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The Golden Dawn

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For nearly two thousand years, the plot of land dedicated to the final resting place of those who could claim the bloodline of the House of Black had never suffered the presence of so much as a Half-Blood, much less a Muggle-born. It was a claim made by more than a few of the noble wizarding families that made up the Sacred Twenty-Eight and may have even been true before the conclusion of the Second Wizarding War. The centuries deep wards on such places always demanded a blood price, to prove the purity of the witch or wizard who crossed them, but it was a proven fact that such spells could only detect ones magical nature and would in fact let any magical person through. In the aftermath of the war, many of the old graves and mausoleums were desecrated by those too young, too ignorant or too angry to have a care for the dead.

Early on, when Harry was halfway through his courses at the Auror Academy and had begun to receive minor cases to investigate, he and Ron had been assigned to investigate reported disturbances in the Crabbe family plot. The activity had been reported not by the Crabbe’s themselves, but by Muggles in the nearby village, who had claimed to have heard several small explosions. The team who had turned over the case to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had already seen to the Muggles in question, leaving it up to the Aurors-in-Training to determine whether or not Dark Wizardry was to blame.

“Bet you five Sickles that they’ve been digging up some Dark Artefacts,” Ron whispered excitedly as the pair of them crept through the eerily silent cemetery.

Harry, who already held no fondness for graveyards, found that his mood was in no way improved for having had to been the one that tripped the security golem at the front gate and thus paid the blood price. “Bet you it’s ruddy Muggle teenagers having a laugh.

“Muggles get turned away from these lots, same as Hogwarts,” Ron said, shaking his head. “I’m surprised they even got close enough to go reporting whatever happened. Besides, I think we’d have gotten a much different report if some kids woke the golem like you did.” At Harry’s withering look, Ron laughed and elbowed him. “Hey, I said I was sorry, didn’t I? I forget you may as well be Muggle-born sometimes.”

“Anything else you ‘forgot’ to mention about wizarding graveyards?” Harry asked him coolly.

Shaking his head with a sheepish grin, Ron rubbed at the back of his head. “Not unless you were planning on burying someone here.”

“Just you…” Harry muttered and hid a grin when Ron yelped indignantly.

Their humour died away abruptly when they came to the newest section of the cemetery and saw clearly that they were dealing with a case of vandalism. The Dark Mark had been painted crudely in blood red onto several of the grave markers, along with a slew of words that magically shifted from ‘PUREFILTH’ to ‘TRAITOR’ to ‘MURDERER’. Even worse was that lightning bolts had been blazoned in stark, bone white over the bloody skulls, as though to sanction the defilement with Harry’s name. Several of the stones were cracked or pock marked and a marble bust had been blasted off one of the newer tombs to lie brokenly at their feet. Harry felt numb to see that it belonged to Vincent Crabbe.

“Bastards!” Ron hissed out suddenly from between clenched teeth.

Harry turned at the vehemence in Ron’s tone and was surprised to see that his friend was so angry that he was shaking slightly. “Ron?” he asked hesitantly.

“Even…even at their worst, they never…” He seemed to be having a hard time formulating words past his temper and shook his head. “The only grave I ever heard about them touching was Dumbledore’s, but that…that wasn’t a family crypt.”

“You’re talking about the Death Eaters,” Harry realized and Ron nodded jerkily.

“It’s just…it’s not done, Harry. What was the point of all this if we’re bloody well going to end up worse than them?”

“Bones of the father,” Harry murmured to himself as he looked back at the desecrated tomb, brow furrowed in thought. He’d always assumed that on the night of Cedric’s death and Voldemort’s resurrection, the wizard had been unable to call his Death Eaters to him before regaining his form. Now he wondered if that hadn’t been by design…if he’d been uncertain of their reaction to the defilement of his father’s grave.

Ron bent to touch the cracked marble bust, fitting two of the pieces back together with a furrowed brow, the hot burn of his anger settling into disheartened resignation. “The Crabbe family…they had to have known this was happening. Why didn’t they report it?”

“Would you, if the other side had won? Anyone who had family ties to Voldemort is doing their level best to distance themselves.” Stooping beside his friend, Harry put his hand on Ron’s shoulder and squeezed. “Come on…we’ll get this sorted. We’ll make it right.”

“How?” Ron wondered bitterly.

Harry gave him a wry smile, raising his eyebrows. “What’s the point in being famous war heroes if you can’t champion the media to a cause?”

