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survival is a talent

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Not everyone has a soulmate. Perhaps one in ten people are born with the tell-tale soulmark, a black ring somewhere on their body.

That black ring is more permanent than any tattoo. It can’t be marred or moved by magic or muggle means, and will remain unchanged no matter the trauma done to it.

Until two soulmates touch.

Then it becomes something else entirely.

~

“Serpensortia!” Malfoy shouts, and a great black snake erupts from the end of his wand. The rest of the dueling club backs away from the platform, and the snake sways from side to side threateningly.

Malfoy is smirking at him like he’s won, and Harry isn’t going to stand for that. He confidentially walks forward, and the smirk slides from Malfoy’s face. The snake rears up against him, but he’s not worried.

“Are you trying to get killed, Potter?” Malfoy drawls, stalking forward. Quick as a serpent himself, he reaches out and grabs the snake just below the head. It thrashes in his grip, but is no longer able to bite anyone. “This is a poisonous snake, and I doubt anyone brought a bezor with them.”

Harry glares. He opens his mouth, and feels the beginning the snake’s language pass his lips, and this isn’t what he wants, what’s the point of insulting Malfoy if he can’t understand him –

Malfoy’s eyes widen. He slaps his hand over Harry’s mouth, “Potter, what the hell–”

He stops talking and his face pales. Harry has a horrible suspicion that he knows why. There’s a terrible burning sensation along his right hip, exactly where his soulmark is. Malfoy grimaces, and he presses his free hand against his own hip.

Soulmates always have their marks in the same place.

“Good show boys, good show!” Lockhart saws, edging forward nervously. “I’ll just vanquish that snake, shall I? Really, Mr. Malfoy, you shouldn’t have summoned such an awful beast.”

That snaps them out of it, and Malfoy takes a step back and away. He throws Lockhart a disgusted look, then points his wand at the snake, “Reditus.”

It vanishes just as it came. Lockhart’s shoulders slump in relief. “Oh, very good, Mr. Malfoy. Very good.”

Malfoy steps gracefully off the stage as if nothing has happened, as if Harry’s hip isn’t on fire, as if he doesn’t feels as if he’s just been branded. But he’s not about to grab Malfoy and demand an explanation in front of everyone, so he shuffles back over to his friends and hopes he doesn’t look like he’s about to sick, because that’s certainly how he feels.

“That was a fourth year summoning spell,” Hermione says, sounding a mix between impressed and jealous. “It wasn’t very sportsmanlike of him to use it.” She scowls and shakes her head so her bushy brown hair falls over her shoulders, nearly blending into her dark brown skin.

“Right,” Harry says weakly.

Both Ron and Hermione give him a strange look, but then Lockhart and Snape are calling a fifth year Hufflepuff onto the stage so their attention is pulled away from him.

~

Harry gets changed for the night in the bathroom, heart pounding. Where before he’d had a small black circle on the edge of his hip, he now has a flower about the length of his wand that starts just under his waist and brushes the top of his thigh. Thanks to the long hours Aunt Petunia forced him to spend in her garden, he recognizes it.

It’s an iris, a deep purple with a stripe of vibrant yellow down each petal. It’s gorgeous, the petals perfectly formed and more beautiful than any real iris he’s seen. He hadn’t know a flower could suggest arrogance until now. He has to swallow down the sudden burst of hysterical laughter, because he’s afraid if he starts he won’t be able to stop.

His soulmate is Draco Malfoy.

~

Harry’s not the only one with a soulmark in their year. Dean and Seamus are even soulmates. They’d found out before they were even sorted, and once they’d touched the black rings on the back of their calves had transformed into an oak and maple tree respectively. Lavender Brown had a soul mark, a black ring just below her wrist. He’d seen others, people flaunting them in the hopes that someone with a mark in the same place would see.

He’d never hid his mark, but he hadn’t flaunted it. It seems Malfoy hadn’t either. Harry hadn’t even known he’d had one.

~

The next day he’s walking back from another agonizing night helping Lockhart answer fan mail when someone grabs his arm and jerks him backwards into an abandoned classroom. He reaches for his wand, but before he can get it he turns around and sees it’s Malfoy. The door slams shut behind them and he demands, “Did you tell anyone?”

“No,” he says, and at least Malfoy isn’t ignoring him. Wait, no, he wants Malfoy to ignore him. Right? Maybe. “Did you?”

“Obviously not,” he says, running his hand through his hair. “What a bloody mess. Why couldn’t you have just taken my hand in first year? We would have known right then and there, but no, you just had to be difficult. Now look where we are!”

Indignation wells up inside him. “Oh, so this is my fault? Sorry, you’re the git who’s running around petrifying muggleborns, so this is definitely your fault.” He’s not a hundred percent certain what ‘this’ is, but he is certain that he’s not taking responsibility for it.

Malfoy scoffs, “Oh, that’s rich coming from you. You speak Parseltongue, Potter. If anyone’s the heir of Slytherin, it’s you.”

“I speak what?” he asks.

“Parseltongue,” Malfoy repeats. When Harry just keeps blinking at him, he says, “Snakes. You speak the language of snakes. Are you trying to lie to me right now? I heard you. You’re lucky I stopped you, otherwise half this school would be calling for your head about now.”

Harry stares at him for a long moment, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

After several long seconds spent pinching the bridge of his nose, Malfoy lays it all out for him – that Parseltongue is a trait of the line of Slytherin, that Voldemort could do it, that it’s considered a dark trait, and that if people find out he can do it, they’re definitely going to assume he’s the heir to Slytherin. “Aren’t you the heir?” Harry asks, mind whirling.

“Of course not! If I was descended from Slytherin, I wouldn’t be hiding it. All of the founders lines have died out, or, well, we thought they did. Clearly we were all wrong.”

He swallows, “So – I mean, I’m not doing this, I’m not hurting anyone. But if I speak Parseltongue, does that mean I am related to Slytherin?” Am I dark, he thinks but doesn’t say. The Dursleys have been telling him he was a horrible person his whole life. What if they were right?

For the first time some of the irritation drains out of Malfoy. “Don’t be stupid,” he says, but it’s the nicest he’s sounded all night. “You’re a Potter. It’s in your blood.”

“What are you talking about?” he asks. He’s getting tired of asking that question.

Malfoy grabs his hand and holds it up. His hand looks ghostly pale compared to Harry’s. “Britain has maybe a dozen species of snakes. India has over two hundred and fifty. Which wizards do you think developed the ability first? You have more of a claim to Parseltongue than either Salazar Slytherin or You-Know-Who.”

He almost sounds nice. Harry licks his lips and blurts, “Can I see your mark?”

Malfoy stiffens and pulls his hand away. Harry’s about to take it back when he says, “Only if I can see yours.”

“Sure,” he says, and winces when his voice comes out too high.

It seems to relax Malfoy though, who smirks at him before pushing his robe aside and tugging down the waistband of his pants.

There’s a cluster of three bright marigolds on his hip. One red, one orange, and one yellow. Harry wants to touch them, but that would be pushing his luck. Instead he does the same, allowing Malfoy to see the iris etched into his skin. The yellow stripe on the petals is the same yellow as the marigold on Malfoy’s hip.

“My parents have dragons on their arms,” Malfoy says, staring. Harry blinks. He hadn’t known Malfoy’s parents were soulmates. “It’s how I got my name.”

His name. Draco. Which Harry supposes he should start using, considering. “Are you going to tell them?”

“Absolutely not,” he says. pulling his pants back up. Harry does the same. “Trouble is brewing, and you’ve made your position very clear. Telling them you’re my soulmate will only make things harder for them.”

“So what?” Harry asks, stung. “We just pretend like nothing happened?”

“Precisely,” he nods, and Harry’s hands clench into fists. “We pretend like nothing has changed. We’re still enemies, and we still hate each other.”

“Fine,” he spits, trying to dredge up enough anger to cover his hurt. He reaches for the door, and he’d been so worried his soulmate wouldn’t want him, his whole life he’d gone back and forth between being grateful for his mark and being afraid of it, and now everything he feared is coming true.

Draco grabs the back of his robe, “Hold on! I said pretend, you idiot. Like it or not, we’re soulmates, and that matters. We pretend to be enemies, for both our sakes. But – but in private, like this, we don’t have to be. Not anymore. Not if you – not if you don’t want us to be.”

He turns back around, and it’s the first time Draco seems anything less than confident. There’s a flush high on his cheeks and his grip on Harry’s robe is a fist.

Draco’s a bastard. He’s arrogant, and rude, and he called Hermione a mudblood. He talks about the muggleborns getting petrified like it’s a good thing, and every time he opens his mouth talking about blood purity Harry has to resist the urge to shove his fist in his stupid smug face.

But he’s his soulmate. He can’t be all bad.

“Yeah,” he swallows, “I’d like that.” He hopes he isn’t making a mistake.

Draco gives him a tentative half smile, and Harry can’t help but return it.

~

Draco’s been on the edge of a panic attack ever since he felt that stabbing pain on his hip in front of everyone, but he feels almost calm now. There’s a plan, they have a plan, and he’s smart. He’s the smartest in their year besides Granger, and he still scores higher than her in practical magic. He can do this.

Then his soulmate proves that he’s deranged when he cocks his head to the side and asks, “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Draco attempts to ask, but before he gets a chance Potter – no, Harry bolts out of the room and runs down the hall.

He hesitates for a moment, then resigns himself to the fact that with any luck he’s going to spend the rest of his life running after his foolish, moronic Gryffindor soulmate and hurries after him. Harry’s pressing his ear against the wall, and Draco has a flashback to the last family reunion when he’d found Luna looking for something called nargles. Harry and his cousin are never allowed to meet. “You really can’t hear that?” Harry asks, and then he’s running again, once again not giving Draco an opportunity to answer.

Wonderful.

He follows after, and ends up running right into his back. “Harry! What are you doing–” Draco looks over his shoulder, and swallows. Without thinking, he grabs for Harry’s hand.

Before he can become too mortified at his actions, Harry squeezes back. “Well, at least we know neither of us is the heir.”

In front of them are the petrified bodies – for lack of a better word – of Nearly-Headless Nick and Justin Finch-Fletchly.

~

Harry had sent Draco away before reporting the attacks, certain that everyone would think he was the heir. Draco had tried pointing out that he didn’t care, but Harry had made him leave anyway.

They continue to meet at night, and it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t sustainable. “Blaise really is going to start thinking I have something to do with all this if I don’t stop disappearing in the middle of the night,” Draco grumbles, sitting opposite Harry with a chessboard between them. “You are awful at this, you know.”

“I know,” Harry sighs, “Ron tells me so. Often. Also Neville caught me leaving twice this past week. He doesn’t think I’m the heir, but he definitely knows I’m up to something. He tried mentioning it to Ron, but luckily he just thought Neville was talking about the Polyjuice potion.”

Draco freezes. Harry realizes all at once that not only did Draco not know about the potion, but it’s completely unnecessary since he can ask Draco any questions he has just as he is, and he knows for certain he’s not the heir now. Not that he’s told Ron or Hermione that. “The what?”

“Huh,” Harry says. One of Draco’s knights brandishes a sword at him. “There are probably some things I should tell you.”

He almost mentions something about the strange house elf that’s been following him around, Dobby, because Draco seems like he’d know about that sort of thing. But he already thinks he’s crazy because of the hearing voices thing, he doesn’t want Draco to think he’s even stranger for being stalked by a house elf.

After spilling everything, Draco looks grudgingly impressed. “Granger really is as clever as they come. That’s a difficult potion.” He snaps his fingers and his chess set starts packing themselves away. “Regardless, you better let me take a look at it. My practical potions grade is higher than hers.”

“What’s the point?” Harry asks, “We don’t need to use it.”

“You have a nearly complete polyjuice potion, and you’re just going to what? Throw it out? Absolutely not. We’ll stick a preservation charm on it and store it away.”

“We haven’t learned any preservation charms that strong,” he points out.

Draco rolls his eyes and banishes the chess set away. “Luckily, there’s this little thing called the library.”

Harry really wishes this whole soulmate thing wasn’t a secret, if only so he could throw Draco and Hermione at each other and save himself the headache.

~

They can’t think of a way to convince Ron and Hermione not to go along with the plan. Draco inspects the potion, and, finding no flaws, tells Harry to use the smallest possible amount. “I’ll sneak back in and take care of the rest. Just tell your friends you dumped it, and I’ll keep it in my quarters.”

Harry crosses his arms, hesitates, but says, “Why your quarters? What are you going to do with it?”

Draco wants to feel offended, but honestly he’s just a little bit relieved Harry isn’t a complete idiot. Just because they’re soulmates doesn’t mean either of them have changed really, even if they’ve been doing their best to stay away from touchy subjects. Which is incredibly difficult, considering the circumstances. “Nothing. I’ll give it back to you next time we meet, if you want. But make sure you keep it safe, and don’t tell your little friends about it.”

Harry’s face tightens, but agrees. Draco finds Harry to be far less irritating when he listens to him. So things go as planned, mostly. He sneaks into the girl’s bathroom and charms and bottles the remaining polyjuice potion, then goes prowling the hall where he told Harry he’d meet them. He only finds the two of them wandering the halls, and can’t ask after Hermione because he’s not supposed to know who they are in the first place.

He answers their questions, and it’s nothing that he hasn’t told Harry already. Then they’re running out of there before their hour is up, and Draco shakes his head. He’s never seen Crabbe or Goyle run before. Also, neither Crabbe or Goyle are that stupid. They just pretend to be because they prefer to be underestimated.

Blaise had gone home for the holidays, so he has their room to himself, and he doesn’t have to sneak past him each night. The last day of the holidays, however, Millie is sitting up in the common room when he walks through, her cat on her lap and a book in her hand. She stuffs it under a cushion when she sees him. “What are you doing?” she snaps. Her anger can’t hide her fear.

“Was that a muggle book?” he asks, frowning.

She looks away, refusing to answer him. He can leave, she won’t say anything about him being there because if she does he’ll be able to say he saw her reading a muggle book. He can just walk away and pretend like nothing happened, and she’ll be grateful for it.

This moment feels important. It feels like it matters.

Does he care if Millie is reading a muggle book? Does it really matter? Her mother is a muggle, after all. She’s only a half blood. He forgets that a lot, because she’s a Bulstrode, part of the Sacred Twenty Eight. She’s cutting and has a terrifying knack for transfiguration. She may be the daughter of a pureblood family but she’s not a pureblood herself. “Is your dad worried about you?”

He didn’t mean to ask that. She must be just as surprised as he is, because she turns to look at him. “What?”

“You know, with the,” he waves his hand to encompass the supposed monster that’s going around attacking students of questionable pedigree. She keeps staring at him, and he doesn’t know what he’s doing, why he’s even asking. He thinks he must be losing his mind when he says, “My mum is worried, and I’m as pure as they come. She’s trying to get my dad to shut down the school, but he won’t hear of it.”

Millie’s lost some of the fear, and now just looks guarded. “If your mum is so worried, why did you stay behind for the holidays?”

His first instinct is draw up the walls around himself, to wear arrogance around his shoulders like armor and use harsh words to cut her to ribbons. But he swallows it down. In the low light of the crackling fire, in the hours between midnight and dawn with Millie staring at him like she’s never seen him before, he pushes down his first instinct. “They’ve been fighting since summer. They never fight. I didn’t want to deal with it, so I decided to stay for the holidays.” He licks his lips and repeats, “Is your dad worried about you?”

She smiles. He thinks it might be the first time he’s ever seen her smile. “Terrified. But it’s not like it’s much safer for me at home than it is here. It’s one thing to have a bastard child with a muggle. It’s another thing entirely to claim that child as your own and give her your name.”

“Your parents were married,” he says, even as he’s turning this over in his mind. It seems so hard, and he feels like it shouldn’t be.

Millie is the daughter of a respectable pureblood family. She’s a Slytherin, and a good one at that. She gets them a decent amount of house points from McGonagall, of all people, and she shows up to cheer at every Quidditch game.

“For that short time before my mother died,” Millie agrees, face blank once more. “Just a few days after I was born. Just a few days after my father gave me his name.”

One thing to have a half-blood with the name Bulstrode. Another thing entirely to have a muggle woman with the name.

Blood should remain pure. Muggles and their ilk have no place in their world. But – Millie grew up without a mother, and she’s just as likely to get attacked as Granger or any other halfblood or muggleborn. Millie, who’s one of them. Who knows their customs and wears their colors and would punch anyone who tried to say she was anything less.

“That’s not right,” he says. It comes out sounding almost like a question, and he’s a Malfoy. He’s not unsure about anything. “That’s not right,” he repeats, firmer this time. He’s going to be horrendously late to meet Harry, but this is important.

This is possibly the most important conversation he’s ever had.

“No,” Millie says softly, eyes wide with surprise. “I’ve never thought it was.”

~

Harry’s been waiting for almost an hour, and Draco’s never been late before. He can’t decide if he should be angry or worried, because either Draco’s blown him off or there’s a good reason he’s late, like he’d gotten attacked by a monster from the Chamber of Secrets.

He’s just made up his mind to go back to bed and worry there in peace when the door opens and Draco slips into the abandoned classroom they’ve been meeting in. “Where have you been?” Harry demands, scowling. Draco swings the door shut and turns around. He’s paler than normal, and his blue eyes are sharper, more focused. Harry’s never seen him like this before. “Draco?”

“We need to figure out what that monster in the Chamber is and stop it before it manages to kill anyone,” he says. His hands are shaking.

Harry stares. “I – I thought you didn’t care about the muggleborns. I thought you wanted the Chamber to get rid of them.”

His mouth twists into a grimace. “I did too. I don’t – muggles are filth, and they shouldn’t have anything to do with us. I still believe that. I just don’t want anyone to die over it, is all.”

On the surface, it’s not a big thing. Neither Ron nor Hermione would be impressed by it. But Harry can’t imagine Dudley turning an about face on anything like this, can’t imagine what the other Slytherins would do or say if they knew Draco felt this way.

It would probably be weird if he hugged him right now, but he kind of wants to anyway. He restrains himself and says, “Okay. So we’ll work together, so no one has to die over it.”

Draco’s shoulders loosen, like he was afraid that Harry would tell him no, that he wouldn’t let him help.

He thinks he likes him a little more for thinking that and coming to him anyway. Maybe Gryffindors haven’t cornered the market on bravery.  

~

Of course, this is all easier said than done. Now that school is back in full swing, it’s getting harder and harder for them to find times to meet. Neither of them can afford for their respective roommates to get even more suspicious, so they start carving out time in the middle of the day to sneak away to their favorite unused classroom. It’s the hour before lunch, and Draco slams a book down in front of him and scowls. Sometimes Harry thinks Draco might just be a prettier and meaner version of Hermione. “What is that?” he pokes the large and dusty tome warily, like it might bite him.

“The Complete Index of Magical Creatures by Newt Scamander,” he answers, glowering.

Harry blinks, “Isn’t that the same person who wrote Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?”

“Yes, obviously. Except that was just a pamphlet that he wrote on the fly one day, in comparison. This is a total guide to every magical creature on the planet. What he didn’t personally experience, he consulted with on experts equal to his own intellect. It was banned by the Ministry almost as soon as it was printed for endorsing the deregulation of dangerous creatures and promoting ideas that could cause harm to the public.” Draco glares at the book like it’s betrayed him. “I’ve read it cover to cover, and there’s not a single viable candidate for Slytherin’s monster. Nothing with the ability to petrify people lives lone enough to be from the founders’ era, and most things that do petrify people do it so they can eat them. Since no one’s been eaten, it probably wasn’t any of them.”

“If it was banned by the Ministry, how do you have a copy?” he reaches for the book, glancing at Draco for permission.

He shrugs, and Harry flips it open to a random page. “Well, my family’s library kept a copy, obviously. It’s the most accurate and thorough investigation of magical creatures to date, regardless of the ‘irresponsible propaganda,’ as my mother calls it.”

Harry looks up sharply, “Did you ask one of your parents to send you this?”

“Do I look like an idiot? Of course not! I just summoned it. I’ll banish it back tonight when no one will be in the library to notice it reappearing again.”

He’s missing something. “You summoned it? How?”

“With a spell,” he snarls, and Harry considered taking this priceless tome and smashing it into Draco’s face. “You’ve seen me to do it, don’t be obtuse. I summoned my snake the same way.”

“That was your snake? I thought it was just a random one.”

Draco sighs. “Do you ever pay attentions in charms?”

“Are you going to say something useful, or did you just come here to mock me?’ he asks. “We haven’t even covered summoning spells yet, I don’t know how you know any at all.”

He shrugs, “I don’t see why I can’t do both. Also Flitwick went over the introductory wand movements weeks ago. It’s a lot harder to summon things you haven’t seen or touched before – that’s fifth year spell work, and it’s tricky. Serpensortia is a general snake summoning spell, but if I’d just cast it without a specific snake in mind who knows what would have shown up. It could have been anything, from anywhere, since I can’t control non-specific summoning yet. I didn’t want that, so I summoned Abigail.”

Harry keeps staring at him.

Draco huffs and holds out his wand. “Serpensortia!” The snake appears in a much more controlled manner than before, sliding from the end of Draco’s wand and winding up his arm. It’s not angry or hissing this time, and Draco walks forward with his arm outstretched. “This is Abigail. She’s a great spoiled princess who does nothing but lay around all day.”

Where do you think I learned it from?” she hisses, curling her head around Draco’s wrist.

Harry startles. Draco’s eyes meet his, and widen in understanding. “You can understand her?”

Yes. She called you spoiled,” he says, and doesn’t realize he’s not speaking English until Abigail’s unwinds herself enough to look at him.

A Speaker!” she says, delighted. “Excellent. Tell my human that the garden mice are too chewy, and I won’t eat them anymore. It’s either the juicy ones from the forest, or from that place he got my rock with the warming charm on it, those ones are delicious, even if they all taste the same. And that I don’t like his new sheets, I don’t care if they’re silk. The cotton blend was much nicer to curl up in. His mother keeps putting me back into my tank, and I don’t like it. They should just leave the lid off and I’ll come and go as I please. I only interrupted one dinner party after all, and I didn’t even bite anyone, so I don’t see what the fuss is about. I like the wool from my human’s old sweater that he put in my tank, does he have any more? If not, I want another sweater entirely. This one doesn’t smell like him anymore, so it’s just getting in my way.”

“Well?” Draco demands, “What is she saying?”

They’re both looking at him with equal expressions of impatience, and Harry can’t help it. It starts out as a giggle, but soon he’s laughing so hard he’s clutching his stomach and trying to catch his breath.

Draco banishes Abigail back to her tank, and then leaves him alone in the classroom, still laughing.

~

Draco thinks he’s doing a pretty good job about hiding all his secret meeting with Harry from his friends. He keeps thinking that until Blaise corners him in their room and says, “You’re not involved in any of this, are you? I didn’t think you were, and you’re horrible at keeping secrets from me besides. But you’re sneaking around doing something, and you haven’t told me and you haven’t told Pansy. So what’s going on?”

Blaise is too clever for him to lie to, and he only has two secrets to his name. Both are likely to get him disowned, so he goes for the one that doesn’t involve his soulmate. Not changing in front of Blaise has been a nightmare. He has no idea how Harry’s managed it, considering he shares his room with four other people while Draco’s found it hard enough to hide it from only one.

“Did you know that Millie is a half-blood?”

This clearly isn’t what Blaise was expecting. “Of course, everyone does.”

“There are six more in our house now, and two muggleborns.” he says. “I checked. Which makes it a total of nine Slytherins who could be killed.”

“You’re the son of a Malfoy and a Black. You have nothing to worry about,” he says.

Draco glares, “Yes well, not everything’s about me. I don’t think Millie or anyone else should end up dead just because of how they were born. A girl died last time the Chamber was opened. Muggleborns being petrified for half the year is – whatever, it’s a little funny, if I’m being honest. But I don’t want anyone to die.”

His heart is pounding in his chest, because Blaise has been his best friend since they were kids, and he has no idea what he’s going to do now. They were raised to believe blood was the most important thing. And Draco’s not saying it isn’t important, because it is, but – maybe living is more important than purity. Maybe life is more important.

Blaise keeps silent for an uncomfortably long time, arms crossed. Finally he sighs and says, “I can’t believe you admitted that not everything is about you. I should have let Pansy be here so she could witness that.”

The relief nearly leaves him giddy. He grabs a pillow off his bed, and hits Blaise over the head with it. “You absolute git. Are you going to help me or not?”

“I suppose I better,” he cracks a grin, “You’re useless when you’re alone.”

The truth about Harry is crawling it’s way up his throat, so he grabs the pillow and continues beating Blaise with it until he loses his cool façade and gives into the inevitable pillow fight.

~

“You’d think this would be easier, what with all of us working on it,” Draco mutters, looking down at the scroll of notes that he, Blaise, and Pansy had put together. Laid out next to it is the one Hermione, Ron, and Harry had done.

Between them, there’s countless hours of research, and not one single piece of useful information.

That’s how things stay, until Harry drags him into a dimly lit corridor after Transfiguration. “Are you mad?” Draco hisses. “Anyone could see us!”

“This is important,” Harry says, and then tells him everything about the diary and its mysterious contents.

Draco gets more horrified by each word coming out of his soulmate’s mouth. “Harry! Are you stupid, suicidal, or both? Don’t answer that. Whatever that diary is, it sounds like dark magic.”

“Aren’t you listening? Hagrid opened the Chamber!”

“You are stupid,” Draco says in wonder. “Have you seen that great oaf? He wouldn’t hurt a pixie. If one landed on him for too long, he’d adopt it. Additionally, he’s half giant. He didn’t open the Chamber belonging to Salazar Slytherin. If what you saw is true, and that’s a big if because you shouldn’t trust dark magical artifacts, then it was a set up.”

Some of the color has returned to Harry’s face. “You think he might be innocent?”

Honestly. “I think Hagrid has a long list of offences against him, first and foremost being a halfbreed abomination, but he’s no murderer. I don’t believe that Hagrid killed that girl for a second.”

Harry crosses his arms. “I kind of want to hug you and punch you at the same time.”

Draco glances to the entrance of the corridor that someone could walk down any moment and find them. “Probably for the best if you did neither. We need to destroy that diary. Do not write in it again.”

Harry rolls his eyes, “Yes, dear.”

If Draco kills his soulmate, at least he won’t have to deal with his attitude.

~

Of course, they don’t get a chance to try and destroy the diary become someone breaks into their dormitory and steals it.

Harry’s expecting Draco to yell at him. Instead he gets a peculiar look on his face and starts pacing. “Do you think,” he starts, bites his lip, and goes back to pacing.

He tolerates this for a couple minutes before going, “Do I think what?”

Draco’s actually broken the skin on his lip when he turns and says, “Do you think the heir of Slytherin is in Gryffindor?”

“Why would you think that?” he asks, but as soon as the words leave his mouth he knows the answer. The Fat Lady wouldn’t have let anyone but a Gryffindor through, and there were no signs of curses or other tampering. “Bloody hell.”

Draco gives a tight nod and goes back to pacing.

He wants to say that a Gryffindor would never do that, that no one in his house would be trying to murder other students. But he would have said no one in Slytherin would be willing to help muggleborns and halfbloods, but he’s looking at the proof that that isn’t true. If he’s wrong about one, then it’s possible he’s wrong about the other.

What a mess.

~

It’s quiet for the next few months, and they don’t make much progress.

Then Hermione Granger and Penelope Clearwater are found petrified.

Penelope Clearwater is a pureblood.

His mother sends him a flurry of letters, saying that she wants to take Draco out of school, saying that she’s pushing his father to do something about this, saying that Draco should listen to the professors and not wander.

He can’t listen to her, of course. He sneaks out just before dawn and goes to the broken girls’ lavatory with the crying ghost in it, the only place he and Harry can hope to meet without getting caught.

Harry appears not long after, looking exhausted and covered with scratches. “What happened to you?” Draco asks.

“Spiders,” he says, as if that makes any sort of sense at all. “Dumbledore is gone, and Hagrid has been arrested.”

“Where the bloody hell did he go, at a time like this?” he demands. Then the rest of that statement catches up to him, and he thinks of his mother’s letters. “Oh. My dad–”

“Was behind it all,” he snaps, “I hope you’re proud.”

Draco steps back, stung. “My father isn’t on the board of governors alone, you know. It takes a unanimous vote to remove the headmaster.”

“And I’m sure they thought it up all on their own,” he continues bitterly. “So Hagrid will go to jail for a crime he didn’t commit – again, according to you – while Hermione lays petrified, and your father what? Pats himself on the back?”

“Shut up about my father,” Draco snaps. “Students are dropping left and right, why shouldn’t Dumbledore be removed? He’s clearly not doing anything that matters. Otherwise your precious mudblood wouldn’t be petrified right now.”

Harry grabs the front of his robes and slams him against the wall. “DON’T CALL HER A MUDBLOOD!”

“Don’t talk about my father,” he sniffs, retreating behind his cool pureblood mask. “I know you don’t have any personal experience with this, but most people don’t take well to disparaging remarks about the people who bore and raised them.”

Harry goes white, and Draco almost wants to apologize. But Harry started this, and he might be his soulmate but that doesn’t mean he gets to talk shit about his parents. He lets go of his robes and steps away. “I was such an idiot to think you were any better than the rest of them.”

He doesn’t know where to start with that. That Harry is most certainly an idiot, that the rest of them, as he calls them, are his friends and family, that Draco is trying, damnit. He doesn’t get a chance to say any of it, because Harry walks out of the bathroom and leaves him there alone.

~

They’re not speaking. If Draco wanted a chance to put this whole muggle-loving mindset behind him, the time is now.

Except he’s still worried about Millie and the other Slytherins with muggle blood, and even the kids from other houses if he feels like being brutally honest with himself, which he doesn’t. He still doesn’t want anyone to die. Soulmate or no soulmate.

It’s been a week since their fight, and he’s idly playing with Abigail in his bed, letting her crawl all over his hands and moving them around and farther apart so that she has to keep sliding around to keep from falling onto the mattress. He’s doing his best not to think of Harry, which means he’s thinking of nothing but Harry, and he turns his mind back that first meeting after they touched, where they showed each other their soulmarks. Of course, Harry managed to ruin even then when he ran out of the room like a crazy person straight to a petrified Mrs. Norris, claiming he heard voices

“Mother of Merlin,” Draco breathes, looking down at Abigail. “It’s a snake.”

Blaise is meeting with Sprout about his final project, and Draco doesn’t want to waste any time trying to find Pansy. He summons his owl and sends off a message to Harry to meet him in that awful girls’ bathroom. Harry might hate him right now, but Draco’s finally figured out what this monster is. He doesn’t know of any snake that can petrify people, but that doesn’t matter. If it’s a snake, there’s a chance Harry can stop it.

Snape isn’t keeping a close eye on any of them, is trusting their self preservation instincts will keep them safely in the common room. But he can’t send something this important in a letter, and Harry needs to know.

“Where are you going?” Millie asks as he strides to the door. There aren’t many people in the common room, but they all look up at her sharp question.

He glares at her, “None of your business.” He keeps walking towards the exit, but a strong hand grabs his elbow and yanks him back.

“It’s not safe!” Millie says, “You’re a pureblood, but Clearwater is too, and she got attacked anyway. You can’t go.”

There’s no time for this. He yanks himself free of her grip and says, “If I wanted your opinion, Bulstrode, rest assured I would ask for it.”

He runs out before anyone else can stop him. Once he’s in the corridor it’s harder, professors patrolling seemingly at every corner. It takes him too long to get to the bathroom, but when he does there’s no one there. He checks every stall, but there’s just the ghost girl wailing.

Was Harry not able to get away? Didn’t he get his message? Or, worse, was he simply ignoring it?

Draco paces. Harry needs know, and he has no way of sneaking into the Gryffindor common room to tell him, since he let Harry keep the polyjuice potion. He could send Luna to do it, she has friends in Gryffindor. But then he’d have to send his cousin to walk the corridors when there's some sort of snake that’s trying to kill people, and there’s no way his mother would be okay with that. Then again, she’d probably be less okay with him walking those same corridors, but he can’t help that.

There’s the soft sound of footsteps behind him. “Finally!” he exclaims, turning. “What took you so long?”

It’s not Harry.

It’s a blood soaked girl that after a disorienting moment he places as the Weasley sister. “What happened to you?” he demands, stepping forward but not actually touching her. He can’t see any wounds. “Were you attacked? Was it the snake? We need to get you to the hospital wing!”

He grabs her hand, and it’s cold as ice. He lets go of it immediately, a sense of unease filling him. She slowly turns her head, and her expression is blank. He takes a step back, and something is wrong. Something is very wrong. “I guess I’ll have to change the message,” she says, tilting her head to the side. Her lips curl into a cruel half smile. “You know too much. You’ll have to die with her.”

Draco reaches for his wand, but she’s faster. The last thing he sees is a bright red light.

He’s just thankful it’s not green.

~

“We’re too late,” Harry says, standing with the rest of the students looking at the blood dripping down the wall.

Their skeletons will lie in the Chamber forever.

“Who’s missing?” Dean calls out. “Who’s that message talking about?”

McGonagall’s face goes pinched, and she folds her hands together. Her eyes glance at Ron then cut away. “It’s referring to Ginny Weasley and Draco Malfoy. Their parents have already been contacted.”

Harry’s hand goes to his hip, digging his fingers into his soulmark, and a thick, cloying fear fills his throat. He’d gotten Draco’s message, and he’d meant to go, but he’d promised Ron he’d visit Hermione with him, and then they found the message about the basilisk, and he’d forgotten about it.

This can’t be happening.

Not Draco. Not his soulmate. And Ginny – she’s his best friend’s sister.

He looks at Ron, and sees the same determination on his face.

They won’t sit by and do nothing.

~

“That bloody snake,” Ron snarls, “Malfoy is involved, I knew it! He probably took her down there himself. Probably had a big laugh about it, pretending he was innocent to everyone, and then dragging my little sister down there to be murdered. I’m going to wring his skinny neck, the disgusting, arrogant leech. I hope he does die in that Chamber.”

He shouldn’t say anything. Draco wouldn’t want him to say anything.

“SHUT UP!” he shouts. “He’s not – he didn’t! Don’t – he’s in trouble too, and we’re going to help him too. He didn’t do this Ron. He – he didn’t.”

His best friend is staring at him like he’s never seen him before. “What’s gotten into you? Of course he did! Malfoy’s a bigoted bastard, of course he did this!”

Harry is so angry he can’t speak. There’s a mix of guilt and worry churning inside of him, and he doesn’t know how to articulate any of it. So instead he jerks the waistband of his pants down and pulls up his shirt. The rich colors of the iris contrast against his skin, and Ron knows he has a soulmate, he’s seen the little black ring on his hip. He knows what this means. He reaches forward and with shaking fingers delicately touches the edge of a single purple petal. “Malfoy?”

Harry nods once, wound so tight he feels like he might snap. He swallows past the lump in his throat to say. “He’s – he’s kind of awful. But he’s nice too, sometimes. He didn’t take your sister. He’s been trying to help us figure this out for months.”

Ron nods, still looking at the soulmark but clearly not seeing it. “The dueling club?” he asks, “When he put his hand over your mouth. Was that the first time you two touched skin to skin?” 

“Yeah,” he rubs the back of his neck. “I know I should have told you, but he wanted to keep it a secret, and I guess I did too. But he’s not the heir. He doesn’t want anyone to die.”

“Well,” Ron says, resigned, “I guess we better save him too then, since he’s your soulmate and nice sometimes.”

~

Lockhart ends up being a complete, spineless coward who they have to march to the Chamber at wandpoint. Harry runs his fingers over the snake symbol carved into the sink, and he has a sneaking suspicion about what he has to do. He looks to Ron, “Don’t freak out.”

Ron raises both his eyebrows. “You have a wonderfully reassuring personality. Have I ever told you that?”

Harry rolls his eyes, and concentrates on the snake, tries to imagine it moving, thinks of the shifting scales and flickering tongue of Abigail as she wrapped herself around Draco’s arm. “Open,” he hisses.

Lockhart gasps and Ron swears. The sink lowers, then disappears, leaving a large pipe and a long way down. “Off you go,” Ron says cheerfully, and pushes Lockhart down the pipe. Then he turns to Harry, “How long have you been able to do that?”

“My whole life, I think,” he says honestly.

Ron nods, then points his wand at Harry and wags it in a fair approximation of his mother’s disapproving finger. “Any more secrets you feel the need to tell me? Any more secrets, period?”

“No,” he smiles, “that was the last of them.”

“Good,” Ron nods, “you’re my best mate. No more secrets. Okay?”

“Okay,” he agrees, then he and Ron jump down the pipe together.

~

Ginny and Draco look dead, lying there pale and unmoving. Harry wants to run to them, wants to shake them until they wake up, wants Draco’s bright blue eyes to glare at him. He wants his soulmate.

They were so cruel to each other, the last time they spoke.

This can’t be the end. This can’t be how their story ends.

~

Draco wakes up slowly, the stunning spell wearing off sluggishly. First he’s aware that he’s lying on a cold, dirty floor. Second that people are talking, and after a moment of concentration he realizes it’s Harry and whoever the Heir actually is, since it’s obviously not Ginny Weasley.

He wants to scream at Harry to run, but he can’t, not yet. He’s still under the effects of the stunning spell, and it will be several more minutes before it wears off fully. By the time the mostly-corporeal form declares himself to be Lord Voldemort, Draco can feel his muscles again, even if they’re sore and heavy as lead. About the time that the dark lord wannabe summons a basilisk (and why did none of them think of basilisks, just because they don’t typically petrify their prey doesn’t mean they can’t, he feels like such an idiot) the spell has worn off enough that he can roll painfully to his feet.

“YOU’RE A PARSELMOUTH!” he shouts, despairing not for the first time that his soulmate is this much of moron. “SPEAK TO THE BLOODY SNAKE!”

“Draco! You’re awake!” Harry says joyously, then nearly gets eaten by the giant basilisk. Draco screams. Harry tries hissing at it, and it merely lunges and almost swallows him whole. “It’s not listening!”

Tom laughs, delicately twirling Harry’s wand between his fingers. “She’s loyal only to me, you simpletons. Mine was the first voice she heard since Slytherin himself. She won’t betray me.”

Draco reaches inside his robe. He still has his wand.

If Tom’s life force really is connected to Ginny’s, he won’t be able to hurt him without hurting her. But he can help Harry.

He pulls his wand from robes. “Serpensortia!”

A rattlesnake comes from his wand. Tom’s laugh takes on a decidedly mocking edge. “Oh, please, summon all the little helpers you desire. I won’t even stop you.”

Draco grits his teeth, then forces himself to relax and breathe. He holds out his wand, straining his memory and focusing on every overly detailed paragraph of Scamander’s Index. “Serpensortia! Serpensortia! Serpensortia!”

A black mamba. A viper. A cobra.

Harry hisses in between running from the snake, and they all go to him, but are no help against a basilisk.

He can do this. Charms is his best subject. “Serpensortia!”

A thirty foot python comes crackling to life, and it’s strong enough to knock the basilisk off course. It dances according to Harry’s shouted instructions, and is just big enough to be annoying but small enough to slither away.

“Serpensortia!” he shouts, and a forty foot anaconda joins the fray.

These aren’t what he’s trying to summon. This isn’t what he wants.

“Serpensortia!”

An improbably large ashwinder slides across the floor, leaving scorch marks in its wake. It must have come from a volcano.

“Impressive,” Tom says, looking at him in a way that makes his skin crawl. “Perhaps I should have taken your magic instead.”

That’s disgusting. “You’re not taking anyone’s magic,” he says, stalking forward to place himself between Tom and the Weasley girl. “You’re not going to do anything. You’ll never leave this Chamber.”

There’s an edge of pity when Tom says, “Your summons are well done, and they are proving to be distracting. But the basilisk will kill them soon enough, and then Harry Potter. Then you.”

“No one,” he grits out, holding his wand so tightly he’s afraid he might snap it, “is going to kill Harry Potter. And certainly not you, you filthy half-breed mudblood.”

The anger that twists Tom’s face is absolutely worth it. Draco throws out his arm, wand held straight and firm, the promise of victory singing in his veins. “SERPENSORTIA!”

For a moment, nothing happens.

The out from his wand springs what he’d been trying to summon all along – a wild wyvern.

A cross between a serpent and a dragon, it’s about half as tall as the basilisk is long. It’s a terrifying, wild beast that should never be approached in any circumstances.

But Harry opens his mouth, and that strange slithering language comes out.

Not long after, the wyvern and basilisk are locked in a battle to the death.

It’s taken too much magic out of him, and it’s all Draco can do to stay on his feet and not collapse onto the Chamber floor. “You were saying?” he asks, raising a single eyebrow in his best imitation of his father.

~

The wyvern is amazing. He’s biting and clawing at the basilisk, and Harry gains a moment of inspiration and shouts, “The eyes! Blind it!”

It changes its attack, and mere minutes later the basilisk shrieks in pain as it’s deadly eyes are pecked out by the wyvern’s talons. Tom’s yelling in anger, but Harry can’t focus on that. He sends the ashwinder to slither across the basilisk, and wherever they touch the basilisk’s tough scales are burned away. It means the smaller snakes that Draco summoned are actually helpful. They can climb onto the basilisk’s back and bite directly into its muscles, and the creature shrieks in pain.

The basilisk flings its massive body around in attempt to dislodge the other snakes attacking it and escape the wyverns attacks. It hits the walls of the Chamber with thunderous strength. The wyvern seems to think that’s an excellent idea, because it begins hitting its body against the ceiling as well. Harry doesn’t understand until a large piece of the stone work ceiling falls and lands on its head, disorienting it enough that it only sways confusedly for a moment. The ashwinder takes that opportunity to crawl even further up its body, leaving blistering bleeding flesh wherever it touches.

 The wyvern continues with its plan, throwing its massive body against the ceiling, and soon the stone of the ceiling begins to crack and fall.

TAKE COVER!” he screams, and realizes when only Tom reacts that he hadn’t said it in English.

~

Tom is corporeal enough to run. Draco looks up, and he has the time to throw himself out of the way. But he’s standing next to Ginny, and if he runs he won’t have to worry about Tom killing her because she’ll be crushed to death, and if they survive this it will be up to him and Harry to carry back her mangled corpse.

He doesn’t want anyone to die.

Draco throws his wand straight up in the air. He’s the best charms student Hogwarts has had in years. He’s exhausted and hurt and tired, but he can do this. He’s a Malfoy. “PROTEGO!

The soft blue light of the shield erupts from his wand just in time to stop them both from being crushed by a large piece of the stone ceiling. It cracks and breaks over his shield. Draco grits his teeth and is forced to his knees from the force of it, still holding the shield above them as more bits of ceiling come crashing down on them.

The Weasley girl has gained some color, and her eyes are moving rapidly behind her eyelids. Draco looks to the diary besides them, then up, and Tom is pressed against the side of the chamber. The farther he is from the diary, the less power he has, the less he’s able to pull from Ginny. They need to destroy the diary.

He doesn’t have enough breath in his lungs to shout, so he picks up the diary and holds it up. He doesn’t know where Harry is, if he can see them or even if he’s still conscious, but it’s their only hope.

~

It takes Harry a moment to figure out what Draco is waving about with his free hand, but as soon as he does he understands what he wants. He can’t get to them with the pieces of ceiling falling everywhere, so he gives a set of whispered instructions to the rattlesnake.

It darts around the falling debris and hurries to Draco’s side. It discovers a problem when it can’t get through Draco’s shield, and there’s an terrifying second when Draco cancels his charm so he can throw the diary to the snake and then recasts it just in time to prevent a stone fragment the size of his head from landing on Ginny.

Once he has the diary in his hands, Harry has no idea what to do with it. He doesn’t have his wand, and Draco had mentioned something about burning it before, but there’s no convenient fire around him.

He momentarily forgets about the diary when the wyvern gives a triumphant screech that nearly deafens him. The basilisk sways once more, before falling to the floor with enough force to shake the whole chamber. Its head is bloody and right in front of him. It lies there, alive but unconscious with its mouth open and panting.

Harry’s eyes fix on the basilisk’s fangs glistening with venom, and he has a terrible, wonderful idea.

Tom’s scream of defeat as he fades to nothing is so worth the absolute terror of sticking his arms into the basilisk’s mouth and shoving the diary through one of its fangs.

~

Ginny is mostly awake by the time Harry makes his way over to them. Draco is pale and sitting on the ground, looking like it’s taking all his energy not to fall over. Harry wants to touch him, wants to grab him and yell at him and say he’s sorry and shake him until he stops feeling afraid.

But Ginny’s brown eyes are looking between them both in confusion, and Draco gives a little shake of his head. Whatever they have to say to each other, it will have to wait. “It’s all right,” he tells Ginny, helping her up and wincing when she throws herself into his arms and clings to him, shaking. “You’re fine, we’re all fine.”

“Just brilliant,” Draco groans, and Harry doesn’t try and stop the smile that steals across his face since Ginny can’t see it. “Say your goodbyes so I can get rid of them.”

Harry turns around, and all the snakes Draco had summoned, including the Wyvern, are behind him, watching and waiting. “Thank you,” he hisses, and doesn’t react to Ginny stiffening against him. “We would have all died if it wasn’t for you.”

Yes,” the ashwinder says while the Wyvern makes a breathy sound that Harry interprets as laughter. The more common snakes just incline their heads.

He turns away and looks to Draco when he says, “Go ahead.”

Draco raises his wand. He takes a deep breath, steadying himself. “Reditus!”

With a crackle of magic, the snakes return from where they came. Draco’s face goes ashen, and it physically hurts Harry not to go over and help him. Unexpectedly, it’s Ginny who goes, “Are you all right?”

“Fine,” Draco grits out, forcing himself to his feet and making a useless effort to brush some of the dirt from his robes. “Let’s go.”

“What about that?” Harry jerks his head to the still living basilisk.

He shrugs. “Either it will die, or it won’t. Not our problem. Grab the diary, and let’s get out of here before it decides to wake up and eat us out of spite.”

~

Harry hadn’t come alone, as Draco discovers when they reach the entrance to the Chamber and Ron is there waiting for them. He hugs his sister and Harry, and gives Draco a complicated look that Draco returns with a glare. Harry definitely told him something.

Getting back to the surface ends up being easier than they’d feared, since with a bit of Pareseltongue floating stairs appear to take them to the top, an out-of-it Lockhart included.

“I’ll take him the infirmary,” Ron says with a disgusted look towards Lockhart. “You lot should head to Dumbledore’s office.”

“Why?” Draco asks, wrinkling his nose. All he really wants is a shower.

“Our parents are probably there by now. McGonagall contacted them,” Ron says, and Draco considers just sliding back to the Chamber.

They walk to Dumbledore’s office, and it takes longer than it should, the three of them pained and exhausted. “Do you know the password?” Harry asks when they’re standing in front of the golden griffin.

“This is a bloody emergency,” Draco snaps at the statue, “Our parents are up there and we have a cursed diary and I am positively covered in something unidentifiable and gross. Open up.”

Harry sighs, “I really don’t think–”

The entrance slides open, revealing the spiral staircase to Dumbledore’s office. Draco throws him a smug look, and leads them up the staircase. He pretends he doesn’t see Harry rolling his eyes.

They hear sobbing before they open the door, and Ginny pushes past them and into the office, crying, “Mum!”

Draco and Harry walk in after that to the sight of Molly and Arthur Weasley clutching their daughter. Dumbledore sits at his desk with McGonagall and Snape on either side. Draco’s parents are seated opposite the Weasleys, not a hair out of place or anything more than polite disinterest on their faces. “Mother. Father,” he says, swallowing down his nervousness. For some reason he can’t think of, Dobby is cowering behind his parents’ chairs. He knows no one but them can see him, but he can’t think of why he’s here in the first place. He makes a note to ask about it later.

His mother sniffs and takes out her wand, “You’re positively filthy, darling. Did you forget how to cast a scourgify charm?”

There’s no way he’s going to admit he doesn’t have enough magic to cast so much as Wingardium Leviosa, so he gives an elegant shrug that he’d learned from her.

She tuts at him and twists her wand in a complicated pattern. The dirt and grime falls from his clothes and skin onto the floor, and she banishes that with another swish of her wand. “Much better.”

There’s tension in them still, from the too stiff line of her mouth to the unnatural stillness of his father. They’re not alone, he can’t throw himself into their arms like Ginny did with her parents, but he wants to. More than that, he wants them to stop being worried about him, but he can’t think of how to reassure them while they’re standing in a room with Dumbledore and the Weasleys.

“My, my,” Dumbledore says, eyes twinkling. Draco wants to pluck them out just like the wyvern did the basilisk. “It appears you have an interesting story to tell us, Harry.”

Draco stands by his parents while Harry tiredly explains it all, thankfully omitting any mention of Draco. He can’t help but be impressed with Granger – she’d figured it out before any of them. He may be a stronger caster than her, but he can admit, at least to himself, that she’s cleverer than him. Harry mentions Draco summoned the snakes but minimizes his efforts as much as possible in his retellings, which he appreciates. This is going to be an awkward enough conversation with his parents without having to explain his dozens of stupid decisions in detail, especially since he’s not planning to tell him the why of any of it. Not for the first time, Draco’s thankful he and Harry’s soulmarks are in an easy to hide place.

Harry’s just winding down when Ginny pipes up from her mother’s arms, “Malfoy saved my life.”

Draco twists around to give her his most vicious glare. She stares back, unimpressed. “Miss Weasley?” McGonagall asks, uncertain.

“Keep your filthy mouth shut, blood traitor,” he growls, “You were unconscious for most of it. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He was so sure she hadn’t seen anything, but clearly he was wrong.

Her parents’ faces go thunderous, and her father rises to his feet. “Now see here–”

“I was possessed, not blind,” she shoots back, leaving the safety of her mother’s arms to stomp forward and glare at him. He matches her step for step, until they’re nearly snarling in each other’s faces. “The ceiling was falling on us, and you were right beside me. You had some sort of shield up, and the stones were cracking on top of it.”

“I was protecting myself,” he says, “You just happened to be there.”

Everyone’s looking at him now, and he hates it.

“Tom had enough time to run away, so you did too,” she says stubbornly. “You could have even left me after that, taken your shield and gotten to safety. But you didn’t. You risked your life to stay by my side and protect me. You saved my life.”

“A decision I’m regretting by the second,” he snarls. “You should have been smothered in your cradle, you rotten wench.”

There’s an outcry at his words, Arthur halfway to rising again. Ginny is unfazed. She pokes him in the chest, “Say whatever mean things you want. What you say doesn’t change what you did.”

He liked her more when Tom was possessing her and she was devoid of any personality. They stare at each other for a long moment before he says, “I think I hate you.”

“I’m okay with that,” she informs him.

Arthur coughs, looking conflicted. “I – thank you, Draco. I think.” He frowns and says earnestly, “No, I mean it. You saved my daughter’s life. Thank you.”

Could this get any worse? He presses his lips into a thin line and stomps over to Dumbledore’s desk, grabbing the diary and smacking it into Arthur’s chest. “If you truly want to thank me, you could teach your children not to be such blithering idiots,” he says. “You’re the Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Department, and your daughter was possessed by a cursed diary. She should have known to burn it the second it talked back to her. None of this should have happened.” Arthur goes red in the face, but doesn’t say anything. Good. He sighs, and manages to make it sound more irritated than exhausted. “If you need nothing more from me, I’ll be leaving.” He turns to his parents and inclines his head, “Mother. Father.”

He waits for them to nod in return before sweeping out of there without a backwards glance to any of them.

It’s only through sheer stubbornness that he makes it back the Slytherin common room. He takes one step inside, and Millie is running towards him. More people are closing in, he can see Blaise and Pansy struggling to get to him. He ignores them for the moment, grabbing Millie’s forearms and saying, “Don’t worry, you’re safe. The monster won’t be hurting anyone else.”

“What happened?” Millie cries, eyes tracking the places where Draco’s sure bruises have started to surface.

“Everything’s fine,” he repeats, then frowns. “Don’t take me to the hospital wing.”

He passes out before Millie can question him, and can only hope she’ll catch him before he hits the floor.

 ~

Harry can’t remember the last time he was this furious. Draco had nearly died! His parents were here because they’d been told he was missing and presumed dead, and they reacted like it meant nothing. No tears, no yelling, just blank faces. They hadn’t even touched him.

Dobby was hiding behind Lucius Malfoy’s robes and looking at him pointedly. Which just makes this whole mess so much worse, because it means Dobby works for the Malfoys, it means Lucius orchestrated this whole plot in the first place and it nearly killed his son and he doesn’t even care.

Everyone has left but him, and Dumbledore is still staring at him over his half-moon glasses, but Harry can’t concentrate on that right now. “Is there something you want to tell me, Harry?” he asks softly, “Anything at all?”

He starts to look up at the headmaster, but his eyes get caught halfway there on the Tom Riddle’s diary. Just like when he shoved his hands into the basilisk’s mouth, he has another terrible, wonderful idea. “Not really,” he says. He undoes his shoe, takes off one of his socks, then snatches the diary off of Dumbledore’s desk and goes running out of his office. “I need this!” he calls over his shoulder, and when the headmaster doesn’t try and stop him he takes it as permission.

Narcissa’s disdain and Lucius’s anger when Harry tricks them into freeing their house elf is sweet.

~

Draco spends the next week in bed, and insists he’s simply tired when people try and push him into going to the infirmary. It’s partially true. The only cure for magical exhaustion is rest. He gets an owl from Harry with a short note saying that he’s told Ron and Hermione about them, the latter who’s back to her normal annoying self thanks to the mandrakes being ready.

He figures all’s fair in love and war, and so he locks the door to his room with Blaise and Pansy inside and shows them the three marigolds that bloom across his hip. “Bloody hell,” Blaise says, wide eyed. Pansy is poking at the mark like she can’t believe it’s real. Blaise’s mother has a soulmark, but it’s still that little black ring at the base of her throat, even four husbands later. Neither Pansy nor Blaise have marks of their own, but they’d known that Draco did.

“If either of you breathe a word of this to anyone, I’ll murder you in your sleep,” he promises.

They both shake their heads, and Draco relaxes a little at their vehemence. “Does this mean we need to start being nice to the Gryffindorks?” Pansy asks.

Draco is sure he looks properly offended by the way she starts giggling. “Absolutely not.”

~

It’s only a couple days before the start of summer break when he and Draco finally get a chance to meet again. Harry has slowly been going mad, what with Draco hiding out in his dorms for a week, and not looking quite back to normal even when he’d returned. Hermione and Ron had been shocked when he listed off all the spells Draco had performed in the Chamber, and neither of them were surprised that he was taking a while to recover.

So now he’s pacing back in forth in the unused classroom, white knuckled and scraping his teeth against his lip. This is the first time they’ve really spoken since their disastrous meeting in the girls’ bathroom weeks ago. The door opens and closes, and Harry whirls around. Draco is standing there, looking at him with that cool mask of his, and Harry knows him well enough to know that it is a mask. “Yes?” he says when Harry only stares at him.

Draco is proper and stiff when he’s not being a bastard, and Harry had a proper and stiff apology planned. But he forgets all of it and flings himself at Draco, wrapping his arms around him like he’d wanted to do so badly in the Chamber and couldn’t because Ginny was there. “I’m really glad that you’re okay,” he whispers, pressing his face into Draco’s shoulder. “I was so scared when I saw that message, when I saw you lying there.”

Draco relaxes and hesitantly returns the hug. “You scared me too,” he says, “what with fighting the basilisk and Tom. Don’t do that again.”

“I’ll try not to if you do too,” he retorts, and smiles when he can feel Draco shaking with laughter. They pull apart, and Harry hurries to scrub his arm over his eyes. He’s not even sure why he’s crying anyway. He hesitates, but says. “Draco – your father, he – he,” he stops, torn. He doesn’t want to get into another fight, but Draco deserves to know.

“It’s okay,” he says, a faint smile curling around the edges of his mouth. “It’s a good thing I ended up getting taken. The Board of Governors was convinced he was involved, and he nearly lost his position. But luckily none of them believed he’d release a monster that would attack his own son, so he’s safe.”

“But he did,” Harry says helplessly, “He was the one who gave Ginny the diary.”

He shrugs, “I know. But he didn’t mean for me to become involved. And – he’s still my dad, Harry.”

He’s aware this isn’t a fight he’s going to win today, or possibly ever, so he drops it. “I can’t get owls during summer vacation.”

Draco brightens. “Well, I can’t be getting any letters from Harry Potter over the summer, either, so that’s fine. I made us something.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out two small compact mirrors, like the kind Aunt Petunia keeps in her purse. “I got these from Millie and Pansy, you’d think I was asking for their newborns the way they were carrying on. I told them I’d get them better ones over vacation anyway.” He rolls his eyes and plops the one with delicately carved pansies into his hand, and keeps the green one Harry assumes used to be Millie’s. “They have linked Siarad charms on them. Just open it and say my name, and my mirror will chime, and vice versa. We’ll be able to speak to each other through them.”

Draco looks absurdly pleased with himself.

Harry had already resigned himself to a lonely summer, barely talking to his friends or his soulmate. But now he’ll have Draco right there, in his pocket, the whole summer.

He hugs him again because he can’t think of what else to do, and Draco’s laughter makes his cheeks flush.

~

Draco meets his parents on the platform, stepping off the Hogwarts Express with his luggage trailing behind him. His mother tucks a stray piece of hair behind his ear and says, “Come along, darling.”

They haven’t said anything of importance in their letters since the Chamber, well aware that their family is under scrutiny because of the incident. His father doesn’t look at him as they walk off the platform to their carriage, and a low pit of dread grows in his stomach. Is he really that mad at him that he won’t even look at him?

Draco steps into the carriage before his parents, and as soon as they’re settled it's off, heading towards their manor.

Narcissa breaks character instantly, throwing herself forward and pulling him to her chest. “I was so worried,” she says, voice trembling as she holds him tight enough that it’s a little painful, but he’s not going to tell her that. “When Snape called – and they told us you were gone, that you – that your skeleton–” She starts crying for real then, and leans back to press kisses all over his face.

“Mum!” he laughs, making half hearted attempts to stop her kissing frenzy. “I’m fine! Everything’s fine, you don’t have to be upset. I’m okay.”

“I would have torn that castle down to the foundations,” she says fiercely, “I would have flayed Dumbledore alive, inch by inch, and relished in his screams.”

“I know,” he says, beaming, and he knows threats of violence aren’t how most mothers show their affection, but Narcissa isn’t most mothers. She’s his, and she’s the best. “I love you too, Mum.”

She kisses him once more on each cheek, and settles back into her seat, summoning a handkerchief to dab delicately at her eyes.

He looks to his father, who’s seated on the other side, stiff and silent and looking at the window. Draco stares at him, waiting for his lecture, and when it doesn’t come he realizes something.

His father isn’t angry. He’s scared.

Draco inches down the seat so he’s sitting directly across from his father. His hands are clenched into fists and now that Draco’s really looking at him, he looks different. Older. Tired. He doesn’t like it, and he doesn’t want it.

“I’m thinking of trying out for chaser next year,” he blurts out, desperate for anything that will chase the grief from his father’s face. “There’s going to be an open spot, and Adrien says I’ll make a better chaser than seeker anyway, the wanker.”

Lucius slowly looks from the window to him, and there’s still something dark in his face. “I–” he starts, but can’t finish, pressing his lips together in a hard line.

Draco reaches forward and covers his father’s hands with his own. Lucius flinches. “Dad. It’s okay. I’m okay, you don’t have to worry. I’m alive, and I’m fine, and I’m right here. I’m not mad,” he adds earnestly, and he knows that this will be a problem later. He doesn’t want anyone to die, but his father does, and he’ll have to deal with that at some point. But his father would never want him to die, so it’s a problem for a different day. “I know you’d never hurt me.”

Lucius finally turns his hands over so he can clasp Draco’s in his own, rubbing his thumbs over the back of his hands. He meets his gaze, and Draco smiles, trying to show that he means it. Tension leaks from his father, and some of the terrible gravity has lifted from his face when he says, “We’ll get you some private coaching this summer. Flitwick recommended we give you supplemental charms training as well, to ensure your progress continues at its exemplary rate.”

“Great!” Draco beams. “Charms is my favorite subject.”

His father smiles at him, a slow, small thing. Draco counts it a victory.   

~

Harry’s already had to deal with hours of lectures from his aunt and uncle, and he’d tried not to stare at the matching birds on their necks as they’d yelled at him. He’d always known Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were soulmates, of course, but it had never seemed to matter before. Then he’d had a chores list shoved into his hand that was three pages long, and he’d stopped caring about their soulmarks. They’d locked up his school things, and Petunia had sent him to work in the garden as soon as they’d gotten home.

