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The Bridge

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It's funny to think that I'm the one who won the war against Voldemort. Oh, Harry was the one who stood at the spearhead of a deep and devious attack mounted by a horde of mostly under-age wizards, and finished You-Know-Who off with a dagger to the heart when their wands locked together, but without me he wouldn't have got that far. Without me, a lot of that horde would have been on the other side.

I know it sounds arrogant, but it's not like I brag about it at all. The people who matter know. The person who matters most, knows best of all. The thing is, the weirdest thing about the whole business isn't that I'm the one who brought the attack together.

No, the truly weird thing is that it's all Trelawney's fault.

We were sitting in Divination class as usual, trying to breathe through the cloud of incense Trelawney thinks makes everything seem more mystical but just makes me want to throw up. She had fastened on to Tarot cards this lesson (which Hermione later told us have sod all to do with ancient Egypt — apparently Muggles invented them for playing games with, which seems like a daft thing to do but what do I know?), and she left us setting out cards and then peering through our tatty copies of Melusine Triumph's Major Arcana: The Principles of Cartomancy to work out what they were supposed to mean.

Harry, predictably, got a layout that included lots of doom and gloom. Death, lots and lots of swords mostly in some guy's back, and nothing that looked even remotely nice. The old bat was beside herself with joy when she spotted it. "I fear, Mr Potter," she cooed, "that imminent death stalks your every move." Just like the previous week, and the week before that, and you get the idea. When You-Know-Who is out to get you, death and devastation is an easy prediction to make.

I dealt myself a much more mixed bag. First up was card showing a man wearing orange and yellow leaning on a staff. He nodded his head amiably while we flipped through the booklet.

"The Page of Wands," Harry said. "Your present situation is, um, faithful, a lover or a postman. Postman? Oh, a messenger or envoy. Young man of family in search of young lady. Is there something you aren't telling me, Ron?" He smirked suggestively.

I ignored him, though I bet I was blushing. Harry had known I had a crush on Hermione long before I did, not that the git had had ever given me any good advice on the subject.

The next card, my likely outcome if I didn't do anything, was a man on a horse surrounded by a crowd, all carrying sticks. "The Knight of Wands?" I asked hopefully. The horseman glared at me.

"The six," Harry corrected me before I could offend the card any further. "Oh heck, that's got so many meanings it could be anything. Wait a sec, you've got it upside down there." He paused, frowning. "That's not good; it says here that it means fear, treachery and an enemy at the gate."

"Sounds like one you should have had, mate."

"You can keep it, thanks. Strength reversed," Harry said as I dealt the next card out, a picture of a woman holding down a lion without much trouble. "Your pursuer. Despotism, abuse, that sort of thing."

"Are you sure we're talking about my love life here?" I asked him.

"Unless Hermione has a kinky streak you're not letting on about, it's beginning to look unlikely. What's next?"

"That which inspires," I said, and turned up the Magician. "Well that's obvious enough."

The Magician shook his head gravely. "Um," Harry said as he found the right page. "It doesn't necessarily mean magic, according to this. It's supposed to be about skill, diplomacy and self-confidence. How does anyone get inspired by diplomacy?"

I shrugged. This was a Divination lesson after all, it wasn't supposed to make sense.

Next came a picture of a young man sneaking off with a bundle of swords, leaving a pair of them behind. "My manipulator is the seven of swords," I announced.

Harry sighed. "That's another one of those cards that could mean anything. A hope, a plan that might fail, a quarrel. This is pointless."

"So we can make up whatever we want, as usual," I told him, and turned the last card. The pivot, the big hint about what I was supposed to do, was the Page of Cups reversed.

"Taste," Harry read out, "seduction, deception, artifice, obstacles."

"Sounds like Malfoy," I said. The fair-headed young man in on the card gave me a sneering bow, which looked pretty peculiar since he was upside down to me.

I looked at the cards, then down at the notes I had scribbled as Harry had read the descriptions out. "So basically, this is saying I should get my act together and do something nice for Hermione before someone else gets there."

Harry shrugged. "Sounds good to me."

I glared at him. "There is no way I'm putting something like that in schoolwork. Trelawney would read it out just to embarrass me."

Professor Trelawney chose that moment to flounce up in a flurry of multicoloured scarves, presumably checking that we hadn't fallen asleep on the cushions. She glanced at the cards, smiled and nodded at me, and then stopped dead. "Oh my," she said, looking more closely at the cards.

All around, the class stopped muttering and started to pay attention to us. Lavender and Parvati were staring wide-eyed at Trelawney's interest, and I could feel my ears turning red. I just knew the professor was about to embarrass me.

"Is this your spread, Mr Weasley?" she asked. I tried not to grimace as I nodded; she needn't have sounded so incredulous. "Well well, I never would have thought it of you. Though now it occurs to me to Look," and believe me, I could hear the capital letter, "my Inner Eye reveals that you do indeed have the strength of character to transcend your own instincts. Congratulations, Mr Weasley, few are challenged to become such a Bridge as you."

"A Bridge, Professor?" Harry had to ask, he couldn't just let me write it off as Trelawney being deliberately so vague that her statement was bound to come true.

"Someone who spans a gap, allowing people or ideas or sometimes even knowledge to come together."

Oh, so she was being deliberately vague. That was OK, then.

Trelawney smiled brightly and floated off in a cloud of stinky perfume. Harry and I goggled at each other. "Has she gone mental?" I asked, trying to keep my voice down so as not to get a detention.

"I dunno," he replied, "but that was weird even for her."

"What was all that about transcending my...? Hey!" The shout was at Lavender Brown, who was peering over my shoulder and scribbling furiously. "Those are my cards, get your own!"

She smiled as I hastily shuffled the cards together. "It's all right, Ron, I think I got it all down. I must say, this is tremendously brave of you."

I looked Harry. "Mental," I said. He nodded.

For the rest of the day, I got a small taste of what life is like for the famous Harry Potter. Every time I turned round, there were Lavender and Parvati making notes and giving me encouraging smiles. It was nice to have the attention... for about five minutes.

"It's bloody annoying, that's what it is," I complained to Harry and Hermione after dinner. Harry, the git, had the nerve to smile. "Don't say anything," I told him. "Not. A. Word."

"Honestly, Ron," Hermione said, "you shouldn't let them get to you. If you just ignore them, they'll forget all about it in a day or two. It is all complete nonsense, after all."

Even I knew not to say that so loudly where Lavender and Parvati would have to defend Professor Trelawney's honour.

"It is not nonsense," Parvati insisted angrily. "It all makes perfect sense if you look at it in the right way."

"Oh really?" You could have painted the walls with the skepticism in Hermione's voice.

"Yes, really. Now Ron didn't lay down a significator, so there's no easy way to tell what question the cards are really answering..."

"How terribly unfortunate."

"...but if you think about it together with what's going on with You-Know-Who, it's obvious!"

Parvati smiled triumphantly at Hermione, as if that explained everything. Hermione stared back, unimpressed. I ducked. "I'll just be—"

"Look, it's obvious," Lavender broke in, ignoring me. That was fine by me, I didn't want anything to do with this shouting match. "Strength reversed means abuse of power, it has to be You-Know-Who, particularly since he's causing the treachery that will happen if Ron doesn't do his thing."

"Do his thing," Hermione repeated, lip curling.

Somehow I got the impression I'd just been insulted. "Hey! I do things. I do lots of things." I might as well not have bothered for all the attention the girls gave me.

"Diplomacy," Parvati said simply.

Even I boggled at that. Hermione actually laughed. "Ron is a great friend and a good wizard, but he is not in the slightest bit diplomatic."

At least I was diplomatic enough to keep my mouth shut and not mention how undiplomatic Hermione was being. Honestly, some times she just drives me up the wall.

"It's who he is, not how diplomatic he is," Lavender said pityingly. "Only a pureblood wizard stands any chance of getting the Slytherins not to defect to You-Know-Who's side. Bloodline is all that matters to them, and they don't count Harry since his mother was Muggle-born."

"The Slytherins? When did they become part of this?"

At about this point I reckoned they'd forgotten about me being there, and I'd had quite enough of Hermione's idea of a defence. I managed to catch Harry's eye, mumbled something about having to trim a dragon's toenails that the girls ignored, and the two of us slipped away to talk about more comfortable things like Quidditch and whether I was ever going to tell Hermione that I liked her.

I'd have left it at that, honest, and let everyone forget about the whole business. I would have, but I had this weird dream.

I was playing Quidditch, which is normal enough for my dreams, but not on the school pitch. Instead I was in this big stadium with a pair of huge towers at either end but nothing at the middle. The towers at my end were bright and shiny, all glass and steel like those Muggle skyscratchers that Dean goes on about, while the ones at the other end were dark, sharp-looking stone that made me feel cold just looking at them. I wasn't in my usual Quidditch robes either, but in a heavy set that were one quarter red, one quarter yellow, one quarter blue and one quarter no colour at all. No not black, no colour — it made a lot more sense in the dream.

There were a lot of us on the pitch but there were more of our opponents in their black and green robes. I was the Keeper, and I did a good job too, but there were too many people on the other team and I couldn't keep everything out. Not even Oliver Wood could have managed that, there were so many of them, and more bludgers than there ought to have been flying around. I knew that Harry was going to win the battle of the Seekers, but at the rate the goals were going in I wasn't sure that would be enough to win the match for us.

"You can't win like this," Lavender said, floating beside me on a broom and being no help whatsoever keeping the quaffle out of the hoops. "You need more people on your side."

"There aren't any more people to play!"

"But there are more people to play on your side."

"Where?!"

She waved vaguely out over the pitch, blithely ignoring a bludger that tore between us. "Out there. Not everyone is playing on the right team."

"So I just tell them 'Oi, switch to my side'? That's worked so well in the past."

"Perhaps you need to shake up the rules a bit," she said, catching the quaffle one-handed and tossing it to me. "Perhaps the Keeper needs to Chase a bit."

"Perhaps the Keeper needs his head examined," I grumbled, but I knew I was going to do it anyway. Like I said, it made more sense in the dream.

The first few seconds were hell. I had bludgers and opponents coming at me from all angles, and it was all I could do to stay on my broom. There was no chance to pass the quaffle off to anyone else, all of my team were being marked out of the game.

Then I saw Malfoy come screaming in at me in his black and green robes and lost my temper good and proper. That snotty brat was not going to be the one who took the quaffle off me, not even if it meant spending a week in the hospital wing. I took off down the field, corkscrewing round other flyers and swerving round the stands in ways that I'd seen Harry do in real life but that I only ever manage in my dreams. I even managed to pull off a Richardson Side-slip, which is supposed to be impossible without a specially designed broom, but Malfoy stuck to me like glue. We flew our twisty path all the way down to the enemy goals before I was finally caught in a five-way pincer. As the five broomsticks converged on me in a pattern I couldn't dodge, I did the only thing I could do. I passed the quaffle.

