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King's Crossing

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PART ONE

"I can't prepare for death anymore than I already have"

~~~

I open at the close.

The black stone with it’s jagged crack running down the centre sat in the two halves of the Snitch.  The Resurrection Stone had cracked down the vertical line representing the Elder Wand. The triangle and the circle representing the Cloak and the stone were still discernible.

He closed his eyes and turned the stone over in his hand three times.

~~~

All the trees were bending down to hold him in their arms. It was only the wind and the weight of the branches, but for Harry it was like walking into a cool embrace.

In daylight, seen from the edge, dappled patterns of sunlight danced on the forest floor, and the leaves shone in various shades of green. It was a lovely facade. Tonight there was only darkness, and if Harry closed his eyes it didn’t make much difference.

So much death in the Forest. The unicorn in first year, the acromantulas, the thestrals. The Death Eaters themselves. And now Harry, the dead man walking.

Surely there had to be life here, somewhere? Insects in the cracks of the wood, or worms in the soil. Strange birds and small mammals. The centaurs were nowhere to be seen, which was maybe for the best.

His hand was shaking as he rotated the stone. There must be a reason Dumbledore left it for him: to meet death, but not alone. He’d been taunted with this so many times. The Mirror of Erised. Priori Incantatem. This time it would be real — right? With a shuddering breath, he opened his eyes to greet his beloved dead.

But James and Lily Potter were not standing in the Forest. Nor was it Sirius, an eternal madcap grin on his face. Instead, it was a solitary boy, his blond hair nearly transparent in the moonlight. Not just his hair; his entire figure was shimmering like a mirage. Harry could see the trees through his face as he approached, bearing down ominously. Even from twenty feet away, Harry knew who it was.

“Malfoy?”

The expression on Draco Malfoy’s face mirrored the last time Harry had seen him, filled with terror as the flames bore down on he and his friends in the Room of Requirement. Harry had turned back, Ron and Hermione's cries of protest ringing in his ears, but through the thick smoke of the Fiendfyre Harry had only found Goyle, whose slippery hand he barely managed to clasp. Behind him, Ron —Gryffindor to the end — appeared with Crabbe in tow, but neither of them could locate Malfoy.

Malfoy had called out for help, crying, begging, but had vanished in the smoke. Now he no longer pleaded, instead looking around in mute confusion. Was this a trick? Had he escaped the Room? It couldn’t be. If the Stone had somehow called Malfoy to him, then the other boy was definitely dead.

Malfoy approached, his feet passing through a low bush. Glancing around fearfully with every step, he finally spotted Harry and gasped.

“Potter? What are we doing here? Did the Room change again?”

The Room? Did Malfoy not realise? Something clenched in Harry's chest, and he found himself unable to answer.

“Why would it be a forest?” Malfoy continued, oblivious to Harry’s distress. “I didn’t know the Room did trees. Or are we outside for real?”

“It’s real.” Too real.

Malfoy closed his eyes in apparent relief. “Thank Merlin. I thought I was going to die.”

A sound like a ragged laugh escaped Harry’s lips, and Malfoy eyed him suspiciously.

What are we doing in the Forbidden Forest, Potter?” Malfoy asked with an anxious tone.

Harry answered carefully. “I need… I’m going to Voldemort.”  

“You can’t go to him, he’ll kill you!” Malfoy unexpectedly protested.

“Isn’t that what you wanted?” Harry countered reflexively. Malfoy paled even further, his translucent skin going white.  

“Absolutely not. These past few months have been hell.” Harry remembered his shouts in the Room. Don’t kill him, don’t kill him!

“Then you know I have to stop him. "

"All alone? Where did Granger and Weasley go? And where are Crabbe and Goyle?"

“They're back in the castle,” Harry said carefully.

“So why am I here?” Malfoy pressed.

“You’re… I called you here. With the Stone.”  Turning his palm face up, he showed Malfoy, who peered at it skeptically.

“And what is that supposed to be.”

“The Resurrection Stone.”

“That’s a myth.” Realisation was dawning on Malfoy’s face. “And it’s for dead people.”

“Yeah, it is.” Harry had to go, he was on a deadline. He didn’t have time to talk Draco Malfoy of all people through an existential crisis.

"I don't believe you,” Draco sneered. “For one thing, I’m not dead. And why on earth would you call me from beyond the veil to look upon my face one last time?” It sounded as if Malfoy was quoting a story. Harry supposed that pure-blood children grew up with various versions of Beedle the Bard.

“I didn't call you. It just happened.”

“You're trying to scare me.”

“I don't have time for this, Malfoy.” Harry stepped back, and Malfoy thrust a hand out to grab him by the sleeve.

“Get back here, Potter!”

His fingers passed through Harry's like a wisp of smoke.

“I’m so sorry, Draco,” Harry whispered.  

Malfoy gasped and backed away, clutching frantically at the ferns and bushes around him, falling through them helplessly each time. “No, I can’t, I can’t!” He crashed to his knees, and Harry abruptly wondered why ghosts could walk along floors without falling through. But was Malfoy actually a ghost? How did the Stone even work?