He falls into bed filthy and exhausted, knowing he should shower but not able to find the energy to make himself do it. There’s a painful sunburn over the back of his neck and arms. The Dursleys insist he doesn’t need sunblock because of his dark skin, in spite of the many times he’s proven them wrong with blistering, angry burns.

He pushes all that aside. His heart is pounding as he reaches into the box of clothes the Dursleys had let him keep. He carefully unrolls a pair of socks and takes out the engraved mirror. He sits up in bed, and holds it to his chest. He hopes this works. He opens it and says clearly, “Draco Malfoy.”

For a moment, there’s nothing at all, and the disappointment threatens to cripple him. Then there’s what looks like a ripple across the glass and Draco’s face fills the mirror. He’s in blue silk pajamas, and there’s a light grey wall behind him. Abigail is draped across his shoulders. “About time,” he grins, then frowns. “Is that mud on your forehead, Harry?”

He sounds so scandalized that Harry has to bury his face in his pillow to muffle his laughter, which means he’s sure to have just gotten his pillowcase covered in mud as well. He can’t bring himself to care.

Draco is lecturing him on cleanliness while Abigail hisses demands for him to translate, and Harry thinks that maybe this summer won’t be so bad.

Chapter Text

Harry knows that panicking won’t help anything.

But he’s just blown up his aunt, threatened the Dursleys with magic, and now he’s out in the middle of the street with no idea where to go or what to do, and okay, he’s definitely panicking.

He reaches into his pocket for the mirror, hands shaking. “Draco Malfoy,” he says, and drops down on the side of the curb with his trunk besides him. Nothing happens. “Draco Malfoy!”

There’s another long silence, and then the surface of the mirror ripples like water and his soulmate’s face appears. “What is it?” he hisses, “I’ve stuffed myself in the food cupboard. The Lestranges are over for dinner, I can’t talk.”

From what little Harry can see, the Malfoy’s food cupboard looks to be roughly the size of the Dursley’s whole house. “I blew up Aunt Marge!” he blurts, and Draco goes from irritated to alarmed. “The Dursleys are pissed, and I just grabbed my stuff and left, and I don’t know what to do!”

“Did you use your wand to blow her up?” Draco demands, “How blown up is she? If there are any remains where muggles can see them, make sure to put up a glamour charm. Wait, do you even know any glamour charms? Bloody hell, you need a lawyer. The best lawyer I know is my father, but that’s obviously not an option. I think my dad took the barrister exams with a Longbottom–”

“DRACO!” he shouts. “Not that kind of blowing up! Like – a balloon. She floated away!”

He stares at Harry for a long moment, then slumps against what looks like an entire wall of pickled carrots. “Why didn’t you say that? Who cares! Good riddance. From what you told me, she deserved it.”

Harry rolls his eyes, “Draco. What am I supposed to do now?”

“Exactly what I’ve been telling you to do all summer,” he says. “Go to Diagon Alley where you’re not treated worse than a house elf and don’t have to do your bloody homework under a blanket like a criminal.”

“How am I supposed to get there? Fly?”

No, you muggle raised simpleton. Take the Knight Bus. Mum won’t let us take it, says it’s for common folk, so it should be right up your alley.”

Sometimes he feels like Draco’s speaking a whole other language. “The what?”

“Just put your wand in the air, get to Diagon, and don’t go wandering around at night anymore,” he says, and Harry can’t help but think the last part is a little odd. “If I don’t get back to dinner my mother is going to murder me. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

The mirror shimmers and Draco is gone. Harry sighs and closes the compact, shoving it back into his pocket. Draco’s an arse, but he feels a lot better than he did a few minutes ago.

“Here goes nothing,” he mutters, and shoves his wand into the air.

Before the knight bus slams down in front of him, Harry barely sees the outline of a great black dog.

~

Harry will never, ever tell Draco this, but it’s possible that he’d had the right idea all along.

Once he figures out he’s not going to be sent to Azkaban for using magic, staying in Diagon Alley is like a dream come true. He does his homework under sunlight, and doesn’t have to do any more ridiculous chores.

It’s nice to be able to talk to Draco during the day too, to sit in his room in the Leaky Cauldron and argue over quidditch or whatever other topic they’re on that day. He sees a lot of the Malfoy grounds this way, Draco going for a walk so they can speak in private and showing Harry the weeping willows around a pond in the back. Harry tries not to think of the size of the Malfoy Estate too much because it gives him a headache, but after a summer catching glimpses of it, he’s almost certain that it’s only about half the size of the grounds at Hogwarts.

Those weeks pass too quickly, and the next thing he knows it’s the end of summer and Ron and Hermione are flinging their arms around him, Ron improbably taller and Hermione’s skin even darker thanks to her weeks vacationing in France.

It’s time to return to Hogwarts.

~

“Potter?” Blaise asks sympathetically as soon he seems him. Pansy tries to cover her snort with a cough, and doesn’t quiet succeed. Draco checks the corridor and makes sure there’s no one around, then casts a sound muffling charm for good measure.

“He’s infuriating,” he snaps, smoothing his robe by running his hands down and over the shiny silver buttons. He hasn’t seen either of them since Harry dragged him from dinner saying he’d blown up his aunt, so he lets the whole story spill out of him now, growing increasingly more frustrated as he talks. He’s been holding it in, unwilling to write about Harry in their letters and risk one of the parents opening their mail. “He’s such an idiot! He has no sense of self preservation, I’m honestly astounded he’s even alive. Black is out there, obviously looking to finish what he started, and he just goes running out without any of thought of where to go or what to do! What if I hadn’t answered? What was his plan? Hang around in plain sight until he got murdered?”

“So things are going well,” Blaise says, deadpan. Pansy is laughing so hard she’s clutching her stomach. He hates both of them. “Did you manage to get anything else out of your parents about Black?”

Draco scowls, “No. Dad claims not to have known him, and all Mum would say was that he was a difficult child. She’s his cousin and only four years older than him, there’s no way she doesn’t know more. They were in Hogwarts together! But she just told me not to get involved and to stay out of the way.”

“Out of the way of what?” Pansy asks.

Draco opens his mouth to explain about what his dad had warned him about this morning, but when his breath comes out in cloud in front of him he realizes he doesn’t have to.

The dementors are on the train.

“I’ve got to go,” he says, and pulls the door open. “Don’t leave the compartment. It’s not safe.”

They’re calling after him, but Draco ignores them. He closes the door, and takes a sharp right, moving down the train and away from where the horrible cloaked figures have to be, right at the front of the train if he looks, but he’s not going to look because that would be idiotic. He goes stalking down the corridor, glancing in each compartment before slamming their door shut and locking it. Most of them don’t even see him before he does it, which is for the best.

Whenever he happens upon a compartment containing Slytherins he says, “Wands out. Keep this locked.” None of the other houses will listen to him, so he doesn’t bother.

He finally finds the compartment with Harry in his friends at the back of the train.

“Muggle loving freaks,” he sneers, because people can hear him. They all look drawn out already, and Harry is worryingly pale. “Stay here,” he says, quieter, and steps away before they can say anything in return. He’s freezing, and he doesn’t have much time. They must already be on the train if he’s this cold.

He finishes the last couple of compartments, then doubles back, keeping his eyes on the plush carpet the entire time. He slips into a compartment about a third of the way down with only one person in it. He casts the most powerful locking charm he knows, not that it will do them much good against a dementor.

“Draco?” He looks back at Luna. She’s huddled deep in her robe, and her eyes are wide and afraid. “I’m cold.”

No warming charm can help them, because this isn’t a cold that they’re feeling in their skin. “Me too,” he says instead of telling her that. He doesn’t actually know any spells that will work against a dementor so he steps back and sits between Luna and the door. “Here.” He lifts his arm, and Luna huddles into his side.

Dad said that there would be dementors at the castle, not on the train. They aren’t supposed to be here.

~

Harry meets Draco in their classroom that night. He only manages it because Ron helps distract their roommates so he can disappear, and he doesn’t know he managed at all back when he was hiding it from his best friend too.

“You fainted?” Draco says, the same taunting words he’d said in the great hall except now they’re full of concern. He reaches out for him, but pulls his arms back. Harry has no such restrains. He grips Draco in a crushing hug, just like he had Ron and Hermione. Months of talking through the mirrors isn’t the same as really seeing him. Draco returns the hug, and Harry can tell he really is worried by the strength of it. “Did they touch you?”

“I think they might have tried,” Harry admits, “but the new professor stopped them. Lupin. It was amazing.” 

Draco’s scowling when he pulls back, “Him and that half-breed Hagrid as professors. What is Hogwarts coming too.”

Harry flicks him in the nose, “Don’t talk about Hagrid like that.”

He means to ask what he has against Lupin, but Draco gives a noncommittal shrug and says, “You need to be careful. Black is after you, and the Dementor aren’t to be trusted. The Board of Governors voted against them being allowed on the grounds, said they posed too great a risk to the other students, but Fudge overruled them.”

“Does everyone know about Black being after me?” Harry asks, and tries not to sound whiny.

Judging by Draco’s expression, he doesn’t succeed.

Harry lets it go and pulls out of a roll of parchment. “Will you look over this really quickly? Tonight?”

He takes the parchment and unrolls it, eyebrows drawing together. “The charms essay? I helped you write this! Why do you want me to look it over?”

Harry rubs the back of his neck. “Er, it’s not mine. It’s Hermione’s.” Draco is just staring at him, but he doesn’t look upset so he adds, “She wanted you to look at her Potions essay too. If you don’t mind.”

Draco scowls, but it’s not enough to hide the pleased flush high on his cheeks. “I suppose. But only if she double checks my Arithmancy equations. I left it to the last minute, and Mum didn’t have a chance to do it. Our class is on Wednesday, so it needs to be before then.”

“Sure,” he says. He’s sure Hermione will be delighted.

Ron had been a lot more on board with the whole Draco being his soulmate thing when Harry had told him they could probably get away with throwing Hermione and Draco at each other and running away.

~

Harry is certain nothing can be worse than that disaster of a divination lesson.

Harry is wrong.

Draco does everything right, the bowing and the eye contact, and he doesn’t walk forward until Buckbeak bows in return. He’s giving the hippogriff the same affectionate smile he gives Abigail when he says, offhand, “He is kind of ugly, isn’t he?”

Harry’s halfway to rolling his eyes when Hagrid shouts and Buckbeak screeches. His talons cut through Draco’s arm, then Draco is screaming, high pitched and terrified. It’s only Ron’s hand fisted in the back of his robes that stops Harry from rushing forward.

Hagrid pushes Buckbeak away before he can attack again, but there’s already a puddle of red underneath Draco, who’s trying to struggle to his knees. Millicent takes off her robe and presses it against the slashes, and it’s soaked with blood in an alarmingly short amount of time, “He needs the hospital wing!” she cries. “Hagrid!”

Draco looks like he wants to argue, but he tries to stand and his legs give out on him halfway up. It’s only Millicent’s quick reflexes that stop him from cracking his head on the ground. “Hagrid!” Hermione says, “You need to take him to the hospital wing! Now!”

Hagrid’s hesitating, and Harry nearly says something but Ron elbows him in side. Daphne Greengrass actually stomps her foot. “Hagrid!”

He finally nods and pulls Draco from Millicent’s arms. The sound Draco makes at the movement sound like it’s being ripped from him, and standing there and pretending not to react is torture for Harry.

The rest of the class can only stand there, looking at the spot where Draco stood and the puddle of dark red he left behind. Millicent is standing there robeless, with red dotting her crisp white shirt.

“That’s a lot of blood,” Hermione says without thinking, and then winces.

“He’ll be fine,” Ron says, speaking loudly so all the anxious looking Slytherins turn towards him. “Madame Pomfrey will take care of him. She’s taken care of worse.”

Some of them relax about that, but Millicent still looks like she’s about to cry, and Harry can’t bring himself to do anything about that, because he feels like he’s about to cry.

They all drift away after that, figuring class is over.

~

Draco wakes up flat on his back with a fiery ache in his arm, but he wakes up, which he figures is the most important thing. Going by the hardness of the bed, he’s in the Hospital Wing. There’s people talking around him, and it only takes him a few seconds to recognize the furious voice that’s speaking at just below a shout. “Dad?” he says, but it comes out scratchy and unrecognizable, and it’s then that he realizes he’s thirsty enough to drink the entire Hogwarts lake.

He pushes himself up with his good arm. His father is standing at the foot of his bed, along with Dumbledore and a tearful Hagrid. “Draco,” his father says coolly, and Draco ducks his head. His parents were so worried about sending him to school this year, between Lupin and the dementors, and it’s not even a week in and he’s landed himself in the hospital wing. He looks up and tilts his head to the side in a silent question. “Your mother is away at a lunch party. She wasn’t home when the Headmaster floo’d me.”

That’s probably for the best, all things considered. “How are you feeling?” Dumbledore asks kindly. He shrugs. “Ah, yes, a healing does rather leave one parched, doesn’t it?” he summons a glass of water to his bedside table. Draco wants to refuse it on principal, but he’s really, really thirsty. He drinks it.

“Are ye all right?” Hagrid asks anxiously, “I didn’ mean–”

“Quiet,” his dad growls, “I’ll see to you in a moment. You’re lucky your gross negligence didn’t do worse harm, otherwise it’d be more than your filthy beast I’d be after.”

Hagrid looks like he’s holding back a fresh wave of tears. On one hand, Draco thinks it’s just what he deserves – who brings animals like that to a group of kids? He’d followed instructions, and the savage animal had clawed at him anyway, just because he’d said he was ugly. On the other hand, Harry likes Hagrid. He may be a half-breed abomination, but his soulmate will mope something awful if anything happens to the great oaf.

“I’m fine,” he says, “I’ve had worse from quidditch. It’s just an overgrown chicken, Father. Don’t concern yourself over it.”

He swings his legs over the side of the bed and stands. He manages it for a handful of seconds before he whites out, and when he comes to it’s to his dad clutching his arms in a death grip to keep him upright. His eyes are wide to the point of looking crazed, and Draco’s suddenly so tired that he just wants to fall into his father’s chest like when he was a kid. Lucius slowly lowers him back onto the bed, and he can tell by the way he briefly cups the side of his face opposite to everyone else how scared he really is. “Hippogriffs are magical beasts,” he says quietly. “Wounds inflicted by them are not healed so easily. Pomfrey was still working on you when I arrived.”

Brilliant. So his dad showed up to him passed out and covered in blood. It really is lucky his mother isn’t here, because then Hagrid would be nothing more than a scorch mark on the flagstone. “I really am fine,” he tries one more time.

Lucius doesn’t respond to that, only squeezes his shoulder before standing straight and shooting Dumbledore and Hagrid a disdainful look. “You will be hearing from my attorneys. Do try and keep my son in one piece going forward.”

He strides out of there without a backwards glance. Hagrid is devastated, and Dumbledore is giving him a thoughtful look that makes him want to hurl every curse he can think of at him. So instead he gives into the tiredness pulling at him, and rolls on his side and falls back asleep.

~

He’s allowed to leave early the next morning, and he’s given strict instructions not to over use his arm for the next couple of weeks while it heals, a process that can’t be sped up thanks to the magical properties of hippogriff talons. Just – bloody brilliant.

There are hours before breakfast, so he has enough time to shower and look like a proper human being, thank Merlin. He steps inside the common room to see Millie dressed for the day and yet another muggle book in her hands. “Do you ever sleep?” falls out of his mouth before he can think better of it. She’s up at in the middle the night and hours before the start of the day. There has to be some sort of explanation.

She tosses aside her book and runs over to him, “Draco! You’re okay!” She grabs him in a hug, and he wants to yell at her, but she’s careful of his arm and smells like vanilla so he goes with it.

“Thanks for catching me. Again,” he hugs her back with his good arm.

“Anytime,” she’s beaming when she pulls back. “Although, if you could stop putting yourself in situations where you later collapse, that would be nice too.”

He grumbles, “I don’t do it on purpose.” He tugs at the end of her hair without thinking about it, because that’s what he does with Luna, and her smile becomes impossibly wider. “I’m going to go get ready. You should really put an illusion over the book, you wouldn’t have to hide out here at strange hours to read it then.”

“I don’t know any,” she says as he walks to his dormitory.

“I’ll teach you!” he calls over his shoulder before disappearing behind the door to the boys’ rooms.

He enters his and Blaise’s as quietly as he can, and has unbuttoned his pajama shirt when he realizes the sling is going to make all of this more difficult. He walks over to Blaise’s bed and pokes him in the shoulder with his wand, then takes three steps back.

Blaise snorts and then sits up, wide awake, as always no in-between. “Draco!”

“Lend me a hand?” he asks, gesturing to his arm.

Blaise shakes his head, but Draco can see how relieved he is. “Pansy was shrieking something awful about how magical wounds were deadly. Daphne apparently had to smother her with her pillow to get her to shut up.”

“I’m not dead,” he winces as Blaise carefully eases his arm through the sleeve, then sets it back in the sling. “But Pomfrey said it would take a couple weeks to heal completely.”

“Better than being dead,” Blaise says practically, “Want help in the shower?”

“Yes,” he sighs. It’s a good thing Blaise knows about Harry, because the three marigolds on his hip are impossible to miss. “I don’t suppose you know how to make my bandages waterproof?”

He shakes his head, “Pansy’s the only one of us that’s any good at transfiguration. Didn’t Narcissa teach you that umbrella charm? Can you cast it smaller?”

Draco wants to go on a lecture about that’s not how charms work, but is very aware that if he dives into yet another rant about his favorite subject that Blaise will leave him to maneuver washing his hair on his own. “I’ll just rewrap it before we go to class.”

“You mean you’ll make me wrap it before we go to class,” Blaise says, but can’t be that irritated because he’s going through Draco’s trunk for his favorite body wash.

~

Harry is only picking at his food at breakfast, anxiously glancing at the Slytherin table like that will make Draco appear any sooner. He hadn’t answered the mirror last night, and Harry knows it’s probably just because he didn’t have it on him in the hospital wing, but it wasn’t much of a comfort. He barely got any sleep last night.

“Do you think Malfoy’s dad will really put Buckbeak on trial?” Hermione asks, seated in between them and speaking softly enough that only Ron and Harry can hear her.

“I think we’re lucky he’s not putting Hagrid on trial too,” Ron says, trying to slip Harry’s favorite sausages onto his plate without him noticing. He appreciates the effort, but he’s just not hungry.

She frowns and absently puts a couple pieces of toast by his elbow, like he won’t notice if she pretends she’s not doing it. He picks up a half piece and takes a bite to prevent himself from being surrounded by a small tower of breakfast food. “That doesn’t seem fair. Malfoy didn’t listen!”

“He did, actually,” Harry looks to the entrance to the great hall, then morosely back at his overloaded plate. “He didn’t really mean the ugly thing. He talks about Abigail like that too.”

Ron finally digs into his own breakfast now that Harry is eating. “He still shouldn’t have said it, Hagrid warned us they were sensitive. But if I’d been the one to get clawed by a hippogriff, my dad would be really angry too, even if it was an accident. Malfoy could have died. So, it’s probably everyone’s fault, a little bit, and it makes sense that everyone’s upset. Besides, Malfoy’s dad is on the Board of Governors, and he definitely voted against Hagrid’s appointment as the Care of Magical Creatures professor, so that just makes all of this worse.” It takes Ron a moment to realize Harry and Hermione are starring at him. He swallows his too large bite of waffle. “What?”

He almost blurts that Ron should have been a Hufflepuff, but he knows he’ll take it entirely the wrong way, so instead he asks, “Is that his dad’s job? That governor thing? Dra – Malfoy mentioned that his dad was a barrister.”

Ron scrunches up his nose, starting in on his toast. “Not really. I mean – it’s a really prestigious position. Malfoy has been on the board since before his son was born. There’s some sort of stipend that members get, but most of them donate it back to the school. The Malfoys are old money, so his dad does a lot of stuff, like half their money is still tied up in businesses back in France. I think if you listed off his all his titles it’d be as long as Dumbledore’s.”

“What does the Board of Governors do, exactly?” Hermione asks, fascinated. “Hogwarts, A History just said it was a governing body.”

He gives her an odd look then shrugs, “That’s about it, really. They approve the yearly budgets, and they need to confirm all new appointments and changes to the schedule and classes. I think things need a two thirds majority to pass? I don’t know, I can ask Percy, he would know.”

“How do you know this stuff?” Harry asks.

Ron blinks, “Er, I don’t know. Doesn’t everyone? Neville has a cousin or something on the Board of Governors, he’d know more than me.”

They keep talking, but Harry doesn’t hear them. Draco has just walked into the Great Hall, Blaise at his side. Besides his arm in the sling, he looks back to normal, doesn’t look like the massive blood loss did any permanent damage. Draco glances up and catches his eye across the hall. He smirks and uses his good arm to run his hand through his hair before continuing on his way to the Slytherin table. He sits next to Pansy, who glues herself to his side. “Prat,” Harry says fondly.

Ron snorts. Harry looks up to see both of his best friends shaking their heads at him. “Eat your sausage,” Hermione says, and Harry frowns but does as she says, his appetite finally returned.

~

They have potions together, although they sit on opposite sides of the classroom. Harry can see Draco struggling to cut his ingredients with his arm. Snape must notice it too, because he orders Pansy to partner with him. She’s eager to help, although Draco looks frustrated. He settles for ordering her around, and Harry thinks Pansy got the better end of the deal here. She’s average at potions at best, while Draco competes for the top spot against Hermione.

“Focus,” Hermione hisses, elbowing him in the side. “He’s fine. Your potion, on the other hand, is not.”

He looks down and realizes the potion is the completely wrong color, a sickly looking pink, and resigns himself to a failing grade.

“Potter,” Blaise sneers as he passes by, and he looks up just in time to see him drop some beetle eyes into his pot.

After a moment of the potion bubbling dangerously over the edge, it settles back down to a simmer and smoothly changes to the correct shade of bright green. He and Hermione glance back at Blaise, who’s returned to his usual seat behind Draco and next to Daphne Greengrass. None of the Slytherins look over at them.

“Huh,” Ron says, “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Expecting what?” Neville asks, looking up from his potion with a look of faint terror.

Before any of them can think up some sort of excuse, Snape swoops in. He makes some rude and unnecessarily cutting remarks about Neville’s intelligence and the boy in general, then vanishes his whole potion with a wave of his wand.

Harry has to resist the urge to dump his own boiling potion on top of Snape’s head.

~

After Potions lets out, Draco tracks down Flint huddled around a stack of books and with that permanently panicked look all fifth years seem to have thanks to the impending OWLS. He barely gets a chance to open his mouth before the older boy says, “Yes, I know you can’t attend tryouts with that arm. Yes, the chaser position is yours anyway. No, it’s not special treatment, because I’ve seen you flying for a year, I don’t need to watch you some more to know you’ll do better as a chaser than you ever did as a seeker. No, that wasn’t intended as an insult, but feel free to take it as one.”

He closes his mouth. “Oh. Thanks.”

“Whatever. Get that arm healed up before practice starts. Go away now.”

Draco is tempted to offer to help Flint study for his charms OWL, but that would require being in his captain’s presence more than required, and Flint is a bore. He’s thankful, but he’s not that thankful.

So instead he makes himself scarce. He’ll go find Luna and practice vanishing her shoes.

~

Harry’s irritation at not being able to face the boggart is quickly pushed aside at how incredibly cool all of Professor Lupin’s lessons are. Draco only scowls when he brings it up, and – okay, his soulmate is kind of a classist snob, but not this much of a classist snob. He doesn’t even say rude things about the Weasleys anymore, he can’t really be that upset that Lupin wears shabby robes. He tries to get Draco to tell him what’s really going on, but he just changes the subject.

“I’m beginning to feel like a glorified messenger boy,” Harry grumbles one night at the start of October. He takes Hermione’s charms essay from Draco that’s positively dripping in green corrections, and hands him his arithmancy project that has enough red that it looks like someone bled on it.

He doesn’t know how two of the smartest people he knows can apparently be so wrong about so many things.

“Tell Granger she needs to focus less on her wand movements and more on her visualization,” Draco says absently, looking over Hermione’s notes. “She can do it textbook perfect until she’s blue in the face, but if she can’t picture what it is she wants to cast, it’s not going to come out quite right.”

“Like transfiguration?” Harry asks. He doesn’t put that much thought into either his wand movements or visualizing his spells, and they turn out all right.

He purses his lips, then shrugs. “I guess. I’m too textbook in transfiguration to say for sure, but Pansy’s pretty good at it. Her essays are kind of a mess so her score’s lower than mine, but her casting is loads better. I can ask her about it, see if she has any advice for Granger. Pansy is kind of crap at charms though, so I’m not sure how much of an overlap there is, if any.”

Harry resists the urge to fidget, because that will end up with him crumpling Hermione’s essay, and then she’ll murder him. “You know, if we’re going to work together like, studying and stuff, maybe – I mean, maybe once or twice a week, we could all meet up. Together.”

“All of us?” Draco asks, guarded.

He hasn’t said no, so Harry barrels forward. “Yes! Us, obviously, but Ron and Hermione, and Parkinson and Zab – I mean, Pansy and Blaise. We’re good at a lot of different things, so – maybe we should try to be good at different things together?”

There’s an uncomfortably long moment where neither of them say anything, then Draco goes, “Yeah, sure, it’ll be satisfying to tell Granger off in person. Then I can make her explain how she gets the answer to the bloody equations, she always skips steps because she thinks they’re obvious, except they’re not because otherwise I would have done them.”

“Right,” Harry beams, “yes, that.”

~

Harry brings it up them right before quidditch practice, mostly so that if they get mad at him he can run away. Hermione lights up and immediately starts writing down questions to ask Draco. Ron just sighs, “I suppose we should.” He brightens and asks, “Zabini seems like he plays a good game of chess, yeah?” None of the Gryffindors will play against Ron anymore. He can sometimes bully one of his brothers into playing with him, but that’s it.

“Maybe?” he says. Draco doesn’t talk about his friends much, not like how he talks about Ron and Hermione. “I have to go.”

Ron waves him off, and Harry hurries to the pitch. No one else is there, and it takes him a couple minutes of standing there in confusion to remember that Wood wanted to meet everyone in the locker room first.

“Sorry!” he says, bursting in where the rest of his team are assembled. “I forgot.”

Wood glares, but no one else seems bothered. “Why are we meeting in here to begin with?” Alicia asks. “Shouldn’t we be practicing, not gossiping?”

“This is important gossip,” Wood says grimly. Harry squeezes in next to Katie, who gives him a friendly smile. “Boys?”

Fred and George step forward. They look grim. “We spied on the Slytherin team’s practice,” Fred says, “There’s good news and there’s bad news.”

“The good news is their new seeker, Flora Carrow, is good. But only good. Harry could outfly her blind,” George ruffles his hair, and Harry halfheartedly tries to swat his hand away.

“The bad news,” Fred continues, “is that Malfoy is a really good chaser. No need to buy his way to that position. It’s kind of crazy,”

The girls scoff in unison, offended at the idea that Malfoy could be competition for any of them.

“We’re serious,” George insists, “we need a new strategy. I think we should focus on knocking Malfoy off his broom. We’ll keep an eye on everything, of course, but Harry doesn’t need our help against Flora. If anything, we’ll just be keeping the Slytherin beaters off him. Malfoy is going to be an actual problem this season.”

Everyone groans. Harry works on relacing his glove so that no one can see him smiling.

~

The first time that he brings his friends to meet Draco, Harry is so nervous he feels nauseous. The Slytherins are already in the unused classroom, and Blaise and Pansy’s faces could be carved from stone. There’s no time for it to get awkward, however, because right away Hermione walks up to Draco and smacks him in the chest with her revised charms essay. “Visualize? Visualize what! That’s so unspecific! Do you have any diagrams or photographs as examples?”

“Diagrams?” Draco says, making it sound like a curse word. “Of course not! You have to – to feel the charm before you cast it, if you want it to be perfect.”

“Feel it?” Hermione repeats, eyebrow twitching, “What is this, divination?”

The conversation quickly goes past Harry’s ability to follow, the two of them pulling out chairs and flipping through a shared charms book. Ron shrugs and says to Pansy and Blaise, “Better us than them, right?”

Blaise snorts, the first crack in his pureblood mask. “You should see him during the end of the year exams. It’s a nightmare.”

Ron gives him a friendly clap on the shoulder, and Blaise almost looks like he doesn’t want to rip his arm off. “Mate, you haven’t seen a nightmare until you’ve seen Hermione on three hours of sleep reciting every general in the goblin wars for the past three centuries. In the middle of breakfast.”

Blaise actually smiles at that. “Chess?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Ron says. They both retreat to the opposite side of the classroom from Draco and Hermione, who for some reason are almost-shouting over a dictionary of archaic Latin.

Harry looks to Pansy, who raises one perfectly shaped eyebrow. “I heard you’re good at transfiguration?”

“Might as well,” she sighs, taking out her wand. “Your casting on Wednesday was just dreadful. The pattern on your teacup and saucer didn’t even match!”

He wants to ask why it even matters if they match, but he can just tell that that will be the beginning to a whole different type of lecture that he doesn’t have the energy to endure. So instead he says nothing, and listens as Pansy lectures him on the proper way to turn a mouse into teacup.

~

It’s not exactly easy after that. There’s too much a of people trying very hard not to offend anyone, but it’s still almost fun. Ron is pleased that Hermione has started saving her detailed ramblings for their study nights, because it means Draco gets to listen to it and he doesn’t have to.

It is easier than Harry thought it would be, though. Under their sneers, Pansy and Blaise are all right. Outside of prying, judging eye, Pansy is honestly more concerned with her hair than being nasty, and Blaise has a deep seated love of herbology. He swears them all to secrecy, but not for the first time Harry wishes they could tell a few more people.

Blaise and Neville would probably get alone rather well, given the opportunity. Draco keeps talking about Millie, who he’s tutoring on the side, and how her essays are rather brilliantly written, and how all that reading must be good for something. Draco makes a few mentions of Crabbe and Goyle, who for all that they appear to be his constant shadows, don’t spend that much time with him outside of the public eye. “They’re busy,” Draco says dismissively when he asks, “they like spending time together more than they like spending time with me. Also when we were eight they accidentally spilled prune juice on Pansy’s new dress, and have been terrified of her ever since.”

Pansy looks incredibly pleased by this. “They’re nice enough,” she says, which is not how Harry ever expected to hear Crabbe and Goyle described, “but they only hang around Draco because their families told them to get in good with the Malfoy heir.”

“I’m very popular,” Draco informs them, and everyone rolls their eyes at once. “I let them hang around me in public, I have the appearance of two intimidating bodyguards, and they get to report back to their fathers that they’re following instructions. Everyone wins.”

On that first Hogsmeade weekend, when he’s forced to stay behind, he’s pleased and surprised when Blaise and Pansy bring him back sweets and a case of butterbeer. Ron and Hermione had promised to bring stuff back for him, of course, but he hadn’t expected anything from Draco’s friends. He wonders, hopefully, if this means they’re slowly becoming his friends too.

Draco had scoffed and made fun of him, and brought back two packs of sugar quills and a dozen delicately made marzipan candies in the shape of marigolds, the same flowers Draco has on his hip. It’s in a thick box with silk ribbon, and there’s no way Draco got it at Honeyduke’s, which means he went to some sort of snobby specialty shop just to get it for him.

He’s nice when he’s not being awful.

Or course, Harry’s happiness at his unexpected gifts is quickly snuffed out by Sirius Black making his way into the castle and slashing the frame to the Fat Lady’s portrait in an attempt to break into the Gryffindor common room.

~

The night after, Harry is waiting in their unused classroom when Draco bursts in and grabs him in a tight hug. It’s unexpected enough that he doesn’t have the time to return it before Draco is pushing him away. “How did this happen?” he demands, “He shouldn’t be able to get into the castle at all, never mind all the way to your common room! This is – this is unacceptable!”

“It’s fine,” he says, “Draco, he didn’t manage to get in. It’s okay.”

“It’s not okay,” Draco snaps, “What if he had found you walking the hall? Or on the grounds? My mother still won’t tell me anything, even after this, and she has to know something!”

“Why would your mother know anything?” he asks.

Draco gives him a cutting look that Harry’s learned not to take personally, “Because Sirius is her cousin? My mother’s maiden name is Black. If she wasn’t married to my father, she’d be next in line for the position of Head of the Family, what with Andromeda gone off the deep end and living in the muggle world. Mum was only four years older than Sirius and your dad and all them.”

“What?” Harry says, wide eyed. First Lupin knowing his parents, and now Draco’s mum. “Sirius Black was in the same year as my dad? Do you think they knew each other?”

“This isn’t the time to joke,” Draco snaps, and then he gets a good look at him and pales. “Merlin, you’re not joking, are you? You really don’t know. How can you not know?”

“I’d know what you were talking about if you would tell me,” Harry says irritably.

Draco gives him a faintly panicked look. He summons Abigail and drapes the snake around Harry’s shoulders, “Here, she’s very calming.”

He doesn’t know how a cranky, pampered snake hissing complaints in his ear is supposed to be calming, but he has more pressing issues. “Draco. What don’t I know?”

“An awful lot, it seems,” he says, but before Harry can get really irritated with him, he says, “Of course they knew each other. They were best friends.”

Halfway through Draco’s explanation, Harry figures out the real reason Draco summoned Abigail is so Harry wouldn’t go storming away to do something stupid with a snake wrapped around him. He still ends up breaking most of furniture in the classroom, because if he doesn’t do something he’s going to explode. Draco doesn’t say anything, only fixes what he can once Harry is done and banishes the rest.

After, he stands with his forehead pressed into Draco’s shoulder and his arms straight at his sides and fists clenched. Draco runs a careful hand down his arm, clearly trying to find the medium between reassurance and not overcrowding him. “Don’t do anything rash, like trying to go after him or anything. I’m serious, Harry. He’s dangerous.”

“Rash?” Harry says weekly, the exertion of destroying half a classroom’s worth of furniture leaving him tired enough that he could almost fall asleep right there, standing up with his head on Draco’s shoulder. “Me? You must be talking about someone else.”

Draco pokes him sharply in the side, “I’m serious, Harry.”

“Are you Sirius? You’re shorter than I was expecting,” he says, and manages to dredge up a smile when Draco groans and pokes him again, hard enough he’s sure to find a bruise later.

~

Draco is in the stands pretending to cheer for Hufflepuff, but mostly just to watch Harry. Pansy lasts until it starts to rain, then says, “Your soulmate isn’t worth having to re-curl my hair,” and disappears back towards the castle. She’s left more important things for worse reasons, so he’s not surprised. Blaise stays by his side, more for a lack of anything better to do than because he actually cares about quidditch or Draco.

He should have taken Millie. She doesn’t have any interest in playing, but she has a fanatical devotion to quidditch. She might have at least enjoyed it.

He mostly watches Harry the whole game, and pretends not to be impressed when Granger uses a spell to keep his glasses clear of water. He’s making her teach that to him at their next study session.

Because he’s more interested in watching his soulmate than the game, he’s the first to notice something is wrong. The rain is freezing all on its own, and it takes him several minutes to realize that it’s too cold to just be the rain, that the fog that’s rolling in is unnatural.

He’s already screaming for people to run by the time the dementors swarm the pitch. He’s looking for Harry, and sees the moment he passes out just like he did on the train, sees when he slips from his broom.

He’s so high up that the fall can’t be anything less than fatal.

“WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA!” he shouts, hoping everyone is too busy screaming to notice, and the spell barely catches Harry, only manages to slow his decent for a moment before it slides off him. He casts it again, and the same thing happens, and it’s not enough, he can’t catch Harry this way and he’s going to die.

Luckily by this point Dumbledore has noticed The Boy Who Lived falling to his death and uses some spell to Draco has never heard of to guide Harry gently to the ground, and in the next breath casts a spell, so bright that Draco is nearly blinded by it, that drives all the dementors from the pitch.

Blaise is tugging on his arm, and he lets himself be pulled away and melts into the crowd of students fleeing back the castle.

~

Draco is pacing back and forth in an out of use corridor in the dungeons. Blaise had said that Harry was fine, and then kicked him out of their room because his senseless worrying was distracting. He can’t visit Harry in the hospital wing, even though he wants to, and Harry doesn’t have his mirror, so they can’t even talk. All he can do is wait until he’s released, and then corner him away from prying eyes.

“You know, I think you might have a saving people thing,” says a voice that will haunt him in his nightmares.

“What do you want, Weasley?” he turns to glare, “What are you even doing here? No one comes down here!”

Ginny rolls her eyes, “Luna said I’d find you here. She said I wasn’t allowed to be mean to you, though.”

“You’re always mean to me,” he says petulantly, “Tell my cousin you’re a horrible harpy who’s set on ruining my life. I hope she finds nargles to sleep in your hair.”

“We’ve had like two conversations, ever. Don’t be so dramatic.”

“You were mean for both of them,” he says, “Seriously, Weasley. What do you want?”

Her face smooths in seriousness, “I saw you, at the game today. I saw what you did for Harry.”

“I didn’t do anything for Potter,” he says, and this girl manages to be at the absolute worst places noticing the worst things. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“We’ve played this game before,” she chides. “I won’t tell anyone this time, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

He crosses his arms, “If you’re not here to blackmail me, then what are you here for?”

Her mouth cracks into a grin, “Only you would do a good thing and be worried someone would blackmail you for it. I just wanted you to know that I know, so that when no one finds out, you know I can be trusted.”

“Why would I want to trust you?” he sneers.

She shrugs, “I trust you. I don’t like you, you’re insufferable, and I have no idea what game you think you’re playing. But I trust you. I know evil, Malfoy. I had evil living inside of me for a year.” He winces. She stalks forward, and for a moment he’s worries she’s going to hit him. But she only pokes the tip of his nose, and he goes cross eyed trying to watch her. “You’re not evil. You’re kind of annoying, and you say cruel things you don’t really mean because people expect you to say them. But you’re not evil. You’re kind of the opposite. And I think one day you’re going to need people you can trust, and I want you to know that I’m one of those people.”

That’s possibly the nicest thing any Gryffindor has said to him, including his soulmate. He’s trying to think of how to respond to that, but she walks away before he gets a chance to say anything at all.

Ginny Weasley is terrifying.

~

Between Snape taking over the Defense Against the Dark Arts class while Lupin is ill, the disastrous Hufflepuff game, and his destroyed Nimbus 2000, Harry is in a truly foul mood these days. Ron and Hermione have been doing their best not to mention it, but the Slytherins have no such restraint. Last time they’d all hung out, Pansy had called him a bitch and threatened to gag him if he didn’t stop whining. He was so appalled at her word choice that he forgot to be miserable for the rest of the hour they were together, which he’s almost certain was her intention. Or possibly she was just sick of his whining.

That changes when Fred and George corner him after class and give him the best thing he’s ever received – the Marauder’s Map.

He uses the mirror to tell Draco that they have to meet that night, that it’s an emergency, and he’s delighted when he reveals the map to all of them.

The Slytherins are appalled. “Did last year teach you nothing?” Blaise demands. “Did you forget what happened last time something that didn’t have a brain talked back to you?”

Draco already has his wand out, “Give that to me right now.”

“You’re not allowed to set it on fire!” he says, “Fred and George have been using it for years, it’s not cursed!”

They glare at each other a long moment, but Draco huffs. “Fine. At least let us run some diagnostic spells on it.”

Harry hands it over, eyes narrowed. “Why do you even know those spells?”

“Everyone who grows up in ancestral homes are taught them,” Pansy says, “You never know what your ancestors left lying around. You don’t want to put on your great aunt’s purple scarf only to discover it had an anti-theft hex on it after it tries to strangle you.”

Draco finishes muttering a long string of Latin, and the map glows a quick series of colors before returning to normal. They all relax. “It’s safe,” he says, and Harry resists the urge to roll his eyes because that’s what he’d said in the first place. Draco taps the map with his wand, and the colors appear again, the time slower.

“What was that last one?” Blaise asks suspiciously, “The yellow one?”

“Who cares,” Pansy says, “It didn’t turn black so there’s nothing malevolent about it, that’s all that matters.

“Librevenire!” Draco casts, and a tome that has to weigh at least twenty pounds pops out of his wand, and he has to rush to catch it before it falls. Hermione’s eyes are wide as saucers.

Harry had hoped Draco would never perform that charm in front of her. This won’t end well for anyone. Once Hermione figures out how to summon books, they’re never going to get her to leave her room again. “One of these days your parents are going to notice you keep taking books from the manor.”

“They know,” he says, flipping through the pages, “They just don’t care. My dad was notorious in school for getting straight Os on all his exams without having ever stepped foot in the library. It’s because he’d hole himself up in his room and summon whatever he needed from the family library. It’s tradition.”

“Brilliant,” Hermione says. “So can you only summon what you know?”

“Mostly,” he says, “Or if you have a good idea of the layout of the specific place you’re summoning from, and you have the title and author, but that’s pretty hit or miss. It doesn’t work with the Hogwarts library,” he looks up briefly, and grins when Hermione deflates. “All the books have anti-tampering spells on them, and that includes summoning charms.”

She sniffs and crosses her arms. “Rude.”

Draco taps a certain paragraph in the book, and hands it over to her, “Look! Here it is. The map has the same spells on it that portraits do to mimic the creator’s personality.”

“Fascinating,” she says, and gives the map a curious look. “What about the others?”

Draco grabs the map, and is partway through explaining the diagnostic spell when Ron sighs and asks, “Exploding snap? They’re going to be a while.”

“Might as well,” Pansy agrees. “I have to say, I am grateful that now he just nerds out with Granger instead of trying to get us to care about that crap.”

“Same,” Harry and Ron say together, and the four of them grin at each other and begin the game, with the delightful noise of Draco and Hermione arguing about colors in the background.

~

The trip to Hogsmeade is just what Harry needs, even if he has to spend the whole time under the invisibility cloak. He wishes they could have hung out with the Draco too, but he was never alone enough for that to be a viable option. Crabbe and Goyle were constantly at his back, and they saw him when Millicent dragged him to a bookstore at one point, but there wasn’t a chance for any of them to spend any time together.

It gets even better when Snape and his werewolf-centered curriculum leave the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and Lupin returns. He even promises to teach Harry how to protect himself from Dementors after Christmas break, and the prospect of not being completely pathetic against his worst fears is enough to almost put him a cheerful mood.

It’s the day before the students that are going home for Christmas break are set to leave on the train, and Harry and Draco are meeting in the same classroom they always do. Draco had told him he couldn’t stay like he did last year – his parents were both worried with everything happening at Hogwarts, and his mother had been furious when she found out about Buckbeak.

By the time Harry gets there, Draco has set a cheerful fire so it’s warm in this disused corner of the classroom. He’s also taken all the faded cushions off the chairs and set them in front of the fire. “Nice,” he says, and Draco turns at the sound of the voice, and his shoulders loosen when he sees Harry’s smiling, which makes Harry feel less nervous too.

They found out they were soulmates over a year ago. But this is the first time they’re exchanging presents, having skipped each other’s birthdays since there was no way for them to send each other anything in the summer.

They both sit, and Draco shoves a small box into his hands. It’s wrapped in red paper with little brooms zooming across it. “Here, open mine first.”

He does, undoing it with careful fingers so he doesn’t rip the paper, which he can tell is driving Draco crazy. It’s nice paper! He wants to keep it. The box has Quality Quidditch Supplies stamped across it. With the size, it can only be one thing, and he’s already grinning by the time he opens it and a competition grade golden snitch goes flying out. He catches it immediately, the wings beating wildly in an attempt to free itself, and he slides his finger over the middle groove to deactivate it. “Awesome!” he beams. “Thank you. It’s great.”

Draco gives him a pleased smile, and holds out his hand, “Okay, my turn.”

He hands his present to Draco, a thin square box wrapped in simple green paper and a red ribbon. It’s Christmas colors, but it’s also their colors, which he thinks is kind of nice. He hopes Draco likes it – it’s hard to think of a gift for someone whose parents will give him anything he wants anyway. Hermione had clapped her hands and said was perfect when he’d shown it to her, and helped him with the binding. Ron had said Draco would like it, then called him a self centered ponce.

Draco rips off the paper, and flings the lid of the box off and over his shoulder. It’s a thin book with sewn on binding, and Draco opens it. “I picked that iris on the first day of summer vacation,” Harry says, anxiously watching his face as he flips through the pages. The first page had a full iris pressed flat, like the one on his hip, and on each page after that is a petal he’d taken from Aunt Petunia’s garden, dried out and pressed between the pages of the phone book he’d taken from Mrs. Figg’s yard. He’d take one every day, and carefully written the date beneath the page it was picked. The end of the book is another full iris, one he’d angrily grabbed from her garden on his way out after blowing up Aunt Marge. One of the petals ripped, and it’s a little more crumpled than the others, since he hadn’t been as careful when he’s angrily shoved it in between the pages of his potions book. “Do you like it?”

“You thought of me every day?” he says, and there’s something unguarded and sweet in his expression when he looks up.

Harry wants to deny it, because it’s embarrassing. He wants to say there wasn’t much else to think about, to make a joke of it. But the look on Draco’s face stops him. “Uh, yeah. I did.”

He hugs him hard enough that he has trouble breathing, so Harry figures he likes the present.

~

The first thing Harry and Draco do on Christmas morning is talk to each other through the mirrors, just quick enough to grin at each other and wish each other a happy holiday. Then they have to go, Harry to open up the pile of presents on the end of his bed, and Draco to pull his parents from their bed so they can eat breakfast and then open presents.

~

Draco hears about the debacle with the Firebolt the very same night he gets back from Christmas break, Harry pacing and ranting about how Hermione had told the professors and they’d taken it away, and how furious he was about it.

“She made the right decision,” Draco says, and only shrugs when Harry glares at him. “What did you expect me to say? It’s a broom, Harry. A very nice one. But someone is trying to kill you, and a cursed broom would be just the way to do it. Which you should know, since a cursed broom nearly killed you in first year. They’re going to run the same kind of diagnostic spells I did on the map, except a lot more carefully since it’s a Firebolt and not some pieces of paper, and if there’s nothing wrong with it you’ll get it back. Honestly, you should thank Hermione, she’s the only one of you with any common sense.”

Harry’s so offended he just walks out of the classroom, slamming the door on his way out.

After that, he won’t answer Draco on the mirror, and they stop meeting up. Draco’s irritated, but not truly worried. This isn’t like the fight they had last year, when they were trying to hurt each other. Harry’s just being stubborn and stupid. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t hurt about how Harry is ignoring him, but this is the kind of fight he can handle. Harry will have to see sense at some point, and Draco will make him grovel for a bit before magnanimously forgiving him, and then everything will be fine.

Ron and Harry are clearly giving Hermione the same treatment, Ron partially over the broom and partially because her cat had apparently eaten his pet rat. It’s reassuring that they’re not just doing this to him, even if he feels vaguely guilty for thinking it. To make that feeling go away, he sends a message to Luna. The next day he sees his cousin and Ginny Weasley sitting on either side of Hermione, and she looks a lot less miserable than before, so Draco counts it a win.

Of course, one of the downsides of the whole fight is that he doesn’t haven anyone to help him with his Defense Against the Dark Arts spells anymore. Harry really is the best at that class, in their whole year if not the whole school. Which means if he wants more help than Blaise and Pansy can give him, he’s going to need to talk to the actual professor.

Everything his parents had told him about Lupin is still true, of course. But he’s the best DADA professor Hogwarts has had in years, and incredibly patient, even with people who are bad at the spells just because they’re scared. He’s one of the few professors Draco actually likes, even though he’ll never admit it. He figures he can get some pointers from him, it’s not like his parents have to know.

Of course, all fond thoughts of Lupin are instantly banished when he opens the door to the classroom and sees him standing there, doing absolutely nothing, while a dementor advances on Harry, who’s passed out on the ground.

“Expelliarmus!” he shouts, pointing his wand at Lupin’s back. The professor’s wand goes flying over Draco’s head into the hall, and he shuts the door after it. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Mr. Malfoy!” Lupin says, but he doesn’t have time, there’s a dementor going after Harry, and bloody hell, he still doesn’t know a single spell that works against the damn things.

It turns to him, and he’s getting ready to take a page out of Hermione’s book and just set it on fire and hope for the best. Then the dementor pauses, and shifts. His father stands before him, a sneer on his lips and disappointment in his eyes.

It’s not a dementor. It’s a boggart.

Thank Merlin.

He notices the open wardrobe behind it, and he doesn’t bother with ridikkulous. “Wingardium leviosa!” One of the stools lifts into the air. He jabs and swipes his wand, guiding the stool as it pushes and knocks the frantic boggart back into the wardrobe, then uses the stool to slam the door shut. He ends the levitation spell, and the stool clatters to the ground. “Colloportus,” he casts, locking the wardrobe shut for good measure.

He’s panting when he turns to Lupin, wand still held out in front of him. “Quite impressive,” the man says, looking less concerned than Draco thinks he should considering he’s standing there without a wand. “If rather unnecessary.”

“Unnecessary?” he snarls, “What the bloody hell are you playing at?”

“Language,” Lupin says, and Draco is going to hex him, and he’s going to enjoy it.

There’s a warm presence at his back, and a hand trying to push his arm down. “Stop it,” Harry says, words coming out a little slurred. “Knock – knock it off. I told him to do it.”

“You told him to watch as you faced your worse fear and passed out as a dementor tried to kiss you?” he asks tightly.

Yes!” he says, and it’d be more convincing if he wasn’t leaning most of his weight against Draco’s back. “He’s teaching me the patronus charm. The boggart is useful, and obviously not as dangerous as a real dementor. Put your wand down, you lunatic!” Oh, that’s actually a rather good idea. But a patronus charm? That’s not something most people learn without going through auror training. Harry tugs inefficiently at his arm, but his wand is still trained on Lupin. “What are you thinking anyway, attacking a professor?”

“Like our professors haven’t attacked you before,” Draco says, and he hates the calculating way Lupin is looking at them.

This isn’t how enemies talk to each other. Enemies don’t attack professors for one another, or charge towards dementors. Merlin, what a mess. Forget Hermione, he should follow in Lockhart’s footsteps and learn some memory charms.

Harry huffs, giving up and carefully pushing himself away from Draco and supporting his own weight. “All right, fair enough. But Lupin isn’t, so can you stop now?”

“No,” he says clearly. Lupin raises an eyebrow. “You’re not going to tell anyone what happened here. You’re not going to tell anyone Harry and I are friends. Ever.”

“Oh?” he says mildly, and Draco hates the condescending smile that’s waiting just at the edge of his lips, “Why not?”

“Because if you do, I’ll end whatever hope you have at any sort of gainful employment. Everyone will know you’re a dangerous, blood thirsty, rabid werewolf.” Lupin pales, some of that smugness leaving him.

Harry blinks, “He’s a what?”

Draco doesn’t take his eyes or wand off Lupin, but he wants to, and stare at him. “Doesn’t Hermione tell you anything? She’s known for months.”

“How long have you known?” Harry demands, and he’s not having much of a reaction to it, but Draco’s not surprised. Harry wasn’t raised in this world, he doesn’t know how werewolves are viewed by most civilized people, how they’re treated.

He shrugs, “My dad told me before I got on the train. He voted against Lupin’s appointment, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Lupin echoes. “So, what, if I tell anyone about your secret, you’ll tell everyone about mine?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he knows there’s something cruel and ugly in his smile, but he doesn’t bother to hide it or change it. He wants the man to believe he means everything he’s about to say. “I’m not even supposed to know, if I start blabbing my father will be blamed. But my mother made it very clear to let her know if you so much as looked at me funny, to let her know if I’d decided you posed too much of a threat to the people around you. If I do, she’ll mention her concerns at her next lunch with the Notts, who will tell the Ollivanders, who will tell the Browns, who will tell the Diggorys. All of whom, of course, will tell the families they’re close too, which covers almost only every Pureblood family, and the entirety of the magical business owners and government officials in Britain. By the time the school year ends, not only will you be out of a job in addition to everyone knowing you’re a werewolf, but your name will be so thoroughly blacklisted you won’t be able to get a job as a shoe shiner.”

Lupin’s face has gone blank. Harry shoves him, and he stumbles but his wand doesn’t waver. “Draco! What’s wrong with you? Don’t – don’t do any of that!”

“Additionally,” he says, ignoring his soulmate. “If you harm Harry, if you endanger him in any way, I won’t be using my mother’s solution. I’ll be using my father’s.”

Lupin’s gaze drops to Draco’s chest, seemingly counting each of his silver buttons. “Ah. I had been wondering if those were there on purpose.”

“As if my father would send me to school with a werewolf prowling the halls without protection,” Draco scoffs.

“Not particularly deadly on their own,” Lupin says woodenly, “Unless, of course, one is talented in charms. Paired with particularly strong levitation charm, they could do a fair bit of damage.”

He kind of wants to be sick. This isn’t like making fun of Longbottom, or threatening the first years. This is real, and terrifying. “My father suggested heating the buttons and spreading the molten silver over your heart. Personally, I’m rather curious as to what would happen if I made you swallow them.” He feels like he’s about to vomit. He hopes it doesn’t show on his face. Threats aren’t particularly effective if he throws up at the thought of following through.

“ENOUGH!” Harry roars and this time Draco doesn’t fight him when he shoves his arm down. “That is – that is enough, Draco. Why would you – that’s – don’t – you’re better than this!”

“I’m really not,” he says. “Do you think Professor Lupin will harm you?”

“OF COURSE NOT!” he shouts.

He doesn’t miss how Lupin’s shoulder loosen just a little at that. “Then it doesn’t matter, does it? If he doesn’t harm you, I won’t harm him. If he doesn’t ruin our lives, I won’t ruin his. All nice and fair, just like you like it.”

Harry glares. “That’s a Slytherin’s version of fair. The rest of us just don’t threaten anyone to begin with.”

Draco shrugs, pretending to be unconcerned, and turns to Lupin, “Do we have an understanding?”

“I suppose,” he says dryly, “I don’t see how I have much does choice in the matter, when disagreeing with you ends in either destitution or death.”

“Excellent,” Draco says brightly, and hopes he doesn’t look as green as he feels. “I’ll be staying for the patronus lesson, and attending all the future ones. If that’s all right with everyone?”

“No!” Harry says at the same time Lupin goes, “Might as well.”

Harry looks at Lupin, betrayed, and the man has seemingly moved on from Draco threatening to murder him. He shrugs, “Flitwick says he’s the best charms student he’s seen in years. Maybe he can help.”

Draco scratches his nose to hide his flush, and Lupin actually smirks at him.

Harry looks between them, and throws up his hands, “I have no idea what’s going on.”

“You never do,” Draco says, “This is all your fault anyway. If you hadn’t been ignoring me like a sullen child, I would have known about the patronus lessons and none of this would have happened.”

Harry sputters. Draco opens the door with a swish of his wand, then summons Lupin’s wand from where it’s on laying in the corridor. He holds it out to him, and the man spends a long time studying his face before he accepts it back. Draco doesn’t know what he’s looking for, but whatever he finds seems to relax him. “Thank you, Mr. Malfoy.”

“Draco’s fine,” he says, “We’re all friends here.”

He thinks he’s pushing it too far, but Lupin must have a dark sense of humor buried in there because he smiles and says, “Of course we are, Draco.”

Harry looks very much like he wants to strangle both of them.

~

Harry drags Hermione away from Luna and Ginny at breakfast, and snags Ron’s elbow on his way out. He marches them out of the great hall and into the first empty room he finds. Unfortunately for all of them, it’s a broom closet. “Did you know Professor Lupin was a werewolf?” he asks.

Ron recoils, “He’s a what? No way!”

“Did Draco tell you?” Hermione asks, “I figured he might know, what with his father being on the Board and all.”

Harry gives them a quick rundown of the events of last night. They both look more thoughtful than he expected. “It’s not that I think he did the right thing,” Hermione says, “because it’s a quite narrow minded view, and he’s a good enough analytical thinker to know better. But he did offer to fight a werewolf for you.”

“Who knew the bastard had it in him?” Ron says in wonder, “Also, not to be a prat, but I kind of agree with Draco. Just a little. Werewolves are scary! And we’re being taught by one!”

“Yes,” Harry says crankily, “He’s so scary, with his shabby robes and greying hair.”

Ron shrugs, “Werewolves are stronger than the rest of us, even when they haven’t transformed. They’re faster too, and they have a temper.” He scratches his chin, “Then again, Lupin doesn’t really have a temper. At all. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him raise his voice, honestly.”

“Maybe because most of the horrible things you’ve heard are unsubstantiated rumors,” Hermione says testily. “Not that this little break from the silent treatment hasn’t been wonderful, but we all have a class to get to.”

Harry and Ron glance at each other, and they’ve been friends long enough that they don’t have to say anything before moving in unison to block Hermione’s exit. “I guess we’ve been a bit, uh,” he begins.

“Awful, rude, arseholes,” Ron supplies helpfully.

Hermione’s lips twitch up in the corners. “I’m listening.”

They’re ten minutes late to class, but they enter it as one, smiling and walking alongside each other. McGonagall must approve, because she doesn’t even take points away for their tardiness.

~

After the third lesson where neither he nor Draco manage to summon a patronus, Harry asks, “Aren’t you supposed to be really good at charms?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be really good at defense?” Draco shoots back, summoning a glass of water and chugging it. Harry looks pathetic, so he refills the glass and hands it over. “I’m best at charms that involve something physical – summoning something, lifting it up, changing its properties. But charms that are just magic – that’s hard! The most advanced one I know is protego, and that’s only because my mother drilled it into me before I even got my Hogwarts letter.”

Lupin finishes stuffing the boggart back into the wardrobe. He’s sweating too, so Draco summons him a glass of water as well. He hesitates, but must decide that Draco isn’t interested in poisoning him because he accepts it. He only takes two swallows before blinking and asking, “Where did you get this from?”

“My house,” he says, “I tried summoning stuff from here, but the house elves throw a fit when stuff suddenly goes missing. The Malfoy elves are used to it. Besides, our water comes from an underwater stream, not some dirty lake.”

“Of course,” Lupin says solemnly, and takes another sip to hide his smile. It doesn’t work at all.

Draco’s found that spending time more time with Lupin makes him like the man more, not less. It’s quite unfortunate, what with him threatening to kill him and all.

Lupin seems – relaxed, around them. It’s not just that they’re outside of a formal classroom setting, because Harry agrees with him, and he’s been hanging out with Lupin outside of the classroom for a while now. He thinks – well, he thinks it’s because they know he’s a werewolf, even if they haven’t brought it up since that first time. But that Lupin could care so much just that they know, even with all the awful things Draco said, is just too pathetic to be true, so he refuses to believe it.

“What memory do you use to cast your patronus?” Draco asks. Harry looks up, interested.

“I have a few,” he says, rubbing at his wrist. “Never mind that. Knowing what I think of won’t help you cast any better. Come on – no more patronus work, but there’s no reason you can’t some extra practice in on this week’s spellwork.”

Draco groans, because Defense will never be his favorite subject, but Harry beams and impatiently pulls him to his feet.

There are wrinkles in the corner of Lupin’s eyes like he’s trying not to laugh.

~

Harry finally gets his Firebolt back, unharmed. Draco is on edge for the entirety of the Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw game, but no dementors appear, and his soulmate stays thankfully on his broom. Millie is an excellent quidditch companion, cheering and booing with equal enthusiasm.

Of course, nothing good can last, because that very night Sirius Black breaks into the Gryffindor common room.

~

Harry knew he and Draco were friends. Not just because they’re soulmates, but because over the last year they’ve truly grown to like each other. Draco and Hermione obviously get along outside of all the sniping about each other’s school work, and Draco still agrees to play chess with Ron, even though he gets destroyed every time.

He doesn’t really realize that Blaise and Pansy are friends with them until the night after the break-in when Pansy goes over to Ron and starts patting him down, scowling and cursing and calling him an idiot while Blaise looms over Ron – the only one in their year who can still do so – and looks disapproving.

“This means they like us, right?” Harry whispers, nudging Draco in the ribs.

“Obviously,” he answers, squirming away from Harry’s sharp elbows.

He nudges him again just to get Draco to give him an affronted look, and after the Slytherins have been reassured that Sirius Black didn’t manage to damage any of them, it devolves into them arguing about their latest transfiguration paper. Draco and Ron think the process to becoming an animagus is archaic and outdated, while Blaise and Hermione insist it’s more complicated than it seems and all the rituals are very necessary.

Harry and Pansy honestly don’t care, and it would just prefer not to have to write five feet on it either way.

“Can I do your nails?” she asks, “I have nightmares about your cuticles.”

He looks down at his hands. He still has some mud stuck under there from quidditch practice. “Yeah, okay. No Slytherin colors.”

