Harry was, frankly, surprised he could move at all the following morning when he and Draco finally managed to wake themselves up. He was also surprised to find his nether regions actually hadn’t been rubbed raw by the frenetic rutting against each other that had occurred twice more throughout the night. He grinned as he remembered, stretching his arms above his head and pointing his toes beneath the covers, overall feeling pleasantly refreshed. His grin widened and he couldn’t help laughing a bit under his breath when he turned his head and saw Draco, who was looking rather worse for wear in contrast. The combination of lack of sleep and Firewhiskey must have caught up to him.
“Morning, sunshine!” Harry quipped, struggling up into a seated position and watching as Draco scowled blearily up at him. He briefly wondered if he should feel guilty for essentially having had his wicked way with someone who’d clearly been intoxicated – but no. Draco had wanted to; he’d been the one to wake Harry up for more last night, after all. Harry grinned again, unable to help himself, and a pink flush spread across Draco’s cheeks.
“Morning,” he mumbled, though it came out sounding more like Mmrphng as he flopped onto his stomach and buried his face into his pillow again. Draco stayed like that for a moment, and then abruptly flung an arm out so it landed across Harry’s lap and used it to drag himself closer so he could press his face against Harry’s thigh instead. Then he cracked an eye open and squinted petulantly at Harry, as though it was Harry’s fault Draco had downed a quarter of a bottle of Firewhiskey the night before. “I require food,” he eventually said, his voice sounding a little less like something that had come out of a dying frog this time.
“We should probably shower first,” Harry pointed out, and was immediately assaulted by mental images of wet skin and Draco. It really was about time he put some truth to Ron’s nonstop teasing, he thought. Showering together sounded amazing.
Draco, however, wrinkled his nose. “Food first,” he said. “Perverted shower things later.” Harry pouted, and Draco rolled his eyes. “Buck up, Potter. I said later, not never.”
“Fine,” Harry said with a sigh. He shifted away from Draco so he could climb out of bed. Draco made an unhappy sound and curled into a ball, pulling the covers up to his chin.
“’S bloody cold,” he complained. “Where are my clothes?”
He looked so adorably pathetic that Harry couldn’t help practically throwing himself back onto the bed again. Draco’s eyes popped open as the mattress bounced beneath him, and then Harry’s hands were on his shoulders, turning him over and pinning him to the bed so Harry could snog the hell out of him. When he finally pulled back, Draco could only blink up at him.
“…Right, all warm now,” he said, sounding a touch breathless, and Harry grinned at him for the umpteenth time that morning.
“Are you sure perverted shower things have to wait until later?
“Potter,” Draco groaned. “For fuck’s sake, it’s all or nothing with you, isn’t it?”
“Can you blame me?” Harry asked, refusing to feel embarrassed by his newfound sexual drive. He rocked backwards slightly, which, since he was currently straddling Draco’s hips and there was only the blanket between them, made Draco’s eyes widen and darken in a wonderfully intriguing way. “I mean, look at you.”
Draco made a strangled sound as all the blood in his body suddenly seemed to battle between filling his face and rushing south. Harry raised an eyebrow at him, shifted his weight again, and Draco found the strength somewhere to shove him off, glowering at him when Harry laughed. “Food,” Draco bit out. “Or I’m going to be a miserable, moaning lump all day long.”
“And that would be terribly unusual, I’m sure,” Harry said airily. He found a pair of pants under the bed and, fairly certain they were his, tugged them on. The next pair he found he tossed at Draco.
“Your morning-after behavior is not attractive,” Draco groused, pulling the pants on. He dragged a hand through his hair, leaving it sufficiently mussed up.
Harry planted his hands on the bed and leaned across to kiss him again. “Not when you’re hung-over, anyway.”
Draco ignored that. “I have a headache,” he said instead, and then frowned and felt around with a hand until he found Harry’s glasses tangled up in the sheets beneath himself. …Harry’s quite broken glasses. Draco blushed and after a few more pats, he found his wand, as well. “Oculus Reparo,” he muttered, and then shoved them at Harry.
“Hermione probably has some aspirin somewhere,” Harry said, as he put the glasses on. Draco gave him a confused look, and Harry waved him off. “Never mind. Come on, breakfast, remember?”
Ron and Hermione were already in the kitchen when Harry and Draco got there, and Ron’s face went fantastically red when he saw them. Hermione merely lifted an eyebrow at the pair.
“Have a good night?” she asked, amused.
Harry beamed at her. “Brilliant,” he said, while Draco scowled and yanked open the fridge.
“That one doesn’t seem to think so,” Ron mumbled into his glass, and Draco turned to glare at him instead.
“It’s your fault,” he said. “You and that bloody Firewhiskey.”
“Ah,” Ron said. “In that case – hang-over potion’s on the counter. And might I remind you, it was your idea to get wasted. Git.”
Draco perked up at the mention of the potion. “Why didn’t we have this last time?” he asked, finding the half-empty vial Ron had gestured at and downing it without a second thought.
“I offered to get you some and you insisted you were fine,” Harry reminded him.
“And I didn’t see any reason to lessen the pain of a night of idiocy,” Hermione added. “I was feeling slightly more sympathetic today.”
