Sitting beneath the Sorting Hat is the most painfully exposed moment of Harry's life. The back of his mind says that the appraisal of the other students had been too quiet to hear, but now it seems certain that the entire hall knows his every secret. Not Slytherin, he repeats with thought and words. His new friend from the station picks up on the shapes his mouth is forming and gives him a smile.
The Hat wonders why he doesn't want to be in Slytherin: doesn't he have great potential and the drive to use it? Courage and ambition are so equally weighted; is he sure he knows which side hangs just a hint lower?
Not Slytherin, he thinks. It drives out every other thought, his own identity.
The Hat laughs like a friend letting go of a joke and winds up to make its choice. The entire Hall seems to hold its breath for the decision, but the Hat pauses suddenly. "You've cleared your mind and I still see your parents," it says in its low hum. The students sigh and wait. "You can't strip that away."
Harry's mental chanting stumbles for a moment. It's not right to be forced up here like this. His face is red and speckled white from the tension. The Hat can't be doing this to him, pulling out memories in front of every last person populating his new world.
"Would you do anything to see them avenged?"
The question is asked with absolutely no judgment, but a serious tone that makes him shiver. The Hat waits for his answer. It again comes in both thoughts and words. He's forgotten to chant which house he wants to avoid, forgotten to clear his mind to make his intent unmistakable. All Harry can do is say the truth. "Yes," he whispers.
There's no mistaking the difference between the volume of the whispers in his ear and the true broadcast. "A goal to meet, the drive to do it, and the heart to make it happen however's necessary: there's only one house for you, and that's... Slytherin!"
For one brief, terrible breath, the hall is silent. Three tables look to be on the verge of tears. Ron stares at his hands and won't look up to meet Harry's gaze. The rest of the students soon follow suit. A round of cheering and hollering starts up after two seconds and a year, making everyone jump in their skin. Harry looks over to the table all in green. They're the only ones making any noise. The one familiar face there is a curious and terrible mixture of satisfaction, anticipation, and cruel delight. Harry knows he has to walk toward it. Behind him he hears another name called and the other tables try their best to restart conversations.
"Potter," Malfoy says when Harry takes the seat next to him. Harry holds his chin up high and tries very hard not to burst out crying. "Don't look so out of sorts," Malfoy smirks. He slams his hand down on Harry's shoulder far harder than is needed to be friendly. "We're going to have fun."
Harry won't meet Malfoy's eyes and Ron still won't meet his.
The rest of the night passes in a blur.
Their dormitory, Harry soon discovers, is an adapted dungeon. That seems appropriate. There's a scramble to get the smallest rooms and best roommates. The older students tell rumors of giant communal bedrooms in the other houses, which earns a shiver of disgust from everyone present. Harry tries to shrink back into the shadows but can no sooner disappear within Slytherin than he could anywhere else in this strange wizarding world.
"Potter!" calls out the girl he's been told is a seventh-year prefect. "Harry Potter? Merlin, it really is you." He can't tell whether or not that's a positive development. "Well, go down that hall, turn left twice, and look to your right. There's a door there to a double room. That's yours."
"What?" he stammers out, looking around at all the other students. "But... everyone else is picking..."
"This was already set up in case you got Sorted here, Potter." She smirks. "Aren't you popular."
Harry nods dully and follows the directed path. The first thing he sees upon swinging open his door is a massive canopy bed with his luggage neatly piled at its foot. His old bedroom under the stairs would fit inside the thing. Hedwig's cage is on a table before the small, bar-lined window in the stone walls. The light it gives off is green and dim. Opening the door entirely reveals the rest of the room, and Harry can't work up the slightest kernel of surprise to see Draco Malfoy inspecting the other bed.
"Well, well," Malfoy says as he turns to face Harry. "I was wondering when you'd show." He looks up at the rich emerald velvet of the bed canopy, to the floating candles that serve as a chandelier, and finally back to Harry himself. "Nothing compared to my room back home, of course, but not that bad. I'd been planning to room with two friends of mine, but my father secured this for me. I suppose dealing with you will be the payback for getting a double as a first-year. Are you going to say anything, Potter, or just stand there like an idiot?"
"My owl. Her name's Hedwig," Harry finally says. "I don't think she likes you, so don't pet her." He slowly climbs onto the bed, not bothering to change clothes or get under the covers, and curls up on his side. Facing the blank stone wall, he soon succumbs to exhaustion.
"Hi, Ron," Harry hesitantly offers when he finds himself behind the boy on the way to dinner. "I guess things didn't really work out right, huh? And I was looking forward to rooming with you..." He trails off when Ron looks at him with disbelief, like starting a conversation is akin to saying turtles should have wings. It quickly morphs to deep disappointment. Ron turns back around without uttering a single word.
"That's right, Weasley," Harry hears from behind him. "Better start hating all the Slytherins now, like the rest of your worthless house."
He shivers at the voice, but forces himself to turn and meet it. Malfoy is looking at him expectantly. Harry feels suddenly and overwhelmingly tired and intimidated. All that remains after dinner is to return to the dungeons, to be trapped with just another group of students who stare at him from a distance and treat him like a museum exhibit. Ron's offer at friendship was revoked by the Hat, leaving.... Harry looks down, and can only look back up once he's sighed and swallowed. Malfoy is still watching him. "I'm sorry I said those things to you before," Harry forces out. "It'd be nice if we could be friends."
The cat who swallowed the canary, Harry thinks when he watches Malfoy's — Draco's — expression change to one of smug satisfaction. Or do snakes eat them, too? "I was wondering when you'd come around, Harry," Draco says with great emphasis on his first name. "You're forgiven."
Harry squirms a little, but the uncomfortable moment fades as Draco grabs him by the sleeve and pulls him into the Great Hall. Before Harry can tense under everyone's sharp gaze, Draco starts demanding that they focus on their own business unless they want to have Lucius Malfoy as a personal enemy. To his great and pleasant surprise, that works on more than a few of the students.
Draco tells him where to sit and what dishes to try. Not thinking — even for the space of a single meal — is a pleasant change. For the first time since sorting, Harry can relax.
No matter where Harry goes, people watch him. Like he's going to run away, Harry theorizes. He pauses in his stride as another possibility comes to mind: like he's dangerous. He rubs his arms briskly against the sudden chill and quickens his pace. Classes should be a pleasant distraction from the students, but they're overwhelming. Magic was something make-believe in animated movies, or done by men in tuxedoes who cut spangle-clad women in two. It's not something he can manage on command.
The first years have study groups, but they don't help. He's lacking in basic magical theory. Mentioning that to the rest of the Slytherins is like dropping a bomb in the room. They all sit a little more distant from him and he can barely make out the whispers that accompany their glances.
Draco doesn't seem to change one way or the other, but his friendship is barely warm. Harry's one try at going to visit Hagrid nearly sees him laughed out of the dorm. He doesn't have the energy to stand up to the taunting.
Another exhausting week behind him, Harry retreats into his room and stares with hatred at the books lining the foot of his bed. Draco notices the look and raises an eyebrow. "I am beginning to realize," Harry says, "that it would be far easier if I just ran away and became an orphan on the streets of... I don't know. Sydney. New York. Tokyo! I might not speak Japanese, but everything would still probably make more sense than this."
Draco doesn't respond immediately. When he does, it's a non sequitur that makes Harry's head spin. "Right, I need to owl something before lights out. Don't turn down the candles. I don't want to bang my shins coming back."
Owl something. Of course. Harry climbs under the covers and stares up at the canopy as Draco hurries out of the room. Draco's always owling someone back and forth, because he has people to talk to. He, Crabbe, and Goyle have stories from his fifth birthday; the latter accidentally wound up as a hedgehog. Pansy's met his father and thinks he's brilliant. Sometimes Draco will say something and every first-year but Harry will laugh.
Draco gets another message back the very next day. Shortly after he reads it, he grabs Harry by the shoulder and pushes him out of their room. "Come on, Harry," he orders. "You're becoming an embarrassment to the house. You are going to have the basics drilled into you whether you want them or not."
Harry does wants to learn and Draco doesn't give up until Harry can levitate feathers and open locks. Wizard-raised students came knowing how to hold their wands, how to work their tongues around Latin, and all the other building blocks of their lessons, but Harry is determined to catch up. Draco has to be cruel to push him to the other side of success. It's still not as much as they want.
When he meets Madame Hooch for the first time, Harry finally finds his niche. Everything seems just a bit easier from that point out. He stops counting how many letters Draco sends off, which students come near and which avoid him, and just how many faults his head of house finds with each and every one of his assignments. Instead he flies high into the sky above Hogwarts, to where all the windows glitter in the sun and he can't tell if anyone's watching.
He always has to return to earth, but he eventually manages at least a fingernail's grip on his classes. That, however, is the extent of things. Other muggle-raised students are passing him by the day. Draco tells him not to worry about it; it'll all even out in the end. It would all be very comforting if not for Harry having the sense that Draco always wants to add, "At least, it'd better."
The worst part about it all is that Harry feels he's disappointing everyone. He was supposed to do great things and all he's figured out how to do is fly. That's no good to anyone. Draco's gotten him excited about Quidditch, but the team is full up and they'd never take a first year, anyway. A few team posters have appeared on their walls, making the stone a little less cold and unwelcoming. He'd trade that small comfort for showing everyone the should-be great Harry Potter isn't a total waste.
In a Charms class in late October, things suddenly and unexpectedly begin to go right.
All Ravenclaw and Slytherin students are asked to stay after the normal lecture. The Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs make all sorts of noise as they leave, wondering over what kind of trouble the other two houses have been making. Only after they've all left does the tiny professor walk over to the door, close it, and secure the latch. Flitwick's eyes crinkle as he looks at the classroom. "Don't tell the other students," he says in conspiratorial tones. "I always reserve this particular puzzle for your two houses."
Harry's pulse speeds with the idea of being the better option in any situation. He leans over to ask, "Why our two?"
"Because we're the only two houses with brains," Draco snickers. There's no time to explain further, for Flitwick is already passing out the boxes.
After dinner, Harry asks, "What did you mean about 'the only two houses with brains?'"
Draco flings himself over one of the couches in the common room. "Come on, Potter, you have to have noticed how bloody stupid those Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors are. Couldn't put their brains to work if their lives depended on it. They're all foolish pride with nothing to back it up, or plodding little nobodies who couldn't make it anywhere else."
Harry is curious, but more about hearing another house besides Slytherin talked about in the positive. "So what's good about Ravenclaw, then?"
"Ravenclaw? Smart. Obnoxious about it, but smart. If you're ever going to be stuck working with someone from another house you want it to be them."
He nods slowly, filing everything away for the future. It feels like he's finally being indoctrinated into this secret club. "So... Slytherin and Ravenclaw are the good houses." That feels wrong thanks to the conversation he had during the trip here. But the redhead is in a different house, and trying to say hello earned a disapproving stare and a blatant dismissal by way of a turned back.
Draco laughs. "Ravenclaw's better than those two, but it's still not as good as us. Sure, they're smart, know what's in every book in the library, but they never do anything with what they learn. And what good's that?" He starts ticking houses off on his fingers. "Ravenclaw has the brains but never takes action. Gryffindor takes action when they shouldn't because their heads are all filled with showing off when they need real thought. Hufflepuff... please. Slytherin is the only house that combines real thought, real magic and real power with the drive to put it to use."