Disavowing the vandals proved very effective in reversing the trend, though that didn’t stop Corban Yaxley from spending nearly forty minutes dressing them down for making a statement to the press without approval from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Unable to officially reprimand them, lest it appear that the Ministry did not support their resident heroes of the Second Wizarding War, Yaxley instead spent the next few months ensuring that no case more taxing than a cursed tea cosy crossed their desk. Despite that and the few Howlers that the pair of them received from those who’d felt betrayed by their seeming champions against the dark, neither Harry nor Ron had any regrets. Which was partially why he felt so discomforted now to stand outside the Black family graveyard, watching Draco cut into his palm.

“Are you sure about this?” Harry asked uncertainly.

“Are you going to keep asking me that?” Draco countered, letting blood pool into his cupped hand.

“It’s just…when you offered to help, I didn’t think you meant…”

Arching a pale brow at him, Draco pushed his bleeding hand into the open mouth of a gargoyle seated before the high, wrought iron gate. “You didn’t think I meant to take you to a suitable gravesite?” he challenged and was seemingly unconcerned by the stone maw that suddenly closed about his flesh.

Harry was far less prepared for the sight and startled, nearly dropping the bundle in his arms. “Your hand!”

Toujours Pur,” Draco said to the gargoyle, who released him and licked its reddened teeth. The scrape of stone against stone grated at the ears and Draco’s jaw tightened with displeasure as he pulled a small vial of Dittany from his belt and spared a drop for the wound in his palm. With a grumble of satisfaction, the gargoyle turned and unlocked the gate, pushing it open so that Draco could enter. He turned and gave Harry a look when the other hesitated to follow. “Well?”

“I…” Harry looked up at the Black family crest mounted upon the gate and could just make out the remnants of paint that had been recently scrubbed away. He hoped beyond measure that it hadn’t been a lightning bolt. “It’s sacred ground, Draco… I don’t want to violate the Black family’s resting place. Kreacher would never forgive me, for one thing.”

Looking mildly surprised by his reticence, Draco gestured with a finger to nudge Harry forward with his magic, not trusting that the gargoyle wouldn’t snap the gate shut again if he walked back through it. “Potter, are you or are you not Sirius Black’s named heir?” he asked pointedly.

“Yes, but-“

“Which makes you, legally, the heir to the male line and head of the House of Black,” he continued, ignoring Harry’s protest. “Meaning that you have every right to be here. As heir of the female line through my mother, I am currently your successor until you name another, so I’m well within my rights to be here as well. Neither one of us is trespassing.”

Eyeing the leering gargoyle as he stepped past it to join Draco, he tightened his arm around the bundle he carried. “I don’t think that means I’m welcome to break hundreds of years of wizarding tradition,” he said doubtfully.

Giving Harry a rather haughty look, Draco closed the gate behind him so that they would not be disturbed. “Thousands of years,” he corrected dryly. “But if you have a better suggestion, I’ll hear it.”

That was hardly fair, because his inability to come up with an alternative had led them here in the first place. When Harry had first become aware that Kreacher’s advancing age meant that he would lose the house elf sooner rather than later, he had assumed that he would bury him at Grimmauld Place. It seemed only fitting for how much the old elf had loved the house and the family he served there, but to return to his home now would be massively stupid. Harry didn’t even entertain the idea of taking him to Shell Cottage. Not only was he certain that neither Dobby nor Kreacher would have appreciated their sharing a resting place, but Harry rather thought Bill and Fleur would be equally displeased by their garden becoming a house-elf graveyard.

It would have been simplest to bury Kreacher at Hogwarts, but that felt…wrong. Kreacher had never liked Hogwarts, despite leading the house-elves in the final battle of the Second Wizarding War. Too many were buried there already besides, and some of those were not by choice. When Draco said that he had an idea of where they might go, Harry hadn’t expected to be Side-Alonged to an actual cemetery, much less one belonging to the House of Black.

Seeing the doubt still heavy in Harry’s expression, Draco sighed and laid a hand lightly on the linen wrapped bundle he carried. “Kreacher served the Black family for over six-hundred years, Potter. A family that has traditionally mounted the heads of their favoured servants like animals. The bloodline of that family will continue through myself and Edward, and I can assure you that I find that particular tradition to be wholly distasteful. If you wish to bury him, then I feel he deserves to be buried here.”

