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survival is a talent

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Not everyone has a soulmate. Perhaps one in ten people are born with the tell-tale soulmark, a black ring somewhere on their body.

That black ring is more permanent than any tattoo. It can’t be marred or moved by magic or muggle means, and will remain unchanged no matter the trauma done to it.

Until two soulmates touch.

Then it becomes something else entirely.

~

“Serpensortia!” Malfoy shouts, and a great black snake erupts from the end of his wand. The rest of the dueling club backs away from the platform, and the snake sways from side to side threateningly.

Malfoy is smirking at him like he’s won, and Harry isn’t going to stand for that. He confidentially walks forward, and the smirk slides from Malfoy’s face. The snake rears up against him, but he’s not worried.

“Are you trying to get killed, Potter?” Malfoy drawls, stalking forward. Quick as a serpent himself, he reaches out and grabs the snake just below the head. It thrashes in his grip, but is no longer able to bite anyone. “This is a poisonous snake, and I doubt anyone brought a bezor with them.”

Harry glares. He opens his mouth, and feels the beginning the snake’s language pass his lips, and this isn’t what he wants, what’s the point of insulting Malfoy if he can’t understand him –

Malfoy’s eyes widen. He slaps his hand over Harry’s mouth, “Potter, what the hell–”

He stops talking and his face pales. Harry has a horrible suspicion that he knows why. There’s a terrible burning sensation along his right hip, exactly where his soulmark is. Malfoy grimaces, and he presses his free hand against his own hip.

Soulmates always have their marks in the same place.

“Good show boys, good show!” Lockhart saws, edging forward nervously. “I’ll just vanquish that snake, shall I? Really, Mr. Malfoy, you shouldn’t have summoned such an awful beast.”

That snaps them out of it, and Malfoy takes a step back and away. He throws Lockhart a disgusted look, then points his wand at the snake, “Reditus.”

It vanishes just as it came. Lockhart’s shoulders slump in relief. “Oh, very good, Mr. Malfoy. Very good.”

Malfoy steps gracefully off the stage as if nothing has happened, as if Harry’s hip isn’t on fire, as if he doesn’t feels as if he’s just been branded. But he’s not about to grab Malfoy and demand an explanation in front of everyone, so he shuffles back over to his friends and hopes he doesn’t look like he’s about to sick, because that’s certainly how he feels.

“That was a fourth year summoning spell,” Hermione says, sounding a mix between impressed and jealous. “It wasn’t very sportsmanlike of him to use it.” She scowls and shakes her head so her bushy brown hair falls over her shoulders, nearly blending into her dark brown skin.

“Right,” Harry says weakly.

Both Ron and Hermione give him a strange look, but then Lockhart and Snape are calling a fifth year Hufflepuff onto the stage so their attention is pulled away from him.

~

Harry gets changed for the night in the bathroom, heart pounding. Where before he’d had a small black circle on the edge of his hip, he now has a flower about the length of his wand that starts just under his waist and brushes the top of his thigh. Thanks to the long hours Aunt Petunia forced him to spend in her garden, he recognizes it.

It’s an iris, a deep purple with a stripe of vibrant yellow down each petal. It’s gorgeous, the petals perfectly formed and more beautiful than any real iris he’s seen. He hadn’t know a flower could suggest arrogance until now. He has to swallow down the sudden burst of hysterical laughter, because he’s afraid if he starts he won’t be able to stop.

His soulmate is Draco Malfoy.

~

Harry’s not the only one with a soulmark in their year. Dean and Seamus are even soulmates. They’d found out before they were even sorted, and once they’d touched the black rings on the back of their calves had transformed into an oak and maple tree respectively. Lavender Brown had a soul mark, a black ring just below her wrist. He’d seen others, people flaunting them in the hopes that someone with a mark in the same place would see.

He’d never hid his mark, but he hadn’t flaunted it. It seems Malfoy hadn’t either. Harry hadn’t even known he’d had one.

~

The next day he’s walking back from another agonizing night helping Lockhart answer fan mail when someone grabs his arm and jerks him backwards into an abandoned classroom. He reaches for his wand, but before he can get it he turns around and sees it’s Malfoy. The door slams shut behind them and he demands, “Did you tell anyone?”

“No,” he says, and at least Malfoy isn’t ignoring him. Wait, no, he wants Malfoy to ignore him. Right? Maybe. “Did you?”

“Obviously not,” he says, running his hand through his hair. “What a bloody mess. Why couldn’t you have just taken my hand in first year? We would have known right then and there, but no, you just had to be difficult. Now look where we are!”

Indignation wells up inside him. “Oh, so this is my fault? Sorry, you’re the git who’s running around petrifying muggleborns, so this is definitely your fault.” He’s not a hundred percent certain what ‘this’ is, but he is certain that he’s not taking responsibility for it.

Malfoy scoffs, “Oh, that’s rich coming from you. You speak Parseltongue, Potter. If anyone’s the heir of Slytherin, it’s you.”

“I speak what?” he asks.

“Parseltongue,” Malfoy repeats. When Harry just keeps blinking at him, he says, “Snakes. You speak the language of snakes. Are you trying to lie to me right now? I heard you. You’re lucky I stopped you, otherwise half this school would be calling for your head about now.”

Harry stares at him for a long moment, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

After several long seconds spent pinching the bridge of his nose, Malfoy lays it all out for him – that Parseltongue is a trait of the line of Slytherin, that Voldemort could do it, that it’s considered a dark trait, and that if people find out he can do it, they’re definitely going to assume he’s the heir to Slytherin. “Aren’t you the heir?” Harry asks, mind whirling.

“Of course not! If I was descended from Slytherin, I wouldn’t be hiding it. All of the founders lines have died out, or, well, we thought they did. Clearly we were all wrong.”

He swallows, “So – I mean, I’m not doing this, I’m not hurting anyone. But if I speak Parseltongue, does that mean I am related to Slytherin?” Am I dark, he thinks but doesn’t say. The Dursleys have been telling him he was a horrible person his whole life. What if they were right?

For the first time some of the irritation drains out of Malfoy. “Don’t be stupid,” he says, but it’s the nicest he’s sounded all night. “You’re a Potter. It’s in your blood.”

“What are you talking about?” he asks. He’s getting tired of asking that question.

Malfoy grabs his hand and holds it up. His hand looks ghostly pale compared to Harry’s. “Britain has maybe a dozen species of snakes. India has over two hundred and fifty. Which wizards do you think developed the ability first? You have more of a claim to Parseltongue than either Salazar Slytherin or You-Know-Who.”

He almost sounds nice. Harry licks his lips and blurts, “Can I see your mark?”

Malfoy stiffens and pulls his hand away. Harry’s about to take it back when he says, “Only if I can see yours.”

“Sure,” he says, and winces when his voice comes out too high.

It seems to relax Malfoy though, who smirks at him before pushing his robe aside and tugging down the waistband of his pants.

There’s a cluster of three bright marigolds on his hip. One red, one orange, and one yellow. Harry wants to touch them, but that would be pushing his luck. Instead he does the same, allowing Malfoy to see the iris etched into his skin. The yellow stripe on the petals is the same yellow as the marigold on Malfoy’s hip.

“My parents have dragons on their arms,” Malfoy says, staring. Harry blinks. He hadn’t known Malfoy’s parents were soulmates. “It’s how I got my name.”

His name. Draco. Which Harry supposes he should start using, considering. “Are you going to tell them?”

“Absolutely not,” he says. pulling his pants back up. Harry does the same. “Trouble is brewing, and you’ve made your position very clear. Telling them you’re my soulmate will only make things harder for them.”

“So what?” Harry asks, stung. “We just pretend like nothing happened?”

“Precisely,” he nods, and Harry’s hands clench into fists. “We pretend like nothing has changed. We’re still enemies, and we still hate each other.”

“Fine,” he spits, trying to dredge up enough anger to cover his hurt. He reaches for the door, and he’d been so worried his soulmate wouldn’t want him, his whole life he’d gone back and forth between being grateful for his mark and being afraid of it, and now everything he feared is coming true.

Draco grabs the back of his robe, “Hold on! I said pretend, you idiot. Like it or not, we’re soulmates, and that matters. We pretend to be enemies, for both our sakes. But – but in private, like this, we don’t have to be. Not anymore. Not if you – not if you don’t want us to be.”

He turns back around, and it’s the first time Draco seems anything less than confident. There’s a flush high on his cheeks and his grip on Harry’s robe is a fist.

Draco’s a bastard. He’s arrogant, and rude, and he called Hermione a mudblood. He talks about the muggleborns getting petrified like it’s a good thing, and every time he opens his mouth talking about blood purity Harry has to resist the urge to shove his fist in his stupid smug face.

But he’s his soulmate. He can’t be all bad.

“Yeah,” he swallows, “I’d like that.” He hopes he isn’t making a mistake.

Draco gives him a tentative half smile, and Harry can’t help but return it.

~

Draco’s been on the edge of a panic attack ever since he felt that stabbing pain on his hip in front of everyone, but he feels almost calm now. There’s a plan, they have a plan, and he’s smart. He’s the smartest in their year besides Granger, and he still scores higher than her in practical magic. He can do this.

Then his soulmate proves that he’s deranged when he cocks his head to the side and asks, “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Draco attempts to ask, but before he gets a chance Potter – no, Harry bolts out of the room and runs down the hall.

He hesitates for a moment, then resigns himself to the fact that with any luck he’s going to spend the rest of his life running after his foolish, moronic Gryffindor soulmate and hurries after him. Harry’s pressing his ear against the wall, and Draco has a flashback to the last family reunion when he’d found Luna looking for something called nargles. Harry and his cousin are never allowed to meet. “You really can’t hear that?” Harry asks, and then he’s running again, once again not giving Draco an opportunity to answer.

Wonderful.

He follows after, and ends up running right into his back. “Harry! What are you doing–” Draco looks over his shoulder, and swallows. Without thinking, he grabs for Harry’s hand.

Before he can become too mortified at his actions, Harry squeezes back. “Well, at least we know neither of us is the heir.”

In front of them are the petrified bodies – for lack of a better word – of Nearly-Headless Nick and Justin Finch-Fletchly.

~

Harry had sent Draco away before reporting the attacks, certain that everyone would think he was the heir. Draco had tried pointing out that he didn’t care, but Harry had made him leave anyway.

They continue to meet at night, and it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t sustainable. “Blaise really is going to start thinking I have something to do with all this if I don’t stop disappearing in the middle of the night,” Draco grumbles, sitting opposite Harry with a chessboard between them. “You are awful at this, you know.”

“I know,” Harry sighs, “Ron tells me so. Often. Also Neville caught me leaving twice this past week. He doesn’t think I’m the heir, but he definitely knows I’m up to something. He tried mentioning it to Ron, but luckily he just thought Neville was talking about the Polyjuice potion.”

Draco freezes. Harry realizes all at once that not only did Draco not know about the potion, but it’s completely unnecessary since he can ask Draco any questions he has just as he is, and he knows for certain he’s not the heir now. Not that he’s told Ron or Hermione that. “The what?”

“Huh,” Harry says. One of Draco’s knights brandishes a sword at him. “There are probably some things I should tell you.”

He almost mentions something about the strange house elf that’s been following him around, Dobby, because Draco seems like he’d know about that sort of thing. But he already thinks he’s crazy because of the hearing voices thing, he doesn’t want Draco to think he’s even stranger for being stalked by a house elf.

After spilling everything, Draco looks grudgingly impressed. “Granger really is as clever as they come. That’s a difficult potion.” He snaps his fingers and his chess set starts packing themselves away. “Regardless, you better let me take a look at it. My practical potions grade is higher than hers.”

“What’s the point?” Harry asks, “We don’t need to use it.”

“You have a nearly complete polyjuice potion, and you’re just going to what? Throw it out? Absolutely not. We’ll stick a preservation charm on it and store it away.”

“We haven’t learned any preservation charms that strong,” he points out.

Draco rolls his eyes and banishes the chess set away. “Luckily, there’s this little thing called the library.”

Harry really wishes this whole soulmate thing wasn’t a secret, if only so he could throw Draco and Hermione at each other and save himself the headache.

~

They can’t think of a way to convince Ron and Hermione not to go along with the plan. Draco inspects the potion, and, finding no flaws, tells Harry to use the smallest possible amount. “I’ll sneak back in and take care of the rest. Just tell your friends you dumped it, and I’ll keep it in my quarters.”

Harry crosses his arms, hesitates, but says, “Why your quarters? What are you going to do with it?”

Draco wants to feel offended, but honestly he’s just a little bit relieved Harry isn’t a complete idiot. Just because they’re soulmates doesn’t mean either of them have changed really, even if they’ve been doing their best to stay away from touchy subjects. Which is incredibly difficult, considering the circumstances. “Nothing. I’ll give it back to you next time we meet, if you want. But make sure you keep it safe, and don’t tell your little friends about it.”

Harry’s face tightens, but agrees. Draco finds Harry to be far less irritating when he listens to him. So things go as planned, mostly. He sneaks into the girl’s bathroom and charms and bottles the remaining polyjuice potion, then goes prowling the hall where he told Harry he’d meet them. He only finds the two of them wandering the halls, and can’t ask after Hermione because he’s not supposed to know who they are in the first place.

He answers their questions, and it’s nothing that he hasn’t told Harry already. Then they’re running out of there before their hour is up, and Draco shakes his head. He’s never seen Crabbe or Goyle run before. Also, neither Crabbe or Goyle are that stupid. They just pretend to be because they prefer to be underestimated.

Blaise had gone home for the holidays, so he has their room to himself, and he doesn’t have to sneak past him each night. The last day of the holidays, however, Millie is sitting up in the common room when he walks through, her cat on her lap and a book in her hand. She stuffs it under a cushion when she sees him. “What are you doing?” she snaps. Her anger can’t hide her fear.

“Was that a muggle book?” he asks, frowning.

She looks away, refusing to answer him. He can leave, she won’t say anything about him being there because if she does he’ll be able to say he saw her reading a muggle book. He can just walk away and pretend like nothing happened, and she’ll be grateful for it.

This moment feels important. It feels like it matters.

Does he care if Millie is reading a muggle book? Does it really matter? Her mother is a muggle, after all. She’s only a half blood. He forgets that a lot, because she’s a Bulstrode, part of the Sacred Twenty Eight. She’s cutting and has a terrifying knack for transfiguration. She may be the daughter of a pureblood family but she’s not a pureblood herself. “Is your dad worried about you?”

He didn’t mean to ask that. She must be just as surprised as he is, because she turns to look at him. “What?”

“You know, with the,” he waves his hand to encompass the supposed monster that’s going around attacking students of questionable pedigree. She keeps staring at him, and he doesn’t know what he’s doing, why he’s even asking. He thinks he must be losing his mind when he says, “My mum is worried, and I’m as pure as they come. She’s trying to get my dad to shut down the school, but he won’t hear of it.”

Millie’s lost some of the fear, and now just looks guarded. “If your mum is so worried, why did you stay behind for the holidays?”

His first instinct is draw up the walls around himself, to wear arrogance around his shoulders like armor and use harsh words to cut her to ribbons. But he swallows it down. In the low light of the crackling fire, in the hours between midnight and dawn with Millie staring at him like she’s never seen him before, he pushes down his first instinct. “They’ve been fighting since summer. They never fight. I didn’t want to deal with it, so I decided to stay for the holidays.” He licks his lips and repeats, “Is your dad worried about you?”

She smiles. He thinks it might be the first time he’s ever seen her smile. “Terrified. But it’s not like it’s much safer for me at home than it is here. It’s one thing to have a bastard child with a muggle. It’s another thing entirely to claim that child as your own and give her your name.”

“Your parents were married,” he says, even as he’s turning this over in his mind. It seems so hard, and he feels like it shouldn’t be.

Millie is the daughter of a respectable pureblood family. She’s a Slytherin, and a good one at that. She gets them a decent amount of house points from McGonagall, of all people, and she shows up to cheer at every Quidditch game.

“For that short time before my mother died,” Millie agrees, face blank once more. “Just a few days after I was born. Just a few days after my father gave me his name.”

One thing to have a half-blood with the name Bulstrode. Another thing entirely to have a muggle woman with the name.

Blood should remain pure. Muggles and their ilk have no place in their world. But – Millie grew up without a mother, and she’s just as likely to get attacked as Granger or any other halfblood or muggleborn. Millie, who’s one of them. Who knows their customs and wears their colors and would punch anyone who tried to say she was anything less.

“That’s not right,” he says. It comes out sounding almost like a question, and he’s a Malfoy. He’s not unsure about anything. “That’s not right,” he repeats, firmer this time. He’s going to be horrendously late to meet Harry, but this is important.

This is possibly the most important conversation he’s ever had.

“No,” Millie says softly, eyes wide with surprise. “I’ve never thought it was.”

~

Harry’s been waiting for almost an hour, and Draco’s never been late before. He can’t decide if he should be angry or worried, because either Draco’s blown him off or there’s a good reason he’s late, like he’d gotten attacked by a monster from the Chamber of Secrets.

He’s just made up his mind to go back to bed and worry there in peace when the door opens and Draco slips into the abandoned classroom they’ve been meeting in. “Where have you been?” Harry demands, scowling. Draco swings the door shut and turns around. He’s paler than normal, and his blue eyes are sharper, more focused. Harry’s never seen him like this before. “Draco?”

“We need to figure out what that monster in the Chamber is and stop it before it manages to kill anyone,” he says. His hands are shaking.

Harry stares. “I – I thought you didn’t care about the muggleborns. I thought you wanted the Chamber to get rid of them.”

His mouth twists into a grimace. “I did too. I don’t – muggles are filth, and they shouldn’t have anything to do with us. I still believe that. I just don’t want anyone to die over it, is all.”

On the surface, it’s not a big thing. Neither Ron nor Hermione would be impressed by it. But Harry can’t imagine Dudley turning an about face on anything like this, can’t imagine what the other Slytherins would do or say if they knew Draco felt this way.

It would probably be weird if he hugged him right now, but he kind of wants to anyway. He restrains himself and says, “Okay. So we’ll work together, so no one has to die over it.”

Draco’s shoulders loosen, like he was afraid that Harry would tell him no, that he wouldn’t let him help.

He thinks he likes him a little more for thinking that and coming to him anyway. Maybe Gryffindors haven’t cornered the market on bravery.  

~

Of course, this is all easier said than done. Now that school is back in full swing, it’s getting harder and harder for them to find times to meet. Neither of them can afford for their respective roommates to get even more suspicious, so they start carving out time in the middle of the day to sneak away to their favorite unused classroom. It’s the hour before lunch, and Draco slams a book down in front of him and scowls. Sometimes Harry thinks Draco might just be a prettier and meaner version of Hermione. “What is that?” he pokes the large and dusty tome warily, like it might bite him.

“The Complete Index of Magical Creatures by Newt Scamander,” he answers, glowering.

Harry blinks, “Isn’t that the same person who wrote Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?”

“Yes, obviously. Except that was just a pamphlet that he wrote on the fly one day, in comparison. This is a total guide to every magical creature on the planet. What he didn’t personally experience, he consulted with on experts equal to his own intellect. It was banned by the Ministry almost as soon as it was printed for endorsing the deregulation of dangerous creatures and promoting ideas that could cause harm to the public.” Draco glares at the book like it’s betrayed him. “I’ve read it cover to cover, and there’s not a single viable candidate for Slytherin’s monster. Nothing with the ability to petrify people lives lone enough to be from the founders’ era, and most things that do petrify people do it so they can eat them. Since no one’s been eaten, it probably wasn’t any of them.”

“If it was banned by the Ministry, how do you have a copy?” he reaches for the book, glancing at Draco for permission.

He shrugs, and Harry flips it open to a random page. “Well, my family’s library kept a copy, obviously. It’s the most accurate and thorough investigation of magical creatures to date, regardless of the ‘irresponsible propaganda,’ as my mother calls it.”

Harry looks up sharply, “Did you ask one of your parents to send you this?”

“Do I look like an idiot? Of course not! I just summoned it. I’ll banish it back tonight when no one will be in the library to notice it reappearing again.”

He’s missing something. “You summoned it? How?”

“With a spell,” he snarls, and Harry considered taking this priceless tome and smashing it into Draco’s face. “You’ve seen me to do it, don’t be obtuse. I summoned my snake the same way.”

“That was your snake? I thought it was just a random one.”

Draco sighs. “Do you ever pay attentions in charms?”

“Are you going to say something useful, or did you just come here to mock me?’ he asks. “We haven’t even covered summoning spells yet, I don’t know how you know any at all.”

He shrugs, “I don’t see why I can’t do both. Also Flitwick went over the introductory wand movements weeks ago. It’s a lot harder to summon things you haven’t seen or touched before – that’s fifth year spell work, and it’s tricky. Serpensortia is a general snake summoning spell, but if I’d just cast it without a specific snake in mind who knows what would have shown up. It could have been anything, from anywhere, since I can’t control non-specific summoning yet. I didn’t want that, so I summoned Abigail.”

Harry keeps staring at him.

Draco huffs and holds out his wand. “Serpensortia!” The snake appears in a much more controlled manner than before, sliding from the end of Draco’s wand and winding up his arm. It’s not angry or hissing this time, and Draco walks forward with his arm outstretched. “This is Abigail. She’s a great spoiled princess who does nothing but lay around all day.”

Where do you think I learned it from?” she hisses, curling her head around Draco’s wrist.

Harry startles. Draco’s eyes meet his, and widen in understanding. “You can understand her?”

Yes. She called you spoiled,” he says, and doesn’t realize he’s not speaking English until Abigail’s unwinds herself enough to look at him.

A Speaker!” she says, delighted. “Excellent. Tell my human that the garden mice are too chewy, and I won’t eat them anymore. It’s either the juicy ones from the forest, or from that place he got my rock with the warming charm on it, those ones are delicious, even if they all taste the same. And that I don’t like his new sheets, I don’t care if they’re silk. The cotton blend was much nicer to curl up in. His mother keeps putting me back into my tank, and I don’t like it. They should just leave the lid off and I’ll come and go as I please. I only interrupted one dinner party after all, and I didn’t even bite anyone, so I don’t see what the fuss is about. I like the wool from my human’s old sweater that he put in my tank, does he have any more? If not, I want another sweater entirely. This one doesn’t smell like him anymore, so it’s just getting in my way.”

“Well?” Draco demands, “What is she saying?”

They’re both looking at him with equal expressions of impatience, and Harry can’t help it. It starts out as a giggle, but soon he’s laughing so hard he’s clutching his stomach and trying to catch his breath.

Draco banishes Abigail back to her tank, and then leaves him alone in the classroom, still laughing.

~

Draco thinks he’s doing a pretty good job about hiding all his secret meeting with Harry from his friends. He keeps thinking that until Blaise corners him in their room and says, “You’re not involved in any of this, are you? I didn’t think you were, and you’re horrible at keeping secrets from me besides. But you’re sneaking around doing something, and you haven’t told me and you haven’t told Pansy. So what’s going on?”

Blaise is too clever for him to lie to, and he only has two secrets to his name. Both are likely to get him disowned, so he goes for the one that doesn’t involve his soulmate. Not changing in front of Blaise has been a nightmare. He has no idea how Harry’s managed it, considering he shares his room with four other people while Draco’s found it hard enough to hide it from only one.

“Did you know that Millie is a half-blood?”

This clearly isn’t what Blaise was expecting. “Of course, everyone does.”

“There are six more in our house now, and two muggleborns.” he says. “I checked. Which makes it a total of nine Slytherins who could be killed.”

“You’re the son of a Malfoy and a Black. You have nothing to worry about,” he says.

Draco glares, “Yes well, not everything’s about me. I don’t think Millie or anyone else should end up dead just because of how they were born. A girl died last time the Chamber was opened. Muggleborns being petrified for half the year is – whatever, it’s a little funny, if I’m being honest. But I don’t want anyone to die.”

His heart is pounding in his chest, because Blaise has been his best friend since they were kids, and he has no idea what he’s going to do now. They were raised to believe blood was the most important thing. And Draco’s not saying it isn’t important, because it is, but – maybe living is more important than purity. Maybe life is more important.

Blaise keeps silent for an uncomfortably long time, arms crossed. Finally he sighs and says, “I can’t believe you admitted that not everything is about you. I should have let Pansy be here so she could witness that.”

The relief nearly leaves him giddy. He grabs a pillow off his bed, and hits Blaise over the head with it. “You absolute git. Are you going to help me or not?”

“I suppose I better,” he cracks a grin, “You’re useless when you’re alone.”

The truth about Harry is crawling it’s way up his throat, so he grabs the pillow and continues beating Blaise with it until he loses his cool façade and gives into the inevitable pillow fight.

~

“You’d think this would be easier, what with all of us working on it,” Draco mutters, looking down at the scroll of notes that he, Blaise, and Pansy had put together. Laid out next to it is the one Hermione, Ron, and Harry had done.

Between them, there’s countless hours of research, and not one single piece of useful information.

That’s how things stay, until Harry drags him into a dimly lit corridor after Transfiguration. “Are you mad?” Draco hisses. “Anyone could see us!”

“This is important,” Harry says, and then tells him everything about the diary and its mysterious contents.

Draco gets more horrified by each word coming out of his soulmate’s mouth. “Harry! Are you stupid, suicidal, or both? Don’t answer that. Whatever that diary is, it sounds like dark magic.”

“Aren’t you listening? Hagrid opened the Chamber!”

“You are stupid,” Draco says in wonder. “Have you seen that great oaf? He wouldn’t hurt a pixie. If one landed on him for too long, he’d adopt it. Additionally, he’s half giant. He didn’t open the Chamber belonging to Salazar Slytherin. If what you saw is true, and that’s a big if because you shouldn’t trust dark magical artifacts, then it was a set up.”

Some of the color has returned to Harry’s face. “You think he might be innocent?”

Honestly. “I think Hagrid has a long list of offences against him, first and foremost being a halfbreed abomination, but he’s no murderer. I don’t believe that Hagrid killed that girl for a second.”

Harry crosses his arms. “I kind of want to hug you and punch you at the same time.”

Draco glances to the entrance of the corridor that someone could walk down any moment and find them. “Probably for the best if you did neither. We need to destroy that diary. Do not write in it again.”

Harry rolls his eyes, “Yes, dear.”

If Draco kills his soulmate, at least he won’t have to deal with his attitude.

~

Of course, they don’t get a chance to try and destroy the diary become someone breaks into their dormitory and steals it.

Harry’s expecting Draco to yell at him. Instead he gets a peculiar look on his face and starts pacing. “Do you think,” he starts, bites his lip, and goes back to pacing.

He tolerates this for a couple minutes before going, “Do I think what?”

Draco’s actually broken the skin on his lip when he turns and says, “Do you think the heir of Slytherin is in Gryffindor?”

“Why would you think that?” he asks, but as soon as the words leave his mouth he knows the answer. The Fat Lady wouldn’t have let anyone but a Gryffindor through, and there were no signs of curses or other tampering. “Bloody hell.”

Draco gives a tight nod and goes back to pacing.

He wants to say that a Gryffindor would never do that, that no one in his house would be trying to murder other students. But he would have said no one in Slytherin would be willing to help muggleborns and halfbloods, but he’s looking at the proof that that isn’t true. If he’s wrong about one, then it’s possible he’s wrong about the other.

What a mess.

~

It’s quiet for the next few months, and they don’t make much progress.

Then Hermione Granger and Penelope Clearwater are found petrified.

Penelope Clearwater is a pureblood.

His mother sends him a flurry of letters, saying that she wants to take Draco out of school, saying that she’s pushing his father to do something about this, saying that Draco should listen to the professors and not wander.

He can’t listen to her, of course. He sneaks out just before dawn and goes to the broken girls’ lavatory with the crying ghost in it, the only place he and Harry can hope to meet without getting caught.

Harry appears not long after, looking exhausted and covered with scratches. “What happened to you?” Draco asks.

“Spiders,” he says, as if that makes any sort of sense at all. “Dumbledore is gone, and Hagrid has been arrested.”

“Where the bloody hell did he go, at a time like this?” he demands. Then the rest of that statement catches up to him, and he thinks of his mother’s letters. “Oh. My dad–”

“Was behind it all,” he snaps, “I hope you’re proud.”

Draco steps back, stung. “My father isn’t on the board of governors alone, you know. It takes a unanimous vote to remove the headmaster.”

“And I’m sure they thought it up all on their own,” he continues bitterly. “So Hagrid will go to jail for a crime he didn’t commit – again, according to you – while Hermione lays petrified, and your father what? Pats himself on the back?”

“Shut up about my father,” Draco snaps. “Students are dropping left and right, why shouldn’t Dumbledore be removed? He’s clearly not doing anything that matters. Otherwise your precious mudblood wouldn’t be petrified right now.”

Harry grabs the front of his robes and slams him against the wall. “DON’T CALL HER A MUDBLOOD!”

“Don’t talk about my father,” he sniffs, retreating behind his cool pureblood mask. “I know you don’t have any personal experience with this, but most people don’t take well to disparaging remarks about the people who bore and raised them.”

Harry goes white, and Draco almost wants to apologize. But Harry started this, and he might be his soulmate but that doesn’t mean he gets to talk shit about his parents. He lets go of his robes and steps away. “I was such an idiot to think you were any better than the rest of them.”

He doesn’t know where to start with that. That Harry is most certainly an idiot, that the rest of them, as he calls them, are his friends and family, that Draco is trying, damnit. He doesn’t get a chance to say any of it, because Harry walks out of the bathroom and leaves him there alone.

~

They’re not speaking. If Draco wanted a chance to put this whole muggle-loving mindset behind him, the time is now.

Except he’s still worried about Millie and the other Slytherins with muggle blood, and even the kids from other houses if he feels like being brutally honest with himself, which he doesn’t. He still doesn’t want anyone to die. Soulmate or no soulmate.

It’s been a week since their fight, and he’s idly playing with Abigail in his bed, letting her crawl all over his hands and moving them around and farther apart so that she has to keep sliding around to keep from falling onto the mattress. He’s doing his best not to think of Harry, which means he’s thinking of nothing but Harry, and he turns his mind back that first meeting after they touched, where they showed each other their soulmarks. Of course, Harry managed to ruin even then when he ran out of the room like a crazy person straight to a petrified Mrs. Norris, claiming he heard voices

“Mother of Merlin,” Draco breathes, looking down at Abigail. “It’s a snake.”

