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survival is a talent

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Draco sits next to his boyfriend during their first class of the year, because that’s something he can do now, which would be very thrilling and exciting if Harry could stop looking so miserable.

“I really don’t think it’ll be that bad,” he says, nudging Harry in the side.

“My favorite class is ruined,” he sighs, leaning back with his head against Draco’s shoulder as if he’s mid faint.

Ron rolls his eyes. “Really? Voldemort was in the back of Quirrell’s head, then there was Lockhart, then Barty Crouch Jr., then Umbridge. The only good professor we had was Remus. If the professor could ruin this class for you, it would have.”

Harry sniffs and turns his head into Draco, so his soft lips and warm breath are right against his neck. This is cheating. “They’re being so mean to me.”

Draco shoves Harry off of him into Ron, who doesn’t so much as twitch as he flops across him. Hermione just sighs. “Will all of you knock it off? You goofing off won’t exactly but Snape in a better mood.”

“Hermione,” Ron says reproachfully, “when have we ever tried to improve Snape’s mood?”

There’s a smattering of laughter throughout the classroom, including the Slytherin side. Draco had been a little bit worried about being labeled a traitor or something else equally dramatic, but instead of casting him aside for lying to them, they’re following his lead. Draco is friendly and open with the Gryffindors, so they are too. Most of them had never really had trouble making friends with Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, at least not after the first couple of years when everyone started to get sick of the people in their own house, but Slytherin and Gryffindor friendships were rarer.

The door opens and Snape steps inside. The whole classroom quiets. Harry doesn’t sit up straight, but he at least slumps against the table instead of being halfway into Ron’s lap. Draco can’t help but be thrown by Snape’s appearance as he stalks to the front of the classroom. He’d looked much the same as always at last night opening feast, billowing black robes and slicked back hair.

This is different.

He has his hair pulled back into a low ponytail at the base of his neck and he has on a dark blue robe that’s cut closer to his body, a more modern and casual fit than anything Draco has seen him wear before. It makes him look his age.

It’s never really occurred to Draco before that Snape is young.

He’s not even forty, which means he’s younger than Draco’s mum. He’s always mentally placed Severus in the same bracket as his father, especially in his first year. He was older and intimidating and seemed to have all the answers about everything. That image hadn’t lasted of course, but he’s still never really been able to shake the perception that Snape is older than he is. He wonders if that was on purpose, considers that he became a professor only a couple years after graduating, and decides that it was.

“You all know who I am,” Snape says with a sneer. “I’m well aware of the string of incompetent professors you’ve had in the past, but if you’re made into Newts level then you’ve managed to overcome that particular handicap, and I’ll assume you know all of the curriculum covered material. I’ll be shifting the order of the ministry approved syllabus. What we’re going to focus on first is practicing nonverbal and wandless magic.”

They’re going to what now?

Even Harry sits up straight, the whole class leaning forward eagerly. That’s something that gets touched on briefly at the end of sixth year and nothing much tends to come of it.

If anything, the sneer on Snape’s face deepens. “Your reactions would be encouraging if more than half of you weren’t already proficient in these magics. Raise your hand if you can cast nonverbal spells already. Of any level is acceptable.”

Draco raises his hand, as does Harry, Hermione, Ron, Pansy, Blaise, Neville, and Theodore.

Snape rolls his eyes. “Keep your hand up if you can cast spells wandlessly. Of any level.”

Theodore, and Pansy lower their hands.

“Keep your hand up if you can wandlessly and nonverbally cast a spell of any level.”

Neville and Ron lower their hands. Draco’s seen both of them do it before, but not reliably, and he’s pretty sure that it still counts, but he’s equally sure that neither of them want to risk Snape calling on them for a demonstration.

Snape sighs. “Well, this is almost too neat. Alright you four, stand in front of the class.”

Draco shares a glance with Harry, Hermione, and Blaise, but they all go to the front of the room.

Snape leans back against his desk. Draco’s never seen him lean during a class before. Granted, that’s possibly because there’s a whole lot more to knock over in a potions classroom, but it’s still weird to see. “Wandless and nonverbal magic is considered to be extremely difficult and not something the average witch or wizard is capable of performing. Of course it’s difficult. Like many impressive skills, it requires a lot work, but is not exceptionally complicated. There are two different ways to unlock this skill. The first is what all of you have done already. The magic you all performed as children, uncontrollable though it was, was both wandless and nonverbal. By tapping into your emotions, it’s possible to use them to perform a spell without the traditional tools to guide your magic. But such magic is as it was when you were a child – unpredictable and hard to control.”

He kind of feels like an idiot now that he’s hearing Snape say it aloud. Why has he never tried to do magic like he did as a child? He knows why, of course, how kids all get used to only calling on magic when they need it, to only channeling it through their wands and letting magic be amplified and controlled by them. But it should have occurred to him to at least try.

“The second way is a balance of control and power is the traditional, more precise, and of course much more difficult way. One can make up for the other.” Snape gestures to them. “Mr. Zabini has a relatively low level of power, but an exceptional control of his magic. Mr. Potter has abysmal control, but such a large well of magic that he’s able to compensate for that inferiority. Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger are both the ideal case for those who wish to cultivate a skill of wandless and nonverbal magic. They have both control and power in abundance, but more importantly in equal amounts. As their power increased, so did their control.” Draco raises his head a little higher, smirking only so his classmates will all roll their eyes. All those hours he spent learning healing and warding spells under Filius and Pomona have to be good for something, after all. “All of you are capable of performing this type of magic, regardless of your power level. The only question is how hard you’re willing to work to gain the control you need.”

“What’s the point of it?” Harry asks, because of course he can’t go a single day without antagonizing Snape. “Most people won’t be able to do more than first year spells with any accuracy. Shouldn’t we spend this time learning defensive spells instead?”

Snape just raises an eyebrow. “Voldemort’s discorporation may have quieted the war, but it has not ended it. Just think, Mr. Potter, how useful such a skill would be if you were to find yourself wandless, gagged, and tied to a gravestone while surrounded by Voldemort and all of his Death Eaters.”

For a split second, Draco thinks that Harry might have been about to smile.

This year is so weird.

~

Harry is silent on their way to potions, even when Draco heads the opposite way with the rest of the Slytherins to go to charms.

Snape had made him raise and lower a bunch of pieces of lead to work on his control, which he’d called a waste of magic and a crime against good sense, and it had been mostly boring and difficult as everyone else had gotten to practice their magic using actual spells.

“Knut for your thoughts?” Ron asks, nudging him in the shoulder.

“That was a good class,” he says without thinking about it. “Did Snape seem less … himself to you guys?”

There’s a moment of silence, then Neville says reluctantly, “Yeah.”

They let that hang in the air for a moment before Hermione says, “Well, him being a little bit less of bastard is nice change of pace, but doesn’t erase the last five years, so, whatever. We’re not giving him a gold star for being a little bit less awful than normal.”

“Oh thank merlin,” Ron sighs and Harry can’t help but grin. “Well, at least potions with Quinn will be fun.”

It’s not that fun.

“Wands,” Quinn demands, shaking a tray at them as soon as they step inside.

“Uh, what?” Neville asks. Harry notices everyone already in the classroom looks kind of pissed, which is pretty impressive considering they have potions with the Ravenclaws and Quinn is one of theirs.

Ze shakes the tray at them impatiently. There’s already over a dozen wands rolling around it. “Hand over your wand. I’ll keep it on my desk uncovered for the full class so you’ll be able to see it at all times.”

They’re still hesitating, and it’s Ron who sighs and drops his wand onto the tray. The rest of them follow. “Are you going to tell us why?”

“No,” Anthony says morosely.

Quinn rolls zir eyes. “I was waiting for everyone to get here so I didn’t have to repeat myself. Congratulations guys, you’re the last to arrive. I hope this isn’t a habit of yours.”

“Hope is a dangerous thing,” Ron says as they all settle into their seats.

Ze puts the tray on zir desk, as promised. Harry can see his wand from his seat. “Newts potions is more advanced and more volatile. Any magic could set some of these potions off. Professor Snape is an experienced teacher and potions master. I’m not. While he’s been successfully neutralizing students’ mistakes before they can end in an explosion for over a decade, I’m sure you’re all aware that that’s not exactly my specialty.”

Some of the tension drains out of the classroom. Quinn is notorious for blowing up the potions classroom. And several other buildings. Pretty much anywhere ze makes a potion is ripe for explosions.

Harry seriously needs to find out how ze convinced so many high level, intelligent people that ze should be a professor. Several confundus charms, perhaps.

“What about potions that require casting?” Hermione asks.

