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The Boy with a Lion's Heart

Chapter Text

A year and a half after the Battle of Hogwarts

Draco Malfoy stood alone on Platform 9 ¾ with his trunk watching the other patrons as they avoided his gaze and busied their children onto the train with goodbye kisses and advice for the upcoming school year. A dozen yards away two ginger headed women shared their farewells. Their clothes and hair were unmistakable: Mrs. Weasley and the youngest Weasley girl. The older woman wiped away the traces of tears from her eyes and fussed over her daughter’s robes and straightened her hair. The effect was so universally motherly that Malfoy felt a small amount of pain and loss, and for a moment he wished Narcissa had come to see him off to school.

This school term was Hogwarts first year of being fully functional after the battle. The school opened last year to allow some students, no doubt Miss Granger among them, to return for testing to graduate and move on with their lives. Malfoy had not had the chance to do the same as his existence had been temporarily suspended by spending six months in the Ministry’s juvenile detention center. The rehabilitation program had been a humiliating, somewhat enlightening, and blessedly light sentence compared to what Draco could have gotten, what he should have gotten.

Malfoy shook off that line of thinking and blinked back to his surroundings. He noticed Zabini leaning on a pillar also wearing school robes. Zabini made eye contact and gave Malfoy a slight nod in recognition. Malfoy returned the greeting and surveyed the crowd to see who else had decided to return. He noticed Longbottom talking with Lovegood as they boarded the train, Ron Weasley seemed blessedly absent, Theodore Nott now joined Zabini in glaring at everyone, and the Boy-Who-Lived had joined the red heads.

Malfoy groaned. He had hoped the great Savior would have skipped out on returning to Hogwarts. Malfoy could still remember Potter’s testimony at his trial. He had been honest and not openly hostile against Malfoy and was perhaps the only reason Malfoy could return to school at all. It wasn’t as if Draco wasn’t grateful, but that was just the problem. He was grateful. He was grateful Potter stopped the Dark Lord. He was grateful he could continue with his life. He was even grateful Lucius was in Azkaban and Narcissa had only been placed under house arrest. The Slytherin felt the uncomfortable position of being indebted to his school rival with no idea how to repay said debt. When he saw Potter in the papers, when Potter gave his testimonies, when Potter had visited—and, shit, he was walking over now.

The two boys exchanged a curt nod. Malfoy kept his features calm and collected. Potter on the other hand looked as if he had undergone great pain to even come this close to Draco. Without speaking, they managed to come to a silent agreement of sorts: Don’t mess with me; I won’t mess with you.

The war, it seemed, had been hard on them both. Potter’s face looked aged a bit past what his nineteen years should look like. They weren’t quite men, and yet they weren’t children anymore either. Potter held out his hand and for a brief second and Malfoy entertained the ridiculous notion he was attempting to shake his hand. But the hand outstretched to him held out a package instead of a welcome.

“Come to give me a present for getting out of prison?” Malfoy asked while raising an eyebrow. He didn’t make a move to take the box, though he was intrigued to know what the Boy-Who-Lived-Twice could possibly be trying to give him.

“Just take it Malfoy. You might find it comes in handy at a wizarding school,” said Potter. And with that, he took Malfoy’s arm, his left arm, and shoved the box in his hand. As quick as he had come he had turned and proceeded to board the train.

A little off kilter, Malfoy followed the last of the students aboard and searched out an empty compartment to settle into. The box sat heavy in his lap. Nervous fingers hovered over the clearly muggle bought lid. As he was about to open it, a couple of first years stumbled through the door and landed in an excited pile on the seat across him. The two boys wrestled about for a moment before realizing anyone else was in the car. Malfoy watched on in a little amusement and some annoyance.

“Oh, sorry. Didn’t notice it was occupied,” said one. He had dark brown hair and a pale freckled face. The first year’s face was bright and innocent. His companion, however, looked at Malfoy and recoiled before putting on sneer worthy of any Slytherin.

“Don’t talk to him, come on. Let’s go,” said the other. He knocked back black bangs which drooped over one eye, threw his nose up in the air, and grabbed the other kid’s hand as he pulled him to the door.

“What? Why?” said the brunette throwing one last look at Malfoy. His blue eyes were wide on his face and Malfoy wondered if he had ever been so innocent and young. He thought not.

“I’ll tell you later, come on.”

In the safety of the hall, Malfoy could hear the raven haired boy hiss “Death Eater” before they took off running. Malfoy put the box aside.

********

“Harry!”

Harry Potter walked arm and arm with Ginny towards the carriages which would take him to Hogwarts one last time when he heard his name called out. “Neville!”

“Good to see you, mate. Good to see you!” Neville said as he rigorously shook Harry’s hand. Harry politely pulled away his hand and then drew Neville into a hug.

“You too. How’ve you been?” Harry asked. While the Battle of Hogwarts had left many scarred and broken, Longbottom had walked away a changed man. He was outgoing, adventurous, and amorously attached to Luna Lovegood, who was staring at Harry with a happy, if not a shade disconcerting, smile.

“Fantastic. Look!” Neville said and then held Luna’s hand out for Harry to see. On her ring figure was a silver band and with an opal. Ginny gave a gasp and began to jump up and down.

“Are you engaged? That’s, wow, that’s amazing. Congratulations!” Ginny squealed and took Luna into a hug.

“Yeah, congrats, Neville,” Harry said and smiled. Luna was looking at her own ring as if she was seeing it for the first time. “I’m invited to the wedding right?”

“Harry, Gran would kill me if I didn’t get you to come. Let’s all ride together, yeah?”

The group boarded the carriage while fondly watching new first year students board the boats with Hagrid. The number of small boats seemed to be twice as big as they had in previous years, and while Hagrid normally could scare the firsties into submission, the size of the new crowd had him struggling to keep the excited students in line.

“Wow, why are there so many first years?” Ginny asked. Her and Harry sat a modest distance apart while Luna practically laid in Neville’s lap.

“Hermione told me the castle was only open to those taking their O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts last year,” Harry said. “The damage was still quite extensive so the ones who would have started last year came this year.”

“The sorting’s gonna take forever,” Neville marveled. Harry chuckled and eagerly watched for the castle to come into view. Hogwarts may have been the sight of a war, but for Harry, coming back always felt like returning home.

“Some of the walls are still rubble,” said Ginny. The castle had come a long way from the destruction of the battle, but the construction looked like it was slow going. “Hermione said the castle is rebuilding itself, it’s enchanted to do so. I think they brought in a team of people to help speed it along though.”

“Good ol’ Hermione still teaching us things about Hogwarts even when she’s not here,” Harry joked.

“Harry,” said Luna. She was lazily moving her hand in the air as if batting away invisible bugs and Harry turned his attention to her. “I saw you talking to Draco.” Neville frowned at her familiar use of Malfoy’s first name. “What did you give him?”

“You gave Malfoy something?” Ginny asked. Her eyes narrowed relaying a mix of confusion and accusation all at once, and Harry was reminded of her mother. He suppressed a shudder.

“Er, well, gave back something really. It was his to begin with,” Harry said and tried to ignore his friends’ faces for the remainder of the trip. His post-war feelings on Malfoy were complicated and he didn’t care to share his thoughts with his friends.

Immediately after the war, Harry and several other students had been pulled in to give testimonies and sit in at trials of Death Eaters and former students. Harry had been there when the time had come for Malfoy to take the stand. His former rival had been quiet and succinctly answered the prosecution’s questions one after the other. Harry had expected Malfoy to be angry and hostile, but he just appeared relieved. He hadn’t even tried to defend himself, which was why when Harry took the stand he felt compelled to tell the Wizengamot about how Malfoy had saved Harry by refusing to acknowledge who he was at the manor, and how during the skirmish he had relinquished his wand to Harry without struggle. When Harry said in his testimony that he thought Malfoy had been manipulated to take the dark mark and forced to serve Voldemort, he found he meant it. After all, Malfoy had been a boy surrounded by psychopaths and who had a family Harry thought was only marginally worse than the Dursleys.

Before the Great Hall, McGonagall took a quick attendance of the new “eighth year” students. While the first year was the largest class Hogwarts had ever seen, the new eighth year class was the smallest. Harry looked around noting the faces he knew and some he didn’t. Luna and Ginny were excused to go sit at their respective house tables while Harry and Neville remained behind with the rest of the eighth years.

“I have an announcement for you all. You will no longer be staying with your former houses,” Professor McGonagall said and waited for the grumbling and indignation to subside. “Instead, as many of you are now legal adults, you will be housed together. Additionally, you will be seated together for meals and attend classes together. Your curfew has been extended to midnight, don’t abuse that privilege please, and you will be able to travel off the premise whenever you wish as long as you have no other responsibilities. Most elective classes have been cancelled for the foreseeable future as we attempt to fill vacancies in teaching positions. I wish you the best of luck, and please don’t let your previous house rivalry come between you.”

Harry winced and looked around again. Some students were nodding as if this was to be expected while others were clearly not pleased. He hazard a glance at Malfoy—and yep—that was the brooding glare he had come to know from years of watching the boy. Harry frowned when he realized Malfoy still had the black box in his hands.

The Great Hall was decorated in the normal fanfare with the exception of a new, smaller table set in front of the professors’ table as if the older students were to be on display. The murmurs of the hall fell as Harry and those in his year entered to take their seats. Once the last of them had sat down, a small roar started at the Gryffindor table and rose until nearly every student in the Hall was standing and cheering, some in tears.

“Why are they clapping?” Harry asked Neville.

“Because, Harry, we won.”

********

After the sorting and the introduction of a new potions professor and history professor, Professor Flitwick led the Eighth Years to a newly remodeled wing where their dormitories were located. The entrance was not hidden like the other houses. Rather the door looked mundane. Malfoy listened to Flitwick explain how to open it with a combination of spell and password which only experienced students should be able to pull off. He had to repeatedly slow down and show the process to a nervous Longbottom and frustrated Finnegan. At least if the door caught fire they would have a reasonably short suspect list. Malfoy wondered if the other students knew the door opening technique was common to Death Eater safe houses, and then realized that was probably the point, to familiarize students to the world they would be helping recover after graduation.

The common room was decorated similarly to what Malfoy suspected the Gryffindor common room looked like with a glaringly red and gold color scheme. High backed chairs and couches covered one corner along with tables and desks. A tall bookshelf imported from Ravenclaw stocked with books he had never seen sat by the fireplace which was decorated in skulls and candles. Pots of random herbs and moving plants were delicately arranged under a window which overlooked the Quidditch pitch. A bulletin board was posted near the entryway and was spelled to show next week’s charm and password along with the room assignments.

Everyone crowded around to see who they would be bunking with for their last term. Many were grumbling and complaining, so Malfoy assumed the professors had set the room arrangements not by house or friendship status. He wasn’t disappointed. Zabini was glaring at Potter who looked like he was contemplating jumping in the lake. As students went up to their rooms, Malfoy made his way to the bulletin board. Before he could look, Professor Flitwick grabbed his sleeve.

“We thought it best to give you your own room, Mr. Malfoy,” he said and let go.

Malfoy looked to the list and back at the professor. No words came to him, so he nodded and went up to his room in silence.

Chapter Text

First it was the mudblood, Granger, screaming and writhing under Bellatrix. It always started with the view of her brown hair bouncing off the white marble floor of the Malfoy Manor as she beat every part of her body in a violent rebellion against his aunt. He would watch on like the helpless fucking coward he was and wait for the screams to subside into helpless sobs. Later the house elves would come to clean her blood stain off the floor.

Next would be the fiendfyre consuming everything, even its caster, almost consuming Draco before Potter can reach out to him from his broom. For whatever reason, his mind would never stay at this scene long. He would revisit the memory just long enough to remember the heat threatening to overwhelm him before being rescued. Draco often wondered if the right action wouldn’t have been to let go and willingly drop to his death.

The scene would then jump in the way dreams did without congruity and the grey rubble of the place Draco once called home would lay about his feet along with the bodies of those he once considered peers, if not friends. The chaotic display of green and red flashes from the battle had come to a stop as the Dark Lord announced the death of Harry Potter, the Chosen One. Hagrid’s wailing rose above the crowd and settled into the very walls. Every time he came back to this moment, Draco would have the realization that the wrong people had won the war. He would quickly calculate how he could escape with his parents, or at least Mother, and get them away from this hell.

Then Longbottom was cutting the head off Nagini and Harry was running into battle. He was alive and Draco found relief and fear all at once. He wanted to run to Harry, to throw him his wand in support, but that was wrong. That’s not what happened.

The landscape shifted once again and Draco could never tell if this part was fantasy, a wish, or a fear. He would face Potter on the fields outside of school. The dead and the living watching as he waited for his sentencing. Harry’s green eyes would penetrate through him as if judging his soul and finding him lacking. He would seek out all the guilt and shame Draco held onto just to feel anything at all. From Harry’s wand a green flash would strike Draco in the chest and Draco would be dead before he hit—

Malfoy sat up on his bed with a start in a cold sweat with his hand over his heart. Sometime during the night he had kicked his covers to the floor and stripped off his nightshirt. His normally perfect hair hung over his eyes and he let out a grunt of frustration before jumping out of bed. Palms pressed to his eyes, he begged himself to let go of the dream. Just let the screams and the death and the guilt stop. He never used the killing curse himself, he knew that, but he still couldn’t think of all those who had died and feeling responsible for their murders.

A scream started to build in his chest. His breath was coming out in a ragged, uneven tempo. His face turned red and his eyes burned with the pain of keeping his sobs and voice quiet. Draco managed to render himself back in some composure before the dam broke, panting over his desk chair and crying quietly. Just because they had deemed him unworthy to live with other students didn’t mean others wouldn’t hear if he were to start screaming. He entertained going to Madam Pomfrey for a sleepless draught before the sick realization that she probably tended to most of the dead and dying after the battle hit him.

The nightmares had started in Malfoy Manor when he first witnessed people being tortured by Death Eaters and the Dark Lord. For countless nights he could hear Granger’s screams, and even when he couldn’t remember his dreams he could hear her echoing in his head when he woke. His elitist conditioning blamed her for the night terrors and his selfishness held to that misbelief as other screams and echoes were layered on top of hers until a whole world of pain visited him every night. The nightmares had lowered in intensity and nearly come to a stop just a few months prior, so he hadn’t expected them to return with such clarity. Though now he was at the epicenter of the last battle, he supposed it was to be expected.

Draco’s doctor at the rehabilitation center had told him this condition of nightmares and paranoia was normal and that even muggles had a term for what he was experiencing: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The doctor had tried to help him work through it, overcome it, though Draco doubted he deserved to be rid of the ghosts in his dreams. Part of his rehabilitation had been recognizing and coming to terms with his own guilt. Not shifting the guilt as Malfoys were wont to do, but staring it in the face and accepting blame.

Malfoy looked out the window and realized he had many sleepless hours until morning came and the first classes started. He went over to the desk near his bed, flicked a candle to life, and undid a carefully laid disillusionment charm and anti-tampering ward. From the top drawer he pulled out a large leather diary with the Slytherin crest stamped onto the cover in silver which had rested upon a large pile of unsent letters. This particular volume was nearly full; he’d have to visit Hogsmeade to purchase a new one soon, or have Moth—Narcissa send him another. Thumbing through heavily inked pages to the end, Malfoy brought out his self-inking quill and began to write.

********

By the early dawn Malfoy put his quill and diary back into the drawer, sealed it with his wards, and made his way down to the common room after showering and changing into his robes. He was reading the class schedule that involved double History of Magic with a new professor in the morning followed by Divination and Potions in the afternoon. While Divination was not a subject he was interested in, he was a little grateful for what would no doubt prove to be an easy course. Narcissa had not forgotten to impress upon him the importance of getting good grades. The Malfoys had had fame and money and with inheritances so large and power so great he had never thought he would have to find a job; but their current position post-war was more infamous and rich instead of influential and rich. Good grades were going to be essential to re-establishing himself in the world.

Not that he cared to rebuild the Malfoy name. If anything, he would work on destroying it from the records.

And not that Narcissa or Lucius needed to know that. He would always depend on them, or at least the money, a little until he could get out on his own.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

Malfoy looked up from the parchment outlining his weekly schedule to see Potter lounging on one of the many loveseats in the common area. His hair was disheveled, which was nothing new, and his eyes had the telltale dark circles of someone who hasn’t been able to get a good night’s sleep in months. A couple of hours remained before breakfast would start in the Great Hall which meant they were possibly the only ones awake. Bowing in a half-unspoken apology, Malfoy turned to head back upstairs and leave Potter to whatever business he was Pottering.

“Wait!”

Halting on the first step, Malfoy turned to look at Potter who was now standing and reaching out as if to grab him. Unable to find his voice, Malfoy just raised his eyebrows in question.

“Did you… did you open that package?” Potter asked and his eyes went to the side of the room instead of meeting Malfoy’s.

“No,” he replied. “I hadn’t realized it was important.” Malfoy applauded himself for not sneering at Potter as that was his initial impulse and then mentally kicked himself for being insensitive.

“You should,” Harry said and he looked oddly angry with himself, or Malfoy, which would make more sense, and then left the common room. Malfoy blinked after the door closed and shook his head. Potter had always been a strange one but this behavior was atypically off.

It reminded him of the surprise visit Potter paid him before he was sent off to prison. Neither of them had talked much then. Potter had looked horrifyingly close to apologizing about something—and who the hell apologizes to the bad guy??—and Malfoy had made some snarky comment he couldn’t remember. The effects of the comment, however, he remembered clearly has Potter’s face had shut down and turned a nice shade of red before he left without another word.

Malfoy vowed if the package he received from Potter contained anything of sentiment he would be paying Madam Pomfrey a visit to tell her the Chosen One was out of his mind.

Curiosity took its hold over Malfoy and he bounded back upstairs to his solitaire room. He had thrown the box in his trunk at the top without bothering to open it, hoping to forget it altogether. Some sort of clear, sticky paper held the lid in place and he had to peel these strips up to open the damn thing. Once the lid was off he nearly dropped it and had to sit on the floor to collect himself. After all this time and there it was: 10”, hawthorn, unicorn hair core.

For a moment he was too scared to touch it. What if it didn’t respond to him? What if it didn’t know him anymore? Narrowing his eyes, Malfoy reached out and picked up his wand. He gave a quick flick summoned the candle from the desk which popped through the ward he had placed and momentarily forgot about with frightening ease. It flew over with a precision he hadn’t been able to master using Narcissa’s wand and he caught the candle with his free hand. The only notice of something off was the warmth it left in his palm after casting the charm.

********

The new history of magic professor turned out to be something of surprise for Harry. Apparently Professor Binns had found a passion in helping the new ghosts of Hogwarts either pass on or learn how to interact with the living and thus traded his old teaching position for a new one. The professor, a Professor Chapman, came from a long line of wizards and witches and new how to turn a boring lecture of names and dates into an exciting tale of warring factions, magical artifacts, and thrilling adventure. For once, the lecture seemed to come from a person who emphatically enjoyed the history.

The two hours Professor Chapman lectured flew by faster than any other history class Harry had taken, muggle or magical. Other students seemed to be equally as interested, no one was asleep at least. They were starting with some pretty old stuff and would be leading into the Arthurian tales soon. While Harry knew Merlin was real from Hermione’s dictation of Hogwarts, A History, hearing about it from someone who didn’t sound like a walking encyclopedia firsthand made it all the more entertaining and real. Neville and he were sharing their excitement of Professor Chapman when they headed out to the hall in time to overhear some Slytherin fifth years walking into the room.

“Can’t believe they let him teach.”

“Chapman? I know, I’m thinking of writing Mum to complain.”

“Fucking squib is what he is. Should be mopping floors with Filch.”

Harry bristled. Neville pulled him along and away from the younger students. “Do they never change? That’s the line of thinking that got us into the war in the first place,” said Harry.

Neville shook his head. “You can’t think like that, Harry. Not all Slytherins are bad people.”

Harry looked at Neville in slight shock before continuing. So many of Neville’s family had been hurt or worse by Slytherin born Death Eaters that his tolerance confused Harry. “They never change though. They believe they are better than everyone else, better than muggles, or squibs, or—or even half-bloods.” Harry often found he couldn’t get himself to say mudblood without conjuring forth a picture of Hermione’s scared arm.

“Yeah, some of them do. But you know not all of them are like that. And they learn a lot of it from their families. You know, I thought toads were cool for a long time thanks to Gran.”

“That’s hardly the same thing as being prejudice against an entire group of people for just being who they are.”

“I’m just saying they don’t know any better, that’s all. It’s up to other people, like us, to show them they’re wrong.”

Harry elbowed Neville in the side and the other jumped away with a grin. “When did you get so smart?”

“I dunno. Maybe some of the wall fell on my head during the battle.”

Harry shook his head and laughed as he followed Neville to lunch. Ginny and Luna sat at the eighth year table in the front of the room. Both smiled and waved at them as they came in, Ginny exuberantly and Luna languidly. Harry mustered up a smile to shoot Ginny in return. Things between them had become strained over the year. After the first couple of months when Harry had been busy recuperating, giving interviews, and testifying at trials, he hadn’t thought to send her a single owl. When they met up at the Burrow, she instantly forgave him, but they couldn’t quite get back to the passion they had before the battle. Eventually they dissolved from an amiable friendship with occasion snogging to just friends.

“How was your first day, Harry?” Luna asked in her breathy way. She was conjuring bubbles out of a goblet of pumpkin juice.

“Great, have you guys started history yet? The new professor is wicked.”

“You don’t mean ‘evil,’ right?” Ginny asked, her eyes a little wide.

Harry shook his head. “No, I mean he’s really fun. A good step up from Binns.”

“And he’s a squib,” Neville said.

“Well, that is interesting. Didn’t think they would hire someone without magic to teach here at Hogwarts,” Ginny said.

“Why not?” Harry said. “It doesn’t take magic to talk about names and dates.”

Ginny shrugged before tucking into a sandwich. Other students filled in the chairs around them and Harry tried not to take a mental roll call. The words “CONSTANT VIGILANCE” had become more than a mantra and he found himself inventorying the people sitting down with him despite his best efforts. More Slytherins had returned to Hogwarts than he had thought would. Zabini, Greengrass, and Nott filled in the opposite end of the table from the Gryffindors around Harry, which consisted of Longbottom, Parvati (who sat next to her Ravenclaw sister), and Seamus who looked lost without his best mate Dean. Justin Finch-Fletchley, Ernie Macmillan, and Hannah Abbott were the only Hufflepuffs and Anthony Goldstein was the only other Ravenclaw. Malfoy had not shown up to lunch, but for once Harry didn’t suspect him of anything nefarious. The silence between the Slytherins suggested strained relations at best.

On the way to the seventh floor of the North Tower a flash of blond hair caught Harry’s eye and he excused himself from Neville before silently making his way to where Malfoy was standing. The sun poured through the tower’s narrow windows casting a golden sheen to Malfoy’s almost white hair from behind, a blinding contrast to the dark shadow clinging to his features from the front. He was looking up at a painting, and when Harry tracked his line of sight, his throat went dry. A chill came over him and he looked away from the painting of Severus Snape before the too familiar frown could cast down upon him. Malfoy’s own face was not much better to look at. Beyond the normal layer of stoicism and pinched features were hard lines of guilt and sorrow. Snape’s portrait darted a glance to Potter and Malfoy followed it, taking a small step back in defense when he noticed who was standing next to him.

“I didn’t mean to intrude,” Harry said quickly and he realized he had no idea why he approached Malfoy in the first place. “I—I was just curious what you were looking at.” He ventured to look back up to Snape, but the previous potions master had left his frame.

“Gone now, isn’t he?” Malfoy said and Harry didn’t imagine he was talking about the painting. The lack of heat in his words left Harry unbalanced. He wanted to reach out and shake Malfoy until it came to sarcastic and snide remarks, or better yet, blows.

They stood for a moment staring at the vacant frame before Malfoy coughed and seemed to regain his composure. Judging by his face, he looked as if he would rather be anywhere else, and according to the time there was a classroom they should both be at in a matter of minutes.

“Come on, Potter,” Malfoy said walking away. “Wouldn’t want to be late on your first day back. I’m sure Miss Granger wouldn’t be above sending you a howler for missing class.”

Harry blanched at the all too possible idea and shook his head. He followed close behind. “How would she know?”

“Anonymous tip?” Malfoy suggested and Harry could almost hear the grin. Harry had to fight to tamp his own smile down.

The Divination Classroom hadn’t changed much since he last had been to it. The tables were covered in mismatched cloths and trays with teapots were already set up under warming charms. Professor Trelawney made her entrance with the average amount of fanfare and suggested since they all had had a year off, they should use the next following weeks to revisit basic divination techniques. Though of course their complete lack of natural ability would mean they’d only be learning theory.

Due to their late arrival, Harry and Malfoy had to settle on seats front and center of the classroom. Trelawney flitted around students to ‘help’ them read tea leaves. Potter noted she laid off on the bleak death predications she usually piled on them and said as much to Malfoy. Malfoy shrugged and didn’t point out the obvious reason being a good amount of her students probably had died and that would be a crass move on her part.

“What’s this now? A sword? Or maybe a wand?” Harry was batting around the tea leaves trying to get them to resemble at least something familiar. No black dogs at least, thank you very much. “Bugger, it’s all a bunch of rubbish anyway.”

Harry turned about in his seat and leaned over Neville’s shoulder to get a look in his cup. Neville, he noticed for the first time, had gotten bloody fit, good job Luna. He gave him a surreptitious once over before looking down. “Neville, is that a flower and a moon?”

“Yeah, I guess. Have no idea what it means though,” Neville sighed and sounded a bit like the old Longbottom who never thought he was decent at much. He fumbled the cup back down where it hit with what sounded like a crack. Harry gave him a conciliatory pat on the shoulder and turned back around. Malfoy was writing down notes about his own tea leaves on a parchment while scowling. He hadn’t said much the entire class. Harry sighed just as Professor Trelawney told them to pack it in for the day and then proceeded to pick out him, Neville, and the Patil twins to help with the cleanup.

Harry was watching Malfoy on his way out the door when it happened. Parvati gave a gasp and Neville jumped backwards upsetting a table. Professor Trelawney’s eyes rolled back into her head and she let out a gravelly, unhuman rattle. Malfoy was spinning back around with his wand drawn, and Harry had enough time to stupidly be thankful that the boy had finally opened the box before Trelawney started in on the prophecy.

“Oh, not this again,” Harry grumbled.

The wicked one—the half-goddess—comes to take back her power. If the Traitor Prince, born of Royalty and Old Magic, possesses the Lion’s Heart, the weapon of her destruction will be revealed. A sacrifice in blood cannot be avoided…. The Goddess awaits her champion. Evil must be purged before he can claim his birthright…

“Brilliant.”

Chapter Text

Professor Trelawney swayed on her feet like bamboo stalks in heavy wind before Potter rushed to stabilize her. Her owlish eyes blinked slow and out of sync, gazing about the room as if seeing her own classroom space for the first time.

“Neville, help me get her seated. Parvati, can you run and get Madam Pomfrey? And Malfoy, McGonagall will need to hear about this, yeah?”

Gryffindors, always good in a crisis. Draco watched as the others sprang to action. The twins ran out of the room together gibbering over what bits of the prophecy they managed to write down and Neville hopped up from his pile on the floor to help Professor Trelawney who seemed to becoming more lucid by the minute—well, as lucid as she normally was. Malfoy spared a glance back at Potter who looked amusingly put off before heading out to find McGonagall.

Was it too much to ask for one peaceful year at Hogwarts? Hadn’t there been a time when evil wasn’t out to get the boarding school for wizarding adolescents? It was only the first day of the school year, for Merlin’s sake! Malfoy thought if he wanted an uneventful year, maybe he should have waited until Potter had graduated before coming back.

Standing in front of the stone gargoyle, Malfoy shifted awkwardly and tried to ask—politely, he might stress—for the clearly biased lump of stone to move so he could deliver his message. Then he attempted a few more less mannered times with more kicking.

“Mr. Malfoy, I trust you have a good reason to not be in class and abusing my front door?” McGonagall had snuck up behind him, silent as if on cat paws, and he nearly jumped around with his wand out. She managed to give him an unimpressed face without moving a muscle.

“Professor Trelawney has had a vision,” Malfoy said. Duty done, he turned to leave.

“Mr. Malfoy! You cannot expect to deliver this message and not impart a few details,” McGonagall said. She did a smooth about face and held her head high as she briskly walked the path back to the Divination classroom. Malfoy rolled his eyes when he realized her last statement had been an order and hurried to follow.

“Er, well, yes. Professor Trelawney had some foreboding vision that had something to do with an evil force and a prince? And then she nearly collapsed.”

“I assume her eyes shifted and her voice changed?”

“Yes, headmistress.” Draco had to push to keep up despite his age and height advantage. No one of her years should be able to move that fast.

“And how many heard it?”

“There were four of us.”

McGonagall’s stop was so sudden Draco nearly mowed into her. Her mouth had thinned into the fine line which warned students she was either figuring out how many house points to deduct, or she was preparing for the worst and weighing her orders. Draco wouldn’t mind getting house points deducted if it meant they could avoid trouble. Did the eighth years have their own house cup to fight for? What was their mascot? Potter seemed a safe bet for that. They could be House Potter. Potterhouse. No, just no. Potterdorm? Pottermore? That last one sounded okay.

“Mr. Malfoy, I don’t suppose I need to tell you to keep this matter a secret from the rest of your peers?” McGonagall asked breaking Draco from a very disturbing line of thought.

And I suppose I don’t need to tell you that labelling this a secret means everyone will know by nightfall? “Yes, ma’am,” Draco replied. He suspected due to the Patil twins involvement the entire school would know by dinner.

“I also don’t suppose Mr. Potter happened to be absent?”

“He sent me to find you.”

McGonagall huffed and Draco felt like they shared a moment of mutual annoyance for the same person, albeit for slightly different reasons. “Very well, go to class and I’ll take care of Professor Trelawney. Thank you for informing me, 5 points to—,” she stopped herself and looked at him thoughtfully, and for a horrifying moment he thought she had heard his thoughts about House Potter. “Oh, what the hell, 5 points to Slytherin.” Then she turned and left him in the hall.

Draco made it to his next class in the middle of the new Potions Master’s introduction. To his annoyance, everyone else who had been leftover in Divination had arrived before him. He took a seat, by himself at the back of the class and noticed the professor had stopped her introduction, waiting on him to get settled in. She was middle-aged with curly dirty blond hair that fell around her lavender robes. She kept a peach tinted smile on her face that only teachers with years of practice, government officials, or mothers with toddlers could pull off, the patronizing one which doesn’t reach the eyes. Looking on the parchment roll she slid a green, dragon-hide gloved finger down until she found Malfoy’s name, as if she couldn’t recognize him otherwise. As if he hadn’t been all over The Daily Prophet for weeks after his arrest.

“Mr. Malfoy, how nice of you to join us. You’re late, and I don’t like tardiness in my class. I’ll let it go this time, but you only get the one warning, do I make myself clear?” Her voice trilled and squeaked at the end of her sentences.

Draco nodded.

“Can you answer me please?”

He grit his teeth. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Good, now if we could start—Mr. Longbottom, you have a question already? We haven’t begun yet.”

“Well, I, uh. Professor, Malfoy was helping us out with Professor Trelawney,” Longbottom said. He had a slight flush to his face and looked away. Draco wondered if it was memories of Snape that made Longbottom nervous to talk with this professor, and then he sighed in annoyance of a Gryffindor trying to cover for his tardiness.

“Yes, so I heard. But as you, Mr. Potter, and Miss Parvati and Padma made it on time, I don’t see why Mr. Malfoy couldn’t as well.”

“Well, he had to go find--,” Neville was cut off by a look from the new teacher.

“I’m sure Mr. Malfoy can speak for himself, if he chooses,” the new teacher said. The look she gave Malfoy suggested speaking would be a very bad idea. “There’s no need for you to speak for him, Mr. Longbottom. Now, as I was saying. I am Professor Brown and I am here to take over Potions. Professor Horace Slughorn, as you all may know, has gone into retirement. It is my goal to get you up to N.E.W.T standards as fast as possible. It’s just a shame that you weren’t able to finish your last year on time.” As Professor Brown spoke, she levelled a sympathetic look to the front row of students before levelling a brief scowl on the back row where the Slytherins had gathered. The look wasn’t missed by others. From the station to Draco’s right, Greengrass huffed and Zabini gave Professor Brown a dark look.

The hostility directed at the Slytherins only became more pronounced throughout the lesson. When the questions were difficult to impossible to ask, Brown would call on Greengrass or Nott, neither who were very good at Potions to begin with, and she would avoid calling on Draco even if he raised his hand. When a Hufflepuff or a Gryffindor got a question wrong, Brown would simply shake her head and give them a pitying look. When a Slytherin got a question wrong, she would deduct house points. In many ways, she was the opposite of Professor Snape.

The entire lecture was spent on reviewing a recipe they would be working on for the rest of the month. It was a complex formula which had the fun effect of being a reverse Veritaserum. Instead of the victim only telling the truth, they would only tell lies. Draco entertained a fantasy of dosing Potter with the serum at dinner and then asking him innocuous questions like: was he physically attracted to Flitwick, or had he ever crossed wands with Weasel? If Draco was not currently trying to remain out of trouble he would do it without a second thought. He doubted anyone else in the class had the skills to both brew the potion to perfection and ensure the prank to be a success.

His Parole Auror wouldn’t appreciate Draco’s propensity for plans to humiliate Potter. Still, the daydream held a certain cheery merit that helped him ignore the brunt of Professor Brown’s obvious dislike of him.

At dinner Draco took a seat next to Zabini and cast a weary look at the head table. Professor Trelawney was absent, though she rarely took dinner with the other teachers, and Headmistress McGonagall looked pensive. Throughout the afternoon his mind replayed the prophecy trying to parse out what the blazes it could possibly mean, and he kept coming back to the unfortunate idea that Potter no doubt played a part of it. Chancing a glance at the Savior, he took in his old rivalry’s haggard appearance and frowned.

The war had been hard on everyone but there were times when he thought, as ridiculous as it sounded, maybe it had been the hardest for the winning side. Potter was clearly not sleeping well and he looked thinner than he had after being on the run for months with Granger and Weasley. While Draco knew his own restless nights came from guilt, he wondered what the hell Potter could possibly be feeling that would result in his obvious deterioration. Draco’s hand gave an aborted twitch as he imagined, and not without some shame and anger towards himself, that it would be better for all of them if someone could just pull Potter back to full health. Then they all could go on with their lives.

Draco must have been staring for too long in thought because Blaise was asking him something and he had missed the entire question. “What?”

“I said, ‘who do you think that is?’” Blaise asked with his eyes focused on the Hall doors.

A young woman with emerald robes and a blinding smile stood at the entrance with her hands clasped neatly in front of her. She hard large, raven rings of curls which cascaded around her shoulders and down her front like long dark rivers. No hair was out of place, from what Draco could see, and her posture was perfect. Her chin was slightly tilted up and a neat angle from the floor and her nose was neither pugged nor long. When the girl starting to walk, or rather glide towards the head table, conversation fell from dull murmur to hushed whisper. Every ounce of this woman screamed royalty and maybe even Veela if Blaise’s open mouthed stare was anything to go by. That being said, when she arrived and curtsied in front of McGonagall, Draco was completely unprepared for her American accent.

“Headmistress, I am Morgan Malory, I believe you received my owl?”

McGonagall stood abruptly and bowed back, before looking around to Flitwick as if silently asking why she just bowed for a student. The shorter professor only shrugged. “Why, yes, so I did. We weren’t expecting you for another week, Miss Malory.”

Morgan placed on a charmed smile and blushed. She blushed and Draco was sure it had been on command. He looked around the table to gage the other’s reactions and found mostly stunned faces. Neville had a spoon full of pudding halfway to his mouth that was dribbling back down to his plate. Luna, who probably did not know she should be jealous of her betrothed’s reaction, sat next to him with an almost equally hungry gaze which made Draco shudder. Blaise’s face hadn’t changed, Greengrass looked jealous and awestruck, and Nott looked like he might have an embarrassing situation going on under his robes. Potter, he noted, looked a mixture of wary and intrigued.

“I am sorry if it’s an inconvenient time,” Morgan replied. “My father had urgent business abroad and sent me here earlier than planned.

“No, no my dear.” McGonagall got out her wand and transfigured a nearby chair into a stool. With a loud pop the Sorting Hat appeared on top of the stool looking vaguely put off by his sudden apparition in a way only hats can. “I have an announcement to make. We have a new transfer student from Ilvermorny, Miss Morgan Malory. Due to her high marks, she will be joining the Seventh Year class. Now, we must get you sorted Ms. Malory, please take a seat and we’ll get started.”

Morgan looked over at the Sorting Hat on the stool and though her blush and smile never left her face, Draco could see some reluctance at putting that on her head. He smirked, if she wasn’t royalty, or at the least from old money, he’d eat the hat.

“Hey, Finnigan,” Draco stage whispered. Finnigan didn’t pull his eyes off Morgan but answered back with a grunt. “5 galleons says she’s sorted into Slytherin.”

Blaise broke out of his stupor and raised an eyebrow at Draco. It was the first time Malfoy had said something so Malfoy-ish since they had been back. Potter leaned over to listen too.

“Nah, she’s too lovely for your lot,” Finnigan said in a daze. “My money is on Gryffindor.”

“I wouldn’t—,” Potter started.

“Deal,” Malfoy quickly put in before the other could ruin the fun.

Morgan took her place on the stool after brushing off imaginary dust. The seat had just been transfigured so there was no way it could possibly be dirty already. Headmistress McGonagall lowered the hat down to Malory’s curls but before it even settled on her head the hat nearly screamed, “SLYTHERIN!”

Cheers from the Slytherin table erupted, and wizard, they sounded as if they had won the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup. Groans and grumblings came from the other houses but not nearly at the decimal expected. Morgan took a place at the Slytherin table where she was promptly introduce to the prefects and engulfed by other girls of her house. Within a week they would probably be all acting as her handmaidens.

Finnigan fished out the five galleons and slid them over to Malfoy who happily pocket them even if he didn’t need the money. Duping Gryffindors would never get old. They should know better than to bet a Slytherin. Slytherin’s only put money on sure things.

For a moment Draco felt a little like his old self, but that moment was broken when he looked up and caught Potter’s disdainful look and remembered it was the old him that neither of them cared to see return.

********

Dear Harry,

Harry! We were wondering when we would hear from you! My advanced Mastery of Mysteries apprenticeship at the Ministry is going well, thank you for asking. The coursework does seem to be a little on the light side and they keep denying my request for extra reading materials. Something about how one person doesn’t need to know too much about one thing. Ron thinks I’m mental for my efforts. I do not, I just think she should take it easy. Take it easy? Ron, I could easily be killed by ignorance down there. Wouldn’t you rather be informed you are working with a thousand year old curse than—oh, sorry Harry. Anyways.

I’m glad to hear that things are still exciting for you at Hogwarts despite Ron and me being absent. That’s sarcasm if you can’t tell. How do you manage to find this kind of trouble? Well, as for your questions on the prophecy (which really, you shouldn’t have sent the transcription by owl, what were you thinking?), there’s really not much to go on, yeah? Prophecies are always vague and sometimes there are some that are just blatantly untrue or just never become true. Not mention each one could come true in a hundred different ways. And just because you witnessed the last one about you doesn’t mean that this one is about you. There were other people in the room, right?

Now please, focus on your studies and whatever you do, do not get obsessed and do not (this portion was underlined three times) start back up your stalking of Malfoy. It can’t be healthy.

Love,
Hermione

Harry folded the letter and put it in his robes. He had only been back at Hogwarts for a week and he was already desperately missing Hermione’s voice and Ron’s comfort. He laughed a little at how Hermione could predict his behavior without even being in the vicinity. If he didn’t have her nagging him and Ron’s laughter, then what did he have left other than his innate suspicion of Malfoy?

Why couldn’t he just let go?

“Well, well, if it isn’t Harry Potter.”

Jumping nearly out of his skin, Harry glanced around the empty common room for the source of what sounded like an unnervingly familiar voice. Everyone else was taking their first Saturday afternoon to visit Hogsmeade as legal adults with the exception of a few who started an impromptu Quidditch match that Harry had been lazily watching from the windows.

“Don’t reckon you can see me, huh?” asked the voice. Harry jumped again and reached for his wand. There was a chuckle near his left shoulder and a passing chill swept over him as if he had walked through a veil of ice. A ghost then. “You can put that away, you paranoid git.”

Harry slowly lowered his wand. The voice was distorted in the way most specters’ were, but this one carried something so familiar that it made Harry’s heart ache.

“Fred?” Harry asked hopeful and a bit scared.

“Ding! Ding! Show him what he’s won!”

“Fred! It’s good to hear you! How have you been?” Harry asked and then smacked his forehead. Sometimes he wondered if he actually wasn’t a complete moron.

“Haha, been dead, Harry. Don’t worry mate.” The voice was floating from different parts of the room.

“Why can’t I see you?”

“Cause I’ve never been a good student?” Fred offered and then went on to explain. “Binns has been trying to teach me for months now. There’s a lot of us who are having a hard time manifesting in front of others. You should see Binns though, he’s a livelier bloke now than he ever was teaching History. But don’t you worry, I’ll be throwing dungbombs and firecrackers at your feet in no time.”

Rolling his eyes, Harry mock-groaned. “Please don’t tell me you became a ghost just so you could play pranks on students for all eternity?”

The answer to Harry’s question was Fred’s fading laugh and the sense of being alone again.

Chapter Text

“Of course the snake which would lead to the death of both Mordred and King Arthur is rumored to have been conjured by King Arthur’s half-sister and Modred’s mother who had been a powerful witch. Her areas of magical prowess included Occlumency and Legilimency, Transfiguration, Potions, and Necromancy,” Professor Chapman paused to let students catch up in their notes; his hand hovered over the chalkboard where he listed each class of magic. Harry listened and watched half fascinated by the subject and half nostalgic for his days back in muggle school. He couldn’t recall ever seeing a professor at Hogwarts actually write and erase on a blackboard by hand. “Necromancy has been banned for a long time now, but I doubt le Fay would care about our laws against her practices. Yes, Miss Greengrass?”

“You make it sound like she’s still alive,” Daphne said. She tossed one lock of blond hair off her shoulder and sneered at the teacher. Harry and everyone else in the class had to listen to her complaints of being taught by a squib at least twice a day. At least this history teacher was alive. That had to be a step up, right?

“Well, we don’t actually have a date of death record for le Fay. Some believe she was too powerful to die. Other fanatic theorists believe she was actually a demi-goddess. These are only rumors and theories, and not well supported ones either. Doesn’t everyone wish their favorite character could live on, even if it’s in infamy? That’s all the time we have today. Continue reading the next chapter and prepare for your first quiz next Monday.”

As Professor Chapman wiped down the board, Greengrass and Nott took turns making not to subtle remarks about “batty teachers.” Harry tried to ignore them and leaned over to talk to Neville instead.

“Hey, Nev, have you thought about that prophecy?” Harry asked. Neville shook his head and threw on his pack. “Well, don’t you think it’s strange?”

“Yeah, it’s strange. What’s not strange in Trelawney’s class?” Neville replied. “But I haven’t really sat down to think about it, if that’s what you want to know. I’m not exactly all Os in the class.”

“I was thinking about going down to the library,” Harry said. “Just during lunch and see if they have any books that might shed light on what a traitor prince born of old magic and royalty might be. Want to come with?”

“As much as I find your extracurricular activity fascinating, Harry, I promised Professor Sprout I’d help around the greenhouse. She lost a lot of plants back—you know when. See you later, mate!” With that Neville gave a wave and took off out the front hall. Harry watched him leave and was struck once again with a strong desire to have Ron and Hermione back with him. If they were there, he wouldn’t have to convince Hermione to head into the library no matter the reason, and even if Ron wasn’t excited about the prospect, he knew he could get his best mate to come too.

On the way to the library another thought of his friends crossed his mind. Neville had declined to help, was that necessarily a bad thing? How many times had dragging Ron and Hermione into something almost get one of them hurt or killed? Even if they had insisted on helping, they always seemed to suffer for it. Perhaps it was best if Harry did not try to involve anyone else in his search. Perhaps it was best if even Harry left this all well alone.

But Harry was drawn to a good mystery and danger like a moth to a Lumos lit wand, and he soon found himself walking up and down the aisles aged magical books struggling to identify where the section on prophecy was located. All those years of letting Hermione do the brunt of the research left him with barely any library survival skills. He’d have to owl her his thanks for all those years of hard work once he tracked down what he needed.

Coming around a bend in the books where he knew some dusty study tables to be, Harry heard the hushed voices of two people who very much didn’t want to be overheard. Recognizing one as Malfoy, Harry ducked behind a shelf and strained to listen in on the conversation which sounded heated. Only a few words came through the book barrier where he crouched: Azkaban, Father, secrets, danger, and weapon. The uneasy feeling Harry had come to rely on in dueling dark wizards had formed in his gut. He retreated through the bookcases to find a better vantage point.

An uneven table littered in literature leftover from a last minute Ravenclaw study session allowed him a better placement. In fact, from this location he could even smell the man talking to Malfoy. With some courage he snuck a peak around the table and took a look. The man was obviously not a staff member as he was dressed in some nondescript muggle clothes with a grey, wrinkled robe laying over like a cloak. He had a scar from his hairline down past his left eye to his cheek that was raised and pink. The eye under the scar was milky and the iris faded. The left corner of his mouth didn’t seem to raise up with the rest when he talked and he smelled like fire whiskey and cats.

“You come to visit me if you’re thinking of doin’ anythin’, yeh hear?” the man ordered.

Malfoy grimaced and nodded. “Do you think they’ll get him out?” His voice tripped with trepidation. He wrung his hands together and then placed one over his left forearm.

“I dunno. Ain’t really my area and no one’s told me nuthin’. Just don’t go looking for answers in the Prophet and don’t give ‘em any excuse to kick you out. You mind me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now there anythin’ else givin’ yeh trouble?” The man with the scar took a flask out of his pocket and knocked it back.

“Besides your apparent tendency to overdrink during workhours?” Malfoy drawled while scrunching up his nose. The other man just chuckled. “Well, nothing really you can help with. There’s many people who don’t want me here.” He turned away from his companion and gazed out the library windows. “Not like that’s much different from before.”

“Keep your chin up, eh? It’ll take time. You’re a Slytherin, cunning folk, you’ll have people wrapped around you in no time doing your bidding. Malfoy on top of that too, damn.”

Malfoy laughed and turned a disbelieving amused look to the other man. “What house were you in when you were here?”

“You have to ask? Slytherin o’ course. Alright, I best be off. Know you don’t want us seen together.”

Harry felt slight vindication warring with apprehension. Whoever Malfoy was talking to they sounded as if they were close, and he couldn’t imagine a Malfoy willingly befriending a man who smelled like cats. He could be another Death Eater or servant of the family. The portion of the conversation that really bugged Harry (besides “weapon”) was the fact Malfoy had called the other man sir.

Sensing the conversation had come to a close, Harry snaked back to the front of the library. Thinking of how to tell Hermione “I told you so” in his next letter, he didn’t notice Malfoy waiting for him at the end of the aisle. Harry bumped into the taller boy going nearly full speed and Malfoy had to throw out an arm to steady him.

“Oh, uh thank—”

“Shut it, Potter. What are you doing here?” He accusingly narrowed his eyes at Harry. Harry took a step back and saw the older man exit the library over Malfoy’s shoulder. The other boy turned to see what he was looking at and immediately came back red-faced and angry. “Were you spying on me?”

“No, I—I no!” Harry got out. “Merlin, this is a library! I was just in here for a book.”

“Didn’t find one you need?” Malfoy hissed as he motioned to Harry’s obviously empty hands.

Harry glowered back. “Well, what were you doing in here? You’re the one on edge, acting like you’ve got something to hide!”

“That is none of your damn business, Potter!”

Madam Pince came up behind Malfoy, cleared her throat, and levelled both boys with a glare that would wilt stone. “Do you gentlemen need anything?”

The two shook their heads.

“Well then, I suggest you go to your common room. The headmistress just sent word that she wants all Eighth Years to convene for a meeting before their next class. So, go. And go quietly.”

To say the walk to the common room was uncomfortable would be the same as saying Blast-Ended Skrewts were not natural cuddlers. Malfoy, Harry quickly learned, had developed a habit of muttering to himself when angry and trying to pare back his muttering by what sounded alarmingly like Lamaze breathing techniques. All the while he threw Harry some particularly ugly faces which somehow made Harry feel shamed, as if he were the one doing something sneaky and underhanded with a really ugly bloke in the library. On more than one moment, Harry found himself halfway to apologizing. The only thing which held him back were the bits of conversation that had worried him into eavesdropping in the first place.

When Malfoy and Harry entered the common room together, McGonagall rose an eyebrow at their apparent tardiness but said nothing as they took a place with their peers.

“Find anything interesting?” whispered Neville.

“Yeah, I’ll tell you later,” Harry responded. He looked over at Malfoy who was making an effort not to look in Harry’s direction at all.

“Well, now that you’re all here, I’d like to make an announcement. Due to reduced staff and our uneven balance of students, the other professors and I have decided to enlist your help in tutoring and mentoring other students based on individual strengths,” said McGonagall. She smiled around at everyone in the room.

“Sounds like this isn’t voluntary…” whispered someone off to Harry’s right.

“I haven’t got any strengths,” whined Neville and sometimes Harry wondered if Neville really had had a wall fall on his head during the battle.

“You’re wizard at Herbology and you defeated Voldemort’s last horcrux. I think they’ll find something for you,” Harry said. Neville seemed to brighten up a bit and clapped Harry on the back.

“I want to know the areas you would like to volunteer for by the end of the day. The bulletin board by your door will have the subjects we need help with and I wish for those to be filled first. If you think of another area not listed, let me know. This practical experience will count to any work credit you might need for future internships, so I suggest you do it with some enthusiasm,” McGonagall said. “Oh, and Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy, a word.”

Malfoy shot Harry a dark look but moved to the headmistress without complaint.

“Now, Mr. Malfoy. I’m sure it’s come to your attention that many of the more… mature Slytherin students have not returned this year?”

“You mean the ones who would be in seventh year, professor?” asked Malfoy. His previous indignation seemed to have evaporated and his tone was one of respect with Professor McGonagall.

“Right, the previous captain did not return to Hogwarts and I’m afraid the current team stands without a leader,” said McGonagall. Her face was pinched into something that looked like sorrow laid over frustration.

“But professor, I thought Eighth Years couldn’t try out for Quidditch teams?”

“No, they can’t and that rule is still in effect. Even so, I would appreciate it if you would help at Quidditch tryouts and coach them into a proper team as much as your schedule will allow. Chose a good team for Slytherin, you are the most experienced player they have here, Mr. Malfoy.”

Harry watched as a change rippled over Malfoy’s expression. The boy looked almost honored at McGonagall’s words and it was reflected in his posture as he seemed to stand up straighter. “I’ll do my best,” he said.

“Thank you, Mr. Malfoy. Now I’d like a word with Mr. Potter.” He walked away, leaving Harry under McGonagall’s stare. “Now then, I am not about to give Slytherin an advantage over Gryffindor for the Quidditch Cup, and that’s why I want you out there helping rebuild our team as well, Mr. Potter.”

Harry had to fight back a sudden laugh. “But professor, what about Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.” And your supposed impartiality?

The headmistress just waved her hand dismissing his protest. “I expect to see you out on that field.”

“Yes, professor,” Harry replied, still straining not to chuckle at McGonagall’s preference for Gryffindor.

“Good, tryouts are on Saturday at noon. Don’t be late and bring that Firebolt.”

********

Even with green fields and sunshine, the end of September was cool at Hogwarts. The potential Quidditch players huddled around each other on the field with brooms in had ready to get started and warm up.

Coming out to the Quidditch pitch brought up two sets of memories for Draco. The freshest memories were of the yard at the detention center. Every day the boys had been allotted two hours for outdoor physically activity regardless of weather. For Draco, this time out of the watchful Aurors’ eyes had translated into two hours of avoiding a beating. He had not had the good fortune of escaping the wrath of his fellow inmates for the first few weeks, and any time he had tried to put up a fight back, or even resist, resulted in both him and the aggressor in confinement. No amount of threats or pulling the family name could save him from those times.

Draco shook off those memories and sought out the more pleasant ones. Being Seeker for Slytherin had been some of his best time at Hogwarts. He closed his eyes and remembered flying around the field in all manners of weather looking for the Snitch. Sure, he had only managed to get on the team initially because of his—Lucius’s donation and bribery, but months of practice helped him hone his skill. While he may have never been a born natural, he had become a damn fine player in his own right.

The current broom he had was a little older than the models other Slytherin students were boasting, but he didn’t mind. He took it up for a quick jaunt around the pitch and then high above until he could see the tops of nearby towers and the goals below looked like mere copper rings. The memory of chucking Longbottom’s Remembrall came flooding back to him and he laughed as he took a dive at nothing and landed on the grass in front of the waiting Slytherins.

“Right, so this it?” Draco asked. Not many had come to try out for the house team, only about a dozen, and he was sure at least two were first years trying to weasel their way on. “If you’re a first year, get the hell out of here.” As expected the two he singled out ducked their heads and left. One he recognized as the dark haired boy from the train ride to Hogwarts. “Secondly, if you think you might be failing a course, you should also leave now. I will find out.” Another person grumbled and fell out of rank.

This left only nine people. Malfoy groaned. “Okay, and how many of you are trying out for Seeker?”

Four raised their hands. He prayed to all his ancestors for the strength not to slap any of them. “Fine, yes. You lot over there. Now, from left to right tell me what you’re trying out for,” he demanded.

A girl with red hair and an upturned nose crossed her arms. When she spoke, her voice was much lower than he had expected. “My name’s Sully, and I’m a beater.”

Draco didn’t argue with her just in case that was a statement and a threat combined. Instead he pointed at the next person.

“Er, yeah, I’m Marvin Pucey, sir. And I’m a chaser,” said a scrub of a boy with straight brown hair.

“Are you Adrian’s brother?” Malfoy asked seeing the familial resemblance but noting a distinct lack of confidence.

“Yes, sir,” Marvin replied. He kicked at a rock on the ground and looked at Draco through his long bangs. He was smaller than his older brother and less sure of himself. Draco’s first response was to tell him to get lost.

“We’ll see how you do today and then decide if you’re a chaser. Next.”

One more wanted the position of Beater and the other two wanted to be Chasers. Draco was going to have to figure out a Keeper from all of them and weed out the Seekers. He inwardly groaned as he watched Sully grab Marvin’s hand and whisper the boy words of encouragement. If this was the team he was dealt it would take a miracle for them to win the Quidditch Cup let alone not end up in last place. No doubt McGonagall had not expected him to be successful in this endeavor. To make the situation more uncomfortable, the Gryffindor tryouts were happening on the opposite side of the field with bloody Harry Potter. Draco squared his shoulders, brought them to attention, and got to work.

Wanting to make quick work of finding out who was the best in his team, Draco first sent the wannabe Chasers up with Sully acting as Keeper. While the girl couldn’t actually hold on to a Quaffle to save her life, she did manage a good job at blocking any easily made goals. After twenty minutes he flew up and dismissed one Chaser entirely due to his lack of flying, catching, passing, and listening skills, which left Marvin Pucey and a fourth year who had only spoken in grunts.

Marvin’s flying of short distances and turns were spectacular but his shooting was subpar. Draco went up on his broom and grabbed the Quaffle. “Marvin, go replace Sully as Keeper.”

The younger boy did as Sully happily went to the stands and cheered her support. Marvin blushed. He was small against the hoops but Draco hoped that would work to his advantage. Better to be underestimated by the enemy. He first tried some simple shots into the goals which Marvin blocked with ease, and then worked on harder goals coming at him with unrestrained speed and force. By the end of nearly fifty shots, Marvin draped over his broom tired and sweaty but had managed to block all but one which could have been due to Sully’s incessant cheering.

Draco smirked. “Looks like we’ve found Slytherin’s new Keeper.”

Marvin let out a cheer and threw his arms up before grimacing in pain. He left with Sully to go wash up while Draco turned on the Seekers. “Only one of you can be the Seeker. I’ll need two of you to be chasers, but let’s start with the fun part first.” He rose with a basket of small golden apples and pitched them out from high above the field. One Seeker, an Aconitia Bloom, was faster and more focused than the others, and when she feinted to put off the other potential flyers in order to loop back around and catch the last apple before it hit the ground, Draco new she’d be Seeker.

“Bloom, amazing flying. Congratulations, you’re seeker. Where did you learn to fly like that?” Draco asked as he came down to rest on the pitch.

Bloom tossed her braids over her shoulder and stood tall. With her thick build she did not look like a natural Seeker, but her moves proved her worth. “My pa put me on a broom before I could walk. Always said girls like me needed more than one skill to get ahead.”

“Girls like you?” Draco asked and Bloom didn’t look at him for a moment as she took off her silver and green gloves.

“Mudbloods, Malfoy,” was all she said and she didn’t stick around to hear his response. Bloom’s words followed Draco into the late afternoon until he had finally picked everyone for the Slytherin team.

Sully and Marvin returned to help him pick up the gear and produce from the pitch. He was reaching for some severely bruised apples when he looked up and noticed Marvin’s vacant expression and subsequently Sully’s obvious annoyance.

“Merlin, would you just get a hold of yourself!” Sully gritted out in a low rumble.

“She’s so pretty, isn’t she?” Marvin said. Draco looked up to the stands where the young boy’s gaze was cast and saw the new student, Morgan Malory, watching tryouts with a band of five other Slytherin girls.

“Doesn’t mean you have to stare,” huffed Sully. The red head dropped the broom in her hand and left the field muttering curses. Draco tossed an apple at Marvin’s head to get his attention.

“I think you should probably fix things with your girlfriend and apologize,” Draco said. Marvin stood in slight alarm as if coming to his sense, and after taking a look around, ran after Sully. Draco took another look at Morgan who noticed his attention and gave him a slight bow. He wondered for a second time if she might be part Veela.

After everything was done, Draco stopped to watch the Gryffindor tryouts progress. He looked on as Potter flew about with potential Gryffindor Seekers. Potter had always been a natural on a broom and watching him filled Draco with awe and envy. He noted every delicate curve, stop, and feint with a sort of soft reverence. Where Draco had to spend hours learning one move, Potter could replicate it within minutes. Even Morgan seem entranced by Potter’s skills on a broom as she sat perched neatly on the edge of her seat fanning off faux-concern from her adoring followers.

Without much thought, Draco went over to the Slytherin supply box and brought out the practice Snitch. Mounting his broom, he pushed off until he was parallel to the other boy and held out the Snitch with its wings buzzing in his hand.

“Potter!”

Harry turned and looked at him with momentary wariness and then with a look of competitive glee; Gryffindors were too easy to manipulate.

“See who can catch it first?”

“You’re on, Malfoy.”

The Snitch flitted up and out of sight seconds later. Both boys took aggressive seeking positions at opposites sides of the field keeping an eye on the others movements while also watching for that elusive flash of gold. Draco felt alive.

Potter saw the Snitch first. Draco had been flying close to the stands when he heard Morgan’s soft gasp which sounded more like it belonged in a bedroom, for Merlin’s sake, and it served as his only warning to look over and see Potter racing across the field. He turned and spotted a glimmer by one of the goal posts where Marvin had been playing keeper. The Snitch hovered between the left two goals and Draco spurned his broom forward. Potter had caught up to him and they were racing next to each other. Malfoy attempted to fly under Potter to throw off his concentration but only succeeded in losing a second lead. Potter brought his broom up alongside Malfoy as if to push him out of the way. Draco called his bluff by staying on target knowing the Gryffindor’s sensibilities wouldn’t allow him to push someone off their broom during a friendly match. Potter gave a disbelieving laugh and Draco found himself grinning.

They both missed the Snitch as it flew off before they reached the goal.

********

Making lazy circles in the sky above the pitch, Harry reflected on his impromptu Seeker game with Malfoy. Just days before he had spied on the Slytherin, which on reflection he did feel a little guilty for, and now they were using that bone deep rivalry to show off on the pitch.

The sun started to set casting a golden light and drawing long shadows across the field. Occasionally he’d lose sight of Malfoy as he went lower to the stands. For a moment, Harry just let himself be there in the air with no concern other than flying and seeking. This competition with Malfoy came as naturally as magic.

The image of Malfoy flying, looking almost as carefree as Harry felt, was at such a sharp contrast to the anger he met in the library that Harry found himself pained. As he watched those hard lines melt off the other’s face and be replaced with the juvenile delight of a game of Quidditch, Harry realized he wanted Malfoy to prove him wrong about his misbeliefs.

A blur of green and a flash of gold pulled Harry out of his revelry and years of playing Seeker took over as he fell from his perch hundreds of feet above the ground to a grueling dive after the Snitch. This time he’d capture her.

Harry blinks as the setting sun flashes in his eyes and his hands tremble.

(The room was hot. So hot. His body was boiling.)

There she is. He’s almost caught up to Malfoy who spotted the Snitch first.

(Malfoy’s hanging on, but barely. Harry can see his rival’s face with fear and resignation in his eyes. He’s swooping down to capture his hand. Fiendfyre…)

They’re side-by-side. Malfoy’s laughing again. The ground is coming up quick.

(He doesn’t even think to rescue Goyle as he reaches out for Malfoy.)

“Fiend…fyre… fien—“

“Potter!”

He’s slipping, losing control. The ground’s rushing up to meet him and he’s not stopping.

(It’s so hot. HOT. There’s bruising fingers in his side.

“…Well, Draco? Is it? Is it Harry Potter?

“I can’t—I can’t be sure…”)

“Potter! Fuck, Potter! Wake up, you idiot!”

Two arms wrapped under Harry’s shoulders as he half laid on the grass of the field. A small crowd of people surrounded him, but he could only make out one face clearly. His glasses must have gotten knocked off when he crashed. Though if he did crash, he didn’t feel nearly as sore as he knew he should. That probably wasn’t a good sign.

“Shh, you’re not there anymore. That’s over,” whispered someone. Belatedly, Harry realized he had been babbling. He sat up suddenly. His lungs desperate for oxygen as he took in deep gulping breaths. The world tilted and he swayed into whoever was holding him.

“We should get Madam Pomfrey,” he heard Ginny say. Ginny... she had been helping him with the Quidditch tryouts.

“No, let me get him up. Just let me get him to the locker room.” That voice belonged Malfoy and Harry supposed the arm supporting him as he half walked off the field was Malfoy’s as well. The door to the locker room opened but Malfoy didn’t drop Harry until they reached a far bench between the sinks and showers. Harry could hear running water and then felt a wet towel being pressed into his hand.

Oculus Reparo.”

Harry’s glasses were returned to his face and he could see clearly again. He pressed the towel to his face, stood suddenly, felt his stomach lurch, and staggered to the mirrors. His skin looked sallow and taut and the dark bags under his eyes were more pronounced.

“I look like shit,” he muttered. Draco gave a choked off laugh and Harry turned to see him put his face in his hands. “The fuck happened?”

“You fell off your broom,” Draco said. He looked as if he might be overcome by laughter or hysteria at any moment.

“Well, I figured, I just meant—”

“I think the words you’re looking for are, ‘Thank you.’”

Harry turned back to the mirror. “You’re right. Thank you, Malfoy. Years ago you would have mocked me for fainting rather than catch me before hitting the ground.”

“Who says I won’t mock you later, Potter?” Malfoy asked, though he had winced at Harry’s words.

“What happened? I was flying and then I thought I saw…”

“Fire?” Malfoy supplied after a pause. “You were remembering; I could hear you babbling about—about that day. It happens to me sometime.” Collapsing on the bench and looking too weary for this conversation, Malfoy sighed and glanced up at Potter in a way he never had before: in empathy for this shared moment. “Sometimes the past comes back and you’re stuck in it all of a sudden with no way out. Like the damn Fiendfyre is still burning and it’s going to keep burning until it swallows you whole, no matter what you do.”

Harry collapsed against the counter-top. The feeling of freedom he got while being up on his broom had so quickly turned into something ugly and dark and final that he had simply just lost control. It was a while until either of them spoke again.

“I don’t sleep well anymore,” said Harry with great care to his words. “I dream of the dead. Hell, I dream of dying over and over, and when I wake up? I still hear screams and see their bodies.”

“Me too.” The response was so quiet Harry almost missed it.

Eventually Malfoy left Harry to get cleaned up on his own. They did not part as friends, but neither did they remain enemies.

Chapter Text

Around mid-October every year, the house elves lose their collective minds and thrust Hogwarts into a pumpkin laden nightmare, or so Draco hypothesized. The turn of events starts innocently enough. Small heirloom squashes become common table decorations, the smell of pumpkin spice being prepared fills the halls outside the kitchens, and light pumpkin desserts are added to the table after dinner. For some reason, the little menaces working the kitchens can’t stop while they’re ahead in the culinary gamut. No, soon there’s pumpkin pie, pumpkin pastries, pumpkin stir-fry. Then the orange devil makes its way to lunch under the guise of pumpkin breads and pumpkin pretzels. The list goes on and on until one day students are withheld their breakfast tea for pumpkin spiced lattes with little pumpkins drawn in the foam served alongside sickly sweet pumpkin pancakes.

“Uh, I think if I drink one more of these I’m gonna turn orange,” groaned Finnigan as he peered into his, oh how original, pumpkin shaped coffee mug. Draco pushed his still empty plate away and mentally agreed with Finnigan. At the end of the table, Potter stared at his pancakes as if he were about to go to battle with them.

“Oh, yes!” cried Hannah Abbott as she and Anthony Goldstein started to clear a spot in the middle of the table with their wands. A heavy wooden crate landed where a leaning tower of pumpkin muffins once stood. The muffins were not missed.

Longbottom dusted off his hands on his robes. “Here you go. Straight from the orchard,” he said as he opened the crate with his wand. “These are the first of the season, so they may be a little tart.”

One of the girls let out a squeal and the rest of the Eighth Years converged on the box like rabid Kneazles. Inside, gold, red, and green apples were stacked to the brim of the crate. Draco tried to keep his composure but was afraid he might have made a small needy noise judging by the raised eyebrow he got from Potter who had already claimed three apples of his own.

The Eighth Year table had slowly lost its polarization with Slytherins on one end, Gryffindors on the other, and whatever the other two houses were in between. Finnigan, who was rooming with Theo, would often make it to the table first for breakfast and save Theo a side of bacon and coffee and justify the action by reasoning Theo was easier to deal with once he had some fat and caffeine. Others seem to take that as a greenlight to start acting civil with their each other. Parvati and Daphne were the go to for Hogwarts gossip at dinner, much to Padma’s dismay, and even Zabini and Potter shared pleasantries, albeit mostly through nods and grunts.

After the incident on the Quidditch pitch, Potter and Draco had made a valiant effort to avoid most eye contact and conversation. Something had changed between them and it wasn’t altogether comfortable yet. Years of seeing someone as the enemy takes longer than a few days to get over, and Draco had been working on those feelings longer than Potter knew.

Draco reached into the box and brought out a bright green apple giving his thanks to Longbottom who shrugged as if he hadn’t just saved them all from potential malnutrition.

Wings of owls delivering post sounded overhead. The bulk of mail tended to go to first and second year students whose parents wrote their children often to make sure they were settling in, but Draco noticed this morning that the largest group of owls were hovering over the Slytherin table.

“What’s all that about?” Draco asked.

“Ah, that’s fan mail for her majesty,” Finnigan said. Draco cocked an eyebrow and watched as parcel after parcel dropped around a blushing Morgan Malory. Some of her “handmaidens” had started a collection of her gifts in neat stacks around the table. While it was not strange to see students of other houses mingling with other tables, it was very odd to see so many girls from other houses sitting at the Slytherin table.

“McGonagall should hire Morgan to help with her ‘inter-house unity’ project,” Zabini said voicing Draco’s own thoughts. “I even hear she gives out special pins to those she favors, guys and girls.”

“Oh, she does, see?” Luna Lovegood had sat between Longbottom and Zabini and pulled out a silver chain with a purple star pendant from the masses of jewelry she wore regularly.

“She gave you a necklace?” Longbottom asked with a hint of jealousy. Lovegood sighed and lay up against her fiancé with her feet pointed at Blaise. “Does she fancy you?”

Lovegood never responded to Neville’s concern.

“Are these apples from Professor Sprout’s orchard, Mr. Longbottom?” Once again the headmistress had snuck up without Draco’s notice and he gave a little jump.

“Er, yes. Help yourself?” Neville gestured to the box. McGonagall pulled out a dark red apple and looked almost amorous towards the fruit. A couple more were slipped into the pockets of her robes. Apparently the students were not the only ones fearing death by pumpkin.

“I’m half attempted to award you house points for your foresight,” McGonagall said. “Enjoy your free period this morning. Except for those working with the remedial tutoring classes, I expect you to be on time and behaving like adults.”

Several Eighth Years jumped up remembering their obligations, including Malfoy who had taken on tutoring remedial Potions in addition to coaching Quidditch. Draco was one of the few who could brew any of the lower level potions from memory and having the extra volunteer hours would not hurt his attempt to clear his name. The class he worked with was a relatively small group of second year students, most of them Slytherin. Snape would be furious.

The struggling students were required to attend an hour of extra practice with him once a week. At first Draco had come to them with extreme prejudice and more than a little exasperation at their ineptitude. He had never been in charge of another person’s education before and thought he was being regulated to nothing more than a glorified babysitter. As he got to know the students, they surprised him with their eagerness to learn and willingness to listen. It wasn’t long until instead of bursting into the class and commanding fear, Draco was coming in and greeting each by name and getting excited with them when things worked out well.

While most of them certainly needed his help, he also discovered, to his endless frustration, that what they lacked was proper hands on teaching in class. Most complained on not getting feedback when their potions went wrong or when they received a failing grade on an essay. So Malfoy had taken to these hours by reviewing work students had done in class, including reviewing samples of potions they brewed for Professor Brown.

Before he could enter the small classroom set aside for his lot of misfits, Draco was intercepted by Professor Brown dragging one of his Slytherin students by the arm.

“Mr. Malfoy!” Professor Brown’s normal smiling countenance was absent.

“Yes, professor?” Draco replied and tried to keep his face neutral. Rising to her anger, for whatever reason, wouldn’t end well.

“Do you mind telling me why Mr. Stromm here has snuck a bottle from MY class under YOUR orders?”

Malfoy looked down at a very contrite looking Slytherin and back up at Brown before speaking. “Stromm informed me, as have others, that he has not received feedback on potions made in class. I suggested if he brought me a sample, I would help him determine where he went wrong.”

“Are you trying to tell me how to run my class, Mr. Malfoy?” Brown let go of Stromm who took refuge behind the older Slytherin.

“No. I assume that like yourself, professor, I am only trying to help these students pass their studies by teaching them what I know.”

“By stealing potions from my class! I should give the whole lot of you detention!”

“Professor Brown!”

Both professor and student stepped back at the sudden appearance of Professor McGonagall.

“Headmistress, I—I,” Brown started to stammer and then stopped when McGonagall raised her hand.

“I heard enough. Yes, taking potions out of class is stealing, unless I grant permission, which I expressly gave Mr. Malfoy and his students for tutoring purposes.”

No, she expressly had not, Draco thought but did not voice. Instead he motioned for Stromm to silently enter the class while both professors were occupied.

“Well, I had no idea, obviously. He should have said so in the first place.”

“And now you do. Why won’t you come with me and we’ll talk over whatever other arrangements the tutors need in the future. Mr. Malfoy, your students await your instruction.”

“Yes, professor,” Draco replied and ducked into the class, feeling a surge of pride at the phrase ‘your students.’ He waited until McGonagall and Brown cleared the hall before turning around. “Right. Please get out your textbooks, parchment, and potions.”

The next hour flew by as each student attempted to fix botched Sleeping Draughts. Draco found the best way for some of them to learn was to take their failed potion and try to isolate where they went wrong by adding ingredients. None of them would get a perfect mixture, but this way they’d be able to see how the different ingredients reacted through experimentation. Most had gotten close to the standard purple color by the end of the hour outside one Hufflepuff girl whose cauldron sported a bright yellow gloopy substance that Draco did not know was possible to brew with lavender.