She scoffs and ends up painting them red. She also manages to paint an improbably detailed snitch on each of his thumbs, and he doesn’t bother to hide how delighted he is by it. She responds to that by huffing and tossing her hair over her shoulder, but it’s Pansy, so that’s about what he expected.

The next Hogsmeade visit, Harry splits his time between being invisible next to Ron and Hermione, and being invisible next to Draco, and it’s the most fun he’s had possibly all year.

That’s soured somewhat when Harry gets caught be Snape coming back from Hogsmeade, and Lupin of all people confiscates the map.

He tells everyone the next time they all together. Ron, Pansy, and Blaise are pissed, but Draco and Hermione are oddly silent.

“Yes?” Harry says. “Is there something you two would like to tell us?”

Hermione bites her lip, “Well – you know Draco and I were just so interested in figuring out how the map worked, and we took so many notes. The spells are strong, and advanced, of course. But we are quite strong and advanced for our age. It would be risky, and we might fail–”

“Will you get to the point?” Pansy snaps.

“We can probably recreate the map,” Draco says. “We’d need to make the parchment ourselves from some sort of magical plant that’s resilient enough to handle all the spells we’d need to perform on it, and of course we’ll need to brew two potions–”

“Three potions,” Hermione corrects, “We need the locking potion, we can’t just use the spell.”

“We can to just use the spell,” Draco says, “The locking potion takes three months to brew, and is irritatingly difficult to complete without it going wrong. It’s too big of a risk.”

“I made Polyjuice in a girls’ bathroom last year,” she says, “I can make the locking potion.”

He rolls his eyes, “Fine, three potions, whatever. The point is it will be a disgustingly large amount of work, and it will take us to the end of the year, but we can recreate the map. If you guys are interested.”

“Yes,” they all say at once, and as scary as they are together, Harry is so grateful Draco and Hermione get along, because it leads to brilliant things like this.

~

Draco gets a letter from his parent’s informing him of Buckbeak’s verdict. It’s not like it was ever in doubt, not really, not with his father on the case. But he’d asked his dad to let it go, tried to say he was fine and it didn’t matter, but his dad wouldn’t listen to him. If only he hadn’t tried to stand in the hospital wing, or his dad had arrived a little later and hadn’t seen him screaming and bleeding, that might have worked. But those things did happen, and even if Draco was able to persuade his father to drop the case, he would never convince his mother. He supposes, in the grand scheme of things, it’s better for Buckbeak to die by executioner than for Hagrid to mysteriously go missing and never return, which is likely what would have happened if it had been up to his mother.

Now he just has to convince the Gryffindors of that.

They’re all dejected when they meet up that night, but Draco barely gets a minute into a fumbling almost-apology before Ron shakes his head and claps him on the shoulder, “Don’t worry about it, Draco. You tried. I can’t say my parents would be thrilled if I’d gotten clawed by a hippogriff either.”

Hermione nods emphatically, and Harry nudges him in the ribs, smiling.

On one hand, it’s a relief that they don’t blame him, that they’re not mad at him. On the other, it somehow makes him feel even worse for not being able to save Hagrid’s beast.

~

They end up gathering broken branches from the Whomping Willow to make into paper. Pansy does that part, and two weeks later she presents several long sheets of parchment that are a pure snowy white and thicker than normal parchment. In the meanwhile, the rest of them work on reproducing the actual map with all its hidden corridors, Blaise carefully drawing out the map since he has the steadiest hand and his mother forced him to learn calligraphy. They figure out that if they want to keep track of the moving staircases, they’re going to have to individually charm each staircase and connect it the map. Draco does that part, while Hermione is neck deep in research in how to enchant the map to pick up people’s magical signature. They have the list of spells that were used to create the original map, the tricky part is figuring out how exactly they were used and what they were cast on. Ron ends up being best at that, somehow managing to look at the list and work out which spells conflict with each other, and which ones cancel each other out. “It’s a bit like chess,” he says defensively, when Hermione gives him a surprised and impressed look.

“We should add the Chamber,” Draco says, at one point. “It wasn’t on the old one, but we should add it.”

“And that weird place where the sorcerer’s stone was kept,” Ron adds, “That wasn’t on the map either, we should put it in.”

Pansy frowns, “We need to make it so we can edit the map after we complete it, otherwise there’s no point. Who knows what else we’ll find?”

They all groan, but no one disagrees, and a whole new round of research begins.

Eventually they figure it all out and decide that Harry should do the majority of the casting, with Ron doing the fiddly bits and Draco focusing on the charms that will give the map parts of their personality. It has to be individually tailored to each of them, and they will all have to cast it themselves, but he’s the one designing it for each of them. Pansy assists Hermione with the potions whenever Draco is too busy, and Blaise gets the forbidden ingredients from his mother, which is so much easier than trying to steal things from Snape’s private stores.

At one point, they have an intense argument over what it should be called that lasts four days and involves several broken chairs, but Blaise is finally the one to suggest a name that they can agree on, one that everyone agrees is cool without sounding too pretentious. Then there’s a whole other argument about nicknames, since whoever made the map the first time obviously had them, and everyone’s name has to go through a vigorous voting process to ensure no one ends up looking like a twat.

They each perform the charm to imbibe the map with their personalities, the same one that’s used on magical portraits. Draco guides their casting in addition to performing it by himself, and it’s a good thing they do it on a Friday night, because Draco sleeps through all of Saturday after that.

Soon, all that’s left is for the complete map to soak in the locking potion for a month, and then dry under the light of a full moon. They’ve timed it perfectly, and it should be completed just as the school year ends.

This is how the Chimera Map is born.

~

It’s the final quidditch match of the year, and the most important – Gryffindor versus Slytherin, and Slytherin is enough in the lead that Gryffindor doesn’t just have to win the game to get the Quidditch Cup, but they have to win by over one hundred and fifty points.

Fred and George were right. That’s going to be a lot harder than it’s been in the past.

Harry circles the pitch, keeping one eye on Slytherin’s seeker, Flora, and the other on the game. Draco is so much better as a chaser. He weaves and dives around players, and has no problem passing the quaffle to whoever has the best chance of scoring the goal. Which is another thing – he’s managed to score two goals himself already, because he has such an accurate throw that other chasers will feint out Wood, then pass the ball to Draco at the last second and he’ll manage to throw it through whichever hoop Oliver isn’t defending at the moment.

Draco throws the quaffle almost halfway across the pitch at one point, and Fred sends a bludger his way, cursing. Draco has to drop down and head towards one of his own beaters to get it off his tail.

“BLOODY HELL!” Lee Jordan shouts from his typical place at the commenter box, and Harry doesn’t look over but he’s sure McGonagall is yelling at him. “DID YOU SEE THAT? DID WE ALL SEE THAT? DRACO MALFOY JUST MADE, AND I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M SAYING THIS, A SPECTACULAR THROW! MALFOY CHANGING POSITIONS IS THE WORST THING THAT’S HAPPENED TO THE GRYFFINDOR TEAM SINCE CHARLIE WEASLEY GRADUATED!”

Harry smothers a laugh, keeping an eye on the scoreboard. He sees the snitch a couple of times, but doesn’t do anything, knowing that now isn’t the time to catch it.

Unfortunately, not long after that Flora sees the snitch and dives after it. He tries to knock her off course and distract her, but now that she’s finally seen it she doesn’t lose track of it, no matter how many times Harry cuts her off or the Weasley twins send the bludgers after her. It gets to the point where Harry has to either catch it himself or watch her do it.

From when he decides to catch it to when the snitch is in his hand is about fifteen seconds.

He twists to see the scoreboard.

Gryffindor won.

By a hundred and thirty points.

Everyone’s landing and the Slytherins are cheering. They may have lost the game, but they’ve won the cup. Harry is disappointed, of course, and he wants to be angry, he sees the anger on his teammates’ faces. But the Slytherins are hoisting Draco onto their shoulders and he’s laughing, and Harry can’t even remember the last time he saw Draco really smile in public, never mind laugh, and he can’t be that upset about it.

They don’t meet in person that night, but Draco does contact him on the mirror. He looks worried, and like he’s trying not to look like he’s worried, so Harry tells him congratulations first, makes sure he sounds like he means it because he does, and Draco’s face melts into relief.

There will be other games. Besides, for once, the Slytherins won fair and square.

~

Once quidditch season is over, final exams smack them all in the face. Draco and Hermione become snappish and exhausted, although Draco refuses to show he’s trying as hard as he is, which limits him. Hermione doesn’t have an aloof and effortless reputation to maintain, so she constantly has her head buried in a book or is surrounded by notes.

They start meeting nightly, and Draco and Hermione go to each other immediately, both of them tripping over each other to demand help with one subject or spell. Hermione drills Draco in arithmancy formulas while he adjusts her wand movements, and the rest of them stay back and study amongst themselves to stay out of the crossfire.

Exams are mostly over when Harry gets the note from Hagrid that Buckbeak is to be executed at sunset. He and Ron and Hermione all agree they should go down and try to comfort him, and so they make the trek down to his cabin right after dinner.

Then someone knocks on his door, and Harry is shocked to see Draco behind it.

~

Draco doesn’t want to go. It’s not his fault that any of this is happening, it’s Hagrid’s for bringing a creature so dangerous in first place. But there’s still this awful sense of guilt churning in his stomach that he can’t help, and unfortunately through his exposure to Gryffindors there’s only one way he knows to make it go away.

“Cover for me,” he tells Blaise, stuffing his feet into his shoes.

“Don’t get caught!” Blaise hollers after him, but can’t be that concerned because he doesn’t look up from his magazine.

He almost convinces himself to turn around twice on the way to the half-breed’s cabin, especially because his dad is going to be on the grounds soon and the last thing he needs is for his dad to catch him talking to Hagrid. But he’s pretty sure if he does it after the fact it doesn’t count, so this is really his last chance to get rid of the roiling feeling in his gut, which is his only motivation in doing this.

He knocks on the door. Hagrid opens it, and he sees his soulmate and his friends inside, and instantly regrets everything. This is going to be so much worse if has an audience.

“Malfoy,” Hagrid says cautiously, “is there somethin’ ya need?” He seems to remember then that none of them should be out of the castle this late, and tries to block his view of the Gryffindors and force his face into something vaguely disapproving at the same time. Draco shakes his head and waves his hand. Hagrid relaxes a little, but not much.

“May I come in?” he asks stiffly, “I’m not here to cause trouble.”

Hagrid looks dubious about that, which is only fair, but steps back to let him inside. The heavy door swings shut behind him, and Draco appreciates that none of the Gryffindors say anything. “What’s this ‘bout?” Hagrid asks. 

He rubs his hands against the front of his robes, unsurprised that they’re sweating but irritated about it anyway. “I just – I don’t want Buckbeak to die,” he says, and Hagrid blinks at him. “I think he’s an awful brute, and you must be an absolute moron to think hippogriffs to be a suitable creature for the first class of the year, but I – I think the only thing stupider than bringing a hippogriff to class would be doing do so if you actually intended for anyone to get hurt, and I suppose you’re not quite that stupid. So, I – I figure you didn’t intend for that to happen, and I tried to tell my dad that, I tried to get him to let it go, but he wouldn’t listen to me, and I’m still mad about everything, just so we’re clear, but I don’t want him to die.” He takes a deep breath, realizing he hadn’t been breathing through any of that, and says, softer, “I don’t want anyone to die.”

He’s looking at the ground, waiting for Hagrid to roar at him and throw him from his cabin. But – he does feel oddly better.

That’s not what happens. Instead Hagrid pats Draco on the back with his enormous hand and says, “That’s alright, don’ worry ‘bout it. Yer dad was righ’ - I shouldn’ brought such a creature ter class.”

He risks a glance up, and Hagrid is smiling at him, something warm in the half-giant’s face that Draco’s never seen before. He huffs and sticks his nose in the air to cover his surprise, crossing his arms. “Well, you’re clearly Scamander stock, so I suppose we can’t expect anything else from you.”

He says it like it’s insult, but it’s obviously a compliment. Hagrid is positively beaming at him, and his eyes have even gotten a little shiny.

“Bloody hell,” Ron curses, breaking the silence and ducking down. “They’re coming! The executioner and the minister and Malfoy! Er – older Malfoy.” Then, a moment later. “BLOODY HELL! SCABBERS!”

Draco pales, looking past Ron struggling to stuff his newly found and apparently not dead rat into his pocket. His dad can’t find him here. Hagrid ushers them out, and it’s uncomfortably close under the invisibility cloak, but they all manage to get out of there without being seen. They hear the thud of an axe, and Harry’s hand finds his under the cloak, but none of them make a sound.

~

Draco is in the Shrieking Shack after watching Ron disappear beneath the Whomping Willow’s branches and watching Hermione’s cat, of all things, freeze the tree. Black is down there, looking as deranged and emaciated as one would expect an escaped convict from Azkaban to look. If they survive this, Draco is going to make it clear to Harry that these types of things don’t happen to other people.

They’ve all got their wands pointed at Black, but his soulmate is shaking he’s so furious. It’s not that he doesn’t understand, of course he does, he threatened to kill Lupin if he harmed Harry, and anyone that murdered his parents would find a long, painful death at the end his wand. But that’s him. Harry is supposed to be better than him. That’s the whole point.

“Don’t do it,” he says, in a rush, and Harry doesn’t look away from Black but his whole body twitches. “I know you want to, and he deserves it, he’s a traitor who betrayed and therefore killed your parents–”

“I would never betray James or Lily!” Black rasps.

“Shut up!” Draco snaps, “I’m trying to save your life, so shut up.” He doesn’t really care if Black lives or dies, but he cares about what it will do to Harry to kill him. Harry raises his wand an inch higher, and Draco clamps his hand over his wrist, desperate. “STOP! I’ll do it!”

Harry freezes.

“Draco?” Hermione whispers, uncertain.

“I’ll do it,” he repeats, “My family library doesn’t exactly have a forbidden section, I know the type of spells that will make it hurt, that will make him suffer. If you want Sirius Black dead for betraying you parents, I’ll do it.” Harry is still trembling, and he’s not saying anything, so he continues, “How do you want it done, Harry? Want me to explode his eyeballs? Want him to suffocate slowly? Want me to wingardium leviosa one of these broken wooden boards through his stomach? Want me to try and summon his heart from his chest? I’ll give it to you, and you can squeeze it until it bursts, and maybe in those seconds before he dies he can feel like you have your whole life. Is that what you want?”

There’s another long moment where Draco’s unsure if he’s about to become a murderer, but then Harry slowly shakes his head. He’s still furious, but he’s not shaking anymore, he doesn’t look like he’s ready to kill anymore.

The relief is short lived, because the next moment all their wands go flying from their hands. They all look to see Lupin stepping through the entrance. There’s a moment of confusion, then Lupin throws himself at Black, hugging the man until it looks like he’ll break, and Draco cannot believe this is happening.

“Are you kidding me?” Ron bursts out, “You – you monster! You’re working with him?”

“I TRUSTED YOU!” Hermione screeches, “I knew you were a werewolf, and I didn’t say anything, because I thought it didn’t matter! I thought you were a good person! Now this? I should have gone to the Prophet and gotten you sacked!”

Draco is numb, starring wide eyed. He’d – he’d liked Lupin, thought he was all right, for a werewolf, thought maybe he was wrong about werewolves if most of them were more like Lupin than the dark stories his parents told him growing up. But if he was working with Black this entire time – but no, he couldn’t be, people didn’t hug like that if they were just co-conspirators, if they were just allies.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione are still yelling, but Draco thinks back to one of their last patronus lessons with Lupin, and takes a closer look at Black. His robes are tattered, and hang off his skeletal frame. It’s covered in dirt and mud but it’s there - wrapped around his wrist is a mark, a delicate sprig of wolfsbane.

“Hey,” Draco says, grabbing onto Harry's robes and tugging, “Look.” He points, and Harry follows his finger until he notices the same thing he had.

Harry looks to Lupin and snarls, “Roll up your sleeves.” He looks back to Black, who’s trying to cover it up, but it’s too late. “Your left arm, to be precise.”

“Clever,” Lupin says softly. “I will – if you promise to stop yelling and listen.”

He throws them their wands before they can respond, and Draco grips his and can’t help but think how stupid that is. He’s wearing his cloak with the silver buttons.

Lupin shoves up the sleeve of his left arm – draped across his wrist are tiny snapdragon flowers.

“You’re soulmates,” Ron says, shocked. “The two of you are soulmates?”

“Yes,” Lupin says, and looks to Sirius, “which makes my belief that he was the spy so much worse.”

Black shakes his head and croaks, “I thought the same. They wanted to make it you after I refused, and I told them not to.”

They explain everything, about the map and how and why they made it, about Lupin knowing to come and knowing Sirius was innocent after seeing Pettigrew on it, about becoming animagi, about the secret keepers and what went wrong, and finally about the wolfsbane potion that Lupin now takes each month to stay sane during the full moon.

Draco’s just starting to believe it all when this already horrible situation gets even worse – Snape throws off Harry’s invisibility cloak, and reveals that he’s been hiding in the corner almost the whole time. He ties up Lupin in the next breath, the only other adult with a wand, and then turns to Draco.

“Mr. Malfoy,” he says, “How surprising to see you here.”

They’re all shouting, begging him to listen, but Draco can’t really hear any of it, only the blood rushing past his hears and his own rapid heartbeat. Snape isn’t like Lupin – Draco doesn’t have anything to threaten him with, not really, and he’s not someone that Draco could convince his parents to dismiss if he did say something. Snape will tell his parents everything, and that will be the beginning of the end.

He steps forward and raises his wand, shouting, “OBLIVIATE!”

The spell hits Snape square in the chest, and he stumbles from the force of it, hitting his head against the shack wall and crumpling unconscious to the ground.

Everyone is silent.

Hermione cuts Lupin free. He says, “I thought you struggled with charms that lack corporeal elements.”

“I do,” he says, swallowing. “I’ve never cast that before.”

Ron looks a little green, and Draco doesn’t think it’s just from the pain of his broken leg anymore. “So, do you think, like – like with Lockhart last year?”

He shrugs. “I guess we’ll find out when he wakes up. I read the theory, I meant to only take a couple hours, but – well, we’ll find out when he wakes up.” He swallows and gestures to Sirius and Lupin, “You were saying?”

They continue, halting at first, then picking up pace, and Harry is still skeptical but Draco believes them. Harry’s skepticism finally dissolves when they transform Scabbers into a sniveling, balding man that is undeniably Peter Pettigrew. He admits to betraying James and Lily Potter.

Finally satisfied by the explanations, Sirius takes Snape’s wand and he and Lupin prepare to end Peter’s life. Draco looks away, and he sees Hermione hide her face in Ron’s shoulder. He kind of wants to do the same, even if Ron does have exceptionally bony shoulders.

“Stop.”

They all look up. “Harry?” Lupin asks.

“Stop,” he repeats firmly, standing straight and with something flinty in his eyes. “I wasn’t going to let Draco become a murderer to kill Sirius. I won’t allow you guys to become murderers to kill Peter. I don’t think it’s what my dad would have wanted, and it’s not what I want.”

“He won’t be the first person we’ve killed,” Lupin says gently, “There was a war, Harry.”

“And now there’s not,” Harry says. “This isn’t a war, and we don’t kill people even when they deserve it. That’s not our job.”

Peter starts wailing his thanks, and Sirius kicks him hard in the side of the ribs to shut him up.

Draco clears his throat, “It’ll be a lot easier to clear your name if we give the aurors Pettigrew. Certainly a lot easier than if we give them his corpse.”

“Oh, there wouldn’t be any remains,” Sirius says darkly, then sighs, “I suppose you have a point. Both of you.”

They tie up Pettigrew and Snape, Lupin floating them up ahead of him. Hermione and Draco go on either side of Ron, helping him limp up the stairs. Harry and Sirius trail behind, talking quietly, and Draco makes an effort not to eavesdrop.

They’ve just made it past the weeping willow when a cloud shifts and a shaft of moonlight lands on the group. They all look up. “Oh dear,” Hermione says quietly.

The next few minutes are terrifying, and it’s difficult for Draco to keep track of what’s happening. Lupin changes, having not taken his potion, and Pettigrew gets away. Sirius chases after him, then comes back to chase Lupin away from them, for which Draco is absurdly grateful. He really, really doesn’t want to have to use the silver buttons on his cloak.

Then, because clearly their situation hasn’t hit rock bottom yet, the dementors arrive.

Not one or two, but all of them, dozens and dozens swarming around them in their search for Black. He, Hermione, and Harry fall to ground, nowhere to run and suddenly too tired to move even if they could.

He reaches for Harry, and a dementor comes and grabs his soulmate’s face, and he wants to cry out, wants to save him, wants to do anything, but he can’t bring himself to move.

Then a brilliant silver stag comes charging into them, piercing the dementor holding Harry through with his antlers and knocking him aside. Harry falls to the ground.

The last thing Draco sees before falling unconscious is the shimmering patronus chasing all the dementors away from them.

~

Harry wakes up, which is always a pleasant surprise. Snape is speaking, which is less pleasant. “For the last time, Minister, I have no idea what any of us were doing out there, because I can’t remember. I woke up to the unconscious students, and returned them and myself to the castle. There’s nothing more to say.”

“Head injuries can have these type of affects, Minister,” Dumbledore says soothingly. “Surely there’s no reason to continue harassing my Potions Master over it? Can he not be released to get some much needed rest?”

Fudge grows but says, “Fine. You may leave.” There’s the sound of Snape walking quickly away, and a door opening and closing. “Sirius Black is in your office, spouting nonsense, and Harry Potter was found unconscious on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. I’m tired of waiting for answers, Dumbledore!”

“Now, Cornelius, perhaps now is not the time to act recklessly–”

“This is not reckless!” The minister snaps, “Black is caught, the executioner is here, I think it’s fairly obvious what the next step is.”

No! No. Harry’s just gotten his godfather, he can’t lose him already, that’s not fair, and nothing in his life is fair, but this is too much.

Dumbledore sighs, “If only we had more time, perhaps two lives could be saved.”

“What nonsense are you going on about now?” Fudge says, “Never mind that, let’s go, we need to catch the executioner before he returns to the ministry.”

They leave.

Harry pushes himself up, and the hospital wing is empty but for four beds. “Are you awake?”

“Obviously,” Draco says, pulling himself up as well. “What was Dumbledore talking about?”

Hermione get up, face pinched, “He was talking to me, I know what we have to do.” She looks to Ron and bites her lip, “Pompfrey put him in a healing sleep for his leg, and he really can’t walk on it anyway. We’ll have to leave him behind.”

“We’re going to save Sirius?” Harry asks, “How?”

“With this.” Hermione pulls out a necklace from underneath her robes.

Draco curses, “A time turner? You rotten cheat – how many more hours of studying did you manage with that? How did you even get it?”

“McGonagall got it for me so I could take extra classes,” she says, “Now hurry up and get over here before someone else walks in.” Harry’s not sure what’s going on, but he gets up and stands next to her. Hermione loops the necklace around all three of their necks, the golden chain magically expanding to accommodate them. “Three turns ought to do it, I think.”

Harry figures it out once they’re three hours in the past. “Brilliant,” he breaths. “The second life Dumbledore was talking about – Buckbeak?”

“It has to be,” Hermione agrees, “Come on, we need to get out of sight, no one can see us.”

They sneak down to Hagrid’s cabin, waiting until past Draco has entered to quietly lead Buckbeak away. Draco makes Harry and Hermione walks between him and the beast, unwilling to be any closer to the hippogriff than necessary. The executioner swings the axe into a tree stump in frustration, the same sound they’d heard before, and the three of them laugh quietly from where they’re hidden in the edge of the forest.

After that it’s just a waiting game. They watch Ron get dragged under the Whomping Willow and into the Shrieking Shack, and then watch them all come out. Lupin transforming is somehow even worse the second time around, and Hermione leads Buckbeak into Hagrid’s empty cabin just in case Lupin heads this way.

“Are you coming?” Draco asks, impatiently, “As much as I don’t want to get clawed by that overgrown bird, I especially don’t want to get bitten by a werewolf.”

“You go,” he says, desperate to see who conjured the patronus that saved them, desperate to get a glimpse of his father.

Draco stares at him for a long moment before huffing and settling down beside him. “If we get killed, I’m blaming you.”

“That’s fair,” he says, leaning his side into Draco so they’re pressed together from shoulder to hip. It gets cold in the forest at night.

It gets even colder when the dementors flood the grounds, and he can hear Draco’s teeth chattering next to him. He’s straining his eyes, looking for his father to appear and save them, but the dementor’s mouth is descending on his past self, and nothing is happening.

“Oh,” he says, a mix of disappointment and pride sweeping through him, “It wasn’t my dad. It was me.”

“What?” Draco asks, but Harry ignores him.

He leaps up, running forward to snap his arm out, wand held high. He thinks of Draco’s hand in his, of those long nights where his friends and Draco’s friends eventually became their friends, of Sirius offering for Harry to leave the Dursleys and live with him. “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

The beautiful silver stag erupts from his wand, charging forward and forcing the dementors to scatter. Draco scrambles forward to stand beside him, “Bloody hell, Harry.”

“Come on,” he grabs Draco’s hand and pulls him back to Hagrid’s cabin, “Let’s go.”

Harry rides Buckbeak up to Dumbledore’s office window, and undoes the latch. Sirius is looking at him with wonder and surprise as he climbs onto Buckbeak’s back. They land, and Draco and Hermione are standing back, giving them the chance to say goodbye.

“I came here to save you, and you’re saving me instead,” Sirius says, voice still raspy from disuse.

Harry shrugs, “You can save me next time.”

Sirius barks out a laugh, and for a moment his whole face changes, he looks younger. He ruffles Harry’s hair, “I like your friends. I’m not too sure about that Malfoy boy though.”

“He’s a Black too,” Harry feels the need to point out. “Your cousin is his mom.”

Sirius snorts, “That’s not much better.”

“I don’t know,” he says, “I’ve met more Blacks I’ve liked than not.”

He smiles at that, “Take care, okay? I’ll write when I can, if – if you want.”

“Yes!” Harry says instantly. “Me too. You’re my godfather, after all.”

“Yeah,” he says roughly, “I am.” Sirius pulls him in for a crushing hug, and he tries not to worry about how he can count Sirius’s ribs through both their clothes. “Now get along, you’re running out of time.”

He’s right, but Harry can’t bring himself to look away until Sirius is only a speck in the sky.

They make it back to the hospital wing just in time to watch themselves disappear.

~

Pansy and Blaise are furious that everything happened without them, and make Draco recount every detail, sometimes more than once because of how ridiculous it all sounds.

Draco doesn’t know exactly how much time his memory charm has taken from Snape, but he apparently wasn’t surprised that Lupin was a professor, so there’s that. It can’t have been more than a year, although by the way Snape has spent most of his time locked away in his office since, Draco thinks it was way more than a few hours.

That of course means there’s no one to contradict him when he says that he saw the Gryffindors sneaking away, so he told Snape and went with his Head of House down to the Shrieking Shack. It means Snape gets a howler from his mother about the proper care of children, and her furious voice echoes throughout the whole Slytherin common room. Draco gets away looking like he just stumbled into this whole mess, with no personal attachment to it at all.

The dementors are sent back to Azkaban the same night. His dad had called an emergency meeting of the Board of Governors, and they’d all gotten together and threatened Fudge with legal action if he didn’t get those things off school grounds immediately.

Luckily in all the chaos of the dementors and Sirius, Lupin doesn’t get mentioned at all. Which means he’s not expecting it when he reads his parents’ letter and at the end of it his dad tells him that Lupin is resigning.

He drops the letter and is running to the defense classroom before he can think better of it, bursting inside and shouting, “What are you doing?”

“Packing,” Lupin says calmly, and half the classroom is indeed already packed away. His lips quirk up at the corners, “I’m glad you’re all right, after what happened. Did you come here to deliver your mother’s punishment? I’m afraid if will be slightly less effective, since I’m quitting anyway.” His eyes drop Draco’s cloak, “Or have you come to enact your father’s method? You did say that’s what would happen if I endangered Harry, and I’m not sure we can call me transforming in front of him anything else.”

Draco stares, aghast. “Wingardium leviosa,” he casts, and his silver buttons pull themselves from his cloak. Lupin takes a step back, face closing off as he reaches for his wand. “Reditus!”

The buttons vanish, returning back to the manor. Lupin blinks, mouth opening and then closing. “Mr. Malfoy?”

“I don’t care that you’re a werewolf!” he says, furious, “We were down there with Pettigrew and dementors, and you were the least monstrous of them all, even when you transformed. It’s – terrifying, and awful. But I don’t suppose you can help being a werewolf any more than Millie can help having a muggle mother, or Hermione being a mudblood, or Hagrid a half-breed. So – so I’ve decided it doesn’t matter.”

“Is that so?” Lupin asks, and he’s smiling, the skin of his eyes crinkling in the corners.

Draco scowls, “We would all be worse than dead if you hadn’t taught Harry the patronus charm. We need a professor who knows what he’s doing, and no one knows you’re a werewolf, and they’re not going to hear it from me. Don’t quit.”

~

Harry runs from Hagrid’s cabin to Lupin’s classroom, and throws the door open to see Draco glaring at Lupin who’s only smiling. “You’re quitting?” he demands.

“News travels fast,” Lupin says dryly, “Yes, I am.”

Draco rolls his eyes, “Excellent, maybe you can talk some sense into him, he won’t listen to me.” He walks out, knocking his shoulder into Harry’s as he does.

Lupin watches him go, and waits until he slams the door behind him to say, “You know, I think I actually like that kid.”

“He grows on you,” Harry agrees. “Don’t go. Please. You’re the best professor we’ve ever had.”

“We were extremely lucky last night,” he says. “I could have hurt any of you, or worse. I shouldn’t be around students when I transform. It’s all right – I have a year as a Hogwarts professor on my resume. It’ll be a lot easier for me to get a different job.”

“But what about us?” Harry asks, clenching his hands into fists, and tries not to say – what about me?

Lupin softens, “I’ll keep in touch. You don’t need me – you and your friends have proven you’re more than able to take care of yourselves. Besides,” he touches his left wrist, “Sirius does need me. We have a lot of catching up to do.” His smile gets a touch of nostalgia, “Sirius and I got our soulmarks the very first day of classes. When he got his animagus form, James said that my soulmark was a clear sign that we were all meant to be friends, because in India snapdragons are known as dog-flowers, and without him we wouldn’t have known it.”

Harry almost tells him about Draco, about his own soulmark, but holds it back. It’s not just his secret to tell. “Take care of each other, okay? I just got you guys back.”

Lupin ruffles his hair and reaches for something in his desk, “I suppose I should give this back to you. It won’t do me any good.”

He holds out the Marauder’s Map, and Harry takes it, cheeks flushing. He almost wants to keep it for himself, wants to keep this part of his dad for himself, but that’s not very fair. “Er, do you think, I mean – can I give this back to Fred and George? They’ve been making good use of it, is all, and it was a map made by pranksters for pranksters, so I feel like it’s something they should have.”

“If you like,” Lupin says, surprised, “But it’s quite useful. I’m surprised you don’t want to keep it for yourself.”

“Well,” Harry rubs the back of his head, “the thing is, that after you took it away, we kind of – made our own? Draco and Hermione had figured out all the spells and stuff you guys used to make if before you took it, so after that it was pretty easy to figure out how to do it ourselves. Your map is missing a couple things, anyway,” he adds, just to make Lupin laugh.

He says, “I’m impressed. It took us two years to make that map.”

“Well you had to do it all from scratch,” Harry says reasonably, “We didn’t have to.” He hesitates, but adds, “We’re calling it the Chimera Map, because we’re all so different, and Chimeras are a mix of a bunch of things, including a lion and a snake, so it seemed to fit.”

“Yes,” Lupin agrees warmly, “I think it fits perfectly.”

~

Harry rolls his eyes when Draco slams open the door to their compartment, sneers, “Losers,” and steps inside, Pansy and Blaise following him. Hermione performs a locking spell on the door, and Draco casts a sound muffling charm to dissuade any eavesdroppers.

“Make room,” Pansy sniffs, sitting next to Hermione, and Blaise sits next to her, while Draco shoves Ron over and collapses next to him on the opposite bench. They’ll have to move before they get back to the station to avoid suspicion, but they have a couple of hours before that. “What is that?”

“An owl,” Ron says dubiously, “Sirius gave it to me.” He pokes the ball of fluff, “Doesn’t look like it can carry much.”

Harry laughs when all the Slytherins give the owl a dubious look. “Who wants to play exploding snap?” he asks, “Might as well have some fun before summer starts.”

“Just blow up your aunt again,” Blaise suggests.

Ron snorts, “I’ve already talked to Mum about you spending part of the summer – hopefully you won’t be with the Dursleys long.”

“We have the mirrors,” Draco says, “You won’t just have the muggles to talk to, thank Merlin.”

Hermione leans forward, “How did you enchant those mirrors, by the way?”

Ron groans, and starts dealing cards, loudly talking about his summer plans so that the whole trip home doesn’t turn into a charms lesson. Draco pushes Ron onto the floor, and Hermione hits him with a tickling charm.

Ron turns out to be annoyingly resistant to it. “Five older brothers, two of which are Fred and George,” he reminds smugly, which leaves the rest of them with no choice but to spend the rest of the ride trying to tickle him at random moments to startle a laugh at him. Pansy ends up being the only successful one.

By the time the train pulls into the station, Harry has almost forgotten to dread the upcoming summer.

Chapter Text

Harry wakes up in cold sweat, heart pounding from his latest nightmare. He blindly reaches for his side table, opens the top drawer, and his fingers curl around the compact mirror.

He flips it open, and whispers, “Draco? Are you awake?”

Normally, he wouldn’t disturb him, it’s just a nightmare, just strange visions about the dark lord, just things that haunt him in his waking hours as well as his sleeping ones. But after he’d told his soulmate about them, he’d made Harry promise to contact him, not matter how late it was.

The surface of the glass shimmers like water, and Draco’s face comes into focus, pillow creases on his cheek and blue eyes half lidded. “You okay?” he asks, cutting himself off midway to yawn.

“Yeah,” he says, and the relief of just having Draco there when he needs him makes him feel like it’s almost not a lie.

~

Harry has actually been able to get mail this summer (which he’s incredibly grateful for, because if it wasn’t for his friends sending him food he would have starved on Dudley’s ridiculous diet), he’s traded over dozen letters with Remus and Sirius, and of course he’s spoken to Draco almost every night. None of that, however, is the same as being back with his friends and away from the Dursleys.

He stumbles out of the fireplace laughing, even as Mrs. Weasley screams something awful at Fred and George for pranking Dudley. For Harry, it’s the best thing he’s seen all summer.

“Come on,” Ron says, throwing his arm around Harry’s shoulders. He really hopes his best friend stops growing at some point – he’s gone straight past tall and settled on looming. Ron isn’t very good at looming, so it would probably be best for everyone if he stopped getting any larger.

The largeness of Ron is reserved for his height alone. He’s comically skinny considering the amount of food Harry has seen him eat at any given time – Ron looks like he’s the one who’s been living on half-grapefruits the whole summer. He’s like taffy, Harry settles on as Ron steers him into the backyard, all thin and stretched out.

“Harry!” He barely gets a look at her before Hermione’s hair is in his face and her arms are around his neck. “You look all right, I was so worried! Dra – uh, you said you were fine, but – I still worried.”

He snorts. Draco has complained multiple times that Ron and Hermione were badgering Blaise and Pansy to make sure Harry wasn’t wasting away or getting beaten, since Draco was the only one of them who was able to physically see him, and it’s not like they could risk sending letters straight to Draco any more than Harry could. They’d decided letters to Pansy and Blaise, whose parents were slightly less fanatical about blood purity, was an acceptable risk.

“Thanks for the protein bars,” he says, “they really helped.” They’d tasted like cardboard, but they were filling, easy to hide, and had actual nutrients, so he supposes their taste is beside the point.

“Heya Harry!” Ginny calls out from the other side of the garden, and she’s covered in mud. He spends most of his summers in Aunt Petunia’s garden, and he doesn’t get that dirty, so he doubts whatever she’s doing has to do with actual gardening. Harry waves at her until she ducks back down.

Ron introduces him to his older brothers, Bill and Charlie, and Harry wonders if Ron has noticed that he’s about a half an inch taller than both of his brothers. “Nice to finally meet you,” Charlie says, shaking his hand, “I heard you took my old position.”

“He’s brilliant,” Ron says proudly, and his grin turns sly in a way that Harry’s almost certain he learned from Pansy. “Even better than you, I’d say.”

Bill laughs and Charlie’s eyes narrow. He points his wand at Ron and says, “Those are fighting words, Ronald.”

Ron nudges Harry in ribs, “Up for a bit of a game, mate?”

He looks back at Charlie, and the man isn’t actually mad, he’s smiling with his eyes even though he’s scowling, and Bill looks as if he’s delighted by the course this conversation had taken. “I’m always up for a game,” he says, and cracks a grin when Ron whoops in delight.

It’s not perfect, because he doesn’t have Sirius or Remus or his soulmate or Pansy or Blaise. But it’s pretty close.

~

They should be asleep already, because they have to get up at the crack of dawn to take a portkey to the camp grounds for the World Cup. But instead they wait until the rest of the house is quiet, and Harry opens his mirror. “Draco?”

There’s a shimmer across the glass, and then his favorite Slytherin’s face appears. “Harry,” he grins, “You’re looking less like an abused house elf.” He blinks then says, “Ronald, have you gotten taller? Is that even possible?”

“You know, I was going to say I missed you, but I’ve changed my mind,” Ron sniffs.

Draco laughs, and it’s clear he’s supposed to be asleep as well. There’s only the soft glow of a suspended lumos charm beside him, and he’s in grey silk pajamas. Abigail slowly enters the frame, slithering her way up Draco’s arm to rest across his shoulder. “Where’s Hermione?” he squints and a faint look of disgust come over his face, “Is your entire room orange?”

“The Cannons are amazing, get stuffed,” Ron insists at the same time that Harry says, “She’s sharing a room with Ginny, and we didn’t want to risk waking her.”

“Probably for the best,” Draco says, and Harry knows he’s convinced that Ginny is something like an all-seeing prophet, but he’s refused to elaborate on why he feels that way. “Are you guys camping? I wanted to, but my parents said camping was for commoners.”

Harry tries not to wince at that. He must succeed, because Draco doesn’t glare at him. “Yeah, we’re camping. How are you getting there if you’re not?”

“My dad’s just going to side-long apparate with me on the day of the game. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, even though it used to drive Mum crazy. We’ve never splinched though, so you’d think she’d have calmed down a little. She hasn’t.”

Ron pokes his hand into the mirror, distorting the image. “That’s bloody unfair, mate. We have to get up before sunrise tomorrow!”

“That’s unfortunate,” Draco says in a voice that just means he’s laughing at them. “You should get some sleep then – I’ll see you at the match. Remember, we hate each other!” He winks at them before the mirror shimmers and he’s gone.

Ron scowls, “Your soulmate is a prat.”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees, but he’s assuming it comes out fonder than he intended by the way Ron retches and tries to smother him with his pillow.

As excited as he is for the game tomorrow, he’s dreading falling asleep, dreading the nightmares that he hopes won’t come. He should really tell someone besides Draco about them, like Sirius and Remus, or at least his other friends. But he’s worried they’ll overreact, that they’ll panic and make it a bigger deal than it needs to be.

They’re just nightmares. They don’t mean anything.

~

The portkey is disorienting, but the worst part of the trip is having to listen to Cedric’s dad talk about him while he’s standing right there. Cedric looks mortified, so Harry catches his eye and shrugs, because it’s certainly not Cedric’s fault that his dad is a bit of a prat. If he’s not going to hold Draco accountable for his father’s actions, it seems wrong to do it to anyone else.

He knows he’s made the right call when Cedric’s shoulders slump in relief and he flashes him a smile.

The day of the game comes, and they see Draco in the stands, sitting only a few rows above them, and they glare at each other as is expected. Arthur greets Draco, and looks like he’s gearing up to attempt to have a real conversation, but thankfully Ginny grabs her dad’s hand and drags him away before he can make it any more awkward by attempting to exchange pleasantries with the boy who saves his daughter’s life. There’s a house elf sitting by herself in the stands, which is odd. She’d said she was saving a seat for her master, but the minutes tick down and no one shows up.

The Veelas pour onto the field, and they are very beautiful, of course. But as most of the stadium loses their mind, shouting and waving at them, Harry only blinks in confusion. Ron and most of Weasleys are nearly falling out of the box they’re leaning so far out, and Harry grabs the back of Ron and Hermione’s robes as they yell at the beautiful dancing women, just in case. Bill has a hand fisted in the back of his father’s jacket as well as Charlie’s, and Fred and George are holding back Ginny and Percy.

“What’s going on?” Harry asks, panicked.

Bill grins, wide and easy. “Don’t worry about it, Harry. Veelas only affect people who don’t have a soulmate. They probably won’t jump off the stands, the Veelas wouldn’t want to disrupt the game, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.”

Harry slide his gaze to Fred and George, surprised. He hadn’t known they had soulmarks. Bill winks and twists around, jerking his head to the side so his long ponytail shifts enough that Harry can just make out a black ring on the back of his neck – what a soulmark look likes before someone touches their soulmate. No wonder Bill hadn’t wanted to cut his hair.

He risks a glance up. Sure enough, Draco and his father are completely unaffected, looking onto the field with identical expressions of cool disinterest. He thinks Draco could be part Veela himself, with his pale blonde hair and his – his –

Harry abruptly looks back on the field, heat radiating from his face. He didn’t mean – well, Draco has always been pretty, no use helping that, of course. He had changed over summer, though, and it’s so much more obvious now that Harry’s seeing him in person than it was over the too-small frame of the mirror. He’s taller, and his hair is longer. He’s lost some of the baby fat from his face, his jaw sharp enough that he’s lucky he has those full lips to balance it out, otherwise he would look quite silly, Harry thinks.

He also thinks he should stop thinking about what his soulmate looks like before his face literally bursts into flames. If anyone asks he’s going to blame the Veelas.

Luckily, the opening ceremonies end and the Veelas are ushered off the field. Ron and Hermione and everyone else are back to normal. They’re both embarrassed by their behavior but Harry resolves not to make fun of them for it considering all the things they don’t make fun of him for.

The match finally begins, and he pushes all thoughts of his soulmate situation aside and focuses on the game instead. Thank Merlin.

~

When Mr. Weasley wakes them all up in the middle of the night and tells them to run, Harry doesn’t know what he was expecting. But as he, Ron, and Hermione burst out of the tent and see Mr. Roberts, his wife, and his children being levitated and tortured in the air – he just knows he wasn’t expecting that.

“Let’s go!” Ron says, grabbing each of their hands and pulling them away.

“Shouldn’t we help?” Hermione asks, voice trembling. Harry can’t bring himself to look away even as Ron drags them past and around the flailing muggles. It takes Harry a second to realize Ron is leading them in the direction of the crowd, and the crowd is headed to the woods.

Ron shakes his head, picking up the pace. “What are we going to do? We can’t even use our wands.”

“Shouldn’t someone else be helping?” Harry asks, and he’s looking but all the adults are running. Grown up, fully trained wizards, and they’re just – running.

It doesn’t seem right.

“Dra – Malfoy?” Hermione says suddenly, and Ron must be as surprised as Hermione sounds because he stops running and the three of them stumble to a stop.

Harry finally tears his eyes from the tortured muggles. Draco is leaning against a tree at the very edge of the woods, arms crossed and a careful casualness in his pose. He’s paler than Harry’s ever seen him, even when they were nearly attacked by a transformed Remus, even when they were both moments away from receiving the dementor’s kiss. He’s certain Draco has crossed his arms to keep them from shaking.

“Get out of here,” he says urgently, voice low, but his face is at odds with his words. He’s smirking at them, something cruel in the curl of his lips that isn’t quiet reaching his eyes. “You guys can’t stay here. Go!”

If anyone was looking at them, but couldn’t hear them, they would think Draco was taunting them.

“You have to come with us!” Hermione says, taking a step towards him.

Draco pulls out his wand and presses it to Hermione’s sternum. She freezes, eyes wide. “They won’t hurt me. I’m safe here. You are not – you especially are not. Do you want to join the muggles up there?”

Harry that knows they have to keep up appearances, always, even now, but he wants so badly to grab his soulmate’s hand and drag him to safety with them. “Come with us. You’re not helping anyone by staying here.”

“I can try and make sure no one dies,” he says, and his hand really is shaking now. “Go. Now. I’ll be fine.”

“You better,” Ron says fiercely. Then he grabs Harry and Hermione’s arms and drags them into the woods.

Harry resists at first – he’s no weakling, he’s on the quidditch team. But Ron is taller than him and stronger than him and there’s a stubborn set to his mouth that Harry has never been able to win against. “We can’t leave him!”

“You’re the Boy Who Lived!” Ron snaps. “You’re the least safe out of all of us. You’re the one who killed You-Know-Who, Hermione’s a muggleborn, and I’m a blood traitor. We don’t want to hang around a bunch of wannabe Death Eaters, understand?”

“But we left him behind!” Hermione says, and she sounds like she’s about to cry, which Harry really can’t deal with right now because he feels as if he’s about to cry.

Ron is still pulling them forward with single-minded determination, doing his best to get them as far from the chaos as possible. “Draco is a pureblood and the son of a Death Eater. They won’t hurt him, but they will hurt us. How do you think Draco will feel if we get hurt because we didn’t listen to him? Do you think he’ll be happy? Do you think he’ll thank us?”

“No,” Hermione says quietly.

Ron finally pauses to whirl around and face them, his freckles standing out against his ashen face, his eyes as round as galleons. “Then move faster!

Harry stops resisting him, and picks up the pace. This works up until a green smoky spell appears from seemingly nowhere, and Ron just barely glances up before throwing himself to the ground, yanking Harry and Hermione along with him.

He doesn’t get a chance to yell at him before he feels the heat of several spells passing over them, and, okay, maybe Ron had the right idea.

“WHICH ONE OF YOU SUMMONED THE DARK MARK?” Barty Crouch roars, stomping forward as they carefully get to their feet. A dozen wands are still trained on them.

Excuse me?” Hermione demands, “Which one of you threw combat spells at three underage wizards? I’m certain that can’t be legal.”

Crouch goes purple, and Ron is edging forward, clearly preparing to throw himself in between Hermione and Crouch, and Harry takes a moment to marvel at how an already horrible situation has gone from bad to worse.

Then the house elf from earlier is found with his wand, the wand that apparently summoned the skull and snake, and it’s always impressive just how much worse his life always manages to get.

~

Draco sees the Dark Mark and bolts into the forest. The Death Eaters are still torturing the muggles, and he’d meant to stay, had been standing there with his wand clenched in his fist, ready to interfere if the torture threatened to go too far.

But he sent his soulmate into those woods, he sent his friends into those woods, and if he sent them into a trap then it’s his obligation to go rushing in a after them in a traditionally Gryffindor foolhardy fashion.

Luckily, when he arrives it’s not to anything quite so dire. There’s a bunch of adult witches and wizards with their wands pointed at his friends, as well as a sniveling house elf clutching and twisting her ragged pillowcase. He would love to fade back, to turn his back on this and let it sort itself out. However, Crouch is doing an excellent job of making himself look like the caliber of idiot his father is always complaining about, and he’s not about to stand here and let a bunch of moronic adults foist the blame on some teenagers just because they were too afraid to stand up to the actual Death Eaters, and pointing their wands at some kids gives them a power rush.

Besides, Crouch has dismissed his house elf in front of everyone, which gives Draco a rather brilliant opportunity to do something stupid. Harry really is rubbing off on him.

“You can’t go anywhere without causing trouble, can you Potter?” he drawls, pitching his voice just like mother taught him to, so it carries over the petty squabbling and the house elf’s tears.

He doesn’t have to push his way through, because they part for him. Sneers are on their lips, but when he steps forward they get out of his way. “Mr. Malfoy,” Crouch says, blustering, “this doesn’t concern you–”

“Oh, I think it does,” he doesn’t bother to keep the contempt from his voice. “Really, Mr. Crouch, I expected better of you. There are atrocious crimes being committed just a half mile back, and here you are – interrogating the Boy Who Lived? Dismissing a house elf who, in a time of chaos and fear, was kind and thoughtful enough to pick up an abandoned wand? I rather think you and your,” he pauses, curling his lip as his eyes sweep across the assembled wizards, “compatriots would be better served directing such heroic tendencies towards those who actually require your aid, and not in detaining Hogwarts students.”

Most of the adults have lowered their wands, and their eyes dart around, trying avoid meeting anyone’s gaze. Good.

“Mr. Malfoy,” Crouch says through gritted teeth. “You should know better than to speak of matters you do not fully understand. I will be speaking to your father about your behavior.”

“Please do,” he says, “I’m sure he’s quite worried. We became separated, you understand, what with all the chaos. But I imagine I would have found him by now if I hadn’t been sidetracked by your gross negligence.”

This is all false. His father had slipped away moments before the Death Eaters had appeared, and he doesn’t want his father to be one of those men, but what he wants has no bearing on reality, unfortunately.

Hermione is stubbornly not looking at him, which is much better than Harry, who hasn’t stopped starring ever since he stepped into the clearing. “Can we go now?” she asks acidly.

Crouch opens his mouth, but Draco can’t have them leave yet. He needs an audience for this next bit.

“Of course you can,” he speaks over Crouch. The man looks like he’s about to pop a blood vessel. “However, before we all get on our merry way, Mr. Crouch, what do you say to the matter of your house elf?”

“House elf?” he repeats blankly, then he looks down to creature sobbing at his feet like he’s just noticed she’s there. “I have no house elf.”

The thing wails at that, prostrating herself. Draco assumes he doesn’t kick her only because they have an audience.

“You have dismissed her, claiming her to be a thief. A house elf with no loyalty is an unemployed house elf, and an unemployed house elf is a dead house elf. Perhaps her judgement was poor,” he allows, “but we hardly hand out death sentences for poor judgement. Do we, Mr. Crouch?”

Everything he isn’t saying hangs in the air between them. Crouch has just accused the Boy Who Lived and a house elf of summoning a Dark Mark. Poor judgment is the kindest description of his actions

“If you’re so concerned with her future, why don’t you ask your father to take her on? Your family did recently lose a house elf, didn’t they?” his eyes flicker over to Harry for the briefest moments, and okay, he’s not a complete moron. He has been playing this game longer than Draco’s been alive.

He can’t agree with him, that just reminds everyone here that he’s a kid, that he has no place calling them out in the first place, and it undoes all the work he’d just done in shaming them for being pathetic cowards.

“That won’t be necessary,” he says, because he’s a moron, and his parents are absolutely going to kill him for this. Then again, if his father didn’t want him doing stupid shit like this, then he should be around to stop him, and not running around torturing muggles. “You, elf, what is your name?”

The pitiful creature looks up at him with her wide liquid eyes. “W – Winky, sir.”

“Winky,” he says, “Do you know who I am?”

She nods, “You is the young master Malfoy, sir.”

“Very good,” he says, and she stands a little straighter. “It appears your former master has been derelict in his responsibilities, and I have no choice but to pick up his slack.” There’s disbelieving murmurings coming up around him, but he ignores them. “Will you accept a bond from me, Winky?”

“Yes!” she says, and it’s a gamble on the both their parts. But a dismissed house elf will gain no work from any sort of reputable family, and those that would take her won’t be strong enough to sustain her.

Her choices are a fast death, a slow death, or him.

“You can’t do this!” Crouch says, true nervousness making him pale. “You are not old enough, it’s a strain your magic can’t afford!”

Ron is shaking his head, eyes wide and pleading, “Malfoy, you – that’s – don’t,” he settles on. Hermione and Harry don’t know exactly what’s going on, but they know enough to be worried.

“It’s not really up to you. Either the spell will take, or it won’t,” he says, speaking to all of them. He pulls out his wand, and Crouch is moving to stop him, some of other adults doing the same, but that will actually be a disaster, will undermine him more than anything else.

He holds out a hand, and Winky takes it, her fingers wrapping around his with surprising strength. “Alliges duplicia!” he casts, and a pale yellow light comes from his wand and winds its way down his arm and curls around his hand. He holds his breath, waiting to see if it will take, and for a moment he’s certain it won’t, that he’s managed to mess this all up in the worst way possible.

But then the yellow band pushes forward, encircling Winky’s hand and wrist and continuing its way until it reaches the center of her chest. “Accipio!” she shouts, completely the spell, and sealing the binding between them.

He’s immediately drained as the spell interweaves their magic, and he nearly bites through his lip doing his best not to stagger. He glances around, and no one is sneering at him anymore, eyes wide and mouths agape.

Good.

“You’ll excuse the underage magic, under the circumstances,” he says, internally wincing when his voice comes out rough. He swallows before he speaks again, “I hardly think these events need an official documentation. Do you?”

Crouch shakes his head, something almost like respect on his face.

“Excellent,” he says crisply, and he needs to get away from all these eyes before his legs give out on him. “Come along, Winky.”

He turns and walks through the crowd, his new house elf at his heels. They part for him this time just like they had before, and he walks like his father, head tall and straight, contempt hovering at the corners of his mouth.

He makes it about a quarter mile before his vision goes blurry and he slides to the ground, leaning his back against a tree and closing his eyes. He won’t fall asleep, that would be irredeemably stupid. But as his eyes feel heavier and heavier in his head, he realizes he might not have much choice in the matter.

“Wake me if anyone gets close,” he orders, pulling his cloak more tightly over his shoulders and wishing he were doing this somewhere more comfortable, like his bed. “I can’t let anyone see me like this.”

There’s the slight crinkle of fallen leaves as Winky sits beside him and whispers, “Yes, Master Draco.”

He’s asleep before she’s even finished saying his name.

~

Harry doesn’t know what, exactly, just happened, but he knows Draco looked like he was about to pass out when he’d walked away. They’re rushing back to their tent, the Death Eaters apparently gone, and the muggles being taken care of. “Ron, what the hell–”

“Later,” he says sharply, and Harry quiets.

He feels a hand on his shoulder, and he’s spinning around, his wand raised. He sees Ron and Hermione do the same.

“Woah, easy!” Fred and George have raised their arms in surrender, and they all drop their wands. “Bit trigger happy there, eh?”

“Shut up,” Ron says, “Where’s everyone else?”

George shrugs, “Bill was with Ginny and Percy, and Charlie went with Dad. We need to get back.”

“Should we go look for Malfoy?” Fred asks, “He didn’t look so good.”

“Of course he didn’t,” George snaps. “He’s way too young to be pulling that type of crap, someone should have stopped him.”

“If he keeps this up, soon he’ll be bleeding gold along with red,” Fred says.

Hermione glares, hands on her hips, “Why should we care about Malfoy? And what are you talking about anyway?”

“Later!” Ron repeats, “We can discuss this later, when we’re not in a strange forest, potentially surrounded by Death Eaters.”

The twins are trading covert looks, and it’s Fred who goes, “You know, we did have the Marauder’s map for years. We’re really grateful you gave it back to us, but – we have had it at our disposal. For years.”

Harry has no idea what they’re talking about.

“What he’s saying is that we know all about your strange secret alliance with the Slytherins.” Fred elbows him in the side, and George amends his statement. “Okay, we don’t know all about it, we basically just know it exists. But you all hang out with him, and he saved Ginny, so we’ve just been running under the assumption Malfoy’s an all right bloke underneath all the prissy snobbery.”

Hermione chokes on air, and Harry really needs to stop tempting the universe by thinking that things can’t get any worse, because the universe seems dead set on proving him wrong. “Have you told anyone?”

The twins put a hand over each other’s hearts, offended. “Of course not!” they say together, then George continues, “We haven’t said anything to anyone, but we’re pretty sure Ginny knows too. She somehow seems to know everything. It’s a little scary.”

“Guys!” Ron hisses through gritted teeth. “Later. This can all wait until later. I’m sure Draco is fine, because no Death Eaters are going to be attacking him, because he’s a bloody Malfoy. Can we please worry about ourselves for two seconds, and get back to the tent?”

There’s really no good reason not to listen to him, when he puts it like that. Fred and George walk on either side of them and slightly ahead, wands in their fists.

Ron’s right about Draco. He’s probably fine. There’s no reason for him to worry at all.

If this is how Draco feels every time Harry goes off and does something stupid, it’s possible he owes his soulmate an apology. This is awful.

~

Draco wakes up freezing and sore, but he’s at least not tired anymore. For a moment he thinks he’s forgotten how to open his eyes, then he looks up and sees the blanket of stars around him.

It’s dark. He’s been asleep for hours.

“I’m so dead,” he says aloud. Then he frowns. His parents must have tried to find him, right? It’s a simple tracking spell. They wouldn’t have just left him. There must be some reason they haven’t come for him, but he can’t think of – actually, he can think of one. “Winky,” he says, and the elf steps up next to him. “Did you put a, a cloaking spell of some sort around us?”

Her ears droop, and she nods. “Yes, Master Draco. You was saying that you didn’t want anyone to see you. So I mades it so no one could.” She reaches up for her ear, twisting it painfully back, “Did I do the wrong thing, Master Draco?”

“No, stop that,” he orders. She lets go of her ear. “That was clever of you, Winky. Very good.”

She beams and gives him a deep curtsey.

He can have her drop the cloaking spell, and his parents will find him in no time. But that’s a little pathetic, and there has to be some sort of better way to do this. He could try and cast the portkey charm, but he’s never gotten it quite right, and he’s already performed a powerful spell today, there’s no reason to make his situation worse.

The campground may be run by muggles, but the town surrounding it is mostly magical. That means the only thing separating him from the floo network is a couple miles of walking, and the one awkward conversation it will take to convince someone to let him use their fireplace.

“At least it’s a clear night,” he sighs, “Come along, Winky.”

She follows at his heels, shivering. He can’t give her clothes, that would be rather counterproductive, so he casts a warming charm on himself that extends outward enough that it encompasses her as well.

He doesn’t look at her as he does it, pretending it’s entirely on accident.

~

Mr. Weasley brings them back to the burrow immediately, face nearly grey. No one’s talking, and being surrounded by silent Weasleys is possibly the strangest thing Harry has ever experienced, and he lives a very strange life.

There’s a whole lot of tears from Mrs. Weasley, and furtive glances to her husband that she probably doesn’t think the rest of them notice. She makes them all sit down to eat, even though no one’s hungry, and it feels like hours until they manage to get alone.

The twins and Hermione squeeze into Ron’s bedroom, since Bill and Charlie are sharing the twin’s room. Harry like them, they seem nice, but he has no interest in spilling his secrets to them. “All right, we’re alone, and it’s later,” Hermione says, crossing her arms. “What was all that about? What did Draco do?”

Ron opens his mouth, but Fred raises his hands. He and George share a look, but he only sighs and says, “Fairs fair, I suppose, if we know they’re secrets it’s only right that they know ours.”

George bites his bottom lip, “Well – yeah, I guess.”

Harry doesn’t know what they’re talking about until Fred takes out his wand and casts a muffling charm around the room.

“Are you mad?” Ron hisses, “Mum’s going to kill you!” He looks toward the door, clearly waiting for their mother to come running up. Nothing happens.

“We figured out a way to get past her sensing charm,” George says, “It’s a potion, we’ll brew it for you when we get back to school. But be smart about it! If she catches you casting, she’ll know we messed with it and set up a whole new one.”

“Or take our wands like she had to do to Bill and Charlie,” Fred says. “Which sounds properly miserable.”

Harry’s been looking to the window, waiting for the owl from the ministry, and is confused when nothing comes. “Hold on,” he says, “Why are you talking about your mom? What about the Ministry?”

“Using magic outside of school is illegal!” Hermione says, aghast, just in case they’ve somehow forgotten. “What are you doing?”

“What?” Ron says blankly, then, “That’s only for muggleborns.”

Hermione looks like she’s getting ready to punch him.

Fred rolls his eyes, “What my dear, dull brother means is that it’s only enforced for muggleborns. How are they supposed to track it for the rest of us?”

“Remember a couple summers ago?” George asks, “Harry got a warning for a house elf doing magic. They only know where magic happens, they don’t have any way to track who cast it. Every couple of years someone will try to introduce a wand tracking law into the Wizengamot, but it never gets very far.”

“It’s a parent’s responsibility to keep track of underage magic,” Ron says. “Mom has an alert set up, and that is attached to our wands. If we use them, she gets an alert, and then we get grounded. But the ministry just knows someone cast a spell – and since our parents live here, and they’re way past seventeen, there’s no way to know if it was a kid or an adult.”

“Then why aren’t kids just doing underage magic all the time?” Harry demands.

