"Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati.
It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer."
— Mark Z. Danielewski, "House of Leaves"
* * *
"Remember, Harry," Hermione said, her voice shaking just the tiniest bit, "everything you did was for a reason. You won the war by doing the right things."
The setting seemed inappropriate for such a profound statement, cafeteria noise and the smell of burned oil all over the place. Harry smiled at her instead of letting her know that there simply was no proper preparation for this. Of course she just wanted the best for him.
"Thanks." He emptied his tea with a large gulp. "I better get going."
The air outside was chilly and just what he needed at the moment. Harry would Apparate the last part of the way, but he planned to walk as long as possible. Walking through Muggle London soothed him, always did, like a discreet apology for having left this world for another, and not even missing it.
Harry heaved a sigh he hadn't noticed holding. He wanted this, had wanted it for years. Now wasn’t the time to chicken out.
First his fingers, then his entire body tingled when the crack! landed him in front of his destination. It was the same anxiety that had helped him succeed in his tasks in the past, that was excruciating and made him want to bite his thumbnail to the root; but he needed its drive just as much. Harry entered the building.
It was murky, but more in a secretive than menacing way. He hadn't taken in the plainness of its one large room for a minute when a familiar figure turned the corner and approached him.
"Harry", said Kingsley Shacklebolt and stretched out his hand.
"Minister." Harry couldn't suppress a grin; yes it was definitely excitement taking over now. No one knew what the Maze of Lost Thoughts held for its testees—of course no less than an oath of silence lay on whoever entered it—but it was said to be the most feared part of Auror training. And the last, too.
Kingsley started walking and indicated Harry should follow. They crossed the huge hall, then turned a corner and moved down a corridor that was just as dim. For what seemed like the first time in his life, Harry felt himself void of questions: Whatever he was about to see, he wasn't sure it could be put into words anyway. "Oath of silence, rubbish!" he recalled Ron saying after his friend had passed the test. "As if I'd try and retell that."
Think of the devil. "Harry!" Ron's greeting was much more enthusiastic and he obviously refrained from pulling Harry into an embrace.
"Good morning, Auror Weasley," Harry replied with emphasis. After one year, the sound of it wasn't new anymore, but it kept evoking that sheepish smile on his friend's face. Ron had mentioned on more than one occasion that "the world wasn't right" if he completed his Auror training before Harry did. To Harry, it was only logical, seeing that he had devoted the first year after Voldemort's defeat to travelling and exploring the world. Being alive. It was hard to explain this value to someone who hadn't spent their entire youth under a Damocles' sword, and Harry hadn't tried. He loved his friends, which was exactly why he had sought out fifteen months of solitude before commencing Auror training.
The room they were standing in looked like a sparsely decorated anteroom. One open door to the east hinted at a brighter chamber, but Harry couldn't see inside.
"This may come across as harsh, but I'm sure you expected it," Kingsley said and raised his wand without giving Harry another moment to expect anything.
"Harry Potter, whatever happens from now on until the moment you either complete or fail your task is under protection through silence. You must not speak to anyone about what you will perceive with any of your senses in that time. If you do, you die. Will you swear the oath of silence?"
Harry didn't hesitate. "I will."
A thread of soft blue curled itself from Kingsley's wand and entered through Harry's nose. He waited for an unpleasant sensation, but nothing came.
Kingsley lowered his wand and suddenly both Aurors were smiling at Harry with something like relief. "I know, it sounds scary," Ron murmured, but his eyes were bright with amicable pride and Harry smiled back.
The next bit was scary indeed.
"Now please give me your wand."
Harry almost gaped at the Minister. "My wand? Why?"
"You won't need it."
He turned to Ron for support, who only nodded in confirmation. "That's right. I'll keep it while you're in there."
All of Harry's nerves stood alert; he didn't just hand over his weapon. As much as he trusted the two people in the room, it was a feeling he loathed more than anything—defencelessness. The last time he had willingly abandoned his wand was when facing death, and the memory alone made him grip it tighter.
"Harry, just do it." Kingsley's voice was unusually soft. "The Maze holds many threats for you, but none to attack with a wand. You must find other ways to fight its forces."
Harry wondered whether everyone was as hesitant as he was, and as if he had read his thoughts, Ron jumped in.
"I was like you—well, not quite. But it's part of the task." He smiled reassuringly. "I'll keep it safe for you, mate."
You're ridiculous, Harry scolded himself. You just swore an oath that can kill you. Doesn't that prove how you trust them?
"Sorry." He opened his hand and reluctantly watched Kingsley pick the holly wand from his palm. The tingles racing down his spine now weren't thrilling in a positive way, but he knew this was part of his lesson. Scepticism could save your life, but a good Auror had to know their loyalties as well.
As he stood in this stark room, dressed in Muggle jeans and a hoody with rolled-up sleeves, Harry waited for something more ceremonial to happen. It didn't.
Kingsley stepped back and gave the briefest of nods before handing the wand to Ron. "Stairs are to your right," he said.
"Good luck, man," Ron said.
Harry blinked. "What—what am I even supposed to do in there?" They couldn't just let him walk in without a word, could they?
"You'll figure it out." Kingsley nodded at Ron and they headed for the illuminated room to the left. "Find your way out of the Maze. We'll meet you once it's over."
"See you later," Ron added with smashing confidence, and then they disappeared behind the light.
Harry felt dumb, then nervous, and finally giddy enough to turn. Stairs, right. The flight was longer than expected, and at its foot, he found himself halfway between a giant pair of monoliths that seemed to brush the sky. He knew by now that not everything that looked imposing was also going to be—but the sight was impressive nonetheless. Harry let his gaze drift left, then right, taking in the magnitude of dark stone. It didn't absorb all light though, not as much as it reflected it, and the upper edges were softened by a gleam of midday sun.
Nothing to wait for, Harry thought and entered the Maze of Lost Thoughts.
Inside the narrow corridors of what appeared to be black marble, the air was cool and Harry soon wished he had brought a jacket. After an uncertain amount of time (but enough so that he had gotten warm again and noticed the sun disappear from the Maze's walls), he turned right. Having turned left at the last few corners, it seemed like a logical conclusion; then Harry frowned. He had no idea what he was doing.
Of course, planning out your way in a maze didn't make a lot of sense in the first place. However, his complete lack of organisation first surprised, then annoyed him.
"You're here to fulfil a task, not take a walk in the park," Harry told himself—a habit he had found increasingly calming since living alone. "It's not a nice park anyway." In fact he found the weight of the black stone more oppressive with each step, and longed for the sun that had been in his eyes this morning.
As he walked on through the uniform corridors, surrounded by nothing more than this eerie silence, a different thought occurred to Harry. What if the threat of the Maze was . . . nothing? To be alert, maybe in fear, without anything happening at all? That would certainly feed on your nerves. Which was exactly why he decided to not let it feed on his nerves. He turned another corner, then followed a surprisingly long corridor and increased his speed.
"I'm not going to hang around here forever," he announced to no one.
The traitorous sun had obviously sunk so low now that no trace of its warmth clung to the stone anymore. Strangely enough, it still wasn't dark. As if a small light was coming from within the marble walls, Harry saw his path without shadows. It made him uneasy, just like the fact that when his hand wandered to his pocket, it was empty.
He was in the process of clenching and unclenching his fists to release tension when it hit him. Before Harry had time to define any ‘it’, something washed through him violently enough to tear his lungs from the ribcage, and in their stead settled a deep, profound sadness. He let his knees give in, because it seemed much easier.
It was gone, the only trace his watery eyes. Harry lowered his head and panted full force while supporting his body with both hands. "What the hell?"
Make a choice, someone said, and when he lifted his head, he was surprised to find no one.
Make a choice now, and it's forever. There's no way back.
"What?" Harry repeated and got up. Crouching on the floor was not the best idea when facing an opponent. I hope Kingsley is happy with my wand, he thought angrily.
It was that last bit—probably because he had focused so strongly—that told him the voice wasn't coming from the outside at all. With almost frightening clarity he noticed it resounding nowhere but within his own head. Harry suppressed a shudder and took a step forward, when he fully took in the words and stopped to turn. His mouth fell open at the sight.
There was no way back indeed. The corridor he had come through had vanished and given way to a darkness as impenetrable as the walls themselves; not a mere black clouding reality, but rather the complete absence of any reality at all.
Harry turned around again. He just had to keep going.
Two corners later, the darkness was out of sight—thankfully it hadn't continued to creep up behind him—and Harry felt his unease vanish almost simultaneously. "They're playing mind tricks, of course. This is magic." He turned another random corner, then another, and then probably another hundred. Echoing against the walls were only the dull sounds of his trainers, and that couldn't quite be called an echo anyway. Harry turned to the left again and ran into a second person.
"FUCK, what is—" The words died in his throat as recognition hit. It was Sirius Black, his godfather.
* * *
Ron took a bite from his sandwich and chewed heartily. "Wher'sh he?"
"He passed the centre just a few minutes ago." Kingsley's eyes were fixed on the spot his wand pointed at, the point where he could see inside the Maze. "Took about the longest way possible."
Ron chuckled. "‘Course. Never been an organisational talent, Harry."
"It should seem so."
Ron swallowed a giant bite. "Darkness yet?"
Kingsley nodded. "All there."
"Blimey," the memory gave Ron a shudder. "Don't recall liking that part."
"He did quite well. Had a bit of a breakdown, but I've seen worse, and then he moved straight on." Kingsley squinted at the scenery once more before leaning back in his chair. When he reached for his coffee, an unreadable expression was plastered upon his face. "I hope he'll keep doing fine."
Ron finished his lunch then disposed of the paper with a flick of his wand. "Thought he's already halfway through?"
"Yes, but he's only faced one challenge yet."
"That's Harry." Ron grinned. "If I did it, he can do it. Should be a rule really."
Kingsley turned to him, this time with a mild smile. "You are quite harsh with yourself, Auror Weasley."
Ron shrugged. "I don't mind. Anyway, I'm here now and he's in there, so I'd say I'm a lot better off." He relaxed into his chair as well and let his eyes lazily scan the Maze one floor beneath them.
From the supervision chamber in the house, you could spy the threats as well as the trainee, but only in their current location—it was an important part of the Maze's construction: The supervisor was not supposed to see the challenges before the trainee did. None of the threats would be able to harm them by their own given force, but it was about what sort of damage they inspired within the self.
"Auror Weasley? I think he just reached another one."
* * *
"You— you’re dead." Harry balled his hands into fists, knuckles cracking. "What the fuck is this?" When he took a step forward, Sirius backed off, all the while keeping eye contact. His face was grave, but not repellent.
Then he didn't move and didn't speak. Harry felt rage rising within him like bile, before it was swallowed by the momentous feeling of loss; his reason fought the painful intrusion to no avail. "You're dead," he whispered for good measure, but it was too late. His hand reached out for nothing and the next thing he knew he was on his knees again, face pressed against marble and dry sobs rippling through his entire body.
The memories were vivid, as though he was possessed by Voldemort again—but no, Voldemort was dead—had been dead for six years—and Sirius for even longer—fallen through the veil—an infinite joke on all who had tried to save him—his smile—in the picture—in all the pictures—right next to his friend, Harry's dad, and—
—His knees scraped along the floor and the sharp edge of the stone giant, but Harry didn't notice any of it. His head lolled back as his father's face became clearer in his vision, and it had to be a vision, even though sometimes you couldn't tell.
He was a child again. It felt good to be a child again, with disproportional limbs and earnest eyes, with friendships that were easier and lasted forever. Harry closed the door behind him and went over to the Mirror of Erised. His feet were cold where the pyjama bottoms ended.
"Hi Mum. Hi Dad."
They smiled at him like they always did, and he smiled back. They were beautiful. "Harry," his dad said, his voice unfamiliar or maybe familiar by now. "My son." It was such an obvious thing to say, and still full of wonders. Then Harry was cold, even colder, and he was so cold he curled up into a ball to warm himself. All curled up, like within the womb, it really got warmer, which may have been because he was back in the womb, swimming in a protective sea where no one could hurt him.
It was not until he was born again that he remembered being murdered.
Harry's head jerked, hitting against an ugly black wall. "Not Harry," his mother screamed, but he didn't see her. All he could look at was the man in the cloak who was looking back at him so curiously, fondly, as though nothing mattered in the world but Harry. He pointed his wand and the night became a fire.
Fire, eating at the door. The door was obviously solid and didn't give way to the flames, but Harry knew it was a lie, and that it shaped, that it existed only to please whoever needed it to open.