Letting out a slow breath, Harry nodded and felt some of the tension fade away. “You’re right. Sorry.”

“For wanting to respect the customs of pureblood families?” Draco asked, amused. “How completely dreadful of you, Potter. I’m appalled.”

Given the season and the earliness of the hour, the graveyard was understandably quiet, devoid of birdsong or the chitter of small creatures now that the chill of winter was approaching. Even the crunch of their footsteps on the thin layer of brittle snow seemed muffled, as though all sounds of life were encroached upon by the weight of the dead. It was rare for wizarding ghosts to bother with cemeteries, tending instead to linger in the place that they died, but still Harry could not help but feel that they were watched as they wove through the ancient tombstones.

“I haven’t been here since mother laid Aunt Bella to rest,” Draco commented idly as he led Harry into the newer section.

Harry stopped in his tracks and stared at him. “Bellatrix is buried here?”

Giving him a look, Draco halted as well. “She was a Black.”

“She was a murderer,” Harry said vehemently.

“I’m aware,” Draco snapped coldly. “That doesn’t change her lineage. There are markers laid for Sirius and Nymphadora, also.”

Taken aback, Harry’s brow furrowed and he shook his head in confusion. “But Sirius was disowned and Tonks was a Half-Blood.”

“Mother insisted,” Draco told him simply, shrugging as though it posed no significance whatsoever that the Half-Blood daughter of a disowned witch held a grave marker in a pureblood family plot. “I think she wanted to ensure the legacy of the Black family through its ‘heroes’, as much as its villains. She’s spent a good portion of the last decade tracing other lines that ended in disavowal. Genealogy has rather become a hobby of hers.”

Something hot and tight twisted within Harry’s chest at the thought of Sirius and Bellatrix being laid to rest within the same burial ground, despite knowing that his godfather’s grave would be empty. Doubt crept up in him again and he let his eyes settle on Kreacher’s bound form in the crook of his arm. Taking a slow breath as an idea came to him, he looked up at Draco once more.

“Does Regulus Black have a marker here?”

It took the better part of the morning to dig out Kreacher’s grave, in part because it took them a while to figure out the warding on the grounds, which prevented their being able to dig up the earth. Draco had looked aghast when he realized that Harry’s intention was to dig the grave by hand, despite the fact that they were wizards and his right arm was all but useless. He had promptly relieved Harry of his wand, which was technically Draco’s by right, and insisted that he cease all efforts toward manual labour.

“I am hardly in the mood to dig two graves today, Potter. You might as well resign yourself to standing about sulking,” he’d told Harry resolutely.

As it turned out, Draco proved to be rather effective at wielding a shovel, though he drew the line at leaving the ground frozen beforehand and had cast a quick warming charm upon the earth. Harry tried not to stare too openly as Draco neatly worked a hole into the earth before Regulus Black’s grave marker, sleeves rolled and cloak set aside. He was wholly unsuccessful in the endeavour however and Draco’s eyes flicked up to catch him in the act.

“That doesn’t look like pouting to me,” Draco said, pausing in his work to stretch out his back.

Feeling a flush creep up his neck, Harry scowled at him. “I was just wondering how many other professors you’ve offed before me to have gotten so good at digging.”

Scoffing, Draco pushed his shortened hair out of his face, giving Harry a look that suggested he was being particularly dense. “While I understand that you’ve had a trying couple of days, I would remind you that I am the Gamekeeper of Hogwarts. Shovels do occasionally come into play while tending the grounds, as it happens.” Surveying the hole that he’d made, Draco nodded in satisfaction. “This should be deep enough.”

Harry tightened his hold on the slight weight Kreacher made in the crook of his left arm, looking down at the shroud wrapped figure. Nodding tiredly, he carefully knelt down and lowered the body into the grave, giving Draco a nod of thanks when the wizard steadied him. Using his good hand, he pushed the loose earth slowly into the hole, grateful that Draco didn’t try to stop him, needing to have some tangible part in laying the house-elf to rest. Sitting back on his heels when it was done, Harry struggled to find words, wishing absurdly that Luna were there to help him.

“Kreacher was an awful sort,” he began, staring down at the newly turned earth. “For the majority of his life he lived with the worst kind of wizards and became just as dark and twisted as any of them. But he changed…more than six centuries old and he was still able to change for the better. I won’t absolve him of his wrongdoings or the beliefs he held for so long, but I will say that he was always loyal and that he tried to be decent in the end. That’s more than can be said for a lot of witches and wizards alive today.”