“Ninety percent of the time I say I’m fine, I’m lying,” Draco said, ignoring Hermione entirely. He looked across at Harry, who noticed Draco’s eyes were noticeably clearer and he already seemed more awake, and the corner of Draco’s mouth tugged upward. “Hello,” he murmured, and reached out to pull Harry closer so he could kiss him.
Ron made a choked sound, but Harry only smiled against Draco’s mouth. “Mm, that is better.”
“Mornings aren’t my favorite,” Draco said. Then he gave Harry a considering look. “…Well, usually.”
Harry, ridiculously, felt like giggling, but he managed to control himself at the look on Ron’s face.
“…I’m going to have to get used to seeing you do that, aren’t I?” Ron asked weakly.
“Yes,” replied Harry, Draco, and Hermione simultaneously, and then Hermione went on to say, “Honestly, Ron, it’s not as though you didn’t know they were doing a bit of snogging now.”
“Fair more than a bit,” Harry couldn’t help saying.
Draco smirked. “Fair more than just snogging.” He and Harry grinned at each other, and then Draco kissed him again – loudly, wetly, and with more tongue than was probably necessary, considering the company. Ron groaned and started banging his head against a cupboard, which caused Harry to break away from Draco and collapse against him in a fit of sniggers.
“Alright, alright,” Hermione said, and Harry could practically hear her rolling her eyes. “Break it up before I have to hose you down. There’s an owl from Neville here, Harry.”
That sobered Harry up quickly. “Neville?” he asked, stepping away from Draco so he could look at the letter Hermione was holding out to him. “What is it, is something wrong?”
“No, he’s just checking in,” Hermione said. “Hogwarts starts back up again in a few days and he was wondering if you knew anything about Professor Snape and – Lucius.” She glanced at Draco briefly, but he was pointedly staring at the back of a cereal box, so she continued, “I think we should have Charlie give him access here.”
“Wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Harry said distractedly, as he scanned the letter. “We need to check with him about getting the Floo working anyway. See if it’s even possible – and then maybe Neville can come here directly from Hogwarts.”
“What do you want to tell him in the meantime?” Ron asked. “Should we say anything about Snape?”
“Definitely not,” Hermione said, and Harry nodded.
“That has to stay a secret,” he said. “Voldemort has access to Hogwarts now, if he or anyone else overhears something about Snape being undercover…”
“…Right, that’d be bad,” Ron said. “I’ll go ahead and owl Charlie, then. I’ve a feeling we’ll be mad for information once classes start.”
* * *
Charlie got back to them almost immediately and informed them that he’d spoken to Bill about the Floo issue. Between the two of them, they were pretty sure they’d be able to set up a remote Floo network using a variant of a strong warding spell, and, with any luck, it would escape the Ministry’s notice entirely. It took them a couple days to get it up and running since they were also busy with other projects for the Order, not to mention Harry’s appointed task of putting various places under the Fidelius Charm, but by the time Hogwarts was back in session the fireplace in Hermione’s house was finally usable.
They had to wait a few more days beyond that, but finally one evening in late January saw Neville Longbottom tumbling out of the aforementioned fireplace and onto Hermione’s hearth.
“That was quick, mate,” Ron said, helping him up and brushing some of the soot off his shirt. “We thought it might be a couple of weeks before you could get here.”
“Whose Floo did you use?” Harry asked.
“Professor McGonagall’s,” Neville said. “The one in her private rooms.” He flushed slightly. “I don’t think she’s ever let a student in there before. Guess you get special privileges for being part of the war effort.”
“Doesn’t sound like much of a special privilege,” Draco said from the corner of the couch where he was sitting. “Surely there’s a more attractive teacher whose private rooms you could get access to.”
“Think Hogwarts is kind of lacking there, actually,” Ron said, though a thoughtful look had settled on his face. “That Muggle Studies professor, maybe?”
“I’ve…also been in Professor Sprout’s private rooms before?” Neville offered uncertainly, like the suggestiveness of Draco’s statement had gone over his head. Or maybe it was Draco in general he was uncertain of, given the way he was eyeing his former classmate warily.
Draco’s upper lip curled in disgust. “Gross. She’s worse than McGonagall, Longbottom.”
“They’re both good teachers!” Neville argued, and Ron clapped him on the shoulder with an amused snort.
“Forget it, Nev, that’s not what he means.”
Harry settled onto the arm of the couch beside Draco. “I wouldn’t mind a tour of Sinistra’s private rooms,” he said. Ron gave him an approving grin, but Draco frowned and pinched his leg, scowling when Harry just gave an amused shrug in response.
Neville blinked at them.
“Here we go,” said Hermione suddenly, as she entered the room carrying a tray filled with tea and cookies. “Sorry we don’t have much else,” she said. “We already need to go shopping again – I’m not sure how Mrs. Weasley does it, honestly. It’s hard enough to keep enough food stocked with three teenage boys around, let alone–” She cut off abruptly when she looked up and saw Ron glancing too-innocently around the room. Her eyes narrowed. “Did I miss something?”