Malfoy slapped himself in the face, shocking Harry. “Wake up!” he cried out, but of course nothing happened. His eyes rolled wildly, and he clawed at he left sleeve of his robe, wailing at the sight of the Dark Mark still starkly present on his flesh. Now verging on panic, Malfoy keened and wrapped his arms around himself. “Everything was for nothing,” he whimpered. He took several heaving breaths that sounded like he was sicking up.

Voldemort was waiting, but Harry couldn’t help wanting to comfort Malfoy, who was starting to hyperventilate. And did ghosts feel the need to breathe?

Through his gasps, Malfoy asked, “Are my parents still alive?”

“As far as I know.”

“If you see them, if they are with him… Will you please.... Please tell them I’m…” He broke off, barely able to speak.

Harry frowned. “I could tell them you said you love them?” He doubted he’d be able to have a conversation with any Death Eaters, but there was no reason to argue the point. Malfoy could believe whatever he needed to.

“They know that! Merlin, I’d have run away at sixteen if I didn’t!” The stark admission took Malfoy aback just as much as Harry. He sat back on his heels, took a shuddering breath, then stood up on shaking legs. He seemed to take a moment to gather himself, then said in a trembling voice, “Tell them I wasn’t afraid.”

Harry couldn’t help himself. “That’s a lie, too, though.” Draco turned away sharply, his see-through eyes glistening.  

“I know. But tell them anyway.”

They stood silently for a beat, and then Harry blurted out, “Does it hurt?”

“Being dead?”

“Yeah.”

“Right now, no. I’m starting to recall… just a moment of total, searing pain. I think that must have been the Fiendfyre.” Harry cringed. The screams had been terrible, not to mention the smell of a thousand books and brooms and forgotten objects crumbling to ash.

Malfoy shook as he remembered it. “There won’t be a body. There’s nothing left of me.  I’m nothing, oh god I’m nothing, I’m nothing — !”

“Calm down!”

“How CAN I? I’m dead, you prick!”

“So am I!”

This stopped Malfoy short. “Wait, really? Is that why you can use the Stone? I thought you were on your way to some heroic, climactic battle.”  

“No.” Harry didn’t have time for a full explanation. “I am on my way to Voldemort, but I have to die. I’m... he can’t die until I do, it’s total shit but it has to happen, I can’t tell you more than that.”

Malfoy narrowed his eyes. “What, so you’re just calmly,” he waved his hand in the air, “walking to your execution?”

Harry nodded. "Something like that.” His shoulders sagged. "I wanted to see my parents. That’s why I used the stone.”

Malfoy had the good grace to look abashed. “I don’t know why I’m here instead. Maybe because… it just happened. Is that why you asked about it hurting?”

“Yes.”

“Well, he’s more like to use Avada Kedavra as anything, so it probably won’t.”

This didn’t make Harry feel any better. “Yeah, well… I’m kind of on a schedule here, so…”

“Oh.” Malfoy cast his gaze downward.  

“I really am sorry, Malfoy. I didn’t want anyone to die, not even you.” He paused, unsure if this admission would make Malfoy feel better or worse. “I wanted to save you. I tried to find you, but the flames were so high, and the smoke was too thick.”

Malfoy cocked his head curiously. “You tried to save me?”

Harry clenched his fists. "Too many people have died because of me." Malfoy snorted at that.

"Don't be a martyr, Potter. It's unattractive." The word martyr hung in the air between them. "Anyway,” Malfoy continued, clearly trying to maintain a brave front, “then I would have been in your debt, and I’d have been a right arse about it, I’m sure.”

“Right.” The silence of the Forest was deafening around them. "I'd better…”

“Do you want some company?” There was a desperate note in Malfoy’s voice. “Until it’s time.”

Harry tried to lick his dry lips, but didn't have any spit. “Yeah, sure. Why not.”

He wasn’t sure which way to go, so he just picked a direction and started walking. Malfoy followed close behind. It couldn’t hurt to have him along, right? When they read the story, Hermione had wondered aloud whether it was really the dead girl’s spirit or a false shade sent by Death to capture the second brother. There was no reason for Death to send Malfoy to tempt Harry anywhere, though. Oh, he’d tempted him in several ways over the years, but not in any way that would dissuade Harry from his task.

A few of last year’s leaves still covered the forest floor, and they crunched as Harry walked over them. Malfoy appeared to stride beside him, but his steps were soundless.

“Death is stupid,” Malfoy blurted out. “We’re wizards, why haven’t we figured this out yet?”

“I dunno, why don’t you ask Voldemort,” Harry answered dryly. “That was always his goal, to never die, and he’s killed for it.”

“I think that’s why they lie to us, you know. To stop people from trying, because it can go so wrong. Read a book about the search for the Philosopher's Stone, it’s always painted as such a fool's errand.” 

“Lie about what?”

“People,” and Malfoy didn’t elaborate on which people, “say we can only appreciate life with the threat of mortality hanging over us. But that’s bunk. I didn’t appreciate being alive any more while knowing I could die any day in the Manor. It just made me terrified.”

“You don’t think you’re grateful to have experienced the good things from your life?”

“No. All I can think about are the things I’ll never do.” His plaintive sigh cut Harry to the bone. Whatever things Malfoy had dreamed for his future, Harry would never do them either.