Laying his hands against the ground, Harry closed his eyes and pushed out with his power, searching for the wards they’d opened and drawing them closed over the grave once more. “Thank you, Kreacher…for looking after me and mine. I hope you find the peace you deserve.”

There was a faint cracking sound and Draco hissed in a sharp, surprised breath from where he’d silently observed the proceedings at Harry’s side. Opening his eyes with a frown, Harry found the headstone to be the source of the noise, for even now it was rearranging itself before their gaze. Smiling grimly, Harry finally felt all trace of lingering doubt melt away from him and knew now that bringing Kreacher here had been the right choice.

Here Lies
Regulus Arcturus Black
Beloved Son
Kreacher, the House-Elf
Loyal Servant and Friend

In the Darkness, they found Light.

Neither one of them spoke on the way out of the graveyard, though Harry could feel questions lingering in the air between them as Draco cleared away their footprints, lest someone see them before the next snow. Harry was grateful that they went unasked, because he wasn’t entirely certain that he had the answers. Mostly he just felt tired, physically and emotionally wrung out from all that had happened. The gargoyle relinquished his grasp on the gate once more to allow them out of the cemetery, but refused to hold it shut again until Draco had given him another blood price.

“Sometimes I really hate magic,” Harry muttered in disgust as he glared at the grotesque leer of the stone golem while Draco used another drop of Dittany on his palm.

“At least this sort is straightforward about the cost,” he replied mildly, then gave Harry a searching look. “What was that back there?”

“What was what?” Harry hedged and sighed at the withering look he received in return. “I just…closed the wards.”

“That wasn’t how we opened them, Potter. You used wild magic. You directed wild magic, which rather goes against the definition.”

“I didn’t intend to change the marker,” Harry argued, shaking his head.

“Didn’t you?”

Sighing in frustration, Harry made an impatient gesture. “What does it matter, Draco? It makes no difference in any of this.”

Scowling with displeasure, Draco shook his head. “This is exactly what I always hated about you in school. Saint Potter and all his many gifts. How it pains him to be so very special,” he sneered.

Harry opened his mouth to retort, then paused and started to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Startled by the reaction, Draco’s eyes widened, then narrowed suspiciously at him, which only riled Harry further to think of all the times he’d seen a similar expression on him during the course of their schooling. Finally, Draco sighed irritably and folded his arms, resigned to wait for Harry to calm down.

“I’ll not be held responsible if you’ve finally cracked,” he stated plainly.

“Dumbledore’s beard,” Harry gasped, wiping at a tear. “Sorry, it’s just…I forgot that you used to call me that.” He shook his head a little, smiling at the memory. “’Saint Potter’…really, Draco, you were just the worst.”

“Thank you for that assessment,” Draco replied blandly, arching a brow at him. “Since you’re feeling so very amused, perhaps now would be a good time to cast the Patronus Charm.”

That sobered Harry quickly enough and he grimaced, flexing his wand hand, though he barely felt the motion. He hardly thought that a giggle at Draco’s expense had him in the right frame of mind to produce an effective Patronus after the morning he’d had, but it was as good a time as any he was likely to get. At least they were alone out here and a good ways off from the nearest village.

“Might as well,” he agreed. “Though I don’t know what we’ll do with the Lethifold, should I manage it.”

“Likely it will go into the cemetery to escape the sunlight. I’ll come round with a Clap-Trap later, if it comes to that.”

“I still can’t believe you use George Weasley’s products,” Harry muttered, turning to face the high stone wall surrounding the Black family plot.

“It’s not as though I go shouting recommendations from the rooftops,” Draco scoffed. “His merchandise is, regrettably, far too effective for me to snub simply because I find him to be an insufferably common bore of low breeding.”

“Are you being deliberately awful just to ensure I’ll succeed?”

“Is it working?”

Harry quelled a small smile and shook his head, raising his arm with an effort. Shutting his eyes, he reached for a happy memory, letting Snape’s lessons in Occlumancy help to further separate himself from the lingering sorrow of Kreacher’s death. He went first for the memory he’d nearly succeeded with in the Forbidden Forest a few days earlier, of his unexpected reunion and the discovery of Daisy Dursley. The thought warmed him and he felt the faintest twinge in his arm, as though the Lethifold were reacting to that bit of happiness, but he felt the moment was tainted now by his encounter with the Dementor.