To Malfoy.

He looked astonished, then delighted. It wasn't his usual malicious delight at having found a new way to drop Harry in it, it was more... I feel like a right idiot for saying this, but it was a pure, innocent delight. That was what told me I'd done the right thing, that and the way he did a sloth grip roll to dodge a bludger and threw the quaffle to score us a goal. OK, so he threw like a girl, but a goal's a goal.

Then the opposition collided with us both.

When we picked ourselves up from the ground and remounted, bruised but unbroken, we were both laughing our heads off. We were also wearing identical robes of red, yellow, blue and green.

From that point on there was no stopping us. The enemy scored plenty more goals, but Malfoy and I scored a lot of our own and tagged more and more of them to join our team. Slowly we tipped the balance back until when Harry finally caught the snitch in an explosion of emerald light we were more than close enough to win.

Draco and I were side by side as the announcer called out the final score, and we couldn't stop hugging each other and slapping each other on the back, we were so excited.

That's when I woke up, feeling pretty alarmed. It sounds petty now, but I was more concerned that I'd thought about the Ferret as Draco, and that hugging him was kind of nice, than I was about having a dream whose symbolism was so blatant even I couldn't miss it.

The thing is, Lavender and Parvati were right. Sort of. I spent days running through all the strategies I could think of in the fight against You-Know-Who, during which my notoriety with Trelawney's hangers-on faded as nothing much happened, and I always came up against the same answer. He had all the Death Eaters and their families, we had the Order and some students. That was way too many people on his side, given that most wizards were just running for cover.

Harry and Hermione didn't seem too impressed when I tried to explain it to them on the way to Potions. "There are more Death Eaters than we can cope with," I told them, "even if we do try to divide and conquer. We're going up against entire families of fanatics. Unless we can do something to shake their belief that they're right, we're stuffed."

"But what?" Hermione asked. "Malfoy would rather die than admit that I've done better than him at anything, no matter what our exam results are."

Harry could see where I was going, but he wasn't any keener on me trying. "Ron, face it, when was the last time you and Malfoy exchanged words without one of you hexing the other? Your families have been arguing for generations."

"All the more reason for one of us to stop it." I couldn't believe I'd actually said that, but it was true. Malfoy might be a snob, but could I claim to be any better if I kept baiting him myself? Maybe, maybe not; either way I reckoned I'd need to wash my mouth out after this conversation.

"Well, here's your chance," Harry said quietly as we arrived at the Potions classroom. Malfoy and his cronies were already lined up waiting for Snape to open the door, looking as sour as they had all year. I suppose having your father thrown into jail will do that.

Put on the spot like that, I had no idea what to say. My friends were right; I'm not much good with words, or tact, or anything like that. I managed not to panic, though, and tried to think my strategy through in about three seconds flat. All I could think of was what would I do if it was Harry?

I smiled at Malfoy. Not my usual 'you are going down, mate' nasty smile that I've reserved for the Ferret since the first time he tried to land us in detention, but more of an 'it'll be OK' sort of smile. Not that I actually wanted it to be OK, since that would mean Lucius Malfoy getting out of Azkaban, I just wanted Malfoy not to feel like I was about to attack him.

Malfoy boggled. "What?" he asked suspiciously.

"It's just a smile," I said, shrugging. I skipped the next couple of things that popped into my head on the grounds that they were sarcastic enough to start our usual quarrel. "You looked like you could use one."

Well that certainly confused Malfoy. He stood there opening and closing his mouth like a particularly stupid midas fish for a few seconds before Snape appeared and ushered us for yet another double period of torture.

"Not a bad start," Harry murmured as we entered.

Hermione harrumphed as we sat down together. She wasn't about to forget all the times Malfoy had called her a Mudblood, I guessed.

I was feeling pretty good about my first attempt at diplomacy, but Snape had a nasty surprise in store. According to him today's potion, a simple wound-closing salve, was easy enough that he felt it appropriate to randomly switch partners around.

Random my senile Uncle Eustace. Snape just wanted an excuse to pair Hermione up with Neville to make her look bad. And wouldn't you know it, he paired me up with Malfoy. Just my luck.

I carried on with the smiling and generally ignoring the fact that I was lumbered with Malfoy, and just hoped that he was good enough to spot when I was about to do something wrong. Malfoy didn't seem to know what to do about us being paired up either, beyond an opening insult or two that lacked his usual bite. Once we got down to the actual potion brewing we lapsed into a sort of comfortable silence. In fact I found myself humming while shredding the raspberry leaves, something that had Malfoy shooting me these worried glances out of the corner of his eyes when he thought I wasn't looking. Which gave me an idea.

"I'm not, you know," I said conversationally, though quietly enough not to draw Snape's attention.

"What?" Malfoy sounded so startled I couldn't help but smile at him again.

"Going mad or anything like that."

Malfoy blinked, then tried to cover his confusion with a drawled insult. "I suppose it's hard to go mad when you were barking to start with."

"Oh trust me, if you'd ever met Uncle Eustace you'd know I've got a way to go yet. Did he say two or three tablespoons of leaves?"

"Three. What are you up to, Weasel?"

"Hmm, better shred some more then. Do I have to be up to something?" I have to admit, playing the innocent was pretty funny, though I'd have had to have been a total loon to admit that to him.

"You hate me. You're being nice to me. Ergo, you're up to something. Now stop trying to be sneaky before that little Gryffindor brain of yours explodes from the effort and tell me what you're after."

"Ah, now, there's the thing, I don't hate you, not really. My family hates your family, I hate what your family stands for, and I really don't like your father, but I don't know you well enough to hate you."

"What?"

"Look, ever since we started at Hogwarts, we've only ever met as a Weasley and a Malfoy pissing each other off. Every time we've been in the same room, either I've been stirring things up for you, or you for me. We've never actually been Ron and Draco around each other, we've just assumed the worst and gone on from there. I just thought 'bugger that for a game of Aurors, let's be me for once.'"

"That's... an interesting idea. Why should I believe you?"

I shrugged again. "You probably shouldn't, but what the heck. Shouldn't you be stirring now?"

Malfoy grabbed for the spoon, still having the presence of mind to grab an oaken one rather than something that would sour the potion. "According to you, stirring is all I ever do," he groused.

I laughed. Which OK caused Snape to come swooping down on us certain that I was trying to poison his favourite student, but the point is I actually forgot myself enough to laugh at one of Malfoy's jokes, and he forgot himself enough to crack one that wasn't much at my expense.

It was dinner time before he remembered to be annoyed with me. I was leaving the hall talking Quidditch tactics with Harry and Seamus while Hermione resolutely ignored us in favour of re-reading Hogwarts: A History yet again. Harry suddenly broke off in mid-sentence, looked over my shoulder and muttered, "Uh-oh."

Malfoy was bearing down on us, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle, and he really didn't look happy. "What do you mean, 'you hate what my family stands for'?" he asked bluntly, ignoring everyone else.

"Oh, that. It's the whole 'purebloods are better than everyone else' business, it gets right up my nose."

The sneer was back, as if we'd never had a civilised conversation that afternoon. "Your family may have squandered what talents you have along with your money, but the rest of us simply are better."

"Really?" I had to take a couple of deep breaths and remind myself that smearing the little bastard's nose across his face wasn't going to help. "Better how?"

"Simply better, Weasel. I wouldn't expect you to understand with the company you keep."

"I was just wondering. You can't be talking about power, 'cos no one's going to argue that You-Know-Who isn't one of the most powerful wizards about, and wasn't his dad a Muggle?" I looked at Harry, who nodded. Malfoy looked vaguely shocked, as if this was news to him.

"If you meant that purebloods are smarter than everyone else," I continued, "you're ignoring that fact that Hermione keeps coming top in every subject." Hermione smirked, which didn't exactly help Malfoy keep his temper.

"So unless it's really about prejudice and making yourself feel important, I honestly don't know what you're on about. How many Muggle-born wizards do you know, anyway?"

Malfoy drew himself up and practically spat. "Why would I sully myself by consorting with Mudbloods?"

"Thought so. It's like with you and me; you've got no idea what it is you're cheerfully hating. Or who. Try actually meeting people some time, they may surprise you."

Malfoy glanced at Hermione, sneering as usual. "Granger, for instance? I think not. She's a rude, arrogant, overbearing know-it-all and I have no desire to be insulted by her presence."

I nodded in mock sympathy. "Yeah, too much like competition I guess. Hey!" I yelled as Hermione thumped me. She and Malfoy were the only people who didn't laugh at the joke; even Goyle had to fake a coughing fit to cover a snicker.

"At least I am not physically violent," Malfoy shot back.

"Whatever." Pointing out that he'd just admitted to being a wimp wouldn't have been useful, however good it would have made me feel. "If you figure out any answers, let me know. In the mean time, I've got twelve inches to write on Grathnar the Grubby for Binns. See you."

I kept smiling until we were round the corner since it seemed to confuse Malfoy so much, and a confused Malfoy was the whole point of my strategy. Confuse him enough, I reckoned, and he might start thinking about all this stuff for himself.

"Way to go, Ron," Seamus crowed. "They ought to be giving you points for talking to Malfoy without hexing him to hell and back."

Hermione was much less amused. "Ronald Weasley," she fumed, "I cannot believe that you compared me to that... that..."

"Slytherin git?" I suggested. She glared at me. "It works both ways, Hermione. The two of you have never been in a situation where you weren't at wands drawn, have you?"

She eyed me narrowly. "Are you saying that I'm prejudiced?"

For once, I saw the trap before I fell into it. "No, you've never had a chance to get to know him properly. He's actually not too bad when he forgets to insult you all the time. Besides, I'd never call you prejudiced."

"Not and get away with it," Seamus muttered, not quite quietly enough. He dodged back hurriedly as Hermione turned on him.

"I heard that, Seamus Finnigan," she snarled. Seamus fled, and Hermione stalked after him muttering furiously.

"What got into her?" I asked Harry.

"Well, you did agree that she's rude, arrogant and overbearing."

"But..." But she is sometimes, a little voice reminded me. The way she made me feel like such a cretin when I couldn't get Windgardium Leviosa to work, for instance. The fact that she's also smart, loyal, helpful in the extreme and usually pretty forgiving when I put my foot in it was something that took me a bit longer to get. "I'm not going to win that one, am I?"

"Not a chance. I should start grovelling now. At least you're doing better with Malfoy."

"You think so?" I was beginning to doubt myself, now that I'd made a hash of things with Hermione yet again.

"You just had a conversation with him that didn't involve shouting, screaming or death threats, and barely any insults about each other's families. That's a first."

"Yeah." OK, so maybe it hadn't been all bad. Except... "Harry, mate, can I borrow your History of Magic notes?"