‘Of course,” Malfoy continued, ‘I haven't let myself think about the future for some time now. It was survival, day to day.”

‘I know exactly what you mean.” The long days spent camping, the rows, hunger, the strain on his psyche. It had been one foot in front of the other. He hadn’t even given much consideration to Ginny, to a career, to a life after. Maybe that was for the best; now Harry didn’t have many hopes to dash.

The Forest grew denser as they went deeper within. Harry found himself pushing branches aside; Malfoy ducked behind him, unwilling to glide through them even though he now had the ability. If he was trying to not bring attention to his ghostliness, it wasn’t working. Facing Malfoy’s mortality was bringing Harry’s own into stark relief. Distantly he recognised the practicality of Dumbledore not revealing his fate until the end: the more time he had to dwell on it, the more frightened he became.

Malfoy spoke up again. “People are going to remember you. They’ll remember that you did this, tell the story.”

“So what?” Harry snapped. Malfoy jumped back; he’d obviously meant it as a comforting statement. “I won’t be there. People can say what the fuck they want about me, I won’t know it.”

“Better than what they’ll say about me, I wager!”

“Who fucking cares? You won’t know either!” Harry picked up his pace, and Malfoy obviously scurried faster behind him, because his voice was right in his ear.

“Maybe I will know! Maybe — maybe people will come here and taunt me. Merlin, I’m going to be a dare for generations of Hogwarts students. Sneak into the Forest and take the piss out the ghost of Draco Malfoy.”

Harry snorted at that. “I thought ghosts were so strange when I came to Hogwarts. Most Muggles don’t think they’re real. They’re really afraid of death, too.”

“Most people are afraid of death.”

“Yeah, but it’s different. We know there’s at least something else, for ghosts at least. And people don’t just disappear, there’s… there’s portraits, and shades.” Harry remembered the figures of his parents emerging from Voldemort's wand.

“Portraits aren’t real, though. It’s like a Pensieve of a person.”

“Do you have one? A portrait.” Harry imagined a snooty little Malfoy, berating passerby from a tapestry.

“I have several. I was sixteen in the last. I suspect my mother will burn it,” he added matter-of-factly.

“What? Why?”

“She never liked them. She thinks a glimpse of what you can never have again is cruel. She and Father had an awful row about putting her mother’s portrait in the Manor. I'm inclined to agree with her. It feels like grasping at a desire you can never fulfill.”

They moved deeper into the trees, winding around a small pond. The Forest didn’t smell as it should down here, like loamy soil and rotting leaves, crisp moonlight and chlorophyll. Instead it had the vague scent of Trelawney’s classroom: artificially spicy, damp velvet and black tea. Harry thought about portraits, the ones he had known at Hogwarts, the ones he wished existed.

“I don't have any of Sirius,” he voiced at last. “There weren't any in Grimmauld place, he was disowned.”

“He's my cousin,” was Draco’s only reply.

“Was your cousin.”

“I suppose I'm past tense now, too.”

“I hope I see him.” An owl hooted in the distance, and a thought struck Harry. “If you go anywhere, and see him first, if you see my parents, don’t tell them I’m coming. They'll be so sad.” It would have been different if they’d been able to hear it from Harry himself.

“Don’t be stupid, Potter. Even if I can escape this purgatory, I would never go to the same place as you.”

Did Malfoy believe he was going to Hell? Fuck, what if he was going to Hell, trapped by the dark magic performed by and around him, imprinted in his very skin? Was there a Hell at all? Was there even a Heaven?

“Ghosts think there is Heaven, at least,” Malfoy said, and Harry realised he’d asked the question aloud.

“Ghosts also have a Headless Hunt,” Harry said nonsensically, and Malfoy burst out in startled laughter.

“They are rather absurd, for the most part. Binns doesn’t even know he’s dead.” He tried to swat at a leaf, but his hand passed through ineffectually. “Do you think I’m stuck here?”

Harry tried to imagine it: an eternity of the Forbidden Forest, only the animals and centaurs for company. Malfoy had always been frightened of this place.

“Maybe this is my punishment,” Malfoy continued, gazing around the Forest in trepidation. “It's an awful destination. Perhaps I am in Hell.”

“To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure,” Harry quoted. “Dumbledore told me that. No, I don't believe there is a Hell,” Harry decided. “And I don't believe you'd go there, even if there was one. You don't take any pleasure in it.”

“In what, exactly?”

“Any of it. Torture, murder. You aren't your aunt.”

Malfoy scoffed. “We’re a whole rotten family, Potter, don't kid yourself. I don't think there’s any way for me to escape my roots, even in the afterlife. I'm tied to my tree surely as the leaves are tied to the ones all around us.”

“But Sirius and Andromeda…”

“They were brave. I'm a coward.” Malfoy gestured at the Forest. “I think I know why I'm here. I wasn't even brave enough to face the afterlife. I died like I lived, too weak to pick a side. Now I have to stand here helplessly and watch you be brave, take the stand I couldn’t.”

“You think I'm brave? You don’t think I’m just giving up?” Harry whispered.

“You're stronger than me.” Malfoy closed his eyes, clearly uncomfortable at the admission. “I think I always admired you, in a way. I was jealous.”

