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Aftershocks

Chapter Text

Shafts of sunlight fell through the arched ceiling windows onto platform 9 ¾. The station was crowded with noise and bodies, trollies with precariously balanced suitcases were pushed between parents jostling owl cages and trying to keep track of their children. In fifteen minutes the Hogwarts Express would be departing so most of this year’s students had arrived and none of their families had left yet.

Draco Malfoy stood just to the right of the iron archway over the entrance from King’s Cross. He was watching the scene with an uncomfortable sense of having stepped into an old memory. Being back at the station for the beginning of a new school year felt more like sinking into a Pensieve than a real experience. It was like watching the past unfold before him in real time; he was a visitor displaced from a different point in history. Except, of course, that he didn’t feel invisible or anything even close to it. Draco was acutely aware of his own spine, of his hands and how he had nothing useful to do with them. His robes were impeccable, he had spent thirty minutes spelling them creaseless that morning, but he still had to stop himself from running his hands over the fabric to straighten it out. He knew he was only imagining the itch on his left arm, but that didn’t make it any easier to keep himself from scratching it. He hadn’t been around this many people since the end of term and now it felt like his senses and his brain were being assaulted by too many impressions to take in. He had been holed up by himself in his room in the manor between and after the trials, trying to pull himself back together, trying not to think about what he would do with himself now that it was all over. Then he had received the letter that called them all back to retake their seventh year. His first reaction had been relief over getting one more year before he had to make any real decisions. Then he had realized what it meant – that it wasn’t just him; the rest of his year would be returning with him. He didn’t look forward to seeing any of them again.

He had noticed Theodore Nott at the station earlier and it looked like he had arrived without his parents, just as Draco had. That had been somewhat comforting. He thought he had spotted the Greengrass sisters and Blaise Zabini, but they must have disappeared into the train by now.

He glanced at his watch.

He could still just leave. No one had noticed him yet, no one would stop him from simply slipping back out the portal-

“Draco!” someone called and he started, every nerve in him screamed run.

Then he caught sight of Pansy pushing her way towards him. He straightened up and waved to her, trying to look composed, like he hadn’t almost bolted at the sound of her voice. If she had noticed his flinch, she didn’t show it. She was grinning at him.

“I can’t believe you’re here! You look good,” she said.

He managed a smile, though not quite as bright as hers.

“Thanks,” he said. “You do too.”

“How are you?”

He shrugged.

“Holding up,” he said.

“Merlin, it was strange to get the letter, wasn’t it? I really think we’re too old for Hogwarts, but it’s not like they gave us much of a choice…”

“How was your summer?” he asked.

“Good,” she said. “Uneventful, apart from… you know, all the mess.”

She looked around.

“You’re here alone?” she asked.

He grimaced.

“Yes, mother wasn’t really fit for going out.”

“Oh,” she said and lowered her voice. “How is she doing?”

“She’s… better.”

“Will she be okay while you’re away?”

“She said I should go. I wasn’t doing much good at home anyway. And the house-elves are there.”

Pansy nodded.

“That’s good,” she said.

“Are your parents here?”

She gestured vaguely towards the archway entrance to the platform, and he spotted Mr and Mrs Parkinson standing to the side with an immense amount of luggage. It looked like Pansy had packed absolutely everything she owned.

“They wanted to come and see us off,” she said.

“See you off,” he corrected her.

“Don’t be silly. They’ve really been worried about you, Draco. My mum would love to talk to you, Narcissa hasn’t written her a lot this summer, she wants to know how the two of you are getting on.”

The Parkinsons were too far away to be able to hear them, but Mrs Parkinson waved when she noticed he was looking. He smiled and waved back but then quickly turned towards Pansy again.

“I’m sorry, but could we maybe… save it for another time?”

She frowned, but then nodded.

“Yes of course,” she said. “I guess it’s a lot today. I’ll tell them you’re good.”

“Tell them not to worry,” he said.

The shrill call of the whistle pierced the air and both of them looked up.

“We should probably go find a compartment before they all get too crowded,” he said.

 

But when they finally made their way onto the train, all of Pansy’s luggage included, it turned out that despite the number of people on the platform, the train was far from full. Even with the returning seventh years added to the pool of students, it didn’t make up for all the missing ones. Pansy told him they had reported it in the Prophet that a lot of students wouldn’t be returning to Hogwarts after the horrors of the previous year when Snape and the Carrows ran the school. Many had moved to other schools abroad or they had been pulled out to be home-schooled. And of course there had been casualties amongst the students too. She didn’t know exactly how many it was.

“A lot,” she said.

The students starting their second year were the smallest class in Hogwarts history.

 

Draco pushed open the door to an empty compartment and Pansy levitated their suitcases onto the rack. He sat down in the seat by the window and looked back out at the platform.

“Look,” he said. “The entire Weasley-clan has managed to arrive late. Most of them graduated years ago, why on earth did they bring the whole litter?”

“I think everyone is doing that. I swear I’ve never seen this many parents and siblings on the platform.”

“Blaise was alone.”

Pansy let herself fall into the seat across from him as if exhausted.

“That was probably his own decision, to show us all how adult and independent he is now. I heard he was pissed that we have to come back.”

“Do you know how his family is handling the new… political situation?”

“Oh yes, they’re doing excellent,” she said.

The engine awoke and they felt the train shuddering to life.

“Well, then that’s as expected,” he said. “I haven’t been keeping up. What about Nott?”

“His father has disappeared, that’s all I know. I assume he’s fled abroad. Theo lives with his grandparents now.”

“And Daphne, I saw her on the station?”

Pansy shrugged.

“I haven’t talked to her, but you know, lots of change in the Wizengamot these days so I assume the family is fighting tooth and nail to claim as many seats as they can,” she said, sounding bored with it all. “Did you hear Goyle has been pulled out? Do you two still keep in contact or…?”

“We don’t talk anymore, but mother told me. What about-“

She cut him off:

“Draco, seriously, can we stop the political briefing for a moment?”

“I want to be updated before we reach the castle.”

“Well, then you should have kept in touch,” she snapped.

“What?”

“I haven’t seen you in months! It’s so nice you’re back and that you’re doing alright, you have no idea how relieved I am, but it would be nice if you would at least acknowledge that you have been ignoring my letters the whole summer. I was worried about you.”

He looked out the window again just as the train started to pull out of the station. The platform was a sea of faces and waving hands. In fact, he hadn’t even opened most of the letters she had sent him. He hadn’t wanted to deal with the world, and that had meant Pansy too.

“Sorry,” he said.

“What is that supposed to mean? You know, when it had been three weeks since your trial and I still hadn’t heard from you, I actually went St. Mungo’s to see if you were being treated for dementor-exposure or something and–“

She shut her mouth abruptly when the door to their compartment was pushed open. A tall, red haired boy stuck his head inside.

“Hey, is there room in – oh. Never mind.”

Draco nodded curtly at him. Pansy had her lips pressed together in a hard line and was staring past the boy at the other Weasley standing right behind him.

“Let’s see if there’s room further down,” said the boy over his shoulder.

He moved on down the centre aisle of the train. After Ronald and Ginny Weasley followed Hermione Granger and Harry Potter, both of whom shot quick glances at the Slytherins as they passed. They left the door open. Pansy had turned to the window looking even more annoyed now, so Draco got up to close it. He heard the voices of the Gryffindors continuing further down the train and resisted the urge to stay by the door and eavesdrop. He slid the door shut. He hesitated with his hand on the handle.

“I wasn’t expecting the heroes to be returning with us,” he said.

“No? It said so in the Prophet this week.”

“Weren’t they all given impressive job-offers?”

She let out a sharp, little laugh.

“Yes, the DMLE and the Auror Office have been headhunting all of “the resistance” for jobs, but they don’t want them until after they’ve taken their exams, apparently. I almost feel sorry for Granger – all that hard work and it turns out they’re just going to hand out high profile jobs in the Ministry to every mudblood who tried to die in the battle.”

“I would be a bit more discreet with the bitterness.”

“Oh, you would? Is that your plan this year? Keeping your head down and hoping they forgive you?”

She was stabbing at him, but he tried to appreciate it. It would only get worse when they arrived at the school, so he might as well try to get used to it.
“Yes, that is the plan,” he said.

“Is that also why we’re not sitting with the others?”

He shrugged.
“They might have met over the summer and we could go sit with them, but I want to be sure they’ve had time to work out the new hierarchy between them before I try to fit myself in. Keep the tension low.”

She was quiet. He hadn’t sat down again and was still watching her from the door.

“Draco,” she said slowly, patiently, as if speaking to a child, “you’re not in that game anymore.”

The look on her face was so pitying it hurt.

“I didn’t think I would hear that from you,” he said.

It sounded terribly whiny.

“The others will be saying it too,” she said.

“You should know better.”

“You should have moved abroad if you wanted to start over.”

“I couldn’t.”

“I thought you said you were going to keep your head down. How does that fit with clawing your way back to the top of their stupid hierarchy?”

He dropped his hand from the door and went back to his seat.

“Keeping my head down doesn’t mean I plan to disappear,” he said.

The corners of her mouth twitched.

“You’re impossible,” she said.

She turned to look out at the scenery rushing by outside. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. He remembered that his mother used to talk about how well he and Pansy matched, her jet-black hair and his white-blond, his paleness to her darker colours. He remembered how she had stopped when it became clear that Pansy wouldn’t grow up to be pretty. She did look pretty to him, though she always got pissed when he tried to tell her. He realized how much he had missed her and her meanness. She was hard and sharp and would never be nice, not even to him, but their friendship was one thing he didn’t need to spend his time mending.

“I never thought I’d be here again,” he said.

“I know. It’s weird.”

“They seem to think it’s all over, don’t they?”

“Yeah.”

“It isn’t, though. It won’t be an easy year. Not for any of us.”

She sighed.

“I know, Draco.”

Chapter Text

They were two weeks into the school year and Harry still felt weird about putting on his uniform. He felt silly, like an adult who was pretending to be a kid, like he was going bald and the uniform was too small and everyone could tell, but just pretended like nothing was wrong. He knew the out-of place feeling was only in his head – just looking at them, it wouldn’t be possible to tell the actual seventh years from the ones who were redoing their seventh. But maybe it was just that all the students were looking older than they should. He had noticed the way the little kids would get quiet near certain classrooms, the grave expressions on their faces, that were completely wrong on children of that age.

He figured that as soon as he got used to it, he would be happy to be back. He liked sharing a dorm with Ron, Neville, Seamus and Dean again. It was almost like before the war, except they had all very quickly gotten into the habit of casting silencing charms on their beds at night, so they didn’t wake each other up when they had nightmares.

“Are you coming, Harry?”

Ron and the others were waiting by the door.

“Yeah, just a second,” he said.

He threw his transfiguration into his bag and they headed down the stairs and towards the Great Hall for breakfast.

It wasn’t just him – Hogwarts was different this year. For one thing, the division of houses had weakened dramatically. Harry and his dorm mates all found seats at the Gryffindor table, but around them were just as many blue and yellow ties and badges as there were red. Many of them were former members of the Dumbledore’s Army that had reformed in his absence under the leadership of Ginny, Neville and Luna. Some of them were the same as when Harry had been leading the group, but many were new. There were kids from Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff whose names he wasn’t even sure of who were closer to Neville and Luna than Harry had ever been himself, and little kids who approached Ginny with things that Harry thought they should have gone to their prefects about, until he saw how familiar she was with them. He had been pretty surprised that Padma Patil had visited the Burrow while he stayed there over the summer, but apparently her and Ginny were friends. And now that people no longer cared so much about being seated according to housing, it seemed silly that they ever had. It had never been a rule that you had to sit at your house table except for the feasts at the beginning and end of the year, during the sorting and the announcement of the winners of the house-cup.

So that was one thing that was different. There were other things about being back that were almost unbearably normal. They had patched the castle up over the summer, and you hardly ever found physical signs of the battle. The first years still got lost on the upper floors, the prefects still got lost trying to find them and next to him, Ron and Hermione were bickering about homework, their voices slowly rising above the otherwise peaceful breakfast conversation:

“For the last time, Ron, no you can’t copy my essay!”

“I won’t copy it, I just want to look at it - or just the introduction, at least. You could help me with the introduction.”

“After last year, one would think that you would be able to write a few pages about defense against the dark arts. Honestly Ron, that was all we did.”

“That was all practical, this is theory. I hate theory.”

“Well, then it is only good that you do it yourself so you can get better at it, isn’t it?” she said triumphantly.

Ron leaned in and kissed her cheek – of course that part was new.

“Please?” he said.

She rolled her eyes.

“No, still no.”

“It’s weird that they let the Death Eaters come back, isn’t it?” commented Justin Finch Fletchley instead.

He was looking over Harry’s shoulder towards the Slytherin tables.

“They aren’t Death Eaters,” said Padma.

“But that’s what they all have in common, isn’t it? That’s why they keep to themselves like that.”

Harry turned around to look at the Slytherins. Once or twice, he had spotted a person in green sitting down at with the Ravenclaws or Hufflepuffs, but there wasn’t a single person from another house sitting at the Slytherin table.

“No it’s not. The ones with Death Eater parents haven’t come back.”

“Some have,” said Justin.

And it was true, some of them had. Such as Draco Malfoy. Harry could see him sitting among the other seventh years. He had known for a while that he hadn’t been imprisoned, but he still hadn’t expected him to be back at Hogwarts, and definitely hadn’t been prepared to run into him on the train.

Harry had been called in as a witness for the trials of both Malfoy and his mother. He had told the Wizengamot how she lied for him when Voldemort thought he had killed him. He had also mentioned how Draco had lowered his wand in the Astronomy Tower, before Snape killed Dumbledore, and had been surprised he even remembered. His statements hadn’t seemed to matter much though. The heaviest argument had been how young Malfoy was when he took the mark, that he was underage when he committed most of his crimes, and that he had been pressured by his family into joining the Dark Lord. It had been almost even how many had voted for and how many against pardoning him. He remembered how long it took to count the raised hands. Malfoy had been three votes from a life sentence to Azkaban. Not that he had seemed to care; the boy at the hearing had been almost unrecognizable to Harry. His skin had been dull, almost grey, his eyes sunken in their hollows and the cheekbones jutting out like they were about to cut through the skin. It had reminded Harry of how Sirius looked when they first met. His hair had been matted and dirty, far from the smooth silk Harry remembered, and all the arrogance and confidence that usually emanated from him had disappeared. Before them had sat a frail teenage boy with slack mouth and dead, unseeing eyes. His voice was monotone when he was questioned, and Harry would have thought he was completely indifferent towards his sentence if it hadn’t been for the way he winced whenever the dementors were mentioned, more a physical than a conscious reaction to the word.

When they read the charges, they mentioned that Malfoy had been on the run for a few weeks after the battle of Hogwarts, and that he had been kept in custody under dementor guards for a week before his trial. Harry knew well how hard dementors could affect you, but he hadn’t thought it was possible to physically wither away so quickly. The Malfoy he was seeing now in the Great Hall was miles from that figure – perhaps still thinner than he used to be, but nothing you would notice if you weren’t looking for it.

“I think they’re trying to distance themselves from their parents. I mean, I think the Slytherins are by far the most serious students in my mugglestudies class,” said Hermione.

Ginny scoffed.

“Oh sure, they’re studying for an obligatory class, they’ve all changed, let’s forgive them for whatever they did last year.”

“Don’t be mean, Ginny,” said Hannah.

Ginny grimaced.

“Sorry,” she said, running a hand through her hair. “I had a bad night. I didn’t mean to be snarky.”

Hermione shrugged it off.

“It doesn’t matter.”

Neville stood up.

“I’m heading to class, does anyone want to come?”

o

Slytherin had Transfiguration with the Gryffindors this year, which was still taught by Professor McGonagall. Apparently they hadn’t been able to find another teacher, or maybe she was just sad to let it go. It had happened before that the headmaster had been teaching a class as well, though Dumbledore had been too involved with his politics on the side to have time for it.

Though school had started a couple of weeks ago, this was Draco’s first Transfiguration class of the year. His plan had been to concentrate in all of his classes, do his homework and work hard enough to earn good grades that could possibly make up for the disadvantage his name had become. But at his courage or confidence or whatever it was had failed him for the last few Transfiguration classes, and he had skipped them. It was stupid, but it was too late to try to make good first impressions on the professor anyway, so he just settled down in the back and hoped he could make up for his absence later. He had been taking the class last year as well, so he knew most of the curriculum already.

He was flipping through his textbook when he glanced up and caught Potter staring at him. He raised an eyebrow at him and the other boy immediately turned away. Potter was another problem he would have to find a way to deal with. Draco figured he could work his way back into the respectable hierarchy of the Slytherins in the course of the year one way or another. Blaise wasn’t going to be able to keep up his cold attitude no matter how hard he tried, and though he had never really had much to do with Nott, he might be able to win him over this year. No bonding-over-lost-fathers, of course, but Nott had more family left than Draco did, and he was from a noble and most ancient house with significant political influence, so he could become a powerful ally if they could just overcome the Death Eater associations. In that respect Nott was already doing much better than Draco: even the less than intelligent members of Gryffindor house seemed to be able to distinguish Theodore from Cantankerous, and they weren’t doing nearly as well with Draco and Lucius. However, the difficult part was figuring out how much political influence Potter’s faction had gained. No doubt the houses of Longbottom and Bones would try to use the hero-status of their relatives to grasp at power, but it was unlikely anyone but the heroes themselves would have success. It was all a question of whether or not they would be able to use the power, but Dumbledore’s Army had created soldiers not politicians, so really, it seemed unlikely. They hadn’t been raised like he had…

“Draco Malfoy,” called a sharp voice.

He startled visibly – he had been lost in thought and hadn’t noticed the professor coming in. She looked up from the parchment when he didn’t answer.

“Present”, he said.

“Yes, I can see that. What an honour it is to have you join us, I haven’t seen you in quite a while. But perhaps you consider the subject of Transfiguration to be beneath you?”

“No, professor.”

“Good. I don’t want anyone to think that they can take it easy with their classes just because they were able to attend school last year. Mr. Malfoy, I will see you tonight in detention so you can make up for some of the work you’ve missed.”

“Excuse me?!” his voice rose indignantly though it really shouldn’t have.

“Detention, Mr. Malfoy. In my office at 9 this evening.”

He pressed his lips together and said nothing more.

“Theodore Nott?” continued McGanagall.

“Here.”


Draco spent the rest of the lesson focusing on his spellwork and he was picking it up quickly. He had hoped McGonagall would notice and possibly change her mind about the detention, but of course she didn’t.

Chapter Text

Draco went to the library after dinner to start his work on an essay for Muggle Studies. It had remained a mandatory class, though the curriculum had changed drastically since the previous year, and he was having a hard time keeping up. The teacher was fairly competent, though it seemed to him she was trying to squeeze way too much information into one year of teaching, and covering too broad areas for one subject, which meant that the content of the lessons varied greatly from time to time. Sometimes she was teaching political science or economics, which was like the muggle version of what Draco’s private tutors had taught him when he was younger. Other times the class completely shifted it’s focus onto arithmancy and muggle science, which would then turn into a history-class instead. It was a nightmare, and Draco was aware that he might have to ask some of the halfblood Ravenclaws for help sooner or later.

In the library Theodore Nott was already seated at one of the desks. Draco pulled out the chair across from him.

“Do you mind if I sit?” he asked.

Theodore looked up.

“Not at all. Is it the muggle-essay?”

Draco took out quills and parchment and sat down.

“Yeah, it is.”

“Me too. I already found some books, you can use them if you need to.”

He pointed to a stack on the table. Draco nodded.

“Thanks,” he said.

They worked for a while in silence and when the clock neared nine, Draco started packing up his stuff. Nott looked up.

“Are you leaving?” he asked.

“I have detention with McGonagall tonight.”

Nott smiled slyly.

“Oh, right. Good luck with that.”

“Thanks,” he said.

Nott returned to his book and Draco headed towards Professor McGonagall’s classroom.

 o

His detention dragged on forever. He had somewhat suspected that this would be about the war, that secretly there was something the headmistress wanted to talk to him about, but she just had him practice his transfigurations for an eternity while she graded essays. She hardly looked up at him, except for once, when he rolled up his sleeves and she got a glimpse of the mark on his arm. Of course she knew it was there, but the disgust was still evident on her face and he felt his stomach churning and a stab of shame went through him when he met her gaze. He quickly returned to his spells, and she moved on to the next essay. It was past midnight when she finally let him go, and he was so tired he was sure he would be able to sleep for two whole days when he got back to his dorm.

“Goodnight, Mr Malfoy,” she said as he opened the door.

“Goodnight, professor McGonagall.”

 o

He left quickly down the hall, and almost immediately slammed into someone walking in the opposite direction. The other boy had been in a hurry too and their heads knocked together painfully.

“Watch where you’re going, you idiot-“ Draco hissed, but then he stopped himself.

“Oh,” he said. “It’s you.”

“Sorry, didn’t see you there,” said Potter, fixing his glasses on his nose.

It took a second before his eyes settled on Draco, and when they did, they widened in surprise.

“What are you doing here?”

There was something peculiar in Potter’s expression, as if he was searching for something in Draco’s face and the search had distracted him from slipping into his usual mask of obvious revulsion. Draco felt a well-known irritation stirring.

“I know everyone feels unsafe with Slytherins out after dark,” he drawled, “but I just had detention with the headmistress and I am headed back to the dungeon right now, so you don’t have to worry. I do appreciate that you’re taking time to patrol the hallways, though. We all feel much safer knowing you’re watching over us at night.”

“That’s not what I’m doing,” Potter snarled.

“No? You have your wand out – are you sure you don’t want to disarm me just to be on the safe side?”

Draco’s wand was already tucked away in his forearm holster, so disarming really wasn’t necessary. Potter looked down at his own hand as if he hadn’t been aware of the wand before.

“It’s just a habit,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Welcome to the club. Now, may I return to my bed or do you wish to continue the interrogation?”

“You should probably roll down your sleeves first.”

“What?”

“Your sleeves,” he said, gesturing to Draco as he repeated the words with less certainty this time, as if he had just realized that Draco might be showing off the mark on purpose.

Draco looked down at his forearm, where even in the dark, the ugly, red thing stood out clearly against his skin. He had forgotten – he couldn’t believe it. This was not supposed to happen. It had never happened before. No, he always, always remembered to cover it up. He considered reaching for his wand – he wouldn’t mind going to Azkaban, that was fine, as long as he got to kill Harry Potter and forget that this ever happened. He yanked down his sleeve staring defiantly back at Potter.

“I’m not going to tell anyone.”

“Well thanks for that generous lie, Potter, but everybody knows already, so I really don’t think they’ll be interested in the story when you decide to share it,” he hissed, not even able to keep up his indifferent sarcasm. “And I am not trying to show it off, just so we’re clear about that.”

“Really?” said Potter, his voice suddenly cold. “You used to be so proud of it.”

“Yes, well it can’t be removed. I’ve had quite a few visits to st. Mungo’s, and I got them to try everything short of cutting off my arm, but there was nothing they could do. I would have gone abroad to find some better healers when the English ones turned out to be incompetent, but my family hasn’t been allowed to leave the country.”

“Maybe you should have thought about that before joining Voldemort.”

“I was 14,” he hissed. “I was 14 when he came back!”

“So was I,” said Harry.

He turned around to leave. Draco watched him, still clutching his arm. He rarely had outbursts like this. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep that made him hot-headed, but right then he was almost trembling with rage.

“We were kids!” he yelled.

His voiced echoed off the walls but Harry kept walking. When he disappeared around a corner, Draco’s arms fell to his sides. He took a deep breath to compose himself, suppress the boiling feelings, and then he started walking down the hall to the dungeons.

Chapter Text

Despite the embarrassing run-in the night before and the restless night it had resulted in, Draco had had a pleasant morning. Their first class, Astronomy, had been moved to midnight, since it would be a practical lesson, and so he had spent his free period in the common room getting ahead on some of his homework. When the clock neared 10 he packed up his stuff. Daphne hovered by the door with Matthew Selwyn, an actual seventh year student, who used to be in the grade below Draco, but now had classes with them. Draco got up from his chair and sauntered towards them just as Blaise appeared from the dorms.

“Gods, I’ve been slaving on my essay for Alchemy, I haven’t even looked at the assignments for today,” Blaise said. “Have any of you read it?”

“It was a pretty short chapter, you can probably skim through it in the beginning of class,” said Daphne.

She pushed the door open and they filed out into the corridor.

“How can you be behind on schoolwork already?” asked Draco.

“I’m not behind on anything, I’m just prioritizing.”

Draco laughed.

“I still think it’s completely unreasonable to have us redo this year and then make us take the same classes all over again,” added Daphne. “At least they could let us drop the things we’ve already passed with proper teachers.”

The others agreed, Matthew added that they had probably thought it would be unfair to the kids who had been in hiding, and Draco savoured the feeling of the group clicking back into place around him, their careful distance and coldness diminished by sheer force of habit. Daphne was laughing and being charming all over the place, and he caught Matthew rolling his eyes at him when her giggles became too silvery. This was what he had to work with. His earlier popularity hadn’t been entirely dependent on the former glory of his name or their knowledge that he would one day inherit all the puppet strings of his father – he just had to keep reminding them of that until they forgot why they had ever abandoned him. He had been stepping down on his dominance quite a bit, allowing Blaise to take more of the stage. Being second was not defeat after all – it could be rational victory. That was something his father had explained to him when Draco had asked why a powerful family like theirs would act as servants to the Dark Lord. The current problem wasn’t that he was no longer the prince of Slytherin, but that his place in the hierarchy was unclear, and definitely not as close to the top as it ought to be.

“And Astoria keeps offering to have her Ravenclaw friends do my homework for me, which I would accept if it wasn’t for-“ Daphne cut herself off mid-sentence: “What are you rolling your eyes at?”

Matthew grinned.

“Nothing.”

“It’s just that you were turning all veela on us,” Draco drawled.

“I was not!”

“You definitely were,” said Blaise. “You should at least try to be discreet about it.”

“Oh hush, I’m just naturally charming – isn’t it better than Pansy being a bitch to you? You never tell her to tone it down,” she said, still feigning indignation.

“That’s because she’s terrifying,” said Matthew.

“Yes, everyone but Draco is scared of me,” called a sharp voice behind them.

They all turned around to see Pansy climbing the stairs to catch up with them. Draco offered her his arm when she reached them.

“Please don’t kill me,” said Matthew.

“I’ll take it as a compliment,” she said, but her smile was that of someone who likes the idea of murder, not receiving a compliment.

“How was the interview?” Draco asked.

Pansy frowned.

“It went pretty well, I think. I’m not sure…”

“What interview?”

“I’m trying to get an internship on the Prophet next year. Just came back through the Floo.”

“Oh, cool,” said Daphne.

She shrugged.

“Yeah, I hope it works out. After the war there’s been some unexpected complications.”

Her eyes darted to him as she said it. Of course it was already obvious that the “unexpected complications” had quite a lot to do with house Malfoy losing what had previously been their almost absolute control over the paper, but he still had the strong, flickering impulse to hex her for being so indiscreet. She might have felt him tensing up, because she quickly continued talking:

“Anyway, did I miss out on anything important in Astronomy?”

“No, class was moved to midnight, so we’ve just had a free period.”

“Lovely.”

A couple of Hufflepuffs were heading in the other direction down the corridor, and the Slytherin group contracted to give them space. The Hufflepuffs lowered their voices when they passed, which Draco probably wouldn’t have noticed if one of the girls hadn’t suddenly raised her voice in the middle of a sentence, highlighting two words for their benefit: “Death Eaters” rang out in the corridor, they stabbed through Draco and he ignored it perfectly as he kept on walking – which meant he was yanked backwards when Pansy stopped and was only inches from crashing into Blaise as he spun round, his wand already out and aimed at the girl’s back.

“Take that back,” he said evenly.

She hadn’t even noticed his reaction until then, but when she turned around she looked suddenly nervous. Draco recognized the nervousness – it was the one that had grown on the face of every student last year and still surfaced whenever a voice was raised in a hallway or a classroom. It testified to their certainty that something bad was about to happen and the knowledge that they couldn’t run.

“Blaise, calm down,” said Draco, trying to sound bored. “They’re puffs.

Blaise ignored him.

“Take what back?” asked the girl.

Draco watched her wand slide out of her sleeve and into her hand. That was bad, if she wore a forearm holster she probably knew how to duel – she might even have been in Potter’s secret fan club last year.

“You called us Death Eaters. Neither my family nor I supported Voldemort at any point.”

“Oh yeah? You didn’t fight back either, did you? I’ll call you whatever I want.”

Blaise’s wrist twitched and a sharp, blue light whipped out at the girl. Her wand snapped into place.

“Protego,” she said, blocking his curse.

There was no counter attack, but neither lowered their wand either. Draco quickly surveyed the hands of the other Hufflepuffs as well as his fellow Slytherins, and no one else had their wands out yet, which was good. The last thing they needed was for this to escalate further. Of course usually he could just have asked his friend to step down, but Blaise didn’t listen to him anymore and definitely wouldn’t take orders. So Draco kept his mouth shut and watched.

“Blaise, put your wand away and let’s go, people use this corridor, they’re going to see you,” said Pansy.

“I’m going as soon as she takes that back.”

“I’ll take it back when you take back all the times you’ve called us mudbloods.”

“I have never used that word.”

Blaise was a very graceful liar and, Draco decided, very bad at prioritizing.

“You did plenty of times last year.”

“I might have,” said Blaise slowly. “But I think we should make last year an exception, don’t you? I mean, you snitched on twelve year olds to get out of detention last year. You crucioed people in Dark Arts - I heard you were good at it, too. I heard that the spell seemed to come naturally to you.”

Draco wasn’t sure if Blaise even recognized the kid. He had probably never heard anything about her, but it didn’t matter. Pick a random student at Hogwarts and the odds were very high that Blaise’s accusations would be true. He flicked his wrist again, this time her protego came slower, almost too late.

“Shut up.”

“Is this the last time you’ve called me a Death Eater?”

“I didn’t.”

He flicked his wrist, she parried.

“This is the last time you called me a Death Eater.”

“Fine, she takes it back, whatever. Piss off,” said a skinny boy, who seemed to have finally found his voice.

“Yes, that is an excellent idea. We’re leaving,” said Daphne, grabbing Blaise’s arm and practically dragging him with her.

Draco looked back at the Hufflepuffs as the rest of the group descended on their friend,whose wand now hung limply at her side – was she crying?

“We should hurry before a teacher shows up,” he said to the backs of the others.

They had gotten just a step ahead of him when he looked back. He watched Daphne running her hand soothingly down Blaise’s arm; Pansy’s shoulders still tense, and Matthew trying to act like nothing had happened. None of them turned. There was not the slightest acknowledgement that they had heard what he had said, and Draco felt a sense of dread spreading inside him, a heavy, sinking feeling in his stomach.

 o

They didn’t run into any teachers and their classes passed uneventfully. At lunch in the Great Hall McGonagall stood up at the head table as if to give a speech, and Draco tensed for a moment, but she just repeated the rules as they had been announced at the beginning of the year: That use of magic was not allowed in the hallways and outside of classrooms and study areas in general, and that duelling was prohibited at all times. She said nothing else, so he assumed no one had told the teachers about Blaise’s little outburst, even if they had detected the magic. He couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed. But then again, it was likely he would have been dragged into the mess and blamed for the incident anyway, so perhaps it was all for the best.

Chapter Text

Quidditch was one of the great things about being back at Hogwarts. Most of the Gryffindor players had had their quidditch-privilege revoked last year, but everyone had been catching up over the summer and by now the team was getting really good. Harry felt lighter and happier as he walked back up to Gryffindor tower after practice. He had hurried to leave the locker-room afterwards and had pretended not to notice Ron’s questioning look when he left. It felt like the pleasant lightness would be disturbed if he had hung around to listen to the noise and chatter of his teammates.

He took shortcuts through secret passages and made his way to Gryffindor tower way ahead of the rest of the team. With all of them missing, the common room was unusually quiet. Hermione was studying at a desk by the window, immersed in a book and absentmindedly scratching the back of her hand with her quill. She had ink smudges on both her cheek and her fingers. Harry rested his Firebolt against the wall and pulled out a chair across from her.

“Muggle Studies?” he asked.

She looked up, blinking as she resurfaced from the text.

“Hi Harry. Yeah, it is. I’m struggling a bit with my conclusion.”

She closed the book but kept a finger in place between the pages to mark her place.

“How was practice?”

“Great, actually.”

“How’s Ginny doing as captain?”

“She’s excellent. She’s really at ease with it. I think it might be from the DA, her running it last year and all that.”

In fact, he thought she was much better at leading the team than he had been. People told him he was a good leader, both when he was quidditch captain and when he taught the DA, but he had never enjoyed it. He had hated having to make decisions for other people, making choices that would have consequences for everyone, being responsible for them while worrying that he wasn’t even qualified to lead them and that he would eventually let them down. Ginny carried it much better than he ever had.

“Think you might win?” Hermione asked.

He grinned.

“I think we stand a decent chance. You should’ve seen how we flew today. Ron will be bragging all night, he saved everything Dean threw at him and he’s not going to miss a chance to rub it in. Oh, but Ginny is worried about Ravenclaw, she says the captain smiles ominously at her, but I think she’s just being paranoid…”

“How are things with you and Ginny?”

He shrugged.

“Okay, I suppose.”

“Yeah? That’s good.”

Harry nodded. He had been staying at the Burrow for most of his summer and in the beginning things had been weirdly awkward with Ginny – as if they couldn’t talk normally to each other or joke around like they used to. After he broke up with her before the search for Horcruxes, a mountain of stuff had accumulated between them: death and war and terrible experiences, decisions nobody had wanted to make. They couldn’t ignore it, but neither of them were really the sort of people who could sit down and talk things out. It had helped when they started playing quidditch with Ron and George in the garden and that had felt normal. By now they had a sort of relaxed, non-awkward friendship and Harry was happy that their past relationship wasn’t messing up the dynamics of the team. But even though he still liked her and she was still just as pretty and funny as she had always been, they wouldn’t be getting back together. That had been obvious after the first week of summer. Something was different; a seriousness had settled in her that somehow wasn’t compatible with whatever it was that had changed in him.

“Is it just me,” he asked Hermione, “or is Hogwarts a bit… weird this year?”

She looked surprised.

“Of course it’s not just you.”

“Nobody talks about it.”

“No, I guess not. But of course it’s different. You’ve heard what it was like with Snape and the Carrows. Sometimes I feel terrible that we weren’t even here – I know it wouldn’t have changed anything, but still. It really worries me that they haven’t hired a psychiatrist, but apparently wizards aren’t big on therapy. I think the professors are just trying really hard to get everything back to normal as smoothly as possible, but even they must have some trauma they need to work through. I’m going to talk to McGonagall about it. I mean, many of the kids have been tortured. They have to talk to someone about that, right?”

“Yeah. There aren’t a lot of second years either.”

Hermione shuddered.

“No. I would have pulled my child out of school too if that was what their first year was like. Especially the muggleborn.”

“But it’s over now,” Harry said.

It was a phrase they had been repeating to each other since the first morning after Voldemort’s death. The first time they woke up and looked at each other it had been relief. Later, it had become a reassurance for when they couldn’t feel the relief they were supposed to, or for when it felt like it wasn’t over or that what they did hadn’t been good enough. Right then, Harry could hear himself putting too much force into the words. It sounded like he was trying to convince her.

“How are you doing?” she asked, her voice suddenly softer. “You’ve been a bit distant lately.”

“No, I’m doing fine.”

She was about to say something else, but then the portrait hole burst open and the rest of the Gryffindor quidditch team emerged, chatting happily. Ron made a beeline for the table where Harry and Hermione sat.

“We are going to crush Slytherin this year,” he announced happily.

He bent down to kiss Hermione and Harry looked away.

“Why did you leave, mate?”

“Bathroom.”

“Oh, right.”

Ron lowered his voice.

“Honestly, I miss you being captain, Harry. It’s too weird with Ginny – I can’t take orders from my little sister.”

“I think she’s an excellent captain.”

“Sure, but it’s weird.”

“You’ll get used to it,” said Hermione.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about something,” Harry said.

They looked at him.

“I thought maybe… you know, just speaking of Ginny, I thought we might start up Dumbledore’s Army again?”

Hermione frowned.

“We could call it something else, and maybe it could be more like a duelling club. I know we can’t use the room of requirement anymore, but it wouldn’t have to be a secret, so maybe we could talk to professor Jenkins or professor McGonagall about it.”

“Probably, but why?” asked Ron.

“I don’t know, it was just a thought. Might be fun.”

“Honestly, Harry, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Neville made it sound like the DA was practically a refugee camp within the school last year, not really a duelling club. And even when we started it back in fifth year, the purpose was teaching kids how to fight and defend themselves. I know we joked about it, but we were turning them into soldiers.”

“I just said it wouldn’t be the same thing,” said Harry, trying not to sound annoyed. “You make it sound like we did something wrong when we started it.”

“That’s not what I meant. I think it was great back then, when we needed it, but we don’t anymore. We need to learn how to not be at war.”

“And how would we even have time for a duelling club?” added Ron. “We have practice twice a week, and classes and homework as well.”

Harry shrugged.

“Yeah, you’re probably right. It was a bad idea, forget about it.”

“Don’t get me wrong, it was great back in fifth-”

“But you’re right, we wouldn’t have time for it now,” said Harry.

“You could try asking Ginny or Neville about it, but I think they’d agree with me,” said Hermione.

“Yeah, forget I said anything.”

He stood up.

“I think I’ll head back out for a bit, actually. I’ll just fly a short trip around the grounds.”

He picked up his Firebolt.

“You’re not angry, are you?”

“No, not at all. I just need some air. I already finished the paper for Muggle Studies anyway,” he said, indicating Hermione’s roll of parchment.

“Seriously?” asked Ron, looking almost betrayed.

“Yeah, so I’ll see you later,” he said, heading for the portrait.

 o

Harry walked down the stairs towards the Entrance Hall with his broom over his shoulder. It was probably true what Hermione said, that a duelling club might bring back bad memories of last year, but Harry certainly wasn’t too busy for it. He had expected that with Voldemort out of his head for good, he would be able to sleep better at night, knowing that his nightmares weren’t invasive, legilimency-induced visions of reality. But now his sleep was restless and light, he often woke up several times in one night, if he could fall asleep at all. As far as he knew, his dorm mates hadn’t noticed his insomnia yet. They didn’t know how often he left the dorm to go walking around the school at night, when he couldn’t stop thinking. Not that the walks usually helped much with that. More often than not, he returned to his bed even more agitated, and he couldn’t get through an entire day of school when he hadn’t slept at all, so instead he had started doing his homework at night. By now he had read at least a chapter ahead in all of his classes and he didn’t have a single unfinished written assignment left. He couldn’t remember ever being that well on top of his school work, but since doing homework at night freed up a lot of time during the day, it also meant that even with quidditch practice three times a week, he had more leisure time than he knew how to spend. He had hoped that the new defence against the dark arts professor might create a duelling club or some other sort of extra curricular activity. He didn’t think fighting would make him think more of the war than he already did or bring out more bad memories than he already had, and he definitely preferred some action packed distraction to quiet reminiscence. But apparently both Jenkins and McGonagall shared Hermione’s views on fighting-related activities and Harry grew bored and restless and had all the time in the world to spend thinking about dead people. Dumbledore, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Moody, Fred, Dobby, Lavender Brown, Colin Creevy, Cedric Diggory, Crabbe, and all those kids he didn’t know at the battle of Hogwarts, the list was endless, and he couldn’t stop going over it again and again in his head. It left him guilty and angry and feeling absolutely powerless. At least when he was fighting Voldemort he had been actively trying to make the world better. Now that he was gone, Harry couldn’t do anything anymore, and it didn’t feel like the world was fixed. It didn’t feel that way at all. 

He passed through the great oak doors and out into the chill evening air. It wasn’t completely dark yet. Great clouds were rolling over the skies like soft mountains, coloured gold and rose by the last rays of sunlight. Autumn was coming and though the day had been fairly warm, the temperature was dropping quickly. His school robes were charmed to adjust to the weather within a certain limit, and they would be fine for flying, even if they weren’t as good as his quidditch robes. Harry mounted his broom and kicked off. He sped upwards, accelerating to greater height as his mind went quiet, his thoughts unable to keep up, and blind relief surged through him. He headed towards the forest.

The airspace above the Forbidden Forest was just as off-limits to students as the forest itself and flying over it was not allowed. But it was beautiful from above and there was a certain appeal to the thought that his flight over the dark treetops included some element of danger. He dropped and swooped low over the trees. The forest stretched for miles in every direction and though the leaves were yellowing, they still clung to the branches, and the foliage hid almost everything below. However, once or twice he caught a glimpse of movement in a clearing or eyes glinting in the trees and a jolt of adrenaline went through him. Far away he saw a thestral gliding in circles against the quickly darkening sky and then head of towards the mountains. Harry changed direction and followed it.

Students of Hogwarts were not allowed to leave the school grounds except for Hogsmead weekends or with special permission, but as he rushed through the air and left the castle further and further behind, Harry decided that he deserved to take advantage of the fact that for the first time in seven years there was no immortal, dark wizard out there plotting to kill him.

Chapter Text

Draco had claimed the armchair by the fireplace in the elegant Slytherin common room and was flipping through the Prophet from that morning, reading the headlines and skimming the articles. He was half listening to Daphne, Tracey and Millicent’s conversation. The returned seventh years had claimed this corner of the common room as their own, and it wasn’t long before Pansy joined them as well. The conversation broke of when Blaise showed up.

“Where have you been?” asked Tracey eagerly. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to you all day.”

“I had to go to the library.”

“What happened? Is it true you attacked a Hufflepuff?”

Blaise slid gracefully into one of the empty chairs.

“I didn’t attack anyone. Hasn’t Daphne or Pansy told you?”

“She just said you were being an idiot and didn’t elaborate further,” said Daphne. “And I didn’t have anything to add.”

“I wasn’t being an idiot. It’s not like she was the first one to act like that, right? It’s been like this all year, disrespect and unfair judgement from all the other houses, even Ravenclaw. Someone had to speak up sooner or later, remind them that their insolence is unacceptable.”

“They won’t respect you just because you throw curses at them,” said Pansy. “You’re just confirming their prejudices.”

“Well, I didn’t just throw curses at her, did I? I reminded her of what she did last year. I mean, after the Carrows none of us are entirely innocent. How many students actually refused to practice the dark magic they were teaching us? And everyone was telling on everyone, that was just how it was.”

“Yes, that was the other houses just as much as it was Slytherin,” said Tracey.

“All off Slytherin House has lost status because of a few individuals. Of course there are several noble and ancient pureblood houses that are known for their associations with the dark arts, but that’s not the same as supporting a madman like Voldemort. No true noble would ever have become a servant, and yet people seem to be confused as to which pure families proved themselves to be true and which ones were the Voldemort-supporters.”

Draco folded up his newspaper quietly.

“But it should be quite obvious. The actual Death Eaters were either as mad as Bellatrix Lestrange, or they were desperately old fashioned and pathetically naïve about the Dark Lord’s intentions,” Blaise continued, now looking directly at Draco.

“There’s no reason that should reflect back on us. You can’t hold kids accountable for what their parents did,” said Pansy, managing to make it sound like they were still having a conversation.

“No, I absolutely agree with you. But we are all representatives of our families, aren’t we? And it would be ridiculous if the reputation of the entirety of Slytherin House and all the noble families of Britain was ruined by a few corrupted people, who were too eager to grovel in front of some self-proclaimed lord, right?”

Draco stood up.

“Is something wrong, Draco?” asked Tracey innocently.

Blaise grinned at Draco, an excessively charming flash of white teeth.

“Don’t you agree with me?” he asked.

“I’m tired, I’ll go to bed. Goodnight,” he said and headed for the dorms with long, even strides.

He heard Daphne speaking softly, he couldn’t make out the words, but the others laughed. He was shaking when he reached the stairs. His fingers twitched, he wanted to strangle someone, to beat holes through the walls, and he was going to explode from forcing himself not to stomp up the steps – he was out of sight, but they might still hear him. He couldn’t even slam the door to their dorm, but as soon as it clicked shut behind him he had his wand out.

Homenum revelio,” he hissed.

Nothing happened. Only then did he allow himself to scream. He kicked angrily at his bed and then his empty suitcase under it. He threw his wand on the bedside table and started beating one of his pillows, sinking his fist into it again and again and again, and it did nothing to ease the twisting anger in his stomach or the burning humiliation stretching under his skin.

“Merlin, Draco, would you calm down?”

He stopped the pounding immediately. Pansy stood in the doorway, watching him with her arms crossed in front of her.

“Why?”

“You’re embarrassing yourself.”

“No one’s here.”

“I’m here.”

“I don’t care.”

“You should, I’m your friend, remember? You don’t have as many of those as you used to.”

“Didn’t you hear him?” he hissed.

“I heard them. I think you could have handled it better.”

How?”

She shrugged.

“You knew it was coming. What did you think Blaise was going to do? Just continue to be pals with you after being publicly called a Death Eater? People might interpret what he did as him defending you, and you know he doesn’t want that. He’s playing politics, and being friends with you doesn’t benefit him in the least.”

“I couldn’t just sit there and listen to him talk about my father like that.”

“He wasn’t talking about your father.”

Draco’s jaw was working, his hands clenching and unclenching.

“They’re headed for the astronomy tower. I’m going to go with them, but I said I’d check on you first. I don’t suppose you’re coming?”

He shook his head.

“I’m not.”

“See you later then,” she said and left.

He sat unmoving on his bed for close to a minute. When he finally stood it was with forced, excessive calm. He picked up his wand from the table and placed it back in its holster. He walked down the stairs to leave the Slytherin dungeon while the common room was free and before anyone returned to his dorm. He wouldn’t be back until he felt absolutely certain they were all asleep. Perhaps he should also get up early in the morning, before any of them woke up. Minimal interaction seemed to be the best strategy for now, he needed some time to think. He should have tried to analyse the situation, figure out how to handle it, how to best run damage control, possibly spin it to his advantage and definitely plot how to take Blaise down for good, but is thoughts kept slipping. Out in the empty halls, even productive anger was hard to hold onto. He ascended to the upper floors without managing any more useful plans than a satisfying fantasy about pushing certain individuals into great, roaring fires. They all knew it wasn’t his fault, that she would have called them Death Eaters whether they walked around with Draco or not. It was almost like the silly Hufflepuff was in on some great conspiracy to take him down, along with everyone else in the whole wizarding world. It might have helped his situation a little bit, he thought, if he hadn’t looked so much like his father. He had no trouble imagining how his friends saw him now: He simply had to conjure up an image of what Lucius had become in the last months of the war. He had seen his father slowly fall apart, had seen the powerful, lethal, elegant and dignified wizard he had admired shrink back into exactly the type of person Blaise had described – grovelling, weak, mad with fear and pathetic. Draco had never thought he would see his father become pathetic. He had never thought he might see himself become pathetic.

Lost in comfortable self-pity, Draco drifted down empty corridors and followed changing staircases randomly. The halls were empty and quiet this time of night, since only seventh year Slytherins had classes, and they were all away in the Astronomy tower with their star-charts and arithmancy books. He soon found himself in a part of the castle he didn’t know. It had grown dark outside and he saw his own passing reflection in the black glass of the windows. There was the soft glow of oil lamps in some corridors, and magical, sourceless light in others. Even when deserted, the halls of Hogwarts had an unpleasant, occupied quality, and he soon got the sense that someone was listening, following him, that they were breathing just quietly enough for him to be unable to trace the sound. Powerful magic could have that effect on you; he knew there were no real sounds in the corridor apart from his own footsteps and the low mutterings of people in paintings, but after a while he resigned and pulled out his wand, chiding himself for being paranoid and childish. He passed a portrait of a fat woman in an extravagant, pink dress. She was fast asleep, resting her head against the frame of the painting and snoring loudly. He thought perhaps he recognized her, but it might just be that she was some noble woman he had seen paintings of before.

“What are you doing here?” called a voice, loud, hard and accusatory.

Draco flinched at the sound. He spun round, raising his wand as he did so, his heart pounding hard in his chest. At the other end of the hall stood Potter with his wand in one hand and his broom in the other. His hair was even more of a mess than usual, his robes looked windswept and dishevelled and he wore en expression of tense surprise and suspicion on his face. Draco’s pulse was still hammering, a surge of adrenaline pouring through him and curses ready on his tongue, but right beneath the sudden rush of alarm, he felt drained. Despite all his hatred for the self-righteous prat, he didn’t have the energy for a confrontation. Not tonight. Potter was another living reminder of all the ways in which Draco had failed.

“Had a nice flight, Potter? It’s past curfew, you know,” he drawled.

He forced himself to relax his stance. Potter walked a few steps closer. His eyes didn’t leave Draco for a second and he held his wand level and aimed at Draco’s chest. He wondered vaguely if he would still be able to beat Potter in a duel.

“I asked you a question.”

Draco shrugged.

“Just taking a walk. Would you mind not pointing that thing at me?”

“Yeah, I would mind. Why are you walking here?”

“Well, since I live in this castle that does make it a very convenient place for me to walk. I have a hard time seeing how this can bother you, Potter. You’re also not allowed to curse me, so I suggest you stop waving your wand in my face,” he said.

“Put yours away first.”

Draco shrugged.

“Sure,” he said.

Slowly and with exaggerated care he placed the wand back in his pocket and held up his empty hands.

“There. Have we gotten a little paranoid lately?”

Potter finally lowered his hand, though he still looked just as belligerent.

“I’ve had good reason to.”

“Well if you start acting like Mad-Eye Moody, the Prophet might change their angle on you again. Not that I would mind, I do think they were onto something with that whole “Potter the nutter”-series. It might help deflate your ego a bit as well.”

“Shut up, Malfoy. Why are you out past curfew?”

Draco almost laughed. It was so typical of Potter to feel entitled to stick his nose in other people’s private business. Not that it would stay Draco’s private business for long - he knew what Blaise and Tracey were like; the whole school would probably know about it before lunch the next day.

“I had a fight with my dorm mates,” he said, watching for Potter’s reaction, “so I thought I’d keep out of their way.”

Potter only looked surprised for a second before he snapped back into paranoia.

“You all seemed to be getting along pretty well earlier today.”

Draco rolled his eyes - it was like speaking to a troll.

“Well you see, that’s how it works with fights. Before the fight people get along and afterwards they don’t,” he explained.

“What did you fight about?”

“That’s none of your business. Now may I remind you that I am not the only one who is out past curfew, and I suspect that our new headmistress might punish even the chosen one for breaking school rules. Personally, I’m not enjoying this conversation in the least, so unless you’re going to hex me in the back when I turn around, I’m going to leave.”

“Sure, piss off, Malfoy.”

“Manners, Potter. You are our saviour after all, you could at least try to act like you weren’t raised in a barn, so as not to embarrass the rest of us.”

Draco turned to leave.

“Isn’t it time you knocked that off?” said Potter.

Draco looked back.

“What?”

“Your arrogant arsehole thing – you can’t honestly think you’ve got any reason to act like you’re better than the rest of us anymore.”

Draco sneered.

“It’s a way of coping with your presence,” he said.

Potter didn’t rise to the insult.

“Why did you come back to Hogwarts?” he asked

Draco hesitated. Potter wasn’t just telling him to fuck off. There was real curiosity in his voice, and also something else, something that made him feel immediately sick – pity. He did not need Potter to feel sorry for him.

“I had to. Goodnight Potter,” he said firmly.

And he stalked off before Potter had time to start talking again. He went back the way he had come, down the hall until he reached the stairs. It was the second time he had run into Potter like this – did he never sleep? It seemed like quite an achievement that they had managed to meet twice with no witnesses and hadn’t tried to kill each other off. Perhaps he should go back and start a duel after all – he could use the distraction and he still had about an hour to kill before he could return to the dungeons. He headed for the library instead, where he could borrow ink and parchment. He wasn’t stupid enough to go around fighting in the corridors and besides, he hadn’t written his mother since he left for school.

Half an hour later he watched his owl soar soundlessly out of one of the owlery windows. The sky was black and starless, and he quickly lost sight of her in the dark.

 o

When he finally returned to the common room the house-elves had been there and it was as tidy and proper as the rooms at Malfoy Manor. He found the books he had left earlier in a neat stack on the polished wood of the table by the fire. There were still glowing embers in the fireplace, they were the only source of light in the room, so it took a moment before he noticed that Pansy was half asleep in one of the soft armchairs with an open book in her lap.

“Pansy?”

She opened her eyes.

“Draco?” she said, straightening up. “Hi, wow, you’re late.”

She closed her book and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“Why are you still up?” he asked.

“Oh, I was reading up on some things for tomorrow and drifted off for a second.”

She had been waiting up for him.

“You should’ve gone to sleep,” he said. “It’s late.”

She yawned.

“You’re telling me? You’ll get detention being out after curfew. It isn’t worth it.”

“I couldn’t stand dealing with them for one more second tonight.”

“I know.”

He picked up his books.

“I’m going to bed.”

“Draco…”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Fine, just don’t overreact on this, please. If you could just stop making everything about your future political career this wouldn’t be such a big deal.”

“It’s not a big deal, just a minor set back. And it was humiliating.”

“Okay, well I know you don’t like Tracey and Millicent, but they’re nicer than your other friends, so you could always just join us.”

He looked into the fireplace where the embers had gotten hold of a crumpled up piece of parchment and little flames were flaring up.

“It’s not all politics,” she said.

“I’m a Malfoy.”

“You’re an idiot.”

He cracked a tired smile.

“Whatever you say. Please let me go up to my dorm now,” he said. “The others are asleep, right?”

She stood up.

“Yes, I think so. All sane people are.”

“Good. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” she said.

She patted his arm and crossed the common room to the stairs to her dormitory. Draco watched her leave, then headed for his own bed.

Chapter Text

It was Friday afternoon and Harry, Ron and Hermione were lying in the grass by the lake near an old willow tree. It was the end of September, but autumn hadn’t quite set in yet and this was another warm day with sun from a clear blue sky. Ron had brought wizard's chess with him and Hermione had finally conceded to let him teach her how to play.

“I think something is up with Malfoy,” said Harry.

Hermione looked up from the chessboard.

“You do?”

“Doesn’t he seem a bit… off to you?”

“Not at all,” said Ron. “He’s just as big an idiot as usual.”

He looked at Hermione, who shrugged.

“I don’t know, I haven’t really been paying attention to him.”

“I ran into him right outside the common room last night.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows in surprise.

“Really? What was he doing there?”

“He wouldn’t tell me. He said he had a fight with the other Slytherins.”

“Fat chance, they all adore him. Do you think he’s plotting something?” asked Ron.

“I don’t know.”

Hermione frowned.

“I don’t see why he would be plotting anything.”

“Revenge,” said Ron. “On Harry, for killing Voldemort.”

“He can’t want revenge, Harry saved his life. And I don’t think Malfoy was all that fond of Voldemort…”

“But why would he be sneaking around the entrance to Gryffindor?”

“Did know he was near our common room?”

“Probabl, he was looking right at the portrait of the fat lady.”

“That is weird. But it could have been a coincidence.”

“Doesn’t sound very likely,” said Ron.

“It doesn’t sound very likely that he’s plotting something against Harry either. The war probably took its toll on him too, it makes sense if he acts a bit different this year.”

“Yeah, maybe…” Harry said.

“What I don’t get,” said Ron, “is how he managed to avoid Azkaban.”

Harry looked away, down towards the lake where some frustrated Hufflepuff-kid was trying to teach his classmates how to play football. He hadn’t told Ron and Hermione much about Malfoy’s trial.

“They did switch sides,” he said. “Right at the end.”

“Yes, but how is that enough to get him off for attempted murder, cursing and probably torturing people, being pals with Bellatrix Lestrange and having Voldemort hanging around his house? If I were on the Wizengamot I would be thrilled at a chance to lock him away.”

“But Malfoy hated being a Death Eater, didn’t he? And he was very young when he joined.” said Hermione.

“Oh come on, just admit they made a mistake when they let him go. He has Voldemort’s mark burned into his skin, they can’t let him off just for saying he’s sorry. At least they could have forbidden him from ever coming back to Hogwarts. Right, Harry?”

“Yeah.”

“It wouldn’t make sense for the Wizengamot to clear him of charges and then not allow him to finish his education.”

“Well we can’t all live in a state of heightened moral understanding, and I know I would be a lot happier with being back at school if I didn’t have to see his face in the hallways.”

Hermione sighed.

“I probably would too. Okay, so how did the knights move again? Can I do this?” she asked, and took out one of Ron’s bishops.

“Oh. Yeah you can, I hadn’t seen that.”

She grinned triumphantly.

The warmth lingered and they stayed outside for the rest of the afternoon. Dean, Seamus and Hannah Abbott joined them under the willow later on and overall it was very pleasant, except Harry felt like they might have dismissed the issue of Malfoy a little too quickly. He didn’t bring it up again, but he couldn’t stop worrying and their apparent carelessness annoyed him. When they went to the Great Hall for dinner, he kept an eye on the Slytherin table as it filled up. Malfoy wasn’t with Blaise Zabini and Daphne Greengrass, or with Tracey Davis, Millicent Bulstrode and Pansy Parkinson, who came in shortly after the other two. In fact, he didn’t show up until the food had already appeared on the tables, and when he did he was by himself.

“There he is,” said Harry, when Malfoy came through the doors.

“Hm?”

“He’s on his own so he could have been telling the truth, but what do you think they could have fought about?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Will you pass me the quiche?”

Malfoy ate quickly and as far as Harry could tell from across the Great Hall, he wasn’t talking to anyone. But he didn’t leave until Pansy Parkinson and Tracey Davis stood up first, and then he followed them out. He was about to point this out to the others when he caught Hermione looking at him disapprovingly.

“What?”

She shrugged.

“Nothing,” she said and returned to her food.

o

After dinner Harry, Ginny, Ron and Dean headed down to the quidditch pitch. Hermione came with them, and Seamus had been immersed in a debate with Ron and Ginny about British quidditch teams, so he walked some of the way with them too, but before they even reached the hallway, the discussion had become exclusively Ron and Ginny’s. Dean and Seamus were sending each other significant looks behind their backs when Ron started accusing Ginny of disloyalty:

“Of course I’m still a Cannons fan, I’m just saying-“

“I thought you were all about the Harpies now?”

“Well, obviously they’re the better team, but it’s not like I can’t support Chudley Cannons too. And no matter how much you like them it’s obvious they made a mistake with Crowley as seeker. Ernie agrees with me.”

“Ernie is a Tornados fan.”

“That’s just a family thing, like you and Bill with the Cannons, that doesn’t mean he can’t be objective – and I don’t even know why you’re defending the Crowley decision…”

Harry felt a hand on his arm.

“Harry?” said Hermione.

He turned to look at her and didn’t hear the rest of Ginny’s sentence.

“Can I talk to you for a second?”

“Sure.”

He fell into step beside her.

“What is it?”

Hermione shifted her bag onto the other shoulder in a half-shrug. She didn’t say anything until the others had gotten a few feet ahead, and when she did she spoke quietly.

“The Malfoy thing,” she said, “I think you should drop it. I can tell you’re about to get yourself really worked up about it, and I honestly don’t think there’s anything going on. Nothing serious and nothing that concerns us anyway. If he’s having a fight with his friends, then fine, let him.”

“But what if he’s up to something?”

“I really don’t think he is. I think you’re bored and you’re trying to make up problems where there aren’t any.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t do that.”

She shrugged.

“Okay, good. Obviously if you do see Malfoy trying to feed poison to first years you should tell us, just don’t spend all your time stalking him on the Marauder’s Map or anything.”

“I’m not an idiot,” he snapped.

They had stopped, the others disappearing out of sight ahead of them.

“Sorry, I just thought I’d say something.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, I appreciate it.”

“Why are you like this?” she was still almost whispering. “Is this because you aren’t sleeping? You look tired all the time.”

“I’m sleeping just fine.”

She crossed her arms.

“Okay, fine. We’re all trying to readjust, you know.”

“You don’t have to be my mom.”

“I’m trying to be your friend and-“

He waved dismissively.

“I get it, but it’s fine. Don’t worry. We talked about everything over the summer, right? I have to get down to practice now, but I’ll see you later.”

“Fine,” she said.

Harry left her there and walked down the hall after the others.

Harry stayed behind after practice as the rest of the team went back to the common room.

“I just want to fly a bit longer,” he told Ron. “I’ll be up in an hour or so.”

It was easier for him to fall asleep when he was exhausted, so he repeated the trip from the night he ran into Malfoy, and flew over the forbidden forest. The size of it was amazing. There had to be some sort of magical way to keep it off muggle-maps like there was with Hogwarts. He would have to ask Hermione or possibly Neville about it, and about whether wizards had hidden the forest or if it was its own magic. Of course it had to be big if there was an entire herd of centaurs in there, a herd of tame thestrals, a nest of acromantulas and still enough space left that Hagrid had been able to hide Grawp. And since none of those places had been too far a walk from the school grounds the forest was probably folding space within itself as well, like Hermione had theorized that the room of requirement had done.

 o 

Harry flew over the forest the next night too, and the night after it, and for three days he felt better. Less anxious, less angry, less out of place. School was manageable, Ron and Hermione were easy to be around. Then on the night between Wednesday and Thursday, his nightmares came back. He woke up gasping for air and covered in sweat. He scrambled frantically around in the darkness, groping for his wand and feeling his heart pounding hard and hectic under his ribs. He could still sense the screaming, see the snake and the inhuman face, the graveyard, the bodies. His fingers closed around the handle of the wand tucked away under his pillow.

Lumos.”

He was at Hogwarts. He was safe. They were still alive.

Nox,” he whispered.

The darkness returned. He lay back down and closed his eyes. Restlessness clawed at his chest. He concentrated on his breathing, almost drifted off to sleep, but then jerked awake when he felt the dream starting over. He wouldn’t get any more sleep that night. Slowly he drew back the hangings around his bed, letting in the sound of rain pattering against the windows. He pulled the Marauder’s Map out of his trunk and crept back into bed.

Lumos. I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”

He wondered if the swear would still work if it wasn’t true when you said it. He honestly couldn’t remember if he had ever used the map without going against either school rules or with the deliberate intent of not following someone’s advice. He tried not to think about what Hermione had said and he tried not to feel silly. He wasn’t being silly – he just couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t sleep and the creeping sense of coming disaster had returned. He felt that if something did go wrong this year, it would be his fault. If Malfoy was plotting something or if Death Eaters were breaking into Hogwarts or Voldemort was somehow coming back to life, he was the one who had to stop it. Not that he really believed any of those things were happening, it was just a feeling. He knew what Ron and Hermione – and Ginny and probably everyone else – would say if he told them. But it didn’t matter that it wasn’t rational, it didn’t make it go away. So he found the Slytherin common room on the map and he checked and double-checked, and his heart rate picked up when he realized that Malfoy wasn’t in his dorm. Since all the other students were clustered around the common rooms, it didn’t take long to find the dot labelled Draco Malfoy, which was on its own, out of bounds and headed towards the owlery. Harry took a deep breath and for a second tried half-heartedly to dissuade himself from what he knew he was about to do anyway. Then he swung his feet over the edge of the bed, got dressed in a hurry, and left his dorm with the marauder’s map in hand.

 o

Draco was making his way to the owlery. A breath of cold air brushed against his skin as he reached the top of the stairs, the scent of coming winter was in the air and mixed with the smell of the owls. It was too dark to see any but the nearest birds, but the soft rustling of their feathers gave a sense of the hundreds of animals in the room. They swooped in and out the glassless windows, hunting on the Hogwarts grounds and returning with their prey. He crossed the straw-covered floor and headed towards one of the openings in the wall, an empty archway facing the lake. He had only just sat down on the ledge when he thought he heard the sound of footsteps. Someone else was coming up the stairs. He swore under his breath. Of course he didn’t expect to be the only one who had designated this particular corner of the school to be their place of privacy, but no one was supposed to be there now.

