Harry hadn’t seen Malfoy since dinner the previous night. That wasn’t to say that he missed him, far from it actually, but it was suspicious to say the least. Malfoy’s cronies, on the other hand, were very much there and, to make things even odder, seemed to be very much avoiding any kind of confrontation. If Harry didn’t know any better, he’d even say they looked worried. Scared. Except what could they be worried about? The Death Eaters arrested in the Ministry would be out and about in no time, with the Dementors gone.
Harry shook his head, and himself out his brooding, averting his gaze from the Slytherin table, just in time to see McGonagall walking up to him.
“Ahh, Potter,” she said, “Please come to my office once you’re done.”
Harry frowned. Why, he wanted to ask, did something happen? But before he got the chance, she was already gone.
“I’m glad she’s okay,” Hermione commented, looking after their Head of House, “Four Stunners…it could have killed her.”
“Yeah, but it didn’t,” said Ron through a mouthful of cake, completely oblivious to the outraged and disgusted look Hermione gave him.
“I wonder what she wants.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”
After dinner, he went to McGonagall’s office while Hermione and Ron returned to the Gryffindor Tower, and the closer Harry got, the more anxious he felt.
What if something happened to Sirius? Or Remus?
What if she wants me to go back to the Dursleys after all?
What if –
Harry pushed open the door and entered the office, swallowing his nerves.
“Nothing bad happened,” McGonagall said as soon as Harry had closed the door and Harry relaxed, “However, there has been a recent development that we feel you should know about before you return home tomorrow.”
Home. He still wasn’t completely used to thinking of the small Soho flat as home.
“What is it, professor?”
“Well –” McGonagall took a deep breath, leaning back in her chair and considering him for a moment. “Well,” she said again, “You will be having a guest.”
“A guest? What kind of guest?”
“The son of a Death Eater will be staying with you for the duration of the summer.” A what now? “He has defected from his family with a great risk to himself and needed protection which your guardians have provided. I expect you to treat him with, if not hospitality, at least not hostility.”
Harry blinked, processing the words. “Yes, of course, professor,” he answered, “But, who –”
“Tomorrow, Harry,” McGonagall cut him off, “Tomorrow you will take the train back to London, Sirius and Remus will pick you up, and they will explain everything.”
“I also ask you not to mention this to anyone, that includes Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger.”
He didn’t get it. Not really. But, he supposed, he probably would, come tomorrow.
As long as it’s not Malfoy, he thought on his way back to the Common Room, making himself laugh. Right, as if Malfoy would ever turn his back on his parents.
“Say that again?”
“Harry, making me say it five times won’t change the fact that Draco Malfoy is, for all intents and purposes, a traitor, and currently waiting back at flat for our return.”
Harry’s head was reeling, and he wondered if maybe this was all just a dream. A horrible, terrible dream.
He’d been looking forward to this summer. For three years he had dreaded returning to England for the two months between terms but now…now he had a family.
And Malfoy is destroying everything, like always…
“Look,” Sirius said. He, Remus and Harry were sitting in the car just outside King’s Cross Station and Sirius had, indeed, told Harry five times in a row just who exactly would be staying with them. Harry still didn’t believe it. “I know you two don’t like each other.” Harry scoffed. Not liking each other was putting it mildly. “But,” his godfather continued, “Returning to his family would have put him in danger.”
“Okay, I get that.” And he did. Kind of. “But why us?”
“Because he trusts us, Harry,” Remus answered.
“Please,” Sirius said softly, “I’m not asking you to be his best friend, just be civil.”
“I’ll be civil if he is.”
Sirius nodded, apparently accepting that as all he’d get at the moment
They arrived home not fifteen minutes later, and Sirius parked the car in front of the house. There was a cafe underneath their flat that had the best pastries and made good coffee, owned by a sweet, old lady who had taken to giving Harry free lunch whenever he came by, across the road was a small record store, a Spar, and another café.
When Harry pushed the door to the flat open, he distantly realised he was holding his breath. Behind him, Remus and Sirius did the same.
Malfoy was there, alright, standing by the bookshelf a copy of The Hobbit in his hand, freezing when he saw them. For a moment they stared at each other, Harry and Malfoy, green eyes meeting grey.
And they waited.
“Potter.” Slowly, Malfoy put the book back on the shelf.
Behind Harry, Remus and Sirius let out a breath of relief.
The tension was still there but slowly draining as Harry entered the flat, hauling his trunk to his room to unpack, noting the third door that definitely hadn’t been there before.
Malfoy’s room, then, he thought.
Sirius had said that they had added to the flat, ‘tinkering’ he’d called it, and despite the situation, Harry couldn’t help but be impressed and excited.
“Tea, Harry?” Remus called from the kitchen.
“Sure.” The teenager started putting some of his clothes from his trunk into his wardrobe, picking up loose parchments and quills to hide them in the top drawer of his desk, the place where all that went which didn’t have a proper place. Hedwig, he noticed, wasn’t there yet. He’d let her fly back in her own time, allowing her to stretch her wings, but he was sure she’d be there by tomorrow morning, probably just in time to steal the breakfast from Elvendork, Remus’ and Sirius’ owl.
Once most of the contents of his trunk were strewn across his bed and floor, Harry left his room. He’d deal with the rest later.
Malfoy was still there, sitting at the table, a cup of tea in front of him. Purposefully, Harry chose the chair furthest away from the Slytherin, not missing his eyeroll but deciding to ignore it. For now anyway.
They sat in silence, everyone sipping their tea, everyone trying to make as little noise as possible, lest the storm break out.
It was Sirius who spoke up first. “Well,” he said, “This is awkward.”
“You’re the one who said we didn’t have to be friends.”
“Yeah, and I already regret that.” There was certain dry note to Sirius’ voice that told Harry he was joking, but just barely.
Clunk. Malfoy abruptly set down his cup, harder than strictly necessary, and stood up. Harry tensed as the blond rounded the table, half convinced he’d go into his room but no, he came right for Harry, who already started going through all the best defensive spells he knew. Malfoy – stretched out his hand?
They’d been eleven, gullible and foolish, eyeing each other with suspicion and mistrust, and Harry had declined the handshake.
They were fifteen, a little damaged and a little broken, still eyeing each other with suspicion and mistrust, but this time, Harry took the hand that was offered to him.
It was a start, if nothing else.
The first week was quiet. Harry barely saw Malfoy, who had apparently decided to stay in his room at all times except for meals. Harry was very okay with that. Remus and Sirius, it seemed, were not. Harry could see them cast concerned looks at the closed door and each other, exchanging hushed words when Harry was out of earshot. Apart from that, everything was surprisingly normal. Harry and Remus cooked together, both adults helped him with his homework, and he and Sirius spent time in Muggle London. It was blissful, in a way. Harry was able to forget, for just a moment or two, the looming threat of Voldemort, who was out there, plotting and scheming, surrounding himself with followers. Forget the war that was coming for them.
They were sitting in a café in Camden Town – near where Sirius and Remus used to live, Sirius had said – looking out the window at all the people passing by, when Sirius let out a low bark of a laugh.
Instead of answering, Sirius simply pushed the receipt over to Harry, grinning widely, “Looks like you have an admirer,” he said with a wink.
Harry frowned at piece of paper he had received at the till and, sure enough, there were digits written in blue ink and a name – Dustin. Ignoring his godfather’s antics, Harry looked at the boy behind the till. He was tall, with short brown hair and blue eyes, blue eyes that were trained on him. He winked. Blushing, Harry quickly averted his gaze and looked at Sirius who was still grinning.
“You should call him,” Sirius teased, “He’s cute.”
“I’m not –” What? What wasn’t he? Interested? Gay? Harry didn’t even know, he’d been too preoccupied with not dying the past few years to even spare a thought to those things. “I’m not,” he said again, leaving it at that and hoping that Sirius would too.
“It’s okay if you are,” Sirius said softly, no longer grinning but smiling, a gentle, genuine expression on his face.
I know, Harry wanted to say, I live with you and Remus, but the words wouldn’t come. Instead Harry simply nodded and looked back out of the window, suddenly wishing he could be anywhere but here.
They finished their coffees in silence and when they left, Harry glanced back at Dustin one last time, the receipt with the number burning a hole into his pocket.
When they got back, Remus was standing in the kitchen preparing dinner. Sirius had told him that the two of them were going out – date-night, he’d said – which meant Harry had to survive the evening alone. With Malfoy. The blond was nowhere to be seen but his door was closed which meant he was probably hiding in there, like always.
“How was your day?” the Werewolf asked, stirring the pasta sauce.
Sirius went up to his partner and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Very nice,” he answered, “Harry got hit on by a boy.”
“Did he, now?” Remus turned to look at Harry, an amused glint in his eyes.
Feeling inexplicably irritated, Harry glared at his godfather. “Shut up,” he snapped, walking past the two adults to go to his room.
“What?” Sirius called after him, “He was cute!” Harry shut the door without replying but he could still hear his guardians’ hushed voices. “He was,” Sirius said.
“You shouldn’t tease him about this.”
“Come on, Moony –”
Harry waved his hand at the door and shut out the sounds. He didn’t know why this affected him so much. It was just a phone number from a random guy in a coffee shop and yet…it wasn’t.
“Urgh.” Groaning, the teenager let himself fall onto his bed, staring at the ceiling.
It just wasn’t fair. None of this was fair. Why couldn’t he be normal, just once?
Harry had no idea how long he stayed like that. Five minutes? Ten minutes? An hour? All he knew was that his brooding was rudely interrupted by a gentle knock on the door. With another wave of his hand, it opened, revealing Remus on the other side
“May I come in?” Harry shrugged but sat up, leaning back against the headboard while Remus entered the room sitting down on the foot of the bed. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Harry shook his head. No.
“Okay.” Remus smiled faintly at him. “Sirius and I will be going out soon,” he said, “Dinner is ready for when you’re hungry. If anything happens, send a Patronus, and Sirius is taking the mirror with him.”
“Okay,” Harry said, almost expecting Remus to start talking about what had happened earlier, maybe repeat Sirius’ words – it’s okay if you are – but he didn’t. Instead, Remus gave Harry’s leg a gentle squeeze and stood up, turning to leave, but before he did, he gave Harry a contemplative look.
“You should give Draco a chance, you know.” Harry frowned but remained silent. “He doesn’t have it easy at the moment.”
Neither do I, Harry thought.
“Have fun on your date,” he said, doing his best to pretend like he hadn’t heard that last part.
Remus rolled his eyes and smiled again but despite that, he looked tired. Resigned. And somehow, inexplicably, sad.
Harry waited until he was sure they were gone. Malfoy’s door was still shut.
They’d bought a phone during the last summer. Harry couldn’t have his friends over, not even Ron and Hermione knew where he lived now, but at least this way he could talk to them if he wanted, hear their voices. Well…Hermione’s voice, anyway. Ron still hadn’t fully grasped the concept of a telephone.
Should I call him?
Do I want to call him?
Would he even want me to?
Harry’s mind was buzzing with questions. Questions he couldn’t answer. Questions he had never even bothered with before. It was confusing.
What’s the worst that can happen? Harry thought and picked up the receiver, dialling the number Dustin had given him, listening for the beeping that would tell him the call was connecting, but before it even had the chance to do so, Harry slammed the receiver back down.
What am I doing? He thought frantically. What if this is a trick?
Which was ridiculous, of course. Sending a random guy to seduce him? Even Harry could recognize that that was more than unlikely.
“I’m an idiot.”
Harry jumped at the voice. He hadn’t noticed Malfoy standing in the door to his room, watching him, looking more casual than Harry had ever seen him. His hair was rumpled and he was wearing Muggle clothes.
“What are you doing here?” Harry asked sharply, stepping away from the phone and shoving the receipt back into his pocket.
Malfoy arched a perfectly plucked eyebrow at him. “I live here now, Potter, in case you hadn’t noticed, yet.”
“Could have fooled me. You barely come out of that room.”
“Why, if you wanted to spent time with me, you should have said so.”
“Keep dreaming, Malfoy.”
They scowled at each other, Harry feeling weirdly off-centre as if he’d been caught doing something forbidden, and Malfoy looking as if he was ready to murder someone. Probably Harry. And this was usually the part where their wands came out, the part where they started shooting spells and hexes at each other, the part where Hermione would tell him to leave it, Harry, he’s not worth it. Except Hermione wasn’t here.
“Go on,” Malfoy said, “Hex me. I won’t stop you.”
What? “Why not?” Harry demanded.
Malfoy scoffed and turned towards the kitchen, his back to Harry which, for some reason, made him even angrier.
Face me you coward, he wanted to say, you never miss an opportunity to fight me, so why start now?
“Because your godfather and his boyfriend would throw me out if I did,” Malfoy spat out. “They took me in because of some disgusting, misguided Gryffindor nobility but that doesn’t mean they won’t change their mind if something happens to you.”
“Then why are you here if you don’t even want to be?”
Malfoy snapped around, an unreadable expression on his face, his eyes wide and wild. “Because my options are abysmally low. Because I marked myself a traitor the second I entered this house. Because my father would quite literally kill me if I left now. Because, Potter, I don’t have a choice.”
“It was your choice to come here,” Harry shot back, trying not to think about the meaning behind Malfoy’s words.
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.” Malfoy was turning his back again, the lack of confrontation sparking something in Harry that went beyond simple anger, beyond simple hatred, something deep and dark and twisted. The last time he’d done accidental Magic had been the summer before third year when he’d blown up aunt Marge, since then he’d worked on controlling his emotions with Sirius and Remus. Slow, painful hours in which he had learned how to overcome the anger that lurked inside of him.
“Imagine your mind like a corridor,” Remus had said, “There are many rooms and each room has a purpose. Some of them hold memories. Some hold knowledge. Some hold feelings. You have control over which doors to open and which to close.”
Right now, all the doors were wide, wide open.
“What the fuck, Potter?!”
Harry blinked. The lightbulbs had exploded, covering the floor with a glittering shower of a million tiny glass shards. The chairs and the table were lying upside down all around the room. And Malfoy was slumped against the wall. Bleeding.
Harry rushed forward, an apology already on his lips, his hand stretched out to help the blond but Malfoy slapped it away.
“Don’t touch me,” he hissed, trying to get back on his feet. His arm was covered in scratches, wood and glass splinters piercing the skin.
“Let me help.”
“Yes, please, I can –”
“What could you possibly do that –”
Ignoring Malfoy’s protest, Harry grabbed the arm and imagined pushing the splinters out, out, out, away from the skin, imagined the wounds closing up. It wasn’t perfect. Harry could still see where the deepest of the cuts were, could see the parts he had missed, could see a bit of blood still trickling down Malfoy’s arm from a wound at his shoulder. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do.
He looked up. Malfoy was staring at him with wide eyes, his mouth gaping.
“What?” It was a stupid question, he knew, but he wasn’t sure what else to say. How could he begin to explain and apologise for this?
“Potter,” Malfoy ground out, “You just performed non-verbal, wandless magic.”
“Yeah. I know. So?”
“So?” Malfoy repeated, his voice high-pitched and bordering on panicked, “So, apart from the fact that you should not be able to do that, it is also against the law.”
“What do you care if I break the law?” Harry snapped, immediately regretting it when Malfoy’s face closed off.
“I don’t,” he answered, “I do, however, care about being found. If a group of Ministry officials knock on that door, they will find me here, which means my father will find me.”
“They won’t.” Harry stood back up, eyeing the damage he had done. “The Trace doesn’t work here.”
“I don’t – Remus explained it to me but I didn’t really understand it. Something about interfering magic and wards and unplottable. Anyway, the most the Ministry could do is detect underage magic in the general vicinity of London.”
“Right.” Harry dared a glance at Malfoy who had managed to stand up again, a deep frown on his face. “So, care to explain?”
Some part of Harry wanted to say that he didn’t owe him an explanation, he didn’t owe him anything, except…he kind of did.
Running his hand though his hair, Harry set to repairing the lightbulbs and furniture, and said, “When my dad and Remus and Sirius were in third year,” he began, sitting down on one of the newly repaired chairs, “They began going through the books in the Restricted Section of the library, reading books on really advanced stuff. Really old stuff, too. Loads of theory. Apparently, before the Ministry existed, Magic was taught differently. Now it’s all…it’s all very specific spells for very specific things because the Ministry put restrictions on it, laws to control Magic and stuff.” Harry wet his lips, looking at Malfoy who had sat down as well, tracing his closed-up wounds with his fingers. “But it’s not about the spells, it’s about the intentions,” Harry went on, quoting what Sirius had told him, “They started making their own spells, experimented with ones they already knew.”
“At thirteen?” Malfoy cut in, sounding incredulous.
“Yeah. They were geniuses.” Even if he had wanted to, Harry wouldn’t have been able to keep the pride out of his voice because my dad was one of them.
“As enlightening as this history lesson is,” Malfoy drawled, sounding more like himself than he had all night, “I fail to see how it relates to you doing magic way over your skillset.”
Harry scowled but answered, “When I was training for the last Task in fourth year, Sirius and Remus taught me some stuff we’d never learn in school. Afterwards, when Voldemort was back, they kept teaching me. Non-verbal magic. Wandless magic. Occlumency. Some of the things they found out and invented.”
Malfoy was quiet. A bot too quiet, for Harry’s liking. His face was perfectly blank, not betraying a single thought he might have as he looked at Harry, not blinking.
“What?” Harry asked eventually, slightly unsettled by the intensity of the grey eyes.
“I admit I’m impressed,” Malfoy answered, not sounding impressed at all, “I didn’t think you’d have it in you to move beyond mediocrity.”
“You know nothing about me, Malfoy.”
The mask broke, just for a second. “I know.” Was that sadness in his eyes? Bitterness in his voice? Regret in the curl of his lips? But before Harry could ask or even think about any if it further, it was gone, replaced by the familiar sneer. “Now, if you don’t mind,” Malfoy said, “I initially came out to eat something.”
The moment was gone, and Harry watched numbly as Malfoy filled a plate with pasta and took it back to his room, shutting a door with a decisive click.
It seemed he and Malfoy had reached a tentative kind of truce. The Slytherin ventured out of his room more often, greeting Harry with a silent nod whenever he did which Harry returned, the lingering animosity fading to curiosity. Naturally, their change in behaviour did not go unnoticed by Remus and Sirius, though they didn’t comment, probably not wanting to disturb the newfound peace between the two boys, but Harry didn’t miss the minute smiles on their faces whenever they managed to be in the same room for longer than five minutes without tearing it or each other apart. Harry had always been acutely aware of Malfoy, always knowing when the blond was near – his platinum hair, his pale skin, the sound of his voice, imprinted in his mind – but now it was like his whole being was finetuned to Malfoy. And he wasn’t the only one. Harry could feel the weight of Malfoy’s fixed gaze on him, could feel the tension and anticipation. The questions.
It was maddening.
It was progress.
And still. Sirius started spending more and more time with Malfoy, sitting on his bed, the door ajar just enough to catch a glimpse of the two, talking in hushed voices. And it was okay, really. It was. No big deal. Except Harry couldn’t help the bitterness and pain that settled in his heart whenever he saw his godfather with the boy he had hated for five years, when it should have been him, Harry, not Malfoy.
“You’re angry with him,” Remus noted one evening. He and Harry were sitting at the kitchen table while Sirius and Malfoy had retreated to the blond’s room.
“I’m not,” Harry answered, and Remus raised an eyebrow at him, “I’m not.”
“Let me rephrase that, then,” Remus said, “You’re not happy with him.”
“It’s fine,” Harry muttered, very aware that Remus did not believe him.
As most things that took root, these feelings of jealousy, of envy and resentment, grew, large and strong, digging deep, deep, and deeper still into the ground of Harry’s very soul, coiling tightly around his heart, throwing shadows on his mind.
It was July, the sun was shining bright and hot over London, and on the streets outside the house, people crowded the sidewalks, chatting and laughing, enjoying the day. Sirius and Malfoy had gone out early – the park, they’d said – and Remus had just left to go to the shop, when the door to the apartment opened. Harry was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, his door not quite closed, leaving a small gap that allowed the voices from the main room to flow in.
“—worried about her, but it’s too risky,” Sirius just said. There was a click, the door shutting. Footsteps. “Huh. They must have gone out. Come on, I’ll put the kettle on.”
Water flowed from the tap in the kitchen. A chair was pulled back.
“I know,” Malfoy replied to Sirius, he sounded incredibly tired, “But the thought of her in that house with Him…”
“As hard as it is to hear this, but if she was dead, you’d probably know about it, which means she’s not. She’s alive.” The sound of water boiling. Mugs clinking together. The fridge pulled opened and pushed closed. “And Narcissa is many things but weak was never one of them. We’ve never been close but…I know she loves you. And she’ll keep fighting. For you.”
“What if I made the wrong choice?” Malfoy asked now.
“Do you think you did?”
“I don’t know.” There was a hardness to Malfoy’s voice that was unfamiliar, a desperation and helplessness that Harry had never heard before. Not from him. “My friends will support me, I know. Pansy and Blaise have never really been supporters of the Dark Lord, neither have their parents. Millicent is a half-blood, she’s scared for her mother, but her father is just as bad as mine. As for Vince and Greg…I cannot tell where their allegiances will lie when it will come down to choosing between me and their fathers. But even if they stay loyal to me, that is not a lot of allies on my part.” Two cups were set down on the table. “Severus will not risk being found out as a traitor, he will stay with the Dark Lord as long as possible, showing open sympathies to me will jeopardise that.”
“You have friends at Hogwarts –” Sirius began but was cut off by the Slytherin.
“Who?” Malfoy asked, “Who, apart from the people I have just named is my friend? Harry?” The brunet in question startled at the sound of his first name out of Malfoy’s mouth. “He tolerates me because you want him to. His little gang of ragtag Gryffindors? They hate me. And with good reason.”
“From what I heard you haven’t done anything that’s not forgivable, yet.”
Malfoy audibly sputtered. “Forgivable?” he asked, “Nothing has changed, Sirius. I still am and always will be Lucius Malfoy’s son and just because I don’t fully agree with his ideology anymore, doesn’t mean I will suddenly forget 15 years of indoctrination.”
“Then unlearn them.” Sirius voice was low, almost too low for Harry to hear. “What? You think I just woke up one day and decided my parents were wrong? I didn’t. It took me a year to stop thinking of Lily as a mudblood –” Harry’s eyes grew wide “—I didn’t say it but it was there. Mudblood. Half-breed. Blood traitor. All those nasty little words my mother used when she went on one of her rants on why exactly this country was going to the dogs. Oh, I was fascinated by Muggles, alright, the way you’d be fascinated by insects. What peculiar creatures, they are, I thought. No Magic but somehow they make do. My parents hated it, of course, but they let me because I was still a Black and I was still proud of it. I slipped up, once. James broke my nose for it.”