He needed no explanations—not right now. The cloaked man had gone, his parents gone, his godfather and the womb and the mirror and all his dreams had gone in one hungry blaze. Life had turned into a Quidditch game, or maybe death had. Harry zigzagged on his broom like he never had, and then he spotted it: the hand, reaching out for him, and Harry reached out himself to take it.
No roar, no applause. Just drifting ashes and silence.
Harry opened his eyes in what seemed like the most torturous movement ever made. There was no thinking about sitting up, not right now; he wanted to close his eyes again and sleep forever, but he needed to take in his surroundings, needed to stay awake and leave the Maze leave the Maze leave the—
He sat up. The light was dim, like an evening in early spring, and the stones cradled him in their valley.
You decided this.
Harry breathed deeply; his eyes stung with tears he refused to let out. This time he didn't look for a source of the voice.
Your choices, the ones you can never remake.
You can remake them now.
"What?" he asked feebly, though at no one in particular.
You were wondering about all these corners, weren’t you? Why it must be a maze.
Why, why indeed, why not—Harry buried his face in his hands. It felt good to hide, if obviously only from himself. His palms smelled of wood and grime.
From now on, you pick. It's in your hands to change it.
Hands. Harry felt the sob coming, but repressed it again. "What do you want?"
It's about what you want. Pick another path and make another history. It's so easy.
It's so easy, Harry Potter.
Harry Potter. The calling of his own name made him come to his senses again—yes he was Harry Potter, saviour of the wizarding world and Auror in his bloody last training discipline. He'd better leave this maze in full sanity and make the wish a real thing.
"Get off my back," he murmured and wiped at his cheeks. His legs still shook, but not too much to keep moving. He walked down the corridor, regaining strength with each step.
Then the ways forked.
The ways hadn't forked a single time before—it had been corners, and walls, and more corners and more walls. No damn forks.
You wanted to. Now you may change it, all of it, the way it should have been.
Before the voice had even finished, Harry had a notion of what it meant, where each of the ways would lead him; it didn't stop here. You have seen so many Whats, but these ways hold different Whys. You have to have the Whys, don't you?
Both forks ended in more corners and corridors. It was an unsettling and exciting display, until orientation hit him and Harry turned to the right. "I'm Harry Potter," he said, louder this time, "and you're not gonna trick me." If he had learned just one thing in the years since leaving Hogwarts, it was self-control—something he knew he severely lacked back in his teenage years. An Auror in training couldn't afford to be led by their emotions at every crossroads.
The moment Harry took the path to his right, he had a churning feeling the other option would vanish in that all-consuming darkness. He didn't look back.
* * *
"He doesn't look back." Kingsley sounded proud. Ron mirrored the sentiment. "Good." He grinned, then reached for Harry's wand that lay on the table between them.
"Why did you let me supervise, Minister?"
Kingsley frowned at the distance, not turning his head. "Because you've been a capable Auror for more than one year now, and I need people to handle the Maze of Lost Thoughts."
Ron's ears reddened. "That's—thank you, Minister. But, why today, as Harry's friend?"
"Weren't you worried I'd be biased?"
Kingsley's upper lip curled into a half-smile and he turned away from the window towards Ron. "Actually, no."
* * *
It got chillier within the Maze, but the mysterious light kept illuminating Harry's ways. He put his hands into the pockets of his jeans to keep them warm, and after a while also pulled the jumper’s hood over his head, which turned out to be a nice idea. The layer of cotton wasn't only comfortable, but also feigned protection, like it was able to keep intruders from messing with his mind some more.
Harry snorted at the thought. As nightmarish as the last vision had been, it hadn't been real, and he had to keep telling himself that. He had seen too many fake horrors to be frightened by them, still—Voldemort had practically lived inside his brains during fifth year, and if Harry had acknowledged the surrealism of these dreams any sooner—
He stopped the thought; it didn't bring Sirius back.
The sky had darkened considerably, and Harry wondered whether they already worried about him—not that anyone had told him how long it took the average trainee to make their way through the Maze. Still.
"Best get moving, Potter," he muttered to himself. Potter, a nickname he caught himself using more frequently lately, and he couldn't put his finger on why it calmed him the way it did. Sometimes it felt as though the name would bring back times of Sorting Hats and petty rivalry and fights without substance; and not even that was the full truth.
It was ironic, really: thoughts of Malfoy were not only connected to destruction, but to a handful of beginnings as well. His first friend, his first duel, his first war—even his first girlfriend, whose kiss he couldn't remember without seeing blood stain a bathroom floor. Wherever something weighed, he could count on the git to come into the picture.
Harry thought he smelled fire as the vision of clasping hands rose to the front of his mind once more. Where are you now, you sodding idiot? You better not have wasted your life after I saved it.
When Harry turned the next corner, he already saw it from afar: in between the imposing black walls stood a Pensieve, emanating a soft glow in the darkness. It was bright and elegant, not quite as plain as the one in Dumbledore's old office, and when he approached it, Harry noticed that it was, in fact, playfully ornamented. Squinting, he made out bodies carved into the stone basin, figures slowly bending away from and towards each other, their hair and limbs sending movements through the liquid they held. For several minutes, Harry merely watched.
"Do you want me to look?" he asked the basin—rhetorically; of course he would.
Even if this was a trap, Harry knew he was supposed to fall for it, if only to wriggle his way out. For one short and painful moment he missed his wand then accepted he'd have to do without a security spell. "Let's see whether you're worth it," he said and touched his face to the surface.
The swirl took forever. Eventually, Harry's feet hit something solid and he opened his eyes to find himself in Snape's potions lab.
As he watched his former teacher sort little bottles on a shelf in what seemed like alphabetical order, a cocktail of emotions washed through him. Hate, pity, nausea, hurt. Snape's back was hunched, though agile enough to imply youth. He turned around to pick up more bottles, and Harry saw the scruffy face of a twenty-something man who spent a lot of his time in solitude. Maybe he was just the age Harry was now. He swallowed.
Snape kept sorting tubes and vials for a long time. All the while his movements were soft and fluid, as though the handiwork required a gentle touch, and nothing hinted that he'd grow tired of his task anytime soon. Finally though, the last phial had been sorted into its place, and Snape hesitated briefly. It was in this second that Harry felt him, felt him, not like an observer, but like the hated student he had been for this man all his life. It was an unsettling sensation.
Snape walked up to his worktable and to a magically heated cauldron whose steam softly flapped the lid. He lifted it and put it aside, then took a step back so fast he almost stumbled over the hem of his ridiculously long robes.
Harry stepped closer, and immediately knew why Snape hadn't.
The emotions coursing through him at this moment were ones he had last encountered in sixth year, in Horace Slughorn's potions class—emotions only Amortentia could cause. Feebly, but undoubtedly, a nameless obsession swept over him, and Harry was fast to mirror Snape's retreat; the smell had been faster though. Old books, truly ancient books. Leather. Stone. The metallic taste of blood, and the woods, and something more subtle, like expensive cologne and the sweat of fear, caused by a dark and infinite—
"Claudeo!," Snape in the memory yelled, and the lid fell back into place. His face was a grimace of silent torture, and for moments he just stood there without making another sound. Harry knew what he had seen. What he would in fact see for the rest of his life.
Snape wiped his hands on his robes, then stepped back up to the working table and vanished the most dangerous love potion in the world with one flick of his wand. He put the cauldron back on a shelf, cleaned up the remaining ingredients and swept the surface.
The memory ended here, and Harry was standing inside the Maze again.
Even though this interruption had been much less frightening than the first one, it left him with sombre memories. Snape—a man he had hated and mistrusted for seven years, to find out that his only mission had been—had been. Had been what? Brewing Amortentia?
Harry swallowed hard. The knowledge had been here just now. He remembered what it felt like to know—it. How the discovery had made him sick to his stomach when it was new, and it never really got better.
What again? Come on. Harry closed his eyes.
He remembered the weight of memories, but where the memories were, there was nothing. He had never really made peace with this truth, and he needed to do it now. Never had he needed to do it more than now.
Get out of here!, his instincts told him. This is weakening you, and you have nothing to defend yourself. Harry walked past the Pensieve into the corridor leading down. With every step away from the soothing light, his old anxiety grew. "Come on, it can't be long," he murmured. His voice was a roar in the silence.
In order to redeem himself, Severus Snape had kept up a façade for almost two decades. When Harry's eighteen-year-old self had faced these memories, they had contradicted everything he had wanted, fought to believe—and he couldn't acknowledge them. Not yet, not really.
And what had he believed? And had Snape been redeemed in the end?
Harry felt guilt biting down on his breastbone. It would've been the least you could do. He nodded, again to no one but himself. But why exactly? How had Snape earned it?
"Stupid Maze, stupid task, stupid Auror training!" Before he could think better of it, Harry slammed one fist into the solid stone. It hurt, damn well it did.
Why the fuck now? He couldn't afford to doubt, or regret; he couldn't even properly remember! Why did Snape do what he did? He could have seen death and been done with it, but what was this power that made people go and place riddles in Harry's way?
You know there's a way to find out.
I told you what to do.
The next crossroads had appeared out of nowhere, ominous shadows framing their paths. Harry took a deep breath.
"Can you tell me why?"
He sighed. "Why—everything."
That is a lot to ask.
"I know." His mind was definitely not working as it usually did, as it should. Bits and pieces were missing from the whole picture, and he couldn't figure out where they had gone; it felt like a knowledge charm turned awry. And they kept crumbling.
"I need to know why he did what he did. Why I did what I did. I—I really need to get out of here."
Are you sure you don't remember?
"You think I'm joking here? And I'm arguing with the voices in my head. Great." As Harry looked down on himself—thank Merlin, he was whole yet—he saw blood dripping from his knuckles in a dark, living stream; it was all it took to shake him from his reverie. He shut out the voice and put his mouth on the wound.
This time, he walked down the left path, and also turned around. Indeed, the darkness crawled across his other choice instantaneously, closing its grotesque jaw to leave nothing. At least he wouldn't be tempted to go back.
"This is fucking surreal," Harry cursed as his trainers kept stirring up dirt. "What do I care why Snape was acting like a bloody creep? It's not like he was ever anything else." More dirt, now his shoelaces were coated. He ignored it. I just need to get out of here. Bloody Maze is messing with my mind.
By now, not only his mind, but also his body, was exhausted. More than anything, Harry wanted to just kick off his clothes and collapse on his bed in the nude to sleep for twenty hours. Then he would wake up and masturbate due to lack of someone else taking care of it, would take a long, hot shower, and afterwards saunter into the kitchen to throw a couple of eggs into a pan and—
"Fuck." Tired feet meant lots of stumbling. Harry felt the mud on his knee where it peeked out from torn denim. The earth was cool and the pale light radiating off the surrounding marble didn't quite reach the spaces between his fingers.
Sleep. Just sleep.
No, for the sake of Merlin's bollocks! Auror in training, remember? You're stronger than this.
Harry felt his lids grow heavy and his balance give in.
* * *
Ron jumped from his chair. "He's passing out!"
With an expression resembling curiosity, Kingsley eyed the trainee, who had made his way past two of the challenges. "No, he's not."
"But look at him," Ron demanded, "he can't go much further!" He gripped the table.
"He doesn't have to."
"But—" Ron ran out of buts, and before he could find any new ones, Kingsley turned to him with what was his serious business face.
"Auror Weasley. I appreciate your concern, but I don't think Harry would if we ended this here." He cast a glance down at the Maze for emphasis. "You know that it would render his entire training useless. This is the final stage, and thus the hardest—every trainee knows that before they enter, and they sure know the moment they exit. Unless he's in acute danger, we're not doing him any good by interrupting."
Ron shut his mouth; of course the Minister was right. Only, was it painful to watch when he knew the Maze's forces so well himself. He hadn't been able to ponder the exact idea behind its construction until Kingsley had started taking him to supervisions.
Ron knew how Harry, more than most people, was endangered to fall for the Maze's alluring offer: to change the past. Harry hadn't been a Gryffindor for nothing—he still considered it his task to save everyone, and the ones he couldn't save would keep haunting him. Ron recalled approaching Fred's phantom in between the Maze's black walls, and—seemingly—being given the opportunity to fight the Battle of Hogwarts again. Of course it was a farce, but he'd never be able to forget the pleading look in Fred's eyes as he begged for help.
