Later, Draco Malfoy would reflect on how strange it was he didn’t notice anything at first.
Even after he’d registered he was not in his bed with its 1200-thread-count sheets, his contoured head pillow and his magically-heated blanket, it scarcely raised any sort of alarm in his sleep-addled mind. It would not be the first time he’d drifted off in the largest, most intimidating chair in the Slytherin Common Room, after all; and at home, he had the unseemly habit of drifting off against any flat surface where his parents could not find or rouse him. As it was early September, he was still in that limbo of not quite knowing whether he ought to be at home or at school.
So when he opened his eyes to discover the bottom slats of an unfamiliar bed above him – in bunks – he only blinked a moment, thoughts skimming along like a stone skipping across water, idly wondering how he’d come to be there.
When no memory surfaced, he frowned and sat up, looking around.
He was in a proper bed: the lower level of a bunk bed, clearly, and not in the Slytherin dormitory. There were no bunkbeds there, and the bed-hangings were maroon; but moreover, something in Draco’s hindbrain told him that he was not in the dungeons, but rather high up. The bedcurtains were drawn, and the whole place felt snug and dark and secret, so Draco breathed through what might otherwise have been panic and thought very, very hard.
There were a few possibilities.
The chief one was that someone had placed him in the Gryffindor dormitories on a lark. If that were the case, his primary suspect was Theodore Nott, who’d been giving him the evil eye with increasing frequency over the past few weeks, ever since that (perhaps inadvisable) comment on the ancestry of his sister.
The second possibility was that he had made his way here under his own power, but couldn’t recall it for reasons that were also – probably – related to Theodore Nott and his penchant for dramatics.
Those were the top two contenders, but there was a swirl of less likely possibilities, none of which were so benign or straightforward. He hesitated to confront this swirling eddy of potential disaster until he’d at least had his morning coffee, so he shoved aside the wildest of the wild speculation through sheer force of will, along with the curtains.
Gryffindor colours met his eye, as he’d half-suspected they would. The bedhangings proved to be a deep red velvet, though the soft weave was only seen as such from the outside. There were standing wardrobes with gryphons carved into their doors, and gryphon’s-head handles. Tall, narrow windows had been built in the Tower at eye level to flood the room with early morning light. Trunks were located at the end of each bed, in various states of (dis)repair –- he could spot what must be Weasley’s at a glance, covered as it was in dings and mars (and stickers and various peoples’ handwriting, part of Draco’s mind added –- the part that was inclined to be honest with itself -– which made it look rather homey and inviting). There were a few tiny objects that were too distant to make out, placed on side tables; and what was clearly Longbottom’s unfinished work by an inkpot he’d forgotten to cap. There was a half-finished drawing that was quite good, really, though Draco hadn’t the faintest idea which of the boys in his year drew.
He might have liked to say he took it all in instantly, keenly, but he did not. He rubbed at his eyes ineffectually and paced around a bit, with no sense of urgency. The rooms were still quiet; judging from the low sun on the horizon, it was possible he’d woken earlier than anyone else. Perhaps he could find a clue as to why he’d been pranked or by whom if he poked around awhile.
(He had not yet caught on.)
Potter’s glasses were sitting by the bedside table, and he lifted them in both hands feeling strange, indeed. They were stupid, of course, and unbecoming; a million times he’d thought to steal them or stomp them or – or get a better look at them, up close. But he never had.
He turned them over in his hands, examining them from all angles. There was a scratch, there; a dent, here. They’d seen better days. Malfoy knew that Potter had money; his father had told him as much. So the glasses had to be some kind of statement, which was ridiculous, and just like Potter. He wasn’t sure what that statement would be, but it would say something about being one of the Common Men, which Draco thought was ridiculous. Potter was the Chosen One, old money, and had already made a name for himself as some sort of heroic saviour – he was not one of the common people, so it came off a bit cheap.
“Saint Potter,” he muttered, and cleared his throat.
I ought to go.