Harry nods mutely and thinks back to the trip here. He'd gotten such a different impression on the train.
"Smile, Potter! Do you have any idea how lucky you are? You escape a life with dirty filthy muggles and make it into the best house there is! That wretched life you complain about is done with. Forever." Draco positively beams at him and throws over Flitwick's puzzle box.
Harry catches it and smiles.
A day later, the puzzle boxes are still closed without even a single seam to suggest an opening point. They can reach out and pick up the things but trying to do the basic spells in their repertoire proves useless against the challenge. Frustration mounts as the boxes sit there, magical dead zones as far as any of the students can tell. The team of Parkinson, Nott, and Zabini tries to get everyone together to share their findings. Crabbe, Goyle, and Bulstrode gladly put their notes in with the crowd's, but Draco stops Harry from doing the same. "They just want part of the glory," he harrumphs.
"Ignoring the fact that we have no idea what to do... doesn't the whole house get the points if we beat Ravenclaw?" Harry slowly asks.
"Yes, but they don't get bragging rights on top of that," Draco grins. "Come on, let's go ask some of the older years what they did."
Harry twists up his mouth. "I really don't think we're supposed to do that-" But Draco's already heading for the common room, so Harry runs after.
"I bet there are wards on the box to tell Flitwick if you give away the game," he hears Draco say when he catches up with him talking to a group of fifth-years.
They exchange glances. One slowly says, "Yeah, I remember the year behind us ran into that. If you're going to be in here while we're talking over essays, you should probably step over there so it's not triggered by anything we bring up. Just in case."
Harry sighs in disappointment. Cheating or not, going through with the action had brought a surge of excitement. He turns to walk back to the rooms only for Draco to catch his robe. "What are you doing?" the other boy hisses. "We need to go stand over where they said." He lets Draco drag him over and is obediently silent.
"Anyone find out what Quirrell wanted us to have in our essays?" asks the boy who answered Draco. The group doesn't immediately respond, so he prompts, "Spells that can affect incorporeal beings?"
"Oh!" exclaims a girl who glances up to Harry and Draco and immediately looks back down to her books. "It's tricky, really, finding out what'll hit them or not. See, you can cast loads of normal spells on spirits but it'll be like you're not doing anything at all."
"Really," chimes in another girl, "the thing that can best affect one is a magical creature, like another ghost."
"Do you think that's true for someone that's made to act like a ghost, or even something?"
"Even if you turn out to be wrong, there's another paragraph or three for our essays!" The group of fifth-years turns to look pointedly at Harry and Draco, but they're already racing for the door.
Being so close to winning is making Harry tremble where he stands. Draco keeps telling him to be quiet, but Harry can tell he's just as keen on victory. Precious hours have already slipped through their fingers, hours where the Ravenclaw first-years might have realized the specifics of the challenge and started on the right path of research.
"Here he comes," Harry whispers excitedly, thumping Draco on the back. "And I just saw—"
Draco is already darting out into the corridor. "Hurry up, Potter," he yells, holding the puzzle box loosely in his hand. "We've got to get this to Professor Snape or he'll have us in detention for a week!"
A rush of motion and laughter later, Draco is sprawled on the ground and Peeves has the puzzle box. The poltergeist scrabbles uselessly at it. Only when his fingernails look ready to break off does he glare up at the two boys. "What's this, then?" he grumbles. "'S'locked tight."
Draco and Harry look at each other and frown. "It's not locked," Draco quickly corrects him as he gets back to his feet. "It's stuck. We were about to get it open, and we need it back. So hand it over before I get you in trouble."
"Summin' valuable inside, izzit?" Peeves grins toothily at the pair and pulls at it again. "Whatcha gonna do if I don't pass it over?"
They exchange grins and call out to the other figure they'd tracked down here. It had been a long session of watching and waiting before the two were in the same area of Hogwarts, but now the timing is perfect. At the sound of their voices, the Bloody Baron floats implacably down the hall.
Peeves doesn't look up. He's too busy shaking and inspecting the copper box in his hands. Only when cold, spectral fingers rest on his shoulder does his attention finally shift. His face is wide and terrified, and he's straightened up sharp as a rod. "B- Baron," he sputters. "Didn't see you there."
There is no immediate reaction from the hollow, dark eyes or the mouth ringed with fresh blood. He's such a horrible sight that Harry feels as if he should be terrified, but it's hard to fear an ally. Instead, all the sight of the Baron prompts is a gleeful stab of amusement that the other phantoms of Hogwarts fear theirs so very much. The Baron finally holds out his hand in expectation. Peeves shoves the box into it and flees.
The Baron offers them the box. Draco moves to take it, then looks disappointed and says, "He got it stuck worse. There was something inside we needed."
He looks irritated; Harry hopes it's at Peeves. The Baron takes hold of the box and pries it open with obvious effort and a great squealing of metal against metal. He looks inside, raises an eyebrow, and hands the box back over to the two. They immediately set off running down the hallway with shouted words of thanks echoing behind them.
A group of Ravenclaws dashes into Flitwick's office three minutes after they get there. Their box is open and their arms are filled with notes and diagrams. Disappointment is writ large on their faces, for their timing was perfect to hear the professor say, "Fifty points to Slytherin."
"Was that fair?"
Draco looks at him oddly. "Was what fair?"
"What Flitwick did. Fifty points up for grab, and half the houses were locked out of the race."
Draco's expression grows even more disbelieving. "Would you listen to yourself?"
"Listen to... what do you mean?"
Draco points at the nearest chair; Harry sits down and waits expectantly. "Listen up, Harry," Draco says sharply but not unkindly. "Don't think Flitwick is favoring us; he's favoring Ravenclaw. He figured up a puzzle tailor-made for his house, put some points on it, and then only made them compete against one other house for the prize. He's been doing that for ten years and we've only taken the win three times, now." Draco takes a seat opposite him and lounges across it. "So, was it fair? No. But what we did made it a little more fair for us."
Harry shifts uncertainly in his chair.
"Worse'n that, Flitwick's little puzzle is about the only time you'll see us singled out for something positive by any of the rotten Professors here. If he could come up with a reason for using Gryffindor or Hufflepuff instead, he would have taken it. The rest of the time? Forget about it. Entirely and utterly. They favor their own houses like mad and then we're the worst of everyone else. We have one friend in this entire school, and that's Professor Snape."
"Who doesn't like me," Harry grumbles.
Draco ignores him. "The second the Hat says you're Slytherin, every student in this school has it out for you. They won't give you a second chance. They won't give you a first chance. See how Weasley changed his opinion the second he found out green suited you. So, remember that and you might stay safe. If the other houses cared to try to mend fences, well, they've had centuries to do it. We can't trust any of them and it's not worth the effort."
"Sounds lonely," Harry finally says.
"How many friends do you need?" Draco asks, sounding faintly offended.
Harry grins at that; it's so easy to ruffle the other boy's feathers. "I guess just the one."
Draco smirks, then casually says, "Although I hear Pansy thinks you're absolutely dreamy."
"Ew!" Harry says before he can help it. He shoots back to Draco, "Only if you tell me how she kisses."
"Ugh." They catch each other's eye and both burst out laughing. It continues until Nott stalks over and closes their door a little more loudly than is necessary, muttering something about morning classes. They go quiet for a moment, then start laughing again.
"You're coming home with me for Christmas," Draco informs Harry when he walks into their room.
"Holidays. You. Enjoying Christmas at Malfoy Manor." Draco folds his arms across his chest and looks pointedly at Harry. "Or did you have plans?"
"I... don't know. I guess I thought I'd just stay here until classes started back up."
"Well, forget that. Father says he wants to meet you, so you're coming. Be all packed up by tomorrow. He'll want us there right at the start of hols." He glances over to Hedwig, who looks disgruntled at the turn of events. After a moment of staring down Draco she turns back to the window and focuses on the murky water beyond. A fish bumps the glass and the magic seal ripples. "Bring your owl; she'll like it. Plenty of rooftops for her to perch on."
Harry bites his lip, trying not to look overly excited. "So, when you say 'manor,' you mean... 'mansion'?"
"Something like that, yes," Draco says in a way that suggests 'exactly that, except bigger than you're imagining.' "Mother says a guest room has been prepared for you. You'll probably get some gifts, so leave room in your trunk. You'll have all your assignments done?" Harry is already packing. Draco calls over to him, "You did hear me say tomorrow, right? As in, it's only afternoon right now?"
Harry stops long enough to turn and grin. "I heard you fine, Draco. And yeah. Blaise did all the research for our Magical Creatures essays and I filled out all the questions on broom care for him, so we're covered. Just need to write it all up and hand it in tomorrow morning." Draco looks oddly pleased at that, which makes Harry's smile grow all the more. "Don't look so surprised."
"Just happy to see you fitting in, Harry," Draco says with a shrug as he pulls out his own assignments and starts digging around to see what Harry answered.
Pleasure runs along Harry's spine in a short, delightful shiver. He'd never put those words to it before, and now they sound wonderful. "Me too."
When Harry was little, he recalls with all the great wisdom an eleven year-old can muster, his class took a day trip to London to visit the British Museum. The city itself wasn't overwhelming even with its throngs of people. It wasn't until the bus had deposited his class and its multitude of chaperones in front of a huge, mostly-empty courtyard that he had felt intimidated. They were divided into groups and given strict orders to obey the adults in charge. Once they set into motion toward the massive stone buildings and saw the doors open to reveal the expanses within, Harry had felt a sudden and inexplicable desire for his little cubby under the stairs.
Arriving at Hogwarts had been somewhat less nerve-wracking. It seemed to contain the same enormous volume of space, but he'd been edgy about everything else and so all that space pressing down on him was a secondary concern. The huge school didn't fit, and neither did his spacious double room, but neither did the entire new life he'd been given.
Even though he logically knows it doesn't compare, Malfoy Manor is the only other building he's set foot in that seems to contain an entire world within its walls. It's difficult not to gawk at the foyer ceiling four floors up. The bottom halves of his shoes vanish into the deep pile of the carpet. Rather ugly creatures — Draco calls them House Elves — scurry to secret away their belongings, while another one scrapes the floor and promises to announce their arrival.
Harry searches wildly for comparisons as he gives into temptation and begins to gawk. Like some lord's estate, maybe, coupled with some posh London hotel lobby, and a bit of the Slytherin common room thrown in for flavor. No matter how he tries to pin down a description, it doesn't quite work: this is unique, this is the pinnacle of his strange new world. It must be.
"So, Harry," Draco says, bringing him back to earth. He sounds insufferably proud as he continues, "This is my house."
Insufferable. Well, no wonder.
Harry thinks of his old cubby under the stairs and never wants to come within ten miles of the thing again.
"Draco!" rings out a woman's voice, cool and crystalline. They both look up to see a slender figure gliding down the stairs. A tall man in robes as elegant as hers follows with slower, more measured steps. Harry is nearly too busy boggling over how much of a matched set the Malfoy family is to notice the man's eyes never leaving his form.