“We found out Remus’ secret. That’s when I knew…one of my best friends, a filthy Werewolf, but I didn’t care because he was so special and I loved him, even then.” Harry barely dared to breathe, too anxious to not miss a single word his godfather was saying. “James and I,” Sirius went on, “We were a pair of spoiled brats. Bloody pricks, sometimes. Just as you’ve been. And we were no saints. We hexed people, jinxed them, pranked them. Not because we didn’t like them but because we could, because it was fun, because we thought we were better than them.” A dark chuckle sounded from the other room. “Do you know why Snape hates me?”
“Severus says you’re an insufferable and arrogant git.”
“Sounds like Snivellus,” Sirius muttered, “That’s what we used to call him. He was our favourite target – and he always gave as good as he got. Worse sometimes. But we’re the ones who started it…and then he nearly died…because of me.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you need to understand,” Sirius replied, “I was 15. Selfish and stupid and bored, and Snape was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He always stuck his nose into our business, wanted to know where Moony went once a month, so I told him – go to the Whomping Willow, press the knot at the base of the tree and find out.” This was a story Harry knew but it didn’t make it any easier to hear. “James saved him. But if he hadn’t…Remus would have killed him. And it would have been my fault. That is something unforgivable, and yet…Remus did forgive me. Eventually.”
“I never asked him to.” There was a long moment of silence, all Harry could hear was his own shallow breath and the frantic sound of his heartbeat. “Draco. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
There was no response that Harry could hear but he could imagine Malfoy nodding his head once, a stern expression on his face and thoughts racing through his mind.
You should give Draco a chance, Remus had said and now, Harry thought, maybe, just maybe, I will.
News of the attacks on Brockdale Bridge and south-western England hit them along with the murders of Emmeline Vance and Amelia Bones; but Harry’s thoughts were overtaken by Malfoy. He remembered the defeat in the blond’s voice as he had talked to Sirius, and the hollowness in his eyes. He’d told Malfoy that he knew nothing about him, but wasn’t the same true the other way around? What did he really know about Malfoy? That his family had money? That his father was a Death Eater? That he was a boy, scared for his life? For his mother’s life?
I know nothing about him, he realised, so why do I hate him?
The answer to that should have been obvious, five years of torment and rivalry was enough to make anyone resentful, and yet…if living with Remus and Sirius had thought Harry anything it was that not everything was always as it seemed. It was that people deserved second chances. It was that forgiveness was the strongest trait a person could have.
They were all sitting at the table, eating breakfast, when the letter came.
“It’s from Andy,” Sirius said, unfolding the piece of parchment, finding a second one inside, “It’s about your mother, Draco.”
Malfoy’s fork clattered to the plate, all the blood draining from his face. “Is she –”
“Alright,” Remus cut in, reading the letter over Sirius’ shoulder.
Sirius picked up the second piece of parchment and handed it to Malfoy. “This is for you, I think.”
The blond took the letter and left for his room without saying another word, closing the door.
“What happened?” Harry asked. If Narcissa was sending Malfoy letters through Andy, did that mean she’d left Lucius? Was she going into hiding as well?
“We have another ally,” Remus said cryptically, taking Andy’s letter from Sirius and handing to Harry.
It’s been a while since we last spoke and a lot has happened, but I will keep this short.
My sister came to visit me yesterday, she is well and brings news from a mutual friend who would like to speak to you and your boy as soon as possible.
Why don’t you all come by for tea tomorrow?
Harry frowned, not sure he understood what Andromeda was saying. “Who does she mean?”
“Severus,” Remus answered, and Harrys frown deepened. He still found it hard to believe that Snape was anything but an evil git. “We asked for his help before the summer, but he declined,” the Werewolf explained, “Voldemort trusts him, as does Dumbledore; working with us would be taking a risk.”
“I imagine we’ll find out tomorrow.”
As if on their own accord, Harry’s eyes were drawn to Malfoy’s shut bedroom door. There was no sound coming through, but Harry imagined he could almost feel the waves of emotions.
“I heard you talking the other day,” he started, still looking at the door, “When you told him that he hasn’t done anything unforgivable, yet.”
Slowly, Harry turned his head to look at Sirius and Remus. They didn’t look surprised, but neither was Harry, after all, there were no secrets left between them.
“Do you think you could? Forgive him?” Sirius asked, his voice soft, gentle, void of any judgement and Harry new if he said no, they would accept that, no questions asked.
“Yes.” He hadn’t even known how true it was until now. Yes, Harry thought, I think I can forgive him.
They left early. It was still dark outside, and Remus had placed a Disillusionment Charm on Malfoy so they could Apparate to Andy’s without being seen. The blond had been quiet since breakfast the previous day, his mother’s letter in hand at all times. Harry didn’t know what she’d written but he could tell that Malfoy wasn’t happy about it; had she gotten hurt after all?
“Come on.” Sirius dragged him along, down a dark street that Harry didn’t recognize. He’d never actually been to Andy’s house and under different circumstances he might have been looking forward to it, as it was, his excitement was rather limited.
They knocked on the door and it was Tonks that opened, sporting a short haircut in vibrant blue colours and a Freddy Mercury t-shirt.
“Wotcher,” she greeted them, smiling brightly.
“Dora.” Remus nodded as the four entered the house, walking through to the living room where Andy, Ted, Narcissa and Snape were already waiting for them.
“Draco.” Malfoy’s mother let out a ragged sob the second she saw her son, rushing forward to pull him into a crushing hug. “You’re okay.”
“I’m okay, mother,” Malfoy muttered, returning the hug with just as much fierceness. It was weird, Harry found, to see them like this. Emotional. In his mind, Narcissa Malfoy had always been a cold, heartless woman, very much like her sister Bellatrix, not a loving mother terrified for her son’s life. Harry’s gaze wandered towards Snape. There was something different about him – the constant sneer was missing from his face, as was the usually sinister look in his eyes, they looked hollow.
“Narcissa, please,” the man’s voice, too, was nothing like Harry expected, a bone-deep exhaustion sounding through, and something like fear, “We do not have much time.”
Narcissa nodded while she let go of her son, tears glistening on her pale cheeks, leading the blond boy out of the room.
“What happened, Severus?” Remus asked.
There was a long moment of silence, the old grandfather clock on the wall counting the seconds – tick, tick, tick – and then Snape began to talk.
He’d overheard the Prophecy when it had first been made by Trelawney to Dumbledore and immediately reported it back to Voldemort. He’d regretted his decision, joining the Order and becoming a spy for Dumbledore. After James’ and Lily’s death, he’d agreed with Dumbledore to protect Harry from Voldemort – “for Lily’s sake,” he said – but now he had doubts.
“Why?” Sirius asked, his voice rough, barely containing his emotions, “What changed?”
Snape looked up at the other man, an unreadable expression on his face, “Albus Dumbledore is going to die.” Snape’s words were met with shocked silence, Harry’s brain trying and failing to compute the meaning behind them. “The Dark Lord has sent someone to kill him, ‘though I do not know who – Narcissa tells me it is likely to be a student. But even if they fail, he has touched a cursed object, I managed to contain the curse to his hand, but it will spread. I give him a year at the most, and then –” Snape took a deep breath. “I managed to get him to talk about his plan. For the very end. He showed me the entire Prophecy. He knows how to defeat the Dark Lord, it is in the Prophecy, and the Dark Lord’s actions have made sure that it will be fulfilled.”
“What does that mean?” Sirius bellowed.
“It means, Black,” Snape spat out, some of the familiar contempt re-entering his eyes, “That your godson has been raised like a pig for slaughter and knowing Potter he will gladly walk up to the gallows and put the noose around his own neck, if it only means saving his friends. The Dark Lord knows this, too.”
Harry had half a mind to protest against that except it was true wasn’t it? He’d proven time and time again that he would die for the people he loved.
“What makes you so sure about that?” Remus asked, it was impossible to say what he was thinking.
“Minerva, Nymphadora –”
“Don’t call me –”
“Quiet!” Snape snapped at Tonks, “As I was saying, Minerva, Nymphadora, and I managed to enter Albus’ office during his absence and view some of his memories, specifically the ones he has been revisiting lately.” Harry glanced at Tonks, trying to see what she was thinking, trying to understand how and why, but Tonks’ face was blank. “As it is, it seems the connection is the key.”
“Yes, Black. The connection between the Dark Lord and Harry Potter, after all, is that not why you taught him Occlumency?”
Sirius took half a step forward, barring his teeth. “And how could you possibly know that unless you were trying to mess with his head!”
“Sirius,” Remus tried to cut in but was interrupted by Snape.
“No matter,” the Potions Master said, “The connection is the key. The Dark Lord fears it because he does not understand it, just as he fears everything he does not understand, and I am certain that Albus intends on using it because, after all, ‘either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives’.” Harry shuddered at the words, at what they implied. “That is what Trelawney prophesised and that is how it will happen. Both the Dark Lord and Dumbledore have made sure of that.”
Another moment of silence, different this time, heavier. Harry cast a glance around the room. Andy and Ted were both frowning deeply, clearly confused, while their daughter looked angry. And then there were Remus and Sirius.
“We never told Dumbledore about the connection,” Remus broke the silence.
“And yet he knows,” Snape replied.
“That is the immediate question, is it not? Did someone tell him after all? Or does he simply suspect? In which case it begs another question – why?”
“But –” Sirius began, visibly distressed by what he was hearing.
“I have said everything I know,” Snape cut him off, “Nympha – Tonks – has seen the same memories I have, she will be able to assist you. As for me…Narcissa and I will be leaving the country. Today. We will not tell you where and you will not attempt to find us.” Harry’s eyes snapped back to his teacher, ex-teacher now, he supposed, almost feeling something akin to sympathy bloom inside of him. Snape had not wanted to help, and yet here he was, trying to safe Harry’s life. “If I may,” Snape continued, “A word with Mr. Potter, please.” The question was directed at Sirius who glanced at Remus as if looking for guidance until, eventually, both men looked at Harry, clearly deferring the question to him.
Okay, Harry thought, nodding his head once.
The room quickly emptied, leaving Snape with Harry, an uneasy feeling rising inside of him, overshadowing the newly found sympathy.
For the longest moment, Snape simply stared at Harry, not saying a word. Then –
“You have her eyes.” I know, Harry wanted to say but didn’t. “I loved your mother very much.”
“Is that why you called her a mudblood?” Harry didn’t want to say but did. “Sirius told me about that. She never forgave you, did she?”
“The Dark Lord promised me he would spare her life and he did not. Dumbledore promised me he would care for your safety and well-being and he did not. I admit that I have many regrets, if I could undo what I did then, I –”
“Would have still not been good enough!” Harry’s blood was boiling. Forgotten was the sympathy he had felt just seconds ago, replaced by the old hatred, by new hatred, by disappointment and the feeling of betrayal. “That’s why you me hate so much, isn’t it? ‘Cause every time you look at me, you’re reminded of how my mum chose my dad over you! You’re bitter ‘cause she didn’t love you back the way you wanted to, ‘cause being her friend wasn’t enough for you, ‘cause you were obsessed. And you let it out on me. And on Neville. And every other student that comes into your classroom.” How could Dumbledore ever hire you? It was a question Harry had been asking himself more often than he could count, now more than ever. “If you’d have wanted to undo what you did, you could have become a decent person, not a fucking bully.”
And then Harry stormed out, not bothering to look back at Snape who seemed to be lost for words, but if he had, he would have seen tears in his former professor’s eyes.
All the anger had left Harry once they got back home. The best word to describe what exactly he was feeling would have been ‘empty’, he supposed. ‘Used’, maybe.
Dumbledore promised me he would care for your safety and well-being and he did not.
As much as Harry hated Snape, the words haunted him.
Had it not been Dumbledore who had left him with the Dursleys?
Had it not been Dumbledore who had not lifted a finger when Sirius had been sent to Azkaban for a crime he hadn’t committed?
Had it not been Dumbledore who had let him – No, encouraged me to – risk his life over and over and over again?
Both Malfoy and he had retreated into their respective rooms immediately, seeking solace in the solitude and yet when Remus tentatively knocked on Harry’s door, he welcomed the company.
“How are you feeling, Harry?”
I’m alright. The words were on the tip of his tongue, a lie that would have been easy merely a year ago but now…
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Yes.” Remus stepped fully into the small room, gently shutting the door behind himself and sitting down on the foot of Harry’s bed once more. Patient. “I wish he’d told me,” Harry muttered, “Dumbledore. I asked him, in first year, about Voldemort and my parents, and he said I was too young.”
“I’d be angry, too,” Remus replied, “If I were you, I’d be furious, I think.”
“He used me.”
There was a pain in Remus’ eyes that he had never seen before, anguish that went beyond even his monthly struggles with himself. The Werewolf opened his mouth to answer, and Harry could tell the exact moment when he changed the words from a well-meaning lie to an uncomfortable truth, “For the greater good.”
Harry frowned. “What does that even mean?”
“Harry,” Remus began, running a hand over his face, visibly struggling, “Since I have known him, Albus Dumbledore has always prioritised the bigger picture over the individual. That’s just who he is.”
“I can’t go back to Hogwarts,” Harry suddenly realised, “Not with all this going on. Not when I have to fight Voldemort.”
Remus smiled sadly. “Have you ever heard the story of Oedipus?”
Frowning, Harry asked, “Wasn’t he like Greek or something?”
“Or something.” Remus chuckled, though there was no mirth behind the sound. “Oedipus was a tragic hero in Greek mythology. The story goes that he was the son of a king and he went to the Oracle of Delphi who told him he would kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus was so set on averting the prophecy that he left his home. On his travels he met an old man, they got into a fight and Oedipus killed him. He went on to a place whose king had recently died, and which was threatened by a Sphinx. Oedipus defeated the Sphinx and won the throne, marrying the queen. Later, he found out that the man he’d killed, had been the former king. And his father. Making the queen his mother. Oedipus had been raised by someone else since his biological parents had send him away as a baby since they, too, had heard the same prophecy. Both Oedipus and his parents were so convinced that they could thwart the prophecy that they made it come true.”
Harry blinked. Once. Twice. “What are you trying to say?”
“Maybe it’s a lack of faith on my part,” Remus answered, “But prophecies are only ever as true as one wants them to be. Voldemort wanted to belief what he’d heard was true, so he made it true.”
“But then it’s still true,” Harry argued. He had the feeling that he was missing something here, something vital.
“Is it?” the Werewolf questioned mildly, the sad smile still firmly in place, “Dumbledore is a smart man, some may even call him wise. While everyone has been concentrating on how to defeat him, he has been asking how he could come back in the first place.”
“I told you, there was this potion –”
“No magic in the world,” Remus cut him off, “No matter how powerful, no matter how dark or not-dark, can bring back the dead, Harry. Not unless they’re not really dead.”
“But then how did he survive?”
“That,” Remus said, a contemplative expression on his face, “Is the question. Voldemort was hit by his own Killing Curse, for all intent and purposes he should have died, but he didn’t. Why?” Harry opened his mouth to say something, anything, but no words came to mind. “Sirius and I will be trying to find the answer to that. You will go back to school, make sure you learn everything you can, make sure you stay safe and alive, make sure Dumbledore doesn’t start another Triwizard Tournament, make sure to stay close to your friends, make sure Draco is okay, make sure you get to be a normal teenager for once.”
Some part of him wanted to argue but…
I trust them, he realised, I trust Remus and Sirius to take care of this.
They had told him, multiple times, that he was trying to take responsibility for something that happened before you were even born, Harry. No matter how hard it is to belief but none of this is in any way your fault. It was happening slowly, but Harry started to think that, maybe they were right. Maybe this wasn’t his problem to fix.
“I don’t want you to put yourselves in danger because of me.”
Remus shifted, wrapping his arms around Harry and pulling him close. “That’s not your choice to make, Harry,” he whispered, “We did it before. Seventeen years old, fresh out of school…we joined the Order because we thought we could save the world, foolish as we were. Sometimes I still regret that decision, made out of some misguided sense of duty and debt. At least now, I know exactly what I’m fighting for.”
And what is that? Harry wanted to ask except he thought he already knew the answer. It was in the way Remus held him now, arms tight and yet gentle. It was in the way Remus looked at him, with warmth and pride and joy. It was in the way Remus smiled at Sirius, the way he made tea, the way he read his books, and cooked their meals, and refilled the fruit bowl with chocolate bars.
Harry pushed the door open, noting how the bedroom looked exactly like his own with the only difference that the bedsheets were green, the desk stacked with books, and there were no piles of dirty laundry visible anywhere. It was neat, meticulous, and clean, and Harry couldn’t help but feel like an intruder.
“Potter.” Harry’s eyes fell on the inhabitant of the room. Malfoy was sitting on his bed, a book in his hands, using his thumb as a makeshift bookmark as if he wasn’t sure yet whether or not he should commit to the real thing. “What do you want?”
“Erm – Remus and Sirius just left,” Harry managed to say, already feeling foolish because Malfoy probably knows this – it was the full moon after all and despite the Wolfsbane Potion, the two adults of the household still preferred to go to the abandoned 12 Grimmauld Place rather than have a Werewolf in the flat, no matter how tame.
Malfoy gave him a flat look, confirming what Harry had already thought. “Yes?”
“Well, I – er – I was wondering if you – I mean –”
“Do you want to do something?” Harry blurted out, Malfoy’s raised eyebrow effectively making him feel even more stupid.
“Do what, precisely?”
“I don’t know! Have dinner, watch TV, play chess, or something…”
Malfoy looked at him for a long moment, his face blank, then –
“Alright.” Wait, really? “As long as you keep your lack of eloquence to yourself.”
Malfoy reached for the actual bookmark and placed it carefully between the pages of his book before standing up. He was wearing Muggle clothes again.
They hadn’t talked since the visit at Andy’s and Harry felt almost sorry for the blond. He couldn’t imagine what it was like, knowing your mother was out there but with no way of contacting her, having to say goodbye twice in a row, living with the uncertainty if she was still alive at all.
“I’m sorry,” he found himself saying, once they’d sat down at the table, no longer able to hold back the words, “About your mother.”
Malfoy’s eyes snapped up to meet his, the steel-grey seeming even colder and harder than usual and Harry already prepared himself for the inevitable insult that was sure to come.
“I appreciate the sentiment.” Somewhere in the depths of Harry’s mind, a record scratched to a halt. “But she made her choice. We all do.”
“Still –” Harry began, trying to recover from the shock.
“No, Potter,” Malfoy fell in, his eyes still fixed on him, “It is not you who is threatening her, so kindly stop taking responsibility for things that are clearly not yours to be responsible for. In fact, it is awfully egoistical of you to presume you could right every wrong in this world, is it not? Saint Potter?”
Harry stared. It was all he could do, really, as the concept of language seemed to have left him. Malfoy’s words sounded familiar, the same old sniping and sneering, except it wasn’t. Something had changed. There was no real heat in Malfoy’s voice, it had sounded factual with a hint of bitterness and, could it be, amusement?
Deciding to take a risk, Harry collected all of his Gryffindor bravery, and said, “Tell me about her.”
Deep breaths. “Tell me about your mum.”
“And why, pray tell, would I do such a thing?”
Harry shrugged. “We’re gonna spend another month together,” he reasoned, “Might as well try and get along.”
The corners of Malfoy’s mouth curled into something that was probably supposed to be a jeering smirk but somehow looked much softer. “How very mature,” the blond muttered, “Very well.” He leaned back in his chair, a far-away expression entering his eyes. “Mother is a smart woman. Strong. She doesn’t allow people to tell her what to do, not even father. She is unafraid. What she did – betraying father and the Dark Lord – it put her at risk, but she did it anyway.”
“She loves you,” Harry realised, not sure why it surprised him so much.
“She doesn’t sound like a Death Eater.” Once again, the words were out before Harry could as much as try and hold them, leaving Harry to bite his tongue and curse his own damned mouth.
Across from him, Malfoy grew incredibly tense. “That’s because she’s not,” he replied coolly, “There’s more than just Death Eaters and not-Death Eaters, you of all people should know this, by know.”
I do, Harry wanted to argue but that really wasn’t the point. “I just mean,” he said instead, “Why marry your father, then?”
Both eyebrows raised, Malfoy gave a dark chuckle. “Your lack of knowledge of pureblood culture would be humorous if it wasn’t so shocking,” he said and rolled his eyes, “She didn’t choose to marry father. Her parents chose for her.”
“You mean…it was arranged?”
“Don’t sound so shocked. I have it on good authority Muggles do it, too.”
Harry blinked. Another question for the pile he already had. “Yeah,” he answered, “But it’s not that common anymore and a lot of people don’t like it.”
“And how common do you think traditional pureblood families are in Britain?” Malfoy countered, “Twenty-eight. There are twenty-eight families that can still call themselves real purebloods.”
“Yours is one of them, I reckon.”
“Naturally. So are the Weasleys. The Blacks. Your godfather was engaged to Bellatrix before he was disowned.” Harry shuddered. He knew about the engagement, but it still made his toes curl. “My point is, Potter,” Malfoy went on, “That families like ours have to make an effort to not become extinct.”
“Or you could just do what everyone else does and let people have their own relationships,” Harry remarked drily.
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” Once again the malice that Harry was used to was missing. “I’m only telling you how it is, since you obviously have no idea.”
That’s hardly my fault, is it?
“And who are you engaged to?” Harry asked, not sure if he really wants to know the answer.
“It varies from year to year.” Harry also wasn’t sure if Malfoy was serious or joking.
The blond stood up and walked over to the sink, taking a glass from the rack and filling it with water.
“And you’re happy with that?”
Turning back to face Harry, Malfoy gave him an indecipherable look. “Are you always this dense or is today just a particularly bad day?” he asked, rolling his eyes, “It’s not about the marriage, it’s about continuing the bloodline.” Sipping his water, Malfoy returned to the table, piercing eyes once again fixed on Harry. “As long as an heir is born no one cares what goes on behind closed doors.” Another sip. A deep breath. “But as it is, that future is no longer for me. And to answer your question – no. I was not happy with it, but I was also not fool enough to argue with my parents. Another thing you probably wouldn’t understand, seeing as you always barge in headfirst into any battle even if it is already lost.”
As insults went, Harry had definitely heard better from Malfoy but then again, it hadn’t exactly sounded like an insult…
“What can I say?” the brunet said, “Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart.”
Malfoy let out a rather indignant snort. “If by brave you mean foolish, impulsive, and overly emotional, then yes, you are a true Gryffindor.”
Playful banter. That’s what it sounded like.