The Weasleys stare. “They are?” Ron offers. “Mum’s pretty strict about it, but that’s mostly because she doesn’t want to have to keep carting us off to St. Mungo’s when we do something stupid. And the law isn’t pointless, I guess, we do no need to rest our magic if we want it to keep growing properly. Neville’s gran encourages him to use magic during the summer, it’s why he’s so burned out all the time. Seamus’s dad’s a muggle, and he always wants to see what his son has learned, so his mom lets him doing a demonstration before taking away his wand for the summer. And, I mean, we all used our parents’ wands growing up. Not often! But, well, no one casts their first spell in Hogwarts.”

“Some of us do,” Hermione says quietly, and Harry winces. “Some of us don’t have a choice.”

Sometimes, it’s really frustrating to continually find out new ways that you’re lacking, or different, in the world you inhabit.

Ron opens his mouth, and then looks toward his brothers, panicking. George places his hand on Ron’s shoulder and says kindly, “Hermione, you’re the best witch in your year. A couple extra spells that we knew going in doesn’t change that.”

“Anyway,” Fred clears his throat. “Malfoy. House elves.”

“What an idiot!” Ron says. “I don’t know how he expects to maintain his grades with a house elf sucking him dry.”

“The bond did take,” Fred says, but he doesn’t sound very sure of himself. “It wouldn’t have worked if he couldn’t handle it. Probably.”

“Guys,” Harry sighs, “Explanation? Please?”

The three brothers stumble over themselves explaining, talking over one another, until Ron gets irritated and slaps his hand over the twins’ mouths. “House elves are made of magic,” he says, and then Fred peals his hand away and says, “No, you’re already getting it wrong–”

The door bounces open, and they all fall silent. Ginny is standing there, arms crossed. “Your muffling charm sucks,” she informs Fred.

“Ginny, get out of here!” Ron scowls, “This doesn’t concern you!”

She kicks the door shut. George’s shoulders slump. She shoves Ron over until he makes space for her on the bed, and crosses her legs one over another. Harry thinks maybe he was underestimating Draco when he said that Ginny was terrifying. He kind of sees it now.

“First of all,” she says, “House elves are not made of magic, they are made from magic. They are naturally occurring from magical forests, or they were, house elves don’t really just show up anymore. They need a source of magic to survive, which was fine when most of the world was magical forests, but that’s not how it is anymore. So, to survive, house elves will bind themselves to powerful magical families, and survive off their magic. Which is a huge risk for a family to take, not just because it’s draining their magic, but because it makes it impossible to use magic against an elf that’s connected to you, since their magic is now yours. So if an elf turns on its master, which is possible if difficult, there’s virtually no way for that wizard to protect themselves. That’s why corporeal punishment is so favored. In return, the house elf acts as a servant for the family.”

“That’s barbaric!” Hermione says, aghast. “That’s – that’s slavery! They’re forced to work for no pay, just to survive?”

Ginny frowns, “They are paid, weren’t you listening? They get paid in magic, something far more valuable than gold. It’s not ideal, of course, but for what they get in return, some cleaning seems a small price to pay. What should families do, give house elves unrestricted access to their magic, and get nothing in return? Have no safety net against them taking advantage?”

Hermione goes silent. She’s not agreeing, but she’s thinking about it.

“Hold on,” Harry says, a sinking feeling in his chest, “Malfoy said that an unemployed elf was a dead elf. So if they don’t have a bond–”

“They starve to death,” George finishes grimly. “What Crouch did was barbaric. Because the families who employ house elves are so vulnerable to them, an elf who’s fired for being disloyal will never find work, especially one who’s fired from such a prominent figure. Without a bond, they have no way to get magic, and without magic to feed on they die. It’s not pretty.”

“So it was rather noble for Malfoy to take on Winky’s bond,” Fred says, “although I’m sure he did it for political reasons more than anything else. But it was also incredibly stupid. Heads of families usually take on the bond, because then house elves are feeding on family magic, and not personal magic. But Malfoy took it, and not his father, so – well, I’ll guess we’ll see what happens.”

Ginny sighs, “He really should work on his saving people thing. It’s going to get him in trouble one day.”

Harry wants to open his mirror and talk to Draco right then, but the twins are there, and so is Ginny, and he’s still unsure about how much they all know.

He’ll just have to wait.

~

He’d held Winky as he went through the floo, not wanting her going through on her own and getting lost, and then having to track down his lost elf on top of anything else. He’s just stepped out when he can hear rapid footsteps heading toward him.

“Wait for me in my room,” he orders her and she disappears with a crack. She should be able to figure out which one is his based on the concentration of his magic, but if not the family elves will be able to show her.

His mother rounds the corner, eyes wild and hair a mess and he feels instantly guilty. He’d been trying to punish his father by making his own way home, but he’d worried his mother as well. “Draco!” she cries, breathless, and he moves to meet her. He’s crushed in her embrace, her arms solid as iron around him. “We were so worried! What happened, where were you?” He doesn’t get a chance to answer before she’s pulling back to pepper kisses all over his face, and then smoothing back his hair from his face. Her hands are shaking.

“I’m sorry, Mum,” he says, and he means it, grabbing her hands in his own. “I, uh,” if he says he passed out she’ll throw an absolute fit, but if he says he fell asleep of all things she won’t believe him. Or if she does believe him, she’ll kill him, which isn’t an ideal solution either.

He’s saved from having to say either by his father apparating into the living room. If he thought Narcissa looked disheveled, she has nothing on Lucius, who looks a mess. Robes askew and hair in a rumpled ponytail. “Narcissa,” he says, voice reedy with panic, a voice Draco has never heard before, “I can’t find him!”

The moment his father’s eyes land on him, he slumps in relief, hand going to cover his face as he turns away. Draco’s still angry, he still has a very good reason to be angry, but it’s hard for him to hold onto that in the face of his parents’ fear.

“Where were you?” Lucius asks, still turned away from him.

“In the forest,” he answers, swallowing. “Where were you?”

“What?” he turns around.

Draco refuses to focus on his red rimmed eyes. “Where were you? You were next to me, and then you were gone.”

“Never mind that,” Lucius says, “What do you mean you were in the forest? I searched all over! Why didn’t you go home?”

He steps away from his mother, and oh, there’s that anger. “Why didn’t I go home? I don’t know, Dad, maybe because we came together, and I can’t apparate on my own! But instead of being with me, you were off TORTURING MUGGLES!”

“Don’t raise your voice at me!” he snaps. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I heard what you did in that field with that blasted house elf. Surely you don’t think that thing picked up Potter’s wand on accident–”

“No, I don’t think that, I’m not an actual idiot,” he says, interrupting his father for possibly the first time in his life. “Which is why I know that you were there, in a mask, messing with muggles. While you were doing that, Crouch was causing a scene, and making remarks about our family and I would have loved to let you handle it, Father, I really would have. But you couldn’t do that because you weren’t there!”

“Well, I’m here now,” he says, trying to be calm and reasonable, even when Draco’s not, and for some reason that makes him even angrier. “Summon that blasted elf, I’ll take on its bond. You’re too young.”

The thing is, he’s right. Even as Draco had done it, he’d kind of assumed his father would take on Winky’s bond if he succeeded. But he’s furious and upset and instead he says, “No.”

Lucius goes still. “Excuse me?”

“No,” he repeats. “Winky is my elf, and I’m keeping her. You – you have more important things to worry about, what with doing the Dark Lord’s dirty work. Never mind that he’s been dead for thirteen years. Clearly that’s more important that our family.” Than me, he doesn’t say, but by the way his mother has pressed her hand to her mouth he’s sure it came through loud and clear.

“Nothing is more important to me than you and your mother,” Lucius says intently, and Draco wants to believe him, he wants that to be true so desperately it hurts. “But there are things going on that you don’t understand, and I need you to be a good son, a good Malfoy.”

“I AM A GOOD MALFOY!” he bursts out, and his chest feels tight and his eyes are stinging, but he’s not going to let anyone talk to him like that, not even his dad. “Our family predates the Dark Lord, we were merchants and politicians and nobles, not servants! I am a good Malfoy, and a good son! But,” he licks his lips, “but I won’t be a good Death Eater, and you can’t make me!”

His parents look stricken, and he runs. He runs for his room, desperate to end this, but after a moment he can feel his father at his heels. “Draco! DRACO!” He makes it to his room, and tries to slam the door, something he’s never done, but Lucius is there, holding it open and panting. “We are not finished!”

Draco shakes his head, and there are tears in his eyes threatening to spill over, and he doesn’t want to do this now, he can’t do this now, he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be ready to do this.

Lucius takes a step inside. Winky appears in front of him, ugly little face set in a scowl. “Master Draco would like to be alone now!” she declares, and with a snap of her fingers Lucius is shoved back and his door slams shut. Draco can hear him pounding on his door, but he can’t get through.

He throws himself on his bed, and finally lets the tears spill out. He buries his face in his pillow and clutches it as sobs wrack his body, until his stomach hurts and his throat hurts and his head hurts. He’s never fought with dad before, not like this, not over something that mattered. He hates it.

He’s just started to quiet when there’s a presence at his elbow, and he looks up to see Winky hovering next to his bed with a cup of hot cocoa and Abigail comically wrapped around her, and he has to smile at this sight of his big black mamba struggling to be held up by a tiny house elf. “Here you is going, Master Draco!” she carefully sets the cup of cocoa on his bedside table and heaves Abigail onto the bed. She hisses in displeasure, but is quick to curl on top his back. Winky wrings her hands. “I will draw Master Draco a bath now? That is what the other elves said you is liking when you are sad.”

He blinks and takes a sip of the cocoa, careful not to dislodge Abigail. It’s spiced with cinnamon and chili powder, just how he likes it. She must have talked to the family elves about him already. That was fast.

“Very good,” he winces when his voice comes out as a croak.

Winky gives him a pleased little smile and then disappears with a crack. A moment later he can hear water rushing from the bathroom attached to his room. He reaches into the pocket of his robe, feeling for his mirror, and pulls it out, desperate to talk to Harry.

When he opens it, the glass piece falls out, having come unstuck from the rest of the compact. He reaches for it, but misses, and it falls and shatters on his bedroom floor.

He stares at it for a long moment. Even if he repairs the glass, the spell connecting it Harry’s won’t be the same, not unless he repairs it when he has the other one next to it.

“Brilliant,” he says hollowly, too exhausted to even get upset about it. He’ll have Winky clean up the glass while he’s in the bath.

~

Hermione gets a letter from Pansy the next day. She spends most of it filleting Rita Skeeter and her horrible reporting, but sandwiched in the middle of that and complaining about their book lists, she says that the mirror broke but he’s fine. She doesn’t specify who he is, out of fear of their mail being read, but she’s talking about Draco, and they’re all relieved. Ron had been trying to keep Hermione and Harry calm about the whole thing, but the longer Draco went without responding to the mirror, the more worried he’d begun to look.

He’s not thrilled about not being able to talk to his soulmate, but he’s safe, and they’ll be at Hogwarts son.

Harry is there when Ron gets his dress robes, and he sees his disgust at them. He turns to his mum, but Mrs. Weasley is wringing her hands in her apron, and Harry winces, preparing himself.

But Ron just looks back down at his robes and says, “Thanks for getting these for me, Mum.”

Her relief is nearly palpable. “Of course dear! Meat pies for dinner?”

“My favorite,” he says, smiling, “Thanks.” He waits until she’s gone to turn to Harry and say, “These are absolutely hideous.”

“They’re not that bad,” he says, but he must not do a very good job at lying because Ron rolls his eyes.

“They’re abhorrent,” he says, and that’s definitely a word he picked up from Hermione, “I’m going to make Pansy fix them, she has to know how. Mum’s crap at clothing spells, it’s why she hand knits all our sweaters. But Pansy is good at transfiguration, and the vainest girl I know. She has to know something to make them look less awful.”

“Maybe don’t phrase it quite like that when you ask her?” Harry suggests. “You know, I could get you new robes. I really don’t mind. It can be an early Christmas present!”

Ron throws a pillow at his face, and his glasses go askew. “Don’t make me have to hit you. You won’t even let me pay you back for the binoculars, I don’t need any handouts.”

“It’s not a handout!” Harry says, but he knows better than to push this too far. “You’re my friend, and I like giving you things because I care about you. Is that so bad?”

“It’s absolutely horrible, how could you say such hurtful things?” Ron asks, but he’s grinning. “Thanks, but no thanks. Pansy will handle it.”

“The offers open, if you want it,” he says, but Ron waves him off, and takes out the chess board instead.

The last few days of summer are quiet, and then finally, finally they’re heading back to Hogwarts. Charlie and Ron’s parents see them off, and Charlie says something cryptic about seeing them soon, which he would probably be more interested in if he wasn’t so anxious to get on the train and get a compartment. He can’t help but keep looking around the platform, trying to catch a glimpse of their Slytherin friends.

He realizes he’s not being subtle when Ron says, “Ah, he’s just excited for … learning.”

He turns back at the Weasleys, who are looking at him with raised eyebrows. “I know that look,” Charlie says, leering. “Got yourself a girlfriend there, Harry?”

Ron chokes.

“NO!” Harry says, face flushing. “No, I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Boyfriend?” Charlie tries, and he’s too mortified to say anything at all. Luckily, Hermione hooks her arm through his and drags him away before the silence can get too awkward. Thank Merlin.

“You really are a disaster,” she says, sighing, “I’m shocked you ever manage to keep any secrets at all.”

He really doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just shrugs and goes, “Yeah.”

Harry wants to go searching for them, but he never has before, and it would be odd to be seen doing so now. So he doesn’t, and they wait.

They don’t have to wait too long. About twenty minutes after the train leaves the station, their compartment door slams open, and three Slytherins tumble inside.

Harry barely waits for the door to close before he’s on his feet, snagging the front of Draco’s robes and pulling him closer. He cups his face in his hands, and there are bags underneath his eyes. Harry’s never seen that happen outside of finals before. “Nice to see you too, dear,” Draco says, quirking his lips up at the corners. “I’m fine.”

“I’m doing great!” Pansy says loudly, “I’m so great, standing here, watching my best friend and his soulmate be disgusting together. This is just, wow, such a good time.”

Harry rolls his eyes and sits back down, tugging Draco down to sit next to him. “You bear such heavy burdens Pansy, it’s truly inspiring.”

“Thank you,” she sniffs, pushing Ron over into Hermione so she can take the window seat. “It’s about some time I started receiving my due credit around here.”

Blaise snorts and takes the seat next to Draco. “How have you guys been doing? Everyone’s been gossiping about what happened at the World Cup.”

“Draco did manage to steal most of the high society gossip for himself,” Pansy interjects, “but thanks to Harry, you guys did manage to make the front page. A few of them, actually.”

“Great,” Ron says dryly. “I love being accused of being a Death Eater in front of a bunch of adult wizards, and then being held a wandpoint.”

“Great!” Pansy says, beaming. “Then you had a wonderful time, is what you’re telling me.”

Ron snorts and jerks his chin at Draco, “Hey, my brother was dropping hints about something big happening this year. Do you have any idea what it is?”

Draco slumps, so he’s pressed to Harry from shoulder to hip. He can’t get Charlie saying the word boyfriend out of his head.

 “Isn’t something big happening every year?” he asks tiredly. “No, I don’t know. There is something big happening, my father has had to go to about three times more Board meetings than he normally does. But – we’re not, uh, talking. Right now. So I don’t know what it is.”

Pany and Blaise glance at each other, then quickly look away, something pinched around both their faces. Harry wishes he could hug him, or at least hold his hand, but he doesn’t think Draco would appreciate that with an audience, even though it’s their friends.

“No worries!” Ron says with forced cheer. “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. So, that Skeeter woman, she’s awful, isn’t she?”

Pansy latches onto the topic of conversation with full force, and Harry does his best not to think of all the things that everyone isn’t saying.

~

Draco had managed to avoid an incredibly awkward carriage ride with his parents be leaving for the train station at absurdly early hour. He’d taken the floo, and sent Winky ahead to the castle with his luggage. Which had been quite boring until his friends had shown up, but still preferable to the part wounded, party angry looks his father kept on sending him.

He refused to talk, because he didn’t know what he wanted. It was all too confusing. He can’t ask for what he doesn’t know he wants, so better not to say anything at all.

But he’s thankful to be back at Hogwarts, especially with Winky. There’s enough latent magic around the castle and the forest that she won’t need to depend solely on him for magic. With any luck, he’ll barely notice any strain at all. At least while he’s in school. He’s not exactly looking forward to this upcoming summer – that week at home had been draining, and he hadn’t even done much.

There are no rules against bringing personal elves, because it’s not something most students would be stupid enough to do, so he orders Winky to help in the kitchens unless he needs her, and to pick up after the Slytherin common room. He just doesn’t have enough chores to keep a house elf busy, so loaning her out to Hogwarts is the best thing for both of them.

Plus, Snape has been useful for once and set it all up for him, so he hadn’t even needed to speak directly to Dumbledore. Which was good, because whenever he saw that man he was filled with the overwhelming urge to punch him, as if he were some common muggle.

So it’s really for the best that he never gets the opportunity.

~

It’s too conspicuous for them to sneak away on the first night back, so they have to deal with a whole day of classes before they manage to get together again, which Harry considers pure torture. He gets a letter from Remus and Sirius, saying they’re worried about his scar and his dreams that Harry finally gave in and told them about, and that they want to talk in person. Harry doesn’t like the sound of that. That’s easy enough for Remus, who isn’t an international criminal, but he’d rather Sirius not risk imprisonment just so they can have a conversation.

Draco is a prat in Care of Magical Creatures, but he doesn’t say anything truly awful, and since Hagrid has decided that Draco’s all right, he just regard his sullen remarks with a sort of cheerful benevolence. This just seems to frustrate Draco, which makes the whole thing even funner.

That night, the Slytherins are already waiting for them when they make it down to their favorite abandoned classroom. “They’ve cancelled Quidditch!” Draco shouts as soon as they shut the door, and Harry takes a split second to think about how they’re definitely soulmates.

“I know!” he says, right as Ron goes “Despicable!” in the most offended tone of voice he’s ever heard him use.

“Really?” Blaise asks flatly. “That’s what you’re most upset about?”

“What are we supposed to do? Just not practice for a year?” Harry asks, “I’m going to talk to Angelina about it. No way she’s happy about this.”

“Flint is,” Draco grumbles. “He failed his Owls, so he has to retake them if he expects to graduate. I tried bringing it up to him, but he cursed me out and said he didn’t give a shit about quidditch.”

“Try Cassius,” Ron says, “He’s always keeping an eye on the whole game when you’re playing. It makes him a good beater, but it will also make him a good captain. Maybe you can get Flint to step down?”

“He wants the status,” Draco says, “but I might be able to get Cassius to do it anyway. That’s a good idea, Ron.”

“Excuse me,” Hermione says, “not to derail this very important and thrilling discussion, but aren’t we ignoring something a little more important than quidditch? Such as the Triwizard Tournament?”

“Who cares,” Ron, Harry, and Draco say in unison.

“We’re not seventh years,” Ron continues, “What difference does it make to us? Having the other schools here will be fun, I guess. Krum will definitely show up, which will be fantastic. It doesn’t really effect us, besides that, does it? If anything, I’m more worried about being taught by Mad Eye Moody. That guy looks crazy!”

“I guess,” Hermione says dubiously. “Draco, did you really need to be so rude to Hagrid today?”

“Absolutely,” he says. “It’s bad enough that the Weasley twins know about us, and your demonic little sister. Who knows who else is getting suspicious? I have a reputation to maintain.”

Ron chews on his lower lip. “Actually, I had an idea about that. It involves you being an utter prat, so I assume you’re on board.”

Draco looks delighted.

~

It’s a simple enough plan, and Ron offers himself up as the victim, since it was his idea. “We haven’t gotten into a real fight in ages,” Ron had said, “this will be fun.”

“You have a very strange idea of fun,” Hermione had said, but she’d also said it was brilliant in it’s simplicity so Ron had ignored her.

They’re walking the halls, surrounded by people, and Draco and Ron are trading insults back and forth. Harry drags Ron away, trying not to tense in preparation for the curse he knows his heading his way, for the curse Draco told him he’d aim at him the night before.

It never comes.

They turn around just in time to see a bright green spell hit Draco, and Harry’s heart is in his throat. But it’s not a killing curse, it’s something else, and where his soulmate once stood is a pure white ferret suspended in the air.

Moody stands there, wand outstretched. “What a cowardly thing to do,” he growls, “trying to attack an opponent when their back is turned. Did your father teach you that trick, boy?”

Then, to Harry’s ever increasing horror, he jerks his wand and starts hitting his transformed soulmate against the stone floor. Repeatedly. “Holy shit,” Ron says, too softly for anyone else to hear. He’s so pale that his freckles stand out in stark contrast to the rest of him.

Everyone has gone deathly silent, and he when he’s risks a glance around he’s gratified to realize no one is laughing. They’re all staring, looking as horrified as he feels, and he wills one of them to do something.

But no one does.

This is probably the exact opposite of what Draco wants him to do, the opposite of what they were trying to achieve, but he doesn’t bloody care. He whips out his wand, pointing it at Moody. “Put him down,” he says, and he doesn’t recognize his voice. It sounds cold. It sounds like Draco’s does when he’s pissed off.

Moody stills his wand, and Draco isn’t being hit against the flagstone anymore, so there’s that, at least. “Easy,” he says, “I’m only trying to help, Potter.”

“If this is what you consider help, then it’s no wonder everyone considers you a washed up auror past his prime,” Harry glares, and he guesses Rita Skeeter is good for something, because he got that phrasing from her. “Put him down, and turn him back. I won’t ask a third time.”

“Or what?” he asks.

Harry’s already got the disarming spell on his tongue when McGonagall comes charging through and shouts, “MR. POTTER! What is the meaning of this?”

“Professor Moody turned Malfoy into a ferret,” Ron says, and he shoves Harry’s wand arm down now that reinforcements are here, so that he looks slightly less like a lunatic.

McGonagall turns her furious gaze on Moody. All the students take a step back. “Alastor! Is this is the truth? Is that Mr. Malfoy?”

“He deserved it,” Moody says gruffly.

Her eyes narrow and she whips out her wand. “We do not transfigure the students! Hormorphus!

There’s a bright blue light, and Draco is standing there once more. He’s too pale, and his eyes are wide. He smooths back his hair, and his hands are shaking. Harry hopes he’s the only one who notices. “Much obliged, Professor,” he says, voice coming out even.

She gives him a sharp nod and advances on Moody, wand still out. “With me, Alastor,” she hisses, and then leads him away from the students.

Draco sniffs, and walks away, Crabbe and Goyle falling in to walk a half step being him. Now everyone’s starring at him and Ron, so Harry grabs the back of his best friend’s robes and leads them in the opposite direction of – everyone.

“That went poorly,” Ron mutters.

“That,” Harry says, “is such an understatement.”

~

They meet that night, just the two of them, and this time Harry is there first, pacing across the classroom. Draco slips inside and Harry blurts out, “I’m sorry! I just – couldn’t stand there and watch him hurt you!”

Draco has bags under his eyes. He hadn’t had them earlier, which means he must be using a glamor charm to hide them from everyone. “It’s okay,” he says, “you’re a courageous Gryffindor, so it was in character. We’re fine.”

“I didn’t do it because I’m a courageous Gryffindor,” he says softly, “I did it because he was hurting you, and I wanted to hurt him back.”

Draco smiles, “Well, I’ll take my chivalry how I can get it. It’s just a few bruises, Harry. Don’t worry about it.”

“Bruises?” he asks, and his voice is back to sounding cold. “Show me.”

He looks like he’s going to argue, then he takes a closer look at Harry’s face and thinks better of it. He throws off his robe first, then his tie, then unbuttons his shirt. He hesitates before taking it off. “You’re not allowed to overreact.”

“I won’t,” he says. It’s an easy promise. There’s no such thing as overreacting when people hurt his friends.

Draco is frowning, but he shrugs off his shirt and tosses it aside. “It looks worse than it feels.”

Harry sees red, is instantly furious. His entire torso is blue and purple, and it goes further. He steps forward and tugs Draco’s pants down, and he makes a yelp of protest, but doesn’t do anything else to stop him. He’s gentler, and there are more welts down Draco’s legs. He tugs his boxers down on one side, just enough to see his soulmark.

The marigolds look even brighter against the deep purple of the bruise covering his hip. “Why didn’t you go to Pompfrey?”

“So it can be reported to my parents? Absolutely not.” His teeth are chattering. “Can I put my clothes back on now? I should have had Winky start a fire, or at least put a warming charm over the place.”

“Er, right,” he says, and it is cold in here, but suddenly he’s too warm all over as Draco hurries to get dressed. “Why do you care if you parents find out?”

“Because we’re having a row, Harry. If my mother hears about this, she’ll come down here herself to set Moody on fire, and my father will use his considerable clout to get him removed from school.”

“Good!” he says, “Brilliant! Do that!”

Draco rolls his eyes. “I can’t. We’re fighting! I can’t let them get involved in this while we’re fighting.”

Harry didn’t grow up with parents, so he’s fully aware he’s far from the expert here, but that doesn’t sound quite right. “I think they’d want to know anyway.”

“Oh, absolutely,” he agrees, “Unfortunately, if they want me to tell them things, then they should have thought about that before – well, before we started fighting. Now we’ll all just have to deal with the consequences.”

Harry is convinced Lucius Malfoy is a bad person. But he’s also pretty sure he’d eviscerate anyone who harmed his son, and Harry’s kind of in favor of that general attitude. But maybe it’s a good thing Draco’s fighting with his parents? They are, well, Death Eaters.

This is all confusing and worrisome, so instead he focuses on the one thing he is certain of. “I hate him.”

“Who?” Draco is fiddling with his tie, trying to get it sit just right even though they’re the only ones there.

“Moody,” Harry says, “I – I hate him. That was cruel. Aurors aren’t supposed to be cruel. They’re supposed to help.”

Draco laughs, but when he meets Harry’s eyes his expression is soft. “I see you haven’t met many aurors.” He frowns, but Draco shakes his head, stepping forward to slip in hand in Harry’s, “When we graduate, you can become in auror, and change the whole lot of them. You can be kind, and make them be kind too.”

“What will you be doing, while I’m off fighting for truth and justice?” he asks, heart in his throat. They’ve never spoken about the future before.

“I’ll be just down the hall, of course,” he says, and they’re not looking at each other, they can’t, Harry’s certain the second they do the dream of this impossible future will shatter. “I’ll be a barrister first, but then after that, well. My family has held a Wizengamot seat for centuries. I’m sure Great Aunt Tiana will be ready to retire in a decade or so.”

“That sounds nice.” he says, leaning his head so it’s resting against Draco’s.

“Yeah,” his soulmate says, “it does.”

~

Draco didn’t think teaching a bunch of fourth years about the unforgivable curses was the best of ideas, but as far as he was concerned that was among the least of Moody’s sins, so he wasn’t going to make a fuss about it.

Then he says he going to perform them on them, and Draco must be hearing this incorrectly.

He’s not. Sure enough, Hannah Abbott is brought to the front of the class, and made to cluck like a chicken in a truly embarrassing display. He locks eyes with Pansy first, and she nods, but when he looks to Blaise, he shakes his head, eyes wide. Damnit.

Crabbe and Goyle can’t, he knows, unless something drastic has changed in the past few years. Daphne and Theodore should be fine, too, he thinks. He has to twist around to catch Millie’s eye, but Moody is still focused on the Hufflepuffs so he doesn’t notice. She sees him and winces, but gives a shrug. All right, a little resistant is better than he was expecting. They’re not in too bad of shape.

He hopes Moody doesn’t plan on trying the Cruciactus Curse on them next. Crabbe and Goyle have been exposed to it, but surprisingly it had been his father who had drawn the line there, saying that was something for when he was older. The only other one in their year who had dealt with it was possibly Theodore, but he’s not sure because he’d never asked. He hadn’t thought it would ever come up.

He doesn’t know how to help Blaise, because the only way to practice resisting the curse is to be put under it, repeatedly. And he doesn’t know anyone who’s actually able to cast the damn thing. Well, he supposes he could ask Snape, but that would require spending a significant amount of time in the man’s presence, something he does his best not to do unless absolutely necessary.

The man is a brilliant potions master, but a teacher he is not. He’s an even worse head of house. His mother routinely called his appointment sabotage. Draco wouldn’t go quite that far, but it hardly helped that that man was the face of the Slytherin House.

Moody finishes with the Hufflepuffs, and the only one of them that manages even a token protest is Susan Bones, which Draco should have expected. The girl’s aunt is a liberal, but she’s also ruthlessly pragmatic, according to his father. And he’s hardly the type to sugarcoat these type of things. “Who next?” he asks, his fake eye roving over them uncomfortably. “Mr. Zabini, how about you?”

Yeah, no. Blaise sucks at this, and he hates it, he isn’t going first. Draco’s already half risen from his seat when Pansy’s perfectly manicured hand grabs his shoulder and pushes him back down.

“I’ll go first,” Pansy says, getting to her feet with a sneer and snapping her sheath of hair over her shoulder. “To show everyone else how it’s done.”

Moody quirks an eyebrow. “If you insist, Miss Parkinson.”

“I do,” she says, rolling her hips as she walks to the center of the room. “I’ll take whatever you can give me, Professor. Don’t be gentle – it’s not my first time.”

Moody’s face goes blank. It takes all of Draco’s willpower not to burst out laughing, and he can see Millie has her hand over her mouth to prevent the same reaction. There are few things capable of throwing Mad Eye Moody off balance, and being hit on by a fourteen year old is one of them. It’s good thinking – if they stall for time, it’s possible that they’ll manage to get through this class without Blaise, Crabbe, or Goyle having to face the curse.

“Darling,” Draco drawls, “please, have some decorum.”

She looks over her shoulder to wink at him, and then blow him a kiss. “Oh, you should know better than to think I have any of that.”

There’s a vein popping out of Moody’s forehead. It’s glorious.

“Enough chit chat!” he barks, “Imperio!” Pansy goes completely still and her eyes go glassy. They’re not laughing anymore. “Jump up and down.”

Draco’s hands clench into fists. He’d given the other students the same command, but – Pansy doesn’t wear tights, and she’s been modifying her skirts to be about six inches shorter since second year. If she jumps up and down, she’ll end up flashing the whole classroom.

She raises on her tip toes, and he can see Millie reaching for her wand out of the corner of his eye, and Daphne’s shrugged off her cloak, holding it in her lap, ready to spring forward.

Pansy stills, standing one her tiptoes, looking like a ballerina frozen in time. “Jump up and down!” Moody repeats.

Her leg jerks out, then comes down in a stomp. She shakes her head from side to side, and when she looks back up her eyes are clear. “No, thank you,” she says daintily, triumph in the curl of her lips.

Applause erupts from the other side of the classroom. Pansy freezes.

Draco turns, and they all have their wands in their hands, and half of them are clutching scarves or cloaks, ready to leap to their feet if Pansy hadn’t been able to fight it off and her skirt had gone flying.

Moody bangs his hand against his desk, “All right, all right, that’s enough!”

The Hufflepuffs cheer louder. Pansy flushes, then curtsies before walking back to her seat.

“Huh,” Draco says softly, “who would have thought.”

Susan catches his eye and winks. He’s so startled he winks back without thinking about it.

~

Draco, Blaise, and Pansy hear about the Gryffindors’ experience that night, and Draco adds putting Longbottom through that on his list of reasons that Moody is awful. There’s no need to rub his parent’s circumstances in the boy’s face. Even he wouldn’t stoop that low.

They’re all suitably impressed when they hear about Harry.

“I couldn’t beat it,” Harry says miserably, “I tried, but – I couldn’t shake it completely, not like you Pansy.”

“I’ve had it cast on me a couple hundred times, Harry! I couldn’t even begin to resist it until, Merlin, a hundred in? That you were able to almost throw it off the very first time it was cast on you is–”

“Incredible,” Draco finishes. “That’s scarily impressive, Harry. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone being able to resist on their first try, without any training. I would have said it’s impossible, but, well, you’ve certainly taught me a lesson about throwing that word around lightly.”

“I can’t do it at all,” Blaise says, doing a poor job of hiding his bitterness.

Pansy elbows him in the side, “You don’t know that, not for sure. Your mum won’t let anyone else cast it on you, and obviously you won’t be able to resist it when she casts it. I can’t resist my parents either.”

Draco nods, “Sometimes I almost resist my dad, but my mum? Forget about it. I’ve never even hesitated.”

“Wait!” Hermione holds up a hand, “What are you guys talking about?”

They all turn to stare at her. “Hermione,” Blaise says, now sounding more amused than bitter, “did you miss part of Moody’s lesson?”

“No!” she scowls, “Of course not. What are you talking about?”

Draco thinks back, and actually, he can’t remember Moody mentioning it. Which is strange, since it’s a rather basic component of the curse. “The Imperio Curse is harder to resist if it’s cast by someone you trust, and easier to resist if it’s cast by someone you distrust. It’s still possible to break no matter who casts it, but it’s a lot more difficult. I can sometimes resist my dad, not because I don’t trust him, but because he’s not as good at curses as Mum is. So I’ll probably be able to resist him completely long before my mum.”

“So, comparatively, it’s a lot easier for me to resist Moody, because I very much do not trust him, than if someone in my family cast it,” Pansy adds.

Ron frowns, “But, wait, if Blaise’s mum won’t let anyone else cast on him – are you telling me your parents did let other people cast on you?”

Pansy and Draco shrug. “Gotta learn somehow,” she says, “and they were there, of course. But it’s good to learn. And it’s at least less boring than occlumency lessons.”

“Occu-what now?” Ron asks.

It occurs to Draco, for the first time, that Hermione’s a muggleborn, Harry was raised by muggles, and Ron’s a Weasley, so there’s no conceivable reason for them to have been taught occlumency.

“Shit,” Blaise breathes, clearly coming to same conclusion.

Draco rubs at his temples. “Open the map, we need to find the twins. They should know this too.”

“Ginny?” Pansy suggests.

Draco makes a face. “She should learn, but I’m not subjecting myself to that. I’ll have Luna teach her.” Pansy gives him a dubious look. “She’s good at it! All those flighty, crazy thoughts have to be good for something, right?”

Hermione pulls the Chimera map out of her bag, scanning it. “They’re in bed.”

“Really?” Draco asks, leaning over to look for himself. “I’m shocked.”

“They have to sleep sometime,” Ron points out.

Harry snorts. “Why? We don’t.”

“And it’s very bad for us, and is probably stunting our growth,” Hermione says decisively. “Don’t you think your marks would be higher if we got regular, adequate rest?”

“No,” Ron, Harry, and Pansy say in unison.

“Probably,” Blaise says, and laughs when Pansy whirls around and smacks his arm. “Anyway, you guys need to learn occlumency. It’s a wandless magic to protect your mind. It’s – well, bloody boring, honestly, but not too hard.”

Draco wonders if they’ll help with the strange visions Harry’s been having when he sleeps. He hopes so. They’re kind of terrifying.

Ron claps his hands together, “Okay, sounds good. Should we head back, to get adequate rest for once?”

“That ship sailed about an hour ago,” Hermione says dryly.

She starts to roll up the map, but Draco shakes his head, and she smooths it back out. “I saw Moody heading out to the forest when we were coming here. I want to make sure he’s not anywhere close before we head back.”

She taps the map, “You’re good, he’s in his office.”

“Really?” he leans down.

“Really,” she says, exasperated. “I can read, Draco. It’s one of my many talents.”

“No, I know. Sorry. It’s just,” he frowns, “I really expected him to be gone longer. I thought I was being overly cautious. That was a short trip.”

“Maybe he just wanted some fresh air,” Blaise says, “Who cares? Let’s go to bed. We can grab the twins and start the lessons tomorrow.”

“Right,” he says, rolling the map up and handing it to Hermione. She slides it back into her bag, which seems to contain more things than can reasonably fit inside it. If she’s been working on the bottomless charm without him, he’s going to be cross.

His mind wanders back to Moody, and how quick that walk must have been, then he shakes his head. He’s clearly spending too much time around Luna, and it’s making him paranoid, is all.

~

Angelina had been thrilled with Harry’s suggestion to keep practicing for next year’s quidditch season. There was the small matter of the pitch being under construction for the Triwizard Tournament, and therefor unusable. “Do you think there’s space somewhere in the forbidden forest?” Angelina asks, a look in her eyes that reminds him far too much of Oliver Wood.

Harry thinks that every time he’s gone in that forest, something has tried to eat him. “I’ll ask Hagrid,” he says, instead of voicing that. Something tells him that Angelina wouldn’t care.

“Brilliant!” she says. “I’ll talk to Cedric and Roger about it, no reason for us all to practice separately this year. It’ll be fun! We can play some games mixing the teams.”

Harry should just keep his mouth shut. But that’s never been his strong point, so he asks, “What about the Slytherins?”

“What about them?” she glares, then looks mildly ashamed of herself. “Yeah, I’ll talk to Flint too.”

“Uh,” he thinks back to his conversation with Draco, “Maybe not Flint. I know he’s the captain, but he’s – busy, this year. Maybe ask Cassius instead?”

She looks a bit more cheered at that. Harry can’t blame her. Having to talk to Flint would put a damper on anyone’s mood.

Harry’s own good mood at the prospect of still being able to play quidditch lasts until he gets to the Gryffindor common room. It’s mostly empty, but Hermione’s there, curled up on the seat next to the window with her legs pulled to her chest. Harry wishes Ron was here. For how oblivious he is with most things, he’s always been excellent at getting Hermione to stop feeling upset. Granted, he usually does it by making her angry, but it is effective. Personally, he finds Hermione too scary to make her mad on purpose.

“Hey,” he says, scooting onto the little bit of space left by her feet. “What’s up?”

She looks up at him, and tries to smile, but doesn’t do a very good job of it. “It’s silly.”

“It’s not,” he says immediately. Nothing that upsets his friends is silly.

“I can’t stop thinking about the house elves,” she confesses, “Everyone acts like it’s normal and fine, and Ron doesn’t get it. I know Ginny said that they do get paid, that it’s not so – unequal, but it looks that way. And – I mean, once upon a time, people thought slavery was normal and fine too, so.”

“Pretty much no sane person ever thought slavery was fine,” he says, and honestly he hasn’t given much thought to the house elves. There’s Dobby, who was so desperate to be free, and Winky, who burst into sobbing hysterics when it happened to her. Those are the only two house elves he knows.

Realistically speaking, his father’s ancestors were probably enslaved by the British, just like Hermione’s were. Or, well, probably not actually, since his ancestors were magical, and he figures they took to slavery just as well as American witches took to being burned in the town square. But he just doesn’t think about that kind of stuff that often, at least when he’s away from the Dursleys, which kind of makes him feel shallow, now that he is thinking about it.

Are there books on this type of stuff? Probably, but he’d have to admit to not knowing it in the first place in order to ask for them.

“I don’t know what to do,” she says quietly. “I love Hogwarts, I love magic, but – I don’t want to stay here if, if it’s all just – operating on slave labor.”

Pretty much no sane person has ever thought slavery was fine, and it seems like all their friends, who are very much sane people, think it’s fine. But that’s the type of reasoning that will get him punched in the face. Or worse, pulled into a discussion on changing social mores and the dangers of viewing the past through a modern world view. He really prefers to leave those types of discussions to Draco and Hermione. “Why don’t we go talk to some?”

She blinks. “What?”

“Why don’t we ask? We can sit here talking about them, or we can talk to them. Draco doesn’t have class until after lunch, let’s go ask him to talk to Winky now?” He reaches into his back pocket for his compact. Draco had added a permanent sticking charm and unbreakable charm to them both after he’d repaired his and reconnected it back to Harry’s.

The thrilled look on Hermione’s face is absolutely worth the loss of the free period he’d thought he was going to have.

Ron walks down the stairs, yawning. He’d been smarter than Harry, and had used the break in their schedules to go take a nap. “What’s going on? What are we doing? If it involves spiders, I’m out, let’s be clear about that right away.”

“No spiders,” Harry promises as his soulmate’s face appears in the mirror.

~

Draco has no idea why Hermione wants to talk to his house elf, or why it’s so important that they have to do it in the middle of the day. Then again, he supposes it’s better than doing it tonight when they’re supposed to be having occlumency lessons. Hermione’s curiosity can derail him at the best of times, like when they’d started arguing about how many rotations to stir the color changing potions and ended up debating the most effective wand movements for transfiguration. That had ended with Pansy jabbing her wand in between them, turning the desk they’d been using into a rabbit, and declaring that wand movements were the for the weak.

“Winky,” he says, and his house elf appears next to him with a crack. She’s wearing one his old silk pillowcases, cinched at the waist with what looks like an impressive bit of needlework, and she’s even stitched his personal sigil into it so it sits on the upper left corner of her chest – the Malfoy family crest encircled by a dragon. He’s charmed. “Did you make this yourself?”

“Yes, Master Draco!” she says. “I am not wanting to be confused with castle elves.”

“Hmm,” he must look pleased, because Winky looks positively ecstatic. “These are my friends, Winky. Meet Harry, Ron, and Hermione.” They wave as he says their names. “Hermione has some questions for you. Answer them as honestly and completely as you can, understand?”

“Yes, Master Draco,” she turns to face them, tucking her hands behind her and rocking back on her heels. “How can I be helping Master’s friends?”

“Are you happy, Winky?” Hermione asks carefully.

Dear Merlin. He should have brought a book. Luckily, he’s a wizard, so he summons his herbology text from his room.

~

Winky seems to think Hermione has a couple screws loose, but they’re her master’s friends, so she answers all her questions, and even grabs a couple of her own friends from the kitchen so Hermione can talk to them too.

Harry is deeply relieved when they all say the same thing, and when Hermione asks if they want to be earning an actual wage, they laugh. Winky looks like she wants to, but she restrains herself, probably because she doesn’t want to risk being rude to them.

“You don’t want to own games? Or books?” Hermione asks, “Really?”

“We is liking to be kept busy,” one of the castle elves, Dal, says, “Hogwarts is good, there are lots of messy children!”

“Poppy likes to knit,” Mip says, “She makes the extra blankets we give out in the winter. And Kurk etches the designs into the dinner plates himself. The more elaborate the plate, the cleaner the students are. One year the Slytherins were so neat we needed to reassign him to the Hufflepuff common room, or else he was going to start recreating tapestries on the dessert dishes.”

Mip looks old, although Harry isn’t really sure how house elves age. He’s also the first elf who’s speech patterns match the humans. He’s wonder if it’s something they pick up in time, or if it’s something Mip taught himself on purpose.

“Those aren’t really hobbies,” Hermione says, crestfallen. “Don’t you want to do things just for yourself?”

“If we is wanting a thing, we can make it ourselves,” Dal says. “We is magic, Miss Hermione.”

Ron makes a choking sound that is definitely him trying to muffle his laughter. Hermione kicks him in the shin without looking.

“We like to create, and to clean, and to maintain,” Mip says, something wistful about his face. “There aren’t enough forests to sustain us anymore. We’re not needed like we used to be, so now we do this. Wizards don’t need us either, but we help, and we like it. You don’t need to worry over us, Miss.”

Hermione still looks uncertain, but she nods. “Thank you for your time, Mip, Dal. I appreciate it.”

“Anytime, Miss Hermione!” Dal says cheerfully, and then they’re gone in a crack and a wisp of smoke. Winky is still standing there.

“You’re dismissed,” Draco says, not looking up from his book. “Good job.”

She bows and disappears.

“Are you satisfied?” Ron asks.

“Almost,” she turns to Draco. “What about Dobby?”

He stops reading and looks up. “What about him?”

“He was abused, and hurt, and he hated working for your family,” she says tightly, “So if this whole house elf thing is so perfect and wonderful, why did that happen?”

“Well, it’s neither perfect, nor wonderful, for starters,” Draco says. “It’s just the least horrible option. House elves need magic to live, and there’s just not as much natural magic as there used to be. So in exchange for working for us, we give them ours. But that puts us in a vulnerable position. If Winky chose to attack me, my magic wouldn’t work on her, even though hers works on me. My magic doesn’t work on any of the family elves either, even though technically my dad holds their bond. So it’s not a great solution for anyone. Especially since any family old and powerful enough to support house elves is certainly rich enough to afford a maid and a cook, who’s employment wouldn’t leave us defenseless against them. Plus, there’s literally over a thousand cleaning and cooking spells. But we don’t actually want house elves to go extinct, so we do this instead.”

“Dobby?” Hermione repeats, frowning.

He shrugs. “He was a horrible house elf. He did his duties just fine, that wasn’t the issue, but he wasn’t loyal. I mean, I’m glad he helped Harry, obviously, but he went behind my father’s back and betrayed him to do it, and that wasn’t the first time he’d done something like that. So Dad had him put his hands in the oven and twisted his ears back. He wasn’t going to free him, because a house elf freed for disloyalty will never find work again, and he didn’t want the wretched thing to die. Mum was actually pretty relieved when Harry tricked them into freeing him.”

Harry’s gone cold. “Are – is – did I kill Dobby?”

“No!” Ron says. “Of course not!”

Draco just stares at him. “Do you not listen to me at all? Thanks to you, Dobby wasn’t freed for being disloyal, my dad was tricked by you. Which he wasn’t thrilled with, publicity wise, but I’m sure Dobby is working for some other family, hopefully one suitably liberal so he doesn’t feel the need to betray them at every opportunity.”

“And Crouch?” she asks.

His face darkens. “Horrible. Freeing Winky like that was cruel, and unnecessary. It was wrong, and freeing your elf without sufficient cause is illegal if they don’t have another family ready to take on their bond. But I’m, oh, let’s say a few years off from getting my barrister’s license, so I took on her bond instead.”

Hermione crosses her arms, scraping her teeth of her bottom lip. “Okay. Okay. Neither perfect, nor wonderful, just the least horrible option. Fine. But I’m going to look for a better way to do this. There has to be another way for house elves to survive, and I’m going to find it.”

“Great!” Draco says, throwing up his arms, sending the book flying. He banishes it back to his room before it hits the ground. “Please do. I, personally, would love to not have my magic tied up in a house elf. Since your insanity has taken us nearly to lunch, can we go to the Great Hall now? Or would you like to go down and interrogate Hagrid about the thestrals?”

“I do have to talk to Hagrid about something, actually,” Harry says.

Draco pinches the bridge of his nose, “Merlin’s sagging ballsack.”

Ron gives a bark of laughter, and Hermione lets out a scandalized, “Excuse me?” but it comes out kind of warbly, since she’s also doing her best not laugh, which has Draco and Harry dissolving into giggles.

~

Fred and George are the last to make it to the classroom that night, and there’s some wariness about the Slytherins, but once they figure out that no one’s about to start flinging insults – or curses – they relax.

The occlumency lessons are, as promised, incredibly boring. Blaise is the only half decent Legilimens they have, and he doesn’t both trying to get into anyone’s mind that first night. Instead he slips inside, testing their shields, searching for weak spots and letting them know when they’re doing it wrong. At the end of the night, he looks more exhausted than the rest of them.

“How do you guys do this all the time?” Fred asks, yawning. “I can already tell I’m going to be falling asleep in class.”

Hermione rolls her eyes, “Draco and I brew a batch of Pepper Up potion once a month, we’ll give you each a vial. And we don’t meet at night every night!”

“We will be meeting twice a week to practice until you all get the hang of it,” Draco announces. “I spoke to Luna, and she’s handling teaching your demonic sister.”

“She’s our only sister,” George says, amused. “You don’t need to specify demonic, it’s implied.” Draco narrows his eyes, and Harry ushers them all out before things can deteriorate any further.

The last thing in the world he wants to do is to listen to is Draco and the Weasley twins argue about semantics.

~

The next morning Harry gets a letter, unsigned, containing a sketch of the logo for the Three Broomsticks, and a date and a time a week from today. He recognizes it as Sirius’s hand, and he tells himself it will be fine. Remus is with him, and he won’t let Sirius do anything too rash or dangerous, hopefully. Then again, he thinks Remus may do plenty of rash and dangerous things all on his own, and it’s really kind of awful that they’re each other’s impulse control.

Luckily, today’s the day that the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang are set to arrive, so it’s all anyone can talk about, and he can focus on that instead of worrying about his godfather being thrown back in Azkaban. Draco had toured both schools with his father when he was ten, even though his mother had said it was Hogwarts or she was filing for a divorce, and all he said about it was that they were equally as pretentious and exhausting as Hogwarts, but Beauxbatons at least had good weather.

The giant flying carriage and ghost ship are impressive to Harry, but most of the upper level Ravenclaws and Slytherins look underwhelmed, which makes Harry thinks that spells that did it are too simple to constitute as a grand display, which he doesn’t agree with at all. Just because the spellwork is simple doesn’t change that the effect is brilliant. Draco must have been serious about the weather comment, because all the students from Beauxbatons are wearing light, powder blue robes that do absolutely nothing to help protect them against the chill, while the ones from Durmstrang are dressed like it’s the middle of the winter and they’re expected to walk a mile through a snowstorm.

“Krum looks shorter in person,” Ron says, looking at the boy who’s standing at the head of the group. “Is that a seeker thing, then? The shortness?”

“I’m of average height, and also I’ll murder you,” Harry says, “You’re the giant here. Look at you, it’s like talking to an oak tree, this friendship is making me develop a crick in my neck.”

“Your burdens are great and impressive,” Ron says, before ruffling his hair.

Murder,” he repeats, but he’s grinning, so it’s probably not very effective.

Hermione pushes herself between them, but only so she can elbow them both in the side at the same time. “Could you shut up for five minutes?”

“No,” they say together, but out of fear of bruised ribs they do in fact shut up until Dumbledore has finished the introductions.

Draco’s out of his seat immediately, and he makes a bee line for the Beauxbaton students. Within moments, he has a small crowd clustered around him, and is he … it’s too far away to hear properly, but Harry’s almost certain …

“Is he speaking French?” Hermione asks. “I didn’t know he could do that.”

Ron gives her a weird look, “I told you that his family still has business there. I’m pretty sure he speaks a couple other languages too.”

“Do you speak any languages I’m not aware of?” she demands.

“English?” he offers, “and Latin, but everyone speaks that. The twins picked up Welsh because they thought it would be funny, and I kind of understand them when they speak it, but I can’t say much myself. Percy knows Ancient Greek and Latin, because he’s a nerd. Bill speaks Arabic, and Charlie’s almost fluent in Romanian, last I checked. Who knows what Ginny’s learning, I dare not even ask. Japanese, maybe, since she spends so much time with Luna.”

“Latin, but everyone speaks that,” Hermione repeats. “I feel like I don’t even know you.”

Ron rolls his eyes and calls across the table, “Oi, Neville! How many languages do you speak?”

He turns to face them, and frowns, “Uh, fluently? Or just like, enough to not cause an international incident at a dinner party?”

“Both,” Ron says. “Also, how many international dinner parties does your grandmother force you to go to?”

“Too many,” he says darkly, and Lavender Brown pats him on the back sympathetically. “Uh, five fluently. Fluently-ish. About as many more in dinner party territory. Why? Please don’t make me translate anything.”

“No reason, don’t worry about it,” Ron says, before turning back to Hermione with a smug smile.

“Well,” she says to Harry, “at least the lack of science classes is good for something.”

He holds up his hands, grinning, “Hey, I speak another language, you’re the only slacker here.” His Parseltongue abilities aren’t exactly a secret, but they aren’t common knowledge either, and he’d like to keep it that way.

Did his mum speak another language? Or his dad? He must have, if it’s a wizarding thing. Did he speak Hindi? Or – some other Indian language. He doesn’t even know enough of them to wonder at which one his dad might have spoken. Maybe Sirius and Remus know. That’s something he can ask them when he sees them next week.

Hermione’s eyes narrow, but before she can say anything a hush falls over the table, and Harry realizes everyone is staring at the space just behind them. They turn around.

Krum is standing there, eyes locked on Hermione. “Ah, excuse me,” he says in accented English, “is there, perhaps, a seat available for me at this table?”

A bunch of people scramble to make room, but he doesn’t react. He keeps his gaze on Hermione, unmoving. Her face goes red, and she slowly reaches out for her bookbag, grabs it by the handle, then does nothing. Harry will kick her if she doesn’t do something soon.

She pushes her bookbag to the ground, something he’s never seen her do before, and meets Krum’s eyes. “Yes,” she says, and then can’t seem to think of anything else.

A disarmingly handsome smile overtakes Krum’s face, and Harry moves over so he’s not crowded in between him and Hermione. Or maybe he shouldn’t have moved? Maybe Hermione wanted Krum to be too close?

“I’m Viktor,” he says, offering her his hand.

“Hermione,” she returns, placing her hand in his. Then Viktor twists their clasped hands and pulls them up so he can kiss her knuckles.

Harry is certain he hears some of the girls down the table screaming. He turns to Ron, pleased by this turn of events, but Ron isn’t laughing anymore. He’s got the darkest scowl Harry’s ever seen on his best friend’s face, and he freezes, not sure what to do.

He looks to the Slytherin table, knowing Draco can’t do anything to help him out while they’re in the middle of the Great hall, but searching him out anyway.

He finds him, seated now, but still surrounded by Beauxbatons students. Pressed up against his side, with an arm over his shoulder, is one of the prettiest girls Harry has ever seen. She’s got blonde hair and clear skin, and everything about her is so perfectly formed that she looks like one of the Veelas that had poured onto the quidditch pitch during the World Cup.

Harry’s good mood drops instantly. There’s no reason for it, she’s not doing anything wrong, and neither is Draco. Ron has sat like that with Harry before, there’s nothing inappropriate about it. But – if there was – would he be allowed to get mad at that? He thinks of Charlie asking if he had a boyfriend at the train station, and – does he? Draco is his soulmate, but does that mean they’re boyfriends? Are they just dating my default? Or – are they – not?

He groans and drops his head down on the table with a painful smack. “Same,” Ron sighs, patting him on the back.

His entire life is a nightmare.

~

Fleur is a delight, and it was instantly obvious that she’s the most interesting student at the school. Pansy keeps up with the rest of the students in French perfectly, while Blaise, who’s fluent in Italian and only passable in French, spends a lot of time looking bored. Luckily, bored is a good look on him, because several cute boys and girls from Beauxbatons ask if he’s single.

Fleur also has an interest in charms, and is looking to get an apprenticeship after she graduates, and figures being a Triwizard Champion will look good on her resume, even if she doesn’t win. They’re already making plans to visit each other during the summer by the time dinner ends, and he almost hopes she doesn’t get picked as champion, if only so she’ll have more free time to hang out. But also if she’s not picked as champion, then clearly everything is rigged, because she’s fabulous.

“Careful,” Pansy whispers in his ear as they’re getting up to go back to the dorms, “your boy is looking green eyed.”

He blinks and looks to the Gryffindor table. Harry catches his eye immediately, and Draco blows him a kiss. Anyone who sees it will just assume he’s mocking him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says, “his eyes are always green.”

~

He keeps himself up all night, tossing and turning and thinking about Draco, pressing his hand against the iris on his hip.  He almost reaches for his mirror a dozen times, but doesn’t do it. He doesn’t even know what he’d say. I saw you talking to a girl, and I didn’t like it? I thought this whole thing had to be a mistake when it first happened, but it’s been a couple years and now I’m pretty sure it could never have been anyone else? Are we boyfriends?

Every single option makes him want to punch himself in the face, so he does none of them.

He meets up with Ron and Hermione in time to watch Fred and George taking the aging potion. “You know that’s not going to work, right?” Ron asks, amused.

“Oh, little of brother of little faith!” George says, “It will work.”

“I have a more important question,” Hermione says, raising an eyebrow. “The aging potion isn’t an overnight brew. So, you just had this? What on earth could you be using an aging potion for?”

The twins turn to her, scandalized. “Hermione,” Fred says, “I don’t know what on earth you could be implying, but I’m certain I’m offended by it.”

“Uh huh,” she says dryly. “Hurry up now, I’m interested to see how this will blow up in your faces.”

Thirty seconds later she’s proven right, literally, and the sight of the twins as old men is funny enough that Harry can’t help but laughing, even though he’s exhausted.

Lee is there, shaking his head, and offers to escort them to the hospital wing.

“My back!” Fred groans, “Being old is awful! Why does anyone do this?”

“We don’t really get a choice in the matter, as I understand it,” Lee says. “Up and on your feet, Grandpa.”

“Don’t disrespect your elders,” George says, midway through French braiding his beard. “Why, back in my day, when I was a young whippersnapper–”

Harry tugs on Ron and Hermione’s arms, still snickering, “Come on, let’s get out of here before they turn it into a production.”

“I think they already have,” Ron says, “but sure. Where are we going?”

“Hagrid’s,” Harry says, “I still need to ask him about a place to practice Quidditch, and I keep getting distracted. Angelina’s had us all running laps around the castle and stuff, which is important and whatever, but I want to get back on a broom.”

“Could be worse?” Ron offers. “At least you’re not on the Slytherin team.”

Harry shivers. Cassius had taken his new unofficial appointment as captain very seriously, and had made the team do pull ups until someone threw up. Although, anyone who survived his training was going to be hell to face on the pitch. “Good point.”

The visit to Hagrid’s is largely unhelpful, because he spends most of it getting sidetracked by talking about Madame Maxine. Harry does manage to secure a promise that Hagrid will try to find a place for them to play quidditch.

But it takes so long that they end up having to run back to the castle in order to avoid missing the announcement of the champions. Hagrid runs back with them, but quickly outpaces them, thanks to his much longer legs.

“Unbelievable,” Hermione pants.

“Love makes people do crazy things,” Ron says.

She pauses in running to stare at him. “What?”

“Never mind,” Harry pushes them both forward, “come on, let’s go, we don’t want to be late.”

They make it into their seats just as the fire in the goblet changes color.

It has begun.

            ~

Krum as the Durmstrang champion is an obvious choice, honestly he would have been more surprised if it wasn’t him.

Then Fleur gets picked for Beauxbatons, which is brilliant, he cheers louder for her than for Krum. He may be a fan, but Fleur is friend. Or if she’s not yet, she will be.

The hall goes silent, waiting, and the slip of paper comes from the goblet.

The Hogwarts champion is Cedric Diggory.

A few weeks ago he may be been irritated by that choice, but he has a new respect for Hufflepuffs. Besides, he’s a seeker, a quidditch captain, and a prefect. They’d be hard pressed to find someone more suitable on credentials alone.

Then, just as Dumbledore is getting up to speak, the goblet changes color again, and it spits out a fourth slip of paper.

There’s a pit of dread in the bottom of his stomach, and he just knows who’s name is written there. Can’t they just have one normal year?

“HARRY POTTER!” the Headmaster calls out. “Harry Potter! Get up here, my boy. Harry Potter, come along now.”

There’s a split second, where Draco wonders if Harry did this on purpose. Then he sees his soulmate’s face as he woodenly walks down the great the hall, and he knows he didn’t. He wouldn’t have put his name in the goblet to begin with, even if he could have, and if he’d figured out a way to bypass the age restrictions, he would have told Draco.

This means someone else did this. Someone put his soulmate’s name in the goblet, someone is to blame for Harry being forced to participate in these ridiculous, suicidal games.

Draco’s going to find out who that someone is. And when he does, he’s going to kill them.

 

Chapter Text

Finally, finally Harry gets to leave, and he almost wishes the other champions had been mean about it, had glared or cursed him out, or – something. They’d been frustrated, and Cedric had to have been furious, he had to be, but none of them had down more than give him disappointed glances.

He doesn’t want to go back to the common room, doesn’t want to face all his housemates. They’d been cheering when his name got called, but no one else had, and – this doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t feel right. He’s getting tired of people congratulating him for things he didn’t do, for things he didn’t want to do. That’s why he likes quidditch. At least when people admire him for that, it’s because he’s earned it.

He’s just made up his mind to go to Hagrid, who will pat him on the back and give him rock cakes and let Fang slobber all over him, when someone grabs his elbow and yanks him down the corridor. He struggles for a second before he catches sight of bushy brown hair. “Hermione! What are you doing?”

“Quiet,” she hisses, and continues dragging him. It takes him about two turns to figure out they’re heading to their favorite empty classroom, and she really doesn’t have to continue pulling him. He’s going to end up with bruises the shape of her fingers at this rate. But it’s easier to do what she wants than to argue, so he says nothing as she takes them to the classroom and shoves them both inside, casting a locking and sound muffling charm behind her.

He barely manages to catch a glimpse of the Slytherins before Ron grabs the front of his robes and pushes him against the door, and this close it really does hurt Harry’s neck to have to look up at him. “How did you get your name in the goblet?” he demands, freckles standing out against his pale skin and his mouth set in a scowl. “You said no more secrets!”