Blaise is meeting with Sprout about his final project, and Draco doesn’t want to waste any time trying to find Pansy. He summons his owl and sends off a message to Harry to meet him in that awful girls’ bathroom. Harry might hate him right now, but Draco’s finally figured out what this monster is. He doesn’t know of any snake that can petrify people, but that doesn’t matter. If it’s a snake, there’s a chance Harry can stop it.

Snape isn’t keeping a close eye on any of them, is trusting their self preservation instincts will keep them safely in the common room. But he can’t send something this important in a letter, and Harry needs to know.

“Where are you going?” Millie asks as he strides to the door. There aren’t many people in the common room, but they all look up at her sharp question.

He glares at her, “None of your business.” He keeps walking towards the exit, but a strong hand grabs his elbow and yanks him back.

“It’s not safe!” Millie says, “You’re a pureblood, but Clearwater is too, and she got attacked anyway. You can’t go.”

There’s no time for this. He yanks himself free of her grip and says, “If I wanted your opinion, Bulstrode, rest assured I would ask for it.”

He runs out before anyone else can stop him. Once he’s in the corridor it’s harder, professors patrolling seemingly at every corner. It takes him too long to get to the bathroom, but when he does there’s no one there. He checks every stall, but there’s just the ghost girl wailing.

Was Harry not able to get away? Didn’t he get his message? Or, worse, was he simply ignoring it?

Draco paces. Harry needs know, and he has no way of sneaking into the Gryffindor common room to tell him, since he let Harry keep the polyjuice potion. He could send Luna to do it, she has friends in Gryffindor. But then he’d have to send his cousin to walk the corridors when there's some sort of snake that’s trying to kill people, and there’s no way his mother would be okay with that. Then again, she’d probably be less okay with him walking those same corridors, but he can’t help that.

There’s the soft sound of footsteps behind him. “Finally!” he exclaims, turning. “What took you so long?”

It’s not Harry.

It’s a blood soaked girl that after a disorienting moment he places as the Weasley sister. “What happened to you?” he demands, stepping forward but not actually touching her. He can’t see any wounds. “Were you attacked? Was it the snake? We need to get you to the hospital wing!”

He grabs her hand, and it’s cold as ice. He lets go of it immediately, a sense of unease filling him. She slowly turns her head, and her expression is blank. He takes a step back, and something is wrong. Something is very wrong. “I guess I’ll have to change the message,” she says, tilting her head to the side. Her lips curl into a cruel half smile. “You know too much. You’ll have to die with her.”

Draco reaches for his wand, but she’s faster. The last thing he sees is a bright red light.

He’s just thankful it’s not green.

~

“We’re too late,” Harry says, standing with the rest of the students looking at the blood dripping down the wall.

Their skeletons will lie in the Chamber forever.

“Who’s missing?” Dean calls out. “Who’s that message talking about?”

McGonagall’s face goes pinched, and she folds her hands together. Her eyes glance at Ron then cut away. “It’s referring to Ginny Weasley and Draco Malfoy. Their parents have already been contacted.”

Harry’s hand goes to his hip, digging his fingers into his soulmark, and a thick, cloying fear fills his throat. He’d gotten Draco’s message, and he’d meant to go, but he’d promised Ron he’d visit Hermione with him, and then they found the message about the basilisk, and he’d forgotten about it.

This can’t be happening.

Not Draco. Not his soulmate. And Ginny – she’s his best friend’s sister.

He looks at Ron, and sees the same determination on his face.

They won’t sit by and do nothing.

~

“That bloody snake,” Ron snarls, “Malfoy is involved, I knew it! He probably took her down there himself. Probably had a big laugh about it, pretending he was innocent to everyone, and then dragging my little sister down there to be murdered. I’m going to wring his skinny neck, the disgusting, arrogant leech. I hope he does die in that Chamber.”

He shouldn’t say anything. Draco wouldn’t want him to say anything.

“SHUT UP!” he shouts. “He’s not – he didn’t! Don’t – he’s in trouble too, and we’re going to help him too. He didn’t do this Ron. He – he didn’t.”

His best friend is staring at him like he’s never seen him before. “What’s gotten into you? Of course he did! Malfoy’s a bigoted bastard, of course he did this!”

Harry is so angry he can’t speak. There’s a mix of guilt and worry churning inside of him, and he doesn’t know how to articulate any of it. So instead he jerks the waistband of his pants down and pulls up his shirt. The rich colors of the iris contrast against his skin, and Ron knows he has a soulmate, he’s seen the little black ring on his hip. He knows what this means. He reaches forward and with shaking fingers delicately touches the edge of a single purple petal. “Malfoy?”

Harry nods once, wound so tight he feels like he might snap. He swallows past the lump in his throat to say. “He’s – he’s kind of awful. But he’s nice too, sometimes. He didn’t take your sister. He’s been trying to help us figure this out for months.”

Ron nods, still looking at the soulmark but clearly not seeing it. “The dueling club?” he asks, “When he put his hand over your mouth. Was that the first time you two touched skin to skin?” 

“Yeah,” he rubs the back of his neck. “I know I should have told you, but he wanted to keep it a secret, and I guess I did too. But he’s not the heir. He doesn’t want anyone to die.”

“Well,” Ron says, resigned, “I guess we better save him too then, since he’s your soulmate and nice sometimes.”

~

Lockhart ends up being a complete, spineless coward who they have to march to the Chamber at wandpoint. Harry runs his fingers over the snake symbol carved into the sink, and he has a sneaking suspicion about what he has to do. He looks to Ron, “Don’t freak out.”

Ron raises both his eyebrows. “You have a wonderfully reassuring personality. Have I ever told you that?”

Harry rolls his eyes, and concentrates on the snake, tries to imagine it moving, thinks of the shifting scales and flickering tongue of Abigail as she wrapped herself around Draco’s arm. “Open,” he hisses.

Lockhart gasps and Ron swears. The sink lowers, then disappears, leaving a large pipe and a long way down. “Off you go,” Ron says cheerfully, and pushes Lockhart down the pipe. Then he turns to Harry, “How long have you been able to do that?”

“My whole life, I think,” he says honestly.

Ron nods, then points his wand at Harry and wags it in a fair approximation of his mother’s disapproving finger. “Any more secrets you feel the need to tell me? Any more secrets, period?”

“No,” he smiles, “that was the last of them.”

“Good,” Ron nods, “you’re my best mate. No more secrets. Okay?”

“Okay,” he agrees, then he and Ron jump down the pipe together.

~

Ginny and Draco look dead, lying there pale and unmoving. Harry wants to run to them, wants to shake them until they wake up, wants Draco’s bright blue eyes to glare at him. He wants his soulmate.

They were so cruel to each other, the last time they spoke.

This can’t be the end. This can’t be how their story ends.

~

Draco wakes up slowly, the stunning spell wearing off sluggishly. First he’s aware that he’s lying on a cold, dirty floor. Second that people are talking, and after a moment of concentration he realizes it’s Harry and whoever the Heir actually is, since it’s obviously not Ginny Weasley.

He wants to scream at Harry to run, but he can’t, not yet. He’s still under the effects of the stunning spell, and it will be several more minutes before it wears off fully. By the time the mostly-corporeal form declares himself to be Lord Voldemort, Draco can feel his muscles again, even if they’re sore and heavy as lead. About the time that the dark lord wannabe summons a basilisk (and why did none of them think of basilisks, just because they don’t typically petrify their prey doesn’t mean they can’t, he feels like such an idiot) the spell has worn off enough that he can roll painfully to his feet.

“YOU’RE A PARSELMOUTH!” he shouts, despairing not for the first time that his soulmate is this much of moron. “SPEAK TO THE BLOODY SNAKE!”

“Draco! You’re awake!” Harry says joyously, then nearly gets eaten by the giant basilisk. Draco screams. Harry tries hissing at it, and it merely lunges and almost swallows him whole. “It’s not listening!”

Tom laughs, delicately twirling Harry’s wand between his fingers. “She’s loyal only to me, you simpletons. Mine was the first voice she heard since Slytherin himself. She won’t betray me.”

Draco reaches inside his robe. He still has his wand.

If Tom’s life force really is connected to Ginny’s, he won’t be able to hurt him without hurting her. But he can help Harry.

He pulls his wand from robes. “Serpensortia!”

A rattlesnake comes from his wand. Tom’s laugh takes on a decidedly mocking edge. “Oh, please, summon all the little helpers you desire. I won’t even stop you.”

Draco grits his teeth, then forces himself to relax and breathe. He holds out his wand, straining his memory and focusing on every overly detailed paragraph of Scamander’s Index. “Serpensortia! Serpensortia! Serpensortia!”

A black mamba. A viper. A cobra.

Harry hisses in between running from the snake, and they all go to him, but are no help against a basilisk.

He can do this. Charms is his best subject. “Serpensortia!”

A thirty foot python comes crackling to life, and it’s strong enough to knock the basilisk off course. It dances according to Harry’s shouted instructions, and is just big enough to be annoying but small enough to slither away.

“Serpensortia!” he shouts, and a forty foot anaconda joins the fray.

These aren’t what he’s trying to summon. This isn’t what he wants.

“Serpensortia!”

An improbably large ashwinder slides across the floor, leaving scorch marks in its wake. It must have come from a volcano.

“Impressive,” Tom says, looking at him in a way that makes his skin crawl. “Perhaps I should have taken your magic instead.”

That’s disgusting. “You’re not taking anyone’s magic,” he says, stalking forward to place himself between Tom and the Weasley girl. “You’re not going to do anything. You’ll never leave this Chamber.”

There’s an edge of pity when Tom says, “Your summons are well done, and they are proving to be distracting. But the basilisk will kill them soon enough, and then Harry Potter. Then you.”

“No one,” he grits out, holding his wand so tightly he’s afraid he might snap it, “is going to kill Harry Potter. And certainly not you, you filthy half-breed mudblood.”

The anger that twists Tom’s face is absolutely worth it. Draco throws out his arm, wand held straight and firm, the promise of victory singing in his veins. “SERPENSORTIA!”

For a moment, nothing happens.

The out from his wand springs what he’d been trying to summon all along – a wild wyvern.

A cross between a serpent and a dragon, it’s about half as tall as the basilisk is long. It’s a terrifying, wild beast that should never be approached in any circumstances.

But Harry opens his mouth, and that strange slithering language comes out.

Not long after, the wyvern and basilisk are locked in a battle to the death.

It’s taken too much magic out of him, and it’s all Draco can do to stay on his feet and not collapse onto the Chamber floor. “You were saying?” he asks, raising a single eyebrow in his best imitation of his father.

~

The wyvern is amazing. He’s biting and clawing at the basilisk, and Harry gains a moment of inspiration and shouts, “The eyes! Blind it!”

It changes its attack, and mere minutes later the basilisk shrieks in pain as it’s deadly eyes are pecked out by the wyvern’s talons. Tom’s yelling in anger, but Harry can’t focus on that. He sends the ashwinder to slither across the basilisk, and wherever they touch the basilisk’s tough scales are burned away. It means the smaller snakes that Draco summoned are actually helpful. They can climb onto the basilisk’s back and bite directly into its muscles, and the creature shrieks in pain.

The basilisk flings its massive body around in attempt to dislodge the other snakes attacking it and escape the wyverns attacks. It hits the walls of the Chamber with thunderous strength. The wyvern seems to think that’s an excellent idea, because it begins hitting its body against the ceiling as well. Harry doesn’t understand until a large piece of the stone work ceiling falls and lands on its head, disorienting it enough that it only sways confusedly for a moment. The ashwinder takes that opportunity to crawl even further up its body, leaving blistering bleeding flesh wherever it touches.

 The wyvern continues with its plan, throwing its massive body against the ceiling, and soon the stone of the ceiling begins to crack and fall.

TAKE COVER!” he screams, and realizes when only Tom reacts that he hadn’t said it in English.

~

Tom is corporeal enough to run. Draco looks up, and he has the time to throw himself out of the way. But he’s standing next to Ginny, and if he runs he won’t have to worry about Tom killing her because she’ll be crushed to death, and if they survive this it will be up to him and Harry to carry back her mangled corpse.

He doesn’t want anyone to die.

Draco throws his wand straight up in the air. He’s the best charms student Hogwarts has had in years. He’s exhausted and hurt and tired, but he can do this. He’s a Malfoy. “PROTEGO!

The soft blue light of the shield erupts from his wand just in time to stop them both from being crushed by a large piece of the stone ceiling. It cracks and breaks over his shield. Draco grits his teeth and is forced to his knees from the force of it, still holding the shield above them as more bits of ceiling come crashing down on them.

The Weasley girl has gained some color, and her eyes are moving rapidly behind her eyelids. Draco looks to the diary besides them, then up, and Tom is pressed against the side of the chamber. The farther he is from the diary, the less power he has, the less he’s able to pull from Ginny. They need to destroy the diary.

He doesn’t have enough breath in his lungs to shout, so he picks up the diary and holds it up. He doesn’t know where Harry is, if he can see them or even if he’s still conscious, but it’s their only hope.

~

It takes Harry a moment to figure out what Draco is waving about with his free hand, but as soon as he does he understands what he wants. He can’t get to them with the pieces of ceiling falling everywhere, so he gives a set of whispered instructions to the rattlesnake.

It darts around the falling debris and hurries to Draco’s side. It discovers a problem when it can’t get through Draco’s shield, and there’s an terrifying second when Draco cancels his charm so he can throw the diary to the snake and then recasts it just in time to prevent a stone fragment the size of his head from landing on Ginny.

Once he has the diary in his hands, Harry has no idea what to do with it. He doesn’t have his wand, and Draco had mentioned something about burning it before, but there’s no convenient fire around him.

He momentarily forgets about the diary when the wyvern gives a triumphant screech that nearly deafens him. The basilisk sways once more, before falling to the floor with enough force to shake the whole chamber. Its head is bloody and right in front of him. It lies there, alive but unconscious with its mouth open and panting.

Harry’s eyes fix on the basilisk’s fangs glistening with venom, and he has a terrible, wonderful idea.

Tom’s scream of defeat as he fades to nothing is so worth the absolute terror of sticking his arms into the basilisk’s mouth and shoving the diary through one of its fangs.

~

Ginny is mostly awake by the time Harry makes his way over to them. Draco is pale and sitting on the ground, looking like it’s taking all his energy not to fall over. Harry wants to touch him, wants to grab him and yell at him and say he’s sorry and shake him until he stops feeling afraid.

But Ginny’s brown eyes are looking between them both in confusion, and Draco gives a little shake of his head. Whatever they have to say to each other, it will have to wait. “It’s all right,” he tells Ginny, helping her up and wincing when she throws herself into his arms and clings to him, shaking. “You’re fine, we’re all fine.”

“Just brilliant,” Draco groans, and Harry doesn’t try and stop the smile that steals across his face since Ginny can’t see it. “Say your goodbyes so I can get rid of them.”

Harry turns around, and all the snakes Draco had summoned, including the Wyvern, are behind him, watching and waiting. “Thank you,” he hisses, and doesn’t react to Ginny stiffening against him. “We would have all died if it wasn’t for you.”

Yes,” the ashwinder says while the Wyvern makes a breathy sound that Harry interprets as laughter. The more common snakes just incline their heads.

He turns away and looks to Draco when he says, “Go ahead.”

Draco raises his wand. He takes a deep breath, steadying himself. “Reditus!”

With a crackle of magic, the snakes return from where they came. Draco’s face goes ashen, and it physically hurts Harry not to go over and help him. Unexpectedly, it’s Ginny who goes, “Are you all right?”

“Fine,” Draco grits out, forcing himself to his feet and making a useless effort to brush some of the dirt from his robes. “Let’s go.”

“What about that?” Harry jerks his head to the still living basilisk.

He shrugs. “Either it will die, or it won’t. Not our problem. Grab the diary, and let’s get out of here before it decides to wake up and eat us out of spite.”

~

Harry hadn’t come alone, as Draco discovers when they reach the entrance to the Chamber and Ron is there waiting for them. He hugs his sister and Harry, and gives Draco a complicated look that Draco returns with a glare. Harry definitely told him something.

Getting back to the surface ends up being easier than they’d feared, since with a bit of Pareseltongue floating stairs appear to take them to the top, an out-of-it Lockhart included.

“I’ll take him the infirmary,” Ron says with a disgusted look towards Lockhart. “You lot should head to Dumbledore’s office.”

“Why?” Draco asks, wrinkling his nose. All he really wants is a shower.

“Our parents are probably there by now. McGonagall contacted them,” Ron says, and Draco considers just sliding back to the Chamber.

They walk to Dumbledore’s office, and it takes longer than it should, the three of them pained and exhausted. “Do you know the password?” Harry asks when they’re standing in front of the golden griffin.

“This is a bloody emergency,” Draco snaps at the statue, “Our parents are up there and we have a cursed diary and I am positively covered in something unidentifiable and gross. Open up.”

Harry sighs, “I really don’t think–”

The entrance slides open, revealing the spiral staircase to Dumbledore’s office. Draco throws him a smug look, and leads them up the staircase. He pretends he doesn’t see Harry rolling his eyes.

They hear sobbing before they open the door, and Ginny pushes past them and into the office, crying, “Mum!”

Draco and Harry walk in after that to the sight of Molly and Arthur Weasley clutching their daughter. Dumbledore sits at his desk with McGonagall and Snape on either side. Draco’s parents are seated opposite the Weasleys, not a hair out of place or anything more than polite disinterest on their faces. “Mother. Father,” he says, swallowing down his nervousness. For some reason he can’t think of, Dobby is cowering behind his parents’ chairs. He knows no one but them can see him, but he can’t think of why he’s here in the first place. He makes a note to ask about it later.

His mother sniffs and takes out her wand, “You’re positively filthy, darling. Did you forget how to cast a scourgify charm?”

There’s no way he’s going to admit he doesn’t have enough magic to cast so much as Wingardium Leviosa, so he gives an elegant shrug that he’d learned from her.

She tuts at him and twists her wand in a complicated pattern. The dirt and grime falls from his clothes and skin onto the floor, and she banishes that with another swish of her wand. “Much better.”

There’s tension in them still, from the too stiff line of her mouth to the unnatural stillness of his father. They’re not alone, he can’t throw himself into their arms like Ginny did with her parents, but he wants to. More than that, he wants them to stop being worried about him, but he can’t think of how to reassure them while they’re standing in a room with Dumbledore and the Weasleys.

“My, my,” Dumbledore says, eyes twinkling. Draco wants to pluck them out just like the wyvern did the basilisk. “It appears you have an interesting story to tell us, Harry.”

Draco stands by his parents while Harry tiredly explains it all, thankfully omitting any mention of Draco. He can’t help but be impressed with Granger – she’d figured it out before any of them. He may be a stronger caster than her, but he can admit, at least to himself, that she’s cleverer than him. Harry mentions Draco summoned the snakes but minimizes his efforts as much as possible in his retellings, which he appreciates. This is going to be an awkward enough conversation with his parents without having to explain his dozens of stupid decisions in detail, especially since he’s not planning to tell him the why of any of it. Not for the first time, Draco’s thankful he and Harry’s soulmarks are in an easy to hide place.

Harry’s just winding down when Ginny pipes up from her mother’s arms, “Malfoy saved my life.”

Draco twists around to give her his most vicious glare. She stares back, unimpressed. “Miss Weasley?” McGonagall asks, uncertain.

“Keep your filthy mouth shut, blood traitor,” he growls, “You were unconscious for most of it. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He was so sure she hadn’t seen anything, but clearly he was wrong.

Her parents’ faces go thunderous, and her father rises to his feet. “Now see here–”

“I was possessed, not blind,” she shoots back, leaving the safety of her mother’s arms to stomp forward and glare at him. He matches her step for step, until they’re nearly snarling in each other’s faces. “The ceiling was falling on us, and you were right beside me. You had some sort of shield up, and the stones were cracking on top of it.”

“I was protecting myself,” he says, “You just happened to be there.”

Everyone’s looking at him now, and he hates it.

“Tom had enough time to run away, so you did too,” she says stubbornly. “You could have even left me after that, taken your shield and gotten to safety. But you didn’t. You risked your life to stay by my side and protect me. You saved my life.”

“A decision I’m regretting by the second,” he snarls. “You should have been smothered in your cradle, you rotten wench.”

There’s an outcry at his words, Arthur halfway to rising again. Ginny is unfazed. She pokes him in the chest, “Say whatever mean things you want. What you say doesn’t change what you did.”

He liked her more when Tom was possessing her and she was devoid of any personality. They stare at each other for a long moment before he says, “I think I hate you.”

“I’m okay with that,” she informs him.

Arthur coughs, looking conflicted. “I – thank you, Draco. I think.” He frowns and says earnestly, “No, I mean it. You saved my daughter’s life. Thank you.”

Could this get any worse? He presses his lips into a thin line and stomps over to Dumbledore’s desk, grabbing the diary and smacking it into Arthur’s chest. “If you truly want to thank me, you could teach your children not to be such blithering idiots,” he says. “You’re the Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Department, and your daughter was possessed by a cursed diary. She should have known to burn it the second it talked back to her. None of this should have happened.” Arthur goes red in the face, but doesn’t say anything. Good. He sighs, and manages to make it sound more irritated than exhausted. “If you need nothing more from me, I’ll be leaving.” He turns to his parents and inclines his head, “Mother. Father.”

He waits for them to nod in return before sweeping out of there without a backwards glance to any of them.

It’s only through sheer stubbornness that he makes it back the Slytherin common room. He takes one step inside, and Millie is running towards him. More people are closing in, he can see Blaise and Pansy struggling to get to him. He ignores them for the moment, grabbing Millie’s forearms and saying, “Don’t worry, you’re safe. The monster won’t be hurting anyone else.”

“What happened?” Millie cries, eyes tracking the places where Draco’s sure bruises have started to surface.

“Everything’s fine,” he repeats, then frowns. “Don’t take me to the hospital wing.”

He passes out before Millie can question him, and can only hope she’ll catch him before he hits the floor.

 ~

Harry can’t remember the last time he was this furious. Draco had nearly died! His parents were here because they’d been told he was missing and presumed dead, and they reacted like it meant nothing. No tears, no yelling, just blank faces. They hadn’t even touched him.

Dobby was hiding behind Lucius Malfoy’s robes and looking at him pointedly. Which just makes this whole mess so much worse, because it means Dobby works for the Malfoys, it means Lucius orchestrated this whole plot in the first place and it nearly killed his son and he doesn’t even care.

Everyone has left but him, and Dumbledore is still staring at him over his half-moon glasses, but Harry can’t concentrate on that right now. “Is there something you want to tell me, Harry?” he asks softly, “Anything at all?”

He starts to look up at the headmaster, but his eyes get caught halfway there on the Tom Riddle’s diary. Just like when he shoved his hands into the basilisk’s mouth, he has another terrible, wonderful idea. “Not really,” he says. He undoes his shoe, takes off one of his socks, then snatches the diary off of Dumbledore’s desk and goes running out of his office. “I need this!” he calls over his shoulder, and when the headmaster doesn’t try and stop him he takes it as permission.

Narcissa’s disdain and Lucius’s anger when Harry tricks them into freeing their house elf is sweet.

~

Draco spends the next week in bed, and insists he’s simply tired when people try and push him into going to the infirmary. It’s partially true. The only cure for magical exhaustion is rest. He gets an owl from Harry with a short note saying that he’s told Ron and Hermione about them, the latter who’s back to her normal annoying self thanks to the mandrakes being ready.

He figures all’s fair in love and war, and so he locks the door to his room with Blaise and Pansy inside and shows them the three marigolds that bloom across his hip. “Bloody hell,” Blaise says, wide eyed. Pansy is poking at the mark like she can’t believe it’s real. Blaise’s mother has a soulmark, but it’s still that little black ring at the base of her throat, even four husbands later. Neither Pansy nor Blaise have marks of their own, but they’d known that Draco did.

“If either of you breathe a word of this to anyone, I’ll murder you in your sleep,” he promises.

They both shake their heads, and Draco relaxes a little at their vehemence. “Does this mean we need to start being nice to the Gryffindorks?” Pansy asks.

Draco is sure he looks properly offended by the way she starts giggling. “Absolutely not.”

~

It’s only a couple days before the start of summer break when he and Draco finally get a chance to meet again. Harry has slowly been going mad, what with Draco hiding out in his dorms for a week, and not looking quite back to normal even when he’d returned. Hermione and Ron had been shocked when he listed off all the spells Draco had performed in the Chamber, and neither of them were surprised that he was taking a while to recover.

So now he’s pacing back in forth in the unused classroom, white knuckled and scraping his teeth against his lip. This is the first time they’ve really spoken since their disastrous meeting in the girls’ bathroom weeks ago. The door opens and closes, and Harry whirls around. Draco is standing there, looking at him with that cool mask of his, and Harry knows him well enough to know that it is a mask. “Yes?” he says when Harry only stares at him.

Draco is proper and stiff when he’s not being a bastard, and Harry had a proper and stiff apology planned. But he forgets all of it and flings himself at Draco, wrapping his arms around him like he’d wanted to do so badly in the Chamber and couldn’t because Ginny was there. “I’m really glad that you’re okay,” he whispers, pressing his face into Draco’s shoulder. “I was so scared when I saw that message, when I saw you lying there.”

Draco relaxes and hesitantly returns the hug. “You scared me too,” he says, “what with fighting the basilisk and Tom. Don’t do that again.”

“I’ll try not to if you do too,” he retorts, and smiles when he can feel Draco shaking with laughter. They pull apart, and Harry hurries to scrub his arm over his eyes. He’s not even sure why he’s crying anyway. He hesitates, but says. “Draco – your father, he – he,” he stops, torn. He doesn’t want to get into another fight, but Draco deserves to know.

“It’s okay,” he says, a faint smile curling around the edges of his mouth. “It’s a good thing I ended up getting taken. The Board of Governors was convinced he was involved, and he nearly lost his position. But luckily none of them believed he’d release a monster that would attack his own son, so he’s safe.”

“But he did,” Harry says helplessly, “He was the one who gave Ginny the diary.”

He shrugs, “I know. But he didn’t mean for me to become involved. And – he’s still my dad, Harry.”

He’s aware this isn’t a fight he’s going to win today, or possibly ever, so he drops it. “I can’t get owls during summer vacation.”

Draco brightens. “Well, I can’t be getting any letters from Harry Potter over the summer, either, so that’s fine. I made us something.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out two small compact mirrors, like the kind Aunt Petunia keeps in her purse. “I got these from Millie and Pansy, you’d think I was asking for their newborns the way they were carrying on. I told them I’d get them better ones over vacation anyway.” He rolls his eyes and plops the one with delicately carved pansies into his hand, and keeps the green one Harry assumes used to be Millie’s. “They have linked Siarad charms on them. Just open it and say my name, and my mirror will chime, and vice versa. We’ll be able to speak to each other through them.”

Draco looks absurdly pleased with himself.

Harry had already resigned himself to a lonely summer, barely talking to his friends or his soulmate. But now he’ll have Draco right there, in his pocket, the whole summer.

He hugs him again because he can’t think of what else to do, and Draco’s laughter makes his cheeks flush.

~

Draco meets his parents on the platform, stepping off the Hogwarts Express with his luggage trailing behind him. His mother tucks a stray piece of hair behind his ear and says, “Come along, darling.”

They haven’t said anything of importance in their letters since the Chamber, well aware that their family is under scrutiny because of the incident. His father doesn’t look at him as they walk off the platform to their carriage, and a low pit of dread grows in his stomach. Is he really that mad at him that he won’t even look at him?

Draco steps into the carriage before his parents, and as soon as they’re settled it's off, heading towards their manor.

Narcissa breaks character instantly, throwing herself forward and pulling him to her chest. “I was so worried,” she says, voice trembling as she holds him tight enough that it’s a little painful, but he’s not going to tell her that. “When Snape called – and they told us you were gone, that you – that your skeleton–” She starts crying for real then, and leans back to press kisses all over his face.

“Mum!” he laughs, making half hearted attempts to stop her kissing frenzy. “I’m fine! Everything’s fine, you don’t have to be upset. I’m okay.”

“I would have torn that castle down to the foundations,” she says fiercely, “I would have flayed Dumbledore alive, inch by inch, and relished in his screams.”

“I know,” he says, beaming, and he knows threats of violence aren’t how most mothers show their affection, but Narcissa isn’t most mothers. She’s his, and she’s the best. “I love you too, Mum.”

She kisses him once more on each cheek, and settles back into her seat, summoning a handkerchief to dab delicately at her eyes.

He looks to his father, who’s seated on the other side, stiff and silent and looking at the window. Draco stares at him, waiting for his lecture, and when it doesn’t come he realizes something.

His father isn’t angry. He’s scared.

Draco inches down the seat so he’s sitting directly across from his father. His hands are clenched into fists and now that Draco’s really looking at him, he looks different. Older. Tired. He doesn’t like it, and he doesn’t want it.

“I’m thinking of trying out for chaser next year,” he blurts out, desperate for anything that will chase the grief from his father’s face. “There’s going to be an open spot, and Adrien says I’ll make a better chaser than seeker anyway, the wanker.”

Lucius slowly looks from the window to him, and there’s still something dark in his face. “I–” he starts, but can’t finish, pressing his lips together in a hard line.

Draco reaches forward and covers his father’s hands with his own. Lucius flinches. “Dad. It’s okay. I’m okay, you don’t have to worry. I’m alive, and I’m fine, and I’m right here. I’m not mad,” he adds earnestly, and he knows that this will be a problem later. He doesn’t want anyone to die, but his father does, and he’ll have to deal with that at some point. But his father would never want him to die, so it’s a problem for a different day. “I know you’d never hurt me.”

Lucius finally turns his hands over so he can clasp Draco’s in his own, rubbing his thumbs over the back of his hands. He meets his gaze, and Draco smiles, trying to show that he means it. Tension leaks from his father, and some of the terrible gravity has lifted from his face when he says, “We’ll get you some private coaching this summer. Flitwick recommended we give you supplemental charms training as well, to ensure your progress continues at its exemplary rate.”

“Great!” Draco beams. “Charms is my favorite subject.”

His father smiles at him, a slow, small thing. Draco counts it a victory.   