Harry rolled his eyes. “The Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin,” Harry whispered, no idea why he was saying this, and to Malfoy of all people, but the minute break in the blond’s mask was worth it. It was like that moment after Harry’s outbreak, when he’d let his emotions loose and the doors open, after he’d fixed Malfoy’s arm and told him he didn’t know anything about him.
“Shame it didn’t.” He’d misheard, that Harry was sure of. There was no way Malfoy would have ever wanted him in Slytherin, and, indeed, Malfoy’s next words were much clearer and much more familiar, “You wouldn’t have lasted a day.”
Yeah, he thought, definitely misheard.
Harry rolled his eyes. “How do you know this family stuff anyway?” he asked, “Ron doesn’t.”
“Your precious Weasel family might still be part of the Sacred 28 but I imagine that will change soon, and your friend is not exactly known for his love of tradition, is he? As for me, I have been studying Genealogy since I could read.” Malfoy’s voice was dry, factual, and even the quip at Ron seemed more like habit than anything else. “Now, I have a question for you.” Harry raised his eyebrows expectantly. “How come the people that raised you not only missed to teach you adequate manners but also failed to educate you in the most basic facts of the Wizarding world?”
“You don’t know,” Harry realised. Of course, how could he? They’d never actually talked after all, and the specifics of Harry’s upbringing weren’t exactly common knowledge.
“Yes.” Malfoy’s lips curled into something bitter. “We already established that I know nothing about you.”
“My aunt and uncle don’t like magic. I didn’t learn I was a Wizard until I got the letter.”
“You’re telling me that the family of our Lord and Saviour Harry Potter convinced him he was a Muggle?”
“Believe it or not, but you weren’t the first person to ever hate me.”
Malfoy blinked. Several emotions passed over his face, too fast for Harry to identify, until it settled onto perfect blankness and he opened his mouth to say – what exactly? Harry couldn’t think of anything Malfoy would say to that, but he was clearly going to.
“I never hated you.” This time there was no doubt. The words had definitely left Malfoy’s mouth and were now hanging in the air between them, echoing back and forth between the two boys, amplified by the deafening silence. Either that, or Harry had finally lost his mind. “I never hated you,” Malfoy repeated, as if to make sure there was no misunderstanding. “And I’m – I’m sorry. My behaviour towards you has been tasteless to say the least. Childish. I hurt you, discredited you, and tried to get you expelled. I made you hate me when that was never my intention. I let my ego and pride dictate my actions and for that I apologise. I was wrong.”
Again, all Harry could do was stare, trying to process the words. Malfoy was…apologising.
From what I heard you haven’t done anything that’s not forgivable, yet.
Do you think you could? Forgive him.
Malfoy’s lips twitched. A weak excuse of a smile. “You know why.”
“Maybe I just want to hear you say it.”
“You’ve met my father,” he answered, “You know who he is. What he is. He has always held me by very high standards, and I have been foolish enough to attempt to please him, knowing I never would. The things he taught me stay, no matter how hard I try to forget them. I was ashamed and jealous when you chose Weasley over me, unable to understand what he had that I didn’t. It was the first time someone denied me other than my parents and I did not take it well.”
Harry nodded. He did know this. Or he had suspected it anyway. He remembered watching Malfoy and his father in Knockturn Alley all the way back in the summer before second year, the way Malfoy had not met his father’s eyes, the way Lucius had spoken to his son, a child that merely wanted his parent’s approval, and shamed him for being second-best to a Muggleborn, the way Lucius had commanded him, demanding respect and obedience, and he remembered Malfoy’s flinch.
“I’ll forgive you,” Harry found himself saying. Mafloy’s eyes snapped up to meet his, wide and almost hopeful. “Not right now but…I will.”
We were just kids…
“Thank you, Potter.”
The rest of the summer was mostly uneventful.
They had a small birthday party for Harry at the Burrow but for the first time Harry wished he could be somewhere else. Ever since Mr. Weasley’s death, everyone had become quieter and the Burrow seemed dark and unwelcoming even with all the children back home.
“Don’t blame yourself for what happened to Arthur,” Mrs. Weasley had told him after Harry had tried to apologise, “He knew what he was doing.”
Yeah, Harry thought bitterly, but he was doing it because of me.
The only positive outcome Harry could see was that it had brought everyone back together. The tension between Percy and the others had all but vanished, washed away by the tears they’d all cried together, and when a rather timid Bill had announced that Fleur was going to stay with them for good, Mrs. Weasley had welcomed her into the family with open arms.
“At least there is still love in this world,” she’d muttered, hugging the French girl tightly.
Harry had never felt more out of place and he was ashamed to say that he was almost glad when it was time to go back home.
“Molly’s right, you know,” Sirius had said afterwards, “It’s not your fault.”
“But it is!” Harry had insisted, “If it wasn’t for that damn Prophecy then he would have never been there.”
“Were you the one to ask him to guard it?”
“No, but –”
“Were you the one to attack him?”
“No! But –”
“Arthur was a grown man. He knew the risk he was taking when he joined the Order, he knew the risk he was taking when he followed Dumbledore’s orders to guard the Prophecy. He made his choice, Harry. We need to accept that.”
In fact, it is awfully egoistical of you to presume you could right every wrong in this world, is it not? Saint Potter?
“But it’s not fair.”
“No. It’s not.”
It was hard, Harry found, to not feel responsible. No matter how many times people told him, no matter how many times they said that it was their choice, he still felt guilty.
Returning to Hogwarts was a small mercy, at least he’d get some distraction there, especially since receiving the Quidditch Captaincy. What Harry hadn’t considered, however, was how to explain Malfoy.
“Erm –” Ron blinked helplessly at the blond that had followed Harry and Remus through the Barrier, and he wasn’t the only one. Around them, the entire Weasley family, Hermione, and Luna, were staring at Malfoy with a mixture of deep confusion and deeper hatred.
“What’s going on, Harry?” Hermione asked carefully, keeping her voice low and her eyes fixed on Malfoy.
“I’ll explain later.” He should have thought of this earlier, warned them maybe, but Remus and Sirius had urged him again and again to not tell anyone about Malfoy’s whereabouts, and now it was too late. He was all too aware of how tense Malfoy was, almost hiding behind him and Remus, and he felt almost sorry. Almost. “Let’s get on the train first.”
Narcissa had said that a student had joined the Death Eaters.
Harry’s eyes scanned his surroundings, seeing more unfamiliar faces than familiar ones, seeing families and children, seeing the normal buzzing and bustling that always filled the platform at the beginning of the school year.
Is it someone I know? Harry wondered as he watched what he thought were three third year Slytherins walk past. Or someone no one would expect?
“Come on.” Remus squeezed his shoulder and gently steered Harry towards the train, talking in a hushed voice, “I need you to listen, Harry, and listen carefully. What Severus told us is worrying to say the least and I want you to be careful, understood? Don’t take any risks. Don’t sneak out at night on your own. Do not try and solve this – if you happen to find something, bring it to me or Minerva.” Remus’ hazel eyes bored into Harry’s. “Promise me.”
Harry gulped. He had the Map and the Cloak, he had five years of experience of sneaking around the Castle at night, he couldn’t bear the thought of sitting back and not doing anything.
He also trusted Remus and Sirius. “I promise.” And they trusted him.
Remus pulled him into a hug, lips brushing his ear as he whispered, “I’ll see you later,” before letting go and turning to walk to Malfoy, probably to give him the same speech.
After also saying goodbye to Sirius and Mrs. Weasley, they finally did get on the train and Harry was eager to be alone with his friends to explain, to stop the suspicious looks they were casting his way, to make them understand that this was not his fault except –
“Prefect Carriage, remember?” Hermione said gently, leaving him with Luna and Ginny.
“Come on,” he said to the two girls, peeking into the compartments. He didn’t think he’d be able to deal with more staring.
“Sorry, Harry,” Ginny said, “I’m meeting Dean.” And with those words she hurried down the corridor, fiery-red hair flowing behind her.
“Hi, Harry.” The compartment door to his right slid open, revealing a smiling Neville, “Hi, Luna.”
Supressing a sigh, Harry entered the compartment and sat down, wishing Ron and Hermione were here, or Malfoy. Not that Harry wanted to spend more time with him; he’d just gotten used to the blond’s presence.
While Luna and Neville talked about their summers, Harry did his best to nod along and smile, his mind travelling back to the previous year. Umbridge had been bad. Sirius and Remus had done their best to keep Harry out of the spotlight, not letting him say a word to anyone about what had happened during the third Task – “The Ministry wants to believe that they are in control, contradicting them won’t help, it will only make you a target,” Sirius had explained through gritted teeth, “If Dumbledore wants to pick that fight, he can do that, but you won’t.” – which in retrospective had been a blessing, really. Merlin only knew what would have happened had Harry spoken up. Not that that had made it any easier, and after she’d fired Remus and it had become clear that they couldn’t just let her win without a fight, Hermione had suggested starting the DA. They’d had two meetings before everything had gone south.
“-it was like having friends,” Luna was saying now, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out what she was talking about. Instead of answering, Harry simply gave her a sympathetic smile.
The landscape outside got increasingly greener and wilder as they got further North and Harry once again tuned out the conversation around him. Waiting.
The door slid open and for some reason, some part of Harry’s mind expected Malfoy to walk in. He didn’t.
“Hi, Neville. Hi, Luna,” Hermione greeted the other people in the compartment, “Do you mind if Harry comes with us for a second? We need to talk to him. In private.”
Harry gulped. This did not bode well.
“Sure,” Neville answered, giving Harry a questioning look who shook his head and stood up to follow Hermione to a large compartment he’d never been in before where Ron was already waiting.
Must be the Prefects’ carriage, he thought, taking in the row of seats.
“Alright,” Ron said, an unusually serious expression on his face, “Explain.”
Harry would have loved to play dumb, to stall and buy himself some more time, but looking at his two best friends now and seeing their concerned and stern faces, he knew it was no good – he explained. He explained how McGonagall had called him to her office just before the summer to inform him that the son of Death Eater would be staying with them over the summer, how she had made him promise to not tell anyone, how he’d returned home and learned that it was Draco Malfoy, how Remus and Sirius had urged him again to not tell anyone, how Narcissa had warned them about a Death Eater amongst the students, how Snape had had a change of heart, how Malfoy had apologized.
“I want to forgive him,” he told them, “I really believe that he can change.”
What he didn’t say was that they had grown somewhat friendly, what he didn’t say was he felt for the blond, what he didn’t say was that Harry actually hoped they could finally start over and maybe be friends. Someday.
“Are you sure he didn’t just put you under the Imperius?” Ron asked, a deep frown on his face.
“Right,” Harry replied drily, “Me and Remus and Sirius and McGonagall.”
Ron shrugged. “I’m just saying. I don’t trust him.” Harry simply sighed, not sure what to reply which was, apparently, the wrong thing to do. “This is the part where you’re supposed to say, ‘neither do I’” Again, Harry remained silent. “Oh, come off it, Harry!” Ron cried out, “This is Malfoy we’re talking about.”
“Ron’s right, Harry,” Hermione chipped in, “Why do you trust him?”
“You should have seen him this summer,” Harry said, “He barely left his room, barely ate, he was clearly unhappy and worried sick about his mum. Besides, Narcissa and Snape risked their lives to warn us about someone attacking Dumbledore.”
Ron let out a disgusted snort. “First Malfoy, now Snape,” he grumbled, “What’s next? You-Know-Who’s not actually that bad but just deeply misunderstood?”
Harry did his best to glare at his friend, but he knew Ron had a point and no reason whatsoever to believe a word Harry was saying. There was too much history between them and Malfoy, too much bad, too much anger and resentment, and he couldn’t expect them to just forget about five years of bullying.
“You don’t need to be his friend,” Harry told them, echoing Sirius’ word to him from before the summer, “Just be civil.”
He was met by two blank stares.
And then Neville stumbled in.
“Here you are!” he panted, “I’ve been looking everywhere.”
“What is it, Neville?”
“Professor Slughorn wants to see you in compartment C.”
“Who’s Professor Slughorn?”
Frowning, Harry glanced at his friends who were frowning right back at him, although, Harry suspected, for a different reason.
“I’ll see you later,” he muttered, getting up to follow Neville through the train to see Professor Slughorn.
Lunch was torture. The new Potions Professor was a most unpleasant man, Harry found, who interrogated each and every student present on their relations and connections to various rich, famous, influential, or otherwise important people, making Harry cringe. All the while, he could also feel Zabini’s eyes boring into him.
“Go ahead,” he told Neville and Ginny after they were finally free to go, lagging behind slightly to wait for Zabini. If the Slytherin was surprised by Harry, he didn’t show it, simply arching a single eyebrow at him.
“What do you want from me?” Harry growled, cornering the other boy against the wall, one hand ready to draw his wand.
“Whatever makes you think I want something?” Zabini asked, sounding perfectly innocent and unbothered.
“You certainly did a minute ago when you were staring at me.”
Zabini smiled, baring his sharp, white teeth. “I heard you had a most exciting summer,” he said apropos nothing, “Positively domestic.”
“What do you want?” Harry asked again, not bothering to reply to the Slytherin’s cryptic words.
Zabini leaned in, reducing the space between them to mere inches, his breath brushing Harry’s cheek. “I want you to tread carefully, Potter,” he whispered, “I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
Before Harry could reply anything, the other boy had already leaned back as if nothing had happened, giving Harry a wink and blowing him a kiss before smoothly sidestepping him and sauntering down the corridor.
What just happened?
His mind still occupied by the weird encounter with Zabini, Harry made his own way back to the compartment to change into his robes.
Maybe it’s him, he thought, maybe Zabini is the one sent to kill Dumbledore.
It was possible, of course. Harry knew next to nothing about the boy, even though Zabini had always struck him as the quiet sort, one of the few Slytherins to not seek confrontation and actively terrorise people.
Maybe that’s why, he mused, no one would suspect him. It’s perfect.
But before Harry could think about that any further, the train slowed down and Harry could see Hogsmeade outside the window.
I’ll be keeping an eye on him, too.
The Feast was uneventful, even though the Sorting Hat did, once again, urge them all to unite in the face of the enemy, which made Ron let out an indignant snort and shake his head while Harry, unlike the previous year, actually listened. It had a point, he supposed, even it was just a hat, it had a point.
Something had definitely changed over the summer. Harry wasn’t sure if it had anything to do with Malfoy or if maybe he had just grown up.
Or, Harry thought as he looked over at the Slytherin table where Malfoy and his friends were sitting, heads stuck together and talking in hushed voices instead of demanding the attention of everyone around, maybe a bit of both.
Zabini was part of Malfoy’s group, he noted, sitting closely to the blond and peering towards Harry every once in a while.
“I don’t like the looks of that Zabini guy,” Ron muttered, obviously having noticed, “What’s he playing at?”
Harry shook his head, frowning. I don’t know. Surely, Malfoy wouldn’t hang out with him if he thought he was working for Voldemort…?
“Come on,” Hermione said to Ron after dinner and once Dumbledore had finished his speech, “We need to bring the first years up to the Tower.”
Harry watched as his friends gathered the new students around to lead them up the stairs, he should go up as well, probably, but the thing was he didn’t want to. Not yet, anyway. Shooting one last glance at the Slytherin table and seeing that Malfoy was no longer there, Harry decided to make a detour to Remus’ office.
“Harry?” Remus asked, clearly surprised to see him, “Everything okay?”
Not answering, Harry went over to the free chair by the desk and sat down. He wasn’t even sure why he was here, just that he didn’t want to go to his Common Room just yet and where else could he go except to the man that was, along with Sirius, the closest he’d ever gotten to a father. From the corner of his eye, Harry could see Remus make two teas, appreciating the quiet, the patience, the peace.
“Thanks,” Harry muttered when one of the teas was placed in front of him and Remus sat down, “I told Ron and Hermione about Malfoy. They weren’t happy.” He chanced a glance up at the other man, but Remus didn’t look like he was going to say anything anytime soon, simply cradling his own steaming cup between his hands. “They don’t trust him.”
“And you?” Remus asked, “Do you trust him?”
“I –” I don’t know, he wanted to say, I want to. “He apologised. The night of the full-moon, before my birthday. We were talking about his mum and then he apologised.”
Harry had no idea why he was saying this, why he was telling Remus, except he needed him to know.
God, what is wrong with me?
“What did you say?” Remus’ voice was perfectly neutral, calm and even, soothing Harry’s rapid heartbeat and allowing him to take a deep breath.
“I said I’ll forgive him.”
“You’re a lot like your mum, you know,” Remus said, a wistful smile on his lips, “She had the biggest heart.” He took a sip from his tea, considering Harry with a gentle look in his eyes. “You can’t force people to forgive each other,” he continued, “They have to do that themselves. If they want to.”
Harry nodded. “I know. It just –” It’s not fair. “—It’s complicated now. Before we were ‘us’ and they were ‘them’ and we hated each other and that was easy.”
“It’s never quite that easy, Harry. Not really.” Remus let out a shaky breath, running his hand through his hair. “Did Sirius ever tell you about his brother?”
Harry frowned. There was something he remembered, something Sirius had mentioned once. “Regulus?” Remus nodded. “He died, didn’t he? Years ago?”
“He did. Regulus was a Death Eater. He joined Voldemort after he’d left school, maybe even before. He was very close to Bart Crouch and Severus, as far as I remember. And he died. 18 years old.”
“Do you know what happened to him?”
“Not in detail, no.” Remus shook his head. “But we did find out that he tried to leave, of course, no one leaves the Death Eaters. We assume that Voldemort had him killed.” The Werewolf sighed. “I wonder sometimes, what would have happened had Sirius and Regulus been closer. They loved each other, in a – in a twisted sort of way. They saw each other, once, when we were already with the Order and Regulus was with a group of known Death Eaters…I still remember the looks in their eyes. As if nothing else existed, just them, on opposite sides of a battlefield, and they couldn’t hurt each other. Not really.”
“I thought Sirius hated his whole family.”
“He wants to,” Remus told him, “He does…sometimes…But it’s…complicated. Especially with Regulus.”
“It’s never quite that easy,” Harry echoed Remus’ earlier words, thinking he understood what the older man was trying to say, remembering Malfoy’s words – There’s more than just Death Eaters and not-Death Eaters, you of all people should know this, by know – “Thanks, Remus.”
“I should probably go to bed.” Ron and Hermione were probably already worried about him. Emptying his tea, Harry gave Remus one last smile and turned to leave.
“Harry,” Remus held him back, a small piece of paper between his fingers, “I found this in one of your pockets when I was doing laundry.”
Frowning slightly, Harry took the piece of paper. It was the receipt with Dustin’s number on it.
“I never called him,” the teenager muttered, “Bit late now anyway.”
“Did you want to call him?” Again, the man’s voice was nonchalant, casual, his face giving nothing away, but there was a glint in his eyes that made Harry blush.
I’m not –
It’s okay if you are.
Seemingly satisfied, Remus smiled. “Good night, Harry.”
When he entered the Gryffindor Common Room, the first thing he saw was Ron and Hermione sitting by the fireplace.
“Where have you been?” Hermione asked, sounding borderline hysterical.
“I was with Remus.”
“Is he okay?” Ron stepped next to Hermione, looking concerned and Harry nodded.
“He’s fine. I just…needed to talk to him.”
His two friends exchanged a look that Harry couldn’t read before turning their attention back to Harry.
“Listen, mate,” Ron began, “About Malfoy –”
“Can we not do this right now?” Harry said before Ron had any chance to finish, “I’m tired. It’s been a long day.”
Ron frowned but stepped aside. “Sure. Good night, Harry.”
“Night, Ron. ‘mione.”
Acutely aware that both Ron and Hermione were watching him, Harry walked up the stairs to the Dorm, not surprised to see Neville, Seamus and Dean already fast asleep. He quickly changed into his pyjamas and, before he could stop himself, pulled out the Map.
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” he whispered after drawing the curtains around his bed closed.
Draco Malfoy, it seemed, was also in bed, sleeping.
The rumour mill was buzzing with theories about Snape’s sudden disappearance but most people didn’t seem too concerned and instead welcomed Slughorn as the new Potions Master and Head of Slytherin. Harry, while glad that he didn’t have to deal with Snape anymore, still wasn’t sure if he liked Slughorn or not.
Nevertheless, the first week went by without incident, the only exception being that Harry suddenly became top of his Potion class, much to Hermione’s annoyance, Malfoy seemed to be doing his best to avoid Harry, much to Harry’s annoyance, and a note from Dumbledore that asked him to come to his office on Saturday night, much to Remus’ and Sirius’ annoyance.
“What d’you reckon he wants?” Ron asked after dinner while they were sitting in the Common Room.
Harry shrugged. “No idea.” He was hoping, of course, to get some answers. From what Snape had said, Dumbledore was planning on being killed and have Harry die – not the best plan, if anyone had asked Harry.
“Maybe he’ll teach you some really advanced magic,” his best friend said, sounding excited and slightly awestruck.
“Hmm,” Harry hummed, “Maybe.” He wasn’t at all convinced that that was the reason. Dumbledore didn’t seem the type to teach someone advanced spells, and more like the sort to deal with information and secrets – not for the first time, Harry wondered if Dumbledore hadn’t been secretly a Slytherin.
“Well, I better go to his office,” Harry said, standing up from the armchair.
“We’ll wait up for you,” Hermione said, “We want to hear all about it afterwards.”
Harry made his way through the Castle and towards the gargoyles guarding Dumbledore’s office.
The gargoyles slid aside, revealing the winding staircase and Harry took a deep breath before knocking on the door.
“Sir,” Harry greeted the Headmaster politely, noting that his hand still looked as dead as it had at the Feast.
“Good evening, Harry,” Dumbledore greeted him, “I hope you had an enjoyable first week.”
“I did, sir.”
“Please, take a seat.” Dumbledore waited until Harry had sat down opposite from him. “I’m sure you’re curious as to why I asked you to come.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry answered, meeting and holding Dumbledore’s gaze while keeping his mind blank and all the doors closed.
The Headmaster smiled, but Harry noticed that his eyes remained serious. “I have decided it is time to finally share the information I have gathered throughout the past fifteen years with you. I must admit, I have not been fully honest with you.” Harry clenched his jaw slightly but remained silent. Waiting. He remained silent as Dumbledore revealed the entire Prophecy to him, as he explained that it could have been either him or Neville, that Voldemort had chosen him, the Half-blood – all things Harry had already known even though he was not going to say it – “Now,” Dumbledore, continued, “I want you to accompany me into the past to help me determine the future.” His blackened hand gestured towards the Pensieve in the corner. “About seventy years ago a Ministry employee by the name of Bob Ogden went to a village called Little Hangleton to investigate on magic performed in front of a Muggle, we are going to watch his memory of what happened.”