“I wish…” It was pointless, but Harry felt it was something he should say. “I wish things could have been different.”

“No, you don’t,” Malfoy said, without malice. “You knew what you were doing when you refused my hand on the train. We were never destined to be friends, you and I.”

“Guess not.” There was no more to be said; Harry had spent enough time wallowing in what-ifs when he was younger.

They continued along the path, and Harry spied a faint glow in the distance, likely from a fire. That had to be where Voldemort was waiting. Malfoy obviously spotted it as well, because he baulked along the path.

"I don't think I can go with you."

“No. I have to do this alone.”

“Everyone dies alone.” Malfoy ran a hand through his hair. “How unfair life is,” he muttered, almost petulantly. Harry figured he had a right to whinge. They were only boys, only children really, no matter how old Harry felt in his bones.

And if he didn’t step up and do what he was raised for, more were going to die before the night was over. This was it, then.

The fear inside him made him reckless, and Harry stopped on the path and thrust his hand out. “Let's start over, here at the end. Potter. Harry Potter. Thanks for walking with me.”

Malfoy stared at the offered hand so long Harry thought the gesture might be refused. Finally he raised his eyes to Harry’s. “Malfoy. Draco Malfoy. It’s been an honour, strangely enough.” His ghostly pale hand rippled through Harry’s own sweaty one, a chill skittering along Harry’s fingertips. Suddenly Draco’s eyes went wide, and he watched his own hand fall limply back to his side. It was his right, so he couldn’t be looking at the Dark Mark. His gaze was locked on his wrist.

“Malfoy?”

“I suppose I should have expected no less from this tragedy,” he murmured. He looked at Harry again, with a gutted expression. “It’s a pity, isn't it. You and I. Our threads cut too soon.”

His voice was as hollow as his appearance. Harry wanted to comfort him, but there were no words of comfort to be had here at the bitter end. A sharp laugh echoed through the trees — Bellatrix? — and Harry squared his shoulders.

“It's time.”

“Go on, Potter. You're going to die like you lived, as well. Righteous and principled to the end.” There was an odd tinge of pride in the statement.

“Goodbye, Malfoy.”

“Goodbye, Potter. Good luck.” Harry saw Malfoy glance down at his hand, and hesitate, before fading back into the Forest.

~~~

Green light, and nothing.


~~~

In Kings Cross, much was revealed.

Harry’s talk with Dumbledore had been truly illuminating, but he could sense it drawing to a close.

“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love. By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worthy goal, then we say good-bye for the present.”

Harry nodded. “Fewer families. Remus and Tonks are gone, you know. They left a son.” If only he could have seen Remus one more time, to say that he would look after Teddy.

“Yes,” Dumbledore nodded sadly. “And so many of your peers, felled in their prime. But that is not your fault, Harry.”

“Our threads cut too soon,” Harry murmured.  

“Hmm?”

“Oh, nothing, just something Malfoy said.” Harry didn’t think he would ever forget a word of their conversation, the last before his apparently temporary death.

“Draco? Was he fighting alongside you?” Dumbledore looked hopeful. He had been willing to give Malfoy a chance, back on the Astronomy Tower. Harry hated to tell him the bad news.  

“No, he died. In the Room of Requirement. It all happened so quickly.” It was still so surreal, the fact of Draco's death.

Dumbledore seemed crestfallen. “I did not see him cross over. Perhaps his spirit hid from me. Did he not realise the error of his ways, then?”

“I think he might have, afterwards.”

“After death? So many of us do, it seems. I suppose you can assume Draco did, as well.”

“I don’t have to assume, he told me,” Harry explained. Dumbledore started beside him. ”Sir, the Stone, it didn’t work right. It just made Malfoy appear. Was it supposed to be my parents? Was it because he had just died?”

Dumbledore stared at him more intensely. “Are you very sure it was Draco Malfoy who came to you, Harry?”

“Completely sure. He was still a git, but he was really upset about being dead. He also wanted me to lie to his parents and tell them he wasn't afraid.” Harry didn’t finish the story. Draco walking with him as far as he could go, speaking with him about death and the afterlife, his words a strange comfort… that was a secret between the two of them.

“Oh, Harry. My poor boy.” Dumbledore looked piteously sad, and Harry was suddenly frightened.

“Why, what’s wrong?”