“No,” Harry said quickly, and Ron answered at the same time with, “Neville was just telling us how he got here.”
Hermione looked back and forth between the two of them for a moment, but then she evidently decided to ignore them both and instead set the tray on the coffee table. “So, how has Hogwarts been, Neville? Anything noticeably different yet?”
Neville cautiously took a seat on the opposite end of the couch from Draco and shook his head. “Not really,” he said. “But it’s only been a couple days, I suppose. The most noticeable thing is how many students didn’t come back.”
“People actually kept their kids at home?” Harry asked.
Neville nodded. “Nearly all of Gryffindor is back. Same with Slytherin, far as we can tell. And all the D.A. is still there, but – seems like almost half of Hufflepuff is gone, and a good amount of Ravenclaws, too.” He sighed, reaching for a cup of tea. “No one is really taking the news that Snape is the new headmaster well. It’s still too fresh in everyone’s minds that he was supposedly involved in Dumbledore’s death. Gran says there are mutterings no matter where you go, but no one actually wants to speak up about it. She thinks something must have happened at the Ministry after Scrimgeour was killed. Lately the Prophet’s been full of more rubbish than ever before, and that’s saying something.”
“She’s right,” Harry said. “The Ministry is in Voldemort’s hands now.”
Neville’s eyes widened. “You can’t be serious.”
“Afraid so. He’s the reason Scrimgeour is dead, too.”
“…Blimey,” Neville said. “Then that means – Snape is headmaster because of…him? You-Know-Who put him there?” Harry made a helpless gesture with his hand, and Neville sat back hard against the couch, his face pale. “Are we in danger? Were the others right to stay home?”
“Hard to say,” Harry said slowly. “Snape has to be there for a reason, we’re just…not entirely sure what yet.”
Neville frowned. “He did kill Dumbledore, right? You said…”
“He did,” Harry confirmed. “I was there, I saw it.”
Draco reached forward suddenly to grab a cookie from the tray and Neville glanced over at him, his brow furrowed. “And what about Lucius Malfoy?” he said to Harry. “Why is he there?”
“Fucked if I know,” Draco muttered around his cookie, and Harry shrugged.
“We haven’t figured that out yet, either,” he said. “But I’d be careful around him.”
“Because he’s fucking desperate,” Draco said sharply, before Harry could answer. “He’d do anything to get back on the Dark Lord’s good side, and barely a month ago he – I screwed things up for him really badly – it was a bloody mess and Voldemort wants me dead now and my father must have done some pretty heavy groveling to be allowed this chance to do whatever the hell it is he’s doing, so just.” Draco hunched over, glaring down at the floor. “Watch out for him. Being in Azkaban for so long really…” He trailed off and winced. Harry reached out to touch him lightly on the shoulder, but Draco shrugged him off.
“…He did step in and save you,” Ron said hesitantly.
“And he’s at Hogwarts with Snape,” Hermione said. “It’s possible…well.” She stopped talking, but Harry caught her eye and she gave him a pointed look.
Draco snorted. “Possible,” he said. “Highly unlikely.”
“…I’m sorry, you lot have completely lost me,” Neville said faintly.
Hermione shot him a contrite look and then stepped forward, sliding into the space between Neville and Draco on the couch. “I’m just saying,” she said to Draco softly. “It could’ve been Bellatrix or Yaxley or – anyone else. But it’s not. It’s your dad, and he’s already proved that he does still care about you.”
Draco sighed, resting back against the couch cushions and covering his face with his hands. “I know what you’re trying to say, Hermione, but the fact of the matter is that he’s probably at Hogwarts because the name Malfoy is still somehow the least threatening of anyone’s associated with Voldemort.” He let his hands fall into his lap and scowled up at the ceiling. “My father very painstakingly built up our reputation so that we’d be one of the more respected families in the Wizarding world and despite everything, I’m sure that somehow stuck. That’s why he’s the one who’s there. Not because of…anything else Snape might be involved in.”
Hermione patted him on his knee, a worried look on her face, but she didn’t say anything more. Neville’s eyebrows arched so high at the gesture that they disappeared beneath his fringe.
Harry cleared his throat, drawing Neville’s attention back to him. “Sorry,” he said, with a slightly abashed grin. “We don’t mean to seem all – mysterious.”
“…It’s fine,” Neville said, blinking owlishly. “I know there’s more going on than meets the eye.”
Harry nodded, and then abruptly changed the topic. “You haven’t noticed anything odd on the map, have you?”
Neville shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s a very large map, though. With lots and lots of people on it.” He gave Harry an apologetic look. “It’d be hard to find anything immediately out of the ordinary, but there hasn’t been anyone suspicious lurking around the secret passageways you told me about, at least.”
“Keep an eye out for the name Tom Riddle,” Ron said.
“Who’s that? A Death Eater?” Neville asked.
“It’s – well. Voldemort. That’s his real name,” Harry replied. “It’s possible he’ll show up at Hogwarts himself.”
Neville went pale again, and his voice shook a little as he spoke. “But if he were to go to Hogwarts… I mean, he wouldn’t sneak around, would he? If he’s planning to – to attack or–”
“We think there might be something at Hogwarts that he wants,” Hermione interrupted. “Actually – Neville, you could check for us!”