He kept an eye on the top of the staircase and got just a glimpse of magical light before it was extinguished. Draco tensed – whoever it was, they had no reason to try not to be seen if they thought no one was up here. Soundlessly he lowered his feet back onto the floor and crept a few feet along the wall. From where he stood, he would see the person on the stairs before they saw him. He drew his wand and watched as the figure appeared. Then he recognized the silhouette.

“Potter?” he called. “What the fuck are you doing up here?”

Potter started. He looked around, taking a second to place Draco’s voice and spot him in the darkness. Draco sighed inwardly. Running into Potter alone at night could happen twice and still be a coincidence. Three times, and it began to look ridiculous.

“Are you stalking me?” he asked.

Potter glanced down at a shabby piece of parchment he was carrying and hesitated a second too long.

“You are!”

“I’m not!”

“What is wrong with you?”

“Why are you up here?” Potter shot back at him, the second of embarrassment already passed.

He was back to being the self-proclaimed protector of Hogwarts, which to him apparently meant dedicating his time to bothering Draco every moment he was awake.

“That is none of your business,” Draco spat. “Why do you even care?”

“I don’t. And I’m not stalking you.”

“Then I don’t know what it is you think you’re doing,” he said, “because usually, when you follow people around to spy on them, that is considered stalking.”

“Don’t act like you haven’t given me reason to!” said Potter, stepping towards him. “You’re the one who’s acting suspicious, suddenly not talking to your friends and skulking around outside Gryffindor tower in the middle of the night.”

“What are you on about?”

He saw Potter’s grip tighten around his wand.

“You know what I’m talking about,” he said.

“No,” said Draco. “I honestly have no idea.”

“Fuck you, Malfoy. I swear, if you’re plotting anything-“

“Plotting? Are you serious? I’m done spending my time doing stupid shit just to piss you off, alright, I’m not a kid anymore. And the war is over, I’m lucky to not be in prison, you think I’m about to throw that away on some stupid revenge-scheme?”

“I don’t know, are you? Doesn’t look like you’ve changed much to me.”

“The whole wizarding world knows you have terrible eyesight.”

“Just tell me what you’re doing.”

“You are aware that I’m an excellent liar, right?”

“I can probably get some veritaserum.”

The threat came almost casually, but Draco was oddly certain that he wasn’t bluffing. Saint Potter was actually considering poisoning him to get him to – do what, exactly? Spill his evil plans of taking over the world and become the next Dark Lord?

“You owe me,” Potter continued. “I saved your life in the room of requirement.”

Draco wanted to hex him just for bringing that up. He hadn’t told anyone but Pansy about it. He could just imagine what his mother would make of it. She had already forgiven Potter for everything he had done to their family. If she found out that Draco owed him his life, she would never let him live it down.

“I’m aware of that,” he said coolly. “You also left my friend to die.”

“It was his own fault,” said Potter, but he glanced away when he said it. “He started the fire.”

Draco was surprised to hear regret in his voice. He hadn’t thought Potter cared.

“I saved your life too,” he said. “Back at the manor. If I had told them it was you, the Dark Lord would have killed you all.”

Potter looked weirdly at him. Draco shouldn’t have mentioned it. He’d just wanted some leverage, but dredging up that awful moment was definitely uncalled for.

“Yeah,” Potter said. “I know. I mean, I thought you recognized me, I wasn’t sure.”

There was an uncomfortable stretch of silence. Draco didn’t know what to say and he didn’t know what Potter wanted from him or why he was suddenly so interested. Draco hadn’t actually saved him, he had just refrained from killing him.

“So why didn’t you tell them?” said Potter.

“Don’t flatter yourself thinking it was for your sake, I was just scared shitless-“

Potter scoffed.

“You were scared? Of what? He would have rewarded you. Handing me over would have fixed everything for you, I imagine.”

“You think? I don’t know if you noticed, but the Dark Lord generally wasn’t very forgiving. I didn’t particularly enjoy having him in my house.”

“Your parents did.”

“My father did, yes. He was getting quite desperate.”

“So why not-“

“I didn’t want to see you dead, Potter. Or fed to that awful snake, I just- I wanted out. I wanted it to be over.”

“Why did you stay there, then?"

Draco rolled his yes.

"Why do you think?"

"I don't know," said Potter. "I have no idea, actually. I know you’re an arrogant prat and you think being pureblood makes you better than other people, but it’s still quite a jump from being a spoiled brat and an arse at school to taking the Dark Mark. I actually can't imagine why anyone would want to be a Death Eater in the first place unless they were mad.”

Draco could, all too easily. He had wanted to be important.

“You wouldn’t understand,” he said.

“Dumbledore said he’d protect you and your mother. You could have gone to the Order of the Phoenix or you could have stayed at Hogwarts in the room of requirement or-“

“You think they would have let me into the room of requirement? Really? I didn’t have a choice, Potter.”

“We always have a choice.”

Draco scoffed.

“That’s a nice thought, but coming from someone who lived his whole life according to a prophecy and some silly, old man pulling the strings, it sounds a bit hollow, doesn’t it? You waltz around with all your morals and heroic deeds and you might have saved everyone, but you were pushed in that direction. When we were 14, you didn’t make the decision to defy the Dark Lord, even if you think you did. You were Dumbledore’s puppet, and you had all those order members pointing you in that direction, telling you that was the right thing to do, and you believed them, because that’s what kids do: They believe the things adults tell them.”

Potter was staring at him.

“So don’t try to tell me about all the choices I had,” Draco continued. “When I realized I might want to get out, it wasn’t an option anymore.”

“I was at your trial,” said Potter.

Draco’s eyes snapped back to him, but Potter was looking past him now with a strange, uncomfortable expression on his face, as if he had just confessed something very embarrassing.

“I know,” Draco said.

He hadn’t known. He hardly remembered anything from the trial. It was all very hazy, he didn’t even have a sense of how long it had lasted, though in his head it stretched out for days. He remembered his mother holding on to him with fingers like claws and sobbing into his shoulder when it was over. Had Potter seen that? He must have been there as a witness, in which case it was an even greater miracle that Draco hadn’t ended up in Azkaban.

“I hardly recognized you,” Potter said.

“There were dementors.”

They weren’t looking at each other. Draco was growing more rigid by the second. The cold wind coming through the openings in the walls was biting at his neck and face as if to remind him what the creatures had felt like.

“Right,” said Potter. “Well, I saw you and I realized I hadn’t actually talked to you for a whole year or something. Not that we’ve ever actually talked, but I had the thought that… you know, lots of things have changed, so…”

Potter’s voice trailed off.

“What is this, Potter? A peace-offering?” he said with disbelief.

Potter shrugged.

“Might be.”

And there it was again – pity. Draco felt anger curling up inside him again, sharp and acidic, like vomit rising in his throat.

“You hate me,” he said, sounding indignant and childish, and hating himself for it. “You’ve hated me for no reason since our first day of school. You decided you were better than me because of something that happened to you when you were a baby, and you chose Weasley over me just to spite me, thinking you could do whatever the hell you wanted because you were Harry Potter.”

“What are you on about?”

“And now you think I’ll come crawling to you, the saviour of the fucking wizarding world, and ask for your forgiveness because you think I need you?”

The corners of Potter’s mouth twitched as if his face couldn’t decide which folds to fall into.

“You think you changed something, don’t you?” he continued, knowing he was being an idiot, but he had been wanting to shout at someone for months.

He hated Potter. He hated him so much.

“You think our world is different now, because of you.”

“It is,” said Potter.

Draco sneered.

“Really?” he said. “House Malfoy might have lost its political influence, that’s true, but who do you honestly expect to take its place? House Longbottom? I would say Zabini or Greengrass are both better guesses: Both ancient and noble houses with a rather more significant political history than any of the ancient houses tied to Gryffindor. Both houses are also known blood purists. I can count on two hands how many seats have opened in the Wizengamot now that you’ve flushed out the Death Eaters – one hand, probably, depending on how you define “open”. Soldiers don’t do politics, heroes rarely do politics, which means that outside of wars, they don’t have any power. Has it completely escaped your notice that that the wizarding government is an aristocracy, not a democracy?”

“So what?” said Potter aggressively.

Draco saw his wand twitch, but he kept speaking.

“So you might have defeated the Dark Lord,” he said, “and sent my father to Azkaban and stolen my legacy. You might have stopped muggleborns from being murdered in their homes and Death Eaters from terrorizing the school, but it’s still the same elite group of people who hold the power in this country, which means that everything is just as it’s always been. You might receive an Order of Merlin and your friends might become aurors, but one day my children will be sorted into Slytherin along with the Parkinsons, the Selwyns and the Zabinis and they will continue to rule.”

“You’re wrong.”

“You know I’m not.”

“They’ve kicked you out, haven’t they?” said Potter.
Draco hesitated.

“You're nothing to them," he continued. "Being a Malfoy isn’t much to brag about anymore. Are you really so sure you’re still part of that elite?"

Draco’s hands curled into tight fists.

“It seems we got side-tracked,” he said stiffly. “I believe that I must have answered your initial question by now. To summarize: I am not up to anything. The things that go on in Slytherin are nothing but what has always been going on in Slytherin. I would appreciate it if you’d stop stalking me and do something more productive with your time so that I can at least confine the time I am forced to spend with you to the classrooms. Goodnight.”

He pushed past Potter and made his way to the stairs.

He was halfway to the dungeons before he had calmed down enough to realize that he might have made a mistake. It had been clumsy and halfway unintentional, but Potter had offered him a truce. It was not what Draco wanted, he didn’t want any more favours from Potter, but it was valuable. Getting Harry Potter to change his mind about house Malfoy was very valuable. It could be a gateway to Potter’s faction, and even if they didn’t know how to use their status, he certainly did. The Slytherins had counted him out and he didn’t have many cards left to play. Saying no to this one might have been more than he could afford.

Chapter Text

Three weeks passed and Draco’s status in Slytherin didn’t improve. Zabini acted like he was air and made a point of not looking at him when they passed each other in the hallways. He ate his meals with Tracey Davis and Millicent Bulstrode when Pansy sat with them, or with Theodore Nott when she didn’t. But he had never really liked Pansy’s friends and he had a hard time keeping up a conversation with Nott, so after a while he just spent most of his time on his own. He became a regular in the library, where his solitude was less noticeable. He wrote two more letters to his mother, but didn’t send them.

And then they had Potions with the Gryffindors on the Thursday before a Hogsmeade weekend. Professor Slughorn was going over the instructions when Draco noticed Potter staring at him again. He had caught him at it a couple of times since they had run into each other in the owlery, and this time, Draco gave in. When Slughorn told them to get started, Draco waited and went to pick up his ingredients at the same time as Potter. He told himself he wasn’t accepting Potter’s help, that he was simply too Slytherin to reject an opportunity like this just to spare his pride. But there was also some part of him that found it disproportionally appealing to perceive this as an opportunity to get Potter to finally take back his rejection of Draco’s ancient offer of friendship, even to the extent that he didn’t care about admitting to himself that he hadn’t let it go entirely.

He leaned over the table and reached for the flowers of henbane that had been laid out.

“So, Potter,” he whispered and felt him jerk next to him. “Is that peace offering still standing?”

“Thought you didn’t need my help,” mumbled Potter without looking at him.

Draco replaced his flower with another, less crumpled one.

“I thought we might talk about it.”
Potter moved a few inches to the left, picking up a handful of acorns.

“Sure.”

“The Hog’s Head on Saturday at 3, then?”

Potter nodded almost imperceptibly, picked up his elderberry-leaf and returned to his seat. Draco stayed by the table, taking more time to pick out his ingredients than Potter had. When he returned to his cauldron he cast a quick glance towards Potter’s table to see if he was spilling everything to Granger and Weasley already, and he was relieved to see that he seemed to be keeping his mouth shut. He wondered if he would show up. It might have been Potter’s idea, but Draco was really the only one who had anything to gain from an alliance.

 o

When Saturday came, the weather was cold and grey and windy. Ron and Hermione wanted to stay back at the castle, so Harry joined Dean, Seamus, Ginny and Padma for their trip to Hogsmeade. They walked around the village for a while, shopping and looking at windows. Harry was too distracted to keep up with the conversation and constantly lagging behind. He was trying to figure out how to get away from the others and also seriously considering blowing the whole thing with Malfoy off. He had been agonizing over it since the night before, telling himself it was stupid and ridiculous, but he couldn’t make himself not go either. He had no idea what Malfoy could want them to talk about for long enough that they needed to meet in a pub outside of school, but he had to admit that he was curious. Malfoy was different this year. Despite what Harry had said to him in the owlery, he did think he had changed, though he only noticed it in glimpses. He knew Hermione was right, that he was worrying too much about him, so if nothing else, this was a chance to get some things cleared up. And he was spared having to come up with an excuse to leave the others: Around half past two it started drizzling, and they decided to go get butterbeer.

“I don’t care where, as long as it’s warm and dry,” said Ginny.

“The Hog’s Head?” suggested Padma. “For the nostalgia, you know. And the beer is cheap.”

Harry winced – he opened his mouth to protest but suddenly couldn’t think of a single good reason why they shouldn’t go there.

“It’s too far,” said Seamus. “The Three Broomsticks is right down here. We can visit Aberforth some other day, yeah?”

“I’m with Seamus,” said Dean.

Harry’s stomach unfurled from the tight knot it had so quickly been crumpled into.

“I uh… I need to go back and get some new quills, actually,” he said.

“You should have said so! We walked right past the bookstore earlier,” said Padma.

“Yeah, I forgot. You can just go on ahead, I’ll join you later.”

“Alright, we’ll save you a seat.”

“Thanks.”

He turned to walk back up the street they had come and unwound his scarf as he went. He turned to check the others had disappeared behind him before he wrapped the scarf around his head so it covered most of his face. So far there had been enough for the Prophet to write about that he didn’t have to worry too much about gossip about him, but he would still prefer to avoid even the risk of a Skeeter-like article with a headline involving “the snake and the lion” or some other ridiculous thing like that.

When he reached the pub, the soft drizzle had turned into heavy rain. Harry ducked inside and slammed the door behind him. He tried to shake the rain out of his robes and unwrapped the scarf from his head, which had kept his hair mostly dry. The pub was almost empty and of course Malfoy wasn’t there. Harry could hear the rain hammering down on the roof and ricocheting from the windows when caught by a particularly strong gust of wind – trying to get back to the others at The Three Broomsticks would be ridiculous. He would just have to stay until the rain stopped and hope that Malfoy had only gotten cold feet or regretted his invitation and not bothered to tell Harry, and that this wasn’t some stupid trick meant to get him in trouble, like the things he had pulled when they were younger. Feeling both irritated and immensely stupid, Harry went up to the counter to order a butterbeer.

“Potter!” called a voice from behind him.

Harry started and turned around, ready to explain away his presence at the pub, and saw Malfoy sitting by a table in a corner of the room where he hadn’t been visible from the door. Harry hesitated for a second by the counter before he walked over and pulled out a chair. Malfoy smirked at him. Both his hair and his clothes were dry and he looked as pristine as ever.

“I see you got caught in the rain.”

“This isn’t a very good place to meet if you wanted to be discreet,” said Harry quietly.

Malfoy raised an eyebrow.

“Really?”

“Yeah. When Dumbledore’s Army was established we met here and we were overheard. People hide their faces, so we don’t know who’s listening.”

“We’ll be fine,” said Malfoy with a shrug. “It doesn’t matter if we’re overheard. What we want to avoid is people from school finding out about this meeting, as that would be rather embarrassing for both of us, wouldn’t it? And in that respect this place is a much better option than The Three Broomsticks.”

“There has to be other pubs in Hogsmeade than this and The Three Broomsticks.”

“Well, this is also the only place where we can buy firewhisky. He doesn’t care that we’re in school,” said Malfoy, gesturing towards Aberforth, who was in the middle of pouring a greenish liquid into the glasses of two figures at the bar wearing identical, broad rimmed hats with black veils hanging down from them.

“Of course, as a Malfoy I used to be able to buy whatever I wanted anywhere, but that isn’t the case anymore...”

“Right,” said Harry and cast another glance around the inn.

Apart from the veiled figures the only other person in there was a crumpled, dust coloured man in the corner with at least ten greasy glasses in front of him.

“Look, you don’t have to worry, this is the most discreet table in here. Unless people actually come over they won’t hear us and we can’t be seen either,” said Malfoy.

“We used to come here last year when we needed to get away from snitches, and the barkeep gave us this table – and don’t look so surprised, Potter. Slytherins had things to hide from the Carrows too.”

“Sure. Fine,” he said and decided not to mention that apart from giving the Slytherin students a private place to talk, Aberforth had also been smuggling food for the DA through his inn. Or that he was Dumbledore’s brother, which Malfoy didn’t seem to be aware of either.

Harry watched as the old man filled two more glasses at the counter and then headed over to his and Malfoy’s corner with them.

“Firewhisky, was it?” he asked.

“Yes, thank you,” said Malfoy and the glasses were set down in front of them.

Aberforth gave Harry a quick glance before walking over to check if the crumpled man was still conscious.

“Don’t worry about him either,” said Malfoy. “He won’t talk, he knows people come here for privacy.”

“Did you order this?”

“What, the whisky? I figured we needed something stronger than butterbeer.”

“I can pay for my own drinks.”

“Of course you can, I’m just being polite. Cheers.”

Malfoy raised his glass and Harry mimicked him half-heartedly. He figured it was safe to drink when he had seen Aberforth pour it, but it smelled stronger than any alcohol he had tried before so he only dared a small sip. It was awful, sharp and bitter and burning, it was like having his taste buds wrenched apart and he swallowed so quickly he had to suppress a cough, though when he was done choking on it, the whisky did leave a pleasant burning sensation spreading down his throat.

“So you’re not used to strong alcohol?” asked Malfoy bemused.

He was still smirking at Harry.

“I haven’t had that many opportunities to drink.”

“No? I heard the Gryffindors get drunk on Hogsmeade trips as soon as they’re old enough to go.”

“I never thought of it.”

Malfoy was drinking his whisky with much more practice and grace than Harry. He seemed perfectly relaxed, almost like he was enjoying himself, and Harry was wondering when they would get to the point. His expression was impossible to read.

“Maybe you missed out. It does sound very much like something they would do, don’t you agree? To demonstrate their bravery.”

“There’s a difference between being brave and breaking rules for the fun of it,” said Harry.

“Yet judging from the students who are actually in your house, the sorting hat doesn’t seem to care very much about that distinction, does it?”

“I don’t know.”

“You ought to, you’re like a mascot to them – the heir of…”

“Cut it out, Malfoy.”

Malfoy stopped talking and lowered the glass, which he had just raised to his lips.

“What?”

“The smalltalk, just cut it out and get to the point.”

He raised an eyebrow – the movement was so perfect Harry suspected he might have practiced it in front of a mirror.

“You’re not in a hurry, are you? The weather is terrible, so I don’t think we’re going anywhere for a while.”

As if to underline his words, the wind hammered another loud round of raindrops against the windows. Harry was trying to think of something to say that wasn’t a string of curses, but having a civil conversation with Malfoy was quite possibly the most frustrating thing he had ever done. He had agreed to meet him only because the invitation had seemed like a big concession on Malfoy’s part and he thought he ought to be cooperative in return, at least to some extent. And then, Malfoy had been an arsehole when they talked in the owlery, but he had also seemed honest. Something about that talk, or fight or whatever it was, had felt like – not a solution, but it felt like direction. It had seemed important.

Now, however, every sentence that crept over Malfoy’s lips was sleek and glossy and Harry had no idea what their conversation was even about or why they were sitting there, drinking firewhisky together as if they were friends.

“Get to the point,” he repeated. “Or I’m leaving.”

“It seems just a tiny bit arrogant of you that you consider your company to be of such great importance that depriving me of it constitutes as a threat-“

“You asked me to meet you here,” said Harry, interrupting him. “You said you wanted to discuss a truce, so let’s do that.”

Malfoy set his glass down gently – he was about halfway through it. Harry had still only had a sip of his.

“Alright,” he said, his voice taking on a more business-like tone that still managed to be no less sleek or silky than before. “The last time we talked, you mentioned that you thought things had changed, and you suggested a truce. Or, you said something that could be interpreted as a peace offering, but I assume you would have corrected me by now if I was reading too much into it. So I thought we ought to meet and discuss what exactly this truce consists of.”

“I don’t see what there is to discuss. You swear that you aren’t plotting anything that’ll hurt me or my friends or Hogwarts or anyone else, and I’ll stop trying to figure out if you are. You stop antagonizing my friends and we don’t have to fight every time we see each other and we can stop hating each other for no reason and just pretend the other person doesn’t exist.”

Malfoy was wearing a mildly condescending smile.

“Well, that is exactly what we have to discuss. Those are all your terms of what a truce would entail – what I have in mind could be something entirely different.”

“What do you have in mind?” said Harry grudgingly.

Malfoy shrugged.

“I agree with most of what you said.”

He cleared his throat demonstratively and recited: “I swear that I am not plotting anything that will hurt you, your friends or anyone else. So you can stop stalking me now.”

“Fine. What about the rest?”

“I don’t think I have ever antagonized your friends.”

Harry stared at him.

“Are you serious?” he said. “You have been bothering everyone for years! You insult Ron’s family all the time and you wrote that stupid song about him when he became Gryffindor keeper-“

“Weasley has insulted my family just as often as I have insulted his, that’s just mutual dislike. And the song was a tactical thing, I knew it would mess him up and I wanted my team to win.”

There would be no truce. Harry was going to kick Malfoy’s teeth in.

“I didn’t come here to hear you make excuses for yourself,” he said.

“Oh, come on, Potter, you know it wasn’t all me,” Malfoy drawled.

Harry pushed back his chair and stood up.

“Potter – hey, wait!”

Harry looked back at him. The look on Malfoy’s face was urgent. He cast a quick glance around like he was embarrassed that he had called out so loudly.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry, alright? I know, I’ve been a shit to Weasley.”

“What about Hermione?” said Harry.

“What about her?”

“You’ve been calling her a mudblood every chance you got for the last seven years.”

“Yes, I’m sorry about that too. And I’ve stopped using that word anyway.”

Harry frowned.

“What do you mean you’ve stopped using it?”

“Exactly that. It used to remind people of my pure blood, noble birth and powerful family.”

Harry scoffed, Malfoy continued unperturbed:

“But now it’s associated with the fact that my father was a Death Eater, which I want them to forget about as soon as possible. So I don’t use it anymore.”

“You were a Death Eater too.”

Malfoy shot him a look.

“And I want them to forget about that as well.”

“Right. So you’ll stop bothering my friends?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes.

“Yes,” he said. “I’ve left you all alone this year, haven’t I?”

Harry pulled his chair out and sat back down.

“Ask the other Slytherins to stay away from them too.”

Malfoy looked exasperated.

“I thought you had caught on to the fact that I am no longer in a position where I can order my friends around,” he said.

The sleekness had faded from his voice. Harry hesitated.

“You said you had a fight with them.”

“Which means they are not my friends anymore.”

He said it very matter-of-factly.

“How does that work?”

Harry had a hard time believing that Malfoy’s friends would abandon him after a fight if they had stuck with him until this point. And though Harry had noticed Malfoy’s exclusion from his usual pack of Slytherins, the otherwise alert system of gossip within Hogwarts hadn’t picked up on it, which meant the fight, whatever it had been about, couldn’t have been too dramatic.

“Oh, I suppose Gryffindor is on the same page as Hufflepuff with this whole sentiment of “loyalty is a virtue and I will stand by my friends through everything until I die in an unnecessary but very admirable and self-sacrificing way”,” he said, “but Slytherin has always been more about allies than friends.”

He sounded proud of this. Harry had a hard time seeing the advantage to having allies if they were willing to abandon you without hesitation over something like a fight.

“That’s cold,” he said.

“It’s practical.”

“I don’t see the point of making friends that way.”

“That’s because you and I have very different approaches to the purpose of making friends and going to school. My house mates are heirs to the houses of Zabini, Greengrass, Nott, Parkinson and Bulstrode, and since I am the heir to the house of Malfoy, I can’t just base my friendships on whether or not I like these people, since later in life, they will have to be my political allies or they will be my rivals. We all do better if we don’t fight each other, and it’s easier to be allies than friends. Did you honestly think it was a coincidence that every single major pureblood family has its oldest child in our year?”

“What, they time when they have their kids?”

“Of course. The Selwyns messed up, but I’m sure they’re thrilled that Matthew is in our year now. No family would want their heir to be the one who was left out when the rest of Britain’s wealthiest witches and wizards meet with their old friends from school. The Malfoy family used to be the most powerful of the pureblood houses, we practically ran Britain. So they all knew they couldn’t afford not to be friends with me.”

“But now they’ve all decided to dump you?” said Harry.

“They think it’s too risky to associate with me. And by shunning my family for our association with you-know-who they make themselves look better and less like they were all quietly supporting him as well. Why do you think I’m even here in the first place? I wouldn’t need you if I still had them.”

Something clicked into place and Harry knew that Malfoy had said too much. The meeting made sense; the small talk and the firewhisky made sense.

“That’s what this is,” he said. “You want me to… absolve you from being a Death Eater or something.”
Malfoy’s smile was bitter and reluctant. He emptied his glass of whisky.

“You might have noticed that you’re the only one so far who has made any demands as to what our truce is going to entail,” he said.

“So what do you want me to do? Publicly declare that I was wrong all along and Draco Malfoy is actually a really nice bloke?”

“No, of course not. Everybody knows you hate me; they’d assume it was blackmail. I want us to stop hating each other for no reason, just as you suggested.”

“Fine with me.”

“But I don’t think we can achieve that by ignoring each other.”

“I don’t see why not.”

“Because you can’t just decide to stop hating someone. That’s not how people work – if we simply pretended the other person didn’t exist, our image of each other wouldn’t change, as there wouldn’t be another one to take its place.”

“Yeah? What’s your idea, then?”

“Drink the whisky, Potter, I promise it’ll make all of this more bearable. And remember, this is not a condition. I’m still going to keep the promises I made you earlier, whether you accept my suggestion or not, but I also propose that we get to know each other. You don’t have to publicly declare anything about me, though of course if an incident does occur where we have to interact in front of others, I hope you will be civil with me. It won’t be public, but it’s also not going to be a secret.”

“No,” he said flatly.

“Drink your whisky.”

“Why, did you put something in it?”

“No, I just bought it for you. You said it yourself that you didn’t know me and that lots of things have changed. Well, I can’t say I know you very well either.”

“We’re not going to be friends.”

“Why not?” said Malfoy, sounding almost earnest

And even though there ought to be thousands of possible answers to that question, Harry hesitated. The problem was that by meeting here and by their previous agreements, most of the reasons for their enmity had been suspended. His first answer would have been “because we hate each other,” but they were only having this conversation in the first place because the reasonability of that hatred had been called into question. He could have listed some of the terrible things Malfoy had done over the years, but in many of those instances they had been equally awful to each other, and even when they hadn’t, a war had happened since then. Harry wasn’t sure he had actually meant to suggest a truce when he said that things had changed, but the war did seem to have created a chasm between the “before” and “after”, and he wasn’t sure where those two worlds overlapped and where they didn’t.

“We just aren’t,” he said.

Malfoy shrugged and looked away.

“Okay,” he said.

“Okay,” repeated Harry.

And then there was silence. The rain wasn’t hammering as hard against the roof as before, but it was still pouring down out there. Harry took a gulp of whisky and tried not to grimace at the taste. Malfoy was swirling the remaining contents around in his own glass.

“We can be allies,” said Harry.

Malfoy looked up and Harry shrugged.

“We can do it the Slytherin way.”

A tight smile crossed Malfoy’s lips.

“Whatever pleases you, Potter. I never thought you had much interest in doing anything the Slytherin way.”

“The hat offered me Slytherin.”

He didn’t know why he said it. It wasn’t something he told people. He had spent all his years at Hogwarts trying to sever every tie he had to Slytherin. They had become secrets and things to be ashamed of. He had hated that house because he hated Malfoy, and because everything that tied Harry to Slytherin had also tied him to Voldemort.

Malfoy scoffed.

“What do you mean it offered you Slytherin? The hat doesn’t give suggestions, it just places you in the house that best fits your abilities.”

Harry thought he was feeling a slight buzz from the alcohol. Malfoy seemed more relaxed as well, but he wasn’t sure if it was because of the whisky or because Harry had conceded to the agreement.

“No, there’s a voice that speaks inside your head,” he said, though calling it a voice didn’t seem exactly right – when he tried to recall his sorting, he remembered how the words had appeared in his mind without bothering to pass through his ears first. “It kept saying I would do well in Slytherin, but Ron had already told me that it was the evil house, so I kept thinking that I didn’t want to go there and instead it put me in Gryffindor.”

“It didn’t speak to me.”

Harry shrugged.

“There wasn’t a lot of doubt about which house you belonged to, was there?”

“I suppose not. But it doesn’t really make sense if you can just choose a house. What is the point of sorting at all if you could just pick the place you want to go?”

“Maybe it just does it for people who fit into more than one house.”

“Did it tell Granger to go to Ravenclaw?” asked Malfoy.

“I don’t know, actually. I never asked her.”

“That’s interesting. Maybe it’s broken. After Longbottom you’re probably the least Slytherin student in all of Hogwarts.”

“Actually, I think you’re the only one who’s ever said that to me.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, and you’re the only one I know who doesn’t think it’s a compliment.”

Malfoy smirked.

“Think you would have done well in Slytherin, Potter?”

Harry shrugged.

“Don’t know. The hat said I would. It’s kind of hard to imagine.

“Dumbledore might have intervened and moved you to a more appropriately heroic house if you hadn’t insisted on going there yourself.”

“And if not, Snape would have kicked me out. There probably would’ve been more “Harry Potter is the Dark Lord reborn”-theories that weren’t in The Quibbler if I had been in your house.”

“Maybe not. I know lots of people who could have advised you on how to handle the media better.”

“What, you think Slytherins could have made it look good in second year when the Chamber was opened and everyone found out I was a parselmouth?”

“The parseltongue might have been hard to get around, but a good interview could have framed it better… And seriously, even when I was 10 I could handle public attention better than you did during the triwizard tournament.”

“Even if they hadn’t had to practically ask your father’s approval on everything they published?” asked Harry.

He was less annoyed by the insult than he thought he would have been, but there seemed to be surprisingly little spite in the statement. Besides, much as he hated admitting that there was anything Malfoy was better at than him, it was probably true.

“Yes,” said Malfoy. “Even then. I could give you a lesson some time. It looks like you won’t stop being a media darling just because you-know-who is gone.”

“You can say his name.”

Harry saw Malfoy’s fingers brush over his left arm. He didn’t seem aware of the movement himself.

“I don’t like to,” he said.

They fell quiet again.

 o

“It’s stopped raining,” said Malfoy.

Harry looked out the windows.

“Right. It has.”

“If everything is settled, then I suggest we get back to the castle. Do you want to leave first?”

“Sure.”

He stood.

“So I guess I’ll se you around,” he said.

“I guess you will. See you, Potter.”

Harry nodded, then left the pub and made his way back up to the castle under the looming, grey skies that promised more rain to come. As he crossed over the grounds from the gates to the main entrance, he decided that the meeting, in retrospect, hadn’t been all that terrible.

Chapter Text

Draco wasn’t sure how he felt about his first intentional meeting with Potter. Objectively speaking, it had gone well. He had succeeded in making Potter give him a second chance, whatever that meant, and they had then had a somewhat enjoyable conversation. At least it had been interesting. It would still require a lot of work if he was to gain Potter’s friendship and access any of the benefits that would come with it, but he thought he had significantly increased the chances of success for his admittedly rather desperate plan. So he ought to have been pleased with himself, and instead he felt very much like he had torn out his last shred of integrity and dignity and dragged it through the mud. Some part of him was screaming for him to abandon the plan, that he couldn’t possibly go through with this and should just go back to regaining favour with Slytherin House or give up on his ambitions altogether. It seemed to be screaming with Pansy’s voice too, which might have been why he snapped at her during dinner, when she asked him what it was he kept staring at.

“We should have a hand signal for your mood swings,” she muttered. “Then you could just do that and I could keep at a safe distance until you become a normally functioning person again.”

“I’m not having mood swings, I just wasn’t staring at anything.”

“I don’t care,” she said.

He hadn’t been staring, but when he entered the Great Hall, his eyes had sought Potter out at the Gryffindor table. They had exchanged what felt like a meaningful glance, except he wasn’t sure what they had been trying to say. And then when he sat down at the Slytherin table he found he could still see Potter, and he had caught the git looking at him three times so far, which was unnerving.

 o

Over the next couple of days, it turned out that significant looks were going to be a continuing thing. Draco supposed it was the uncertainty as to how they were supposed to act towards each other that caused this tense awareness of the other person. He was even beginning to feel that they ought to say hi to each other in the corridors, that the long eye contact or self-conscious avoidance of eye contact was getting awkward.

And then one Tuesday after Herbology, the Slytherins and Ravenclaws were walking over the muddy ground back up to the castle from the greenhouses, and the seventh years from Gryffindor and Hufflepuff were headed in the opposite direction, on the way to their own lesson. He spotted Potter with his usual group of friends when they were halfway down the hill. They were all talking excitedly and he thought maybe this time they would pass each other without notice, but then Potter looked up. His eyes found Draco where he was at the back of the flock of Slytherins. Draco gave a slight nod. And Potter nodded back. It was such a small gesture, but it felt monumental. It felt like they had skipped years of continued grudges and hostility and reached a state of civil recognition that belonged to their adult selves. Potter looked away, but Draco was still watching him when the trip-jinx hit him. He felt his ankles being suddenly yanked away and fell forwards spectacularly, his entire front and face hitting the mud as he only halfway managed to break the fall with his hand. The sound of laughter erupted from the group behind him. Slowly, he raised himself to his hands and knees and spat to get the dirt out of his mouth.

“We are witnessing The Fall of the Malfoy-family!” called some witty bastard, misquoting the painful headline from the Prophet a few months earlier.

Draco got to his feet, wiping mud from his face. Seamus Finnigan was laughing hysterically next to Ernie Macmillan, who had his wand out. Several other Hufflepuffs, Gryffindors and a few stray Ravenclaws had stopped to watch as well.

“Don’t look so angry, Malfoy. Just because we curse you, it doesn’t mean we’re not on the same side, remember?” said Neville Longbottom.

“Watch your mouth-“ he spat, but was cut off by Hannah Abbott.

“Or what, your father will hear about it?”

The entire group broke out laughing again, even the ones who had been pressing their hands over their mouths before, trying to hide their giggles.

“Come on Malfoy, take out your wand,” called Macmillan. “Maybe you can demonstrate some of the things your auntie Bella taught you? Get yourself sent back to Azkaban where you belong?”

“Cut it out, Ernie!”

They all turned as one to look at Harry Potter. He was standing on the edge of the group flanked by the two Weasleys, who were still grinning, and Granger, who had her arms folded across her chest and an inscrutable expression on her face. Most of the laughter died out, and Macmillan looked uncertain.

“What?” he asked.

“Just leave him alone. He has just as much a right to be here as we do.”

Macmillan looked over at Draco, making sure he and Potter were talking about the same person.

“I wouldn’t exactly say that,” he said, but he put his wand back in its holster, and just like that, Draco became air.

His audience dissolved and walked away as if nothing had happened. He watched them leave, but too many people blocked his view for him to be able to tell what was going on around Potter. He stood up and found his wand. He mumbled a cleaning charm to get the mud out of his hair and face.

 o

It was the first time in this school year that anyone had actually targeted him with a jinx rather than just insulting him, but the little incident had made him exponentially more paranoid. All day he kept looking over his shoulder and tensed every time he passed other students, even if they were only second years. In the evening he was late for dinner and was rushing down the stairs when a bat swooped down and brushed past him inches from his face. He started and actually managed to pull out his wand and get into a duelling stance before he realized that he wasn’t under attack, no one had cast a bat bogey hex and that the hall was empty. The bats hanging from the ceiling and occasionally dropping down to flap around above the marble staircase were some of the early Halloween decorations that had already been put up. Draco put his wand away and took a deep breath to compose himself. He continued down the stairs just as another boy came hurrying from the opposite direction.

“Potter!” he called out as soon as he recognized him.

Potter stopped. Draco walked faster down the steps to catch up with him, and then they were both standing there at the foot of the stairs with just a little more distance between them than what would be considered relaxed, a little too far apart for a normal conversation. And Draco realized that he had called out before actually thinking about what he wanted to say.

“Did you want something?” asked Potter.

”Yes, I uh...” he fumbled. “I wanted to say thank you. For earlier,” he managed with a half shrug.

”Right,” said Potter. ”You’re welcome. That was the agreement, right?”

Draco nodded.

”Yes, it was.”

Potter nodded as well. He looked away. Draco crossed his arms. The silence stretched out between them. Draco searched his mind for something to say, but he couldn’t even think of any snide remarks that might have made it feel like a normal interaction between him and Potter.

“So are you excited about the feast tomorrow?”

“What?” said Draco, disoriented.

“The feast,” repeated Potter. “Just, there’s been a lot of… people are excited about Halloween in Gryffindor, so I just asked if, yeah, nothing.”

“Oh, right. I wasn’t planning on going, actually.”

“Why not?”

“These days I make it a priority to spend as little time as possible with my housemates and most other people in the school, and going to the Halloween feast isn’t really compatible with that philosophy.”

“Right,” said Potter.

“But I imagine you’re hosting Dumbledore’s Army’s preparty now that you have developed such a great love for firewhisky?”

Potter snorted, or maybe it could be counted as a laugh.

“Not really, no. I’m pretty sure Ginny is in charge of smuggling alcohol, she’s been getting a lot of letters from George recently. Actually I’m not going either.”

“Really?”

Potter shrugged.

“It’s still kind of a celebration of Voldemort’s death, even though he didn’t die that time. Hermione warned me that there might be speeches this year. A lot of them. She said her and Ron would skip the party with me, but I told them they should go. I just don’t want to be there.”

“Well that doesn’t sound like much of an explanation, I can’t imagine why you would want to skip a party that is all about praising you for being a hero from the day you were born and until today, saving everyone from the same dark lord twice. It sounds like just your sort of thing.”

“It’s the day my parents died.”

“So what do you plan to do instead?” asked Draco, pretending that Potter hadn’t just tried to derail their barely functioning conversation with his unwelcome sincerity.

“Will you just be moping around in Gryffindor tower all evening?”

“I thought I’d go flying a bit.”

Draco raised an eyebrow.

“Sounds nice,” he said.

“Do you want to come?”

The question was blurted out. It took a second’s hesitation for Draco to take it in.

“What?” he asked.

“If you want to,” Potter reeled. “If you were planning on moping around the Slytherin dungeon all evening, I won’t stop you.”

“Oh. No, I’ll come.”

Potter nodded.

“Right. Good,” he said. “Are you still flying that Nimbus 2001?”

“No, I got the 2002 a few years ago. They only made a few, since it’s pretty much the same broom just with a few adjustments.”

“Cool.”

“Have you smashed up your Firebolt yet or is it still flying?”

“It didn’t make it, but I got a new one, same model.”

“It’s a good broom.”

“It is.”

There was another gap of silence. They stood across from each other, the two of them alone in the Entrance Hall, the flapping sounds of bat wings above them, and Potter was looking at him. This long, uninhibited stare, as if he was trying to figure something out.

“What?” asked Draco.

Potter blinked and looked away.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Well, we should probably get inside before all the food disappears.”

“Right. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I’ll meet you down by the quidditch pitch when the feast begins,” said Draco, pushing open the doors to the Great Hall.

Harry followed Malfoy inside. They split up and went to sit down at their own house tables. Ron and Hermione had saved him a seat. He sat and loaded up his plate.

“What were you doing with Malfoy?” asked Hermione.

Harry looked from her to the Slytherin table.

“Nothing,” he said. “He just passed me in the hall.”

Chapter Text

On the evening of the 31st of October, Harry was waiting for Malfoy down by the quidditch pitch. He sat on one of the benches, his elbows resting on his knees and his Firebolt propped up next to him. He was watching the sky above, a great mass of grey, rolling clouds that misted the air with fine drops of rain. He could see heavier and blacker clouds on the horizon, but he figured they would be back inside before the heavy rain reached them. From the castle, a small figure was making its way towards him. The dishwater light of dusk made their meeting feel sinister and secret, a dark contrast to the golden light streaming out of the windows from the Great Hall where the feast had just begun. Malfoy was carrying his broom over his shoulder. The black school robes billowed around him in the wind and the white blond hair was whipped out of place across his haughty, handsome face. Harry stood and picked up his broom.

“Where are we going?” called Malfoy, when he was close enough to be heard.

“I was thinking we would fly over the forest.”

Malfoy screwed up his face and looked towards the forest, where the trees were already shedding their leaves and stretching their naked, clawlike branches towards the clouds.

“Are you serious?”

“Sure. But hey, if you’re scared we can just take a little trip around the grounds. We can stay really close to the grass too, so you won’t hurt yourself if you fall.”

“Shut up, you prick,” said Malfoy and mounted his broom.

Harry grinned and swung a leg over his Firebolt. They kicked off and rose high into the air, two arrows shooting straight up towards the clouds. Simultaneously they broke their ascend and curved, racing each other to the treeline.

 o

It was impossible to tell who won the race and the wind was rushing too loudly past their ears for either boy to hear the other’s cry of victory. Harry slowed down and dipped closer to the trees. A few of the highest branches brushed his feet. Malfoy flew to his side but kept just a few inches higher.

“You still don’t like the forest?” asked Harry.

“I’m fine, but I’d rather not have my feet ripped of by bowtruckles.”

Harry laughed out loud and Malfoy shot him a look.

“I’m seriously concerned about your mental health, Potter. Would you mind giving me a heads up if you’re about to be possessed by some freaky creature from down there?”

“What are you so nervous about? Nothing’s going to attack us up here,” he said.

There was a crashing sound of branches snapping.

Malfoy screamed.

A great, black creature shot up through the yellowing thicket of leaves, for a second the batlike wings swallowed the sky in front of them, they could count every vein of blood in the thin, stretched skin. And then the thestral rose higher and passed over them so closely they felt the wind moved by its body like a heavy force on their backs.

“Holy shit!”

Harry was laughing again, overjoyed with flight, rushed with adrenaline, it sounded maniacal even to his own ears, but he couldn’t have cared less.

“Holy shit,” repeated Malfoy, looking back over the shoulder.

“Good thing they’re friendly!”

“I hate horses. I hate flying horses.”

“Wait, can you see them?”

They had slowed down and were gliding quietly through the air. Harry’s heart was still pounding, but he could feel the shock seeping out of him. He was watching Malfoy, who rolled his eyes at him.

“Yes, of course I can see them,” he said. “Everyone can now. So that’s one less special ability for you, but I’m sure you’ll manage.”

“Who did you watch die?”

The tips of his shoes were still hitting the topmost leaves. Malfoy looked down at him.

“Really, Potter?” he asked. “You want to have that conversation? Swap lists of dead people? Merlin, you’re messed up.”

“Never mind,” said Harry.

He thought he heard a disdainful snort from Malfoy, but when he looked over, Malfoy had his eyes fixed straight ahead and his expression was calm and focused. The castle was far behind them, the mountains slowly getting closer. He could hear the flapping of their cloaks in the wind and he wondered why he had never thought to do this with Ron or Ginny or anyone else from the quidditch team. He didn’t mind company up here. Here, there was space for it, around him and in his head.

 o 

Draco wasn’t sure where they were going, or if they were going anywhere at all, only that Potter seemed determined to put as much distance between themselves and the castle as possible. As long as he wasn’t thinking about the forest below them or imagining the creatures inhabiting it, he could enjoy the flight. Potter seemed absolutely euphoric. He watched him as they flew. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen him not looking all constipated and tortured. He looked like a different person up here.

 o

The sky had grown darker. A cold gust of wind blew over the trees with a whisper.

“How come you’re not on the quidditch team this year?” asked Harry, breaking a long stretch of silence.

“I don’t know,” said Malfoy. “I got bored with it, I suppose.”

“So you didn’t try out?”

“If I had tried out I would have been on the team.”

“How can you get bored with quidditch, though?”

“Maybe I just wanted to give Gryffindor a shot at winning this year.”

“We’ve been beating you for years.”

“I just have better things to do with my time, okay?”

There was an edge to Malfoy’s voice. Harry glanced over at him, but he was looking straight ahead and his face didn’t give anything away.

“What’s the name of that fifth year they’ve replaced you with?” he asked.

“Evelyn Selwyn.”

“Right. She seems alright.”

“She’s a nice girl. I didn’t know she played quidditch. Do you think maybe we should head back soon?”

Harry turned to look behind them. He could make out the castle as a black shape in the darkness, dotted with the golden lights of the windows like a strange, low hanging cluster of stars.

“If you want to,” he said. “But I don’t think they’ll be done for a while.”

“I know, but it looks like it might rain soon. We could circle back over Hogsmeade and walk up to the castle that way? Maybe speed up a bit?”

Harry shrugged.

“Sure, we can do that.”

He turned his broom around, trailing behind Malfoy in a lazy curve. They made their way to the village in silence with Malfoy leading the way.

They didn’t begin their descent until they had passed over the village and were far enough up the path to the castle to avoid risk of being seen. Malfoy landed in the gravel of the path and Harry joined him seconds later.

“So is this what you’ve been doing when you weren’t stalking me around the castle?” asked Malfoy.

“Sort of,” Harry said. “Flying keeps my mind off things.”

The first drop of rain hit his forehead. Dark spots dotted the ground.

“Maybe that’s your problem – people usually do come off as unintelligent if they are deliberately trying not to think.”

“Shut up,” Harry said, and didn’t mean it. “Do you think we ought to fly all the way back? We’re going to get soaked if we walk.”

Malfoy pulled out his wand.

“You do realize you’re a wizard, right?” he said.

He mumbled an incantation, pointing the wand into the air above them. The rain was getting heavier around them, the path already turning muddy, but Harry no longer felt the cold drops on his face.

“My shoulder’s still getting wet,” he said and watched the strange trajectory of the raindrops that fell straight towards them and then suddenly curved as if they had hit an invisible shell.

“I can’t extend it that far.”

Harry stepped closer to him.

“Handy spell,” he said.

Malfoy shrugged. It was pouring down now. Apparently the spell didn’t protect their shoes or the hems of their robes from getting soaked by the tiny rivers and muddy deltas forming in the gravel that splashed around them as they walked. He heard Malfoy laughing softly.

“What?” he said.

“Nothing.”

And then after a pause:

“It sort of feels like I’ve taken you hostage, doesn’t it?”

Malfoy looked at him with the apologetic expression of someone who has said his private thoughts aloud.

“Not really,” said Harry.

They passed through the gates and the winged boars looked sternly down at them from their columns.

“It does feel a bit like blackmail.”

Malfoy grinned, and Harry noticed how strange the expression was on him when it wasn’t tinged with condescension or malice. Usually everything about Malfoy was sharp, tight and proper – his face was a controlled mask of calculated emotions, his robes looked like they had been spelled clean and creaseless, and there was never a single hair on his head that was out of place. That Malfoy was hardly even a person, but simply the spoiled and well-tended product of an overprivileged upbringing. But when they walked together up the stairs to the oak doors of the castle, his robes had been ruffled by the wind and his collar was unbuttoned, which was enough to make him look dishevelled. His hair was damp and windswept, his cheeks flushed from the cold air, and he seemed very real. He became approachable, became something you could touch without cutting yourself. And watching him made Harry feel unbalanced, like he was about to trip, and he wouldn’t be able to break the fall.

Chapter Text

At breakfast the morning after Halloween, Draco finally got a letter from his mother. It was very short – she was doing fine, he shouldn’t worry about her and should focus on his schoolwork. He had hoped for more, but at least it was her own handwriting and apart from the briefness there was nothing to indicate that she was not well. He reread it several times throughout the day and was distracted enough during meals that he didn’t actually see Potter until after lunch outside the Potions classroom. When he and the other Slytherins arrived, the hallway was already full of Gryffindors. Slughorn hadn’t shown up yet and the classroom door was locked. Potter stood on the edge of a group, not participating in their conversation. He looked thoroughly annoyed, and Draco sidled up to him.

“What’s wrong, Potter?” he asked in his usual drawl.

Potter looked disoriented for a second, and Draco could feel it too: the ground shifting beneath them, because they both remembered yesterday. Things were different now. This wouldn’t be a fight.

“People noticed I wasn’t there yesterday. They keep quoting the speeches at me,” Potter said.

Draco smirked.

“They’ve been quoting them in Slytherin too.”

Potter groaned.

“I don’t want to hear what you’ve heard,” he said.

Draco really thought he should, but before he could begin repeating any of the wonderfully sappy quotes he had picked up, Slughorn showed up and pushed his way past the students, apologizing and rambling about how he got held up in the teacher’s lounge. Potter nodded to Draco, and then trickled inside with the other Gryffindors. A moment later, Pansy was at Draco’s side.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Oh nothing, just having a friendly conversation with Potter in front of half the students in our year,” he said, not even trying to suppress his smirk.

She didn’t look halfway as impressed as he thought she ought to.

“What are you playing at?” she asked suspiciously.

“Nothing,” he said with a shrug.

They followed the other Slytherins inside.

“It didn’t look particularly friendly to me,” she said.

“It was.”

 o 

Since it was Gryffindor and Slytherin who had Potions together and Slughorn wasn’t the sort of teacher who made seating arrangements, the students had neatly split in half creating two sections in the classroom: one of green and one of red. This meant that Harry’s table was by the opposite wall of Malfoy’s, where he was setting up his cauldron next to Ron and Hermione. Neville and Ginny had taken the space in front of them – he still found it odd that she had classes with them now.

“Hey, what did Malfoy want?” she asked.

“What?”

“I saw him talking to you outside.”

Harry shrugged.

“I don’t know, he wanted to quote the stupid speeches at me or something.”

“Really? He still gets off on bothering you?”

She looked over towards the Slytherins.

“He is such a child,” she said.

“I think he’s a little better this year,” said Harry.

Ron made a choking sound.

“Yeah, right,” said Ginny, turning back to her own table as Slughorn began explaining the theory behind brewing the advanced antidote to the curses they had read about in their homework.

Ron’s eyes already had a glazed look. Harry leaned closer to him.

“Hey, do you maybe want to go flying tonight,” he whispered.

“For quidditch practice? Isn’t twice a week fine?”

“No, I meant just flying. We could go over the forest or try to make it to the mountains?”

“Uh, I don’t know. I sort of wanted to spend some time with Hermione tonight, and she doesn’t like flying, so I doubt she’ll want to come. Maybe some other day?”

“Sure.”

“Potter and Weasley, would you mind being quiet?” said Slughorn loudly. “This is a very delicate and advanced potion, and it is not one you would want to mess up on. Now, when you slice the ginger root-“

Harry inadvertently glanced towards the Slytherin half of the classroom when he was reprimanded. Malfoy was smirking at his notes, and then, as if he felt Harry’s eyes on him, looked up at him for a second with a flash of teeth. Harry turned away quickly and tried to focus his attention on the rest of Slughorns walkthrough of the potion.

“…unfortunately we only have dried petals of monkshood, where usually the fresh ones are preferred. Now the dried ones are just as effective, but it is critically important that you use exactly seven petals and it is a lot easier to tell if the they’re intact or if some have been crumpled into each other when they’re fresh than when dry, so be extremely careful. That is all, so come up here and gather your ingredients, and let us get started.”

“They should at least give us the right ingredients,” said Ron as he and Harry stood up. “It isn’t fair if it’s more difficult than it’s supposed to be.”

“I can help you pick out the petals if you want,” said Neville. “I’ve been drying monkshood down in the greenhouses for a project, so I know how it’s supposed to look.”

“Sure! Thanks Neville.”

Neville shrugged. There were too many students crowding around the tables with ingredients for them to reach it, so they waited in the back for some of the others to finish up.

“Tell me again, how it was you suddenly became good at Potions after sucking worse than I did?” said Ron.

“Well,” said Ginny earnestly, “first Professor Snape died…”

Neville cut her off.

“I just found out that a lot of it’s pretty much Herbology. It just means I can figure out the ingredients, I still mess up the on rest.”

And it helps that Snape isn’t hovering around and doing his best to mess you up,” Ginny insisted.

“Still, if the room of requirement hadn’t burned down, I would’ve thought you’d rediscovered Harry’s book of wonder from sixth year.”

Harry slipped between two students in front of him, reaching the table but getting out of earshot of his friends. He picked up two of the shiny, green beetles from a big jar on the table.

“Those are females. The males have antennae – really, Potter, such a big mistake and you haven’t even started on the potion yet. One might think you didn’t listen when the professor was going over the instructions.”

Harry looked up and saw Malfoy standing right across from him at the table.

“Shut up,” he told him and replaced his two antennae-less beetles.

“I don’t know where that hostility is coming from, here I am, sincerely trying to save you from yourself, and then I’m met with such rudeness.”

Harry had to hold back a laugh, mostly because Malfoy attempting to parody his own poshness was almost indistinguishable from him simply being posh.

“Yeah, your sincerity was really shining through,” he said. “Is this what you’re like when you try to be friendly?”

“What did you expect? I’m not in Hufflepuff.”

Malfoy picked up a handful of the dried, purple flowerheads, which was apparently the last ingredient he was missing.

“See you around,” he said with a smirk and slipped away, another Slytherin quickly taking his spot by the table.

“Harry, will you pass me the monkshood?” said a soft voice right next to him, and he started.

Hermione was standing by his shoulder, so close he could only see the top of her head when he looked down. She was sifting through the beetles, her face hidden under her dark curls.

“Sure,” he said and grabbed a handful of flowers for her.

“Thanks,” she said without looking at him.

o

After Potions they had Charms, and Harry realized something was wrong when Hermione still hadn’t looked at him the entire lesson. He also had an uncomfortable feeling he knew what it was. 

He told himself he wasn’t avoiding her when he followed Dean and Seamus down to the pitch to play a bit of practice quidditch with some of the Hufflepuffs. And since he went back to the dining hall with them when they were done playing, it only made sense that he sat with them during the meal. And because she was hanging out with Ron all evening anyway, he went down to the study area on the third floor to do homework rather than staying up in the common room.

He didn’t return to the tower until late, and when he did, he was relieved to find the common room empty. He was almost at the stairs to his dormitory when he heard a noise behind him and started.

“Harry?” someone said.

He turned around just as Hermione stood up from her chair by the fireplace.

“Hi – I thought you’d have all gone to bed by now?” Harry said and tried not to sound accusatory, even though the whole scene felt unnervingly like an ambush.

Maybe he was wrong, maybe there was nothing to worry about.

“I need to talk to you,” she said.

“Now? I’m kind of tired.”

”Yes, I think now would be a really good time.”

It was an ambush, then, and she wasn’t about to let him go now that she had cornered him.

“Okay,” he said with a glance towards the stairs. “Sure.”

He sank into an armchair by the fireplace. She sat down across from him and looked at him with an expression of mixed concern and sternness that reminded him of terribly McGonagall.

“What’s going on with you and Malfoy?” she asked.

He had been hoping until the last second that he had been wrong. He had really hoped this was about something else.

“Nothing,” he said, trying to sound surprised. “Why would you ask that?”

She sighed.

“Please don’t do this, Harry. I heard how you talked to each other in Potions. And to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have noticed anything weird about it, if Padma hadn’t told me that she saw you and him meeting down on the quidditch pitch last night, when you’d told us you were going flying by yourself.”

He didn’t want to have this conversation with her.

“We’re just talking,” he said. “I’ve been talking to him.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on, Harry-“

“I don’t know alright? It’s like what we talked about, how it’s weird that he’s still here after all that happened, and the war and his trial and I didn’t like that we still ran into him, but then I don’t even know him, it’s just this dumb thing that started when we were 11, and it seemed stupid to keep it going.”

“Some dumb thing from when you were 11?” she said, looking unimpressed.

“Yeah.”

“I’m not concerned that you’re talking to him because of your childish rivalry, Harry.”

“I’m just trying to figure him out.”

“He was a Death Eater – have you just decided to forget that?”

“You were the one defending him the last time we talked about this,” Harry snapped. “You brought up the Wizengamot-decision, you seemed all for forgiving him back then.”

“That was a completely different situation!”

“How was it different?”

“We were discussing his right to go to school! And you’re right, I don’t think he should be in Azkaban, I think he deserves to be forgiven by the school and by the court, but not by us. He doesn’t deserve our forgiveness and he definitely doesn’t deserve yours.”

“You’ve been telling me I was wrong about him for years. Every time I thought he was up to something you said I was overreacting.”

“And I was wrong. In sixth year, when it mattered,  you were right and I was wrong.”

“It’s more complicated than that,” he said.

“But it isn’t! He tried to kill Dumbledore, for Christ’s sake – he almost killed Ron.”

“You know Voldemort was threatening his family, he had no idea what he was doing!”

A charred log snapped in the fireplace, sparks flying up from the embers, and they both started. Harry realized how loud they had been. The common room was dark and quiet around them.

“Listen,” Hermione said, her voice lower and calmer now. “I don’t like Malfoy, I never have, but normally I would’ve congratulated you on deciding to get over the stupid grudge you´ve had against him and be more mature. I wouldn’t have the energy for fighting with him every day for 7 years either.”

“But you’re not congratulating me.”

“No. I’m not. He isn’t just some mean, spoiled brat anymore; he’s emotionally amputated – no, listen to me! He’s been a Death Eater since he was sixteen, that’s not just being a bully, that’s wanting people like me killed, and he did. He tried to kill people. There’s something deeply wrong with him, Harry.”
She said it heavily, with certainty, and there was something dark in her expression.

“I haven’t forgotten,” Harry said. “And I’m not saying I’m going to be friends with him, I just think that maybe there’re some things we don’t know about. You didn’t see him at his trial-“

“He watched Bellatrix torture me,” Hermione said.

Harry shut his mouth. They hadn’t talked much about what had happened at the Manor, Hermione had made it clear that she didn’t want to. Now she was watching him wearily, her expression solemn but determined.

“I remember that, because I was looking right at him,” she said. “I asked him to help me, in between the curses. And he just stood there, completely unaffected.”

“He couldn’t have done anything. She would’ve killed him.”

“That’s not the point, I know he couldn’t,” Hermione snapped. “The point is that that’s not something normal people should be able to just watch, but he’s probably been practicing the cruciatus curse on first years, and he’d lived in that house with all those Death Eaters for who knows how long, so he’d probably seen it a hundred times before, so he didn’t even care. Even if it wasn’t all his fault everything that happened, that doesn’t change what it’s done to him. There is nothing left in him that’s worth saving or forgiving.”

“Maybe-“ Harry began, but she cut him off again:

“And you know, sometimes forgiveness isn’t good,” she said and the last bit of patience had left her voice. “I don’t think you’re stuck up or self-righteous, or whatever else people have said about you. A lot of the time your judgment is right and I know you’re a good person, but you have no nuance. You never see people or actions or history with any gradation at all and you forget that other people don’t always feel the same way you do – like the way you’ve been defending Snape all year-”

Harry tried to interrupt, but she kept talking:

“I understand that you want to acknowledge his redeeming qualities, but why do you have to turn him into a hero? Have you seen how Neville looks at you when you do that? We weren’t even here seventh year, so you can’t just come waltzing in and declare that Snape was a hero, because you have a lot of influence and what you say matters, and you hurt people when you put him on a pedestal like that! Your forgiveness is not a good thing! You don’t even listen to Neville or Seamus or Luna or even Ginny when they try to tell you what it was like and how he let it all happen, you just insist that because he died a martyr death their experiences don’t matter. You’re way too prone to forgiving people, and Malfoy doesn’t deserve it.”

“Aren’t you the one who’s lacking nuance right now?” said Harry.

For a second it looked like she was about to cry with frustration.

“Why do you even want to be friends with him? You hardly talk to us anymore, and I don’t know why. After the war-“

“I don’t know!” Harry snapped. “Maybe I just like talking to him, and maybe I want to do that without having to think about how that affects everyone’s feelings. Why does everything have to be about the war?”

“It is for me!”

She was crying now.

“It is for me,” she repeated quietly. “It won’t go away. It’s just there, all the time. Everything I do and think and worry about. I’m still scared. I’m still going over all the details in my head. I keep making up ways we could have saved people if we‘d done something different, and I hate that. I wish I could stop doing that.”

He didn’t say anything. She wiped at the tears, not looking at him, her mouth stretched in an apologetic grin.

“It’s so stupid. I just thought it was like that for everyone else too. I’m just trying to-”

She shook her head.

“Hermione…”

She sniffed and stood up.

“Sorry, you said you were tired. I’m going to go to bed.”

She picked up her books from the floor.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” she said.

She didn’t wait for an answer, but walked quickly to the steps to the girl’s dormitories and disappeared upstairs without looking back at him. Harry didn’t move. He sat motionless in his chair and stared into the embers, as the guilt he had been supressing the whole day came back ten times stronger. He shouldn’t have defended Malfoy. He didn’t even want to defend him; Hermione was probably right about him. But that was exactly why she wasn’t supposed to have found out. It should have been secret until Harry had had time to figure it out on his own.

He would apologize in the morning.

Chapter Text

Harry didn’t apologize to Hermione in the morning. She was unnecessarily cheery and polite to him at breakfast and clearly wanted to pretend the fight hadn’t happened, so Harry went along with it. They were almost halfway through the school year now and had long ago settled into their routines, so it was easy to go through the motions of the day as if nothing had happened. Even Harry being tense and irritable had become part of their new dynamic. He did sleep better and was doing more of his homework by day now, but that hadn’t improved much on his mood. He had realized about a week ago that this was as good as it was going to get. He had returned to Hogwarts with a knot of tense apprehension in his stomach that had never been there before, but he had convinced himself that sooner or later that feeling would go away. Even if the castle reminded him of all the things he had lost and of how out of place he was there now, sooner or later that claustrophobic and oppressive air would have to subside and it would once again become the place of wonder, freedom and safety that it had been when he was younger, and he would feel at home again. But it was November now, and he still caught himself walking on tiptoes down the stairs, keeping close to the walls, sitting hunched over his food at meals. Things he hadn’t done for years. Things he used to do when he lived with the Dursleys.

 o

Draco watched the Gryffindor table from across the Great Hall. Pansy was talking to him, but he was only half listening. Potter, the Weasleys and Dean Thomas got up from their seats and left, presumably for quidditch practice. They were really playing an older team this year, strong players too, but it would be hard on Gryffindor when all of them graduated this summer. Potter looked tense, but then he always did these days. Draco glanced back to the table, and his eyes met Granger’s. She was staring right at him. He quickly turned his attention back to Pansy, nodding as if he had any idea what she was going on about, But Granger had definitely seen him looking.

Draco didn’t look at the Gryffindor table again, but he had a prickling sense of being watched. He was relieved to get out of there when he and Pansy left after the pudding. He had just relaxed enough to laugh at one of Pansy’s jokes when Granger caught up with them.