“Raise your hand when asking a question, Miss Granger,” Quinn says, not unkindly. Hermione flushes anyway. Ze sighs, running a hand over zir face. “Before that, we should address the issue of etiquette. Obviously before today I was your peer. I am friends with many of you. But now I’m your professor and you have to treat me accordingly. If you don’t, I will give you detention, and you’ll be serving it out with Professor Snape rather than myself. You will call me Professor Silva, and I’ll treat you respectfully in turn.”

Lavender raises her hand.

“Yes, Miss Brown?”

“How respectfully do we have to treat you?” she asks, and it doesn’t sound like she’s poking fun. “Because we do know you. Like, am I supposed to talk to you like I would Snape?”

“Professor Snape,” ze corrects. Ze rubs zir chin before saying, “If you’d say it to your head of house, you can say it to me.”

That’s a good metric, actually. Most of them are close to their heads of house and speak to them a lot more casually than other professors, but not to the point of disrespect.

Ron raises his hand and waits for Quinn to nod before he asks, “Does this mean we’re not friends anymore?”

They all look to zir, waiting.

Ze softens. “Of course we’re still friends. But not in this castle and not during the school year.”

“Just checking.” Ron leans back in his chair, satisfied. “So what were you saying about when we need our wands, Professor Silva?”

“I’ll let you keep them for any casting necessary for a potion,” ze says. “Although I’ll probably recruit Professor Snape to assist on those days, just in case.” Ze waves zir wand at the blackboard and the instructions cut across them in a shimmer of magic. “Copy this down. Then we’ll begin.”

They all take out their notebooks and quills, except Hermione, who’s frowning. She raises her hand and Quinn gestures for her to speak. “The recipe isn’t correct. I know this potion.”

Harry takes a moment to wonder why Hermione knows how to brew an antidote to the draught of peace and then decides it would be stranger if she hadn’t memorized all the potions in their curriculum.

Quinn smiles. “You’re correct, Miss Granger, that this isn’t the standard set of instructions for this potion. But just because it’s not standard doesn’t mean it’s incorrect. There’s a reason we’re not working from books.”

Hermione can’t seem to decide if she’s scandalized or intrigued that there’s a better way to do something than what’s listed in their textbook, but she just picks up her quill and starts copying down the instructions.

Harry catches Quinn’s eye and quirks an eyebrow. Ze winks at him and Harry bites his lip to keep from laughing.

~

Draco doesn’t know why they have to all sit around and have a meeting about this. If they were going to make him sit down and plan out his life, they could have at least done it in Filius’s office. At least there he has his fainting couch, and he’s never felt such an immediate need to dramatically fling himself across something. Unfortunately, they’re in Snape’s office, and if he tries to do that across his head of house’s desk then he’s just likely to get himself cursed or detention for the rest of the year.

This feels like part two of his career counseling and he’s not exactly thrilled about it.

“Quidditch practice is three times a week. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Sunday mornings,” Snape says. He at least has the decency to appear bored by this whole conversation.

Poppy and Filius are bent over his schedule, each of them twirling quills in their hands. It’s more menacing than it has any right to be. “We can take two days each,” Poppy says, but she doesn’t look pleased about it.

Draco’s not pleased either, but before he gets a chance to voice any of it, Filius shakes his head. “No, no, I get him a couple times a week for charms already. I can take less.”

“Um,” he says pointedly. “I work on my personal charms stuff during class and help out my classmates. Unless you don’t want me to continue working on the paper for the patronus container, which is fine by me, I hate trying to figure out my own thought process in reverse. I have the sky orbs paper to submit this year anyway, once Filius finishes checking it over. Besides, it’s not like I can grade papers in front of other students anyway.”

“No,” Poppy and Filius say at the same time. They’re arguing amongst themselves whether he should submit it to the Charms Review or a medical journal or both. They’d wanted him to write two different articles focusing on each the healing and medical properties, but he’d threatened to riot. Between working on the patronus container paper and trying to develop a magical bank battery thing with Asim, he doesn’t have the time to add even more charms work to his plate.

“You’re right about the grading though,” Filius sighs. “I just want you to get more time working on healing. You can figure out a lot of charms safely on your own, but with healing you still need a lot of supervision if you’re to continue to improve.”

“I’ll do healing with Poppy on Mondays, Tuesday, and Fridays and use Tuesday to do all the boring stuff like restocking so I’m not doing complicated healing on the same day as practice,” he says in what he hopes is a reasonable tone of voice. He’s already thought about all of this, which they’d know if they’d bothered to ask him. “I’ll do extra Charms work on Wednesday and Thursday, and I’ll do the bulk of the grading on Thursday. Then if I have extra stuff I need to do or if I need to move one of the days sometimes, I’ll still have the weekends mostly free.” Plus he wants free time on the weekends to work on the Shrieking Shack. Pansy’s finished up designing the wards and this is going to be awesome. “And don’t say that it’s too much, because this is what I did last year too, and at least this year I can do the non grading parts of being Filius’s aid during class, and I don’t have to sneak around to hang out with my boyfriend and friends. This is actually much more manageable this year than last year, and I managed just fine last year, so I don’t want to hear it.”

They’re both frowning at him but don’t immediately disagree, so there’s that.

“Prefect duties,” Severus adds, and if Draco didn’t know better he’d say that he was amused.

He waves a hand dismissively. “Fifth years do most of the work, sixth and seventh year prefects are really just backups, and I made Daphne do the brunt of the work last year anyway.” That’s mostly untrue, but she ended up having to do a lot of the supervising and shepherding of students because he always had somewhere else to be. Which meant that he got stuck with arranging the tutoring schedules and tracking Hogsmeade permission slips and sign out sheets, and all that other crap.

“Wonderful,” Snape says dryly. “Now that you have a plan, are we done here?”

“You’re really going to approve that heavy of a schedule?” Poppy asks dubiously. “When Cassius wanted to do extra physical training with the quidditch team, you made me help design it and sign off on it. When he wanted to do more himself, you made him get health checks every month on the threat of taking away his future captaincy.”

“I taught Flint dueling and you supervised the first three lessons,” Filius adds, eyes narrowed. “I’m a master dueler and I’ve been a teacher longer than you’ve been alive, and you insisted anyway! Not to mention you wouldn’t even agree to give Quinn extra potion sessions until I’d approved it. Can you imagine if I’d said no? Ze would have killed me in my sleep.”

“Which is more courtesy then you both gave me regarding Mr. Malfoy,” Snape says, but he doesn’t sound all that mad about it. Poppy is unrepentant, possibly because Draco kind of blackmailed her into it in the beginning, but Flitwick at least looks a little abashed. Instead of being gratified, Snape just rolls his eyes. “Yes, yes, he would have done it anyway and we were still pretending that I was a not-quite reformed Death Eater. Still.”

This is all interesting new information, but, “Wait, you need to approve my schedule? You didn’t last year!”

Snape’s lip curls back, something between a smile and a sneer. “Yes, well, it was all unofficial last year, wasn’t it? Just like you were unofficially Professor Flitwick’s aid the year before that. But it’s official now, so as your head of house I need to sign off on any official schedule changes.”

Oh.

“Well?” Draco demands. “Are you going to?”

“As if it would stop you if I didn’t,” he says, and okay, that’s actually definitely a smile. He really is amused. Snape holds out his hand. “Someone give me a quill.”

~

When Minerva summons him to her office, Harry shuts the door behind him with a wave of his hand and picks up the biscuit tin. There are too many papers on her desk for him to manage to sit on it, so he settles for sitting sideways in the chair in front of her desk and balancing the biscuit tin on his stomach. “What’s up?”

Minerva tries to look stern, but Harry knows her too well for that now. “We need to talk about your schedule.”

He scrunches his nose. “I took all the Newt classes I qualified for.”

“Not that,” she says, levitating the cookie tin away from him with a crook of her finger. He makes an aborted gesture for it, but she’s too fast. He supposes the three in his hand will have to suffice. She takes a biscuit for herself then sends it back over to his side and he can’t help but grin. He’s not actually that hungry, he just likes annoying her. The fact that she’s letting him annoy her is part of the fun. “I know you want to learn the bagpipes, but you also have quidditch practice three times a week, so we need to work around that. Are you going to continue your teenage militia?”

“It’s a study group,” he says, scowling, but relents. “Yeah, probably. We don’t need it as much as last year, maybe, Snape seems better at teaching defense.”

He expects her to soften at that, to offer some sort of encouraging opinion about Snape, because she does like him for reasons he still doesn’t completely understand. But instead her face sours for a moment before she smooths it back out.

He points a finger at her with a biscuit still in his hand. “Are you going to explain that face?”

