Professor McGonagall had been intrigued by the idea, but insisted they wait until term was over for summer before trying any “half-cocked plans.”
Once June was over and it was deemed safe, Harry met up with Parvati at the Three Broomsticks; they didn't stick around for a drink. Nervously, Harry glanced over at Rosmerta. He knew Malfoy would have to answer for the things he’d done, but it was better than being dead. Or not-quite-dead.
“There's no time limit on this, right?” Harry asked as they made their way down the path to Hogwarts. Somehow it felt longer than when they were at school. “I mean, if we can't figure it out, the Room will just stay… stuck?”
“In theory. Of course, all of this is theory. I'm just hoping that connecting Draco to the outside world while we open the Room will lead it to expel him.” The way Parvati had explained it to Harry was in three parts: he would contact Malfoy, then open the doors while they were connected. Professor McGonagall would hold back the flames from spilling out into the school, as Parvati would work the complex repair magic she had been researching on the Room of Requirement, causing it to spit Malfoy out as it was originally designed.
“And not kill him. Or us, actually.”
“Right. I don't think McGonagall would have agreed if she was truly worried the fire would rage out of control, but then again, she did ask us to come between terms, so…”
The gravel on the pathway crunched under their feet as they approached the gates. In the distance loomed the Forbidden Forest, imposing as ever. It seemed quiet as a grave, Harry thought. His own grave. He had never known anyone other than himself who had come back. Was Draco frozen in time? Or was he somehow conscious in his limbo, thinking he was dead?
“Do you still think we shouldn't mention the threads to Professor McGonagall?” Parvati asked hesitantly, intruding on his morbid thoughts. Neither she nor Harry had been entirely clear in their letters on why they thought Draco Malfoy might still be alive, only that Harry hadn’t seen him die.
“It won't matter, will it? It might just throw her off. I know I'm still in shock. I mean, it's Malfoy. We didn’t exactly get on.”
Parvati laughed lightly. “Perhaps it does make sense. You and Malfoy always clashed, but you also paid an absurd amount of attention to each other. If the war hadn’t happened, or more importantly, you hadn’t started out on the worst foot possible, that may have evolved into attraction.” Harry snorted, but Parvati gave him a knowing look. “I do work in the Love room, you know.”
“It’s so strange,” Harry said, glancing at the Forest again. “I’ve thought of Malfoy from time to time, but never because of that. Only when I’m thinking about… well, death.” Malfoy’s death and his own had become inextricably linked in Harry’s mind. He wasn’t the first or even the last person Harry had seen die in the war, but their final encounter had been so intimate.
Intimate. He’d better not say that word to Parvati, who hadn’t lost her matchmaker tendencies, genius or not. Luckily, he was saved from any more uncomfortable talk of romance by their arrival at the school.
Harry paused, looking back over his shoulder. The Forest was verdant with spring. He realised he'd never been inside during daylight, at least not past the edges. It didn’t look quite so foreboding against a blue summer sky.
Parvati eventually cleared her throat. “Harry? Are you coming? McGonagall is expecting us.”
“Can you go on ahead, Parvati? I'd rather get this over with.” He gestured toward the Forest.
“You don't want me to come along?” She looked disappointed. But Harry couldn’t bear the thought of having someone else make the walk that Malfoy had accompanied him on. Especially since Parvati didn't know the whole truth — didn't know Harry had died as well.
“I’ll catch up.”
Harry had told Dumbledore he would not go looking for the Resurrection Stone. He felt badly for breaking his promise, but as he approached the Forest, he also felt a sense of excitement. It had been a long time since a rush of adrenaline had surged through his veins. Rescuing Malfoy was a new adventure, and although the stakes were high, the fate of the world wasn’t resting on his shoulders.
Not like last time. Bracing himself against the memories, he attempted to retrace his — and Malfoy’s — steps.
The Forest seemed brighter than it ever had before. Streaks of sunlight came through the canopy to illuminate clumps of ferns and wildflowers, and there was a fresh scent in the air. It made Harry’s task a bit easier. Still, he didn’t let his guard down. Hagrid may have told Harry back when he was eleven that there was nothing to fear in the Forest, but that hadn’t been true in the end.
And Malfoy was with me the first time I came here, too. The first, and the last. Maybe Parvati was right, maybe there really was some sort of destiny winding around he and Malfoy, something they’d never recognised drawing them together over —
No. That’s not why he was saving Malfoy. If there was a way to reverse any casualty of the war, short a Time Turner, Harry was going to try.