Go? He ought to flee. If all the Gryffindors awoke and caught him here – or if Weasley woke and raised the alarm – he’d be toast. Sure, they’d all get detentions until the end of time, but it wasn’t worth the thrashing he’d get, first. And he’d have a hard time explaining to McGonagall or Snape what he was doing, here, since he had no idea, himself.
But he wasn’t running. He was turning Potter’s spectacles over and over in his hands, until they were oriented the right way.
And then he was putting them on his face.
The Gryffindor boys’ dorm resolved into startlingly sharp lines and bright colour, and Draco blinked and blinked, but each time it was the same.
Those things weren’t far away, they’d been blurry.
He’d rubbed the sleep out of his eyes just fine; he just hadn’t been able to see.
Reflexively, he removed the glasses to stare at them; the world went blurry again. Without thinking, he reached down to rub the dirt and dust off the lenses using the edge of his pyjama top.
I’m not wearing my clothing.
He was wearing dark pyjamas with tiny gold snitches embroidered on them, suitable for a child for Merlin’s sake.
In the part of Draco’s mind that was inclined to be honest with itself, Draco knew he could be called many things: small-minded. Petty. A little bigoted, maybe, just a tad.
But stupid wasn’t one of them.
Swallowing, he perched the spectacles again on his nose and raised his hands to examine them. Even in the low light, it was clear they were dusted with fine, dark hair. So when Weasley pulled his own curtain back and said, “g’mrng, Harry,” dragging both hands down his face, Draco offered up his best go at a real smile and replied,
He followed the others, watching their routine without looking like he was watching at all. He followed Weasley a half-step behind, to the sink, to the showers.
He wasn’t stupid enough to follow his usual hair routine. He made the calculated (painful, painful) decision to do the exact opposite of what Potter should do for his hair type. He barely looked in the mirror, because he thought Potter wouldn’t, and because part of him quailed to think of staring into the mirror and watching Potter stare back.
Weasley kept up a stream of running commentary, about classes, about Granger, about how he’d slept. Draco let it wash over him like the scalding hot water of his shower, making appropriate noises when he felt it was warranted and otherwise shutting up.
He could shut up. He could close his mouth and keep it closed. Even if Weasley had started going on and on about the Wimbourne Wasps and their chances, and Draco had a lot of feelings on the subject.
The world had narrowed to a razor-thin focus, even with Ronald Weasley a babbling brook of bullshit at his right hand.
There were very few people he knew with the power to do something of this nature, and none of them were students. That meant he had a very, very powerful enemy.
Or a powerful friend? Someone who believed that this foray into Potter’s life would give Draco insights and advantages in the coming War?
That left out entirely the fact that there were witches and wizards who were out for Potter’s blood – people who might view Draco’s involvement as incidental, or even poetic. It wasn’t exactly a secret that he and Potter were at each other’s throats, so it might be that there was someone sitting on the sidelines, cackling madly as they envisioned how he might destroy Potter’s marks, his friendships, and tarnish his halo in the eyes of the little people.
Draco’s gaze darted nervously over to Weasley, who was still (seriously?) babbling. The temptation to shut him up was enormous.
But a strange foreboding had overtaken Draco Malfoy. He felt – sharply, keenly, with an almost preternatural understanding – that he could not make a play until he better understood the game. And shouting, “shut up, Weasel!” at the top of his voice was not exactly in with keeping a low profile.
Well, then, Draco thought. Understanding the nature of the game was his top priority, behind the obvious:
Find Draco Malfoy, of course. With his fresh Mark and his important, important task.
Weasley was waxing poetic on the potential for morning pancakes as they descended the stair from the seventh floor – “you know, Harry, with the boysenberry syrup” – when Draco finally managed to interrupt.
“Maybe, Ron, but listen,” he said, barely stumbling over the Weasel’s first name, “I’ve got to go run an errand.”
“But… breakfast,” Weasley protested. “It’s the most important meal of the day!”
Draco rolled his eyes – he couldn’t help it – but then the Weasel’s hand was pressing into his upper arm.