Frustrated, Harry cast back deeper into his memories and drew the happiest to mind, letting the faint prickles of pain in his arm spur him on, but every bright spot he found seemed to be darkened in some way. He was hardly skilled enough in Occlumency to untangle the complicated weave of emotions that surrounded his memories, if such a thing were even possible. Though he’d carefully avoided the muddled memories surrounding his attack in Belize, he couldn’t help but find himself dwelling there, on the night the Lethifold had first crawled under his skin. The more he thought on it, the more he felt like there was something…missing.

With a sigh, Harry finally gave up and opened his eyes, only to shout in alarm when he found himself standing in the dark, wet jungle of Belize, staring down the length of his wand arm to a woman standing opposite. The sun rose behind her and the blinding light of dawn kept her shielded from his sight, but he was certain that he knew her. The vision faded abruptly as Harry stumbled back in surprise, flinching instinctively when Draco steadied him.

“Potter?” he queried in concern, giving Harry a searching look.

Casting his eyes about wildly to be sure that there were no other phantoms lurking in the waking world, Harry shook his head quickly. “Sorry, I…I think I’m overdue for my morning potions,” he said shakily, taking slow, deliberate breaths to calm his racing heart. “Though I doubt they’d do much to help me find a happy memory, at this point.”

“You looked as though you’d seen a boggart,” Draco pressed and Harry rather wished that he wouldn’t be quite so observant.

“My imagination has been a little overactive as of late,” he hedged, rubbing at his temple and the growing headache that was building there. Another sign that he was past due for his tinctures. Wanting to change the subject, Harry blurted the first question that came to mind, looking rather surprised by it even as the words formed in his mouth. “Have you ever heard of the Golden Dawn?”

Draco blinked at the diversion, then his brow furrowed slightly in confusion. “Yes, what of it?”

Shocked, Harry looked at him sharply, which only heightened Draco’s perplexity of his behaviour. “What?” he demanded, aghast. “How do you…what is it?”

“Surely you’re joking,” Draco said, then sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose when Harry’s expression made it clear that he wasn’t. “If you’re going to be the hero of the wizarding world, you could at least pretend to care about its history. You were an Auror, for Merlin’s sake.”

The confusion fell to Harry now and he scowled. “What do the Aurors have to do with it?”

“Potter, it’s in the very etymology of the title itself. Honestly your education is appalling. I’m sincerely doubting your ability to teach at this point.”

“Draco,” Harry growled warningly and the Gamekeeper relented with a sneer.

“Muggle relations began to experience a swift decline in the fifteenth century, which ultimately led to the signing of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy in the late seventeenth century,” he explained.

“Yes, I know that bit,” Harry said sourly.

“At this point I would hardly be surprised to learn otherwise,” Draco taunted and then continued. “A number of families, my own included, were opposed to the Statute and continued to seek legislation to reverse the law. Several different movements rose during this time, but the most prominent among them was known as The Golden Dawn.

“In truth they were nearly fanatical in their belief that it was the destiny of wizardkind to lead the Muggles into the dawn of a new era of peace and prosperity, for those of magical power were obligated to serve the greater good of humanity by virtue of their abilities. Eventually, the movement and all other opposition to the Statute died out as the magical community adjusted to being removed from the Muggles, but the ideals of The Golden Dawn inspired Minister Diggory to establish an order of witches and wizards sworn to protect both magical and Muggle communities from Dark Wizardry.” Draco gave him a pointed look and finished by saying, “He named them Aurors, from the Latin aurora meaning ‘dawn’.”

Aureum aurora,” Harry groaned suddenly, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I’m so bloody thick…it’s on the damned crest.” Draco gave him a look that suggested he’d been saying as much for years, but Harry chose to ignore this in favour of sighing, because it just didn’t…fit. “You’ve not heard of it being used in present day?”

“Present day?” Draco repeated, frowning slightly. “No, certainly not…and it’s hardly dwelled upon in the curriculum Binns puts out. The Ministry would naturally prefer an abbreviated history to show that the Statute was ingratiated into wizarding society without much fuss, but the Governors are the only outside entity with any say in the matter.”

“They wouldn’t prefer it be removed?” he wondered.