"You must be the infamous Harry Potter," he says without extending a hand.
Draco looks over from where his mother is fussing over his clothes. "Harry, that's my father Lucius, and this is my mother Narcissa."
Elegant, reserved, attractive: they're everything the Dursleys aren't. Harry is suddenly petrified by the need to make a good impression. "Hello, Mr. Malfoy," he says carefully. "It's very nice to meet you." He turns halfway and adds, "Mrs. Malfoy. Draco's said such good things about you."
She smiles down at her son, a flash of emotion that soon returns to a neutral cool. Mr. Malfoy continues to stare. It's all Harry can do not to shift under the inspection. Suddenly, as if Harry's passed some unknown test, he begins to smile and motions the boys to the stairs. "I'm glad to have you, Harry. You'll want to get cleaned up after the journey, I'm sure. An Elf will show you to your room. Dinner is in an hour."
Draco gives him an encouraging smile and sets their pace up the stairs to the third floor. "Your father was glaring at me!" Harry says in a low voice as they approach the top. "I thought I was about to be sent back on a train to Scotland."
"Don't be ridiculous, Harry," Draco says as a pair of Elves direct them down a hall paneled with rare hardwoods. "Father wants you to feel right at home."
Wonder of wonder, he does.
Dinner at Malfoy Manor is nothing like the dinners in the Great Hall. There's absolutely no scrabbling for the best pieces, for more come out as soon as one is taken. It's a wonder the family stays so thin. Harry keeps going back for one more sliver of fork-tender meat, or one more pastry dripping in honeyed butter. It feels as if he's been starving for months.
"No, Father," he hears Draco say with some amusement. "We're given plenty to eat at Hogwarts."
Harry realizes he's being discussed and forces himself to set down his silverware. His cheeks burn red with embarrassment.
"It's perfectly all right if you want to eat more," Mr. Malfoy says. "You're a growing boy."
His whole face is red, now. "I... no thank you, Mr. Malfoy." He looks down for a moment, then meets the man's eyes and admits, "It was all just really good."
"Glad to hear it. If you do find yourself growing hungry later on, just call for an Elf. They'll prepare a plate just for you."
"I... thank you, but I really don't-"
"Harry," Mr. Malfoy says firmly, "we don't want you going hungry, or cold, or feeling anything but completely comfortable here. Taking care of you is no trouble whatsoever. I'm happy to do it." He reaches for another cut of beef and motions for Harry to do the same; he takes the opportunity gratefully. "Now, then. I understand you've done a fine job of catching up on all your studies."
"I wrote about you," Draco says in response to Harry's confused look. "In my letters."
Harry blinks a few times at that, but is soon drawn into a conversation with the Malfoy family. Stories are told about notable Slytherins, accomplishments that have affected the ages, and secrets of the dormitories that not even the headmaster knows. The importance of his Sorting is impressed upon him, along with the great potential that lies within every last student in green. Harry realizes with great surprise and delight that Mr. Malfoy believes him to have potential not because he is Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, but simply because he is Harry.
Finally, he has to admit that he's reached his limits and wants nothing more than to crawl into a bed and sleep off this feast. "Of course, Harry," Mr. Malfoy says. Mrs. Malfoy has hardly looked Harry's way all night, but with her husband dominating the conversation he doesn't feel snubbed. "If you don't mind, I'd like to schedule an hour with you and Draco each day before dinner. The rest of the days are yours."
They quickly nod and are excused to their rooms. "I'll finally have a room to myself again," Draco jokes as they walk down the hall. "What a relief."
That hurts more than it should. "I'm that terrible to deal with?" Harry asks, letting a bit of real tension seep through. Draco stops and motions him to a door. Harry opens it and gapes at the suite beyond: it's nearly the size of the Dursleys' whole house. He takes in the size of the bed and understands Draco's comments from their first night at Hogwarts. Amazed, he turns back to Draco and says, "A room to myself. Right. Get on to your own, then."
Draco's laughter echoes down the hall to mark his departure.
It's snowing when he wakes up on Christmas morning. The curtains slide open when he stirs, uncovering a wall that's nearly all leaded glass. The sight makes him gasp from the sheer beauty of it. All the days spent at Malfoy Manor and the snow waited for this perfect moment to fall.
A silver-wrapped gift falls from the ceiling and lands in his lap. Harry boggles, the snow forgotten. He turns the box over slowly, marveling at it. It's easily the most beautiful gift he's ever seen, let alone been given. The box alone beats any of those scraps.
It springs open when he touches the ribbons, revealing a pair of gloves. The leather is buttery soft when he finally works up the nerve to feel it.
"Thank you!" he manages when he's dressed and walking down to the common areas. He somehow assumed the Malfoys weren't ones to open gifts in slippers and housecoats. Draco and his parents – all dressed – look at him in bemusement. Stacks and stacks of presents sit in front of another wall of windows.
"For... for the gloves," he meekly continues and motions to how he's wearing them. "They're really brilliant. I didn't expect—"
"That was the wakegift," Draco cuts in before he can embarrass himself any more. "They're nothing." He gestures over to a massive pile of gifts, all as beautiful as the one Harry's already opened. It's not quite as large as the pile next to it. "These are your real presents."
His mouth drops open. Like some slack-jawed idiot, he thinks distantly, but he just can't manage to close it.
Mr. Malfoy looks over and smiles at him. "Happy Christmas." Mrs. Malfoy shows him some new feature on the looking glass in his hands and recaptures his attention.
"Well?" Draco asks, eyebrows creeping up his forehead.
"God bless us, every one," Harry breathes and makes a gleeful dive for his presents. Draco peers even more curiously at the quote, but they're in a race for the bottom of their piles before he can explain Tim Cratchit.
Some sort of blissful overload takes Harry by the time Christmas dinner has passed and he's accompanied the family to a balcony. White explosions send the snow scattering as they dance around in the shapes of swans, fish, and great jungle cats. His cheeks hurt from smiling. Draco's finally stopped teasing him about that; he's too busy cheering a particularly impressive explosion.
Mr. Malfoy looks down at him. "Mind the snow, Harry," he says gently and rearranges the green-and-grey scarf at his throat.
Harry touches his scarf when the man turns his attention back to the sky. Something in his chest swells and aches.
Now his cheeks hurt even more. He doesn't care.
The year passes, every day better than the last. He's discovers he's referred to as half of "DracoAndHarry" by Slytherin and half of "MalfoyAndPotter" by the rest of the school. "Alphabetical," Draco smirks when Harry complains. That smirk is promptly buffeted by a pillow's worth of feathers flying at it.
"Well, your magic is improving," Draco mutters to himself as he sputters away the last of the down. Harry brandishes his wand with delight and wonders what else he might manage with it. Too bad he'll have to stop classes for the summer, because it's not like there'll be those wards to hide underage magic when he goes to the Dursleys.
His face falls. His wand clatters to the ground.
"I just realized," Harry says and roots around for his wand. "I have to go home for summer. All summer. I'd... I'd let myself forget."
Draco frowns in thought. A day later Harry's summoned to the Headmaster's office. He wonders what on earth he's done wrong. Dumbledore. Dumbledore! The Malfoys warned him about the man and all the danger behind his smiling face, and now he's in his office. His arrival would be terribly frightful if not for how Mr. Malfoy was sitting in one of the armchairs.
The headmaster ignores him when he first enters, for he's in too deep an argument. Mr. Malfoy turning to greet Harry makes Dumbledore stop, take a breath, and begin anew. Dumbledore looks angry. It's a strange, ill-fitting expression on him. "You have no right, Lucius."
The man ignores him. "It's no burden at all, Harry. We have plenty of empty bedchambers, as you saw. Would you like to stay for the summer?"
He gasps. "Really?"
"No." Dumbledore pushes away from his desk to loom over Harry, looking alternately between him and Mr. Malfoy. "You must return to the Dursleys."
The name of those people is another blast of cold water. Suddenly Harry sees this offer as not just a remarkable summer holiday. Now, it's emblematic of this new life and its promise of freeing him from every horror suffered in childhood. Nine months out of twelve spent in freedom was a wonderful notion. To be free forever... it's almost too much to hope for.
Dumbledore repeats himself. An odd edge has entered into his voice and it makes his demand sound all the more desperate. "You will spend the summer at home, Harry. They are your legal guardians."
Harry only realizes he's started glaring at Dumbledore when the man backs away, eyes newly wide and worried.
"Really," Mr. Malfoy clucks. "The Ministry wouldn't be pleased to hear that you're forcing such an important boy into the hands of muggles when he's given the chance to stay under the personal protection of the Malfoy family."
"You know very well what the Ministry would think."
"I know how many friends I have versus your total, Albus." Mr. Malfoy stands and rests a hand on Harry's shoulder. Harry lets it draw him close and looks up to the man as he turns his attention to him. "I'll have one of the Elves prepare you a permanent room just down the hall from Draco's. I'll assign one of them to look after you. He can even run errands for you during the school year. Would you like that, Harry? Having someone waiting on you hand and foot?"
"I forbid it!" The words sound wrong on Dumbledore, and faintly absurd. He's not a man that should resort to absolutes and it makes him all the easier to ignore when he finally does.
Harry looks back to him once more, then turns away entirely. "I'd love it, Mr. Malfoy."
The man squeezes the shoulder where he's resting his hand. "Call me Lucius, Harry."
Lucius never takes Draco by the shoulder.
Harry only notices this when the summer's nearly gone. He'd become used to Lucius tapping him to draw attention, patting him there when he mastered a new spell. He likes the physical attention, though, and Draco makes no secret of how stand-offish he is.
It's become a routine between the three of them, within the wards of the manor: Harry and Draco furtively practice magic, Lucius praises them and reminds them to keep these sessions secret, and then the two boys veer off for further acknowledgement of what they've done. Harry gets the clasped shoulder, Draco gets a new trinket or sweet from Narcissa. Any competition is friendly, the praise is balanced, and Harry has never been happier in all his life. Despite how wonderful his first year at Hogwarts grew to be, he finds himself growing sad as August trickles away.
Lucius will hear nothing of Harry's offer of his own funds during the shopping trip to Diagon Alley. "A child not being taken care of to the very limits of what his guardians can provide; what an appalling suggestion," Lucius bites off as he tells Harry to put away his key to the Gringotts vault. His expression quickly morphs into an indulgent smile. "I plan to spoil you absolutely rotten, Harry. There are still six years, you realize."
Harry is vaguely aware that he has an enormous, silly-looking grin on his face, but can't quite seem to control it.
"Father!" Draco cries. "Look! They've released the Nimbus 2001!" Harry rushes over to join Draco at the store window; Lucius is slower to follow. "I think it came out just this week," Draco says as he looks at the sleek black lines of the broom.
"I bet we'd be faster than anyone else on the pitch with those," Harry says before he thinks to check the price tag. Finally looking at it makes him wince.
"On the pitch?" Lucius repeats, looking amused. "Are the two of you planning to go out for Quidditch?"
Harry and Draco exchange glances, both realizing how foolish their explanation will sound. Harry finally says, "Terrence Higgs isn't all that good, and the rest of the team is really brilliant compared to him, and Draco and I are much better on brooms than Higgs has ever been."