“You’re not related to any Longbottoms are you?” Draco asked as he puzzled over the cauldron.

“No, sir,” said the girl. “My name’s Bobbin, sir. Marie Bobbin.”

The bubbling liquid spat a gob of mustard colored potion in the air that had everyone retreat from the station before it landed back in the cauldron with splat. Draco rubbed a hand over his mouth and drew his eyebrows together.

“Right, I have no idea, sorry,” he said and gave a little laugh. Other students giggled too but Bobbin lowered her head in resignation. “Don’t worry. Let’s just start from the top next time. Go ahead and clean up your station.”

Marie nodded and pointed her wand at the station. “Evanesco.” The potion remained. “Evanesco! Why won’t it work?”

Draco frowned. “I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. That’s a difficult Transfiguration spell, Miss Bobbin.”

“But sir, Bobbin’s the best at Transfiguration,” offered a Slytherin student.

“Yeah,” said another. “I’ve seen her do that spell a hundred times in class. Showoff.”

Evanesco! Evanesco! I—I don’t understand?”

The girl’s wand hand shook at the cauldron. Malfoy rushed over and placed a hand on hers and lowered it down. He wondered. “Can you do me a favor? Are you any good at charms?” he asked.

She nodded. “I can do most of the ones in our year and some for third as well.”

“That’s great. Can you just cast a quick Lumos for me?”

Draco waited for her to catch a breath and then watched as the Hufflepuff said the spell and flicked her wand. Nothing happened.

“Did Marie lose her magic?” asked another student. A few gasps went around the class.

“No, she just needs a checkup. I’m going to take Miss Bobbin to Madam Pomfrey. The rest of you are dismissed after you clean your cauldrons.” Draco led the sniffling girl into the hall. “I don’t suppose you know this, but potions can only be brewed by those with magical talent. That’s why muggles can’t just follow a potion recipe and expect results.”

“Did—did I lose my magic?”

The question brought Draco chills. “Let’s get you seen first. Maybe you’re just sick.”

Madam Pomfrey fretted over the girl for a few minutes before turning on Malfoy and pulling him into her office. “I’ve never seen anything like this. You didn’t see anything strange happen during the class?”

Draco shook his head. He was surprised that while he was worried about what blame would be pinned on him for a hexed student, he was more worried about Bobbin’s apparent loss of magic. “No, nothing out of the ordinary. We were reviewing the Sleeping Draught.”

“None of those ingredients could remove someone’s magic, no matter what combination.” Pomfrey held the girls wand and gave it a swish. Red sparks flew out and faded as they fell. “Nothing seems to be wrong with the wand either.”

“Do you think you can help her?”

“I’ll have to bring in McGonagall and go over what we can do. Thank you for bringing her here.”

Draco turned to leave. “Oh and Mr. Malfoy. You should probably keep this to yourself for now. People might get the wrong idea if they find out you were involved.”

Draco gave her a slight bow and wondered how she could even stand to talk to him, let alone worry about any potential trouble he may get in. Any hope of leaving the infirmary unseen was dashed when Draco noticed Morgan Malory and a group of her fans around Bobbin’s bedside.

“You poor dear,” cooed Morgan. “I heard from one of the others you couldn’t cast a spell?”

Marie sobbed a big and ugly cry. “I don’t know what happened. I couldn’t cast anything!”

“Shh, shh. It’s okay. They’ll fix you up, I’m sure.” Morgan stood and nodded at one of her girls who bent over and gave Bobbin a Chocolate Frog and a flower. “I’ll come check on you soon. Ah, Draco.”

Draco, who had been on his way out of the infirmary, stopped at the informal use of his name. “Malory,” he greeted. “A Slytherin checking on a Hufflepuff. Never thought I’d see something like that.”

His statement earned him some glares from Malory’s fans, but the girl herself gave him a disarming smile which dimpled her high cheeks. “Well, I guess I missed out on my education of school rivalry not having grown up here. Though to say a Slytherin can’t be concerned for someone else’s health seems barbaric, don’t you agree?”

The longer he stood in close proximity to Malory, the more her calming aura impacted him. Aunt Bellatix’s Occulumency lessons switched on and he shut down his emotions surrounding Malory. While she was no doubt a powerful witch in skill and society, he had no intention of being manipulated by another person again. “Slytherins tend to be more cunning than kind,” he said.

“Oh, come now, don’t be so cynical. I merely wanted to thank you for taking care of Marie here.” Malory leaned in and whispered her next words. “I’d rather be adored than feared and it never hurts to have acquaintances outside your influence.”

Draco stiffened before giving her stilted bow. “Good day, Malory.”

********

“Hey Neville!” Harry put down a book on prophecies he had finally managed to find, and bounded across the courtyard to Neville and Luna. “Where are you off too?” So far Harry’s days had been filled of cramming seven years of neglected studies into his head and coaching the Gryffindor team, which he thought Ginny was more than capable of doing on her own. He had been more than ready for a break.

“Oi, Harry. Luna and I were on our way to the greenhouses to collect herbs for Professor Brown,” Neville said. Luna kept an arm looped through Neville’s and didn’t say anything. “Well, I am. I think Luna just wanted to get a look at the Wee Sprites that live there.”

“There are sprites in the greenhouses?” Harry hadn’t seen any. Neville allowed the slightest shake of his head before shrugging.

“I dunno, haven’t seen them myself,” said Neville and Luna gazed up at him.

“That’s because you have to want to see them, Nev,” she explained. “Harry, you should come with us. Wee Sprites can be very fun, just don’t invite them inside your house. It takes ages to get them out. Just ask Daddy.”

“I think I’ll pass. Do you two want to get dinner together in Hogsmeade tonight?” Harry had enough of the House Elves holiday menu.

“Sure! Tell Ginny to come and we’ll meet you at Hog’s Head. Mr. Aberforth has really cleaned up the place since we held Dumbledore’s Army there. Guess there’s less bad guys around since the war. And I could really use a break from running potion ingredients to Professor Brown.”

Harry frowned. “Couldn’t she just collect them herself?”

“Haven’t you heard?” Neville asked and Harry shook his head. “One of the students Malfoy was tutoring lost her magic. She’s no better than a muggle now. The professors think she might have been poisoned or hexed. Poor girl had to give a statement to an Auror and might have to be sent home. Professor Brown has been busy making potion after potion for Madam Pomfrey to help her recovery.”

The courtyard suddenly felt much colder. High emotional stress could impact magical ability, but Harry’s instinct told him this was not the case. To remove someone’s natural power had to be the work of a very dark witch or wizard.

“That’s terrible.” He shoved his hands into his pockets and grasped his wand with the sudden need to feel his magic close to the surface. Losing magic would mean losing part of his identity.

“Yeah. I better hurry and restock Brown’s cupboard. She might be nicer than Snape ever was, but you don’t want to make her wait.”

Harry said goodbye to his friends, picked up his book, and made his way back into the castle lost in thought. If it was a hex or a potion, someone had to have been close to the girl to administer it, and if it happened when Malfoy was tutoring her, he would have been the only adult in the class. The chill of the courtyard followed him inside.

Harry changed out of his school robes into some muggle clothing he had brought along, a beaten red hoodie and jeans, and then wrote an owl to Hermione asking if she knew anything powerful enough to drain a witch’s magic. He left out the part about Malfoy not wanting another reminder that his stalking issues were unhealthy. In the Owlery he borrowed one of the school’s faster birds to send his letter and spent some time playing with the birds who weren’t asleep. Harry couldn’t look at an owl without missing Hedwig, but that did not stop him from loving the animals.

Coming down from the tower, Harry noticed someone standing in a grey cloak near the entrance of the school. The figure leaned against a pillar waiting for students to pass before heading off school grounds. While he was too far away to see a face, the shock of platinum blond hair was distinctly Malfoy.

Harry raced down the tower and through a secret passage he learned from the Marauder’s Map and out the entrance. By then, Malfoy was nearly across the bridge to Hogsmeade so Harry chased after him at a run and ignored the odd looks from other students and professors. Once he caught up to a manageable tailing distance, Harry slowed and kept out of sight as Malfoy passed the Shrieking Shack and into town. The boy wore his hood up and kept his face bent to the ground. Harry nearly lost him when he ducked into an alley but saw him emerge back on the main road a few blocks ahead.

Harry cursed and wished he had his invisibility cloak. He would have to settle on learning Malfoy’s destination and then figure a way to find out more at a later time.

“Harry. Harry Potter!”

Harry looked up from his chase and blinked at the large mass of seventh year girls led by Morgan Malory. The group nearly took up half the street. Morgan was waving to him and he politely waved back. He looked around and realized he lost Malfoy.

“Who are you looking for Harry?” Morgan asked coming up next to him. She stood uncomfortable close and he could feel her body heat as she pressed against him. He took a step away.

“A friend. I thought I saw him go this way,” he said. “We haven’t been introduced.”

“Where are my manners? My name is Morgan Malory,” she said and stuck out her hand. For a Slytherin, the girl came off as charming, flirtatious, and friendly. He was slightly distracted at her cheery face and kind eyes. “And of course I know who you are, Harry. There’s not a witch or wizard in America who hasn’t heard of you.”

“Er, nice to meet you.” They shook hands and she preened at him.

“The pleasure is mine, I assure you. I know this is forward, but I wanted to invite you to my Halloween Party tomorrow night.” From a small handbag, Malory produced a large white envelope with Harry’s name in silver and green ink on the front. He opened it and read the invitation.

“You’re throwing a masked party… in the Gryffindor common room?”

“Well, I had help organizing this. Ginevra has been a doll to convince her house in allowing a few snakes into the lion’s den. I’ve invited all the Eighth Years and I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” She patted the invitation.

“Ginny helped organize your party?” Harry was thrown off imagining Ginny working with the unofficial Queen of Slytherin to throw a Halloween bash. He supposed things really were changing around the school. “What about the prefects and Professor McGonagall?”

“Live a little, Harry,” she laughed. “Don’t worry. We’ll get everyone in early, it’ll be fun. Make sure you wear a mask, and um, something nice.” Her eyes trailed down his current outfit and Harry fought back a blush. “Now, I’ve enchanted the invitation so only those invited can see what’s written. Don’t be late!”

Malory turned and left with her classmates before allowing him to respond. Harry pocketed the invitation and headed to Hog’s Head to meet up with Luna, Neville, and Ginevra. As he walked he thought that maybe he could use the party to his advantage and confront Malfoy.

********

Dear Harry,

What happened to that Hufflepuff girl is simply awful. We read about the incident in the Prophet right after getting your letter. The writers made it sound like McGonagall is just as an inept headmistress as they portrayed Dumbledore to be and they certainly did not hesitate to point out Malfoy’s involvement as the girl’s tutor. Which I am surprised and proud that you didn’t mention that detail when you wrote.

I am unaware of any artifacts or curses that might strip away someone’s power. You can be assured I’ll be doing research here to find out. In the meantime, I suggest you keep looking through the library. But please Harry, don’t get into any trouble. I worry about you.

Love,
Hermione

P.S. Ron says ‘hi’ because apparently he can’t be bothered to pick up a quill.

Harry tossed the letter into his desk and stood looking down at the piece of paper and ribbon he had transfigured into a mask. He hadn’t meant for it to come out looking like a stag, but there it was in gold leaf with small antlers at the side and red lined eyes. The damn thing was too flashy for his taste and it’s ornateness meant he had to wear something nicer than the shirt he had originally picked out.

Sifting through his wardrobe, Harry pulled out a black button up that Ginny had given him and a pair of tight black jeans which nearly matched. For shoes he’d have to go with his Converse’s after casting a quick Scourgify. At least they were better than his trainers. Shrugging, he put the invitation and mask in his back pocket, grabbed his wand, the Marauder’s Map, and invisibility cloak and made his way to the Gryffindor common room.

The password was printed in the invitation and a snoring fat lady swung open to allow him entrance. Memories of the past threatened to overwhelm him, so Harry focused on the decorations of the party, the loud music, and the odd mixture of students now occupying a place he considered home for so many years.

“Oi, Harry!” A bunny masked red head bounded over to him from across the room and he remembered belatedly to put on his own costume. “Ooh, stag, nice. Reminds me of your Patronus!”

“Yeah, I expect that’s where it’s come from,” Harry said. “You guys did great, where did you get the decorations?”

Small bats flitted around the ceiling while hundreds of candles floated about with different color fire spelling out of them. The light they gave off was similar to a muggle disco ball. The walls had been decorated with gruesome caricatures of each house mascot. The Gryffindor lion was merrily chomping on some fallen knights, while the Slytherin snake struck out at party goers who got too close. Occasionally the Ravenclaw eagle gave a loud predatory cry overhead. Harry made a note to keep a lookout for the Hufflepuff badger.

“We nicked a lot from the Great Hall and the kitchens. Morgan enchanted the paintings herself, she’s really talented.”

“I didn’t know you two were friends,” Harry shouted. The music had reached a crescendo and many participants were singing along.

“Ha, well I wouldn’t say we’re friends, but she helped me in Transfiguration and I guess we hit it off,” Ginny laughed. “She’s not bad. Let’s grab you a drink. I’m supposed to be making sure the younger ones aren’t dipping into the fire whiskey.”

Ginny took him by the hand and led him to a table lined with self-filling goblets. Several concoctions with bits of fruit and neon colors caught his attention and it in moments he found himself staring down into a green drink with charmed candy eyeballs staring up at him. “What’s in this?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but it’s wicked,” Ginny laughed.

He was pleasantly surprised by the taste. The alcohol was strong but the sour apple flavor over it wasn’t unpleasant. Looking around, he noticed Neville and Luna on the edge of the dance floor. Luna pulled on a very reluctant Neville trying to get him to join the gyrating fray. Neville had poorly transfigured his mask in what looked like an attempt at a mouse. Luna’s was a white otter with whiskers, which should have looked ridiculous, but came off as endearing. Morgan herself had black cat mask and was dancing with a couple of boys and one girl at the same time.

Other pairings involved some cross-house couples. Zabini was dancing with a younger Gryffindor girl, and Hannah and Justin had pulled a Slytherin between them. Harry felt his cheeks go warm that particular trio and wondered how much everyone had to drink before he arrived.

A boy wearing a parrot mask bumped into Harry who was still occupying space at the table, so he gave Ginny a wave and moved off to the side of the room. Besides when Harry was being celebrated for a Quidditch win, or back in fourth year when he won against the dragon in the Tri-Wizard Cup, he had not much experience with parties. Harry found he preferred to stand back and crowd gaze. Leaning against the chair rail next to the fireplace, Harry sipped his drink and relaxed.

A tall, thin figure a few feet away stood next to the portrait of the Gryffindor lion and poked at the bleeding knights who struggled to get away. Harry took another drink and appreciated what was a very nice arse under grey slacks and broad shoulders in a silver shirt. His eyes went upwards to figure out who this nice specimen was when he realized the owner had blond hair and sported a white peacock mask. Harry gave his drink an accusing glare and contemplated throwing the remainder of it in the fire. Had he really been checking out Malfoy? Merlin wept.

Harry threw a sneak glance at Malfoy and was met with the Slytherin’s trademark smirk. Before he could run away, Malfoy had come to lean next to him. He held a silver goblet with a purple drink and apple slices and took a drink not looking at Harry. Harry was not sure he had ever seen Malfoy in muggle clothing and couldn’t help but continue to take secretive glances. He thought Malfoy looked better up close. He smelled nice too—and what the hell was in his drink?! Harry put it down before he caused himself embarrassment.

“Not dancing, Potter?” Malfoy asked. His tone held some of that old Malfoy jeer but it lacked bite.

“No, I don’t think Morgan would want me to ruin her party by scaring away her guests,” Harry replied a bit honestly. Malfoy surprised him by laughing.

“I’m sure exceptions would be made for the Savior, no matter how bad his dancing skills.” His statement was peppered with resentment, Harry thought.

Malfoy started to point out some of the more inebriated dancers and they fell into a comfortable conversation about nothing at all. They laughed together when they spotted Ginny preventing three Slytherins from sneaking up to the boys’ rooms, and they got excited when they realized the Hufflepuff badger had been enchanted into the rug and was nipping at the feet of the dancers. When Malfoy laughed, when he really laughed, Harry noticed a flush that spread from his neck up to his cheeks under his mask.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gryffindors find a few surprises around here for the weeks to come,” said Malfoy when he came back with drink refills for both of them. “I’m pretty sure someone has set a dungbomb on a timer under one of the chairs.”

Harry snickered. “I wonder why Morgan didn’t just throw the party in the dungeons.”

“Are you serious, Potter? No non-Slytherin has entered our common room in over 700 years,” Malfoy sniffed.

Harry had the decency to look sheepish as he took a drink. “I wouldn’t say it’s been that long.” Draco’s sudden stillness made him look over and he winced.

“Come again?”

“Well, I mean, it’s not like no one has broken in—”

“What the bloody hell are you—oh no, no you didn’t,” groaned Malfoy. Harry didn’t say anything but supposed his face spoke volumes. “There goes the sanctity of the Slytherin house. When did you do it?”

“Ha, I’m not spilling all my secrets now, Malfoy.”

“I am disgusted and ashamed of my house. I’ll be filing a formal complaint,” Draco said and he knocked back half of his drink. “These are good. Strong, but good.”

Harry’s own comment of secrets reminded him of his motivation to come to the party and corner Malfoy. He felt his stomach twist up in guilt as he watched Malfoy interact with an ease they never shared before, but Harry had to be sure.

“So,” he began.

“So,” Malfoy parroted. He was leaning a bit more towards Harry than when they had started the night.

“Saw you in Hogsmeade the other day. Looked like you were in a hurry.” Harry attempted to effect a casual curiosity but realized his mistake as the soft grey eyes behind the peacock mask became cold and familiar.

“You followed me?” Draco spat.

“No, I mean, well a little. I was meeting Neville and the others for dinner and I saw you. I was wondering where you were going,” Harry said trying to recover the conversation.

“That’s none of your business, Potter.” And wasn’t that a phrase Harry was beginning to hate coming from Malfoy. Before he could apologize, Malfoy slammed his drink down, grabbed a bottle off the beverage table, and stalked to the entrance of the common room. Harry watched as the other boy turned and muttered something, scanning the room, before he left.

“Good job cocking that up,” Harry said to himself. For some reason Malfoy’s anger towards him made him feel worse than not discovering what the other had been trying to hide.

His thoughts of Malfoy were pushed far out of Harry’s mind when he heard a scream rise the party. The music came to a sudden halt and the dancers quickly parted, taking refuge near the walls.

Harry pushed through the crowd to see what was happening. He shoved passed Ginny who looked white with dread. In the middle of the room over the rug, the Slytherin snake had come out of his painting and was coiled around Theodore Nott. Seamus stood with his wand at the ready and his mask discarded on the floor. Harry pulled his own wand out as the snake lashed out at Seamus and he sent out a stunning hex. The serpent recoiled but kept Nott held tight.

Stop!” Harry cried out in Parseltongue. The snake seemed oblivious to Harry’s command and squeezed its victim harder. Theo’s face was turning from white to a pale blue. Behind the snake Zabini quietly made his way to Nott and gave Seamus and Harry a nod.

“On three, Seamus,” Harry said. “One…two…three! Stupify!

Stupify!

The curses stunned the serpent long enough for Zabini to pull Nott out by his shoulders. Angered by losing its prey, the reptile struck out at Harry just as another round of hexes rained down on it. Harry got knocked back, his cheek caught a nearby table corner. Morgan ran to the snake and cast a reverse charm to throw it back into its canvas and then vanished the painting.

“Harry! Are you alright?” Ginny pulled Harry to his feet. Morgan rushed over with a handkerchief and dabbed at the blood welling from a cut in his face. Harry shook off both girls.

“I’m fine,” he said. Though at the moment he felt anything other than fine. He was going to find Malfoy and he was going to get some answers. Ginny cast a quick healing charm and he gave her his thanks before rushing out into the castle corridors.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” The Marauder’s Map lit up and his eyes fell upon a hall near the north tower. Irate and fueled by adrenalin and alcohol, Harry raced through the castle in search of Malfoy.

He found the Slytherin on the floor, a bottle of Malory’s imported American rum in one hand and his head in the other. Seeing red, Harry grabbed Draco by the collar and pulled him up.

“What did you do?” he demanded. Draco’s eyes were glassy from drinking but he still managed an impressive sneer.

“I told you, it’s none of your business, Potter!” He yelled and pushed Harry.

“Not about your bloody secret meeting! What did you do to the snake? You could have killed someone!” Harry shoved him back.

“Secret meeting?” Draco gave a shrill laugh. He stumbled over to a bench and sunk down. “What snake?”

Harry faltered. He had been so sure that Malfoy had conjured the serpent, he had not considered for a moment it could have been anyone else. “A snake attacked Theo. Took nearly the whole party to take it down.”

If possible, Draco became paler than his normal translucent white. The moon shown through a nearby window catching him half in light and half in shadow. Harry had a sense of déjà vu and looked up to see Professor Snape frowning down at him. The portrait of Snape looked displeased to have the two of them visiting him in the middle of the night. His glare at Harry was particularly venomous.

“You didn’t summon it,” Harry said lamely.

“No.”

“But why are you always sneaking around?!” Some of Harry’s indignation had returned in his frustration. “Why the cloak and dagger excursion to Hogsmeade, Malfoy?”

"What does it matter to you?!”

Who made the first move, Harry would never be able to say, but Malfoy got in the first hit. He caught Harry on the same cheek that was cut during his fight in the Gryffindor common room. Although the wound was healed, the area was still sore. Harry came back with a haymaker that landed sloppily in Draco’s side. They rowed and kicked and punched until Harry was on top of Malfoy, nose bloodied and dangerously close to losing all control. He raised his fist.

“Go ahead, I’ve had worse,” Malfoy spat and Harry felt all the fight drain from him. The adrenalin from the battle followed up with the fight with Malfoy left him shaking. He lowered his fist and pulled Malfoy up. Draco swayed on his feet and Harry pushed him back down to the bench.

Retrieving the abandoned bottle, Harry came and knelt down in front of Malfoy. “Take a drink. It’ll hurt less,” he said. The other boy took a drink while keeping his eyes on Harry. Harry took the bottle and began casting healing spells he learned in the field. He worked on Malfoy’s cuts and bruises first. Once he was satisfied he moved on healing his own until their fight was already a fading memory.

“Malfoy,” Harry began again. “You need someone you can trust, and I need to know you’re innocent.” He waited for Malfoy to speak, giving him time to think. Nothing between them was ever right; it could never just be easy. But Harry thought if he could make the effort to meet Draco halfway, they might be able to get somewhere.

“Fine, you know what? Fine.” Draco took a deep breath. “If it gets me out of your interrogation, I’ll tell you. When I left Hogwarts yesterday, I was visiting my Parole Auror, Gretta.”

“Parole Auror?”

“Yes, Potter. Do you think the Ministry would let me come back to Hogwarts without supervision? I went to tell about Gretta about Marie Bobbin and about the party.” Malfoy sounded angry but looked resigned. Harry cursed himself. He bent down to pick up the abandoned bottle, took a swig and offered it to Draco.

“So the man with the scar?”

“Pfft, I knew you were spying in the library. Yes, that’s Auror Gretta. He works with those charged as underage offenders. He’s got a house in Hogsmeade and I visit when I have a question or need a break from your inane chatter. Anymore questions?”

Harry felt apologizing would only lead to angering Malfoy further so he said nothing. Instead they traded the bottle between them for a spell.

“After your gracious testimony, I was only sentenced to six months in wizarding lock up,” Draco said. Harry startled at this new information. He hadn’t paid attention to the actual sentencing, wishing to be done with the whole scenario as soon as possible. “I was—I wasn’t treated very well, as you can probably imagine, by the other incarcerated youth. Being the son of a man who hosted the world’s most evil wizard really impacts one’s reputation.

“Afterwards I was turned over to the Ministry, who allowed me to return to Hogwarts as long as I met certain conditions.”

“Like keep in touch with Auror Gretta?” offered Harry. Draco drank deep and nodded as Harry absorbed this information. Malfoy had been in prison. Malfoy was being watched. Malfoy regretted his father’s actions. He wondered if Malfoy was the terrible foe he remembered, or if he was just another lost child in the aftermath of war.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone. I know you don’t owe me anything, Potter, but it’s not a something I want shared. Believe it or not, I don’t want things to return to the way they were before.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” Harry promised. “Come on, it’s after midnight. Let’s get back to our dorm.”

Draco stood and swayed on his feet. He looked up at the wall lost in thought. “What do we call it even? The Eighth Year common room is just too long to say each time. And you can just call it the ‘common room.’ Everyone’s going to get confused.”

“And you are fairly pissed, huh?” Harry asked. He threw an arm under Draco as he helped to steady him. The taller boy leaned into Harry, and once again Harry was overwhelmed by how good he smelled. “Come on, let’s go before this gets weird.”

“I think we’re past weird and venturing into some dangerous realm of friendliness,” Draco grumbled. He scrunched up his nose as if the idea was disturbing, and perhaps it was. A former Death Eater and the Boy-Who-Lived drinking together and helping each other back to their rooms seemed odd on paper, and even stranger in practice.

About halfway to their rooms, Harry heard voices and pulled Draco into a nearby alcove. He put a hand over a very flustered (and soft) Malfoy mouth and held a finger to his own lips. He dropped his hand and watched Draco mouth ‘Brown.’

Peering round the edge of the nook he saw illuminated wands at the far end of the hall. If they turned before getting to Harry, he could pull him and Draco back the way they came and us a different route. He tucked back in the alcove, trying not to press up against Draco, and the two of them held very still.

“Oh, what’s this? Students out of bed?” A voice came from nearby.

“Fred!” Harry whispered.

“Oh, lookie here! Harry and Draco sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I—,” Fred sang but Harry cut him off.

“Fred, not now! We need a distraction!”

“Who are you talking to, Potter?” asked Draco in a whisper. The professors were getting closer and he looked an inch away from running.

“Hmm, he can’t hear me, but you can…”

“Focus Fred!”

“Right, sorry. Just be a minute.”

Harry felt a chill and watched Draco shiver next to him. He guessed Fred had left them for the time being. They waited in silence, listening for either their impending detention or Fred’s salvation.

“What are we waiting for, Potter?” Draco asked. He locked Harry in a stare, his eyes cool grey in the dark corridor. “I know you came prepared.” Then he was moving his arm around Harry, pressing closer, dipped low, and—reached into Harry’s satchel. “Don’t tell me you forgot to bring your invisibility cloak.”

Harry batted Draco’s hand away, and thanked the darkness for hiding his blush. At the same time Harry managed to fit the cloak around Draco and himself, a loud chorus of ghostly voices came from the end of the hall. The two boys stepped from their hiding spot to watch a dozen or so young looking specters race along the corridor, whipping around the professors on watch, and knocking down sleeping portraits from the wall.

“Harry, don’t tell me you had your cloak with you?” Fred’s voice returned sounding amused and annoyed.

“Er, must have slipped my mind?” said Harry.

Draco glared at him. “WHO are you talking to?”

“Now get to bed,” Fred said. “And preferably not together.” Harry could just make out Fred’s laughing outline before he vanished. He blushed and thanked Merlin that Malfoy couldn’t hear Fred’s words or see their impact on Harry’s composure.

Once the hall was clear, Harry grabbed Draco’s arm and pulled him towards their rooms. The going was slow as both boys were nearly too large to fit under the cloak together. “This worked a lot better when I was twelve.”

At some point Draco pulled his arm free and placed a hand on Harry’s back as they awkwardly shuffled and Harry tried to think of other things besides the warmth that hand brought. Occasionally one or the other would stumble still fighting off the alcohol in their system, and they’d have to rearrange themselves under the cloak with much touching and a lot of cursing.

Harry helped Draco into his room at long last and they both collapsed on the bed breathing hard. Harry was the first to lose it and started to giggle inanely. The contagious laughter had Draco giggling too and they escalated into full body laughter until they both were in tears.

“So, is that what Gryffindors do for a good time? Hunt the bad guys and avoid teachers in drunken heroics?”

Harry bit his lip and smiled. “Pretty much, yeah.” They lapsed into silence and Harry looked over to see Draco smirking back at him.

“I’ve got the great Harry Potter in my bed, what would the papers say?” He joked. Harry blushed and looked away. “Oh, don’t be a prude. Not like you were raised with any pure-blood sensibilities.”

It took Harry a moment before he looked back over. Draco was relaxed and gazing softly at the ceiling.

“Do you think I could have been in Gryffindor?” Malfoy asked. The question came unexpectedly and Harry had to think before responding.

“You make a very good Slytherin,” he started, “but I suppose you do have the courage for a Gryffindor.”

Draco seemed pleased. “I never wanted anything else besides getting into Slytherin and living up to my family name. But now,” he spread his hands out in front of him. “I wonder what it would be like if I had thought for myself.”

“You know, the Sorting Hat nearly put me in Slytherin,” Harry confessed.

“You’re taking the piss,” Draco accused.

“Ha, no, it said I could accomplish great things in Slytherin, but I asked for Gryffindor and it sorted me there.”

“You can request your house?! Never mind that... The Savior was almost sorted into Slytherin. I may have to reevaluate everything I know about you.” Draco sat in mock-thought for a moment. “No, still a tosser.”

Harry laughed and hit Draco across the chest. His hand felt heavy and he didn’t move it for a while. When he realized what he was doing he pulled away and grimaced. He looked over in a apology at Draco. The other boy was turned towards him but fast asleep. Harry took the moment to observe without an audience. Except maybe Fred, he thought with slight paranoia.

Draco looked younger and more vulnerable and it pulled at Harry’s instincts to protect and care for him.

Not trusting himself for a moment longer, Harry pushed himself up off the bed. He took the time to throw a blanket over Malfoy, dimmed the candles, and walked out the door with a quiet, “Goodnight, Draco.”

Chapter Text

…Draco…

The room’s on fire. Everything is charred. He’s in the fire too. Potter didn’t return to save him…

..Draco…

He can hear his own skin popping as it separates from layers of fat and muscle. The heat is bone deep with no room to escape. At some point his screams had stopped and he could hear nothing outside the sound of his body boiling.

Draco!

The boy’s body seized once where it lay half ashore on the bank of a lake. All at once he came awake and rolled over to vomit on the pebbled beach. The icy water numbed his legs and when he attempted to stand they crumbled uselessly beneath him. With heavy arms he dragged himself away from the lake, pulling his body against the sharp stones and coughing up bile and water as he went. The effort became so strenuous that when he was finally free of the waves he rolled once again to his back and closed his eyes.

The lake was familiar yet he was sure he had never seen it before. The sky masked the position of the sun behind a wall of grey making Draco feel dizzy with disorientation. Collecting the energy to sit up took a painfully long time, and once accomplished, he was rewarded with a view of what could have easily been the eastern side of the Great Lake if it were not for the lack of a castle on the northern shore.

“Oh, hullo.”

Draco jerked backward. A woman in a white gown stood next to him with her hands clasped in front of her. On her head sat a delicate gold crown that appeared to have cracked down the middle. Long chestnut ringlets fell around her shoulders in great clumps and framed grey eyes set on pale skin above rosy cheeks. She smiled down at him and he found her simultaneously beautiful and unearthly. When he looked up to her, he was struck with a surge of loss and love so great he found his cheeks wet with silent tears.

“Let me help you up,” she said and offered him her hand. He reached to her but stopped. Her hand was just as pale and perfect as the rest of her and stood in stark contrast to his own covered in dirt and blood. He hesitated. “Come on, now. You can’t stay there forever.”

It had to have been mere moments, but it seemed they were caught in a limbo between her offer and Draco’s reluctance for hours before he accepted her help. Once on his feet he looked down to discover himself clean, dry, and no longer freezing. The little cuts and bruises he suffered had vanished.

“That’s better.”

“Who are you?” Draco asked casting his eyes back out over the water. His voice was rough and he still could not look directly at her without feeling compromisingly overwhelmed. “I heard you calling me.”

“Yes, I called to you. You’ve created a very dark prison for yourself. I once knew a man who destroyed an entire empire in his guilt and pain. You would do well to leave those feelings behind.” She started to walk along the lakeshore and he followed a couple paces behind her. Draco’s steps were loud on the preternaturally still environment; the lady moved silently making no noise in any movements. Even the shift of her gown was muted.

“I am a servant of the Malfoy family, Draco,” she continued. “I’ve been in your ancestors’ service for over a thousand years. My servitude was meant as a punishment; but I have come to consider it an honor.” The lady in white passed to bow low to him and he lowered his own head unsure of what to do. Her response had given him more questions than answers.

“Am I dead?” Draco asked and found that though he was curious, he was not fearful of the answer.

“No,” she said smiling again. When she spoke her voice sounded like it was part of the water and air and not an intrusion on nature’s silence. “I’m here to deliver a message.

“An old family enemy has returned, Draco, and they’re looking for you. They’re getting stronger, and if you don’t act soon, you won’t be able to stop them. The closer they get, the more vulnerable you’ll become, and the fates will not allow you to remain motionless.”

Draco wanted to tell her he was done being manipulated by others. That fate could choose someone else. That he did not appreciate her speaking in nonsense and riddles.

“I think you have the wrong person,” he said instead. Thunder broke over the lake. The grey clouds started to churn with the threat of rain. Flashbacks of Dementors surrounding Hogwarts came to him. “I am no Gryffindor.”

“Bravery is not a trait exclusive to a chosen few. You’ve already taken the first step down this path.” She shook her head. “You’re more worthy than you realize. Once you accept this, the means to overcome the evil that threatens this world will be revealed.”

The pale lady looked ahead at the gathering storm with fierce determination and a certain raw power which glowed just under the surface of her skin; a visage completely at odds with the calm serenity she had presented to him. The air around her crackled with magic.

A figure appeared on the water motionless and bobbing with the waves like driftwood. A corpse, Draco realized, small like a child. It was too far away for him to make out the face, but he could recognize the Hogwarts’s robes. He reached out and took a step towards the water. The pale lady grabbed his arm, stopping him from treading back into the lake, and shook her head.

“You can’t stay here and you can’t help her. We’ll see each other again. But for now, you need to wake up.”

*********

Draco sat up suddenly in his four poster bed with his shirt clinging to his body in sweat. There had been a woman and… shit, the memory was fading fast. He fumbled for his journal and quill, spilling ink across his desk in his haste, and scribbled down what he could.

“Pale woman, no name, Malfoy servant, old enemy… Lake. Storm… Child… death… fuck, fuck.” He threw his quill and journal against the opposite wall. “Just a dream. Just a dream. Calm down. It was just a dream.”

If it was just a dream, why did he feel like every nerve in his body was a tension wire ready to snap?

Draco placed shaking hands over his face and let out a hysteric laugh. He wondered if he finally was going insane. The idea was strangely comforting.

He allowed himself a minute to catch his breath and tried to relax. The more he allowed the dream to fade, the more control he regained until the memory dwindled to a mere whisper in the back of his mind.

Maneuvering back to his bed, he collapsed on his back and triggered another memory. He looked to his left where he remembered Potter lying next to him last night. He had been talking some nonsense about almost being sorted as a Slytherin. Draco barked a sudden laugh that wasn’t one of hysteria this time, but rather of fondness. He and Potter had gotten into a bad row, and he couldn’t make himself care enough to be angry. Potter had healed their wounds and Draco told him some of his secrets.

Of course, Potter ruined whatever semblance of normality they had reached by behaving like a lunatic, talking to thin air and being absolutely moronic by forgetting about his own damn invisibility cloak. Draco wondered why he did not just leave Potter in the hall to fend for himself and chalked it up to being too inebriated.

Lost in the memory of the night before, he found himself grinning like a loon. He scowled at himself and set about getting ready for the day. A quick sweep of his wards let him know Potter hadn’t tampered with any of his personal items, which he found mildly surprising given their history. He was also surprised when he realized he was not experiencing any symptoms of a hangover. He had been prepared to deal with the potential unpleasant aftermath of drinking by brewing a hangover cure during one of his tutoring classes. After showering and changing into casual robes, he took one last look around his room, pocketed the remedy he no longer needed, and left to get breakfast.

Visions of a woman in white occasionally haunted the edges of his thoughts.

********

Harry had slept like the dead. Which was good, he rationalized, since he had been spared dreaming of the war, something which frequently haunted his nights and left him feeling drained. Unfortunately, the quality of sleep did nothing to help the fact he felt like he was actually dying. Or maybe his soul was trapped in a body that was dead and could still feel pain. And that was presently highly sensitive to the sunlight streaming into his room. He recognized his thoughts as being perhaps a little hyperbolic.

Pressing his hands to his temples, Harry sat up slow and made a silent vow to never drink again. Zabini slept soundly, draped across his own bed, and snoring like Hagrid with a cold. For a minute, Harry was stunned such a loud noise could come from the otherwise quiet Slytherin.

He quietly made his way to the showers and washed away the sweat and grime from the night before. He thought of his adventure in the corridor with Malfoy. He felt guilty about the fight, though he supposed trading blows with Malfoy had been an inevitability. He smiled as he washed. On the other hand, he had fun in a way he didn’t realize he was missing. Hiding from the professors under the cloak brought back memories of sneaking around with Ron and Hermione.

Except instead of camaraderie and friendship, Harry felt some of that along with something different. Something that made his insides twist and gave him a strange confidence and pleasure. Something a little dark and—something that he would continue to think about when he wasn’t in the communal shower.

Harry cut his shower short and went to dress in his most comfortable muggle attire. He headed to the Great Hall to catch the remnants of breakfast. He had a plan for today. Shoving thoughts of Malfoy aside, he thought about the attack in the common room. He had a feeling the event was connected to the prophecy and he decided to hit up the library.

His stomach grumbled.

But first, bacon.

Halfway to the Great Hall Harry saw Ginny coming the opposite way and raised his hand to greet her. The look she levelled him made his stomach turn to rocks and he lowered his hand quickly.

“Harry James Potter!” Ginny yelled. He could hear Mrs. Weasley’s influence coming through every ground out syllable of his name. “Where the hell did you run off last night?”

Harry gulped. He had not been expecting this. Although, he realized a little too late, he had helped everyone defeat a giant snake, chased after who he thought was the bad guy without telling anyone, and then proceeded to spend most of the night with his archrival and said suspect. Harry conceded to her right to be pissed.

“Ginny, wow, great party right?” Harry flinched when she brought up a hand as if to hit him.

“Where were you, Potter? You just ran off! We sent Neville to find you. Morgan was terrified her party had made the Boy-Who-Lived go mad.”

“And I’m so, so sorry, Ginny. But look, I’m fine. Swear.” Harry tried to smile and winced; his head was still pounding. “I should have said something. Is everyone okay?”

Ginny softened minutely. “Theo recovered fine, just some bruised ribs. We took him to Madam Pomfrey and told her what happened. Well, we left out the bit about the alcohol.”

Harry nodded feeling slightly ashamed on not checking on his classmate.

“That reminds me,” Ginny said and now she looked a little contrite which made him feel worse. “Professor McGonagall wants to speak to you about what happened. I’d do it as soon as possible.”

“Like ripping a bandage, yeah. I’ll talk to her.”

Ginny put a hand on his arm and squeezed. “I think she’s just worried about you. We all are.”

Moments like these made Harry feel sorry he had failed to live up to her expectations of him as a boyfriend. They hugged goodbye and he went to finally get breakfast. The hall was sparsely populated. At the eighth year table, Nott sat next to Seamus who fussed over the injured boy by getting Nott whatever he asked. From the amused expression on his face, Harry assumed Nott to be perfectly capable of getting his own food. Malfoy sat alone at the end watching the two with a curious expression. Neville was on his way out and Harry gave him an apology which Neville just brushed off and told Harry he was just happy he was okay.

Leaning over a plate with sausages and eggs, Harry tried to quell his stomach which rolled in protest from the smell of food. Malfoy landed in the seat across from him and tapped on the table.

“You look like hell, Potter,” he mused. Harry could only summon a growl in response. His headache had escalated. “Reduced to monosyllables? Not surprising.”

“Well you look—” Harry stopped and felt a small amount of frustration. Malfoy looked good—fine, he looked fine. “How are you not suffering? You must have drank most of that bottle.”

“Superior genetics.” The corner of Malfoy’s mouth twitched as if he could guess exactly how Harry thought he looked. Harry stabbed his sausages and took an angry bite. When he glanced back up, he watched as Malfoy slid a small bottle to him from across the table. Inside was an orange liquid and when he popped the lid he smelled coffee, grease, and something similar to Pepperup Potion. He raised an eyebrow.

“Not trying to poison me for last night are you?” Harry joked but eyed the bottle with some concern.

“Please, of all the ways I have planned your death, this doesn’t fall in the top ten. For starters, I wouldn’t be so obvious about it nor have witness,” Draco sneered but without his usually heat. “Just take it. Think of it as repayment for helping me get back to my room without getting caught. Even if you almost did cock it up, Potter.”

Malfoy stood and left Harry wondering what was happening to his life.

A note sporting Draco’s perfect handwriting hung from around the neck of the bottle: Drink Me. Harry waited until some of the remaining students left before taking the potion just in case there were any ill effects. The taste was terrible so he one-shot it with a grimace. Steam billowed out his ears but only for a minute, then he had an uncomfortable itch develop on his back that quickly gave way to a pleasant warmth. The headache he had been suffering since waking ebbed into nothing and his stomach calmed. He smacked his lips and looked at the empty bottle thoughtfully.

After his unusual breakfast experience, Harry made his way to the headmistress’s office. Professor McGonagall had left the majority of the office unchanged. Some of her personal items decorated the surfaces alongside artifacts from professors long gone. Harry shifted in a seat in front of the desk feeling uncomfortable as she poured him a cup of tea.

“You’re not in trouble, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said evenly. “How do you take your tea?”

“Black is fine,” Harry said and took the cup when she offered. “Was there something you wanted to talk about, professor?”

“I understand something interesting happened at the Gryffindor Halloween party last night.” Harry could not tell from her inflection whether she was upset or disappointed. “I did not request for you to come here because I’m assigning detentions, so you can stop giving me that look. I want to know what happened in your words.”

She sipped at her tea and waited for Harry to respond. He looked into his cup for a reply.

“Someone had transfigured some paintings to represent the house mascots. The Slytherin one, the snake, came alive and attacked,” he said and shrugged. “I tried to stop it by speaking Parseltongue, but it ignored me.”

“Very interesting. But not unheard of. While your mastery as a Parselmouth allows you the command over serpents, there is a chance this snake was conjured by a very powerful wizard, and as it wasn’t a real animal, would have been relatively immune to your influence.”

“It felt real,” Harry mumbled touching his cheek.

“I’m not saying it wasn’t corporeal. Rather it wasn’t a living thing.” She let Harry ponder this information. “Now, Miss Weasley said you left soon after the attack, can you tell me why?”

“I thought I knew who conjured it,” Harry said and then realized his mistake when he noticed her stare become more intense. He started to shift in his seat again.

“And who was that?”

“Er—Well, like I said, I thought I knew. But I was wrong.”

“Very well. What do you make of the event?”

Harry blinked. “You want my opinion, professor?”

McGonagall sighed and put her head in her hand as if speaking to Harry was a difficulty. Hermione had made him familiar with that same gesture. “Need I remind you that you helped defeat the most powerful dark wizard in history and many of his followers? I believe you’ve proven your ability to weigh in on these sorts of matters. And no matter how much I would like it if you stayed out of this mess, your history, Potter, tells me you won’t. I’d have a better chance of convincing Hagrid to give up his love for dangerous magical creatures.”

Despite her sardonic tone, Harry found himself feeling proud at being someone she would consider consulting. “Well, I think that maybe this has to do with Professor Trelawney’s prophecy. I don’t have any real proof, just a hunch. It seems too much of a coincidence that she would warn us of an evil power and then we get attacked like that,” he finished.

“Yes, that’s what I fear as well. Fine, I’m going to tell Madam Pince you have my permission to look into this matter. You’ll have access to the restricted section to help your research.”

Harry squirmed in his seat out of excitement. Hermione would be jealous. Actively working with the professor instead of sneaking around was a new experience. It certainly had more perks than being on his own. He wondered if this was similar to what it would be like as an Auror.

“And I expect regular reports if you find anything of interest. And I will restrict your access if your marks in any of your classes drop.”

“Yes, professor.” He couldn’t help but smile.

“There is one other thing. You don’t have to tell me where you disappeared to, but I would appreciate it if you did talk to someone,” McGonagall said softly. She slid Harry a piece of paper.

Mr. Pomfrey?” Harry frowned. “What’s this?”

“Poppy’s brother. He’s a healer of sorts, one you talk with. As I understand he’s helped many people recover from war. I’ve asked him to come to Hogwarts to help returning students and would like for you to see him. You only have to talk to him once. If you decide you don’t wish to continue, that is your choice. You are an adult now, Harry, and can make your own decisions.”

“Thank you, professor,” said Harry pocketing the paper. For reasons not entirely clear to him, he felt a little trepidation in sharing his experiences about the war with a stranger. “I will.”

“Good. You’re dismissed.”

********

The week went by in a flurry of studying, tutoring, and Quidditch practice until suddenly Draco found himself in front of the Slytherin Quidditch team giving a pep talk before the first match of the year with Gryffindor.

“They’ve got more experience working as a team, but you have the element of surprise. Bloom, I want you to find the Snitch before Gryffindor gets too many points. Don’t go for it immediately, wait for us to build up a good score, or wait for my signal. But if it looks like Gryffindor’s getting too far of a lead, you shut them down. Sully, you keep take offensive and keep their chasers from getting too close to Pucey. Longer shots to the goal will be easier to block and I don’t want them to notice how good Marvin is until it’s too late.” Draco winked at Marvin who preened. “Get in their way but don’t foul them. Free shots for the enemy will not help our odds. You’re Slytherins, you’re cunning, and you’re far better than some brave airheaded Gryffindors. Use that to your advantage. Let’s go.”

They filed onto the field. Aconitia, being the oldest and in her sixth year, was the technical captain of the team and she went out to shake hands with Ginny Weasley. Madam Hooch blew her whistle and everyone pushed off into the air. Cheers came from all around and the pitch roared to life. Malfoy made his way to the side of the field to watch.

The voice of second year Slytherin Frederick Stromm rose above the crowd noise. “Gryffindor has the Quaffle, but Slytherin Murdoch’s heavy blows are keeping them back.

Part of Malfoy wished he was in the air with them, but being able to direct and coach the team had been equable enjoyable up to this point. He lost himself in the game, clapping when Slytherin pushed forward and booing when Gryffindor got too close, and he did not notice he was not alone until Potter spoke.

“Think you can really beat us, Malfoy?” Harry teased.

“I think you’d be a fool not to be on your guard,” Malfoy returned.

And Gryffindor’s scored the first points of the game!

Harry turned a smug smile on him. “You were saying?”

“The game’s just started, Potter. You’ve no idea what this team is capable of. Don’t underestimate a Slytherin.” His smirk faltered when he saw the look Potter was giving him. Harry still smiled, but his face had taken a softer look closer to admiration and it made Draco’s chest tight to have that fondness directed at him.

Slytherin scores! Yes! The teams are tied!

They turned their attention back to the game and watched the Slytherin chasers do a loop in celebration. Bloom was cheering from her lookout high above the field.

“Care to make a wager on your team?” Harry asked. “I’ll put ten galleons on mine.”

“What would I want with your spare change, Potter?” Draco drawled.

“You bet Seamus for galleons before,” Harry pointed out. “On Malory getting into Slytherin.” He looked as if he had won some sort of argument. Draco rolled his eyes and tried to keep his focus on the game. Sully knocked the Bludger at a Gryffindor chaser who dropped the Quaffle giving Slytherin the advantage.

“I meant I have no need for money. I only bet Finnigan because it amused me to see him lose. If you want to make a wager, you have to make it worth the other person’s time.”

They stood in silence as the Quaffle got traded back and forth, and Draco could almost hear Potter thinking next to him. Both teams had a good beaters, but Slytherin had the better keeper. Draco only worried that Marvin wouldn’t be able to stand up to Weasley’s years of experience if she kept the Quaffle.

“If Gryffindor wins, you help me with a project I’m working on for McGonagall,” said Harry.

The way he stressed project made Draco intrigued but he feigned nonchalance in his reply. “And what do I get when we win? It better be worth my time.”

Harry shrugged and then grinned. His eyes took on a mischievous look Draco had never seen before and he realized he had been seeing more of Harry, the real Harry, in the last few weeks than he had ever seen all those years when they were rivals. The look was positively Slytherin and made Malfoy more than a little nervous. “I’ll show you my secret weapon to navigating Hogwarts.”

“I already know about your invisibility cloak, Potter. We used it together.” Draco shot for a patronizing tone but fell short. He could feel a slight blush form from the memory and quickly looked up and away to his team.

“Not that secret. I’ve got one better.”

Now that sounded interesting, and more importantly, worth Draco’s time. He pretended to deliberate on his decision for a bit longer. Weasley scored despite Pucey’s best efforts to block her. Sully glared daggers at the other red head and sent the Bludger flying at her at a blinding speed. At least if Marvin and her ever married he’d be well protected.

“Deal,” Draco said. Harry stuck out his hand and they shook on it. He remembered how in his first year Potter refused to shake his hand. This time felt like a second chance. Of course Potter was probably about to regret it. Draco smirked as he pulled away, and without breaking eye contact with Harry, brought his hand to his mouth let out a long, loud whistle. Harry’s eyes widened as the Slytherin team flying above responded with a chorus of whistles. From Marvin at the goals to Bloom high above the pitch, the speed and coordination of the signal was a testament to the hours Draco had put in coaching.

“Should know better than to gamble with a Slytherin, Potter.”

What in the world…? OH! Looks like the Slytherin seeker, Aconitia Bloom, has found the Snitch! She’s going into a steep dive with the Gryffindor seeker, Dean Bell, on her tail. What’s this? Pucey blocks a hot one from Weasley, and oh! Doesn’t she look mad? Bloom’s going into a spin, Bell’s trying to keep up… and it was a feint! Slytherin’s seeker going after the Snitch leaving Gryffindor facing the wrong way—AND SHE’S GOT IT! Slytherin wins! 160 to 20!

Draco clapped and cheered his team—his team—as they rushed on the field along with the Slytherins from the stands. Potter was still looking at him with that gobsmacked expression that made the win feel so much better. He wished he had a camera.

“I’ll be holding you to your end of the bargain,” Draco said and he clapped Potter on the shoulder to rub in his win. Harry shook him off and gave him a crooked smile.

“You cheated.”

“No, I devised a strategy. Better go console your team and—your Weasley. She doesn’t look happy,” Draco pointed out and he made to go congratulate Aconitia and the rest of his team on their success.

“Wait!” Harry called out. Draco turned and raised an eyebrow. “Meet me in the common room tonight at midnight. Wear something you can muck up and bring your wand. Might as well make this fun.”

Chapter Text

Dear Ron and George,

There’s something you both should know. I would have told you sooner, but I couldn’t find the right words, so please forgive me.

Recently Hogwarts has had a rise in the number of ghosts haunting the castle due to the many who died in the battle. Look, you probably know where I’m going with this, but what I’m trying to say is that I have seen Fred. I’ve seen his ghost.

First I only heard his voice when I was alone in the common room, and I thought I may have made it up. Then Malfoy and I were trying to avoid some professors after curfew and Fred caused a distraction so we could slip by. Just a few hours ago he popped in to make fun of me for letting Slytherin beat Gryffindor in the first Quidditch match, and then threw exploding snap cards at my feet.

I’m sure you wouldn’t expect anything less, George, but he’s still an arse in the afterlife. He might be after Peeves’s job of resident spectral mischief maker.

I haven’t told Ginny yet because until tonight I hadn’t been able to see him, and I get the idea he’d like to appear to her on his own.

Anyway, I’ll be sending another letter soon to tell you about the trouble going on here. Give my regards to Molly and tell her I’ll keep Fred company while I’m here.

-Harry

********

The rucksack Hermione gifted Harry for his last year at Hogwarts was enchanted with the same Undetectable Extension Charm she had used on her purple beaded bag during the search for Horcruxes. She had given it to him with a wink and told him it could carry all his books so he’d never be burdened by his studies. Only Hermione would want to ensure Harry had no excuse to not carry around extra study material. He used the rucksack for weeks before he reached in during Potions and nearly pulled out a bottle of firewhiskey instead of the cauldron he had meant to grab. Only then did he understand the meaning behind Hermione’s wink.

Hermione and Ron had stocked the bag with wizarding snacks, alcohol, an assortment of items from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, camping gear, and embarrassingly enough, condoms. He guessed (hoped, really) that the last item was Ron’s idea. Harry had stared at the box for a mortified minute before hastily stashing it back deep, deep down.

The rucksack currently occupied the space behind an overstuffed armchair located at the far corner of the eighth year common room. Harry sat on the chair with a book in his lap pretending to read as he waited for midnight to come. The Slytherins were throwing a party in the dungeons celebrating their defeat of Gryffindor in one of the shortest games of Quidditch Harry had the displeasure to have witnessed. Expecting Malfoy to at least make an appearance at the party, Harry kept an eye on the door for his return; which was why he was completely unprepared for Malfoy’s punctual descent down the stairs from his room.

Harry jumped from his seat and shut the book with a loud clap. Malfoy retreated a step and raised an eyebrow. “Scared, Potter?”

Harry glared and got his rucksack from behind the chair. “You wish. Why aren’t you at the party?”

Draco shrugged. “Hurry up and show me this supposed ‘secret weapon.’” He leaned against the stairwell and crossed his arms.

Harry noticed Draco had actually dressed in something that was not as posh as his normal clothes, though the outfit was still leagues better than Harry’s everyday wardrobe… even his special occasion attire. Draco wore an off white Henley with grey slacks and looked positively muggle. Harry also noted how Draco’s eyes kept sliding to his rucksack though his posture was set to feign indifference. Years of secret observation granted Harry the ability to decipher Malfoy motives, more or less. Despite his nonchalance, Malfoy was curious.

“Not here,” Harry said hoping the secrecy would keep him interested. Though the common room had emptied long before midnight, he was also wary of someone else spying on them. This earned him another raised eyebrow from Malfoy, until he pulled out the invisibility cloak and Draco’s face fell.

“We barely fit under that thing last time!”

“We don’t really have a choice, its past curfew.” Harry remarked. “We won’t need it the entire time.” He watched in anticipation as Draco struggled to come to a decision. Malfoy scowled at the cloak as if willing it grow or disappear entirely.

“Fine,” he said. “But if we’re about to be caught, I’m pushing you out and borrowing it until your punishment is over.”

“Sure,” Harry replied and smiled. Out in the hall they made their way to East Wing at slow, uncomfortable pace. At one point Harry tripped on a stair and realized when he looked down that the cloak did not quite cover their feet, a detail he had missed when he had been drunk. He could practically feel Draco’s glare hot on his neck as he came to the same conclusion.

“This better be worth it, Potter,” Draco hissed. Harry shivered.

“Almost there.”

The East Wing had suffered from the Battle of Hogwarts worse than any other area of the castle. Just as Ginny had noted on the carriage ride their first day back, Hogwarts was enchanted to be self-repairing. While the teachers did aid this process along, a majority of the repairs were done without human supervision and Harry had noticed some of the rooms had changed from the original layout. Hogwarts, it seemed, was giving itself a makeover.

As an experiment, Harry had consulted the Marauder’s Map and found that many of the new rooms or features appeared as blank spots. He discovered that by carrying the activated map to these new areas the map would record the new renovations. There were still parts of the East Wing he had yet to explore, and since the area was closed off to faculty and students, he figured it was relatively safe for him and Malfoy to visit. At least safe from possible detention.

“Here.” Harry stopped and stepped into a classroom which looked like a confused combination of Potions and Transfiguration splashed in bright pink paint. Well, no one said the sentient castle had a good sense of décor. Once he pulled the cloak off, Malfoy quickly stepped away putting a fair amount of space between them. “Did you bring your wand?” Harry asked.

“As if I’d head out in the middle of the night without it,” Draco drawled.

Harry took out the map and spread the blank parchment across an empty desk. It had been a long time since he had shared the map with anyone new. He found himself excited at the prospect and a little worried that Malfoy wouldn’t find it impressive. “Okay, here it is. Just tap your wand on the paper and say ‘I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.’”

Draco had drawn his wand but hesitated, looking at Harry with slight concern. “You’re putting me on.”

“No! I’m not, I swear. Just—here...” he grabbed Draco’s wand hand and pulled him to the map. “Just try.” He waited.

“…Let go of my hand, Potter.”

“Right.”

Draco stood tall, squared his shoulders, and tapped the map. “I solemnly swear that I’m up to no good. I swear to Merlin, Potter, if this is a joke—” Draco stopped speaking as ink flowed from where his wand had been and filled out to the far corners of the map. He took in a sharp breath when he saw the names appearing one after another starting with his and Harry’s and spiraling outwards in the hundreds. He watched all of it unravel in a state of childlike wonder, his eyes roaming from one portion to the next in quick succession… and Harry watched him. “Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs. Extraordinary. Is this everyone in Hogwarts?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. It shows every room, every person, and every secret tunnel.”

Draco studied the map further and then frowned. “There’s pieces missing.” He pointed to the hallway just down from their room.

“Yeah, well…” Harry hadn’t wanted to bring up the past and found himself choosing his next words carefully. “That’s why we’re here. The castle’s—it’s been changing its layout and the map needs updated.”

Something close to excitement lit Draco’s features. Harry could imagine the thoughts going through the other boy’s head. What sort of powerful artifacts could they find? What secrets did Hogwarts have yet to reveal to the world? Harry could do without the power, but the discovery of things lost to the ages excited him.

“Look, none of the Professors have been coming here at night, so I think we can walk without the cloak. Would you… would you like to come?” Harry asked.

Draco’s head snapped up and he leveled a serious look at Harry. “I get to hold the map.”

********

While Draco had begrudgingly been intrigued by learning the great Harry Potter’s secret, he had severely underestimated how amazing the reveal would actually be. In fact, hours after he made and won the bet, he had come to the erroneous conclusion that whatever Potter had to show him would be dull and a waste of time. The only reason why he came at midnight was to satisfy the remainder of his lingering curiosity. Not to mention his interactions with Potter had recently been entertaining in a way he didn’t think possible. For once he was around someone not because of their attraction to his wealth, nor because he could gain from their status. He was simply enjoying his time.

Together they walked through the newly rebuilt East Wing and Draco found his attention bouncing around from the new hallway to the map, and occasionally to the boy next to him. Silence lay between them outside of their steps which fell in sync as they explored.

Opening doors revealed mostly new classrooms which when entered automatically recorded on the map with the correct dimensions and labels: Advanced Arithmancy, Dark Arts for Dummies, and Indoor Greenhouse for Shaded Plants. Occasionally Draco would be hit by a cloud of dust or an unexpected patch of soot and he mentally thanked Potter for the warning of wearing clothes he could “muck up” while simultaneously blaming him for the mess. At about the fourth or fifth room which turned out to be some sort of new lounge for professors, Draco let out an aggravated huff. He had been so entranced by the map’s abilities he had missed the obvious. “You little sneak…”

Harry jumped and fumbled a coffee mug with “World’s 2nd Greatest Professor” printed across the front in red ink. “What?”

“This is how you always knew where I was!” Draco accused. “This is how you were always popping out of bloody nowhere!”

“Er—” Harry backed up away a step. Draco rolled his eyes.

“Really, I thought you put tracking charms on me. Or were just following me everywhere. This is much less creepy, by the way. What?” Harry’s face had turned into a very nice shade of red and he looked away refusing to meet Draco’s eyes. “What?”

“Nothing. You just reminded me…of something.”

“That’s very specific. Mind clarifying?” Draco clutched the map close to his person just in case Potter was about to have a fit and flee the room.

“Well, just,” Harry ran a hand through the mess he called hair and shuffled around the room as he spoke. “Ron and Hermione used to get annoyed with me because I would follow you around. On the map, that is!” Harry snapped his mouth shut and rubbed his hands across his face. In near imperceptible mumble he said, “For weeks really.”

Draco blinked once, twice. He thought about what he would have done with the map in his possession all those years at school. Track Harry, no doubt. Did he feel angry for being followed? Yes. He also conceded that Harry had good reason to suspect him, especially towards the end. Two years ago, even a year ago, he would have yelled at Harry, flung insults at him, done whatever he could to vent his frustration. Two years ago, when he still had something to prove.

Draco felt the walls in his mind go up around his emotions, the basis of his Occlumency skill. Compassion, anger, guilt, pride, and empathy all sequestered in boxes kept apart and away from the forefront of his conscious. It was his defense against the guilt of what he did, what he had been forced to do. His face and countenance reflected the careful blankness he constructed.

And then there was something tapping at those walls. Some small thought like an itch, incessant and not easily ignored. He felt it gnaw through his barriers until it grew too loud not to voice.

“Why would you show me this, Potter?” he asked in a voice just above a whisper.

Harry shifted towards him. “What do you mean?”

Why me? “Why would you share this map with me? Obviously it’s immensely powerful. Don’t you realize I could use this against you?”

Harry didn’t respond.

“What sort of idiot are you? Why would you give this to someone who would want to hurt you?!” Draco considered he might be some kind of sadist because when he watched Harry’s face turn from worry to anger he felt happier.

“You wouldn’t,” Harry replied. The silence between them hung heavy with the weight of a thousand held back words.

“You don’t know that!” spat Draco.

“Yes, I think I do!” Harry yelled back. “Didn’t you say it yourself? Didn’t you say you weren’t trying to get in trouble anymore?”

“Avoiding trouble isn’t the same as being good.”

“Well, bad guys don’t go volunteering to tutor second year potion failures. Bad guys don’t care about the people on their Quidditch teams. Bad guys don’t save the people who leave them scarred and broken!” Harry’s green eyes shone in the low light of Lumos from his wand. Draco brought a hand to the collar of his shirt where the tip of a scar which stretched down across his chest started. “I’m so sorry, Draco.”

The room suddenly felt too small for the both of them. The shame of someone feeling sorry for Malfoy clashed with the relief of hearing those words and his name. His barriers took another hit and all of it was just too confusing in that moment. He needed an escape.

A rumble and shifting of rock and mortar startled both the boys back to the present moment. A purple tapestry draped on the wall billowed towards them and danced off to the side revealing a hidden entrance to a tunnel.

I made that, Draco thought. When I asked for an exit, I made that happen. Both he and Harry looked down at the map, momentarily forgetting the conversation, to see where the tunnel led, but the map only reflected an unbroken line where the wall existed.

“Huh,” said Harry.

“What do you think it is?” Draco asked.

“Well, I don’t know. But…” Harry coughed, his voice still a bit hoarse from yelling. “The Room of Requirement never did show up on the map. Maybe this is something similar?”

“Only one way to find out,” Draco said and he grabbed the map.

“Malfoy wait. About before—,” Harry started but Draco cut him off.

“You’re right, Harry. I’m not going to hurt you.” Draco looked over at Harry with what he hoped conveyed his earnestness. “Now, are you coming or am doing this on my own?”

Harry rushed to the entrance as if Draco had really been about to leave him behind. While it was true Draco did not wish to harm him, he was more than willing to let Harry lead the way through the mysterious Tunnel of Ending Awkward Conversations. He tucked the map into his pocket, once again mystified and slightly concerned in Harry’s cognitive abilities that he was allowed to hold onto it, and stepped inside.

Grey stone bricks lined the wall interspersed with patches of dirt as if Hogwarts had built this location in a rush. At some points the tunnel would take a steep dive down and then angle back up with haphazardly placed steps. Every ten feet or so candelabras would flit to life rendering the Lumos spell useless under their bright light. Regardless, both boys kept their wands out and ready. At one bend of the tunnel they had to tread through water, and at another they found ancient paintings and framed illuminated manuscripts in a dead language lining the walls. Draco attempted to pry a smaller page down which looked to contain ingredients for an unheard potion, but couldn’t get it to budge. Nor could he convince Potter to help him.

Eventually the tunnel ended at small round wooden hatch with a rope ladder underneath. “Well, in for a penny…” Harry mumbled and stepped up on the first rung.

“What the hell is a penny?” Draco asked.

Harry looked back at him and laughed. He swayed on the ladder and Draco moved to keep it still so he could push open the hatch. Small pebbles showered both of them. Draco groaned and tried to shade his eyes while not thinking about the state of his clothes or hair. When he looked back up he could see the stars just passed Potter’s outline.

“Well, hurry on then.” Draco shook the ladder and Potter scowled back at him. He smiled which only seemed to throw Potter off kilter for a moment before hastily making his way out. Draco followed, and dusting off his clothes, took in his surroundings.

The hatch closed on its own and within moments became a barely visible circle set in the ground. Just about ten yards away the inky surface of the Great Lake sparkled under the moon. To the north Draco could make out Hogwarts’s dark outline broken occasionally by a lit window or crumbled parapet. For a brief second the view changed and he could see the entire lake as it may have been a thousand years ago.

Harry dropped his rucksack on the ground and began to rummage through it, drawing Draco from his vison. The heavy banging coming from the bag made it sound as if the rucksack contained a lot more than what should be physically possible. Draco did not comment on what he was sure was a violation of a few school rules. Instead he brought out the map to confirm their position in relation to where they had been. The tunnel still didn’t show up on the map but he thought he could remember the entrances without a marker if he counted off the classrooms and memorized the curve of the lake.

“Malfoy,” Potter called out. He had set up a blanket on the ground next to a boulder along with a jar of blue fire, a tray holding two tumblers, and bottle of firewhiskey. Draco approved of this course of action and sat down spreading the map out in front of him. Harry had the foresight to cast a warming charm on the area and he didn’t say anything as he poured them both a drink.

“This is remarkable,” Draco said as he reverently traced the lines of ink and read the small text. His mind catalogued as much information as it could while he gazed on.

“My dad made it,” Harry said.

“Well, that’s unexpected, Potter. I wonder why you missed out on his talent.”

“Ha. Ha.”

“What…” Draco looked down at the Slytherin dorm rooms where two names were laying nearly on top of each other. “How the hell did Murdoch make it into the boys’ rooms? I thought McGonagall fixed the stairs to keep girls out this year. Which is about time, really. I can’t tell you how many times I had to kick Pansy out…”

Harry choked on his drink and some of it dribbled unattractively down his chin. “Um, she did. McGonagall fixed the stair issue. No girls are able to get into the boys’ rooms this year. Just ask Zabini.”

“But, that’s… Sullivan Murdoch, what the hell?” Draco looked helplessly over at a Potter who shook with silent laughter. Draco sat up and took a long, much needed drink. “Sully’s not a girl.”

“No, mate.”

Draco tried not to react at being called “mate,” and focused on this new information. He poured himself more whiskey as he caught up to the conclusion his brain had already reached. “Sully’s a boy.”

“How did you not know this? I knew this,” Harry said. He gave Draco a pitying smile that Draco did not much care for, which then morphed into a worried look that he liked even less. “It’s not an issue is it?” Harry asked.

“What, that I’ve been calling him ‘her’ this entire time?”

“Well, no, and you might want to ask them what they prefer to be called. I meant more of two blokes being together,” Harry clarified.

“Why would that be an issue?” Draco asked in oblivious sincerity. If the two boys were caught sharing a bed in the dorms there was a chance they could get kicked off the team. Slytherin would lose one of the best Keepers and Beaters they had seen in years. He’d have to talk to them without coming off as creepy for knowing about this little rendezvous in the first place. Absently, he noticed Potter had become silent and he looked up from his study of the map.

Harry watched him with a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth and a look which suggested that Draco was some sort of puzzle he was trying to figure out. He shook his head. “You’re full of surprises, Malfoy.”

“What are you going on about?”

“Nothing.” Harry leaned against the boulder and sipped at his drink. Draco sat back with him and they watched the waves lap at the pebbled shore. Far off the giant squid lifted a couple of tentacles as if waving and splashed off into the depths. “I don’t ever think I’ll get used to this place.”

“Hogwarts?” Draco asked. “I suppose.”

“No. Well, yes Hogwarts. But all of it. All of the magical world.”

Draco furrowed his brow. “What’s there to get used to? Well, besides evil forces which occasionally try to upset the whole damn system.”

Harry barked out a laugh that echoed off the water and Draco thought it amusing they could find humor in something as dark as the past. “I didn’t always live with magic, Malfoy. I didn’t even know about Hogwarts until I got my letter in the mail.”

“You’re having me on again,” Draco said half serious. He had no evidence Harry was lying to him, but still… The great Harry Potter not know he’s a wizard? The idea was ridiculous.

“I’m serious. I had no idea until Hagrid told me I was a wizard. He literally had to say ‘Harry – yer a wizard,’ and even then I didn’t quite believe him.” Harry had the far off look of someone visiting a fond yet sad memory.

“And whoever you lived with, they never told you?” Draco assumed Harry hadn’t raised himself. The books on him mentioned Potter living with some sort of family even if the details were unknown.

“Naw, they weren’t really keen on me, or magic. I don’t think they ever liked me much, if at all. Hated me, probably,” Harry said. His gaze which had still been soft in memory snapped back into focus and he glanced around as if maybe he had said something he hadn’t meant to.

Draco topped of his glass yet again unprepared to deal with half of this conversation. He searched for a reply on the dark horizon. “You saved the world when you were a baby against the world’s most powerful villain and your aunt and uncle hated you. Do I have that right?”

“Well, when you put it like that they sound insane.” Harry laughed and this time Draco didn’t find it humorous.

“Does insanity run in your family too?” Draco asked and glanced over at Harry to try and read his mood. Harry had folded in on himself with his knees drawn to his chest and stared without intent at the water. If someone were to happen by, they would see a vulnerable boy and not the great savior of the wizarding world.

Draco, who had little experience comforting people or being comforted in return, bumped Harry’s shoulder with his own to pull him out of his rumination. “Have any food in that pack of yours?”

Harry turned and grinned catching Draco off-guard with the sudden closeness of their faces and change of demeanor. Then he reached into his bottomless rucksack and was building a small but formidable pile of Chocolate Frogs, Jelly Slugs, Pumpkin Pasties, and Cauldron Cakes. “Did you rob the tea trolley on the Hogwarts Express?”

“This was a gift from Ron and Hermione, a coming back to school present,” Harry said clearly pleased with the stash of sugar more suited for a boy of eleven than one of nineteen. Draco tried to envision what it might be like to have friends who did things like give you mountains of candies you could easily buy for yourself. He watched in mild fascination as Harry shoved half of a Cauldron Cake in his mouth.

Draco picked up a frog, sticking to plain chocolate since he hadn’t really been hungry. “I used to collect the cards when I was younger.”

“Yeah? I still do,” Harry said around a mouthful of chocolate and bubbling green frosting.

“Of course you do.” The frog nearly got away from him before he could bite off the head with a triumphant cackle. Harry raised his eyebrows and he shrugged. Normally he would go for the legs first to immobilize the chocolate. “You know this isn’t really what a meant by food.”

“I’m not a house-elf, Malfoy.”

“Pity,” Draco said and flipped over his card.

Harry looked over at it and groaned, “Nooo…” The sheepish face of the Boy-Who-Lived peered up at them through black bangs which unsuccessfully covered the scar on his forehead. “Alright, give that here.”

Draco scooted away and held the card out of reach. “What’s wrong, Potter? Don’t like your picture?”

“I didn’t even know they put me in the cards!” Harry crept towards Draco who moved further away. “You’d think I’d at least get a royalty notice.”

“This is a terrible picture,” Draco mused. The portrait of Harry flipped him a rude gesture and stalked off the card. He giggled. The real Harry looked like he would rather be swimming with the giant squid. Draco pocketed the card just in case Harry got the idea to tackle him for it. “Come off it. Is it really so bad to have your fame recognized?”

“You have no idea how annoying it can be. Sometimes I wish I could just fade into the background and be forgotten.”