~

Harry’s already had to deal with hours of lectures from his aunt and uncle, and he’d tried not to stare at the matching birds on their necks as they’d yelled at him. He’d always known Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were soulmates, of course, but it had never seemed to matter before. Then he’d had a chores list shoved into his hand that was three pages long, and he’d stopped caring about their soulmarks. They’d locked up his school things, and Petunia had sent him to work in the garden as soon as they’d gotten home.

He falls into bed filthy and exhausted, knowing he should shower but not able to find the energy to make himself do it. There’s a painful sunburn over the back of his neck and arms. The Dursleys insist he doesn’t need sunblock because of his dark skin, in spite of the many times he’s proven them wrong with blistering, angry burns.

He pushes all that aside. His heart is pounding as he reaches into the box of clothes the Dursleys had let him keep. He carefully unrolls a pair of socks and takes out the engraved mirror. He sits up in bed, and holds it to his chest. He hopes this works. He opens it and says clearly, “Draco Malfoy.”

For a moment, there’s nothing at all, and the disappointment threatens to cripple him. Then there’s what looks like a ripple across the glass and Draco’s face fills the mirror. He’s in blue silk pajamas, and there’s a light grey wall behind him. Abigail is draped across his shoulders. “About time,” he grins, then frowns. “Is that mud on your forehead, Harry?”

He sounds so scandalized that Harry has to bury his face in his pillow to muffle his laughter, which means he’s sure to have just gotten his pillowcase covered in mud as well. He can’t bring himself to care.

Draco is lecturing him on cleanliness while Abigail hisses demands for him to translate, and Harry thinks that maybe this summer won’t be so bad.

Chapter Text

Harry knows that panicking won’t help anything.

But he’s just blown up his aunt, threatened the Dursleys with magic, and now he’s out in the middle of the street with no idea where to go or what to do, and okay, he’s definitely panicking.

He reaches into his pocket for the mirror, hands shaking. “Draco Malfoy,” he says, and drops down on the side of the curb with his trunk besides him. Nothing happens. “Draco Malfoy!”

There’s another long silence, and then the surface of the mirror ripples like water and his soulmate’s face appears. “What is it?” he hisses, “I’ve stuffed myself in the food cupboard. The Lestranges are over for dinner, I can’t talk.”

From what little Harry can see, the Malfoy’s food cupboard looks to be roughly the size of the Dursley’s whole house. “I blew up Aunt Marge!” he blurts, and Draco goes from irritated to alarmed. “The Dursleys are pissed, and I just grabbed my stuff and left, and I don’t know what to do!”

“Did you use your wand to blow her up?” Draco demands, “How blown up is she? If there are any remains where muggles can see them, make sure to put up a glamour charm. Wait, do you even know any glamour charms? Bloody hell, you need a lawyer. The best lawyer I know is my father, but that’s obviously not an option. I think my dad took the barrister exams with a Longbottom–”

“DRACO!” he shouts. “Not that kind of blowing up! Like – a balloon. She floated away!”

He stares at Harry for a long moment, then slumps against what looks like an entire wall of pickled carrots. “Why didn’t you say that? Who cares! Good riddance. From what you told me, she deserved it.”

Harry rolls his eyes, “Draco. What am I supposed to do now?”

“Exactly what I’ve been telling you to do all summer,” he says. “Go to Diagon Alley where you’re not treated worse than a house elf and don’t have to do your bloody homework under a blanket like a criminal.”

“How am I supposed to get there? Fly?”

No, you muggle raised simpleton. Take the Knight Bus. Mum won’t let us take it, says it’s for common folk, so it should be right up your alley.”

Sometimes he feels like Draco’s speaking a whole other language. “The what?”

“Just put your wand in the air, get to Diagon, and don’t go wandering around at night anymore,” he says, and Harry can’t help but think the last part is a little odd. “If I don’t get back to dinner my mother is going to murder me. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

The mirror shimmers and Draco is gone. Harry sighs and closes the compact, shoving it back into his pocket. Draco’s an arse, but he feels a lot better than he did a few minutes ago.

“Here goes nothing,” he mutters, and shoves his wand into the air.

Before the knight bus slams down in front of him, Harry barely sees the outline of a great black dog.

~

Harry will never, ever tell Draco this, but it’s possible that he’d had the right idea all along.

Once he figures out he’s not going to be sent to Azkaban for using magic, staying in Diagon Alley is like a dream come true. He does his homework under sunlight, and doesn’t have to do any more ridiculous chores.

It’s nice to be able to talk to Draco during the day too, to sit in his room in the Leaky Cauldron and argue over quidditch or whatever other topic they’re on that day. He sees a lot of the Malfoy grounds this way, Draco going for a walk so they can speak in private and showing Harry the weeping willows around a pond in the back. Harry tries not to think of the size of the Malfoy Estate too much because it gives him a headache, but after a summer catching glimpses of it, he’s almost certain that it’s only about half the size of the grounds at Hogwarts.

Those weeks pass too quickly, and the next thing he knows it’s the end of summer and Ron and Hermione are flinging their arms around him, Ron improbably taller and Hermione’s skin even darker thanks to her weeks vacationing in France.

It’s time to return to Hogwarts.

~

“Potter?” Blaise asks sympathetically as soon he seems him. Pansy tries to cover her snort with a cough, and doesn’t quiet succeed. Draco checks the corridor and makes sure there’s no one around, then casts a sound muffling charm for good measure.

“He’s infuriating,” he snaps, smoothing his robe by running his hands down and over the shiny silver buttons. He hasn’t seen either of them since Harry dragged him from dinner saying he’d blown up his aunt, so he lets the whole story spill out of him now, growing increasingly more frustrated as he talks. He’s been holding it in, unwilling to write about Harry in their letters and risk one of the parents opening their mail. “He’s such an idiot! He has no sense of self preservation, I’m honestly astounded he’s even alive. Black is out there, obviously looking to finish what he started, and he just goes running out without any of thought of where to go or what to do! What if I hadn’t answered? What was his plan? Hang around in plain sight until he got murdered?”

“So things are going well,” Blaise says, deadpan. Pansy is laughing so hard she’s clutching her stomach. He hates both of them. “Did you manage to get anything else out of your parents about Black?”

Draco scowls, “No. Dad claims not to have known him, and all Mum would say was that he was a difficult child. She’s his cousin and only four years older than him, there’s no way she doesn’t know more. They were in Hogwarts together! But she just told me not to get involved and to stay out of the way.”

“Out of the way of what?” Pansy asks.

Draco opens his mouth to explain about what his dad had warned him about this morning, but when his breath comes out in cloud in front of him he realizes he doesn’t have to.

The dementors are on the train.

“I’ve got to go,” he says, and pulls the door open. “Don’t leave the compartment. It’s not safe.”

They’re calling after him, but Draco ignores them. He closes the door, and takes a sharp right, moving down the train and away from where the horrible cloaked figures have to be, right at the front of the train if he looks, but he’s not going to look because that would be idiotic. He goes stalking down the corridor, glancing in each compartment before slamming their door shut and locking it. Most of them don’t even see him before he does it, which is for the best.

Whenever he happens upon a compartment containing Slytherins he says, “Wands out. Keep this locked.” None of the other houses will listen to him, so he doesn’t bother.

He finally finds the compartment with Harry in his friends at the back of the train.

“Muggle loving freaks,” he sneers, because people can hear him. They all look drawn out already, and Harry is worryingly pale. “Stay here,” he says, quieter, and steps away before they can say anything in return. He’s freezing, and he doesn’t have much time. They must already be on the train if he’s this cold.

He finishes the last couple of compartments, then doubles back, keeping his eyes on the plush carpet the entire time. He slips into a compartment about a third of the way down with only one person in it. He casts the most powerful locking charm he knows, not that it will do them much good against a dementor.

“Draco?” He looks back at Luna. She’s huddled deep in her robe, and her eyes are wide and afraid. “I’m cold.”

No warming charm can help them, because this isn’t a cold that they’re feeling in their skin. “Me too,” he says instead of telling her that. He doesn’t actually know any spells that will work against a dementor so he steps back and sits between Luna and the door. “Here.” He lifts his arm, and Luna huddles into his side.

Dad said that there would be dementors at the castle, not on the train. They aren’t supposed to be here.

~

Harry meets Draco in their classroom that night. He only manages it because Ron helps distract their roommates so he can disappear, and he doesn’t know he managed at all back when he was hiding it from his best friend too.

“You fainted?” Draco says, the same taunting words he’d said in the great hall except now they’re full of concern. He reaches out for him, but pulls his arms back. Harry has no such restrains. He grips Draco in a crushing hug, just like he had Ron and Hermione. Months of talking through the mirrors isn’t the same as really seeing him. Draco returns the hug, and Harry can tell he really is worried by the strength of it. “Did they touch you?”

“I think they might have tried,” Harry admits, “but the new professor stopped them. Lupin. It was amazing.” 

Draco’s scowling when he pulls back, “Him and that half-breed Hagrid as professors. What is Hogwarts coming too.”

Harry flicks him in the nose, “Don’t talk about Hagrid like that.”

He means to ask what he has against Lupin, but Draco gives a noncommittal shrug and says, “You need to be careful. Black is after you, and the Dementor aren’t to be trusted. The Board of Governors voted against them being allowed on the grounds, said they posed too great a risk to the other students, but Fudge overruled them.”

“Does everyone know about Black being after me?” Harry asks, and tries not to sound whiny.

Judging by Draco’s expression, he doesn’t succeed.

Harry lets it go and pulls out of a roll of parchment. “Will you look over this really quickly? Tonight?”

He takes the parchment and unrolls it, eyebrows drawing together. “The charms essay? I helped you write this! Why do you want me to look it over?”

Harry rubs the back of his neck. “Er, it’s not mine. It’s Hermione’s.” Draco is just staring at him, but he doesn’t look upset so he adds, “She wanted you to look at her Potions essay too. If you don’t mind.”

Draco scowls, but it’s not enough to hide the pleased flush high on his cheeks. “I suppose. But only if she double checks my Arithmancy equations. I left it to the last minute, and Mum didn’t have a chance to do it. Our class is on Wednesday, so it needs to be before then.”

“Sure,” he says. He’s sure Hermione will be delighted.

Ron had been a lot more on board with the whole Draco being his soulmate thing when Harry had told him they could probably get away with throwing Hermione and Draco at each other and running away.

~

Harry is certain nothing can be worse than that disaster of a divination lesson.

Harry is wrong.

Draco does everything right, the bowing and the eye contact, and he doesn’t walk forward until Buckbeak bows in return. He’s giving the hippogriff the same affectionate smile he gives Abigail when he says, offhand, “He is kind of ugly, isn’t he?”

Harry’s halfway to rolling his eyes when Hagrid shouts and Buckbeak screeches. His talons cut through Draco’s arm, then Draco is screaming, high pitched and terrified. It’s only Ron’s hand fisted in the back of his robes that stops Harry from rushing forward.

Hagrid pushes Buckbeak away before he can attack again, but there’s already a puddle of red underneath Draco, who’s trying to struggle to his knees. Millicent takes off her robe and presses it against the slashes, and it’s soaked with blood in an alarmingly short amount of time, “He needs the hospital wing!” she cries. “Hagrid!”

Draco looks like he wants to argue, but he tries to stand and his legs give out on him halfway up. It’s only Millicent’s quick reflexes that stop him from cracking his head on the ground. “Hagrid!” Hermione says, “You need to take him to the hospital wing! Now!”

Hagrid’s hesitating, and Harry nearly says something but Ron elbows him in side. Daphne Greengrass actually stomps her foot. “Hagrid!”

He finally nods and pulls Draco from Millicent’s arms. The sound Draco makes at the movement sound like it’s being ripped from him, and standing there and pretending not to react is torture for Harry.

The rest of the class can only stand there, looking at the spot where Draco stood and the puddle of dark red he left behind. Millicent is standing there robeless, with red dotting her crisp white shirt.

“That’s a lot of blood,” Hermione says without thinking, and then winces.

“He’ll be fine,” Ron says, speaking loudly so all the anxious looking Slytherins turn towards him. “Madame Pomfrey will take care of him. She’s taken care of worse.”

Some of them relax about that, but Millicent still looks like she’s about to cry, and Harry can’t bring himself to do anything about that, because he feels like he’s about to cry.

They all drift away after that, figuring class is over.

~

Draco wakes up flat on his back with a fiery ache in his arm, but he wakes up, which he figures is the most important thing. Going by the hardness of the bed, he’s in the Hospital Wing. There’s people talking around him, and it only takes him a few seconds to recognize the furious voice that’s speaking at just below a shout. “Dad?” he says, but it comes out scratchy and unrecognizable, and it’s then that he realizes he’s thirsty enough to drink the entire Hogwarts lake.

He pushes himself up with his good arm. His father is standing at the foot of his bed, along with Dumbledore and a tearful Hagrid. “Draco,” his father says coolly, and Draco ducks his head. His parents were so worried about sending him to school this year, between Lupin and the dementors, and it’s not even a week in and he’s landed himself in the hospital wing. He looks up and tilts his head to the side in a silent question. “Your mother is away at a lunch party. She wasn’t home when the Headmaster floo’d me.”

That’s probably for the best, all things considered. “How are you feeling?” Dumbledore asks kindly. He shrugs. “Ah, yes, a healing does rather leave one parched, doesn’t it?” he summons a glass of water to his bedside table. Draco wants to refuse it on principal, but he’s really, really thirsty. He drinks it.

“Are ye all right?” Hagrid asks anxiously, “I didn’ mean–”

“Quiet,” his dad growls, “I’ll see to you in a moment. You’re lucky your gross negligence didn’t do worse harm, otherwise it’d be more than your filthy beast I’d be after.”

Hagrid looks like he’s holding back a fresh wave of tears. On one hand, Draco thinks it’s just what he deserves – who brings animals like that to a group of kids? He’d followed instructions, and the savage animal had clawed at him anyway, just because he’d said he was ugly. On the other hand, Harry likes Hagrid. He may be a half-breed abomination, but his soulmate will mope something awful if anything happens to the great oaf.

“I’m fine,” he says, “I’ve had worse from quidditch. It’s just an overgrown chicken, Father. Don’t concern yourself over it.”

He swings his legs over the side of the bed and stands. He manages it for a handful of seconds before he whites out, and when he comes to it’s to his dad clutching his arms in a death grip to keep him upright. His eyes are wide to the point of looking crazed, and Draco’s suddenly so tired that he just wants to fall into his father’s chest like when he was a kid. Lucius slowly lowers him back onto the bed, and he can tell by the way he briefly cups the side of his face opposite to everyone else how scared he really is. “Hippogriffs are magical beasts,” he says quietly. “Wounds inflicted by them are not healed so easily. Pomfrey was still working on you when I arrived.”

Brilliant. So his dad showed up to him passed out and covered in blood. It really is lucky his mother isn’t here, because then Hagrid would be nothing more than a scorch mark on the flagstone. “I really am fine,” he tries one more time.

Lucius doesn’t respond to that, only squeezes his shoulder before standing straight and shooting Dumbledore and Hagrid a disdainful look. “You will be hearing from my attorneys. Do try and keep my son in one piece going forward.”

He strides out of there without a backwards glance. Hagrid is devastated, and Dumbledore is giving him a thoughtful look that makes him want to hurl every curse he can think of at him. So instead he gives into the tiredness pulling at him, and rolls on his side and falls back asleep.

~

He’s allowed to leave early the next morning, and he’s given strict instructions not to over use his arm for the next couple of weeks while it heals, a process that can’t be sped up thanks to the magical properties of hippogriff talons. Just – bloody brilliant.

There are hours before breakfast, so he has enough time to shower and look like a proper human being, thank Merlin. He steps inside the common room to see Millie dressed for the day and yet another muggle book in her hands. “Do you ever sleep?” falls out of his mouth before he can think better of it. She’s up at in the middle the night and hours before the start of the day. There has to be some sort of explanation.

She tosses aside her book and runs over to him, “Draco! You’re okay!” She grabs him in a hug, and he wants to yell at her, but she’s careful of his arm and smells like vanilla so he goes with it.

“Thanks for catching me. Again,” he hugs her back with his good arm.

“Anytime,” she’s beaming when she pulls back. “Although, if you could stop putting yourself in situations where you later collapse, that would be nice too.”

He grumbles, “I don’t do it on purpose.” He tugs at the end of her hair without thinking about it, because that’s what he does with Luna, and her smile becomes impossibly wider. “I’m going to go get ready. You should really put an illusion over the book, you wouldn’t have to hide out here at strange hours to read it then.”

“I don’t know any,” she says as he walks to his dormitory.

“I’ll teach you!” he calls over his shoulder before disappearing behind the door to the boys’ rooms.

He enters his and Blaise’s as quietly as he can, and has unbuttoned his pajama shirt when he realizes the sling is going to make all of this more difficult. He walks over to Blaise’s bed and pokes him in the shoulder with his wand, then takes three steps back.

Blaise snorts and then sits up, wide awake, as always no in-between. “Draco!”

“Lend me a hand?” he asks, gesturing to his arm.

Blaise shakes his head, but Draco can see how relieved he is. “Pansy was shrieking something awful about how magical wounds were deadly. Daphne apparently had to smother her with her pillow to get her to shut up.”

“I’m not dead,” he winces as Blaise carefully eases his arm through the sleeve, then sets it back in the sling. “But Pomfrey said it would take a couple weeks to heal completely.”

“Better than being dead,” Blaise says practically, “Want help in the shower?”

“Yes,” he sighs. It’s a good thing Blaise knows about Harry, because the three marigolds on his hip are impossible to miss. “I don’t suppose you know how to make my bandages waterproof?”

He shakes his head, “Pansy’s the only one of us that’s any good at transfiguration. Didn’t Narcissa teach you that umbrella charm? Can you cast it smaller?”

Draco wants to go on a lecture about that’s not how charms work, but is very aware that if he dives into yet another rant about his favorite subject that Blaise will leave him to maneuver washing his hair on his own. “I’ll just rewrap it before we go to class.”

“You mean you’ll make me wrap it before we go to class,” Blaise says, but can’t be that irritated because he’s going through Draco’s trunk for his favorite body wash.

~

Harry is only picking at his food at breakfast, anxiously glancing at the Slytherin table like that will make Draco appear any sooner. He hadn’t answered the mirror last night, and Harry knows it’s probably just because he didn’t have it on him in the hospital wing, but it wasn’t much of a comfort. He barely got any sleep last night.

“Do you think Malfoy’s dad will really put Buckbeak on trial?” Hermione asks, seated in between them and speaking softly enough that only Ron and Harry can hear her.

“I think we’re lucky he’s not putting Hagrid on trial too,” Ron says, trying to slip Harry’s favorite sausages onto his plate without him noticing. He appreciates the effort, but he’s just not hungry.

She frowns and absently puts a couple pieces of toast by his elbow, like he won’t notice if she pretends she’s not doing it. He picks up a half piece and takes a bite to prevent himself from being surrounded by a small tower of breakfast food. “That doesn’t seem fair. Malfoy didn’t listen!”

“He did, actually,” Harry looks to the entrance to the great hall, then morosely back at his overloaded plate. “He didn’t really mean the ugly thing. He talks about Abigail like that too.”

Ron finally digs into his own breakfast now that Harry is eating. “He still shouldn’t have said it, Hagrid warned us they were sensitive. But if I’d been the one to get clawed by a hippogriff, my dad would be really angry too, even if it was an accident. Malfoy could have died. So, it’s probably everyone’s fault, a little bit, and it makes sense that everyone’s upset. Besides, Malfoy’s dad is on the Board of Governors, and he definitely voted against Hagrid’s appointment as the Care of Magical Creatures professor, so that just makes all of this worse.” It takes Ron a moment to realize Harry and Hermione are starring at him. He swallows his too large bite of waffle. “What?”

He almost blurts that Ron should have been a Hufflepuff, but he knows he’ll take it entirely the wrong way, so instead he asks, “Is that his dad’s job? That governor thing? Dra – Malfoy mentioned that his dad was a barrister.”

Ron scrunches up his nose, starting in on his toast. “Not really. I mean – it’s a really prestigious position. Malfoy has been on the board since before his son was born. There’s some sort of stipend that members get, but most of them donate it back to the school. The Malfoys are old money, so his dad does a lot of stuff, like half their money is still tied up in businesses back in France. I think if you listed off his all his titles it’d be as long as Dumbledore’s.”

“What does the Board of Governors do, exactly?” Hermione asks, fascinated. “Hogwarts, A History just said it was a governing body.”

He gives her an odd look then shrugs, “That’s about it, really. They approve the yearly budgets, and they need to confirm all new appointments and changes to the schedule and classes. I think things need a two thirds majority to pass? I don’t know, I can ask Percy, he would know.”

“How do you know this stuff?” Harry asks.

Ron blinks, “Er, I don’t know. Doesn’t everyone? Neville has a cousin or something on the Board of Governors, he’d know more than me.”

They keep talking, but Harry doesn’t hear them. Draco has just walked into the Great Hall, Blaise at his side. Besides his arm in the sling, he looks back to normal, doesn’t look like the massive blood loss did any permanent damage. Draco glances up and catches his eye across the hall. He smirks and uses his good arm to run his hand through his hair before continuing on his way to the Slytherin table. He sits next to Pansy, who glues herself to his side. “Prat,” Harry says fondly.

Ron snorts. Harry looks up to see both of his best friends shaking their heads at him. “Eat your sausage,” Hermione says, and Harry frowns but does as she says, his appetite finally returned.

~

They have potions together, although they sit on opposite sides of the classroom. Harry can see Draco struggling to cut his ingredients with his arm. Snape must notice it too, because he orders Pansy to partner with him. She’s eager to help, although Draco looks frustrated. He settles for ordering her around, and Harry thinks Pansy got the better end of the deal here. She’s average at potions at best, while Draco competes for the top spot against Hermione.

“Focus,” Hermione hisses, elbowing him in the side. “He’s fine. Your potion, on the other hand, is not.”

He looks down and realizes the potion is the completely wrong color, a sickly looking pink, and resigns himself to a failing grade.

“Potter,” Blaise sneers as he passes by, and he looks up just in time to see him drop some beetle eyes into his pot.

After a moment of the potion bubbling dangerously over the edge, it settles back down to a simmer and smoothly changes to the correct shade of bright green. He and Hermione glance back at Blaise, who’s returned to his usual seat behind Draco and next to Daphne Greengrass. None of the Slytherins look over at them.

“Huh,” Ron says, “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Expecting what?” Neville asks, looking up from his potion with a look of faint terror.

Before any of them can think up some sort of excuse, Snape swoops in. He makes some rude and unnecessarily cutting remarks about Neville’s intelligence and the boy in general, then vanishes his whole potion with a wave of his wand.

Harry has to resist the urge to dump his own boiling potion on top of Snape’s head.

~

After Potions lets out, Draco tracks down Flint huddled around a stack of books and with that permanently panicked look all fifth years seem to have thanks to the impending OWLS. He barely gets a chance to open his mouth before the older boy says, “Yes, I know you can’t attend tryouts with that arm. Yes, the chaser position is yours anyway. No, it’s not special treatment, because I’ve seen you flying for a year, I don’t need to watch you some more to know you’ll do better as a chaser than you ever did as a seeker. No, that wasn’t intended as an insult, but feel free to take it as one.”

He closes his mouth. “Oh. Thanks.”

“Whatever. Get that arm healed up before practice starts. Go away now.”

Draco is tempted to offer to help Flint study for his charms OWL, but that would require being in his captain’s presence more than required, and Flint is a bore. He’s thankful, but he’s not that thankful.

So instead he makes himself scarce. He’ll go find Luna and practice vanishing her shoes.

~

Harry’s irritation at not being able to face the boggart is quickly pushed aside at how incredibly cool all of Professor Lupin’s lessons are. Draco only scowls when he brings it up, and – okay, his soulmate is kind of a classist snob, but not this much of a classist snob. He doesn’t even say rude things about the Weasleys anymore, he can’t really be that upset that Lupin wears shabby robes. He tries to get Draco to tell him what’s really going on, but he just changes the subject.

“I’m beginning to feel like a glorified messenger boy,” Harry grumbles one night at the start of October. He takes Hermione’s charms essay from Draco that’s positively dripping in green corrections, and hands him his arithmancy project that has enough red that it looks like someone bled on it.

He doesn’t know how two of the smartest people he knows can apparently be so wrong about so many things.

“Tell Granger she needs to focus less on her wand movements and more on her visualization,” Draco says absently, looking over Hermione’s notes. “She can do it textbook perfect until she’s blue in the face, but if she can’t picture what it is she wants to cast, it’s not going to come out quite right.”

“Like transfiguration?” Harry asks. He doesn’t put that much thought into either his wand movements or visualizing his spells, and they turn out all right.

He purses his lips, then shrugs. “I guess. I’m too textbook in transfiguration to say for sure, but Pansy’s pretty good at it. Her essays are kind of a mess so her score’s lower than mine, but her casting is loads better. I can ask her about it, see if she has any advice for Granger. Pansy is kind of crap at charms though, so I’m not sure how much of an overlap there is, if any.”

Harry resists the urge to fidget, because that will end up with him crumpling Hermione’s essay, and then she’ll murder him. “You know, if we’re going to work together like, studying and stuff, maybe – I mean, maybe once or twice a week, we could all meet up. Together.”

“All of us?” Draco asks, guarded.

He hasn’t said no, so Harry barrels forward. “Yes! Us, obviously, but Ron and Hermione, and Parkinson and Zab – I mean, Pansy and Blaise. We’re good at a lot of different things, so – maybe we should try to be good at different things together?”

There’s an uncomfortably long moment where neither of them say anything, then Draco goes, “Yeah, sure, it’ll be satisfying to tell Granger off in person. Then I can make her explain how she gets the answer to the bloody equations, she always skips steps because she thinks they’re obvious, except they’re not because otherwise I would have done them.”

“Right,” Harry beams, “yes, that.”

~

Harry brings it up them right before quidditch practice, mostly so that if they get mad at him he can run away. Hermione lights up and immediately starts writing down questions to ask Draco. Ron just sighs, “I suppose we should.” He brightens and asks, “Zabini seems like he plays a good game of chess, yeah?” None of the Gryffindors will play against Ron anymore. He can sometimes bully one of his brothers into playing with him, but that’s it.

“Maybe?” he says. Draco doesn’t talk about his friends much, not like how he talks about Ron and Hermione. “I have to go.”

Ron waves him off, and Harry hurries to the pitch. No one else is there, and it takes him a couple minutes of standing there in confusion to remember that Wood wanted to meet everyone in the locker room first.

“Sorry!” he says, bursting in where the rest of his team are assembled. “I forgot.”

Wood glares, but no one else seems bothered. “Why are we meeting in here to begin with?” Alicia asks. “Shouldn’t we be practicing, not gossiping?”

“This is important gossip,” Wood says grimly. Harry squeezes in next to Katie, who gives him a friendly smile. “Boys?”

Fred and George step forward. They look grim. “We spied on the Slytherin team’s practice,” Fred says, “There’s good news and there’s bad news.”

“The good news is their new seeker, Flora Carrow, is good. But only good. Harry could outfly her blind,” George ruffles his hair, and Harry halfheartedly tries to swat his hand away.

“The bad news,” Fred continues, “is that Malfoy is a really good chaser. No need to buy his way to that position. It’s kind of crazy,”

The girls scoff in unison, offended at the idea that Malfoy could be competition for any of them.

“We’re serious,” George insists, “we need a new strategy. I think we should focus on knocking Malfoy off his broom. We’ll keep an eye on everything, of course, but Harry doesn’t need our help against Flora. If anything, we’ll just be keeping the Slytherin beaters off him. Malfoy is going to be an actual problem this season.”

Everyone groans. Harry works on relacing his glove so that no one can see him smiling.

~

The first time that he brings his friends to meet Draco, Harry is so nervous he feels nauseous. The Slytherins are already in the unused classroom, and Blaise and Pansy’s faces could be carved from stone. There’s no time for it to get awkward, however, because right away Hermione walks up to Draco and smacks him in the chest with her revised charms essay. “Visualize? Visualize what! That’s so unspecific! Do you have any diagrams or photographs as examples?”

“Diagrams?” Draco says, making it sound like a curse word. “Of course not! You have to – to feel the charm before you cast it, if you want it to be perfect.”

“Feel it?” Hermione repeats, eyebrow twitching, “What is this, divination?”

The conversation quickly goes past Harry’s ability to follow, the two of them pulling out chairs and flipping through a shared charms book. Ron shrugs and says to Pansy and Blaise, “Better us than them, right?”

Blaise snorts, the first crack in his pureblood mask. “You should see him during finals. It’s a nightmare.”

Ron gives him a friendly clap on the shoulder, and Blaise almost looks like he doesn’t want to rip his arm off. “Mate, you haven’t seen a nightmare until you’ve seen Hermione on three hours of sleep reciting every general in the goblin wars for the past three centuries. In the middle of breakfast.”

Blaise actually smiles at that. “Chess?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Ron says. They both retreat to the opposite side of the classroom from Draco and Hermione, who for some reason are almost-shouting over a dictionary of archaic Latin.

Harry looks to Pansy, who raises one perfectly shaped eyebrow. “I heard you’re good at transfiguration?”

“Might as well,” she sighs, taking out her wand. “Your casting on Wednesday was just dreadful. The pattern on your teacup and saucer didn’t even match!”

He wants to ask why it even matters if they match, but he can just tell that that will be the beginning to a whole different type of lecture that he doesn’t have the energy to endure. So instead he says nothing, and listens as Pansy lectures him on the proper way to turn a mouse into teacup.

~

It’s not exactly easy after that. There’s too much a of people trying very hard not to offend anyone, but it’s still almost fun. Ron is pleased that Hermione has started saving her detailed ramblings for their study nights, because it means Draco gets to listen to it and he doesn’t have to.

It is easier than Harry thought it would be, though. Under their sneers, Pansy and Blaise are all right. Outside of prying, judging eye, Pansy is honestly more concerned with her hair than being nasty, and Blaise has a deep seated love of herbology. He swears them all to secrecy, but not for the first time Harry wishes they could tell a few more people.