“Malfoy!” she called.

He stopped and turned around.

“Granger?” he said.

Pansy looked equally surprised and annoyed to see her.

“What do you want?” she asked.

Granger ignored her, her eyes were on Draco. She looked far too serious for his liking.

“I need to talk to you,” she said.

He shrugged.

 “Sure,” he said, and managed to sound bored and unconcerned.

“What’s this about, Draco? Do you want me to come?”

Pansy looked eagerly from him to Granger.

“No, it’s okay,” he said. “I’ll meet you downstairs.”

She huffed.

“Fine,” she said and turned to leave. Granger didn’t say anything until she was gone, then she pointed to an open door a bit further down the hall.

“There’s an empty classroom down there,” she said.

Draco nodded and she led the way.

“What do you want?” he asked as soon as the door had closed behind them.

Hermione turned to him with a hard look.

“Stay away from Harry.”

Draco kept his face neutral.

“Did he ask you to tell me that?” he asked.

Hopefully he hadn’t. He didn’t know how much Granger had found out – clearly enough to make her angry, but as long as she hadn’t convinced Potter to drop the whole thing, he could handle this.

“Of course not, Harry never realizes when he’s being an idiot,” she said, and Draco breathed a secret sigh of relief.

“Then I don’t see what your problem is,” he said.

She glared at him.

“Just stay away, it’s not that hard. Nobody wants you near him.”

“If it bothers you that he talks to me then tell him – he’s the one you’re friends with.”

An unhappy contortion flashed across her face, and he realized she probably already had, and that it hadn’t gone too well. He suppressed a smile.

“That’s not the point,” she said. “I don’t know what you’re up to or what you’ve told him to make him act like this, but if I see you near him, believe me I won’t hesitate to curse you.”

“He probably won’t like it if you do that,” he said silkily and reached for the door.

“Stay away from my friends!”

He left and slammed the door behind him.

 o

Pansy was waiting for him in his dormitory when he came back. She lay on his bed with one of her magazines, and looked up when he came in.

“What did Granger want?”

“She wanted me to stay away from Potter,” he said, sitting down across from her by the footboard of the bed.

She laughed.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you sound all grumpy about it? Is she messing with your advanced master plan?”

He sighed.

“No, I doubt she’d talk to me if she ‘d already convinced Potter to stay away.”

“Well, no worries, then. Looks like there’s absolutely nothing in the way of you becoming Potter’s new best friend and being forgiven by the wizarding world, showing me and Blaise and all the others exactly how wrong we were to count you out.”

Draco winced.

“I never said that was what I was doing.”

“It’s not like it’s a complicated idea, Draco.”

“It’s not a bad plan.”

“It is,” she said, reopening her magazine and flipping back to her article. “I can’t believe it’s actually working out for you. I honestly never thought Potter was that dense.”

“He’s not.”

“Yeah he is, otherwise he would’ve figured out why you’re trying to be friends with him.”

“He has figured it out.”

She looked up.

“Really? And he’s still going along with it?”

“Apparently. Are you mad at me or something?”

“No, why would I be?”

“I don’t know, but you’re being all snarky and condescending, and you usually reserve that for people who aren’t me.”

“Sorry,” she said without much conviction. “I’m not mad at you, I’m just waiting for you to get over your stupid guilt trip. I mean, we both know the Potter-thing isn’t really the big political plot you’re pretending it is.”

“It’s not a guilt trip,” he said.

“Sure it isn’t. I know you, Draco, I can tell you’re still agonizing over last year, and apparently it isn’t enough for you to just lay low until it’s blown over. You think you need some sort of redemption and that being friends with Potter will make you feel better.”

“Maybe it does.”

“It shouldn’t. You don’t need to be his pity-case. We don’t need them.”

“Don’t you feel bad about any of it?”

“No,” she said. “It was war. We just did what we had to to survive, exactly like everyone else. That’s what you said, remember? We were just surviving. There’s nothing for us to be ashamed of.”

“I did worse things than you.”

“Like what? Taking the mark? You had no choice about that.”

He didn’t answer her.

“Anyway, even if it does help, it can’t be worth the agony of hanging around Gryffindors,” she said.

Draco shrugged.

“It’s not that bad.”

She gave him a long, reproachful look.

“Maybe not for you, but I have to watch you sucking up to him, and trust me, that is deeply unsettling. And you know it’s not going to work. He’s not going to forgive you, and you don’t need him to.”

He looked away. She sighed deeply and picked up her magazine again.

“I really hope your brooding silence doesn’t mean you’re making a quiet resolution to prove me wrong.”

“It does not.”

“Good,” she said.

They sat in silence for a while. She read and he looked out the window. He usually cared quite a lot about her opinion, but for some reason her aversion to his alliance with Potter didn’t bother him. It had been his plan from the beginning to make friends with Potter only as a way of repairing his image, and that was still all there was to it. And even if it did feel a bit like a private redemption, that was just a convenient side effect. Pansy looked up again.

“Is he still dating the Weasley bitch?” she asked.

“No, they broke up.”

“How do you know that?”

“I pay attention.”

She sighed.

“Right. Of course you do.”

She swung her legs over the edge of his bed.

“Well, I’m going to go find Tracey. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I absolutely agree with Granger. You should leave Potter alone.”

“Bye, Pansy,” he said.

She scoffed at him and left. The door had hardly closed behind her before it was pushed open from the other side and Nott came in. He looked back over his shoulder, then at Draco.

“Well, it’s a surprise to see you here.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Nott shrugged.

“Pansy passed me on the stairs and seemed to be in a perfectly good mood – and lately her temperament after spending time with you has been closer to murderous annoyance. Considering how much you aggravate her, I’m surprised you’re still friends,” he said.

“She loves worrying about me.”

“You probably shouldn’t stretch her patience too far.”

“Are you worried she’ll take it out on you?”

“Something like that. By the way, your owl came after you left. She let me have the letter when I said I’d bring it up here.”

He withdrew an envelope from the pocket of his robes and handed it to Draco. Draco took it hesitantly. It had the family crest pressed into the wax seal, so it had to be from his mother, but she must have considered it urgent if she hadn’t just waited for the morning owl post. He broke the seal and pulled out the letter. It was very short. Nott was still lingering around the room, flipping through the library books on his bedside table, when Draco had read through it twice. He read it again. A grey feeling was spreading its tendrils in his chest.

“Nott?” he asked, without looking up from the letter in his hands. “Do you remember the name of that sixth year who says he can smuggle anything in?”

“Cameron Boyle, I think.”

Draco stood up. Nott’s eyes followed the letter as Draco slipped it into his pocket.

“Bad news?” he asked.

“Sort of. Have you heard anything about your father recently?”

“Last I heard was a rumour that they found him dead in Portugal.”

“Sorry to hear it.”

Nott shrugged. He walked with Draco to the door and down the stairs.

“He might have faked it,” he said. “But I won’t see him again no matter if he’s alive or dead, so it doesn’t matter that much to me.”

Draco slipped his hand into his pocket, feeling the edge of the envelope.

“That’s a good approach. How fast is Boyle with getting things?”

“Depends what you’re asking for. He’s halfblood, so I’ve heard he gets things for the muggleborn too and that’s supposed to take a while. But if you’re not asking for anything too obscure or too illegal, I think about a day or two. Oh, and he can get alcohol pretty much immediately. I’m not sure if he has a stash somewhere or a deal with the house elves, but that should be easy.”

Draco noticed but couldn’t bring himself to care about the amused tone in Nott’s voice.

“Perfect,” he said.

 o

Several floors above the Slytherin dungeons in another part of the castle, Harry and Ron were walking together back up to the common room after practice. Harry was exhausted and quiet, but in a good way. He wouldn’t need to go flying over the forest that night, and he realized how long it had been since he last spent time with Ron without having to fight back annoyance and snappish reactions.

“What’s going on with you and Hermione?” asked Ron suddenly.

“Did she tell you something?” said Harry.

He thought they had been acting pretty normal. Ron shrugged.

“No, but she seems kind of mad at you.”

“I suppose. We sort of had a fight yesterday.”

Ron nodded.

“She’s been a bit off lately.”

“Pretty sure it was mostly my fault.”

“Yeah? What did you fight about?”

“Nothing, really. Just how we should handle being back.”

“Did you bring up the duelling club again?”

“No. It wasn’t really anything,” he lied, “Honestly, I’d rather not go over it again.”

Ron shrugged.

“Okay, well, whatever happened, I reckon you should apologize to her. She gets much better when you talk to her about things than if she’s just left alone. Then she might just explode in your face out of nowhere a week later.”

“I know.”

“Yeah, I know you do, but you two never fight.”

“I’ll talk to her.”

Clavis aurea,” said Ron to the portrait of the Fat Lady.

It swung open and they climbed through the portrait hole.

Hermione was sitting in a corner of the common room with a couple of the other Gryffindors. Seamus looked up when Ron and Harry came over.

“Is Dean with you?” he asked.

“Him and Ginny’ll be up in a second, they were right behind us.”

Ron sat down in one of the empty chairs. Harry stayed by Hermione’s chair.

“Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” he asked her.

She looked up at him.

“About what?”

“Last night…”

She waved him off.

“Oh. We don’t have to, it’s fine.”

“I want to.”

She cast a look around their circle of friends who were happily discussing the upcoming match against Slytherin or, in the case of Parvati, happily playing up how exceptionally bored she was with the subject.

“Maybe we should go somewhere else?” she suggested.

He nodded, she stood up and they left the common room, promising to be back in a second.

They walked down the corridor outside the portrait.

“What did you want to say, then?” asked Hermione, when he had been quiet for too long.

“Just… sorry about last night, I guess.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong last night.”

“Sorry about the Malfoy thing.”

She sighed.

“I don’t want you to apologize for it. It’s your own business.”

“If you think it’s better that I don’t talk to him-“

“I do. But this isn’t me having an issue, so don’t make it out like that by apologizing to me. I was worried about you and I wanted to tell you that, and that’s it. You should just do whatever you think is best.”

She spoke in the calm, rehearsed tone of voice she used in class, and he felt pretty sure she had practised this conversation in her head.

“I don’t want to be policing who you spend your time with,” she continued. “I just want you to know that your actions have consequences.”

He could hear her thinking she was being sensible, hear her deciding in her head that she wasn’t lecturing him. And he thought he had been rehearsing sentences in his head too, but they were all gone. He tried to push the irritation back into a corner of his mind, reminded himself that he wanted them to make up.

“Good,” he said. “That’s fine.”

“So I’m not mad at you.”

He nodded.

“Do you want to go back to the others?”

“Sure,” he said. “But I’m glad we talked.”

They turned around and walked back down the corridor the same way they had come.

“Would you mind not telling Ron about it?” he asked.

She sighed.

“I’m not the only one who’s going to notice if you keep meeting with him.”

“Ron hasn’t noticed yet.”

She hesitated.

“I don’t like it when we keep secrets from each other.”

“It’s not a secret it’s just-“

He was interrupted by a sharp sound of something hitting the glass of the window they had just passed. Both he and Hermione started, in a second they had their wands out. She approached the window carefully.

“Oh,” she said. “It’s and owl.”

She looked quickly back at him, and put her wand away with an embarrassed smile. The owl knocked its beak against the window again and Hermione loosened the latches to let it in. As soon as the window was open, the owl flew inside and Harry stretched out his arm for it to land on.

“Were you expecting a letter?”

“No,” he said, trying to loosen the string around the bird’s foot with only one hand.

It wasn’t a real letter, just a rolled up piece of parchment. When he got it loose, the owl took off out the window and Hermione closed it again as Harry unrolled the note.

 I’m getting pissed in the Astronomy Tower. You’re welcome to join me if the Gryffindors are boring you. – DM

He didn’t recognize the neat handwriting and it seemed such an odd message to receive from anyone at Hogwarts, let alone Draco Malfoy, that it actually took him a few seconds to figure out whose initials they were.

“Who is it from?” asked Hermione.

“Malfoy.”

“Oh. What does he want?”

Harry crumpled up the note and put it in his pocket.

“To talk to me. I might go see him later.”

“Okay. But you’re still going back to the common room now?”

“Sure.”

 o

They re-joined the others, who didn’t ask where they had been. Parvati, Dean and Seamus had gone up to the dormitories, but Ginny had joined the group. Hermione sat down with Ron in his chair. Neville was resting his head in his hand and looked like he was about to fall asleep. Ginny poked hard at him when his eyes fell shut.

“If you’re so tired then go to sleep, Longbottom.”

“I will,” he said and looked towards the stairs. “I just thought I’d wait a bit.”

“What, because of Dean and Seamus? Don’t you have silencing charms on the beds?”

Ron snickered.

“They aren’t noisy sleepers,” said Harry.

Ron and Ginny laughed, Hermione cracked a smile and Harry looked from one to the other, not sure what it was that was funny.

“Sure,” said Ginny. “Because that’s what Neville’s worried about – that they’re sleeping.”

Ron disentangled himself from Hermione.

“I’ll go up there with you, Neville,” he said, still grinning.

“Maybe we should give them some space?”

“The dorms are for sleeping, they can find space elsewhere. And I’m tired.”

He bent down to kiss Hermione’s forehead.

“Goodnight,” she said.

Hermione turned to Harry and Ginny.

“I think I’ll go up too. Do you want to come, Ginny?”

“I’ll be up soon.”

Hermione nodded.

“Okay, goodnight,” she said, with a quick smile to both of them.

When she had disappeared up the stairs, Ginny turned to Harry.

“So are you two okay?” she asked.

“What? Me and Hermione?”

“Ron said you’d been arguing.”

“Right,” he said. “Yeah, we got it sorted out, it was just me being an idiot.”

“Unsurprising. Though she’s been a bit difficult to be around lately. Bossy, really particular about some things.”

“She’s always been like that.”

Ginny shrugged.

“Yeah?” she said. “I feel like it’s been more than usual.”

“She’s really… the war was hard on her.”

“Not just on her.”

“I’m fine,” Harry snapped.

Ginny rolled her eyes.

“I know, Harry. Shit, I’m not trying to make you talk about it.”

He pushed his glasses up and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Sorry. Hermione wants me to talk; you know how she gets that look in her eyes? And she wants a therapist available at Hogwarts.”

“Yeah, well try to be nice to her about it. We’re all trying to deal with things our own way. She’s just worried about you because she spent all of last year trying to keep you alive, and then you went ahead and died anyway.”

“I didn’t die.”                                        

“For a little while you did.”

Ginny rested her head in her hand as her eyes surveyed the room, watching the remaining Gryffindors still hanging around, doing homework or talking in little clusters.

“Do you ever feel like he’s still inside your head?” Harry asked.

She looked at him.

“Do you?”

He shrugged.

“Sometimes.”

She nodded slowly.

“Me too. But it’s more Tom than Voldemort.”

“The dreams are bad too,” said Harry.

Ginny sighed.

“Yeah,” she said.

They both fell quiet. In the other end of the common room, a flock of third years erupted in laughter. Ginny looked over at them. She was curled up in her chair in a sweater that was too big to be her own, it looked like she was melting into it. Harry couldn’t read the expression on her face. He wondered if she knew the third years. Maybe some of them had been in Dumbledore’s Army. He wondered if she felt old in the same way he did when he looked at them.

“We should get some sleep,” she said, her eyes still fixed on their group.

“We should,” Harry said.

Neither of them moved. 

“I don’t know if Ron told you already, but mum asked me to tell you you’re spending Christmas with us. I think she’s knitting you another sweater, so you better be there.”

“Great,” Harry said. “Thanks.”

Ginny unfurled from her chair and stood up.

“I’ll go upstairs,” she said. “I’m wrecked.”

She bent down and gave him a quick hug, and for a moment the scent of her hair enveloped him and suddenly he missed her terribly. He hugged her back, and for a second all he to do was hold on to her so she wouldn’t leave. Then she pulled away.

“Goodnight, Harry,” she said.” This was nice.”

“Yeah, it was. Goodnight.”

 o 

He listened to the sound of her footsteps as they receded up the stairs to the girl’s dormitories. Then he stuck his hand into his pocket and pulled out the note. It was a long walk from Gryffindor tower to the Astronomy tower, and he couldn’t even get his invisibility cloak from his dormitory without risking that one of the other’s would ask him where he was going. He looked at the two staircases, the one leading to the girl’s dormitories, where Ginny and Hermione had just vanished, and the other that led to the boy’s dormitories where Neville, Dean, Ron and Seamus were probably asleep by now.

“I must be going mad,” he muttered.

He stuffed the note in his pocket, got up and left the common room through the portrait hole.

Chapter Text

Every door he tried in the Astronomy Tower was locked, so Harry followed the stairs all the way to the top. Up there, the door had been propped open, cold night wind blowing in to meet him. He stepped outside and found Malfoy sitting casually leaned against the parapet that ran around the edge of the tower. He looked up when he heard Harry coming towards him.

“I didn’t think you’d show up,” he said.

“I didn’t think you were serious.”

There was a bottle by Malfoy’s foot. It was too dark for Harry to tell how full it was, but Malfoy didn’t look too drunk.

“What are we drinking?” he asked.

Malfoy picked up the bottle and handed it to him.

“Firewhisky. It’s cheap and terrible; I had to buy it off one of the sixth years. If I’d been able to get a bottle from home or at least go into Hogsmeade or something – but of course we’re not drinking for the taste, so just swallow it fast. And I’m already not quite sober, so don’t hold back.”

Harry settled down next to him on the flagstones and took a swig from the bottle, pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to taste the difference between cheap and expensive whisky.

“Are you celebrating or something?” he asked.

“No.”

Malfoy pulled an envelope from his pocket.

“I just got a letter from my mother. She hasn’t been writing me a lot this year.”

He handed Harry the letter.

“Bad news,” he said.

Harry pulled out the folded piece of parchment. Apparently even the letters sent by the Malfoy family looked more expensive than those of normal people. The parchment was heavy, smooth and cream-colored, inlaid with a watermark of the Malfoy family crest, and the writing was in a beautiful cursive that it took Harry a while to decipher. It wasn’t a long letter and it was formal to the point of being impersonal, which was probably why Malfoy allowed him to read it. He had never thought about what sort of letters Malfoy would receive from his adoring mother, but this definitely wasn’t what he would have imagined.

Dear Draco, he read.

  As you know I have applied for a visit to Azkaban over the holidays, and I recently received the ministry’s approval of my request. I know we have discussed the possibility of you staying at Hogwarts for Christmas this year, but in the light of this I expect that you will come home so that we can visit your father together.

Love
Mother

 He looked up from the letter. Malfoy was staring past him, frowning.

“This is bad news?”

Malfoy gave him one of those looks to tell him he was being an imbecile.

“So… you don’t want to visit your father?”

“No,” Malfoy said. “I don’t want to visit my father.”

Harry slipped the letter back into the envelope and handed it back to him.

“What, because you want to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas?”

Malfoy scoffed.

“Azkaban isn’t a very nice place,” he said gravely.

“I was never a big fan of your father, but I think I’d be happy to get to see my father even if he was in Azkaban.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Potter.”

He wasn’t sure if the heaviness in his voice was just Malfoy feeling sorry for himself, or if there was something more. An uncomfortable thought struck him.

“Were you in Azkaban?” he asked. “Before your hearing?”

But Malfoy shook his head.

“No, I’ve never been there. I’ve just heard a lot. Pass me the bottle.”

Harry handed it over.

“Is this how you usually handle bad news?” he asked.

Malfoy laughed.

“No, if I did I would’ve been a raging alcoholic by now.”

There was a pause while he drank with theatrical commitment. He put the bottle down too heavily on the stone floor between them. Harry picked it up. He didn’t really want to be drunk, but he also didn’t fancy being the audience for Malfoy’s dramatic descent into drunken self-pity if he was to be sober himself. Malfoy looked approvingly at him.

“I might have handled it this way before,” he admitted, taking the bottle back from Harry as soon as he lowered it.

“Of course you have.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Malfoy sharply.

Harry shrugged.

“That you’re the sort of person who throws tantrums, you know: pay attention to me, I’m in pain.”

“I am not!”

“Really?”

Harry grabbed his arm dramatically, clutching it to his chest and feigning great pain.

“Oh, my arm!” he whined. “The stupid bird tried to kill me! I’m dying! I’m dying!”

Hewrithed on the stones and howled in pretend agony. Malfoy kicked at him.

“Stop it, you senseless idiot!”

Harry laughed and pushed himself upright. Malfoy scowled.

“It would’ve been hilarious if you hadn’t been trying to get Buckbeak killed for it.”

“I’ve changed my mind,” said Malfoy. “Go back down to Gryffindor. I just realized I prefer to drink alone.”

He passed Harry the bottle. They were a good way through it. Harry didn’t know how much was necessary to get drunk. Probably less than this.

“Why are we sitting up here?” he asked.

“I didn’t want to be in some classroom where people might accidentally walk in.”

“It’s the middle of the night.”

“You never know.”

“There are about a thousand secret rooms all over the castle.”

“I like it up here.”

“It’s freezing.”

“Really? You should get better robes. Or drink more.”

“I think I’ve had enough, thank you.”

“You’re drunk?”

“I think so.”

Malfoy laughed. He had that dishevelled air about him again. As soon as they had stopped talking about Azkaban he had relaxed. It was easier to like him like this.

Harry tried to reconcile the image with the things Hermione had said, with the Malfoy he knew and hated. He wondered if Malfoy was acting – not the drunk part, he couldn’t have faked that, but the likeable parts. The part that had sent him the embarrassing note, the one that told him to leave and didn’t mean it, the one that was afraid to visit his father. Malfoy had admitted it at the pub, that he was using Harry. Harry wondered why he hadn’t just left as soon as he found out. It hadn’t seemed so obvious at the time that that was what he should have done. It still didn’t, really.

Harry watched him. He had his head tilted back, resting against the wall. His eyes were closed. His skin looked even whiter in the dark. Not sickly, the way it did sometimes at the beginning of the year. More like porcelain.

“It’s all spinning,” he said, his lips barely moving.

It all seemed too elaborate to be a lie.

Malfoy opened his eyes and looked at him with a smirk like he had guessed exactly what was going on in Harry’s mind.

“What are you thinking, Potter?” he asked.

It was a reciprocal game of guessing the truth, Harry thought. Because he was lying too. He made jokes, he had invited Malfoy to go flying, defended him in front of the others and joined him in his drinking. He didn’t know if any of that was true either, or if he was just playing along.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Bad habit of yours.”

“Yeah.”

Malfoy closed his eyes again.

“This is nice,” he said. “I can’t feel anything.”

Harry watched him. It was dark and his eyes were slow at focusing and he lifted a hand to his face to check that he was still wearing his glasses.

He wanted to ask Malfoy about being a Death Eater. And about Hogwarts last year. He wanted to ask if he felt bad about having used the cruciatus curse in class, and if he had used it outside of class too. He wanted to ask why he didn’t care when Bellatrix tortured Hermione – or if he had cared. Mostly he wanted to hear him say that he was sorry for all of it and that he regretted everything, which was why he didn’t ask:  he knew that wasn’t the answer he would get. Hermione had to be right. If Malfoy had still had a conscience, how would he even be able to stand? How could he look at anyone without crumbling from shame? How could he have made himself come back to Hogwarts? 

He wanted to ask him about politics too. He still wasn’t sure he understood all the implications of what Malfoy had said, at the pub and in the Owlery, and he thought that if he did he might find out why things still weren’t right. But he didn’t really trust his tongue to form an intelligent question, nor his mind to comprehend the answer.

“Hey,” he said instead.

Malfoy opened his eyes and turned his head to look at him.

“What?”

“Can I try something?”

He was glad he hadn’t brought up any political stuff, because he was slurring his words a little.

“Sure, what?”

Harry grinned as he reached out and touched Malfoy’s hair.

“Oh god,” he said.

Malfoy had stiffened.

“What?” he said. “That’s a muggle swear, right?”

Harry ran his fingers through the silky, white locks.

“It’s so soft,” he laughed. “This is ridiculous.”

It was so light and thin, so smooth it felt watery in a way that reminded him of the invisibility cloak. It was hard for his eyes to focus. It took him a second to realize that Malfoy was looking weirdly at him. The apology was ready on his lips immediately: hey, sorry mate, I’m just drunk, it was an impulse, didn’t mean to freak you out, haha. He was just about to pull his hand back when Malfoy moved.

 o

Draco was very, very drunk. He had been about to fall asleep when Potter called him back. Potter said something Draco didn’t quite catch. And then he was messing up Draco’s hair. He laughed and ran his fingers through it and the touch sent a shiver through him. The hand curled around the back of his neck, fingertips still playing with strands of his hair, and the touch was warm and soft. Something was off about it. Potter was laughing. The warm hand didn’t move. Draco wasn’t sure what it was that was off, and he liked how it felt. He liked the weight of it and he liked how Potter looked this close, the brightness in his drunk eyes and the way his smile curled his lips. He didn’t think Potter had ever actually smiled at him before.

Draco leaned forward. He pressed his lips against Potter’s in a clumsy, drunken kiss. He had only a fraction of a second to register that it was wrong, before he was shoved back, hard enough that he lost his balance and tumbled over.

“What the fuck, Malfoy?”

Potter spat – he actually spat – on the ground beside him and wiped his mouth with a look of shocked disgust and near sobriety. Draco sat up with as much dignity as he could manage.

“Would you calm down?” he asked. “If I had known you treasured your personal space that much I wouldn’t have invaded, but that’s no need to get bloody violent.”

“Don’t give me that shit,” said Potter loudly. “What the hell was that? I thought we were – and then you pull something like that?”

There was real anger in his voice.

“Relax, Potter. We’re drunk, you were messing with my hair, I was just going along with it. It’s just for fun, I’ve been making out with Pansy at parties for years, it doesn’t mean shit.”

“Right,” said Potter. “But I’m not bloody Pansy Parkinson. What is wrong with you? You’re a bloke.”

Comprehension finally dawned on Draco. He had messed up badly.

“You grew up with muggles,” he said. “Right. I forgot. They don’t like that sort of thing, is that what it is? Very uptight about it? Honestly, I always thought it was just a myth, like the one that they heal people by sewing up their wounds with string…”

“What, and wizards don’t mind?” said Potter, he was still practically yelling.

“No of course not. I mean, in families like mine, the heir is expected to marry so that he or she can carry on the legacy, but otherwise people couldn’t care less.”

“Fuck off,” said Potter.

He was getting to his feet without much elegance.

“What did I do now?” asked Draco.

“I’m not going to stay here for your bullshit. And the deal is off.”

Potter walked unsteadily to the stairs.

“You’re being an arsehole, Potter!”

He disappeared through the door without even looking up.

“You really shouldn’t walk by yourself!” called Draco after him. “You’re going to fall and break your neck on the stairs, and guess who will be charged with murder when you do!”

There came no reply. Draco reached for the bottle. There was still a bit of brain activity left to kill.

Chapter Text

Harry didn’t know it was possible to be angry with someone for so long, but his anger seethed in him the entire Saturday following the night in the astronomy tower. All it took was the sight of Malfoy or the slightest reminder of that night for it to roar back to life. Because there had been a pact, they had had an agreement and Harry had been fulfilling his end of it, not even realizing that Malfoy wasn’t and wouldn’t follow through on his. What was it even he had promised? That he would stop being a bastard? Harry couldn’t believe he had ever thought Malfoy was capable of that.

And then it wasn’t even something he could vent to his friends about, because it was so incredibly embarrassing. He hadn’t thought Malfoy would go that far just to humiliate him.

Apart from Harry’s inner turmoil and general grumpiness, which none of the others commented on, it was a slow sort of Saturday. It was spent lazing around the common room, playing games or getting written assignments for the coming week out of the way. Neville was down in the greenhouses with Hannah Abbott from early in the morning until late afternoon. Harry went down there after lunch but didn’t stay long – he couldn’t absorb their calm patience and thought he would just end up saying something awful if he didn’t leave.

Finally, he ended up with Hermione in the comfortable chairs in Gryffindor. She was reading, he sat across from her and tried not to think about the night before, which meant it was all he could think about. She seemed completely undisturbed by his brooding. He watched her turning the pages and probably read an entire chapter in the time it took him to gather enough courage to ask her the question. He knew he had to, to get rid of that tiny “if” that was nagging him and getting in the way of his righteous anger.

“Hermione?” he said finally.

She didn’t look up, but made a small “hm?” sound to indicate she was listening. He swallowed.

“Have you ever heard anything about wizards not minding… that they don’t mind queers?”

He stumbled on the word. Saying it aloud it felt like a terrible, self-incriminating swear. Hermione turned a page.

“Sure. It’s actually very interesting, homosexuality is both common and unquestioned throughout wizarding society. In noble families it has even been encouraged in certain historical periods, though they do have a tradition for heterosexual marriage,” she recited. “If you had bothered to take muggle-studies with me when we were younger you would have known that.”

“But I’ve never seen anyone…”

“There’s Dean and Seamus – not quite sure what the status is with that at the moment, it’s not official or anything, but you know…” she shrugged, then picked up again: “And Ginny says Lavender and Parvati were together last year. She seemed so silly to me, but they all talk about her very differently now, it might just be because she’s – no, sorry, that was an awful thing to say. I’m worried about Parvati, though. She’s grown really quiet…”

“Hermione…”

She stopped and finally managed to lift her eyes to his face. He was grimacing around another half-sentence stuck in his throat.

“You didn’t know about Dean and Seamus,” she guessed.

No.”

She sighed.

”You’re incredible, Harry. How can you not have noticed? I mean, they’re not clingy, but you live with them. Even Ron knows it, and he’s oblivious when it comes to romance.”

Little remembered bits of conversation were clicking into place in the back of Harry’s mind. Small things were making sense, most of them drowned out by the noise in his head as a major part of his world view was trying to shift, cranked by the cynicism that was Hermione’s unconcerned voice.

“And he’s… you’re… okay with that?”

Her eyebrows shot up and suddenly she looked nervous.

“Oh shoot, I’m sorry! I was being an idiot.”

Her voice finally became serious, hard and sharp the way it did when she would quiz him and Ron on homework:

“What did the Dursleys tell you?” she asked.

Harry hesitated.

“They didn’t tell me anything they just…”

He gestured vaguely. He hated this. He hated realizing that there were lasting influences from being raised by the Dursleys that he still hadn’t managed to shed. Whenever he thought he must have escaped, little things would show up and betray him. They would be habits or aspects of what he considered knowledge that it had never occurred to him to question or trace to their source. Like how when they were younger he used to stow away food from the feast, until Hermione caught him at it and forced him to explain why. Or like this moment when once again her keen eyes were trained on him and he had to fight his sudden, violent distaste for Dean and Seamus because the reason he felt that way was that Uncle Vernon used to scoff at certain people in television, it was because of the way Petunia would talk about certain neighbours with other neighbours, it was because he remembered the tone Dudley used when he had called him those names.

“Well,” Hermione said, “whatever they said, they’re wrong and the wizards are right about this one. All the sensible muggles agree with them.”

“Okay.”

She was looking pityingly at him, though she probably didn’t know it.

“Okay, Hermione,” he repeated. “I just didn’t know.”

He stood up.

“I’m… going upstairs.”

“Are you sure we don’t need to talk this through? You looked horrified for a moment, I’m sorry I didn’t realize this was a big thing, but...”

“It’s fine.”

She hesitated, then nodded.

“Okay. We can talk about it later, if you want to. But just don’t let this mess you up by not talking. I grew up with muggles too and so did lots of others, so it’s not like no one will understand, you know, if you’re confused.”

How horrified had he looked that she was reacting like this, he wondered.

“I know that.”

“Just… you’re not alone in this, this is a normal thing. It’s not just you.”

“I know.”

“Okay. Good.”

He headed for the stairs.

He had been hoping to find the dorm empty, but Seamus was up there. Harry tensed when he saw him. Seamus didn’t seem to notice.

“I just need to get my broom,” muttered Harry without looking at him.

He grabbed his Firebolt and left.

Chapter Text

Of course Draco hadn’t planned on telling Pansy what had happened, but she got it out of him anyway. She laughed herself into hysterics, but at least she didn’t pass it on.

Nott knew that Draco had bought whiskey and had probably deduced part of the pathetic scene that naturally followed, but he was the sort of person who got more joy from hoarding secrets than spreading gossip, so he kept quiet too.

Draco didn’t tell either of them about his father. He ought to have told Pansy, but he couldn’t stand the thought of that conversation. He didn’t want to tell anyone.

And Potter was avoiding him. Draco could have tried to explain that he had not broken the deal, since the scene in the tower should not count as “bothering Potter or his friends” just because Potter was oversensitive and had been raised by muggles, but it didn’t seem like it would make a difference. Potter wouldn’t even look at him. He shouldn’t have cared about it, but he did. It even overshadowed the looming dread of Azkaban. At least in the daytime. Night was when the dementors came. He dreamt of meeting his father in endless, dark corridors, and then didn’t dream because he didn’t sleep. Sometimes he would lie awake tracing the Dark Mark on his skin. It was raised and uneven like scar-tissue.

He endured this for exactly one week, which was how long it took before Pansy casually mentioned that if it bothered him so much then he should go talk to Potter:
“A week is long enough to be embarrassed, but he won’t snap out of it unless you tell him to. If you’re really becoming such good friends, then I don’t see why you can’t just tell him to stop ignoring you.”

“It’s not that simple,” he told her.

“Coward.”

 o

After potions when everyone else was packing up, Draco left his things by his desk and walked to the Gryffindor side of the classroom. The Weasley girl was the first one to notice him.

“What do you want?” she snapped with a command in her voice, a warning that he ought to stand to attention and state his purpose before coming any closer.

He had seen her throw quite a few nasty hexes by now. He remembered the unwavering defiance she had shown the Carrows last year. He stopped.

“I need to speak to Potter,” he said calmly, as if he had any right in the world to demand such a thing.

Her eyes flicked back to The Boy Who Lived (twice), who was just then very focused on wiping leeches off his desk.

“Why?” asked the other Weasley aggressively, stepping up to his sister.

Thomas and Finnigan were a few tables over, but they were following the scene with interest and looked like they would jump in the second it turned ugly. Granger hadn’t gotten up to join the wall of Gryffindors between Draco and Potter, but she was watching the scenario attentively. He couldn’t tell from where he stood if she had her wand out, but he remembered the warning she had given him. He suddenly missed Crabbe and Goyle – everything had been so much easier with bodyguards. Draco turned his attention from Ginevra to Ronald.

“You don’t have to worry about that, Weasley. I think Potter would agree that it’s something we should keep just between the two of us.”

“Oh, please-“ said Granger, but Potter cut her off.

“It’s fine. I’ll talk to him.”

Granger looked for a second like she was considering hexing him too, but then she just rolled her eyes at them and slung her bag over her shoulder.

“Fine.”

Potter looked at the others.

“Just go ahead,” he said. “I’ll be there in a second.”

“Do you know what this is about, mate?” asked Weasley.

“Yes, and it’s okay.”

Weasley nodded but didn’t look very convinced. Granger was already at the door.

“If you say so…” he said reluctantly.

“Don’t look so worried,” said Draco. “You heard him, he trusts me, so do as you’re told and run along now, will you?”

“Shut up, you prick,” said Ginevra, pushing past him.

Her brother followed and Finnigan and Thomas joined them on the way out. Everyone else had already gone.

“I didn’t realize you’d turned them into your private militia,” Draco said, looking after them.

“I told you our deal was off,” said Potter.

He had his arms crossed and looked very much like he would prefer to have left with his friends. Draco waved his protest off.

“I know,” he said. “The truce is over, that’s fine. I don’t want you to spend time with me as some sort of charity event. I just wanted to tell you – because it seems the message didn’t sink in the last time – that nothing that happened in that tower mattered, so you can stop acting like you’ll die from shame just from being in the same room as me, because if you don’t, I promise you this is going to be a very long year for both of us. You’re making me feel embarrassed.”

“Fine,” said Potter with a shrug.

“That’s not how it works. I know it’s fine, but you’re still not looking at me.”

Potter looked at him.

“Fine,” he repeated heavily.

Draco nodded.

“Good,” he said.

Potter turned his back to him and picked up his things.

“Don’t you need to clean up your station?” he asked without looking at Draco.

“Look, I wanted to tell you I’m sorry.”

The apology came more easily to Draco than he had expected.

“I didn’t mean to – I didn’t mean for something like that to happen,” he pushed on. “And I didn’t know it would bother you so much, but of course I should have thought of that. I wasn’t messing with you when I said it’s not a big deal for wizards. I thought you’d know, but you can ask anyone, they’ll tell you the same thing.”

“I know. I did.”

Draco took another deep breath, knowing this wasn’t all he needed to say, but hating that he had to expose himself like this.

“I also think… Well, I think that it would be a shame if this was going to be the end of… this.”

Potter stuffed his measuring scales into his bag.

“Because of your political plot?”

“No. Well, yes, I suppose you could say that, but not really,” he babbled. “I like talking to you, I honestly do. I thought the feeling was mutual.”

Potter hesitated.

“It might be,” he said.

Draco exhaled a sigh of relief. He sat down on the edge of a table and forced himself to relax his shoulders. He tried to think of the next thing to say – to seal the exchange before Potter took back his words, or just something to move them on, so they could put this whole embarrassing mess behind them. He could feel his heart pounding. He was glad they didn’t have an audience. Usually, that was what he wanted when he conversed with Potter, but this felt important in its own right. Potter still had his bag slung over his shoulder, but he looked like he had forgotten that he had been about to leave.

“So what are you doing for Christmas?” asked Draco.

It was a lame solution, but Potter took the suggestion, and Draco was grateful.

“I’ll be at Ron’s house.”

“Not with your muggle family?” he asked, before realizing that this was tactless because it was quite possible that they were dead.

But Potter just looked surprised.

“No, of course not. I haven’t spent Christmas with them since I was 10.”

“Right, you used to stay at the school, didn’t you?”

Potter nodded.

“I thought about doing it this year too, but none of the other Gryffindors in our year are staying so…” He shrugged. “How about you, are you okay with going home?”

“I’m sure I’ll manage. I try not to think too much about it.”

“Have you told anyone?”

“Told them what?”

“That you’re going to visit your father?”

“No. Do you mind if I clean up my station while we talk?”
Potter shrugged and they went back to Draco’s desk, where his cauldron was still out and scalpels and leftover ingredients were scattered on the cutting board. He took out his wand and started cleaning up. Potter was leaning on one of the other desks, watching him, and Draco felt a tug at the knot of cramped, nervous happiness in his chest.

“So why haven’t you?”

Draco shrugged.

“I already told you I’m not close with people in Slytherin. And currently my agenda is to make them forget about my father as fast as possible, so mentioning that I’m going on an outing to Azkaban for Christmas doesn’t really go with that strategy.”

“So it’s just me?” said Potter, halfway smiling as if he wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the two of them confiding in each other.

And Draco thought for the first time since this whole thing had started, that there was a chance he would come to like Potter. He liked him right then, and not because he could use him or because his presence promised redemption, but just because he smiled that way.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s just you.”

Draco put his wand away and picked up his things.

“We should get going,” he said. “Your friends are waiting for you. They’re probably worried I’ve killed you.”

Potter scoffed.

“Yeah, or the other way around.”

Chapter Text

Despite having taken most of the same classes last year, the curriculum was different enough that Draco still had a hard time keeping up his grades. He still had to put up with being the scapegoat of Slytherin. The holidays were looming ever closer. He had dreams of Azkaban almost every night. But there was also this: Potter sending him looks across classrooms - rolling his eyes at him when Slughorn’s monologues were derailed by anecdotes about his famous former students; looking exasperated when McGonagall announced the horrendous length requirements for papers in transfiguration. He wasn’t sure if it was because of Granger’s warning, but they didn’t say hi to each other in the halls. Instead they exchanged imperceptible nods, and Draco found that this was actually better. Befriending Potter became easier the less public it was. It kept Potter’s private army of devoted fans from interfering. It kept Draco from trying to spin their every interaction into a performance.

They went flying again. Over the forest, almost to the mountains before they turned back. By then the days had gotten short and even though it wasn’t that late, dark had fallen and it felt like the middle of the night when they walked back to the castle. Draco listened to the sound of their footsteps as they made their way up to the hill. The air smelled of the coming frost. They were quiet – they had been yelling and howling when they flew, but now they walked silently almost shoulder to shoulder. 

“I’ll see you after the holidays,” said Potter when they stood inside the Entrance Hall, just before they split up.

“Have a nice Christmas,” said Draco.

Chapter Text

Over a deserted stretch of the East coast of Great Britain, seagulls circled like flecks of ash against the white and colourless December sky. A small house was cowering on top of the dunes, balancing precariously on the edge of a hill that was slowly being eaten away by the sea below. Draco and his mother were making their way towards it. Their black cloaks whipped around them as if the wind was trying to hold on to them and drag them away from the shore.

Narcissa knocked on the front door when they reached it. Draco looked grimly out at the sea. The door opened and they both looked up at the man in front of them. He was tall and seemed as colourless as the landscape around him. It was impossible to guess his age. His face was weather-beaten and he wore muggle clothing – if it hadn’t been for the wand in his hand, he could just as well have been a local fisherman. Draco knew the aurors were only stationed at Azkaban for short periods of time, but this man looked like he had lived by this coast his whole life.

“Come on in,” he said, hardly audible over the thunderous crash of the waves below.

Draco couldn’t hear if his mother replied, but he followed her inside. As soon as the door had closed behind them, the world was quiet again. They could still hear the sound of the sea, but they were shielded from the wind. His mother dragged strands of hair out of her face, running her fingers through it and probably regretting she hadn’t put it up. There was another auror inside the house, a skinny woman with a pointed face leaning against a desk by the opposite wall. She nodded at them, but didn’t introduce herself. She had her wand out too.

“So – Narcissa Malfoy and Draco Malfoy?” asked the auror who had let them in.

“Yes,” his mother said.

“Right. My name is Belby, over there is Jansson,” he gestured to the woman who smiled thinly at them. “We’ll be taking you to the prison, but first I need both of you to place your wands on the table here, and afterwards we’re going to perform a quick security check to verify your identities and to check for any concealment spells, hidden wands, weapons, food, etcetera. You are not allowed to bring anything into Azkaban except for yourselves and the robes you’re wearing, so if you’re carrying anything with you apart from your wands, please place these objects on the table as well.”

They both took out their wands and put them down on the table. They did not have anything else with them.

“Alright,” said Belby.

He raised his wand and began casting spells, going through a long series of revealing and disarming charms, half of which Draco had never heard before. The other auror, Jansson, had her wand trained on them as well, but didn’t cast any spells. He assumed she was just standing by as extra security if they were to try anything even without their wands, but then he felt the clammy sensation of another mind brushing against his own. He started. The feeling was gone before he managed to put up any occlumency barriers. He scowled at her and there was the tiniest notion of a smile on her face. Belby finished up his incantations and asked them to follow him.

 

A boat was waiting for them down by the shore. It was small and battered and seemed inadequate as protection against the violent waves, but it was pulled by magic and cut smoothly through the water, as if it was running on railroad tracks rather than sailing. A spell had been cast to keep the sprays of water from hitting them too. His mother had her hands curled tightly in her lap and was staring straight ahead. He could tell she was worried, even if she would have appeared calm and dignified to anyone else. He turned away from her and wondered how far out the island was. He couldn’t see anything yet. Suddenly he was worried they might have to sail all the way to the Danish or Norwegian coast – Azkaban was unplottable, so he had never seen it on a map and had no closer idea of where it was, other than that it was somewhere in the North Sea. He was just about to ask one of the aurors how far it was, when he saw it. It appeared out of nowhere. A second ago there had only been the sea ahead of them, but now the tower rose sharp and angular into the sky. It towered over them like a mountain, immense and eternal, and as with Hogwarts, it was hard to believe that humans had created it. It was hard to believe it had ever been created at all, that it hadn’t always been there as a shadowed mark upon the world. It seemed the grey daylight never reached the stones of the walls, like the tower held a darkness of its own. Draco had never thought a building could look evil. There were no seagulls anymore.

“It’s invisible until you get close,” said Belby. “Powerful disillusionment.”

No one said anything. The boat reached the dry beach of the island and dragged itself up on the sand. The aurors jumped out and Draco and his mother followed. He looked back out to the steel grey sea. He wanted to run away. He did not want to go any closer. He did not want to know what was inside. Still, he felt his body moving towards the tower, put one foot in front of the other. The urge to flee was overwhelming. The fear felt primeval, as if the aversion to the horror ahead was suddenly the most deeply rooted instinct in his body. But he pushed the feeling back. He followed the others across the island, telling himself that he wasn’t really there. It wasn’t really happening.

Narrow metal stairs were bolted unto the side of the building and rose all the way to the top, where the only entrance to the tower was. It was a long, slow climb to the top, where they were led through a metal door, down a hallway to a small office, where four other aurors were seated around a table in the soft, silvery glow of a crow patronus that was perched on the back of one of the chairs. They were playing cards and only looked up from their game when Belby knocked on the doorframe.

“Mrs. Malfoy and her son are here,” he said. “Can one of you take them down to Lucius Malfoy’s cell for their visit?”

“Well, looks like it’s going to be you, Jones,” said one of the others, grinning.

The youngest of the aurors threw down his cards and stood up.

“Shit. I swear when I get out of here, I’m never playing cards again,” he said.

He turned to Jansson and Belby.

“Will you be waiting up here while I take them down, or are you going back now?”

“We’ll wait for them here.”

“Right.”

 He pulled out his wand.

Expecto Patronum,” he said and from the tip of his wand sprang the silvery shape of stoat.

“Follow me,” he muttered in the general direction of Draco and his mother, then pushed past them with his patronus leading the way.

“So Belby and Jansson brought you up here without a patronus?” he asked without turning around.

He was leading them swiftly down the hallway outside the office.

“Yes,” said Draco’s mother.

Her voice sounded strained. Draco wasn’t sure he was even able to speak. The patronus-light was calming, though. It relieved the sense of ancient terror that emanated from the place, but the anxiousness inside him wasn’t affected much.

“Right, well that’s ok as long as you’re outside the walls and on the topmost storey where we are now. But as soon as we enter the prison – close that door behind you – as soon as we enter the actual prison you have to stay close to me. Even if you don’t see any dementors, you need patronus protection down there. Don’t look into any of the cells either, that’s my advice. We keep the Death Eaters all the way at the bottom, so it’s quite a walk. Down the stairs here.”

They went down another staircase and then the auror unlocked a heavy iron door and a gust of cold air brushed against them, making Draco shiver. He hesitated for a second, before stepping through.

And this was the prison of Azkaban: an enormous, open space between the three outer walls of the tower. An external gallery ran along the walls with cell doors on the right, an iron railing on the left. The galleries below were visible, each forming a band of dim light until some way down, where the lowest stories were swallowed by darkness, making the drop seem endless. And there were dementors. In his mind he had imagined them swarming all over the place, but they were only shadows passing on the galleries below, or they were movements in the deep pit, rising from or descending into the darkness. He dragged his eyes away. He stared at the floor under his feet, at the hem of his mother’s robes. It had not been necessary to tell them not to look into the cells. He didn’t want to see what was in there. He didn’t want to know what happened to people when they were put in a place like this.

“Why is it dark down there?” he asked.

His voice was weird, he didn’t sound like himself.

“We don’t use the cells in the bottom,” said the auror.

“Why not?”

“That’s where the dementor pit is. We don’t have any prisoners lower than the fourth floor. You wouldn’t want to go down there, even with a powerful patronus., there are too many of them. I think that’s where the new ones come from.”

“They breed?”

“Don’t ask questions, Draco,” said his mother.

It was her fault that they were here. She had made this decision, she had pressed the Ministry about it, pulled strings, bribed whoever she needed to and ignored every single one of Draco’s protests. He had been so angry with her ever since he got her letter. But he still reached for her hand. She flinched when his fingers brushed hers, but then she took his hand and held on. They shouldn’t have come here. If she had another breakdown, he wasn’t sure she would recover. He cast another glance over the edge. It was such a long way down.

Sound didn’t travel far in Azkaban. If the acoustics had been normal, the tower would have been filled with noise from the prisoners, who were crying, whining or babbling incomprehensibly. In one cell, someone was screaming their head off, stopping for breath and then screaming again. He didn’t look. As soon as they had passed a few cells further down, they couldn’t hear it anymore. It might be the ancient magic that swallowed the sound. Or perhaps it was the dementors. 

It got colder the further down they went. Which wasn’t right, Draco realized. They shouldn’t be able to feel the effect of the dementors when they had a patronus with them. He cleared his throat

“Shouldn’t there be more than one auror going with us?” he asked quietly.

It felt wrong to break the long stretch of silence.

“Why? If you attack me I might accidentally let my patronus go out, and you don’t have your wands with you to cast your own. And even if you did, the dementors would be over you before you had the time, and they would alert the aurors upstairs.”

“I meant for our safety. It seems like one patronus for three people might be a bit inadequate.”
“You’ll be fine.”

“But what if something happened to you and you let the patronus go out?”
“I’ve been here a while. My patronus is pretty steady. And anyway you don’t get the ones up there to go down here unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“How much further is it?” asked his mother.

Her voice was glass.

“He’s on the next floor.”

 

Lucius Malfoy sat motionless on the narrow stone shelf that protruded from the wall of his cell, huddled under grey blankets. He was thin. His eyes were empty. A sob escaped Narcissa. Lucius did not react at all to the screech of his cell door opening. Only when the stoat patronus stepped inside did he seem to wake up. He blinked. He stared at the silver creature.

“Lucius…” said Narcissa quietly.

He turned his head very slowly to look at her. He opened his mouth, but didn’t say anything. Draco looked at his mother. Why had she wanted to do this?

“Narcissa,” said Lucius hoarsely.

He didn’t sound certain that it was the right name.

“Yes,” his mother said. “Yes, love, it’s me. Draco is here too.”

His father looked at him, or looked over him or through him. Draco felt sick. Narcissa let go of his hand to kneel in front of the corpse of a man. When she spoke her voice was soft and soothing. She told him that she and Draco had been pardoned. That they still had the manor and most of their assets, and everything was all right. It smelled terrible in the cell. There was a drain in the floor.

“Good,” Lucius managed hoarsely. “That’s very good.”

“And Draco is back at school now. He’s doing very well.”

“Why are you telling him that?” snapped Draco. “How long do you think he’ll remember it? It’ll be gone an hour after we’re out of here. He’s dead – look at him, he’s fucking dead! We came all the way in here to talk to a corpse, and as soon as we walk back out all that shit you’re telling him will just seep away. He doesn’t even know who you are!”

“Draco!” she said sharply. “Don’t swear. And don’t say things like that.”

His anger curled back at her icy tone, but he did not apologize. He looked away. Narcissa turned back to Lucius. She brushed her lips lightly over his cheek. He didn’t seem to notice. Draco wanted to throw up.

“Goodbye,” she said.

Then she turned to Draco:

“Don’t you have anything you want to say to your father?”

“No.”

“This is the last time you’ll see each other.”

“I didn’t want to come,” he hissed, “I didn’t want to see him. And I want us to leave.”

Lucius jerked violently, the auror’s wand shot up, aimed at his chest.

“You’re leaving?” he asked.

“I’m so sorry, my love,” said Narcissa.

“Now?”

“I think if you’ve said what you needed to, now would be a good time, Mrs. Malfoy,” said the auror.

He didn’t take his eyes of Lucius. Narcissa nodded once and reached for the door.

“NO!” screamed Lucius.

Petrificus totalus!”

Lucius Malfoy froze in the middle of throwing himself after the stoat patronus. His arms that had been reaching out towards the silvery light, snapped down to his sides and he fell over, stiff as a board.

The patronus didn’t as much as waver when the auror cast the curse.

“Out,” he said, pushing Draco towards the cell door.

As soon as he had secured the lock, he mumbled the counter curse and Lucius scrambled to his feet, throwing himself against the bars.

“Please!” he screamed, “please don’t take it away! Please, I beg you! Stay!”

His voice rose higher, grew more and more frantic as they walked away.

“Bring it back! I need it! Please, please!”

Sound didn’t travel far in Azkaban. It wasn’t long before they couldn’t hear him anymore.

Draco’s feet were heavy. He wasn’t sure he could walk all the way back up. His anger was gone, he just felt cold. Small and cold and scared. He watched his mother’s back. She seemed to walk straighter now than she had on the way down. He did not reach for her hand this time.

He looked into the cells on the way up. It didn’t matter now. He knew what was in them. Some prisoners were chained to the wall, though he couldn’t see any reason for it. Some were drooling and rocking themselves back and forth, but most didn’t move at all. He thought at some point that he wanted to stop looking, but then it seemed he couldn’t. And they walked forever. He had no idea how far up they were when they passed her. A young woman, who moved closer to the bars when they neared her cell. There was something odd and disjointed about her movements. Her features seemed elongated and inhuman, but she was looking right at Draco, and her eyes weren’t dead. She could have been his age, hardly much older.

“Help me,” she said, so quietly he might have been imagining it.

He stopped.

“Please,” she said. “Tell them it was an accident. It won’t happen again.”

Her voice was hoarse. She steadied herself with a hand on the wall of her cell and only then did he notice the coarse hair on her arms, the black claws at the tips of her fingers.

“Please tell them,” she said. “I didn’t mean to. It wasn’t me.”

“I can’t,” he whispered.

She licked her chapped lips and mumbled something else, but he couldn’t make out the words. He could hardly make out her face anymore either and he realized how dark it had gotten around them, that the light was the flickering yellow of oil lamps not the steady silver of the patronus. He turned, and saw the backs of his mother and the auror far ahead. They hadn’t noticed he had stopped. He felt the unnatural cold biting into his flesh.

No, he thought.

He heard the dragging, rattling breath behind him and turned around as the dementor rose up on the other side of the railing. Far away, his mother screamed.

Chapter Text

Something sweet and viscid swelled in his mouth. He couldn’t swallow it. He couldn’t breathe. He turned over and retched. His eyes were dry and prickly. The acrid smell filled his nostrils. He retched again, his stomach and throat convulsing until he was just spitting out thin threads of bile.

“Oh great, now he’s throwing up,” said a faraway voice. “Do we have more chocolate?”

His mother’s gentle hands lifted him up from her lap and he slumped against her shoulder instead. There was vomit on her robes. She rested a cool hand on his forehead.

“Will one of you conjure him a glass of water?” she asked.

A glass was pushed into his hand. His fingers were shaking, he thought he might drop it, but then his mother put her hand over his and helped him raise it to his lips. He drank tiny sips, tried to get the world back into focus.

“Draco? You need to eat some chocolate.”

She took the glass away. He looked at his hands in his lap. They twitched.

“Here,” she said.

He opened his mouth and a piece of chocolate was pushed between his lips.

“Mrs Malfoy, if the boy’s awake, I think it’s time for you to leave.”

His mother didn’t answer. She kept stroking his forehead. He tried to chew the chocolate.

“Are you feeling better, sweetheart?” she asked. “Do you think you’re ready to go home?”

Draco swallowed hard.

“Who is she?” he croaked looking up at the aurors who were watching him with more impatience than pity.

“Who?”

“That girl in the cell.”

“Oh, that’s the one he stopped to look at,” said the auror who had accompanied them, Jones. “The werewolf.”

He looked at Draco.

“It was all over the papers a while ago. Her family didn’t get her registered, thought it was a better idea to just lock her up in the basement during the full moon. Then one night she got out, killed her mother and brother and a couple of muggles. Her father survived, but I think he got a sentence too, for trying to keep her condition secret. Why? You know her?”

Draco shook his head.

“Why did she look like that?”

Jones shrugged.

“Don’t know. I think we have another couple of werewolves in here, they’re all like that. They don’t transform properly. Might be because of the dementors, but I don’t know.”

“Okay, thanks Jones, let’s end the story time here,” said Jansson, stepping forward. “Mr Malfoy, you seem to be doing fine now, so we’re going to escort you and your mother back to the main land.”

Draco nodded.

 o

They left Azkaban. Their wands were returned to them back at the small house by the coast. They apparated to St. Mungo’s, but there is no treatment for dementor exposure except chocolate and rest, and after being told this several times by a healer, Narcissa took Draco with her back to the manor.

 o

He slept a lot. He ate chocolate and didn’t throw up all of it. He knew that the worse things a person has experienced, the more vulnerable they become to a dementor attack, and that the effect of dementors was even stronger on people who had been overexposed before. Still, he could only have been out of reach of the patronus for a couple of seconds, and that shouldn’t be nearly enough to cause permanent damage no matter how weak he was. He kept reminding himself of this when, two days later, he still didn’t feel normal. His mother insisted on nursing him. He told her to leave him alone, but she didn’t listen, so he dragged himself out of bed and locked the door to keep her out. Then she sent the house elves, but he ordered them to stay away. He barricaded himself in his room and didn’t speak to anyone, didn’t read his letters and most days didn’t even get out of bed.

Chapter Text

It was the first Christmas after the war and of course it would have been impossible not to feel the emptiness left by all the people who had died. But the burrow was still full of people, there were guests in every bedroom and Mrs Weasley kept everyone busy with cooking for and cleaning after everyone, with entertaining guests and running errands for her.

On the days before Christmas it was mostly Weasley relatives who filled the house. Bill and Fleur came home, and Charlie and Percy as well. They visited graves on Christmas day, when the distant relatives had left and Andromeda had arrived with Teddy. That day was heavy, but afterwards everyone seemed to breathe easier.

After Christmas, it was friends and order members who flocked to the burrow. Hermione had insisted on spending most of her break at home and didn’t arrive until the day before New Years. She had been very tense when her parents picked her up at the train station. She hadn’t said anything, but Harry thought it had to be because of the memory charm. Their memories had been restored, but it had to be hard to forget that not that long ago, they wouldn’t even have recognized her. Luna, Neville, Dean and Seamus came for the New Years Eve party too.

They all ate dinner together, but afterwards the party split into factions. George, who was more like his old self than he had been for the rest of the holidays, left the party with Lee Jordan, Alicia Spinnet and Katie Bell to go to clubs in muggle London. They carried suspiciously large bags that Ginny said were filled with fireworks from the joke shop. The adults stayed in the downstairs rooms of the burrow, and Harry and his friends retreated upstairs.

They ended up in Ginny’s room, where Luna claimed the record player and refused to give it up for the rest of the night. They passed bottles of ginger and strawberry mead around. There wasn’t a lot of room for dancing, but that only meant the party felt bigger than it actually was. Hermione had brought some of her parent’s old records with her and Luna quickly abandoned all wizards’ music for muggle music from the 70’s and 80’s. She traced the lightning bolt over David Bowie’s face with her fingers and grinned at Harry. It was hard to tell if she was drunk or not, but she had claimed one of the bottles for herself and was gingerly sipping it while she watched them, bobbing her head to the music. The rest of them were slowly but steadily getting pissed. At one point Ginny and Hermione collapsed on the bed laughing hysterically, and no one could figure out what the joke was, since they didn’t have the breath to explain. Ron pulled Hermione back to her feet and they were dancing again. Ginny grabbed Harry’s hand, still grinning. He was vaguely aware that he was probably a terrible dancer, but Neville was too and it couldn’t have mattered less.

 o

At four they were in a circle on the floor, too tired to move. Their voices were low, the conversation slow and drowsy. Luna had her head in Ginny’s lap and Ginny was braiding her hair. Ron had his arms around Hermione; Seamus slumped against Dean, his head resting on his shoulder. Neville had his back against Ginny’s bed and was fighting hard to keep his eyes open. It was still completely dark outside. They could see the light from the room reflected in the black glass. When they spoke it was with frayed, hazy voices.

“It’s weird that we won’t be at Hogwarts next year,” said Seamus.

“It’s weirder that we’re still there.”

“Yeah.”

“I think it’s nice that we get another year,” said Hermione. “I wouldn’t want to end it like that…“

“It’s gonna be really scary being on our own afterwards. Can any of you do laundry magically? How come they haven’t taught us that? I mean, I can stun Death Eaters, sure, but I can’t do my bloody laundry,” said Seamus.

“You’re moving out on your own?”

“Probably.”

“Do you know where?”

“London, hopefully.”

“That’s where Harry and Ron and I have talked about going too. We’ve sort of been looking for a flat, and if we split the rent it might be feasible.”

“And George said I can work with him and Lee in the jokeshop, so I already have a job,” said Ron. “But we’ll probably have to stay in a shitty place no matter what.”

“Sounds lovely.”

“And you know how to do laundry?”

“It can’t be that difficult. There ought to be books on it in the library. And Ron, you should really get your mother to teach you.”

“She won’t. She doesn’t want me to move out. She’ll never let you out of the house either, Ginny.”

“I know. And as soon as I manage to escape she’ll be demanding grandchildren. Did you see how she was acting around Fleur?”

“Shit, we’ll have to cook too!”

“Harry can cook.”

“No way.”

“Not really,” he said.

Heating beans in a tent hadn't felt much like cooking, and that was what they had mostly resorted to when they were searching for horcruxes, which was the last time he had cooked anything.

“You’re better than Hermione, anyway.”

“Not with magic. I can cook in a muggle kitchen.”

“Do you know what you’re doing, Neville?”

“Yeah,” he said, straightening up a bit. “Yeah, I’ll be studying herbology in Sweden, actually. In Uppsala. The school has rooms for foreign students, so…”

He shrugged.

“I didn’t even know you’d gotten in!” exclaimed Hermione.

“I got the letter just before break.”

“That’s so great, congratulations.”

“So do you have to learn Swedish, then?” asked Ginny.

Neville grimaced.

“Probably… most of the classes are in English, but I might have to anyway. Some of them are at a muggle school, they have this whole system of enrolling wizards for certain parts of the muggle curriculum without the muggles noticing.”

“Probably good you’ve been taking muggle studies, then,” said Hermione.

“Yeah.”


There was a lull in the conversation, another stretch of silence. Luna got up from Ginny's lap to put on another record.

“I would love to go to Sweden,” she said dreamily. “Bu father really wants me to stay at home.”

“I’ll probably live at home for a while too,” said Dean.

“Weren’t you going to a muggle university or something, Hermione?”

“I am. I really want to, I just can’t decide where to go. It’s a bit difficult, since I can’t really put down Hogwarts as previous education on my application, and I’ll have to translate the grades too. It’ll probably be hard to make it fit with further wizarding education as well.“

“And you want seven different majors,” said Harry.

“It’s so hard to choose!”

They laughed. Dean yawned.

“Guys, this is really great, but I think I should go to bed soon.”

“Bring Seamus with you, I don’t think he can walk on his own.”

Seamus made a noise. Dean pulled him up and held him upright as they staggered out of the room.

“We should sleep too,” said Harry, but he was too tired to even think of getting up or walking all the way to Ron’s room.

“I’m not tired,” said Luna.

“Liar.”

There were no voices from downstairs anymore either. They heard the distant crack of faraway fireworks.

“This was such a good New Years Eve,” said Hermione quietly.

“It was.”

“You should be a DJ, Luna. We’d hire you for all the Gryffindor parties.”

She smiled.

“That would be nice.”

“We could just sleep on the floor…” said Ron.

“No you can’t, there’s not enough space.”

“Fine.”

Ron disentangled himself from Hermione. Harry and Neville stood up to leave with him.

“Goodnight.”

“See you all at breakfast.”

Chapter Text

When Harry returned to Hogwarts after the holidays he was feeling better than he had in months. They could see the end now, which meant that Hermione was already stressing over exams, but to Harry they still felt far away. Classes only picked up slowly after the break and there wasn’t a lot of homework. He spent his free time playing quidditch on the grounds, drinking tea in the common room, and visiting Hagrid with Ron and Hermione, which they hadn’t done a lot that year.