“It’s in the headmaster’s office, Hermione,” Harry said in a low voice. “How is he supposed to get up there unnoticed?”
“He doesn’t have to go unnoticed,” Hermione said impatiently. “It doesn’t matter if Snape’s there; Neville only needs to look around and try to catch a glimpse of the sword!”
“Sword?” Neville repeated. “The one from – the Chamber of Secrets, back when Harry killed the basilisk and there was that whole Heir of Slytherin thing – that sword?”
“That’s the one,” Ron said.
“The Sword of Gryffindor,” Harry added. “Voldemort wants it.”
“We think,” Draco clarified. “We don’t actually have any bloody clue about much of anything right now, you realize.”
Neville gave a nervous laugh. “I don’t think anyone does, really.”
“So do you think you can check on that for us, Neville?” Hermione asked. “If it’s still there, it’ll at least set our minds at ease.”
“And if it’s not?” Neville said.
No one answered for a moment, and then Harry let out a slow breath. “Then things will probably get even more complicated.”
“…Let’s hope it’s still there, then,” Neville said, and a determined look stole over his face. “I can definitely get up there for you, that won’t be a problem. The second I know anything, I’ll let you know through the Galleon.”
Harry nodded and gave him a small smile. “Thanks, Nev.”
“You should see if you can filch the Sorting Hat, too,” Hermione suddenly said. Both Ron and Harry shot her a startled glance, and she blushed slightly. “Well, he should! If the sword isn’t there – or even if it is – Harry, that’s how you got the sword in second year.”
“…Yeah, I suppose,” Harry said doubtfully. “But it’s going to be kind of hard to steal that from Snape’s office.”
Neville waved him off. “Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan,” he said. “Just need to get Seamus to help me out and I know he won’t mind.”
“Right, good. He likes getting his hands dirty.” Harry paused, and then added, “Er – how is Seamus?” Draco promptly sent him an incredulous sidelong glance that he ignored.
Neville shrugged. “He’s fine. Everyone’s doing alright so far, I think.” He frowned a bit. “Ginny’s seemed a little down, though. Did something happen over Christmas?” Harry felt his face go warm and he shifted his gaze off to the side. Neville backtracked immediately, seeming flustered. “Ah – sorry, not my business. I just – never mind.”
“Is Finnigan still with the Hufflepuff?” Draco asked abruptly.
“The Hufflepuff – oh, you mean Justin? Yeah, he and Seamus are still together. Why?”
Draco frowned. “I can’t be curious?”
“About Hufflepuffs?” Neville looked skeptical. “Forgive me for finding your sudden interest unusual, Malfoy.” His eyes narrowed a bit as he peered over the top of Hermione’s head at Draco. Then he glanced at Harry, who was still studiously avoiding looking at him. “…Anything you’d like me to pass onto them?” he asked. “Any news or – anything?”
“No,” Draco said quickly.
“Nothing,” said Harry.
“…Right.” Neville gave them both another amused look, and then put his teacup back on the tray and stood up. “Well, I should probably be off. Can’t stay away too long. Some of us still have homework to do.”
“Wait, Longbottom,” Draco said, as the others moved to say goodbye. Neville raised his eyebrows at him expectantly, and Draco fidgeted for a moment before asking, “You said most of the Slytherins are back – how are they doing?”
Neville tipped his head to the side a bit. “I wouldn’t really know. Well – Crabbe and Goyle aren’t back, but–”
“What?” Draco interrupted sharply. “They’re not – you said everyone was back! For fuck’s sake, that only leaves – who, Blaise? As the only seventh year boy?”
Neville shrugged awkwardly and rubbed at the back of his neck. “…Suppose so, yeah,” he said, and then after another moment he offered up a hesitant, “Sorry?”
Draco made a frustrated sound, his hands balling up into fists at his sides. “And Pansy?” he said tightly. “Daphne, Millicent – what about them?”
“Still there,” Neville said softly. “Pansy stayed over the holidays, even.”
“Do you ever talk to her?”
“…No,” Neville said, his brow furrowing. “She mostly keeps to herself these days.”
“You should,” Draco said. “You should talk to her and Blaise and the others and include them in your stupid, bloody club. Or at least give them the opportunity to say no.” He spun around suddenly, stalking towards the stairs. “I’m going to take a nap, Potter, wake me when dinner’s ready.”
Hermione huffed. “He could help,” she said, once Draco had disappeared. “Cooking really isn’t all that different than brewing potions.”
“Leave him alone,” Harry said. “I’ll talk to him later. Neville, thanks for stopping by.”
“Yeah, no problem,” Neville said, but he was still looking in the direction Draco had gone. He turned to face Harry. “He’s different.”
Harry shifted his weight from one foot to the other and tried to look natural. “Not that different.”
“Different enough.” Neville gave him a searching look, and then he grinned. “I think being with you lot has been good for him. Anyway, I’ll be touch.”
“Later, Nev,” Ron said, and the three of them watched as Neville tossed a handful of Floo powder into the fireplace and stepped back through to Hogwarts.