"We drive Madame Hooch mad," Draco cuts in. "Harry and I were two hundred feet up on the first day of lessons."
"Playing catch!" Harry adds.
"We're always taking off faster than everyone else," Draco says, nodding along with Harry.
"Faster..." Lucius looks thoughtfully at the broom on display. "Seeker, then? That's quite the prestigious position." His glance at Harry and Draco makes them tense with anticipation. "If their Seeker is still playing, you'll need to convince the rest of the squad to take the risk of removing a known quantity in favor of a second-year flier. Come on," he says, motioning them to follow. He walks inside and tells the clerk, "I'll take eight of the Nimbus 2001 models. Wrap six up, send them to Hogwarts School under care of..." He trails off and turns to the boys. "Would it be safe to send them directly to Madame Hooch?"
"She'd probably try to spread them out among the other teams and we wouldn't wind up with any," Draco says, scowling. "You know how they treat us."
Lucius nods and turns back to the clerk, who's gone pale at the size of the commission coming her way. "Under care of Professor Severus Snape, then. Include a note saying not to do anything with the brooms until he and I have conversed regarding their purpose. The boys will take the other two themselves." A minute later, he's receiving a pair of broomsticks over the counter and handing them to Harry and Draco. The boys can't stop grinning at each other as Lucius finishes his business.
A shock of red hair passes through their vision when they walk outside. "Oh look," Draco drawls, elbowing Harry in the side. "It's your best friend."
Harry sees Ronald Weasley walking into another shop with the rest of his family and gives Draco a dirty look. "Well, you did pick him over me," Draco adds. He pretends to look hurt for a moment, but is quickly distracted in favor of buffing the black lacquer of the Nimbus' handle.
"Will you ever stop whinging over that?" Harry groans. He stops short when he notices Lucius' gaze following the Weasleys to the shop door. A girl he vaguely remembers from the train station last year pushes her way inside. "Lucius? Is something wrong?"
Lucius has a hand in his pocket, like he's going to retrieve something. He eventually shakes his head, removes the hand, and places it on Harry's shoulder. "No, Harry, never mind them. I have more important things on my mind." He turns to face Harry and says firmly, "Like making sure the two of you are in prime flying condition when it comes time for tryouts. I'll send an owl, have them ship your books straight to the dormitories. Come on, Harry. You must tell me all about how you and Draco did so well on your first tries on brooms."
Harry is only too happy to oblige.
Lucius goes off to talk with a severe-looking man when they approach King's Cross station. Harry and Draco sneak over to listen. It's all very dull, because everything seems to be a pronoun. They can't tell who's being talked about, but Lucius suspects that someone might be someone, and he suspects that their new plan might be the better way to proceed than what they've discussed before with someone else.
Draco and Harry glance at each other when things get progressively more and more vague. Miming a yawn makes Harry laugh, and both of them scurry away to the train when Lucius looks over sharply.
Vincent and Greg slap his back and welcome him to their train compartment. All of them have wonderful stories from summer hols. The lady passing by with the sweets makes a small fortune off the quartet as they laugh over their adventures.
"Professor Quirrell never showed up," comes a whisper up and down the dinner table once they're done with Sorting and have welcomed in all the new Slytherins. The other three houses look similarly surprised. "You suppose he finally had that nervous breakdown?"
The first years all look unsettled.
"Good," Draco loudly declares. "He wasn't much of a professor anyway. Maybe we'll get someone who'll show us some real spells. Maybe some curses." The Slytherin table nods in agreement as Ravenclaw, the nearest table, looks disgusted.
"Oh, look," Pansy sing-songs. "Wave back to your friend, Harry."
Harry sees Hagrid waving hesitantly to him from his place at the head table. His face flushes when the students around him start prompting him to say hello to Hagrid, his best friend Hagrid. He looks down and doesn't wave back.
Pansy leans back, satisfied. "Well, now that is better, Potter. We'll just break you of talking with mudbloods and you might not be an embarrassment at all."
He opens his mouth to protest the casual slur, sees everyone looking at him, and resigns himself to occupying his tongue with dinner, instead. He doesn't have to use the word himself. He's quite sure it's bad, but he just won't use it. And then he can at least start this year off right.
Potions class seems, unfortunately, the same as ever. Harry takes his customary seat next to Draco, front and center before Snape. The Potions master gives Draco a nod containing the mild warmth most Slytherins get, then lets his glance slide over to Harry. He squirms under the expression. "Are heads of house supposed to glower at their own students like that?" he mutters to Draco when Snape finally walks away to gather ingredients for the lesson.
"Oh, I'm sure he could be glowering at you a lot harder if he wanted to," Draco says breezily.
"Easy for you to say. He likes you."
"Well, I am quite likable," Draco agrees.
Harry snorts and hears the sound echoed from the next table over. In unison, he and Draco turn to glare at the occupants. "Something funny?" he demands of the two girls. He still has trouble remembering their names, but then, most of the school feels the same way. Odd, peculiar creatures the both of them, who couldn't find a single friend within their own houses.
"Malfoy was being sarcastic, because he knows that barely anyone in this school but you can stand him," the darker-haired one says. "He was making a joke. So we laughed."
"It was a very funny joke," the other one says. She gives Draco a large, approving smile, which fades at Harry and Draco's identical glares.
"In the future, maybe you should mind your own business," Harry snaps. One of the girls meets his gaze defiantly, then they both turn back to each other and fall into their own conversation.
"I didn't know you cared so much, Harry," Draco says, sounding highly amused.
Harry gives Draco a proud, lopsided smile. "No one laughs at my friends but me." The girls' names float back into his mind just soon enough for him to loudly add, "Especially not the likes of Lovegood and Granger." The moment the words leave his mouth, he realizes Snape is back at his lectern. The professor looks at him for one long, silent moment before calling for the start of class.
As Harry digs frantically for his broom, he is still determined to start this year off perfectly. He might have misplaced it, but it couldn't be that far off. He'd showed it to the others in the common room and let a few people touch it, perhaps it was there...
Sweat covers him by the time he's finished pushing furniture and moving cushions to see if his broom somehow fell under someone's bottom and went miraculously ignored. It only then processes what he should be doing; a return trip to his room later, Harry frantically demands, "Accio broom!"
It rattles its way out from under the enormous cabinet it had come to rest under. Harry curses its streamlined, easy-rolling design as he makes for the exit.
He runs full-tilt for the Quidditch pitch, heedless of the people he's knocking out of the way with his broom. His breath comes in short bursts and a horrible stitch plucks at his side. Harry rounds the shed and sees the Slytherin team standing on the field. Draco's at their center. All of the boys have their new Nimbus 2001 brooms in hand.
"We could probably do with new kits, too," one of the older boys says.
Draco waves the question off, the motion practiced and easy. "Just write it all down, I'll owl it to my father. Anything to keep Slytherin's winning streak alive." Everyone's attention is focused on him and so they don't notice Harry's approach.
"I..." Harry has to try again before he manages to speak. "I want to try out."
The team turns around, surprised. "Potter, didn't you get the time?"
"I... my broom wasn't where I left it... where I thought I'd left it...."
It's hard not to squirm under the expressions that earns. "That's fine enough for casual flying, but a Quidditch player can't lose track of his broom," says one of the Chasers.
"Sorry," says the captain. "We've got our Seeker. Look, we've all seen you darting around; we know you're fast. Just keep practicing and you can go out for a position when someone graduates. You're sure to be a lock if you keep it up." He pauses and looks at Harry appraisingly, then snorts. "Probably not for Beater. But anything else."
"Sure, right," Harry says. Disappointment weighs heavy on him, making it hard not to let his shoulders sag or broom rest against the ground.
"Aren't you happy for me, Harry?" Draco asks. He's beaming at the news. Like bloody rays of sunlight are going to pour out of his ears, Harry sulks before he puts on his best face. The expression is good enough for Draco and he starts chattering about how busy he'll be with practices, how they'll beat Gryffindor into the ground, how fun it will be when Harry joins the team, too.
It's not as if he still can't fly, Harry eventually decides, on a brilliant new broom to boot. And Draco's been watching Quidditch for his whole life, and probably dreaming about being a Seeker. It's fine. Probably for the best. Avoiding the Dursleys is the best prize he could get, anyway, and the type of thing that he's dreamed about. And he's already got that. They're both happy.
Second year does indeed let Harry Potter fit into Hogwarts in a way other than as The Boy Who Lived. Now, he's the best friend of Slytherin's Seeker, richest student, and star on the rise.
He does well in his classes, gets loads of lovely gifts at Christmas, and starts going to all of Draco's practices. He thinks to spy on Johnson as she tries to figure out the Seeker role for the second year running, and on Chang and Diggory. Draco devours the information and thanks him with a gleaming smile. Slytherin takes the Cup yet again, and seeing Draco at the heart of the celebration really does make Harry happy.
It's not that the anonymous role isn't comfortable, even pleasant, but he did expect it to be a little more satisfying.
During third year, when Lucius promises him that the Grim stalking him will be hunted down and eliminated, Harry finally begins to feel again like any attention is being paid to only him. As he thinks about the shadowy creature, he shivers and decides that he could do well without that sort of attention.
Lucius summons him to his study one night during Christmas holidays. It's packed full of interesting-looking parchments and vials. "You're safe now," he begins. "From the... Grim."
Harry exhales. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
"But you are not safe from everything."
Harry frowns. Of course not, he's at a school where the other houses seem one tick away from rounding on Slytherin and trying to string up every last person in green...
"You're not safe from the Dark Lord." Lucius sees his hesitation. "He Who Must Not Be Named. Voldemort."
The name makes Harry cry out and wrap his arms protectively around his slight frame.
"Harry. Look at me. Things aren't hopeless."
He tries to stop shuddering and thinking of his dead parents. He wishes he knew what they looked like. His visions are different every time. Petunia Dursley had stripped out all pictures of her sister from the house.
"But we are trapped, Harry, until you take action."
"What do you mean? What am I supposed to do?"
Lucius tells him of Voldemort's half-there state, of permanent resurrection being a thing tied to Harry Potter alone. This sends a wild frisson of delight through Harry, and he asks, "You mean if I stay away from doing any of that stuff, then he'll stay dead?"
"Harry, you weren't listening." The way Lucius says that makes it clear he is gravely disappointed in Harry, and the boy instantly wants to do better. "The Dark Lord can still influence the world, but he is not in it. Until you — and you alone — bring him back together, body and soul, he can neither fully live... nor fully die."
Harry takes in a sharp, sudden breath. He knew he was connected to Voldemort somehow, someway, but to have such power over what happens next... He looks up to Lucius, suddenly frightened. "I'm not strong enough."
"You don't have to do anything just yet," Lucius says, smiling. He laughs a bit. "This is a rather large thing to put on the shoulders of a little third-year."
"I'm not that little," Harry says, scowling.
"Actions, Harry. Actions will make you great, not how tall you stand above the ground. But you are... untrained, still, and we won't want you bringing the Dark Lord back to his body until you're good and ready."
Harry nods, his mind racing.
Lucius continues, "The fact that you willingly brought him back to life rather than seeking a way to destroy him while only half-alive... that will do a great deal to convince the Dark Lord of your loyalty." At Harry's sudden paleness, he continues, "I'll be at his left hand. You'll be at his right."
