about it, a long time ago, in Hogwarts: a History,that the Hufflepuff common room had no password, nothing to forbid access to anyone regardless of house. Draco hadn't believed it though, no one could be that stupidly naive, not even those useless Hufflepuffs.
It wasn't until the other day when he had accidentally stumbled upon a crying Ravenclaw first year being comforted by Neville Longbotttom in the hallway that he had realized it was true. He had eavesdropped on the conversation, he would admit it, but it only made sense to do so, every scrap of information from Potter's roommate could be useful. Draco just knew that somehow Potter would get in his way; especially with Potter's insistence that Draco was a death-eater. He'd been lucky so far that everyone thought that Potter was simply paranoid and obsessive, no one actually believed that the Dark Lord would be interested in Draco; a mere sixth year student.
But he had stumbled upon that crying first year and listened to Longbottom comfort the quivering child; nearly the entire conversation was mindless comforting drivel. Something that Draco had no time for, had never had any time for, not that it had ever been offered to him. He was a Malfoy he was above such petty reassurances that everything would be okay, he was self-sufficient.
Still, when Longbottom had started talking about a place where anyone could go and have a friend, no questions asked, for however long they needed. A place where comfort was wordlessly offered to anyone that needed it, regardless of whether or not they asked for it, Draco listened a little more carefully.
It wasn't for himselfof course. He was a Malfoy; he didn't need such measly things like comfort or friends. He had his allies, and Crabbe and Goyle, but they were more tag-along bodyguards than anything else. Each of them were under orders from their fathers to both protect and spy on Draco in case it revealed any information that could help their fathers' dealings with his father. Many didn't think it but Crabbe and Goyle were probably the most cunning Slytherins in the entire school. They had played the dumb brute act for years, and played it well, to the point that no one, except for Draco himself, realized that they were actually highly intelligent and observant. So no he had no friends, but it wasn't as if he neededfriends.
When Longbottom mentioned the Hufflepuff common room, and told the Ravenclaw that there was no password, Draco was stunned. He had honestly never believed that the Hufflepuffs could be so dumb, they were honestly ripe for the plucking, anyone could come in and attack them at any time. Steal their things, lay traps. And they, what, believed that the magical powers of friendship and comfort would protect them and their possessions? Useless fools. But apparently Helga Hufflepuff had ordered an edict to last until the end of Hogwarts that the Hufflepuff common room would always remain password-free, would always be open to every student in Hogwarts, no matter the time, because she honestly believed that everybody needed a friend sometimes, and that that is what her house stood for. Loyalty, not just to each other, but to wizard-kind in general, loyalty meaning that they would always take care of anyone who needed it.
But Draco had no use for such things, he was above them.
But that did not stop him from listening carefully as Longbottom explained how to access the Hufflepuff common rooms, and assured the tearful child that if she were to ask any portrait or ghost in the castle, even the infamous Bloody Baron, they would direct the child there.
But it wasn't because he needed to know to seek comfort. He sneered, reassuring himself, it was simply that it never hurt to know information, and knowing that he could enter Hufflepuff at any time could only be useful. No one would think to look for him there, and he was sure he could find even more useful information in another house's common room.
Draco waited until the pair had wandered off before leaving the dark corner that he had been spying from. Longbottom's last words echoing in his head.
"There's a compulsion on the Hufflepuff common room, no one in the room can talk about what happens there unless all parties want it talked about. Hufflepuff herself created it so that everyone would feel comfortable going to her room and sharing. So no one can tell if you don't want them to."
Draco didn't need comfort, but he could question Hufflepuffs about anything and they wouldn't be able to tell others about what he'd asked, how perfect for gathering information, how terribly defenceless the Hufflepuffs were.
"No one can tell if you don't want them to."
"No one can tell."
Draco put it out of his mind for weeks; he didn't need some stupid Hufflepuff's comfort. He was fine. He was strong. He was a Malfoy.And the Dark Lord had favoured him and trusted him to complete this incredibly important task. He should be on top of the world; he was clearly the most important person in the school at this time. The Dark Lord had entrusted no others with this task, not even Snape.
But he could not repress the shudders that racked his body when he woke from another nightmare screaming and uncontrollably trembling.
Thank god for silencing charms.
The nightmare wasn't new; he'd been having them for months. Nightmares of failing to kill Dumbledore; of the Dark Lord punishing him and his family for his failure, or they were nightmares of him succeeding; of actually killing Dumbledore, of watching the life leave his face, of having to leave Hogwarts forever. This night had been particularly bad, it had been just yesterday that the cursed necklace had failed to reach his intended target and had instead hurt that annoying Gryffindor Chaser Katie Bell.
It was not that he liked her. He found her boisterous behaviour to be irritating and her loyalty to Potter was infuriating. But she was a Pureblood from a known neutral family. No one would be happy with her death, or even the close call that had resulted in her hospitalization. The Dark Lord would be angry with him for his failure.
And despite his dislike of the girl; her dead face had haunted his dreams that night.
He couldn't go on like this.
He sat up in the bed, bringing his knees close to his chest, resting his chin on his raised knees. He fought to control the tremors; it was several long minutes later that they finally stilled, although he could still feel his muscles clenched tightly, his stomach jumping nervously.
He knew that he needed to succeed in his mission, needed to kill Dumbledore, but he wouldn't win in a face-to-face battle. Dumbledore was too strong, too clever, too experienced, and too paranoid, despite his grandfatherly persona, for Draco to succeed even in a sneak attack.