And he owed it to Malfoy in particular, didn't he? Harry had failed him in the Room, then brought him out to the Forest and watched him shake in terror at the fact of his death. Even if they'd reached some understanding at the end, he knew that Malfoy would never have wanted Harry to witness his fear.
Tell them I wasn't afraid. Harry hadn't told Narcissa Malfoy anything of the sort. He'd lied to her face, whispered that her son was safe in the castle, then watched her calling out for her only child in the last hectic moments of the battle. He never liked her and he never would, and he knew he did what he had to. It didn't make facing her any easier, the day after everything shook out. When Harry admitted there'd be no body for her to bury, he thought she might kill him by the force of her glare.
If everything goes well, by tomorrow she'll have her son back.
And Draco would have a lot of catching up to do. He was legally an adult when he… disappeared, but he'd still been in school. Now his father was in prison, his mother on house arrest, and his friends had likely moved on. Harry wasn't exactly sure; he mostly kept to himself and his close family these days. Honestly he didn't feel as if he'd grown up all that much, five years older or not.
Snapping off a low hanging branch, Harry recalled how Malfoy’s hand had slipped through the leaves even as his feet glided along the path beside Harry's. He'd always thought of the other boy as a coward, but Malfoy had seemed to face his death with some fortitude, in the end.
The footpath was still visible, and eventually he came to the clearing where the Death Eaters had gathered during the Battle of Hogwarts. The spiders had never returned, but a few trailing wisps of web still fluttered from a stately sycamore tree. Here the Forest was not so renewed, and a staleness settled around Harry as he scanned the area. Somewhere under the years of fallen leaves, all his answers lay hidden.
It took less time that he expected.
First he kicked aside some debris where the path ended, where he would have paused before marching to his death. Then he went down on his knees and sifted through the dead leaves with his hands. Before he began spreading out, he pulled his wand.
“Can’t hurt,” he muttered to himself. “Accio Stone!”
A rustle, and the Stone was flying towards him. Wide-eyed, Harry grabbed it from the air like an errant Snitch, and blinked. That was easy.
It looked just as it always did in his dreams, and nightmares. Cracked and small, deceptively simple for so powerful an artifact. Harry stared at it lying in his palm.
He still wondered if it could summon his parents.
It was too great a risk: what if the Stone called Malfoy out in the Forest again? But perhaps, if Harry concentrated…
With a gasp, Harry spun around, but there was no one there. “Harry!” the voice called again, this time closer. A butterfly, its wings beating madly, suddenly appeared in front of his face; Harry tamped down the instinct to swat at it.
“I’m in McGonagall’s office,” the butterfly said, and Harry realised it was Parvati’s Patronus. “You’ll need the password,” her voice continued. “It’s Jelly Slugs.”
With a jolt of painful nostalgia, Harry gave the gargoyle the password and headed up the spiral stairs. As she said, Parvati was waiting for him, along with Professor McGonagall, who peered at Harry over the top of her spectacles.
“May I ask why you felt the need to visit the Forbidden Forest all of a sudden, Mr. Potter?”
It was like being a first-year again. “There was something I had to check on, Professor.” He didn’t think he’d ever be able to call her Minerva, even if they were on much less formal terms these days.
“This school is my responsibility, now. Please refrain from trespassing in places that are labelled forbidden, not that any sort of rules have stopped you before.”
Harry opened his mouth to protest that he was an adult now, but caught sight of the smile tugging at Professor McGonagalls lips. “It is good to see you, Harry. Now, tell me about this plan you and Ms. Patil have cooked up.”
Harry let Parvati do most of the talking, while his eyes wandered over the portraits still on the wall. Dumbledore was nowhere to be seen. That was good; Harry wasn’t in the mood for explanations or apologies. The space where Snape’s portrait once hung was blank, however. Had he requested it be moved to the dungeons? Only the curious eyes of Phineas Nigellus Black were focused on Harry. Draco was his descendant, wasn’t he?
“Your theory is sound.” Professor McGonagall stated, bringing Harry back to the present. “I will be able to help you, to an extent. The school works with me, you see. If I cast a strong Protego, it should hold against the Fiendfyre long enough for the two of you to bring out Mr. Malfoy. Perhaps it will even help protect him from the flames. You must act quickly, however. Time will be of the essence. Harry, Ms. Patil tells me that you have a way to communicate with him?”