Despite what Harry Potter thought, Draco knew exactly what it felt like to want to disappear from the public eye, or at the least, out of the memory of those who knew him for what he was. He absently ran a hand over his left arm where the Dark Mark had faded to a red outline and would remain there until he died.

Harry, at odds with his usual obliviousness, caught the movement and cleared his throat. “At least there were some people who never let my ego get too big for my own good,” he said giving Draco a pointed look.

“I’m not apologizing. Someone had to try and stop you,” Draco replied and the conversation eased back into safer territory.

“Could have been nicer about it.”

“No, nice wasn’t an option. Didn’t work anyways, did it? Potter still saved the day, got the girl, and ended up on a child’s collectible card.”

Harry laughed and Draco had to hide his own smile. They returned to leaning on the boulder side-by-side as if they had never been on opposite sides of good versus evil. While magic was boundless and pushed the limits of reason, Draco was just now starting to believe that anything was possible.

“Well, you’ve been misinformed. For one, I didn’t get the girl,” Harry said and blushed. The blue light from the fire played across his features, his eyes seemed more exasperated than sad.

“You mean, She-Weas—,” Draco stopped at Potter’s warning glare. “Miss Weasley rebuked the St. Potter’s affections?”

“How do you even know about that, Malfoy?”

Draco fidgeted and looked away. “People talk. And what else am I wrong about?”

“Two: I obviously didn’t save the world well enough. You were there for Trelawney’s prediction. Great evil has returned and all that?”

The prospect of another evil power rising to power gave Draco chills. He thought of dinners at the manor with man-eating snakes. Of the screams of torture victims sounding at night. Of Hermione’s head bashing on the floor as she tried to fight off Bellatrix’s attack.

Draco sequestered his thoughts and drew upon his wit to hide his feelings. “Right, so what’s your move? What do you hero types do at this point?”

“Remember that project I mentioned I’m doing for McGonagall?” Draco nodded so Harry went on, “She wants me to investigate what the prophecy might mean in relation to the attacks on the school.”

“Attacks?” Malfoy asked. He had heard about the snake attack, though he was hesitant to completely rule it out as a Slytherin prank gone awry. He sucked in a sharp breath in realization. “You think the Hufflepuff girl—Bobbin’s loss of magic has something to do with whatever this is…” Draco gazed out at the choppy waves of the lake and shuddered. For a moment he thought he could see a pale body floating on the horizon, but it vanished when he blinked.

“So, now it’s research time. Which isn’t really my specialty. Hermione’s the one who always knew where to look. Even with access to the restricted section it’s been slow going.”

The nagging disappointment on not being kept up-to-date on Marie’s health irritated Draco. He wasn’t her professor, but he had been in close contact with her up until she fell ill during his class. Something close to anger took hold of him, a misplaced sense of responsibility perhaps. “Well then it’s good that one of us isn’t completely incompetent,” he said making up his mind. He would be the one to find out what happened.

Harry turned his whole body to face him. “You’ll help me?”

I owe you so much more than just this. “Marie’s a very competent witch. I can’t leave her fate in your hands; I’d be an accessory to murder.”

The crooked smile Harry gave him made Draco feel exposed and transparent. He spent the rest of the night brainstorming with Harry and together they formed the beginnings of a plan. It was unexpectedly not terrible.

********

Harry woke with a stiff back, still tired from staying up to the early morning hours. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep and only woke when he heard the sound of someone groaning next to him. Seeking out his glasses, Harry could only partially make out the form of Draco laying just an arms breadth away. The blond twisted in his sleep with dots of perspiration over his brow. When he doubled over suddenly in what looked like great pain, Harry jerked up and knelt over to him.

“Malfoy!” Harry placed his hands on Draco and forced him onto his back. He shook him but got no response. “Malfoy, wake up… Draco!”

Grey eyes flashed open and locked with his and Harry found himself suddenly on his back with a wand pressed against his neck. For a few shaky breaths, Draco’s eyes took on a wild, animalistic look before dawning with recognition. He shoved off Harry with too much force causing Harry’s head to knock against the rocky shore.

“Fuck,” Draco breathed out. “Are you okay? Did I…?”

Harry rubbed the back of his head and sat up. He cast a wary gaze on the other boy. The shifting glances, shaking hands, bouncing stance… Harry could recognize the ill-composed manner well enough. Dark dreams often left Harry off-kilter and with a false sense of urgency, as if running from an unseen battle. “I’m fine, really. Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Draco snapped and stalked off towards the lake leaving Harry behind.

While Draco paced, Harry cleaned up everything from the night before and tried not to stare too often as to give Malfoy a modicum of privacy. The sun had risen behind them. It cast a golden light down on the water and upon Draco, warming his otherwise pale appearance. He was an arresting image of contrasts made even more beautiful by the tormented emotions on display.

Once Draco had stilled, Harry made his way over next to him. “We should probably get going. We’ll be late for history.”

Malfoy took one last worried look out across the lake as if searching for some sort of answer and then followed Harry to the hatch which had almost completely disappeared back under the rocks and sand.

The tunnel changed overnight. While the overall path seemed familiar enough, the walls were now filled in with more brick than dirt and they seem to have acquired more paintings and artifacts than before. While Harry felt the pressure to get to class before it could start, he slowed his pace so Draco could satisfy his curiosity by looking over some of the new arrangements. The tunnel suited Malfoy. Everything in it seemed old, valuable, and hummed with a power just outside of their reach.

“You know they’ll think it’s suspicious if we’re the only ones who don’t show up to lecture,” Harry said when Draco made them stop just after the spot with water so they could look at a painting of a queen in a white gown. She waved merrily at them bowing occasionally.

“Hmm, yeah. They’ll probably think I finally snapped and killed you,” Draco hummed. He studied the crown on the woman’s head with an unidentifiable expression and had not seemed to notice what he just said.

“Right, well, shall we go so you don’t come under immediate arrest?”

“Who do you think she is?” Draco asked ignoring Harry completely.

Harry sighed and dragged Malfoy away from the golden framed portrait by his arm. “You can figure that out later. For now, I’d like to get some real food and shower. I’m giving up on class this morning.”

To Harry’s endless wonder, Malfoy allowed himself to be led for a considerable distance before reclaiming his arm. Harry shoved his hand in his pocket and ignored the look being directed at him. The end of the tunnel came into sight and they slowed and traded a puzzled expression. Where the hole had formed at the beginning was now a solid slab of grey brick.

“Is it too soon to panic?” Harry asked as he prodded the wall with his wand. He wondered what would happen if he were to turn around and go back. Would the hatch and ladder be gone? His gut told him they were stuck. He turned to Malfoy who was standing with his hands in his pocket looking thoughtfully between Harry and the wall as if he had just made an interesting discovery in potions research.

“Let me try something,” Malfoy said and he leaned over Harry and put his hand on the wall. The tunnel, as narrow as it was, had more than enough room to enable them to stand together without trouble. Draco seemed unaware of this suitable existence of personal space as he caged Harry between the wall and his arm. He lowered his head and closed his eyes. The soft cotton of Draco’s Henley rested right over Harry’s shoulder. Harry couldn’t help the slight shudder and sharp inhale which followed. The corner of Malfoy’s mouth twitched into a knowledgeable smirk.

Grating stone and the rumbling of rearranging bricks startled Harry. Draco moved past him into the lounge. “It works by sensing the user’s intent,” he offered as explanation. “Coming, Potter?”

“Prat,” Harry grumbled and righted himself. He willed his heart down from its jackhammering rhythm.

********

The walk back to the dorms was quiet and uneventful, allowing Draco time to reflect on everything that had changed from the moment Harry gave him back his wand at King’s Cross to the blush which had bloomed over Potter’s face in the Tunnel of Continual Uncomfortable but Illuminating Moments. He had always been jealous of the friendship between Potter, Granger, and Weasley. What those three shared was something he couldn’t even begin to pretend existed with Crabbe and Goyle, who were less friends and more hired henchmen. It was a bond stronger than family. A bond which transcended the familial connection that pureblood families insisted existed. It was something one chose rather than what one was born into.

While Draco did not entertain the idea that he could infiltrate Potter’s chosen family, at least not in the same capacity as Granger or Weasley, he had felt that they were heading towards something close friendship. Except for these little moments when Harry’s crooked smile caught him by surprise, or they sat shoulder to shoulder for hours and the loss of contact made him cold, or when he had leaned into Potter and felt him tense but not back away. In those little moments, Draco felt like he was losing himself to something frighteningly bigger than he had ever experienced before. He was almost certain that he wasn’t alone in those feelings.

But almost certain didn’t equate to knowing, and Draco didn’t bet on something where the loss was too great to gamble for the win.

As they came to the common room, a flash of orange hair accosted Potter upon entry. “Oh, Harry!” Ginny Weasley enveloped Harry in a tight hug; she had tear streaks under her eyes. “We were all so worried.”

“Er, hello,” Harry said lamely and patted her on the back. “Everything alright? Oh, hi Neville. Everyone. Why aren’t you all in class?”

Neville had been standing quietly to the side along with Finnigan, Nott, and Zabini. The Patil twins sat on one of the loveseats with Greengrass between them, each holding one of her hands while the rest of the eighth years looked on Malfoy and Potter with curiosity and worry. Ginny finally let go of Harry and gave Malfoy a curt nod before looking back up to Potter with wide eyes.

“Class has been cancelled for today. There’s been another attack,” Ginny sobbed. Draco felt a prickle of fear worm its way around the base of his spine. “A student from Slytherin. They’ve lost their magic. All of it. And that second year girl from Hufflepuff, she’s at St. Mungo’s but…”

Neville stepped forward, put an arm around Ginny and drew her to his chest to comfort her. “They don’t think she’s going to pull through,” Neville finished. “Whatever the curse is, it started draining her life energy after depleting her magic.”

Harry looked at Draco, his face twisted in concern. “Who was the Slytherin student?”

“Sullivan Murdoch,” Longbottom answered looking directly Malfoy. “The kid who plays beater.” Draco felt his stomach drop as he realized not only the implications of what was coming next, but also of the thought of Sully being attacked. Sully had become someone he had allowed himself to care about. Sully was fierce, cunning, and protective and everything else a Slytherin had potential to be. Their red hair had come to remind him not of an old grudge between two pureblood houses, but of something new and raw with the potential of greatness. Longbottom continued, “Some people noticed a connection between the two who got cursed and then you and Malfoy were missing all night…”

“No, Malfoy had nothing to do with this,” Harry said at once. Draco had to hold back a disturbing urge to laugh at the irony of Potter being the one to defend him where he would be suspicious otherwise. His defense would probably be the only thing to keep him from going straight to Azkaban.

“Where’s Sully?” Draco asked and he didn’t care his voice came out dark and hollow to his own ears.

“Malfoy…” Ginny started.

“They’ve already taken Murdoch to St. Mungo’s,” said Neville with his eyes cast to the floor.

Draco turned around and walked out of the common room only vaguely acknowledging Potter calling out his name.

Chapter Text

The receptionist wizard on the fourth floor of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries looked upon the wand in front of him with his lip curled in an edge of disgust. Not all guests and visitors were required to submit their wands for inspection and possible confiscation while paying a patient a visit, but then again Draco Malfoy, son of a convicted Death Eater and receiver of the Dark Mark himself, was not most people. The teenager handed over his wand without complaint wanting to quickly get passed the formality and see the two Hogwarts students he had recently been implicated of putting in the hospital in first place. His parole Auror, a scarred face man with greasy black hair sticking out from under a black bandana, eyed the receptionist and growled. The skinny wizard behind the desk jumped and put a tag on the wand before sending it off to warded lockers in the back office.

“Just sign here and keep this badge visible for security at all times,” the man said on autopilot.

“Thank you,” Malfoy replied and he pinned the badge to the front of his black school robes.

“Have a seat and a mediwizard will escort you back if the patient agrees to see you.”

Auror Gretta gave the small man one last scowl before placing a hand in the middle of Draco’s back and navigating him to the waiting area. After learning about Sully’s sudden hospitalization, Malfoy had gone directly to Hogsmeade and knocked on Gretta’s door until the Auror had opened. He took one look at Draco’s disheveled appearance and invited him in for tea.

The house was a small thing sitting on the edge of Hogsmeade and filled with stray cats that Gretta had rescued from the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Once inside, it had taken Draco some time to convince Gretta that he should be allowed leave to visit Sully, and then another conversation with Professor McGonagall to let him skip class.

“Malfoy, you need to give a statement, get it on record now,” Gretta had urged. “Those vultures at the press aren’t going to wait to drag your name through the mud again. Not with these kids on the line.”

Professor McGonagall sat on the edge of her chair with an untouched cup of tea in her hands and a pinched look on her face. “While unfortunate, Mr. Gretta is right. The time of the attack and the fact you’re rooming by yourself, not to mention your contact with both Miss Bobbin and Sully Murdoch, does look very incriminating.”

Draco had his head in his hands refusing to look up at either of them as he thought. If he gave a statement saying he had been with Potter the entire night, surely Harry would corroborate his story. Breaking school rules, no matter the severity or reason, broke the terms of his parole. If he lied and said he had been in bed and the truth got out later, he’d be tried for perjury and he didn’t think Potter had enough influence at the Ministry for them not to use something like that to send him away.

His statement would be incriminating in other ways if it ever got released to the public. Spending the night with the Savior of the wizarding world on a blanket by the lake suddenly looked much more like a date, or a secret rendezvous, then just the happenstance they had found themselves in. And what would the papers make of that? The Boy-Who-Lived makes Dubious Friend in Former Death Eater? He didn’t think they would be so kind. Harry Potter under Imperious Curse? Ridiculous, but more believable than Malfoy’s innocence. Harry Potter: The Next Dark Lord (With First Disciple: Draco Malfoy!)?

Without his statement and Potter’s to back it, he was likely looking at sharing a room next to Lucius in the near future. There was nothing for it, he’d have to say his truth and hold out on the hope that Harry would be willing to defend him, again.

Gretta had brought out a Ministry issued statements quill along with a stack of forms for him and McGonagall to sign as witnesses. Draco started by telling them about Potter wanting to show him the renovations of the East Wing. He omitted the invisibility cloak and the Marauder’s Map that was still folded in his back pocket… and the yelling. Then he mentioned finding a new tunnel and how they ended up by the lake. (“Why didn’t you return to your rooms?” “…” “Mr. Malfoy, I’d suggest you be more forthcoming with your statement.”) They had talked, he explained, about the attacks (true), and about nothing, just other things that weren’t particularly important (lie). When it got too late, they had simply fallen asleep on accident. (Professor McGonagall gave a disbelieving snort.) In the morning, they realized they’re tardiness and made for the castle.

“Well, as preposterous as your story sounds,” McGonagall said. Gretta scowled out her with his one good eye and she returned him an unimpressed look as one of the dozen stray cats curled lovingly around her ankles. “I am sure you wouldn’t be making it up if you claim Mr. Potter as your witness.”

“Our Draco’s a good lad, McGonagall,” Gretta said. He slapped Malfoy with heavy hand almost sending him to the floor. “Aren’t ya?”

The embarrassed boy only looked beseechingly up at an ever amused headmistress. “Now, Mr. Malfoy, before I give you permission to go to St. Mungo’s, I would like to know the nature of your intended visit.”

“What does it matter?” Draco spat reverting to his old haughty tone. Giving his statement and reliving last night’s events in Gretta’s messy front room along with Murdoch’s hospitalization wound every nerve in his body. He forced himself to focus and tried again. “I need to go see—Potter requested my help. Murdoch can be a bit… proud. I’m close to Sully, so maybe they’ll talk to me about what happened.”

Professor McGonagall’s pensive look smoothed into a gentle countenance Draco had never witnessed on her face before. She sat her teacup on the small cluttered coffee table, placed her hands on her lap, and relaxed her posture for the first time sense arriving. “I think Sullivan Murdoch would be happy to see you,” she said and conjured a permission slip for Gretta to sign.

Malfoy had then used the map to avoid other students to his room where he changed and then promptly left with his parole Auror to go to St. Mungo’s.

“Was all that you said ‘bout you and Harry Potter hanging about true?” Gretta asked as he kept an eye on the few visitors and staff in the waiting room.

“Why? Can’t imagine it?” Draco returned. His grey eyes were puffy and underscored by dark circles. He was going to do his best to avoid mirrors today.

“Naw, can’t really. Never met the guy, but he all that press and hero worship. Bet he’s insufferable.” Gretta grunted to himself in thought.

Malfoy faced Gretta fully with his mouth hanging open and his eyebrows raised. He gave a short laugh. “You think I,” he pointed to himself, “am above ‘hanging about’ with Harry sodding Potter? You might have been by one too many stunning spells to the head.”

“Now don’t you go talking about yerself like that. Just because you been dealt a bad hand, don’t mean yer stuck with it.”

The conversation felt surreal and was thankfully ended short by a mediwitch who led them back to a room filled with white curtains and hospital cots. She stood with a clipboard firmly in hand at the foot of Sully’s bed with the three Slytherin’s waiting for her to leave. Eventually Gretta let out his now signature growl. “Shove off, lady. I’m a veteran Auror and think I can handle two wandless teenagers, one without magic.” The blond witch yipped, drew the curtain, and scuttled away.

“You’re handy to have around, Gretta. Ever think of a job in personal security?” Malfoy teased. When Sully gave a laugh, he turned to them and winked.

“Yeah, yeah. You two talk. I’ll step outside this curtain and pretend I can’t hear ya.”

“Malfoy,” Murdoch said and there was that slightly deeper voice he had noticed the day they met, but had never really thought about. “Why are you here?”

“People keep asking me this, and I am frankly tired of responding. So, how about you tell me how you are?” Draco sat half on the cot next to Sully and took a real look at them. The fourth year’s eyes looked sunken as if from crying or illness, but hard set in an attempt to not show weakness. Their red hair was done in the normal long ponytail that hung over their left shoulder. The hospital gown looked too big on their small frame. “And by the way, I do apologize for calling you a girl for the past few weeks. Why the bloody hell didn’t you correct me?”

Sully shrugged. “I didn’t mind.” Malfoy cocked his head. Sully huffed and rolled their eyes not looking directly at him. “This look isn’t on accident, Malfoy. Don’t be thick. Girl is what I’m trying for.”

The curtain gave a sudden shake. Gretta cleared his throat. “Sorry ‘bout that. Must be dozing...”

“Right, then, Miss Murdoch. Now tell me how you’re doing. And what happened, if you remember anything.”

“I don’t know really what happened. I woke up in bed feeling drained, like how it feels after a long Quidditch practice. Thought maybe I was sick. Marv said I should go to Pomfrey. But then I was getting ready and…” Sully drew her knees up to her chest. “I couldn’t…”

“You couldn’t use magic,” Draco supplied. Sometimes he spelled his bed sheets to make themselves, or would use Accio to gather his books. He could imagine at some point in her morning routine something hadn’t worked right, and like Bobbin, the first couple of tries might have been in frustration and the next few in panic. “You didn’t talk to anyone new last night? Didn’t spend time with anyone else?”

“Anyone else?” Sully asked, her mouth pursed. Draco winced and gave her an apologetic smile.

“Anyone else besides Marvin. Which I’d appreciate it if you could stay in your own bed if possible.”

“That little punk,” Sully said. “Wait, did Marvin tell you or was it someone else? I’m going to level the dorm when I get back.”

”That’s not the important factor here,” Draco replied. He placed a hand on her arm and she lowered her legs back to the bed.

“No, I didn’t talk to anyone else. And I might love the guy, but I don’t think Marv is capable of this caliber of magic.”

“You love him?” Draco blinked and then blushed when he realized how personal of question he just asked. He looked over at the table next to her bed and noticed the assortment of chocolates and flowers all with Marvin’s signature on the cards. Some other knickknacks adorned the table including a stuffed dragon with a star shaped pendant around its neck.

“Now who’s focusing on the wrong details?” Sully drawled.

“Sorry,” he laughed. “You’re just so young.” The conversation would normally have Draco scoffing and changing the subject, but the twinkle in Sully’s eyes despite the hardship she was going through allowed him relax. He had been so focused on his budding friendship with Potter he had not realized he might have new friends in other places. Maybe he could share this with her.

“Young people can have pretty strong emotions about other people, Malfoy.”

“Yeah, I know. When I was in your year my energy was focused on hating someone and trying to make his life a living hell.” He laughed and thought fondly back to his “Potter Stinks” badges. Those had taken a considerable amount of time to enchant and he was still quite proud of them. Sully hummed and nodded.

“Malfoy?”

“Yeah?”

“I heard that other girl, Bobbin, is in critical condition. Is that going to happen to me?” Sully who could send Bludgers at lethal speeds towards her rivals had sunk down in the cot like a timid kitten.

“We don’t know what’s going on with her,” Draco partially lied. “But you’ve got me investigating this, and I need you at Quidditch practice as soon as possible.”

Her eyes were wet when she smiled and nodded at him. “Alright. But if you fail, I’m going to haunt your arse.”

Draco gave her arm a squeeze and stood to leave. He noticed a pile of Chocolate Frogs on the bedside table and swiped one.

“Ugh, just take the whole lot and tell Marvin to stop sending me chocolate.”

With a wicked upturn of his lips, Draco turned over the frog in his hands and gave her a parting grin. “My pleasure.”

********

Students had been told to keep to their common rooms while morning classes had been suspended which of course meant most wandered the halls in small groups trading the latest Hogwarts gossip. Malfoy’s name could be heard occasionally being traded between them with Bobbin and Murdoch, and things like Death Eater, and on more than instance: Harry Potter. Harry and Ginny had left the eighth year common room to go to lunch and both staunchly avoided the looks other students gave them.

“You going to tell me what exactly you were doing with Malfoy last night?” Ginny asked. Her face sat in a neutral expression as she probed him.

“We were just talking,” Harry shrugged.

“Talking? With Malfoy? Did this talk involve any forbidden curses?”

Harry did not hold her incredulity against her. All morning he had been asking himself how he ended up by the lake with Malfoy. There had been a logical progression of events that had gotten them to that point, but for the life of him, Harry struggled to understand it. He certainly didn’t want to talk that out with Ginny of all people. How was he supposed to explain he had somehow become comfortable enough with his old enemy to fall asleep next to him without having a hand on his wand?

“Look, I think he’s changed,” Harry started. Ginny looked at him as if he were under the Imperious curse. “I know, it sounds mental, but he’s not that bad. He’s not the same Malfoy we used to know.”

“Harry, he’s a creep. A coward and a Death Eater.”

“A former Death Eater and I wouldn’t call him a coward.” Harry’s face started to turn red. He thought about Professor Snape, a former Death Eater who silently protected Harry for almost half his life while Harry constantly tried to blame him for Voldemort’s work. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake again of judging someone by their past. “Ginny, people aren’t just bad… or good. The world isn’t divided like that.” They had stopped in the hall and Harry kept his voice even to not draw a crowd. “Everyone deserves to get over what we went through. And you can’t be a good person and not give them a chance.”

“Whatever, Harry. You think Ron or Hermione will share your ideas?”

Harry felt his stomach flip in response.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” She leaned away from him and gave him a pitying once over.

Harry watched her leave and wondered where the little girl who used to hang onto his every word went. Deciding he was no longer looking forward to lunch with an audience, Harry changed direction and headed for Hagrid’s cottage. The November chill had him hunching up under his robes and bouncing from one foot to the other as he waited for Hagrid to answer his door. He could hear conversation going on inside with laughter hanging in the air.

“Harry! Finally come to visit, have you?” Hagrid grabbed Harry into a crushing hug and set him down inside.

“Sorry, I should have come sooner,” Harry said straightening his glasses. He looked around for the second voice he had heard from outside and gave a wide smile when he saw the tall thin man with red hair.

“Hullo Harry!” George Weasley jumped up from the table to greet him. “Got your owl last night.”

Harry swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. “George, good to see you.” He looked almost exactly like his ghost brother except for seeming slightly taller and a little more aged around the eyes. And the missing ear, of course.

“Would you like some tea, Harry?” Hagrid already had a cup out with a couple of sandwiches for him. They each took a seat around the small table. “George here arrived just a little bit before you.”

“Just telling Hagrid how Professor McGonagall refused my owl on account of the attack last night. So, of course I thought I’d sneak in.”

“Leave it to you to break the rules when you’re not even attending anymore,” Harry said.

“Yeah, well, according to your letter you’re not exactly being a model student either.”

Hagrid looked a little put off by the rule-breaking part, but still smiled at them both. “What brings you to Hogwarts, George, and how much trouble am I gettin’ myself into having you here?” Hagrid asked.

The persistent spark of humor in George’s eyes diminished minutely. “Harry said he’s seen Fred.”

“Blimey, is that right?” Hagrid looked seconds away from pulling out his handkerchief. Harry said the first thing he could to prevent a scene.

“He threw exploding snap cards at my feet last night,” he rushed out. Hagrid bellowed with laughter that shook the table and upset the teacups. He finished with a sniffle.

“That sounds about right. I imagine you’re excited to see him again,” Hagrid said. George leaned over his cup and traced the rim with his finger. “Just don’t be givin’ him no ammunition from that shop of yours. God knows Filch already has his hands full with Peeves.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it!” George sat back and raised his hands in mock-innocence. Harry thought there they’d be seeing another ban on Weasley’s Wizarding Whizzes really soon at Hogwarts. “Besides, Harry’s the troublemaker. Sneaking around at night with someone…”

Harry groaned as Hagrid gave him a disbelieving look which turned into a knowing smile. He should have never put that detail in the letter. He hadn’t even thought when he wrote it that it would look questionable. Harry had a history of being outside his room during the late night hours. But did he have to put Malfoy’s name? Ron must have had a conniption. And now Hagrid was giving him the ‘proud father’ smile as if he had been off snogging some special girl.

“Oh, come on, it wasn’t like that,” he said to his teacup.

George had started to hum, “…sitting in a tree.”

Harry wrinkled his nose. “You and Fred really do think alike…” This only made George more pleased and hum a little louder. “Look, I thought Malfoy was up to no good so I followed him. Turned out I was wrong.”

Hagrid’s smile dropped off his face. “You’re not getting obsessed over the little twerp again, are ya Harry?” This sentiment caused George to hoot with laughter. Harry was starting to get concerned by Weasleys and their mixed feelings about Malfoy and him.

“No,” Harry grumbled. He was thinking back to sixth year and how his obsession had almost cost him Ron and Hermione’s trust, not to mention more than a few nights of sleep. Harry fidgeted wanting to get the conversation off of him. “Are you going to try and find Fred?”

George shrugged. “That’s the idea.” He reclined in his chair in nonchalance but his eyes gave away the sadness underneath. “I wouldn’t mind seeing that git again. Been a long time since I had someone around to finish my sentences.”

********

Class cancellation was lifted by Tuesday meaning eighth years went to their respective tutoring areas. The remedial potions class seemed to have doubled over the midterm exams with the majority of students coming from Slytherin and Hufflepuff. The amount had grown enough that when Malfoy entered he noticed a stark division with silver and green neckties on one side and yellow and black on the other. As he ticked off names on the role he counted. An odd amount of students, perfect. He was not sure if Professor McGonagall’s inter-house unity project was influencing his decisions or if it was just his natural inclination to irritate others, but prior to beginning the lesson he handed out seating arrangements ensuring every student was stationed with someone from another house. Whoever was left over would be paired with him, the lucky soul.

“Right, we’ll start with your recent exams. Can anyone tell me what was covered?” Malfoy asked. His own partner, Frederick Stromm, squirmed and refused to meet his eyes. Other Slytherins looked hesitant to answer. A slow lifted hand appeared in the back of the class. “Yes, Miss Bloom?”

Hufflepuff Sally Bloom stood. Even when sitting she was a head taller than the other students in the class and now she towered over them all. “We were brewing Hair-Raising Potion, sir.”

“And what’s the primary ingredient for Hair-Raising Potion?”

“Uh—R—rat’s tail?”

Draco frowned. The answer was right, but not since the first day of class had any of the students been wary to talk to him. “Correct, Bloom. Don’t be afraid to speak up.”

“Y—yes, sir.” She quickly sat down and bowed her head. Alarmingly, her Slytherin partner gave her a comforting pat on the shoulder.

Malfoy stood and walked around the classroom watching how students leaned away from him as he talked. “We’ll start brewing one today and hopefully fix the issues with everyone’s mixtures by the end of the lesson. You’ll be sharing a cauldron with your partner so you can check off each step together.” He placed a hand on a station and watched as the Slytherin student flinch and the Hufflepuff nearly jump out of his chair. “Extra credit to the person who can tell me what has gotten everyone paranoid?”

From the front of the classroom, Stromm cleared his throat. “Well, you see…”

“Shut it!” hissed Rowlin, a Gryffindor near the front of the classroom. Stromm narrowed his eyes in a challenge.

“Sir, some of the students heard rumors,” Stromm said. This time he met Malofy’s gaze with his own. “But I think they’re all a bunch of shite.”

“Shut up, Stromm!”

“Make me, Rowlin! Sir, they’re scared of you.”

“Is that right?” Malfoy turned the question on the class but they avoided answering him. He frowned and felt at a loss on how to solve this issue. “And I suppose you think I’ve lured you all by making you horrible at potions in order to steal your magic?”

No one responded.

“Miss Bloom!” He called out. The girl stood up at a dizzying speed. “Your sister is Aconitia Bloom, plays on the Slytherin team, correct?”

“Y—yes.”

“What does your sister think of me? And please,” Malfoy jumped up and took a seat on top of his own desk. He pulled out one of the Chocolate Frogs he took from Sully. “Don’t hold back. I know how candid your sister can be.”

Sally Bloom blushed a deep crimson and wrung her hands in front of her. “Sh—she said that you’re alright for…”

He made a show of biting off the frog’s head just as he had at the lake, making Stromm giggle and receiving a glare from Rowlin. “Go ahead, Miss Bloom.”

“She said you’re alright for a pure-blood.” Once she got her words out, Bloom all but fainted into her seat.

“I never really liked how they jump around after you eat them,” Malfoy remarked looking down at the squirming chocolate legs in his hand. He flipped over the card and nearly giggled. Pocketing the card—2—he focused back on the class. “For a pure-blood. Well, I guess she could have called me worse. Thank you, Miss Bloom. By the way, and this goes for outside of my class, if I catch any of you referring to your fellow classmates by their blood status, you will be in trouble. Understand?”

A few students nodded their heads in agreement while others, mostly Slytherin, looked at him in confusion. Good, he was getting actual responses. He loosened his tie, something he would never do normally preferring to adhere to uniform standards, and looked back across the class. He brought out another Chocolate Frog which got him an anonymous giggle. He probably looked like he had a sweet tooth, or a chocolate addiction. “Bloom! Catch!” Bloom caught the frog with a startled yelp almost dropping it into her cauldron. More the pity for Hufflepuff that those Seeker reflexes didn’t run in the family. “If that card is Harry Potter, let me know. I’m trying to collect that one.”

Rowlin gave a derisive snort from his front row seat. Stromm nearly growled at the other student’s brash disrespect. Malfoy was amused by how the two reminded him of himself and Harry at their age. Bloom shook her head in response. “Morgana Le Fay,” she said offering the card. He gave a slight shake of his head and she tucked it away.

“Do you know why I have Chocolate Frogs in my pockets?” Malfoy asked. No one responded. “It’s not because I like chocolate, which I do, or because I’m looking for cards.” Which I am. “It’s because yesterday I went to visit Sully Murdoch at St. Mungo’s and she gave me all of hers.” He waited for his announcement to sink in. “Care to read the wrapper, Bloom?”

Bloom collected the empty box and pieced it together where she tore it open. Every frog had been individually labelled in green ink. “To My Dearest Sully, Love Marvin. Get Well Soon…” Bloom giggled as did some of the other girls in the class. The boys mainly traded disgusted looks or rolled their eyes.

“Right, now, no one tell Marvin that she doesn’t care for chocolate; I really am collecting the cards.” This earned him a snort followed by more amused laughter. “We really ought to get started on brewing these potions. Hair-Raising Potion isn’t complicated and shouldn’t take the rest of the hour if you focus and allow your partner to help you. The secret to getting the mixture right is adding the right amount of basil after letting the rat tail simmer until your mixtures turn a bright lime green…”

For the remainder of the class the students worked in their assigned pairs with the usual amount of bickering and only a little wariness of their tutor. They had not recovered to trusting Draco or speaking to him as they had been inclined to before, but it was still an improvement from the start of that day’s class. Sally Bloom seemed to trust him and would give him an apologetic smile each time he pointed out where she needed to mince the rat tail finer or lower the heat on her cauldron. By the end of the period nearly every cauldron bubbled close to the right shade of green, and the pair who got the potion perfect was allowed to try the effects of the concoction for the class.

Just as the second years started to pack up their belongings and clean their stations, the door opened. Morgan Malory and a couple of her ladies whom Draco did not recognize entered. They turned the heads of every second year in the class as they made a smooth line to his desk where Stromm attempted to Scourgify a nasty green stain. Draco stood. “Miss Malory, what brings you here?”

“Draco,” Malory said softly as if she had been crying. Malfoy tried not to cringe at hearing her say his given name. “I heard about your Beater and read the rumors in the Prophet. They can’t actually believe you would harm your own teammate, can they?”

He looked around at the faces who watched their conversation with rapt attention. “Well, obviously the reporters do, seeing how they printed the accusation.”

“Oh, that’s dreadful.” The girl took a tissue and blotted invisible tears from under her eyes. Malory’s pale cheeks were red where she had rubbed them. Her distress made her more attractive, but also made Draco breakout in purely unpleasant goosebumps. “I can’t imagine how you must feel, Draco.”

Right now? Not happy. “Well, yes. Thank you for your concern, Miss Malory. Now please, I need to go over the students marks.” Draco sat back at his desk and pulled out the role parchment pretending to mark grades. Stromm glanced over his shoulder with raised eyebrows, and he elbowed the second year student back to the stain on the table top. Malory, who either could not pick on basic social cues, or chose to ignore them, leaned over his desk propped up on one elbow. Draco was horrified when he realized she had undone the top couple buttons of her uniform shirt so that when she bent over she revealed the top swell of her breasts. Her innocent charade morphed into experienced seductress.

“You can call me Morgan. Why don’t you go get a drink with me this weekend and put this nasty business behind you?”

“Stromm!” Draco barked. Frederick had been dangerously close to falling over on his feet staring at Malory and scooted away at his name. In a cooler voice that was getting harder to control the longer Malory was in his classroom, Draco sneered, “Thank you for the offer, but I’ve got plans with ah--,” he made sure to give her body a look over while curling his lip. “With someone more. More important.”

Malfoy reveled in the angry blush that crept up Malory’s neck. A quiet chorus of “ooo” came from the class and he smirked.

“If you reconsider, come find me,” Malory said in her sweet tones.

Only after she left could Draco relax in his chair. He placed his head in his hands and tried to silently Obliviate the memory of her breasts from his mind. Unless she was looking for a suitable pure-blood marriage partner, he had no idea what her interest in him could be. Still with his head down he addressed the suspiciously silent class, “May I remind you all that the headmistress gave me permission to assign detentions?”

The previously still classroom flew into a fury of cleaning and packing of rucksacks. Stromm cleared his throat and Malfoy looked up at him. He was holding a silver necklace in his hands. “I, uh, think she left this for you, sir.”

Draco banished the necklace without a second thought.

********

The excuse Malfoy had given Malory for not meeting had not been a lie exactly. When the weekend came, he met Potter in the library’s restricted section to pour over ancient volumes in search of a curse which could strip someone’s magic, or anything which might feature a prince, goddess, and lion’s heart from Professor Trelawney’s prophecy. The first visit was unsuccessful, as was the second week, and the third; until the fourth rolled around and they found themselves making up a back log of homework and essays while slowly combing through the old tomes.

If not for the fact that Marie Bobbin’s condition remained unchanged and Sully had not been released from under the watchful eye of mediwizards at St. Mungo’s, Draco felt he would have given up the search long ago. He never had someone to look out for before and the experience was as daunting as it was fulfilling.

Draco had his class’s last marks in front of him along with a half-finished essay on star charts for divination and a tomb on old magic from 200—1200 A.D. To his pleasure, his students had finally started to trust him again, even the Gryffindor Rowlin came to him with questions, and many of their marks had increased greatly. He hoped it would be enough for them to pass potions for the year. With the exception of Bloom who honestly seemed to struggle with the subject, none of his students seemed untalented or lacking in the basic understanding of potion creation. He frowned and wondered why some of them were still in remedial instruction.

“You really care about that class, don’t you?”

Potter’s sudden question made Malfoy jump in his seat. He folded the parchment and pulled the book on old magic over. He had no desire to work on his essay. “I am required to improve their marks.”

“I just noticed you spend a lot of time looking over their work as well as yours,” Potter said while shrugging. Draco could see him watching him out of the corner of his eye.

The hour was getting late and it was about this time of their study session he liked to experiment on the different reactions he could get out of Potter. He faked a yawn, removed his tie, and unfastened the first couple of buttons of his shirt. Tossing his tie on the table he stealthily glanced at Potter and was happy to see the other boy still watching him. “Potter?”

Harry quickly looked down at his book, Popular Prophecies of British Royalty. “Yes?”

“Do I have something on my face?”

“What?”

“You were staring. Is there something wrong?”

“I wasn’t staring.”

Draco smiled as he read over his current page. “Right. Must have been my imagination.” Harry scowled at his book and refused to look back up. Malfoy pulled out a Chocolate Frog and slid the card out without disturbing the frog itself. He was getting sick of that brand’s particular milk chocolate flavor and had no desire to ingest anymore for the remainder of the year. Frogs without cards littered the bottom of his trunk by his bedside. He held the card under the table and smiled victoriously at the picture—28—before putting it away.

Looking back to his book, a string of words at the bottom right hand side caught his eye: …sentenced to death by pyre for stealing the power of another witch. “Harry! Look at this!” Draco pointed to the text as Potter jumped over to see. Only when Potter was a distracting line of warmth leaning over Draco did he realize he had called him by his first name. He cleared his throat. “Right here, two wizards were sentenced to death for robbing a witch of her magic. The witch later died from the curse.”

“Does it say who they were?” Harry asked and they both made to turn the page at the same time. Malfoy batted his hand away. They read the next few lines together. Harry suddenly tensed over him.

“Well, that’s incriminating,” Draco grumbled and slammed the book closed. Harry went back to his seat looking as defeated as Draco felt.

“Do you think they’re related to you? William and Rosaline Malfoy?” Harry asked.

“Dark wizards with my family name? Never heard of them, but that’s not surprising if they were executed. The timeline matches when Armand Malfoy first appeared in England.” Merlin, had there ever been a good Malfoy? “But…”

Potter perked up in his seat. “Yeah?”

“It does give us a lead. What are you doing for Christmas, Potter?”

“Christmas?” Harry’s brows knitted together. “Going to the Burrow—the Weasleys’ home. Why?”

“The Burrow?” Draco wanted to question why anyone would name their home after a rodent habitat. “Never mind. Christmas affords an opportunity. If the Malfoy family is connected to this curse, there’s more likely to be more information in the library at the Manor than here at Hogwarts.”

“Right, do you need help?” Harry asked. His expression seemed sincere where his words were hesitant.

Draco waved him off. “No, I’ll be able to go through it faster without you.” Potter seemed to relax at his answer. Draco shoved the books and parchments in front of him out of the way. The amount of time they had put into research had started to wear him down. He pulled the Maruader’s Map from his robes and laid it over the table. “You never did tell me how to turn this off.”

Harry gaped at him. “I—I forgot you had it.”

“And you defeated the Dark Lord? Can you please remind me, how are we not all dead?”

Harry flipped him the bird and gave him a glare with no heat. “You just tap the map and say ‘Mischief Managed.’”

Mischief Managed,” Draco repeated and watched as the ink disappeared. As soon as it was gone he tapped the map again. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” He had spent the last few weeks pulling the map out when he was alone and watching the names of people he knew roaming the castle. Mainly he watched Potter as a sort of revenge. Most students had retired to the common rooms but a few meandered in the halls before curfew. George and Ginny Weasley walked the halls outside the Gryffindor common room; Theodore Nott and Seamus Finnigan were out in the courtyard with the Patil twins; and Lovegood’s marker bounced up and down the same staircase in a zig-zagging pattern.

Draco’s eyes focused on a pair of inky foot prints in the East Wing. “Potter, what does it mean when there’s no name on a person?”

Harry peered over at them map in interest where Draco’s finger was tapping the unknown individual. “I’ve never seen that before,” he replied. They looked at each other for a second before rushing to pack up their things. Draco threw some of his items in Harry’s bottomless rucksack to speed up the process and led them out with the map tucked under his arm.

“They’re still in the east corridor. Close to the tunnel,” he said as they marched along. Draco stopped them before entering the wing. He pointed to the map. “They’re not alone.”

“Professor Brown?” Harry adjusted his glasses. The unknown person stood close to Professor Brown’s own name. Neither marker moved.

“Do you have your invisibility cloak?” Draco asked.

“No, didn’t think I’d need it for the library,” Harry said in exasperation.

“No reason to get snippy. We’ll just have to be quiet then, come on.” Once again Draco led them down the halls. “Cut your light.” Harry cancelled his Lumos spell and Draco whispered a quick “Mischief managed.” Last thing he wanted was for the map to be confiscated by Professor Brown.

Malfoy slowed the pace when the first sounds of voices floated down to them.

“What would you have me do?” Professor Brown’s normally singsong speech was flat and toneless. Malfoy could just make out the professor’s outline along with another person in a black cloak and hood. He motioned to Potter to follow him and they crept closer.

I’m running out of time. My power over the prince’s family is fading.” Draco felt Potter shudder next to him. The second voice sounded ancient and grated at the ears like the sound of metal across stone. “You still want your revenge, yes?

“Yes.”

Then you know what to do, child.

They got as close as Draco dared and he pulled them to the side tucked behind a pillar. He still could not make out the face of the other person.

Someone watches…

Draco didn’t have time to think. He pulled Harry into the closest room behind them and closed the door, locking it with a whispered Colloportus and cast a hasty disillusionment spell on the door. The room turned out to be a broom closet, and with shelves and actual brooms, it made for a tight fit to share.

Lum--,” Harry started and Draco shushed him and grabbed Potter’s wand. He shook his head.

“They’ll see the light,” he whispered. Surely Potter could realize an illuminated crack on the floor would give them away? He heard footsteps coming closer to their location. Potter was bouncing from foot to foot, letting out increasingly shaky breaths. As Draco’s eyes adjusted to the dark, he could make out Harry’s hand pulling at the neck of his jumper. To his alarm, Harry’s breathing was becoming loud to his own ears.

“Potter!” Draco cast a silencing charm, hoping he had done it correctly in his haste, and grabbed Potter’s shoulders. “Potter, get yourself under control!”

Harry gasped. “Can’t…breathe…” He twisted out of Draco’s grip and grabbed at the shelving. The footsteps out in the hall sounded like they were inches away. “Not… my… cupboard…”

The anger Draco had felt at their compromising position slipped into worry. He watched on as Potter took in breath after shallow breath without success. He’d collapse soon if he didn’t stop. For Draco, memories of crying alone in a bathroom and not being able to calm down for what felt like hours came unbidden to him. Whatever Harry was experiencing was something similar. Draco steeled himself and did something very un-Slytherin.

Placing his hands on Harry’s shoulders, Draco quickly spun him around and crushed Harry to his chest. He took a couple of deep breaths and ran a hand through the other boy’s hair. “You feel that?” Draco whispered to him. “You feel my breathing? I want you to focus on that, Harry. I want you to match your breath to mine.” Draco inhaled slow, paused, and then exhaled. Potter trembled in his arms but didn’t back away or shove him off, so he did it again and again. He tried not to react when a shaking hand clutched the back of his shirt, and focused on the scent of Potter at each inhalation.

Though Draco could no longer hear the footsteps in the hall and Harry’s breathing had evened out, it was awhile before he allowed himself to let Harry go.

Chapter Text

Despite the castle’s location in the colder Scottish climates, the first truly heavy snowfall at Hogwarts had come unusually late. Large drifts dusted the towering turrets, covered the courtyards, and nearly consumed the groundskeeper’s hut. Cinnamon had joined the still overwhelming scent of pumpkin in the kitchen halls and green sprigs of holly and evergreens decorated every corridor and classroom. The Christmas holiday was nearly in reach and the students’ excitement to head home for the well-deserved break left many restless.

Theodore Nott was not one such student. He had a secret: he wanted to stay at Hogwarts and he wanted to spend Christmas with someone he found obnoxious, pretentious, totally talentless, and not altogether unpleasant. It was a conundrum which plagued his daily thoughts.

Nott, who was the son of a Death Eater, proud pureblood, and faithful Slytherin, had been forced to share a room with Seamus Finnigan, a wizard of mixed heritage who had penchant for blowing things up. Though Nott was undecided whether the majority pyrotechnics happened on purpose or by accident. The first week together had been strained at best. More than a few mornings had ended in drawn wands and raised fists until they had come to an agreement to just stay out of each other’s way as much as possible.

Then one strange day Nott had overslept, and Seamus who was on his way out the door made a rather rude and frankly unwarranted comment about how he loathed dealing with Nott when he missed out on coffee and breakfast. By the time Theo made his way down to the Great Hall most of that morning’s fare had been consumed and he resigned himself to whatever scraps remained and cold tea. However, when he took a seat next to Zabini and across from Seamus who was reading The Quibbler, a plate of sausages and a warm cup of coffee floated down in front of him. Theo raised an eyebrow at Zabini who shook his head and pointed at Seamus.

Finnigan put down his paper and got up to leave. “Can’t stand you when you’re hungry, prat,” he said leaving Nott confused but oddly happy… and a little worried he had somehow fallen into an alternate dimension.

From there they formed a tentative friendship of sorts. If friendship could be summed up in small acts of kindness that no one wanted to acknowledge between two people who barely talked. Sometimes Nott would point out where Finnigan went horribly wrong on his potion, or Seamus would make sure to set his alarm early enough to rouse Theo so he wasn’t late. Once during the house-elf pumpkin craze, Theo had nicked them a blessedly squash free lunch which they shared in the courtyard and traded stories of the friends they missed.

Everything came to a head when Theo was attacked at the Halloween party. While Blaise had been the one to pull him from the snake, Seamus was the person who carried him to Madam Pomfrey and stayed with him through the night. Theo begrudgingly accepted the gesture as endearing even if Seamus had fallen asleep on the chair next to his cot in the hospital wing. The next few days Seamus fretted over Theo who just didn’t have the heart (nor the decency, for this was endlessly amusing) to tell Finnigan that he had fully recovered and could in fact do everything on his own just fine. Once the spell was broken and Seamus realized Nott had been playing him, Theo thought the Gryffindor would get angry.

Seamus proved Theo’s assumptions wrong (thus reinforcing Nott’s belief this was an alternate reality) by having a good laugh at his own expense about the situation. Which led them to this moment, the first heaping snowfall at Hogwarts and Finnigan worked up into a frenzy of excitement with Nott trailing him to the courtyard.

“Do you always act like the Kneazle that caught the owl when it snows?” Theo asked through a smirk he couldn’t shake.

“You rich boys never play in the snow?” Seamus shot back over his shoulder. He took off at a run sliding across a patch of ice and coming to cool stop in front of a large bank of snow. Theo narrowed his eyes and ran after him. They collided in a fury of limbs into the ice and Nott wrestled a handful of snow under the red and gold Gryffindor scarf Seamus wore around his neck. “Oi! Fuck that’s cold!”

A battle of domination took place in the next few minutes on who could force feed the other more ice. They only pulled apart red faced and panting when they heard the sound of two girls giggling nearby.

********

“I miss her,” Parvati Patil said as she sniffed and rubbed one purple mitten against the tears from her face before they could freeze. The stars were out overhead and the air was still with the hushed calm that comes with snow, and the ground competed with the sky in sparkling brilliance. But all Parvati could think of was recording star charts with her best-friend Lavender Brown in divination while excitedly trying to figure out who they were going to marry in the future. Stupid stars.

“I know,” Padma said and she laid her head on her sister’s shoulder. The Battle of Hogwarts had taken so much from everyone. The evidence of its destruction still lingered here in this courtyard where the some of the walls were half rubble and the snow welled up in the divots left by spells that had missed their human marks. Padma had never been close to Lavender, but that didn’t mean she didn’t empathize with her sister. They all had been too young to fight, too young to die, and now those who were leftover had to somehow figure out how to move on.

“I haven’t got anyone to gossip with anymore,” Parvati said with a humorless laugh. Petty school gossip seemed trivial when compared to a loss of a friend, but she couldn’t help missing that as well.

“You’ve got me!” Padma pretended to be outraged. Staying in her role as annoying sister was good. It was something normal they could hold onto. “And Daphne and you seem to have gotten closer? She’s got much better gossip, in my opinion.”

“She’s such a…”

“Slytherin?”

“Yeah,” Parvati wrinkled her nose. “But you’re a little right. She’s always got something to say. It just…”

“Isn’t the same,” Padma patted her sister’s lap. “Yeah. I know.”

They sat together in their matching purple coats and purple hats looking at the untouched snow and the twinkling stars overhead. If one ignored the cold, the white looked like a cozy fleece blanket cocooning every inch of Hogwarts in a safe, warm slumber.

“It’s just,” Parvati sighed. “She just thinks she’s better than us just because of her pureblood family line. It’s so infuriating!”

“Tell her to bugger off when she starts saying that shit,” Padma said and Parvati gave her a mock gasp. “What? I’ve picked up some colorful language living with Hannah. That Hufflepuff is not as sweet as she would have you think.”

They laughed together. Padma gave her sister a nudge with her foot. “So what is the latest gossip? I’ve been too busy studying to pay attention.”

“Well,” Parvati started thoughtfully with a smile still playing around her mouth. “Supposedly, that new girl, Morgan Malory, is royalty of some sort. But last I checked, America didn’t have a royal family.” She shrugged. “You know there’s the two students who lost their magic… The Prophet has been blaming Malfoy, saying he’s trying to start something as a revenge for You-Know-Who’s death. But…”

“But what?” Padma sat up interested. The Ravenclaw girl really had devoted herself to finishing her studies. She would have just tested out when they gave her the option, but had come back to finish with her sister. “What do you know?”

“Well, he had that alibi, right? He was with Harry Potter that night the Slytherin kid was attacked.”

“With Potter? That seems unlikely doesn’t it?” Padma tried to imagine what Harry would be doing with Malfoy overnight. She figured hexes and maybe some black eyes were involved.

Parvati hummed. “I would have said ‘yes’ but last week I saw them in the library together.”

“What were they doing in the library?”

“Reading, obviously.” Parvati rolled her eyes. “You spend all your extra time in there, you tell me.”

“Well, unlike some, I don’t go in there to gaze at hot bad boys.” Padma laughed and dodged Parvati’s hand coming at her head. They lost balance on the bench and nearly ended up in the snow.

“But, and this is just odd,” Parvati’s eyes lit up in the way that held a promise of something juicy. “They were sitting close. Very close.”

“What? Like next to each other?”

“Are you purposefully being daft? No! I mean, yes they were next to each other. Like…like they were touching. Almost constantly. I don’t even know if they realized it.” Parvati had been startled by seeing the two sitting next to each other, yes, but she was more surprised how their shoulders had been touching. When one moved away the other would follow as if they had been attached by magnets. “It was weird, but kind of cute.”

Padma laughed loud and long. “You don’t think,” she said between tears, “that they’re involved do you? That’s the most ridiculous bit of gossip I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth.”

“The ridiculousness is what makes it good,” Parvati said sagely holding a mitten covered finger as if imparting some strange wisdom. Padma believed her sister could teach the art of gossip as a subject. It would be a wildly popular class. “But it makes sense right? Opposites attract, and if there has ever been any two people more opposite, I haven’t met them.”

Padma sighed, her cheeks were red and it wasn’t from the cold. “They would be dreamy together. So romantic.”

They looked at each other and broke into another giggling fit. The sound of rushing footsteps made them hush and huddle on each other. Both relaxed as they saw Seamus Finnigan run across the courtyard and slide to a stop in front of a large pile of snow.

“Oh, I was sure he’d wipe out,” said Parvati disappointed. “Oh!”

Theodore Nott had barreled into the Gryffindor who gave a very high pitched scream as they both hit the snow. Padma and Parvati shot to their feet with hands on their wands and watched the scuffle. “Do you think we should go get help?” Padma asked.

“I—,” Parvati stopped. The boys were laughing. Despite their conversation about Malfoy and Potter, seeing these two playing in the snow like a couple of first years was so—odd. Gryffindors and Slytherins disliked each other on principle. Padma’s wide eyes and dropped jaw reflected Parvati’s own dismayed face.

“Are they?”

“Playing, yeah…”

The twins crept across the courtyard taking it slow over the large patches of ice to get a better look. Seamus straddled Theodore holding the other’s face down sideways in the snow while reaching for a handful just out of reach. “This is for not telling me you were well!” He had to let up a bit to get his prize and Nott took the opportunity to flip Seamus on over and shove snow in his mouth.

“No one made you do anything!” Nott responded and cackled.

Padma and Parvati watched as the two boys wrestled shoving fistfuls of snow down any place they could reach. Padma was the first to start giggling and soon Parvati joined as they watched the spectacle. The boys froze and jumped away from each other as the girls continued to laugh clutching at each other for support.

Nott narrowed his eyes at them and then looked over at his roommate. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

Seamus grinned already leaning over to pack a fresh round of ammunition. “Oh girls…”

“Put that down, Finnigan! No, no, no, no, NO!”

“Aaah!”

********

Despite all the warming charms and possibly a hundreds of active fireplaces, Hogwarts’s hallways stayed perpetually cold. George Weasley walked with his sister outside Gryffindor hall, bouncing on the balls of feet to try and keep warm. He’d call it a night soon. Weeks of walking up and down the corridors of the castle in all the old hangouts had not yielded in finding his brother’s ghost. Ginny, who had initially been bothered by the fact Harry hadn’t told her about seeing Fred, was beginning to understand why he had withheld the information. To lure out the spirit of their brother, they had tried calling out Fred’s name, setting off random gag gifts from the shop, threatening Fred with a howler from mum, and on one memorable occasion, George streaked through a couple corridors starkers. Nothing had been able to summon their brother.

“George, why do you think we can’t see him?” Ginny asked. Around her brother she seemed to revert back to the little girl he remembered helping onto Platform 9¾ her first year of school. He pulled her into a side hug where she was trapped just under his armpit. She struggled and kicked at him.

“Harry said he was having problems. I’m sure we’ll see him soon. Cheer up, he’ll be crashing your secret snogging sessions soon enough!” George let her go and she half-heartedly kicked at his shin. He could be so disgusting.

“But he should have come to me first,” Ginny pouted. These days she seemed to be so angry at everything. She was angry at Fred for appearing in front of Harry, and at Harry for seeing Fred. She was angry she had to wait an extra year to graduate. She was angry at Harry (again) for his weird pseudo-friendship with Draco Malfoy. And she was angry at herself for being angry. “What will you do if he doesn’t come? You can’t just keep spending all your weekends at Hogwarts.”

George looked down the hallway and that curious smile on his face seemed wrong, like it was pasted on. “No, don’t suppose I can without becoming staff. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying. Maybe he just needs time.”

Their footsteps echoed in the empty hall and Ginny shifted uneasily under the guilt of her own thoughts for being angry instead of grateful at the opportunity to see her brother again, especially while standing next to George who had been much closer to Fred than anyone else in his life. Outside the hall windows she could see the wind kicking up loose snow in small twisting flurries. Something as mundane as weather could be nearly as magical as, well, magic.

“Remember that time Fred poured lemonade onto the snow?” She asked grinning.

“And made Ron cry when he ambushed him with yellow snowballs?” George’s laugh bounced off the walls. “I thought mum was going to beat us senseless… if she could stop laughing.”

“Ron did not cry!” Ginny said in an attempt to defend her brother but ruined it by giggling a little to herself. “Well, maybe a little. I think he was more disgusted when you actually ate some of it.”

George had stopped walking and was staring at Ginny in that relaxed way that meant he was thinking something very deep and very special. “You were only about four when that happened.”

“Yeah,” she looked away. “It’s one of my first real memories.”

Suddenly her brother walked away from her and Ginny thought maybe she had gone too far reminiscing about Fred. She felt another stab of guilt and a little bit of betrayal by his reaction. But then George was throwing her a look over her shoulder and smiling. “Well, come on. We might as well go make some new ones.”

“New what?” Ginny hurried to catch up with George’s long strides. Why was she the short one of the family?

“Memories, of course!”

********

“How the hell did we end up in this position?” Theo asked while directing bricks of snow with his wand to fortify their bunker.

“I don’t know! These girls are wicked!” Seamus cried out as another boulder of snow crashed down around him. A flock of crows made from ice dropped smaller snowballs like bombs from fighter jets. He had a moment to admire the beauty of the attack before ducking low. “I think Parvati might have been sorted into the wrong house,” he muttered. A loud cackle from one of the Patil twins had him throwing his arms over his head in preparation for the next avalanche.

“Dammit, Seamus! Attack! Return fire! Do something!” Theo’s wall had taken a hard hit and he was busy trying to rebuild. Seamus blinked at him dumbly. “What?!”

Seamus grinned at Theo and this time he looked more like the Kneazle who got all the owls and maybe a house-elf. Finnigan stood and pointed his wand at the tree which loomed over the enemy bunker. He hit it with a stunning charm which shook the branches dropping pounds of ice and slush down on the girls who gave a very satisfying scream. “You called me ‘Seamus’!” He flung himself back down next to Theo and pumped his fist to the air.

“What bloody else am I supposed to call you?” Theo had stopped his construction to look over at Seamus with his eyebrows drawn and mouth slightly hanging open. Seamus only raised his eyebrows and nodded at him. When Theo realized he had used Finnigan’s given name, he glanced away and mumbled to himself.

Seamus thumped him on the back. “Aw, I love you too, mate,” he said and then jerked back as Theo attempted to smash him in the head with fistful of snow. “Hey! I’m on your side here.”

“And who are we fighting?” A tall man dove between the two boys and for a second Seamus didn’t recognize him despite the signature Weasley ginger hair.

“George!” Seamus shook the man’s hand while Nott regarded the intruder with a skeptical frown. “Oi, those Patil girls have us cornered here!”

From above them Ginny Weasley gave a snort followed by a small gasp as another flock of crows rained down an icy hell. Seamus got on his knees keeping his head low and clasped his hands together. “Please,” he begged. “You gotta help us.” Somewhere to the side Theo chuckled.

“Help you?” Ginny said crossing her arms. “I’m joining the winning side. See you on the battlefield, George.” In the next blink she was off running across the courtyard.

“Well, how’s that for family fidelity?” George asked with fake hurt bordering on pride. “Don’t worry, gentlemen. I have an excellent idea.”

********

Inside Hogwarts and far above the snowy battle, Luna Lovegood skipped and hopped about on a staircase that was overpopulated with mome raths; well, Luna was not entirely sure they were overpopulating as this was the first colony she had discovered so their numbers could be quite small. She hummed a tune with no particular melody while investigating and occasionally would take a look at the sad boy at the window near the top of the stairs.

The boy had been the reason Luna visited this particular staircase on this particular evening. The mome raths were just a happy coincidence. At first he had been a little mean if not funny and played practical jokes on her. But she was sure that was only because she was one of the only people who could see him.

“Fred,” Luna called breathily. “What are you watching?”

The ghost boy turned his sad smile on her and she placed her arms around him in what would be a hug if his body were solid. It felt like the right course of action. Her father often hugged her when she acted down.

“See there,” Fred pointed to the courtyard below where snow whizzed between two groups of students. “That’s my brother and my little sister.”

“Yes, I know. They look like they’re having quite a lot of fun. Why don’t you go down there with them?”

Fred turned to the glass which frosted over from his touch. “Unlike you and Harry, they can’t see me.”

Luna nodded as if expecting this answer. “I think that’s just because Harry and I have been acquainted with death longer,” she said as if remarking on something as common as the weather or what she had for breakfast. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go down there and see them. I’m sure they’ll feel your presence. Your aura is quite nice.”

“Lovegood,” Fred said smiling, “you’re a gem.” He made no move to leave just yet. Together they peered out of the window.

A large chunk of yellow snow rocketed across the courtyard. Several disgusted screams followed.

Ginny Weasley’s outrage was the loudest.

“GEORGE!”

Chapter Text

“Someone watches…”

Harry had his wand ready, whether to duel or run he did not get a chance to find out as Draco took his free hand and pulled. He was lost to the sensation of Draco’s skin on his in those tense spare seconds that he hadn’t noticed what kind of room he was in until Draco was locking the door and casting charms to hide their whereabouts. Small, cramped, tiny, dark… Not enough room for two full grown adult men let alone for a growing child to lay down…

“They’ll see the light!” Draco’s face was close to his and so, so angry. Harry had not realized he was in the middle of casting Lumos until Malfoy had stopped him. Something terrible was happening and it had nothing to do with the people in the corridor. It was altogether too hot and stuffy and just so fucking small—

Draco’s hands felt painful on his shoulders. He was being handled—pushed into the cupboard—they’re angry with him again. What did he do? Why was it always the small space under the stairs? Did other children live in cupboards? Harry struggled to get away. His chest felt constricted and his lungs hurt from taking shallow breathes. There wasn’t enough air in the cupboard, he would use it all up soon and suffocate. He could hear someone that sounded strangely like himself mumbling in short choppy segments. Sweat ran into his eyes and his body was so stiff it ached.

Harry leaned against the shelving and squeezed his eyes shut. The darkness behind his lids was more comforting than the darkness of the small closet. He tried to focus. This wasn’t his cupboard. These weren’t the things he lived with and looked on every nightmarish day. He tried to zero in on those details, too afraid and ashamed to turn back and face Malfoy’s anger. He would fight this on his own. He could do this. After all, he had survived much worse.

Then the person standing behind him took the choice of fighting this battle by himself out of his hands, and a flare of anger and embarrassment competed with the rising panic. Harry felt himself as if not entirely inside his own body get turned around, and instead of cold shelves he was pressed fully up against a hard, warm body. Draco’s fingers slipped into his hair and he pushed Harry’s ear to his chest… and that was an embrace Harry never knew he needed.

“You feel that?” Draco’s voice was a soft whisper above him. A little tense, but gentle and without any of the heat from before. “You feel my breathing? I want you to focus on that, Harry. I want you to match your breath to mine.” The hand in his hair moved minutely and Harry imagined he could feel Draco’s lips barely graze the top of his forehead.

He closed his eyes and listened to the long inhales and exhales and the heart keeping them in time. Inhale 1-2-3-4, hold 1-2, exhale 1-2-3-4… Repeat. The body next to his felt like the only lifeline keeping him tethered to the world, so he reached out a shaking hand and took hold of Draco. He let those breaths continue to wash over him and replace every thought with a calm nothingness.

After several long minutes, Harry’s breathing successfully started to mimic Draco’s, and his thoughts also started to return to normal. Strong arms kept him in place, but it didn’t feel as if he was being forced to stay still. Harry had never been held like this in his life. Not when he was tackled by Hermione, not when Mrs. Weasley greeted him at the Burrow, not by Ginny when she saw him after the battle. And maybe it was just an effect of coming down from the panic he had experienced, but Harry felt unwilling to let go. A shiver of residual panic ran through him and he clutched Draco tighter.

Too soon the hand on his head came down to rest on his shoulder, and just by a couple of inches they separated. Harry didn’t look up at Draco, couldn’t look up at him. He had almost gotten them in danger by panicking about being in a fucking closet. Instead, he let go of his hold on Draco’s shirt and cleared his throat as he stepped away. “I—”

“They’ve moved on now,” Draco said interrupting him. He conjured a light and activated the map. Harry didn’t look at the parchment. He looked at Draco’s unreasonably blank face broken only by a hint of worry around the eyes. Draco nodded. “It’s clear. Let’s go.”

“Right,” said Harry and he followed Draco into the dark hallway. They kept an eye to the out for others and when someone threatened to cross their path, Draco would detour them around until they were close to the eighth year dorms. He folded the map and held it out to Harry who took it in silence.

Harry tried to speak again but Draco cut him off. “I think you should tell Professor McGonagall about Brown. Did you recognize who she was with?”

“No… and I will tell her. But Dra—”

“Neither did I,” Draco said and cast the charm and password combination to get through to the common room. He hesitated before going through and faced Harry looking him in the eye for the first time. Harry thought his heart might stop. “I’d appreciate it, Potter, if you didn’t mention my family’s relation to the curse until we can confirm it’s the same one.”

Harry nodded his head dumbly. The request seemed absurdly small compared to what Draco had just done for him. Malfoy returned the nod and headed straight up to his room without another word.

Without changing into his nightclothes, Harry fell into bed and cast a silencing charm as not to wake his roommate. He took off his glasses and pressed the palms of his hands into his eyes until he saw stars. The shame he felt warred with confusing feelings brought by Malfoy’s comfort. How could it be that after all he had been through, after the war and the defeat of the wizarding world’s most vile villain, he could still be so affected by memories of the damn cupboard? He knew he should not, but he couldn’t help direct some of the anger he felt at himself for being reduced to a panicked wreck.

Then there was Malfoy. Draco might have only been trying to get him quiet and calmed down, but Harry had just felt so much in those minutes. He thought about his body pressed tight against Draco’s and tried to hold onto the memory. How had they been standing? They had been so close their legs must have touched along with everything else, but frustratingly he couldn’t remember exactly.

Out of all the ways Draco could have quieted Harry, he just wanted to know why it had been like that. A simple Petrificus Totalus would have been safer for Malfoy and more efficient in silencing Harry. A long time ago, Malfoy had petrified Harry once before. And wasn’t that a surreal comparison between the old Malfoy on the train and the one from just now the closet? Malfoy had broken Harry’s nose by stomping on his face and then stepped on his fingers while leaving him on the Hogwarts Express under the invisibility cloak. This was a memory Harry had not thought about for a long time, buried underneath all the other horrid things that had happened during the war. The hatred he had for Malfoy then had never been worse.

So, why wasn’t that memory bringing back the same anger? Harry groaned and rolled over to his stomach. He tried most unsuccessfully to not think about Draco as he fell asleep.

********

…Draco…

Something pulled Malfoy from what felt like the edges of a nice dream into a cold, dark abyss. His entire body felt numb and his sense of balance shaken by a rhythmic rocking which pushed him in a suspended state. He noticed he held his breath and when he opened his eyes he found himself completely submerged in water. Panic rose in his throat and he fought back a scream that would no doubt end in drowning. Far below, he could make out giant tentacles in a writhing pile. He kicked out against the undercurrent and looked up to a grey lit surface meters above.

Draco had never been a strong swimmer, but in that moment he managed what he would later think of as an impressive pace to the surface. His lungs burned with the need for air and his field of vision grew steadily smaller. His progress came to a halt before he could emerge as his arm was caught from behind in a firm hold. He looked out in fear, his lungs begging for air, and what he saw would have taken his breath away if he had any to spare.

A woman with translucent blue skin, long dark hair, and large blue eyes stared at Draco in wonder. Her expression was not quite human, set apart with high cheekbones and long tipped ears. She appeared older than him, but not by much, and wore opaque white robes which outlined every curve of her body. The blue gauntlets on her hands looked like shimmering fish scales and her feet were bare.

The woman leaned in as if to kiss Draco and when her mouth touched his he felt a warmth chase off the numbness spreading from his lips down his neck and shoulders and all the way to his feet. His lungs relax and expanded as if he had taken a deep breath of fresh air. She gently pushed him to the surface, and after he broke through, she vanished.

Despite the gift of air, Draco coughed and sputtered as he tried to tread the choppy lake water. While rotating to see where he was, he noticed two black robed figures bobbing with the waves just outside his reach, one with long red hair floating on top of the water. He struggled and started to swim towards them but the closer he got the further they went out into the water until he was forced to make for the nearest shore. Whatever warming charm the mysterious lady had given him was starting to wear off and by the time Draco made it to the bank he was shaking from the cold.

“Hello again, Draco.”

On his knees, he didn’t bother looking up. Instead he held out his hand and asked, “Would you mind?” Once dry and on his feet he looked back out at the water where the two figures floated next to each other.

“You seem to remember this place,” remarked the pale lady next to him. She was dressed exactly as he had seen her last with her broken crown, white robes, and a face which invoked dark memories. Even her sad smile remained the same.

“I should hope so,” he said. “Though last time I was sure this was a dream and I only was partially submerged in the water.”

She laughed and it sounded like a thousand bells breaking into song at once. “Last time? Last time you nearly drowned swimming to shore. But I suppose you don’t remember that.”

No, he did not… She started to walk along the shore and he followed like he had the before. Well, like the last time he could remember, that is. “Have I had this dream more than once?”

“I don’t know if this is a dream, though this is a place one usually wakes up from.” They continued in a measured silence before she spoke again. “I’ve called to you four times since the first.”

“So, I’ve been here five times and only remember one?” Draco asked. A large part of him felt silly for even trying to reason inside a dream, but a small part of him was fearful of the implications if this were more than it seemed.

The lady shook her head. “No. You’ve come here on your own over a dozen different occasions.”

He froze. “Over a dozen?” The lady in white turned to him with those consistently sad eyes.

“You never remember past the first,” she said. The pity in her face and the sadness in her voice made Draco want to crumple to the ground.

There was something different now though, he was sure of it, and he needed her to be sure too. “I’ll remember when I wake up this,” he said with confidence. “I know it.”

“How?” He watched as her brows knitted together and Draco had the strong feeling she had never heard him say that before.

“There was a woman, in the lake, when I woke. She gave me air. I don’t think that’s something one forgets too easily.” For a heartbeat, the sun peaked through the wall of grey clouds and lit up the lake like it had that morning with Harry. The similarity was striking.

“You saw… her?” A flash of joy crossed the lady’s face and Draco felt like a student who finally gets the answer right in class. “You saw her? In the lake? You must be much closer than we realized.”

“Closer to what exactly?” He asked.

“I—look Draco, you need to remember your part of the prophecy,” she replied and her words felt like the rehearsed lines from a well-worn argument. “You are important and most of all you are worthy. You cannot forget that, please. No matter how your family, or the world, or even yourself views you, you are worthy.”

“And just who exactly are you to say such things?” Draco asked with more bite than he intended. The woman looked frustratingly close to tears and he could not stand it anymore. The riddles, the emotions she drew from him, the lake, the two bodies on the water who reminded him of Sully and Marie; it was all too much. “Who are you?”

The lady shook her head. “I can’t tell you. The last time I tried to tell you my name you were ripped from this place before I could say.”

“Are you Rosaline Malfoy?” Draco asked in near hysterics. “Creator of dark curses?”

“Don’t you dare compare me to that witch!” As she yelled the ground shook and even the sound of waves lapping at the shore had gone quiet under her fury. Draco took a step away and watched as she breathed heavily and hot white lines of wild magic licked off her arms and shoulders. “Never. Not her. Not like her.”

“But you are a witch?” He asked tentatively. He wondered if some of Harry’s Gryffindor bravery had rubbed off on him, or worse, Gryffindor stupidity.

“I did not gain my magic until after I died,” she said. The luster of her voice and the colors of her body faded until she looked like a black and white photograph on the edge of the Great Lake. “All in service to your family.”

“The Malfoy family?” Draco felt as if he would be sick to his stomach. For generations the Malfoy tortured, enslaved, and killed muggles without restraint. If this lady was one such muggle, forced to serve the family in the afterlife, Draco wasn’t sure how to help her.

“They are only one branch from the cursed tribe, and you are only one prince from many. The only one who can break this wretched curse.”

He snorted despite knowing that laughter wasn’t the right reaction for this particular conversation. “Prince? Despite the Malfoys’ best attempts, no one in our family has ever married royalty.”

For a second it looked as if the lady was going to laugh with him, but her eyes were wide and her smile didn’t reach far enough. “You never had to.” She rose one pale hand and cupped his cheek as if they were lovers reuniting from a great distance. “Sometimes, you look so much like him.”