“I didn’t!” he yells, glaring. “Of course I didn’t, how could you – I said no more secrets, and I meant it! You know everything about me, you know about my Parseltongue and my soulmate and my nightmares and – you know everything! I didn’t put my name in the goblet, because if I had you would already know about it!”

He and Ron glare at each other for several long moments, and Harry can feel his heart beating against his sternum, and he can’t tell if he wants to scream or cry, because if his best friend doesn’t believe him –

Ron sighs and lets go of Harry’s robes, slumping down at an awkward angle and rubbing the back of his neck. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

“Did you want me to be lying to you?” he asks, but his anger leaves him as quickly as it came.

“It’s better than the alternative,” Ron says, “Well, I mean, less dangerous at least. Because this means someone tampered with the Goblet, probably by adding a fourth school and just submitting your name. That’s serious magic, nothing a student would know, which means someone snuck into Hogwarts, something that’s historically unlikely to impossible, and did it. Someone’s trying to kill you, Harry.”

Ron cares about studying about as much as Harry cares about polishing his shoes, so not at all, and sometimes Harry forgets how smart he is. “That’s exactly what Moody said.”

“You don’t have to do it,” Draco says, and he sounds normal but when Harry looks over he sees the tightness around his eyes and mouth. Blaise is stone faced, but Pansy is twisting the bottom of her skirt in her hands, wrinkling it horribly. It’s probably a little messed up that Pansy wrinkling her skirt is the most concerning reaction he’s seen all night. “You don’t have to compete.”

“They said it was a legally binding contract?” he says, because surely if it was so easy they would have just let him out of it. No one was happy about him being the fourth champion, himself included.

Hermione crosses her arms, “That’s ridiculous! You’re fourteen, how could anything involving you be legally binding? You’re a kid!”

Blaise snorts, “Oh, that’s not a problem. It’s not – legally binding, per se. But it is binding.”

Why must they always go through this? “Guys,” Harry points to Hermione, “muggleborn,” then points to himself, “muggle raised. What are you talking about?”

“The goblet is a protected artifact, isn’t it?” Ron asks, resigned. “Dad hates those, they’re not allowed to destroy them or even tamper with them to make them less dangerous, and they always somehow manage to fall into muggle hands.”

“It’s a protected artifact,” Pansy confirms.

Ron groans, and some of Blaise’s stoicism bleeds into amusement. Draco explains, “The goblet’s fire won’t go out until the tournament is complete, and it’s – the thing is, the goblet is alive, in a way, and it’s – it’s a Legilimens, kind of. I mean, not really, because it’s an object, and not a person, but it has to pick the most suitable candidate, right? It’s not random. So, just based on someone’s name, it somehow gains access to their personality and history and abilities, and decides who’s most likely to survive the tournament.”

“Wait,” Harry says, “it decides? I thought we didn’t trust things that could think if we couldn’t see where it keeps its brains?”

“We don’t,” Blaise says grimly. “But the goblet is ancient, and it’s – no one knows what it is, really, we use it for the Triwizard Tournament now, but that wasn’t the original purpose. It was used to pick champions to fight in dueling tournaments.”

Pansy adds, “And back then? You won a duel by killing your opponent. In order to prevent it from being a slaughter, the goblet was used so that people below a certain skill level wouldn’t be allowed to compete.”

“It didn’t stop the killing,” Draco says, “but it meant that instead of a champion having to kill fifty people to win, they’d only have to kill about five. You can thank Godric Gryffindor for that – there are reports of him being challenged by over a hundred people at one tournament. He’s the one that walked away. After that, someone showed up with the goblet, but whether it was made during that time or before is anyone guess.”

Harry recoils at the bit about his house’s founder. But, well, the history books did say he was a dueling champion. He’d just never considered what that meant before. Hermione’s frowning, but Ron doesn’t look at all surprised at Draco’s statement, which Harry can only assume means he already knew.

“The magic is so delicate and old that no one wants to risk using diagnostic spells on it,” Ron guesses, and sighs when Pansy nods.

“I still don’t see why any of this means Harry’s forced to participate in these stupid games,” Hermione says.

Blaise says, “The Goblet can’t stay lit forever, it’s not meant to and the magic won’t be able to sustain it, and it will break, probably with an explosion. It can only be put back to – sleep, I guess, by the slip of paper with the participants name being put back in with their final scores written on it. It knows if they’re lying.”

“So we put my name back in with a zero, and I’m done!” Harry says, “That’s great, let’s do that.”

Judging by the Slytherins’s faces, it’s not nearly that easy. “It was made to choose a champion to duel to the death,” Pansy say quietly, “Non participation isn’t an option. It’s connected to you now, Harry. It’ll know if you don’t participate, if you lie.”

It feels like there’s ice water down his spine, “It’s connected to me? How?”

“The same as the other champions, the same as everyone who put their name in. It senses you, and looks at you, and knows everything about you, because it has to in order to pick the best champion,” Pansy explains. “You can’t run, and you can’t hide. It’s – Harry, it’s connected to your magic, and if you don’t participate, it’ll kill you. The price for cowardice is death.”

Well, that’s horrifying, and definitely sounds like something his house’s founder would have done, if he killed over a hundred people at a single dueling tournament.

“So the only way to sever the connection is to destroy the goblet,” Ron says, scowling. “But since it’s a protected object, they can’t do it. Not without petitioning the Wizengamot, and getting a trial, and winning the trial.”

“Which would take a year, at least, with all the red tape,” Pansy says. “So they’re not going to even bother.”

Harry slumps and rubs his hand over his face. “This is a mess. How do I always get in these situations?”

“You don’t have to compete,” Draco says.

“You just said the only way to sever the connection was for Harry to complete the tournament, or to destroy the goblet!” Hermione glares.

Draco says nothing, just continues looking at them with an even stare.

“No way!” Ron says, “No, no – even if we could, if we get caught we’ll go to jail. Not the normal one either, not some magically reinforced cell in Wales – we’ll get sent to Azkaban! Destroying a protected object is a big deal, and not even your dad or your money could save you from it.”

“I didn’t say you had to help,” Draco snaps. “But the alternative is Harry participating in these stupid games, and maybe dying. If it’s us in a cell, or Harry in a grave, which one would you rather have?”

The thing is, Harry knows they would do it. All of them. They would try and destroy the goblet to protect him, because they’re his friends, and risk getting sent to Azkaban. Risk getting sent to the place that nearly managed to destroy his godfather. “No.”

“It’s worth the risk,” Hermione says, crossing her arms. Sometimes Harry thinks of the eleven year old who was so terrified of getting caught in the forbidden corridor, and he compares her to this determined young woman willing to break actual laws, and three years doesn’t seem like that much time, but clearly it is.

“No,” he repeats. “Look, other kids are participating, they don’t want it to be too deadly. They’re not planning for anyone to die, and I’m not trying to win this. I don’t care about the prize money, about the fame, about any of it. If I have to participate, fine, I’ll do that. But I’m not going to win. I shouldn’t be a champion in the first place, I didn’t earn it like the others did, and it wouldn’t be fair if I won.”

“It would, actually, since you’re up against people who are older and know way more magic than you,” Pansy says dryly.

Draco stalks forward and grabs Harry’s chin, tilting his face so he can look him in the eye. Harry’s heart beats faster. His soulmates eyes are looking into his, and he’s close, only inches separating him. “No stupid, foolhardy Gryffindor heroics. If you do this, you don’t compete to win. You compete to survive.”

“Yes, dear,” he says. Draco rolls his eyes and slaps him upside the head, but his shoulders are looser, his face doesn’t look as tight.

“You know what this means, don’t you?” Hermione asks.

Harry blinks, confused, but Ron’s face twists in disgust. “Research,” he says, and Harry coughs to hide his laughter.

Draco and Hermione look cheered at the prospect, at least. No one else does.

~

Harry gets up early the next day to send a letter to Remus, updating him about his status as the fourth champion. He’s probably already seen it in the papers, but he figures the least he can do is tell him himself. He says not to worry, and that everything is fine, but that part is directed more at Sirius. He only addresses his letters to his former professor just in case they get intercepted, but he knows for a fact that Sirius reads all of them, and that Remus’s replies are from them both.

Suddenly, it seems like next week can’t come fast enough. Hopefully they’ll have some tips on how not to die in this ridiculous tournament.

He doesn’t have too much time to worry about it, because he has to hurry if he doesn’t want to be late to potions. He’s not especially looking forward to it, and not just because of Snape’s charming personality. Draco had called him on the mirror last night to tell him he’d had a great idea, and not to take it personally, which probably means he’s going to get mocked and teased in some way for most of the class.

~

Draco is exhausted. He was up the whole night charming enough buttons for the entire Slytherin house. The actual charming hadn’t taken that long, but figuring out the correct combination of charms had. He’d wanted them to look normal while they said ‘Support Cedric Diggory – the real Hogwarts Champion!’ but when they switched to ‘Potter Stinks!’ he wanted them to light up, and it on top of it all he needed to make them impossible to tamper with, otherwise what was the point.

Blaise refused to be kept up by his project, so Draco had moved everything to the common room. He was the only one up, and it had given him enough room to really spread everything out and work. Finding an appropriate material to hold the charms had been half the battle, and he’d kept sending Winky to the manor to grab tin or copper or silver or some other random metal. An iron and copper mix ended up holding all the spells best, and Millie had come out to find him and Winky carefully melting and mixing metal together in the middle of the common room over a roaring fire that was in Winky’s control. Because Millie’s great, she’d offered to help instead of yelling at him.

But he’d done it, and he’d left a huge basket of them next to the door of the common room. Everyone had grabbed one, from the first to the seventh years. So now he’s sitting in potions class, and the Slytherin half of the common room has his buttons pinned to their chests. It’s oddly satisfying to see people wearing his spellwork.

The Gryffindors are furious, which is delightful. Hermione is glaring at him something awful, but he thinks that has more to do with his charm integration than anything else. He’s pretty sure she hadn’t known he could do that. Ron is scowling, but Draco can tell he’s amused by the way his eyes are crinkling in the corner. All the other lions are outright glaring at him, and he loves it. He learned young that any press was good press if you smiled prettily enough.

Harry comes rushing into class, barely avoiding being late. He stops in front of the Slytherin half, blinking. The look of exasperated irritation his soulmate gives him isn’t staged at all, and he’d start laughing if it wasn’t undignified. “See something you like, Potter?”

“Nope, just a bunch of slimey snakes,” he says, and maybe they’ve been spending too much time together, because Draco can read the question in the tilt of Harry’s head and his raised eyebrow.

He gives the tiniest of shrugs, and reaches into his robes for his wand. He’s down to start a fight if Harry is, especially since their last one got interrupted. At least if they get thrown out of the classroom, Snape won’t get a chance to be too horrible to Harry.

They trade insults, and Hermione gets involved, which he hadn’t been expecting, but her unsubtle looks at his wand and then down at herself, he figures she wants him to curse her instead of Harry. Which he doesn’t get, but sure, the more of them he gets in a fight with the merrier, he guesses. He uses the same disfigurement curse that he’s been planning to throw at Harry last time, before Moody had interrupted them.

Harry throws the same curse back, but it doesn’t hit him, and hits Goyle instead. Draco very nearly rolls his eyes. Harry has pretty good aim and they’re like ten feet apart. The only way he could miss him is if he did it on purpose.

Snape finally starts acting like an actual teacher and puts a stop to it, and sends Goyle to the hospital wing. But he doesn’t send Hermione. Her teeth are growing past her chin now, and if someone doesn’t do something they won’t stop. Draco knows the counter hex, but he can’t use it, obviously. The worst part is he knows Snape knows it too, but if he hadn’t bothered to cast it on Goyle he’s definitely not going to cast it on Granger.

“She needs to go to the hospital wing!” Ron says angrily.

“She looks fine to me,” Snape says coolly, and Draco wants to throw the curse back at him. Can the man pretend to be an adult for two minutes?

Hermione’s eyes are filled with tears, and he really hadn’t planned for this, for Snape not to let her leave. Lavender Brown gets to her feet and snags Hermione’s elbow, “Come on, I’ll take you to Madame Pomfrey.”

“I didn’t say you could leave,” Snape says silkily. Draco glances around him, and he’s not alone – no one in their year looks impressed with their head of house right now.

Lavender takes out her wand, and with a quick twist of her wrist she forces the classroom door open. “We’re not asking permission,” she snarls, and pulls Hermione away.

Snape’s face is thunderous, and there’s definitely a detention in their future. Everyone else settles into their seats.

Except for Harry. Of course.

“Do you have anything to add, Mr. Potter?” Snape asks, clearly itching for a reason to give him detention.

Harry opens his mouth, which is never a good sign. Luckily, he’s saved by a tentative knock on the door. Every looks over to see Colin Creevy hovering in the doorway, reluctant to step inside. “Um, sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt. But all the champions are getting their wands weighed. So, uh, Harry has to go. With me. Now. If that’s okay?”

Snape turns his back and pretends like Colin isn’t there, but doesn’t do anything when Harry stiffly gathers his bag and walks out the room.

He catches Pansy’s eye. She shrugs, and he sighs before focusing on the spidery instructions written on the blackboard. He has to make sure he knows how to make this potion perfectly so he can teach it to Hermione later.

~

Maybe if Harry hadn’t already been so upset when he stepped into that room, he would have been able to handle it better. But all he can think of is Hermione crying, and him just standing there and doing nothing. He didn’t deserve to be a champion if he couldn’t even stand up for his friends.

The knowledge that Hermione hadn’t wanted him to stand up for her didn’t help. She’d made frantic motions behind her back telling them to stay seated, which he’s pretty sure is the only reason Ron didn’t march to the front of the classroom and punch Snape in the face. Ron’s tall, and strong. He could probably break something if he tried.

So he’d done what his friend wanted him to do, and he shouldn’t feel bad about it, but he does. He feels bad about this whole Triwizard Tournament situation, so when Rita Skeeter hooks her arm in his and tries to pull him away from the others while cooing about him being the other Hogwarts champion, he snaps.

“Don’t touch me!” He slips from her grip, glaring, and backs over to the other champions. The way they crowd in closer, closing ranks around him even though he knows they’re mad at him, makes him feel even worse. He’s not brave and kind like them. He doesn’t belong here.

“Harry dear,” she says, voice and smile saccharine sweet, “I just need a few minutes, a private word if you will, for my article.”

She reaches for him again, and Fleur leans forward to grab her wrist, glaring. Her French accent comes out even thicker when she’s angry. “He said not to touch him.”

“Is this really necessary?” she says, and the calculating look in her eyes reminds him of all the horrible things Pansy had said about her. She may seem like just a tacky gossip reporter, but he should remember that she’s dangerous. Anyone that can make Pansy wary is dangerous. “Everyone’s curious about the second Hogwarts champion.”

“There is no second Hogwarts champion!” he steps forward, placing a hand on Fleur’s shoulder to let her know she can let go of Skeeter’s wrist. She does, and Skeeter pulls it back to chest, rubbing at it more than can possibly be necessary.

“Can I quote you on that?” she asks, delighted.

Harry has faced Voldemort himself, and somehow the dark lord managed to be less annoying than this woman. “Yes. There is only one Hogwarts champion, and it’s Cedric Diggory. He earned his place here, same as Fleur Delacour and Viktor Krum. I’m stuck here thanks to the goblet, but I do not represent Hogwarts. Cedric does. He’s the best we have, which is why he’s here.”

“So who do you represent?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he says, “I’m not a champion. I’m collateral damage from a faulty enchanted goblet that was made a thousand years ago.”

She looks way too pleased with his answer for him to sleep well tonight. He’s debating whether he should say more, or let it lie, when an arm settles over his shoulder and guides him away. “Come on,” Cedric says, voice warm. “We have to get our wands inspected.”

Harry blinks, and glances over. Both Fleur and Viktor are smiling at him, and he flushes, scratching his nose in an attempt to hide it.

He hadn’t been trying to get them on his side by saying those things, he’d just been angry. But he does feel a whole lot lighter now that they aren’t mad at him.

~

“Hey, Malfoy, wait up! Draco!”

It’s his free period and he’s on his way back to his bed, because he hasn’t slept in over a day, and he wants a nap, for Merlin’s sake. He has training with the Slytherin quidditch team after dinner, and Cassius couldn’t care less about him being sleep deprived if he tried for a week. So he’s incredibly tempted to ignore that voice and keep walking, but he just knows he’ll regret it. He sighs and turns around, “What?”

Susan Bones catches up to him, then taps the button on his chest and asks, “Got any more of these?”

He stares. “Why?”

She gives him an unimpressed look. “To wear, obviously. I asked a group of second years, and they said you made them.”

“I did,” he says. Before the Hufflepuff’s display when Moody cast the Imperio charm on Pansy, and Susan winking at him, he would have found this to be a very strange conversation. “I can make you one. I think they’re might be a couple left over in the common room, actually, I can grab one and give it to you at lunch,”

Susan smirks. It’s very uncomfortable for him to see a Hufflepuff smirking. “No, that’s not what I meant. I don’t want it just for me – I want it for my whole house. A hundred fifty should cover it.”

His jaw drops. “Are you crazy? No way your whole house will wear them! They’re too – fair.”

“Exactly,” she says, “Do you know what’s not fair? Harry getting thrown into the tournament, and taking the spotlight away from Cedric. It’s not fair to Harry, or to Cedric, and for the record? My whole house is pissed about it.”

He crosses his arms and looks her in the eye, searching for any signs of deceit. “Fine. But I’m leaving in the Potter Stinks part.”

“Sure,” she says, “I like Harry, but he’ll have to get over it. He can take a joke – it’s so juvenile anyway, I hardly think he’ll stay awake at night crying over it. Why’d you pick it?”

“I didn’t want them to say something the professors could get upset about,” he says, and not that the last thing he wants to do is actually hurt his soulmate’s feelings. “The point is to wear them, not get them confiscated and banned.”

Susan gives him a calculating look, and she reminds him way too much of her aunt. “Okay, great, when can I have them?”

“I can do them tonight, I guess,” he says. It’s won’t take all night since he actually knows how to make them, and he can have Winky melt the metals together while he’s in the abandoned classroom with everyone. It’s unfortunate that the spells have to applied to the metal while it’s still in its liquid form to stick, otherwise he’d have Winky pour and set them too.

“Great! I’ll get them from you at breakfast. Thanks Draco!” Susan waves at him before going in the opposite direction. He can’t believe he’s consorting with Hufflepuffs these days. Harry is having a horrible influence on him.

He can worry about that later. He has a solid three hours before transfiguration if he sleeps through lunch, which he’s absolutely planning to do, and he’s not going to waste any more time worrying about Susan Bones.

~

Harry and the other champions don’t get released until after lunch has passed, and Hermione has arithmancy with the Hufflepuffs after, so Harry doesn’t get a chance to see her until dinner. Krum isn’t sitting next to her today, instead he’s at the Ravenclaw table and surrounded by people asking him questions. He seems comfortable with it in a way Harry doesn’t think he’ll ever be, but his gaze keeps slipping over to the Gryffindor table. More specifically, to Hermione.

He throws his arms around her from behind, and he didn’t used to be a touchy person, he’s pretty sure he can blame the Weasleys for this. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine!” she says, patting his hands and trying to twist around in his arms to look at him. He lets go and sits beside her, Ron on her other side. “Really Harry, it wasn’t a big deal.”

“You were crying,” he says. Anything that makes his friends cry is a big deal. He blinks and adds, “Your mouth looks different.” 

She flushes and Ron snorts. He flicks her in the arm, “Big fat crocodile tears, weren’t they Hermione?”

“What?” Harry asks. “What are you talking about?”

“They weren’t fake,” she says after glancing around to make sure no one is bothering to try and eavesdrop on them. “I’m a frustrated crier, you know that. But – I may have, well, exaggerated. Just a bit.”

“Did you really need to go through that whole master plan just to change your teeth?” Ron asks. “I know you told Draco to hit you with the curse, and that can’t have been your only reason. Did you tell Lavender beforehand to walk you out, or did she just do it out of the kindness of her heart?”

“You told him to hit you?” Harry asks, confused. “When?”

“During class,” he says, “Harry, come on, she wasn’t subtle.”

“I was, actually,” Hermione says before he can answer. “You’re just unnaturally perceptive sometimes.”

Ron’s face scrunches up, like he’s trying to figure out whether or not he should take it as a compliment. Harry thinks it is, although he also thinks that Hermione didn’t mean it as one, considering how irritated she’d sounded when she said it. He doesn’t get a chance to voice any of this before a plain brown barn owl swoops down in front of him and drops a scroll onto his plate.

He unrolls it, then reads the short note a half dozen times. He doesn’t get it.

In the thirty seconds that he’s looked away, Ron and Hermione have managed to get into another argument. “Guys!” he says, leaning over so he can physically get between them. “Look at this.”

It says: Tonight. Midnight. Flamel’s fireplace.

It’s in Remus’s handwriting, and he knows the other two recognize it thanks to all of his hand graded essays. “Flamel’s fireplace?” Hermione says quietly. “Is that a shop name or something? Maybe he wants you to meet them in Hogsmead.”

Ron shakes his head, “If it is, I’ve never heard of it. Besides, he’s meeting them on our next trip there anyway. It has be someplace in the castle – maybe where the philosopher’s stone was kept? I don’t remember there being a fireplace anywhere.”

Harry looks over at the Slytherin table, then stuffs the letter back into his bag. “We’ll ask them tonight when we meet up. If they don’t know, then I’ll send an owl telling Remus he has to be more specific.”

~

Draco still wants to sleep for a week, but he feels about a thousand time better after his nap. Cassius wants them to run laps around the lake right after dinner, so he and the rest of the Slytherin team aren’t wearing robes. Instead he’s in his quidditch practice undergear, so basically just too tight pants and a long sleeve. They’re not flying, so it would be silly of him to put on his full gear. He makes sure to smirk at every appreciate glance that comes his way.

Why are you eating dinner in your pajamas?” Fleur asks in French, elbowing Crabbe out of the way so she can sit next to him.

He flicks one of his peas at her. “As if I would sleep in anything but silk. I didn’t want to go back to my room to change.”

And you like the attention you get when you wear tight clothes,” she smirks, elbowing him in the side.

He sniffs, putting his nose in the air. He’s lucky Pansy is deep in her own conversation and Blaise abandoned them for Millie as soon as they started speaking French, otherwise they’d never let him hear the end of that one. Like Pansy has any room to talk, with her short skirts and unbuttoned shirts. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Her smile softens, and she switches over to English to say, “I think I have changed my mind about Harry Potter. He is not so bad, and it is not fair that he is stuck being in the tournament.”

Draco is kind of relieved, because he didn’t want Harry to have to deal with the other champions giving him shit on top of trying to stay alive. But he can’t say any of that, so instead he rolls his eyes, “Not you too! He’s an attention seeking moron.”

Don’t be rude,” she says fondly, then kisses his cheek. “Do not worry. You are my absolute favorite Hogwarts student, Harry Potter included.”

Several boys and girls are giving him jealous looks, and it takes everything he has not to preen at having their eyes on him. The irony of him always complaining about Harry being attention seeking is not lost on him.

By the exasperated look on Fleur’s face, it’s not lost on her either. Luckily, she’s too nice to call him on it.

~

That night, Harry is running late coming from Hagrid’s, and he had in fact made Harry rock cakes and pat him on the back and let Fang slobber all over him. None of that should make him feel better at being forced to participate the death tournament, but it does. He expects to be the last one to arrive at their abandoned classroom. But he gets there and looks around their classroom in confusion. “Where are Ron and Draco?”

“Draco had quidditch practice, he should be here soon,” Blaise says.

“But they still haven’t found a suitable place to fly, so I don’t know what’s taking him so long,” Pansy complains, seemingly more focused on shaping her nails than her missing friends.

Hermione rolls her eyes, head buried in book. “I have no idea where Ron is, he got a letter about an hour ago and ran out of the common room.”

Harry’s eyebrows draw together. That doesn’t sound like Ron – he hopes everything is all right. But if something were wrong, he would have heard it from either the twins or Ginny. He thinks.

The door is thrust open, and Ron strides inside, grinning. “You will not believe what I found out!” He looks around the room and his smile drops. “Where’s Draco? I was late on purpose! I was trying to make an entrance, and the bastard isn’t even here to appreciate it.”

“My apologies,” his soulmate’s voice drawls.

Ron jumps and whirls around, jabbing Draco in the chest. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

“I didn’t sneak, you just didn’t notice me. I’m pretty sure those are two different things,” he pushes Ron forward into the classroom and closes the door behind them.

Ron huffs and boosts himself up to sit on top of one of the desks. He’s so tall that it seems more for show than anything else. He basically could have just gone on his tip toes and achieved the same thing. “You sneaked. It was very sneaky. I have been snuck up on.”

“I literally just walked in behind you,” he answers.

Harry means to say something to that, but finds he can’t say anything at all because his tongue is glued to the top of his mouth.

He’d seen how Draco was dressed during dinner, entirely covered but with everything clinging to him like a second skin, and he’d done his best to ignore it because he’d also seen Fleur kiss his soulmate’s cheek, and if he thought about any of that in any combination for too long he would literally explode.

Now is worse. Draco’s hair is a mess, and he’s literally dripping with sweat, making the already tight clothes cling to him in an even worse way. He pushes his hair out his eyes, and it’s just short enough that he can’t put it in a ponytail, but long enough that it keeps getting in his way.

“Why is it so hot in here?” Draco complains, and this has to be a nightmare, because he reaches down and yanks his shirt up, using the bottom of it to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Harry doesn’t know how well Cassius’s insane training will translate once they’re back on a broom, but it’s certainly dong – something.

This is the worst and he wants to die.

Pansy wolf whistles, causing Draco to drop his shirt, thank merlin. “Putting on show, Draco?”

That was definitely the wrong – or right – thing for Pansy to say, because he raises an eyebrow. Then in one fluid motion he pulls off his shirt entirely, hand on his hip and standing tall as he quiet obviously flexes. “Why? See something you like?”

Blaise just sighs like he sees this all the time, and considering they share a room together he very well might. Pansy transfigures her nail file into a fan just so she can lean back and fan herself dramatically, but the overall effect is ruined by how hard she’s biting her lip to keep from laughing. Hermione glances up from her book only long enough to roll her eyes.

“Oi!” Ron says, “I came here with very important information to share, you know. I refuse to be upstaged by your abs. Put those away.”

Draco sighs like he finds them all very bothersome, but casts a scourgify charm on himself to get rid of the dirt and sweat from his body and clothes. He doesn’t put the shirt back on, instead banishing it back to his room and summoning a tank top for the French quidditch team the Quiberon Quafflepunchers. It’s the same color as the player’s uniforms, meaning a bright, obnoxious pink.

“My eyes have suffered so much tonight,” Ron complains.

“Your entire room is Chudley Cannons orange, I won’t accept any criticism from you,” Draco says, finally putting it on. It should look ridiculous on him, but it doesn’t, and Harry thinks he might have a problem.

He realizes it’s probably pretty weird that he hasn’t said anything for the last several minutes. This is hardly the first time he’s seen Draco shirtless, he made him strip just a couple weeks ago so he could see for himself the damage Moody had done. But for some reason this is … different.

Hermione puts her book aside. “All right Ron, we’re all here and we’re listening. What’s your very important news?”

Ron spreads out his arms, beaming. “The good news is I know what the first task is! The bad news is it’s dragons. You’re going to have to get past dragons. The other good news is that my brother Charlie is here. He says hi, and that he hopes you don’t die.”

“DRAGONS?” Draco and Hermione yell.

Blaise eyes go wide as galleons. Pansy drops her file-turned-fan.

He looks entirely too pleased with himself, Harry thinks, considering he’s basically just told them that Harry’s going to be a snack for an overgrown lizard. How is he supposed to get past a dragon? “Please tell me Charlie has some advice on how not to get eaten.”

“Not really,” Ron admits, “he shouldn’t have shown me the dragons in the first place, it was seriously against the rules. He could get in a lot of trouble if his boss finds out.”

“We’ll go ask Hagrid,” Hermione decides. “He’ll know about them.”

Draco nods, “Let’s go right now. There’s only a couple of days until the first task, we don’t have time to waste.”

Everyone gets up, like all six of them are just going to go traipsing down to Hagrid’s hut in the middle of the night. Which first of all, no, and second of all he has to meet Remus and Sirius somewhere in like an hour, and he doesn’t even know where.

Whenever he’s the voice of reason, it’s a sign that things have gone horribly awry.

“Guys,” he says, “I’ll ask him tomorrow. I need to talk to him about the quidditch pitch anyway. I need to find Flamel’s fireplace, whatever that is.”

“What?” Blaise asks. “What are you talking about?” Harry takes the note out of his pocket and hands it over to the Slytherins. Pansy snatches it from his hands and holds it up so they can all read it. “Flamel the alchemist?”

Draco hits his forehead. “Obviously! It’s the alchemy classroom.”

“Not the classroom,” Pansy corrects, “the office attached to the classroom. The classroom fireplaces aren’t attached to the floo network, but the offices are.”

“Let’s see the map,” Blaise says, holding out his hand in Hermione’s direction.

She pulls it from her bag and hands it over. “I don’t understand, we don’t have any alchemy classes.”

“Yeah, now.” Pansy says. “Do you think abandoned classrooms appear out of thin air? Hogwarts used to teach a lot more subjects. Alchemy is one of them. But after Flamel stopped teaching, it fell out of practice.”

“Everyone was so busy trying to make their own philosopher’s stone, that they didn’t bother learning the rest of alchemy,” Blaise adds, unfolding the map.

They all crowd around it, and the thing is the map shows where the walls of the castle are, because that’s something they could figure out by sending out a spell to track the stone work. But knowing where a room was didn’t tell them what was inside of it. Harry’s eyes get caught on the defense office – does Moody ever sleep? It seems like whenever Harry looks at the map, the man is in his office.

“You know the most about alchemy,” Pansy says, looking at Draco. “Where do you think it is?”

He rolls his eyes, and his arms are unfairly distracting in that tank top. “It’s mostly a goblin art nowadays, I only know about it at all because we employ some in Japan and Korea.” His eyes get pinched at the corners. “Really, I should go ask Luna. Her mother was an alchemist. But also whenever we talk about Pandora, there are tears, and we don’t have time for that right now.”

“She cries when she talks about her mum?” Ron asks sympathetically. Harry just knows he’s thinking about what he’d do if anything happened to Mrs. Weasley.

“No, I do. Luna doesn’t cry, she just looks disappointed, which is somehow a thousand times worse. We’ll grab her if we need her,” he decides, then leans over the map, squinting as he uses his wand to drag and focus in on different parts of the castle. “Alchemy is too volatile for the classroom to be on the upper floors, so it’s probably in the dungeons. I’d want it to be as far from the potions classroom as possible, because those two overlapping can really only end in something exploding.”

“There!” Hermione jabs the map with her wand, and a corridor in the back end of the castle takes up most of the map. “It’s got a connecting door like the other classrooms with offices do, and the walls around it are twice as thick, like the ones around the potions classroom. That has to be it.”

Everyone blinks. Draco manipulates the map to look at the potions classroom, and the walls around it are thicker than everywhere else. “I never noticed that before. Good catch.”

Hermione smiles, and tries to not looks as pleased as she feels. Harry asks, “How are we all getting there? We won’t all fit under the invisibility cloak.”

Blaise and Pansy share a quick glance, then look back. Pansy says, “You’re meeting with Professor Lupin and your godfather, right? We’ll sit this one out. Lupin doesn’t know we’re friends with you guys too, and there’s no reason for us to be spreading that information around willy nilly.”

“He wouldn’t say anything!” Harry protests.

Pansy rolls her eyes. “We know that. He can obviously keep a secret, that’s not the point. No reason to give him another secret to keep if we don’t have to.”

“We can all go back to the common room, and you three will talk to Remus,” Draco says, but he’s frowning.

Harry is disappointed, because he’d wanted Draco to be there. But he can’t say that, because it makes him sound like a kid. It’s not important, not really, but Draco won’t be able sneak away during Hogsmeade, and it’s just – he wants his godfather to get along with his soulmate. Remus already knows Draco, and likes him, kinda. But Sirius doesn’t, and it’s not like there’s a lot of opportunities for them to meet.

Maybe it’s better if he’s not there? Sirius and Remus don’t know that they’re soulmates, no one knows outside the six of them. So it’s probably better if they’re not seen together so much, even by people who know they’re friends.

All of this perfectly true, so why does he feel so miserable?  

Ron claps him on the shoulder, “Actually, I still have that transfiguration essay to do, and Hermione promised to help me write it. So we’ll head back too, if that’s all right.” Hermione gives him weird look, like she’s surprised he’s doing school work willingly, but doesn’t disagree.

“Oh,” he says, shoulders drooping. “Yeah, that’s fine.”

Draco crosses his arms, “He shouldn’t go alone! What if the classroom is dangerous? Or something goes wrong with the floo?”

“Then you go with him,” Ron says. “You’re the one who knows the most about alchemy.”

“You don’t have to,” Harry says immediately, and hopes he isn’t blushing, or if he is that no one notices. He’s lucky he doesn’t have skin like Ron’s, his is way too pale to hide anything. Then again, Hermione’s blushes are always super noticeable, and her skin is darker than his.

He tries to think of universe in which he could ask his friends how noticeable his blushes are without dying of embarrassment, and fails.

Draco shrugs, “It’s – fine, I don’t mind. I’m all caught up on my homework, so you know. It’s fine.”

“Okay,” he says, and Draco won’t look directly at him, so at least he won’t notice any blushing Harry may or may not be doing. “Cool.”

He thinks he hears the sound of Ron smacking his hand over his face, but by the time he looks over he’s busying himself with putting all of Hermione’s books in her bag.

~

They take Harry’s invisibility cloak to the old alchemy classroom, and it’s a large cloak, there’s plenty of room for the two of them as long as they stick close. But after awkwardly bumping into each other a half dozen times, Draco’s had enough, and he settles his arm over Harry’s shoulders, pulling him against his side. He feels slightly less awkward about it when Harry’s arm encircles his waist and settles on his hip, right where his soulmark is.

Merlin, has Harry always been this warm? Everyplace they’re touching feels as if it’s burning.

The classroom is a mess, and the adjoining office is the same, dusty and broken, and just walking inside ends up with both of them doubling over in a coughing fit. Harry pulls out his wand, “Scourg-”

“Wait!” Draco grabs onto his wrist. “I’ll have Winky do it. She was really happy when I asked her to mix metal for me, I think she feels neglected.”

“You know in the time it took you to say that, we could have cleaned this place up already,” Harry points out.

He rolls his eyes, “Welcome to the redundancy of house elves. If you can afford them, you don’t need them.”

He snaps his fingers three times, and Winky appears in front of them. He still gets a kick out of seeing his crest on her. He’d said to take whatever cloth from his room that she wanted to make clothes from, and she’d clearly listened, because she’s wearing a blue silk toga-dress that she must have made from his old sheet set, and it looks a lot better than what most elves wear. Elves can’t use magic to make their clothes, but don’t tend to be gifted with sewing skills, and so most of them just end up wearing pillowcases. He’s becoming more and more impressed with her fashion choices.

“Yes, Master Draco?” she asks, going into a deep curtsey. The next moment, she sneezes hard enough to send her stumbling back a few steps.

“Clean this place up, and start a fire,” he orders.

She snaps her fingers, and two cups of steaming tea appear in front of them. She snaps again, and the dust disappears, and then two the chairs place themselves in front of the ornate desk in the corner of the office. “Yes, Master Draco.”

He can take a hint, and he doesn’t want to get in her way, so he grabs his teacup out of the air and sits at the desk. After a moment of hesitation, Harry follows suit. “Don’t look,” he warns quietly, “it will just give you a headache.”

Harry frowns, and doesn’t listen to him, of course. He looks behind him, watching the room apparently clean itself before his eyes – furniture being fixed, alchemy equipment getting cleaned, stray papers sorting and organizing themselves, books getting stacked onto bookshelves of their own volition. He can see flickers of Winky out of the corner of his eye, but he knows better than to try to focus on her. He learned that the hard way when he was a kid.

After a couple of stubborn moments, Harry turns back to him, looking a little green. “I don’t understand.”

“Drink your tea,” he says, and doesn’t continue speaking until Harry picks up his teacup. “House elves can accomplish things one of two ways – magic, or doing it by hand. But doing it by hand takes too long, so they – speed it up.”

Harry continues looking at him with a completely blank expression. At least he’s drinking his tea. “If you’re about to tell me house elves can control time to do the dishes, I’m out. I’m leaving the whole wizarding world, okay, I’m gone.”

He rolls his eyes, “They can move really fast. Faster than the human eye can process. Don’t stare at them unless you want a stomach ache and an unearned sense of vertigo.”

“All done,” Winky announces.

They turn around, and the entire office is sparkling, a fire burning cheerfully in the newly polished fireplace. He beams, “Very good, Winky. You’re dismissed.” She’s gone in the next second. His tea cup is once again full, and plate of biscuits appears discreetly near his elbow. Gingersnap – his favorite. “She really is a fantastic house elf.”

“If she’s so great, why did Crouch get rid of her?” Harry asks. He goes to grab a gingersnap for himself, but a second plate appears, containing treacle tarts. Draco supposes those must be his favorite, by the dumbfounded look on his face.

He shrugs, “She probably messed something up in that forest – it wasn’t a mistake she took your wand, and whatever she was supposed to be doing instead was important enough that Crouch got rid of a loyal and talented elf over it.”

Harry is starring at him again. “You don’t think her taking my wand was an accident? Have you asked her about it?”

He almost makes a derisive comment about Harry’s intelligence, then catches himself. Muggle raised, muggle raised, why must he always forget that his soulmate is muggle raised? He’s lucky Harry knows up from down most days. “House elves can’t divulge secrets of their former masters. I mean, they can, and they probably won’t die. But it’s risky, and it’ll hurt. Otherwise it really would end up like slavery – house elves have access to too much, know too much, and even the Gryffindor noble families wouldn’t let them leave their service with that kind of knowledge if they could just talk about it to whoever they wanted whenever they wanted. They really would be stuck working for families forever, even if no one was happy about it. Or the families would just kill them.”

Harry is looking green again, and there’s no too-fast elf to blame it on. Draco hasn’t figured out if this is something he should apologize for by the time a hoarse voice calls out, “Harry!”

Sure enough, the head of Draco’s criminal cousin is floating in the fireplace. Harry throws himself on the ground in front of it, and he is so, so glad he called Winky to clean everything. “Sirius! You look better.”

He does, he looks more like a proper pureblood than a living skeleton, trimmed hair and his eyes no longer sunken deep into his face. That’s probably due to the man who’s head that appears next to him – that of Remus Lupin.  “Harry,” their former professor says warmly, then he looks over and up. “Draco, fancy seeing you here. How unexpected and shocking.”

Getting his soulmate back has only made Remus more of a bastard. Draco hadn’t thought that was possible. “You know, I’m thinking silver should be a new trend, I kind of miss those buttons. You never know when they might come in handy.”

Sirius looks positively outraged, and Draco worries for a moment before Remus lets out a booming laugh. His grin is positively wicked, and Draco decides to put decorum to the side to sit next to Harry. He’s already wearing a bright pink tank top, it’s not like he has all that much pride left to worry about it.

(His father had taken him to France for his first game when he was six, and they’d been his favorite team ever since. His parents despaired at the amount of hot pink in his wardrobe, but really they only had themselves to blame.)

“I think I’ve missed you,” Remus says.

“Like a crucio to the spine,” he agrees, but he’s smiling, he can’t help it. Remus had been one of the only teachers that Draco had ever gotten along with and liked, even if they’d spent most of their relationship in a state of mutually assured destruction.

Sirius frowns, “I have no idea what’s happening.”

“I don’t either,” Harry confides, “I just don’t question it, they seem to be enjoying themselves.”

Draco thinks they’re getting a little side tracked. “So!” he says brightly, “The first task is dragons. Any advice for Harry on how not to die?”

That sucks all of the good cheer out of the room, and for the next couple of hours they talk through several things that conceivably might work. He doesn’t say this out loud, because he’s not a complete asshole, but none of them sound very promising. If they don’t figure something out soon, he’s about to be down a soulmate.

~

Harry wants to catch Hagrid before the day properly begins, but also he was up half the night brainstorming ways to survive a dragon, and also being filled in on things like Karkaroff’s former Death Eater status and some unsurprising yet terrifying news that his nightmares might actually be based in reality, since the woman he saw Voldemort kill is actually a real woman who’s gone missing.

On the bright side, Sirius seems loads better. Remus does too, happier, less haggard. They’re both so worried about him, and so kind to him. Even after he and Draco sneak back to their respective dorms, he spends a long time starring up at the ceiling and thinking about what it would be like to live with them, to be able to never return to the Dursley’s and instead get to spend the summer with his father’s best friends, with his godfather, with people who like him and care about him and almost certainly wouldn’t ever make him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs.

Which obviously just depresses him, since that’s not a choice he gets to make, apparently. Hagrid’s confused yet cheerful face greets him. “Harry! ‘Ello!” He gets a closer look at him, “Ah, ye heard ‘bout the dragons, then?”

“Dragons?” Harry says, playing dumb for a second just to see the split second of panic on Hagrid’s face on spilling yet another secret. “Just kidding! That’s why I’m here actually. Hypothetically speaking, if someone had to get past a giant fire breathing lizard, how would they go about doing that?”

Hagrid gives him a disapproving look, but he’s not very good at them so he drops it a moment later and steps aside. “Ye better come in. Yer in luck – I jus’ made rock cakes!”

If they’re just made, that means he might be able to eat them without breaking his teeth, which would be nice. Hagrid has chairs, but Harry goes and sits by the fire instead, mostly because then Fang lopes over and tries to fit as much of himself onto Harry’s lap as possible. He balances the plate of rock cakes Hagrid gives him on the dog’s back, and holds the mug of tea he makes for him in both hands.

He likes Hagrid’s hut. It feels like the Weasley’s, almost, someplace safe and warm where he always feels welcome. “Dragons?” he prompts.

“Hypothetically,” Hagrid says sternly, but he’s also not very good stern, and just ends up looking concerned. “Ye can’t out magic them. Ye can try to distract them, but if yer comin’ for them, yer what they’ll be focusin’ on. Dragons are stronger, faster, and smarter than ye are, Harry. Especially ye. The other champions have three more years of schooling than ye do.”

“Great,” he says miserably. The rock cake is still edible if he soaks it in his tea for half a minute, so there’s that.

Hagrid pats him on the head, and Harry kind of hates how that makes him feel better. “There are spells, but none ye can learn in a day. But there’s one thing yer better at than anything else, one thing that you’re better at than anyone else, I think.”

“What’s that?” he asks, but a second later he gets it. “You want me to try and outfly a dragon?”

“Their movements will be limited – yers won’t be. Yer fast, and smart, and ye have the bes’ broom on the market. I think yer best chance is to fly.”

He groans and falls forward until he’s resting his head on Hagrid’s knee. Fang is squished beneath him, but is nice enough not to cause a fuss about it. “Speaking of flying, I don’t suppose you’ve found a place for the quidditch teams to practice? Angelina is going spare.”

Hagrid settles his massive hand on Harry’s back, and he wishes his could just stay here forever, in Hagrid’s hut with Fang and tea and rock cakes. “Aye, tell ‘er to come see me.”

“Okay,” he says, and he can’t stay, in fact if he doesn’t hurry up he’s going to be late to class. So he pushes himself up and on his feet. Hagrid is still sitting, so Harry can almost look him in the eye without straining his neck. “Thanks, Hagrid. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Anytime,” he says, but his voice comes out kind of rough, and his eyes are little shiny.

Harry throws his arms around Hagrid’s neck, squeezing as tight as he can, and then bolts before he dies of embarrassment.

~

They all have a free period before lunch, and Draco isn’t surprised when he gets a message from Harry saying to meet him in their classroom.  He has charms with the Ravenclaws right before it, and he’s loves charms, but the class itself can get rather boring. He usually finishes the day’s work in about twenty minutes, and then spends the rest of it researching and testing on his own. Or, well, that’s what he’d like to do. The other Slytherins are well aware he’s good at this stuff, so he helps anyone who’s struggling. Unfortunately, the Ravenclaws don’t actually care that he’s a slimy Slytherin once they figure out he’s the best in charms in their year. (He’s pretty sure he’s the best in charms in the whole school, but he can’t say that because he’ll sounds like a nerd.) So he ends up helping them too, which is – the worst.

Last time he’d shown up at Flitwick’s office to ask a question, he’d shoved a bunch of first year essays at him, given him a grading rubric, and said he’d help him when he finished. Draco knows he’s basically been acting as Flitwick’s aide since the start of the year, but that’s a position that he’s not even supposed to be eligible for until sixth year, and he has a reputation to maintain, so he hasn’t said anything about it. He’s pretty sure no one in class has said anything about it out of fear he’ll refuse to help them anymore.

So when Flitwick asks him to stay behind, he nods Blaise and Pansy off. “I’ll catch up,” he promises. They already know to head to the classroom, so he’s not worried about it. He sits on top of the desk and leans back on his hands. “What’s up, Professor?”

He’s pretty much the only teacher Draco actually likes. That probably has something to do with him being the only one he doesn’t actively talk back to or who isn’t his incompetent head of house, but he’s not going to think about that too deeply.

Flitwick frowns, never a good sign, and says, “Those buttons you made.”

He resists the urge to stiffen. All the Hufflepuffs are wearing them, and he’d gotten cornered by Lisa Turpin while he was handing them out at breakfast, so by tomorrow all the Ravenclaws will be too. “What about them?”

“That’s an impressive bit of spellwork,” he says, and Draco relaxes instantly. “How did you do it?” Draco goes through it quickly. Figuring out the correct metal combination and order for the charm integration had been the hardest part. Everything else had been pretty basic. When he finishes, Flitwick is still frowning for some reason. He didn’t do anything wrong, the buttons work exactly as he intended, he doesn’t know what he’s done to earn a frown. “You don’t have to, this isn’t an assignment, and you won’t be graded on it. Could you write an academic paper about how you did it?”

Merlin, that sounds awful. He did it all from memory, but if he writes an academic paper on it then he’s going to have to pull a ton of charms papers and source everything properly, and write out all his equations. He didn’t even do half of them, just guessed and hoped for the best. “For extra credit?” he asks, even though he doesn’t need it, because he’ll do it, he’s going to make Hermione write out his equations for him, but he will do it.

“Of course,” Flitwick answers, “no rush, just whenever you get to it.”

“Sure,” he says, and tries not to act as gloomy as he feels.

Judging by the amusement in Flitwick’s eyes, he doesn’t do a very good job of it. The man is three feet of pure evil. Maybe that’s why Draco likes him so much, actually.

~

Harry had already had the idea in his mind when he left Hagrid’s hut, but then he sees the Daily Prophet, and sees his scowling face splashed across the front page. Clearly his words to Skeeter hadn’t done any good at all, because basically the entire article is about him and his wavering bravery in the face of certain death, and his selfless desire to push others up in front of him. Viktor and Fleur get a couple of paragraphs dedicated to them, and Cedric gets a single line. He’s furious, and he refuses to be complicit in this. The goblet spitting out his name means he’s forced to compete, to actually try, but that’s all it means. Cedric is the true Hogwarts champion, and Harry’s not going to take that away from him.

Harry is pacing, waiting for Draco to get there, and everyone must be able tell he’s agitated, because they’re silent, even Pansy. That’s a little worrisome. If he looks upset enough that Pansy isn’t giving him shit, then he should probably lighten up.

Draco walks in, and the door’s barely shut before he blurts, “Hagrid said the best way to get past dragons is to fly around them. I’m going to lend my broom to Cedric.”

There’s a moment of stunned silence.

“That’s the stupidest idea you’ve ever had, and you’ve had a lot of stupid ideas,” Blaise says.

“I know you want to do the right thing,” Ron says, frowning, “but this might be the place where noble crosses over into stupid.”

“It’s definitely the place noble becomes stupid,” Hermione adds.

Pansy isn’t saying anything. Instead she’s watching Draco, which tells Harry he should probably be doing that as well. His soulmate’s lips are pressed into a thin line, and he’s so mad he’s shaking. “Are you suicidal?” he asks with the type of quiet, controlled anger that has Harry unconsciously taking a step back. He looks like his dad. “You give Cedric your broom, and you’re just, what? Going to make a run for it?”

“I don’t know,” he says, “but I have to do this. I’m telling you, not asking your permission.”

Draco snarls, and it’s almost comforting to watch his stone mask fall away. “I said don’t die, I said survive, and you come to me with this. Are you just going to have a nice chat with the dragon? Oh, please don’t kill me, I’m an idiot but I don’t taste very good. Do you have an ability to speak to dragons hidden up your sleeve? Because otherwise I really don’t see how this ends with anything else but your death.”

Oh. Oh, now there’s an idea!

He sees the moment Draco figures out what he’s thinking. He scowls and puts his hands on his hips. “No, absolutely not. No! That’s insane, and I refuse to help you. Good luck doing it on your own, because that’s the only way you’re doing this.”

“It’s a great idea, and we should have thought of it earlier,” he says. “Come on, it’s perfect. I just have to cast one little sonorous spell, and I’m golden. This is way better than a broom.”

“It’s dangerous and idiotic,” Draco snaps.

“Yeah,” he says, because he can be a little self aware sometimes, “but it’s also awesome.”

Hermione rubs at her temples, “Please tell me you’re not talking about what I think you’re talking about.”

“Oh, I am,” Harry says. “Come on Draco, you’re better at charms than any of us. You cast it when you were twelve, you can definitely do it now.”

“Of course I can. The question is, why should I? This is ridiculous.”

Draco’s angry, but it’s his normal ruffled, scrunchy faced anger, not the cold and quiet one, so Harry’s grinning as he takes a step closer and nudges his soulmate in the side. “Of course it is, every year here is ridiculous, it’s always someone trying to kill me. I would like one year where no one tries to kill me. But I can’t control that. I can control this.”

“You’ll have to reveal to everyone you’re a Parselmouth, if you do this,” Draco says. “You won’t be able to hide it anymore.”

He shrugs, “Good. They can think it’s a dark trait if they want. I’m not their golden boy, I’m a kid who’s sick of people trying to kill me. Besides, it’s like you said – my ancestors developed it first, before Voldemort or Slytherin, and they don’t get to make it a dark thing just because they were dark. They didn’t create it, and it doesn’t belong to them.”

Draco almost looks impressed, and it doesn’t matter that Harry only half-believes what he’s saying. He knows he’s angry enough now to not care about the backlash he’ll get later, and that’s all that matters.

“Okay,” Pansy says, “what are you guys talking about?”

Harry waits, but neither Draco nor Hermione move to explain. So he grins and says, “When we were stuck in the Chamber of Secrets, Draco summoned a wyvern to help me. He’s going to summon it again.”

~

Harry doesn’t want to do this in front of the entire school, so he uses the Chimera map to find Cedric after lunch. He’s in the library, and not many other people are, so he grabs his broomstick and that’s where he goes.

He turns the corner, and Cedric’s there, but he’s not alone anymore. Cho Chang, the very pretty Ravenclaw seeker and Cedric’s girlfriend, is there too. They’ve got a stack of books in front of them, and Harry’s heart sinks when he sees they’re about defensive spells and hexes. Cedric has no idea what the first task is.

“Harry!” she says, startled.

Cedric looks up, bags under his eyes, but smiles when he sees him. “Hey, Harry,” he greets, then jerks his chin at his broom, amused, “Going flying?”

“Er, no, I mean, uh – can I talk to you alone? Just for a few minutes.” He doesn’t know Cho very well, and this is already going to be awkward enough without an audience.

She frowns, but Cedric leans over to kiss her cheek. “It’s okay, Eun-hae. You should take a break anyway.”

“Eun-hae?” he repeats, and as soon as it leaves his mouth he’s aware it wasn’t quite like Cedric said it.

He’s proven right by her grimace. “It’s my name. And all right, if you’re sure.”

She gets up to leave, and he really does have very important things to discuss with Cedric. But, “I thought Cho was your name?”

“It’s a nickname,” she says, and she sounds defensive. He didn’t mean – well, anything, he was just surprised. “Like your name. It’s not Harry on your birth certificate, is it?” He must be silent for a beat too long, because she looks mortified. “Oh, merlin, is it? Sorry, I just assumed.”

“I don’t know,” he says, because no one has called him Harold his whole life, no one has called him anything but Harry. But maybe it is a nickname. He has no idea. “Maybe?”

She's smiling at him now, and he’s so relieved that she doesn’t seem offended that he smiles back. “Well, I suppose I can’t fault you for not knowing my name if you don’t know your own. It’s my mother’s maiden name. We’re basically the same person, so my dad called me Little Cho as a kid, and it stuck. Besides, Eun-hae is hard for a lot of people to say, and I got tired of correcting them. So I go by Cho.”

“Sorry,” he says again, because he had absolutely butchered her name when he tried to say it.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says, and it makes sense that she and Cedric are dating, they’re both so nice. She squeezes Cedric’s hand, then heads out of the library. She leaves all of her things behind, so she’s probably just going far enough to give them some privacy, and not to take a break like Cedric had suggested.

As soon as she’s gone, Cedric drops his head onto the table and groans. “I haven’t slept in days, I have no idea what I’m doing, and she’s going to dump me for someone who’s less of a disaster.”

He blinks. “That seems unlikely. Should I call her Eun-hae or Cho?”

Cedric tils his head enough to look at him, “I’m mostly the only one who calls her Eun-hae, she prefers going by Cho. So I’d call her Cho. I mean, I wouldn’t, because I call her Eun-hae, but if I was you, then me as you would call her Cho.”

Ow. Cedric really does need to get some sleep. He sits in the chair across from him, and licks his lips before leaning closer. “It’s dragons.”

He sits up straight at that, eyes narrowed. “What?”

“The first task, it’s dragons. Fleur and Viktor already know, their school heads told them, and I found out because … well, it doesn’t matter how I found out.” Cedric has paled, and he’s looking at his stack of books, and nothing inside of them will do any good against a dragon. “You can’t be stronger or smarter than a dragon. But,” he places his broom on the table between them, “you can be faster.”

Cedric’s eyes are huge, and he’s wide awake now. “I don’t understand.”

“The best way to get past a dragon is to fly,” Harry says, “you’re a brilliant flyer. But you ride a school broom because you want to play fair, and a Cleansweap isn’t going to cut it. Take mine. The Firebolt is the fastest broom on the market, with the best response times.”

“What are you going to do? Do you have another Firebolt?”

He shakes his head, “No, I’m doing something else. It’s pretty stupid, and more flashy than practical, but it will also piss a lot of people off, so. There’s that.” He pushes his broom closer, “Take it. I’m not going to use it either way, so you have no reason to refuse.”

Cedric looks between him and his broom. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because you’re the Hogwarts champion, and I want Hogwarts to win,” Harry says, trying to sound earnest and firm at the same time. “Me winning isn’t a victory, it’s just an insult to the rest of you. My only goals here are to survive and piss people off.”

There’s an uncomfortable moment when Cedric just stares at him. But then a grin breaks out over his face, and he reaches over to clap him on the shoulder. “Thank you, Harry. I – just, thank you. Really.”

An answering grin stretches out over his face. “No problem.”

He passes Cho on his way out, and waves as he leaves. She looks confused to see him leaving without his broom, but waves back anyway.

~

It’s the middle of the night, and Draco and Winky are hard at work creating more buttons when his mirror goes off. He wouldn’t normally answer it in the common room, but they’re the only ones there, so he flicks it open. “Hey, is everything okay?”

“Fine,” Harry says, “you’re making buttons for the Ravenclaws, right?” He nods. “Can you make like – twice as many?”

“What? I mean, yeah, sure, but why?” he asks. He glances over at Winky, and she nods, disappearing to get more metal to melt together.

“I want one, and I want the rest of Gryffindor to wear them too,” he says.

Draco rolls his eyes, “It really ruins the purpose of them if you approve, you know.”

“You made them to see if you could, and to be dramatic,” Harry scoffs.  “I want everyone at Hogwarts to wear them. I’d see if the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students would do it too, but that seems like overkill.”

“A little, and unless I grabbed some upperclassmen to help with the charms work, I would literally die trying to make that many, so please don’t.” He pauses, then says, “You’re really serious about this not being a Hogwarts champion thing, aren’t you?”

Harry glares, “Yes, because I’m not. It’s not fair.”

“Hufflepuff,” he says fondly. “All right, fine. If you’re still alive in two days, I have an idea for that, and I’ll pull an all-nighter so you can make a statement. Are you happy now?”  

“Delighted,” Harry says dryly, then closes his mirror.

Winky appears at his elbow, holding a tray with two small cups of espresso. “Master Draco will be needing this.”

“Very good,” he says, and knocks them both back in quick succession. It’s only after that he realizes she’d spiked them with pepper up potion.

She is the best house elf.

~

Cedric’s face when he shows up to breakfast and sees all four houses wearing buttons proclaiming him the real Hogwarts champion is absolutely worth the shouting match Harry had gotten in with basically his whole house.

Harry catches his eye and winks, obnoxiously shining the badge of on his chest. It switches to flashing Potter Stinks! and he doesn’t pause at all.

Krum is back at their table today, sitting across from him and next to Hermione, and he rolls his eyes so hard Harry’s surprised they don’t fall out of his head. Harry sticks his tongue out at him, but he feels lighter than he has since his name popped out of the goblet.

~

It’s the night before the first task, and Draco and Harry are under the invisibility cloak, sneaking out to the forbidden forest in the middle of the night, because they’re idiots. He should have put his foot down, should have refused to help with this completely ridiculous endeavor. But if he had, Harry would have just attempted to summon it on his own, and his all power, no control spellcasting combined with trying to summon a large, dangerous magical creature could only end in disaster.

They find a clearing close to the forest’s edge, because they’re not trying to get killed by some angry creature that calls the forest home, and step out from under the cloak. Harry stuffs the cloak back into his pocket, and Draco is always impressed by how small it can become. “Are you ready? If this thing eats me, I’ll be very cross.”

“If it eats you, I’ll be very cross too,” Harry says. Draco glares, and he cracks a grin, “I’m ready. Go on.”

“This is such a bad idea,” he says, his last token protest against this insanity. Then he raises his wand and focuses. It’s not like Abigail, who he’s summoned hundreds of times and who he knows so well. He thinks back to two years ago, to the fury and the triumph, to the roar of the wyvern, to its powerful wings and sharp, judgmental eyes, how Harry had said it had laughed at them at the end.

“Serpensortia!”

There’s a tugging sensation, then a wyvern bursts from his wand. It’s the same color as the one he’d summoned last time, a greenish-grey, but that’s all gets a chance to see before Harry knocks him to the ground and steps in front of him, hypnotic hissing falling from his mouth. Draco risks a glance up, and the giant beast is watching them, head cocked the to the side. He hasn’t tried to eat them, or made too much noise, so there’s that.

“Is it the same one?” he asks. Even looking at it more closely, he can’t really tell. Harry looks down at him and nods. Draco figures if he tries to speak, it will just come out as Parseltongue, not English. “Is it going to help?”

The dragon thrusts his head around Harry and down, and Draco is convinced that he’s going to die. But instead it just looks at him for a long moment. Then it’s tongue darts out of the its mouth, like Abigail’s does when she’s tasting the air, and grazes the side of his face. He guesses it understands English.

“It’s okay,” Harry says, speaking carefully and slowly, “he’s going to help. His name is … uh, it doesn’t translate to spoken languages well. He likes you.”

Draco stares into those giant black eyes, and he should really be terrified, but now he just keeps drawing comparisons between this half-snake, half-dragon creature, and his snake back home. “I’m going to call him Payne.”

“You are the worst at naming things.” The wyvern lets out a strange not-quite hissing sound. Harry sighs, defeated. “He says Payne is an acceptable name.”

This is stupid, but tonight has just been a long series of stupid decisions. So he raises his hand and presses it against Payne’s head, then sweeps it up with the pattern of his scales. When his am doesn’t get bitten off, he does it again.

That’s how Draco end up in the forbidden forest in the middle of the night, petting a wild wyvern named Payne.

~

Harry shows up for the first task, in the tent with the others, and the first thing out of his mouth is, “Absolutely not.”

Fleur and Viktor are in battle robes in their school colors. Cedric’s is only in Hufflepuff colors. There’s another one hanging that’s red and gold, clearly for him, and – no. Just no.

“It’s okay,” Cedric says, warm. “They need to differentiate us somehow.”

“I’m not wearing those,” he crosses his arms. He’s wearing his quidditch training gear, which is already in Gryffindor colors, and that’s bad enough. Cedric’s the same, and he’s a little surprised Viktor isn’t dressed to fly. He’s a professional quidditch player, it makes the most sense for him to do this on a broom.