Harry had half a mind to protest, not entirely sure how comfortable he was with watching some bloke’s memory, but decided against it.
This could be useful, he thought, and entered the Pensieve.
“Hang on!” Ron said. It was already late into the night but the three Gryffindors were still sitting by the dying embers in the Common Room. “You-Know-Who’s mother?!” He looked deeply disturbed, as if the thought of someone like Voldemort having something as normal as a mother was beyond his comprehension.
“And…how exactly will this help you defeat him?”
Harry had been wondering about that as well, but no matter how long or hard he thought about it, he couldn’t think of an answer.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Hermione asked and was met by two blank stares, “The more you know about your enemy, the more you will learn about his weaknesses.”
I’m his weakness, Harry thought bitterly. When he had told his two friends about Snape, he had strategically left out the part where Dumbledore apparently expected him to die at the end of all this.
“Still,” Ron grumbled while suppressing a yawn, “His mother?!”
“We should go to bed,” said Harry. He wasn’t sure why but he was anxious to get another look at the Map and see what Malfoy was up to.
“You’re right, it’s late,” Hermione agreed, standing up from the armchair she had been sitting on, “And I want to go to the library first thing in the morning.” She sauntered off towards her Dorm while Harry and Ron exchanged exasperated looks.
Both boys made their way to their own beds and after a muttered “good night” Harry drew the curtains closed.
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
Harry frowned. He had expected Malfoy to be in bed, it was late after all, but instead he was in the Slytherin Common Room together with Parkinson and Zabini.
I wonder what he’s up to…
There was no way, of course, to find out. Even though he’d been to the Slytherin Common Room back in second year, he couldn’t hope to do that again, no matter how much he wanted to know what the three were talking about.
Putting the Map under his pillow, Harry laid back and closed his eyes, still thinking of Malfoy.
He was walking along a cool, dark corridor, determined to reach his destination. A black door, previously closed, swung opened as soon as he reached it, leading him to a circular room with more doors. He opened the first. He had to hurry.
A cathedral-sized room full of shelves filled with glass spheres, his heart pounding in his chest as he walked past the rows.
There, a shape on the floor at the very end, whithering like a wounded animal.
A voice coming from his own mouth, “Take it for me.” A white, long-fingered hand holding a wand. “Crucio!”
The shape on the floor, a man, screamed, and he, Harry, laughed, lifting the curse.
“Lord Voldemort is waiting.”
The man on the floor pushed himself up on trembling arms and lifted his face –
Harry awoke with a strangled cry, his godfather’s name still on his lips, cold sweat running down forehead.
Wait – Sirius was home. Sirius was safe.
Still panting, Harry cast a quick Tempus.
He wouldn’t be getting anymore sleep tonight. With a sigh, Harry drew back the curtains of his bed, relieved that no one else was woken up by his nightmare, the only sound filling the room were the soft, rhythmical snores of Ron and Neville. Carefully, Harry got dressed.
This happened sometimes. The nightmares. It wasn’t Voldemort anymore, not since he had come back and Sirius and Remus had spent the entire summer after fourth year teaching him Occlumency. It was the memories. The Dementors. The graveyard. The vision of Sirius in the Hall of Prophecies.
Shivering slightly, Harry pulled his sweater tighter around his body as he passed the fireplace, the embers long since gone cold, and outside, down the stairs.
He wasn’t sure, exactly, where his feet were taking him as he walked through the empty, quiet halls of Hogwarts, all the portraits fast asleep, but he wasn’t surprised when he found himself at the foot of the stairs leading up to the owlery
Hedwig looked at him with big, dark eyes when he entered, letting out a soft hoot.
“What are you doing here?”
Harry swept around. There, on one of the window sills, sat Draco Malfoy, his hair falling loosely into his face and his own owl perching on his shoulder.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Harry answered truthfully, stepping further into the room and towards the sill next to Malfoy’s, “You?” The Slytherin stayed quiet, silvery-pale eyes fixed on emerald green, his lips pressed together, and one eyebrow arched upwards. “I keep having the same nightmare,” Harry found himself explaining, desperate to fill the silence, “I keep dreaming that Voldemort has Sirius, that he’s torturing him down in the Department of Mysteries, that he’s going to kill him.”
Malfoy’s face was blank again, giving nothing away when he asked in a low voice, “What happened? In the Ministry?”
Harry sighed. People kept asking him, of course they did, some even went as far as saying that he’d been there. He hadn’t. “I had the same dream,” he told Malfoy now, “Fell asleep during the History of Magic exam. I thought it was real. I was ready to fly to London right then but Hermione stopped me, said I should check first if Sirius is really in danger and if he is, she’d help me get there, so I did. Sirius was home, sitting on the couch, watching bloody Coronation Street.” Harry let out a dry chuckle, remembering the panic followed by the overwhelming relief, and the emptiness afterwards. “Sirius contacted the Order. Voldemort obviously wanted me to go to the Department of Mysteries so they send Tonks in, disguised as me. The others were waiting outside. When the Death Eaters showed up they went in. They fought. Then Voldemort showed up. Dumbledore managed to get Fudge and a few Aurors there just in time before he fled. They arrested everyone who didn’t leave fast enough.” When he glanced at Malfoy he saw the blond nodding almost absent-mindedly. “Malfoy, I’m –”
“Don’t.” The Slytherin’s voice was sharp, as were his eyes when they met Harrys’. “I told you before – He made his choice. And you need to stop taking responsibility for things that are not yours to be responsible for.” He let out a shaky breath, raising a hand to pet his owl. “It’s not your job to save everyone.”
I’m sorry, Harry wanted to say, except Malfoy was right, wasn’t he? For once, just this time, this wasn’t his fault – or is it?
If he hadn’t fallen asleep –
If he hadn’t alerted the Order –
If he had just gone himself –
If. If. If.
“Do you miss them?” Harry asked. He wasn’t sure why, but it mattered.
“I do not make a habit out of concerning myself with such sentimental feelings,” Malfoy said, the words sounding hollow and meaningless as if he was quoting someone else, then, as if in afterthought, he added, “My mother. She has always been kind to me.”
Kind. What a strange word to choose when talking about one’s family, Harry found. The Dursleys had never been kind to him but they had also never been his family. Not really. And Sirius and Remus? They were many things – affectionate, caring, protective, loving – but kind? It wasn’t the first word that would have come to mind, even though they were. It just hadn’t occurred to Harry as something exceptionally strange.
“I’m sure she’s alright.”
A shadow of his trademark smirk played around Malfoys’ lips. “Your optimism is touching,” he said, “Even if it attests your naivety.”
Harry, too, smiled, faintly and weakly but he could feel it. “Will you ever stop insulting me?”
“Will you ever give me a reason to?”
Harry’s smile grew, as did the warmth that was spreading in his chest, a fragile and soft thing, that was getting bigger and stronger. He didn’t reply anything, there was no need, instead he leaned back against the cool stone and looked out of the window, watching as the sun slowly rose over the treetops of the Forbidden Forest. It was a companionable silence, comfortable, and over much sooner than Harry would have liked.
“I’m going to get breakfast,” Malfoy announced, gently, like he didn’t want to startle Harry. The Gryffindor expected him to simply leave, but he didn’t, instead Malfoy slid down from the windowsill and waited.
It was a strange feeling, walking through the Castle side by side with Malfoy. They didn’t see anyone on their way to the Great Hall and maybe it was better that way, because when they pushed open the doors, Harry could see Zabini already sitting at the Slytherin table, his eyes immediately narrowing in suspicion when he spotted Harry and Malfoy together.
“See you later, Potter,” Malfoy said, walking off to join his friend.
“Yeah,” Harry muttered to himself, “See you later.”
Being Captain of the Quidditch team, keeping up with all his schoolwork and trying his best to avoid Slughorn’s shindigs was enough to keep Harry busy to the point of outright stressed. All the teachers seemed to be demanding non-verbal spellcasting these days and Harry was glad that he had more or less mastered that particular skill already thanks to his two guardians, but that didn’t make the workload any less or the essays any easier, and Harry was more than relieved when the first Hogsmeade weekend finally rolled around.
“I’ll meet you and Sirius in the Three Broomsticks; he has news,” Remus had said after the last Defence lesson, looking a bit paler than usual with the full-moon just around the corner.
“Harry.” His godfather pulled him into a crushing hug as soon as he spotted him outside the pub.
“You okay, cub?”
“Yeah.” Harry stepped back to look at Sirius. There was a deep crease on his forehead, the one he always got when he was worried about something. “Remus said you have news.”
“I do.” Sirius nodded. “Let’s get inside. He should be here soon.”
The Three Broomsticks was always packed on Hogsmeade weekends, all the students coming here for some Butterbeer and a chat, but somehow, they still managed to find a table in a quiet corner while waiting for Remus.
“How are things?” Sirius asked, “Remus told me you’ve developed a sudden knack for Potions?”
For the split of a second, Harry froze, not daring to look at Sirius, then – “Yeah,” he said quickly, “Guess it’s just easier…without Snape breathing down my neck.”
Sirius let out a barking laugh, “Ha! Yeah, it would be.”
He wasn’t sure why he was so reluctant to tell Sirius about the Half-Blood Prince but he could practically see Hermione’s stern look whenever he mentioned the book, her anger and disgust at his cheating as she called it, and he remembered Ginny’s face when she heard about it.
It’s just a book, Harry thought stubbornly. Besides, that Levicorpus spell had been fun, hadn’t it?
“What kind of news do you have?” Harry asked, trying to divert Sirius’ attention away from Harry’s Potion’s skills.
“Let’s wait for Remus,” his godfather answered, suddenly seeming grim, “I don’t really want to tell it twice.”
Bad news, then. Harry had hoped that, maybe, Sirius had found something helpful, something useful, something that would shed some light on the various questions he had.
They didn’t have to wait for long until Remus came through the door and right for their table, greeting his partner with a peck on the lips and Harry with a tired but bright smile.
“You found something,” the Professor prompted Sirius as soon as he’d sat down, casting various privacy spells against prying eyes and ears.
“I did,” Sirius answered, “I – We –” Harry noticed how Sirius’ hands were trembling, and his breath began to quicken.
“What’s wrong, Padfoot?”
“Merlin, Moony.” The brunet’s attention was now solely on Remus. “We were so wrong.”
Both Harry and Remus frowned.
What does that mean? Harry wanted to ask but before he got the chance, Sirius had already continued.
“I went through the old Black library, nothing, then I went through the rooms. Y’know how we always said we’d clean them out? Well, good thing we didn’t, I’d have probably just burned them before.”
“Books.” Some part of Harry, the one that wore Hermione’s face and always did his best to be his voice of reason, was appalled at the idea of burning books. “I went into Reg’s old room and I found them. Three very old books on very dark magic, darker than even my parents would have been comfortable with, and…I think he found something. Before he died, he found something. There were notes. He was researching something, and he figured it out.”
“Figured what out?”
“How Voldemort survived.”
Sirius’ words were followed by stunned silence. Around them, the witches and wizards in the Three Broomsticks kept drinking and talking and laughing, completely oblivious to what was happening right in front of their eyes.
“What – what did he do, Sirius?” Remus asked.
Sirius took a deep breath. “Horcruxes.”
Darkness fell over Sirius face as he answered, “Foul magic.”
“You split off a part of your soul,” Remus began to explain, “And store it somewhere else, so when you die, that part of you lives on.”
Harry blinked. Split your soul? “How do you –”
“You don’t wanna know,” Sirius cut him off, his voice gruff, “Let’s just say committing murder is the nicest part of it.”
“Committing – you have to kill someone?”
“Taking someone’s life, it…it damages your soul. Fractures it, in a way. Under the right circumstances and with the right ritual you’d be able to split it off.”
Harry gulped, taking in what Remus had just told him, remembering Firenze’s words from first year.
A half-life. A cursed life.
How anyone could choose that, Harry didn’t understand, didn’t think he’d want to understand.
“What – what does it look like? A Horcrux?” he asked his godfather who was staring at something in the distance only he could see, at Remus who was pale, paler than he probably should be.
“Anything,” the professor answered.
“A diary?” Harry answered, feeling the echo of pages between his fingers, thick, blood-like ink staining his skin, a handsome face of a forever-sixteen-year-old boy. The question must have snapped Sirius out of his musings because now he was staring at Harry with an almost crazed look in his eyes.
“What do you know?”
“In second year, there was a diary that belonged to Tom Riddle when he was still in school. Lucius Malfoy had it, gave it Ginny. Riddle possessed her and used her to attack people with the Basilisk. I destroyed it.”
“A tooth of the Basilisk.”
“But then…” Sirius muttered, “Then it should be over. Then he can die.”
“Unless,” Remus said contemplatively, “He created more than one.”
“More than one? That’s insane!”
“Yes, because Voldemort is otherwise the pinnacle of sanity.”
Sirius made a face as if to say ‘point taken’ but otherwise stayed quiet.
“What exactly did Regulus find, Sirius?” Remus urged his partner, a comforting hand on Sirius’ arm, squeezing lightly.
Sirius shook his head. “That’s it,” he croaked out, “There were the books, all the parts about Horcruxes highlighted, there were notes where he was working it out, and – and –”
Harry frowned. Kreacher?
“Kreacher?” Remus asked, sounding as confused as Harry felt, “What about him?”
“That little bugger bloody loved Reg,” Sirius answered, “I’ll bet my left nutsack that he knows something.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Remus remarked drily, “I’m rather fond of it.”
“Sorry, Harry,” the Werewolf said, not sounding sorry at all. Somewhere in the back, a clock chimed three, catching Remus attention and he sighed. “I need to get back. I promised Minerva I’d take over her detentions so she could have something out of the day as well.”
“Alright,” said Sirius, “I’ll see what else I can find, and I’ll have a chat with Kreature.” He turned towards Harry, smiling tiredly. “What about you, Prongslet?”
“I’m meeting Ron and Hermione.”
“Have fun, then, kiddo.” Sirius pulled him into a crushing hug. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Yeah. Be careful.”
Harry did meet up with his friends, but they didn’t stay in Hogsmeade for much longer, instead making their way back to the Castle while Harry recounted what Sirius had told him.
“That is atrocious!” was Hermione’s only reaction which Harry could only support.
Apparently, so did Ron. “Yeah, well –” his words were muffled through the chocolate in his mouth, “—wha’ d’you eshpect?”
Hermione shot him a deathly glare but otherwise didn’t grace her friend with an answer, directing her focus back to Harry. “Did you tell them about the book?”
Harry let out a long-suffering groan.
“You didn’t, did you?”
“It’s just a book, Hermione.”
Next to him, Ron swallowed. “Give him a break,” he said, “That spell this morning was bloody brilliant.”
“It was reckless and potentially dangerous,” Hermione countered, “Anything could have happened.”
Harry closed his eyes, tuning out Hermione’s lecture on wand safety and the devastating consequences of using unknown spells. He really did wish she leave him be. Just this once.
They were in the Common Room, sitting by the fire, the icy wind howling outside, rattling at the windows. At least they were inside.
Behind them, the portrait of the Fat Lady burst open. “Have you heard?”
Harry, Ron and Hermione snapped around to look at a panting Neville who looked like he’d run up all seven flights of stairs.
“Heard what?” Harry asked at the same time as Hermione said, “What happened?”
“Filch.” Still breathing heavily, his face bright red, Neville walked over to them and dropped down onto a nearby chair. “He’s in the hospital wing.”
“What? Why?” Ron asked.
“Ginny just told me. Apparently, she heard it form Lavender who heard from Demelza who’d said the Patil twins told her that Michael said he’d seen him there. Madam Pomfrey was dead worried. He was scanning our mail and must have opened one of them and touched what’s inside.”
“What was inside?” Harry asked, ignoring Neville’s word-vomit and trying to concentrate on what was important here.
“No idea. Must have been cursed, though, right?”
Right. Cursed. Like the ring Dumbledore touched during the summer…Dumbledore…
“Serves him right for opening our mail,” Ron muttered, not seeming very worried about the caretaker.
“Ron!” Hermione cried out, scandalised, “You do realise that that package was meant for some, don’t you? Someone who is most likely not Filch.”
“Oh.” Some of the blood drained from Ron’s face, making his hair seem more vibrant than ever.
The news of the cursed object spread like a wildfire and by the time dinner was served, it was all anyone could talk about.
“What if it was Dumbledore,” Harry whispered urgently in between bites of roasted potatoes and pork chops, “Think about it. We know someone is trying to kill him. What if they decided to send a cursed object to do the job for them?”
“Then whoever it is, is not very bright,” Ron answered, “I mean, come on. Probably takes more than a cursed object to kill Dumbledore. Besides, he’s not even here.” Ron was right about that, of course. Dumbledore’s seat was empty. Again. “So it’s kinda dumb, innit?”
It kinda is, Harry thought, isn’t it?
Despite his good intentions, Harry found himself reluctant to tell Dumbledore about the Horcruxes the next time he was in the headmaster’s office for a trip down memory lane.
Despite his even better intentions, the plan to increase Ron’s confidence for the Quidditch match backfired horribly, deepening the abyss that had formed between Hermione and Ron even further to the point where Harry wished he could just ditch both of them and find better friends. Preferably, ones that were capable of saying more than five words to each without being at each other’s throats.
Despite his best intentions, Harry knew he’d come to regret that thought.
“Why don’t you join us? Potter.”
Harry froze. This was not a situation he’d ever wanted to be in but here they were.
It was a part of the dungeons he’d never seen before, never had any desire to see before. Or so he’d thought. Why exactly Harry had followed Malfoy and his friends to the old, abandoned Potions classroom in the deepest depths of Hogwarts after seeing them heading that way on the Map, Harry didn’t know. Or maybe did.
What was he supposed to do? They couldn’t see him, not when he still had the Cloak on but somehow they must have still known he was there.
“We know you’re there,” Malfoy drawled, confirming his suspicion, “That Cloak is handy but does nothing to quiet your breathing. Or your footsteps.”
Scraping together all the Gryffindor courage left in him, Harry pulled off the Cloak, almost expecting to be hit with an array of hexes and curses but…nothing came. Instead Malfoy, Zabini, Parkinson, and Bulstrode all looked at him expectantly as if –
As if they actually want me to join…
But that was ridiculous, wasn’t it? Laughable.
“Unless, of course,” Malfoy went on, “You prefer standing in a corner.”
Harry chanced a look around, looking for traps maybe, but it was just an old classroom. The tables had been pushed against the walls, leaving space in the centre of the room which was filled with cosy looking cushions and blankets; flames in mason jars that gave off flickering, warm light; bowls filled with fruits and scones and sweets. And Slytherins. Not knowing what else to do, Harry slowly approached the four Snakes, looking out for any sudden movements, one hand clutching the wand in his pocket.
“Relax,” Parkinson said, a look in her eyes that could have almost passed as pity, had it come from anyone else, “We’re not going to attack you.”
“What are you doing?” Harry asked, unable to stop himself – one day, his curiosity was going to kill him.
Bulstrode gave him a flat look. “What’s it look like?”
Harry actually had no idea what it looked like, just that this wasn’t what he’d expected four Slytherins to get up to in their free time. If anyone had asked Harry, he’d have said that there was a suspicious lack of nefariousness paired with a surplus of domesticity. Nevertheless, Harry sat down on one of the pillows, begrudgingly noting that they were as comfortable as they looked.
“Now, I wonder,” Zabini said, a mischievous glint in his eyes, “What could make you possibly stray so far away from your lion’s den?”
“Snake hunting,” Harry deadpanned which wasn’t even a lie. He’d seen the group leave their Dorm and decided to follow without wasting any further time, although ‘decided’ implied that there had been a thought process involved. In actuality, Harry had simply followed his instincts and there had been no Hermione around to stop him. “You never answered my question,” the Gryffindor went on, “What are you doing here?”
“The usual,” Zabini said, picking up a grape and popping it into his mouth, “Planning to overthrow the ministry.”
“Practice the Dark Arts,” Bulstrode added.
“Your assassination,” Parkinson concluded, a look in her eyes that almost made Harry belief she was serious. Almost, but not quite.
“The real question is,” said Malfoy, leaning forward on his own pillow, “What are you doing here?” A year ago, Harry might have seriously feared for, if not his life, at least his dignity and a few limbs, might have drawn his wand and started shooting hexes before the others had a chance to do the same and worse, might have snapped at Malfoy to mind his own bloody business but, and that was the thing, this wasn’t a year ago. This was now. And now was different. Malfoy wasn’t going to hurt him, that, Harry knew for sure.
“I needed to get away,” he answered truthfully. An olive branch.
“Trouble in paradise?” Parkinson asked and Bulstrode giggled.
“You forget, Pansy,” said Zabini without looking at the girl, “The Weasel and the Mudblood have a lot unresolved sexual tension between them. I imagine that’s enough to drive any man mad.”
Harry leveled the Slytherin with a chilly glare. “Don’t call her that.” It was useless, of course, these people were probably never going to change their ways but that didn’t mean that Harry would simply sit here and –
Harry’s internal rant came to a screeching hold, his mouth falling open, as he stared at Malfoy in utter disbelief.
Zabini, too, was looking at the blond, though it seemed more annoyed than shocked. “Just because you –”
Something passed between the two Slytherin’s, something that was beyond Harry’s comprehension and that he wasn’t sure he really wanted to understand but it must have been big and it must have been effective because when Zabini turned back to Harry he said, “I apologise for calling your friend a derogative, racist slur. That was wrong of me. I’m sorry.”
It’s alright – the words were already on the tip of Harry’s tongue, but he swallowed them back down because it wasn’t alright, was it?
“You should apologise to her, not me.”
It took maybe half a minute in which Harry and Zabini stared at each other and no one quite seemed to know what to say, before Zabini nodded. It wasn’t more than a subtle inclination of his head but it was enough Harry. At least for now.
“Anyway,” Parkinson spoke up, finally breaking the tension, “Milli, what were you saying about your cousin?”
It was…strange, to say the least. Normal. They talked about Bulstrode’s cousin in Japan who had apparently gotten in trouble with a Kitsune, complained about Binns’ lessons, wondered about the outcome of the quidditch league, and made fun of Blaise for his promiscuity. It was almost like sitting in the Gryffindor Common Room with his housemates if his housemates had a darker sense of humour and looser set of morals. Harry didn’t say much, content with simply listening and observing. Zabini, he was fast to realise, dealt in secrets and favours, hinting at things he knew, no doubt hoping someone would ask him about it. Bulstrode was a straight-forward, no-bullshit, ‘I’ll smack you in the face if you do that again’ kind of person that reminded Harry less of Dudley now that he thought about it and more of Ginny. Parkinson had a sharp mind and an even sharper tongue, calling anyone out on their lies if she caught them, with a love for Shock-o-Choc. And Malfoy…Malfoy was more relaxed than Harry had ever seen him, lounging on his pillow like a king on his throne, throwing in dry, sarcastic remarks and nibbling on a scone, the smirk on his lips somehow softer than it had seemed before. It was captivating, in a way, how the flickering of the fire illuminated his face, throwing shadows on his sharp angles and making his eyes look more intense than ever. Harry couldn’t help but notice that he was very pretty and then immediately wished he hadn’t.