* * *
Harry didn’t bother knocking when he went up to check on Draco. He just poked his head into the room and watched the still line of Draco’s back for a moment before he determined that the other boy wasn’t actually asleep.
“Everything alright?” he asked softly, and Draco remained stubbornly quiet for a moment before grunting noncommittally at him. He was lying on his stomach, his arms folded under his chin, and when Harry walked over to stand beside the bed, he noticed that Draco was practically glaring a hole into the headboard. “Seriously, Malfoy,” Harry said. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Draco said shortly. “I’m fine.”
“Which, in your own words, means you’re probably actually not,” Harry pointed out, and Draco grimaced.
“Never should have let that slip out,” he grumbled.
“So?” Harry crossed his arms. “Let’s have it, then.”
“I’m fine, Potter,” Draco said again. “Why wouldn’t I be? My father seems to be back in Voldemort’s good graces, two of my best friends likely just became Death Eaters, Theodore probably already was one, Pansy’s put herself in a very precarious position and has little to no backup or anyone around to watch out for her because, oh yeah, forgot to mention, half the Slytherins in our year have deserted Hogwarts and no one even seems to care.” Draco breathed out harshly through his nose. “No, everything’s just great,” he spat.
Harry stood there quietly for a moment, and then he sighed and planted one knee on the bed. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” he said, swinging his other leg around so that he was straddling Draco’s legs, “but it’s not as though your lot really makes other people want to watch out for them.”
“And we prefer it that way most of the time,” Draco said proudly. “But…”
“But,” Harry said. “When you need help…”
Draco frowned, squirming a little beneath Harry. “Pansy will hex me if she ever finds out I went to Longbottom of all people, but – she and Blaise and the others…there’s strength in numbers, right? This isn’t the kind of war where you can just stay neutral. And even if you’re determined to stay out of it, it’s still better to be on good terms with the people who aren’t psychotic murderers who get off on torturing others.”
“You didn’t used to think so.” Harry rested his hands on Draco’s back. “You used to be all for the psychotic murderers.”
“Right, well, then I actually had to get involved,” Draco said bitterly. “And my parents’ lives were put on the line. And the – the torturing thing. Being tortured.” He shuddered, and Harry began kneading his fingers in a circular motion, absently noticing that Draco had donned his Weasley sweater again when he came upstairs. The sight of it made Harry smile slightly, despite the conversation they were having. “I didn’t know any better,” Draco continued. “And I figured things out too late. It shouldn’t have to be like that for everyone. None of them really…they don’t know.”
“I suppose,” Harry murmured, and then after a moment he asked, “If we had asked you to join the D.A. back in fifth year, do you think you would have?”
Draco snorted, his eyes falling shut and his back arching as Harry worked. “No. Of course not. Things were different then, though.”
“Well, yeah. My father hadn’t been sent to Azkaban yet, the Dark Lord hadn’t given me the fucking impossible task of killing Dumbledore…”
“You were still a snotty brat,” Harry supplied, and Draco snorted again and smirked.
“And you were still an insufferable do-gooder,” he shot back at Harry. “Although not much has changed there, I guess.”
Harry dug his fingers warningly into Draco’s shoulder, but then softened his touch almost immediately. “You like it,” he said.
“The hell I do–oh, fuck, right there–” Harry grinned and focused on massaging Draco’s lower back, and Draco moaned in contentment. “You’re not half bad at this, Potter.”
“Thanks,” Harry said wryly. “I do try.”
Draco opened his eyes to stare at the headboard again. “Do you think Longbottom will actually talk to Pansy?”
Harry had to ignore the irrational jealousy that flared up inside him over Draco’s obvious worry for his ex. “Absolutely,” he said, concentrating instead on a particularly stubborn knot in Draco’s back. He pressed firmly with the heels of his hands, and Draco let out another pleased sound. “He’ll probably talk to Zabini, too.”
“Hm. How do you think he’s going to check on the sword and get the Sorting Hat?”
“Given that he wants Seamus involved, he’ll probably have him cause some sort of distraction. And knowing Seamus, it’ll be an explosion or something equally mad.”
“You know Snape will see right through that.”
Harry made a dismissive sound. “Probably better if he does, honestly. If he guesses Neville is after something, maybe he’ll make it easier for him to get. You know, without Neville realizing.”
“The perks of having a spy on your side,” Draco said dryly, and Harry grinned.
“Pretty much.” He worked his hands over Draco’s back for a few more minutes, and when he spoke again he sounded hesitant. “You know what Hermione was saying about your dad?”
Draco tensed up slightly. “Yes…”
“It could be true, you know.” Draco didn’t say anything and Harry leaned down, almost laying on top of him as he rested his weight on his elbow and tried to catch Draco’s eye. “He could be working with Snape.”
“You don’t really believe that.”
“Well, no, but – doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”
“Potter, this is the man who nearly killed your girlfriend when she was eleven.”
“And countless others since,” Harry said. “And he’s part of the reason Sirius is dead.”
Draco turned his head to look at Harry, and then shifted around until he was lying on his back beneath him. In turn, Harry stopped propping himself up and ended up sprawled across Draco’s chest instead. “And yet you think he might have switched sides? For you?”