Flicking his eyes back over to Dumbledore’s portrait — still empty — Harry opened his hand. “It’s the Resurrection Stone, Professor.”
The only betrayal of Professor McGonagall's shock was a tensing of her hand. “You cannot bring Draco Malfoy back from the dead if this fails. That is not what I agreed to.”
“No, Professor!” Parvati assured her. “That’s not our intention. But he’s between life and death, so the Stone can allow us to speak with him, and act as a focus. Remember, we’re hoping to stop him from dying in the first place.”
Professor McGonagall eyed the Stone with distaste. “I won’t ask how you came by such a thing, Harry. I only ask that you never use it again when this is over.”
“Then let us proceed.”
The route through the halls to the Room of Requirement was imprinted in Harry's mind. He needed no directions. Parvati trailed behind he and Professor McGonagall, making small motions with her hands and muttering to herself. Harry supposed she was going over the plan one final time with herself.
“Have you given any more thought to my offer, Harry?" Professor McGonagall asked him. Parvati didn't make a sound, but Harry could almost feel her interest pique.
“I've had other things on my mind, Professor. But I promise I'll consider it.”
“Indeed. Professor Barnett only signed on as a temporary measure. We will be without a Defence Against The Dark Arts instructor again after this coming year. I’d hate to think you applied yourself and studied for your NEWTs so soon after the war just to let your education go to waste.”
“That was Hermione’s idea.” Harry didn’t regret it, necessarily. But it had been so exhausting, and so soon after the funerals… Her next idea had been much more appealing.
Eventually they stopped in front of the large double doors of the Room of Requirement. Harry approached them cautiously, and sprung back when he felt the heat emanating through them out into the hall. Memories rushed back, of spells soaring through the air, of screaming, of Draco’s voice pleading for help.
“How could anyone survive in there?” he asked, despair creeping into his voice.
“It hasn’t concluded yet, remember?” Parvati’s voice was soothing even as she reassured Harry by explaining the plan for what felt like the hundredth time. “It’s like the cat, when we look inside the experiment resolves. We’ll all work together to make sure it resolves the way we planned.”
Harry rolled the Stone around in his sweaty palm. “Right. Got it.” A terrible thought occurred to him, one he should have considered sooner. “What if he dies while we’re trying? Will the Stone bring him back, even though that’s not what I’m trying to do?”
“His ghost, maybe.” Parvati cocked her head thoughtfully. “I’m still not convinced the Resurrection Stone really brings people back. You’ll have some explaining to do if that happens. I can’t imagine Malfoy’s ghost would be happy with you.”
“Do let’s try to get this right, then,” Professor McGonagall added dryly. “I’d rather not have Draco Malfoy haunting the halls of my school.”
Parvati laughed, but Harry could only recall Malfoy’s despair at not leaving a body. If they bollocksed this up, that fear would come true, and it would be all Harry’s fault. His previous excitement withered away in the hot air of the hallway.
There would be no second chances.
“Right,” Harry said, swallowing back his nervousness. Soulmate or not, Malfoy was depending on him. “Let’s do it.”
None of them had been faced with a battle since that fateful night five years ago, but they all fell into their stances easily. Professor McGonagall cast a wide, strong field of Protego while Parvati began making complex movements with her wand, preparing the Arithmantic spells that would hopefully repair the Room. For his part, Harry braced his feet and held the Stone in his open hand, thinking hard about speaking to Malfoy.
Seconds ticked by as nothing happened. At long last, a faint shimmer materialised in front of the warm doors and slowly resolved into a person.
Appearing exactly as he had on the morning of May 2nd, Draco Malfoy stood blinking in confusion. He was still transparent, still dishevelled, but unburnt or otherwise injured. Harry nearly gasped in relief; their plan was working so far.
“Po— Potter? What’s happening?” Malfoy looked around frantically, both at the setting as well as Professor McGonagall and Parvati, who were both seemingly pointing their wands straight at him. It had to be unsettling, to be in the Room one moment, then the Forest the next, then back in Hogwarts.
“Why are we here? Didn’t you — I thought you were dead? Are we all dead?”
“Malfoy, I need you to stay calm.” Harry held one hand out in a placating manner. He couldn’t resist a quick peek at Malfoy’s wrist, and his own, but no threads had appeared. “We aren’t dead, and you aren’t, either.”
“I don’t understand. We were in the Forest. He didn’t win, did he?” Malfoy cringed, horrified at the thought.