He laughed. "What makes you think I stayed awake?"

"I'm doomed."

That set the pattern for the next several days. Malfoy and I would meet up randomly and carry on from where we'd left off until either we had to go our separate ways or one of us had to actually think about an answer. I think we nearly gave Snape a stroke when we were still going at it when we walked into Potions and sat next to each other before we realised what we were doing.

It wasn't always Malfoy who had to admit defeat, unfortunately. I know I'm not the brightest of guys, especially when it comes to this philosophy stuff, and there were plenty of times when I knew there was an answer to Malfoy's points but I didn't know what it was. Fortunately I had Harry and Hermione on my side, once she'd forgiven me anyway, and I could always count on them to help me out when I got stuck.

I got the distinct impression that admitting to doubt was something that Slytherins just didn't do, which left Draco on his own whenever I stumped him. I asked him about it on the way to Transfiguration.

"You are kidding, aren't you?" he said. He seemed a bit shocked I was even asking.

"No. When I don't know something, I ask my friends. If they don't know, we can usually figure out where to look."

"Because of course Granger knows everything."

I shrugged. "Not as true as we'd like, but she's a pretty good bet. How about you, why don't you ask your mates when you're stumped?"

"Because wearing a sign saying 'I'm ignorant, please abuse me' is not a very good idea in Slytherin House."

"I'm not talking about taking out an advert in Witch Weekly, just asking friends. You do know what friends are, don't you?"

He shook his head sadly. "You wouldn't last five minutes in Slytherin, Weasley. The whole point is that we learn not to rely on others, except for what they can do for us. I have friends, but I trust them to be looking out for themselves. If I admitted to them that I didn't know something, that I doubted, they would see a chink in my armour and wouldn't respect my lead. If I admitted to self-doubt, I might as well write and tell the Dark Lord to book me into a nice, dank dungeon cell."

"And yet we're talking."

"You don't count, you're a Gryffindor. Everybody knows that you can trust a Gryffindor not to do the sensible thing."

I snorted, thinking of Peter Pettigrew. "You know something, Malfoy? I don't think you'd last a week in Gryffindor either."

He raised an eyebrow at me in something I'd come to recognise as not actually a sneer. "Is that a challenge, Weasley?"

I grinned back. "I reckon I could handle being in Slytherin better than you could handle being in Gryffindor."

"Oh, absolutely. You have such an obvious devious streak and everyone respects your leadership qualities, whereas I could never abandon common sense and self-preservation."

"What a capital idea, gentlemen," came an amused voice from behind us, completely ignoring Malfoy's deep sarcasm. My heart sank; I could hear the chuckle in that voice, and I knew Professor Dumbledore was about to find some way to make me regret having such a big mouth.

"The American Indians have a saying about walking a mile in another man's moccasins before you can understand him," the Headmaster continued. "It all sounds very uncomfortable to me. Spending a week in another man's house seems altogether more civilised. Though come to think of it, a week would cause some problems with the way your lessons are timetabled, wouldn't it? Lemon drop?"

I took one of the Muggle sweets automatically, even if they are a bit boring. Draco evidently couldn't think of a good reason to say no either, and kept looking at me to make sure the lemon drop didn't make my head explode or something.

"Ah, I have it!" Dumbledore exclaimed as Draco finally took the plunge and popped the sweet into his mouth. "We shall simply have to make the most of the weekends. Mr Weasley, you shall spend this coming weekend eating at the Slytherin table, studying in the Slytherin common room and sleeping in the Slytherin dormitory, then the following weekend Mr Malfoy will similarly spend his time in Gryffindor House." He chuckled. "That should allow you a chance to settle your challenge. I shall inform Professor McGonagall and Professor Snape at once."

We stood there watching as Dumbledore ambled off, too shocked that he was going to make us go through with this to do anything.

"That is the man You-Know-Who is afraid of?" Draco eventually asked weakly.

"I know what you mean," I said with feeling. "The worrying thing is that he's usually right."

Saturday morning arrived faster than I've ever known a school week to pass. Everyone seemed to have advice for me once the news got around, ranging from Dean's offer of fighting tips to some more sensible ideas from Hermione. Even McGonagall got in on the act. "The house elves will move your belongings while you are at breakfast," she told me, then fixed me with her sternest look. "I expect you to be a credit to Gryffindor, and not let the Slytherins win this challenge."

I almost blew it right at breakfast by forgetting to go to the Slytherin table. I'd nearly sat down before Harry coughed loudly and pointed over to where Malfoy was looking at me narrowly. "Good luck," he murmured, "and don't let them see you're scared."

"Thanks mate, that makes me feel so much better," I told him, and headed over to meet my doom.

It was about what I expected. Most of the Slytherins had decided to hate me and didn't take any trouble to hide it. Draco seemed to be more put out by that than by my presence, which left Crabbe and Goyle uncertain which way to jump. Having no better idea, I fell back on what had worked before; I smiled like they weren't snubbing me, which wasn't too hard since I didn't care all that much.

"So nice of you to join us," Pansy Parkinson sneered as I squished in next to Draco. "I hope you enjoy your stay with us, and don't have too many nasty accidents."

I took that as a threat, since she probably meant it as one. "I hope so too," I said, and snagged some bacon. "Especially since someone pointed out that this is as much a test of you lot as it is of me." I thought it would be a good idea not to mention that Hermione had come up with that one.

Pansy looked frankly disbelieving, but Draco sat up sharply and smirked. "Ah yes," he said, "delivering your battered body back on Monday morning would hardly be subtle, would it?"

"Besides, Snape would not be impressed that you passed up a perfectly good opportunity for finding out what we Gryffindors are up to."

"Why should we be interested in anything you or your pathetic little friends might be doing?" Zabini asked, in a move straight out of the Malfoy Manual of Annoyance. I hadn't fallen for that one for years. Well, this year anyway.

"Suit yourself, it's not like what you don't know can hurt you," I said and smirked myself for once. "Oh, thanks," I said as Goyle passed the sausages in my direction.

Life at the breakfast table became a lot more tolerable when Goyle and I discovered a shared love of covering our sausages with proper brown sauce, and spent the rest of the meal teasing Draco for being fancy and insisting on having mustard with his. The others seemed torn between keeping their noses in the air around me and making smart remarks of their own. Not a bad start, all in all.

They had to show me the way to the dungeons once we'd finished eating. In my defence I wasn't supposed to know how to get there, so the fact that I couldn't remember much from my one secret trip there several years ago actually helped me for once. What I did remember, and what hadn't changed one little bit, was how cold the place was.

We stopped at a blank stretch of wall that looked vaguely familiar, and Pansy turned around and gave me a particularly nasty smile. Not that I'd ever seen a smile look good on her, but you know what I mean. "The password for this weekend is 'sufferance'," she said snootily, then turned and stomped through the now open door.

"Well that was subtle," I said to no one in particular, following her in.

"You should hear the ones we talked her out of," Draco told me.

I shuddered. "Right. Could you tell me where the dorms are? I should check my stuff got here intact."

"I'll show you," Crabbe volunteered unexpectedly. He lead me through an archway in the corner of the common room and along a short corridor into a dorm room that looked a lot like the one I'd left that morning. My trunk was waiting at the foot of the second bed along.

"Huh," Crabbe grunted. "They put you between me and Draco."

"Makes sense I suppose, I do know him better than I know anyone else here. That's not saying much I know, but—"

Crabbe cut me off by slamming me into the wall and drawing his wand. "What are you up to, Weasley?" he asked, his face just inches from mine. He didn't look nearly so stupid this close up.

I gulped. "Nothing?" I tried. It would probably have worked better if I hadn't squeaked.

"Don't give me that." Crabbe's voice was quiet, but there was no mistaking the menace in it. "You get yourself into our house, you get Draco acting all weird, you even get Greg making food jokes with you. You are up to something and I want to know what."

I could keep quiet, make up something wildly implausible, or tell him the truth. Since it was wildly implausible anyway, I went with the truth.

"I'm making you think," I said. "It's like I've been saying to Draco all along; you didn't know me, and I really didn't know you before all this started. I just got sick of all the assumptions we make about each other and what's going on."

Crabbe shook his head. "I don't believe you. You and your friends sent Draco's father to Azkaban, and you expect me believe that you're being nice to him just because?"

"Draco is not his father," I said, a bit more forcefully than I really intended. "Maybe I'm a bit prejudiced about Lucius Malfoy, but finding out that he slipped You-Know-Who's old diary into my sister's stuff did not put him on my Christmas card list. I don't know how much you know about what went on in our second year, but that thing still gives Ginny nightmares.

"And yes, we were there when he and his friends stormed into the Ministry of Magic, but funnily enough no one was holding a wand to his head and making him do it. Lucius made his choice a long time ago, and picked You-Know-Who. Draco... all of you are staring at that same choice, and you don't even know what choice you're making."

"And you do?" I didn't really notice it at the time, but he didn't sound nearly as scathing as he should have done.

"I haven't had the idea that following You-Know-Who will make me great and powerful forced on me since I was born, so yeah, I do have a better idea."

"No, you've just grown up being told the Dark Lord is evil and to be scared of him."

"Good point. On the other hand, he does want to kill people, which is a bad start in my book."

"Only Muggles."

I rolled my eyes. "And you know so many Muggles, all of whom are a complete waste of space and deserve to die. Sure. Besides..." I thought of everything that Harry had told us about his visions, and how You-Know-Who ruled his Death Eaters by fear. "Besides, it's not just Muggles. He killed Cedric Diggory because he was there. He's killed lots of other people because they were in the way. He's tried to kill Harry so many times now it's not funny. And he wouldn't hesitate to kill any of his people just to make a point."

Crabbe stepped back a little, smiling a twisted little smile. "So in you charge, sneakily trying to save us from ourselves. How very Gryffindor of you."

"Flattery will get you nowhere."

"Just understand this. If anything happens to Draco because of you, anything at all—"

"They'll find my bleeding corpse at the foot of the tower, I know. Don't take this the wrong way, but if I were you I'd be saying exactly the same thing." I let him think about that while I opened up my trunk and checked my things over. "Hey, fancy a game of Wizard Chess?"

The day turned out to be quite boring after that start, which was probably a good thing. It rained, so we mostly stayed in the common room. I did a bit of work on my Potions essay, then got tired of that and challenged Draco to a chess game. I trounced him in the first game because he underestimated me, picked an opening I knew better than him and ended up in a hopelessly muddled middle game. We were well into our second game, a real battle of wills that had us both concentrating to the exclusion of everything else, when Zabini let us know we had an audience.

"He's cheating, of course," he drawled.

It took me a moment to realise that we were being talked to, and a few moments more to deal with discovering that we were the centre of attention of a fair chunk of the common room. By the time I got round to getting angry with Zabini for accusing me of cheating, Draco had got there first.