Blaise and Neville would probably get alone rather well, given the opportunity. Draco keeps talking about Millie, who he’s tutoring on the side, and how her essays are rather brilliantly written, and how all that reading must be good for something. Draco makes a few mentions of Crabbe and Goyle, who for all that they appear to be his constant shadows, don’t spend that much time with him outside of the public eye. “They’re busy,” Draco says dismissively when he asks, “they like spending time together more than they like spending time with me. Also when we were eight they accidentally spilled prune juice on Pansy’s new dress, and have been terrified of her ever since.”

Pansy looks incredibly pleased by this. “They’re nice enough,” she says, which is not how Harry ever expected to hear Crabbe and Goyle described, “but they only hang around Draco because their families told them to get in good with the Malfoy heir.”

“I’m very popular,” Draco informs them, and everyone rolls their eyes at once. “I let them hang around me in public, I have the appearance of two intimidating bodyguards, and they get to report back to their fathers that they’re following instructions. Everyone wins.”

On that first Hogsmeade weekend, when he’s forced to stay behind, he’s pleased and surprised when Blaise and Pansy bring him back sweets and a case of butterbeer. Ron and Hermione had promised to bring stuff back for him, of course, but he hadn’t expected anything from Draco’s friends. He wonders, hopefully, if this means they’re slowly becoming his friends too.

Draco had scoffed and made fun of him, and brought back two packs of sugar quills and a dozen delicately made marzipan candies in the shape of marigolds, the same flowers Draco has on his hip. It’s in a thick box with silk ribbon, and there’s no way Draco got it at Honeyduke’s, which means he went to some sort of snobby specialty shop just to get it for him.

He’s nice when he’s not being awful.

Or course, Harry’s happiness at his unexpected gifts is quickly snuffed out by Sirius Black making his way into the castle and slashing the frame to the Fat Lady’s portrait in an attempt to break into the Gryffindor common room.

~

The night after, Harry is waiting in their unused classroom when Draco bursts in and grabs him in a tight hug. It’s unexpected enough that he doesn’t have the time to return it before Draco is pushing him away. “How did this happen?” he demands, “He shouldn’t be able to get into the castle at all, never mind all the way to your common room! This is – this is unacceptable!”

“It’s fine,” he says, “Draco, he didn’t manage to get in. It’s okay.”

“It’s not okay,” Draco snaps, “What if he had found you walking the hall? Or on the grounds? My mother still won’t tell me anything, even after this, and she has to know something!”

“Why would your mother know anything?” he asks.

Draco gives him a cutting look that Harry’s learned not to take personally, “Because Sirius is her cousin? My mother’s maiden name is Black. If she wasn’t married to my father, she’d be next in line for the position of Head of the Family, what with Andromeda gone off the deep end and living in the muggle world. Mum was only four years older than Sirius and your dad and all them.”

“What?” Harry says, wide eyed. First Lupin knowing his parents, and now Draco’s mum. “Sirius Black was in the same year as my dad? Do you think they knew each other?”

“This isn’t the time to joke,” Draco snaps, and then he gets a good look at him and pales. “Merlin, you’re not joking, are you? You really don’t know. How can you not know?”

“I’d know what you were talking about if you would tell me,” Harry says irritably.

Draco gives him a faintly panicked look. He summons Abigail and drapes the snake around Harry’s shoulders, “Here, she’s very calming.”

He doesn’t know how a cranky, pampered snake hissing complaints in his ear is supposed to be calming, but he has more pressing issues. “Draco. What don’t I know?”

“An awful lot, it seems,” he says, but before Harry can get really irritated with him, he says, “Of course they knew each other. They were best friends.”

Halfway through Draco’s explanation, Harry figures out the real reason Draco summoned Abigail is so Harry wouldn’t go storming away to do something stupid with a snake wrapped around him. He still ends up breaking most of furniture in the classroom, because if he doesn’t do something he’s going to explode. Draco doesn’t say anything, only fixes what he can once Harry is done and banishes the rest.

After, he stands with his forehead pressed into Draco’s shoulder and his arms straight at his sides and fists clenched. Draco runs a careful hand down his arm, clearly trying to find the medium between reassurance and not overcrowding him. “Don’t do anything rash, like trying to go after him or anything. I’m serious, Harry. He’s dangerous.”

“Rash?” Harry says weekly, the exertion of destroying half a classroom’s worth of furniture leaving him tired enough that he could almost fall asleep right there, standing up with his head on Draco’s shoulder. “Me? You must be talking about someone else.”

Draco pokes him sharply in the side, “I’m serious, Harry.”

“Are you Sirius? You’re shorter than I was expecting,” he says, and manages to dredge up a smile when Draco groans and pokes him again, hard enough he’s sure to find a bruise later.

~

Draco is in the stands pretending to cheer for Hufflepuff, but mostly just to watch Harry. Pansy lasts until it starts to rain, then says, “Your soulmate isn’t worth having to re-curl my hair,” and disappears back towards the castle. She’s left more important things for worse reasons, so he’s not surprised. Blaise stays by his side, more for a lack of anything better to do than because he actually cares about quidditch or Draco.

He should have taken Millie. She doesn’t have any interest in playing, but she has a fanatical devotion to quidditch. She might have at least enjoyed it.

He mostly watches Harry the whole game, and pretends not to be impressed when Granger uses a spell to keep his glasses clear of water. He’s making her teach that to him at their next study session.

Because he’s more interested in watching his soulmate than the game, he’s the first to notice something is wrong. The rain is freezing all on its own, and it takes him several minutes to realize that it’s too cold to just be the rain, that the fog that’s rolling in is unnatural.

He’s already screaming for people to run by the time the dementors swarm the pitch. He’s looking for Harry, and sees the moment he passes out just like he did on the train, sees when he slips from his broom.

He’s so high up that the fall can’t be anything less than fatal.

“WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA!” he shouts, hoping everyone is too busy screaming to notice, and the spell barely catches Harry, only manages to slow his decent for a moment before it slides off him. He casts it again, and the same thing happens, and it’s not enough, he can’t catch Harry this way and he’s going to die.

Luckily by this point Dumbledore has noticed The Boy Who Lived falling to his death and uses some spell to Draco has never heard of to guide Harry gently to the ground, and in the next breath casts a spell, so bright that Draco is nearly blinded by it, that drives all the dementors from the pitch.

Blaise is tugging on his arm, and he lets himself be pulled away and melts into the crowd of students fleeing back the castle.

~

Draco is pacing back and forth in an out of use corridor in the dungeons. Blaise had said that Harry was fine, and then kicked him out of their room because his senseless worrying was distracting. He can’t visit Harry in the hospital wing, even though he wants to, and Harry doesn’t have his mirror, so they can’t even talk. All he can do is wait until he’s released, and then corner him away from prying eyes.

“You know, I think you might have a saving people thing,” says a voice that will haunt him in his nightmares.

“What do you want, Weasley?” he turns to glare, “What are you even doing here? No one comes down here!”

Ginny rolls her eyes, “Luna said I’d find you here. She said I wasn’t allowed to be mean to you, though.”

“You’re always mean to me,” he says petulantly, “Tell my cousin you’re a horrible harpy who’s set on ruining my life. I hope she finds nargles to sleep in your hair.”

“We’ve had like two conversations, ever. Don’t be so dramatic.”

“You were mean for both of them,” he says, “Seriously, Weasley. What do you want?”

Her face smooths in seriousness, “I saw you, at the game today. I saw what you did for Harry.”

“I didn’t do anything for Potter,” he says, and this girl manages to be at the absolute worst places noticing the worst things. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“We’ve played this game before,” she chides. “I won’t tell anyone this time, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

He crosses his arms, “If you’re not here to blackmail me, then what are you here for?”

Her mouth cracks into a grin, “Only you would do a good thing and be worried someone would blackmail you for it. I just wanted you to know that I know, so that when no one finds out, you know I can be trusted.”

“Why would I want to trust you?” he sneers.

She shrugs, “I trust you. I don’t like you, you’re insufferable, and I have no idea what game you think you’re playing. But I trust you. I know evil, Malfoy. I had evil living inside of me for a year.” He winces. She stalks forward, and for a moment he’s worries she’s going to hit him. But she only pokes the tip of his nose, and he goes cross eyed trying to watch her. “You’re not evil. You’re kind of annoying, and you say cruel things you don’t really mean because people expect you to say them. But you’re not evil. You’re kind of the opposite. And I think one day you’re going to need people you can trust, and I want you to know that I’m one of those people.”

That’s possibly the nicest thing any Gryffindor has said to him, including his soulmate. He’s trying to think of how to respond to that, but she walks away before he gets a chance to say anything at all.

Ginny Weasley is terrifying.

~

Between Snape taking over the Defense Against the Dark Arts class while Lupin is ill, the disastrous Hufflepuff game, and his destroyed Nimbus 2000, Harry is in a truly foul mood these days. Ron and Hermione have been doing their best not to mention it, but the Slytherins have no such restraint. Last time they’d all hung out, Pansy had called him a bitch and threatened to gag him if he didn’t stop whining. He was so appalled at her word choice that he forgot to be miserable for the rest of the hour they were together, which he’s almost certain was her intention. Or possibly she was just sick of his whining.

That changes when Fred and George corner him after class and give him the best thing he’s ever received – the Marauder’s Map.

He uses the mirror to tell Draco that they have to meet that night, that it’s an emergency, and he’s delighted when he reveals the map to all of them.

The Slytherins are appalled. “Did last year teach you nothing?” Blaise demands. “Did you forget what happened last time something that didn’t have a brain talked back to you?”

Draco already has his wand out, “Give that to me right now.”

“You’re not allowed to set it on fire!” he says, “Fred and George have been using it for years, it’s not cursed!”

They glare at each other a long moment, but Draco huffs. “Fine. At least let us run some diagnostic spells on it.”

Harry hands it over, eyes narrowed. “Why do you even know those spells?”

“Everyone who grows up in ancestral homes are taught them,” Pansy says, “You never know what your ancestors left lying around. You don’t want to put on your great aunt’s purple scarf only to discover it had an anti-theft hex on it after it tries to strangle you.”

Draco finishes muttering a long string of Latin, and the map glows a quick series of colors before returning to normal. They all relax. “It’s safe,” he says, and Harry resists the urge to roll his eyes because that’s what he’d said in the first place. Draco taps the map with his wand, and the colors appear again, the time slower.

“What was that last one?” Blaise asks suspiciously, “The yellow one?”

“Who cares,” Pansy says, “It didn’t turn black so there’s nothing malevolent about it, that’s all that matters.

“Librevenire!” Draco casts, and a tome that has to weigh at least twenty pounds pops out of his wand, and he has to rush to catch it before it falls. Hermione’s eyes are wide as saucers.

Harry had hoped Draco would never perform that charm in front of her. This won’t end well for anyone. Once Hermione figures out how to summon books, they’re never going to get her to leave her room again. “One of these days your parents are going to notice you keep taking books from the manor.”

“They know,” he says, flipping through the pages, “They just don’t care. My dad was notorious in school for getting straight Os on all his exams without having ever stepped foot in the library. It’s because he’d hole himself up in his room and summon whatever he needed from the family library. It’s tradition.”

“Brilliant,” Hermione says. “So can you only summon what you know?”

“Mostly,” he says, “Or if you have a good idea of the layout of the specific place you’re summoning from, and you have the title and author, but that’s pretty hit or miss. It doesn’t work with the Hogwarts library,” he looks up briefly, and grins when Hermione deflates. “All the books have anti-tampering spells on them, and that includes summoning charms.”

She sniffs and crosses her arms. “Rude.”

Draco taps a certain paragraph in the book, and hands it over to her, “Look! Here it is. The map has the same spells on it that portraits do to mimic the creator’s personality.”

“Fascinating,” she says, and gives the map a curious look. “What about the others?”

Draco grabs the map, and is partway through explaining the diagnostic spell when Ron sighs and asks, “Exploding snap? They’re going to be a while.”

“Might as well,” Pansy agrees. “I have to say, I am grateful that now he just nerds out with Granger instead of trying to get us to care about that crap.”

“Same,” Harry and Ron say together, and the four of them grin at each other and begin the game, with the delightful noise of Draco and Hermione arguing about colors in the background.

~

The trip to Hogsmeade is just what Harry needs, even if he has to spend the whole time under the invisibility cloak. He wishes they could have hung out with the Draco too, but he was never alone enough for that to be a viable option. Crabbe and Goyle were constantly at his back, and they saw him when Millicent dragged him to a bookstore at one point, but there wasn’t a chance for any of them to spend any time together.

It gets even better when Snape and his werewolf-centered curriculum leave the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and Lupin returns. He even promises to teach Harry how to protect himself from Dementors after Christmas break, and the prospect of not being completely pathetic against his worst fears is enough to almost put him a cheerful mood.

It’s the day before the students that are going home for Christmas break are set to leave on the train, and Harry and Draco are meeting in the same classroom they always do. Draco had told him he couldn’t stay like he did last year – his parents were both worried with everything happening at Hogwarts, and his mother had been furious when she found out about Buckbeak.

By the time Harry gets there, Draco has set a cheerful fire so it’s warm in this disused corner of the classroom. He’s also taken all the faded cushions off the chairs and set them in front of the fire. “Nice,” he says, and Draco turns at the sound of the voice, and his shoulders loosen when he sees Harry’s smiling, which makes Harry feel less nervous too.

They found out they were soulmates over a year ago. But this is the first time they’re exchanging presents, having skipped each other’s birthdays since there was no way for them to send each other anything in the summer.

They both sit, and Draco shoves a small box into his hands. It’s wrapped in red paper with little brooms zooming across it. “Here, open mine first.”

He does, undoing it with careful fingers so he doesn’t rip the paper, which he can tell is driving Draco crazy. It’s nice paper! He wants to keep it. The box has Quality Quidditch Supplies stamped across it. With the size, it can only be one thing, and he’s already grinning by the time he opens it and a competition grade golden snitch goes flying out. He catches it immediately, the wings beating wildly in an attempt to free itself, and he slides his finger over the middle groove to deactivate it. “Awesome!” he beams. “Thank you. It’s great.”

Draco gives him a pleased smile, and holds out his hand, “Okay, my turn.”

He hands his present to Draco, a thin square box wrapped in simple green paper and a red ribbon. It’s Christmas colors, but it’s also their colors, which he thinks is kind of nice. He hopes Draco likes it – it’s hard to think of a gift for someone whose parents will give him anything he wants anyway. Hermione had clapped her hands and said was perfect when he’d shown it to her, and helped him with the binding. Ron had said Draco would like it, then called him a self centered ponce.

Draco rips off the paper, and flings the lid of the box off and over his shoulder. It’s a thin book with sewn on binding, and Draco opens it. “I picked that iris on the first day of summer vacation,” Harry says, anxiously watching his face as he flips through the pages. The first page had a full iris pressed flat, like the one on his hip, and on each page after that is a petal he’d taken from Aunt Petunia’s garden, dried out and pressed between the pages of the phone book he’d taken from Mrs. Figg’s yard. He’d take one every day, and carefully written the date beneath the page it was picked. The end of the book is another full iris, one he’d angrily grabbed from her garden on his way out after blowing up Aunt Marge. One of the petals ripped, and it’s a little more crumpled than the others, since he hadn’t been as careful when he’s angrily shoved it in between the pages of his potions book. “Do you like it?”

“You thought of me every day?” he says, and there’s something unguarded and sweet in his expression when he looks up.

Harry wants to deny it, because it’s embarrassing. He wants to say there wasn’t much else to think about, to make a joke of it. But the look on Draco’s face stops him. “Uh, yeah. I did.”

He hugs him hard enough that he has trouble breathing, so Harry figures he likes the present.

~

The first thing Harry and Draco do on Christmas morning is talk to each other through the mirrors, just quick enough to grin at each other and wish each other a happy holiday. Then they have to go, Harry to open up the pile of presents on the end of his bed, and Draco to pull his parents from their bed so they can eat breakfast and then open presents.

~

Draco hears about the debacle with the Firebolt the very same night he gets back from Christmas break, Harry pacing and ranting about how Hermione had told the professors and they’d taken it away, and how furious he was about it.

“She made the right decision,” Draco says, and only shrugs when Harry glares at him. “What did you expect me to say? It’s a broom, Harry. A very nice one. But someone is trying to kill you, and a cursed broom would be just the way to do it. Which you should know, since a cursed broom nearly killed you in first year. They’re going to run the same kind of diagnostic spells I did on the map, except a lot more carefully since it’s a Firebolt and not some pieces of paper, and if there’s nothing wrong with it you’ll get it back. Honestly, you should thank Hermione, she’s the only one of you with any common sense.”

Harry’s so offended he just walks out of the classroom, slamming the door on his way out.

After that, he won’t answer Draco on the mirror, and they stop meeting up. Draco’s irritated, but not truly worried. This isn’t like the fight they had last year, when they were trying to hurt each other. Harry’s just being stubborn and stupid. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t hurt about how Harry is ignoring him, but this is the kind of fight he can handle. Harry will have to see sense at some point, and Draco will make him grovel for a bit before magnanimously forgiving him, and then everything will be fine.

Ron and Harry are clearly giving Hermione the same treatment, Ron partially over the broom and partially because her cat had apparently eaten his pet rat. It’s reassuring that they’re not just doing this to him, even if he feels vaguely guilty for thinking it. To make that feeling go away, he sends a message to Luna. The next day he sees his cousin and Ginny Weasley sitting on either side of Hermione, and she looks a lot less miserable than before, so Draco counts it a win.

Of course, one of the downsides of the whole fight is that he doesn’t haven anyone to help him with his Defense Against the Dark Arts spells anymore. Harry really is the best at that class, in their whole year if not the whole school. Which means if he wants more help than Blaise and Pansy can give him, he’s going to need to talk to the actual professor.

Everything his parents had told him about Lupin is still true, of course. But he’s the best DADA professor Hogwarts has had in years, and incredibly patient, even with people who are bad at the spells just because they’re scared. He’s one of the few professors Draco actually likes, even though he’ll never admit it. He figures he can get some pointers from him, it’s not like his parents have to know.

Of course, all fond thoughts of Lupin are instantly banished when he opens the door to the classroom and sees him standing there, doing absolutely nothing, while a dementor advances on Harry, who’s passed out on the ground.

“Expelliarmus!” he shouts, pointing his wand at Lupin’s back. The professor’s wand goes flying over Draco’s head into the hall, and he shuts the door after it. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Mr. Malfoy!” Lupin says, but he doesn’t have time, there’s a dementor going after Harry, and bloody hell, he still doesn’t know a single spell that works against the damn things.

It turns to him, and he’s getting ready to take a page out of Hermione’s book and just set it on fire and hope for the best. Then the dementor pauses, and shifts. His father stands before him, a sneer on his lips and disappointment in his eyes.

It’s not a dementor. It’s a boggart.

Thank Merlin.

He notices the open wardrobe behind it, and he doesn’t bother with ridikkulous. “Wingardium leviosa!” One of the stools lifts into the air. He jabs and swipes his wand, guiding the stool as it pushes and knocks the frantic boggart back into the wardrobe, then uses the stool to slam the door shut. He ends the levitation spell, and the stool clatters to the ground. “Colloportus,” he casts, locking the wardrobe shut for good measure.

He’s panting when he turns to Lupin, wand still held out in front of him. “Quite impressive,” the man says, looking less concerned than Draco thinks he should considering he’s standing there without a wand. “If rather unnecessary.”

“Unnecessary?” he snarls, “What the bloody hell are you playing at?”

“Language,” Lupin says, and Draco is going to hex him, and he’s going to enjoy it.

There’s a warm presence at his back, and a hand trying to push his arm down. “Stop it,” Harry says, words coming out a little slurred. “Knock – knock it off. I told him to do it.”

“You told him to watch as you faced your worse fear and passed out as a dementor tried to kiss you?” he asks tightly.

Yes!” he says, and it’d be more convincing if he wasn’t leaning most of his weight against Draco’s back. “He’s teaching me the patronus charm. The boggart is useful, and obviously not as dangerous as a real dementor. Put your wand down, you lunatic!” Oh, that’s actually a rather good idea. But a patronus charm? That’s not something most people learn without going through auror training. Harry tugs inefficiently at his arm, but his wand is still trained on Lupin. “What are you thinking anyway, attacking a professor?”

“Like our professors haven’t attacked you before,” Draco says, and he hates the calculating way Lupin is looking at them.

This isn’t how enemies talk to each other. Enemies don’t attack professors for one another, or charge towards dementors. Merlin, what a mess. Forget Hermione, he should follow in Lockhart’s footsteps and learn some memory charms.

Harry huffs, giving up and carefully pushing himself away from Draco and supporting his own weight. “All right, fair enough. But Lupin isn’t, so can you stop now?”

“No,” he says clearly. Lupin raises an eyebrow. “You’re not going to tell anyone what happened here. You’re not going to tell anyone Harry and I are friends. Ever.”

“Oh?” he says mildly, and Draco hates the condescending smile that’s waiting just at the edge of his lips, “Why not?”

“Because if you do, I’ll end whatever hope you have at any sort of gainful employment. Everyone will know you’re a dangerous, blood thirsty, rabid werewolf.” Lupin pales, some of that smugness leaving him.

Harry blinks, “He’s a what?”

Draco doesn’t take his eyes or wand off Lupin, but he wants to, and stare at him. “Doesn’t Hermione tell you anything? She’s known for months.”

“How long have you known?” Harry demands, and he’s not having much of a reaction to it, but Draco’s not surprised. Harry wasn’t raised in this world, he doesn’t know how werewolves are viewed by most civilized people, how they’re treated.

He shrugs, “My dad told me before I got on the train. He voted against Lupin’s appointment, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Lupin echoes. “So, what, if I tell anyone about your secret, you’ll tell everyone about mine?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he knows there’s something cruel and ugly in his smile, but he doesn’t bother to hide it or change it. He wants the man to believe he means everything he’s about to say. “I’m not even supposed to know, if I start blabbing my father will be blamed. But my mother made it very clear to let her know if you so much as looked at me funny, to let her know if I’d decided you posed too much of a threat to the people around you. If I do, she’ll mention her concerns at her next lunch with the Notts, who will tell the Ollivanders, who will tell the Browns, who will tell the Diggorys. All of whom, of course, will tell the families they’re close too, which covers almost only every Pureblood family, and the entirety of the magical business owners and government officials in Britain. By the time the school year ends, not only will you be out of a job in addition to everyone knowing you’re a werewolf, but your name will be so thoroughly blacklisted you won’t be able to get a job as a shoe shiner.”

Lupin’s face has gone blank. Harry shoves him, and he stumbles but his wand doesn’t waver. “Draco! What’s wrong with you? Don’t – don’t do any of that!”

“Additionally,” he says, ignoring his soulmate. “If you harm Harry, if you endanger him in any way, I won’t be using my mother’s solution. I’ll be using my father’s.”

Lupin’s gaze drops to Draco’s chest, seemingly counting each of his silver buttons. “Ah. I had been wondering if those were there on purpose.”

“As if my father would send me to school with a werewolf prowling the halls without protection,” Draco scoffs.

“Not particularly deadly on their own,” Lupin says woodenly, “Unless, of course, one is talented in charms. Paired with particularly strong levitation charm, they could do a fair bit of damage.”

He kind of wants to be sick. This isn’t like making fun of Longbottom, or threatening the first years. This is real, and terrifying. “My father suggested heating the buttons and spreading the molten silver over your heart. Personally, I’m rather curious as to what would happen if I made you swallow them.” He feels like he’s about to vomit. He hopes it doesn’t show on his face. Threats aren’t particularly effective if he throws up at the thought of following through.

“ENOUGH!” Harry roars and this time Draco doesn’t fight him when he shoves his arm down. “That is – that is enough, Draco. Why would you – that’s – don’t – you’re better than this!”

“I’m really not,” he says. “Do you think Professor Lupin will harm you?”

“OF COURSE NOT!” he shouts.

He doesn’t miss how Lupin’s shoulder loosen just a little at that. “Then it doesn’t matter, does it? If he doesn’t harm you, I won’t harm him. If he doesn’t ruin our lives, I won’t ruin his. All nice and fair, just like you like it.”

Harry glares. “That’s a Slytherin’s version of fair. The rest of us just don’t threaten anyone to begin with.”

Draco shrugs, pretending to be unconcerned, and turns to Lupin, “Do we have an understanding?”

“I suppose,” he says dryly, “I don’t see how I have much does choice in the matter, when disagreeing with you ends in either destitution or death.”

“Excellent,” Draco says brightly, and hopes he doesn’t look as green as he feels. “I’ll be staying for the patronus lesson, and attending all the future ones. If that’s all right with everyone?”

“No!” Harry says at the same time Lupin goes, “Might as well.”

Harry looks at Lupin, betrayed, and the man has seemingly moved on from Draco threatening to murder him. He shrugs, “Flitwick says he’s the best charms student he’s seen in years. Maybe he can help.”

Draco scratches his nose to hide his flush, and Lupin actually smirks at him.

Harry looks between them, and throws up his hands, “I have no idea what’s going on.”

“You never do,” Draco says, “This is all your fault anyway. If you hadn’t been ignoring me like a sullen child, I would have known about the patronus lessons and none of this would have happened.”

Harry sputters. Draco opens the door with a swish of his wand, then summons Lupin’s wand from where it’s on laying in the corridor. He holds it out to him, and the man spends a long time studying his face before he accepts it back. Draco doesn’t know what he’s looking for, but whatever he finds seems to relax him. “Thank you, Mr. Malfoy.”

“Draco’s fine,” he says, “We’re all friends here.”

He thinks he’s pushing it too far, but Lupin must have a dark sense of humor buried in there because he smiles and says, “Of course we are, Draco.”

Harry looks very much like he wants to strangle both of them.

~

Harry drags Hermione away from Luna and Ginny at breakfast, and snags Ron’s elbow on his way out. He marches them out of the great hall and into the first empty room he finds. Unfortunately for all of them, it’s a broom closet. “Did you know Professor Lupin was a werewolf?” he asks.

Ron recoils, “He’s a what? No way!”

“Did Draco tell you?” Hermione asks, “I figured he might know, what with his father being on the Board and all.”

Harry gives them a quick rundown of the events of last night. They both look more thoughtful than he expected. “It’s not that I think he did the right thing,” Hermione says, “because it’s a quite narrow minded view, and he’s a good enough analytical thinker to know better. But he did offer to fight a werewolf for you.”

“Who knew the bastard had it in him?” Ron says in wonder, “Also, not to be a prat, but I kind of agree with Draco. Just a little. Werewolves are scary! And we’re being taught by one!”

“Yes,” Harry says crankily, “He’s so scary, with his shabby robes and greying hair.”

Ron shrugs, “Werewolves are stronger than the rest of us, even when they haven’t transformed. They’re faster too, and they have a temper.” He scratches his chin, “Then again, Lupin doesn’t really have a temper. At all. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him raise his voice, honestly.”

“Maybe because most of the horrible things you’ve heard are unsubstantiated rumors,” Hermione says testily. “Not that this little break from the silent treatment hasn’t been wonderful, but we all have a class to get to.”

Harry and Ron glance at each other, and they’ve been friends long enough that they don’t have to say anything before moving in unison to block Hermione’s exit. “I guess we’ve been a bit, uh,” he begins.

“Awful, rude, arseholes,” Ron supplies helpfully.

Hermione’s lips twitch up in the corners. “I’m listening.”

They’re ten minutes late to class, but they enter it as one, smiling and walking alongside each other. McGonagall must approve, because she doesn’t even take points away for their tardiness.

~

After the third lesson where neither he nor Draco manage to summon a patronus, Harry asks, “Aren’t you supposed to be really good at charms?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be really good at defense?” Draco shoots back, summoning a glass of water and chugging it. Harry looks pathetic, so he refills the glass and hands it over. “I’m best at charms that involve something physical – summoning something, lifting it up, changing its properties. But charms that are just magic – that’s hard! The most advanced one I know is protego, and that’s only because my mother drilled it into me before I even got my Hogwarts letter.”

Lupin finishes stuffing the boggart back into the wardrobe. He’s sweating too, so Draco summons him a glass of water as well. He hesitates, but must decide that Draco isn’t interested in poisoning him because he accepts it. He only takes two swallows before blinking and asking, “Where did you get this from?”

“My house,” he says, “I tried summoning stuff from here, but the house elves throw a fit when stuff suddenly goes missing. The Malfoy elves are used to it. Besides, our water comes from an underwater stream, not some dirty lake.”

“Of course,” Lupin says solemnly, and takes another sip to hide his smile. It doesn’t work at all.

Draco’s found that spending time more time with Lupin makes him like the man more, not less. It’s quite unfortunate, what with him threatening to kill him and all.

Lupin seems – relaxed, around them. It’s not just that they’re outside of a formal classroom setting, because Harry agrees with him, and he’s been hanging out with Lupin outside of the classroom for a while now. He thinks – well, he thinks it’s because they know he’s a werewolf, even if they haven’t brought it up since that first time. But that Lupin could care so much just that they know, even with all the awful things Draco said, is just too pathetic to be true, so he refuses to believe it.

“What memory do you use to cast your patronus?” Draco asks. Harry looks up, interested.

“I have a few,” he says, rubbing at his wrist. “Never mind that. Knowing what I think of won’t help you cast any better. Come on – no more patronus work, but there’s no reason you can’t some extra practice in on this week’s spellwork.”

Draco groans, because Defense will never be his favorite subject, but Harry beams and impatiently pulls him to his feet.

There are wrinkles in the corner of Lupin’s eyes like he’s trying not to laugh.

~

Harry finally gets his Firebolt back, unharmed. Draco is on edge for the entirety of the Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw game, but no dementors appear, and his soulmate stays thankfully on his broom. Millie is an excellent quidditch companion, cheering and booing with equal enthusiasm.

Of course, nothing good can last, because that very night Sirius Black breaks into the Gryffindor common room.

~

Harry knew he and Draco were friends. Not just because they’re soulmates, but because over the last year they’ve truly grown to like each other. Draco and Hermione obviously get along outside of all the sniping about each other’s school work, and Draco still agrees to play chess with Ron, even though he gets destroyed every time.

He doesn’t really realize that Blaise and Pansy are friends with them until the night after the break-in when Pansy goes over to Ron and starts patting him down, scowling and cursing and calling him an idiot while Blaise looms over Ron – the only one in their year who can still do so – and looks disapproving.