Dumbledore merely placed a hand on his shoulder. “Maybe someday you will understand. A thread cut too soon, indeed.”


~~~

Harry never felt so guilty as when he awoke on the cold ground of the Forbidden Forest and lied to Narcissa Malfoy.

Chapter Text

PART TWO

"Then this is the place where time reverses..."

 

Five Years Later

 

“Teddy, be careful!”

Andromeda’s voice rang out across the garden, as Teddy barrelled full tilt over the grass, zooming his new figure of the Magpie’s star seeker up and down with his hands.

“That was a great present, mate,” Ron said, coming up behind Harry with a fresh drink in his hand. “Only, did you have to get him Bridger? Are you trying to turn him into a Magpie’s fan?”

Harry took the cool glass of lemon squash with a nod of thanks. “Maybe the Cannons can sign him, eh?”

Ron snorted. “I’m a lifelong fan, but even I know their limits.”

Laughter echoed around them, from children and adults alike. Even the absence of Teddy’s parents at this special occasion, his fifth birthday party, didn’t seem to bring the guests down. It was exactly the kind of carefree, pleasant day that Harry had needed.

“He certainly likes that better than our present,” Hermione observed. 

“Andromeda will read it to him at bedtime, I’m sure he’ll love it,” Harry assured her. “I wish I’d grown up with Beedle the Bard.”

“We got him Tales from Tabitha, as well. I’d not heard of that one, but Ron and Ginny both mentioned fond memories.”

It was bittersweet for Harry, discovering Wizarding culture for children through the eyes of Teddy. “Does that one have morbid stories like the Beedle, too?”

“Worse!” Hermione laughed. “There’s one about a witch who eats toes, to the point she goes mad and eats her own. I’m not sure what lesson it’s supposed to impart. Oh! And there’s a fox character who reminds me of Lockhart that gets into an argument with a mirror trying to one up himself.”

“Does he end up in St. Mungo’s, too?”

“No, he ends up shouting the mirror to pieces. Most of the stories are humorous, actually, even the more disgusting ones. Ron and I got into a small argument about the Tale of the Threads, though.”

“Threads?” 

“It’s about a girl searching for her soulmate.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “I said it was a metaphor, but Ron insisted there was truth in the story. Honestly, I think it sounds cruel to be tied to one person by a thread, doomed to unhappiness if the other dies and it’s cut.”

Something pricked at the back of Harry’s mind. 

Our threads cut…

“And what about the concept of choice?” Hermione continued. “Ron took it as a bit of an insult that I didn’t think we were soulmates, but I don’t need a thread tied from my wrist to his to know that I love him.”

“I’m sorry, what kind of thread?” Harry asked, suddenly picturing the devastated face of Draco Malfoy, five years ago in the Forbidden Forest, staring at his right wrist.

“Oh, some sort of intangible one.” Hermione waved her hand in the air dismissively. “Supposedly a secret spell reveals it. Or death.”

“And it’s on…”

“…your right wrist.” 

Malfoy’s sad, lonely voice came rising out of the fog of Harry’s memories.

“It’s a pity, isn't it. You and I. Our threads cut too soon.”

“What happened to the girl?” Harry asked, suddenly feeling very uneasy.

Hermione was oblivious to Harry’s thoughts. “She chased down Death to beg him to show her the thread. It’s obviously a parable about the dangers of fixation and the folly of the very concept of destiny.”

“We thought the Three Brothers were just a story,” Harry pointed out.

Hermione flushed. “Well, that had tangible proof! Your cloak is real.”

“So you don’t believe in these soulmate threads at all?” Harry pressed, recalling how Dumbledore had also become melancholy over the topic. 

“Honestly, don’t you start in on me, as well.” Hermione sighed. “Don’t you think if fated lovers were real, you’d have ended up with Ginny?”

Harry cringed. “Ouch, Hermione.”

“I’m sorry.” She frowned apologetically. “I know that’s a sore subject.”

“I just wish it wasn’t such a do in the tabloids.” Harry took another sip of squash, swirling the ice thoughtfully. “It doesn’t mean there aren’t… soulmates, or whatever, though.”

He could feel Hermione’s curious eyes on him. “Well,” she said, almost begrudgingly, “if you’re interested in stories about soulmates, you might ask Parvati if she has any sources.”

“Parvati?”

“She just started working in the Department of Mysteries."

 

~~~

 

Parvati drove a hard bargain. 

“I want you to set me up on a date with Oliver Wood. Puddlemere is amazing this season.”

Harry's eyebrows shot up. “You want what?”

“You heard me. I know you still talk.”

“Are you sure you’re allowed to trade a date for all the hidden knowledge of the Department of Mysteries?”

She waved him off. “Psssh, no Unspeakable knows everything. And it’s you. You probably have some epic, world-saving reason for asking.” Her voice was teasing. “So you’ll speak to Oliver?”

“I’ll even suggest that fancy new French place in Diagon,” Harry assured her.

As she led him towards her office, Harry considered her: her perfectly manicured hands, the delicate fabric of her robes. “Why did you…”

“Why did I go into the Department and not my Ravenclaw sister?” Her tone indicated he wasn't the first to insinuate she was the less-clever twin. “After the war, I found myself questioning everything. Life, death, fate. I wanted answers.” They turned down a dim hall with sparkles in the air like stars, and Harry knew this must contain the Space room. Further on was Fate and Prophecy; he steeled himself against the memories he would face, but they continued past it.

“Oh, I’d assumed…”

“That because I liked Divination in school, I’d stick with that? You aren’t in Professional Quidditch, or an Auror. Why should I be any different?” She cocked her head. “What are you doing these days, anyway?”

“Fending off questions like that,” he muttered. They stopped in front of a glowing door. The metal seemed to ripple, and a faint scent tickled his nose.

“What do you smell?” Parvati asked curiously. 

“Broomstick polish? Orange blossom, and… wait. That’s Amortentia!” he accused.

She nodded. “I work in the Love room.” The door opened to reveal a table of bubbling potions, all smelling of treacle and orange, as well as several experiments in progress. The entire room was filled with a gold sparkling mist.