At first he didn’t look for Malfoy. He had been thinking about him while they were away, had even almost missed his snarky sarcasm and their secret flying trips. He didn’t know if those things would still be there after the holidays, if that strange half-friendship could still function after a few weeks where they had been apart. But it wasn’t a pressing matter, and he was busy and the thought remained at the back of his mind until he overheard someone saying that Malfoy hadn’t returned to the school at all. He did not ask around about, it would have seemed strange if he had. But for the next week he noticed that Malfoy was missing from every class Slytherins and Gryffindors had together, and Harry was worried.

 o

Draco did not return to Hogwarts when school started. His mother wrote the headmistress, telling her that Draco was sick and would stay at home until he felt better. He had packed and unpacked several times. He would be seized by a strong urge to leave the house as soon as possible and throw all of his stuff into a suitcase, ready to apparate by himself immediately, but then he reached the door of his room and he changed his mind. Unpacked everything again.

By that time, he had started leaving his room again for meals. He would eat with his mother in the dining hall. Sometimes she would talk, and he wouldn’t say anything. Sometimes they just ate in silence. When it had been four days she started asking him when he was planning on going back to school. She was gentle at first, but then she got tired of his indifferent shrugs and started reminding him that he was all this family had left and if he didn’t make an effort he wouldn’t amount to anything, and he had survived the first half year, so he would survive the last one too.

If he had said then that he wanted to go abroad, maybe she would have agreed to try again. She was more like herself now, more like she had been before the war. She didn’t cry when she looked at him anymore. But he did not ask her. And when a whole week had gone by she told him to go pack his things: they were leaving in half an hour.

 o 

They apparated as close to the school as they could, then walked up the path the rest of the way to the gate. Between the columns, two people were waiting for them. One was holding a lantern that illuminated his mountainous size. The man looked wild and uncultured, like he was only partly human and not far from reverting back to some wild animal state. Draco wasn’t a child anymore, but the groundskeeper still made him uncomfortable. He looked down at them when they approached, the light catching in the black eyes hidden in the wild thicket of hair. Next to him was Draco’s head of house, Professor Slughorn, who looked very cultured and very tiny next to the half-giant.

“Good evening, Mrs Malfoy,” he greeted Draco’s mother.

She shook his hand.

“And it’s good to have you back, Mr Malfoy, I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

Slughorn put a hand on Draco’s shoulder and it was probably supposed to demonstrate to his mother how welcome Draco was at Hogwarts and how fatherly and responsible his head of house was, but the gesture reminded him of being taken into custody.

“Well, thank you for bringing your son back, I hope he enjoyed the holidays. It’s past curfew now, so if you don’t mind, I think professor Hagrid and I should escort him inside.”

His mother smiled politely.

“Of course. I am sorry I couldn’t bring him earlier, but thank you for accepting him back so late. It was very unfortunate that he fell ill just when school began.”

Slughorn nodded.

“Yes, very unfortunate indeed. But he’s a bright boy, I’m sure he’ll catch up in no time.”

“I’m sure he will. Thank you, professor. Draco?”

His mother reached for him, and he freed himself from Slughorn’s grip and walked into her arms. She held him a long time before she let go.

“Goodbye,” she said. “I’ll see you this summer.”

He managed a smile. Then she turned back down the path and Slughorn’s hand was on his shoulder again. They led him back up to the castle.

 o 

Draco had returned to Hogwarts, but he was a ghost. He went mechanically through the motions of the day. He felt as if he had not woken up in the morning and was living in a sleepwalking state until he could go back to sleep at night. It had been more than a week since Azkaban, and it was as if he still hadn’t recovered. He still felt the dementor’s clammy grasp on his mind. He was not awake when his eyes were open. He was not sure he wanted to wake up. He thought there was something waiting for him when he did.

 o

Pansy cornered him first thing in the morning after he had come back.

“Where were you?” she demanded.

He blinked at her.

“When?”

“New years! You were supposed to be there. I sent you letters. I contacted your mother over the floo, and she said you wouldn’t talk to me.”

He shrugged.

“Why didn’t you come? Why didn’t you write me back? I mean, it’s not like my life revolves around you coming to my parties, but I don’t like to be stood up and I don’t like to be ignored, so you better have a pretty good excuse for being such a prick.”

He shrugged again.

“Sorry,” he said.

She might have hit him, but Pansy wasn’t one for violence; she didn’t hurt people with anything but words. She turned around on her heel and marched away. She did not speak to him again.

o

Blaise Zabini was the sort of person who was mean with a purpose. It was obvious that this Draco posed no threat and had no intention of challenging him, which meant there was no longer a need for demonstrations of power. Blaise left him alone, everyone else left him alone, and they would probably still have left him alone even if he had started sitting with them again at meals and in the common room, but he didn’t.

There were fewer insults thrown at him and no hexes at all – he knew they had not stopped out of pity but because they were satisfied. No one cared much exactly what had happened to him. The important part was that he had been pacified. And Draco didn’t mind being left alone. It allowed him to sleepwalk. 

o

Of course of all the students at Hogwarts, Potter was the one who seemed to have missed the note that Draco was to be ignored. Draco noticed he was looking at him in potions, trying to get eye contact. It was a theory oriented lesson, so they didn’t get out of their seats, and Draco didn’t look up from his notes at all until they were dismissed. He was the first one out of the classroom.

o

The next time Slytherin and Gryffindor had classes together was in Transfiguration. Draco didn’t look in Potter’s direction at all during this lesson, so he didn’t know if he had been staring again, but he still wanted to leave as quickly as possible when it was over. He had already stood up and had his bag over his shoulder when McGonagall called on him.

“Mr Malfoy,” she said and he stopped. “Would you mind coming up here for a second?”

The rest of the students filed out of the classroom as Draco walked to McGonagall’s desk. There were only a few curious glances.

“Don’t look so worried,” she said when he stood in front of her. “You’re not in trouble. I want to talk to you, but this is not an ideal time. Do you think you could come by my office after dinner this evening? Eight thirty should be a good time.”

He nodded.

“Good. I will see you then, Mr Malfoy.”

He nodded again and she returned to her papers. He turned to leave and as he did, he had to fight back an overwhelming urge to scratch at the mark. When he reached the door, he briefly touched the edge of his sleeve before pushing down the handle and slipping out into the corridor. He wondered what his mother would do to him if-

“Malfoy!”

Draco started. He looked up and saw Potter coming towards him. Draco turned around and began walking away quickly in the opposite direction.

“Malfoy, wait!”

Potter caught up with him and grabbed his arm so Draco had to stop.

“I wanted to talk to you, I haven’t had the chance since you came back. I’m glad I caught you.”

Draco stared at Potter’s smiling face, felt his hand on his arm.

He’s happy to see me, he realized.

Maybe Potter noticed the look on his face – he let go of Draco’s arm and the smile faded a bit but did not go away.

“What happened? Why did you only come back now?”

No, Draco thought. We’re not doing this.

“My mother is doing very well now, so I wanted to spend some more time with her before I came back.”

“Really?”

Potter looked unconvinced. Draco didn’t care.

“What about your father? Are you okay?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Potter cast a look around.

“Here – there’s an empty room next to the transfiguration one, we can talk in there.”

“Didn’t you hear me?” said Draco, a strain in his voice. “I don’t want to talk, Potter.”

But Potter ignored him and took his arm again so Draco had to follow into the small empty room, an extra space meant for group work. There was a circular table with chairs around it in there, some shelves with a couple of spellbooks, and a window facing the grounds outside. Draco folded his arms and looked impatiently at Potter as he closed the door behind him. He ran a hand through the hopeless mop of hair on his head.

“So you’re sure you’re okay?”

I hate you, Draco thought.

“Yes,” he said.

“What about Azkaban?”

“Nothing. There is nothing about Azkaban.”

Potter frowned.

“What, you’re not going to tell me what happened?”

“No, I’m not,” he snarled. “What exactly do you think you’re doing? You won’t talk to me out in the corridor where someone might see you, but you still expect me to tell you all about what it was like to visit the wreck of my father in his prison cell?”

“What? No, that wasn’t what-“

Over time, Draco had become very good at compartmentalizing his feelings. It was a useful skill. It had made it easy for him to learn occlumency.

“That wasn’t what you meant?” he said, interrupting Potter.

There were parts of himself that he could simply put away when he needed to. He had had to watch his aunt torture Granger back at the manor, and so he had switched off, and he had watched, and he hadn’t cared.

“Yeah. I thought we were – you said you hadn’t told anyone else about your father, so I thought I should ask. As a friend.”

When the Dark Lord’s snake ate the muggle studies professor it had been almost like self-hypnotism. He had not been present at all. He remembered seeing it and sometimes he dreamt about it, but he could not remember being scared or feeling anything at all while it happened. Even if he had thrown up in the bathroom afterwards. So that was what he did now. He didn’t want to talk about what had happened during the holidays, he didn’t want to care, and here was Potter caring way too much and wanting him to care as well, so he switched off the part of himself that could. It was the dignified alternative to storming out of the room and slamming the door behind him.

“We were pretending to be friends,” he said. “We were pretending to be friends to improve my social status and to satisfy your saviour-complex. But we’re not pretending anymore.”

He spoke in a bored, careless tone. There was no trace of a smile on Potter’s face anymore.

“It wasn’t working for me. Of course it wasn’t a very good plan to begin with, since you’re not really a hero, just some pawn that happened to be necessary because of a prophecy and some pointless coincidences. And now that you’ve served your purpose you’re really worthless, can’t even be used to pull my shitty reputation out of the gutter.”

“Malfoy, what are you-“

Draco continued as if he hadn’t heard him.

“The mudblood, the penniless bloodtraitors, the lunatic, the half-squib, those are your friends, remember? Such an impressive group, really. It’s no wonder they all adore you, but it does say some quite unflattering things about you that those are the kinds of people you choose to surround yourself with.”

He saw Potter’s face fall, crumbling like burnt paper while he spoke. He saw disbelief turn to anger. He saw him move and he felt pain exploding through his face as Potter’s knuckles made contact with his jaw. His teeth clamped down hard on his tongue, he staggered backwards, lifted a hand carefully to his chin and felt the warm, rusty taste of blood in his mouth.

“What the hell, Potter-“

A second fist caught him in the stomach and he doubled over. He inhaled sharply. He gasped and grabbed and managed to yank at Potter’s knee and push him backwards with his shoulder. Potter lost his balance and fell hard on his back, dragging Draco down with him. He landed on top of Potter, and they rolled on the floor, trying to keep the other down, to land a punch, while their legs got tangled in their robes.

“Bastard,” panted Harry, “you absolute prick!”

Draco didn’t have enough air for insults. He kneed Potter in the stomach and tried to roll away, but he was caught instantly and there were punches and twisting and flying spit, and then fewer punches, and Harry was on top, his hands closed around Draco’s wrists, his legs were on either side of Draco’s and he was holding him down with his whole weight, panting. Draco lay still. Harry’s face was just above his own, angry, hateful, triumphant. He could feel his breath on his skin. He felt far away. He licked his lips, allowed a smile to creep over his face.

“What now, Potter?” he said quietly.

For a second Potter looked like he had been punched in the face and Draco thought he might try to beat him to death, the loathing in his eyes was so pure. But then his face closed up. He let go of Draco’s wrists and stood up.

“You’re disgusting,” he said, turning away.

Draco laughed. It hurt terribly and sounded shallow and broken. He heard the door slam. His laughter dried out. He took a deep breath and sat up slowly, his body aching, then carefully stood up. He touched his chin again where Potter had struck him. It was sore. There would probably be a bruise, but it was nothing he couldn’t fix himself. At least his teeth were intact. He straightened his clothes, ran his fingers through his hair to put it back in place and wiped a bit of blood from the corner of this mouth.

Chapter Text

Harry had to run from the transfiguration classroom to make it to his next class without being late. It was two floors up, and he was out of breath when he got there, still fuming and rushed with adrenaline. He could hear noise and chatter from inside, so he had made it before Binns. He stopped outside the door, taking a moment to steady himself and straighten his uniform. 

He had beat up Malfoy. That had been a pretty stupid thing to do, he knew that, but if he ever saw that smug look on the bastard’s face again, he would probably do it again. Even thinking about it now sent new jabs of anger through him – he had been such an idiot. He knew Malfoy. He had known him for years; he shouldn’t have believed for one second that he could have changed.

Harry took a deep breath before he pushed the door open and went in. He dropped into the empty seat next to Ron.

“Christ, Harry, what happened to your face?” asked Dean, turning around in his chair.

“I got in a fight with Malfoy.”

“You did what?!”

“What happened?” asked Luna.

They had history of magic with the Ravenclaws. “The mudblood, the lunatic, the penniless bloodtraitors, those are your friends, remember?”

“I went back to get my book and he came out of the classroom right when I got there and,” Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. Things got out of hand.”

He turned to Hermione.

“You were right, he’s a git. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Damn right he’s a git, was there ever any doubt about that?” asked Ron.

There shouldn’t have been any doubt. “The mudblood, the lunatic, the half-squib, those are your friend’s, remember?”

He knew what Malfoy was like – he was condescending, self-absorbed, arrogant and cruel. Self-pitying too – Malfoy was excellent at feeling sorry for himself, it was just ridiculous that Harry had started feeling sorry for him too. Because he had. And he had allowed some part of himself to want to see him, had allowed himself to like him. He would have liked to pretend that he hadn’t, that he hadn’t been worried when he was absent and relieved when he came back, but here he was, feeling disappointed and betrayed. And he felt like an idiot for ever believing in any of it.

“Kind of weird, though,” said Dean. “Seems to me he’s mostly left everyone alone this year, especially since he came back after the holidays. Why would he suddenly get in your face?”

Harry shrugged.

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s just finally lost it.”

“Maybe…” said Dean and turned his attention to the front of the classroom, where professor Binns had just drifted through the wall.

“I can’t believe you got in a fist fight with him,” whispered Ron. “Why didn’t you just use magic?”

“I don’t know. I was angry, I didn’t think of it.”

“Did you win?”

Harry hesitated.

“I suppose you could say that.”

They were getting looks from Ravenclaws as well as Hermione, but Binns just droned on and didn’t notice their whispering at all.

“Don’t worry, nobody will find out,” said Ron. “And besides, it was about time someone beat him up. Just putting that out there.”

 o

As the day went on Draco grew more anxious about his meeting with the headmistress. He ended up leaving the Great Hall halfway through dinner, and even though he went by his dormitory and tried to get a bit of homework done, he was still by her office almost fifteen minutes too early. He paced back and forth in the hallway for a while, then stepped up to the gargoyle that guarded the entrance. She hadn’t given him a password, but he assumed it would let him in when he had been invited.

“I have an appointment with the headmistress,” he said.

The stone Gargoyle stepped aside and he walked past it unto a spiral staircase that carried him to the door of the headmistress’ office. He knocked and it swung open.

Professor McGonagall sat behind her desk and looked up when Draco stepped inside.

“Good evening, Mr Malfoy. Please, come sit down,” she told him, gesturing to a chair in front of her.

He sat.

“I will be with you in a second.”

She skimmed the last few lines of the letter she was holding, then put it away in a drawer. Draco glanced around the office - it was lined with bookcases and well furnished, but not exactly lavish or elegant in the way the Slytherin common room was. He was sure there had to be quite a few powerful and valuable magical artefacts in there, but apart from the sorting hat lying on its shelf and Godric Gryffindor’s sword in its glass case, most of them must have been put away in the many cupboards and cabinets. He wondered how much the current headmistress had changed it. It didn’t seem like the sort of room Albus Dumbledore could have inhabited, but it made perfect sense that professor McGonagall’s office would be practical rather than impressive.

“So, Mr Malfoy,” said the headmistress and he turned his attention back to her. “I wanted to ask you how you are doing.”

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“Several of your teachers have shown concern about your performance in their classes.”

She paused as if she was expecting some sort of reaction, but he didn’t say anything. She folded her hands in front of her on the desk with a small sigh.

“Your grades have dropped dramatically compared to previous years,” she began. “And you hardly ever participate in class anymore. I have noticed this during my own lessons as well. I know you’re very skilled in transfiguration, but it seems you’re not even trying. And your written assignments have, as you know, been far below your usual standard. There is also the issue of you skipping classes. As far as I can tell, this has been an especially big problem for my lessons, and I wonder why that might be?”

“I don’t know,” said Draco.

“We have had many students who have struggled with coming back to school after the way classes were taught last year-“

“You don’t have to pretend that this is about my grades, professor,” he interrupted.

McGonagall regarded him for a long moment.

“I’m not pretending,” she said. “What do you think this is about?”

He shrugged. He felt detached from the whole conversation. He was only vaguely irritated that she insisted on beating around the bush instead of just getting to the point. He had known it was coming at some point. He was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.

“I assume you’ve realized you can’t have Death Eaters going to your school,” he said. “It makes perfect sense, so there’s no need to pretend otherwise.”

She observed him calmly. He knew he was being rude, but nothing in the professor’s face revealed that she was bothered by it or had even noticed.

“If we had thought so, we wouldn’t have allowed you to come back in the first place,” she said. “I assure you this has nothing to do with the role you played in the war – at least not directly.”

Draco leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms in front of him.

“Fine. If you think it’s better that way. But no one’s going to believe I was expelled because of my grades, so it doesn’t really make a difference what reason you give me.”

“You’re not being expelled.”

“Why else would I be here?” he asked, a tiny sliver of impatience slipping into his voice.

McGonagall frowned.

“Do you really think that is the only reason I might want to speak with you privately? That I would never call a student to my office simply because they were my student? You’re here because all of your teachers are concerned about you. And not just about your academic performance, but about your wellbeing.”

“Well, then thank you for your concern, professor, but I am fine,” he said, his voice taking on the sharp tone of civility that passed for anger in polite society.

“I wanted to give you the opportunity to start seeing a therapist,” said McGonagall, unfazed. “They’re a kind of muggle mind-healers.”

Immediately, images flashed through Draco’s mind of saws and leeches and everything horrible he had ever heard about muggle medicine. The revulsion must have shown on his face, because professor McGonagall let out a small sigh.

“The treatment mainly consists of conversation,” she said patiently. “It was recommended to me by both Ms Granger and several other students and parents with close ties to the muggle world. Because of this, Hogwarts has appointed four who are all parents of former Hogwarts students, so they already knew about our world, and they are specialized in working with minds that have been damaged by war. They work at St. Mungo’s and the students who see them floo there for their appointments – we thought it would be more discreet than to have them stay at the castle with Madam Pomfrey.”

“I don’t care how discreet it is,” he said. “I don’t need to talk to any muggle healers. I am perfectly fine.”

“You would be surprised how many of your housemates have accepted the offer.”

Draco grimaced.

“I don’t have much confidence in the judgment of my housemates. I’m sure the offer was well intended, but I do not want any incompetent muggles attempting to “heal my mind”.”

Professor McGonagall nodded.

“I expected as much, but I still want you to consider it. If it’s a no for now, I must ask you to talk to me instead. Things cannot continue the way they have so far.”

“There’s nothing to tell, professor. Things have been fine for half a year, I don’t see why there’s suddenly a problem now.”

“Before the holidays, you seemed to be improving. In fact, I thought it seemed you were doing… rather well.”

There was a slight hesitation in her voice. The words hitched, the pause caught in his ears. His eyes snapped back to her, but her expression didn’t reveal anything. But did she know? Was this about Potter?

“But now you’ve come back,” McGonagakk continued. “A week later than expected – and you don’t look very well.”

“I’ve been sick.”

“That’s what your mother told me, but I was wondering if perhaps something else might have happened while you were at home?”

“I don’t know why you would think that.”

Professor McGonagall sighed. Her expression of sternness relaxed, becoming almost mild. She looked tired too, he thought. And old.

“Mr Malfoy,” she said quietly. “I have been a teacher for a very long time and I have taught hundreds of students over the years. I have talked to more students than you can imagine about worse things than you would like to think about. And I have gotten very good at noticing when something is wrong. Sometimes it’s something I can help with, and sometimes it’s something you can’t do anything about as a teacher. These last few years there have been way too many children that I couldn’t help, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try. And you might not consider yourself a child anymore, but you are still a student at Hogwarts, and as long as you are, it is my responsibility that you are safe and that you are well.”

He was looking at his hands, folded in his lap. They twitched.

“Nothing happened,” he said.

“You don’t have to keep secrets from me. No one outside this office will ever know unless you want them to, and if you do not want me to help then I will not try. But if something happened while you went home, or if there is some other reason that you are not well – because you’re not, Mr Malfoy – then I think you should tell me what it is.”

“I visited my father,” he said, his voice flat.

For a moment, for the first time, the professor looked taken aback.

“In Azkaban?” she asked.

Draco didn’t say anything. He unfolded his hands, stretched his fingers.

“But they don’t allow people to visit?”

He shrugged.

“My name doesn’t open as many doors as it used to, but we do have our connections. My mother wanted to see him. To say goodbye.”

There was a long pause.

“Did you want to?” she asked.

“No,” he said.

“I’m sorry you had to.”

She sounded like she meant it and for a second a small hope flickered in his chest, the thought that there might be a small chance that the headmistress could understand, that perhaps she already knew

“Have you ever been there, professor?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“No,” she said. “I have not.”

He nodded, chiding himself for the stab of disappointment he felt. Of course she hadn’t. The only people who went there were the aurors and the prisoners and none of them talked about it when they left. He didn’t think the prisoners could. Anyone who had ever been locked up in there would have to make themselves forget if they wanted to live even a halfway normal life afterwards. You couldn’t carry such a place around with you and still be a person. And as for the aurors – if it was Draco who had helped guard such a place, he wouldn’t want to tell anyone about it either. He doubted any of the witches and wizards in the Wizengamot had any idea where they sent the people they sentenced. He didn’t think a single one of them had ever been near the tower.

“It’s evil,” he said, and the intensity in his own voice surprised him.

He looked up at the headmistress.

“It shouldn’t exist,” he said. “Something like that… it’s not supposed to exist.”

“I’m not sure if I am allowed to tell you this, but I know that Kingsley Shacklebolt is currently trying to pass legislation that’ll improve the justice system, possibly even do something about the dementors.”

His pulse was hammering. He had been feeling dazed and half sleep ever since he came back, but he didn’t anymore. His thoughts were crystal clear.

“That won’t work,” he said. “He won’t be able to get it through the Wizengamot, you know that, professor.”

“It might take a long time, but I’m sure eventually-“

“But that’s not good enough! It can’t exist, it shouldn’t even exist one more day, and what you’re talking about would take years, and by then someone who isn’t Shacklebolt will be Minister for Magic and it’ll never happen!”

“You shouldn’t have had to go there,” she said. “You shouldn’t have had to see your father like that.”

“It’s not about my father – I don’t care about him, he’s gone, it’s that place. It has to be destroyed.”

He knew as soon as he said it that is was true. He took a deep breath before he continued.

“It’s evil,” he said again, forcing himself to speak calmly. “It’s a piece of rot in the world. It affects people, it might be able to reach us all the way here, even if we think we can’t feel it – don’t look at me like that. I’m not mad. If you’d seen it, you would understand.”

“I don’t think you’re mad,” she said. “I’m just wondering why, if it really is that terrible – that prison has existed for hundreds of years. We have been using it to hold prisoners for so long, so why hasn’t anyone else destroyed it?”

He waved it off.

“I don’t know. Why does that matter? We have to do something about it. Now.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. Destroy it. Overrule the Wizengamot, bribe the noble families, I don’t know.”

“I can’t help you with that,” she said.

He felt a violent flash of anger towards the calm, dignified woman across from him, who was so old and claimed to be so good, but who didn’t care about this evil just as nobody else cared. Just as he knew they wouldn’t.

“Of course you can. You’re the headmistress of Hogwarts. You’re a member of the Order of the Phoenix. You’re a war hero. You have more power now than you’ll ever have, and if you would just use it-“

Now it was her who interrupted him and her voice was suddenly stern again.

“I am not Albus Dumbledore,” she said. “I deal with children, not politics.”

Another rush of angry words stopped in his throat and became air. He exhaled.

“May I leave?” he asked.

He wasn’t looking at her anymore.

“Yes,” she said and he stood up. “But you can come back here whenever you want to, if you ever want to talk to me again. I still think you might benefit from the therapy. Please tell me if you change your mind about it. And if you have trouble sleeping, you can always go see Madam Pomfrey.”

He nodded. He stood next to his chair with a hand on the back of it.  He was only half listening to the headmistress now. He was remembering Azkaban, but more than that he was remembering his fight with Potter and wondering why that had happened.

“Would you like me to tell your head of house what we talked about?”

“No thank you.”

He was already at the door, his hand on the handle, when she spoke again.

“I know you plan to go into politics once you leave Hogwarts,” she said. “I am sure that when you do, you will be able to change things.”

He nodded.

“Thank you, professor.”

Then he left her office and was carried down the spiralling staircase. He touched the bruise on his chin. He had healed it so it wasn’t visible, but it was still sore. He couldn’t even recall everything he had said to Potter, but he knew it had been bad. He should have just walked away, not made him hit him, but there had been nothing but bitterness in him. If Potter had just waited one more day before approaching him, it would have been different. It seemed tragically ironic that he had pushed him away just before finding out exactly how much he was going to need him.

Chapter Text

Draco didn’t want to repeat his mistake from before the holidays and try to get a hold of Potter when he was with his friends. At least after the episode in the astronomy tower, Draco hadn’t been in the wrong, no matter how angry Potter had been. This time he didn’t think Potter would tell his friends to leave them alone if Draco approached them. He probably wouldn’t even interfere if they tried to curse him. And when once it had seemed that he couldn’t even walk down a corridor without running into Potter, he now never saw him on his own. He was always surrounded by a group of friends or flanked by Granger and at least one Weasley. Draco managed to slip him a note during one of their potions lessons, but Potter incinerated it on his desk without even looking in Draco’s direction. There was no chance he could make him listen, not even for long enough to attempt an apology. He waited anxiously for his chance but it didn’t come, and the sense of urgency that had resided in him ever since he left McGonagall’s office did not help his patience. So he decided to do something stupid.

They were brewing skelegro in Potions, and as with most healing draughts it was a very complicated process. The lesson had even been extended, as they wouldn’t have been able to finish within the timespan of a normal lesson. Draco was almost as good with healing potions as with antidotes, so he allowed himself to also keep an eye on Potter across the classroom. Judging from the look of hard concentration on his face, he was struggling more than Draco.

He waited until the lesson was almost over. His own potion was looking perfect, and more importantly, Potter looked like he was satisfied with his result as well. There was only about ten minutes left until they would be asked to turn their potions in and clean up when Draco left his station and sauntered over to the Gryffindor half of the classroom. He could pretend he was just on his way to get a glass vial for his potion, but it wasn’t really important. It wasn’t like he wanted to get away with it.

Potter was leaning over his potions textbook, frowning at the instructions. He didn’t even notice when Draco passed his station.

There was a loud crash, Potter jumped back, so startled Draco thought he might have had a minor heart attack. He stared at the cauldron where it had fallen over the edge of the table, the potion that had spilled everywhere and the purple fumes rising from the sizzling liquid. Then he raised his eyes from the mess, slowly, and looked at Draco. Draco stared back at him, a smirk creeping over his lips.

“Oops,” he said. “Sorry about that.”

And that was enough. Potter grabbed his wand from the table and flung a wordless curse at Draco.

Protego!

Draco was just as fast, he had kept his wand ready and the spell bounced off, but Potter was already stepping over the shiny, black puddle on the floor. He grabbed Draco’s collar and pushed him backwards, rage in his eyes, curses on his lips and his wandpoint inches from Draco’s face. Everyone in the room had to be watching them, but no one intervened, and for just a second real fear gripped him, because Potter was furious and Draco had no idea what he might do.

Expelliarmus!” sounded professor Slughorn’s voice, and Potter’s wand was snatched away.

Expelliarmus!” and Draco’s own wand flew from his grip.

“Potter! What on earth do you think you’re doing? – let him go immediately.”

There was a second of hesitation before Potter released Draco’s shirt and stepped back. He did not take his eyes off him.

“Fifteen points from both of your houses. Duelling in a potions classroom, are you absolutely mad? I will see you both back here this evening for detention. And clean that mess up. You can pick up your wands after class.”

“How do you expect us to clean up without our wands?” asked Draco.

He heard Potter scoff.

“Maybe one of the Gryffindors will tell you if you ask them nicely,” said the professor.

Potter glared murderously at him, but unless he actually managed to kill Draco before this evening, everything had worked out nicely. It probably wouldn’t be easier to get him to accept an apology after this, but at least he would finally get to talk to him in private. And hopefully a detention would give him enough time to explain everything he needed to.

 

o

 

Harry was still seething with anger when they left potions. He and Malfoy had cleaned up without saying a word to each other. Ron and Hermione waited for him and he left the dungeon with them.

“I can’t believe he did that,” said Hermione. “It was completely pointless.”

“Yeah, well he’s a sadistic bastard. He doesn’t need a reason to do anything,” growled Harry.

“It wasn’t very smart of you to start throwing curses at him though. Not in the potions classroom.”

“I would have done the same,” said Ron.

Hermione shrugged.

“It’s not like you’re famous for controlling your temper either.”

“But did you see how he was just laughing at it? He didn’t even pretend it was an accident!”

“At least Slughorn said you could spend your detention remaking your potion, so you’ll still have something to turn in,” said Hermione.

“I won’t be able to brew anything in the same room as that evil git.”

“So does that mean you’re done being friends with him?”

Ron made a choking sound.

“What?” he said.

Harry shot Hermione and angry look, but she just shrugged.

“Yeah, I’m done,” he said.

“Wait, will one of you explain that? When was Harry ever friends with Malfoy?”

“I wasn’t,” said Harry. “We just talked a bit before the holidays. I thought he might have changed. I know, it’s ridiculous, you don’t have to tell me.”

“Why didn’t I know about that?”

“I didn’t tell anyone. I was just testing to see if I was right, and I wasn’t. It’s not like it was anything important, I would’ve told you if I thought it mattered.”

“You told Hermione.”

“I saw them and asked Harry about it. He asked me not to tell anyone.”

“But-“

Harry cut him off.

“Look, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Can we talk about something else? I have to spend the whole evening in detention with the idiot, so I think I have been punished enough.”

They changed the subject, but Harry couldn’t stop thinking about Malfoy. The thing that bothered him most wasn’t that Malfoy was being an idiot again, it was how suddenly he had reverted back to his old self. It had come completely out of nowhere, when he had thought everything was absolutely fine. And the worst part about it all was that it forced him to admit that he had been wrong about giving him a second chance was. Right then, that stung worse than any of Malfoy’s insults.

 

 

When Harry arrived at the potions classroom that evening, Malfoy was already there. He stood in the dimly lit corridor, leaning against the wall. He looked up when Harry came down the stairs.

“He isn’t here yet,” he informed him.

Harry ignored him. He looked at his watch – he had arrived right on time, but of course Slughorn was late. When he looked up, Malfoy had come closer.

“Look, Potter, I’m sorry about your potion earlier-“

“Don’t speak to me.”

Malfoy stopped. He looked like he was about to say something else, but then they heard hurried footsteps on the stairs.

“Sorry, boys,” said Slughorn. “I got held up after dinner.”

He walked past them and unlocked the door to the classroom.

“There we go,” he said and went inside.

“Potter, you will be brewing your skelegro-potion again, so you can set up your cauldron anywhere you like. Everything you’ll need is already on the table. Malfoy, if you’ll come with me.”

Harry picked a workstation and pulled out his potions textbook. He listened to Slughorn instruct Malfoy on how he wanted him to catalogue newly received ingredients for the potions class.

“Is that clear?” he asked when he was done.

“Yes,” said Malfoy.

“Good, then I will leave both of you to your work. My office is just down the hall if you need me, and I will be back in an hour and a half when your detention is over. And just so we’re clear about this – I do not want to come back and find my classroom to be a smoking ruin. I have put up detection spells, and if either of you tries to cast any spells at all I will know it immediately.”

They both nodded. Slughorn left, and Harry began reading through the instructions. He could hear Malfoy taking out ink and parchment, opening the boxes, the clink of glass when he looked through their contents. Harry tried to ignore it. It was a difficult potion. He had gotten it almost perfect before Malfoy spilled it all on the floor, but he had to concentrate if he wanted to do it again. For a while they worked in silence, but then he heard Malfoy pushing out his chair. He pretended not to notice. He heard him walk across the room and stop by Harry’s desk. Harry didn’t look up.

“We need to talk,” said Malfoy.

Harry ignored him. He dropped the dried poppy-petals into his cauldron and looked at the instructions again. He had to let the potion simmer for five minutes before doing anything else. He let his eyes wander down the page, looking for other ingredients he could prepare. He had to slice his mandrake root. He found a knife and cutting board and went to work.

“Potter-“

“Didn’t you hear what I said to you outside?” he said. “Don’t talk to me, Malfoy.”

“I’m sorry I had to get you into detention.”

Harry looked up, forgetting himself.

“You did this on purpose?”

“Like I said, I needed to talk to you and you wouldn’t let me. If I’d just walked up to you in The Great Hall, your private army would have lynched me.”

“So you got us both into detention?” repeated Harry

Malfoy shrugged.

“Couldn’t think of anything else.”

“I thought we were done pretending to be friends.”

“I didn’t think I was being friendly.”

Harry went back to slicing the mandrake into long, thin strips.

“You’re right – you’re not. Just because I’m stuck here doesn’t mean I’ll talk to you, so piss off.”

“I’m sorry about the other day too. About what I said about you and your friends. I wasn’t myself.”

“Yes you were,” said Harry putting down the knife.

Harry looked up at Malfoy and felt anger seeping back into his blood. Malfoy was looking earnest and composed and somehow that made him even angrier.

“For the first time this year you were acting exactly like yourself,” he said. “Which was a good reminder of what you’re really like, because apparently I had forgotten.”

“Potter-“

“This whole idiotic thing started because I thought some things might have changed after the war and – I don’t know, maybe I felt guilty about some of the things that happened to you, and it really messed me up seeing you at your trial, and you played it well, I’ll give you that. For a while I really thought that this,” he gestured to both of them, “whatever it was could work out somehow. And then I was reminded what an absolute shitstain you are, and I’m not going to forget that again. I never want you near me or any of my friends again.”

“Look, I’m sorry, you have no idea how sorry I am, but-“

“You called her a mudblood. Remember how you said you didn’t use that word anymore? Must have slipped your mind. But I suppose some things are hard to unlearn.”

“I said I was sorry! It was a mistake.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I need your help.”

Harry rolled his eyes. He had sliced more than enough mandrake root, but he needed to keep his hands busy, so he took the knife again, picked out another root and started over.

“Potter, please, it has nothing to do with me. It’s about Azkaban.”

Harry dragged a jar on the edge of his table towards him, popped the lid open and took a handful of the white sand inside. He let it run through his fingers into the cauldron. Malfoy didn’t go away.

“You’ve never been there, have you?”

“There were enough people outside of Azkaban who were trying to kill me. I never felt the need to go check out the ones still in prison.”

“It’s not just Death Eaters in there. But even if it were – you know I went there. You know I didn’t want to go, but if I had known what it would be like, if I had had any idea, I wouldn’t have gone. Nobody could have forced me to.”

He had come closer; he stood right in front of Harry’s table, leaning forward insistently while he spoke. Harry stared at his potion, which required nothing from him for the next two minutes, hoping Malfoy would soon shut up and go away.

“You can’t even imagine what it’s like,” he continued. “The prisoners, they’re… It’s so wrong. They’re not even people anymore. I couldn’t tell which ones were dead and which ones were still alive; there was nothing in their eyes. My father was just… I don’t think he recognized us. He was half dead.”

He sounded scared of what he was saying. It didn’t sound like lies, but neither had everything else he had told Harry over the last few months, and that had all turned out to be fake, hadn’t it? Besides, he knew what Malfoy was telling him couldn’t be true.

“Sirius was in Azkaban for twelve years,” he said.

Malfoy halted in his urgency.

“Sirius Black?”

The name sounded different when Malfoy said it. He spoke it with the same respect that he had for his own family name, pronounced so the pure blood could be heard, the tapestry of the Black family tree unfolding in every syllable.

“Yes,” said Harry. “He was my godfather. And he was still a person.”

“He might have been resistant to dementors,” said Malfoy hesitantly. “Some people are. That would explain how he was able to escape. Obsessive people are less receptive. As long as it’s not a happy thing, it gives them something to hold onto that the dementors can’t take away. There were some of the Death Eaters who went to Azkaban that definitely hadn’t been the Dark Lord’s most loyal servants when they were locked up. But they were different when they came back, and they were very… devoted.”

He shook his head.

“But even then… from what I’ve heard, people go mad long before that. I wouldn’t have thought anyone could survive even a year. Twelve is just… it sounds impossible.”

Harry didn’t answer him. He stirred his potion twice counter clockwise. Malfoy still didn’t leave. He just stood there across from him, as if he was expecting some sort of answer.

“I still don’t know what you want from me,” said Harry.

“I need you to help me destroy it.”

Harry scoffed.

“Really? You’re asking me to help you get your father out of Azkaban? Why do you think I would-“

“No, it’s not about him! Didn’t you hear what I said? He’s dead. It’s that place – it’s evil.”

“Since when did you start caring about that? If this is about “dragging your name out of the gutter”, then you’ve gone too far. You’re fucking mad, Malfoy.”

“It’s not about that, it’s – I’ve been thinking about it all the time since I came back. It’s not evil in a conscious way, but it’s still evil and I think it makes our whole world darker. It makes people darker, not just the ones who go there or go near it, but everyone. I think it causes evil. You know what dementors are like – why would anyone use them to guard a prison? People have been sent there for theft, for underage magic, tiny things like that. To be locked up with dementors until they die or go mad. People aren’t supposed to do that to each other. It’s wrong. It’s sick.”

Harry stared at him. He hardly recognized him like this, and for a moment he wondered if he actually had gone mad. There was a slightly manic look in his eyes.

“Then why do we do it?” Harry asked.

Malfoy threw up his hands in exasperation

“I don’t know!” he said. “I don’t know anything about it except that it’s bad. I think it might be sort of like… like a very bright light, you know? You can’t look at it directly without hurting your eyes, but even though you don’t look at the source, you can still see the light - and maybe Azkaban is evil in the same way, where it hurts too much to think about it, so people just don’t, and instead it becomes this black spot that they work around without considering it, even the ones who guard the place, and the ones who sentence people to go to there. But just because we don’t look at the source that doesn’t mean the evil doesn’t affect us. Does that make sense?”

Harry nodded, mostly to stop him spewing more words at him. It did make sense, at least a little bit. If nothing else, it was hard to keep claiming he wasn’t being sincere. His theory sounded far-fetched, but then Harry had known about Azkaban for so long, and the thought that it was too cruel had never occurred to him. He knew how awful dementors were, but he’d never thought there was something wrong with using them to guard a prison, and he should have, shouldn’t he?

“And the other day,” Malfoy continued, speaking more carefully but still without taking his eyes off Harry. “The things I said – I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t say them. I know I did, and I’m sorry, but I don’t think I would have said any of it if I hadn’t been to Azkaban. While we were there, I accidentally got out of reach of the patronus. It was only a couple of seconds, it shouldn’t have meant anything, but I wasn’t really myself afterwards. That’s why I came back late, too. The other day, I just wanted you to leave me alone. I said what I thought would make you the most angry. It wasn’t about them. And I don’t know why I wanted you to be angry. I just didn’t have enough… space in my head, and I wanted you to go away.”

Harry didn’t say anything. Malfoy’s apprehension was a physical thing in the silence. It would be so easy to just… but it didn’t seem right to dismiss it all just like that, even if it was coming from Malfoy. He remembered what it had felt like when he carried the locket that had been Voldemort’s horcrux. He remembered what it had done to Ron too, being that close to something evil. And he found that he was already starting to believe what Malfoy was telling him about Azkaban.

“Why are you asking me to help you?”

Malfoy threw out his arms.

“Because I don’t know what else to do! This is all heroics, I don’t know what to do with that.”

“And you think I do?”

“Yes!”

Harry shrugged.

“Well, I don’t.”

“What do you mean you don’t? You’re the bloody expert on heroics,” said Malfoy, who was starting to look completely unhinged. “You’re the Chosen One, you defeated the Dark Lord and every other dark thing you could find in the world. You’ve almost gotten yourself killed with heroics every year since I met you.”

“I’m good at the almost getting myself killed part of it.”

Malfoy didn’t laugh.

“Is that a no, then?” he asked.

“I wish we didn’t have to talk about this while I was trying to get a potion right. You realize I have to turn this in?”

“You haven’t messed up yet as far as I can tell,” said Malfoy.

He stepped away from Harry’s table. He didn’t look disappointed, just resigned.

“But I’ll leave you to it then.”

“Look, I didn’t say I wouldn’t help you, I’m just saying that I can’t do all the things people think I can.”

Malfoy stopped and turned back to him.

“I mean, I’ve always had help,” Harry continued. “Ron and Hermione, Dumbledore’s Army, the Order – and we’ve been lucky. You said it yourself, I almost got myself killed all those times, and I might just as well have died, it wasn’t because I’m some great wizard that I didn’t, it was just…”

He gestured vaguely. He sort of expected Malfoy to protest, people always did when he tried to tell them this, but even if Malfoy was asking for his help, he wasn’t about to insist on Harry’s greatness. He just shrugged.

“You can bring all the help you want,” he said. “Call in your whole army if you think they’re willing to work with us, I don’t care how we do this. I’m asking you because you’re the expert, so if you think we need to invite half of Gryffindor House, then I won’t object.”

Harry took a deep breath.

“Okay,” he said.

“Okay?”

“Yes, I’ll help you.”

Malfoy nodded. He looked both relieved and like he was trying not to look relieved.

“Okay. Thank you,” he said.

“We’ll talk about the rest later.”

Malfoy nodded.

“It’s the asphodel now,” he said, pointing to Harry’s cauldron.

Chapter Text

“What are they doing here?”

Ginny Weasley stood frozen in the doorway, staring at Draco and Pansy. Then she turned her eyes to Potter, who stood by the window looking incredibly uncomfortable. Granger and Ronald Weasley had arrived right before Ginny. They had looked just as confused as her, but not half as angry.

They were in some obscure, hidden room on a non-existing floor that was possibly somewhere near the Northern Tower, or at least that was where the entrance had been. It was furnished like a small living room with a thick carpet on the floor, an ancient couch, where Draco and Pansy had seated themselves, a couple of armchairs, and a low table between them. Draco had no idea how Potter had found the place; he seemed to have a ridiculously extensive knowledge of the secret rooms at Hogwarts. He had pulled Draco aside after transfiguration and asked him to meet him there. It had taken him a while to explain how to find the room and get the entrance to open, and he hadn’t given any other details.

Draco had invited Pansy along on an impulse. He had run into her right after speaking to Potter, and the idea of having her with him had popped into his mind as an excellent way to make the whole thing more bearable. He thought it would be easier to deal with a heroic quest of these proportions if they had her cynical scepticism to ground them.

He regretted that decision now. He regretted a lot of things, one of them being telling Potter that he could bring half of Gryffindor if he thought that would help, because apparently the git had taken him on his word. He had expected him to bring Granger, maybe even hoped that he would. As obnoxious as she was, he could see the use of having Potter’s smarter, more magically talented friend working along with them. He knew that Potter would probably bring Ronald, which would be a pain, but an unavoidable one that he would have to work with. He had thought it would end there. He had not expected Ginevra, and definitely not Lovegood or Longbottom, who had just followed her into the room.

“I have absolutely no idea,” said Pansy, shooting a scathing look at Draco.

It had been difficult to get her to listen to his apologies, but they had fought before and they had made up before, and eventually she just sighed and said it was like sixth year all over again, and what was it he needed her to do? He had told her that they were meeting the Gryffindors because of what had happened while he was in Azkaban, but not much else. She had agreed to come with him, not to be enthusiastic.

Ginny ignored Pansy’s remark.

“You said this was a D.A. meeting,” she demanded of Potter.

“I didn’t know she would be here-“ he began.

Pansy laughed sharply.

“Well, I would be happy to leave anytime.”

“Please do,” said Weasley.

“Pansy-“ Draco began as she had started to stand up.

Potter interrupted again:

“Look, can everyone just calm down for a second? I said this was a D.A. meeting and it is, so I need you all to listen to me for just three seconds before you rip each other’s heads off!”

Draco raised an eyebrow, but Potter wasn’t looking at him. Still, this was interesting. He couldn’t remember ever overhearing Potter telling his friends off or assuming any sort of authority over them. This was what he must have been like when they held all their secret meetings during fifth, he had wondered how he had managed to lead anything that called itself and army.

Ginny crossed her arms and looked expectantly at Potter.

Draco noticed that the Lovegood girl was staring at him. Her strange, protruding eyes had a glazed look, her face was expressionless; she could have been in a trance. She didn’t look away when he stared back. It was like she didn’t blink enough, that girl. He turned his attention to Potter and pretended he couldn’t still feel her eyes on him. Potter took a deep breath.

“Okay,” he said. “So maybe calling this a D.A. meeting wasn’t exactly right. This is not about me teaching defence against the dark arts or anything-“

“It wasn’t about that last year either, it was for fighting the Carrow’s and hiding from the snitches in Slytherin.”

“Ginny, three seconds,” he said.

She rolled her eyes. Another deep breath on Potter’s part.

“So… last year we defeated Voldemort, and we thought that was the end of the war - no, it was the end, but now there’s something else out there, and I think we have to stop it, because no one else is going to try this time. It’s not a dark wizard. It’s something the Ministry is responsible for. That’s why Malfoy is here. He asked me to help him with this, and I said I would.”

Potter looked at him then, and Draco took that as his cue.

“I went to Azkaban during the holidays,” he said. “To visit my father.”

He had known that he would have to tell the story again. He had been going over the words in his head, sharpening them, trying to be precise, to tell it fast without leaving out anything important. He needed to tell it so that they would understand, but the more he spoke the less certain he became that he wanted their help. He wanted Potter’s help, but he didn’t trust the others. They wouldn’t want to help. They wouldn’t care, no matter what he said. Still, he forced himself to keep talking. He forced himself not to look down. He was more coherent this time, more convincing, but he still struggled with the words. More than once he simply gave up finding the right one and returned to that one he had already used: evil. There were more details this time. His mouth was dry, he stalled and had to start over several times. He told them about the sound that was swallowed by the walls, about the screams. He told them how his father had tried to hold on to the patronus when they left. He had not told that part before, and when he did he was looking at Potter. He pretended that it was only him who could hear it, that there was no one else in the room but them, because this was something private. He had to tell it, but he didn’t want all of them to know. He would be okay with Potter knowing. Potter knew so much already.

“He didn’t care about me and my mother, whether we were there or not,” he said. “He just didn’t want us to take the patronus away.”

He told them about the girl who had talked to him. The werewolf.

 

o

 

Somehow it was more painful to hear Malfoy tell it this time. He looked much more uncomfortable than he had during their detention and for a moment Harry regretted having asked so many of his friends to come.

“Sometimes people go to Azkaban without a trial,” said Malfoy. “It has happened, especially during the wars.”

He didn’t need to tell them that – they all knew two innocent people who had been sent to Azkaban too hastily. Hagrid had only been there for a short while. Sirius had been there for twelve years, and even though he had still been a person when he came back, the more Harry thought about it the less certain he was that it hadn’t destroyed him.

Malfoy fell silent. They were all silent as the horrors of his story sank in.

“That’s why I asked Potter to help me destroy it,” he said. “I didn’t ask him to bring any of you, but he said we would need help, and I trust his judgement.”

“No,” said Ginny firmly.

It was like a punch in the stomach. Harry glanced at Malfoy, expecting to see his own disappointment mirrored in his face, but instead Malfoy was smiling. A wry, bitterly amused smile, like this was exactly what he had expected.

“I can believe what he says about Azkaban and I’m all for blowing up the place if it’s really that bad,” she said. “But I won’t be working with those two. We can do this as the D.A. without any snakes involved, or we’re not doing it at all.”

Harry sighed inwardly. He was so tired of this. Why was she so stubborn? Why did they all look like they agreed with her?

“Why does it matter if they’re here?” he snapped. “Didn’t you listen? It’s not about them, it’s not about what happened during the war-“

“It doesn’t matter if it’s not about the war – you weren’t even here last year, that’s why you don’t get it. You don’t even know them. You don’t know what they did.”

“I came back! I was here for the battle and I was here every year before that, I started the D.A., so don’t talk to me like I don’t know anything-“

“She was torturing first years!”

Ginny pointed angrily at Parkinson.

“She liked it! She fucking laughed about it!”

“Shut up, you lying bitch. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Ginny turned to look at Pansy Parkinson, who had been sitting quietly next to Malfoy during the whole thing looking bored and like it was beneath her to care. Now everyone in the room was staring at her.

“What did you say?” asked Ginny icily.

“I told you to shut your mouth. You have no idea what went on in Slytherin last year,” she said, standing up.

“Pansy-“ Malfoy began, reaching for her arm to get her to sit back down, but she brushed him off.

“Don’t, Draco. If you want to roll over that’s fine, but I’m not going to sit here and listen to her telling lies about us.”

“How can you say that?” said Ginny.

She was fuming.

“After everything you did, you’re not even ashamed of it?”

“I never laughed about it. I never did that.”

“I didn’t have Dark Arts with you, but I know what Parvati and Neville told me - they said you were practically begging to get to cast the cruciatus curse, and that you and your friends were laughing when you left the classroom.”

She wasn’t being loud, none of them were, but her voice was pulled tight as a wire. Harry hadn’t known that she hated her. They had never talked about Parkinson except in relation to Malfoy, but looking at the way the two girls were staring at each other, he had never despised Malfoy half as much as Ginny despised Pansy.

Ginny looked at him.

“I don’t know what made you think we would want to cooperate with Slytherins about anything,” she said, “but anyone who was able to laugh after one of those classes-“

“You’re such a Gryffindor, Weasley,” said Parkinson before Ginny could finish her sentence or Harry could think of anything to say. “You love simple stories with shiny heroes and terrible villains, but that’s not how the world works.”

“How does it work, then? Are you going to tell me that the cowards who sucked up to Death Eaters-”

“We all had to find ways to survive last year, and some of us didn’t have the option of hiding in secret rooms and trying to save the world by putting stink-bombs in Snape’s office.”

“Don’t act like you didn’t have a choice in this!” Ginny snapped. “You could have said no just like we did. If you didn’t want to do what they told you, then you could have fought back, but you didn’t.”

“You think I wanted to do it? Really? I’m a person, Weasley! Or are you talking about all of us, all the Slytherins? Because Evelyn Selwyn snapped her wand after they made her crucio that little one from Gryffindor, the Creevy-kid. She said she never wanted to do magic again, but her mother works in the ministry, and what do you think they might have done to her if they found out? It wasn’t a good time to decide to be a squib. You have no idea how long it took to get her to calm down, to get her to let us help her get a new wand so they wouldn’t find out. And the next day, they asked her to do it again. So yeah, I volunteered in those classes. If I could have volunteered then, I would have.”

“How noble.”

“Maybe it was! I did lots of things that weren’t noble or brave and they weren’t particularly cunning or ambitious either, but I know you walked into Dark Arts with all that spite and attitude because you were hoping they would make an example of you and not someone half your size. Did you ever think maybe we were doing the same thing when we volunteered? I didn’t volunteer to practice unforgiveables on first years because I liked it. But I thought that at least it was me and not Evelyn Selwyn. At least it was me and not another first year.”

Ginny crossed her arms. She was taller than Parkinson. She was using that height difference, looking down at her like she was something disgusting. Parkinson’s knuckles were white.

“So you do think you’re one of the heroes?”

“No, I-“

“Get your story straight, Parkinson. Maybe you could ask Malfoy to help you with the consistency, I’ve heard his story is very neat, good enough to keep him out of Azkaban, even with that pretty tattoo on his arm.”

Harry glanced at Malfoy but not a muscle moved on his face. Across from him, Neville had shrunk into his chair and was concentrating hard on picking the stuffing out of a hole in the upholstery. Ron was staring at Ginny and Pansy, Hermione looked like she wanted badly to be somewhere else and Luna like she already was.

“All the Slytherins were cowards.” Ginny said. “If you had just fought back with the rest of us, or at least showed some defiance, fucking anything, instead of just sucking up to get phony praise and special treatment, then-“

“Then what?”Pansy snapped. “What do you think would have happened, Weasley? Do you think Snape would have resigned and Voldemort would have pulled his Death Eaters out of the school because one more house was uncooperative? So what if we were cowards, there were kids in Slytherin too, but as far as I know you never let a single person in green into your little hideout.”

“Don’t you dare blame us for your spinelessness!”

“We would have been stupid not to take whatever safety we were offered! If the eleven year olds in Slytherin were punished with lost house points instead of some other cruel shit, that wasn’t a loss even if it was favouritism, it just meant that one less kid was abused and that was a good thing. So you can all stop acting like we were spared at your expense.”

You should stop talking like you were just innocent bystanders - you were all helping them, you were turning us in.”

“What else were we supposed to do?”

“Really, you’re asking me that? What do you want me to say? That I think you were a hero for bullying little kids and snitching on those of us who were trying to fight back last year? Because that’s not going to happen.”

“I know I wasn’t a hero and I don’t need you to approve of anything I did. I don’t need anyone to do that. I’m just sick of your narcissistic hero-worshipping when the kids in Slytherin are ashamed of their house because of the way your lot tells the story. I think it would be fucking great, especially if Potter is serious about this inter-house cooperation-shit, if you would stop making us all out to be evil, because we’re not. And maybe for the sake of cooperation, or truth or fairness, you could admit that it was sad what happened to us, what they did to us, just as it was sad and wrong what they did to you. It wasn’t all our fault what we did to each other – you can admit that there were people and circumstances that made us do those things, or at least made it much harder not to do them, without having to compromise any of your sacred morality. We shouldn’t be the villains of your story.”

Pansy finally stopped for breath and there was a long, tense pause while Ginny regarded her coldly.

“I just said that there wasn’t going to be any cooperation,” she said.

Then she turned on her heel and the left the room, slamming the door behind her. Pansy stood frozen. She looked like she would curse the first thing that moved. Then she hissed something that sounded a lot like “Gryffindors”, before storming out the room just as Ginny had. When the door had slammed shut, Hermione let out a sigh and stood up.

“I’m going after her,” she said.

“Which one?”

“Ginny. I’ll talk to her, get her to come back. After all, Pansy wasn’t wrong.”

“What do you mean she wasn’t? It was all bollocks,” said Ron.

“Not all of it.”

“But Ginny is right that we shouldn’t trust them, especially her. She tried to make us hand Harry over to Voldemort!”

“You’re going to blame her for that?” snapped Malfoy. “For thinking that giving up one person to save the lives of hundreds of others was a good idea? Potter was the one who took that deal, remember?”

“Are you going to start now?” asked Ron, squaring his shoulders and turning to face Malfoy.

“No,” said Harry before Malfoy could say anything nasty. “Hermione, just go find Ginny.”

She nodded and left.

“You’re really serious about this, Harry?” asked Ron, looking at him like he was still waiting for him to tell them how it was all a joke.

“Yeah,” he said.

“I can’t believe it,” said Ron, and he didn’t sound angry, just disappointed, which was worse.

Harry looked away from him and avoiding Neville’s gaze too, as he was pretty sure he was looking at him just as reproachfully. It was strange that it felt like Malfoy was the only one in the room who wasn’t against him.

“Are you going after Parkinson?” he asked him.

Malfoy shook his head.

“No. I’ll talk to her tonight when she has calmed down a bit.”

“Okay,” Harry said.

He took a deep breath.

“I don’t think Hermione and Ginny are coming back. We should probably call this a day, but we’ll have another meeting later. I’ll tell you when it is. Is that alright with everyone?”

Neville shrugged. Luna smiled brightly at him.

“Sure,” she said, like she hadn’t just watched this meeting crash and burn.

Ron didn’t say anything; he just walked out the door without looking at Harry at all. Neville and Luna followed him, and Malfoy stood up to leave as well.

 

o

 

Draco stood up to follow Potter’s friends out. He was still shocked over Pansy’s sudden outburst. He had no idea what she would be like when he talked to her later. Would she be mad at him for bringing her? But he couldn’t have known the Weasley girl would be there.

“Are you leaving?”

He stopped and turned around to look at Potter, who was still standing by the window, watching him.

“Not necessarily?” he said.

Potter looked away as if he didn’t know what to say. Or maybe like he was working up to an apology. Draco sat down again

“Well, this was a disaster,” he said when Potter didn’t say anything.

He nodded.

“I shouldn’t have brought her.”

Potter shrugged.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have asked Ginny to come.”

“I don’t know why she went off like that. It has never happened before. Whenever I talk about last year she just looks bored and tells me to get over it.”

Potter frowned.

“She didn’t sound like she was over it.”

“No, not really.”

“I didn’t know Ginny hated her so much. What did she do last year?”

“Survived.”

“No, seriously, Malfoy.”

“I am serious. It’s just as she said, the Carrows gave us special treatment, and in return they expected us to be cooperative and sympathetic towards their cause and sometimes to be cruel, so we were. Especially the older Slytherins, we were hoping to take some of the attention off the younger ones.”

It felt weird saying that now. It had always been unspoken between them, maybe because they knew how thin it would sound when it was said out loud. It felt weird saying it to Potter. Draco shrugged.

“Or that’s what we thought we were doing, I’m not sure. Maybe we were just doing what was the easiest. It seemed to work, though, the little Slytherins became invisible and we became the prime examples of good students to the Carrows. It just sucks now when being a Slytherin is apparently the same as being a Death Eater. Doesn’t make much of a difference for me of course, but for the others…”

He said the last part as a joke, but Potter didn’t laugh. It was hard to read his expression. He was leaning against the windowsill and the light came from behind him, so his face was in the dark.

“I can see why Weasley would be mad when she spent half the year in hiding and carrying out her little terrorist missions,” he continued. “Maybe if all the houses had been allied before the Carrows came, some of us would have joined the Gryffindors, but it was too late for anything like that. They weren’t about to reach out to us and we weren’t expecting any sympathy if we had reached out to them. The roles were already given before the Carrows came.”

Potter nodded.

“And the punishments were bad. Unpredictable. If you did something wrong, they might punish your friends or your siblings instead of you. We would have been punished just as hard as anyone else for getting out of line, but we couldn’t expect help from the ones already fighting. I mean, imagine if Pansy had stood up to the Carrows, do you think they would have let her into the room of requirement to hide her? Or hide me or Millicent or Evelyn or someone else that Pansy cared about who might have been hurt? So I think that’s why she doesn’t think she has to feel bad about it.”

“But why is she mad at Ginny?”

Malfoy shrugged.

“I don’t know. Because Ginny blames her?”

“I can see why she would.”

“Of course you can.”

Potter grimaced and Draco immediately felt bad for saying it. He didn’t need to defend Pansy from Potter. It was stupid to fight him just out of habit when he really didn’t want them to be fighting.

“She was very eloquent about it, wasn’t she?” he said.

“She’s good with words.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. She’s interning at The Prophet.”

Potter snorted.

“That sounds like something she would be good at.”

He was probably thinking of Rita Skeeter. He supposed there were certain similarities, if you didn’t know Pansy well.

“I think she will be.”

“I never really pictured her as the… you know, the most academic type of person, though.”

“She’s not stupid,” he said. “She’s just mean.”

Potter raised his eyebrows.
“Does she know you think that about her?”

He sounded like he disapproved. It was amazing that anyone could be so good and righteous all the time – even when it was Pansy, whom he obviously didn’t care for, Potter still didn’t like the idea of Draco talking bad about his friends behind their backs.

“What, that she’s mean?” he asked. “Of course she knows.”

“Right,” said Potter. “I forgot. Allies.”

It took a second before Draco understood what he meant by that.

“Oh,” he said when he remembered. “No, it’s not like that with her. I mean, we pretend it is, obviously, especially to each other, but it’s really not.”

Potter looked surprised.

“That’s nice,” he said.

It could have been sarcastic, but there was no edge in his voice.

“Why?”

Potter shrugged.

“It’s just nice to know that you do have friends. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about what you said about allies in Slytherin. It’s been bothering me. I wouldn’t know what to do with someone who doesn’t have any real friends. I’d probably have to believe everything Hermione says about you, so it’s nice when you act like a person.”

Draco grinned and Potter’s face split into a smile that sent a jolt through him. He had almost forgotten that they could be like this around each other – relaxed, easy, just talking. It felt like one of their flying trips, except with the exhilaration of flight replaced by the calm and warmth of the room that was turning golden as the sun sank and more light filtered through the window. He could see the shadows of the mullions drawing dark patterns across Potter’s skin. He looked so relaxed as he stood there in his crumpled shirt, watching Draco. He didn’t look like Harry Potter, saviour of the world, he just looked like a boy with a nice smile and terribly messy hair, and Draco thought how nice it would be if it could always be like that.

“What does Granger say about me?” he asked, grinning back.

Potter’s smile faded and Draco wanted to kick himself.

“Nothing, really,” said Potter. “It doesn’t matter.”

So Granger had been slandering him to Potter – maybe he should worry about that, but at the moment he couldn’t care less.

“Do you want to go flying again sometime?” he asked.

The smile resurfaced immediately, bright and genuine, and Draco’s insides dissolved into anxious fluttering.

“Sure,” said Potter.

And Draco was about to say something else when he stopped himself, because Potter was smiling at him, and that wasn’t supposed to make him feel fluttery at all. For a moment he was at a loss for words as a gaping hole of dread opened in his stomach. Because that couldn’t be it. That wasn’t right. Then he gathered himself, forced out words, hoping that Potter hadn’t noticed his hesitation.

“We could ask the rest of our terrorist group to come too,” he said.

He was careful not to let any of the panic register on his face.

“Inter-house unity and all that,” he continued, blabbering away to stop himself from thinking. “It would probably be a better bonding exercise than plotting to prevent the atrocious crimes of our government.”

Potter laughed.

“I don’t know, in my experience near-death experiences really bring people together,” he said.

Draco reminded himself of the disaster in the astronomy tower.

“You should learn how to make friends in less lethal ways, Potter.”

He wanted to leave.

“Haven’t had many chances to.”

Draco stood up.

“So should we get back to our common rooms?” he asked. “I’ll check if Pansy has killed anyone and you can go see if Granger still has her head or if Weasley has bitten it off.”

Was he imagining it, or did Potter look a little disappointed?

“Okay, I’ll tell you when we’re meeting again, yeah?” he said stepping towards the door.

“Good.”

“At least they all believed what you said about Azkaban. Even Ginny, she said she was all for blowing it up.”

Draco nodded.

“Yeah, that’s lovely.”

He stood up. Potter reached for the door.

“We’ll make it work out,” he said.

Draco waited half a metre behind him while he looked out the door to make sure the corridor was empty. Then he stepped out and Draco followed quickly.

“See you around,” he said, as he slipped past him.

“Right,” he heard Potter say, but by then Draco was already hurrying down the corridor.

Chapter Text

Draco was not even halfway to the Slytherin dungeon when he realized how ridiculous it had been of him to leave so abruptly. He hadn’t even apologized properly for Pansy’s behaviour. There had been no reason to start defending her – he should have made it clear that he wanted to cooperate. It was stupid of him not to have asked Pansy to try to get along with the Gryffindors, but he had thought it would be obvious. Of course it wasn’t, since she didn’t know how important it was, because he hadn’t told her that either. It was his own fault, and still he couldn’t help being annoyed with her. She didn’t have to stand on her pride like that. It would make everything so much easier for her, and for him, if she didn’t.

