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A Saviour Uncaused

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Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


PART I

Chapter 1

Seamus’s Secret

The Hogwarts Express shuddered into motion, beginning its long journey northward. Harry, Ron and Hermione window-shopped for a suitable compartment until they found Neville alone in one and slipped inside.

“Hey, Neville,” greeted Harry.

“Harry!” said Neville, pulling his gaze away from the rolling countryside and wearing a broad smile. “Hi, Ron, Hermione.”

“How was your summer, Neville?” asked Hermione.

“Not very good actually,” said Neville. “Grandma had some fit so we had to take her to St Mungo’s. But she’s back home, healthy and all—alive and kicking.”

“Kicking in your direction,” Ron muttered, whereupon Hermione jabbed an elbow into his side. “I mean, glad to hear she’s doing well,” Ron coughed. Miss Longbottom was a ferocious witch who wore with a stuffed vulture on top of her hat.

The door slid open and Dean and Seamus entered.

“Hey, Harry!” Dean said cheerfully. He darted forward and lifted Harry cleanly off the floor; Harry’s head barely missed the overhead compartment.

“Jesus, Dean!” breathed Harry as his feet found the floor again. “What the hell have you been doing to yourself, mate?” He gave Dean an awed once-over and rapped on his broadened chest. Seamus looked away hastily.

Dean was doubtlessly blushing but his dark complexion was also coming in handy. He smirked down the query, obviously wishing to maintain the mystery about his new handsome build.

“Now I know how you feel with Ron over here, hey, Harry,” said Seamus wryly as he shook Harry’s hand.

“Blimey, mate. What were you doing to get those? Pushing coal stoves?” said Ron, marvelling at Dean’s growth spurt which had left Seamus miles behind. “You better start being careful ducking the Fat Lady’s hole, yeah.”

Foreheads twitched at the odd ring of these words. Dean smirked proudly again.

Not used to Dean’s new form, Harry found Dean’s descent into the seat beside Seamus almost epic to watch.

“Why don’t you sit here on my lap, shorty?” Dean boasted to Seamus.

“Argh, fuck off!” Seamus said playfully, pushing Dean away. “Get over yourself, mate. You’re not that handsome!”

Several foreheads twitched again. Harry was not sure where Dean’s handsomeness came into it, and he gave Seamus a sidelong look. Ginny gave her previous boyfriend a final, grudging once-over of appreciation before she looked away out the window proudly.

“So!” Ron announced to the compartment, one eye darting towards Hermione. “Anyone excited for fifth year?”

A round of despondent noises filled the compartment, but Hermione had suddenly activated.

“I just skimmed through our textbooks just to see what we’d be covering this year,” she said as she jumped to her feet and reached over into her bag, which was resting in the overhead compartment. “It’s going to be so exciting! Finally, some real work for a change! It’s kind of a huge step-up from the previous years! Well, that speaks for most of the books we have this year, I think.”

She pulled out a dark-blue, royal-sized book entitled, in silver type, Defensive Magical Theory by Wilbert Slinkhard and returned to her seat. “We’re going to start learning stuff that’s now actually useful! It’s an OWL yeah, goodness!”

“McGonagall is so gonna be a pain in the arse right now,” Harry concluded with a groan. The chance that he and Ron could skate Transfiguration with the skin of their teeth diminished with the square root of Hermione’s level of excitement, which was expressed in the total amount of pages of reading required this year.

“As she well should be,” said Hermione strictly. “You have no idea how important your OWLs are. They can practically change the course of your entire academic life!”

“I’d rather die than have an academic life,” Ron said dryly.

“And then what job would you look for, if I may ask?” enquired Hermione. “Ollivander’s assistant?”

Ron’s eyes lit up. “Oh, I’ve never thought of that!”

Hermione scoffed witheringly and threw open the cover of the book in her lap. “I’m still trying to figure out if this book is worth the paper it’s made with,” she said, turning its pages aimlessly.

“You couldn’t even if you want to, mate,” Harry laughed. “Your mum would fry your bits!”

“No grandkids for her, then,” retorted Ron.

“And you can’t wank anymore,” Harry pointed out kindly.

Ron’s mouth twitched. “Yeah, that’s no funny that,” he snickered. His smile faded as his eyes found Hermione’s book, at which point he looked away with tepid restraint as though it were an object of a religion different to his own (as were its owner) and something incompatible with his own beliefs and capacities and with which he need not concern himself.

“You wank, Harry?” asked Neville, his eyes growing big and round.

There was an extremely awkward pause in the conversation.

“Um,” said Harry in the absolute quiet. He saw Ginny and Hermione throw Neville looks of disbelief, cheeks scarlet. Feeling hot in the face himself, Harry was so desperate to escape the moment that he even attempted begging Malfoy telepathically to barge into their compartment sooner than usual to perform his traditional taunts.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” Harry suddenly announced. He came to his feet and hurried towards the door. He dove for the bathroom door before the towering trolley of snacks and candy crashed into him as it was so stacked the lady pushing it would not have seen him through the mountain of candy. He shut the door behind him, took care of business, washed his hands and waited doing nothing until he was sure he could return to the compartment having lost all his self-consciousness and Neville the little courage he had mustered to ask him such a personal question.

But then with horror Harry realised how his visit to the bathroom could be construed back in the compartment. Looking to pre-empt any suspicions, he bolted out the bathroom back into the corridor and suddenly caught a glint of platinum: Malfoy was entering a separate compartment from which came a great upswing of raucous noise and applause. Soon afterward Harry heard Malfoy’s familiar drawl. The new amounts of uppishness and conceit in his voice were so unbearable to Harry that he lost all sense of urgency, rolled his eyes and was glad to shut the voice out when he closed the door of his compartment.

“Relieved much?” asked Ron as he failed to contain his huge grin.

Mortified for the second time and with as much intensity, Harry took his seat and pressed his face into the window, resolutely staring outside and trying to ignore the snickers from the other boys.

It was not as though they did not do it as well, Harry thought indignantly. It was unfair he was singled out.

Where’s Malfoy when you bloody need him?

After some time Harry did not find it hard to block out the noises from his companions, for sleep was wooing him insistently; his eyes drooped and a trickle of saliva slid down the window from his hanging mouth. He jerked himself awake and wiped the window as surreptitiously as he could without alerting Hermione. If he were to doze off now in front of her, it would lead to questions about why he was not getting enough sleep. Only Ron knew the answer, and Harry would like to keep it that way. In any event, he knew that if he let the temptation of sleep mount, the rest would be all the more enjoyable when he finally obliged.

Nevertheless, it broke the routine nicely though inconveniently that Malfoy did not pitch up in their compartment. And it rather lent a spring to Harry’s step as he fought his way through the throng of students towards the horse carriages, which, if his memory had not failed him, were supposed to be horseless. But he was bundled into the carriages by Hermione before he could ask any questions, and they were jostled along the rocky route with their friends towards the towering castle. Harry put the mystifying picture of the skeletal horses to the few hours of sleep he had managed to catch ever since he returned to the Dursleys after Cedric was killed and Voldemort reborn.

He still could not look his friends in the eye following that wounding, even if innocent, enquiry from Neville. But the sight of the jutting turrets and glowing windows looming towards him as he and the other students made their way to the Entrance Hall was soothing, and he forget the incident. That feeling he knew so well and loved so much grew stronger with each yard the castle came closer.

A few minutes later they entered the Great Hall and took their seats. Golden goblets and plates appeared on the tables, mercilessly dangling the prospect of the feast at them. Harry managed to hear Ron’s stomach growl on top of the excited chatter and scraping chairs. Professor Dumbledore slipped into the Hall from a door behind the High Table, took his throne-like seat in the middle of it and began making conversation with the professors around him. Anticipating the meal as eagerly as his students were, he threw his waist-length beard over his shoulder and held his knife and fork at the ready.

When Harry caught sight of Dumbledore for the first time, a thrill of emotion seized him. It surged in spite of whatever new terrors and triumphs the new year might bring forth. As he sat at the Gryffindor table, familiarised himself again with acquaintances and pleasant strangers, as his feet recalled that lovely and worn track from the gate to the Entrance Hall, and as he revelled in that profound and ancient magical spirit the immensity of the Great Hall called upon, that pulsating feeling that had been with him since they approached the castle matured and spilled over in a warm and profound moment of exhilaration. A huge, painful grin which he shared only with himself slowly spread across his face. In that moment, he knew he was home again.

Professor McGonagall marched through the great doors leading a long line of first-years. When the Sorting was over a few minutes later and the line had assimilated into the four Houses, McGonagall took her seat at the High Table and settled into a rather expectant posture as she eyed Dumbledore sharply. Short of slapping Professor Snape’s arm, Dumbledore was adrift in gossipy ecstasy: he made a noise of disbelief at Snape after the Potions teacher muttered something to him. Dumbledore swiftly turned to face McGonagall with the jumpiness of a mischievous child when she tapped him on his shoulder. McGonagall cleared her throat, which ended his riveting chat with Snape, who, though as sullen and sallow as ever, looked quite relieved.

“Oh, dear. A speech before we banquet, yes,” said Dumbledore, preparing to rise to his feet. “Er, thank you, Minerva.” He tapped his goblet with a spoon to get the attention of the Hall and spread his arms wide. “Welcome to another year at Hogwarts! I would especially like to welcome our new recruits! Eh, forgive the war-speak,” Dumbledore chuckled as his crinkled eyes fell on Snape, “and my cynical use of it during these… interesting times. Hem hem, there’s nothing quite like first experiences,” he continued, “and I would wish to call upon the older students to make the first-years’ maiden strides here at Hogwarts as pleasant as possible.”

Dumbledore continued with the usual announcements about rules and details about the upcoming Quidditch season. Not long after the speech, Harry’s stomach leapt at the sight of the golden cups filling with pumpkin juice and Hogsy and their plates with everything from shepherd’s pie to beef casserole. Ron moaned in pleasure as he started pulling dishes towards him. It was only after a silent ten minutes (the “marathon minutes” as Harry called them when it was best to leave Ron alone) that Ron was sated enough to notice the ghost in their midst.

“Hi, Nearly Headless Nick,” he burped. “I can honestly say that I miss you.”

Ron tended to become disarmed and sentimental when his stomach was full. Nick did a double take.

“You missed him,” corrected Hermione.

“That’s what I said.”

“No, you said you ‘miss’ him. He’s here in front of you, isn’t he? You don’t miss him anymore.”

Ron’s face screwed up as though he thought Hermione came from some other planet. “Hermi—what you on about?”

“Never mind, Ron,” sighed Hermione exasperatedly. “I’ll leave you to your afterglow.”

“I scarcely believe I’m hearing this,” Nick remarked. “Your kind sentiment rather makes up for your crude jokes around this time of the year. I for a second thought you were that enduringly gay Stephanie Harlem coming onto me.”

Hermione heaved suddenly in her chair. She wiped her nose after she apparently snorted up her pumpkin juice. Her face seemed undecided between amusement and strict reserve.

Ron twitched his eyebrow at Nearly Headless Nick licentiously. “Oh, you were having a few ideas? But I can’t imagine how it would work out between us...”

“Who’s Stephanie Harlem?” Neville enquired. Harry, to whom Neville’s innocent questioning was growing less cute, was slightly repulsed with the sight of him dressed so sharply even before the first day of school and holding a fork and knife in his hands as though he had a room at Buckingham.

“A knob skipper from seventh year that smiles at anything she can bed,” Ginny replied. Hermione heaved again and wiped her mouth, throwing a load look at Ginny. “What?” Ginny said indignantly at her. “It’s Ron’s word.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Hermione harrumphed.

Nearly Headless Nick adjusted his ruff uncomfortably. Even though he could not blush, his ghostly cheeks grew denser and whiter. “Er, I should be trying to find the Grey Lady—no one should be permitted to feel down tonight at least! Hogwarts is open again!” He floated off.

“Good luck with that, mate!” Dean called rest of the table laughed.

“This is the day I saw a ghost blush!” giggled Hermione. “Ron, you’re so evil!”

Ron stood up and made suggestive hip gestures and showed his leg off on his seat. “You can call me Lady in Gryffindor Red. You know you want some, too, Hermione.”

Hermione threw her head back in laughter and nearly fell over.

“Ron, you’re special, you know that?” said Ginny, wiping her tears.

Feeling pleasantly drowsy and cheeks stinging from laughing so hard, though his limbs felt leaden, Harry made his way with Ron and Hermione to Gryffindor Tower. They found the dormitory as cosy and welcoming as the day they left it. For the rest of the night the students touched base again. The Gryffindor common room soon became a hive of bustle, banter and chatter.

Hermione was over at a corner talking with Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown. Harry was appalled to see that she had woven her web on them already: lessons had not even started yet and but there was a piece of parchment on their table and quills in both Parvati’s and Lavender’s hands.

Harry dove back into the Quidditch conversation with Ron, Neville, Dean and Seamus. During a lull in the conversation, Dean observed, “Hermione’s looking super-nice this year, hm?”

Seamus chuckled forcefully.

“What’s that sweep you mentioned, Harry?” said Ron, suddenly irritated.

“The Flog Sweep,” answered Harry, smirking.

“Damn, even Lavender. What is she doing different?” Dean went on. Seamus chuckled again.

“Lavender?” said Ron, his irritation suddenly vanishing as he craned his neck to see over the fireside armchairs across the common room. “You’re high on something, mate—she’s still a man-eater.”

Seamus chuckled still harder.

Dean tilted his head and squinted at the girl.

“I wonder where Ginny is,” said Ron after a moment, looking around.

Harry needed to turn his head only slightly to catch Ginny’s loud, ginger hair. He dwelled on her face, which was beaming at her friends, before turned back to the table. But it seemed Ron had timed Harry’s glance perfectly, for he caught it. And when their eyes met, Harry felt his face burn.

“Yeah, but don’t you think her friend is hotter, though? Parvati?” Ron went on. There was something new and lofty about his voice and something like hope in his face.

Dean appraised Parvati accordingly but then looked around the entire common room. “Where was I when all of these wicks became shaggable? Even Erma has a banging chest now…”

Seamus chuckled again. His chuckles sounded increasingly unamused.

Mortified again, Harry wanted to remove himself. It must have shown in his face because Seamus took one look at him and suggested they go upstairs. Harry sprung to his feet without a second invitation and left the rest of the boys to talk about the opposite sex. Neville did not want to find out whatever Neville might contribute to the conversation.

“So how were your holidays?” asked Seamus casually as they bounced through the door of the dormitory of the fifth-year boys and settled down on Harry’s four-poster bed.

“Different year, same yoke,” Harry replied and reclined on his continental pillow. “You?”

“Nah, not too bad...”

Seamus was a poor actor; it could not have been plainer that he had something on his mind, something perhaps he was too shy to share. Harry, however, was not a Hermione who could pick up on other people’s emotions quickly.

“Did your aunt Mauve visit with her cat and give you trouble this holiday?” asked Harry with a grin.

“Oh, yeah,” said Seamus with a lame chortle as he drew patterns on Harry’s bedspread.

“Excited about Quidditch? Going to try your luck at the tryout then? You should get yourself in my goods books, you know, starting now even—I might just swings things for you.”

Seamus smiled wanly and cast his eyes down to the duvet. “Haven’t ever been much of a Quidditch player, though.”

This was true.

“Ah, you could probably do well,” said Harry bracingly. “There really isn’t anything to it.”

“Of course you’re going to say that,” Seamus said to the duvet as he drew patterns on it. “You look magical on a broomstick. It’s like just going to the toilet and sitting on it for you—doesn’t take a lot of effort but you do it so well.”

Harry looked down and starting drawing patterns, too. His face was suddenly hot.

“You just get on a broom and try and look busy,” muttered Harry at the duvet, which he twisted between his fingers awkwardly. “That’s what McLaggen does, doesn’t he? And he’s not so bad.” The compliment to Cormac McLaggen, an incredibly arrogant Gryffindor who has tried out for every team Harry has captained, left a bad taste in his mouth.

Seamus shrugged. “So... keeping your eye on anyone this year? The Great Hall was packed with hot wicks today.”

“Not anyone in particular,” answered Harry with a caution he would normally employ when speaking to people like Rita Skeeter; it was not a question typical of Seamus to ask. Now that Harry thought about it, he finally realised Seamus was indeed acting strangely.

“Oh, come on, Harry. When are you going to get interested in someone? The whole school’s waiting on ya!”

“Well they’ll have to wait forever, then.”

“Then you shouldn’t blame anyone but yourself when they finally resort to Love Potions and stuff. It would give me the greatest pleasure in saying ‘I told you so.’”

“But I have good friends like you to help me out if I do fall under a Love Potion, right?” said Harry with a winning smile. “And after you can tell me ‘I told me so.’”

“Might depend if I still have any scruples left,” murmured Seamus.

“Then you don’t qualify to be in Gryffindor. You have to change House!”

Seamus remained silence as he bit his lower lip.

“What?” prodded Harry.

Seamus bit harder into his lip until Harry feared he would bite it off and choke on it. The Irish wizard took a deep breath, held it and closed his eyes.

“Seamus,” said Harry a little sternly, now worried.

“He’s so fucking hot, Harry...” whispered Seamus, exhaling finally, his eyes rolling dreamily, appearing to have been dying to admit this to someone. “I can’t fuckin—I can’t handle it...”

Harry kept quiet for several seconds as his brain worked on whether Seamus had used a wrong pronoun or it was something else. He could not say anything.

“I want us to fuck so bad! I’m not even gonna lie, Harry! Fuck! I just wanna—have him all over me! Every part of him!”

Harry continued to hold his silence, eyes swollen, but Seamus was on an unstoppable roll. He was releasing whatever seemed to have been buried deep inside him for who knew how long and did not need Harry’s encouragement any longer.

“I know, I’m just revolting, aren’t I? But I can’t help it! I’m thinking with my fucking prick… Every time he’s around me… I get all shaky and light-headed for no fucking reason…! I can’t even get a fucking conversation going properly with him anymore!”

Harry’s eyebrows had climbed his forehead higher and higher until they were perched on top of his fringe. He had only heard more expletives in a complete sentence from Malfoy once when they both spent a detention scrubbing cauldrons with toothbrushes. As he listened with one ear to the confessions from Seamus’s tapped keg, he found the words the other boy used to describe one of his friends not quite to his taste. His mind lapsed into a ceaseless loop around one question: When the fuck did Seamus become gay?

“Merlin, what’s wrong with me? I’m going to hell, aren’t I? If he finds out, he won’t want to be friends anymore—he’ll hate me.”

Harry was so floored and curious that he did not bother being sensitive when Seamus’s voice broke at that point. “Wait—I mean—did you just—how does it—Did you choose to—But no of course you didn’t choose; who would want to be gay? But then does it, like, then you just turn gay and you look at a bloke or--?”

“Look,” said Seamus, cutting across Harry’s ramblings, “I can’t speak for everyone and I’m also new to this. I don’t know how it happens. I just know that I’m really, really, really into him. Like badly—dream-about-him-every-night badly. When I stand next to him—just stand next to him, it’s almost enough! When we talk and I have an excuse to look him in the eye... the way I feel when I look at him, it’s almost worth being this confused... I don’t know...”

This was all coming too fast for Harry; he felt as though he had been unfairly ambushed. “But,” he spluttered. He scanned Seamus from top to bottom as though looking for signs that indicated his orientation. “When did you become a—like...?”

“A bufty?” Seamus finished heatedly.

Harry pretended to appreciate the social weight of the word, which was entirely new to him. “Um, I was going to use the word… homos—No, no,” Harry amended, switching course as he read Seamus’s reception to his terms. “A gay person… A person of alternative orientation.”

Seamus stared at Harry with a blank face until a twitch developed at the corner of his lips which preceded an amused smile.

“Homosexual is fine,” said Seamus finally, disarmed by Harry’s determination not to offend him. He began speaking and rushing over his words again as though against his will, as though he were looking for any avenue to release his emotions. “I think it’s his whole growth spurt of his that got me going. I mean, he became fucking gorgeous overnight practically!” He directed his expression of amazement at Harry, trying to garner his agreement. When Harry stared back at him non-committedly, Seamus continued, “Or maybe it’s just my hormones going all haywire. I mean, this is puberty, right?”

“Er, sure, I guess...”

“Yeah,” said Seamus, sounding as though he was trying to convince himself. “And aren’t you supposed to be trying to get laid, too?”

Harry went from green to red lightning-fast. “I’m not interested in a relationship,” he said in the colourless voice of a spokesperson reading a press release.

Seamus whooped with amusement. “It doesn’t have to be a relationship!” He framed the r-word with two quotation marks, speaking in a mocking tone that suggested sleeping around outside relationships was a long-standing practice, to which Harry had been completely oblivious. What happened to the usual plan? Get married, then have sex? Harry felt as old and outdated as Mrs Figg.

“I’m not really sure about any of it,” replied Harry uneasily. He felt exceptionally awkward, and Seamus talking about heterosexual matters when he had confessed himself otherwise was not helping. Suddenly the Irish jokester looked different in Harry’s mind. But Harry had never thought himself homophobic. In fact, given that he knew what Dudley did to “skippy ponces” at his primary school whenever he and his gang found one, Harry would be disappointed in himself if he was.

“All right. It’s up to you, I guess,” said Seamus. “But... so... what do you think of... you know... my situation... of me...?”

Harry translated the question correctly for what it was really asking. “You’re still my friend, Seamus, no matter what,” he declared with his warmest smile. He could practically see the stress rolling off Seamus’s shoulder. Seamus nodded and looked down at the duvet.

“D’you think Dean would like me in that way? He’ll hate me, won’t he?”

That crossed a line for Harry. Seamus was a very good friend but Harry was not sure he was comfortable chatting about these kinds of things with him just yet. Things were going to be so awkward between them that he almost rued Seamus’s confession to him.

“Er... hard to say...” answered Harry, growing scarlet rapidly again.

“Would I like who in what way?” called Dean as he bounded into the room with Ron and Neville.

“Angelina Johnson,” replied Seamus with impressive nonchalance.

Dean entered into a long and detailed discussion with Ron about the merits of dating Angelina Johnson, ranging from her “soft skin” to her “soulful eyes.” When they eventually finished half an hour later, Seamus looked more despondent than ever.

“Ron, where’s your Ages book?” asked Dean. Harry saw Seamus pull a face behind Dean’s back conveying his disgust with the boyishness of Dean’s desire to read a sports book.

“Er, somewhere in my trunk,” Ron replied, watching lazily as Dean stood up and burrowed through his trunk.

Harry’s day could not have turned out more perfectly, in aggregate. He was back together with his best friends, going to enjoy carefree chats with the ghosts, suffer McGonagall’s rigidity and celebrate every quirk of the castle from its deceptive stairs to giggling doorknobs. It was perfect even after the unexpected curveball Seamus had thrown at him. He sank into his covers elated to be back at Hogwarts.

***

“No... don’t... Don’t kill him... please...”

“Harry?” whispered Ron. The redhead slipped out of his bed and cautiously came over to Harry’s bed and pulled back the curtains. Harry was gripping his sheets as though his life depended on it. His arm gleaming with sweat and beads of it peppered his forehead, which was furrowed and troubled.

Ron sat on the bed and tried to pry Harry’s hand from the sheets. “Harry, it’s okay. Relax. Shush...”

“Don’t do it... Please don’t it...”

“Harry, please wake up...” Ron shook him, at which point Harry almost catapulted himself off the bed. “It’s just a dream,” Ron whispered to him. “Just a dream. You’re all right.”

“Ron...”

“Yeah. I’m here.”

Harry’s damp pyjama-clad chest rose and fell rapidly as he threw his widened gaze around the room. His green eyes were brilliant in the moonlit darkness.

“Go back to sleep,” said Ron. “We’ve got lessons tomorrow.”

“Thanks...” Harry pulled off his wet shirt, tossed it aside and did not bother throwing his covers on again.

Ron removed his touch from Harry only when he was sure his friend was calm. He stood up, looked down at him and his lips twisted grimly. He closed the curtain and muttered a Silencing Charm at them, returning to his bed.

But Harry woke up again half an hour later, sleepy and frustrated. He sat staring at the window for several minutes as his sweat evaporated. Shortly afterward he climbed out of bed, quietly hauled out his Invisibility Cloak from his trunk and took out his Marauder’s Map. He shoved his feet into his trainers, put his arms through the sweater Mrs Weasley had made him and left Gryffindor Tower.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Are heroes corruptible? Harry returns to Hogwarts after Voldemort's return. He suffers horrible nightmares, but when one turns particularly savage, he discovers on his map something curious at night, and something
deadly on a perfect Sunday.


Chapter 2

A Deadly Assignment

The morning of the first day of school started in the same way as all the previous ones: hasty preparations, stationery suddenly gone missing and a peculiar whim of time to trot more briskly than ever before. At least that is how Harry felt about it at a time when betrayal was the last thing he and Ron needed: seconds before a Potions class.

“I’m afraid this year you’ll have to abandon your persistent laziness at the door if you wish to make it to my NEWTs class.”

Snape was in the middle of a decree when Harry and Ron skidded into the class, their bags slinging around the corner a second later. Snape and the rest of the class watched the flustered pair make a strict beeline for their seats. When the deafening scrapings of their chairs fell and they had taken out their stationery, Hermione seemed embarrassed to be sitting near them and called their friend.

“And I see we’re finally graced by the presence of Mr Potter and Mr Weasley. Aren’t we lucky,” drawled Snape. He drilled his cold, dark pits into Harry, who held them without fail as he blindly arranged his things on the table and flipped his book onto the wrong page. “Detention, the both of you. Seven o’clock, in this classroom.”

The Slytherins cackled. Hermione closed her eyes.

“You had just run into the middle a warning I was giving to the class that I should perhaps reiterate for your benefit. Or perhaps for the both of you, given your timely arrival, it’s a lost cause,” said Snape. He continued when the noises of amusement from the Slytherins subsided, “OWLs are one of the most crucial examinations you will ever write. I do hope, Mr Potter and Mr Weasley, that your tardiness is indicative of how serious you are to surviving this course—I might then have to deal with a class of few imbeciles, a mercy I have scarcely enjoyed at Hogwarts.”

Harry was sure Snape was choosing his words carefully. Why would he need to survive Snape’s course? Snape was staring at Harry again, his eyes, as usual, looking deadened and depthless. Snape slowly unfixed his gaze and turned it away onto the rest of the class.

“Your first assignment begins today... I beg your pardon. Do I hear an objection?” he asked with that murderously silky voice he sometimes used. There had been a surge of pained groans and incredulous mutters, loudest of which came from the Slytherins, who were no doubt outraged that Snape was dishing out assignments on the first day of term. Harry noticed Malfoy looking away from Snape and folding his arms in dissension. But the classroom fell quiet quickly.

“I did not think so,” said Snape. He let the silence stretch for a moment, relishing it, and continued briskly, “So. You will compile for Monday the twenty-fifth, a twelve-page--” There was another wave of cautious but no less fuming murmurs. “--assignment on the Draught of Living Death, which you will thereafter make in class...”

“Draught of Living Death?” whispered Hermione in outrage. “That’s a sixth-year spell! He’s not allowed to teach it so early! We don’t have the—we can’t brew such a complex potion yet!”

“The definition of a bastard in my books,” grumbled Ron. He then whispered back, “And aren’t you supposed to be happy we’re now going to be learning ahead of the lessons?”

Hermione grew even redder in indignation. “But that’s mental! We can’t do all that in three weeks!” She was beyond outraged now and frowning at Snape as though she thought him finally unhinged. Snape did have an unusually satisfied twist to his sullen features.

“I should warn you,” Snape went on, “that an incredible amount has been written on Draught of Living Death. It is second only to Veritaserum in popularity among academics. You will have to do a considerable amount of studying to come up with an essay worthy of a pass mark. I should also warn you that this assignment carries ten percent of your final year mark.”

“Ah. Phew,” sighed Ron, wiping his brow and scoffing. “He made it out to be something like an exam. Nearly had me for a second there.”

“I’m not even going to bother explaining it to you, Ronald,” sighed Hermione, who in contrast looked sick.

“Miss Patil and Miss Lavender,” said Snape as the class swivelled their heads in the direction of the pair, “I hope you’re not busying yourselves with work from other teachers, or dare I say non-academic work at all.” There was a swift noise of crushed parchment. “You may take out your textbooks,” Snape ordered. “The instructions and criteria for the assignment are on the board.” He waved his wand, whereupon his spidery scrawl appeared on the board, and headed for the door to his study with a lazily tossed instruction to the class to begin.

At the end of the period Hermione was fretting so much about the assignment that she seemed determined to keep a bad temper. It had been torture for Ron and Harry to familiarise themselves with new utensils and ingredients while Hermione reliably exploded at their slightest mispronunciation of a word.

“Congratulations! On the first day you managed to get detentions!” said Hermione as she stomped up the corridor. “That must be a record, even for you two.”

“That bogey-eating prick!” Ron howled. “Can you believe him?”

“He was being rather lenient, if you ask--!” shot Hermione.

“I wasn’t. Harry, do you believe the git?” fumed Ron, turning to someone who could match his indignation.

“Can’t have expected anything else, I guess,” growled Harry as satisfying images of Snape howling in pain flashed through his mind.

They met similar advice about their OWLs in their following classes, which depressed Harry.

Apart from the fact that they were writing OWLs this year, what was also unusual but far more baffling was the increasingly common sight of Malfoy surrounded by a pack of Slytherins who were competing for attention and a handshake from him. Harry, Ron and Hermione, as well as every other student at Hogwarts observed, as the week stretched on, that Malfoy was a hot topic among the Slytherins for some bizarre reason.

As this new adulation for Malfoy was obvious from the first day of school, whatever Malfoy had done to earn it and had the Slytherins lapping up Malfoy’s every word and gesture, had happened in the summer. What is what, Harry simply could not fathom. He was certain of only one thing: there was a huge difference in how Malfoy was treated.

“Okay, what on earth is he so smug about?” said Hermione in a voice of genuine curiosity. She evidently could spot Malfoy’s smirk from as far as the other end of the corridor. Malfoy, followed by his groupies, was coming towards them. When they drew near enough to make out Harry’s, Ron’s and Hermione’s figures the corridor bulged with their jeering laughter. Malfoy was smirking the hugest smirk Harry had ever seen him smirk: the blond boy had never looked more proud of himself. It physically sickened Harry.

“Let’s see how that Potter runt likes it, Draco,” one Slytherin spat as the gang went loudly past them leering at Harry as they went past. The Slytherin who had spoken had an unbearably harsh laughter that made Harry’s skin crawl.

“You’ll have it in no time, Draco!” praised another Slytherin as he patted Malfoy’s back.

“Fuck that, you’ll be his favourite!” another declared.

Their rambling voices barely quieted as they moved further away. It was quite strange to see how Malfoy, one of the slightest and shortest of them all, commanded their fixation like a towering hero and had them so desperate to agree to anything he said.

“What makes him a Lockhart all of a sudden?” said Ron. “It’s not like he got a Quidditch contract or something... did he?”

“I doubt it,” snorted Harry. “Even Filch could run circles around him. If he’s signed, it’s probably with the Chudley Cannons.” His brain had not been able to catch up to his tongue, and he realised what he had just done. He avoided Ron and struck up a breezy conversation with Hermione over him.

By dinner Ron had forgotten about it (Harry had relinquished some of his Dumbledore Chocolate Frogs, of which he had an excess anyway). After serving Snape’s detention for an hour, he and Harry returned to Gryffindor Tower in sour moods which Hermione did not improve when she foiled their attempt to escape homework. She pulled out her trusty trump card: an ultimatum that she would not help them academically in the future if they did not buckle down. They were to write their OWLs that year, so Harry and Ron decided against sacrificing Hermione’s assistance for one night’s sleep. As a result they only managed to trudge up the stairs literally at the eleventh hour. They said goodnight to each before they dragged their curtains across their beds. Harry threw off his continental pillow and sunk into his bed, sighing deep into the sheets.

***

Two figures stood at a corner of a room cast in partial darkness. A fireplace cackled softly from the other end, throwing its dull, orange glow on a low coffee table. One of the figures stood with his hands behind his back. He had sweeping platinum hair that flowed over his shoulders and a pointy face. The other figure standing on the other side of the room paced back and forth before a window, upon which midnight darkness pressed. A wand twirled in his ghostly pale hands. The features of his face would be indistinguishable from the darkness of his hood were it not for the scarlet glow of his eyes.

“Your son, Lucius,” said Voldemort, “looked startled at the gathering.”

“My Lord, it was his first time ever to be graced by your presence,” replied the other man.

“Is that all? You think he was shaken by the sight of me?”

“M—My Lord, your presence is impressive and--”

“Did he think I was hideous to behold?”

“He wouldn’t dare! He didn’t!”

“Are you confident in his conviction, Lucius?”

“I’m certain of it, yes, My Lord.”

“Good,” Voldemort hissed quietly, fingering the wand in his hands. “It’s the kindest punishment I could put to you, Lucius. You know this.”

“My Lord.”

“I held that diary dear to me. It was worth six of your son’s lives. You must only suffer for its loss. A loss which, worse still, was for your own gain. If your son is ready, there’s nothing to worry about... Do you fear death, Lucius?”

“My Lord?” Lucius gulped.

“Death. Do you fear it?”

It was several moments before Lucius could speak again.

“Yes. Yes, My Lord. I fear it very deeply.”

“So did I.”

Lucius’ throat was working hard as he eyed the revolving wand in Voldemort’s hands intently. He wiped a strip of sweat off the top of his lip.

“You may leave.”

“My Lord,” murmured Lucius. He was nearly stumbling to the door.

***

Harry tightened his Invisibility Cloak around him, using it as a blanket against the midnight chill while he traipsed the corridors. He thought much at these times.

He was used to the startling visions from Voldemort. In fact, they had come more frequently and felt realer than ever before. The period immediately following Voldemort’s resurrection, when Voldemort had begun to settle and organise his affairs, had been exceptionally painful for Harry: his scar had flared in step with Voldemort’s fury. He felt the steady pulse of controlled excitement and finally the rush of cruel exhilaration upon the kill.

“Then something definitely happened in the summer,” concluded Hermione when he told her and Ron about the vision at the back of the library a few hours later. “What were his exact words? Can you remember?”

“It’s fuzzy like always,” said Harry. “But I remember it clearest just before Malfoy’s father turned his back and left the room. It’s like when I—when he got really like excited—No, that’s not the word… My heart—I mean his heart, whatever—leapt in my chest like I was happy or like when you pull off just before you hit the ground on your broom. You know that feeling, Ron? Voldemort nearly killed him. He had been going on about something he missed or lost or something...”

“Harry, please try to remember clearly!” begged Hermione. This had been the pattern of their conversation ever since they entered the library and started it. When Harry’s words obfuscated all meaning, Hermione would nudge him to make him try to remember more clearly. She did it delicately, for she did not want him to lose his temper, as he in the day following the visions was usually sullen and cantankerous, not least because he had had little sleep. Harry also did not particularly enjoy recounting and therefore reliving his dreams.

Three tables away Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown were in deep discussion about something. Yet another piece of parchment lay between them on which they made an occasional correction or drew an arrow leading to a bunch of more words.

“Yeah,” said Harry. “Something about... about... a diary! He was talking about the diary that I destroyed in second year! That must be it! He was talking about Lucius deserving his punishment for losing it.”

“Harry, you’ve got to tell Dumbledore,” declared Hermione. She always ended up saying this anyway—Harry did not know why he bothered. He wrestled with what she said. One part of him still felt abashed about always childishly running to Dumbledore to tell him about a mere dream. Yet another part of him knew that his dreams were anything but mere.

“He’s probably too busy, Hermione,” Harry countered. “You heard what he said on the first day back. He’s got bigger things to worry about than a conversation between Voldemort and Malfoy’s father. Anyway, speaking of visions, I need a potion or two to stop seeing double. Does that Wheelock bloke Ginny used to ramble on about seem more around these days? But he’s always dodging behind some corner or looking jumpy if I ever spot him.”

Hermione gave him a frown that told him she was diagnosing him quietly.

“I think you need to start seeing Madam Pomfrey more often. We should enquire if St. Mungo’s has some kind of magical psychologists on standby.”

The funny thing to Harry was that Hermione was completely serious about this.

After spending their lunch in the midst of dusty books, they headed off to Care of Magical Creatures. They stayed behind after the lesson to console Hagrid after Malfoy had taken every chance to ridicule Hagrid’s efforts at teaching. He was even more biting than ever, if it were possible. They met him again in Herbology but fortunately they were dealing with creatures which had less of a liking for sedate conversation than intense limb-threatening physical activity which involved wrestling their tentacles and smashing the pods recovered from their mouths, depriving Malfoy of any time or breath to give his tongue reign.

Some hours later they were working in front of the fireplace completing Professor McGonagall’s homework.

“I reckon his father bought the whole Slytherin team Sindaras like second year all over again,” Ron said. “That has to be why they’re all over him. I know I would’ve gone on my knees for one.”

Harry had a feeling Hermione wanted to talk about his vision further. Fortunately Seamus had other ideas.

“On your knees?” said Seamus with a raised eyebrow. Harry caught his eye and looked away.

“For a Nimbus Sindara? Sure yeah,” replied Ron, but then cried, “Not like that, no! Seamus!” Seamus gave a chuckle that was far more amused than those he had whenever Dean talked about girls. “Get your head out the gutter, mate! Merlin...” Ron shivered and pulled weird faces. “Eurgh... Imagine knobbing Malfoy, Harry.” Harry’s stomach heaved. “I’d rather die, I’m sorry. Take my chances with the Dementors. Maybe it’ll have a change of heart halfway through Kissing me and leave me with a little something to live on.”

“Changing the subject,” Dean urged. His eyes wandered over to Ginny, who was doing her homework with a few friends.

Harry glanced at his wristwatch and made a great show of yawning. He had to repeat this several implausible times before Ron caught on and broke out into loud gestures of exhaustion. Hermione put a hand to her mouth and stretched, but her eyes were far from drowsy as they darted observantly between the faces of her Housemates.

“I’m getting really tired,” Hermione declared in a clear and authoritative voice that was at odds with the affectation of exhaustion she was attempting. This, however, was lost on the others as they gave murmurs of agreement.

Dean threw his quill down. “Fuck it. This woman doesn’t know what she wants,” he bleated. This gesture of defeat was infectious: Seamus nodded in agreement and started packing up. Neville’s nose was still stuck in a book, however, as the pudgy boy traced his finger on some print, a quill still ready in his hand.

“Neville, aren’t you feeling tired?” Hermione demanded as though trying to make Neville feel exhausted. Neville’s eyes grew owlish again.

“Professor McGonagall wants my essay perfect, Hermione. She said I could pass if I tried.”

Hermione’s nostrils flared as her annoyance gave its final thrashes and her eyebrows arched: she was torn between annoyance and sympathy. Onto this, Harry came from the left with a concentrated dose of puppy eyes, which made Hermione’s mouth twist as though she had tasted a pepper-flavoured Every Flavour Bean.

“Oh, bring it here, Neville, I’ll do it for you!” Hermione blurted.

“Sorry?” Neville said.

“I’ll do your homework for you. Just go upstairs and sleep!”

“But I can’t ask you to do--”

“Yes you can!” said Hermione aggressively. She yanked Neville’s things from underneath his nose and Ron marched him up the stairs, assuring him that Hermione would take care of everything.

Hermione sighed woefully as she studied the progress Neville had made. “He’s completely hopeless…” Neville’s words had touched her so deeply that she work on his essay well into Ron and Harry’s idle chat.

“You’d think they’d be afraid of her,” Ron was saying in a tone of admiration. “But no, they just packed up and started a bloody joke shop. I swear if mum sees them again I wouldn’t like to see the colour of their backsides.”

“I bet she’ll be happy when the money starts rolling in, though,” Harry pointed out.

“Sacrificing their education to open a joke shop is actually their funniest joke I’ve heard in four years,” said Hermione. Ron looked as though he had taken a blow to the face and Harry wincingly landed the People’s Elbow on the table. “Actually it’s a rather sad joke and it makes no sense whatsoever whichever way you slice it,” declared Hermione, looking up at them sternly as though wishing to squash any inclinations in Harry and Ron to follow in the twins’ footsteps and foreswear academia. “You’ll have the money but you’ll also have the intellectual capacity of a Blast-Ended—Sirius!”

The fireplace had surged and spat, and in it Harry could distinguish a familiar face.

“Sirius!” he called, forgetting himself. Ron and Hermione glanced around the common room.

“I have the intellectual capacity of a Blast-Ended Skrewt, do I now?” Sirius chortled. “It’s not like you to state the obvious, Hermione.”

The three of them had been hard-pushed all week to find a time when the common room was empty. Hermione risked today since the due date of Snape’s essay was nearing alarmingly, so those who had slacked were burning midnight candles in the library and the rest who had already done the bulk of the work were sleep soundly right now.

The three of them talked with Sirius about what was happening at Hogwarts and might be happening out there. Ron and Hermione at some point extracted themselves gently from the conversation. Harry was so glad to finally speak with Sirius that he only realised Ron and Hermione were not around when he said goodbye to Sirius. He missed that endearing barking laughter and the warmth that filled his chest when he spent time with his godfather. They talked about everything, even a little the night Voldemort was reborn, as well as Cedric. Harry said goodbye to Sirius feeling much lighter than before.

But as elated as he was at seeing Sirius again, it did not save him from his nightly terrors.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Are heroes corruptible? Harry returns to Hogwarts after Voldemort's return. He suffers horrible nightmares, but when one turns particularly savage, he discovers on his map something curious at night, and something
deadly on a perfect Sunday.


Chapter 3

Draco’s Dilemma

“Kill the spare!”

Harry jerked in his bed, sweat all over his skin, gleaming arms and legs trembling. He rolled around his bed, twisting his sheets all around him.

Pain beyond pain, all-consuming, writhing in his muscles, tearing apart his nerves…

“Let’s just take it together.”

“No!” Harry writhed on the bed, twisting his sweat-soaked sheets around him. His pulse was fast and fierce. “Cedric,” he moaned in the night, unheard by his roommates as he had placed a Silencing Charm on this curtains. His legs kicked out and his head thrashed from side to side; his brow shone and was furrowed like ripples on troubled waters. He screamed into the night as he jerked wide awake, breathing hard through his lips, his chest heaving. His eyes landed on the next bed in which lay Ron.

He pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes and rubbed them. He had thought his nightmares would retreat with the profound comfort that his return to Hogwarts brought. He had thought once he escaped the oppressive grip of the Dursleys, the nightmares would somehow vanish. How wrong he had been. He was bound at the centre of a ghastly zoetrope spinning harrowing images in every direction.

It was the first weekend of term. Harry knew he would not be able to sleep for several hours to come, and he also knew where he would be in a few minutes. Groping around for his glasses, he pushed his bed curtains aside, spilling a square slab of moonlight from the window onto his bed, and swung his legs over the covers.

He grabbed his wand from his bedside drawer, padded over to his trunk, carefully lifted its lid and rifled blindly inside it. This had been a habit of his after waking up from his disturbing dreams. Without needing to light his wand, he found the familiar edges of two books and lifted the top one to slip out a folded piece of parchment between. He gently dropped the lid back onto the trunk and returned to his bed.

By wand light and fully awake with his legs folded and his back resting against the headboard, Harry ran his eyes idly across the yellow-brown surface of the Marauder’s Map. Hundreds upon hundreds of names dotted the map in small and large clumps, with only a handful of them set apart from the rest which belonged to the professors who slept in their own quarters and the headmaster who was presumably snoozing in the higher levels of his office. Although these names stood out more easily than any other, Harry’s attention was immediately stolen by something else: a most peculiar sight at—Harry found his watch atop his drawer and read the green figures—02:47 in the morning.

Harry’s mind immediately roiled with a legion of suspicions he did not hesitate to justify to himself by simply supplying the name at which he was staring. As he continued to stare, his eyes burned and they glared as his loathing of the name swelled in his chest. The same name belonged to a man whom he had heard whisper his renewed allegiance to someone who has haunted his dreams ever since he discovered magic. The pool of wand light rippled and the map quivered under his hands as he all but burned a hole through the dot labelled Draco Malfoy. He wondered why the dot was in the corridor all on its own.

Harry had never seen Malfoy—whose dot zigzagged down the hallway strangely, sometimes pausing, sometimes retreating and then lurching forward once more as though it were dazed—walk about the castle under moonlight since he started studying the map alone at night. It was two weeks into the new academic year and he had not known anyone but him to listlessly prowl the corridors under a dark sky. What was Malfoy doing at three o’clock in the morning? And while seeming to behave so bizarrely? As far as Harry knew, Malfoy was not a prefect, and even if he were, Harry was quite confident patrol duty was not supposed to be performed this late.

His night-time terrors rapidly creeping away, ousted by his deep-seated hatred for the Malfoys and his recollection of the words the Slytherin spoke through his disgusting lips on the Hogwarts Express about Lord Voldemort’s imminent rise to power and Cedric’s murder, Harry had a sudden stroke of mind: he wanted to hex Malfoy to next Tuesday.

His lips pursed against this pointless search for revenge and a vent through which to release the stress of his recent dream upon Malfoy. Harry nevertheless rose from his bed, throwing reason out to the wind. In any case, he wished to the feel the refreshing air of the cold night on his face once more as he did every night following the waves of his horrible nightmares.

“Who’s there?” called the Fat Lady tremulously as her portrait was swung open by an invisible force. Feeling no desire to pacify the fear so obvious in her quivering voice, Harry set off down the corridor, the Marauder’s Map in one hand, the Invisibility Cloak in the other. He heard the Fat Lady shuffle out of her portrait with a squeak undoubtedly to go seek refuge by her friend Violet’s portrait and jabber about what had just happened.

The corridors were dark and striped by narrow bands of moonlight. Harry knew there would be a slight chill, hence he wore his maroon, oversized Weasley sweater again. The statues and the gargoyles and the portraits never stirred, and remained as still, dispassionate and guarded as usual, unaware that an unseen boy trotted down the hallway with which they were charged.

Harry checked the map of Hogwarts from time to time as he moved along the corridor. It was true he had ventured outside in the first instance to clear his mind and admittedly wallow in his depression. But tonight he was taken, at will, with this distraction by the name of Draco Malfoy. Yet he did not know what he could achieve in finding his enemy (perhaps finding out why he was so suddenly popular this year). He did not know what he would do when he approached the other boy. But tonight’s nightmare had been particularly vicious, and perhaps this called for a different, more proactive kind of relief than that which he would achieve by merely stalking the castle while his thoughts pulled in every direction. Having an objective kept his mind clear.

Not too long now, he thought. Malfoy was not too far now and not before long he would find a reason to act. Harry turned into a new corridor and flung off his Cloak, stuffed it into his school robes together with the map after memorising the path leading to the floor Malfoy was on, and took out his wand. He folded his arms and tried to slow his pace but realised now that his curiosity was ignited he could not wait to see what Malfoy was up to alone well into the night.

Harry caught his reflection in a window of a classroom as he passed it… He thought he had seen someone very much like him around Hogwarts... A boy, about his age and build. Perhaps it was that Wheelock boy, but he was in the same year Ginny. As if he cared. His nightmares were slowly corrupting his vision; he was seeing double now.

“Had there been any sign from you, any whisper of your whereabouts, I would have been at your side immediately, nothing could have prevented me…”

No, no, no, no. Until he ran into Malfoy he was unoccupied and he did not want that. He hastened towards the fourth floor. He distantly heard the voice of the Fat Lady but her voice did not quaver anymore; Harry recognized the tone of gossip, and her voice was strengthened by it.

“You’d think it was just another midnight prowler under these never-ending Invisimubilty Cloaks everyone has and keeps throwing down to their children, Merlin forbid. But then I remembered that whole Sirius Black episode, V! I ran for it! Still gives me nightmares, that does! That savannah I had to hide in was blasting hot, mind you! My lovely Bonfils piece was ruined! Not going through that again, I’ll tell you that. Came straight here, V… It’s happening almost every night since those wretched tykes came back from their holidays. And I think it’s the same person every night…”

Her voice faded away.

Harry was not feeling murderous at all, but he also did not know what would become of his actions. Things remained distinctly capricious between him and Malfoy: as usual tempers flared, rages unleashed and almost certainly curse flew. Perhaps Harry sought this very unknown; perhaps he was called by this unpredictability as he cut through the cold air and as his footstalls punctuated the chilled silence of the night. He twiddled his wand. If Malfoy proved disagreeable towards his active desire for respite, could he just hex Malfoy for no reason at all?

Harry turned another corner. He was not carefully studying the portraits and noting the little alcoves and niches that littered the hallways tonight as he had done on many strolls, and this break in repetition together with the thundering of his heart as he drew ever closer to Malfoy had already energised him and improved his spirits tremendously.

“The least I could do is find out for the peace of mind of everyone in this school why Malfoy’s suddenly all that,” Harry muttered to himself before he suddenly made out a soft, plaintive song carried by a pleasant voice a little louder than a whisper.

“Hush, my dragon, don’t cry much. Morrow I promise a bounty o’ brooming…”

Frowning, Harry pasted himself against the wall and slowly slunk forward until he was able to peek around the last corner. There, slouching against the wall on the floor with a bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey clutched lazily in both hands, wearing dragon-hide slip-ons whose scales gleamed in the torchlight as brightly as the sheet of long, silver-blond hair and paler-than-ever skin, was Draco Malfoy.

“We’ll trip to Fortescue’s and buy you a sundae. A laughing quill or frills for your broom and there goes our day.”

The flourish faded into a wheeze of amusement. Before Harry knew it, Malfoy broke out into breathless laughter and his chest jogged the bottle in his hands as it heaved. When he finally subsided, a broad, dreamy grin stuck onto his face, which was pointed to the arched ceiling. Malfoy was drunk. And this was highly odd behaviour indeed, even for him. Harry withdrew from the corner and pulled out his Marauder’s Map to check whether anybody had been following Malfoy but discovered only two dots in the same corridor in which he and Malfoy stood. Their closest neighbours were far asleep in Ravenclaw Tower a good quarter of a castle away.

Harry replaced the map in his robes and stuck his head back out into the corridor. Malfoy’s song started and ended off coarsely, no doubt the doing of the Firewhiskey that he embraced safely against his chest. But then his natural tenor would soar, light and airy upon the frigid night.

“Frolic in the gardens and laugh we shall.

You’ll gift me a narcissi and I’ll match you with a kiss...”

Harry’s eyebrows rose. The song had the cadence of a nursery rhyme to it. Invaluable, Harry thought hungrily: he had something over Malfoy already, and he had only been watching him for a few seconds. What was more, there was every indication Malfoy would continue to make a fool of himself. Perhaps Harry should not announce his presence too soon. He looked on, and despite how sedate the scene was, his wand was at the ready and his mind was tautened with a nice hex with which to start things off. Perhaps he could just blast Malfoy out of his misery. He fantasized Malfoy’s pink-tinged cheek erupting with gruesome boils on the wrong end of a Furnunculus Hex.

“Kisses don’t save people, Mother!” Malfoy rasped bitterly. He took a careful and generous swig of his Firewhiskey, then letting it loll on his chest. “Flowers can’t save me…” Malfoy let out a short, sharp sob akin to one a child made when a bandage was ripped off his skin. As suddenly as the sob came, Harry realised Malfoy was crying: his white and blotched face was screwed up again, his hands tightly wrung his bottle of Firewhiskey as though it were a comforting blanket while his lips bowed and bent and trembled.

This was a bewildering contrast with a Malfoy giggling and singing alone a few seconds earlier. Caught unexpectedly by this show of emotion from his enemy, Harry stood behind the corner motionlessly, green eyes sparkling down at the pale figure crouched on the floor yards away, and the raven-haired boy contemplated whether he should leave Malfoy to his pathetic episode or walk right into the scene and cause him sound mortification. The thought of returning to his solitary wanderings about the castle or back to Gryffindor Tower felt even more daunting than ever.

However, before he could decide, almost immediately Malfoy drew himself together: he stopped his tears, drew breath and impatiently slapped away his tears. His eyes remained red and slightly swollen and his chest continued to rattle and shake his breath. Lamenting somewhat his indecision, Harry decided there was no need for such circumspection and turned the corner. He nonchalantly strode into the hallway, whistling as he did so, a hand firmly holding onto his wand, arms crossed.

As quickly as a snake could strike, the pale head shot up and Malfoy’s bloodshot grey eyes gleamed with surprise at Harry.

“Malfoy?” Harry said as he came even closer to the other boy, and he was not completely successful in striking a tone of surprise. After all he was not aiming to appear innocent, which somehow felt like a luxury at the moment.

Malfoy had yet to move.

“Sloshed, I see, eh?” Harry could not quite hide his astonishment and repulsion at seeing a student no older than him gripping a large bottle of alcohol with pale, long-fingered, easily innocent-looking hands. He should have been; how many seventh-years smuggle in alcohol on a weekly, if not daily, basis?

Malfoy was trembling but his stunned gaze never wavered. He still seemed to Harry inadequately worried by his appearance for one to be discovered singing what sounded like a lullaby and slouching on the floor while wearing expensive apparel which demanded a certain level of refinement from their owner. Malfoy had a golden necklace with a pendant the shape of the letter ‘M,’ a silver ring set with a small emerald and a silver watch dangling from his wrist inside his sleeve clearly several sizes too large for him.

Malfoy drew into himself, hugged his Firewhiskey more tightly and slipped his head back against the wall, throwing his whole face into relief. Harry halted a fair distance from Malfoy and appraised him, concentration and a trace of pity etched on his bespectacled face.

Having seen the way Malfoy’s dot had moved on the Marauder’s Map, Harry should have expected the picture in front of him. Now that he was seeing it, however, he almost could not believe his eyes. He and his friends had trained themselves not to pay much attention to the comings and goings of Malfoy, whose facial expressions and groupies had become hugely annoying. He therefore could not tell whether drinking himself into oblivion and singing nursery rhymes was a regular pastime of Malfoy’s or it was the first time he had ever done so. Of course, Harry studied the Marauder’s Map before he took his strolls, but he took these a little after midnight and nowhere near three o’clock in the morning, which attested to the fact that tonight’s dreams were his worst yet.

“What’s wrong with you?” Harry asked, a tone of genuine curiosity slipping into voice and overpowering his urge to tell Malfoy about his pathetic state. He had seen Malfoy in Potions and Care of Magical Creatures that day, and the Slytherin had been in fine form, perhaps even fiercer than usual, betraying no symptoms of distress from what Harry could recall. Therefore, whatever seemed to trouble Malfoy now was quite recent. As recent as today perhaps.

Malfoy peered at Harry from the floor, seemed to think for a moment and then said, “Potter, Potter, Potter, Harry Potter, Potter…” And he spoke no more.

A dark eyebrow slowly rose at this. Feeling increasingly disappointed of his little adventure in finding Malfoy, Harry pressed on, “Singing songs your mother sang to you when you were younger in the middle of the night?”

Now that should get the spell lights going. Expecting to hear Malfoy warn him not to insult his mother, as it seemed Malfoy was distinctly defensive of her, Harry was decidedly taken aback when a broad grin split Malfoy’s face into two, which was followed by an alarming fit of silent giggles. And though Malfoy’s shoulders heaved in apparent amusement, he, rather hauntingly, maintained steady eye contact with Harry, who fought his face from frowning in bafflement.

“Harry Potter,” sang Malfoy again. “Songs of freedom… hope… of happy people…”

Growing exasperated and irritated by this show of melancholy that had gripped Malfoy, Harry was prepared to do away with his unsatisfied anticipation, turn around and return to his usual routes. What overpowered him and rooted him to the spot, however, was the desire to see what Malfoy would do next.

His father was there… Those dark thoughts were begging to rear again and he had not taken a single step away from the scene. They were waiting to strike, to overwhelm him. He simply had to keep his mind occupied: he had to keep talking or make Malfoy talk.

The light in Malfoy’s eyes faded slowly and the smile slowly dropped. All amusement was gone from his face when he finally spoke again. Looking the slightest bit more in command of himself, he said, “Oi, Scar Head, I could ask you the same thing. What are you--” He pointed at Harry with a finger but managed to keep both hands on the bottle. “--doing out here so late? You’re not a prefect. Having nightmares? About… Cedric Diggory?” he whispered, widening his eyes maliciously as he spoke the name.

The words seemed to lash at Harry’s chest like a flail, and for a moment he could not breathe. His face must have betrayed this, for Malfoy gave him a wide grin.

“Your dead friend, Potter, he keeps you awake?” Malfoy chuckled. Then his eyes wandered to a spot on the wall behind Harry. “They say you saw him,” he said in an eerie, floating voice, and his face was quite blank. “I saw him too. They say he tortured you and toyed with you…”

“And I wonder who told you that!” Harry sneered loudly. “Your father, maybe? Yeah, I saw him. He had a front-row seat.”

His outburst seemed to confuse Malfoy, whose eyes had found Harry’s again. Malfoy seemed unable to figure out the significance of Harry seeing his father at a Death Eater gathering when Lord Voldemort returned.

“And he killed your boyfriend right in front of you, eh?” lilted Malfoy with another cold grin as he returned to his happily inebriated state.

“He wasn’t my boyfriend,” said Harry, who was refuting this for the second time with a considerable measure of annoyance. “So he told his mates he was the one who killed him, then, did he?” Harry knew this to be untrue since it was Wormtail who cast the spell that killed Cedric. Yet he could see this, claiming evil acts he had not performed, as something Voldemort would do. Apart from this, he wanted to keep Malfoy away from Cedric.

“Could’ve fooled me,” drawled Malfoy with an eye roll either in an attempt to add more venom to his words or because he was struggling to keep them on Harry given his choice of beverage. “The way you clung to his dead body when you appeared--”

“Shut up, Malfoy!” growled Harry. His wand had flashed into view and was trained at Malfoy’s head.

Malfoy’s eyes lit up at the wand. “Ooooh… I seem to have touched a nerve—again. You want to hex me, Potter?” He lazily raised his eyebrows, which seemed to take a tremendous effort to do, and smiled still more widely, the Firewhiskey having stained his teeth gold.

“You bet I want to!” snarled Harry as he stomped over to Malfoy. He no longer cared to excuse Malfoy for his words because he was drunk; Malfoy would have said the same thing had he been completely sound. His wand quivered underneath his hand, and it was not from the cold.

“Do you really want me to take out my wand?” Malfoy asked seriously, squinting.

“I don’t bloody care, Malfoy!” Harry shouted, his voice growing shrill, so nearly uncontrollable was his fury. “I’ll blast you back to King’s Cross with or without your bloody twig!” Oh, please try and get smart with me…

“Fine,” said Malfoy amicably with an airy rasp. He shifted onto his knees and for a second Harry thought the other boy was going to draw out his wand. However, Malfoy merely spread his arms wide in submission with the bottle of Firewhiskey firmly held in one hand. “Hit me.”

“Think I won’t, is that it, Malfoy?” Harry growled.

Malfoy shrugged, walked on his knees towards Harry and slipped his thin lips over the wand in his face. Harry pulled it out with a disgusted face and jabbed it into Malfoy’s forehead. Malfoy started laughing at him as the seconds passed and Harry still had not done anything other than glare.

“Aaaaahhh, Potter, Harry, you don’t surprise me,” Malfoy sighed. He sat back on his haunches with a red dot on his forehead from the pressure of Harry’s wand and surveyed him as a curious toddler would a pleasant stranger. He took another careful swig of Firewhiskey before letting the bottle fall limply to his thighs.

Distantly astonished that Malfoy that said his first name, Harry sneered, “You’re so pathetic, Malfoy. Do you know that?” His voice was filled with contempt; he was genuinely appalled by the Slytherin and thought him a more defeated and disgusting creature than in previous years.

“For once, Potter,” Malfoy slurred as he raised his bottle, “you speak sense. Touché, Harry, touché.” With a pleasant lilt he splashed the rest of his Firewhiskey onto his face, deliberately missing his open mouth. The golden liquid flowed generously down his chin and its underside and disappeared beneath his shirt down his chest. Some of it seeped into his white-blond hair, staining it bronze. And his face, once starkly white, was a gleaming canvas of pale-gold mania.

Somewhat disturbed and shaking his head at the sight, Harry withdrew his wand and stomped away, trailed by the slurred whisper, “He’ll kill my family…” And he savagely hoped that whoever had made this threat committed to it, not forgetting to do away with Malfoy as well.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Are heroes corruptible? Harry returns to Hogwarts after Voldemort's return. He suffers horrible nightmares, but when one turns particularly savage, he discovers on his map something curious at night, and something
deadly on a perfect Sunday.


Chapter 4

A Bond that Soars & A Bond that Sours

“I had a dream,” said Harry.

“I reckon,” said Ron dryly. “Another nightmare, you mean?”

“What was this one about?” asked Hermione as she walked alongside them towards the Great Hall.

“No it was definitely a dream. About Malfoy.”

“Malfoy?” said Hermione, her frown deepening.

“You had a dream about Malfoy?” enquired Ron. “Mate, is there something you wanna tell me? Just do it now while I’m in a good mood--”

“Only because it’s breakfast,” Hermione interjected.

“--Otherwise I can’t be responsible for my actions after I literary held you in my arms last night while you were moaning and dreaming about just Malfoy. I thought it was another scary nightmare!”

“No. Not that. That was a nightmare. And I never asked you to hold me or do whatever with me in any way, shape or form. Let’s get that clear.”

“Are you saying I should start ignoring your noises for here on out?” Ron asked.

“Just—Can I finish what I was about to say?” Harry snapped.