Draco closed his eyes and leaned into the touch more out of an instinct than actual want. Once again he was pulled from the place he had been and dropped into a new, violent dream. When he opened his eyes he found himself in the middle of a great battle. Everywhere he turned men lay dead while those who stood took frantic swings with their swords trying to stay alive by killing. It was the scene a great muggle battle, though occasional red and green flashes made men fall on the far edges of the skirmish. High above a raven cawed, circling the dead and dying.

Draco’s body moved on its own accord when a dark haired boy approached with his weapon drawn. His own sword was heavy in his hand, and his arm and shoulders ached with the weariness of fighting. He knew he would have to fight this one man; that despite the blood of countless fallen soaking into the earth, the blood spilled now would be more important. Though he did not recognize the enemy, Draco looked upon him in a torrent of betrayal, anger, and love, not completely unlike the feelings conjured when thinking of Narcissa and Lucius.

The first strike came fast and he parried it with the reflexes of an experienced warrior. But the blows didn’t stop and the boy’s face twisted into a gleeful sneer as he continued to drive Draco backwards with each successive blow until…

Draco pulled out from the pale lady’s touch and his hands automatically clutched his abdomen searching out the death wound. The sky above broke out in angry thunder and Draco felt the time with the pale lady growing short. His heart hammered. “What was that?”

“A memory,” the lady answered smiling. Her eyes searched his as if trying to see what he had seen. “A memory that you carry in your blood.”

“Who are you?! I can’t—” Draco stumbled backward. He feared closing his eyes for being pulled back to the battle. Instead he looked to the pale lady and he felt the faint glimmer of a memory. He got his body under control and really looked. Her face with the water in the background. “I saw you at Hogwarts.”

“Is that the magic training place?” She asked unconcern by his discomposure. “I’ve heard about it from others.”

“Why would you be there if you were just a muggle?” His eyes were drying and he had to blink. When his lids fell close he heard the sound of metal on flesh and a man roaring in fury for a moment before coming back to the lake.

“No one is just a muggle, Draco. Now, I think it’s time for you to go.”

********

When Draco woke, he was not sweating, nor panicked. He simply rolled over in bed, summoned his journal, and wrote everything he could remember. He called upon his Occlumency skills to distance his feelings from seeing Sully and Marie’s bodies on the water and wrote everything in an efficient and emotionless script. For this, he imagined himself as soldier in battle (the ground soaked in the blood of a thousand men). Yes, people close to him had become casualties, but he could not mourn while the battle was still going in full force.

Once done he allowed himself a minute of reflection. He knew he wasn’t remembering half of what he needed. There were details lost to him upon waking. Certain things like who the pale lady was or how she was attached to him. He did remember that he reminded her of someone, and he vaguely recalled a woman in the lake who saved him from drowning.

His writing sounded like the recorded visions of a mad man and he turned back the pages of his journal in frustration. These dreams were too vivid to be just conjurations of his mind, but he had no idea what they could mean. Part of him wanted to find Potter and tell him that this was important, that it was connected to what they were researching. But a louder voice told him he needed to know more before saying anything unless he wanted to end up in St. Mungo’s.

Draco’s hands stilled over hastily scrawled lines in his journal just pages before his latest entry:

She calls herself… I can’t remember. She’s important but not the key to all this. You can trust her, though. The pale lady is not the enemy… She’s just as cursed as you are.

The entry had no date, but from its position in the book, he had recorded it sometime between the first dream and this one. An eerie sense of not being in total control fell over him. He did not recall writing those words.

Draco shut the book and threw it back on top of the pile of unsent letters in his desk, and slammed the drawer with a flick of his wand. Tossing himself back on the bed, he closed his eyes and just let himself think. Prophecies, battles, villains, these were all the worries of a hero. He growled. For years, Lucius and Narcissa, groomed him into the man they wanted him to be. It just so happened that the persona they wished to cultivate was to be a power hungry follower of the Dark Lord, all in the name of pure-blood status, and a person to keep the family on top of a shit pyramid they could rule over. Now something else, a prophecy and mysterious visions in all their bullshit glory, forced him into a new role he hadn’t chosen. He wondered if he would ever be able to choose anything for himself in his lifetime. Didn’t other more qualified individuals exist who could take this responsibility? Heroes like, oh he didn’t know, Harry bloody Potter?

Harry. Draco startled up to sitting on his bed. He quelled an instinct to go check on Potter and closed his eyes. Heroes, it seemed, were not as flawless as made out to be in the stories. Last night hadn’t been the first time he had caught Harry (quite literally the first time as Potter had fallen from his broom) in a moment of vulnerability. His hands twitched on the sheets as he recalled holding the other boy to calm him down. Harry had been panicked, scared, out of his mind mumbling something about his cupboard, whatever that meant; and Draco had been what? Concerned? Sure.

And while he was holding Harry?

Content. Harry had suffered and he had taken advantage of the moment to indulge in the selfish pleasure of having someone in his arms.

He sighed and pulled out his quill again with an envelope and a piece of parchment. He started another letter to add to his series of unsent apologies he kept in his desk.

Dear Harry…

*********

Dear Harry,

Ron and I will be flooing into Hogsmeade the first day of the holidays. Ron wants to see Fred and I thought we could help you do some research before we go to the Burrow for Christmas.

Don’t neglect your studies!

We’ll see you soon.

Love,

Hermione

Harry tossed Hermione’s letter next to his untouched breakfast as he looked around the Great Hall for the familiar angular face which had haunted him into a restless night’s sleep. The pressure of another great villain, another battle in the near future, wore him down to a weary acceptance, but all his mind could do was focus on Malfoy.

This was not unusual. Great evil on the horizon and Harry watching Malfoy’s every move. The familiarity was strangely comforting. What was unusual, and what would probably have Ron taking Harry straight to the Janus Thickey Ward in St. Mungo’s, was how this obsession reminded him of his crush on Cho, or how he used to watch Ginny’s name on the Marauder’s Map. The difference was that where he used to be suspicious of Malfoy’s absences, he now found himself concerned. The difference was he couldn’t stand to be in Malfoy’s presence when they were on opposite sides of a war, and now he was longing for a closeness that bordered on madness.

Harry thought Draco had changed much after the war. But was that really true? Malfoy still made jokes at his expense, still dressed like a fop, and still was quick to anger. He seemed to be trying harder to be a real person, but perhaps Harry was just now seeing the real Malfoy that was hidden from him all those years. Did Malfoy comfort his friends when they needed it? Harry’s gut reaction was to vehemently disagree and say Malfoy would consider such acts of kindness as beneath him. The evidence, however, said contrary. Draco cared about the class he tutored enough to review their work before doing his own homework. Although he refused to talk about it, he did go visit Sully in the hospital right after she was admitted and had gone back since. And of course the most damning evidence that Draco bloody Malfoy might have a soul was in the ghost of an embrace Harry struggled to hold onto.

Enough. He shook himself from his ruminations and looked around the Great Hall. There was no sign of Malfoy, Professor Brown, or the headmistress. Pushing away his still untouched breakfast, Harry left to go make his report to Professor McGonagall.

********

Draco wasn’t sure where he was going, he just knew he needed to go somewhere. Snow covered every inch of available space outside the castle, and the temperature had dropped considerably meaning very few students lingered outside. He used this to his advantage to find privacy from everything but his own thoughts, which he tried to block by surrounding himself in the sterile cleanliness of snow and ice.

Almost clean. One courtyard looked like it had been the epicenter for a massive snowball fight turned war. There was a suspiciously large spot of yellow snow that Draco did not know whether to be impressed of or disgusted by. He gave it wide berth either way as he wandered down to the Quidditch pitch idly noticing he was following a footpath someone else had made earlier.

Once down among the towering stands Draco realized he had missed the last match between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff at the end of November. No matter, he’d get the final scores from Bloom. He wasn’t really interested in the other teams other than for strategic purposes and he had enough faith in his own team to take good notes. The thoughts of his team stung a little when he remembered he might have to hold a tryout after Christmas for a new beater.

Lost in thought, Draco barely realized the path he had been following ended abruptly and nearly let out an undignified yelp as he stumbled across a pale body in the snow. Luna Lovegood’s eyes stared blankly up to the sky.

“Lovegood!” Draco dropped to his knees, heart hammering and wand out. Then—for the second time—he stifled a sound no Malfoy should ever make when her eyes gave a slow blink.

“Oh, hello Draco,” Lovegood said and set up so quickly Malfoy had to lean back to avoid what would have been a painful collision of heads. “I’m sorry. Did I startle you?”

Startle would potentially be an understatement. For a moment there, the cold of the snow had turned into the cold stone of Malfoy Manor and Lovegood wasn’t lying peacefully, she was— Draco shook off the memory. He donned a glare instead. “What in the name of Merlin’s balls are you doing out here?”

“It’s quite nice,” she replied. She held out her hand and Malfoy looked at it a minute before gritting his teeth and helping her upright. “Not the snow. That’s nice too. But that you’re worried about me, Draco.”

“Someone has to be,” he muttered. Then he thought someone might very well be and looked around for Longbottom or Weasley to come accuse him of attacking Lovegood. “Are you going to answer me and tell me why you’re trying to freeze to death?”

“I was just listening to the snow,” she said and smiled. Draco dropped his head back and prayed to anyone listening to give him patience. He had learned not to underestimate her skill in dueling nor her intelligence, but he worried about her self-preservation at times. “If you lay still enough, you can hear the Gropsnakes tunneling. They only come out near untouched bodies of snow. But I can listen to you if you want.”

“And why would I need you to listen to me?” The question was out before he could realize how horribly snide he sounded and, worse yet, that she would probably have a very good answer waiting.

“I used to listen to you at the mansion,” Lovegood offered, and yes, there was that spear to the heart Draco had been missing. “I wouldn’t mind doing that again, Draco.” She spoke as if she had been on holiday and not being tortured and kept as a prisoner to control her father.

If possible, Draco felt colder. He avoided going to the dungeons when the Dark Lord or one of the inner circle brought in prisoners. This had been a necessary measure to keeping his sanity. He had once watched Narcissa go down with house-elves to tend to whoever was down there. The elves had come back with sacks that squelched when moved and dripped blood on the marble floor. Narcissa locked herself in her room for two days refusing to come out until the Dark Lord requested her presence at a dinner. Even after the war had ended, Narcissa refused to confess what exactly she did down there. It was one of the reasons Draco had yet to forgive her.

But, when Luna Lovegood had come in stunned and bruised, manhandled by a disgusting brute who had one greasy hand dangerously close to her—well, Draco had impulsively volunteered to take over the duties of caring for the prisoners. Bellatrix had cackled happily thinking he had finally shed the last of his humanity and wanted to engage in torturing people. Or…maybe she thought he wanted Lovegood for the same reasons as her initial captor. Either way, Draco found himself in charge of running food and doing headcounts until Harry and his lot showed up.

After the first day he dismissed the house-elves from coming with him. While he didn’t think any of them were loyal to the Malfoy name outside of their servitude, he wasn’t going to take the chance in case Bellatrix or Lucius asked about his behavior. On the third day of Lovegood’s captivity, he had brought her tea. Looking back, he supposed it was a weak attempt at an apology. He spent the morning looking at his mother’s tea cabinet before picking out a chamomile blend and brought with it a jar of honey and chocolate biscuits. The blond girl accepted the tea as politely as she does everything else and asked him how he was doing. He had fled.

The next day he ran into a problem. According to Lucius, he wasn’t spending enough time in the dungeons and needed to make an effort to look like he was practicing the Dark Arts. “Just don’t kill the little bitch,” Bellatrix had cackled. So, when Luna asked him how he was doing that evening with a fresh pot of tea between them, Draco had stayed and told her. He thought she would not make it out of the house alive and part of him still insists that’s the only reason he told her anything at all.

“Draco,” Lovegood said. She placed a cold hand on his face and he flinched under the touch. “Why are you crying?”

“Why am I—oh, for fuck’s sake, Lovegood.” Draco drew away from her, and the hand touching him just fell to her side. “Why do you even talk to me?”

“Why wouldn’t I talk to you?” She asked him with her wide eyes and breathy voice. Draco couldn’t stand to look at her. It was similar to the regret and sadness he felt towards the pale lady of his dreams.

“Lov—Luna… you should hate me,” he insisted. “For what I did.”

“What I remember you doing is bringing me tea and biscuits.” Luna put her hands in her coat pocket and hesitantly smiled at him. “I don’t feel happy about being a prisoner, Draco. But I don’t blame you. It was… nice you gave me the chance to get to know you. Made me happy to have a new friend.”

“Well, you should hate me. And Potter should. And McGonagall. And Granger…” Draco realized he was starting to ramble and closed his mouth. His therapist at the detention center talked about this, about his guilt. His doctor had suggested he write apologies to the people he had hurt. He didn’t have to send them. The point was for him to acknowledge he had regrets and to recognize the pain he had caused others. He must have over a hundred letters in that drawer in his room.

“Draco, I don’t blame you. You’re a really nice boy.” Lovegood turned around and looked over the Quidditch field. Her eyes sparkled with an optimism that Draco couldn’t help but envy. “I forgive you, if that’s what you need to hear.” She took out her wand, and as if she wanted to prove to him she was happy, cast her Patronus. A silver hare bounded around in the snow with a delight reflecting the wonder of its owner. “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.

“What?”

“Hmm. Oh. It’s from a muggle novel. Alice says it,” Luna said as if that were a clear answer. “So, how has your day been, Draco?”

Draco laughed. “Terrible actually.” Luna shivered next to him seemingly oblivious to how cold she was as she looked up at him expectantly. Draco, still furious at Luna’s lack of concern for her own health, decided it was time they go inside. He offered her his arm and was only slightly surprised when she linked hers around his. “Shall we go for tea?”

He walked with “Looney” Luna Lovegood back through the snow, wondering if this is what forgiveness felt like.

********

After failing to meet with Professor McGonagall who had left Hogwarts on an errand to the Ministry, Harry found himself roaming the castle with no clear sense of purpose. At one point he ran into a mildly concerned Neville asking after Luna, and another time he talked to Seamus who had stumbled out of an empty classroom blushing and sputtering when he saw Harry. Eventually, Harry recognized his sudden urge to explore the castle for what it was: an attempt to find Malfoy. He groaned and knocked his head against the wall when he also realized he could have just consulted his map. It was okay. As long as he didn’t tell Draco he hadn’t thought to check the map first, Draco couldn’t make fun of him. He made his way to his dormitory.

Of course, he had no reason to consult the map when he entered and saw that sitting next to the fire in the common room was Draco, Luna, and a severely confused looking Neville with a pot of tea and a tray of biscuits. Neville noticed Harry and called him over in an unusually loud voice in an attempt to distract his fiancé from the handsome blond git sitting next to her on the overstuffed loveseat. Harry could empathize with Neville as he watched with a sting of jealousy as Draco laughed at something Luna had said.

“Harry!” Neville nearly knocked him down in pulling him over. Draco blinked up at Harry and then… the bastard smiled at him. Harry became totally wrong-footed at that and thanked Godric there was a chair nearby to fall into. Draco raised an eyebrow at him and it took every good bone in Potter’s body not to flip him off. “Have you found out anything on Professor Trelawney’s prophecy?”

The easy air of the room vanished. Harry watched Draco stiffen. Luna cast a quick composed glance at Draco and then to Neville. “Er, well not exactly. I’ve been doing research… but nothing’s come up yet. But Hermione and Ron are coming before Christmas to help research it.” He smiled. Draco frowned. Had he just suggested that Ron and Hermione would be better research partners? He felt like an arse.

“Oh, that’s nice of them,” Luna said easily and took a sip of tea.

“Yeah, I’m sorry I’ve been no help,” Neville said and he did look apologetic. “I’ve been busy with Professor Sprout restocking the greenhouses. It hasn’t been easy since this weather’s taken a turn.”

Luna placed her cup down gently on the table. “Harry’s had plenty of help from Draco. Isn’t that right?”

Harry watched as Malfoy shifted uncomfortably in his seat next to her keeping his eyes down on the tea in his hands. “Yeah, he’s been a great help. I’m rubbish at research,” Harry replied. Draco said nothing but a red blush had crept up his neck to his ears.

“It’s probably the Wrackspurts in your head, Harry. They can make one feel very fuzzy,” Luna said. Harry thought there was definitely something in his head making him feel fuzzy as he watched Draco’s mouth threaten to twitch into a smile.

“Potter, you should get that checked out by Madam Pomfrey,” Draco snickered. “A person like you can’t afford to sacrifice too much of their thinking power. You’ll end up in my remedial potions class.”

Ha—fucking—ha. Harry glared at Draco who shot him a smirk over his teacup.

“Harry never was ideal at potions,” Luna said absently and Draco snorted into his tea. Even Neville was attempting to politely hide a laugh. Harry considered hexing the lot of them. “Draco, you should tell Harry about the dreams you’ve been having.”

“Dreams?” Harry asked and perked up. Draco look less inclined than ever to look anywhere other than his tea or the floor. He tried to ignore the second spark of jealousy at the thought Draco had shared something with Luna and not him. “What dreams?”

“It’s probably nothing,” said Draco waving his hand in dismissal.

“Neville, I think we should go,” Luna said and stood. She gave Draco’s shoulder a quick touch. “Harry and Draco need to talk.”

It was a testament to the awkwardness of the moment that the usually polite Neville hopped to his feet and left with Luna without saying a proper goodbye. After a tense minute Draco finally looked up at Harry. Dark circles underscored his eyes and his face was drawn. If he had another nightmare in addition to their late night, he could not have gotten much sleep.

Harry’s own sleep had come in restless fits, his dreams switching back and forth between nightmares of small dark spaces and pleasant ones of a warm body close to his. Luna had been right, they did need to talk, and the common room was not the place for it. Harry stood quick enough to startle Draco back an inch. He grabbed Malfoy’s hand, yanking him upwards, and pulling him to the stairs.

“Potter, let go of my hand,” Draco gritted out behind him. Harry kept a firm grip and continued. He opened the door to his room and let out a relieved breath at Zabini’s absence, only just now thinking about how it would look to be caught holding hands with Malfoy and rushing in like the world was on fire. He drew Draco into the room and cast a silencing charm just in case. Draco shook free of his grip and stalked to the desk.

“We need to talk,” Harry said. Malfoy looked pained and sat down in Harry’s chair with his head in his hands. “Okay, I need to talk. You don’t have to, but I need you to hear me.”

“Potter, I don’t really—”

“Harry,” he interrupted. Draco blinked at him. “You called me ‘Harry’ last night. I’d—I’d like it if you did that more often.” That wasn’t what he had wanted to start with, but it was a good of place as any. He shoved his hands in his pockets and paced a small line in the middle of the floor while waiting for a response.

“Alright,” Draco said and his voice sounded odd, a bit rougher than his usual smooth drawl.

“Right.” Harry stopped. “Right. Then… I need to apologize.”

“Apologize?” Draco appeared confused and a little ill at ease.

“For panicking. For almost getting us caught. I—,” Harry stopped and could feel the blush of embarrassment on his face. He started to pace again, this time with his hands balled in fists at his sides. In all the battles he had faced, he had never had a moment of utter helplessness as that moment in the broom closet. “I don’t know what happened,” he lied. “But I compromised our situation. We could have been caught. So, I’m sorry. And thank you. For, you know, what you did.”

Draco looked like he was about to bolt and Harry considered casting a locking charm on the door. If they did work this out now, it would be near impossible to approach the subject later. He felt like he was carrying too many conflicting emotions, and that if he didn’t address at least a few of them, he would wind up not being use to anyone at all.

“You don’t need to thank me, Po—Harry.” Draco leaned back in the chair looking even worse than before. “I just did what I had to.”

“You… Are you serious?” Harry stifled the urge to shake Draco. “What you did was—you could have left me in a body bind. Trust me, I had enough time to think about this. No!” He waved a hand as Draco opened his mouth to say something. “You should have cursed me. That would have been sensible and kept us, kept you, safe. So, before you start talking your nonsense about Slytherin sensibilities and just doing what you needed to save yourself, know that you’ve got my gratitude. Whether you want it or not, apparently.” He finished with a huff and ran a hand through his hair. Only Draco could make him so irrationally irritated by refusing thanks. He wanted to hit him. He wanted to hold him. He wanted to kiss—Harry’s stomach did a sudden, nasty flip. He wanted to kiss him…

“Are you done?” Draco’s question startled him back to the present moment and he nodded. The other boy had both eyebrows raised and his mouth twitched between a smile and a frown. “My ‘Slytherin sensibilities’?”

“Oh, shut it. You know what I mean.” Harry said and gave a half laugh. His mind was still stuck on his last thought, and he sat on his bed before his legs could turn to liquid and give out on him. What the hell was his problem? He wondered what kind of hex Draco would use on him if he could read his thoughts. The curtain on his bed blocked his view of Draco and he took advantage of the position to close his eyes and smack his forehead. To his ever increasing horror, he could hear the chair move and then feel the mattress sink in next to him. He felt Draco’s shoulder press up against his and he firmly resolved not to look over at him.

“I’ll accept your apology. If…”

“If?” And, oh Merlin, Harry nearly looked over. He hadn’t expected terms and conditions for Draco to accept his apology, though he guessed he should. Why not? He was asking for something. “If what?”

“If you tell me why you panicked,” Draco said simply. Harry postured became rigid and he couldn’t force himself to relax.

“I…” Harry finally turned to look at Draco and wasn’t that a mistake. The stupidly handsome blond was looking at him and this put their faces close to touching. “I was scared.” His reply sounded incredibly stupid and he tried not to wince.

“I couldn’t tell.” The sarcasm felt half-hearted at best. Draco’s eyes drifted over Harry’s face as if he were taking inventory of everything he saw there, and Harry couldn’t help the goosebumps that broke out under that gaze. “Why?”

Caught between being reluctance to talk about his past and wondering what might happen if he leaned in just a little more, Harry struggled to come up with an answer.

Of course, with the way his day had been going, he should have realized what would happen next. The door to the room flew open with a bang and Zabini strutted in making a line for his trunk. Harry and Draco jumped apart; Draco scooting neatly to the edge of the bed while Harry nearly landed on the floor and only barely managed to save himself by grabbing the post. A surprised Blaise held up his hands in a placating manner with his eyebrows raised to his hairline. “Didn’t mean to interrupt,” he said sounding amused. He searched for something in his belongings and before he left he gave them a wink. “Nice silencing charm. Might I suggest locking the door next time? Malfoy. Potter.”

Harry heard Draco groan as he watched the door swing shut.

Chapter Text

Having absolutely no control over a situation was not an unfamiliar concept for Draco Malfoy. He had had little control over his own life growing up and even less influence once the Dark Lord had returned to his full horrifying glory. Merlin preserve him, he couldn’t even pick out his own clothes for the majority of his life. This being said, he had never imagined to lose control over a casual conversation with mere acquaintances as quickly, or as expertly, as he had to someone as innocent and as socially impaired as Luna Lovegood. With one little, seemingly innocuous, suggestion for him to talk about his dreams with Potter (something he had shared in confidence with her) coupled with her timely exit, Lovegood had taken all the power from him and left him in the hands of the irrationally emotional and stubborn Savior.

Lovegood: 1; Malfoy: 0

At least Harry wasn’t even on the scoreboard.

Draco would feel sorry for Luna’s obvious manipulation of Harry, except he wasn’t at all, and he was too impressed by her mock-innocence which had fooled him, fooled them all. Luna was a danger.

Had she known her little scheme would work as well as it did? Here he was sitting in Harry’s room witnessing the man pacing around like the maniac he was trying to apologize—to Draco. Of course he was. Harry couldn’t have any idea Draco had taken advantage of his weakness to—to what? To engage in some much needed human contact. No, Harry was too busy feeling bad about having a panic attack and being a bloody human and not living up to being the perfect hero he thinks he should be. The whole thing made Draco inexplicably angry and tired.

The icing on the proverbial cake came when he had made the decision to ask Harry what the hell actually happened that night in the broom closet. He wanted to see it on Potter’s face. See the truth in case he tried to hide it away, and he had been completely unprepared to have Harry look at him like that. The Gryffindor’s feelings were painted so obviously on his face that Draco had to cull the urge to roll him into the bed and kiss him senseless. He would have to talk to Harry about the dangers of allowing people the ability to read him like a fucking book.

Then Blaise Zabini happened and the moment was wretched apart worse than an accidental splinching. Blaise’s parting suggestion of locking the door gave Draco no doubt that he and Potter would be the subject of Hogwarts gossip in every corner of the castle within the next couple of hours. He groaned.

Harry jumped up from his precarious position on the post of his bed and looked around at everything but Draco. “Well, er,” Harry started. “I’ve said my apology and I’ll just go. It’s about dinner time and—”

Colloportus!” Draco shouted at the door just as Harry had placed a hand on the knob. He’d thank Blaise for the idea later. The noise of the door clanging and locking shut rendered it the second loudest sound in the room to Potter’s half yelp. “Sit down, Potter.”

“Right,” Harry said and his shoulders drooped. He took a seat on the edge of Zabini’s bed across the room.

As much as he would like it, there was no easy way Draco could see to get them back to the moment before. He supposed he could march over and test his hypothesis that, oh Merlin, Harry might have wanted to have him, but with each passing second he started to doubt it as very rational thoughts intruded insisting there was a chance he misread the situation. He would have to settle on getting to the bottom of his earlier question.

“One interruption and you think I’d forget the terms of accepting your apology?” Draco mustered as much of a sneer as possible. He narrowed his eyes. “You will tell me what happened that night.”

Ah, there was the return glare. Harry’s earlier passion vanished and was replaced by a heated stubbornness Draco had almost missed. Harry simply asked, “Why?”

“Why?” Draco snorted. “Well, if you expect me to continue to put myself on the line for you, I think I should at least know what sort of situations to avoid unless I want to end up caught or dead.”

Harry drew in on himself transforming into a hunched up ball on the edge of Blaise’s bed, and Draco thought he might get whiplash from witnessing these extreme emotional swings. This wasn’t going how he expected.

“You’re probably right,” Harry said and let out a whisper of a sigh. “I can’t believe…”

Draco waited and then rolled his eyes when an answer didn’t seem forthcoming. “Look, Potter. I’m not going to tell anyone of your… thing. I really do need to know though. I—,” he hesitated. Maybe the softer approach was necessary at this point. “I think what happened was you—you had some sort of memory, or conflict. And it overwhelmed you. And really, if we’re going to be sneaking up on mysterious cloaked figures, I need to know this.”

“…cupboard,” Harry softly muttered from across the room.

“It was more of a storage closet,” Draco said offhand and he was startled to see Harry wince as if Draco had struck him. Not my cupboard. That’s what Harry had said in his panic, not his cupboard. What could be in a cupboard that would scare a person who defeated the Dark Lord? A boggart? Draco dismissed that idea quickly. They both knew how to banish a boggart, and the monsters often lived in furniture not inside small rooms. No, Harry had acted like he wanted to urgently get out. He had wanted light, wanted air, like he was trapped. Trapped in a cupboard.

Draco forced himself up on his feet and walked to Blaise’s bed. He felt completely out of his depth. Harry looked up to him almost cowering. Where ever Potter was at this moment, it wasn’t in this room with Draco. Summoning the desk chair over, Draco took a seat to be more or less at eye level with the other boy.

“You were in a cupboard,” Draco guessed. “At some point you were and something happened?”

“Not just some point,” Harry replied less quietly than before. A little of the fear receded and an angry blush bloomed on his cheeks. “Over half my bloody life.”

Draco pinched the bridge of his nose trying to figure this out. “Why were you in a cupboard, Harry?”

It may have been the use of his first name that made Harry soften and keep talking. “It was my room. When I lived with the muggles, my aunt and uncle.” Then he sat up a little bit straighter as if saying it out loud had broken some kind of spell.

“Why would you live in a cupboard? Did they not have enough rooms?” Draco asked, then he shook his head. “No, they had plenty of space didn’t they? You said they hated you.” The skin on his arms broke out into goosebumps and he gritted his teeth. The image of Lucius’s cane came unbidden to him. Not the one that used to house his wand, the other one he kept in his sitting room next to the library. Draco had been sure to avoid being on the receiving end of that bamboo nightmare as much as possible when he was young. Even as an adult when he walked passed it his heart would speed up and he would be looking for Lucius to be sitting in front of the fire waiting… He had a feeling whatever it was, Harry had experienced something similar.

“Right, that’s enough,” Draco said and jumped up from the chair surprising Harry backwards. “Get your coat, come on.” Strange dreams, evil teachers, cupboards, Lucius, the Boy-Who-Lived-Twice cowering... Draco didn’t care for any of it right now. He needed to get out and so did Harry.

“What?” Harry asked struggling up to his feet. Draco cast a quick charm to straighten Zabini’s bed and put the chair back in place. Last thing he needed was to piss off Blaise and give him more ammunition for what was bound to scintillating gossip. Draco’s gloves and cloak were still down in the common room where Harry so inelegantly swept him from.

“Coat, Potter! We’re going out.”

“Harry…”

“Coat, Harry!” He unlocked the door and walked out of the room backwards to watch Harry scramble around for his coat and gloves.

********

The afternoon sun reflected blindingly bright yellows and oranges off the snow on the road to Hogsmeade. Harry had initially had to slightly jog to keep up with Draco’s sure pace until the other slowed a fraction and they fell into step together. From the moment they left the room, neither of them had said anything. For Harry’s credit, he was still coming down from telling Malfoy, of all people, about the cupboard. But the further they got from Hogwarts, the more curious Harry became of their destination. The Three Broomsticks? He could use a drink.

“Where are we going?” Harry asked and Draco, who looked to have been in deep thought, gave him a quick smile.

“You’ll see,” he said.

They forged on and the trip got easier once they came to the well-travelled cobblestone streets of the little village. Weaving between the main road and some of the smaller alleys, Harry recognized it as the path Draco had taken when Harry followed him before. After another five minutes, they ended up at a small, worn house near the far end of town. Draco marched past the gate straight for the door. When Harry tried the gate it whacked at his legs as if he weren’t welcomed. He hopped it instead and could swear the iron growled at him.

“No need to upset the front garden, Harry,” Draco drawled. The knocker on the door was in the shape of a cat with a monocle and a small top hat. Instead of using the knocker, the cat’s collar and bell, Draco rubbed the snow off it.

“Who is it?” the cat asked in a low gruff voice.

“Malfoy.”

“Malfoy and…?” The cat shot Harry a glare and Harry couldn’t help look away as if he had been caught trespassing.

“Don’t tell me you don’t recognize Harry Potter, you paranoid Auror,” Draco said without irritation. He seemed amused if the small smile on his face was anything to go by. He turned to address Harry. “We’ve just got to get something from Gretta and then we’ll go.”

The door opened to reveal the big brute of a man Harry had seen at the library. His greasy black hair was hidden under his black bandana and his milky eye peered out at the both of them. He would look intimidating if it weren’t for the purple and green apron tied around his waist and the traces of flour on his arms. Harry gave him a small wave in greeting.

“’Arry Potter, eh?” Gretta said. “Well, you lot come inside. I’ll suppose this ain’t a social visit, Draco?”

“Of course not,” Draco sniffed but still smiled. “I just needed a travel slip and some funds.”

“Where you think you’re goin’?” Gretta slammed the door shut behind them. Harry shook off the cold and took a look around. The house smelled strongly of cats, but besides that, it seemed cozy enough. One wall was completely covered of pictures, and though it was too far away to be sure, it looked like a collection of Gretta with various young witches and wizards. He wondered if these were other wayward youths. Most of them sat in their frames smiling and waving, some stood sullen and grumpy, and a few didn’t move at all.

“Ah well,” Draco shot Harry a glance and then leaned over to whisper something to Gretta.

“What?! I can’t let you go that far!”

If Harry hadn’t been interested before, he was burning with curiosity now.

“You can if you put a time restriction of… let’s say twelve hours? And if I have an adult escort,” he replied pointedly. Harry wondered who the adult would be and voiced as much. Both men stopped talking and turned to face him with incredulous expressions. Harry felt like he was missing something obvious.

“He ain’t even fully certified,” grumbled Gretta. “Oi, ‘Arry. ‘Ow old are you?”

Harry jumped. “Nineteen, er, sir.” Nineteen… oh.

“He gets it now,” Draco mused and then scrubbed a hand over his face. “Do you think we run the risk of someone checking his brain and realizing he isn’t mentally more capable than a first year?”

“Hey now—”

Gretta interrupted with a grunt. “You got class tomorrow, you miss and you’re in trouble.” He turned a fat finger on Harry. “You make sure he gets back on time, or I come for you, got that?”

Harry gulped and nodded. The other Aurors Harry had met after the war had not been nearly as intimidating as this man, and most of them considered Harry a hero and were much more polite in their conversation. The fact it wasn’t assumed Harry was completely capable was a little comforting, even if Gretta came on a bit strong.

“All so you can show off to yer date,” Gretta grumbled at Draco.

“Date?!” Draco said with an indignant cough and paled a little.

“Oh, I don’t suppose he knew, sorry.” Gretta waved a massive hand in the air dismissing it. “I’ll give you your slip. ‘Ow much Galleons you need?”

Draco closed his eyes and bit his bottom lip. Harry looked from him to Gretta and wished there was someone here who wouldn’t insult him that he could ask what the hell was going on.

“Thirty galleons at least,” he replied. Then he gave Harry a once over. “Make that fifty.” Harry considered he should probably be offended at whatever thought Draco just had.

“Right, ‘ere you go, now get off. If you get back after curfew you just ‘ole up in town overnight. No use getting caught after dark. I’ll write ye a note for that too.”

Draco took the proffered parchment and a small black satchel of what had to be the money. He bowed slightly and said thanks before turning back to the door. Harry’s mind was reeling.

“’Arry,” Gretta growled. “You alright going with him? Probably should have asked that first.”

Draco stopped with his hand on the door and didn’t turn to face them. Harry thought he looked apprehensive. “Yeah, I trust him,” he said. Draco’s shoulders relaxed and he opened the door.

“Right, ‘ave fun. Don’t get in trouble.”

With that they were back in the snow. Draco held the front gate open for Harry who hurried to catch up. The urge to ask again where they were headed was strong, but he didn’t think Draco would tell him if he did, so he quietly allowed himself to be led back to the center of town. He wondered what Ron would say if he told him he willingly let Malfoy whisk him away to an unknown location after getting full legal permission from his Parole Auror and Harry himself. He imagined Ron might knock him out and drag him to Hermione for a checkup and intervention.

"I don't suppose you have your license to apparate, yet?” Draco asked.

“Er, no…”

“Never mind, probably for the best.”

The next stop was in a room at the post that Harry had never been before: Travel and Currency Exchange. He watched as Draco filled out a form trying to read over his shoulder. “How many middle names do you have?”

“Four, but this only has space for three,” Draco replied as if irritated the form could snub him of the honor of writing his full name. He started on filling out Harry’s name.

“Well mine is—”

“James, yes, I know. It’s like your famous enough to be on collectible cards, or something.” Draco smirked and pulled the form closer to him to hide the specifics. Harry scowled at him.

“Is talking to you always going to be this irritating?” Harry huffed.

“I hope so,” Draco said absently and rang the counter bell. Harry blushed.

A short fat wizard in tweed robes ambled to the counter and took the form without looking up. “Portkey?”

“Yes, roundtrip.”

“Portkey?!” Harry squeaked.

“Calm down, Potter.”

At the mention of Harry’s last name, the little wizard look up in shock. He glanced back and forth from Harry who was leaning against the counter and the form in his hand as if he had just been hit by a stunning spell. Draco reached out and flicked the paper. “Mr. Potter would like his portkey as soon as possible,” he said. Harry had to look away or risk laughing. “And he’d like these Galleons exchanged for Francons. Just take the difference for the portkey out.”

“Yes, sir,” the man replied with a short bow. “Mr. Potter, we’ll have this ready in just a minute. Please have a seat!” The man squeaked and ran out the back holding onto Draco’s money and the form. Draco stalked over to the chairs and sat down where two coffees and some biscuits had appeared on an end table.

“Your name carries weight,” Malfoy said. “I don’t think he even noticed who I am yet.”

“Malfoy, why do we need a portkey?” Harry asked. He reached for a coffee and Draco swatted his hand away.

“Don’t. We’re getting something better if everything goes well. And really, I have to call you Harry but you can call me Malfoy? That’s unfair.”

“You’re avoiding my question, Draco.” Harry resigned himself to a seat and looked around at the office. Posters of wizards in exotic locations hung on the wall. One larger scene had a particularly nice looking Australian beach with warm sands and waves that crashed up on rocks occasionally sending down a spray of salt water. “This is a travel agency!”

“You are very astute. Is that what the muggles call them? Travel agencies?” Draco asked. Harry didn’t get a chance to answer as the little wizard bumbled back through the door and Draco shot to his feet to meet him.

“Ah, Mr. Malfoy,” the postmaster looked at Draco with some wariness that wasn’t there before. He must have not had time to process Draco’s name earlier, Harry realized. The man handed back over the money and then placed two items wrapped in black cloth on the counter. With his wand he unraveled the first, a small wooden carving of a goblin dressed as Father Christmas. Draco took the second, still carefully wrapped up, and put it in his front pocket. “The return portkey will send you to the fountain in Hogsmeade just outside the office. They both expire after twenty-four hours, so please be back before then, or you’ll have to purchase a new one wherever you’re located. Have a safe trip… gentlemen.”

Harry was in the middle of saying thank you when Draco reached out and grabbed his hand and placed it on the portkey with his own. The unpleasantness came all at once and Harry screwed his eyes shut to block out the terrible whooshing and roaring of being dragged across a great distance. This was most definitely a mistake as Harry missed the moment he should have tried to avoid the ground coming at him at full force.

With a shaky hand, Harry pushed himself up and groaned as he watched Malfoy come down with a preternatural grace. “How do you do that?” he asked dusting himself off.

“How did you manage to fall that far down?” Draco returned. He looked like he was fighting back a laugh. No, now he was laughing.

“Ugh, whatever. Where are we? Do I get to know now?” Harry looked around. The sun was still in the sky so he guessed that was a good sign, and the weather was a bit warmer but not enough for him to want to take his coat off. Not too far off he could see the glitter of a large body of water that did a good impression of being a fucking ocean. What the hell? For miles there seemed to be nothing but low shrubs peeking through frost and snow with the occasional cottage and tree breaking the landscape. A large sandy stone wall ran the length of a dirt road they stood on and Draco leaned against it looking smug and amused.

“Normandy,” he replied evenly.

“Normandy… France?!” Harry wheeled on him. “What are we doing in France?!”

“Getting coffee, obviously.” Draco pulled out his wand and then frowned. “You’re going to have to open the way. I’m not allowed to do magic outside of Hogwarts.” He kicked an unsuspecting rock down the road.

This went a ways to calming down Harry. Watching Draco rely on Gretta for permission to travel and depending on Harry for magic made Harry uncomfortable. At Hogwarts he often altogether forgot Draco was on parole and had actual restrictions placed on his life. He could do this. He could be there for Draco if he needed. “Right, so,” he drew his wand. “What do I need to do?”

“Like Diagon Alley. See that pillar? Tap it—you know what? This’ll be easier.” Draco placed his gloved hand over Harry’s and guided the wand up and down the pillar in a delicate series of taps. Harry could feel Draco’s magic warm, controlled, and holding back over top of his own. The wall folded in on itself and rolled outwards to form a large roman arch. Before Draco let go of his hand, Harry imagined he felt the tiniest bit of a squeeze.

The dirt road gave immediately away to an ancient looking street made of grey stone bricks which ended at small sidewalks and tall multicolored buildings of maroons, yellows, and blues. Nearly every window had flower boxes of herbs or small winter blossoms and every door was painted to either complement the building or to stand out distinctly from it. Ivy and moss grew along the wooden beams of the walls and enchanted Christmas candles and fairy lights hung around the greenery. The amount of color should have been garish but it all blended together well enough to create something foreign yet inviting.

The best part, Harry had belatedly noticed as they ventured into the hidden village, was the witches and wizards who walked by them without a second glance speaking for the most part in French. Unlike whenever he made a trip to Diagon Alley, there were no whispers, no pointing of fingers, no asking for autographs, and best of all, no cameras being directed at Harry. He could feel his posture become less rigid, and short of letting his scar show, he allowed himself to just be Harry.

He followed Draco who had traded his earlier urgency for a calm stroll around the winding cobbled paths. Occasionally he would stop as if trying to recall something and then reroute their path. Most of the signs were in French, but Harry could understand what the shops were well enough. An alchemist, judging by the cauldrons and herbs out front, a bakery, a Quidditch shop, a wand store with a surprisingly young staff compared to Mr. Ollivander. Draco seemed to know where he was going and for the moment Harry was content to let him lead the way. Draco, he noticed, looked as if he belonged here.

“You’ve been here before?” Harry asked.

Draco drew in a breath and hummed. “Long ago. This is Belfou. I used to come here every summer to visit the old Malfoy estates.” Old Malfoy estates. Merlin, he probably owned half the town. “Never been here during the winter though. I hope it’s still… yes, there!”

Down at the next bend of the road sat a small café shorter than the two buildings it was nestled between. A few patrons who seemed oblivious to the cold sat outside with small white cups and bits of pastry and sandwiches. The whole thing looked quite intimate and Harry suddenly thought of Gretta’s parting words of this being a date.

“We really are getting coffee?” Harry asked. “Why couldn’t we get coffee in Hogsmeade?”

“Do you know of a good place for coffee in Hogsmeade?” Draco shot back. Harry shrugged. He had never sought it outside the Great Hall. Draco pulled on his arm and led him into the café where a young witch in short robes and high boots seated them next to the window. Harry attempted to read the menu spelled on the wall but gave up after only recognizing a handful of words. Draco had taken off his coat and gloves so Harry copied him and looked around a little glad he wasn’t the only one wearing something casual. “You can relax, Harry.”

“I’ve never been outside the country before,” Harry said. He slid his hands against his jeans to rub the sweat off and to shake out his nerves. “What made you want to come here?”

Draco waved his hand as if portkeying to a different country wasn’t that big of a deal. “I wanted to get away from Hogwarts for a bit, and this was the first place I thought of. Never did try the coffee here when I was younger.”

The waitress bounced back over to them with a pad and quill in hand. She smiled with her eyes fully on Draco. Harry squirmed trying to fight off a sudden rush of irritation at her apparent interest in Malfoy. She asked Draco something in French and he returned with what Harry assumed was their order… but in French. The witch flashed him a wide smile and the next few lines of dialog between the two felt a bit off script for just ordering food and drinks. When she finally left, Draco turned his attention back to Harry with a slightly smug expression.

“I didn’t know you could speak French. Sounded fluent,” Harry accused and then tried not grimace at the obvious irritation in his voice. He felt like Malfoy could read whatever expression he was wearing well enough without his voice betraying him.

“Madeline certainly thought so,” Draco hummed and gestured to the waitress who leaned on the counter as if on display with the pastries. “Hope you don’t mind me ordering for you.”

Soft music floated from the back of the café and mingled with the quiet chatter of other customers. Harry took a moment to look around and wonder at the odd circumstances he found himself in before narrowing his focus back to Draco. Malfoy seemed to be content with ignoring their surroundings and just stare at Harry.

“Malfoy,” Harry started.

“Draco.”

Draco. Do I have something on my face?” He asked.

“No, why do you ask?” Draco leaned onto his elbows perching his head on his hands.

“You were staring. Is something wrong?” Harry said echoing Draco’s words from the library. The boy across from him looked away with a laugh and blush blossoming across his face.

The server, Madeline, returned with two hot cups and a series of small sandwiches. She placed a mug of something frothy and creamy in front of Harry that looked like soft chocolate clouds and smelled like a dream. Draco’s cup appeared to be straight black drip coffee even though he seemed to nearly purr when he took a sip.

“Ma—Draco. About earlier,” Harry began.

“No,” Draco replied. He set his coffee down with a little too much force making the porcelain clang against the wood of the table. “We’re not talking fears, or prophecies, or anything like that.”

“Okay.” Harry took a sip of his whatever and found it to be just as tantalizing on the taste buds as it was on his olfactory. He struggled to figure out where this was going, where he wanted it to go. “What do we talk about then?”

Malfoy leaned back in his chair exposing his neck and rolling his shoulders back. He looked more relaxed than Harry had ever seen him at Hogwarts, and yet he appeared feral and energized as if Harry could reach over and steal some of his power just by soft touches and stolen kisses. Underneath the table, Draco’s foot came to rest next to Harry’s and didn’t move. “We could talk about how when we get back to Hogwarts we might have to pay Blaise blackmail money.”

“For what?” Harry blushed down into his coffee as he imagined the scene from Zabini’s point of view. “What’s he going to say? ‘Potter and Malfoy were talking’? We’ve been doing plenty of that recently.”

“I wouldn’t put it past him to make up a few extra exciting details,” said Draco. He looked exceptionally pleased at the prospect. Harry didn’t know how to take that.

“Exciting?” Great, no, that hadn’t been the part he wanted to focus on. His mouth obviously had been hexed, he’d have to get that checked out later. Draco was now leaning in, and despite the table, he now felt entirely too close for comfort.

“Shall I give you some examples?” He took a sip of his inky drink as if in thought. “Let’s start simple. ‘Potter dragged Malfoy by the hand to his room and when I went to check on them, they were snogging.’ Wouldn’t be a complete lie, now would it?”

He’s an evil bastard, and I’m not sure why I thought we could be friends, Harry thought. “I might have dragged you,” he conceded and picked at one of the sandwiches to have something to do while Draco continued.

“Then of course he could exaggerate a bit. ‘Potter and Malfoy had their hands everywhere and jumped apart in guilt when I came in the room.’”

Harry choked on the damn sandwich.

“Or how about…” Draco smirked and started speaking in a low voice that forced Harry to lean in to hear him. “Or, ‘Harry had Draco pinned to the bed half naked, panting, and hard—’”

“Okay!” Harry yelled a little too loud. Several customers around them stared. He could feel the tips of his ears burning and was fighting the very real need to adjust his suddenly tight jeans. “I get the idea! Given that some thought, have you?”

“Yes,” Draco replied quick enough to make Harry wonder. He couldn’t help feeling as if he were being teased and tested at the same time. “We should be prepared for whatever gossip is going around when we get back.” Draco leaned back as if the idea didn’t bother him and plucked up a cucumber sandwich.

Harry waited until Draco had taken a significant bite before taking his own revenge. “It’s a pity, isn’t it?” Draco raised an eyebrow in question. “Rumors of snogging without being able to experience making out first hand. Seems like we’re missing out, yeah?”

Harry grinned into his cup as Draco began to cough around his food.

********

Sputtering, Draco went red trying to dislodge the sudden piece of bread blocking his airway. He narrowed his eyes at Harry who was laughing quietly. He hadn’t anticipated the sudden shift from embarrassment to flirtation.

“I'm only joking, Draco,” said Harry, his voice full of humor and his eyes dangerous. “So, yes. What do we do with the potential gossip?”

As Draco managed to recover his dignity, he mulled that over. “There is a fair chance Zabini might try to blackmail us instead. But I doubt it. We could start a counter rumor. Say we were fighting?”

“That's more believable than us, you know. I guess.” Harry tapped a finger on his empty cup and bounced his leg next to Draco.

Under the table their feet still touched not moving a millimeter in one direction or the other. Draco wondered if Harry even noticed. He seemed genuinely lost in thought with his shoulders hunched and his lips turned down in an almost frown. Those green eyes darted about the table and occasionally up to the lower half of Draco’s face.

“The only option, the only real option we have,” Draco sighed, “is to outright deny or confirm whatever is being said. There's not much else to do about school gossip.”

“Wouldn’t that be a bad thing?” Harry meet his gaze. “I mean for you,” he amended. It struck Draco that Harry thought the rumors of them together would hurt him somehow. The sentiment made Draco’s stomach twist and his heart beat a little more rapidly.

“Harry, while it could be problematic if people decided I was manipulating you,” Draco held up a hand to stop whatever Harry was about to interject with. “I know you wouldn’t allow people to think that, or at least you would put a stop to it. I could only benefit from being seen in a relationship with you, whether it’s just friendly or… otherwise. Your reputation, on the other hand, wouldn’t fair very well. Or did you forget I’m a Death Eater?”

“Former Death Eater,” Harry corrected with an intense speed. “And I’m not worried about myself here.”

“You should be,” Draco replied. He rolled his shoulders and wished he could order another coffee to have something to do. The conversation felt more like negotiating a potential relationship than trying to decide what to do when they got back.

“I’m not.” Harry’s voice had a firm conviction which felt just as dangerous to Draco as anything else the Gryffindor did when he had decided on a course of action. It pulled at Draco’s instincts to argue and be contrary, but he held back. Instead, he allowed a moment to enjoy the loyalty he had no idea how he managed to earn.

The waitress came over with the bill and Draco paid. “Let’s go,” he said quietly. They pulled on their coats and headed outside. The sun had set and Draco found he couldn’t be bothered to care about the time despite knowing the consequences. He was admiring the stars when Harry gave a cough and held something out to him.

“The receipt,” Harry said and he was blushing. “She left a note.”

Draco blinked at it and then laughed when he saw the curly French script. “Her address and request for a Floo call. Well, she’s very confident.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “And very attractive. You should keep it.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and looked away.

“Not my type,” Draco murmured more to himself than to respond. Harry heard him anyway and looked up almost hopeful. “Come on, I’m not done here.”

Snow started to fall during their walk in small dusty flakes that stuck to eyelashes and sleeves for mere moments before melting away. Summers in this place were almost unbearably warm with lush amounts of flowers, greenery, and produce lining every bit of street as the farmers brought out their yields. Now in winter the village was quiet and sleepy, and on some roads he and Harry were completely alone. At one point the street opened up to a series of docks along a narrow river that bisected the east and west sides of the village. A line of small fishing boats sat covered under tarps and separated by small individual ramps. Draco smiled and stopped.

“What is it?” Harry asked and he stepped up next to Draco.

“I came here when I was five,” Draco started. He shivered from the cold and jumped a little as Harry muttered a quick warming spell on them both. Draco tried to smile his thanks. “Lucius and Narcissa were at meeting with some of the townspeople and my nanny—don’t give me that look—and I came here. I begged her to play hide-and-go-seek. Eventually she relented and I hid down there on the pier in a barrel.” Draco wrinkled his nose. “It smelled horrible, but… I fell asleep and must have been there for hours.”

Harry leaned against him and Draco could feel his laughter where they touched. “I bet she panicked.”

“Yes she did. They had half the town looking for me. An old woman found me and took me to our summer house.”

“Sounds like quite the adventure,” said Harry like he meant it. “Draco, why do call them by their first names? Your parents, I mean.”

Draco tensed which had the effect of Harry taking a half a step away. “They aren’t my parents anymore,” he said and it came out darker than he wanted. The pang in his chest when he said it out loud rang out as a silent reminder that the statement wasn’t completely true. He didn’t want to see the impact of that statement on Harry, so he shifted the conversation back to more comfortable territory. “Have any adventures yourself? Besides making life miserable for dark lords?”

Harry didn’t respond for a moment and Draco feared he might prod the subject further. “Not any like yours outside of Hogwarts. There was this one time when Ron and I were at the burrow and I was attempting to teach him how to light a fire the muggle way when we nearly caught the whole front garden on fire.”

They continued to walk without intent. Draco would tell a story when a certain landmark reminded him of one and Harry would respond with his own from Hogwarts or from with the Weasleys. Draco admitted missing his nanny because she had been the closest thing to a childhood friend he had and Harry carefully avoided talking about his past before getting his letter from Hogwarts. Eventually under a silent agreement they started to make their way back to the entrance to town. Before they could get reach the wall, Harry struck out his hand and grabbed Draco’s. Startled, Draco turned to face him only to find Harry with his head bowed and trembling slightly.

“Draco,” Harry said and then cleared his throat. Draco felt his chest constrict. “About the cupboard.”

“You don’t need to—”

Harry cut him off by squeezing his hand. “When I was dropped off with my aunt and uncle, they, well, they weren’t happy. They hated me, hated my abilities. So much so that they kept me being a wizard a secret and then made me live in a cupboard under the stairs.”

Draco held his breath. He was afraid he would say the wrong thing so he just listened. Harry took a few breaths before going on.

“They forced me to work like a slave,” he bit out. Draco moved slowly to be closer to him. “Sometimes they would lock me in the cupboard for days at a time and forget to feed me. They called me a freak, and I—I believed them.”

The confession left Draco feeling hollow and numb. He had known about Harry Potter and his accomplishments before ever meeting him, and Harry had grown up never knowing how important he was or what made him special. A desire to find these muggles and burn the house down, cupboard and all, flooded him with and angry warmth. He struggled to reconcile the stupidly brave boy he knew with someone who was once kept like an abused house-elf by his own relatives.

“I guess I never did get over being in tight spaces after that,” he finished.

Draco wished he could say what he really wanted in that moment. That he could express the rage and urge to get revenge on Harry’s muggle relatives. That he was once again unable to understand how Harry could trust him with this kind of information. That no matter what anyone said, including Draco, Harry wasn’t a freak.

Harry tried to let go of Draco’s hand but Draco wouldn’t let him. Draco waited until he looked from where their hands were to his eyes. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for telling me.”

Harry shrugged. “You were right; you deserved to know.”

“No, I didn’t,” Draco said and Harry looked at him in surprise. “I wanted to know, yes, but you had every right to keep it yourself.”

A clock in the distance struck with the hour and both of the boys winced at the reminder of the hour. It was going to be too late to sneak back into the castle if they left now and Draco doubted staying at an inn in the village would be wise if they wanted to make their morning classes. The realization fell heavy on the moment and they let their hands fall to their sides. Draco took out the second portkey and unwrapped it to reveal a small broken marble.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Oh, I get a warning this time?” Harry scoffed. He took off his gloves and held out a hand. Draco grinned a halfhearted apology before activating the portkey. There was the familiar pull and sickening drag, but this time Draco struck out a hand before Harry could fall on his face on the landing. He caught Harry spinning him around to fall into his chest instead of the icy water of the fountain at Hogsmeade. Harry muttered an “oomph” and placed his hands on Draco pushing himself back slightly. Draco’s arm stayed around his back. The town square was empty and the only sound was their breathing and the crunch of snow under their boots.

“Thanks,” Harry said looking up at him.

Draco made to let go of him, but then Harry’s hands suddenly travelled upwards cupping Draco’s neck for a moment and then resting in Draco’s hair.

“In for a penny…” Harry said.

“Are you ever going to tell me what the hell a penny is?” Draco asked. He moved forward minutely and that seemed to be all the permission Harry had needed before kissing him. The pressure on his lips was soft, firm and warm. It was a declaration of intent and display of courage before moving into something deeper, something hungrier. Draco found himself replying to it by putting his hands on Harry’s hips and pulling him closer while tilting his head to seek a better angle. He tried to match Harry’s eagerness with his own, pouring every ounce of what he felt into the moment. One press of lips each for the appreciation, fondness, trepidation, and acceptance Harry had come to make him feel. When they pulled away, Harry chased his lips to place one last quick kiss. Everything fell quiet and still.

Then the sound of a camera shutter shattered the silence.

Chapter Text

Harry could barely breathe. His hand covered Draco’s mouth and his other hand was struggling to push Draco’s wand down. “No,” he hissed, again. Draco had been unresponsive to the first few protestations. “You can’t use magic outside Hogwarts. Remember?”

With a loud crack the man with the camera apparated away to where ever he had come from. Draco shook Harry off him and took a few seething steps backwards. He stowed his wand and Harry gave small thanks that he wouldn’t have to try and take it away.

The man, the one with the camera, had been waiting just out of sight of the portkey’s return point. It had been an obvious oversight on Harry’s part. There was hardly a place he could go without someone leaking information about his whereabouts and his activities. He hadn’t wanted, or expected, to drag Draco into that aspect of his life. He also hadn’t accounted for Draco’s hostile reaction. One moment they had been wrapped in each other’s arms and the next Draco had his wand out marching towards the man, and Harry had barely enough time to stop him from casting whatever spell was forming on his bruised lips.

“What spell were you going to cast?” Harry asked once it looked as if Draco might not break out his wand again.

Draco stilled and turned to him, his features were twisted and ugly with indignation. “Why, Potter? Thought I was going to curse him?”

“No!” Harry reached out but Draco turned his back on him, so Harry took to his side. “No, nothing like that.”

“Can’t forget I’m a Death Eater, can we?”

“No, for Merlin’s sake, stop and talk with me.” Harry’s own frustration built. Draco stopped walking away, his back a rigid line. “Look, I was just curious what you were going to cast because you seemed to forget that doing magic outside Hogwarts can get you sent to Azkaban. I know I’m not the quickest person, so I also know you couldn’t really forget that fact.”

Deletrius,” he answered. If possible his shoulders became more hunched. “And maybe a Confundus Charm.”

Deletrius?” Harry knew he’d seen it before. “That one disintegrates, right?”

“I was going to—you really didn’t think I was going to curse him?” Draco asked. He turned a carefully blank face to Harry. His walls were up and Harry wasn’t sure if that was any better than the anger he saw etched there earlier.

“Well,” Harry hesitated. He didn’t want to lie, but he also didn’t know if Draco would believe the truth. “I guessed that was a possibility. But honestly? I just didn’t want you to get in trouble over the stupid paparazzi.”

Stupid paparazzi?” From the emphasis, Draco disagreed with the sentiment. “We don’t know who they worked for or what they’re planning to do with the pictures they had taken. You aren’t the only one being followed by reporters. Many of these people are just salivating at the chance I might trip up.” He shook his head. “Blaise isn’t the only person we’re going to have to deal with now, you know.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“Yes it does.”

“Okay, sure, it does. Is there anything we can do about it?” Harry’s voice had risen to a near shout at the end. Draco’s eyes went wide for a moment before schooling down to his natural infuriatingly haughty (and punchable) expression. “Gods, I—I hate them too, alright? But if living with them hounding after every detail of my life has shown me anything, it’s what the hell can you do about? Especially now. Nothing, right?”

The cold started to cut through Harry’s layers and he cast a quick warming charm on Draco and then himself. Other than that they truly were alone in quiet of the main road in Hogsmeade. Draco gave a long exhale and dropped the act, or what Harry had hoped was an act, of cold indifference. “Nothing,” he agreed.

“Right,” Harry replied able to take in a normal breath for once. “Right, so now we go. We need to get indoors and I don’t have my invisibility cloak, so sneaking is probably not a good idea.”

He looked around for an answer and none which sprang to mind seemed ideal. If they went for the inn, whatever paper the man sold their picture to would have a field day, and he figured Gretta probably would let them in but he didn’t want to impose. He sighed in aggravation and looked up when Draco gave a little laugh. “What?”

“This is going to be interesting,” Draco smiled at him but didn’t give any further explanation to his thoughts. “Come on, then. Let’s get a room.” Harry watched him move towards the inn and put out a hand and stopped him.

“Don’t you think that would be a bad idea after what just happened?” Harry asked.

Draco blinked down at him and then was blushing. “Not together, idiot.” Harry was too distracted watching the blush trail down Draco’s neck in patchy rose like blooms to take the insult to heart. Draco huffed. “We’ll get separate rooms of course. No doubt both equally wretched.”

“Oh… right.” Harry cleared his throat and started walking with Draco who still looked a bit pensive and stiff. He wished he could go back in time and capture the carefree Draco from the café. He wished he could kiss him again, and for longer.

“Unless you insist,” Draco threw out casually. Harry nearly tripped on air.

“No, that’s probably…” He couldn’t think of an excuse. “You’re terrible, you know that?”

“You kissed me,” Draco pointed out as if Harry could easily forget the best snog of his life. Merlin, he was in trouble.

“I was disorientated from the portkey.”

Draco laughed a little more and Harry let himself smile. They didn’t hold hands or kiss again on the way back, but it still felt different than the other times they walked together. It felt as if there was current running from Draco to him and that anyone with eyes could witness what was there between them.

Too soon they stood in front of the check in counter where an elderly witch wearing eyeglasses on her head and stood barely tall enough to see over the desk explained in between wheezes that there was just one room but it had two doubles and they could have it at a discount if they left early. Draco looked a little green, whether from sharing a room with Harry or because of the state of the innkeeper, Harry wasn’t sure. After a brief argument, Draco gave her two fake names. Well, almost fake. “Theodore Nott and Seamus Finnigan.” He said it with a shrug in Harry’s direction.

“We should have used fake names for the portkey,” Harry thought out loud.

“Only if it’s in your agenda to start an international incident,” Draco responded. “You can’t travel under an alias to another country. At least not through any legal means.”

They made their way to a room on the third floor and spent a nervous minute staring at the door as if it might be booby trapped. Harry was the first to push it open and the inner candles came to life revealing a not entirely dusty space. It wasn’t as special or as nice as their dormitories, but it was heated and did have two beds, one of which Harry immediately fell into.

The late hour coupled with the stress and travel meant once his head hit the pillow his eyes struggled to stay open. It was purely Draco’s presence in the room that kept him alert and aware, and the only thing that kept him from jumping when the bed sank low next to him.

“Harry,” Draco said. “I’d like to kiss you again.”

And that seemed like a fantastic idea.

********

The next morning was spent in a chaotic frenzy as Harry barked orders and Draco ignored them in favor of doing things that would actually matter. Eventually they compromised on their plan to return by staggering their arrival to the castle. Harry would go join everyone for breakfast and Draco would pick up his from the kitchens after dressing. This plan worked well up until the point they actually entered through the main gate to Hogwarts.

“Is it just me or…?” Harry trailed off and there wasn’t much reason for Draco to wait around for the rest.

“Or is everyone reading a newspaper this morning,” Draco supplied. Students from years one to “eight” gathered around in clumps hovering over copies of the Prophet. Even though they hadn’t seen the news themselves, Draco’s stomach took a plunge in worry. Judging by the curious eyes that met them over the papers, he had his answer to the where and who the mystery camera guy sold their picture.

“Merlin,” Harry mumbled. “Did they start giving the papers away for free?”

Sometime between the walk through the gates and the entrance to the actual entrance hall, Draco had decided to stick it out next to Potter and ignore the initial plan. The Great Hall wasn’t any better a place than the corridor. Nearly every student had access to the paper, including, or especially, the eighth year table.

“What do you want to do?” Draco asked. All of a sudden it seemed really important Potter have a way out if he so chose. He was so struck by the sincerity of his own thoughts that he ended up falling a step behind Harry.

“Confirm or deny,” was Potter’s answer. “That’s what you said, right? Confirm or deny the rumors.”

“If the picture is what I think it is,” Draco began and paused to look at a nearby table. “And yeah, fairly certain on this account. I don’t think we’ll have enough of a verbal argument to deny it…”

Harry frowned. “You realize I really don’t actually feel like hiding this?” he asked. “Only if you need to.”

His insistence was infuriatingly gentle. Draco wondered how long it would keep up before Harry realized the consequences of dating a Death Eater, even a former one, and especially one named “Malfoy.” He didn’t have to wait long. After he and Potter had settled down at their table next to a nervous looking Longbottom beside a slightly smug Lovegood and a pissed off Zabini, a red envelope dropped from the owl deliveries into Harry’s lap.

“Oh…” Harry stared at the very red, mouth shaped envelope. It had already begun to shake on the table. “A howler.”

“Yes, Harry. A howler. Now do open it before it explodes and gets too hard to deal with,” Draco said and then immediately wondered if he should be avoiding using Harry’s first name. Well, in for a penny, whatever the bloody hell that means. Blaise looked to be the only one who noticed Draco’s slip of the tongue as it was, and he scowled. “What is your problem, Blaise?”

“Oh, you just give me the best gossip I’ve gotten ahold of since coming back to this school, which by the way, no one believed for an instant except Patil, and then show off for a cameraman in the middle of the night?” Blaise asked. It was the most words Draco had ever heard him say in one go, and it seemed to startle Longbottom into talking as well.

“So it’s true?” Longbottom asked tentatively. Draco ignored him for a cup of tea which he sorely needed and returned his attention to Harry whose howler was seconds away from opening itself.

“Going to have to read the paper to know whether it’s true or not,” Harry mumbled and then waved his wand to open the letter.

For the first time in many months, the voice of Hermione Granger filled the Great Hall.

“HARRY JAMES POTTER! WHAT HAVE YOU GOTTEN YOURSELF INTO? RON FAINTED THIS MORNING AND MOLLY CALLED THE HOUSE CRYING. IF YOU DON’T FLOO ME THIS INSTANT (‘Mione… calm down, I’m sure it was all staged or something, right Harry?) SHUT UP, RONALD! HARRY, DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA THE TROUBLE YOU COULD HAVE GOTTEN YOURSELF INTO?! WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?! WE WILL BE APPARATING IN ON THE FIRST DAY OF WINTER BREAK; AND IF YOU HAVE BEEN IMPERIOUSED, I EXPECT YOU TO HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE BY THEN. (‘Mione…)”

The howler tore itself up with some angry cursing after blowing raspberries at Harry. The Great Hall seemed oddly quiet for a moment before erupting into a frenzy of discussion all at a volume much too high for breakfast. Draco’s toast stilled halfway to his mouth and he didn’t know whether he was fighting the urge to laugh or run away.

“Weasley fainted?” Finnigan asked. At some point during the enrapturing ministrations of the howler, he and Nott had shown up looking slightly too disheveled for a Monday morning.

Harry seemed to break out of his stupor and looked over at his friend. “That’s what you’re focusing on?” He waved a hand in the air. “With all of this going on?”

“Calm down, Harry,” Finnigan replied. His bushy eyebrows furrowed and inclined towards his roommate. Nott just shrugged and reached for coffee and bacon. “What’s been going on?”

Zabini perked up at being the one to introduce new gossip over the Prophet, and Draco could almost admit understanding why Blaise would be irritated losing that right to such a plebian publication. “Oi, don’t read the papers, Seamus? Didn’t hear about our little Potter running off and getting betrothed in France?” Zabini gave a not so polite smile. “Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials, Malfoy.”

Nuptials?!” Harry looked significantly pale and Draco considered throwing an arm around him in case he fainted into his food. Or not. Could be amusing either way.

Of course then the reality of the conversation smacked Draco full force and he had to put down his toast before someone once again tried to surprise him into choking to death. “Give me that paper,” he demanded. There were at least five copies at the table, and since he hadn’t been specific, each one was offered to him at once. He and Harry snatched one each and began to pour over the article.

Harry Potter: Secret War Time Lover? The Truth of the Malfoy Family’s Lenient Punishment Exposed?!” Draco’s head started to swim and his vision went—for lack of a better word—a bit wonky. Harry didn’t look he was fairing too much better.

The Boy-Who-Lived made an unannounced visit to the wizarding village of Belfou, France, with his supposed long time ‘rival’ Draco Malfoy. That bloody postmaster. Where’s the part about marriage?” Harry demanded. His face had turned as red as a Weasley and he flipped the paper open to the core of the article. Longbottom helpfully pointed out the offending paragraph. “When investigating why the couple, oh Draco, looks like we’re a couple now. Good to have that sorted… why the couple chose Belfou, this reporter discovered it to be the original home of Armand Malfoy. In fact, the Malfoy family still operates a portion of their businesses from the pier city. Those of our readers who have even basic knowledge of pureblood traditions will recognize the courting gesture of visiting an ancestral home prior to the Winter Solstice. Could Harry Potter be Harry Malfoy by next summer? Is the Boy-Who-Lived being blackmailed? Or is this the real reason for his shockingly lenient testament in Draco Malfoy’s defense? Brilliant. This is a bunch of rubbish.”

Draco gave a strangled groan and placed his own paper down on the table.

“Tell me its rubbish?” Harry pleaded.

Blaise and Theo were shaking their heads. Of course they would know about pureblood traditions. Neville looked a bit pale himself. Finnigan asked his roommate what they meant, and Theo leaned over to whisper an explanation.

“Well,” Draco said. He paused. “I didn’t think about that when I suggested Belfou…”

“Are you sure?” Blaise asked with a shrug and a mouth half full of sausage. Draco found it an oddly fitting innuendo. “Might have done it subliminally.”

Draco scowled. “It’s not a common practice anymore, is it? I mean, yes, it’s probably expected from some of the families, but not us, surely?”

“They won’t believe you’ve just given up on our customs after the war,” Blaise pointed out. “I mean, you’ve never taken anyone else there, right?”

“Rita Skeeter doesn’t know a damn thing about traditions.”

“That’s what you think is important?! Traditions?” Harry, who had been stuck in a stupor, said looking at Draco as if he were mad.

“The only thing I want to discuss at breakfast.” A letter fell onto his plate as he was replying. The envelope was postmarked from St. Mungo’s and he opened it with a frown.

Malfoy,

Saw the paper today. I called it. Don’t let the team back out of the betting pool.

-Sully M.

A betting pool? How very Slytherin of his team. He balled up the note and shoved it in his robes swearing to extract revenge on the lot of them.

Harry threw the newspaper to the table with a satisfied grunt. Then the lunatic gathered it back up and looked at the front cover. The cameraman had been able to capture the last small kiss Harry had given him and they stood too close for there to be any doubt of what was happening. The snow and the fountain were a nice touch, and if Draco were sentimental, he may have been inclined to keep a picture for himself. As it was, he made no move to pick back up his copy. The implications that Harry may have manipulated the Wizengamot to get Draco a shorter sentence gave him chills. If the Aurors decided to investigate, it could mean throwing out Harry’s testimony and calling a mistrial. And if Harry couldn’t testify at all, where would he end up?

“You okay?”

Draco startled at the whisper on his ear and the hand on his own. He gave a short nod but didn’t look over at Harry.

“Come on, let’s go get ready for class.” Harry tugged on his hand and Draco felt helpless to do anything else but follow. “Harry Malfoy?” he snorted. “That’s ridiculous.”

********

With a weariness Draco didn’t think possible, he watched as Professor Brown, champion of Gryffindors, docked house points from her favored group of students because Harry couldn’t answer a question on the homework. Apparently Professor Brown was a subscriber to the Prophet and even Harry’s status as Savior wasn’t enough to overcome her undisguised hatred for Slytherins nor forgive him for fraternizing with the enemy.

Greengrass leaned over at one point and asked Draco loud enough for everyone sitting around to hear if the story in the Prophet had been true given Brown’s obvious dissatisfaction. He would have been upset with her, but her eyes had remained on the Professor who let the comment go without taking away house points.

“Better question is why McGonagall hasn’t had Brown arrested,” Draco muttered. He attempted to focus on his potion which was coming out the wrong shade of yellow due to his distraction.

After morning classes, he received a note along with Harry to visit the Headmistress in her office for lunch. She greeted them at the entrance looking as grim as ever, her mouth pressed into a tight line and her eyes lacking the usual sparkle when she said hello to Harry.

“Is something the matter Professor?” Harry asked. He had a way of making his face looking open and worried to mask his own nervousness with concern for others. Impressed, Draco thought that was, in this situation, a better tactic than his carefully stoic expression.

“You tell me, Mr. Potter,” was her reply. “This way boys. There are a few people we need to talk with.”

A few? This didn’t make Draco feel at ease. When he entered the Headmistress’s office he took a half-step in retreat at the sight of, not just one, but two sets of black and red robes. Auror Gretta stood off to the left, which was a relief, but another Auror that Draco didn’t recognize stood closer to McGonagall’s desk. A shorter wizard sat with a camera sat with Barnabas Cuffe, the editor of The Daily Prophet. Draco’s fingers twitched around the wand in his pocket but a cough from Gretta had him pulling back.

“Gentlemen,” Professor McGonagall said addressing everyone while transfiguring a few fixtures of her office into extra chairs. “Please have a seat.” She finished with a flourish and four gold and red chairs appeared next to the other two at her desk. Gretta stayed standing and Harry and Draco were ushered to the front. It felt like a slightly cozier version of the Wizengamot.

“First we’ll address this nonsense with the Prophet.” Cuffe looked as if he were about to argue on the “nonsense” bit, but a hard look from the Headmistress made him sit back in his chair. “Mr. Cuffe, as I’m sure you know, you are not allowed to take pictures of students while they are attending Hogwarts without permission from the school or the student.” She did shoot Harry a quick look at the two boys and Draco thought he saw her eye twitch.