However, the Maze of Lost Thoughts was nothing if not the ultimate test for what the trainees were told at the beginning of their education: Don't look back. You cannot change the past, and regret is forever going to hinder you.
"I hate to make predictions, but he'll do fine," Kingsley finally added as he cast a low warming charm. "Harry is too stubborn to give up now."
"Yeah, he is."
It was the only thought to calm Ron, because he remembered the importance of will in this challenge. With precision, he recalled how the visions seemed to threaten your sanity until you clung to nothing but a straw—a straw that would help you see that it wasn't in their powers to take the final step, to finish you off. Their substance was as illusionary as their influence on the trainees. A horror of mind indeed, but incapable of leaving the mind; and as soon as you became aware of this, you were prepared to fight it.
And leave the Maze, hopefully. "Harry looks like he could use a bite of something."
"Naturally, yes," Kingsley agreed. "If he doesn't take the most ridiculous way from there, he should be at The Tree soon."
Ron snorted fondly. "Count on Harry to take the most ridiculous way."
They sat in silence. It had gotten late, and the Maze drew a softly shining pattern into the night.
* * *
Harry was hungry to the point where he got angry. He certainly wasn't a food annihilator like Ron, but he had to eat at some point. Granted, living alone didn't make for an outstanding diet in Harry's case—his mind was usually occupied with other things until his stomach would growl too loudly to be ignored. Thereupon, Harry would prepare a simple dish with the few ingredients usually scattered about his fridge, or throw a frozen pizza into the oven. Anything to stop his stomach from growling was good enough; growing up with the Dursleys hadn't shaped a hedonist.
Suddenly, quite unexpectedly, the Maze turned darker and it took Harry a few seconds to figure out he faced a clearing. Lack of illuminated stone left the space murky, but it was still bright enough to make out a gnarly tree at the centre.
"Is that a trap again?," he murmured gruffly, then noticed fleshy fruits dipping the branches. Food! was all his traitorous mind could come up with. "Alright then."
Harry went up to the tree and when the first plucking and eating of fruit didn't result in any calamity, he continued until he felt sated. His lids grew heavy again.
"Oh brilliant. I want to nap now, do you all hear me? I haven't slept in . . . well, I'm not going to think about that. Way to get depressed." Harry groaned and pushed himself off the trunk to head back into the tunnels from the other side. The surroundings grew brighter immediately, and he rubbed his eyes until he saw stars.
The odd association of an illuminated swimming pool came to Harry's mind. A bright and pretty place at night. He sighed.
"If I'm going to be trapped here forever, who will entertain me?" No answer. "What, no little creatures hiding at all?" He tried to cover up his disappointment by putting his hood back on. "That's a shame. It's really bloody lonely in here, you know."
Maybe that was the cue, maybe it was a coincidence. Either way, Harry felt his knees give in, his body sag like a bag of wet clothes, and he unceremoniously crashed to the ground.
What the hell were you thinking, eating those fruits! The reproach never came out. Such a relief—sleep, eventually!—and simultaneously Harry knew he shouldn't be here, not really. The corridors he was now passing through at disconcerting speed were nothing like the ones in the Maze; they were too bright and spacious and their pompousness blinded him. The faceless spectres flying towards him were obviously ghosts, but without any substance or story to tell. They passed right through him.
A bathroom door swung open then closed again. Opened, closed. And again. Possibly forever.
Harry's eyes did the same movement, and when they opened, he was looking at his own face in a broken mirror. There was no scar, though, and no glasses, and his eyes weren't even green, but grey, steely, as though the pigments had been taken from a movie and left a skeleton of black-and-white.
It was Draco Malfoy's face, staring back at him in outright horror.
The following sequence didn't seem to be quite accurate, since shards of glass kept cutting through the film reel. Gooseflesh spread on Harry's arms and across the back of his neck. Malfoy threw his wand like a missile.
Harry's vision turned red. He felt his blood and hate and fury pound through his ears like an army, and the next thing he knew was something breaking, spilling water and pulling him down into a bottomless sea.
Quiet, so quiet. Like it could never be un-quiet again.
Then a red ribbon fell from the heavens, through the sea's surface and came dangling down right next to Harry, who had grown gills and was rooted to the abyss by nameless weeds.
The mirror shattered. Harry watched it cut his hands, then looked up and watched its invisible brother cut through Malfoy's body as if it was nothing but a sea itself.
The ribbons? Uncountable. Malfoy collapsed to the bathroom floor.
At this point, Harry's field of vision zoomed in and anything dreamlike vanished from the picture. What he felt now was coldness and clarity and the awful sting of regret rising from where it had sat, suppressed, for eight years. Malfoy's eyes blinked rapidly before falling shut, and he raised one hand to clutch at his chest. His blood soaked the white shirt with green Slytherin emblem, a detail that burned on Harry's retinas like it was important, and then all colours faded to red as Malfoy's life continued to bleed out of him; except for his face, which was white as a sheet.
Harry knew that this was the point to move, the moment to step up to the boy he hated and stop hating him and heal him and keep him from dying. His wand lay in his hand, still, waiting; Episkey wouldn't do, but it was a start, and in this moment Harry recalled his broken nose, the pain of it giving in beneath Malfoy's foot. It had nothing to do with this, and everything.
He gripped his wand tighter, stepped closer, or tried to, because he couldn't move, nothing moved except for Malfoy writhing on the floor until that stopped, too.
Snape and his black robes rushed past Harry effortlessly, the man dropped to his knees and the wounds did close. Harry saw none of it. He was too focused on paralysis crumbling off him like a shell, until he was naked, and crumbling still.
They would all live, so they could fight again.
When Harry woke from unconsciousness for the third time in a row, it didn't immediately feel like "waking". His head was pounding with insistence and his limbs felt like they had been filled with lead—yet the physical aftermath wasn't even at the forefront of his mind. It was the now cavernous and undeniable void that had opened inside him and was devouring pieces like a black hole.
"What's going on?" Memories, then sensations fell from the framework, a house of playing cards to the wind. Harry saw the scene, replayed it in his mind over and over again, but it was so loose in the mosaic of his mind that he didn't understand it.
Malfoy, attacking, bleeding, because Harry had made him bleed. His face was so impossibly white, eyes frozen in unveiled shock. He fell, and Harry let him. When Harry fell, he let him too.
An ugly sob escaped Harry's throat. He crouched into the mud, but it didn't help much. "Why do I hate you so?" he murmured, "why do you hate me?" It seemed the most important question that had ever been asked. Why were hatred and violence so horribly entwined with his and Malfoy's lives? How did they get there?
"We were just kids. I don't get it."
Let me help you, then.
There it was. Of course. Harry observed as the ways forked again.
I can show you why you did it. Why he did it.
"We . . . we had a reason, didn't we?"
You were both wrong, wrong as children are. But you can change it now.
You don't have to accept the wrong choices of your past.
This is your chance to decide better.
Harry blinked, his heart racing. What if this was no trap? What if this Maze, this task really was about admitting errors and giving things a second shot? After all, it would prove how he had matured and could be reasonable now—right? And I never wanted to almost kill that git, no matter what he did. A punch in his stupid pointy face will do.
The path to his right looked by far more inviting, promising even, and Harry felt that it didn't only hold the answers to his questions, but also the Maze's exit. He would go in there, fulfil his task, and finally go home.
"Alright, you got me," he muttered, though not too upset about his decision.
You will not regret it.
Harry had taken two and a half steps when a familiar voice made him freeze on the spot. In fact, it was so familiar he thought he had returned to his vision for a moment.
"Don't you dare go in there, you imbecilic prat."
* * *
Ron put aside his Sudoku and leaned forward.
"Now this is going to be interesting."
He knew he'd never admit it, but Kingsley was shifting nervously in his own chair.
* * *
Harry spun around, but of course his ears wouldn't betray him—not with this drawl, not ever. "Malfoy," he squeezed out, "I'm not falling for this. Get the hell away from me."
"Falling for what?"
"I know you're not real, so you might as well stop the charade."
Malfoy—or his phantom—hadn't changed much since school. He was still thin as a rake and everything about him just a tad too pale. His clothes were unusual, though: plain brown robes that looked more like a cloak and covered every part of him except his hands, neck and face. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and eyed Harry with an all-too-familiar sneer.
"Please, Potter. Even you have come up with more sophisticated insults in the past."
Harry squinted. "Whatever. I'm not in here to deal with you."
Malfoy frowned angrily. "Believe me, I'd rather not be dealing with you either. But as it happens, you are about to gloriously fail your task."
"What?" You're letting another of those bloody spectres get in your way, Harry reminded himself. A different part of him replied, Yes, and it was a bodiless voice that told you to go there in the first place. He was too exhausted for that, he really was.
"Did you not understand acoustically or should I rephrase?"
"Don't be so full of yourself."
"You make it easy."
Harry scowled at the other man with what he hoped was pure contempt. If it intimidated Malfoy, he didn't show it; he merely returned the stare.
"I'm not letting you tell me what to do," Harry eventually said and turned again to resume his intended path. He was more than a bit surprised when he felt a hand grab his upper arm and pull him back with force.
"Potter, you utter cretin," Malfoy hissed at him. "Don't you ever listen?"
Harry had freed himself easily—obviously he was still physically superior—, but his arm stung where Malfoy had dug his spidery fingers into it. "What the fuck do you want from me? I told you I'm not listening to—" He stopped himself.
"Does that feel like an illusion?"
"Doesn't answer my first question," Harry snapped. "What do you want?"
"Many things. My income. And I'm not watching Harry Potter do the most idiotic thing of his life—which means something by the way."
"Your income? Is that your job, or what? Bothering people? I could have guessed."
They glared at each other again. While their conversation was obviously leading nowhere, Harry felt something stir and wake inside him that he hadn't felt in—what, six years? Not since the war had been over and life had changed in so many ways. Suddenly he wasn't twenty-four; or maybe he was, but it was like everything else had gone back in time.
Back eight years. And then there it was again: the memory, clear and uncanny as it had been the first time. Broken mirrors, red ribbons. I can show you why you did it.
Why he did it.
Harry felt old and new fury rush through him. "Don't you want me to see it?" he yelled at Malfoy. This time, the other had the decency to look startled.
"The truth. Why you attacked me in sixth year. Why you fucking hate me so much!" Harry noticed too late that his voice was shaking. He really hadn't intended to bare himself in front of his oldest enemy, but there it happened; it only made him angrier.
To his surprise, Malfoy looked dumbfounded. "You don't remember this?"
"No, you bloody sod, that's what I'm saying!" Harry swallowed hard. "Only useless pieces, and—and I need to put them together again. And I don't know why the hell you are in my maze, but I don't care and I have to go in there to fix this. So if you'll excuse me—"
This time, Malfoy didn't grab him, and Harry took off into the offered hallway. He just wanted to be rid of this very corporeal spectre and get this task over with.
"Merlin, Potter," Malfoy then addressed his back, "do you ever use your sorry brains? Don't you think there’s a reason I'm in here in, as you call it, 'your maze'?"
Harry stopped and half-turned. "Honestly? I think you live to make my life harder."
Malfoy lifted his chin. "How in any wizard's name did you make it through seven years of school with that hollow between your ears?"
"Well, you're obviously here to throw third-hand insults at me, then! Awesome, Malfoy, what a splendid living!"
Malfoy looked as though several more such insults were waiting on his tongue, but he merely scowled as intensely as possible. "Do it now, then, think. Why do you think I'm here?"
Harry took in Malfoy's posture, which wasn't comfortable enough to cover up his defensiveness. His fair head was a half-bright splotch in the darkness and Harry found he looked quite young. Vulnerable, even, as though it would be easy to slice him open again once the moment allowed it.
He shut his eyes briefly. Of course there was someone who shared this memory.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
"And you'd trust me?"
Harry clenched his hands into fists, but soon noticed he was too worn to keep up his attitude. "I can either trust you, or some mysterious voice out of nowhere."
"Which you were about to trust two minutes ago."
"Lack of alternative, right?" He could still use the hallway, after all, if Malfoy decided to be a prat about this.
"I guess. What do you want to know?"
Harry swallowed and avoided looking at the other man. His eyes roamed the black marble, where there really wasn't that much to see. "I saw us fighting. In that bathroom. I want to know why, and—yeah, why. How we got there."
If he hadn't known better, Harry would've said that Malfoy looked at him musingly. Since it was Malfoy though, it was probably mockery.
"Alright," he said, "come with me then."
"Wha—why? I'm not going to find this fork again."
"You won't need to."