“No. We should have bagpipe lessons three times a week. About your necromancy-”

He holds up a hand and she falls silent, raising an eyebrow. “What you don’t know about, you don’t have to yell at me for.”

That wouldn’t fly with literally anything else, but it’s not like there’s a necromancy teacher hanging around. If something gives him trouble, he’s sure he could ask one of the other Mothers, but otherwise he’s on his own.

She sighs, not looking happy about it, but just says, “Don’t drain yourself too much or let it get in the way of your other obligations, and don’t get caught doing anything illegal. Any of that happens, we’re going to have to have a real conversation about this. Give me another biscuit.”

They’ve come so far since first year, truly.

~

The first couple weeks of classes almost painfully normal for all that it’s just a little off kilter. Harry can’t help but feel like he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. Ron sends around a notice for chaser tryouts and a schedule for quidditch practice. Everyone is very enthusiastic about the weekly RA meetings even though they don’t really need them, considering that Snape is actually a competent defense teacher. He doesn’t seem to like the teaching aspect of it all any better than he had potions, but if nothing else his lectures are actually kind of brilliant. Even Ron’s impressed.

“Are we sure it’s him?” Neville asks. “What if this is Mad-Eye all over again?”

Both the Chimera Map and the Marauder’s Map, which the twins had returned to Harry after graduating, confirm that it’s Severus Snape teaching.

They also confirm that Nicholas Flamel spends an awful lot of time in Albus Dumbledore’s private chambers, but never overnight, and they’d decided last year that using the maps to win the bet was cheating. One day Dumbledore shows up with a large, dark ring on his left hand which spurs rumors that he and Nicolas have gotten engaged, but those rumors die down almost as soon as they start. No one’s won the bet yet.

Harry, unfortunately, still doesn’t get as much time with his boyfriend as he’d like, as Draco’s now officially both Flitwick and Pomfrey’s aid. Flora Carrow is the Slytherin quidditch captain, a year below them and the Slytherin seeker. Harry’s a little bit offended that they didn’t give it to Draco. Harry likes playing, likes flying, but he’s not a strategist and he knows it. Giving the captaincy to anyone but Ron would stupid. Draco is a strategist, and he does care about things like plays and training regimes and all that, and he’s been on the team since he was twelve.

If Draco’s disappointed about the whole thing, he certainly doesn’t show it. Instead he seems pleased that Flora is the captain. Which, when Harry remembers the role she played in that fight between the twins and Keenan last year, does make some sort of sense.

Things are still stalled regarding the war efforts. With Draco’s parents killing a good chunk of the loyal death eaters and Voldemort without a body, it’s really down to Bellatrix and her small group of followers. No one’s heard anything out of them since they burned down Ollivander’s shop, although there have been a series of unsuccessful attacks on the Gringott’s bank. From what Ron told him after hearing about it from Percy, the goblins are pissed about the whole thing since whoever it is doesn’t get in, but has managed to get away. The general consensus seems to be that it’s Bellatrix and her group, but no one knows what they’re looking for.

Well. No one who’s talking, at any rate.

Harry glances at the head table at Dumbledore. He still doesn’t know why Dumbledore wanted that locket so badly or what was in it.

Ron is slumped against his shoulder, exhaustion for once outweighing his need to eat his body weight in scrambled eggs, although he is tiredly chewing on a slice of bacon. He’s lucky it’s Friday and he can sleep in tomorrow. He’s still refusing to take alchemy, but his almost daily game nights with the Flamels haven’t stopped. Apparently last night they’d gotten into some sort of debate about both alchemy and parcheesi, which Harry’s pretty sure isn’t a strategy game but it’s not his area of expertise, so. Either way, Ron apparently hadn’t come back to the dorm until sometime after four in the morning, his entire body covered in chalk from whatever circles they were making. Ron had woken him up when he’d come in, and for a single terrifying moment Harry had thought he was looking at a ghost before Ron pulled his shirt off and he’d seen the freckles against his pale skin.

“Come on, you’re embarrassing yourself.”

Harry doesn’t even realize Lavender is speaking to them until she leans across the table to hold out a vial of red smoky liquid to Ron. The angle she’s leaning gives him a perfect view down her shirt and he guiltily jerks his eyes up to her face.

She’s not paying attention to him, instead smiling at Ron the same way she used to smile at Cormac McLaggen until she got bored of him. If he’d thought being head boy would get her attention again, he must be disappointed, since mostly he trails after her like a lost puppy and she ignores him.

You’re embarrassing yourself,” Ron mumbles back petulantly, opening his eyes just enough to glare at her. He lights up when he sees the pepper up potion she’s offering him, taking it and downing it one gulp. “Thanks Lavender.”

“Anything for our star quidditch player,” she says, still leaning and resting her chin in her hands.

Hermione is staring at her book but she hasn’t turned a page since Lavender came over. Harry kind of wants to die a little bit. Why is he always caught in the middle of these things? This is like Viktor in fourth year but somehow worse in every way, and just like before he’s trapped at this bloody table.

Ron blinks, his mouth dropping open before he narrows his eyes. “Lavender Brown, are you flirting with me?”

“Have been for weeks, but good to know I have to practically flash you and proposition you for you to notice,” she says, finally leaning back and doing up a couple more buttons of her shirt so it’s not open to her bra. “Want to go to Hogsmeade next week? Or we can just skip to making out in the astronomy tower, but you’re so old fashioned.”

Ron stares. He pinches himself and Lavender’s smirk melts to something a little closer to genuine fondness. “Is this just because I’m quidditch captain?”

Lavender looks him over in a slow, predatory manner that makes Harry want to tug on the collar of his shirt and it’s not even directed at him. Ron’s whole face is red. “It doesn’t hurt,” she says finally.  

Ron glances at Hermione, but she’s still pointedly staring at her book. Lavender sees it but seems neither surprised nor upset by it. “Yeah, okay,” he says. “If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure,” she says smugly. She blows him a kiss before getting up to go sit at her usual place on the other end of the table next to Padma and Romilda.

Ron turns to him. “What just happened?”

Harry places a hand on his shoulder. “I know I say this a lot, but I want you know I really mean it.” He pauses. “I have no idea.”

The fluttering of hundred of owls’ wings drowns out Ron’s laughter. Several eagles drop off everyone’s newspapers and one bedraggled grey parrot does the same with the Quibbler. Harry quickly has to pull his plate of eggs out of the way to keep it from being squashed by two owls dropping off a thick, heavy box right in front of him.

That finally gets Hermione’s interest. “What’s that?”

“I haven’t opened it yet, have I?” he asks and grins when Hermione elbows him in the side. There’s a card taped to the front of the box and he rips it off. He reads aloud, “From one Mother to another.”

It’s not signed and he doesn’t recognize the handwriting, but that doesn’t mean much.

He hands the card to Hermione and tears open the box.

Inside is leather bound book with gilded lettering on the front. For a moment it looks like hieroglyphics before it shimmers to English.

A Treatise on the Non Traditional Applications of Service to the Lady Who Sits in Your Shadow and Knows Your Name

He wonders if the title is less verbose in whatever language it was originally written in.

Hermione and Ron are leaning over to get a better look, but everyone remembers what happened last time they touched a necromancy book, so they keep their hands away. Harry picks it up and as soon as he does there’s a shiver down his spine. “Ah.”

“What?” Ron asks suspiciously.

Harry glances around, but no one’s paying attention to them. There’s nothing particularly interesting about someone receiving a book, after all. “This is bound in human skin.”

Hermione wrinkles her nose while Ron leans in even closer. “How can you tell?”

“There’s some protection spells in necromancy that function on consent and bodily sacrifice, they’re very powerful, but rare, because getting consent from the dead is a bit difficult. This has that. It’s a feeling, kind of. I just know.”

“Can’t you just summon their ghost and ask for consent?” Ron questions.  

“Consent has to be given while alive,” Harry says. “So either whoever’s skin this is agreed to it while they were alive, or it’s the author’s skin.”

Judging by the power radiating off the book, he’s more inclined to go with the latter.

“Do I want to know how that works?” Ron asks.

It involves a really powerful incantation and another necromancer who isn’t squeamish. Not that many necromancers are. “Probably not.” He doesn’t want to walk around with this until lunch, but if he goes back to the dorm now he’ll be late for class. He almost just banishes it back to his dorm, but there’s enough power contained in the book that he doesn’t want to risk the spell getting messed up because of the interference. “Hey, Dobby, do you have a second?”

Dobby appears next to him with a crack. “Hello Mister Harry! Is you coming for tea again soon? Winky told me many stories of this summer! You is leaving many things out.”