 

Draco found Tracey and Millicent in the common room.

“Have you seen Pansy?” he asked them.

“Yeah, she went upstairs.”

“Aren’t you two still fighting?” asked Tracey.

He ignored her.

“Thanks,” he said and headed for the stairs.

 

He knocked on the door to her dormitory.

“Pansy? May I come in?”

The door was pulled open from the other side and he took a surprised step back.

“Hi Draco,” said Daphne. “She’s in there.”

“Thank you,” he said as she slipped past him down the stairs.

He went in and closed the door behind him. Pansy was sitting on her bed, she had probably been talking to Daphne before he came.

 “Sorry about the Gryffindors,” he said.

She looked at him as if she couldn’t care less about it.

 “Sorry for breaking up you and Potter.”

“They still want to do it. We’ll have another meeting later.”

“Weasley didn’t sound like she was too fond of that idea. It’s only a matter of time before the Gryffindor flock mentality kicks in and Potter goes back to hating you.”

“Granger went after Weasley after you left. She said she’d try to persuade her to come back.”

“Honestly, Draco, don’t count on it.”

“I didn’t know Weasley was coming,” he said.

“So you were hoping to get some alone time with Loony and Longbottom?”

“We need their help. You heard what I said back there-“

“Yeah, I heard you. Azkaban. I don’t even know what to do with that. I feel like an idiot for getting mad at you about New Years, but you should have told me. I can’t believe you told fucking Potter and not me.”

“Sorry. I didn’t know what to say to you. And I messed up badly when I tried talking to him.”

“Doesn’t look like you messed up until today.”

“I humbly apologized when I realized that I needed his help.”

“You really mean it, then,” she said, finally dropping the sarcasm. “You want to blow up Azkaban?”

“Yes.”

“You’ll get caught.”

“I know it’s dangerous, but-“

“No, seriously. You’ll get caught and you’ll be put in a cell next to your father and your mother will completely lose it.”

“I’m trying really hard not to think about that.”

“Why? You should.”

“Someone has to do it, and if I don’t then no one will.”

“Stop that,” she said. “Really. Being heroic doesn’t suit you. Besides, we’re not the heroes, remember?”

“I thought you were mad about that.”

“I am, I’m mad about everything, that doesn’t mean I want to be a hero. I don’t want to die and I don’t want to go to prison, I just…”
She waved dismissively. He waited. He wasn’t going to change the subject just because she was annoyed. She groaned and let herself fall back on the bed.

“You’re a terrible friend,” she said to the ceiling. “Totally useless.”

She raised herself up on one elbow to look at him.

“And I take back what I said earlier, this is so much worse than sixth year. At least murdering Albus Dumbledore was almost within the range of something that might have been possible under drastically different circumstances. This is just dumb.”

“I’m not going to force you to help.”

“You’re sure I can’t convince you to drop it?”

“I have to-“

“Yes, I heard you the first seven times, Draco. But what’s happening next? I mean, today didn’t exactly go well-“

“And whose fault is that?”

“Yours.”

“You could have just ignored her.”

“And you could have stunned me if you wanted me to shut up, but there are certain things we just don’t do. It’s called integrity.”

“We’ll have another meeting.”

“Yes, the Gryffindors seemed really keen on that.”

“Potter will talk to them.”

“Right. Potter – I can’t believe you’ve actually ensnared him with your tragic tales.”

“So you won’t come.”

“Of course I’ll come. I have to protect you from yourself. But if we get charged with treason I was under the imperius the whole time, understand?”

“You’re impossible.”

I’m impossible? Here I am, graciously supporting your death wish, and then you don’t even thank me?”

“Thanks,” he said, not succeeding in holding back a smile. “You know you don’t have to come when we actually go to Azkaban.”

“Yes,” she said. “Let’s not talk about that part until it becomes relevant, shall we?”

Chapter Text

In Gryffindor, Harry had returned to the common room to find that his friends regrouped by the fireplace and waiting for him.

“Luna went back to Ravenclaw Tower,” Neville told him. “But she said she’d be fine with whatever we decided.”

Harry nodded. He stood awkwardly at the edge of the group, unsure of what to do with himself. Ginny was still scowling.

“She also said that she doesn’t like Malfoy very much, because he used to be awful to her, and when I asked her how she felt about Parkinson, she just said “worse”.”

“Right”, said Harry.

He didn’t know what to tell them. They were all looking at him as if he had betrayed them, and he realized that was something he had been waiting for – had been dreading for years now. He had imagined it a thousand times, what it would be like when he finally let them down. He had thought it would be over something more inevitable, that when he eventually failed to live up their expectations, it would be because his luck had finally run out and there was some miracle that he couldn’t pull off. This was all just bad decisions. It was something he should have been able to avoid.

“I’m sorry about the Slytherins,” he said finally. “I should have told you.”

“Yes, you should have,” said Ginny coolly.

His hands were curled into tight fists.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said.

He had told Malfoy that he would try to convince them to come back, but he would just have to explain it to him later. Make him understand that he couldn’t. It shouldn’t even matter if he understood – he didn’t owe Malfoy anything.

Hermione sighed.

“It’s alright, Harry,” she said. “I think we all overreacted a bit. So what do you think we should do about Azkaban?”

He looked at her, surprised.

“What?”

“Well, you were a right arsehole for not telling us that Malfoy and Parkinson would be there, but we all heard Malfoy’s story, and Hermione thinks he’s right that we have to do something about it,” said Ginny.

The tight grip on Harry’s lungs loosened.

“I reckon we should just do it without the Slytherins. Seems the simplest solution, doesn’t it?” said Ron.

“We can’t,” said Hermione sounding reluctant at having to argue his part. “Malfoy is the only one who has been to Azkaban. We’ll need him.”

“But there’s no need for Parkinson to be there.”

“Yeah, but we can’t really tell him not to bring her, can we? I mean, there’s already six of us and just two of them, so it wouldn’t be fair,” said Neville.

“Why should we be fair?”

“Because we’ll have to cooperate, right? That was your idea too, wasn’t it, Harry?”

“Well – yes,” he said, though he wasn’t sure he had really had an idea.

“So it probably won’t help the cooperation if we tell him not to bring Parkinson because we don’t like her.”

Considering how much Hermione still hated Malfoy and how much Ginny loathed Parkinson, any sort of cooperation seemed pretty far out of reach no matter what they did.

“But things didn’t work out very smoothly today either, did they?” said Ginny, echoing his thoughts.

“Well, to be fair it wasn’t actually the Slytherins who started the fight today,” said Hermione.

Ginny shot her an angry look.

“I mean, it wasn’t just them,” she added.

“I talked to Malfoy after you left,” said Harry. “And it didn’t sound like he’d told Parkinson what we’d be meeting about or who were coming or anything, so I suppose she wasn’t prepared for it. I think Malfoy really wants to cooperate, so he’ll probably tell her to… you know, he’ll probably talk to her if we ask him to.”

“Please do.”

“Look, shouldn’t we at least talk about the possibility that he might be lying to us?,” said Ron. “How do we even know that he went to Azkaban?”

“I really don’t think he is-“ Harry began.

“Why not? From my experience he’s more likely to be lying than telling the truth.”

“Why would he lie about this?”

“Wow, I don’t know, maybe because his father is in Azkaban and he wants to help him break out? Maybe he’s trying to get revenge by tricking you into a life-threatening situation and then stabbing you in the back once you trust him? I can think of a hundred reasons why Malfoy would lie to us.”

Harry felt frustration stirring in him. Anyone with half a brain who had heard Malfoy talk about Azkaban the way he had would know he was telling the truth. If the others refused to work with him, that was their decision, and he shouldn’t have tried to trick them into anything, but Malfoy wasn’t lying.

“You heard what he said about his father; he practically considers him dead. He didn’t even want to go in the first place, he told me that before the holidays. Do you think he has been plotting this since before Christmas?”

“Why not? Why else would he tell you something like that?”

Harry flinched. But Ron and Hermione already knew, the others would find out sooner or later.

“Because he and I had been talking a bit. I told you that too, remember?”

“Yeah. As far as I remember, that was right after you had been beating each other up in some classroom, and you also said that you’d never trust him again. Have you been confunded?”

“No, people who have been confunded have a hard time keeping track of time and will often have difficulties with complex conversations,” said Hermione, reflexively quoting one of their charms books.

“I know, it was a rhetorical question,” said Ron. “Though Harry does seem to have a hard time keeping track of some very simple aspects of this conversation.”

“Don’t be a git, Ron,” said Neville.

 “Look, I saw the letter Malfoy’s mother had sent him where she said they were going to Azkaban. And he really didn’t want to go, he got himself wasted on firewhisky because of it.”

“Sorry, what?” asked Ginny. “When did this happen?”

“Before the holidays, like I said.”

He didn’t want to think about that night. They were all giving him strange looks now and he could feel himself getting angry even though he really shouldn’t.

“You all know he came back late after the holidays,” he continued. “Because he got out of reach of the patronus while he was there. I talked to him right when he came back, and he was acting… strange, which was why we got in a fight.”

“But-“

“Ron, I think Harry is right,” said Hermione. “I don’t think Malfoy is lying about having been to Azkaban. I’m not so sure about whether he wants it destroyed or if he wants to free his father or something else – it is a possibility, Harry,” she said, eyeing him before he could speak. “But no matter what his intentions are, I think we can agree that Azkaban is something we should do something about. We’ll have to do some research, check up on some of the things he said and find out the best course of action, which might be not to go there at all. And if we do have to and we still don’t trust him, then we just won’t take him with us. It’s not like he’ll be able to secretly turn the plans into something else if we’re all working together.”

Ron shuddered.

“Does it really have to be teamwork with the Slytherins?”

“I think it does?” said Hermione.

She looked at Neville and Ginny who half shrugged half nodded. Then she turned to Harry.

“Okay,” he said. “So we’re still doing it."

Chapter Text

Potter approached him the day after the unsuccessful meeting to tell him that Lovegood and the other Gryffindors were still with them. It was four more days before they were able to gather again for a second attempt at planning.

 

This time it was after dinner on Saturday evening in the same secret room that they had used before. It was dark out and the glass in the windows was black and mirror-like. Draco had taken up a seat in the corner, sitting half in shadows. He spoke quietly and even breathed carefully, trying to take up as little space as possible. He tried to be polite enough for the both of them, because Pansy would bite back her venomous words when he had asked her to, but she would not apologize for her presence. If he wanted friendly cooperation, it was all on him.

The atmosphere in the room was tense. Granger and Longbottom had greeted them with polite hello’s, Ronald had just nodded stiffly. Ginevra arrived later with the Lovegood girl, who floated in and glanced vaguely at them, but didn’t say anything. Draco didn’t know her well enough to say whether her strangeness became more pronounced when she was uncomfortable, but it seemed possible. Pansy had been vicious to her when they were younger, and even though Draco hadn’t had anything to do with her when she was kept at the manor, that episode probably didn’t make her like him any better.

Draco watched Potter, who had positioned himself by the window again instead of sitting down. He looked tense. The thought hit Draco that they must have been angry with him. He hadn’t even thought about that, because their hatred was centred on him and Pansy, but Potter’s eyes kept darting anxiously to Granger and the Weasleys.

Draco wished he had thought to apologize for putting him in that position. He hadn’t even considered the consequences for Potter if he tried to build a bridge between his friends and Draco. He remembered that Potter had not spent Christmas with his muggle family since he was eleven, how appalled he had looked at the idea of reducing friendships to alliances, and how many of Potter’s people were dead. He wanted to apologize and then he wanted to leave because, he had asked for Potter’s help, he had not asked him to risk his friendships.

But he remained seated, and when they were all gathered, Potter crossed over to the door and locked it. Longbottom hadn’t sat down either; he was walking around the room, muttering silencing spells at the windows. Granger was pulling quills and parchment out of her bag. She had settled herself with her legs pulled up in one of the chairs and was taking down notes. He couldn’t read what she was writing from where he sat, but he suspected it might be an agenda for the meeting. It was incredible how that girl would turn everything into a school project. He wondered if she had made time tables and to-do lists for taking down the Death Eaters and defeating the Dark Lord. She probably had.

“Neville, do you think silencing spells are enough?” asked Ginny.

Longbottom finished his incantation and went to sit down.

“Yeah, I think it’ll be alright for now. I checked, there aren’t any detection spells and no one would be looking for us, so I think we’re good.”

Weasley nodded. Something about the exchange felt familiar to Draco, though at first he couldn’t figure out why. Then he realized that they reminded him of the aurors at Azkaban. The way Longbottom reflexively cast the protection spells, the way Ginevra checked with him, not because she doubted his judgement, but because that was their routine. They had all aged so much in the last year.

“That’s probably the first thing we should figure out,” said Weasley to the room in general. “I mean, I suppose tearing down Azkaban is illegal, so we don’t want the wrong people to find out what we’re planning.”

She glanced in his and Pansy’s direction – he supposed they were usually the wrong people.

“I like this room,” said Lovegood in a dreamy voice that made Draco unsure if she was actually following the conversation, or if it was just an accident that her comment seemed to fit.

“Yeah, it’s good,” said Weasley. “Big enough to hold all of us, and if we push back the furniture, I think there’ll be space for practising spells.”

“Do you know if it’s safe, Harry?”

Longbottom had to twist around in his chair to look at Potter.

“I think so,” he said.

“How did you find it?”

“The Marauder’s Map.”

Draco didn’t know what that was, but the others seemed satisfied with the answer.

“Is there anything else on this floor?”

“No, I’m not even sure the floor actually exists except for this hallway.”

“That’s good, then we won’t have people accidentally passing by. It’s not the room of requirement, but I suppose it’ll have to do. We’ll need to figure out a couple of different routes to get here, though, so people don’t see us wandering off to the same, empty part of the castle every week or however often we’ll be meeting. Do you have the map with you?”

Potter nodded and went over to the table. He pulled out a grubby piece of parchment and laid it on the table between them. Draco only had a moment to wonder what the point of it was before Potter placed the tip of his wand against it and said:

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good!”

Immediately, words spread across the paper: Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and…

One of the others began unfolding the paper, hiding the message before he could read the rest, and instead revealing a detailed map of the school. That in itself was impressive – Draco had never seen a map of Hogwarts before, because even though the castle looked like a somewhat tangible building from the outside, its insides didn’t seem to follow any of the rules that usually applied to architecture, such as space, direction or permanence. The map had several extra flaps to accommodate the impossible construction, such as the non-existent floor they were currently on, but still it must have taken a tremendous amount of work to create it. And as if that wasn’t enough, Draco noticed the dots. There were eight of them in the room they were currently in, each labelled with a name. The dot called Draco Malfoy was in the corner next to Pansy Parkinson.

He felt a thrill as he turned his eyes to one of the crowded corridors at the other end of the castle and saw that the dots there were moving around, each of them labelled with a student’s name.

“How long have you had this?” he asked incredulously.

“Since third year.”

Draco nodded.

“Well,” he said. “That explains a lot.”

Ginevra reached out a hand and traced a path on the map.

“This is the obvious route that we’ve all taken the last two times, right?” she said. “And the first alternative would be to go down the east staircase from here instead…”

 

Draco kept quiet and listened as they worked out the alternative routes and who should take which ones at what intervals. He had never liked Potter’s friends much, but it was hard not to be impressed by them. They hadn’t been exactly friendly this time, but they were not hostile either. As soon as the planning had begun, they all became business-like and practical.

He knew they had only come the first time because Potter had asked them to, and he hadn’t even told them that Draco and Pansy would be there. He wasn’t sure why they had come back. Potter still looked tense, almost apologetic, so clearly he felt responsible for them being there, but they did not have the air of people who had been talked into something they didn’t want to do. Three of them had led an army, a freedom movement and a refugee camp within the school last year, which had not been easy. He knew that because he had been fighting them. They didn’t just do Potter’s bidding anymore, if they ever had, and if they were here it was of their own volition. So it was possible that the Gryffindor heroes had decided, that this was a worthy cause.

 

“So everyone knows what to do next time?” asked Longbottom, looking around when it seemed they were done.

They all nodded.

“Good.”

He reached out and folded up the map, then handed it back to Potter. He took it, and Granger cleared her throat.

“Right,” she said, looking down at her notes. “So now that that’s settled, there is quite a lot that we don’t know yet and a lot of questions we need to answer before we’ll know what the best approach to the situation is.”

Draco knew without looking that Pansy was rolling her eyes.

“First off,” continued Granger. “I think we should discuss the option of a political solution to this. If there is any possibility at all of getting legislation passed to remove the dementors, then that’s definitely better than turning this into some dangerous, illegal mission. We have to at least consider the option that we don’t have to do this all by ourselves.”

She turned to Malfoy.

“Honestly, I’m surprised that this wasn’t your first thought as well.”

“It was,” he said. “But I don’t think it would work.”

“Really? I mean, considering the parts we played in the war, I think some of us could have some political influence if we tried?”

“You definitely would,” he said, mirroring her polite tone. “But I don’t think it would help in this case.”

He explained his theory again, the one he had previously presented to Potter, that Azkaban had somehow turned itself into a blind spot, unwatchable and unquestionable, that no one could hold in their mind for too long at a time. Granger listened carefully. Twice she noted something down on her parchment.

“I can’t say for sure,” he finished, “but it’s the only way it makes sense to me. It would also explain why there hasn’t been any public debate about removing the dementors even though they joined the Dark Lord during the war. The safest way to avoid any discussions of an uncomfortable issue would be if everyone agreed that it was fine as it was and nothing had to change, right? And as far as I know, it was a unanimous vote to keep them as guards of Azkaban. Unanimous votes don’t happen on the Wizengamot, so that in itself is a sign that something is wrong.”

Granger nodded slowly, taking down another note.

“Well, that’s a hypothesis,” she said. “We’ll have to check up on it when we start researching. I think we should keep the option of a political solution open until we know more, but I suppose we can put it aside for now and focus on a practical intervention...”

“How are we supposed to kill the dementors?” asked Longbottom. “Is that even possible?”

He was looking at Lovegood when he asked, but she didn’t say anything and it was Granger who answered him:

“No, they’re amortals, they’re not alive to begin with. I don’t even know how sentient they are…”

“But that just means “kill” is the wrong word. We should still be able to destroy them, right?” said Ronald.

“I don’t know if it’s ever been done. The patronus charm just drives them away, and that’s the only dementor-counter curse I know of. I suppose we’ll have to research that too.”

“If they’re pure evil, maybe they can be destroyed the same way as the horcruxes? Basilisk venom or fiendfyre?” said Longbottom.

Granger nodded.

“Maybe,” she said.

“I don’t think it’ll be enough to just kill the dementors,” said Draco carefully. “I think there might be something wrong with the place itself.”

“What do you mean?” asked Granger.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I just think – even if all the dementors were removed, there might be something evil left. Something deeper. Like the walls would still drive people mad.”

“Aren’t we putting an awful lot of trust in Malfoy’s gut feeling about Azkaban?”

“No, we’re not,” said Granger. “So far the only thing I’ve noted down in our “things we know” column is that Azkaban is evil. All the rest is in “things to research”. So the first thing to do is obviously to visit the library.”

“We know about the security too,” said Malfoy. “The island itself is unplottable, but there is a house for the guards on the coast, and it’s possible to apparate there. When I went, there were only six aurors stationed at the prison, four at the tower and two at the house. The tower is hidden by some sort of disillusionment, so it’s invisible until you get close. And the dementor’s pit is at the bottom.”

Granger looked at him for a moment and he didn’t have time to figure out what that expression meant before she composed herself and nodded.

“That’s good,” she said looking down at her notes. “I didn’t get all of it, so do you think you could write it down later? As well as anything else you remember. Maybe draw some of it for us too, that might be useful.”

“Sure,” he said.

“And then, in case we do end up having to go there ourselves, Harry should probably start teaching Malfoy and Parkinson how to cast the patronus charm.”

“Why just us?” asked Draco, forgetting himself for a moment.

“Because all the rest of us already know it. We learned it when we started Dumbledore’s Army back in fifth.”

“Really?” said Draco and his eyes inadvertently flicked to Longbottom.

“I picked it up last year,” he said dryly.

Draco nodded.

“Right,” he said.

“There’s no need for him to teach both of us,” said Pansy.

“Why not?” asked Ginevra, already sounding accusatory.

“Because I won’t be going to Azkaban with you. I’ve thought about it, and I’ll help you all I can with this part, planning and research and everything. I have an internship at the Prophet, so I can probably get into their archives, that might be useful. But I won’t be of any help in a battle situation, and honestly, I don’t want to risk my life for this.”

“And you think we do?”

Pansy shrugged.

“No one has forced you to be here.”

“Alright,” said Hermione before the two of them could start fighting again. “It’ll just be Malfoy, then.”

Draco looked up at Potter, who turned away the moment he noticed his glance, but the brief eye contact still sent a flickering jolt through him.

It wasn’t the first time it had happened. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought about earlier, hadn’t realized that he wasn’t being sensible about Potter. He wondered how long it had been a factor, how long this had been pulling at his decisions. He had been seeking Potter out all year. He had deemed him his absolution at first, and then he had thought he might be his friend. He had even convinced himself that there were proper, rational reasons for all of it.

Pansy was right. He was such an idiot.

He allowed himself to watch Potter for a moment – the sharp lines of his face, the way his hair had grown too long and was curling around his ears. The way he held himself, like someone who had had to carry heavy things his whole life, but with his uncrippled conscience shining out of him. And he thought that maybe he was an idiot, but really it wasn’t so strange that he was in love with him. It was just a natural extension of his jealousy, crossing the thin line between wanting to be him and just wanting him. Wanting to be liked by him. And of course he couldn’t have that. It was not a constructive feeling. It would only get in the way, and he did not need that. So he folded it up and put it away in a corner of his mind where it would not bother him. He would leave it there until it went away.

 

Granger stood up and when he turned his eyes away from Potter to look at her instead, he no longer cared about Potter’s conscience or his neck or his hands, about the shape of his jaw or the white of the scar against his dark skin.

“So I suppose that’s as much as we’ll be able to do for now, then,” she said.

She picked up her bag and slipped her notes into one of the schoolbooks.

“I’ll head down to the library,” she said and then added to Pansy: “And I think it would be great if you could look at the Prophet’s archives. Pull out everything you can find about Azkaban, I think especially Sirius’ escape and the mass breakout in ’96. Those are the only breakouts I know about and they’re too recent to be in any books yet, but of course practically anything you can find on Azkaban would be helpful. If Malfoy is right, there might not be a lot of literature about the place…”

Pansy nodded.

“Of course,” she said.

“My father writes a lot about magical creatures in his Magazine. I don’t know if he’s ever done anything on Dementors, we mostly do more useful or interesting creatures, but I could write and ask him about it…”

“I don’t know if dementors actually qualify as creatures-“ Granger began, but the Weasley girl cut her off.

“Yes, that would be great, Luna,” she said.

“I should probably come with you to the library,” said Draco.

Granger looked at him and suddenly her eyes were cold. He felt the others grow tense around him.

“Thank you for the offer,” said Granger, very slowly, very politely. “But I believe I am fairly capable at doing research on my own.”

“I don’t doubt that, but I can borrow books from the restricted section.”

“So can I.”

He nodded.

“Right – yes, of course you can. But you’ll need to get permission from Madam Pince, and she’ll be watching you like a hawk while you’re in there and she won’t let you take out more than two, maybe three books, if you’re lucky.”

“What, and that doesn’t apply to you?”

The polite tone had gone from her voice.

“Look, I’m not saying any of this to offend you, it’s just that the houses of Malfoy and Black have donated about half the books in there, so she has a lot of respect for my family and usually just lets me go in there and take what I want.”

“But that’s not fair!” said Granger.

She looked absolutely shocked – if he had known this was such a sensitive subject he certainly would have breached it more carefully, but he hadn’t expected her to be so touchy about the library of all things.

“I always return the books on time and I’ve never damaged any of them,” he said, just to offer some justification. “That’s more than can be said for most other students in this school.”

“Yes, but I return my books on time, too. I’ve never damaged a book either and I’ve used the library more than anyone else.”

“She lets you into the restricted section and she lets you read the books there – that’s probably more than she allows any other of the other muggleborn students to do.”

“She’s a blood purist?” asked Granger, and Draco realized what he had said.

They were all staring at him, except for Pansy who was looking away and probably either choking herself not to laugh or just rolling her eyes painfully hard at his stupidity.

“Well…” he said hesitantly. “I mean, no, not really. I think mostly she’s just old - from a time when it was more… common for the noble families to… have certain privileges. It’s not that she has something against muggleborns or anything…”

He stopped talking. He was just making it worse.

“Fine,” said Granger. “I’ll meet you down there.”

She left. There was a moment of silence before Longbottom stood up.

“Don’t sit too close to her,” he said. “I suppose you’ll have to be at the same table, but it would attract attention if it looked like you were studying together.”

Draco nodded – he wasn’t an idiot.

“Actually, that applies to all situations,” said Ginny. “We shouldn’t talk to each other outside of this room in case people notice. Obviously we don’t talk much now, but we’ll need something like the coins for arranging new meetings.”

Draco winced. He remembered those coins from back when he and Pansy had been in Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad.

“I might still have some of the old D.A. ones somewhere, we could just use those?” said Longbottom.

Weasley shook her head.

“No, we don’t know if any of last year’s members still have theirs. We’ll make new ones, find a way to get them to the Slytherins.”

She turned to Ronald, who was sitting on the couch next to Lovegood and hadn’t said much during the meeting.

“Do you and Neville want to leave first? Luna and I will go in a bit.”

“Alright,” he said and glanced back at Potter.

“It’s fine,” he said. “I need to talk to Malfoy about the patronus charm anyway. I’ll meet you back in the common room.”

Pansy stood up too.

“I’ll leave with you,” she said. “We’re not headed in the same direction, and Draco is just going to the library after this anyway.”

 

Pansy, Longbottom and Weasley left. Lovegood and the other Weasley followed shortly after. When the door had closed behind them, Draco waited for Potter to speak, but he didn’t say anything. He was leaning against the windowsill, looking tired.

“You don’t look like you’re up for teaching me the patronus charm right now,” he said when the silence had stretched too long.

Potter smiled vaguely.

“No, I suppose I’m not.”

“So what did you want to say?”

Potter shrugged.

“Nothing, really. Just wanted to check that everything was alright.”

“I’m alright.”

“Good.”

He fell silent again.

“Potter, I don’t think they’re mad at you,” Draco said. “You didn’t talk them into coming here, they decided that for themselves.”

Potter made a face.

“Parkinson said she’d rather not risk her life, and that actually sounded reasonable, you know, as a priority that other people might have. I didn’t think this through at all. I don’t want them to put themselves in danger again because of me…”

“Oh, well I don’t think that can be helped – that’s practically all they’ve been doing for the last seven years. I’m afraid it has become a habit to all of them.”

Potter groaned.

“Not funny,” he said.

“Right, sorry,” Draco said, but smiling a little because Potter was too. “But I’m serious. It’s obvious that they’re not doing anything they don’t want to because of you. I mean, Pansy isn’t exactly the brave sort and I actually felt bad about asking her to come too, but I shouldn’t have, I should have trusted that she’d pull out when she wanted to, and she did. I’m really glad that your friends still want to help, but I think you can trust that they’ll tell you if there’s something they don’t want to do. If it ends up being just me going to Azkaban, then that’s fine.”

It really wouldn’t be fine, but it was the right thing to say. Potter nodded.

“I suppose you’re right. I’ll come with you, though.”

In a corner of Draco’s mind, a feeling stirred. He pushed it back.

“You should probably teach me the patronus charm first,” he said.

“Right,” said Potter. “Do you want to meet back here tomorrow and get started?”

 

A few minutes later, Draco left the secret room and headed to the library to study with Hermione Granger.

Chapter Text

The library was almost empty this time of day. The air was still and dry with the smell of dust and old parchment. There were only a few students still studying by the tables. Granger was sitting by herself in the back and had already assembled a great stack of books in front of her. At another table were a couple of fifth years looking bored and tired. Madam Pince was behind her desk and she glanced up when he came in. She gave him a quick smile then returned to her work.

Draco walked to the restricted section at the far end of the library. It was roped off so people didn’t wander in there by mistake, though it was unlikely anyone would – it felt different than the rest of library in a way that was impossible not to notice, like some of the darkness and some of the power sealed in the books had seeped into the air and made it prickle against the skin.

He unhooked the end of the rope that closed it off, then fastened it behind him. The library at Hogwarts held one of the most extensive collections of magical texts in all of Britain, so of course there were quite a few books there that weren’t fit for children, and the restricted section was pretty big.

It wasn’t all dark and dangerous magic, some of the books were just incredibly rare or incredibly old and most of them incredibly valuable, so it made sense to keep them off the shelves that were accessible to 11-year-olds. It could take forever to find what you were looking for in there, but Draco had become well-acquainted with the section during his sixth year. It felt like he had lived there some weeks, scouring the shelves for some dark or forgotten magic that might have enabled him to assassinate the headmaster. He hadn’t had much success – not that there was a shortage of the dark or the obscure, but most of it had been far out of reach of his magical abilities. It had been quite unsettling too.

He felt pretty certain that there were no books about the prison of Azkaban. He couldn’t tell the others of course, but he had actually tried to look dementors up once before – back in his third year when Potter was going around fainting all over the place and it had seemed such a golden opportunity for messing with him. It was more than a little embarrassing to remember how important that had been to him and if anyone ever decided to bring it up, he would deny everything.

But he had never seen any books on Azkaban then, and if he was right about the way the prison made itself a void, it was hard to imagine anyone would have thought enough about the place to want to write something down. Still, he ought to at least look for those first, just to be sure. Then he would search for something specifically on dementors, though he didn’t imagine there would be much success with that this time either. Then it would all be branching out from there – books on defense from dark creatures, dark magic, possibly philosophical texts on the nature of evil, and there might be some books going into detail about the patronus charm too. He did have an idea of a few titles that could be relevant.

 

When he returned to the studying tables, the fifth years had gone and Granger was the only student left. He decided to sit by her table despite what Longbottom had said. It shouldn’t matter when there was no one there to be puzzled by it. He pulled out a chair across from hers and put down the books. She didn’t look up. He doubted Madam Pince would be able to hear them talking all the way back there, but he still pulled out his wand and muttered a quick silencing spell just to be safe.

“No one is here,” he said to Granger.

She raised her head.

“Okay?” she said, in a tone of voice that suggested, that she didn’t consider that a very good reason for them to speak to each other.

“So what have you found out?” he asked, nodding to the stack of books in front of her.

“Not a lot. I’ve only just started reading,” she said. “I left the restricted section to you, but you took a while to get here, so I’ve been through the rest of the library – I figured it was better to get a broader sense of what was there before we started reading in detail.”

He nodded, that had been his plan as well.

“Which sections?” he asked, tilting his head to read the titles on the spines on the books in her stack.

“All of them.”

He looked at her. She wasn’t smiling. It didn’t seem very probable that she would be joking but –

“All of them?” he asked.

He hadn’t come down here that much later than her. The library was huge. She shrugged.

“Well, all the ones that might be relevant.”

He had thought the stack of books she had gathered was pretty big, but if that was everything relevant she had been able to find in the whole library, it wasn’t a lot. She might have searched too narrowly and he was about to tell her that, when she pushed a piece of parchment across the table towards him.

“I only took the titles that seemed the most promising, but I’ve noted down everything else that we might have to check out later. It’s not prioritized, since I just wrote them down as I went around, but they’re ordered by section, so they’ll be easy to find again later.”

It was a long list.

“That’s… really impressive,” he said and meant it.

He hesitated a moment before he added:

“You’re good at this.”

She took the list back.

“I know.”

It took a second before she remembered to ask him.

“What have you found?”

 

She went through his stack of books and picked out a few of them for herself. They began going through the indexes. Once or twice he would ask her about a section or a chapter. She looked at him strangely when he did – not like it bothered her, but as if she was slightly surprised by the question, or maybe just by his presence, as if she had forgotten he was there.

 

“Do you think boggarts might be relevant?” he asked.

He was looking through yet another book on dark creatures that was deplorably brief on dementors.

“Why would they be?” she asked.

He shrugged.

“I don’t know. Fear is a common denominator, I suppose? And for some reason this bloke has given them about five times as much space…”

“Maybe. Yes, actually, that’s not a bad idea. Put it in the pile.”

She returned to her book, but not before giving him the strange look again. He sighed.

“What is it, Granger?”

She looked up.

“What?”

“That look. You keep making that face at me. I can go sit somewhere else if that’s what it is.”

“Oh – no, it’s fine. It’s nothing.”

He waited for a second, but she didn’t elaborate.

“Okay, then,” he muttered and returned to the text.

“It’s just, I’ve sort of become used to doing research on my own,” she said.

He looked up again and raised an eyebrow at her.

“So this is a bit… unfamiliar,” she continued.

“Don’t Potter and Weasley help you?”

She grimaced.

“Well, yes,” she said hesitantly. “But they’re not always very good at it…”

Draco smirked.

“No, I can imagine,” he said.

He could easily see Potter attempting to read every page of every book on some subject without the least bit of planning, and probably burning himself out before he was even halfway through. The git was brilliant at magic, but he had never been very academic in his approach to learning it.

Granger looked uncomfortable. She glanced up at the clock mounted on the library wall.

“We should head back soon,” she said.

He nodded.

“Alright. Should we divide up the books?”

“I was thinking it might be a good idea if we left them back in the secret room,” she said. “Then we’ll both have access to all of them all the time and if we find something new we can just leave it for each other up there. We’ll avoid having to talk to each other where people might notice, and we also won’t have large stacks of suspicious books on dark magic lying around our dormitories.”

“Sounds like a good idea.”

“But I suppose we’ll have to split them up for now. You should take the restricted ones; I won’t be allowed to check them out anyway.”

There was more than a hint bitterness in that last comment, but he ignored it. She gathered up her books and he removed the silencing charm.

 

He lingered behind while Granger went up to Madam Pince, but when he came out of the library, she was waiting for him in the corridor.

“I just thought I should tell you that this doesn’t change anything,” she said as soon as he stepped out.

“Sorry?” he said, a bit disoriented.

He thought she would have left.

“Harry trusts you at the moment, so I’ll work with you,” she said. “I think you might be on to something about Azkaban, and that is the only reason I’m going along with any of this. We’re not friends. I don’t trust you, and what I said to you before the holidays still stands. If you give me any reason to think that you might be trying to hurt one of us, then it doesn’t matter what Harry thinks, I will get you kicked out of here so fast you won’t even know what happened.”

“I suppose that’s reasonable enough,” he said.

She frowned at that, like that wasn’t the answer she wanted.

“Goodnight, Granger,” he said as politely as he could.

Then he went off down the hall, weighed down by the heavy load of books.

Chapter Text

Hermione came down late for breakfast the next morning. Harry and Ron had almost finished and Harry was just pushing his scrambled eggs around on his plate when she sat down next to him.

“’Morning,” she said, reaching for the tea.

“Did you sleep in?”

“Yes, I was up late reading.”

Ron passed her a piece of toast.

“Yeah? And how did it go with studying?” he asked her.

“Well, it actually wasn’t all that terrible,” she said. “I found some interesting books. I haven’t found anything really useful yet, but I’m sure I will, I just need a bit more time.”

“I was thinking more about the company,” said Ron.

“I know. It wasn’t terrible.”

“That’s good,” said Harry.

She shot him a look and he knew he had sounded too relieved.

“At least he’s trying,” she said dryly. “When are you going to start teaching him?”

“Tonight,” he said.

His stomach tightened into a knot just thinking about it.

“You know I thought about that. Don’t they say that dark wizards can’t cast a patronus?” asked Ron.

“He’s not a dark wizard,” said Harry at the same time that Hermione said: “That’s just a myth.”

Hermione gave Harry a weird look. Ron shrugged.

“If you say so. But I still feel sorry for you, mate – I’m glad it's not me who's going to be locked up with the stupid git until he figures out how to cast a patronus.”

“At least Parkinson refused the offer.”

Ron grinned.

“Shit, that would have been a fucking nightmare. Do you even think she has happy thoughts? I swear I’ve never seen her smile.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve heard her cackle, though,” said Harry.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be talking about that here?” said Hermione.

“No one’s listening.”

She shrugged.

“Still.”

“Sure. Pass me the orange juice?”

 

o

 

Harry made his way to the secret room that evening, following the route that Ginny had said would be the least used at the time. Ron had been poking fun at him all day and Harry had pretended to be bothered, but really he was quite happy about it. It meant that Ron at least wasn't too angry about the whole idea of involving the Slytherins, the way Harry was pretty sure Hermione still was. Besides, Malfoy had been perfectly all right the last couple of times they had talked.

 

When he reached the secret room, Malfoy was already there. He stood by the sofa next to a mountain of books that had been arranged into a couple of neat stacks on the low table. He had his back to the door and held a piece of parchment in his hands. His brow was furrowed, but a wry smile played around his lips, like he was reading some kind of private joke. He didn’t notice Harry coming in and Harry felt for a second like he had walked in on some private moment. He never saw Malfoy so unguarded, his narrow shoulders relaxed, for once not holding himself like he had a broomstick for a spine. Harry looked away. There was something strangely intimate about watching his quiet concentration.

Harry cleared his throat.

“Hi,” he said.

Malfoy started and turned around.

“Oh, hello. I didn’t hear you.”

Harry nodded to the parchment.

“What’s that?”

Malfoy glanced down.

“Granger’s notes,” he said. “We decided to leave the books here so we’d both have access to all of them, but apparently she has also taken it upon herself to assign homework, or whatever this is. She’s very brief.”

Harry grinned.

“Can I see?” he asked.

Malfoy passed him the notes.

Hermione had put Malfoy’s name at the top and below was a list of chapters and sections in different books. There was nothing else.

“She’s not exactly friendly,” said Malfoy, taking it back when Harry handed it to him.

“At least she’s working with you. That’s actually a big improvement from before the holidays.”

Malfoy scoffed.

“I know. She threatened to curse me if I didn’t stay away from you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Surprisingly brave of you not to listen. I’ve seen her cursework. Bloody terrifying.”

Malfoy smirked.

“Alright,” he said. “I’ll remember that in the future: Beware of Hermione Granger, even the chosen one is scared of her. Anyway, shall we get started?”

He put the parchment down and settled himself on the couch, resting his head on his hand and looking expectantly up at Harry.

“What’s your plan? Are you going to show me your patronus? I heard it’s pretty good. Earned you an “outstanding” for your O.W.L’s and everything.”

“How do you know what I got on my O.W.L’s?”

Malfoy shrugged.

“Everybody knows about that one.”

Harry was pretty sure he hadn’t told anyone except Ron or Hermione about his grades.

“Right,” he said.

“Well, whenever you’re ready,” said Malfoy with a little wave, though the nonchalance seemed a bit forced.

Harry nodded.

“Sure,” he said, and pulled out his wand.

He hadn’t actually planned on casting his own patronus. He hadn’t thought Malfoy would be interested, it wasn’t like he needed proof that Harry could do it, but of course now it seemed obvious that he would expect a demonstration. Not that that was a problem, of course. It just wasn’t always easy to be mentally prepared for Malfoy. He oscillated between brooding bitterness and aloof indifference, and then suddenly this nice, normal bloke would emerge and make jokes and drawl sarcastic compliments, that were still compliments, and basically asking Harry to show off. It was confusing to say the least.

Harry pulled out his wand, hesitating for a moment.

“Sorry, I just need to- I hadn’t actually planned on demonstrating.”

“Take your time,” said Malfoy.

That smirk – it really wasn’t a wonder that Harry had always suspected him of being up to something when the guy managed to look like a cat that had just devoured someone’s goldfish about eighty percent of the time he came close to smiling. Harry turned away so he wouldn’t have to look at him. It was good his control of the patronus was so secure now; he was pretty sure he wouldn’t have been able to focus enough to cast it with a smirking Malfoy in the room back when he was thirteen.

Harry raised his wand.

Expecto patronum!” he cried.

The silver stag erupted from his wand, filling the room with light. It looked much bigger when it was cast indoors like this. He couldn’t help imagining what it would look like to Malfoy, who had never seen it before; who had possibly never seen a patronus up close at all. And he knew it had to be impressive.

The stag turned its head to look at them – there was nothing for it to protect them from, so it just stood there, emanating soft light and gentle warmth and a calm sense of rightness and safety and happiness.

Harry lowered his wand and allowed it to fade away. There was a scuffling behind him and he turned around. Malfoy had stood up and had already pulled out his wand. His eyes were wide and bright and excited.

“Okay,” he said. “Teach me how to do that.”

 

Harry explained. He walked Malfoy through the incantation, the wand-movement, both fairly simple, and Malfoy listened attentively and copied him easily. He didn’t protest at all until Harry started on the need to concentrate for single happy memory.

“Really?” he said, cutting Harry off mid-sentence and lowering his wand. “You cast that sort of spell by thinking happy thoughts?”

“Yeah, but it can’t just be anything, it has to be a powerful memory,” Harry said, hearing Lupin’s voice echoing in his own, hearing himself during fifth when he taught the others.

“Memories aren’t powerful,” said Malfoy.

“I just cast a patronus, didn’t I?”

“So what, when you’re attacked by dementors you can’t defend yourself until you’ve had time to forget the horrifying thing in front of you and really focus on thinking nice thoughts to yourself? That doesn’t seem very effective. And I don’t believe for a second that you had that much mental discipline at 13.”

Harry hesitated. He had thought that was what he was doing, but now that Malfoy pointed it out, it was true that he didn’t need much mental preparation to cast his patronus. That time he and Dudley were attacked by dementors, he hadn’t been thinking at all.

“I don’t really have to conjure the memory,” he said slowly. “Not anymore, I think. I can just sort of… feel it. I know what my patronus is supposed to feel like, and it’s the feeling of the memory I use, but I don’t actually have to remember it.”

Malfoy looked sceptically at him for a long moment. Then he shrugged.

“Okay,” he said. “Powerful memories. Fine.”

Malfoy raised his wand again, furrowing his brow in concentration. Harry watched him shift the grip on the wand. His lips moved, like he was murmuring something, but Harry couldn’t hear what it was. Then he took a deep breath.

Expecto patronum!” he cried.

And nothing happened. Not even a wisp of silver. Malfoy lowered his wand.

“Well,” he said. “That’s disappointing.”

“Try it again. Maybe with a different memory.”

 

They kept at it for over an hour. Malfoy picked new memories, Harry corrected his stand and his grip on the wand. They took a break, then tried again. Finally, he managed to produce a thin, silvery mist. They stopped after that.

 

“It’s a difficult spell. It takes time…”

Malfoy shrugged.

“That’s what I expected,” he said, but he still looked disappointed.

“Do you want to meet again tomorrow?”

“Can’t, I have to study. We have a test coming up in Charms.”

“So Monday, then?”

“Monday is good.”

Harry waited by the door while Malfoy picked up the bag he had left on the couch and started emptying it of books, that he placed in stacks next to Hermione’s on the table.

“Do you know why it’s a stag?” he asked suddenly, without looking up.

“What?”

“Your patronus. Do you know why it looks like that?”

“Because of my dad, I think. He was an animagus, could take the form of a stag.”

Malfoy nodded. Harry sort of expected him to go on, to say something else, maybe ask more about patronus shapes, but he didn’t.

“Okay. Let’s go,” he said.

And the subject was dropped, so Harry decided not to ask which form Malfoy thought his patronus would take.

 

Harry went through the door first and Malfoy followed after.

“See you Monday, Potter,” he said.

“You know, you should probably start calling me Harry,” Harry blurted out before he could stop himself.

Malfoy looked at him with a bemused expression.

“Why?”

Harry shrugged and looked away.

“It’s a bit dumb with the last names, isn’t it? Now that we know each other.”

Malfoy scoffed.

“Sure,” he said. “I’ll start calling you Harry as soon as you start calling me Draco. See you Monday, Potter.”

He said the last part in a condescending drawl that in an instant turned him back into the unbearable prick he used to be. But he had a smirk on his face that might have meant it was intentional. That it was a joke.

He turned around and left while Harry stood there for a moment, looking after him. He watched him go and felt at the same time immensely frustrated and also inexplicably disappointed.

 

o

 

They met again on Monday, and Draco supposed one could say that it went better. He succeeded in creating the misty shield several times, and it did become thicker and more solid. He could sustain it for longer too, but it still did not become corporeal. So they met again later in the week. And again in the weekend, but he seemed to have stagnated.

When he wasn’t producing useless wisps of silver light with Potter, Draco found time to read through the books he and Granger had found in the library. She would leave notes for him and he soon started leaving them for her too. That was an aggravating process as well – there was very little information on dementors, it was all very superficial and very brief. There was hardly anything on Azkaban. He began going to the library again, but he didn’t find anything new.

It was rare that all of their little group gathered at once, but a steady stream of information passed between them. They filtered in and out of the secret room at different times. For all of them it had once been routine practice to keep most of their activities secret, to stay under the radar of teachers and remain inconspicuous to other students. It was easy to fall back into old habits. Once, Draco came up there and found a stack of old newspaper articles that had appeared next to his and Granger’s books and notes, and Pansy hadn’t even mentioned it to him.

Sometimes Granger would be there and they would work on the research together, but since neither of them were getting anywhere, they mostly sat in silence.

One day a third person’s handwriting began appearing on his and Granger’s notes, making strange connections from the contradicting information from different sources. He mentioned it to Pansy, and she said she had seen Lovegood up there once or twice, messing with their notes. After that, he generally ignored the additions.

While he and Granger were mostly looking into the dementors, looking for some way of eradicating them, he knew the others were trying to figure out the practical logistics of their mission – how to get there and how to get away unnoticed. What to do about the aurors. He came up there once, expecting to find the room empty, and instead Lovegood, Neville and Weasley were sitting on the floor with a map of Great Britain and several of the newspapers spread out between them. He stopped in the doorway and they all looked up at him.

“Hello, Malfoy,” Weasley said.

“Sorry for intruding,” he mumbled. “I just needed to pick up a book.”

“Go ahead.”

“Do you think you could… pass it to me?” he asked, not wanting to risk stepping on their work and messing it up. “It’s the black one, there.”

Longbottom handed it to him and he left.

 

Two weeks passed like that and he started seeing his own frustration mirrored on the faces of the others. There was very little progress on any fronts.

 

o

 

The first breakthrough was his patronus. His evening practices with Potter had turned into a pretty pleasant way of spending time, despite his continuous failure to grasp the spell. They would take breaks and just talk for a bit about different things that were mostly unrelated to the mission and the war, and it was nice. Potter became better at picking up on his sarcasm. Draco became better at not overthinking everything, at allowing his guard down. He supposed it was a good thing. And anyway, he could tell it bothered Potter when he tried to keep him at arm’s distance, and so he didn’t, even though he knew he should.

This evening, his failure had continued as usual at first, and he had cast the useless, silvery shield twice more. And just as usual, they kept going. Potter came up with some lame reassurance and Draco assured him he didn’t need it. Nothing in particular had changed, Draco was still going through his cycle of happy memories. He raised his wand a third time and he picked a memory that he had already tried a hundred times before. And it felt different. He knew it even before he spoke the words, that he would succeed.

It was a serpent. He had not been certain that it would be. He thought perhaps he had changed too much, but as soon as he saw it, he knew that it was right. He was a Malfoy, he was a Slytherin: of course it was a serpent.

The silvery light illuminated both of them and Draco could feel the protection of the spell as a physical touch of warmth. He looked at Potter, smiling so much it hurt, and Potter was grinning back at him. It felt like doing magic for the first time.

Draco had grown up with magic, had always had magic. He did not notice it the way someone who had grown up in the muggle world would. The everyday wonder of Hogwarts was lost on him; the changing stairs, the hidden rooms, the food that appeared out of thin air at every meal, it meant nothing to him, he did not see it. He had noticed magic only when it became so dark and twisted that it seemed an open wound in the world, and he had forgotten that it could also be exceptional in this way. That it could be light.

He let his hand fall and the patronus faded.

Potter reached out and squeezed his shoulder.

“Congratulations,” he said.

It was worth every single moment of failure. He raised his wand and cast the spell again. The snake reappeared. They watched the beautiful creature twisting its body in the air, the powerful muscles moving under the shimmering scales.

Chapter Text

“I’ve been thinking about why we’re doing this,” said Granger.

She didn’t look up from her book. She didn’t look like she was trying to read it anymore either.

”You know why,” said Draco, putting his aside; there was nothing they could use in it anyway.

He and Granger were in the secret room again, reading though the books, going over their notes. They still weren’t getting anywhere closer to figuring out how to kill the dementors. It seemed like all research on them had stalled when the patronus charm was discovered, and that was so long ago everything they could find was mostly guesswork. He had mentioned that perhaps it wasn’t possible to kill them, to which Granger had said that if anyone knew that for sure, they would have written it down. From what they were reading, it looked like nobody had even tried to find out. That was maybe an hour ago and they hadn’t said anything since.

He didn’t mind so much today that they weren’t getting anywhere. He could remember casting the patronus the night before. The room still felt brighter. But he could tell it was getting on Granger’s nerves.

”No, I mean, why we can do this,” she continued. “I think your theory might be right. Azkaban is too wrong for people to accept, so they ignore it to make it go away, and that’s why they don’t question it. It sort of makes sense, except that means we shouldn’t care about it either, right?”

Draco shrugged.

”I suppose.”

”Because it’s not like we’re better or more moral people than everyone else in the wizarding world.”

”Really?” he said. ”I thought that was the whole point of being in Gyffindor.”

She gave him a stern look that reminded him terribly of Professor McGonagall. It was so odd the way Granger occasionally behaved like a teacher towards her peers, though he suspected she had toned it down quite a bit over the years. He remembered her being completely insufferable when they were younger. It was no wonder she had been so unpopular.

”Be serious for a moment,” she said.

She closed her book, keeping a finger between the pages.

“I talked to Ron about it, and he said he was really scared of Azkaban when he was little. And his mother told him he was being silly, that there was nothing to be afraid of because he would never go to Azkaban, and then he said something really interesting: He said he hadn’t cared that he wasn’t going there, he’d been scared because it existed, and he’d wanted it to go away. Do you see? That’s exactly what you said: It shouldn’t be allowed to exist. So I thought that maybe kids know about it, the evil, maybe they can even feel it, and the older you get, the better you become at ignoring it.”

”But we’re not kids.”

”I know, but we’re not that old either. You said your mother was with you in Azkaban. She saw how horrible it was, she saw all the same things you did, but does she want to destroy it?”

”No. She just wanted to say goodbye to my father.”

Granger leaned forward in her chair.

”But you came away completely shaken,” she said. “And that’s not because you’re morally superior to her, but it could be because you’re much younger. You haven’t had as much time to learn to ignore it. That’s why we believed what you told us, but McGonagall didn’t.”

“She did believe me but-“

“But she didn’t want to help. And that’s exactly it – all children who have found out about Azkaban have probably told their parents that it was bad and that they were scared, but adults don’t listen to kids, and by the time the kids are old enough for people to listen, they have already learned to ignore it.”

He nodded.

“Sounds possible,” he said. “It’s a good theory. But it won’t help us actually do it.”

Granger sighed.

“I know. And I think half these books have just been copying from each other, I keep reading the same sentences. And the other half are just making stuff up, it’s ridiculous.”

“Well, Lovegood suggested, that a horn from the- what did she call it?” he reached for the notes.

“I saw it. I’ve read all her notes too, you know. She can’t be in Ravenclaw for nothing. I’m beginning to hope she’ll actually come up with some genius solution to this all of a sudden.”

“I hope we’re not putting all our faith in that.”

“You’re not in a position to doubt her.”

He was about to protest when he noticed Granger’s expression and knew he had overstepped a line. She obviously knew Lovegood was crazy, but he had not earned the privilege to express that sentiment.

“So do you know what the others are finding out?” he asked.

Granger sunk back in her chair and rested her head in her hand.

“I haven’t talked to any of them recently,” she said. “Last time I heard anything, they were still talking about broomsticks.”

 “And you’re… not too happy about that?” he asked.

She shrugged.

“Better than thestrals, I suppose.”

Draco raised an eyebrow.

“Thestrals?”

“We flew on thestrals when we went to the Ministry in fifth.”

Draco laughed.

“Really?”

“You think I’m lying?”

He shook his head.

“No. Sometimes I just can’t believe the shit Potter has gotten all of you into. I assume it was his idea?”

“Well, no. It was Luna’s idea, actually.”

He fought hard to suppress his smile at that and for a second it looked like she was about to laugh about it too, but then she got control of herself.

“Anyway, are you sure we’ll have to destroy the whole building?” she asked.

“Pretty sure, yes.”

She nodded.

“I was really sceptical about that part, but the more I think about it… I mean, obviously the research is lacking, but there does seem to be some sort of consensus that the dementors are… bred from despair. Or misery, or tragedy, they all use different terms… So I suppose even if we did manage to destroy all of them, with all the prisoners there, there would just be new ones created in probably a matter of hours. And for all we know, the walls could be breeding them too.”

“We could just blow it all up, I suppose. As Weasley suggested.”

“That would kill the prisoners.”

“Yes, I know.”

“And the aurors too.”

Draco hesitated.

“But if we can’t find anything else…”

She was quiet for a moment.

“Do you think it would work? You think blowing it up would make whatever it is, the evil, go away too?”

“No. I don’t know. Maybe.”

“But we can’t kill people.”

“I know.”

She nodded and looked down at her book. Then she put it aside with a heavy sigh.

“This isn’t getting us anywhere. I’ll head back down to the library. Who knows, there might be something we’ve missed.”

“Good luck,” he said.

“Thanks.”

She picked up her bag and then stopped when she was at the door.

“I almost forgot,” she said, turning back to look at him. “Harry asked me to tell you to meet him at five down by the west wing stairs to the dungeons.”

Draco frowned. He had thought he and Potter would be done with their private meetings now that he had mastered the patronus.

“Why not up here?” he asked.

Granger shrugged.

“He didn’t say.”

 

o

 

The staircase in the west wing was the least used way of getting to the lower levels of the castle, so it was unlikely they would be spotted. Still, Draco couldn’t see the point of meeting there instead of in the secret room as they had every other time.

When he came down the corridor, he found Potter leaning against the wall at the top of the stairs, looking bored and restless.

“Hi,” called Draco.

Potter started and straightened up when he saw him.

“Hi,” he said.

When Draco reached him, he immediately turned to walk down the stairs.

“Why did you want to meet here?” asked Draco, following him.

“We’re not going to the secret room.”

“I figured as much. Where are we going?”

“I had an idea,” said Potter, and Draco couldn’t quite decide if he sounded nervous or excited. “Something Lupin did when he taught me how to cast a patronus.”

“But I already learned it. It was perfect yesterday, I’m fairly certain I’ll be able to do it again.”

Potter shrugged.

“That’s not the same as knowing you’ll be able to cast it inside Azkaban. I mean, you probably can, but I think this might be good preparation.”
“Fine,” said Draco, annoyed that his achievement was being so easily dismissed. “So what do you want me to do?”

“It’ll work better if I don’t tell you.”

“Lovely, you know how much I adore mystery. Will you at least tell me where we’re going?”

“An old Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom down here. I found it a few days ago, I thought we could use it.”

  

The classroom was in a disused corridor of the dungeons far from both the Potions classroom and the Slytherin common room. The door was locked, but it only took a simple alohomora to get it open. It was dark inside. Potter muttered a spell and flames seized the wicks of the half burned candles in the candleholders on the walls and in the chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

“In here,” he said.

There were a few rows of desks along the walls, but the centre of the room was empty, except for a raised dais probably intended for duelling demonstrations. There were scorch marks in the wallpaper and dust on every surface. Draco lingered in the doorway.

“Creepy,” he said.

Potter was already striding across the room, heading for a great, wooden wardrobe in the back.

“Come on,” he said.

Draco followed.

“Do you want to see if I can cast the spell here because it’s dark and eerie? You do realize my common room is in the dungeons, right?”

Potter closed his hand around the knob. Draco was a few metres back, Harry stood between him and the wardrobe.

“No,” said Potter. “It’s not that. I’m going to open the door in a second, and when I do, just cast your patronus immediately, like you did yesterday. Got it?”

“What? Why – Potter, what’s in there–“

Potter twisted the knob and pulled open the door, Draco cut himself off midsentence. He raised his wand, opened his mouth to speak the incantation, then stopped. He heard the sound of low, rattling breath. He felt a brush of cold. A rotting hand grasped the edge of the wardrobe door, pushing it all the way open, and the dementor glided out.

Draco’s eyes flashed to Potter, who looked terrified, but he was watching Draco, not the creature. Draco felt a rush of anger in the midst of his confusion – how had he gotten a dementor in there? Why hadn’t he warned him? He couldn’t recall the words of the incantation – he couldn’t even yell at Potter; his voice was stuck in his throat. His fingers trembled. The classroom was disappearing before him, he felt the darkness spreading behind his eyes, the clammy grip on his mind. He saw the cells, the corpses, the pit-

Expecto Patronum,” cried Potter, his voice sounding far away.

Then the images of Azkaban were drowned by the light of the silver stag that erupted from Potter’s wand.

It charged toward the dementor, which seemed to stumble for a moment, becoming clumsy, and shifting under the cloak. But it did not stop – it continued gliding forwards, and Potter inadvertently took a step back, so he no longer stood between Draco and the creature. Which was when he realized that it wasn’t floating over the floor anymore, it was walking towards him with long, even strides. It raised pale hands to its face and pushed back the hood of the tattered cloak – except it wasn’t a cloak, they were robes and they were not tattered at all. There was no rotting flesh or gaping mouth hole beneath it. It was a face, as inhumane as a human face can be. The skin was bone white, the nose flat as a snake’s and it had only slits for nostrils. The eyes were red and livid.

“Draco Malfoy…”

The voice of the Dark Lord was a gentle whisper of recognition. His face had twisted into a smile, and Draco knew that this could not be real, that it wasn’t real, but his thoughts were jammed, he couldn’t think.

Ridikkulus!” said a loud, clear voice to his right.

Of course, Draco thought.

They did not laugh, but the figure of Lord Voldemort had stopped moving.

Riddikulus,” cried Potter again, and then he forced out a “ha!”.

The boggart appeared to hesitate, to linger for a moment, before its shape collapsed and dissolved into something like smoke or thick mist. It retreated into the darkness of the wardrobe, and Potter slammed the door shut.

He stood with his back to Draco, his hand resting on the knob. Draco watched his shoulders rise and fall. He was clutching his wand tightly. The room was silent. Draco could hear his own, uneven breath.

“Sorry,” said Potter very quietly.

“You should have warned me.”

“I’m sorry. I thought… It’s not as strong as a real dementor. I thought you’d be able to cast a patronus.”

Potter turned around to look at him.

“I’m sorry, I honestly didn’t think-”

“No, you’re right,” said Draco bitterly. “I should have been able to. Like you said, it was just a boggart. And I stood there like a bloody Hufflepuff, I didn’t even-“

He cut himself off. He wanted to kick something.

“So that’s your worst fear?” he spat. “A dementor?”

Potter made a gesture, half nod half shrug.

“Don’t you think that might pose a tiny problem for us when we go to Azkaban?”

Draco ran his fingers through his hair.

“Shit,” he said. “This is ridiculous! Why did I ever think we could pull this off? How come it’s a dementor? I don’t see why you’re afraid of them if you’ve been able to cast a patronus since you were thirteen! I can think of a million other things it would make more sense for you to be scared of!”

“Like Voldemort?”

“Yes, what a bloody excellent example, Potter! Bravo, absolutely impressive.”

He turned away, walked to the side of the room and sat down on the edge of a table. He rubbed his face in his hands, pressing his fingers hard against his eyes. Shapes in odd colours danced on the inside of his eyelids.

“It used to be a werewolf,” he said.

“What?”

Draco looked up at Potter, who still stood by the wardrobe, watching him.

“It used to be a werewolf. My boggart. That’s why it didn’t even occur to me… That’s why I didn’t figure it out.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t warn you.”

Draco shook his head.

“No, it was a good idea. We should try it again another time.”

Potter hesitated.

“If you’re up for it…”

Draco nodded.

“Next time I’ll cast the patronus charm before it gets past you. And if I can’t, one of us will just cast riddikulus if it gets close enough to me to change shape. If we’re not taken by surprise, then it should be fine.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” said Potter. “We’ll do that.”

Draco had his eyes turned to the floor, not really seeing it, but he could still feel Potter watching him. Then he heard him move. His footsteps coming closer, and then he was next to him, leaning against the edge of the table. Not close enough that they touched, but close enough that he imposed on Draco’s space. He didn’t say anything. They watched the wallpaper on the opposite wall for a while.

 

“I know he’s dead,” said Draco. “But it doesn’t seem to matter that I know.”

He kept his eyes fixed on the wall. He was so aware of Potter’s presence it was like a physical touch against his side.

“I still remember all the things I did,” he continued, fighting the urge to lean away. “It’s like no matter where I go or what I do, I can always feel that pressure of his hand on my shoulder. His claim on my life. And I’ll never be able to forget how it felt.”

They both had their hands on the table, holding on to the edge. Draco was very aware of that one inch of space between their fingers. Potter shifted next to him.

“You know,” he said very quietly. “I know you won’t believe me, but I know what that’s like.”

He paused, waiting for Draco to protest, but Draco didn’t say anything.

“He had a claim on me too,” he continued. “Because of the prophecy. And my scar. Do you know about the horcruxes?”

Draco nodded stiffly.

“Right,” said Potter. “Right, so I know how it feels. I know it’s not exactly the same, or I guess it’s not the same at all but… I know he leaves deep marks. I never even thought about what I might want to do with my life if I actually survived. If I managed to kill him. I still don’t know. I never liked that I was supposed to be some sort of hero, but it’s weird to not… Everything’s weird now.”

Draco swallowed hard.

”I really wanted to take the mark,” he said. “I thought it meant I had caught up with you. It was my chance to be the chosen one, you know?”

“Yeah.” said Potter.

“And now it’s never going to go away.”

Potter didn’t say anything. The room was dim around them, most of the candles on the walls still burning, but the light didn’t extend far. The rest of the school felt very far away.

“I regret it so much.”

Draco’s voice disappeared in his mouth. There was another too long silence before Potter said:

“Well, that’s the important part, isn’t it?”

Draco had been biting the inside of his lip without noticing. He could taste blood.

“No,” he said bitterly. “The important part definitely isn’t how I feel about it.”

“But it matters,” said Potter, and Draco could feel his eyes on him now. “It’s what makes all the difference.”

Draco grimaced.

“It doesn’t make any difference.”

“How can you believe that-“

“How can you believe it? What do you think would happen if I went up to one of your Weasleys and told them how sorry I am? Do you honestly believe they would just forget about everything and tell me that it wasn’t my fault and at least I apologized and their brother probably doesn’t mind being dead anyway? Because I don’t see that happening, I really don’t. Apologizing for it won’t change anything.”

Potter didn’t argue. Draco didn’t say anymore. The silence stretched.

Then Draco felt the brush of Potter’s hand against his own. Warm fingers closed around his wrist and loosened Draco’s grip on the edge of the table. Draco’s heart convulsed violently. Potter’s fingers slid into place between his own, holding his hand in a determined grip. His palm was soft. His fingers twitched a little and Draco had to force down a panicked laugh.

“Shut up,” said Potter.