"What if you're tricking me?"
"Looks like you have to decide on this right now."
Harry hated this. He really, really hated this. Why was Malfoy in the Maze, and how the hell had he gained control over their situation? It wasn't fair. Kingsley, if this was your idea, you have a conversation coming on.
"Fine," he finally huffed.
With unveiled satisfaction, Malfoy turned and strode down a painfully illogical path with such security it made Harry wonder whether the git lived here.
"Definitely a nice location to lock up pardoned criminals," he said before he could help himself. Where he had that knowledge from, he wasn't sure, but there was something about Malfoy that made it an option. Maybe it had only been a guess—with effect.
Malfoy froze on the spot then turned around. What Harry read in his eyes was naked fury, but his voice was almost composed.
"You think you know all about us, don't you?"
Harry had a notion that this was about much more than his last comment.
"Well, you don't. You don't know a thing outside your own perfect world, and why don't we just leave it at that? It's—"
"Wait, my 'own perfect world'? Sure, a lunatic trying to kill you on a weekly basis! Good times!"
"That's not the point." Malfoy's face started to take on a reddish colour. "You did the bloody right things, always did. Perfect doesn't mean nothing goes wrong, only the right things go wrong!"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Oh, was that too long a sentence for you?"
"These are getting old, Malfoy! Alright, so I don't know you. You know what? I don't care!"
Malfoy pressed his lips together until they were one thin line. "I see. Why don't you take your destined path, then—don't ask me why I bothered." He turned and walked away.
Harry watched his dark robes move with every step and briefly admired the elegance in each of Malfoy's movements, before reason caught up with him. Malfoy might have kept him from succeeding in his task with petty fighting back in school, but now he could trust him as well as the mysterious nothing. And also, he meant company—familiar company, in its own crooked way. Harry was surprised at how much he wanted some by now.
Which of course, he didn't.
"Come on, Malfoy! I—Okay, I want you to tell me. Please."
Malfoy stopped and waited for Harry to catch up with him. They looked at each other, and a vision of clasping hands in roaring fire made its way to the front of Harry's mind. He pushed it away.
"If you're not a locked-away criminal, what are you doing down here?"
He half-expected Malfoy to lash out at him again, but his expression softened.
"As anyone with half knowledge of the Ministry Departments would notice by my robes, I'm an Unspeakable. To be precise, I work in the Thought Chamber. I'm the Guardian of Pensieves."
Harry couldn't help being impressed—he really hadn't been familiar with this post so far. And Malfoy, an Unspeakable? He might have envisioned several jobs for the man, but this one wasn't among them.
"And—what does the Guardian of Pensieves do?"
"Watch the thoughts of the living and the dead. Observe their mutilations, estimate their values and archive them. Most people think their thoughts are slaves to their minds, but they can actually reach impressive powers on their own if you don't watch out." Malfoy looked away. While speaking, his voice had abandoned any trace of a drawl to reveal actual excitement, and he seemed uncomfortable about it.
"So you receive all the thoughts of people dying?"
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "No Potter, that would be too much even for me. Of course not all your thoughts have potential to emancipate themselves from their web." His face lit up with the next bit. "There is almost a weight scheme they follow, or at least I'm researching on that."
"You are researching?"
"Yes, it means to try out new things and—"
"I know what it means, you prat." Harry frowned. "This is me feigning interest for your pathetic doings."
This time, Malfoy couldn't hide a small smirk. "That was surprisingly eloquent, Potter."
"It's been known to happen. So, what does this have to do with the Maze? I mean, Thought Chamber, Maze of Lost Thoughts, I get the connection. But what does this mean for me? Why are you here?"
Malfoy looked at him almost sweetly. "I'd love to tell you, but you know I'd have to kill you, right?"
Right, Unspeakables. "You told me all this stuff just now."
"But it's only theory. I'm not going to reveal the results of my research to anyone outside my Department."
"Then what's the use?"
Malfoy sighed. "How many Guardians of Pensieves are there, Potter?"
"How would I know?" And how the hell did this man still make him feel like a dumbass after all this time? Change of topic was in order. "So is this how you're going to tell me, or rather show me? With a Pensieve?"
"One. And yes, that's exactly how." As they turned the next corner, a small, but nonetheless impressive Pensieve grew from the ground. Harry stared at it in awe, but when he noticed Malfoy looking at him, he quickly tried to appear bored.
"Alright, what do you want to know? And for Merlin's sake, try to be precise for once in your life."
"I can't," Harry muttered, and it was the truth. "It all feels funny. It's like I have to fight with you—and it feels alright. But I don't remember why." He swallowed, his throat dry as pulp. "And I really need to know about that fight in the bathroom."
Malfoy looked extremely uncomfortable, and Harry wondered whether he would refrain. Then, however, he nodded and raised his wand to his temple. Moments of silent concentration passed until a few silvery strands dropped into the basin. They floated weightlessly before the waves closed.
Harry stepped up to the Pensieve and put his hands on the brim. Malfoy looked at him with an unreadable expression.
"Don't be too disappointed, Potter."
Harry was so caught up in their encounter in the prefect's bathroom, that when he saw the Malfoys in the Great Hall, he thought he had gone to the future. After the blink of an eye, however, the scene switched, and there was the fire.
A door to success, Rowena's diadem lost to the flames, and a hand reaching out from the inferno. Of course Harry knew he wasn't really there, standing in the melting doorframe and watching the horrors unfold without burning; but at the sight, something very unpleasant curled inside him, a silent storm as he saw death approaching. He observed how his memory self pulled Malfoy on his broom and dived for the exit. As they rushed past him, their faces were covered in soot and sweat, and they looked similar in that one broken moment.
The scene dissolved. A fight, and dominance over a wand; then the drawing room in Malfoy Manor. Malfoy's eyes wore a similar expression as they did in the mirror, hopeless and full of fear. Some of what had been separated closed the distance, but too briefly to have a name.
Next, he was up on the Astronomy Tower, and after moments of looking for himself without result, Harry recalled that Malfoy didn't know he had been there. The sight of Dumbledore, weakened and defenceless, tore something open, and Harry wanted to hit the stupid prat, hit him hard, and then it happened, Malfoy yelled at Dumbledore, "You don't know what I have done!," and he pushed up his sleeve and there it was: the ugly Dark Mark, writhing grotesquely across the white arm of a skinny boy.
What have you done, you stupid fucking idiot, what have you—but there was no time for that, as Snape pushed him out of the way, and the images spiralled again.
The Malfoy in the memory was sobbing much longer before Harry entered the bathroom. He frantically splashed water into his face, but that did nothing to chase away the angry red lines around his eyes. The moment he caught Harry's gaze in the mirror was electrifying; Harry realized that he had never been in a Pensieve memory that held so many emotions for the spectator. He wondered whether this had to do with Malfoy being a master of the technique, or with himself being a significant part of the memory.
"Sectumsempra!," Harry's memory self yelled, and in that moment Harry felt how he had meant it, had meant to hurt Malfoy as much as possible, how he had deserved it.
Malfoy's blood painted a pattern across the tiles, and then the scene switched again. In a smoke-clouded train compartment, Harry listened to the crack of his nose breaking. He had never hated anyone so much in his life.
"You're dead, Potter. I’m going to make you pay for what you’ve done to my father." They were younger again, obviously. Harry recalled fifth year, and the battle in the Department of Mysteries. Your bloody father tried to kill me! he wanted to scream at Malfoy in the memory, but clearly, his own memory self had gone past this observation long ago. How long had Malfoy’s father really tried to kill him? And why?
The next scene should provide an answer. Harry was in Malfoy Manor, watching Malfoy watch his father return home and take off the mask only Death Eaters wore. "Soon, Draco," Lucius Malfoy told his son with the smoothest, most horrific voice of all time, gripping his shoulder. Malfoy's face was lined with excitement. He followed his father to another room.
The images that followed now were almost relaxing to what Harry had seen so far. They bickered over childish badges that read "Potter stinks," Harry laughed himself hoarse over Malfoy being turned into a ferret; a Hippogriff let Harry ride him, before it attacked an ever-annoying Malfoy.
And it seemed like the natural conclusion for Harry to turn down Malfoy's hand when he was offered it in the last memory. Only of course this wasn't the end, but the beginning of what would be seven years of mutual hatred, and Harry felt a sting of jealousy that wasn't his own.
He pulled his head from the Pensieve, and the silence was overpowering, still feeding from the magnitude of impulses.
When Harry looked at Malfoy, he felt so many things he found it impossible to pick one as dominant. His heart pounded in his ears. Harry stared him down until Malfoy looked away.
"So this is it. You and your— You were after my bloody life." The words sounded alien even to him. "Good job, Kingsley! That's what I call a challenge!"
Malfoy said nothing, so Harry ranted on.
"You made my life miserable, because I refused your fucking friendship in first year? Is that it? You are so fucking out of your mind!"
"You don't understand this, Potter."
Harry laughed coldly. "No, indeed I don't."
"This wasn't about you. Well, not in the end at least." Malfoy looked as though he wanted to crawl into his cloak or own skin to hide. "The Death Eaters were after you, because you would bring their Lord's downfall."
"Oh yeah, that's much better."
"Will you let me finish?" Malfoy spat angrily. "Is it possible for you to ignore your goddamned righteousness for a moment and listen to the other side?"
Harry crossed his arms in front of his chest and said nothing. Malfoy wiped one of his hands across his face and sighed. He looked tired, too tired to keep up with Harry's speedy rage. Any exhaustion on his part was forgotten.
"It's what they believed in, what my parents believed in, and therefore it was the way I should take as well. I'm their only son, so it was only natural."
"You could have refused."
Malfoy chuckled bitterly. "Yes, I'm sure. To have their Lord wipe me out at the next occasion." He shook his head. "You have no idea what these people are like, Potter."
"No I don't, because I chose the other side! The people who don't kill everyone in their way!"
"You chose it, really? 'Order of the Phoenix', wasn't this set up by your parents?"
Harry said nothing.
"I'm not defending my actions, Potter," Malfoy said, and it obviously cost him quite an effort. "I'm explaining. Take it or leave it."
"Is that what you told the Ministry, too, so they'd let you work here?"
"Believe it or not, I brought a few skills as well," Malfoy retorted and pointedly looked the other direction. "And yes, they took all my thoughts."
"They—took—all—my—thoughts. Are you deaf?"
"What did they do that for?"
"Potter, what do you think? To see whether I was earnest about my application, and about remorse for my past. Whether I would be a threat in the future."
Malfoy, a threat—laughable. Harry recalled the Dark Mark, and how out of place it had looked.
"You still have the Mark?"
Malfoy startled. "Of course, it doesn't come off."
For some reason, that information stirred something inside Harry, but again he couldn't place it. He started chewing on his thumbnail. So apparently, Malfoy had been earnest enough about abandoning his past to have the Ministry employ him. He was the Guardian of Pensieves, in the Maze together with Harry, and as much as he hated to admit it, the git seemed to play a crucial part in him succeeding in his task. It was all so fucked-up. At the same time, there was something enthralling to it—like a riddle that he had been puzzling over for years, always missing the next key.
Harry remembered the mysterious voice that had told him he could change the past; he wasn't so sure about this anymore. Even more, he wondered whether it would have made things worse.
"What would have happened if I had taken that road?" he asked Malfoy. It seemed as if in this place, the man had answers he didn't have.
Malfoy regarded him. "You would have failed the task."
"I'm not sure whether it's my job to tell you this."
Harry frowned. "Whose then? I'm not allowed to speak of this once I'm out of here."
Malfoy signalled his agreement and started fidgeting with his robes. Both his discomfort and the effort to hide it were so apparent that Harry almost took pity on him. He tried to imagine how he would feel towards Malfoy if his memories were years old as well, and not as freshly visited.
He had no idea.
"You were attacked with painful memories and then offered to change the past. It's a cheap trick, really." Malfoy made a face that suggested his own concept would've been much more complex. "The point is that as an Auror, you are not supposed to regret your decisions. You have to stand up for them, and if they were wrong, learn from it. There is no such thing as truly changing the past. You always take part of it with you, and it's who you are."
At the end of this, Harry felt that it wasn't merely the Aurors Malfoy had been talking about. They were both quiet for a few moments, and Malfoy avoided his eyes.
"Did they make you go through this, as well?" he asked.
Malfoy's head snapped up. "That's none of your business."