Cuffe shifted in his chair. “They’re legal adults, not children McGonagall.”

Headmistress,” came Gretta’s gravelly voice from the corner making Cuffe jump.

“Er, Headmistress McGonagall,” Cuffe started again. “And the picture wasn’t taken on school grounds.”

“I know full well where the picture was taken, and Hogsmeade happens to be part of the school insofar as where the students are allowed to spend free time. Especially our adult students, who are as just stated, students.” Draco wondered if the headmistress had been a lawyer in a past life.

“I think we can agree that Hogsmeade remains a grey enough area that fighting about this will be pointless without ending up in court,” Cuffe returned. “Either way, Harry here is independent cameraman who works with Ms. Skeeter.”

“What?” Harry asked blinking around at the man. Draco tried not to smile.

“That’s my name,” Harry-the-tool squeaked. He stuck his hand out to Harry-the-Boy-Belonging-to-Draco. Hmm, apparently he was feeling a little possessive. “Harry Flash. Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Potter.” To Draco’s delight, his Harry glared until the other man dropped his hand back to his lap.

“Independent photographers aren’t excluded from following the rules,” said McGonagall.

“Yes, but, in the case of two subjects as high profile as…” Cuffe gestured to the boys. “I’m sure you understand. The rules were placed to protect minors and specifically on school grounds. We could argue this in a circle all day, Headmistress.”

McGonagall pinched the bridge of her nose and with her wand poured a cup of tea for herself, the two Aurors, and the boys. She floated Gretta’s tea to where he stood and he gave her a small smile belying his tough Auror exterior. “Well, I think we can at least agree that the article itself is ridiculous. Ms. Skeeter is accusing Mr. Potter of perjury based on a ‘secret relationship.’” She turned to Harry. “This might be a little awkward, Mr. Potter. But can you tell me how long you and Mr. Malfoy have been—involved?”

Draco started to wish for his Tunnel of Ending Awkward Conversations to appear and he thought there might have been a slight tremor on the eastern wall. Next to him Harry shifted uncomfortably.

“Right. Well, actually professor, just about the same time the picture was taken,” Harry answered worrying his bottom lip.

Cuffe broke in with a huff. “You mean to tell me that Malfoy just took you to his home in France on a whim? That’s hardly believable.”

Harry barked a laugh which seemed to startle everyone in the room including himself. “That’s exactly how it happened. Draco has a flair for dramatics.” It should have been an insult but instead it made Draco feel warmed over. Then Harry added, “Where else would you go for coffee?”

“This is preposterous,” Cuffe said, his face taking on a red hue.

“Preposterous, or not, I believe the Prophet owes Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy a retraction. If not for the overblown status of their relationship, then at least to the accusation of lying under oath,” McGonagall said firmly. This was the moment where Draco had a shock and realized his life had at some point taken path he would have never foreseen. Professor McGonagall was defending him and he was in a relationship with Harry bloody Potter.

“But he does admit to being in a relationship with Malfoy,” Cuffe pointed out and Draco went on the defensive again. “Malfoy, do you deny it?”

Harry looked over at him with his brow creased and understanding dancing around in his green eyes. Whatever he said, he was fairly certain Harry would back him. “What Harry says is true,” he said with a coolness he didn’t feel. “This is new. When Harry testified at the Wizengamot, we were still enemies.” Harry frowned but thankfully kept quiet. “And if you think my—my father spending the rest of his life in Azkaban and Mother kept under house arrest is ‘light sentencing,’ you’re mistaken. Harry’s testimony might have saved me from going to Azkaban, but it hasn’t been easy to reinsert myself to wizarding life.” He forced out referring to his parents out loud the way others would have expected. Right now was not the time to announce his intention to divorce himself from the family.

Then Professor McGonagall stood up for him again. “Mr. Malfoy here has been working hard as a volunteer remedial potions professor. Out of all the older students who have taken up teaching positions, Mr. Malfoy is the only one to run his own classroom and to statistically raise scores across the board. If you want to print an article on him, do it about that.” By the end she was literally standing up and she sat down in annoyance.

Cuffe turned from red to a pale greyish color. “Ms. Skeeter only speculated at perjury…”

The unknown Auror spoke up at this point, “Yes, but any concerns will have to be investigated, and if it comes out that Harry Potter is telling the truth, your publication could be looking at serious charges.”

Cuffe relented. “Fine, we’ll have the accusations redacted, but the article will get a rewrite and we still retain rights to use the photograph.” Harry-the-tool looked exceptionally pleased with himself and his photo until he chanced a glance at the boys and his smile faltered.

“Now, if you gentlemen will please excuse us, I have other meetings to attend to,” Professor McGonagall stood as well as everyone else. “Not you Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy, I need to talk to you about your chosen extracurricular activities.” Harry collapsed back into his chair and Draco sat slowly watching the reporters leave. McGonagall cast a few wards around her office and turned to them. “Sandwich?”

Not being able to refuse her stern expression, both Harry and Draco took a sandwich off the tray that appeared on her desk.

“Now then, let’s sort this matter of Mr. Malfoy’s parole. Mr. Malfoy, I am sorry to have Mr. Potter here, but I do need him as a witness,” she said scooting a stack of forms in front of her tea.

“My parole?” Draco asked. He put his sandwich down untouched. “What about it?”

“The attention from the press started an investigation in the terms of your parole,” McGonagall said. She took a sip of her tea. “Lead Auror Harrison just has a few questions.”

Harrison gave a stiff bow from his chair and opened a folder. “Auror Gretta has already provided me with his written permission. Unfortunately, Auror Gretta places too much faith in his charges.” Gretta grunted but didn’t interrupt. “And he failed to get Mr. Potter to sign off as well. We’ll also need Mr. Potter to give us a testimony of where you went and what you did. Normally that wouldn’t be necessary, but as this has drawn attention. Well…” He raised his hands as if to communicate there wasn’t much else to be done by it.

Draco felt sick to his stomach with the reminders that his life was not his to live as he saw fit. McGonagall, the imperious voice of reason, stepped in one last time. “Why don’t we let Mr. Potter write that up in his own time? He can sign the forms now and owl you the rest later, if that would be acceptable?”

“Yes, ma’am. That will work. Just have him owl it to Auror Gretta. I think we can take Harry Potter at his word.” A stab of jealousy ran through Draco and he tried to shake it off only somewhat successfully. Harry signed the parchment carrying Gretta’s permission to travel with adult supervision looking uncomfortable. They avoided looking at each other through the experience.

“If there’s nothing further to discuss?” McGonagall allowed the question to hang in the air before dismissing the two Aurors. Gretta laid a hand on Draco’s shoulder which managed to convey “I’m sorry,” and “Don’t do anything that stupid again” all at once. McGonagall turned on the boys and transfigured the rest of the chairs back into their original artifacts.

“Boys,” she chided. “I really don’t understand how you always attract trouble. Either of you.”

Harry laughed even though Draco didn’t find the situation funny.

“This is very… unexpected,” said McGonagall carefully. The portrait of Dumbledore which had been snoozing during the earlier meetings woke with a snort and chuckled. “Anyway, I trust you two will not make more of a public spectacle of yourselves if possible?”

“No, professor,” answered Harry. Draco gave her a nod. Her eye twitched again and Draco feared they might be responsible for her premature death.

“Right, if there’s nothing else—”

“Actually professor,” Harry interrupted. “There’s the matter of our, uh, investigation?”

McGonagall straightened at that. “Did you find something out, Harry?”

“Well, just that we found someone suspicious in the East Wing. They were meeting with Professor Brown and talking about the prince from the prophecy. They also mentioned something about revenge?” The way Harry phrased the last sentence sounded more like an apology than a statement, as if he wished he could give her more to work with.

“Is that right? Was Draco with you?” The headmistress’s eyes bounced between them waiting for an answer.

“Yes,” Draco replied. “I was there. There was no mistaking Professor Brown.”

“I’ve been made aware of Professor Brown’s obvious bias to Slytherin students, whether or not that is part of the ‘revenge’ you mention, I have no idea,” the headmistress sighed. “Unfortunately, I can’t fire her while this is going on.” She didn’t have to specify what this was. “Even if I could, there’s no way of knowing she’s actually done something illegal or nefarious.”

“But professor,” Harry said and he sat up to face her. “We heard her. Whoever she’s working with, they—they are evil, I’m sure of it.”

“Well, then I suggest you find out who they are and what they’re doing,” McGonagall said and Draco felt as if it were a dismissal.

“We can’t let her go on here at Hogwarts!” Harry’s sudden flare in temper surprised Draco back into his chair. “Wasn’t the purpose of having me investigate this was because you could trust my judgement?”

McGonagall looked almost apologetic. “Harry, I do trust you. I just need more to dismiss her than this. When you become an Auror, you’re going to have to find real hard evidence instead of acting on impulse. Do you know she’s behind these recent attacks?”

“Well, no but—”

“And it wouldn’t be the first time you were wrong about a teacher, correct?”

“Yes…”

Draco’s eyes drifted to the black framed portrait of Professor Snape hanging on the wall next to Dumbledore.

“So then you realize why we need more proof. She could very well use this against Mr. Malfoy if we fired her without evidence. Professor Brown may even claim your very public preference for him accounted for her early dismissal.”

Harry stopped looking pale. That last statement was a stroke of genius on McGonagall’s part, he would never be able to not stand up for someone. “So we need a plan,” he said.

“We need proof. Something more solid than a secret conversation in the hallway. But I can guarantee you two I will be keeping a closer eye on her.” It was as good of a dismissal as any. Just before they left, though, McGonagall called out to Harry. “Potter, do be careful. And remember those of us who can and will help you both.”

“Thank you, professor.” Harry gave her a bow and a smile. Draco summoned a nod and they left for their afternoon classes.

********

After looking around to make sure the reporters had truly left the immediate premises, Draco cast a discreet Muffliato around them both and cleared his throat. “You’re taking this in surprisingly good stride.”

The wild haired boy next to him quickly looked up and away. “What part?” Harry asked.

“All of it?” Draco asked and then frowned. “I’m almost disappointed you haven’t hexed anyone or lost your Gryffindor temper yet.” He pushed out a hand to make sure the Muffliato was still active and felt the spell’s barrier press back.

Harry sighed and drew up his shoulders in a half-shrug. “Not exactly the way I ever thought to come out.”

“Come out?” Draco paused, unsure where to lead this line of questioning. Ridiculous. “What do you mean ‘come out’?”

“You know…let people know I like blokes. And girls.” The last felt tacked on as an afterthought. Harry blushed and took interest in a nearby suit of armor while Draco tried to puzzle out what he meant.

A heated conversation from long ago in the Slytherin common room came back to him. He remembered sitting around and listening to Blaise, who had no issues sleeping around, complain about witches who came from muggle families getting squeamish with him for having tried a few things with other guys. They claimed some sort of muggle-based bias that one couldn’t enjoy the company of one’s own sex. Draco imagined the prejudice that might get raised by half-bloods in common rooms with less refined breeding than Slytherin. Suddenly the idea of “coming out” made a little more sense. Just one more thing Harry Potter felt he had to hide to protect himself and others.

“They’ve never stayed out of my life before, have they? The papers, I mean.” Harry continued. He let out an aggravated sigh and knocked a shoulder against Draco’s as they walked together. “Yeah, I’m mad. Mad enough to think about using an Unforgiveable on Skeeter… I don’t know if blackmailing her will work twice.”

“Blackmail?!”

Harry just smiled up at him and promised to tell him that story another day. Their walk was nearing its end and while Draco wanted to talk further, he didn’t really know how to go about asking if Gryffindor’s had the same rubbish hang ups muggles apparently did about intimacy. Really, how had the conversation derailed this far? He had just wanted to ask how Harry felt being in a relationship with him.

At least he could distract Potter with one other important detail the other had seemed to overlook this morning. “Harry?” Draco called and stopped just as they made it to the corridor outside Divination. “Did you remember to Floo call Granger?”

“Bloody hell!”

Laughing, Draco watched Harry do an about-face and rush off in the direction of their dormitories. Part of him wanted to be a fly on the wall during that conversation. Instead, he started formulating Harry’s excuse for being absent.

********

The next morning, uncomfortable conversations for Harry came to a front when he was cornered by a very irate Ginny Weasley on the Quidditch pitch before drills. Once her unbelievably good impression of Molly’s death glare zeroed onto him, Harry had considered running for the Forbidden Forest. Somewhere between a trip to France, first kisses, nosey reporters, meetings with Aurors, and a rather unforgettable short Floo call with a possibly potion sedated Hermione, he had forgotten about Ginny. The regrettably beautiful redheaded whirlwind of terror coming straight at him, that’s who he forgot. Harry dropped his broom and took a few cautionary steps backwards.

MALFOY?!” Ginny screeched.

The few players who had shown up to do drills held a silent conference and retreated leaving Harry alone with Ginny on the field. Traitors. Ginny seemed to be waiting for a response and Harry found he didn’t trust her balled fist.

“…yes?” He edged around to take a defensive dueling stance out of habit. That…did not help matters.

“What the fuck.” Ginny spat out and then literally spat off to the side. “He’s a worm, Harry. He’s a—a Death Eater, for Merlin’s sake! Did you forget his father tried to kill me?!”

“He’s not his father!” The burst of anger cut through his guilt and bubbled out in Draco’s defense. “He’s a former Death Eater, and I think he deserves a chance. The war’s over.”

“A chance to snog you for his benefit?” Ginny snorted. “Don’t you think he might be manipulating you?” The look she gave him said he was a fool to think otherwise and he hated it. Then it softened to something like pity and Harry decided that was worse. “I know you’ve been spending a lot of time with him, but you have to remember he’s a snake, and he always will be. You really don’t think he’s doing this because…”

“Because what?” Harry attacked back. “Because he could actually like me?” He laughed, hating the way he sounded a bit manic. Arguing with Ginny, a girl he once loved and still does but in a different way, made him feel wrong and frustrated. “Saying it out loud does sound ridiculous.”

“Harry…” She took a step towards him and he retreated again.

“No. Look, I know you don’t understand it.” He ran a hand through his wild hair. “But I have been spending time with him and he’s—I don’t know if he’s changed, or if I’m just seeing him for the first time. For seven years I thought he was just the prat who made the wrong choice.”

“He did make the wrong choices,” Ginny insisted. Her eyes were infuriatingly soft.

“Maybe,” Harry shrugged and he hated how he sounded so raw. “Or, just maybe, he was the boy with no choice.” He picked up his broom and left her on the field.

********

Tuesday morning found Draco with his class, which grew yet again with two more students. With everything going on outside of his normal routine, which included narrowly avoiding being hexed in the hallways by Potter obsessed witches, the small mound of Chocolate Frogs on his desk gave him significant pause. A shuffling of feet behind him and a cough made him turn around to see Bloom, Hufflepuff type, nervously staring at the floor with half of the class behind her.

“M-Mr. Malfoy. You said you were collecting the cards?” Bloom shot a quick look to the pile of frogs and then back down to the floor. “W-we thought-t-t you m-might. Ugh.” She shook herself and made eye contact with him so suddenly and sternly Draco had to consciously tell himself not to take a step back. Hufflepuffs had a strange way of showing their hidden toughness. “We thought you might accept these. As thanks. For helping us.”

Bloom’s finish wasn’t elegant but the sentiment translated well enough. When Draco took enough time to think about it, he found he was very touched at the gesture. He had never expected anything more from his students than their attention and effort to improve their own grades. As it was, he stood a little shocked and grappled to find the right response.

“Right,” Draco said. The fact he sounded like Harry just then was not lost on him. “Right. Thank you. That’s—wow—there must be fifty there?” The mound impressively rose a good foot or two off his desk.

“Fifty-four,” said Stromm. He knocked back his black bangs and folded his arms. “This is weird.”

“Shut it, Stromm,” Rowlin bit out. For the first time, Malfoy noticed the Gryffindor standing with the rest of the students who had apparently arranged this…gift. He didn’t look pleased, but his presence made the event seem even more significant.

“Right,” Draco said again becoming agitated about how wrong-footed and Potter-ish he sounded. “Let’s finish our potions from last week. This will be our last class until after Winter Break. I’m not going to have you come in here after your Monday exams.”

The class shuffled around to their potion stations while Draco organized the frogs on his desk into a more manageable pyramid to the side. Stromm set up his cauldron and started a base of distilled water next to Draco at the front of the class. His wand skills were good and he had the first few steps of the potion done perfectly without looking over at the instructions more than once or twice.

“Mr. Stromm,” Draco drawled. “Is there any reason you’re still in remedial potions?” The past few weeks he had watched as Stromm’s, and a few other student’s, marks had steadily increased to almost advanced placement levels. Yet instead of returning to their normal class schedules, they remained with him.

Frederick had the decency to look bashful. “I could use the extra tutoring?”

“Stromm…”

“Look, Mr. Malfoy,” Stromm lowered his head and whispered. “I can’t go back to that—that lady. Not only is she a terrible professor, she hates Slytherins.” Draco thought about Professor Brown’s involvement with whatever was happening at Hogwarts. His stomach dropped at thinking about sending any students her way, and at how they had no idea how dangerous she might be.

“I don’t mind you staying in this class, but I can’t keep you in remedial potions forever, especially if you insist on doing well on your exam on Monday.” Draco started to walk around the class but he caught Stromm’s thoughtful smirk. He couldn’t tell the kid to fail on purpose outright, but if it was what was needed to keep him or others safe, he wasn’t opposed to messing with the system.

At a lull in the potion brewing process, Draco began his stealth retrieval of Chocolate Frog cards without disturbing the little bastards on the inside. He almost had it down to an art by the time he got another Potter—50!—and two Granger, when the door to the classroom opened suddenly and Draco accidently freed a frog. The chocolate menace escaped and landed in Rowlin’s cauldron sending a rain of half-finished potion into the air. Draco barely had enough time to cast a Protego and vanishing charm to keep the students from any harm.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause a fuss.” The soft voice of Morgan Mallory floated over the class. Already she was distracting students from their brews as she made her way to his desk. Draco considered the merits of maybe locking his classroom from now on. “I just wanted to congratulate your engagement.”

A round of whispers threatened to begin but he quelled the students with a well-trained glare. “Thank you, but the rumors are just that. I am not engaged.”

“Oh, my apologies.” Malory leaned over his desk, again. “Though I am happy to hear you’re not completely unattainable now. My offer for a drink in Hogsmeade still stands. Or we could take a trip someplace cozier.”

Merlin. “I’m sorry, Miss Malory, but I don’t think that will be possible.”

“Draco.” His name on her tongue made him feel the pressing need to Scourgify himself. “I think we got off on the wrong foot last time. I’d really like to—”

“Mr. Malfoy?” Bloom held out a vial of her finished potion to him. The cork in the bottle was lopsided as if she had pushed it on in a hurry. “Oh, I’m sorry. Was I interrupting?”

Malory glared down at the Hufflepuff second year, obviously unaccustomed to intrusions. Draco nearly hugged her.

“Not at all, and your potion looks perfect.” He really did mean the last. Her potion brewing skills were admirable, what she lacked was good direction in the main classroom. If Professor Brown proved to be innocent, he wouldn’t mind fighting for her position at Hogwarts. Actually, Draco had not thought about what he would do post-graduation outside of managing the miscellaneous business deals the Malfoy family had accrued over time. Teaching potions at Hogwarts seemed almost like an unattainable dream. And yet…

“Thank you, Mr. Malfoy,” Bloom beamed. It was then he wished Malory wasn’t around so he could give Bloom the same warning he gave Stromm earlier. He’d have to find a way to keep his students safe. His students.

“Ten points to Hufflepuff for superior brewing skills,” Draco announced. Bloom almost bounced back to her desk, her black braids swinging wide behind her. “Miss Malory, I appreciate your—concern, but I do have a class to run here.”

“As you wish,” Malory said stiffly and stood to leave. “Draco… I hope you’re little thing is doing well. Sullivan, is his name?”

As the door slammed shut behind Malory, Draco resisted throwing a locking charm on it. The threat was blatant enough, even if Draco didn’t know how Malory was mixed up this business.

Still, though. “Her name is Sully,” he said.

********

For Harry, the next couple of weeks leading up to Winter holidays went by in a flash and painfully slow at the same time. He counted down the hours to when he could steal just a few moments of Draco’s time in the corridors, pulling him into alcoves to enjoy the press of lips and hard bodies and hard… other things. And then release back into the chaotic world of classes, homework, and prophecy related research.

The frustration from not getting further with the prophecy coupled with never having just enough time to discover whatever this was developing between the two of them left Harry (and Draco) irritated. So far, Professor Brown had not given any reason to mistrust her beyond now punishing Gryffindors who associated with Slytherins, mainly Harry and Seamus. Despite pouring over the Marauder’s Map at night, they never caught Brown in another impromptu meeting with the mysterious unnamed figure.

There was also the strange encounters with his friends ranging from good natured digs at his love life (Seamus), odd words of encouragement and support (Neville and Luna), to total avoidance and awkward pleasantries (Ginny). Since the Floo call with Hermione he hadn’t received anything from the Granger-Weasley household, and he would have been a little worried he was uninvited for Christmas if it weren’t for running into George who ensured him he was still part of the family, no matter his horrible taste. The dung bomb going off in his rucksack a half hour after seeing George bizarrely went a long way in making him feel better about the situation.

In summary, Harry acknowledged he was hormonal, behind on his studies, stuck on his reconnaissance work, discovering new alliances with Slytherins, and questioning his chances of survival if he went to the Burrow for Christmas.

Oh, and tomorrow Draco was leaving to go back to the Manor, something he didn’t talk about but obviously didn’t want to do. From what Harry could understand, part of the parole process involved him spending the holidays at his home which was heavily warded by the Ministry. This was to allow him “family time,” which he clearly didn’t want and couldn’t fight to remove. Draco still avoided talking about his parents and what happened to cause such a rift, and Harry didn’t push. He felt he could assume at least some of the reason why Draco might not admire Lucius anymore.

At least they had worked out a strategy of sorts. Draco was to return home and do research on his family, as it was the only lead they had thus far. Two unknown relatives from almost a thousand years ago who had used a curse similar to the one effecting Bobbin and Sully. Harry was to have Hermione help him with research in the library, hopefully her outsider perspective would uncover something they missed. Assuming she wasn’t still angry enough to hex him.

“So, Harry,” Draco drawled over their last night of homework and research in the library together. He had his tie loosened and his top button undone. Harry was finding it hard to concentrate. “Have you broken from the Imperious curse yet?”

“Pardon, what?” Harry asked blinking. He took off his glasses and wiped them absently on his sleeve. It was no use, when he put them back on Draco still occupied most his vision.

“The howler Granger sent you,” Draco replied. “You didn’t forget did you?”

Actually Harry had forgot. Momentarily anyways. “Are you part Veela?” he asked. Draco sat up in his chair and gave Harry a small laugh.

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“You’re very distracting,” muttered Harry, even though he knew better than to inflate Malfoy’s ego. Draco’s chest seem to stick out like a sodding peacock.

“This is the result of pure wizarding stock, Potter. Count yourself lucky.”

“Never mind, you’ve killed the mood.” Harry sighed and flipped through his Astronomy book without reading. “You’re a pain when you’re on a superiority kick.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I think you like it.” Draco slammed his book shut and leaned over the table. The second button seemed to come undone sometime during their conversation. “I think you like the fact I’m a pureblood. That I’m superior…” He was on his feet and leaning over Harry, and Harry found himself wondering if it was true. Was kissing Draco enticing because of his status, or because it was Draco? Draco’s very presence demanded attention from his perfect hair and sharp features to the neat press of his posh robes. Kissing him was a heady experience that left Harry feeling slightly dizzy and powerful in his own way.

“So, tell me,” Draco said while climbing onto Harry’s lap. This was new territory and Harry found his traitorous hands on Draco’s hips before he could realize what was happening. “How much do you want to overthrow this pureblood?”

Whatever had gotten into Draco, Harry was fairly certain the library was not the place for it. He held back his urge to thrust upwards as Draco delivered a slow, controlled kiss.

“I think we’re done for tonight, don’t you?” Draco asked once he pulled away from Harry. He delivered his questions with all the confidence and skill of someone experienced in bed but his grey eyes belied a cautiousness and wariness that told Harry he was risking something in offering.

“Yeah,” Harry said breathlessly. “Let’s go to yours?”

Draco smirked at that and they made quick work of cleaning their study station.

********

If there was a better mood killer than Headmistress McGonagall, Draco didn’t know of it. Harry and he had spent the better part from the library to the dormitory touching, grabbing, and kissing, only to be met by the Headmistress in the common room. She set her face to her normal thin lipped countenance even though Draco thought he could sense her eye twitching from the door way.

“Hello Mr. Potter, Mr. Malfoy,” she said evenly. “I was waiting to talk to you.”

Harry frowned and then asked the obvious question Draco had somehow missed. “Why didn’t you come for us in the library? We were there for hours.”

To Draco’s increasing horror, McGonagall looked amused.

“When two wizards don’t want to be interrupted, they can sometimes make themselves hard to find,” she said with a grimace pretending to be a smile. “And I don’t suppose you wanted to be found.”

“What can we help you with professor?” Draco interjected. He ignored Harry’s confused look in favor for McGonagall’s surprise. What she was suggesting was something he wasn’t ready to tackle.

“I merely wanted to know how your investigation was going and what your plans were for the holiday. Mr. Potter, am I right in assuming you will be going to the Weasleys’?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Harry looked at Draco as if in apology though Draco couldn’t fathom why.

“And Mr. Malfoy, your contract says—”

“That I must go back to the manor, yes, yes.” Draco sat down on a loveseat in a huff and was marginally surprised and vindicated when Harry sat next to him.

Professor McGonagall seemed to squirm in her high back armchair for a moment before going on and it was so out of character that both boys tensed. “I am proud of the progress you two have made this year. I am worried, however, that this case has added unnecessary strain to your academic careers.”

“Wouldn’t really be a year at Hogwarts if there wasn’t some threat looming in the distance,” Harry shrugged. His tone conveyed nonchalance and a little annoyance, and more than anything, frightened Draco with his lack of concern. While he knew of some of Harry’s past exploits, the fact that he would be so deadened to imminent threats was worrisome.

“No, I daresay for you it wouldn’t be. But for Mr. Malfoy here, it might be better if you avoided conflict if at all possible.”

“You want us to stop investigating?” Harry asked leaning forward with his brow twisted in concern.

“I want you to not—oh, bugger. I know you’re not going to listen to me, Mr. Potter. But I would like it if you didn’t take careless initiative to seek out danger without informing myself or one of our other professors first.”

Draco thought he might pass out from holding back an inappropriately timed snort. No, Harry would not likely take her advice.

“Professor, I think we’re getting close to whatever this is,” Harry began hesitatingly. “We’ve found a connection to the curse that needs more investigating before we put it forward, and we planned to use the holiday to do just that.”

“Oh?” Professor McGonagall looked between them. “Why would the holiday be important?”

Feeling tired of not contributing, Draco stepped in. At the very least his input now would lessen the blow when the news came out that Malfoys were involved in one way or another. “We found a similar instance of the curse being used in history. And as expansive as the library here at Hogwarts is, I doubt it holds a candle to the Dark Arts section of the Malfoy family collection.” He wouldn’t say too much. Better to let the headmistress come to her own conclusions on that front.

“I see. And you think this will help in understanding what is happening to Miss Bobbin and Miss Murdoch?”

Stunned for a moment, Draco hadn’t expected McGonagall to be sensitive to Sully’s disposition. He recovered quickly though. “I believe there is a small chance I’ll find something, but not enough to encourage false hope.”

“Very well, I expect a full report from the both of you when you return from the holiday.” McGonagall stood and both boys stood with her. “Let me know if you need my assistance. Either of you.” She turned to face Draco and for once he didn’t feel as if she were judging him. “Mr. Malfoy, our previous headmasters, Professor Snape and Dumbledore, have requested for me to share some parting words.”

To Draco’s every loving thanks, Harry asked, “How exactly did they request this?”

“Their portraits, Mr. Potter. Both of which have been watching over you two a great deal. Now then, Draco. Please remember that help will always be given at Hogwarts for those who ask for it. And in my own thoughts: to those who deserve it, like you.”

********

Draco

Not again.

Draco… please…

“NO!”

The air around the four-post bed felt as thick as summer’s humidity. Draco’s sheets and blankets were cast off and he belatedly noticed in his attempts to control his breathing that everything around him was soggy and damp. Droplets of condensation coalesced on the wooden posts, and even Draco’s hair was curling at the tips. His last memories of the dream were of facing the lady in the water before feeling the pull of the woman on the beach. And he just couldn’t.

A small part of him recognized this as a milestone. He didn’t think he had been able to repress the Pale Lady’s call before now. Another part shuddered when confronted with the reason he needed to be called by her at all. And yet another part of him was scared for not going to her, fearing he had lost his moment to learn more on what was going on. He wasn’t a hero, and yet here he was thrust into the middle of things. For a brief disillusioned moment he wondered if this was what Harry had felt when at the ripe age of eleven he learned he had defeated the darkest wizard of all time, and then later when he realized he might be expected to do so again.

No matter, the sun was almost up and Draco had to prepare for his journey back to the Manor. He spent the rest of his time cleaning up the random puddles of water that seemed to have manifested from his nightmare and packing his chest with the essentials. There was some small delight taken in counting Harry Potter Chocolate Frog cards—67—before also packing a few of his textbooks he was surely not going to look at, and a few of his better robes just in case Narcissa had the crazy idea to through a Yule celebration at the mansion.

Eventually the sun rose high enough for him to think about shrinking his belongings and going to get a quick breakfast in the Great Hall. Until now, he had tried to avoid dealing with his feelings of leaving Harry. He had been in relationships before, most out of pressure as with Parkinson, who he did miss a great deal, or with those from the heat of the moment, where they didn’t even know each other’s names. Never had he had the time to think about the future in great detail or to contemplate what he wanted. What he wanted had never mattered.

As far as he could tell, what he truly wanted wasn’t even at the breakfast table. Noting a distinct lack of poached eggs and Potter, Draco threw himself into tea and toast firmly ignoring everyone else who existed. Or at least he tried to ignore everyone. Blaise was clearly amused by something going on at the end of the table and eventually Draco had to look over and see what was going on. Seamus Finnigan was tucking in to his pre-holiday breakfast with gusto and relating all the muggle and magical things he would be doing to a clearly increasingly pissed off Nott.

“…and then Mum says Dean can come visit for Boxing Day and—”

“Will you shut it about your stupid muggle dad and half-blood mum!” Nott shouted. Finnigan’s mouth dropped and his face paled. Nott himself looked as if he didn’t know where the words had come from. “I—”

“Naw, I get it, don’t I?” Finnigan’s previous shock was quickly recovered by his ire. “Don’t need a mudblood roommate, let alone one that was too stupid enough to see you couldn’t be friends. I hope you rot.”

With that Finnigan got up tipping over his pumpkin juice onto Nott’s plate and stormed out of the Great Hall. Draco looked over at Zabini who held up a hand counting down from four. “Fuck,” muttered Nott once the last digit had fallen. “Fuck!” The Slytherin nearly tripped over himself to run out of the hall supposedly in search of his roommate.

“What…” Draco looked around at the other stunned faces at the table. “What did I just witness?” He asked Blaise who just shrugged and began to butter a slice of toast.

“You’re not the only one making new—friendships—outside of their house,” Blaise replied.

********

The smokestack from the Hogwarts Express roared to life signaling a quick end to the first term as students from Hogwarts boarded to go meet their parents once again at Kings Cross. All day, Draco had waited for Harry only to be disappointed by every robe that came around the corner. Eventually he came to the conclusion that Harry Potter was not one to say good byes, and why should this be one?

They knew the plan. They knew that Draco was going to the Manor to research and Harry would do as much as he could with Granger in the library and at the… Burrow.

Draco boarded the train and picked out an empty compartment, a little easier than the first day as some students stayed behind. He thought about casting a silencing and disillusionment charm, but hesitated as he looked out at the platform. He watched as Luna and Longbottom boarded together along with Ginny Weasley following closely behind. Then further down Theodore Nott held a heated discussion with Seamus Finnigan looking equal parts frustrated and pleased. Other students passed in a blur until the train gave an initial lurch and blast letting everyone know it was time for departure.

“Draco!”

Outside his window a head of inky, messy hair came bouncing into view. His window lowered with an almost crack and he winced. “What the hell are you doing, Potter?”

“Harry…”

“Harry,” he replied and couldn’t help the smirk that was forming.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here before. I just had to do something,” Harry replied. He was breathless and smiling and Draco had no reference for what he was supposed to do in this situation. “Can you come down for a minute?”

The train lurched again.

“I don’t think so,” Draco replied. He pushed down the window as low as it would go and was able to pull himself through the window to just past his shoulders. “What are you doing?”

Harry grinned and held up a small brown sack. “I know it’s not wrapped, but you can’t open it until Christmas.” His hands trembled a little from where they held the sack up and Draco leaned down to grab onto it.

“You’re insane.”

“It’ll hex you if you open it before the twenty-fifth.” Harry winked at him. But as soon as Draco pulled the mystery gift back in and leaned back out, Harry’s face had changed from playfulness to determination.

“Draco…” Harry hopped onto the train car supporting his weight by hanging on from the window. He did an impressive press up and his lips came squarely in contact with Draco. It was the first time they purposefully kissed in front of an audience. Small gasps came from all around them but all Draco could notice was the crazy boy who had raced to tell him ‘goodbye.’ He had barely a moment to enjoy it before Potter was dropping back to the ground. Harry looked to him in earnest. “Come back to me.”

Chapter Text

Hogsmeade bustled with last minute Christmas shoppers and parents apparating in to meet their children for the first day of winter holidays. The area around the icy fountain in the middle of town was a buzz with people hustling from shop to shop. Smaller children hung off their mother’s or father’s robes while the older teenagers followed behind chatting with friends or looking bored. Harry sat on the edge of the fountain taking the in scene and being all at once part of the commotion and yet separate. Never having a family to share this sort of excitement with until the Weasleys made him appreciative and interested in the frenzy going on around him.

For just about an hour Harry let his skinny legs dangle off the edge of the fountain watching the hubbub before a loud crack gave him the half-second warning of the arrival of Hermione and Ron Granger-Weasley. He gave a long exhale and had a moment to appreciate the warmth of seeing his two oldest friends before Hermione’s drawn wand was pointed directly in his face.

“Harry Potter?”

“Was that a question, Hermione?” Harry asked his frazzled haired friend. Her skin looked a little darker as if she had somehow managed a bit of sun in the English winter. Ron stood a pace behind his wife looking nervously from his best mate to her as if unsure who he needed to defend.

“How did we become friends?” Hermione interrogated him.

“Blimey, can’t you see it’s him?” Ron started.

“Troll, girls’ bathroom, first year. It’s alright Ron,” Harry replied pushing his glasses up and giving Hermione the best imitation of innocence he could muster.

“And how did you defeat the troll?” Hermione’s eyes narrowed and the wand in her hand stayed steady.

“I shoved my wand up its nose and Ron bludgeoned it with its own club. Think Ron’s got you to thank for getting that Le-vi-o-sa right,” Harry grinned as the wand dipped an inch and then dropped completely.

“You stupid, stupid boy,” she said and came crashing into him with a hug. Ron gave him the mandatory glare before joining in for quick side-hug.

“I missed you too,” Harry said. Even though his time back at Hogwarts had been interesting, he had missed his best friends. “You probably shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers, just by the way,” he added despite Ron attempting to send him hand signals which he roughly translated into “shut the hell up.” Hermione hit Harry’s chest with a bit more force than he thought appropriate.

“Honestly! Did you not realize the implications of travelling with—with Malfoy,” her face twisted as if she had been sucking on a lemon drop, “to his ancestral home? And this close to the solstice! You might have well as announced your wedding in the next issue of The Quibbler!”

“Er, can we not talk about this here?” Harry asked. Sweat started to form on his neck as he watched a few of the Christmas shoppers slow down to listen to Hermione’s rant. “Why don’t we go for lunch at the Three Broomsticks, yeah?”

“What’cha looking at? Move along!” Ron yipped at a middle-aged woman who had stopped completely and hadn’t even tried to look like she wasn’t eavesdropping. He shrugged at Harry’s slightly shocked expression. “I’ve gotten good telling the kids off at the shop. Adults aren’t much different.”

“Right, so let’s go then?” Harry gave Hermione a hopeful look and she huffed.

“You’re telling me everything. And I mean everything. I’m still not convinced it’s you.”

Sure enough, Hermione was not satisfied. As soon as they secured a corner table she ran Harry through a series of detection charms looking for any signs of magical manipulation. These tests ran through the ordering and delivery of their food and didn’t end until Ron had already put away his fish and chips and had started on Harry’s sandwich which earned him a glare from Harry and smack to the arm by his wife.

As they sat down to eat, Harry took a nervous glance to his red headed friend who seemed overly relaxed and nonchalant about everything considering…

“Hey, not that I’m not glad you’re… happy,” Harry started slowly. “And I expected the third degree from Hermione, but why are you so relaxed about this whole thing Ron?”

“Relaxed?” Ron smiled and sipped his butterbeer.

Hermione scoffed and ate with a gusto that had Harry blinking in amazement. She swallowed the bit in her mouth and said, “Calming potion.”

“Calming potion?” Harry took in Ron’s slight flush and dopey eyes which didn’t really look too much different from Ron on a good day. “You’re medicated?!”

“Mmm,” Ron answered. He reached for a chip off Hermione’s plate and she swatted his hand away. “I thought I might, I dunno, punch you? Or the ferret. Didn’t want to start anything.”

Hermione snorted. “I had to force him to take it. He took this whole thing in stride right up until the hour before we left. Then blew up like a powder keg. I think he was in shock the past week and a half.”

“You had to take a potion to come see me?” Harry was hurt, he really was. Here he hadn’t seen his best friends in nearly five months and one of them had to take a potion for it to go well. He also happened to be the tiniest bit amused.

“Aww, don’t look at me like that, mate,” Ron laid a hand over Harry’s which had both Hermione and Harry raising an eyebrow. “You know you’re my best friend. I just didn’t like the idea of you with… eugh….”

“Right.” Harry had to forcefully retract his hand. “How much of that bloody potion did you give him?”

Hermione winced. “Well it was prescribed to me. Guess he doesn’t have the same tolerance to them I do?” Hermione, being the sensible of the three, had sought out private therapy after the war. Her ongoing treatment included regular Calming potions and Dreamless Sleeping draughts. She sat down her utensils and pushed her plate away while donning on her serious business face. “Harry, you still need to answer my question. What were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t? I didn’t even know where we were going! Muffliato.” Harry looked around for anyone with a camera but the only other patrons were mainly taking their orders to-go. Hermione’s face had somehow turned into all hard lines and fell somewhere between Molly and Minerva on the frightening scale. “We—He just needed to… We just went for coffee!”

“Coffee?!” Ron snickered down in his mug causing it to bubble up around his mouth. “In bloody Normandy?!”

“It’s Malfoy!” Harry thought that was a sufficient explanation.

“Yes, Harry. It’s Malfoy whose family owns Belfou, at least its businesses, and who is a pureblood, and who would only take his fiancé there! Did you not learn anything in our last semester of History of Magic? We covered pureblood traditions and their origins. He taking you there was only an engagement ring short of being a proper proposal.”

“Mm-mione,” Ron giggled again. “Nobody learned anything from that class outside of you.”

She scowled at her husband and pushed him into the booth seat. It took several seconds for him to right himself. “But still. You just left, not knowing where you were going. With Malfoy. How am I not supposed to be worried about that?”

“Well, if it makes you feel better, we’re not getting engaged,” Harry offered. “Draco—er—Malfoy said he hadn’t even thought of that.”

“Probably a subconscious wish,” Ron said.

“Zabini said something similar.” Harry frowned. “Not that I think that’s true. He was just being, I don’t know, spontaneous?”

“What makes you think you could trust him like that?” Hermione asked with her hands twitching on the table.

Here Harry sighed. He half-heartedly wished he could bring in Professor McGonagall in as a character witness. “I’ve been spending a lot of time with him. I don’t really know how it started… but he’s been helping me with my research into the prophecy and the curses here. Which, I might remind you two, is why you came. We’ve studied together, played Seeker games together, worked on the Marauder’s Map…”

“Snogged,” Ron added rather unhelpfully. He scrunched up his nose and the corners of his mouth turned down. “If I see that picture again, I’m going to puke. How the hell did you go from studying to snogging?”

“You haven’t been here. Haven’t seen him. He’s changed.”

“I’ll accept it,” Ron said nodding sagely.

“You will?”

“Not a bloody chance in hell, mate.”

“Harry, we’re just worried about you. Don’t you think he’s up to something?” Hermione’s large brown eyes caught his and he felt guilty with the look she was giving him.

“No, I don’t. I mean, if you could just see the way he talks about his Potions class. Those second years. The Malfoy we used to know would never had the patience to help them, and now… He’ll go on and on about Bloom and Stromm and some annoying kid named Rowlin, but he really cares. Sometimes I think he cares more about their success than he does his own.” Harry realized he’d been ranting and shut up. He traced a watermark on the table with his finger not looking back at his friends.

“Oh Harry…” This time it was Hermione’s hand on top of his. Ron sat off to the side with his mouth hanging open looking a little pale.

Harry did a mental replay of what he said. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Bloody hell.” Ron gulped and finished off his butterbeer. “I think that potion is wearing off…”

“Let’s just drop it for now,” Hermione said and gave Harry’s hand a squeeze before letting go. “Now, what can you tell me about the curse and what’ve you’ve found this far.”

********

“Ron…” Hermione stood in the single occupancy dorm room of Draco Malfoy with her bottom lip sucked between her teeth. When she did that, Ron was reminded of how she used to look before Madam Pomfrey “fixed” the bucktooth look she had been cursed with.

“Mione, something’s up with Malfoy. You agreed with me not an hour ago,” Ron said with his wand out as he moved around looking for signs of anything nefarious. The room almost looked unlived in. There were the normal furnishings afforded each student but no knickknacks or posters or photographs. It was nearly immaculate barring one large ink stain over the desk. Ron stifled an urge to cast Scourgify. Hermione liked him to keep a neat home, and he dared anyone not to flinch at the sight of an ink stain after being yelled up for messing up her library. “This was your idea after all.”

Hermione shook her head. “Yes, but Harry didn’t agree did he?”

Ron snorted. “No, he talked about Malfoy like…” He shuddered. Ron had known Harry over eight years, and there comes a time when a guy can read his best mate’s feelings on something, or someone, that they’d rather not share. He tried not to think about it. “…like a friend. He could be under a very serious Confundus charm.”

Hermione scoffed, but when she didn’t argue, Ron knew she was considering the slight possibility of him being right. He moved around the room carefully looking for any signs of traps or something flashy and evil. If he were honest, he had no idea what he was looking for in Malfoy’s private quarters. “You’d think they would have given him a roommate to keep an eye on him,” Ron reflected.

“That’s actually not a bad idea. But I’m sure McGonagall would have if she thought he were a threat.” Hermione stood next to Malfoy’s desk with her eyebrows drawn and worrying that bottom lip to the point Ron grew concerned she might bruise it.

“What is it?” He asked and moved cautiously to her.

“This drawer.” Hermione pointed but didn’t touch it. “It’s heavily warded.”

“Do you think you can open it?”

“But Harry might…” She gave him a pleading look.

“Harry is why we’re doing this without Harry. Don’t worry, he’ll be in Hogsmeade shopping for presents for a while longer. He’s absolutely rubbish in picking out presents for Ginny since the breakup.” He ran a hand up and down her back. “We’ll just have a quick look. If he’s innocent we won’t find anything, right? Can you recast the wards if you open them?”

“I can try. There’s a chance he’ll notice they’ll be tampered with anyway.” Hermione steeled herself and Ron could see the calculations running around in her head as she searched for the right set of spells. “Okay, I think I’ve got it.” He stood back to let her cast without distraction with his wand at the ready in case of anything unexpected popping out. The drawer opened with a slightly disappointing click and clear lack of evil.

“Damn,” Hermione cursed. “That’s going to be hard to reset.” Despite her reservations she started poking around in the drawer casting a few other revealing charms. “Nothing magical by the looks of it. But there’s all these…” She drew up and glanced over at Ron with a raised eyebrow.

“What?” He came over to look. Inside the draw was a thickly bound journal with the Slytherin crest, a rolled scroll, and what looked like tens, maybe even hundreds, of envelopes underneath. Ron reached for the scroll while Hermione took up a few of the letters. “Ah ha!”

Hermione startled and clutched the letters to her chest. “What on earth, why are you yelling?”

“Here!” He shoved the unfurled parchment between them. “Ways to Kill Harry Potter. Not very subtle is it?”

Hermione snatched the parchment and her eyes rapidly scanned down the list written in Malfoy’s loopy script. Her face fell from concern to exasperation and finally into amusement. Towards the bottom of the list she actually laughed.

“I don’t think it’s very nice you laughing at Harry’s imminent death like that,” Ron said frowning.

“Only if his imminent death includes ‘Sugar coma induced by too many treacle tarts’ or, oh this one is cute, ‘Death by Embarrassment #23: Polyjuice into McGonagall and compliment his arse in the Great Hall.’ That one’s been scratched out and rewritten, twice.”

Ron looked a little green. “Well, those first few don’t sound nearly as pleasant. ‘Charm ugly Christmas sweater to spontaneously combust.’ That one’s just rude and deadly.”

“Judging by this calligraphy ‘H’ to the side, I think he’s referencing the sweaters Molly knits,” Hermione giggled to Ron’s dismay. “Oh Ron, don’t you think this might be a joke? Albeit a morbid one.”

“Malfoy’s deranged, we all know that.” Ron looked over the list again and even he couldn’t hold back a smile at some of the more ridiculous ideas. He cast a replicating spell and put a copy of the conjured list in his pocket. Hermione gave him glare. “What? At least if Harry every dies from being… bloody hell, ‘transfigured into a ferret and sat on by Hagrid,’ we’ll have a suspect.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and started to pull out one of the letters from the envelopes she had picked. Ron turned his attention to the diary which he found to be nearly full. He skimmed to the last few entries and picked one at random. He read a fragmented passage about a woman and a lake, and frowned. He flipped closer to the beginning and read something a bit more coherent dated to before the start of the term.

“Oh.” Hermione gave a small gasp.

Ron put a finger on the page where he was to keep his place and looked up. Hermione’s hands shook just enough that the pages looked slightly blurry in grip.

“Oh, Ron. I think we’ve made a mistake.” She dropped to the bed apparently forgoing their agreement to try and leave the room untouched as possible. Ron took the letters from her hands and began to read.

Dear Granger…

“This is written to you.” He couldn’t help keep an accusing note from his voice.

Hermione simply nodded and said with great difficulty, “Keep reading.”

Dear Granger,

There’s no amount of letters I could write that would express the extent of my regret. I used to hate you for being a—well, for being who you are. I know now how wrong that was of me, and I wish it hadn’t taken nightmare after bloody nightmare of hearing you be tortured for me to realize this.

I have no excuse good enough for my actions nor my inactions. Narcissa and Lucius raised their son to hate and that’s what I did…

~*~

Dear Granger,

Please, please, stop screaming. I can’t take this much longer…

~*~

Dear Granger,

I was always jealous of your intelligence and aptitude. I think you’d agree these are highly irregular traits for a Gryffindor. But to be honest, I was, and am, more jealous of your friendship with Potter…

~*~

Dear Weasley,

Ever wonder why our families have been feuding for so long? I don’t think I’ll ever like you, nor you me, thank Merlin. But I think we could try and forget this stupid rivalry…

~*~

Dear Professor,

Thank you for trying to give me the option to do good. I’m sorry I didn’t make the right choice. I’ll try harder…

~*~

Dear Luna,

Thank you for the book. I’ve made my peace with you, but I still feel guilt. I will never forget your kindness…

~*~

Dear Harry,

Forgive me. I took advantage of your distress. You deserve better…

~*~

By the time Ron had read the last one he was sitting on the bed next to Hermione who had regained her composure. “Bloody hell.”

“Agreed,” Hermione said. “There’s so many. Some of them are to Luna, different professors, Harry, I think that one is to Molly…”

“What do you think it all means?” asked Ron. He ran a hand through his hair making it stick out at odd angles and sighed. “They can’t be real apologies, can they? I mean, he doesn’t look like he’s sending them anytime soon.”

“What’s Malfoy supposed to do, Ron? Even if he sent an apology by owl, do you think anyone would believe he was really sorry?” There was a heat to her words as if she were angry but unsure as to who or what she should direct it.

“No, guess not.” For all of his earlier interest in finding out Malfoy’s secrets, Ron felt ready to bolt out the door and cast Oblivate on himself. “If I got a letter from him, which I suppose he’s written one, I would just assume he was trying to get something from me. Or maybe gone around the twist.”

Hermione nodded and her bruised lip trembled. She took the letters from Ron and carefully slipped them back into their envelopes. After a few quiet incantations the room stood looking the same as when they had first entered. “What are we going to tell Harry? He’s not going to be happy.”

Ron shook his head. “I don’t know, but I think it should wait until after Christmas.”

“I never thought about forgiving him.” Hermione’s eyes stared hard to the desk drawer and her hand kept flexing around her wand.

“You don’t need to, Mione.” Ron shifted putting an arm around her and burying his face into her frenzied hair where she smelled like peaches. He took a comforting breath. “No one expects any of us to forgive Malfoy.”

********

Draco sneezed as he stepped from the fireplace into the main foyer of the Manor. The Floo, it seemed, had not been used in some time. He dusted off his clothes and looked around the dimly lit area noting he had subconsciously thrown up his Occlumency shields. The room appeared smaller than he remembered as if the horrible memories of the Dark Lord’s stay made the Manor fold in on itself in fear.

“Master Draco!” A house elf came barreling into him from around pillar, and upon collusion looked mortified for having accidently touching him. “Eep! Tilly has touched Master! Tilly is most sorry, sir! Tilly will punish herself properly!”

“You don’t have—ah!” Draco lunged for the crazy elf who had started beating her head against a nearby pillar. She flinched away from him but kept up her self-bludgeoning. “Tilly is it? I demand you stop punishing yourself. No touching is Narcissa’s rule, not mine, and you would do well to remember that.” While Draco never had the soft spot for house elves that Granger did, he had never cared for when they punished themselves for one of Narcissa or Lucius’s silly rules. His rule had always been they could punish themselves out of his sight.

“Master Draco is so kind. Tilly will be taking Master Draco’s things. Mistress Narcissa will be seeing Master Draco for dinner.”

“Dinner?” It was just past the lunch hour and while he was hardly expecting a warm reception, knowing Narcissa didn’t want to see him, or at least face him, until later left him feeling a little hollower.

“Yes, sir. We be seeing Master Draco to his room?” Tilly bowed low and her beige color pillowcase drooped off one shoulder.

“Very well. Not like I don’t know where my own damn room is,” Draco muttered. Tilly looked taken aback and he held up a hand and gestured for her to continue before she devolved into another round of punishment.

The sounds of Draco’s oxfords on the cold marble broke the silence of each hallway but couldn’t muffle the noisy memories which flooded him at each turn bend and each closed door. This was where Bellatrix liked to practice Crucio on muggles. This is where the Dark Lord let his snake sleep to an ever glowing fire. This is where he first thought Lucius had gone mad. That was where Granger bloodied her head on the floor.

He always expected to smell blood and was always surprised at the sharp scents of lemon and peppermint. Narcissa had insisted the house elves leave everything cleaner than the operating room at St. Mungo’s and seems to have left in a standing order for it if the smell of lye and citrus was anything to go by. He might hear their voices, but Narcissa smelt their blood. There was very little of the Manor left untouched by the Death Eaters, and Draco thanked whatever powers that watched over him that the lot of them had had a lack of interest in the Malfoy library.

“Tilly, give my—give your mistress my regrets, I will not be coming to dinner,” Draco said laying out his chest at the foot of his bed and unshrinking it to normal sizes. Tilly looked as if she might faint.

“Wh-where shall we be telling her you’ll be?” The elf cowered, no doubt worrying about her imminent future as messenger.

“Tell her I’ll be in the west wing. And please have a tray delivered to my rooms for dinner.” Draco turned his back on the elf and tried not to think about the next few days as he unpacked the least amount he thought he could get away with.

********

Until Harry stood in the small linen and porcelain shop looking for a last minute Christmas gift for Molly Weasley, he had never thought about the holidays must be like—must have been like—for those on the other side of the war. He realized as he counted Knuts on the counter that while he had spent Christmas in a graveyard with Hermione, Draco must have spent Christmas with…Voldemort. Or at the least, in a house full of Death Eaters and insane family members.

Suddenly the last minute gift he had given Draco on the train didn’t seem quite enough to make up for the horror that this Christmas would no doubt be. Here Harry was going to spend the holiday in house too small to fit all of its visitors and company too good to call anything but family. Draco was once again his opposite, he would be spending it in a mansion too big with only his mother, whom he may or may not consider family. Harry shuddered startling the old woman at the till. He gave her an apologetic smile and left with the last of his shopping in hand.

Afraid to spend too much time lost in his own thoughts, Harry hurried back to Hogwarts casting a disillusionment charm around the purchases until he could get to wrap them. He’d owl Draco when he got to the Weasleys’ and that was the most he could do, for now. If nothing else, he could take small comfort in knowing the research would keep Draco occupied. The man had an affinity for puzzles and mysteries. The way his eyes lit up with hunger when he looked at the Marauder’s Map for the first time…

And Harry really needed to concentrate on other things. Such as not taking the route to Gryffindor tower instead of to the Eighth year dorms.

When he opened the door to the common room he was accosted once more by Hermione and all her hair. She shook a little before letting him go. Startled, he took a step back and looked at her.

“You alright?” He asked and watched as she brushed a tear from her cheek.

“She’s just happy to see you, mate,” said Ron. He didn’t look any better off than his wife.

“Right. What’s going on?”

“Nothing.” Hermione’s voice came out too strong, and Harry got the feeling she was answering his question in another context. He shifted his glasses and held up his shopping bags.

“I’m finished. Thought you two were going to the library.” He started to make his way up to his room and Ron and Hermione followed. Right before Hermione got to the staircase he remembered McGonagall’s improvements in keeping girls out of the boys’ rooms. “Oh, Hermione, be careful!”

“Huh?” Hermione stood on the third step giving Ron and him a puzzled look which he returned.

“Professor McGonagall enchanted the stairs so girls can’t go up to them anymore?” He paused at his own inflection changing what he thought was a fact into a question.

“Oh,” Hermione looked down and bit her lip. “Well, it doesn’t seem to be working right now, does it?”

“I wonder…” Ron murmured and took off for the opposite stairwell. He squared his shoulders and then took the stairs two at a time as if they’d turn into a slide or open up and swallow him whole. Once he made it to the top without injury he turned around with a grin. “What d’ya know?”

“But…” Harry cocked his head to the side. “Well.”

“Perhaps they expect you lot to behave since you’re used to it?” Ron offered.

“I hardly doubt that’s the case, Ronald,” Hermione said with a tired smile. She shook her head and bit her lower lip. Like Ron, Harry worried she might bruise it. “It’s odd that McGonagall would neglect charming the stairs.”

Harry shrugged. “One mystery at a time, yeah?” He turned to go back up to his room and yelled over his shoulder, “No peaking…. Ronald.”

A door banged shut and Ron muttered a few curses before running back to join them.

********

“So,” Hermione had her best serious studying face on though her eyes looked like they might tear up any moment from being back in the Hogwarts library. “Let’s start with what you have found and what you’ve already looked through.”

Harry led them through the weaving shelves attempting to recall where Draco normally dragged them too. He spied the table they last sat at and blushed. “Well, I still don’t know how on earth Madam Pince organizes this place. Dra—Malfoy’s usually the one to pull the books down.” From behind him Harry thought he could hear the word “hopeless.” He pressed on. “Here’s where we were last. Dark Arts History.”

“Have you read through all these?” Hermione grabbed two books closer to the end of the section.

“Nearly. Those two, no. After finding out someone had used a similar curse centuries ago, we thought we’d have a go in the history section.” Harry pulled a couple other titles that didn’t seem familiar. Hermione gave him a significant look. “What?”

“You picked up history willingly?” She was biting the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling, he could tell.

“Fine. He thought we should. Why are you so bloody observant?”

“I know, right? Could you imagine if she had become an Auror? Bloody scary, she is,” Ron teased and ran a hand through Hermione’s already fluffed up hair.

She sniffed. “I would have been brilliant.”

“Right you are.” Ron leaned over to kiss her cheek and Harry scrunched up his nose.

“Do you have to?” He asked.

“I’ll have you know that we had watch you and Malfoy kiss on repeat on the front page of the paper.”

“You didn’t have to watch it…” Harry could feel his neck burning red.

“He didn’t for long. Left a nice scorch mark on the Formica,” Hermione grumbled though she looked slightly happy. Harry felt a bit unbalanced by their rapid change of attitude. They were sounding dangerously fond and irritated, and not worried and angry. “Right, Harry you take these titles. Ron take this one, and I’ll go through these.”

Ron groaned. “You know, it’s called a holiday. A day of rest?” He obediently took his one book while Hermione took her six or seven and led them to a table.

Two hours in and a sizeable pile of books branded “no go” by Hermione later, Harry stood and stretched. “I should have probably mentioned that Draco’s going to be looking through the library at his house. Said something about it having a bit more on the Dark Arts than Hogwarts.”

From a half-snooze, Ron snorted. “Real surprise there. Malfoy’s with books about Dark Arts.”

Hermione placed a finger down where she was reading and looked up with her brow drawn. “I wonder what they have…”

“No, you don’t,” Ron said quickly. “You don’t care. They have nothing of interest. You never want to go to that house again. Remember?”

The slightly dazed expression of Hermione’s face suggested that she was indeed struggling to remember that fact. “You don’t think he’d send me a few books, do you Harry?”

“What’s he supposed to do, Mione?” Harry huffed. “Make you an inventoried list of everything they have and have you tick off the ones you want?”

“Oh, that’s a brilliant idea! Do you think he would?”

“Okay, what is with you?” Harry demanded. “You were ready to check me for hexes and convince me that he’s manipulating me, and now you want access to his family library?”

For a brief moment Hermione looked extremely guilty and Ron was curiously looking at a new book in a poor imitation of research. He held the book upside-down. “We overreacted, Harry.”

“No, you didn’t!” He felt a little hysterical and couldn’t tell why. “You didn’t! I am waiting for it. Yes, you sent me a howler, and you looked me over for curses for nearly an hour followed by some interrogation. But you haven’t really hit ‘overreaction’ yet.” Harry’s chest heaved and he took off his glasses to rub his eyes.

“Harry?” Ron leaned forward and placed a hand on Hermione exchanging a worried look.

“Yeah, sorry,” Harry apologized and sat back down. He looked out a nearby window noting the sun was abysmally close to setting.

Hermione, always the clever one, asked, “Do you need to talk about it? About this thing with Malfoy?”

“No,” he hastily replied. He kicked an angry foot out at the old table legs. “Yes, probably. But, not here. Not tonight.”

“Right,” Hermione straightened up. “Let’s go home.”

“Finally,” Ron said and snapped his book shut.

“After we put all this back up.”

The two boys groaned in unison.

********

The ministry had stolen most of the obvious dark artifacts from Malfoy Manor during Draco’s second year at Hogwarts and once again after the war. Only the obvious ones, of course. The manor was far too large and too capable of hiding whatever it pleased for them to continue to comb it. Hence why the hidden Dark Arts section of the Malfoy library remained intact and home to more of the peculiar if not useful heirlooms passed down from one generation to the next. This section of the library was only accessible if one passed between the shelves, much like Platform 9¾, at the exact right location. Just passing through was not enough, though; after going through the shelf of tawdry romance novels, one then had to stalk up and down four times between the hidden shelves and then pass through another barrier not so cleverly hidden as Malfoy family history. This odd method of accessing the most restricted section of the library had been largely withheld from Draco until after the war when right after he had returned from the detention center.

A person could apparate directly into this section of the library if they understood the location, however, they could not disapparate out. Upon returning home from his time in prison, Narcissa had owled Draco informing him of a house elf who found themselves unfortunately stuck inside the Dark Arts portion of the library and she had requested that he take care of the problem. Draco had spent a solid three days reading old memoirs, asking oil portraits, and pestering the other elves until he caved and went to Narcissa to ask how to open the bloody section. Once in he grabbed the then half-starved elf and placed a strict no entry rule for the staff.

The result of this rule, as Draco coughed and blinked away the sheet of dust that assaulted him upon entering, was that no elves had been in to tidy up in nearly a year. He sighed as he took in the state of everything. Glass cases and ominous wooden boxes laid covered in cobwebs and dust. Everything felt a bit damp, though he wasn’t sure if that wasn’t normal, and he thought it most likely not good for the books. The curtains were open and yet no light entered through the fake windows enchanted to show the gardens. Much like trying to prepare a meal in a kitchen with the counters cluttered in dirty dishes, the room needed to be tidied before he would be able to get any work done.

He supposed he could call in a house elf, but he didn’t really want to rescind his rule of keeping them out in his absence. Nothing for it then. Gretta had given him a ten inch probation wand for this trip that he could use to cast basic cleaning and hygiene spells. Draco withdrew the bulky and awkward thing whose handle was worn from the hundreds of other owners before him, and he set about carefully casting Scourgify and vanishing charms on what he deemed safe. Some of the other volatile looking surfaces would need a regular flannel as he didn’t trust magic to not set something off.

Some of the more innocuous looking items turned out not to be so innocent. There was a clock that tried to bite his fingers and told him where the weakest defenses of the southern shore were, a violin which played a funeral march and made him feel a bit ill, and a tea cup filled to the brim with swirling blood. The teacup got carefully levitated to a far shelf. Once he had cleared off a table which was thankfully just a table, he started on the books.

The cleaning had kept his mind occupied until now, and while the books were fascinating, he couldn’t help miss his study partner. “Which one do you think we should start with, Harry?” he asked the empty room. “Yes, Granger would probably be useful about now. And if you ever tell her I gave her a compliment, I’ll never let you snog me again.” He grinned to himself.

Long fingers flicked from title to title. Some in French and Latin, those were easy enough to translate, and then others in older versions of the language, and still some which looked more like pictographs than letters. One very strange volume was written in Korean and after some back and forth with a Korean to English dictionary from the main library, he deduced the volume to be a very rare collection of goblin summoning rituals, and a thoroughly stolen one at that. The goblins depicted didn’t look nearly as approachable as the ones at Gringotts with their massive clubs and odd dress. Realizing he was wasting time, Draco regretfully put the book back on the shelf and continued for another hour until hunger won out and he left for dinner.

“Excuse Tilly, Master Draco.”

Draco startled at the house elf waiting in his rooms and accidently slammed his door. Taking this as anger at her appearance, Tilly began to sway on her feet and continued on. “Pardon us, but Mistress Narcissa insists on you being at dinner.”

He groaned and watched the elf nervously tip forward. “Can’t you just tell her no? Of course you can’t.”

“We will be seeing you soon then?” Tilly now played with the hem of her pillowcase, a pink pillowcase. Draco frowned.

“Were you wearing something different when I arrived?” he asked.

“Oh! Mistress is giving us all new pillowcases!” Tilly went from nervous to ecstatic so fast she reminded him of Potter’s mood swings. It begrudgingly made him like her a little more. “This one has a very high thread count.” She practically beamed.

Draco thought about the dirty pillow cases Lucius had normally kept the elves in and wondered if Narcissa wasn’t going through a crisis. “Right,” he replied. “That was generous of her?”

Tilly just nodded enthusiastically while playing with the delicate embroidered fringe. “I’ll pass along Master Draco’s complements.” She disappeared before he could argue.

His stomach gave an undignified growl and he wondered how long he could go without food.

********

The family dining room was blessedly empty when Draco arrived and he sat at his normal chair for a minute before Tilly came shaking her head to inform him they would be having dinner served in the breakfast room. He tried and failed not to point out the obvious contradiction in that statement while she led him away from the disused room towards the kitchens. The breakfast room was in a covered patio normally used during the morning due to the optimal natural lighting.

He paused on the doorframe to take in the small scene. The breakfast room had a smaller table than the formal dining room and less of the elegant décor that covered the mansion, but it still managed to feel stuffy all the same. Tilly raced around him to pull out his chair and poured his wine and refill Narcissa’s almost drained glass. She set the decanter down and disapparated leaving Draco alone. He sighed and went to his chair not making eye contact.

“Draco,” Narcissa said and dabbed an invisible spot on her mouth. “It’s good to see you, dear.”

Dinner appeared before him and Draco made no attempt to answer her nor did he let himself acknowledge that the elves had prepared his favorite meal. Instead he sliced his roast duck into neat strips and dunked the first into a small well of sauce. Hopefully he’d get through this quick enough without having to say anything at all.

“Draco. There are things we need to discuss.” Narcissa hadn’t picked up any of her utensils. Instead she toyed with the corner of her napkin. She looked weary and older than Draco thought she had a right to. His chest felt sore looking at her.

“I’m not sure we have anything to say to each other,” Draco replied, his voice cool and inflectionless. “If it’s all the same to you, I would rather just eat and get back on with my evening.”

“No. I don’t think that will work. We need to talk about the estate, Draco.”

“Narcissa,” Draco said and ignored the hurt in her eyes at being called by her name. He couldn’t tell her that he didn’t plan on taking over the house just yet, not while he was still depending on their money to get through the next couple of years. “Is this the appropriate time to talk business? I’ve only just gotten back.”

The set of her shoulders and her rigid poster screamed control, but the small tremor of her chin and clenching of her jaw belied her sensitive state. With irritating patience she continued. “Draco, you used to love the idea of taking care of the family business.”

“That’s before the family business came here and started killing muggles in your parlor!” Draco slammed his fork and knife down no longer hungry. He took an indulgent gulp of his wine. It wasn’t the worst thing he could have said, but she still looked as if he had struck her. He chuckled not knowing why.

“That was unfortunate.”

“Unfortunate?” He snorted. “That’s an understatement. Tell me, did you really believe the Dark Lord’s ideas? About blood purity? About the—the mudbloods and the muggles? Are they really destroying our way of life? Or did you just enjoy passing those lies onto me?”

“Those were your father’s ideas. I—”

“You just didn’t stop him from creating another tool in his agenda.” He drained his glass. If this was dinner he couldn’t wait for Christmas.

“I did what I needed to keep this family strong,” Narcissa bit out. “As you did. As you’re doing now.”

He looked up at her critical gaze in a rush. “What do you mean?”

“Tilly!” Narcissa called and the elf appeared within moments clutching a paper. Draco’s stomach rolled and for a moment he thought he might be sick. Narcissa slapped the paper on the table and pointed to the picture. “Getting close to Harry Potter?”

He imagined the news would have made its way to her by now, but when he had thought about her reaction it was always one of grief for the end of the Malfoy line, or anger for associating with their old nemesis. This, he shuddered, was worse. Narcissa sounded pleased, almost awestruck.

“This is perfect, Draco. Get in good graces with Potter and surely some of the public will have to forgive you. Just make sure he’s the one who ends the relationship when it’s time. It would be—”

Draco stood abruptly and snatched the Prophet from her hands. “I will not be manipulating Harry for my own gains.” As he turned he caught the moment when Narcissa’s confusion turned into a horrified understanding and he rushed out. She called his name in a gentle way only mothers can when their children are hurt, but he ignored her.

In the safety of his room he let out a shaky breath and clutched the offending paper close. This was why he had to get away from his family. All those years of refining him into a tool, a chess piece, and she wanted him to twist the people around him for the Malfoy name. The most frightening part was the small voice inside him who agreed with her. The Slytherin inside him wanted nothing more than reestablish his dominance in society. He pushed that down and thought of his time at the detention center; of the strange support from Gretta, and even stranger from McGonagall; and most importantly he thought of Harry.

Draco took out Harry’s Christmas gift from his trunk and grabbed his spelled quill to add the last minute finishes before prepping it to deliver.

********

Harry had lulled himself into a false sense of security by spending the first night of holidays at Ron and Hermione’s flat getting drunk on muggle rum and playing exploding snap. The three of them kept conversation to safe topics and drifted along in good companionship until one by one they fell asleep in the front room under Ron’s drunken attempt of a pillow fort. Harry could hardly believe they were responsible adults.

This illusion of a peaceful holiday shattered upon arrival to the Burrow when a manic Molly burst from the kitchens and scooped up Harry in a tight hug quickly followed by a no nonsense glare that nearly brought him to an ill-timed confession. Ron stepped around his best friend and mother sending Harry an apologetic nod before taking their bags upstairs.

“Harry Potter, what is this rubbish I’ve been reading in the Prophet?” Molly squared her shoulders and pointed a chipped fingernail at him.

“Erm—I’m not getting married?” Harry offered and happily noted that Molly’s face became a degree less stern. “You can’t believe everything you read in the papers.”

“Don’t be cheeky,” Molly said and rubbed at some dirt on Harry’s cheek. “You don’t owl us or firecall us for months and we have to find out about—about this from the papers? Yes, you just said I can’t believe everything, but that picture!”

That sodding picture. Harry was going to kill Harry the photographer. “Not my best side, no,” he said in an attempt at humor. Molly didn’t seem to get it.

“You do so much better than that Malfoy boy, Harry. Guess I know why it didn’t work out between you and Ginny now,” she said. Harry stood horrified and red beside her. “But we know of plenty young men who would love to meet you. Have you met Ron’s cousin Artemis? He’s a little older and from a well to do family, but—”

“Mum, leave Harry alone.” Ginny stood on the stairs looking down at the two of them with a sad smile that made Harry’s throat tight. “He doesn’t need to be setup with anybody. Especially not Artemis.” She shuddered and Harry thought he’d have to meet this mysterious Weasley just to satiate his curiosity.

Molly glared up at her daughter. “There’s nothing wrong with Wart.”

“Wart?” Harry asked in surprise.

“That’s what we call him, dear. Has nothing to do with his looks.” Molly flashed him a placating grin. She glanced back up to her daughter and then to Harry. “I better get back to dinner.”

He watched her go and was thankful for the end of that conversation. He looked up to Ginny who was coming down the last set of stairs. “Thanks. I didn’t know how much longer I would have been able to keep from dying of embarrassment.” He managed his own smile for Ginny. They stared at each other in an awkward silence for a minute before both started speaking at once.

“You first,” Harry said and he tried to lean against a wall in an effort to look less anxious than he felt. This was Ginny and he still loved her, even if it was as a sister.

“Look, I’m sorry about my initial reaction,” she said and tucked a bit of hair behind her ear. Harry noticed for the first time she had had it cut just above her shoulders. “I—I still can’t say I’m comfortable with the idea but I’ve seen you around Hogwarts and… You look happy, Harry. Happier than you have in a long while.”

Taken back by her candor, Harry only managed to blush and nod back. “I’m sorry, too. I guess for not telling you about it.”

“You don’t make the easiest choices, do you?” Ginny asked with a grin and he laughed. “I’ll make you a deal, I’ll keep Mum from setting you up with blind dates if you let me punch Malfoy when he breaks your heart.”

Harry sighed. “Don’t you mean if he breaks my heart?”

She scrunched up her nose and shook her head. “I said I wasn’t that comfortable with the idea, yet.”

Dinner on Christmas Eve was as festive as ever with as many Weasley’s crowded around the table as possible. Bill and Fleur had shown up looking as brilliant together as always and when Fleur announced her pregnancy over dessert Molly found a new target of conversation to focus on. Harry watched his adopted ginger family with warmth. They hardly heckled him at the table for his latest stint in the paper outside of George spiking his mince pie with a hiccup inducing nut that made him turn festive shades of green and red and replacing his Christmas cracker with a glitter bomb that gave him fairy wings. He figured that one might be from Ron.

After dinner Arthur took him out to the workshop to show off some new muggle finds he had including an old arcade machine and a boom box with a collection of cassette tapes and CDs. Harry thought it was all very interesting until he got a three minute lecture on safe-sex practices between men and decided he’d rather suffer the holiday with Voldemort. Who knew there were so many different spells to summon lubricant?