“Why?” Draco asked, raising an eyebrow in challenge. “Because the Governors come from old, pureblood wizarding families?”

“Well, yes. That thought did occur to me.”

Scoffing, Draco gave Harry a look that spoke volumes. “Preservation of our history is the ideal, not the eradication of it, especially when Muggle relations are involved. Some are still against the Statutes to this day.”

In Harry’s mind, Hermione echoed, “It’s not a question of if the International Statute of Secrecy will fail…but when.”

Shivering as a sudden wave of foreboding washed over his body and left him chilled, Harry found himself rubbing at his right arm and stopped with an effort. “Thank you for the history lesson, Professor,” he told Draco with a wry smile.

“Clearly someone has to see to your education, given how it is noticeably lacking,” Draco derided him, but held out his arm with a smirk all the same. “Shall we?”

The grounds were empty as the pair of them made their way up to the castle from the Apparation boundary near the Hogsmeade gate. With the lockdown lifted the day prior, Harry hadn’t bothered to make use of his Invisibility Cloak on their earlier exit, able to hide the slight bundle of Kreacher’s still form beneath the thicker fall of his winter robes. He felt heavier with each step, worn and exhausted, but though his head was starting to ache from the delay in his morning potions, his arm at least was still mostly numb below the cuff of runes still sewn into his skin.

“Is it really so difficult for you to think of a happy memory?” Draco wondered suddenly, breaking the quiet of wintry air in a puff of warm breath. “I would have thought otherwise.”

“I have plenty of happy memories,” Harry sighed, shaking his head. “But in the moment I’m casting the spell, I can’t seem to hold onto any of them. My mind turns to darker things…I have plenty of that also.”

“I suppose that two years hosting an embodiment of misery might provide some…difficulty,” he mused thoughtfully.

Harry halted his steps, shaking his head in wonderment. “I hadn’t even considered it, but you’re probably right. I’ve been unwillingly harbouring the worst kinds of feelings in my own skin…it’s a wonder I’ve been able to manage any sort of gladness at all.”

“Gryffindors are rather well known for their stubbornness,” Draco commented mildly. For a long while, Draco said nothing as they continued on their path to the castle, his brow furrowed as though he were puzzling through a problem. Finally, he broke the silence with a sigh and gave Harry a resolved look as they drew near. “Meet me at my cottage tomorrow afternoon, we’ll say three o’clock.” He thought for a moment more, then added, “Come undisguised. And clean-shaven.”

Harry stared at him outright, utterly baffled by the request. “Why?”

Rolling his eyes, Draco walked away from him, his irritation clear in every line of his body. “Because I’m going to save your life, you pillock.”

It was with no small amount of trepidation that he made his careful way down to Draco’s cottage the following afternoon, well hidden beneath the fall of his Invisibility Cloak. Though he’d spent most of Saturday unconscious after returning to his rooms, the thought of what Draco might have planned for him was never far from his thoughts, especially as this plan seemed to directly involve Harry Potter. Even beneath the familiar weight of his cloak, he felt oddly exposed, to the point that he’d very nearly resorted to a second dose of his Draught of Peace.

The school was cautiously beginning to come to life again after the harrowing events of that Thursday, which had taken longer than Harry would have expected. He had to remind himself that the vast majority of these children had grown up in peacetime and their lives had never before been so disrupted by sudden violence. Though it bothered him to think of it, Harry was well aware that when he returned to classes on Monday, he was likely to face a new wave of suspicion from the student body after his actions, both with the Dementor and in the Great Hall. And honestly…it wasn’t as though he could blame them for it. At their age, Harry undoubtedly would have been feeling the same.

Trying not to dwell too heavily on such thoughts, Harry took a deep breath and knocked lightly at the door to Draco’s cottage, glancing back to be sure he hadn’t missed any of his tracks in the snow. Winter made sneaking about in the Invisibility Cloak more trouble than it was worth, but at least the spell to mask his path wasn’t particularly draining. There was a fall of footsteps from within the cottage and then the door opened to reveal Draco, who stared out into the seemingly empty air before he smirked and stepped back enough that Harry could come inside.

“Embarrassed to be seen lurking about my cottage, Potter?” he murmured, taking the opportunity to banish the snow from his front steps entirely before closing the door behind them.

“I’m supposed to be abroad, Draco,” Harry said irritably, flicking his wand at the curtains to draw them shut before he removed his cloak to glare at the Gamekeeper. “A fact that I sincerely hope you hadn’t forgotten when you were making this plan.”