"Probably not." Harry put his hands in his pockets and looked back at the Pensieve. It stood peacefully, not a single wind moving the surface. "So why did you keep me from failing, then? Wouldn't it have been a satisfaction to watch me screw up my last training stage?"
"You mean, the great Harry Potter doesn't fail?"
Harry looked at him. "No, I mean he does."
"Well, I knew that already."
"I'm not going to answer. The end."
An unbelievable laugh escaped Harry. "You practically save me in here, and now you're not going to tell me why?"
Malfoy shrugged. "Don't exaggerate. It's not like your life depended on it."
"No, but—" Well, no but. He wouldn't tell Malfoy that not being an Auror meant resorting to a solitary home with bad food, cheap alcohol and endless lethargic days. Oh, and smokes. He really wanted one right now.
"And anyway, I owed you," Malfoy added, avoiding Harry's eyes again.
"I believe you saw it ten minutes ago, so don't make me spell it out for you."
The fire, right. He had saved Malfoy's life.
Malfoy fixated on a point next to Harry's left ear. "I wondered why you did it."
Harry shrugged and watched Malfoy being uncomfortable. A few red stains had appeared on his pale complexion, his lips were strained and his hands restless. Yet strangely, he looked as though he belonged in here so much it impressed Harry. He'd considered it a marred beauty, had the thought not been painfully inappropriate.
"I never wanted you to die."
Harry balled his hands into fists. "Who sent their Death Eater father after me?"
"I didn't send anyone after—"
"No, but you didn't stop them either!"
Malfoy closed his eyes briefly.
Without warning, Harry felt another stone fall into the mosaic: Malfoy Manor, his face still sore from the absurd spell Hermione had used. Of all the pairs of eyes directed at him, only one held recognition.
"Did you know it was me, at the Manor?" he asked, and Malfoy nodded.
They stood opposite each other in silence for a bit. Harry took in what he had secretly hoped: no matter how much they had hurt each other over the years, they never wanted to see each other dead.
"I never wanted to kill you in that bathroom," he repeated. "You were hexing me with an Unforgiveable, and it was the first spell I could think of. I didn't know what it would do."
"I deserved it."
Harry didn't know what to say to that, so he just looked. Malfoy eventually met his eyes again, and all of a sudden they held a surprising peacefulness.
"Of everything I expected to be in this maze, I didn't expect you."
"Haven't you always been the imaginative one, Potter."
Harry shook his head. "No, I mean it. It's like whenever something's important to me, you show up."
Malfoy looked at him curiously, but said nothing, so Harry continued. He wasn't a hundred per cent sure why he felt the urge to say this, but it mattered.
"Our history is as bad as it gets, but the last years . . . when you weren't there. Something didn't feel right."
"Potter, I'm flattered."
"And I'm serious, you bloody tosser. I wonder whether this is part of the task."
Now Malfoy raised one eyebrow until it disappeared behind a stray strand of blond hair. "What, facing me?"
"You. Your memories. I don't know."
Malfoy leaned against the wall and looked at Harry as if he could see inside him. It was unsettling to say the least, but Harry had the notion that he wasn't the only one who felt this connection. It's like I need his antagonism to be complete. And he needs mine. Which was a thought so ridiculous he stopped thinking it.
"Well, either way I should get going. Looks like it's evening already."
Malfoy stepped up to the Pensieve and retrieved his memories. As he held his wand up to his temple, Harry remembered that Malfoy's hawthorn wand still lay in one drawer of his desk. He had put it away after the war, determined to never use it again, but to acknowledge what it had done for him. It suddenly seemed wrong.
"Do you want your wand back?"
"Your wand, I still have it."
Malfoy's eyes widened and he stared at Harry as though weighing whether to believe him. Finally, he nodded and said the most miraculous words. "Thank you."
Harry nodded back. "Alright, I'm trying to get out of here. Um—thank you, too. For, you know, not letting me run into my downfall, or whatwasit."
"I'm coming with you."
"I'm—coming—with—you. Seriously Potter, do something about your hearing."
"Why would you do that?"
Malfoy looked at his hands. "Well, certainly not to protect ickle Potter from harm. You're going to find more of my memories on the way, and I'd rather be there when you're jumping to conclusions again."
"Wait, more of your memories? Why?"
"Why? Because that's how the Maze works."
"Finding Draco Malfoy's memories scattered all over the place?"
Harry briefly thought Malfoy might snap at him, but then his lip twitched and he actually smiled—a real smile. His eyes took on an unexpected twinkle when he did that, and Harry felt quite stunned witnessing it.
"No Potter, you simpleton. Finding the loose threads in your life."
They sobered up at this revelation. Malfoy looked as though he regretted saying it, and Harry looked at Malfoy. It made sense. It made so much sense that he felt he'd have to stop thinking about it, or revelations of much bigger proportions would fall into place.
"Do you have to kill me now?" he asked half-jokingly.
"I'll let you go this time. Didn't waste my time here to have you fail after all."
Harry snorted, wondering how the hell the atmosphere had switched like this. Not that he'd be able to ignore the weight of the memories—not ever. But having Malfoy here, explain, and for once standing up for his mistakes, did indeed change the picture. In one thing at least, the voice had been right: they had been kids, and they had been wrong. Of course their actions had had too strong effects, but that didn't mean they had wanted them to.
* * *
"Alright, I don't believe it. They're actually going together." Ron turned to the Minister, who had a small smile on his face.
"Indeed, Auror Weasley."
Ron looked back out the window, trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Harry was currently walking down an aisle in the Maze with Draco Malfoy by his side. They had spent a long time in between the third fork and the Pensieve, possibly arguing. Kingsley and he had observed the effect the retrieved memories had on Harry, and they'd briefly expected a physical attack. Malfoy's wand had been altered to allow no harmful spells at all, of course, but there were always fists. Maybe they had been hypocrites to promise Harry total security.
"Why did we say none of the threats can harm him? Malfoy’s in there with him."
Kingsley picked up his nth coffee. "He's none of the threats."
Ron would have rolled his eyes, if it hadn't been the Minister he was talking to. "He could attack him, though."
"I doubt that." Kingsley was still smiling. "He swore an Unbreakable Vow not to harm Harry."
"He—what?" Ron gaped. There were no, absolutely no words.
Kingsley nodded and turned to Ron. "I know it sounds—unlikely. But when we put up the concept for Harry, this was the only way we saw to ensure his safety. Draco needs his wand to extract the memories, and well, we cannot take his hands from him. Made quite the scene, as expected, but it didn't take him long to agree. Not an hour, in fact." His smile grew even wider at Ron's dumbfounded expression.
"But—why Malfoy? Why does he have to be in there?"
Kingsley took another sip. "Why do you think we picked the people Harry encountered so far?"
"Sirius, Snape, Malfoy," Ron counted them, hoping the mention of the names would ring a bell. "Harry saved all of them? Hm, no, I don't think he ever saved Snape. Well, his father did—"
"Let me tell you," Kingsley said. "All three were cases in which Harry was mistaken. He thought them evil, when they weren't—Sirius Black had not betrayed his parents, but was their best friend. Severus Snape was not trying to kill him, but protected him and lied to Voldemort. And Draco Malfoy—" He looked back at the Maze thoughtfully. "Draco did several wrong things, but he is not evil. There might be a side to him Harry is yet to see."
Ron gaped at him, fascination written across his face. It sounded not only plausible, but also different to the challenges the other testees he had seen had come to fight. He looked back down, where Harry and Malfoy had quarrelled for about five minutes over a left-or-right decision, and eventually had taken the right alley.
"So you're saying that Harry was wrong about Malfoy?" he asked. "He was a Death Eater. And I can't think of a single occasion where the guy wasn't acting like a complete ar— prat."
"Maybe, but it's not always about the actions, but the motives." Kingsley pulled the Daily Prophet towards him. "I know you don't trust him, but believe me, he has given the Department reasons to."
It all sounded completely insane. Ron fell silent for a bit, but he just couldn't stop himself. "How in the world did you get Malfoy to swear an Unbreakable Vow? That git's a coward."
"People change, right? Draco is an Unspeakable now, they are up to more dangerous stuff than we can imagine up here. You can't exactly pass this training as a coward."
Ron huffed. Better no one tried to tell him about surprises ever again.
"You haven't explained, though, why you put the real Malfoy in there. Wouldn't another of those illusions have been enough?"
Kingsley nodded. "Maybe yes, but, well, Draco is the Guardian of Pensieves. The Unspeakables Department wanted to have him there to observe the effect of thoughts. And secondly—" He looked at Ron gravely. "He may be a school bully and spineless Death Eater to you, Auror Weasley, but I'm fully convinced that he is one of the biggest ghosts of Harry's past. I don't think Harry will be able to move on without having sorted this out."
On this, Ron couldn't even disagree. He clearly remembered Harry's ongoing obsession with Malfoy, to the point where he had spied on him. Perhaps a talking-it-out made sense, especially if the git’s hands were bound.
"And now? Are they allowed to make their way through there together?"
"Absolutely." Kingsley smiled. "They made quite the step right there, and it can't take them much longer to find the exit. Harry has encountered all challenges so far successfully—with a little help, I should add—and there's only one more left. I can’t figure what it will result in."
Before Ron could ask him to clarify this cryptic statement, Kingsley opened the Daily Riddles page and spotted Ron's half-finished Sudoku.
"Way to go, Weasley." He grinned and shoved it across the table. "I don't think you'll want to leave it like that?"
* * *
It was unnerving, really: Whenever they had to pick a way—strictly speaking, Harry had to pick one—an argument was on the way.
"You have nothing that could remotely be referred to as orientation, Potter."
"So what? It's called intuition."
Malfoy snorted, but trudged along. It had to be night already; they had taken a million and one turns, and still the exit was nowhere in sight.
"I think this bloody Maze is growing."
"Well I wouldn't put it past those Aurors—"
Harry stifled a laugh. "I think we should go to the left, by the way."
"We took the right the last two times."
"And? Nothing tells us we were heading straight ahead before."
Harry frowned—that was, of course, true. However, this was his task and his choice, and he wasn't planning on giving away the upper hand. "We go left."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "If you say so. You're the one who looks like he's about to crash." When Harry turned to him with raised eyebrows, his cheeks coloured. "What? Sorry I notice when people are half-dead."
"Charming, Malfoy." Harry put his hood back on to keep out the chill of the night. The black marble walls were still emanating their discreet light to illuminate the ways, but they obviously did nothing to warm the alleys.
"So. Harry Potter, an Auror," Malfoy drawled, if conversationally. "Was that your decision or the one of the entire wizarding world?"
"Shut up," Harry murmured. The words stung, because he'd asked himself the same question many times—but in his last training year, he had noticed that he did indeed have a passion for the job. "It was my decision. I can't say that every part about it rocked my socks, but this is what I want to do for a living." He side-glanced at Malfoy, who was looking at the ground.
"Your saving-people-thing, right?"
"No. Well, maybe. I like to be needed, that's all." He shrugged. "What? I thought that was normal."
Malfoy looked at him curiously. "Yeah, I guess it is."
"So you—why an Unspeakable?"
Malfoy smiled smugly and dug his hands into the pockets of his robes. "Because it's cool and mysterious of course."
"Come on, be serious. I've seen you do it."
"You did?" Malfoy didn't sound like he was bickering anymore. More like he was proving himself ready to fight, just in case. "The Department of Mysteries has always fascinated me. I wanted to know what was in all these chambers no one could enter, and why." He tried to put on a nonchalant expression, and failed. His brow furrowed ever so slightly.
"I also thought I'd be safe from questions down there, just me and abstract substances. I'm not a fool and I know the majority of Ministry employees would rather not work with me."
Harry looked at him and nodded. There really was no point in contradicting that; and, anyway, comforting Draco Malfoy was not on his agenda. The man had gotten himself in the position he was now in.
"Did it turn out like you imagined it?"
Malfoy made a noise that could've been a short laugh. "It's not like you can imagine the Department of Mysteries to be anything. You have to see it."
"I've seen it," Harry said.
Malfoy fell silent, then nodded briefly. "Fifth year, right?"
"Right." Harry looked straight ahead. "Did you know your father wanted to kill us?"
Malfoy chewed on his lower lip. "I knew he was after the prophecy. I had no idea you were there that night."
"Would it have changed anything?"
"What kind of question is that?"
"I don't know. One of the many I feel I should ask you." Harry looked at Malfoy with what he thought was the most neutral expression he had ever given him. When Malfoy's grey eyes bore back into his, there was so much in them—he had already seen so much in them, in all the years they'd known and not really known each other. He wondered whether this didn't have to change something.