“Look at me, Harry.”
Draco did, gaze darting up – glasses framing everything he saw, which was so weird, their hazed edges just at the corners of his vision – and met Weasley’s dark blue eyes. And a double-strangeness hit Draco – because Weasley looked worried – and obviously he’d never looked at Draco Malfoy like that, but – stranger – that level of keen understanding was something he’d never seen on Weasley’s face before, pointed at anybody.
It brought him up so short that he only stared, and Weasley took this as leave to carry on.
“At least tell me what’s wrong, first.”
It was like looking at a total stranger, Draco reflected, gaze scanning Weasley’s features. He had the surreal privilege of watching Weasley’s face transform back into its usual placid lines when a Gryffindor passed the two of them on the stair – “all right, Dean?” – before transferring back to Harry Potter’s face and back to its strangely intense concern.
This isn’t my problem. “Later, Ron, I promise,” Draco said, and was taken aback by how earnest this voice sounded when it made promises to Ronald Weasley.
He whirled and sprinted off, heading for the Slytherin dormitories, ignoring the prickling at the back of his neck that told him Weasley was still standing on the stair, and staring after him.
A few of the staircases tried to shake him off, as though they sensed he didn’t belong so deep in the bowels of Hogwarts Castle, but it was early enough that he encountered few Slytherins in the hallways. Those who he did encounter eyed him warily but made no comment, which was just as well.
Draco’s skin was prickling up from his arms by the time he’d reached the entry to Slytherin. It had been easy enough to pretend at being Potter when surrounded by Gryffindors in an unfamiliar location, but being in the dungeons made it increasingly challenging to remember how he looked, now.
Professor Snape was striding towards him, arms tucked into voluminous sleeves, wearing his most unimpressed look, and that was truly saying something. “What are you doing here?”
Draco’s mother was fond of saying, “in a pinch, the truth will do.”
“I’m looking for Malfoy,” he said.
Snape’s brows raised. “Why?”
“I think he cursed me.”
“Well,” said Snape. He eyed Draco, up and down. “I see nothing the matter, Mister Potter.”
Draco shrugged. “It’s of a personal nature, sir.”
Snape sneered. “Perhaps you won’t antagonize Mister Malfoy so much in the future,” he suggested. “Go to the Hospital Wing, Potter, unless you wish your confrontation to be public, though perhaps that’s what you’d like best… a chance to put on a show for all your little fans?”
“Public, sir? Why public?”
“Because Mister Malfoy left for the Great Hall some time ago,” Snape supplied.
Draco felt his eyes widen; he adjusted his glasses as they slid down his face when his expression changed – the blasted things. He darted away, then, ignoring Snape who shouted more points off of Gryffindor until he was out of earshot.
Draco tumbled into the Great Hall just as it was beginning to fill in earnest and, catching sight of his own face across the Hall, wasted no time in striding up to the Slytherin table.
“Malfoy,” he said in his best, deadpan-Potter-hero voice, “we need to talk.”
Through a hazy, nightmarish wash, he watched as his own face turned from talking to Crabbe and looked up at him, watched his own features register surprise and then something akin to mischief.
If Potter had orchestrated this, somehow, Draco would end him. He maintained a student couldn’t have carried this out… but Potter had powerful friends. Perhaps he’d convinced one to go along with this farce, pretending it was all for the War.
“Sure, Potter,” Draco’s voice said out of Draco’s mouth. He elbowed his fellows, standing. “This ought to be good.”
“Come on,” Draco growled, and dragged his counterpart away into the hall; and then, when he saw that there were still students milling about, pulled him into an alcove.
“Well?” said Potter, crossing his arms over his chest.
Oh. It hadn’t occurred to him – and maybe it should have? – that if Potter hadn’t orchestrated all this – he was (perhaps, perhaps) clever enough to arrive at all the same conclusions Draco had. (He’d survived this long!)
Given Potter’s heroic nature and experience with, well… derring-do… it was possible he wouldn’t bring it up, first – in case Draco himself were to blame. But Draco was a bit too Slytherin in nature to come right out with it.