The M-word didn’t fall again, almost as if they were all making a collective, conscious effort.
Maybe making some new friends isn’t so bad after all…
As the days outside grew shorter and colder and darker, the air inside the Castle started buzzing with the familiar excitement that was always present when Christmas approached, except Harry would have gladly traded all that against some peace of mind. It seemed the entire female population of Hogwarts was out to get him, offering him chocolates and cakes and various kinds of hot drinks. He’d nearly accepted a Treacle Tart if Hermione hadn’t been there and all but slapped it out of his hand, warning him that she had overheard a group of girls about slipping him a love potion. “You ought to be careful,” she’d said, “And you should definitely ask someone to Slughorn’s Christmas party.”
“Can’t I go with you?” He’s asked and Hermione had blushed a deep crimson and averted her gaze.
“I already asked someone.”
Harry didn’t know who Hermione’s date was and for some reason he was afraid to find out. She was spending more and more time in the library while Ron was preoccupied with Lavender, leaving Harry to his own devices and find himself in Slytherin company more often than not. At first, he had still taken the Cloak with him when going to the old Potions classroom but by now the group of Slytherins seemed to be welcoming him with open arms and all pretense had been forgone in favour of a mutual truce that almost felt like the beginning of a friendship.
“Tell me, Potter,” Zabini said a mere week before the end of term, “Who are you taking to the Christmas party?”
Harry frowned. Malfoy wasn’t even there – library, they’d said – but still they were sitting around the flames and food, chatting idly about everything and nothing. “No one, yet,” he answered, “Why? You interested?” It was meant as a joke, a weak jab at the other boy and maybe a harmless attempt to wind him up a bit, but the slow rise of Zabini’s right eyebrow and the curl of his lips as he gave Harry a once-over made the Gryffindor do a full-on double-take.
“You have no idea,” Zabini purred, “Alas, I already have other plans.”
Swallowing around the dryness in his mouth, Harry forced himself to speak with as much calmness as possible. “I don’t want to know.”
The smirk on Zabini’s face grew bigger, reminding Harry of Malfoy. “Anyone you would like to ask?
Harry tried to think of Ginny with her fiery hair and soft curves, tried to think of Cho and their disastrous kiss and date last year, even tried to think of Katie Bell or her friend Leanne, but all he could see was pale skin in the flickering light of the fire and a smile that was just this side of too sharp.
“Not really,” Harry answered quickly.
“Liar.” Parkinson was looking at him, a predator ready to jump its prey.
“Maybe I just don’t want to tell you,” he snapped, feeling awfully wrong-footed and off balance.
“Truth,” she said, nodding approvingly before going back to painting her nails.
Zabini was still looking at him, still smirking that damn smirk, but he didn’t ask again, allowed Harry his space and privacy which the Gryffindor was beyond grateful for. He’d noticed before that these people seemed to put a lot more value towards these kind of things. Unlike Ron and Hermione who usually nagged at him until he finally gave in and told them, they simply…didn’t. Still, Harry was under no illusion that they’d forget about this, they merely had more subtle and, undoubtfully, more effective ways of getting the information they wanted.
Bloody Slytherins, Harry thought darkly, manipulative, conniving gits, the lot of them. But he couldn’t deny the hint of fondness he felt when Bulstrode offered him a strawberry and Zabini started talking about his newest step-father. Not that Harry was listening.
Luna, he thought frantically, I’ll just ask her.
There was no risk, at least, that the strange Ravenclaw girl would see him as anything more than a friend, that he was sure of, and he liked her well enough. And Hermione was right, he really should ask someone and soon.
This was it. It seemed, their friendship had finally found something it couldn’t survive.
To everyone’s shock, Hermione had shown up to Slughorn’s Christmas party with Draco Malfoy of all people. She’d explained to Harry later that he had approached her in the library one day to apologize for his behaviour and they had become study-buddies of a sort, building a tentative relationship based on mutual interests in Arithmancy and Ancient Runes – “Maybe you’re right,” Hermione had said, “Maybe he has changed.” – a development that both pleased Harry and made him feel incredibly uncomfortable for some reason.
And then Ron had found out.
If it hadn’t been the last night of term, Harry was sure they would have gotten a week’s worth of detention for the yelling and shouting and the broken portrait in the Common Room, not to mention the language.
Now, Harry and Hermione were sharing a compartment with Malfoy and Bulstrode on their way back to London while Ron was Merlin knows where. He hadn’t as much as looked at either Harry or Hermione since the previous night, storming out of the dorm the second Harry had woken up and sitting on the other end of the Gryffindor table during breakfast, picking at his bacon and snapping at Lavender until she had left with a huff.
Bulstrode was engrossed in a book, not paying any attention to what was happening around her, and Hermione and Malfoy were animatedly talking about something that Harry was pretty sure was somehow related to Alchemy but that also went way over his head. He should be happy, really, that his two friends – and by now there was no other way of describing Malfoy – were getting along so well, and yet…the uneasy feeling in his stomach only grew as he watched them, and he desperately wished that the train could go faster. With nothing better do, and maybe slightly determined to tune out the conversation between Hermione and Malfoy, Harry started leafing through Quidditch Through the Ages. Outside, the rough and wild of the Scottish Highlands faded away, grew gentler and softer and tamed.
When the train finally came to a halt at King’s Cross and all the students hurried to get off, Harry was one was the firsts to step onto the Platform, already on the lookout for Sirius.
His godfather was leaning against the wall, wearing his beloved leather jacket and grinning wickedly. Next to him stood Remus, who was talking to Mrs. Weasley.
Harry let out a breath of relief and crossed the distance between them, hugging Sirius as tightly as possible. “Sirius,” he said, reluctant to let go but knowing he had to, otherwise there would be questions, no doubt. “Hello, Mrs. Weasley.”
“Harry, my dear boy!” Mrs. Weasley smiled at him, “How have you been?”
“I – good,” Harry answered, hoping his voice didn’t sound as shaky as he felt, “How are you?”
Her smile wavered, just for a second. “I’m alright.”
It was a stupid question, of course. Pretty much a year ago to the day, her husband had died, because of Harry.
Stop taking responsibility for things that are clearly not yours to be responsible for.
It is awfully egoistical of you to presume you could right every wrong in this world, is it not?
He made his choice, Harry. We need to accept that
Suddenly, there was a hand on his shoulder, warm and strong, squeezing gently. “Are you okay?” Sirius’ voice asked low next to his ear. Numbly, Harry nodded, knowing full well that Sirius probably didn’t believe him, but he’d deal with that later. He watched as Luna and Neville got off the train, smiling at each other, as Bulstrode walked over to a tall, lanky man who Harry assumed was her father, as Ginny and Dean stepped onto the Platform followed by Seamus who had a surly expression on his face, as Ron walked up to his mum without even acknowledging Harry’s presence, as Malfoy and Hermione joined them.
“I expect I’ll be seeing you, Granger,” Malfoy said to the Gryffindor girl.
“Yes,” Hermione agreed before turning to Harry with a bright smile, “Enjoy your holidays, Harry.”
“Yeah.” His voice sounded odd even to his own ears. “You too.”
Hermione was still smiling but there was a look in her eyes, the same look Malfoy was giving him but unlike Hermione he did nothing to hide it.
“Well,” Remus broke the moment, stepping forward, “We’d better get going. It’s been lovely seeing you again, Molly.”
“Come by Christmas Eve,” Mrs. Weasley said, “We’re having a big dinner.”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
They left the station, walking to the car, the weird tension that Harry had felt earlier following in their steps.
“You do realise that Granger only asked me to vex the Weasel, don’t you?” Malfoy muttered halfway to Soho.
“Granger,” the blond repeated, slower this time but just as quiet, his gaze turned outside, “She asked me to be her date because it would bother Weasley the most – successfully, no doubt, though I imagine not in the way she intended it to be.”
Harry blinked. He had heard the words but had no idea what they meant, almost as if he had missed something along the way without even noticing it. “What?”
Malfoy turned his head, the funny look from earlier back in place. Something unreadable, something that went deep and made Harry’s heart skip a beat. “Nevermind.”
They didn’t speak for the rest of the drive.
For two whole days Harry managed to avoid the inevitable by feigning tiredness. Of course, pretending to sleep meant staying in his room and by the end of the second day Harry was about ready to crawl up the walls.
“Feeling better?” Remus asked when Harry finally ventured into the living room where the other three occupants of the apartment were sitting together on the couch watching Doctor Who.
Harry walked over to the sink. “I’m fine,” he grumbled, filling a glass with water.
“I’m fine!” There was a shattering sound followed by a sharp, stinging pain and wetness. Harry looked down, watching as water and blood dripped down his hand, staining his trousers, his socks, the floor.
There was movement from the couch, warm hands closing around his own.
“Sorry,” Harry muttered without looking up.
The hands lead him towards one of the kitchen chairs and gently but firmly pushing him down to sit. Sirius’ face appeared in his line of vision, a deep crease of worry between his eyes as he looked at Harry’s injured hand.
“You have nothing to apologise for, Harry,” his godfather whispered, “Let’s take care of these, okay?” Harry nodded but he wasn’t sure of Sirius saw since he had already pulled out his wand and started muttering spells under his breath, watching as the shards of glass were pushed out and the cuts closed up. “There,” he said, raising Harry’s hand to his lips and pressing a gentle kiss against the skin, “All better.”
“Thank you.” Harry’s voice was barely audible as the shame set in. He hadn’t lost control like that in a long time.
The chair next to Harry’s scraped over the floor as it was pulled back and Remus sat down. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Ron’s not speaking to me anymore.”
“I believe that is my fault.” Harry raised his head to look at Malfoy who was still sitting on the couch. He’d forgotten that the blond was even there but found that he didn’t mind. “Granger asked me to accompany her to Professor Slughorn’s Christmas party and the – and Weasley didn’t like that.” It sounded so small, put like that, inconsequential, and Harry couldn’t have said why it hurt so much except that that’s not all, he simply didn’t have the words to explain the rest of it.
“Do you want us to tell Molly we won’t be coming tomorrow?” Remus asked gently.
Tomorrow? Harry frowned, trying to remember what tomorrow – oh.
“No, it’s fine,” he answered, “She’d never forgive us if we cancelled.”
Down on the floor, in front of Harry, Sirius let out a humming sound before getting back up on his feet. “What do you say, cub? Chinese? I’m starving.” Without actually waiting for a response, the man walked over to the phone to make the call, giving Harry the time and space to take a deep breath and close the doors once more. One by one.
“I’m fine,” he told Remus, just like before, only this time it was true. Or it would be. Eventually.
Christmas at the Burrow was always an experience and this time was no different. Molly had outdone herself and cooked more food than the House-elves for the first feast of term, the table buckling underneath the bowls and plates with various types of potatoes, vegetables, meats, and gravies. It also seemed like, apart from the entire Weasley clan, half the Order had come – Alastor Moody was talking to Kingsley Shacklebolt while inspecting the brussel sprouts with his magical eye; Hestia Jones was sipping her wine and watching in amusement as Tonks seemed to be re-enacting something or other, switching back and forth between herself and a bulky looking guy with a massive beard and a bald head; Hagrid was sitting just a few seats down from Harry, talking merrily to Charlie about dragons; Professor McGonagall was enjoying her mince pies; and Mundungus Fletcher was slumped over in his chair, half-asleep, and reeking of Firewhisky. Harry glanced over to where Ron was sitting next to his mum and Fleur Delacour, clearly miserable with the seating arrangement which, to be fair, he had chosen himself the second Harry had walked into the room, while Harry and Malfoy were sitting at the other end of the table with Remus and Sirius. As if feeling Harry’s gaze, Ron turned his head, glaring, and Harry let out a heavy sigh, setting down his fork. As good as the food was, his stomach was in knots, making it incredibly difficult to enjoy it.
Harry was glad when, one by one, people stopped eating around him in favour of mingling and catching up – Harry found himself with Fred and George, half listening to their stories about the newly opened joke shop in Diagon Alley. Ron was nowhere to be seen but he could feel someone staring at him and when he turned around, he saw Ginny’s deathly scowl which was, in a way, even worse than Ron’s.
“So,” George interrupted himself, following Harry’s gaze, “Malfoy, huh?”
The twins and Harry looked over at the Slytherin who was deeply involved in a conversation with Fleur in French while Bill and Charlie stood by, looking confused.
“He needed help,” Harry said.
“Oh, we know,” said Fred, “Mum explained it all after the summer, she actually cried.”
“The poor boy,” George mimicked Mrs. Weasley, “Dragged into all this against his will. So noble of Remus and Sirius to take him in.”
“He’s different now,” Harry tried to explain and was met with two incredulous looks and four raised eyebrows, “He is.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” the twins answered in unison.
“What I’m interested in,” Fred went on, “Is what did the ferret do that got Ron’s wand such a twist.”
“Yeah,” George agreed, “He’s been sulking ever since he came back.”
“Malfoy didn’t do anything. Hermione just asked him to go to a Christmas party with her and –”
Harry whipped around to see Ron pinning Malfoy against a wall, wand drawn and pressed against the Slytherin’s throat.
“You nasty piece of shit,” Harry could hear him say, “First Hermione, now Fleur. Who’s next? You gonna shag my sister?”
“Ronald Weasley!” Mrs. Weasley screamed from across the room but Ron ignored her.
“I swear, if you don’t leave my family alone, I will –”
“Ron, stop!” Harry hadn’t even noticed standing but he must have because now he was standing in the middle of the room, his own wand out, “What is wrong with you?”
“With me?” Ron yelled back, letting go of Malfoy to face Harry, “What is wrong with you? Can’t you see what he’s doing? How can you defend him? After everything he’s done! Merlin, you’d think you’re in love with him or something.”
Harry’s mouth opened and closed again, opened and closed, probably making a good impression of a fish, but no words came out. He was painfully aware that everyone was silent and staring at him, at Ron, at Malfoy, at the whole bloody mess that was unfolding in front of their eyes.
“Ron. Bedroom. Now,” Mrs. Weasley gasped out, her voice trembling with rage and this time, Ron listened. With one last reproachful look at Harry and Malfoy, he turned on his heel and stormed up the stairs, leaving the room in an uncomfortable silence.
“Draco, did ‘e ‘urt you?” Fleur asked Malfoy who shook his head, his eyes fixed on Harry and Harry couldn’t take it. Slowly, he turned around and walked towards the door, grabbing a still full bottle of Firewhisky from the table before stepping into the chilling air outside.
Merlin, you’d think you’re in love with him or something.
The words echoed through Harry’s mind, his ears ringing at the memory and his heart racing at something he didn’t want to name.
I’m not –
It’s okay if you are.
Once more he saw Dra – Malfoy sitting in the old classroom, stormy eyes flickering in the light of the fire, platinum blond hair falling loosely into his face, a knowing smile on his lips.
Did you want to call him?
Malfoy in his best dress robes, holding onto Hermione’s arm as they stepped onto the dance floor. Malfoy laughing as Ginny emptied a goblin of pumpkin juice into Blaise’s lap. Malfoy looking at Harry, looking into Harry, seeing his very soul laid bare, while the Gryffindor felt sick to his stomach. Malfoy –
Draco knows. The thought was there, disconnected from everything else, and barely registering in the cacophony of Harry’s mind. He took another swig of the bottle in his hand. The world blurred slightly at the edges and the ground he was sitting on was swinging left, right, left. Left, right, left. It was a bit like the boat Hagrid had used when he had first taken Harry away from the Dursleys – a voyage into a new life. Left, right, left.
“Harry?” The voice sounded familiar – Bill, maybe? One of the twins? It was a Weasley at any rate. Heavy steps came closer before a body sat down next to him, a body with very impressive arms, a body that smelled of leather and smoke, a body that, Harry was almost certain, belonged to Charlie. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Speaking was hard, Harry found, and he took another gulp of whisky to make the funny feeling in his mouth go away. A hand, callused and covered in blisters reached over and took the bottle from him. Harry turned his head, or tried to anyway. Moving was hard too, he found.
“Ron was out of line back there.”
“Ron’s ‘n idiot.”
A chuckle, dark and full. “He’s a Weasley,” Charlie said as of that would explain everything. It didn’t. “We mean well but sometimes we’re a bit daft.”
“I don’wan’him to hate me.”
“Ron doesn’t hate you. He’s just sulking right now but he’ll get over it.”
“N – not Ron,” Harry slurred. He wished he could have the bottle back. “Draco.”
“Why would Draco hate you?”
“’s of ‘at Ron said.”
Charlie breathed out, like a sigh. “I don’t think he would.” And an arm snaked itself around Harry – That’s a good arm, he thought distantly – and hauled him upwards, making Harry stumble. “Easy,” Charlie said. A second hand grabbed Harry’s shoulder, steadying him. “Let’s get you back inside, okay? It’s bloody freezing out here.”
There was light shining out from the house, just enough to let them see as the world started spinning and Harry raised his head to look at Charlie – pretty…
The world was spinning and the ground tilting, making Harry stumble forward into something firm and strong, the good arm, no, no two of the good arms, closing around him.
“Easy,” Charlie said again, “Easy does it.”
The arms were warm as they held him and the ground tilted back to its naturally horizontal position, or was that him? Harry wasn’t sure anymore. It was cold, now that he wasn’t leaning against Charlie anymore, on the other hand he could look at his pretty face again, the broad chest, the muscular arms. His lips looked soft and Harry wondered what they would feel like against his own.
I wonder what Draco’s lips would feel like…
He leaned in.
Soft. So very soft. Harry could taste the Firewhisky on Charlie’s lips, Firewhisky and chocolate. Firewhisky and chocolate and –
“Whoa, okay, stop!” The arms were back, holding him steady and at distance and the world was spinning faster and faster and faster. “Harry, you are very, very drunk right now, and you will be very, very embarrassed once you’re sober, so let’s just – let’s just get you home, alright?” Charlie was leading him towards the light, one arm slung around him, almost carrying him. “Just a little further – mind your step – there’s a good lad.”
“Is he –”
“What’s going on?”
“He’s drunk. You better take him home.”
Voices. Too many voices, talking over each other, loud and confusing. A new pair of arms taking hold of him, leading him away, step by step by step, into the cold again, away from the light.
“Harry,” a voice said close to his ear, “Harry, look at me.” Grey eyes, like Draco’s but – but not Draco. Sirius. “Harry, we’re gonna Apparate, okay? So I need you to hold on very tightly, and then you’re probably gonna get sick but we can’t help that right now. Do you understand what I’m saying?” Harry’s head nodded. “Okay. Hold on tight.”
And then the world stopped spinning and went black.
Harry’s head was pounding. He was vaguely aware that he was lying in his bed and there was someone next to him, breathing steadily and deeply. In and out. In and out. In and out. One hand resting on Harry’s shoulder. The Gryffindor shifted, immediately wishing he hadn’t, nausea rising from his stomach up his throat, fogging his brain along with the pain. The hand on his shoulder suddenly tensed, grabbing him, maneuvering him sideways until his head was hanging off the bed above a bucket and the nausea took over.
His mouth tasted vile and his whole body was hurting, shaking, revolting against the contents in his stomach.
“Just let it out,” Remus’ voice said from behind him, “I’ll get you a potion.” The body, Remus’ body, shifted, moved, climbed off the bed and Harry could hear his door opening and voices outside talking.
“He awake?” That was Sirius.
“I imagine so.”
Another wave of sickness droned out Sirius’ response while Harry panted into the bucket.
“Harry.” Remus must have come back in, his voice gentle but still too loud. “Here.” A glass of water was pushed into his hand and Harry used it to wash out his mouth. “Now drink this, it’ll help.” Whatever it was tasted horrible, but the effect was immediate – as if all the alcohol was suddenly washed out of his system and the thumbscrews around his brain loosened, leaving Harry feeling only slightly fragile. “Better?”
“Good. Take a shower, we’ll be in the kitchen.”
The hot water helped, clearing the fog in his brain and washing off the remains of the previous night.
He remembered. It was hazy, the taste of Firewhisky clouding the memories, but he remembered and he wished he didn’t.
Charlie’s lips against his own.
He just hoped that Charlie hadn’t told everyone about what had happened.
With a heavy sigh and the resolve to never drink again, Harry shut off the water and stepped out of the shower, pointedly not looking into the mirror as he got dressed. One piece of clothing at a time. He was stalling, he knew, but the last thing he wanted was to go out there and see the anger and disappointment on Sirius’ and Remus’ faces.
Well, he thought when there was no excuse to stay in the bathroom any longer, here goes nothing…
There was no anger. There was no disappointment. In fact, it looked like any other morning, with Remus standing at the stove, making breakfast, Sirius drinking coffee, and Dra – Malfoy reading a book while his tea was getting cold, and for a moment Harry wondered if they were just going to pretend last night never happened.
And then Sirius spoke up. “Morning, cub. Sit down, breakfast is almost ready and there are presents that want to be opened.” His voice sounded normal enough, cheerful and light, but there was an edge to it, a promise, and his eyes didn’t quite reach the brightness they usually would. “Then we’ll have a talk,” he added.
Taking another deep breath, Harry joined the table, resigning himself to his fate.
Breakfast was pleasant enough, the pancakes tasting as good as ever even if Harry’s stomach still felt a bit delicate and once they were done they migrated towards the tree standing in the corner next to the fireplace. Mrs. Weasley had knitted him another sweater, this one with a Golden Snitch on the front, and Harry was overcome by another wave of guilt as he put it on, his smile feeling slightly forced. Fred and George had sent a box of their Wizard Wheezes, and Hermione a book on Defence Spells. There was no present from Ron.
“This one’s from us,” Remus said, handing him a neatly wrapped package. Harry took it, his hands trembling slightly as he loosened the paper, revealing a Gryffindor-red box, inside a collection of letters and photos, two wands, a golden necklace with a flower pendant, and an old Snitch.
“It’s everything we could find of your parents,” Sirius explained, a wistful look in his eyes, “James gave that necklace to Lily for their first anniversary.”
Harry looked back down at the box, his eyes feeling suspiciously wet. “Thank you.”
There was one more present with his name on it. Something slim and bendy. Trying hard not to frown Harry opened the gift, finding a brown leather bracelet of a snake eating its own tale.