His heart twists in his chest, and seems to stop entirely. Harry's voice is cold. "I want to kill Voldemort, not serve him."
"And how do you plan to do that without getting close to him first? Don't tell me you've never heard the adage about keeping your enemies closer, Harry." Lucius shakes his head and walks to the sideboard. Only when a snifter of brandy is in hand does he proceed. "Do you think you could take on me as an enemy? Lucius Malfoy, all on my own? With two more years of experience under your belt? Three, four?" He chuckles affectionately when Harry doesn't respond. "Answer honestly."
Harry's gaze drops. Not the most pleasant of subjects, this. "It would be touch and go. I'd need luck on my side."
"And right you are. Now, do you believe you could muscle your way through every other Death Eater gathered around the Dark Lord? Or would it be easier to be welcomed in with open arms, brought in close before you slide in the knife?"
"Every other... I can't! I won't, it's wrong, I won't."
Lucius pulls up his sleeve and shows him his Dark Mark, vicious against the skin like some elegant bruise. "I'm a Death Eater, Harry," he says gravely. "And though I've made my pledge to the Dark Lord in public, here in private I am pledging to you. This Mark does not define me, and it won't define you."
"You really are a Death Eater," Harry says, voice wavering. He blinks hard as his world tilts.
"I am. And together, we will get your revenge. We are swearing to each other, not to him."
"I thought..." Harry shakes his head, confused. "Why are you helping me?"
Lucius' voice is soft when he speaks, and heavy with sincerity. "Because I love you as my own son."
There's a snake and skull on Harry's arm before he goes to sleep that night.
Lucius only focuses on him during summer holidays, in almost all of their waking hours. Draco looks distraught over it, but Harry can't spare the time to care. He has more to focus on than Draco could ever know.
He has to become better, stronger. Harder.
He has to be ready to kill.
Perhaps staying latched to Lucius will bring over some of his talent and conviction through osmosis, Harry hopes with desperate attention. Lucius is some sort of idol, now, strength and cunning for him to worship. He absorbs everything he can manage from the man: skill, attitude, thought.
Lucius Malfoy is who will let Harry kill Voldemort.
The train ride seems much longer that year. The stories Draco, Greg, and Vinnie share are still entertaining, but Merlin, the mudbloods are loud.
While Draco's disappointed that the Triwizard will halt Quidditch, he quite easily fills his time with stats and predictions on who will take the title. Harry soon feels as if he's visited Beauxbatons and Durmstrang himself from all Draco shares about them.
Draco speaks of Quidditch when the Durmstrang students mingle with Slytherins at dinners. Harry speaks of the Dark Arts. The Durmstrang boys are masters at both, but only Draco shares what he learns from the visiting students.
"Oh, bloody fantastic," Harry groans months later. "Diggory."
"I know," Draco mutters. "Now those idiot Hufflepuffs will never shut up."
"I think we're lacking in school pride," Harry says as the students filter back to their various dormitories, where Hogwarts victory celebrations are already starting. "Is it terrible that I was hoping Krum would win it? He's fantastic on a broomstick. It'd be just the kind of feather to put in his cap."
"If so, it'd be just as horrible that I was rooting for the Veela come Third Task." Draco shrugs. "It was about then that I processed we might actually be forced to give public thanks to those badgers."
Harry gives him a sidelong glance. "Delacour over Krum? Seriously?"
"A Triwizard champion's face is plastered everywhere. I'd rather look at her than him."
Harry's pace slows as he thinks back to Fleur and the graceful, liquid way she walked around the school. He sees a vacant expression come over Draco and realizes he must have a similar one himself. In unison, they shake off their distraction and meet each other's eyes for a moment. "You might have a point," Harry admits.
Someone on the Quidditch team catches Draco's robe and tells him something with great excitement. Draco's expression is positively hungry as he tells Harry a quick goodbye and dashes away.
Harry contents himself with reviewing the notes he took from Durmstrang over the year. The professors here really don't cover half of what they should.
The faculty comes out officially against it, but the students have already set a rapid-fire Quidditch tournament into motion. It's not tradition, the professors protest; there's never Quidditch in Triwizard years. But they don't protest loud enough to stop things from moving forward, and all make their way to the stadium, besides.
They run the matches through the normal order in a brutal marathon that begins at dawn. Gryffindor versus Slytherin starts the day, and so the stadium is packed before the sun rises.
It's over quickly. Draco is sleek green and silver against the Quidditch stadium. Draco is applause and speed and yet another Slytherin victory.
Draco hid his broom.
What a stupid little kid he was, that he's never realized it before now. Harry got through his fourth bloody year at Hogwarts before realizing he'd been made the fool.
Around him, for hours, the rest of Slytherin jumps to its feet and screams like wild beasts as their house takes every game presented to it. Harry sits quietly and thinks of Lucius, and what he would do.
Maybe Diggory's tired from the real tournament before this one, or maybe Draco's really the better Seeker. Either way, his hand gets there first. When Slytherin takes the final championship match and are declared the school victors, everyone else in the house rushes the pitch. Harry turns, watches the praise given to their Seeker, and walks the other way.
"Get me those books, would you?" he asks the next day in the library.
Draco's voice is casually dismissive. "Get them yourself."
Harry draws himself up and stares down at him. "Carry them over here now."
"You walked over here, Potter. Take the extra two steps and pick up your bloody books. I'm trying to get this finished for exams."
"Some of us have work to do outside of Potions and Quidditch. I don't think Lucius would like hearing that you're not helping me with something important." He raises his eyebrows. "Or can't you tell the difference?"
Draco stares at his books for so long that Harry's ready to repeat his demand. Just before he does, Draco looks up. His eyes are slits, the silver gone to a dark, steely grey. Something on his face says that he realizes some unknown change has passed. "He's not your father, you know."
"Funny how you're not his favorite son, then."
Draco's expression sharpens to a knife point at the word. "You're treading on dangerous ground."
Harry smiles. "I'll owl him right now." He folds his arms across the desk as he returns to it, pushing up his sleeves in the process. The edge of dark linework just peeks out from the material, a symbol Draco asked for and was denied until he matured and truly understood who Lucius wanted him to follow.
Draco stares at him for a long moment. Without a word, he turns, rises, and collects the books. They land on the desk with a soft thump, dropped from an inch above. Harry reaches out to run his hand across the pebbled leather surfaces and to trace the embossed gold titles with his fingertips. He finally turns to thank Draco with mock sincerity only to find he's alone in the library.
Harry turns back to his books and sits there, unmoving. After some time, he reaches for a book, opens it, and smiles.
Word of the exchange gets out, somehow. That's how things work in Slytherin, and now it's to his advantage. People start wondering just what other discussions are held in the dormitory room of HarryAndDraco.
Draco must think the journey home is unpleasant from how he sits ramrod straight in his seat and occasionally squirms. Harry lounges indolently and watches him.
What to do.
His motivation with learning the secrets of Durmstrang positively delights Lucius. He takes Harry through everything he's discovered and shows him how to hone the talents. House Elves summoned by Lucius assure him that they want nothing more than to help Harry Potter find victory.
Once they praise him enough times through their wails and painful cries, he stops feeling sorry.
Harry expects more praise when Lucius summons him one night. He's thus blindsided when Lucius begins, "Your parents were in Gryffindor."
He blushes with the shame and regret of it and wonders why Lucius is telling him this.
"I've known this secret for some years, Harry," Lucius softly says. He motions him to take a seat, does so himself, and pats Harry's knee when they're settled. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before, but it was too much for a young child to handle."
Harry swallows hard and tries not to imagine on whatever might be coming.
"They were killed by someone also wearing red and gold. A traitor. Someone they trusted as closely as family, and he lead them to their deaths."
Hot tears prickle. He closes his eyes so hard they hurt.
"I'm very sorry," Lucius says. "But you need to know this. Events are beginning to come to a head. War will be here sooner than you realize. And you, Harry Potter, must keep a watchful eye for anyone who would betray us. Nothing is more important than what you and I are attempting, Harry. Nothing."
"Nothing!" Lucius almost snarls when Harry sits in thought rather than respond. He jerks, wide-eyed. Lucius' expression relaxes. "I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to yell. I just pictured... should someone find you out..."
Harry nods solemnly in forgiveness.
"Would you do me a tremendous favor, Harry?" Lucius pats his knee again. "I know it's presumptuous after discussing your poor parents. But, Harry... would you consider calling me Father?"
The gasp is out of him before he realizes he's making it.
"I'm sorry, Harry, I shouldn't have asked," Lucius says smoothly before he can manage anything more.
"Yes. Merlin's bloody wand, yes." Harry gulps in air. "F... father."
Lucius smiles and embraces him, and... and it's not Lucius Malfoy, and he doesn't need to pretend it's James Potter. It's just his father. His father is holding him for the first time since he was in the cradle. Lucius' robe is soon soaked where Harry's face presses into it.
That perfect, perfect summer seems to stretch on for ages, where absolutely everything goes right. Draco has been very quiet as his father ignores him for months on end unless he's leveling a criticism of his magical technique. The sudden turnaround of their fortunes seems to have taken him entirely unaware. Harry's hardly surprised at all when an owl carrying the boy's Prefect badge flies right to him. After that, Draco's silent for days.
Lucius doesn't seem to notice.
"I'm going to be Seeker this season," Harry informs Draco as he opens their dormitory door and throws down his new books. "I imagine they'll let you be Keeper."
Draco stares at him. The expression would look utterly blank if red, angry points hadn't appeared on skin paler than ever. "What?"
"I just got back from the pitch. Tryouts. The team agrees with me: I can focus better, I won't miss some of the grabs you do. Nothing to do with your speed, that's as good as anything." The compliment is easy to give, but makes Draco's expression even worse.
"And what did you do to convince them to hold those tryouts?" Draco asks through gritted teeth. "Clear out that vault at Gringott's?"
"Didn't have to," he says breezily. He means that he asked the team whom they would prefer to befriend in the coming war, him or Draco, but realizes it's misinterpreted. All the better. Harry smiles in satisfaction as Draco stands in a rush and hisses out his words like an asp.
"Do you want to know what's happening, Potter? Lucius is hoping you and Voldemort will kill each other. Then he'll step in and fill the power vacuum you two leave behind. You're a tool. Don't think for one minute that he really looks on you like... like a father. He's hoping you'll succeed and quickly, because it's all the sooner he can see you die." Draco's mouth twists around in an ugly sneer, halfway between disdain and anger. "I thought you were smarter than this." The sneer vanishes in the face of Harry's sudden, white-hot anger. He takes a step back.
"I've had one father taken from me," Harry says in low, dangerous tones. "I won't let you take the second out of jealousy."
"Or maybe he's been planning to hand you over," Draco offers, barreling through the walls Harry is trying to build fast enough to set. "He arranged our rooms so I could watch you, report on you to him. He ordered me to act like your friend. I had to owl him all the time on the actions of the precious Harry Potter."
"But you started to care," Harry snaps. "I really was your friend. And look around. The second I became more important than you I was your only friend. No one else here will waste time on you, because you aren't the way to power any more. You still care about me because there's nothing else you can do, but I'm finding it very easy to stop caring about you."