God, he didn't know what to do. If only he had someone to help him brainstorm. But he couldn't go to any of the other Slytherins about this. It would make him look weak, and his weakness would be reported back to the Dark Lord.
He couldn't go to Snape. That would be worse in some ways. He didn't need his godfather helping him. The man's desperate attempts to work with him, help him, only made things worse. Draco was the one who had to kill Dumbledore notSnape. And the man's persistent attempts to help him only made things worse; if Snape had been given this task then Draco would not be plagued with these nightmares, with this fear and doubt. How dare Snape try to force his help on Draco when Snape should have been the one to do this in the first place and when Snape wouldn't be the one to suffer and die if Draco failed.
Oh of course Draco knew about the Unbreakable Vow that his mother had insisted that Snape take, but he DIDN'T BLEEDING CARE!
It was different! It was Snape poking his head in business that didn't concern him because his mother had thought Draco too weak to accomplish this task, and now Snape was only trying to help to save his own neck.
It didn't matter that that was the only reason that Draco was so determined to accomplish the task himself.
Of course it wasn't the only reason, Draco assured himself, he wanted to serve the Dark Lord, was proud to have been trusted with such an important task, and he had never sodding cared for that manipulative old coot.
But, god, this would be so much easier if he just had someone to help him. If he just had someone's shoulder to lean on when he thought that he wouldn't make it through another day of this worry and nervousness and all-consuming fear.
But he had no such person, no friends, not even an ally that he would trust with a secret. He was a Malfoyfor Merlin's sake. Malfoy's needed no friends, just allies and tools. They trusted no one with their secrets, because no matter how close an ally they always told. Always.
But, Merlin, what he would give to just have someone who he could talk to who would never tell, and then, almost against his will, a voice from weeks ago floated through his head.
"No one can tell if you don't want them to."
Draco spent all day ignoring that persistent voice, despite it running through his head in a continuous loop.
At almost eight o'clock at night Draco found himself leaving the common room. Just for a walk, mind you, he was certainly not going to the Den of the most useless students of the school. Perish the thought. It was filled with blood traitors, and half-bloods, and even mudbloods. He would never associate with such people.
Even still Draco's feet found themselves following a path, seemingly at random, but if he had thought about it he would have realized it was the exact path to the room that Longbottom had described so many weeks ago.
Draco found himself entering into the Hufflepuff common room almost without thought, brushing aside the tapestry of a badger that served as a door to their common room. Absently marvelling at how perfectly it blocked the sounds of the common room from reaching the hallway.
His first step into the common room was like entering into a wall of happy noise. How very different from the Slytherin common room he marvelled. However by the time he had taken his shaky third and fourth step into the common room the noise had died to be met with dead silence.
Every single freaking Hufflepuff in the room had stopped talking to stare at him. He stared back, not letting anything but disdain appear on his face, he continued slowly into the room.
This was a terrible idea.
Regally he sat himself on a nearly empty couch. Despite how terrible an idea this was he would not turn tell and run. He would conduct himself as a Malfoy should, turning tail now would just show that he was scared.
Slowly after many minutes the common room began to regain its noise, it felt stuttered and quieter than it probably should have been, but it was better than the absolute silence that had reigned for those excruciatingly long minutes.
It seemed like many minutes later that one small little Hufflepuff began to approach him, despite the fierce glower he had levelled at the room. He remembered the boy from the sorting, only because he had pulled a Longbottom and had tried to take the Sorting Hat with him after being sorted. The boy was a mudblood, he sneered to himself, but it appeared that the ignorance of the boy was the only reason that he dare approach him.
The boy cautiously sat himself beside Draco on the sofa.
It was many minutes later that Draco began to wonder how just having someone sit beside him could make him feel even a little less lonely.
The boy did not attempt conversation. He was grateful for that small mercy at least. Despite the compulsion in place on this room, Draco didn't trust that the Hufflepuff's would find a way to share any secrets that he had. He did not want this mudblood trying to pry what was wrong out of him.
Still, he wished, a little conversation might be nice. He couldn't even remember the mudblood's name, it would have been polite to introduce himself, but Draco was certainly not going to talk first, for fear that his fears would pour of him unadulterated.
It was nearly an hour later that the mudblood shifted, Draco marveled. He felt the small sweaty hand reach over and lightly grasp his hand. He stills at the contact. He had never had anyonehold his hand before. He's not sure how to react, eventually, after a noticeable pause; he turned his fiercest glare at the mudblood that had dared to soil him with his touch. He almost impassively watched the mudblood squirm under his glare, but the boy did not leave or let go of his hand.
After a long minute he turned his head, stilling his features again, disdain showing through but little else.
He had still not let go of the hand.
It was nearly an hour later that Draco realized the time, there was only ten minutes left until curfew ended. He would need to leave now if he hoped to return back to the common room before curfew was in place.
But for some reason he was loath to leave.
He stayed perfectly still for two more minutes.
As he braced himself to leave he squeezed the muggleborn's hand. Drawing some small measure of comfort from it, as small as it might be it was all he would be getting. Before letting go of the hand, rising, and directing his most terrifying glower on the child, to ensure that the boy would not speak of this night, but most especially not of Draco squeezing his hand.
Draco was notneedy and weak. He was most certainly not squeezing that boy's hands to comfort himself.
It was just...
A thank you.
Draco strode out of the Hufflepuff common room towards the Slytherin common room. Forcing himself to not look back.