“Hi Dobby,” he grins. It’s impossible not to feel cheered around him. “Sure! You know I love visiting. But would you mind doing me a favor and putting this book in my trunk for me?”

Dobby hesitates then asks, “Can Dobby be putting it away?”

Harry’s confused for a minute before remembering what happened to him last time. “Ah, right, sorry. It works just like the other one. I think.” But he’s not sure and he really doesn’t want to be wrong and end up hurting Dobby.

Hermione sighs and holds out her hands. “Mother may I?”

He hands her the book and they wait, but nothing happens. Harry takes the book back and Dobby beams. “Mother May I?”

He slowly puts the book in Dobby’s arms and he winks at them before disappearing with another crack.

~

Draco’s pretty sure the plan was for them to go on a picnic, only it’s the middle of the night, they’re in the forbidden forest, and Harry’s barely looked at him since they left the castle. If he’d known his boyfriend was planning to ignore him all night, he would have just skipped this little field trip and worked on the charms algorithms Filius assigned him. Or at least wouldn’t have worn pants this tight if Harry wasn’t even going to look at him and take him to a place so dark he couldn’t see them even if he did. He’d even styled his hair, leaving it loose and flowing down his back just like Harry likes, and now it’s going to be full of leaves and who knows what else. And not because his boyfriend wanted to do something fun and clothing optional with him in the middle of the forbidden forest. “Are you mad at me? Has the spark gone out of relationship now that it’s not a dirty little secret? Are you planning to kill me and scatter my remains across the four corners of the grounds?”

“What?” Harry finally turns to look at him. If his boyfriend is going to be a jerk and ignore him then he shouldn’t be able to look like that, his messy hair falling into eyes and with his stupid short sleeve shirt that’s too small and cuts into his arms and his stupid perfect skin. Harry barely even moisturizes, this is all just unacceptable, especially when he’s not paying attention to Draco so he can’t go over there and touch him like he wants to. “What are you talking about?”

He stops walking, gestures to himself, then at their surroundings.

“Oh shit, those are your jealousy pants,” Harry says and slaps a hand over his face. “Fuck, sorry, this was supposed to be a date. I was too busy thinking about the book.”

“My jealousy pants?” Draco asks, momentarily distracted from being mad.

“You know, the pants you wear when you want people to be jealous that they’re not you or not dating you,” he says. “It’s not a specific pair, it’s just like, you know. The style. I don’t know, I’m not actually that good at keeping track of your clothes, but those definitely aren’t your running around in the woods pants.”

Fuck, he can feel his anger slipping away from him. Harry’s all worried know, biting his bottom lip in distress, and Draco resists the urge to offer to do it for him instead. “What are we doing here then? What book?”

“The new necromancy book one of the Mothers sent me. I think it was Nanaia, but honestly I haven’t asked,” he says. “It’s really interesting, and the opening bit is about how to stitch different corpses together to make something different, which is messy and kind of awful, but I was thinking the principal should work with just bones, right? And that’s not messy, and the magic won’t be as powerful because they’re not freshly killed like the instructions in the book, but then I won’t have to kill a bunch of creatures and strip them for parts, which doesn’t seem fair to them, so.”

Yeah, they’re definitely not going to be getting to any clothing optional fun tonight. “You want to go searching the forbidden forests for bones so that you can make a weird cobbled together bone creature?”  

“Want is a strong word,” he says, but shifts his weight from one foot to the other.

Draco sighs and ties his hair back, since his boyfriend won’t be doing anything interesting like running his hands through it or grabbing it. This is his penance for all the hours he’s babbled to Harry about advanced charms theory. “Okay, let’s go. Do you have any idea on where or how to find these bones or are we just supposed to walk around with lumos charms hoping for the best?”

“No, I didn’t mean,” he shakes his head, “We can go do something actually date like, sorry, I just wasn’t thinking.”

“Well, we’re already here,” he says practically. “And when you’re with me I’d rather you’re thinking about me than collecting bones, so let’s collect bones now and then you can focus on me later.”

Harry grins and then he grabs him around the waist and kisses him, and it’s unfair how good Harry is at this now. Draco melts against him, fisting his hands in the front of Harry’s robes. Maybe he was a little hasty in putting his hair up. Harry pulls back and then kisses his nose, grinning. “You’re the best soulmate ever.”

“And don’t you forget it,” he says, forcing himself to let Harry go and not just drag him into a makeout session now that he has his attention. “Seriously, though, do you have a plan? Didn’t Hagrid give you a bunch of bones?”

“Yeah, but only for boring things like deer and rabbits and stuff,” Harry answers. “Which I’ll probably end up using, but throwing in a couple magical creatures couldn’t hurt. Hagrid usually dissects and studies those himself, so he doesn’t have any to spare, but I don’t think he’ll mind if I find them on my own.”

Draco takes out his wand to tap it against his palm. “What kind of magical creatures? What kind of skeletons? What I’m asking is if exoskeletons count and if so are we going to raid an acromantula nest.”

“Exoskeletons count but are a bit harder to work with he,” he answers. “Also, I don’t think Ron would ever forgive me for reanimating spiders, especially giant ones. There are couple different tracking spells I can use, if you’re sure you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind,” he says. This is far from the weirdest thing they’ve done together, but it is possibly the weirdest turn a date has taken.

Harry kisses him again before summoning a book. Draco can’t read the cover, obviously, but it looks like the same one Harry used before. He opens it and says, “Bone retrieval.” The pages flip and then settle. Harry glances at the page and grimaces. “Er, no, not like that. Bone tracking? Bone finding?”

The book doesn’t move for a moment then the pages slowly turn, as if Harry’s confused it. But his face brightens when he looks over the page and then he places his wand flat on his palm to cast, “Invenies ossa!”

Just like the point me spell, except for the decomposing remains of magical creatures.

Well. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

The upside is there’s a lot of dead creatures in the forbidden forest.

The downside is he’s spending precious sleeping time levitating dirt out of the way so his soulmate can run his hands over bones, looking or sensing something that Draco can’t. Which would be one thing all on it’s own, except that not all the remains they find have been dead for super long, and Harry doesn’t bother to strip the rotting flesh away until he’s decided the bones are worthwhile to take, and just. Ew.

Thanks to his healer training he’s used to getting up close and personal with bodies and organs and things, but typically nothing that’s been dead for very long. Freshly dead is okay and long dead is okay, but the in between stages are just gross.  

They’ve collected parts from several snakes, a half dozen faeries, a hippogriff, and a unicorn after they spend nearly an hour summoning reference books trying to figure out if unicorn bones are as cursed as their blood, when Harry’s spell lead them to something unexpected. They smell it before they see it, but Draco’s still not prepared.

“Uh,” Harry says, “I feel like, perhaps, this is not. Intentional?”

Draco doesn’t really know anything about centaur mourning rituals, but he has to agree.

It looks like someone, or more realistically something, tore him apart. The legs have been ripped off of the centaur’s body, and so has his arms, and many of bones are jutting unnaturally out of the muscle. The head seems to be missing.

He comes to the uncomfortable realization that the mud beneath his feet is probably a result of blood soaked soil. “I think I’m going to be sick,” he says, and he won’t, but his stomach is definitely rolling in an uncomfortable manner. They’ve deal with a lot, seen a lot, but this is still – well, a lot. “Should we be here?”

“Based on the level of decomposition, it’s been a few days,” Harry says. “Whoever did this is long gone.”

“Whoever did this?” Draco repeats. “Don’t you mean whatever did this?”

“No,” he says, a frown tugging on the corner of his mouth. “They needed bone marrow. The bones are all snapped but still attached and the body isn’t disturbed beyond what whoever did this needed to do to get to the bones. Even if there’s a creature with a taste for marrow, I imagine they would have made a bigger mess of it, and probably eaten some of the rest of him. If it was a creature who attacked just to kill or in self defense, the body wouldn’t look like this. I’m pretty sure it was on purpose.”

That’s disturbing for multiple reasons, the most important of them being, “If this was done by a person smart enough and strong enough to take down a centaur, why didn’t the clean up the mess?”

Harry pauses in looking over the remains and rubs a hand over his face. “Oh, fuck.”

“Yeah,” he says. If they’d been found or caught in the middle of it and had to flee, whoever had found them would have done something about the remains, so that’s not what happened. They just chose not to. “Do you think it’s a message for us or for the centaurs? Also what the hell is it supposed to mean?”

“We should tell someone about this,” Harry says.

“We should tell a centaur about this first,” Draco says. “I don’t know if they’ll appreciate a bunch of wizards poking around here.”