“This means they like us, right?” Harry whispers, nudging Draco in the ribs.

“Obviously,” he answers, squirming away from Harry’s sharp elbows.

He nudges him again just to get Draco to give him an affronted look, and after the Slytherins have been reassured that Sirius Black didn’t manage to damage any of them, it devolves into them arguing about their latest transfiguration paper. Draco and Ron think the process to becoming an animagus is archaic and outdated, while Blaise and Hermione insist it’s more complicated than it seems and all the rituals are very necessary.

Harry and Pansy honestly don’t care, and it would just prefer not to have to write five feet on it either way.

“Can I do your nails?” she asks, “I have nightmares about your cuticles.”

He looks down at his hands. He still has some mud stuck under there from quidditch practice. “Yeah, okay. No Slytherin colors.”

She scoffs and ends up painting them red. She also manages to paint an improbably detailed snitch on each of his thumbs, and he doesn’t bother to hide how delighted he is by it. She responds to that by huffing and tossing her hair over her shoulder, but it’s Pansy, so that’s about what he expected.

The next Hogsmeade visit, Harry splits his time between being invisible next to Ron and Hermione, and being invisible next to Draco, and it’s the most fun he’s had possibly all year.

That’s soured somewhat when Harry gets caught be Snape coming back from Hogsmeade, and Lupin of all people confiscates the map.

He tells everyone the next time they all together. Ron, Pansy, and Blaise are pissed, but Draco and Hermione are oddly silent.

“Yes?” Harry says. “Is there something you two would like to tell us?”

Hermione bites her lip, “Well – you know Draco and I were just so interested in figuring out how the map worked, and we took so many notes. The spells are strong, and advanced, of course. But we are quite strong and advanced for our age. It would be risky, and we might fail–”

“Will you get to the point?” Pansy snaps.

“We can probably recreate the map,” Draco says. “We’d need to make the parchment ourselves from some sort of magical plant that’s resilient enough to handle all the spells we’d need to perform on it, and of course we’ll need to brew two potions–”

“Three potions,” Hermione corrects, “We need the locking potion, we can’t just use the spell.”

“We can to just use the spell,” Draco says, “The locking potion takes three months to brew, and is irritatingly difficult to complete without it going wrong. It’s too big of a risk.”

“I made Polyjuice in a girls’ bathroom last year,” she says, “I can make the locking potion.”

He rolls his eyes, “Fine, three potions, whatever. The point is it will be a disgustingly large amount of work, and it will take us to the end of the year, but we can recreate the map. If you guys are interested.”

“Yes,” they all say at once, and as scary as they are together, Harry is so grateful Draco and Hermione get along, because it leads to brilliant things like this.

~

Draco gets a letter from his parent’s informing him of Buckbeak’s verdict. It’s not like it was ever in doubt, not really, not with his father on the case. But he’d asked his dad to let it go, tried to say he was fine and it didn’t matter, but his dad wouldn’t listen to him. If only he hadn’t tried to stand in the hospital wing, or his dad had arrived a little later and hadn’t seen him screaming and bleeding, that might have worked. But those things did happen, and even if Draco was able to persuade his father to drop the case, he would never convince his mother. He supposes, in the grand scheme of things, it’s better for Buckbeak to die by executioner than for Hagrid to mysteriously go missing and never return, which is likely what would have happened if it had been up to his mother.

Now he just has to convince the Gryffindors of that.

They’re all dejected when they meet up that night, but Draco barely gets a minute into a fumbling almost-apology before Ron shakes his head and claps him on the shoulder, “Don’t worry about it, Draco. You tried. I can’t say my parents would be thrilled if I’d gotten clawed by a hippogriff either.”

Hermione nods emphatically, and Harry nudges him in the ribs, smiling.

On one hand, it’s a relief that they don’t blame him, that they’re not mad at him. On the other, it somehow makes him feel even worse for not being able to save Hagrid’s beast.

~

They end up gathering broken branches from the Whomping Willow to make into paper. Pansy does that part, and two weeks later she presents several long sheets of parchment that are a pure snowy white and thicker than normal parchment. In the meanwhile, the rest of them work on reproducing the actual map with all its hidden corridors, Blaise carefully drawing out the map since he has the steadiest hand and his mother forced him to learn calligraphy. They figure out that if they want to keep track of the moving staircases, they’re going to have to individually charm each staircase and connect it the map. Draco does that part, while Hermione is neck deep in research in how to enchant the map to pick up people’s magical signature. They have the list of spells that were used to create the original map, the tricky part is figuring out how exactly they were used and what they were cast on. Ron ends up being best at that, somehow managing to look at the list and work out which spells conflict with each other, and which ones cancel each other out. “It’s a bit like chess,” he says defensively, when Hermione gives him a surprised and impressed look.

“We should add the Chamber,” Draco says, at one point. “It wasn’t on the old one, but we should add it.”

“And that weird place where the sorcerer’s stone was kept,” Ron adds, “That wasn’t on the map either, we should put it in.”

Pansy frowns, “We need to make it so we can edit the map after we complete it, otherwise there’s no point. Who knows what else we’ll find?”

They all groan, but no one disagrees, and a whole new round of research begins.

Eventually they figure it all out and decide that Harry should do the majority of the casting, with Ron doing the fiddly bits and Draco focusing on the charms that will give the map parts of their personality. It has to be individually tailored to each of them, and they will all have to cast it themselves, but he’s the one designing it for each of them. Pansy assists Hermione with the potions whenever Draco is too busy, and Blaise gets the forbidden ingredients from his mother, which is so much easier than trying to steal things from Snape’s private stores.

At one point, they have an intense argument over what it should be called that lasts four days and involves several broken chairs, but Blaise is finally the one to suggest a name that they can agree on, one that everyone agrees is cool without sounding too pretentious. Then there’s a whole other argument about nicknames, since whoever made the map the first time obviously had them, and everyone’s name has to go through a vigorous voting process to ensure no one ends up looking like a twat.

They each perform the charm to imbibe the map with their personalities, the same one that’s used on magical portraits. Draco guides their casting in addition to performing it by himself, and it’s a good thing they do it on a Friday night, because Draco sleeps through all of Saturday after that.

Soon, all that’s left is for the complete map to soak in the locking potion for a month, and then dry under the light of a full moon. They’ve timed it perfectly, and it should be completed just as the school year ends.

This is how the Chimera Map is born.

~

It’s the final quidditch match of the year, and the most important – Gryffindor versus Slytherin, and Slytherin is enough in the lead that Gryffindor doesn’t just have to win the game to get the Quidditch Cup, but they have to win by over one hundred and fifty points.

Fred and George were right. That’s going to be a lot harder than it’s been in the past.

Harry circles the pitch, keeping one eye on Slytherin’s seeker, Flora, and the other on the game. Draco is so much better as a chaser. He weaves and dives around players, and has no problem passing the quaffle to whoever has the best chance of scoring the goal. Which is another thing – he’s managed to score two goals himself already, because he has such an accurate throw that other chasers will feint out Wood, then pass the ball to Draco at the last second and he’ll manage to throw it through whichever hoop Oliver isn’t defending at the moment.

Draco throws the quaffle almost halfway across the pitch at one point, and Fred sends a bludger his way, cursing. Draco has to drop down and head towards one of his own beaters to get it off his tail.

“BLOODY HELL!” Lee Jordan shouts from his typical place at the commenter box, and Harry doesn’t look over but he’s sure McGonagall is yelling at him. “DID YOU SEE THAT? DID WE ALL SEE THAT? DRACO MALFOY JUST MADE, AND I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M SAYING THIS, A SPECTACULAR THROW! MALFOY CHANGING POSITIONS IS THE WORST THING THAT’S HAPPENED TO THE GRYFFINDOR TEAM SINCE CHARLIE WEASLEY GRADUATED!”

Harry smothers a laugh, keeping an eye on the scoreboard. He sees the snitch a couple of times, but doesn’t do anything, knowing that now isn’t the time to catch it.

Unfortunately, not long after that Flora sees the snitch and dives after it. He tries to knock her off course and distract her, but now that she’s finally seen it she doesn’t lose track of it, no matter how many times Harry cuts her off or the Weasley twins send the bludgers after her. It gets to the point where Harry has to either catch it himself or watch her do it.

From when he decides to catch it to when the snitch is in his hand is about fifteen seconds.

He twists to see the scoreboard.

Gryffindor won.

By a hundred and thirty points.

Everyone’s landing and the Slytherins are cheering. They may have lost the game, but they’ve won the cup. Harry is disappointed, of course, and he wants to be angry, he sees the anger on his teammates’ faces. But the Slytherins are hoisting Draco onto their shoulders and he’s laughing, and Harry can’t even remember the last time he saw Draco really smile in public, never mind laugh, and he can’t be that upset about it.

They don’t meet in person that night, but Draco does contact him on the mirror. He looks worried, and like he’s trying not to look like he’s worried, so Harry tells him congratulations first, makes sure he sounds like he means it because he does, and Draco’s face melts into relief.

There will be other games. Besides, for once, the Slytherins won fair and square.

~

Once quidditch season is over, final exams smack them all in the face. Draco and Hermione become snappish and exhausted, although Draco refuses to show he’s trying as hard as he is, which limits him. Hermione doesn’t have an aloof and effortless reputation to maintain, so she constantly has her head buried in a book or is surrounded by notes.

They start meeting nightly, and Draco and Hermione go to each other immediately, both of them tripping over each other to demand help with one subject or spell. Hermione drills Draco in arithmancy formulas while he adjusts her wand movements, and the rest of them stay back and study amongst themselves to stay out of the crossfire.

Finals are mostly over when Harry gets the note from Hagrid that Buckbeak is to be executed at sunset. He and Ron and Hermione all agree they should go down and try to comfort him, and so they make the trek down to his cabin right after dinner.

Then someone knocks on his door, and Harry is shocked to see Draco behind it.

~

Draco doesn’t want to go. It’s not his fault that any of this is happening, it’s Hagrid’s for bringing a creature so dangerous in first place. But there’s still this awful sense of guilt churning in his stomach that he can’t help, and unfortunately through his exposure to Gryffindors there’s only one way he knows to make it go away.

“Cover for me,” he tells Blaise, stuffing his feet into his shoes.

“Don’t get caught!” Blaise hollers after him, but can’t be that concerned because he doesn’t look up from his magazine.

He almost convinces himself to turn around twice on the way to the half-breed’s cabin, especially because his dad is going to be on the grounds soon and the last thing he needs is for his dad to catch him talking to Hagrid. But he’s pretty sure if he does it after the fact it doesn’t count, so this is really his last chance to get rid of the roiling feeling in his gut, which is his only motivation in doing this.

He knocks on the door. Hagrid opens it, and he sees his soulmate and his friends inside, and instantly regrets everything. This is going to be so much worse if has an audience.

“Malfoy,” Hagrid says cautiously, “is there somethin’ ya need?” He seems to remember then that none of them should be out of the castle this late, and tries to block his view of the Gryffindors and force his face into something vaguely disapproving at the same time. Draco shakes his head and waves his hand. Hagrid relaxes a little, but not much.

“May I come in?” he asks stiffly, “I’m not here to cause trouble.”

Hagrid looks dubious about that, which is only fair, but steps back to let him inside. The heavy door swings shut behind him, and Draco appreciates that none of the Gryffindors say anything. “What’s this ‘bout?” Hagrid asks. 

He rubs his hands against the front of his robes, unsurprised that they’re sweating but irritated about it anyway. “I just – I don’t want Buckbeak to die,” he says, and Hagrid blinks at him. “I think he’s an awful brute, and you must be an absolute moron to think hippogriffs to be a suitable creature for the first class of the year, but I – I think the only thing stupider than bringing a hippogriff to class would be doing do so if you actually intended for anyone to get hurt, and I suppose you’re not quite that stupid. So, I – I figure you didn’t intend for that to happen, and I tried to tell my dad that, I tried to get him to let it go, but he wouldn’t listen to me, and I’m still mad about everything, just so we’re clear, but I don’t want him to die.” He takes a deep breath, realizing he hadn’t been breathing through any of that, and says, softer, “I don’t want anyone to die.”

He’s looking at the ground, waiting for Hagrid to roar at him and throw him from his cabin. But – he does feel oddly better.

That’s not what happens. Instead Hagrid pats Draco on the back with his enormous hand and says, “That’s alright, don’ worry ‘bout it. Yer dad was righ’ - I shouldn’ brought such a creature ter class.”

He risks a glance up, and Hagrid is smiling at him, something warm in the half-giant’s face that Draco’s never seen before. He huffs and sticks his nose in the air to cover his surprise, crossing his arms. “Well, you’re clearly Scamander stock, so I suppose we can’t expect anything else from you.”

He says it like it’s insult, but it’s obviously a compliment. Hagrid is positively beaming at him, and his eyes have even gotten a little shiny.

“Bloody hell,” Ron curses, breaking the silence and ducking down. “They’re coming! The executioner and the minister and Malfoy! Er – older Malfoy.” Then, a moment later. “BLOODY HELL! SCABBERS!”

Draco pales, looking past Ron struggling to stuff his newly found and apparently not dead rat into his pocket. His dad can’t find him here. Hagrid ushers them out, and it’s uncomfortably close under the invisibility cloak, but they all manage to get out of there without being seen. They hear the thud of an axe, and Harry’s hand finds his under the cloak, but none of them make a sound.

~

Draco is in the Shrieking Shack after watching Ron disappear beneath the Whomping Willow’s branches and watching Hermione’s cat, of all things, freeze the tree. Black is down there, looking as deranged and emaciated as one would expect an escaped convict from Azkaban to look. If they survive this, Draco is going to make it clear to Harry that these types of things don’t happen to other people.

They’ve all got their wands pointed at Black, but his soulmate is shaking he’s so furious. It’s not that he doesn’t understand, of course he does, he threatened to kill Lupin if he harmed Harry, and anyone that murdered his parents would find a long, painful death at the end his wand. But that’s him. Harry is supposed to be better than him. That’s the whole point.

“Don’t do it,” he says, in a rush, and Harry doesn’t look away from Black but his whole body twitches. “I know you want to, and he deserves it, he’s a traitor who betrayed and therefore killed your parents–”

“I would never betray James or Lily!” Black rasps.

“Shut up!” Draco snaps, “I’m trying to save your life, so shut up.” He doesn’t really care if Black lives or dies, but he cares about what it will do to Harry to kill him. Harry raises his wand an inch higher, and Draco clamps his hand over his wrist, desperate. “STOP! I’ll do it!”

Harry freezes.

“Draco?” Hermione whispers, uncertain.

“I’ll do it,” he repeats, “My family library doesn’t exactly have a forbidden section, I know the type of spells that will make it hurt, that will make him suffer. If you want Sirius Black dead for betraying you parents, I’ll do it.” Harry is still trembling, and he’s not saying anything, so he continues, “How do you want it done, Harry? Want me to explode his eyeballs? Want him to suffocate slowly? Want me to wingardium leviosa one of these broken wooden boards through his stomach? Want me to try and summon his heart from his chest? I’ll give it to you, and you can squeeze it until it bursts, and maybe in those seconds before he dies he can feel like you have your whole life. Is that what you want?”

There’s another long moment where Draco’s unsure if he’s about to become a murderer, but then Harry slowly shakes his head. He’s still furious, but he’s not shaking anymore, he doesn’t look like he’s ready to kill anymore.

The relief is short lived, because the next moment all their wands go flying from their hands. They all look to see Lupin stepping through the entrance. There’s a moment of confusion, then Lupin throws himself at Black, hugging the man until it looks like he’ll break, and Draco cannot believe this is happening.

“Are you kidding me?” Ron bursts out, “You – you monster! You’re working with him?”

“I TRUSTED YOU!” Hermione screeches, “I knew you were a werewolf, and I didn’t say anything, because I thought it didn’t matter! I thought you were a good person! Now this? I should have gone to the Prophet and gotten you sacked!”

Draco is numb, starring wide eyed. He’d – he’d liked Lupin, thought he was all right, for a werewolf, thought maybe he was wrong about werewolves if most of them were more like Lupin than the dark stories his parents told him growing up. But if he was working with Black this entire time – but no, he couldn’t be, people didn’t hug like that if they were just co-conspirators, if they were just allies.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione are still yelling, but Draco thinks back to one of their last patronus lessons with Lupin, and takes a closer look at Black. His robes are tattered, and hang off his skeletal frame. It’s covered in dirt and mud but it’s there - wrapped around his wrist is a mark, a delicate sprig of wolfsbane.

“Hey,” Draco says, grabbing onto Harry's robes and tugging, “Look.” He points, and Harry follows his finger until he notices the same thing he had.

Harry looks to Lupin and snarls, “Roll up your sleeves.” He looks back to Black, who’s trying to cover it up, but it’s too late. “Your left arm, to be precise.”

“Clever,” Lupin says softly. “I will – if you promise to stop yelling and listen.”

He throws them their wands before they can respond, and Draco grips his and can’t help but think how stupid that is. He’s wearing his cloak with the silver buttons.

Lupin shoves up the sleeve of his left arm – draped across his wrist are tiny snapdragon flowers.

“You’re soulmates,” Ron says, shocked. “The two of you are soulmates?”

“Yes,” Lupin says, and looks to Sirius, “which makes my belief that he was the spy so much worse.”

Black shakes his head and croaks, “I thought the same. They wanted to make it you after I refused, and I told them not to.”

They explain everything, about the map and how and why they made it, about Lupin knowing to come and knowing Sirius was innocent after seeing Pettigrew on it, about becoming animagi, about the secret keepers and what went wrong, and finally about the wolfsbane potion that Lupin now takes each month to stay sane during the full moon.

Draco’s just starting to believe it all when this already horrible situation gets even worse – Snape throws off Harry’s invisibility cloak, and reveals that he’s been hiding in the corner almost the whole time. He ties up Lupin in the next breath, the only other adult with a wand, and then turns to Draco.

“Mr. Malfoy,” he says, “How surprising to see you here.”

They’re all shouting, begging him to listen, but Draco can’t really hear any of it, only the blood rushing past his hears and his own rapid heartbeat. Snape isn’t like Lupin – Draco doesn’t have anything to threaten him with, not really, and he’s not someone that Draco could convince his parents to dismiss if he did say something. Snape will tell his parents everything, and that will be the beginning of the end.

He steps forward and raises his wand, shouting, “OBLIVIATE!”

The spell hits Snape square in the chest, and he stumbles from the force of it, hitting his head against the shack wall and crumpling unconscious to the ground.

Everyone is silent.

Hermione cuts Lupin free. He says, “I thought you struggled with charms that lack corporeal elements.”

“I do,” he says, swallowing. “I’ve never cast that before.”

Ron looks a little green, and Draco doesn’t think it’s just from the pain of his broken leg anymore. “So, do you think, like – like with Lockhart last year?”

He shrugs. “I guess we’ll find out when he wakes up. I read the theory, I meant to only take a couple hours, but – well, we’ll find out when he wakes up.” He swallows and gestures to Sirius and Lupin, “You were saying?”

They continue, halting at first, then picking up pace, and Harry is still skeptical but Draco believes them. Harry’s skepticism finally dissolves when they transform Scabbers into a sniveling, balding man that is undeniably Peter Pettigrew. He admits to betraying James and Lily Potter.

Finally satisfied by the explanations, Sirius takes Snape’s wand and he and Lupin prepare to end Peter’s life. Draco looks away, and he sees Hermione hide her face in Ron’s shoulder. He kind of wants to do the same, even if Ron does have exceptionally bony shoulders.

“Stop.”

They all look up. “Harry?” Lupin asks.

“Stop,” he repeats firmly, standing straight and with something flinty in his eyes. “I wasn’t going to let Draco become a murderer to kill Sirius. I won’t allow you guys to become murderers to kill Peter. I don’t think it’s what my dad would have wanted, and it’s not what I want.”

“He won’t be the first person we’ve killed,” Lupin says gently, “There was a war, Harry.”

“And now there’s not,” Harry says. “This isn’t a war, and we don’t kill people even when they deserve it. That’s not our job.”

Peter starts wailing his thanks, and Sirius kicks him hard in the side of the ribs to shut him up.

Draco clears his throat, “It’ll be a lot easier to clear your name if we give the aurors Pettigrew. Certainly a lot easier than if we give them his corpse.”

“Oh, there wouldn’t be any remains,” Sirius says darkly, then sighs, “I suppose you have a point. Both of you.”

They tie up Pettigrew and Snape, Lupin floating them up ahead of him. Hermione and Draco go on either side of Ron, helping him limp up the stairs. Harry and Sirius trail behind, talking quietly, and Draco makes an effort not to eavesdrop.

They’ve just made it past the weeping willow when a cloud shifts and a shaft of moonlight lands on the group. They all look up. “Oh dear,” Hermione says quietly.

The next few minutes are terrifying, and it’s difficult for Draco to keep track of what’s happening. Lupin changes, having not taken his potion, and Pettigrew gets away. Sirius chases after him, then comes back to chase Lupin away from them, for which Draco is absurdly grateful. He really, really doesn’t want to have to use the silver buttons on his cloak.

Then, because clearly their situation hasn’t hit rock bottom yet, the dementors arrive.

Not one or two, but all of them, dozens and dozens swarming around them in their search for Black. He, Hermione, and Harry fall to ground, nowhere to run and suddenly too tired to move even if they could.

He reaches for Harry, and a dementor comes and grabs his soulmate’s face, and he wants to cry out, wants to save him, wants to do anything, but he can’t bring himself to move.

Then a brilliant silver stag comes charging into them, piercing the dementor holding Harry through with his antlers and knocking him aside. Harry falls to the ground.

The last thing Draco sees before falling unconscious is the shimmering patronus chasing all the dementors away from them.

~

Harry wakes up, which is always a pleasant surprise. Snape is speaking, which is less pleasant. “For the last time, Minister, I have no idea what any of us were doing out there, because I can’t remember. I woke up to the unconscious students, and returned them and myself to the castle. There’s nothing more to say.”

“Head injuries can have these type of affects, Minister,” Dumbledore says soothingly. “Surely there’s no reason to continue harassing my Potions Master over it? Can he not be released to get some much needed rest?”

Fudge grows but says, “Fine. You may leave.” There’s the sound of Snape walking quickly away, and a door opening and closing. “Sirius Black is in your office, spouting nonsense, and Harry Potter was found unconscious on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. I’m tired of waiting for answers, Dumbledore!”

“Now, Cornelius, perhaps now is not the time to act recklessly–”

“This is not reckless!” The minister snaps, “Black is caught, the executioner is here, I think it’s fairly obvious what the next step is.”

No! No. Harry’s just gotten his godfather, he can’t lose him already, that’s not fair, and nothing in his life is fair, but this is too much.

Dumbledore sighs, “If only we had more time, perhaps two lives could be saved.”

“What nonsense are you going on about now?” Fudge says, “Never mind that, let’s go, we need to catch the executioner before he returns to the ministry.”

They leave.

Harry pushes himself up, and the hospital wing is empty but for four beds. “Are you awake?”

“Obviously,” Draco says, pulling himself up as well. “What was Dumbledore talking about?”

Hermione get up, face pinched, “He was talking to me, I know what we have to do.” She looks to Ron and bites her lip, “Pompfrey put him in a healing sleep for his leg, and he really can’t walk on it anyway. We’ll have to leave him behind.”

“We’re going to save Sirius?” Harry asks, “How?”

“With this.” Hermione pulls out a necklace from underneath her robes.

Draco curses, “A time turner? You rotten cheat – how many more hours of studying did you manage with that? How did you even get it?”

“McGonagall got it for me so I could take extra classes,” she says, “Now hurry up and get over here before someone else walks in.” Harry’s not sure what’s going on, but he gets up and stands next to her. Hermione loops the necklace around all three of their necks, the golden chain magically expanding to accommodate them. “Three turns ought to do it, I think.”

Harry figures it out once they’re three hours in the past. “Brilliant,” he breaths. “The second life Dumbledore was talking about – Buckbeak?”

“It has to be,” Hermione agrees, “Come on, we need to get out of sight, no one can see us.”

They sneak down to Hagrid’s cabin, waiting until past Draco has entered to quietly lead Buckbeak away. Draco makes Harry and Hermione walks between him and the beast, unwilling to be any closer to the hippogriff than necessary. The executioner swings the axe into a tree stump in frustration, the same sound they’d heard before, and the three of them laugh quietly from where they’re hidden in the edge of the forest.

After that it’s just a waiting game. They watch Ron get dragged under the Whomping Willow and into the Shrieking Shack, and then watch them all come out. Lupin transforming is somehow even worse the second time around, and Hermione leads Buckbeak into Hagrid’s empty cabin just in case Lupin heads this way.

“Are you coming?” Draco asks, impatiently, “As much as I don’t want to get clawed by that overgrown bird, I especially don’t want to get bitten by a werewolf.”

“You go,” he says, desperate to see who conjured the patronus that saved them, desperate to get a glimpse of his father.

Draco stares at him for a long moment before huffing and settling down beside him. “If we get killed, I’m blaming you.”

“That’s fair,” he says, leaning his side into Draco so they’re pressed together from shoulder to hip. It gets cold in the forest at night.

It gets even colder when the dementors flood the grounds, and he can hear Draco’s teeth chattering next to him. He’s straining his eyes, looking for his father to appear and save them, but the dementor’s mouth is descending on his past self, and nothing is happening.

“Oh,” he says, a mix of disappointment and pride sweeping through him, “It wasn’t my dad. It was me.”

“What?” Draco asks, but Harry ignores him.

He leaps up, running forward to snap his arm out, wand held high. He thinks of Draco’s hand in his, of those long nights where his friends and Draco’s friends eventually became their friends, of Sirius offering for Harry to leave the Dursleys and live with him. “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

The beautiful silver stag erupts from his wand, charging forward and forcing the dementors to scatter. Draco scrambles forward to stand beside him, “Bloody hell, Harry.”

“Come on,” he grabs Draco’s hand and pulls him back to Hagrid’s cabin, “Let’s go.”

Harry rides Buckbeak up to Dumbledore’s office window, and undoes the latch. Sirius is looking at him with wonder and surprise as he climbs onto Buckbeak’s back. They land, and Draco and Hermione are standing back, giving them the chance to say goodbye.

“I came here to save you, and you’re saving me instead,” Sirius says, voice still raspy from disuse.

Harry shrugs, “You can save me next time.”

Sirius barks out a laugh, and for a moment his whole face changes, he looks younger. He ruffles Harry’s hair, “I like your friends. I’m not too sure about that Malfoy boy though.”

“He’s a Black too,” Harry feels the need to point out. “Your cousin is his mom.”

Sirius snorts, “That’s not much better.”

“I don’t know,” he says, “I’ve met more Blacks I’ve liked than not.”

He smiles at that, “Take care, okay? I’ll write when I can, if – if you want.”

“Yes!” Harry says instantly. “Me too. You’re my godfather, after all.”

“Yeah,” he says roughly, “I am.” Sirius pulls him in for a crushing hug, and he tries not to worry about how he can count Sirius’s ribs through both their clothes. “Now get along, you’re running out of time.”

He’s right, but Harry can’t bring himself to look away until Sirius is only a speck in the sky.

They make it back to the hospital wing just in time to watch themselves disappear.

~

Pansy and Blaise are furious that everything happened without them, and make Draco recount every detail, sometimes more than once because of how ridiculous it all sounds.

Draco doesn’t know exactly how much time his memory charm has taken from Snape, but he apparently wasn’t surprised that Lupin was a professor, so there’s that. It can’t have been more than a year, although by the way Snape has spent most of his time locked away in his office since, Draco thinks it was way more than a few hours.

That of course means there’s no one to contradict him when he says that he saw the Gryffindors sneaking away, so he told Snape and went with his Head of House down to the Shrieking Shack. It means Snape gets a howler from his mother about the proper care of children, and her furious voice echoes throughout the whole Slytherin common room. Draco gets away looking like he just stumbled into this whole mess, with no personal attachment to it at all.

The dementors are sent back to Azkaban the same night. His dad had called an emergency meeting of the Board of Governors, and they’d all gotten together and threatened Fudge with legal action if he didn’t get those things off school grounds immediately.

Luckily in all the chaos of the dementors and Sirius, Lupin doesn’t get mentioned at all. Which means he’s not expecting it when he reads his parents’ letter and at the end of it his dad tells him that Lupin is resigning.

He drops the letter and is running to the defense classroom before he can think better of it, bursting inside and shouting, “What are you doing?”

“Packing,” Lupin says calmly, and half the classroom is indeed already packed away. His lips quirk up at the corners, “I’m glad you’re all right, after what happened. Did you come here to deliver your mother’s punishment? I’m afraid if will be slightly less effective, since I’m quitting anyway.” His eyes drop Draco’s cloak, “Or have you come to enact your father’s method? You did say that’s what would happen if I endangered Harry, and I’m not sure we can call me transforming in front of him anything else.”

Draco stares, aghast. “Wingardium leviosa,” he casts, and his silver buttons pull themselves from his cloak. Lupin takes a step back, face closing off as he reaches for his wand. “Reditus!”

The buttons vanish, returning back to the manor. Lupin blinks, mouth opening and then closing. “Mr. Malfoy?”

“I don’t care that you’re a werewolf!” he says, furious, “We were down there with Pettigrew and dementors, and you were the least monstrous of them all, even when you transformed. It’s – terrifying, and awful. But I don’t suppose you can help being a werewolf any more than Millie can help having a muggle mother, or Hermione being a mudblood, or Hagrid a half-breed. So – so I’ve decided it doesn’t matter.”

“Is that so?” Lupin asks, and he’s smiling, the skin of his eyes crinkling in the corners.

Draco scowls, “We would all be worse than dead if you hadn’t taught Harry the patronus charm. We need a professor who knows what he’s doing, and no one knows you’re a werewolf, and they’re not going to hear it from me. Don’t quit.”

~

Harry runs from Hagrid’s cabin to Lupin’s classroom, and throws the door open to see Draco glaring at Lupin who’s only smiling. “You’re quitting?” he demands.

“News travels fast,” Lupin says dryly, “Yes, I am.”

Draco rolls his eyes, “Excellent, maybe you can talk some sense into him, he won’t listen to me.” He walks out, knocking his shoulder into Harry’s as he does.

Lupin watches him go, and waits until he slams the door behind him to say, “You know, I think I actually like that kid.”