“It’s an Ouroboros,” Malfoy explained from where he was sitting on the couch. Harry looked up at the blond, noting the tense line of his shoulders and the light blush on his cheeks. “It represents eternity. The circle of Life. The spellwork is very complex and enhances the owner’s magic. It works similarly to a wand, channelling the magic, to increase precision with wandless spells. It also provides protection against weak and basic hexes.”
Harry blinked rapidly, staring at the bracelet. He had no idea what to say, no idea what he could say. A simple ‘thank you’ seemed inadequate, an ‘I forgive you’ too much, too soon, even if he recognized this as what it was – an apology, a peace offering, a token of friendship. Swallowing down the storm of emotions, Harry reached for the last present and wordlessly handed it to Dra – Mal – Draco, not daring to watch as the Slytherin unwrapped it. After much thinking, Harry had decided on a book on Alchemy, knowing about the blond’s fascination with the subject.
There was an awkward moment in which neither boy spoke, too wrapped up in their own gifts and heads, too aware of what they meant, of what they could mean. From the kitchen, Harry could hear the tell-tale sounds of tea being made and when he looked up, neither Remus nor Sirius were anywhere near them but standing by the kettle, obviously giving them some resemblance of privacy. Harry turned his head towards Draco who was already looking at him and, holding his gaze, put on the bracelet, giving the blond a grateful nod.
They spend the rest of the morning lazing on the couch, drinking tea and eating biscuits and by the time lunch rolled around, Harry had almost forgotten Sirius had said they’d talk. Of course, he was reminded again when Remus gave him a subtle look and nodded at the door. Harry was a bit relieved that it was Remus, not Sirius, he would be having this conversation with. Remus was calmer, more patient, and he always chose his words carefully, unlike Sirius who tended to be impulsive and rash. Still, he couldn’t quite suppress the nervous shake of his hands as he and the professor walked through the almost abandoned streets of London towards Soho Square Gardens.
“I’m not angry,” Remus said after a while, “I’m not disappointed. And neither is Sirius.” Then, what are you? Harry wanted to ask but refrained. Maybe it was better to wait and listen what Remus had to say. “But we’re worried, Harry.”
“I know you are.” Remus let out a sigh. He sounded tired and Harry realised with a jolt that tonight was a full-moon. “But I don’t need you to apologise, I just need you to understand, really understand, that you’re not alone.”
Harry thought he knew what Remus meant. There were people he could talk to, people that would listen and help if he wanted them to, people that cared.
They walked up to a bench covered in a sheen of frost and Remus waved his hand, when they sat down, the bench was dry and warm.
“I kissed Charlie,” Harry found himself saying, almost glad to have it out there in the open, to share it with someone who would hopefully understand.
“Did you like it?” Remus asked, his voice perfectly calm and collected.
“Yeah,” Harry answered hoarsely, thinking back to the previous night. It hadn’t been much and it hadn’t been long but it still made him feel something he hadn’t felt before. “I think I fancy blokes.”
Next to him, Remus nodded. “Thank you for telling me, Harry.”
“I think I fancy Draco.” The name felt foreign on his tongue, something sweet he’d never tasted before.
“Is that what made you get drunk? What Ron said?” Remus asked and Harry nodded.
“How did you – I mean – you and Sirius, how did you…” He couldn’t quite get out the right words, but it seemed Remus understood nevertheless.
“Sirius and I wasted a lot of time on ignoring what we both knew was there,” Remus answered, a hint of sadness and pain carried along with the words, “Sirius was never shy about who he was attracted to and he never made a secret out of the fact that I was one of those people but…he also had…a bit of a reputation, if you will. I was different. Because of my – condition – I was always worried of getting too close to other people, too aware of what could happen if…” If I lost control. Harry heard the words even if Remus hadn’t said them. He had spent a lot of time on researching Werewolves once he’d moved in with one and he knew, even if a Werewolf in human form couldn’t turn anyone, there was still a risk of causing permanent damage. “As far as I knew, there were no feelings involved for Sirius. I was wrong, of course, but I didn’t know that. Not then. It wasn’t until after school that we…got together…in a way…but even then, neither of us ever said the words. I suspected that he felt the same way about me, but I was too afraid to ask. We were at war. We could have died any day. And I felt it safer to not say anything and phantasise about being loved than have that phantasy taken away from me by an uncomfortable truth, or even worse, know that he loved me but lose him to the war.”
“Would it have been worth it? To tell him?” Harry asked carefully.
They sat in silence for a long moment and, for the first time since the holidays had started, Harry felt like he could breathe freely again. Maybe this wasn’t so bad, after all. Maybe it would be okay. And even if it wasn’t, he wasn’t alone. Not anymore.
“There is something else,” Remus said suddenly, “Something Sirius and I found out during the last month.” The Werewolf waited until Harry looked at him, seeing the deep crease between his eyebrows. “It’s about the Horcruxes.”
“What is it?”
“We believe we know how many there are, and we have a theory about what and where they might be.”
“That’s great!” Harry exclaimed, delighted about the news that they final had a fighting chance against Voldemort, except the way Remus looked at him, with deep sorrow, seemed to be saying something else, “What’s wrong?”
“Combined from the memories Tonks and Severus saw in Dumbledore’s office, the research Regulus did before his death, and some information Sirius and I found, we have reason to believe that Voldemort created five Horcruxes before he went after you, his goal, however, was to make six.”
Harry sputtered “Six?”
“Seven is an incredibly powerful number, Harry, and Voldemort is very superstitious in that he pays attention to symbolism.”
“Right,” Harry said. He barely knew anything about Horcruxes but the mere thought of splitting his soul six times…he shuddered.
“He currently has seven,” Remus added.
“What – you mean he made more since he’s come back?”
“One more, yes.”
“But you just said –” Harry blinked. “I don’t understand.”
Remus took a deep, shaky breath, visibly uncomfortable with the subject. “Horcruxes are…unnatural. And I don’t use that word lightly,” he explained, “Avoiding death by splitting your soul…it’s not supposed to be done. It makes the soul fragile, susceptible to further damage, and splitting it more than once…” The Werewolf shook his head. “Harry, when Voldemort went after you and your parents, his soul was already damaged beyond repair or recognition, it was weak. Your mum’s sacrifice made the Killing Curse rebound to hit him, destroying his body. For all intents and purposes he should have died but because of the Horcruxes, he didn’t, however the piece of his soul that was still left…it shattered and found the nearest receptible host to bind itself to.”
The nearest receptible – “Me?” There was something Harry’s mind, something that simply refused to compute the information it had been given. “What are you – you mean I am – me?”
Remus looked like he was in great pain that had nothing to do with his approaching transformation. “Not intentionally. And I doubt Voldemort knows about it.”
“How –” Harry took a deep breath, steeling himself, “How do you know?” he asked, watching the other man closely as he licked his lips.
“It’s what Dumbledore suspects.”
That’s ridiculous, he wanted to say, Dumbledore would have told me. Except he had told him, hadn’t he? Or as good as. Harry could almost see himself standing in McGonagall’s office, sweaty and bloody, holding the Sword of Gryffindor in his hand.
“He told me –” Harry said haltingly, “He told me in second year that Voldemort transferred some of his powers onto me.”
Had he already known then? Had he suspected that Harry was harbouring a part of Voldemort’s soul?
“There’s a way to…relocate…the soul fragment to a different host.”
“Can’t we just destroy it?”
Remus shook his head. “Destroying the Horcrux means destroying the host.”
“So,” Harry said slowly, “We get it out and then kill it?” Remus nodded. “How?”
“There is not much that can destroy a Horcrux, the most reliable way, it seems, is Basilisk venom, but how we will get that…”
“The school,” Harry answered, and Remus looked at him quizzically, “The Chamber of Secrets.” He half expected Remus to ask questions, to demand explanations, but nothing came, just a solemn nod.
“Good,” he said, “That’s good.”
“What about the other six?” Harry asked, remembering Remus had said they knew what and where the others were as well.
“You destroyed the first one already,” Remus answered, putting up a singular finger, “Dumbledore destroyed another one.” Another finger went up. “We know where Kreature put the one that Regulus stole.” A third finger. “Then there’s one in the Lestrange Vault.” Finger number four. “One where we think we know what it is but not where. And Nagini.” The last two, Remus counted off in one go, holding up two hands and six fingers, while Harry frowned.
“Nagini – his snake?”
“How do you know all this?”
Remus stood up from the bench and beckoned for Harry to do the same. “As I said earlier, creating a Horcrux is unnatural,” he began to explain as they started making their way back home, “It’s deep, dark magic, and it leaves behind a trace. Sirius and I managed to find a way to follow that trace.”
Harry stopped in his tracks, staring at his teacher and guardian. “That’s brilliant!” he blurted out, and maybe he was just imagining it, but it almost looked like Remus was blushing at the compliment.
“Thank you, Harry,” he mumbled into the collar of his jacket, “We should get back. It’s nearly time for me to go to Grimmault Place.”
Living with the knowledge that a piece of Voldemort’s soul was bound to him was, in the grand scheme of things, surprisingly easy. Not much had changed, after all, except that now he knew. Sirius and Remus spent more time than usual together – probably plotting a break-in of Gringotts or the assassination of Nagini, Harry thought – always making sure that Harry had no way of eavesdropping, and no amount of begging, pleading, or swearing seemed to change their minds.
“If you really want to help,” Sirius had told him after a particularly great effort on Harry’s part to make them reconsider, “You go back to Hogwarts, you stay out of trouble, and you get us some Basilisk teeth.” Going back to the Chamber of Secrets was not exactly on top of the list of things Harry wanted to do but, at the same time, it was something that was not nothing and, in Harry’s books, that was everything.
“I don’t know what you’re so upset about,” Draco had said once they were on the train back to Hogwarts, “They want you to live. Both the Dark Lord and Dumbledore want you to die. It’s easy.” And then the compartment door had opened, and Hermione had walked in, grumbling under her breath about Ron and Lavender snogging on the Platform, and Harry had been left to wonder how in Merlin’s name Draco even knew about that – the answer to that question, of course, was easy to find.
“Sirius told me while you were out with Remus. He wanted to know if I had any idea where mother and Severus are.”
“Yes.” – Harry hated that bloody smirk. Harry didn’t think he’d survive not seeing it again.
The months went on and life returned to a new normal. Ron was ignoring him, as was Ginny for some reason who had broken up with Dean just after the Christmas break, Harry, in turn, was ignoring Dumbledore’s increasing messages to come to his office for another lesson, and Hermione was introduced to the old Potions classroom.
By April, Filch was out of the Hospital Wing, and Remus told him that two more Horcruxes were destroyed, leaving two more to go, and Harry.
“We contacted Severus,” he told Harry over a cup of tea. It was a Sunday and the sun had managed to fight through the clouds, shining brightly through the windows into the professor’s office. “He was not pleased but he understands the severity of the situation.”
“Why can’t you do it?” Harry asked, not particularly keen on seeing Snape again.
“It takes Dark magic to create a Horcrux, Harry,” Remus explained, “It also takes Dark magic to transfer it to another vessel. Neither Sirius nor I are capable of that, Severus on the other hand…” He let out a sigh. “When we were in school, he was quite adept at creating his own curses and hexes. He’s always been fascinated by the Dark Arts.”
Harry had a great deal of things to say about that but refrained. The thought if Snape helping him was weird but he’d take it if it meant destroying another piece of Voldemort’s soul. Speaking of which –
“Do you have any idea where the last one could be?” he asked, “You said you know what it is…”
“We think we know what it is,” Remus corrected him.
“Maybe I can help.” The older man frowned slightly at Harry’s suggestion and he quickly backpaddled, “I know I’m not supposed to get involved, but –”
“No, no, you’re right,” Remus interrupted him, looking contemplative, “Maybe you can help.” He paused and no matter how much Harry wanted to press, he didn’t, giving Remus the time to have his thoughts and make up his mind. “Voldemort likes symbolism,” Remus said slowly, “Tradition. He follows his own rules. One of his Horcruxes, the one Regulus stole, was the locket of Salazar Slytherin –” Harry could feel his eyebrows shooting up towards his hairline. “—another one was a cup that belonged to Helga Hufflepuff.”
“You think he used something of Gryffindor and Ravenclaw?” Harry asked.
“Ravenclaw, I think,” said Remus, pulling out a dusty, old book from under his desk, “There is a legend about Rowena Ravenclaw and her daughter. She ran away. After Rowena fell ill, she sent out a man who was in love with her daughter to find her and bring her back, the man did find her but killed her in a fit of rage before taking his own life and Rowena is said to have died of a broken heart. Now, Rowena Ravenclaw had a diadem, one that grants wisdom to whoever wears it and it has been lost for centuries…”
“You think he found it?” Harry asked incredulously, “Voldemort found the Diadem and turned it into a Horcrux?”
Remus nodded. “Yes,” he said, “Following the Trace, one Horcrux was created in Albania. According to the legend, that’s where Helena Ravenclaw, Rowena’s daughter, died. The Trace leads back here, to Britain, in fact…it leads to Hogwarts.”
Harry sputtered. “What – you mean it’s here, in the castle?”
“Then, why can’t you find it?”
“I don’t know.”
Harry frowned. Was there a place in Hogwarts that was so well hidden it even concealed Traces of Dark Magic? A place, maybe, that only Voldemort knew about? Harry’s thoughts immediately turned towards the Chamber – Except Myrtle would have noticed, wouldn’t she? If he had returned to hide the Horcrux there – Somewhere else, then, maybe? Hogwarts was huge, after all, with corners and corridors that hadn’t been used in years and years, forgotten and abandoned.
Still deep in thoughts, Harry returned to the Gryffindor Tower. Ron was sitting by the fireplace chatting to Seamus and not even noticing Harry as he walked past to their dorm.
Maybe the Map will help, he thought as he pulled out the piece old parchment from under his pillow, tapping it with his wand.
“I solemnly swear that I am up to good.”
The castle and its grounds were buzzing with life as usual. Several students seemed to be taking advantage of the good weather and decided to spend the day outside. Harry spotted Ernie McMillan and Michael Corner sitting by the lake, the Creevey brothers, Ginny and Luna near Hagrid’s hut, talking to the half-Giant. Harry could also see the dot labelled ‘Hermione Granger’ in the library. Two names he didn’t recognize where crammed into a broom cupboard on the third floor, Crabbe, and Goyle were lurking on the seventh floor, Neville was in professor Sprout’s office, Katie was –
Harry scanned the Map once more – Crabbe and Goyle are lurking on the seventh floor – and frowned. They didn’t seem to be doing much of anything except stand there, at opposite ends of the corridor.
What are you up to? Harry thought, staring at the two names but nothing happened, nothing changed, nothing explained two of dumbest people Harry had ever met standing in a hallway on a perfectly fine Sunday an hour before lunch.
“I think Crabbe and Goyle are up to something,” he announced to his new group of friends a few days later. Five pairs of eyes turned towards him, all in varying degrees of disbelief.
“Let me recap that sentence,” Blaise – and Harry really had no idea when he had become Blaise instead of Zabini – said slowly, “You think Crabbe and Goyle are up to something?”
“I saw them on the seventh floor, just…standing there,” Harry said. It wasn’t a lie, technically.
“Was Theo there?” Draco asked.
Harry shook his head. “I didn’t see him. Why?”
It was Pansy that answered, “They’ve been spending a lot of time together this year.”
“Greg’s and Vince’s fathers didn’t approve of my company after I…left,” Draco added, “Theo on the other hand, well…”
Harry nodded. He understood what was being said – Nott’s father was a Death Eater, as were Grabbe’s and Goyle’s. It only made sense that they would spend time together now that Voldemort was gaining power. Still…
“What were they doing there, then?” Harry asked no one in particular. It was a useless question of course. No one knew why they were there, and it also seemed that no one particularly cared.
“I know it’s your thing to stick your nose into other people’s businesses,” Draco told him, “But I don’t fancy having mine cut off.”
Is he…scared? Harry wondered. It would make sense, of course, out of all of them Draco probably knew best what the Death Eaters were capable of, even more than Harry, since he had grown up with and around them, learning from a small age that independent thought and curiosity had consequences.
“I agree with Draco,” Hermione said, “You should let this go, Harry. Concentrate on your studies.”
And that, as they say, was that.
By the end of May, Harry had run out of places to look for Ravenclaw’s Diadem. It seemed impossible. There was nothing in the Chamber, not that he had expected it to be but he had still checked, nothing in the various secret passageways and staircases, or in the Dungeons.
“You want to do what?” Draco asked shocked.
“I want to search the Slytherin Common Room and dorms.”
“You’re insane, Potter.” There was a certain fondness to the insult, one that had been there for weeks now, maybe even months, and Harry had to fight very hard against the blush creeping up his neck. “I’m not letting you in there again.”
Wait, what? “Again? I’ve never been –”
“Second year, Christmas break,” Draco cut him off, looking both incredibly smug and incredibly annoyed, “Yes, I know about that. It wasn’t too hard to work out after talking to Greg and Vince, although I must admit that I was very impressed. Brewing Polyjuice Potion at the age of twelve is…” he paused, clearly looking for the right word and Harry grinned.
“Impressive?” he suggested, earning himself a half-hearted glare from the blond.
“What are you looking for?” Draco asked eventually, clearly trying to move on from his temporary inarticulateness.
“Rowena Ravenclaw’s Lost Diadem.”
“Of course, you are,” said Draco as if it was no surprise whatsoever, “And you suspect it to be in the Slytherin Common Room because…?”
Harry grimaced. “I can’t tell you.” I wish I could.
“You think it’s a Horcrux, don’t you?”
Draco’s question made Harry freeze “You know about that as well?” he asked rather pointlessly if the blond’s eyeroll was anything to go by, “How?”
“Right.” Frankly, Harry hadn’t thought his godfather had gone into that much detail when talking to Draco during Harry’s and Remus’ heart-to-heart.
“The Lost Diadem is lost, Potter,” the Slytherin went on, “That’s the point. No one knows where it is that should be comprehensible even for you.”
“I know what lost means, Malfoy,” Harry groaned, “Except it’s not. It’s in the Castle.”
This time, it was Draco’s turn to pause and blink. “How do you know?”
“Remus. Something about Dark Magic and Traces…”
“Eloquent as ever, I see.” Draco rolled his eyes again and shook his head.
“Where would you hide something if you didn’t want it to ever be found?” The question wasn’t really directed at Draco as Harry muttered it under his breath, wrecking his head over places he hadn’t thought of before.
“The Room of Hidden Things.”
Harry blinked, staring at Draco. “The what?” he asked.
“The Room of Hidden Things,” Draco repeated, clearer this time, slower, “On the seventh floor. All Slytherin Prefects know about it.”
The Room of Requirements. Of course.
It was so obvious and so brilliant, Harry couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it before. They had used the room last year for their DA meetings after all and, as it was, it seemed to be unplottable and powerful enough to hide dark magical objects. Probably.
“Well, then, what are we waiting for? Let’s go.”
Without waiting for the Slytherin, Harry had already hurried down the hallway towards the staircase, vaguely hearing Draco’s grumbling and swearing behind him, following him. The corridor to the Room of Requirements was empty, Harry was relieved to see, as started walking up and down, wishing for the Room of Hidden Things, as Draco had called it.
“How do you –” he started as he pushed open the door but interrupted himself when he saw what lay before him. The room was massive. Piles upon piles of objects of all kinds were building a maze of corridors – furniture, books, bottles, cages, and things Harry couldn’t even name, stacked up high to the ceiling.
“I know,” Draco said next to him, closing the door, “It will take a while until we find something in here.”
They decided to split up, combing the room row for row to look for the Diadem, getting nearly lost in sheer vastness of the room, only to find each other again in a dark corner between an old cabinet and an even older bookcase.
“Any luck?” Harry asked, squinting against the half-light.
Draco shook his head. “No,” he said, “Are you sure it’s –” He stopped dead, looking at something past Harry.
“What?” Harry asked, turning around but there was nothing there. “What is it?”
Draco nodded his chin at something, stepping past Harry towards an array of what looked like tinted and tainted jewelry. “Where do you hide a needle?” he muttered, crouching down in front of the pile.
“What?” Draco didn’t answer but even with his back turned to Harry, he could almost see the eyeroll, and that’s when it clicked. “What, you mean it’s in there?” he asked, joining the Slytherin. It would be the perfect hiding spot, Harry mused, no one would ever look for it here. Reaching out a hand, Harry was just about to rifle through the pile of metal when Draco stopped him.
“What are you doing?” he hissed, holding tightly onto Harry’s arm.
“I was gonna –” Harry started but was interrupted by Draco’s sigh. The blond had his eyes closed when he looked over at him.
“Harry, a Horcrux is an incredibly powerful, incredibly dark object. You do not simply touch incredibly powerful, incredibly dark objects.”
The blond’s words were followed by a long moment of silence in which Harry couldn’t do anything but stare and look and see. The dust was dancing in sunbeams that shouldn’t even be there, mountains of old and hidden things were throwing grotesque shadows all around them, and strands of Draco’s hair were falling into his face – he was beautiful.
“You just called me Harry.”
“Yes. You’ve been slipping up and calling me Draco for weeks now, I thought I’d return the favour.” And there was that damn smirk again. Not malicious but sharp, teasing, knowing. It was a promise and a question and all Harry had to do was answer – “Now do you or do you not want get the Horcrux?”
The Gryffindor blinked and then nodded, mentally slapping himself upside the head.
Not the time, he chided himself.
Apparently, the way to retrieve an incredibly powerful, incredibly dark object from a pile of rubbish was with great caution, greater patience, and the greatest amount of swearing-under-ones-breath Harry had ever heard in his entire life. It worked.
He wasn’t sure how long they had been in the Room of Hidden Things but it must have been a great while because when they finally came out, dinner seemed to already be over and Theodore Nott all but ran into them on the staircase, two little girls close on his heel.
“I do not want to know,” Draco muttered. He was holding a wooden box in his arms, Diadem securely hidden inside, as they walked to Remus’ office. Harry tended to disagree – he very much would have liked to know why exactly Nott was walking around with two first years by the looks of it but, as it was, they had more important things to think about at the moment, such as, for instance, getting rid of a part of Voldemort’s soul, which left them with only Nagini and Harry himself to worry about.
“Severus will be here soon,” Remus promised him, just before sending Harry and Draco to return to their respective dormitories. For Harry, soon couldn’t come quick enough.
Remus had told him to come to the Hog’s Head after dinner to meet Severus. The fact alone that the professor wanted him to sneak out of the Castle was enough to make Harry realise just how important this was and he even forgot to scowl at hearing Snape’s name. Remus had also told him that it would be best not to mention his night-time stroll to anyone.