Harry frowned. “You did.”
“Yeah, well, it came with extra benefits for me,” Draco said, snaking his arms around Harry’s waist. He gave Harry a look. “Benefits that my father is not allowed.”
“…Ew,” Harry said faintly, wrinkling his nose. “No worries there. Ew. God. Thanks for that mental image.”
Draco smirked. “You’re quite welcome,” he said, and Harry rolled his eyes.
“Anyway – if he did switch sides, it wouldn’t be for me.”
“Why would he do it, then?” Draco asked, his brow furrowing.
“For you, obviously. And your mother. He stepped in for you at Little Hangleton, didn’t he?”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Draco insisted. “I mean – look, I asked him to come with us after that, and he said no.” Draco looked away, frowning. “He made his choice.”
“Just leave it. It doesn’t matter.”
“But it has you upset–”
“I’m pissed off, not upset,” Draco interrupted, his eyes snapping back to Harry’s. “I’m mad at him for being involved in the first place. For not realizing the kind of danger it would put us in, for nearly getting my mother killed, and me–” He cut off abruptly, breathing harshly through his nose. “…And he still went back to him,” he continued after a slight pause, his voice softer but sounding no less furious. “He’s still doing things for Voldemort, and…” Draco tipped his head back, glaring at the ceiling. He tightened his arms around Harry at the same time. “It just makes me so fucking angry.”
Harry sighed. “Well… We’ll find out why he’s there soon enough, I guess. Who knows – maybe we’ll all be pleasantly surprised.”
Draco didn’t look as though he believed that for a second, and Harry couldn’t find it in himself to try to convince him further.
Not when he didn’t really believe it either.
* * *
It only took a week for Neville to get back to them.
Harry was sat at the kitchen table, alternating between studying their copy of the Marauder’s Map, wishing it was the real thing, and watching in amusement as Hermione introduced the concept of a CD player to Ron and Draco, when suddenly the fake Galleon burned hot against his leg. He yelped slightly, immediately drawing the others’ attention, and then dug his hand into his pocket and pulled the coin out.
“Neville?” Hermione asked. Harry nodded, turning the Galleon so he could read the words that were forming around the edge.
No sword. Got hat. Talk soon.
Harry frowned. “Well, he got the Sorting Hat.”
“But?” Ron prompted.
“But the sword is missing.” Harry looked up at the others. “It’s not in Snape’s office.” Ron cursed under his breath and Hermione’s face fell. She let out a frustrated sigh and leaned back in her chair, pressing her hand against her forehead.
Draco gave the pair of them a confused look. “Can’t he use the Sorting Hat to get it, then?” he asked. “Isn’t that why you had him steal the bloody thing in the first place?”
“No…” Harry said slowly. “It doesn’t really work like that.”
“Then why the hell have Longbottom go after it at all?”
“We need to have the Sorting Hat in case a situation in which the sword is needed presents itself,” Hermione explained.
“A situation?” Draco repeated blankly. “What kind of situation?”
“Well…Professor Dumbledore told Harry that the sword will present itself to any true Gryffindor who needs it,” Hermione said, looking at Harry for confirmation.
Harry nodded. “So, basically, Neville just has to prove himself worthy and the hat should give it to him.” He paused. “I think.”
“Which he’s pretty much already done,” said Ron. “I mean, getting the thing alone took some courage, didn’t it?”
“I hardly think stealing an old hat is the same thing as fighting off a basilisk, Ron,” Hermione said impatiently.
“So, wait,” Draco interrupted. “Essentially what you’re saying is that Longbottom needs to Gryffindor his way into a highly dangerous situation where he could likely die, and only then will the sword let itself be pulled out of the Sorting Hat?”
“Er…yeah,” Harry mumbled. “Something like that.”
Draco looked at him incredulously for a moment, and then he leaned forward and let his head drop onto the table with a loud thunk. “I shouldn’t be surprised,” he muttered. “Why am I surprised? Hang on–” He sat up again abruptly. “What’s to stop the Dark Lord from turning the sword into a Horcrux in the meantime?”
Harry opened his mouth to answer, paused, furrowed his brow a bit, and then eventually gave a helpless shrug.
Draco threw his hands into the air in exasperation. “Oh, well that’s just fucking fantastic,” he snapped. “Brilliant plan. No, really.”
“It’s not like it’s easy to make a Horcrux!” Harry exclaimed, but Draco spoke over him before he even finished his sentence.
“He’s made six already!”
“And doing so has completely mutilated his soul – I think he’s weaker than he realizes, especially considering how many we’ve already destroyed!”
“He told me point blank he could make more, Potter,” Draco said tightly. “He seemed pretty damn confident about it.”
“It’s Voldemort,” Harry said. “I’ve never seen him anything but confident. It’s going to be his downfall in the end.”
Draco shook his head. “You’re underestimating him. He’ll turn the sword into a bloody Horcrux and it’s just going to become one more fucking thing we have to find and get rid of.”
“We’ll get it back before that happens,” Harry insisted, and Draco scowled. “We will.”
“Now who’s being overconfident?”