“All right,” said Ron coolly. “I’m leaving your arse to thrash around next time in the depths of your hell.”

“I saw Malfoy on the fourth floor last night was what I was trying to say,” Harry said, ignoring Ron’s poor attempt at poetry, as did Hermione. What he was about to say next did not sound nearly as amusing as it did before Ron opened his mouth. “He was singing.”

Ron and Hermione kept silent and seemed to be waiting for the actual punch line, which Harry thought he had just deployed. On any other day Ron would have burst out laughing before he had even attained the details.

“Yeah,” Harry said matter-of-factly with a straight face as though he had never intended to make a joke. “He was totally out of it. What was it again? Something like, ‘Frolic in the gardens and laughing. You’ll gift me something something and I’ll match you with a kiss.’”

Finally Ron howled, and so loudly Hermione’s hair fluttered and made the occupants of the portraits around them hiss furiously.

“You’re lying, mate!” Ron bleated. “You’ve got to be lying! I can’t believe this! You’ll gift me and kiss me what? I wish I could’ve seen it!”

“That’s—that’s very sweet,” said Hermione, fighting hard to straighten her face.

Ron was holding onto Harry’s shoulder for balance before he could double over. “What was he—who was he singing for? Did he have a break up or something?”

Harry shrugged.

“Wow… Oh, Merlin. That woke me up,” Ron sniffed as he straightened and gathered himself.

“But why were you out in the middle of night, Harry?” asked Hermione. “Never mind whatever Malfoy gets up to late at night.”

“Another dream?” Ron offered as casually as though they were talking about Quidditch over lunch.

“Yeah,” said Harry as it struck him how perfunctory the conversations about his dreams were. “Got out my Invisibility Cloak and went about the castle. I found him on the four floor singing--”

“Don’t, Harry,” warned Ron, who was trying to school his cheeks from bulging and his spent stomach muscles from contracting.

“Then he was, like, you known, someone’s going to kill my family and whatnot. I think I’d tuned him out before then. Whatever... The day Malfoy gets offed I’d make it a holiday.”

“He actually said someone would kill his family?” asked Hermione, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” answered Harry. “But you know what he does, his tactics. Always screaming for attention and being dramatic. Earned him a week off school in third year, didn’t it? What would this give him? A month?”

“I’d protest,” said Ron. “I’d stop doing my homework.”

“I’m glad you’re both finding this wildly amusing,” said Hermione with a touch of asperity in her voice. “What was he like when he said that?”

“He—aai—I—He was just, you know...” The funny aspect of his encounter with Malfoy vanished unexpectedly. Harry blinked a few times at the sudden gravity that replaced it. “...Like I said, he wasn’t really in his right mind – he was drunk, Hermione.”

Hermione thought for several moments. She then said shortly, “Hm. Well that’s what alcohol’ll do for you – hysteria.”

Ron fell into another painful fit of laugher.

They entered the Great Hall and made their way to the Gryffindor table. Between glances at the Ravenclaw table Seamus was half-heartedly trying to strike a conversation with Neville, who, however, appeared too nervous to even open his mouth. Dean looked bored at the Ravenclaw table sitting next to Ginny and Lavender, who were both talking. Evidently Ginny had found Dean had less interesting than Crumpled-Nosed Snorkacks.

When Neville caught sight of Hermione he shot to his feet, alarming her.

“Oh, Neville! Your homework! Took me all night to do it before I started with my own, hence I came down here with these two.” Hermione rummaged in her bag until she pulled out a bunch of pages of parchment and handed them to Neville, who seemed to resume breathing.

“Thanks a million, Hermione!” he gasped. “I could pay you if I could, though. Still got those leprechaun Galleons from the World Cup if you want them.”

“No it’s fine, Neville, you don’t have to pay me.”

Before Ron could begin with his breakfast Parvati and Lavender bloomed from thin air.

“Morning all,” sang Lavender giddily. Harry had seen this kind of expression before on another girl. It had preceded S. P. E. W.

“Morning,” greeted Hermione a little cautiously as she loaded her plate.

Nearly stepping on Hermione’s words, Parvati rushed on, “So we were thinking, we had this great idea for a school newspaper--”

“Tabloid, you mean,” muttered Ron. Harry’s lips twitched.

“I mean, the school needs it,” Lavender said, and no one could have convinced her otherwise. “I bet there’s a huge demand for an in-school paper. We could post, like, announcements and – you know – academic issues and stuff...”

Lavender’s vagueness only further betrayed the real content of the newspaper they were dreaming up. Harry thought Ron’s take on it was quite accurate.

“So what are you going to call it then?” asked Hermione.

Parvati and Lavender squealed in unison and chorused, “The Hogwarts Howler!”

“A bit predictable. And a little bit droll, don’t you think?” said Hermione.

Parvati’s and Lavender’s faces dove into a deep shade of red. “Then what do you suggest we call it then?” Parvati spat, folding her arms haughtily.

“I don’t know... something better, catchier... maybe... The Scholar’s Scribbler.”

Ron hastily filled the silence that followed by complimenting Hermione on the name she had suggested. Harry jabbed him with an elbow, in so doing telling him that he need not convince anyone, as he was fairly certain what Parvati and Lavender would call their newspaper had been decided long before the pair had announced its name.

Parvati and Lavender were blinking at Hermione as though she had suggested to them they adopt a Blast-Ended Screwt or recommend Snape some shampoo. Either option, they were clearly thinking, spelled disaster. They speedily recovered themselves and threw their heads back and cackled. Without bothering to explain their amusement they gave Hermione dismissive gestures and strolled away.

“Argh. Forgot what was a stuck-up little swotty smart alec she can be sometimes!” spat Lavender.

“Why ever did we even tell her about it?” Parvati said. “Like, who’s actually gonna buy something like The Scholar’s Scribbler? Oh please! We weren’t exactly aiming for a Ravenclaw target market; they always think their better than everybody else, don’t they?”

“The faces of ignorance,” sighed Hermione at the pair’s backs as she shook her head. “It’s tragic, really. They can’t even see it for themselves how...Who’s gonna read something called The Hogwarts Howler?” Hermione rolled her eyes and promptly dove into a textbook she had taken out from her bag.

Harry and Ron exchanged glances. Which would be more popular between The Hogwarts Howler and The Scholar’s Scribbler was obvious to them. Harry was certain Ron was experiencing the same allergic reaction to the latter title as he was.

“With your name they could probably get the whole of Ravenclaw to buy it,” said Harry, nodding sagely.

“My thinking exactly!” agreed Hermione, who had not caught the sarcasm. “You know that you can bank on a full House – or at least most of it. Then you can try your luck at the other Houses, seducing them along the way. Their circulation can only grow!”

“Yeah but I wouldn’t buy something the Ravenclaws read,” Ron sneered. “They’re so high and mighty.”

“You wouldn’t buy anything that you have to read, period,” Hermione retorted. “And I don’t know the Ravenclaws you hang out with but the ones I know are very down to earth and very smart – at least most of them. What more does a person need be?”

“Okay, we need to stop talking about Ravenclaws before you chase away my appetite,” Ron warned.

“Agreed,” said Harry.

“Look at it like this, Harry,” Ron murmured through the corner of his lips when Hermione returned to her book. “Those two are gonna get some serious bank on this tabloid thing; don’t reckon they’ll do all that work for just a knock-and-drop.”

Ron was right, Harry thought. His eyes immediately found Dean, who had shown interest in Parvati and Lavender – the entire school population of girls for that matter. But the dark-skinned teen’s eyes were not fixed on the pair rapping away secretively and making notes on that same parchment but rather on Ginny. Harry could have sworn he heard himself growl. Embarrassed, he dived eagerly back into whatever Ron was saying about seducing Parvati and Lavender to swindle them out of their prospective cash flow. Judging by Hermione’s revolted looks at Ron, despite talking through the side of his lips, she was hearing every word.

Some minutes later they finished their breakfast and trooped down to the greenhouses.

“Good morning, everyone!” Professor Sprout cheered. “Let’s quieten down, shall we? And get on with it. Now, I have something new for today. On your benches you’ll see them.”

Standing before the class were tall, green, cylindrical creatures which looked like overturned octopuses. They had several long swaying tentacles and instead of suckers had ridges along them. And in the middle was a red-black whole with a ring of small teeth like bits of broken china.

“Can anyone tell me what we’re looking at?” asked Professor Sprout, beaming invitingly at the class. When she saw Hermione’s hand shoot up, she said, almost beseechingly, “Come on. Anybody?” When no one else volunteered Professor Sprout sighed shortly and gave a perfunctory nod at Hermione. “Yes, Ms Granger. What do you have?

“They’re called Montakeltjies,” answered Hermione. “And when they’re fully matured they’re called Montakels.” Harry and Ron watched her enjoy a slight shiver as though there was no higher pleasure for her than answering a question correctly.

“Correct. Ten points to—What’s that? No, I think they’re called Montantakels and Montantakeletjies,” Professor Sprout corrected after she had automatically began to hand Hermione her almost obligatory House points.

“They were contracted in the fifteenth century to Montakels and Montakeltjies, I believe, Professor,” Hermione countered, looking hugely apologetic in correcting her teacher. “Typical lazy Dutch behaviour!”

Ron snorted and then stared at Hermione with a mixture of pride and astonishment; she was not the first person to make generalizations.

“Oh really? They come from the Netherlands?” said Professor Sprout gamely. “That makes a huge amount of sense then… All right. Now, can anyone else tell me--” She placed a heavy emphasis on the word. “--what these plants eat?”

Every face automatically turned to Hermione, who did not answer, however. She gave a brief glance at the class and sniffed a little haughtily, “It wasn’t in the textbook.”

The greenhouse filled with laughter.

“Correct,” said Professor Sprout, her round, massive chin wobbling in amusement. “And there’s a good reason for it as well. Montakels feed on Dagga.”

While the rest of the class did not look any further illuminated, Hermione made a choked noise of surprise and looked on incredulously at Professor Sprout, who smiled at her nervously.

“I’d appreciate it if you kept it to yourself, my dear,” she said tightly, a hint of pleading in her voice.

They got to work shortly. Professor Sprout used two helpers to hand out what looked like ice cube trays filled with sage-brownish-coloured thatches of wool. Harry took one from one of the Slytherin helpers and cautiously brought it under his nose: it was a smell that would linger on a man of advanced age or on their funny hats.

“So what is this stuff?” asked Ron as he took the tray and studied the wool-like substance filled into the cubicles.

“It’s nothing,” snapped Hermione. She was looking down her nose at tray with a mixture of disapproval and fear.

When Ron took a block of it and dangled it above his mouth Hermione squeaked and slapped his hand away. “Don’t do that! They’re for the animals!”

Harry chuckled at Ron. “Okay. So... I guess that’s the mouth.”

“Yeah,” replied Ron, looking as equally reluctant as Harry.

“Right,” said Harry. He broke off a bit of the Dagga and tried to time the random swaying of the Montakeltjie’s tentacles around the dark pulsing hole in the centre. When he neared the piece of Dagga to the plant it purred and cooed and its tentacles languidly chased after his hand, which Harry quickly withdrew. “Those... tentacle things might be dangerous,” he said reasonably.

“Oh yes, a creature that can fit into the palm of your hand is mightily dangerous,” Hermione said.

“Shut up. Ron, you do it – I’m a Seeker, I need my hand. The least I could do is to lose it to an occupational hazard if I have to.”

“Wow, Harry,” drawled Ron, sounding deeply wounded. “Thanks. Yeah, I’m just Ron – a non-Quidditch-playing, expendable piece of arse. Move away... You better not electrocute me, you... Oh hell no, it wants to take my arm with it!”

“Let’s see, Mr Weasley,” panted Professor Sprout as she peered over their shoulders at their work table. “Well you’ve done nothing to it, have you? Go on, just give it a taste. It’s only ticklish, not like a jellyfish.”

“If you say so, ma’am,” muttered Ron, very unconvinced. When Professor Sprout did not move away so he could put off a few more seconds before he had to risk a limb, he swallowed and put his hand forward. The tentacles slid around it and pulled it closer – Ron mewled miserably – until he could release the Dagga into his mouth. He dragged his hand away and held it as though it would fall off. A bulge ran down the Montakeltjie’s cylindrical body as the mouth pulsated again. The tentacles’ undulating and waving motions gradually slowed until they began swaying even more lethargically and even euphorically. When smoke started issuing out of the round mouth Harry stepped back. Hermione’s look of disapproval had deepened.

“There you go. Nothing to it, see,” praised Professor Sprout before she moved away.

“That’s it?” said Ron. He, Harry and Ron looked around at the rest of the class to see if there was anything remarkable happening. Harry’s eyes found Dean and Seamus’ work table. They were sniggering and looking very mischievous.

“Where’re your Explosive Éclairs? Give me one!” Dean was urging Seamus quietly.

Seamus snickered more evilly and opened his rucksack furtively, throwing a cautious glance in Professor Sprout’s direction and mapping her position so he could calculate the amount of time he and Dean had to do what they wanted to do. He produced a piece of candy which he unwrapped and handed Dean. “You do it!”

Dean’s shoulders heaved as he chuckled in anticipation. He cast a look at Professor Sprout to make sure she was not paying attention before he stuck his hand forward and slipped the candy into the mouth of the Montakeltjie. The creature bulged before there was a sudden explosion of green goo. Dean and Seamus fell into ecstasy. They covered their dripping work station from prying eyes.

Knowing what he did, Harry might have seen what he had wanted to see. But Seamus seemed excessively happy at that moment. He seemed to pour his soul out through his grin at Dean.

“What’s happening there, Mr Thomas?” asked Professor Sprout as she wobbled down the greenhouse assessing the others’ work. “Easy does it, as I say.”

“Nothing, Professor!” Dean managed to squeeze out.

“Nothing?—No, dear, you ease it into its mouth, see. You don’t want to stone it dead now, do you? – What do you mean nothing? The both of you should be nearly done round about now! Get one with it, gentlemen!”

When Harry, Ron and Hermione turned back to their work bench their tray of Dagga was standing full tilt in the air and the creature below it was upending the cubes of Dagga into his greedy, pulsating hole.

“Ah! This thing ate all our Daggas!” Hermione gasped. “Hold on, I’m getting more. Bad Montakeltjie!” she berated it with a wagging finger. But the Montakeltjie was too adrift to have heard any of it; its tentacles swayed even more slowly and more dreamily as much more smoke rose out from its mouth.

Parvati and Lavender turned fully to their work table, showing Hermione their backs as she walked past them. Resting their arms on the table, they dipped their voices even lower and their eyes grew rounder and even more gossipy as they darted around the room, hardly noticing that their project for the day was wrapping its tentacles around their hair.

“Look out, girls,” Hermione tossed at them as she strutted past again with a fresh slab of Dagga. A second later there were shrieks.

Towards the end of the lesson, after the class had returned their trays to the front, Professor Sprout instructed them to tickle their Montakeltjies. Within a few seconds of the instruction there came several screams and yells scattered across the greenhouse. Ron, Harry and Hermione had recoiled at what had landed on their work table after it had been spat out from their Montakeltjie’s mouth: a slimy wad of dark-brown substance akin to a chewed Chummy Chock.

“Now, that there’s very useful to calming the nerves during exam time,” advised Professor Sprout proudly. “You might want to drop a piece or two in your tea and have a stress-free sitting with your books.”

There were squeaks of “What?” at the suggestion that the class ingest the regurgitated mass. After a moment of hesitation the students clapped. It could not have been clearer that no one thought they would be desperate enough to try out the soppy blobs of regurgitated Dagga.

Having stationed herself at the door Professor Sprout kept a wary eye on every student passing out of the greenhouse. At times Harry was certain she looked ready to search some of the students. He along with Ron and Hermione smiled at her went as they passed her.

“I trust you’re relieved about discovering the uses of Montakeltjies, Ms Granger? It’s OWLs this, yes? You’ll surely need it.”

“Er—very much, Professor,” mumbled Hermione to the accompaniment of Ron’s and Harry’s chuckles as they hurried to Potions.

“I daren’t enquire how the assignment is coming along,” said Snape quietly, rolling his eyes across the classroom. “By now you should be more than halfway through completing it. I should advise you against hastening to pepper your assignment with facts at the eleventh hour, as is the prevailing habit. It will undoubtedly show... Mr Malfoy, is there a problem?” For Malfoy had made a funny little noise.

“Er, no, Professor,” replied Malfoy, smirking down at his folded arms. “Just, three weeks is hardly enough time to write an assignment so large.” Far from anxious, Malfoy sounded supercilious, which was not unusual in and of itself but quite so when his attitude was directed his favourite teacher.

“Then you’ll have to direct every your ounce of effort and attention towards it, Mr Malfoy. It’s not impossible – only just possible. This is to prepare you for your OWLs, which you will find very demanding indeed. If you falter at the beginning of the year, Merlin knows where you’ll be at the halfway through. Now today—Mr Malfoy, you’d do well to keep your harrumphs to a minimum while I’m speaking. If you wish to raise a point, raise your hand. As I was saying, today we’ll be looking at the neutralization of poisons...”

It was a most astonishing lesson for the Gryffindors. By the time it had ended Malfoy had thrown a number of looks at Snape that were at best irreverent and at worst mocking and murmured things that had his sycophants bawling on the floor before quickly rightly themselves when Snape turned around.

“Thinks he knows any better. The Dark Lord should just chuck his arse out and get it over with. He’s useless now, isn’t he? Ha. And then he thinks he can try and feel in control by being nasty at school kids! Ha! Fail! What a failure in life!”

These words, hard as it was to believe them Malfoy’s, of course left those who had heard them with their eyes popping out of their heads.

“What was into Malfoy today?” breathed Ron incredulously, glancing at his cohorts walking the opposite way down the corridor. “Blimey. Never thought I’d see the day Malfoy and Snape go sparring at each other...”

“I know,” said Harry hollowly as he walked backwards staring at Malfoy and company. “His head’s getting a little too big for him; he won’t be able to get it through the door by tomorrow. But it’s almost worth it seeing that vein on Snape’s forehead pop! And Malfoy just talked about Voldemort--” Ron and Hermione shivered. “--and Death Eaters like he sees them every day!”

Harry could not believe Malfoy. The Malfoy he had seen in Potions was a far cry from the one he had encountered mere hours ago four floors above him. While that one had appeared miserable, meek, a little mad and even desperate, this one was more condescending than any human was allowed to be, never mind to a teacher.

“Are you sure you weren’t dreaming last night about Malfoy and you actually didn’t meet him in real life yesterday?” asked Ron, understandably confused.

Harry was not quite so certain about his story anymore. He had sincerely thought he had seen and talked with Malfoy. He must have. By the time lunch rolled by the three of them as well as the other Gryffindors that had been in Potions had talked around in circles about Potions class in the Great Hall. Some Gryffindors prophesied a whole new Draco Malfoy in leather jackets, a cigarette in his mouth and a brand broom that spat fire. Others attributed the unusual behaviour to a new drug going around the Slytherin dungeon. And still others entertained the possibility that Malfoy had discovered who his real father was and was so hurt and embarrassed he began ridiculing him in front of the class.

The news spread across the Gryffindor table and soon its mass of eyeballs were swivelling between Snape at the High Table, looking as gloomy and unsociable as ever, and the other end of the Hall at the Slytherin table, where Malfoy was holding court. This was nothing new of course, but never before had Malfoy commanded the attention of the entire House table. In fact, some of the Slytherins had abandoned their lunches and had surrounded him for his words. Occasionally someone could be seen speaking up only to be handled by one of the members of Malfoy’s entourage as though the enquirer had not earned the right to address Malfoy.

“But what on earth happened between the two of them?” asked Parvati, frowning between Snape and Malfoy. “When? How? Where does the attribution go to?”

Parvati suddenly had the bearing of a particularly ruthless version of Rita Skeeter. Harry made a note to live strictly and chastely thence.

“It goes to Harry,” replied Lavender. “He’s our best source.”

“Harry,” Parvati said instantly, whipping around to him, “what do you think happened between Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape? Do you think it has something to do Malfoy’s sudden popularity this year? Do you think it’s because he’s growing more and more big-hea—er, egotistic?”

“Er,” said Harry, shaking his head cluelessly while Parvati breathed in his face expectantly.

“All of the above,” said Ron.

“All of the above basically, yeah,” answered Harry. Parvati stared at him intensely for a moment before whipping out a notepad from behind her back and jotting something down.

“Oh that was on the record, by the way,” she tossed at him casually, something as a good journalist she should have told him before asking the question.

“Oh!” said Lavender in the way one would react having spotted an interesting curio. “You two have practically been at each other’s throats since first year, so you probably know Malfoy better than any of us! Can you give us some insight into explaining his drastic change in behaviour?”

“Come, Harry,” said Hermione. She grabbed his arm and shouldered past Parvati and Lavender, who clucked their tongues furiously.

Apart from graciously saving Harry – “You’re a star, Hermione. Really.” – Hermione wanted to visit the library to continue working on her Potions assignment. Harry was quite not in the mood to suffer dusty tomes and small spaces, so he and Ron rather chose to finish their last minutes of lunch waiting outside the library, much to Hermione’s chagrin.

“The library is not the enemy here! It’s your friend!” she told them passionately as she flashed out of sight through the door.

Harry and Ron sniggered with each other.

“I am, like, so going to the library right now, it’s like long overdue,” Ron mocked. “I should’ve been there, like, minus ten minutes go, or even better, before I was born. Mothers should think about growing bookstands in their wombs.” Harry laughed. “Hang on. Speaking of making babies, nature calls! Make way!” Ron left his bag and strode down the corridor.

“Enjoy yourself,” Harry called after him. Ron turned around and made a rude gesture.

“I don’t like rushing it, mate; ten minutes is not enough.”

The redhead left Harry’s eyebrows high on his forehead.

Lunch was not over yet and the corridor was quite empty. Harry put down his bag and sat on the floor, leaning against the wall. Corridors were not the ideal places in which to relax; he had grown used to doing so outside on the grass, reclining against the beech tree that hung over the banks of the Great Lake. That was a wonderful place to relax.

He looked away from the ceiling and squinted at the other end of the corridor. He just caught a glimpse of the Wheelock boy flashing out of sight again. Really, Harry thought, shaking his head. He really did not have anything against him for dating Ginny. Although he did find it weird and intrusive in a strange way that Ginny had dated someone who looked remarkably like him, almost his doppelganger.

Then, most fortuitously, he caught a second glimpse, of midnight blue robes peppered with stars and moon crescents: Professor Dumbledore was striding up the corridor. Harry’s heart gave a strange leap against his ribs. An emotion seized him.

It was not a peculiar sight per se, but Harry seldom saw Professor Dumbledore out of his office. It was remarkable that Dumbledore looked as large and venerable as ever in a long and tall corridor as he did in his office, sitting behind a magnificent desk. As he came closer his waist-length beard shivered and shone more brightly with the sun. He was carrying a big smile on his face and his blue eyes twinkled.

“Ah. Good afternoon, Harry.”

Harry recovered himself and began scrambling to his feet. “Professor.”

“Oh no worries, my boy. You can tell by my traipsing the castle I haven’t much to do today in that stuffy office of mine. Why don’t I join your surveillance of the ceiling?” And unbelievably to Harry Dumbledore gathered his robes and lowered himself to the floor, stretching his long legs out in front of him and folding up his long beard on top of his lap.

“Hm. I see why you’d choose this vantage point: the view is nice from here. Fresh.”

Harry did not know how to respond to this. He beamed awkwardly at Dumbledore. He let himself relax and loosened his body, also stretching his legs out. He felt a little uncomfortable; Dumbledore sitting on the floor beside him suggested that they were equals – something he thought could not have been farther from the truth.

“How is the day progressing, if I may ask?” enquired Dumbledore kindly.

Dumbledore on the floor: inconceivable. Harry took some time to respond. “Well, sir. I just finished Potions and Herbology. Learned about poisons and—and—Montakeltjies.”

He knew he sounded boring and academic, and he was embarrassed for it. But Dumbledore had raised his silver eyebrows.

“Are you certain that wasn’t a slight at my dead mother?” Dumbledore asked.

Harry’s mouth fell open and he stared into the crinkled blue eyes of his headmaster. “I—I—Professor! No, I wasn’t!”

Dumbledore broke out into a fit of chuckles. “I’m only pulling your leg, Harry. That rather sounds to me like Dutch.”

“Oh,” said Harry as he resumed his position after rising up in incredulity and indignation. “Hermione said something about the Dutch, yeah.”

Dumbledore nodded deferentially at Harry’s voice as though listening to a beautiful symphony.

“Speaking of whom, is Miss Granger and Mr Weasley around?”

“Ron’s gone to the bathroom, and Hermione... well...”

“The library,” finished Dumbledore shortly.

“Yes,” laughed Harry.

They talked for some time. It naturally progressed that Dumbledore was asking many questions to Harry, who obliged superfluously, exceedingly adverse to long pauses in their conversation; they were unbearably awkward. And a constant thought that harassed him was how privileged another person would have felt to have Albus Dumbledore with all his titles and accolades speaking to them like an equal on the floor. They would haven taken more advantage of the opportunity. They would have seemed more curious than he was. They would have been more intelligent than he was. They would have entertained Dumbledore better than he could have. They would have been so much better a converser than he was.

The bell rang. Several times Harry had been on the verge of telling Dumbledore, in the little awkward pauses, when he was so pliant and ready to listen, about his nightmares during the summer and about the one he had with Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort. When he finally stiffened his resolve enough to do so the bell rang. Slowly a flood of students developed, noisily moving past them. Dumbledore dissuaded Harry from rising and simply smiled up at the students passing by. They ogled at the sight of them, at the sight of Headmaster Dumbledore sitting on a filthy floor next to Harry Potter, nothing more than a fifth-year student.

“Is that Professor Dumbledore on the floor? Hasn’t he, like, got a meeting to go to or something?”

“More like braid his beard and hum stupid words like ‘pip pip’ to himself in his office all day.”

“He’s sitting with Harry Potter! Why on earth is he so special? Wow, B, can you imagine just striking a conversation with your bloody headmaster? That boy’s got some awesome powers of persuasion! I told you, didn’t I? You should’ve drugged him with a Love Potion and be set for life – no need to study anymore... I’m sure he’s going to make a huge fortune if he doesn’t already have one…”

“I knew it! Dumbledore’s hitting that Potter pussy every night! They’ve always been this close! Haven’t you found it strange?”

Hermione stepped out of the library, stopped short of the seated pair and blushed when she looked at Dumbledore. Ron, who had the air of someone who had been lurking behind rather than just coming from the toilet, crept closer. He exchanged a look with Hermione.

“Sir, I’ve got to get to class,” muttered Harry nervously.

“In a moment, Harry,” replied Dumbledore kindly. “Good afternoon, Mr Weasley, Ms Granger.”

“Afternoon, Professor,” mumbled Ron and Hermione, equally flushed. They undoubtedly felt they were intruding.

Eventually the corridors emptied and Dumbledore ran out of questions to ask the three Gryffindors and then decided to rather impart some advice to Harry.

“But, Harry, if there’s one thing you could do for me is this...” Harry’s heart suddenly leapt with adrenaline. “Never ever in your life make someone a fool or take them for a fool.”

The moment was rather remarkably bathetic.

“Respect a person,” Dumbledore went on, “for the mere fact that he is human, that he is of flesh, that he possesses a free will. Never underestimate the hidden danger of free will, Harry, the ability to act for oneself. Never. Fear the free person. Always be cautious of him.”

Dumbledore smiled, stood up, dusted himself, said his goodbyes, and strode off.

“That was brilliant,” breathed Hermione as they headed for Transfiguration.

“Absolutely brilliant,” agreed Ron with a shake his head.

Harry agreed with these assessments wholeheartedly, but for him the encounter, and the advice, was different. It might have been because it was more personal for him. Or it simply because he was more used to Dumbledore so he was not as easily impressionable as Ron and Hermione were. Nevertheless, though it had been a conversation of accident, and though the advice had rung initially frivolously, it turned out to be the most enlightening lunch he had ever had.

How many more surprises could this day throw at him, Harry did not know. It was just another normal day at Hogwarts.

As the days went Malfoy grew increasingly overconfident and more conceited. And it turned out Harry and Dumbledore’s little chat in front of the library had been just the beginning. Mysteriously this year Dumbledore was rather more visible in the school, making him seem more hands-on than ever before. It was because, Dumbledore explained, there were even greater forces against them.

“Undoubtedly Lord Voldemort will and is doing all he can to attain the same heights he had reached before he was vanquished,” Dumbledore was saying as they rounded a corner during another lunch the next day. “His desire to reclaim his stature, coupled with his deadly skill and his followers’ desperation to prove themselves to him once more, poses a stupendous danger to us all. I would like to advise you, Harry – and I hope you carry this to your fellow schoolmates – that though such dark forces have always attempted to penetrate the walls of this castle, now more than ever, at the end of the day their greatest weapon is you...” Harry felt chills run down his spine for some reason. His heart seemed to strangle itself in trying to contain its fear. “But always hold in mind that in the face of adversity we are stronger together than we are apart,” continued Dumbledore. “Now more than ever we need the confidence to rely on and look after each other. With the brewing storm you will find those for your well-being and those for your downfall in equal abundance. Without turning distrustful of everyone and everything, always keep an eye out for danger, Harry. Remember, be wary of the free one.”

They turned another corner and came face-to-face with Malfoy.

Colour rushed out of Malfoy’s face like a bygone vogue: Malfoy looked as though he were seeing a ghost as he stared at Dumbledore, his eyes fixed and stunned at the tall figure. He had not even noticed Harry.

It was the only time Harry was seeing Malfoy without a bevy of sycophants surrounding him; he looked so much smaller, so much more graspable.

“Mr Malfoy, good afternoon,” greeted Dumbledore with a small bow.

Malfoy did not answer but took a step towards the wall and leant on it, and he breathed in deeply and steadily; his body appeared to have shifted into emergency mode. His eyes moved onto Harry.

“It would be polite if you returned the courtesy, Mr Malfoy,” said Dumbledore gently.

Malfoy’s white eyelashes fluttered before he pushed himself off the wall, recovered himself and stiffly marched down the hall, perhaps heading for the restroom.

After such an encounter, again Malfoy was anything but the Malfoy he was around the Slytherins. Harry’s confusion spiralled even further but it was eclipsed by his anger that Malfoy dared openly disrespectful Dumbledore as he just did. It was one thing to disrespect someone, openly was quite another. It was one thing to disrespect someone while one was surrounded by one’s friends – at least one had the excuse that one was experiencing peer pressure, whether one permitted it consciously or subconsciously – but it was quite another that one could do it without anyone around, while no one was expecting it of one. It seemed to give Malfoy’s impertinence a harsh and unforgivable authenticity.

As the days went by, while surrounded by his desperately beaming group of bootlickers, Malfoy could give neither Blaise Zabini nor Pansy Parkinson, his two closest friends, the time of day. Crabbe and Goyle had gone completely off his map. Moreover, Malfoy deepened even further the cleavage between him and Snape until such a time they neither talked nor looked at each other. Unfathomably it was the first time ever Malfoy and Snape were not joined at the hip. And as Malfoy enjoyed the control of what seemed the whole of Slytherin House, its relationship with Snape grew cold and faltering.

Those events had elevated Dumbledore’s words about unity into greater prominence in Harry’s mind. However, it took two weekends for his resolve to stiffen enough for him to propose a plan in front of the fireplace at their cushy armchairs in the common room on Saturday, two days before their Potions assignments were due. He had been so preoccupied with putting the plan together that he had missed much of the nuances of Malfoy’s change in behaviour: though he was still somewhat as obnoxious as usual, Malfoy had grown quieter and quieter, especially during the third week of school.

“So, guys, Dumbledore had me thinking,” said Harry, “with Voldemort back and all, I think we need to start having extra DADA lessons. Don’t get me wrong, Moody’s great, but we need more lessons.”

“Okay,” said Hermione, putting her quill to her lip. “Like an extra class after school.”

“Something like that, yeah,” said Harry, thinking Hermione was getting closer.

“Like a duelling club?” suggested Ron.

“Precisely!” enthused Harry. He had been rather nervous of sharing his idea to them, as he had been developing it for about nine days since he had that talk with Dumbledore. “So what do you think?”

“I think it’s a great idea, Harry!” praised Hermione.

Harry nodded and said, while she still seemed very receptive, “I thought we’d call it Dumbledore’s Army!”

Harry did not expect the soppy little expression that grew on Hermione’s face. Her head tilted to the side affectionately, her eyes brimmed with tears and her eyebrows arched just as they had done when Neville had touched her.

“Oh, Harry...”

“What?” said Harry.

“That’s so sweet!”

“What’s sweet about it?” asked Harry indignantly.

Hermione did not answer but simply went over and hugged him, returning to her seat without another word and wiping away a tear. “You and Dumbledore have gotten really close, haven’t you?” she finally said, sniffing proudly at Harry, who flushed.

“Something like that,” Harry muttered and then said quickly at Ron, “Right, so it’s settled?” Before Hermione could open her mouth, perhaps to say more on him and Dumbledore, Harry rushed on to point out, “We can’t do it outside of school because I’m thinking the Ministry – or at least Fudge – will be watching me closely after that whole episode in the Infirmary last year. He’s probably still in denial about Voldemort returning. So we’ll have to find, like, and unused classroom somewhere in the castle to use.”

“I’ll try and get members,” said Ron.

“I’ll try to organize a way we can coordinate ourselves, like where to meet and when,” said Hermione. She had thankfully lost her soppy expression.

“And I’ll find the classroom,” said Harry.

The willingness with which his friends met the challenge overwhelmed him; he could only but nod at them gratefully. He felt much lighter thereafter; there was a certain comfort a plan brought. He had thought the relief with his fading stress would calm his mind and put him in a position to sleep well, but he was not exempted from his nightmares yet; he woke up the next day feeling like the world was resting its laurels on his shoulders; he was so tired of being tired.

Knowing how infuriating it was to be woken up before it was absolutely necessary, he left Ron snoring lightly, went over to the showers and performed his ablutions, descending down the stairs some twenty minutes later. He found Hermione with tomes scattered across her round table pouring through one of them while jotting down something on a page of parchment.

“Morning,” greeted Harry.

“Morning, Harry.”

When he reached the bottom of the stairs he was most surprised to see Parvati and Lavender already up and as ever gossiping in hushed tones. On their table was a copy of the Sunday Prophet.

He and Hermione waited until Ron joined them. Then the three of them split: Ron went over to Parvati and Lavender to try to strike a deal that involved the girls using their mouths – which Ron took to great pains to assure the girls were as an asset rather than a nuisance – and their seemingly inevitable tabloid-newspaper to spread the word about the new duelling club named Dumbledore’s Army; Hermione went to the library to research ways of spreading news of an upcoming meeting to members only; and Harry took off to search for an unused classroom for their meetings. He smartly decided to start from the furthest and thus least-explored recesses of the castle and thus travelled to the seventh and highest floor.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Are heroes corruptible? Harry returns to Hogwarts after Voldemort's return. He suffers horrible nightmares, but when one turns particularly savage, he discovers on his map something curious at night, and something
deadly on a perfect Sunday.


Chapter 5

Sunday

Harry had already turned into the next corridor before he could stop himself after vaguely catching a black smear of dark clothes and hearing voices and shuffling footsteps. He pulled back the sliver of body that had gone past the corner as fast as he could, and an instinct for inquisitive observation which he had nurtured since his first year at Hogwarts compelled him to remain unnoticed, flatten himself against the wall and peer around the corner.

A group of Slytherins were taunting Malfoy as they jostled him rowdily up the corridor. One of them was extremely large. Another Slytherin slapped the back of Malfoy’s head hard enough to make his silvery hair flutter, while another stuck his foot in front of Malfoy, amusing his accomplices to no end as Malfoy stumbled and nearly bit the floor. Less shocked by the stupefying picture of Malfoy’s wildly different treatment from his House mates, whom a fortnight ago were revolting enchanted short of moving Malfoy around on a throne and fanning him with palm leaves, Harry was most baffled to see Blaise Zabini, whom he knew to be Malfoy’s closest friend, among them. Though Harry had encountered similar pictures before, for bullying was not new to Dudley, this scene was distinctly ugly to watch for Harry.

Suddenly a very overweight Slytherin with round, boneless fists and a wide, doughy face took Malfoy by the chest and flung him into the wall behind him. Malfoy stumbled to the floor. After they all burst in cruel laughter again they subsided into quiet, talking lowly amongst each other, exchanging looks and mutters and occasionally contemplating Malfoy at their feet.

Harry wanted to keep his eye particularly on Zabini, marvelling at him, for while the others were glaring and muttering obscenities down at Malfoy, Zabini’s lazy sneer managed to look much colder, and it did not give the slightest suggestion of their widely known friendship. Harry was therefore most unprepared to see that so disgusted by Malfoy that Zabini winced, uttered a final insult, raised his wand and – under his fellows’ fervent encouragement – muttered a spell. The corridor burned green. The gasp caught in Harry’s throat, strangled by shock. The arms that were held up protectively thudded against the floor, eyes shut in the moment of blinking, the body suspended in time just as was Cedric’s haunting expression of surprise.

The corridor fell silent as the Slytherins watched Malfoy. It would seem some of them were torn between disbelief that murder had just been committed and that Malfoy could move no longer. Yet some of the Slytherins did not bat an eyelid as the last shafts of green light ebbed from the corridor. They shook themselves out of their torpor and one of them suggested, in a strained, quiet voice, “Let’s dump him in this classroom here.”

They all murmured in agreement and began shuffling busily. One Slytherin rounded on Malfoy’s feet while Zabini gathered the body from under the armpits. They hauled it encumberedly towards a door a few feet away. One of the unoccupied Slytherins slapped another, who shook himself back to life and rushed to open the door. It now seemed the Slytherins had taken careful consideration of where to execute the murder beforehand.

Though Harry could not see them as the two Slytherins disappeared inside the classroom, as far as he stood he could hear the tables scraping the floor as they were bumped aside, the muffled shuffling of feet upon a cushion of dust on the floor of an unused classroom, and a Slytherin tug repeatedly at what sounded to be a stuck door, perhaps of a cupboard, that had not been disturbed for some years, stubborn with age. The boys waiting outside looked about inattentively. Harry receded out of sight and heard some clattering noises of things bumping about in the cupboard, buckets tumbling, and brooms clanking on the floor. There followed an ominous silence. There was a click, at which point Harry leant forward and peaked around the corner, watching the two Slytherins emerge from the classroom.

The boy who had opened the door for them jumped back as though the two Slytherins had blood stains on their hands. Zabini shut the door and beckoned for the others to follow him down the corridor. They gave him hearty pats on the back and snickered quietly.

Harry turned away from the corridor and sank into the wall behind him. He was suddenly breathless. He bent over and propped himself against his knees, panting as hard as if he had just ran several laps around the Great Lake. He peered over the corner again, but the Slytherins had disappeared down the stairs at the other end of the corridor. He reared fully and slinked over the corner, stopped, jerked forward and began walking towards the classroom. He had to make sure. It was just not possible. It was simply not possible that he had witnessed the murder of a fifth-year Hogwarts student by a group of teenagers.

Murmuring incredulously, he turned around on the spot and marched back up the corridor back to his corner only to spin around again and gaze at the door handle. Light-headed and hyperventilating, Harry mustered all his will to steel himself. He swallowed hard and stuttered forward until, before he knew it, he was standing in front of the door. When his hand reached for the same handle touched by the Slytherins his limb looked at once ethereal and primitive. He used the strange structure to pull the door handle down and push the door open. He stared at the opposite wall of the classroom, which had an overwhelming stuffy smell of dust and wood.

He crossed the threshold and a fit of sneezes seized him that, by the time he had stalked across the classroom strewn with topless tables and broken chairs, cobwebbed corners and torn books, he was teary-eyed and sniffing profusely. He kicked aside the dislodged back of a chair and a bucket as he approached the cupboard, which seemed to accuse him of something sinister.

And with a cold plunge of his innards, even before he could open the cupboard, the doors of which stood slightly ajar, he spied the sunlight reflecting off the scales of Malfoy’s dragon-hide boot. Harry swore, tears now welling liberally. The classroom came alive: the windows were eyes to bear witness. Suddenly the door stretched farther away from and seemed to threaten to trap him inside with this suffocating truth. He bolted for it, knocking aside the table frames in plain panic, skidded in the dust – the pause of speed that allowed him to turn quite torturous – and launched himself out of the room. His only thought as he came round the corner behind which he had been spying was that he had to tell someone.

Gasping wheezily and his stomach heaving and a stitch in his side, Harry ran headlong into the massive oaken doors.

“Come in,” said a deep voice when Harry had already stumbled into its owner’s office.

“Professor!” whispered Harry. He was holding his side and his face twitched and screwed up against the horror threatening to engulf him. He struggled to keep his gaze open on Dumbledore, who leapt from his side, came around his desk and held him.

“Harry, what is it?” asked the headmaster softly. Dumbledore coerced him into the chair in front of his desk and went down on one knee, staring up at Harry questioningly. “Harry, are you all right?”

“They killed him!” spat Harry, his voice wobbling like a vinyl jumping on a record player. “They killed him, Professor Dumbledore! Malfoy!”

“Harry, please calm down and explain yourself carefully,” said Dumbledore quietly as he stood up and frowned at Harry, taking in his heaving chest and reddened eyes. Harry hauled his head up high with seeming effort and looked up at Dumbledore as though he were a distant star.

“They killed Draco.”

“Who killed Draco, Harry?” asked Dumbledore, his eyes narrowed and alert.

“The Slytherins! Who else?” shouted Harry. He did not understand why Dumbledore was so calm when a student of his had been murdered minutes ago.

“When did this happen?” asked Dumbledore as he walked around his desk and started tinkering with the various instruments on it.

“On—on—I don’t know. The seventh floor, I think... Just like that – in cold blood!”

“Phineas,” called Dumbledore as he swept over to a blank portrait with a stretch of muddy canvas. Under all his distress Harry was glad he finally heard a hint of worry in Dumbledore’s voice.

“Phineas!” called Dumbledore again. Harry looked around at the office and noticed that indeed many portraits were abandoned. The few people which populated the rest, while watching his face avidly, were fanning themselves and had exposed various parts of their bodies to relieve the heat. Apparently some had opted for cooler surroundings than Dumbledore’s office.

“I’d reckon he rented a cool, beautiful igloo in Antarctica,” sighed a stout witch in one of the occupied portraits. She went on, her voice raspy and drawling with exhaustion, “That’s what I would’ve done. I’ve thought about getting one myself before actually, when I was alive of course. Ought we not to rethink introducing that Muggle device we saw in the advert in that magazine you once read, Dumbledore? The one with the knitting patterns too?”

“It seems Phineas is unavailable at the moment, Harry,” said Dumbledore, ignoring the woman. “Did you see the faces of the Slytherins who committed the murder? I should rather you answer along the way, I reckon...” Dumbledore was just beginning a long stride towards his door and Harry was jumping to his feet when green flames burst into life from the fireplace and out from it stumbled the Minister of Magic.

“Albus, Albus! By Merlin’s name you won’t believe!” screaked Cornelius Fudge.

Fudge’s face was highly coloured and he seemed even more distressed than Harry. He waddled rapidly towards Dumbledore as he wrung crushingly at his lime-green bowler hat. He jumped from one foot to the other as he stood in front of Dumbledore.

“He—I—Potter? What’s Potter doing in your office? This relationship you have with the boy, Albus, has simply got to stop, I tell you. It’s quite unheal--”

“An urgent matter has arisen, Cornelius--” interrupted Dumbledore rather brusquely. But Fudge repaid him in kind even more brusquely.

“Never mind that! It can wait!” shrieked the Minister. And before Harry could open his mouth in contestation the Minister spluttered on, “Albus, Azkaban prison! A humungous hole in the side—Dementors all in a tenzy! It’s the worst disaster I’ve ever seen since the Bloodbaths of Bath and Bristol!”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand, Cornelius,” said Dumbledore. But it was clear that he did and merely wished to garner details with which to flesh out the Minister’s story.

The words seemed to be wrenched from Fudge against his will.

“There’s been a mass breakout at Azkaban!”

The wooden silence that followed was swiftly broken with the shuffling footsteps of people returning to their portraits. Various occupants, after seeing Fudge, squealed in rapture, pushed their seats into the foreground and sat and listened to yet another entertaining relay of some crisis so often heard in this office. The last one they had enjoyed was the saga with the Mad-Eye Moody imposter. Last to arrive, Phineas Nigellus Black strutted back into his frame muttering something about uncouthly monsters overrunning basements, caught sight of the Minister of Magic and hurried to the fore of his portrait too.

“Minister, what a delightful surprise!” he trilled even as he peppered the room with questioning glances as to why the Minister had called, and had done so looking so fretful.

Fudge threw his bowler hat at Phineas and made an ugly expression. Phineas ducked and saw the hat off as it landed on the floor. He looked back up at the Minister, scandalized. Fudge’s face had grown purpler and Harry would have felt an ounce of pity for him were he not in competition with him for Dumbledore’s attention.

“Albus, you must accompany me at once!” Fudge gasped, and he slung toward the fireplace, a grubby hand clamped around Dumbledore’s wrist, his sweating bald crown blazing as brightly as the fireplace.

Dumbledore allowed himself to be led without delay. But then he turned around to look at Harry and said, “Harry, I must attend to this immediately. I will--”

But Harry did not hear the rest of his words, for something had surged in his chest, a stinging, roaring flame of betrayal, and he found himself leaping for the doors. As they slammed shut behind him he heard the rush of the green flames engulfing the two figures. Stepping off the spiralling stairs into the corridor outside Dumbledore’s office, it occurred to Harry quite acutely how alone he was. The fact that he was not accompanying Dumbledore to the crime scene right now had thwarted any attempt of his to externalize the memory of the murder he had just witnessed and make it extent to someone beyond him. In effect, as it stood, he had done nothing constructive for the situation. He may as well have returned to his dormitory and tucked himself under the covers. That, incidentally, sounded strongly inviting.

But as he stood there in the middle of the corridor looking for all the world like a sleepwalker undecided as to which route to follow, he felt a pang of disgust at himself for that whisper of cowardice. Yet he could not imagine his next action – Dumbledore was not in the school. And would anyone else believe him?

“Wish I was there to see it,” yawned Ron when Harry told him and Hermione about the murder after hurtling through the portrait hole. “That would sure beat those ghastly sweaters from mum for an early Christmas present.”

The fact that it was a Sunday did not help matters. The guiltless lethargy that came with it meant a virtually empty common room as many students sought out the outdoors to relish their last moments of freedom before a fresh week of academics. Only two first-years played noughts and crosses at a cosy corner. A murder, on a Sunday, of all days... But were Slytherins religious…?

“Harry, I know you hate him beyond measure,” said Hermione, “but really now. McGonagall’s essay is a mother of a pain. I don’t even know what I’m arguing, let alone my conclusion! There’s simply no time to wander about the castle looking for dead ferrets.”

Ron chortled. “I swear… We need a Hermione more like that! We could just follow its scent, though; dead things always smell something wretched, don’t they?”

“True. Maybe the eviller it was, the smellier it is,” Hermione contemplated idly as she frowned at an incomplete sentence on her parchment, scratched an entire paragraph out and began afresh on a clean sheet with a cluck of frustration.

Ron seemed to be falling in love with Hermione.

“Guys,” said Harry quietly. This was the part where he normally would have shouted to get their full attention, but he found he did not have the strength – he felt completely drained. “Can we please just go and see it? Dumbledore won’t do anything about it.” He could not describe how important it was that anybody else besides him – and Dumbledore, whose absence was momentarily useless – know about what happened: maybe it could provide him with some comfort in knowing that he was not in this all alone, that he could share and therefore lessen his dread with someone else.

“Harry, you’re not being funny anymore,” said Hermione soberly. Her quill was skating frantically across her parchment, the white knuckles holding it rigidly betraying her urgency.

“Yeah, Harry,” agreed Ron as he crushed a parchment on which he had been doodling and threw it into the fire. Hermione slapped his arm when Crookshanks ran full tilt for the resultant golden embers. She grabbed his tail just in time and shooed her away. “As much as I enjoy imagining Malfoy getting offed – many times by yours truly – I think you’re bordering on clinical obs--”

“Dean, Seamus, guys,” said Harry as the boys tumbled into the portrait hole, wind-chapped and pinked-cheeked. “Can you come up with me to the seventh floor?”

“Er, yeah—sure, Harry,” replied Seamus awkwardly, readily throwing Dean a frown as an excuse to look at him.

“What’s up, Harry?” asked Dean, looking worried. He and Seamus licked their lips simultaneously to moisten them. They both had the look of someone inconvenienced by a surprise guest interrupting a perfect, prolonged Saturday-morning nap. Harry had no doubt they were both at least thirsty – the wind had a way of drying your throat out. But they simply had no time, he felt. He still could not believe how sedately the day was progressing, as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened: a normal Sunday afternoon...

“Come on, you two--” began Harry but Ron sprung to his feet.

“Whoa, hold on, Harry,” he said, looking slightly shocked that Harry had been so ready to replace his and Hermione’s company for Dean and Seamus’. Hermione was also having none of it; she had only just recognized the change in Harry’s tone and disposition. She frowned up at him before she rapidly jotted down her final sentence, put down her quill and rose to her feet. She suddenly seemed frightened, whether of him or the possibility that he had been telling the truth all along.

“You can’t be serious,” Hermione charged at Harry, glaring at him piercingly as the three of them trooped out of the portrait and trotted briskly up the corridor. Harry did not answer her but obliged the question plain in her face with a quiet expression. Their pace quickened.

“Um, I think I missed something here,” Ron said. “Oh yes, the part, Harry, where you say, ‘Just kidding!’ Remember that part?” Ron waited for this part to materialize. But when Harry failed to comply he bleated, “Malfoy can’t be dead!”

“I’ll show you,” promised Harry. “There’s simply no other way I could’ve mistaken it. It was green and he stopped moving...” He tried to convince himself – as though he were back to square one trying to belief it was all true, walking back into that classroom and catching that strip of light falling through the cupboard doors onto a boot – that it was still true. “I’ll never forgive Dumbledore.”

“What did he do?” panted Hermione, her hair bouncing up and down behind her as they made quick work of the route to the seventh floor.

“Ignore me,” spat Harry with more bitterness than he expected of himself. “He just rushed away with Fudge to Azkaban or wherever they were going. Apparently there’s been a mass breakout.”

It was several seconds before Harry realized he had left both his friends behind. When he looked behind him he saw that they were several metres down the hall, staring back at him, frozen.

“Come on!” shouted Harry. He turned back and loped down the corridor. The other two hastened to catch up, the size of their eyes growing beyond their facial planes.

“When did this breakout happen? I never read anything about in the Sunday Prophet or anything,” Hermione said.

Harry failed to reply but led the way to the seventh floor. When they got there Hermione’s fifty-ninth question fell dead as soon as they reached the door: Hermione was plainly bearing more than a few misgivings.

“I don’t know, Harry,” she murmured, flexing her hands nervously.

“You have to see it,” Harry urged as he grabbed the doorknob. “You have to believe me. Come on.”

“Okay we believe you!” Hermione yelled wildly in a shaky voice. “Ron, please tell him we believe him!”

“We believe you, mate – one hundred percent,” declared Ron, gulping thickly. He too looked slightly green and sounded far from excited to see a dead body.

“Let’s just go to Dumbledore’s office and wait for him to come back to tell him,” proposed Hermione. “We already know the—the situation. We don’t have to see it with our own eyes – we know you’d never lie to us about something so serious, Harry.” She took a handful of mousy-brown hair and bit on it anxiously. Both she and Ron were staring at him avidly as though expecting his expression to loosen and for him to burst out laughing as he revealed his punch line and pointed them to the cameras.

“Guys, just—please...” began Harry, but his voice fell as a mere whisper. He looked at them with a silent plea in his eyes. He wanted so much to show them just so that it could be known to someone else, be part in someone’s else mind for his own consolation, for his own peace of mind, so that he would not have to feel as though he were fighting a battle as a single infantryman.

But it was selfish to yearn for this over the wellbeing of his friends, for clearly Ron and Hermione were in no condition to view a body – they were breaking apart at the seams even before they had seen it, shaken by the mere idea of it, while it was not the first time he had seen a body.

“Harry, please. Don’t make us see it. We believe you! We swear we do!” begged Hermione to the accompaniment of more vigorous nods from Ron.

After a moment Harry relented and said quietly, “Fine. But do you really believe me--?”

“We believe you, Harry,” Hermione assured him, her voice strengthened slightly by her horror.

“--I mean, I swear I saw it. They were just standing there all over him and they were shoving and kicking him and—and Zabini – of all people – just—he just--” He made rather exaggerated zigzagging wand movements but he was understandably not in possession of all his faculties.

“We believe you, Harry,” declared Ron, cutting across Harry deliberately, making a plain statement that they did not wish to learn the details of Malfoy’s murder, the consequence of which was an intimacy with the horror, something in which Harry was immersed inextricably.

“So—I mean, what do you we do?” asked Hermione, her words breathy and rushed, eyes over-bright, the horror still sinking in. “Do we tell everyone? Did you see any of the Slytherins’ faces? Or--?”

“We tell Dumbledore, don’t we?” suggested Ron.

“I already did that and I told you he just ignored me!” shouted Harry. He kicked the door behind him and shoved through Ron and Hermione. The tap had opened, the result, a rush of heated emotions.

“But, Harry, Dumbledore can’t have just ignored you,” reasoned Hermione, staring at Harry with the same frightened look she had worn when she realized he might have been serious about the murder. “You’re his favourite—I mean, his – you know... Argh, well it is common knowledge he likes you best out of all of us in the entire school.”

“That might’ve helped in first through four year but it isn’t now, is it?” Harry replied hotly. “Where’s he now? Where is he?”

“But didn’t you say he was rushing off to Azkaban or something--?” began Hermione, but she jumped back when Harry made sudden, wild movements with his arms.

“He’s going to sort out the Dementors miles away and people we’ve hardly met before while his own student--!”

“D--Dementors?” interrupted Hermione in a high voice. “Dementors have left Azkaban? Harry, you can’t honestly tell me you’re mad at him because he was going to sort out what sounds like probably the biggest disaster since the Bloodbaths of--!”

The reference to the Bloodbaths of Bath and Bristol, which reminded Harry of Fudge, sparked a noise of fury from him and he stomped off.

Back in the common room Harry tried a different tactic: if his closest friends were not going to believe him, he would simply have to try his entire House, starting with the common room.

“I reckon I should tell the rest. At least maybe Dean and Seamus,” he muttered wonderingly. He had long ago abandoned any attempts to hide his worry. It was a human life, even if it was Malfoy’s. There was simply nothing else more to it.

“Harry, you can’t be spreading a rumour like that around!” hissed Hermione, throwing a few cautious glances around. “People will think you’ve gone around the bend! Let’s just... let’s just see...”

Ron, in one of those brotherly moments where he and Harry stood united against the feminine forces that be, furtively pointed at Hermione, then at him, made a loony gesture and then mouthed, “Cedric.” Harry read this as saying, ‘Hermione thinks you’re seeing dead bodies because of Cedric.’

Harry understood. He fully understood why he had such a fierce desire to make everyone aware of what had happened. On top of that, he felt he simply could not take one more portion of helpings onto his plate; the single burden of his scar was quite enough. And he also understood what Hermione meant by letting them “just see” first before he did anything brash. Ron’s message only confirmed that Hermione and even Ron himself partly did not believe him. And even by the end of the day, when they were packing their quills and arranging their rucksacks according to Monday’s timetable, it still appeared to have sunken in neither of them that Malfoy had been murdered eight hours prior.

Harry went to sleep with a burning wish – one which kept him tossing all night, not to mention replays of that familiar flash of green – that they would finally believe him when they missed Malfoy’s presence in the Great Hall and Potions the next day. And then, indeed, they will ‘just see’. For now, there was no higher mission than that for Harry. If he was not going to publicize a murder, at least his closest friends should know. It was already a crime the entire school did not know when there was a witness – the most reliable witness; Harry was only too aware of the gleaming pedestal on which the Wizarding world – excepting the Daily Prophet – posited him.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Are heroes corruptible? Harry returns to Hogwarts after Voldemort's return. He suffers horrible nightmares, but when one turns particularly savage, he discovers on his map something curious at night, and something
deadly on a perfect Sunday.


Chapter 6

Sage or Savage?

“Have you finished it?” asked Ron, referring to the Potions essay due in thirty minutes. He was spread his attention between talking to Harry, zipping his bag, going down the stairs and anticipating breakfast. Harry was therefore not surprised when Hermione’s rather shrill greeting caused Ron to jump out of his skin and nearly tumble to the bottom of the stairs at her feet.

“For Merlin’s sake, woman,” hissed Ron. He zipped his bag so furiously that the zip went off track and he threw his bag over his shoulder.

“Good morning to you too, Ronald,” Hermione tossed at him, disgusted. She started towards the portrait hole. “Morning, Harry. I’ve got so much to do today. There simply aren’t enough hours in a day. Don’t know how many times I’ve said that…”

“Only about five hundr--”

“You know I was thinking--” interrupted Hermione with haughty dignity, “--I should try that thing again of sleeping first then waking up and studying later. I should do that... But a girl needs her sleep, you know...”

“And you need to get along with organizing Quidditch practice, Harry,” said Ron. “Have you decided on a date for the try-outs?”

Harry thought he should expect Ron in the queue for the try-outs. “Haven’t thought much on it yet,” he answered shortly.

After waiting for him to continue speaking Ron nodded wanly. “Oh. Okay. So in your opinion, who do you think has a chance, though? I mean, when you saw them in action last year. I think—maybe—you could have a rough idea of the Gryffindor team or something by now...?”

Harry kept quiet and counted every alternate cobblestone sliding under him as they trooped down the corridor. Hermione made an irritated noise as she brushed past them through the huge doors of the Great Hall.

“Of course what else can boys talk about? It’s not as if your whole lives don’t revolve around it... I swear if Malfoy spent as much time talking Ancient Runes as he did Quidditch he’d actually outdo me for once. I can’t imagine what always being in second place feels like...”

The latter half of Hermione’s sentence died as a paranoid burble. With this slightest reference to Malfoy the pretence shattered and the present moment was so wildly insincere that Harry almost allowed himself to smile. As they crossed made their way to the Gryffindor table they cast so hasty a glance at the opposite side of the Great Hall due to their pulsing apprehension that they saw little more than a blur of colour and light at the Slytherin table. But this swift peek would normally have caught that outstanding sleek, platinum-blond sheet of hair – it had always been so demanding of attention. Malfoy was simply not there. They took their seats and started loading their plates and filling their glasses.

“Blimey, Snape first thing in the morning,” moaned Ron. Several bones cracked in his back as he yawned and stretched. “It’s like my nightmare never ended – I’m still gonna see a seven-foot bat flying at me first thing in class.”

This attempt at humour had an effect on neither Harry nor Hermione; the tension between them was thicker than ever. Luckily Seamus decided to make a loud entrance at that point. Harry blushed and met his food more squarely. Thirty minutes later he was glad to walk out the Great Hall, which had grown rather small as Harry could not find enough places to look at to escape Seamus’ gaze. The Irishman had been on a roll entertaining the Gryffindor table and making him hot and restless.

Minutes later they entered the Potions classroom. Harry was sure Ron’s and Hermione’s hearts were thundering as violently as his; he could even feel his throat throbbing.

“Quiet down and find your seats,” Snape ordered the class. When the students swiftly subsided he continued, after his eyes darted to the empty seat next to Zabini, “As you should be aware, today is the due-date of your assignment.” Snape did not even bother relishing the collective gulp of the classroom – he seemed to be over them. “You will send your assignment to the left of your row and keep quiet as... let’s see… Potter collects them.”

Harry had to shake himself to make sure he had heard properly. Hermione jabbed him and widened her eyes to prompt him into action: he jerked out of his seat. He was not careful enough and glanced uncertainly at Snape, who had just been staring at the empty seat in the first row again. Harry realized only when he was halfway up the class that Snape had chosen him to collect the papers because naturally Malfoy would have done so. But he was dead.

By the time he had bundled up every essay in the classroom and presented them to Snape – who had sneered at him and gestured towards his desk – he had survived loud catcalls, jeers, a few blatant insults and even a finger running through the crack between his bum cheeks (Snape had done well to ignore this of course). His pulse had nearly frozen when he had arrived at Zabini’s desk. But he had collected the essay – its thickness second only to Hermione’s – and moved along.

“I see Mr Malfoy’s not with us,” enquired Snape, his voice icy and soft at once. He spoke dispassionately, enquiring as far as his capacity of teacher allowed, as though there was no love lost between him and Malfoy. “I wonder if you have arranged to hand in his assignment and take notes for him, Mr Zabini, while he enjoys a few more hours of sleep after a hard night’s partying?”

“He isn’t feeling too well, Professor,” replied Blaise Zabini, who smirked and crossed his ankles under his table. The other Slytherins stared at Zabini as though asking themselves why he was even bothering to answer their Head of House.

“I see,” said Snape after a moment before he declared, “He will see receive no grade.” Harry thought Snape was thinking he was getting one back at Malfoy for his many acts of open disrespect. Snape did not realise that whatever he did now could not hurt Malfoy in the slightest.

“He was complaining about his head, sir,” said Zabini, his smirk perhaps wry. “Don’t know what got into it.”