There's no response. Harry breathes in deeply and continues. This has to feel like the high he'll get when he catches the Snitch. "You think you're so very bad and had me under your thumb, and all you've been doing is holding practice. You've been holding practice for years while you preen and talk about Quidditch statistics and presents. And I promise I can play rougher than you've ever dreamed of."
Draco stands there, utterly still and silent. Harry is darkly curious to find out what will happen next. Forcing back a smile, he says, "And he did tell me he loves me."
Draco flinches back.
"As his own son."
The words are like finely sharpened razors, drawing tears where the harsher blows failed. Draco looks poised on the edge of fleeing.
"He told me he loved me when I was young," he finally says. "And now look at me." He's gone in an instant.
There's a sudden twist in his gut. Harry wishes he'd been told to go to hell, that he'd get all he deserves, anything but those words of defeat in that utterly broken tone. Draco's voice haunts him. It'll make it all the harder to keep up the drive to tell Lucius about his son's silver tongue when he owls the man tomorrow.
"You're right," Draco's voice says into the dull stillness of three a.m. His voice sounds like someone else's.
Harry considers that as he wakes. "You don't want me to tell Lucius that you think he's going to betray me."
"You're wondering how you lost his affection in one single summer, only then to realize he's been paying me more attention for years."
"You're telling me what I want to hear."
"You're giving in so Father won't hear all you said. Because then he'd never, ever look at you again."
"You're nothing next to me, Draco."
He can make out the slow, steady breaths into the darkness. It's a disappointment, really. He knew Draco concentrated on trivialities, but certainly he had to have picked up on some real bit of Slytherin cunning. He can't just be rolling over so easily.
"You're right," Draco finally replies. "I'm not."
Lucius' letter asks him if there's anything interesting to tell. He sends a reply that speaks of flying practice and the unquestioned Slytherin superiority on the pitch.
The entirety of Gryffindor has never been more stunned than Harry sees on one cold November evening.
Shockwaves from his house's strategy are still echoing through the school. No one moves from Seeker to Keeper, everyone keeps repeating to each other. It's just not done. It's never been done. It goes against all logic about the strict hierarchy of glory that is the various Quidditch positions. None of them want to admit that grooming a player to be wildly fast, accurate, and observant during the tail end of the game has a marked advantage when applied to the entire match. Or, at least, they don't want to admit that they should have thought of it first.
And why train another student — in the same year, no less! — in a position already filled by a skilled player? It's not fair, filter complaints through the Great Hall. Slytherin should at least have had the decency to make it known they had an ace up their sleeve. If a student's good enough to be a Seeker, they should stay there where everyone knows about them. If they're fast enough to catch the Snitch, they should already be on the team. They've already won the House Cup for twelve years running; did they have to widen the gap like this?
At the Slytherin table, the mood is markedly different.
"SHUTOUT!" a student cries and the table erupts into cheers. The word is repeated up and down the table, earning hoots and hollers every time.
"Sixth time in school history!" someone adds loud enough for the entire room to hear. The Gryffindor table looks even more shell-shocked at the words. Their food is going untouched.
"Let's hear it for Potter and Malfoy!" yells Crabbe, thumping his fist on the table to add to the din. Their entire house cheers wildly for the pair as Crabbe manages to topple his water glass into his lap.
Harry leans over to Draco and grins wickedly. "We should have thought of this years ago. Of course, then I wouldn't have had all those summers to practice, and you wouldn't have so much game experience-"
Draco stabs at a piece of chicken without looking up. "I imagine you would have done just as well as Keeper, Harry."
It's still easy to be gracious. "Now, Draco, that was a spectacular showing. You didn't even have to bat the Quaffle away once. You caught it every single time and held right on. Do you even realize how impressive that is?"
Draco stabs another piece of chicken, hard. "You didn't have to take my position," he says in a tight, quiet voice that goes ignored by the people around.
After a short pause, Harry spears a piece of his own dinner. "Why not? You did."
Draco doesn't have anything to say to that. He's quiet for the rest of the meal.
While he thought all the fight was beaten out of Draco, the surprise attack when they cross paths in the Quidditch shed is an unexpected delight.
"He does love me," Draco says quietly. It comes across not as meek, but as something he's so sure of that it doesn't need more vigorous defense.
"I know he does," Harry freely admits. He considers. "Did."
Draco's eyes tighten.
"Look, I'm obviously just a lot more important, Draco. And with all the time he spends with me, I think he's just forgotten about you."
Draco's hand flexes around his wand. Harry lazily raises his. "Don't. You know I'm stronger. And it's fine, Draco. Lucius loves me, but Narcissa might love you a little more."
"Don't you dare say he doesn't—"
"Loving's something you do, Draco. You have to keep on it. Have you seen him do much of that with me around the house?" He grins savagely and reiterates, "So. He did."
Pain flares crimson. It takes him a moment to process that Draco's fist really could hit him that hard. The other boy is flexing his hand and trying not to wince.
"No wand," he laughs and spits out a tooth. Pomfrey'll have to regrow it. "That's a mudblood attack, Draco. What will Lucius say about that?"
Panic is obvious in Draco's expression.
"What will he say about you hitting his favorite son?"
Draco opens his mouth to argue, shuts it, and looks even more desperate. He presses up tight to the wall in their bedroom that evening. Harry notes that Draco won't risk sleep until he's already fading away. He doesn't bother worrying at how Draco's still awake. He wouldn't dare risk another attack and doesn't bother with more pleading.
Whatever it is that arrives by owl the next day, it turns Draco ever whiter than before.
Harry is the golden boy of Slytherin, and so to his eyes he's the golden boy of Hogwarts. The other houses are hardly worth noticing. It's absurd how they choose to pretend that there are only three real houses and then some hated interloper; why not pretend a candle is better than the sun?
No one knows what to make of the Dark Mark when he lounges in the common room and pushes up his sleeves. Either he's going to be the Dark Lord's most storied lieutenant or he thinks he's strong enough to taunt him by taking it. The students with Death Eater parents begin wondering if it's him they should be pledging to, in that case, not some old half-dead legend.
He could gather them up if he wanted, like seeds for planting. For now, he'll let them curry his favor by doing his assignments. It doesn't much matter that his Potions work gets turned in with different handwriting every week. His plans with Lucius are more important than Snape's silent glares.
Silent because Lucius has talked with that greasy-haired buzzard, Harry thinks to himself in satisfaction.
Draco only comes in to their room at lights-out, changes in the dark, and is awake and gone before Harry ever rises. He's not sure where he goes when they don't have shared classes or Quidditch practice and doesn't particularly care. More trivialities.
The other houses might not give him the respect he deserves when he's out in the halls, but by now it's more funny than anything. They think they can insult him, unaware that he's on a more important path than anything they'll achieve in their entire lives. But he can certainly insult the little trinkets that they actually, foolishly care about.
"Never complimented you on the game, Weasel," he laughs. "You know, in my practices I have someone on my team who can actually give me a run for the money. Too bad I couldn't trade him over. Maybe then the Gryffindor matches would be a little more exciting."
Ginny Weasley sets her jaw and stares straight ahead. "You hexed my broom, Potter."
He makes a gasp of mock offense. "I'm wounded, Weasel, really. Resorting to insults, then?" He gives her a sharp look and clucks his tongue. "That is the sign of a very poor player, I'm afraid. Must run in the family."
She finally turns to glare directly into his eyes. "You know very well you hexed my broom. Funny how it refused to go more than an inch above a thousand feet, way up there where no one could see. And if you ever talk poorly again about my brother where I can hear, you'll wind up in pieces."
He laughs, delighted. "Really? Just try it and you'll have all of Slytherin coming down on your head. I'm the most important person at this school and you are a poor, carrot-headed blood traitor. You'd be expelled, back in that little shack I've heard so much about."
She smiles at something behind him, making him draw back in confusion. "All of Slytherin, hmm? You're sure about that, are you?"
He frowns, then looks over his shoulder to follow her gaze. Draco is watching them. He starts walking as soon as Harry looks over, trying to pretend he'd never stopped. Harry scowls, and when he turns back to Weasley she's already jogging off to class.
Harry arrives to the Potions lecture a good five minutes late. Snape goes silent when Harry enters, narrowing his eyes. He doesn't order Harry to leave, which he was half-expecting, but just watches Harry weave through the desks to take the seat next to Draco. His appearance makes Draco tense, which in turn puts a thin smile on Harry's face. After it fades, Snape restarts the lecture like nothing had happened.
Or tries to. He can't stop looking at Harry. He can never stop looking at Harry. When Harry leans back indolently, the muscles around Snape's mouth twitch. When he laughs at Longbottom's cauldron exploding, Snape orders him to silence instead of mocking Gryffindor. When he snaps something about Lucius' favorite and Draco only bows his head, Snape appears to reach a sudden decision.
Whatever he's decided, it seems to be important. Harry watches with mild interest as Snape walks to their desk.
"Draco, may I please see you in my office after class?"
Harry smirks as Snape turns to walk away. "Forget to quote sources?"
"Mr. Potter, kindly keep your nose out of other people's business." Snape stares down his own oversized nose at him and Harry glares back. "Unlike other children I might mention, I see enough potential in some of my house's students to want to discuss extracurricular interests with them."
Harry's jaw sets. He glances over to Draco and sees a barely-contained smirk. Harry looks up to the professor and snarls, "You're a rotten head of house and I'm going to ask Father to push for a replacement before the year's up." Snape sneers down at him and once again turns away.
Draco's smirk is gone in an instant. "Don't call him that."
"I'm just doing what he asked me, Draco. It's not my fault if he likes me better. Can't blame him, either. But if you're not sure, I could always make room in my next letter to ask."
The noise of rage stops their professor in his tracks. Snape tries to separate them, but they're already moving for each other's throats. Cauldrons boil over around them as the other students ignore their lessons to become spectators. "The best thing about this whole bloody war is that it'll likely see you killed, Potter," Draco seethes.
Harry pulls both of them off their chairs and manages to pin the lankier boy with sheer willpower. "And I could bring up my knee and hurt the only thing on you that he gives a damn about anymore. Nothing for you but waiting to be bred like an animal—"
The next thing he knows is pain and bright flashing lights everywhere he looks. His head is throbbing against the stone wall. It takes effort before he can focus well enough to make out the staring class, Draco taking deep breaths to collect himself, and the wand in Snape's hand that sent Harry crashing against the bricks. "Thought all the fight was beaten out of you by now," he thickly says. It's hard to make his tongue move right.
Snape ignores him and helps Draco to his feet. He checks him over, bending over to tilt up his chin and inspect the scrapes and bruises. "You should go see Madame Pomfrey," he quietly says. "Students let potions slop onto the floor. They could have dried to powder and worked into the scratches."
Draco nods, not looking at anyone in the classroom. "I'll go right after."
Snape snorts, but without malice. "Now. You've come in early so often this term that you're well ahead of the lectures." He points to Draco's books and repeats, "Now." His sharp gaze fades only when Draco gathers up his things and heads for the door. Then he sees Harry and the expression turns harder than before. "You, Potter, will leave this classroom."