“No! You’re safe now. Your mum is safe.” That caught Malfoy’s attention, and Harry continued. “We’re trying to save you.”
“But I’m…” Malfoy was baffled. “Potter. We said goodbye. Don’t you remember?”
As if Harry would forget that moment, ever. “I was wrong.” Malfoy’s eyes went wide, but he only stared at Harry, who continued to try and reassure him. “We’re trying to fix the Room, OK? I’m going to open it while we’re talking and… you’ll see. Just focus on me, alright?”
“You look different,” Malfoy pointed out. Harry didn’t respond to that; he didn’t want to deal with the five-year time gap while they were still trying to save Malfoy’s life.
“Everything will be fine.” Harry glanced over at Parvati, who was drawing complicated shapes in the air. “Your mum is going to be so happy to see you, yeah?”
Hope glimmered on Malfoy’s translucent face. “She’s really alright?”
“Really soon, I promise.” Harry gave a slight nod to Parvati, then spoke to Malfoy again. “Don’t lose focus on me.”
“I still don’t understand what’s going on, but trust me Potter, you have my full attention.”
Harry began concentrating on the door just as he used to. I need the room where everything is burning, he thought, although there were no other options. A low creak echoed around them as the doors seemed to strain at the hinges, and Parvati began chanting furiously, while Professor McGonagall’s stern face told Harry her Protego was holding well.
“Don’t be scared,” Harry said, as much to Malfoy as himself.
The doors burst open in a rush, and tongues of fire licked at the edges of Professor McGonagall's shield spell. Malfoy whirled around in panic, but being a shade, the fire couldn’t harm him, only terrify him. Parvati’s voice grew louder, and light flared from her wand and illuminated the doors, outlining them in vivid blue.
“Stay calm!” Harry tried to yell to Malfoy over the roar of the flames. “Just stay —”
“No!” Harry turned to Parvati in a panic. “Where is he? Did it kill him?”
“It’s resolving!” she shouted back, her wand still in movement. “He’s no longer between possibilities! The Stone can’t call the living!”
“He could still die!” Harry felt helpless, there was nothing else for him to do now, only hope that Parvati’s repair spells combined with bringing Malfoy to focus had allowed the Room to —
In a great rush of warm air, the flames pulled back, and Malfoy came tumbling out of the Room of Requirement just as the door clanged shut behind him.
A solid, opaque Malfoy.
He was on his knees, gasping for air. Quickly, Harry scrambled forward to help him. The tips of his blond hair were singed, and he was covered in soot, but didn’t appear to be burned anywhere. Harry reached out to place a hand on his shoulder, and shuddered in relief as it met resistance.
“You’re OK. Merlin, you’re OK.” Harry fought back the urge to embrace Malfoy, who still seemed to have trouble drawing a breath.
Professor McGonagall appeared at Harry’s side. “Smoke inhalation,” she pronounced, wrapping Malfoy in a sort of bubble charm. “He needs to be taken to Poppy immediately.”
“He’ll need to be isolated overnight with clean air. You can see him in the morning.” She turned to Parvati. “Ms. Patil, can you finish things here?”
“Yes, I can perform the rest of the repair spells on the Room from here.” Parvati stared in fascination at the trembling, sooty Malfoy.
“Potter,” he croaked. “You’d better explain what’s happening.”
“Don’t try to speak, Mr. Malfoy. And no, don’t try to stand, either. You’ve been through an ordeal.” Professor McGonagall levitated Malfoy beside her. “Everything will be explained to you shortly.”
Malfoy coughed violently, and tried to catch his breath. “Just tell — tell me — is it — over?”
“The battle’s over,” Harry confirmed. “Now try to rest.” Malfoy nodded, and closed his eyes, allowing Professor McGonagall to levitate his still-shaking body alongside her towards the Hospital Wing.
Harry stood back as Parvati finished the spells, lost in his thoughts. He’d had weeks to think about what he’d say to Malfoy, and was still no closer to knowing. For Malfoy it had only been moments between saying goodbye in the Forest to being pulled out of the Room. How would Harry explain the circumstances leading up to the rescue? For that matter, how would Malfoy deal with the five years he had missed? Harry was under no delusion that they would suddenly become friends.
But Malfoy was alive. They had done it! After so much planning, it was over in a manner of minutes, and they had succeeded. All of Harry’s fantasies of saving people who’d died in the war… and he finally got to save one of them. He couldn’t help but grin. He'd figure out what to say in the morning.
And he definitely wasn’t going to mention the threads.