"Do you imagine for a moment," he said icily, "that he could cheat and I wouldn't notice?"

Zabini backed down hastily. "Of course not, I wouldn't dream of saying any such thing. It must be that tatty old set of his throwing your game off, honestly I don't know how you can play with such junk." He seemed a bit surprised when this didn't placate Draco much at all, but I'd had enough of the snotty attitude anyway.

"Why is it," I asked, "that anything old of mine is a worn-out hand-me-down, but anything old of yours is a valuable antique?"

"Because my belongings are in pristine condition," Zabini said haughtily.

"In other words they're never used," Draco said, studying the board again. "Now be a good chap and shut up, will you? I'm in a tricky enough position without you distracting me all the time."

The look on Zabini's face was something to treasure. I blame it for distracting me so much that Draco forced a draw. "Thanks," I said afterwards. "Nobody else in Gryffindor is much cop. It's nice to play against someone who really knows what he's doing for once."

Draco took my cack-handed compliment with a smile. "Same here. We must do this again. Only next time we'll use my set."

Sadly, that turned out to be the high point of the day. Once Draco and I stopped playing, nothing else interesting happened. The Slytherin common room was not exactly the liveliest place in the world, and apart from some tedious conversations about the weather and the inevitable discussions of current events that stopped the moment anyone realised I was in earshot, it was possibly the most boring time I'd ever spent anywhere.

"Is it always so quiet?" I asked Draco quietly at dinnertime. He gave me an odd look.

"Do you seriously expect everyone to be discussing the latest news about the Dark Lord's plans while there's a spy in our midst?"

"Well, no, but I wasn't expecting it to be so boring. If this keeps up I might have to do something rash and exciting like go to the Library."

"Be still my beating heart. Would it help if I told everyone they should be plotting your grisly demise out loud?"

"Gee, thanks. Maybe it won't rain tomorrow and we can get out for a bit. Oo, sprouts!"

Draco shook his head as Goyle and I heaped our plates. "Is there anything you two won't eat?"

Goyle and I looked at each other, then back at Draco. "Nah," we said in unison.

Pansy rolled her eyes. "Men!" she said in disgust.

"I'll thank you not to tar me with that brush," Draco responded, looking faintly ill at the rate we were packing food away.

"Why Draco, I'd never realised you weren't a man. What will my parents say?"

Eventually Goyle and I stopped choking on our food and managed to get our laughter under control. "You are trying to kill me," I accused Pansy, still leaning on Goyle a bit weakly.

"That goes without saying." Funnily enough, she said that with the first real smile I'd seen her use.

The evening, much to Draco's disgust, was a bit livelier. Oh, there were no games of Exploding Snap going on or planning new jinxes to test out on first years, but people did start including me in conversations at last. Mostly conversations aimed at making smart remarks at my expense, I grant you, but I wasn't the only target. I'd like to claim that I gave as good as I got, but I didn't.

I wasn't stupid enough to let my guard down up in the dorm room, though. Before climbing into bed, I cast a simple spell I've known for years and was rewarded with the sound of several jinxes popping out of existence. "Oh come on, guys," I told the others (mostly Zabini, to be fair), "remember who my brothers are. De-hexing my bed is a basic survival skill."

Goyle at least had the grace to look sheepish. Zabini just looked annoyed.

I'd expected to feel a bit weird and uneasy going to sleep in the Slytherin dorm, but it actually felt almost familiar. The room was pretty similar to the dorm I'd been sleeping in all year, after all, and I'd at least got to know the people I was sharing it with. I was pretty sure that even Zabini wasn't going to do anything too drastic to me in the middle of the night, not that I hadn't put a couple of alarm spells in place just in case. Granted there were differences. Goyle's snoring was louder than Seamus', for instance, and someone else — Zabini, I think — was a very restless sleeper, but all in all it didn't take me long to fall asleep.

When I woke up it was still dark. I was out of bed and reaching over to the moaning figure in the next bed before my brain started working and I realised that this wasn't Harry having a nightmare.

It was Draco. He wasn't thrashing around so much, but in what little light there was I could see that whatever he was dreaming about had him close to tears. "No," he whimpered, "father, please, no. Don't go. I need you. I l— I can't lose you. Please, don't leave me."

It finally hit me then that I needed to listen to myself more. I'd spent all this time telling the Slytherins that they didn't know the real me, and all the while I hadn't really cared about getting to know them. As long as they joined my side, it didn't matter that much.

Lying there in the grip of his nightmare, Draco smashed that idea to pieces. He wasn't the bane of my existence any more, someone I was doing pretty well at tolerating but didn't want to know any more about. Looking back, he hadn't been that for days anyway, but now I couldn't avoid seeing the boy about my age who had had his father ripped away from him and who desperately wanted him back. I couldn't let him deal with that alone any more than I could let Harry sleep through one of the nightmares You-Know-Who inflicted on him.

I reached out and shook Draco gently by the shoulder. "It's OK, Draco," I said quietly, trying not to wake anyone else. "It's just a dream, just a nightmare. You can wake up now, it's OK."

I've woken Harry enough times now to know that anything can happen when someone wakes up confused and afraid, but even so Draco caught me on the hop when he suddenly sat up, hugged me tightly and buried his head in my shoulder. I managed not to squawk in surprise, eventually thinking to hug him back and make more reassuring noises while he woke up properly. It felt right, that's what made me relax most; I knew beyond all argument that I was doing the right thing in being there for Draco.

It didn't take long for Draco to wake up enough to realise he was hanging on to me for dear life. "What?" he asked, pushing away, still not fully with it.

"You were having a nightmare. I woke you." I left my hand still touching Draco's arm; somehow it felt wrong to break the contact between us.

As my words sank in, Draco woke up fast. "You heard?" he asked. I nodded. He winced.

"I might not like your father much," I told him, "but he is your father and I can't fault you for caring about him."

Draco closed his eyes for a moment, then fixed me with the best death glare he could manage under the circumstances. "You are never to mention anything about this to anyone. Is that clear?"

I opened my mouth to agree when something occurred to me. "What's it worth?" I asked, grinning.

Draco's jaw dropped open. "What?"

"I'm supposed to be a Slytherin for the weekend, aren't I? Well then, if I never say anything about your nightmares, will you, oh I dunno, never use the word 'Mudblood' again?"

"I have created a monster," Draco moaned, flopping back in his bed. He wasn't thinking about the nightmare itself any more, I was fairly sure.

"Deal?"

"Deal. Bastard." There was no heat to his insult, so I didn't take it personally. "I didn't think you had it in you."

"I had a good teacher."

"Fine, blame me, see if I care."

"Go back to sleep, mate," I told him. "Just remember you aren't alone."

I slipped back into my own bed. I kept a sharp ear out for a while, but there was no more thrashing and groaning coming from Draco. Well, I'd see in the morning if he really was OK. I've got quite good over the years at spotting the after-effects of a bad night's sleep, if only so that I could know when to really start worrying about Harry.

By the time I woke up, Draco was already showering. Mind you, so was most of the rest of the dorm. I hurried into the bathroom, turned the water on, and tried not to look too much like I was studying Draco. Or anyone else, for that matter. They were, as Draco had forced me to realise, all individual people in their own right and the urge to stop and stare at each of them was pretty strong.

Vince Crabbe, for instance, had already shown me that he was a lot smarter than he let on, which admittedly wasn't hard but still he wasn't stupid. His build was deceptive too; in school robes he just looked overweight, but here I could see that most of that bulk was muscle. Greg really was overweight, but he had a quietly wicked sense of humour I liked, and was a much nicer guy than anyone outside the Slytherin common room got to see. Nott I didn't know much about, except that he kept himself to himself and was even-handed in his insults. Zabini I didn't like, and he didn't seem to like me, but his singing in the shower was pretty impressive.

Draco was... Draco. Physically he wasn't that imposing, being tall and slight like his father, but he had that trick of grabbing your attention that put him in control of a room. When he was relaxed, you felt relaxed too. When he was sneering, you knew you were dealing with the most pure-blooded, arrogant, annoying person in the school. And when he was feeling depressed, you knew that a light had gone out somewhere.

This morning, he didn't seem too bad, I thought. He wasn't slouched over or anything, he was smiling a little and even humming as he towelled himself off. I finished rinsing my hair out, then surreptitiously caught his attention as Blaise launched into yet another of the Weird Sisters' hits. "OK?" I mouthed.

He nodded and gave me a small smile. Then he did a double-take, slapped a hand over his mouth and seemed to start choking.

"Draco! What's the matter?" Well that got everyone's attention.

A giggle escaped from behind Draco's hand. "H-hair," he gasped, the broke into a fit of laughter.

His hair looked fine, but I began to get the horrid feeling I'd overlooked something this morning. "My hair? What's wrong with my hair?" There were more laughs now; I'd definitely been had. My hair felt OK, but what little of it I could see didn't look right.

I charged out of the shower stall to see in the mirror that my usually bright red hair was now a bright green. Somehow, despite all the paranoia that growing up with the twins had ground into me, I'd forgotten to check my shampoo hadn't been tampered with.

"Green is so very much your colour, Weasley," Zabini told me as he tried very hard to keep a straight face.

"All over," Draco managed to get out, sagging against the wall he was laughing so hard. I blushed furiously, and grabbed a towel to wrap myself in.

"I think you just scarred me for life," Nott said mildly, but his eyes were dancing. Greg and Vince just howled.

I turned back to the mirror. The mirror looked very unimpressed. "If this doesn't come out, I'm going to hurt someone," I growled. "And I'm not going to care much who it is."

According to Draco, my threats still need a bit of work. Whatever, the only thing my dorm mates did was to laugh harder as my hair resisted my every attempt to restore it. In the end I had to go down to breakfast as the green-haired Weasley and just live with it. OK, I could have skipped breakfast altogether, but some things are sacred.

Snape was standing behind me looking as livid as ever about two seconds after I sat down. "Mr Weasley," he hissed, "what is the meaning of this unedifying display?"

I'd been dreading this moment. Should I blame someone at random? Snape wasn't going to believe me anyway, but he might love a chance to show I was making it up. Should I refuse to say, and give him a good reason to boot me back to the Gryffindor Tower? Fortunately, a bit of inspiration had struck as I entered the Great Hall.

"Well sir, I'm supposed to be a Slytherin this weekend, and red hair just didn't seem right."

OK, I didn't say it was a good bit of inspiration, but I was desperate.

Snape twitched. "Welcome as your temporary loyalty might be," he said in a manner which suggested it was very unwelcome indeed, "you will restore your hair to its natural if unpleasant colour before you allow yourself to be seen in public again. Hogwarts has strict rules prohibiting such stylistic foolishness, and I will not have a member of my House flouting those rules."