“You must,” Fleur says, “they offer protection. Battle robes are spelled to help prevent damage, you cannot risk it.”

Harry bites his bottom lip, thinking. He’s absolutely willing to risk it, but if Draco finds out he’s refused to wear them, he’ll kill him. “I’ll be right back.”

It’s pretty much impossible to go up to the stands unnoticed, so everyone’s eyes are on him as he walks up to the edge of where most of the Slytherins are sitting. He can practically feel Draco’s glare, but he refuses to look up at him. “Hey,” he says to Cassius, the only person he really recognizes in the clump of upperclassmen, “tell Parkinson I need to talk to her.”

Cassius looks at him suspiciously, but he’s not a bastard like Flint, so he turns and whispers to the person above him, who does the same, all the way up to the top rows where Pansy is sitting. She sighs and turns to Draco, who is indeed glaring at Harry. But he takes out his wand and carefully levitates Pansy over the stands and places her on the ground next him.

“What do you want, Potter?” she sneers. There’s a warning on her face, and he knows he needs to be careful, but he also needs her help.

“You’re good at transfiguration, right? And cloth altering charms?” He knows she is, but he’s not supposed to.

She’s puts her nose in the air, “Obviously.”

“Cedric needs some help with robes. Will you come with me?” he can’t ask for himself, because there’s no reason for her to say yes with everyone watching them. But he needs her to say yes.

She flicks her hair over her shoulder, “I suppose, if it’s for the real Hogwarts champion.”

He leads her back to the tent, mindful of everyone’s eyes on them, and holds the flap open for her. He follows her inside, and everyone looks confused. “Pansy?” Fleur asks.

She shrugs, then looks to Cedric, “What’s wrong with your robe? Besides the obvious.”

“Can you change the color?” Harry asks, “Can you make it the color of all the houses, and make mine – I don’t know, black?”

“You don’t need to do this,” Cedric insists, “really, it’s fine.”

Pansy ignores him, and taps her wand against her hand, considering. “Yes,” she says, “on one condition.”

When she leaves the tent twenty minutes later, Cedric’s robes are still yellow, but a huge Hogwarts crest is on his back, and it’s covered in an embroidered pattern of the house mascots – the biggest, of course, being a snake that crawls along the border of the robe. She’d warned that her final spell to make them move wouldn’t last very long, but Cedric had been so enthralled watching the moving badgers encircling his wrists that he hadn’t said anything.

She’d spelled Harry’s robes black, devoid of any defining marks, except one – a bright green Potter Stinks! embroidered across the back.

Worth it.

~

Harry can’t even be surprised that he’s going last and that he’s facing the Hungarian Horntail, that’s just how his life seems to work. When he steps out, Fleur is being treated for a large wound on her side, and Viktor is having bright orange burn paste applied to his chest. But Cedric catches his eye and beams. Harry’s Firebolt is by his side, and he doesn’t look like he got a scratch on him. Good.

The crowd is mostly booing him, but he’d told everyone to do that, so it doesn’t bother him. He looks to the judges, and tries to channel Blaise as he gives his most mocking bow. Then he turns back to the Horntail. She’s furious, standing over her clutch of eggs and snapping her jaws at him. She looks as if she’d like nothing more than to bite him in half.

He pulls out his wand, and takes a deep breath. Once he does this, there’ll be no hiding it, and there will be a backlash. He turns his wand on himself and casts, “Sonorous!”

The magic encircles his throat, and he can feel it take hold. It’s time to do this.

In a booming voice loud enough to be heard by every single person in the stadium, by everyone in Hogwarts, loud enough to reach past them into the forest, he shouts in Parseltongue, “IT’S TIME!”

People are screaming, and there’s a rush of noise as everyone tries to talk over each other. He ignores all of it, and he waits.

He hears him before he sees him, and he knows he’s there when people really start screaming. Payne circles the air above them, then lands besides him, half serpent, half dragon, and completely terrifying. He’s about half the size of the Horntail. Harry reaches up and climbs onto the wyvern’s back, settling in the place right above his wings at the base of his neck. He could end the sonorous charm now, but he won’t. He wants them all to hear him. Payne beats his massive wings and takes flight, circling the furious Horntail. “She can breathe fire. I can’t breathe fire.”

“I know that,” Harry says, “Can you get me close enough to grab the egg or not?”

“Not,” he answers, “I like you, but not enough to die for your human games.” The Horntail shoots a column of flame and Payne flies out of the way. “She says if you come near her eggs she’ll swallow you whole, then spit you out and set you on fire.”

Harry blinks. Wait – no way – “You can talk to her?”

Obviously,” he answers, doing a barrel roll just for kicks, “I am a dragon.”

Unbelievable. “Can you tell her I just need the golden one? It’s not a real egg.”

Payne roars, loud enough to shake the stands. The Horntail stops snapping, and looks up at him. She lets out a low rumble, which Payne returns. “She says you can have it, but she’s mad. She wants the humans to know she’s mad.”

“I think everyone knows,” he says. But when Payne tells him what she has in mind, he buries his face the wyvern’s neck to hide his laughter.

Payne translates his agreement, then gets back. She spreads her wings and takes flight, and she seems so much larger now. She knows he’s not going to attack her eggs, so she’s not staying close to the ground to protect them anymore.

Luckily, all he has to do for this part is stay on. Payne makes a show of goading her, and flying just out of reach while doing unnecessary flips to avoid her fire, when he could have just flown out of the way. She’s straining against the chains, slackening and then pulling against them to weaken them. Harry can see the dragon trainers clustered at the edge, looking worried, and he makes a note to apologize to Charlie for this later.

The chains holding her snap, and she goes shooting into the air, releasing a triumphant roar. “Get ready,” Payne warns, diving towards the ground.

I hope you know Draco is going to be furious,” he says, adjusting slightly so that he’s kneeling on his back instead of sitting on it.

Your boy needs to lighten up.” Harry rolls his eyes, but then the Horntail comes underneath them, snapping at Payne’s tail. Payne switches direction, flying into the air and past the Horntail.

Well. Here goes nothing.

He jumps from Payne’s back, and there’s a terrifying moment where he’s sure he’s about to fall to his death. But he lands on the dragon’s back, and he starts to slide, but she makes a sharp turn so he rolls enough to grab onto one on the spikes on her back. “Climb up to her neck!” Payne says, making a show of chasing her, of trying to get him back.

She’s flying into the clouds, so he’s basically climbing straight up. But he grabs the spike in front of him, and hauls himself up, feeling with his feet until he can use her back spikes like a very awkward ladder.

The space where her neck and back meet is clear, and he settles there, wrapping his arms around her neck.

This whole death tournament might be worth it, because this is the best moment of his life.

Riding Buckbeak was awesome, and Payne is basically like the best rollercoaster in the world. But she’s all tightly coiled power coupled with a sense of ease in the air. She should be straining to lift herself, but it almost feels like the air is working with her to get her where she wants to be. He looks down, and the stadium is getting steadily smaller. Payne is right underneath them, and this is the highest he’s ever flown.

He’s freezing, but it’s amazing. They break through the clouds, and she slows down, adjusts herself so she’s flying in lazy circles. Harry can’t see anything beneath the clouds, but it doesn’t matter. She’s warm, and the air is cold, and he never wants to land. Payne glides next to them. “Are you okay?”

He takes out his wand to end the sonorous charm, then says, “This is the best thing ever.” He’s tightens his arms around her neck and rubs his face against her scales. He’s cuddling a dragon. Magic is awesome.

Payne makes the same breathy laughter. “She says you’re all right, for a human.”

“She’s amazing,” he says. He has never understood Hagrid so well as he does in this moment. She looks back at him, and he beams and waves. She snorts smoke rings in his face. 

She says she’ll take you back down and give you the golden egg. Do you want me to come with you?”

“No,” he says. Being without his translator and protector is a little scary, but it’s for the best. “I don’t want them to try and grab you. Hide in the forest until tonight, and go back to the place where Draco summoned you two hours after sunset. Draco will be there to send you home.”

Payne flies close enough to push his head against Harry’s chest. “Until next time,” he says, then flies away.

She flies in circles for about twenty more minutes, and he’s definitely taking way longer to complete his task than anyone else. Good. She does a couple flips, and looks back at him each time, so he’s pretty sure she’s showing off, which is fantastic.

She heads down, but once they break through the clouds she tucks her wings close and goes heading into freefall dive. He throws his arms in air, screaming in delight. As they get closer he can see everyone panicking, and a group of dragon trainers on the ground. She snaps out her wings and glides over the stands, and Harry leans over to wave at everyone. He’s never seen so many shocked faces in one place before. She settles on the ground next to her nest, prim and proper like she hadn’t just broken free of her chains and flown away.

He carefully slides off her back onto the ground. Except his legs are basically frozen jelly. His knees buckle and he falls on his ass. “Ow.”

She leans her head into her nest, and delicately picks up the golden egg with her mouth. She holds it out to him, and he reaches his hands between her very sharp teeth to take the golden egg. “Thanks.”

She settles back over her nest and curls around it, closing her eyes and falling into a well deserved slumber.

There’s still nothing but dead silence. Then Ron jumps to his feet in the stands and starts clapping and yelling. The twins are behind him not a moment later, and soon everyone’s cheering for him. The dragon trainers edge carefully closer, wands out.

Charlie skips all of that and runs over, dropping to his knees besides him. “Harry! Are you hurt?”

He’s so pale that his freckles stand out in sharp contrast, and he feels bad for making people worry, but also it was amazing. “I’m great,” he says, “I can’t feel my legs, but I’m good. I rode a dragon!”

“I saw,” he says, grinning. He hadn’t known Harry was a Parselmouth before this, but it seems like he doesn’t care. Judging by the deafening cheers from the stands, they don’t care either. He doesn’t think it’ll be that easy, but it’s nice. “Technically, you rode two. I’m very jealous.”

“It was fun,” he says honestly. It’s possible the lack of oxygen up there has left him a little loopy, but he can’t bring himself to mind all that much.

Charlie is laughing at him, but that’s okay, he likes Charlie so it’s allowed. “Come on, dragon rider, on your feet. Time to get your scores.”

He pulls Harry up, and holds him steady when he threatens to fall again. He looks over at the judges' table. None of them look happy.

Harry then makes the mistake of looking for his soulmate in the crowd, and wow, Draco looks mad.

Really mad.

He’s in so much trouble.

Chapter Text

Draco is going to save himself the heart attacks, and he’s going to murder his soulmate. Harry is beaming as the judges scowl at him, and he’s going to wipe that smile off of Harry’s face and strangle him.

 Harry did technically get the egg, but he loses points since it took him five times longer than the other champions.

“Draco, darling,” Pansy says, draping herself against his side so she can whisper in his ear, “You’re going to break some bones if you don’t let up.”

He blinks, uncomprehending, and Pansy’s eyes flicker down to his other side. He follows her gaze, and he’s grabbed Blaise’s hand in his own. His friend’s hand is crushed in his grip, and there are wounds from where Draco’s nails have dug into his skin. “Merlin!” he lets go, guiltily looking up at Blaise, who merely raises an eyebrow. “Sorry. I – sorry.” He takes out his wand, and mumbles a healing charm under his breath, then rubs away the dried blood with his thumb.

“It’s fine,” Blaise says, taking his hand back to flick Draco in the ear. “I’ll live.”

“Sorry,” he repeats stubbornly, flicking his eyes over to Harry. “I just–”

“If you make me say it’s fine again, I’m going to hit you,” Blaise threatens.

Draco’s shoulders loosen, and he smirks. “You can try.”

Blaise is stronger and faster than he is, but that’s what magic is for. He can’t get hit if he doesn’t get caught.

~

Dumbledore had awarded him a high score for his “daring and ingenuity” but the rest of the judges had just been pissed, so he gets the lowest combined score out of all the champions. Good. He’s ridiculously relieved to hear he’ll have three months until the next task. He wonders if he can throw dragons at that one too. That would be nice.

By the time he makes it back the tent to return the battle robes, everyone else is already gone, and he can’t help his disappointment. They all got to see his trial, but he wasn’t able to see any of theirs, and he wants to hear about what they did. He knows Cedric flew, but not what Viktor or Fleur did.

He showers in the quidditch locker room before heading back to the castle, more to avoid the crowd and reporters than anything else. With a quick scourgify, his clothes are clean of sweat and dirt, so he just puts them back on and sneaks around so he doesn’t have to use the castle’s main entrance.

He thinks he’s pretty clever until someone grabs the back of his shirt and yanks him into – a garden shed, maybe? There’s a lot of shovels, and it’s very dusty. He sneezes. “Are you sure you don’t want to wait to have this conversation? Maybe cool down a little. Also, were you just – waiting for me to walk by? How did you know I’d come this way?”

Draco practically snarls at him, fisting his hands in the front of his shirt and shoving him against the door. It’s not his cold, scary anger, but his fury, and Harry isn’t so worried about that. He’s still elated from his dragon ride, but bites down on his grin. This is not a smiling matter.

“What the fuck do you think you were doing?” Draco hisses, “I couldn’t see you for nearly a half hour! The trainers cast locator spells, so they knew you were close, but they didn’t know if you were hurt or falling or if that great beast had simply swallowed you whole–”

“Draco!” Harry wants to touch his shoulders, but can’t quite manage to reach it with Draco’s hands pressed up against his chest. Instead he grabs onto Draco’s waist and jerks him closer, until Draco’s elbows bend and they’re nearly pressed up against each other. It has the desired effect of shutting Draco up, but now Harry’s mouth is dry, and he’s forgotten all the very good reasons he had for helping a dragon break temporarily free and riding her into the sky.

His soulmate’s eyes are so very blue.

Draco sighs and drops his head forward so it rests on Harry’s shoulder. “I said no stupid, foolhardy Gryffindor heroics, Harry. Is that really so much to ask?”

Oh, great, now he feels guilty. “It wasn’t heroics. Payne could talk to her, and she just wanted to put on a show. I wasn’t in any danger.”

“What if you’d fallen? Good intentions won’t matter when you have a broken neck!”

“One of them would have caught me if I had,” he says with more confidence than he feels. He’s sure they would have tried, at least, but they were definitely too close to the ground when he’d jumped from Payne’s back for it to have been anything even close to safe. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“You never do,” Draco says, finally raising his head. “Don’t – don’t do something like that again. Please. Not for the tournament, at least, not for something that doesn’t matter.”

“Okay,” he says, because Draco looks genuinely upset, and that’s the last thing Harry wants. He knocks his foot against Draco’s and says, “It was kind of cool, though, right?”

Draco rolls his eyes and steps away. Harry lets his arms falls back to his side, but misses the warmth of Draco under his hands. “I’m going back to the castle. Wait at least five minutes before following me. I’m still mad at you, just so we’re clear.”

He pushes Harry out of the way and leaves the shed, nose in the air. Harry should maybe be worried about how good of a look arrogant is on his soulmate.

~

Fleur finds him as he’s walking into the castle, and she throws her arms around his neck. “Draco! I have been looking for you!”

He hugs her back, pleased. She’d come in second in the first task, right after Cedric. “Sorry, I had to take care of something. Why are you looking for me? You should be celebrating!”

“I am!” She grabs his hand, “We are, on our carriage. I want you to come! And your friends, Blaise and Pansy.” Some of her enthusiasm leaves her, and she wilts. “Viktor is celebrating on his boat. I am sad there is not a place we can all celebrate together. We have all succeeded today!”

He stares at her, and he has a great idea. “Winky,” he says, and Fleur startles as his house elf appears at their side. “Can you clean up the Shrieking Shack by tonight?”

“Yes, Master Draco,” she says promptly. “Winky is a quick elf.”

“Excellent. Get to it.” She’s gone before he’s even finished speaking. He looks to a confused Fleur. “How’s your disillusionment charm?”

“Fantastic. Why?”

He definitely doesn’t deserve her suspicious stare, he’s done absolutely nothing to warrant it. “My dear Fleur, we’ll celebrate now amongst ourselves. But tonight? We’re throwing a party. And everyone’s invited.”

~

His next move is to track down Blaise, which ends up being rather easy, since he’s studying herbology in their room. He looks up at Draco’s entrance, and his face drops into a scowl. “I hate that look, it never ends well from me. Whatever you want, the answer is no.”

“Don’t be like that, it’s time to put all of your mother’s training to use!” he says cheerfully.

That gets his attention. “You want me to write something?”

“No.”

“…You want me to marry a man for his money, kill him, and make it look like an accident?”

“Blaise!” Draco pus a hand to his heart. “Mrs. Zabini would never! How could you say such a thing about your own mother?”

“I’ve met her,” he says dryly, “Well, those are the two skills she’s impressed upon me, so I’m not sure what else you could need me for.”

“We’re throwing a party in the Shrieking Shack. Durmstrang, Beauxbatons, and Hogwarts fourth year and up.” He pauses, considering, then tacks on, “Plus Luna.”

Somehow, Blaise looks even less amused. “You want me to host?”

“You’re good at it,” he says honestly. “Besides, it can’t be me, I have a reputation to maintain.”

He sighs, more wearily then Draco thinks his request warrants. “Maintaining your reputation is a real pain in my ass. Sure, whatever, hosting a rave for three schools and mostly seventh years sounds like a lot of fun and not stressful at all.”

“Blaise,” he says, admonishing, “this isn’t going to be a rave. It’ll be a small, sophisticated event.”

He’s reaching for his wand, and Draco backs out of their room before he can use it. Now he needs Luna. She’s his cousin, and he’d invite her regardless. But. Her dad has an entire cellar of alcohol that he doesn’t keep inventory of at all, and she’s good enough at summoning charms that he can absolutely use that to his advantage.

Although, if he gets there early he can just pop out to the Three Broomsticks. Madame Rosmerta is a good enough sport about underage drinking that she’ll absolutely sell him whatever he needs, as long as he buys it at three the market value.

It’s so refreshing to be able to plan for something that doesn’t have the lingering possibility of death or imprisonment.

~

All of the fourth years are hanging out in the boys’ dormitory, since they can’t go to the girls’ dorm. Ron is the one who gets the message, sent by Blaise. It’s a time, and a place, and beneath it, written in the boy’s perfect cursive is: An event to celebrate the three Triwzard Champions. And that twat Harry Potter.

Harry laughs out loud when he sees it, but he has no idea what Blaise is planning. They find out everyone in their year and above got one, a tiny slip of paper that seemingly just materialized in their hands. Ron must see his confusion, because he claps him on the shoulder and says, “House elves. They must have recruited a couple of the castle ones.”

“Should we go?” Neville asks uncertainly. “It’s from a Slytherin. What if it’s a trap?”

Lavender gets to her feet, “It sounds fun! Where’s your sense of adventure, Neville?”

“My grandmother keeps it in her handbag,” he says, “under lock and key, and under threat of permanent grounding.”

She snorts, but holds out her hand to him, “Come on. If your grandmother comes to beat you up, I’ll protect you.” Neville doesn’t look the least bit convinced.

“Let’s go,” Harry says getting to his feet. “Can’t be worse than the first task, right?”

They sneak down as a group, and thankfully the common room is empty. The place they were told to go is one of the side exits to the castle. It’s next to the herbology classroom and leads to the greenhouse.

Draco and Cho are there, and everyone pauses, confused. There’s a group of Ravenclaw fifth years standing in front of them, and Cho and Draco tap them each on the head and murmur a spell they can’t quite hear, then in the next moment they’re gone. Wait – no, they’re not gone, but they’re blending in to the background, only barely visible by their movements. They slip out the door, nothing more than faint outlines.

“The hell?” Ron mutters.

“It’s a disillusionment charm,” Parvati says. “It’s seventh year Charms magic.”

“Correct,” Draco’s voice cuts across to them, “We still have some more people to get through tonight, so hurry up. The longer it takes you all to get there, the longer it is before we can join you.”

Cho waves them over, smiling, “It’s all right! You guys are almost the last ones, we did the older years first.”

“What’s going on?” Seamus demands, his hand clasped in Dean’s. “Where are we going?”

“Go to the Whomping Willow, pick up the long stick, and poke the knot. Follow the sounds of music,” Draco says.

Neville squints, “Is that a code?”

“Hurry up. Or you can make a run for it clear as day and just hope no teachers are looking out their window,” Draco glares.

Cho coughs to hide her snort of laughter. She doesn’t do a very good job. Harry doesn’t want this to end in an argument, so he walks over to her and flings out his arms, using his most put upon voice to say, “Do your worst!” She laughs out loud this time, and it cuts down on some of the tension. Ron walks over to Draco, and the rest of their group looks a lot less wary.

She taps her wand to his head, and there’s the feeling like a cold egg being cracked over him. “Thank you for what you did,” she whispers, reaching out to squeeze his arm. “I don’t know what Cedric would have done otherwise.”

He flushes and ducks his head, and is only a little comforted by the knowledge that she can’t see him blushing. “Anytime,” he says, and then heads outside before she can say anything else embarrassing. He walks over to the Whomping Willow, and waits until the rest of the fourth year Gryffindors have joined him to poke at the knot, temporarily freezing the tree. He glances behind him, and Ron’s taken position at the back of the group, eyeing the tree suspiciously. Good. If the tree starts moving before all them get down there, then Ron will know what to do.

They all make it through, and he and Hermione take the lead, since they’ve been here before, and Ron stays at the back of the group, just in case.

They’re about halfway through the tunnel when they hear the music. It starts out low, just a thumping beat, but it gets louder the farther in they go. By the time they get to the entrance of the Shrieking Shack, it’s deafening. He tries to open the door, but it’s locked. Harry and Hermione trade confused glances, then Hermione knocks on the door.

The door opens, and suddenly there’s no sound at all. The absolute silence after the loud music is jarring. Blaise is standing there, prim and proper, with a prim and proper sitting room behind him, completely empty. “Password?” he asks, looking down at them.

“We weren’t told a password!” Lavender protests.

“No password, no entrance,” he informs them.

Hemione looks like she’s considering just blasting her way past, and Blaise takes a subtle step away from her. “Can we have a hint?” she asks.

“No,” he says. Clearly his fear of Hermione doesn’t outweigh his love of drama. Well, there’s a reason Slytherin isn’t known for being the smart house.

Ron snorts, and they all look back at him. He crosses his arms and says, “Potter stinks.”

Blaise almost smiles and says, “Correct,” before slamming the door in their faces. Hermione reaches for her wand, but before she can grab it, the door opens again. The music is blaring, although Harry can’t see from where, and the shack is lit with zooming lumos charms that act as strobe lights. It’s filled to the brim with students from all three schools, and up against the back wall is what looks like enough alcohol to get all of Hogsmeade plastered, never mind a couple hundred teenagers.

“Is it … bigger in here?” Hermione asks in wonder, stepping through. Parvati and Lavender abandon them to run for the bar, Seamus and Dean a step behind them.

“Fleur and Draco did it.” Harry turn to see Cassius standing there, a tray of smoking shots floating behind him. With a wave of his wand, a shot floats over to hover in front of each of them. “Welcome to the not-rave, in celebration of the three champions, plus Potter.” He grabs one of the shots and raises it to Harry, “Riding that dragon was inspired.”

“Thanks,” he says, amused. “So, the Slytherins are hosting a not-rave because…?”

Cassius knocks back the shot, seemingly unaffected even as smoke pours from his ears. “Technically, Blaise is hosting. But Draco’s the mastermind behind this, and he’s roped the rest of us into it because that’s what he does, the annoying little brat. He and Fleur cooked this up, you’ll have to ask them.” He pauses, considering, then says, “Actually, don’t. We’re trying to have a nice quiet rave in the middle of the night filled with underage drinking, we don’t need anyone to start a duel.”

Two arms settle over his shoulders before he gets a chance to answer to that, and Fred and George are crowding in on either side. “Cassius, my good man,” George says cheerfully. “How’s that transfiguration essay going? Well? You know I’m always eager to help, if you need it.”

Cassius does another shot, flicks the glass at George’s forehead, and walks away. George doesn’t do anything to stop it from hitting him, but he does catch it before it hits the floor. He looks oddly disappointed.

Ron takes his shot, rolling his eyes. “Your flirting sucks.”

Harry thinks Ron’s missed the mark completely until Fred bursts out laughing and George turns as red as his hair. “I’ll murder you in your sleep,” he threatens, but flounces away still blushing.

Fred grabs Hermione’s shot and takes it himself. Hermione can’t seem to decide if she’s offended or not. “When did you learn to drink alcohol, ickle Ronniekins?”

“Thanks to you melting off my tongue with an acid pop when I was five, I’m pretty immune to the burn of a little alcohol. So thanks, I guess.” As if to prove his point, he takes Harry’s shot and knocks it back. He looks about affected as Cassius was – so, not at all.

Fred looks delighted. He links his arms with Ron’s and drags his away. “Time for your first drinking contest, dear brother!”

Hermione sighs, “I better follow them. Coming?”

“Viktor’s here, somewhere,” Harry says, scanning the crowd. “Don’t you want to see him?”

She freezes for a second, and Harry wonders if he said something wrong, if something had changed between them that he hadn’t noticed. It’s very possible. Her entire face turns bright red, “I’m sure he’ll find me, don’t worry about it. In the meantime, I should make sure Fred doesn’t kill Ron. I’ll see you later.” She disappears into the crowd before he can think of a response to that. Now he’s sitting in the corner of the party alone, without alcohol. Even he knows that’s pathetic. Where did Dean and Seamus go? Wait, maybe he doesn’t want to hang out with them – they always end up making out at some point, and Harry really doesn’t want to be the third wheel to that.

“Hey, Harry,” someone presses a butterbeer bottle into his hand, and he looks down to see Ginny standing there, Luna at her side. They’re both holding bright red, smoking drinks.

“You’re not supposed to be here! Either of you!” he protests, glancing around. He hopes none of the other younger years are here. What’s the point of having a secret entrance and a password if Blaise is just going to let anyone through?

Ginny rolls her eyes, “Relax. Draco invited Luna, and she invited me. Draco was real pissy about it.”

“He’d be nicer if you weren’t so mean to him all the time,” Luna says reproachfully.

“I’m not being mean to him! Trust me, he would know if I was being mean to him,” she insists. The thing is, Harry knows she’s right. Her bat bogey hex is the stuff of legends. The door slams open, the music drops, and she sighs, “Speak of the devil.”

Draco and Fleur are standing there, pale and glittering, looking like a matched set of fae. Cho is edging into the crowd, a look of exasperation on her face that people wear around Draco an awful lot. Fleur’s in a powder blue dress that it’s way too cold for her to be wearing, and Draco’s in pants that look like they had to be poured on. “Welcome!” Fleur says as she steps forward, lovely and charming with her thick French accent. “Thank you all for coming. As you know, this is a party in celebration of all three champions completing the first task.”

They all cheer, Harry as loud as he can. He’s glad they’re leaving him out of this – they earned this. He’s just stuck with it.

“But it is not only for us,” she says once they quiet down, something wicked in corner of her grin. “Please give a round of applause for Harry Potter, our very own dragon rider!”

“Oh no,” he says quietly, face burning. His shoulder hunch around his ears as people turn to him, but then there are hands on his waist, hoisting him in the air. He looks down, and Cedric and Viktor are the ones lifting him up on their shoulders. “Guys! Stop it!”

“Dragon Rider!” Cedric yells out, winking at him. “Dra-gon Ri-der! Dra-gon Ri-der!”

Viktor joins in, and soon everyone else is too, chanting his new title in cacophony of sound, and he really hopes someone put up some sort of sound muffling charm, otherwise the residents of Hogsmeade are going to be hearing some very weird things.

He wants to stay grumpy out of principal, but it’s pretty impossible to do that when Cedric and Viktor are lifting him above everyone else, and they’re all yelling and clapping for him. Draco is leaning against the wall, and he’s not cheering for him, he can’t, not while they pretend to still be enemies. But he looks amused, and soft in a way he probably wouldn’t allow if everyone’s attention wasn’t planted firmly on Harry.

Draco rolls his eyes and jerks his head to the side, clearly telling him to just go with it, and the last bit of restraint Harry has falls away. He raises his arms in the air, beaming, and the chants and cheers get louder.

Next time he needs to make a patronus, he’ll think of this moment.

~

Hermione is going to be annoyed when he tells her they need to brew a double batch of pepper up potion, but the morning after the party Draco distributes them to the rest of their year, as well as the quidditch team, since they’d helped serve and clean up after.

Everyone else who’s hung over and exhausted just get to suffer.

It had been a resounding success. Hogwarts had actually felt united for the first time, all three schools had actually felt united. It has been fun, and no one had gotten in a fight, no one had started anything, he’d kind of expected someone to get too drunk and too rowdy and to ruin it all, but it hadn’t happened.

Millie had gotten sloppy drunk and dragged Neville onto the dance floor, and he’d been too flustered to stop her. Susan had kept an eye on Luna and Ginny all night, and he owed her something nice for that. If anyone had tried anything with them, he would have been the one starting a fight, but thankfully he hadn’t needed to.

The highlight of the evening had absolutely been a drinking contest that had been down to Krum and Ron, a bunch of passed out and queasy people surrounding them as they stared each other down. Draco had been rather impressed by how long Cho had lasted – she’d turned bright red about three shots in, but hadn’t seemed otherwise affected. Until around three quarters in when she’d walked over to Cedric, silently climbed onto his back, and passed out.

Neither Ron nor Krum had vomited or fallen asleep or stopped drinking by the time it was time for everyone to go back to the dorms, so they’d called it a tie, shook on it, and swore to beat the other next time.

Draco and Fleur had cast the disillusionment charm on everyone, since Cedric insisted they let Cho sleep instead of waking her up and forcing her to help them. Cedric had tried to help, but he was crap at it, so they’d just sent him back to the castle.

Draco and Blaise had been the last people back, and they’d stumbled into bed just as the sun was rising, so they were going to have to go through today on about three hours of sleep.

Worth it.

~

Everyone expects Ron to be too hungover to go to class. Harry expects Ron to be too hungover to go to class.

Instead he gets up like every other day, yawning and cracking his back. “Wow, I’m starving. Hurry up everyone, I want to eat, like, everything.”

Harry didn’t really drink, so he’s fine. Neville is curled in his bed in the fetal position. Seamus is doing okay, but Dean's about two seconds from keeling over. “What the fuck,” he says flatly. “Are you even human?”

“A hungry human!” Ron confirms, pulling on his school uniform. Harry can’t tell if he’s genuinely oblivious or if he’s just being an asshole. “If you don’t hurry up, I will abandon you for eggs, and bacon, and toast, and sausage. Don’t think I won’t.”

Dean looks like he’s going to throw up. Ron is definitely doing this just to be an asshole.

When they get to the great hall, Viktor is seated at their table with Hermione, and they’re sitting next to each other. Like, right next to each other. Had something happened last night when he hadn’t been looking? Probably.

Ron scowls. Harry elbows him, and his face smooths out. “Hey,” Harry greets, probably too loudly as he sits across from Viktor. Ron slides in next to him and starts loading up his plate, pointedly not looking at either of them. “Uh, so, last night was fun.”

Viktor has bags under his eyes, and he’s hunched over his cup of coffee like someone might try and take it from him. There’s nothing on his plate but a stack of toast that it doesn’t look like he’s touched. He watches, wide eyed, as Ron bites into his sausage with one hand and mixes bacon into his eggs with the other. “Ronald, you are very impressive. I really do not think I would have won if we had kept going”

Ron freezes, and he looks up. There’s a moment when Harry worries that Ron will snap, or something worse, but then his shoulders relax and he smiles. “Thanks. We all have our skillsets. Drinking insane amounts of alcohol is mine.”

“You would get along well with my grandmother,” Viktor says seriously.

Ron laughs out loud at that, but is cut off as his brother sits next to him. “Hey George,” he greets, then stops, and turns to fully face his brother. “Fred, what are you doing?”

Harry blinks, and Hermione leans forward, intrigued.

“What are you talking about? I’m George,” he says, ruffling Ron’s hair.

“Telling you guys apart his hard enough without you making it even more confusing,” he complains, messing up Fred’s hair in return. “Is there a reason you’re pretending to be George, or do you just like watching the world burn?”

Fred is clearly considering if he should continue lying, but he just sighs. Harry wouldn’t have noticed if he wasn’t looking for it, but his demeanor shifts the tiniest bit, becoming more controlled, tighter. He hadn’t even realized that he’d notices the twins held themselves differently until now. “He needs an alibi. Please don’t blow it. Since when can you tell us apart, anyway?”

“Since you guys developed personalities. It took you long enough,” he puts an obnoxiously large bite of eggs in his mouth. “Besides, you’re a shit alibi, everyone knows you switch places and would lie for each other. If you wanted to actually be effective, you should have had Lee take a Polyjuice potion, then the two of you should have made an appearance together. You suck at this.”

Fred glares, but he’s clearly pulled between disgusted at his brother’s eating habits and impressed at his idea.

Harry is constantly surprised at how many people know how good Ron is at chess, and still think that he’s just a pretty face. He just doesn’t normally care to do anything about it.        

~

Blaise needs to head to the greenhouse early to check on his final project – some sort of weird hybrid plant that’s going to give him nightmares – but Draco sleeps right through breakfast. He has Winky bring him a croissant that he crams into his mouth on his walk to the transfiguration classroom.

They’re still working on animal transformations – this time a hummingbird into a water pitcher. Pansy does it on the first try, but he’s too distracted to do it properly, so his pitcher ends up being pure white, completely lacking any type of pattern, which is rather unlike him. Usually he and Pansy will complete to see who can make the more elaborate object. She pretty much always wins, since she’s just better at transfiguration than he is, but he can’t even focus enough to play that game with her today.

He pulls himself together a little during charms, but not by much. Harry managed to not get killed during the first task – barely – so Draco has an idea for their next step of the Potter Stinks campaign. He ends up staying behind to talk about his extra credit research paper with Flitwick, but heads over to their abandoned classroom right after.

They’re all exhausted, so if any of them were smart, or had some self preservation instincts to speak of, they would spend their free period taking a nap, not meeting up. He steps inside, and is instantly amused to see that at least some of them had had the right idea.

There’s a small mountain of chair cushions in the center of the room, and Hermione and Pansy are curled up on top of it, sound asleep.  “Don’t they have beds?” he asks, not speaking quite loud enough to wake them.

Blaise snorts and Ron rolls his eyes. “When we got here, Pansy was already like this. Hermione just joined her.”

“Please tell me what your grand master plan is so I can go to bed,” Blaise pleads. “I’m so tired, Draco. I’ll die this way. My body will collapse and turn to dust.”

“Unlikely,” he says dismissively, “I think it’s time to take a page out of Skeeter’s book.”

“Extortion?” Ron asks.

“Lying?” Harry adds.

“Poor fashion sense?” Pansy chimes in, now apparently awake. Hermione has half rolled on top of her and buried her face in Pansy’s shoulder, so Pansy’s not making any sudden movements in an attempt not to wake her up.

He hates them all. “No. We’re going to write an article. Well, I’m going to make Luna write an article, technically.”

The Gryffindors look disappointed. Ron says, “That’s it?”

“Fighting a house fire with explosions just makes you look like an asshole who’s too sensitive to handle criticism,” he says. “Fighting fire with fire and winning is much more impressive, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

Blaise yawns, then adds, “It’s more important for us to make Skeeter look like a hack than it is to destroy her. Are you sure you want Luna to write it, though? She’s hardly a credible source.”

“She’s been editing her dad’s stuff since she was nine. None of us are going to be better at this than she is. But,” he concedes, “we can’t have her publish it under her own name. No one will take it seriously, and Xeno will murder her. Or, I don’t know, he’ll look vaguely upset while having a conversation with the kettle, which amounts to about the same thing to Luna.”

“Will we really be able to keep her identity a secret?” Harry asks. So far the only reliable way any of them have found to keep a secret is only telling it to the people in this room, and if they’re going to get Luna to write and publish an article, that’s going to take a bit more than the six of them.

Pansy shrugs. “Probably not, but that’s even better for us. Say Skeeter makes a big deal out of finding out the identity of the journalist – and then it turns out it’s a thirteen year old girl. Brilliant. Her dad will still be pissed though, which is less brilliant.”

Draco turns to Harry, “We need to get Cedric on board, obviously. Can you do that? You know him the best out of all of us.” Cho had offered to help Draco with the disillusionment charm, and he liked her well enough, but he wasn’t nearly close enough to her to ask for a favor.

“Sure,” Harry says, and he’s got bags under his eyes. He’s not acting as tired as the rest of them, but Draco knows that Harry often has trouble sleeping, and he thinks this is the first time he’s actually seen him look sleep deprived, which is hardly a good sign. “I still have to get my broom back from him anyway.”

He resists the urge to do something ridiculous, like cup Harry’s face and press his thumbs against the dark purple bruises beneath his eyes. He’s still supposed to be mad at him, anyway. “Maybe get some sleep before you go do that? You look like crap.”

Harry cracks a grin. “You always say the nicest things to me.”

“You’re a fucking mess, pull yourself together,” Draco says, but he’s smiling. Harry’s eye crinkle at the corners, and he takes a step closer, almost without really thinking about it.

“I’m working on it,” he says, and his voice sounds – different, lower than usual, and now Draco’s turned his whole body towards him, and he’s not sure why really, just that he wants to be – closer.

Wait.

He’s supposed to be mad at Harry, damnit!

Draco huffs and turns away, crossing his arms and putting his nose in the air. “I’m going to go talk to Luna,” he declares, walking out the classroom even though he’d basically just gotten there.

His cheeks are flushed, and he can’t think of why, they’d just been talking for Merlin’s sake!

Being a teenager is a nightmare.

~

Harry asks Cedric to meet him by the great lake just after dawn to get his broom back, and if Cedric has anything to say about the incredibly strange time and location for such a simple thing, he keeps it to himself. Luna has already agreed to help, and Harry thinks it’s kind of adorable how much she looks up to Draco and how willing she is to go with all his strange ideas just because he’s the one asking. It’s pretty obvious to anyone that actually knows the two of them that Luna is basically the little sister that Draco never had.

He means to lead with asking Cedric if he’s willing to let Luna interview him, to get straight to the point.

But Cedric greets him, yawning a “Hey, Harry,” as he holds out the Firebolt, and Harry takes it with numb fingers.

Cedric always has his shirt buttoned up, and now that Harry is thinking about it he wears a high necked undershirt with his quidditch uniform, but he’d never thought there was a reason for it.

It’s early, and Cedric is tired, and his tie is clumsily and loosely tied, and the bag on his shoulder is pulling his shirt to the side. It’s not much, but it’s enough that Harry can see it, and knows instantly that it’s probably not something he was supposed to see.

“Your shirt,” he says quietly.

Cedric frowns, then raises a hand to his chest and sighs. He readjusts his shirt so his soulmark is hidden once more.

It’s not a black circle. It’s – some sort of lizard.

Cho doesn’t wear high neck shirts. He knows for a fact there’s no soulmark on her collarbone.

“I won’t tell anyone,” Harry promises instantly.

Cedric gives him a rueful grin and runs his hands through his hair. “I appreciate that, but it’s not a secret. I just don’t like to advertise it, it always raises too many questions that are a pain to answer.”

“Oh,” Harry says, and he’s literally burning with curiosity, but if Cedric doesn’t want to talk about it then he won’t ask.

Cedric smirks, like he knows exactly what he’s thinking. “It’s okay, I don’t mind if it’s you. I’ve met my soulmate, and it’s not Eun-hae. My soulmate is – nice. She’s an auror, and from an old family, and my dad was thrilled about the whole thing. But we’re not together, and we’re not planning to ever be together.”

Harry blinks, opens his mouth, then closes it again. Luckily, Cedric looks more amused than insulted. “I don’t understand,” he says finally, “whoever she is, she’s your soulmate.”

That matters. Doesn’t it?

“Ah,” he looks away and rubs the back of his neck, and Harry wants to take it back, it’s none of his business, and Cedric’s a good guy. He shouldn’t pry. “I – look, I know I’m only a couple of years older than you, so this is going to sound preachy and pretentious, and like I’m kind of an ass. But can I tell you something? Something that I wished someone had told me?”

“Of course,” he says, confused. It’s still too early for anyone but Hagrid and the house elves to be up, so it’s just them, standing at the edge of the great lake at barely past dawn, the air still chilly and heavy in the air.

Cedric meets his gaze squarely and says, “Love isn’t something that just happens. You have to choose it, and you have to earn it. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. I don’t know if you’re marked, but if you are, I want you to know that having a soulmate, even meeting that soulmate, isn’t a guarantee of love and happiness. I think, at best, a soulmate is a possibility. It’s a possible happy ending, and if you want to take a chance on that, to work for that, then you should. But I’ve already found my happy ending, and it’s with Eun-hae. I love her. I choose her every day, and every day I work really hard so that she keeps choosing me back. That’s what love is. Not some marks on our skin, but hard work.”

It seems like the opposite of everything’s Harry been told, of everything he’s been banking his future on. But – it’s not, really. What he feels for Draco, what he hopes he and Draco will one day become, it didn’t just happen. Draco changed, and he changed, and they tried really hard to change together. Harry doesn’t think he could fall in love with the Draco he met in first year, with the man that Draco looked like he would become. But this Draco? The one who tries so, so hard all the time for his friends, for Harry, who’s consistently met Harry halfway even when he didn’t want to, when he didn’t agree or understand?

Of course. His relationship with Draco seems easy now, but only because they both put in so much work to become the type of people who could be friends with each other. If neither of them had changed, then Harry wouldn’t be interested in Draco at all, no matter the iris on his hip.

Cedric puts his hand on his shoulder, frowning. “Harry? Are you okay?”

There’s something knowing in his gaze, but he’s not going to ask, which is good because Harry doesn’t know what he’d tell him. “Yeah, sorry. Can I ask, is Cho okay with … everything?”

“I’d met my soulmate before we started dating, so she’s known all along. I was twelve at the time, and my soulmate was sixteen, so obviously nothing was going to happen. But she had a boyfriend, and then I had Eun-hae, and then she graduated, and now she’s trying to get this uptight guy who just started at her work to go out with her. We’re good friends, she’s great, I just don’t want to date her. And she doesn’t want to date me.” Cedric smiles and ruffles Harry’s hair. “A soulmate isn’t a life sentence. It’s just – an opportunity. One you can take, or not. It’s up to you.”

“You don’t think it’s destiny?” he asks, even though he already knows the answer.

Cedric rolls his eyes, “I’m a Hufflepuff, I don’t believe in destiny. I believe in creating the future you want to have, and the future I want is with Eun-hae. I think Cedric Chang has a nice ring to it.”

“Me too,” Harry says, grinning. “By the way, the reason I asked you to meet me here at daybreak was so I could ask – are you willing to sit down for an interview for an article to be ghost written by Luna Lovegood?”

That is so clearly the last thing Cedric was expecting to hear, and Harry has to bite his lip to keep from laughing. “Oh, uh, sure. Lovegood? Really?”

“She’s going to be a great journalist one day, apparently,” he says. “It’ll be fun.”

Cedric looks unconvinced, but he’s too nice to say anything, and also too nice to go back on his word to do the interview now that he’s agreed to it. So, an all around successful morning, as far as Harry’s concerned.

~

Draco wants to find Rita Skeeter, skin her alive, and roast her over an open fire. The article splashed across the front page of the Daily Prophet is all about Harry’s Parseltongue abilities, and how it’s clearly a mark of his dark influences. The overall article is disgustingly complimentary, and boils down to how the Parseltongue is a clear sign that Harry’s influenced by evil, but is fighting valiantly against his dark side for the good of the wizard world.

Somehow, it’s so much more insulting than if she’d just called him an evil, dark wizard and called it a day.

Pansy’s arm settles across his shoulders, and she leans over to whisper in his ear, “Breathe, darling, before you catch some unwanted attention.”

He forces himself to listen to her, forces himself to relax. He has a lazy smile on his face when he turns his head to press a brief kiss to Pansy’s cheek, “Thanks.”

“Mr. Malfoy,” his head of house says, suddenly towering right above them, and if it wasn’t for years of practice at being snuck up on by Snape, Draco would be in the middle of a heart attack. The man must have sort of sneaking spell cast on him, it’s the only explanation. “If you can pull yourself away from Ms. Parkinson, your presence is required in the kitchens.”

“Why?” he asks, but he’s already getting to his feet and brushing non-existent dust from his robe. He was here so early in the first place because he wanted to know if Cedric agreed to the article, but Pansy would tell him.

Snape turns on his heal and walks away, which is about what he expected. It’s a pain to keep up with Snape without looking like he’s trying to keep up with him, which Draco is pretty sure he’s doing on purpose. What a dick.

They step into the kitchens, and Draco is pretty sure he’s not supposed to know the entrance, so he has no idea why he’s being brought here. He knows about it already, of course, but he’s not supposed to.

He hears the yelling first, and it’s so surprising he stops in his tracks. It’s – it’s not people, but house elves. Why would house elves be yelling? Did someone burn dinner?

Then there’s a scream, and he recognizes it, it’s Winky’s. He runs forward, pushing Snape out of his way and bursting through. It’s one of the strangest sights he’s ever seen. What looks to be all the castle’s elves are clustered around, yelling, and in the middle is Dumbledore standing there looking serene as ever, McGonagall holding back Dobby of all elves, and Filch, holding Winky back by her ears.

“Get your hands off of her!” he shouts, stalking forward.

“Mr. Malfoy,” McGonagall begins, but he ignores her.

He grabs Filch’s wrist, digging the nail of his thumb in between the tendons until he yelps and lets go. Winky, sobbing, runs behind him and buries her face into his robes. “You little brat,” Filch growls, towering over him with a snarl.

Draco refuses to be intimidated by a squib who doesn’t know how to use a toothbrush. “Don’t ever touch my elf without my permission again. I won’t be so considerate next time.”

Filch narrows his eyes, but before anything can go any farther, Dumbledore says, “Now, why don’t we all calm down? I really do think we should contact Mr. Malfoy’s father before we go any further–”

Draco cuts him off, “Winky is my elf, so she’s my responsibility. It’s my magic she’s tied to, not my father’s. What’s the meaning of all this?”

“She started a physical altercation with a Hogwarts elf,” McGonagall says, and Draco doesn’t like the way she’s looking at him at all. It’s a little too contemplative and not judgmental enough. “This one, in fact.” Her hand is still fisted in the back of Dobby’s ridiculous t-shirt.

He blinks. That really wasn’t what he was expecting. “Why would she do that?”

Winky steps forward, still clinging to his robes. Her tear-filled eyes are narrowed in anger. “He is saying horrible things about Master Draco! About my master! It is not okay!”

“Dobby is only saying true things!” his family’s former house elf insists. “Dobby knows the truth! Malfoys are awful, sneaking, lying, and rotten! Bad! Winky’s master is bad!” Now that Draco’s looking, he can see the beginning of a bruise forming around Dobby’s eye. 

Merlin above. Winky punched him in the face.

“You take that back!” Winky wails, “Master Draco is good! He saved me! He is not bad, he is good!”

“Enough,” he says, and her mouth clicks shut. He pinches the bridge of his nose. “Winky, tell me the truth. Did you start a fight with this castle elf?”

“He is saying mean things!” she says.

He looks down at her, frowning, and she hunches her shoulders. “That’s not what I asked.”

“I is the one that started the fight,” she whispers, hanging her head.

“I see,” he says. What a mess. “You are never to do that again, do you understand? It’s an order. You may end a fight. You may not start one. I don’t care what they say about me – my reputation is my concern. Not yours.”

She sniffs, and lets go of his robes to clasp her hands behind her back. “Yes, Master Draco. I is sorry, Master Draco.”

He looks back over to Dumbledore. “It is, however, quite impolite for an elf to speak ill of another elf’s master. I am intimately acquainted with Dobby’s behavioral issues, but perhaps that is something that could be addressed going forward?”

The rest of the elves around them went silent when he arrived, and it’s disconcerting, those dozens upon dozens of eyes watching this whole thing silently.

Dobby shakes his head, “Malfoys is bad! You is bad, and you is hurting Winky!”

Draco ignores that, instead choosing to look down at Winky. Her little hands are curled into fists, and she looks angry enough that she could almost set Dobby on fire with fury in her eyes alone. But she stays silent, and still. Good.

“That’s enough,” McGonagall says, shaking Dobby by the back of his shirt. “Thank you, Mr. Malfoy, we will take that under advisement. I believe we’re done here.”

“Not quite,” Dumbledore says evenly, “there is the matter of Winky’s punishment.”

All the house elves seem to shrink back without even moving. What Draco wouldn’t give to just get to throw one good hex at Dumbledore’s stupid, twinkling eyes.

Albus,” McGonagall says, appalled. “Surely that’s not necessary? She was provoked, and Mr. Malfoy has ensured she won’t do it again.”

“We don’t tolerate violence at Hogwarts,” he says, “she broke the rules, and harmed someone, and must be punished for it.”

What an asshole. This isn’t a punishment for Winky. It’s a lesson for Draco.

“Hands on the oven should do it,” Filch says gleefully.

“I think a few restricted meals will be just fine,” McGonagall says, but she looks uncomfortable. “I’m sure Mr. Malfoy could use the break on his magic.”

Either burned hands or getting partially cut off from his magic, the only way Winky has to survive. Maybe Hermione has a point. Even if they can’t get rid of the house elf system, there has to be something better than – this. Winky shouldn’t be punished for her loyalty.

Dobby’s eyes are wide and regretful, so that’s something, and Winky simply looks resigned. This isn’t fair, and beyond that he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t give a crap that Dumbledore is the headmaster, about his long list of accolades and titles, about any of it. If he thinks he can manipulate and push Draco around, he’s got another thing coming.

He’s a Malfoy. He’s not going to take this shitty attempt at a moral lesson from Dumbledore, of all people.

“Hands on the oven, you said?” Draco asks, mind made up. “Ten seconds is the standard in my house. I assume that will suffice?”

“That’s acceptable, Mr. Malfoy. I truly am sorry about this,” Dumbledore says. He doesn’t sound sorry.

Winky goes to move forward, but he places a hand on her shoulder. “Winky is not a castle elf. She’s mine, and therefore her actions are my responsibility. You understand, of course.”

Draco walks forward, head held high as he rolls the sleeves of his robe up in precise movements. The elves part for him, and Draco merely touches the wand in his pocket to cast a levitation charm to lift a bubbling pan of something off the stove.

“Mr. Malfoy, stop this instant!” McGonagall demands. She sounds panicked. Good.

The burner is red hot and encased in a small ring of flames. He slaps his hands against the stove top, and the sizzling of his flesh is instant. He bites his tongue to keep from crying out, and his mouth fills with blood that he has to swallow down. The flames lick up and over his hands, burning more than just the parts that are pressed to it’s surface. It’s excruciating, and keeping his hands against the burner is the hardest thing he’s ever done, watching his skin bubble and burn from the heat.

“It’s been ten seconds,” Snape says quietly.

He lifts his hands up off the stove top, taking a deep breath before carefully lowering the pot back on top of the burner. It hurts so badly he wants to collapse right there, a sensation like he hands are being pierced through with needles, over and over with each throb of pain. He turns around, and everyone’s starring at him, the house elves looking at him with eyes as large as dinner plates. McGonagall has her hand pressed to her mouth, and Filch is disgusted. Snape and Dumbledore’s faces are completely blank.

“Are we done here?” he asks, and hopes there’s no blood on his teeth.

“Yes,” Dumbledore answers, not even a hint to what he’s thinking, “I believe we are.”

“You need to go to the hospital wing!” McGonagall insists, “Come, I’ll escort you.”

He sneers, and it’s difficult to look condescending when he’s in this much pain. “That’s unnecessary, Professor. If you’ll excuse me.”

He turns on his heel and walks away, the elves parting for him once more. He hears McGonagall call after him, but he just picks up his pace.

If he goes to the hospital wing, his parents will be alerted. That’s pretty much the last thing in the world he wants, so he’s going to have to figure something else out.

~

Harry goes to the great hall after his chat with Cedric, and is a little bit disappointed that it’s still mostly empty. Pansy is sitting at the Slytherin table without Blaise or Draco, which Harry’s kind of surprised by. He figured Draco would want to know what Cedric said, and half expected him to be awake and waiting for him.

He heads over to the Gryffindor table, where Angelina has commandeered a large section with what looks like training plans spread out all across it. She’s just as crazy as Wood half the time, and he’d missed the last practice because he was studying for the first task. She’d understood, obviously, but she hadn’t been happy about it. Going over the training schedule with her seems like a good way to make it up to her.

Except he’s halfway to the table when two girls step into his way, and he nearly walks into them. “Padma, Parvati,” he greets, taking a step back so he’s not standing literally right in front of them, “Uh, can I help you?” He doesn’t know them nearly as well as he does Fred and George, so he’s glad they’re in different houses, otherwise he’d never be able to tell them apart.

They share a glance, and Padma says, “Our grandmother was a Parselmouth.”

That hadn’t been what he was expecting. “Oh! Uh, cool. Are either of you?”

“No, and if we were, we wouldn’t tell anyone. Just like my grandmother kept it a secret her whole life, like her father did, and like her great grandmother did. We have a history of it in our family, although no one currently has the ability.”

This feels like a conversation that he’s not qualified to have. “Uh. Sorry?”

Parvati doesn’t respond to that and continues, “It’s regarded a dark ability. Ever since Salazar Slytherin, ever since You-Know-Who, it hasn’t been something that people can just do. It’s had a stigma attached to it.”

“Everyone seems okay so far?” he says. “A couple articles aren’t so bad. I’ve had worse for less. Besides, screw them. We had it first, right? It belongs to us.” Besides, and he’s not going to say this, Slytherin and Voldemort are just two people. Apparently, there are more good Parselmouths in the Patil family alone than the ones that ruined it for everyone else.

“It will get worse,” Padma says ominously. She’s been spending too much time around Trelawney. “But that’s not our point. You’re Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. You can get away with doing what the rest of us can’t. So, what we’re trying to say is – thank you. For not hiding, for telling everyone what you are and what you can do. Maybe one of our kids will have the ability, and maybe they won’t have to hide it. Maybe people will start associating Parselmouths with you instead of dark lords.”

Parvati adds quietly, “It was a sign of being blessed by the heavens, before. It meant you were god-touched. Our family used to take great pride in how many Parselmouths we had. So – thank you.”

Yep, this is absolutely a conversation he isn’t prepared to have. He feels like he’s navigating a minefield. “Er, sure. Anytime.”

They seem exasperated by him, which he’s used to, but they don’t roll their eyes, which is new. “See ya, Harry,” they say in unison, their somber air peeling away from them like the first layer of an onion. They walk out of the great hall, dark heads bent together.

As literally the only other Indian students, he could probably ask them for help, or at least book recommendations. But also the Patil twins intimidate him, and the only thing he truly feels comfortable going to them for is fashion advice, and he has Pansy for that. Anything else would be too humiliating.

Maybe he should just as Draco for help. He’ll know where the history books are, at least, and will probably only make fun of him a little bit.

~

Draco walks down to the Slytherin common room, cursing the fact that he only knows one person who’s any good at healing charms. He’s not half bad at them, and could probably heal the burns himself if he could hold his wand. Healing spells are tricky at the best of times, and there’s a big difference between casting a first year levitation spell without the correct wand movements, and doing the same with something meant to knit his flesh back together.

“Draco! What happened?” He’s cursing, but he looks up, and it’s just his cousin, no demonic red haired hip attachment in sight. Luna’s eyes are wide, and she reaches out so her hands are hovering over his, clearly wanting to help but knowing better than to try and touch.

Don’t worry about it,” he says, slipping into Japanese because if Luna’s skills with her mother’s language get rusty, his mum will somehow make this his fault. If Xeno would speak to her in literally anything but English or Latin, they wouldn’t have this problem. “What are you doing down here anyway?

Her eyes narrow, “Your hands are a burned, bleeding mess.

I’m well aware of that, thank you. Why are you down here? What do you want?”

She bites her lip, then reaches into her bag and pulls out a roll of parchment. It takes him all of two seconds to recognize it as the charms essay on the effect states of matter had on banishment that Flitwick had assigned all the third years. “I’m pretty sure getting my help counts as cheating.”

“You’re not officially Professor Flitwick’s aid, so it’s not officially cheating,” she says. She’s definitely spending too much time around Ginny. He wishes he could think of a way to dissuade that.

Stick it in my bag for me, I’ll take a look at it tonight and get it back to you tomorrow,” he says, giving in. She’s going to write the article about Cedric for them, he can help her with her essay. He’s a harsher grader than Flitwick is, anyway.

Luna does as he says, neatly tucking it along the seam. “Are you really not going to tell me what happened?”

“Scram,” he says, switching back to English. “Everything’s fine. I’m fine. Don’t be late to class.”

She gives him an unimpressed stare that she had to have learned from Ginny, then walks away. He really doesn’t like the influence that girl is having on his cousin.

When he finally makes it to the Slytherin common room, it’s pretty much deserted. Even Millie has left already, and he’s going to be late for Potions. At least Snape will know why. He can think of only one useful person who might still be here.

He walks to the sixth year rooms, going to the one at the end and kicking the door because he can’t knock. It takes about forty five seconds of continuous kicking before the door opens and Cassius snarls, “WHAT?” His hair is stickup up every which way and he’s got deep purple bruises beneath his eyes. He’s also keeping his door mostly closed, clearly trying to hide whatever’s behind it, and Draco doesn’t have the words to describe how much he doesn’t care about whatever secret Cassius is trying to hide. He holds up his hands, and all the anger drains out of Cassius. “Shit. What happened to you? Why aren’t you in the hospital wing?”

“How are your healing charms?” he asks, ignoring both those questions.

Cassius is wary, which is not a good sign. “Fine. Not good enough to fix your hands.”

“It doesn’t have to be. Just heal them enough that I can hold my bloody wand, and I’ll do the rest myself.” He holds out his right hand, “Here, you don’t even have to cast on both of them, just my dominate hand will do.”

“Draco. Go to the hospital wing,” Cassius says, “This is stupid.”

“If you don’t help me, I’ll find someone who will,” he says, “and when someone who’s not as good as you fucks it up, you’ll have to find another chaser for the quidditch team. One who has hands. Or I’ll try and cast with broken hands, mess something up, and get my hands cut off for my trouble. Or you can stop whining for two seconds and do a level one healing charm.”

They stare at each other for a long moment, then Cassius sighs and says, “You’re kind of a dick, you know that?”

“I’ve been called worse by people I like better than you,” Draco says, “Now, if you could please make yourself useful?”

He sighs, but pulls out his wand and points it at Draco’s right hand. He takes a deep breath, steadying himself, then says slowly and carefully, “Episkey.”

It’s weak, but it works, and the wounds heal just enough that Draco thinks he get enough motor control from his hands to actually perform some spells. It seems to dull the pain more than actually heal anything, but he’s not surprised. Episkey is largely guided by the castor’s will, and it’s obvious Cassius is too worried about messing up the spell to actually do anything truly helpful. “Thanks,” he says, instead of pointing any of that out.

He pulls his wand from his robe, and points at his left hand. He makes sure the wand movements are precise, but doesn’t bother to do them slowly. “Tergeo,” he casts, vanishing the dead tissue that had been burned away. Cassius makes a retching sound, and it’s humorous enough that Draco can mostly ignore the pain. “Episkey,” he says, but he’s not afraid, he doesn’t hesitate. He knows what he’s doing. The wounds don’t disappear, but they do look to be about a week old, and thanks to the magic they won’t scar. It’s not perfect, any actual healing student would laugh in his face, but it will do. He switches hands, being more careful to cast correctly with his left hand, and repeats the process.

His hands aren’t completely healed, but they’re no longer burned and bleeding, and he can use his wand correctly. It’s good enough. He’s tempted to cast it again, but layering healing spells in too short a time frame is tricky, and it’s better if he just waits and heals a little bit more each day instead of risking a magical backlash.

“You know,” Cassius says, “you’re kind of scary.”

Draco blinks, not understanding. “You’re scary. Brush your hair,” he says, then walks away. If he runs, he’ll probably only be a little late to class.

~

Harry notices Draco’s hands during potions, notices how pretty much every Slytherin in the room demands an explanation, but Draco pretends like nothing is wrong. Snape had almost looked … impressed when Draco had shown up to class, which meant nothing good.

Of course, he doesn’t get a chance to question him until that night, when they all meet up in their classroom.

“Finally!” Blaise says as soon as he steps inside, “He won’t tell us anything, maybe he’ll tell you!”

“There’s nothing to tell,” Draco says stubbornly. “You’re all making a big deal out of nothing. Shouldn’t we be focusing on figuring out what Harry’s screaming egg means?”

