Harry walked up to where Malfoy was standing looking at the Whomping Willow and waited for the other boy to acknowledge his presence.
"I'm not exactly on your side," his Slytherin companion said eventually. "I just don't want to be one of them."
"There is no in-between," Harry said, "not in this war."
They lapsed into silence again. Finally Malfoy turned to look at him. His expression was the most open Harry had ever seen it. Malfoy appeared confused, much younger than he usually did, and not at all the evil bastard Harry had come to think he was.
"I know," Malfoy said, voice dropping as if the subject required it, "that's why I went to Dumbledore. They're all pawns, you know, every last one of them. The great Death Eaters; they're as much slaves as they want to make the Muggles and yet they can't see it."
Malfoy lapsed into silence again, eyes on the ground, face thoughtful. Harry did not want to push him so he waited. It had to have been hard to let go of the hatred of six years and he did not want to scare his companion away. Suddenly Malfoy laughed; it was a sad little sound.
"I idolised my father you know," he said, and looked into Harry's face.
The boy's grey eyes were so sad and Harry's mind informed him that it was not fair, no one as young as them should have that look in their eyes. The thing was he had seen it before, he saw it every day when he looked in the mirror.
"The great Lucius Malfoy," Malfoy said derisively, "the man everyone is afraid of, only he's terrified of Him as well. He's as pathetic as the rest of them. I saw him this summer, Voldemort himself. My beloved father arrived at the manor in the middle of the night and took me with him to one of their meetings."
Harry was surprised, he knew something must have happened to make the other boy reconsider his allegiances, but meeting Voldemort had not been at the top of his suspicions. Meeting the Dark Lord changed people, but in Harry's experience usually to dead or obedient lackeys. That Malfoy had come away neither of those, was a credit to his character.
"They're like some secret school society," Malfoy cotinued; "only you don't just get thrown out if you break the rules. My father wanted me to meet the great man himself, and do you know what I saw? A madman, a complete lunatic who really doesn't care who he gets killed, and they all worship him like he's some kind of god."
The laugh came out of Harry unbidden, but he couldn't help it. Malfoy glared at him for his trouble.
"What's so bloody funny, Potter?" Malfoy asked, voice going cold.
The glare that went along with the words might have worried him once, but now he knew what was behind it.
"Sorry," Harry apologised, still not sure where the laugh had come from, "but if you'd asked I could have told you that. Did your father ever tell you why Voldemort wants me dead?"
Malfoy shook his head.
"It's all to do with a prophecy," he said, his tone surprisingly light, "and if he hadn't tried to kill me when I was a baby it would have been irrelevant. It's all absurd, almost as ridiculous as being famous because you didn't die."
Malfoy continued to glare at him for a few moments and then the edge of his mouth actually twitched into a partial smile.
"You have a very twisted sense of humour, Potter," Malfoy said eventually, "I never noticed before."
"If you'd met my relatives you'd understand why," Harry said with a wry grin.
They looked at each other for a while; green eyes into grey and then Malfoy blinked and glanced away.
"I have to go," he said suddenly, and began to walk without looking up again.
Harry watched him leave and Malfoy was almost back to the entrance of the buildings when he stopped and turned.
"Thanks, Potter," he said before continuing on his way.
* * *
The dormitory door closed with a quiet click after Harry slipped through it. It was past midnight; he'd spent a long time wandering around thinking after his meeting with Malfoy. He still didn't feel like sleeping, but he had things to do in the morning and knew he had to. It was as he was creeping across the room to his bed that he heard movement and he knew what was coming.
"Harry, is that you?" Ron whispered across the room.
"No it's the Dark Lord himself," Harry replied. "Of course it's me."
He then realised that his words could be taken the wrong way and he did not want Ron annoyed with him.
"Sorry if I woke you," he said apologetically.
The curtains to Ron's bed were open and the dark shape of his friend sat up against the moonlight coming through the window.
"You didn't, I was worried about you, couldn't sleep. Where have you been?" Ron asked quietly.
Harry felt a pang of guilt and headed over to his friend's section of the room. He'd been walking around in the dark outside the dormitory so it was not difficult to make his way across the darkened room. These days his night vision was so good from his nightly wanderings he could have become nocturnal if he'd wanted to.
"Sorry, Ron," he apologised again, "I've just been strolling around thinking. I didn't mean to keep you up."