"Yes, Professor," I said, praying that the greasy git wouldn't stop to give me a lecture on the styles and standards a Slytherin should hold himself to. If he did, chances were that someone at the table was going to explode; everyone apart from me had their heads down and were industriously shifting food around their plates, but Greg wasn't actually eating, Blaise was visibly biting his lip and Draco's shoulders were shaking.

As if in answer to my prayers, Snape whirled around and stalked back to his breakfast. I waited until he was seated again and being interrogated by McGonagall before muttering, "Well, that's told me."

Pansy choked. Once she was breathing again, and Millicent Bullstrode had been persuaded to stop pounding her helpfully on the back, she fixed me with a baleful glare that was entirely ruined by the fact she was still giggling. "You are trying to kill me," she said.

"It's all part of my natural charm," I told her, pushing my hair back from my forehead with a flourish I'd spent way too much time watching Lockhart practise in our second year.

Draco lifted his head from the table, from where he had so far managed to laugh silently. "What have I done, letting you in here?"

"Oh, now you want to take the credit?"

Pansy laughed again. "Oh, I like him," she told Millicent.

Greg had given up the unequal struggle and was leaning against Vince as he had cracked up laughing. At Pansy's words, he managed to pull himself together. "Dear Diary," he said to no one in particular, "today Pansy declared her undying love for Ron. They plan to elope next weekend and go into hiding until their parents have settled the custody of the grandchildren. Do not tell anyone until— hey, that's my sausage!"

"You weren't eating it." Actually I didn't care much, it was the only way I could think of to shut him up.

"Don't look now," Nott said quietly as Greg swiped a sausage off my plate in retaliation, "but the natives are getting restless."

"Huh?"

"Potty and the Gryffindorks," Greg said, then remembered who he was speaking to. "Uh, no offence."

I gave him a mild glare, then looked over at the Gryffindor table. Harry was indeed looking suspiciously in our direction, while Hermione seemed like she was about to explode. If she'd decided to take offence at what had been done to my hair, she was taking things way too seriously. I smiled and waved.

Hermione ignored me in favour of still glowering at the rest of the table, but Harry gave me a questioning look and pointed at his hair.

I shrugged and rolled my eyes. No, I had no idea who'd done it; no, it didn't bother me much; no, I didn't need him to come and hold someone down while I hexed their skin purple, thank you mum.

He nodded, smiled, chewed some toast thoughtfully, then set about distracting Hermione.

"Harry says 'hi'," I told everyone else, and tried not to laugh as Blaise choked.

It took forever to get my hair back to its proper colour. Whatever potion had been sneaked into my shampoo was proof against all the counter-spells I could think of. Eventually I managed to get Pansy to help me by using the tried and tested Seamus Finnigan method of hanging round and being annoying until she gave in, and she came up with a colouring charm that turned the dye transparent.

"Good," Nott said when she cast the spell successfully. "I know green is one of our House colours, but you look much better as a redhead."

"All over?" Draco asked, not looking up from the essay he was writing.

Nott winced and walked off muttering about being scarred for life, leaving me blushing and Pansy more than a little confused.

After lunch we headed outside since the weather had brightened up a lot from the previous day. No one was using the Quidditch pitch, so Draco, Vince, Greg and I grabbed some brooms and flew around for a bit, playing tag and practising manoeuvres until we got bored. I had to admit, I enjoyed messing around with them as much as I enjoyed flying with the Gryffindor team. Vince and Greg might fly like bricks and I wasn't much better, but when he wasn't trying to show off Draco had a grace and style that rivalled Harry's. The two of them together would be one very scary flying team. I wondered if I'd ever be able to talk them into it.

"Do you think Harry and Draco could ever be friends?" I asked Vince as we set up a chess game later.

Vince shrugged. "A month ago, I'd have bet anything that he'd hate you 'til the day he died. Now, I don't know. It really rankled when Potter picked you over him."

All that time ago, before we'd even been Sorted. Wow. I thought about it for a bit. "You know, Harry had been talking to me for hours before you lot walked into the carriage, and Draco did more or less tell him he was stupid for hanging around me."

"If you're about to tell me that Potter has never met the real Draco, just Draco being a pureblood prat, I may be forced to hurt you."

"It's true though. We were all right brats as eleven year olds, and Harry hadn't had a friend before. Of course he wasn't going to like what Draco said."

Vince's eyes widened. "He'd never had friends before? Perfect Potter?"

"His relatives are pretty horrible. They kept him locked away, told anyone who'd listen that he was mad or dangerous or something."

"Oh." Vince seemed a bit shocked. "I'd always assumed that someone had started the rumours about him being treated like a house elf to take him down a peg."

"No, they're true. They really did make him do the cooking and the cleaning, and sleep in the cupboard under the stairs."

Vince was quiet for a while. "That doesn't make sense," he said eventually. "You're telling me that he was brought up by people who give Muggles a bad name, and yet he's still standing up against You-Know-Who for them?"

I nodded. "That's what makes him special. He hasn't let one bad example blind him to the good out there."

"Except in the case of Draco."

"Yeah, but you lot did go out of your way to try and drop him in it."

After dinner, Greg and I painfully finished off our Potions essays, apparently driving Draco up the wall as we tried to decipher various bits and pieces of our own notes. Honestly, he's got even less patience with people who don't know what he claims is obvious than Hermione does.

That was pretty much it for my last night in Slytherin. I chatted with Draco for a bit about what had happened in the Department of Mysteries, thoroughly lost an argument with Blaise about when Paracelsus is supposed to have died, and got so embroiled in talking Quidditch history with Ted Nott that Vince and Greg had to more or less drag us into the dorm and knock us out before we'd shut up. Honestly, if I'd realised how much Ted knew about the Chudley Cannons' great team of '83 I'd have started talking to him years ago. Everyone else would have killed us by now, but it would have been worth it.

It felt really weird going down to breakfast on Monday morning. The house elves would be taking my stuff back to the Gryffindor Tower, and once I entered the Great Hall I'd be back with my friends. My Gryffindor friends. I wasn't sure whether I could call Draco and company friends yet, and I really wasn't sure they'd appreciate the thought, but I didn't want to think of them as enemies any more.

I stopped the whole group of us before we got to the Hall doors. "I just wanted to say thanks," I told them. "You could have made this weekend hell for me, but you proved that you're a lot better than some people would like to believe. Me included, I guess. I've spent enough time harping on at you to think; thanks for making me think myself. Only, would it be OK if I dropped by once in a while?"

Blaise snorted. "You may not have noticed, but some of us were dead set against you to start with. You aren't who I thought you were either, and I don't think I'm alone."

"And you'd bloody well better visit," Ted added. "There's some details of the '87 season I've never been able to figure out, if you know anything about why Herbert dropped out of the team so suddenly—"

"If you do," Pansy interrupted, "make sure you've practised your privacy charms. Honestly, I get enough Quidditch from Draco every time a match gets near, I really don't need you two drivelling trivia constantly in my ear as well."

We laughed, then turned back to the doors. I gulped. It really was going to feel strange.

It didn't, actually. OK, the first minute or two as I walked over to the Gryffindor table was a bit odd. I was trying to act casual and failing miserably, but Harry just gave me a smile and scooted over so there was a seat for me between him and Hermione.

"Have a good weekend?" he asked.

"Yeah," I told him. "On the whole, I'd have to say it wasn't bad."

"Have you done your Potions homework?" Hermione asked, true to form.

I rolled my eyes. "Yes, mum. Though if you could look over the last bit for me, Greg and I weren't sure about whether you're supposed to use Wood Sorrel or Stickwort. Our notes were a bit confusing."

"They're the same thing, Ron!"

"Oh, that's why Draco got so annoyed with us."

Harry laughed outright. "If your brothers could just hear you now, on first name terms with the Slytherins. Fred and George would have synchronised heart attacks."

"At least they wouldn't go green with envy," Neville observed wryly.

"Yes," Hermione said sounding very unamused, "what was all that about your hair?"

"That?" I shrugged. "I forgot to check my shampoo."

"You forgot...? Ron, you shouldn't have to be checking it in the first place!"

"With Fred and George as brothers, oh yes I bloody well should!"

"He's got a point, you know," Harry said, unwisely trying to deflect Hermione's anger. "The twins did much worse things to people than turning their hair green."

"And got detentions for it half the time. The point is that they could have hurt you."

"No, Hermione, the point is that they didn't. It's the same point that I've been making to them all weekend — in the end, we aren't so different."

"Enough of this," Seamus said excitedly, "we want the gossip. Are Goyle and Parkinson dating? Is it true that Zabini's allergic to fish? And does Malfoy only wear silk underwear? Enquiring minds want to know."

"Enquiring minds," Dean told him mildly, "really did not need that last image."

It was weird, but the next week really dragged. I couldn't seem to get anything done, because somehow or other I always managed to set someone off. The Slytherins got all worked up whenever I wanted to talk to my Gryffindor friends, who were similarly upset whenever I chose to go off with the Slytherins instead. Seamus would not give up on trying to get dirt on more or less anyone, and Hermione seemed to be in a permanent snit. I found myself looking forward to the weekend more and more, but at the same time getting more and more worried that Draco was going to have a miserable time of it.

I guess I got a bit obsessive about it. I didn't notice what I was doing, but somehow or other I got right up Harry's nose with trying to fix the problem.

"Aargh!" he yelled, while we were sat outside during a break and I was working out what to do. "That's it! I've had enough of you being like this. Come with me." With that he dragged me over to a startled-looking bunch of Slytherins, stopping in front of Draco.

"Would you please tell him to stop fretting about you?" he asked.

Draco opened and closed his mouth a couple of times. I guess he hadn't expected Harry to talk to him directly any more than I had, and it took a while for something suitably Malfoyish to spring to mind.

"He's your sidekick, Potter, why can't you tell him?"

"He's your friend, and he's driving the rest of us crazy worrying about how you're not going to enjoy spending the weekend with us."

"I don't expect to enjoy it," Draco began, evidently ready to play his time-honoured part of sneering git. In the interests of stopping yet another Potter-Malfoy war before it started, I interrupted him.

"It's not that," I told Harry, "it's just what with everyone still acting weird from me being in Slytherin, I didn't want them doing something stupid like ignoring Draco all weekend."

"Like that's going to happen in our common room," Harry scoffed. "Seamus wouldn't be able to keep from talking for more than five minutes and nothing on earth could stop Colin from taking photos, and that's without you hanging round looking disappointed at me and Hermione. Besides, you've done a full timetable for Saturday."

"I have not!" It didn't include the evening, for starters.

"You timetabled my day?" Draco asked incredulously.

"Ron, I saw you writing it out."

"Oh."

"Excuse me," Draco said with a dangerously insistent look in his eye. "You timetabled my day?"

"Maybe I did jot down one or two things that we could get up to..."