Ron’s got longer legs, so he reaches Draco first. He grabs his wrists and holds them up, so they can all see the red, half-healed wounds on his hands. “What happened? How did this happen? They look old, but you didn’t have them this morning according to Pansy. Did Snape do this?”

Draco ineffectually tries to pull away, then gives up. “Not everything is Snape’s fault, you know. I’m not perfect at healing charms, this is as good as I could do.”

“You performed a healing charm on yourself? That’s dangerous! Healing magic is very volatile, who knows what could have happened!” Hermione exclaims.

“Oh, my mistake, I should have gone to – who, exactly, to heal me? If I went to the hospital wing or Flitwick, they’d notify my parents, which isn’t happening. We’re still fighting.”

“How did you get hurt in the first place?” Harry asks. “It can’t have been just an accident. If it was, you wouldn’t be wasting time trying to lie to us.”

He crosses his arms. “I’m not lying!”

“You’re not telling us the truth, either,” Blaise says, scowling.

Harry walks forward, until he’s close, probably too close. Draco swallows. He holds out his hands and says, “I tell you everything. Always. What are you trying to keep from me?”

His soulmate says nothing, starring at him for a long moment in silence. Then he sighs, and places his hands in Harry’s. “It’s really not that big of a deal. I just didn’t want you guys to over react.”

Harry rubs his thumb over the back of Draco’s hands, careful not to hurt him. The red welts look especially grotesque against Draco’s pale skin. He keeps holding his hands as Draco tells him what happened, about what he did. About what Dumbledore forced him to do.

When he finishes, they’re all quiet. Draco has his head tilted back, not looking at any of them, an embarrassed blush high on his cheeks. “Why did you do it?” Blaise asks. “She’s just a house elf.”

Hermione scowls, but Ron elbows her in the side before she can say anything.

Draco shrugs, “If my options are bending to Dumbledore’s will or burning my hands, well.” Some of his nonchalance peels away, and he adds on, quieter, “Winky didn’t deserve to be punished. She’s a loyal elf. A good elf. If we punish loyal, good elves, then – then the line between what we’re doing now and what it would be unacceptable for us to do gets that much thinner.”

“Oh,” Hermione says, so softly that she probably didn’t mean to say anything at all.

Draco coughs and takes his hands back, crossing his arms. Harry’s hands feel oddly cold now that they’re not holding Draco’s. “Anyway, whatever, it’s fine. I’ll keep healing them, and in a few days they’ll be back to normal and it will be like nothing happened. Okay? We have actual problems to worry about.”

“Like what?” Pansy asks, forcing a smile that almost looks natural.

“Like the fact that we need to get Luna’s article published in the Prophet, otherwise there’s no point, and I have no idea how to do that. All the connections I have to the Prophet are my mother’s, and normally I’d have no problem cashing in a favor in her name, but–”

“You’re fighting,” Ron finishes.

Pansy turns to Blaise, “Isn’t your mum dating someone at the Prophet?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he says dryly, “my mother would never stoop so low as to get involved with someone in that income bracket. They’re just sleeping together.”

“Gotta make a living,” Pansy says, and Harry snorts. “Well, I have a crazy great aunt that’s a big contributor, but getting her to agree is going to be a pain.”

“Longbottom might know someone,” Blaise says, “His family is big enough that they’ve got their hands in about everything. Or the Browns. I could ask Lavender.”

“I could ask Susan,” Draco suggests, and Harry raises both his eyebrows. Is he talking about the red headed girl in Hufflepuff?

The Slytherins start throwing around family names, and mentioning specific people that Harry’s never heard before. He looks over at Ron, who rolls his eyes. “Upper class nonsense,” he whispers so only Harry and Hermione can hear them, “We could just send it in anonymously, and they’d probably publish it. It’s such an obvious snub to you that the Prophet won’t be able to resist. They thrive on this crap, and they’d love for you and Cedric and to have a rivalry.”

“Are you going to tell them that?” Hermione asks.

He shakes his head, “Nope. It is better if we can get it published officially, and they enjoy this time of stuff.” He pulls a deck of cards out of his pocket. “Exploding snap?”

She laughs and the three of them play a game while the Slytherins argue amongst themselves. Tomorrow Harry’s going to have to get up early to head to Hogsmeade, but it’s worth the lack of sleep to just be able to hang out with everyone.

He can’t keep from stealing glances at Draco’s hands, and he has to push down a spike of anger each time.

~

It’s nearly dawn by the time Draco, Blaise, and Pansy stumble back to their common room. They all freeze in the doorway.

“Uh,” Blaise says, “did we miss something?”

The common room is always clean, of course, but now – it’s nearly sparkling. The curtains, formally basic green velvet, have been embroidered with a silver snake pattern, and the black leather couches look good as new, no scratches or parts that have been obviously patched with magic. The walls are – grey? He’d always thought they the stone was black, but apparently that was just a few hundred years of smoke and dirt. The tables and chairs have been polished, and the chair cushions have been replaced. Tapestries Draco has never seen before are now hung up along the wall, as well as several new portraits who’s inhabitants look just as intrigued to be there as they are to see them.

“Winky,” Draco says, and she appears with crack, head bent. She’s in a grey silk dress with a complicated collar and high waist. Her sewing skills are improving. “Did you do this?”

“Mip helped,” she says, twisting her hands together.

“Why?” he asks, baffled.

She hunches down. “I – I is wanting to say sorry to Master Draco, for – for – because of – because.”

“It’s very impressive,” he says honestly, and can’t help himself from feeling touched she went to the effort. “But it was unnecessary. You are my elf, and therefore my responsibility.”

Winky finally looks up at him, glaring, and says fiercely, “Master Draco is my master, and therefore he is my responsibility!”

She vanishes with a crack. Draco blinks. He hadn’t expected that, and has no idea how to react to it. Blaise yawns and says, “I can’t believe I just heard an elf say therefore.”

“Let’s go to bed,” Draco declares, “before today gets any weirder.”

Pansy kisses them both on the cheek before stumbling to her room, and Draco and Blaise head in the other direction. He’s asleep before his head hits the pillow.

~

Harry is, once more, up before dawn. He’d gone to bed earlier than the others, but not by much, and tomorrow he’s planning to sleep the whole day away. Why do they keep doing this? What do the six of them have against a decent night’s sleep?

If this were for anyone else but Sirius and Remus, he would absolutely still be asleep. As it is, he pulls himself out of bed, gets dressed in the dark to avoid waking anyone, and walks over to Hogsmeade. It’s a visiting weekend, so he doesn’t have to use the secret passageways, but it’s so early that he’s the only one there.

Which raises a question he hadn’t thought to ask until just now – how are they meeting? The Three Broomsticks is open for breakfast, but not for a couple more hours. He stands in front of the door, confused and it’s a little earie to be in the village this early. There are a couple people awake and walking around, but not many, and it’s strange to see the normally bustling and crowded village so empty.

He’s still trying to figure out if he’s supposed to knock or something when he hears a soft bark. He looks over, and sure enough there’s a giant black dog peaking around the side of the building. “Padfoot!”

The dog’s tail starts wagging, and then he disappears around the corner. Harry hurries to follow him, and is led to a back entrance of the pub. Padfoot scratches at the door and let out another soft bark. The door opens, and he slips inside, Harry following him in. It looks like a room used for banquets or parties, and he only has a moment to look around before his eyes land on his former professor. “Remus!” he says, beaming. “You look great.”

He really does. He’s wearing new robes, and he doesn’t look tired for once. He’s standing taller, prouder, there’s something about him that can’t be attributed to new clothes and a few good nights’ rest. It’s like he’s finally comfortable in his own skin.

“See? He said the new robes made him look stuffy. I said they made him look dashing,” a gravelly voice says, and Harry spins around. Sirius is back in human form, and he looks better too. He still seems a little too thin, a little too pale, but his eyes are bright, and the smile around his mouth seems genuine.

Harry throws himself at his godfather, wrapping his arms around his waist and burying his face in his chest. He then freezes, wondering if maybe he shouldn’t have done that. They’ve been trading letters for months, but this is only the second time they’ve met in person. Maybe that was strange, and he shouldn’t be this happy to see him.

He doesn’t have much time to second guess himself before Sirius has him in a crushing grip, one hand across his back and the other cradling the back of his head. It’s weird, he’s been hugged before, by his friends and even some adults, but when Sirius hugs him it feels – parental, almost, although he really wouldn’t know from personal experience. But he thinks he’s right.

“We were so worried!” Sirius whispers, holding him impossibly tighter for a moment. “Dragons, how could they send you to face dragons? But you did brilliantly, you were amazing – you rode a dragon! And you can speak Parseltongue–”

“Right,” Harry says, trying to swallow down his fear.

Sirius pulls back, but keeps his hands on Harry’s shoulders. His face smooths into seriousness, and he says, “Your dad would be so proud of you, Harry. Even more proud of you than I am.”

“Yeah?” he asks, lighting up.

Remus comes over, placing one hand on Sirius’s back and ruffling Harry’s hair with the other. “Yeah. Your great aunt was a Parselmouth, and he’d always admired her. He’d be so happy to know you inherited her ability.” He smiles, something admiring and proud in his gaze that makes Harry stand a little straighter. “He’d be even prouder of you for telling everyone, for not hiding who you are. Your great aunt never told anyone outside of the family what she could do, because of what people would say.”

He wants to just take the compliment, but he thinks back to what the Patil sisters said, and they have a point. “It’s easier for me. I can get away with it, in ways they couldn’t. I know the press will get bored of being nice to me at some point, they always do, but even when that happens – I don’t think I’ll get the same kind of suspicion and ridicule someone who’s not me would be under.”

Remus blinks in surprise, then his smile widens. “It’s never easy to go against people’s prejudices to say who and what you are, no matter the dubious privilege of your fame. You’re doing a good thing, Harry.”

He ducks his head, flushing, and changes the subject. “Did you guys just break in here? We could have met somewhere else. Draco had Winky clean the Shrieking Shack, it’s actually pretty nice there now. Well, relatively.”

“We rented the room from Rosmerta,” Remus says.

“I love that woman,” Sirius says, “She’s so willing to sell her morals away, I really admire that in a person.” 

He sounds completely serious. Harry knows that a good portion of the underage drinking that goes on is due to Madame Rosmerta and her loose rules in regards to selling alcohol. The more money she’s offered, the less questions she asks. Clearly that’s her policy across the board. Well. She’s got to make a living, as Pansy would say.

“Come on,” he steers Harry into a chair then pulls one out to sit across from him. He kicks one out for Remus as well. “We read the papers, of course, but tell us everything. How did you know there would even by a wyvern in the forest to hear you?”

“Oh, Draco summoned him,” he says, “It’s the same one he summoned when we were in second year to fight the basilisk.”

Sirius’s mouth drops open, “The what?”

“Oh Merlin above,” Remus says, “Minerva wasn’t lying? That really happened?”

Harry stares. “Why would she make that up?”

“Where and why did you face a basilisk?” Sirius demands. “Those are dangerous! And at twelve years old?”

Okay, wow, this is going to take some time to go get through. Harry tries to quickly go through the events of his second year, but it ends up taking way longer because they both keep stopping him to ask for clarification. Yes, Hermione really did brew a Polyjuice potion in the girls’ bathroom. No, Ginny is not the actual heir of Slytherin. Yes, Draco managed to summon a wild wyvern and a giant ashwinder. No, Harry did not stab himself with the fang when he punctured the diary. Yes, tricking the Malfoys into freeing their elf was as fantastic as it sounds. By the time he gets to actually describing the first task, it’s nearly been two hours, and then that takes a half hour more.

He’s describing the judge’s faces, and Remus is biting lips to keep from laughing, while Sirius doesn’t even bother. He’s laughing so hard he’s clutching his stomach, half bent over the chair. It’s really good to see him laughing, it makes him look like how he looked in his parent’s wedding photo.

His laughter is winding down when Harry asks, “Hey, can I uh, ask you a weird question? Or like, a couple of them?”

“Of course,” Sirius says, wiping at his eyes. “Weird questions are what we’re here for.”

“Is my name Harry? Like – just Harry? It’s not Harold?”

The humor drains from both their faces, and he regrets asking. He likes it better when they’re smiling.

Remus says quietly, “It’s not Harold. Your name is Harry on your birth certificate.”

“James was always conflicted about having a British name,” Sirius says, lips quirked up at the corners in a poor imitation of his smile from just a minute ago. “Some days he liked it, others it annoyed him how he was one of the few people in the family that didn’t have a traditional name. So Lily came up with Harry. It was supposed to be – well, they didn’t want to have to choose. They didn’t want you to have to choose. So Harry, a good British name. And Hari, a good Indian name. It’s spelled the British way on your birth certificate, but – you were always meant to have both.” He slumps, and his sad excuse for a smile drops from his face. “I’m sorry you didn’t grow up with both.”

“Hey,” he really didn’t want to make them sad, “it’s okay.” He wishes he’d grown up differently, he wishes he’d grown up with parents who loved him, with someone who loved him, grown up not being the darkest person in whatever room he happened to be in. But he can’t change that, there’s no time turner powerful enough for that. “You can tell me what I’ve missed. Did my dad speak another language? He did, right? It’s a wizard thing, and he was a wizard.”

Some of the darkness leaves Sirius’s face. “Yes, of course. He spoke the most when we started Hogwarts, although Moony had outstripped him by the time we graduated. He spoke Latin and Greek, of course, but also Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, and Sanskrit. But his first language was Tamil.”

“Tamil?” he repeats. He’s never even heard of it before.

Remus speaks in a language he doesn’t recognize, words tumbling over each other too quickly for Harry to even being to tell them apart, but he likes the way it sounds, almost like a melody. It’s his father’s language. It was supposed to be his language too.

Harry can’t spend the rest of the day hidden away, people will talk, but he does he’s there with them until noon, listening to stories about parents from his father’s two best friends.

~

Time seems to move more quickly after that Hogsmeade weekend, and everything feels – calmer, easier. He still has the screaming egg to figure out, but things don’t seem quite so dire and rushed as they have for the past week. Classes return to normal, Krum is at the Gryffindor table every other day, plastered to Hermione’s side, Draco spends his spare time around the Beauxbatons students speaking in rapid-fire French, the quidditch teams practice together in a clearing Hagrid found for them, and Harry keeps writing Sirius and Remus.

He can’t get the sound of Tamil out his head. Sirius can speak it too, and he wishes he didn’t have to spend the summer with the Dursley’s. Maybe if he spent the summer with his godfather and Remus, they could start to teach him. He doesn’t know about Sirius, but he knows Remus is a brilliant teacher. But – it will have to wait. He’s always forced to spend the summer with the Dursleys.

He’s finally gotten back of the flow of the school year, which is why he’s completely unprepared when McGonagall reminds them all that the Yule Ball is coming up, and not so subtly remarks that the champions will be opening the ball with the first dance. This is a nightmare. At the very least, Ron looks like he agrees with him.

That night, Pansy sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. “You forgot? How could forget? It’s a ball!”

“You need dancing lessons,” Draco says. It’s a statement, not a question, and Harry would be able to muster up some indignation if he weren’t completely correct. He’s going to have to dance in front of everyone, and he has no idea how to do that without looking like a disaster.

Ron is unimpressed. “We were busy. Who are you all going with, if you’re so prepared?”

“Viktor asked me weeks ago,” Hermione says, “I’m sorry, I should have known neither of you had asked anyone, but I forgot.” Ron almost says something to that, but restrains himself, for which Harry is grateful. That a discussion for another time, hopefully when none of them are there to witness it.

“I’m taking Luna,” Draco says, not looking at him. Harry shoves down his pang of regret. Draco might be his soulmate, but he’s not even an option. They could never go to something as public as a ball together, not while they’re pretending to hate each other. Harry doesn’t even know if Draco would want to go with him anyway. “If she doesn’t go with an older student, she can’t go at all.”

Blaise shrugs, “Lavender Brown asked me last week.”

“She’s a Gryffindor,” Ron points out.

“She’s hot,” Blaise answers, deadpan. “And a pureblood, and rich. Plus the Browns are technically still part of the Severan Dynasty, not that that matters anymore, but it will make my mother happy, at least.”

“Your mum wants you to date within the family? Scandalous,” Pansy teases.

Blaise rolls his eyes, “The Browns came to Britain about a thousand years before we did, I don’t think we have anything to worry about. I probably have more blood in common with you than them.”

“Wait,” Hermione says, eyebrows pushed together, “Are you … you don’t mean the Severan Dynasty, as in the decedents of Septimus Severus?”

“Is there another one?” Blaise asks. “I feel like I would have heard about that.”

“I always forget that you’re royalty,” Ron says.

Hermione looks stricken. Harry has no idea what any of them are talking about, as usual. “Uh, guys, an explanation? Please?”

“There’s being a pureblood,” Draco says, “then there’s Blaise. He can trace his ancestry back almost three thousand years, from Africa to Rome to Britain.”

“On my mother’s side,” Blaise points out, “who knows what’s on my father’s.”

“Oh, he’s surely a respectable pureblood, otherwise your mother wouldn’t have chosen him, whoever he is,” Pansy says.

Harry must still look confused, because Ron says, “Blaise is the direct descendant of Septimus Severus, the emperor of Rome for like fifty years.”

“One hundred forty five to two hundred eleven common era,” Hermione says. Harry doesn’t know how to describe the look on her face. He doesn’t think it’s a good look.

“Correct,” Blaise says, surprised. “He was also the head of magical sect of Rome, and while our reign as emperor of the muggles was short lived, comparatively, my family ruled for a bit longer among the witches and wizards.”

“About a thousand years longer,” Ron says dryly, and Harry’s mouth drops open. “Your family finally made it a democracy in, what? The thirteen hundreds?”

Blaise sniffs, “Twelve hundred thirty four common era.”

“And your family’s been in and out of positions of power ever since,” Ron says. “We should go with you to Italy sometime. I bet it would be interesting.”

Draco and Pansy crack up, and Blaise suddenly looks very put upon. “It’s a riot,” Pansy agrees.

“It’s not quite as bad as whenever Harry goes out in public, but it’s close,” Draco says.

“Regardless,” Blaise says, clearly trying to steer the conversation away from that topic, “the Browns are a branch of the family, however distant, and Mother will be happy that I’m playing nice. Besides, Lavender is more than attractive enough to make up for her house.”

Pansy must take pity on him, because she announces, “I’m going with Flint.”

Everyone goes deathly quiet. Harry clears his throat, “May I ask why?”

“No,” she answers.

“Oh,” he says, disappointed. “Okay.”

She grins, “Just kidding. I’m going with him because he’s got muscles on top of his muscles, and I’m going to climb him like a tree. As long as he doesn’t talk too much, I’m sure it will be a very enjoyable evening.”

“There are other cute boys, Pansy,” Draco says, pained.

Harry blinks. Why is he saying that? Is he looking at them?

As soon as the thought enters his mind, he wants to punch himself in the face. Can he chill out for two seconds?

“No, Pansy’s right,” Hermione says, shaking off whatever had put her in a strange mood earlier. “Flint is a barbarian. But he’s a fit barbarian.”

“Can we please stop talking about this?” Ron asks. “I’m begging you. Anything else. Any other topic of conversation.”

“Did you see the cover of Witch’s Weekly?” Blaise offers. “Apparently, Harry has a harem. That consists of the entirety of the Gryffindor house. They quoted Finnigan, and of all the people to impersonate, I don’t understand why they chose him.”

“Oh, no, Seamus really did say that,” Harry says. “He and Dean went into a lot of detail, thankfully none of which was published. He told me he wanted to help get rid of all the articles about me having darkness or whatever just because I’m a Parselmouth. I don’t think this helped, really, but I appreciate the effort.”

Ron rubs a hand over his face, “Anything else? Can we just have a normal conversation, please?”

“No,” they all say at once. Ron glares at them all, but Harry honestly doesn’t know what he’d been expecting.

~

Draco is nearly finished with his ridiculous extra credit charms essay, but it means he’s been skipping their late night meet up sessions to work in the library. He ends up having to flip through almost every charms journal he’s checked out trying to track down the actual supported reason he’d chosen to do something, and not just write that he’d read it somewhere. He also ends up doing his equations himself, but he still has Hermione double check them. They’re all correct, which is nice, but he wishes he could be as accurate in all aspects or arithmancy, and not just the bits that correspond to spell building.

This means it’s well past the point when he should be in bed when he heads back to his room, and is actually creeping uncomfortably close to dawn. Why is he doing this? This essay doesn’t even count. He has a perfect score in charms, plus a good chunk of his free time is spent in Flitwick’s office helping him grade and plan out his lessons for the year. This essay is a pain, and useless.

Well, whatever, He’s nearly done with it anyway. It’d be even more pointless to go through all this effort to write it up, and then decide not to turn it in.

He’s so caught up in his thoughts that he bumps into someone as he steps into the Slytherin common room, sending them both sprawling to the ground. “What the hell?” he snaps, then catches sigh of bright red hair. It’s one of the Weasley twins, rubbing at his head and wearing pajamas that are a little too big on him. “What are you doing here? Who let you in?”

“Uh,” he says, pale and wide eyed.

It’s then that he finally notices the kiss marks all down his neck, and several pieces fall into place at once. “Merlin’s balls,” he says, “you’re sleeping with Cassius?” No wonder he’d been so concerned about Draco going into his room before.

George, it has to be George, slaps a hand over his mouth. “Please don’t say anything,” he whispers. “He’ll be really mad if anyone finds out.”

Draco realizes he’s the last person in the world that has any room to talk about keeping secrets, but he likes George. He peels his hand away, “Are you sure it’s a great idea to be the dirty little secret of the guy you have a massive crush on? When did this start anyway? I thought Cassius kept telling you no.”

“The night of the party you threw. It – we didn’t – it was an accident,” he admits, “and it’s not just – he’s really nice, is the thing, he just doesn’t want anyone to know. He told me that from the beginning. So, it’s fine. It’s all fine. Please don’t say anything.”

“Do you want people to know?” Draco asks, and this look of pure longing flashes across George’s face before he can get control of it and smooth out his expression. “Oh, wow, okay.”

George grabs his shoulders, eyes shining, and this is wrong, he’s pretty much never seen either of the twins this vulnerable. He doesn’t like it. “Draco! Please. I keep your secrets. Keep mine. I know it’s going to end in disaster, okay? I don’t care.”

“I won’t say anything,” he promises.

George instantly relaxes. He ruffles his hair, whispers “Thanks,” and is gone down the hall towards his own common room.

Well, fuck.

~

They’ve just finished another group quidditch practice, one where Harry does his best not to too obviously stare at Draco and mostly succeeds, when Cedric comes up to him with a gleam in his eye. He’s instantly suspicious. “Harry, hey, are you busy right now? Have anywhere you need to run off to?”

“No, not really,” he says warily. “Why?”

“Krum approached me about having a bit of a friendly competition, since we’re both seekers, and since some clearly ill-informed people might say you’re the best seeker at Hogwarts, I thought you might want to join?” he asks. He’s clearly more invested in this than his casual offer indicates. Someone has money riding on this.

Everyone around them has gone quiet, not so subtly waiting for his answer. “Yeah, sure,” he sighs. “Right now? Is Viktor coming here?”

“We thought we might do it above the great lake, actually,” Cedric says. There’s something he’s not telling him.

He finds out what that something is when they show up, and it looks like most of the three schools have poured themselves onto the grounds, eagerly surrounding the great lake. Harry turns to Cedric, glaring, “I thought we were friends!”

“We are!” he says, swinging his arm around Harry’s around shoulders, “It’ll be fun! I won’t push you if you don’t want to, but you like attention as long as it’s for quidditch, right? This is a nice even competition, no faulty old goblet involved.”

Viktor is waiting for them at the edge of the lake, and he waves them over. Hermione is near the front of the crowd, just behind him and right next to Cho. “Okay, you’re right, fine,” he gives in, walking over with Cedric. He has missed flying in front of a crowd. “Who’s refereeing?”

“That would be me!” Fleur says, melting out of the crowd seemingly out of nowhere.

“I still can’t believe your school doesn’t play quidditch,” Cedric teases. “It’s an important skill!”

Viktor makes frantic cutting motions at his neck, but it’s too late, and Fleur raises a single eyebrow. “Oh, yes, well our curriculum does not support such … basic applications of magic. But I am sure your demonstration will be quite impressive.”

“Fleur is captain of our gliding team,” says a Beauxbatons student that Harry doesn’t recognize. “She could catch that snitch faster than any of you.”

“Clarence,” Fleur scolds, “Do not ruin their little game! It simply would not be fair if I joined.”

Harry and Cedric look at each other, and they’re clearly thinking the same thing. Viktor simply looks resigned. “Oh, but we insist,” Cedric says, “we would hate to leave you out of the festivities.”

“Oh, well, if you insist,” Fleur says, a gleam in her eye that almost makes Harry second guess himself. She holds her wand in the air, “Accio Nimbus!” Her broom comes zooming out of their carriage and stops in front of her. The Beauxbatons students cheer from their side of the lake. She taps herself with her wand and says a spell Harry doesn’t recognize, and her robes shift and change while she’s wearing them. Instead of loose, casual robes, she’s now wearing a skintight powder blue uniform that looks more like their undergear than anything else. She magics her hair up into a tight bun on top of her head and looks to them expectantly. Her shoes disappear completely, and at least she’s barefoot in the sand rather than anywhere else. “Ready?”

“I’ll referee,” Clarence volunteers, then looks to the others, “If that’s all right with you all?”

They all nod. Angelina pushes herself through the crowd and hands Clarence the snitch, making sure to wink at Harry before joining the rest of the Hogwarts quidditch players, who have pushed themselves near the front. He avoids looking at the Slytherin team, because he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from starring at Draco, which would be – bad.

Clarence casts a sonorous charm on himself, then addresses the gathered audience, “Hello everyone! The initial competition has expanded – both Harry Potter and Fleur Delacour will be flying!”

Everyone cheers. Was the competition between Viktor and Cedric something that had been planned far in advance? It had to have been, since everyone is here. People really need to start telling him things.

“The rules are simple. We will release the snitch thirteen times. The one who catches it the most amount of times is the winner. The one who catches it the least amount of times is the loser.” He turns towards them, “Mount up!”

He, Cedric, and Viktor get on their brooms. Fleur places her broom on the ground. “Up!” she commands, hand palm down, but as her broom rises she twists her hand up so her broom rises high above them.

“The hell?” Cedric mutters.

“Rise!” Clarence commands.

Fleur takes out her wand, points it at the ground, and casts, “Ventlabis!” The space in front of her shimmers with magic. She tucks her wand back in her sleeve, looks over at them, winks, and steps on the square of shimmering magic.

It shoots her into the air, and she’s several hundred feet up before she begins to fall back down. Harry panics, but it’s a wasted effort. She does a flip on her way down, then lands delicately on her broom, feet planted firmly on the handle.

“Holy shit,” Harry breathes, “that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Cedric nods in agreement.

“I said rise!” Clarence repeats.

They fly straight up in the air until they’re equal with Fleur. She’s smirking.

“How do you keep your balance?” Harry asks, in awe. “Do you stay standing the whole time?”

“Of course,” she says, and she loses some her smugness to say, “I can try and teach you later, if you would like.”

“Yes,” Harry and Cedric say, even before she’s finished speaking.

“I have tried before,” Viktor admits. “I am quite bad, but would not mind another lesson.”

They all focus on the ground as they see a glint of gold rise into the air, darting around them. Clarence’s magically enhanced voice reaches them in the air, although now that Harry looks down, he can see he’s not alone. Lee has apparently shown up to offer commentary. Brilliant. “Fliers,” Clarence says, “begin!”

It’s hard for Harry to focus, because he keeps wanting to look at Fleur. She rides her broom like it’s a surfboard, effortlessly moving in and around them, directing her broom with just her feet, which Harry hadn’t even known was possible.

Cedric catches the snitch once, and Harry and Viktor each manage to catch it twice.

Fleur catches it eight times.

Harry wonders how much of an uproar it would cause if he transferred to Beauxbatons solely to join their gliding team.

~

Draco is leaving arithmancy when someone hooks their arm in his and yanks him down the hall in the opposite direction of where he’d been planning to go. The opposite direction of the great hall, which contains dinner. He’s hungry!

“Susan,” he sighs, ineffectually trying to tug himself free. “Is this really necessary?”

“I want to talk away from prying ears,” she says, then shoves him into a broom closet. It’s entirely empty, and a little too spotless for Draco to be comfortable. Overly clean secluded spaces are usually a sign that someone recently had sex there. He’d really prefer if Susan didn’t drag him into sex closets. “Who are you going to the ball with?”

“My cousin,” he says. “She wants to go, and no one else was going to take her.”

“Find another date for her, and come with me instead,” Susan says.

Draco stares. “I’m flattered, really I am–”

“Oh, shut up. You have a pretty face, but pretty much all the wrong equipment. I’m not asking because I like you, I’m asking because I want to make a statement. You’re a fan of those, aren’t you?”

“What statement are you looking to make?” he asks warily. Hufflepuffs shouldn’t looks so devious. It’s very uncomfortable.

“I’m a Bones, and you’re a Malfoy,” she says. “My aunt is eyeing the Minister of Magic seat, Fudge’s incompetence will get him sacked eventually, and I think it’s time we shook things up a little.”

“If you’re trying to use me to get to my father, I appreciate your ruthlessness, but you’re barking up the wrong tree,” he tells her. “My opinion wouldn’t influence his vote.”

“It would, actually, but I don’t care about your father. I care about me. Regardless if my aunt gets the appointment or not, I plan on following her footsteps into government. I won’t be able to do that if people think I’m just another one of Dumbledore’s puppets. Will it help my aunt if her favored niece is known as a moderate? Yes. Am I doing this more for my future career than anything else? Also yes.”

“And you think going to the Yule Ball with me will do that?” he asks, disbelieving.

She raises an eyebrow, “I think that ball will be crawling with reporters thanks to the Tournament, and we won’t make the front page, of course, that’s reserved for whatever bullshit they make up about Harry Potter. But we will get a mention in the society pages, and that’s the first step. I am a Hufflepuff, Draco. Slow and steady wins the race, and all that.”

“You could just rig the race,” he feels compelled to point out. Susan is unimpressed. “What do I get out of this?”

“I’ll owe you a favor,” she says.

It may not sound like much, but the Bones are a powerful family, and Susan is clearly shaping up to be a powerful woman. Besides, it’s not like going with her will be a hardship. She’s pretty, and smart, and has enough Slytherin in her that she’s not boring. “Yeah, okay, fine. Deal.”

“Excellent,” she says, far too pleased with herself. Draco can’t help but scowl. “Be sure to pick me up outside of my common room. I assume you know where it is.”

She slips out of the closet before he gets a chance to say anything to that, and he can’t even go after her. He has to spend at least the next five minutes in here before leaving, unless he wants rumors of him and Susan Bones floating about.

His stomach grumbles. Great.

~

The Slytherins had promised them dancing lessons, so even though it’s not a night that they’d normally meet up, Harry and Ron head to their classroom after finishing up the first drafts of their transfiguration essays. They were both planning on asking Pansy to check them over. Draco and Hermione were better at actually writing out the essay, but Pansy could glance through several feet of parchment in a couple minutes and tell them all the factual mistakes they’d made. It was impressive. And terrifying.

When they slip inside, everyone’s there but Draco. There’s music playing from what seems like nowhere, and Blaise is carefully leading Hermione across the room in a simple dance. “You’re pretty good at this,” he says.

She flushes. “Viktor has been giving me lessons. He’s a – very good teacher.”

Ron’s eyes narrow. Pansy bounces to her feet and says, too loud and too cheerfully, “Harry! Ron! You’re finally here. You know, if you need some assistance getting a date to the ball, I could probably help with that.”

“Oh, uh,” Ron rubs the back of his neck, “I got a date to the ball, actually.”

“What?” Harry says, “How? When? It’s been like two days!”

“Who?” Hermione asks intently.

The door slams open, cutting off whatever answer Ron had been planning on giving. Draco is scowling, and he says, “Harry, I need you to do me a favor.”

“Of course,” he says, startled, all thoughts about Ron and his date leaving his head. “What is it?”

He kicks the door shut behind him, “Take Luna to the ball as your date.”

Oh. Well, better than him having to find a date on his own. “Sure. I thought you were taking her, though?”

“I was. But Susan wants to use me a media ploy, and I agreed. Luna really wants to go, and I don’t want her going with just anyone. I’d push her on Longbottom, but he’s already taking Ginny.”

“He’s what?” Ron asks, “Since when?”

Draco rolls his eyes, “Relax, it’s Longbottom. Your demonic sister could chew him up and spit him out if she felt like it. I’d be more worried about him than her.”

Ron glares, but gives a one shouldered shrug because, well, he’s got a point.

“I’ll go with Luna, no problem,” Harry says. The thought of Draco going with Susan makes his stomach knot up, but he’s pretty sure he’s being ridiculous.

Blaise clears his throat, “Well, now that that’s sorted out, dance lessons? I’m not staying up late for this. I’m going to get a good night’s sleep for once if it kills me.”

“Dramatic,” Pansy says, but holds out her hand to Harry. “I actually have someplace to be too, so let’s get this moving.”

“Where are you going?” he asks, taking her hand. She places his other hand on her back, and rests her own on his shoulder.

“I’m meeting Flint in the astronomy tower. To help him study,” she says, and then laughs when they all groan. No one studies in the astronomy tower.

“Nice,” Hermione says, being spun around by Blaise. Harry likes boys, and he can admit Flint is well built, but he doesn’t get the appeal at all. Blech.

Draco offers his hand to Ron, who takes it. He has more of clue about what to do than Harry, because he settles his hand on Draco’s waist without prompting. They pass the next hour that way, with Blaise and Hermione smoothly dancing around the room and the rest of them – not so much. Ron gets the hang of it about halfway through, but he has to keep looking at his feet if he doesn’t want to step on Draco, who lets out an indignant yell that’s more drama than pain each time it happens.

Harry is a disaster.

He’s a seeker, he’s normally pretty good at physical stuff, but he just can’t focus. He keeps on bumping into Pansy, or stepping when he shouldn’t, or tripping over his own feet.

“Harry!” Pansy says. “Come on, you have to get this. You’re going to have dance in front of everyone, and reporters will be there.”

“Do you want to give me a panic attack?” he asks. “I’m trying!”

“Try harder,” she tells him unsympathetically. “I have to go, Flint is waiting for me.”

Blaise bows to Hermione, “Me too, I miss my bed. Hermione doesn’t need my help anyway.”

Harry runs his hand through his hair, frustrated, and Draco says, “I can keep going.”

“What?” he looks up, heart jumping into his throat.

“If Ron doesn’t mind. I can, uh, help you practice instead,” he says.

Ron steps away, “Nope, I don’t mind at all. You need it more than me, mate,” He claps Harry on the shoulder, then turns to Hermione. “Hey, will you help me with the transfiguration essay?”

“I thought you’d finished?” she asks, confused. “Besides, Pansy said she’d help.”

“Well, you know you love telling me how wrong I am, so won’t you look it over for me?”

She huffs, but says, “Sure.”

“Great!” he grabs her hand, “Let’s go.”

“Now?” she asks, startled, “Ron, it’s the middle of night–”

“Never too late for learning!” he says cheerfully, dragging Hermione out of the classroom. “Good luck, guys!”

The door slams shut behind him. It’s silent except for the soft swell of music, and Draco coughs before holding out his hand, “So, dancing?”

“Right,” he says, then has to swallow twice because his mouth is dry. He presses his hand against the small of Draco’s back, and Draco holds onto his shoulder, while their other hands are pressed together. “Sorry I’m so bad at this.”

“It’s okay,” Draco says, and for some reason they’re standing closer than he and Pansy were, but he can’t bring himself to move away. “Just – relax. It’s not that hard, I’ve been taking dancing lessons since I was a kid.”

“Yeah, it’s not hard for you because you’ve been taking dancing lessons since you were a kid,” he says.

Draco flashes him a grin, “If I can do this at seven, you can do it now. At least you’re going with Luna – she’s an excellent dancer, better than I am. She’ll make you look better than you are.”

“Great,” he says, “Uh – good. Excellent.”

They stop talking after that, except for Draco’s soft instructions. Maybe his problem was just that he couldn’t focus on Pansy, because with Draco he follows along easily, doesn’t step on Draco’s feet or trip over his own. He can feel the heat coming off Draco, and it’s not cold in here, the fire is roaring, but he can’t help but be pulled to his warmth anyway.

Draco guides him through spinning him, and steps neatly back into his arms, smiling. “See? You can do this. You’ll be fine.”

“Yeah,” he says, and swallows. “I – I know we can’t, of course, but I – I just want you to know. That if I could, I would have asked you to be my date to the ball.”

Draco freezes, and Harry stumbles, doing his best not to knock them both over. He bites his lip, worried he’s said something wrong, worried he’s ruined everything by speaking up too soon. “Really?” Draco asks quietly, something guarded in his face. Something hopeful and disbelieving that makes Harry feel like maybe he should have said something sooner.

“I wish I could go with you, and dance with you like this in front of everyone,” he says, because it’s pointless to try and turn back now. His heart’s beating so fast it feels like it’s going to burst from his chest. “I know we’re soulmates, but I don’t think that makes us inevitable. So – I want you, and I choose you. Because you’re you, not because of the marks on our hips.”

His smile starts out small, but then it grows, until it takes up half his face, and Harry can’t help but smile back. “You idiot,” Draco says warmly, “As if some mark could make me put up with all the crap you put me through. I like you, I want you, because you’re Harry. Just Harry. That’s all that matters to me.”

“I matter to you?” he asks, just to be sure, because this feels too good to be true.

“Obviously,” he says dryly and cups the side of Harry’s face in his hand. Harry places an arm around Draco’s waist and pulls him closer, until they’re pressed together, but can’t make himself move any further.

He doesn’t have to. Draco leans forward, carefully, slowly, and then only hesitates a moment before pressing their lips together. It’s his first kiss. Their first kiss.

Harry’s pretty sure this means he has a boyfriend now.

Chapter Text

Harry loves quidditch. Loves the competition, the ticking clock, being part of a team and working together to win. But he just loves flying too, and when it comes to that – gliding is just better.

“You are very good at this!” Fleur praises from right beside him. They’re only about fifteen feet up in the air, but he feels comfortable enough that he could probably go higher. After losing his balance a few times, he’s finally centered itself, and his broom is as responsive to him as always.

Clarence is down below with Cedric, who’s still getting used to positioning and moving his feet on the broomstick so he has some actual control over it. Viktor is hovering next to them, and Harry leans back on heels of his feet and shifts his weight so he turns in a neat half circle to face him. “You said you were bad at this!”

“He is horrible,” Fleur says, not unkindly. “Look how he stands – stiff, all straight lines, no bend, no grace.”

“I can manage to stay on my broom, but that’s about it,” Viktor agrees.

“That’s more than some of us!” Cedric calls from below them, but he’s standing on his broom, moving it in small circles about four feet up in the air.

Clarence rolls his eyes, “You’re doing fine, especially for your first time! Most first years takes weeks to even stand without falling off.”

“Why does Viktor being stiff mean he’s horrible?” Harry asks, cautiously shifting his foot to adjust the height of the broom up then down. Fleur and Viktor keep level with him easily. “He clearly has control of his broom, much more than I do.”

Fleur sighs, “Gliding is an art, not a sport. Presentation matters, and Viktor is a statue on his broom. He centers his gravity, but then he does not move.” She leans to the side, and flips so she’s doing a handstand on her broom, as easy as breathing, “If you cannot carry your balance with you, you may be able to glide, but not well, and not for long.”

Okay, so he may have been unreasonably jealous of her hanging around Draco before, but he gets it now. Fleur is the coolest person ever.

“She’s right. I don’t fall off anymore, but I can’t do any of the tricks they can, and I look a lot sillier,” Viktor says.

Fleur shifts so she’s sitting on her broom, but sideways, one dainty leg thrown over the other. The transition is so smooth that Harry doesn’t even realize it’s happened until it’s over. “You do much better than many others! But it is not your strength.”

Fleur snaps her leg out, kicking Harry’s broom. He nearly falls, but manages to stay standing. “Hey!”

“You are better,” she says, ignoring his glare, “When your center moves, you follow it. I think you will be quite good with a little practice.”

“You said it’s an art?” Cedric asks, finally rising on his broom to join them. Clarence is standing on his own broom behind him, hands cautiously extended just in case he falls.

Fleur and Clarence share a grin. “There is a spell, to make our brooms trail colors. We compete based on how graceful we appear on our brooms, and which team can make the most beautiful picture. Sunrises and flowers are popular. We won one year by recreating Notre Dame.”

Harry wonder if there are any rules against a school having a gliding and a quidditch team. Because he knows Dean would love this. He’s decent on a broom, but he’s a fantastic artist.

“Enough talking,” Fleur commands, easily pushing herself to her feet. Harry’s never seen someone so comfortable on a broom before. He’s jealous, and he’s going to keep hounding Fleur for lessons until he can move that easily. “Time to practice your footwork. Try not to fall. It will hurt.”

“Falling is character building,” Clarence says, clearly quoting someone.

Fleur snorts, then does large, easy figure eights around them. “Half is willing your broom, the other is moving your feet,” she says. “Do not overly focus on one. Forget your feet, and you will fall. Stop working with your broom, and you will stop moving completely. Then likely fall..”

She’s a good teacher. By the time they finish, Cedric is still wobbling, but Harry can easily fly next to Fleur in loose circles and simple patterns. Viktor can too, but Harry’s starting to see what they were saying – he is too stiff. It’s nearly sunset, and none of them are eager to be in the forbidden forest after dark. Harry knows from personal experience that it just ends in things trying to eat them.

He also can’t help but be quietly, privately pleased. They like him. He’s younger, and he’s taking attention away from them, but the other champions really do seem to like him, smiling and joking and never treating him differently just because of the scar on his forehead.

It’s nice.

~

Draco does not want to get involved. They’re not even friends, it’s none of his business, and he doesn’t care.

Except, the thing is, he’s got a boyfriend now, he and Harry are dating properly. But. It’s still a secret, they still can’t tell anyone, and as much as Draco wants to send a howler around informing everyone of his new status as taken, he can’t. It has to be a secret.

This doesn’t have to be.

Draco knocks on Cassius’s door for several minutes until he yanks it open and snarls, “What?” He’s pulled his door open all the way this time, and wow, it’s a mess. George likes things neat, Draco’s shocked he spends any time in there.

“So, you and Weasley are fucking,” he says, then frowns and adds, “I’m talking about George. I’m assuming you’re not sleeping with more than one of them.”

He’d promised George he wouldn’t spill his secrets. He’d never said he wouldn’t talk to the one other person who knew about them.

Cassius pales, then grabs the front of his robes and yanks him inside before slamming the door shut. Completely unnecessary. Draco would have come inside of his own volition if he’d asked. “Who have you told?”

“No one,” he says, and doesn’t try to pry Cassius’s hand off of him because he’s pretty sure he can’t manage it without magic, and things haven’t disintegrated that much.

“Zabini and Parkinson, obviously,” he says, “that Bustrode girl, maybe. Who else?”

No one,” he repeats, irritated. “I haven’t told anyone.”

Cassius finally lets him go, crossing his arms and scowling. “Blackmail, then? Extortion? I don’t know what I have that you could possibly want.”

Did he used to sound this ridiculous when he talked to Ginny? No wonder she was always mocking him. “Nothing. What are you so worried about, anyway? He’s a Weasley, not a muggle or a creature. He’s even pureblood, if a rather sorry one.”

“It’s none of your business,” he snaps. “Either make your demands, or bugger off.”

Draco looks Cassius over. He’s furious, and – and he looks scared, which he wasn’t prepared for. “I’ll go. But we should talk about this later.”

His door swings open. “Tell anyone, and I’ll…” his voice trails off, and Draco raises an eyebrow. He’s a Malfoy. The Worthingtons are pure, and old, and rich. But he’s set to replace his father as patriarch of the Malfoy family, and Cassius is just a cousin to the head of his family. There’s pretty much no threat he could make against Draco that he’d be able to back up.

Draco lets the silence hang in between them for a moment, more to make a point than anything else, then says, “I won’t tell anyone. What could I possibly gain from that?”

He leaves before Cassius can think up a response. Maybe it’s for the best that the older boy refused to talk to him, that he didn’t let Draco say something stupid. But his secrecy nags at him. It irritates him, and he so rarely has an opportunity to confront the things that bother him, so he’s not willing to let this one lie.

Whatever. Cassius didn’t curse him, so it could have gone worse. He’ll give him a couple days to stew, then try again.

If he hurries, he can turn in his completed essay on how he made those buttons to Flitwick before dinner.

~

After hours spent gliding, he’s starving. And sore. He hasn’t been sore after flying since he was a first year, but gliding works out a whole new set of muscles that he doesn’t normally use. There has to be some exercises he can do to get his body more accustomed to gliding while he’s off his broom, right? Not that he has much time for that this year, but assuming he doesn’t die in this tournament, it will at least give him something to do while he’s stuck with the Dursleys. He’s the only member of the quidditch team that doesn’t fly over the summer, and they don’t seem to notice the difference, but he does.

“HARRY! Over here!” He blinks, turning away from the Gryffindor table to follow the sound of his name. Padma and Parvati are seated together at the Ravenclaw table, waving him over.

He walks over, and they don’t make room for him to sit, so he assumes this will be quick. “Hey guys. What’s up?”

The twins exchange glances, then Parvati says, “We’re probably over stepping our bounds, but we were wondering – what are you wearing to the Yule Ball?”

“Uh,” he blinks, thrown. “Robes? Dress robes. Green ones.”

Both their faces drop. “Are you especially attached to them?” Padma asks.

“Not really. They’re just robes. Why?” He has no idea where this could possibly be going.

“You can tell us to stuff it,” Padma begins. Harry can only imagine saying that to either of them would end in one of them jamming a wand in his eye socket. “But – would you, maybe, wear Indian robes to the ball? It’s just, people are talking so much about you speaking Parseltongue, and I know you hate the attention you’re getting for all this, and dressing differently than everyone else will only get you more attention. But would you consider it?”

Harry wants the floor to open him up and swallow him whole. He hopes that one day he gets to a point where talking about his ignorance isn’t so embarrassing. “I don’t even know what Indian robes are, or where to get them.” Before this conversation, he hadn’t even known they existed.

Parvati actually looks chagrined. “No, we meant – would you wear them?”

“Sure,” he says, “but I don’t have any, so it’s a bit of a moot point.”

“We can get you a set,” she says, “we will be happy to get you a set, if you promise to wear them to the ball. We’re wearing saris, so you won’t be alone.”

It’s clearly important to them, and he doesn’t care what he wears. He doubts they’d put him in something ridiculous to embarrass him. Besides, if he can’t learn Tamil just yet, wearing robes from his father’s heritage sound – nice. It’s something, at least. “Yeah, okay. How much are they? I still have some gold left over from school shopping, but I can write to Gringotts if I need to.”

They both squeal and jump to their feet, and Harry takes a step back in alarm. “You won’t regret it,” Padma promises. “You’ll look fantastic. Our grandmother is a weaver, we know what we’re doing.”

“Cool,” he says, blinking. “Should I run up to my room and pay you now, or?”

Parvati shakes her head, “Harry, please! We’re Patils, we’re hardly destitute. They’ll be a gift.”

“Oh,” he shifts his weight from one foot to the other. Is this how Ron feels whenever he offers to buy him something? “Are you sure? I don’t mind paying.”

“Accept our generosity before we take insult,” Padma says, but she’s smiling.

Not every pureblood family is rich, obviously, but from the way they’re talking, they are. Besides, he knows arguing with Parvati gets him exactly nowhere, and he can only assume the same is true of her sister. “Thank you for my gift. I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome,” Padma says graciously, then pulls at her sister, urging her to follow her out of the great hall. “We’ll get started on it right now. Bye Harry!”

“Bye,” he says, but they’re already gone.

He’s about to go back to his own table when Cho leans over from her place a couple seats away and asks, “Did I hear that right? You’re wearing traditional robes for the ball?”

“I guess?” he says, “I don’t really know. I guess I’ll find out when I get them.”

“Most people will just be wearing regular robes,” she says, “Everyone will be staring at you.”

He shrugs, “Better they’re staring at my robes rather than my scar. Besides, it seems important to them.” And it’s kind of important to him too, actually. But that’s a little too embarrassing to admit out loud.

Cho has a small smile on her face. “You’re sweet.”

Oh, merlin, here she is complimenting him again, and this time he had no disillusionment charm to hide his blush. “Thanks,” he says, “Uh, I’m going to go now.”

He retreats to the Gryffindor table and sits next to Seamus, who would never do something as awful as be nice to him out of nowhere.

~

When Draco leaves charms Luna is standing on the other side of the hallway, waiting. He sighs. “Go on without me,” he tells Pansy and Blaise, “I’ll catch up.”

He goes over to Luna, eyebrow raised. He’d already gotten her essay back to her, so he’s not sure what she could want. She starts walking down the hall without saying anything, and he sighs, but followers her until they’re someplace less crowded. “About Harry,” she says, then bites her lip.

“Do you not want to go with him? I’ll find someone else,” he says. Millie’s going with some girl in the year above them, but he thinks she’d agree to go with his cousin anyway, if he asked. “Or I can tell Susan I’ve changed my mind if you really want to go with me.”

She shakes her head. “Harry is fine. But – I overheard Cho and Padma talking, and – and he’s wearing traditional robes, and I was wondering – if I should – I already have dress robes,” she frowns. “Never mind. It’s not important. The wrackspurts must be buzzing in my ears. I should get some mint to take care of that.”

Only half of what his cousin says ever makes any sense to him, but he’s known her his whole life, so he can usually parse through most of her crap. “You’re not just British. If you want to wear dress robes, wear dress robes. But if you want to wear,” he has to wrack his brain for a minute, because he hardly keeps up to date on current Japanese fashions, “a kimono, then you should do that.”

“Mum always wore Western clothes, even before she met Dad,” she says quietly.

Draco snorts, “We were lucky if we could get Pandora to put on clean clothes. She always wore muggle clothes too, but that didn’t make her a muggle. She was an alchemist, Luna, she cared about practicality more than anything else. But this is a ball. Wear whatever you want. You usually do anyway.” He flicks one of her white radish earrings.

“I don’t even know where I’d get one, they’re hardly going to carry what I want in Diagon Alley,” she says. “Forget about it. I know you have to go, forget I said anything.”

“The wrackspurts tell you about my standing meeting?” he asks dryly. He should probably be a little concerned that Luna knows he spends his time hanging out with Gryffindors, but she always seems to know things she shouldn’t, and she’s good at keeping a secret.

She smiles at that, finally.

He hates this. If he wasn’t still fighting with his parents, he’d call up his Mum right now and she’d take care of everything. But he is, so he can’t. “Look, I do have to go, but I’ll figure this out. Okay?”

She nods, and he gives her a quick one armed hug before leaving.

He hurries into their abandoned classroom, gives Harry a quick kiss, flips the rest of them off when they make disgusted sounds, and settles down next to his boyfriend to help the rest of them research. The second task is looming ever closer, and they still haven’t figured anything out about that stupid golden egg.

Draco waits until they’re back in their room to talk to Blaise about Luna.

“You want my mother to take your cousin shopping for a kimono?” he asks flatly. “The ball is in three days, Draco!”

Draco raises an eyebrow, “Your mum could cause a coup in a small country in three days, I hardly think going clothes shopping is out of her repertoire. I don’t know if it’s actually a kimono, I know that’s what muggles wear, or used to wear, but I don’t know about witches. But your mum will!”

“She’ll need to get special permission to come onto the grounds, and to take Luna,” he says, giving in.  

Not even Dumbledore would stand in the way of Zaira Zabini. At least, not without a very good reason. “Thanks,” he says earnestly.

Blaise throws his pillow at him. “Shut up and go to sleep.”

~

When Harry shows up to see a plush blanket spread in front of a crackling fire, he can’t help but grin. Personally, he would have been fine if they just hung out like they usually did, except just the two of them. But Draco is kind of a romantic.

They couldn’t go out on a proper date, couldn’t kiss in Madam Puddifoot’s or sneak away to the astronomy tower. But Draco insisted that secrecy was no excuse for laziness, and Harry’s glad now that he hadn’t fought him on it. 

“You’re early!” Draco says crossly.

“Sorry,” he says, but his grin is far too big for Draco to believe he means it.

He scowls, but a moment later steaming food and dishes appear on the blanket, no doubt Winky’s work. The food is delicious, and they spend the entire time arguing about quidditch tactics, knees touching as they sit cross legged on the blanket. Their dirty dishes disappear and treacle tart appears in small plates next to them, and Draco and Harry race to see who can finish theirs the fastest, which in hindsight is an absolute waste of treacle tart.

After, Harry hesitates, not sure if he’s moving too fast, if he’s being presumptuous. But Draco presses his hand to Harry’s chest, and whispers, “Okay?” a second before he leans in to kiss him. Harry moves forward, eager, and they lose their balance, falling over sideways, Harry landing awkwardly on top of his soulmate. It’s an embarrassing display of clumsiness for two quidditch players, but Draco grins at him crookedly from underneath him, pale blonde hair spread out like a halo, and Harry really only has one response to that.

They kiss until Harry’s lips go numb and swollen, and then keep kissing anyway. Maybe they can’t go on dates like a normal couple, but making out for hours in front of a crackling fire seems like a pretty good substitute from where he’s standing. Or, well, laying.

They stay up too late, because every time one of them puts their foot down and says it’s time to leave, the other pulls him back and they keep kissing. Harry’s going to end up falling asleep in class tomorrow, but he really can’t bring himself to regret it. His body’s heavy and tingling, and if it weren’t for such ridiculous things like sleep, he feels like he could have spent all night kissing Draco.

He enters the common room, expecting to find it empty. It’s not. Ron and Hermione are seated at opposite ends of the couch, a small mountain of books between them. He thinks they’re working on their most recent potions assignment, based on the titles, but it might be herbology. Do they have a herbology assignment? He hopes not. “What are you doing awake?”

They both look up, and Hermione bites her lip to keep from laughing while Ron gives him a sly grin. “Waiting for you. I’d ask you the same question, but it’s obvious,” he says. “You’re going to want to cast a glamour on that, or maybe wear a scarf. Seamus might have a turtleneck you can borrow, Dean’s a biter too.”

“Biter?” he repeats, confused.

Hermione summons a mirror and offers it to him. It’s immediately apparent what they’re talking about.

He has deep purple bruises along his neck, and he’s gotten bruises before, obviously, but not like these. They’re the exact shape of Draco’s mouth. “I’m going to murder him!” he says, “How does he expect to keep us a secret if he does crap like this?”

“Bite him back,” Hermione suggests, a wicked gleam in her eyes. He hasn’t seen any love bites on her from Viktor, but she’s smart enough to cover them up if she’s got any.

He thinks back, about pressing his body into Draco, and the startled sound he’d made when Harry had been kissing at his neck, and says, “I think I did.” It’s all a little hazy, honestly. There was just – warmth, and Draco, and their mouths.  

Hermione turns away, like that will prevent Harry from hearing her laugh at him, and Ron’s not laughing at him, but the effort is causing him to turn nearly as red as his hair.

“I’m going to bed,” he says primly, sticking his nose in the air in a fair approximation of Draco, “I don’t need this kind of attitude.”

He ends up having to run up the stairs, because Hermione and Ron throw every pillow they can reach at him until he’s out of their sight.

~

Ron and Hermione are with Harry when McGonagall comes to retrieve him from the common room, and they give him concerned glances when she asks him to follow her, but they don’t say anything. She brings him to Flitwick’s office, and the excitable charms professor is standing on his desk. Draco, Pansy, and Blaise are there, and there’s a terrifying moment when Harry thinks they’ve been caught, but Pansy catches his eyes and gives an almost imperceptible shake to her head. He then notices Luna half hidden behind Draco.

“What’s going on?” he asks.

“Miss Lovegood said you were escorting her to the ball, but that she did not know what you were wearing,” McGonagall says, “and then Miss Parkinson insisted we get you, so that you could tell inform Miss Lovegood of your clothing choices, and she could make her own appropriately.”

She’s trying to sound exasperated, but Harry can tell she’s amused and doing her best not to show it.

“Oh, um, actually I don’t know what I’m wearing either,” he confesses, “The Patil twins are picking my robes.”

McGonagall coughs, almost managing to hide her snort of laughter, and says, “I’ll retrieve them. With your leave to enter the Ravenclaw common room, Filius?”

“Of course, Minerva,” he says, and Harry thinks he might be enjoying this too.

Unfortunately, he’s not fully sure what this even is. “What’s going on?’ he repeats, since he never really received an answer the first time.

The fire in Flitwick’s office sparks and doubles in size as it turns a bright green. A second later, a woman steps out of the fireplace.

Harry forgets to breathe. She’s tall and dark skinned, with a strong nose and full lips. Her black hair is in hundreds of impossibly tiny braids that fall to her waist, with gold clasps glinting throughout. Her dress is perfectly fitted to her, with long sleeves and a high neck. Delicate green piping covers the dress which falls just below her knees, and her matching green shoes have a thin heel that adds unneeded inches to her height. He can’t bring himself to look away from her rich brown eyes.

She’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.

“Mother,” Blaise greets, stepping forward. He kisses her cheek, having to push himself on his tip toes to manage it.

“Darling,” she returns, her voice like velvet.

“Zaira!” Draco beams. He takes her hand and bows, kissing the back of it. “How do you manage to grow lovelier each time I see you? It’s practically criminal, how you outshine all those around you.”

Blaise sighs. Harry gets the impression that Draco does this often. Zaira arches an eyebrow, “Oh, Draco, you flatter me so.”

“Flattery implies lies, when I only speak the truth,” he swears, hand over his heart.

“Merlin above,” Pansy says, so quietly that Harry’s pretty sure he’s the only one who hears her.

Zaira gives the appearance of smiling without changing her expression. “How will I manage conversations with other men, when their words are vinegar to your honey?”

“Say the word and I’m yours,” he says, winking.

Zaira finally breaks, letting out a delicate laugh. “As always, I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Hello, Mrs. Zabini,” Pansy greets, now that Draco’s done being ridiculous. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Pansy,” she says warmly, “I am sorry to have missed your visits over the summer holiday. You’re growing into a beautiful young woman.”

For the first time since Harry’s known her, he sees her flush. She curtsies in response to the praise, and he wants to make fun of her for it, but he can’t blame her. “Thank you, Mrs. Zabini.”

Zaira holds out a hand, “Luna, dear, let me look at you. I haven’t seen you since you were baby.”

Luna hesitates, then steps forward, taking Zaira’s hand. The woman twirls her around and says, “Wonderful, you’re such a pretty girl.”

“I am?” she asks, wide eyed.

Draco frowns, but Zaira doesn’t miss a beat. “Of course you are. You have your mother’s face, dear, and there was hardly a woman more lovely than Pandora. I’ve heard you’re excelling at divination?”

She nods, “It’s not hard, I don’t think. You just have to listen.”

Harry has no idea what she’s saying, but Zaira nods as if this makes perfect sense. “And this is your escort?” she asks, turning to face him.

“Yes,” Luna says, “this is Harry Potter. He’s nice.”

“Hi,” he says, and being around the veelas didn’t even make him feel this way. But Mrs. Zabini is prettier than any veela he’s seen. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“You as well, Mr. Potter,” she says, “I’ve heard much about you.”

He grimaces. McGonagall returns, the Patil twins trailing behind her. “Sorry for the delay,” McGonagall says crisply, “the girls took a moment to firecall their mother. They have a request.”

“Mrs. Zabini,” Parvati says, and both the girls curtsy. “Could we please accompany you and Luna? I’ve heard so much about you, and it would mean so much if we could come.”

They’re both nearly vibrating they’re so excited. “Your mother gave her permission?” Zaira asks.

They nod.

“Well, since you are picking Mr. Potter’s wardrobe, it would be useful to have you there to ensure they are coordinated,” she muses. “Luna, what do you think?”

Luna looks startled to be addressed again. “Padma is nice too. I don’t mind if they come.”

“Very well,” she says. She smiles at the rest of them, kisses Blaise’s forehead, and walks back to the fireplace. Harry doesn’t see her toss any floo powder in, but the fire roars green once more. “Follow me. Kakusareta district!”

Luna repeats her actions, as do the twins, until Harry’s left in Flitwick’s office with Draco, Pansy, Blaise and the professors. “I think that’s more than enough excitement for one night,” McGonagall says. “Shall I escort you back to your common rooms, or can you find your way there yourself?”

Draco snorts, gives a nod to Flitwick, and leaves the classroom without another word. Pansy and Blaise sigh before following him.

“Er, I’m good,” Harry says, “I’ll see you later, Professors.”