Parvati led Harry to the centre of the room and allowed the mist to settle on their skin. “So, you had questions about the String of Fate?”

Harry started. “You do know about it, then?”

“We do,” she conceded,  “though it isn’t common knowledge, for a number of reasons. First, we’d have the entire population down here trying to hold hands with everyone else, and it would turn into chaos. Second, although there’s a deep magic here that we don’t yet understand, being tied with a String doesn’t mean two people will never have problems, or even be perfect for each other. T.”

“But it does exist.”

“It does.” She did a complicated movement with her wand, then pointed it at her own wrist. Slowly a thread appeared, like a ghost in the fog. It was translucent, but clearly visible. The end was jagged, like it had been cut with a knife.

Harry watched in curious fascination as it moved in an invisible breeze. It was true, the whole story was true. And the thread had even been cut. “Why is it like that?”

Parvati smiled sadly. “Lavender.”

“I'm sorry.” Harry was suddenly afraid what his thread might look like.

“So am I.” She waved her wand in a reverse pattern, and the thread disappeared. “If she were alive, it would have extended to the border of the room, pointed in whatever direction she was on earth. Not very helpful, of course, since the world is so large. So you see that it can’t be used to actually find your soulmate, just tell you if they are still around.”

“What if they were in the room with you?”

“Then your wrists would be tied together. Unspeakables have seen it in the past, by bringing in two people who were excellent candidates. They even,” and here her voice lowered, “brought a couple in after one had died and become a ghost, to see if the threads held. They didn’t; both were cut. We don’t know what happens if both people are dead.” She looked at Harry gravely. “Are you sure you want me to do this?”

Harry wasn’t sure at all. What if it pointed outward? Should he bring Ginny to the room with him to test it? He still loved her, but not like the way he imagined true love would feel. They were better as friends. 

But what if it was cut, like Parvati’s? That didn’t mean it was Malfoy at the other end. The two of them as soulmates — that was crazy. But there had to be some reason Malfoy had stared so wistfully at his wrist, or been summoned by the Stone in the first place.

“Do it,” he said.

Her wand waved again, and Harry felt warm. The air around him glittered brighter, and there it was, coalescing out of nothing.

Dangling forlornly from his wrist was a thread, torn and frayed.

It waved feebly, seeking out completion. Harry gulped back a sob, unexpectedly bereft. Was it really his fate to lose anyone he loved, anyone who could love him back? He glanced over at Parvati and noticed she had tears in her eyes.

“I’m so sorry, Harry.”

He wiped at his own eyes. “I think I knew.”

“Do you have any idea who?”

He hesitated. Malfoy was his secret to keep. “Take the spell off, please.” She reversed the spell and the thread disappeared.

Parvati and Harry were silent as they made their way out of the Love room and into her small, cosy office. Harry couldn’t think of anything to say; eventually Parvati spoke up.

“It will be OK, Harry. There’s a lot of life left to be lived.”

He plucked the tassel of a cushion idly. “How did you move on? I mean, obviously you’re looking to date.”

“With time, and love for myself. Lavender wouldn’t want me to be unhappy.”

“And you know it was her?” 

“I loved her,” Parvati whispered painfully, “and she’s gone. It makes sense. But I also have something she’d enchanted with her personal magic, and was able to use it like a compass. The thread points to it.”

“I don’t have —” Harry stopped. He did have something of Malfoy’s. He had his wand.

“Harry, do you want to tell me what this is actually about?” Parvati asked carefully.

“Not really.” Harry steeled himself. “But I will. I have to know.” She waited patiently as he gathered himself. “You know the story of the Deathly Hallows, right?”

“Of course. Once word got out that Voldemort had been looking for the Elder Wand during the war, the Department began researching them immediately.”

“Really?” Harry perked up. “Do you have information on the Resurrection Stone?”

“You can’t bring people back to life,” Parvati said sternly. “And there’s no evidence of the Stone in literature past a certain point, and all of that is hearsay.”

“Look, Parvati. I’m asking you as a friend, as someone who was in the DA, as someone who fought with me. Can you keep a secret?”

“Er, Harry,” she answered, bemused. “I’m an Unspeakable.”

“Right.” He stood up and paced, as much as he could in the small office. “You know that I met Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest right before the final stand.”

“Everyone knows that. Even if Rita Skeeter hadn’t written three books already, Narcissa Malfoy’s testimony is public record. She lied and said you were dead, because she blamed Voldemort for her son’s death.”

“No. She lied to get back to Malfoy in the castle.”

Parvati’s brow furrowed. “But Malfoy was dead already. Did she not know that?”

“I told her he was alive.”

Harry flinched at Parvati’s gasp. “Harry! How cruel!”

“I needed her to lie for me. It was the only way to get back up to Hogwarts.”

“Well, it got her out of Azkaban, so she can’t be too angry at you.”

“Er, not so much,” Harry winced. “She said if I ever try to speak to her again she’ll hex me so hard our shared Black ancestors will feel it.”

“I suppose I can’t blame her. She’s grieving. As big a prat as Malfoy was, he was still her only child. Merlin, she didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

“But I did,” Harry said, almost to himself.