"I don't know either," Malfoy replied. "I never stood up to my father."
Harry briefly closed his eyes. Maybe he had hated someone else more than Malfoy junior, after all. "I'm sorry," he said, and was surprised that he meant it.
"You’re sorry?" Malfoy chuckled bitterly. "What are you sorry for?"
"Your fucked-up family, for starters. I grew up without parents, but I'm not sure if that is any worse than growing up with the pair of yours."
"Don't speak of my parents like that."
"Why not, Malfoy?" Harry turned to him, incredulous. "They ruined your life! They made you something you couldn't be, didn't even really want to be—they knew what you were running into, and they still let you run."
"I wanted to."
"Yes, the way kids want to grow up when they don't know what it's like." Harry shook his head, surprised by his own fury.
Malfoy stared at him angrily. "Oh, right, I'm not even capable of making my own decisions—"
"That's not the point, you idiot!" Harry yelled. "Those weren't your decisions."
Malfoy looked pained, so pained Harry knew he had just said the truth.
"It wasn't my decision to be the Boy Who Lived, either." Harry knew with sudden clarity that they had both been chosen for something, and that he found it easy to make peace with that mutuality.
"I never knew about the weight of it all; I was just a boy who didn't know he was a wizard." He swallowed, never able to remember the Dursleys without a hurtful sting. "My way was too big for me, too, but I had luck and I had help and I believed in what I did. But refusing this way—it was never an option." He gave a sad laugh. "I was chosen to be the good guy, and y—"
"—and I the bad guy." Malfoy returned the crooked smile. "I get it. That’s a generous observation, Potter."
Harry shrugged. "It's the truth. Or part of it, at least."
"Well, I'm sorry too. For too many things to start naming them, really."
Harry smiled. "Didn't think I'd live to see that."
"As if your thinking was anything to go by."
They kept walking and Harry picked the next direction without instigating another argument.
"Since it's obviously my turn to ask questions now—how was it, growing up with Muggles?"
Harry frowned. "Bad—but not because they were Muggles. They were just a really horrible sort of Muggles."
"Is it true you lived in a cupboard under the stairs?" Malfoy asked.
Harry looked at him, surprised. "Where did you hear that from?"
Malfoy actually blushed again. The darkness made it harder to see, but his pale complexion made it all the easier. "Probably been all over the Prophet at one point or another. You know, poster boy Potter."
Harry shook his head. "Yeah, it's true."
"Why would they do that?"
Harry shrugged. "They hated me."
"They hated you? Someone hated you?" Malfoy stared at him.
"Yes, Malfoy, it's not like everybody loves me," Harry retorted angrily.
"Well, actually, that's exactly how I thought it was."
"You thought wrong, then."
Just a few weeks ago, Harry wouldn't have believed he'd be able to share a companionable silence with Malfoy; yet there it was. With every minute they passed thinking about what they had just heard, he felt them overcome the seemingly giant gap between their lives. Harry was taken aback by how this soothed him.
"Funny there's so little we know about each other," he mused aloud.
Malfoy frowned. "Funny how? It's not like we ever cared."
"I know, but—we've been at each other's throats for six years. One would think we’d have figured out more about each other in that time."
"What makes you think I didn't?" Malfoy replied with a mischievous smirk.
"I always thought I knew you," said Malfoy. "It's—I didn't know whether I'd meet you again. I somehow thought I should."
"To figure out everything I didn't understand." He shrugged. "I was arrogant, okay? Of course I didn't know you."
Harry looked at Malfoy and thought his haughty features looked much less haughty already. Had that happened during the last years, or this afternoon? "No, but maybe better than some others."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, at least I never was the bloody Boy Who Lived for you. Speccy-eyed git, wonderful. It was something new."
Malfoy chuckled. "Speccy-eyed git?"
"Yeah, you were original like that."
"I suppose every hero needs a hater." Malfoy had said it nonchalantly while kicking a stone in the ground, but Harry let the weight of the words sink in. Maybe it was true—maybe that was the reason he had sought out confrontation with Malfoy in every single school year, and why after the war he'd never felt complete anymore. With Voldemort gone and the entire wizarding world being grateful, there was no one to argue with, to fight with.
He wanted it and probably even needed it. Ron, Hermione, the Weasley family, the Ministry—everyone was in agreement with what he thought. It just didn't feel right.
"I'm glad I have a hater back", he said, even though the words sounded odd the moment he spoke them. Maybe ‘hater’ didn’t apply so well anymore. Malfoy looked bewildered.
"And you can stop blabbering now, Potter, because I spy another Pensieve."
Indeed—there it was, just around the corner. This alley was particularly dark and narrow and the glow of thoughts painted a small bluish oval. It was quite pretty, but Harry felt reluctance. He didn't want to lose the ground beneath his feet again. He also wasn't sure whether he trusted Malfoy enough to abandon his guard for a glance at the memories.
"Just in case," Malfoy drawled at that very moment, "do you want me to go in there with you, to make sure I'm not hexing your back?"
Harry felt his face grow hot. "I—erm. Yeah, I think so."
They fell into the Pensieve together. At the other end, it was obviously late afternoon or early evening, and they were in a Hogwarts dormitory. Harry took in the green bed spreads and curtains and didn't have to wonder long which dormitory it was—of course, this was Malfoy's memory.
At that very moment, the door to the so far empty room opened and Malfoy stepped in. He looked young, but was wearing his pretentious black suit (that had always fit him annoyingly well), which told Harry that this had to be sixth year. Memory Malfoy walked over to what was probably his own bed, took off his shoes and flopped down on the mattress. He lay on his back for a few minutes, one of his arms across his face and the skinny legs propped up so that part of his shins were exposed. It was this mundane vulnerability that startled Harry.
The Malfoy in the memory briefly rubbed his face, then opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. Harry approached him, just when he leant down and pulled his suitcase from under his bed to indulge in a little rummaging.
"Do you remember this?" Harry asked the real Malfoy.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Yes, Potter. Funnily enough, this is one of my memories."
"Yeah, well, but it's not in your head right now."
Malfoy said nothing, but watched himself. He looked highly uncomfortable again and Harry wondered whether this was his general expression nowadays.
The Malfoy in the memory had obviously found what he'd been looking for and took it up with him: it was a bra, and quite a pretty one with black embroidery on dark purple cups. It wasn't quite Harry's taste—for the time he’d been interested in women, he'd always preferred the plain cotton ones—but it apparently was Malfoy's. He lifted the bra to his face and sniffed it, then exhaled long, so long Harry thought he'd deflate any moment. Then Malfoy put his right hand on his clothed crotch and just let it lie there.
Harry turned to the real Malfoy, who was on the dangerous verge of blushing.
"Whose?" Harry asked, because he thought he should know.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Pansy's."
"Was she your girlfriend?"
"Sort of. Why do you care?"
Harry chuckled. "Just ethic concerns. After all, I'm looking at her underwear."
Memory Malfoy had by now slipped his hand beneath the waistband of his pants and was slowly stroking himself. The bra, which he was still pressing to his nose, muffled his breathing.
The real Malfoy cleared his throat. "Yeah, we don't have to watch that."
For some mysterious reason, Harry grinned. "Why not?"
"Because that's private, you brute. And I don't see the value for you. And I'm a minor."
"Okay, good point." Harry found it hard though to tear his eyes away from the picture. It wasn't the erotic appeal of a teenager; but more the chance to see Malfoy so naked, and not only literally. When duelling the git in classes or bathrooms, Harry had never envisioned that he was also just an adolescent with needs and weaknesses.
He noticed how Malfoy cast the bra aside with a frustrated growl and shoved the other hand down his pants as well, before the real Malfoy pulled out his wand and threw them from the memory.
"Now that was—insightful," Harry said.
Malfoy scowled. "How so? Never saw anyone beat off?"
"Aside from myself, you mean?" As he realised what he'd just said, Harry's face heated up again. "Erm. Right, I don't really know why that's here." Then he looked at Malfoy intently. "Why the hell did you give them that?"
Malfoy made a face that was first sour, then resigned. "I told you they took my memories."
"Yeah, but—they gave them back, right?"
"After they'd duplicated them, yes."
"They—what?" Harry gaped at him. "They can't do that!"
Malfoy scoffed. "Of course they can. We can. How do you think we research in the Thought Chamber?"
It sounded so cruel, so indiscreet—Harry briefly wondered how he'd feel about the Ministry of Magic duplicating the turns of his mind. He didn't want to pursue the idea.
"So, they picked random memories of yours and put them in Pensieves for my challenge?"
"I doubt that they are random, but yes, something like that." Malfoy crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Believe me, I wish I knew why they picked that one too."
"Well." Harry laughed in embarrassment. "'Loose ends', remember? Maybe they want me to see a different side to you."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "As in, below-the-belt side?"
"Come on, it's not like I could really see anything!"
"Sorry about that?"
Harry blushed too fiercely for it to be appropriate. "That was below the belt, Malfoy."
"Yeah, it was." Malfoy unfolded his arms. "Shall we go on?"
They walked on through the Maze, and it started to feel like some gods were playing their wicked little game with them, with Harry, sending him through a pattern that was to repeat itself over and over again. The horrors of the Maze, Harry knew now, were taking place on much more subtle levels than he had assumed.
For now though, the last memory was in the front of his mind.
"So, Pansy gave you that for the times she's not around?"
"I don't see how that's any of your concern, Potter."
"Oh, come on." Harry laughed. "It's nothing to be ashamed of."
"I know that, thanks."
"So why did the two of you not work out?"
Malfoy made a face. "What tells you we didn't?"
Harry laughed again. "Well, her marriage was all over the papers."
"Oh, right. Thought you didn't read them."
"Just the gossip."
Malfoy laughed, a new sound.
The next Pensieve stood in a spacious corridor so bright it made Harry squint and look out for an exit. It couldn't be much farther; the night had progressed and he wondered whether he was imagining the dusty light in the sky or whether indeed dawn was approaching.
"As I can be."
This time, the scene was blurry as though someone had taken off Harry's glasses. When he had managed to decently focus, he made out a Hogwarts corridor that he was particularly familiar with: it was the one leading to the Room of Requirement.
Harry turned to Malfoy. "Why is it so blurry?"
Malfoy had his lips pressed together and stared straight ahead.
When Harry looked back, the scenery hadn't as much sharpened as his eyes had gotten used to the fuzzy edges, and he made out two students in the corridor. One—black clothes, light patch of hair—was unmistakeably Malfoy, and the other one was himself. He was wearing one of his well-worn Hogwarts jumpers and jeans with holes in the knees, and he had Malfoy backed up against the wall.
Harry couldn't remember them fighting at this spot, but then again, where hadn't they fought? He walked closer, but Malfoy grabbed his arm.
"Don't," he said, and his voice was agonised enough to make Harry turn around.
"What? Something bad?"
Malfoy's face was white, but there were red blotches burning on his cheeks. He avoided Harry's eyes.
Harry tore his arm away. "I didn't come in here to not watch."
He went closer to his and Malfoy's memory selves, who were still pressed against the wall. Harry noticed that both were out of breath, but other than staring, they were not attacking each other.
He was just admiring himself for keeping the other so firmly in place, when his memory self leaned in and kissed Malfoy on the mouth.
It was the world turned awry: Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy did not kiss in front of a room in which they had fought a war against each other. Except when they did. Harry saw himself press against Malfoy's body as though any air between them was a detriment to the pose, and his lips were doing things he couldn't remember them ever doing before.
But at least it was no one-sided attack—because it definitely wasn't. Malfoy in the memory had soon recovered from the shock to wrap his arms around Harry's waist and tilt his head, returning the kiss. Harry's heart beat so loudly, he could basically hear it echo in the corridor together with rustling clothes and the sounds of wet mouths.
He wanted to turn around, to look at Malfoy, to shake him and yell what the hell this was all about. He couldn't look away though. His memory self was now attacking Malfoy's endless white throat with what looked like bites; Malfoy clung to him for dear life.
They were supposed to fight. They were supposed to throw hexes and punches and spit insults overflowing with dislike, and then they were supposed to do it again. Definitely there was no finger-tangling involved, and no face-burying, and none of the bloody warm feeling that was spreading somewhere low inside Harry's belly.
He stormed back at Malfoy and shoved him hard.
Malfoy was red and white at the same time, his eyes wide. They tumbled out of the Pensieve.