“I didn’t say anything.”

He wanted desperately to turn and see Potter’s expression, but he was sure he would burst into manic laughter if he did. Or maybe he would start crying, he honestly wasn’t sure. He was so far from having any control over his body. He had still been rushed with adrenaline from the encounter with the boggart, and now he felt like his brain was rapidly short-circuiting itself. He kept his eyes fixed straight ahead. He was going to die.

“Is this supposed to make me feel better?” he asked, keeping tight reins on his voice.

“I don’t care how it makes you feel.”

He still hadn’t let go.

“I thought you weren’t into handholding with other blokes.”

He sounded spiteful and hated himself for it. It was such a kind gesture. He knew that was how Potter meant it – platonically. An offer of comfort. Why the hell did he feel the need to mock it?

“It’s just your hand,” said Potter.

But of course it wasn’t. That was the whole point. He should have just pulled his hand back as soon as Potter touched him, and now it was too late for that. Now he would have to explain himself.

Or maybe Potter had already figured it out. Draco had no idea how he could have; he had been so careful around him. He had done his best to act normal. There had been times he had almost made himself forget it. But this wasn’t the sort of thing Potter would just do, not unless he knew, because apparently he was an unnoticeable legilimens or something like that, and this was him trying to be nice about it, humouring Draco out of pity.

“Oh sure, it’s just my hand,” said Draco. “You’re just holding my hand, nothing weird about that.”

He didn’t want him to be nice about it. He didn’t want his pity.

“You’re the one who kissed me,” Potter said.

Draco jerked away from him.

“I thought we were pretending that didn’t happen,” he snapped.

“Were we?”

 “Yes,” said Draco firmly.

Potter looked annoyed.

“Sorry, then. I was just trying to-“

“Well don’t, Potter. Don’t try. Leave it alone.”

Draco backed away from the table where Potter still sat and just looked at him like he had no idea what he had done.

“I don’t know how the hell you figured it out,” Draco said. “But I’m ignoring it until it goes away and I suggest you do the same. Azkaban is what’s important, I’m not letting this interfere with it, okay?”

“What?”

“You heard me. Pretend you don’t know. Ignore it.”

“What is it you think I know?”

“Don’t be an arsehole, Potter.”

“I’m trying not to be! You’re the one who’s freaking out.”

Draco turned away from him and walked towards the door – he wasn’t going to deal with this. He was getting angry, and getting angry at Potter even though it wasn’t Potter’s fault. Just too much humiliation at once. He had never been good with humiliation. He would just leave before he said something stupid.

“Malfoy- Draco, wait!”

Potter lurched forward and grabbed his arm. Draco stopped and turned around to look at him. Potter didn’t let go.

“Look, why can’t you just tell me what’s going on?” demanded Potter, his frantic, irritated face just inches away from Draco’s. “I’m sorry about whatever it was I did, but you can’t just walk away.”

He was standing too close. Draco would have stepped back if Potter hadn’t been holding on to his arm so tightly, actually pulling him towards him, as if he was afraid Draco would apparate away.

“It’s nothing,” said Draco carefully. “You didn’t do anything. Now let go of me.”

“Just tell me what you’re mad about.”

He looked so worried and so clueless and earnest, it was unbearable. His face was right in front of Draco’s, and Draco was trying not to breathe. He could see how greasy his glasses were from here. He could see the thin, white lines of the scar stretching over his forehead. He could see that his lips were chapped and slightly parted. He was still breathing fast.

Draco couldn’t think of any words. He was staring at him, he knew he was staring. He could feel his breath on his face too, and it was impossible not to think about it. That he was close enough to kiss him. And that he wanted to. And that he could.

He reached up a hand and carefully touched his neck, and Potter looked confused, but he didn’t pull away. He didn’t let go. Draco’s fingers rested lightly against his skin. Maybe he had flinched just a little at the touch, but it might just have been because Draco’s fingers were cold and Potter’s skin felt burning hot beneath them.

Draco kept his eyes open as he leaned in. He regretted it even as he did it. He was being an idiot again. Potter was being an idiot too, just standing there.

He braced himself for the backlash, for the shove and the fight that would follow.

It didn’t come.

So he kissed him. Gently, carefully. Potter’s lips were chapped and dry, but his mouth was soft, he didn’t pull away. Draco could feel the silken warmth of his breath on his mouth when he pulled back. He closed his eyes for a second and swallowed. Then he lowered his hand. Potter had let go of his arm.

There was no shove, just a long stretched second roaring with the silence of Potter not asking and Draco not explaining.

Then Draco stepped back, putting the proper distance between them, ignoring the frantic pounding of his heart trying to smash its way through his chest. He forced his face into a grin.

“Well,” he said, sounding almost normal. “I suppose that makes us even for the handholding, right?”

Potter looked disoriented and Draco felt like he was in free fall, not even sure if he wanted Potter to go along with his ridiculous excuse or not. Then Potter halfway returned the grin, though it was more of a grimace.

“Yeah,” he said lamely.

“See you tomorrow for another go with the boggart?”

“Right,” said Potter. “Sure. Tomorrow.”

Draco nodded.

“Okay. See you. Tomorrow.”

He reached behind him for the door handle, turned it, and hurried out and away down the corridor as fast as he could.

Chapter Text

Malfoy disappeared through the door and Harry was left there staring at it and feeling like an idiot. His head was a roaring chaos. His thoughts had derailed somewhere about halfway through whatever had just happened. 

What had he been thinking dragging him down here without warning? Why had he thought the boggart would be a good idea? Why on earth had he decided to hold his hand? And then the bloody kiss. He had no idea what that was about. A joke? Except that wasn’t like Malfoy at all, and it hadn’t seemed like a joke.

He took a deep breath. He ought to head up to the Great Hall. He was late for dinner. They had been in the dungeon much longer than he had planned. But then, nothing had really gone as planned.

o

The Great Hall was half empty when he got there. His eyes skipped quickly to the Slytherins, but Malfoy wasn’t among them, which was a relief. He couldn’t see any of his friends at the Gryffindor table either, but Luna was sitting by herself at the Ravenclaw table reading the Quibbler while she ate.

He headed over there and sat down across from her. She looked up.

“Hi, Harry,” she said airily.

“Hi.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

He reached for the Shepherd’s pie even though he wasn’t hungry.

“Nothing,” he said, not looking at her.

“You look very disturbed.”

“Do I?”

He didn’t sound very calm either. If this had been about anyone else, he would have gone to talk to Ron or Hermione immediately. Hermione was much better at this sort thing than Harry was, and though Ron was usually just as clueless as himself, at least they could be confused together. But he couldn’t tell them about this, and knowing that only made him more irritated.

“Yes,” said Luna. “You do. But you don’t have to tell me what it is if you don’t want to.”

He shrugged. He wasn’t sure he would even be able to say it aloud.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “Just this… really fucking strange incident.”

“I’m good with strange things, you know,” she said with a gentle smile that made him think suddenly that she might already know.

Which of course she couldn’t. But despite all her oddness, there was a sense of omniscience about Luna. She wasn’t smart in the sharp, scalpel-like way that Hermione was, the way Malfoy was too, but she seemed to understand things on a different level than other people. There was something almost comforting about it.

“It isn’t that kind of strange,” he said.

But really it would be easier to tell her than any of the others. He kind of wanted to. Just to sort himself out a bit.

“I won’t tell anyone.”

He nodded.

“Right, yeah, please don’t do that.”

She smiled. He took a deep breath.

“You know I’ve been teaching Malfoy the patronus charm, right?”

“Yes. Is it going badly?”

“No. No, he’s doing really well,” he said, though after that afternoon’s failure it didn’t feel entirely true. “It became corporeal yesterday, so we could have just stopped, but…”

He shrugged. He took a bite of his pie but didn’t taste it.

“I had this idea,” he said, avoiding looking directly at Luna.

He reached for the pumpkin juice and poured himself a glass.

“That he should try casting it with an actual dementor there. That’s what I did when Lupin taught me. Except it wasn’t really a dementor, it was just a boggart, since my boggart is a dementor. And I’d found a boggart in this old classroom, so that’s how I got the idea, and – actually, none of that’s really important. Anyway, so we were in that old classroom down in the dungeons, right before I came up here, and it… It didn’t go well. I mean, it worked at first, but then everything went wrong, which seems to be how everything in my life generally goes. I hadn’t warned him what we would be doing, and apparently the dementors hit him really hard, so even though it wasn’t a real one, it was still pretty bad. And I panicked a bit, so instead of casting ridikkulus, I cast my patronus, because I’m an idiot, and of course that didn’t help, so the boggart just went past me. And then it turned into Voldemort.”

“Oh,” said Luna.

He nodded down at his plate.

“Yeah. We got it back in the wardrobe, but he was pissed. And really freaked out. He looked completely shaken, so I – this is the weird part. You can laugh if you want to.”

He was picking his pie apart, dissecting it on his plate with his fork while he spoke.

“I just wanted to, I don’t know, to say sorry, I guess. And make sure he was okay. I know how you all feel about him, I know how I used to feel about him, but he looked completely wrong, so I sort of… held his hand. Because Hermione said this thing that wizards are different about that. Blokes and blokes and such, so I didn’t think it would mean anything, I could hold Hermione’s hand if she were upset and that wouldn’t mean anything either.”

He laughed nervously. It felt ridiculous saying it aloud. He shouldn’t have told her. But Luna didn’t laugh. She watched him with a puzzled expression and a glassy look in her eyes.

“Was he okay, then?” she asked.

He shrugged.

“I don’t know. I’m not sure.”

“You should ask him, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Harry shook his head.

“I can’t. I mean… He got angry about the handholding. At first he didn’t seem to mind, but then suddenly he was all in a twist and was about to leave, so I grabbed him, because I wanted to know what he was angry about, right? And then-”

He interrupted himself and groaned, hiding his face in his hands. Luna was still watching him curiously when he looked up.

“He said he wasn’t angry about anything,” Harry continued quietly. “But he obviously was angry, and I don’t know why he couldn’t just tell me what his problem was… And then he kissed me. And then he laughed about it like it was just a joke, and then he just left.”

“Well, that is strange.”

“Right?”

“Do you think he fancies you?”

Harry froze with an empty fork halfway between his plate and his mouth. He lowered it.

“What?” he said slowly.

Luna stabbed a Brussels sprout on her plate.

“Do you think he fancies you?” she asked again as if he just hadn’t heard her the first time.

“No. I don’t. He doesn’t.”

She put the sprout in her mouth and chewed it carefully.

“Why would I think that?”

“Because he kissed you,” she said.

“As a joke.”

Luna shrugged.

“Well it was just a thought. Kissing is the sort of thing you do when you fancy someone.”

“Yes, but this is Malfoy, he was probably just being an idiot. It was obviously a joke.”

“I thought it wasn’t obvious? Wasn’t that why you were confused?”

Harry squirmed.

“Well,” he said. “Well, it… wasn’t the first time.”

“That he kissed you?” she said.

“Look, you can’t tell Ron or Hermione or anyone else about this, okay?”

“Of course.”

Harry took a deep breath. He glanced down the table, but it was almost empty now and the closest people were almost at the other end.

“Okay,” he said. “So when Malfoy found out he was going to Azkaban he decided to get drunk up in the astronomy tower – remember I mentioned that? He got his hands on some firewhisky, I’ve no idea how. And I was with him. He asked me to come, so I went up there. I got sort of drunk with him, and he erh… kissed me that time too. He said he was just fooling around, so I thought after today that maybe it was… the same thing. Maybe he’s just very casual about that sort of thing. Maybe it’s just something he does? I mean, I don’t actually know him very well...”

She nodded.

“Could be,” she said. “You could ask Pansy Parkinson about it, I suppose she would know.”

“I’m not going to ask Parkinson.”

“I talked to her the other day. She came up to me after Herbology and said that she was very sorry for making up names about me and that she wouldn’t be mean to me while we were in the DA together, but if I didn’t like having her around, she would do her best to avoid me.”

“Wow, that’s… That doesn’t sound like her,” Harry said.

Luna fiddled with the turquoise glass pendant dangling from her left earring.

“I told her I didn’t mind much and that it was nice of her to apologize. I don’t think she hates me, actually, even if she doesn’t like me very much. She hates Ginny, which is sad, but I suppose it’s not very hard to understand.”

Harry frowned.

“But you like Ginny?”

“Yes. But she is very pretty and she’s really good at quidditch, and people like her a lot because she’s funny and strong and she cares a lot about everyone. She’s very smart too, and all the boys like her. I think it’s very understandable why other girls might be jealous of her.”

“Right,” said Harry.

He used to be one of those boys.

“That’s probably how Malfoy feels about you, too. Except he doesn’t hate you for it anymore.”

“Honestly, I’m not even sure about that…”

“He doesn’t hate you.”

“How do you know?”

“I can tell. And if you want my advice, I think you should talk to him. People don’t do that nearly as much as they should, and it almost always helps.”

She stabbed at another Brussels sprout. Harry tried to imagine that conversation and couldn’t think of anything he could say that wasn’t likely to end with Malfoy cursing him.

“Yeah, alright,” he said. ”Thanks, Luna.”

“You’re welcome.”

She put down her fork.
“I suppose I should go back to Ravenclaw now,” she said. “I’ll see you later, Harry. Enjoy your pie.”

She stood up.

“See you,” he said.

She smiled at him and left. Harry looked down at his atomized shepherd’s pie. Luna was probably right about how talking to people helped, but he wasn’t sure talking to her had really cleared anything up. In fact, he decided, he still had absolutely no clue what was going on. And he wasn’t very keen on talking to Malfoy about it.

 o

Harry went back to his dormitory to try and get some homework done. Since the mission of Azkaban had started, he had actually managed to get behind on schoolwork again. But he struggled to keep focus, he kept forgetting his place and had to start over again, so he hadn’t read more than a few pages when Ron showed up.

“Hi,” he said, coming over to Harry’s bed.

He leaned against one of the posts at the end of it and watched him.

“I didn’t see you at dinner.”

“I was with Malfoy. We’re still working on his patronus charm.”

Ron nodded to himself.

“Yeah, you’re spending a lot of time with him, aren’t you? I feel like I’ve hardly seen you lately.”

Harry shrugged.

“It’s just been a couple of nights.”

“He’s pretty slow at picking it up. Seems it’s taking him longer than it did Neville, considering it’s all private lessons from you.”

“He managed it yesterday, actually,” said Harry.

Ron frowned.

“Then why did you meet today if he’s already figured it out?”

Harry hesitated.

“I’d found a boggart in this old Defence against the dark arts-classroom down in the dungeons,” he said.

He could tell Ron that much.

“I thought it might be a good idea to see if he could still cast it when there was actually a dementor there. To make sure he’s ready when we go to Azkaban.”

Ron scoffed.

“What, you still think we’re bringing him?”

“You think we aren’t?”

“That’s what Hermione said, isn’t it? We could allow him in on it and all, get him to tell us what he knows and see if this was something we still thought needed to be done, and then if it was, we could see if we trusted him enough to bring him along. And we don’t.”

“I trust him.”

Ron shot him a look.

“I do,” Harry said. “He’s really different from-“

“But he’s a coward! He’s proved that about a thousand times by now.”

“He’s trying to make up for what he did.”

“Why does that make a difference?”

“Doesn’t the fact that he wants to go back to Azkaban prove that he’s not as much of a coward as he used to be? The place scares him shitless, but he still wants to come, even though he could just have pulled a Pansy by now and pulled out.”

Ron’s eyes widened.

“Blimey, Hermione’s right about you.”

“What?”

“She says you like him, that’s what it’s all about.”

Harry’s stomach did an uncomfortable flip. He knew that wasn’t what Ron meant, but it still sounded too much like what Luna had said. He continued:

“I didn’t believe her, said you knew Malfoy was a bastard, but she’s right, isn’t she?”

“Come off it, Ron.”

“You’ve been defending him an awful lot too.”

“He’s changed, that’s all,” said Harry defensively. “I think we ought to give him a chance.”

“Yeah, I’ll believe that when he apologizes for all the shit he’s done.”

“You’d punch him in the face if he tried.”

For a second Ron looked like he was the one who had been punched, and Harry felt immediately bad for saying it. Then Ron shrugged.

“I probably would. He’d deserve it too.”

Harry grimaced.

“He would.”

And then after a moments hesitation he added:

“I think we’re becoming friends.”

Ron stared at him disbelievingly and Harry looked away. He hadn’t wanted to tell Ron, but it had started to feel like a secret more than something he just hadn’t bothered to mention. And that just made it all worse, the kisses and the talks, made it feel much more illicit than it actually was. Luna had to be wrong, Harry had just misread the situation, and the only reason he felt bad about it was because he was keeping it from his friends. And the only reason he kept it from them was because he worried they would get angry, but it wasn’t like he had done anything wrong.

“Are you serious?” asked Ron.

“Yeah.”

Ron didn’t say anything. It was hard to read the look on his face.

“Look, I know why we all hated him,” said Harry. “I’m not an idiot. But a lot of the things he did during the war, he really didn’t have much of a choice. He was seriously misguided, and I know that what he does now doesn’t change anything, he knows that too, but-“

“But it’s not just what he did during the war! We hated him before that. You know, before he was letting Death Eaters into the school or trying to assassinate Dumbledore, when he was carefree and unmarked and could spend his time calling Hermione a you-know-what and making fun of my family and trying to convince everyone you were barmy.”

“I know!” Harry said. “He was such a prick. He still is, but he’s also not. I think maybe he just took a really long time to grow up.”

Ron snorted.

“So what, you want all of us to be pals now? I can deal with him during the DA-meetings, or whatever they are, but I won’t pretend I like him.”

Ron was bristling, Harry could hear himself speaking too loud and the whole conversation was starting to feel like a fight.

“I’m not asking you to do anything,” said Harry. “I just wanted to tell you. So you’d know. I feel awful about it, like I’m betraying you and Hermione, but I’m not… I don’t think I’m doing that by being friends with him. I don’t think it works like that, so I don’t think I should feel awful.”

“Harry, you can’t trust him, even if he suddenly seems like a nice guy-“

“Yeah, I used to think that too. I’ve been talking to him for a while, Ron, and like I said, I’m not an idiot-“

“You sound like an idiot.”

“I kept expecting him to pull some shit on me, or to start with you or Hermione or do something like what Parkinson did, but he didn’t, and I’m starting to think he’s really just a mess in the same way we are.”

Ron gave him a long look.

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” he said finally.

“You can just say what you think. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“Alright,” he said. “I think you’re being a right idiot. I don’t think we can trust Malfoy, and I don’t want him coming with us to Azkaban. But if you want to be friends with him, then that’s your business, and I won’t pretend I like it, but it’s not like there’s much I can do about it.”

Harry nodded.

“Alright,” he said.

He supposed that was all the approval he could have hoped for.

“And about what you said, about betraying us, then you’re right, I suppose it doesn’t work like that. Unless your newfound friendship means you’ll just let it slide when he starts talking shit about all of us, of course.”

“You actually think I would do that?”

Ron shrugged.

“Of course not. But I never thought you’d be friends with Malfoy either.”

“Yeah, I didn’t see it coming either. It’s definitely in the top hundred of completely unexpected things that happened in the last year or so.”

Ron didn’t laugh.

“I hope you come to your senses soon,” he said. “As soon as this whole thing with Azkaban is over, I’d like it if we never have to deal with him again”

Harry shrugged.

“That’s probably not unlikely,” he said.

“It’s kind of nice to have the DA going again, though,” said Ron.

Harry felt a rush of relief. Changing the subject was Ron’s way of being conciliatory.

“You think?” he said.

Ron shrugged.

“I liked the peace and quiet in the beginning, but school gets boring in the long run.”
Harry grinned.

“It’s probably not a good sign that we need to be putting ourselves in mortal danger to avoid getting bored.”

“We’re not in mortal danger yet, just planning to get there. If Hermione ever figures out what to do about the dementors. It’s driving her crazy.”

“Maybe we should help out?”

“Nah, she doesn’t want us to. I think she finds it distracting when I try to help. I noticed you and Gin have been talking a bit more since this whole thing started.”

“A bit.”

“Are you getting back together or something?”

“No,” said Harry, a bit too forcefully.

Ron looked away.

“Right, no, I suppose not,” he muttered.

Then Dean and Seamus came in and Ron turned to them instead, and Harry didn’t try to explain the thing with him and Ginny again. They all began talking about something else and Harry got off his bed to go to the bathroom and brush his teeth.

 o 

“What, are you going to sleep in there?!” called Ron loudly just as Harry came back.

Dean stood by Seamus’ bed with his pillow under his arm and Ron was pointing accusingly at him.

“I was planning on it,” he said, unperturbed by Ron’s loudness.

Neville had shown up too. He was by his own bed and was messing with some things in his trunk with his back to the whole scene like it wasn’t happening.

“Don’t you think you could at least keep it to when you’re by yourself?” Ron continued.

“I said I was going to sleep in there, Ron. Get your mind out of the gutter.”

“From the look on his face I’d say he’s thinking the same thing I was.”

Dean turned to look at Seamus, who was already in the bed and was grinning rather smugly at them. Dean threw his pillow at him.

“Ignore him,” he said to Ron.

“Yeah, ignore me,” said Seamus. “I’m really good with silencing charms, you won’t hear a thing, I promise.”

Ron groaned in agony.

“Back me up here, Harry,” he said. “They’re being fucking indecent.”

“Like you’re one to talk, you’re being indecent with Hermione all over the common room and nobody ever complains about that.”

Ron went completely red – it was incredible how touchy he still was about that considering how long he and Hermione had been together by now.

“That’s different!” he sputtered. “That’s- we’re not-  Besides, boys can’t even get into the girls’ dormitories, the stairs turn into a slide!”

Both Dean and Seamus collapsed into laughter. Dean let himself fall onto the bed. Neville had stood up and was headed for the bathroom. He pulled the curtain on Seamus’ bed shut as he passed it.

“I hope you’re serious about the silencing spells, Seamus,” he said.

Seamus was still laughing too hard to answer.

“It’s bloody unfair is what it is,” said Ron, turning to Harry. “Why don’t they have a ward to keep the blokes out of each other’s beds too?”

Harry shrugged.

“Don’t know,” he muttered.

“We’re not going to be indecent, Ron,” said Dean, who had reached up to pull the curtains out on the other two sides. “Don’t worry.”

“Goodnight,” said Ron.

“Goodnight. You too Harry.”

 o

It took a while before they were all in bed and quiet and the lights could be turned off. Harry could hear the others settling in. It had gotten late, but he wasn’t tired at all. He lay awake in his bed with eyes open in the darkness, thoughts grinding relentlessly around in his head.

It was so strange that Dean and Seamus were together. It was even more strange that no one cared. Maybe Dean did, even if he didn’t say anything. He had grown up in the muggle world too, after all.

And then there was Ron. It felt right that he had finally talked to him about Malfoy and he was glad that they hadn’t had a row about it. He knew Ron and Hermione weren’t being unreasonable, but he was starting to think that maybe he wasn’t either. It only made sense that things would be different now, after the war. All the other houses had become closer; Slytherin was the only one that was really cut off. And of course that made sense after the role they had played, it was hard for everyone to forgive them, but Harry was pretty much on his way to forgiving Malfoy, wasn’t he? And Malfoy had been the worst of them.

Ron had started snoring loudly. Harry pulled his wand from under his pillow and pointed it to the curtains around his bed, muttering a silencing spell to keep the sound out.

Malfoy was an entirely different issue. A whole area of issues that was taking up more and more space in Harry’s brain.

It was easy to be with him now, he supposed. They had found a way of talking to each other so that they could joke and be friendly while steering clear of all the mess that was still there. But whenever he left after talking to him, he was always confused, always frustrated, like the whole time there was something he had been missing. Like he had thought when they were together that one thing was going on, that they were practicing the patronus charm for example, and then when he left he had the sense that it wasn’t about that at all. Something else had been going on, and he should have noticed it. It wasn’t that he suspected Malfoy of anything. He thought maybe it had more to do with himself. It was just a feeling.

And then Luna had suggested that Malfoy liked him. He knew he should feel repulsed by the idea, just like he should have felt repulsed by the kiss. Seamus and Dean could do whatever they wanted, but Harry wasn’t like that.

Except he wasn’t repulsed. Luna had said that Malfoy might like him, and the thought had sort of pleased him. Absurd as it was, it was also sort of flattering. Or it would have been, if it hadn’t been completely impossible.

He turned over in his bed, the rustling of the sheets seeming loud in the magically enhanced silence. He regretted casting the spell. On other nights when he had been awake, the sounds of the others sleeping had given him a sense of where he was. It was too dark to see anything and when the only sounds he could hear were his own, it made him feel detached from the world.

He closed his eyes and tried to empty his head. Instead came the memory of Malfoy talking about the dark mark. That had definitely been a breach of their pattern. He had plunged head first into the mess instead of going around it. It reminded Harry a bit of some of their first talks this year. The ones that had started it all, the ones where all of Malfoy’s façade had cracked with hardly any warning and he had seemed raw and real and an entirely different person beneath.

I really wanted to take the mark, he had said and sounded absolutely disgusted. It should have been painful to hear anyone talk about themselves in that tone, but Harry couldn’t help feeling relieved. The things Hermione had said had still been haunting him. Despite what he had told Ron, he had worried that he was wrong after all, that he was misreading Malfoy because he wanted to believe that he had changed, that he was better. Now he felt like he had finally been proved right. They could trust him. He could trust him. There was something left in him that was worth saving and forgiving. Part of him wanted to tell Hermione. But he knew how dumb that was, so he pushed the thought away. 

He felt sleep coming. He drifted off.

 

He was only halfway asleep and it was only halfway a dream: the icy, feathery touch of Malfoy’s fingers on his skin. The strange look in his eyes when he leaned towards him. The soft press of his lips against Harry’s. The way the kiss had trickled through him. The violent burst of want that had seized him – Harry started awake, the jolt of being tripped and falling. His heart was pounding. He breathed deeply. He stared up into the darkness for a couple of seconds as the euphoria ebbed out of him and was replaced by slow, sinking worry.

He sat up slowly and reached out to draw back the curtains. He welcomed the uncomfortable brush of cold air as he slipped out of the covers. A bit of moonlight fell through the windows and he could see the dark outlines of the other four poster beds as he made his way to the bathroom.

The light was still on out there and he squinted in the brightness. The tiles felt like ice on his feet. He still hadn’t quite adjusted to the light when he leaned against one of the sinks and turned on the cold tap. He cupped his hands under it and splashed water in his face. It was too cold, like a bite against his skin. He did it again, then turned the water off. He stood with his hands resting on the porcelain and watched a drop of water drip from his nose and into the sink. There was a creak behind him and he started, spun round and reached for his wand that wasn’t there, because he had left it in his bed. Neville stood in the doorway looking startled too, like he had been half asleep a second ago.

“Hi, Harry,” he said.

“Hi.”

Harry wiped his face with his sleeve to dry the water off.

Neville frowned.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

Harry nodded.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I just couldn’t sleep.”

“Nightmares?”

Harry shook his head.

“No. I just… I’m fine.”

He walked past Neville and reached for the door.

“You know, Seamus has something that helps with sleeping.”

“I wouldn’t want to wake them up,” said Harry.

“It’s fine, I know where he keeps it. He won’t mind.”

Harry shook his head again.

“No thanks, Neville.”

Neville nodded.

“Alright. But there’s no shame in it, you know. We all… It’s not easy for anyone.”

“Yeah, I know. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Harry.”

Harry slipped out the door and back into bed. If Neville hadn’t been awake he might have taken his Firebolt and gone flying for a bit, that would have calmed him down.

 

He didn’t need a potion to help him sleep. Of course there was no shame in needing one, as Neville had said. Except he had thought Harry couldn’t sleep because of the war. He had thought Harry was awake because of nightmares. And Neville was wrong. And Harry was ashamed. It coiled and twisted in his gut. He was never going to sleep again.

Chapter Text

Harry had eventually fallen asleep that night, but he was woken up by the other boys after what felt like only a few minutes of sleep. He dragged himself down to breakfast, already dreaming of classes being over so he could go back to bed. He seated himself at the Gryffindor table with Ron and Hermione. Hermione was complaining about how behind she was on homework, talking about assignments that Harry had forgotten even existed and had no chance what so ever of getting finished on time.

“Why do you care?” he snapped at her. “You get top marks on everything whether you do the work or not, and it’s not like homework is the most important thing we have to worry about at the moment.”

She raised an eyebrow, looking unimpressed.

“Well you’re in a bad mood,” she said.

Harry leaned towards her.

“I’m just saying, if you want to complain about what we’re spending our time on, then how about you just tell us instead of pretending this is about school.”

“Watch your tone, Harry,” said Ron coldly. “I think you’re starting to take after your favourite Slytherin.”

“Oh, is that what this is?” said Hermione. “You two are fighting again?”

“We’re not,” said Harry, shooting Ron an angry look. “I thought we finished this yesterday.”

“Finished what?”

“Harry thinks we’re still taking Ferret-face with us.”

Hermione sighed.

“Yeah,” she said. “We’ll probably have to.”

“Are you pals with him too now?”

“I’m not,” she said firmly, then added more quietly: “And we shouldn’t be talking about this here, so save it for later. Harry will you pass me the orange juice?”

He reached for the pitcher.

“Speaking of ferrets, look who’s coming down late today,” said Ron.

Harry looked up to see Malfoy entering the Great Hall. He was alone again. He made for the Slytherin table but then, before he reached it, he glanced toward the Gryffindors and his eyes found Harry’s, and for a fraction of a second they held each other’s gaze, and Harry’s heart surged.

“Harry!” exclaimed Parvati, and Harry started and realized he had accidentally tilted the pitcher, spilling a sea of juice on the table.

“Sorry,” he said, hastily putting it back down and reaching for napkins to throw in the puddle and soak up the mess.

When he glanced up again, Malfoy was seated at the Slytherin table, no longer looking in Harry’s direction.

Harry finished cleaning up the spilled juice and pushed the soggy napkins together in an orange lump on the table. He ate the rest of his breakfast as fast as he could and finished before any of his friends. His heart was still thrumming when he left the Great Hall.

 o 

The rest of Harry’s day was just as awful as his morning had been. He continued being tired and irritable. Flitwick assigned another paper that Harry wouldn’t have time for. And not once was he allowed to forget about his meeting with Malfoy that evening. They had two classes with the Slytherins that day, so Harry had to spend all of transfiguration staring at the back of his blond head, and was forced to listen to him and Parkinson talking over their cauldrons all through potions. And even when Malfoy wasn’t there, Harry couldn’t stop thinking about him.

He couldn’t even look at Neville the whole day.

o

Harry was seriously considering not going that evening. It would be so much easier to just pretend he had forgotten. He could talk to Malfoy later, when he was able to look at his face without thinking about the kiss.

“Why do you keep checking your watch?” asked Hermione. “Are you going somewhere?”

They were doing homework in the Gryffindor common room. Harry had been checking his watch every thirty seconds or so for the past five minutes. He was supposed to meet with Malfoy two minutes ago. He still hadn’t decided if he was going or not.

“What?” he said, looking up at her. “Oh, no reason.”

He looked down at his essay. It had his name and the date at the top, and a sorry-looking, half finished sentence beneath. He couldn’t remember what he had just read or what he had been meaning to write. He put down his quill.

“Actually, I’m meeting with Malfoy,” he said.

“Now?”

“Yeah, patronus work. So I’ll have to do this later.”

He stood up. His limbs felt disjointed. Something fluttered anxiously in his gut.

“Alright,” said Hermione. “See you later, then.”

Ron didn't look up from his book, but he wasn’t turning the pages either.

“See you later,” said Harry.

Chapter Text

Draco had seriously considered not showing up that evening. He wouldn’t know what to say if Potter asked him about the kiss. He could try to pass it off as a joke again, but Potter wasn’t that stupid.

He didn’t particularly want to face the dementor-boggart again either. If he failed this time – he wouldn’t fail this time, of course he wouldn’t. It would be unbearable if he did.

And in the end he had decided to go anyway, because he was an idiot and despite everything he wanted to see Potter.

 

It went more easily than he had dared to hope. He was waiting by the stairs to the dungeon – he was always waiting, apparently Potter had no qualms about the minutes of agony and boredom he so shamelessly put Draco through whenever they were supposed to meet. And if he was going to show up at all, then today of all days it would have been a kind gesture to be on time, but apparently that was beyond Potter’s capability.

When he finally showed, he looked worn out, nervous and just as tense as Draco felt, and for a moment he was sure that it would be just as painful as he had feared, but he feigned nonchalance and made some stupid remark about Gryffindors and Potter’s lateness, and Potter laughed at it, and it turned out that was all it took. Yesterday hadn’t happened. Everything was back to normal. They went down the stairs together and locked themselves in the old classroom, but for a while none of them even mentioned the boggart. They just joked around for a bit, and Potter complained about Flitwick, and Draco agreed. Then there was a lull in the conversation and they both waited for the other to bring it up, but in the end it was Potter who did. Draco wasn’t the brave one, after all.

Potter crossed over to the wardrobe and Draco followed. He was getting nervous again. He took up position a few feet back and Potter turned to look at him.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.

Draco nodded.

“I’m sure. Come on, Potter, quit stalling and let’s get it over with.”

Potter still didn’t reach for the handle.

“You don’t have to. It might not even be a good idea – none of the others have done this, so-“

“I want to, okay?” he said. “I want to.”

His palms were sweating. He could feel panic edging in on him. It was a nice offer, a chance to back out before he could fail. But it was too late now. Potter nodded and turned to the wardrobe again.

“Ready?” he asked.

Draco raised his wand. He knew that if he wanted to, he could cast his patronus as soon as Potter turned the handle, before the power of the fake dementor could even reach him. He knew Potter would pretend not to have noticed it if he did. But he would notice, and then they would both know, and there wouldn’t be a third chance after that. He had to remind himself of Azkaban. Azkaban was what was important.

Potter twisted the handle and pulled the door open. From the darkness came a gust of cold, the low sound of a rattling breath and Draco waited while the dementor glided forward towards Potter, who had his wand out but hadn’t raised it. Draco couldn’t see his face, but his shoulders were tense, and for a second he was distracted by the thought of Potter in third year, passing out whenever the dementors came near, and how he had never found out what it was they made him remember. Then he felt an icy twinge in his own mind and for one dreadful second he thought he had forgotten his happy memory, he thought that Potter was already raising his wand, that he had failed again.

Expecto patronum!” he cried loudly, clearly, as if he wasn’t afraid at all.

The silver snake appeared in the air and lunged at the shape of the dementor. It stopped, stumbled. Potter was still standing between it and Draco, so it didn’t change shape.

There was no need to cast a Riddikulus this time. All Draco’s pent up anxiousness, his fear and anticipation, was spilling over in relieved, triumphant laughter, and the boggart retreated into the darkness of the wardrobe. Potter stepped forward to push the door closed behind it, then he turned to look at Draco, grinning broadly at him.

“So,” said Draco, still slightly out of breath. “That went better than last time.”

“Yeah. It was brilliant.”

“You shouldn’t sound so surprised, Potter,” said Draco in the exaggerated, condescending drawl Pansy would use when she was mocking him.

“I mean, obviously it can’t be that hard if you’re able to do it. When have you ever mastered any sort of magic that I couldn’t do twice as well?” he continued as he tucked his wand away in a pocket

When he looked up, Potter’s smile had faded.

“What?” he asked, worried for a second that he hadn’t caught on to the sarcasm, an apology already on his lips.

But Potter shook his head.

“Nothing,” he said.

It didn’t sound like nothing, and suddenly the silence between them was tense rather than triumphant. He knew it seconds before it happened what it was Potter was about to say, because apparently he hadn’t gotten away with anything. Potter hadn’t let it go, he had just saved it for later. For now, apparently.

 o

“Yesterday,” Harry said, not really looking at Malfoy. “I thought maybe we should talk about it. About what happened.”

“Really?” said Malfoy tersely, as if the word was bitter in his mouth.

He had grown rigid and was watching Harry warily.

He should have waited, Harry thought. This was not the right time. But if he had waited, he probably would have lost his nerve.

“Why did you kiss me?” he asked.

Malfoy closed his eyes, like he was taking a moment to steady himself. Or maybe to show his exasperation with Harry’s stupidity that he had taken what happened so seriously. It was impossible to tell sometimes. Harry was aware of his heart pounding away hard in his chest. Malfoy’s hesitation was excruciating, he had to fight to keep himself from just blurting out everything that went through his head and wait for an answer.

“I’m such an idiot,” breathed Malfoy.

“What?”

Another long pause. Then Malfoy spoke, very carefully:

“You already know why,” he said. “Why are you asking me?”

“Because I don’t know,” said Harry.

Malfoy grimaced.

“You’re really going to make me say it?”

“I just want some sort of explanation, alright-“

“Fine,” said Malfoy, cutting him off. “Fine. I kissed you because I was completely out of it after the boggart. I know it was stupid, but it really got to me. And then I suppose I was confused about the hand-holding, which isn’t to say I’m blaming you or anything. But you wouldn’t let me leave, for fucks sake - if I had just left like I wanted to, it wouldn’t have happened.”

“That doesn’t explain why you-“

“Because I like you, Potter! I thought you had figured that out, but apparently I was giving you more credit for your intellect than you deserve. And I know how very inconvenient it is, which is why I tried to tell you that we should just ignore it.”

Harry didn’t say anything. He should, of course. He should say something reassuring so Malfoy would stop looking like he had just been stabbed and was trying not to let it show on his face. He just couldn’t really think of anything.

The seconds ticked away while they stood there, not looking at each other. He didn’t know why Malfoy had thought himself an idiot, it seemed to Harry he was the only one who deserved that title.

“Please don’t be angry,” said Malfoy.

He sounded tired.

“I’m not,” said Harry.

Malfoy watched him like he was waiting for him to say something else.

“Should I leave?” he asked, when Harry remained silent.

“No.”

“Well, I’m not just going to stand here and wait for you to say something!”

“Just give me a second to think, alright.”

Malfoy let out an exasperated laugh.

“I hate you,” he said, but it came out soft, like what he really meant was I can’t believe I don’t hate you.

Harry stepped closer, because there was something flighty about Malfoy’s manner now, like he might turn and run any second. And it wasn’t like he would try to hold him back if he did, he just wanted to… be within reach. He opened his mouth to speak, but lost the words before he could say them. He breathed out heavily, felt his pulse hammer out another second.

“I don’t hate you,” he said.

That much was true, he thought. It wasn’t the whole truth either, but he wasn’t sure about the rest. He reached for Malfoy’s hand, but it jerked away as soon as his fingers brushed his knuckles.

“Don’t,” he snapped.

Harry pulled his hand back.

“Sorry.”

“I know this is just you trying to be nice about it, but honestly, Potter, I wish you would just leave it.”

Harry wished he could stop thinking about his dream. He wished he could stop thinking about Luna, and about the astronomy tower and the fact that last night Draco had kissed him.

“I’m not… trying to be nice,” he said. “I’m just sort of awful at this… things like this.”

“Oh, please, like the famous Harry Potter hasn’t had girls throwing themselves at him with declarations of crushes every day of his life of fame. You must have gotten used to handling it by now.”

Harry forced a laugh. It was odd how two years ago he would still have interpreted the sarcasm as spiteful and the words as an insult. He reached his hand out again, just the back of his fingers brushing Malfoy’s knuckles, and this time he didn’t pull his hand away.

“You’re not a girl,” he mumbled.

Malfoy scoffed.

“Right,” he said. “That’s a problem, of course.”

“I’m not sure it is.”

 o 

Draco eyed him warily for any sign of humour, listened for a note of contempt. Harry wasn’t looking at him when he said it. Draco thought he might be blushing, but it was hard to tell when he had his face turned to the floor. He was standing too close again. If he looked up, his face would be right in front of Draco’s. When had Draco gotten taller than him? He didn’t even know. He used to care about that a lot. He used to set it up so he and Potter were competing about everything, and he would keep score in his mind, so the summer when they came back and Potter seemed to have grown twenty inches and Draco had only grown a few, Draco was behind, but then he got better grades in every single class and was ahead for a while, and then Potter saved the world, and Draco lost. Draco always lost in the end.

He looked down at their hands as he threaded his fingers through Potter’s fingers. Because he was an idiot. He was a constant disappointment to himself. When he looked up, Potter was watching him again and his face was so close. Draco stared into those startlingly green eyes and tried to read the expression in them. Potter leaned in.

“This alright?” he asked and Draco could feel his breath on his face.

“I suppose,” he said, and it should have sounded haughty, like he only deigned to approve, but it was just breathless and toneless and quiet.

Then Potter’s free hand reached up and curled around the nape of Draco’s neck. Draco closed his eyes and Potter pushed his fingers up into his hair and pulled him closer. He kissed him, and everything in Draco’s mind went numb.

This was different from the careful kiss Draco had brushed over his lips the day before. Potter was kissing him, and his breath was fire in Draco’s mouth, his lips nipped at Draco’s, there was the foreign push of his tongue, and Draco kissed him back. Their fingers were still oddly intertwined and every nerve in Draco’s body hummed.

He wasn’t sure who pulled back first. Potter’s hand remained curled in his hair for a moment when they did, before he let it fall away. He let go of Draco’s hand too. He looked away, grinning nervously.

“Alright,” he said, a bit out of breath. “Okay, so… Right.”

Draco’s heart was pounding.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

Potter looked at him.

“What?”

“Why did you do that?”

“Because I thought- well, didn’t you- I don’t know. ”

He shrugged.

“I don’t know. I wanted to.”

Draco huffed.

“Well, shit.”

“Yeah…”

Draco kissed him again. He buried his fingers in the dark curls and felt Potter’s hands on his hips and moving up his sides, stroking his back and pulling him closer.

  

They stayed in the room for a while, but not much else was said. They mostly kissed, which was surprisingly easy. It didn’t leave any room for thinking.

 

And when there finally was a pause, Harry thought Malfoy might be about to say something or ask him something that would require thinking on Harry’s part, so he suggested that they went back. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed in the dungeon, only that they probably ought to leave soon. It still felt cowardly to have said it, but Malfoy just nodded.

“Yes, I suppose we should,” he said.

Malfoy stepped away from Harry, out of reach, and a jolt of panic shot through him. He didn’t want to leave. Leaving felt very final all of a sudden, as if what had happened might be something that was confined to this room and would vanish as soon as they closed the door behind them.

“Draco-” he began.

Malfoy, who was halfway to the door, turned and looked back at him with an eyebrow raised in a question, half smiling. And it hit him again, hard this time, how much he actually liked him. How much he cared about him. How nice he looked, too. Harry had always thought that Malfoy looked exactly like Lucius, but now he thought the similarity was more in his mannerisms than his actual appearance. Without the haughty arrogance that both father and son had projected, they really weren’t that much alike. He couldn’t quite recall what Malfoy’s mother looked like, but he thought it was possible that apart from the sleek, white blonde of his hair, he was actually taking after her. But he had never seen her smile like that either.

“What?”

Harry shook his head.

“Nothing.”

“Are you coming, then?”

 

They walked together to the stairs leading from the dungeon to the upper levels of the castle. Neither of them said anything. They stopped by the steps and Harry turned to Malfoy.

“You know, we probably shouldn’t tell people about this,” he said. “If you don’t mind.”

Malfoy nodded.

“Probably a good idea. I wonder if it would make the Prophet, though? If it were to get out, you know, by accident. It might seriously change my public image, a Malfoy snogging the Chosen One – that was a joke, Potter.”

“Good,” said Harry quickly, knowing he had probably looked horrified for a moment.

He seriously couldn’t tell sometimes.

“Seriously,” said Malfoy again. “Just a joke. This is no one else’s business.”

Harry nodded.

“Right,” he said. “So I guess I’ll see you around?”

“I guess you will.”

There was a moment’s hesitation where neither of them moved to leave and Harry wasn’t sure what to do, because just going up the stairs would seem like they were pretending that nothing had happened, and he didn’t want that. He ought to say something to recognize that it was real. But then Malfoy leaned in and kissed him. And he supposed that worked to pretty much the same effect.

“See you tomorrow, Potter,” he said, smiling his pretty smile.

Then he turned and walked away down the hall.

 o

Harry ascended the stairs and made his way back to Gryffindor tower. It was a long walk from the dungeons and since the corridors were mostly empty this time of night, it gave him some time to think.

He had kissed a bloke. That was one thing. And he wanted to kiss him again, which was another. He wondered vaguely if this meant that he was queer, but he would rather not think about that. He didn’t have to decide about it now; it didn’t matter anyway, as long as no one knew.

The bloke he had kissed was Malfoy. Draco. And despite how awful that was supposed to be, despite his disagreement with Ron, his shame had drastically diminished. He was just happy in a violent, wonderful, all-encompassing way that made him feel slightly drunk. It felt like a victory, and there was just a second where he was excited to tell his friends about it, before he remembered that he couldn’t. 

It was only when he reached the portrait of the fat lady, that he realized that he was still smiling like an idiot, and quickly wiped the grin off his face. The fat lady was asleep in her frame. He cleared his throat, but she didn’t wake.

“Excuse me?” he said.

She stirred, then straightened up and yawned as she shot him an annoyed look.

“What?” she demanded.

“I need to get into my common room.”

“Password?”

 

It felt very strange to climb through the portrait hole to the common room. He felt sure that everyone would be able to tell just by looking at him exactly what had happened. He was very aware of his face. And his mouth. But no one seemed to notice him at all.

He looked around and found Hermione still settled on the sofa in the corner. Ron had fallen asleep next to her with his head on her shoulder. She looked tired too, her eyes droopy but still focused on the long roll of parchment that trailed over her knees and the edge of the sofa and all the way to the floor. She was poking her lip with the tip of her quill as she read, sometimes putting it to the parchment and scribbling some addition in the margin, or crossing something out. She had ink stains on her cheek and her hand. He felt suddenly weird that he was watching them. Usually he would have stayed with them, either struggling with his own homework or distracting himself with keeping Ron awake.

Except that wasn’t entirely true either, because that also belonged to a time when Ron and Hermione would never have sat that close, when Hermione wouldn’t have allowed Ron to fall asleep on her and Ron wouldn’t have dared to touch her that way anyway.

And maybe he had sometimes kept out of the way of that new closeness because he had been slightly jealous. Not because it had changed how they felt about him – Ron was still his best mate, Hermione was still like a sister to him – but even though he knew it wasn’t fair, he sometimes envied them that they were together after the war, when it had broken him and Ginny apart. He still missed her sometimes. It had been good with her.

But thinking about Ginny and watching Ron and Hermione stung less now than it used to. Which could possibly be attributed to Malfoy, which was endlessly weird.

He walked over to them, but Hermione remained absorbed in her paper.

“Hi,” he said.

She started and looked up at him.

“Oh, hi Harry,” she said. “You’re back late.”

He felt blood rushing to his face.

“Uh, yeah. I was with Malfoy.”

“How did it go?”

“Good. Pretty good.”

She nodded.

“You know, I was reading something earlier. I didn’t know if it was worth anything, but I’ve been thinking about it, and it might be, so I need to get a hold of him soon,” she said, lowering her voice even though no one but him and Ron were within earshot. “In fact, we probably need to get a hold of everyone, but if you get the chance, will you tell him to get to the room when he can?”

“Why?”

She leaned forward as much as she could without disturbing Ron and said quietly:

“It’s Azkaban. I’ve found something about the dementors.”

Chapter Text

Draco had only managed to walk about five metres down the hall after he had split up with Potter, before he had to stop and steady himself. He slumped back against the wall and closed his eyes for a moment. Somehow he felt worse than he had after their fight. At least that incident had felt like something he had controlled. He had provoked Potter’s reaction, he had decided how to feel about it. And this was just… a free fall, a tumble of things that were completely out of his control. He wasn’t even sure whether to blame his house or his family for the fact that he had already envisioned every single possible scenario in which this could be used against him.

He was also aware that he would probably cling to this memory forever, replaying it to himself over and over just to feel that thrill again of Potter’s hand in his hair, his flustered laugh. The way he hadn’t stopped smiling.

The part of himself that could objectively monitor his actions was disgusted with this development. The imaginary version of Pansy that lived in his head was gagging. He was very aware of how pathetic this all was.

But he could still remember the tingle of Potter’s breath on his face.

He thought he had been pretty successfully nonchalant when he had kissed him goodbye.

He returned to the common room and tried to look busy as he made his way to his dormitory, so no one would try to talk to him. It seemed safer to keep interaction with other people to a minimum, as his ability to act normal felt pretty shaky.

Though his days had been centred around preparing for going to Azkaban, he had not recently been paying a lot of attention to his memories of the prison itself. He had been preoccupied with the planning, with learning the patronus, so the painful parts, the ones that terrified him so much it seemed ridiculous that he was even attempting this, they had taken second place in his thoughts. Though this had made the impossibility of their mission seem lesser, it had also made it less urgent to him.

As he climbed the stairs to his dormitory, the thought struck him that perhaps the sense of urgency that he remembered feeling had had more to do with Potter and less to do with the prison itself – that perhaps this had mostly been about getting close to him, and he just hadn’t been able to admit that to himself. It did make sense when he thought about it like that – the more certain he had felt about Potter not abandoning him, the less urgent Azkaban had become. They were putting themselves in danger by rushing it. They had time, didn’t they? Perhaps they should even reconsider the possibility of a political solution.

Chapter Text

Golden sunlight poured through the windows of the transfiguration classroom. It was still only early February and outside the wind was sharp and biting cold, but the soft sunlight made it feel like spring was coming closer and the castle seemed warmer and friendlier than it had in months.

Draco sat in the back of the class and watched the airy temple pillars of dust swirling lazily in the light. He was two rows behind Potter. He could see his shoulder move when he took notes and the way the light got caught in the embroidered gold on his Gryffindor-uniform. The light played in his hair too, seeming to outline the edges of the messy curls, like Potter was emitting his own soft glow. And messy wasn’t really the right word, Draco thought. Usually Potter’s hair was a bird’s nest and he clearly never even touched it after getting out of bed in the morning, but sometimes the mess managed to look tousled and carelessly elegant instead, and Draco couldn’t stop staring or imagining what it would be like to run his fingers through it – what it had been like.

It was three days ago that he and Potter had trained with the Dementor-boggart. Three days since he’d kissed him, and Draco hadn’t had a chance to talk to him since. He had been going up to the secret room a couple of times, on the off chance that Potter might be there, but he never was and instead Draco had had two very awkward conversations with Potter’s friends of mumbled excuses for why he had come and would now leave again. They said there was something Granger wanted him to look at, so he supposed he would have to deal with that at some point, but at the moment he had told them he was busy.

He only needed to get Potter by himself for a few seconds so they could set up a meeting, but there never seemed to be a chance. In one of his more desperate moments, he had considered pulling the detention-trick again, but Potter didn’t want people to find out. A second showy classroom fight and subsequent detention probably wouldn’t lead anyone to draw the right conclusions, but it might still end up pushing Potter away. The last thing Draco wanted was for him to decide that it was too risky and call it off. Draco wasn’t going to fuck it up by calling attention to himself.

 

He had entertained the thought that perhaps Potter was avoiding him – it wasn’t usually this difficult to get a hold of him unnoticed, so maybe Potter was actually trying to make sure that they were never alone. Maybe he regretted what had happened or maybe Draco had misunderstood the things he had said. They hadn’t really talked much, after all.

But he didn’t really believe that. He had noticed Potter watching him quite a few times, and when Draco looked back at him and caught his eye, he would smile before he turned away. Draco wondered if anyone else noticed. Part of him wished they did, despite Potter wanting it to be secret and Draco knowing that he was right that it was better that way. He knew it was vanity, but he wanted people to see the way Potter looked at him – see that Draco Malfoy was wantable, worthy of a crush. And not just by anyone, by Harry Potter, who could have had whoever he wanted, but had chosen Draco for his hungry eyes.*

“Draco!”

Nott snapped his fingers in front of Draco’s eyes because he was that brand of arsehole. Draco shot him a look.

“You’re zoning out. We’re supposed to discuss the chapter questions.”

Draco pulled his book towards him.

“What page?” he asked.

“You weren’t listening at all?”

“I was distracted.”

 

They did group-work for the rest of the lesson and when class was dismissed, Nott wanted them to finish up the last question and Potter was out the door within seconds, just like the rest of the Gryffindors.

Draco didn’t see him again the rest of that day.

Chapter Text

It had been a long time since he last dreamt of Azkaban.

Draco woke with a start. He had no idea where he was, what time it was, had no sense of anything but the feeling of wave upon wave of panic crashing through him. His whole body was grimy and damp with sweat, the sheets were twisted around him and clung to his skin. His heart was pounding away. He gasped for air. When he tried to sit up, his arms collapsed beneath him, weak with sleep and panic. He swallowed sharp gulps of air as if trying to scream backwards.

He had been screaming.

”Draco, are you alright?” said a voice that still sounded far away.

Draco blinked. He saw the dark figure of Blaise standing by his bed looking down at him. He had pulled back the draperies around the bed. Draco could make out Nott behind him. They both looked worried. The mad bird in Draco’s chest was flinging itself against his ribs. His body still didn’t feel entirely under his control when he tried to sit up again, this time with more success. He had no idea what his face looked like, but hoped that the darkness hid at least some of the terror he was feeling.

From the way Blaise and Nott were looking at him, he thought it probably didn’t.

”Are you alright?” repeated Blaise.

He sounded slightly shaken. Draco nodded. He swallowed.

”Yeah,” he said hoarsely.

”You were screaming your head off…”

”Nightmare.”

Blaise watched him. There was something hesitant about his figure. Draco would have asked him to go away, except he wasn’t sure he wanted him to. He didn’t want to be alone.

”I’m alright,” he managed.

He could still feel the dream pounding through him, the cold grip of terror in his mind.

Blaise still lingered.

”You know if you’re not…” he began but trailed off.

”You can tell us if you’re not alright,” said Nott quietly. “Or if something’s wrong.”

Blaise nodded.

“Would you…” Draco stopped to clear his throat.

He was hoarse. He vaguely remembered the screaming.

“Would you maybe turn on the light?” he asked.

Nott did.

“Thank you. Is it alright if we leave it like that?”

They both nodded.

“Do you need anything else? We can get Madam Pomfrey or… or Pansy, if you…?”

Draco shook his head.

“Alright. Goodnight, then,” said Blaise.

They both shuffled back towards their own beds, but then Blaise stopped again.

“Draco, does this have anything to do with-“

“No,” said Draco firmly. “It has nothing to do with you. Just go to bed.”

“Alright.”

He heard the soft sounds of their blankets, then the chink of the curtain rings. He pulled his knees up, rested his arms on them as he pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. He felt wide awake. He took a couple of deep, shaky breaths. He tried not to remember what he had dreamt.

 

Draco didn’t take long to gather himself before he got out of bed. The others were probably still awake and would hear him leave, but that didn’t matter. He had asked them to leave him alone, so they would. Besides, in the wake of his nightmare, in comparison to Azkaban, everything to do with Slytherin and his reputation seemed utterly insignificant. He got dressed and left the dormitory as quietly as he could. He walked down the dark staircase and through the dim common room. There were movements in the shadows, and a house elf who hadn’t noticed him and remained absorbed in his work of polishing the dark wood of a coffee table. Draco strode past and out into the corridor.

He would have liked to get a hold of Potter, but he had no way of contacting him. Sending him an owl this time of night would likely result in waking up every Gryffindor in his dormitory, and Potter had asked that they be discreet, so sending him panicked notes about his nightmares at ungodly hours was probably not the best way to go about it.

But he couldn’t go back to sleep either. The feeling of the dream still clung to him. The sense of terror had lessened, but the urgency had not. That must have been why he had dreamt it – because he hard started to forget, and this had been a violent reminder of why they were doing all of this and, more importantly, why it could not wait. That was what he desperately wanted to be able to tell someone, just to be able to say it aloud. Just to make it real, to detangle it from the dream-logic of his own head: That every day Azkaban was left standing was another defeat. As soon as they had even the slightest chance of success, they had to go.

He felt compelled to go get his broom and take off immediately. Maybe if he had been in Gryffindor, that was what he would have done. Instead, he made his way to the secret room.

 

Draco slumped into the soft couch and eyed the stacks of books on the table. They had been through all of them by now. Nothing but disappointment. He sighed and leaned forward to pick one of them up. That was when he noticed the note. It was a piece of parchment on top of one of the stacks and under it, he saw now, was a thin, black book he had not seen before. His heartbeat picked up as he took the note and the book. The note was addressed to him in what he had come to recognize as Granger’s orderly handwriting. It had his name at the top and then Read this! right below. He read:

I came across this in the library (it was in the wrong section, that’s why we didn’t find it earlier) and I think it might be a breakthrough. Some parts are a bit difficult to decipher, but it’s something. See what you make of it. We’ll get everyone here as soon as possible.

He put down the note and took a closer look at the book. It was a thin, cheaply bound volume. There was no title or author printed on the cover, which was probably why it had been misplaced. He turned to the title page. He didn’t recognize the name of the author, but the title, printed in spindly letters above it, was enough to send a rush of excitement through him: The Dementor. He turned the page and began reading.

 

It only took him a couple of minutes to realize that the books was… strange, to say the least. Practically unreadable if one was in a less generous mood. The first few pages were perfectly bearable and resembled the sort of texts they had found in their textbooks for defence against the dark arts. But as soon as the author had gotten past those initial stretches, the book spun off into some indecipherable musings about – either the darkness of the world or of the human mind, though he wasn’t certain if it was supposed to be metaphorical or if this was someone’s actual attempt at describing the physical effects of the dementor. He gave up understanding it halfway through his second reading of the passage. He turned the page, trying to steel himself with patience, and found that the following chapter was written in verse.

It took him several hours to get through the book. When he finally reached the last page, his mind felt stretched and exhausted and there wasn’t much left of his initial hope and excitement. He was not at all certain that this would be helpful. There had certainly been some new information – some of the less convoluted chapters had described the author actually attempting to carry out experiments with the dementors, something they had not seen in any of the other books they had come across. There had also been anatomical drawings. He vaguely suspected that it was also the creation of these chapters, and the time spent around dementors that must have been necessary in order to write them, that had driven the author into the insane state of mind that shone from the fragmented chaos of the pages.

 

He closed his eyes for a moment when he had finished reading. He was so tired, but his body felt restless. His mind was overused but it wouldn’t stop whirring. He recognized the feeling from past nights of insomnia and knew he wouldn’t be getting any sleep.

He opened his eyes again. He sat with the closed, probably useless book in his lap and stared emptily at the armrest of the chair across from him, letting it drift in and out of focus.

Then he pulled out his wand and twirled it between his fingers for a while, already knowing which spell he was going to cast, but putting it off for no reason other than that it was slightly embarrassing even with no one there to see him.

It felt very self-indulgent to cast a patronus charm when there was nothing around for it to protect him from. But the light and warmth of it was so comforting and it made the secret room seem much less gloomy. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but probably still late at night. The glass in the windows was mirror-black and showed nothing of the world outside, only reflected the soft light of his patronus back at him. He watched it where it lay coiled on the sofa next to him. Despite its silvery glow it seemed almost like a real animal. And while he wondered about that, he remembered something, though he wasn’t sure from where: That the Order of the Phoenix had used patronuses to send private messages. A lot of information about the people who fought against Voldemort and the way they had operated had become public when the war ended. He might have read about their messages in the newspaper, or maybe it was just another one of the many stories that circulated in Slytherin.

It seemed an odd thing to speak to the snake; it was not a magical creature or even a conjured one, just an apparition of his own magic. But as soon as he spoke, the snake raised its head and watched him attentively.

“Can you get a message to Potter?” he asked it.

The snake gave no indication that it understood, but he felt certain that it did.

“Tell him – but only if he’s awake, if he’s asleep then leave him alone. But if he’s awake, tell him I’m in the secret room and… he can come if he wants to. It’s not urgent or important, though.”

There was a moment of hesitation where he thought it probably hadn’t worked, but then the patronus vanished and it was too late to regret the message.

 

He felt the exact moment he lost control of it. He had been sustaining it, feeling no strain even though it had gotten further and further away, and then out of nowhere he had been cut off. He wondered if it had made it to the Gryffindor dormitories or if it had just flickered out in some hallway.

He didn’t cast it again.

 

Time dragged by and Draco was no closer to falling asleep. He had taken off his school robes and tie, feeling suddenly silly for wearing those in the middle of the night. He sat down again in just his shirt and trousers.

He transfigured a cushion in one of the armchairs into a cup and back again. Into a mirror and back again. He had, for a moment, forgotten about his patronus messenger, and so he started violently when he heard the click of the door being opened. Potter slipped through and closed it quietly behind him, and for a second Draco was lost as to why he was there. Potter looked rumpled and tired, so maybe Draco had woken him up after all. He wasn’t wearing robes or any of his school uniform, just a T-shirt and a pair of very muggle-looking pants. His hair was even more of a mess than usual. Draco’s heart convulsed happily.

“Hey,” said Potter, his voice a bit gravelly.

He had stopped just inside the door and didn’t move to sit down. Draco cleared his throat.

“So you got my patronus?” he asked.

Potter looked at him with a puzzled expression, like he wasn’t sure what to make of him.

“Yeah,” he said. “I didn’t know you could do that. Patronus messages.”

Draco shrugged.

“Apparently they practically do it by themselves.”

Potter nodded. He had his arms crossed and looked towards the window.

“Did I wake you up?” Draco asked.

“No, I was awake.”

“Good.”

Potter wasn’t looking in Draco’s direction, but Draco found he had a hard time not staring at him. It was rare to see Potter not wearing his school uniform, and even though it was usually a mess, seeing him in a button-down shirt was still an altogether very different experience from the way this cheap, thin fabric hung on his shoulders. It revealed a lot of pleasant nooks and angles that the uniform usually hid.

“So, what did you want to say to me?” asked Potter

Draco immediately averted his eyes – Merlin, what was wrong with him? He hadn’t dragged Potter out of his bed and all the way to the other end of the castle just so he could leer at him.

“Nothing,” he said quickly. “That’s what the message said, didn’t it? That it wasn’t anything important, it was just… it’s not like I had something I needed to tell you.”

But of course Potter would assume it was something important when Draco had sent a bloody patronus to get him like this was the Order of the Phoenix. Or maybe he had come because he felt bad about what had happened in the dungeon the other day - Draco had just assumed that it was all good, it had seemed like they were on the same page about it when they split up. But of course he could have read that wrong –  

“Hermione said she had found something, I thought maybe it was about that?” said Potter, interrupting Draco’s train wreck of thought.

“Oh. Right,” he said. “Yeah, I read the book.”

He nodded to where it lay the table.

“I don’t know if it’s anything. I – well, unless you really want to hear about it, I would rather talk about something else. Something that’s not Azkaban.”

Potter shrugged.

“Alright,” he said, but he still looked sort of lost there by the door, like he didn’t know where to look or what to do about himself.

Draco searched for some sort of reason to give him for why he was there at all if Draco didn’t want him for anything. He had thought he wanted to talk about the nightmare, to share his panic and explain all over again why what they were doing was so important, to put words to all those black thoughts. But now Potter was there, ruffled by night and incredibly nice to look at, and Azkaban was suddenly the last thing Draco wanted to think about.

“I just wanted to see you,” he said finally, which sounded needy and dumb, but felt pretty close to the truth.

A small smile curved the edges of Potter’s mouth and a flood of relief surged through Draco.

Potter pointed to the sofa.

“Can I sit?” he asked.

Draco rolled his eyes.

“No, I want you to keep standing there awkwardly for the rest of eternity.”