Harry stared at the cascade and curls of dark Italian hair, taken aback. What he had mistaken as a voluminous, rambling essay had been in fact two essays. But it was only fitting, for Zabini was no overachiever who could have written such a long essay. (Snape of course had the greatest enjoyment in reading their marks aloud). Zabini was covering up Malfoy’s murder.

From this point on Ron, Harry and Hermione stared at Malfoy’s empty seat as though demanding his appearance there while Snape went on about the invention and development of the Draught of Living Death.

“...But of course one cannot play dead forever. It is up to you to create a potion that will challenge precisely this. Brew Living Death – or attempt to do so at least without losing another cauldron, Longbottom and Weasley – in the next hour and a quarter with the recipe I provide on the board. Note the modifications that are not in your Naelblume textbook. Given the potion’s notorious difficulty I will permit you to work in groups of two or three. Begin.”

It seemed to finally sink in for Ron and Hermione. Ron looked over his shoulder and cast a frown at the front end of the classroom, the Slytherins’ haunt and where they sat to absorb more intimately their House leader and his disparaging remarks at the Gryffindors behind them. As Harry watched him, he thought he could hear the whistling steam, the whirrs and the cogs turning in Ron’s head. He was quite certain that a new glamour for Slytherins had just been fashioned and fitted onto them. Harry, too, looked to the Slytherins. The boundaries had suddenly snapped apart at the potential of what they could do. They were now not merely teenage students attending a magical school. They were discrete, calculating entities, each with a startling potential for murder. Behind the bored and rude expressions was hidden a capability to kill. They had no right to sit amongst students and act as them.

Harry suddenly felt as though he were not in a school anymore – those boundaries which defined and made possible a school had been burst through. They had murderers in their midst. And yet here Harry sat, with a gaze towards the green-and-silver knotted ties – another perfect day of classes...

“It was Blaise,” he told Ron with the aim that he wanted Ron to have a specific person at which to look and on which to pin the murder instead of a general, faceless mass of Slytherins and bring the gravity of the issue to clearer focus. Ron nodded and looked at Zabini. They did not speak and worked quietly on their potion until Neville melted his fifth cauldron, by which accident he received his loudest and most embarrassing dressing down by Snape, who was perhaps always looking for every opportunity to stamp his authority after his own House had turned on him. After Snape replaced the cauldron, lit Neville’s flame for good measure and called Hermione to partner with him, he stormed off, greasy hair flying. At the loss of their best brewer Harry sloshed some of their potion in his own cauldron before Ron could destroy it.

“He’s always been a shady character, that one, hasn’t he, though?” observed Ron, one eye on Zabini and the other on his own potion, which did not help: the inside of his cauldron still looked like a marsh. “Can’t sort of figure him out yet after all these years. He was chummy with Malfoy for one thing.”

Harry noticed that Ron had stopped using derogatory names by which to refer to Malfoy after Sunday.

Without Ron’s notice the sludgy goo in his cauldron gobbled up his wooden spoon, effectively leaving him with the end of a smart-looking twig but nevertheless an object of scarce use. Quite nonchalantly he withdrew it, walked over to the rubbish bin, dumped it and took a new one from the general cupboard as though losing a spoon to a potion was as daily and trivial a hazard as tripping over a crack on a pavement.

Before Hermione came over to them they heard her instruct Neville, “Just leave it to simmer and don’t do anything to it… Why’ve you got separate cauldrons?” she asked them. But when she glanced into Ron’s cauldron she seemed to have answered herself. “Right. We’ll use Harry’s.” They spilled out Ron’s disaster of a potion and worked on Harry’s.

“We have to tell someone,” said Hermione quietly after some time. Her arm shook as she stirred the potion, the colour of which was turning from a velvety gridelin to a thickening black. “Or we have to do something.”

Harry took a minute to steady himself and let his breath out calmly and leant on the table. The reality had struck him all over again.

“When’s Dumbledore coming back?” asked Ron. Dumbledore was something of a hero to him.

The mention of this name lent Harry enough strength to stand back straight and say, “He can’t help us now – he’s useless.”

“Don’t say that, Harry,” chided Hermione. She went on in a whisper, indignant on Dumbledore’s behalf, “You can’t judge Dumbledore on this one thing after—and when you know he always believes you no matter what you say! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

There was an element of truth in what she said, but Harry was not in the mood to expend a scruple to appreciate it fairly. “We have to do something. Besides, Dumbledore’s busy, wherever he is.”

Hermione glared at him for several seconds before she turned her attention back to the potion. “I think I have something,” she said softly after a moment. “A plan.”

The enormous relief that enveloped Harry all but overwhelmed him. A plan – any plan – was something of a start to begin to deal with the issue. Harry did not know the details yet but he could not express his gratitude at Hermione.

“What is it?” rapped Ron, his blue eyes sparkling at her.

Hermione tipped in a teaspoon of moon dust in the now greyish potion, and finally it turned a stagnant, darkest black.

Unfortunately Hermione being with Ron and Harry meant Neville was left to his own woeful devices. In quick time the students working around him had given him a wide berth after he melted and burnt a couple more cauldrons even after Hermione’s instruction, and the potions fumes coming from them were awful and ominous.

“Hermione!” Harry urged.

“I need to go to the library!” she hissed.

Harry threw his arms up, making ferocious strangled noises. Curse Hermione to Hades for lifting his spirits like this only to stifle them!

“You really need to stop doing that,” Ron told her frankly as they emerged from the dungeons. “Really, really need to. You have no idea how irritating it is.”

“What are you on about?” muttered Hermione mutinously, knowing exactly what Ron was referring to.

“This thing you do that you say something short and then leave us hanging. It’s inhumane, really – a crime against humanity.”

“Oh don’t be ridiculous, Ron! Listen to yourself!”

“It is! Malfoy’s dead, isn’t he?”

“That was unfair!” breathed Hermione in shock. Ron looked away still looking satisfied of himself.

“Settle down, settle down,” ordered McGonagall and the rustle of the students fell. “We have much to cover today.” McGonagall proceeded to introduce the next section of Transfiguration work. Thereafter it was time for the practical application of what they learnt.

Harry was just in the middle of turning a teapot into a pincushion when Hermione shouted, “Professor McGonagall, there’s someone at the door!”

McGonagall frowned towards the door at a short boy. The Transfiguration practice had been so loud that his rapping had been inaudible. McGonagall beckoned the boy over, who crossed the classroom as though it were a battlefield as pouffes and schoolbags came careening past him. After a body roll on the floor he came to his feet and whispered in McGonagall’s ear. McGonagall yelled, “What?” The boy whispered again, this time for vigorously. She straightened and shouted for silence.

“Thank you! What was that, Mr Wheelock?”

“They’re calling for Harry Potter, ma’am.”

When Harry saw the boy at first he thought he was hallucinating again. But the fact that McGonagall was interacting with the boy meant Wheelock was as real to him as he was to anyone else.

“Is that so?” said McGonagall in a false and dangerous simper, her eyebrow rising slowly. “Well I’m sure whatever he’s needed for is not as paramount as his need to successfully Transfigure a teacup into a pincushion; Mr Potter is writing his OWLs this year. Tell whoever’s requesting him that he is busy at the moment and will only be available in an hour’s time.”

Wheelock had grown pink in the face. He seemed terrified to look anywhere beyond McGonagall’s face. Harry noticed that he stood extremely straight. Harry adjusted his posture slightly, clearing his throat.

“But, Professor McGonagall, it’s Professor Dumbledore,” Wheelock murmured so softly no one heard him. His fringe conveniently hung over his eyes as would Harry’s.

“I beg your pardon?” said McGonagall.

“It’s Professor Dumbledore who wants Harry, ma’am,” he repeated a little louder.

“Well you could have just said so, boy, instead of wasting our time!” chided McGonagall. “There he is. Mr Potter, you’ve been called for. Class, continue with practice.”

The cacophony of incantations and spells surged. Harry felt Ron’s and Hermione’s inquisitive stares on his back. After putting his table in order he nodded at them before accompanying Wheelock outside.

While it felt to Harry like everything had spiralled since Malfoy’s murder, one of those things being his relationship with Dumbledore, he thought at least one positive thing that had come out of all of it was he had stopped seeing visions of Wheelock. Now, however, he was walking alongside that same vision at the moment.

Harry shook his head to clear it: no, it was the real Wheelock walking alongside, their hair equally jet-black, their height almost the same; Wheelock was slightly taller where Harry had thought they had been equals. He wanted to ask Wheelock why he had been, effectively, stalking him just about since school reopened. And he wanted to assure him that he and Ginny were separated so there were no bad feelings. His mind had worked on this issue a little hysterically to come to the insane conclusion that Wheelock was stalking him to gain some of his behavioural traits to impress Ginny and reclaim her; Malfoy’s murder was indeed playing havoc on his mind.

He eventually never mustered the courage to open his mouth. Wheelock trotted alongside him for two corridors before disappearing into another classroom. He had not spoken anything to Harry, who travelled briskly to the headmaster’s office. He wondered along the way why he had been summoned. Was Dumbledore going to apologize for his fatally inconsiderate actions?

“Lemon Drops,” said Harry and the gargoyle promptly jumped to the side. He revolved upwards, climbed off the stairs and knocked on the double doors.

“Come in.”

Harry entered and saw Professor Dumbledore standing with his hands behind his back in front of his window.

“Good afternoon, Harry,” said Dumbledore after he turned to face Harry.

“Afternoon, sir,” returned Harry.

Dumbledore studied him for some few seconds before he spoke again. “I have just returned from the Ministry. But you’re probably wondering why I called you here during your lessons.”

Harry was not in the mood for guessing games.

“Harry, I brought you here both to extent an apology and find out more about what you were talking about before I left. You say Mr Malfoy was murdered.”

“He was.”

“And you witnessed this?”

“Yes.”

“Have you told anyone else?”

Harry swallowed. “Just—just my friends.”

“Why just your friends?”

“I—I--” said Harry, swallowing again. “It just was like that... I... Ron and Hermione wanted to—they wanted to make sure... And I trusted you – I came first to you.”

Dumbledore lost all his momentum with these words. “Forgive me, Harry. I had to attend to a serious matter with the Minister of Magic. There was a mass breakout in Azkaban prison. Certain measures had to be put in place.”

“But you still just left!” shouted Harry unreasonably, suddenly. “There was a student in your school that died but you left! I thought you cared about every one of them!”

“That is true and will never change,” assured Dumbledore strictly. “But, Harry, consider this clearly. I think you would agree that the escape of twelve Death Eaters with various crimes against humanity attached to their names, though it should not be any more concerning than Mr Malfoy’s death, was more urgent.”

“You of all people!” said Harry loudly, accusation burning in his eyes. “I can’t believe you said that!”

“Harry, listen to me.” Dumbledore sounded to have reached the end of his tether. Despite himself, Harry stopped pacing quite abruptly. “I realize how dire this situation is and how devastated you must feel--” Harry just barely stopped himself from snorting ferociously. “--having witnessed the murder first hand. But I urge you to exercise reason. Should I not have rushed to handle the crisis at Azkaban but stayed here to console you and deal with the aftermath of your fellow schoolmate’s murder? Hold in mind, eleven men, and a woman, capable of the most malevolent acts conceivable, loose on the streets of Wizarding Britain, no doubt flying to their master’s side, ready to kill once more at his word?”

Harry did not want to argue anymore. As he breathed slightly laboriously in front of Dumbledore he still felt disgusted beyond exhaustion. He knew he was being irrational a long while back, but there was still something in Dumbledore’s actions that smacked of cold disregard. How can one weigh a life against a multitude of others like potion ingredients on a brass scale?

He turned his back on Dumbledore and whispered feebly yet defiantly, “A life is a life.”

“Harry, I still need to deal with the situation. I need to know who murdered him, where, how, when. This is a serious issue. His parents need to be--”

“Oh now you take it seriously?” raged Harry, spinning around to face Dumbledore again. “Leave it. We have a plan.”

“Though I have absolute confidence in this plan of yours a murder in my school is my business,” said Dumbledore strictly. “I am surprised at you. You don’t seem nearly as wrecked as I would have imagined; I’m beginning to suspect you’re not telling me the entire truth. Harry, was Mr Malfoy really murdered? Should I summon him?”

Harry stared at Dumbledore. “You don’t believe me...”

“I find it hard to,” corrected Dumbledore. “Given that you’ve told me no one but your closest friends know and that Snape – Malfoy’s Head of House – has spoken not a single word of it to me, and you are hardly in a similar state in which you were following your return from the graveyard where Cedric Diggory was murdered. Forgive me my incredulity, Harry, but at the moment the evidence of this murder is effectively non-existent.”

“I—I—I only didn’t tell anyone because Ron and Hermione wouldn’t believe me until they didn’t see Malfoy in class or in the Great Hall on Monday. He wasn’t anywhere because he’s dead!”

Dumbledore stared at him deeply for a moment. Then he seemed decided on something. He went over to one of the portraits lining the top of his office and said, “Gordon, won’t you call in Professor Snape for me.”

“I have a class to get back to,” Harry told Dumbledore.

“That can be rearranged,” replied Dumbledore brusquely. “Harry, understand that I am not trying to make you out to be a liar. I just need the facts at hand. If indeed there was a murder in Hogwarts several processes must be put in motion. For one, the body needs to be located.”

“‘If’?” squawked Harry, who could not believe Dumbledore still did not believe him. “I’d like to leave.”

“You may not.”

Harry nevertheless swept out of the office. Dumbledore sighed shortly.

Harry walked back to the Charms classroom. Somehow he was not well-disposed to the idea of Dumbledore’s involvement anymore. The issue seemed to have appropriated him and his Ron and Hermione rather than the other way around. But now that he had alluded to Hermione’s plan to Dumbledore, the need – the pressure – for it to be solid and doable was enormous. The plan was simply necessary.

“We need that plan,” he said quietly to Ron and Hermione as they worked at their table again in Transfiguration.

“What did Dumbledore say?” enquired Hermione. She waved her wand at the stuffed gerbil and Transfigured it back and forth into a furry quill.

“Screw Dumbledore,” Harry replied. “We need the plan.”

“Harry--” began Ron.

“Drop it. We need to do the plan as in now, before Dumbledore starts interfering.”

For the first time ever Hermione bunked a lesson. When Harry realized where she was headed after they managed to escape beneath the spell-light in the Charms class, he moaned, “We so haven’t got time to look through the library! Dumbledore’s gonna call his parents and Snape and tell everyone at breakfast tomorrow if you haven’t guessed the pattern! If we can somehow save Malfoy or reverse his death we wouldn’t have of all that!”

Hermione sulked and seemed offended on behalf of the library. But her face quickly straightened and assumed the expression she wore when she had experienced a stroke of brilliance.

“What?” said Ron almost hungrily, recognizing the expression.

“I’ve got it,” she said. “It’s so simple I don’t why it came to me now. You vaguely alluded to it just now, Harry.”

Ron and Harry stared at her. “You’re doing that annoying thing again,” Ron pointed out to her.

Hermione grew scarlet.

“A Time-Turner.”

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Are heroes corruptible? Harry returns to Hogwarts after Voldemort's return. He suffers horrible nightmares, but when one turns particularly savage, he discovers on his map something curious at night, and something
deadly on a perfect Sunday.


PART II

Chapter 7

Back to the Past

The hallway rang loudly with the smack of Harry’s hand to his forehead.

“Why the bloody hell didn’t I think of that? Third year!”

“What?” Ron said, frowning at the two of them.

“Well it wasn’t exactly your idea to begin with, maybe that’s why you were unfamiliar with it,” Hermione suggested, as she looked at the ground and bit her nail thoughtfully.

“Oh you mean that thing you had when you and Harry disappeared in the hospital wing?”

“It was only three years ago!” Harry said, continuing to bash himself before staring at the girl in awe. “Hermione, you’re a genius!”

“You really are, Hermione,” Ron breathed. “I mean, we say it all the time but…”

“Genius enough to break into the Ministry of Magic, into the Department of Mysteries, and finally the Time Room to steal a Time-Turner?” she said, raising her eyebrow at both boys.

Harry’s expression of awe vanished, and he stared quietly at her. “Didn’t you—You didn’t get to keep that one you had?” he asked, a little weakly.

Hermione shook her head morosely. “I was lucky enough to have it in the first place; McGonagall had done me a huge favour applying for it at the Ministry for me because I was taking more subjects. They don’t just hand out Time-Turners, Harry -- these are dangerous devices. So dangerous I don’t know why I suggested it.”

“Because your schoolmate is dead,” Harry declared. “I think we have a right to use it to save someone’s life.”

“But we don’t know if it could work,” Hermione countered.

“We don’t know if it can’t work,” Ron countered. “Let’s try it. Like Harry said, it’s a life we’re talking about here.”

Hermione threw half a glance at Ron before looking ahead of her, her mind working furiously. Harry stared at the side of her face intensely, willing her thoughts to go in the direction of his own. But he felt he did not have to do this, because he believed Hermione was a good person who would not sit back and do nothing if she could help saving a life, even that of someone much despised by all three of them.

Hermione released a small but no less insane laugh. “Are we really going to break into the Ministry?”

Harry and Ron kept quiet for several moments and stared at each other. “Let’s see,” Harry said finally. “We’ve nearly died trying to out-think giant chess pieces,” he began, counting with his finger, “mashed into pulp by a tree, and mauled by a basilisk and a werewolf. This should be a right field trip in comparison.”

“Yes but, Harry, most of that was luck!” Hermione demurred.

“And at least we’d be facing wizards this time,” Ron interjected, “not animals with fangs. Or plants with deadly branches. Or chess pieces that are four stories tall and have utterly no concept of human mercy.”

“We do it,” Harry declared suddenly after a moment, hoping the robust resolve in his voice was more convincing to the other two than it was to him.

Ron nodded half-heartedly, but Harry appreciated his visage of courage.

“Yeah, let’s do it, Hermione,” Ron said. “It’s Malfoy – the git. But… he was a git... you know?”

It was quite visible that Ron’s awkward articulation of how he exactly felt for Malfoy and the faintest suggestion it carried that he cared – unsavoury character though Malfoy may have been – went a long way in making Hermione burst out, “Oh all right!”

Ron nodded and smiled in an uncertain way again, as though trying to convince himself he had done the right thing and figuring out what exactly he had done, or what the gesture had meant.

“We don’t have a choice now anyway, do we?” Hermione went on, in a shrill half-excited, half-terrified voice. “We already know about the murder and we haven’t reported it to the authorities; we’d be no less guilty than the real murderers!”

“Right,” Harry agreed, gulping at this frightening truth. But he gathered himself before continuing, “Now, how do we break into the Ministry of Magic?”

***

Harry came to the realization that Hermione was no genius – she never was. They and Ron spent the days that followed floating in and out of the library during every waking minute they could spare, stumbling out the doors at inordinate hours of the night, whether it was to discuss their plan or, as it happened later on, for the sake of gathering. While Harry had thought that with Hermione’s lead they would hammer out a doable plan to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic without detection in fairly good time, by the next Saturday they still barely knew how to make it past the elevators.

She was, however, very apt at pointing out their limitations.

“Map plans of the Ministry are top-secret of course,” she told them, taking every opportunity to assert her knowledgeableness in a situation where she knew very little indeed.

Since he had not seen a group of important-looking people marching up to the higher floors Harry assumed Dumbledore had not believed him that he saw a bunch of the Slytherins kill Malfoy. And the headmaster was no longer as visible as he was before he had to deal, by the request of an incompetent Fudge, with the monumental disaster of the escape of twelve Death Eater prisoners from Azkaban.

They made several attempts to draw pieces of information out of the other students, and, as casually as they could, enquiring if they had ever been inside the Ministry of Magic with their parents. Quite a few had seen the inside of the Ministry, but fewer had ventured beyond the elevators, which they gathered after hearing several testimonies, were famous for their violent rattling. Violent elevators, however, though a necessarily part, did not advance their plan. The only solid information they had came from Ron, who told them that the Department of Mysteries lies on the sixth floor underground.

Harry was certain Ron grew up a little as well during the week after realizing Hermione could not provide all of the answers. She was not just a machine that one fed a chalked instruction and out came a footnoted essay: there was a mind behind the process which had its limits for calculations, which sometimes returned no result, and could not solve every problem it was given. Indeed their desperate week was a sobering experience for both Harry and Ron, and suddenly Hermione seemed uncomfortably human for the first time since they met her on the train. This did not allay Harry’s growing sense of panic.

“Let’s just go through it all over again; maybe we’re missing something or overlooking something,” Hermione sighed at their desk in the back of the library. Ron sagged in his seat, dropped his arms to the side, and smacked his lips rapidly. With a hand under his chin Harry gazed quietly at the parchment in front of Hermione, upon which was all their pathetic stabs at formulating a plan that was remotely enforceable. He did not know whether he wanted to rip the parchment to shreds or pour his tears on it.

Each day that passed made him grow sicker and his stomach heavier. It was a physical weight in his gut he could not shake, as solid as was his knowledge he knew of someone dead in a cupboard on the seventh floor. It was a deadening feeling, spreading from his middle outward; twice he had hovered above a toilet seat and hurled only air. He had not returned to the seventh floor since that Sunday. And they all felt it that with each passing day the hope that they could save Malfoy dwindled further.

“We can’t go like ourselves ‘cause they’ll ask where our parents are,” Hermione said. “So we can’t get then Imperius a worker there. And of course they’ll know Harry Potter when we go to weigh our wands, like Ron says.”

“We can’t use Polyjuice ’cause a month is too far away,” Ron drawled.

“And we can’t use my Invisibility Cloak,” Harry finished, “’cause if we copy it the copies lose the properties the original had and the Ministry’s security measures will detect us.”

There was a pause before Hermione said slowly, rather wonderingly, “And you can’t go alone...”

The patent question in her words came as a surprise to Ron, judging by the stare he fixed on her, and indeed Harry, both of whom knew they had had this discussion many a time before and always came to the conclusion that the task was too complex for one person to handle; the three of them could barely come up with a working plan as it was. But it sounded like Hermione had since grown more desperate.

“What if I could?” Harry asked, with a vague sense of intent behind his question.

Hermione shrugged ambivalently looking down at the plan in front of her. “Maybe you could slip in, sneak into the elevators into a corner, go down to the sixth floor, and get to the Time Room.”

“Harry can’t do it alone, Hermione,” Ron abjured, as he remained sprawled on his seat, though his gaze was a little sharper.

“Do you see us getting anywhere with a plan to get there?” Harry asked. Ron turned to him, throwing him a puzzled expression. Harry saw the question in his eyes. “I mean, we haven’t gotten anywhere yet. Maybe I should do this alone.”

Hermione bit her lip guiltily. “But, Harry--”

“You suggested it, Hermione, and I think it’s a good plan,” Harry said in her defence against herself; he knew she would feel guilty about her hint. “Besides, it’s not like you two were involved in the first place: I’m the one who saw the Slytherins kill him, I’m the one who saw his dead body in that cupboard.”

“They stuffed him in a cupboard?” Hermione blurted out in horror. “They actually touched the body and stuffed it in the closet? Goodness, have they got a strong stomach.”

“Harry, we’re not going through this again, mate,” Ron said, almost grinding the words through his teeth. “We do things together. We’re in this together. We’ll find a way to make it happen and get in the bloody Ministry.”

“In what, another week or so?” Harry shot back. “We wasted too much time trying to ‘find a way’ and look what we got to show for it. Time’s up. I say I go alone. Give me a better idea and I’ll be glad to hear it.” He folded his arms and sat back in his seat expectantly, gazing at the pair in front of him under a raised pair of dark eyebrows.

“Say you wanted to do this from the beginning,” Ron finally said.

Harry looked at him, and during his pause of silence he tried to smother the flame of anger that had suddenly leapt from inside him, but it was stronger than his will. “I wanted to include you in all of this but you didn’t want it!”

Hermione did not bother to shush him but she gazed in disbelief with her swollen eyes darting around them looking to spot Madam Pince. And sure enough they heard the sound of approaching footfalls which announced her presence.

“Students are not to shout in a place of quiet and academic endeavour!” she shrieked, behind her horn-rimmed glasses. “Out!”

The three briefly looked at each other and had an inkling it was the last time they would be in the library to discuss possible plans.

“So it’s settled then?” Harry said breezily, as they trooped back to Gryffindor Tower.

“Harry, I don’t have a good feeling about this,” Hermione replied.

“Do you have another plan?” Harry countered promptly. When she remained silent he turned to Ron. “You?”

Ron shook his head. “At least let us escort you there, mate,” he said weakly.

“That’ll be fine,” Harry replied, with no small amount of satisfaction.

***

His mouth had fallen open in sheer awe and his eyes were narrowed against the brilliant, diamond-sparkling light in front of him. His heart felt like it was pulsing in tune with the controlled cacophony of the synchronized ticking from the countless clocks in the room. Upon every surface were clocks of all kinds and sizes, small carriages and towering grandfathers alike. But what had grabbed his eyes, the source of that diamond-sparkling light, was the giant bell jar of glass standing at the far end of the room --- tall, majestic, and the very point of the entire room.

Ron and Hermione had come along with him but did not reach as far front doors of the Ministry as they did not have an Invisibility Cloak, which allowed Harry to slip past every security measure with which the Ministry building was rigged. Hermione rattled off last-minute instructions, advice and warnings before she fiercely hugged him and pushed off towards the entrance. When Harry told them they could go back to Hogwarts as he felt he was competent enough to find his way back Hermione would not hear of it and told him back that he would find them waiting for him where they stood.

It had taken several attempts to land in this room. He had just emerged from a dark circular room bearing about a dozen identical doors which blurred together when the room revolved very quickly, randomizing the room to which they led. Fortunately the Time Room was so distinct Harry could not have mistaken it and closed the door again to set off another dizzying spin.

Harry took another step forward as he draped his Invisibility Cloak around his neck. He approached the bell jar cautiously, slowly pasting a foot on the ground and peeling it off. When he came within two metres of it he just stared at it, as its spotless glass curves and the grandness of its size. But he knew what he was looking for was considerably smaller, so he tore his huge-eyed gaze from the sparkling bell jar and looked around on the various surfaces and between the clocks, searching for something he could hold in his palm. His eyes jumped from carriage clock to pocket watch to wrist watch, before, with a burst of joy in his heart, they rested on a tiny hourglass whose very long and very fine gold chain made a loop on the polished wood like a fine crack or a stroke of a quill. It looked very much like the one Hermione had used in their third year to attend her overlapping classes.

Harry raised his hand slowly and made to take the hourglass when he saw, two clocks from his hand, three hourglasses standing together varying in size. When he took a closer look he saw that they were in fact a set, connected by the same fine, long gold chain as the standalone hourglass had. Harry, his heart racing inside his chest, carefully took it in his fingers and studied them more carefully. The leftmost hourglass was the smallest, the middle one was the largest, and the size of the one on the right was between the two other hourglasses: clearly they all stood for days, hours, and minutes. He gingerly dropped it into his pocket and made his way towards the door after stealing a final glance of the towering bell jar.

“Where do you think he is now?” came Hermione’s anxious voice ahead of Harry, who was crouching in his Invisibility Cloak towards the pair.

“He probably mixed up the floors,” Ron answered. “He might be in the courts.”

“It took eight tries but I finally managed to get there,” Harry said, as he threw off his Cloak.

Hermione let off a noise of fright. “Harry, there you are!” She slammed into his him and wrapped her arms around him before pulling off and asking, “How was it?”

“Let’s say my brain was just about suspended in mid-air in my brain,” Harry replied. He told them all about his journey to the revolving room and having to guess the door which led to the Time Room. He had a hard time trying to quell the constant chime of small marching footsteps still in his head.

“Let me see it,” Hermione said. When Harry handed the necklace to him she gasped. “Harry, this isn’t what I said it looked like!” she shrieked. “You saw the one I had in third year, didn’t you? I knew I should’ve gone with you!”

“But look, isn’t it more sophisticated?” Harry pointed out nervously, fearing the necklace did not hold the same function as the one he had first grabbed. “I can choose the time I want to go back to to the minute!”

Hermione release a huff of anger and shook her head. “Well it still looks like a Time-Turner, I guess.”

“We have to get going now though,” Ron told them.

Harry glanced at his wristwatch and noted it was just over half past two on a Sunday morning; they had decided on a very late departure time should the Ministry building still contain employees working very late. Those working throughout the night on the weekend would not be in alarming numbers. In fact, Harry encountered no one.

“Right, let’s get out of here,” Harry sighed. “All things considered, it was surprisingly easy to get in.”

“Only because your Cloak is one of a kind. Without it we couldn’t have dreamt of doing this,” Hermione said.

They mounted their brooms – the latter rather clumsily. They shot off into the dark sky and headed for Hogwarts.

They barely spoke in the air: their robes flapped noisily as they zoomed across the country. As soon as they alighted safely on Hogwarts’ grounds, Harry asked Ron and Hermione if they thought he could activate the Time-Turner now.

“Don’t you want to maybe wait a little?” Hermione asked, rather like a fed-up mother seeking to appeal to her child’s sense of reason in the midst of his excitement.

“Why the ceremony?” Harry replied, panting a little as they scaled the inclining ground.

Hermione seemed short for answers. “Well you can’t just activate right here, right now! First of all you need a secluded place and a time when you aren’t surrounded by a lot of activity.”

“My bed sounds perfect then,” Harry said. “It’s late -- the blokes are asleep, and my bed’s closed off.”

Hermione did not look satisfied with his answer. “I’m not allowed in the boys’ dormitory, remember?”

“You won’t need to. Neither will Ron.”

“Oh come on, mate, yeah?” Ron sighed. “We barely got any action back there. Why can’t I come with?”

“Finally you two wanna get all involved, do you?” Harry seethed, in spite of himself. “Where was all this motivation when I asked you to come with me to the seventh floor and see the body? You took a bloody long time to believe me.”

“Okay we’re sorry for that, Harry,” Hermione said, as they crossed the Entrance Hall. “We should’ve been on the ball with you from the get go.”

“Besides, mate, we’re talking about actual murder here,” Ron pointed out. “We knew the Slytherins were slimy gits but... not murderers. Fuck, I need to keep one eye on them and the other on my workbook during Potions -- we don’t know what they’re capable of now. They killed one of their own.”

“Forget about it. I’m doing this alone,” Harry said abruptly. “It’s okay. I didn’t--I didn’t think about you guys and how you’d feel. But I think I should do this alone too. Besides, it’ll be a whole lot easier inside Hogwarts. All I have to do is just go back in time and get Malfoy out of the way before his sunny Housemates can get to him.”

They journeyed up to Gryffindor Tower. Harry and Ron went up the stairs while Hermione watched them from the bottom. “Things never worked out that easily, Harry, you know that. But good luck still,” she said. Harry nodded at her. “Remember, a turn is a full day.”

The boys entered the fifth-year-boys’ dormitory. Ron went over to his bed and pulled off his robe, all the while keeping an eye on Harry, who began dragging the curtains across his bed. The rest of the boys, Neville, Seamus, and Dean were soundly asleep in their own beds.

“Harry, you’re sure you want to do this alone? Hermione doesn’t have to know.”

Before Harry closed the final curtain he paused and looked at Ron, seeming to reconsider. “It’d be really great with you but I think we need to keep things as uncomplicated as possible. Hermione said time travel is very dangerous and very finicky. So I wanna involve as few people as possible and have as few things going wrong as possible, all right?”

Ron sighed, slouching in his bed. “All right. Good luck. Tell me all about it when you come back -- hopefully.”

“Right,” Harry replied. He closed the curtain and thereby closed himself off from the rest of the world. He performed a locking charm on them as well as a Silencing Charm for extra measure. After pushing away Ron and Hermione’s involvement, behind those all that active resistance was a hollowness he only became aware of now; he felt oddly lonely with his bed and the darkness around him. But he told himself that doing it alone was the best thing to do.

Lumos.” A narrow beam of light illuminated the small space inside the wall of his curtains. He climbed onto his bed with his shoes, made himself comfortable, and once again checked for the Marauder’s Map against his stomach, secured into place by the waistband of his underwear. He glanced at the robe lying on his bedside table and thought if he would need it. He decided the woolen jersey he was wearing, bearing a large letter ‘H’ in red for Harry, made by Mrs Weasley would be sufficient alone. With a surge of panic he remembered his Invisibility Cloak and thought it wise to take it along: he draped it around his neck to keep his hands free.

Harry looped the hourglasses over his head and wore it like a necklace under his Invisibility Cloak. He glanced at his wristwatch. It had been exactly week ago that Malfoy was murdered. He had woken up a little after nine o’clock that Sunday morning. He remembered the sudden change in the way the Slytherins regarded Malfoy. Where the previous year he was, as Harry saw it, nothing more than a jokester counted upon to ridicule the “Golden Trio,” this year he was nothing short of the hero of the House. Something happened in the intervening summer.

Barely breathing, Harry began carefully turning the hourglasses, and as he completed the final turn of the smallest hourglass he barely finished his gasp when the world moved and swirled and was engulfed by a brilliant golden shimmering light. He felt like his body was being rolled up and squeezed into a long cylinder.

The light suddenly fell out and was replaced by a thick darkness so complete he thought he felt its weight on his eyeballs. And just before his lungs collapsed and he suffocated, his body expanded back to its original proportions and the darkness quickly receded, chased away by the brilliant, shimmering golden light that rushed towards Harry as though he were approaching the surface of a pool on a bright afternoon. He closed his eyes when the light grew too dazzling to handle and opened them when he felt its strength fade.

Structures gradually began constructing themselves around him: pieces of a scarlet curtain, a dark wood pole slowly extending towards the floor, scarlet fabric stretching out from underneath him like sped-up vine. Moments later he was in the very same place he had left behind. The only difference was that he could see through his curtains the sunlight streaming through the window as opposed to the moonlight.

Harry climbed out of his bed as quietly as he could, lest he find out that there is someone else in the dormitory. Before he attempted to remove the two spells he had cast on his curtains, he figured that they would be present since he cast them in the future. Slowly, he pulled aside one curtain to find Ron’s and Dean’s beds empty. He slipped out and tiptoed around his bed to confirm that the other two beds of Seamus’ and Neville’s were empty.

Breathing considerably easier, but still with a healthy amount of caution he walked out of the room. The common room was deserted. In broad daylight it was a rather strange sight Harry had not witnessed in his five years at Hogwarts. But he had to remind himself that it was before term started, so there were no students at Hogwarts. Perhaps there were not even teachers, even Dumbledore. Upon remembering this name not a small amount of anger roiled up inside Harry. This plan was completely his own. He did not need Dumbledore.

As empty as the common room was Harry still descended the stairs and crossed the floor towards the portrait hole as quietly as he could. But he took his Invisibility Cloak off his neck and threw it around him; the Fat Lady had a sharp eye for wandering students, and a veritable talent to spread news very quickly, something problematic he would rather not deal with. He stepped out of the hole and heard the Fat Lady squeak in surprise.

“Who’s there?” Harry heard her croak from behind. “Answer me this instant! No kids before school starts! No school before school starts!”

Despite the fact that he had a small taste, the bright sunlight streaming through the glass ceiling of the corridor shocked Harry; it was only moments ago that it had been pitch black at three in the morning. He did not know exactly where he was going as he crossed the corridor. Various ideas sprung up in his head but never assumed full form. But he thought he should go with the one that sounded most complete, and one that he had began working on before he turned those hourglasses. He headed for the broom shed and swore at himself that he had not brought his Firebolt with. Flying to Malfoy’s home was going to take a little longer.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Are heroes corruptible? Harry returns to Hogwarts after Voldemort's return. He suffers horrible nightmares, but when one turns particularly savage, he discovers on his map something curious at night, and something
deadly on a perfect Sunday.


Chapter 8

A Series of Unfortunate Encounters

There was only one problem: he did not know where it was. Not even the general direction of it.

Harry came to a halt in the middle of the corridor, shocked at his stupidity. Why had he not found out before he went back in time? The simple answer was that he had not known for certain he would decide to travel to Malfoy’s home. He had only had half an idea to do so. Harry was suddenly confronted with the only logical thought possible in his this situation. Cheeks flushed in embarrassment at his lack of proper planning, and having a sudden mental image of Hermione’s pursed lips and a “I-told-you-so” glint in her eyes, he turned around and headed for the dormitory.

He put on his Invisibility Cloak to pass under the Fat Lady’s nose unseen once more and climbed up the stairs to the dormitory. When he closed the door behind him he felt another wave of embarrassment that left his cheeks scarlet again: he could have just as well activated the Time-Turner exactly where he had stood, since the Fat Lady was too far behind to spot him.

Deeply tempted to lose confidence in his intelligence, Harry walked over to his bed and sat, hung his Cloak around his neck, and turned the hourglasses again. The daylight gave way to a shimmering brilliance, and moments later he sat in the dark, moonlit dormitory he had seen only a few minutes before. He stealthily made it out of the dormitory (frequenting the dormitory so often was becoming quite tiring to the mind, like a math problem became after several unsuccessful attempts) threw on his Cloak and again ducked the Fat Lady. She gave a whoop of frustration undoubtedly that she could not see the frequent infiltrator. Of course the first time she was disturbed was when he along with Ron and Hermione slipped under his Cloak to exit and head for the Ministry and returned inside with the Time-Turner in hand.

“I know you’re here! I’m telling your Head of House you and your Housemates, whoever you are, are sneaking out of the dormitory at inordinate hours of the night! Merlin knows you kids are busier than the Sunset Street corner harlots!”

“You better shut it or I’ll tell Dumbledore you swore to the students and called them little harlots,” snapped Harry, who knew he was more irritated with himself than any long-ago-seen shenanigans of the Fat Lady, sometimes in collusion with her best friend Violet.

She gasped. “And you expect me to sit around and let kids just run loose, do you? Do you think I hang around in front of this entrance to stare at your pretty faces? Wait, is that your voice, Harry Potter?”

Harry’s sense of self-loathing mounted. He viciously pulled the Cloak around him more securely and pounded his feet down the hallway. He let off some steam and slowed his pace after the first corner.

He needed to find a way of getting the address of Malfoy’s home. He thought it made sense some kind of a student register along with their particulars was kept, presumably by the headmaster. Or each house had a separate register held onto by the Head of House. But Harry was more inclined to find the former more plausible. Even so, coming up to Dumbledore to ask him for a student’s home address – never mind the lateness of the hour – sounded a daunting and unattractive task; he would rather ignore the unhelpful man. However, he doubted Dumbledore slept in his office, where he would keep such a record if it existed.

Harry hung his Cloak around his neck and slipped his Marauder’s Map from under his jersey.

Lumos.” A narrow beam of light fell upon the yellow parchment of the map. Harry’s eyes darted around as he looked for a banner containing Dumbledore’s name. He found it immediately beside the headmaster’s office, which suggested the location of Dumbledore’s sleeping quarters. It was not the first time he had seen this.

Right. Harry folded up the map and was about to stuff it back against the waistband of his underwear when he paused. With the arrival of the thought in his head he suddenly found it hard to breathe. Inhaling stiltedly through his nostrils, he unfolded the map, pointed his lit wand at it, his eyes with a nervous hesitation searching the document, and there, on the seventh floor of the castle, hung the banner bearing the name Draco Malfoy.

It was the first time in a long while Harry had experienced so physical a reference to Malfoy as was his name in print, for he had only spoken of him and heard the name spoken to him among his friends; his name had only lived through the air.

But this was nothing to the shock and fear that stopped Harry’s heart when he saw another name sitting on top of that of Malfoy: Blaise Zabini.

He must have stood in that corridor for a full five minutes, without speaking, without moving, with the map and the beam illuminating it quivering in his unsteady hands. As if his mind was wiped of all thought and all that remained was visceral physicality, Harry spun on his heel and without rest hurtled down corridor after corridor, and flew up flight of stairs upon flight of stairs until he was wheezing on the seventh floor and holding himself up against the wall as he slowly crept to the door. Upon seeing his reflection in the window of the classroom due to his still-lit wand, he muttered the counter spell and added a curse for extra measure.

The cold metal of the doorknob seemed to complete the freezing of his insides, but he willed himself strongly to open the door, tightening his sweaty grip on his wand and preparing an offensive spell. He yanked the door open, saw no one at the opposite wall, and swiftly stretched his neck into the room, and matched the wand levelled at him by a figure cast in shadow. It was only then after the minute relief came from knowing where exactly the hostility was that he took note of a sweet, swarm, and layered smell that invaded his nostrils. Harry could not put his finger on it, but there was something perverse about it.

Harry’s heavy panting filled the room, but it was surely not louder than the thundering of his heartbeat.

“What are you doing here, Blaise?”

There was a pause from the figure. He must have been shocked at his known identity.

“I should ask you the same thing... Potter.”

“Put your wand down.”

“Put yours down.”

“I think if anyone between the two of us is less trustworthy is you. If you put yours down first I’ll put mine down.”

The shadowed Blaise made a noise of quiet surprise. “And for a moment I nearly bought into this whole altruistic, holy-as-driven-snow act. Even Harry Potter is not above judgement.”

“You can’t say I do it without reason.”

There was another pause.

“Touché,” came the reply, without amusement.

For a moment there was only silence at the two boys stared at the other’s outline, dimly effected by the small amount of moonlight seeping into the room.

“Fine. We toss our wands to the side when I say so.”

Blaise kept quiet and seemed to adjust his shoulders before he replied, “Fine.”

Harry sighed and took a great breath in. “Okay. One. Two. Three.” Harry tossed his wand to the other side of the room, the wood clinking against some broken-down table frame, but it was not followed by Blaise’s, which was still held at the ready in its owner’s hands.

“There you go, Potter,” Blaise drawled, in a tone that bore the faint suggestion that he had a smirk on his shadowed face. “A little redemption for you. Not entirely holy but stupid to compensate. I think I always knew you were a bit thick.”

Harry kept quiet and mentally cursed both him and Blaise. “Can you at least switch on the light?”

Lumos.”

Harry narrowed his eyes against the light when Blaise deliberately directed it into them. It was then that he spotted what seemed to be a bucket in Blaise’s other hand. He glanced at the cupboard beside which Blaise stood. “What are you doing here?” Harry asked, not with a small amount of trepidation.

“It’s none of your business,” Blaise spat, in a slightly raised voice. “And I’m the one with the wand. Answer the same question if you don’t mind.”

Harry stared into the eyes of Malfoy’s murderer. “I know what you did. I saw it. It was you. And they were egging you on.”

The eyes behind the beam bulged out of their sockets. “You saw what?” Blaise demanded, and his breathing too was growing audible.

“You killed Malfoy, you own friend!” Harry shouted.

“Shut the fuck up, Potter! You don’t know what I did!” Blaise bellowed at him, more than matching Harry’s volume.

“I saw you, you fuckin’ murderer! The Killing Curse! While he was on the floor, at your feet!” Harry panted in front of a pale Blaise, who looked in disbelief beyond words, and he started to feel his throat growing warm as the tears gathered in his eyes.

“Oi, listen! You get the fuck outta here, all right, mate--?”

“Are you checking if you did a proper job of it? To see if h--!”

“I told you to get the fuck outta here, Potter!”

It was apparent that Blaise’s movements in his furious reaction to Harry sent a wave of the foulest odor Harry had never smelled to roll from whatever his other hand was holding.

Harry’s eyes nearly fell out of his head. “Is that...? Did you...?”

In all his years at Hogwarts Harry had never seen a pureblood attempt to resolve or incite conflict without a wand, which, it had become evident about them, was an extension of their person. It thus deeply surprised Harry to see Blaise drop his bucket and, breathing loudly like a wounded beast, stomped over to him.

“GET OUT!” he boomed. And he took Harry by the shoulders and with all his might threw him backwards to the floor. Harry sailed in the air, the Time-Turner around his neck afloat in mid-air, dangling from his neck. The classroom rang with the thump of Harry’s head crashing against the dusty floor. Blaise rushed over to Harry, towering above him, his rage in its highest flight. Harry quickly stuffed the Time-Turner inside his jersey before Blaise grabbed him.

“Blaise...!” Harry screeched, now quite fearing for his life. His exclamation might even have been an entreaty for mercy. He glanced behind him where he backpedalled in Blaise’s cold grip, which still had hold of his wand. Blaise threw him over the threshold, watched Harry stumble to the ground, and stood there framed in the doorway, chest rising and falling rapidly. The moonlight hit his raging figure in such a way that Harry found it easy to imagine his death not at the other side of a Killing Curse but at that of Blaise’s fists.

“I’m telling Dumbledore! I’m telling Dumbledore...!” Harry shouted feebly, as he clutched at the throbbing crown of his head. The stark absence of portraits on the most obscure and least frequented floor, of which he knew from his first visit, to bear witness to the murder and the assault to which Harry was being subjected felt like a betrayal by Hogwarts.

“Go away, Potter. Now,” Blaise commanded, in a calm voice of almost-reason, as though he was concluding an argument victoriously. It carried much more malevolently and balefully to Harry than any screaming threat would have.

Harry panted as he got on his feet. “My wand.”

Blaise promptly disappeared from the doorway and reappeared moments later, and tossed the wand at Harry’s feet, which, after a slight pause, raced down the corridor.

Harry did not stop running until he had leapt over four flights of stairs and doubled over in pants not just from exhaustion on the fifth floor. He wiped a tear from his face and looked around at the floor, at the portraits lining its walls, his mouth hung open, chest heaving, hands upon his knees. He had to tell someone. Surely. The very murderer was visiting to see and confirm the results of his actions. Dumbledore would have to take action now. He had to. Harry ran all the way to the other side of the castle where an ugly gargoyle stood guard.

Only when he stood in front of it, sweat gleaming in his face and clutching a stitch in his side, did he realize he had no idea what the password was to go beyond it. He panted incredulously at the gargoyle, but he had no patience left to spare.

“Let me in!”

The gargoyle stared at him, as ugly, as stony, and as unmoving as ever when not activated.

“Fuck...” Harry whispered and screwed up his face in frustration at everything that had happened in the last hour. “Lemon Drops,” he guessed, again in an exhausted whisper. “Chocolate Frogs... Puking Pastilles... Beetlejuice. Acid Pops...”

Suddenly, and rather impishly, the gargoyle leapt aside as though it had been pinched. Harry rushed into the staircase and sat on it as it revolved upwards. He did not know where the grace came from but he thanked every deity above the earth that the cold touch of the Time-Turner against his chest reminded him of it, and he quickly took it off and stuffed it gently into his pocket. At the top of the staircase’s rise he plodded over to the griffin brass knob and knocked, barely having the energy to do so.

“Dumbledore! Professor Dumbledore! Professor Dumbledore!”

“I’m coming, Harry. Hold on,” came a deep, patient voice. No matter how much anger he held towards Dumbledore, that faint voice from the other side of the door stirred something powerful within Harry. Quite honestly he felt like collapsing in Dumbledore’s arms and staying there for eternity. But eternity was five inches of oak away from him.

“Come in,” said Dumbledore. No sooner had the words registered to Harry than the doors parted to allow him entry into the office.

“Professor Dumbledore!” Harry said in a half-whisper, half-shout as he flew inside the room. Fawkes squawked at all of the sudden movement. Harry stared at the man coming over to him in a midnight-blue, star-strewn sleeping robe not unlike the sky outside his window. “Blaise is there right now with Malfoy’s body! He was trying to do something--He did something to it! I’m not lying! Look, here!”

“Take a breath, my boy,” Dumbledore told Harry, taking a gentle hold of the boy’s shoulders. Don’t you want to sit down first?”

While the occupants of the portraits hanging in Dumbledore’s office had raised their eyebrows at Harry’s entrance and implausible claims, Phineas Nigellus Black seemed so fed up with Harry’s episode he had refused to react and kept a blank, unimpressed expression down at Harry. It was only when Harry refused to sit down that he reacted, raising a thin, black eyebrow.

“In my days this show of insubordination would earn you a good Stinging Hex to your bare backside. Nowadays students don’t even receive so much as a demerit slip.”

“Thank you, Phineas,” Dumbledore said gently, before turning back to Harry.

“Professor, look! Smell!” Harry plucked the front of his jersey and held it up under Dumbledore’s nose, and as the owner of which stooped to reach it, Harry rapped feverishly, “It was Blaise. He was doing something in that room! Trying to cover up the murder or something! Can you smell it?”

With an obliging frown, Dumbledore took a whiff of Harry’s dark spring green jersey with his long, crooked nose, before raising his eyebrows and lifting his head to look into Harry’s stunningly huge green eyes.

“Smells rather like a Magnolia Moment, with a hint of vanilla essence,” he observed kindly. Harry paused for a moment in quiet disbelief. Black snorted.

“Another breakdown, Mr Potter?” Black asked, leaning almost out of his portrait to better read the expression in Harry’s face. A rumble of giggles broke out from his fellow portraits. “You seem to have at least one crisis every year. Don’t you get tired of running into this office and pouring your heart out to the headmaster, who, as I’m sure you know but hardly take into consideration, is quite a busy man?”

“It’s not vanilla essence!” Harry shouted, ignoring Black. “It’s the smell of rot! Blaise was tr--Or maybe it is vanilla essence and Blaise was trying to cover up the smell with it so it didn’t come out of the room! Professor Dumbledore, please believe me! You know I wouldn’t just come up with shit like this--!”

“Language, Harry,” Dumbledore interjected, as Black’s jaw dropped.

“Seize him!” Black screamed, pointing and gesticulating wildly at Harry. “Uttering obscenities in front of a staff member! Dumbledore, I beg you to for once discipline the errant boy! You simply cannot let this go on any longer!”

“Shut up, Phineas!” Harry shouted at the portrait. Black’s mouth open and closed incredulously without sound. “All these years I’ve never once bothered you when it wasn’t necessary!” Harry begged, gazing imploringly into Dumbledore’s face. “Why would you think I made this whole thing up? In case you didn’t know, I didn’t hate Malfoy enough to invent stories of his death!”

“That’s not what I hear from my acquaintances around the castle,” Black muttered mutinously.

Dumbledore gave a small, longsuffering sigh. “I know that, my dear boy,” he said morosely. He stared down at Harry softly. “And it’s reasonable to say something significant must have woken you up at three in the morning on a Sunday. And I also think that something compelled you to leave the grounds...”

There was a question in those last words. Harry stared, mouth agape, into Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes and wondered if the old wizard had the ability to read minds. Harry blushed and kept quiet. Leaving the grounds was one thing, but Harry did not know how Dumbledore would react if he found out they had flown out to the Ministry of Magic and that he had gone down into the Department of Mysteries. Fortunately Dumbledore did not know about the Time-Turner in his pocket retrieved from said department.

“Is there something you wish to tell me, Harry?” Dumbledore asked gently.

Harry stared into the lined face. “No, professor,” he replied, as his hand jerked to his pocket. “I mean yes: Blaise is upstairs right now doing something to Blaise!” Harry hesitated for a second, but with a soft noise of frustration removed the Marauder’s Map from under his jersey and unfolded it under Dumbledore’s gaze. “Look, I have can show you here!”

Dumbledore frowned again, his blue eyes crinkled in curiosity as Harry offered the map to him and he took it in his hands. Harry watched Dumbledore’s face marvelling at the document.

“Where did you get this, Harry?” Dumbledore asked.

Harry’s brain worked furiously.

“And don’t lie, Harry. I will know.” Dumbledore looked sternly at Harry over his half-moon glasses.

Harry suddenly wondered fearfully if Dumbledore did not already know he was at the Ministry at had a Time-Turner in his hand.

“I choose not to use my skills to intrude upon the privacy of others, but sometimes I think my powers are too great even for me to handle.” Dumbledore paused, gazing into Harry’s saucer-wide eyes. “Tell me the truth, Harry. I know you’re feeling very much inclined to utter a falsehood to me at this moment.”

Harry’s heart thundered in his chest. “I... the map...” he said feebly, but the blue-eyed gaze seemed to ask a different question. Fawkes trilled a sad melody. “I have a Time-Turner in my pocket.”

Dumbledore’s eyes widened, and his gaze burned Harry. “Let me see it,” he commanded suddenly.

Harry took it out and dangled the hourglasses in front of Dumbledore, who frowned at the set and took it in his hands.

“Harry...” Dumbledore spoke very softly, but there was an intense emotion in his voice. “This is dangerous business you’re meddling in.”

“I know. I’m sorry, professor...” Harry rapped, in a rather automatic way, suddenly as scared as a little boy of the wrath of his teacher -- even after he had faced the unknown dangers of the Department of Mysteries, surviving assault by a Slytherin who could have murdered him as easily as the person he was trying to save, and facing the easily discoverable perils of time-travel.

“Rest assured this will be found missing within a day,” Dumbledore warned, with a rough, unkindly edge to his words, boring his gaze into Harry. He turned the Time-Turner in his hands, and one silver eyebrow rose. “Must be an upgrade. These in my days only went back in time in the order of days. This, if I am correct, seems to allow you choose the very minute you want to revisit.”

“I have to save Malfoy’s life, professor,” Harry sighed, whereupon Dumbledore looked back at him. “I saw it. I’m involved. I can’t turn away. I have to do something... I have to do something...”

Harry swallowed and blinked away his tears in front of Dumbledore, who had listened quietly and whose frown had not lifted. For a long time Dumbledore did not speak but continued to study the Time-Turner. He turned back to the map before his eyes found Harry again.

“You would have to go through all this effort with proper reason,” he finally declared. “I should have believed you long ago, Harry. But I thought a murder in my own school was impossible. I was so busy trying to head off the dangers elsewhere that I did not consider those at home. I should have taken your word for it instead of looking for other signs. I’m deeply embarrassed.”

“Dumbledore, you believe him?” Black blurted out.

“You don’t have to be, sir,” Harry said. “I understand how everything else around me made you not believe me. It sounded crazy.”

Dumbledore seemed to be forcing himself to keep looking into Harry’s eyes; he seemed to want to look away. “I have committed a huge disservice to the Malfoy family: they should have known of their son’s fate a week ago. I haven’t followed protocol and informed the Ministry to take Mr Zabini to Azkaban for murder. This will undoubtedly mean the termination of my services as per decision of the Board of Directors, of which Lucius Malfoy is part. But I will beat them to the punch!” Dumbledore suddenly smiled down at Harry. “I will resign first!”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Dumbledore...” Black said, with a hanging jaw. “You’re speaking the language of senile men now, come on.”

For once Harry agreed with Black. “Surely they can’t, professor,” he said incredulously, a little winded by the implications Dumbledore had enumerated. “If they know you had no reason to believe me they won’t fire you.”

“Oh, Harry, even if they were so kind as to pardon me based on the -- forgive me -- seeming ridiculousness of your claims,” Dumbledore said, as he began moving around his office urgently, “rest assured Lucius will do his level best to see the back of me walking out of Hogwarts. You will remember his shenanigans in your second year when he successfully persuaded the Board to let me go, only to see me return of course.”

“Yes, sir. I’d tell them you had no reason to believe me. I just barged into your office and said Malfoy was dead without telling his Head of House or anyone other than my friends. I basically didn’t raise the alarm. And you also had to deal with the Azkaban breakout.”

“You’re too kind, Harry. That will not be necessary,” Dumbledore replied, now sifting through the papers in his drawer. Only now did Harry realize that Dumbledore still had two very valuable possessions of his: the Time-Turner and the Marauder’s Map. “I think I want to bow out with dignity. I will resign from my office. All there is left to do is inform the Ministry of the murder of Draco Malfoy.” Dumbledore laid on his table two pieces of rich-looking piece of parchment with the Hogwarts crest at the top. He bent over the table, took his quill and stabbed into his inkwell before he began drafting the letter to the Ministry.

“Professor,” Harry said, very much panicking now. “You don’t have to do that. I’ll go back in time and save Malfoy. I’ll do my best, I promise.”

“Harry, you will do no such thing,” Dumbledore commanded, without lifting his head from the parchment. “You cannot imagine the astronomical dangers associated with time-travelling. I will not have another student of mine commit a crime, let alone one I know of. Matters have gone awry as it is. When Ministry officials arrive at Hogwarts to arrest Mr Zabini, they will also collect the Time-Turner. I will tell them my superior brainpower allowed me to bypass every security measure Oswalt’s House threw at me. They will realize it was a mistake consulting me on its security plans.”

“But, Dumbledore!” Harry whined in frustration. For a moment he did not know what to do, almost incapacitated by his anger.

Dumbledore signed the parchment. He glanced at the Map on his table, keeping an eye on Blaise’s movements, before he slid the parchment aside, now writing on the clean one.

Harry drew his wand and pointed it at Dumbledore’s desk. “Accio Time-Turner!” The object zoomed off the table, flew through the air, and Harry caught it in his hand. He stared fearfully into Dumbledore’s astonished eyes.

“Harry...”

There was a pause.

“You’re wrong, my boy,” Black muttered quietly. The vast amount of sincerity in his words almost gave Harry pause. “You’re treading on a very bad path for you, my friend. There is no hope for you...”

Harry hurtled towards the door.

He ran down the revolving stairs as he threw the Time-Turner onto his neck and waited for the stairs to complete their turn, thinking Dumbledore was going to arrest them so he could not escape. But soon the hallway was in slipped into sight, and Harry leapt out of the staircase and ran towards the spot where he felt his Invisibility Cloak drop to the floor when he had been running to Dumbledore’s office after the episode with Blaise. He thought Dumbledore knew where he was because he still had the Marauder’s Map, but Harry also knew that if he found his Cloak and wore it, his name would disappear off the map.

He turned a corner and about halfway down the corridor spotted a lump of dark material glistening in the moonlight like folded water. He cross the floor, halted in front of his Cloak, and threw it on. He ran as quietly as he could back to Dumbledore’s office. He nearly blew his cover when he had forgotten to keep quiet and spotted Dumbledore striding swiftly down the corridor. He stopped where he was and watched as Dumbledore loped past him, his midnight-blue nightgown flowing behind him. Harry started softly trotting again and after the first corner after his near-encounter with Dumbledore picked up his pace. In no time he was back in front of the ugly gargoyle that guarded Dumbledore’s staircase.

“Acid Pops.”

The gargoyle leapt aside. Harry went up the stairs and after they reached the top went over to the oaken doors and pushed them apart. He walked into Dumbledore’s office. It was buzzing with post-drama gossip. He noticed that Black’s portrait was, however, empty and surmised the incorrigible man running through portraits alongside Dumbledore towards the classroom in which Blaise was hopefully still in. If Harry could woo Lady Luck back on his side he could mutter a spell without being heard under the portraits’ chatter.

Accio register!” he whispered. Nothing happened. “Accio student register!” There was a rattle noise, at which point the loud gossiping fell swiftly. Every eye in the portraits above Harry fell upon the general area whence the sound had originated. The rattling persisted. Harry as quietly as he could rounded Dumbledore’s table and watched one of his drawers rattling like something in it was struggling to get out. As soon as he pulled the drawer out a scroll flew out, hit Harry’s chest under his Invisibility Cloak and fell to the floor. Harry threw the hem of his Cloak over the parchment so that his hand was not visible when he collected the scroll from the floor.

He heard mutterings begin to pick up around him. So he quickly partly opened the scroll and noticed the school crest and the beginning of what surely was a very long list of students resident at Hogwarts, their sex, age, blood type, and home address. The first name on the list was Abigail Abbey. Harry’s stomach plunged to the floor - it was going to take a while to unroll the scroll as quietly (and as quickly) as he could without much room under his Cloak, which was quickly getting stuffy. Harry wondered what was happening at the other side of the floor, between Dumbledore and Blaise. If only he had bothered to learn the Script Duplication Charm Hermione had used to copy information from a library book.

He began searching for Malfoy’s name. His calves began to strain around the time he reached the surnames beginning with ‘J’. Finally, with a surge of joy, he spotted the name he was looking for, having rolled out what looked like half the scroll on the floor under his Cloak.

    Name: Malfoy, D. L. Sex: M Age: 15.08 yrs Blood type: MSB#103 Home address: Malfoy Estate, 100 Doherty Place, Louis Xavier Drive, southern Kingston Derevill Wiltshire, UK

In his relief and excitement, something about the blood type column made the hairs on the back of Harry’s neck to rise. He recalled the previous year’s heated confrontation between Dumbledore and the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, when Dumbledore had proclaimed that it mattered not the magical ancestry of a person but rather his character and choices. This strong belief was in stark contrast to the fact that he kept a student register that detailed the blood types of his students. Harry pushed his confusion and mixed feeling aside so he could concentrate on memorizing the address. After he did so he rolled up the parchment, opened the drawer carefully without baring his hand, and slipped it inside.

He paused before closing the drawer and with a freezing of his insides realized he still had absolutely no idea where Malfoy lived; he had merely memorized a list of names with a number tossed in. He had no concept of even the direction he should take. Harry thought wildly and desperately. Moments later, knowing what to do, he closed the drawer, opened another, found a clean page of parchment, stole it, and tip-toed towards the door. He was about to turn a corner in the hallway outside the office, heading to the broom shed, when he realized he did not have to fly with a Shooting Star, which, he remembered with ire, had provided a very slow and jerky experience in his third year.

He closed the door of the boys’ dormitory softly and crept to his trunk sitting in front of the bottom of his bed. His heart raced a thousand miles a minute when the lid of the trunk screeched. Grimacing anxiously he lifted the lid slowly and grabbed from inside his trunk the apple of his heart: his prized Firebolt. The mere sight of it unleashed a torrent of affection equal to that unleashed when sighting a lover. The Quidditch season had not started; he had last ridden his Firebolt when he had been at the Burrow playing in the backyard a few months ago. He carefully took it under his arm, closed the lid of his trunk, and made to slip out of the dormitory but a groggy whisper stopped him.