"What the fuck was this all about?" Harry yelled at him, continuing with the shoving. It felt so damn good.
"Get off me!" Malfoy yelled back.
"Not until you tell me what that shit was." Harry balled his hands into fists. "I certainly never snogged you in that corridor, and nowhere else either."
Malfoy backed off and closed his eyes as if awaiting a punch. When he opened them however, his face was a cool mask. "Then let me explain before anyone gets hurt, you incredible dimwit."
Harry stared. Malfoy was shaking.
"Again, I wonder where you spent the last ten years of your life, if you cannot make out from the appearance of this memory that it has been altered."
"Just get to the bloody point, Malfoy."
Malfoy crossed his arms again and looked for the entire world like he was fighting off invisible blows. Harry could feel their magic crackle around them.
"Obviously, this was no memory, but a fantasy," Malfoy squeezed out.
"Yes, Potter. Would you like a definition of the term?"
"You mean, a fantasy of yours?"
Malfoy didn't reply.
Harry couldn't take his eyes off him. Not that it helped him comprehend the events of the last ten minutes, but at least it showed him Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter in the places they were meant to be in.
"You fantasized about kissing me?"
Malfoy had his arms folded so tightly it looked like he was holding himself together. "Seems like I did," he murmured.
Harry gaped. "But—why? You hated me!"
"So what?" Malfoy returned angrily. "I—that's puberty, for Merlin's sake! Figuring out your sexuality." He wasn't looking at Harry. "Pansy no longer did it for me, so I let my mind try something new. End of story, you can close your mouth now."
"—and don't flatter yourself, Potter. I have one with Zabini and Nott as well."
Harry almost laughed at the absurdity of it. This was actually happening, and not just anytime, but during his goddamn last step in Auror training, and instead of finding the cursed exit, he would be trapped here forever with images of adolescent fumbling and crackling tension, and a longing so fundamental it made him shake.
As if on instinct, he threw himself at Malfoy and grabbed him hard by the shoulders; their clashing magic sent tiny sparks into the air. Malfoy stared at him steadfastly, but Harry's mind could only focus on how Malfoy felt beneath his palms—how old, familiar, how like all the things that would never change.
Harry landed his first punch, and Malfoy bumped into the black marble wall behind him.
"Potter, what the fuck is wrong with you?"
"What is wrong with me? What is wrong with you!" Harry glared at him. "I want to get this over with, and you're not bloody helping. Get out of my maze!"
Malfoy wiped blood from his cut lip. "You're such a nutter."
Harry pushed him into the wall again, and even though the distance was much shorter now, Malfoy's head hit the marble again. He still wasn't fighting back, and it infuriated Harry more than any blow could have.
"Defend yourself," he said angrily as his eyes bore into Malfoy's. There was nothing fuzzy or dreamlike about them now, and that was better, so much better. Harry scolded himself for believing it was possible to get along with the git. He would forever be obnoxious and offensive, and would smell like old books and new leather and fear clouded by expensive cologne.
He started. Malfoy lifted his arms in front of his chest, but didn't push.
"What is it?" Harry growled at him; if he kept hitting him, maybe the smell would stop being so fucking obtrusive. "Defend yourself, you coward!"
Malfoy leaned back against the wall. "I'm not indulging in petty school rivalry any longer, Potter."
"Oh, you're not? I think you're just scared."
"Think whatever you like."
Maybe Harry wouldn't have noticed had Malfoy not reached up to get his hair out of his face, but here they were: criss-crossing lines, burned into the skin of his hand like a valley.
"Malfoy," he said, "what is that?"
Harry stared him down. "I’m serious, you twat."
Malfoy glared back. "Why do you ask if you already know?"
Harry grabbed his hand and looked at the lines more closely. They looked old and healed, but he knew how fast they could vanish.
"Did you swear an Unbreakable Vow?"
"What if I did?"
Harry stared at him and Malfoy stared back. The air between their noses was on fire. "Malfoy, why are you in my maze?"
"I told you that."
"Yeah, but why really? What do these," he indicated the scars, "have to do with it?"
Malfoy tore his hand from Harry's grip and furrowed his brow until a deep crease split it in half. Harry noticed the ridiculous blond of his lashes and how it made him look like he had none, except for that they were still there, fluttering like a little boy's.
"Merlin, Potter, isn't it obvious? They can't really lock me in here with their saviour and not make sure I'm not hexing his precious bollocks!"
"You—that's what you swore the Vow for?"
"That you're not hexing my bollocks?"
He made a face. "Something along those lines. So if you could now refrain from beating the shit out of me, I'd appreciate it."
Harry laughed dryly. He wondered whether his mind was still wrapping itself around everything going on, or if it had just resigned to being paralysed. He put his hands back on Malfoy's shoulders and held on tight.
"Potter." It was quieter now, Harry was sure. There was something in Malfoy's eyes that he couldn't quite read, but it was something new and he wanted to see it.
"Fuck," he cursed, "Fuck! You are not supposed to—to do this. To not hit back when I hit you." Harry clawed his fingers harder into the brown cloth and Malfoy's bony shoulder's underneath, as if it was their personal fault. Malfoy didn't budge.
"What am I supposed to do then?" he asked.
"I don't know," Harry said, even though he did. He blinked faster, afraid to miss a moment of that look on Malfoy's face. "It's like everything is upside-down."
Malfoy lifted his chin. "You think a lot about how things are supposed to be."
Harry kissed him.
It wasn't a long kiss, and Malfoy's hands were still awkwardly trapped between their bodies as if someone had forgotten them there. When Harry pulled back however, Malfoy looked at him in a way he had never done before.
"What the hell was that for," Malfoy said softly.
Harry lowered his head somewhere close to Malfoy's ear and closed his eyes. He needed to find more of that smell while it lasted. "Can we please not talk about it now?"
"Do we have to talk about it?"
"I don't know. Yes."
Malfoy eyed him warily as he placed his hands on Harry's waist. They were careful and still burning through the jumper.
"Alright then." He tilted his head to make it a real kiss this time.
Harry felt every cell in his body flare up like he was back in the Fiendfyre. It was like gripping a broom and saving your enemy and escaping death all at once. Heat was shooting through his body, and the tighter he clung, the more he tumbled. He was aware of Draco Malfoy's small, soft mouth against his own that was nipping at the corner of his lips almost shyly. He needed to treasure this, definitely did, but Harry couldn't wait right now, had to have more of this, all of this, at once. He tilted his own head and parted his lips, and when Malfoy did the same thing, the warm softness was overwhelming.
"Ou," murmured Malfoy accusingly when Harry's lips brushed the cut.
"Sorry," Harry murmured back. "Whiner."
The two of them, part of Harry's brain provided, were obviously fighting the laws of nature. Malfoy was warm and solid in his arms, and contrary to every rational argument in the world, he fit there. The angles of his body were cushioned by the wide Unspeakables cloak, which Harry wanted to rip off him with a passion to find every single edge and scar that others and he himself had left there. Harry tangled his fingers in Malfoy's hair, and it was really as fine as it looked, and the patches at his nape were moist. He pulled Malfoy's head back to reach even more of his mouth and his taste that was—as opposed to everything else—entirely new. He felt their stubble scrape across each other's skin. Their breathing was almost obscenely loud in the quiet of the Maze, but neither particularly cared.
Harry broke the kiss and pressed his lips to the spot beneath Malfoy's left ear; the smell was most intense here. Malfoy gasped.
"Harry," he said, and it turned the reverie into something else.
Harry lifted his head and looked at Malfoy as though he saw him for the first time. His face was flushed, but for once not out of embarrassment, and his eyes were bright with shiny inquiry and profound satisfaction. One that mirrored his own, and Harry couldn't help smiling.
"Sounds funny when you say it."
"Feels funny, too." Malfoy smiled back. Harry wondered why he had never noticed how handsome he was, in his own difficult way. But then again, maybe he had; and anyway, Malfoy had never before looked at him like that.
Harry thought he might have to pull away and keep going and leave the Maze to get on with his life; however, it was hard to stop tapping his fingers against Malfoy's hip. The mysterious wall illuminated his hair from behind and turned it almost white, and when Harry reached up to touch it, Malfoy winced.
"I—" Harry swallowed. "Sorry. For hitting you. I overreacted."
"Mhm, how surprising."
"I was confused, okay? And how should I know you swore some stupid selfless Vow to—"
"You take that back, Potter. Those are reserved for Gryffindors."
Harry snorted disbelievingly. "Is that so bad?"
Malfoy grimaced, which lost some of its effect as he hooked his fingers into the pockets of Harry's jeans. "Of course."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Idiot."
"Idiot yourself. So, are you still confused then?"
"I guess." Harry shrugged, which caused Malfoy to roll his eyes. "At least I know that I don't want to hit you anymore."
"You really know how to compliment someone."
"No, I mean—" He looked at Malfoy sheepishly. "I mean there's something I'd much rather do to you now."
Malfoy actually blushed, but didn't look away. He dug his fingers a little deeper into the worn denim, and Harry thought that if he kept doing that, they might not leave the Maze ever again. Which didn't sound like a bad idea at this point.
He leaned in again, but Malfoy turned his face away. "I'm not going to be blamed for you passing out before we're out of here."
"Mhm." Harry tried not to pay attention.
Harry grabbed Malfoy's arms and leaned into the crook of his neck again. How could any place in the world be so soft and fragile and delicious?
"Pott—Harry! Weasley is going to kill me for seducing you out of your task."
Harry grinned against Malfoy's skin. "Oh, you were seducing me?"
"Obviously." Malfoy skilfully annulled his concerns by digging one hand into Harry's hair.
Harry licked the skin; it tasted like nothing he knew. When Malfoy shuddered, he chuckled. "Shows you."
"Whatever. Draco." Harry tightened his arms around him. "Now that felt funny too."
Malfoy kept stroking his hair. "This is infuriating," he stated.
"Yeah, sorry we're not all blessed with your perfection."
Malfoy chuckled. "It's okay," he said generously.
Harry nudged him. "You like it, though."
It was silent for a bit, in which Malfoy continued the stroking, only occasionally pulling. "Can't say it didn't agitate me for years."
Harry very much had to kiss him again, so he did. It was slower now, more considerate, their lips sensually moving against each other. He savoured every piece of heat and teeth and little sound.
Eventually he pulled back and brought his mind back on the task and the job that he wanted more than anything. "Let's keep going."
Malfoy was looking at the sky.
As Harry looked up himself, he briefly wondered whether his hormone-induced euphoria was to blame for how beautiful it was. The sky was a giant mirror of the black walls beneath, impossibly fogged and dark; and where it seemed darkest, a star peeked out like the ashes had shaped a diamond. Harry put his hood back on and led the way.
* * *
There was only so much a healthy twenty-four-year-old man could bear, and Ron had definitely reached his limit. He turned to Kingsley and expected nothing less than an explanation of the world.
The Minister of Magic put aside his current reading—a final paper by one of their more problematic trainees—and turned to him.
"Yes, that was unexpected," he offered.
"Harry just made out with Malfoy," Ron summed up, his voice cracking slightly. "I—no. I don't get it." He looked at Kingsley wearily. "You didn't see that coming?"
Kingsley actually laughed. "Merlin, no. We just wanted him to make peace with his past. We—I didn't know how far he would take this." And he had the nerve to laugh.
To laugh. Ron thought he might be sick.
"And now?" he asked, because he couldn't think of much else to say. Kingsley folded his hands on the table and looked down at the Maze, where Harry and Draco were currently sauntering through more corridors. They kept a distance that implied they weren't quite sure about the degree of their closeness; only sometimes, either of them would sneak a hand over the border.
"I don't know," Kingsley replied. "It's getting damn late. Draco could get them out of here by now, as far as I am concerned."
"Malfoy? How?" Ron wanted to break things.
"Well, he knows the Maze by heart. He could—"
"He does? Why?"
"Because they make the Thought Chamber trainees learn this Maze by heart."
Ron didn't know what to say to that. He just followed Kingsley's eyes and watched the display of his best friend and best enemy with morbid curiosity.
"So are you saying he could've gotten them out of there already? That's typical Malfoy, boycotting the task until Harry's tired and won't be able to—"
"Weasley," Kingsley cut him off sharply. "I believe I made my trust towards Draco Malfoy quite clear."
"Yes, sir," Ron murmured.
"Good. As you know, this is Harry's task, and it's him who has to find the way out."
They watched as the two men in the Maze ran a hopelessly senseless route, periodically arguing about a left or right choice. It was obvious that Harry had no idea what he was doing, but he didn't seem too distressed about it.