"9 o'clock," Harry interrupted, "help Draco unpack. 9:30, challenge Draco to a game of wizard chess. 10:30—"

"I get the idea," Draco grated out. He stared at me narrowly. "A Malfoy works to his own timetable, never anyone else's."

"Honestly, Ron, what were you thinking?"

"I'm waiting for your apology, Weasley."

"Why are you grinning?"

Harry was right, I did have a stupid grin on my face. I couldn't help it, any more than Vince and Greg could help their matching smiles. They had the advantage of standing behind Harry and Draco, though.

Pansy sailed up, looking confused. "What's going on?" she asked, ready to rip into Harry for whatever she imagined he had done now.

"Ron's managed to unite Draco and Potter against a common foe," Greg told her, struggling to keep from laughing outright.

"Himself," Vince added.

Draco and Harry looked at each other aghast, noticed that they were now standing shoulder to shoulder and sprang apart. Greg lost it completely, and Pansy put her face in her hands.

"He was trying to arrange my weekend for me," Draco said, still watching Harry nervously.

"An unforgivable crime, obviously," Pansy said drily. She raised an eyebrow at Harry. "What did he do to you, Potter?"

"He's been driving everyone up the wall with 'Draco this' and 'Draco that' and 'let's do such and such to make Draco feel welcome.'"

"How very tragic for you." For some reason she gave Draco a glare which had him looking sheepish, then she switched it to me. "You have a death wish, don't you?"

"I wasn't that bad, honest. They're just getting things a bit out of proportion."

Pansy sighed. "Ron, what's the idea behind Draco spending the weekend in Gryffindor?"

"Uh, because Dumbledore said so?"

She rolled her eyes. "OK then, what did you spend last weekend doing? What was the point of you being with us? And don't say 'because Dumbledore said so,' you know better than that."

That one I knew by heart. "I was trying to get you lot to see things differently."

"Things? You were trying to get us to see that you weren't who we thought you were. Successfully, I might add. Now, what could Draco achieve this weekend?"

Light dawned. "Showing the rest of my friends that he isn't who they think he is."

"I'm doing what?" Draco asked, incredulous.

"Being your naturally charming self," Pansy told him. "Now do be a dear and shut up. You too, Potter."

The identical gapes that she got from both of them set Greg off again.

"Ron, you have to let Draco win people over on his own. I know it's going to be difficult to stand by and watch someone nearly as tactless as yourself—"

"Hey!"

"—but if you interfere like that you're only going to annoy everyone." She glared at Draco again. "Just make sure that nothing happens to his hair, or we'll never hear the end of it."

"His hair is out of bounds, OK."

"Now let's walk away from here before they recover their wits."

I was forgiven by Saturday. By Draco and Harry at least, Hermione was still annoyed with me for talking to Draco at all, never mind (in her view) causing Harry to agree with him. She didn't seem to have noticed that Draco had stuck to his bargain and not called her a Mudblood all week.

She was the one to formally welcome Draco into Gryffindor Tower after a rather frosty breakfast, though calling it a 'welcome' might be stretching the point a bit. She stopped the lot of us in front of the Fat Lady's portrait, fixed Draco with a glare, and started lecturing.

"I don't know what it's like in Slytherin House, but here in Gryffindor we have certain minimum standards of behaviour."

Draco raised an eyebrow at me. I shrugged back; no, she hadn't been listening when I told her about last weekend, obviously.

Hermione cleared her throat loudly, getting our attention back. "To start with," she said pointedly, "when a prefect is talking to you, you will listen."

"Really?" Draco asked, brightening considerably. "I must remember that one." He ostentatiously polished his own prefect's badge.

I swear I heard Hermione's teeth grinding.

"I'll be waiting, Malfoy. Some time this weekend you're going to step out of line, and I'll be waiting for you."

Draco drew himself up and gave Hermione one of his most infuriating smiles. "I'm sure you will, Granger. Bear in mind that I'll be waiting for you too. After all, this little exercise is as much a test of you all as it is of me."

I knew my cue when I heard it. "Oh yeah, sending you back down to the dungeons hexed to hell and back wouldn't exactly look good for us, would it."

Hermione's glare promised me no good at all. Having her own ideas thrown back in her face — not that Draco knew that was what he was doing — did not go down well at all. I could tell I was going to have to spend the rest of the year grovelling to get back in her good books.

Draco smoothly followed his own cue. "Besides, surely McGonagall will be expecting you to find out how a Slytherin thinks?"

"As if we cared," Dean muttered, then shut up quickly as Hermione turned her glare to him.

"The password," she said, turning back to Draco, "is 'Eternal Vigilance'." She turned and stomped through the portrait hole as it swung open, while the rest of us paused a moment.

"Well," Draco said mildly, "that could have gone a lot worse."

Harry nodded, still looking apprehensively after Hermione. "You should have heard the passwords we talked her out of."

Draco looked at me oddly. "Have you been coaching him?" he asked.

I wish I could say that we Gryffindors, Hermione excepted, were more welcoming to Draco than the Slytherins were to me. Unfortunately I'd be lying. Draco got exactly the same cold shoulder than I'd had while I showed him round the common room, only everyone was less subtle about watching him. Seamus went so far as to plonk himself down at a table, stick his chin in his hands and outright stare, more or less daring Malfoy to entertain him.

"This is fun," Draco murmured.

I bit back the urge to say 'I told you so.' "Give them some time to get over the novelty of it and we'll be back to the usual chaos."

"I can hardly wait. Where are the dorms? I don't trust house elves to move my trunk without breaking something."

I directed Draco up to the dorms, then sat back to watch. Sure enough, a few seconds later Seamus stood up and with all the subtlety of a charging erumpent headed upstairs after him. I hadn't even finished shaking my head in exasperation when Dean threw down the Herbology notes he'd been pretending to read, muttered something about tactless Irishmen, and stalked upstairs. There was a loud squawk from the direction of the dorms, then Dean reappeared dragging Seamus by the ear.

"Ow! Leggo you bastard! Ron, you're a prefect, make him stop."

"Don't swear, Seamus," I said, and let Dean carry on dragging him over to a corner. Dean's always been better than anyone else at keeping Seamus under control; I don't know how he does it, because shouting at Seamus does no good at all. Whatever he does, I was glad he was doing it right then.

Draco took his own sweet time unpacking, and didn't reappear for at least half an hour. I wasn't particularly worried; I'd swept the dorm for any hexes anyone might have 'accidentally' left behind before breakfast, and even after just two nights in the same dorm I'd noticed that Draco was a real fuss-pot when it came to having everything set out just right.

When he did reappear, he was carrying his Wizard Chess set. It was a real beauty, carved and enchanted just right to be completely serious about the game. If it played anything like it looked, I was going to really enjoy this.

Draco looked pointedly at his watch. "Isn't it about time you challenged me to a game," he asked.

Cycle-logical warfare, that's what Hermione calls it. That's what I blame for losing that game, anyway.

"Wow," Harry said, "that was some game." I hadn't actually noticed him watching over my shoulder, but I wasn't too surprised. Harry likes playing Wizard Chess, even though he's hopeless at it. I think it's the chess set that fascinates him; sometimes he's still such a Muggle.

"I need to read up on the Nimzo-Indian," I told him mournfully. He nodded, clearly not understanding a word I said.

"I take it from the lack of swearing he wasn't cheating," Seamus called from across the room, sounding disappointed. Dean slapped him around the head without looking up from his Herbology notes.

Draco had been about to erupt at Seamus, but seemed satisfied by that. Instead he forced a smile onto his face and turned to Harry. "Fancy a game then, Potter?"

"Oh no," Harry said, holding his hands up in surrender. "If you can beat Ron like that you'll wipe the floor with me, and where's the fun in that?"

"I'd enjoy it," Draco told him. Harry's eyes narrowed, so I started loudly setting the board up for a rematch to distract the pair of them.

The afternoon was sunny, so I talked people into taking some of the school brooms out for a fly. Except of course Harry and Draco had to use their own brooms, and spent a great deal of time showing off to the amusement of everyone else. Actually they put so much effort into outdoing each other that they lost track of the rest of us, and were very put out when Neville, who's still the shakiest flier I've ever seen, managed to tag them both. Of course he promptly fell off his broom and had to be rescued, but the looks on their faces were something I'll treasure.

We were still laughing over it at dinner. At least Neville and I were, Seamus and Dean kept demanding more details, and Colin was doing a brisk business in photographs of the historic event. Harry and Draco were grumpy about the whole business, but still manfully trying to squabble about it.

"It would never have happened if you hadn't distracted me," Harry grumbled.

"I distracted you? If I recall correctly, I was not the one playing silly buggers with the goal posts."

"Oh, so that wasn't you flying so close behind me that you could count the twigs on my broom?"

"I'm glad to see you're acknowledging my skill at last, Potter."

"I didn't say you caught me, Malfoy."

"No," I interrupted, "that was Neville."

Both of them glared at me, then at Hermione who was making a bit of a production of not laughing at them. "You're no help," Harry said disgustedly.

Draco looked torn between saying something similar and insulting Harry on general principle. He was saved from having to make his mind up when a first year came up and hovered meaningfully at his shoulder. "What?" he snapped.

The boy looked nervously between Draco and Harry. "Er, I'm sorry to disturb you and all, but I was wondering if maybe you, that is both of you, I mean..." He trailed off as both of them glowered at him, took a deep breath and launched back in. "Wouldyousignthisforme?" he gabbled and pushed a photo in front of Draco.

Harry looked about as pissed off as he usually does when he's pestered by autograph hunters, which is way too much of the time. Draco on the other hand was clearly a bit stunned by the novelty of it; he opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, looking more and more annoyed each time. Before he got himself together enough to really let rip, Hermione interrupted.

"Wilkes, you aren't supposed to be standing here during dinner, never mind bothering these two. Now sit back down before I take house points off you. Oh, and I'd better confiscate that," she said, plucking the photo out of his hand, "until you learn better manners."

Everyone stared at her as the crestfallen Wilkes headed back down the table to his friends. "I was going to enjoy that," Draco complained, eyeing her narrowly.

"Learn to live with the disappointment," she said, studying the photo. After a few moments she sighed and passed it to me. "You win," she told me.

I looked at it. Colin had managed to capture the scene just as Draco had grabbed Neville's outstretched hand, slowing his fall while Harry slipped underneath to complete the catch. Looking up at Hermione, I smiled. "I think the point is he won. Or maybe they did, I'm not sure."

"Don't push it, Ron."

Hermione stopped any more scenes after dinner by announcing loudly across the common room that anyone approaching Harry or Draco would be deemed to be volunteering to help test out some particularly unpleasant charms — as targets. One look at the gently fuming pair of 'heroes' convinced most people that this wasn't an idle threat, and since none of the rest of us prefects looked like we were going to side with them at all things did quieten down.