“Harry?”

It was strange hearing Ron’s voice after time-travelling and after everything that had transpired between now and the moment he ended their conversation and closed his curtains to activate the Time-Turner for the first time. Harry felt quite removed from it.

“Go back to sleep.”

He stealthily crossed corridors and turned corners, all the while his mind on the possible things happening on the seventh floor. Had Dumbledore overpowered and captured Blaise? Had Blaise ran for it? Several times he suffered temptations to detour and head back to the classroom in which Malfoy was murdered, but he willed his resolve against them, decidedly making his way to the Owlery.

His meeting with Dumbledore had unforeseeably worsened things. Now Malfoy’s parents were due to hear news of their son’s death and probably receive the request to collect his body, and Ministry officials were heading for Hogwarts to remove Blaise. Of the latter he was rather glad. But Dumbledore still threatened to resign from his position as headmaster. Harry, whatever his bad history with the man this year, could not imagine Hogwarts under the direction of any other wizard besides Dumbledore. He would not feel right. It would not be right. There was simply no room for failure: Harry had to go back in time to save Malfoy’s life. Now much more hinged on the success of his mission.

“Hedwig!”

Within moments there was a soft hoot and above him what seemed like two white strips of paper were falling towards him. But it was in fact his snow-white owl’s wings carrying her through the air and onto his outstretched arm. Hedwig hooted again in greeting and nipped at Harry’s nose affectionately.

“Hiya, girl. How’re you doing?” He said, with a laugh. “Look, I need you to lead me to Malfoy’s home – Draco Malfoy – to deliver this.” Harry produced the folded piece of parchment which he had stolen from Dumbledore’s office and on which he had written “Dear parents of Malfoy, This is from your son’s dear arch enemy. Sincerely, Harry Potter” and tied it onto Hedwig’s leg. Hedwig hooted in assent. Had he time-travelled backwards, he would have flown in daylight, but he had decided he would be visible shooting across the countryside on a broom and rather thought it best to fly in this current time during nighttime. It was quieter and though dark, he would not lose Hedwig and consequently his way due to her highly visible snow-white plumage.

“Okay, go ahead, girl,” Harry ordered, whereupon Hedwig took off his arm and flew out of the window. Harry quickly ran out of the Owlery, checked that his Invisibility Cloak and the Time-Turner were still around his neck, mounted his broom and lifted off. His heart raced in his anxious desire to see the Owlery out of his way so he did not lose Hedwig. There she was, cutting through the dark sky, flying over a turret. Harry leaned on his broom and accelerated forward.

This time he was leaving Hogwarts for good.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Are heroes corruptible? Harry returns to Hogwarts after Voldemort's return. He suffers horrible nightmares, but when one turns particularly savage, he discovers on his map something curious at night, and something
deadly on a perfect Sunday.


Chapter 9

Malfoy Manor

Harry had not counted on the fact that moving through the air at four o’clock in the morning was going to be such a chilling undertaking. And considering he felt so natural on a broom that even some of his admirers believed he was born on it, he should have had enough Quidditch-informed foresight to pull a pair of pants or two over the ones he already had on, along with gloves and a beanie before he took off. A balaclava would have done the trick as well.

As he was, Harry had his Invisibility Cloak wrapped around him and his Firebolt sloped across one shoulder tracking along on some open stretch of countryside without having seen one sign of civilization; he had to take a break from flying every twenty or so minutes before he became frozen onto his broom and to rest his eyes, as it became harder to keep them on Hedwig. Of course Hedwig was never in the mood for these breaks, as she, like all other owls, never had to take breaks between delivering mail. It seemed she found this habit a very lazy one.

Hedwig, perched on Harry’s other shoulder, had taken on her own habit of occasionally and not-so-accidently flicking out her wings and thereby cuffing Harry’s ear, in doubtless irritation at Harry for forcing them to stop once again. Either this or her instincts were compelling her to take flight lest she falls as she was in fact perched on an invisible shoulder. Harry was inclined, judging as well from Hedwig’s rather short hoots, to believe the former.

“Hedwig, stop it!” Harry whined for the fourth time in thirty footsteps. “I said we’ll be back in the air in a few minutes -- I just need to get warm again.” He touched his nose and could not believe how freezing cold it was.

This was their fourth stop. They had been in the air for nearly three hours, and the sky was growing brighter pending sunrise. He realized he was naive thinking he would reach Malfoy’s soon enough on his speedy and trusted Firebolt. He felt like a little boy who had grown up in the Wizarding world and who had thought he could conquer it with his broom. It simply was not capable of doing the impossible. Furthermore, by the very first stop he had already realized he was way in over his head.

Firstly, because he had not anticipated the necessary stops and thought he shoot across the sky one way until he reached Malfoy’s home. Secondly, he had not anticipated his stomach’s protests, especially so early on in the journey. So as he trudged forward now he was chilly, hungry, chapped-lipped, and irritated at both himself and Hedwig, who was more than matching his mood. He felt brought back down to earth in every sense.

At the moment there was a worry quietly swelling at the back of his head that he would not reach civilization before he fainted out of lack of energy. If only this field of grass did not stretch out so far into the horizon and did not suggest this was exactly how the rest of the earth was going to unfold under his feet he would feel mollified.

A few minutes later Harry croaked, “Hedwig, promise me if I die you won’t join your fellow birds the vultures when they make a meal of my corpse.”

Hedwig remained silent.

“Thanks a lot, mate. That’s good to know. Let’s go again, shall we?”

And with this, they took off into the air once again. He was in two minds about the ever-brightening sky: he knew he would stick out in it like a sore thumb, but he also felt less lonely and disconnected from humanity as he had been during the night, despite Hedwig in front of him. And the air would grow agreeably warm. He hoped this would be his and Hedwig’s last stop.

He flew higher to remain obscured from eyes down below. At one point he thought Hedwig was flying on and on and on with no hint that she was on the verge of descending for the sole purpose of making him suffer. By the sixth hour in the sky and two stops later he was certain of it. He had never felt more furious with her than he did now ever since Hagrid gave her to him.

But this turned out not to be the case when Hedwig began losing altitude as she flew towards a large building surrounded by a thick line of trees which broke apart towards the south-western part of the estate. That it existed in the middle of the sprawling empty countryside with a small forest behind it and no other buildings near it, all there was left was a large neon hand pointing down at the structure: clearly Hedwig had arrived at her destination. Immense relief washed over a tired, hungry, and light-headed Harry. But the earth beneath him never looked more beautiful. He was finally here.

He followed Hedwig’s lead and dropped lower as well, approaching the burgeoning structure in front of him. With a sudden stroke of genius he swiftly reared off his Firebolt and halted mid-air before he came near the tree fortification. Hedwig descended further onward. He took his Invisibility Cloak from his neck and draped it around him as he lay down against his broom. After he made sure every inch of him was covered under it so he could bypass whatever wards the mansion-like building possibly had around it, he zoomed forward at a moderate speed until he hovered inches from the stone floor. Harry carefully alighted from his broom and planted his feet on Malfoy Estate. He had made it. Worn out as he was, but he had made it.

Heaving his broom onto his shoulder, and still under his Cloak, Harry crouched cautiously around the side wall towards the front. It was indeed a mansion. Harry had never seen such a big house before. This was not the Ministry of Magic or even Hogwarts. This structure was supposed to house, as far as Harry knew, three occupants, but it looked larger than the Muggle school he had attended with Dudley before Hogwarts. The narrow protrusions of the towering facade folded on top of each, giving a compressed impression like an accordion. The mansion looked positively palatial.

Of the forecourt, from the edge of the lowest ground at the first of two short flights of stairs the ground rose twice, forming part of the gravel walkway along whose length yew hedges ran and which extended from the arched doorway far to the tall black wrought-iron gate. The gate stretched between the stone walls and bastions completing the front edge of the perimeter of the estate.

On the highest elevation two fountains played standing on either side of the front of the doorway. Between the bottom of the walkway and the second landing was a large expanse of well-tended grass. From above it had looked like a pool of water that had intruded upon a natural landscape, strenuously pushing against the encroaching line of the trees. The flat, open space created thus looked in danger of being invaded by the bursting edge of the trees, waiting to spill into it and correct the perfection forced upon the face of the landscape. The broken hedge before the second elevation comprising a number of varying bushes completed the picture.

Generally, the sheer grandness of the mansion and the complement of vegetation around it gave the impression that the estate was a self-contained economy altogether, like a one-house town. Anything was possible in it, everything existed it in, and there was no need for anything beyond it.

As he took in all of these sights and felt these feelings, Harry found it extremely hard to reconcile all that the estate suggested about its inhabitants and the way Malfoy used to behave at Hogwarts, especially around Harry. He pushed these thoughts aside as he did not like pondering on the memory of a dead person and backtracked towards the back of the manor, where he was greeted by a very foreboding preface of a small forest that braced itself against the steep fall of the brim of a small crescent hill that cradled the mansion. He wondered how much more menacing that tree line looked at night. He slipped through the doorway and into the house.

Harry came to a sudden halt in the rear foyer, astonished. He experienced a flashback to the Quidditch World Cup the previous year when he discovered the tent in which he was sojourning was several times larger than it looked outside. The interior of the manor similarly ballooned from where he stood, and was vastly more modern than the rough brown brick walls of the exterior; the times had moved on without the facade but the interior was having none of it.

The wooden carpeted staircase he was facing was so grand and fluid it spilled onto the carpeted stone floor before his feet like blood-red batter. It split from a landing over which a tall arched window watched. He was already vaguely making his way over to the staircase, which had, while he had been preoccupied with ogling at the interior, called for the respectful agreement of his feet. But the sense of panic that suddenly surged inside him reminded him that he had to find a place where it was safe to activate the Time-Turner.

As he looked around wildly for this place a house-elf trotted by him wearing a tea cloth emblazoned with two gold letters ‘M’ superimposed upon one another. He stared at it and had to admit it was the best-looking house-elf he had ever seen—or rather the most well taken care of; he had never encountered a handsome one before, pig-nosed or long-nosed. This particularly one had a long nose though shorter than Dobby’s, and it was clearly male. From his brisk trot Harry surmised he was headed for the kitchens or washroom. Why he did not directly appear there with his own magic Harry did not know. But perhaps since such a convenience was always at hand elves had found the protraction or actual execution of some activities to be a luxury, in some strange way. The bigger mystery was why, since the magic of elves operated under its own rules, the elf could not at least sniff him out. And he found himself according yet more admiration and respect for his Invisibility Cloak; Hermione was right, it must be one of a kind.

He left the elf to go on its merry way and continued looking in his immediate space for a cupboard or similar closed facility. When he did not find one he decided to go up the stairs anyway, and as he did so trying to push aside the sense that he did not deserve to tread upon it, and took the eastward stairs from the sunlit landing. He had made it so far so he may as well look for any random room that did not seem much frequented. If indeed three people stayed in this mansion there was a wealth of rooms from which he could choose.

He searched without incident; the upper floor had very little activity, and it was awfully quiet: he encountered neither person nor elf. He nearly smacked himself in the head after he realized that Malfoy’s parents might have already left as they would have by now received the missive Dumbledore had sent them – after all, the owl carrying Dumbledore’s missive had not taken six breaks in its journey here. And he rather suspected the headmaster did not to break the news to them by owl but rather summoned them without alluding to anything disturbing. Otherwise that it would have been utterly callous.

Harry found himself asking far too many times what such a small family was doing with so much space. Then again he thought that of course the Malfoys had to service their sense of grandeur. And as he saw it, nothing about it seemed to be of false pretence. Besides, he knew the Malfoys were ancient nobility.

They’re bloody loaded!

He had nearly given up his search for the room which had been Malfoy’s, and trying to find one which had Malfoy’s bag and trunk would not help as they were still at Hogwarts, when he came across one which had a large, four-poster, canopied bed with emerald and silver beddings. Harry’s lips trembled when he saw the bed.

Very subtle.

This was Malfoy’s room. He went over to the tall, intricately carved armoire and fell to his knees between it and the wall. Putting down his Firebolt he realized it was inconveniently unwieldy. He thought fast. His senses were already strained with the possibility of being caught by a wandering house-elf or even Malfoy’s parents. He jumped to his feet, came around the armoire, opened the doors above the drawers, and placed his Firebolt diagonally against the back of it behind the thick hedge of Malfoy’s clothes. He would have to time-travel without it. He returned to the floor at the corner, pulled his Invisibility Cloak over him, took the Time-Turner from underneath his jersey, and turned the hourglasses.

Light burst in through the window and under the door, dissolved the armoire and the bed and the floor. He felt his pulse race as he surged towards the surface of a pool of light. Just as he reached it the light receded, leaving behind the rapidly reforming structures of the room. Gradually Harry fully opened his eyes, which had been narrowed against the golden brilliance, and found himself sitting in the very same room he had left. Nothing of it had changed save for the trunk placed between the bedside table and windowless wall on the other side of the bed.

His face fell slightly; he had expected to see Malfoy first thing. The sight of him would have confirmed to Harry that he was on the right track, that all of the energy and time and risk invested in this idea were well worth it. He came to his feet and was about to make his way to the door when a movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. He turned towards the window, where he had seen the flash of movement and, still under his Cloak, slowly crept towards it.

He squinted out of the window, saw nothing for a moment but the thickets of trees on the left side of the mansion, but scooted closer under the window to look higher into the sky. There a figure on a broom sped through the air in fast flicks and agile turns. Then it disappeared. Harry tripped on his Cloak and nearly fell face first into the floor in his haste to get to the door, but he made it without injury back to the grand staircase in the middle of the hallway. He took them down below, landed back at the rear foyer, and proceeded towards the front of the mansion carefully.

There he kept closer to the walls, noticing that the house was much busier than when he had first set foot in it; he had nearly stepped over two or three tea-clothed house-elves milling about, and he thought he saw a robed figure crossing some hallway, possibly barefooted. He crossed the doorway, emerged outside, and looked up at Malfoy racing his broom above the forecourt. Only now he was not showing off how suddenly he could perform a dive or how unexpectedly he could take off in the opposite direction, but was rather lazily draped over his broom as it slowly sailed through the way, his arms hanging from it as though he were wading gently across a sparkling pool. His white-blond hair, gleaming brightly like a silver unicorn tail, and much longer than Harry remembered, too fell from his resting head as carelessly and elegantly as though its owner were aloofly holding an expensive hand-woven silk sample but held no commensurate regard for it as he was wealthy enough to buy countless bales of it.

The way Malfoy reclined on his broom in the bright, and clear forget-me-not sky, and how easily he could put himself in Malfoy’s place in the air and replace the estate with the Burrow, sent a sweet shiver up Harry’s spine, elicited by the knowledge that he was in the very middle, the depth of summer, and the start of term was still a long way off. He felt on behalf of Malfoy a sudden giggle bubble inside him though it did not register on his face, felt a strange kind of a giddy altruistic impulse that made Harry feel happy for Malfoy that he was enjoying his summer.

All this, however, changed when Malfoy strutted past Harry after he returned to the ground through the doorway. There was something about the unbuttoned top of his peacock shirt (and the fact that it was silken too) that sent a rush of irritation through Harry. It was so... arrogant, so knowing of how Malfoy admittedly looked handsome. Harry followed the strutting figure from behind as quietly as he could until they were in the room he had correctly taken to be Malfoy’s. Malfoy threw his broom on the floor as carelessly as Harry would the obsolete school brooms back into the shed before he collapsed face first onto his bed.

While Malfoy played dead on the bed, no doubt resting or expressing his frustrations against boredom, Harry scuttled over to his corner. So quick was he to take refuge in it that that piece of floor between the armoire and wall was beginning to feel like home.

He thought under his Invisibility Cloak further on when he thought it the appropriate time to reveal himself. He had thought about it before but as he had not yet arrived at Malfoy’s home, nor had he went backwards in time, had previously no feel of the situation, which would be necessary in timing his reveal.

Malfoy unburied his face from the duvet and leant on his elbow, lying back and possibly thinking. Harry spied the pale skin exposed by the unbuttoned top. Malfoy pushed a few pestering locks off his face and ran his hand through his hair, sighing quietly, again irritating Harry immensely. He had never seen Malfoy’s hair so long before during term as it was almost always gelled flat to his scalp, making him look every bit the arrogant rich snob he was. Harry did not begrudge him his wealth. The swagger and endless taunts, however, were very much off-putting.

Malfoy rose from his bed and with a tremendous effort pushed himself off. He dragged himself over to the dressing table directly facing his bed, grabbed a book that had been resting on one of its two opposite cabinets and paged through it quickly as he returned to the bed. As soon as he hit the bed again a house-elf appeared and began squeaking a notice. Harry was startled by the rude interruption, but Malfoy, lazily raising an eyebrow, seemed quite used to it.

“Master Draco, Meeky is telling you one of Master Draco’s friends is been waiting on the lower floor.”

“Well call him up here then,” Malfoy commanded quietly. Meeky disappeared but never reappeared with one of Malfoys’ friends in hand. Instead, ten seconds later Blaise saw himself into Malfoy’s room.

“You!”

“T’hell--? Potter, what in Merlin’s name are you doing here?”

Harry was exposed. The moment he saw those dark curls above high cheek bones and sharp, slanted eyes he was overtaken by a wave of fury, had thrown off his Cloak and drawn his wand upon the initiator of everything had had gone wrong.

With a look of vague alarm, Blaise drew his wand instinctively the moment there was rapid movement. Before he brought it down on Harry the Gryffindor yelled, “Stupefy!” and Blaise fell to the floor, unmoving.

Malfoy’s mouth fell at the sight of Blaise on the floor and turned his gaze on Harry. “Potter... What are you doing? How did you get here?”

“Look, Malfoy, he’s trying to kill you!”

Malfoy rushed over to Blaise and touched his face. “What? Blaise? Are you serious? How did you--?”

“That doesn’t matter!” Harry said loudly. “Get away from him! He killed you on the top floor at Hogwarts, even came with an audience!”

“What...?” Malfoy was still blabbering incoherently in Harry’s view. “Potter, we could have you arrested for trespassing on private property and assaulting--!”

“Fuck your private property!” snapped Harry, who could not believe how worried Malfoy looked for his murderer. “He’s going to kill you! I came from the future and--and--” Harry’s face flushed scarlet. If he were honest with himself even he would not believe his own words. All that was left was for them to echo to round up the picture. He pushed on in his explanation in the face of a wildly incredulous Malfoy. “--I see him killing you and the other Slytherins dragging you into a classroom and stuffing you in a cupboard. I’m telling the truth.”

“MOTHER! Meeky!”

POP!

“Mal-fuckin’-foy, listen to me!” Harry raged. His bellow swallowed the squeaks from Meeky, whose large eyes swelled even further when she saw him. “I’m telling you the truth!”

Malfoy, pink-faced as well, was resolutely glaring at Meeky. “Meeky! Tell Mother there is a trespasser--!”

“Fuck!” Harry whispered. He picked up his Cloak and fumbled over the Time-Turner around his neck, at which point Malfoy looked at him and frowned at the object in his hands.

“What are you doing?” Malfoy asked, with an audible quiver in his voice.

“Yes, Master Draco...” Meeky said weakly, staring at Harry.

No sooner had she disappeared than golden light surged into the room as though it had been dunked into a sparkling pool of light. The room disappeared for a moment before its structures drew themselves back into view. The light faded. Malfoy was throwing himself onto the bed with the book he had picked up from the dressing table. Meeky appeared and told him one of his friends was downstairs, but ten seconds later Blaise walked through the door and Harry fought not to burst through his Cloak and blast the boy back into the forest. His temples thundered at the sight of Blaise, watching those long, careless strides into the room and the long, lithe arms, and the half-smile, half-smirk plastered on the handsome face. There was something about his bearing and his spare movements that spoke of a quiet, unexpected maturity.

Blaise plopped himself on the bed above Malfoy’s head and, with visible relish, swept Malfoy’s hair out of his face as though it were a premium luxury, or a prerogative enjoyed only by his closest acquaintances to touch his hair. “Getting some summer reading done? You, I wouldn’t have figured.”

Harry’s nostrils flared in disgust at the gesture at casual conversation. Touching his hair and speaking with a silky caress in his voice...? Did he want to kiss Malfoy as well? Or was it just Harry?

“Yeah, well,” Malfoy replied, without looking at Blaise and without seeming to acknowledge the affectionate touches, “we all have to start somewhere. You should think about acting like you’re worth your money too.”

“I’ll leave that to my parents. I suggest you do the same ‘cos I’m gonna laugh my back broken the moment I see you peeking through a monocle.”

“My father doesn’t have one,” Malfoy said indignantly.

“So are you officially giving in then?” Blaise asked, stopping his ministrations. “I thought he were going to fight on in the Battle of Culture at least until we grew out of it or whatever.”

“We are still battling but even if you won’t believe me I do find this book interesting.” Malfoy scooted up and laid his head in Blaise’s lap and balanced his book on his raised legs, which obscured his face. “This chapter at least.”

Harry, as quietly as he could manage, crept out of his corner, across the armoire, and sat between it and the bed-side table for a better view of the proceedings.

“What’s it about?” Blaise resumed neatly pulling Malfoy’s hair together, letting it fall over his thigh and stroking it, seemingly relishing its abundance.

“Netrogy. Apparently its use is common among people like us--or should be common.”

“What’s Netrogy?”

“Um... Merlin, do you have to do this?”

Blaise’s chest jerked upwards as it released a whoop of laughter. “You should be able to tell me what you just read.”

“I don’t have to do it with you,” Malfoy grumbled. “Basically...”

As when anything that sounds vaguely scientific, Harry’s brain automatically switched off. It came back online when he heard Blaise’s unrelated question.

“I’m daring you again to wear your hair like this at Hogwarts. I’m telling you, girls like long hair -- they’ll be falling over themselves for you. Your father struts around with his hanging like some descent of Merlin’s nephew.”

“My father does not strut. And that’s precisely why. Already people think I’m a wuss--” Harry snorted quietly. “--‘cos I keep telling them about my father--”

“Which I keep telling you to stop doing.”

“--I know. I’m working on it. But you don’t know how it feels in that moment and you’re furious and you say stupid things like that. It’s embarrassing. Anyway, so yeah. And I don’t wanna--”

“Want to.”

“I thought we were still waging war?”

“That we are. Forgive me,” Blaise said, with a smile. Harry rolled his eyes.

“I don’t wanna attract girls. Who said I was looking to date?”

“Don’t you think it’s about time you did?”

“I’ve had a couple of girls before.”

“Full time.”

“Dating full time? Why do I have to?”

Blaise gave a deep sigh. “Well, let’s see. You’re one of the hottest males in Hogwarts and you don’t date. Wouldn’t you find it strange?”

Malfoy, evidently, was silenced by Blaise’s logic.

“You know I don’t want to talk down to you like I’m some all-knowing mature adult, but you act very childishly for such a good-looking bloke. Haven’t you noticed the girls at school are sort of like waiting for you to grow up so they can get in your knickers? It’s like their waiting for you to stop with the funny monologues about how stupid Potter is and ask one of them on a date. Then it’s open season. You’re being looked over for that McCormack bloke, and he’s not even close to where you are: he’s at most a six.”

Malfoy’s face had gone pink, a sight Harry had seen a few minutes before. Subdued and blinking unnaturally regularly, he looked like a child who had just been dressed down. And suddenly that thing about Blaise that gave him a mellowed, mature look about him seemed to recede apologetically fast.

“You’re the one with the chink! That’s automatically five extra points on top of your nine!” Blaise giggled.

“I’m not obsessed with Potter,” Malfoy muttered, looking every bit like a shamed man desperately hoping to reclaim his dignity, “I just don’t like the fact that he can get away with doing stuff we wouldn’t get away with, that’s all.”

“I didn’t say you were obsessed about him in that way,” Blaise countered.

“I didn’t think you were,” Malfoy replied tartly.

“Right,” said Blaise, in a way that said he did not appreciate Malfoy’s tone. “Still, you could do with a bit of growing up.” Blaise resumed stroking Malfoy’s hair. “Everyone’s waiting on you.”

“I’ll make sure you get on with it soon after you leave,” Malfoy promised.

There was a pause in which Blaise’s eyebrows rose lazily. Malfoy pushed himself off him and reclined on his pillow, keeping his gaze fixed into his book. Blaise recognized a dismissal when he heard one.

“I guess I’ll see you when I see you,” Blaise sighed, quirking his eyebrows again. He seemed exhausted by what had just happened, as though it was not the first time such a fallout between him and Malfoy had occurred.

“Right,” Malfoy replied shortly. As soon as the door shut after Blaise, Malfoy released a soft cluck of expectation. Then he threw the book he had been reading across the bed as though his previous, more reserved gesture had done little to improve his temper. “Right cunt,” he spat.

Harry thought he would have reacted in very much the same way had Ron or Hermione spoken to him in the same way: Blaise had been downright patronizing to Malfoy, yet his words admittedly resonated with Harry; twice or thrice he had heard Parvati and Lavender chatting about the “potential” Malfoy had, though in terms of what Harry had not been able to guess. And a handful of times he and Ron have seen Hermione drawing a certain amount of satisfaction from retorting – after Malfoy called her a Mudblood or insulted Ron’s appearance or even his mother’s build – how something so pretty on the outside could be so ugly on the inside (Ron had simulated throwing up after this naturally). It was a valid and clever irony but it was still a reference to the apparently widely held observation, of which Harry had not been aware, that Malfoy did not seem to realize how good-looking he was, because if he did he would not act so childishly but as befitted his looks.

So did beautiful people act differently to ordinary-looking ones? This is what Harry thought Blaise was telling Malfoy.

“Merlin, I hate it when he does that,” seethed Malfoy. Evidently this was not the first one of Blaise’s talking-downs.

Harry bit his lip and thought. Now was a good time as any to reveal himself. Further, it was quiet, and Blaise was gone. Hopefully there would be no more interruptions.

Meanwhile Malfoy had collected his book and walked over to the escritoire on the facing Harry. He only noticed it now, as well as what looked like a calendar hanging on the wall above it, and the tall bookstand beside the table. As he watched Malfoy bending his neck over the book until the tall back of his chair swallowed him, arms folded in his determination to read away his temper, Harry dropped his Cloak and quietly crossed the floor towards him. Now that he was closer the calendar looked to be more likely a year planner for 1995, with little scribbles filling up some of the blocks. Harry dropped his gaze to the head of platinum-blond locks, looking at one lock curled around the nape of Malfoy’s neck...

“Malfoy.”

Stationery and book went flying in all directions when the Slytherin started and twisted around in his seat. There was a pause, filled by the sound of metal quills falling against the floor and the inkwell rolling against the wood of the escritoire.

Malfoy’s bulging eyes slowly gave Harry a once-over. Harry commended Malfoy for not freaking out the moment he laid eyes on him this time around.

“Potter,” Malfoy said in a soft, incredulous whisper. But then his voice rose to full volume. “How the fuck did you get here?”

“I flew.”

“I--” Malfoy’s jaw hung. He seemed not to have expected an answer, let alone the one he had received. “You flew?” His silver eyes darted about the room as he leant against the escritoire behind him.

“Yeah. From Hogwarts. Look Malfoy, you see this?” Harry came closer to Malfoy and dangled his Time-Turner in front of his wide eyes. “See, they’re hourglasses - it’s a Time-Turner. I can travel through time with it, and I used it to go back to the past to save you.”

Malfoy remained quiet for a few moments, his eyes darting between Harry’s face and the Time-Turner. Without speaking he rose from his chair.

“You’re trespassing on private property.”

“Oh don’t give me this bollocks again,” Harry said exasperatedly. “I’ve heard it before. Then you call for your mother to tell her there’s a trespasser in the house. Look, Malfoy, I’ve seen this happen once. I try to tell you that your friend kills you in the future but you go ahead and--” Malfoy cut across him.

“My friend tries to kill me?” he asked, wildly incredulously.

“Yeah,” Harry answered, after a moment. He thought of any other way he could have broken the news more subtly but was unable to come up with one, for the news was simply that shocking; there was simply no reducing it and no kind way of saying it. Harry was used to this disbelief so he rushed onwards as Malfoy continued to stare at him in incredulous silence.

“Yeah, he does, Malfoy, please believe me! I wouldn’t risk my freedom breaking into the Ministry to steal this!” He jerked the Time-Turner in his hand. He bent down to better fix his sincere gaze on Malfoy. “Blaise kills you and then his friends stuff you in a cupboard in the classroom on the seventh floor -- I see them doing it.”

A frown developed on Malfoy’s brow. He fixed his posture and then dropped back into his chair. His eyes slowly scanned Harry from the shoe up. “So you’re from the future and you’ve come to warn me that Blaise is going to kill me?”

“Yes,” Harry answered desperately. This calm reserve was the most rational reaction he had received so far.

“Blaise can be a right cunt sometimes but he’s not capable of that.”

It was Harry’s turn to drop his jaw. “He is! I told you I personally saw him do it!”

“Potter,” Malfoy began, folding his arms and tilting his head sideways curiously, “do you know much in deep shite you’re in right about now. You’re standing in Malfoy Manor. You’re not allowed to be here. I don’t care about your story or what you’ve got to say. You’re speaking rubbish and I want you out of my room right now or I am calling mother.”

Harry closed his eyes. He stood still and thought, feeling the current of his frustration coursing through him. He wanted to keep his temper, not give Malfoy a reason to react adversely, more so than he had already done. He opened his eyes. His restraint from strangling Malfoy and screaming at him how stupid he was caused him to bite down on his jaw. But he took a deep breath, paused for a second, and then said, “Do you have an Owlery? Or somewhere owls--”

“What’s that go to do with the fact that you need to get out of here or there will be serious trouble?” Malfoy snapped, glaring at Harry.

Harry kept calm. He could not believe he was trying to save this idiot’s life. “Just tell me and I will leave.”

Malfoy watched him closely, chin clenched in distrust and stubbornness. But then he said, “Yeah we do, on the roof on the southwest corner.”

Harry did not know what he just heard meant but he nevertheless replied, “Thanks. I’ll go.”

“Thank you,” Malfoy replied tartly.

A bone rippled along Harry’s jaw. He made his way to the door, but for the life of him he could not help himself. “I suggest you take the words of your trusty friend to heart: grow up, and maybe you’ll live to see another birthday.” With those words he shut the door behind him. That he knew his words were no less childish did not lessen the satisfaction he drew from them.

However, he felt very much childish with the realization that he was walking along a corridor inside Malfoy Manor in plain sight. His heart leapt into his throat as turned around and shot through the door, finding Malfoy bent over and studying his Invisibility Cloak.

“Gimme that!” he said, now officially panicking.

Malfoy rose with the Cloak in his hand and looked from it to Harry. “It’s an Invisibility Cloak, isn’t it?” he demanded. There was a wild, greedy look in his eyes to which Harry was quite used.

“Yeah,” Harry replied as he drew his wand. “You can give it back now.”

Malfoy looked startled at the wand trained at him. His eyes moved from the wand, to Harry, to the Cloak in his hand, and back at Harry. Harry knew what was coming.

“MOTH--!”

Stupefy!

Mid-scream Malfoy tilted and slammed onto the floor. Harry stamped over to him. “Fuckin’ git, I’m trying to save your life!” he shouted. He ripped his Cloak from Malfoy’s hand, threw it on, and crouched out of the room.

He was halfway down the corridor when he had lost enough steam to resume coherent thinking. Trying to convince Malfoy as Harry Potter was not succeeding. He had to get closer to him.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Are heroes corruptible? Harry returns to Hogwarts after Voldemort's return. He suffers horrible nightmares, but when one turns particularly savage, he discovers on his map something curious at night, and something
deadly on a perfect Sunday.


PLEASE REVIEW!

Chapter 10

The Taming of the Snake

This was the second time Harry had shown himself to lack foresight. He had thought of catching a wandering house-elf and kindly asking if it would point him in the direction of the Owlery, which would require he reveal himself. But this went into a large repository of boyish deficiencies of which Harry was or was not aware.

He was tempted to head back to Malfoy’s room, collect the occupant, and Imperius him, after which he demanded the Slytherin show him where the Owlery was. But Harry was almost certain his execution of such an Unforgivable curse would garner Ministry attention. He had not been in enough wizarding dwellings to know if wards were a permanent fixture of them or only some. Harry made up his mind quickly and nevertheless turned around and returned to the bedroom.

Removing his cloak, he bent low to Malfoy, whose face was still in the middle of shouting for his mother, lifted his spell, and quickly muttered a Silencing Charm to strangle off the continuing yell. Malfoy began to struggle in his shock at finding himself suddenly staring at the ceiling from the floor and being Silenced without warning. Harry tried to hold him down and quickly yelled, “Imperio!

The Slytherin ceased attempting to get on his feet, his grip on Harry loosened, and all the stress in his face cleared. Left behind was a surreal expression, its silver eyes sparkling in oblivion even brighter, like the huge, glossy orbs of an elf reflecting a starry sky. Such were the consequences of being taught by an ex-Auror who had a shaky grip on the concept of reason and performed all three illegal curses to a fourth-year class.

Harry half-heartedly waved his hand in front of him. Malfoy did not follow it. Harry sheepishly hauled the other boy up onto his feet.

“Malfoy,” he said, “can you hear me?” He was still hesitant to let go of the boy lest he collapse back onto the floor.

“Yes,” Malfoy answered, taking Harry aback slightly. Malfoy moved his eyes onto Harry’s, though they were still defocused.

“Okay,” Harry said, thinking fast. “Does anything happen if you cast a curse in this place?”

Malfoy did not answer.

“I mean,” continued Harry, who correctly suspected his question was unclear, “what happens when you cast an Unforgivable? Are there wards here that detect them or mask them or what?”

Malfoy shook his head. “The manor is not connected to the outside because of the wards. No one will know if you cast an Unforgivable.”

Harry nodded. “Okay. Um...” He looked about himself, still holding onto Malfoy needlessly. “Show me to the Owlery.”

Without another word, Malfoy gently went around Harry towards the door. Harry followed him after grabbing his Cloak from the floor and putting it on. They must have crossed the entire manor; Harry did not know one could do this much travelling in a closed structure ostensibly serving the purpose of a house. Staying on the upper floor, they approached the west wing and arrived in a small room the size of a single bedroom with a patina of hay on the floor littered with bird droppings. The two other walls furthest from the door had tall, slender gaps opening to the outside out of the manor, and in the place of their corner was a dark square opening which presumably allowed the owls entry. Two ceramic tubs filled with water sat on top of the two banks against the two longest walls. Sprinkled directly on the banks was what Harry presumed to be owl food.

Harry closed the door behind them and took off his Cloak.

“This is it.”

“Yes,” Malfoy answered, again unexpectedly to Harry.

“Right,” Harry said, looking around, “now I know where it is. I’m gonna have to start softening you up before I can tell you about Blaise ‘cause you won’t believe me. I need to be your friend first, start sending some owls, we go back and forth. I apologize for being a twat even though you pushed me there. You certainly deserved getting turned into a giant slug for what you said about Cedric... I’m gonna pretend I’m sending Hedwig from Ron’s...” Harry’s heart sank. “...It’s going to take forever to do this... Isn’t there another way...?”

Again, Malfoy spoke when Harry was not expecting it, for his question had been the result of him thinking aloud.

“There is,” Malfoy said quietly, looking straight ahead at the opposite wall. “You could use a FlooPort. There is one in my room.”

“A what?” Harry asked.

“A FlooPort – Feidhelm FlooPorts. You use them to communicate like you would in a normal Floo call and you can send stuff instantly to someone who has one.”

Harry ogled at Malfoy. “I’ve never heard of them.”

Malfoy said nothing.

“Why haven’t I heard of them?” Harry asked, his lips twitching. He was getting the hang of this.

“They’re generally used by organizations or businesses. You also find them in large homes like castles or manor houses.”

“I see,” Harry said. “I didn’t see one in your room though, whatever it looks like.” Harry shortly clucked at himself in annoyance. “Why didn’t I see one in your room?”

“The FlooPorts in the manor are concealed by magic because they look like toilet basins except that they are in the bedroom.”

“All right,” Harry said vaguely, a little taken aback.

Malfoy said communication and sending stuff by this FlooPort required the recipient to have one as well, and the Burrow, as far as Harry knew, did not. Just when there was hope of a faster correspondence it was dashed. For Merlin knew he did not have time on his hands: the timeline he had left behind still persisted, which meant Malfoy’s parents were probably already at Hogwarts being shown the body of their dead son, the Ministry had arrested Blaise and perhaps bundling him off to Azkaban, and Dumbledore was still planning to resign from the headmaster position. Sending owls back and forth across such great distances was going to take forever. And knowing how much Malfoy despised him, their correspondence would either be an unhelpfully very long one or a very short one, the latter prospect possibly ending in a rude owl communicating a message to the effect of “go the fuck away”.

But just as he had lost nearly all hope, in a moment of shining beauty, he experienced another stroke of genius.

“Are there any more FlooPorts in the manor?” he asked Malfoy breathlessly.

“Yes,” Malfoy answered. Harry’s heart soared. “There’re twenty-one FlooPorts in the manor.”

“Okay,” said an extremely relieved Harry. “Can you send an owl--I mean, you know, a message between them? And can you know if--Okay, answer that first one.”

“Yes.”

“And can you know if it’s sent from a FlooPort in the same manor, or building or whatever?”

“No.”

“Brilliant!” Harry rejoiced. “So there’re FlooPorts in every room?”

“Yes.”

“Absolutely brilliant!” And Harry knew the perfect place from which to send his messages. Standing in high spirits, he said, a little wonderingly, “Okay, I guess I’ll need some ink and parchment. Is there ink and parchment in the room opposite yours?” he asked.

“No.”

“Can you get me some?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” Harry made to turn around and open the door when he noticed Malfoy had not moved. He stared at the silver-blond locks falling on the back of the peacock-blue shirt. “Oh, right. I mean, get me some ink and--Fuckin’ hell, never mind, I’ll take some from yours. Let’s go.”

He threw his Cloak back on, opened the door, and after Malfoy went passed him stepped outside. He followed the Slytherin back to the other side of the manor into his room. There, while Malfoy hovered by his door like a stranger in his own room, Harry picked up the metal quills which had fallen to the floor when he startled Malfoy and took one, grabbed a greedy amount of parchment sheets from the drawer in Malfoy’s escritoire (for he did not know how many messages it would take to convince Malfoy that he was ‘truly’ sorry for being a git to him -- even though Malfoy had been a bigger git to him), as well as the extra glass inkwell he found in there.

“Okay, Malfoy.” Harry bundled up the stationery in his arms and pushed the drawer closed with his thigh, as though he were so comfortable in a foreign place. He looked around the room. “Um... You’re going to sit over here...” he ordered, looking at the tall-backed chair, before he cursed softly and corrected himself. “Sit in his chair and... read that book.” He ran out into the room opposite Malfoy’s, went over to the escritoire, dropped the items, and just as he turned around to head for the door his stomach gave a vociferous growl. Harry grimaced. Now that things were much calmer and he had the peace of mind that came with a plan, his adrenaline had subsided, uncovering his hunger in the process. He had not eaten since supper in the Great Hall Saturday yesterday, and he had not slept either.

He returned to Malfoy’s room and found Malfoy bent over his book, arms folded. Harry felt a pang of guilt and disgust with himself for using the Imperius Curse to control Malfoy. He looked so obedient. It was unnatural, both for the fact that it was achieved by an Unforgivable and that Malfoy would never have obeyed or even listened to him, let alone so unquestioningly.

“Malfoy...” The Slytherin stopped reading and turned to him. “...Can I get--I mean, get me some, um, food…” Harry blushed at the directness of his order. He felt as crass as a belly-scratching, beer-tossing husband who had arrived from work and ordered his wife to serve him like a king while he was sunken into the couch. The readiness with which Malfoy stood up worsened his flush to a screaming scarlet. This was wrong.

“Can’t you, like, um...” Harry flustered. “You’re going to walk all the way to the kitchen?” Which he suspected was as far from here as the Owlery, perhaps even below it on the lower floor. “Can’t you call a house-elf? What’s her name, Mickey?”

“I can,” Malfoy answered.

“Okay, call her. Let me get under my Cloak. And don’t say the food’s for me... Um... are you hungry too?”

“No. I’m thirsty.”

“Okay, get yourself a drink and I’ll take a meal. Say the food’s for you, yeah?”

“Yes.”

Harry sighed as for the umpteenth time he threw on his Cloak before going over to sit at the bottom of the edge of the bed, away from potential movement. When he felt secure, he commanded, “Okay, call her.”

“Meeky.”

POP!

“Meeky is being glad to be serving Master Draco,” squeaked the elf. Harry spied a frown twitching on her forehead mostly likely when she noticed that her master was not all there.

“Get me some food and a drink,” Malfoy ordered.

There was a slight pause of astonishment before Meeky responded with, “As Master Draco wishes.” With these words, she disappeared.

Harry sighed under his Cloak. Though the danger was gone he still could not risk taking off his Cloak -- he did not know how long it would take to prepare the food.

Not long, it turned out, and Harry had been prudent remaining hidden. Meeky returned in less than ten minutes, carrying a tray.

Harry began with his lunch quite self-consciously; he had Malfoy bent under his will and was eating in his room. He also felt really awkward being the only one to eat while Malfoy in a subdued fashion sipped at whatever it was he was sipping.

“What’s that you’re drinking?” Harry asked, taking another greedy bite of his smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich. He forced the mouthful down.

“Cider,” Malfoy answered.

Harry nodded, taking another huge effort to swallow. So dry was his full mouth that the very sight of Malfoy meekly sipping his cider had even taken an erotic turn.

“What does it taste like?”

Once again Harry was appalled with himself when it came to communicating with an Imperiused person whose cognisance was in some ways reduced. By the questioned he had posed he had intended to imply to Malfoy his desire to have a sip. Honestly a lot more than a sip.

“Apple juice.”

“Oh.” Harry munched on morosely. When he brought up his hand for another bite he noticed a grey tinge to the tip of his finger. He wondered when he had last held a pencil and its lead might have rubbed off on him. Then again he had not washed for more than a day.

“So, how do you reveal a FlooPort?” he enquired.

“The universal counter spell.”

“Finite Incantatem?”

“Yes.”

“So with a spell,” Harry observed. “Do they stay concealed forever?”

“Most of the FlooPorts in the manor aren’t used, so yes, they stay concealed forever.”

Harry’s eyebrows shot to his hairline. “But...” Harry began, frowning, struggling for words slightly. “...How can they last forever? I mean, I think unlocking charms and small spells like that can last forever or a long time or whatever but... what about these big spells?” Harry very much felt like an outsider now, wading through darkness. He figured if he had been raised in the Wizarding world he would have a better grip on these matters of magic.

“Spells cast don’t last forever,” Malfoy replied, “but can last for a long time depending on their complexity and the size of their object.” Was it Harry or did Malfoy sound more intelligent when he was Imperiused? “Unless one uses Netrogy. Then the spell can last forever.”

Harry remembered this term when Malfoy referred to it in his nauseating conversation with Blaise. Suddenly he had no desire to know more beyond what he had already learned; he did not want to touch any part of Malfoy and Blaise’s conversation. Firstly, he felt that Blaise had taken the novelty out of it and Harry would feel like sloppy seconds. And most importantly, he despised anything that had to do with or reminded him of Blaise Zabini.

“So where are they in a room?” he asked.

“Right next to the escritoire, on the side away from the door.”

Harry nodded. He glanced at Malfoy’s cider again. When the level in his glass began dropping alarmingly towards the bottom, Harry forced his sensibilities aside and mustered the courage to ask Malfoy if he could spare some for him. Malfoy, damned be Harry, unquestioningly agreed. After he wolfed down the sandwiches he gulped down the drink and thanked Malfoy. It only then occurred to him that he could have ordered Malfoy to ask his elf for another glass and would not have to share a glass, but that would have wasted time and called for to put on his Cloak, of which he was growing quickly tired.

He ordered Malfoy to resume reading, threw back on his Cloak, walked out the room, and with the door ajar, lifted the Imperius Curse. He quickly withdrew his wand and scuttled into the opposite room. He locked the door, grabbed the stationery off the table and time-travelled with them under his Cloak back to the time just before Blaise would walk in.

He waited for Blaise’s footsteps, hearing them several minutes later announcing his arrival. In just about the same time Blaise’s footsteps sounded again, moving away from Malfoy’s room after their owner pissed off Malfoy for talking down to him. Harry sat at the escritoire sandwiched between an empty bookstand on the left and the concealed FlooPort on his right, and began drafting a letter addressed to Draco Malfoy.

Most importantly he needed to be believable. An apology and extended friendship of all things coming straight out of the blue would not seem plausible to Malfoy. A letter from Harry Potter in and of itself knocked any plausibility in its contents. So he needed to start small and slow. Harry twirled the quill in his hands, thinking hard, biting the corner of his lower lip.

“Okay,” he said softly to himself, as he dipped his quill into the inkwell. Five seconds later he begged of himself, “Harry, are you serious?” before scratching out the few lines he had penned (which included “Dear Malfoy”). As if. He began afresh. He noticed that the grey tinge on his index finger had spread further down and had also tainted the tip of his fourth finger. Harry was floored. Was his Cloak washing out?

It took another few minutes to arrive at the conclusion that he needed a reason to reach out to Malfoy which he would believe. He had to also keep in mind the letter would arrive between the end of fourth-year and the start of term, and after the return of his father’s master.

It took half an hour to come up with four lines with which he was satisfied and which he thought could begin to open the conversation between school rivals:

Malfoy,

I’m writing this letter to you because I want to start afresh. I just want to forget all the bollocks that has happened between us, there’s no need for it. We’re bloody fifth-years now, Malfoy, we need to grow up. It was a long time ago that moment in the train. But I apologize for being so blunt with you then and turning down your friendship. I should have been more understanding and open to things.

Sincerely,

Potter

It was minimal and utilitarian, but it would have to do -- Harry had no time to waste. He knew the bit about being open to his friendship was utter codswallop because before Malfoy offered him his friendship in first year he had referred derogatively to Ron as the “riff-raff” sort, and by then Harry had grown fond of Ron, having shared Chocolate Frogs with him while Ron repayed with a few titbits about the Wizarding world.

After folding the sheet of parchment and tearing off the inked piece, he went over to the stretch of wall between the escritoire and doorway leading into the bathroom. “Finite Incantatem,” he intoned, whereupon there appeared a gilded object standing three feet above the floor and resembling almost perfectly a basin, even with a drain though it was one large hole. Directly above it was a neat square depression into the wall. On the floor of this chamber lay logs. The features of the FlooPort were quite self-explanatory.

One thing that was not, however, was how to make sure the letter arrived at the right person.

Harry looked around the object. There were no controls, just a golden bowl with a gaping hole in the centre asking to be fed.

“Um...” Harry floundered. Of course he had grown less self-conscious speaking to inanimate things like this FlooPort, as he had been throwing passwords at Dumbledore’s gargoyle for years. The Fat Lady was of course far from inanimate. If only.

“Malfoy’s room? Malfoy’s room.” Immediately after he spoke authoritatively red sparks gently shot up out of the drain. This was too positive a sign to deem nothing. It must have been a kind of confirmation.

Harry bet his life on it and, licking his lips nervously, dropped the folded letter into the drain, which sucked it down impatiently. A soft puff of blue sparks shot upwards this time, as though the drain was burping. This brought Harry confidence.

“There you are.”

What was left now was for Malfoy to be as easily agreeable as this FlooPort.

The loud and undoubtedly incredulous yell of “Ha!” that came a few seconds later from the other room dashed this possibility. Harry had not planned to do this but he could not resist taking his Cloak and flying out the room. To his dismay Malfoy’s door in this timeline was closed. Harry hesitated for a moment but he threw caution to the wind and he opened the door and slipped inside. Malfoy was still so deep in his rapt disbelief he had not seen the door swing open and continued to gape at the letter in his hand. It seemed he was reading it over several times, and the amused disbelief in his face never cleared.

“This is amazing,” he said, in a high voice. He hastily threw himself onto his chair, slipped a sheet of parchment out from his drawer, grabbed a quill, dunked in his inkwell, and began scribbling down a message. Judging by the time he took it was fairly short, and that did not bode well for Harry, who crouched back into the opposite room over to the FlooPort and fished out the note.

He had expected it, but he still sighed in disappointment. Oh yes, this was going to be a long and bruising undertaking.

Potter,

I have to say I’m shocked you can afford such quality parchment and to gain entry in a place with a FlooPort. Or did you break into it and the owners not only turned a blind eye but kissed your arse for good measure? What makes you think I’m interested in starting afresh with you?

--Malfoy,

You’ll be surprised. I’m loaded; I have a lot of money left to me by my parents--

Referring to his parents, he thought, was begging for a stinging retort from Malfoy. Harry was beginning to do something he thought was going to be necessary: he had to think for Malfoy and direct him away from his classic reactions, thereby easing the exchange and giving more room for at least cordial if not even reconciliatory tones.

And no, no one kissed my ass. I’d like to remain a virgin in that way--

“Oh fuck no.” Harry blushed, moving down to the clean portion of parchment below. “Um...” He tapped his foot.

---Malfoy,

You’ll be surprised. I’m loaded; I have a lot of money left over to me. And no, nobody kissed my ass because I never broke into any place...

“Accept for the Ministry of course,” he said.

...Because you need to get over yourself, Malfoy. I said I was sorry, what more do you want? I want things to become fine between us, even become friends. Malfoy, I’m so over the shit between us. There are bigger things to focus on right now. I’m sorry for what I said about your mother. I’m sorry for turning down your hand in friendship. That’s all I can do for now.

He caught Malfoy back in his room in the middle of a wheeze sounding like it were from a dying man, or a man dying from laughter.

“This -- is -- simply amazing!” he exclaimed. “Potter, are you kidding me? Are you seriously shitting me? He can’t be serious...” He reached over for his quill.

You sound like you’re dying, Potter. I supposed that’s right -- the Dark Lord has returned after all. Is that why you’re trying to make amends? You want to leave this earth with everything in order?

Harry’s head fell against the escritoire. He needed a miracle.

I’m not preparing for anything. I just want to settle things with you.

--What’s in it for me?

I don’t know. I’m prepared to do anything reasonable to show you how serious I am with you.

--You must be having me on. I am stupid to even let our correspondence continue up to this point. Allow me to get this straight. You, Harry Potter, snottiest, most obnoxious git ever to touch this earth whose arse everyone likes to kiss and who has made it a habit to embarrass me in front of the entire school, is sorry and wants to be my friend.

Yes.

--Fuck off.

“Dammit, Malfoy!” Harry growled, glaring at the note as he stood in front of the FlooPort. If he were honest with himself Malfoy’s resistance was not surprising, but its strength not entirely expected. He ran through his previous notes to Malfoy in his head and concluded he was perhaps coming too forward, too strongly, too impatiently at Malfoy. It was only justified: he had no time. He went to his last resort.

Tell me what to do to show you I’m serious.

He stomped over to Malfoy’s room under his Cloak to watch his reaction. Malfoy read the letter repeatedly, biting his nail, staring at it. Harry could tell his brain was working furiously. Several minutes later Malfoy bent over his escritoire and took his quill.

You’re serious about making it up to me? Tell me how you got away with half of the things you’ve done at Hogwarts.

---Luck, Hermione, and a good concealment charm...

Harry looked at his note. He was hesitant to put “and my trusty Invisibility Cloak” for he could not be more certain Malfoy would have it in his mind to at some point demand it or use it as leverage. But he was desperate. Perhaps he should give it up -- it would doubtlessly go a long way in convincing Malfoy of his earnestness though it would leave him, Harry, frighteningly vulnerable. It was worth the risk, he concluded, after thinking for a while.

---A great deal of luck, Hermione, and my trusty Invisibility Cloak.

That’s it? Were Dumbledore and your Head of House McGonagall colluding with you?

---Of course they weren’t, they’re professors. And my Cloak did get me into the Restricted Section in first year, snuck me into Hogsmeade in third year, I saw the dragons I had to beat for its egg in the Triwizard Tournament in fourth year before the competition, and I snuck into the Department of Mysteries in the Ministry of Magic.

That’s bollocks. I can see the Triwizard Tournament and the Restricted Section, but the actual Ministry of Magic? You broke into the Ministry? Now I know you’re yanking me.

---I’m not lying. I got into the Time Room.

The “Time Room”? Sounds like something I could find in a mo’strip if I was juvenile enough to buy one.

---I don’t know what a mo’strip and I don’t know if that’s what it is – it could be the “Clock Room”. But there is a room with all these sorts of clocks and watches, and at the back is this huge bell jar the size of the Entrance Hall doors. There were other rooms I saw too because before I got into that room with the clocks you get into this chamber that has twelve doors and spins and leads you to a different room each time. There was one with a tank full of brains. It just fits, doesn’t it? That kind of room to be in the Department of Mysteries? A lot of people don’t know about it because Ron says his father calls the people that work down there the Unspeakables.

Wait, I’m asking Mother.

She said it’s highly likely; the Ministry is known to experiment with a few wild things. Right, Potter, you said you’d do anything. It seems like your Cloak is a little bit stronger than anybody else’s -- of course you know Invisibility Cloaks are everywhere, almost every student at Hogwarts has one. Unfortunately they’re not very good and they can’t do a lot of stuff we’d like to them to do. I want yours -- and don’t even think of copying it -- it will lose some of its power.

Harry’s spirits unexpectedly lifted at those last words. It had not occurred to him that he could simply copy the Cloak, and he was familiar with the idea as it had come up when he, Ron, and Hermione were brainstorming ideas to bypass Ministry building security measures. His confidence in the immense power of his Cloak has never been greater – it had got him this far – and even after duplicating it he was sufficiently sure the resultant Cloak would still be quite powerful, provided that a decline in quality due to the duplication of an object was proportional. Without wasting another minute he took his Cloak from the escritoire and copied it successfully. He thought it a nice touch to show hesitation.

Malfoy, you have to promise to give it back.

---You’re kidding me. I’m not giving it back. You can buy a new one at Zachary’s. It might be weaker but it’s still an Invisibility Cloak. Unless you can afford the better ones at Maserow. Unfortunately they’re only complementary and go with some garment your friend Weasley couldn’t afford even if he pooled his entire lifesavings.

I got it from my father -- it’s an heirloom. I want it back.

---Tough luck, Pottyhead.

Harry waited several minutes pacing in his room with a smirk on his face. It had to seem like he was thinking very long on it. Afterwards he threw the Cloak copy into the FlooPort, which sucked it in like a noodle with no accompanying letter for dramatic effect.

Now I know you’re shitting me. You wouldn’t give this up if it was really an heirloom. Either you’re lying about that or you’ve had me on all this time.

---Malfoy, can’t you for once take something for what it exactly is? I gave you my Invisibility Cloak, what more do you want? Fine. I thought I could convince you down the line to give it back when we’re less of enemies.

Harry was no longer running between rooms to catch Malfoy’s reaction, he was getting tired and he was flirting with danger after Malfoy began shutting his door. Once the Slytherin had summoned Meeky to ask her if she had tampered with it.

Right. Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you when term starts. This is going to be a different story altogether when we see each other then. It’ll sort of be like being Obliviated and starting clean.

---It doesn’t have to be. We’ll know where we stand. We’re on a clean slate, yeah?

What made you just do an about flip like this?

---I told you I am tired of bullshit. And yes, fine, nearly dying by Voldemort’s wand has something to do with it. I’ve no need to lie to you.

Tell me what happened when you say you nearly died by the Dark Lord’s wand.

The curiosity was unmistakable in these words, and Harry rather suspected Malfoy found he could not ask the question or say something that would garner a response from Harry about that perilous night without betraying his curiosity, and so simply chose to put aside pretence and ask the question directly.

If you want to know then promise me you will at least consider giving my Cloak back.

---Fine.

The Triwizard Cup that we had to win by going through that ridiculous maze was a Portkey. It was made into one by Barty Crouch Jnr. He had fooled everyone into thinking he was Mad-Eye Moody. Remember the hip flask he was always sipping from? It was filled with Polyjuice Potion, not Firewhiskey. So me and Cedric claimed the Cup at the same time so we could draw but it took us to this graveyard. Wormtail --- Peter Pettigrew, one of Voldemort’s people --- roped me against a tombstone and took my blood and his and used it to make a potion that revived Voldemort. After he was revived we duelled. I was able to pull out and reach for the Portkey and go back to Hogwarts with Cedric’s body.

The words he had written sent chills down his spine. It would be the first time he spoke to anyone about that night. He was in more than half a mind to crush the parchment and tell Malfoy to fuck off and not intrude in such personal matters. But his selfishness would be unhelpful -- Malfoy did not need it, he was trying to save. Still, his hand was shaking from giving the awful memory in his head such physical form. Without rising from his chair he threw the note into the FlooPort quickly before he could change his mind.

Merlin, Potter...

Harry snorted. This was a positive sign, however: Malfoy was at a point where he was showing emotion, this one being incredulity, and divesting pretence.

Harry did not receive a note for the five minutes that followed. He decided he would not push things but allow Malfoy to come to him. Harry needed to go delicately about things, after having slipped and made a few rash actions before. They would be forgiven if the signs were anything to go by. Malfoy seemed poised to inquire more and open up a bit more. Should he express curiosity for Malfoy’s life as Malfoy had in his? Probably, but he thought he should still wait for Malfoy to make the next move.

An hour passed. Harry’s calm was disrupted by his heightening anxiety over what Malfoy was thinking or doing. Perhaps he should have continued the communication and asked Malfoy how rich his family was exactly, or something like that. What if Malfoy came into this room under his new Cloak and discovered him? What if Malfoy suddenly realized Harry was playing a huge joke on him and he and his poor friend and Mudblood friend were having a really good laugh at his expense? Harry had reached for the quill when the drain of the FlooPort spat out of a note. He unfolded it quickly -- his heart stuck in his throat -- and read it.

Was the great Harry Potter scared shitless?

It brought a smile to Harry’s face.

Quite.

---What does he look like?

First, tell me exactly how rich you are. I can only tell from your dragon-hide school shoes that ring on your finger, and those sets of brooms your father brought the Slytherin team in second year.

---Have no idea. Father only says we get richer by the day.

Fuck me. You’re lying.

---I don’t need to lie. How rich are YOU? You say you inherited it.

I saw the fortune in my Gringotts vault. You know I was not raised in the Wizarding world so I can’t gauge how much it was. I think even if I had an idea of Wizarding money I still wouldn’t give a good guess.

---Just one vault? You can’t be that rich then. And you’re still speaking of vaults?

It was a pretty big vault.

---Land, Potter, that’s all I’ve got to say. Land. The big money is the money you cannot see -- it floats, it’s in assets. For your own good I suggest you toil away because your small fortune (and there wasn’t a finer truth) is not going to last forever.

I suppose.

---Father says the lower classes say we have purple money, the old money of the nobles.

These words sounded like bragging; Malfoy had definitely loosened up. Harry had certainly never heard him brag about his family’s riches at Hogwarts. Perhaps it had been a cardinal rule not to break.

Right. So where do you live?

---Wiltshire. The manor is Unplottable, which means you can’t find it on any map. There are only a handful of people who know where it is. Where do YOU live? Do you living permanently in the Wizarding world or only come back for school?

I come back for school. If not I stay at Ron’s. Are you a virgin?

---Potter, that is hardly an appropriate question to ask.

Virgin then.

---Fool yourself. I’ve had my fair share.

I doubt it. Hermione says you have no hope in hell for bagging a skirt because you’re too busy being obsessed with me.

Oh Harry would kill to see Malfoy’s reaction to this one. Unfortunately his door was closed, and should it open itself for the third time it would break the camel’s back.

Your Mudblood friend doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

The shortness of the note told Harry Malfoy was looking to hurt him in a tart, incisive way: classic Malfoy. He would not bite.

It’s what everyone says, really. Parvati and Lavender -- you know those two girls who can’t keep their mouths shut for the life of them -- say it’s like...

Harry bit onto his fist.

...the whole school is waiting for you to mature or whatever so you can stop obsessing over me and get on with shagging them.

He did not receive a note for the rest of the day.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Harry hurtles through timelines to try to save Malfoy's life after a friend turns on him. But Harry did not expect certain developments between them, and he soon finds he has bitten more than he can chew. HPDM. AU OotP.


Chapter 11

Quill Confidant

Harry surmised the correspondence had stopped when it needed to. For he did not want to try to rush the progression, lest Malfoy one day sit and think back and conclude Harry was pulling a fast one on him. That was for the moment Harry’s biggest, keeping the facade intact, with no chinks in plausibility. So a large part of him did not mind that he had half the day to do nothing but stare out of the window up at the foreboding line of tall trees whose collective canopy watched balefully over the manor.

For the sixtieth time he glanced at his wristwatch, watching time crawling forward. He had timed his arrival into his current timeline so that his watch matched the time of the timeline he left behind. So it really was 17:42, only seven days behind. He perhaps should have thought through his prospective stay at Malfoy Manor a little bit more and brought along his Quidditch Through the Ages book... even his textbooks would be better than this endless brood-inducing stretch of hours until the next day when he could resume sending notes to and receiving them from Malfoy, and further progress to a stage when Malfoy was in a frame of mind to consider inviting him over to the manor. It was at this point that Harry thought he could tactfully begin turning Malfoy against Blaise. If not, then at least get himself closer to Malfoy to influence him accordingly.