Needless to say he was more than ready to go to bed feeling properly fed and mortified. He was completely unprepared for Christmas morning.

“Harry, mate!” Ron shook his friend again. “Harry, wake up! It’s Christmas and breakfast is starting. If you don’t get up, Bill will eat all the sausages and Percy will take the coffee.”

“Eugh,” Harry said gracefully. “I’m up. I’m up…” He groggily made his way to the kitchens and gave up immediately on getting a seat, opting instead to take a plate and join Ron and Hermione in the living room. Last night’s sleeping arrangements had been weird at best. Molly had divided them with Harry and Ron in his old room and Hermione and Ginny in their own despite Hermione and Ron being married. Once the house was asleep he and Hermione swapped rooms and he ended up having a pseudo-campout with Ginny. Awkward was putting it mildly.

He plopped down next to Hermione in front of the fireplace and dove into his breakfast. Hogwarts cooking was fabulous but it didn’t hold a candle to Molly Weasley’s Christmas breakfast. He had bitten into his third ham steak when a tap-tap-tap sounded at the window. Ron frowned and went to open it up letting in a large snowy owl who whooped around the room for a moment before dropping something small into Harry’s stocking. It nicked a piece of bacon and took back off outside.

“What on earth?” Hermione asked looking at the retreating owl. “What was it?”

Harry shrugged and pulled his stocking down to examine the delivery. Inside was small green envelope with his name written in silver ink across the middle. Harry tore it open and found himself staring at, well, himself. He groaned.

“Is that a Chocolate Frog card?” Ron asked while chewing on a roll. “Who would send you that?”

“It’s not just any card, Ronald,” Hermione said and snatched it from Harry. She laughed. “It’s a Harry Potter card.”

“I think I can guess who sent it. Merlin, that thing is embarrassing,” Harry muttered as his supposed friends looked it over.

“Look, he’s got something on his shirt!” Ron grinned at the card and showed Hermione.

“Oh my,” Hermione laughed. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that.”

“Give it back!” Harry grabbed the card and looked. The Harry on the card was indeed wrestling with something on his shirt that he apparently couldn’t remove. Once he settled down Harry could see it clearly. Pinned to the middle of his chest was a large button that flashed the words “Potter Stinks!” over and over. He groaned again and tried to rub away the smile threatening to form.

“That’s brill,” Ron mused. “Reckon Malfoy sent you that? I wonder how he managed it. Kind of lame though, right? That’s all he sent you?”

As if waiting for the magic words, a rumbling outside had each of them looking back out the window. A cloud past over the Burrow casting everything in a shadow. Then as the rumbling got louder, Hermione put a hand each on the boys and pulled them in quickly just as the first one shot through.

Another owl dove and threw a card into the open room. Then another. Then another. And Harry realized the cloud wasn’t a cloud but a maelstrom of owls each bent on delivering an individual card. One after the next they shot through the open window. Some flew down the chimney and Harry found himself casting a hasty Aguamenti after one nearly caught the sofa on fire. As some flew about in the air Harry was struck with the memory of his Hogwarts letters filling his Aunt and Uncle’s living room. He let out a laugh.

Each card had a different enchantment. Some of the Harry’s battled little monsters drawn into the card and other’s had speech bubbles they couldn’t get rid of. “I’m Harry Potter and I’m the idiot who saved the world. Tell us how you really feel, Draco. I’m Harry Potter and I like to snog in dusty corners.” Harry grimaced. He better find all these fast.

“Oi! My best mate resembles an orangutan? That’s not nice. Stop laughing, Mione,” Ron complained.

The last two cards came flying together, and to Hermione and Ron’s chagrin, plastered one each to their foreheads. A note fell between them. Ron scrambled to get the card off his head while Hermione ducked to get the note.

To Granger-Weasley, either one.

Happy Christmas. Sorry for the duplicates. I couldn’t find one of Weasley.

-Draco Malfoy

“Couldn’t find one of Weasley?” Harry asked. Hermione pointed her wand at Ron’s head and muttered an unsticking spell and then did one on her own. The cards floated down to reveal two Hermione Granger’s looking bitter.

“He’s drawn a mustache on me!” Hermione gave an indignant laugh. She prodded the curly black ink drawn on her own portrait with her wand and watched as the ink spread downwards into a full beard. “Oh… I’ve made it worse. What’s yours do, Ron?”

Ron quickly hid the card behind his back. “Nothing!”

**** ****

Draco spent Christmas Eve in the secret library running his fingers over the spines of books and reading the ancient titles. He was careful to not activate any wards or hidden curses as he touched each text with reverence. And then, on a low shelf, third bookcase from the right, a pulse of magic which felt like the reverberation of a drum caught his attention until he found a black volume with no title. The tips of his fingers had barely brushed against the leather when crash of blue light filled his vision and his head felt like it had begun to split in two. Violent images overwhelmed him at an alarming rate, all scrambling for dominance over his vision: a battleground soaked in the blood of a king, a wizard masquerading as the black plague, the invention of an Unforgiveable, brothers killing each other for inheritance, the pain and heady rush of stealing someone’s soul, Lucius Malfoy pledging himself to the Dark Lord… Then silence.

The book fell to the floor open, hungry, and awake next to the unconscious form of Draco Malfoy.

Chapter Text

Draco!

Draco Malfoy!

The beat of a drum. Heavy, slow, sluggish almost. As if coming across a great distance. Or perhaps under pressure, stifled. Everything’s cold. No sense of up or down. No light, but not complete darkness. Just the need to breath and no air to pull in. One scream would kill him. One good release. If he just let his mouth open and let all this not air in… His lungs would explode. His arteries would flood. He could be weightless. He’s been here before.

You useless boy!

Draco managed to wrench himself above the water just before his body gave out him. He gasped and looked down to see the Lady of the Lake watching him. She disappeared back into the depths, leaving him to fight the water on his own. The shore stood out directly in front and he knew, just knew, that if he turned around he’d see the floating bodies of Sully and Marie and perhaps another behind him. The waves threatened to pull him back down so he kicked his legs and pushed forward. From far away he could see that the Pale Lady knelt crying.

Guinevere.

A storm blackened the sky and made the waves of the Great Lake choppy and difficult to maneuver. Still he kicked, cold and frightened, until his hands touched something like sand and he came upon his hands and knees to the shore. With all his energy spent, the mere weight of his wet shirt and trousers forced him to collapse upon the beach. The lady rushed to his side.

“Draco?” Her voice which had sounded like bells before came out hoarse and more human than ever. “Draco, are you… Can you hear me?”

“Guinevere…” He stretched out a pale hand to her and she recoiled.

“How do you know that name?”

“That’s your name, Guinn.” The exhaustion of his near death couldn’t keep the smile off Draco’s face. “You’re Guinevere. My queen…” The world around him grew dim.

“Draco!”

********

“Now, we’s not going to stay here long. No, no. Just going to check on the young Master.” Tilly tugged on the corner of her lavender pillowcase while walking up and down the shelves of the Malfoy library. “He’s to be having tea with the Mistress later. Can’t be late.”

The small elf kept her wide brown eyes open for any sort of movement or sign that the young Master was alright. The library was not her favorite place. Ever since old Tinker got himself stuck in the forbidden section for days and had to get rescued by Master Draco, Tilly had made a small vow never to set foot in the scary library again. But the Manor’s magic had been thrumming with a warning this morning and it hadn’t taken the elves very long to find out why.

“What should we elves be doing?” asked old Cooky. His spindle-like fingers had been wrapped tightly around his ladle and he had brandished it like a frightening club, or so Tilly had thought. Cooky was old and grey and his pillowcases always were stained with whatever meal he was prepping. “We can’t be going in that room.”

“Tinker knows the way,” cried Scibbs. Scibbs used to work for Master Lucius and was not too bright nor too brave. “Tinker can go to him.”

“I think not,” harrumphed Tinker. He was the most stubborn of the elves. “Master Draco said not one of us elves are allowed in that… that place.”

“But Master is dying,” Tilly had wailed. Just thinking about breaking the rule to stay out made her body twitch with the urge to punish herself. It was frightening. “Master is dying and surely that is worse.”

“Then we elves should be sending Tilly,” Tinker had said and glared at her. “Tilly is new. Tilly won’t be getting into bad trouble with Master Draco.”

“M-me?” She had thought she would faint on the spot. “But Tilly is not brave. Tilly is not belonging to Master Draco. I work for the Mistress.”

“Oh, stop,” Tinker said and shook Tilly. “Yes, Tilly works for the Mistress. But the Master be Master of the house. All of us be his elves. Stupid elf, you know this.”

“Tinker will be telling Tilly the way, then Tilly can get the Master,” Scibbs said. He had nodded his head as if he were wise for coming up with the idea. Tilly thought the fake confidence made his head look uglier.

To her horror, Tilly found herself with instructions to open up the forbidden section and explicit orders to not return to the kitchens until she had retrieved the Master. She raised a hand through the air revealing all the different colors of house magic. There was the blue of cleanliness, the reds and browns of dust and dirt, yellow and green currents of house energy, and a silver path marking Master Draco’s trip into the hidden shelves. The silver should have been bright and lively, but instead was cold and dull and smelled a little like death. Tilly scrunched up her noise and shook her head.

“I can’t be going in there; those are direct orders.” She looked down at her small hands and wondered how she would even pull him out if she did manage to go in. “Tilly can’t be getting Mistress Narcissa, thems orders too. Why do wizards make Tilly’s choices hard?!” She reached for the largest volume off the nearest shelf and smacked her head against it. Thwack! Thwack! And nearly a third, but wait! Dizzy, Tilly apparated out of the library and into Master Draco’s room. She grabbed the paper off his nightstand.

********

“Sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three… Do you think that’s all of them?” Harry asked from his place on the ottoman counting the cards in his hand.

“Hard to say, mate. I wasn’t exactly counting as the buggers came flying in,” Ron replied as he scratched the back of his head and looked around the room. “George popped in for a bit I think. He probably grabbed a few.”

Hermione flailed around a bit from her spot in the corner looking like a Kneazle trying to catch its tail. “I think there’s one in my hair,” she groaned. Ron walked over to her and placed his hands on her shoulders to calm her before reaching into her mane to pull out another card. He did a good job not giggling at her distress in Harry’s opinion.

“This one just has you hissing random curse words to snakes. Looks like he might have ran out of ideas towards the end,” Ron remarked before handing Harry the offending card.

Hermione’s eyebrows were drawn high on her forehead but her mouth was set in a small smirk. “This has to be the most elaborate present I’ve ever witnessed. He couldn’t have duplicated the cards, could he?”

“Naw. These cards are warded against that kind of magic. Makes collecting them harder, you know? To keep up sales.” Ron settled back down on the floor to finish his breakfast… once he picked out the stray owl feather or two. “Ew, there’s one in my tea. Guess that makes sixty-four?”

“Sixty-five,” Harry and Hermione said in unison.

“I hope whatever you got him was equitable irritable,” Hermione stated before going back to her cold coffee. Harry thought of his gift, and for a moment he wondered why he had even bothered. Draco was going to think he was a sentimental sap.

Harry shrugged. “No, afraid not.”

“What the blazes happened in here?” Arthur Weasley stuck his head through the archway to the living room looking around the general havoc left behind from Malfoy’s “gift.” “I thought I heard an owl.”

An owl,” Hermione said before falling into a fit of giggles. Harry followed her a moment later while Arthur remained confused by the door. “Oh, I’m sorry Arthur we’ll clean this up. An owl.”

“You’d better. Wouldn’t do to have Molly mad at you on Christmas Day. Andromeda’s bringing little Teddy around lunch time, Harry.” Mr. Weasley said and turned his smile to Harry. Harry beamed up from his spot on the floor. He hadn’t seen the little guy in what felt like ages.

Happily, he set about repairing and cleaning until the room was set right. They spent the rest of the morning with a plan to play Quidditch in the yard with Harry, Bill, and Ron on one team and Ginny, Charlie, and George on the other. Hermione, the supposed referee, failed to catch George and Ginny cheating as she poured over her internship study materials from the Department of Mysteries.

As the game came to a close, Harry took one last pass at making the goal. He reared back thinking he could just make the shot past Charlie when a loud crack and sudden shift of balance on the broom had him dropping the ball and leaning backwards to compensate. There was a tense few moments of rocking about before he was able to steady himself in the air and focus on what weighed down the front of his broom.

Tiny greyish hands and think stick like legs wrapped around his broomstick, and when Harry followed them up, he saw two big brown eyes blinking with tears from just under the broom’s handle. “Oh, hello there,” Harry said lamely. His words seemed trigger the house-elf hanging who hung from his broom. She let out a truly impressive scream for someone so tiny, and Harry had to struggle not to react. “Oh! Shh. Shh. No, I’m sorry. We’ll get you down. What the devil are you doing on my broom anyways? No, don’t talk just… argh.” He spurred his broom slowly down to not scare the little thing more.

“Blimey, Harry. Never a dull day with you around,” George said from his right and stuck out a hand to help keep the broom balanced. Harry nodded his thanks and watched as Hermione finally looked up from her books and gasped. She came jogging over while the rest of the family flew into a semi-circle and dismounted.

“Waaaa! Tilly is so sorry. Tilly did not realize Master Harry would be in the air!” The little elf cried and shuddered, and it took three of them to pry her off the broom and set her upright.

Hermione glared at Harry. “Did you get a new house-elf?”

Ron shrugged at his wife. “Well, Kreacher was hardly a good one.” He shrank under her scowl.

“What? No!” Harry rubbed the back of his head and looked on at the elf in thought. She wore a beautiful embroidered pillowcase that was some soft shade of purple and looked entirely too posh for any elf he’d ever seen before. “I’ve never seen her before in my life.”

Tilly wailed and Hermione crouched down to place a hand on her. “You’re alright now. See? You’re not in the air anymore.”

The elf sniffed and shook her head. “Tilly is not very brave. But Tilly must be finding Master Harry.”

“Do you know Harry?” Hermione gave him another hard look and he just shrugged.

“Yes. Tilly’s been seeing the young Master’s face often.”

“I honestly have no idea who she is,” Harry said and threw up his hands when his words caused another fit of wailing and tears. He scrubbed his face with his hands and nearly knocked his glasses off in frustration. “Okay, I’m sorry, Tilly was it? Can you tell me why you’re here?”

“Oh…” Tilly looked around nervously at her audience and pulled at her pillowcase. Hermione bit her lip and looked up at Harry motioning at the others with her eyebrows. He sighed and took the elf by the hand led her away.

“Can you tell me now?” He asked once Hermione had ushered the curious group inside.

“Tilly needs… No, Master Draco needs Master Harry at the manor,” Tilly said and she reached into a hand sewn pocket to produce the Prophet article which apparently was set on haunting Harry’s holiday. “It’s very important. Tilly needs Master’s erm… betrothed to come right away.”

Harry could hear snickering behind him followed by someone gagging. He turned and gave Hermione and Ron a rude gesture. “I’m sorry Tilly, but you’ve been misinformed. Draco and I are not engaged.” He watched as her ears slowly drooped towards the ground. “But, erm, is there anything I can help you with anyway?”

“Master Draco is in great danger, Master Harry!” Tilly squeaked. Hermione took in a quick breath and Harry went stiff. “But Tilly cannot get him, it is forbidden.”

“Where is he?”

“He is being in the library, since last night.”

“Tilly,” Hermione said knelt down to be eye level with the elf. “Why can’t Narcissa get Mal—Draco?”

“Mistress Narcissa has forbidden the elves to call on her until she says so. We can’t be violating her orders…” Tilly shuddered. “Please, Master Harry must come. The house knows the young Master is dying!”

Her last words had Harry on alert. The chill in the air became more pronounced and the world seem to dim around the edges.

Hermione whispered from next to him. “Go. We’ll be right behind.” He turned to her to tell her she didn’t need to come but she cut him off with a quick hug and walked to stand next to Ron. Harry nodded to the both of him before taking Tilly’s hand.

“Let’s go.”

********

The young knight bravely rode on
Against two lands, one fire and one snow.
He would meet death in the field in the form of two crows.
But the king would live,
And the lady would cry, she would cry.

Honor’s word he wore on his shield,
And the star of five on his breast
The lady’s token wrapped around his neck.
Camelot’s king would live,
And the lady would cry, she would cry.

“If you keep singing, I may never open my eyes just to hear you go on.” Draco opened his eyes slowly to grey skies and locks of chestnut hair brushing his cheeks. He was mildly surprised at his own words but not nearly as surprised at waking with his head in the lap of the pale woman. Of Guinevere.

“Arthur said that once,” she smiled down at him and he felt his heart ache for her. “I’m glad you’re awake. I was afraid you wouldn’t.”

He tried to sit up but his body protested and he barely made it to his elbows before the lady helped him the rest of the way up. “Waking up inside a dream? That’s a strange concept. Why were you afraid?”

Her eyes darted to the shore and he followed them to where a small boat without oars rested near the water. Behind the boat a great mist had fallen upon the lake only broken by a dark spot off in the horizon. The boat called to him as it rocked back and forth on the shore.

“It is meant for you,” Guinevere said and her voice sounded like ice. “I’ve never failed to guide someone to beyond the veil before.”

“Beyond the veil?” Draco ran a hand through his hair and made himself shift backwards to put just another inch between him and the water. “Am I dead?” The first time he had asked her that question he had felt a sense of calm indifference. This time a jolt of fear ran through his body.

“Not dead, yet,” she replied and leveled her gaze at the boat. Draco idly plucked a stone from the beach and traded it from hand to hand. This place felt real. The water, the air, the rocks all imperfect and cold. He wondered if death was just another form of life in a different place. When she spoke again she didn’t look at him. “Can you tell me how you know my name?”

He frowned. “There was a book, in my family library. When I touched it, I saw memories. Not mine, but…”

“Family memories. Memories in your blood, Draco. Like the battlefield.” She smiled at him but not from a place of happiness. He wondered how much death she had witnessed in her life and in this purgatory.

“You were one of the first of those memories. Then they came so quickly I couldn’t sort them out.”

Guinn took a breath and turned to place her hand on his. “Listen very carefully. You must not use that book. You mustn’t let anyone use that book. It’s dangerous magic and it corrupts.”

“I can bloody well tell it’s dangerous. Where did it come from?” His wrestled his eyes to stay on her. The death boat called to him, singing almost.

“Maura Malfoy.” Her delicate features shifted from soft to hard lines and the energy around her popped enough to make Draco’s skin break out in goosebumps. “Wife of Armand Malfoy. An heirloom from her father. Mordred.”

Draco’s first instinct was to laugh. “Mordred? As in the knight and sorcerer? And I suppose you’re…” He remembered his words when he woke briefly from before. “My queen. Oh, gods above. You are the Guinevere. Bloody hell.” If he hadn’t been sitting, he was sure his legs would have given out on him. “Fuck.”

“You say queer words sometimes, but I think I gather your meaning.” She straightened her dress and stood. “Shall we? Maybe get some distance between you and the um…boat?”

He nodded and stood on shaky legs. The memories weren’t clear and he didn’t retain most of them, but some lingered. Queen Guinevere… “I don’t suppose the woman in the water is the actual Lady of the Lake?” His voice took a higher tenor at the end that made him wince.

“Oh, yes, most likely. Though I haven’t seen her here.”

They walked along the pebbles until a dragging sound came from behind and Draco turned to see the boat had started following them along the shore pulling sand and rock behind it. He shuddered and faced away from his vessel. “What happens when I die?”

“When you die, you’ll have a decision. Either you can go on, or you can stay. I would strongly advise you choose the boat.”

He didn’t say anything for a long moment. “What about the book? You know of it then?”

Her pale shoulders bunched together and then drooped and she gave a sigh that almost sounded like a cry. “Many Malfoys have come to me after dealing with that book. They would talk of it as if in a daze, as if it mattered more than death. Not all. Some feared the book as they should. Your grandfather for instance. The dark magic in it only makes the curse around your family stronger.”

“And what is that curse?” Draco asked hopefully. This was the most information he had ever gotten from her and he wanted to press for more. The sky rumbled from above and Draco wondered if it ever rained here.

“I can’t speak on the curse.” She gave him a side glance and a small smile. “Against the rules as you’ve so eloquently put it.”

“Can you tell me more about book? Or is that off limits as well?”

The stood still when the boat sounded behind them, both realizing the futility of their efforts. “The grimoire of Sir Mordred. He learned the dark arts from his mother, Morgana, and used them to try and take over Camelot, leading to the death of his father and king. From what I understand, he had a number of bastard children, but only entrusted his grimoire to the most powerful one, his daughter, Maura.”

“King Arthur. Merlin, this is too much,” Draco whispered.

“Yes, Merlin was there too.” Guinn tucked a long lock behind her ear. “It was his greatest sorrow to see Arthur die. He loved him. We all did.”

Draco couldn’t help the small laugh. “So the Malfoys are descendants of an evil sorceress? Don’t tell that to the Prophet.”

“Draco,” Gwinn reached to him and grabbed his arm. “If the book tried to send you here, or…”

“Kill me?” he offered. She nodded.

“It’s never done that before. The book only responds those who share the blood of Modred. If someone else has that connection and enough power to use it, its loyalty might be torn between you and them.”

“Someone like my father, perhaps?” He asked, though he didn’t think that was likely. Lucius, as far as he knew, continued to serve his time in Azkaban. His father must have had knowledge of the grimoire, and like most things, withheld that information from Draco. In this one instance Draco could forgive him. A book of powerful black magic is better kept out of the hands of a teenager.

“Perhaps. Whoever it is, they’re very powerful. The book will be drawn to the person in the best position to use it to the fullest. It will offer its power to the one who is more willing to use it. You must do what you can to keep it out of their hands. Destroy it, if you can.”

A battle horn sounded across the lake. One long note that made ripples on the water and caused both people on the shore to shiver. The call of death beckoned him to join his ancestors beyond the mist.

“What makes you think I’ll wake from this?” He asked.

Guinevere peered across the water. “You’re my last hope.”

********

Apparating directly into the Malfoy Manor had never been something Harry had ever expected to experience firsthand. Not only did the wards around the manor prevent such entry unless one was accompanied by a house-elf, but ever since he had side-alonged with Dobby and watched as the elf died with Bellatrix’s knife in his chest, he had never thought he would return. Now he stood in a grand hallway with lush carpeting, gilded candelabras, and portraits of sleeping Malfoy ancestors searching for his former enemy and trying not to panic.

The elf on his hand tugged him to two great doors just ahead of them.

“He’s in there?” Harry asked. He swallowed at the lump in his throat.

“This, sir, is the library. Master Draco is in the forbidden place between the shelves,” Tilly said while hiding behind Harry’s leg. He could feel her tiny hand tremble.

“Right,” he said and pulled out his wand. “Lead the way.”

The elf waved her hand and the doors both opened to reveal a room filled with so many books it nearly rivaled the Hogwarts library. Many sections had volumes clearly missing, probably from Ministry raids, but still the collection was impressive. If Hermione kept her word and managed to make it this far in the mansion, he doubted he would be able to get her back out.

“This way Master Harry. We must hurry. Master Draco’s line is growing weak.” Tilly breathed heavily and pulled him along. The back of his neck broke out with sweat and he shivered. Sometime between being told Draco was in trouble and coming here he had gone on the defensive. He was ready to fight if necessary and kept an eye out for movement. The elf brought him short in front of a section of what looked like romance novels. “Just through there.”

Harry gave her a puzzled look. “What am I supposed to do? Pull one?” He reached for a book that had the word “dragon” in the title and pulled it forward as if the shelf would move.

“Sir must pass through,” Tilly shook her head. “Tilly is not being brave, but Tilly will show Master Harry if that’s okay?”

He nodded his head and watched her disappear through the shelves. He held his breath and followed thinking Tilly was braver than she gave herself credit for. His ears popped on the other side and he found himself facing another long row of shelves with no Malfoy insight.

“Tilly can’t be going through the next shelf.” The little elf pulled out a wrinkled slip of paper. “Tinker gave Tilly the instructions. Master Harry must go alone.”

“Right.” He took the instructions and read over the shaky script. He took breath and walked up the aisle. Draco was still alive. He turned around and walked back. He’d be alright. It’d be okay. On second pass he rubbed his eyes and tried to focus. He was going to kill Draco for whatever he had managed to get himself into. On the third pass he stormed to the section of Malfoy history as per the instructions, took another deep breath, and walked through.

Light flickered on quickly dimming candles around the secret room and Harry cast Lumos to give himself more to look around with. From every corner of the room he could feel darkness pulling at him. A headache started to form behind his scar and he rubbed it absently.

“Are you seeing Master Draco?” Tilly’s voice came muffled from the wall.

“Not yet!” He called back. He stepped forward taking great care not to touch anything. He felt as if everything in the room was alive and aware of his presence. Just like the previous room, this too was filled with books, but between books and displayed out on tables were a number of objects which ranged from looking ordinary to ornate. He slowly made his way further into the room. “Draco?”

The Lumos of his wand cast a blue circle on the ground and he swept it back and forth until finally the light fell on a pale hand. Harry ran over and fell to his knees next to Malfoy. “He’s here! And he’s still breathing, thank Godric.”

Harry placed a hand on Draco’s face and grimaced at the cool touch of his skin. Waving his wand around, he tried to pinpoint what had caused Draco to collapse. From a high shelf a tea cup rattled drawing his attention away for a moment. He looked up in time to see it scoot off the shelf and fall to his right. A dark, inky liquid started to well from where the cup broke and Harry took Draco in his arms and lifted him up and away from the spill. His instincts told him not to let it touch them. This only left him the option to retreat to the far side of the room. The liquid bubbled and crept towards them. He tried throwing up a shield with Protego.

The liquid hit the edge of the charm and poked and pushed until it came down. He scooted backward and bumped into a table where he pulled himself and Draco up. “Evanesco!” It, and Harry was sure it was alive, kept coming. It reached the table legs and then started a gravity defying ascent.

“What would Hermione do? Hell, Draco. What you do? Wake up!” Harry had to hoist Draco higher and groaned. Fix the sodding cup. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his wand hand shook his head. “Reparo!

Shards of porcelain swirled up and around knitting back together almost in slow motion. The liquid moved faster as if sensing it only had moments left to reach its target. As the last bit of the saucer flew up and connected, the substance screamed. He tried to cover his ears but the wail filled his head and had him seeing double until the liquid retreated and the tea cup sat spinning on the floor.

“Oh gods,” Harry said and heaved. “Let’s get you out of this murder room, shall we?” Draco remained limp in his arms, but his breath seemed to be quickening. “Come on. Tilly!” They fell through the barrier together and Harry pulled Draco tight as the house-elf apparated them to Draco’s bedroom.

“Master Draco!” Tilly wailed. Harry pulled out of Draco’s arms and got up from the bed which he absently noticed was as softer than anything he had lain on before. Draco’s breathing had become more ragged. “What has Master got in his hand?” Tilly reached to a black book Harry hadn’t noticed before.

“Don’t touch it!” He called out and the elf looked out at her hand and back to the book confused, as if she hadn’t meant to try for it in the first place. The book was open and the pages looked blank, but Harry knew better to trust foreign diaries and strange books. “We need a healer. Do the Malfoy’s have a private healer?”

Tilly shook her head. “Tilly isn’t knowing of these things. Tilly will go talk to the other elves.”

“Make sure you do, and be quick.” She left him alone in the room and Harry leaned back over Draco petting the hair out of his face. “You jerk. You were supposed to come back to me. Not make me come for you.” He kissed Draco’s forehead and tried not to think of how cold it felt. “I’ve half a mind to drag you to St. Mungo’s but I don’t trust that book. What happens if they find out you’ve been working with dark magic? Dammit, I shouldn’t have encouraged you to look into this.” Harry held Draco’s free hand and rubbed his thumb across his knuckles.

“And what exactly is the nature of your research, Mr. Potter?”

Harry jerked up and lifted his wand at Narcissa Malfoy. She lifted her hands to show she stood unarmed and took a step into the room but no further. Her eyes darted to her son and back up to Harry. “Please, put down your wand.”

Harry lowered it but kept it out and ready. Narcissa might be on house arrest, but he didn’t dare imagine the woman couldn’t be resourceful. He didn’t know how to answer her question so he remained silent.

“Whatever it is,” she raised her chin and spoke slowly. “I doubt my son would do it for nothing.”

“You’d be surprised,” Harry replied. He felt like a mouse trapped in a snake’s habitat. He remembered her bravery in lying to Voldemort for knowledge that Draco was safe. She had saved everyone in her effort to protect her son. It’d be foolish for her throw that away by harming him. Still, Draco didn’t trust his parents for a reason.

“I suppose I might be,” she sighed. Her eyes soften on Draco’s still form and he wondered how hard it was for her to remain calm. “I’ll be calling in a healer. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone about this, Mr. Potter.” Narcissa turned and left them in the room with the door open.

Harry breathed out a long slow breath he had been holding and slumped back down on the bed. “What am I getting myself into?”

********

“We’re friends of Master Harry, who is expecting us! Now let us in you overgrown piece of iron garbage!”

“Hermione, I don’t think yelling at the gate is going to get us in faster,” Ron said and rubbed his wife’s back. He knew that frustration was only half of the problem. The long white path to the manor loomed ahead entirely too long and too clean to be real. White peacocks dotted the grounds and large hedges rose up from the sides. Ron felt his stomach twist in knots.

“Buggering balls!” Hermione kicked at the gate and it creaked open. She jumped backwards with her wand drawn and looked up at her husband. He shrugged and tried his best imitation of nonchalance he could muster before stepping through.

That’s when Tilly made her sudden appearance. Ron didn’t scream at the instant apparation of the house-elf, but it was a near thing. “Tilly is sorry Master Harry’s guest had to be waiting. Tilly will show you to Master Harry, if you be promising not to go anywhere without Tilly?” She curtsied and appeared to be waiting for a reply.

“No,” Ron croaked. He cleared his throat and tried again. “No, we won’t wander off.”

“Very well, follow Tilly.” The elf turned about and took off towards the house in a near run leaving Ron and Hermione stepping quickly to follow her.

“How is er… Draco?” Hermione asked once they were all inside.

“Tilly has not been seeing the young Master since Master Harry pulled him from the room,” she replied and shuddered. Her pace was still break neck. “The house says he’s alive, though.”

Hermione seemed to take the elf at her word even though Ron thought it was a bit strange. Trusting in his wife’s knowledge he kept quiet and followed the elf. When they went down a familiar hall, he reached over and grabbed Hermione’s hand. She gave him a grateful squeeze and managed a slight uptick of her lips for a moment.

After the war she had had bad nightmares and even though she wouldn’t talk about it, Ron figured the mansion was a frequent setting of them. Now every evening she took sleeping draughts and some days she had to resort to calming potions to get over her nerves. He worried her independent streak would make her ashamed on her dependence on the potions. But Hermione avoided appearing weak by admitting her need, and arguing that any sane person who wanted to remain that way would take them. He loved her for her resilience and admired her for her courage.

Tilly stopped at an open door and gestured for them to go in. Her little foot tapped out a strange rhythm on the marble in her nervousness. Hermione went through the door first.

“Harry!”

“Hermione!”

Harry wrapped his arms tight around Hermione and squeezed her until she patted him on the back and let her go. Ron looked at the bed and saw Malfoy lying still and clutching at a black bound volume. The book seemed to pulse in his hand.

“Bloody hell,” Ron whistled. “He looks paler than normal and that’s saying something.” Harry came over to him and gave him a quick pat on the back.

“You didn’t have to come,” Harry said. Ron only nodded in agreement.

“Yes, we did,” Hermione said. She looked down at Malfoy with her bottom lip sucked in between her teeth and Ron could almost hear the guilt rattling around in her head. Her hand idly rubbed at her sleeve where Bellatrix permanently scarred her. They all had their scars, but only Harry and Hermione had ones that defined them, at least to other people. Her breath came in nervous bursts.

“Mione, don’t,” Ron started but she held up a hand.

“It’s—Harry, we owe you an apology.” Hermione looked up with her wide brown eyes. “We owe Malfoy an apology.”

“Whatever it is, I don’t think this the time, Hermione,” Harry replied. He ran a hand through her hair the way she hated. “I need to figure out why he’s like this.”

“Did you do anything with the book?” Hermione asked. She pulled her wand out and begun to cast a diagnostic charm. Her internship at the Ministry gave her a new set of skills working with magical artifacts, and Ron loved watching her practice at home. Not like he knew what she was doing, he just loved watching her solve a puzzle.

“No, I didn’t want to touch it and set something off.”

“Good. That’s good thinking.” Her teeth scraped over her lip and her eyebrows knitted together in concentration. “A blank book? Thought we knew enough to stay away from diaries.” Harry gave a weak laugh.

“Blank?” Ron walked over taking care to skirt around Hermione and the book. “What do you mean blank? This thing looks filled to the brim.” He looked from Hermione and Harry who stared at him as if he’d been hit in the head. “No really. I’m pretty sure those are instructions for a fairly nasty curse if the pictures are anything to go by.”

“Ronald,” Hermione said and he hated when she used his name like that. It meant she was either upset or something serious was about to happen. “What else can you see?”

“Well, not much. His hand is covering the other page and it looks like its half French and half German?”

“What about how the book looks?” Hermione laid down another revealing spell and her eyes flashed wide for a moment.

“I dunno, black? It’s kind of—humming.” He looked up quickly from the book and took a step away. “I just got a strong urge to pick it up.”

“Ron, get on the other side of the room by the door,” Hermione ordered. “If it gets stronger step outside, alright?” He nodded to her weakly his face pale and fingers twitching. “Whatever this is, it’s very dark. It gives off enough negative energy to be locked up under T.O.A.D.”

“Toad?” Harry repeated.

“Terrible Objects of Absolute Darkness. That’s where we keep the really bad things until we get them sorted out.” Hermione muttered and then blushed. “Well, it’s not completely classified.”

“Don’t ask her things when she’s distracted,” Ron sniffed. “I thought she was going to Obliviate me once after she accidently told me about her homework.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and went back to her tests. Harry watched her and looked at the blank pages. “Why do you think only Ron can see what’s on them?” He asked.

She shrugged. “Maybe only purebloods can see what’s written on it.”

Harry didn’t think that was right but it was better than anything he could come up with. The light from her wand changed from blue to violet and she followed a string of purple that ran from the spine of the book down into Malfoy’s arm and up to his chest where she paused. “Harry! He’s not breathing!”

“No, no, no!” Harry knocked Hermione out of the way to get to Draco’s side. He slammed a hand down on Draco’s chest. “No! You don’t get to die you arrogant prat.” Harry ran a hand up to Malfoy’s neck looking for a pulse and slammed his hand back down on his chest with a sob. “Come on! No! Breath you posh bastard!”

A stream of water gushed out of Malfoy’s mouth as Harry’s hand landed on his chest for a third time, startling everyone in the room. He coughed and heaved with water trickling down the sides of his mouth and into the covers. “Get him on his side!” Hermione shouted and her and Harry rolled him over. The book fell to the floor with a loud thud, and Ron gulped and looked away from it. Draco coughed up more water and what looked like bits of sand onto the bed as Hermione rubbed his back.

“Draco! Draco.” Harry ran around to the other side of the bed and crawled towards the boy. “Can you hear me?”

“That’s…” the next few words came out mumbled.

“What?”

“That’s about, oh bloody hell, drowning sucks.” Draco coughed more and took in a deep jagged breath. “That’s about all I could hear. Why did you call me a prat? I was drowning you know.”

Harry laughed and Ron felt as if the entire world was slipping into madness. He would have to attend Hermione’s next therapy session with her.

“Drowning? You’re in bed.”

“Is’sa lake… ugh. Do you always argue?” Draco rolled to his back. Hermione cast a quick drying charm over the bed and made her way to Ron at the door. She wrapped her arms around him and he felt her shudder with a silent sob. “There’s a lake. We need to go there.”

“You need to lay right here until the healer sees you,” Harry admonished. He kissed Malfoy full on the lips before remembering he had an audience. Ron coughed and turned to the hallway shuffling Hermione with him. He hoped Harry would take it as the blessing he meant it as. They’d have to discuss a few things before everything was alright, but he had faith. He shivered. Even if the truth was bloody weird.

********

The healer had arrived shortly after Draco’s sudden return to the waking realm. At least he assumed this was reality. It was hard to tell with the Golden Trio standing around in his room with looks of concern. Granger discretely summoned a black cloth from her bag and wrapped up the grimoire before casting a heavy disillusionment charm on it to keep it hidden from the healer. Draco gave her a wordless thank you and she nodded back as the medi-wizard looked him over.

“Looks like you’ve taken on some water in your lungs. I’ll give you a potion for that, but I suggest your rest for at least twelve hours before doing exerting yourself. I’ll send Narcissa my bill.” The healer left a small vial on the nightstand and gave Draco a bow. The bill would no doubt be a hefty amount of Galleons for coming out on Christmas Day.

“Thank you, sir,” Harry said and the man turned to him with a raised eyebrow.

“Harry Potter, eh?” The healer looked between them not quite fondly. “My patient’s confidentiality comes first,” he said answering Draco’s unspoken question. Discretion was no doubt going to be bought alongside his medical services.

Once he left, Harry’s friends came back into the room and Granger placed the carefully wrapped book on Draco’s dresser. He watched her pull a lip through her teeth and shake her unruly hair in frustration.

Draco shifted to a sitting position and willed his posture erect. His entire body felt just as weighed down as when he had landed ashore of the lake. “Not that I’m ungrateful to be breathing properly and awake. But what are you three doing here?” His voice came out rough and he winced at the noise.

Granger seemed to jump at his words and her hand hurried to cover her arm. She might have been wearing long sleeves, but Draco was well acquainted with what had been carved there by Bellatrix. The event still haunted his dreams.

“Your house-elf, Tilly, came to Harry to help,” said Granger. Harry nodded in agreement.

“Tilly?” Draco considered the elf and shook his head. “Why did she go for you?”

“She—uh—thought we were engaged,” Harry answered and blushed. “Your house-elves apparently read The Daily Prophet.” This got a snicker out of Weasley and Draco had to fight off an instinctual glare.

“I don’t think I’ll ever understand elves,” Draco said to himself. He had to shift his weight from arm to arm to keep himself up, and despite being unconscious for a significant amount of time he felt tired. The current company just made him all the more weary. Despite his inherent dislike of Weasley and Granger, he couldn’t help marvel that they were at the manor at all. It was this kind of blind loyalty and friendship between them that he had grown up envying. “And she brought everyone?”

“Not going to let my best mate come here alone, now am I?” Weasley huffed. From what Draco could tell, Weasley hadn’t contributed in any meaningful way since he awoken until now.

“I was just trying to understand what happened. You can’t blame me for being a little surprised you’d come here willingly.” Draco winced as the words left his mouth. Reminding them how they were abducted and brought here against their will was probably not the best route to soothing things over.

“No, I don’t expect any of us did. Not really a pleasant place to revisit. At least there’s no dark lords among the pretentious peacocks.”

“You’re right,” Draco grit out. “This isn’t a pleasant place and none of us want to be here.”

“Ron, give him a break?” Harry asked and Draco rolled his eyes. Weasleys and Malfoys were as natural of enemies as Gryffindors and Slytherins, though those lines seemed to be blurring more and more now.

Weasley looked as if he were about to say more when Granger spoke up. “Anyways. That explains our arrival. I’m more interested in why you were knocked unconscious.” She paced in front of the book with her wand out, and Draco was once again struck by the oddness of having her in his room.

“I couldn’t figure out why the book would attack you,” Granger continued. She waved her wand to lower the disillusionment and cast another diagnostic charm. The book looked to be covered in a dark cloud. “It’s full of dark magic, but appears to be no more than a regular grimoire. There’s no trap, no triggering spell to set off a curse, or anything of that nature. It appears empty. Well, an empty to me.”

“Empty?” Draco frowned. He pulled himself up ignoring Harry’s protests and walked to the book. Opening the cloth and book with his wand, he looked down on a random page. “This one’s full. It’s a spell to disguise oneself as Death.”

“Well, that’s… morbid.” Hermione beckoned Ron to the book but kept a hand on his just in case. “What do you see, Ron?”

Ron scrunched up his nose and leaned away. “Still doesn’t quite look like English. But yeah, I can see how that would be Death.”

“Interesting.” Granger flicked her wand in an attempt to turn the page but the book remained impassive. “I wonder why only you two can see it.”

“I have a good idea,” Malfoy replied. He looked at Ron with a slight smirk and Harry tensed. “This is a family heirloom, passed down since Maura and Armand Malfoy. Only responds to Malfoy blood, no matter how diluted apparently.”

“Shove off, I don’t have a drop of Malfoy in me,” Weasley said turning red. “That came out wrong.”

“Well actually…” Granger trailed off looking sheepish.

“Leave it to Granger to know more about your family than you do, Weasley.” Draco sat back down on the bed barely holding himself up with his arms. Harry wanted to sit next to him and draw him down onto the bed.

Hermione huffed and looked as if she might be fighting a grin. “Your great-great-great grandmother, Ron. She was erm… disinherited from the Malfoy family at a young age. I thought I would look into the family tree before, you know.”

“Are you serious?” Weasley’s mouth dropped open. “You mean I’m related to him.”

“Is there a pure-blood family that isn’t related to another?” Draco shot back. “Don’t look so shocked. It’s a surprise we don’t all have six toes or some nonsense.”

“At least she didn’t pass on the hair,” Weasley added with a shudder and Draco matched his revulsion from the bed. Harry looked to be trying to picture blond Weasleys with a frown on his face.

“What I would like to know is how you nearly drowned in bed,” said Granger. She ran her hand on Ron’s back not leaving his side.

Draco cleared his throat and ran a hand through his hair. Despite part of him know that his dreams had something to do with the prophecy, he had held out telling Harry about the lake and Guinevere because it felt insane. He didn’t feel like a hero and he couldn’t imagine anyone needing him to fulfill the role, even with the evidence right in front of him.

“I was at a lake. Or, at least part of me was,” Draco said and folded his arms across his chest. Harry sat next to him and tucked an arm around him. He’d tell Harry more about the dreams in private. “I could hear your voices across the water. Somehow I knew that if I could reach you, I’d wake up.”

“Really?” Hermione’s eyes lit up like a child in Honeydukes. “Where was this lake?”

“How the hell…” He ran a hand over his face and took a deep breath. Her questions were grating on his nerves. “I don’t know. But it looked a lot like the Great Lake from Hogwarts. Just missing the castle and the bridge to Hogsmeade.”

“And you started to drown? You said when you woke up that you needed to go to the lake. Do you know what you were talking about?” She pressed out the questions and Draco was half-surprised she didn't already have a quill and parchment out to take notes.

“Mione,” her husband whined. She turned on him with a huff. “I think we should give them some space.” She turned back to Draco and Harry sitting on the bed next to each other and looked as if she had twenty more questions ready to spill out. “We should get back home right? We kind of left Mum without saying anything.” Her shoulders dropped and she nodded.

“I’ll call Tilly to show you off grounds,” Draco said and stood up.

“Erm, not that it won’t be awkward,” Weasley started and everyone paused to look at him. “I can’t imagine you would like staying here after all that. You’re welcome to come to ours. It’s a bit crowded but Weasleys can always fit one more in.” He shut his mouth into a thin line, blushed, and refused to look up at anyone. Granger held her breath.

“No, I’m sorry,” Draco said quickly. The ginger looked at him for a moment and then away nodding his head as if that was what he expected. “Don’t misunderstand. I appreciate the offer. It’s just…”

“Yeah, no. I get it.”

“No, you don’t.” Draco couldn’t keep the cold tone from his voice. “I can’t leave this house until I have to go back to Hogwarts. It’s part of my… parole.”

The room became stuffy and no one said anything for a few moments. Harry reached out and took Draco’s hand which still felt entirely too cold. Hermione looked at them both with wide understanding eyes and Ron’s blush deepened. If Draco could burst into flames at will, this might have been the moment he would have activated that power.

“Oh, um, right. Sorry,” Weasley muttered.

“Tilly!” Draco called ready to end the awkwardness of the moment. The elf appeared in an instant and her eyes watered as she looked at Draco.

“Oh! Master Draco has recovered! Does Master Draco need anything?” She asked earnestly. She nearly vibrated with excitement.

“Escort Mister and Misses Granger-Weasley to the front gate with Mister Potter. And then have tea brought up. Please.” He tacked on the “please” a half-second late and Hermione smirked.

Harry tugged on Draco’s hand. “I’m not going anywhere just yet.” Draco swallowed and looked at him for a moment and then nodded. Weasley made a gagging sound and Granger cuffed him over the head making Draco feel a little warmer towards her.

“Owl us, Harry. We’ll come tomorrow to help if you need us,” Hermione said and came over to give Harry a quick hug before retreating out of the room with Ron and Tilly.

********

Harry waited a moment until his friends were sufficiently far enough down the hall before waving his wand to shut and lock the door. Draco raised an exhausted eyebrow at him and gave a weak laugh when Harry pushed him down to the bed and attacked his mouth and neck in a series of rough open mouth kisses. “There’s easier ways of getting to see me on Christmas than nearly dying.”

“Mmm, thought you would like the damsel in distress act,” Draco replied and ran one hand through Harry’s wild hair and grasped his shirt with the other. His voice came out rougher than it should and not from pleasure. Harry stopped and pulled away to look at him. “Don’t give me that look, I’m not an actual damsel. You can continue.”

Harry huffed and nuzzled down Draco’s neck giving him a quick nip before pulling off completely. Though he would never admit later, Draco whined. “Your Christmas ‘gift’ was truly something. Prat. Took forever to find all those cards.”

Draco sat up and chuckled. “Shall I open yours now?” He summoned the brown bag over just as Harry started to protest and opened it. The smell of fresh ground spilled out into the room and he took a deep breath. Harry sat on the bed blushing and looking away. “Oh, you complete girl,” Draco teased as he pulled out the bag of coffee and read the French labelling. “This is from the café. I didn’t even realize they sold it by the bag.”

“They don’t,” Harry mumbled. He had spent the morning of Draco’s departure arguing with the shop owner who only spoke the barest essentials of English for a bag of the stuff, and it was only when he pulled back his messy hair and showed off his lightning bolt scar that the old woman had agreed. Even so he was sure she overcharged him. Not that he would ever share this story with Draco.

“What’s this?” Draco had his hand back down in the bag and Harry tensed. This portion of the gift had been last minute as well and he wasn’t sure how Draco would react. He pulled out a thin envelope and opened it to reveal a photograph. “Pictures as Christmas gifts? You’ve been spending too much time with the Weasleys.” Draco’s eyes narrowed down at the scene. “You’ve got a child?” He asked giving Harry a look between amusement and concern.

Harry laughed. “No, well, kind of? He’s my godson and your, oh I don’t know, cousin? He’s a Black at any rate.” Harry looked over watching as Teddy’s hair turned from blue to a wild mess of black to match Harry’s in the photo. “This one is from this summer. He’s grown a bit since then.”

Draco traced over Teddy’s face. “Narcissa never talked about Aunt Andromeda or Nymphadora.”

Harry’s heart gave a painful thud and he pulled the picture from Draco and set the gifts carefully back on the dresser. When he came back to the bed he nudged Draco until his head rested on the pillow. Harry climbed on top of him again and resumed kissing that pale neck. “I thought I was going to lose you before I could even have you.” He spoke softly against Draco’s skin and enjoyed the way he shivered under his breath. His hands fumbled at the buttons of Draco’s robes and shirt until he exposed enough skin to reveal Draco’s scarred chest. The scars only made him hesitate for a moment. Seeing the three long slashes across the otherwise unblemished skin filled him with guilt and had him kissing his apologies down each one until he was low on Draco’s body.

Draco squirmed underneath him and tried to sit up but Harry placed a hand on his shoulder to keep him down. His skin was cool on Harry’s lips even though he had blush blooming across his chest. “Harry?”

Harry glanced up from his place above Draco’s belt and took in his flushed face and noted with some satisfaction that Draco was struggling to keep himself composed.

“Keep your hands above your head if you want me to keep going.” He didn’t know where the words came from but their effect on Draco gave him incentive to keep going. Draco brought his hands to rest on the pillow behind him. The image of Draco pliant and waiting gave Harry the same heady rush as when he pulled the other aside in dark alcoves to kiss him at Hogwarts.

Harry licked his lips and ran his knuckles over Draco’s hardness under his trousers, enjoying the way Draco struggled to keep himself still. With a patience he didn’t know he had, Harry took his time unbuckling and lowering Draco’s clothes while nipping and kissing. And when Harry finally took him into his mouth, he thought Draco never looked more beautiful.

Neither of them noticed the tea tray appearing on the dresser moments later.

Chapter Text

I

December 14th After Ginny confronted Harry on the Quidditch Pitch.

“That insufferable, stupid… Are we all supposed to be forgiving? Does he have to play hero to everyone?!” Ginny screamed into the empty dorm room and threw a punch into her pillow. “That—that prat!” She fell to her mattress with a groan. Her plan to talk to Harry about his relationship with Malfoy had not gone as she planned. Her eyes stung with unshed tears and her temper had reached a dangerous enough level she was slightly afraid of doing accidental magic.

“Ginny?”

Ginny sat up to see Luna standing in the door way. She collapsed back down on the bed and groaned again. “Hello, Luna. This isn’t a good time.”

“No, I don’t suppose it is,” Luna replied much closer than before. Ginny blinked as the bed sunk down a fraction and Luna’s small body curled up next to her. “Want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“It’s about Harry, isn’t it? His picture in the paper was awfully nice. Too bad the Prophet got it first,” Luna said and sighed. She threw an arm around Ginny’s waist oblivious of proper social boundaries.

Ginny twisted trying to politely worm her way from under Luna’s arm. No luck. “I’m not mad he moved on,” she said.

“Aren’t you?”

“No!” Ginny answered quickly, too quickly. She mentally smacked her forehead. “Maybe a little. But I’m more upset with who he’s moved on with. Malfoy? In what world does that combination make sense?”

“Hmm.” Luna took her free hand and ran it through Ginny’s hair. “I think that Draco will be very good for Harry. They’re a lot alike, don’t you think? And Draco’s a nice friend.”

“Dra—Malfoy kept you prisoner at his house,” Ginny pointed out. The hand in hair felt better than she was willing to admit.

“Did he?” Luna asked and for a moment Ginny thought she was honestly asking. “I thought it was Voldemort’s decision to keep me there.”

“Oh my god!” Ginny sat up and glared down at Luna. “You were at his house, his parents’ house! And he didn’t do anything!” She was momentarily distracted by a braid in her hair swinging into her vision when she shook her head. When had Luna done that?

Luna smiled up at her and placed her arms above her head. “He brought me tea and we talked. It was nice. Like having a new friend.”

“Tea?” Ginny scrunched up her nose and tried to imagine Malfoy bringing prisoners in his own home tea. Impossible. She groaned and collapsed down to the bed. Thinking about this had been easier when she had been pretending Malfoy wasn’t human. She suspected that had been Luna’s plan.

Taking Ginny’s rhetorical question to heart, Luna explained her time in the Malfoy Manor detailing the tea, honey, biscuits, books, and talks she shared with Malfoy while she’d been there. He had been kind. He had been shy and scared. He had confided in her and still does. The whole thing was enough to make Ginny’s head hurt.

“His Wrackspurt infestation has decreased dramatically since then, you know.” Luna finished and smiled.

“Luna?”

“Hmm?”

“…Thank you.”

********

December 23rd

Theodore Nott wrestled the crowds outside the Hogwarts Express trying to find that stupid git who couldn’t just shut up about his family for two minutes and stop reminding Theo of what he didn’t have. Dean’s coming for Boxing Day? Bloody brilliant! Good for Seamus! What did that mean for Theo? Stuck at the school pining over some half-blood who had a short fuse, both figurative and literally probably.

The tall, thin boy stopped and took a breath. No need to go over the argument again. He’d have to suck it up and apologize for being incredibly stupid and insulting Seamus’s family. When he had said what he did about his parents, well, he could only blame it on his prejudices. Prejudices he had been carrying around his entire life perpetuated by every friend and family member he had until now. Now he was just another orphan of the war with his mother dead and his father in Azkaban, and who was going to help him overcome these ideas if he couldn’t find that dumb, bushy eyed, infuriatingly adorable wanker?

An excited group of first year girls blocked his path and it took a good amount glowering before they parted for him. He was still glaring at them when he ran into his target.

“Oomph. Oi, watch it now!” Seamus stumbled and recovered turning on Theo. He blinked a few times before an angry flush covered his stupidly cute freckled nose. “What the hell you want, Nott?”

Theo, not being a man of many words, answered by leaning in one swift movement and placing his lips on Seamus’s. The other boy made a startled noise but didn’t back away, so Nott pulled his hands out of his black coat and placed them on his shoulders. He pressed in more firmly and grinned into it when he felt Seamus’s mouth opening on his. When he pulled away, he saw that Seamus’s eyes were closed, that his blush was still there but his nose was redder than anything else, and that his breath came out in small warm puffs. “I didn’t want you to leave. Sorry.”

Merlin,” Seamus opened his eyes and looked around as if just realizing where he was. “All you had to do was say so.”

Theo frowned. “Sorry,” he apologized again and wondered if he had misread the past few weeks.

“You idiot,” said Seamus. That small statement probably shouldn’t have made Theo smile. “Kiss me again and we’ll call it even?”

So he did. Seamus didn’t make it on the train back to Hogwarts, but that was okay. He’d still make Christmas with his family. But the first night of holidays belonged to Theo.

“Seamus Finnigan and Theodore Nott?” The short innkeeper asked as she adjusted her spectacles. “Are those supposed to be aliases?”

Theo looked at Seamus and shrugged in confusion.

“Why do you say that, ma’am?” Seamus asked as Theo counted out Galleons and Knuts.

“The two boys that came here a couple weeks ago, the tall handsome blond and the scrawny boy with glasses, used those names. Now it’s none of my business what you all get up too. Just leave the rooms the way you—why are you two laughing?”

********

December 25th

“Well, Malfoy sure knows how to ruin Christmas,” Ron sighed as he fell into bed. He could hear Hermione brushing her teeth and thought it peculiar she would stick to muggle ways of dental hygiene since spells were more thorough. Product of being a dentist’s kid he guessed. Though, she probably used both charms and muggle ways. He’d have to spy on her and find out sometime.

“I don’t really think we can blame him for nearly dying,” Hermione responded as she sank into the covers. They had opted to going back to their flat instead of staying the night at the Burrow. Both of them had been exhausted after visiting the manor.

“Can’t I?” Ron jumped when Hermione’s cold feet slid underneath him. “Harry didn’t even get to see Teddy.”

“I’m just surprised you didn’t punch Malfoy once he was awake.”

“That wouldn’t have been sporting, now would it?” He ran a hand down her shoulder. Hermione looked up to him with a knowing stare and he caved. “I may have taken half a calming potion before we left.”

“I knew it! You were way too cordial.” She looked smug for a moment before frowning. “We should really stop this dependency on potions.”

Journeying back to the manor had been difficult for Ron, more difficult for him than for Hermione he thought. She had taken measures to put it all behind her by seeing a mind-healer, taking her prescriptions, and facing down her fears. Him? He left his offered position in the Auror department to run a joke shop with George. He didn’t regret the decision, but he recognized that he hadn’t dealt with anything over the past couple years. When he had been at the manor today, he couldn’t stop thinking about what happened to Hermione when they had been separated.

“Are we really going back there?” Ron asked. He bit his lower lip and rolled over to put his face in her hair.

“If they need us, we’ll have to. For Harry. I don’t like leaving him alone there, and he’s not leaving as long as Malfoy has to stay,” Hermione pointed out. She was right as always.

“I don’t think I’m going to ever understand it,” he said and he wrinkled his nose. “What does Harry see in ferret face? Even if he’s changed a bit, he’s still a posh bastard with a superiority complex a mile wide.”

“Harry’s always liked a challenged.” Hermione grinned up at him and he rolled his eyes. She played with the hair on his arms and he tried not to flinch. Girls could be weird sometimes. “But if you’re looking for a list… He is quite handsome; clever and smart, my marks were barely better than his; he’s got this whole ‘in need of saving’ aura that Harry probably loves; and he’s one of the few people who doesn’t worship the ground Harry walks on.”

“Eugh, you’ve given this too much thought,” Ron complained. He tried to tickle her but she resisted. “Can’t believe you think he’s handsome.”

“Aw, you’re more handsome than him,” Hermione teased. Ron considered kicking her off the bed, but settled for rolling on top of her instead and tickling her harder. “And heavier! Hahahaha. Get off!”

He drew back with his hands in the air when she resorted to kicking. “Are you really okay to go back to the manor?” He brushed her cheek with a kiss in the soft way that always made her blush.

“It’s just a house, Ron. And it’s been nearly two years since then. If we had gone back right afterwards, it would have been impossibly hard. Seeing as Voldemort is actually dead now and how your mum took care of Bellatrix, I think I can deal with it.”

Hermione really was amazing. He supposed he would have to try and be on his best behavior for her. After a moment he kissed her again and whispered, “And you want access to that library.”

Her crooked grin told him all he needed to know.

********

II

“Hermione!”

Harry shot straight up in the strange bed disentangling himself from the body next to him. In the dark his eyes flicked wildly about and his body was covered in a layer of sweat. He felt as if he couldn’t breathe right, like he was constantly chasing the next inhalation before he could empty his lungs. His hands gripped the bed clothes and his fingertips twitched with his rapid pulse until they cramped. As the edges of the nightmare softened and faded from mind, his body slumped over sore and tired. From next to him Draco stirred and the candles of the bedroom flicked to life as he woke.

“Harry?” Draco asked groggily and Harry felt instantly comforted at having him nearby and guilty for having woken him. “What the hell?”

“Sorry, nightmare,” Harry ran a hand through his hair and leaned back on the pillows. The sun just started to peak from under the thick curtains on Draco’s windows and Harry assumed he wouldn’t be going back to sleep anytime soon. The nightmare had been about Hermione and Bellatrix, but instead of hearing her screams from captivity, Harry had been in the room with them. He drew the covers up across his naked torso and leaned into Draco.

“Fiendfyre?” Draco probed and Harry shook his head.

These places Harry found himself, like waking next to Draco, felt so fragile and so ephemeral that he was afraid they’d be lost before he could ever enjoy them fully. Having things like nightmares ruin the moment drove him crazy. “It was Hermione.”

Draco’s breath hitched only for a second and then he resumed breathing normally. Harry envied his control. “I see,” Draco said after a minute. “That day then?” His arms came around Harry and he leaned over enough to place his chin on the top of Harry’s head.

“I dreamt I was in the room, too.” Harry huffed and rolled to look up at Draco. “I saw Bellatrix carving into her arm. Hermione just struggled and screamed, and I—I couldn’t do anything.” Hermione’s screams had made him feel helpless that day, he would have done anything to trade with her.

“I know you like being the hero, but you can’t save everyone, even if you wanted to.” Draco tapped Harry’s head. “A bit narcissistic of you to think that you could.”

“Only a Slytherin would see being heroic as egotistical,” Harry huffed.

“Oh? I think there are a few Ravenclaws that would agree with me. Nice word, egotistical. I was unaware you had expanded your lexicon past first year.” Draco dodged the half-hearted swat from Harry’s hand. “Rude. That was a compliment.”

“You’re impossible.” Harry laughed feeling strangely better despite the memories haunting him.

“Sounds like you’ve been visiting my nightmares,” Draco said to Harry’s surprise. It must have shown on his face because Draco sighed and continued. “You don’t think I regret those days? I thought—,” he paused and took a breath. “I thought we were better than everyone because we were pure-bloods, and because half-bloods and muggles didn’t understand the way things were supposed to be. And then I found myself trying to prove my worth to a madman who planned to kill me, kill my family. When I watched Granger get tortured by Bellatrix, I realized there wasn’t much difference between me and her in their eyes.”

“You were just a kid. Like the rest of us,” Harry said and reached up a hand to brush Draco’s cheek dry.

“And that’s what so fantastic about you, Harry. You just see the best in everyone, don’t you?”

“I didn’t. Not before. If you asked me two years ago, I would have said that you were incapable of change. I’m glad you proved me wrong.”

Draco ran a hand through Harry’s hair. “This was the first night I haven’t had a nightmare in a long time,” he said from above. His movements paused and Harry looked up to him. Without his glasses he could barely make out the other’s face. “Harry, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“About the dreams?” Harry asked. Draco’s hand left his hair and he had to keep himself from chasing after it. “Luna mentioned them before. They’re related to all this, right?”

Draco shifted further away from him and this time Harry did chase after him. He waited. “I wasn’t sure if they were real or not at first,” Draco said. “I thought maybe I was just going insane.” Harry wrapped his arm around the blond and kissed his side urging him to go on. “There’s always a lake, and woman.”

“Don’t know if I like you dreaming about strange women,” Harry murmured giving him another kiss. Draco shoved at his head.

“I won’t lie, she is beautiful,” he teased and smirked when Harry pouted. “She told me I had to prepare, that an old family enemy was getting close. That I had—I had to recognize my place in the prophecy. Merlin, saying all this out loud sounds like I’ve gone around the bend.” He ran a hand over his brow and blew out a long breath.

Harry shrugged. “It’s hard to say you’re delusional when you wake coughing up water in your bed.” He sat up fully next to other boy and reached for his glasses. Once the world was in focus, he took in his fill of Draco. The pointy features which once annoyed him to no end he now found endearing. The perfectly platinum hair now brought about different memories since Harry had experienced running his hands through it. Even those eyes which could be so cold had Harry feeling as if he were for once truly wanted and needed outside his fame and history. “You’re more worthy than you think.” He might have well as told Draco he loved him.

“She told me that too,” Draco remarked. His hands swept across the covers smoothing out the wrinkles. “This hero business is your world. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“Neither did I most of the time,” Harry admitted.

Draco glared down at him. “That’s not comforting nor surprising.”

“Do you think the book is tied up in the prophecy?” Harry asked. He’d like it if they could just leave the book well enough alone. It gave him an uneasy feeling and he found himself rubbing his scar after looking at it for too long. But history taught him there weren’t too many coincidences, and that this book wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“Not exactly.” Draco rubbed his brow and closed his eyes. “The woman, she couldn’t tell me too much about the curse, some sort of restriction placed on her. But she did tell me a good deal about the book, which makes me think it’s not the weapon from the prophecy.” He sighed. “That doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything from it.”

“I figured as much,” Harry said and shifted closer. “You know what this means?”

“What?”

“It means we need Hermione.”

Draco gave an exaggerated groan and Harry shoved him down on the bed. They would call Ron and Hermione later.

********

Sitting on the edge of his kitchen counter, a room he rarely visited, Draco had time to think about Harry’s female friends and wonder if they were all master manipulators, or if that category was just for Luna and Granger. From the other side of the room, Granger had a French press and the bag of coffee Harry had given him for Christmas and was brewing four cups in a very peculiar muggle fashion. After a morning of dictating to her all he knew from his dreams and family history while Ron and Harry futilely went through books on the Malfoy family, he had suggested to call Tilly for coffee and lunch. Hermione had insisted she take care of the preparations and further pushed for Draco to be the one to escort her to the kitchens.

Now he found himself waiting in awkward silence as Hermione learned his kitchen to a degree he had never reached in all his years living at the manor. She kept her chin up and made the coffee with swift, sure movements. The tapping of her fingers on the counter was her only tell that she was nervous.

He cleared his throat and pretended to not notice when she jumped. “Thank you for coming. I’m sure you being here makes it easier on Harry.”

Her returning smile didn’t quite feel genuine. “Couldn’t leave Harry on his own. He’s rubbish at research.” Draco let himself laugh and her eyes softened around the edges.

“I’m sorry,” Draco said and he felt nearly surprised as Granger looked. Seeing her here in his home kept reminding him of Harry’s nightmare. He had to turn away from her to go on. “I’m sorry for that day, for what happened here.”

She put down the cup she had poured and turned to face him fully and crossed her arms across her chest. “I know.” He raised an eyebrow at her and this time she was the one who didn’t meet his eye. “Ronald and I owe you an apology, Draco.” She scrubbed her face.

Draco’s mind went through a mental inventory of all the shit they had done to each other over the years and felt that no matter what he was definitely the one with more to apologize over.

“We, um,” Granger kicked a foot out and twisted her hands together. “We may have gone through your room the other day.”

The kitchen fell silent. The letters, she had read his letters. Those apologies not meant for anyone but him to hold onto. All his regrets folded up and placed into neat envelopes. Of course she had. “Did Harry…?”

“No!” She took a step towards him and then looked to think better of it. “No, he didn’t know we went in. To be fair, we thought you might have been up to something. Your reputation…”

“So you thought that was a good enough reason to go through my things?!” Draco seethed from his place on the counter and felt a little vindicated when she squirmed. He knew she was right, they had no reason to trust him, but he had been working so damn hard. “Didn’t think you could take Harry at his word about me?”

“You come back to Hogwarts after prison and become Harry’s friend and then his—his boyfriend? And you expect his friends to just go along with it?” She huffed clearly frustrated and struggling between wanting to be forgiven and wanting to be right. “When have you ever done anything without an ulterior motive?”

“You sound like Narcissa,” he spat back at her. “So a couple of apologetic letters changed your mind? Think you know me now, do you? What makes you so sure I’m not using Harry now?”

She shook her head and wiped at her eyes. “I don’t believe it. I don’t think Harry would care about you this much if he couldn’t trust you. He doesn’t do anything halfway, you know.” She laughed into her hands. “I think there’s a reason you were picked for this battle, and I don’t think it all comes down to whose blood is running through your veins.”

When Draco had revealed his family’s dark heritage earlier in the library, he had left Granger with her mouth gaping and brow knitted. She was quiet for almost a whole minute before delving into a myriad of questions and he had had to translate the first few pages of the grimoire which contained a family tree to prove his claim. “When I touched that book, I got a crash course in all the evil my family has done for the past millennia. Memories of pain, murder, and manipulation just so they could lord over others just a bit more. Just so they could hold that much more wealth. You have to admit, sharing the blood of an evil sorcerer hardly helps my case.”

Then Granger gave him a real smile that made him feel small and awkward from his place on the counter. “I think that’s a matter of perspective, Malfoy.”

“I was under the impression it was a fact.” He shot back unwilling to ask her outright what she was getting at.

“Do you know the full story of Mordred? Who his mother was? His father?”

Draco frowned and thought back to his history lessons with Professor Chapman. “Mordred’s mother was Morgana, who taught him all the dark magic from the old ways. His father was….”

“King Arthur,” Granger announced proudly. “You might be from a line of evil practitioners of the dark arts, but that line started with the most famous king in both the wizarding and muggle world. You, Draco Malfoy, are royalty from the bravest and noblest of them all, if the legends are true.”

“I…” he sat stunned and cocked his head to the side. All those times he was in the dream with Guinevere he was experiencing Arthur’s feelings towards her and the idea that those were also blood memories had never dawned on him. “I never thought of it that way.”

“You’ve a choice now, you know,” Hermione cast a warming charm to reheat the now cold coffee. “You can either let your past hold you back, or you could prove to yourself and everyone else that you’re more than what the world has tried to reduce you to.” She gripped the tray with slightly shaky hands and started to head out the kitchen leaving him to scramble down from his perch. “You know, if you do hurt Harry, I know of a muggle pig farm.”

“Pig farm? What sort of threat is that?” Draco asked genuinely perplexed. Perhaps the pressure of being at the manor was getting to her.

“Pigs eat everything. Skin, bones, internal organs... I doubt the Aurors would find one scrap to tie your death back to me.”

Draco tripped over his own feet. “She’s nearly as dangerous as Luna,” he muttered. He quickened his pace to catch up. “Don’t think I’ve forgiven you for going through my room, Granger.”

She turned about and stuck out her tongue at him. “I wouldn’t expect anything less, Malfoy.”

********

When Draco had revealed that Narcissa was still in the manor, Hermione had taken the time to lay down wards and alarms in the hallway outside of the library to alert them in case she decided got the urge for some reading materials. They had agreed to travel in pairs which had led to Hermione and Ron having a not so quiet argument when she insisted on Draco escorting her to the kitchens for coffee. To Draco’s obvious enjoyment, the resolution of the aforementioned argument was Ron being reminded that Hermione was a more than capable witch, and if he had forgotten that fact, she would be happy to provide a reminder by demonstrating on him the amount of hexes she had picked up over the years.

When she had finally returned, Hermione set down the tray and gave Ron a hug. Her shoulders had visibly relaxed, and only once she cast a locking charm on the door and a Muffliato around the adjoining study they had commandeered did she fully settle in.

“Royalty?” Harry balked and then groaned as he watched Draco take a piece of toast. “That’s not going to help your over inflated ego.”

“Thank Hermione,” Draco said. Then around a mouthful of bread and jam added, “She’s the one who pointed it out.”

“Oh, ‘Hermione’ now, is it?” Harry sipped his coffee and watched as Draco stopped chewing on his toast to think back on his own words. Whatever sort of conversation happened, he thought he’d have to thank Hermione for it later. Ron had come close to sending a search party after enough time elapsed to make double the amount of coffee she brought back.

“Granger,” Draco corrected. “Anyways, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is how I’m going to use this to my advantage.” He shoved another bit of toast into his mouth and Harry smiled. “What?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat like this before,” Harry mused as Draco seemed to catch on he was tucking away like a Weasley on the first night back at Hogwarts. He turned his nose up at the plate in between them and pushed it towards Harry.

“I was unconscious for a long time.”

“You only missed dinner.”

“I’m related to a king. I can eat how I want.”

“A dead king of a dead kingdom.”

Draco sniffed and turned away. “Don’t the muggles consider him the ‘once and future king’ or some nonsense?”

“As if you’d be king to a bunch of muggles,” Ron said from across the room and Draco scowled at him. “And I don’t really think you’re the reincarnation of King Arthur. What say you, ‘Mione?”

Hermione, who clearly wasn’t paying any attention to the flow of conversation, hummed and looked up from the parchment she was bent over. “Hmm? Oh yes. It’s possible.” She hunched her shoulders and went back to work oblivious of Ron’s open mouth and betrayed eyes.

“Don’t mind her,” Harry laughed and pretended not to notice that Draco nicked another slice of toast. “She’s in the zone.”

"Well, you lot might try helping once in a while,” Hermione said with her nose an inch away from her ink. “Draco. Can you come tell me what the next page is? You seem to have a better ability than Ron of not touching the pages.”

“That and he can’t translate it,” Draco said to Harry with a wink and he left to trade places with Ron.

“Bloody hell.” Ron dropped into Draco’s seat and took up a tart from the tray. Harry thankfully ate from the spread Tilly had provided even if Hermione seemed pained by it. He didn’t think Tilly minded the work at all. She seemed thrilled to have someone besides Narcissa to wait on, even if they did refuse her offer of champagne at ten in the morning. “They’re going to drive me mental.”

“Why do I feel completely useless?” Harry watched as Draco first read the pages in the original…whatever language, and then translated it into English and described relative pictures to Hermione. The parchment she had brought was some specific secret keeping grade used for her homework from the Department of Mysteries. Essentially, they were taking one secret, impossible to read book and making another inaccessible copy.

Ron’s hand came down on Harry’s shoulder in what felt a gesture of solidarity. “Welcome. You’ve been regulated to sidekick, mate.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, are you part of the prophecy?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Is the villain after your blood?”

“No…”

“Any beautiful women vying for your attention?”

Harry caught sight of Draco’s shoulders tensing from across the study and he narrowed his eyes. “Not to my knowledge.”

“You’re not the star player anymore.” Ron popped half an orange into his mouth. “Two basic rules from here: never go anywhere alone, and always make sure there’s someone more capable than you in the room.”

“I’m more okay with that than you know.” It was partially a joke and somewhat untrue. Harry did not want to be the hero anymore. Having that particular burden for his entire wizarding life had been an exhausting endeavor, but watching the man across the room, a man who had been able to show Harry that people were more complex than just good or bad, take up that role seemed worse. Draco laughed at something Hermione said and seemed to feel Harry staring at him. He looked up and flashed him a brief small smile.