Harry frowned, but before he could say anything Ron sat up and made an abrupt shushing gesture with his hand. “Shut it,” he said, turning toward the living room. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Hermione asked, but then the answer to her question appeared quite suddenly in the doorway.
The four of them gave a collective gasp, and Harry half rose out of his chair. “Professor Snape!” he said, his eyes wide.
Snape merely gave him a cool stare and smoothly crossed his arms over his chest. “I received your owl,” he said, foregoing any other greeting. “And then another rather unexpected one from Charlie Weasley. It directed me here.” He glanced briefly around the room with something that could have been approval before focusing on Harry again. “Also, I want to know why Neville Longbottom thought it necessary to risk detention and possible expulsion from Hogwarts in order to steal the Sorting Hat of all things from my office.” He raised an eyebrow. “I assume you had something to do with it.”
A moment of awkward silence passed, and then Hermione seemed to remember herself and stood up. “Can I get you some tea, Professor?” she asked, but Snape held up a hand.
“Sit down, Granger, I don’t plan to be here long.” He glanced over his shoulder as Hermione slowly moved to do as told. “Who else has access here besides Mr. Weasley? Longbottom, I presume?”
“Er – yes,” Harry said, finally finding his voice and lowering himself into his chair again, as well.
Snape nodded. “You’re not expecting him?”
“Not today, no.”
“Good.” He narrowed his eyes. “Why do you need the Sorting Hat?”
“Why isn’t the Sword of Gryffindor in Dumbledore’s office anymore?” Harry shot back at him.
“I’m asking the questions here, Potter,” Snape said, seemingly automatically, because his eyes widened a fraction immediately after as Harry’s words caught up to him. An annoyed look crossed his face. “The Sword of Gryffindor…?”
“Yeah, you know – the last remaining artifact of Godric Gryffindor himself?” Harry frowned. “It’s been in that office since my second year. And now Neville says it’s gone.”
Snape stared at Harry for a moment. “Since your second year when you pulled it out of the Sorting Hat,” he eventually said. “Which is why you had Longbottom take it.”
“Has Voldemort been inside Hogwarts since you’ve been there, Professor?” Hermione asked. “We think he took the sword.”
“Of course he’s been there,” Snape said impatiently. “He has full access to the castle now.”
“But – wait, he can’t possibly just be wandering around Hogwarts,” Ron said, aghast. “Someone would notice, or – or something. Aren’t the other teachers keeping an eye out for suspicious business like that? And Neville–” He quickly shut his mouth before he said anything about the Marauder’s Map.
“He’s hardly worried about being spotted, Weasley,” Snape said. “There are countless ways to move around inside Hogwarts, and the Dark Lord knows them as well as anybody.”
Ron frowned and glanced at Harry, who knew exactly what he was thinking. The map was supposed to show everyone who was inside of Hogwarts, regardless of how well hidden the paths they were walking might be.
“…It’s been really quiet so far, though,” Harry said. “If he has access to Hogwarts and he’s not trying to take control of it, then why the hell is he there?”
“To steal magical swords, evidently,” Snape said dryly. “But I admit I’m not entirely sure. He’s not exactly been very open with his plans as of late.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “He doesn’t suspect you, does he?”
“Oh.” Harry let out a relieved breath. “Good.”
“Is he there a lot?” Ron spoke up again, and when the others looked at him he flushed and muttered, “Sorry, I’m still stuck on this ‘Voldemort enjoys taking casual and somehow unnoticed strolls through Hogwarts’ thing.”
“To my knowledge, he’s only been there twice since the term has started,” Snape replied.
“And why is my father there?” Draco suddenly blurted, and it occurred to Harry that that was the first time he’d spoken since Snape had shown up. “He’s not a bloody teacher, so what the hell is he doing?”
Snape lifted an eyebrow. “Teaching.”
“He fucking well is not!” Draco snapped, pounding his hands against the table. “The Dark Lord didn’t send him there to teach, and after that fucking fiasco before Christmas I can’t figure out why he’d want anything to do with my father at all–”
“Yes, about that,” Snape cut in smoothly, his voice taking on a deceptively calm tone that his eyes immediately betrayed. He leveled a glare on Draco, who shrunk back a bit, and then shifted it to Harry and Ron in turn. “I specifically told you to stay put. What the hell were you thinking? You could have ruined everything – you could have been killed, and believe me when I say that would have been highly inconvenient, Potter!”
Harry scowled. “Well, I’m not dead. So no need to worry.”
Snape swiftly moved forward, planting his hands on the table and leaning down until he was right in Harry’s face. “Next time I tell you to do something,” he said in a low, dangerous tone, “you will listen to me.”
“Potter.” Snape’s eyes bore into his. “I have not worked this long and this hard only for you to destroy everything with your stupid Gryffindorish tendencies. Do you understand me?” Harry swallowed, but didn’t say anything, and Snape growled. “Potter!”
“Alright, fine!” Harry shouted. “For Merlin’s sake – I get it. We just thought–”
“Don’t,” Snape cut in. “You’ll only hurt yourself.”
“We did destroy a Horcrux, you know,” Harry muttered petulantly, but Snape ignored him as he straightened up.