The following hour found Harry bent over the escritoire, writing a note to Malfoy. He had given up and had succumbed to desperate measures. The only entertainment he could hope for was writing Malfoy and hopefully reading him, even after he likely pissed him off with his last note. The bookstand on his left had no books. The armoire he had earlier explored in his boredom was empty as well: the room was never inhabited..

I’m shocked you’ve never seen Voldemort. Isn’t your father in his army? I thought maybe he’d visit every once in a while or something.

He’s tall and very skinny and very pale, almost glowing-pale, and he has these snake-like red eyes.

Father never lets me attend me the meetings with.

Are you putting my Cloak to good use?

I don’t need to at home. Hogwarts is a different story.

Ah. So are you seeing anyone?

To set the record straight, I am NOT dating Pansy if you suspected that like the rest of the school. She’s vile. A good friend, but vile.

Fine. You haven’t answered the question.

Not at the moment. You? I know the Mudblood is taken by the Weasel. Oh I know, that other Weasley with the short temper? She kind of reminds me of you anyway.

I’m not dating Ginny. She’s pretty but she’s like family. I’m not seeing anyone.

Good to know.

Malfoy was not helping him. But he had to force the conversation further regardless..

What kind of music do you listen to?

Don’t listen to it much. Sometimes I takelisten to the gramophone.

What do you do for fun?

Do you want to come over here and see how I live my life? What is this, a Daily Prophet profile? Father wants me out of the papers, if you must know. Unless you were a reporter all along...

Please. I want nothing to do with the Daily Prophet.. At least we got rid of that foul Skeeter woman, but the Prophet isn’t necessarily better for it; no one knows still that Voldemort’s back.

Speaking of the Dark Lord, I could get into serious trouble if my father found out I’m talking to you. How do you think he’d take his son talking to the enemy?

I’m not YOUR enemy. Unless you want to join the Death Eater ranks. I might kill you at some point then, yeah.

What if I’m already a Death Eater?

I doubt it. I probably would’ve found out.

Really? How so exactly?

Oh let’s say Voldemort and I share a connection.

Of course you do. You’re both the subject of the legend of the Boy Who Lived. Is there anything else beyond that?

A lot. Don’t worry about it. Just know that I would probably -- I’m not saying I would surely know -- but big moments tend to cause a stir.

Right. Well if you aren’t going to talk I’m certainly not going to try clawing things out of you. You’re not really subtle with making a mystery of yourself.

I wasn’t trying to.

Of course not. I know how these things go -- I’ve been to enough brunches and banquets. I have an idea of the politics of an image.

Malfoy, I’m not trying to be fake here.

You’re certainly succeeding in doing it. I’m not curious enough about your life to dog the truth out of you.

Fine. Let’s move on. I actually would like to come over there and see how you live. I’m not a reporter though.

I don’t know. I think it’s early days for that. And I’m still trying to fathom that I am speaking to Harry Potter on a rational level.

See? Miracles happen! Let’s play a game of secrets: we both exchange things about the other he doesn’t know.

Pass?

No. What do you really think of me? I want you to be COMPLETELY honest. I want to start this properly, all of it.

Ah. Starting off with an easy one. Okay. Give me a minute to get my thoughts together.

Okay. While you’re getting them together, answer me this: why do you always have your hair gelled?

Because it’s convenient that way, I don’t have to stress about it.

Are you making it like that with magic? Is it a Glamour?

Yeah.

So what is your natural hair like? And are you really as pale as I’ve seen you at Hogwarts? That might be a Glamour too.

It’s white-blond, goes below my shoulders. For an apparently straight guy, Potter, you’re asking some really suspect questions. I’m really this pale and I suggest you shut it before I stop responding.

Why don’t you wear your hair like that then?

I told you because when it’s gelled it’s easier to manage. I don’t have to tuck it behind my ear or toss every so often like a girl. I can’t get my hair to behave like my father’s. He must be using some spell to control it like that too...

Ha-ha. So why don’t you ask him for that spell.?

He might not be using one. He doesn’t. It’s just that way.

There are a lot of guys with long hair and they’re not girly.

I bet they’re six feet tall, have a girl on their arm, and play to the “cool” crowd, no?

Oh so your issue is that with long hair you’d feel like a girl because you’re not as tall as the other blokes?

Something like that. Let’s move on, shall we?

No, I want to get to the bottom of this. So what if you’re four-and-a-half feet tall and have long hair? You’re still not a girl.

Potter, we are not discussing this topic any longer. Now you’re disrupting my thoughts-gathering.

Fine. I personally don’t find anything wrong if you had long hair. At least you won’t look like a bratty snob.

You should think about tidying yours up too. It looks likes it breathes. Try running a comb through once in a while. Unless you’re doing that whole just-got-of-a-broom windblown look to attract girls. Failingly, I might add.

You and I both know Harry Potter wouldn’t struggle to get girls. I don’t even have to try. But I don’t.

Yeah and every second word out of her mouth would be how amazing you are and that she’s read about you since she was a child and she loves legends and you’d not be the first one she’s shagged after the Weird Sisters. My guess is if you pick your dates from your current pool of admirers you’d have very little to chat about.

Point taken. Are you nearly done with your thoughts on me?

This is the only time I have ever thought about you so much, so enjoy and dispose after use. To be honest I cannot tell you how right furious I was when you brushed me off, not after I had looked forward to seeing you in person for so long. Yes, I did buy in your legend in spite of myself and in spite of my father telling me the opposite of what every book I’ve ever read talking about you said. I thought I had you in the bag. You were a legend and I was rich. We were going to make good friends. But of course this did not turn out to be. You pushed me aside for the likes of the Weasleys. I can’t tell you how insulted I felt. Luckily it happened in front of your friends and not mine. I would probably have duelled you right then to save face, and I probably would’ve won because I knew the basics already and everyone else was only going to learn them that year. To my horror you became even more of an obnoxious git. Somehow you managed to get away with every conceivable thing and the teachers just let you do it (at least I thought, and it was entirely unfair because we Slytherins had to contend with the preconceptions about us, so it was already hard to get away with things to begin with; only Snape understood us). So after you’ve embarrassed me countless times, what else could I think of you? I hated you with a passion.

To be fair you brought your embarrassment down on yourself - you kept getting in our way and staging those riveting monologues about Ron’s mother’s weight and stuff. You have to admit you had a hand in it.

Whatever, Potter. I want to know the real story behind the legend. What happened when the Dark Lord nearly killed you? Can you remember? You have to remember.

No I don’t. I just remember a green flash, which must have been the Killing Curse, and my mother screaming. She was trying to protect me but Voldemort killed her and then came over to me. I can’t remember what happens after the green flash.

Wow. And that’s how you got the scar? He tried to cast the Killing Curse on you but somehow it failed?

Yeah. Somehow.

So where did you grow up? There is hardly any news coverage about you after those first few years about the Dark Lord’s death.

I told you before that I lived in the Muggle bornworld and come back into the Wizarding world for school, so I stayed at my uncle’s -- still stay there. And Voldemort did not die. He said he was reduced to a ghost-like state, that he was just spirit and just roamed the forest of Albania for many years without a body.

Merlin, Potter, warn me before spooking me out like that, yeah? Not all of us are as fearless as you. Now every time I meet a ghost I’m going to think the Dark Lord.

Ha-ha sorry. Why don’t you call him Voldemort?

I can barely say that name.

Say it then.

No.

Why not?

No one ever does.

That’s how he stays scary. If you say the name he’ll become less scary.

I have no need not to fear him less. I should fear him more than any other person at Hogwarts -- my father works for him.

You’re afraid he might hurt him?

I don’t know. I think he already has...

How?

Well there were nights when he’d just return from wherever he was and he was shaking -- shaking like you’ve never seen a person shake. You could see his blue veins in his face, his eyes were bloodshot. I think the Dark Lord tortured him or something.

Maybe. Do you want to move on?

Yeah. What do you think of me?

The most infuriating, irritating, annoying human being I have ever met and existing on this planet.

That’s it? After I gave you two paragraphparagraphs?

I thought you were this heartless git with no blood in his body because you were so pale. You insulted people right in front of them like you had no soul. It wasn’t the first time I met a character like you -- Dudley isn’t any better a human being -- but you were the first one who used words and not fists to hurt. It’s safe to say I found out how much more painful words could be. I admit I hated you with a passion too. That glint in your eyes always said to me I needed to stop exactly where I was because you had set up a trap that would set off by my next step. I expected more words and more confrontation with you. It was really ugly. I had to agree with Hermione that how something so handsome could be so ugly on the outside.

Ew! The Mudblood said I was handsome?!

She actually said pretty.

Pretty?! You’re lying. You need to forget about that girly thing earlier.

She really said you were pretty but ugly on the outside. Of course she meant good-looking pretty, not as in girly-pretty -- that wouldn’t make sense -- you look nothing like a girl.

And I’d like to keep it that way with my gelled hair. So then we are on even grounds. We both thought the other was a git. End of story. Glad we have that out in the open.

You still sound like one now. Only sometimes.

I assure you I try my level best to. And in case you don’t recognize it that was sarcasm. See I know you’re thick but how thick I don’t know exactly.

I know sarcasm, thanks. And I know you worry about looking like a girl too. At times I thought about it, I must say.

Get off it, Potter. Trying to get back at me by hurting me with words ifis firstly unoriginal because apparently I coined that, and secondly it’s pathetic. Find a smarter way to feel better about yourself. Merlin, you’re still a git now. I guess one cannot take the git out of oneself. It’s incurable.

Harry knew he was lying in his next words, and the lie would seem to have some flesh as he had seen Malfoy in his natural state outside of Hogwarts, but Malfoy never played fair so why should he??

I was never on anything. I’m telling the truth. Think about it. A boy shorter than most of the third-years even with these rare grey eyes and this pale skin, and this skinny body and a ring on his finger, and the way he crosses his legs and folds his arms when he’s paying attention in class... Wouldn’t you start to figure?

What on earth is all of that got to do with anything? I HAVE to wear the ring! Grey eyes aren’t feminine! Pale skin isn’t feminine! Everything on that list isn’t the least bit feminine! And if you thought crossing your legs and feet areis feminine then I have a bridge I want to sell you! Do you come from the Black Ages or something?

I’m just saying all of those things add up to make this one grand picture and makes one think that it would not be surprising if you were gay, that’s all.

Oh I’m girly AND gay now? I think this conversation is over.

Be a man and take me on, Malfoy. I could be girly or gay too, you just have to find things about me.

I have neither the energy nor interest to point out feminine things about you because I have better things to do. Like sweeping some clouds.

Okay I’m sorry, I don’t really think you’re gay or girly. Those things I just was talking about, anybody could be feminine or gay if we were to go on them. People aren’t the same, you know? You need to explain to me what that means, “Sweeping some clouds.” I’ve also heard a few people at Hogwarts say something like, “Merlin, isn’t he the eighth sage,” or “He’s acting like he’s the eighth sage”.

I don’t think I’m feeling too charitable with wizard knowledge tonight. I feel for you – I really do. Does Weasley fill you in on some of these things? Or is he as useless as he is poor?

““Keep it together, Harry. Keep it moving,” Harry advised himself through clenched teeth..

He tells me about some of the stuff. I’m going to find out about these things either way, you know, even if you don’t tell me; I’m not going back to the Muggle world.

Unfortunately.

For some, yes.

Like myself.

Still?

You think us sending letters back and forth to each other is going to change things that much?

Don’t you at least hate me a little less? I do you. I’d die for you.

Harry snorted loudly to himself but remembered Malfoy was less than twenty metres away from him. Perhaps a bit too strong. It was technically true, however: if there arose a situation in which Malfoy’s life was in danger and sacrificing his life would save him definitely he would, as he would for his friends, a child, a woman, even a man he didn’t know. He did not think highly of himself but he honestly felt that he would not be able to do nothing if the situation arose. Unless he knew he could save more lives if he kept himself alive.

He had a sudden mental image of Voldemort casting a Killing Curse at Malfoy and he, Harry, was standing a foot away. Would he dive in front of Malfoy and take the curse? No, because Voldemort would kill countless more. The sacrifice was necessary for the greater good. What if a Slytherin had Malfoy standing at the edge of the ramparts on top of the Astronomy Tower? He would not hesitate to jump down after him and try to take all the impact of the fall and save Malfoy..

Right. Because you’re everyone’s hero. Not all of us ordered one. I’ll leave heroes in the mo’strips.

What’s a mo’strip?

I repeat: I don’t feel particularly charitable with wizarding knowledge tonight after you insulted my masculinity.

I’m sorry. I was just making a point.

Be honest. Would you really die for me?

Yes.

Why? After these letters?

I would do it anyway. I can’t stand there and watch someone die if I know I can save them. I’d try my best to save them. If that costs my life, so be it.

You can’t honestly believe that.

I do.

How cheaply you value your life. If only the Dark Lord knew he could spare you the torture of living.

I don’t want to die, believe me. But some of us do have hearts and care about other people. I’m sure you do too.

I’ve no need to.

Harry had tossed the letter aside, had dismissed it as another stormy flare from the nucleus of Malfoy’s closed-off heart, and had begun to write a reply. But he couldn’t help thinking deeper on it. He took it and stared at the words. Was Malfoy really this heartless? He had everything he needed. His future was probably guaranteed since, as he claimed before, his family was growing richer by the day. So did he have need for people? If not, what would be the reason to invest emotions in people, having sympathy, empathy and all those connective emotions if one had little incentive to? Was a person inherently good or did he have to be taught it in his upbringing? What isif the person was brought up with a cold grey-eyed Death Eater? It might be that Malfoy had never been more truthful with him than in these words. It might be Malfoy was not ready to be on a level of honesty that could show Harry he was not such a bad person as he would like people to think he was..

You don’t care about people?

I said I have no need to. Why care about them if it doesn’t bother you? If it doesn’t matter?

Do you want to marry one day?

I have to.

Why?

To keep the name live.

Harry shook his head in dismay. He could almost understand where Malfoy was coming from. But it was surely wrong to be this callous and devoid of emotion relative to other people. Then again, you are a pampered heir to a huge fortune; your marriage would only be an arrangement that would ensure the continued survival of the family name. There was hardly any reason for one to care about people. But didn’t Malfoy--Didn’t his parents have a moral centre, and passed it onto their kidskid? Was he reading too much into this??

Right. Do you have a pet besides your owl?

I wanted a pet python but Father wouldn’t let me have it. Draconis is not a pet, he’s just a delivery owl with a permanent home here.

Does he live in an Owlery over there?

Most of the time, no, he’s usually hunting or flying or whatever he does when he’s bored in there.

I still don’t believe you’re entirely heartless. No one is, except for Voldemort but he’s not entirely human anymore, is he?

I have no interesting in proving anything to you. I actually thought he would look worse than how you described him. I was thinking of this scaled man with snake eyes and a tail.

Ah so you thought he would look like a snake? What put that in your mind?

Duh, because of Slytherin -- he’s the air of Slytherin. Everything about him is positively serpentine.

Yeah but remember Salazar Slytherin was completely human. And Voldemort was at one point completely human as well.

Harry was sure Malfoy felt like a child who had been reading too many comic books, where the bad guy was usually a monstrosity. If only he knew evil did not have to come in horrendous form. It came in innocent packages. His father was an example: sleek-haired, silky-tongued aristocrat by day and murdering Death Eater by night. But he remembered Malfoy had not met Voldemort..

How do you know he was completely human?

Who?

The Dark Lord?

Voldemort?

Yes him.

Long story. Bottom line he was tall, scrawny, rather handsome, dark-haired, and a shifty little bugger.

You’re making this up.

Malfoy, think for a minute. You’re talking to a person Voldemort has been trying to kill for fifteen years. I’ve come to know a lot about him. I don’t need to explain myself.

Don’t get yourself in a tenzy, Potter. You just have to sometimes realize that I am outside of this legend and you have to make things believable to me. This is all, if I’ll be honest, simply amazing. I’ve heard stuff from you now that many people aren’t privy to. I should be killed! (I am joking)

Fine. If you want to know more just... be open, Malfoy. Stop thinking so much on your words and just let yourself be.

What in Merlin’s name does that mean?

It means you’re holding back. If you really want to know more about me just ask. There’s no shame in showing that you’re interested about me. I never hide my interest from you - I asked you all those questions.

Fine. I’ll do it only if you’re completely honest and you promise no one sees these letters.

No one has, that has always been true, and I know you know that otherwise you wouldn’t have told me half of the things you have already.

Well I haven’t really told you anything dangerously personal, have I? But that’s beside the point. I want to know how you know the Dark Lord looked normal and why he looks the way you said he looks now.

I WANT you to tell me things that are dangerously personal. We’re friends now, aren’t we?

All of this should tell you I’m still adjusting to it. So bite me. Friends. Yeah. Whatever. This HAS to remain secret, Potter; we can’t be friends at Hogwarts, it would not look right to everyone.

““You’re not going to live long enough at Hogwarts to have people talking about our friendship because you’ll be dead by the third week if you don’t let me in, arsehole!”!”

That’s fine. Say that again, that we’re friends.

We’re friends if you answer my question.

There was this diary that had a memory of Voldemort when he was still human-looking. The owner was Tom Marvolo Riddle, that’s Voldemort’s real name.

Fuckin’ bloody hell, Potter. Didn’t I tell you to warn me when you’re about to tell me something scary like that?! Fuck. I know the Dark Lord’s real name. I don’t even know if his Death Eaters do... Potter, you’re really fucking me up.

Call me Harry.

Merlin. You want us to wank each other off too?

Maybe in the near future.

Don’t ever say stuff like that again. I am not friends with gays.

Those are pretty harsh words.

Father says they kill our magical blood since they can’t have children. It’s a waste.

Right. I never thought of that. Well they’re people too, you know. Forget about it. I want you to call me Harry.

Fine.

?

Is there anything else you know about the Dark Lord, Harry?

Call him Voldemort.

I’m sorry but now you’re pushing it.

You already know so much more about him. Isn’t he a little less scary enough to call him by his name? Or do you prefer Tom?

You’re crazy, Potter. I don’t want to talk about his name. This is scary to me. There, I was being honest like you wanted. Don’t force me to say his name please.

Okay I won’t.

Hang on, I don’t get this. This diary had a memory of the Dark Lord. Where did it come from?

Your father dropped it into Ginny’s bunch of books for her first-year. I think he’she had kept it with him since Voldemort vanished or he was told by Voldemort where to find it. Either way at some point he got hold of it.

I don’t know about any diary. I’ve never seen it around the manor.

Would he allow you to see it?

Right.

Anyway, Voldemort wanted to use this diary to open the Chamber of Secrets again to unleash the Basilisk on the school and kill all the Muggle-borns because his ancestor Slytherin would want it this way - a Hogwarts without non-magical blood.

Yeah I remember that. Flying Pixies has your life been busy.

It was relatively quiet before I was eleven.

Then the Dark Lord tried to kill you ever other year.

Yeah, basically. First year, second year, fourth year.

First year? How come such a powerful person is trying so hard to kill a tyke?

I don’t know. Ask him. This has all been fine and dandy, but I think it’s time the microphone goes to you.

Your life certainly has more juice than mine. I’m getting used to this honesty thing with you...

Do you practice it with your friends?

Obviously. I obviously don’t lie to everyone. Merlin, Harry, you have your own ideas of what a bad person is.

It was Harry’s turn to feel childish. He had never seen another side of Malfoy beyond that which he saw at Hogwarts, so he could excuse himself for the fact that Malfoy might have acted normally among those close to him, perhaps as normally as Harry did with Ron and Hermione, had never occurred to him..

Right. So do you act like the rest of us at Hogwarts but at home do you act differently? We all know you’re rich. Is there a culture you have that you don’t show at Hogwarts?

Impressive. There might be hope in the search of your IQ in the positive digits yet, Potter. Yeah, there are differences.

Like?

Well first of all if you’re rich you never brag that you are rich -- first rule.

I figured.

Did you now? Good for you. Your IQ has gained a single point.

I hope you know IQ is a Muggle concept. But go on.

No it’s not. Ignatius the Intelligent came up with it. How dare you? We’re talking of a man who came up with the word ‘earth,’ invented the gramophone, radio, AND chalkboard. Show some respect for once.

Harry’s mouth fell open. Before he could let rip the loudest bout of laughter he ever had he bit on his fist again. This Ignatius fellow was the biggest fraud he had ever heard of! He was stealing Muggle concepts and peddling them as his own inventions! Harry couldn’t believe he was about to respond to this. Was he in a dream that happened to be a parody of real life? Sometimes the Wizarding world felt like it (a vivid image of a pink umbrella brandished by a hairy giant came to mind).).

Fine. I thank him for inventing the chalkboard. Helped my life loads. Now I have to sit through boring classes all day. You were in the middle of answering my question.

As I said, you don’t boast about your money -- you don’t want people thinking you’re pink money (remember I said old money was pure money? Pink is new money). Let me think... I gave up early on and started using slang and certain words I wouldn’t dare use in front of my parents because the entire school uses them. Things like that.

How are your grades?

How are yours?

Average. I make it.

I’m usually in the top five every year which I’m told by Snape. I should be doing better of course. Father stopped telling me to get them up a while ago. They’re never enough.

Do your friends know your grades?

Yeah, and they know why they’re so high. And I do actually like some of the stuff I study. What I don’t get is why I have to study so hard when I don’t need to.

Well, you’re going to have to live in the real world after school and find your place in it. You might want to get a job even if you are rich.

As if I’ll need one. All this is just for principle. For show, for the eyes, because people like to watch and they like to talk. So yeah, that’s how I act different. There are other ways but I can’t figure them out now. But Blaise and I have a running campaign we like to call the Battle of Culture where we try to resist being “encultured” entirely or rather justify why we aren’t being model nobles. Blaise’s case inis understandable of course, he’s pink money -- his mother has gotten a lot of money from the seven husbands she’s killed (probably) and left her a large sum of money each. All she has to do is keep good company, which she does.

What’s your house like? Is it huge?

If you consider a fourth of Hogwarts being huge then yes.

Of course it is.

There you are then.

Could I see it up close?

You must be mad. Harry Potter in Malfoy Manor? The world would end.

It wouldn’t.

““It hasn’t,” Harry muttered to himself, his lips twitching..

Something is certainly going to give. It would be unnatural. Harry Potter in my home... Utterly unnatural.

Come on, be serious.

I am being serious, Potter.

Harry.

I am being serious, Harry.

What’s the harm?

My father could see you and haul you off to the Dark Lord? Isn’t he trying to kill you?

I don’t think I’m his priority right now.

And since you know him so well what would that be?

I don’t know. I have an idea though, but I don’t want to scare you.

Tell me.

I think he’s going to break out the rest of his Death Eaters from Azkaban.

Fuck me sideways...

I’d like to but I’m a thousand miles away.

You need to stop, Potter.

Harry.

Then stop doing what you’re doing if you want me to use Harry. He’s going to break into Azkaban?

After he was revived in the graveyard he said some of his followers were in Azkaban and had gone there as a show of loyalty instead of saying they were Imperiused by him and forced to do things he wanted them to do.…

““Rather like your father,” Harry observed tartly..

…For that show of loyalty he will break them out.

Merlin... He’s not playing.

He’s back.

Don’t say that.

Are you scared?

Of course I’m scared, Potter. What do you think?

Harry. I think you should be, especially you -- you’re probably the closest Hogwarts students to Voldemort because of your father.

I told you I’ve never even seen him before.

Right.

Aren’t you scared?

I am.

You should be.

Yeah. But I have no choice, I can’t sit back and watch him come for me and kill me. It’s not a nice feeling knowing someone out there is out for your arse. It’s like you can’t rest. It’s not that he wants to hurt you or make your life miserable -- he wants to take it. My natural instincts are to protect myself so just then I am not free from natural instincts -- they force me to react, they force me to hope for life. And if I’m really honest I’m glad he’s looking for me this badbadly. I want to repay him for killing my parents.

You think you, a fifteen-year-old tyke, are going to kill the most evil man in all of history?

Watch me.

I guess these could only be words of a desperate man. As you said you have no choice, you are forced to believe that.

I think you’ve caught my drift. But this is supposed to be about you. I still want to come over and visit.

Potter, we’ve been friends for mere hours. And not even real friends since we haven’t seen each other face to face and said we were friends in each other’s faces.

We could if you let me come over there.

Yes, being quill confidants was not enough, Harry thought. Malfoy could choose not to respond to his message telling him his best friend was going to kill him in the future. It was easier to ignore a message than a person in front of him..

I don’t know, Harry... Aren’t you trying to move too fast?

““I am, Malfoy, ’causebecause you don’t seem to get the concept of time. I don’t have it. I’m manipulating it to get some more but I really don’t have much of it.” The quill under Harry’s hand shook as it slid across the parchment. As absorbed as he was in their exchange previously, with this reference to time his panic returned just as strongly, and so had his frustration..

I want to know you better in person. I want you to know Harry in person. Can I call you Draco?

You can if you let offof the visit thing?

Please, Draco. You’re the one who said we can’t seem to be friends at Hogwarts, so let’s get things going when we can, not when we won’t be able to.

He did not receive a note for ten minutes after that..

Fine. We have to figure out a way for you to get here. I cannot believe I am inviting Harry Potter to my house.

You’re inviting Harry -- your friend, not Harry Potter the Boy Who Lived.

Right. Lucky me. Woohoo, throwing confetti.

I think you can use your owl to send a letter to me at Ron’s and then I’ll follow it back to where you live.

Your IQ has gained ten points. I wouldn’t have imagined that coming from you. Okay, it sounds like a plan. Where exactly does Weasley live? Is he even on the map? In the countryside? Underground in the sewers?

Just tell your owl to deliver your fake letter to Ron Weasley’s house or the Burrow. There aren’t any other Weasleys out there, right?

Oh trust me, the Weasleys are one of a kind. No, there aren’t other Weasley families. Quite one of a kind. I’ll send the letter early in the morning because it will probably take a while to get there.

Okay. Don’t write anything in the owl...

““So Mrs Weasley doesn’t get suspicious,” Harry said nervously to himself..

...What time do you think I’ll get there?

That would require I know where Weasley lives exactly to calculate roughly how long he’ll take to get there.

Okay say he was going to Hogwarts.

Just over half a day, maybe 16 hours.

Okay I think he would take about 9 hours to get to the Burrow.

About one in the morning then, provided you leave the moment you get the owl. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with you arriving here in the middle of night.

Harry pulled at his hair. Malfoy was right. Harry was trying to rush things, but arriving in the middle of the night at a friend’s house was simply not on. He just had to concede to reason..

Okay then time it so that I arrive in the morning as early as possible.

You sound in an awful rush to get here.

Bite me.

I said stop it.

I didn’t mean it in a sexual way!

Then I’d have to send him out at three in the afternoon, which is tomorrow.

““Dammit,” Harry whispered, his foot tapping furiously now. He sighed..

Fine. Send him out at three. That means I’ll be there the next morning.

That’s right.

Okay. Can’t wait.

Neither can I.

That was sarcasm again. Another IQ point?

Congrats.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Harry hurtles through timelines to try to save Malfoy's life after a friend turns on him. But Harry did not expect certain developments between them, and he soon finds he has bitten more than he can chew. HPDM. AU OotP.


Chapter 12

Friends for Real

It would probably feel like meeting a whole new person. He had never expected anything but vitriol and ridicule from that face. Now to associate it with calm, rational conversation seemed extraordinary.

Malfoy had touched on a point that grew more bothersome to Harry. Indeed being spotted by Lucius around the manor would almost certainly result in an audience with Lord Voldemort. Harry reminded himself he already was at Malfoy Manor and should have worried about that early on. He touched his Invisibility Cloak, feeling its silky slither across his palm, as fluid and perfect and complete as ever. It would protect him from unwanted attention – it had done a spectacular job of it so far.

His stomach gave another apologetic rumble. He could not think up of a viable way to get food. If he cast an Imperius Curse – apart from the fact that he was getting alarmingly used to it – on a house-elf he caught milling about, what were the chances it would hold? Their magic was different. On the other hand, casting the spell on Malfoy would require he invisibly open the door, which, for Malfoy, would be the third time the door opened itself. What was a hungry bloke to do?

The grey tinge on his fingers had spread to the tips of all five fingers of his left hand. Part of his right had turned as well. Harry did not understand it for the life of him. His most reasonable suspicion was that his Cloak was washing out and losing colour, though he had never once washed it. Perhaps it was wearing out after so many time travels. Perhaps he was wearing out after so many time travels.

He was, overall, happy with the state of things. He had effectively rushed the developments and was about to arrive at Malfoy Manor in a matter of hours. It had not taken days but mere hours to garner the invitation. All he had to do now was simply go with the flow, drawing Malfoy in closer and then drop the bomb. Hopefully it would not repel him.

Harry grimaced with another growling complaint from his stomach. That was it. He stood up and grabbed his Cloak.

“For the bloody life of me,” Malfoy snapped as he stomped over to his door and slammed it shut. He inspected its hinges, nose turned up, long, milky neck extended. Harry snuck around him and crouched at the bottom edge of his bed until Malfoy returned to his chair. The Slytherin seemed to resume going through the small mountain of notes from Harry, every so often shaking his head with a soft smile stretching his thin lips across his face.

Imperio!

This time Harry ordered quadruple. He carried four plates, two at a time, into his room enough to last him until he “arrived” at the manor. He cared less about how strange it registered to Meeky that his master was ordering so much food at once and so late at the hour. He entertained the idea but decided not to steal some books from Draco’s bookstand as their absence would be quite plain. So his only form of entertain would remain, hopefully, his correspondence with Malfoy.

This turned out not to be.

Retire, Potter. I am. We have all day tomorrow.

In his satiated daze, retiring did sound a splendid plan. It was only when he was on the bed, feeling its cool silky sheets on his skin, did the entire picture of the situation occur to him. In a rather distantly surreal way he climbed under the covers, lay his head on the pillow, stared at the ceiling and the bare facts of his temporal trip, everything he had been through since creeping out of Hogwarts and heading to the Ministry of Magic, rushed back to him. They were rather frightening.

He had stolen from the Ministry of Magic. A sensitive object given only on exceptionally strong grounds. He had ripped across timelines several times. He was in the home of his school nemesis and a Death Eater. He was a thousand kilometres away from Hogwarts.

It was quite lonely. Stupidly daring, but necessary. He would not have gone through all of this if he did not care. It was certainly easier than dying for Malfoy.

The toll of his day weighed on his biceps, on his chest, on his legs... The lure of sleep was so absolute he felt himself sink deeper into the bed as if sleep were physically pushing him down. At last his eyes shut.

Harry spent the entirety of the next day talking with Malfoy. He was beginning to think he could approach the subject of the murder in the few moments after his arrival. Malfoy’s questions generally revolved around Harry Potter, Voldemort and the legend between them. Malfoy’s curiosity of these topics bespoke of a boy wanting answers to corroborate and validate his childhood fantasies. He largely treated Harry like a celebrity in a tabloid interview, meeting facts from Harry with a heady desire to exaggerate them as they came. Malfoy was also intent on fleshing out what he knew about Harry. Seldom could Harry steer the conversation to the subject of Malfoy himself. But that was all right with Harry; Malfoy had caught on. And with every question posed and answered they came ever closer.

They talked about the night at the graveyard further. If Harry were honest with himself, by the time he laid his head on his pillow he felt as though he had emerged from a therapy session. He had had no idea merely talking about things could disarm his fears so much and reduce their power over him so abruptly. Why had he not been more open with Ron and Hermione? He would have been a lighter-minded person for it.

Harry switched off the alarm of his wristwatch – it was needless as he had woken up before it due to the fact he was so afraid we would oversleep and delay seeing Malfoy (again). It was more unfamiliar than strange that he had taken off his clothes and slept half-naked in Malfoy’s home and felt rather like staying in a hotel for a night. He had tried successfully to sleep early to rush the night onward to morning. He felt a surprisingly huge amount of excitement to meet Malfoy in a way that would not call for repeated temporal backtracks whenever the situation went awry. In this way the progression was smooth, and as long as he kept hidden under his Invisibility Cloak beyond Malfoy’s room, he would be fine.

As quietly as he could he pushed the plates under the bed, tidied up the escritoire and slipped out the room. He waited besides Malfoy’s door until it opened and Malfoy strolled out, dragging across Harry’s nostrils a whiff of pineapple and cinnamon. Harry waited until the Slytherin disappeared down the grand staircase before he entered his room, collected his Firebolt from the armoire and made his way under his Cloak back to the rear foyer, where Malfoy told him he would meet him. He crouched past Malfoy where he stood in the doorway, arms folded, chin inclined in a slightly haughty survey of the sky. Harry stopped only when he was right at the south-eastern corner of the manor, almost exactly where he had landed when he had really arrived at the manor. He checked that his Time-Turner was in his pocket before he ripped off his Cloak and made his way towards a stunned-looking Malfoy.

Malfoy, quite prudently, waited for him to get within hissing distance.

“The hell, Potter! Can’t you be more considerate and announce your presence less unexpectedly? I thought I’d see you fly over.”

“I was under my Cloak,” Harry replied before he paled when Draco raised his eyebrow. “I mean, my copy of my Cloak. I made it before I sent the real one to you.”

Draco did not lose his sceptic look entirely. “Right. Where were you FlooPorting from anyway? Forgive me but I still find it hard to believe it.” He finished his sentence as he completed an unflattering once-over on Harry’s slightly wrinkly three-days-old clothes and his grey eyes lingered and widened slightly on the big scarlet letter ‘H’ on his green jersey.

Harry had to do some seriously rapid thinking right then. “Dumbledore sometimes lets me visit him at his... mansion during the summer.”

Wow, Harry. Even you wouldn’t believe that.

Quite rightly Draco’s jaw dropped open and his eyebrows leapt over his hair and landed at the back of head. “You visit Dumbledore in your summer? Potter, that’s over the line now, come on, you have to admit...”

Harry shrugged. “I’m his favourite student.”

“No doubt about that but...” Draco gave up his search for the words that eluded him and exhaled, giving Harry another dubious once-over. “I hope he never asked you for favours.”

Harry was in the middle of shaking his head to show that he was confused when he suddenly caught Draco’s innuendo. “Bloody hell, Malfoy!”

Draco recoiled but not because of the ferocity of Harry’s protest. The Slytherin seemed genuinely revolted by something.

“Did you blitz over here without washing first?” Draco asked incredulously.

Harry shrugged again as casually as he could manage and struggled to stave off his blush. “It’s summer break.”

Draco did not seem too understanding. “That’s no excuse for not brushing your teeth! Potter, for the love of--”

“Harry, remember?”

The affectionate gesture stifled Draco’s momentum. His thin lips twisted into a serious line. “Right. Well... I guess we should head up. Father’s just about never around ever since... well, you of all people would know... and Mother doesn’t bother me much – she visits friends a lot. Basically we’ll have the house to ourselves.”

Harry feigned awe at the mansion all over again as soon as Draco’s words reminded him of it. “I wouldn’t call it a house...”

Draco maintained a dignified silence in the wake of this compliment to his humble abode and led them to his room. When they arrived in his room Harry duly lowered himself onto Draco’s silk bed gingerly as though he were thinking loudly that a comparative plebeian like him did not deserve the luxury.

“Nice posy you got here, Malfoy,” he praised, smiling around the room. He dropped his Firebolt on top of Draco’s trunk next to the bedside table.

Draco took his chair and turned it towards Harry sitting on the edge of his bed. “So...” he said vaguely, seemingly looking for a conversation starter.

Harry eyed him soberly. He stood up, crossed the floor and extended his hand. “I’m Harry.”

Draco looked up at him, his silver eyes darting between his outstretched hand and his earnest face. For a moment he looked tempted to laugh at the corniness of the gesture, but something inside him evidently told him to match Harry’s solemn tone.

“I’m Draco. It’s been long enough.”

Harry snorted and grinned down into Draco’s face. Draco nearly returned the expression but quickly drew out and scratched his forehead. Harry blushed furiously and stuffed his hands in his pockets. As his darted about the room awkwardly they landed on the escritoire, on top of which lay what looked like a black and silver hip flask, something he had never seen before during his time in Draco’s room. He reached for it, picked it up and read the silver type on it “Simon Devereaux” before he could remind himself that he was not supposed to seem so used to being in Draco’s room.

“What’s this?” Harry asked. Just as he turned the flask over onto its bottom his nostrils picked up on a fine pineapple-cinnamon scent. A printed price sticker – a first for Harry to see on an individual product in the Wizarding world – came into view.

Draco had jumped out of his seat and reached for the cologne but quickly slowed his motions and feigned aloofness as he slipped it out of Harry’s hands. “Just some cologne, you know, just to get through the day,” he said in a very low voice as he went over to the armoire and seemed to hide it quite elaborately.

Harry was suddenly flushed. He had no idea why the thought of Draco putting on cologne to greet him was verklempting. In his heady mixture of astonishment and shyness, all he could say was, “Eighty-two Galleons ninety-five for cologne?”

“Well, you know the pretentious pouffes we are sometimes,” Draco threw over his shoulder as he busily explored his armoire for a place in it deep enough from which the perfidious piece of toiletry could not hope to emerge ever again.

Harry thought Draco would rather let himself come across as prissy than whatever the gesture of putting on cologne for a friendly arrival meant – and a stupendously expensive one at that. Harry suddenly felt excited for no reason at all.

“Do you want to maybe fly some time away after Mother leaves?” he asked.

“Sure.” Harry looked over to the two brooms. “What are you flying?”

“It’s a new concept – came out barely a week days ago.”

“Wow,” Harry whispered. Before he had even finished asking permission to see the broom he had already moved towards it. He picked it up in his hands, raped it with his eyes and read the name on its tip: “Nimbus SC.”

“Nimbus Sindara Concept,” Draco declared in clarification.

Harry remembered Ron implicitly extolling it a few weeks before. “So are we going to be seeing it soon at Double Q’s?” Harry asked as he swept his hand across the broom, grasped it with both hands as though about to mount it, biting his lips in jealous, boyish beatification.

“Um... some features survive to the assembly line down the line, yeah,” Draco replied. Harry noticed that the other boy had spoken with a faint grimace as though the effort of restraining himself against telling Harry that he was unlikely to see the broom anytime soon was causing him unease. If that were the case, Harry would be proud of him. “There might be a Nimbus Sindara coming near you…” Draco continued, his grimace now worsening. “…If you live near Winox Lane obviously.”

“And if you don’t?”

Draco pursed his lips. “Well... I doubt you’ll find it in Quality Quidditch Supplies – or “Double Q’s” if you will. I’m betting Quasimodo’s has already sent out pre-orders for the next one after the Sindara.”

“Too bad,” Harry said, trying his utmost to sound aloof and swallow the vile that had ridden up his throat. He stopped lusting after the broom and put it down next to his now seemingly obsolete Firebolt.

“Comes with a new VirtuaSwerV feature, Braking Charm by Tantric and Anti-Jinx Impervius varnish,” Draco rapped off. “Two hundred and ten miles per hour. Comes with a Krosbro Broomkit.”

“Two hundred miles?” Harry blurted out. “Do they wanna catch a jet or something?”

“It’s a concept,” Draco pointed out sagely, “they’ll likely reduce that. Those are dangerous speeds only a Squib would attempt to reach. Concept brooms are avenues to really let one’s imagination go. They come with all these crazy features. Only the Nimbus and Firebolt ones are reasonable – still a little mental but reasonable. Trust me, a two-hundred-miles-per-hour top speed is considered reasonable if you’ve ever seen some of these other brooms out there. And they don’t go out of business – it must mean people are buying them. No wonder the increase in Quidditch-related deaths.”

Harry nodded. He went back to the bed and sat. “Where’s your mother going?”

“Probably tea at a friend’s.”

Draco folded his arms and surveyed Harry quietly. The Gryffindor looked away self-consciously.

“Is it me or do you look... cleaner... like you’re lighter…?” Draco asked. “It’s probably got to do with the fact that I know so much more about you now... You just look... more open... less cluttered...”

“It could also do with the fact that I’m not wearing a school robe, school hat and a bag. This is what I wear at home.”

“It could,” deadpanned Draco, who seemed not to appreciate how soundly Harry had demystified his observations. “Well you’re here now. We didn’t plan this thing properly ’cause I don’t know what to do with you besides race on our brooms.”

You could believe me and stay the fuck away from Blaise.

“Can you give me a tour of Malfoy Manor?”

It was not all just an act; Harry had only seen a portion of the manor and he genuinely wanted to see more of it.

Draco nodded. “After she leaves. Hopefully.”

Narcissa Malfoy did. It took an hour to see the entire manor and it was positively magical. Harry saw the garden built on the eastern flank of the manor which Draco was disinclined to enter (“I’d rather go there only when I need to,” suggesting his mother frequently dragged him there in spite of his protests) the large library, kitchen, pantry, buttery (which was basically another pantry that exclusively stored the wine and spirits for adults and mead and cider for children – “Unfortunately,” Draco added bitterly), drawing room, camera, and the massive wardrobe – which was not a piece of furniture but actually an entire room filled with clothes that replenished the smaller wooden wardrobes in the occupied rooms of the manor. But his favourite fixture was the Grand Hall, of which the camera was a small extension.

“It was built on the upper floor to buy the hosts and his guests some time if the manor house was being stormed,” Draco told him. The room’s length sprawled outwards from where they stood in the same way the whole interior manor had from the rear foyer. Portraits presumably of previous Malfoys lined the top of the walls, looking down benignly upon the table. It was in many ways like the Great Hall at Hogwarts, but while there were four tables at the school the Grand Hall had a single long one into which about twelve chairs on each side were tucked and under which a carpet stretched.

“Those are real silver,” Draco pointed out, directing Harry’s gaze to the four candelabra on the table the shape of a heap of coils out of which a snake reared out and gulped up the candlesticks. “Those, however,” he continued, now pointing at the candelabra hanging on the walls and the pair on either side of the mantelpiece of the fireplace behind them above the dais, “are wrought iron.” These candle-holders were rendered frighteningly realistically, scales and girth and all.

Above them hung a giant silver three-tier candle chandelier.

“That’s made of aged gold. Most chandeliers now in manor hours are made of antique silver. It’s almost priceless.”

“Almost,” Harry snorted dryly, looking up at it.

“See those windows...” A pale slender finger pointed at the tall arched windows on the right side of the Hall spilling bars of sunlight across the floor and table. “...Is there anything wrong with them?”

Harry frowned at the question and felt under pressure not to lose any IQ points. And in a saving moment of brilliance something occurred to him and he asked, “Aren’t we in the middle of the manor?”

Draco’s lips trembled before they gave way to a reluctant smirk. “Precisely. They’re not real, they’re magicked.”

“Wow. So what happens in here?” Harry asked.

Draco made his way out of the room. “Dinner.”

Harry followed in astonishment. “Dinner. Just dinner? You’re sure you don’t entertain the Minister or some head of a Wizarding state in here?”

“Being able to be sarcastic is not going to earn you an IQ point – it’s the easiest form of wit, Potter.”

“Harry.”

“Whatever. You’re still not getting a point.”

They returned to Draco’s room to grab their brooms. Although Harry was really hungry he did not want to point it out and seem a pitiable street kid whose idea of a scarce meal enjoyed a sadly huger precedence than Quidditch or any other activity. He did not complain as they shot up into the air and raced over the forest. As it had when Harry had really flown over to the manor, the green country seemed to unfold under them endlessly as if suggesting this was entire character of the earth. Only now the suggestion was exhilarating instead of cause for dread. They soon turned back.

“Blaise and I play this game,” Draco said, brow gleaming with sweat in the morning sun, and immediately turning Harry off, “where we just broom up, up, up in the sky as high as we can until the other gives up.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Harry enquired as they hovered above the forecourt. “I mean there’s less oxygen at those altitudes.”

“What?” Draco asked. As Harry explained the drop in oxygen levels with a corresponding rise in altitude Draco looked very uncomfortable being educated on something of which he had utterly no clue, let alone by Harry, whom he had thought, in his own words, “thick”.

“This is a Muggle thing, I imagine?” Draco said with a soft, disdainful lilt in his voice – either that or he was creasing his nose and curling his lips against the glare of the sun.

“Well, wizards are humans too, aren’t they? I’m sure at the end of the day we still have the same organs inside.”

Draco looked away with a strange, almost disturbed frown furrowing his brow. “So are we going up there or what?”

“I don’t know, Draco...”

“What a Thomas,” Draco drawled before he directed his broom towards the ground.

“Are you talking about Dean? I’ll have you know he’s a fair flyer.”

“Who in Merlin’s beard is Dean?”

“Dean Thomas, the black Gryffindor.”

“No! I’m saying you’re a coward, like Thomas the Timid – Timothy Thomas. Felt he couldn’t deal with life and grew up away from people in a small remote hut far from civilization. He became almost feral. He was socially incompetent and a little thick too, I might add, after he returned to civilization on his thirty-third birthday when he was told his parents died. He had no one to take care of himself. He couldn’t begin to find anyone to do so. He died in less than a year. He was simply not prepared for life. Sadly you see that happening with many well-off kids these days whose fortunes take a bit of a tumble.”

“That’s taking it a bit too far. I actually want to live and fainting while I’m halfway towards heaven and tumbling down to the ground is not my ideal way of going about it.”

“So you have tried it before!” Draco said victoriously as they made their way back to his room.

“No I haven’t,” Harry argued. “I told you when you’re up there there’s less oxygen and you need oxygen to breath. Okay, I should’ve told you as well that if you don’t get a certain amount of oxygen you lose consciousness because your brain can’t function for a moment, so you faint.”

“Didn’t that happen in third year? I remember you falling from the sky.”

“No that was because of the Dementors. They were getting closer and closer to me from where they were supposed to be positioned. They tried to Kiss me and I lost control of my broom and fell.”

“Ah. Now I see why Dumbledore looked like he wanted to kill someone.”

“Yeah. I heard he was beside himself.”

Draco snorted. “Did that turn you on knowing he was so furious that he almost lost his precious favourite student?”

“Malfoy!” Harry protested in perfect disgust. Draco sniggered and ran away down the corridor.

“That’s like saying you’d like it if your father visited you in your bed every night,” Harry remarked as he sat on the bed and Draco on his chair.

“Oi!” Draco abjured hotly. “At least my father wouldn’t be TEN TIMES my age!”

Harry could not help himself and began giggling. Their mirth reinforced one another and soon they were wiping tears from their eyes, wracked by the odd chuckle.

“So is Blaise Zabini going to be visiting you?” Harry asked innocently after they regained control of themselves.

Draco shook his head. “I’ll probably see him when term starts. He doesn’t visit that often and on his last visit things went south pretty quickly.”

“What happened?” Harry asked, blinking curiously.

Draco shrugged the question off. “Something stupid.” He looked at Harry seriously for a few moments.

“What?” Harry asked, cheeks gone scarlet.

“I’m trying to put together this Harry and the Potter I left at Hogwarts two months ago. I’m convinced when term starts and we’re around our familiar settings and our friends and all that... it will somehow change things...”

“I am that Harry, exactly that Harry.”

“Yeah but I didn’t really know that Harry, did I? So it’s like meeting a whole new person. The only thing that can make me think you’re still the same person is if you told me off or we duelled right now.”

“You wanna try it?” Harry said promptly, drawing his wand.

Draco looked at it and gazed into Harry’s eyes. “I’ll pass. You’re the better wizard.”

Harry’s inside fell to the floor. “Say that again?” he giggled.

“Excuse me, duellist – you’re the better duellist. I’m the better all-round wizard – you know, the pureblood thing.”

The damage was already done as far as Harry was concerned but he humoured the Slytherin. “Oh... I thought for a moment you said I was the better human being. I’m glad you recognize that after I’ve handed you your arse in every corridor duel you’ve instigated.”

Draco shrugged. He looked into Harry’s eyes. Harry looked away and tried to make himself more comfortable on the edge of the bed. He thought Draco was trying, as he was but more subtly, to become more comfortable looking directly into the eyes of a person he has hated, tried to humiliate and was basically the subject of his mistreatment. He was looking at Harry without having to expect a scowl in return, a look of loathing, of painful triumph. Everything between them was made anew.

“Do you want to take a picture? It’ll last longer,” Harry suggested.

“What?”

“Do you want to take a picture of me? Since you’re staring so much. It’ll last longer.”

“I was not staring. You’re starting with your gay innuendos again. I told you I don’t like them.”

“You mean you’re not supposed to like them,” Harry countered.

“Same thing.”

“Whatever,” Harry muttered, shrugging. He did not want to get into a discussion about mental freedoms – he was tired out by their trip around the estate.

“Yay, our first sour moment,” observed Draco wryly.

“Congratulations to us,” Harry snorted.

Draco looked around the room inattentively.

When would be the perfect time to tell him about Zabini? Certainly not now. Certainly not on his first day here. This reminded him of something though.

“Where will I be sleeping?”

Draco paused. “Sleeping?” he said, silver eyes bulging.

“Yeah,” Harry said in a forced taken-aback away.

“Potter—Harry, that’s a bit... much! You didn’t even bring clothes with.”

“I can stay in these.”

Draco’s nostrils flared in revulsion. “Ew, Potter, no! Okay I am seriously trying,” he said earnestly about his attempts at sticking to Harry’s first name, “but you keep doing these things that I can’t respond to with Harry! Like now, you’re being disgusting.”

“I can bath and Scourgify them,” Harry suggested.

Draco’s jaw remained on the floor. He looked about in silent disbelief. “Whatever, Potter—Harry. You can sleep in that room next to mine.”

“Great!” Harry cheered. I already have.

Draco rolled his eyes and looked about the room for something else to say. He suddenly smirked at Harry. “Can we talk about the Dark Lord?”

“Only if you call him Voldemort.”

Draco’s face fell. He sulked and looked away.

“I promise you nothing will happen,” Harry urged solemnly.

Draco stared at him piercingly from underneath his brow like a child reluctant to trust. “I can’t, Harry. Not now anyway.”

“Fine,” Harry shrugged, “then I can’t tell you about Voldemort.”

Draco flinched. “You can tell me about you.”

They talked the hours away laying on the bed and looking up at the ceiling. Harry, face-to-face and closer than a letter could achieve, better experienced the childish intrigue that gripped Draco whenever the subject turned to Harry’s confrontations with Voldemort – the very fact that Harry could talk so casually about him. Draco could simply not get enough.

“You’re amazing, Harry,” Draco breathed, shaking his head slowly as he looked down on Harry while he supported his head with his hand.

“I think you’re going to regret saying that,” Harry muttered.

“Shut up!” Draco shot at him, playfully slapping his chest where his hand lingered before he removed it quickly. “Harry, you’re walking around Hogwarts and attending classes and chatting with your friends and schoolmates but... all the while you’re sort of living an unreal life...! Like you’re normal but you aren’t...! You defeated the Dark Lord THREE times – THREE! And yet you still put on your uniform and carry your bag. Not even full-fledged adults could take him on! You’re fuckin’ ridiculous, Harry! You should be dead!”

“But you can’t think of it like that,” Harry countered abashedly, positively crimson in the light afforded by the mini-chandelier hanging above the bed. “I mean, what else could I have done without going to sleep and just going on with my life?”

“Yeah but... still... Don’t you sometimes just think ‘I’m amazing’?”

“No!” Harry protested in disgust. “Draco,” he sighed, “I just do what I have to do. It’s not pretty, it’s not amazing. I’m just struggling to live while I try to save the people I love, is all.”

“I can’t believe you turned me down in first year,” Draco continued nevertheless in his awe, which Harry thought was misdirected. “I could’ve been hearing these things firsthand, knowing I was the friend of—of—of a hero essentially! I mean, people said you were and I thought it was utter bollock ’cause I’d never heard of all these other things – no one has. And you survived them!”

Harry sighed in exasperation. “Tell me when you’ve gotten over me and then we can talk again.”

“Come off it,” said Draco, slapping him again. He shook his head. “But you make this... person, for want of a better word... seem like—like he’s this small. I mean, a kid defy him over and over again like that...”

“I’m glad you’re starting to get over him,” Harry said, “but a lot of it was luck as I keep trying to remind you. First year he was really weak and he was basically the back of a person’s head – he could barely do anything to me ’cause Quirrell was a useless sod. In second year he was basically a ghost I couldn’t touch so I just destroyed the diary--”

“But you killed that humungous Basilisk!” Draco pointed out quickly.

Harry could not help a giggle from escaping him. He looked up at Draco from his pillow, awed by the Slytherin’s gullibility. “You don’t even know if it was that big.”

“You told me so, you arse!” Draco charged with another backhanded slap to Harry’s chest.

“Yeah it was huge!” Harry laughed, strangely finding how quickly Draco believed him quite endearing. “And in fourth year--”

“There you can’t tell me anything, Potter,” Draco said, “’cause it was just you and him – a fair duel. And you basically beat him.”

“No I escaped. I didn’t stay till the end of the duel or I would’ve surely been done.”

Draco sighed and subsided in seeming frustration. It was clear to Harry Draco was trying to make him a hero in his mind. But was he? Harry did not feel like one.

It proved a difficult challenge but Harry finally succeeded in turning the spotlight away from him and onto Draco at some point.

“So basically you’re still a virgin – a vagina virgin,” Harry observed after Draco told him that he had had anal sex twice with Pansy Parkinson, for, as an heir to an old and rich family, it was in his interests he remained childless, lest he catch the ire of his father, until the right time and with the right person. So careful was Draco not to conceive that he still shot a Contraceptive Charm up Parkinson’s anus to eliminate even the slightest chance of impregnation. Harry did a great job not bursting out in laughter when Draco told him this which would have been in vein had he tried to inform Draco that there was never any chance of fertilization by sex that way. Hopeless wizards.

“Sex is still sex, Potter,” Draco argued. “It doesn’t matter if you do it in the arse or the front – you still get off.”

“No. That can’t be right,” Harry countered vaguely. Was there not some precedence stored in vaginal sex over anal sex? Was anal sex not lesser to it? Did it matter to wizards? “The vagina feels much better.”

“Oh and you’ve felt one? Whose? The Mudblood’s?”

“Draco, her name is Hermione, all right? I’ll stop talking about Voldemort if you continue swearing at her.”

“Fine. Whatever. You still haven’t shagged anyone.”

“I don’t need to.”

“If you don’t want to live life, yeah. Oh but then again you’re barely surviving with Voldemort on your b--”

Harry’s jaw dropped as he surged onto his feet on the bed. “You said his name!” he screamed in joy.

Draco’s hand flew to his mouth. He looked around the room with swollen eyes as though he were expecting some hideous spell to come at him and snuff him out.

“You said it!” Harry yelled. “You said it! You said it!” He began dancing around the bed.

“It’s because of you, you blithering twat!” Draco snapped fiercely. “You’ve been saying his name too many times! He’s going to kill me!”

Harry stopped in the middle of a dance move. “What for?” Harry lilted happily. “He can’t touch you.” And resumed dancing.

“That’s what you say, Mr-I-defeated-him-not-once-but-thrice!”

Harry dropped back onto the bed. “Congratulations!”

“Fuck off.”

Harry noticed Draco really looked disturbed and frightened. He was trying really hard to forget what had happened.

“So you’re still a vagina virgin,” Harry resumed.

“I still got off, Potter, do you not understand that? That’s the definition of sex.”

“Whatever. I’m just saying you could’ve done it with a bloke too – he’s got an arsehole too. No different to a girl’s.”

Draco moved suddenly. “Did I not tell you to stop with these gay innuendos? I told you about gays and all.”

“Lighten up, Draco. You’d swear I said you were gay.”

“I needn’t dignify that,” Draco snorted.

“How long have you known Blaise?”

Draco stared at Harry. “Rather abrupt change of subject. Since we were six.”

“Wow,” Harry said, a little taken aback and strangely disappointed. How hard would it be to break up a decade-long friendship that spanned most of the two people’s lives? “Do you think he’d die for you?” Harry asked with a certain amount of frustration.

Draco remained quiet for several seconds. “I don’t know. We’re both Slytherin – go figure.”

“You said yourself you Slytherins get a bad rep for being Slytherins. I’m trying to understand from behind that preconception. So try me.”

“I don’t know, Potter, I told you,” Draco snapped. “It’s a stupid question. Would you die for—Oh, Lord, never mind; look who I’m talking to.”

“Oi, that’s not nice. I don’t want to die for any random person, you know,” Harry said hotly, offended by Draco’s implication that he valued his life cheaply. “I’m simply asking if you think Blaise is a good friend enough to think he’d die for you.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d die for him either. Some of us aren’t as familiar with the idea of death as you are, Harry, so already I’m at a handicap in answering that question. I just don’t know how I’d feel if the situation came up.”

“You don’t think I’m a better friend then if you know I’d die for you?”

Those silver eyes darted to his green ones and darted away quickly. “You can’t ask that kind of question. Where do you get off coming here after we’ve only been friends for hours I can count on my fingers and toes and ask if you’re a better friend than the one I’ve had for ages?”

“He doesn’t seem to think too much of you too, does he?” Harry ploughed on very recklessly.

Draco looked sharply at him. “What do you know?”

Harry stared into Draco’s forcibly inquiring eyes. “I’m just saying,” he finally said, backtracking quickly, “the look he gives people. He doesn’t think much of anyone really.”

“Well I’m not just anybody to him – I’m his friend.”

“Not so loyal as to die for you.”

“Potter, you’re talking about dying here, not taking some jinx for someone. That’s asking too much of anyone.”

Perhaps Harry was tossing the phrase around a little too lightly. “Fine then. He’s a good friend.”

“He’s the best,” Draco declared defiantly.

“I can be better.”

“I’d like to see you try it.”

“If only you’d let me.”

“I’m certainly not stopping you.”

“You are because you don’t believe me.”

“Believe you about what? What are you talking about, Potter?”

“Harry.”

“Fuck off.”

“For the son of a noble you’re really foul-mouthed.”

“I already explained to you, Potter, and you’re changing the subject. I feel like you’re always talking about something else under your words. And it’s not the first time this happens. What’s your story, Potter?”

“I don’t understand.”

“As if you would,” retorted Draco, rolling his eyes. His elbow gave way and he collapsed on the bed, sighing.

“When’s your birthday?” Harry asked in an attempt to ease some of the tension.

“Are you always this random with your friends?”

“Sometimes.”

“In three days if you must know.”

“Three days?” Harry said, flabbergasted. Draco did not dignify his question. He contemplated the idea of sharing Draco’s birthday. It was... “That’s ridiculous!”

“What’s ridiculous?” Draco asked nastily.

“That your birthday is this close. I could be... you know... still here.”

Draco gave an ugly snort. “As if. I’m spending it with my real friends.”

Harry stared at the pale boy. “What the fuck does that mean?” For some reason, in spite of himself, he felt stung by Draco’s words. It was true that they had been friends for mere hours but...

“It means no entry for the FlooPort-a-friend sort.”

Something fiery hot surged inside Harry. “Malfoy, I’ve been really good with you all this time! I answered your question! I withstood your snarky attitude! I did everything right! What the fuck do you want from me?”

“Oh all that’s supposed to earn you an invitation to my birthday? I can’t believe this! Why does it matter to you?”

“It matters because we’re talking about your life here!” Harry shouted in frustration.

“What does that supposed to mean?” Draco shouted even more loudly and even more confusedly.

“I’m staying! I want to be your real friend!”

“Then stop shouting at me and maybe I’ll reconsider!”

Harry folded his arms. Draco glared at him. “Why does it mean so much for you to do this? All of this? To attend my birthday? To be friends with me? Why all of a sudden? Are you rushing somewhere?”

“I’m not,” Harry shot back more hotly than he would have liked, lips quivering. “I just... I’m just frustrated.”

“By what?”

“By you not letting me in completely,” Harry lied. He really meant by how slowly things were going and how longer he would have to wait to bring up the issue of his death. That would require they overcome this rough patch and start the process of building cordial regard for one another all over again. “Draco, I’m here at your house at night. I’m not going anywhere. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“Potter, you do realize my father will probably be here, as well as my mother, and Pansy and Blaise? What do you think they’d do if they saw you?”

It was the first time that scenario occurred to Harry. He thought rapidly but could not come up with a reply.

“Precisely,” Draco said. “You can stay here, maybe that room opposite mine for the day.”

“What if they saw me? Couldn’t you tell them we made up and put the past behind us?” Harry asked a little desperately.

“Tell my father that?”

“Right, him.” Harry cursed the man in his head. But he conceded that his absence was all for the better. Why he had considered otherwise he had no idea. It would only complicate matters further if he was to be seen by Draco’s mother and his other friends. He needed to keep his footprint as small as possible, encounter as few people as possible, spend as little time in this timeline as possible. What on earth was he thinking wishing to meet Draco’s mother on his birthday? “Right.”

“Glad you see reason.”

At some point Draco told Harry he was getting sleepy. Harry had proposed he sleep in the same room on the floor but Draco banished him to the room opposite. “It was a joke, Draco. Why would I want to sleep in the same room as you? And on the floor?”

“That would make your dream, wouldn’t it?”

This left Harry floored and flushed. It was the first homosexual innuendo Draco had made himself.

“You wish.”

The next day Harry found Draco reading a note in front of the FlooPort after he entered his room. Minutes prior Harry had taken a bath in the private bathroom in his room and donned the same clothes, a consequence of bad planning.

“From Blaise.”

Jesus. Draco was wearing a night gown. His platinum-blond locks fell down his back, and the palest, most delicate toes peaked out from underneath the hem of the gown. Harry found himself trying to quell a growing erection.

“About?” he said with a rather dry mouth. Draco turned to face him. The ring on his finger did not improve Harry’s current predicament.

“Just saying he’s looking forward to my fifteenth birthday.”