“He grows on you,” Harry agrees. “Don’t go. Please. You’re the best professor we’ve ever had.”

“We were extremely lucky last night,” he says. “I could have hurt any of you, or worse. I shouldn’t be around students when I transform. It’s all right – I have a year as a Hogwarts professor on my resume. It’ll be a lot easier for me to get a different job.”

“But what about us?” Harry asks, clenching his hands into fists, and tries not to say – what about me?

Lupin softens, “I’ll keep in touch. You don’t need me – you and your friends have proven you’re more than able to take care of yourselves. Besides,” he touches his left wrist, “Sirius does need me. We have a lot of catching up to do.” His smile gets a touch of nostalgia, “Sirius and I got our soulmarks the very first day of classes. When he got his animagus form, James said that my soulmark was a clear sign that we were all meant to be friends, because in India snapdragons are known as dog-flowers, and without him we wouldn’t have known it.”

Harry almost tells him about Draco, about his own soulmark, but holds it back. It’s not just his secret to tell. “Take care of each other, okay? I just got you guys back.”

Lupin ruffles his hair and reaches for something in his desk, “I suppose I should give this back to you. It won’t do me any good.”

He holds out the Marauder’s Map, and Harry takes it, cheeks flushing. He almost wants to keep it for himself, wants to keep this part of his dad for himself, but that’s not very fair. “Er, do you think, I mean – can I give this back to Fred and George? They’ve been making good use of it, is all, and it was a map made by pranksters for pranksters, so I feel like it’s something they should have.”

“If you like,” Lupin says, surprised, “But it’s quite useful. I’m surprised you don’t want to keep it for yourself.”

“Well,” Harry rubs the back of his head, “the thing is, that after you took it away, we kind of – made our own? Draco and Hermione had figured out all the spells and stuff you guys used to make if before you took it, so after that it was pretty easy to figure out how to do it ourselves. Your map is missing a couple things, anyway,” he adds, just to make Lupin laugh.

He says, “I’m impressed. It took us two years to make that map.”

“Well you had to do it all from scratch,” Harry says reasonably, “We didn’t have to.” He hesitates, but adds, “We’re calling it the Chimera Map, because we’re all so different, and Chimeras are a mix of a bunch of things, including a lion and a snake, so it seemed to fit.”

“Yes,” Lupin agrees warmly, “I think it fits perfectly.”

~

Harry rolls his eyes when Draco slams open the door to their compartment, sneers, “Losers,” and steps inside, Pansy and Blaise following him. Hermione performs a locking spell on the door, and Draco casts a sound muffling charm to dissuade any eavesdroppers.

“Make room,” Pansy sniffs, sitting next to Hermione, and Blaise sits next to her, while Draco shoves Ron over and collapses next to him on the opposite bench. They’ll have to move before they get back to the station to avoid suspicion, but they have a couple of hours before that. “What is that?”

“An owl,” Ron says dubiously, “Sirius gave it to me.” He pokes the ball of fluff, “Doesn’t look like it can carry much.”

Harry laughs when all the Slytherins give the owl a dubious look. “Who wants to play exploding snap?” he asks, “Might as well have some fun before summer starts.”

“Just blow up your aunt again,” Blaise suggests.

Ron snorts, “I’ve already talked to Mum about you spending part of the summer – hopefully you won’t be with the Dursleys long.”

“We have the mirrors,” Draco says, “You won’t just have the muggles to talk to, thank Merlin.”

Hermione leans forward, “How did you enchant those mirrors, by the way?”

Ron groans, and starts dealing cards, loudly talking about his summer plans so that the whole trip home doesn’t turn into a charms lesson. Draco pushes Ron onto the floor, and Hermione hits him with a tickling charm.

Ron turns out to be annoyingly resistant to it. “Five older brothers, two of which are Fred and George,” he reminds smugly, which leaves the rest of them with no choice but to spend the rest of the ride trying to tickle him at random moments to startle a laugh at him. Pansy ends up being the only successful one.

By the time the train pulls into the station, Harry has almost forgotten to dread the upcoming summer.

Chapter Text

Harry wakes up in cold sweat, heart pounding from his latest nightmare. He blindly reaches for his side table, opens the top drawer, and his fingers curl around the compact mirror.

He flips it open, and whispers, “Draco? Are you awake?”

Normally, he wouldn’t disturb him, it’s just a nightmare, just strange visions about the dark lord, just things that haunt him in his waking hours as well as his sleeping ones. But after he’d told his soulmate about them, he’d made Harry promise to contact him, not matter how late it was.

The surface of the glass shimmers like water, and Draco’s face comes into focus, pillow creases on his cheek and blue eyes half lidded. “You okay?” he asks, cutting himself off midway to yawn.

“Yeah,” he says, and the relief of just having Draco there when he needs him makes him feel like it’s almost not a lie.

~

Harry has actually been able to get mail this summer (which he’s incredibly grateful for, because if it wasn’t for his friends sending him food he would have starved on Dudley’s ridiculous diet), he’s traded over dozen letters with Remus and Sirius, and of course he’s spoken to Draco almost every night. None of that, however, is the same as being back with his friends and away from the Dursleys.

He stumbles out of the fireplace laughing, even as Mrs. Weasley screams something awful at Fred and George for pranking Dudley. For Harry, it’s the best thing he’s seen all summer.

“Come on,” Ron says, throwing his arm around Harry’s shoulders. He really hopes his best friend stops growing at some point – he’s gone straight past tall and settled on looming. Ron isn’t very good at looming, so it would probably be best for everyone if he stopped getting any larger.

The largeness of Ron is reserved for his height alone. He’s comically skinny considering the amount of food Harry has seen him eat at any given time – Ron looks like he’s the one who’s been living on half-grapefruits the whole summer. He’s like taffy, Harry settles on as Ron steers him into the backyard, all thin and stretched out.

“Harry!” He barely gets a look at her before Hermione’s hair is in his face and her arms are around his neck. “You look all right, I was so worried! Dra – uh, you said you were fine, but – I still worried.”

He snorts. Draco has complained multiple times that Ron and Hermione were badgering Blaise and Pansy to make sure Harry wasn’t wasting away or getting beaten, since Draco was the only one of them who was able to physically see him, and it’s not like they could risk sending letters straight to Draco any more than Harry could. They’d decided letters to Pansy and Blaise, whose parents were slightly less fanatical about blood purity, was an acceptable risk.

“Thanks for the protein bars,” he says, “they really helped.” They’d tasted like cardboard, but they were filling, easy to hide, and had actual nutrients, so he supposes their taste is beside the point.

“Heya Harry!” Ginny calls out from the other side of the garden, and she’s covered in mud. He spends most of his summers in Aunt Petunia’s garden, and he doesn’t get that dirty, so he doubts whatever she’s doing has to do with actual gardening. Harry waves at her until she ducks back down.

Ron introduces him to his older brothers, Bill and Charlie, and Harry wonders if Ron has noticed that he’s about a half an inch taller than both of his brothers. “Nice to finally meet you,” Charlie says, shaking his hand, “I heard you took my old position.”

“He’s brilliant,” Ron says proudly, and his grin turns sly in a way that Harry’s almost certain he learned from Pansy. “Even better than you, I’d say.”

Bill laughs and Charlie’s eyes narrow. He points his wand at Ron and says, “Those are fighting words, Ronald.”

Ron nudges Harry in ribs, “Up for a bit of a game, mate?”

He looks back at Charlie, and the man isn’t actually mad, he’s smiling with his eyes even though he’s scowling, and Bill looks as if he’s delighted by the course this conversation had taken. “I’m always up for a game,” he says, and cracks a grin when Ron whoops in delight.

It’s not perfect, because he doesn’t have Sirius or Remus or his soulmate or Pansy or Blaise. But it’s pretty close.

~

They should be asleep already, because they have to get up at the crack of dawn to take a portkey to the camp grounds for the World Cup. But instead they wait until the rest of the house is quiet, and Harry opens his mirror. “Draco?”

There’s a shimmer across the glass, and then his favorite Slytherin’s face appears. “Harry,” he grins, “You’re looking less like an abused house elf.” He blinks then says, “Ronald, have you gotten taller? Is that even possible?”

“You know, I was going to say I missed you, but I’ve changed my mind,” Ron sniffs.

Draco laughs, and it’s clear he’s supposed to be asleep as well. There’s only the soft glow of a suspended lumos charm beside him, and he’s in grey silk pajamas. Abigail slowly enters the frame, slithering her way up Draco’s arm to rest across his shoulder. “Where’s Hermione?” he squints and a faint look of disgust come over his face, “Is your entire room orange?”

“The Cannons are amazing, get stuffed,” Ron insists at the same time that Harry says, “She’s sharing a room with Ginny, and we didn’t want to risk waking her.”

“Probably for the best,” Draco says, and Harry knows he’s convinced that Ginny is something like an all-seeing prophet, but he’s refused to elaborate on why he feels that way. “Are you guys camping? I wanted to, but my parents said camping was for commoners.”

Harry tries not to wince at that. He must succeed, because Draco doesn’t glare at him. “Yeah, we’re camping. How are you getting there if you’re not?”

“My dad’s just going to side-long apparate with me on the day of the game. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, even though it used to drive Mum crazy. We’ve never splinched though, so you’d think she’d have calmed down a little. She hasn’t.”

Ron pokes his hand into the mirror, distorting the image. “That’s bloody unfair, mate. We have to get up before sunrise tomorrow!”

“That’s unfortunate,” Draco says in a voice that just means he’s laughing at them. “You should get some sleep then – I’ll see you at the match. Remember, we hate each other!” He winks at them before the mirror shimmers and he’s gone.

Ron scowls, “Your soulmate is a prat.”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees, but he’s assuming it comes out fonder than he intended by the way Ron retches and tries to smother him with his pillow.

As excited as he is for the game tomorrow, he’s dreading falling asleep, dreading the nightmares that he hopes won’t come. He should really tell someone besides Draco about them, like Sirius and Remus, or at least his other friends. But he’s worried they’ll overreact, that they’ll panic and make it a bigger deal than it needs to be.

They’re just nightmares. They don’t mean anything.

~

The portkey is disorienting, but the worst part of the trip is having to listen to Cedric’s dad talk about him while he’s standing right there. Cedric looks mortified, so Harry catches his eye and shrugs, because it’s certainly not Cedric’s fault that his dad is a bit of a prat. If he’s not going to hold Draco accountable for his father’s actions, it seems wrong to do it to anyone else.

He knows he’s made the right call when Cedric’s shoulders slump in relief and he flashes him a smile.

The day of the game comes, and they see Draco in the stands, sitting only a few rows above them, and they glare at each other as is expected. Arthur greets Draco, and looks like he’s gearing up to attempt to have a real conversation, but thankfully Ginny grabs her dad’s hand and drags him away before he can make it any more awkward by attempting to exchange pleasantries with the boy who saves his daughter’s life. There’s a house elf sitting by herself in the stands, which is odd. She’d said she was saving a seat for her master, but the minutes tick down and no one shows up.

The Veelas pour onto the field, and they are very beautiful, of course. But as most of the stadium loses their mind, shouting and waving at them, Harry only blinks in confusion. Ron and most of Weasleys are nearly falling out of the box they’re leaning so far out, and Harry grabs the back of Ron and Hermione’s robes as they yell at the beautiful dancing women, just in case. Bill has a hand fisted in the back of his father’s jacket as well as Charlie’s, and Fred and George are holding back Ginny and Percy.

“What’s going on?” Harry asks, panicked.

Bill grins, wide and easy. “Don’t worry about it, Harry. Veelas only affect people who don’t have a soulmate. They probably won’t jump off the stands, the Veelas wouldn’t want to disrupt the game, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.”

Harry slide his gaze to Fred and George, surprised. He hadn’t known they had soulmarks. Bill winks and twists around, jerking his head to the side so his long ponytail shifts enough that Harry can just make out a black ring on the back of his neck – what a soulmark look likes before someone touches their soulmate. No wonder Bill hadn’t wanted to cut his hair.

He risks a glance up. Sure enough, Draco and his father are completely unaffected, looking onto the field with identical expressions of cool disinterest. He thinks Draco could be part Veela himself, with his pale blonde hair and his – his –

Harry abruptly looks back on the field, heat radiating from his face. He didn’t mean – well, Draco has always been pretty, no use helping that, of course. He had changed over summer, though, and it’s so much more obvious now that Harry’s seeing him in person than it was over the too-small frame of the mirror. He’s taller, and his hair is longer. He’s lost some of the baby fat from his face, his jaw sharp enough that he’s lucky he has those full lips to balance it out, otherwise he would look quite silly, Harry thinks.

He also thinks he should stop thinking about what his soulmate looks like before his face literally bursts into flames. If anyone asks he’s going to blame the Veelas.

Luckily, the opening ceremonies end and the Veelas are ushered off the field. Ron and Hermione and everyone else are back to normal. They’re both embarrassed by their behavior but Harry resolves not to make fun of them for it considering all the things they don’t make fun of him for.

The match finally begins, and he pushes all thoughts of his soulmate situation aside and focuses on the game instead. Thank Merlin.

~

When Mr. Weasley wakes them all up in the middle of the night and tells them to run, Harry doesn’t know what he was expecting. But as he, Ron, and Hermione burst out of the tent and see Mr. Roberts, his wife, and his children being levitated and tortured in the air – he just knows he wasn’t expecting that.

“Let’s go!” Ron says, grabbing each of their hands and pulling them away.

“Shouldn’t we help?” Hermione asks, voice trembling. Harry can’t bring himself to look away even as Ron drags them past and around the flailing muggles. It takes Harry a second to realize Ron is leading them in the direction of the crowd, and the crowd is headed to the woods.

Ron shakes his head, picking up the pace. “What are we going to do? We can’t even use our wands.”

“Shouldn’t someone else be helping?” Harry asks, and he’s looking but all the adults are running. Grown up, fully trained wizards, and they’re just – running.

It doesn’t seem right.

“Dra – Malfoy?” Hermione says suddenly, and Ron must be as surprised as Hermione sounds because he stops running and the three of them stumble to a stop.

Harry finally tears his eyes from the tortured muggles. Draco is leaning against a tree at the very edge of the woods, arms crossed and a careful casualness in his pose. He’s paler than Harry’s ever seen him, even when they were nearly attacked by a transformed Remus, even when they were both moments away from receiving the dementor’s kiss. He’s certain Draco has crossed his arms to keep them from shaking.

“Get out of here,” he says urgently, voice low, but his face is at odds with his words. He’s smirking at them, something cruel in the curl of his lips that isn’t quiet reaching his eyes. “You guys can’t stay here. Go!”

If anyone was looking at them, but couldn’t hear them, they would think Draco was taunting them.

“You have to come with us!” Hermione says, taking a step towards him.

Draco pulls out his wand and presses it to Hermione’s sternum. She freezes, eyes wide. “They won’t hurt me. I’m safe here. You are not – you especially are not. Do you want to join the muggles up there?”

Harry that knows they have to keep up appearances, always, even now, but he wants so badly to grab his soulmate’s hand and drag him to safety with them. “Come with us. You’re not helping anyone by staying here.”

“I can try and make sure no one dies,” he says, and his hand really is shaking now. “Go. Now. I’ll be fine.”

“You better,” Ron says fiercely. Then he grabs Harry and Hermione’s arms and drags them into the woods.

Harry resists at first – he’s no weakling, he’s on the quidditch team. But Ron is taller than him and stronger than him and there’s a stubborn set to his mouth that Harry has never been able to win against. “We can’t leave him!”

“You’re the Boy Who Lived!” Ron snaps. “You’re the least safe out of all of us. You’re the one who killed You-Know-Who, Hermione’s a muggleborn, and I’m a blood traitor. We don’t want to hang around a bunch of wannabe Death Eaters, understand?”

“But we left him behind!” Hermione says, and she sounds like she’s about to cry, which Harry really can’t deal with right now because he feels as if he’s about to cry.

Ron is still pulling them forward with single-minded determination, doing his best to get them as far from the chaos as possible. “Draco is a pureblood and the son of a Death Eater. They won’t hurt him, but they will hurt us. How do you think Draco will feel if we get hurt because we didn’t listen to him? Do you think he’ll be happy? Do you think he’ll thank us?”

“No,” Hermione says quietly.

Ron finally pauses to whirl around and face them, his freckles standing out against his ashen face, his eyes as round as galleons. “Then move faster!

Harry stops resisting him, and picks up the pace. This works up until a green smoky spell appears from seemingly nowhere, and Ron just barely glances up before throwing himself to the ground, yanking Harry and Hermione along with him.

He doesn’t get a chance to yell at him before he feels the heat of several spells passing over them, and, okay, maybe Ron had the right idea.

“WHICH ONE OF YOU SUMMONED THE DARK MARK?” Barty Crouch roars, stomping forward as they carefully get to their feet. A dozen wands are still trained on them.

Excuse me?” Hermione demands, “Which one of you threw combat spells at three underage wizards? I’m certain that can’t be legal.”

Crouch goes purple, and Ron is edging forward, clearly preparing to throw himself in between Hermione and Crouch, and Harry takes a moment to marvel at how an already horrible situation has gone from bad to worse.

Then the house elf from earlier is found with his wand, the wand that apparently summoned the skull and snake, and it’s always impressive just how much worse his life always manages to get.

~

Draco sees the Dark Mark and bolts into the forest. The Death Eaters are still torturing the muggles, and he’d meant to stay, had been standing there with his wand clenched in his fist, ready to interfere if the torture threatened to go too far.

But he sent his soulmate into those woods, he sent his friends into those woods, and if he sent them into a trap then it’s his obligation to go rushing in a after them in a traditionally Gryffindor foolhardy fashion.

Luckily, when he arrives it’s not to anything quite so dire. There’s a bunch of adult witches and wizards with their wands pointed at his friends, as well as a sniveling house elf clutching and twisting her ragged pillowcase. He would love to fade back, to turn his back on this and let it sort itself out. However, Crouch is doing an excellent job of making himself look like the caliber of idiot his father is always complaining about, and he’s not about to stand here and let a bunch of moronic adults foist the blame on some teenagers just because they were too afraid to stand up to the actual Death Eaters, and pointing their wands at some kids gives them a power rush.

Besides, Crouch has dismissed his house elf in front of everyone, which gives Draco a rather brilliant opportunity to do something stupid. Harry really is rubbing off on him.

“You can’t go anywhere without causing trouble, can you Potter?” he drawls, pitching his voice just like mother taught him to, so it carries over the petty squabbling and the house elf’s tears.

He doesn’t have to push his way through, because they part for him. Sneers are on their lips, but when he steps forward they get out of his way. “Mr. Malfoy,” Crouch says, blustering, “this doesn’t concern you–”

“Oh, I think it does,” he doesn’t bother to keep the contempt from his voice. “Really, Mr. Crouch, I expected better of you. There are atrocious crimes being committed just a half mile back, and here you are – interrogating the Boy Who Lived? Dismissing a house elf who, in a time of chaos and fear, was kind and thoughtful enough to pick up an abandoned wand? I rather think you and your,” he pauses, curling his lip as his eyes sweep across the assembled wizards, “compatriots would be better served directing such heroic tendencies towards those who actually require your aid, and not in detaining Hogwarts students.”

Most of the adults have lowered their wands, and their eyes dart around, trying avoid meeting anyone’s gaze. Good.

“Mr. Malfoy,” Crouch says through gritted teeth. “You should know better than to speak of matters you do not fully understand. I will be speaking to your father about your behavior.”

“Please do,” he says, “I’m sure he’s quite worried. We became separated, you understand, what with all the chaos. But I imagine I would have found him by now if I hadn’t been sidetracked by your gross negligence.”

This is all false. His father had slipped away moments before the Death Eaters had appeared, and he doesn’t want his father to be one of those men, but what he wants has no bearing on reality, unfortunately.

Hermione is stubbornly not looking at him, which is much better than Harry, who hasn’t stopped starring ever since he stepped into the clearing. “Can we go now?” she asks acidly.

Crouch opens his mouth, but Draco can’t have them leave yet. He needs an audience for this next bit.

“Of course you can,” he speaks over Crouch. The man looks like he’s about to pop a blood vessel. “However, before we all get on our merry way, Mr. Crouch, what do you say to the matter of your house elf?”

“House elf?” he repeats blankly, then he looks down to creature sobbing at his feet like he’s just noticed she’s there. “I have no house elf.”

The thing wails at that, prostrating herself. Draco assumes he doesn’t kick her only because they have an audience.

“You have dismissed her, claiming her to be a thief. A house elf with no loyalty is an unemployed house elf, and an unemployed house elf is a dead house elf. Perhaps her judgement was poor,” he allows, “but we hardly hand out death sentences for poor judgement. Do we, Mr. Crouch?”

Everything he isn’t saying hangs in the air between them. Crouch has just accused the Boy Who Lived and a house elf of summoning a Dark Mark. Poor judgment is the kindest description of his actions

“If you’re so concerned with her future, why don’t you ask your father to take her on? Your family did recently lose a house elf, didn’t they?” his eyes flicker over to Harry for the briefest moments, and okay, he’s not a complete moron. He has been playing this game longer than Draco’s been alive.

He can’t agree with him, that just reminds everyone here that he’s a kid, that he has no place calling them out in the first place, and it undoes all the work he’d just done in shaming them for being pathetic cowards.

“That won’t be necessary,” he says, because he’s a moron, and his parents are absolutely going to kill him for this. Then again, if his father didn’t want him doing stupid shit like this, then he should be around to stop him, and not running around torturing muggles. “You, elf, what is your name?”

The pitiful creature looks up at him with her wide liquid eyes. “W – Winky, sir.”

“Winky,” he says, “Do you know who I am?”

She nods, “You is the young master Malfoy, sir.”

“Very good,” he says, and she stands a little straighter. “It appears your former master has been derelict in his responsibilities, and I have no choice but to pick up his slack.” There’s disbelieving murmurings coming up around him, but he ignores them. “Will you accept a bond from me, Winky?”

“Yes!” she says, and it’s a gamble on the both their parts. But a dismissed house elf will gain no work from any sort of reputable family, and those that would take her won’t be strong enough to sustain her.

Her choices are a fast death, a slow death, or him.

“You can’t do this!” Crouch says, true nervousness making him pale. “You are not old enough, it’s a strain your magic can’t afford!”

Ron is shaking his head, eyes wide and pleading, “Malfoy, you – that’s – don’t,” he settles on. Hermione and Harry don’t know exactly what’s going on, but they know enough to be worried.

“It’s not really up to you. Either the spell will take, or it won’t,” he says, speaking to all of them. He pulls out his wand, and Crouch is moving to stop him, some of other adults doing the same, but that will actually be a disaster, will undermine him more than anything else.

He holds out a hand, and Winky takes it, her fingers wrapping around his with surprising strength. “Alliges duplicia!” he casts, and a pale yellow light comes from his wand and winds its way down his arm and curls around his hand. He holds his breath, waiting to see if it will take, and for a moment he’s certain it won’t, that he’s managed to mess this all up in the worst way possible.

But then the yellow band pushes forward, encircling Winky’s hand and wrist and continuing its way until it reaches the center of her chest. “Accipio!” she shouts, completely the spell, and sealing the binding between them.

He’s immediately drained as the spell interweaves their magic, and he nearly bites through his lip doing his best not to stagger. He glances around, and no one is sneering at him anymore, eyes wide and mouths agape.

Good.

“You’ll excuse the underage magic, under the circumstances,” he says, internally wincing when his voice comes out rough. He swallows before he speaks again, “I hardly think these events need an official documentation. Do you?”

Crouch shakes his head, something almost like respect on his face.

“Excellent,” he says crisply, and he needs to get away from all these eyes before his legs give out on him. “Come along, Winky.”

He turns and walks through the crowd, his new house elf at his heels. They part for him this time just like they had before, and he walks like his father, head tall and straight, contempt hovering at the corners of his mouth.

He makes it about a quarter mile before his vision goes blurry and he slides to the ground, leaning his back against a tree and closing his eyes. He won’t fall asleep, that would be irredeemably stupid. But as his eyes feel heavier and heavier in his head, he realizes he might not have much choice in the matter.

“Wake me if anyone gets close,” he orders, pulling his cloak more tightly over his shoulders and wishing he were doing this somewhere more comfortable, like his bed. “I can’t let anyone see me like this.”

There’s the slight crinkle of fallen leaves as Winky sits beside him and whispers, “Yes, Master Draco.”

He’s asleep before she’s even finished saying his name.

~

Harry doesn’t know what, exactly, just happened, but he knows Draco looked like he was about to pass out when he’d walked away. They’re rushing back to their tent, the Death Eaters apparently gone, and the muggles being taken care of. “Ron, what the hell–”

“Later,” he says sharply, and Harry quiets.

He feels a hand on his shoulder, and he’s spinning around, his wand raised. He sees Ron and Hermione do the same.

“Woah, easy!” Fred and George have raised their arms in surrender, and they all drop their wands. “Bit trigger happy there, eh?”

“Shut up,” Ron says, “Where’s everyone else?”

George shrugs, “Bill was with Ginny and Percy, and Charlie went with Dad. We need to get back.”

“Should we go look for Malfoy?” Fred asks, “He didn’t look so good.”

“Of course he didn’t,” George snaps. “He’s way too young to be pulling that type of crap, someone should have stopped him.”

“If he keeps this up, soon he’ll be bleeding gold along with red,” Fred says.

Hermione glares, hands on her hips, “Why should we care about Malfoy? And what are you talking about anyway?”

“Later!” Ron repeats, “We can discuss this later, when we’re not in a strange forest, potentially surrounded by Death Eaters.”

The twins are trading covert looks, and it’s Fred who goes, “You know, we did have the Marauder’s map for years. We’re really grateful you gave it back to us, but – we have had it at our disposal. For years.”

Harry has no idea what they’re talking about.

“What he’s saying is that we know all about your strange secret alliance with the Slytherins.” Fred elbows him in the side, and George amends his statement. “Okay, we don’t know all about it, we basically just know it exists. But you all hang out with him, and he saved Ginny, so we’ve just been running under the assumption Malfoy’s an all right bloke underneath all the prissy snobbery.”

Hermione chokes on air, and Harry really needs to stop tempting the universe by thinking that things can’t get any worse, because the universe seems dead set on proving him wrong. “Have you told anyone?”

The twins put a hand over each other’s hearts, offended. “Of course not!” they say together, then George continues, “We haven’t said anything to anyone, but we’re pretty sure Ginny knows too. She somehow seems to know everything. It’s a little scary.”

“Guys!” Ron hisses through gritted teeth. “Later. This can all wait until later. I’m sure Draco is fine, because no Death Eaters are going to be attacking him, because he’s a bloody Malfoy. Can we please worry about ourselves for two seconds, and get back to the tent?”

There’s really no good reason not to listen to him, when he puts it like that. Fred and George walk on either side of them and slightly ahead, wands in their fists.

Ron’s right about Draco. He’s probably fine. There’s no reason for him to worry at all.

If this is how Draco feels every time Harry goes off and does something stupid, it’s possible he owes his soulmate an apology. This is awful.

~

Draco wakes up freezing and sore, but he’s at least not tired anymore. For a moment he thinks he’s forgotten how to open his eyes, then he looks up and sees the blanket of stars around him.

It’s dark. He’s been asleep for hours.

“I’m so dead,” he says aloud. Then he frowns. His parents must have tried to find him, right? It’s a simple tracking spell. They wouldn’t have just left him. There must be some reason they haven’t come for him, but he can’t think of – actually, he can think of one. “Winky,” he says, and the elf steps up next to him. “Did you put a, a cloaking spell of some sort around us?”

Her ears droop, and she nods. “Yes, Master Draco. You was saying that you didn’t want anyone to see you. So I mades it so no one could.” She reaches up for her ear, twisting it painfully back, “Did I do the wrong thing, Master Draco?”

“No, stop that,” he orders. She lets go of her ear. “That was clever of you, Winky. Very good.”

She beams and gives him a deep curtsey.

He can have her drop the cloaking spell, and his parents will find him in no time. But that’s a little pathetic, and there has to be some sort of better way to do this. He could try and cast the portkey charm, but he’s never gotten it quite right, and he’s already performed a powerful spell today, there’s no reason to make his situation worse.

The campground may be run by muggles, but the town surrounding it is mostly magical. That means the only thing separating him from the floo network is a couple miles of walking, and the one awkward conversation it will take to convince someone to let him use their fireplace.

“At least it’s a clear night,” he sighs, “Come along, Winky.”

She follows at his heels, shivering. He can’t give her clothes, that would be rather counterproductive, so he casts a warming charm on himself that extends outward enough that it encompasses her as well.

He doesn’t look at her as he does it, pretending it’s entirely on accident.

~

Mr. Weasley brings them back to the burrow immediately, face nearly grey. No one’s talking, and being surrounded by silent Weasleys is possibly the strangest thing Harry has ever experienced, and he lives a very strange life.

There’s a whole lot of tears from Mrs. Weasley, and furtive glances to her husband that she probably doesn’t think the rest of them notice. She makes them all sit down to eat, even though no one’s hungry, and it feels like hours until they manage to get alone.

The twins and Hermione squeeze into Ron’s bedroom, since Bill and Charlie are sharing the twin’s room. Harry like them, they seem nice, but he has no interest in spilling his secrets to them. “All right, we’re alone, and it’s later,” Hermione says, crossing her arms. “What was all that about? What did Draco do?”

Ron opens his mouth, but Fred raises his hands. He and George share a look, but he only sighs and says, “Fairs fair, I suppose, if we know they’re secrets it’s only right that they know ours.”

George bites his bottom lip, “Well – yeah, I guess.”

Harry doesn’t know what they’re talking about until Fred takes out his wand and casts a muffling charm around the room.

“Are you mad?” Ron hisses, “Mum’s going to kill you!” He looks toward the door, clearly waiting for their mother to come running up. Nothing happens.

“We figured out a way to get past her sensing charm,” George says, “It’s a potion, we’ll brew it for you when we get back to school. But be smart about it! If she catches you casting, she’ll know we messed with it and set up a whole new one.”

“Or take our wands like she had to do to Bill and Charlie,” Fred says. “Which sounds properly miserable.”