He hadn’t meant it as a reprimand, but Harry winces and shoves his wand back into his pocket, cutting off the diagnostic spell he’d been in the middle of casting. “Yeah, good idea.”

They move far enough away from the body that it’s not immediately clear what it is and then Draco says clearly, “Winky!”

There’s a crack and she’s in front of him. She opens her mouth to greet them but her nostrils flare and her eyes narrow. She turns towards where the body is and Draco reaches out to turn her back towards him. He doesn’t think that she needs to see that, but Winky clearly doesn’t appreciate it at all. She scowls. “Master Draco. What have you gotten in the middle of now?”

Harry snorts, and Draco shoots him a glare because, as usual, its Harry getting them in the middle of things rather than the other way around. “Do you know how to contact the centaur herd in the forest? We need to speak to them.”

“Firenze, if you can,” Harry says. Draco raises an eyebrow. “He’s the ambassador. That,” he gestures behind them, “is probably something that’s going to need his archer’s involvement, but as long as we’re here we should start out with Firenze and then he can bring in whoever he wants to. But there’s a reason they have an ambassador and it’s not just for their benefit.”

It takes him a long moment to remember that the leader of centaur herd is called an archer, but that only makes part of that make any sense. “How do you know that? That definitely wasn’t covered in history of magic. Also I thought the herd on the grounds was friendly?”

He shrugs. “Where else? Hagrid. And they are. But I’m not exactly looking to test that friendliness when they show up to us standing next to one of their dead.”

Good point. “Find Firenze,” Draco tells her. “If not him, at least someone who won’t skewer us on sight.”

Winky sighs, but nods before disappearing with a crack.

They don’t have to wait long.

Firenze is galloping towards them, and he’s not alone. Behind him is a woman with a dapple grey horse body and dark, serious eyes that match her dark skin, a contrast to the silvery braids that barely brush her shoulders. She’s got several long, pale scars across her chest, and Draco does his best not to stare.

“Harry Potter,” Firenze greets, which is expected, “and Draco Malfoy,” which is less expected. Firenze had barely called on him in class. “This is Archer Damsa.”

She’s not paying attention to them, instead looking past them to where the dark lumps of the pieces of the centaur’s body are laying in the dark. She reaches for her shoulder, then pauses and scowls at Firenze.

He’s pretty sure that means she typically keeps some sort of weapon across her back and Firenze had encouraged her not to bring it to meet with them.

“How did you just happen you stumble across this?” she demands.

“Well,” Harry starts, but Draco slaps his hand against his chest and he shuts up.

He narrows his eyes at her. “That was vaguely accusatory. If you’re going to say something, I’d rather you just come out and say it. Do I need my attorney present for this conversation?” His attorney is, of course, his father.

Damsa pulls her lips back in a snarl and Firenze steps between them, hands raised. “Peace. Please. Draco,” he really wishes he could remember whether using first names was a sign of respect or disrespect to centaurs, but considering the only ones he’s met or heard of all have one name, it’s possible that it doesn’t mean anything at all, “we don’t recognize the human legal system in herd related affairs, as the wizarding government has classified us as creatures rather than persons.”

Harry hunches, sympathy flashing across his face, but Draco’s not buying it. “Funny, you were person enough to become a salaried professor last year and herds are considered transient city-states capable of signing treaties and negotiating terms, but when it comes to things like the census, and you know, paying taxes, you’re suddenly creatures. Which makes sense, because you’ve never cared to vote before, and you rarely make use of government funded amenities, but those were the terms your ancestors negotiated. If you’d like to change the arrangement, my great-aunt has a wizengamot seat and I’ll see that she submits your proposal to the floor on their next meeting. I know anything that ends with herds having to report real numbers to the ministry and people actually getting their hands on the wooden weapons you make that rumors says you actually grow out of the tree – well, we both know that would be very popular.”

Firenze’s face is carefully neutral in a way that Draco thinks means he might be amused. Damsa takes a step closer, looking down at them. Harry reaches for his wand, but Draco only raises his chin. He may not know much about how a herd functions on an insular level or much about the one on the Hogwarts grounds, but he’s spent his whole life listening to his parents and his parents’ friends have conversations about things they didn’t think he understood. And while it all certainly wasn’t unbiased, it was accurate.

Damsa snorts, a decidedly horse like sound coming from her human face. “All right, we won’t play with you. Did you kill my nephew? If so, I’m going to kill you.”

“If you did, we’re going to call Headmaster Dumbledore and formally issue a duel to the death, as is our right under our treaty signed by both Headmaster Dippet and the Minister of Magic,” Firenze corrects, as if that’s better.

“No!” Harry cries, appalled. “Why would we do that? What’s the point of calling you here if we’re the ones that did it?”

“Maybe you’re looking to kill me too,” Damsa says, and she’s serious but she doesn’t exactly sound that worried at the prospect. “Maybe you lured both Firenze and myself here, weaponless, so you could take out the Archer and ambassador of the herd and leave them weak to manipulation or decimation.”

Harry comes to the same conclusion he does at the exact same time. Draco knows this because they lean into each other at the same moment, not quite back to back but close enough. “We’re not alone.”

“Who are you hiding?” Damsa demands, her hand making the same move to her shoulder before she lowers it back down.

“No,” Draco says firmly. “The question is, who are you hiding? If you really think there’s a chance we’d try and kill you, you didn’t come here alone. That would be kind of stupid, because if Harry and I tried really hard we might be able to do it, and you don’t get to be Archer of a herd by being stupid. And I’ve literally been taught by Firenze, so I know he isn’t.”

Damsa stares at them for a long moment until Firenze says dryly, “I did warn you.”

Draco almost snaps at him before he realizes that Firenze is talking to Damsa. She sighs and lets out a low, piercing whistle. For a moment nothing happens, and the vague shapes form in the trees around them, getting closer until it’s clear they’re surrounded by the rest of the heard.

Who are very clearly armed.

He can call Winky and order her to take Harry back to the castle. She can only transport them one at a time, so by the time she comes back for him he’ll probably already be dead, but there’s not much he can do about that. He can probably heal himself enough to stay alive long enough to get Pomfrey if he’s injured anywhere but his head, lungs, or heart, but it just doesn’t seem likely that they’d be sloppy enough to let him get away if they’re really interested in killing him.

He’s already cured his fingers in the beginning of a snap when a familiar gruff voice shouts, “Wha’s this all this about, eh?”

Draco has literally never been happier to see Hagrid in his whole life.

He amends that slightly when he sees the hundreds of acromantulas clicking and quivering behind him. It’s a good thing Ron isn’t here.

“Hagrid,” Firenze greets pleasantly even as Damsa’s eyes narrow in anger. “Cutting it a little close, my friend.”

“Well, it’s not like your message gave me a lot of time to prepare, and you said not ta come alone,” he says, obviously speaking to Firenze but carefully looking both him and Harry over for injuries.

Damsa’s glare shifts to Firenze even as he says, “I was hoping you might bring some professors, or perhaps Headmaster Dumbledore.”

“You did this?” Damsa hisses. “You had no right! After what they’ve done-”

“We don’t know what they’ve done,” Firenze says, as unflappably calm in the face of his Archer’s anger as he is for everything else. “Even if they’re guilty of all you think they are, it doesn’t matter. I am your ambassador. It’s not my job to seek justice for the herd. It’s my job to keep open the lines of communication between the herd and our landlords to ensure no unfortunate penalties are leveled against us due to petty misunderstandings.”

Somehow, Draco doesn’t think killing two students would be considered a petty misunderstanding. Especially when one of those students is Harry Potter. Well, and his father wouldn’t rest until the whole heard was executed, and if the wheels of justice turned a little too slowly, his mother would just slaughter the lot of them and they’d be lucky if she stopped at just the herd she considered responsible for his death. But Harry’s the one Dumbledore would cause a fuss about.

“Don’t suppose anyone’s interested in telling me wha’ all this is about?” Hagrid asks calmly. If he’s intimidated at facing a whole heard of angry centaurs, he doesn’t show it.

Draco doesn’t roll his eyes, but it’s a near thing. He can smell the blood and decay in the air, and he’s only human. Hagrid, being half giant, probably smelled it a half mile back.

Damsa is still furious, but she jerks her head towards the body, and their little group steps back over to it so Hagrid can get a closer look. Draco would rather not see it all over again, but Hagrid’s not going to let them out of his sight and the centaurs aren’t going to leave them alone together, so they all walk over.

Hagrid leans over to get a closer look at what’s left of the centaur’s front legs and his face creases in sympathy. “Cobalt?” he asks, and he it takes Draco a too long moment to realize that it’s a name. The dead centaur’s name, apparently.