Well, when I say quieten down, I mean by Gryffindor standards. A bunch of second years were playing Exploding Snap, the fourth year girls were giggling over something in Witch Weekly that I wasn't about to go anywhere near, and some first years were practicing their charms without being very careful about where they were aiming until I told them off about it. Oh, and Neville was looking for Trevor again, but we were all so used to that by now that checking for toads wherever you were was almost automatic.

I think the thing that disturbed Draco the most was seeing Hermione commandeer a table in the middle of the chaos, then calmly sit down and pull some homework out of her school bag. "Is she always like that?" he asked.

"Pretty much. Normally she goes to the library for the quiet and drags me and Harry with her."

"So much for quiet."

"Hey!"

He gave me a brief smirk, then looked back at Hermione. I felt vaguely annoyed. "I assume it's my magnetic personality keeping her here tonight?"

"Probably. If it's any consolation I think you've surprised her already. She just really hates admitting she's ever wrong, even more than you."

Draco glared at me, which was more like it, then shook his head. "Her home must be ridiculously noisy if she can concentrate through this."

I smiled at the tacit admission that Hermione had surprised him too. "No idea," I said as I shrugged, "I've never dared ask just what Muggle dentists do."

It took me quite a while to get to sleep that night. Draco's bed had been inserted between mine and Harry's, which I found reassuring but it did mean that I spent more time than I really should have listening out to make sure that he was sleeping well. Draco had neatly dispelled the jinxes that people had left for him, then thoughtfully added a spell to remake the apple-pie bed that had to have been Dean's contribution, but I was worried that he'd find being shoved into the middle of 'enemy territory' a bit much to cope with.

Yeah, I know. They all told me to stop worrying, but I never learn.

Anyway, that's my excuse for being so groggy when the moaning woke me up that I had a hand on Draco's shoulder shaking him awake before I realised that he wasn't the one having the nightmare.

"Huh? Wha?"

It's funny, but a not-quite-awake-yet Draco looks really young and vulnerable. It's the way his face shows you everything for a moment, before he wakes up enough to remember to hide it all away like he's always been taught. It was enough to make me feel guilty about disturbing him.

"Sorry," I said, stifling a yawn. "Force of habit."

"Your timing stinks," Draco mumbled. He rubbed his eyes then squinted at me, the squint becoming a glare as he took in the situation. "Keep your hands to yourself, Weasley," he hissed. "Some of us take our beauty sleep se—"

He broke off as Harry moaned indistinctly again. "What?" he asked, looking mildly alarmed.

"Nightmare," I whispered, "Harry gets them too sometimes." Draco looked a bit non-plussed, though it was hard to tell in the gloom. I ignored him and headed over to Harry's bed. If he really wanted to be hacked off about Harry having worse nightmares than him, I didn't want to know.

I was just reaching out to wake Harry when he twisted and muttered something that stopped me cold. "Luciusssss..."

Bloody hell. Abruptly Draco was standing beside me. "Did he just say what I thought he said?" he asked, voice low and dangerous.

"Just a sec," I said and conjured a quick ghost-light. It was too dim to wake anyone else up, but enough that I could see that Harry's scar looking red and cracked. "Bloody hell. This is bad."

"Explain."

"When You-Know-Who tried to kill Harry as a baby, it made a connection between them. When one of them gets emotional or careless, their thoughts slip through to the other."

Draco stepped closer and scrutinised Harry. "The scar," he said.

"Mm-hmm." I reached out again to wake Harry, but this time Draco caught my wrist firmly. "What?"

"Wait. He might learn something useful."

"Useful?" I hissed. "He's stuck in You-Know-Who's head!"

"He's getting information straight from the source."

I looked at Draco narrowly. "You just want to know what he finds out about your father."

To his credit, Draco didn't deny it. "But if you don't want to know what the Dark Lord is up to, you're a bigger fool than I thought."

"...dis'pointed..." Harry mumbled.

"Not you too!"

"Hush," Draco commanded.

Harry's lips twisted into a truly nasty smile that sent a chill down my spine. This was as close as I ever wanted to get to You-Know-Who. Knowing my luck, that meant I was due to bump into him some time.

"Ahhhhhh," Harry crooned, "y' failed... don' tol'rate... 'cio... ahhh... yessss... beg me, Lushsss..." He began to thrash around in his bed, panting and groaning until he finally sat bolt upright. "I didn't enjoy it!" he said, eyes wide. "I didn't."

"It's all right, Harry," I said softly. "It's..." A dream? I knew better than that. "You're awake now." I gripped his shoulders to give him something to hang on to, and was surprised to see Draco slip round to support him from behind. Draco Malfoy backing up Harry Potter, wonders will never cease.

We stayed like that for a long moment, until I couldn't take the silence any more. "What did you see?" I asked.

Harry hesitated. "It was... It was Voldemort." I flinched despite my best effort, and I'm sure I saw Draco do the same. "He was planning stuff, attacks on Muggle villages. He's going to start killing people, to make wizards and Muggles fight each other anyway.

"And somehow he's broken the Death Eaters out of Azkaban, the ones that we caught at the Ministry. I think maybe the Dementors are following his orders or something. Lucius Malfoy was brought in, and Voldemort tortured him for getting caught. He kept using crucio on him just because he could. He liked hearing him scream. And then he said... he said, 'Enjoying it, Potter?'"

He shuddered. Draco, who had been looking grimmer and grimmer as Harry went on, visibly bit back a comment and just rubbed his back gently.

"He knew," I said shakily.

Harry nodded. He looked down, picking nervously at his sheets, and said quietly, "I could have."

Draco and I froze.

"I could've enjoyed it. I hated Lucius for what he did to Ginny, I wanted him to suffer. I wanted revenge. But when I saw him like that, it just made me sick. It was what I wanted, but..."

"Hey," I said gently. "Being tempted doesn't make you a bad guy." I looked past him at Draco, who wouldn't meet my eyes.

He gave me a wan smile. "What do I do now?"

"Go to Dumbledore," Draco said firmly.

Harry jumped, not having realised who was holding him up. "What?"

"You have to tell Dumbledore about the attacks on the Muggle villages," Draco clarified. "There's no point in going through something like that if you're not going to use the information you get."

"You don't understand," Harry said insistently. "The last time I acted on what I found out, S... people died."

Draco had no idea what Harry was talking about, I realised. "You-Know-Who managed to lie about what was going on," I said, "and we walked into a trap."

"The attack at the Ministry?" Draco asked. We nodded. "All the more reason to go to Dumbledore, then. He's bound to have other spies and information sources, so he's got a chance of working out what's really going on."

I thought about Snape. "He's got a point, you know."

Harry thought about it himself, still clearly unhappy. "I'll tell him in the morning," he agreed reluctantly.

"You'll tell him now, before you forget it all," I said firmly. "Come on, let's go and find the Headmaster."

It took us a moment to find our slippers and pull on our dressing gowns, longer to persuade Harry that accompanied by no less than two prefects he didn't need to sneak around (and therefore didn't need to explain about the invisibility cloak to Draco, something I could see he didn't want to do), and what felt like forever to reach the Headmaster's office. We didn't speak as we walked; Harry and Draco were both preoccupied with their own thoughts, and I spent the whole time worrying about both of them.

Dumbledore greeted us at the door of his office looking awake but somber. He ushered us in, listened carefully as Harry stumbled through a description of his dream, and sat back thoughtfully.

"As you may have guessed, I received news earlier tonight that a number of Death Eaters had broken out of Azkaban by means as yet undetermined. I fear, Draco, that your father may well have been treated exactly as Harry describes."

Draco gave him a short, tight nod. I reached over and squeezed his hand, which earned me a quick smile.

"Thank you for accompanying Harry here," Dumbledore told us. "I'm afraid that I still have a good many questions for him, and I dare say he has as many for me. You should go back to bed and get some sleep."

I didn't particularly want to, and neither did Draco from the looks of it, but neither of us could come up with a good reason for staying. Not after Harry announced that he wanted to talk to Dumbledore about something private, anyway.

"It's probably about Sirius," I told Draco as we walked back, trying to distract him from his own thoughts.

"Sirius? As in Black?"

"Harry's godfather," I confirmed. "The one who died in the attack on the Ministry."

Draco's eyebrows shot up. "That little detail never made it into the Daily Prophet."

"Harry won't talk about it, but from what the others have said Sirius fell through some kind of veil portal thingy. They never found his body, and we couldn't admit we'd been hiding him."

"Hmm. I take it that Black wasn't responsible for selling out Potter's parents then."

"Peter Pettigrew, the wizard he was supposed to have murdered, set him up for it. The little rat's been in hiding ever since then."

Draco paused as we entered the common room. "I think... I need to think about all this," he said. He sat down on one of the sofas, looking small all of a sudden.

"Fair enough," I said, and went over to poke the fire back into life. "I don't think I could sleep right now either." There was far too much to worry about if You-Know-Who was about to get more active, and Draco had the additional complications of what had happened to his father and all the confusing stuff I'd been throwing at him for the past few weeks.

Once I was done with the fire, I settled down next to Draco. He didn't even look up. "Weasley, be a good chap and bugger off would you?"

I bristled momentarily at the dismissal; so it was back to surnames as far as Ferret-face was concerned, was it? But this was a Draco that was hurting, who wanted to be left alone to fester in peace. I'd seen Harry do that way too many times to let anyone else get away with it, and much though he'd like to think otherwise Draco isn't nearly as stubborn as Harry.

"Sorry," I told him, "you don't get rid of me that easily. I told you before you don't have to face this stuff alone. Besides, I owe you for waking you up." Just in case he thought I was going to pull another Slytherin style favour-for-favour trade.

"Ron," he said tightly. I chose to ignore the warning.

"I've got your back, mate," I said, and put a hand gently on his shoulder. The moment I touched him, felt him shaking from the effort of holding it all in, I knew I was doing the right thing. There's only so long you can bottle stuff up before it explodes on you, and I reckoned Draco had been bottling up everything to do with his father for his whole life.

Malfoys do not cry. Malfoys do not allow themselves to show any weakness. Malfoys do not know what to do when it all gets too much.

I hugged him, and he fell apart on me. We sat there in front of the fire, me holding him and him slowly putting himself back together, until the warmth and the lateness finally beat us both.

I woke slowly, slightly confused. It took me a moment to remember why I wasn't in my bed, and who I was tangled comfortably around. Someone had draped a blanket over us, probably Harry when he'd come back from Dumbledore's inquisition, so we were warm enough that the chill of the night once the fire burnt down hadn't woken us. It was kind of nice, all things considered.

"Leave them alone, Hermione. They look cute like that." Seamus, of course. Only he could be so alarmingly awake first thing in the morning.

"Too late," I grumbled. I prised my eyes open to see Hermione staring at us in confusion and Dean thwaping Seamus about the head.