Harry’s been looking to the window, waiting for the owl from the ministry, and is confused when nothing comes. “Hold on,” he says, “Why are you talking about your mom? What about the Ministry?”

“Using magic outside of school is illegal!” Hermione says, aghast, just in case they’ve somehow forgotten. “What are you doing?”

“What?” Ron says blankly, then, “That’s only for muggleborns.”

Hermione looks like she’s getting ready to punch him.

Fred rolls his eyes, “What my dear, dull brother means is that it’s only enforced for muggleborns. How are they supposed to track it for the rest of us?”

“Remember a couple summers ago?” George asks, “Harry got a warning for a house elf doing magic. They only know where magic happens, they don’t have any way to track who cast it. Every couple of years someone will try to introduce a wand tracking law into the Wizengamot, but it never gets very far.”

“It’s a parent’s responsibility to keep track of underage magic,” Ron says. “Mom has an alert set up, and that is attached to our wands. If we use them, she gets an alert, and then we get grounded. But the ministry just knows someone cast a spell – and since our parents live here, and they’re way past seventeen, there’s no way to know if it was a kid or an adult.”

“Then why aren’t kids just doing underage magic all the time?” Harry demands.

The Weasleys stare. “They are?” Ron offers. “Mum’s pretty strict about it, but that’s mostly because she doesn’t want to have to keep carting us off to St. Mungo’s when we do something stupid. And the law isn’t pointless, I guess, we do no need to rest our magic if we want it to keep growing properly. Neville’s gran encourages him to use magic during the summer, it’s why he’s so burned out all the time. Seamus’s dad’s a muggle, and he always wants to see what his son has learned, so his mom lets him doing a demonstration before taking away his wand for the summer. And, I mean, we all used our parents’ wands growing up. Not often! But, well, no one casts their first spell in Hogwarts.”

“Some of us do,” Hermione says quietly, and Harry winces. “Some of us don’t have a choice.”

Sometimes, it’s really frustrating to continually find out new ways that you’re lacking, or different, in the world you inhabit.

Ron opens his mouth, and then looks toward his brothers, panicking. George places his hand on Ron’s shoulder and says kindly, “Hermione, you’re the best witch in your year. A couple extra spells that we knew going in doesn’t change that.”

“Anyway,” Fred clears his throat. “Malfoy. House elves.”

“What an idiot!” Ron says. “I don’t know how he expects to maintain his grades with a house elf sucking him dry.”

“The bond did take,” Fred says, but he doesn’t sound very sure of himself. “It wouldn’t have worked if he couldn’t handle it. Probably.”

“Guys,” Harry sighs, “Explanation? Please?”

The three brothers stumble over themselves explaining, talking over one another, until Ron gets irritated and slaps his hand over the twins’ mouths. “House elves are made of magic,” he says, and then Fred peals his hand away and says, “No, you’re already getting it wrong–”

The door bounces open, and they all fall silent. Ginny is standing there, arms crossed. “Your muffling charm sucks,” she informs Fred.

“Ginny, get out of here!” Ron scowls, “This doesn’t concern you!”

She kicks the door shut. George’s shoulders slump. She shoves Ron over until he makes space for her on the bed, and crosses her legs one over another. Harry thinks maybe he was underestimating Draco when he said that Ginny was terrifying. He kind of sees it now.

“First of all,” she says, “House elves are not made of magic, they are made from magic. They are naturally occurring from magical forests, or they were, house elves don’t really just show up anymore. They need a source of magic to survive, which was fine when most of the world was magical forests, but that’s not how it is anymore. So, to survive, house elves will bind themselves to powerful magical families, and survive off their magic. Which is a huge risk for a family to take, not just because it’s draining their magic, but because it makes it impossible to use magic against an elf that’s connected to you, since their magic is now yours. So if an elf turns on its master, which is possible if difficult, there’s virtually no way for that wizard to protect themselves. That’s why corporeal punishment is so favored. In return, the house elf acts as a servant for the family.”

“That’s barbaric!” Hermione says, aghast. “That’s – that’s slavery! They’re forced to work for no pay, just to survive?”

Ginny frowns, “They are paid, weren’t you listening? They get paid in magic, something far more valuable than gold. It’s not ideal, of course, but for what they get in return, some cleaning seems a small price to pay. What should families do, give house elves unrestricted access to their magic, and get nothing in return? Have no safety net against them taking advantage?”

Hermione goes silent. She’s not agreeing, but she’s thinking about it.

“Hold on,” Harry says, a sinking feeling in his chest, “Malfoy said that an unemployed elf was a dead elf. So if they don’t have a bond–”

“They starve to death,” George finishes grimly. “What Crouch did was barbaric. Because the families who employ house elves are so vulnerable to them, an elf who’s fired for being disloyal will never find work, especially one who’s fired from such a prominent figure. Without a bond, they have no way to get magic, and without magic to feed on they die. It’s not pretty.”

“So it was rather noble for Malfoy to take on Winky’s bond,” Fred says, “although I’m sure he did it for political reasons more than anything else. But it was also incredibly stupid. Heads of families usually take on the bond, because then house elves are feeding on family magic, and not personal magic. But Malfoy took it, and not his father, so – well, I’ll guess we’ll see what happens.”

Ginny sighs, “He really should work on his saving people thing. It’s going to get him in trouble one day.”

Harry wants to open his mirror and talk to Draco right then, but the twins are there, and so is Ginny, and he’s still unsure about how much they all know.

He’ll just have to wait.

~

He’d held Winky as he went through the floo, not wanting her going through on her own and getting lost, and then having to track down his lost elf on top of anything else. He’s just stepped out when he can hear rapid footsteps heading toward him.

“Wait for me in my room,” he orders her and she disappears with a crack. She should be able to figure out which one is his based on the concentration of his magic, but if not the family elves will be able to show her.

His mother rounds the corner, eyes wild and hair a mess and he feels instantly guilty. He’d been trying to punish his father by making his own way home, but he’d worried his mother as well. “Draco!” she cries, breathless, and he moves to meet her. He’s crushed in her embrace, her arms solid as iron around him. “We were so worried! What happened, where were you?” He doesn’t get a chance to answer before she’s pulling back to pepper kisses all over his face, and then smoothing back his hair from his face. Her hands are shaking.

“I’m sorry, Mum,” he says, and he means it, grabbing her hands in his own. “I, uh,” if he says he passed out she’ll throw an absolute fit, but if he says he fell asleep of all things she won’t believe him. Or if she does believe him, she’ll kill him, which isn’t an ideal solution either.

He’s saved from having to say either by his father apparating into the living room. If he thought Narcissa looked disheveled, she has nothing on Lucius, who looks a mess. Robes askew and hair in a rumpled ponytail. “Narcissa,” he says, voice reedy with panic, a voice Draco has never heard before, “I can’t find him!”

The moment his father’s eyes land on him, he slumps in relief, hand going to cover his face as he turns away. Draco’s still angry, he still has a very good reason to be angry, but it’s hard for him to hold onto that in the face of his parents’ fear.

“Where were you?” Lucius asks, still turned away from him.

“In the forest,” he answers, swallowing. “Where were you?”

“What?” he turns around.

Draco refuses to focus on his red rimmed eyes. “Where were you? You were next to me, and then you were gone.”

“Never mind that,” Lucius says, “What do you mean you were in the forest? I searched all over! Why didn’t you go home?”

He steps away from his mother, and oh, there’s that anger. “Why didn’t I go home? I don’t know, Dad, maybe because we came together, and I can’t apparate on my own! But instead of being with me, you were off TORTURING MUGGLES!”

“Don’t raise your voice at me!” he snaps. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I heard what you did in that field with that blasted house elf. Surely you don’t think that thing picked up Potter’s wand on accident–”

“No, I don’t think that, I’m not an actual idiot,” he says, interrupting his father for possibly the first time in his life. “Which is why I know that you were there, in a mask, messing with muggles. While you were doing that, Crouch was causing a scene, and making remarks about our family and I would have loved to let you handle it, Father, I really would have. But you couldn’t do that because you weren’t there!”

“Well, I’m here now,” he says, trying to be calm and reasonable, even when Draco’s not, and for some reason that makes him even angrier. “Summon that blasted elf, I’ll take on its bond. You’re too young.”

The thing is, he’s right. Even as Draco had done it, he’d kind of assumed his father would take on Winky’s bond if he succeeded. But he’s furious and upset and instead he says, “No.”

Lucius goes still. “Excuse me?”

“No,” he repeats. “Winky is my elf, and I’m keeping her. You – you have more important things to worry about, what with doing the Dark Lord’s dirty work. Never mind that he’s been dead for thirteen years. Clearly that’s more important that our family.” Than me, he doesn’t say, but by the way his mother has pressed her hand to her mouth he’s sure it came through loud and clear.

“Nothing is more important to me than you and your mother,” Lucius says intently, and Draco wants to believe him, he wants that to be true so desperately it hurts. “But there are things going on that you don’t understand, and I need you to be a good son, a good Malfoy.”

“I AM A GOOD MALFOY!” he bursts out, and his chest feels tight and his eyes are stinging, but he’s not going to let anyone talk to him like that, not even his dad. “Our family predates the Dark Lord, we were merchants and politicians and nobles, not servants! I am a good Malfoy, and a good son! But,” he licks his lips, “but I won’t be a good Death Eater, and you can’t make me!”

His parents look stricken, and he runs. He runs for his room, desperate to end this, but after a moment he can feel his father at his heels. “Draco! DRACO!” He makes it to his room, and tries to slam the door, something he’s never done, but Lucius is there, holding it open and panting. “We are not finished!”

Draco shakes his head, and there are tears in his eyes threatening to spill over, and he doesn’t want to do this now, he can’t do this now, he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be ready to do this.

Lucius takes a step inside. Winky appears in front of him, ugly little face set in a scowl. “Master Draco would like to be alone now!” she declares, and with a snap of her fingers Lucius is shoved back and his door slams shut. Draco can hear him pounding on his door, but he can’t get through.

He throws himself on his bed, and finally lets the tears spill out. He buries his face in his pillow and clutches it as sobs wrack his body, until his stomach hurts and his throat hurts and his head hurts. He’s never fought with dad before, not like this, not over something that mattered. He hates it.

He’s just started to quiet when there’s a presence at his elbow, and he looks up to see Winky hovering next to his bed with a cup of hot cocoa and Abigail comically wrapped around her, and he has to smile at this sight of his big black mamba struggling to be held up by a tiny house elf. “Here you is going, Master Draco!” she carefully sets the cup of cocoa on his bedside table and heaves Abigail onto the bed. She hisses in displeasure, but is quick to curl on top his back. Winky wrings her hands. “I will draw Master Draco a bath now? That is what the other elves said you is liking when you are sad.”

He blinks and takes a sip of the cocoa, careful not to dislodge Abigail. It’s spiced with cinnamon and chili powder, just how he likes it. She must have talked to the family elves about him already. That was fast.

“Very good,” he winces when his voice comes out as a croak.

Winky gives him a pleased little smile and then disappears with a crack. A moment later he can hear water rushing from the bathroom attached to his room. He reaches into the pocket of his robe, feeling for his mirror, and pulls it out, desperate to talk to Harry.

When he opens it, the glass piece falls out, having come unstuck from the rest of the compact. He reaches for it, but misses, and it falls and shatters on his bedroom floor.

He stares at it for a long moment. Even if he repairs the glass, the spell connecting it Harry’s won’t be the same, not unless he repairs it when he has the other one next to it.

“Brilliant,” he says hollowly, too exhausted to even get upset about it. He’ll have Winky clean up the glass while he’s in the bath.

~

Hermione gets a letter from Pansy the next day. She spends most of it filleting Rita Skeeter and her horrible reporting, but sandwiched in the middle of that and complaining about their book lists, she says that the mirror broke but he’s fine. She doesn’t specify who he is, out of fear of their mail being read, but she’s talking about Draco, and they’re all relieved. Ron had been trying to keep Hermione and Harry calm about the whole thing, but the longer Draco went without responding to the mirror, the more worried he’d begun to look.

He’s not thrilled about not being able to talk to his soulmate, but he’s safe, and they’ll be at Hogwarts son.

Harry is there when Ron gets his dress robes, and he sees his disgust at them. He turns to his mum, but Mrs. Weasley is wringing her hands in her apron, and Harry winces, preparing himself.

But Ron just looks back down at his robes and says, “Thanks for getting these for me, Mum.”

Her relief is nearly palpable. “Of course dear! Meat pies for dinner?”

“My favorite,” he says, smiling, “Thanks.” He waits until she’s gone to turn to Harry and say, “These are absolutely hideous.”

“They’re not that bad,” he says, but he must not do a very good job at lying because Ron rolls his eyes.

“They’re abhorrent,” he says, and that’s definitely a word he picked up from Hermione, “I’m going to make Pansy fix them, she has to know how. Mum’s crap at clothing spells, it’s why she hand knits all our sweaters. But Pansy is good at transfiguration, and the vainest girl I know. She has to know something to make them look less awful.”

“Maybe don’t phrase it quite like that when you ask her?” Harry suggests. “You know, I could get you new robes. I really don’t mind. It can be an early Christmas present!”

Ron throws a pillow at his face, and his glasses go askew. “Don’t make me have to hit you. You won’t even let me pay you back for the binoculars, I don’t need any handouts.”

“It’s not a handout!” Harry says, but he knows better than to push this too far. “You’re my friend, and I like giving you things because I care about you. Is that so bad?”

“It’s absolutely horrible, how could you say such hurtful things?” Ron asks, but he’s grinning. “Thanks, but no thanks. Pansy will handle it.”

“The offers open, if you want it,” he says, but Ron waves him off, and takes out the chess board instead.

The last few days of summer are quiet, and then finally, finally they’re heading back to Hogwarts. Charlie and Ron’s parents see them off, and Charlie says something cryptic about seeing them soon, which he would probably be more interested in if he wasn’t so anxious to get on the train and get a compartment. He can’t help but keep looking around the platform, trying to catch a glimpse of their Slytherin friends.

He realizes he’s not being subtle when Ron says, “Ah, he’s just excited for … learning.”

He turns back at the Weasleys, who are looking at him with raised eyebrows. “I know that look,” Charlie says, leering. “Got yourself a girlfriend there, Harry?”

Ron chokes.

“NO!” Harry says, face flushing. “No, I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Boyfriend?” Charlie tries, and he’s too mortified to say anything at all. Luckily, Hermione hooks her arm through his and drags him away before the silence can get too awkward. Thank Merlin.

“You really are a disaster,” she says, sighing, “I’m shocked you ever manage to keep any secrets at all.”

He really doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just shrugs and goes, “Yeah.”

Harry wants to go searching for them, but he never has before, and it would be odd to be seen doing so now. So he doesn’t, and they wait.

They don’t have to wait too long. About twenty minutes after the train leaves the station, their compartment door slams open, and three Slytherins tumble inside.

Harry barely waits for the door to close before he’s on his feet, snagging the front of Draco’s robes and pulling him closer. He cups his face in his hands, and there are bags underneath his eyes. Harry’s never seen that happen outside of finals before. “Nice to see you too, dear,” Draco says, quirking his lips up at the corners. “I’m fine.”

“I’m doing great!” Pansy says loudly, “I’m so great, standing here, watching my best friend and his soulmate be disgusting together. This is just, wow, such a good time.”

Harry rolls his eyes and sits back down, tugging Draco down to sit next to him. “You bear such heavy burdens Pansy, it’s truly inspiring.”

“Thank you,” she sniffs, pushing Ron over into Hermione so she can take the window seat. “It’s about some time I started receiving my due credit around here.”

Blaise snorts and takes the seat next to Draco. “How have you guys been doing? Everyone’s been gossiping about what happened at the World Cup.”

“Draco did manage to steal most of the high society gossip for himself,” Pansy interjects, “but thanks to Harry, you guys did manage to make the front page. A few of them, actually.”

“Great,” Ron says dryly. “I love being accused of being a Death Eater in front of a bunch of adult wizards, and then being held a wandpoint.”

“Great!” Pansy says, beaming. “Then you had a wonderful time, is what you’re telling me.”

Ron snorts and jerks his chin at Draco, “Hey, my brother was dropping hints about something big happening this year. Do you have any idea what it is?”

Draco slumps, so he’s pressed to Harry from shoulder to hip. He can’t get Charlie saying the word boyfriend out of his head.

 “Isn’t something big happening every year?” he asks tiredly. “No, I don’t know. There is something big happening, my father has had to go to about three times more Board meetings than he normally does. But – we’re not, uh, talking. Right now. So I don’t know what it is.”

Pany and Blaise glance at each other, then quickly look away, something pinched around both their faces. Harry wishes he could hug him, or at least hold his hand, but he doesn’t think Draco would appreciate that with an audience, even though it’s their friends.

“No worries!” Ron says with forced cheer. “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. So, that Skeeter woman, she’s awful, isn’t she?”

Pansy latches onto the topic of conversation with full force, and Harry does his best not to think of all the things that everyone isn’t saying.

~

Draco had managed to avoid an incredibly awkward carriage ride with his parents be leaving for the train station at absurdly early hour. He’d taken the floo, and sent Winky ahead to the castle with his luggage. Which had been quite boring until his friends had shown up, but still preferable to the part wounded, party angry looks his father kept on sending him.

He refused to talk, because he didn’t know what he wanted. It was all too confusing. He can’t ask for what he doesn’t know he wants, so better not to say anything at all.

But he’s thankful to be back at Hogwarts, especially with Winky. There’s enough latent magic around the castle and the forest that she won’t need to depend solely on him for magic. With any luck, he’ll barely notice any strain at all. At least while he’s in school. He’s not exactly looking forward to this upcoming summer – that week at home had been draining, and he hadn’t even done much.

There are no rules against bringing personal elves, because it’s not something most students would be stupid enough to do, so he orders Winky to help in the kitchens unless he needs her, and to pick up after the Slytherin common room. He just doesn’t have enough chores to keep a house elf busy, so loaning her out to Hogwarts is the best thing for both of them.

Plus, Snape has been useful for once and set it all up for him, so he hadn’t even needed to speak directly to Dumbledore. Which was good, because whenever he saw that man he was filled with the overwhelming urge to punch him, as if he were some common muggle.

So it’s really for the best that he never gets the opportunity.

~

It’s too conspicuous for them to sneak away on the first night back, so they have to deal with a whole day of classes before they manage to get together again, which Harry considers pure torture. He gets a letter from Remus and Sirius, saying they’re worried about his scar and his dreams that Harry finally gave in and told them about, and that they want to talk in person. Harry doesn’t like the sound of that. That’s easy enough for Remus, who isn’t an international criminal, but he’d rather Sirius not risk imprisonment just so they can have a conversation.

Draco is a prat in Care of Magical Creatures, but he doesn’t say anything truly awful, and since Hagrid has decided that Draco’s all right, he just regard his sullen remarks with a sort of cheerful benevolence. This just seems to frustrate Draco, which makes the whole thing even funner.

That night, the Slytherins are already waiting for them when they make it down to their favorite abandoned classroom. “They’ve cancelled Quidditch!” Draco shouts as soon as they shut the door, and Harry takes a split second to think about how they’re definitely soulmates.

“I know!” he says, right as Ron goes “Despicable!” in the most offended tone of voice he’s ever heard him use.

“Really?” Blaise asks flatly. “That’s what you’re most upset about?”

“What are we supposed to do? Just not practice for a year?” Harry asks, “I’m going to talk to Angelina about it. No way she’s happy about this.”

“Flint is,” Draco grumbles. “He failed his Owls, so he has to retake them if he expects to graduate. I tried bringing it up to him, but he cursed me out and said he didn’t give a shit about quidditch.”

“Try Cassius,” Ron says, “He’s always keeping an eye on the whole game when you’re playing. It makes him a good beater, but it will also make him a good captain. Maybe you can get Flint to step down?”

“He wants the status,” Draco says, “but I might be able to get Cassius to do it anyway. That’s a good idea, Ron.”

“Excuse me,” Hermione says, “not to derail this very important and thrilling discussion, but aren’t we ignoring something a little more important than quidditch? Such as the Triwizard Tournament?”

“Who cares,” Ron, Harry, and Draco say in unison.

“We’re not seventh years,” Ron continues, “What difference does it make to us? Having the other schools here will be fun, I guess. Krum will definitely show up, which will be fantastic. It doesn’t really effect us, besides that, does it? If anything, I’m more worried about being taught by Mad Eye Moody. That guy looks crazy!”

“I guess,” Hermione says dubiously. “Draco, did you really need to be so rude to Hagrid today?”

“Absolutely,” he says. “It’s bad enough that the Weasley twins know about us, and your demonic little sister. Who knows who else is getting suspicious? I have a reputation to maintain.”

Ron chews on his lower lip. “Actually, I had an idea about that. It involves you being an utter prat, so I assume you’re on board.”

Draco looks delighted.

~

It’s a simple enough plan, and Ron offers himself up as the victim, since it was his idea. “We haven’t gotten into a real fight in ages,” Ron had said, “this will be fun.”

“You have a very strange idea of fun,” Hermione had said, but she’d also said it was brilliant in it’s simplicity so Ron had ignored her.

They’re walking the halls, surrounded by people, and Draco and Ron are trading insults back and forth. Harry drags Ron away, trying not to tense in preparation for the curse he knows his heading his way, for the curse Draco told him he’d aim at him the night before.

It never comes.

They turn around just in time to see a bright green spell hit Draco, and Harry’s heart is in his throat. But it’s not a killing curse, it’s something else, and where his soulmate once stood is a pure white ferret suspended in the air.

Moody stands there, wand outstretched. “What a cowardly thing to do,” he growls, “trying to attack an opponent when their back is turned. Did your father teach you that trick, boy?”

Then, to Harry’s ever increasing horror, he jerks his wand and starts hitting his transformed soulmate against the stone floor. Repeatedly. “Holy shit,” Ron says, too softly for anyone else to hear. He’s so pale that his freckles stand out in stark contrast to the rest of him.

Everyone has gone deathly silent, and he when he’s risks a glance around he’s gratified to realize no one is laughing. They’re all staring, looking as horrified as he feels, and he wills one of them to do something.

But no one does.

This is probably the exact opposite of what Draco wants him to do, the opposite of what they were trying to achieve, but he doesn’t bloody care. He whips out his wand, pointing it at Moody. “Put him down,” he says, and he doesn’t recognize his voice. It sounds cold. It sounds like Draco’s does when he’s pissed off.

Moody stills his wand, and Draco isn’t being hit against the flagstone anymore, so there’s that, at least. “Easy,” he says, “I’m only trying to help, Potter.”

“If this is what you consider help, then it’s no wonder everyone considers you a washed up auror past his prime,” Harry glares, and he guesses Rita Skeeter is good for something, because he got that phrasing from her. “Put him down, and turn him back. I won’t ask a third time.”

“Or what?” he asks.

Harry’s already got the disarming spell on his tongue when McGonagall comes charging through and shouts, “MR. POTTER! What is the meaning of this?”

“Professor Moody turned Malfoy into a ferret,” Ron says, and he shoves Harry’s wand arm down now that reinforcements are here, so that he looks slightly less like a lunatic.

McGonagall turns her furious gaze on Moody. All the students take a step back. “Alastor! Is this is the truth? Is that Mr. Malfoy?”

“He deserved it,” Moody says gruffly.

Her eyes narrow and she whips out her wand. “We do not transfigure the students! Hormorphus!

There’s a bright blue light, and Draco is standing there once more. He’s too pale, and his eyes are wide. He smooths back his hair, and his hands are shaking. Harry hopes he’s the only one who notices. “Much obliged, Professor,” he says, voice coming out even.

She gives him a sharp nod and advances on Moody, wand still out. “With me, Alastor,” she hisses, and then leads him away from the students.

Draco sniffs, and walks away, Crabbe and Goyle falling in to walk a half step being him. Now everyone’s starring at him and Ron, so Harry grabs the back of his best friend’s robes and leads them in the opposite direction of – everyone.

“That went poorly,” Ron mutters.

“That,” Harry says, “is such an understatement.”

~

They meet that night, just the two of them, and this time Harry is there first, pacing across the classroom. Draco slips inside and Harry blurts out, “I’m sorry! I just – couldn’t stand there and watch him hurt you!”

Draco has bags under his eyes. He hadn’t had them earlier, which means he must be using a glamor charm to hide them from everyone. “It’s okay,” he says, “you’re a courageous Gryffindor, so it was in character. We’re fine.”

“I didn’t do it because I’m a courageous Gryffindor,” he says softly, “I did it because he was hurting you, and I wanted to hurt him back.”

Draco smiles, “Well, I’ll take my chivalry how I can get it. It’s just a few bruises, Harry. Don’t worry about it.”

“Bruises?” he asks, and his voice is back to sounding cold. “Show me.”

He looks like he’s going to argue, then he takes a closer look at Harry’s face and thinks better of it. He throws off his robe first, then his tie, then unbuttons his shirt. He hesitates before taking it off. “You’re not allowed to overreact.”

“I won’t,” he says. It’s an easy promise. There’s no such thing as overreacting when people hurt his friends.

Draco is frowning, but he shrugs off his shirt and tosses it aside. “It looks worse than it feels.”

Harry sees red, is instantly furious. His entire torso is blue and purple, and it goes further. He steps forward and tugs Draco’s pants down, and he makes a yelp of protest, but doesn’t do anything else to stop him. He’s gentler, and there are more welts down Draco’s legs. He tugs his boxers down on one side, just enough to see his soulmark.

The marigolds look even brighter against the deep purple of the bruise covering his hip. “Why didn’t you go to Pompfrey?”

“So it can be reported to my parents? Absolutely not.” His teeth are chattering. “Can I put my clothes back on now? I should have had Winky start a fire, or at least put a warming charm over the place.”

“Er, right,” he says, and it is cold in here, but suddenly he’s too warm all over as Draco hurries to get dressed. “Why do you care if you parents find out?”

“Because we’re having a row, Harry. If my mother hears about this, she’ll come down here herself to set Moody on fire, and my father will use his considerable clout to get him removed from school.”

“Good!” he says, “Brilliant! Do that!”

Draco rolls his eyes. “I can’t. We’re fighting! I can’t let them get involved in this while we’re fighting.”

Harry didn’t grow up with parents, so he’s fully aware he’s far from the expert here, but that doesn’t sound quite right. “I think they’d want to know anyway.”

“Oh, absolutely,” he agrees, “Unfortunately, if they want me to tell them things, then they should have thought about that before – well, before we started fighting. Now we’ll all just have to deal with the consequences.”

Harry is convinced Lucius Malfoy is a bad person. But he’s also pretty sure he’d eviscerate anyone who harmed his son, and Harry’s kind of in favor of that general attitude. But maybe it’s a good thing Draco’s fighting with his parents? They are, well, Death Eaters.

This is all confusing and worrisome, so instead he focuses on the one thing he is certain of. “I hate him.”

“Who?” Draco is fiddling with his tie, trying to get it sit just right even though they’re the only ones there.

“Moody,” Harry says, “I – I hate him. That was cruel. Aurors aren’t supposed to be cruel. They’re supposed to help.”

Draco laughs, but when he meets Harry’s eyes his expression is soft. “I see you haven’t met many aurors.” He frowns, but Draco shakes his head, stepping forward to slip in hand in Harry’s, “When we graduate, you can become in auror, and change the whole lot of them. You can be kind, and make them be kind too.”

“What will you be doing, while I’m off fighting for truth and justice?” he asks, heart in his throat. They’ve never spoken about the future before.

“I’ll be just down the hall, of course,” he says, and they’re not looking at each other, they can’t, Harry’s certain the second they do the dream of this impossible future will shatter. “I’ll be a barrister first, but then after that, well. My family has held a Wizengamot seat for centuries. I’m sure Great Aunt Tiana will be ready to retire in a decade or so.”

“That sounds nice.” he says, leaning his head so it’s resting against Draco’s.

“Yeah,” his soulmate says, “it does.”

~

Draco didn’t think teaching a bunch of fourth years about the unforgivable curses was the best of ideas, but as far as he was concerned that was among the least of Moody’s sins, so he wasn’t going to make a fuss about it.

Then he says he going to perform them on them, and Draco must be hearing this incorrectly.

He’s not. Sure enough, Hannah Abbott is brought to the front of the class, and made to cluck like a chicken in a truly embarrassing display. He locks eyes with Pansy first, and she nods, but when he looks to Blaise, he shakes his head, eyes wide. Damnit.

Crabbe and Goyle can’t, he knows, unless something drastic has changed in the past few years. Daphne and Theodore should be fine, too, he thinks. He has to twist around to catch Millie’s eye, but Moody is still focused on the Hufflepuffs so he doesn’t notice. She sees him and winces, but gives a shrug. All right, a little resistant is better than he was expecting. They’re not in too bad of shape.

He hopes Moody doesn’t plan on trying the Cruciactus Curse on them next. Crabbe and Goyle have been exposed to it, but surprisingly it had been his father who had drawn the line there, saying that was something for when he was older. The only other one in their year who had dealt with it was possibly Theodore, but he’s not sure because he’d never asked. He hadn’t thought it would ever come up.

He doesn’t know how to help Blaise, because the only way to practice resisting the curse is to be put under it, repeatedly. And he doesn’t know anyone who’s actually able to cast the damn thing. Well, he supposes he could ask Snape, but that would require spending a significant amount of time in the man’s presence, something he does his best not to do unless absolutely necessary.

The man is a brilliant potions master, but a teacher he is not. He’s an even worse head of house. His mother routinely called his appointment sabotage. Draco wouldn’t go quite that far, but it hardly helped that that man was the face of the Slytherin House.

Moody finishes with the Hufflepuffs, and the only one of them that manages even a token protest is Susan Bones, which Draco should have expected. The girl’s aunt is a liberal, but she’s also ruthlessly pragmatic, according to his father. And he’s hardly the type to sugarcoat these type of things. “Who next?” he asks, his fake eye roving over them uncomfortably. “Mr. Zabini, how about you?”

Yeah, no. Blaise sucks at this, and he hates it, he isn’t going first. Draco’s already half risen from his seat when Pansy’s perfectly manicured hand grabs his shoulder and pushes him back down.

“I’ll go first,” Pansy says, getting to her feet with a sneer and snapping her sheath of hair over her shoulder. “To show everyone else how it’s done.”

Moody quirks an eyebrow. “If you insist, Miss Parkinson.”