“Assuredly not. Now, if you would be so kind as to disrobe,” he said calmly, his expression giving nothing away.

“I…excuse me?” Harry blurted out, a flush of heat that had nothing to do with the fire crackling merrily in the hearth rising over him.

“Disrobe,” Draco repeated, raising an eyebrow in challenge. “It means to divest yourself of your garments.”

“I obviously know what it means!” Harry whispered furiously, though he couldn’t have said why he thought it necessary, given that they were alone. “How exactly does stripping off my clothes lead to you saving my life?”

In answer, Draco merely smirked and unbuckled the belt from around his tunic, setting it on one of his worktables. Harry watched as the Gamekeeper’s boots and bracers followed, feeling his eyes grow ever wider from behind his glasses as each item was removed. The flutter of nervous anticipation that had been swaddled by his earlier Draught went decidedly south of his brain when Draco pulled off his tunic and Harry hesitated a moment longer before finally setting his body into motion.

“This is mental,” he muttered to himself as he jerkily undid the buttons of his robes with his left hand. “This is completely and utterly insane.”

“That’s likely true,” Draco agreed in good humour, his eyes glittering with amusement and something sharper.

Relieved, or maybe disappointed, when Draco stopped once he was standing in his undergarments, Harry stripped down to his vest and pants and tried very hard not to fold his arms across his chest like a nervous schoolboy. “Well?” he asked, his voice a touch rougher than he would have preferred. “Now what?”

“Now,” Draco very nearly purred, which did nothing to help the growing problem that Harry was already trying very hard not to encourage any further. “You drink this.” He picked up a vial that Harry hadn’t noticed sitting in wait on the worktable, an unappealing grey paste that he immediately recognized to be Polyjuice. As he watched, Draco unstopped the vial and plucked a pale hair from his head, dropping it inside. The magic caught hold and turned the potion a smooth, silvery hue, as though it were made of mercury. “And then you put those on,” Draco finished and nodded toward the clothing he’d just removed from his person.

“You…want me to Polyjuice into you?” Harry asked in dawning realization, looking between Draco and the vial in shock.

“Top marks,” he replied blithely, stepping in close to hand him the vial.

“I…but…” Harry’s brow furrowed as the ‘why’ of it was suddenly overshadowed by a glaring hole in the logic. “Draco, I don’t need to be undisguised or clean-shaven to use Polyjuice.”

Draco smiled at that, then let his eyes glide slowly up Harry’s scantly clothed body until he met his gaze once more. “I’m aware, Potter,” he agreed softly, then turned and walked into his bedroom, disappearing behind the curtain that divided off the room.

Struck dumb and very flustered, Harry stared after him and wondered wildly if he was supposed to follow before he let his gaze fall upon the cool vial in his hands. He still had no idea what Draco could possibly have planned for him, but he’d already gone this far, hadn’t he? Taking a slow, calming breath, Harry tipped back the potion and shivered as it slid down his throat, cold as ice and tart with the bite of hawthorn wine. He closed his eyes and tried not to clench his jaw too tightly as the change came over him, the worst of it stemming from the lengthening of his bones as he grew several inches taller. Polyjuice transformations were never pleasant and Harry was grateful that the two of them were of a similar enough build that it didn’t take overlong. He was panting lightly from the strain of it all the same by the time it was over and when he opened his eyes, it was to see Draco standing before him again, dressed once more.

“Well, that’s certainly odd,” he said, looking at Harry with a disconcerted gaze before handing him the shirt and breeches he’d been wearing previously.

“It was your idea,” Harry reminded him and pulled off his now useless glasses, unnerved to hear Draco’s voice come out of his mouth. “Which you still haven’t explained.” It was oddly intimate to put on clothing that was still warm with someone else’s body heat, but the recent pain of transformation kept Harry from embarrassing himself twice in one day.

“Ah, yes, I suppose I should,” Draco agreed and glanced through the curtains toward the castle. “Being that young Edward is nearly here.”

Harry froze in the act of pulling on Draco’s tunic, staring at him in shock. “Teddy?” he said in surprise, looking past Draco to see that his godson was indeed heading toward the cottage through the snow, a pair of school broomsticks clutched in either hand. “But…why?

“Because, Potter, you are going to teach your godson how to fly.”