Potter grinned and slumped into the seat next to Draco as if he had never hesitated by the door at all. As if this was something they did all the time. He sighed as he sank into the cushions.

“Guess you couldn’t sleep either?” he said.

“I had a nightmare.”

“Sorry.”

Draco shrugged.

“I’m better now.”

Potter closed his eyes.

“I just don’t understand how it works,” he said. “I am so fucking tired and all I want to do is sleep, I just can’t.”

“You could get a sleeping draught from Madam Pomfrey.”

Potter opened his eyes again, looking up at Draco with his head turned so his cheek was pressed to the backrest and his glasses were pushed askew. The T-shirt had slid down a bit and Draco could see the shape of his collar-bones.

“I thought about it. I don’t really like the idea that it knocks you out completely for seven hours, or how long it is. What if something happens and you don’t wake up?”

“I wouldn’t worry about that, with your luck you would probably end up saving everyone with heroic sleepwalking or something like that.”

“With my luck, the castle would be overtaken by feral nargles the first time I ever tried a sleeping potion.”
Draco laughed.

“What are nargles?”

“No idea. Ask Luna when you get the chance. So why don’t you go to Madam Pomfrey?”

Draco put his arm on the backrest of the sofa and rested his head in his hand.

“I did,” he said. “Turns out the potion works really well for me, knocks me out completely for 8 hours and leaves me well-rested the next morning. It just has the unfortunate side effect of giving me very vivid dreams.”

Potter grimaced.

“Yeah, in that case I’d prefer not sleeping too.”

“I sleep really well in class, though.”

Potter snorted.

“I fell asleep in transfiguration once,” he said. “Very scary thing waking up to McGonagall standing over you with that look in her eyes. Can’t recommend it.”

“I’ll keep my naps to other subjects.”

Potter closed his eyes again. He was quiet for a while. Then he asked:

“Do you miss Snape?”

Draco hesitated.

“That’s an odd thing to ask.”

“Sorry. You’re the only one I know who sort of liked him.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t really know him. Maybe. I miss the grades.”

Potter nodded. There was another stretch of silence. It was the kind of silence that creeps into late-night conversations when all sentences are spoken slowly and the gaps between them become too long – the sound of voices gravelly with exhaustion, of everyone else being asleep, and daybreak still being hours away.

 

“Are you falling asleep?” asked Draco.

Potter opened his eyes, which was sort of spectacular to watch when you were this close to his face. Every time, Draco was a little bit surprised at how green they were.

“A little bit.”

“I think I could sleep too.”

Potter sat up and stretched his back.

“Yeah?” he said with a yawn. “You want to lie down?”

Draco hesitated.

“Where?” he asked.

“I think there’s room for both of us on the sofa.”

It was not a very big sofa. Potter leaned down to untie his shoes.

“Are you serious?” said Draco.

Potter straightened up and looked at him.

“I was but… Not if you’d rather go back to your dorm…?”

“No. No, that’s fine.”

“Good.”

Potter kicked off his shoes. He took off his glasses and placed them on the table next to the probably useless book on dementors.

”Nice face, Potter,” Draco said.

Harry snorted.

”Thanks.”

”Seriously, I can’t remember ever seeing you without them.”

”They don’t grow on my face,” he said, shuffling around on the sofa.

He lay down, his legs trailing behind Draco’s back. Draco waved his wand at the lights, and they went out. The room dissolved in shadows. He allowed himself a second in the dark, sitting on the edge of the sofa and listening to Potter’s breathing. Then he pulled up his feet and lay down next to him. There was space enough that he could have kept an inch between them. He didn’t.

There was a bit of shifting around before they were both comfortable. There was the push of Potters knees and the feeling of their legs trailing along each other, the heat of Potter’s breath on the back of his neck and their bodies fitting jigsaw-like into each other. There was the weight of Potters arm draped across his chest and the tickle of each exhalation moving Draco’s hair on the back of his neck.

“You comfortable?” Potter asked.

“Yes.”

“Think you can sleep?”

He probably could as soon as his heart settled down. Potter’s hand was curled against his chest. He wondered if he could feel it pounding.

“Yeah,” he said. “You?”

He could feel Potter nodding.

“Think so. This isn’t weird is it?”

“Of course it’s weird,” Draco said. “How can you even ask me that?”

Potter laughed and Draco could feel every muscle involved in it, how his chest convulsed and his arm tightened around him and the blow of warm air that moved his hair.

Draco picked up Potter’s hand that lay curled loosely against his chest, and threaded their fingers together.

 

“I was thinking about something.”

The voice was so quiet it almost wasn’t there. Draco opened his eyes. He had already been mostly asleep.

“What?” he whispered back.

“What do you think would have happened if we hadn’t met like we did?”

Potter didn’t sound close to sleep at all.

“If the first thing you did wasn’t insulting Ron. What if it had been you who helped me find the platform instead of the Weasleys? Do you think that would have changed things?”

Each word was warm against Draco’s neck. Draco had had the same thought. He had had it over and over this year and the years before, had dreamt up quite a few scenarios of it, but they all depended on him being a smarter, better and kinder person than he had been.

“No,” he said. “I don’t think it would.”

It was easier to say in the dark. Easier when he couldn’t see Potter’s face.

“But-“

“I wasn’t the sort of person you could have liked.”

“Maybe you could have been… Maybe you would have changed sides earlier. Before it all became so serious.”

“Before I was made a Death Eater.”

“Before there were sides.”

Draco was quiet.

“There were always sides,” he said.

 

Draco had almost drifted off when Potter spoke again. His mind was soft darkness and the promise of dreamless sleep, so he didn’t open his eyes this time. But he wasn’t all the way asleep either, so he would still remember the words in the morning:

“You should really start calling me Harry.”

Chapter Text

Draco woke when the first daylight filtered through the window. The sharp contours of the room came into focus in the cold, hard colours of winter mornings. Every joint in his body ached. His legs were stiff. His right shoulder felt numb. Potter’s arm lay limply across him. Draco pushed it off and sat up slowly, moving like a hundred-year-old man with brittle bones. He groaned. Potter made some muffled noise. Draco looked down at him.

His eyes were puffed from sleep and his hair was an impossible mess. The rough upholstery had left a pattern on his cheek and even though the cheap T-shirt hadn’t creased like Draco’s shirt had, it had slid up pretty far to reveal the dark skin of Potter’s abdomen. On top of that, his socks didn’t match. Draco was pretty sure one of them had snitches on it. Potter looked in every way like someone who had been out of bed all night, slept on a couch somewhere he wasn’t supposed to and had shared the limited space of that couch with someone else. He also, Draco admitted, looked like more illicit things than sleep could have taken place on the couch as well.

Draco stood up and found his watch in the pocket of his robes.

“Potter,” he said loudly. “You awake?”

Potter groaned and turned around so he had his back to Draco. They still had about forty minutes until breakfast. That meant their dorm mates would probably be awake, so they wouldn’t be able to go back to bed and pretend they had never been away, but it was enough time that Potter could get back to Gryffindor tower and change into something more appropriate before students flooded the halls. Draco picked up his tie.

“Potter!” he said again. “Get up!”

Potter made an unintelligible noise.

“If you don’t get back to Gryffindor soon you will have singlehandedly exposed this little endeavour of ours less than four days after its outset.”

Potter muttered something, and this time Draco thought it might have contained words.

“What?” he asked.

Potter turned onto his back. He had an arm draped over his face to shield his eyes from the harsh reality of morning. Or something like that.

“I said: Who the hell talks like that this early in the morning?”

“I do. Now get up.”

  o

Draco was one of the first students to come down for breakfast. He sat down at the empty Slytherin table and poured himself a cup of coffee. While he drank it, he watched the seats around him and at the other tables fill up. He kept an eye on the doors and watched who showed up. Sometimes he would check the seats at the Gryffindor table, just in case he had missed them.

Blaise showed up surrounded by his usual group of friends – most of whom used to be Draco’s friends, but he hardly even cared anymore. Nott showed up alone. Both of them sent long looks in Draco’s direction; neither of them sat down near him.

When the early breakfasters had left and the late ones had started to show, Potter arrived flanked by Weasley and Granger. He was in his school uniform and looked as presentable as ever – which didn’t really say much when it came to Potter, but at least nothing was out of the ordinary. Draco drained his second cup of coffee and stood up. He needed to stop by his dormitory to pick up his books for Astronomy.

Chapter Text

During lunch, Potter – Harry – had caught Draco’s eye across the Hall and jerked his head in a quick nod before he turned away, which Draco took to mean that his friends had not been too suspicious of his nightly disappearance, and that it was still a secret. Which was, of course, a good thing.

After lunch he went down to the greenhouses. They had Herbology with the Ravenclaws, so the classes were usually good – everyone was focused, most people were prepared for class, there was generally less noise than in any class with Hufflepuffs or Gryffindors in it. Today, however, they were studying weeds, and they had all been given a small Acheronta* – also known as Hell Bramble, which seemed a more appropriate name – that they were supposed to figure out a way to exterminate, so the lesson was a chaos of fearful screams, minor injuries and people volunteering to escort their friends to the hospital wing. Draco was still observing his angrily thrashing specimen from a safe distance, not quite decided upon how he was going to try to kill it, when someone gently bumped into his shoulder. He turned to find Luna Lovegood edging past him.

“Sorry,” she said quietly. “I just need the garden scissors from that table behind you.”

He turned and watched her pick up a pair of scissors, examine it closely and then put it down only to pick up another pair that seemed identical to the first.

“Do you think that will work?” he asked her.

“No, you need to use fire to kill it properly. The hard part is getting to the roots without pulling them up, and I don’t think scissors would be a big help with that...”

“Then why-“

“I needed an excuse to come over here. Hermione asked me to tell you to meet her up in the room when classes are over.”

And then before he could answer, she had taken a pair of scissors with her and gone back to where she was trying to kill her own plant.

It was only a small cut, really, and the burn wasn’t so bad either. That was what Madam Pomfrey had told him when she said he had to wait until after classes before she would have time to fix his hands. He thought it should be considered a valiant show of dedication to the cause that he went to see Granger before heading to the Hospital Wing. 

She sat on the edge of the sofa, her arms resting on her knees and what looked like all of her notes spread out on the table in front of her. A couple of the books lay open too, with the strange one at the centre. She looked up when he came in.

“Good, you made it,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you the whole week.”

She stood up and picked up the book, upsetting a couple of her notes.

“I found this in the library, it looks promising. If you could just skim through it-“

“I already read it,” he interrupted her.

She frowned.

“Really? When?”

“Last night. I couldn’t sleep so I came up here and found your note.”

Her frown deepened.

“Last night?”

Right. He had forgotten that Potter- that Harry had probably just told them where he’d slept.

“Yes,” he said, catching himself quickly. “I read through it, though to be honest I’m not sure how much of it I understood. Maybe I should have reread it, but I was pretty exhausted so I went back to the dorms.”

She nodded.

“Okay, well…”

She didn’t get to finish her sentence before the door opened again. Draco turned around to see Lovegood slip inside and close it carefully behind her.

“Hello,” she said as if they might have been expecting her.

He glanced at Granger, but she looked just as confused as he was.

“Hi, Luna,” she said.

“What is it you’ve found?”

“What?”

“Well, you asked me to tell Draco to meet you up here, so I thought you had probably found something, and I decided to come by and help.”

Granger looked slightly embarrassed at that, which for a moment seemed odd to Draco, but then he remembered how dismissive Granger usually was of Lovegood. Lovegood’s handwriting had been all over their notes for the last month and a half, and he had dismissed them because she was crazy and he found her slightly unnerving, but Granger had done the same thing, and wasn’t that interesting considering that they were supposed to be friends?

Of course the only Ravenclaw in on the mission ought to have been part of their endless library search, but she had kept her distance. He had thought that their group was only divided into heroes and Slytherins, but that might be wrong. Maybe he had noticed that Ginny Weasley, Lovegood and Longbottom had become a trio in their own right last year, the obvious challengers of the Carrows, but he supposed he had only thought of them as stand-ins for Granger, Potter and Ronald, had never considered them to be anything in their own right. Yet here they were, still a trio, more reliant on each other than on Potter, close in a way that the golden trio wasn’t anymore. And he hadn’t noticed because even though Potter’s friends had seemed unlikely choices for heroic companions, those three were even less likely heroes. It wasn’t just Draco who had been underestimating them, overlooking them, dismissing them: Potter, Granger and Weasley had been doing the same thing.

And Granger and Lovegood didn’t like each other.

“Granger has found another book,” said Draco. “We think it might be the breakthrough we’ve been needing.”

Granger handed the book to Lovegood.

“This one,” she said.

Lovegood took it and went to sit down on the couch. Draco followed her example and claimed one of the chairs. Only Granger remained standing and watched as Lovegood flicked the book open and looked at the title page.

“Oh, Sybill Elphick!” she said.

“You know her?”

Lovegood nodded and began turning the pages.

“Yes. She was an experimental witch, like my mother. We have some of her other books back home, she had some very interesting theories. I didn’t know there were any books about her dementor-research.”

“But you knew she had studied them?” asked Granger, sounding slightly disappointed.

“It was mentioned briefly in one of my mother’s notebooks – she had a very interesting theory that depression was caused by dementor-possession, but-“

“But dementors can’t possess people.”

Lovegood looked up at her.

“How do you know that?” she asked pointedly. “It’s not like anyone else has studied them is it?”

“But someone would have noticed it if they could-“

“She did eventually reject the theory,” said Lovegood, talking over Granger. “She found that it was much more likely that it was caused by wrackspurts. Sadly, she died young before she could publish her work. My mother spent a lot of time assembling her notes.”

Granger crossed her arms tightly across her chest.

“Well I was very excited to find that one,” she said. “But it hasn’t really turned out to be as useful as I thought it would…  I’ve tried going over our notes again, but it’s all kind of a mess.”
“Hm,” said Lovegood. “That’s good.”

She had flipped open the book while Granger spoke and was already immersed in it. A tiny smile played around the corners of her mouth.

 

“If there was just some way to get the patronus to attack the dementor, instead of driving it away. It’s the only thing that seems to make sense, we don’t know any other spell that affects them, not even Elphick mentioned anything else. And she even tried casting riddikulus at them, which was really the direction we had been going in before…”

Lovegood was curled up on the sofa, still reading the book. Draco and Granger were repeating things they already knew at each other, both waiting for someone else to have a good idea.

“But they won’t attack,” said Draco.

It was the fourth time they discussed this. They had taken turns suggesting and rejecting the idea.

“They’re shields, that’s all they do.”

“There was that poem in there about “the nature of the spell”,” said Granger, pointing to the book. “I thought that might help, but it can take years of work to alter a spell, especially one as old as the patronus charm...”

“Did you read about that experiment where she cast the patronus into a person’s body?”

“I thought about it, but from what Luna said I suppose that had to do with exorcising a dementor. I think it’s too dangerous to try… besides, she said it didn’t work.”

“Here!” exclaimed Lovegood.

She bolted upright, startling both him and Granger. Draco felt an excited twist in his gut even though he tried to suppress it – this was Lovegood after all, her excitement was bound to be as illogical as everything else about her. She scooted to the edge of the sofa so she could lean over the table with them.

“Remember how we talked about cutting the dementors off?” she said. “How they thrive on misery, so what would happen if you could keep them from feeding on anyone?”

“But the patronus already does that and the dementors don’t die-“

“Yes, but remember how we thought maybe it was drawing from a much bigger area than what we normally assume – I drew it somewhere.”

She rifled through the papers on the table, upsetting the order, but Granger didn’t comment.

Lovegood turned over a piece of parchment to a sketch of a dot labelled dementor, and then different circles sketched around it.

“This one,” she said. “Malfoy had that theory that Azkaban was actually affecting all of Britain because the evil had reach, or like a really big radius. And then you wrote down somewhere that Azkaban wasn’t built by anyone, or we don’t know who built it, it was just found a really long time ago. And here it says that as far as she can tell the number of dementors has increased since wizards started putting prisoners in the tower.”

She was speaking fast and excitedly. She had put the book down in front of them next to her sketches of the dementor’s possible area of influence, pointing to the pages from which she drew her points. To say that they had talked about all of this before was something of an overstatement. He vaguely remembered having glimpsed her sketches, but they definitely hadn’t pursued any of her ideas.

“So maybe the dementors and the tower are the same sort of thing,” she said. “And so the dementors have reach as well. Then, even if a patronus keeps them from feeding on one person, they would still be able to feed on other people who are far away. And the way it goes cold around them could mean that they’re able to suck something out of the air too, maybe magic or something else that’s left behind by people, and that’s why they feel so empty.”

The way her voice dropped on that last word that sent a cold, trickling shiver down Draco’s spine. No one would say it like that unless they had been attacked by a dementor and knew exactly what it felt like; knew that empty didn’t even come close to covering it.

Draco cleared his throat.

“Well, the… the air in Azkaban is definitely strange. Sound doesn’t travel very far.”

Lovegood nodded.

“So if we assume that’s right then it should just be a matter of keeping them in one place and preventing them from feeding on anything within their reach, and then they would just- because see, here,” she flipped to a new page in the book, one of the chapters in verse. “She says here that they become smaller when the patronus is cast, which could just be a stylistic figure of course except”- she skipped another two pages ahead - ”here she says that they are also smaller in remote areas.”

Draco glanced at Granger who was frowning.

“That sounds… right,” she said, pulling the book towards her. “But for that to work – there are hundreds of prisoners in Azkaban. It would be impossible to cast enough patronuses to shield all of them.”

Lovegood shook her head and took the book, flipping it open to another chapter.

“We won’t have to.”

She put it back on the table. The pages she had opened to showed an illustration of two beautifully calligraphed runes with no explanation except for a small notation next to them labelling them fig. 1 and fig. 2 respectively. Draco remembered them from his own read-through. They were from one of the chapters that made no sense at all.

“That chapter made no sense at all,” said Granger.

“No,” said Lovegood. “I suppose it didn’t. But the runes are interesting.”

“I don’t recognize them,” said Granger.

Actually, Draco had meant to ask her about them. As far as he knew, Granger had taken just about every boring subject available at Hogwarts, and he would have thought her unable to stay away from something as dry as ancient runes. He was also a bit surprised to hear her admit so blankly that there was something she didn’t know.

Lovegood traced a finger over the lines.

“They aren’t like anything we’ve covered in class,” she said. “But I think they might be variations of protection-runes. And this one,“ she tapped fig. 2, “looks an awful lot like the symbol for chain, doesn’t it?”

Granger hesitated.

“Can I see?” she asked, and Lovegood handed her the book for a closer look.

So she probably had taken runes. Granger made a very quiet “oh”-sound. She looked up at Lovegood.

“Do you think that would work?” she asked.

Lovegood shrugged.

“We could try.”

“You’ve lost me,” Draco said.

They both looked at him as if they had forgotten he was there.

“I didn’t take runes,” he said. “How does that help us?”

“Well, runes can be used for channelling spells,” said Granger, standing up. “It’s much easier than altering the spell itself, and runes of protection would probably be compatible with the patronus charm, so if this works, we might be able to create a sort of… web. Right?”

Lovegood nodded.

“Like spreading out our own patronuses,” she said.

Granger had pulled out her wand. She held the book in her other hand and carefully recreated the pair of runes on the wall. Then she moved about a foot down the wall and did it again. She levelled her wand at the second set. Draco recognized the stance immediately, the way she placed her fingers on her wand, he had done it a thousand times himself by now. But it was very different from watching Potter cast the spell – he did it so effortlessly, made it look so straightforward, like it was just brandishing and shouting. Granger’s brow was furrowed in concentration, her hand tense on the wand - she made it look exactly as difficult as it was.

Expecto patronum,” she said forcefully.

And there was a burst of silver, a second where he expected her corporeal patronus to materialize, but instead the light sparked and twisted into loops and threads as they were dragged into the runes as if pulled by a sudden, magnetic force. For a moment the rune just glowed faintly silver, but then it spurted a thin, twisted rope of light that shot along the wall and crashed eagerly into the other rune. And there it stayed, a band of wavering patronus light along the wall of the room.

All in all, it looked very unimpressive.

There was a rustle of paper, and Draco turned away from the patronus to see Lovegood pulling out the sketch of Azkaban that he had made for Granger for what seemed a hundred years ago. Draco wasn’t good at drawing. He apparently wasn’t very good at remembering architectural layouts either, and the sketch was pretty lacking. Lovegood took a quill and placed little marks along the wall of his attempt to do a cross section of the building. Draco clenched and unclenched his hands as he watched her. He looked from her to Granger.

“So is this something we should tell the others about?” he asked, probing the odd silence.

“Well, there’s still the dementor’s pit…” said Granger.

“What about it?”

She shrugged. She was looking at her spell with an unimpressed frown.

“You think this would work down there?”

“You think it would work at all?”

She shrugged again. Then nodded.

“I don’t see why not.”

“So that’s a yes - you think that will work on the dementors?” he asked again, not because she hadn’t been clear but just because – well, this didn’t feel at all like the breakthrough they had been waiting for.

She nodded.

After months of nothing, he had really expected that he would feel some sort of relief. He had thought that when they found the right solution it would feel like the right solution. Like when he had finally managed to cast his patronus – or maybe not as great as that, but he had thought it would be more than this. And now here they were, and it didn’t feel wrong exactly, it just felt flat. They were just three teenagers in some odd room in the no-man’s hours between classes and dinner. Three teenagers with a couple of books from the school library and an overestimation of their own abilities that probably correlated better with their amount of trauma than their actual achievements. It felt more like they were finishing up on homework than edging closer to the fall-down of some great source of evil.

The anti-climax of their discovery settled in his chest as a tense lump of anticipation. He remembered his thoughts from the other night. As soon as they had even the slightest chance of success, they had to go. So if they thought this might work, if this was the solution they were going with, that meant they were going to Azkaban.

He hadn’t noticed when it happened, but Granger’s patronus charm was gone. There were only faint traces of the runes on the wall now, like pale scars, and the room had once again become sad afternoon grey around them. Lovegood was humming under her breath.

“Congratulations on the ground-breaking discovery,” he said to her. “Solving the mystery of how to kill a dementor at the humble age of 18. Looks like you really do belong in Ravenclaw.”

She looked up and flashed him a quick, uncertain smile, as if she didn’t know whether or not he was joking. He wasn’t really sure either.

“No, I really don’t see how it could work in the pit,” said Granger, continuing some argument the others hadn’t been part of. “Choking the dementors should work, but if the pit is some sort of source, as we have considered it so far, then starving it doesn’t make sense.”

There was a space of silence.

She was right, of course. It wasn’t as simple as just killing off the dementors and they all knew that. But Granger looked very uncomfortable saying it, not like she hadn’t liked pointing it out but like she wasn’t happy with where the observation was leading her.

“What’s your point?” he asked tentatively.

“My point is that maybe we should give it a bit more time. See if we can get closer to a solution for the pit before we tell the other’s what we’ve found out.”

“Why shouldn’t we tell the others?”

Granger crossed her arms in front of her, pulling up her shoulders like she was cold.

“Well, if we tell Harry he’ll just want to go immediately. We’ve already been holding back on this for a long time and planning isn’t really his thing, he’ll just want to rush head first into all of this and…”

She trailed off.

Draco glanced at Lovegood. She had put down the quill, but was still looking at the drawings.

“We can’t keep putting it off,” he said. “We have a responsibility to do this and every day that we don’t-“

“We also have a responsibility not to fuck it up by being underprepared,” she snapped.

Draco raised an eyebrow in surprise. He didn’t think he had ever heard Granger swear before.

“I suppose you’re the most experienced…” said Lovegood quietly.

Draco shrugged.

“Alright, we’ll wait a bit.”

“The thing about rushing in head first, that really goes for Ron and Ginny too…”

“We’ll just keep it between the three of us for now.”

She nodded.

“Good. I really think it’s best that way. Just for now.”

Draco shrugged. Granger nodded again more to herself this time.

“Okay, if that’s settled then I think I’ll head back to Gryffindor. I haven’t had time to study at all,” she said, putting her wand away and picking up her bag from the sofa.

“Alright,” said Draco.

She put her hand on the door and looked quickly back at them.

“So –see you later.”

 

The door closed behind Granger and he was left alone with Lovegood. They looked at each other and there was a moment where he thought one of them might comment on what had just happened. But that would have been like striking an alliance after Granger had left, that would have been looking for an understanding with the other, so they didn’t say anything. Instead she cast her eyes back down to the parchment in front of her and Draco shrugged and looked away.

They were quiet for too long and it was awkward.

“Were you marking where to put the runes?” he asked finally, gesturing to the drawings.

It felt more like underlining the silence than breaking it.

“Yeah,” she said, just late enough to give the impression sense that she actually lived in her own time and space and conveying words just took slightly longer with her because they had to travel to her realm first.

Sometimes he wondered if she was actually this weird or if she just enjoyed making people uncomfortable.

“They can’t be very helpful.”

She shrugged.

“I think they’re fine for getting a sense of the place when you’ve never been there.”

“I suppose,” he said, then added: “If you don’t think Granger is right, you should tell her.”

It came out harder than he had intended. Again there was that pregnant pause.

“Is that what you think?” she said.

He closed his eyes for a moment.

“I don’t know.”

“Neither do I,” she said.

She stood up and gathered her things.                                                                                                                             

“Let’s go,” she said. “You need Madam Pomfrey to do something about your hands.”

Chapter Text

It was a strange week that followed the night Harry had spent with Draco in the secret room. He had to pretend that everything was normal, but he felt so obvious, like anyone who cared to look would be able to read it off him. He got distracted every time he caught sight of Draco, his heart immediately throwing itself into fits, and Harry would loose the thread of where he was going with whatever conversation he had just been in the middle of. Draco was doing much better, his studied indifference towards Harry was so flawless Harry had even started to get worried – but then Draco would gently bump into him when he passed him in the hall, or he would mutter insults at him when they were getting their ingredients for potions, and then he would catch Harry’s eye and there would be that smirk on his face, like he knew exactly how worried Harry got and was enjoying it immensely. And for some reason that was reassuring and would leave Harry with a mood that had risen by ten degrees.

It was odd that neither Ron or Hermione seemed to have noticed his weird behaviour, but then Hermione had seemed a bit off as well, and he knew Ron was worried about her.

“She’s probably just disappointed that that book she picked up didn’t turn out to be a help with you-know-what after all,” he told him one evening they were on their way down to the Great Hall.

He had asked Hermione about the book after she had finally managed to get a hold of Malfoy, and she had told him it was a miss.

“I hope you’re right. Just seems like it’s a bit much on her, all the work she’s doing to figure out what to do about the dementors on top of all the classes she’s taking. Half the time I’m with her she’s reading, and she keeps disappearing up to the room.”

“She’s always been like that about homework… And Luna and Dra- Malfoy are working on the other thing too.”

Ron frowned. A large group of Hufflepuffs pushed past them on the stairs and Ron waited until they were gone before he answered.

“They don’t seem to be pulling their load, do they? I mean, I don’t know about Luna, but seems to me Malfoy is just sort of hanging around waiting for us to do the work for him.”

Harry didn’t have a chance to protest. They had reached the Great Hall and had to change the subject.

 o 

Ron’s suspicions about Azkaban being what was bothering Hermione seemed to be confirmed when she, Harry, Ron, Ginny and Neville happened to get the common room to themselves for half an hour one evening. The number of meetings up in the secret room had thinned out over the last couple of weeks.

“There isn’t much else for us to do,” said Ginny. “Turns out there really isn’t much other security apart from the walls and the sea and the dementors. We’ve pored over those newspaper article, and they only mentioned upping the security once after Sirius escaped, but it doesn’t seem like anyone ever pursued the idea. We’re pretty much ready to go.”

Hermione practically flinched at that and Ginny looked surprised at her.

“Something wrong?” she asked.

Hermione shook her head.

“No, I just – I wouldn’t exactly say we’re ready to go since we still haven’t figured out what to do about… about the dementors.”

“Right, I meant apart from that. You’re sure you don’t want us to help out a bit with that? I know Luna is helping you, but the rest of us have time too…?”

Hermione shrugged. She looked nervous.

“No thanks,” she said. “I think we’re on the right track, we just keep hitting… walls.”

Ginny shrugged.

“Alright.”

“There’s also the issue of the aurors,” said Neville.

“I still don’t think it’s an issue. We can easily sneak by them, and if Malfoy drew his shitty maps correctly then we’ll just post guards where we talked about and we’ll have the strategic advantage and the element of surprise on our side,” said Ginny, rattling off her arguments in a way that made it clear they had had this conversation before.

“And what if Malfoy didn’t draw his map correctly?”

“Then we’re all excellent duellers.”

“But we’re not trained aurors.”

“Trained aurors who have been stationed at Azkaban for weeks with guard duty, probably not enough sleep, dementors sucking at the edges of their magic and constantly sustaining patronus charms. We’ll be fine.”

Hermione stood up.

“I’m really sorry,” she said. “But I have some homework for charms I haven’t had time to finish.”

“Hermione-“ said Ron, but she was already on her way.

 o

It was two days before Harry got a chance to speak to Draco again. It used to be so easy to get a hold of him, to hang back after class, slip him a note in the corridors or just run into him by chance in the Owlery or the library, but now it felt nearly impossible to even come near him without being noticeable. Maybe it had always been like that, but he hadn’t really noticed the difficulty before, when it was just about Azkaban, and he hadn’t wanted to get a hold of him all the time.

He had spent a lot of time thinking about the night in the secret room. Draco had drifted off as soon as Harry stopped talking, but Harry hadn’t been able to fall asleep. He had lain there in the darkness with his arm around him and listened to him breathing. It was easy to forget how warm people were until you were really close to someone else and then you were reminded what a miracle a living body is of muscles and veins and breath, little twitches and sounds.

He couldn’t even remember when he had stopped tolerating Draco or defending him out of some principle, and had actually started to like him. It had happened so slowly he had hardly noticed.

It was probably partly because Draco wasn’t a girl, and even if it wasn’t a big deal in the wizarding world, Harry hadn’t really considered it an option. It had been so easy not to notice, since he liked girls. He hadn’t known he could fall in love with boys too. He hadn’t realized that both was an option.

That night it had all become so real to him, what they were doing. Right now they were able to keep it a secret, but that couldn’t last. Harry wasn’t good with secrets. Sooner or later they would have to give it up or they would have to tell people. And so while Draco slept, Harry had made up a scenario; challenged himself to envision the most impossible situation as possible. He had set it in a distant future when they would all be more grown up and the war wouldn’t be looming as close. He had tried to imagine what it would be like if Draco came with them to the burrow. He did it carefully, constructing all the little details of the story – how nervous he would be; how Draco’s fingers would flick to the cuff of his left sleeve the way they sometimes did when he was stressed. Harry could see how he would become smaller in Mrs Weasley’s kitchen, how out of place he would look in all that homely clutter. He would be wearing his expensive robes, but his shoulders would fold in, the elbows held close to the body like sparrow’s wings, flighty and tense, every joint strained against the pull of his good upbringing, that had taught him to hold his head high and keep his back straight. A privileged upbringing where he had learned how to suavely converse with politicians, but not how to humbly enter a house where he wasn’t welcome.

And the Weasley family would all be there, of course. Mrs Weasley would stand up to greet Harry and then stop in her tracks when she caught sight of Draco, who wouldn’t know what to say. Harry had seen Mrs Weasley angry plenty of times, but that was mostly directed towards her children or husband, and the anger towards a Malfoy in her home would surely be much colder.

“What’s he doing here?” she would ask, her voice hard as flint.

And maybe Mr Weasley would look up to see what was going on and he would start – stand up, hesitate for a moment, and then he would stalk out of the room, unable to even look in their direction a second time.

Harry had stopped himself there. Forced himself to start over from Mrs Weasley’s look of surprise. There would probably still be that painful flash of anger, but it wouldn’t be Lucius who stood in her kitchen. Harry had reminded himself that Mrs Weasley was the only one who had never, at any point, forgotten that they were children when they fought in the war. So maybe she would remember that for Draco too.

“You’re looking skinny,” – maybe she would say that instead.

And Draco would sit down carefully and and say thank you and politely ask Mr Weasley about his work in the ministry, and it would be tense and difficult but it would not be wrong. Maybe it could happen like that.

He had returned to that scenario a couple of times, mulling over it again, trying to decide if he believed in the second one. Of course it would be impossible to predict, but it was just as impossible not to try. Mostly because if he did not believe in the second one, then he could never try to bring Draco to the Burrow. If there was a chance that Harry choosing Draco would hurt Mrs Weasley, he knew there wasn’t really any choice. If he ever had to choose between Draco and his friends, he would choose his friends. That was just how it was.

He thought Draco probably knew that too.

 o 

On the third day after they had slept in the secret room, Draco, Pansy Parkinson and Tracey Davies passed Harry in the hallway, and Draco brushed so close by him, their hands touched. Later, Harry found a note in his pocket.

  

He climbed the stairs to the top of the astronomy tower when classes were over. The only students he met were on their way down, and the stream of them soon thinned to nothing. It was another day of bright sunshine and it was uncharacteristically warm even this late in February, the weak winter sun getting stronger every day. Usually on a day like this one, he would have been down on the quidditch pitch as soon as classes ended. It was the perfect weather for a match and he knew Ron and Ginny and a couple of the others were already down there. He didn’t much mind missing out.

He pushed open the door at the very top of the tower and stepped out into the sunshine. It was quite different up there in the daytime, the view of the grounds a watery endlessness of toned down colours this time of year, when the grass below was muddy, the sky pale and the Forbidden Forest mostly black and leafless. Draco stood up when he saw him, the wind grabbing hold of his robes and tossing his hair across his face.

“Hey,” he called, his face splitting into a wide, uncontained smile.

 

They stayed up there until the sun started to set and the air became too chilly. They didn’t talk about Harry’s friends or what would happen if they were caught or how hard it was not to look at each other in class, how hard it was to know that they couldn’t touch each other or speak to each other when anyone else was watching. They just talked about dumb things, funny things, things people had said and done during the week.

And Draco settled down with his head resting in Harry’s lap. He asked Harry what he wanted to do after Hogwarts and Harry ran his fingers through his hair while he talked about quidditch scores, the rent of flats in London and the impossible grade requirements for becoming an auror – Draco laughed at that and told him that he could get T’s on everything and they would still let him in.

When it was time to go back down, Draco got up and stretched out a hand to Harry and pulled him to his feet. And then he kept hold of Harry’s hand and held it all the way to the stairs in a cool, determined grip.

 

As soon as they were through the door, he let go.

“Sorry,” mumbled Harry as Dracos’ hands disappeared into his pockets.

“It’s alright,” he said. “I don’t mind.”

They started down the stairs.

“Have you thought of an excuse for where you’ve been all day?” he asked.

Chapter Text

It turned out the afternoon Draco and Harry had spent up in the Astronomy tower was going to be the last good weather they would get in a while. The very next day the sky had turned grey again and it was pouring down from the heavy bellies of ominously dark clouds. The students retracted back into the castle and holed up in their common rooms between classes. 

Draco and Pansy had taken up each end of the sofa nearest to the fireplace and sat with their backs to the armrests and their legs tangled together in the middle. Draco was trying to read, Pansy was half-heartedly following Daphne and Matthew’s chess game. Blaise was there too, writing letters with a calm look of concentration on his face. Draco couldn’t remember the last time he had been in the same room as all of them with this little tension between them. Blaise had been a pest in the beginning of the year with all of his snarky comments to try to get a rise out of Draco, knowing how high strung he was with the way the other students looked at him. But Draco had made it pretty easy for him too. He had probably had far overestimated how much talk there was about him in the school. Most people probably hadn’t cared too much. As soon as Draco had occupied himself with other things, all the rest of it had quieted down a lot too. He remembered how desperate he had been to claw his way back to the top of the pureblood hierarchy. What a stupid idea that had been.

He closed his book and put it down on the table. Pansy looked up at him.

“You going somewhere?” she asked.

Draco disentangled his legs from hers and stood up.

“I need to go pick up a book from the library,” he said.

 

Draco didn’t need anything from the library. He would have much preferred to stay down in the Slytherin common room, rather than make his way all the way to the Northern Tower, but he had started to feel bad that he hadn’t tried harder to figure out what to do about Azkaban. Harry had mentioned that Granger was spending a lot of time up in the secret room, enough that Weasley was getting worried about her, whereas Draco had hardly spared it a thought since Lovegood had her stroke of genius with the patronus chain. He knew that it was important, he wasn’t about to let himself forget that again. It was just that he had no clue about how to move forward. It had taken them forever to come up with anything in the first place, and they still couldn’t be sure that their idea would even work. And sure, they had figured that out with a minimum of knowledge about dementors, but they knew absolutely nothing about the pit or even about Azkaban. They didn’t know when it had been constructed or by whom or what it had been used for, nothing except that it had been discovered a couple of hundred years ago and someone decided to turn it into a prison. 

 

Draco reached the empty corridor and counted his steps down to the blank stretch of wall that was the entrance. He whispered the password and pushed the door open when it materialized.

He stepped inside to find Granger sitting on the sofa with her legs pulled up and her face turned to the windows where raindrops were hurling themselves against the glass and trickling downwards in tiny rivers. There were no open books near her or even on the table and she sat unmoving, lost in thought, as if she hadn’t even noticed him. He cleared his throat and she started.

“Oh, Malfoy. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Sorry. I thought I would come up here to – I assume we’re still doing research on Azkaban?”

Granger sighed and buried her fingers in her hair.

“I suppose we are,” she said.

“I actually have no idea where to start,” said Draco, taking one of the chairs across from her. “Harry says you’ve been up here a lot. Where should I start?”

She let her hand fall and was rested her arms on her knees. She was looking past him again, at the windows behind him instead of at him.

“I haven’t found anything. Or thought of anything.”

“Really?” he said, trying not to sound disappointed.

“It’s not like there’s much else we can find out without going, is there?” she continued.

He fought back irritation – he couldn’t blame her that she hadn’t gotten anywhere. He should have been working too, pulling his part of it.

“If that’s what you think, then what are we waiting for?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re the one who insisted we don’t tell the others,” he said.

“I know.”

“So why-“

“I don’t know why I’m even talking to you about this,” she snapped.

“Why would you not talk to me about it? I’m as much as part of this as any of you - I’m going to Azkaban too.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Why not?” he said. “Because I’m not in Gryffindor?”

“Because you haven’t done this before. It’s always like this. We find something that’s impossible to do, and then we find out we have to do it, and then we try to plan or prepare and then we go there and find out we missed something important and then all of our plans fall apart and someone looses a limb or gets caught or dies. And I just thought it would be nice if, just for once, we had actually prepared enough.”

“But if we can’t-“

“I know, Malfoy. I just… I thought I was done with this, alright? I thought that I would never have to do this again. Or at least that it would be a very long time.”

She said it evenly, no one could ever have heard her and claimed that she was complaining. But there was also something in her voice like this was something she had carried around for a while, that it had been weighing her down more than she cared to admit even to herself, and he guessed she probably hadn’t told anyone else.

“Then don’t go,” he said, but carefully.

No matter how many hours they had spent working together on this by now, he knew that in her eyes, this still wasn’t his place.

“I have to,” she said.

“No, you don’t.”

The look he got was searing.

“It’s been less than two months since you sat there trying to convince us all of how important this was and we both know that place is evil-“

“Yes, but it doesn’t have to be you,” he said. “Someone has to go, and currently it’s on our odd little group, because we seem to be the only ones who’ve noticed and we don’t believe there’s a chance of getting someone else, someone more qualified, to listen, but if we could just have reported this to the ministry and be done with it, we would have. I would have done it in a second. I tried to get the headmistress to listen before I even mentioned it to Potter. And if I knew someone else was doing it, I wouldn’t go. And no one says all of us have to either. Pansy isn’t going, and I don’t blame her.”

“That’s different.”

“How is it different?”

“You know how.”

He took a deep breath.

“Okay, I know you don’t want to talk about this with me, I know how you feel about me-“

“You don’t know anything, Malfoy.”

“Can’t you see how ridiculous it is that you think you have to go because of the colour of your robe?”

“It has nothing to with my house, Malfoy.”

“It’s about all of you thinking of yourself as heroes.”

“I’m not how I am because I’m trying to act like a Gryffindor, I’m in Gryffindor because of the way I am, that’s a really important distinction, and-“

“But it isn’t all on you!” he said, louder than he had intended. “It’s great that you think you’re obligated to try to save the world and it’s great to know that sometimes you can’t rely on others to do the things that have to be done, but you also have to trust that you’re not the only one who’s trying. Besides, there’s more than one way to save the world, just because you’re in Gryffindor that doesn’t mean you can only do things that matter when you run in wands blazing with no idea what you’re doing, the way Harry does. If you had been in Ravenclaw you’d probably have been fine with doing practically all the research, basically solving the problem of how to kill a dementor, and then not go with us to Azkaban. It’s not like you don’t know you’re one of the most talented witches to graduate from Hogwarts in years, so aren’t you planning to save the world in other ways too? Politics and science and philosophy, that’s still important even if it looks less impressive.”

She stared at him.

“Is that what you tell yourself?”

Draco stared back.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s what I tell myself.”

She sighed.

“It’s not that simple.”

“I didn’t say it was simple.”

She rubbed her eye with the heel of her hand.

“God,” she said quietly. “I just… I really don’t want to have this conversation with you, alright? I… appreciate what you said, but I just can’t.”

He nodded.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll leave you alone, then.”

He stood up and crossed over to the door. He had his hand on the handle when she spoke again:

“Malfoy?”

He stopped.

“Why are you going to Azkaban? What’s your reason?”

Her tone had changed, it was more gentle now. He turned back to her.

“I’m the one who brought it up in the first place,” he said. “And I haven’t really been doing my part of the heroics these last few years. It would look pretty bad if I tried to pull out, wouldn’t it? I can’t imagine the Weasleys letting me get away with that.”

She scoffed, but that was a quiet sound too.

“I didn’t mean that. There’s some other reason, isn’t there?”

He hesitated. He didn’t know what to tell her – not about Harry, obviously, but she was looking at him now, and listening, and he didn’t want to waste that on some vague half-truths.

“Before Harry and I became… friends, I had this fight with him,” he began slowly. “I don’t even remember how it started, but I remember that I told him it didn’t matter what he had done, his side winning the war, because the next generation would be no different from the last one. I don’t think he has any idea how our government really works. You’ve probably noticed?”

She grimaced; a pained, exhausted expression.

“I’ve noticed,” she said.

“I think Potter still sort of believes that it was all because of the Death Eaters, so I tried to explain why it’s not. How it’s an entire system, not a single incident, not just one evil person. How all the old families have been running the country for centuries and how they’ll probably continue to do that for the coming centuries too. And how we’re playing some sort of political game in Slytherin, and if I ever have kids they’ll be playing that game too, befriending the Zabinis or the Greengrasses, or whoever is the most important pureblood family at that time.”

“Yeah, I know, Malfoy. How does any of that relate to Azkaban?” she asked, not sharply, just prodding to make sure he was going somewhere.

“I don’t know if it does, it’s just that I think that’s what I’m afraid of,” he said. “I don’t want that. Can you imagine if we all came back to that platform some day, content and married with our own kids, and all of my friends were still Slytherins and yours were all Gryffindors? Just the fact that we don’t stop belonging to the houses even when we leave school... I can’t stand that thought. The circularity of it. I mean, what’s the point? My father used to talk about the legacy of the Malfoy family and how I needed to carry on the traditions, and I was terrified of letting him down, but I’ve been thinking about it, and now I’m not so sure that it’s really all that important. To spend my whole life making sure that my family doesn’t change, that in seven generations, being a Malfoy will still mean exactly the same thing. So I suppose… Sorry, I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Just that maybe that’s another reason for going to Azkaban. I just want to make sure something changes.”

She was frowning, but nodded to herself when he finished.

“Alright,” she said.

He waited for her to say more, but when she didn’t he reached for the door again.

“I’ll see you around?” he said.

“Yeah. And I’ll... think about what you said.”

He nodded with a quick smile in her direction, and then let himself out.

 

He stood for a moment out in the hallway, gathering himself and watching the door fade away into the stones. He had no idea why he had just had this conversation. Or what exactly it was he had been trying to tell Granger. One thing did seem pretty clear though. They were never going to figure out what to do about the pit no matter how much time they spent on research. He would have to tell Harry that they had found a way to kill the dementors. They didn’t have any more excuses to wait. And it would probably turn out to be exactly as Granger predicted: they would go and try to do the impossible, probably find themselves underprepared for it, and then wait for chaos to break loose around them. It was nice to know that at least some of them had tried that before, because personally, he was terrified.

Chapter Text

This time he was alone in the room. He had decided to go up there early, just to make sure it was free. He leaned on the edge of the armrest of the sofa and watched the door, waiting for Harry show up.

When it was fifteen minutes past the time he had asked him to come, Draco started to think that he probably hadn’t seen the message. He decided to give him at least an hour to notice it.

 

Half an hour later, the door swung open and Harry barged in, out of breath and looking completely disoriented.

“Hi!” he said. “Sorry I’m late, I didn’t see your note until now. How did you even get it into my pocket, I haven’t seen you all day?”

Draco shrugged.

“Did you run all the way here?” he asked.

“Yeah. I was afraid I wouldn’t catch you before you left.”

Draco smirked.

“Must have been really desperate to see me, then.”

Harry grinned.

“Shut up.”

“Oh, so you didn’t run, it was just that the stairs were a bit hard for you? Merlin, Harry, you’re getting out of shape now that you’re not chasing dark lords all the time, maybe I should write to some of my relatives-”

Harry kissed him. Draco was still halfway sitting and Potter had to lean down to reach him.

“I missed you,” he said against Draco’s lips.

A pleasant shiver surged through Draco’s body.

“I missed you too.”

Harry kissed him again and Draco slid his fingers into his hair, clenching his fist in it and kissed him back. Harry pushed himself closer, and then Draco felt his hand on his thigh and everything he knew he had to say was pushed from his mind, because this was new, and he hadn’t admitted to himself exactly how much he wanted it or that it had any part in what he had meant when he told Harry he had missed him, but it did. He pressed himself against him and felt the hand move to his stomach, following its dip at Draco’s sharp intake of breath. He pulled back to catch his breath. Harry pushed his fingers between Draco’s shirt buttons and Draco had just leaned in for another kiss when someone cleared her throat.

Draco jerked his head back and Potter stepped away from him so fast he wasn’t sure he didn’t apparate.

Pansy stood in the doorway. The door was open to the corridor, her hand still on the handle, lost in the middle of movement and she was looking at the two of them with an expression like she had just eaten one of the more unpleasant types of every-flavour-beans.

Harry made a strangled noise. Pansy’s eyes flashed in his direction, but only for a second. Then they were back on Draco, wide and confused, waiting for him to explain. And Draco couldn’t gather his mind to think of something to say. His thoughts were all jammed with the awareness that he couldn’t turn to look at Harry to see what his face was like, and that this would probably be the end of it and how they could have locked the door if they had just stopped to think for half a second.

“I uh… I was looking for you,” said Pansy. “I thought you might be up here and… well, I didn’t think anyone… that he would be here. Too.”

Draco straightened his shirt, as if that did any good other than call attention to it.

“This isn’t-” he began, not quite looking at her.

“I’ll just go,” she said quickly. “I didn’t mean to… interrupt.”

“Pansy, wait-“

She stepped back out the door and closed it behind her. There was a fraction of a second where he thought of rushing after her, but if he left now, Harry might…

“We should have locked the door,” said Harry quietly.

Draco turned around. Harry had jammed his hands into the pockets of his robes. There was a frantic look in his eyes, like he too was about to bolt out the door after Pansy, or as if he was hoping Draco would.

“Shit,” he said.

“It’s okay,” said Draco.

His mouth was dry.

“It’s not okay. Fuck. We should go after her-“

“I will. I’ll talk to her.”

Harry kicked an armchair.

“Fuck!”

“Harry, stop freaking out!”

Harry turned to him.

“You’re good with memory charms,” he said.

There was a beat of silence. Draco stiffened.

“What?” he said, feeling a chill spreading through him, and suddenly there was a thousand miles between them.

“You’re good with memory charms-“

“I heard you. Are you seriously suggesting that I obliviate Pansy?”

Potter threw out his hands.

“We have to do something, right? She’s going to tell someone, and then they’ll tell someone else. Everyone’s going to find out.”

“No they won’t. I’ll go talk to her. She’s not going to tell.”

“You don’t know that.”

Draco bristled.

“She is my friend, Potter!”

“I know-“

“And I am not going to erase her memories. Merlin, if it had been one of your people who came through that door, that thought wouldn’t even have crossed your mind, you wouldn’t even think of violating any of their minds like that. You might not like her, but you do not have the right to say shit like that.”

Rage flared in Harry’s eyes.

“I’ve been lying to my friends too! Do you think I like doing this behind their backs? Do you think I like that I have to sneak off and make up ridiculous excuses to see you? You have no idea what I’m risking, how angry they’ll be-”

“Of course I do, I’m helping you keep this a secret, aren’t I? Even though that was never the plan.“

Harry sneered.

“Sorry, I hadn’t realized this was still about you trying to fix your bloody reputation,” he said.

Draco had heard him take that tone with Snape in potions, with Umbridge in fifth year, the resigned sarcasm of Potter deciding to be nothing but stubborn and stupid and unreachable. It meant Draco would end up hitting him again.

“You are such an arsehole, Potter,” he hissed.

“I’m back to being Potter now, am I?”

“It was never about my reputation.”

“What was it about, then?”

“It was about you, you twat! It’s always been about you.”

“Don’t act like this is what you wanted!” Harry yelled. “If it were up to you, our names would be smeared all over the front page of the Prophet!”

“Is that really what you think of me? I do want this. I want it so badly, and I don’t give a fuck about the secrecy. I never expected anything else. I know you would break this off with me in a heartbeat if one of them as much as looked at you funny.”

For the first time, Harry looked taken a back.

“I wouldn’t do that,” he said.

Draco raised an eyebrow. He felt cold all the way through.

“Then what were you freaking out about?”

Harry opened his mouth to speak, but Draco cut him off:
“Just forget about it, Harry. It’s all fine. I’ll go talk to her. And if you still don’t feel safe, you can obliviate her. Or you can wait and obliviate your own friends when they find out. Do whatever the fuck you want.”

He reached for the door handle.

“Draco-“ Harry began.

Draco slammed the door behind him.

 o

Pansy wasn’t in the common room. He walked over to where Matthew Selwyn and a couple of other seventh years were laughing about something stupid. They stopped when they noticed him.

“Draco,” said Matthew. “Everything alright?”

“Have you seen Pansy?” he asked, not even bothering to sound calm or trying to appear like he wasn’t riled up.

He was boiling.

“I don’t know,” said Matthew, looking around at his friends.

“I think I saw her go up to the dormitories,” said one of them.

“Why do you need her?” asked Matthew.

“None of your business.”

Draco turned on his heel and headed for the stairs.

 

He didn’t bother knocking. He knew she was waiting for him anyway. She stood by one of the windows with her arms crossed and her gaze turned to the landscape outside.

“We need to talk,” he said.

She scoffed and turned to him with a thoroughly unimpressed look on her face.

“About what?”

“Oh, come on-“

“I’m sorry I walked in on you,” she said. “I’m not going to tell anyone if that’s what you’re worried about. There. We’re done talking.”

“You’re angry,” he said.

She rolled her eyes at him.

“I’m not angry.”

“Why? Is it because I didn’t tell you?”

“No, it’s not.”

She turned away from him again as if the conversation was over. He didn’t leave. Pansy had never figured out how to stay quiet, especially when she was angry.

“I’m just trying to figure out if I should have seen this coming,” she said eventually. “I know Potter is a bit thick sometimes, but does he really not realise you’re just using him?”

Draco felt an uncomfortable twist in his gut.

”I’m not,” he said and it sounded too defensive even to his own ears.

Pansy shot him a long, bored stare.

”Draco, he’s a hero and a Gryffindor, probably the most Gryffindor person in all of Hogwarts. You know what they’re like. They don’t think. They don’t look at things and try to understand them, they just decide “this is good and this is bad”, and then they rush in head first and try to kill the bad thing. And it’s even better if they don’t even have to decide it themselves, if someone else can decide it for them. That’s why there are always Gryffindors all over the place in wars, because they just love to have someone pointing them to a battlefield saying “that’s the evil thing you have to kill.” You know Potter is like that, so you did your thing and made him trust you, and then you pointed to the bad thing and asked him to kill it for you.”

“I didn’t ask him to do anything for me, I asked him to help,” he said and immediately wanted to bite his tongue off for letting her make this about Azkaban.

“What, because if he had said no you would have just tried to destroy it on your own?”

“Yes!”

“Oh, come on, Draco! Look, I’m not criticizing you, it was a very Slytherin thing to do, seeing what people need and using it to make them do what you want. You saw that Potter needed someone to tell him what to do so he could feel useful, and then you gave him a heroic quest to destroy the prison that just happens to be where your father is. I just think it’s silly that you won’t admit that’s what you’re doing.”

He could feel the conversation spiralling out of control, but he was too angry to stop himself. Of course she would have the wrong idea about all of it. This was why they didn’t want people to know, because Pansy was his friend and she still didn’t believe that it could be anything other than a plot on Draco’s part, she hadn’t even for one second considered that he might genuinely like Harry or that it was possible that Harry liked him back. And now he wasn’t even sure if Harry believed it either.

“It’s strange,” he said coldly. ”I have this memory of you actually complaining about them making us out to be villains, and now here you are doing exactly the same thing.”

“I’m just being honest!”

“You’re being cynical for the sake of being cynical. Why can’t you believe that I’m actually trying to do something good? Why is that so hard to imagine?”

“Oh, I’m not saying you’re not trying.”

“Fuck you.”

“You’re playing into their idea of what’s good and bad! I know you’re trying to do something right, but I just don’t know why you think you have to pretend you’re something you’re not in order to do that.”

“What is it you think I’m trying to be?”

“You’re trying to be a Gryffindor! You’re turning your back on your family and on your house just because-“

“See, now you’re starting to sound like our parents.”

“What’s so bad about that?”

“They were Death Eaters!”

“Mine weren’t, your mother wasn’t. That’s all their narrative again-”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with narrative! I just want to do something right for once, something I don’t have to be ashamed of and I want to be happy without apologizing for it. He likes me. He actually likes me and that’s hard for me to believe too, but I want to hold on to that for as long as I possibly can!”

“That’s not what this is about! I don’t give a fuck that you have a boyfriend or a fuckbuddy or whatever he is to you, I just wish you weren’t leaving me behind to keep him. I can’t stop you, of course, but you can’t expect me to just ignore it either.”

Draco was dumbfounded.

“What does… it doesn’t have anything to do with you,” he said.

“You’ve been pushing me away all year.”

“Not because of him.”

“No, I know that! It’s not about him, it’s about – can’t you see what it is you’re doing?”

“No, I can’t. Unless you’re about to tell me I’m betraying my blood, which is-”

“You’re betraying me! We were surviving. You said that, remember? And we had to be there for each other because no one else would. Our parents wouldn’t, the teachers wouldn’t, the Dark Lord wouldn’t and neither would Potter’s people. And I know we didn’t think it was going to be like this, but wasn’t that the whole fucking point, that even if the others couldn’t, the rest of Slytherin, you and I would still have each other’s backs?”

“We still do! I haven’t betrayed you-“

“All you’ve done this year is denounce everything we did last year, all those things we had to do, you’re apologizing and begging for their approval and trying to be one of them. And I’m not. I can’t go around hating myself for it just because they tell me to, but I also can’t defend myself if you’re right there next to me condemning everything we did. They don’t like me. I’m not nice, and some people can get away with that, fucking Potter senior got up to all sorts of shit when he was in school, but he got to grow up to be a man and a hero, and maybe you’ll get to do that too, but I’ll be stuck. In twenty years I’m still going to be that pureblood bitch to all of them. So if you think you’re not abandoning me by pretending you’re not just as much of a Slytherin as I am, you’re lying to yourself. And you know it’s not as simple as they’re making it out to be!”

For a moment he was at a loss for words. He wanted to pull out his wand and cast his patronus – that would prove how wrong she was about him. But she couldn’t cast the spell herself, so maybe she wouldn’t understand the significance of its shape. She wouldn’t know that the snake meant that he hadn’t turned his back on her or his name or his family, even after the Dark Lord had poisoned everything he thought he knew was right.

He had lost his father to him.

He had tried at first to use memories of Lucius to cast the spell, but it didn’t work. They were tainted. He would never get him back and things could never be as they were, so they had to move on. Changing, adapting, it was necessary, it didn’t mean he had lost sight of who he was. A snake didn’t stop being a snake when it shed its skin.

But he didn’t say anything. Pansy turned away from him to look out the window again. The anger seemed to have burned out of her and now she just looked sad.

“Your mom has been sending me letters, you know. Ever since we came back after Christmas. She asks me how you’re doing, if you’re okay, because you won’t talk to her.”

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “It’s difficult with her at the moment. I’ll write to her.”
Pansy nodded.

“And I’m sorry for not looking out for you,” he said. “I should have. And you’re right, not about all of it but… I should have thought about that. I didn’t see it, I honestly didn’t. I never meant to abandon you. I’m not going to.”

She nodded again, but didn’t say anything. Her lips were pressed together and she had her arms crossed tightly across her chest. He could see her swallow hard.

“But I also… You’re not right about all of it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s as hopeless as you’re making it sound, and I just think… I want to believe that we’re allowed to be more than our houses. I’m a Slytherin, I still am and I’m not forgetting what that means now, I promise. But that shouldn’t mean I can’t be anything else.”

She kept her stiff gaze turned away from him

“This was not how I wanted to have this conversation… I would have planned it better. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.”

She ran a hand over her face. He watched her draw in a deep, shaky breath. Then she straightened up and looked up, a wry smile curling her lip.

“Potter,” she said finally. “Really?”

Draco grimaced.

“Yeah.”

She shook her head.

“That’s just… the most ridiculous thing I ever heard.”

“I know.”

“I thought he hated you.”

“He did.”

“And now you’re, what, snogging in secret in between classes? Having clandestine meetings at night?”

He scoffed.

“Not really. I don’t know. We just had a fight. I don’t know what’s happening now.”

“You’ll be fine. You’ve done nothing but fight him for the last seven years, and you still managed to get him into bed with you.”

“I said some stupid things. And he was an idiot.”

“What did you fight about?”

“I don’t even know. Everything.”

“Go talk to him tomorrow. You’ll get it sorted out.”

“Yeah, Maybe. But Pansy, please don’t tell anyone about it, alright?”

She frowned.

“Did he ask you to tell me that?”

Draco shrugged.

“So he wants to keep it secret,” she said.

“We both do. I don’t want that kind of attention either.”

“No of course not,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I wasn’t talking about the press.”

“We’re talking about everyone.”

“You don’t mind that I know.”

“Of course not.”

“So you know that I can keep it a secret, and I’m sure Potter believes his people would be able to keep quiet as well, yet neither of you have told anyone?”

“He doesn’t want his friends to find out.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“And that’s alright with you?” she asked.

Draco shrugged.

“You know how they feel about me,” he said.

“I know.”

“And I just – I really like him. And if keeping it from them is what it takes for him to want to be with me, then I’m fine with that. I’m happy with things as they are.”

“You don’t look happy.”

He sighed.

“Yeah, maybe I’m not so happy right now.”

“You’re being an idiot.”

“I know.”

“Promise me you won’t let him hurt you. You don’t deserve that no matter what his friends think of you. And he isn’t worth it no matter how famous he is.”

Draco smiled meekly at that and Pansy did too. He reached for her and pulled her into a hug. Her arms tightened around him immediately, reflexively. He held onto her and breathed in the familiar scent of her hair, felt the rhythm of her chest rising and falling against his, and the calm and safety that her closeness promised.

Chapter Text

It was past midnight when Draco slid silently out of bed. He got dressed but didn’t put on his shoes until he was out of the dormitory and had pushed the door closed behind him. Pansy was already waiting for him in the common room. She stood up when she saw him

“Sorry I’m late,” said Draco quietly as they headed for the exit. “Nott kept moving around, I wasn’t sure if he was asleep.”

“It’s fine, I haven’t been waiting long.”

The scuffling of their footsteps sounded awfully loud in the echoey corridors of the dungeons.

“Do you think this is a good idea?” he asked.

“I haven’t thought any part of this was a good idea since we started.”

“You didn’t have to come.”

“You’d be an uneven number without me. I want to help, I already told you that. And you’ll need my moral support when you get your ass handed to you by a Weasley.”


They had gotten the message from the Gryffindors the day before. Draco’s fight with Pansy had gotten in the way of him telling Harry what they had found out about the dementors and he hadn’t talked to him since. So maybe Granger had told them, or maybe they had no reason but simply felt it instinctively, how it was all looming ever closer, the way Draco did. No matter the reason, they had decided that they ought to practice their duelling before heading to Azkaban. They no longer had access to the room of requirement, so they would have to get off the school grounds to stay unnoticed.

 

Pansy cast nervous glances back up at the castle when they passed over the grounds. All the windows were dark, and even if someone had been looking out, Draco doubted they would have noticed the tiny dark figures making their way towards the gates.

They walked down the path where the thestrals pulled the carriages to the school on the first day after the summer holidays. Draco thought he had understood where the Gryffindors wanted them to meet, but no one was waiting for them. He looked back towards the castle.

“I thought it was here,” he said.

Pansy nodded, looking uncertain too.

“We’re late. Maybe they didn’t think we were coming.”

Draco pulled out his watch – it was hard to read it in the dark, but he was pretty sure it was only ten minutes past the time they had agreed upon. He was about to tell this to Pansy when she started violently and a strangled, high pitched sound escaped her throat. Draco had his wand out in a second, his heart pounding.

Granger stood on the path only three meters ahead of them. She hadn’t been there a second ago and they hadn’t heard the crack of someone apparating.

“Is that an invisibility cloak?” asked Pansy, pointing Draco’s attention to the piece of cloth folded in Granger’s arms.

“Yeah, it’s Harry’s,” she said.

Draco groaned.

“He had an invisibility cloak? All this time? And then that map…” He looked at Pansy. “You see how everything is starting to make sense?”

Pansy rolled her eyes.

“Oh, the hours of Potter-analysis I could have been spared from if only you had found out earlier.”

“As far as I know, Malfoy doesn’t have an invisibility cloak and I wasn’t spared from endless hours of Malfoy-theories, so…” Granger shrugged.

Pansy looked disoriented.

“No? Well, no, I suppose not…” she said lamely.

There was a moment of awkward silence as the conversation stalled. Then Granger cleared her throat.

“So, why are you late?” she asked briskly.

“Sorry,” Draco said. “Nott is a light sleeper, so I had to wait.”

“Alright, well, the others are already there, I stayed behind to wait for you. I’ll side-along you and we’ll get started.”

She reached out her arm to them and Pansy took it.

“You too,” she said to Malfoy.

“You can side-along two at a time?”

“Yes, now come on.”

Draco took Pansy’s hand and as soon as his fingers closed around hers he felt the familiar jerk in his gut as the ground pulled away, air pressed itself hard against him and darkness pushed his eyes into his skull. He held onto Pansy’s hand as hard as he could, and a second later the air cracked around them. He felt a hard jolt up his legs as his feet made contact with the ground once more. He stumbled a few steps forward before regaining his balance. Then he straightened up and looked around.