“That’s kinda lame, innit?”

“A little,” Draco conceded as he crushed the note and dropped into the chair. “Morning, sunshine. I hope you took a shower.”

“No. I was testing that awesome bathtub. Felt like a king,” Harry sung with a grin, mock stretching luxuriantly.

Draco snorted and shook his head. “So what do we do?”

“You can start by changing out of that thing. Merlin, you look like a girl, Draco. Maybe you should go back to gelling your hair.”

“Is that why you have a little problem over there?”

Harry’s face turned into deep crimson. So. It was visible. “It doesn’t make me gay!” he protested quickly. “I can’t help it if you look like this.”

Draco tapped his long, pale foot. Harry wondered if Draco was doing it on purpose. He wondered whether Draco had ever walked outside barefoot. That foot was too perfect. Draco was positively flirting with the line between what was masculine and feminine. It was true he had the slightest suggestion of abs thanks to his Quidditch; true he had a tall jaw and a long, sharp nose. But the way he looked so minimal in that robe, so sexy, that Harry wanted to shield him from the world and all the forces that be... The way his pale, twig-thin fingers wrapped around his arms, the stunning curve of his ankle... There should be a reasonable explanation why Harry was spotting all these details.

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”

“Very original, Draco,” Harry retorted almost sulkily.

Draco smirked. “Wanna go visit the library again?”

“Pass. How about exploring the forest?”

A pale eyebrow rose. “I guess that’s your idea of adventure.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “It’s not like it’s at night. We could make it a whole thing: bring some food and a blanket.”

As he suspected, the implication, which was the romantic aspect of a picnic, flew right over Draco’s head.

“Okay,” Draco said without seeming to think much on it. “Make a date of it?”

Harry let out a nervous little giggle which he later felt should have killed him. “If you want to call it that.”

Maybe Draco was not so Muggle-challenged.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Harry hurtles through timelines to try to save Malfoy's life after a friend turns on him. But Harry did not expect certain developments between them, and he soon finds he has bitten more than he can chew. HPDM. AU OotP.


Chapter 13

The Surprising Story of Sir Carisius Malfoy

There was something roiling inside Harry as he and Draco scaled the steep camber of the hill. It began the moment they prepared for the outing: collecting a basket, a blanket and pinching food from the kitchen. It was the whole romance of the idea.

As they walked it seemed a benign activity but Harry could not help the sinister giddy shivers and the odd smile on his face. It was the holidays, it was summer, his plan was working almost perfectly, Draco was nearly pliant enough and he was picnicking with him. What more could Harry ask for? And who said two boys could not have an innocent picnic?

“It gets way scarier at night,” Draco said to him as they reached level ground and faced the woods at last.

“I can imagine,” Harry replied.

They wandered through the trees until they found a large clearing surrounded by trees which let through the perfect amount of sunlight – not uncomfortably hot and blinding and not to shady. A long log fell diagonally across the forest floor. So perfect was the spot Harry suspected it was not the first time Draco had found it.

“Come with Blaise here often?”

Draco read Harry’s tone correctly, if his sideway glance he paid Harry was anything to go by. But why was it inelegant for him to use the same space with Harry as he did Zabini?

“Sure,” said Draco. He dropped the basket and unfolded a portion of the blanket on top of the log so they could recline against it as though it were a pillow. They sat.

“Nice spot,” Harry noted. “Perfect spot.”

Draco blinked very rapidly as he began picking out the food from the basket and placing them between him and Harry. He began buttering a fresh bun before spreading some blackberry jam (he had chosen it over caviar which he said was “utterly hideous”). He put one on a plate which he offered to Harry along with a tall glass of golden cider poured from a miniature wooden barrel which the elves had shrunk and filled for them. Harry took a sip of the cider, which he admitted tasted wildly better than butter beer.

After preparing his own snack Draco slipped down onto his back, reclined against the log and bit into his bun as he stared up into the bright blue sky.

“Looks like a great day for brooming,” he remarked.

“Yeah,” Harry replied, choosing to remain seated. While he wore the very same clothes he had yesterday, Malfoy had changed into a sheer bluish-grey t-shirt, black slacks and black dragon-hide slip-ons. He looked fitted head-to-toe to grab a mullet and a horse and take on a game of polo; hence was Harry’s slight repulsion. Had Malfoy gelled his hair back it would have completed a very unappealing picture.

There was sudden movement at the corner of Harry’s eye. When he turned over he spotted a large, brown hare sniffing and shuffling upon the ground, coming towards them slowly.

“Oh don’t scare him,” Draco said with excitement when he caught sight of it. He began making noises to attract the creature and waved a brioche he found in the picnic basket at it. The hare dared to venture another step nearer.

“It’s a mountain hare,” Draco told Harry, who stared at the creature as it stopped right before the blanket, refusing to come nearer. When Draco threw the brioche at it the hare blitzed out of the way, looked around inattentively, its nose wriggled before it crept towards the brioche, grabbed it and hopped away.

“Very cute,” Draco said with a small laugh.

“Very brave,” Harry said in a pleasantly surprised way.

“I remember Blaise and I trying to kill one.” Draco reached for another brioche, buttered it and tore off a piece, popping it into his mouth.

Harry stared at the Slytherin. He was more incredulous at how casually Draco shared the anecdote. “I suppose it was part of some game.”

“Too right you are, Harry.”

“Who won at the end? I’m afraid to ask.”

“The hare – we didn’t manage to kill it with the Killing Curse.”

“I imagine why,” Harry drawled. “Thought you’d be cute aspiring Slytherins only to be disappointed – fortunately for the poor animal.”

Draco shrugged nonchalantly. “We didn’t know you had to, like, search deep inside for that thing that makes the spell come about. I think had we played for a couple of more hours with our frustration growing we would’ve managed.”

Harry squinted down at Draco. “What does that mean? Do you have to really want the thing dead?”

“Something like that. I don’t understand it either. You need to want that thing dead like you know nothing else. The closest I can describe it is an intense desire to kill – just like torture with the Cruciatus Curse. The Unforgivables, they all work the same: you need an expressly intense emotion behind them. Only few children can conjure it, let alone two giggling eight-year-olds who think it’s a game. I mean, adults have a hard time with it as well.”

Harry looked away and chewed on his bun, lost in deep thought. The flash of green he vaguely recalled when he was only a year old... The flash of green vividly remembered in his vision the previous year, the target of which was an old man intruding upon an ancient manor... The flash of green flying upon him as Voldemort sought to destroy him in front of his Death Eaters... In those two latter instances the emotion indeed had been intense – conjured swiftly in enormous amounts, like a tsunami.

A cruel intention, a cruel, amused sort of desire, as though killing would bring about entertainment... He had not felt Wormtail’s emotions as he killed Cedric but he had felt those of Voldemort, and they were intense, swift and raw. Easy to surge and pulsed white-hot. They were, in essence, efficient. That was the extent of the usefulness of emotions for Voldemort, Harry thought, a man who had no other use for them.

“I’m sure when you were sorted into Slytherin you all were ecstatic,” he drawled.

“Quite,” sighed Draco, who either missed or chose to miss Harry’s sarcastic tone.

Harry threw his last bit of brioche into his mouth and washed it down before getting Draco’s attention suddenly. Draco turned squarely to him, at which point he recoiled.

“Harry, what’s wrong with your hands? And your forehead?”

“What?” Harry asked quickly, looking down at his hands, answering himself: they were entirely grey. He had noticed the sickening colour had progressed further down his fingers on both hands during his bath earlier, but it had not covered his hands right up to his wrists. His toes had begun turning as well (all of which he had tried to wash off with extraordinary effort). Draco reared onto his haunches and touched a finger to Harry’s forehead near his hairline.

“Harry, what’s happening to you?” he half whispered.

“I don’t know what it is but look--”

“Look here!” Draco screeched before rubbing his hands together in discomfort and pulled his nose at Harry’s neck. Harry’s greyed hand flew to his neck and felt nothing strange.

“It turned too?”

Draco nodded vigorously.

His neck was certainly the latest casualty to the invasion of the gangrenous grey. It seemed bent on covering the whole of his body. Harry felt sick. He did not know what was wrong with him. He felt dirty in front of an ever-pristine Draco, and he was terrified beyond his wits.

“It started happening a while ago,” he pointed out feebly, rubbing at his hands and underneath his hairline as though trying to nurse a rash.

“Harry, you’re not healthy – those look serious,” Draco said solemnly.

“Fuggedabuddit,” said Harry, who felt that what he was about to say was more important. “Look, Draco, Blaise is going to do something really terrible to you.”

The frown on Draco’s forehead remained but Harry was sure it was more of befuddlement than disgust.

“What are you talking about, Potter?” Draco said. However, his nostrils were still flared in discomfited and unapologetic revulsion.

“Things are okay between us, right?” Harry asked.

“Er, yeah, sure.”

“So you’ll believe me if I said Blaise was going to hurt you?”

“Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know. His friends, maybe? In Slytherin? They’d be egging him on?”

“What would he do to me?”

Harry braced himself. “He kills you.”

“Is this some kind of sick joke of yours?”

“No it isn’t,” Harry replied feebly.

“Then what is this?” There flared a small flash of anger in Draco’s glowing silver orbs.

“It’s the truth,” Harry sighed in defeat. “Draco, I come from the future--”

“Merlin, help me...”

And it was not any less painfully cringe-worthy the more times Harry said it.

“--No it’s true! I come from the future because I have this!” For the second time Harry brandished his Time-Turner from his pocket, dangling it on its fine, delicate chain in front of a pair of narrowed grey eyes.

“What the hell? I could have made that too.”

“I stole this from the Ministry of Magic in the Department of Mysteries! Remember I said I snuck into the Time Room or whatever its name is? This is what I stole.”

“Potter, what the fuck is this?” Draco leapt to his feet. “We were enjoying a nice picnic, you forced yourself into being my friend, and now you do this! Accusing my real friend of murdering me?”

Harry sighed dejectedly in front of a raging Draco. “Now is not the time either, I guess.” He turned the hourglasses.

“Harry, you’re not healthy – those look serious.”

“Fuggedabuddit,” Harry replied. “Your father hasn’t been around a lot.”

Draco, quite correctly, cocked his head sideways, as the way Harry demanded his attention suggested the change of topic was to be serious, not random. “You can imagine he’s been busy.”

Reclining onto the blanket, Harry snorted, “I can.”

“You know, there’re two kinds of portraits at the manor,” Draco said conversationally. It was the first time he had struck such a tone with Harry since he arrived. Harry appreciated it, despite his epic failure to convince him which had forced him to turn back the hourglasses again. “There’re—Potter, it’s getting worse! I saw it move down!” Draco was pointing at Harry’s forehead, down which presumably the grey tinge had crept.

The feeling of something crawling on his skin heightened, but Harry remained calm and faced Draco squarely and attentively. “Go on,” he said with pride. He felt very dirty, dirtier in front of Draco’s pale, pure complexion, but he had to pretend otherwise.

Draco tried to swallow away the disgust in his face for Harry’s sake, succeeding somewhat. “There are two kinds of portraits, like I said. The ones in the Great Hall are... let’s say, warmly detached from the family because they think we’re tarnishing the name of Malfoy by affiliating ourselves with the Dark Lord. They don’t mind the practice of the Dark Arts per se, just the possible political and social consequences of being in cahoots with the enemy of humanity, right?”

“Understandable,” Harry said softly. He still felt stung by Draco’s disgust. It was justified but it still hurt. He could not stand himself any longer.

“Okay, maybe I should just show you. Wanna cut this picnic short?”

Harry was grateful for the distraction. “Please,” he said as he without prompt hauled himself to his feet. He was certainly for the premature end to the outing, having been put off by both himself and Draco’s stupidity in not believing him. He was almost beginning to feel it was a hopeless case and Draco deserved his death for being so thick not to heed his words.

They packed up, rolled up the blanket, Harry grabbed his Cloak and they headed out of the woods and back to the manor. They wound up in the massive library, above the threshold of which hung a small carved signage reading “Library of Malfoy”.

It was almost a third the size of the Hogwarts library. Rows upon rows of books stretched from one end of the room to the other like tightly packed matchsticks. And the slight variations in shades of brown and scarlet and green from afar gave the patchy appearance of a solid brick wall.

“The other kind is the kind that still talks to us. They’re more forgiving and make for far better conversationalists.”

Light came from the candles which lined the walls of the library, casting a soft, romantic glow upon the room.

“This would be the perfect spot for people to make out,” Harry noted as they browsed book spines in the last few rows at the back.

“You’re starting with your gay thing again, eh?” Draco deadpanned. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say you wanted us to make out right now.”

“What if I did?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“There’s no shame in desiring the forbidden fruit of deeper affection between two unapologetically boyish boys.”

Harry and Draco turned around and peered up at the portrait of a very old wizard with long, pure-white hair going down his back, an equally long beard flowing down his front and tied with a silver chain, and yellow, piercing eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses.

“I beg your pardon, Sir Carisius?” Draco gasped, whereupon the portrait frowned disapprovingly down at him.

“Did you say it’s okay if Draco and I shagged until we fogged up the windows in here?” Harry asked, shocked. He thought Malfoy Manor would be the last place he would find a portrait which supported anything vaguely homosexual, considering what Draco had told him about the hate purebloods held for people like that, citing admittedly understandable reasons.

“Potter!” Draco shrieked, pale cheeks gone raging scarlet in embarrassment. “I can’t believe you said that! I’m gonna have to scrub my ears out, you sick human being!”

The occupant of a portrait on the right of that of Sir Carisius, a much younger-looking man with similarly pushed-back darker hair, an anchor-style beard and very pointed ears, seemed close to having a stroke.

“I’m sure Carisius was not suggesting it was all right to part with one’s inhibitions and do something so crude,” he gasped shakily.

Sir Carisius’ exercise of patience with the two boys seemed to pain him immensely. “And I was not. Thank you, Withycombe. I remember a time when your protests, dear Draco, would have been suspected as protesting too much. See, our days were those of what they used to call ‘grooming’ schools—or more subtly, ‘stay-away’ schools. That was of course before the Koolle Park Revolution and a fairly large portion of the noble class felt forced for their own survival to take their children to public schools such as Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbaton.”

“Sir Carisius, I feel betrayed by you – I’ve never heard of this before,” Draco accused, raising Harry’s eyebrows. Harry had a sudden flashback of poem recitals at his Muggle schools.

The portrait on the left of Sir Carisius raised an eyebrow but apparently thought himself above correcting anybody and was content in remaining in unimpressed, condescending silence. This was more like the Malfoys, Harry observed shrewdly.

“Oh, my dear beloved Draconis--”

“It’s Draco, for the seventh-hundredth time,” the Slytherin hissed.

“You know your old uncle passed his prime half a millennium ago; suffice it to say I’m excused.”

Harry realized something quite disturbing: the relationship between Draco and this Sir Carisius Malfoy almost seemed to be like his and Dumbledore’s before. But for some reason his instincts screamed against the idea of his and Draco’s sameness. Had he not stopped judging Draco for being a Malfoy and a Slytherin? For being that trouble-making git who made it his school life’s mission to get him and his friends in trouble?

“But allow me,” Sir Carisius continued, licking his lips. “I remember at my old grooming school – which I’m fairly certain no longer exists – how sexual escapades were the currency, and everyone knew that everyone had someone they frothed with.”

“Frothed with?” Draco said with a mixture of bafflement and revulsion.

Harry was just as confused as Draco. He had a sudden vision of a bevy of boys smashing together their glasses brimming with frothing butter beer. But that had nothing to do with sex.

Sir Carisius raised a white, wispy eyebrow. “My boy, are you sure you have lived?” he asked in a rather patronizing way. “Yes, frothing. It was what we called the carnal activities between boys whereby they caressed and moved upon one another until they reached climax. More common was frothing of course, for in thigh sex there needed to be a passive partner between whose thighs the other boy would rub himself. That seemed to bestow upon the passive partner female qualities, which was not the point of the exercise. It was only fair both parties get what they wished to from the engagement at the same time, in the same way, free of damage to one’s masculinity.”

Draco and Harry stood in front of the Malfoy portrait, mouths hanging open, eyes glazed over as astonishing visions washed over them of the institutionalization of homosexual activities which existed in times which no longer were. So, Harry thought with a certain amount of glorious satisfaction, the Wizarding world had no right to find homosexual persons suspect. The nobility had no right to be indignant at their existence and potential to endanger the survival of pureblood. They had been doing before. They might have even invented it!

“We grew out of it naturally,” Sir Carisius sighed as he looked into the distance. Still, Harry thought defiantly. “We had to – we had families to seek.”

Draco seemed not to believe he was having this conversation with a deceased family member. “I didn’t know…”

“You wouldn’t,” Sir Carisius grumbled. “No one would speak of it at their homes. It was only confined to our dormitories. I wonder if those same things happen in the dormitories of public schools today...”

“If they do I don’t know about them. And they certainly don’t happen at Hogwarts,” Draco declared defensively.

Harry quickly turned to him. “You mean in your dormitory, which only has five Slytherins? You don’t know what happens in the others, let alone in the ones of the other years, or the other houses.”

“Are you suggesting these sort of depraved things happen in the dungeons?” Draco charged, swelling up.

“I’m saying people are people and these things happen everywhere there are people,” Harry replied coolly. “Homosexuals are people.”

“Why do you keep thinking you have to defend these animals--?”

“Do excuse yourself, Young Draco,” Sir Carisius warned with a nervous cough.

“--I never heard you were a raging gay at Hogwarts. Oh but of course you’re the saviour of the people. Being a raging pillow-biter is but a minor detail we can all overlook if you’re going to save our lives.”

“What is the Koolle Park Revolution, Sir Carisius?” Harry asked, dismissing the other boy, quietly seething.

“I was going to ask that first!” snapped Draco.

“Go ahead and ask then.” Harry relished the sneering facial expression on Draco as he turned and asked the portrait same question. He was sure Draco was feeling stupid for it.

“Ah, the Revolution of the New Order. Well in short, it is the reason you attend Hogwarts School, Draco, being a son from a noble and ancient family.” Harry rather thought the portrait was ladling these affectionate names at the height of Draco’s anger on purpose; he saw with the corner of his eye Draco’s nostrils flare. “The plebeians felt the nobility were enjoying far too many luxuries and privileges afforded by the Ministry, Wizengamot and some even claimed the International Confederation of Wizards, but I rather find that a stretch of the imagination. So the self-appointed leaders of the lower classes--”

“Which were usually incapable of uniting together so solidly, let alone fashion leaders democratically – hence everyone was caught on the back foot,” interjected Withycombe.

“That’s right,” noted Sir Carisius. “These leaders saw it just to demand the Ministry distance itself from the nobility, cease granting them seats on the Wizengamot purely on grounds of their blood and wealth, and cease to reserve high positions in the Ministry of Magic for them in the stead of qualified individuals...”

“Sounds familiar,” Harry muttered.

“...The plebs were generally fed up with the nobility. They hated that their futures were always guaranteed, and that they had made the government the Upper House of the Noble Diet. They wanted to see them at their level, to reject this image created of them that they were inherently better, with their pale skins, expensive attire, and crisp, clipped speech. Everything about us to them was repulsive. They wanted to see us taken down a notch—several notches. So they began revolting: they stormed the estate of one of the most famous aristocrats by then: the Xanders.

“The family through several generations owned a handful of publishing houses and thereby retained a monopoly, and they had a good foot in the Wizengamot as well. Koolle Park, the area which comprised the estate, was destroyed and the last of the Xanders fled to France. There were attempts at storming other manor houses of the nobles. Few of those succeeded. But the damage was already done, the message was already conveyed, the symbol was already carved from the debris of Koolle Park: the time of the few privileged elite in the sun was over.

“After the politics in the aftermath thrashed out new policies and spawned dangerously libertarian discourses, after labour unions began springing up and bureaucratic hierarchies formally established, things died down. Now basically the nobility were at the mercy of the masses, and they saw it prudent to seem to want to be nearer the masses. So they sent their children to Hogwarts and Durmstrang and Beauxbaton. The grooming schools were done away with, and in less than two decades they disappeared altogether. So at the base of it, it was the masses being jealous of our stature.”

“And you don’t think they were right in doing what they did?” Harry asked hotly, a fire in his eyes. “I mean, isn’t it wrong for people to influence laws and policies the Wizengamot introduced simply because they have money? And I’m sure those laws benefitted only them. ”

“It had always been that way – government lied in bed with big money. There was no need to rattle the status quo. We would’ve taken care of the plebs as we did the half millennium before that.”

Harry changed his opinion of Sir Carisius swiftly. The portrait had endeared himself to him with the warm terms of endearment with which he addressed Draco and his acceptance of homosexual people. But now he discovered Sir Carisius was just as stuck-up as he thought the Malfoy family were in the first place.

“So allow me to get this straight,” Draco began, blinking rapidly. “You are for gays?”

“Those words never passed my lips, dear Draco,” Sir Carisius argued. “There is a time and place for such activities. It seems cuter between two young boys, but between grown men it does make one’s stomach churn slightly. I was never a fan of those... flamboyant types as well.”

“Oh so you’re not against straight-acting boys being together but you are against the more... er—girly ones?” Harry asked incredulously.

“Not to sound so crass but yes, positively,” Sir Carisius answered. Harry snorted his disbelief, at which the portrait frowned. “My boy, it’s simply not proper the way they act. It’s against nature.”

“Acting straight doesn’t make them any less... ga1y,” Harry educated the portrait. “I could be a raging pillow-biter as Malfoy said and still go to Quidditch practice.”

Draco turned swiftly to Harry. “Potter, you’re not saying I was right, are--?”

“I’m not. I just don’t understand the twisted logic of the people of this house, dead ones too,” Harry added with a glare at the portrait.

“Could’ve fooled me with your never-ending innuendos.”

“I was doing those to piss you off deliberately. As if I’d want to fuck your pale arse.”

Draco had no words for these. He subsided in shocked, scarlet-faced silence. This was before he said, “You wouldn’t know how to in the first place.”

“You wanna teach me?”

“Fuckin’ hell, that’s it. I’m outta here,” Draco said, heading towards the front of the library but not without a small smirk on his thin lips.

“Have fun, boys!” came the shout from behind them.

***

“Tell me what a mo’strip is.”

“Information doesn’t come free, Harry.”

“Since when? Last time I checked information was public knowledge. It doesn’t belong to the elite anymore.”

They were back in Draco’s room. Harry was lying on the bed with his head hanging down its side as he stared upside-down at Draco, who had his feet on his escritoire and had been paging randomly through his book before raising his eyebrows and turning partially to Harry.

“You know a little more than you let on.”

“Let’s say I’ve sort of heard this story before. The Wizarding world and Muggle world aren’t so different. They aren’t,” he emphasized after Draco snorted sceptically.

“Well on my terms it isn’t free then.”

“Then what do you want?”

“Information for information.”

“Okay. Fine.”

“Do you fancy me?”

Harry laughed. “Draco, that’s the question? Don’t be ridiculous! What’d make you think of something like that? I told you I was saying those things just to yank your chain.”

“There’s truth in jest, Harry,” Draco said quietly as he paged through his book.

“You don’t honestly think I’m into you, do you? I’m straight.”

“Would you fancy me?”

“Why would I? I’m straight.”

“Something tells me you’re protesting too much.”

“I don’t give a fuck. I’m straight. You can’t try and bend the truth.”

“You’ve been staring me at a few times.”

“So have you!”

“Fine. So we both fancy each other.”

“Pfft! I know I don’t! What’s all this? D’you now feel validated by your uncle Sir Carisius?”

Draco laughed but his face shut off quickly. He turned his back to Harry and continued paging through the book. “He’s not my uncle.”

“You still haven’t told me what a mo’strip is.”

“It’s a booklet you buy full of drawn characters – the good ones pitted against evil ones usually. They make for cheap entertainment.”

“Oh like comic books? Never mind. Yeah, the Muggle world has those too. I told you, you don’t have many differences with them... So what’s Netrogy then...? Draco, come on, you can’t be angry…”

“What? I’m not angry.”

“You’re sulking.”

“Malfoys don’t sulk.”

“Lord, help me...”

“Let me find it, the book will explain it better than I can,” Draco said dispassionately. Several moments later after perusing the book he began to read: “‘Netrogy is the capacity of a wizard to manipulate Universal Magic to produce a spell that remains active indefinitely. The wizard’s R. E. N., that force which allows the wizard to perform magic and which binds the core of his magic to his blood, concentrates and fixes Universal Magic to the issued magical energy of the wizard, the latter of which contains the nature of the spell. Because Universal Magic is used to form the issued spell, it can last forever.’”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, hang on a minute,” Harry protested. He rose from the bed and sat upright. Draco turned to him. “Let me try and work through this stuff. What’s R. E .N. then?”

Malfoy looked unimpressed. “It just said R. E. N. is--”

“I want you to explain it in your words own.”

“You mean dumbed down?”

“Yeah,” Harry said shamelessly.

“I can’t explain it any simpler than they did in the book. R. E. N. is the force – that means it’s invisible and merely a concept that wizards use to understand things, it’s not physical--”

“But how can it exist if it’s not physical?”

“Let me explain, you dumbass!” Draco snapped. “R. E. N. is like your internal energy. It’s short for resident elemental Netrogy. You have it by merely existing--”

“Do Muggle-borns have it?”

Draco scrunched his eyes shut. “Potter, if you interrupt me one more time I’ll stop explaining this to you and kick you out of the house. You can go back to the “Burrow” or whatever rat’s sewage you come from.”

“Go ahead.”

Draco huffed. “They don’t have it but because they’re in an environment with so much magical energy they get their own R. E. N. gradually. Hogwarts is a breeding ground of wizards and witches for Mudbloods. Otherwise they’d be hopeless. Then again, many large buildings are centres of huge magical energy. So for all intents and purposes, yes – Mudbloods have R. E. N.”

“I thought we agreed you weren’t going to call them that.”

“It’s funny how one can’t bank on a Slytherin.”

“You know, I think you Slytherins just force your perceptions onto yourself. It’s like you’ve internalized what the other Houses think of you. It’s a shame--”

“Do you understand R. E. N. now? Good. Leave me to my book.”

“As if you’re reading it.”

“It doesn’t matter if I’m not. Fact is I’m doing something, unlike you. I still don’t know why you’re here.”

“Wow,” Harry snorted. He was trying extremely hard not to anger Draco, but he had not known how easy it was to do so. Every time Draco exploded it felt like starting all over again, and further away went the opportunity to broach the topic of the murder.

“Fine, Draco. I fancy you too. I told you, you look kinda girly, so that turns me on. Not girly but... sort of pure and small and...”

“Merlin, Potter, do you honestly think I’m still on that thing? You need to get over yourself too, and really quickly.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “You know I do. You said yourself I kept staring at you – that’s clearly gay.” He tried to force the amusement off his face.

He suffered a sterile, dispassionate reception from Draco for the whole of the following day. Draco was absent for a portion of it as his mother dragged him off to stock up on stationery for the imminent new academic year.

The day following that, his birthday, Draco, quite unkindly, made it clear to Harry that it was in both their interests for Harry not to be seen by anybody, house-elf, friend or parent but should remain under his Cloak and preferably inside his room while Draco enjoyed the festivities beyond. It was a reasonable request but Harry still felt that it was a way for Draco to get back at him for ostensibly denying his feelings for him. The last time Harry checked, Draco was not supposed to be flattered to be the object of the affections of another boy. Or perhaps Harry was reading him wrong.

Harry at one point contemplated finding Draco and his friends wherever they were in the manor, if they were inside it in the first place, but decided against it as he did not want to lay his eyes upon Zabini if he could help it. And the sight of Pansy Parkinson was almost just as unappealing. So he resorted to casually perusing the books on Draco’s bookstand. He even explored Draco’s trunk and read through his workbooks. He learned more about Draco than he would hope for from Draco himself. He discovered Draco was enamoured with Quidditch more than he let on, there was a tension within him between his cultured self and the part that rebelled against the cloth from which he was cut, and indeed he was obsessed with making sure Harry Potter got his just desserts.

Thankfully the time he spent in Draco’s bag and bookstand whiled the hours away until Draco returned to his room in late evening, holding in his hands a saucer with a generously large piece of cake and a tumbler filled with a deep-red liquid.

“Had a ball?” Harry asked even as he felt his mouth flood with saliva.

“A chance to forget about you, yes,” Draco replied airily with a strange giggle. He came over and offered the food to Harry. “Your stay is becoming more ridiculous by the day.”

“Only because you’re still pissed at me,” Harry said. He felt almost light-headed with relief as he took the food. He bit into the black forest cake ravenously while Malfoy remained standing in front of him.

“I’m not pissed at you,” Draco said, rolling his eyes in a rather exhausted way. “I was over you three days ago.”

“You’re fooling no one.” Harry took a gulp of the liquid and recoiled. Did Draco think cake and red wine was a good combination? But he swiftly reminded himself he was in the Wizarding world and, in a noble house or not, there was still not a wide choice of drinks.

“Suit yourself. What were you doing the whole day? Reading again?” Draco asked with a soft grin. It was slightly strange for Harry to see.

“Yeah. I think I understand that whole Netrogy thing a bit better now. And I think I understand you a bit better too.”

A pale, sculpted eyebrow rose. “Good for you,” he whispered, nodding. Harry nodded back. Draco watched him devour his slice of cake and down his wine. Harry felt strange. The wine settled coldly and lightly in his stomach.

“You’re allowed to drink wine on your birthdays, I see.”

“Yes. Mother lets off.”

Before Harry could reply there came a series of taps from Draco’s window. Draco went over to the window and let his large eagle owl inside his room. Draconis, which Harry knew was the name of the owl from his notes from Malfoy, landed on Draco’s arm, an action which nearly took both of them to the ground, so heavy the bird was. Draco, used to it, steadied his arm and with his free hand untied the note on its leg.

As soon as the note came loose the bird flapped its huge wings and flew out of the room. Draco went over to his escritoire as he read the note.

“Okay...” Harry mumbled, floored by the cold transaction and lack of communication between Draco and his owl. He surmised the Slytherin felt that the owl had one, simple purpose to fulfil.

“Some of us aren’t crazy enough to think our owls are people we can hold a conversation with,” Draco laughed, clearly referring to Harry and Hedwig’s brief exchanges in the Great Hall whenever she brought him mail. “Usually he flies into the Owlery, which sets off a notice to a house-elf, which then brings the note to me.”

“Right,” Harry said noncommittally. He still wanted to feel normal again, but his stomach would not let up. He felt like he was floating.

Draco was indeed pale, but his face now seemed devoid of all colour. His relaxed, lethargically pulled-down features straightened and froze quite rapidly.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“None of your business.”

It was dependably predictable; Harry had asked the question to offer the other boy a vent. “Of course.”

“Father’s coming. He says I must be ready when he arrives tonight.”

Harry stared at him in silence for a long time. “Are you scared?” he finally asked, delving into the space of honest intimacy they shared in their notes.

Draco turned to him, fixed his gaze into his eyes, silver to emerald, and seemingly in honour of that honest space they shared, whispered, “Yes.”

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Harry hurtles through timelines to try to save Malfoy's life after a friend turns on him. But Harry did not expect certain developments between them, and he soon finds he has bitten more than he can chew. HPDM. AU OotP.


Chapter 14

The Mission

“On the bright side, at least I finally get to open up the package he sent me a couple of months ago.”

From the bed Harry frowned at the wry snort from the Slytherin as he slowly and absentmindedly wringed his greying hands.

Draco set the letter aside on the table and made his way around the bed to the armoire. From the top drawer at the bottom of its left compartment he pulled out a dark-red metallic box. Harry twisted around and momentarily forgot about his hands as Draco laid the box on the bed and lifted the lid, the bottom portion of which shone black type that read “Stapelfeldt”. Draco lifted the garment from the box. Judging from his open mouth, Harry surmised the piece of clothing was for whatever reason important. Or expensive. Probably both.

“It’s a robe,” Draco said quietly, his eyes travelling around the shining black fabric. “He says I should wear it.”

“So wear it.”

Draco’s brain seemed to be working furiously as he stood wordlessly at the foot of the bed feeling the robe under his fingers and studying it. “I need—I need time... I’m gonna take a quick shower.”

Harry watched him gently place the robe onto the bed, slope into the bathroom and attempt to tuck a lock of hair behind his ears, only his hair was gelled. A nervous habit. The time Draco took to shower was the time Harry spent trying to figure out why his body was greying. It was profoundly disturbing to feel as though he were rotting.

The eeriest, most horrible aspect of the experience was that he felt no pain. Whatever was making him grey was a silent force, a quiet assassin, ready to reveal itself only when it struck. Pain would have been a welcome symptom, a sign of something gone wrong. Without it he was blind. His affliction had no meaning he could fathom, no explanation he could decipher or imagine. It bore him no pain to relieve him, and it seemed bent on taking over his entire body.

He was snapped out of his thoughts when the bathroom door swung open and out emerged a half-naked Malfoy with a towel around his waist and another twisted over his head. He perched on the edge of his bed, rinsed out his hair and removed the larger towel, thereby exposing his pale lower body. Harry could not whip his eyes away fast enough.

“Do you want me to step outside for a minute?” Harry asked self-consciously in a half-joking manner but quite seriously standing up. His laser gaze towards the door was disrupted by what looked like lotion floating out of the armoire across the room into Draco’s hand.

“Have I trampled on your sensibilities, Potter?” the Slytherin drawled. He raised his leg and ran his hands over it, applying the lotion. He fixed a dark, impatient sideways look at Harry, who swallowed and stood fast in the middle of the room, looking around it desperately for something to which to offer all his concentration: his eyes landed on the letter on the escritoire and stared at it so intently he thought it might ignite. He walked stiffly towards it, sat on the chair and read it.

“‘For the most important night of your life,’” Harry read. “Wow,” he said after finishing reading it. He peeked over his shoulder and watched Draco drying his hair with his wand, the expanse of his flawless naked back towards Harry. He lowered his wand, ran his hands through his hair, smoothed it out and caught items of clothing floating over from the armoire. “Have any idea what’s gonna happen?”

“No,” Draco replied. He grabbed a pair of Barmees, put both feet through its legs and pulled it over. He grabbed the black trousers. “I do know it’s unusual.”

He did not elaborate on that cryptic reply but finished dressing himself. Harry felt slightly more comfortable watching the process because Draco did not seem the least bit awkward. In fact, he appeared quite preoccupied.

“Maybe I should go with you, you know, under my Cloak – my Cloak copy,” Harry suggested.

Draco shot him another dark look at him as he fastened his belt. “What would be the point of that?”

Harry shrugged. “You said it’s unusual. Just wanna be careful.”

“I doubt my father is a danger to me.” Draco began buttoning up his shirt. Harry rested his chin on his arm lying across the top of the back of the chair, peering wanly at the Slytherin, who released a short huff as his trembling hands struggled with a button. He exhaled shortly again and bent down to put on his shoes instead. After doing so he straightened up, closed his eyes and released another tense breath. He grabbed the new robe and threw it on, adjusting his arms and pulling it to fit it properly on him. “Do my buttons, will you?”

Harry had half-expected to hear these words. He crossed the floor and finished the rest of the buttons Draco’s trembling hands had foregone on his black frilly satin shirt. Harry was certain that even by Draco’s standards the shirt was positively, flaming gay. He did the last button and stepped back.

“Thank you,” Draco said. He sounded genuine. He released another shaky breath. “Right. Do I look dressed for the most important night of my life?”

Harry gave the other boy a studious once-over and grimaced. “Uppity.”

“There’s the ticket, then.”

Harry fixed Draco’s sleeves and tried to offer the boy an encouraging smile which only turned out to look little better than a constipated grimace. “You sure you don’t want me there with you?”

Draco blinked rapidly at him. “I could do with the company, even if I can’t see it,” he admitted quietly. “Should I wear my hair like this or style it?”

“Use the gel thing. Gel it,” answered Harry at once. Voldemort did not deserve the full blast of Draco’s beauty.

“But I might look like a teenager who wants to look important and trying too hard.” When Harry shrugged wordlessly Draco sighed, “Fine. If you feel so strongly about it.” Harry snorted but he surprisingly felt no indignant urge to defend himself against the implication. The un-spoken-ness of it made his groin kick slightly.

Draco pointed his wand at his hair, which immediately shrunk up his back, straightened further and shone ostentatiously with gel. Harry greeted the new hairdo with a pleased smile and even relished his allergic reaction to the pompous and conceited look. Thereafter Draco crossed the floor and perched himself back on the edge of his bed. When Harry realized he was now waiting he, too, sat on the bed and folded his arms, waiting for Lucius Malfoy’s arrival.

“Do you think Voldemort’s gonna be there?” Harry asked.

Draco shook his head. “Suffice it to say this is not something my father usually does. The last time I felt like this Father had bought me this lovely grey striped suit I wore in a board meeting with him he said was very important and could take us from being millionaires to Galleonaires. Maybe this is something similar, though a bit late in the day.”

“What would’ve made you Galleonnaires?”

“He was trying to get these old, fat-faced half-wits to invest in an idea this other bloke came up with that Father discovered in Apt Mag – this other enterprise magazine. It was a long memory but not about what someone really experienced but a sort of made-up reality woven into a story, like in a book, just with moving pictures now. Father called it a Meme. He had plans to mass produce it and sell it like you would postcards.”

Harry shook his head, grinning. “Wow. Malfoy was actually going to invent movies for the Wizarding world…”

“Oh wait. This is where you tell me again that the Wizarding world is copying the Muggles, right?” Draco drawled.

“Actually yeah,” Harry muttered a little apologetically. “Movies have been around in the Muggle world for decades. When did your father have this meeting?”

“I think I was eleven, the same year I went to Hogwarts.”

“Yeah. So that was in ninety-one. Movies have been around for about a century or something around there.”

“So ‘movies’ are preconceived stories that are recorded and packaged and sold?”

“Basically, yeah.”

The erosion of the novelty of his father’s idea, which was actually belonged to someone else, was so obvious in Draco’s face that it made Harry feel almost cruel.

“But that’s still… crazy! I mean, this world is about half a century behind the Muggles in everything. For your father to try to introduce, like, mind movies or whatever, is still amazing!”

However, the downturned corners of Draco’s lips persisted and the Slytherin folded his arms. “So what are these movies like then?”

“They’re exactly what your father wanted to invent--”

“You mean the guy he found that needed money to carry on with his idea that my father was in a position to get but didn’t even though I was stunning in that suit, if I do say so myself.”

“Right,” said Harry, who did not know how else to respond both to such self-pity and the repulsive idea of Lucius using his son to close a deal. “Movies are basically stories that are taped – I mean, recorded by a camera and then--”

“The same cameras that take photos?”

“No. In the Muggle world there are two kinds of cameras: the ones that take photos, and the ones that take videos, called video cameras. Videos are basically the piece of real life that the camera records on a tape or film.”

Draco raises his eyebrows and pushed out his lips in reluctant admiration. Harry knew it was always painful for him to concede to Muggles any amount of brilliance or ingenuity he thought had been demonstrated first by wizards.

“So these investors said no to the idea?” Harry asked.

“Yes, they weren’t convinced it was viable. I mean, the idea was unprecedented. But Father said it was not really a failure.” ‘Would Lucius Malfoy ever concede failure?’ Harry thought as his lips twitched. “He said the world was not ready for it and he was going to sit with the idea and wait ten years before he tries again. Fortunately the guy with the idea was only twenty-eight then.”

“Jesus. Twenty-eight? What a twat. Way to make a kid feel better about himself.”

“I know. Successful people always start young though. Either that or they ride on a nice, comfortable inheritance.”

‘Rather like you,’ Harry thought.

“I’ve wanted to ask about this Jesus person Muggles keep swearing with…”

They each tried their best to fill the silence until the moment they were waiting for. Nearly half an hour had passed after Draco stopped attempting to talk through his churning stomach and did nothing but bite his nails and pace around his room. Then suddenly he and Harry felt their insides vibrate simultaneously. Draco’s eyes shot to Harry’s before he could stop himself and he attacked his nails more vigorously.

“They’re in the manor,” he declared.

A few minutes later he whipped around as red sparks shot out of the FlooPort. He rushed over towards it and stared anxiously into its gaping sparkling hole. A few seconds passed as Harry joined him at his side. Then a missive shot out of the drain and the red sparks turned blue before they subsided. Draco grabbed the piece of parchment from the bowl, read it, folded it up and said quietly, “Let’s go.”

Harry grabbed his Invisibility Cloak.

***

The arching doorway that separated the passage in which they stood and the Grand Hall was door-less. Nothing about the small slice of the room it allowed them to see was foreboding. It was a stunningly ordinary stretch of tapestried wall. It was probably just an over-hyped coming-of-age meeting between father and son. Harry could not see Draco’s face from where he crouched a few paces behind him. But he was certain the Slytherin’s heart was pounding even harder than his own. Draco adjusted his dark robe around him, swallowed and braced himself.

“Come in, Draco,” commanded a quietly, silky voice.

Harry’s heart plunged into icy waters. It could not have been a reaction on his part: he felt scared for Draco. It was Draco’s heart that had been struck with ice. Draco seemed to take every ounce of mind to will his foot forward. Finally it moved and his feet carried him into the dimly lit Grand Hall.

He stood at the top of the table at the far end of the room. His face shone fluorescently in the candlelight and his eyes glinted like crimson gems on fire. They turned on Draco and their gaze froze the room. Harry wanted to see Draco’s face with all his heart, to reach out at the back of his leg and touch him in an emboldening gesture of support. But Harry dared not risk startling Draco out of his socks – the boy could barely move. And the lipless smile that slowly stretched across Voldemort’s face did not help Draco’s frantic search for his bearings.

“Ah, the man of the hour. Draco, my dear boy. Come closer.”

The cold, high-pitched voice slithered across the air and rolled over Draco’s astonished body. Draco did not move. It was only after a screaming silence descended into the room in which Lucius looked on almost detachedly but positively beseechingly at his son that Draco finally took his first step forward. He took another, and then another, the click of his shoes the only sound to cut through the stagnant air in the room.

It was the second time Harry saw Voldemort in his new human form. But the diminished trepidation he had felt was augmented into full-blown fear because he felt on Draco’s behalf. It was Draco’s first time seeing Voldemort. All those innocent moments of awe as Draco wondered about the Dark Lord’s features and the epic battles between him and Harry Potter were broken, and he was to regret thinking so naively of him.

Harry kept up with Draco’s steady approach of the top of the table. He had cast a Silencing Charm on his trainers during their journey to the Grand Hall. This, combined with his Invisibility Cloak, he hoped would shield him from Voldemort’s suspicions of uninvited company. All he had to do now was not breathe loudly as he passed under the sneering gazes that the Death Eaters, who were lined up along the chairs, directed at Draco.

Draco finally came to a stop. Harry heard a soft gasp escape him but the warning of the heart-stopping sight before them was needless: a mass of glinting brown scales where the candlelight and the darkness met in a sinuous, never-ending dance. The coils of Voldemort’s giant snake undulated beside his feet like unsettled waters under a starless night.

Even from below the line of the table top it was not hard for Harry to spot the silvery gleam of the platinum-blond locks of Draco’s father, who was now watching his son with mild interest.

“Draco, my fine prince,” Voldemort sung as he reared himself slightly in attention, his large, spidery hands clutching on the arms of his throne. A small but chilling smile played at his mouth as he eyed the youngest Malfoy. “You must not be frightened of your old little friend, are you? Why, Nagini was the first out of everyone in this room besides your father to hold you when you were just a baby.”

Harry thought he vomited slightly in his mouth as he stared at the wooden, taut line of Draco’s figure.

“I’m sure you don’t remember her caresses, you were but just one year old. But I remember your rosy cheeks and that soft tuft of stringy hair perched on your scalp. I regret not touching you – I had not known what to make of you at that size. But now that you appear more palatable and your old lord has returned from his personal hell, I promise to make amends tonight. Come here. I won’t hurt you.”

Harry was now certain he tasted sick at the back of his throat. He had swallowed his fear of the snake and inched around Draco to catch sight of his face: Draco had closed his eyes deeply, but he promptly treaded gingerly around the pool of golden coils into the awaiting arms of Voldemort, who gently led him into his lap. Draco perched himself carefully on Voldemort and fixed his gaze over the giant snake at the wall opposite him.

“It’s a deep embarrassment of mine that I am only able to finally see you on your birthday. I should have tried harder to settle my affairs more speedily. How old are you now, Draco?” Voldemort hissed.

“Fifteen, My Lord.”

“Fifteen?” said Voldemort reverently as he turned to regard his audience, at which point jeering laughter shook the room. “That is certainly nothing to laugh at,” Voldemort remarked even as he had yet to recover himself and was losing his battle with his widening grin. “This is a young man in the making, a time and form in a man’s life at which the world only loves to throw itself helplessly. You have the world at your feet, young Malfoy. It is up to you to make this promise real. If you stay at my side I will show you all the pleasures this world is begging to give you. It will have to. Yes. You’re beautiful, you’re young, you’re pure of blood, you’re male and you’re faithful, aren’t you?”

“Yes, My Lord.”

“But are you truly faithful, Draco? Do you wish to serve me or is the question too heavy for now?”

Draco continued to gaze at the opposite wall as his feet dangled a short distance from the floor. Harry watched his eyes dart several times to his left as though they wanted to reach around his head and look into their twins and divine desperately needed advice from them. An impossibly pale, bloodless hand rose slowly and ran over the gelled blond locks and caressed the soft cheek.

“I understand. You’re not ready.”

“My Lord, I’m--”

“Everything is all right, dear Draco,” soothed Voldemort as he continued petting Draco. “Everything is in order.”

Had Harry been a touch slower he would have missed the brief tightening of Lucius’ jaw before the man controlled his features again and resumed his unreadable, almost faceless expression.

“You will receive my Mark only if you want it. I do not force it upon anyone. Ask them.” Voldemort swept his gaze across the faces of his Death Eaters. “They sought me out and begged me for it. I will not scar your heavenly flesh if you’re not ready, Draco.”

“But I’m ready, My Lord,” Draco protested in a high voice.

“No,” Harry mouthed desperately. He tried to rush through the times he had seen Draco at Hogwarts to figure out whether he had seen his wrist. But his arms were always covered by school attire.

Voldemort moved the part of his face where his eyebrow would have been. He turned to the figure closest to him on his left. “Is he ready, Lucius?”

“He’s ready, My Lord,” answered Lucius with a tight smile at his son, gazing at the back of his blond head steadily.

Voldemort turned back to Draco. “That remains to be seen.” He let the terrible silence spiral for a full ten seconds before his face gave way to another broad smile as his red slit eyes seemed to glint with malice. “Yes, we shall see. But now we must attend to other matters. You’ve warmed my lap. I think you might want to catch up with Nagini?”

The snake released a horrible hiss as it raised its head off its coils. Voldemort gently coaxed Draco off him and stared down fondly at his pet. “He’s all yours, Nagini.”

Draco’s breath caught again and he began to shake visibly. It was a sobering and appalling sight for Harry to watch him back up into Voldemort as he tried to escape the snake.

“She won’t hurt you, Draco. Let her touch you. She’s a very jealous creature and it has been a while since she last saw you.”

Nagini’s tale wrapped around Draco’s ankles. “F—Father!” Draco cried.

“Be nice, Nagini.”

Draco tried with all his might to remain upright for as long as possible, but soon as more and more coils fell upon him they grew too heavy and he fell into the churning flesh.

“Death Eaters,” Voldemort said as he turned his gaze down the table in such a stark business tone it was as though Draco had left his lap a half hour ago, “our numbers have diminished. Some of your colleagues have endured an unbearable stay on the other side of those monolithic walls. It’s time their solemn act of loyalty is rewarded: they will join us in their rightful places among us soon.”

The Grand Hall ruptured. Bellows of jubilation filled the room and buried the memory of Draco and Nagini beneath them. When the Death Eaters returned to order, as Voldemort’s slit eyes slid to his left, he continued in a low, seductive, trembling hiss, “They will join the rest of you who have been forced to go underground and all but disappear while still others enjoyed a full life in the daylight. By, what was it, Lucius, maintaining suitable appearances?”

“That’s correct, My Lord,” replied Lucius as he ignored his growling and spitting colleagues. “For all the world I appeared innocent, repentant and rid of my old ways. But appearances are deceiving.”

Voldemort lingered on Lucius’ face before he turned his gaze on the figure closest to his right. “And Severus was busy slithering closer into Dumbledore’s small pocket of trusted friends.”

“I was, My Lord,” said a silky voice with a nasal twang. If it were not for Draco’s elbow hitting the floor as he thrashed Harry would have been heard knocked off his feet. Harry, who had forgotten about trying to will Draco telepathically to calm down as Nagini writhed around him, now fixed his stunned gaze at the austere profile of his Potion’s teacher, complete with a forbidding hooked nose and a curtain of greasy black hair that fell over his ear.

He had to tell Dumbledore was the only thought that ran through his head as he stared at the perfidious eyes looking back into Voldemort’s. I have to tell Dumbledore…

Meanwhile another Death Eater was reporting something to Voldemort, who stared at him with a slightly interested expression. Another Death Eater, this time a woman with straggly black hair and heavy dark lines under her eyes, leant over the table as she spoke with a caress in her voice, gazing reverently into Voldemort’s eyes. But before she even finished speaking Voldemort’s attention had wandered to the floor at the bits of naked pale flesh peeking out from beneath the writhing mass of coils.

Sliding and undulating around Draco, Nagini had slipped off his clothes, even his slip-on shoes, leaving Draco covered only by his socks and the coils. Draco’s face was scrunched tightly and his eyes closed in revulsion and fear, his fisted hands buried under more coils.

Harry finally managed to remove his gaze from Snape when he felt his passion stir. He looked aside at Draco, shocked at his state, and looked up at Voldemort leaning over the side of his chair and watching the scene below him. Despite his lifeless expression, Harry was sure, as sure as the feeling in his groin was real, Voldemort was enjoying what he was seeing. He and Voldemort were, after all, of one mind. And Voldemort and his snake probably of one soul.

“You’ve had your fun, Nagini. I want to speak to the boy.”

Draco began struggling out of the snake’s coils as though Voldemort’s command could not have come sooner. Nagini gently insinuated her coils around and off the Slytherin, who shot out of the mass of snake before he could even come to his feet or collect his clothes. Harry felt sickened again as he watched Draco clutch Voldemort, hyperventilating and shaking from head to toe. Instead of dangling his feet from the same side of Voldemort as his snake he drew his legs up into Voldemort’s lap, turned towards his father. Voldemort only relished his desperate and shivering touch, holding him like a small boy frightened by his nightmares.

“It’s all right, my prince. We’ll give you a moment to gather yourself… That won’t be necessary, Lucius,” Voldemort said quietly when Lucius stood up and began to take off his robe to offer to his son. Draco stared at Lucius briefly from behind his pointy shoulder against Voldemort’s chest. Something about Lucius’ expression became deadened and he seemed more stoic and detached than ever before.

Nagini slid under the table, flicking her touch, to Harry a gesture equal to that of a person licking his lips or sighing in the afterglow of an orgasm. He leapt backwards as he did not want to take any chances. It was true he was invisible but that might not have gotten rid of his scent. When its endless body was as far away from him as he could wish for, he inched closer to Voldemort’s seat and stared at the ruffled cap of white-blond hair that had been messed up by the giant snake when Draco had thrashed against it.

“I need you proper so I can speak to you, dear Draco,” Voldemort cooed. But Draco still had trouble catching his breath and stopping his shivers. The small smile on Voldemort’s face widened. “Rise.”

Draco dared not indulge Voldemort’s mercy any further. He unlatched himself from Voldemort and brought himself to his feet at his side. The candlelight fell generously on his pale, petite form. Despite that it stood before a horrendous sight, Harry, standing mere inches from it, could not imagine a more perfect body.

Voldemort fastened his gaze on Draco. “You insist you’re ready to take my Mark, the highest honour you will earn by your master.”

Draco’s eyes darted to his father. Harry almost missed the very slight dip of Lucius’ chin as he gave a miniscule nod.

“Yes, My Lord.”

“Am I your master, Draco?”

“Yes, My Lord.”

“Do you wish to serve me until your last hour?”

“I do, My Lord.”

“Then your task will be a simple one: kill Dumbledore and you will receive the Dark Mark.”

Harry felt himself begin to fall and balanced himself by holding onto Draco’s leg. Draco started and gasped. The delay of his moment of panic made Voldemort’s crimson eyes glint again like the turn of a blood-red ruby in the light. The infinitesimal spark of life in Lucius’s sterling silver eyes vanished and the fall of his chest as he gave a small sigh seemed his body’s swan song before it was forever petrified.

Suddenly Harry recalled the memory of Voldemort and Lucius talking as they stood cast in partial darkness in a room with books along each wall. He would suffer the dream a few days after this meeting. “Your son,” Voldemort had hissed, “looked startled at the gathering.”

“My Lord, it was his first time ever to be graced by your presence.”

“Is that all? You think he was shaken by the sight of me?”

“He wouldn’t dare! He didn’t!”

“Are you confident in his conviction, Lucius?”

“I’m certain of it, yes, My Lord.”

“Good,” said Voldemort.

Harry’s insides plunged onto the floor. He had not changed the timeline; he had not touched it. He had acted where he was supposed to act, touching Draco’s leg and startling him, to precipitate the meeting between Lucius and Voldemort. Was he here before? Had he chased time before?

“Will you do this task, Draco?” Voldemort was saying in a soft but cruel command.

It took all his willpower for Draco to haul out of his lungs the breath he needed to keep himself upright and utter the words that would seal his fate forever.

“I will, My Lord.”

Voldemort smiled coldly. All the sound in Harry’s ears suddenly died. “Let it so be then, Draco. You may not fail, for you may not live. The weak deserve no board in Lord Voldemort’s order, neither now nor when I reign supreme over all wizard country.

“You have three weeks to complete your task, my young prince. Go and make your devices. Seek help if you wish. Bring me Dumbledore’s head if you can. If you cannot, run the other way until you cannot spend your legs any further or until you reach the ends of the earth, and hope with all the life in your body you never meet my wand. Go now. And many happy returns!”

***

It all made sense now. Almost everything lay bare before him. He had completed half his mission: he had found out what had suddenly improved Draco’s standing among his Housemates: the Dark Lord had honoured him by trusting him with the mission to kill Dumbledore, the successful completion of which guaranteed him the Dark Mark and entry into Lord Voldemort’s fold. That was why the Slytherins could not get enough of his reflected glory. They were so confident in him, a confidence solidly borne by the fatal catch of his mission: Draco had no choice but to succeed if he wanted to live.

That was why he had looked close to fainting when he had suddenly came face-to-face with Dumbledore during the headmaster and Harry’s casual amble about the castle. That was why he had sung nursery rhymes and doused himself in Firewhiskey and cried that Voldemort would kill his family. He had to kill Dumbledore first. And he knew it was impossible to kill the greatest wizard Harry had ever known – that was why he was crying again, into the Slytherin-green covers of his bed.

So Draco would fail because Dumbledore still lived even after he was murdered. He was murdered because he had failed. Murdered by his best friend Blaise Zabini as the other Slytherins looked on to make the deed certain. Zabini would attempt to cover the murder by giving Snape the excuse for Draco’s absence that he had a headache and handed in his Potions assignment. Zabini would return to the classroom where they hid Draco’s body to try to bury the odour of rot under the sweet scent of vanilla essence.

Hovering by the door Harry looked on at Draco’s body heaving on his covers. He looked down at his hands: the gangrenous grey had crept further down his forearms towards his elbows. For this he had accomplished nothing yet. Draco finally raised his head, turned to him and fixed his blind, teary gaze on him.

“Harry… please,” he sobbed.

Harry crossed the floor, climbed on the bed and ran his hand over the gelled hair and back.

“I’m done… How am I going to kill Dumbledore, Harry? How…? How do I kill one of the most powerful wizards in the world?”

Harry tilted his head to one side and wiped away his tear. He lowered himself further and lay down on the bed, still soothing Draco.

“You don’t,” Harry sniffed.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Harry hurtles through timelines to try to save Malfoy's life after a friend turns on him. But Harry did not expect certain developments between them, and he soon finds he has bitten more than he can chew. HPDM. AU OotP.


Part III

Chapter 15

Back to the Future of the Previous Past

They had not made eye contact for the hours that passed during the night. Harry lay under the covers, head tilted upwards to watch through the window the sky above the canopy line brighten with every minute. He then turned his gaze onto the gelled cap of white-blond hair peeking out from the emerald covers. He was certain Draco had not slept either. Had the Slytherin managed to do so, the Glamour of his hairstyle would have run its course and Draco’s full head of locks would be sprawled around him disorderedly. The source of their torments was one.

“Do you believe me now?”

The other boy’s head shifted slightly but Harry was not able to see his features. “That I came here to warn you that you were going to die?”

The head turned again, this time until Harry had full view of Draco’s bewildered frown. “If you’ve mentioned it before I must’ve missed it – that’s the first I’ve heard of dying.”

This was, to Harry’s shock, perfectly true: whenever Harry had broached the subject of Draco being killed by his best friend Blaise Zabini, Draco would react with disbelief, forcing Harry to use the Time-Turner and try again at a more suitable time when Draco was more pliant. In the end Harry achieved not telling Draco anything, a realization which caused him pause.

“I’m probably going to anyway,” Draco said quietly, turning his bloodshot gaze away and up at the ceiling.

“I mean, okay,” said Harry. “Look, I think I know how this goes.” Draco turned his attention back on him. “Voldemort gave you an impossible mission last night, one you will fail.” Harry paused here expecting Draco to ask him how he knew he would fail but Draco’s silence told him the Slytherin had already accepted the truth and his fate. “Because you failed, Voldemort wants you dead. Blaise kills you.”

Draco eyed him for a long while, his reddened, slightly washed grey eyes bouncing between Harry’s own eyes, searching him. “How do you know this?”

“Because I come from the future. Term already started where I come from – or when I came from. Whatever. You’re hugely popular in Slytherin now and the whole school’s trying to figure out why. Then three weeks into term Blaise and a couple of other Slytherins take you to the seventh floor and kill you. Blaise casts the Killing Curse on you and the other Slytherins stuff you in a cupboard in some ancient classroom. I came here to try to tell you that. Right now you’re rotting in that cupboard and Blaise just recently visited to try to cover the smell up with vanilla essence, I think it was.”

“Stop,” Draco pleaded in a voice suggested it caused him a great deal of effort to speak. He sighed heavily, wiped his forehead and frowned up at Harry. “Where did you—How are you even coming up with all of this?”

“Listen, I have a Time-Turner I used to go back in the past. I have it in the opposite room in one of the drawers. Dumbledore does jack for you, all right? That’s the truth.”

“That’s only natural. He only cared about you; why would he check for a Slytherin?”

“It’s not because you’re Slytherin, he was just preoccupied with a lot of stuff. And I—I wasn’t forceful enough in getting his attention. Fudge was also demanding his time.”

“So you’re saying my dying is your fault.”

“No! I never cast the Killing Curse on you – Blaise did. I just didn’t get the message out there in a way that was believable. And Dumbledore had to take care of the Azkaban break-out disaster.”

Draco stared at him with an expressionless face for a few moments before he put his hand to his forehead and gave an odd but serene smile and shook his head in what seemed a moment of realization.

“The disaster when Voldemort breaks out his Death Eaters like he said last night?” he said.

“Yeah.”

Draco continued to shake his head, still smiling, and rubbed the bulges of his closed eyes. The smile flickered before he turned back to Harry. “So am I really going to die?”

Harry nodded.

“So it’s settled then.” Draco rose from his bed. “I have to find a way to kill Dumbledore.”

Harry’s mouth fell open. He lifted himself to his haunches as well. “You’re not going to. Aren’t you listening?”

“I wasn’t going to a second earlier when I didn’t know I wasn’t going to. Know that I know I’m not going to, I’m going to make sure I do.”

In the time it took Harry to try to work out this parable Draco had crossed the floor over to his bookstand and was perusing the spines of the books tightly packed on it.

“Draco, you’re not going to kill Dumbledore,” Harry said firmly.

“He doesn’t have to be prepared. He doesn’t have to see me coming. I’m sure I can nick him with a Killing Curse behind his back on some random patrol of his.”

“Draco,” breathed Harry as he climbed off the bed. He felt short of breath and could not believe Draco was attempting to plan his mission and change his fate. “Do you understand you’re not going to do it? Otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here in your room right now because you’d still be alive.” Draco did not reply but continued pulling books off the stand and browsing them. “Draco!”

“What do you want me to say, Harry?” Draco said quietly.

“I—I--” stuttered Harry, who was stunned by both the placid way in which Draco spoke and his use of his first name at this time. “I want you to say… I want you to say you’ll stop what you’re doing and go into hiding with your parents under the protection of the Order.”

Draco gave a soft chortle. “Did you just make that up?”

Harry almost did not believe himself either. “Okay, I made it up – not the Order, it does exist. But the protection can exist, too, if you want it to. We’ll fly over to Hogwarts and tell Dumbledore.”

“It’s no use. He’ll find me – he’ll find me and my family sooner or later. He has people everywhere, or he will at least. You heard in the meeting, they are close to toppling the Ministry. He’ll be everywhere and he’ll be able to find us anywhere. I have to do this.”

“You’re acting fuckin’ crazy now, all right, mate!” Harry shouted as he snatched a book from Draco’s hands. “D’you actually think—Please, tell me, what are you going to do then?” Harry asked matter-of-factly as he clutched the book he had grabbed from Draco between his folded arms.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out with these books, if you don’t--”

“You think books are going to help you kill the cleverest wizard of all time?”