“Right, you were the last to see him in the Room of Requirement.” 

Sometimes it still bothered Harry how many details of the final battle were public, but he’d taken History of Magic for long enough that he wasn’t surprised. The Wizarding world was obsessed with details. 

“Did you know McGonagall told me the Room won’t open anymore?” Parvati continued. 

“Really?” That took Harry by surprise. “The castle was repaired within a year.”

“I went back to consult on applications for the new Divination professor. It refused to reopen. McGonagall thinks it might still be on fire.” She didn’t meet his eyes.

“Merlin, that’s horrible.” Feeling sick, Harry recalled Malfoy’s trembling hands as he described the fire. There won’t be a body. There’s nothing left of me.

“So…” Parvati pressed, “What’s this secret? That you lied to Narcissa Malfoy while you were playing dead?”

“Playing,” Harry snorted, and ignored Parvati’s puzzled look. “No, that’s not it. The secret is I saw Malfoy again, as a ghost. In the Forest.”

“Poor thing,” she murmured. “Did you speak to him?” 

A small part of Harry still marvelled at the easy acceptance of ghosts. “Yeah. It was… kind of awful, how confused he was at first.”

“That’s understandable. Ghosts can be agitated when they first arrive back on our side. I’m surprised it happened so fast, though. And why was he in the Forest?”

“I sort of… called him there.” Harry grimaced. “With the Resurrection Stone.”

Absolute silence fell over the room as Parvati looked at Harry, aghast. “You —” she finally stammered. “You tried to bring Malfoy back from the dead? ” Her voice rose, and Harry shushed her.

“I didn’t! I wanted to see my parents —”

“You tried to resurrect your PARENTS? Harry, you can’t mess around with life and death like that!”

“No!” Harry collapsed back in the chair, both hands pulling at his hair. “I just wanted to say goodbye before the end! Dumbledore left me the Stone to use, I thought if I could just speak to them, it would all… be OK.”

Parvati took a deep breath and composed herself. “So… why Malfoy?”

“That’s what I’ve always wanted to know. For a long time, I assumed it was because he’d only just died, and I’d been there. But there was something else.”

“The soulmate threads,” she breathed. “Oh, Harry, I thought you hated him! I didn’t know you were —”

“We weren't!” Harry hastily explained his encounter with Malfoy in the Forest. “And right before we said goodbye… he saw something. He stared at his wrist like the world was ending, said it was a tragedy that our threads had been cut too soon.”

“So you weren’t having a forbidden love affair?” she asked. Harry shook his head vigorously, and she looked almost disappointed. “Then why would you think it was a soulmate thread?”

“Dumbledore — I saw him as well, just don’t ask — said something about them, too. That I’d understand about the threads someday. Look, Parvati, I don’t think it was a coincidence.”

“So you weren’t in love,” she asked doubtfully, “but you still think your soulmate was Malfoy.”

“I don’t know what to think. But that person, whoever they are… obviously, they’re dead. We saw that in the Love room. And Malfoy… he looked heartbroken.”

“And you didn’t see what he was looking at.”

“No. But could he maybe see it as a ghost?”

“It’s feasible,” she mused. “Ghosts can see many things mortals can’t, like portals and wards. But why would Malfoy think it was you of all people?”

“It showed up when he tried to touch me,” Harry said flatly, and Parvati winced in sympathy.

“It does sound possible, Harry. Is that what you came to find out today?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure,” Harry admitted. “I’ve wanted to know if the soulmate threads are real since I heard about them and put two and two together. And then, I suppose I wanted to know if it really was Malfoy, and if the Stone brought him over because of it.”

“If he was your soulmate, then yes, I think that could be why. This is all conjecture, of course.” 

“I have his wand,” Harry offered. “Maybe I could…”

“Will it help?” she questioned, not unkindly. “Knowing for sure?”

Harry sighed. “Maybe not.”

“I tell you what, think about and let me know. I owe you, Harry —” she put her hand up to stop his protests “— not just like we all owe you, but personally. For showing me I could be brave, for teaching me to fight.”

“You’re a Gryffindor, Parvati,” Harry smiled. “How could you do anything else?”