He stops by the common room to grab Ron and Hermione. He fills them in on the way, and is unsurprised to find the Slytherins in their classroom when they show up.

“Must you flirt with my mother every time?” Blaise asks, put upon.

“Yes,” Draco answers promptly, and when he sees Harry he grins. “Sorry, dearheart, I’ve loved her longer, surely you understand?”

“Who am I to get in the way of true love?” he asks dryly, sitting beside Draco. Their hands are barely touching, but he doesn’t want to do full on hand holding with everyone there, because they will make fun of them for it. “How did that even start anyway?”

Pansy snorts, “Draco had a huge, embarrassing crush on Blaise’s mum when we were kids. He got over it, Blaise teased him about it once, and he decided the most reasonable solution was to make Blaise regret having down that by leaning into it so hard that he’d never bring it up again.”

“Did it work?” Ron asks, grinning.

Blaise glares. “I think it’s going pretty well, personally,” Draco says. “I love your mum, she’s such a good sport about it.”

“She knows you’re just being annoying, and that I hate it,” he says, “Obviously she plays along.”

“Are they really going to Japan?” Harry asks. “Just to buy a dress?”

Hermione shrugs, “It’s just as easy to go to Japan by floo as it is Diagon Alley. Might as well do it properly.”

“Zaira speaks a little Japanese, and Luna is fluent, obviously. They’ll be fine,” Draco says. “Unlike Harry, if we don’t figure out this blasted egg. He’ll likely just be killed.”

Hermione reaches into her bag and pulls out a book that’s far too large for Harry’s comfort. “I got another tome on banshees.”

“It’s not banshees,” Ron and Pansy say together, then scowl.

“Well, it’s the best lead we have, and it’s better than just not preparing for anything at all,” she says. “So unless any of you have a better idea?”

They don’t.

Harry really hopes he doesn’t die. He just got a boyfriend, after all. He’d like to enjoy that at least a little before meeting his violent and painful end.

~

Everyone is staying over at Hogwarts over the holidays for the Yule Ball, so at least Draco doesn’t have to come up with an excuse as to why he’s not coming home. He misses his parents. He’s been returning his mother’s letters unopened, and his father hasn’t tried to send any at all, but he’s not surprised. Narcissa doesn’t have the patience for stubbornness – that’s a trait he inherited from his father.

He’s maintained the silent treatment since summer, but he draws the line at ignoring Christmas. Making and charming the badges had given him an idea. Out of delicate gold, he’d used fire and magic to create two hairpins for his mother, and a set of cufflinks for his father. He’d set a subtle sparkling charm into the gold while it was still hot, so that it would lock in as the metal set. No matter how dark it was, they’d manage to catch the light just a little, to draw the eye of anyone close to the wearer. He sends them with Winky to the manor, but doesn’t know what to say, what to write. In the end he simply signs it Love, Draco and hopes it will be enough.

They’re still fighting, of course. But they are his parents.

The next morning he gets the expected gifts from his friends and boyfriend, but at the very bottom is small box wrapped in sparkling blue paper. He undoes it cautiously, not sure how angry his parents are, if their gift will be awful, like pretentious pureblood history books or something equally obnoxious.

Inside is a thick iron ring, seemingly plain, but Draco recognizes it immediately. His mother wears this ring next to her engagement and wedding rings. He picks it up with trembling fingers, and sure enough, inscribed inside is the Malfoy family motto: Fais ce que dois, advienne que pourra.

Do what you must, come what may.

It’s an heirloom, passed down his family for generations. His paternal grandmother gave it to his mother when she told her she was pregnant. He slides it on his finger, and it warms, ancient magic resizing it to fit.

At the bottom is a note, and he flips it open, not sure what he’s expecting to find. In his father’s hand it says:

To a good son and Malfoy.

He’s so, so thankful Blaise left already, because tears spill down his cheeks before he can stop them. He wants to run home, wants to throw himself at both his parents, but he can’t. He still doesn’t know what he wants, knows his father can’t simply renounce the dark lord when his brand is on his father’s skin, but Draco also knows that he’ll never be able to follow in his father’s footsteps, not in this. He loves his family, but – Millie and Hermione are his friends, Hagrid and Lupin are among the kindest people he knows, and he’d rather die than let a madman hurt any of them.

He loves his parents, and they love him. For now, that’s enough. It has to be enough.

~

Parvati shows up just as Harry’s starting to get worried, a bag hanging from the crook of her arm. She bustles into the boys’ room like she’s there every day. Neville squeaks and hides behind his curtains. Dean and Seamus are trying to tie each other’s ties and doing a horrible job. Ron had left a while ago to pick up his robes from Pansy, Harry assumes. He knows she’d taken the horrendous robes as a challenge and has been working on them in her spare time for the past couple of weeks.

“Wow, you’re so shiny!” he greets. Her top is a rich purple, while the rest of the sari is a fading purple wrapped tightly around her hips to knees, and then looser around her ankles, with the rest of it draped elegantly over her shoulder. It’s all edged in gold, with sparkling jewels studded throughout. She wears a thick necklace close to her neck, dangling earrings, and a matching bracelet on each wrist.

“Strip,” she commands, “I’m furious this wasn’t done sooner. What’s the point of overpaying for rush service if it arrives the same day it’s needed?”

“It is the holidays,” he feels the need to point out. “I’m putting on the pants myself, you can help with the rest.” If she sees he has a soulmark, the news will be all over the school within the hour.

She sighs like he’s being unreasonable, but pulls them out of the bag and hands them over. “Hurry up.” 

He gets changed standing on his bed with the curtains drawn. The pants seem familiar enough, if far too tight for comfort. They’re a dark navy blue, and he doesn’t have much room in them, they narrow towards his ankles. He steps out, shirtless, and Dean wolf whistles. Harry flips him off. “Now what?”

Parvati gives him a sleeveless shirt in the same shade of blue, and tells him to tuck it into his pants. Then she takes out a jacket and helps him put it on. It falls to the top of his thighs, and there’s a row of gold buttons up the front that Parvati does up with familiar efficiency. It splits at the bottom, so there’s a small gap at the bottom of the jacket. The collar is the same, raised and against his throat, but with a small cut in the front to his collarbone. “It’s a jodhpuri suit,” she tells him, carefully folding a bright green square of silk and tucking it into the one pocket on the left side of the jacket. “The muggles started it, but they’re all the rage right now.”

“It’s comfortable,” he says, surprised. Now that he’s had it on a for a minute, it feels less constricting. “I like the color.”

“We’re not done yet,” she says, reaching into the bag, “you are a wizard, Harry.”

It’s the same green as the silk square, but made of the same sheer material as her sari. When she shakes it out it just looks like a large square of fabric. It’s beautiful, intricate golden embroidery and beading, a border six inches high in some places of silken flowers and twisting petals, with pale yellow crystals evenly spaced out among the rest of it. “Wow,” he breathes.

Parvati looks pleased at his reaction. “Stand up straight, with your arms out,” she orders, and he does as he’s told. She stands behind him and throws the cloth on top of him. As soon as it touches him he feels a spark of magic, and the cloth shifts, enveloping him and shifting around him.

He’s finally allowed to look in the mirror, and the square of cloth has formed itself into a robe. It falls down so it almost touches the floor, and the sleeves are long and billowing. It doesn’t clasp in the middle, instead sticking to his sides so the front of the suit is still on full display even while it maintains the proper robe shape and silhouette.

Parvati comes to stand behind him and look into the mirror with a smug smile. “Not bad,” she praises, elbowing him in the side, “We’ll make a proper wizard out of you yet.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” he retorts, but he’s grinning so widely that he knows it’s not even a little bit believable.

~

Draco wears black dress robes with small blue buttons carved from topaz. Pansy says they bring out his eyes. He’s about to go meet Susan when Millie pops her head into his room and says, “Your cousin is here. She says she needs help getting ready. Also, I can’t believe you told her where our common room is.”

“I don’t tell Luna anything, she just figures stuff out,” he says automatically.

He opens the common room door. Luna is holding a tower of cloth in her arms so high she almost can’t see over it. “I need help tying things, and Ginny left already. Help?”

“We have to be quick,” he warns, and hopes Susan won’t be too mad at him. He takes Luna back to his room, and helps her into her robe. There’s a lot of fussy underclothes that he’s not certain what to do with, but luckily Luna is, so he just follows directions. When he gets to her main robe, a handmade furisode with long trailing sleeves that had cost a fortune, he snorts. “Where did you even find this?” he demands.

“You can find anything in the Kakasureta District,” she says. It’s dark navy blue, but it’s not patterned with something normal, like flowers or clouds. Instead, cheerful white radishes with bright green tops are carefully sewn into the fabric. It matches her earrings, at least. The obi is green to match, and it takes him several times with her soft instructions for him to tie it properly.

He helps her slip on the raised wooden sandals, hopes she doesn’t fall, and says, “I have to go, I’ll send Pansy in to do your hair, I’m crap at it anyway.” He tugs on her hair to make a point before he leaves, then hurries out the door.

When Susan sees him, she huffs and says, “It’s rude to keep a lady waiting, Mr. Malfoy!”

“I don’t see any ladies around here,” he says, offering Susan his arm.

She snorts, brown eyes bright, and says, “Your attitude is appalling.”

“Yes, I’ve been told I have a rather large,” he pauses, “ego.”

Susan lets out a very unladylike bark of laughter at that, then hooks their arms together and marches them towards the great hall. She’s shorter than him by half a head, but he has to rush to keep up with her.

Clearly, she’s not into the concept of being fashionably late. Oh well.

~

Harry almost walks past Luna, because she looks so different than normal. “You look really nice,” he says earnestly. The Patil twins had done a good job matching them – even though their clothes look so different, they’re sporting the exact same shades of blue and green.

She walks a half step closer to him. “Thank you. You look like very pretty.”

The compliment is so unexpected he can feel his whole face turn red. “Oh, uh, thanks.”

They go to the side room first, since the champions have to open the ball. He steps inside, and the first thing he notices is Hermione standing next to Viktor. She’s in pretty red dress robes, and her normally bushy hair is sleek and falls several inches longer than it normally does. “I love your hair!” he says.

She turns to him, and beams. “Thanks! I had Lavender help me apply the relaxer potion, she uses it way more than me.”

“Oh, your robes are wonderful!” Fleur says from right behind him, having just entered the room, and he turns to thank her.

Which puts him face to face, or, well, face to sternum, with Ron. Pansy had done a fantastic job on Ron’s robes. They’re perfectly tailored, and she’d kept the frills, but made them smaller so they look stylish rather than ridiculous. The dark brown doesn’t make him look drab anymore, instead it makes him look adult. The robes call attention to his broad shoulders and make his blue eyes stand out even brighter than normal – they make Ron look older, and for once his height seems purposeful rather than gangly.

Fleur is on his arm, charmingly lovely in a pale pink dress that threatens to clash with Ron’s hair, but somehow she makes it work. She’s got on a pair of towering heels so the top of her head is just above Ron’s shoulders.

“You didn’t tell me you were going with Fleur!” Harry says.

He rubs at his nose and shrugs, “It was last minute.”

“He is tall, and the only one who looked at my face when he asked me. My standards are low,” she says. “I did not want to go with someone from my own school, in order to show inter school unity. Besides, I knew his friends would be opening the ball, and I did not want him to be left out.”

“Thanks,” Ron says dryly. “I’m tall and pitiful. You’re a real charmer, has anyone ever told you that?”

Fleur giggles, and Harry looks, but – he doesn’t think they like each other. He knows he’s hardly the expert on these things, but he thinks maybe they just came as friends. He hopes they did. Hermione is smiling now, but there’d been a split second where she’d looked – well, not happy. He hopes Viktor didn’t notice.

Cedric and Cho arrive, and Harry’s eyes widen. They’re not wearing dress robes.

Cho has on a long sleeve white top with an overlapping sideways collar. Both the collar and the end of sleeves is trimmed in blue. A dainty yellow ribbon is pinned to the left side of the top, right where the overlapping collar ends. The skirt is dark blue with a simple yellow pattern, and starts above her waist, right just above the bottom of her ribcage, and flows out long and full to the floor.

Cedric is wearing an outfit clearly made to match. He has on loose pants that bunch at the ankles, a long sleeved white shirt, and a long vest that goes to his knees with the same overlapping collar and pattern as Cho’s shirt, and the same yellow ribbon as her top. Both of their outfits are made of a thick, shiny material.

“I feel underdressed,” Viktor says, smiling, “You guys look dashing.”

“Thanks!” Cho says, grinning. “They’re hanbok. I wouldn’t wear one to a dance normally, but I heard Harry was going to be wearing something traditional, and I couldn’t let him have all the fun.”

“You look great,” he says earnestly, then amends, “You both do.”

“You look pretty dashing yourself,” Cedric says. “The Patils did a good job.”

He flushes. Ron claps him on the shoulder, clearly about to make fun of him, but he’s saved when McGonagall steps in and says, “It’s time.” She gives them a once over and graces them all with a rare smile, “You all look very sharp.”

She then walks out before any of them can respond, and then they hurry to follow her out onto the dance floor.

~

This is pure torture. Harry looks good enough to eat, and he can’t even risk staring at him too long without it being suspicious. This entire situation is unacceptable on every level.

He’s glad Fleur is here with Ron – he’s nice, which might be damning in anyone else, but Fleur isn’t used to nice. It looks like they’re both having fun, and he hopes it stays that way. Of course, he’ll have to give her crap for her choice of date later for the sake of appearances, but she doesn’t take any of his complaints seriously, so it hardly counts.

Harry and Luna look great together, and as promised Luna carefully guides Harry through the opening dance while making it look he’s leading her, instead of the other way around. Hermione and Krum look lovely, but Cedric and Cho are the only ones that truly look like they know what they’re doing. They’ve also been dating for over three years, so he supposes they’ve had the time to get comfortable with each other.

The dance floor opens up to them, and Susan gives him an expectant look. At some point this will devolve from a stuff ball into a proper dance, but they’ve got another hour or so until that happens.

“I don’t really feel like dancing, you understand, don’t you?” he asks.

“I’ll murder you in your sleep,” she answers.

Draco bites back a grin. “Oh, well, when you put it that way.”

Susan is as good at this as he expected, steps confident and smooth as they twirl around the dance floor. He catches glances of Blaise and Lavender around them, but Pansy and Flint are tucked away in a corner. Pansy likes dancing, but Flint is notoriously bad at it. He makes a note to dance with her at least once tonight, and to make sure Blaise does the same.

Cameras flash around them, and he pulls Susan closer so he can lean down and whisper into her ear, “You know, I might end up being the one who looks like a moderate because of this. They might just think you’re so pure that you’ve deigned to take me as a date.”

Susan blinks, then scowls. “Well, Fudge, I didn’t think of that.”

That startles a laugh out of him. “Did you just use the minister’s name as an expletive?”

“It fits,” she answers, more reflexive than defensive. “Have you read his most recent press release? Like anyone cares about streamlining the process to get an apparition license when he’s threatening to raise the taxes on its maintenance. Pretty much everyone would rather wait an extra hour in line then pay a renewal fee ever year, so putting them together like one negates the other just makes him look like an idiot.”

“There are plenty of the old crowd who doesn’t care about the fee,” he says, “That’s a poor people problem. How do you expect to be minister if you can’t campaign both sides effectively?”

“Am I campaigning right now?” she asks.

He dips her and then says, “Ms. Bones, if you expect to be minister of magic by the time you’re forty, then you’re always campaigning.”

~

Luna is really, really good at dancing, and Harry’s never felt so grateful. With Luna leading him, he manages to make it through the dance without looking like an idiot, and once they’re dancing in the crowd and not the center of attention, he even has fun.

Ron and Fleur dance up next to them. “Switch?’ he asks.

“Sure,” Harry says, and in the next moment Ron’s arm is around his waist and Fleur and Luna are twirling away from them. Luna looks extra small next to Fleur, but her dancing isn’t at all effected by the difference in height. “I can’t believe you asked out Fleur.”

“Everyone had cool dates, and I didn’t want to be left out,” he admits, dipping Harry. “She was the coolest person I could think of who didn’t already have a date.”

Well, he’s got a point there. “Your robes look good.”

He brightens, “Pansy did a great job! Hey, so we can keep dancing, but also Percy is around here somewhere. Want to go say hi?”

Ron would rather get his hand cut off than admit he missed his stodgy, stuck up brother, but Harry’s known him long enough to know better. “Sure. What’s he even doing here?”

“Chaperoning. His boss was supposed to do it, but he couldn’t show up, so Percy got stuck with it instead.”

Percy is only a year older than some of the students. Being here as a chaperone has to suck. “His boss is kind of awful.”

“Yep,” Ron says.

When they find Percy, he has a truly horrible scowl on his face, which Harry doesn’t get, because wrapped around his arm is a pretty young woman with short, bubble gum pink hair. They’re talking to Cedric and Cho – or, well, the woman is. Percy is just standing there and glaring.

Harry hesitates, wondering if they shouldn’t interrupt, but Cedric sees them and waves them over. “Ron, Harry,” he greets warmly. “This is my soulmate, Tonks. She’s just graduated auror training.”

Ron’s eyes widen, and he looks at Cho. But Cho is smiling and comfortable, and Harry hadn’t told anyone about Cedric’s soulmate situation because he didn’t want to spread gossip about things that weren’t his business, but now he kind of wishes he’d said something.

“They have me mostly on desk duty for now,” she says, grinning. “It’s not all bad. It’s where I met Percy, after all!”

Percy looks like he wants the floor to open up and swallow him. This is Hogwarts, so it’s not impossible. “You didn’t have to come with me. You have a report on tracking spells that you need to complete by Monday.”

“You keep track of my schedule! How sweet,” she coos. “What kind of girlfriend would I be if I let you come to this on your own?”

“You’re not my girlfriend,” he says, but he sounds more weary than irritated.

“Yet!” she finishes cheerfully. “Is it the hair? I can change my hair.” Her bubblegum locks lengthen and turn a mousy brown. Harry blinks, taken aback.

Cedric frowns, but Percy rolls his eyes. “I don’t care what you look like.”

Tonks’s hair becomes a vibrant purple and shortens into a severe bob. For a moment true affection shines through before she’s back to grinning manically. “Nice to meet you, Harry. I see your date is my cousin.”

“You’re Luna’s cousin?’ he asks.

Tonks frowns. “Well, I’m the cousin of her cousin, so close enough?”

“What?” Ron asks.

Cho answers, “Tonks’s mother is a Black. She’s Draco Malfoy’s cousin.”

“Don’t hold it against me,” she says, “Except you, Percy dear, you can hold anything against me you’d like.” Percy’s whole face turns bright red.

“I’m out!” Ron says immediately. “I’m gone, we are leaving, goodbye.”

Cho and Cedric are laughing, and Harry waves goodbye to everyone as Ron drags him away.

~

Draco has lost Susan to a crowd of Durmstrang students. He spends a couple of minutes waiting for her, but figures she’ll find him when she wants him. He goes searching for Pansy, but instead he finds Cassius, looking incredibly bored and leaning against the wall.

It takes him about half a minute to pick George out of the crowd. He’s having a good time, laughing and dancing with Fred and their dates, two of the Gryffindor chasers. Their robes hadn’t been as hideous as Ron’s, but Pansy had taken a needle to them anyway. They’re plain, but they fit perfectly thanks to her alterations, and George has never looked better.

“You could have gone with him, you know,” Draco can’t help but point out.

Cassius startles, then scowls at him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’re the one that doesn’t want to be seen in public with him,” he says, “it hardly seems appropriate that you’re the one pining in a corner.”

“I will set you on fire in the middle of this ball, Malfoy, I swear,” he threatens.

It’s not an effective threat. He holds out his hand, “Want to dance? It’ll at least be less pathetic than … whatever you’re doing over here that’s clearly not pining.”

Cassius eyes him for a long moment. “I don’t understand you at all.”

“Is that a yes, or a no?” he asks. Cassius sighs, but takes his hand. He sets to leading, and Draco goes with it. Cassius isn’t a great dancer, but he’s not likely to step on Draco’s feet either, so he’s not going to cause a fuss about it. “Are you ready to talk about it, or are you still being pissy?”

“Fuck you,” he says, but his hands are still light and easy on him, so he doesn’t really mean it. Some of his defensiveness has started to melt away, so now he looks more confused than angry. Draco will take what he can get.

“On the first date? How forward! What will my mother say?” he asks, and grins when Cassius lets out an unexpected snort of laughter and loses his footing.

~

Harry had only planned on surviving the Yule Ball. But everything’s winding down for the night, and people are starting to trek back to their dorm rooms, and it was actually … fun. He’d lost count of the number of people he’d danced with, and he’d been awful for about half of them because he had no idea what he was doing, but no one had made fun of him, and everyone had just been nice, the whole night. It was like the party at the shrieking shack, where everyone had put aside their differences long enough to just be friends for a bit.

Fleur is saying goodnight to Ron, and she gives him a delicate kiss on both cheeks that makes his whole face turn red. Hermione and Viktor had disappeared over an hour ago, and Harry hasn’t seen them since. Draco had already whisked Luna away, and she’s rolled her eyes and given Harry a shallow bow before following her cousin, so now he’s just waiting for Ron.

Seamus and Dean are talking with some Hufflepuffs, and it seems like Neville and Ginny haven’t left the dance floor all night. They’re surprisingly well matched, both in dancing and in just the way they keep laughing and talking together, which Harry hadn’t expected. Either Neville has an iron center he keeps tucked away for special occasions, or Ginny’s less terrifying than they all think she is.

He’s putting his money on the first option.

Harry sees Cedric walking over, Cho trailing a step behind him and yawning every other minute. She looks tired enough that he’s surprised she hasn’t climbed on her boyfriend’s back like she did at the shrieking shack party. The full skirt of hanbok probably has more to do with it than anything else.

“I was worried I’d miss you!” Cedric says, putting his hand on Harry’s back and leaning in close. “Look, there’s something I want to tell you. The prefect bathroom? Is a really good place to a bath.”

What the ever loving fuck. “Okay?”

Cho elbows her way between them, mid yawn, and puts her arm over Harry’s shoulders, leaning about half her weight against him. “Cedric, love, why are you torturing him?” She turns to him and says, “We were in the prefect bath, and if you stick the golden egg underwater and listen to it then it sings a pretty song. Anyway, it’s merpeople. They’re going to take something, and you have to get it back. Probably in the great lake, unless they do something extra impressive to the quidditch pitch.” She raises her hand to rub at her eyes, remembers she’s wearing makeup, and lowers it again. “The password for the prefect bathroom is pine something. Feel free to check it out yourself.”

“Pine fresh,” Cedric says, exasperated. “I was trying to be subtle!”

“The second task is in a week, who has time for that?” she asks. “Good luck Harry, try not to drown.”

“Thanks,” he says. “Care to tell me what you were doing in the prefect bathroom, Miss Chang?”

“Shagging,” she answers promptly.

“Eun-hae!” Cedric yelps, his voice going up several octaves in mortification. 

Harry would make fun of him for it, but he’s too busy laughing so hard he develops a stitch in his side.

~

Draco, acting the part of the proper gentleman, escorts Susan back to her common room. He’s under no illusion that she’ll stay there, considering the very pretty Durmstrang girls he saw her surrounded by earlier. He’s not going back to his own dorms either, so he can hardly call her on it. He does give her a propriety kiss on the cheek and says, “Being your date was less awful than anticipated.”

“You’re an okay person, Draco,” she says, the absolute worst thing she’s ever said to him. He makes a face at that, but she just winks and disappears into her common room. Rude.

Pretty much everyone is sneaking into dorms that don’t belong to them, or convenient and too clean broom closets, so everyone’s far too busy hoping no one pays any attention to them to notice Draco sneaking through the corridors.

He slips into their classroom, and locks the door behind him. Harry’s whole face lights up when he sees him, and he’d be lying if he said that didn’t make him feel just a little warmer. He’s still wearing that gorgeous glittering green robe and dark blue suit. “Draco! Cedric told me–”

He doesn’t give a shit what Cedric said. He yanks Harry so he stumbles and knocks into him, and Draco’s kissing him in the next moment. “Can it wait?” he asks, minutes later when Harry pulls away just so the both of them can breathe.

Harry cocks his head to the side, apparently giving the thought serious consideration, and Draco worries for a moment that it’s actually something important. But then he says, “Yep,” and goes back to kissing him.

Draco at least has the presence of mind to magic Harry’s robe off of him, although he’s thrown for a moment when it comes away in one large square of fabric. Harry’s tugging at his own robe, and Draco shrugs it off, so he’s just in his trousers, and this is new, and different. He tugs on Harry’s jacket, impatient, and he gives him a single shy glance before undoing the row of buttons down his front and tossing the jacket on top of Draco’s robe, then pulling off his undershirt as well.

There’s a lot more skin than he’s used to having access to. This time when they go back to kissing, it’s skin against skin. Harry is warm and Draco loves dragging his fingertips down Harry’s sides just because he likes the way he shivers when he does it.

When Draco eventually stumbles back to his dorm a couple hours later, it’s with a series of mouth shaped bruises down his chest. An excellent development, as far as he’s concerned.

Blaise is going to mock him ruthlessly. He doesn’t care in the slightest.

~

Sometime in the middle of snogging, Harry had told him what Cho and Cedric had said about the second task, which is why Draco is up this early the day after the Yule Ball. He’s almost certain there’s a book of spells designed specifically for underwater in the library, and he’d rather there not be anyone there to see him check it out. Millie is curled up on the couch in the common room, and he waves at her as he leaves. He still has no idea when that girl gets any sleep.

He’s right, and manages to check out the book without incident. He’s almost to the great hall when he turns a corner and nearly stumbles into Hermione. “Granger?” he asks, remembering not to use her first name at the last second, but not sounding nearly derisive enough. “What are you doing?” He realizes it’s a stupid question once he gets a proper look at her, and he can’t help but grin. Her hair is loose around her, and she’s still wearing her dress from the Yule Ball, although her face has been cleaned of any makeup. “So, how’s that Durmstrang ship look on the inside?”

“Shut up,” she hisses. “Why are you awake this early? This is exactly what I was trying to avoid!”

“Tell me the truth,” he says, “is it the size of the boat or the motion of the ocean?” It’s deserted except for the two of them, so he’s not too worried about maintaining their farce of bitter enemies. Making fun of her is clearly more important.

Most of her anger leaves her as she lets out an undignified snort, “What?

“Tell me you didn’t kick everyone out of their dorm to get some alone time?” He hopes that’s exactly what she did.

“Viktor has a private room,” she sniffs, apparently moving on from denial.

“Did you have a good time?” he asks, and it’s a serious question.

She flushes, and nods, rubbing at the bridge of her nose to hide it.

He holds his hand up for a high five. She looks appalled, but she can either give in or listen to him stand there and ask embarrassing questions. She sighs, as if her life is very tiresome, and slaps her hand against Draco’s before continuing on her way to her common room.

He has no way to prove it, but he bets George is either making or made the same sort of escape from Cassius’s room. He should try interrogating Cassius again later. He thinks he’s wearing him down.

Draco looks down at the book in his hands, considering. He could go back to sleep. Or he could go to their classroom now, start reading, and have Winky bring him breakfast.

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean that’s an excuse for laziness. Draco sighs, then goes in the opposite direction of his common room.

He hopes Harry appreciates all the sleep he doesn’t get for his sake.

~

The second task is getting steadily closer. Everyone’s been studying, and trying to figure out a way he can spend an hour underwater without dying. Draco had immediately tried to teach him the bubble head charm, but he kept on putting too much power into it, and it always shattered around him about a minute in. They keep practicing it, but a day into it Draco had said it was a waste of time – even if Harry did get the hang of it in time, it wouldn’t be stable enough for him to use. There would be just as much of a chance of it shattering thirty minutes in as not, and they didn’t want to risk it. They’d have to figure something else out.

It’s the day before the second task, and Harry’s resigned himself to having to use his crappy bubblehead charm and hoping for the best. Their best guess at what the merpeople are going to take is Harry’s invisibility cloak, but it’s still safely locked away in his trunk, so they’re not sure what’s happening there. Ron has just suggested they’re going to hold everyone’s breakfast hostage when the door slams open and Blaise strides inside, as pleased as Harry’s ever seen him.

“I’m a moron,” he says cheerfully, and holds slimy ball of what look like rat tails out to Harry, “This is the solution to all your problems!”

“It looks disgusting,” Ron says, standing up to poke at it warily.

“It is disgusting,” he says, “but that’s beside the point. It’s gillyweed. It’ll let you breathe underwater, and make it easier for you to swim. The effects last for a little more than an hour.”

“How did you get that?” Hermione demands.

Pansy scowls, “This is a horrible idea! It’d dangerous.Very, very dangerous.”

“I nicked it from Sprout’s private stores – she only puts up locking charms but no sensors because she thinks curious children should have access to restricted ingredients. If you’re smart enough to get past her wards, then she figures you’re smart enough to not seriously harm yourself,” Blaise says. “Longbottom nearly caught me while I was leaving, but he takes stuff from there nearly often as I do, so I’m sure it’s fine.”

Harry knows he should be more concerned with Pansy’s concern filled anger, but he’s a bit stuck on what Blaise said at the moment. “Neville? Our Neville? Just breaks into a teacher’s private stores and steals things?”

“She knows we take stuff, it’s not stealing,” he says. “The school board hardly approves anything for herbology, so this is her work around. It all comes out of her research budget, so it’s really nice of her, actually.”

“Wait, pause, back up,” Ron says, “Why is gillyweed dangerous? It sounds perfect!”

Pansy glares, and Blaise grimaces. She says, “It’s transfiguration magic, but it’s not guided transfiguration, it’s magic without a will. So, yes, pretty much everyone can breathe under water after consuming gillyweed. But it’s not neat or logical. Most of the time the person just gets gills, but sometimes they get tentacles for arms, and sometimes they turn into a fish. It’s too random, and too big of a risk to take.”

“Will it kill me?” Harry asks.

“No,” Blaise says, firm.

Pansy glares, but shakes her head. “We should at least sneak out to the great lake and test it. It’s at least consistently wonky, as long as the water and the person are the same.”

“We can’t, I only grabbed one,” Blaise says, “It would have looked weird if I took two. It looks weird that I took a full one to begin with – in herbology we basically just dissect them for the tendrils.”

Harry plucks the gillyweed out of Blaise’s hands. “Look, I’m taking it, since if I try and get in the great lake without it, I’ll probably end up drowning. Being a fish for an hour is better than death.”

“Unless you get eaten by a bigger fish,” Ron says, “Then it will be both.”

“Thank you, Ron,” he says, “That’s such a cheery thought.”

Ron claps him on the shoulder, “Here for you mate, whatever you need.”

~

Harry is woken just before dawn, and considering how hard it was for him to settle down and sleep, he wakes up with the immediate urge to commit murder. “Neville?” he croaks, recognizing the anxious face hovering over him. “What do you want?”

“I don’t know what you’re planning for later, maybe you’ve come up with something better, I’m sure you have, but – just in case.” He pushes something slimy and round into his hands, and Harry blinks in confusion at the gillyweed in his hands. “It’s a little risky, but it should help you in the lake. Dip it in the lake water before you eat it – you’ll have a better chance of it doing something useful if it had something to react to before it has to react to you.”

“Thanks,” he says, because that’s new information, but also it’s very early in the morning and he’s so confused. “How did you even–”

“I have to go, I have to water my herbology project before sunrise if I don’t want it to bite me,” and that doesn’t sound quite right to Harry, but he’s been bitten by a plant or two before, so maybe he’s wrong. Do they even have a herbology project right now? He’s pretty sure they don’t. “Good luck! We believe in you!” He smiles, pats Harry on the chest, and goes running out of their dormitory.

“Neville!” he calls out, struggling to get out of bed, but he’s already gone. Also, Ron is missing from his bed for some reason. Maybe they really do have a herbology project. Whatever, he can still grab another hour or two of sleep if he tries hard enough.

He sticks the gillyweed with the one Blaise had given him, in the pocket of the swimtrunks Pansy had altered for him, adding zippered pockets and a place to put his wand so he wouldn’t have to hold it the whole time. It’s not like having an extra can hurt.

~

Draco is in the stands seated in between Blaise and Pansy, and wondering who the hell thought this would make a good spectator event, since basically they’re just going to wait around for an hour seeing who gets back first. He brought today’s edition of the Daily Prophet to read while he waits. Luna’s article is on the front page, accompanied by a picture of Cedric smiling and waving. She’d written it under the pseudonym Mizuki Tanaka, using a loose translation of her first name in addition to her mother’s maiden name.

He can’t help but keep looking to where the Gryffindors are seated. Hermione is sitting between Neville and Lavender, and Ron is nowhere to be seen, which doesn’t make any sense. He wouldn’t miss this, so where in merlin’s name is he?

Dumbledore rises from his place at the judge’s table, placed in front of the stands so it’s closer to the edge of the lake. He casts a sonorous charm to say, “Welcome everyone, welcome everyone! How nice to see you all on this fine day. As hopefully all the champions have discovered, we have taken something they will sorely miss and handed them over to the merpeople. You have an hour to fight your way through the great lake, retrieve what’s been taken, and return to the shore.”

He sits as Madame Maxime stands, her voice booming and loud enough to be heard without the aid of magic. “From Fleur Delacour, we have taken her younger sister, Gabrielle Delacour.”

A gasp ripples through the crowd. “They wouldn’t,” Pansy says softly, even though they very obviously would.

“They’ve lost their minds,” Mille says, sitting right behind Draco. “People aren’t things! They shouldn’t be taken and used in tournaments!”

Karkaroff announces, “From Viktor Krum, we have taken his mother, Elena Krum.”

Draco considers what he would do if someone threatened his mother, and hopes Karkaroff doesn’t value any of his limbs.

Dumbledore stands again. “From Cedric Diggory, we have taken his girlfriend, Cho Chang.”

“They have a death wish,” Blaise says, “it’s the only explanation.” No one disagrees.

“From Harry Potter, we have taken his friend, Ronald Weasley,” he finishes. “When the fireworks go off, you may begin. To all the champions – good luck!”

If looks could kill, the three school heads would be dead before they hit the ground.

~

The other champions look as pissed as he feels, so there’s that comfort at least. The fireworks shoot and explode over the lake, and they all go running. Fleur and Cedric perform the bubble head charm. Viktor transfigures himself partially into a shark, and if his best friend hadn’t been captured as part of a tournament he didn’t want to take part in in the first place, he would totally tell him how awesome that is. He promises to do it anyway assuming neither of them die.

He takes out one of the gillyweed balls, dunks it in the lake water, and shoves it in his mouth. It is, hands down, one of the grossest things he’s ever eaten. He has to clap his hand over his mouth to keep from spitting it out. Just because he has a spare doesn’t mean he wants to have to use it this early.

If he’d known his best friend’s safety was going to be at stake, he might have been a little less cavalier at the possibility of turning into a fish.

Suddenly he can’t breathe, and he falls into the water, then he can. He reaches for the side of his neck, where gills are fluttering against his skin. Except his hand feels different, and actually so do his feet. Oh, merlin. He has webbed hands and – he doesn’t even know what for feet. Maybe he is turning into a fish.

Except he waits a couple moments, and nothing else happens. He can see everyone else swimming ahead of him, and he doesn’t care about his time, but he does care about Ron. So he starts swimming forward, and he knows how to swim, but he’s not a great at it. He’d done some laps in the prefects bath these past few days just to make sure he remembered how to do it, but he’s nothing close to actually good at it.

So he’s understandably startled when he goes zooming past everyone else.

Moving through the water is easy, and he’s fast, faster than it makes any sort of sense for him to be. He loves magic.

The merpeople live on the bottom center of the lake, so assuming they’re keeping everyone there, he at least knows where to go. There are boulders being flung through the water at him, but he’s fast enough that they’re almost easy to ignore. All that time dodging bludgers is finally paying off, even if he’s not on a broom. The longer he swims, the more it occurs to him that the great lake has to be charmed in some way – it’s fresh water near the shore, but he’s in salt water now, and it’s much wider and deeper once he’s in it than it looks from the outside.

Angry grindylows with their sharp teeth swarm him from all sides, and reaches into his pocket for his wand. “Filpendio!” A bunch of them going flying, but one manages to dart forward and sink its teeth into Harry’s forearm. He curses, and switches his wand to the other hand to cast the stunning charm, and carefully pries the stunned creature off of him so its teeth don’t do any more damage. There’s another wave of the things coming toward him, and he slashes his wand across the incoming grindylows at an angle. “Petrificus totalus maximus!”

They all freeze, softly floating through the water with the current. He doesn’t know how long it will hold them, so he hurries on his way. His arm is bleeding something awful, and he doesn’t want to stop, but he also doesn’t want to bleed out in the middle of the lake. He skims along the sandy floor until he finds a long, thick piece of seaweed, and he wraps it around his wound and keeps it all in place with a sticking charm. He’s not sure how sanitary it is, but he figures as long as his arm doesn’t fall off Pomfrey will manage to fix any damage he does.

Not long after that he sees the rise of the merpeople’s city, spiral towers and thick columns, and there’s no way all that fits in a lake. All four of the champions’ hostages are tied to large poles staked in front of the city’s gates.

First on one end is Viktor’s mum, a woman with pale skin and dark hair, then Cho, then a young girl with pale blond hair who must be Gabrielle, and finally Ron.

He heads for Ron, but as soon as he gets about twenty feet in about two dozen merpeople with spears form lines in front of them. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

They raise their spears a little higher.

He takes out his wand, and they aren’t grindylows, he doesn’t want to actually hurt them. But he’s not about to let them get in his way either. He twists his wrist just like Draco taught him and shouts, “Gravitas penna!” He’s not fantastic at the featherlight charm, but he doesn’t have to be. His magic falls over the merpeople, and before they have a chance to adjust he casts, “Reducto!” It’s slightly less forceful then filpendio, but thanks to his semi-effective featherlight charm the force of it scatters them all across the sea floor. He swims over to Ron, and tugs uselessly at the ropes for a bit before giving up.

The merpeople shake off the effects of his spells, and he raises his wand, ready to fight them off again. But they only get back in line in front of the hostages, not sparing him a second glance. Huh. Cool.

“Relashio!” The ropes binding Ron fall away, and Harry grabs him around the waist to keep him from floating to the ground. He casts a featherlight charm on Ron too, because holding him up is pretty easy while they’re underwater, but his arm is on fire where the grindylow bit him, and he doesn’t want to make it worse if he can help it. He has Ron, and he should go.

But.

Leaving the others here, unconscious in the middle of the lake seems … wrong. Besides, everyone keeps telling him that people die during this tournament. What if the merpeople’s song was literal, and they really will keep whoever isn’t rescued?

He props Ron against the pole, and ties him upright with the ropes he’d just gotten him out of. He doesn’t want him floating away when he isn’t looking. A merman swims up to him, but he’s not holding any weapons. He has dark skin and eyes, but long green hair the same color of seaweed. He opens his mouth, and it’s the same melodic voice from the golden egg, “Child, you are making a mistake. You have completed the trial – this boy is yours to take.”

“I can’t leave them,” he says, pointing to the others. “I’m going to wait until the other champions come to get them. Then I’ll go.”

The merman frowns. “First to arrive and last to leave? These are not your people to retrieve.”

“I’ll stay,” he says firmly, and raises his wand. “Would you like to try and stop me?”

He raises his hands in surrender, mouth tilting up at the corners. “It is your decision, and your choice is clear. I will step aside and not interfere.”

True to his word, he swims away, although he doesn’t join the ranks of merpeople standing guard in front of the hostages. Instead he settles himself on the top of the city gates, watching the proceedings with a keen eye. Harry doesn’t have time to think on it anymore, since Cedric is swimming up to them. It doesn’t look like he got bitten, but he’s covered in scratches, including a particularly deep one on his leg that makes Harry wince when he sees it.

Cedric is wild eyed as he faces off against the merpeople. “Ventus!” he shouts. A huge gust of wind appears in the water, creating a mini typhoon that pushes all the merpeople aside. It’s about a thousand times cooler than what Harry did.

He swims to Cho, gently touching her face. Some of the manic energy leaves him. He turns and asks, “Harry, what are you still doing here?”

“Hanging out?” he offers. Cedric rolls his eyes. “I’m not trying to win this thing, remember? Get your girlfriend and get out of here. You’re in the lead right now, and if you hurry you can keep it that way.”

He ruffles Harry’s hair before undoing Cho’s ropes. He catches her as she falls, holding her in his arms and against his chest as he swims back to shore.

A few minutes after him, Viktor shows up, looking relatively unharmed, but from the opposite direction Harry and Cedric had come from. He must have gotten lost. He summons a metal shield and propels himself straight through the merpeople, like a bowling ball, and Harry’s laughing when Viktor makes it over. He transfigures a stone into a knife, and works on cutting down his mother. “Are you all right, Harry?” he asks. He pulls his mother over his back, but hesitates before leaving. “Do you need help?”

“I’m good,” he grins. “Get your mum to the surface. I’ll catch up later.”

Viktor shrugs, and heads in the same direction as Cedric. He’s faster, but Cedric did get a head start, so Harry’s not sure which one of them will actually end up being the winner.

Then he waits.

And waits.

His whole arm below is grindelow bite is tingling, which can’t be a good sign, and his gills are starting to itch, which he’s pretty sure means he has to get to the surface soon if he doesn’t want to drown down here.

The same merman from before swims over and says, “I believe you ought to know. An hour has passed, so it is time to go.”

Harry scans the water, but he doesn’t see anything. Whatever happened to Fleur, she’s not here, and he has to leave. “I’m taking the girl with me,” he tells the merman. He has to get Ron out of here, but he’s not leaving anyone behind.

The merpeople with spears growl and edge forward, and Harry grips his wand, ready. The merman in front of him raises a hand, and they all fall silent. “We will not get in your way. But hurry, you must return without delay.”

That is … unexpectedly generous. Harry doesn’t have the time to question it. He magics them both free, casts a mediocre featherlight charm, then grabs them both by the back of their shirts and swims to the surface. He’s almost there when the effects of the gillyweed finally dissipate, and he barely remembers to hold his breath.

He breaks the surface gasping, and a second later Ron and Gabrielle join him, coughing as their stasis charm is broken. Gabrielle’s eyes fill with tears, and she starts flailing, yelling something in French. Harry tries to grab for her, but if she fights him, they’ll probably both go down. Without the gillyweed, he doesn’t think he’s a good enough swimmer to keep them both afloat.

“Hey!” Ron says, pushing Harry aside and pulling Gabrielle closer by her wrists to steady her. “Calm down. You’re okay.” He’s speaking in a low, soothing tone, but he doesn’t let go of her, keeping her steady so she can’t pull away and drown.

“Where is my sister?” she cries, her accent coming out much thicker than Fleur’s. “They said she would come get me!”

“I’m Ron, and this is Harry,” he says calmly, “We’re friends with Fleur, and we’re going to take you to the shore. She’s probably waiting for you there. But I need you to relax, okay?”

Remarkably, that seems to work. She sniffs and nods. “I do not like the water,” she whispers.

Ron smiles and tucks her hair behind her ear. “That’s okay, we’ll protect you. Here, why don’t you ride on my back? That way I know you’re safe, and you don’t have to worry about getting lost in the water. Okay?”

She nods again, and Ron shifts his grip so he can drag her close enough that she can cling to him. He instructs her to wrap her legs around his waist, and to wrap her arms around his neck, but not too tightly, so that he can still breath.

By the time she’s finished doing as he says, she’s almost entirely calmed down. Harry is impressed. “Where did you learn to do that?”

He shrugs, and then jerks his head towards land. “Come on, it looks far, but we can get there in a couple minutes if we hurry.”

If that’s true, then it has more to do with the magical properties of the lake than anything to do with their swimming abilities, because Harry feels like he’s moving his limbs through molasses, and Ron isn’t moving much faster.

“Um, Harry, can I ask you something?” Ron asks.

Harry hopes his tired glare conveys how dumb of a question that is.

It must, because Ron grins and says, “When McGonagall took me, she said the Goblet said I was the one you would most sorely miss. And I was expecting it to be,” he hesitates and his eyes flicker to the little girl on back, “someone else.”

Harry is so surprised that he stops moving for a moment, and then has to force his tired limbs to move even faster to catch up. “You’re my best friend,” he says, with more force than he intended. Ron’s eyes widen. “He – he’s what he is,” he says, “but you’re my best friend and my first friend, and I wouldn’t have anyone or anything if I didn’t have you. I don’t remember my parents, so you, and your family, are – you were the first – I felt so alone, before I met you. You’re the person who made me not feel lonely anymore.”

That was an incredibly embarrassing speech, and maybe he should just stop swimming and let the lake take him and put him out of his misery. Ron grins from ear to ear, and hugs him right then, the both of them freezing and soaked and with Ron carrying Gabrielle on his back. “Okay,” he says, pulling back and urging them both forward again. “I – okay.”

They make it to shore, and Gabrielle doesn’t let go of Ron, so he keeps carrying her on his back.

Cedric and Cho are sitting in the sand next to Viktor and his mum. There’s a fresh white bandage on Cedric’s leg, but he hasn’t been seen to by a healer yet. The judges’ faces are dark. “What’s wrong?” Harry asks immediately.

“Fleur hasn’t made it back yet,” Cedric says grimly, “We were hoping she was with you.”

“It’s been almost an hour and a half,” Viktor adds.

“We have to go get her!” Harry says, “Why hasn’t anyone gone after her?”

Madame Maxime stands, her face ashen. “We are waiting for a report from the merpeople. Only then are we permitted to enter the water and search for her. That was the deal we struck in exchange for their help.”

Harry stares, appalled. “She could be hurt! She could be dying!” He almost adds that she could be dead, but Gabrielle’s already started crying again. Ron’s twisted her so she’s settled on his hip, and she’s still holding onto his neck with her face buried in his chest.

“We are not permitted to enter the great lake,” Karkaroff says. “Whatever aid the girl may or may not require will have to wait until we are given permission to enter by the merpeople. You may be eager to start a war, Mr. Potter, but I am not.”

Harry’s never wanted to punch someone so strongly before in his life, including Rita Skeeter. “Fine. Champions are allowed to go in the lake, aren’t they? I’ll go get her myself.”

“I’ll help!” Cedric says. He attempts to stand, but his wounded leg nearly buckles. Cho throws his arm over her shoulder, trying to push him upright.

Viktor moves to get up, but his mother grabs his wrist and yanks him back down, her face thunderous. He tries to pull away, but she doesn’t let him, grabbing onto his arm with two hands.

“You could get hurt,” Dumbledore says, looking even older than he usually does, looking tired.

“What else is new?” Harry asks. He shakes his head at Viktor, and puts his hand on Cedric’s shoulder. “It’s okay, I’ll go by myself.”

“You’re hurt too,” Cedric retorts, glancing pointedly at his arm.

“I can at least stand,” he says, “I’ll find her, and I’ll bring her back. We don’t need you getting more hurt than you already are.”

“Harry!” Cedric calls out, but he’s already walking back into the lake. He pulls out the other gillyweed out his pocket, pops it in his mouth, and heads into the water.

The changes are the same, but he’s not sure where to go. The great lake is big – far, far bigger than it looks from the outside, and if he just starts swimming in a random direction he’ll never find her. Hermione mentioned a spell once – but it seemed to silly, like the spell the twins gave Ron to turn his rat yellow in first year.

Well, it’s not like he has anything to lose.

He takes out his wand and places it flat on his hand. It’s a simple spell, mostly dependent on the power of the caster and how close the other person or object is. This should be easy. Hopefully. “Point me Fleur Delacour.”

His wand twists in his hands, pointing to the left. Well, it’s better than swimming blindly. He follows the direction of the spell, pausing every few minutes to recast it and ensure he’s still going the right way. Eventually, he hears the sounds of yelling in the distance, and he just follows that instead.

Far from the merpeople city, the same couple dozen merpeople with spears are fighting alongside the giant squid, trying to keep Fleur at bay. The merman who had spoken to him is there too, but hanging back from the fighting, watching it with a critical eye. He looks uninterested, but his hands are clenched into fists. A mermaid jabs forward, nearly gutting Fleur, and the merman calls out, “Cause her no harm! Only try and disarm!”

Fleur fights like she’s possessed.

Her face has sharpened in her fury, and she flings out high level offensive spell one after the other, trying to strike anything and anyone. The giant squid is covered in oozing, bleeding wounds, apparently having taken the brunt of her spells on himself. “WHERE’S MY SISTER?” she screams, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HER?” Some of the merpeople try and speak, but they don’t have the time to get the words out in between her constant barrage of spells.

What he does next is cowardly, but it’s also necessary.

She hasn’t noticed him yet, so Harry raises his wand against her unprotected back and casts, “Stupefy!”

He hadn’t wanted to put too much power into it, wary of hurting her, so for a moment she fights it, and he’s got another on his lips when she falls, stunned. He hurries forward to catch her before she hits the ground.

The warriors instantly ignore him, instead turning to the flailing, bleeding giant squid. The merman from before swims over to them. “I’m sorry,” Harry says instantly, “She didn’t mean – or well, she thought – she was worried over her sister.”

“When we agreed to this game, we knew the risks with which it came,” he says, although his face is pained. “Between us there is no score. Tell your people that we do not bring war.”

“Can I help?” he asks, looking at the squid, “Do you need help? Is there something I can do?”

The merman tilts his head to the side, considering. “You have no debt to fulfill. But it would help if he could be kept still.”

“I’ll help,” he says firmly, “I’ll pay her debt. Can someone take her to shore, and I’ll stay behind? I can’t go back until the gillyweed wears off anyway. I might as well be useful.”

The merman snaps his fingers, and two of the warriors peel off from helping the squid and come over. Harry repeats his request, holding Fleur’s unconscious body out to them. They look to the merman, who nods, and then they take Fleur, swimming her in the direction of the shore.

The merman gestures to the writhing, bleeding giant squid, and Harry takes a deep breath. He’s absolutely crap at healing charms, he can barely manage to heal a papercut, never mind anything more complicated than that. But keeping it still – that he can do. He’s never cast this spell on something this large before, something this powerful before, but he can do this. Draco is always yelling at him about how his spellcasting is all power without any finesse, and here is a situation where this will finally come in handy.

“Immobulus!” he casts, putting everything has behind it.

Which, in hindsight, was probably a little too much.  

His magic leaves him in a rush of blinding light, and when he blinks it away, the giant squid is completely still, unable to move any of its massive limbs. It’s pulled away with the current, and Harry hastily casts the levitation charm to keep it close. He grits his teeth as he holds onto the giant squid, because this thing is heavy, and he really wishes he was better at featherlight charms. With something this big, his weak charm would have just shattered. So instead he holds it steady with wingardium leviosa, and it should be easier because they’re in the water, but the magic doesn’t know that, and Harry can already feel the strain of keeping the massive beast steady in his shoulders. If he hadn’t already been exhausted before this it wouldn’t be so bad, but he was and it is.

“This is too large a spell to maintain,” the merman says, “Soon it will cause you great pain.”

“Carry me back when I’m done if I can’t go myself,” Harry says, and he can’t feel sweat underwater, but his whole body feels too hot, like he’s boiling from the inside.

He doesn’t waste any more time arguing with Harry. He joins the others, who have abandoned their spears and now press their hands to the wounds Fleur had inflicted. At first Harry thinks they’re just trying to stop the bleeding, but then their hands glow a soft green, and when they remove them the skin they were touching is healed. The merman who Harry had been speaking to has hands that glow brighter than anyone around him.

Soon he doesn’t have the energy to pay attention to them. Instead, he just focuses on sustaining his spells and not passing out, because there’s an itching burn up along his spine, and he keeps on having to blink black spots away. He can’t feel his arm below the grindylow bite, which he figures is at least better than it being in excruciating pain. He really hopes Pomfrey doesn’t need to regrow his arm.

An ice cold hand touches the back of his neck, and he startles, looking beside him. The same merman is there, and everyone has backed off the giant squid. It’s not bleeding anymore. There are thick, angry scars where oozing wounds used to be. “Is it going to be okay?”

The merman nods.

Harry sighs in relief, and he can feel the tell tale itching at his gills, so he’s running out of time. He needs to get to the surface. “Finite incantatum!”

Breaking the spells is an instant relief. The squid moves its large tentacles slowly, like it’s getting used to them again, but it’s not flailing in pain anymore. It really is going to okay. He tries to swim up, but his limbs are too tired to move properly, and his bitten arm doesn’t want to move at all. He panics, struggling, but doesn’t get more than a dozen or so feet before the gillyweed’s effects disappear, and he’s still so deep in the water, he’ll never make it to the surface in time. His lungs are already burning, and he has to fight against the urge to open his mouth. He’s feeling lightheaded, but he has to keep moving, maybe it’s not as far away as it looks –

A cold arm grabs him around the waist, and the merman’s face fills his vision. A second later, freezing lips press against his own. Harry’s eyes widen, and the merman pulls back. His mouth falls open before he can stop it, but suddenly he can breathe again. It’s not the same as before, he doesn’t have gills or anything, he’s just – breathing, somehow, underwater.

“Your end is not in the sea. I hope of this trespass you forgive me,” he says. He pulls apart Harry’s crappy seaweed bandage, and his arm is purple below the angry, deep grindylow bite. The merman presses his hand against the bite and there’s that same steady green light. It feels like Harry’s plunged his entire arm in a bucket of ice. When the glow subsides, he’s healed, the only thing to show he was hurt in the first place is a row of white pinprick scars where the grindylow’s teeth had sunken into his skin.

Harry blinks, looking at his arm. Then everything catches up with him, and he yelps, “I have a boyfriend!”

The merman’s eyes crinkle at the corners. “Inform him it was not planned. Come, you must return to land.”

He holds Harry flush against his ice cold side, and Harry’s already shivering when he tentatively wraps his arm around the merman’s shoulders. Even tugging Harry along, he swims smoother and faster than Harry had with the gillyweed.

~

Draco guesses he’s just going to have to get used to Harry disappearing for no reason, since he takes longer than the allotted hour to return, and then is enough of an idiot to jump back into the lake. He wants to be angry about it, but he can’t. Harry is going after Fleur, when no one else can, and he can’t be upset about that. Worried, of course, but he’d do the same if he could.

About thirty minutes pass, and two merpeople bring an unconscious Fleur to the surface, but Harry is nowhere in sight. They twist their arms to direct the current to push her to the shore, then disappear back into the water. She doesn’t look hurt, but he’s too far away to tell for sure. Cho and Viktor hurry over to her, but before they make it over she gasps awake and pushes herself upright. Her bubble head charm shatters, and she pulls herself to her feet, swaying. Viktor and Cho stop in their tracks, and Draco doesn’t understand why until she turns to face them.

She’s sopping wet, her swimsuit torn even though she looks unhurt, and her face is twisted in an expression of such intense fury that Draco feels a chill go down his spine. He’s not alone, because both Pansy and Blaise scoot closer to him.

“Fleur!” Maxime says, overjoyed, because she’s an idiot.

You,” she hisses, and the water is steaming off of her. Do none of these people remember that this girl is a quarter veela? “You took my sister! You took her from me!”

Dumbledore stands, “Miss Delacour, please calm down–”

Gabrielle is off to the side with Ron, but he’s holding her back, probably worried about letting her run forward when her sister is this angry. At least someone has some common sense.

“CALM DOWN?” she roars, and oh no, these people really are morons. They picked the most powerful students from each school and then took the person who mattered most to them. Did they expect them to accept defeat quietly? These are people who agreed to look death in the face, and the adults really think that this is just a game, that there wouldn’t be consequences. None of the judges are moving, none have their wands in their hands, because apparently they don’t understand just what they’ve done. “MY SISTER IS GONE BECAUSE OF YOU! MY – MY SISTER–”

Draco reacts before he can think better of it, because he doesn’t care if she does this, but he knows that she’ll regret it later. He stands, pulls out his wand, and shouts, “PROTEGO MAXIMUS!”

A blue shield of protective magic springs to life in front of the judges’ table just seconds before Fleur lets loose a whip of golden fire. It smashes into his shield, and it shudders, but holds. The judges seem shocked, as if it wasn’t glaringly obvious what she was about to do. Fleur’s more powerful than him, and she’s mad. His shield will break if she keeps this up, so he has to do something.

“Mihi virtutem tuam, mihi virtutem tuam, mihi virtutem tuam,” he mutters, locking his eyes on his shield and doing everything he can not to so much as blink. The incantation is old, but it works. The next spell Fleur hurls at the shield is absorbed into it, and the spot where the blast hit the shield is now an iridescent silver. As long as he keeps chanting and doesn’t blink, that will keep happening. The judges have finally figured out that Fleur isn’t fucking around, and they get out of their chairs and back away, wands in their hands.

Fleur realizes none of her spells are getting through, and flames dance along her shoulders. She looks towards him, towards the stands filled with students, and Draco knew this was coming. “Incendio!” she snaps, a veritable wall of fire heading towards them. He doesn’t take it personally. She thinks her sister is dead or worse, and in her grief she seeks to destroy anything that gets in her way.

He doesn’t have the power to cast another protego, but thanks to Fleur he has enough to expand the one he already has. His original shield is almost entirely silver, pulsating with the power Fleur attacked it with. He drags his wand sideways, not letting his grasp on the shield go, and casts, “Capitulum quintum!”

The shield explodes outwards, covering the stands and protecting everyone in them, fueled by Fleur’s magic that he’d managed to trap within it. Her wall of fire breaks harmlessly against the shield, and flames sprout around her hands in her rage.

Draco thinks his eyes have to be deceiving him, because it looks like Ron is running across the sand towards the furious witch, but that can’t be right, because that would be moronic.

“Fleur!” he calls out, “Your sister is here! Gabrielle is fine!”

She turns to him, but he’s gotten close enough to her that he just grabs onto her arms, carefully avoiding the flames. “Let me go!” she howls. Ron is strong, but so’s Fleur, and if he’s not careful she will take him down, no magic needed.

He shakes her and twists her around, to where Gabrielle is standing between Cedric and Cho. The flames covering her go out, and tears fill her eyes. “Gabrielle?”

Ron lets her go, and Cedric and Cho do the same to Gabrielle. She bolts, running towards her elder sister, arms outstretched. “It’s okay!” she says in French, “I’m okay, everything’s okay, Ron and Harry brought me back!

They slam into each other, Fleur falling to her knees and wrapping her arms around Gabrielle, who buries her face in her sister’s chest.

Draco lets out a sigh of relief and lets the shield drop. He falls back into his seat, wiping sweat from his forehead, and tries to avoid the couple hundred pairs of eyes that are on him. Blaise summons him a glass of water, and Pansy shifts closer so he can lean against her without making it obvious that’s what he’s doing.

He’s barely gotten the chance to catch his breath when the lake starts bubbling and a stream of water pops out, raising vertically in the air. A dark skinned merman with green hair sits in the middle of it, holding Harry carefully against his side. Which is strange enough all on its own, up until he gets a closer look at his tail. It’s dirty bronze edged in gold, which means – what in merlin’s name happened down there?

Maxime is looking towards Fleur, twisting her hands, and Karkaroff would clearly rather cut off his own hands than get a single inch closer. So it’s Dumbledore who steps forward, bowing deeply. “Prince Akeakamai.”

“Prince!” Harry exclaims, “You didn’t tell me that!”

What the fuck. Was Harry just chit-chatting with the prince of the merpeople down there?

Fleur pulls herself to her feet, still clutching Gabrielle to her side. “I am so sorry,” she hiccups, face red and puffy from crying. “I thought you had – I am so sorry.”

Akeakamai raises a hand, and she falls silent. “To avenge your sister, you did what you must. There is no quarrel between us.” Since he’s in the column of water, his words come out light and melodic, and not as the screeches that merpeople’s voices sound like in the air.

“But I–”

He shakes his head, “You fought bravely, child, and for this you should be admired.”

Fleur lets loose a fresh wave of tears, but doesn’t try and argue anymore.

He uses the water to gently deposit Harry onto the sand, and he stumbles but doesn’t fall. “Thanks for your help!” he says, waving. He clearly has no idea how important or powerful the merman is, even if he now knows that he’s a prince.

Akeakamai smiles and inclines his head to Harry, a courtesy he hadn’t even showed Dumbledore. “May we meet again, my friend.” The column of water sinks back into the lake, taking the prince with it.

Harry looks at all of them, at the crying Fleur and scattered judges, at Ron hovering uncertainly near the Delacour sisters, at the way half the people are staring at him while the other half are staring at Draco, and tilts his head to the side. “Did I miss something?”

Ron pinches the bridge of his nose.

“Somehow,” Cedric says dryly, “I feel like we should be the ones asking you that.”

Harry blinks, not understanding. Unbelievable.