“I do,” she says, rolling her hips as she walks to the center of the room. “I’ll take whatever you can give me, Professor. Don’t be gentle – it’s not my first time.”

Moody’s face goes blank. It takes all of Draco’s willpower not to burst out laughing, and he can see Millie has her hand over her mouth to prevent the same reaction. There are few things capable of throwing Mad Eye Moody off balance, and being hit on by a fourteen year old is one of them. It’s good thinking – if they stall for time, it’s possible that they’ll manage to get through this class without Blaise, Crabbe, or Goyle having to face the curse.

“Darling,” Draco drawls, “please, have some decorum.”

She looks over her shoulder to wink at him, and then blow him a kiss. “Oh, you should know better than to think I have any of that.”

There’s a vein popping out of Moody’s forehead. It’s glorious.

“Enough chit chat!” he barks, “Imperio!” Pansy goes completely still and her eyes go glassy. They’re not laughing anymore. “Jump up and down.”

Draco’s hands clench into fists. He’d given the other students the same command, but – Pansy doesn’t wear tights, and she’s been modifying her skirts to be about six inches shorter since second year. If she jumps up and down, she’ll end up flashing the whole classroom.

She raises on her tip toes, and he can see Millie reaching for her wand out of the corner of his eye, and Daphne’s shrugged off her cloak, holding it in her lap, ready to spring forward.

Pansy stills, standing one her tiptoes, looking like a ballerina frozen in time. “Jump up and down!” Moody repeats.

Her leg jerks out, then comes down in a stomp. She shakes her head from side to side, and when she looks back up her eyes are clear. “No, thank you,” she says daintily, triumph in the curl of her lips.

Applause erupts from the other side of the classroom. Pansy freezes.

Draco turns, and they all have their wands in their hands, and half of them are clutching scarves or cloaks, ready to leap to their feet if Pansy hadn’t been able to fight it off and her skirt had gone flying.

Moody bangs his hand against his desk, “All right, all right, that’s enough!”

The Hufflepuffs cheer louder. Pansy flushes, then curtsies before walking back to her seat.

“Huh,” Draco says softly, “who would have thought.”

Susan catches his eye and winks. He’s so startled he winks back without thinking about it.

~

Draco, Blaise, and Pansy hear about the Gryffindors’ experience that night, and Draco adds putting Longbottom through that on his list of reasons that Moody is awful. There’s no need to rub his parent’s circumstances in the boy’s face. Even he wouldn’t stoop that low.

They’re all suitably impressed when they hear about Harry.

“I couldn’t beat it,” Harry says miserably, “I tried, but – I couldn’t shake it completely, not like you Pansy.”

“I’ve had it cast on me a couple hundred times, Harry! I couldn’t even begin to resist it until, Merlin, a hundred in? That you were able to almost throw it off the very first time it was cast on you is–”

“Incredible,” Draco finishes. “That’s scarily impressive, Harry. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone being able to resist on their first try, without any training. I would have said it’s impossible, but, well, you’ve certainly taught me a lesson about throwing that word around lightly.”

“I can’t do it at all,” Blaise says, doing a poor job of hiding his bitterness.

Pansy elbows him in the side, “You don’t know that, not for sure. Your mum won’t let anyone else cast it on you, and obviously you won’t be able to resist it when she casts it. I can’t resist my parents either.”

Draco nods, “Sometimes I almost resist my dad, but my mum? Forget about it. I’ve never even hesitated.”

“Wait!” Hermione holds up a hand, “What are you guys talking about?”

They all turn to stare at her. “Hermione,” Blaise says, now sounding more amused than bitter, “did you miss part of Moody’s lesson?”

“No!” she scowls, “Of course not. What are you talking about?”

Draco thinks back, and actually, he can’t remember Moody mentioning it. Which is strange, since it’s a rather basic component of the curse. “The Imperio Curse is harder to resist if it’s cast by someone you trust, and easier to resist if it’s cast by someone you distrust. It’s still possible to break no matter who casts it, but it’s a lot more difficult. I can sometimes resist my dad, not because I don’t trust him, but because he’s not as good at curses as Mum is. So I’ll probably be able to resist him completely long before my mum.”

“So, comparatively, it’s a lot easier for me to resist Moody, because I very much do not trust him, than if someone in my family cast it,” Pansy adds.

Ron frowns, “But, wait, if Blaise’s mum won’t let anyone else cast on him – are you telling me your parents did let other people cast on you?”

Pansy and Draco shrug. “Gotta learn somehow,” she says, “and they were there, of course. But it’s good to learn. And it’s at least less boring than occlumency lessons.”

“Occu-what now?” Ron asks.

It occurs to Draco, for the first time, that Hermione’s a muggleborn, Harry was raised by muggles, and Ron’s a Weasley, so there’s no conceivable reason for them to have been taught occlumency.

“Shit,” Blaise breathes, clearly coming to same conclusion.

Draco rubs at his temples. “Open the map, we need to find the twins. They should know this too.”

“Ginny?” Pansy suggests.

Draco makes a face. “She should learn, but I’m not subjecting myself to that. I’ll have Luna teach her.” Pansy gives him a dubious look. “She’s good at it! All those flighty, crazy thoughts have to be good for something, right?”

Hermione pulls the Chimera map out of her bag, scanning it. “They’re in bed.”

“Really?” Draco asks, leaning over to look for himself. “I’m shocked.”

“They have to sleep sometime,” Ron points out.

Harry snorts. “Why? We don’t.”

“And it’s very bad for us, and is probably stunting our growth,” Hermione says decisively. “Don’t you think your marks would be higher if we got regular, adequate rest?”

“No,” Ron, Harry, and Pansy say in unison.

“Probably,” Blaise says, and laughs when Pansy whirls around and smacks his arm. “Anyway, you guys need to learn occlumency. It’s a wandless magic to protect your mind. It’s – well, bloody boring, honestly, but not too hard.”

Draco wonders if they’ll help with the strange visions Harry’s been having when he sleeps. He hopes so. They’re kind of terrifying.

Ron claps his hands together, “Okay, sounds good. Should we head back, to get adequate rest for once?”

“That ship sailed about an hour ago,” Hermione says dryly.

She starts to roll up the map, but Draco shakes his head, and she smooths it back out. “I saw Moody heading out to the forest when we were coming here. I want to make sure he’s not anywhere close before we head back.”

She taps the map, “You’re good, he’s in his office.”

“Really?” he leans down.

“Really,” she says, exasperated. “I can read, Draco. It’s one of my many talents.”

“No, I know. Sorry. It’s just,” he frowns, “I really expected him to be gone longer. I thought I was being overly cautious. That was a short trip.”

“Maybe he just wanted some fresh air,” Blaise says, “Who cares? Let’s go to bed. We can grab the twins and start the lessons tomorrow.”

“Right,” he says, rolling the map up and handing it to Hermione. She slides it back into her bag, which seems to contain more things than can reasonably fit inside it. If she’s been working on the bottomless charm without him, he’s going to be cross.

His mind wanders back to Moody, and how quick that walk must have been, then he shakes his head. He’s clearly spending too much time around Luna, and it’s making him paranoid, is all.

~

Angelina had been thrilled with Harry’s suggestion to keep practicing for next year’s quidditch season. There was the small matter of the pitch being under construction for the Triwizard Tournament, and therefor unusable. “Do you think there’s space somewhere in the forbidden forest?” Angelina asks, a look in her eyes that reminds him far too much of Oliver Wood.

Harry thinks that every time he’s gone in that forest, something has tried to eat him. “I’ll ask Hagrid,” he says, instead of voicing that. Something tells him that Angelina wouldn’t care.

“Brilliant!” she says. “I’ll talk to Cedric and Roger about it, no reason for us all to practice separately this year. It’ll be fun! We can play some games mixing the teams.”

Harry should just keep his mouth shut. But that’s never been his strong point, so he asks, “What about the Slytherins?”

“What about them?” she glares, then looks mildly ashamed of herself. “Yeah, I’ll talk to Flint too.”

“Uh,” he thinks back to his conversation with Draco, “Maybe not Flint. I know he’s the captain, but he’s – busy, this year. Maybe ask Cassius instead?”

She looks a bit more cheered at that. Harry can’t blame her. Having to talk to Flint would put a damper on anyone’s mood.

Harry’s own good mood at the prospect of still being able to play quidditch lasts until he gets to the Gryffindor common room. It’s mostly empty, but Hermione’s there, curled up on the seat next to the window with her legs pulled to her chest. Harry wishes Ron was here. For how oblivious he is with most things, he’s always been excellent at getting Hermione to stop feeling upset. Granted, he usually does it by making her angry, but it is effective. Personally, he finds Hermione too scary to make her mad on purpose.

“Hey,” he says, scooting onto the little bit of space left by her feet. “What’s up?”

She looks up at him, and tries to smile, but doesn’t do a very good job of it. “It’s silly.”

“It’s not,” he says immediately. Nothing that upsets his friends is silly.

“I can’t stop thinking about the house elves,” she confesses, “Everyone acts like it’s normal and fine, and Ron doesn’t get it. I know Ginny said that they do get paid, that it’s not so – unequal, but it looks that way. And – I mean, once upon a time, people thought slavery was normal and fine too, so.”

“Pretty much no sane person ever thought slavery was fine,” he says, and honestly he hasn’t given much thought to the house elves. There’s Dobby, who was so desperate to be free, and Winky, who burst into sobbing hysterics when it happened to her. Those are the only two house elves he knows.

Realistically speaking, his father’s ancestors were probably enslaved by the British, just like Hermione’s were. Or, well, probably not actually, since his ancestors were magical, and he figures they took to slavery just as well as American witches took to being burned in the town square. But he just doesn’t think about that kind of stuff that often, at least when he’s away from the Dursleys, which kind of makes him feel shallow, now that he is thinking about it.

Are there books on this type of stuff? Probably, but he’d have to admit to not knowing it in the first place in order to ask for them.

“I don’t know what to do,” she says quietly. “I love Hogwarts, I love magic, but – I don’t want to stay here if, if it’s all just – operating on slave labor.”

Pretty much no sane person has ever thought slavery was fine, and it seems like all their friends, who are very much sane people, think it’s fine. But that’s the type of reasoning that will get him punched in the face. Or worse, pulled into a discussion on changing social mores and the dangers of viewing the past through a modern world view. He really prefers to leave those types of discussions to Draco and Hermione. “Why don’t we go talk to some?”

She blinks. “What?”

“Why don’t we ask? We can sit here talking about them, or we can talk to them. Draco doesn’t have class until after lunch, let’s go ask him to talk to Winky now?” He reaches into his back pocket for his compact. Draco had added a permanent sticking charm and unbreakable charm to them both after he’d repaired his and reconnected it back to Harry’s.

The thrilled look on Hermione’s face is absolutely worth the loss of the free period he’d thought he was going to have.

Ron walks down the stairs, yawning. He’d been smarter than Harry, and had used the break in their schedules to go take a nap. “What’s going on? What are we doing? If it involves spiders, I’m out, let’s be clear about that right away.”

“No spiders,” Harry promises as his soulmate’s face appears in the mirror.

~

Draco has no idea why Hermione wants to talk to his house elf, or why it’s so important that they have to do it in the middle of the day. Then again, he supposes it’s better than doing it tonight when they’re supposed to be having occlumency lessons. Hermione’s curiosity can derail him at the best of times, like when they’d started arguing about how many rotations to stir the color changing potions and ended up debating the most effective wand movements for transfiguration. That had ended with Pansy jabbing her wand in between them, turning the desk they’d been using into a rabbit, and declaring that wand movements were the for the weak.

“Winky,” he says, and his house elf appears next to him with a crack. She’s wearing one his old silk pillowcases, cinched at the waist with what looks like an impressive bit of needlework, and she’s even stitched his personal sigil into it so it sits on the upper left corner of her chest – the Malfoy family crest encircled by a dragon. He’s charmed. “Did you make this yourself?”

“Yes, Master Draco!” she says. “I am not wanting to be confused with castle elves.”

“Hmm,” he must look pleased, because Winky looks positively ecstatic. “These are my friends, Winky. Meet Harry, Ron, and Hermione.” They wave as he says their names. “Hermione has some questions for you. Answer them as honestly and completely as you can, understand?”

“Yes, Master Draco,” she turns to face them, tucking her hands behind her and rocking back on her heels. “How can I be helping Master’s friends?”

“Are you happy, Winky?” Hermione asks carefully.

Dear Merlin. He should have brought a book. Luckily, he’s a wizard, so he summons his herbology text from his room.

~

Winky seems to think Hermione has a couple screws loose, but they’re her master’s friends, so she answers all her questions, and even grabs a couple of her own friends from the kitchen so Hermione can talk to them too.

Harry is deeply relieved when they all say the same thing, and when Hermione asks if they want to be earning an actual wage, they laugh. Winky looks like she wants to, but she restrains herself, probably because she doesn’t want to risk being rude to them.

“You don’t want to own games? Or books?” Hermione asks, “Really?”

“We is liking to be kept busy,” one of the castle elves, Dal, says, “Hogwarts is good, there are lots of messy children!”

“Poppy likes to knit,” Mip says, “She makes the extra blankets we give out in the winter. And Kurk etches the designs into the dinner plates himself. The more elaborate the plate, the cleaner the students are. One year the Slytherins were so neat we needed to reassign him to the Hufflepuff common room, or else he was going to start recreating tapestries on the dessert dishes.”

Mip looks old, although Harry isn’t really sure how house elves age. He’s also the first elf who’s speech patterns match the humans. He’s wonder if it’s something they pick up in time, or if it’s something Mip taught himself on purpose.

“Those aren’t really hobbies,” Hermione says, crestfallen. “Don’t you want to do things just for yourself?”

“If we is wanting a thing, we can make it ourselves,” Dal says. “We is magic, Miss Hermione.”

Ron makes a choking sound that is definitely him trying to muffle his laughter. Hermione kicks him in the shin without looking.

“We like to create, and to clean, and to maintain,” Mip says, something wistful about his face. “There aren’t enough forests to sustain us anymore. We’re not needed like we used to be, so now we do this. Wizards don’t need us either, but we help, and we like it. You don’t need to worry over us, Miss.”

Hermione still looks uncertain, but she nods. “Thank you for your time, Mip, Dal. I appreciate it.”

“Anytime, Miss Hermione!” Dal says cheerfully, and then they’re gone in a crack and a wisp of smoke. Winky is still standing there.

“You’re dismissed,” Draco says, not looking up from his book. “Good job.”

She bows and disappears.

“Are you satisfied?” Ron asks.

“Almost,” she turns to Draco. “What about Dobby?”

He stops reading and looks up. “What about him?”

“He was abused, and hurt, and he hated working for your family,” she says tightly, “So if this whole house elf thing is so perfect and wonderful, why did that happen?”

“Well, it’s neither perfect, nor wonderful, for starters,” Draco says. “It’s just the least horrible option. House elves need magic to live, and there’s just not as much natural magic as there used to be. So in exchange for working for us, we give them ours. But that puts us in a vulnerable position. If Winky chose to attack me, my magic wouldn’t work on her, even though hers works on me. My magic doesn’t work on any of the family elves either, even though technically my dad holds their bond. So it’s not a great solution for anyone. Especially since any family old and powerful enough to support house elves is certainly rich enough to afford a maid and a cook, who’s employment wouldn’t leave us defenseless against them. Plus, there’s literally over a thousand cleaning and cooking spells. But we don’t actually want house elves to go extinct, so we do this instead.”

“Dobby?” Hermione repeats, frowning.

He shrugs. “He was a horrible house elf. He did his duties just fine, that wasn’t the issue, but he wasn’t loyal. I mean, I’m glad he helped Harry, obviously, but he went behind my father’s back and betrayed him to do it, and that wasn’t the first time he’d done something like that. So Dad had him put his hands in the oven and twisted his ears back. He wasn’t going to free him, because a house elf freed for disloyalty will never find work again, and he didn’t want the wretched thing to die. Mum was actually pretty relieved when Harry tricked them into freeing him.”

Harry’s gone cold. “Are – is – did I kill Dobby?”

“No!” Ron says. “Of course not!”

Draco just stares at him. “Do you not listen to me at all? Thanks to you, Dobby wasn’t freed for being disloyal, my dad was tricked by you. Which he wasn’t thrilled with, publicity wise, but I’m sure Dobby is working for some other family, hopefully one suitably liberal so he doesn’t feel the need to betray them at every opportunity.”

“And Crouch?” she asks.

His face darkens. “Horrible. Freeing Winky like that was cruel, and unnecessary. It was wrong, and freeing your elf without sufficient cause is illegal if they don’t have another family ready to take on their bond. But I’m, oh, let’s say a few years off from getting my barrister’s license, so I took on her bond instead.”

Hermione crosses her arms, scraping her teeth of her bottom lip. “Okay. Okay. Neither perfect, nor wonderful, just the least horrible option. Fine. But I’m going to look for a better way to do this. There has to be another way for house elves to survive, and I’m going to find it.”

“Great!” Draco says, throwing up his arms, sending the book flying. He banishes it back to his room before it hits the ground. “Please do. I, personally, would love to not have my magic tied up in a house elf. Since your insanity has taken us nearly to lunch, can we go to the Great Hall now? Or would you like to go down and interrogate Hagrid about the thestrals?”

“I do have to talk to Hagrid about something, actually,” Harry says.

Draco pinches the bridge of his nose, “Merlin’s sagging ballsack.”

Ron gives a bark of laughter, and Hermione lets out a scandalized, “Excuse me?” but it comes out kind of warbly, since she’s also doing her best not laugh, which has Draco and Harry dissolving into giggles.

~

Fred and George are the last to make it to the classroom that night, and there’s some wariness about the Slytherins, but once they figure out that no one’s about to start flinging insults – or curses – they relax.

The occlumency lessons are, as promised, incredibly boring. Blaise is the only half decent Legilimens they have, and he doesn’t both trying to get into anyone’s mind that first night. Instead he slips inside, testing their shields, searching for weak spots and letting them know when they’re doing it wrong. At the end of the night, he looks more exhausted than the rest of them.

“How do you guys do this all the time?” Fred asks, yawning. “I can already tell I’m going to be falling asleep in class.”

Hermione rolls her eyes, “Draco and I brew a batch of Pepper Up potion once a month, we’ll give you each a vial. And we don’t meet at night every night!”

“We will be meeting twice a week to practice until you all get the hang of it,” Draco announces. “I spoke to Luna, and she’s handling teaching your demonic sister.”

“She’s our only sister,” George says, amused. “You don’t need to specify demonic, it’s implied.” Draco narrows his eyes, and Harry ushers them all out before things can deteriorate any further.

The last thing in the world he wants to do is to listen to is Draco and the Weasley twins argue about semantics.

~

The next morning Harry gets a letter, unsigned, containing a sketch of the logo for the Three Broomsticks, and a date and a time a week from today. He recognizes it as Sirius’s hand, and he tells himself it will be fine. Remus is with him, and he won’t let Sirius do anything too rash or dangerous, hopefully. Then again, he thinks Remus may do plenty of rash and dangerous things all on his own, and it’s really kind of awful that they’re each other’s impulse control.

Luckily, today’s the day that the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang are set to arrive, so it’s all anyone can talk about, and he can focus on that instead of worrying about his godfather being thrown back in Azkaban. Draco had toured both schools with his father when he was ten, even though his mother had said it was Hogwarts or she was filing for a divorce, and all he said about it was that they were equally as pretentious and exhausting as Hogwarts, but Beauxbatons at least had good weather.

The giant flying carriage and ghost ship are impressive to Harry, but most of the upper level Ravenclaws and Slytherins look underwhelmed, which makes Harry thinks that spells that did it are too simple to constitute as a grand display, which he doesn’t agree with at all. Just because the spellwork is simple doesn’t change that the effect is brilliant. Draco must have been serious about the weather comment, because all the students from Beauxbatons are wearing light, powder blue robes that do absolutely nothing to help protect them against the chill, while the ones from Durmstrang are dressed like it’s the middle of the winter and they’re expected to walk a mile through a snowstorm.

“Krum looks shorter in person,” Ron says, looking at the boy who’s standing at the head of the group. “Is that a seeker thing, then? The shortness?”

“I’m of average height, and also I’ll murder you,” Harry says, “You’re the giant here. Look at you, it’s like talking to an oak tree, this friendship is making me develop a crick in my neck.”

“Your burdens are great and impressive,” Ron says, before ruffling his hair.

Murder,” he repeats, but he’s grinning, so it’s probably not very effective.

Hermione pushes herself between them, but only so she can elbow them both in the side at the same time. “Could you shut up for five minutes?”

“No,” they say together, but out of fear of bruised ribs they do in fact shut up until Dumbledore has finished the introductions.

Draco’s out of his seat immediately, and he makes a bee line for the Beauxbaton students. Within moments, he has a small crowd clustered around him, and is he … it’s too far away to hear properly, but Harry’s almost certain …

“Is he speaking French?” Hermione asks. “I didn’t know he could do that.”

Ron gives her a weird look, “I told you that his family still has business there. I’m pretty sure he speaks a couple other languages too.”

“Do you speak any languages I’m not aware of?” she demands.

“English?” he offers, “and Latin, but everyone speaks that. The twins picked up Welsh because they thought it would be funny, and I kind of understand them when they speak it, but I can’t say much myself. Percy knows Ancient Greek and Latin, because he’s a nerd. Bill speaks Arabic, and Charlie’s almost fluent in Romanian, last I checked. Who knows what Ginny’s learning, I dare not even ask. Japanese, maybe, since she spends so much time with Luna.”

“Latin, but everyone speaks that,” Hermione repeats. “I feel like I don’t even know you.”

Ron rolls his eyes and calls across the table, “Oi, Neville! How many languages do you speak?”

He turns to face them, and frowns, “Uh, fluently? Or just like, enough to not cause an international incident at a dinner party?”

“Both,” Ron says. “Also, how many international dinner parties does your grandmother force you to go to?”

“Too many,” he says darkly, and Lavender Brown pats him on the back sympathetically. “Uh, five fluently. Fluently-ish. About as many more in dinner party territory. Why? Please don’t make me translate anything.”

“No reason, don’t worry about it,” Ron says, before turning back to Hermione with a smug smile.

“Well,” she says to Harry, “at least the lack of science classes is good for something.”

He holds up his hands, grinning, “Hey, I speak another language, you’re the only slacker here.” His Parseltongue abilities aren’t exactly a secret, but they aren’t common knowledge either, and he’d like to keep it that way.

Did his mum speak another language? Or his dad? He must have, if it’s a wizarding thing. Did he speak Hindi? Or – some other Indian language. He doesn’t even know enough of them to wonder at which one his dad might have spoken. Maybe Sirius and Remus know. That’s something he can ask them when he sees them next week.

Hermione’s eyes narrow, but before she can say anything a hush falls over the table, and Harry realizes everyone is staring at the space just behind them. They turn around.

Krum is standing there, eyes locked on Hermione. “Ah, excuse me,” he says in accented English, “is there, perhaps, a seat available for me at this table?”

A bunch of people scramble to make room, but he doesn’t react. He keeps his gaze on Hermione, unmoving. Her face goes red, and she slowly reaches out for her bookbag, grabs it by the handle, then does nothing. Harry will kick her if she doesn’t do something soon.

She pushes her bookbag to the ground, something he’s never seen her do before, and meets Krum’s eyes. “Yes,” she says, and then can’t seem to think of anything else.

A disarmingly handsome smile overtakes Krum’s face, and Harry moves over so he’s not crowded in between him and Hermione. Or maybe he shouldn’t have moved? Maybe Hermione wanted Krum to be too close?

“I’m Viktor,” he says, offering her his hand.

“Hermione,” she returns, placing her hand in his. Then Viktor twists their clasped hands and pulls them up so he can kiss her knuckles.

Harry is certain he hears some of the girls down the table screaming. He turns to Ron, pleased by this turn of events, but Ron isn’t laughing anymore. He’s got the darkest scowl Harry’s ever seen on his best friend’s face, and he freezes, not sure what to do.

He looks to the Slytherin table, knowing Draco can’t do anything to help him out while they’re in the middle of the Great hall, but searching him out anyway.

He finds him, seated now, but still surrounded by Beauxbatons students. Pressed up against his side, with an arm over his shoulder, is one of the prettiest girls Harry has ever seen. She’s got blonde hair and clear skin, and everything about her is so perfectly formed that she looks like one of the Veelas that had poured onto the quidditch pitch during the World Cup.

Harry’s good mood drops instantly. There’s no reason for it, she’s not doing anything wrong, and neither is Draco. Ron has sat like that with Harry before, there’s nothing inappropriate about it. But – if there was – would he be allowed to get mad at that? He thinks of Charlie asking if he had a boyfriend at the train station, and – does he? Draco is his soulmate, but does that mean they’re boyfriends? Are they just dating my default? Or – are they – not?

He groans and drops his head down on the table with a painful smack. “Same,” Ron sighs, patting him on the back.

His entire life is a nightmare.

~

Fleur is a delight, and it was instantly obvious that she’s the most interesting student at the school. Pansy keeps up with the rest of the students in French perfectly, while Blaise, who’s fluent in Italian and only passable in French, spends a lot of time looking bored. Luckily, bored is a good look on him, because several cute boys and girls from Beauxbatons ask if he’s single.

Fleur also has an interest in charms, and is looking to get an apprenticeship after she graduates, and figures being a Triwizard Champion will look good on her resume, even if she doesn’t win. They’re already making plans to visit each other during the summer by the time dinner ends, and he almost hopes she doesn’t get picked as champion, if only so she’ll have more free time to hang out. But also if she’s not picked as champion, then clearly everything is rigged, because she’s fabulous.

“Careful,” Pansy whispers in his ear as they’re getting up to go back to the dorms, “your boy is looking green eyed.”

He blinks and looks to the Gryffindor table. Harry catches his eye immediately, and Draco blows him a kiss. Anyone who sees it will just assume he’s mocking him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says, “his eyes are always green.”

~

He keeps himself up all night, tossing and turning and thinking about Draco, pressing his hand against the iris on his hip.  He almost reaches for his mirror a dozen times, but doesn’t do it. He doesn’t even know what he’d say. I saw you talking to a girl, and I didn’t like it? I thought this whole thing had to be a mistake when it first happened, but it’s been a couple years and now I’m pretty sure it could never have been anyone else? Are we boyfriends?

Every single option makes him want to punch himself in the face, so he does none of them.

He meets up with Ron and Hermione in time to watch Fred and George taking the aging potion. “You know that’s not going to work, right?” Ron asks, amused.

“Oh, little of brother of little faith!” George says, “It will work.”

“I have a more important question,” Hermione says, raising an eyebrow. “The aging potion isn’t an overnight brew. So, you just had this? What on earth could you be using an aging potion for?”

The twins turn to her, scandalized. “Hermione,” Fred says, “I don’t know what on earth you could be implying, but I’m certain I’m offended by it.”

“Uh huh,” she says dryly. “Hurry up now, I’m interested to see how this will blow up in your faces.”

Thirty seconds later she’s proven right, literally, and the sight of the twins as old men is funny enough that Harry can’t help but laughing, even though he’s exhausted.

Lee is there, shaking his head, and offers to escort them to the hospital wing.

“My back!” Fred groans, “Being old is awful! Why does anyone do this?”

“We don’t really get a choice in the matter, as I understand it,” Lee says. “Up and on your feet, Grandpa.”

“Don’t disrespect your elders,” George says, midway through French braiding his beard. “Why, back in my day, when I was a young whippersnapper–”

Harry tugs on Ron and Hermione’s arms, still snickering, “Come on, let’s get out of here before they turn it into a production.”

“I think they already have,” Ron says, “but sure. Where are we going?”

“Hagrid’s,” Harry says, “I still need to ask him about a place to practice Quidditch, and I keep getting distracted. Angelina’s had us all running laps around the castle and stuff, which is important and whatever, but I want to get back on a broom.”

“Could be worse?” Ron offers. “At least you’re not on the Slytherin team.”

Harry shivers. Cassius had taken his new unofficial appointment as captain very seriously, and had made the team do pull ups until someone threw up. Although, anyone who survived his training was going to be hell to face on the pitch. “Good point.”

The visit to Hagrid’s is largely unhelpful, because he spends most of it getting sidetracked by talking about Madame Maxine. Harry does manage to secure a promise that Hagrid will try to find a place for them to play quidditch.

But it takes so long that they end up having to run back to the castle in order to avoid missing the announcement of the champions. Hagrid runs back with them, but quickly outpaces them, thanks to his much longer legs.

“Unbelievable,” Hermione pants.

“Love makes people do crazy things,” Ron says.

She pauses in running to stare at him. “What?”

“Never mind,” Harry pushes them both forward, “come on, let’s go, we don’t want to be late.”

They make it into their seats just as the fire in the goblet changes color.

It has begun.

            ~

Krum as the Durmstrang champion is an obvious choice, honestly he would have been more surprised if it wasn’t him.

Then Fleur gets picked for Beauxbatons, which is brilliant, he cheers louder for her than for Krum. He may be a fan, but Fleur is friend. Or if she’s not yet, she will be.

The hall goes silent, waiting, and the slip of paper comes from the goblet.

The Hogwarts champion is Cedric Diggory.

A few weeks ago he may be been irritated by that choice, but he has a new respect for Hufflepuffs. Besides, he’s a seeker, a quidditch captain, and a prefect. They’d be hard pressed to find someone more suitable on credentials alone.

Then, just as Dumbledore is getting up to speak, the goblet changes color again, and it spits out a fourth slip of paper.

There’s a pit of dread in the bottom of his stomach, and he just knows who’s name is written there. Can’t they just have one normal year?

“HARRY POTTER!” the Headmaster calls out. “Harry Potter! Get up here, my boy. Harry Potter, come along now.”

There’s a split second, where Draco wonders if Harry did this on purpose. Then he sees his soulmate’s face as he woodenly walks down the great the hall, and he knows he didn’t. He wouldn’t have put his name in the goblet to begin with, even if he could have, and if he’d figured out a way to bypass the age restrictions, he would have told Draco.

This means someone else did this. Someone put his soulmate’s name in the goblet, someone is to blame for Harry being forced to participate in these ridiculous, suicidal games.

Draco’s going to find out who that someone is. And when he does, he’s going to kill them.