"Anything you want to talk about?" his best friend asked, and Harry could imagine the worried little frown that would be on Ron's face.
It was too dark to see anything clearly when the moonlight was behind the sitting boy, but Harry could picture Ron perfectly: wide-open eyes, slightly anxious twist to his mouth. Harry smiled into the darkness as he appreciated that his friend cared.
"No thanks," he said, trying to convey the warmth he felt. "It was just stuff, stuff that I've been putting off for a while."
It appeared that Ron was not in the mood to let Harry get away with avoiding the issue.
Harry catalogued what he had been thinking about for a moment and it didn't occur to him not to tell his friend.
"Sirius, Voldemort, Dumbledore," he said adding 'Draco Malfoy' silently, "just stuff, nothing to worry about. Thanks for asking though, but I need to sleep. I'll see you in the morning."
There was silence from Ron as Harry turned to walk to his bed.
"Harry," Ron said in a tone between dismissive and incredulous as Harry began to undress, "your 'just stuff' would terrify most people."
"Good night, Ron," Harry said with a smile to himself.
Maybe his friend was right, maybe his 'stuff' would terrify anyone else, but these days it was easier for him to deal with. Last year he had borne it stoically, over-burdened as he was; this year it didn't seem nearly so enormous.
There was a muffled reply as Ron lay back down. For a few moments Harry stood and listened to the sounds of sleep in the room, and for the first time in a long while he felt connected to the people around him. It was a good feeling.
* * *
The second meeting was arranged in the same way as the first when Malfoy slipped another note into Harry's bag. This time, however, he was the first to arrive and he stood around wrapped in his everyday cloak, waiting for Malfoy to show up. It was exciting and almost traitorous at the same time.
He knew he couldn't tell Ron or Hermione about Malfoy, it would be a betrayal of his new friend's trust, but Harry was also aware that he was actively lying to his friends. It was a quandary and, quite frankly, one where he could not understand why, every time he considered it, he ended up firmly on Malfoy's side.
When the white head appeared out of the twilight Harry felt a strange sense of happiness run through him. He was unused to the feeling of exhilaration that the sight of Malfoy brought to him and he did not want to analyse it, just enjoy it.
"Potter," the other boy greeted with a nod, "sorry I'm late, had to dodge Snape."
"I have an advantage," Harry replied without thinking, "an invisibility cloak."
Malfoy looked surprised for a moment and then smiled. Harry thought it was the first genuine smile of happiness he had ever seen on his ex-nemesis.
"So that's why I've never been able to catch you sneaking around no matter where I stake out," Malfoy said, seeming to enjoy the joke at his own expense.
"You stake me out?" Harry was quite surprised by the news; he had not expected to find that Malfoy took such an active interest.
"I spent most of the sixth year skulking in corners," his companion said, "and I never saw anything."
Harry found himself smiling as well, it was rather funny. It then occurred to him that he had just revealed one of his closely guarded secrets to the boy who had been his archrival. A week ago the whole situation would have sounded preposterous, but now there was a rightness about it that Harry could not contest.
"We used to be able to get Ron, Hermione and me under it," he said chattily, "but these days it will only take two of us at a push."
"Can I see it?" Malfoy asked curiously.
Harry produced the cloak from under his normal one and passed it to his companion.
"How did you get it?" Malfoy asked as he felt the material and investigated the garment with interest. "Incredible work."
"It was my dad's," Harry replied, finding that talking about his parent still brought a catch to his throat. "Dumbledore gave it to me my first Christmas here."
Malfoy passed it back reverently as he heard whom it belonged to and they shared a look. In a way they had both lost their parents and the lightness was gone from between them.
"I had a letter from Father yesterday, it said it was from Mother, but it was definitely my Father's words," Malfoy said. "It didn't say anything outright of course, but I think he's planning on enrolling me in his little sect as soon as I set foot back at the Manor. I can't go home again."
"Did you tell Dumbledore?" Harry asked, resisting the urge to put his hand out to the other boy. He did not think Malfoy would appreciate the gesture.
"Not yet," his companion said, voice low as he turned to look at the still willow. "I don't think I've quite accepted it, even after what happened; it's still my home."
Malfoy fell silent, lost in his own thoughts, and Harry decided to take a chance.
"What did he do to you?" he asked, being direct, but trying to make his tone as gentle as possible.