Merlin, we could be here awhile.
“When you woke up this morning,” said Draco. “Were you where you expected to be?”
Potter blinked at him. “Er,” he said.
“Did you notice anything unusual?” Draco pressed. “Like any spells had been cast on you, or – or things were different?”
Potter let out a long, low breath. “Glad you noticed it, too.”
“Merlin,” Draco huffed, raking his (now-unruly) hair back off his forehead. “Okay. So how are we going to fix it?”
“How would you suggest going about fixing something like this?” Potter demanded, raising his eyebrows in a way that made him look like no one more than Draco Malfoy in his own natural body.
“Easy, Potter. Obviously, our first goal is to figure out who switched us.”
Potter’s eyes had gone wide, and the corner of his lip kept twitching. “How do we do that?”
“I don’t know,” Draco said, wringing his hands. “Look, it can’t be a student, right? And it’s got to be someone who hates you, or hates me, or who hates the both of us – and who’s got this kind of power.” Draco frowned. “Merlin knows you’ve angered enough people with your do-gooder act –”
“Okay,” Potter said, gesturing to him, “the eyebrow thing isn’t bad. But the accent is more of a disaster than your hair. If you’re going to sell that you think you’re me, you’re going to have to try a little harder.”
“I,” said Draco. “What?”
“Here, here, I’ll bet I can do you,” Potter said with a very familiar smirk. “Watch this: oh, I’m Harry Potter – no one loves me in the whole wide world but for my legion of adoring fans…! Woe is…” His brows lifted in a parody of injured innocence. “No? Over the top?”
Draco stood, thunderstruck: because suppose Potter had done it, himself… and didn’t mean for it to be a short-lived prank. Putting himself in Potter’s shoes – HA! – who wouldn’t take the opportunity to get out from under the gaze of a powerful wizard such as the Dark Lord, if they had the chance? The man had sworn to kill Harry Potter, and now Potter was free from those threats, wealthy, devilishly handsome, and on the right side. With the bonus of two living parents.
Suppose this was permanent? Draco would die, murdered by the Dark Lord; and just so long as Potter swore he was Draco Malfoy, no one’d be the wiser.
It was the sort of plan Draco Malfoy might’ve come up with, himself.
It was diabolical.
Now Potter was staring at him. “Merlin’s sky and stars, Potter, are you actually serious?” Draco watched his own mannerism, in perfect replicate: his own body clasping his own hand over his own heart in exaggerated amazement. “Call St Mungo’s!” he shouted, down the hall. “I think Potter’s come over in some kind of fit! Again.”
“Shut up,” Draco hissed, not taking his eyes off the liar before him. “I’ll murder you where you stand. I’d say I took down a Death Eater in training and they’d clap me on the back. That takes care of about half my problem, as I see it.”
“That’s a better impression anyway,” Potter mused. “If you work hard, someday someone might even know who you’re trying to imitate.” His contemplative expression dissolved to hardness. “Here’s what you’ve never understood, Potter,” he said, pointing his finger and tapping Draco on the chest with each word. “You. Can’t. Touch me.” He smiled, then, slow and mean. “You think you’ve got friends everywhere? So have I. In the Ministry, at the school, in certain… important organizations poised to shape our future.”
“But never mind all that – this is golden,” Potter crowed. “You think ‘Potter stinks’ was bad? When Skeeter hears about how unstable you’ve become under the pressure…”
“Shut it,” came a new voice, and suddenly Ronald Weasley was insinuating himself between them.
“Weasel,” said Potter, with a curl of his lip. “I saw your sister is still wearing last year’s robes. Riding up a little high, now, aren’t they?”
And something in Draco pressed under the weight of his doubt, like the give of a rotting floorboard before it splinters beneath one’s feet.
“C’mon Harry,” Ron was saying, dragging him again by the arm, and this time, Draco went, head spinning.
Draco looked up to find they were in front of the entry to Gryffindor Tower. He shook his head, wordless, skin crawling.