It takes Harry a long time to follow orders, and he makes plenty of noise while doing so. He waits until every eye in the classroom is on him before he leaves.
He wants to know why Draco was watching him and the Weasel.
It's an easy thing to stay out of sight when Draco leaves the infirmary, but not for much longer. He's not heading for Snape's office in the guts of the school like Harry expected. Harry curses to himself when Draco becomes increasingly jumpy and quickens his pace as he moves through the hallways. He has to stay at least two corners behind him and is often convinced that he's lost the trail.
A door suddenly closes. Harry listens carefully for the footfalls he recognizes from his room, hears none, and methodically begins examining every closed door in the hallway.
The conversation is well underway when he finally finds Draco's voice.
"Father will be in the manor this weekend. It'll be the first time in months; he's kept busy with Death Eater work, I think. If you want to get anything out of him, that'll be the time. He keeps the most secret parchments in his study on the fourth floor. I don't yet know how to break the wards on the doors."
Harry draws a sharp breath and presses himself against the wall. That's Draco's voice, the voice of an apparent traitor. Red spots dance before his eyes as he waits to hear who the wretch has sold him out to.
"Excellent. I was going to be journeying to Wiltshire this Sunday, regardless. I'll see if I can't stop by and question him myself. Dumbledore will—"
"Please don't mention that name, Professor. This is already distasteful enough."
Everything is red, now, down to the darkest shadows that are shades of maroon. Harry closes his eyes and takes deep, steadying breaths to keep himself from rushing in and spoiling the whole thing.
"I must admit to some surprise that you're assisting me, Draco."
"That doesn't seem especially sharp of you, if I might say. If you weren't positive that I'd help you, why did you tell me what you've been doing?"
"Because I saw in your eyes the same intimate loathing that I had for Potter's worthless father. I am well aware of the kinds of extremes it can drive a man to." There is a pause that stretches on for hours. "I am well aware of the adoration that can be stolen by someone who feels he deserves every last drop the world has to give. It becomes all you can think about."
Draco's voice is choked with emotion, the kind of girly moment that Harry usually brings up later in front of the entire common room. "Thank you, Professor."
"Call me Severus, Draco."
The conversation switches to mundane, unimportant things in the next few breaths. Trivialities. Harry's ears are filled with a great roar; it's hard to hear the explanation that he was given the Prefect spot to protect Draco from any revenge from that Potter boy, that Snape plans to owl Narcissa to suggest that Harry be kept on a tighter rein this summer, that Draco is becoming far too thin and needs to eat more. It's all worthless drivel spouted from the mouths of worthless men. Only with a great effort does Harry unclench his fists and begin walking down the hall with silent, deliberate steps.
An owl goes out that night. Father, it's been so long since we've had a chance to discuss the latest developments. I know you're very busy, but I would appreciate being able to meet with you at your convenience. Will you be around the manor any time soon?
Parchment with Lucius' elegant script arrives the next day. He will be home this weekend, and would be delighted to meet with Harry. The initiative shown in this request is admirable. Do not worry about the restrictions on students leaving the school grounds; of all the abilities granted by the power of the Malfoy name, securing a simple weekend pass is among the smallest of the lot.
Harry is well on time for the next Potions class, and neither Snape nor Draco seems comfortable with the smile he gives them from a new seat across the room.
Severus Snape is visibly displeased to see Harry join his conversation with Lucius. Harry smiles back at him with false innocence and delights in how the man bites his tongue. He's not even questioned about what he's doing outside of Hogwarts.
Snape turns away with obvious effort and resumes his talk with Lucius. "I trust Narcissa is doing well?"
"As always," Lucius agrees. "I often forget she's younger, and the span seems even larger than it is. She has energy men my age couldn't hope to match." It's a bald-faced lie; Harry's never noticed any difference between the two in all his summers at the manor. Lucius waits to see Severus' reaction to that admission of weakness, however false; none comes, so he leans back and continues sipping his tea.
"She was fortunate enough to have a son like Draco, I believe," Snape says calmly. "Dealing with only one child, who is such a credit to the family name... it must keep the years off." Harry notices the same expectant expression on his face, no matter how he tries to keep it hidden. His father and Snape are in some kind of elaborate dance, he sees, and he tries his best to study.
"Yes, well." Lucius sips again from his tea. "She is still young enough to bear another."
"You've considered that?"
"Men's considerations change as they feel the years advance."
Snape's expression has gone cold, and Harry finds himself trying to hide a smile. He understood that much, at least: Draco is disposable to one of these men and of primary concern to the other. Snape clears his throat, takes another sip of tea, and then sharply asks, "Do you always have Potter sit in on your discussions, Lucius?"
"Harry is my pride and joy," Lucius says. He looks over to him; Harry returns his smile.
"How fortunate for you, Potter," Snape drawls, "that you have managed to secure such affection from another boy's father."
"Yes, Professor." Harry smiles levelly as he meets Snape's gaze. "Does Father know that you're a spy working for Dumbledore, Professor?"
Lucius' head jerks over to Snape.
The hesitation is barely noticeable. "You are treading on dangerous ground," Snape says in silky tones. "I'm not sure whether it's more foolish to be making accusations toward the man controlling your professional future or a Death Eater of decades, but you have somehow managed to combine the lot."
"Admit it," Harry bites off. "Or I'll say how I found out."
Snape knows. Harry can see it in the way his eyes go hard and terrified. His voice is still smooth as ice, but his head must be filled with the vision of his favorite student. Harry never could earn Snape's affection like Draco could. It burns like a tight, dark coil in his stomach. "You were in your extra storage office on the third floor," Harry says in a voice nearly too low to carry even to Snape, let alone Lucius.
For just a moment Harry thinks Snape will try to save himself and throw Draco on the chopping block in his stead. Lucius would fly into a rage if he heard, a moment of distraction that would be Severus Snape's only chance at escaping Malfoy Manor with his life. Time slows without a spell; Harry can trace every last flicker of firelight across pores and strands of hair. He has no idea what will happen next and wants desperately to find out.
"Do you know why I always hated you?" Snape says instead of raising further protest. "You are so very, very much like your father, Potter. You always have to be everyone's favorite. You would drive anyone to madness, to give you what you deserve. And you are a grave disappointment to what she—"
"My parents died because of a traitor," Harry says. He's yelling by the end. "They died because of someone like you! Were you going to sell out Lucius, too? Sell him out to Dumbledore, sell him out to the Death Eaters? Take away all I have left?"
"Harry," Lucius calmly says. "Please don't raise your voice. It's unseemly."
He's instantly cowed. "I'm sorry, Father."
"Thank you." Lucius smiles at him, turns to Snape, and rips his life away with a jet of green light. Snape doesn't even have time to cry out. The body sounds like a bag of Quidditch gear hitting the shed floor.
Harry stares, rooted to the ground with shock. Snape, dead. He doesn't know whether to be horrified or thrilled. He's never seen Lucius kill before. When he hears his father call out for the House Elves to clean the mess, everything begins to settle into normality and the shock slowly fades.
"Thank you for telling me, Harry," Lucius says as he tucks away his wand. "That was very good foresight on your part, to track Snape. When did you begin to suspect him?"
When I wanted to root out Draco's secrets. "I, ah, saw him talk to Dumbledore more than most of the other professors," he quickly lies. To his right, Dobby begins to pull at Snape's robe, dragging his still form across the floor. Lucius doesn't look down, and so Harry forces himself to do the same. He tenses with the effort.
"That was very perceptive indeed," Lucius says. "I'm proud of you." Harry smiles at him, relaxing slightly, and that makes Lucius' eyes grow warm with affection. The moment hangs between them before Lucius turns to his desk. He begins to rifle through parchments and says, "Well, then. I have a meeting in London tomorrow, and it's one I'll want to be well rested for. You should be getting back to school—"
Harry blurts out, "Draco told him we'd be meeting."
The parchment crumples in a sudden fist. "What?"
"That's how I knew Snape was a spy," Harry repeats. An impetuous, dark stab makes him add, "Just like Draco. He didn't even ask Snape what he was going to do with what Draco told him."
Ugliness flares in Lucius' twisted mouth. "And I'm doing this all for... how dare..." His head bows for a moment and his face is handsome again when it lifts.
Lucius smoothes out the parchment he crumpled. "I see," he says in oddly calm tones. "If you'll excuse me, I would like to check on Narcissa. Make sure she hasn't also been sold out by careless words while she's away from home."
See how quickly he can conceive another link in the family chain, Harry corrects, and is proud of himself for realizing the truth. Some infant who won't cause any trouble for the two of them while they kill Voldemort and avenge his parents.
"Father," Harry says, "I'd like to handle it myself. Draco, I mean."
Lucius stares out the window for a long moment, then turns abruptly and smiles. "Be sure to promptly cast another few spells if you use an Unforgivable Curse. Something harmless. That way, they won't be able to test your wand."
There's no sign of Draco when Harry returns to Hogwarts and no one in Slytherin knows where he's vanished to. Him or Snape. He orders them out of the common room to their private chambers, shouting at the top of his lungs until he's obeyed. "Father," he says through the fire, looking around Lucius' study, "he's gone. Draco's vanished entirely. No one knows where to."
Lucius is moving slowly and very deliberately as he adjusts little things on his desk: a snifter of brandy, an inkwell, a stack of blotting papers. When he speaks, his voice is more level than Harry's ever heard it. "As has his mother. When you mentioned Draco had betrayed me, I asked my contact at Narcissa's retreat about her status. He had been Stupified some hours earlier. I would imagine they're in the same location."
"Abducted? By who, though?"
"Oh, not abducted. Narcissa has chosen to actively betray me, the same as Draco. Albus must have warned her about what might happen."
Harry's jaw drops. Draco would betray him, of course, but Narcissa, the closest thing he has in his life to a mother... His heart twists, hard. "She chose him over me. He made her leave."
Lucius looks up from his desk. His face is calm and controlled, the opposite of Harry's fury. "Yes, Harry. Narcissa never loved you like she does Draco. But I am still here with you." He sees Harry's expression waver, and his calm facade finally cracks. His eyebrows knit. "Harry, what's wrong?"
"She left. She left me on purpose." He takes a deep breath, but it all comes out in a rush. "I... I'm just worried that when I pull back into the dormitory, the next time I try to talk to you you'll be gone, too."
"I will never leave you, Harry," Lucius says very seriously. "Haven't I always treated you as my own? Better than my own? I chose you, Harry. You are the most important thing in my life, and have been for as long as I can remember."
The comforting words only drive Harry closer to the edge, and his eyes glisten. Lucius looks at him silently, then says, "Come on, Harry. Hogwarts won't be any good to you from this point on. Do you have your wand with you?" He waits for Harry to nod, then motions him forward. "I love you. Come on home."
With one backwards glance, Harry hurtles himself through the fire and into Malfoy Manor. He rushes forward and locks Lucius into a tight embrace.
He's only vaguely aware of comforting words and promises, and leans into a possessive touch on his head.
Someone is violating his family, Harry processes distantly. He jerks up to try and identify what threat he just realized. Home. Something about his home?
Noises. He definitely hears noises.