Firenze nods. Draco think he might be sad, but it’s hard to tell. He always keeps his face so carefully blank.

“Damn.” Hagrid rubs a hand over his face. “He would have made a good archer.”

“Yes,” Damsa says, and her voice is cold, but now that Draco’s looking, he can see the tension around her eyes and the corners of her mouth, as if she’s in pain. She’d said he was her nephew earlier, and apparently her heir as well. “It’s unfortunate that these humans killed him before he got the chance.”

Draco’s not sure how he’s expecting Hagrid to react to that. Anger. Indignation. Some more eerie, implacable calm.

He snorts, some of his sympathy sharpening into amusement.

“You don’t think they’re capable of it?” she challenges.

“I know they are,” he says, and he really shouldn’t sound so fond at the idea that they’re capable of murder. “But they didn’t do this.”

“How do you know?” she demands.

“They wouldn’t ‘ave gotten caught,” he says. Harry almost raises a hand to his head before lowing it back down. Draco similarly has to resist the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “And there’s no reason for them ta kill like this. Draco’s a healer. His kill wouldn’ leave a mess.”

True, but also not the best defense he’s ever heard. He really wishes his dad was here.

Damsa front hooves stamp in frustration. The centaurs surrounding them shift at the movement, but luckily don’t raise their weapons quite yet. “The Mother has been going through the forest all night looking for dead things and the boy was following him.”

“Yeah, things that were already dead,” Harry says, and it’s probably too much to expect his boyfriend to keep his mouth shut for this. “That’s what led us here. That’s why we contacted you. He’s been dead for days, so I obviously didn’t kill him tonight, and if you have ways of tracking our movements in the forest, then you know I wasn’t even here on the day he died. And neither was Draco. We didn’t do this.”

Firenze is nodding, but Damsa doesn’t seem impressed. “You’re a Mother. Who knows what you’re capable of? Who’s to say you hadn’t snuck into the forest without anyone noticing?”

Harry throws up his hands. All the centaurs flinch towards their weapons, but if Harry notices, he pretends not to. “That’s right, I’m a necromancer, so how about we stop with this farce and just ask him?”

“Ask him,” Damsa repeats blankly.

“He’s a magical creature, I can’t summon his ghost or awaken his spirit, but his corpse is more or less intact enough to reanimate,” he says, eyes narrowed. “You can ask him yourself. He won’t be as responsive as a ghost or an awakened corpse, but he should still have enough awareness to tell us who or what killed him.”

Wait.

Draco grabs Harry’s arm, and he can feel his nails digging into Harry’s skin, knows it has to be painful, but he can’t bring himself to loosen his grip and Harry doesn’t try to make him. “The head is gone.”

Harry’s doesn’t understand for a moment, but then his confusion melts away. “Shit.”

“Boys?” Hagrid rumbles.

“There’s no head,” Harry says. “I can’t reanimate him to speak if he doesn’t have a tongue, and I can’t see the last thing he saw without his eyes, or his last thoughts without his brain. Bone marrow and his head are all that’s taken.”

“Can a normal necromancer reanimate to get a person’s last impressions?” Draco asks.

Harry shrugs. “How should I know? Probably not. Or probably, but like everything else it’s a lot harder. Fuck, I don’t know, reanimating is easy but pulling out last impressions isn’t.”

He’s assuming that when Harry says easy he means what he always does – easy for him and near impossible for everyone else. Most normal witches and wizards would never even attempt necromancy even if they wanted to. Ghost summoning and some other ghost related magic is about as close as anyone who doesn’t specialize in it can get and even then it’s very, very difficult. Draco’s not quite to the point of pulling a Quinn with charms, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to graduate Hogwarts with a mastery unless he starts cutting out things like quidditch and healing and sleeping, but he’s pretty close. He is very, very good at charms and the ghost summoning spell still took him a year of studying and practicing to cast. Even then, he’s not particularly good at it, he just doesn’t have the power to be very good at it. Summoning Nearly Headless Nick from a few floors away is a world away from summoning a restful ghost to the land of the living. Most people don’t go to that kind of effort for that long for such a small result.

If Quinn hadn’t practically dared him to, Draco probably wouldn’t have bothered either.

Which means that if someone’s going to the effort to take the head, it’s probably to protect themselves against Harry specifically. No one else would be powerful enough. Well, no one else anywhere near Hogwarts, unless they expected Dumbledore to call in another favor with the other Mothers he knows, but that’s just as bad.

“So whoever did this specifically didn’t want us to know who they were and knows that you’re a necromancer, if not a Mother,” Draco says. “Or we’re overreacting and the head and bone marrow being gone are just a strange coincidence and have nothing to do with Harry or necromancers at all.”

Harry snorts.

Yeah. They never get that lucky.

“All I’m hearing is that you have nothing to prove your innocence,” Damsa says.

“All I’m hearing is that you have nothing to prove our guilt,” Draco retorts. “I’m sorry about your nephew. But we didn’t kill him. I still don’t understand why you’d think we’d even want to.”

“He’s a Mother,” she says, and Draco has to force himself not to flinch at the venom in her tone. “The last time a Mother wandered into our forests, three of my herd were killed. Now another Mother is skulking about, using his death magic, and my nephew is dead.”

“Archer Damsa,” Hagrid says sharply. “You know tha’s not fair.”

She rounds on Hagrid, and if he’s intimidated at having her in his face, he doesn’t show it. “Do not speak to me about fair, Rubeus. You were there. Three dead, gutted, with bones jutting out just like this and Dippet did nothing. Where’s fair in that? What good is our treaty when the man who killed my people walks free? When he walks at all?”

“It wasn’t him,” he says, low, like he talks when he’s trying to calm a frightened creature or a nervous student. “You know that, Archer. He wasn’ in control o’ himself.”

“If he couldn’t protect his mind from outside influence, then he never should have been employed to teach children,” she snaps. “He put himself in the position to be manipulated. He should be dead! I should have killed him! It was his hand who slayed my children, Rubeus!”

Draco gasps and Harry’s hand is in his, painfully tight, but he doesn’t complain, instead squeezing right back.

Firenze’s eyes close for a moment, the pain rippling over his feature before he smooths his face and opens his eyes once more.

“I know,” Hagrid says, his dark eyes shining. “I was there, Damsa. I remember. I know. But killing these children won’t bring yours back. Don’ do this. I’ll stop you and won’ be able ta protect you.”

Her mouth twists. “Because you’ll still choose them, won’t you? Living amongst the humans and protecting them even though you’re not one of them. All because they admire your ability to tame beasts. You mistake their praise for love.”

“No,” Hagrid says simply, “I don’t.”

“Why don’t you hate them?” she demands. “You should hate them!”

Hagrid comes forward to stand next to Harry then reaches out to put his hand on Draco’s shoulder, so he’s holding the both of them with the arm that’s not clutching his crossbow. “These are me children. I can’t let you hurt them. You know that. And you know tha’ they didn’ do this. You have alerts set up all along the perimeter for when humans enter the forest. They went off when your children died. They went off when Draco and Harry entered the forest tonight. They did not go off three days ago. Whatever did this wasn’t human.”

Wait, but – they’re actually pretty sure it was a human. Or, well, a person. Vampire, maybe.

“Or just wasn’t human enough to set off the alarm,” she says bitterly. “At least not anymore.”

No. No way. It can’t – that wouldn’t be fair!

“You think it was Voldemort?” Harry blurts out. Draco steps on his foot, but he ignores him. He’s going to invest in some steel toed boots. Maybe then when he kicks his soulmate he’ll pay attention.

Some of the anger has drained out of Damsa, has left her looking a little empty. She seems old, somehow, not in how she looks or holds herself, but something deeper. “I think that if it wasn’t you, little Mother, then the list of suspects is quite limited.”

“But he lost his body just a few month ago,” Harry says. “He shouldn’t be able to do anything yet!”

“Shouldn’t he?” she asks. “Why? Because he didn’t last time? If that’s all your basing that on, you’ll be in for a rude surprise.”

Harry’s mouth snaps shut again, a rebellions slant to his mouth, but Draco knows his soulmate. He’s not mad. He’s afraid.

Probably like how some of Damsa’s rage is hiding her grief. That’s her nephew’s dismembered corpse they’re all standing around. They’ve kind of all been huge assholes about this whole thing.

Draco steps away from Hagrid and Harry, quickly enough that Harry doesn’t quite manage to grab the back of his shirt to pull him back. He’s right next to Damsa and she’s looking down at him, eyebrow raised.