Malfoy looked at him sharply, a defensive expression on his face. For a second Harry thought he had blown it, pushed too hard, but slowly his companion's features relaxed.
"Not yet," and at first Harry thought Malfoy was repeating his last answer, "I can't tell you yet. I have to go."
And with that admission Malfoy walked away. It was not how Harry had wanted the meeting to end, but he felt as if they were on the edge of something. They had not taken that last step to complete trust yet, but it was almost there. Very strange that Harry was finding it so easy: he never would have thought that Malfoy would be included in his list of confidants. Harry wrapped his cloak around himself and turned towards Gryffindor tower.
* * *
Harry was a little confused; actually he was a lot confused. Over the past two and a half weeks some of the facts that he had thought were set in his life had turned on their head and, yet, he did not feel as if his life was crumbling. In fact he felt the opposite; it was as if his world was building up around him and turning into something mysterious and good.
That, however, didn't stop him having doubts and wondering occasionally what he thought he was doing. It also didn't stop Hermione looking at him every now and then with a worried little frown. It was late on the evening of her seventeenth birthday that his friend finally cornered him. The Gryffindors had given their most prominent female member a very good birthday party in the common room and celebrated until past midnight. Ron had staggered off to bed after giving his girlfriend a very sloppy goodnight kiss, but Hermione had already asked Harry to stay behind for a few minutes so they could talk.
Harry sat in one of the armchairs by the fire and patiently waited for his friend to say goodnight to the other revellers, while mulling over the strangeness of his life. He smiled warmly at Hermione when she finally came and sat down in the chair opposite.
"Has it happened yet?" she asked, playing with the necklace Ron had given her for her birthday.
"No," Harry replied, being completely honest, "but things are changing."
Hermione looked into the dying embers of the fire thoughtfully after he spoke, and he chose not interrupt her musings. If the brightest girl in the school had one problem it was that sometimes she thought too much, but today Harry let her have her moment.
"You seem so calm," she said eventually; "I don't think I've ever seen you like this before. Harry, you've never been calm, not even last year when you were so quiet."
A small laugh escaped him then: he had to admit Hermione was right. His life had made him anything but calm, even though he could keep his head in just about any situation these days.
"I'm not calm," he said, "not all the time, it's just things are a little different this year than I expected, and every now and then I take a little step back to look at them. You seem to keep catching me when I'm contemplating the universe."
That earned him a smile.
"So what's so different?" Hermione asked.
Several ways to start the explanation came to Harry at the same time, but he discarded them all and sat and thought for a moment. If he was honest with himself everything came back to Draco, although he was still confused and had not quite figured out why yet. He could not tell Hermione about the Slytherin, but he wanted to explain somehow.
"I've noticed that people change," Harry began after thinking his answer through, "and sometimes it's in a good way. I've been surprised this term and it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities."
Hermione looked taken aback, that obviously wasn't what she had been expecting.
"Anyone in particular?" she asked after a moment.
Harry gave her an enigmatic smile and looked at the fire.
"Could be," he replied without giving anything away.
A tutting sound came from his friend and he looked back to find her chewing her lip and contemplating him carefully.
"You're not going to tell me, are you?" Hermione decided with a resigned sigh. "You're going all Firenze on me."
Harry just grinned. He had never been compared to a centaur before.
"It's an image I'm exploring," he replied; "dark, mysterious hero rather than wears-his-heart-on-his-sleeve Harry."
Now Hermione laughed.
"I think maybe you're just losing your mind," she said with a smile. "I don't know why I bother."
"Your life would be boring without me," Harry replied in kind.
"Now you sound like Malfoy," was Hermione's opinion on the matter.
For some reason that caused Harry's grin to grow even wider, but he soon found it wiped away by a yawn. He had taken Quidditch practice all afternoon and, what with that and the party, he was tired.
"Lessons in the morning," he said as the yawn subsided, "and I'm sorry but I need to sleep."
Hermione smiled and nodded as she stifled a yawn of her own.
"Thanks for staying behind, even if you didn't say anything again," she said and stretched out of the chair.
Harry mumbled something in return and climbed to his feet.
"Happy birthday, Hermione," Harry said and gave his friend a peck on the cheek. "I will tell you eventually, I promise, I just don't know what to say yet."
His friend did not reply as the Harry walked towards the boy's staircase. He really was going to have to give her something more soon or he knew Hermione would start asking awkward questions.