Harry sets his book aside on the bed, slides off its bulk, and pads to the door. He'd become an expert at hearing Draco when he tried to slip into their dormitory room without being noticed; some burglar here on wooden floors doesn't have a chance. Not after all these months when he's had a chance to learn his manor's sounds.
He looks cautiously around the hall when he opens the door. Two months of Lucius' desperate work must be the target, because he hears a squeak on the first step... there. He aims his wand for where someone would be heading to the fourth-floor study, fires, and waits.
White-blond hair is the first thing Harry sees. Draco slides into view as something falls away from him.
"When did you get that Invisibility Cloak?" Harry spits out when he processes. Really good ones were nearly impossible to find; he should know, he'd made some noise about getting one for Christmas.
"It's on loan," Draco says levelly. He tilts his chin up. Muscles twitch along his jaw.
"From who? Snape's dead. Your precious Dumbledore, then?" Harry draws back as that sinks in. "I wasn't serious, but you really got that from him, didn't you?"
Draco's wand hand begins to shake. "Did you do it?" he asks in a small voice.
"Do... oh." Harry narrows his eyes at Draco and begins to pace toward him. "Which way would make you feel better? That your father killed the man you chose over him? Or that I paid you back for trying to turn Father away from me?"
Draco doesn't say anything, but his eyes go red around the edges. Some distant part of Harry admires his restraint; alarm wards or not, he'd be hexing Draco until his skin peeled off if their situation was reversed. He blinks with the realization.
"There are wards all over this house. Of course you know that. But now you're on the other side of them."
"I assumed. They'll sound alarms if I cast a single spell against anyone in the household. Maybe any spell at all."
Harry is too curious to let the chance for interrogation pass. He takes a step closer, wand out and with his attention on Draco's. "Then how exactly did you plan to get out? Did Dumbledore just figure you'd be disposable if we caught even a hint you were here?"
"He took care of things. Took care of me," Draco says in a tight voice.
"Really. Do tell how the man who hates this family protects its traitor." He takes a step forward and is vaguely aware that he's coming too close. It doesn't matter. Traitor. Traitor.
Draco's face twists with disgust.
"Tell me," Harry seethes. He takes one more step forward. "How?"
"...By any means," Draco finally snaps, sounding nauseated. Harry has just enough time to process what's in Draco's left hand, coming at him: a black plastic box with electricity crackling between two prongs. He could almost laugh as oblivion takes him: Draco Malfoy, driven to muggle means of protection.
Draco is gone when he wakes and Harry is undiscovered in the hallway.
Harry is almost positive that the door is untouched, and that he caught Draco in time. He stares at the flight of stairs for a long moment, then turns and walks away. If he shares his worries with Lucius, he would have to admit that he let Draco get away. That he even let him get into the house.
He's better than that. Better than Draco. He won't let Lucius think any different.
"You'd better have done this right, Lucius," a tall, dark woman chokes out in the chamber that will see Harry's victory over Voldemort. She looks desperately nervous. "If you're wrong..."
"Did Dolohov dispose of the host, Bellatrix?"
Bellatrix scowls at him. "Quirinus?" The name rings a bell, but Harry can't quite figure out why. "I think you would have heard if he hadn't after all these years."
"Then we have nothing to worry about, do we?" he retorts. "Everything's ready to be destroyed."
"If you've missed some other element..."
Harry watches curiously as Lucius takes out some sort of great fang and stabs it at something he has arranged on a pillar. Odd.
"It's astonishing what kind of favor one might curry with the right names behind him, Bellatrix," Lucius says carelessly. "I've had hundreds working for me for six years. Every book read. All the right people... questioned. Nothing's left unturned."
Perfect. Lucius must know just what to do.
"I'm not joking!" Bellatrix cries. "If this fails, and you convinced me to leave him, to try and—"
"Voldemort will never get the chance to rise. Tom Riddle is dead." Lucius stabs at something else. "And will stay that way."
Harry swallows hard and tries not to cry out with the sheer joy of what he's hearing.
Lucius' pale eyes glitter as he stabs one last time and something in front of him crumples and withers.
"Is that all of them?" Bellatrix asks, barely above a whisper. "I heard there was one more—"
"Two more," Lucius corrects. "One was slain where it slept waiting."
"But that still leaves—"
"Trust me, dear sister."
"In law," she snaps.
Lucius turns to look at her, a slow smile growing. "I am in command of every dark wizard in Britain, dear Bellatrix. The new war begins tonight and the fields will run red before dawn. I would suggest that you not distance yourself from the good graces of the new Dark Lord."
The ground seems to pitch under Harry's feet. His knees hit it, hard. "What?" he gasps, eyes prickling with pain and shock. Only then does he process that Lucius never has told Harry why he needs him if they're able to kill Voldemort without a resurrection. If they don't first need to be trusted, then why...
"Should you wish to further curry my favor," Lucius easily says, "I suggest you Apparate to the army waiting just outside of Hogwarts and tell them to prepare for battle. I want Albus Dumbledore dead before he has the chance to wake, and every student outside of Slytherin."
"But there's still one left to destroy before the Dark... before Volde... before Riddle is really finished," she protests, voice high and panicked.
"Leave that one to me."
Bellatrix trembles at Lucius' words, but vanishes. Harry can barely process what he's seeing for how his head is spinning. "Father?" Harry asks. His voice cracks halfway through the word.
Lucius smiles at him with distant amusement. "Call me Lucius, Harry. It will make the next few minutes much easier to take."
Two werewolves come up to flank Lucius, grey and horrible things like gargoyles watching the entrance to a great cathedral. Their flanks are thin and sunken, their fur is matted, and their fangs are stained with yellow and ruddy brown. They are real wild beasts that have killed, and Lucius has called them on Harry. With a word from Lucius, they run forward to serve their purpose.
His next few moments are a rush of blood and spells. The Killing Curse drops one of them, but it takes too long to cast, too long to recover from the shock. The other marks one of his arms with its claws before Harry can get off a second chant of Avada Kedavra. As he shakily moves to stop the bleeding, all he can think is that he's lucky not to have been bitten.
A low, slow round of clapping begins from the other end of the room. "Very impressive, Harry. Reacting like that so quickly. I see I've trained you well."
Despite his best efforts, Harry feels a few tears spill over. "That was a test? I could have died! Voldemort's dead, you said he was, I don't need to fight!"
"It wasn't a test."
Harry begins to sob as hopelessness overtakes him. The only thing he can think to ask is, "Why did you tell me we would serve him? Make me take the Mark?"
"To keep you near. Divert your attention." Lucius' hooded eyes study him. "I'm sorry you won't have the chance to see our new world."
Harry gasps for breath through his tears as Lucius continues. "I did have some real affection for you, Harry, and you have served your purpose very well. I'm proud of you. And you were tremendous currency." Lucius turns to leave, and when he looks back to Harry, he feels a stab of irrational, desperate hope in his heart that is just as quickly dashed. "Try to protect your face. They'll want to make a positive identification."
Fangs flash in the darkness and Harry turns just in time to let them sink into the flesh of his arm just below the shoulder. Too small for a werewolf, some detached part of his mind analyzes. Vampire. He strikes out at the figure with as much fire as he can muster. The shrieks tell him his spell landed true.
Horrible, bloody figures crying his name all lunge at Harry. They'll soon be able to bring him down under the sheer weight of numbers. His robe is shredded, and the flesh of one of his legs under it. He feels pain bubble on his skin like hot pitch when a crone's hand touches his arm. Blisters follow its trail.
Soon the blisters are at his throat and it begins to close from the inside. His spells begin to falter. The collection of bodies at his feet stops growing.
He realizes he'll be the next to join the pile and can't even wail out a noise of terror. Harry gasps for air that tastes of his own blood. His lungs burn at the failure of it.
Everything goes bright, pristine white. Physical pain fades away to nothing. He still feels like crying, and does so, and wonders how on earth it's fair that all those stories about the afterlife lied. He still feels the pain of betrayal. This is no paradise.
Only when he hears the new noises does it process that he's not dead; his foes have been defeated and his wounds healed, all by magic. He blinks through dazed vision and finds himself back in the cave.
Harry turns, wand in hand.
Filling the doorway is a baker's dozen of Aurors.
Draco is able to show them the shattered pieces of trinkets, the way Lucius locked all the routes but one so Harry would find himself hopelessly surrounded by countless werewolves, ogres, and vampires. Doing so put him with only one escape route as well, one that he did not expect to be filled with Aurors.
Harry has been paralyzed on the far side of the chamber. Every word echoes around him, clear and hateful. "This is astounding work, young man," says one of the Aurors. The rest nod vigorously. "The risks you took upon yourself... the level of courage is astonishing."
"I'm not brave," Draco mumbles. "This wasn't about courage." The Aurors exchange amused glances between themselves, and Draco says brokenly, "Don't you dare tell that to anyone."
"The world's making up its own mind, I'm afraid. Your name's already leaked: Harry Potter's best friend, closer than brothers, who watched him become a grave threat to all of Britain and did what was necessary to stop him. Who stood up to the evil ways of his own flesh and blood and stopped a war. Who told us of the continuing threat posed by Potter and set us on the trail to find a way to pull him free of it all." He thumps Draco on the arm, who doesn't react to the touch. "You'll wind up in the history books."
"Leave him alone," one of the women chides. "Poor boy's watching his own father and brother, nearly, get hauled away. Publicity can come later."
"This wasn't about courage!" Draco half snarls, half bawls. The words Harry knows would follow – this was about revenge, this was about power – can't make it through his choked throat.
"Slytherin," another woman says to her companions. They blink, then look at him with appraising gazes. She allows then a bit of that and then herds them toward the exit. "Give them a moment."
"You got into the study," Harry says, finally.
"I got into the study."
"You were coming down, not going up."
"I was coming down."
"Never thought you would have been able to break the seals. And without your wand."
"I was highly motivated."
Harry starts laughing, slow and quiet. "Motivated. Funny. I take actions to get vengeance for my parents' brutal murder, I'm likely sent to Azkaban." Harry gives Draco a tilted grin that doesn't seem the smile of an entirely stable man. "You get vengeance for your hurt feelings and you're the great hero of Britain."
"Funny," Draco agrees in a flat voice. He looks away for a long moment, then says without meeting Harry's gaze, "We were friends."
"No. We weren't. We were the same. It was all about you controlling me, hurting me, taking satisfaction from me," Harry bites off. He chortles a bit, suddenly. It rings hollowly in the cave. "I suppose I did a bang-up job of turning that around on you, didn't I?"
"Suppose you did," Draco agrees, eyes still dull.
"I did better than you ever could have hoped to."
"I couldn't match up to the great Harry Potter," Draco laughs faintly, his voice a sick and flat thing that makes Harry's skin crawl.
"Except at the end."
No words come. They sit there for a span longer, feeling the last stretch of the closest mockery to real friendship either of them has known. Harry sees his memories play back like a movie reel, starting with rejection and mocking that only escalated with time. Memories that started — however small — with him.
Harry calls for the Aurors; Draco looks up at that with surprise. "Draco?" Harry asks as the Aurors return and release him from his binding spell.
Draco waits, silent.
"I'm sorry things worked out this way," Harry says as he's lead out of the cave.