“What did he say? Normally he can’t get a rise no matter how hard he goes at you.”
Draco looked up again at Ron’s earnest face. He still didn’t know who had cursed him for sure. Certainly Potter was now his number one suspect, but it was at least a possibility that he was merely taking advantage of the situation and hadn’t been the original caster. And until Draco knew more, it didn’t make sense to let anybody in on his predicament.
Which made it all the stranger when he felt the urge to pronounce himself Draco Malfoy, and had to press his tongue to the flat of his front teeth to stop from blurting it aloud.
Come to think, he’d felt strange all day. He hadn’t left Gryffindor Tower when he ought to have darted away at first light; the temptation to even snap at Ronald Weasley had evaporated. And now he had the inexplicable, un-Slytherin urge to confess all.
The only conclusion was that something in Potter’s habits, or perhaps in his way of thinking, had been left behind: a residual impression, a palimpsest of Potter.
Which might explain the easy way Potter had arched his brow and insulted Weasley, too. Perhaps he felt he had to.
“Harry,” said Ron.
Draco looked up. “Just distracted, I guess.”
Weasley’s features went through a few contortions, as though he wasn’t sure how to reply to this blatant falsehood. After a moment, the easy façade he’d presented to Dean returned; and Draco realized he meant to pretend nothing was the matter, even though it was quite clear he knew something was wrong.
This isn’t going to work, Draco thought, disguising his panic by ducking his head. He’ll catch on, and sooner rather than later.
“Well, we’ve time for a full game of chess before facing Snape in Defense,” Ron said. “Or Gobstones.”
Perhaps the tide of weariness belonged to him; perhaps it was Potter’s. All he knew was that he would rather do anything besides pretend to struggle with chess so it would be a fair match, when his father had hired a bloody tutor to teach him the game.
“Sure,” he said, and Weasley’s smile twisted, as though he saw Draco’s reluctance and was going along anyway, to keep Potter busy.
Why did Weasley think Precious Potter was so in need of a distraction? Had the endless adulation grown monotonous?
So Draco was rather surprised when it turned out that Weasley beat him once, then twice. He finally paid careful attention the third time and managed to anticipate a few of Weasleys’ trickier plays and steal a win. “Ha! Take that, Weasley,” Draco crowed, then paled.
“Sure, ‘Potter’,” Ron was saying, though, and giving him such a fond look that Draco’s dizzying triumph and abortive panic both dropped away completely to make room for sheer bafflement.
Then, Ron reached out and ruffled Potter’s hair.
Draco batted his hands away, but Weasley only looked at him with a softness utterly foreign to Draco’s experience, and moved to grab his school things. In fact, so much of what Weasley had done and said that morning was outside of Draco’s experience, to the point that he wondered if Weasley hadn’t been bodyswapped as well.
And Draco felt strange – of course he felt strange, but – this was different.
Intellectually, he knew he loathed Weasley. Weasley was beneath him, lower than a House Elf – lower than a bug. Worse than a Mudblood, because at least Mudbloods had a good excuse for not knowing why they didn’t belong: blood traitors should know better. And there was a history between them, even if none of that had been true – sidelong looks and outright insults since they were old enough to toddle.
But something was different, now. Draco looked up at Weasley and his instant, knee-jerk reaction wasn’t disgust. There was even something indisputably settling about having the other boy close by. It gave Draco the oddest feeling – as though he’d been Imperiused or Confunded – only not quite… it was feeling something he ought not to feel… knowing he ought not to feel it.
It was strange, this palimpsest of Potter but, Draco thought, Slytherin instincts kicking in, it was also convenient.
Gryffindors were ruled by their emotions – and if he focused on these little nudges, let them guide his behaviour…
No one would ever guess he wasn’t Harry Potter.
Ron eyed him oddly. “Almost time for Defense. Reckon we should start down, now…” He waved to a few of the other Gryffindors who had first session free on Mondays, and then stepped outside the portrait and into the hallway, Draco close on his heels.