“Archer Damsa,” he says, and he doesn’t know the words for this, he’s spent years next to this forest and even had Firenze as a teacher, but it turns out he doesn’t know shit about centaurs. He doesn’t know the right words for this. “I am really sorry about your nephew. And about your children. But we didn’t do this. We didn’t call you here because we wanted to hurt you. We just wanted to make sure he got taken care of. We didn’t want to leave him alone, so we waited for you. That’s why we’re here.”

She doesn’t say anything, just looking into his eyes. He tries not to blink, not sure what she’s trying find in his eyes, but hoping she find it, hoping it’s there.

“Just go,” she says, looking away, the harness of her mouth softening, but it just makes her look sad.

He should take the gift she’s offering. He shouldn’t press his luck. Hagrid is already murmuring his thanks, but Draco’s not exactly great at leaving well enough alone. All they’ve done so far is make a shitty situation worse. He doesn’t want to do that, and it doesn’t matter that she hasn’t exactly help, because that’s her nephew and if he showed up to something like this with someone he loved dead and destroyed, he’d do a lot more than threaten to kill a couple of people. And, besides, he and Harry and their friends spend a lot of time sneaking around in the woods, which is something they’re going to want to continue doing, and not something they’re going to be able to do if the local centaur herd hate them. “Do you want help?”

She blinks. “Help?” she repeats slowly.

“With,” he gestures next to them, “your nephew. With Cobalt. I – I can, um, put him back together some, if you want. I’m healer’s apprentice. Obviously I can’t heal anything because, well, the obvious. But I can make it not so, uh, messy.” He winces. “Unless disturbing his body more would just make it worse? Sorry. I don’t know – well. Anything about centaur death customs.” Or centaurs in general, clearly.

Everything is so unnaturally quiet. He’s definitely made everything worse and he should have just left when she told them to.

“It wouldn’t make it worse,” she says finally. “It would be better if he was intact.”

He waits, to see if he’s going to get any more sort of explicit permission, but she just keeps staring at him. “Okay,” he says, then takes a step closer to the body. No one moves to stop him so he keeps walking.

“Here, let me,” Harry starts but is cut off with a snarl.

He turns around to see Damsa’s arm flung out, stopping Harry from coming towards him. “Stay where you are, Mother.” Harry hesitates, his gaze flicking between him and Damsa, who’s anger fades enough to say, “Your death magic clings to your skin. His death shouldn’t be tainted with yours.”

That doesn’t make any sense to him. He doesn’t know if it makes any more sense to Harry but he just nods and step back into Hagrid’s side.

He thinks of using his wand to levitate everything in place first, but he’s supposed to be saying sorry, he’s supposed to be trying to help, and he doesn’t think treating her nephew’s body like sacks of flour will do that.

He’s a healer. He’s had a really educational summer. This is not the grossest thing he’s ever had to do, objectively speaking. It’s not even the worst someone’s body has ever smelled. The patients in Asim’s department have been through some really weird accidents.

It’s just that living bodies don’t bother him, even when they’re inside out and smell weird and are rotting a little bit, but handling dead bodies does. He’s not Harry, he’s not a necromancer, and he can’t help the sour taste of vomit at the back of his throat as he picks up a limb to bring it back over to the horse torso.

He does the same with the rest of the pieces, until he’s got everything but the head. He taps his wand against his palm, and what he wants to do is use reparo, but the spell isn’t smart enough to know when to stop or what to target. It worked on Hagrid last year because he was alive, because there was a limited amount of broken things for the spell to react to. If he’s not careful he’ll drain all his magic in one go and end up with one awkwardly reattached arm.

“Osinstaurabo!” he casts, then winces at the grotesque snapping as the bones return to their proper places in the body, connecting to one another in a way that would be painful and unsustainable in a living patient, but then again in living patient the spell would have had more to work with. At least the parts are more or less connected now, at least through the bones. It’s somehow worse to see the body now, with it’s missing head, now that he’s back to being in one piece.

This next part is trickier. Pulling dead flesh back together is a skill he’d learned from Asim, as it was necessary for many patients who’d had parts of their bodies cursed to die off. They’d tried to preserve them and keep them attached, if they could, because it made healing easier when they figured out the underlying cause. If they figured out the underlying cause. It’s not healing, exactly, but it’s something. It’s something he knows how to do that will hopefully make this a little bit less awful, so he’s going to do it.

He has to press the split open skin together for this to work, and he wishes he had tape or something to keep everything in place. As is, he has to hold the wounds shut with one hand and hold his wand with the other.

Snape might have a point. The ability to use wandless magic with anything more complicated than first year spells would really come in handy about now.

“Caroesolati,” he murmurs, trailing his wand over the open wounds. The skin doesn’t heal, no new cells are created, but like connects to like, the skin not really healing but more melting together on a cellular level. The place that’s fixed is paler than the skin around it, the skin having been thinned and pulled apart to seal itself back together.

It takes a long time to finish, not-healing not only all the places where the body had been sliced open to get to the bones but reattaching the limbs, which involves connecting significantly more flesh than just closing wounds. By the time he finishes his whole body is sore and he’s drenched in sweat and it feels like the scent of decay is clinging to every each of him. He’d be more upset about it if he wasn’t so exhausted.

Usually it’s not this hard, when the patient’s alive, when he’s actually healing someone. The magic wants to heal and the body wants to be healed, but clunky magic and dead flesh don’t do each other any favors.

“Thank you.”

He’s so tired he hadn’t even noticed Damsa coming up to him until she’s right next to him, her voice soft and her eyes sad. Cobalt had the same dapple grey coat as she had.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and it comes out a little strangled, his eyes stinging and something in him tired in a way that has nothing to do with exhaustion. It’s easy for him to be cavalier about bodies, about death, between everything he’s seen and done as a healer and fighting Voldemort and who his mother is and with his soulmate being a necromancer, it’s easy to not let it hit too close to home because it’s so close so often that he wouldn’t survive it otherwise. It’s easy until it isn’t, until he’s just spent something close to an hour pulling the body of a woman’s nephew back together. What’s left of it, anyway.

Draco really wishes he knew what Cobalt looked like, if he had his aunt’s nose or her silvery hair.

She lifts a hand and he’s too tired to flinch from it, but she only settles it on the back of his neck, squeezing not hard enough to hurt but just enough that he feels a little bit more settled in his body, as if he’d been floating away and she’d pinned him back in place. “Firenze, give him a ride back. He’s about to fall over.”

“I can carry him.”

For a moment Draco’s worried he’s hearing things in double until he realizes both Harry and Hagrid had spoken at the same time.

“Thanks,” he says, speaking to all of them, “but I’m not that tired, I can walk on my own.”

Normally he’d be all for Harry carrying him like he’s some sort of distressed damsel, but he’s not letting his boyfriend touch him until he at the very least casts a scourgify on himself but preferably until he takes a bath. He’s pretty sure Harry doesn’t care about the smell of death clinging to him, but he cares. His hair is also going to need a thorough wash.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Damsa says, but her snap doesn’t have that much bite to it. He’d started this night hearing exactly what Damsa sounds like when she’s pissed, and this isn’t it.

He’s possibly more tired than he thought, because he blinks and Firenze is in front of him, bending on his forelegs so Draco can climb onto his back. “Isn’t this undignified for you? You’re not a horse and I’m not a kid.”

“The longer you make me kneel in front of you, the more undignified it becomes,” he says.

If he didn’t know better, he’d think Firenze was making a joke.

Draco huffs and climbs on, muttering a quick apology when he has to grab onto Firenze’s waist to steady himself. Damsa isn’t looking at them, still staring at Cobalt.

The centaurs surrounding them part for Firenze and Hagrid and Harry quickly come up behind him, stopping once they’re walking next to them. He doesn’t know what Hagrid says or does, but the acromantulas retreat back into the forest. Draco tries to keep his head up, but his exhaustion is catching up with him, and really, Firenze did this to himself. He leans forward until his forehead is pressed against Firenze’s shoulder, suddenly finding it too much effort to keep himself upright. There’s a rumble in Firenze’s chest like he’s holding back laughter and he doesn’t dump Draco onto the ground, so he assumes this is fine.

“I’m sorry.” Draco blinks and it takes him a slow moment to realize that the soft voice is his soulmate speaking. Harry never sounds like that. He turns his head enough to see Harry looking straight ahead, his shoulders tense. “I didn’t think – I was just trying to collect some bones, I didn’t think anything would happen, I’ve snuck into the forest so many times. I wasn’t trying to – I’m sorry.”