Hogsmeade at night was different. The streets were empty, and the only lights came from the apartments above the shops, and from inside the Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head – the latter being almost empty as far as Harry could tell. Sirius let him in through the back door and led him straight to an empty room on the first floor, the stairs creaking under their feet and the air smelling like something very old and very mouldy.
Harry’s heart was pounding wildly in his chest and the blood rushing through his ears was the only thing he could hear, completely drowning out Remus’ and Snape’s voices as they talked about what was going to happen.
There was a bed in the corner, the sheets were stained with something Harry couldn’t identify which was probably a good thing, and on the chest of drawers next to the bed was a simple wooden box.
That’s it, then, he thought slightly hysterical, that’s where the soul fragment will go.
A hand landed on his shoulder, almost making him jump. “Harry,” Sirius’ voice said from behind his back, “It’s going to be okay.”
Harry couldn’t speak. There was a lump in his throat that kept only getting bigger, nearly choking him, but he did his best to nod his head, wanting to believe that Sirius was right.
It’s going to be okay.
Snape gestured towards the bed, and with shaking legs Harry stepped up to it and sat down.
“You will have to be conscious for this,” Snape informed him, “Your guardians assured me that your Occlumency skills are proficient which will make it easier to extract the soul fragment, I will penetrate your mind and you will guide me towards it, then, you will let go of it so I can transfer it to its new, temporary vessel, understood?” Again, Harry nodded. “Very well, please, lie down.”
Harry took a deep breath and calmed his mind. All the doors were closed, but Snape had said that Harry would have to lead him towards the piece of Voldemort in him. Slowly, carefully, Harry searched the rooms – the cupboard under the stairs, aunt Petunia’s frying pans, the back of uncle Vernon’s hand, a train ride into an unknown future, red hair and sticky fingers, bars covering his window, a massive black dog, hot chocolate in front of the TV, Ron and Hermione by the fireplace, Remus’ arms holding him tightly, the Dragon, the Merepeople, the graveyard, Draco –
“Are you ready?”
No, Harry thought frantically but it was no use, so instead he nodded a third time and almost immediately felt Snape’s presence while everything else around them faded away. He hadn’t let anyone in like this in a while, the sensation entirely foreign, uncomfortable, wrong – a burning desire to push back, but Harry ignored it, instead inviting Snape in even further, past the cupboard and the Dursleys, past the Hogwarts Express, the Burrow, Hogwarts, home, towards a door at the end of the corridor, a door that had been shut for a long, long time, a door that was heavy and dark, radiating pain, fear, and hatred, and Harry did not, could not, open it.
The voice resonated through his mind, his body, urging him – no, compelling him – to open the door and slowly, he did.
The pain was blinding. Distantly, Harry was aware that someone was screaming, that there were hands on his arms, holding him down, that more doors flew open as he slowly lost control, emotions and memories alike breaking free and clouding his mind as the dark cloud from The Room was dragged down the corridor, towards the forefront of his mind, further, further, further and –
It was gone.
“Urgh.” Harry thought he might be getting sick, nausea taking over his pain-addled brain.
“Harry, can you hear me?”
“Urgh,” Harry said again. He thought it was Sirius holding onto his hand and pressing something cold and wet onto his forehead, but he couldn’t be sure. Maybe he’d died. Maybe this was some kind of afterlife. Maybe he’d never get to see Remus and Sirius again.
“Potter.” This voice was different. Sharper.
His throat hurt, as if he’d been screaming, his body sore and he was shaking violently, as he tried to push himself up, eyes blinking open. The room was blurry but he could make out the shapes of three men leaning over him.
“Harry?” Remus’ voice asked.
“Yeah,” Harry croaked, “I’m good.”
“Here.” Something was pushed into his hand. A glass. Harry took a sip, revelling at the cold and soothing feeling of water running down his throat.
“How are you feeling?”
How was he feeling? Physical weariness put aside, there was a certain kind of relief, as of something heavy had been lifted from his shoulders, something he hadn’t even known had been there until now that it was gone.
“I – I feel fine, I think,” he answered, taking another sip of water. The room was slowly coming back into focus and he could see the concern on Remus’, Sirius’, and Snape’s faces, before glancing at the wooden box next to the bed. It was shattered into a dozen pieces, a black, gooey substance seeping out, like blood. “Is it gone?”
A breath of relief. A silent tear. Two pairs of arms embracing him with care.
“Thank you, Severus,” Remus’ said from somewhere above Harry’s head buried in his shoulder, or maybe it was Sirius’ shoulder, Harry didn’t know.
There was no verbal answer from Snape but Harry could hear footsteps walking past and towards the door.
“Snape.” The footsteps stopped at the sound of Sirius’ voice, turned around, waited. “I’m sorry.”
“Take care of your godson, Black.”
And then the door opened and Snape was gone.
Harry, Remus, and Sirius went back up to the Castle together, Harry and his godfather safely hidden underneath the Invisibility Cloak, still feeling somewhat wobbly on his feet with Sirius supporting his weight. The way was long, longer than Harry remembered and by the time they finally arrived at the Entrance Hall, he was all but sleepwalking, barely aware of his surroundings.
“Let’s get him up to the Common Room before –” Remus cut himself off, looking at something near the staircase before motioning to Harry and Sirius to wait and stepping forward. “Theodore? What –”
Harry watched as Remus’ unconscious body hit the ground, and just like that he was awake. More than that, he could feel the adrenaline cursing through his blood, alerting his brain, having him ready to draw his own wand and fight whatever was waiting for them in the darkness of the Entrance Hall but Sirius held him back. Theodore Nott stepped out of the shadows, sparing a last glance at Remus before hurrying up the stairs.
“Enervate.” Sirius’ wand lit up bright red as he kneeled next to his partner, waiting for him to wake up.
“He attacked me,” Remus pointed out once he had opened his eyes.
Sirius chuckled darkly. “He sure did.”
The Werewolf pushed himself up, wincing slightly as he looked around. “Harry?”
“Go up to the Common Room and stay there.”
“Please.” Remus’ voice allowed for no discussions while Sirius helped him stand up. “Whatever is going on, we can deal with it.”
However, Harry remained stubborn. “Let me at least get McGonagall,” he argued, “Or – or Dumbledore.”
“He’s got a point, Remus,” Sirius said, “I’m not letting you run around here on your own.”
Remus wasn’t happy with it. Harry could see the conflict in his eyes, but he also knew he’d won when the older man let out a heavy sigh and nodded. “Okay.” he conceded, “But, you stay under the Cloak and you go straight to your Dorm afterwards.”
Harry rushed up the stairs towards the first floor, hoping that McGonagall was in her office, his mind racing.
Why would Nott attack Remus?
Was he the one sent to kill Dumbledore?
What was he doing sneaking around the Castle during the night?
Where was he –
“Mr. Potter?” Minerva McGonagall was standing in the door to her office, wearing a tartan night gown, her hair hanging loosely over her shoulders. “What is the meaning of this?”
“Professor, I’m sorry, but something’s wrong,” Harry said before explaining what had happened as fast as possible without leaving out any relevant details.
McGonagall nodded, her face stern and determined. “Thank you for telling me, Potter,” she said, flicking her wand and a second later she was fully dressed in her usual immaculate robes even if her hair stayed loose and open, “You better come with me.” Without waiting for Harry, the Professor had stepped out of her office and started walking down the corridor, her robes bulking behind her in a way that rivalled Snape’s, while Harry scrambled to keep up. The Castle was quiet, eerily so, the shadows long and dark and alive as they moved through the empty hallways.
Too empty, Harry thought, where are the ghosts? The prefects? The teachers?
Harry knew that there was increased security this year, more people patrolling throughout the night and yet they saw no one.
What did Nott do?
“Professor,” he whispered urgently as they walked further up the stairs, “Shouldn’t we…” Alert Dumbledore? Wake the others? Get more teachers? He didn’t know, just that they should be doing something, something more, something –
The crash sounded through the night, echoing off the walls, coming from above, and before Harry knew it, he was running, his feet pounding against the floor as his heart against his ribs. Faster. Faster. Faster. He had no idea where McGonagall was, if she was following him, but he found he didn’t particularly care. He reached the landing of the seventh floor, jumping out from behind a suit of armour and ready to find out what was going on, when suddenly a hand covered his mouth, another grabbing his arm, pulling him back, back into the shadows.
“Harry,” someone hissed into his ear.
Ron? The mere shock of hearing his friends voice was enough to make Harry freeze, letting the other boy lead him away, towards the Common Room, but why –
“Oh, thank, Merlin.”
Harry blinked, not quite understanding what was going on. Before him stood Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, Seamus, and Dean, all looking ready for a fight.
“What –” Harry began but was cut off when Ron thrust a piece of parchment into his hand, and not just any piece of parchment – the Maurauder’s Map. There they were, all assembled in the Gryffindor Common Room, and there was Nott, walking down the corridor Harry would have been in, had Ron not pulled him away, and there –
There were names, names that should have never shown up on the Map – Bartemius Crouch, Bellatrix Lestrange, Fenrir Greyback, Corban Yaxley – seemingly appearing out of nowhere, but Harry knew better. They were coming out of the Room of Requirements. Frantically, Harry started searching the Map again, looking for Remus and Sirius, and letting out a breath if relief when he saw them in a secret passageway hallway between the sixth and seventh floor, going down.
“What do we do now?” Neville asked, breaking Harry’s increasingly panicked train of thought.
He looked up from the Map, looking at his friends, seeing fear but also determination, wands at their ready.
Now we fight, he wanted to say, he would have said – in another life, in another time, in a situation where his family wasn’t out there, counting on his to stay safe.
“We need a plan,” he said instead, just as the portrait of the Fat Lady opened and Remus and Sirius walked in.
“Oh, thank, Merlin!” Sirius echoed Hermione’s words from earlier as he rushed towards Harry, “We didn’t know if you – Are you okay?”
“Yes,” Harry answered, returning the hug Sirius gave him, “But there are –”
“We know,” Remus said, “We saw.” He looked ragged, despite the new moon, a sheen of sweat on his forehead. “We sent word to the Order, they’re on their way. We also alerted the teachers. Filius, Pomona, and Horace are talking to their Houses as we speak and Minerva has gone to Albus’ office. All those of age may choose to fight if they wish, everyone else will stay in their Common Rooms.”
But this time, Harry couldn’t let it go. “I can fight!”
Remus looked at him, his eyes softening a bit. “I know you can,” he said,” But that’s not the point.”
“Then what is the point?” Harry demanded, “I’ll be 17 in a few months, what difference does it make?”
“It makes all the difference.”
“I want to fight!”
Remus closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, and when he opened them again, the decision was made. “This is not up for discussion,” he told Harry before turning towards the others, ignoring the teenager’s outraged expression, “Hermione, Ginny, would you please wake the girls? I need to tell them what happened.”
With a hasty nod, the two girls turned around and hurried up the stairs, while Remus took the boys dormitories.
Harry could feel Sirius’ gaze on him and when he turned to look, he saw sadness in his godfather’s eyes, regret, but also pride. “You’re going to sneak out there, aren’t you?” he asked, making it clear that it wasn’t a real question when he didn’t wait for Harry to answer but instead nodded his own head, “Take the Cloak and the Map, and stay close to me.”
It was chaos. It seemed to every student and teacher there were at least two darkly clad figures in masks. Curses were flying through the air, as people screamed. Cries of pain could be heard, of fear, of anger. Harry stood in the middle of the Entrance Hall, hidden by his father’s old Cloak, and watched as his home was destroyed. There, Hermione and Ron where fighting back to back, here Professor Flitwick duelling three Death Eaters at once. Cho, Blaise, and Katie fighting side by side with Slughorn and Sinatra. Harry could see the motionless body of Madam Hooch lying by the foot of the stairs, could see Dean drag a bleeding Seamus out of the line of fire, could see a seventh year Hufflepuff whose name he didn’t even know be hit by a spell and hit the wall with a sickening crack.
There was a laugh that cut through the sounds of battle, high and cackling and slightly hysteric, a Death Eater that cast most of the nastiest spells and enjoyed every second of it, a manic woman that had currently picked Draco as her latest victim.
Harry was moving before he had a chance to think about it, weaving his way through the bodies, pushing Death Eaters out of the way with a simple flick of his hand, Draco’s bracelet sitting comfortably around his wrist.
“Protego!” Harry’s shield was enough to knock Bellatrix Lestrange back several feet while Harry closed the gap between himself and Draco.
“Potter!” Harry blinked, looking down at himself, and noted that the Cloak had slid off his head and shoulders. “What are you doing?”
“Saving your life,” Harry snarked back, grateful for the piece of normal even if Draco seemed to be thinking the exact opposite, “You’re welcome, by the way.”
Dodging a particularly nasty looking curse, the blond grabbed Harry’s arm and pulled him into the shadows, down the staircase that lead to the dungeons.
“You should be in your Common Room,” the Slytherin hissed.
“Why? Cause I’m still 16?”
“No, idiot, ‘cause you’re Harry fucking Potter.”
Harry frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.
“They want you.”
“No. They want to kill Dumbledore.”
Draco gave him an exasperated look and said, “Do you really believe they need an army to assassinate one man? The Dark Lord must have noticed by now that his Horcruxes are gone, which means he’s scared, he’s desperate, and he wants you dead more than ever, which means you can’t be here.”
“But I have to fight,” Harry argued.
Shaking his head, Draco replied, “What you have to do is stop being brave and start being smart.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harry asked again, quitter this time, trying to understand what Draco was saying.”
“Do you still have the Felix Felicis?”
“The Felix Felicis,” Draco repeated slowly, “The one you won at the start of the year.”
“Yes,” Harry answered, still not entirely sure what Draco was getting at, unless –
“Good. You’re going to need it. Let’s go.”
He was right, of course, they were going to need some luck, and Harry could have kicked himself for not thinking of it earlier. As the two boys used one secret passageway after another to make their way up the Gryffindor Tower, Harry also realised something else – Draco was scared. Why that came as a surprise, he had no idea. In fact, it would be far more concerning if he wasn’t, except during the last few months, Harry had learned just how well Draco could conceal his emotions, constructing a mask that gave nothing away, and now that mask was cracked, allowing Harry to see the boy underneath, a terrified child that tried to survive at any cost.
They reached the portrait of the Fat Lady and it occurred to Harry that bringing Draco inside the Common Room was probably not the best idea, not with all the younger students waiting inside fearing for their lives.
“Wait here,” he whispered, giving Draco the Cloak while he slipped inside. The Common Room was filled with people and deafening silence.
“Harry!” Ginny stepped out of a group of first years that looked pale and like they had been crying not too long ago. “What’s going on out there?”
“It’s fine,” Harry said, “I just need to get something. You stay here. It’ll be over soon.” The lie tasted bitter on his tongue. He knew Ginny was more than capable to hold her own in a fight, and he knew, if it had been him stuck here while everyone he loved was out there risking their lives, he would have hated every second of it but it was better this way. It was better to keep here safe.
“Harry –” Ginny called after him, but he ignored here, already sprinting up the stairs to his dorm to get the potion. When he came back down, Ginny was nowhere to be seen. His hope, that she had gone back to comforting the younger students or maybe up to her own dorm, however, went up in smoke as soon as he stepped back outside.
“The she-Weasel just sneaked past me,” Draco informed him.
“Unless there is another one that I don’t know about, yes, her.”
“And you let her?” Harry asked, his voice high-pitched and panicked while Draco simply shrugged as if he couldn’t care less that an underage teenager had just run headfirst into a battle, but Harry knew him well enough by now, to know that it was more than that. It was a deep understanding to allow people their own choices, a conscious decision to distance himself from anyone he didn’t know, didn’t trust, didn’t count as a friend. It was self-preservation. And while Harry might have disagreed with that, he also understood that this was not the time or place for that particular discussion. Letting out a shaky breath, Harry instead pulled out the vial with the potion.
“Here,” he said, holding it out to Draco who rolled his eyes.
“It’s not for me, Potter.”
“I’m Potter again, am I?”
“When you’re being an idiot?” Draco asked, “Yes.”
It was Harry’s turn to roll his eyes this time. “Come on,” he said, “There’s enough for everyone.”
He waited patiently for Draco to make up his mind even though he already knew what the answer would be.
Harry had to supress a smile. He had never really noticed before – five years of adversity, enmity, rivalry – but Draco was ridiculously predictable. Not that he would tell him that.
It was a bit like being drunk again, Harry thought after taking a swig from the Potion, leaving enough for Ron and Hermione in case they ran into them, like being drunk but softer, somehow. Subtler. It was euphoric and light, an open door to the world of opportunities and Harry had stepped right through.
Maybe it was the potion, maybe Harry was feeling brave, or maybe it was the light falling onto Draco’s face, making his skin seem almost white – You’re beautiful, he thought except his mouth was moving and the words came out and it was okay. He was feeling lucky.
Draco’s eyebrows shot up. “Are you sure that wasn’t love potion?” he asked half-heartedly, his tongue poking out as he wet his lips almost nervously.
“Very sure.” It was the right thing to say, he knew, nothing could go wrong. Not right now. He hadn’t really noticed it before, but they were standing so close together and it really wouldn’t take much to –
“I’m not kissing you until this is over,” Draco whispered. He sounded regretful but determined nonetheless.
“So you are going to kiss me?”
The nervousness was gone, so was the regret, replaced by a cocky grin. “I guess you’ll have to survive to find out.”
Harry wasn’t sure when exactly the Order had gotten there but when he and Draco slid back into the Entrance Hall, Tonks was fighting alongside Kingsley and McGonagall, the entire Weasley family built a united front near the door, and Alastor Moody was shooting hexes and curses after everything that wore a mask and still moved. The chaos had spread out, into the Great Hall, out onto the courtyard, up into the first-floor corridor.
“Harry!” Hermione’s cry cut through the noise and Harry swivelled around to see his two best friends running towards them. They were on the first floor, standing amongst broken suits of armour and shattered windows, droplets of blood covering the floor. Relief flooded through Harry at seeing Ron and Hermione alive and unharmed – or mostly unharmed anyway. Ron, Harry could see now, had a nasty gash on his forehead, dried blood sticking in his hair. “Where have you been?”
Harry opened his mouth to tell his friends about Felix Felicis, to ask them to drink it as well, but before he could, a masked figure rounded the corner, wand raised and aimed at Ron, ready to shoot Merlin-knows what kind of curse.
The stunner soared past Harry and narrowly missed Ron before hitting the Death Eater dead in the chest, leaving Ron frozen in place, his eyes wide.
“You’re welcome, Weasley,” Draco’s voice drawled from behind Harry.
“You were with him?” Ron asked, the accusation clear in his voice.
Harry sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “Can we not do this now?” he pleaded, reaching into his pocket for the vial, “Here.” He held the potion out for Ron to take. “Drink the rest.”
But Ron didn’t move, simply stood there, staring, an unreadable expression on his face.
“Shut up, Malfoy.” But it had worked. Ron took the Felix Felicis and put the vial to his lips before handing it to Hermione who drank without complaint or hesitation.
“Let’s go,” Harry said, “Before it wears off.”
He turned to go back to the staircase, ignoring Ron’s muttered, “Bloody hell, this is great,” and threw himself headfirst into the fight.
Fighting with Felix Felicis coursing through his system was like nothing he had ever experienced. No spell seemed to be able to hit them, while their own aim was always true, and Harry didn’t think it had ever been this easy to cast non-verbal and even wandless spells. It also helped that he had three less people to worry about. Hermione and Ron made a good team, covering each other’s backs even though they probably didn’t even need to but, of course, it was always better to be on the safe side, while Draco was a force to be reckoned with. His reflexes were unbelievable, and he clearly wasn’t above playing dirty, not that Harry was surprised, he was a Slytherin after all.
Out from the corner of his eye, Harry could see Sirius fighting Dolohov and Rookwood, making him wonder where Remus was.
Please let him be okay.
But there was no time to look, not now, not when Theodore Nott, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle ran up the stairs from the Dungeons.
“Expelliarmus!” Three wands flew through the air, straight into Harry’s outstretched hand. “Go back to the dungeons,” he warned the three boys, “You don’t need to get hurt.”
“Get lost, Potter,” Nott snarled, but Harry could also see the fear in his eyes. He was wandless, in the middle of a battle, surrounded by people he had betrayed by letting the Death Eaters into the Castle, however he had managed to do it.
For a second it looked like they would, Nott’s lips pressed into a thin line, his face showing nothing but a mixture of fear and hatred – and then he charged forward. Both Crabbe and Goyle let out a shout and tried to grab Nott’s arms, to hold him back, but Nott was faster.
So was Harry – Locomotor Mortis, he thought, careful to only aim one of his four wands at Nott, making him stumble and fall face-first to the floor.
“Go back,” he said one last time, giving Crabbe and Goyle a long look before purposefully turning his back, just in time to watch a massive man with matted grey hair jump Sirius from behind, however, before Harry could react a second man joined them, smaller but not any less vicious-looking, pulling the first man off Sirius and all but throwing him against the wall. Harry could hear low, rumbling growl coming from Sirius’ saviour, but he still couldn’t see his face, even though there was something familiar about him, something he knew, something that made his heart ache. Sirius let out a long, agonising groan, and Harry rushed forward, trusting that his luck would hold and none of the wayward spells hit him.
His godfather was lying on the floor, robes slashed by long, sharp claws, showing the deep gashes in his shoulder and chest, all the way up to his neck.
“Alright, cup?” Sirius croaked, his mouth pulled into something that Harry was sure was supposed to be a smile but that merely looked like a painful grimace.
“You’re hurt,” Harry pointed out.
“Don’t worry about me.” He was trying to move, to sit up and look at the two man that were now fighting a few feet away from them, while Harry tried to keep him still. “Remus,” Sirius whispered, and suddenly it hit Harry. His head whipped around. The man that had saved Sirius, skin covered in scars, brown hair greying at the roots, robes barely more than shredded fabric covering his torso – Remus. Which meant the other man, the other Werewolf, because that’s clearly what he was, was Fenrir Greyback. Harry had never seen him but he had heard enough stories to recognise him now. Greyback was taller than Remus, stronger, in a constant state of half-transformation, his teeth long and canine, his fingers ending in claws, but Remus was the one overcome by rage, by fear for his partner, his lover, his mate, by the protectiveness that ran deep and knew no limits. Harry watched in muted horror as they fought, his fingers pressing down on Sirius’ wounds, wishing he could heal them.
“You’re hurt,” he choked out again, tears welling up in his eyes. He felt helpless, the euphoria of Felix Felicis nothing more than a distant memory in the back of his mind, “We need to find Madam Pomphrey.”