"Ow! What was that for?"

"That," Dean explained patiently, "was for putting ideas in my head that I didn't want there."

Hermione ignored them, pulling herself together until she was once again a prefect who was going to get answers from me whether I liked it or not. "Ron, what are you... two... doing sleeping on the sofa?"

Draco stirred, woken by the voices. "Wha?" he asked, his head coming up from under the blanket with his hair stuck out every which way. Damn Seamus, but cute was definitely the right word.

"Shh," I said to him before turning back to Hermione. "Harry had a nightmare."

Hermione's eyes widened. "Oh. And you...?"

"We took him to see Dumbledore," Draco said, rapidly dragging himself fully conscious and, as usual, ignoring me when it came to Hermione.

"He sent us back here," I put in. "We must have fallen asleep waiting for Harry. Is he up yet?"

Under the blankets, Draco's hand found mine and gave me a quick squeeze. I wasn't awake enough to stop myself smiling back at him; as if I'd blab about his personal troubles to the entire common room!

"Aw," Seamus crooned, "don't they just look so... what?" Dean just glared at him.

"Unfortunately I am up," Harry said tiredly. He was halfway down the stairs from the dorms and looked like death warmed up, but he still made the effort to give Draco and me a little smile.

Hermione gave us one last measured look before turning her attention to Harry. "Are you all right? What did... what happened?"

Harry grimaced. "Can we talk about it later?" he asked plaintively. "A lot of it'll be in the Sunday Prophet, and as for the rest..." He shuddered. "Can we at least wait until after breakfast? I didn't get a lot of sleep, unlike some people."

"Maybe you should have stayed with them," Seamus said. He waggled his eyebrows suggestively and ducked before Dean could hit him again.

Draco sniffed. "Get your own Weasley," he said loftily, "this one's taken."

Everyone gaped until first Neville and then Harry started laughing. Dean put his head in his hands. "If you can't beat 'em, I suppose..." he muttered, and glared at Seamus some more.

"How come you didn't hit him for saying that?" Seamus asked, apparently outraged at having his innuendo stolen from under him.

"He's too far away. Now are you coming to breakfast, or do I have to kill off more of your brain cells?"

"We'll be along once we've showered," I said as the crowd started for the door. I looked at Draco thoughtfully. "It shouldn't take much more than an hour."

Draco's smirk grew to heroic proportions as everyone groaned and Hermione gave me a deeply peculiar look. "I really did not need that image in my head," Dean said, resolutely not looking at us.

They thought I... oh. Oops. "I was talking about the Malfoy hair care regime!"

"Hey!" Draco protested.

"Sure," Harry said disbelievingly. "He always needs a helping hand from you with that."

"I'll have you know this is an entirely natural look."

"Which has nothing to do with the bottles of pre-wash, shampoo, conditioner, styler, highlighter and God knows what else by your bed," Neville said.

Draco's eyes narrowed. "Have you been tampering with my toiletries?" he asked sharply.

"No!" Neville said rather too quickly. Draco carried on staring at him. "OK I would've, but I had a slight accident with the insect scales."

"Huh?" I wanted to ask what insects had to do with anything, but Hermione cut in first.

"Would that be why there's a new bright red stain in the old Charms classroom?" she asked, looking distinctly unimpressed.

There was a bright red stain on Neville's cheeks right then, but at least I wasn't going to have to put up with a red-headed Malfoy. I groaned. "Neville, what did I say about doing anything to Draco's hair?"

"Um, that we'd never hear the end of it?"

"Only you said it like it was a bad thing," Seamus put in.

Draco turned his best pleading look on Hermione. "Can't I just cast one little hex on them? Something to leave them hideously disfigured until the middle of next week?"

"I'm tempted," she said. Neville withered under her glare, but Seamus seemed cheerfully impervious. "Very tempted."

"Breakfast," Harry said firmly, and left the common room. Hermione chivvied the rest out with dire threats of what would happen if anyone (meaning Seamus) put a foot out of line, pausing only to tell us to hurry up and get to the Hall before breakfast finished.

As the portrait door closed I shuffled round and grinned at Draco. "So I'm taken, am I?"

"I didn't hear you objecting."

I laughed. Funny, a few weeks ago I'd have flattened anyone who'd have suggested anything like that, and now here I was perfectly comfortable in letting Draco Malfoy tease me with it. It was almost like 'Draco' and 'Malfoy' were two different people to me.

My stomach grumbled loudly. "Come on," I said, "shower and food."

"It would be a lot easier to get off you if you'd let go, you know."

Oh, er, yeah. I still had him in the loose hug we'd ended up in last night. Which probably explained some of the weird looks Hermione had given me. The trouble with her being a genius was that she noticed things like that, and since I couldn't explain to her about the nightmares and everything she was probably thinking for real what Seamus had been joking about. At least Draco and I knew better.

We unwrapped ourselves from each other, allowing Draco to stand and pause in front of me. "Thank you," he said, not quite looking me in the eye.

I smiled. A few weeks ago he'd have flattened anyone who'd have suggested he'd ever say that to me. Maybe 'Ron' and 'Weasley' were turning out to be two different people to him, too.

I was about to tell him not to mention it, that I was glad to help out a friend, when he leant down and quickly kissed me. Smack on the lips.

I think my brain shut down. For the longest time, all I could think of was how soft his lips were. Then it slowly dawned on me that these were Draco's lips — Malfoy's lips? — and it ought to worry me that Draco had kissed me because he wasn't Hermione, and I was in love with her wasn't I? It ought to worry me that it was Draco and not a girl, because I wasn't gay.

Oh hell, had I really been making Draco think I fancied him or something? This was going to be bad; I didn't want Draco to think I was rejecting him, but no matter how much I liked him I was not gay.

Except that I'd just sat there in front of my friends hugging Draco the whole time, and not felt at all uncomfortable about it. I'd just sat through having Seamus' smutty remarks aimed straight at me, and it hadn't annoyed me at all. I'd just spent a good solid minute being kissed by Draco Malfoy and all I thought about was how soft his lips were.

OK, so I'd just spent a good solid minute remembering the fraction of a second that Draco Malfoy had spent kissing me before he ran out of the common room, but that wasn't the point.

I had just had my first kiss from someone who wasn't my mother, and it was from a boy. Did I have some sign hovering over my head saying "Actually I'm gay"? Was that why I never got up the courage to kiss Hermione, and she — usually one of the most fearless people I know — hadn't kissed me either, even though everyone knew we'd both been wondering? And if I did, why did nobody tell me?

And why did I have to enjoy the kiss so much I still couldn't think straight?

Straight. Huh, there was a laugh, I thought. It looked like I wasn't as straight as I always thought after all, which wasn't making me panic nearly as much I'd expected. Not that I'd had any clue that Draco was into boys, or at least me, not beyond him being a toffee-nosed pureblooded rich ponce. And where had he got to anyway?

Oh bloody hell.

If I was having a bit of an identity crisis over this, I could barely imagine what Draco was going through. He was overcoming a lifetime's training never to show a chink in his armour, he goes all Gryffindor enough to actually kiss me, and what do I do? Sit there looking shocked and not kiss him back or anything. He probably thought I was going to come after him screaming for blood once I got over the shock, knowing him. A couple of weeks ago I would have. No wonder he'd fled.

I headed up to the dorms quickly, and found Draco gently pounding his head against one of the bed-posts. I stood in the doorway and coughed, not wanting to crowd him.

He turned rapidly and looked at me warily, and it kind of hurt that I'd done that to him without intending to. "Sorry about that, Weasley," he said. "I'm not used to anyone except mother hugging me, and she always demands a kiss when I leave. I can't imagine what else I could possibly have been thinking of, sorry for startling you like that..."

"Draco." I walked up to him, trying not to look threatening. He was lying. I was sure of that, despite my apparent total blindness when it came to my own emotions. His shoulders were slumped, he sounded defeated, there was a suspicious sheen in his eyes; the light had gone out. That was wrong, and it was all my fault.

I kissed him, quickly, on the mouth. Then I waited.

"I... You... What?"

"You were right. I think."

"I was what?" Draco's eyes narrowed. "Start making sense, Ron, or I'll be forced to hurt you."

I nearly laughed. I had to be right, he was calling me 'Ron' again. "You were right about me, when you kissed me. I didn't know it myself, but you took the risk, and you were right." I grinned, knowing I was babbling but having no idea what the right words were any more. "I have created a monster."

Draco stepped back, still unsure of me. "You aren't angry," he said. It wasn't a question.

"No," I agreed. "I'm confused, and I think I've managed to weird myself out, but I'm not angry. And I'm still at the very least your friend."

"Oh thank God," he said, and suddenly he was hugging me. Again. This time I paused to appreciate it. "I thought I'd messed it up with you. I've not had anyone be a really close friend before, and I thought... I wanted too much. I'm sorry, I should have stopped myself sooner."

"Hey, I kissed you back, remember? It may have taken me a couple of minutes, but I did."

"You mean you... like me?"

"I'm not sure." I held on to him as he tried to pull away; I needed him to hear everything before he jumped to conclusions again. "I thought I was in love with Hermione, but I've never been as close to her as I was to you last night. I've never been as comfortable with anyone as I am with you now. The very last thing I want to do is to hurt you, so I'm not promising what I'm not sure about. I do know that I want to find out, though. Is that enough?"

I let him pull away this time, but he only leaned back enough to look me in the eyes. Whatever he was looking for, he seemed to find. "That's enough," he allowed. "It's more than I deserve after that little stunt."

"It's your weekend to be a Gryffindor. You'd be slacking if you didn't do at least one stupidly brave thing."

He laughed. "Well then..."

Our third kiss lasted a lot longer than the first two. I can't speak for Draco, but I liked it better.

"We should get down to breakfast," I eventually said, though for once my mind wasn't on food. "Shower?"

Draco smirked. "That would be Finnigan's cue to say something offensively suggestive about washing my back."

I smirked back. "I wouldn't say no."

"Just be careful with my hair."

We never did make it down for breakfast that morning. We were at least respectably dressed by the time everyone else came back, though that didn't stop Dean taking one look at us and heading off to talk the house elves into fixing something up for us provided we never ever told him what we'd been up to.

It also didn't stop Pansy, Vince, Blaise and Greg from insisting on making sure that we were OK, since they had read the Sunday Prophet and were sure that somehow or other Lucius Malfoy must have tried to get at Draco since he wasn't at breakfast. Even that wasn't too bad in the end, since it lead to the Slytherins finding out what was really going on and getting to make an informed choice after all. I'm proud to say that our friends stuck by us.

So I guess in the end Trelawney was right. I did bridge the gap between Gryffindor and Slytherin, and so did Draco. I still reckon it was sheer luck on her part, but you'll never convince Lavender of that.

Oh, and for the record, I do love him.