Draco doesn’t hear Firenze sigh, but he can feel him do it. If Firenze isn’t nice to his soulmate, Draco’s going to kick him, which will absolutely get him dumped on his ass. Luckily for all of them, Firenze is gentle when he says, “Harry, you don’t have to apologize. If anything, we owe you the apology. I know you didn’t do anything to Cobalt. I knew that before we even arrived. Archer Damsa knew that too. It’s an upsetting situation that brings up some uncomfortable memories but that doesn’t mean we should have taken it out on you.”

“I shouldn’t have been in the forbidden forest,” Harry says, still sounding small.

This time when Firenze sighs, he lets them all hear it. He’s fond when he says, “No, you shouldn’t, but what you should have done hasn’t stopped you before and I doubt it’ll stop you in the future. We have a perimeter alert spell. We know when students enter the forest, Harry. We knew you were there, as we’ve known all the other times, and when students who aren’t you do the same. You are neither the first nor the only student to break the rules, and as I’m not your professor anymore, it’s not really my concern if or when you enter the forbidden forest. You didn’t do anything to deserve Archer Damsa’s ire. Sometimes circumstances are unfortunate without you being to blame for them.”

Harry nods jerkily but doesn’t seem convinced. They’re in front of the castle now, and Draco still doesn’t want his soulmate touching him when he’s this gross, but he wants that look on the Harry’s face even less. “Catch me.”

He slides off Firenze’s back and he can land on his feet just fine, but Harry’s smiling a little bit when he falls into his arms instead, squeezing him almost too tightly for a moment before putting him down.

“Get some sleep you two,” Hagrid says, gruffly but not unkindly. “Everything will be better in the morning.”

Draco holds Harry’s hand as they slip back into the castle, even though he really, really wants to wash his hands.

~

Harry’s exhausted and he just wants this day to be over, but he’s too keyed up to get any sleep. That’s not the most dangerous situation he’s ever been in, or the must uncomfortable, or even the goriest. Not by far.

But there’s something that aches beneath his breastbone because of it, to see the quiet air of mourning hanging around Firenze and the grief sparking like rage in Damsa. To see an aunt faced with her nephew’s dismembered corpse and reaching for anger instead of succumbing to any of the other emotions that were so clearly bubbling near the surface, to see the grim stubbornness in every line of soulmate’s body as he forces down his own discomfort to try to make it all a little bit better when all Harry could do was wait and watch.

“Hey.” He startles as Draco squeezes his hand, so lost in his own thoughts he’d almost forgotten he wasn’t alone even with their fingers interlaced. “Come take a bath with me? If I go on my own there’s a small chance I might pass out and drowned.”

There really isn’t. “You sure? You must be tired too. What you did didn’t look easy.” He could have helped, if he knew anything about healing, if he’d known the spells Draco had used. He’s a necromancer and manipulating dead flesh is something he’s good at. But Damsa had been right. The more necromantic magic he learns, the more his own magic is changed because of it, the more it changes all that it interacts with. Which isn’t normally a problem, but normally he’s not performing magic on dead things that he has to worry about tainting or changing in some way. His magic reaches out and reacts, it always has. Catalina and Sharon’s magic had done the same, although Nanaia’s and Slughorn’s hadn’t, and he wonders if it’s just something he’ll learn to control in time.

“Maybe you’re not the only who doesn’t want to be alone,” Draco says, still with the strain he’s trying to hide around his eyes, and Harry can’t help the smile tugging at his lips.

Draco knows him so well. They’ve worked so, so hard to know each other this well. They certainly hadn’t known each other at all those first few years, saying one thing and hearing another and misunderstanding each other constantly.

Not that everything’s perfect now, of course, they still misunderstand each other plenty, but it’s good. It’s really, really good.

“Okay,” he says, because of course he does.

They walk to the prefect bathrooms in silence, and Harry smirks when Draco says, “Apple cider,” and the door opens for them.

“These don’t seem like a vey secure password,” he says.

Draco rolls his eyes and doesn’t answer. None of the passwords are very secure at Hogwarts. The prohibited intermingling in between houses and the supposedly forbidden places in the school become less and less forbidden the older they get, which he’s pretty sure is by design.

He fusses with the taps, making it this side of too hot, which is how Draco likes it. Well, it’s possibly slightly cooler than Draco would like it, but Harry’s not looking to get his skin scalded off. When he looks up, Draco’s already undressed and is undoing his hair. It’s down to past his shoulder blades and such a pale blonde that it almost looks white in the right light, against his miles of pale skin and his light blue eyes. He looks like all the color’s been leached out of him, but not in bad way, like he’s one of those Greek statues people put in museums.

Except for the bright marigolds on his hip, as vibrant as the first day Harry saw them on Draco’s skin when he was twelve years old.

“Something on my face?” Draco asks, teasing, as he walks over. He holds out a hand to pull him to his feet then tugs on the bottom of Harry’s shirt, pulling it up over his head and tossing it aside. He reaches for his pants next, hooking his thumb under his jeans and underwear tugging them down over Harry’s hips until they pool at his ankles so he can step out of them and step even closer to Draco.

“This isn’t really the time say this,” he says, settling a hand on Draco’s hip, right where his soulmark is, “but you’re really beautiful.”

Draco grins then, an arrogant tilt to his head as he places his hand over the one Harry has against his hip and walks backwards, forcing Harry to follow him as he steps into the ridiculously opulent bathtub. “Oh, it’s never not the right time to tell me I’m beautiful, darling.”

He rolls his eyes, darting forward to wrap his arms around Draco’s waist and planting a loud, wet raspberry against his bare shoulder. Draco shrieks and tries to pull away. Harry only tightens his grip and laughs, although he regrets that when Draco gets enough leverage to push down on his shoulders and dunk his head underwater before swimming away so Harry gets a mouthful of soapy water. He comes up sputtering and his soulmate’s grinning, the tension gone from around his eyes, and Harry means to curse at him, to chase him and dunk him under, but instead he just smiles.

“Harry, merlin, don’t look at me like that,” Draco scolds, his cheeks staining pink, but he swims across the tub back into grabbing range. He doesn’t resist when Harry drags him closer, just rests his arms on his shoulders.

“Like what?” Harry mutters, kissing the corner of his mouth. He doesn’t give Draco a chance to answer, following it up with, “Can I wash your hair?”

“What is it with you and my hair?” he asks but leans forward just enough to kiss the tip of Harry’s nose before turning around. Harry really wants to kiss him properly, but he knows if he does then they’ll just end up having sex in the prefect bathroom. Which wouldn’t be a first, but also isn’t exactly what he wants right now, in the abstract, although in the non-abstract way he always wants Draco. “Stop thinking about sex and wash my hair. We can do that when I’m clean.”

“I can do both at the same time and you’re clean now,” he points out, then backtracks. “That’s not the point, you’re tired. That was hard magic and it’s late anyway.”

Draco turns back around, rolling his eyes. “I’m tired, Harry, not dead.”

A muscle jumps at the edge of his jaw and his flirty smile suddenly looks strained.

Harry sighs and gently pushes at his shoulder until Draco turns around. “Come on, just let me wash your hair.”

He tugs him back until they’re at the steps, sitting down so the water’s above his waist and nudging Draco a couple steps lower so he’s submerged to just under his shoulders and he barely has to tip back at all to get his hair wet. Harry summons the shampoo and conditioner over with a wave of his hand, and he knows it’s not Draco’s preferred kind, but he’s used it before without complaint, so he’s assuming it’s fine. Harry tries to be gentle and not just scrub it through like he does with his own hair, massaging it into his boyfriend’s scalp and only gently sliding it over the ends of his hair.  

He pulls Draco back to rinse the shampoo from his hair and is startled to see his blue eyes rimmed red and his face wet in a way that’s clearly not from the tub. “Oh, honey.”

Draco looks to the side and makes to pull away from him, but Harry holds onto his arms and leans forward until he can press a kiss to his soulmate’s forehead, pressing light kisses all over his face until relaxes again. When Harry goes to lean back, Draco reaches up and grabs the back of his neck, pulling him back down so their foreheads are pressed together. “Tonight really sucked, is all,” he says quietly.

“Yeah,” Harry sighs. “Sorry.”

“Not you fault,” Draco says immediately and without hesitation, even though Harry kind of thinks that it is. It was his idea, after all. Granted, he hadn’t really anticipated a midnight stroll to find some bones to end in – well, anything that had happened, really.

“Well, no matter who’s fault it is, it still sucked,” Harry says, and this time when he leans back so he can continue washing his hair, Draco lets him.

“Yeah,” Draco echoes, still sad but something close to smiling again.

Tonight sucked, but they’re together and they’re fine, and hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.

That’s enough, to be together and hope for a better tomorrow.