Ignoring Sirius’ protests, Harry hoisted Sirius up to his feet, slinging one arm behind his back to take most of his weight, before pulling him away, towards the Hospital Wing. He just hoped that Madam Pomphrey was actually there, that there was something she could do.
The way was long – he had never quite realised how big Hogwarts was until now when there was no time – and Harry had no idea how he had gotten there in the end, his own body protesting under the weight of Sirius.
“Oh dear, another one?” Pomphrey asked, immediately taking Sirius from him and leading him to the only free bed in the room, “Greyback?”
Harry nodded numbly, his eyes scanning the room. Lavender Brown was lying in a nearby bed, her face barely recognizable underneath the cuts and bites, there were two Ravenclaws with burns covering their bodies, a Hufflepuff who only had one hand, Trelawney was lying motionless on a bed by the window, and next to her –
Harry’s heart clenched.
She looked peaceful, her skin was pale, her hair even more vibrant than usually, and she was breathing.
Forcing himself to avert his gaze, Harry turned his attention back to Pomphrey who had laid Sirius down on the bed and was now cleaning the wounds.
“Is there anything I can do?” he asked, his voice shaking.
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Potter,” Pomphrey answered, “Wounds from Werewolf claws are nasty, they can’t be healed by magic but will have to close up naturally. All I can do is keep them clean and bandaged and hope for the best.”
He knew that already, of course, but somehow hearing it now was worse. So much worse.
“Thank you,” he said, turning around to leave. There was nothing he could do.
I have to check on Remus, he thought frantically as he ran down the hallways, I have to tell Ron about Ginny.
He was on the first floor again, the Death Eater Draco had Stunned earlier nowhere to be seen – And then Bellatrix Lestrange stepped into his path. Her mask must have gotten lost at some point or another, there was a crazed look in her eyes, her hair standing up in all directions, and when she grinned, Harry could see the blood in her mouth. Her wand was raised and pointed at him, leaving Harry no time to react as the spell hit him.
His luck, it seemed, had finally run out.
When he came to, the first thing Harry noticed was the silence. It was the kind of silence that was loaded, heavy with unspoken words, a veil fallen over the world. Grave and mournful. The sound of defeat. The second thing he noticed, were the ropes tightly coiled around his body, binding his arms, fixating his legs, constricting his breathing. Harry kept his eyes closed, not yet ready to face the world outside the privacy of his own mind, hoping against hope that this was just a dream. A nightmare. Soon, he would wake up to the bickering voices of Dean and Seamus, Ron happily snoring behind his curtains, Neville reading a book on Herbology.
And then Bellatrix Lestrange’s voice sounded from somewhere above his head. “The Dark Lord has been called. It is time you get on your knees and worship him as you are supposed to, and maybe he will show mercy.”
Harry opened his eyes. The night sky of the Scottish Highlands was staring back at him, stars shining brightly, unbothered by what was happening. He was lying on the staff table in the Great Hall. Like a sacrifice upon an altar while the others stood by and watched. And there were others. If Harry tilted his head just so, he could see them. The students, battered and bruised, the teachers, muted by rage, the Death Eaters, smiling victoriously. He could see red hair in between the blond and brown and black, and wondered who it was, if they knew Ginny was hurt, if they’d lost anyone else. He wished Sirius was with him.
The door to the Great Hall opened and a collective gasp was drawn from the crowd as Lord Voldemort stepped inside, followed by even more figures wearing black robes and masks, and even though Harry couldn’t see them, he could imagine Voldemort’s malicious red eyes, the deathly pale skin, hands like spiders caressing his wand.
“You have fought bravely.” Voldemort’s voice carried through the silence, echoing off the walls. “I understand. Hogwarts is your home, as it has once been mine, and you wish to protect it. But now the time for fighting is over. Join me! Together we will move towards a better future.”
“Never!” Someone yelled, effectively breaking the spell that had fallen over the Great Hall, followed by footsteps, bodies shifting, a person stumbling forward –
Bright green light filled the Hall, just for a second, and with a dull thud, a body hit the ground.
“Foolish child,” Voldemort said mildly, “So much blood has been spilled tonight. Good blood. Pure blood. And so unnecessary.” From the corner of his eye, Harry could see the crowd parting as Voldemort moved forward, towards the staff table, towards him. He could see him now, tall and slender – a living skeleton. “It never had to come to this,” the wizard continued, “He could have stopped it.”
Who could have stopped it? Harry wanted to ask but his tongue was too bug for his mouth, too heavy to form the words, as he stared into red eyes, unable to look away. There was a presence in his mind, pushing against the walls he had built up, trying to break in, and some of his feelings, his memories, his essence, bled through the cracks. Anger and fear.
“That’s enough, Tom.” The sound of Dumbledore’s voice was enough to bring harry back to the present, to look away from Voldemort’s face that was slowly distorting into a brutal smile, to look towards the Headmaster standing in the doorway to the Great Hall. Voldemort, too, turned around, as did everyone else, a new kind of tension filling the air, an anticipation for what was to come.
“You don’t look so good, old man.”
It was true. From what Harry could see, as Dumbledore stepped forward, his shoulders slumped ever so slightly, his hand was as charred and black as ever, and his eyes showed fatigue, and Harry remembered what Snape had said.
Albus Dumbledore is going to die.
“I will not allow you to hurt anyone else.”
“Allow me?” Voldemort let out a dark chuckle. “What will you do, old man?”
You can’t kill him, Harry thought frantically, not yet. Not with the snake still alive.
Except Dumbledore didn’t know that. Or did he? Would he try and fight Voldemort? Did he have a plan?
Think, Potter, think.
Nagini was right there, slithering to Voldemort’s feet, hissing incoherently whenever someone as much as looked at her.
If I just had my wand…but he didn’t. Bellatrix had taken that from him.
Except, I don’t need it, do I?
He still had Draco’s bracelet; he’d been doing wandless Magic for a year now even without it.
It’s not about the spells, it’s about the intentions, Sirius had said, you need to picture it in your mind.
So Harry pictured it. The ropes binding him, loosening, falling away, setting him free. Slowly. Bit by bit. He still had the Cloak, he could feel it, a light bundle against his hip.
If I’m fast…
And then the ropes loosened. As quick as he could, Harry rolled sideways, off the table, and wriggled free, pulling the Cloak out and covering himself with it, before crawling underneath the table and towards the wall, ignoring the shouts of surprise and outrage.
“Leave him!” Voldemort ordered, “He will not go far. He will watch – Watch as his old mentor dies.”
Harry half expected him to strike then, to raise his wand and kill Dumbledore, but he didn’t.
“Kill him.” A shudder went through the Great Hall at the command and Harry had heard the hissing sound underlying the words, just as Nagini moved forward and Dumbledore…waited.
What for? Why isn’t he defending himself?
It didn’t make sense. Dumbledore was calmly standing in the middle of the crowd, his eyes fixed on Voldemort, his face unreadable, and Harry wanted to cry out, to warn the Headmaster, to kill the bloody snake himself, but he didn’t. Couldn’t. He was frozen in place, his back pressed against the wall, barely remembering how to breathe.
Then, several things happened at once – Nagini surged forward, burying her teeth in Dumbledore’s throat. Harry let out a cry of protest, his body moving on its own accord, forward, to do what exactly he didn’t know, just that he had no choice over it, until he was right in front of Dumbledore, the Invisibility Cloak lying uselessly on the floor. There was a flash of silver, and the snake’s lifeless body hit the ground. And then a single Death Eater broke the ranks and stepped between Harry and Voldemort, dropping their cloak and mask.
“Severus,” Voldemort said softly, a hint of surprise entering his voice and he clearly wasn’t the only one, all around them people gasped and whispered, unsure of what was happening. “Step aside. I will deal with you later.”
Whatever Voldemort had been expecting, it obviously hadn’t been that. “No?”
Snape shook his head ever so slightly. “No,” he repeated, adjusting the grip on his wand; there was something strange, yet familiar about it. Harry’s eyes were pulled towards Dumbledore, still breathing but only barely so, and it hit Harry, why the Headmaster hadn’t defended himself, why he hadn’t raised his wand – he hadn’t had it. Snape had.
“You are willing to die for the son of the Mudblood?”
“Do not,” Snape grit out, his shoulders a tense line as he made himself a little bit taller, “Call her that.”
“You disappoint me, Severus,” Voldemort said, “Your sentimentality has clouded your judgement and you would do well to remember where your loyalties lie.”
Harry couldn’t see Snape’s expression, but his voice was filled with contempt when he answered, “My judgement is clear, and my loyalties lie where they have always lain.”
Something passed over Voldemort’s face, then, something like deep surprise, something like fear, and Harry couldn’t help but feel triumphant over seeing him so thrown off course, uncertain and doubtful.
“Very well.” Voldemort bared his teeth. “I do not take pleasure in killing you.”
Harry almost believed him – as far as Voldemort knew, Snape had been a faithful follower, carrying out orders, having no doubts – but only almost. There was a fire in the red of his eyes, a malicious glint, and no mercy.
Snape moved so fast that Harry almost missed it, at the same time as Voldemort did, two streams flashes of bright green light erupting from two wands, and meeting mid-air, throwing both Snape and Voldemort back.
Harry was frozen in place, staring at the motionless body of the man who had killed his parents.
Is he dead? He wondered, unable to move closer. Slowly, the Great Hall filled with the buzzing sounds of whispers, murmurs, bodies shifting carefully. Is it over?
A hand, gentle but strong, touched his shoulder, pulling him around and Harry was met by a pair of hazel eyes, calm and yet filled with pain, as Remus closed both his arms around him, holding him close.
“It’s over,” he muttered into Harry’s ear, “It’s over. It’s over.”
It was a mantra and a prayer, a wish, a dream, and here, in the arms of the man that had become like a father to him, Harry allowed himself to belief it, while he returned the embrace.
The bodies of Dumbledore, Snape, Madam Hooch, Demelza Robins, Zacharias Smith, and five others were lying in the Great Hall, surrounded by friends and family, mourning their death. Madam Pomphrey and a group of volunteers were tirelessly tending to the wounded. Minister Rufus Scrimgeour and his Aurors had arrested the remaining Death Eaters, bringing them to Azkaban to await their trials. And Harry was sitting motionlessly in the Hospital Wing, alternating between staring at Sirius’ sleeping face and dozing off, slumped against Remus.
He was somewhere in the half-state between sleeping and waking when a deep groan sounded from the bed, rousing Harry from his slumber.
His godfather looked like hell – his skin was unnaturally pale and strands of his hair stuck to his forehead, his usually vibrant eyes seemed dull and tired and filled with pain, and then there was his chest. Harry swallowed thickly as his eyes traced the bandages covering Greyback’s marks.
“How are you?”
“Me?” Sirius asked, “Who cares about me. How are you? What happened?”
Harry opened his mouth to answer but no words came out. He stared at his godfather – eyes open, chest falling and rising, falling and rising, falling and rising…next to him, Remus put his arm around Harry’s shoulders and reached out with his other hand to hold Sirius’.
“He’s gone,” he said, “He’s dead. It’s over.”
There was more. There was so much more that they had to tell Sirius sooner or later, but for now this would have to be enough, for now, this was what mattered.
“Who –” Sirius interrupted himself, gulping audibly. “How many – Is everyone okay?”
“Mostly,” Remus answered, “Albus is dead. So is Severus. A few others.” Sirius nodded his head in a detached, distant, entirely subconscious sort of way, his eyes vaguely glazed over as he stared into the distance, miles and miles away from where his body was, a dark place, a cold place. “It’s over,” Remus said again, squeezing Sirius’ hand, pulling him a back to the here and now.
“It’s over,” Sirius repeated, “You’re okay.”
“We are, Padfoot. We’re okay.
Harry was grateful that they didn’t make him talk, that they seemed happy enough with him simply sitting there, clinging onto his godfather and Remus, counting his own breaths, listening to his own heartbeat, trying to silence the noise in his head. At least, he thought, Madam Pomphrey had given them a set of curtains to have some privacy, effectively shutting out any sound that might have come from the other side. Harry was grateful for that too. He didn’t think he could deal with any of that right now. The stares. The whispers, The people.
He knew, just a few beds away, the Weasley’s were gathered around Ginny, knew that Hermione was with them, but even they, even his friends, would ask questions, would look at him in the same way everyone else did these days, or worse, they would pity him, walk on eggshells around him, trying to spare his feelings. The mere thought made him sick.
Harry wasn’t sure exactly how much time had passed, if it was any at all, but their private little sanctum was broken when the curtains opened and a head of platinum-blond hair and a pair of steely grey eyes poked inside.
“Madam Pomphrey asks if there is anything you need,” said Draco, glancing at Harry for the split of a second before directing his undivided attention to Sirius. There was dust coating his hair and robes, dried blood on his hands, and dark circles under his eyes.
“We’re good, thank you, Draco,” Remus answered and Draco gave a sharp nod, looking at Harry once again, and then pulling his head back and shutting the curtains while Harry stared at the spot where Draco’s head had been. They hadn’t talked yet. Harry had done his best to avoid everyone except Sirius and Remus and was glad that he could safely do that here by his godfather’s side, but his heart clenched at the thought of Draco, his mind going back to just a few hours ago, the candle light catching the blond’s skin, their breaths mingling in the space between their lips. It seemed like a lifetime ago. When he looked back at the adults, Remus had both eyebrows raised and jerked his head towards the curtains. Harry frowned. Another jerk.
“He wants you to go after him,” Sirius pointed out, his voice still hoarse but clearly amused, and Harry blushed. It was ridiculous, really. After everything that had just happened, after almost dying, he was embarrassed by this…whatever this was.
“Not now,” Harry muttered, looking down at his own hands, picking at the dirt under his fingernails.
“I’m fine, Harry,” Sirius said, “It’s okay.”
And it was, wasn’t it? Even if Harry didn’t know what it was between them, he knew it was something and maybe that was enough.
Harry stood up quickly, before he could change his mind again, and pushed past the curtains. All the beds, he noted, were hidden from view, which was just as well. He really didn’t fancy having an audience to whatever happened next. And there was Draco, standing by the door to Madam Pomphrey’s office, looking at some sort of chart.
The blond looked up in alarm, his eyes wide. The exhaustion was written in every line of his face, and there was fear. Draco was afraid.
“Does Sirius need something after all?” The Slytherin asked, concern lacing his voice.
Harry shook his head. “No,” he said, “No, Sirius is fine, I just…I wanted to talk to you.” Draco remained silent, merely considering Harry with an expectant look. “Your mum,” the Gryffindor blurted out, “Is she –”
“She’s fine. I spoke to her earlier. She has, however, decided to stay away for a little longer until her innocence can be proven without a doubt.”
“Good.” Harry nodded his head. “That’s good. I’m glad that she’s okay.”
“Was that all?”
“No, I…I wanted…About earlier,” Harry choked out, trying to find the right words, “At the Common Room, you said, I mean, I thought – did you – did you mean –” he gave up. Harry’s face was burning, and his hands were shaking violently and it seemed, no matter what, he wasn’t able to string two coherent words together anyway.
“Very articulate,” Draco said teasingly before growing serious, “I don’t expect anything from you.”
“Yes, no, I know that.”
“I don’t expect anything of you,” the blond repeated, "But I also understand that the art of subtlety is lost on you, so I will make myself as clear as possible. You intrigue me, Harry. Ever since I met you, you have been able to break through my defences, to vex me more than anyone. If you asked my friends, they’d tell you that I’m obsessed. It was jealousy, at first. Fascination. Curiosity. I wanted your attention, though I did not understand at first, why. It made me cruel. However, in recent years I have become very aware of the nature of my feelings towards you, and while I know that at least some of those feelings are required, I don’t mean to assume anything. It’s not my place.”
“Wh – What kind of feelings?” Harry stuttered.
“I like you, Harry,” Draco said bluntly, “You’re kind and passionate and infuriating. Not to mention attractive.”
“I – I –” Harry tried, “I like you, too.” Actually saying out loud was a weight lifted from his shoulders, and Harry took a deep breath, trying to steady his frantic heartbeat.
The corners of Draco’s mouth pulled upwards into something soft and amused. “I know you do,” he replied. There was a mischievous glint in his eyes, as if he knew exactly what Harry was trying to say, but with no intentions to make it any easier on him.
Collecting his entire Gryffindor bravery, Harry steeled himself and said, “You promised me a kiss.”
One perfectly plucked eyebrow arched upwards towards Draco’s hairline. “I did, did I?”
“Yeah.” Harry gulped nervously.
There was no reply. Instead, Draco stepped closer, slowly closing the distance between them until he stood right in front of Harry, wetting his lips, and Harry’s brains shut off. There was a hand on his cheeks, slowly sliding backwards to his neck, fingers tangling in his hair. And there were lips, slightly chapped but still soft, pressing against his own and oh…This was…it was good. Different from the drunken kiss he’d forced onto Charlie. Better. So much better. Harry’s own hands must have moved because they found themselves clasping a waist, Draco’s waist, pulling the blond closer as Harry’s lips kissed back and –
Harry jumped back, his heart pounding almost painfully against his ribcage as he tried to catch his breath. Draco, too, looked dazed, his lips red and swollen, his eyes wide and fixed on something behind Harry’s back. The Gryffindor turned around. Ron was there, gaping, as was the rest of the Weasley family. And Hermione.
Two wolf-whistles echoed off the walls of the Hospital Wing and both twins were grinning almost obscenely. Mrs. Weasley was smiling, her eyes wet with unshed tears, Percy looked both surprised and annoyed, and Charlie bit his lips as of he was trying hard not to laugh.
“How’s Ginny?” Harry blurted out, his mind completely blank and vaguely panicking because this was not supposed to happen!
If Mrs. Weasley found his question in any way weird, she didn’t show it. “Awake and bored,” she answered, still smiling, “Madam Pomphrey says she’ll be able to leave soon. We were just going to see if they need any help with cleaning up the Castle.”
“Should probably get to that,” Charlie added, giving Harry a subtle wink, who could feel the blush returning to his cheeks.
“You’re right. Come on, Minerva will need all the hands she can get,” said Mrs. Weasley, striding past Harry towards the door, followed by her sons. Most of them anyway. Ron was still frozen in place, staring at Harry with his mouth wide open.
“Is this a thing now?” he asked, gesturing vaguely at Harry and Draco.
“Problem, Weasley?” Draco stepped next to Harry, very purposefully taking hold of his hand.
Next to Ron, Hermione was also smiling happily and, when Ron didn’t answer, jabbing him in the robs with her elbow.
“No,” Ron said quickly, rubbing his side, “No. It’s fine.”
“We’re happy for you, Harry,” Hermione said, and Harry believed her.
Ron stepped forward, rubbing his neck awkwardly. “Listen,” he began, "I was a git before.”
“It’s alright, Ron.”
“No. No, just let me – I was jealous, okay?”
Harry frowned. “Jealous?”
“You barely wrote all summer and then you come back being all chummy with Malfoy, what was I supposed to think?”
“Hang on.” It all started to make sense now. In a weird, twisted sort of way. “Hang on,” Harry said again, “Did you think I replaced you? With Draco?” Ron’s face turned the same shade as his hair, and he remained silent. “You’re my best friend, Ron,” Harry told him, “That’s not going to change.”
The tension that had still been in the line of Ron’s shoulders left, as he breathed out and nodded. “I’m sorry for being an idiot.”
“I’m sorry for making you think you didn’t matter.”
Draco let out a barely audible snort and shook his head. “Gryffindors,” he muttered under his breath, but there was no heat behind the word, no real snide, just affectionate exasperation, and Harry couldn’t help but smile. It seemed, he thought, as if things were going to be alright.
It was the end of term feast. The Castle was mostly cleared of all the rubble and debris. Broken windows had been mended, damaged portraits taken down, exams rescheduled, and the Great Hall looked almost normal again. But only almost. The usual House colours of the winner of the House Cup were missing, replaced by black and white and Hogwarts crests, and the tables were standing in a large circle, and, if anyone had bothered to take a closer look at said table, they would have noticed that it wasn’t just students sitting there, but also friends and families and all those who had fought in that final battle.
Harry was sitting between Draco and Sirius, the Weasley family across from him. A few seats down were Dean and Seamus, caught in their own bubble, exchanging soft looks and words. Luna and Neville were holding hands. As were Pansy and Blaise.
Harry had to suppress a smile when thinking back to a few days ago when Draco’s best friends had caught on to the newly found development between the Gryffindor and Slytherin, remembering the way Blaise had given Draco a suggestive look, the way Pansy had rolled her eyes and muttered, “Finally.” The way Draco had scowled and said, “Shut up.” And Pansy’s response – “No,” she’d said, “You will not take this away from me. I’ve had to deal with your pining since third year, I have a right to enjoy this now.”
The air was filled with chatter and laughter but underneath there was also pain and sorrow. The realisation that some people would never come back.
Newly appointed Headmistress McGonagall stood up and slowly the conversations died down. “Thank you,” she spoke up, “For coming here today, even after all that has happened. The last couple of weeks have been a trial for everyone. We have fought and we have won, but some of us lost, and I want us to remember them. I want us to remember Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, Rolanda Hooch, Demelza Robins, Zacharias Smith, Roger Davies, Graham Montague, Rosa O’Hare, Lilith King, and Matt Cornelli. As you’ve noticed, this Hall looks different today. There are no Houses. There are no divides. We are one. We are united. And we have to overcome our differences if we want to move on from the past. We shall not forget, but we must forgive. Hogwarts is our home, and it will remain our home. I ask now, for a moment of silence for those that cannot be with us today.” No one spoke. Harry could hear the rhythmic breathing of hundreds of people as they lowered their heads. He hadn’t even known most the people that had died, and yet he mourned them, and yet he missed them, and yet he wished they could be here today. Next to him, Draco was equally quiet, his gaze fixed firmly on his empty plate on the table, and without thinking, Harry reached out and took his hand. “Thank you,” McGonagall said, breaking the moment, “Now we eat, and tomorrow the future begins. A future of unity. A future of peace. A future together.”
The platters and bowls alone the table filled with themselves with food and Harry watched as everyone began to eat, conversations slowly picking up once again. He was still holding Draco’s hand.
A future, he thought, a future worth fighting for.
He reached for the potatoes, not letting go the blond’s hand.
A future worth living.
Draco, for his part, held on just as tightly, an almost invisible smile on his face.
A future together.
Right, this is it. It all started because I wanted to write a cute, little Wolfstar piece for my friend as a Secret Santa, and then this monster was suddenly created. I'm sorry.
It's more of a hopeful/open ending, than a happy one but I felt like it fit the overall mood more and people can make up their own minds about what happens next.
Thank you for reading =)