“You have it bad, don’t you?” Ron swallowed his food. “Wish I had some milk.” He gave a triumphant laugh as two glasses of cold, thick milk appeared on the tray a moment later. “Thank you, Tilly! Mate, between Tilly’s food and that library, I don’t think me or ‘Mione are going to want to leave anytime soon. As long as we stay in this portion of the manor, that is.”

“How are you doing?” Harry asked. “I mean here, in this place.”

Ron shrugged and picked at some sort of chocolate and strawberry ball like thing. Truffle, maybe? “It’s just a place, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not the houses fault it played host to a bunch of lunatics.” Ron looked over at Draco and then to Hermione, and Harry wondered if Ron was just talking about the manor. “Look at Hermione. We fought at the Ministry, right? We fought at Hogwarts. And what does she do? Not even waiting for the castle to be rebuilt, she goes back and tests out of every subject they’ll let her do, and then goes to work for the same department where we faced off half a dozen Death Eaters.”

Harry thought of the Department of Mysteries and the place where he watched Sirius die. The pain that memory left behind still hurt deeply, but perhaps not as bad as it once did for the family he never got to be with. When Hermione announced her decision to work there, he had initially felt betrayed until he considered her love of knowledge and relented that he’d be happy for her following her heart. He wondered if that’s how she was seeing his relationship with Draco now.

“Well, she’s more Gryffindor than us,” Harry replied eventually.

“Cheers,” Ron said and downed the last of his milk. “So, who do you reckon the villain, demi-goddess of evil, or whoever, is? You’ve probably ran into her already right? You’ve always got some suspect, and it can’t be Malfoy as he’s somehow on the right side of things this time.”

The night of the cupboard came back to Harry and he squeezed down on the armrests of his chair. “Don’t know, really. We saw someone on the Marauder’s Map without footprints and followed them into the East Wing, but couldn’t see them. Their voice…” He shivered involuntarily at the memory. “Their voice sounded weird. Like it was coming from something ancient and half-dead.”

“Yuck,” Ron twisted his mouth into a frown. “Why do they always have to be so weird?”

“Dunno, but they weren’t alone either. The new potion’s professor was there too. Professor Brown. Don’t suppose you know her, she just started working at Hogwarts.”

“Professor Brown?” Ron cocked his head and ran his tongue over his teeth. “Do you know her full name?”

“Harry! We’ve got something!” Hermione yelled waving from her parchment. The boys rushed to her side where she waved her quill about wildly in excitement. “This book is just fascinating. There’s so many Dark Art spells that haven’t been seen in centuries. Look, this one here was used by Nicholas Malfoy to disguise himself as the Black Death and terrorize muggles. Extraordinary. It seems almost every Malfoy has either used or added to this book over the generations.”

“’Mione, we get it. The Malfoy’s have been terrible,” Ron urged. Draco sat glaring at both of them but not saying anything. “What did you find?”

“Here,” Draco said and pointed to the blank book. Remembering that only two of them could see it, he rolled his eyes and picked up the parchment Hermione had transcribed the page to. “This one. A curse that takes the life and magic of its victim over time.”

“Sounds familiar,” Harry muttered and took the parchment.

“It’s a very complex ritual stemming from Old Magic,” Hermione put in. She spun her wand in one hand and tapped the quill with her other.

“What’s the difference between Old Magic and what we do now?” Harry asked.

“You really didn’t pay any attention in History of Magic, did you Harry?” His friend rolled her eyes but continued on with a smile. “Old Magic is first of all wandless and chaotic. Very difficult to control properly and usually involves several steps. It’s a lot like potion making in that everything must be timed just right or you run the risk of getting different results. Most old spells fell out of use once wizards started using wands to more easily direct their will and intention. This spell, or curse really, takes a long time to cast and requires the victim to consent to wearing the cursed item.”

“Who in their right minds would consent to something like that?” Ron asked horrified.

“Well, obviously they wouldn’t know the item’s been cursed,” Draco replied and Hermione nodded her agreement. “The idea would be to charm it to hide any negative attribute. And it could be anything, any wearable item from something as insignificant as a sock to something as large as a cloak.”

“The victim usually shows signs of being unable to use their magic because it’s being blocked off by the curse and siphoned to the caster. Once that stage has been completed, their life force follows quickly. Wizards and witches lifespans are directly impacted by their magic, it’s why we tend to live longer than muggles.” Hermione sighed and pushed the loose papers in front of her into a pile. “Rosaline Malfoy wrote in here a list of her victims and their ages. Seems like the curse worked faster if the victim was younger.”

“You mean if they were children?” Harry asked. Hermione nodded her head, her dark skin paling. “Marie Bobbin’s in critical care right now…”

Draco stood quite suddenly and startled Harry. He paced behind his chair with a hand tapping his lips and his forehead wrinkled. Harry looked back to Hermione. “How do we break the curse and what would be the point of casting it?”

Hermione watched Draco while she answered. “You’d have to destroy the spelled item, if you could find it. Modern revealing spells might help sense something with a magical presence but—”

“But nearly every object in the wizarding world has a magical presence, and Old Magic wouldn’t necessarily show up as dark or light,” Draco finished and he gripped the back of his chair until his knuckles turned white. “As for the reason. Whoever the caster is, they’re stealing the magic and life of their victims. They would be gaining years of life while also increasing their power.”

“Draco, you said you visited the second victim, Murdoch, correct?” Hermione ran the quill feather over her mouth in thought. “Did you notice her wearing anything strange?”

“She only had on a hospital gown from what I remember.”

“And before that?”

He shook his head.

“Damn. It might be useless even if we did know what it was,” Hermione grumbled and laid her head down on her arms.

Harry moved over to Draco and put an arm around him, feeling the other boy tense at the initial contact and then relax. So many times Harry had to watch someone die while not being able to do anything about it. “Why would it be useless?”

“Because with really powerful Old Magic items, you usually need something of equal or greater power also from Old Magic to destroy it,” Hermione answered. “That’s why we have T.O.A.D. to store the most dangerous ones.”

“What about Godric’s sword?” Ron asked hopefully. He ran a hand up Hermione’s back and kissed the top of her head. “Got some use out of that before.”

“Maybe,” she sucked on her lip. “I don’t know for sure, and we returned it to the goblins after the war. That and its goblin made. These Old Magic items are usually rumored to be gifts from old gods and goddesses. No telling where their true origins lie.” She groaned and thumped her head on the table. “I need a drink.”

To Harry’s amusement a tall beer appeared next to Hermione’s elbow. She shoved it away, looked at it from under her bushy hair, and then drank half of it in one go. “Thanks, Tilly.”

“Well, hold on a minute,” Ron said and everyone turned to him. He seemed to flush under the sudden attention. “How many people could possible know of this curse? It’s in a bloody book that only a handful of people can read, and as far as we know, it’s been locked up in a secret library that even the Ministry couldn’t find. So, how did someone learn about it to use it?”

“There’s another book?” Hermione offered now sipping at her beer.

“Yeah, but this is the grimoire of Mordred, supposedly one of a kind? With magic he learned from bloody Morgana le Fay,” Ron pointed out. “There can’t be many of these out there or You-Know-Who would have made use of them. I’m surprised he didn’t get ahold of this one.”

“Lucius didn’t know about it,” Draco said speaking quietly. His eyes grew wider as he came to some sort of conclusion. “Guinevere said grandfather had realized the book’s potential for evil. That’s why Lucius never told me about the restricted section of the library.”

“He wasn’t aware it existed!” Hermione perked up. “Oh, thank Merlin. The war could have taken a very nasty turn if he had. But your mother did, right?”

Draco winced. “She did. She’s the one who told me how to get in there. But as far as I know the Blacks never intermarried the Malfoy’s until now. I doubt she’d be able to read the book.”

“There’s other things in that murder room though,” Harry said and held onto Draco a bit tighter. “She could have easily given Voldemort any of those things.”

“Knowledge can be a powerful weapon,” Draco replied. “Especially against ones allies.”

From her spot at the table, Hermione shuddered and took another big gulp of her drink. Draco raised his eyebrow in silent concern to Harry who just shook his head. She looked up at the pair of them and smiled, but her eyes remained sad. “Too bad we can’t get the department’s help on this.”

“Why not?” Ron asked from her side.

“Well, unless you want Draco here to go to Azkaban without a trial, I’d suggest we keep this book a secret. Like you said Ron, who else would have the knowledge on how to do this?”

Harry took in a deep breath. It was like all those years before when he couldn’t rely on anyone besides a handful of adults and even then he couldn’t risk telling them too much. The Ministry would be looking for someone to blame, and with all the evidence stacked against Draco along with his history as a Death Eater, Harry didn’t think there would be much anyone could do to keep him safe.

“Hmm,” Ron pretended to deliberate on Hermione’s words and she kicked his ankle. “Ow! Well, no. Guess not. So, it’s down to defeat the enemy before we all end up at the Wizengamot?”

“I find your easy acceptance of danger exhausting,” Draco said and sank back down into his chair. He picked at his nails and with an unfocused gaze. “There’s the weapon from the prophecy. The one that will show up when I’ve got the lion’s heart, whatever the hell that means.”

“Maybe it means once you’ve won over Harry,” Ron snickered. “He’s a Gryffindor after all.”

“Ew,” Hermione said and then looked sheepishly at Harry and Draco. “Not that you two aren’t um… Just that’s very sappy.”

“I was only joking, ‘Mione.” Ron sat next to his wife and his eyes glazed over at the book. Hermione elbowed him in the ribs and he shook himself up and over to a different chair.

“Wasn’t Camelot’s banner a lion?” Harry asked and took the seat next to Draco. He reached under the table and linked their hands together. “Maybe you’ve got to, I don’t know, be like a king?”

“Want me to start ordering people around?” Draco asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Or maybe you’ve got be like King Arthur!” Hermione sat up suddenly and downed the rest of her beer. “He had Excalibur, right? He was the only one who could wield it because he was the only one worthy of it. He was noble, brave, and self-sacrificing!”

Ron groaned. “We’re doomed.”

“As much as it pains me, I agree with Weasley on this one,” Draco added shaking his head. “Arthur sounds more like a Gryffindor than a Slytherin.”

“Then its good you’ve got three Gryffindors to help you out,” Harry said and smiled smugly, and this time Hermione and Draco shared a groan.

“There’s one thing we do have.” Draco ran a hand through his hair. “I know where the weapon is.”

********

When Granger started speaking of Old Magic relics and weapons, Draco took a minute to let her words wash over him. He could still see the last moments of his time in the lake before forcing his body back into consciousness. The water had grown colder and more turbulent the further he swam, and the boat had followed him calling him a song of respite. He had wondered if drowning would mean losing the chance to pass on.

Ignoring the screams of Guinevere, he had kept swimming towards the sound of Harry’s voice. Then when his limbs had gone too cold to feel, the Lady of the Lake had appeared, and he had gone to her freely. She had pulled him under the water and he hadn’t felt fear. She had kissed him and given him air, and he temporarily forgot his quest to wake up as they fell lower and lower and the world became black outside her unearthly glow. All around them the life of the lake swirled and brushed close but never came in contact with them.

Her light had allowed Draco to see glimpses of the creatures who came near. The tridents of merpeople, the shimmering scales of dragon fish, and even a large tentacle of a giant squid. Then at the bottom of the lake he had seen it. A rusted sword laying in the sand and debris at the bottom looking as if it had lain undisturbed for centuries. The lady had passed a pale hand over the blade and Draco had watched as it transformed into something just as beautiful and otherworldly as his guide.

Then the light had faded and the Lady of the Lake’s lips was on his once more. But instead of giving him air, she had been taking it away. He had woken in bed just as the water filled his lungs. He had also woken the knowledge of where the weapon was hidden.

“Why wouldn’t you mention that sooner?” Granger complained. Her husband surreptitiously asked the air for a beer of his own while she was distracted and a platter with four glasses appeared in the middle of the table complete with baked pretzels and chips. Everyone, even Granger, reached for one. “We spent all that time hypothesizing on what could break the curse and you just happen to know where the exact thing we need is?”

“I have to be worthy first, remember?” Draco tipped back his glass and recognized the brew as being a favorite of his. He wondered how long Tilly had been in service to know that about him. “Besides, I can’t go get it yet. I can’t even leave the damn house.”

“You’ll be able to go back to Hogwarts after the New Year,” Harry said. “That’s only a week away, and then you’ll have the chance to leave the grounds again.”

Not being able to take the pitying looks from Granger and Weasley, Draco leaned back and nursed his beer allowing the conversation to shift to other things. After a few more hours of translating the grimoire, Hermione finally caved to her husband’s whining and left for their home. She gave Harry a hug and promised to be back in the morning sans Weasley who would be tending to his shop. Draco would never admit it, but he thought the success of George and Fred Weasley’s enterprise to be impressive.

That night Draco returned Harry’s favor from the day before. The image of Harry flushed, panting, and wild underneath him on his own bed in his own rooms had him chasing his own climax shortly after.

The next morning changed everything.

********

Hermione laid her copy of The Daily Prophet down on the kitchen counter and picked up the French press to make her own morning cup of coffee. She opted asking for a bag of grounds from the house-elves rather than dip into the bag Harry had purchased Draco. Harry confided with her how hard it was to get the coffee and why he had chosen it, and Hermione secretly thought the gesture had been too sweet. She sighed over the brewing cup and wondered if Ron could learn a thing or two about romance from Harry.

Even the ridiculous article on the front page of the paper didn’t bother her as she settled down at the table of the study and poured over the research notes from the night before. They had made slow progress translating and sorting page by page of the grimoire. Besides the family tree portion of the book, the rest seemed to have no particular order besides chronological. Hermione had guessed that even though the enemy had started taking magic from students at Hogwarts, their end goal had to be something else.

“Why else come to Hogwarts?” Hermione had insisted. “You could abduct magical children from anywhere. They obviously came to Hogwarts for another reason, and if they have another book, then the answer could be in here.”

Now that she had time to sleep on it, Hermione decided they would start with all the entries that granted longer life and more power. Most of the more creative spells seemed geared on weird ways to torture muggles and establish dominance through fear. One even described the early beginnings of the Killing Curse. She had quickly abandoned the translation of that page when she saw how Draco looked at Harry who was in conversation with Ron and oblivious of their discovery. Draco’s face had been closed off, cold, and devoid of any emotion. She had once thought he was incapable of feeling for someone else, but in that moment she realized he felt more than they had ever given him credit.

“Find anything?” Harry asked reaching for a cup of coffee. He looked well rested and happier than Hermione had seen him in a long time.

“Not yet,” Hermione shuffled the papers into neat piles. “I’ll need Malfoy to look at this passage from last night. We only got about half way through it. It’s about a cauldron, another Old Magic artifact. Supposedly created by a goddess.”

“Right,” Harry sipped the coffee and lifted an eyebrow. “Sounds serious.” He pulled the paper. “At least this is something I can read. What the hell?”

“Yeah,” Hermione said and waved a dismissive hand in the air. “Skeeter’s written another article about you. Apparently she had her photographer staking out the manor. Nice picture of me kicking the gate on page seven.”

“Why do you even get this paper?” Harry bypassed the headline story and went for the international Quidditch scores.

“Outside of the outrageous gossip, the paper does cover relevant news. Occasionally, something will pop up that alerts the department of a possible rogue magical item or some mystery that needs examination.”

Draco came into the study dressed in his usual posh robes reminding Hermione of the other reason why she had returned this morning. “Oh, Harry, I’ve brought your rucksack. Molly said she’d send your Christmas gifts to Hogwarts, but you should probably drop by before the break is over.”

Harry nodded from behind the paper as Draco flipped open the grimoire and grabbed a quill. Hermione tapped on the secret grade parchment to activate it for Draco’s use. A half hour later and the study was silent outside of the flipping of paper and scratching of quills which made Harry’s sharp intake of breath stand out louder than it normal.

“Shit,” Harry muttered and he dropped the paper.

“Harry, what?” Hermione reached out to take the paper but Draco beat her to it. She watched as his eyes went from wide with panic to being closed off and cold. She felt a chill pass over the room.

“Draco, I—”

“Get your things. We’re leaving,” Draco tossed down the paper and stormed from the room.

“What is it?” Hermione asked as she quickly grabbed the translations and grimoire up into her bag. She cast a quick cleaning charm and looked for any strays before straightening up and facing Harry. He looked as if he were going to be ill.

“It’s the first victim, Marie Bobbin. She’s dead.” Harry hung his head. “They’ve got Murdoch in a magically induced coma.”

********

Draco stood just inside the iron gate leading off the property. He’d be able to apparate just on the other side once he stepped through, but he would be breaking a few dozen laws and activating the tracking charm put on him by the Ministry for his parole. He’d have to be quick and he would more than likely need Granger and Harry’s help to pull this off. It would most likely end with his incarceration, but if there was even a small possibility he could save Sully, he was going to have to take the chance.

The article had mentioned that both of the patients’ health had started rapidly declining on Christmas Eve, the night he found that damn book. Sully was put under a stasis charm when Bobbin went critical and died.

“You’ve got everything you need?” Harry asked next to him.

“I told Tilly to send my trunk up to Hogwarts, and Hermione has the grimoire and the translations,” Draco said. He hated how his voice came out flat but he couldn’t let his shields down, not yet. “Neither of you are going to try and talk me out of this?”

“No,” Hermione replied. Draco watched her pull her unruly hair into a ponytail. “I don’t think so. Harry?”

“Not how Gryffindors do things,” Harry returned with a grin. “Tell her where you need to go.”

“Hogsmeade, as close to the west side of town as you can manage.” Draco opened the gate and stepped through activating the tracking charm. “We’re going to need to see my parole officer first.”

Stupify! Accio camera!” Hermione shouted. The sound of a man dropping to the ground came from the bushes nearby and a camera landed in her outstretched hands. Draco watched as she broke the camera open and pulled out the magical film reducing it to cinders. She turned to his shocked expression and shrugged.

“Remember not to make her angry,” said Harry.

“Right.”

“Shall we?” Hermione stuck out an arm for each of them and they left the manor behind with a crack.

Chapter Text

The main road in Hogsmeade stood eerily quiet in contrast to the day Draco had left on the Hogwarts Express to go home, and Draco wasn’t the only one to notice something felt off if Granger’s drawn wand was anything to go by. She had landed them close to Gretta’s cottage, and from their spot, Draco could see smoke coming from the chimney and lights in the windows. Until they were standing there, he hadn’t thought that the man might have left for the holidays, and was thankful to see someone was home. Reminding himself of the tracking charm, Draco took off towards the cottage at full speed leaving Granger and Harry chasing after him.

“I just have to get this tracker deactivated,” Draco said as they stood outside the garden gate. “Only my parole Auror will be able to do that.”

“You think he will?” Harry asked.

“One way or another,” Draco replied and shoved open the gate. Hermione followed him, but they both had to stop when the gate growled at Harry and refused to let him enter.

“What did you do to this thing?” Hermione yipped as she tried to pet the gate into submission. She shot Harry a glare.

“Nothing! The bloody thing just doesn’t like me!” Harry settled for vaulting over it just as it swung just an inch open. He landed awkwardly and latched on to Hermione in order to keep himself upright.

From his place on the porch, Draco rolled his eyes and scowled. “Someday I’m going to write a tell-all story about your ineptitude, Potter, and expose you for the fraud you are.” He rubbed the cat door knocker which yowled loudly under his cold fingers. “Shut up! It’s just me!”

“What are ye doin’ here?” growled the cat in Gretta’s voice. “And who’s this? A girl? I thought ye were with that ‘Arry chap.”

“‘That Harry chap’,” Draco drawled. “You mean Harry Potter, yes? He’s here too. This is one of the other saviors of the wizarding world. You might recognize her as Hermione Granger? Now let us in, and please do me the favor of not reporting me until we talk!”

The door creaked open to Draco’s mild surprise and the three of them filed in one after the other. Hermione still had her wand drawn and Draco didn’t ask her to put it away. He was working in unfamiliar territory and having at least one of them ready to fight made him feel a little better. Gretta stepped into view wearing one of his god awful aprons covered in flour. He appeared unarmed, but so had the guards at the detention center. They did that to put their wards at ease.

“Auror Gretta,” Draco nodded and then gestured to Granger. “Hermione Granger, friend of Harry Potter.”

“You just makin’ all sorts o’ friends nowadays,” Gretta growled. He grunted at Hermione. “Pleasure.”

“Um, likewise,” Granger replied and looked towards Harry who shrugged and kept quiet on the side.

“Gretta, I’m going to have to ask you to turn off the tracker on me,” Draco said. He gulped as Gretta’s good eye focused on him and he tried to keep his resolve. “I’ve something important I need to do, and I can’t have Aurors chasing me down.”

The giant man lumbered over to a worn armchair and gestured to his couch for them to take a seat. He pulled out a flask and took a deep drag before speaking. “I don’t suppose you’re goin’ to tell me what this special business is?”

Hermione spoke before Draco could. “The less you know about it, the safer it will be for all of us.” She tapped her wand on her knee and Gretta followed the movement with a raised eyebrow.

“They say ye faced Death Eaters and even survived being tortured by You-Know-Who’s right ‘and man.” Gretta didn’t pull punches. He always spoke directly and to the point. Draco winced.

Lifting her chin, Hermione responded evenly, “Right hand woman, is more like it, Mr. Gretta.” The two looked at each other for a beat too long and Draco’s hand twitched over the pocket he kept his wand.

Gretta’s full body laugh filled the front room and Granger startled at it. “I like ‘er!” He laughed a little louder. “I bet the only thing keepin’ ‘Ermione ‘ere out of Azkaban is she’s a bloody war ‘ero.”

Hermione turned pink and blinked at him. Draco didn’t blame her, Gretta had that sort of impact on people. “Will you help us then?” Draco asked.

“I suppose if two of the three saviors come askin’ I can’t really turn them down. Where is the third one, the ginger? I thought you three were inseparable?” He looked back and forth at the three letting the silence hang heavy. Draco looked over and saw Granger’s eyes dart to him and then to Harry. She had said Ron was tending to his shop and wouldn’t be joining them. They had left the manor in a hurry on Draco’s insistence and he was only just realizing Granger would want to contact Weasley at some point.

“You can meet him later, Gretta,” Draco huffed. “If we get out of this in one piece.”

“Don’t get your feathers in a ruffle, Draco. I turned off your tracker the moment ye stepped through the door.” Gretta laughed again before turning a serious eye to Hermione. “You’re gonna ‘ave to stun me. In the head if possible. The Ministry’s gonna know Draco’s left the mansion and they’ll be trackin’ ‘im here. If you ‘it me ‘ard enough, I can say I ‘ave a concussion and don’t remember what ‘appened.”

“You want us to knock you out?” Draco’s stomach turned and he thought about his future cell in Azkaban. “Are you out of your mind?”

“Ye don’t think I don’t know why you’re ‘ere?” Gretta pointed to the paper laid out on the coffee table which was open to the picture of Sully hovering in stasis. There was also a tea tray set for two on the table which had Draco narrowing his eyes. “She’s dyin’ right? I remember ‘ow it was when she went in the ‘ospital. And I know if ye think ye can help her, there ain’t much I can do to stop ye. Now ‘urry up. We ain’t got much time.”

Draco pulled out his wand and took a deep breath.

“Not you, numbskull,” Gretta growled. He turned a brilliant smile on Hermione that could have been considered charming if it wasn’t at odds with his scarred face. “I want the girl to do it. Make for a better story, and she won’t go to Azkaban.”

“Me?!” Hermione yelped. Harry who had been reclining with a cat on his lap sat up at that. “Why?”

“Well, it’d only be the second person you stunned today,” Draco pointed out. She scowled at him but brought up her wand anyway. Draco smirked.

Harry leaned over to put a hand on her knee. “Hermione, you don’t have to—”

Stupefy Duo!”

“Merlin’s beard! Warn me next time!”

Draco dashed from his place on the couch to throw an arm around Gretta and slowed the heavier man’s fall to where he rested halfway on the coffee table.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to lose my nerve.” Hermione was leaning over Gretta’s hulking form with her eyebrows knitted together wringing her wand in her hands. “He is breathing, right?”

“He’s fine,” Draco replied after checking Gretta’s pulse. “Stupefy Duo? Did you have to use the advanced spell?”

“I wanted to make sure he went down on the first go! I wasn’t going to stun him twice!”

Harry sniffed the air. “Do you guys smell chocolate?”

Hermione took a couple deep breaths and then focused her eyes down at Gretta’s flour covered arms. “Oh!” She dashed out of the room.

“This isn’t quite as serious as I was expecting it to be,” Draco said and he looked up at Harry before breaking down into laughter. Harry chuckled, and when Hermione came back from the kitchen with a sack full of cookies, he lost it as well. “Adding robbery to your list of charges, Granger?”

She shrugged. “I didn’t take all of them, Malfoy. Are you ready? We should go.”

Hermione placed a cushion from the couch under Gretta’s head while the two boys cleaned up any traces of their arrival. They locked up the house and held the now rabid front gate open for Potter. As soon as they were clear of the house, Draco led them into the alleyway trying to hide from any curious eyes.

“Draco, wait,” Harry stopped them and brought around his ruck sack. “Hold on, it’s in here somewhere… ah!” The shimmering invisibility cloak spooled out of the bag and into his hands. “Put this on. Where are we heading?”

“You remember that night at the lake? We need to get to the same bank, the exact same spot if we can.” Draco’s voice floated from just ahead of them.

“That was by the Forbidden Forest on the other side of Hogwarts,” Harry remarked. “It’ll take a long time to go around. We could use the secret tunnel in the East Wing to cut across.”

“Night at the lake?” Hermione raised her eyebrows and grinned at Harry. “In December?”

“What? No,” said Harry. “This was early November? It’s a long story.”

“Hmm, right.”

The group walked towards the castle unaware of the tall figure following from Hogsmeade in the shadows.

********

Without Ron around, Hermione felt as if she were getting a rare glimpse into the actual relationship that had sprouted between her best-friend and her (former) enemy. The invisible one bickered on the right routes to take, his voice coming across as condescending as ever, while the messy haired boy would point to the Marauder’s Map and insist they take his route to avoid detection. Occasionally they would devolve into calling each other derogatory names, but no matter how heated it seemed to get between them, they would come to a compromise and continue on. Hermione wondered if she and Ron had ever been able to make Harry stop and actually think before acting. She’d like to think so, but she had the impression that the power Draco had over Harry in this instance was more than she or Ron ever had. They never seemed to penetrate Harry’s stubbornness where Draco slipped by it without effort.

“If you two are quite done, I would like to see this Tunnel of Requirement or whatever you think it is,” Hermione said over a grin. She looked to Harry, the only visible partner, who sighed and made a sort of flicking motion with his wrist.

Draco emerged from under the invisibility cloak, throwing it back to its owner. He looked slightly flushed and the fabric had left his hair disarrayed, and Hermione blushed as she realized for the first time he could look just as disheveled as anyone else. She bit her lip and thought long and hard about her husband.

At least she could empathize with Harry’s attraction to the git.

“Not there! It was in that weird teacher’s lounge with all the coffee mugs, remember?” Draco reminded Harry who looked around on the map with irritation and fondness.

“Right,” Harry responded and they made their way over to a door on the left side of the corridor leaving Hermione wondering about coffee mugs.

Once in the room the three stood around avoiding each other’s gaze trying to find the tunnel. After a few minutes Hermione sat down on an old, beaten couch with a huff and glared at the both of them.

“What?” Harry asked annoyed. Draco avoided both of them and examined a purple tapestry on the wall.

“Well, how did you make it appear last time?” Hermione asked. She sometimes got tired of being the most sensible of the lot, but supposed it couldn’t be avoided. “Did you say something?”

“It acts on intent,” Draco said quietly. “Much like the Room of Requirement.”

“So how did it come about last time?” It was less of a question and more of a command. Hermione watched as the two boys avoided looking at each other.

“We argued,” Harry finally said and he looked to Draco in apology. Draco looked back at him but his face remained an unmovable object. There was no telling of what he was feeling. “Well, I apologized for…”

“Shut up, Harry,” Draco said and it wasn’t unkind. Hermione held her breath as the sound of mortar and brick sliding and reshuffling filled the small teacher’s lounge. She watched as the tapestry on the wall fluttered and waved to reveal a secret entrance. Draco immediately stepped through as if he couldn’t wait to get away from the conversation and called out to them to follow.

The tunnel was barely wide enough for two people and it stretched and dipped in an odd manner like it was routing them around rooms and objects hidden in the ground. Candelabras and old paintings of people Hermione only vaguely recognized from history books dotted the walls. Not for the first time, she wondered how many secrets the castle kept from living eyes. There was a point next to shallow water on the floor where Draco paused in front of a portrait of a beautiful woman with chestnut locks and a copper colored crown on her head.

“That’s her,” he said in explanation. “That’s Guinevere, Queen of Camelot.” He reached out and touched her portrait as if he were caressing a long lost lover. Hermione heard Harry’s sharp inhale. “She’s not free until I’m done with this.”

Despite that portraits were mere shadows of their personas, Hermione found herself fighting the urge to bow. The queen had an aura which bespoke of love and respect that Hermione had never seen on royalty before. “We’ll help you,” she promised.

Harry stood next to Hermione and she noted the same sort of reverence on him as she felt. “We won’t let Draco fail on his mission.”

The portrait gave them a blinding smile and curtseyed low. Her long locks fell around her pale shoulders and when stood up her smile was touched with sadness. Draco gave a half-hearted scoff at their little display and continued on.

“Where is this water coming from?” Hermione complained as she tried to keep to the edges of the tunnel.

“Hopefully the lake,” Harry said. He wrinkled his nose. “It’d be terrible if Moaning Myrtle flew out of it. I don’t think I’d be able to go through this tunnel again.”

“Myrtle Warren,” Draco said. “That’s her name, Myrtle Warren.” He continued ahead leaving Hermione to exchange an odd look with Harry.

The three walked in silence the rest of the way. Hermione took mental notes on promising looking artifacts hanging on the walls and did her best to stay silent. The closer they got to their destination, the tenser everyone became. Finally the tunnel ended at a wooden ladder underneath a metal hatch.

“Huh, that’s new,” said Harry as he tested the strength of the ladder.

Draco shrugged. “Better than the rope ladder.”

“Fascinating,” Hermione said. “Do you think since it’s changed it will open in a new location?”

“Only one way to find out.” Harry climbed the ladder quickly and shoved at the hatch sending down a rain of sand and rock. Hermione coughed and dusted the debris from her hair noting that Draco had taken a few steps back and was now smirking at her. “Looks the same to me,” Harry called down and they filed out to the shore of the Great Lake.

Blinking in the afternoon sun, Hermione looked around trying to get her bearings. The castle loomed above them on high rocks to the north and to the south was one border of the Forbidden forest. As she cast her eyes around she thought she caught a glimpse of a shadow moving from the castle, but when she looked back it had vanished. Unsure of what she saw Hermione found herself fingering her wand in her pocket.

“Right, now what?” asked Harry. He was staring at Draco who stood close to the water.

Draco sighed and ran a hand through his hair before turning around. “I’m not sure. I just know it’s here.”

“The prophecy says when you have the lion’s heart the weapon will appear,” said Hermione. She walked to the water’s edge. “Odd that it isn’t frozen over. There’s not even ice.”

“Thank you for the obvious, Granger,” Draco drawled though his eyes raked over the lake to see if what she was saying was true.

“It’s warm,” Harry remarked dipping his hand in the water. He stood and shook it dry. “Well, not like you would want to swim in it, but warmer than it should be. Maybe you should just, I don’t know, ask for it?”

Draco huffed and gave Harry a look of incredulity. “What should I say? ‘Oh, Lady of the Lake. I’m ready’?”

Harry shrugged and stuck his wet hand in his pocket. Hermione chewed on her bottom lip and scrunched up her eyebrows in thought. “When you’re worthy…”

“I think the prophecy places too much faith in me,” Draco said. “How do we even know I’m the one it’s talking about?”

“You’re more than worthy,” Harry said and he stepped close to Draco, pulling the other too him. Hermione blushed and looked away. “Just because you’ve made mistakes in the past, doesn’t mean you can’t be a better person now.”

“Mistakes?” Draco shook his arm free from Harry and pulled up his left sleeve. “You mean like this one? Accepting the Dark Mark?” The mark had faded to just a red outline but it was still there nestled by the crook of his elbow.

“Draco,” Hermione started and then paused considering her words. His acceptance of the Dark Mark had been the moment when she had personally believed there was no hope for the boy. “Why did you accept the mark?”

“What do you mean why?” Draco turned to her and his face was still a stony mask. “I always wanted the mark. I always was going to follow Lucius’s example.”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t think that’s why.” Draco turned to him, and Hermione thought she saw his shields drop just a fraction. “Why did you really?”

“I don’t understand how this has anything to do with finding the weapon.” Draco paced away from them. He was stalling.

“Just say it, Draco,” Hermione pushed. She thought of his letters. “Tell the truth. Whatever you say, it won’t leave the three of us.”

He drew in a deep breath and looked down at the faded mark on his arm. “It was for my mother.”

Harry inhaled sharply and Hermione nodded. She hadn’t heard Draco refer to his parents by anything other than their first names and hadn’t probed Harry for an explanation. Something told her this was a big moment for him.

He continued, “The Dark Lord had taken over our home. He controlled Lucius thoroughly and used my—used Narcissa as leverage. When he came to me with my mission,” he winced and looked up towards Hogwarts, “he told me failure wouldn’t be an option. He—he wouldn’t just kill her, he would make…”

“He’d make you kill her,” Hermione offered. Draco looked towards her and gave a very slight nod. “So you accepted something dark to protect someone you loved.”

Harry stepped quickly over to Draco and wrapped his arms around him. He whispered something Hermione couldn’t hear. Draco lifted his arms slowly and returned the hug. He stood stiff and his movements were almost mechanical.

“I think you need to let go of your walls, Draco,” Hermione said to him. She stepped forward carefully like one would towards a frightened creature. “You know Occlumency, correct?”

He pulled away from Harry and looked at her with his mask still in place. This was what she had noticed in the library when they had found the Killing Curse in Mordred’s Grimoire. When Draco couldn’t face an emotion he put up his walls to protect himself.

“Drop your shields, Draco,” she persisted. “You have to let yourself be judged and you can’t do that until you open up.”

Harry pulled Draco to face him once more and kissed him softly. Then he stepped away and stood next to Hermione allowing Draco face the waters alone. They watched as the tense setting of his shoulders fell and his body seemed to become smaller. He sobbed once but they made no move to go to him. Hermione took Harry’s hand in hers and gave it a squeeze.

Draco looked out to the water. “I’m ready.”

The wind which seemed to always blow cold across the lake died and the waters became unnaturally still. All around the perimeter of the lake the lingering ice and snow melted and flowed down into the water. From somewhere far away, Hermione could hear soft music that reminded her of the mermaid’s song. The lake looked almost as it did during summer, as if time had stopped and shifted backwards in just this area.

Hermione stepped from the icy ground and into the enchanted embankment. It was like walking into a heated home after spending a day out in the snow. The warmth made her sweat under her layers. She took a look around and couldn’t hold back a gasp when she saw that the castle and bridge to Hogsmeade had vanished. Beside her Harry tensed as he took in the same scene.

To their left, Draco started to remove his coat and outer layers until he was just in his under shirt and trousers. His face was open and his eyes were unfocused. When he stepped towards the water, the lake receded and he sank slightly into the soft ground. Each step forward caused the water to pull further away until it spit apart and divided high above him. If whatever enchantment ended and the waters rushed back down, he would be completely submerged by it.

He walked further and further down into the lake until he was nearly halfway across. Hermione held her breath and tried to give Harry a reassuring hug. The music, which Hermione now noticed was a song, grew louder and seemed to float up and over the water. It sounded like a human woman singing in a slow cadence, but the words were foreign.

“Do you see that?” Hermione asked. In front of Draco just beyond the wall of water floated a figure, a woman who glowed. She held something in her arms. Harry didn’t respond to her question, his eyes were fixed on Draco.

Draco reached through the water with both hands and accepted whatever the woman offered with a bow. Then she vanished as if she had never been there at all. He turned around and made his way back to the shore. As he walked the lake began to close behind him and the temperature steadily dropped. Ice formed on the top of the water and the wind blew cold again. Draco’s hazy unfocused gaze was gone, and replaced with a new sense of determination. He looked fearsome as if he were ready for war.

“Is he carrying…,” Harry trailed off and Hermione gaped at what could only be a sword in Draco’s hands. Harry’s voice was thick with incredulity. “That can’t be the sword, can it?”

Hermione could feel her heart beating in excitement. “Excalibur...”

********

By the time Draco had reached the shore, the lake had transformed back into its wintery state and he suddenly felt very cold without his layers. He felt tired and sluggish as if his journey to get the sword had been at a great distance and not just the short walk into the lake. Closing his eyes he let himself fall to a knee and hung his head from the weariness. He smiled weakly as the sound of two people hurried to his side. Harry had knelt down in front of him and taken him by the shoulders while Hermione rushed to lay his coat over his back. He looked up and gave her a small smile in thanks and noted that both of them were taking care not to touch Excalibur.

Excalibur… The moment was surreal. The blade looked even more beautiful now that he had his hands on it. The gold hilt wrapped around in complicated braids which looked uncomfortable to wield but felt natural in his grip. The pommel ended in the shape of a lion’s head and all across the blade itself moved runes which only stayed still when he looked directly at them. He could feel the hum of its magic under his fingertips and sensed its eagerness to be used.

“I can’t believe it,” Granger said breathily. “Was that her? The Lady of the Lake?”

“Can’t give a man a minute before you start asking questions?” Draco responded, though he couldn’t summon his normal irritation at her in that moment. “Yes, that was her.”

“Come on, get your clothes back on,” Harry huffed. He had gathered Draco’s belongings and was looking worriedly over him.

Draco carefully laid the sword down on the rocks beside him and reached for his long-sleeved shirt. He stopped dressing at Hermione’s gasp.

“The sword!” She yelled and pointed down. He followed her gaze and felt his heart beat faster. Excalibur looked as it had the night he first saw it, rusted, bent, and ugly from centuries of neglect under the water.

He reached down and took it back up. Immediately the rust fell away and it was restored to its former beauty. He frowned. “That’s odd.” He placed it back down on the ground and watched it go back to looking like, well, junk. He started to dress quickly not liking the idea of leaving it too long like that.

“You’d think it would come with a scabbard,” Draco said after pulling on his boots and straightening his coat. Hermione jumped up and started searching her bag. Draco picked up Excalibur and let out a sigh of relief as she changed back. He and Harry watched as Granger pulled out a few long lengths of silk and leather from somewhere deep in her bag.

“Molly’s been teaching me a few things,” Hermione said wrinkling her nose. “Housekeeping things like mending. I’m not very good at sewing, so I just use Transfiguration when I mess up.” Harry gave a short laugh. “Oh shut it. Let’s see. I think I’ve got a green one in here somewhere.”

“Does everyone in your group of bottomless bags?” Draco asked Harry.

“Ron usually makes Hermione carry his stuff,” Harry replied and Draco nodded as if that was what he expected.

“Finished!” Hermione said and held up a belt with a holster for Draco to look at. Her transfiguring skills were quite amazing. The belt was black and studded with small silver circles embroidered with green Celtic knots.

“Slytherin colors?” Draco said with a smirk in her direction.

Hermione shrugged and showed him how to adjust the holster to fit around the hilt. “I couldn’t do a full scabbard,” she said regretfully. “This will have to do. Maybe if you cast a disillusionment charm on it before you go in public places no one will notice.”

Draco was unsure how to thank her so he nodded and fit the belt around his waist and left his coat unbuttoned in the front so he could get to the sword if needed. “I don’t think I’ll be heading into too many public places anytime soon. Well, outside of St. Mungo’s. We should be going soon. More time we put between us and the Aurors, the better.”

“Well, we can’t apparate from here so—”

A scream of rage coming from the Forbidden Forest cut off Hermione’s next words. The three turned to the tree line with their wands drawn. A flock of blackbirds rose from the treetops and filled the sky just above the woods. Draco switched his wand to his left hand as his right came down subconsciously and ran over the hilt of Excalibur.

The next scream that rang out was not one of rage nor was it as loud as the previous, but upon hearing it the three began a race to the tree line.

“Luna!” Draco yelled as they crashed into the first layer of trees. He could make out Harry close behind on his right and Hermione off to his left. The entire time Luna had been prisoner at the mansion she had only screamed once and that had been after a minute of the Cruciatus Curse inflicted by Bellatrix. He had thought, had hoped, he’d never hear that sound again. “Lovegood!”

“Luna?!” Hermione cried. “Are you sure?”

Draco didn’t waste his breath to answer her and kept running. After another minute he stopped, breathing heavy as his senses inventoried everything around him. “LUNA!” he called out again.

Harry and Hermione crashed through the trees next to him and stood in a defensive position back to back. “Draco, are you sure?” Harry asked once he caught his breath.

“Yes, quiet!” Draco hissed. He struggled to hear above their ragged breathing. Darkness had fallen on the forest despite the afternoon sun still being out. It crept through the trees on all sides and rested just out of reach in an unnatural night. A rustle of leaves and the breaking of branches sounded on all sides as a mad cackle sounded from the air. Draco shivered. The laugh sounded like it came from something old, something dead.

“Who’s there?” Harry shouted from behind him.

You children… you’re like insects… such fragile lives.

“If you’ve hurt Luna, I’ll kill you,” Draco said quietly sure that the voice could hear him no matter how loud he talked.

Such a precious girl. I’ll reward her for her service, either in life or death. Makes no difference. But you can help her, Draco. Hand over the sword and I’ll let her go.

“Don’t do it, Draco,” Hermione warned.

“Shut up!” he barked at her through clenched teeth. Running in here blind had been a mistake and Draco was desperately trying to figure out how to get the upper hand. “And to whom am I giving Excalibur?” He said with false-confidence. Whatever he had gone through at the lake had impacted his Occlumency shields and he found it difficult to keep his emotions in check.

As the darkness parted in front of him he felt a small amount of victory. A shorter, cloaked figure walked forward. It was difficult to tell, but the person looked wiry as if they were just skin draped over bones. Long wisps of white hair fell from under a black hood and onto a flat chest. Instead of a wand, the gnarled and knobby hands held a staff. One hand came up to remove the hood and Draco had to fight not to take a step backwards. The face was gaunt and with deep lines and parts of her scalp were bald and flaking. The eyes were milky and seemed to roam without stopping reminding Draco of Mad-Eye Moody.

Maybe you don’t recognize me?” The witch waved her staff over her head and a blue light fell from the orb on top it and flowed over her form. The staff started to shrink down until it resembled a wand and her body began to fill out. With a sickening squelch, her thighs and breasts appeared while her skin turned translucent before settling into a flawless white. Her face was the most horrifying as the eyes rolled back and the lips twisted and tore until blood dripped from her mouth and her cheeks filled with fat before the skin could sew back up. Once done, the face of Morgan Malory smiled back from under dark eyes.

“So Arthur’s heir is a Slytherin. Pity, I’ve been looking in the wrong place,” she said while eyeing the sword. Her flat American vowels had rounded giving her a strange accent. “The offer still stands, boy. Hand it over and I’ll return little Lovegood to you without a scratch. Well… other than the ones she already has.” She laughed.

Under his hand, Draco could feel Excalibur grow restless and angry, urging him to use it against the enemy before him. He took a deep steadying breath and closed his eyes for a moment.

“Tick, tock. Tick, tock! Or is power worth more than the life of your friend?” Her hand over her wand twitched.

Draco slowly pulled the sword out and suppressed the urge to lunge at her. The darkness of the forest receded under Excalibur’s glow. Malory licked her lips greedily as Draco took a step forward. The sword sung to him the stories of a hundred battles and his body moved under combat memories that weren’t his own. He could see the weak points on Malory’s body and knew exactly how close he’d have to get to strike her down.

Something in Draco’s next set of movements must have alerted Malory to his intentions as her eyes narrowed and her wand swept forward calling forth a whirlwind of rocks, earth, branches, and leaves. “You foolish children,” she said through her manic smile. “You’ve no idea who you’re dealing with.”

The whirling debris stopped and hung in the air suspended all around them just on the edges of the darkness. Draco moved forward intent on fighting when everything started to move together. Malory directed the maelstrom with her wand while throwing out her left hand towards Draco. He felt as if he had been slammed with an invisible wall and was thrown back a few feet back to where Harry and Hermione stood. Instantly Harry’s hands were on him pulling him up. His hand around Excalibur held on so tight it ached.

“Enjoy my pet,” Malory cackled.

A large form took shape on the forest floor and grew as bits of wood and rock in the air fell onto it like jigsaw pieces coming together. As it pulled up the ground shook. From its back sprouted two massive wings which collided with and cut down several smaller trees in the area. Four thick legs which ended with claws that raked through the earth like massive knives grew up underneath it. The head resembled the skull of a dragon and when it roared the three had to cover their ears. Instead of fire, a shower of ice and rock rained down.

“Get back!” Draco shouted and he turned to retreat. Harry ran with him casting curses over his shoulder but Draco had to pull Hermione who had stilled and gaped up at the beast.

“That’s a dragon!” Hermione shouted near his ear.

“Granger! If you state the obvious one more time, I will let that thing eat you!” Draco shouted back. The beast roared again and Draco grimaced as something sharp struck the back of his leg. He threw himself and Hermione behind a massive oak and watched as shards of ice and rock landed in the trees around them. Harry had found cover nearby and was sending out his own hexes.

Hermione leaned around the tree. “Incendio!” she yelled and ducked back behind the tree. “Damn!” The smell of burning brush started to waft over them and Draco glared at the bushy haired girl next to him. She tried again. “Double damn!”

“Hit the fucking thing!” He shouted while pulling her forward again and motioning Harry to follow. The sound of Malory’s laughter followed them. He waved Excalibur banishing the darkness.

“I did! The spells won’t land!” Hermione said. Instead of attacking the dragon she threw out a series of hexes behind her at a few trees and knocked them down to block the path.

They ducked behind another large tree and collided with Harry. “Are you two okay?” Harry asked as he looked them both over.

“We’d be better if Granger could focus her magic!” Draco spat. He wasn’t mad at Hermione. Whatever was lodged in his calf was slowing him down and wearing on his nerves. Some instinct told him not to pull it out or he’d risk bleeding and wasting his energy. He sighed. They could hear the dragon forcing its way around.

“It’s old magic!” Hermione said and clapped her hands together. The two boys turned to her, Draco not having enough energy to glare just raised an eyebrow. “Old magic takes old magic to defeat, remember?!” She tapped Excalibur and Draco had to grit his teeth not to jerk away from her.

“Fuck,” he muttered. He shoved himself off the tree and turned to them. “Give me a distraction.”

Harry nodded and looked towards Hermione. They held a silent conversation before both took off in different directions to flank the dragon and hurling spells. Draco breathed in slowly and pressed the pommel of the sword to his lips before stepping out of his hiding spot. The shard of ice or stone sticking from his calf caused his leg to seize but he pushed through it and rounded on the dragon.

The beast had focused its attention on Hermione whose spells were aimed at lobbing branches and boulders at it. She grunted and swore as her wand waved furiously about. The dragon got closer to her before Draco could get in range and smashed into her with one heavy claw. Her body folded over and flew into the darkness. Harry yelled her name and took off running across the dragon’s path drawing its attention.

Draco surged forward and sliced at the beast’s back with Excalibur creating one long gash from the underbelly near the hind legs to the top of its back. The roar which followed was deafening and Draco staggered backwards as the dragon whipped around struck out with its tail.

Time seemed to slow and Draco took another step backward lifting the sword between him and the tail. Somewhere deep inside him, maybe from his blood, a cry formed and he gave the next swing of his sword everything he had cutting the tail off in an explosion of rocks and twigs. The dragon now off-balance whirled around and attempted to bring its rock formed teeth down on him. His strength was waning, but so was the beast’s, and with the last bit of energy he had Draco sank to his knees and held thrust the sword up and through the dragon’s skull.

The pressure of magic pushed back on the blade but he held it firm and began to work it forward until he had pushed through the jaw and out the top of the neck. He was showered in rock and earth as the spell started to disintegrate leaving piles of debris in the scarred forest. From somewhere to his right he could hear the enraged scream of Malory as she watched her “pet” die. He couldn’t help the small smirk forming as he stood up and caught his breath.

Then the witch was running and he heard Harry and Hermione shout. He ran towards the sound of frantic feet fleeing through the forest. He felt like a hunter and he smiled again as he closed in on his prey. Excalibur sang for blood at his side and he made a silent promise to fulfill that need.

When he came upon the next clearing and the darkness receded, he stopped dead causing Hermione and Harry to nearly collapse on him. Granger held an arm around her stomach and was slightly bent over. The two of them held their wands out steady at Malory who crouched over the still form of Luna Lovegood. Malory’s hair was wild and her dress was torn. She looked insane making her deranged smile even more menacing on her face. She ran a hand across Luna’s face as if she were caressing her child. “You’re too late for this witch.”

What happened next felt just as surreal as when he had pulled the sword from the lake, or when time had slowed as he cut the dragon’s tail. Hermione turned to Draco and threw her purple beaded bag. He caught it out of reflex and watched as she raced to Luna’s side. Malory laughed at them closing her eyes. The dried blood of her transformation had caked around her mouth and fell in flakes down into the swell of her breasts. Hermione grunted and ran across the clearing. She slid across the last patch of forest floor and laid a hand on Luna’s side right before all three women vanished.

“Hermione!” Harry screamed into the emptiness and rushed where they had been.

“She’s one crazy witch,” Draco muttered before the world dimmed and he fell to his knees dropping Excalibur.

********

Harry heard the crash behind him and turned to see Draco lying face down on the ground. Excalibur laid next to him in a rusted heap as if mimicking its owner’s collapse. He forced his immediate concern for Hermione down and rushed back to Draco. A slowly melting shard of ice stuck out dark and dirty from his leg and Harry pulled it out with one hard yank. He flinched as an arc of blood followed it and quickly cast a healing spell. They weren’t his forte, but he knitted the muscle and skin back together leaving a jagged scar. Turning Draco over he was relieved to see the other boy’s chest rise and fall with deep breaths. Just as the aftermath of battle seemed to be ebbing away leaving Harry tired and sore, the sound of a twig snapping had his nerves back on high alert.

Harry stood and held his wand in a trembling hand trying to locate the next threat. He closed his eyes and listened. Another snap. He twisted around and thrust his wand forward bringing it to the neck of the man behind him.

Harry’s hand wavered.

“Nott?”

Chapter Text

Theodore Nott flicked his eyes down to the wand at his throat and then glanced back to its owner. He rose his eyebrows up in question and then took a pointed glance at Draco lying on the ground. “Potter,” he said inclining his head slightly. He kept his posture relaxed and his hands in his pockets presenting an unthreatening image.

Harry’s hand shook slightly before he dropped it to his side in exhaustion. “What are you doing out here?” he demanded. Something about Nott had always bothered Harry. Theodore had always seemed tight with Draco’s inner circle during their years at Hogwarts, and Harry knew Nott’s father to be a death eater, but Nott himself had never taken the Dark Mark himself. It didn’t help that boy’s rabbit-like face reminded Harry of Wormtail.

“Followed you,” Nott explained. “I was in Hogsmeade, bored out of mind, and what did I see?” He moved from in front of Harry to look fully down on Draco. “You, Granger, and him coming out of the house of a known Auror. So naturally I followed.”

Harry had pulled out the Marauder’s Map to make sure the coast was clear but he didn’t recall seeing Nott’s name near them when they were in Hogwarts. “How did you know where to find us?” Harry asked still on the defensive. He side-stepped his way between Nott and Draco. The other boy huffed as if he were amused even though his face stayed impassive.

“He,” Nott pointed down at Malfoy, “said something about the lake. I took the long route to see what you were up to.” He paused and his eyes went slightly unfocused like Hermione’s did when she was deep in thought. “He’s breaking parole, correct?”

“What are you playing at Nott?” Harry’s wand had risen again, not to full height, but enough to make the other pause.

“I’m just trying to assess the situation,” Nott said stiffly. He took a step back and put his hands up in the air showing he wasn’t armed. When Harry showed no signs of backing off he sighed. “Look, Seamus would kill me if I didn’t at least try and help you out.”

“Seamus? You mean Finnigan?” Harry asked confused. He knew the two had become something like friends over the last term but he wasn’t sure how deep that friendship really went.

“Is there another one? Gods help us if that’s true,” Nott scoffed. He took a breath and looked up to Harry. Malory’s unnatural darkness had dissipated, but the sun was setting fast and Harry had a hard time making out the expression on his face. “I heard the fight. Put out the fire, by the way. You’re welcome.”

Hermione’s rogue incendiary spells had caught some of the drier trees on fire. Harry winced at the reminder, he had forgotten all about it. “Why would you help us, really?”

“I told you. If you’re too thick to understand then forget it. I’m sure I could gain some leniency from the Ministry by reporting him.” Nott turned as if to leave and Harry grappled to come to a decision.

“Wait!” he called out. Harry dropped to a knee and picked up Hermione’s bag and the rusted sword. He then pulled Draco into a sitting position before hauling him up to his feet. “We could use your help.”

“Obviously,” Nott drawled in a haughtiness that Harry suspected came from being raised as a pure-blood. He came around to Draco’s other side, and when both boys had a good hold on him, they made their way towards the edge of the forest. “Tell me what happened.”

So Harry explained as quick as he could about the threat he and Draco had been investigating, about how Sully’s condition had led them to find an answer and break Draco’s parole, and finally how they had faced off with Malory in the forest. He left out the parts dealing with the prophecy and Excalibur feeling as if he had already given too much ground. By the end, Nott was looking down at Draco as if he had never seen him before and Harry was resisting the urge to just leave Nott and drag Draco out of the woods. At the slow pace they were going, it would take hours to get to Hogsmeade.

“I see,” Nott said slowly. They both now had their wands out and lit to see in the darkness. “What do you need me to do? The Aurors will be at Hogwarts by now.”

“Do what you can to get back inside without being noticed,” Harry said with relief. “And get a message to Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom. Whatever you do, you can’t tell any of the faculty or the Aurors. And if it comes to it, only trust the headmistress.”

Nott digested the information and during their silence Harry realized the temperature was dropping rapidly. He’d have to use the camping gear in his rucksack and get some heating going. Between them came Draco stirred with a groan.

“Will you help us?” Harry pleaded. He still didn’t trust Nott, but if there was a way to get a message out to others, he had to take it. When the Slytherin nodded, he let out a long breath and felt some of the tension leave his body. “Great, here this is what you need to tell them.”

Once Nott took off with directions to the tunnel by the lake, Harry pulled Draco towards a decent looking clearing. The light was fading fast and his wand only revealed so much. Setting up the tent quickly, he placed the wards Hermione had taught him before pulling Draco inside. He did everything mechanically and was surprised how second-nature the procedure still felt after all this time. To his relief, the tent was a slightly smaller version of the one he, Hermione, and Ron had shared when they had been on the search for Horcruxes. There was one chamber with beds, a small kitchenette, a bathroom with no shower, and place for a fire.

Dropping Draco off on a cushion, Harry left the tent to gather firewood. When he came back he noticed Draco had shifted and could see his eyes move under his eyelids as if the boy was dreaming. Focusing his efforts on the fire, Harry tried to tackle one issue at a time. If he allowed himself to worry, he’d be useless. It had been easier during the war to be brave when it was just his life on the line and the lack of control over the situation left him exhausted.

The tent warmed up quickly to the point Harry had to remove his coat. He only hesitated for a minute before taking off Draco’s layers and checked him over for injuries. Outside of some superficial cuts that would have to heal on their own, he appeared fine.

Harry slumped over and sighed. He glanced between Draco and the sword which still remained rust covered and bent. “I wish you were here, Hermione,” he whispered.

********

“Ugh…” Hermione rolled over on her side and coughed until she felt as if she had no more air in her lungs, and then hacked again as she felt her stomach flutter and threaten to empty. Rocking back flat to the ground, she took stock of her body. Her vision was blurry and her head was pounding. There was a pain across her midsection where the dragon had caught her during the fight and she was sure she had at least one broken rib. Thankfully she couldn’t feel blood. Her hands traced her pockets, but she couldn’t find her wand. No matter, she had expected that to some extent. Instead, she focused her breathing and willed her body to heal a little bit faster in a technique she had read at the Ministry on wandless magic.

“Hermione?”

“Luna?” Hermione’s eyes shot open and she looked around. The room she was in was small and dark. Underneath her was a floor made of bricks and she noticed that the room smelled like a barn. She groaned as she sat up and clutched at her side. “Where are you?”

“I’m in here, in the corner,” Luna said. Her voice sounded odd, less breathy than normal. “I’m sorry to say I am not sure where we are.”

“Well, at least we’re together, and you’re alright?” Hermione gasped out. The pain seemed to spread every time she took a breath. “Is there any way out?”

“Oh, no. I don’t think so,” Luna hastily replied. Hermione still couldn’t see her through the dark. “Are you alright?”

“I think I’ll live.” The silence which followed had Hermione on edge. She couldn’t even hear the other girl breathe in their shared space. On her hands and knees, Hermione started to crawl in the direction of Luna’s voice.

“Stop!” Luna cried out. “Please. Don’t come any closer.”

“It’s okay, Luna,” Hermione reassured. “We’ll find a way out of here.” She sat back on her legs and winced. “How did you end up in the woods anyway?”

“I—I’m not quite sure.” Luna shifted from her corner of the cell and cleared her throat. “I was spending Christmas with Nev and Daddy and then I woke up here.”

“Christmas? That was two days ago!” Hermione ran a hand through her hair and it caught on mess of twigs and tangles. “I don’t suppose you have your wand?”

“No… but I don’t think it would do any good if I did. There were wards outside this room earlier. I can’t see them anymore.”

Hermione swallowed a gasp and shuddered. She took a look around and found that one wall appeared to be made of bars, and sure enough she could just make out the bluish form of a strange shield humming. “Your magic?”

“Gone,” Luna responded and she sighed heavily.

“It’s okay Luna, we’ll get out of here. I just have to think,” Hermione said and she started to crawl towards the bars. If she could recognize the area just outside, she might be able to tell where they were. “I wonder how she apparated us inside the grounds…”

“Hermione, you really ought not to try escaping.” Luna’s voice made Hermione shiver. She heard Lovegood shift and stand up dragging one foot forward as if in great effort. “Please.”

“Luna I have to—”

Luna screamed and lunged at Hermione with her hands outstretched. She fell over just before reaching and appeared to struggle against herself to go forward. Hermione watched with wide eyes as the girl writhed, thrust one hand forward, and tilted her head back in a loud moan. As her eyes adjusted to darkness she could make out Luna’s clothes which she hadn’t noticed in the forest. The girl wore the thinnest of shirts and a pair of pajama pants that were torn and caked in mud. Luna’s hair fell in her face and she crawled towards Hermione without seeing.

“Luna it’s me!” Hermione pleaded. The girl’s body continued to lurch forward in jerky movements. Her hands scraped against the brick floor leaving behind dark streaks. “Please, stop! I won’t find a way out. I won’t try to escape! I promise!”

Suddenly Luna’s body stopped pushing forward and she fell to the ground with a groan. Hermione tried to stand but her legs gave out, so she pulled herself alongside Lovegood. “Oh my god,” she said and ran a shaking hand over the collapsed girl. “What’s happening?”

“I’m sorry I can’t be of more help, Hermione.” Luna’s breaths came in slow and shallow. Her eyes fluttered open and shut as if she were trying to stay awake. “It seems I’m not alone in my head.”

“Shh, don’t say anymore.” The vow to not escape might have been earnest when she said it a moment ago, but it didn’t stop Hermione from searching around the cell with her eyes looking for a weak point. “It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere,” she promised. Not without you. “Can you tell me who did this to you?”

“Mor—Morgan—”

“Morgan?”

Luna shook her head no but didn’t try to speak further. Hermione ran a hand through the girl’s hair and shushed her again. For the first time since the war, Hermione felt helpless, but she’d be damned if that kept her from fighting.

********

The tent’s interior décor was so erratic it reminded Draco of Professor Trelawney’s classroom. The furniture he could see from the his spot on the bed looked as if it had been assembled by the cheapest purchases available at a second-hand, or maybe even third-hand, shop. A moth eaten and mottled green armchair rested just next to the door by a bruised oak dresser. The door had been left open giving Draco a good view of the kitchenette with its strawberry red backsplash on top of emerald countertops. The kitchen had some sort of wallpaper that looked to be a scene of flowers chasing Crups, but that thankfully ended in an off white paint signifying what he could only guess to be the main area. The whole thing screamed Weasley.

He groaned and rolled over to his side where a half-naked Potter lay asleep next to him. The interior design only could keep his mind occupied for so long before thoughts of last night’s battle took over. He flinched when remembering Granger’s body crumpling from the impact of the dragon’s talons. Her quick recovery had been impressive, but not nearly as heroic as her attempt to get to Luna.

“Idiots,” Draco murmured as he ran a hand through Harry’s hair. “The lot of you Gryffindors… idiots.”

The man next to him mumbled something in his sleep and rolled over to face him. Draco watched as green eyes slowly opened and locked on his own. He couldn’t help but lean in and softly kiss Harry.

“You’re awake,” Harry said after he pulled away. “You had me worried.”

“Which is why we’re in a tent?” Draco asked with a smirk. The shelter in question must have come from Harry’s rucksack.

“How’d you know it was a tent?” Harry blinked around the room and threw out a hand for his glasses. “Looks like a small home to me. At least on the inside.”

“Usual tells.” Draco pointed to where the walls met the ceiling and canted at odd angles that didn’t seem to quite reach the top. “This one is old. There’s a draft this side of the bed and no windows. Modern tents have those.”

“This was a gift from Ron and Hermione,” Harry said and wrinkled his nose. “I think it was meant to be a joke, a reminder of the time we lived in one for months. I don’t think they actually expected me to use it.”

“Your friends are disturbing,” Draco replied. He could see the concern in Harry’s face and it broke through the fragile façade of peace they had built in the small moments awake together. Taking Harry’s face in his hands, he kissed him hard and pressed into his lips the reassurance and care he couldn’t quite voice. Harry opened his mouth to the kiss and Draco rolled on top of him as they went further. His body shuddered with fatigue but he kept himself up with shaky arms.

“You still haven’t recovered,” Harry said and pulled back. His glasses hung crooked on his nose and Draco felt a surge of protectiveness wash over him. He shuddered again and not from the bone deep tiredness he felt.

“We’ve got to go.” Draco pulled away and began to look around for his clothes.

“Right, we need to find where that bitch took Hermione and Luna,” Harry said as he pulled a shirt over his head. He cast a few cleaning charms on his clothes and Draco noticed his own lay on the chair and had already been cleaned and folded.

More importantly, he saw his sword resting with them. After dressing he picked up Excalibur and once again marveled as it came to life under his touch. The sword hummed pleasingly under his hands as if the battle had satisfied a small amount of its want to be used. The sword had a way of making Draco want to fight and it scared him. He’d never been one to rush into a conflict, preferring to stand on the sidelines and intervene only when necessary.

“When I picked it up in the forest,” said Harry as he pulled on his coat. “I was afraid it would disappear. It felt wrong to touch it and I had to keep reminding myself not to just leave it behind.”

Draco frowned. “It must be part of her way of defending herself.” He ran a hand over the runs and watched them light up even brighter under his touch.

“Her?” Harry asked with a small smile playing around his eyes. “I didn’t realize swords were girls, being all pointy and whatnot.”

Draco rolled his eyes and tried not to let on he was embarrassed by his slip up. He had never felt a particular attachment to an object before and he found himself thinking of the sword as something living and precious.

“Last night,” Harry started and paused gaining Draco’s immediate attention. “Last night, I ran into Nott.”

“Here? In the forest?” Draco asked adjusting the belt around his waist. His coat was just shy of being long enough to conceal the blade. Nott had been a wild card during the war, and while he had been friendly to Draco in the past, Slytherins weren’t exactly known for their loyalty. “You don’t think he’s with Malory?”

“No, well, I hope not.” Harry leaned on the wall and tilted his head up. “I gave him a message to send to Ron and Neville.”

Draco let that roll around in his head for a moment. “What made you think you could trust him?”

“Something he said. That Seamus would be upset with him if he failed to help us?”

Rubbing a hand over his face, Draco failed to hide an amused laugh. “Zabini was right. I didn’t even see it.” He shook his head and groaned at the strangeness of it all. “You know we’re indebted to him now? He’ll come asking for something.”

“As long as he doesn’t rat you out, I’ll be happy,” Harry replied. “He did threaten to turn you in if I didn’t tell him what was going on.”

At that Draco laughed again and ignored Harry’s quizzical looks. If Nott was passing up an opportunity to gain favor with the Ministry by keeping Draco’s whereabouts a secret, Draco certainly wasn’t going to discourage it. Saying he had a hand in helping rid Hogwarts of a new threat, no matter how trivial that help was, would probably gain him enough credibility to at least have a hope at a future after graduation.

Draco braced himself before speaking again. “We aren’t looking for Granger, not yet. We’ve got to get to St. Mungo’s.”

Harry stiffened and turned to face him fully. “Hermione’s in the more immediate danger.”

“I know, but we have no idea where Malory took her and Luna.” The idea of facing off with Malory again so soon frightened him. If she could summon a dragon from just rocks and twigs, what else was she capable of? “The Aurors will no doubt be at Hogwarts searching for me. We’ve lost the element of time and we don’t know how many chances we’ll get to save Sully.”

Draco watched Harry coolly as the other boy clinched his hands into fists and looked everywhere but at him. Harry was a born leader, Draco thought, and his current need to save his friend coupled with his need to have control and warred against Draco’s words. Draco began to prepare his arguments, but eventually Harry nodded his acquiescence and they began to gather their belongings in silence.

Outside a fresh snowfall had fallen around the tent and the Forbidden Forest deceptively appeared tranquil. Draco pushed out his hand to test the wards Harry had placed around them and was mildly impressed by their strength. The finesse of their design was lacking, but where Harry lacked in talent he made up with raw power. He walked the perimeter while Harry tore down the tent and then looked over in confusion as Harry placed a single Galleon on the ground.

“What’s that for?” Draco asked pointing at the coin.

“It’s for Ron. He’ll be looking for us,” Harry replied as if that were enough of an explanation. He glanced up at Draco and noted the other’s confused expression before continuing. “Hermione made these. We used these to keep in touch during the war. If he finds this, I’ll be able to contact him.”

“Clever,” Draco said with genuine admiration. Hermione’s cleverness had used to be a bane to Draco; he had hated being second to her in marks. Now Draco imagined that if he allied himself with her, they might just be unstoppable.

Harry offered him the invisibility cloak and he pulled it on as Harry activated the Marauder’s Map. “Look, several new names in the Headmistress’s office and around the grounds. We’ll have to go the long way around to the road Hogsmeade before we can leave,” Harry said. “Can you apparate?”

“Yes.” Draco thought about the restriction on his magic due to the parole. “Not that I’m supposed to, but since we’re breaking the law anyway…”

“In for a penny?” Harry smiled to himself and started on a path to the edge of the forest and around the lake.

The distance around the far side of the lake looked shorter on the map than it was in reality. After an hour of hiking through knee deep snow, the boys stopped to cast warming charms and eat. They had gone through Harry’s stash of sweets long before now and were left with the sack of cookies from Gretta’s house. Even being a day old, the small biscuits were moist and not overly sweet. With the fatigue Draco had been feeling, he found himself wondering if he had tasted anything so good in his life.

“I wonder who he was making these for,” Draco said.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked with a smidge of chocolate on his lower lip.

Draco stood and dusted himself off. “Well, you saw the tea tray, right?”

“So? Everyone drinks tea.”

“There were two cups on the tray.”

Harry stopped and frowned. “Do you think there was someone with him?”

Draco shrugged before remembering Harry couldn’t see him. “It’s possible. But I don’t think Gretta would have set us up. If someone was there, he must trust them.”

“I don’t see how you can trust him so easily,” Harry replied. “I mean, I do now, I think. But I’m just surprised at how well you get along.”

“He’s been assigned to me since I was put in the detention center.”

Harry, who was unused to Draco talking about his time in confinement, kept silent. Draco kicked at the snow by his feet and sighed. “He didn’t treat me like a Malfoy. It’s ridiculous, I know, but I thought my name would still pull weight after I got out. But Gretta’s not a man swayed by money or status. I don’t know what all he’s been through, but he’s sincere with the kids he works with. He was the first person who told me I could change. That I had the ability to be something… to be good.”

“He wasn’t wrong,” Harry said and he thought he could hear Draco smile over the silence of the woods.

“No, I suppose he wasn’t.”

********

In the morning, Hermione woke with a stiff back to the soft humming of Luna Lovegood. The cell remained dark with only the light of the wards and one lonely torch just outside for illumination. Luna had crawled back to the darkest corner of the room and her humming stopped as Hermione propped herself up.

The pain in her side had lessened significantly overnight, but Hermione still couldn’t stop from wincing or moaning when it flared from her movements. At least it seemed a little bit easier to breath. She took a moment to do a few deep breathing exercises and focused on her core. Wandless magic, much like Old Magic, was unstable and took a great deal of effort to work. Part of Hermione’s internship had been dedicated to studying the theories behind sources of magic. She was skeptical of what had been described in her textbook as cores, or centers, of power that resided in each witch or wizard. It had all sounded too much like what her hippie muggle aunt considered to be “chakras,” but at this point she was willing to try anything.

Luna’s senseless melody once again drifted over Hermione and she tried to look within and seek out her power. Somewhere in her muggle-born body she had the ability to do magic. Accidental magic happened all the time in untrained witches, so it was only logical she should be able to consciously pull off something. Even a simple light spell would be useful in their dark prison.

“Daddy says meditation helps clear the mind and protect against evil influences,” Luna said in a voice barely above a whisper.

“Does your father also talk about how it takes immense concentration?” Hermione ground out. She immediately felt guilty for the anger behind her words, but let it go as she took another deep inhale.

“He does.” From her corner Luna stood and yawned. “He also says there’s a time and place for meditating.”

Hermione scowled even though it was doubtful Luna could see her expression. Giving up on her endeavor, she stood on wobbly legs and hobbled to the nearest wall. Just as she had started to slide down the wall she heard footsteps approaching the cell. Her heart was in her throat by the time a figure shadowed the entrance.

“Slag!” The person, the woman, spoke from just outside. “Come here!”

“Me?” Hermione’s mind raced. Slag? The voice sounded familiar but not quite enough to place.

“You’re the only tart I see,” said the woman. She threw something to the ground and walked off leaving Hermione confused and frightened.

“Don’t mind Professor Brown,” Luna said. “She’s just… sad.”

“That wasn’t the woman who brought us here.” Hermione shivered as she made her way to the entrance. A foot or so from the bars lay a small sack. Touching the bars, Hermione had found, caused immense pain to shoot through her body as if the iron had been electrified. She got down on her belly and stuck one slender hand through inch by inch. Even though she hadn’t come in contact with the metal, her skin started to prickle with heat and itch. Her forehead had broken out in sweat which rolled into her eyes by the time her fingers grasped the bag. She pulled it through with one smooth motion and clutched her arm to her chest. Her dark skin looked irritated and felt hot to the touch.

Inside the bag was two crusts of bread, an apple, and a small glass bottle of water. “I suppose she thinks this enough for two people,” Hermione said and sighed as she hobbled back over to where Luna sat. The other girl shrank away from her. “I’m not scared of you, you know. You don’t have to stay away from me.”

Lovegood didn’t reply for a moment and Hermione felt as if she were being judged.

“I know you’re not, Hermione,” Luna replied. “I just don’t want the other person in my mind to hurt you. They’re not very friendly.”

Hermione curled up on herself and forced herself to not think about what Luna had just said. “Come on.” She rolled the apple to Luna. “Let’s eat. Who knows when we’ll get the chance to again?”