"Minister," Ron then asked, "your advice as Kingsley?"
Kingsley grinned. "I'll make an exception for you."
"How should I deal with this?"
Apart from shock, repulsion and just utter lack of understanding, Ron was worried about the future of his friendship with Harry. Of course he wasn't considering changing anything about it, but he also knew that Harry wasn't the kind of guy who was fucking around. If he got close with someone the way he obviously had with Malfoy, then it meant something. And if Harry Potter was about to pursue something serious with Draco Malfoy, then Merlin help them all.
"Make peace with him too," Kingsley replied. "You did so exemplary when facing the demons of your past. Draco did not show up in your Maze, did he?"
Ron shook his head.
"You hated him, maybe still do, but he was nothing so big you had to overcome it to go on. You can overcome it now, for Harry." Kingsley smiled at him. "Believe me in one thing: All of you have changed."
Ron sighed as deeply as his lungs would let him. "I'll try."
"You should." Kingsley was still looking at him. "I'm not talking like this to all of our Aurors, but I don't want to see your and Harry's friendship harmed. Think of it that way: You were children, and children do things they don't actually believe in. You know better now."
Ron couldn't help smiling. "That sounded wise."
"Oh, I am," Kingsley deadpanned with a grin, then cast a glance at the Sudoku that still lay open in front of them. "I see you finished it?"
"Yeah." Ron looked down himself at the seemingly random numbers in their squares. "There's always this one point you get stuck at, and after that it's easy."
Kingsley turned on a small lamp and took up his paper again. "That sounded wise, too."
* * *
"Potter, what the fuck do you think you're doing?"
"Getting out of this stupid maze. And stop whining."
"You have absolutely no idea where we're going, right?"
"I survived two and a half decades like that. Don't think you can make me feel bad now."
Draco groaned with frustration. "This way, please. Believe me."
"Did you just say 'please'?"
"I thought the ‘believe’ part would shock you more."
Harry laughed and wrapped his arms around Draco's shoulders. They stood like that for a moment and Harry cherished the body warmth that was chasing away his chill.
"Were you always this tactile?" Draco murmured into Harry's neck.
"Hmm, not really."
The lone star had accompanied them at their haphazard turns and still gleamed restlessly. Harry had no idea how much time had passed, but his physical needs—most of all a bed—were reminding him that it had probably been a very long time.
"You Unspeakables are fascinating," he said out of the blue. He could feel Draco smile.
"Everything you do is so—subtle."
"You mean, not like you, who stomp the surface of the earth like bulls in china shops?" It could have been offensive, but Draco was running his fingers along Harry's jaw and the patches he hadn't properly shaved, and therefore it wasn't. "Well, you save people. Can't go about that subtly."
"Maybe." Harry thought about it. Was he a bull in a china shop? And did he mind? In fact he had always appreciated the uncompromising nature of the Auror job.
Draco disentangled himself. "People trust the Aurors for that reason. They don't want you to place riddles, but solve them."
"Not like you." They took Draco’s choice after all and continued walking, a safe distance back in place. "No one knows what you are up to. You could be planning to take over the world down there, for all we know."
When Draco didn't reply, Harry turned to him and noticed the cool mask was back in place.
"What are you thinking of?"
"That's a highly indiscreet question. Harry."
"Well, don't look so troubled, then."
Draco ran one hand through his hair. "I was thinking of my father attacking you in my Department in fifth year."
The words sounded strange and sad. "Oh," said Harry.
"In fact I often think about the things he did or tried to do where I work today." Draco looked ahead determinedly. "It made me sick for a long time."
"It doesn't make you sick anymore?"
"No, not since he's dead."
Harry felt his stomach churn; he remembered reading about Lucius Malfoy's murder, barely one year ago. He couldn't bring himself to feel sorry.
"I want to apologise," Draco said unexpectedly, "for everything he did to you and your friends."
"You don't have to—"
"Yes I do. I believed it was his right back then, but I no longer think so, and therefore I'm sorry it happened."
Harry swallowed hard. "Well in that case, I accept your apology."
Draco nodded. "Thank you."
Without a doubt, the corridors had grown wider and their walls lower. This part of the Maze looked so much less threatening than the one where Harry had entered it that he felt hope rush through him. It can't be long.
He yawned. "You know what?"
"Please, do enlighten me."
"Maybe it's not that wrong, after all. That upside-down, I mean." It. At least Draco didn't ask him to specify.
"It sort of makes sense now. You—I hated you. But I always cared. I could never not think about you, and I kept doing it even after—I stopped hating you. You always got under my skin."
Draco said nothing, just smiled this smug little smile that he had obviously perfected. It didn't seem malicious anymore, and Harry wondered whether this was how his friends had seen him.
"Fuck, I need a bed. We better find that exit, or I'm collapsing before they can crown me Auror."
"So full of yourself, Potter."
Harry elbowed him, but maybe only to get a little closer. Where their arms touched, something spread like a wet stain. Draco looked at him with an expression that made Harry assume he had made peace with the past as well, and maybe long before him.
As they kept walking, the Maze seemed to lighten up, but after a while they noticed that it was the sky turning burgundy: morning dawn was about to break. It was probably this feeling of approaching finality that made Harry startle all the more when he saw the Pensieve.
"What?" he asked. "Another one?"
"It should seem so." Draco's voice sounded dry and not quite as nonchalant as he'd surely wanted it to sound. He crossed his arms again. "Come on."
Harry snorted. "No."
"I said ‘No’. I'm not going there."
Draco frowned. "But that's your challenge. You have to—"
"Right, it's my challenge and I don't have to do anything." Harry looked at him angrily. "I don't care what's in there. I've seen the worst of you already in those damn things, and I'm going to find out the good things myself."
Draco stared at him.
"What, no witty commentary? That's a first."
"You—" Draco swallowed hard, his eyes racing in several directions. "Don't be a fool, Potter. Not more than usual."
"I can be a fool as much as I want, and don't think you can tell me what to do." Before Draco could pull away, Harry held his left arm in a firm grip. Without taking his eyes off Draco's, he slipped his fingers under the brown sleeve and up his thin wrist until he felt them: crooked scars, motionless now but still protruding from the flesh.
"I know this is going to be complicated," he said. "I'm not interested in easy."
Draco looked down and shoved up his sleeve fully, as though he had to see Harry's fingers on his Mark to grasp the concept.
Harry traced the lines. They had faded, but were still visible, just like his own scar. Draco's skin around it was soft and full of tiny, blond hairs.
"What was it like to defeat him?" Draco asked suddenly.
Harry stopped the tracing, but left his hand where it was. "Sad. I hadn't really won; Voldemort had just lost." He looked over Draco's shoulder. "Sure I was relieved, but there was this one part of me that was empty. Voldemort . . . he was a killer and I hated him. But he also made me understand who I was."
"As in, the Boy Who Lived?"
"Yeah. I'm not really that, I know, and I've been saying all my life that I just wanted to be a regular guy." Harry shook his head. "I just didn't know how."
"So he was part of who you were?" Draco asked. "You know that sounds creepy, right?"
Harry shrugged. "I guess. It's not so far off, though." He remembered the intensity he had felt when Voldemort's and his wands had connected for the first time—a magic he had never imagined existing, or possessing. "Voldemort's wand and mine had twin cores. That's why he never managed to kill me with it."
Draco looked at him curiously. "Did he know that?"
"No. It's funny how little he knew about me, considering he wanted to finish me off. It would have been a lot easier for him."
"Is that also why you—" Draco frowned. "Why you didn't die that night, during the Battle of Hogwarts?"
The simple phrasing made Harry uneasy, and yet strangely light—it was about time he explained that to someone who hadn't been trying to understand him all his life. He remembered the night like he always did, like a dream that only became real because others told him it was.
"No, I didn't die, because I didn't fight back. Voldemort only killed his Horcrux in me."
"You had a Horcrux in you?" Draco looked incredulous.
"Yeah. He obviously hadn't meant for that to happen, though."
"And that's why you let him kill you." Draco was still staring at Harry, and it was obvious how impressed he was. Harry felt his face heat up.
"Stupid Gryffindor courage".
"Good, you're not thinking in stereotypes anymore."
Harry noticed that he was still holding Draco's arm and let it go, feeling awkward. He knew he had made something like a confession, one that he couldn't even explain to himself, but it was relieving. Things suddenly, mysteriously, felt whole again, or as close to 'whole' as they would ever feel for him.
They resumed walking, and Draco was obviously struggling to say something. Finally, he sighed.
"Well, Harry, I don't know how long you've been planning to hang around here, but I think we should call the game finished."
"Oh believe me, I'd love to, if only someone had left me bread crumbs to find the way out."
"What are you talking about?" Draco stepped closer without slowing down and murmured, "I know the way out."
"Right, all of a sudden."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Idiot. I've known it since we set out."
Harry stared at him. "You—really? How?"
"I said it was none of your business, but—" Draco shrugged. "I had to get through the Maze of Lost Thoughts in my training, too."
Harry just kept staring with unveiled curiosity.
"Not at the end though, but the beginning. And the task was . . . a little different."
"What was it?"
"Draw a map."
Harry blinked. "You're kidding."
Draco shook his head, a smile tugging at his lips.
"You—how the hell do you draw a map of a maze when you're inside it?" Just thinking about the difficulty gave Harry a headache.
"Well, that's the challenge, isn't it?"
Harry laughed, incredulous. "Did you—did they give you anything?"
"Yes, a sheet of paper and a pencil."
"Did you make it?"
Draco glared, affronted. "What kind of a question is that? Of course I made it."
Draco glanced over at him. "I cut off my hair and used it to mark the ways."
Harry laughed out loud. "Now you're shitting me!"
Draco shoved him. "Hey, that was a sad day for my beauty!"
"I figure," Harry said, still chuckling. "You—until you were bald?"
"No, more until I looked like you."
Harry shoved him back, but Draco got a grip on his jumper and held on to it. They stared down each other's eyes until it was too intimate, and then they kissed, as though that was any less intimate.
"And anyway," Harry said once they had let go of each other, "it would be cheating if you told me the way."
Draco shrugged. "So?"
"How Slytherin of you."
"Good, you're not thinking in stereotypes anymore."
Harry laughed. "Actually, the Sorting Hat considered putting me in Slytherin."
Draco's eyebrows disappeared into his hair. "I'm sure."
"It did. I just said I didn't want to be there, because of you." Harry felt embarrassed, but Draco laughed.
"I'll be proud about this, then."
Harry briefly reached for Draco's nape, because he liked the hair there. He thought about being in Slytherin, and whether he would've been able to fulfil the prophecy in a house largely loyal to his opponent. Maybe it would have changed something.
"You know," Draco said, "it taught me a lesson though."
"Mapping out the Maze?"
"That too. But I was talking about cutting off my hair."
Harry kept chuckling at the thought. "Yeah, what was that?"
"That I was too obsessed with looks."
Harry mhm-ed. "You could say that. And what lesson did the mapmaking teach you?"
"Oh, just the usual ones. Focus, patience, and ignoring you'll technically be dead soon."
"How long did it take you?"
Draco thought about it. "Two weeks and three days."
"They have food in here somewhere, right?"
"Yes, if nothing worth mentioning." Draco grimaced at the memory. The thought of food, however, reminded Harry that he could use some as well in the near future.
"When I get back, I'll start cooking for real," he announced. The end of frozen pizza.
Now it was Draco's turn to stare. "You can cook? Like, Muggle-cook?"
"Yeah, but I haven't done it in a while. Not much appeal about cooking for yourself."
Draco was quiet, even though the invitation was obvious. Harry knew he'd never ask though, and the surprise about how well he could already read him made him laugh out loud.
"Draco Malfoy, may I invite you for dinner sometime?"
He was prepared for the waiting, and when Draco looked up, a brilliant smile lit his face. "You may."
"Alright then." Harry glanced around them one last time and decided that he just might have had enough of this. The walls had not mocked him, never would, but there was a point at which they couldn't teach him anything anymore. "You said you know the way?"
Draco smirked and held out his hand, and Harry stepped forward and took it. As they tangled their fingers together, he found the first part of the riddle solved—all it had taken was regarding it upside-down. Opposite the walls was the sky, and opposite the Pensieves the future. It seemed so obvious, he wondered why it had taken so long.
"Don't you dare lead me astray," Harry said.
Draco tightened his grip and pulled. "We'll see."