“I sincerely doubt he’s the cleverest wizard of all time. Last time I checked Vantage Quarterly or other major magazines they only listed the richest and most influential people in the country, not the cleverest. And, like everyone else, he sleeps.”

“Oh so you’re going to sneak into his private quarters and kill him while he’s sleeping? Wow, Draco, for an A-student that’s incredibly stupid.”

Draco watched Harry with his head tilted to one side as he leant on the bookstand. There was a small upward curl to one side of his lips, a half-smile, a shadow of the unfathomable and serene expression he had given Harry earlier.

“I don’t see you coming up with any brilliant solutions either.”

“I said you could go into hiding!”

I said he’ll still find me!”

Finally there was life in the pale body.

“He won’t!”

“The Dark Lord might not be able to see into Dumbledore’s mind but I doubt the other members of this ‘Order’ aren’t as skilled as he is! It’s only a matter of time before the Dark Lord finds out who they are, reads their minds and figures out where I am!”

“I—I--” But Harry had not rebuttal to this. He had not considered that the other members of the Order of the Phoenix in all likelihood could not match Dumbledore’s skills in Occlumency and that the total strength of the Order was just as likely little more than that of its head. “He won’t find the other Order members,” Harry countered in a slightly feeble way.

Seeing that Harry was unconvinced even by his own words, Draco turned back to the books he had pulled off the bookstand and threw them on his escritoire. Harry thought very hard and very quickly but he was out of good ideas. He finally sighed and stepped closer towards the other boy, sincerely extending a hand. “Draco, look. We’ll find a way to get you out of this. Killing Dumbledore isn’t an option – at least not with me. And you can’t--”

“What if it is with me still?” Draco asked in a quiet but defiant tone.

Harry closed his eyes and, before he could finish counting to five, burst into speech. “IT ISN’T! It will never be! It can’t be because I’ve seen you! You’re gonna go on a sorry little drinking binge and sing to your mother about how kisses can’t save you! Hush, my dragon. Don’t cry so much. Morrow I promise, fun we’ll have much!

Something within Draco had flickered and frozen. There was a brief pause after Harry’s rendition of the song Draco had sung when Harry had found him sitting on the cobblestone along the corridor at Hogwarts, self-pitying and giddily drunk. A pair of widened silver eyes pierced him back. But then, when Harry had prepared himself to catch the other boy before he collapsed to the floor in woeful resignation, Draco shook his head, his lips formed a thin, incredulous line and he took half a step backwards.

“I don’t know where you come from or what you’re playing at, but you need to leave.”

Harry thought his ears had malfunctioned. “What?”

Draco moved away from him urgently and padded towards the door. “You need to go away,” he said calmly. Harry’s feet carried him towards the other boy while he struggled to make sense of what had just happened.

“Draco,” Harry whispered, “what are you doing? What are you talking about?”

But Draco was already crossing the passage and entering the room opposite. He swept his gaze across the room before he slipped out again.

“Get your broom and your Invisibility Cloak.”

“Draco, I can’t leave.”

“Yes you can,” Draco said softly as he stopped in the middle of the hallway and folded his arms, staring at Harry with business-like expectation. “You didn’t come with anything else. I can grab some rations for you for the way home.”

Harry stared at the mild expression on the Slytherin’s face, utterly shocked and not knowing what next to do. He could not leave like this. “Draco…”

When Draco twitched at hearing the sound of his name through Harry Potter’s lips it was as though everything that had happened between the moment they laid eyes on each other for the first time since the summer began and a few minutes ago when they had lain on the bed together was reversed, as though they had never been that close.

“What are you doing…?”

“All this should never have happened. We can’t be like that together. We’re not meant to be friends. All of this can’t be.”

“I don’t care about the friends part. I care about the fact that you’re going to die if you keep it up!”

“You need to go.”

“And you’re not listening to me! How many--?”

“Because I don’t have to. You can keep telling yourself your stories all you like. I just want you out of here right now,” Draco said coolly.

Harry gaped in front of the Slytherin in complete shock. “Draco--” Another twitch. “--we’re not talking about being friends here anymore. That’s fine, you don’t have to care about that. But we’re talking about you dying because Voldemort gave you an impossible thing to do.”

“I understand that. I’ll make my own devices, like he said,” Draco replied quietly, a tear glinting in one eye.

“Whatever your ‘devices’ are they’re not going to work, Draco!” Harry begged desperately. “Please! I’m telling you, you don’t succeed! Dumbledore’s still alive as we speak!”

“GET OUT!” Draco boomed suddenly, startling Harry. “GET! OUT! Or I’m calling Mother!”

For a moment Harry considered reasoning further with the other boy, taking another step forward, making his expression more open and sincere. But something came over him and he burst out into a random fit, throwing his limbs in every direction. He took off into Draco’s room, grabbed his Firebolt and Invisibility Cloak and, without another word and biting hard on his jaw to prevent himself from screaming wildly at the naïve species he was raging past, stomped down the passageway.

“Fine!” he bellowed from the other end of the corridor and standing before the grand staircase, unable to help himself. “See if anybody else cares about you! Your own father obviously doesn’t because last night he basically just handed his only son to a vile snake he calls his master without so much as batting an eyelid! And your own mother doesn’t hang around here long enough to see how stupid you’ve grown! Have a great life, Malfoy! See if I care! Just see!” He raced down the staircase clumsily with his Firebolt hitting the railings. In a few seconds he was out of the double doors and back in the sky, flying somewhere he had not yet figured out.

Why should he care so much for someone who clearly did not care as much for himself? Someone so stupidly and unnecessarily naïve that he allowed his fear to consume him and seal his fate when it did not have to? When he had his ready-made hero standing in front of him, waiting to save him? The very hero he was committed to creating in every question he asked Harry, in every awed utterance of “Wow, Harry, you’re amazing!”

Harry, as amazing as he was, did not care anymore. He did not care about someone who was beyond reason, piece of proof after piece of proof. Draco Malfoy was a mere student at Hogwarts School in his fifth year. He was no special boy, not bound to a legend that would decide the fate of the entire Wizarding world. He was no one important, just a privileged heir-apparent to a fortune. Just the last male of an old family. A pureblood out of many. His death was but remote. The school and the parents will weep. The headmaster and possibly the Minister will say a few solemn words like those spoken two months ago after Cedric’s death. And life, as ever, will persist.

    ***
    CALLS FOR DUMBLEDORE’S RESIGNATION MOUNT As Hogwarts death toll climbs, many are demanding the famed headmaster step down
    Luke Goodykoontz Investigative Reporter LONDON – THE MURDER of the sixth student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, fourth-year Gryffindor Anthony Rathbone, has sparked questions about Dumbledore’s fitness to run the prestigious school. Head of the Department of Law Enforcement Auror Caput Aubrey E. Unterhalter is the latest voice but the first high-profile figure to join the chorus clamouring for the beleaguered headmaster to step down. “Dumbledore has proved himself incompetent in dealing with the urgent situation at Hogwarts. It’s time he retired after a long and illustrious career,” Unterhalter said at a press conference at the Ministry of Magic yesterday afternoon. Among other reasons he listed as part of his official recommendation to the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge to begin the process of reviewing Dumbledore’s office, Unterhalter said that Dumbledore was, according to his own admission, made promptly aware of the first murder – that of entrepreneur and advertising mogul Lucius Malfoy’s son Draco Malfoy – and did not act immediately was the most shocking and damning. Unterhalter noted that his words may not be in line with popular sentiment, particularly among middle-agers and the older demographic that attended Hogwarts during Dumbledore’s tenure after his ascent from Transfiguration professorship. But he urged the public to consider “the facts laid bare before them and make up their minds reasonably”. “The current headmaster has been on a downward spiral for a period now and shows no sign of picking up,” Unterhalter concluded. “He’s exhausted the patience of my Department and I’m certain of the majority of the nation, or at least those who lost children under his watch.” The official recommendation from the HOD of Level Two forces the Minister to act and break his silence. Minister Fudge, who has remained mum about Dumbledore’s handling of the murders at his school, will publicly decide whether he dismisses the recommendation – with good reason – or hands it over to the Board of Governors, the body that oversees the running of Hogwarts. The latest murder is the sixth in as many days at the troubled school, with a murder happening each day. Dumbledore has called “misguided” attempts by commentators to draw patterns in the killings based on the fact that a murder has occurred every day, that four out of the six victims were Gryffindors and that the crimes were perpetrated by the same group of Slytherin referring to themselves as the Black Snakes, according to some Hogwarts students. Adding to Dumbledore’s woes are rumours circulating at the school that Harry Potter is missing. Dumbledore denies this. Several Hogwarts students from whom the London Courier managed to glean comment in spite of Dumbledore’s sincere efforts to restrict access to his school are adamant the curse-happy gang is specifically targeting Gryffindors because of the age-old rivalry between the two Houses. Dumbledore has also refuted this and insisted the murder were likely arbitrary, adding that reducing the deaths of the fallen students to mere casualties of a petty rivalry between Houses was insulting to their memory and their parents. Dumbledore also warned the media against calling the murderous Slytherins ‘Death Eaters,’ ‘neo-Death Eaters,’ ‘junior Death Eaters,’ ‘Death Eater wannabees’ or ‘Death Eaters-in-training’ as that “would only beatify them” if their extreme ambitions are indeed to join the ranks of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The Daily Prophet yet again slammed Dumbledore for continuing to spread “subversive rumours” that the Dark leader of the terrorist group has returned to life. And the paper has almost exclusively referred to the Slytherin gang as ‘neo-Death Eaters,’ suggesting that the murderers are not attempting to earn their way into the Death Eater ranks but are merely belatedly posturing in a post-Dark Lord era and trying to capture the Death Eaters’ terrible mystique. The Daily Prophet has had close leanings to the Ministry in recent years. Two weeks ago on September 23rd twelve convicted Death Eaters escaped from Azkaban Prison. There has been no spike in crimes for the week ending October 3rd. The Courier has exclusively established that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named intends to infiltrate the Ministry in order to use it as part of his machinery to impose his regime.
    ***

Harry dropped the paper on the bed and stared between his knees at the morning sky outside the window of his decrepit room. The spires and rooftops of several stores jutted in from the bottom edge of its frame. There was a soft ring of bustling noise in his ears from the rowdy business Tom was conducting downstairs at the Leaky Cauldron. The owner, with whom he was familiar and whom he told the grey colour on his skin was expired Floo powder upon the man’s enquiry, was kind enough to agree to let him pay later for his room (not that Tom would have had any space for his cash in his cash register, which had looked unusually full).

After reading his paper Harry was not amazed any longer why he had not fielded questions about why he was not at school. Tom had told him that he was not the only Hogwarts student rooming at the Leaky Cauldron and that many of his schoolmates were staying just for a few hours or a night until their parents fetched them. Business was booming – he was only too glad to give Harry free board Harry was tempted to knock on doors and see if he recognized some of the students.

A few minutes ago he had turned the hourglasses again after he had squeezed himself into the closet of the same room and returned to his original timeline. In spite of this his instincts were to keep his footprints as small as possible and had decided against seeking out other students.

It was so enormously refreshing to be in the right time that he had not known how much. He had felt the insidious grip on his insides lift instantly. He had not been aware that he had been labouring under a silent, oppressive force. Its most obvious sign of departure was the retreating sea of grey on his skin. In the cloudy mirror he had found in a ludicrous location at the back of the closet he had noticed that his forehead was mostly back to normal, with the greying approaching his hairline. And after half an hour his hands and wrists, which had been completely grey, had cleared. Even now he saw the minute edge of his grey complexion recede very slowly from his wrists.

But as relieved as he was, the reversing of the phenomenon proved that its existence was a consequence of time-travelling, a deeply troubling thought when Harry knew, in the deepest place of his soul, in his heart of hearts, despite his boiling anger, he was going back to try to save Draco again: he was burdened with the knowledge of Draco’s fate and the knowledge that he had the means to change it. His conscience would allow him no rest if he looked the other way. And his heart would break.

Things in his original timeline were much worse than he anticipated. He almost wished he had picked up a copy of the Daily Prophet, which he could trust, as the London Courier implied, to be sparing with the truth and soften the blow. Harry was shocked so many more murders had taken place after that of Draco. Were the perpetrators the same students who murdered Draco? Were Blaise Zabini and his company of Slytherins the Black Snakes? If they were, surely Draco would have known that his best friend was part of it. But then Harry reminded himself that Zabini and Draco had grown apart during term as more sycophantic Slytherins flocked around the latter. Not to mention that he had not seen much of Pansy Parkinson, Crabbe and Goyle either. Zabini would have had no reason at all to tell Draco he had joined some evil gang if he had.

The only good thing to come out of the article was that he now knew Dumbledore had not resigned as he had told Harry he would the last time they spoke. Hogwarts, Harry believed, would have been in much worse shape. It needed Dumbledore. Dumbledore must have known this.

Harry glanced at the screaming headline on the newspaper again. Tom had handed it to him, saying it was a new paper barely a week old trying to make out a name for itself by flooding the main centres of business, including Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, with free copies. As he had not done so because he had stopped at the first page, which was hard to miss, Harry opened the paper and casually browsed the rest of it.

For one thing, the articles were much meatier than those he would normally find in the Daily Prophet (Harry had a sudden flashback of Uncle Vernon one day having a fit over a copy of the Independent. He all but tore the newspaper apart as he stomped into the kitchen in complete silence and returned empty-handed to his spot on the couch in front of the television box. Before the mood settled again and Harry resumed surreptitiously watching TV from the top of the stairs, Uncle Vernon completely unabashedly declared he had thrown the paper out not because he despised lengthy, analytical, in-depth reading but that the paper had grown too – at this point he waved his hand wildly above his head with a childish sneer on his face – and sinfully unpatriotic in its attempt to emulate the New York Times). For another, the paper had basically taken for a fact Voldemort had returned. Just that made Harry extremely happy with the paper.

That was, however, before he caught sight of Rita Skeeter’s name further back in the paper in the lifestyle section. He was so shocked to see the name he had to page back to the front and check the name of the paper again. His mouth fell open. The fact that she did not make it as a proper news journalist on a newly established and seemingly high quality paper but relegated to near that part where one found crossword puzzles and columns like “Agony Aunt” did not elate Harry when he saw her biting headline: “Tired of kings and castles? Maybe you’re French,” it read, with the same brand of tart, incisive journalism in which Skeeter specialized and which burned Harry.

He skimmed through the article with half a mind and gathered, as he had suspected, it was basically an advertorial for Beauxbatons Academy of Magic for parents who were fed up with fearing the worst for their children every other year at Hogwarts (which Harry grudgingly admitted was true, recalling the Basilisk attack in his second year, the Dementors in his third because it was believed a mass murderer Sirius Black was hanging around Hogwarts, and Cedric’s murder in his fourth).

Skeeter spared no compliments for the French school. She described it as “that magazine all women love to look at,” full of gorgeous men – boys in this case – for potential sons- and daughters-in-law with good genes. And she completely downplayed the fact that it was a school that taught in French. According to her, “some” of the subjects were offered in both English and French.

Harry flung the paper across the room. The article was so infuriating Rita Skeeter must have done something right. He knew it was unkind of him to wish continued unemployment on someone, but he still felt some people deserved it more than others.

He climbed off his bed, crossed the room and looked out over Diagon Alley. The face of the handsome, slant-eyed Italian still lingered in Harry’s mind, despite Skeeter’s article. All of this was Blaise Zabini’s fault. He was furious with Draco because of Blaise Zabini. Dumbledore was getting close to being sacked because of Blaise Zabini. Draco was dead because of Blaise Zabini. The expression on the Slytherin’s face when Harry caught him in the classroom in which they had concealed Draco’s body, illuminated by the narrow beam of light from his wand, refused to leave him. And now his mind was coming up with all sorts of fantastical images: Zabini posing like an anime villain in front of group of comically smirking Slytherins sporting a cool haircut and uniquely wearing a robe, which clearly signified he was the leader, and showing off the Dark Mark below his tanned wrist.

He had to get out of there; the room was too small. He felt alone. He had a sudden urge to be with Ron and Hermione. The very thought of them sent a cold wave of longing through his chest. They would have been so great on his time trip. They could all have deliberated on what to write in the next missive to Draco from the room opposite him, snuck into the kitchen and grabbed some food instead of having the uninspired idea of making Draco ask for the food from his attendant house-elf. They could have invisibly explored the manor and the country around it. They could have all had the opportunity to become Draco’s friends and share in in the beauty of his wit and his moments of awe as his brilliant silver eyes lit up and his smirks and his flowing white hair and his beautiful feet.

You’re being disgusting now, Harry.

Yes, perhaps he would not have felt the feelings he had felt being around Draco had Ron and Hermione been as well.

And perhaps with the help of his friends he would have done a much better job at Malfoy Manor.

But perhaps he should not simply dismiss the laughably comic images of Blaise Zabini in his head. Perhaps he should listen to his mind: perhaps the answer was Blaise Zabini indeed. Perhaps he should work around Draco. Perhaps he had tried to convince the wrong person. Draco had not heeded his timely warning and would continue as he had before he was killed. Perhaps the only way for Harry to save him was to convince Blaise not to kill him. Or, if that did not work, remove him before he got rid of Draco.

Harry watched the bustling narrow street winding through the tightly packed shops. He journeyed downstairs and explored them. He had left the Leaky Cauldron with no money in his pockets since Hagrid had his key to his Gringotts vault, but to his great surprise he returned with bags full of candy in which he could fit two Quaffles each: the storeowners had been so happy to see him that most of them had let him shop for free. “Don’t blame you for ditching that hell hole there, son,” Florean Fortesque said breezily to him as he handed him his favourite Berry Blizzard cone. “I’da high-tailed it myself if I saw kids snuffin’ it around me too.” And it was the first time he had heard the term the “Chosen One” spoken in the same kind of whispers in which he had heard people call him the Boy Who Lived in the Leaky Cauldron four years ago.

If he were honest with himself, the desperate plea for him to save them in their acts of generosity and in their beaming faces did not renew the feeling of impotent rage he usually felt, but rather saddened him a great deal. They all knew Voldemort had returned. They were not blind to the signs: the deaths all over again, the mass breakout at Azkaban, an agitated Ministry of Magic…

Harry emptied the bags on his bed and attacked the small mountain of bright packaging one candy at a time until the square patch of sunlight on the wooden floor glowed at its brightest, heralding the afternoon. He tried his hand at the crossword puzzle in the London Courier and just before the boredom turned fatal caved and in spite of his misgivings headed back to the streets and stopped by Fred and George at their joke shop, which he had made a point of foregoing in his first trip.

“Hey, Fred, George,” said Harry as he approached the pay counter, behind which stood George, manning the till. Fred on the other end was reaching for some item at which a boy of about six years old was pointing with a stubby, purple-stained finger, which he thrust back into his small packet of powder candy. Harry hoped for the boy’s sake he had not bought it from Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes. He was impressed by how much business the twins were having.

Fred seemed to have recognized his voice because he jerked and the contraption he had been pulling off the shelve fell on his head before there was a loud explosion. He disappeared behind a wall of exploding shiny colours and noise while his twin brother gaped wordlessly at Harry.

“Merlin’s foreskin. Is that you, Harry?” George whispered.

“Yup. Harry,” replied Harry with a heavy sigh, his words weighed down by the knowledge of what he needed to do.

“Fred, are you seeing this?” gasped George.

“I thought I did a second ago,” said a distance voice before Harry caught a hand valiantly waving through the colourful dust to clear it. When Fred finally emerged, all the colours on him, including the colour of his hair and his complexion, had inverted: he was now blue complexioned with a slight wash of white. “Sorry, big man, we’re out of stock on those, I’m afraid,” Fred trilled to the boy, who was now rolling on the floor in stitches and whose mother was trying to pick him up and persuade him to look at other, less violent toys. “Hiya, Harry!” Fred rushed over the counter and grabbed Harry’s hand. He looked around Harry as if expecting Ron and Hermione to be standing behind him. “Where’s the rest of the gang?”

“Still at Hogwarts,” Harry answered with a certain amount of guilt. He was uncertain why he felt guilty until he remembered that while he was out here relatively safer, Ron was still at Hogwarts and the media were having a field day over the controversies springing from there. More than ever before the school was a gift that kept on giving. As George spoke about how good it was to see him, a small lump was forming in Harry’s throat. Even though it looked like students were leaving Hogwarts in droves, he knew Ron and Hermione would hang around until he returned to them and could be risking their lives doing so.

“Yeah, good to see you, mate,” Fred said as he slapped Harry’s shoulder in a sadly cheerful way.

“So how’s business?” Harry asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

Fred and George simultaneously gestured broadly at the milling store with a pair of huge grins. Harry laughed. He also noticed the chubby twins’ wider midsections.

“D’you see us complaining?” Fred said in a smirking voice. “Depression is good for business. Everybody’s fretting about You-Know-Who and stuff and Diagon Alley and us score!”

“I reckon he should stick around more often and help out small businesses and start-ups,” George suggested with political sagacity. “Who wants to think about the next kin they’re going to miss when they can play…” He reached around Harry and picked up a random package from the stack decorating the counter. “…Quest Lore!”

“Kidding,” Fred pointed out when he noticed Harry’s plastic smile. “Mostly, at least. I’m sure Ron and Hermione know what they’re doing… I guess we shouldn’t be asking you why you aren’t at Hogwarts like them.”

Harry looked away and watched another, older boy shake a product he had taken off a shelve. Next thing an army of fur balls were engulfing him as his friends tried to attack them with spells. “I’d rather not explain.”

Fred and George nodded. “Is it something to do with the Order?” George asked.

“Yeah,” Harry lied. The least he could do was give the twins the impression he was doing something worthwhile towards making Hogwarts safer.

“Be careful, Harry,” Fred said.

“Yeah,” Harry said shortly. “D’you mind if I, um, take a couple of things on credit?”

“Sure. Knock yourself out! You’re family!” the twins chorused.

“Thanks. Oh, and, do you by any chance know if there’s a way I can get to Hogsmeade from here?”

The twins’ expressions darkened before their lips slowly lengthened up their faces in a pair of mischievous smirks.

“Something tells me he already knew the answer to that,” George muttered.

“We might just yet adopt him for ourselves, Freddy.”

“There’s a shop,” Fred began with a grand twinkle in his eye, “if you go upstream and turn left on Court that used to sell the kind of stuff we do before the owner realized he was no competition for us and started peddling food spells. The sorry bugger, I almost feel sorry for him sometimes if I let myself. Before the cackling horde of housewives that now hang around there--”

“With due respect to our mother, hem hem,” George interjected.

“--That’s right. He used to attract customers of our age. Before we came along he was the only game in the Alley, and his toys were quite uninspired. We had to scout the competition obviously and you can’t just open a shop packed with merchandise. Great inventions take time… we might have nicked some of his stuff, wholesale, to fill up the store. I’d like to point out that we gradually filled up these shelves with stuff from our own pure genius, thank you very much--”

“To the point, Fred,” George urged.

“Er, right. So the shop is called Wrigley’s Meal-in-a-Jar. Argh, now I really do feel bad. His name was so perfect for a joke shop: Wrigley’s Fun Works. And he’s such a sweet fellow… I mean, George, we basically made the guy go from joke shop to selling jars of potion that spring into ready-made meals like take-away…”

Fred’s voice trailed off and George turned thoughtful as well. Harry had an inkling the twins were contemplating stealing from Mr Wrigley again.

George was first to snap out of his reverie. “Yeah. So, Hogwartans used to want to come to his shop for the stuff they couldn’t find at Zonko’s during their Hogsmeade weekend. So somehow he figured out a way to convince Zonko’s to make some kind of portal between them and another, competing joke shop – like the same thing between Hogwarts and Honeydukes. Mental, right? Why would Zonko’s do that? We figured Wriggly over there either Imperioed the Zonko’s chaps or makes his shop look like some bland house-and-home, draperies-slash-event gowns and robes shop or whatever every time Zonko comes over. Anyway, so yeah, you usually find a kid or two our age walking in and out of there. Remember, up the street, turn left, Wrigley’s Meal-in-a-Jar. Ask if you can use the toilet.”

“Um, right. Thanks,” said Harry vaguely; he had forgotten what he had asked in the first place. He scoured the joke shop for a good while before he returned to the pay counter. At this point he remembered he did not have to pay, shook his head and made a ceremony of leaving the shop so the twins had ample opportunity to stop him if they had changed their minds about giving him their products free of charge. He returned to the Leaky Cauldron, where, thanks to some of his haul from the twins’ shop, the hours went by faster than those he had spent looking out the window and filling in the crossword puzzle.

When the digits on his wristwatch read “17:02” he dumped the rest of his candy, the toys and the newspaper in a plastic bag, threw his Invisibility Cloak over his neck, grabbed his Firebolt, went downstairs, gave his thanks to Tom and left the Leaky Cauldron. In the dimming sunlight he walked up the street, took a left on Court Avenue and continue down the lane, scanning the name of every shop he came across in whatever creative way it was presented: painted letters on a window, a sign hanging from above the shop, or a strip of golden letters grandly perched above the front of the store.

The store he was looking for was thankfully unmistakable – unmistakable in its drab window display of jars of powder in every conceivable colour and combination thereof. And indeed when he entered, its customer base seemed to comprise middle-aged, rather motherly looking women. There was a small spattering of men, usually attached to their wives. As instructed he kindly asked to use the bathroom and the owner lazily pointed him towards the back of the shop. A few minutes later he was sneaking out of the storeroom of Zonko’s Joke Shop under his Invisibility Cloak. Fortunately Harry had arrived when the very last few customers were checking out at the counter. Quietly under his Cloak he snuck out of the door and headed for Honeydukes.

It, unfortunately, was closed and Harry had to wait almost three quarters of an hour before the street cleared. Of all shops, a store selling candy should be the shop to close the latest, he thought irritably. “Alohamora,” he whispered and slipped inside, locking the door. He headed to the storeroom and seconds later emerged on the third floor of Hogwarts. It was entirely empty but he still remained under his Cloak and headed for a less trafficked floor. On the sixth floor he found an unused classroom quite easily and entered its storeroom. He leant his broom against a corner, dropped the plastic bag and pulled the Time-Turner from his pocket.

Hearing his breath more audibly in the small dimness of the room, he pulled out his wand from underneath his shirt, muttered, “Lumos,” held it between his teeth and angled it down at the three linked hourglasses. After a whole minute’s careful thought he turned one hourglass after the other: first the largest one in the middle, which operated on the order of days, then the rightmost one, which was for hours, and finally the smallest one so he could arrive exactly when he wanted, the first day of school, to the minute.

***

“Back again in this crumbling rock for another year,” Pansy sighed. She was lying on Draco’s four-poster bed in the fifth-year boys’ dormitory, holding the massive forehead that gave her her scrunched-up, pug-like face. Tight golden-blonde ringlets shot out above her hands.

“Durmstrang would’ve been great,” Draco muttered wishfully as he leant against his pillow. Blaise sat on the edge of the bed between him and Pansy. It was a few minutes after the Start-of-Term Feast and students were hanging around either in the common room or their dormitories. There was no homework to complete, hence Harry could hear the soft buzz of noise in the common room from inside Draco’s dormitory.

“You say the same thing every year, Draco,” Blaise drawled, rolling his eyes to the ceiling as a soft and practiced smirk played on his lips. It stayed there for nearly the entire time he, Draco and Pansy – and occasionally Crabbe and Goyle – chatted. Harry had countered the hours.

Harry once again felt childish in his astonishment that neither speaker had brought up any topic about their mischievous or even evil plans for the year – a brainstorming session at the top of the term on possible pranks and new ways to embarrass people or get them in trouble. The three of them were, again naively astonishingly to Harry, quite normal. Draco interacted with his friends as Harry would with Ron and Hermione. And occasionally Pansy or Zabini would say something that amused Draco, who would give them the sweetest, purest, most honest smile Harry had thought Draco had given and would give only him. But it was nothing that special.

After what seemed a long time, the stream of students entering and exiting the dormitory began to slow until the room remained with only the students who were supposed to be there. Harry established they were Draco, Blaise, Crabbe, Goyle and another boy Crabbe had called Nott but to whom neither Zabini nor Draco bothered to speak. Draco had received a rather high number of visits, the majority of which were in congratulatory tones. The casual way in which the visitors spoke about killing Dumbledore told Harry either that these were kids who did not know what they were really talking about, or Harry had woefully underestimated Slytherins. He was inclined to believe in the former. Did they really think a mere teenage student was capable of murdering Albus Dumbledore?

Pansy finally left the boys’ dormitory, Blaise returned to his bed and Draco began preparing for sleep. Crabbe and Goyle were playing a board game on Goyle’s bed while Nott was engrossed in some magazine.

“Merlin, is this what it’s gonna be like from now?” Blaise moaned, stretching and opening his covers before sitting on his bed again. “Before the first week is out your head’ll be so big you’ll barely get it through the door. Oi, you two, it’s lights out,” he said to Draco’s cronies.

“Don’t worry, I won’t let all the attention get to my head,” Draco assured him with a snort, facing Blaise from his own bed. That’s exactly what you do, thought Harry, appalled. “Try not to be jealous if you can.” Blaise snorted. “I’d gladly change places with you.”

There was a brief pause before either of them spoke.

“It’s kinda—I mean, it’s a big ask, huh?” Blaise finally said.

Draco snorted again as he stared through Blaise in the distance. “Kinda.”

They then stripped off all of their clothes. Before Harry could even catch another breath a throbbing wave of lust went through his body and lingered at his groin as his eyes bounced between a naked Zabini and Draco slipping into their sheets, his mind freezing the moment just before Draco’s bum disappeared into his covers, the candlelight casting a slice of shadow of the left bum cheek onto the right one. So brief… It was so unannounced it was downright rude. Just cruel. Crabbe’s and Goyle’s states of nudity shortly after were pure horror. A minute later when everyone was inside their curtains Nott, too, stripped down to nothing, closed his curtains and put out his candle.

Was sleeping naked a practice among Slytherins? Or purebloods?

This was going to be a long mission.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Harry hurtles through timelines to try to save Malfoy's life after a friend turns on him. But Harry did not expect certain developments between them, and he soon finds he has bitten more than he can chew. HPDM. AU OotP.


Chapter 16

The Spiral of the Hands

Thursday, 31 August 1995, 20:38 (24 days before the Sunday)

“Did you know?”

“No… I hadn’t the faintest inkling.”

Lucius Malfoy had seemed negligibly surprised when his wife had knocked and entered his study. It was only the third time she had ever set foot in it in their seventeen years of marriage. Stranger still was the need Lucius felt to venture beyond a monosyllabic answer – an urge to explain himself to his wife that he had not felt in a long time.

There was a long pause during which Narcissa stared quietly out of the mullioned window across the forecourt, a fountain playing to one side of the frame, its loping streams of water blinking like precious stones in the early night. Lucius sat in his chair before his escritoire, looking deeply pensive. It was all good she had not faced him – Lucius would rather encounter the back of her and catch the softened blows of her words.

“You wanted him to Ascend – nevertheless.”

“The initial plan before arriving was a simple meet-and-greet, but in the time it took to get from the Apparition chamber to the drawing room the Dark Lord imagined another design. I learned of it when it came as a quiet hint – and an abjectly late one.”

“You never wanted Draco to serve Our Lord?”

There was a brief pause.

“I wanted the best hope for our son. We all knew the Dark Lord would return some day and we all know we can’t escape him... I made a decision to accept whatever fate lay before Draco as swiftly as the Dark Lord made his own to cast that fate upon my son… If Draco can’t outrun him, he must serve.”

“You did not attempt to persuade him otherwise?”

Lucius finally turned his gaze on Narcissa. A flicker of a frown played on his face before he schooled his features back into an incomplete expression of dispassion.

“What is this? Do you want me dead, woman?” Lucius demanded, finally raising his voice. His chest had swelled and his cold eyes had flung mercurial accusation at the back of his wife. Without subsiding, he raged on, “The mere suggestion of it… I could’ve lost a month’s worth of recovering face by the Dark Lord. Need I remind you how displeased he is with me?”

“No,” replied Narcissa quietly.

Lucius resumed his blank stare at the stretch of books on the wall facing him. “Turn around.”

Narcissa did so and clasped her hands in front of her lap. There was a stony and lifeless shadow in her face, yet a tiny, cutting glint shone in the eyes now fixed on the man.

“There was no room to breathe,” Lucius confessed in a low, wounded voice. “There was nothing I could’ve done.”

Narcissa turned her face to one side, seemingly studying the neatly stacked spines of the books lying on the coffee table: Elevation of the Material, The Divine Id, The Six Faces of the National Trance: A Collection of Burgessian Essays. She looked away and moved towards the door. She stopped a few metres before it and looked at Lucius a final time.

“Severus can help him.”

Lucius took a long time to face his wife. When he finally did so he squinted at her as though seeing her from a great distance. His brow was lined and trembling. He pushed himself back into his chair, rotated slightly in it and turned his gaze away onto the painting hanging above his escritoire of Draco in a striped silver suit standing before a window, a hand in one pocket and held in the other a glass sphere in which was a red smear of colour. Carved out of the sheer fall of sleek white-blond locks was a pale, pointed and familiarly pensive face contemplating the sphere. Below the smartly fitted figure writ were the words: “From the Ashes of Infamy Rises the Flame of Gilded Power”. Laplace, May ’91.

Lucius bowed his head, left the silence to descend and thicken, until he nodded his head once. He subsequently heard footsteps leave his study.

He had lost control and his wife had questioned his actions. The Dark Lord had decided the ultimate fate of his son in the time it took to blink. Was he so diminished that he was invisible? His wife spared him no blow for his pride and his master had stirred his deepest and greatest fear into life, rearing a monstrous, terrifying figure he could not bring himself to face.

He had seen this day coming, but not so soon. He had always known the Dark Lord would rise one day and redraw his stupefyingly powerful figure across the skies of Wizarding Britain. Lucius had pleaded with the incandescent face in his mind to haunt him forever and forestall its manifestation before he killed his son himself.

His first and only mistake in his life was a perfect one: deadly and inescapable. The weeks leading up to his Ascent were mind-numbing and fiercely exciting. He was a prideful young man with an expansive diet for glory and recognition. He had tortured and murdered pitiable Muggles without blinking and led charges into the homes of important Wizarding leaders of the day, deciding their usefulness in a cordial manner over chardonnay or scotch or even Firewhiskey if their victim was particularly shameless.

The crescendo of his successful life was finally sounding, and he was convinced beyond reason a new order would emerge out of the ruins of the old one. In either universe he would have power but in the one of ordinary arrangement he wanted just a little more – money sufficed no longer. Swept madly by pureblood ideology, he pursued his ambitions and kept knocking on the door of the promised, promising new world, despite the rising admonishing ring of tradition in his ears that said, at twenty-five years of age, an heir to the family throne was exceedingly overdue.

It was his blindest and most selfish impulse yet to seek to answer both calls of duty. His chosen duty, to serve the Dark Lord after he Ascended into the ranks at twenty-three years old, could not be absconded from for any reason except death. And his noble duty was at best a provincial preoccupation with flighty pretence. But he had acted stupidly and fathered a child three years later, bringing both his son and his mother into a lasting and mortal danger. A danger realized a few days ago, and one they would have to accommodate every week henceforth when they hosted the Dark Lord and his men –and woman – in their ancient and storied home.

He was too old for this pureblood nonsense. It could capture only the imagination of a virile and blindly muscular young man with stars in his eyes and whose dreams obfuscated all temporal concerns. The return of his old and almost forgotten master made this only too clear. He was waging a battle in a sandbox; it was so pusillanimous, base. Why waste his energy condemning Mudbloods and Half-bloods who did not deserve it? Why did he care for the survival of pureblood? For the fate of millions whose faces he would never see? These concerns fit more properly with his public person than his private one.

No one could touch his fortune even if they could pull him down. He need not ponder anything beyond two precious people. And knowing that the Dark Lord would not destroy the magical world to the extent that such destruction would diminish the maximum expanse of his powers, Lucius could contemplate a life beyond it; surely a couple of hundred million Galleons translated into a comfortable cushion in whatever currency the Muggle world held. Lucius’ eyes flicked to the scarlet-stained transparent orb in his beautiful son’s hand. His brilliant idea would have put that question permanently to rest, but the world was not yet ready for it – and it was running out of time to get ready.

He was perfectly aware could be killed for these new thoughts which had germinated since the return of the Dark Lord. The threat was all too real: the Dark Lord could read minds as though they were books, as though they were some explosive and revealing autobiographies of their holders. He needed to contact Severus, for both missions of fortifying his mind against intrusion and assisting his son in his task… He knew he was running the risk of exposing his plans to the right hand of Lord Voldemort. His only hope was to appeal to his colleagues’ sense of good – an area in which he knew Severus and himself to suffer a grave poverty. But he was, after all, his son’s godfather.

***

Sunday, 3 September 1995, 19:22 (21 days before the Sunday)

“You must be mad finally,” declared Snape, who was standing where Narcissa had stood just a few days earlier.

“Why is that?” Lucius asked with a soft note of impatience in his voice.

“You’re asking me to intervene in the task set down by the Dark Lord with his own mouth. You’re essentially asking I make myself a fool and lunge blindly into a chasm.”

“I don’t have the stomach for your dramatic exclamations, Severus. I’m simply asking you to surreptitiously assist my son in doing what has been commanded of him. Your mind is strong enough to cover its machinations, isn’t it?”

Severus remained silent as he stared at the other man.

“It’s been a few days and the dust hasn’t settled, I understand,” Lucius went on dryly and almost exhaustedly. “But let’s skip the ignorant act.”

Severus inclined his chin as his small black eyes appraised the eldest Malfoy, a trace of suspicion still lurking in them. “It’s been rather longer than that since either of us invoked any spirit of camaraderie.”

“I know, my friend,” Lucius said. “But now’s the time to ignite it again if ever. You’ve been a quiet presence in my son’s life, which I’m grateful for. I need your help: I need to secure my mind and I need you to help Draco.”

“The first thing I can do. The second, I’m sorry but I cannot help you there. If your mental constitution was even slightly possibly inherited, I fear your precious son will be unreachable, even for me.”

“Why is that?”

“Oh, I don’t know anything but I suspect his ambition is nearly as ferocious as yours was in your day.”

The words were like cold steel stabbing at Lucius. “I was foolish then.”

“I fail to see how that qualifies for description in the past tense.”

“Severus, listen to me,” Lucius snapped. Snape raised his eyebrow. “It’s true I was foolish then but that doesn’t warrant my son licence to beat my path. It’s one Malfoy too many but here we are. Three weeks to kill one of the most powerful wizards alive is sufficiently preposterous a notion to tell me that he wants my son dead and me broken. Now then…” Lucius paused to draw breath and seemed to evaluate his position. “…Will you help us or not? It must take a talented Occlumens to endure as many prods as you have in the past couple of months and still emerge sane. ”

Snape fastened his gaze upon Lucius slightly harder as he let the seconds pass. “Fail and I’ll have to kill you myself,” he finally said.

“You’ll have to get me first before the Dark Lord does,” Lucius said effacingly, grinning rather wildly.

“I suppose you wouldn’t share your ‘plans’ with me?”

“You suppose correctly.”

Snape exhaled shortly. “I’ll assist you – and your son. If he’s agreeable.”

Lucius allowed a humble smile onto his face. “Thank you, Severus. I suppose I should begin manoeuvring myself among the Governors. That McGonagall toadstool will be wanting to get her claws on the vacated position and Narcissa could finally leave the house and make herself useful. ”

There was a short pause.

“You want to install Narcissa as headmaster of Hogwarts?” Snape blurted out, despite himself.

“Is there anything wrong with that?”

Snape looked into the other man’s eyes but swiftly changed gears. “You haven’t even enquired about how I could assist your son in murdering the headmaster.”

“I presumed you of all people would find that a banality. How many Ministry workers have I watched you kill with your fickly potions? Never mind those you’ve destroyed in cold blood.”

“You’re speaking of the greatest wizard to live; do you consider that he’ll be slightly less effortless to remove?”

“I consider that he suffers from a parched throat every now and then like anybody else.”

Snape scoffed harshly. “Very well. Prepare yourself.”

“Beg your pardon?”

Legilimens!

***

Tuesday, 5 September 1995, 19:32 (19 days before the Sunday)

“How are you doing, Draco?”

“I’m not sick – or dying.”

A dark, thin eyebrow rose. “I didn’t mean to imply it.”

“You certainly mean to see it happen.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You could kill Dumbledore in a heartbeat – you sit right next to him at the High Table.”

“Draco… The task is yours and yours alone.”

The accusatory frown that had furrowed the young Slytherin’s pale brow was quickly replaced with an expression of utter shock.

“Think I don’t know that?” Malfoy replied hotly.

“I know you do,” said Snape quietly. His face seemed arrested and unsettled as he tried to wrestle with the unfamiliar emotions that were coming up inside him. “But maybe I could help after all.”

Malfoy did not completely lose his slightly betrayed expression. “Yeah? How’s that?”

“We would need to work together.”

“Did my father put you up to this?”

“No. Think of it as concern expressed by a mere godfather.”

“I don’t buy it. Why would you risk being caught out helping me?”

“I’m slightly more industrious than that possibility would suggest.”

Malfoy studied Snape for what felt to Snape like an infinity. The student averted his gaze to the rows of vials on the shelves filled with what seemed like body parts and strange dead creatures floating in liquids of varying colours and consistencies.

“What if I can do it alone?”

“I sincerely doubt it – not that I don’t recognize your many talents; it’s not the first time this year you’ve snuck of out the ground along with friends to grab a few pints of Firewhiskey. And given your possible Ascent it’s all the more reason to be merry.”

Malfoy blinked rapidly and looked to one side before he faced Snape again. “How would you help me?”

“In any manner you can fathom. But I cannot tell you what to do, and the less I feature in this connivance the better. Even if I try to mask my presence in your memories the Dark Lord will know I have tampered with them; a child is far easier to break into and read than a trained adult.”

Malfoy did not seem to have expected Snape to know about the Slytherins’ occasional furtive patronage to the Golden Tap. He crossed his arms. “This all sounds sinister,” he said in a quiet, falsely breezy voice.

Snape seemed amused by the understatement. “Indeed,” he replied silkily after a thoroughly delicious pause.

“Why get interested? You could just let me get on with it on my own.”

“As I pointed out and perhaps should reiterate: you’re simply aren’t competent to do it.”

“Are you trying to score points too? Crabbe and Goyle and Nott and them have basically said in as many words that their parents are thinking of doing something really big for the Dark Lord – like a ‘welcome back’ gift.”

Snape took a full three seconds before he responded. “I’m not aware of those kinds of conversations.”

“Why would you be?” Malfoy snorted. “It looks like you and Father are the ones that need to travel the furthest distance.”

“Why would you think that?”

“It’s just something I’ve heard in certain kinds of conversations.”

“Do elaborate please.”

“No one seems to know the exact details but word is--”

“Word from fellow Slytherins, that is?”

“Yes. Word is that the Dark Lord’s not too sure about you – where you stand, I mean to say.”

“Well, rest assured the word is outdated: the Dark Lord has since found himself quieted.”

“Really? That still doesn’t mean you’re not trying to secure your place in his good graces by executing the deed yourself.”

“I have no plans to kill Dumbledore.”

“Says who?”

Snape inhaled slowly and exhaled out. “What’s the word on your father then?”

“It’s a bit sketchy.”

“I imagine. This sounds to me like nothing more than puerile chinwag. But do continue.”

“No one’s sure why the Dark Lord is angry at my father.”

“He’s angry at your father, they say? Why is that?”

“No one really knows, as I said. One thing’s certain and that’s that even though you’re second-in-command, you still have your work cut out for you. So please don’t try using my mission to do it. I can do this alone.”

A muscle jumped in Snape’s neck. “Draco, you don’t understand. We’re talking about your very life. Your information is faulty! I needn’t prove myself to anybody! I’m extending a hand of assistance and you will need it.”

“That’s why I said slip him something in his morning juice at breakfast and sneak him out of the backdoor before he collapses in front of everyone!” Malfoy shouted, his arms flinging away from his chest against which they had been folded.

“Don’t you think the Dark Lord will enquire how you completed your task?” Snape snapped back. “And you needn’t even open your mouth! Yes, he’ll flatter you and ask you to recount Dumbledore’s final moments in front of everyone, but rest assured that by the time you start speaking he will have already known that you did none of it!”

Malfoy’s vigour flowed out of him rapidly. His grey eyes darted from left to right in a seeming search for more words to hurl at Snape. There was a slight twitch to his thin shell-pink lips.

“Fine. I’ll do it alone.”

“You cannot!”

“I guess I’ll have to die drying, won’t I?”

“Draco, get back here!”

There was a loud thud as the door snapped shut.

“I promised your father, you pallid toad!”

***

Monday, 11 September 1995, 10:10 (13 days before the Sunday)

“I don’t appreciate this growing habit of yours where you pull me into your office like a child.”

“I did not pull you out – I gave you a look. And you are a child.”

“I’m not anymore.”

“Oh? You think this honourable mission makes for a lovely coming-of-age story?”

Malfoy’s mouth twisted as though he had watched a romantic scene in a soap opera. He glared into the eyes of his Head of House. “What do you want? I’m getting late for my next lesson.”

“I’ll give you a pardon letter – not that Professor Binns would require or request one. I want to know how far you’ve come and why you haven’t reached out to me.”

“I thought I made myself clear on why I didn’t need your help. I’m grown – I know what I’m doing.”

“Let me help you.”

“No!” Malfoy shouted. “I don’t need your help! I’m going to be glorious on my own!”

“Draco, you’re looking for a well-rounded story where you shouldn’t be looking. Life in the real world is not about make-or-break fantasies. You cannot expect some ethereal moment where you feel like you’re on track and a neat dénouement tumbles down from the Celestial Castle. You need to have a strategy! You need to think!”

“I can think and I have a strategy! You need to stay out of it!”

“What is this strategy?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Malfoy shot back frostily. “Why don’t you stop prying and stop bringing me into your office?”

“You hardly seemed hard at work on a strategy when I picked you up in the middle of a corridor at a ghastly hour, doused in alcohol and self-pity, and tucked you into bed.”

Snape’s words seemed to cut through Malfoy’s bluster and castrate him.

“I—I lapsed. It was one moment of weakness. I have things sorted out.”

“It doesn’t seem like it. But I can tell you if it has a chance of working.”

“I needn’t bother to humour you but I’ll say it involves Potter; it looks like the two of them have been cosying up.”

Snape’s eyes narrowed. “Do you seek to pass on something from one to the other?”

Malfoy returned a blank expression to Snape and made to turn around.

“Draco, stand where you are.”

Malfoy looked over his shoulder. “Why? I have nearly the whole House riding my prick and more still wanting to get a piece of me. I don’t need to answer to you. The Dark Lord looks at you with a narrowed eye and you expect to find respect among us?”

“I told you your information is outdated.”

“Whatever, Snape.” Malfoy opened the door and walked out.

***

Friday, 15 September 1995, 19:46 (9 days before the Sunday)

“What do you want?” Blaise Zabini asked coldly of the four Slytherins who had pulled him out of the common room.

Standing in the hallway, the portrait of Salazar Slytherin fixed on the door watching them imperiously, one of the boys offered Zabini a cigarette, at which point Zabini shook his head. The leader of the group shrugged and stuffed the cigarette in his mouth, pulling out a lighter and holding it under the end of the stick until it glowed. He took a drag and, looked around the hallway and nodded his head in the direction of his companions.

“Your know Harper, Roy and Merchant.”

“Yeah,” said Zabini as he eyed the three boys.

“Where’s Malfoy?” enquired the boy. “The two of you haven’t been exactly attached at the hip this year.”

“You should be asking him that – I was never his keeper,” Zabini replied dispassionately. “What’s all this, Bole?”

The boys looked between each other.

“Your mate’s gone off a dead end, it looks like,” Bole observed with a slight smirk. Zabini looked blankly back at him until the other boy continued speaking. “We reckon he can’t pull it off. He’s got only six days to do it if he’s going to.”

“So it’s everywhere now the thing about Dumbledore,” Zabini remarked wryly.

Bole drew out his cigarette and smoke blow out through his lips as he snorted. “Yeah, man. Even Durmstrang caught wind of it.”

“Merlin,” said Zabini in genuine incredulity. “So what’s this got to do with me?”

“We’re thinking of offing Dumbledore ourselves,” Bole answered.

Bole’s intention had a cartoonish ring in Zabini’s ears – a slapstick, unserious quality to it. “If Draco can’t seem to do it, what makes you think you can?” Zabini snorted. “Putting three more heads together isn’t any much better – considering whose brains they are.”

Bole looked at Zabini slantwise, blowing smoke in the other direction, a trace of amusement in his face. The three Slytherins behind him did not react, which seemed to be less because the boys wanted to maintain a dignified indifference than that they were briefly stupefied in their disbelief and were waiting on Bole’s order to commence punishing Zabini.

“Mate, bottom line: it doesn’t look like Malfoy’s gonna make it,” Bole said quietly, matter-of-factly. “Every Shunpike and their mums think they’re in with a chance now. So are you in or not? Do you wanna sink with the boat or take a shot?”

“In? With you guys?” Zabini said.

“Yeah,” Bole replied. “Unless you don’t see the cause.”

Zabini seemed to lose his nerve for the first time since the meeting began. It seemed Bole had invoked either an important social or political concept because everyone reacted in their own way. Zabini’s slanted eyes shifted from each member of the quartet and, seemingly before he allowed himself more time to think, said, “I see it. I’m not sure if my best chances are with the four of you.”

“Then with who? Yourself?”

“If we go as a group the glory will be divided.”

“Even if it is divided, the glory of killing Albus Dumbledore will be enough for the four of us – and then some,” Bole countered.

Zabini stiffened for a moment before he said, with a soft snort, “So what’s the name of this dark league of fighter students?”

The boys looked among each other. “Do we need one?” Bole asked, his faint, almost kind smirk reappearing.

Zabini slowly threw his head back and looked up at the ceiling, shaking his head and a dreamy smile broke on his face – but he seemed far from amused. “The Black Snakes… Wow.” He began laughing silently, crossing his arms.

Bole’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Is that our name? The Black Snakes?”

Zabini was still adrift inside his own head, amused by something none of the other boys could see or fathom.

“You were right,” Zabini said mysteriously, seemingly talking to himself. “Yeah, it’s the new name.”

“Right,” said Bole, slightly taken aback. “A little uncreative but it’ll do.”

“That’s no surprise – it must’ve come from one of you’s,” Blaise snorted before he headed back in the warm common room.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: Harry hurtles through timelines to try to save Malfoy's life after a friend turns on him. But Harry did not expect certain developments between them, and he soon finds he has bitten more than he can chew. HPDM. AU OotP.


Chapter 17

Defeat Is Victory

Harry sat in the middle of Draco’s bed in the Slytherin dungeons with his legs folded and his head in his hands, waiting. His head was hot.

He did not know who to blame for his failure this time; his solemn frustration could not find a container in which to roil and sputter and simmer. He lifted his head from his palms and studied his arms: the grey had returned: it had covered half his body and on course to devour the rest of his middle and legs. He wanted to cry – not to enjoy an episode of self-pity because he had had some of them before and they were indeed delicious – but to cry on behalf of the boy he felt for and saw hurling himself into oblivion. He wondered if it had been prudent his judgement that Blaise would be easier to persuade than Draco, who could not think rationally in his stupefying fear of his own failure. Was Harry a fool in trying to show Blaise the truth that he would kill his friend a few weeks later and dissuade him from doing so?

He did not know what to do, he did not know if he was the same person, he did not know if he had done this or been here before – that was why he was still. He was here out of ignorance and as a last resort. He had wasted an entire week and a half following Blaise, revealing himself whenever the Slytherin was alone. They had even arrived at a first-name basis – at least Harry had. But despite showing Blaise his Time-Turner, despite proving to him that he knew he liked to stroke Draco’s hair and that the both of them were trying to rip apart the cloth from which they sprung, Blaise did not and seemed determined not to believe him.

“Blaise, for fuck’s sake, I’m telling you,” Harry had said a few days ago as he stood between Blaise and a toilet stall. It was before Blaise had thrown himself completely into the Slytherin social scene not only to deprive Harry of an opportunity to catch him when he was alone but also to act in retaliation against Draco, who at that point had pushed his friend as aside in favour of his entourage of sycophants. “Why can’t you believe me? I’ll do anything to prove it. Why would I waste my time?”

“Potter, you don’t understand, all right? You don’t belong here! You need to get out of here!”

“I can’t! Not when you have Draco’s life in your hands – literally!”

“It’s not me who has Draco’s life in his hands – that’s the fucking point, you sod! We both know who does!”

“It’s not Voldemort who kills--!”

“It’s not me either!”

“It is! You do! What the fuck do I have to do--?”

“You need to shut it and leave Draco and me alone, that’s what! And you need to step away from the toilet – I need to blow one out.”

“No. You’re not doing any number until you believe me.”

Blaise released a howl of frustration before he grabbed Harry, who experienced a flashback of a similar situation in which he had been thrown off his feet a few weeks before. This time he regained his balance before he could fall after being hurled to the side.

“I’m gonna watch you while you’re doing it,” said Harry, recovering himself and watching Blaise stride into the stall. Harry threw himself between the door and its frame before Blaise could conceal himself.

“POTTER!” Blaise screamed.

“Even if you don’t think you’d kill him, the Slytherins around you egg you on! You’re almost not going to have a choice!” Harry said between breaths as he being snapped in two where the door was pressing him against the frame.

“Is that right?” came the snort. “Roy and Merchant and Harper, right? The Black Snakes is it? Oh and me.”

“Yes.”

“You already said that.”

“Yeah.”

“So can you fuck off now? Thanks for the heads up.”

“Blaise…!”

“Stop saying my name, Potter, and shove off – I’m trying to take care of business!”

In retrospect the conversation was comical – almost amusing. He had told someone, while they attempted to use the toilet, that they were going to murder their best friend as a group of fellow House-mates, calling themselves the Black Snakes, looked on. In fact, the whole endeavour was positively funny in its oddity: the smell of his armpits reached his nostrils; he could not even remember the last time his skin had felt water, he had Dobby deliver him food while the Slytherins attended their classes, he had slept under his Invisibility Cloak in the space between Draco’s and Blaise’s beds, and he had spent the intervening time between waging wars of words with Blaise traipsing the castle and sometimes following around Ron, Hermione and himself around the castle. It was an almost-adventure, a sublime sojourn if he allowed it to be because he would probably never time travel again.

Following the trio had been a rare opportunity to view his life as though it were a colour photo with slightly elongated repetitive moments: trooping down to the Great Hall, changing classrooms, sitting beneath the tree overlooking the Great Lake, seeing Hagrid and trooping back to Gryffindor Tower. Several times he had thought his doppelgänger had almost caught him. He had been almost certain he had been caught when he had followed the three to the library shortly before Hermione disappeared into it while Ron left the other Harry for the washroom. He had been watching them several metres down the corridor from behind a corner it shared with an adjoining corridor and had not brought his Invisibility Cloak along as it was cumbersome and he had thought it safe to pass as the other Harry as long as they were not at the same place at the same time.

And the moment sprung on him before the realization that he had seen this before hit him: he heard footsteps from behind. He turned around, saw Dumbledore turning into his corridor and striding towards him, and looked away before the headmaster could spot his glasses and make out who he was. Blind instinct caused him to dash across the corridor in which the other Harry was sitting, and his doppelgänger, fortuitously looking at his end of the corridor, caught sight of him.

Now he knew he indeed had been caught a few minutes ago – there was no firmer a truth that he knew now: he was Wheelock. He was the boy he had been seeing and thinking was following him – the reason for which, his best guess had been, to learn his mannerisms. How stupid was he to believe that Ginny’s boyfriend would try to emulate Harry Potter? He had surmised that Ginny’s move from a supposed celebrity to an ordinary boy had spurred Wheelock to improve himself in order to satisfy her and keep her.

He now knew the exact bounds of his stupidity, of which he had been compelled to confront and outline during his campaign to save Draco’s life. And he was asking himself questions he knew the answers to but did not really know: had he done this before? Was all this a dream or déjà vu? He did not know what to do – that was why he had returned to square one, the starting point, the most accessible source of the problem: Draco.

He had officially given up on Blaise less than an hour ago, shortly after which he had tried to gain solace from his habitual observation of the three Gryffindors, one of whom was the other Harry. That was when he realized he was Wheelock and that the boy whom he had thought was Wheelock did not actually look like him: he remembered noticing that the other boy was slightly taller than he was, and he did not wear glasses.

It was now a few hours before the last lesson of the day and before the students would return to their dormitories. He did not care if the boys with whom Draco shared the dormitory saw him. Theodore Nott was a sinister character but also quiet and unassuming; he could take care of Crabbe and Goyle with a flick of a wand; Blaise will be used to seeing him around the dungeons and would not take his presence in astonishment. If it took revealing himself to every Slytherin to convince either Blaise or Draco of the latter’s fate, Harry thought it was worth it and, at that point, necessary.

Sitting here he felt exhausted from thinking on everything, from the memories of the Draco he had left behind whom he had begun to see in a different, frightening but wonderful light, to the seeming mysterious cyclicity of time-travelling and whether there were many of him or just one of him who had done everything and gone everywhere or had done nothing and gone nowhere, to Dumbledore and what was going on in the original time line. His head was burning. Why was this happening to him? Why did he have to witness the murder? Why did he have to – want to – save Draco if time, if the world, if the victim refused it?

“Merlin’s fucking scrotum…!”

Harry did not have the lightness of mind to be startled when Draco opened his bed curtains and discovered him on his bed.

“Lovely,” Harry observed.

Harry was used to seeing the dark lines stacked underneath Draco’s eyes. They looked rather more worrying in broad daylight nevertheless. But they, for some reason, did not subtract from Draco’s beauty. He was exhausted and gaunt and weighed upon, but he still looked like the Draco Harry had seen in Malfoy Manor. The way he stood, his smell, the gelled blond hair ironed to his scalp, his nose, his fingers – everything about Draco that occupied the space in front of Harry was intoxicating. But his infatuation was fixed upon an ephemeral object and one that did not exist: this timeline was an illusion, and everything about Harry, about what he had done, everything about Draco, about how he saw Harry, was nothing.

Draco ogled at him for a full five seconds before he regained his speech.

“Have you been following me?”

“No.”

“But I just left you after Transfiguration.”

“So what are you doing back here this early? Lessons haven’t finished.”

“I’ve got something important—Oi, I don’t have to answer to you! What are you doing on my bed, Potter, in the Slytherin dungeons? And looking like you took a bath in a tub of cement?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean ‘you don’t know’?”

“I mean, I don’t know,” Harry replied quietly. He removed his hands from under his chin and looked at the other boy squarely. “The grey is because of travelling through time--” Draco recoiled and stuttered in incredulity. “--But I don’t know if I can save you. I don’t know if I have saved you. I just don’t know. But I’m here because… I don’t know what else to do… I need to do something.” Harry climbed off the bed and inched towards Draco. “I need you to believe me.”

Floored, Draco looked Harry up and down. “You’re talking in parables, Potter, you hear yourself? Just—What are you doing here? It’s a simple fucking question that doesn’t need an emotional treatise.”

“You’re trying to kill Dumbledore, I know,” Harry said. The words almost weighed him down physically to say one more time, almost killing him. He was so tired of feeling wrong-footed, of feeling desperate in trying to convince people who were adamant in thinking they knew their truth. So tired of doubting himself.

Draco’s eyes widened slightly but he controlled himself swiftly. “And? The whole country probably knows about that… Still… And I guess this is your Gryffindor courage surfacing to save me, right? Save your energy – I don’t need it.”

“The book under your bed with poisonous potions isn’t going to help. You won’t master the Killing Curse in time. Snape won’t kill him for you.”

Harry had spoken matter-of-factly: he had not dressed his words in arrogant knowingness; he had laid the coming events as plainly as he knew how. And he was used to Draco’s stunned expression. It was almost sickeningly cute.

He was also used to fatal disappointment: Draco closed his eyes, breathed steadily for a full minute and opened his eyes again. There were tears in them. Harry had seen this before as well: minutes before he left Malfoy Manor in fury.

“I need you to leave, Potter,” Draco said, his voice breaking slightly. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. And I can’t take you seriously looking like that; are you rotting or something?”

“I won’t leave you, Draco. I can’t,” Harry declared softly, ignoring the question about his appearance. “I’m going to sleep with you--” The other boy could not have looked more shocked and disgusted. “--I’m going to bathe with you, I’m going to study with you. I reckon you won’t expose me ’cause you can’t risk being seen with Harry Potter – at least not since Voldemort wasn’t too chuffed with your father in the meeting. People might think you’re looking for a way out through the Boy Wonder.”

Draco tried several times to speak but no sound left his mouth, not least because of the term Slytherins exclusively used to refer to Harry Potter. Finally a shaky finger rose and pointed to the bottom of the bed.

“You could’ve looked under my bed and saw the book.”

“I didn’t,” Harry said quietly.

“Potter, please – go,” Draco begged, his speech clipped, holding his forehead and closing his eyes. He opened them again, walked around Harry and threw himself on the bed. He pulled a few pages of parchment from his bag and looked them over.

“What is that?”

“Fuck off.”

“I’ve followed Blaise for almost two weeks – he’ll tell you when he comes: I’m not going anywhere.”