********

As they drew closer to the road, Harry took to hiding behind the trees and rocks that were becoming steadily less dense. He crouched low by a boulder and pulled out the map. “There’s two Aurors at the gate,” he whispered and pointed. “Maybe you can slip by with the cloak?”

Draco stood outside the rock and watched the two sets of red robes stationed at the gate. They looked bored and complacent, obviously unaccustomed to trivial guard duty, which only meant they were higher ranking and more dangerous than the regular Aurors assigned juveniles. Still, the invisibility cloak was a formidable tool.

“Harry,” Draco whispered. “What if McGonagall’s taken me out of the wards?”

Harry’s study of the map ceased as the thought settled over him. He shook his head. “No, I don’t think she would do that.”

“How can you be sure?” Draco started to sweat under the cloak despite the temperature. “She could have been ordered to. What if the wards keep me in as well as out?”

“She wouldn’t,” Harry replied. “She knows you’ve been helping me, and she stood up for you before.”

Nothing for it then. “Okay, I’m going.” Draco stepped out from the rock and heard Harry muttering the obliteration charm on his footprints from the rock. They wouldn’t cover the ones where he stood so he had be quick, but a hiss from Harry and a voice sounding from the road startled him to a stop.

“What do you think you are doing out here?” The headmistress called from the road. Draco’s heart had started to beat obscenely fast before he realized she hadn’t been addressing him.

“Headmistress McGonagall!” said one of the Aurors at the gate. “We need to keep an eye on—”

“I’ve heard the orders, but I will not have Aurors patrolling the grounds without going through myself first.” McGonagall pulled up to the two men at the gate about twenty yards short. Her mouth was set in a grim line and her eyes were shadowed in anger under the wide brim of her hat. The two men stepped forward to meet her. “The Ministry has no authority over Hogwarts. Or do I need to remind you of the Dolores Umbridge scandal?”

“Headmistress…” The Aurors looked to each other for help and Draco held back a snicker. He took the moment of distraction to rush as quietly as possible to the gate and slipped through, only feeling a shiver of the wards around him.

Draco wasted no time heading towards the nearest cover, a low hedge just past the gate. He waited counting his breaths and tried not to panic, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to accomplish this without Harry.

“Draco!”

“Here,” Draco breathed and tossed a nearby rock to his left which sunk in the snow. Harry came around the hedge and crashed into his side.

“Sorry,” Harry muttered while untangling himself from Draco turned and obliterated their footprints.

“How did you manage without getting seen?”

“McGonagall,” Harry breathed out. He chuckled to himself and shook his head. “She basically pulled those two to the castle by their ears. Are you ready?”

“No,” Draco answered honestly. He took off the invisibility cloak and grabbed Harry by the arm. “Let’s go.”

********

While he hadn’t been a patient at the hospital too often himself, Harry was fairly well acquainted with St. Mungo’s from his time visiting all those who had been hurt during the war. He had carried a feeling of failure at every student and faculty member who had ended up there hurt by curses or injured by explosions. Still, he was sure the door in front of them was not a usual entrance. The half-boarded up door stuck out from a pile of crushed weeds and had a sign condemning it as an out of order men’s room. “Where are we?” Harry asked.

“This is a back entrance,” Draco shrugged. “One the Death Eaters would take when they were injured.”

“They had healers here?” Harry couldn’t imagine it. It would have been very risky to bring in a Death Eater to the same place Aurors would be brought. “They didn’t have…”

“What? Their own evil hospital? Please, Potter.” Draco pulled out his wand and cast a spell Harry had never heard. “Healers can be bought just as easily as anyone else. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve taken a vow to help those who need it. Come on.”

The door opened up to a stairwell which Draco started going down instead of up. He took the steps two at a time and kept his wand out at his side. Harry noticed for the first time he couldn’t quite see the sword at Draco’s side. It was as if every time he tried to look directly at it, his eyes were drawn away and to something else. The amount of spells Draco had learned in subterfuge during the war astounded Harry. He’d have to ask about it later.

Down into the basement section of the hospital they followed a route which Draco seemed to know well. “Where are we going?” Harry asked. He struggled to keep up without breaking into a slight jog.

“Laundry.” Draco stopped short of an unassuming door and muttered a quick Alohamora. The lock didn’t move and he frowned down at it before pushing the door open and shrugging.

The wizarding world constantly surprised Harry. The one consistency he could count on ever since receiving his letter from Hogwarts was to always expect the unexpected. He was not curious as to why Draco was taking them to the laundry room of the hospital, he was sure Draco had a plan. He had also assumed the room would have at least one house-elf and perhaps giant barrel vats steaming with clothes, or a line of magically powered pressing stations, or just anything but this

The inside of St. Mungo’s laundry room was almost muggle. The room had been divided by a half wall with low tables for folding and pressing on one side and three industrial washing machines and two small tubs on the other. Instead of house-elves there was a large man in a grey uniform whose bald head came to a point and who hummed a tune while his giant fingers delicately folded small napkins. A buzzer sounded and the giant man lumbered over to a machine with a large canvas cart and started to pull out clothes and gowns. He continued to pull and pull until the pile towered from the cart to the ceiling, much more than a muggle machine would have ever been able to hold. The sight of the magically expanded machine had Harry relaxing a bit. That was closer to normal.

“What are we doing here?” Harry whispered. He had visions of crawling into a cart of folded clothes and being snuck around the hospital.

Draco held up a finger to shush him. “Earl!”

“Hmm?” The large man turned slowly and looked over at the two boys by the door. His face looked too small on his large head but the minute he saw Draco his eyes lit up. “Draco!”

“Earl, my man, how have you been?” Draco asked and he had a smile from ear to ear that Harry didn’t quite trust.

The big man seemed to deflate. “They took me wand. I want to go visit Mummy. I don’t like working here.” He shook his head and his eyes watered. “But it’s good to see you!” As he stomped over abandoning his folding station, Harry had to force himself not to take a step back. The man was at least a head taller than Hagrid.

Earl swept down and pulled Draco into a hug, literally pulled him from ground and for a moment Harry worried his boyfriend was about to be crushed, but Earl held Draco as carefully as someone would a kitten. Draco’s body was stiff but he patted the giant with a free hand.

“Put me down, Earl,” Draco said. “There you go. Let me introduce you to my friend Harry.”

“Was you one of them boys who beat up on my friend Draco?” Earl asked and turned a toe curling scowl at Harry.

“Um, no?” Harry looked at Draco for a clue. Draco stood smirking at the two of them. “No, I’m Draco’s friend. From Hogwarts.”

“Hogwarts! Oh, I always wanted to go to Hogwarts, but Mummy didn’t like it. Said they were too posh for us,” Earl said and his shoulders slumped down.

“I’m sorry?”

“Harry, Earl here was my cellmate at the detention center,” Draco said introducing the large man. “Gretta had us placed together after the first week of my stay there.”

Earl let out a guffaw as if remembering time at summer camp and not prison. “Draco got beat up pretty bad—”

“Yes, Earl…”

“He couldn’t keep them others off him for one day.”

Earl…”

“So I protected him!” Earl finished proudly. Harry held back a laugh and looked apologetically over at Draco.

“Earl!” Draco snapped. The giant turned his large puppy dog like eyes to his friend. “You haven’t sent me an owl in a long time,” Draco tutted. “I wasn’t sure if you were still here.”

“Oh, I’m sorry ‘bout that, Dray,” Earl muttered. “You know I can’t write well. What brings you to me work?”

Draco straightened and ran a hand down his side where Excalibur lay hidden. “We need to get to the fourth floor, into the stasis ward,” he explained. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a way in there?”

Earl chuckled and pulled a giant key ring from his pocket. The keys looked to be made of different types of metals and crystals. Some of them pulsed with various colors of light and while others sat cold looking like regular iron. “I got a key to every room in this place! Well, all but the doctor offices. But Dray, I can’t be giving these to nobody. They told me not to.”

“We’d only need them for a little bit,” Draco pleaded and Harry was surprised to see an almost sincere expression on his face. “Please. I promise we’ll bring them back.”

“No, I’m sorry. I don’t want to get in trouble.” Earl shook his head and started to put the keys back into his pocket.

Draco sighed. “I’m sorry too, buddy. Petrificus Totalus!”

Harry and Draco both darted away as the giant’s arms snapped to his sides and he swayed before falling forwards. His large head came in contact with a folding table and smashed through the wood like paper. Harry winced and then rushed to the hand with the keys and started wriggling them from fat fingers.

“I am really sorry, Earl,” Draco said over the giant’s head. “I’ll make it up to you and send your mother some chocolates, hmm? This is probably better. You can’t get in trouble if someone overpowered you.” Draco patted the pointy head once and turned to Harry who had finally released the keys.

Out in the hallway, Harry handed over the keyring and looked at Draco trying to guess if he had been really sorry for what happened or not. Draco flicked one key after the other smiling. “He’s labeled each one, fortunately,” Draco said.

“Mind telling me what all that was about?” Harry asked as they came to a service stairwell. Draco took a key marked “Stairs” and unlocked the door and they made their way upwards.

“Earl’s mother is a giant and he’s half-giant. Gretta placed me with him because I needed protection and Earl needed a friend.” The stairs wound upwards in a great spiral, and instead of floors, the doors were marked by sections: Rooms 121-144, Cafeteria, Atrium. “Earl and his mother were arrested for the misuse of magic. He, um…” Draco glanced over to Harry. “He may have taken a bite out of one of the arresting Aurors.”

“A bite?!”

Draco scowled. “He’s got the mind of a five year-old. It wasn’t his fault.”

Harry swallowed down a wave of nausea and kept his eyes on the doors. They continued higher and higher and the exertion started to wear on both of them. Neither had had much to eat besides cookies hours ago, and the fight from the night before had still left Draco drained. The time it took to ascend let Harry consider all the ways Draco had changed since the war. The old Draco would have never been friends with a half-giant. Just thinking of how he used to treat Hagrid would sometimes send spikes of fury through Harry. But there wasn’t any mistaking what he just saw, Draco had promised to send gifts to Earl’s “mummy” and had seemed sincere in his apology. He filed the memory away to share with Hermione if they found her—once they found her.

“Here, thank the gods,” Draco said panting next to a door labeled Critical Care Rooms 401-413. He flicked through the keys before pulling out a small black one with silver edges. “The keys will allow us to pass through the wards. Honestly, if Earl wasn’t working down there anymore, the plan was overpower whoever and take them. Could have been a lot messier.” Harry tried not to feel put out for not knowing the plan going in.

He pushed the door open and the two boys slipped into the hallway. “We should have visitor badges, so just… don’t act too obvious,” Draco ordered. “Or just flash your scar and a smile and buy us some time.”

“Which room do you think she’s in?” Harry asked. He looked into the first and found it empty and then scanned the rest of the hall. His fatigue was falling away and was being replaced with the type of adrenaline he felt when doing something outside the rules at Hogwarts.

“That one,” Draco pointed down the hall where a few chairs had been set outside a door and a smaller form was laid out as if someone had pushed them together and was sleeping. They walked as if they belonged only passing a frazzled looking healer who didn’t seem to take notice of them as she scanned the charts in her hand. “Marvin!”

The person lying out on the chairs sat up in a grunt and rubbed his eyes. Harry recognized him as the Slytherin Keeper, a small boy who was surprisingly effective at blocking goals. The boy’s dark hair stuck up in the back and his eyes had circles. He had a balloon tied to his wrist that was enchanted to say “Get Well Soon” and “I Love You.” “Whosit?” Pucey mumbled.

“Pucey!” Draco hissed. He threw a look over his shoulder and tensed. Harry turned to see a healer down the hall pointing in their direction from the reception desk. “Wake up. Is Sully in this room?”

Marvin recovered and stood, the balloon bobbed around him. “Malfoy!” He looked as if he were going to give Draco a hug and Draco stepped away. He seemed to have met his fill of physical contact today. “What are you doing here?”

“I need to get in her room and…” Draco glanced at the two healers at the desk who started to move towards them. “I need you to help keep them out.”

“Draco,” Harry warned. He had his wand out, and upon seeing it, the healers started out at jog. “Go!”

Draco had the key to her room out and looked at Pucey a moment before the boy gave a nod. He pushed the pulsing ruby key into the door and the wards shimmered as if resisting before falling away.

“Wands out, Pucey,” Harry said and moved in front of the door.

“Are you Harry Potter?” Pucey gaped up at him.

********

The entirely white critical care room held minimal amount of furnishing so that nothing interfered with the magical energies keeping Sully Murdoch under her induced coma and stasis. There was one cot, similar to the ones in Madam Pomfrey’s hospital wing, and a table next to it holding Sully’s personal items. The candy and flowers had been cleared away leaving just her clothes and the stuffed dragon Draco had seen on his first visit.

Above the bed and tethered by a single silver thread from her head to the railing, floated Sully. Her hospital gown fell flat against her body like a table cloth and her hair hung down in one long pony tail. Everything about her body was stiff and unnaturally still. Swirling around her was a cloud of blue and black fog which glittered with silver specks like stars forming in a nebula. They pulsed and flashed different colors that Draco knew to be reports on her vitals. The one nearest her heart only glowed faintly and Draco felt heavy to see his formerly strong Beater weakened to this near death state.

Drawing out Excalibur made the cloud around Sully rumble and grow. The ward on the door also flared bright and he closed his eyes taking a moment to feel the call of a fight just outside in the hall. The sword wanted to aid in that struggle, but he had a more important mission. From his notes on the spell in the Grimoire, it seemed likely that the cursed object would try and stay with the victim, but he couldn’t see any jewelry on her body through the angry cloud.

“Sully,” Draco shook his head. “Why would you accept something from that bitch?” He quickly moved to her clothes and belongings on the table and started sorting through her empty pockets. Then a flash of purple caught his eye and he looked at the stuffed animal. Hanging around the neck sat the same five pointed crystal star he had once banished from his classroom when Malory had visited. He growled and reached to take it.

The moment Draco’s hand came in contact with the necklace the room became cold and he could sense her. A thousand years of anger and jealousy bombarded his thoughts, and somewhere behind it all a fear. A fear that time was quickly running out, that another prophecy was close to fruition and that Malory would lose her chance for… for what he wasn’t sure. Then there was a rush of greed that sucked and drew power from Sully into the necklace; and not just this one, but dozens connected to others in Hogwarts and a few outside of it as well.

Draco threw the necklace to the ground and felt a shiver of disgust rake through him. The magic felt tainted. Not light or dark, just wrong like a pestilence or poison in a stream. Even Excalibur could sense the taint and had changed targets from the fight outside to the cursed item. He swung the sword low and held the blade over the star. Once again, he had no idea what he was doing and allowed instinct to control his movements.

Bringing the blade high with both hands, Draco narrowed his eyes on the small target and swung it down with as much strength as he had used on the dragon. The aura of magic stopped the blade just inches from the necklace and he pressed on. Excalibur’s runes flashed and burned in the air creating a heat which made the air dry and too hot to breathe. He took a large inhalation and continued to press down pouring his own magic into the blade like he would his wand. The memory of Sectumsempra flared from the scars on his chest, and though he had never used it himself, he felt it as the curse burned down his arms into the blade. A new, darker set of runes appeared on Excalibur’s blade as the curse added itself to her power. Blinking the sweat from his eyes, Draco could see the sword slice through the resistance around the cursed item one layer at a time.

With one last push accompanied by a shout, Draco shoved past the last bit of resistance bringing the blade down on the pendant. The release of magic shook the room and Draco had to shove Excalibur to the ground to keep his body up right. A ringing filled his head as if he had been concussed and he turned to see the cloud around Sully turn green before disappearing entirely.

Draco leapt up and ignored the tiredness of his limbs as he sliced the tether connecting Sully to the bed rail and caught her in his arms as she drifted down. Her eyes were closed and her lips were blue. He couldn’t tell if her chest was rising or not.

Closing his eyes, Draco held Sully close, dropped Excalibur to the bed, and sought his wand. “Rennervate.”

Her eyes stayed closed. He tried not to panic.

RENNERVATE!”

Sully’s eyes flashed open and her sudden intake of breath startled Draco. He crushed the small girl to his chest. She coughed and shoved at his shoulder with weak arms. “Malfoy?” Her voice was rough.

Draco smirked down at her and pushed her bangs from her face. “Told you I would figure this out.”

Chapter Text

A December chill seeped through the cracks of Hermione’s prison from every wall except the entrance of mesh bars where the magical wards exuded temperatures close to melting to deter escape. Waking with chattering teeth, Hermione had crept to those bars and was now passing her hands back and forth over them as if she were standing over an open fire. The enchantment had the effect of warming and chasing off the numbness in her digits and giving her a temporary way to stave off hypothermia. She had tried to coax Luna out from her dark corner of the cell but no manner of persuasion had worked and the girl had been charmingly polite in her refusal and thankful for Hermione’s concern.

The time of day escaped Hermione’s awareness and had been replaced with the infrequent and unpredictable intervals of Professor Hyacinth Brown who seemed to deliver their meager meals based on her own convenience and not whether Luna and Hermione actually needed to eat. It had turned out that Hermione did recognize Brown’s voice, though she had never met the woman outside the funeral of her daughter Lavender Brown. Lavender had been mauled by the werewolf Greyback during the Battle of Hogwarts. As part of her grief, it seemed Mrs. Brown blamed Hermione for stealing Ron from Lavender, a pointless and misplaced emotional outlet.

Thinking of food made Hermione’s stomach grumble so she spent most of her time silently planning and occasionally checking on Luna. It was amazing how much her cognitive ability had been impacted by insufficient food and restless sleep. Her thoughts had started to come in sluggish and shallow as if her head were filled with mud. When inspiration did hit the pressing need to get warm would often interrupt her more lucid moments.

Taking a few quiet breaths, Hermione tried once again to “look within” as her textbooks had described to find that source of power each witch carried. Considering Luna’s last fit over her attempts to even think of escape, Hermione thought it best to not advertise her intentions and keep these little meditation and brainstorming sessions short. She folded her now warmed hands in her numb lap, sat up straight, closed her eyes, and let go. The goal was to abandon all thoughts and just focus on the body, a goal she never accomplished in her training. Choosing not to think was a thought within itself and the whole exercise had seemed futile and stupid before she found herself wandless and trapped. Now that her thoughts had become slow and she had increased awareness of all the pain and cold in her body, she found it easier to simply breathe and be.

Hermione edged forward until the heat of the bars warmed her front from her forehead to the middle of her chest and her knees. There was a spark of an idea and she shivered. Acknowledging it and placing it aside, she sought out what she imagined her magic to look like, a swirling, water-like ball right below her navel. It was something warm, tangible and always present like a heartbeat, and just like a heartbeat, not noticeable until one looked for it. Just as she felt a swell of heat and a crest of light which couldn’t be explained in any way outside of abstraction, the previous thought she had let go of flashed back in a blind rush.

Flicking her eyes open, Hermione looked at the door to her prison. The bars. The enchantment on them hurt. It burned the skin and surely full contact with them would be much like being on the receiving end of the Cruciatus Curse. She wasn’t sure if the ward on them worked on the outside as it did on the inside, but it might be her only chance. The only wild card would be Luna. The enchantment Morgan had placed on her was similar to the Imperius Curse and would trip anytime Hermione showed any signs of escaping. She’d have to be quick.

Hermione swallowed around a lump and tried not to shudder. She’d have to incapacitate Luna.

Inside her pocket, a single Galleon started to burn.

********

Wand out, Harry shoved Marvin Pucey who still had the ridiculous balloon tied around his wrist to spur him into action. Pucey was a fourth year student. Harry racked his memory of what sort of dueling spells he had learned in fourth year and cursed when he realized he hadn’t learned much of anything that year inside the classroom. He’d have to hope that being a Slytherin would mean the kid knew more about hexes and jinxes than the average Hogwarts student.

Pucey squared his shoulders and turned with his right hand out and left shoulder back giving the advancing medical team a smaller target. He narrowed his eyes and with a swish of his wand and quick spell sent a flurry of papers and clipboards soaring from the faraway reception desk at the three hospital workers heading at them. The first clipboard caught the lead medi-witch by surprise and the papers meet in a rattling cloud momentarily blocking their way forward.

“Nice,” Harry admitted. He watched as the cloud got separated by an irate looking man and he threw up a shield charm before the first stunning curse came zipping at Marvin. Marvin dodged away from Sully’s door while Harry stood his ground. Harry really didn’t want to resort to hurting or hexing the healers, but he knew this was Sully’s only real chance of surviving this ordeal. “Come on, Draco,” he muttered. “Stupefy!

A burning sensation came from inside his pocket and Harry felt a momentary thrill of success. At least Ron had managed to find the campsite. His elation was short lived as he saw a wand level in his direction. As he brought up his own to cast another shield, Pucey hit the healer with a Bat-Bogey hex that had the small woman cursing and raising her hands against the creatures suddenly crawling from her nose.

Ducking behind the row of chairs which had been Marvin’s makeshift bed, Harry sent out blind stunning curses as he groped his pocket for the coin now heating to a distracting level. The serial number glowed with “12.” He shoved it back into his pocket and banged on the door to hopefully hurry Draco the hell up. The healing team was only yards away and he didn’t want to resort to anything that might hurt.

Petrificus Totalus!” Pucey roared sending the healer trying to correct the Bat-Bogey hex down to the floor. A stunning spell knocked into the younger kids shoulder and he fell back with a cry and a dazed look.

Sully’s door opened and Draco came out holding the girl in a bridle carry. “Finally!” Harry shouted. He leapt across the hall and pulled Marvin upright before dragging him back and laying another hand on Sully. “Hold on!” Harry had a moment to relish in Draco’s wide eyes before apparating.

The reason Harry had never been able to pass his apparation test wasn’t that he was incapable of performing the spell, it was more that he couldn’t help pouring too much power into the execution. The last time he had taken the test, the examiner had asked Harry to take him to the entrance to Gringotts. The resulting trip had made the front page of The Prophet the following day. Harry had made it successfully into Gringotts. His power had ripped through the wards around the entrance and behind the line of Goblin tellers who had immediately converged on him and the examiner. It had taken Shacklebolt a week to calm the goblins and dispel the rumor that Harry Potter had turned into a flashy bank robber. The goblins had still been sore about their dragon.

Despite being an utter failure in getting his license, Harry had learned something important. When push came to shove, he could break through certain levels of wards. He had tried in Hogwarts as sort of a test, but found the castle’s protection too much. St. Mungo’s had less protection against apparation than both Gringotts and Hogwarts and when he cast the spell he could feel the wards shatter like fragile glass hurled at concrete.

“Bloody hell!” shouted Sully from her position in Draco’s arms. She beat her fist on his chest but Draco refused to put her down. They had landed in a few inches of snow down a smelly, nondescript alley a block from number twelve Grimmauld Place. Sully shivered and clung to Draco, she still only wore a hospital gown and had nothing on her feet besides non-slip socks. “How the hell did you do that?”

Harry felt his face heat up and he looked at Draco who stared at Harry as if he were some unusual specimen Hagrid had brought out for the class to observe. “I don’t really know,” Harry mumbled. “Come on.”

The boy Harry still held onto stirred and blinked around coming out of his stunned stupor. “Where are we?” Pucey asked.

“Close to my house,” Harry answered and started walking and leading the strange group down the street. “Just remember the address: number 12 Grimmauld Place.”

“You’re your own secret keeper?” Draco asked. The sword banged against his side and his wand lay in Sully’s hands out and ready.

Harry just nodded his head and stopped between number eleven and number thirteen and waited for everyone else to concentrate on the address. Ron would already be inside, probably by travelling via Floo, and Harry braced himself for the upcoming storm that would be his best-mate’s emotions over Hermione’s disappearance. The home rumbled out of its hiding spot squishing the other residences to the side in a way that never ceased to amaze Harry.

Harry barely had his hand on the door when it was wrenched open with force and he found himself being pulled inside by the lapels of his coat into the ever surprisingly strong arms of Molly Weasley.

“Harry!” she cried as she crushed him to her. The feeling of familial love he always had around her and Arthur returned with force and he blinked back tears. “Oh, come in, dears!” Molly said as she eyed the rest of the group watching the awkward reunion from the porch. “Come in! You must be cold.”

Marvin stepped inside first and looked around in open curiosity at the dingy foyer. While Harry had been living there since the end of the war, he had not found any time to really do anything to renovate the inside. He was simultaneously pleased and irked that the hall had been freshly swept and mopped, no doubt by Molly. Draco came in and finally set Sully gingerly on the ground before turning and shutting the door.

Molly eyed Draco with a seriousness that made Harry want to step between them. Draco didn’t say anything nor did he seem to acknowledge her stare. The only sign that he felt anything other than boredom was a small tick of his lips as he looked around. In what appeared to be a decision to leave him alone, Molly turned her attention to Sully who had returned Draco’s wand and stood shivering and bouncing from one foot to the other.

“Oh,” Molly mouthed. “Ginny!” Molly quickly pushed her way past the boys and took a startled Sully by the arm. “You must be cold! Luckily you’re about the same size as our Ginny. She’ll might have something for you to wear. I’m sure she still has the odd shirt or something over here.” Molly’s eyes flicked over to Harry for a second before returning to Sully, and Harry could see Draco stiffen in his peripheral vision.

Ginny came bounding down the stairs with her red hair swishing behind her. She dove in and gave Harry a hug with a small sob and he felt all the affection for her as he always did. “You stink, Harry,” Ginny said when she pulled back.

“Yeah, well, a night in the woods after dueling a bad witch will do that,” Harry replied. He watched her look over to Draco and could see the resentment behind her gaze. “It wasn’t his fault,” Harry whispered and she gave a stiff nod.

“What did you need, mum?”

“Ginny, could you find…?”

“Sully, ma’am,” Sully supplied. She had her arms wrapped around her middle and her face looked paler than normal.

“Could you find Sully something to wear?” Molly finished with a smile that told everyone it was an order and not a request.

“Sure, follow me.” Ginny led Sully back up the stairs warning her to be quiet in front of the curtain over Walburga Black’s portrait.

“I think you all better follow me to the dining room. Everyone’s waiting to hear what happened,” Molly said and she ushered the three boys down the hall. It suddenly felt more like a meeting of the Order than it did returning home and Harry felt his stomach churn with anticipation.

********

This, Draco supported, was a surreal moment. Harry had said he was living at a place inherited from his godfather, but he had never said that it was the Black family house. The Black family house which he had apparently let fall to the wayside. Draco felt a fleeting desire to throttle Harry for the house’s neglect before he rationalized it might not entirely be his fault for the current state. Walpurga had been dead for a long time and it wasn’t like Draco had any real ties to the place outside childhood visits. He wondered if Harry knew the main hall with its dark paint and monochrome decorations could look as vibrant and brilliant as any old pure-blood estate with the right care. Probably not.

Oddly his relation to the house itself helped him not feel too overwhelmed when Mrs. Weasley opened the dining room door to reveal a room full of people he had never thought to be meeting outside of Hogwarts. Mr. Weasley sat next to George while Weasley, Ron type, paced back and forth behind them. Professor McGonagall had stood abruptly from her chair at the head of the table next to Auror Gretta and was making a beeline for their group, and Longbottom sat on his own opposite of George looking down into a half empty tumbler of amber liquid. If there had been conversation it had immediately ceased on their arrival. And as quickly as McGonagall had started to them, Ron got there first with his fist connecting solidly on Draco’s jaw.

“Ronald!” Mrs. Weasley gasped and turned Draco around so quickly he was not sure whether he was dizzy from the punch or her heavy handed ministrations. Irritation flared and he flinched out of her grip and spun on Weasley whom Harry had now restrained on the far side of the room. Mrs. Weasley still attempted to cast a healing spell on his jaw which gave a sick pop.

“What the hell was that?!” Draco yelled to the best of his ability. “Hell” came out sounding like ell and “that” like at.

Ron’s brick red face twisted into a snarl and he shoved off Harry. “What did you do to my wife?”

“Ron, it wasn’t his fault,” Harry added to the shouting while stepping between them.

“I don’t need you defending him, Harry,” Ron said and turned a glare at his best-friend. “This is what happens when you get involved with Malfoys. Where are Luna and Hermione? If anything happens to them…”

“You’ll what?” Draco pushed. He spat a glob of blood of torn cheek on the floor and felt the spittle drip down the right side of his face. Harry’s eyes were wide and he imagined he looked a lot worse off than how he felt. Mrs. Weasley’s healing spell had the practiced patience expected of someone with a house of rowdy boys and the tough she-weasel. Draco found his right hand going for Excalibur and pulled himself back a half step.

“Ron! It was her choice!” Harry shouted again. “You know there was a risk. There’s always a bloody risk!”

As if Harry had spoken magic words, Ron’s shoulders slumped and he appeared a few inches shorter. His breathing which was already ragged started coming in deep, frustrated gasps and he blinked away tears. “That’s all supposed to be over, Harry,” he all but whispered.

Harry drew Ron into a hug and patted him on the back. Mrs. Weasley let out a huff and a pulled Draco by his arm back to her so she could finish cleaning him up muttering something about unhygienic spit and contaminating the dining room. Draco allowed himself to be pulled though he blushed thoroughly from being fussed over in front of so many people. If Harry hadn’t shared all his stories of his time with the Weasleys, Draco would have tried to put her off.

“Well, it’s nice to know some things don’t change,” McGonagall said as she edged carefully up to them. She looked back and forth from Draco and Ron with her mouth set firm and her eyes chastising without words. Draco scowled back refusing to feel guilty about this altercation. He was the one who got hit after all.

“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Weasley tutted. “That’s going to leave quite the bruise, I’m afraid.” She backed off and turned a menacing motherly look on her son. “Ron, why don’t you help me serve Harry’s guests some dinner?” She stalked to the kitchen area and her son followed looking even glummer.

“Harry, Draco, have a seat,” McGonagall said and she flicked her wand pulling out two chairs next to Longbottom. Draco took the one furthest from everyone else just in case any other Weasleys decided to become violent. His hand never left the hilt of his sword. “Now, I think you’re overdue for your report, Mr. Potter.”

Harry started in on his explanation of events while Draco remained silent on his side. Somewhere about halfway Ginny and Sully came back and joined the group with Sully wearing a small yellow dress and her hair braided. They took a seat at the table next to Pucey who had largely gone forgotten by the others. Weasley and his mother returned with bowls of some sort of hot stew and crusts of bread, but no one ate while Harry talked. Harry’s hand crept underneath and coaxed Draco’s free from his sword and held onto him without stopping his story. He gave Draco a squeeze and it was ridiculous how much better Draco felt from that slight reassurance.

“Stop,” McGonagall halted the story with a raised hand. The party around the table looked a bit stunned from the account of events. Even the morose Longbottom had come out of his sullenness with a raised eyebrow. “Do you mean to say you believe Draco has found the Excalibur?”

“It is Excalibur,” Harry insisted and he turned to Draco.

All eyes shifted to Draco and he twisted in his chair. Something about being in a room of former enemies made him want to keep the sword close to his body and not lose his only advantage. Harry’s gentle pressure on his arm had him sighing and pulling the blade out and laying it on the table. He kept a hand on it and watched with the rest as the runes glowed and swirled on the blade. A set of dark crimson runes which almost looked black stuck out from the other golden ones and though Draco couldn’t read them, he knew those to be his addition of Sectumsempra.

“I’ll be damned,” muttered Mr. Weasley behind his hand. His words broke the tense silence between them and everyone shared a look of awe. “No one’s seen that sword in almost a thousand years. And you pulled it from the lake, not a stone?”

George Weasley snorted and tapped the table. “England dodged a bullet. Could you imagine if he did pull it from the stone? King Draco Malfoy?”

Despite seeing the humor behind his words, Draco prickled with the irritation of one being made fun of. His hand left the sword for a minute to rub his face, but it was long enough to turn the blade to rust and a collective gasp sounded in the too quiet room.

“Blimey, what the hell?” Ron said. He reached out to touch the sword and Draco wanted to smack his hand away, but a larger, rational thought wondered if Ron would be able to wield it as they did share Malfoy blood. Ron’s large calloused hands came down on the cold, dead blade and nothing happened outside a faint glimmer sparking from the contact happened.

Draco couldn’t help himself. “You have to be found worthy to hold the blade, Weasley,” he snapped and pulled the sword back from the table and into his lap.

“Well, the ‘Lady of the Lake’ must have missed the mark on that, yeah?” Ron sneered. Draco could hear Harry give an aggravated sigh in time with McGonagall.

“Boys!” McGonagall addressed them as if they were still fourth years. Draco could see Sully holding back a grin, the traitor. “I think we can all agree that the presence of the…of Excalibur confirms Mr. Malfoy’s role in the prophecy. Which leaves us with who is Morgan Malory and where did she come from.”

“And where did she take Luna and Hermione,” added Longbottom. He looked up past Harry and straight at Draco. The determination in his eyes and the confidence suddenly appearing in his posture reminded Draco of when Neville had spoken out against the Dark Lord.

Draco found himself speaking from a place that was both his own mind and that of a strategist which he would later reflect was the sword’s influence. “We should figure out what Malory was trying to accomplish at Hogwarts. I don’t think I was her main target.” Draco glanced over at Sully and regarded her pink face and watched her chest rise and fall. “When I broke the cursed necklace Malory gave Sully, I saw a part of her plans. She’s looking for something, something that will make her more powerful than she is now. If I can figure that out, I might be able to find out where Luna and Granger is.”

We,” Harry interjected. “We’ll be able to. And we’ll stop her.”

“Hogwarts is home to many magical artifacts and not all of them on record,” said McGonagall. Gretta put an arm on her shoulder and Draco wondered on why he was there and not at the Ministry. “Looking over the entire castle, even with help from the other professors, will take too long.”

“The grimoire?” Ron asked and Draco nodded without making eye contact.

“We already thought whoever was behind the curse had access to a similar book,” Draco said. “The answer to her search might be somewhere inside this one.” There was nothing to do besides translate the book and hope for the best. Draco could see the idea settling on this group of Gryffindors with reluctance. What they needed was action and the prospect of waiting was positively painful from the outside.

McGonagall stood. “I’m going to fetch Poppy to have a look over each of you and I’ll need to owl Miss Murdoch and Mr. Pucey’s parents.”

“Er…” Pucey stirred from his quiet corner and eyed Draco warily. “I think you best leave my parents out of this, Headmistress. They don’t take too well to Malfoy, sorry.”

“They’ll need to know your whereabouts.”

“Yes, but…by now they’ll know that he was involved, right?” Pucey shrugged down into his chair. “And I know where this place is, so I don’t think it would be wise to send me home.” He shuddered. “I’m going to be in so much trouble.”

“You think they’d force you to tell?” Harry asked his voice rising high at the end of his question. His hands gripped the table and his knuckles were white.

“Unless you plan on making me take an Unbreakable Vow or are going to Obliviate me, I think they’d love to get a shot at the Malfoy family, sorry again.”

“Damn Slytherins,” Ron quietly cursed from across the table.

Harry’s face flushed, and before Draco could grunt in agreement, Harry was speaking again. “Fine. You’ll stay here. Merlin knows there’s enough rooms. You too, Murdoch?”

The red head nodded looking sheepish. Draco doubted her parents had the same hang-ups with the Malfoy family as Pucey, but didn’t voice his opinion. If Murdoch wanted to stay at Grimmauld, then let her. There was probably no place safer at the moment and he didn’t trust the Ministry to not get involved.

The headmistress placed both hands firmly on the table and rose from her chair. “Very well. If there are no further objections, I will go fetch Poppy. Until we can clear up this with the authorities, Miss Murdoch and Mr. Pucey will stay at here.”

“Seems like old times, eh?” George asked no one in particular. Harry made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a sigh.

********

When they opened the door, the room coughed dust into the hallway. The smell of mold and disuse hit both girls at once and caused Ginny to sneeze and Sully to take a wide step backward.

“Sorry,” Ginny said between sniffs. “I don’t think Harry’s opened many of these up.”

Sully took in the Spartan room and shook her head. She was not about to tell the Weasley girl that despite the conditions, this room was much larger and nicer than the one her parents had felt she deserved in their mansion. The room held a full sized bed pushed into a corner, a writing desk, and old dresser which most definitely had the look of being inhabited by a boggart.

“I’ll bring up some extra clothes, since we’re about the same size.” Ginny gave Sully a once over and smiled a small, nearly placating smile.

“Don’t have many Slytherin friends?” Sully asked. She smoothed out the pink cotton shirt borrowed from the girl in front of her and hoped that it was just the house division which created unease between them.

“No, well, no. I don’t,” Ginny admitted. “But that doesn’t mean you’re not welcomed here. If Harry brought you, that’s good enough for the rest of us.”

Sully nodded feeling strangely foreign, like an invader or wayward explorer who found themselves in an exotic locale. Her thoughts should have been on what she had missed, how long she had been out, but all she could consider in that moment was how jealous she was of the Gryffindor next to her. They were nearly the same size and had the same hair, but that’s where the similarities stopped in Sully’s mind. She was flat chested and sticklike where Ginny had developed more womanly curves. Her jaw was square and muscular, Ginny’s face oval and soft. Sully shaved the hair on her arms and Ginny’s was dusted with blond strands so fine they were nearly invisible.

Ginny said something which Sully missed. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I said, ‘Would you like to do your hair?’” Ginny replied. “It’s a little flat from the hospital, and I don’t know that much about hair. Mum’s always fussing about mine, you know. Not girly enough, or some rubbish. But I do know a braid that would look nice. I mean, I think it would. Merlin, I’m rambling.”

Sully blinked at her for a moment before inclining her head.

“Good,” Ginny breathed and fixed on a more believable smile. “That’s good.”

********

After the debriefing and a personal retelling of the battle in the Forbidden Forest with Weasley and Longbottom, Draco separated from the group and went looking for the upstairs sitting room to look over the last notes Hermione had taken from the grimoire. He found the room to be in the same state as the other areas of the house: dark, dusty, and in need of a furniture update as of four decades ago. Casting a quick cleaning spell over a neglected armchair, Draco settled in with Hermione’s purple bag on his lap and Excalibur resting to his left.

He had no more than pulled the black book out from the bag when Excalibur hummed to life beside him. For an instant, Draco had an almost irresistible urge to destroy the book. His stomach twisted in disgust and a violent, unexplainable hatred rolled through him. Stashing the book back down in Hermione’s purse, Draco breathed in slow and forced his emotions back down to a manageable level.

“Well this is going to be problematic,” Draco said to the room. The sword’s residual memories, or at least that was the running theory, seemed to recognize the book. While those memories had aided him in battle by giving him confidence and the knowledge of fighting he lacked, they were clearly counterproductive in this instance. Not wanting to entrust the blade to anyone else, Draco opted to look over the notes he and Hermione had pulled together instead.

Hermione’s handwriting stuck out on the pages in front of him looking alive. The words in their neat script reminded him with every loop and curl that the brilliant mind behind them was out there. Draco still did not feel the kinship with Granger as Harry did, but he felt the guilt of those who constantly sought redemption. Selfishness can only rule over one’s life for so long before it destroys and consumes. Draco’s hand traced over her script and he thought in time he might be able to be forgiven. In time, he might learn to love others as passionately as Harry.

After an hour of reading, he found it.

~*~

Grimoire of Mordred, the Fallen Knight

Entry: Ceridwen’s Cauldron

Translated and Transcribed by Hermione Granger-Weasley and Draco Malfoy

Note by H.G.: Muggles have their own ideas about this cauldron. Some stories claim Ceridwen to be a goddess and others portray her as a sorceress. My research in History of Magic has not yielded any information leading me to believe either is entirely factual.

This entry seems to be a historical account of the theft of Ceridwen’s Cauldron by Merlin. The artifact is much like the Sword of Gryffindor or Excalibur, a seemingly normal item which holds great power and magical significance. The cauldron has the supposed power to brew a potion which allows for the successive reincarnation of the imbiber while retaining memories from past lives. Additionally it grants “the gift of Poetry and Wisdom.” This description is commonly known to be referring to the ability to produce spells, potions, and hexes in old literature. Essentially, whoever drinks this potion could create any matter of magic they desired.

~*~

Draco blew out a long breath and sank into the newly cleaned chair. “Fuck.” He rubbed a hand over his eyes creating stars in the darkness of his vision. Had Hermione figured it all out before throwing him her purse?

“Not good?” Harry stood at the entrance to the sitting room in a fresh change of clothes and holding two cups of tea. He made his way over to the chair next to Draco, plopping down in a cloud of dust. “It’s never good, is it?”

The tea was scalding and bitter and just the way Draco preferred. “What sort of magic would you create if you could do anything?” He expected an immediate answer and not the long silence of Harry’s contemplation.

The tea had cooled to an acceptable drinking temperature when Harry finally responded. “I would have said to bring back people from the dead before…”

“Before what?”

“I guess before the war,” Harry said looking away. “Doesn’t make sense, right? We lost so many, I should want to bring them back.” Draco said nothing, his hand shaking the tepid contents of his cup. Harry sighed and drew back his awareness to the room in one long breath, blinking away the memories just outside of his vision. “Everyone has to die at some point. I think I would rather have a magical power that could stop people from killing others; or something that could stop people from dying too early.”

“Always the noble one,” Draco replied. He sat his shaking cup down and when he looked up found Harry staring at him with a soft expression. “And what if you were an evil sorceress?”

“Is that what we’re up against?” Harry returned.

“Not yet.” Draco stood from his chair and took the tea cup from Harry’s hand. He left behind the grimoire and the notes, the sword and the bags. He let them fall from their places onto the threadbare rug and unpolished floor. And then he let himself down until he was sitting on Harry’s lap with a grace meant to entrance and captivate his lover. It did.

“She’s close. What she wants, it’s at Hogwarts.” He took time to look into the green eyes in front of him, soaking in the expression and color until he thought he could feel Harry’s responses as his own, and then he kissed his lover with the desperation of those who can see their last hour on the horizon.

********

One… two… three…Wingardium Leviosa.

The feather with the broken quill and ruffled edges lazily stretched up a quarter of an inch before plummeting down and away from Hermione’s outstretched finger. It had moved. Of course it had moved. It always moved. From the time she had started the feather had twitched, but not until the thirtieth or fortieth iteration had Hermione successfully confirmed it was due to her magic and not just random gusts of air. Now, the trick was to make it move more.

“There’s no science behind it,” Hermione said to the quiet room. Luna had stopped talking to her save for a few sentences, leaving Hermione feeling alone in the dark. “Why do they teach us the swishes and flicks of our wands when magic used to be done without them? That’s a rhetorical question. I know the reason why; I just think the entire school would benefit in a proper history of magic. One that skipped the goblin wars and concentrated on the evolution of magic. Evolution. Such a muggle way of thinking about it.”

“Wizards know about evolution,” Luna whispered. Hermione jumped and lost her feather to the darkness of the cell. She looked around for just a moment before turning and facing the direction of Luna’s voice. “Some magical creatures evolve faster than non-magical varieties. Some, of course, do not evolve at all. Like the mome rath.”

“Mome raths are just from a children’s story, Luna,” Hermione said as softly as she could.

“Well, yes,” Luna returned and shuffled in her corner. “But that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.” And with that the silence fell between them again.

Accio feather.” Nothing. “Damn.”

In the distance the heavy steps of their jailor came and grew louder. “Find your muchness, then you can do the spell.”

Hermione looked up from the floor to Luna quick enough to make her dehydrated head swim in stars. “What?”

“Come get your food,” said their captor from the iron grate. Hermione had felt sorry for the woman initially, but the hours had pressed into her a growing desire to take revenge. She had started to find everything about the woman annoying and dreadful from the peach color of her robes to the annoying trill of her voice. The plan she had be formulating would either mean the end of their food supply or their freedom. “Come on, get it!”

“Hold on,” Hermione groaned. Standing took effort as her legs often fell asleep from the cold and from sitting on the ground without support. A tingling numbness itched every limb as she lumbered over to Brown. She shook feeling back to her hands and slowed her pace to buy a little more time. “Mrs. Brown? I never said this, but I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want to hear your apologies, they won’t bring back my Lavendar,” Mrs. Brown spat. She shook the sack of food and turned to drop it.

“No!” Hermione yelled. She struck out her hand ignoring the searing pain as her arm grazed the gate and grabbed a handful of Brown’s robe. Brown stumbled sending Hermione’s arm painfully wedged between two bars before the younger girl could steady them both. Hermione dragged the purple robes, strangely soft after the nights sitting in unwashed clothes, through the bars setting Brown’s entire body into twitching spasms as she slammed into the grate from head to toe.

Luna howled from behind and launched onto Hermione’s back. The extra weight, something Hermione had factored in her plan, helped to anchor their captor. Hermione screamed as Luna’s nails dug into her arm and a thin line of skin curled on itself from her wrist to her elbow. Hermione screamed.

When Brown’s body stopped twitching and her wand dropped from her hands, Hermione released her hold sending both her and Luna to the ground. “ACCIO Wand!”

The wand twitched, and for a moment, Hermione gave into that niggling point of despair that it just would not come. “Accio Wand,” she whispered ignoring Luna writhing behind her. The slim wood stirred, struck the metal with an ear rattling clang, and landed in Hermione’s outstretched hand.

Luna squirmed out from under Hermione panting and growling. She swiped out with an open palm sending ropes of Hermione’s messy brown hair flying but missing the girl’s face. Hermione leveled the wand at Luna and looked into her friend’s wild, glassy eyes.

Legilimens.

Chapter Text

A door. How quaint.

 

The art of Occulmency is the wizard’s (or witch’s) defense against the art of Legilimency, what the muggles might call “mind reading.” This spell, or technique, blocks intruders from entering the mind and is dependent on both the skill and the imagination of the casting witch or wizard. Some keep out the invader by brute force and some in more artistic ways. For example, if one were to try and delve into the mind of Hermione Granger, they would first be met with a seemingly endless row of shelves mirroring the Hogwarts library. Each book, upon first inspection, would be empty and the information stored in Granger’s mind would be kept in relative safety. If Hermione would try and breach Draco’s innermost thoughts, a task she has considered more than once, she would find an enviable fortress. Harry belongs to the first category of wizards who merely expel the Legilimens with raw power.

 

As Hermione found herself standing in a long dark corridor looking at plain wooden door at the far end, she couldn’t help feeling slight smug at her own ability to come up with something more creative, and surely more secure, than a plain oak door with a brass door knob. Still, caution called for vigilance, and before Hermione took another step into Luna Lovegood’s mind, she took inventory.

 

In her right hand, Hermione held a wand. Not the wand of Hyacinth Brown, but her own, a mental projection of both comfort and defense. Her clothes seemed refreshed though she still wore the outfit she had when Morgan captured her. Around her neck was something foreign, a pendant on a leather thong.

Fearing Morgan’s games, Hermione scrambled to pull the object off getting it tangled in her hair until she was forced to pull it back down. Breathing hard, she closed her eyes trying to will the object away, and when that didn’t work, she pointed her wand at it only to find any spells cast at herself wouldn’t come.

 

“Fine,” Hermione gritted out. “We’ll play by your rules, whoever you are, but we will not like them.”

 

Every little step she took forward illuminated the hallway from the floor under her foot. A pulsing, electronic type of light rushed from the soles of her feet and stretched forward towards the door. Each step was a neon facsimile of the colors of the rainbow and if Hermione could hear beyond her steps she would catch the hum of a note—so-fa-ti-do-la-do.

 

Magical disco lights aside, the dark walls of the hallway created an optical illusion. She could sense she grew closer to the door, yet it looked just as distant as ever until she was right in front of it and realized with a start that the door was actually no bigger than a tarot card.

 

“Damn,” Hermione cursed, loud to her own ears. She got down on her hands and knees and without grace tried to examine the door. The knob felt fragile in her huge hands and a twist of it revealed it was locked. Double damn.

 

“Eat me.”

 

“AHH!” Hermione stood suddenly and clutched a hand over her mentally projected heart. Here parasympathetic responses seemed intact in Luna’s mind. Down near her feet, which now looked strangely far away and out of reach, stood a small chick shaped pastry with black painted eyes and a lumpy beak. It flipped and chirped, before looking at her with blank eyes. A large tag hung off its neck.

 

“Eat me!” It chirped again without opening its mouth, or beak, or whatever was the exit for its voice box.

 

“I will not!” Hermione declared. She waited for the frustrating silly feeling which should come with arguing with pastries, but it didn’t come.

 

“You will if you want to get through me,” said a second voice. “There’s only one way through, and all you must do is chew.”

 

Hermione whipped back around to the door which had grown at least an inch or two since her short conversation with the chick. “Did you just talk?”

 

“Well of course he did,” chirped the chick who had flown over to the door to be in her line of sight. “And he’s right, you know. Just eat me!”

 

“Luna’s insane,” Hermione whispered.

 

“Now, don’t you talk about our lovely Luna Lovegood that way,” the door chastised. “She’s been kind enough to give you a key and you’re already late.”

 

“A key? Late?”

 

“Late for tea of course. And, what else did you think was around your neck?”

 

“Dense this one is,” said the chick. The door responded with a thoroughly patronizing huff in agreement.

 

Hermione resisted her urge to yell at not-so-inanimate objects, and looked down at the pendant. It was gold or brass and in the shape of a capital “M” with an extra loop on the end. She had seen it before but couldn’t place where. “So if I eat him? Which he’s apparently consenting to…,” Hermione shuddered. “Then I can open you with this key?”

 

“Now she’s catching on! Eat me already!” The chick pecked futilely at Hermione’s shoes and flapped its thick, glutinous wings in impatience. “You can’t go back the way you came in, the only way is forward. Or sideways, but I wouldn’t suggest that.”

 

“No, sideways is never preferable. Best to keep to the path.” The door gave a cough and a tremor. Hermione started to respond that she could make her own decisions until she realized these objects were probably Luna herself speaking.

 

Hermione stooped down and grabbed the chick with one confident movement.

 

“Oi! Easy! That hurt.”

 

“I’m afraid this next part will hurt a lot more,” Hermione said. She wondered if she should kill the tiny bread bird beforehand.

 

“Suppose so,’ said the bird in its final moments. Hermione took shoved the flaky feathered creature into her mouth and bit down hard in hope it would suffer less. The bird tasted like burnt marshmallow and toast, overly sweet and chewy. The second he had hit her tongue he stopped moving which made him slightly easier to chew.

 

“Hurry up now!” barked the door. “I did say you’re late!”

 

Hermione nodded as if she were being scolded by a professor and swallowed her former conversational companion in one dry gulp. Bits of toffee like pieces horrifyingly stuck to the roof of her mouth and she gagged.

 

“Not a fan of sweets?”

 

“Not ones that talk, no,” Hermione admitted. Then she felt a queer sensation starting in her stomach. It was as if there were an invisible string attached to her gut and it began to pull her down to the floor. Her descent was not to her hands and knees, but rather a vertical decline as if she were riding an invisible elevator. When she looked down to her feet she realized she was being shrunk.

 

The shrinking process didn’t happen to her whole body at once. No, it started with her head and torso, leaving long legs and arms and hands bigger than her head of bushy hair. Then the legs popped and started flowing down into her shoes. Her blouse became a giant shroud casting everything into darkness. When the disorientating process was done, Hermione fought awkwardly between her tipped over trainers (and more alarmingly, her panties) to find an exit.

 

Hermione didn’t have time to consider her nudeness in Luna’s mind before her previous wardrobe vanished and she was left standing before the talking door with nothing but the key around her neck and a wand in her hand. She thought she could hear the door chuckling.

 

“Well come on then,” the door said as it swung open. A crisp spring-like air rushed over Hermione making her clutch her arms over her most sensitive parts.

 

“Thought I needed a ‘key’?”

 

“That was always metaphorical, sweetheart.”

 

********

 

The creeping morning sunlight would have woken Harry eventually, but it was the shuddering of Grimmauld Place that had him sitting and seeking out the warm body that supposed to be next to him. His hand roamed over crinkled sheets as the house gave another violent tremor.

 

“Hermione, Ron, Hagrid, Molly,” Harry said their names like a litany. “Teddy, George, Minerva, Ginny, Arthur, Charlie, Bill, Neville, Luna… Draco.”

 

“The names of the living?”

 

Harry nodded once and sought his glasses. The portrait of Remus Lupin smiled at him from the far wall with eyes that betrayed a heavy sadness and full understanding.

 

“Draco is a new one,” Lupin remarked, and Harry thought he detected a hint of amusement in the man’s voice. A bashfulness overcame Harry and he mentally noted to perhaps move Lupin to dining area or perhaps the drawing room.

 

The flat shook again causing the miscellaneous knickknacks on Harry’s nightstand to jump up and down while Remus’s portrait swayed on its lone nail. Harry pulled himself up from the bed and looked around dumbly looking for the source of the quake.

 

“What was that?” he asked Remus.

 

“I believe the young witch you brought in yesterday is practicing spells with the headmistress.”

Harry pushed open the second-floor library door an inch or two and caught sight of Sully and Ginny standing with wands raised and chests heaving. Ginny had assumed a defensive stance which looked like a modified approach to what was taught in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Her hair had been put up in a hastily done ponytail which rocked round her shoulders from the force of the last cast spell. For a moment Harry felt a surge of affection for Ginny which bordered a little more than brotherly love, and he couldn’t help the sad smile that crossed his features.

 

“Again,” barked McGonagall from an unseen corner of the room.

 

Sully stood up straight and held her wand tight before uttering a stunning spell. Though she seemed to lack the traditional conviction needed to pull off the hex, the force which came from her wand hit Ginny’s shield like a cannon blast. The room and the rest of the flat shook once more and Harry saw various debris caught by magic and secured in place by what he assumed was the headmistress’s own spell. The violence caused the door to swing open and Harry took that moment to enter the room.

 

“That was quite a stun,” Harry said. He cocked an eyebrow at Sully who was casting a glare at her feet.

 

“Mr. Potter.” McGonagall stepped between the two dualists. “I’m afraid Miss Murdoch is having difficulties controlling her magic. I hope you don’t mind us practicing here.”

 

Harry blinked a bit stunned at the idea of the headmistress asking permission to use his house. “It’s no problem. What’s going on?”

 

“It seems that once my magic came back, it made up for lost time,” Sully said in a huff. She collapsed on the same large chair Harry had seen Draco in the other day and tossed her wand in her lap. “It’s like accidental magic, but worse.”

 

The air around Sully crackled silver and green and Ginny giggled. “She’s been putting of Slytherin colored sparks every time she get’s annoyed,” Ginny said. Sully turned her glare to the other red head and Ginny coughed. “Sorry. But it is sort of cute.”

 

“Oh, shut it,” Sully growled. “How am I supposed to go back to Hogwarts like this?”

 

“At least no one would dare make you angry,” Harry offered. He put up a placating hand when Sully turned her sharp eyes on him.

 

McGonagall pinched the bridge of her nose. “When Poppy is done with her suppressor potion, you should be able to return to class without trouble. I doubt the effects of Morgana’s spell will last indefinitely.”

 

“That is if we can ever go back,” Ginny said, and the room fell into an awkward silence.

 

Harry felt the urgency of the situation fall on his shoulders once more and he suddenly felt very tired and worn. The secondhand on an old cuckoo clock ticked loud like thunder without regard to the danger each lost second amounted to.

 

“Where are the others?” Harry asked. The need to do something, to take some sort of action, filled him and he twitched on his feet.

 

Ginny looked to McGonagall and bit her lip. The headmistress’s eyes took a softness which Harry did not like and he was racing down the stairs to the dining room before hearing her reply. Barging through the old doors, Harry only stopped when he had shoved George out of his path and saw Draco leaning over the Marauder’s Map with Neville.

 

“You were going to leave? Without me?” Harry asked. For the first time in what felt like ages, he had the urge to punch Draco in his posh face. The others stood already dressed in their coats with their rucksacks piled in the corner. “Are you insane?”

 

“I told you that you wouldn’t make it out the door without him, Malfoy,” Ron said from by the fireplace. “Sorry, mate. He wouldn’t listen.”

 

“Well, were you going to come and wake me?” Harry turned on his friend.

 

Ron wouldn’t meet his eyes and instead gave his brother a nod. “I think we need to let the odd couple have a word.” As they filed out of the room, Ron gave Harry’s shoulder a passing squeeze and patted him on the back. “Don’t go too hard on him mate,” he whispered. Ron’s face scrunched into something like distaste at his own words. “Can’t believe I just said that,” he muttered on his way out.

 

Harry let the door shut and counted to three in his head before marching over to Draco. “What the hell?”

 

“I didn’t see the reason to include you,” Draco said coolly. He smoothed out the front of his coat and picked at invisible piece of dust.

 

“Are you trying to play hero alone?” Harry asked. The conversation already felt surreal.

 

“Gods, no!” Draco scrunched up his nose. His hand flitted over the hilt of Excalibur under his jacket and Harry didn’t miss the movement. “The sword might give me a boost of bravery but I’m not an idiot. Didn’t you see the others you just kicked out?”

 

“I don’t like this. I don’t like the idea of you leaving me here, and I don’t like the power Excalibur has over you.” Harry moved closer to Draco but kept himself out of touching distance. His old Gryffindor temper surged when Draco scoffed. “I’m serious. That sword is changing you! It’s got some sort of charm. Why else would you want to leave me out?”

 

“It wasn’t my idea alone,” Draco replied quietly.

 

“But why?” Harry retreated a step and then steeled forward two.

 

“Because this isn’t your battle, Potter!” Draco’s face contorted from the deceptive calm façade to anger and then to helplessness. “This is mine,” he gestured to the sword. “From my cursed blood. From the first betrayal, to the curse that killed your parents, to the destruction of Hogwarts. My burden, all of it! Not yours.”

 

Harry swallowed. “Hermione and Luna are my friends, my family. Even if this was just your battle, I’m not going to stand by and wait for their rescue.” Draco’s mask was back in place by the time Harry had said his words. “And that’s rubbish, you know? This is all somehow your fault, Malfoy?”

 

“You can’t change the past, Potter. You can’t change facts!”

 

“So this is some sort of suicidal redemption? Draco the Martyr?”

 

“It will be if I have to worry about you getting the in way with your insensible Gryffindor bravery and your utter stupidity!” This time Harry did shove Draco and he had the pleasure of the other’s face lighting up in surprise before he knocked into the table. Years of resentment and tension threatened to pour out from Harry but the small grin on Draco’s face stopped him. “See? That right there? That’s why you shouldn’t come. You don’t think before you act.”

 

“I have lost too much to let you do this without me,” Harry said. He hated the way his voice sounded, how he felt like he was pleading. He got closer to Draco and breathed a little easier when he didn’t flinch away. Harry hooked Draco around the waist and put his head on the Slytherin’s shoulder.

 

The two stood for a moment and it felt too much like goodbye for either to move. Harry felt the solid lean body under him and wondered at how fate could be so cruel to the both of them. He shuddered. “You don’t need redemption, you know that?”

 

“I don’t care for redemption,” Draco said. He rubbed a hand down Harry’s back.

 

“Liar.” Harry sighed and pushed up enough to look at Draco directly. He freed a hand and flicked his wand summoning his clothes and ruck without words. Draco raised an eyebrow but didn’t remark on the silent spell. “If you think you can make it out of this flat without me, you’re dead wrong.”

 

Threading a pale hand through Harry’s messy locks, Draco tilted Harry’s head until they were looking evenly at each other. Harry had always felt like he could see Draco, see the true boy who hid behind the Occlumency and the lies, but at this moment he felt as if the tables had turned while he wasn’t paying attention, as if Draco could see him just as clearly.

 

“You’re not leaving me,” Harry reiterated.

 

“I love you, too,” Draco replied.

 

********

 

A large tree just within Hermione’s reach grew off the pebbled path and hanging from it’s limbs were dresses, aprons, and stockings of various sizes and colors. A mile back, or what she assumed was a mile as both time and distance seemed to be skewed in the mind of Luna Lovegood, Hermione had found a bush which produced several comfortable pairs of trainers.

 

The land itself looked as if it were painted. Hermione was sure she would smear the rocks about like clumps of oil if she pushed hard enough on them. The sky was a pastel blue and everything felt and sounded like it came from a whimsical storybook. There was a loneliness too. Something sweet in the air that represented the closed off mind of someone who was not easily understood by those outside this wonderland. Hermione herself had almost been moved to tears several times by the beauty and complexity of what was Luna Lovegood’s mind. The girl had made a whole world, a haven. A repose.

 

And Morgana had gone and tainted parts of this world with her magic. The forest, it seemed, was ill. Through the woods on either side of the road, Hermione could glimpse trees whose beauty had faded and whose limbs snapped or sagged. There was decay where there should be life. Even the magical creatures whose eyes, fins, feathers, and fur could be glimpsed from the corners of her eyes drooped and appeared dull.

 

Hermione ripped a blue and white dress down from the tree. The dress apparently wasn’t ripe yet as the colors faded towards the arms and a slight rip appeared on the collar when she had tugged. But the ensemble was more or less in one piece and Hermione tugged it on as she continued down her path. There were several ties and ribbons she was not sure how to secure and ended walking with several dragging along the ground.

 

“You’re late for tea.”

 

“She’s late. She’s late.”

 

“Luna…. Luna… we miss you, Luna…”

 

“Have you ever seen such a stupid girl?”

 

“Can’t go that way. Don’t—not that way. That way is wrong.”

 

“Turn around. Wouldn’t that be more fun?”

 

“Sideways! Sideways!”

 

“Hush!” shouted Hermione. The cacophony of voices fell to quiet indistinguishable whispers and Hermione threw her hands over her ears. “Hush, please, for one moment.”

 

“She won’t make it to tea, I tell you!”

 

The voices had been coming and going ever since she had made her way through the door. Their intensity changed with every step until Hermione couldn’t tell where they were coming from, or whether they were manifestations of Luna’s defense or starting inside her own mind. Some sounded like Luna but older and sweeter, and some sounded male. Some spoke in languages Hermione couldn’t recognize.

 

Quickening her steps, Hermione raced down the path until the light started to fade and she felt as if her legs might give way under her. Exhaustion was as much as a fabrication as was everything else in this world but it was still hard to override the voice in her brain which told her to conserve energy and sent signals of fatigue. She panted feeling sticky underneath her new clothes. There had to be a way to find Luna, to find the real Luna in this mess. And while time was slower here, that did not mean it stopped altogether. The unconscious Brown could wake any moment and Hermione thought she could feel the ghost of her physical body growing cold on the cell floor.

 

“Luna!” Hermione shouted. Her voice hit an invisible wall and echoed back to her. “Luna! Please!”

 

“Follow the path. Don’t go sideways.”

 

“What does that mean?!” Hermione threw her hands up in frustration. Her wrist knocked against the pendant around her neck and she glared down at the strange cursive “M.” “What the hell is all this?” she asked in a smaller voice. Sideways. With a trembling finger Hermione traced the pendant starting from the top.

 

“Oi!”

 

A strangely familiar voice broke Hermione from her revelry and she hadn’t noticed until then that she had sat down. Her first thought was one of panic as the cobblestone path she had been following had disappeared and she was now sitting in small green clearing. “Whose there?”

 

“Don’t recognize me?”

 

The strange voice came from right in front and Hermione felt someone standing close to her. The air wavered and the colors flowed together until the shadow of a tall, lean figure appeared.

 

“This is damn harder than I thought it would be,” said the voice.

 

Hermione’s heart was beating so hard she could feel it in her throat. “George?” she asked.

 

“Close,” said the shade. It flickered, morphed, and then smoothed out into soft blue tones until the form of Fred Weasley stood in front of her. “How are you, Hermione? Taking care of my brat of a brother?”

 

“Fred? Fred!” Hermione stumbled to her feet and threw herself on the apparition. She only had a moment to worry about passing through him completely before she felt herself hit a hard body. Fred stumbled a step back. Hermione felt a solid arm fall over her shoulders. “What is this?”

 

“Luna called, said you might need some help,” Fred replied. He was smiling down at her and Hermione brushed the tears from her eyes to see him better. His body looked much like the ghosts she had grown used to seeing around Hogwarts, but he felt as solid as any living person. That fascination with magic Hermione had first felt when she had learned she was a witch came back to her in that moment. She felt dumb with the awe of it.

 

“I’ll never demean Luna ever again,” Hermione vowed to herself. Her heart was still thudding but now with the sorrow that Ron or George wasn’t here with her.

 

“She never thought you were trying to be mean,” Fred said. He rubbed a tear off Hermione’s cheek. “We better go. She’s waiting, and she can’t leave without Morgana sensing it.”

 

Fred glanced around the clearing and tilted his head as if listening to something far away. Hermione took a step back and nodded. A hundred questions bombarded her mind and she bit the inside of her cheek to keep from asking them.

 

“This way! Come on!” Fred grinned and darted towards the forest. His hand caught Hermione’s as he moved, and Hermione’s breath caught as she was dragged along. The trees were changing color from grey and brown to fanciful pastels and they moved together with an unnatural speed like two birds in flight.

 

********

 

“Stop! Stop! STOP!”

 

“Umph—”

 

“When are we going to purchase more invisibility cloaks? Honestly, we’re all adults, right?” Ron grumbled. “It’s not like they’re illegal.”

 

Draco thumped the back of Harry’s head after a moment of maneuvering underneath the silky material of the cloak. Potter had the gall to give him a glare and Draco just pointed to the back of his ankle where Harry had just run into him at full force under the cloak. The boy was blind with or without the glasses and being invisible made him even more of a threat to others.

 

The taller Weasley stood snickering with his hands in his pockets. If it weren’t for his eyes flicking up and down the empty streets of Hogsmeade, Draco would have thought he wasn’t taking their mission seriously.

 

“It’s really odd to see that snobby scowl on Harry’s face, mate,” Ron added to his unnecessary commentary.

 

Polyjuice potion, it seemed, featured in many of the Gryffindor’s plans, and Draco had disguised himself as Harry while the real hero followed behind invisible. Draco felt uncomfortable in his newly transfigured body and right now was sporting a full bladder he was unable to get the courage to relieve.

 

“Sorry to distress you, Weasel,” Draco sniffed. “Hopefully we won’t have to resort to such rash measures on our next adventure.”

 

“Resorting to old insults, Ferret? Nice to know somethings don’t change.”

 

“You do kind of resemble a weasel,” George interrupted and grabbed his brother by the arm dragging him a little way up the street. “It’s all clear.”

 

“Where are the Aurors?” Harry faux-whispered.

 

Draco could feel the irritation building. It manifested as a sore spot on the back of his neck and he rubbed the offending area with a gloved hand. “We should hurry,” he said. “I think the potion is beginning to wear.”

 

“Oi! Hey! You alright?”

 

The two Harrys looked up to see George standing over a lump in the snow outside the gate to Hogwarts. George leaned forward to take a better look and then jumped back as if stung. The invisible Harry hurried towards the scene and Draco followed close behind. The old fear Draco had always lived with kept threatening to freeze him on the spot and it was only the comforting weight of Excalibur and Harry’s presence kept him going. He cursed his own cowardice and forced himself to look down at whatever the older Weasley had found.

 

Half-buried by snow lay a young Auror. Draco stifled a gasp. All over the young man’s body crawled thick vines Draco had first mistaken for snakes. The vines were peppered with small red and purple flower buds which puffed out a sort of yellow dust.

 

“Don’t touch him,” George warned.

 

“No shit,” Ron gulped. “What are those?”

 

“Whatever they are,” Harry said. “They’re keeping him asleep.”

 

“He’s not dead?” Draco asked.

 

“Look, you can see him breathing,” Harry answered.

 

The Auror’s chest rose and dipped in small shallow breaths. Draco felt a sort of relief at not having to deal with the guards which he couldn’t be bothered to feel guilty about. At the same time, not knowing the extent of Morgana’s power or influence set him on edge. He wondered if the small portkey wizard in the travel shop and everyone else in the town were similarly inflicted. Then his thoughts turned to a small fantasy of running away to France with Harry in tow and leaving this whole mess behind. He wagered he could last a little while as an internationally wanted wizard. Malfoys had done it before.

 

George drew his wand and Draco stayed the other’s hand. “Don’t. Trying to break the hex might alert Morgana of our presence,” Draco said. He swallowed and looked away from Ron’s cold stare. “We’ll come for him after.”

 

A tension dropped over the four of them and Draco didn’t realize he had a tight grip on the wand in his pocket until Harry subtlety placed a hand on the back of his jacket.

 

“Look,” Harry said and took off the cloak to point down the bridge. “Neville’s Patronus.”

 

A large hare bound towards the group in a messy zig-zag pattern before coming to a panting halt in front of him. “I’m in the headmistress’s office. There’s Auror’s but they’re under some spell. Come quickly.”

 

The hare disappeared in a mist.

 

“When did Longbottom’s Patronus change?” Ron asked. Draco resisted a facepalm at the inconsequential details Ron seemed to enjoy clinging to.

 

“When he and Luna got together, I suppose,” Harry said shrugging. He folded the invisibility cloak and placed it in his ruck.

 

“That’s terribly romantic, can we get going?” Despite his attitude Draco waited for someone else to make the first step towards Hogwarts.

 

“You sure the Gryffindor common room is where the cauldron is?” George asked Draco as they crossed onto the campus with wands drawn.

 

Still unable to feel fully at ease with the Weasley’s, Draco eyed him before answering. He thought with every step closer to danger he felt more paranoid of everything and everyone around him. Whether this was Excalibur’s influence or his own Slytherin personality, he was unsure.

 

“Morgana threw the Hallow’s Eve party in the common room for a reason,” Draco supplied. “When Merlin hid the cauldron, he put in a place where the descendent of Arthur would be able to find it.”

 

“And he thought that descendent would be a Gryffindor,” Ron supplied. He looked awfully smug at the idea.

 

“Well, obviously he was mistaken.” Draco bit his lower lip and felt it thin under his teeth. He took his gloves off and watched his hands shift from the bronze of Harry’s complexion to the pale white of his own. “Times up.”

 

“We have more,” Harry offered.

 

“It was only meant to get me into the castle.” Draco looked around at the square and thought about how the dark lord had once stood just yards away over Harry’s limp body. “Harry and I will head to the Gryffindor common room.”

 

“Take the map and find Luna and Hermione, then get the hell out,” Harry ordered Ron. The two friends came together for a brief hug and Draco watched feeling out of place once more.

 

“If you don’t take care of Luna, I’ll kill you myself,” Draco warned.

 

“You’re just a basket of fun,” George Weasley said and clapped Draco on the back sending him stumbling forward a step. “Don’t worry, mate. She’ll be fine with us.” George gave him a wink and the two red heads left Harry and Draco behind.

 

They walked quietly through the halls on the way to the Gryffindor dormitories cautious of every shadow and sound. Harry took forward and Draco watched behind them. His eyes flicked over every surface and his hands bounced between the sword and his wand.

 

“The portraits,” Draco whispered.

 

“They’re all gone,” Harry replied nodding.

 

Along the walls were landscapes, black backdrops, and various scenes all without the people who should be occupying them. Some paintings had been slashed or covered in the same strange creeping vines that had entrapped the Auror. At one turn they found Mrs. Norris unconscious and laying in small bundle under a suit of armor.

 

“I didn’t think I could feel sympathy for her,” Draco said.

 

A roaring noise not unlike a speeding train ripped through the hallway shortly followed by a tremor which caused Draco to lose his footing and fall on one knee. Harry wasn’t much better off as he tried to grab hold of Draco’s shoulders and ended up flat on his back. The suit of armor tilted and for a horrifying moment Draco could imagine the crushed body of Mrs. Norris decorating the hall in blood and fur. Without thought his had Excalibur drawn and was cutting through the vines. They shriveled on themselves turning into dry husks, and Draco had the yowling cat close to his chest as the armor smashed to the floor.

 

Just ahead, the vacant portrait of the fat lady fell to the side and the door to Gryffindor opened. Draco placed the yowling Mrs. Norris on the ground where she fled away from the boys and their cursed fate.

 

“Scared, Malfoy?” Harry asked with a hint of bravado.

 

“Immensely...terrified...”

 

“Oh...” Harry looked at Draco in an apologetic way which just made the current situation more confusing to the Slytherin and grabbed his hand. “I’ll be here right beside you,” Harry added.

 

Then they walked, hand in hand, into the Gryffindor common room.