He glanced at Draco. “I haven’t found a cure for your curse yet,” he said, eyeing Draco’s hand and looking none too happy about how the blackness was continuing to spread. “But I believe I’m close to a breakthrough.” He turned to leave, but then paused. “And your father is at Hogwarts to be another set of eyes for the Dark Lord. Nothing more.”
“Wait, Professor, what about the sword?” Hermione quickly asked, and Snape paused again to give her a long look.
“It seems to me you already have an idea as to why he would want it,” he said.
And then he swept from the room.
* * *
A few days later, a student went missing from Hogwarts.
“No one’s even sure when she vanished,” Neville was telling them, his face floating in the flames in Hermione’s fireplace. “She was at dinner and her friends swear they all left together, and then somewhere en route to their common room she just disappeared.”
“Into thin air?” Ron said doubtfully.
Neville’s head bobbed up and down in a nod. “So they’re saying. There were five or six girls, though – she likely just ended up at the back of the pack as they were walking and it took them awhile to notice she was gone.”
“When was this?” Hermione asked. She had her hands folded under her chin and there was a concerned look in her eyes.
“Just last night,” Neville replied. “She’s a Ravenclaw. Third year.”
“This timing is just so ironic and all,” Draco said, heavy on the sarcasm. “Snape and my father show up at Hogwarts and a kid promptly goes missing? Gosh, I wonder who was behind it.”
Harry sighed and shifted his weight, uncomfortable from kneeling in front of the hearth. “We don’t know it was them,” he said, though he might as well have said it to the basket of logs by the fireplace for all that Draco listened to him.
Neville nodded again, a strange look coming over his face. “I had a feeling you were going to say that, and Malfoy? Your dad…” He hesitated. “He’s actually…not a bad teacher.” Draco blinked. “Strict as anything,” Neville added quickly. “He doesn’t take any kind of crap. And he grades harshly, but–”
“Is he docking points because you’re a Gryffindor?” Draco interrupted in a faux bored tone. “Fuck knows what kind of scores the Hufflepuffs are getting, and God forbid you’re a Muggle-born.”
“No,” Neville said, with a shake of his head. “No, he just – well, he’s like Snape was when he was teaching Potions. And, you know.” He looked uncomfortable for a moment. “Well, he obviously knows his Dark Arts, doesn’t he?”
Draco snorted. “Obviously.”
“So he really knows how to defend against all that stuff, as well.” Neville gave a faint laugh. “I can’t believe I’m saying it, but he’s loads better than the bloke we had before. We’re thinking we might not even need to hold D.A. meetings anymore.”
“There you go,” Ron said, grinning at Draco, who scowled. “Professor Malfoy isn’t so bad after all.”
“Yeah, great,” Draco muttered. “He’s teaching you to defend yourselves against the very spells he’ll be firing at you in a month’s time. How very sporting.” Neville gave an exasperated roll of his eyes, and Draco abruptly changed the subject. “Have you talked to Pansy yet?”
“Uh…” It was hard to tell, what with the flames, but Neville’s face seemed to go a shade darker suddenly. “I tried to – I mean, I did. During breakfast one morning. In the Great Hall.” He frowned. “She tossed her juice in my face.”
Draco perked up. “Really? Well, that’s promising.”
Ron glanced at Harry. “Sarcasm?”
“No, I think he’s actually serious.” Harry gave Draco a sideways look, still speaking to Ron. “Slytherins are weird that way.”
“You slay me, Potter, really,” Draco said, jabbing Harry in the side. He glanced back at Neville. “If you’d really irritated her, she’d have hexed you. Also, during breakfast? Not a good move. She’s not really a morning a person.”
“That’s also apparently a Slytherin thing,” Harry said to Ron, who snorted. Draco jabbed him again, and Neville raised his eyebrows at them all.
“So, you’re saying I should try during dinner?”
“Or not in the Great Hall at all,” Draco said. “If she’s not around the juice, she can’t throw it at you.”
“I’m sorry,” Hermione interrupted, “but can we not gloss over the fact that a student has suddenly gone missing?” She gave Harry and Ron an exasperated look. “I don’t think I need to remind you that the last time that happened, it was Ginny.”
“We’re not glossing over it, Hermione,” Harry said guiltily. “But I don’t know what you expect us to do at this exact moment – and I’m sure the teachers are handling it.” He glanced at Neville for confirmation, and the other boy quickly nodded.
“They have search parties going through the castle,” he said slowly. “But…she’s not showing up on the map.”
“It’s not even been twenty-four hours yet,” Ron pointed out. “She could have just accidentally wandered behind a tapestry and found a secret hallway or something. Something the Marauders didn’t know about.”
“How likely do you think that is?” Harry muttered, and Ron grimaced slightly.
“There is one more thing,” Neville said hesitantly, and when the other four looked at him, he continued, “She’s a Muggle-born.”
A heavy silence abruptly settled over them.
Harry’s shoulders drooped. “It could just be a coincidence?” he offered. Neville nodded, but he looked like he was struggling to remain optimistic.
When Dean Thomas vanished the following week, however, nobody thought it was a coincidence anymore.