Draco finally did something Harry had not seen: he huffed in frustration, closed his eyes, partly concealed his face with the pages of parchment and his face broke. But as rapidly as he started to cry he straightened his face, dropped the notes and paged through them.

Despite himself and the fact that he had become hardened and hardly surprised by anything, Harry took in this reaction in a desperately happy moment of accomplishment. Finally, he saw the face of hope. It was exultantly beautiful.

Draco replaced the pages in his sling bag, bent down and reached under his bed, retrieving a large tome which he stuffed in his bag. He threw an arm loosely over it and slung toward the door.

“Where are you going?” Harry asked, a question to which he received no answer. He quickly went over to Blaise’s bedside drawer, inserted a hand in the space between it and the wall and pulled out his Invisibility Cloak. Draco looked over his shoulder, did a double-take, stopped in his tracks and dropped his jaw – ogling at how Harry moved so naturally as though he were in his Gryffindor dormitory. When Harry threw the Cloak on but remained upright and did not conceal his head, which he felt he need not do since the students were in class, Draco’s face suddenly lost all expression and the Slytherin casually walked out of the dormitory – resplendent in such disbelief as to be unable to conceive a facial expression commensurate with it.

“Where are you going?” Harry asked again when they were out of the dungeons.

“Potter! Seriously, you need to piss off right now. Seriously now,” snapped Draco, who was walking at a brisk place through the maze of corridors.

“I’m not answering that again.”

“Potter, you have no right to feel exasperated about anything!”

“I think I do after spending nearly a month out of my timeline trying to save you.”

“Oh, here with go again. Fantasy time again – no pun intended.”

“I’ve already shown you the Time-Turner,” said Harry, who had done so a few paces back. “It’s not a fantasy.”

“We’re not going through this again.”

“Only because you don’t have answers to the facts staring at you in the face.”

Draco said nothing and doubled his pace as he crossed the corridor. Harry did not push the issue and kept silent as well until they emerged from the Entrance Hall. Draco set off down the grounds.

“Shouldn’t you be going the other way? For History?” Harry asked as he pulled his Invisibility Cloak more securely around himself and readied to swiftly throw it over his floating head in the unlikely event someone crossed their path.

Draco snorted. “Why do I need History of Magic if, by your account, I’m going to die anyway?”

“So do you believe me? You’re just too proud to admit it?”

“I’ve never believed anything you’ve said since I’ve known you.”

“Where are we going then?” Harry enquired again as he tried to ignore his arms and how genuinely unhealthy his grey complexion looked in the full blast of sunlight.

“Ask me that again and I will throw you with his Potions book.”

“It’s a miracle you managed to escape your sycophantic groupies,” Harry remarked a few moments later, an observation to which Draco did not respond.

A few moments later Harry was shocked to arrive at the shaded spot beneath the sycamore tree that skirted the rim of the Great Lake. At first it was perverse to think that the same spot he and his friends held dear was one Draco, their common arch nemesis, held just as dear as well. But the moment of sentimental attachment seemed to almost humanize Draco all over again.

“Romantic.”

“It won’t be so long as you stay underneath your Cloak.”

“You just gave me a brilliant idea.”

“Potter! Get back under there! Someone’s going to see you!”

“Whose problem is that? I’m just the Harry Potter of this timeline as long as the real one isn’t anywhere near. And you’re just enjoying a relaxing morning, bunking class, with the boy you’ve hated for most of your school life.”

“I wouldn’t give you so much credit as to be hated by me,” Draco scoffed as he adjusted himself against the bark of the tree and opened his bag.

“Oh?” said Harry. He was suddenly excited. It was always thrilling to talk about the emotional, the transcendent aspects of life with Draco if he could. There was something incredibly attractive about talking about things two boys do not or – in some people’s opinion – should not talk about. “You don’t hate me? Then maybe you respect me secretly.”

“Respect?” Draco squawked. He seemed genuinely affronted. “I wouldn’t respect you if my life depended on it! Argh. Don’t give yourself licence to go off on a tangent on that saving-my-life thing again, if you will. Forgive the prompt.”

“I’ll forgive it if you’re honest.”

“About what?”

“About what you think of me.”

“Potter, what is this? You actually think I really respect you deep down? I don’t think that often about you, so sorry to disappoint.”

“Wow, I asked a simple question and do you know how many emotions you just went through right now? For someone who doesn’t think about me a lot you sure have strong feelings for me.”

Draco moved suddenly again.

“Strong feelings about me, sorry,” Harry corrected himself.

Draco stared at him, mouth ajar, for a long time, utterly incredulous. “Potter, are you gay or something?”

“I’m almost not sure.”

“Oh, Merlin of Holy Wales, Harry Potter is a faggot.”

“I’m not.”

“You just said you’re not sure! Gayness and normalness are absolutes, Potter! You can’t be halfway either way.”

“I don’t like other boys,” Harry said firmly as he tried to process the two terms Malfoy had just used to for homosexuality and heterosexuality. That’s not very nice…

“You said you’re not sure if you do!”

“I don’t.”

“You just said you’re not sure if you do!” Draco screech giddily, quite obviously in heaven.

“’Cause I was starting to like you.”

Draco’s face was frozen in ecstatic incredulity before it flickered slightly when he processed Harry’s sentence.

“So you are gay!” Draco declared happily in a cunning evasion of the implication of Harry’s words.

Harry hesitated for a moment, only because he was admitting things he had never scrutinized in detail introspectively, but the face Draco would make was worth it.

“Gay just for you.”

At first Draco persisted with his evasive robustly ecstatic expression of half-triumph, half-amazement but then his face very rapidly changed colour and, sensing the heat surging into it, he turned away and, in case Harry took it as a gesture of flattered bashfulness, scoffed loudly and almost painfully.

“I’m not even—I do not know what to say to that or where to begin. You’re clearly lost, Potter.”

“D’you want me to tell you all the things I like about you?”

“Oh my fuckin’ Merlin. Potter, please stop. You’re not embarrassing me and not in a good way – you’re humiliating me.”

“There’s no one here.”

“Personal humiliation!”

“Why? I haven’t even said anything.”

“Potter—Just. Stop.”

“You know, you were, I think, starting to…” Harry almost could not bring himself to say it. “…like me too.”

Draco spun his head in Harry’s direction. “What?”

Yes, it was unbelievable that another human being could reciprocate the same feelings one had for them. The first time he had felt the wonder of this was when he briefly fell in love with Ginny. There was nothing quite like it to know that there was someone who looked like him, spoke like him and was mentally competent enough that Harry was sure the other person was attracted to him solely because of all that he was and he needed be no more. Their connection had taken him to a place where he was forced to confront the proposition being made by the actuality of that connection: he was worthy, he could be loved.

And to think that a person of the opposite sex – which would see members of its sex as inherently lacking but beyond that a black box: something that defused any attempts to describe it in any emotionally actionable way – with an austere and privileged upbringing, who was himself so gorgeous his beauty was enough for the both of them, with a strong concoction of pureblood and class ideological indoctrination from young, had come to like him back was unfathomable in its most perfect sense. That was the most redemptive and impressive aspect of Draco’s character Harry had ever seen of him.

“You started looking at me a certain way.”

Those very words caused a slight shiver in him.

“And when did I do this?”

“In a different timeline.”

Draco closed his eyes, disbelieving. “Wow… You know, Potter, just… think about what I’m seeing here: I find you in my bed--”

“--On your bed – there’s a distinction.”

“On my bed. Your face and your neck and your arms are as grey as cement, you predict things I don’t know how on this here Merlin’s sweet earth you could predict, and then you tell me that in a different timeline we’re sharing looks and kisses.”

“Can I take that in reverse order?” Draco was obviously so taken aback he could not respond. “First of all, we never kissed, we just… you know… said some… shifty stuff here and there and we, you know… um… had a, like, a look in our eyes. You were certainly besotted with me sometimes more than I was with you ‘cause you couldn’t fathom how I could talk about Voldemort without flin—yeah, without doing that.” Draco looked away momentarily in embarrassment. “I’ve been in different timelines – that’s why I can tell you what happens in the future, like you not succeeding, Dumbledore ambling about and Blaise killing you. Yes, Draco. And I’ve already told you that my turning grey is because I’m spending time where I shouldn’t be. And I was on your bed because I didn’t know where else to go. I tried Blaise and he was a solid brick wall. What is it with Slytherins and not being friends with the truth or their own fates?”

“We try to change it – it’s inherent in our blood.”

“Self-preservation. Got it.”

“Oh, you know that because I supposedly said it to you in a different timeline too, yes?” Draco asked sardonically.

“No, I figured it out when you ran away in first year when we spent detention in the Forbidden Forest.”

Draco’s cheeks turned pink again. “Well,” he said, blinking rapidly, “a Slytherin’s got to do what a Slytherin’s got to do. I didn’t say stick around and have that creepy black thing swoop on you. But no, of course Harry Potter couldn’t resist an opportunity to throw himself at death’s door and suddenly and somehow manage to claw his way back into the land of the living.”

A giddy giggle escaped Harry before he could stop it. Ignominy of the highest degree. He looked away and cursed himself with the most brutal expletives he knew and could invent. With the corner of his eye he saw Draco’s pink cheeks turn darker as the Slytherin successfully fought off what would have been an equally ignominious grin.

“Go away, Potter.”

Harry did not bother to respond to the command.

“So you’re actually bunking History?”

“I said go away, Potter.”

“I can’t.”

“Yes you can. You can physically get up and leave.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?” Drack asked with a pained expression.

“I’d have to go into an ‘emotional treatise’ to explain.”

Draco sighed and turned to his notes. When Harry peeked at them he noticed that it was not handwriting but print which comprised blocks of different fonts. His curiosity getting the better of him, he enquired, “Is that—Did you copy that out of a book – or several books?”

Draco glared at him and turned his attention back on the page of parchment. Apparently unable to resist either, he said, “Yes, with a Script Duplication Charm.”

“Oh,” said Harry. “What’s the incantation?”

Draco snorted and said nothing. A bubble gurgled on the surface of the Great Lake.

Harry knew what to do to force the other boy to oblige. “We first start with these subliminal innuendos that we like each other--”

“Potter, I’m warning you.”

“Then it’s the long staring--”

“Potter!”

“Really, by the fifth day I was there we were ready to start shag--”

“FINE!” Draco screeched. “It’s Scripto Revelatum! There, you got what you wanted! Now stop it!”

“Okay,” laughed Harry.

Draco exhaled and subsided as a stream of Wizarding obscenities left his mouth.

Harry ripped a handful of grass leaves and watched them back fall to the grass, casually inserting, “You also have a portrait of Sir Carisius Malfoy in the library at your mansion and he tells us that there used to be these grooming schools before the noble people attended Hogwarts and the other public schools.”

“That’s probably public knowledge. And the Malfoys are an ancient and famous family.”

“That’s stretching it a bit,” Harry murmured, at which point he received another withering glare. “Why would I take to so much effort finding that out?”

“To get in my head.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. I’m too lazy for that.”

Draco continued to stare resolutely and rather angrily at his printed notes.

Harry sighed quietly, looked away at the face of the castle and thought. He needed some piece of information that was incontrovertibly exclusive to Draco’s immediate experiences. Harry felt he was just one nugget away from finally achieving a breakthrough.

And suddenly it hit him. It struck him so hard the slap of his hand to his forehead rang loudly across the still surface of the lake. His sudden erection upon his knees as though he were a meerkat which had sensed danger startled Draco, who closed his eyes in annoyance and embarrassment. Harry turned to him, raised his hands out at him (Draco frowned at them and recoiled) and the words were so exquisite, so choice that they took their time to leave Harry’s mouth.

“Your father wanted to start producing Memes. You wore a grey suit to the investors’ meeting. But they didn’t green-light it and your father said it was because the world wasn’t ready.”

The features in Draco’s face seemed to Harry to change in slow motion. Draco turned to him squarely and looked him in the eyes for a long spell. Apart from the glow he was feeling after displaying his genius – however rare – another feeling, that rare, exhilarating sensation, hit Harry in his chest. This Draco, he now knew, was reachable. The wall of ignorance and denial had fallen. There was hope of saving the mannered prince.

There was a serious glint in Draco’s slightly washed eyes as the Slytherin stared at Harry. After an eternity of silence sound began to make a very painful and stilted exit from Draco’s mouth.

“Do I die in the future?” came the hushed, airless enquiry.

Harry nodded.

For a moment Draco’s face fell but froze, fell again and frozen again when it was turned away towards the grass beneath it. “I want to go home.”

“Home is not safe – not safe from Voldemort at least.”

Draco could not help looking back at Harry. His breathing through his nostrils was audible and shaky.

“I want my parents. I want me and my parents to run as far—No. No!” Draco struck his thigh and sobbed. “No… I need to finish my task: I need to kill Dumbledore.”

“You don’t, Draco.”

“You can help me.”

“I can’t.”

“Yes you can! Or what are you doing here?”

“I’m here to save you.”

“HOW?” Draco bellowed, tears falling down his cheeks.

“You can come under the Order of the Phoenix.”

His chest rising and falling deeply, his face gone scarlet with emotion, Draco said, “What’s that?”

“It’s Dumbledore’s group of defenders. They’ll protect you – and your family.”

Draco peered into Harry’s eyes enquiringly for a few seconds before he looked down again in intensive thinking. “No. No. I can’t escape him. I see him everywhere, Potter. I see his red eyes in the glowing darkness immediately after I flick the lights off. I can feel his skin like it was yesterday, so unnatural, so smooth, like a baby, like a snake… I have to do this, Potter… he’s watching me.”

“You don’t succeed, Draco, I’m telling you,” Harry snarled.

Draco cried in Harry’s face and looked up at the sunlight glimmering through the leaves of the tree underneath which they sat.

“You have to help me… Harry.”

“I want to. I just can’t help you the way you want me to help you.”

Draco ran his hand over his gelled white-blond hair and squeezed out more tears from the corners of his eyes, the pallor of his hand and the screaming scarlet of his face providing a startling contradiction.

“I need to go.”

Harry watched the other boy pack up at a moderate pace, stand up and stride past him. Harry did not immediately come to his feet, idly mesmerized by the heavy but still small figure Draco cut. Quite removed from Harry’s lagging mental vision Draco turned around and said something quietly with a most unusual expression on his face. Harry was jolted into the present, having suddenly realized that Draco had just said, “Come with?” And that expression was a pleading one – so seemingly foreign for Harry to see on that tautly haughty countenance on ordinary occasions.

“Always,” Harry said, and he followed the Slytherin.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

The Protector’s Kiss

Harry had fantasized about bunking class before, and it was most often for History of Magic during which he had to suffer Professor Binns’ soporific drone. But even though it was not him but Draco foregoing the lesson, the daring streak it required to do it was too much for Harry. The incredibly vivid expression of outrage and revenge on Hermione’s face in his mind caused a vicarious anxiety in him on Draco’s behalf.

“Granted knowing about Goblin wars isn’t a lot helpful for your working life but are you going to bunk the other lessons as well?”

“Why not?” Draco said as they settled at a workstation in the Slytherin common room. “My priorities have changed.”

“Explain,” Harry said as he threw his Invisibility Cloak onto the table. Having spent almost a fortnight dogging a Slytherin, he was long used to the nauseatingly fraternal emerald hue of the flames in the fireplace, the winding snake-shaped black rails of the staircase leading up to the dormitories and the green-tinged light in the common room due to the fact that the dungeons were located beneath the Black Lake. A few seconds ago he had shocked Draco by offering the password to the portrait before the Slytherin could.

“Why bother with school if I’m going to die?”

Harry sighed. “You’re not going to die because you’re going to listen to me for once and get under Dumbledore’s protection.”

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore – my head is going to blow,” Draco moaned, bracing his brow against the palm of his hand and sighing.

“Fine,” said Harry, who had also had quite enough of death imagery.

A long spell of silence passed them. Having experienced these as well with Blaise, Harry was also used to the uncomfortable feeling of knowing he was an unwelcome intrusion to someone’s space, but the feeling was all the more intense with Draco; Harry was at the source of the matter.

“What I still don’t get,” Draco said without looking up from the same notes he had been reading beneath the beech tree, “and sounds like the most ludicrous and impossible thing ever, is your claim that we… started to like each other… in that way.”

“I’m with you; it still beats me.”

“Just—explain to me step by step how it happened? I mean—I mean, there’s just no way…”

“Well,” began Harry extremely uncomfortably; he had taken the developments between him and the Draco of the first timeline he had visited for granted. They had been gradual, natural and self-explanatory. “Basically it started out with you being amazed by me--”

“I doubt it,” interjected Draco in a rather defensive tone.

“It was a whole lot of factors, to be honest,” Harry continued with forced nonchalance. “Basically our… attraction…”

“Oh Merlin, you can stop there – forget I asked,” Draco moaned, covering his head in his hands.

“Bloody hell, I’m going to finish the sentence whether you like it or not,” Harry snapped. He was annoyed that he had to defend his assertion that he and Draco had begun to feel an attraction for each other to the very person who had formed half of that bond. “Basically we had all the stuff to fall in love with each other from the very beginning!”

An expression of horror exploded on Draco’s face. “Potter!” he groaned pleadingly for him to stop.

“I mean think about it!” Harry plunged on. “Two boys, both from different worlds and on opposites sides of the battlefield, going at each other from the very first day they meet each other. Most people would say that’s simply sexual tension playing out.”

“Someone like a moist fangirl! That’s how girls think, Potter! Do you seriously think—I mean, we were eleven years old! How can any two people so young fall in love with each other? In days no less?”

Harry exhaled forcefully, irritated. “Fine then. Let me show you, shall I?” He extracted the Time-Turner from his pocket, at which point Draco’s bulging grey eyes moved to it.

“What? What are you doing?”

“Showing you you and me together.”

“Fucking Merlin, Potter, we don’t… you know…?”

Harry was biting his lower lip as he untangled the very fine gold chain linked to the hourglasses. “What?” he said distractedly before he looked up and his face flushed crimson. “No! I mean, no, we don’t – I was joking about that, by the way.”

Draco did not looked relieved much and quietly eyed the Time-Turner in Harry’s hands.

“This way,” said Harry, “I can kill two birds with one stone: I can show you what – you know – happens between us and how you get killed… Do you want to see it?”

Draco shook himself out of his stupor. “No,” he said. “Not really. It’s Blaise, right?”

“Yeah… but… So you do believe me?”

Draco’s face closed off. “Just hurry up and show me how we allegedly start to like each other ’cause Merlin knows I need the amusement right now.”

“You asked for it,” Harry chirped. “Okay, hang onto me… Argh, just stick at least one body part on me so that you don’t get left behind. You know, it’s amazing you’re trying to be so straight when you were the one who had his hand on my chest for no reason at all as I was trying to explain why you can’t make me out into a hero just because I faced Voldemort three times and survived.”

“I presume by ‘straight’ you mean normal. You can’t change normal – I haven’t heard of peopling turning gay. Not that I hear much of these things anyway – they’re very rare these gays. It just doesn’t make sense, Potter. I presume you were normal before--”

“I’d really appreciate it if you used the word ‘straight.’”

“I presume you had normalness when we met, as did I. So why all of a sudden we change? You can’t change the two... personalities.”

Harry had to fight hard to stop himself from correcting Draco about the erroneous labels he was using to describe homosexual people and their orientations – otherwise he would seem to know suspiciously too much about such matters. In fact, he did not know much beyond what he knew from the Muggle world. But the Wizarding world’s vocabulary for sexual identity issues was shockingly underdeveloped. Why would someone choose to be gay if he knew he would endure punishment from Dudley and his gang?

“Let’s just stop talking and let the truth speak for itself, all right?” Harry resolved.

“You mean your own truth,” Draco rebutted. “It was you who chose to go to that timeline and change it with your presence.”

“What difference does that make?”

“Well, your being in that alternate timeline changes things in it, doesn’t it? I presume you tried to convince me of the same thing you did today of joining Dumbledore, so I didn’t behave the way I would have had you not done so.”

“It didn’t matter what I said or did to you – you didn’t listen to me, it didn’t change anything – that’s why I’m here now.”

“Still, that me knows that you tried to convert me into a Lighter – he has that knowledge; he knows about you and what you tried to do, so he isn’t the same person – he can’t ever be.”

Harry grudgingly worked through the logic of Draco’s proposition and found it, irritatingly, sound.

“So because you changed that timeline very uniquely and you are the cause of its unique trajectory now and because it will never interfere with any other timeline, it’s your truth and yours only. It effectively only happened to you because you’ve stepped out of it.”

Harry chewed carefully on this next piece of argument. His cheeks were burning from getting tangled in the logical nuances. But after less time than his brain actually needed to complete its work, he bleated, “So? It doesn’t change anything.”

He flew through the memories of his first timeline for any indications of Draco’s I. Q. and, annoyingly, arrived at the high marks Draco claimed to achieve in his schoolwork. If Draco was so smart, why does he not save himself?

“Even so,” Harry countered after Draco raised his eyebrows, “the Draco that I found and can always find is, before I do anything, the same in every timeline, right?”

Draco thought for a second and appeared reluctant to respond. “That could be conceivably possible,” he conceded haughtily.

“It is,” Harry asserted, reinvigorated. “You have to branch out. Every different thing that Draco can do branches out from a point where there is no difference in all his possible future actions. Therefore,” Harry concluded with immense relish, tempted to hold an index up, “because you’re the same Draco in every timeline before I interfere in it, whatever way I influence you, you act the same way you would act in any timeline. Therefore Draco acts like any and all possible Dracos – including this one standing in front of me.”

“Can you refrain from abusing my name please?” Draco asked feebly.

Therefore,” Harry stressed, punctuating the word as though to stab it into the chest of the other boy, “this Draco could ‘conceivably’ fall in love with me.”

Draco looked away quickly before he could present a flush. “You know, you should really warn people when you say un-normal things like that.”

“That’s not even a word – that’s just to—it’s for the sake of being vicious.”

“Can you just show me already? Stop talking and put up.”

“Be my guest,” Harry sang. “I think we have to do it like this: come closer. Maybe we should stand up.” They did so. Harry grabbed his Invisibility Cloak and hung it around his neck underneath the Time-Turner while Draco cautiously drew nearer towards him. The Gryffindor looped the fine gold chain around the other boy so that it hung around both their necks. “Okay,” Harry whispered, thinking hard as he stared at the three hourglasses. “What do you want to see first?”

“The first time there is even the tiniest hint of my liking you. I don’t need to see the you liking me part because we’ve already established you’re a faggot.”

“Oi! I was perfectly straight before you came along!” Harry protested.

Draco evidently could not help the chuckle that escaped him. He quickly coughed, cleared his throat and resumed a serious expression as he appraised what Harry was holding in his hands. Harry growled and turned back to the Time-Turner; he had to do the temporal calculations all over again in his head.

“Okay… um… let’s see… The first time there was any hint, yeah? Um… Oh! Got it! Oh my God, you’re gonna love this…”

A blond eyebrow shot up a pale forehead. “That was totally so something I could have heard a girl say.”

“That was totally so something I could have heard a faggot say,” Harry countered.

Draco’s jaw dropped but he was soundly silenced. Harry, immensely satisfied with his track record in wit so far, made the calculations quietly in his head, turning one hourglass after the other gingerly, biting his lower lip again, until suddenly there was a flash of light. Draco started into him as they rushed upwards towards a sky made of liquid sun. The inside of their eyelids burned so bright the light threatened to blind them with their eyes closed, but a second later it receded. Like a widening puddle the floor melted into existence, walls lengthened from the ceiling, a bed stretched itself into view and the armoire and escritoire redrew themselves whole. They had arrived in Draco’s room.

“Okay, we’re going to arrive in a few minutes,” Harry explained. “Get under here.” He took the Invisibility Cloak off his neck, spread it open and threw it on the both of them. He pulled them back towards the corner behind them so they could not interrupt the movements their doppelgangers would make in the room – at least as far as he could remember them.

“This is brilliant!” Draco praised quietly. “Wow, we’re going to see you and me going about in my room…”

“Yeah,” Harry answered.

Draco nodded as he looked around his room. “It feels kind of good not thinking about my task… even if I have to endure the likes of you.” His eyes roamed around the room until they landed on the bottle of cologne on the escritoire.

“You’re welcome,” Harry snorted. “Okay, shush: can you hear them? Here they come.”

The footfalls drew nearer until there was a click at the door. It swiveled open and admitted Draco wearing a beige long-sleeved Houdani rugby jersey, dark-blue Herringbone twill pants and black Karvela suede slip-ons. Harry followed him inside in the same dress as that of the Harry underneath the Invisibility Cloak: dark-green “H” jersey, frayed jeans and a pair of beaten trainers. The concealed Draco turned his head slightly to attempt a subtle once-over on Harry’s clothes; the Slytherin’s nostrils swelled. Harry flushed an ugly puce and rigidly faced the scene ahead.

“Nice posy you got here, Malfoy,” Harry praised, smiling around the room. He came near the two boys beneath the Invisibility Cloak as he moved past and dropped his Firebolt on beside Draco’s trunk next to the bedside table.

Draco sat in his chair and faced Harry, who had lowered himself on the emerald bed. “So,” said the Slytherin vaguely.

At this point Harry stood up, extended his hand and said, “I’m Harry.”

Draco took it. “I’m Draco. It’s been long enough.”

Draco underneath the Cloak gagged. He watched an awkward moment pass between their two doppelgangers before Harry reached for the cologne and Draco grabbed it, crossed the room and buried it in his armoire. The nervous movements of Draco’s double told Draco all he needed to know.

“Eighty-two Galleons ninety-five for cologne?” Harry exclaimed.

“Well, you know the pretentious pouffes we are sometimes,” Draco trilled. The Draco beneath the Invisibility Cloak palmed his forehead.

While their doubles talked about brooms Harry was doubled over in the corner. He and Draco watched themselves negotiate a few more seconds of dialogue before they left the room. Harry burst out into laughter and threw his head back.

“Why on earth did you put on that cologne? Just for me?” Harry wheezed.

“A visitor was coming over! It’s common courtesy!” Draco blustered.

Harry giggled wildly. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it!”

“Shut up! Argh, why did I do that?” Draco whispered to himself in chastisement, slapping his forehead again. “It was just Harry—fucking—Potter! I’ve had enough - I want to go back.”

“Okay, all right,” Harry sniffed, wiping away his tears as he lifted the Time-Turner under his gaze. But at that moment a brainwave hit him. “Oh wait!” he exclaimed, his eyes lighting up. He dashed over to the escritoire and pulled open the drawer. Rather surprisingly he found what he had thought he had just started to look for. He grabbed the mound of folded pieces of parchments and joined Draco back in the corner.

“What are these?” Draco asked.

“Letters we sent back and forth,” Harry answered as he prepared to transport them back into their original timeline. “These will show you how we became friends practically overnight.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Believe it.”

Harry looped the gold chain around their necks and turned the hourglasses. A moment later they were back in the Slytherin common room. “Here.” He handed the notes over to Draco, who passively took them with a vague expression of astonishment on his face.

Half an hour later Draco was convinced that if they could become friends so rapidly, it was not a huge stretch of the imagination that they could nurture an attraction for each other. As exciting as Draco had found the time-travelling, he neither had the stomach nor, he insisted ironically, the time for it.

“It’s still... Can’t wrap my head around it... But anyway, it was fun while it lasted.”

There hung an awkward question in the air between them. The silence was so horrible to endure Harry would rather have Draco ask the question out loud: given that he had drawn that other Draco into making suggestive innuendos and throwing enquiring glances Harry’s way, did Harry intend to achieve the same thing with this Draco?

Harry’s answer to that would be no. He simply wanted to return to where he belonged having changed Draco’s fate and succeeded in his self-imposed mission. That was all he wanted. He missed Ron and Hermione. And even Dumbledore. He missed his home. That was his head thinking.

“So there,” said Harry, “a bit of comic relief.”

Draco grunted.

“So?” Harry prodded.

Draco threw him a sardonic frown. “So what?”

“So...” Harry huffed. “You know, I don’t have all year.”

“All year for what?”

“To do this thing all over again and twist your arm.”

“I never asked you to be here.”

“You actually did – at the tree, remember?”

Draco covered his hand in his arms. “To help me.”

“Sure.”

“But you won’t.”

“Not in the way you want me to… Just tell me your plans.”

“You already knew them before I said anything.”

“Exactly. So now what?”

“Shut up. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Then let’s not.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. What do you want to do?”

There was silence for a minute.

“Escape…”

“Where?”

Silence for another minute.

“The Muggle world.”

“What?” said Harry after the full five seconds it took for his brain to work on error-correcting the audio it had just received and conclude that it had heard faithfully. But he still could not believe what he had heard.

Almost deservedly, in Harry’s opinion, Draco flushed scarlet.

“You want to escape to the Muggle world?”

Draco kept quiet.

“You said you want to escape to the Muggle world?”

“I don’t know.”

This was revolutionary. The heavens would sing and the sun would burst with joy. Draco Lucius Malfoy had confessed a desire to set foot on a world he and his forefathers have derided and abhorred. Surely it was off with his head if Lucius heard him admit this – or even remotely imply such a desire. Harry never thought he would see this day.

“No, we can!” he said energetically to bolster the daring streak Draco had summoned to make his admission which Harry saw rapidly receding in the moping Slytherin’s face. “We could, you know, visit America and Australia! Anywhere you want!”

“Forget I mentioned it, all right?”

“Of course not! It’s brilliant, Draco! Come on then!”

“No.”

“It’ll spare you a headache, yeah?”

“Potter, stop being excited like a tyke and calm yourself. I have no intention of going anywhere.”

But Harry was already thinking of going down to Hagrid and asking for his Gringotts key, at which point he realized he should not be the one to foot the bill. Which in turn led him to the question of how one could travel in the Muggle world.

“You’re the one who started it.”

“And I took it back.”

“You can’t.”

“Why not? I don’t have time for this codswallop. My life is in jeopardy.”

“If you cared so much about your life you would’ve listened to me ages ago. So how much money can you blow in a day? Do you have an allowance you get or something?”

Draco snorted. “Allowance,” he spat. “So quaint.”

“Well then? Come on, I know you want to brag.”

“Potter,” said Draco, pinching his nose, “you seem to operate on the presumption that you’re running the show and I need to listen to you. When has that ever been the case?”

“Right, so my best guess,” Harry said, ignoring the question as he was adrift in the idea of exploring the Muggle world, “is that you have an allowance of a couple of hundred Galleons. We could--”

“I don’t have an allowance,” Draco denied waspishly. “I have my own vault of miscellaneous expenditure.”

Harry’s eyebrow rose. “Okay… So you have an entire vault just for your daily needs… Right. So we take some of it, have a look around and be back here before the day is out.”

Draco looked aside at him. “Do you go off on pointless tangents like this often with your friends?”

“If there’s no hairless monster with red slits and a skull-like face on my arse, yeah. Quite often.”

Draco looked away, a look of serene disbelief in his face. “You’re utterly incorrigible. Unbelievable.”

“Right, it’s settled. Let’s go.”

Harry grabbed Draco by the hand, whereupon the other flung his arm away. “Do you want me to Stupefy you?” Harry asked, trying to ignore the hurtful rejection of the gesture.

Draco had a look of profound indignation. “You can’t just make me do want you me to and drag me around; who the hell do you think you are? I’m a Malfoy!”

“I haven’t heard that one in a while,” Harry said with a touch of sarcasm and indeed truth and another of defensiveness. “I’m warning you.”

He felt reckless and he was coming to the resolve that in order to effect real change in this timeline or any other possible future ones he would have to make rather drastically actions he would not necessarily ordinarily make, whatever that entailed. Surely that would ensure a different outcome, whether positive or not. But he had certainly learned that negotiation was not his most effective weapon as was demonstrated in his first attempt. And he also felt Draco needed the vacation.

“Do you want me to take my wand out?”

Draco stared at him with a mixture of curiosity and indignation. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“I would,” replied Harry, who knew that Draco knew he could beat him in a corridor duel as he had countless times before – in any timeline. “Now, shall we?”

Draco continued to stare at him with incredulity until he said, “Where exactly is the Muggle world?”

Harry made his best attempt to conceal his satisfaction. “We have to go to King’s Cross, I guess.”

He had not anticipated that fact.

Draco of course was only too glad to pounce on the glitch in his plans. “Amazing. That would require we have a train to board. And even if we did find it, it’d take a whole day to get there.”

Harry was thinking rapidly. And then it hit him. “We can go to Malfoy Manor, take your broom, copy it and then fly to King’s Cross. At a hundred and eighty-five miles per hour it’ll take us some two and half hours to get there!”

Draco stared at Harry. “Potter, you want us to travel three hours nonstop on brooms?”

“Two and a half – let’s not exaggerate here.”

“Your fanciful ruminations have grown less amusing. I want to be left alone with my work.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Harry said, genuinely curious as to what reasonable objection Draco had to his plan. “It’s perfectly possible!”

“Enough dreaming, Potter! You’ve wasted my time long enough.”

“Look at you,” said Harry, “pouring over a bunch of notes you think are help you kill the greatest wizard ever when you could be touring the world!”

Draco muttered something as he looked up at the ceiling, seemingly praying to some deity to grant him the calmness of mind not to destroy Harry.

“Or… we could learn to Apparate?”

“Without guidance, I suppose?”

“Why not?”

“Because you need trained professionals and they’re only coming next year.”

“Give me an hour.”

“Potter! Where are you going?” Draco called after Harry, who was loping headlong out of the common room door.

“The library!”

“Do you seriously think the library’s going to have books on how to Apparate? You’re even dimmer than I thought! It’s a Ministry-run course!”

“Oh!” said Harry before he disappeared out the door. “If I don’t come back before lunch--”

“Lunch is in less than ten minutes,” Draco pointed out with obvious relish.

“Damn,” hissed Harry. “And I can’t exactly saunter into the Great Hall.”

“I almost wished you would,” Draco muttered, “that’d be fun. I mean, if you think you can learn how to Apparate from the library in an hour, whatever gaffe you’re bound to make in public would be epic.”

“What do you attend after lunch?”

“You think I’m telling you?” Draco scoffed.

Harry gave the other boy a serious and almost moping look before it broke into one of confusion. “Wait, are you even going to attend it in the first place?”

“Depends if I’m in the mood or not.”

“Fine. If you won’t tell me… I guess I can’t go.” Harry dragged himself back to the seat beside Draco.

Draco, far from looking triumphant, wore an expression of stifled confusion. “Glad you found your common sense at the door, where you must have left it when you came in here,” he said a little cautiously.

Harry rubbed his hands together in his lap despondently. Beneath his brow he surreptitiously eyed Draco’s hands

“Can I see your hands?”

“Why?” Draco enquired suspiciously.

“I just wanna look at them.”

“No, Potter! You’re sick! Has someone checked you out? I think they have a bed with your name on it at St. Mungo’s. Merlin’s scrotum.”

“I just wanna see them.”

“No, Potter!”

“Oh shit!” Harry screamed as he pointed at something on the other end of the workstation. When Draco turned to look there Harry charged in for the Slytherin’s right hand, pulled the emerald ring off the finger, grabbed one of the pages of parchment of Draco’s notes and sprinted for the exit.

“POTTER!” Draco boomed. “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!”

Harry ran out of the dungeons, Draco hot on his heels. Between dodging curses from Draco’s wand, Harry looked back and saw a mass of black and a red smudge, which was Draco’s face: his face had gone an explosive crimson. Harry quickly realized the other boy was going to give up on neither the chase nor landing a head-cracking spell on him. Moving rapidly to save life and limb, Harry shot a Silencing Charm at his feet – muffling his footsteps as he pummelled the floor – ripped the Invisibility Cloak off his neck and threw it on him. As soon as he heard Draco let loose a loud howl of obscenities he knew he had won the race. As suddenly as they had started it, it was over when he no longer heard pounding footsteps behind him. With an immensely self-satisfied cackle he could not help, he continued along the way to the library.

Little more than an hour later, when Harry knew Draco was supposed to be attending Defence Against the Dark Arts as they shared the class, he found the aristocrat in the fifth year boys’ dormitory reclined on his bed.

“Right. Got your ticket then? Let’s go,” he announced.

Draco looked up from his Potions tome. “You learned how to Apparate in an hour and fifteen minutes?”

“Positively,” Harry panted. He patted his pocket where, just in case, the instructions on Apparating were stashed.

Draco was hardly believing. He followed Harry’s hand to his pocket and back to his face. “You should be kidding right now.”

“I’m not,” Harry replied as he went around the bed and stood beside Draco. “So? Come on. Where do you wanna go?”

“I want my ring back.”

“You’re not getting it until you come along.”

Draco stared at him for a few seconds. He put down his book. “Potter, do you live in a supernatural, fantastical world or something?”

“No, just a magical one,” Harry mumbled.

“Does the fact that this is not a joke and is about my life resonate in that thick cranium of yours?”

“Perfectly. That’s why you need a vacation – stressful times these.”

“You can’t be, Potter – you simply can’t be. It’s outrageously inconceivable he could be that fast with a book but I can certainly buy this stupidity of wanting to travel the world.”

“America? Africa? Australia? And that’s not even all the A’s,” Harry rattled off casually. “What do you say?”

“I say you’re barking mad and you need an appointment with a Mental Wizard.”

“If that was meant to be an official title it only succeeded to mock its holder,” Harry muttered. “You’re coming whether wilfully or not.”

Draco looked at him with a slight but genuine look of fear and more than an equal measure of defiance. “You can’t do that. That’s like rape.”

For reasons which will never be known to him, Harry experienced a wave of arousal. He felt sick for it. “You can’t throw a word like that around,” he chided with more venom than he meant to inject in his voice, continuing in a lighter tone, “It’s liking crying wolf, you know. Or like playing the Muggle card – you want to save it for the real howlers. Not when people like you say something like Mudblood. Maybe something like, ‘Go the fuck back where you came from,’ or something of a similar persuasion. Which hurts more than the name-calling does, by the way.”

Draco took in all of his with an expression that said he did not know how to respond to the speech. He gave the room a slightly enquiring and beseeching look, hoping it would offer him a means of trying to understand what he had just heard.

“Potter, this act is getting old really quickly.”

“Time’s up.” Harry leaned over and grabbed Draco’s arm but the other boy began fighting him off. Harry had read that he needed to concentrate really hard on his destination and he would need to hold onto his co-Apparator in order to transport them both. On the heels of the unkindly heavy reference Draco had made to rape, Harry was distinctly self-conscious and wary of achieving substantial bodily contact with the other boy. Draco threw his leg into Harry’s middle. Eyes tearing up, Harry stiffened his resolve, kneed up on the bed and threw himself at full-gauge into the struggle.

It continued for a full thirty seconds before Harry gained enough grips on Draco using all limbs and a few teeth to contemplate his destination. Unfortunately there was the inconvenient fact that this was the closest and most intimate he had ever been with Draco. And he sustained a problem. Quite unsurprisingly Draco suddenly stopped struggling beneath and there fell a painful silence in the room that lasted five seconds before Draco regained speech and whispered the dreaded question. Harry did not bother to answer – it was roaringly self-evident.

The texture of the ruffled gelled hair; cinnamon and desert rain… the vibrating, warm body beneath him… The skin of his cheek against the crook of a silky neck… the knowing of Draco’s physical strength and the feel of his corners – knees and shoulders and hip bones – and the expanses of his torso and thighs… Harry started shaking slightly. In what seemed like a viciously powerful and rapid motion limbs suddenly snapped and Harry found himself on the other side of the bed smarting in his groin and his chin. It was almost worth it. He could not even force a fake mischievous grin to save face. He had been found utterly naked in his worst vulnerability.

“Potter!” Draco cried as he leapt off the bed to his feet. “You’re a sick man! A very sick man!”

Harry found himself inexplicably unable to move. It was true the physical struggle on the bed had been draining, but not so much. All he was able to do was offer a vague smirk serving rather the same function as a “closed” sign on a store as the management (Harry’s brain) tried to resolve a crisis which had suddenly arisen: his pants were wet.

Draco made a gesture of frustration and indignation and paced in a circle. “I need to do something about you…”

And just as suddenly Harry regained his strength. His partially closed eyes opened widely and he, very cautiously, rose off the bed.

“Where do you wanna go?” he asked rather as a means to force a natural conversation than deal with his complete and wounding humiliation. But Draco, judging by his indignation, which had not faded the slightest, did not seem keen to brush the issue under the carpet. “Dobby.”

POP!

“Harry Potter called Dobby for his assistance.”

While Draco was processing the appearance of his ex-house-elf with a gaping mouth, Harry explained to Dobby that he needed to take the both of them outside Hogwarts.

“Dobby is delighted to be helping Harry Potter. Sir, you sure you want to make company with him? I remember him and his father. Nasty people but Dobby escaped.”

“Dobby?” Draco said weakly.

Dobby turned around to face Draco, seemed to take a second to muster himself and then, assuming a face of pride, said, “Dobby is not to be answering to his previous master; Dobby is a free elf now thanks to Harry Potter.”

Harry took Draco’s inattention to mutter a quick Cleaning Charm to refresh his sticky underwear. “Yes, yes, yes. Are we done with the formalities?” he said quickly as he took Dobby’s hand and Draco’s with the other; the other boy had not recovered from the shock of his seeing his self-manumitted – or rather aide manumission house-elf.

“Potter, you freed him?” Draco asked hollowly as he faced Harry. But before he received his answer Dobby clicked his fingers and the dormitory was empty.

They reappeared before the tall black wrought gate beside which two winged boars stood on bastions.

“Right. Thanks, Dobby. You can go back in the castle,” Harry said.

Dobby clicked his fingers again.

POP!

“Right. Again: where you want to go or shall I choose?”

Draco took a few seconds to gather his bearings and the fact that they were standing outside the school grounds. After looking around it was apparent that something else was enjoying more importance in his memory.

“Potter, you seem to be overlooking the fact that you were about to rape me--”

“That’s fucking—I said you need to stop throwing that word around!” Harry snarled. “Or maybe that word isn’t as loaded here in the Wizarding world as it is in the Muggle.”

“Oh, you’re just asking to be discriminated upon for someone apparently so sensitive to it!” Draco trilled. “Allow me to point out the obvious: if you don’t like the way we use words in this world, then STAY THE FUCK OUT OF IT!”

Harry blindly lunged forwarded and sealed the roaring open lips with his own. And there was a brief flash of red in Harry’s vision, a moment where his body was paralyzed by a tingling, almost clammy sensation and he pulled back to stare at the pallid face of shock.

Draco was frozen in his absolute incredulity and his expression had not changed. Harry’s brain worked furiously to conjure up a random place – breaking off a tooth in one of its cogwheels, so furious they had spun. Thoughtlessly and gaping, he reached for Draco’s raised arm, took in the unmoving face of the other boy, closed his eyes and – in a desperate lapse of faithlessness – prayed for the God of Abraham – the merciful one he had been brought up to revere at strategic and spare periods in his life, the one to whom he had been forced to proffer offering when he was younger – to save him from the full might of Slytherin retribution and deliver him to a heavenly place of paradise and safety.

There was a sharp crack and the two boys disappeared.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

Unexpected Words

Harry heard a soft release of breath near him, but he was too afraid to open his eyes; he was as certain of the fact that he had forty-five kilograms of Slytherin fury to face as he was that the world was round.

“Where are we?” came the bodiless question. Harry finally opened his eyes and took in the mild-temperatured air before the dry, parched expanse of wheaten grass, which looked quite familiar. He looked behind and, as he had anticipated, saw a swing, the same one Harry visited in his listless prowls around the neighbourhood whenever the other occupants of number four, Privet Drive made their irritation at his presence known, more loudly. Although he was shocked he and Draco had arrived here, it only made sense as it was the one place he felt safest in the Muggle world and to which he had instinctively Apparated.

“We’re at the local park,” Harry answered. “Not a dream destination, I agree.”

Draco cast his eyes around the area, his white-blond hair blending in quaintly with the dry, rustic lawn. “Are we in the wild?”

“No, we’re not the in the wild,” Harry answered, half-amused and half-irritated.

Draco frowned disdainfully at the swing set. “What is this contraption?”

“It doesn’t matter; it’ll take long to explain,” replied Harry. “Let’s try this again.”

Draco retreated when Harry made to grab his arm. “Oi, you! You can’t just drag me around as you wish! What’s the matter with you, Potter? Take me back to Hogwarts, this was a bad idea from the start!”

“Not doing it,” Harry replied with a shake of his head, which bemused Draco. “Now, we can do this the hard way or the easy way. Either you be a good boy or we’re going to have to go in the same way we did a few minutes ago. Only this time I won’t let you go.”

Draco appeared profoundly affronted and his body language intimated that he was no longer inclined to listen to Harry. “This is abuse, Potter. Officially abuse now, you hear me? You drag me out of civilisation and drop me into a Merlin-forsaken countryside with no way of going back except through you just to satisfy your sadistic mind.”

“That’s just about right,” said Harry matter-of-factly. “Are you done?”

“No, I’m not done! How dare you put your lips on me? Do you understand that if I catch your unnormalness my family line will be wiped out for good?”

“I don’t care about your family line and you can’t catch—I told you the words you’re using are stupid and make no sense. Are you done ranting so we can go? Or should we just hang around here and see the neighbourhood?” Then a weird idea occurred to Harry. “Or meet my family?”

His heart suddenly raced. The idea had sprung suddenly in his mind, an incomplete intention to make Draco suffer by meeting Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. For as soon as this pair answered the door they would return into the depths of the house and return armed with gleaming pots and pans to flatten the pale, freakish wizard out of existence and spare them from their neighbours’ stares, which, of course, spelled social suicide. However ill-intentioned his idea was, it ended up leading Harry to the spine-tingling possibility of Draco setting foot on his home—a home he despised but a home whatever. Perhaps Draco was right, perhaps Harry need not drag them anywhere else.

“Your parents?” Draco said loudly. “What makes you think I want to meet them? I can already see them. My Merlin, does one of them have Down’s syndrome? That would explain your vacant gaze in class and why your reactions don’t agree with reality because I want to go home and you’re still standing in front of me doing nothing about it!”

Harry rolled his eyes. “You can stay out here on your own.”

Draco watched Harry walk off, a murderous look in his pointed face. He whipped out his wand.

“Take me back to Hogwarts,” he demanded.

“No,” said Harry placidly, not threatened at all.

“I swear I’ll hex you!” Draco crowed.

“You might want to put that away,” Harry advised, “they put people like you doing what you’re doing with that,” he flicked his eyes to the wand trained on him, “to a big house filled with crazy people. Not a very nice place to land up in from a mansion.”

Draco looked around frantically and he reluctantly lowered his wand and then returned it to a fold in his robes. “The moment I gain an even footing I swear you will pay, Potter,” he vowed as he began walking alongside the Gryffindor.

They travelled for ten metres before Draco blurted out, “Fine. I don’t want to meet your parents. We can go anywhere but there.”

“Oh, good. Finally come to your senses, have you?” said Harry, who would not admit it to himself that he was disappointed. What he would if he knew it would be the last time he saw Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia…

Kiss him in front of them.

Harry slapped his mouth shut, eyes swelling. Draco turned to give him a quizzical look. Harry’s heart was thundering against his chest. The thought was so vivid and flesh-rousing he thought he had said it aloud and Draco would look at him as though he were a sex-crazed monstrosity that survived on thoughts of sodomising boys. What was wrong with him? His body, and his brain, kept surprising him.

“We have to collect money from Gringotts,” Harry announced in a business-like way, trying to forget about his near-slip.

“My parents get a monthly report of the transactions about my vault; they would know the moment you took a single Galleon out of it.”

“So?”

“‘So?’” sneered Draco loudly. “Wouldn’t that mess up your little saviour rendezvous? You obviously haven’t thought your brilliant travelling plans through.”

Harry blushed. It also just occurred to him that he needed a rather vivid picture of the place to which he wanted to Apparate, and he only had the sort of vague picturesque approximations of America and Africa and Australia that were offered on television. He could not go to those places even if he had the money and desire to.

He halted in his tracks and thought. Draco, realising this, stopped and stared at him quietly.

Harry did not want to waste their trip, but they had nowhere else to go besides either the Dursleys or Hogwarts. However, his daring still survived, which made the choice obvious. He quietly walked to his house, giving no indication that he knew he was being followed by the other boy. After a kilometre of complaints, threats and tense stretches of silence punctuated by numerous attempts to goad Harry into speech, which at least would have assuaged Draco’s visibly growing sense of panic, Draco finally subsided and gave himself over to his miserable fate of being Harry’s bitch—at least until he returned to familiar surroundings.

Harry enjoyed the silence until they got to the house. Draco looked at the house, at Harry, around the neighbourhood and back to the house. He then found his voice.

“You can’t be serious,” he drawled, disbelief ripe in his voice.

“Yeah,” said Harry shortly. He had no doubt that Snape’s and Draco’s ideas of the life of Harry Potter in the summer break was vastly different from the truth.

“You live here?” said Draco.

“Yeah,” Harry replied. The other boy kept quiet again.

Harry was not glad to return to his house earlier than he had to. It was a Monday afternoon, which meant Dudley was at school and Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia at work. He came up to the door and tried to open it but it was expectedly locked.

Alohomora,” he said quietly and stepped inside the house. Draco followed him hesitantly, arms folded. His expression vacillated between surprise and disgust as they moved through the house and into the living room. Harry continued to the kitchen, leaving Draco behind to frown down at the remote control resting on the table.

“This is a funny-looking wand,” the blond boy remarked, holding it up to his eyes to inspect. A smile spread across Harry’s face as he looked over his shoulder at the Slytherin. He quickly rushed to make them lunch, which they had both skipped. However, by the time he was done spreading the mayonnaise-bathed tuna on their slices of bread and bounded back into the living room, it was too late to see the astonishment break on Draco’s face. He now sat on the couch staring at the lit-up box on the other side of the room, slack-jawed, limp-wristed and properly captivated.

“What is this magic?” he enquired as Harry set their lunch down on the table. The raven-haired boy bit into his sandwich and leaned back as much as he could so he could see Draco’s face without alerting the other boy that he was being watched, and he just grinned at the gaping boy.

“It’s a television set,” he answered as he chewed. Draco’s expression did not change as he stared at the stop-motion kid’s show, his sandwhich left untouched.

“Change the channel, why don’t you?” said Harry as he reached for the remote.

“What do you think you're doing?” hissed Draco, and he ripped the remote from Harry’s hand before Harry could press a button. Draco jabbed the remote control forward as he pressed on the same button he used to switch on the television. The TV set went off, Draco’s mouth tightened (Harry was almost certain he was being blamed for the loss of picture) and he jabbed the remote control again in the direction of the TV, at which point his face was blasted by flickering light once more, and Draco moved no longer, mesmerised once again by the box with the world of its own inside.

“Who are these people and why are they so small?” Draco asked.

“They’re like characters in a book,” Harry responded, “they’re not real and that’s not their real size. Remember your father’s idea of memory movies or whatever?”

Draco kept silent but there was a spark of recognition in his eyes which was quickly extinguished. This was the second time Harry had seen this happen. Draco, as a different Draco had before, had just realised his father’s money-making idea was not as special as he thought it was.

“But Father’s Memes will actually make you feel as though you are in there,” he rebutted, pointing to the TV set with the remote control.

Harry fell into pitying, concessionary silence, not bothering to mention virtual reality headsets and surround sound. Then, he said, “Come on, let me show you my room.”

He led the other boy on a brief tour of the house. Mysteriously, he rather enjoyed the looks of pity that came over Draco’s face when he saw his shabby, sparse bedroom. His excitement reached a crescendo when they arrived at the cupboard under the stairs. Harry opened the small door to a tiny compartment that would have barely fit a ten-year-old. The memories which were sparked by the sight of it, the cobwebs in the corners and the dusty, woody smell brought about a sense of detached pity in Harry, which instantly mixed with a rush of satisfaction when Draco’s jaw dropped after he told the other that it was where he had been forced to live for several years.

“They made you sleep in here?” Draco blurted out. The clear tone of outrage in his voice sent shivers down Harry’s spine.

“Yup,” said Harry happily. He smiled wanly at the space and looked up at Draco.

“That’s cruel,” Draco finally said, frowning in a look of disgust.

“Yeah, it was. Luckily you’ll meet my family in a few hours.”

Those few hours were whiled away watching every single channel the flickering box could offer. Draco did not know on which channel he wanted to settle. As soon as Harry finally grew interested in a storyline, Draco would change to a different channel.

“The point is to watch some programme for a prolonged period of time. You can’t watch all of them.”

Admittedly, this was a point he could have noted himself. He remembered behaving no differently to Draco whenever the Dursleys were not around, the only time he could watch TV comfortably.

The sound of the roar of a car swinging into the driveway came over the sound of the television.

“It’s them,” Harry announced. He grabbed the remote control from Draco’s hand, which closed around thin air longingly, and coaxed the protesting blond to the living room. He almost could not contain his relish; he looked down to hide his huge grin from Draco, who would suspect he was on the wrong end of a joke and refuse to cooperate.

They came to stand before the door. “Let’s finally see what exactly on Merlin’s sweet orb could have given birth to…” Draco gestured broadly at Harry with a dismissive wave and a creased nose. “…this, only to torture it.”

After a few minutes there was the tinkle of keys before the doorknob rattled. “Let’s find out,” said Harry.

The door opened. It took one look at the Dursleys to make Harry’s pulse race as his heart burst with affection; he was in love.

It was late afternoon and there was a fast procession of neighbours into their homes from work. Uncle Vernon, who was well-aware of this, did not look in any direction except forward into the new boy’s face and his weird robes. His complexion rocketed to red and then purple. Aunt Petunia, with her arm around her beefy son, brought up the rear. She enquired why her husband was standing at the door looking dumbfounded (evidently she could not see around his massive form). However, as soon as Draco came into view, she came to a sudden halt and clutched her pearls. The hand on Dudley’s shoulder nearly crushed the bone beneath it, growing very white. Dudley looked around the other massive side of his father and, after noticing Harry, gave an awed once-over at Draco.

“Who’s this?” asked Dudley loudly.

His voice seemed to have activated Uncle Vernon, for he grabbed his son urgently and twisted the front of his shirt. Dudley looked slightly scared of his father.

“Vernon, I think we should step inside,” Aunt Petunia muttered, wisely, Harry thought. Exploding just before his doorstep in front of people would set the Dursleys back years in the precious eyes of their neighbours.

Aunt Petunia carefully coaxed Uncle Vernon into the house, Dudley walking just behind him taking very short steps as though he had something stuck in his backside. Harry and Draco backed up, a small smile playing on Harry’s lips.

As soon as the door shut closed behind them, Uncle Vernon, said, in a quiet voice dripping with fury, “Who might your friend be, boy?”

“This is Draco Malfoy,” said Harry promptly. “He goes to Hogwarts—” Uncle Vernon’s purple complexion worsened slightly and his middle swelled. “—with me. He comes from a very rich family.”

The swift change in expression in his uncle’s face was almost comical. His beady little eyes, almost lost in a puddle of doughy, flushed bulges, blinked twice and made a thoroughly meal of the boy standing next to Harry. Harry could almost see the pounds stacking up in his head. He was not sure the glint in Uncle Vernon’s was from the light in the living room or the coins he was imagining seeing in front of him where Draco stood.

“Is it?” said Uncle Vernon with a quick once-over. He still looked thoroughly uncomfortable hosting a wizard in his house. He caught the flicker of light from the television and his face promptly reddened again.

“He looks like a snotty snob,” Dudley bleated as he hid from behind his father. When Draco turned to him, Dudley gave a little squeak and retreated further until only his pudgy fingers and a round face topped with blond hair was all of that left of him.

“You look like a piglet,” Draco retorted.

Harry released a loud snort. The delivery of the line in Draco’s mannered inflections made it all the more amusing besides the fact that it was exceedingly true.

“Now hang on right this second,” Uncle Vernon blustered, wagging a meaty finger of his own, moustache bristling with indignation, always a bad sign. “Invading my home and turning on my telly is one thing. Insulting my son, you’re asking for—” Uncle Vernon paused as his bulging eyes shifted to Draco’s wand, which the blond boy had just slipped out from his robe.

“Daddy, he’s got that thing that Harry has!” Dudley squealed as he all but climbed his father’s back, his blond curls now almost completely out of sight. Harry heard Uncle Vernon draw in breath and his middle swelled even further, straining the buttons on his pullover. Aunt Petunia made a funny little sound, the skin in her lower face stretched tightly over her horsy mouth.

Dudley then spotted Harry’s complexion.

“Why’ve you got dirt all over you?”

A look of horror crept over Aunt Petunia’s face and she grabbed Dudley closer.

“It looks contagious,” she muttered very quietly, even apologetically.

Harry and Draco exchanged looks. The question was ignored.

“So we have a piglet,” observed Draco, glaring at Dudley before moving his eyes over to the other two, “a mare and a…” He took in Uncle Vernon’s massive figure; his eyes took some time to travel over all of it. “…the blob. How could you let this pathetic bunch of people bully you, Potter?”

“Bully?” Uncle Vernon squawked, looking affronted. Harry snorted; the reaction was too rich. “What lies have you been telling him, boy?” he snarled.

“He doesn’t need to tell me any lies given that you can’t even call him by his proper name,” Draco said coolly.

Uncle Vernon still looked hugely offended but said nothing to Draco, which did not shock Harry.

“Why are you back so early?” Aunt Petunia asked as her eyes flicked back and forth between Harry and Draco. Harry could tell Draco’s uniform was threatening to give her convulsions.

Harry’s brain worked furiously. For all his excitement to see his guardians’ reaction to Draco, he had not once thought of the excuse he would give when he was asked precisely that question. Five seconds of silence exploded in the room as loudly as a train blowing by.

He decided to be honest. Honest enough for the Dursleys, that is. “I thought I’d give Draco a tour of my home during the lunch break.”

Uncle Vernon’s temple pulsated; the thought of Harry presuming to showcase his house to his friends as though he had rights to it that the occupants did was visibly enraging. He remained silent. His determination not to put Draco off giving them money was almost admirable to Harry.

“Well, then, I thought we’d have tea but I see you’ve made yourselves comfortable,” Uncle Vernon said through a pained grin.

“I think we’ll be off,” said Harry with a smile.

A look of relief passed over Aunt Petunia’s face; she would not have to serve the invaders of their home.

“Where are you going?” Uncle Vernon demanded in an accusatory tone. He was eyeing Draco beadily again.

“Back to Hogwarts,” Harry replied.

“I told you, boy, don’t say that name in this house!” Uncle Vernon yelled with so much force his moustache was nearly blown cleanly off his face.

“Well, boy,” said Draco, turning to Harry, “I guess we better leave.”

Uncle Vernon froze in his rage and stared at Draco as he and Harry strode past them to the door, a deep look of longing dawning on his face. Dudley, still standing as though trying not to tell, came kept his eyes trained on Draco’s wand.

“Well, hang on, you can’t just invite yourselves into my home and not leave properly.”

“I think I’ve seen everything I needed to see,” Draco said.

“Bye,” Harry said to his family

“I don’t think we’re understanding each other,” Uncle Vernon said in a tone Harry had never heard before. He turned back. “Let us properly meet your friend.”

“I don’t intend to stay room as you any longer than I need to,” Draco said coolly.

“I suppose you have an extra room at this mansion of yours for your friend,” Uncle Vernon said. Harry frowned at the man.

“You can’t,” was he could think to say in his shock.

“Can’t what?” asked Uncle Vernon with an unpleasant simper. “Can’t kick you out of my own house.”

Harry just stared at the man, and the stupidity of the excursion came to him. An unintended ripple had just happened. Where would the Harry in this timeline live if he was kicked out of the house? He knew that Harry would love nothing more, but he had a deep feeling that Dumbledore would not be impressed with the new development.

“Shall we have dinner?” Uncle Vernon simpered sweetly again.

“No, thanks,” said Draco, turned away and made to walk off the porch, but Harry held him.

“Just give them a few Galleons,” said Harry.

“Of my money?” Draco screeched. “These hideous Mudbloods won’t touch a Malfoy Galleon in a million centuries!”

“Just do it,” said Harry angrily.

“I don’t have any money with me!” said Draco, looked surprised at Harry.

“We’ll come back with it,” lied Harry. He knew that not only did he have time but also had very few time trips left in him; he was feeling heavier yet lighter every minute, a very odd feeling he had never felt before time-travelling.

“You know that can’t happen, Potter. Let’s go. I don’t want to spend another minute in this Merlin-forsaken place. I want magic!”

Uncle Vernon hissed and threw his arms around wildly. He and his wife poked out of the door and scanned the neighbourhood for eyes looking their way. They waved at Mrs. Figg with broad smiles. She scowled at them and shuffled towards her door, carrying a plastic bag over one arm which was rattling with tinned cat food.

“Don’t bother come back here, boy!” Uncle Vernon hissed.

“Vernon, he has to come back,” Harry heard Aunt Petunia. He spun around and stared at her, shocked. Aunt Petunia slapped her mouth as though she had said something foul and retreated with her son into the house. Uncle Vernon, recognising the tone in her voice, frowned after her questioningly. The door closed, shutting off the murmured questions of Uncle Vernon to his wife.

“Well?” demanded Draco. “Get us out of here.”

Harry wanted to rush back into the house and ask his aunt why she had said what she had. But even as the thought occurred to him he felt the grey line move further down to new parts of his body. These newly invaded places made him feel heavier and yet diminished at once. With incredible effort, he suffocated his questions, reached for Draco’s hand and turned on his heel. A second later there was a crack and the two boys were gone.