 

~~~

 

Two weeks later, Harry hadn’t made up his mind. He’d taken Malfoy’s hawthorn wand out of a drawer and stroked it idly, feeling the magic inside. But he couldn’t seem to resolve whether to take it to the Love room, or hide it away again, or give it to Narcissa Malfoy.

Before he could make a decision, Parvati’s owl arrived with a summons.

Back in her office, Harry noticed that her expression was more wary than the last time they’d met. “Parvati? Did you have something to tell me?”

She motioned towards the chair. “Sit, Harry.” He did as he was told. “After we spoke last time, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Everything we know about the Resurrection Stone involves the bearer summoning a shade on purpose. You didn’t consciously call for Malfoy, it sent him, which lends credence to the idea that he’s your soulmate, although we don’t know for sure.” Harry’s hand twitched toward the wand in the side-pocket of his robes.

“And then,” Parvati continued,” I began to think about the Room of Requirement. Specifically, about how it works.”

“Er, magic?” Harry joked.

“I think it works on probability. That is, the Room is all things at once, and becomes what you need because it already is. There is some magical precedent for that, and all my research indicates the Room is a perfect culmination of the craft.”

“And we broke it.” Harry slumped in his seat. “Just another thing ruined by the war.”

“Or…” Parvati bit her lip, obviously hesitant. “Harry, it’s your turn to keep a secret.”

“Yeah, of course. You can trust me.”

“The Room of Requirement… it’s not really broken, per se. It’s reverted to a state of quantum superposition.”

Harry straightened a bit. “Meaning?”

“I did a little investigating. There’s no way Fiendfyre could burn for this long. But something you did locked it in a moment. The last moment, before Malfoy died.”

“Locked it?” Harry said, horrified. “You mean — he’s still dying in there?”

“No!” she rushed out. “I mean he’s not only dead.”

“I’m sorry. What?” Harry shook his head to clear it. “Parvati, I spoke with his ghost.”

“You may have spoken with a psychic projection. From what I can gather, it shouldn’t be possible for someone to die in the Room at all. It’s imbued with protective magic and should eject people in cases of true mortal peril.”

“But it closed with Malfoy inside,” Harry protested.

“Fiendfyre is one of the most destructive curses known, because it causes both physical and magical damage. Even then, the Room should have spit you out when it started, before the damage was able to spread. But it couldn’t, because something Dark was holding it open.” She gave Harry a hard look. “You had a Horcrux in there, didn’t you.”

Harry wavered. “Yes,” he admitted at last. The existence of the Horcruxes — six of them, at least — had come to light when he’d had to account for his actions at Gringotts and the Ministry, and clear Snape for Dumbledore’s death. 

Parvati nodded, almost smugly. “I knew it. The Horcrux was more powerful than the Room, and blocked the protective magic, allowing the Fiendfyre to spread with you all inside. But you — and I'm still not clear on how — carried the Horcrux out, and then the Room was able to seal itself. You didn’t see Malfoy die, did you?”

“I heard him screaming for help,” Harry whispered. “And he told me he felt a searing pain before appearing in the Forest… but he wasn't burned. But why didn’t the Room eject him after the Horcrux was gone, if he wasn’t dead yet?”

“By that point it had been too badly damaged by the spellfire to work properly anymore. But since the Room is based on probability… well, have you ever heard of Schrödinger’s cat?”

Harry laughed, a bit hysterical. “Why is there a cat involved all of a sudden?”

“It’s a Muggle thought experiment. I’m not going into physics at this late hour, but think of the Room like this: it exists in every possible state. It’s still burning, or the fire burned out. Malfoy died, or he’s about to die, or he’s about to be spit out of the Room. Until we open the Room, or fix it, it won’t come to a conclusion.”

Harry tried comprehend what she was telling him. “But you said we can’t open it.”

“Not yet. But Harry, there might be a way. No one has really tried until now, because the idea of the Fiendfyre escaping was so dangerous to Hogwarts. But what if we have a channel to someone inside?”

Harry took a shuddering breath. “You think I can use the Stone to talk to Malfoy. But doesn’t the fact that the Resurrection Stone is what called him up in the first place mean that he’s really dead?”

“He may have died before the door shut, yes. But the Stone may have simply worked because his death is one ongoing possible state. Either way, perhaps there’s still a way to use that connection.”

Harry’s mind was racing with the possibilities. “Parvati… you’re — you’re a genius. How did I never know this about you?”

She shrugged. “I didn’t always apply myself in school. Being an Unspeakable, though. It’s enlightening.” 

The last thing Harry wanted to do was go back to the night of the Battle. But if there was a chance to save Malfoy… 

"So many people died that night," he said softly, mindful of Parvati's own loss. "If it's really possible to save him, I want to try."

She nodded in agreement. “We’ll get your man, Harry.”

“He’s not my man,” Harry snorted. “He just doesn’t deserve to be left there.” It was more than that, of course. Malfoy had shown Harry a different side of himself as they walked through the Forest. “This isn't because he might be my soulmate, or whatever,” he added hastily. “I still can't wrap my head around that. Even if I could move past our history, I don't know how I feel about him.”

“And he hasn't had a chance to move past anything,” Parvati pointed out.

“Merlin, he’ll still be seventeen,” Harry realised with a start. “His mother is going to faint if I pull this off.”

“Send an owl to McGonagall,” Parvati encouraged. “Let me know what she says, if we can have a go at fixing the Room if Requirement.”

“We?” Harry was taken aback. For all she was helping him, he and Parvati weren't close.

“I just… I want you to have this chance, Harry.” The chance I didn’t have was left unspoken.

They shared a moment of knowing silence. “I'll owl McGonagall tonight,” Harry said at last. “Thank you, Parvati.” He stood and hugged her tightly. “Thank you.”


Chapter Text

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 only just released from 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, along Harry. 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!

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…

“Harry!”

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 you and Ms. Patil 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 lose it again when this is over.”

“Yes, Professor.”

“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 movement 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. 

“Of what?”

The doors burst open in a rush, and tongues of fire licked at the edges of Professor McGonagall 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 —”

Malfoy disappeared.

“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.”

“I’ll help.” 

“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.” She 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.