They were on a low hill and could see heath stretching out all around them. It was a bright, clear night and the moon was almost full. There were no houses in sight, only small groves of trees breaking up the landscape. He assumed they must be somewhere in the English countryside and could probably place it more precisely if he found out which one of Harry’s people had picked the place. It was perfect for their intentions – no one for miles to see the light from their spells and they would have to be very loud before anyone would hear them. He turned around and saw the rest of their group getting to their feet from where they had been sitting while they waited for the Slytherins.

There wasn’t much time spent on hellos. As soon as Draco and Pansy had arrived, Ginny got to her feet and asked them all to split into pairs of two.

“And obviously I shouldn’t have to say this, but we’re not using any spells that might cause any actual damage. We don’t want to have to explain any injuries to Madam Pomfrey. I know it’s less realistic, but that’s how it has to be,” she said.

They all nodded in agreement and then Pansy and Draco walked away from the others as the groups spread out. He pulled his wand out and they took up position. He had had practice duels with Pansy before, and a few real ones when their fights had gotten out of hand. Draco almost always won; Pansy was smart, but her magic wasn’t very powerful and she struggled with many spells that came easily to him. She smirked at him, glancing at the others like she thought it was all a bit silly.

“Are we really going to do this?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said and raised his wand.

Her wand whipped through the air and the curse took him by surprise. He didn’t know she could do non-verbal spells.

Protego!” he cried, taking a quick step back.

Pansy grinned.

“Children’s spells, Draco!”

 

He and Pansy only duelled for a few minutes before she got tired of it and let him disarm her. She walked over to him and he handed her wand back.

“Do you want to go again or…?” he asked.

“Or we could watch the Gryffindors,” she said. “You’ll need to know what they duel like anyway if you have to fight with them.”

It was a thin excuse, especially since Draco hoped desperately he would be able to stay mostly out of any fights, but he was curious. They turned to watch the duels going on around them, the loud cracks of magic and flashes of light seeming closer now that they weren’t duelling themselves anymore.

Harry had paired up with Ron, which was obviously an unfair match. Harry was faster, his spells stronger and more varied. Weasley was mostly on the defensive and it was an easy duel to follow as he used hardly any non-verbal spells. Both his attacks and defences were very predictable, straight-forward, typical duelling spells. Draco suspected Potter was going easy on him or he would have already disarmed him.

Longbottom and Lovegood were the furthest away from them, but he was interested in seeing what they were like in a fight. He couldn’t make out most of their verbal spells over the noise Potter and Weasley were making, but there was something clumsy about their pace. Longbottom wasn’t fast, but his spells were still much more frequent than Lovegood’s. He was pretty sure she was stepping out of the way more than she was deflecting his attacks, so his aim had to be pretty bad even if there was a heavy force behind his magic that Draco wouldn’t have expected – he had been calling him a squib for years, which seemed ridiculous now. But then Longbottom had never performed like that in a classroom. Then Lovegood raised her voice and the complicated string of words carried all the way to where Pansy and Draco were standing. There was a flash of purple light, her robes billowed around her and her blond hair rose in a white cloud. Longbottom didn’t even try to cast a protection spell, he just threw himself down on the ground to get out of the way as the spell passed over him.

“Did she just…?” Pansy asked.

“I… don’t think so?” said Draco, feeling just as bewildered as she sounded. “I would expect Lovegood to listen to Weasley, but…”

“But I have no idea what that was.”

“Doesn’t mean it was necessarily something dangerous.”

“Right, leave it to Lovegood to use something harmless and obscure in a duel.”

“I wouldn’t know how to block it, though.”

Pansy shrugged.

Longbottom had managed to cast a disarming spell from where he had fallen and now he was getting up to hand the wand back to Lovegood. Draco could see them stopping to talk before they split up again to start over. Pansy nudged him and he looked over at her, then followed her gaze to where Granger and Ginny were duelling – and that was a fearsome thing to watch. Granger seemed able to cast non-verbal spells just as easily as verbal ones, and even though it was hard to make out the details of her movement in the dark, the intricate wandwork was enough to tell them that she wasn’t using simple spells. There were only seconds between the sharp flashes of light, glimmers of shielding charms going up and cascades of sparks when the attacks were deflected. However, despite her advanced spells, it was clear that Granger was loosing. Ginny was ferocious, her spells fast and powerful, and there was a certainty to her movements that made it obvious who was the better duellist of the two. Draco and Pansy had only been watching them for a couple of seconds when Granger reacted too slowly to a close succession of spells from Weasley – she deflected the first one, but the second one caught her, and it must have been an expelliarmus, because her wand flew from her grip and Ginny caught it with a triumphant cry. They watched the two of them catching their breath, then Ginny walking over to Granger to hand her wand back. Next to Draco, Pansy stepped forward.

“Are we going to do group battles too?” she called to them.

Draco looked surprised at her.

“Where did that initiative suddenly come from?” he hissed.

She ignored him. Weasley’s smile had vanished from her face as soon as Pansy spoke.

“What?” she called back.

Draco followed Pansy as she made her way towards the Gryffindors.

“I asked if we were going to do group duels?”

“We are. I’m just giving the others a bit more time,” said Weasley.

Pansy glanced back over her shoulder.

“I think they’re all on at least their second duel,” she said.

Weasley looked coolly at her, clearly not appreciating the input, but she did step towards the two pairs still fighting.

“Hey!” she called and they stopped, turning to look at her. “Harry, how do you feel about doing a couple of group duels?”

He shrugged.

“Alright?”

“So, two on two?” she said addressing all of them.

“Maybe we should mix it up a bit? I’m already acquainted with Draco’s style and I suppose you might feel the same way about each other?”

Ginny narrowed her eyes.

“What are you getting at?” she asked.

Pansy shrugged.

“Nothing, I just thought since we’re already depriving ourselves of a good night’s sleep we might as well try to use our time effectively.”

“Fine, whatever. You and Hermione against me and Luna, Malfoy and Neville against Ron and Harry?”

Shrugs and nods around the scattered group and Pansy made as if to follow Weasley and Granger. Draco grabbed her sleeve.

“What are you doing?” he whispered.

She smiled innocently.

“Practising duelling,” she said and walked away from him.

“You ready?”

Draco turned away from Pansy, forgetting what he had been about to say to her. Longbottom was watching him warily, twiddling his wand between his fingers.

“What’s up with her?” Longbottom continued, nodding towards Pansy.

“I have no idea,” said Draco.

And a second later he didn’t care anymore – he caught Harry grinning excitedly at them as if he had already won and Draco felt a rush of adrenaline like the one that would hit him during quidditch matches when he knew both of them had spotted the snitch. He raised his wand, unable to keep a smile off his own face.

 o

It was not at all like duelling with Pansy. Draco would get competitive even with her, but it was something entirely else when he was facing Potter and Weasley. Longbottom wasn’t as bad of a partner as he could have feared, but they were not even a minute into their duel before it became clear that the two of them were the inferior team. Draco was sweating in his robes and his jaw was clenched as he fired a close succession of three different, non-verbal disarming spells at Potter, all of which were deflected either by Potter or Weasley. And bloody Weasley – he was turning out to be a nightmare in a duel as soon as it wasn’t just one on one. His spells were no less dull or predictable, but now they were suddenly well placed, covering Harry where he opened up, he was constantly moving about so Draco more than once almost hit Longbottom when he tried to throw a spell in his direction. Draco’s heart was pounding and he was out of breath, but the adrenaline was worth every painful stab through his lungs. Longbottom’s voice sounded far away when he yelled for him to duck. Draco did and a needle of light shot over his head. He was back up in a second, so caught up in the game he hardly noticed the growing noise to his left, the bright bursts of light were only slight irritations in his peripheral vision. It was only when a loud, resounding crash bellowed around them that he turned to look at the other group. His wand was snatched from his hand by a disarming spell a second later, and he didn’t even know if it was Harry or Weasley who cast it. When he glanced back, they had all lowered their wands too, and like him they were staring wide eyed at Pansy and Ginny.

The two girls were duelling like it was the final battle of the war. Lovegood and Granger had stepped back and stood uncertainly on the edges of the fight, their wands down. Pansy and Ginny whirled around each other, their cloaks whipped about by the superfluous energy from missing spells, shield spells were cast with furious cries and there was determined anger on both their faces.

“Shit…” breathed Draco.

“We should probably stop them,” said Longbottom.

“How?” said Weasley.

No one answered that – or if they did it was drowned out by the loud hiss of one of Pansy’s spells being swallowed by Ginny’s protective charm. And Draco had to admit that he was slightly impressed that she was holding her ground. He would have pegged Ginny as the best duellist of the lot, but Pansy was keeping up with her, even if there was a sheen of sweat on brow and her movements looked frantic where Ginny’s were rapid and certain. He gripped his wand tighter, knowing Longbottom was right and that Weasley was too, but Pansy would tire out soon and watching the furious look on Ginny’s face, he wasn’t sure she would stop when she did. He watched Pansy dancing around, half dodging half deflecting the barrage of spells hitting her, fighting for the chance to cast a shot, then noticed the movement out of the corner of his eye and reacted before he could think, dragging Longbottom’s arm down and holding on to his wrist to keep his wand pointed to the ground.

“What are you doing?” he hissed.

“Disarming her, that’ll stop them-“

“Yes, after she’s been hit head on by three of Weasley’s spells – do you know what Weasley’s casting? Disarm her if you’re-”

Expelliarmus!” cried Ginny and the red light caught Pansy in the chest, throwing her off her feet next to Granger, the wand flying from her hand.

Ginny caught it. She lowered her own wand and was about to turn away when someone cried out, loud and shrill and frightened.

“Ginny!”

Pansy was on her feet and had snatched Granger’s wand – her curse missed Weasley by mere inches.

Protego horribilis!” cried Weasley slashing her wand downwards.

Draco knew that spell. Or he knew variations of it. There were different wand movements that meant different duration and coverage. The incantation was the same though, and all variations served the same purpose: it was a shield charm against dark curses that would block almost anything short of unforgiveables.

Ginny was out of breath and off-balance, but they had all seen Pansy’s first spell miss; they had all seen Ginny cast the shield in time for the second one.

There were startled cries from the others when she collapsed.

Draco felt like he was falling.

He stood frozen and watched as Weasley ran for his sister, followed seconds later by Longbottom, Lovegood and Harry. The dark shape of her body disappeared from Draco’s view when they crowded around her. He watched as Granger yanked her wand from Pansy’s limp hand and went to join them. Pansy was still breathing heavily, her mouth half open, her face red and splotchy, strands of black hair clung to her cheeks.

It was an eternity before she turned to look at him. His chest felt cramped. Words stuck in his throat but he held her gaze and hoped she knew him well enough to read the why from his expression, to see the fury and the betrayal in his eyes.

And then he heard the voices of the Gryffindors.

“I’m alright! Ron, look I’m fine – Luna fixed my legs, I’m fine.”

Draco turned to see Ginny standing up between them looking completely unharmed. He stared at them, unable to move or make sense of what he was seeing. He looked to Pansy, but her eyes were on Ginny. Slowly, he approached the group.

“It was a jelly-legs jinx, alright, calm down!” said Ginny, shaking Ron off her.

Only then did Draco really feel like he could breathe again, relief finally flooding through him. “You said no dangerous spells,” called Pansy, coming towards them.

“Pretty dumb to cast a shield that only protects from dark curses.”

Ginny shrugged.

“Didn’t trust you to follow the rules,” she said.

“Well, I did.”

“Sure, except for when you stole Luna’s wand after Ginny had won,“ said Ron.

Pansy shot him an icy look.

“The duel wasn’t over. I could still fight, so she shouldn’t have assumed it was - and you should probably make a note of that before you try to use expelliarmus against any of the aurors in Azkaban.”

“No dangerous spells,” said Ginny, holding Pansy’s wand out to her. “I didn’t break the rules either. If it had been real, it would not have been expelliarmus that hit you.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that,” said Pansy.

There was a note of grudging respect in her tone. There was a brief moment where both of their hands were on the wand and their eyes were on each other, and there was a hint of a smile on both their faces.

Then Pansy put the wand away, and Ginny turned away from her, pushing back a lock of her sweaty hair and the moment had passed.

“I’m exhausted,” she sighed.

As soon as she said it, they all felt the acid in their muscles. The castle was very far away. Draco thought of how wonderful it would be to sink into his bed, but right then apparating anywhere felt like more than he could manage.

Ginny sat down in the grass and the others followed. They formed a small, irregular circle of teenagers with tired faces, still recovering from the shock and relief from the duel, still with adrenaline pumping through their bodies. After all the noise of their spells, the night seemed completely quiet. Draco could feel the cold air drying the sweat on his neck.

Nobody said anything and in the silence, he watched the red-haired girl across from him. Lovegood was leaning against her and Ginny had put an arm around her and was running her fingers absentmindedly through her hair. She looked both fiery and serene and it was not the first time that Draco had to admit to himself that she was beautiful. The stab of jealousy he felt was familiar too. It was easy to understand why Harry had fallen in love with her. It was easy when looking at her, to see all the ways in which she would have been a better choice.

 

“We’ve figured out how to kill the dementors,” said Granger quietly.

There was a second of stillness. They all turned to stare at her. She wasn’t looking at anyone.

“What?” said Ronald, expressing eloquently what most of them were thinking.

Granger took a deep breath.

“Malfoy and Luna and I, we’ve figured out how to kill the dementors.”

“When?” asked Harry, casting a confused glance at Draco, who was at a loss for words.

“A little over a week ago,” said Granger.

She sounded so calm. Draco stared at her and tried to look past that, tried to see the girl he had talked to in the secret room just a few days earlier, who had been fracturing under the pressure of the secret and the quest. He couldn’t imagine why she would tell them in this way, or why she hadn’t asked him or Lovegood to do it instead. He caught Lovegood’s eye, but he couldn’t read her expression. All the others looked perplexed.

“Why haven’t you told us?” asked Harry.

“We- I didn’t think it was a good idea to tell you because I knew you would all want to go before we were ready.”

“Because we’re not,” interjected Draco, still looking hard at her. “We’ve found out what to do about the dementors, yes, but there’s still the pit and whatever it’s doing to the tower, we still know nothing about that.”

He said it heavily, more to Granger than any of the others – those had been her arguments. She shrugged.

“And we won’t be able to find out either,” she said.

Draco opened his mouth and closed it again.

“Right,” he said. “We won’t.”

“So if we’re ever going to go, we should do it soon. We’re as ready as we’re going to be.”

“How soon?” asked Harry.

“We probably all need to rest after tonight. And we need to wait long enough to be sure no one has noticed we’ve been missing – in four days, maybe?”

Draco’s gut wrenched. Four days was nothing.

He waited for Granger to announce that she wouldn’t be coming with them – that was the only explanation he could think of for her odd timing. But she didn’t say anything and so they all agreed that four days was long enough, and they would be leaving then.

“We should meet up in the room tomorrow to go over the plan,” said Ginny. “You can tell us about the dementors then, I think we’re all too tired for it now.”

There was a general murmur of agreement.

“Then I guess we should get back to the castle,” said Ron. “Try to catch some sleep.”

He got to his feet and then extended a hand to Granger to pull her up too.

“See you back there,” he said and then they disapparated.

“You mind side-alonging me?” Pansy asked Draco. “I’m a bit worn out.”

 

Draco and Pansy appeared on the path that led to the gates of Hogwarts. Weasley and Granger were waiting for them a few feet ahead. A second later, Longbottom and Lovegood appeared in close succession. Two more cracks snapped behind them and they turned to see Potter and Ginny stumbling onto the gravel.

They walked as a group towards the gates. Draco longed for his bed and the blessed promise of exhausted sleep. Now that the excitement of it all was over, he could feel how tired, beaten and cold he was.

“I want to sleep forever,” said Ginny.

“Anyone know what time it is?” asked Pansy.

“Close to four,” said Harry.

“Well, shit,” said Ginny.

No one had anything else to say to that. The sound of footsteps on gravel followed them the rest of the way to the gates and they passed between the winged boars that were looking sternly down at them. They were almost at the steps to the Entrance Hall when Granger touched his arm.

“Malfoy, can I talk to you?” she asked.

They all stopped. Malfoy raised an eyebrow.

“Sure,” he said.

“Just go ahead,” she said to the other Gryffindors. “I’ll meet you up there.”

“Do you want me to wait for you, Draco?” asked Pansy.

He shook his head.

“No, it’s fine, go get some sleep.”

 

They watched the others climb the steps and disappear into the castle. Draco sent a longing glance after them. The chill of the early morning was steadily gnawing itself into his bones. Granger didn’t speak until they were gone.

“I just wanted to say that I’ve thought a lot about what you said the other day,” she said. “About me not going Azkaban.”

“Yes, I see you made up your mind.”

“I did. I wouldn’t be able to stay back here not knowing what was happening to all of you, or if something did happen I don’t think I could live with knowing that perhaps I could have prevented it if I had been there.”

Draco nodded. She sounded like a Gryffindor. He shouldn’t have been surprised.

“I understand,” he said.

“But I’m glad we talked.”

“Me too.”

“It was very decent of you.”

He hugged himself and looked back out over the grounds.

“I’m glad you think that,” he said.

“Right, well, I do.”

He nodded again.

“Right,” he said.

Granger took a hesitant step up the stairs.

“Well-“

“Granger,” he interrupted her. “Look, I’m- I’m very sorry for the way I’ve treated you over the years.”

She looked surprised.

“Oh? Right, well. Thank you,” she said.

“And I’m sorry for what Bellatrix did to you,” he continued.

He might as well push on now that he had opened this door. Granger looked away.

“You’re not responsible for what she did.”

“I was there. I should have at least tried to do something. To stop her.”

“It probably would just have made it all worse,” she said, her voice very small and still managing to sound brave.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me,” he said. “I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. I’m glad to know that. It means a lot,” she said stiffly. “Thank you for telling me.”

“Alright,” he said.

“It’s cold out here, let’s get back inside.”

 

He followed her up the stairs and into the Entrance Hall in awkward silence. The hall was only dimly lit this time of day and it was a second before either of them noticed the figure sitting on the stairs waiting for them.

“Harry? I thought you went back with the others,” said Granger startled.

“Yeah, no, I just remembered something. Do you mind if I talk to Draco for a second?” he said, standing up.

Granger looked from Harry to Draco, then shrugged.

“Sure,” she said. ”I’ll see you up in the common room. And Malfoy, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow. Goodnight.”

They watched her go up the stairs.

 

“Hey,” said Harry, only turning to face Draco when the sound of Granger’s footsteps had disappeared above them and they were alone in the Entrance Hall.

He looked worn out.

“Hey,” he said.

“Are you tired?”

Draco shrugged.

“I’m alright for a little while.”

Harry leaned against the balustrade, not really looking at Draco.

“So, four days,” he said.

Draco nodded.

“Crazy.”

“Are you scared?”

“Yes.”

Their voices were low making their words seem even smaller in the great silence of the empty hall.

“Me too,” said Harry.

He looked miserable. Draco was almost too tired to be nervous, but he did feel the knot of apprehension in his stomach. They hadn’t talked since their fight.

“I’m really tired,” said Draco. “Maybe we should just head back and try to get some sleep?”

“Look, I’m sorry.”

Draco scoffed.

“What’s with all the apologies tonight.”

“What?”

Draco shook his head.

“Nothing. I just talked to Granger outside. It’s nothing.”

“I shouldn’t have asked you to obliviate Pansy.”

“Just leave it.”

“I just wanted them to find out the right way. And I wanted… I liked that it could be easy between us.”

“Yeah, it’s been really easy.”

“I know it hasn’t, alright, but I couldn’t stop thinking about all the ways it’ll become even more difficult if everybody finds out.”

“She’s not dumb. She would have figured it out eventually anyway. But I talked to her and she won’t tell anyone. It can still be a secret.”

Harry took a step closer to Draco. Draco couldn’t look at him.

“I don’t want it to be,” he said quietly.

“Harry-”

“I’m going to tell them. I am. They’re my friends. They won’t mind.”

“I know.”

Harry reached out and touched Draco’s hand where it was clutching his left arm. The imagined itch of the dark mark on his skin was unbearable. Harry gently loosened his fingers.

“They won’t mind,” he said again and Draco allowed him to pull the hand free.

“Don’t tell them until after Azkaban,” he said.

“Alright.”

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

The four days passed uneventfully and so fast Harry felt sure they must have skipped at least one day entirely. He had left potions that afternoon and when Draco passed with a whispered “see you tonight”, he had had a moment of confusion where he had no idea what he could have meant.

 o

All noises in the dormitory seemed louder that evening. Putting on his pyjamas, brushing his teeth, joking around with the others, all of it made him feel like he was an alien of some sort going through the daily motions of being Harry Potter with no idea what that actually meant. Harry hoped it was only to him that Ron’s laughter sounded so fake.

It was the strangest thing. Going to bed like everything was normal, while knowing that three of the five people in the room would only sleep for a few hours, and then they would head out to meet with Luna and Draco and the girls. And they would go to Azkaban. And in five or six hours it would all be over, and they would either be back in their beds at Hogwarts, or in auror custody, on their way to either the Ministry or St. Mungo’s.

It was strange, Harry thought, how you never got used to fear. Nothing he had been through in the last couple of years, no matter how horrible, did anything to diminish the overwhelming sense of dread. Possibly it made it even worse, made it easier to imagine what they had ahead of them.

He tried very hard not to think too much about the dementors. It didn’t go very well.

 o

He hadn’t really expected to get any sleep at all, but he must have drifted off, because he was woken by someone gently shaking his shoulder.

“Harry?” whispered Neville.

Harry groaned.

“Harry, wake up.”

“I’m awake,” he muttered.

“We should leave soon.”

He sat up and Neville got out of his way. Harry’s body ached in protest of his sleep being interrupted. He slipped out of bed and got dressed as fast as he could manage with his groggy mind. Neville already looked ready to go and waited silently by Harry’s bed while he got ready.

“Has Ron left?” asked Harry.

“Yeah, I heard him a little while ago.”

Harry nodded.

“Dean and Seamus?”

Neville cast a quick glance over his shoulder toward Seamus’ bed.

“Asleep, as far as I can tell,” he said, still speaking barely above a whisper. “I think they do actually cast silencing charms on the drapes…”

“Let’s hope so, they’re a lot less likely to wake up and notice anything if that’s the case.”

“This part still seems so unnecessarily risky.”

Harry shrugged, looking around the dormitory to Ron’s and Neville’s beds with the curtains drawn around them; Dean’s empty bed that he hadn’t slept in for quite a while now.

“There’s no reason they would check our beds. We’ll be back before they even wake up tomorrow. And if we’re not, Dean and Seamus are going to be the least of our problems.”

Neville didn’t say anything. Harry picked up his Firebolt and took the invisibility cloak from where it was stowed away in the trunk under his bed.

“Let’s go,” he said.

 

They made their way through the dark, empty halls of the castle, which seemed bigger and colder this time of night.

“We hardly even have a plan,” said Neville.

“We have a plan.”

“It’s pretty vague…”

“In my experience, plans never really work out, no matter how detailed they are.”

“It would still be comforting, I think.”

 

They walked across the grounds towards the gate; down the gravel path the same way they had four days earlier. Neville looked back towards the castle.
“Remember third year?” he asked. “When they had dementors surrounding the grounds? And they let them onto the train?”

“Yeah,” said Harry.

 

Hermione and Luna were waiting for them by the side of the road. They looked tense but determined and just seeing them took the edge off Harry’s own nerves.

“Ron and Ginny aren’t here yet?” asked Neville.

“I left the same time as Ginny and we met Ron in the common room, so they’re on their way. They should be here in a couple of minutes,” said Hermione.

“And Malfoy?” asked Harry.

“No sign of him yet.”

“There they are,” said Luna.

They looked towards the castle, where two broomsticks were just visible in the dark, flying low over the ground and headed in their direction.

Ginny and Ron landed a moment later and dismounted their brooms.

“How did it go?” asked Neville.

“Easy enough,” said Ginny. “The changing rooms weren’t locked, only the broom shed. Got it open with an alohomora, honestly, I don’t know why Hooch even bothers...”

She pulled open the bag she had slung over her shoulder and handed out gloves for flying to Neville, Luna and Hermione. She and Ron were already wearing theirs and Harry had brought his own as well. Ron looked around.

“Where’s the ferret?” he asked.

“Not here yet,” said Hermione.

“Did something happen?” asked Ginny.

“We don’t know.”

“Maybe he wasn’t able to sneak out,” said Harry, trying to sound less anxious about it than he was.

“I’m guessing cold feet,” said Ron. “How long do we give him?”

Harry looked back up the empty path towards the gates.

“Before what?” he asked.

“Before we leave without him.”

“We can’t. We talked about this, we can’t apparate into Azkaban, so we have to go to the coast, and he’s the only one who’s been there,” said Hermione.

“You can apparate to a place you haven’t been.”

“You can, in theory. The less specific that place is the more difficult it is. Do you think you can apparate to “some stretch of the of coast of Great Britain from which it’s possible to reach Azkaban”?” said Hermione sharply.

“I think you or Harry can.”

“Let’s just give it a few more minutes,” said Ginny, interrupting them. “Then we’ll figure out what to do if he’s still not here.”

 

Harry looked at his watch every thirty seconds of the tense silence while they waited for Draco to show up. After two minutes, he was certain he wouldn’t come. He was about to offer to go back and find him when there was a sigh of relief from Hermione.

“There,” she said.

He looked up and saw a third broomstick zooming towards them from the castle. A flood of relief washed over him. A few seconds later, Draco had joined them.

“Sorry,” he said, slightly out of breath. “I had some trouble getting out of the common room.”

“What kind of trouble?” asked Ginny.

“Fifth years don’t sleep, apparently.”

“Did anyone see you?”

He rolled his yes.

“I might not have an invisibility cloak, but my disillusionment is perfectly good.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, Weasley.”

“Just checking, arsehole,” said Ginny.

“Thanks, Ginny,” said Harry.

He cast a look around the group.

“Alright, everyone brought chocolate?”

 They nodded.

“Good,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Draco handed his broom to Luna. He reached his arm out to Harry who took it, trying not to think of how much significance that simple gesture seemed to carry.

“See you in a bit.” he said to the others.

Then he felt the pull like a hook behind his navel when Draco disapparated.

 o

Harry could hear waves. The air was tinged with the salty smell of rotting seaweed. He was still holding on to Draco’s arm.

“Is this it?” he asked, speaking louder than he wanted to in order to be heard over the wind.

“I think so,” said Draco. “There’s a house down there, right?”

Harry followed where he was pointing to and saw the angular shape of a darkened house a bit further down.

“Yes,” he said.

“Then it’s here.”

Draco laughed nervously.

“This is terrifying,” he said. “This is why I’m not in Gryffindor.”

Harry reached for his hand, his fingers were icy cold. He squeezed it tightly. It felt like he ought to say something while they were here, these few seconds they had to themselves. It was becoming harder and harder not to think about the fact that they might not both make it through the night.

“I’ll apparate back and get Hermione,” he said instead and held on tighter for just a moment before letting go.

 o

Harry’s warm hand was pulled away and Draco watched him spin and disapparate. For a moment he was alone on the coast. His robes had been charmed to keep him warm but he still had goosebumps creeping down his arms. He eyed the silhouette of the house where it crouched low in the lyme grass. The windows were dark but it was probably too optimistic to think that both the aurors in there were asleep.

He started at the loud pop when Harry came back with Granger. Then she went back for Ron who went back for Lovegood and soon all seven of them were gathered on the coast, four of them holding broomsticks. They looked out towards the sea, maybe searching for a glimpse of the tower, even though they knew they wouldn’t be able to see it.

“Well,” said Ginny. “Should we get going?”

They mounted their brooms. Draco kicked off and was the first one in the air, the others took a little longer before their passengers were settled and they followed. Draco flew ahead, leading them as close to the small house as he dared. Then he turned and they left the mainland, flying straight out over the ocean.

 

The cold gnawed at Draco’s flesh, there were drops of water in the air that stung his face like needles. He didn’t remember how long the boat ride had been from the mainland to the prison. It had seemed endless, but he was starting to fear that they might have gone too far, that they might have missed it. How close did they have to be before it became visible? He wasn’t sure about that either. He glanced back at the dark shapes of the others flying behind him. They might have to turn around and start over from the house on the coast. Fly out again and hope they had better luck. If he had been alone, he would have turned back already, now he didn’t dare tell them. It was too early for failure. He tightened his grip on his broom. They were wasting time. They could spend the whole night flying back and forth and still not find it. And even if they did find it, how likely was it even that their plan would work out? There were so many ifs and maybes. 

Even if they succeeded somehow, they wouldn’t make it back in time.

Then they would get caught.

They would end up with their own cells.

He was hit suddenly by vivid memories of the time he had spent guarded by dementors before his trial; the way a smell can trigger half forgotten childhood memories, so his fear tasted queasily of dementors. The fear convulsed in his chest, he was about to turn around, tell them it was hopeless and – and there was the tower. It materialized suddenly about a hundred meters ahead of them where before there had been nothing; a looming, triangular building shrouded in unnatural silence. Draco breathed a sigh of relief. He adjusted their direction. They began their descent.

The four broomsticks skimmed low over the water. There were the thuds of their shoes on the rocks of the barren island when they landed. No one said a word as Draco led them to the stairs. He felt terribly exposed when they made their way across the island; there was nothing but the darkness giving them cover, and though he was grateful for the moonlight it also meant that anyone looking out would have easily spotted them. But there were no cries of spells from above and soon his hand closed around the slick, cold railing of the stairs. He turned to look back at them.

“Everyone ready?” he asked so quietly the tremor in his voice was hardly noticeable.

And the resolution on their faces was answer and encouragement enough.

 

They carried their broomsticks with them to the platform at the top of the stairs, then left them leaning against the railing there where Granger cast securing charms and disillusionment on them. Ginny crouched down in front of the door and pulled off her gloves. The tools she took from her pocket looked almost muggle in their primitiveness, but it took her less than a minute of working the oddly shaped metal blades into the keyhole before the door swung open. Longbottom pulled open the bag he had slung over his shoulder and handed the invisibility cloak to Harry. He pulled it on and disappeared.

They all watched the dim hallway anxiously as if keeping themselves from blinking might enable them to see an invisible person sneaking past the guards’ room to make sure the door was closed and further down the hallway to make sure it was empty. Draco wasn’t the only one who jumped a little when Harry reappeared right in front of them.

“Clear,” he mouthed, and they all followed him.

It was slightly warmer inside, but only because there was no wind. They couldn’t risk casting their patronuses until they were inside the actual prison, so they walked in near darkness.

The door to the guards’ room was closed, but a sliver of light shone out from under it. Draco held his breath when he passed. Harry had stopped, waiting for Draco to show the way, so he went past him and retraced the route the auror had taken all those months ago, forcing himself to believe that he was remembering it correctly. They reached the iron door and he stopped and put a hand against it. He looked back over his shoulder.

“Weasley?” he called.

It was a narrow corridor and she had to squeeze past the others. It would be a terrible place to duel. He flattened himself against the wall to give her room to work with the lock. She crouched down in front of the door and reached into her pocket. He could hear her breathing.

“Just unlock it,” he said. “Don’t open it. One of us should cast a patronus first.”

She nodded. There was a quiet scrape and clink of metal.

“Can one of you give me some light?”

“Lumos,” whispered Draco.

Ginny shifted.

“Bit to the left.”

He moved his wand, their shadows jumped and twisted over the walls. There was an unpleasant crunch from the lock.

“Shit,” she muttered.

“Everything alright?” asked Longbottom.

Ginny didn’t say anything. Draco glanced back up the passage. His hands were clammy and despite the cold, he was sweating under his robes. The lock squeaked.

“You said you had the lock figured out,” he hissed.

“I do. You said the auror used a key to open this last time you were here, yes? George said these could open anything locked with a key.”

George said- are you serious? He used a key, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any curses too, how would I know if there were any curses just from seeing him unlocking it-"

“Malfoy, can you maybe dim the light a bit?” asked Granger nervously from somewhere behind them.

“They’re not muggle lockpicks, alright, so calm the fuck down,” sneered Ginny.

“I can’t believe we’re breaking into Azkaban with something you got in a jokeshop.”

“The aurors have to get in and out of here on a regular basis, I don’t think it’s closed with fucking blood magic-“

She cut herself off. They all fell quiet.

“Anyone else hear that?” asked Ron.

Draco had heard something.

“Nox,” he whispered.

The light went out. The corridor had been dimly lit even before he cast lumos but their eyes hadn’t adjusted and now they blind in the darkness. He heard the rustle and clink of Ginny going back to work on the door. There was a scuffle of feet as the other five people behind turned to face the end of the passage. Draco raised his wand defensively too, though he wouldn’t be able to cast anything in here without hitting one of his companions.

There was another sound. It could have been someone moving about up in the guards’ room. It could have been the wind outside. It could have been a door opening or someone coming down the stairs after them. Draco gripped his wand tighter.

There was a click.

“Got it!” said Ginny.

Draco reached for the door handle.

“Expecto patronum,” said a voice behind him, forceful but not loud, and he turned to see a hare patronus erupt from Lovegood’s wand.

Draco pushed down the handle and shouldered the door open.

The force of the dementors rammed into his brain like a sledgehammer. He froze in the doorway. Lovegood’s patronus was shielding them, but it couldn’t be as strong as the one of the auror who had escorted him the last time, or maybe it was just that they were more people this time, that it was stretched thin. He felt his energy drain away.

“Go!” said Harry frantically somewhere far behind him.

It felt terribly wrong to go towards the source of the deadness and the cold instead of running away from it, to safety, but he made himself move forward, the others pushed through after him and Longbottom pulled the door shut behind them. They crowded onto the topmost gallery of the prison, all of them with their wands out, all of them facing the door, Draco's heart pounding hard in his chest. A second passed and then another, and no aurors burst through the door.

"I think we're good," said Harry.

He turned towards them.

"Everyone, patronuses."

The light from Lovegood’s hare reflected a bright sheen in the whites of his eyes. His voice was all business, but Draco remembered third year and he thought that Harry had to be just as scared of this place as he was.

Expecto Patronum,” he cried and it would have been loud had his voice not been swallowed by the walls.

The silver stag was the first to join the hare, but it was soon followed by an otter, a terrier, Draco’s snake, Ginny’s fox and – surprisingly and clichéd – Longbottom’s lion.

The Weasley’s took up positions by the door. It had taken forever to decide who should stand guard in case the aurors followed them. Ginny had been an obvious choice, since she was the strongest duellist, but Ron had plainly refused to stay behind and had looked like he wanted to punch Draco’s teeth out when he had called him their best “supporting duellist”. Ginny had asked for Longbottom, but he was better with the runes than Ron was, so in the end he had sided with Draco, as had Granger, and Ron had reluctantly agreed to guard duty.

“Good luck,” said Ginny.

Ron pulled Granger into a hug.

“Be careful,” he said, looking over her head and straight at Draco.

“We will,” said Harry. “See you soon.”

“Soon, mate. If not, we’re coming down after you, aurors or no aurors.”

“Thanks,” said Harry.

They split up. Draco led the way along the gallery followed by Harry, Granger, Lovegood and Longbottom, as they headed for the cells.

 o

Granger and Lovegood had taught them the runes. They didn’t have to understand them as long as they drew them correctly, so they moved forward in succession, spreading out over a stretch of wall, each etching a rune into the walls with the tip of their wands, then they all moved further down, repeated the process. The chain would run along the surface of the wall the way it had in the secret room. They had tested it across a window and it was able to breach the gap, so they assumed it would go across the cells as well as long as there was a rune on either side. The width of it was enough to shut the dementors out of the cells completely. And hopefully that would work.

Their little circles of silver light moved slowly downwards through the levels, leaving a string of runes behind them. The dementors didn’t come near them, but they were there, in the wide, empty space between the three walls along which the gallery ran; in the cells opposite the patronuses or on the lower levels. Tattered cloaks that moved like shadows over the walls. The faint sound of rattling breaths.

Sometimes Longbottom would stop to glance nervously back towards the top of the tower. They probably wouldn’t even hear it if there was a duel up there, but maybe he was hoping to notice light from the spells if something went wrong. Granger would check her watch every time she moved forward to draw the next rune. Draco didn’t know if she was actually keeping track of time or just making sure she didn’t accidentally look into one of the cells. Draco didn’t have any trouble with that – his eyes were constantly and inevitably drawn to the pit. It was the sort of darkness that sucked at your gaze, complete and impenetrable. It wasn’t like looking into a dark room, it was like having a blind spot in the middle of your vision and it was impossible not to try to stare through it.

There was the soft press of a hand on his shoulder and he flinched.

“Go on,” said Lovegood, gently pushing him forward.

He moved. Granger passed them, eyes glued to her watch.

“We’re too slow,” she said.

“We’re fine,” said Harry, a little way ahead of them.

He was already at the stairs to the next level down.

“We’re doing it all wrong.”

“We’re following the plan,” Harry said. “Your plan.”

“We won’t make it. It’s been two hours already since we left the castle. We have to be back in three. This is taking us too long.”

“The trip back will be faster,” said Draco. “It won’t take us as long to get back as it took to get here.”

“It’s still not enough time – for the runes yes, but we don’t know what will happen in the pit -“

“Well, what do you suggest we do?” hissed Harry.

They were speaking in low voices, whispering to each other even though there was no one to hear them. Draco pulled his own watch out of his pocket. Arguing was wasting their time as well.

“We should split up,” said Granger.

“You want to change the plan now? We agreed we would stay together. We don’t know what’s waiting for us down there.”

“I thought we would be faster,” she hissed back. “But we don’t need to be five people to do the runes. It’s ineffeicient.”

“Neville and I can do the runes by ourselves,” said Lovegood. “You three head for the pit.”

Granger looked at Malfoy as if she had forgotten he was there.

“That’s not what we agreed-“ Harry began again, about to protest, but she cut him off:

“We don’t have a choice, Harry. Either we split up or we fail.”

Now it was Harry’s eyes that went to Malfoy. He looked worried.

“It could just be me and Hermione,” he said.

“I’m coming. I have as much first-hand experience with dark magic as the two of you. You might need me.”

Harry sighed.

“Fine, then,” he said. “Let’s go.”

He turned down the stairs and Draco followed. Granger stopped behind him and looked back at the other two.

“Do you have a watch with you?” she asked.

“We do,” said Longbottom.

“We’ll be two hours at most. Do you think you can finish the runes in that time?”

“We’re good, just go on. And be careful down there.”

“We will.”

Then Granger followed Harry and Draco down the stairs. Escorted by the stag, the otter and the snake, they left Lovegood and Longbottom behind.

Chapter Text

Harry, Draco and Hermione descended through the tower, moving much faster now they didn’t stop to draw runes. They rushed past the cells, down, down, down towards the darkness at the bottom. They didn’t speak. The only sound was of their footsteps and the occasional moans or cries from the cells. Draco heard a strangled noise from Granger behind him and thought she must have looked into a cell, but they didn’t stop.

Granger kept track of the floors as well as the time.

“This is the fifth,” she said. “The Death Eaters are on the next one, right?”

“Yes.”

And my father, he didn’t say. His voice hadn’t sounded right. He was walking next to Harry and for a brief moment, he felt the warm brush of Harry’s hand against his own. He didn’t say anything. They reached the next staircase.

 

They should have sped up past these cells, the ones where they all risked recognizing someone. They slowed instead and walked closer together. Draco kept his eyes on the floor, but Granger and Harry were looking now. Draco had tried hard to forget everything from his last visit, everything but the practical, necessary details relevant to their mission, but he hadn’t succeeded and now he found himself counting the cells to the one where his father was. He thought it might be empty. He didn’t know if they would be informed of it if he died, or if his mother would even pass it on if she found out.

Three cells from Lucius, Granger stopped. Draco didn’t want to look, but he heard her gasp and couldn’t help it. He followed her gaze to the human figure that lay sunken into a heap against the back wall of the cell. Chains trailed from the bone-like wrists to bolts in the wall. The hands were bloody messes, wrong and shapeless, like he had been fighting his restraints until he started breaking bones, and then perhaps beyond that. He was only half clothed. The dirty rags barely covered his upper body and failed completely to hide his genitals or the dark streaks of filth down his thighs. His head hung forward, his face barely visible. His hair was matted in thick clots but barely reached past his ears. They must have shaved him when he was imprisoned, because the last time Draco had seen the man in the cell, his hair had been long – long and clean and shiny, tied back in an elegant ponytail.

“This is… oh, God,” said Granger weakly. “How can they do this?”

Draco swallowed hard, worried he would throw up as soon as he opened his mouth.

“That’s Rabastan Lestrange. The one who…”

He swallowed again.

“Neville’s parents,” said Harry quietly.

Draco nodded.

Granger raised her wand – Draco recognized the movement of the spell, he had seen it too often by now, but had never expected it from her. He stared, too stunned to move. Then she pronounced the first syllable and he lunged for her.

“Don’t!” he yelled, losing his balance in his hurry, stumbling into her and almost dropping his own wand as he dragged her arm down.

She grabbed at Harry who hauled her back on her feet as Draco disentangled himself from her. She glared at him.

“We can’t leave him like that! Look at him, if you can’t see how sick that is-“

“The dementors are here to keep people in,” he interrupted her. “As long as we don’t try to move anyone, they don’t alert the aurors, that’s the only reason we can do this. We don’t know what will happen if we start killing the prisoners.”

She opened her mouth, then closed it again. Harry was still holding on to her.

“We should hurry,” said Harry.

She nodded.

“Right,” she said.

She tore her eyes from the man in the cell and they began moving again. Draco checked his watch – they had only lost a couple of minutes.

They passed Lucius Malfoy’s cell quickly and without notice.

 

There were torches mounted on the walls of the floors where the prisoners were kept. From the third floor down, the only light came from their patronuses and outside their reach, it was pitch black. There hadn’t been people this deep in Azkaban for hundreds of years, and Harry realized he had been expecting cobwebs. There weren’t any.

 

The patronuses were still solid and shone brightly. They were a barrier between them and the dementors, but the patronus charm was not a perfect shield. Draco could feel the cold tendrils of the darkness boring into his mind, his sanity creaking like a frozen lake in winter. 

Harry flinched and Draco and Granger both raised their wands, looking around for what had startled him.

“I saw someone,” he said.

“Dementor?”

Harry shook his head.

“No.”

He took a step closer to the wall to their left – or towards where it should have been. He reached out his arm and didn’t touch anything.

Lumos,” he said.

It was an opening like the ones of the cells upstairs, except it looked much deeper. Harry waved his patronus forward and the stag walked a few hesitant steps into the darkness.

“It’s a hallway,” he said.

“Harry, don’t, we need to head downwards.”

“But I saw something…”

Harry took another step into the opening. His patronus was quite a way ahead of him. Then, without even a flicker of warning, it winked out and an icy fist smashed through Draco’s mind, he felt himself falling as the hallway and the prison was swallowed by a vision of the polished floor of the Manor, of his father screaming and writhing with limbs twisting in odd directions, the sound of high pitched laughter ringing in Draco’s ears and his mother’s frantic voice: “Bella, Bella please stop –

Draco is here, Bella, please!”.

Draco

Draco!

“Draco, wake up!”

He was lying on cold, damp stone and the back of his head hurt, but it was a red-hot, physical pain that felt almost comforting after the twisted, unnatural sensation of dementors groping through his memories.

Draco groaned.

He opened his eyes and looked into the kind face of a silver otter. He turned his head and there was Harry, kneeling down and leaning over him with a hand on his shoulder. His expression was raw, scared. He pulled back when Draco opened his eyes, allowing him room to sit up. Draco carefully pushed himself upright, grimacing at the pain from his head and his bruised elbow.

“Shit,” he muttered.

Harry reached out and pulled Draco in, for a short moment clutching him tightly and Draco could hear him breathing right next to his ear. It was just that brief moment of panicked closeness, then he let him go and quickly got to his feet like it hadn’t happened. Draco looked past him when he stood up to where Granger was standing, her face illuminated by Harry’s patronus. She was staring at him, comprehension dawning on her face.

“Harry?” she said, taking a hesitant step towards them.

Her eyes darted between them and he thought he could almost hear her brain whirring away. He stood up. Hermione’s eyes finally settled on Harry and she looked like she wanted to say something else, but then she shook her head and turned to Draco instead.

“Are you… How is your balance? You hit your head when you fell.”

“I’m fine,” he said.

She nodded.

“You should recast your patronus,” said Harry.

“Right,” said Draco.

He took a deep breath and raised his wand.

Expecto Patronum!”

His silver snake reappeared and he felt slightly better.

“Alright,” said Granger, a bit too briskly for Azkaban. “Let’s go.”

“How much time did we lose?” asked Draco.

Granger looked at her watch. Then she frowned.

“It’s not working.”

Draco pulled out his own watch and tilted it so the patronus light fell on the clock face. The second hand was quivering, but it didn’t move.

“Mine doesn’t either.”

“So we can’t keep time?”

“Apparently not. We’ll just have to hurry as much as we can and hope that’s enough…”

The other two began moving, but Draco was still staring at his watch. It was an expensive one. Goblin made, silver with the Malfoy crest engraved in it. It had been running perfectly for four generations.

“But it just stopped,” he said. “They both did.”

“Nothing we can do about it,” said Harry. “Come on.”

Draco glanced into the the dark opening. He couldn’t see far down it anymore, but when it had been illuminated by Harry’s patronus, it had looked like it stretched far longer than it ought to, far beyond the extent of the outer walls of Azkaban.

He noticed a bit of water that trickled down the wall. Except it didn’t. It was trickling up.

“Malfoy!” called Granger.

“Sorry,” he said and hurried after them.

o

They continued down the galleries, down staircases, once again accompanied by their three patronuses. Harry kept glancing back at Draco. He regretted bringing him. He should have convinced him to stay back – he should have tried, at least.

Without their watches, he quickly lost sense of time. It reminded him of the Department of Mysteries, this endless walk down dark routes where they had no idea what awaited them. Draco looked scared. His eyes darted back and forth, he kept looking back over his shoulder. Harry tried not to worry about Ron and Ginny or Neville and Luna, wherever they were above them.

His stag walked ahead, leading the way. Hermione and Draco’s patronuses were on either side so they formed a small, triangular spearhead of light that parted the darkness ahead. The patronuses illuminated the space between them, but then reached only a few inches out. It looked odd too, the way the light just stopped, as if the darkness was something solid, a wall ahead of them. It had gotten colder too. Harry could see the thin mist of his breath in the air.

The way his patronus had just flickered out worried him. It suddenly seemed like a feeble protection from whatever was down here. He finally understood what Draco had meant about the building itself being evil – it was like it resonated the powers of the dementors. There hadn’t been any dementors near when he went into the hallway, but when his patronus vanished, he had heard his mom screaming. He thought he would probably have passed out too if Draco hadn’t collapsed first and snapped him out of his hallucinations.

 

They were on their way down another broad staircase, they couldn’t even see far enough to make out the wall to their left and only saw glimpses of the railing to their right.

“Harry, wait a second,” said Hermione.

They stopped. He looked around, his heart pounding in his chest.

“What?” he asked.

“I think I saw something… moving.”

She raised her wand above her head.

“We need better light – Lumos Maxima.

Light flared from the tip of Hermione’s wand, illuminating the darkness, the staircase and the dementors. They were everywhere. Close, towering over them on every side, only just out of reach of the patronuses. Draco made a strangled noise behind him. Harry felt his stomach twist. Each winded breath was a cold stab down his throat. He had never seen this many dementors in his life; they were packed together so tightly the movement of one was a wave through all of them, the mass parting ahead of their little group and retracting again behind. Harry hadn’t noticed the sound before, in the dark it had seemed only a draught of wind. Now he could see the gaping mouths and the sound dissolved into hundreds of individual breaths.

“Harry,” said Hermione. “Look.”

He tore his eyes away from the dementors right ahead of him to see where she was pointing. They had walked along the rail of the staircase, close enough that there were no dementors immediately to their right. Instead there was the drop to the floor below, the air was filled with thick, grey mist that vanished into obscurity and at first Harry thought that it was simply too deep for them to see the bottom. Then he realized that what he saw beyond the fog was the bottom, because the dark down there was moving too. Waving. Breathing. A cold chill ran down his spine. There were thousands.

“We’re going to die,” said Draco weakly.

“We’re not,” snapped Hermione. “Come on. They can’t touch us.”

And they couldn’t, but now that they could see them, their presence felt smothering. How long had they walked in darkness without noticing them, Harry wondered. Were there as many dementors behind them as there were ahead?

Hermione took another step down the stairs, her patronus moved forward with her and the dementors pulled back. Draco didn’t move.

“Why?” he said.

He stood rigidly, the knuckles where white on the hand that clutched his wand.

“We have to find the source. We have to kill them, and we’re in a hurry, so now is not the time to be a coward.”

Her voice was firm, but her eyes were wide and scared. Harry wished suddenly that they hadn’t left Ron upstairs. He was better at keeping his head than Hermione, and she looked like she was about to panic.

“The source?” Draco gestured to the drop. “There isn’t one! There’s only dementors down there. This is it! This is the core of Azkaban, just thousands of dementors breeding and sucking the life out of this place. I never thought there would be so many in one place, but that certainly seems evil enough to me to explain this place.”

“But that doesn’t make sense-“

“Nothing here makes sense! Space is wrong, time is wrong, did you see the condensation on the wall upstairs? The water was running up. We’re going to go mad down here.”

“The ones down here aren’t feeding on the prisoners! The prisoners aren’t enough to keep this many of them alive, they would starve or suffocate, like what we’re trying to do to them with the patronus chain – or they would go somewhere else, or if they are all feeding on the prisoners then the ones down here would all be trying to get upstairs, but they don’t.”

“Or maybe we were wrong about suffocating them, they were all just theories we came up with, we don’t really know anything about them, maybe we’re wrong about all of it-“

“Draco, shut up!” Harry cut him off. “Pull yourself together. We’re here. We keep going.”

“I can’t.”

“Of course you can-“

“I’m not a Gryffindor.”

“This isn’t about your house!” said Hermione turning around to face him. “And if we die down here, it’ll be your fault. So we’re not going to die.”

Draco flinched. Hermione looked like she wanted to break his nose, and maybe he remembered that she almost did once. He drew himself up.

“Alright,” he breathed.

He took another step down the stairs, the snake moved with him, the dementors surged back. They moved on.

 

At the bottom of the stairs, Hermione cast a tracking spell on the wall.

“So we’ll be able to find our way back.”

 

Then they went into the sea of dementors and it parted for them, but only just. Draco walked quietly beside him now, his wand held steadily, his snake patronus beside him. It had been easier for Harry to forget his own fear when Draco was panicking before. Now he could hear his words echoing in his mind: space is wrong, time is wrong. Harry was slightly out of breath. His legs were heavy and each step took effort – this was the lowest floor of Azkaban and somehow it felt like all the rest of the tower’s weight was pressing down on them, as if they were deep under water. It was like running in a fever dream, limbs weighed down by lead. They had no way to watch the time, but they were supposed to hurry. Harry could feel a headache growing behind his eyes. They had only been able to make out a fraction of this floor from the stairs, but none of it had held anything but dementors.

“Hermione, maybe Draco was right,” said Harry.

He spoke quietly, keeping his eyes on her, but he thought he saw movement amongst the dementors. Could they hear? How intelligent were they, that wizards were able to give them orders and use them as guards and weapons?

“Maybe… I mean there might be a source,” he continued. “But we don’t know that it’s something we can find, it might not be something tangible-“

“Right. We don’t know. So we’re not going to go back before we’ve looked.”

“I’m not saying we give up; I’m saying we might have to think of another solution – the others are waiting for us, if we’re not back at the castle by morning-“

She cut him off again:

“It doesn’t matter if we make it in time, we’re not leaving here until we’ve broken this place. And if we get caught, then we’ll break the Wizengamot too. It’s all so-”

She stopped.

The dementors ahead of them had parted and instead of more dementors, they stepped into thick fog. Illuminated by the patronuses it glowed pearly grey, and through it they could just make out the wall and the corpse of a man slumped against it. Thin chains trailed from his wrists to bolts in the stone and made him look a mirror image of Rabastan Lestrange in his cell above. Only Rabastan had been beaten and filthy to look at, whereas the figure in front of them seemed strangely undamaged by his imprisonment. His robes were beautiful and looked untouched by time, though the style and fabric seemed foreign and ancient. The dead wizard was thin as a skeleton, but the skin still clung tightly to his bones and it was impossible to tell what age he had been when he died. The hair on his head was white, but thick and strong and it grew long enough to reach his waist.

o

“This is not…” Draco began, but stopped himself, because he really didn’t know what he had been expecting, even if it wasn’t this.

“I thought – I was hoping maybe it hadn’t been made by wizards,” said Granger quietly.

Draco looked at her. Her skin was sallow in the ghostly light. The need to hurry was gone. Here, time stood still.

“Why?” he asked.

Granger shrugged and the movement made her look brittle and small.

“It could have been a natural occurrence. A place that made people evil, not a place made evil by people. But it looks like this was always the intention. It was made to be a prison. Makes you feel sort of hopeless, doesn’t it?”

“We’re here,” said Harry. “That’s not hopeless.”

And then Granger’s otter twisted slightly and Draco flinched and Granger gasped as they all saw it at the same time when the light flickered over the face of the dead wizard and caught in his eyes – because they were eyes, not empty sockets as they had seemed at first, only they were mirror-black and had looked like empty holes until the moment they reflected the light. Now they did see the eyes, the face of the corpse looked a lot less skeletal. He looked a lot less dead.

“He’s breathing,” said Granger tonelessly.

Draco felt a shiver run down his spine, and he wanted to tell her she was wrong, but now he could see it too; the gentle rise and fall of the man’s chest.

“That’s not possible,” he said.

Harry took a step closer and Draco jerked, wanting instinctively to pull him back out of reach of the man, but he fought the impulse and didn’t touch him. Harry crouched down in front of the figure so they were face to face.

“Be careful,” said Granger.

“Can you speak?” asked Harry.

The skeletal man didn’t move. His chest rose and fell and Draco was uncomfortably aware that his own breathing had synchronized with that slow rhythm.

“Who do you think he is?” asked Harry, not looking away from the shrivelled wizard.

“I don’t know,” said Granger. “He looks ancient.”

“He has to know about the source. He would know where the dementors come from.”

“I’m a legilimens,” said Draco.

It was only halfway true. He was an excellent occlumens. His mother had taken it upon herself to teach him during the war when their home had been open to Death Eaters and to the Dark Lord himself, and it had turned out that Draco had inherited her natural talent for it. He was never quite as good as she was, he never could have lied to the Dark Lord’s face the way she did, but he was good enough. Legilimency on the other hand, had only been a minor point in his training, so that he would know what he was defending himself against. He had only ever done it to his mother.

“There might not be much of a mind left in him, but I could try and see what’s there?”

Harry glanced up at Granger, who nodded stiffly. Then he stood up and allowed Draco to take his place. Legilimency had always been tied to Slytherin house, and because the Dark Lord had been so skilled at it, it was closely associated with him. Draco couldn’t tell if the expression on Harry’s face was one of worry because of what Draco was about to do, or distaste because he possessed the skill at all.

Draco crouched in front of the shrivelled man and pushed Harry from his mind. He could feel every hair on his arms standing up, his heart picking up speed at the proximity, as he kept half an eye on the spidery fingers, every second expecting them to jerk forwards and wrap themselves around his neck. He stared into the inky wells of the ancient wizard’s eyes and saw his own reflection mirrored in each of them. He levelled his wand at him.

Legilimens.”

There was no resistance at all. He fell forwards into those black eyes, the floor disappeared under his knees as he was swallowed by a storm of memories.

The hard part of legilimency was getting into someone’s head and staying there long enough to find what you were looking for before their mind pushed you out. This mind wasn’t trying to push him out, and so instead of a slow crawl dragging through memories that clung like spider webs, the images rushed by like streaming water, too fast and too chaotically for him to make out anything but glimpses in the rush, too fast for him to tell them from each other, and he strained to hold on to that sensation of his own body far away, trying to stay tethered even as he felt himself slipping away between glimpses of someone else’s past.

The smell of smoke filled his nostrils, he saw a house collapse in flames over and over again, or perhaps they were different houses, hundreds of homes. He saw his own hand raising a wand and flashes of green light, and then in between death and destruction were childhood memories of praise, of catching frogs in a garden, a field littered with dead animals, gashes open in their sides and guts spilling onto the grass. A distant, physical sensation of bile rising in his throat, the strain of holding on to invasive thoughts.

And then in the chaos, he began to see the pattern, a story that was dark and terrible enough that through it all he wondered why he had not heard of this, how much time had had to pass for something like this to be forgotten?

 

It’s long before Voldemort and long before Grindelwald, it doesn’t look like England, the sense of recognition he feels towards the landscapes is part of the memories, not his own.

There is a sense of purpose, but it is stretched thin, it is revenge at first and then fear and thirst for power, the pleasant thrill at the looks of fear when he enters a house, a village, the way whole cities seem to cower.

Corpses hovering in the air along the roads.

The library burning. An old man flinging himself into the flames in some desperate attempt to save the sacred texts, but there is nothing left to save. A whole history and culture lost.

His purge through the country and a resistance so feeble it seems non-existent.

There are potions and protective charms and he grows stronger and it becomes harder to discern the faces of friends from enemies.

He crowns himself and retreats into the dark caverns of a palace big enough to be its own world.

 

And in between there were memories that didn’t belong to this man, memories of the ones who saw him coming, memories of the people who survived, and Draco felt the strange ache of watching the same memory from two people’s eyes at the same time.

 

Avada kedavra.

 

Draco felt flinch in his own mind.

 

He doesn’t block the spell, there is a stab of fear and then of joy as he is hit, the light whirls around him, for a second all he can see is green, and then triumphant laughter rises in his throat.

But he is also the caster of the curse watching it hit and then vanish with no effect, watching the wide mouth split into a grin, hearing that laugh and feeling everything fall apart.

Immortal – repeated again and again to himself.

Immortal – repeated and rejected by people who cling to hope or dreams of revenge.

 

And then a scorched island in the middle of a grey, frothing sea. Three harrowed faces, a man and two women, so young they are almost children. His wand lies broken at his feet. He does not recognize their faces, even now he is not afraid of them, even now he knows they still fear him. The killing curse cannot touch him, but he has heard of their cursed fire, a spell made with the purpose of destroying a soul like his, it has burned at his heels as they chased him all the way here. He throws out his hands as if he still owned the world, and tells them to burn him, laughs because he cannot imagine why they haven’t already, he can see the hungry flames in their eyes.

Through three pairs of eyes Draco sees this man that is no longer human, who took everything from them, they have lived to kill him and when he is dead there will be nothing left for them. They know it all instinctively that they cannot give him death, killing him would not be revenge. It would feel like mercy, because death is nothing compared to what they have endured, nothing compared to knowing that they will have to live on with this grief, that they will have to live on after having lost everything and everyone.

 Another curse, still no fire, but pain shoots up his legs, he collapses to the ground and he can no longer feel anything from the waist down. Then the darkest of the women comes towards him and she kneels over him.

Through his eyes, her face is horribly disfigured by burn scars.

Through her eyes, he looks both young and old, his skin as smooth as silk, but still somehow worn.

Her voice is rough, she hates the sound of it, she hasn’t spoken much since the fire.

“Be me,” she says quietly and puts the tip of her wand to her temple, drawing out a string of silver.

 

Draco’s heart was beating too fast and so hard he could feel it, he thought he might be dying. He had already watched an entire life, but now the stream of images was picking up speed, the scorched island didn’t fade, but he could also see and feel a second life starting over. He had already seen some of those images, he thought, as the woman poured all her memories of grief into the man.

 

And then the second woman kneels and pulls a strand of silver from her temple.

And next to her the young man, who pulls a strand of silver from his temple.

He can’t move, the tears are warm and sticky on his skin, they dry quickly in the wind.

From a pocket in her robes the disfigured woman pulls a small glass vial filled with silver, he whimpers when she puts it to his lips, she covers his nose and he chokes, he cannot remember the last time someone touched him.

Three overlapping memories, three vague distortions of the same image of a man whose eyes are turning black as he relives his war through their eyes. Fog is seeping out of his skin, condensation running down his arms and tendrils of mist rise from the corners of his eyes and from his mouth.

They don’t notice the monster at first, it is the same colour as the mist and the sea and the sky. It stands behind the immortal wizard, vaguely human in shape, with grey skin, an eyeless face and a gaping hole for a mouth.

 

Draco’s skull felt like it might burst. He saw hundreds of memories of war and felt hundreds of people’s grief like beetles scurrying through his brain, a thousand tiny legs, he watched stone walls being erected around his limp body, he watched his own hand as he erected a building to hold the immortal wizard and the monsters he had spawned forever. A heaviness had settled in his chest, he was so afraid. He could feel razorblades pushing out behind his eyes and needles growing in his gums – and then the clammy touch of a mind burrowing into his, he remembered the wrists of Rabastan Lestrange and then the astronomy tower and Harry laughing and a sloppy kiss and-

Draco had the nauseating sensation of being able to feel his own brain contracting like a muscle as he heaved his occlumency barriers into place, and then he was alone in his head. The memories of the ancient wizard were gone and he was looking at the tip of a wand pointed between his eyes, and behind it, Hermione Granger. Then he buckled over and coughed out a mouthful of vomit. He had been throwing up in his mouth, he could feel how it had drippled down his chin.

“Draco!” – Someone gripped his shoulder and almost pushed him over.

Draco spat on the floor. His head hurt like hell.

“Say something! Are you there? Are you alright?”

He nodded. He was not alright.

“I’m fine,” he croaked.

“We thought you were dying,” said Granger.

He had thought so too. He wasn’t sure how to navigate the tight hold of the hand on his shoulder. He scrambled clumsily back from the corpse, his limbs still felt weirdly disconnected from his mind.

“Didn’t know you were a legilimens,” he muttered.

“I’m not-“ Granger began, but Harry cut her off, clearly not interested in her amateur mind penetration.

“Is he still in your head?” he demanded.

Draco wasn’t sure there was anything in his head at all.

“No,” he said. “I’m fine.”

“Did it – did it work?” asked Granger, forever the practical one; she wouldn’t pretend to be more worried than necessary.

She was looking past Draco at what was behind him and he twisted around to follow her gaze. He wasn’t surprised to see that his patronus was gone, but Granger’s and Harry’s were still keeping up the protective barrier around them. Their light made it harder to make out the dementors in the dark, but they were there. He could still hear their rattling breaths, and for a moment Draco felt like he was back in the wizard’s memories. He looked away.

“Yes. It worked.”

“You saw something?”

Draco nodded.

“A war,” he said. “Something like a war, it was all in his memories. And the dementors are feeding on him. He’s the source.”

He tried to get to his feet and immediately, Harry was there, dragging him upright.

“We have to burn him. Fiendfyre,” he said tensely.

“Why-“

“You don’t need a fucking explanation!”

Draco’s head ached. Harry looked at him.

“I don’t know the spell,” he said.

Draco was about to tell him that yes, of course he did, they had been taught in school, but of course Harry hadn’t. He hadn’t had a single lesson of dark arts. He wouldn’t know it.

Draco did.

Crabbe had known it too.

A second wave of nausea hit him. He was drained, unfocused - he might be able to cast the spell, but he definitely wouldn’t be able to control it.

He had known from the start that this was a suicide mission, but only vaguely, as an abstract concept, scenarios he could imagine, but didn’t believe in.

And here it was. He was going to burn to death. He tightened his grip on his wand, tried to recall the details of the wand movements, and all he could think about was how painful it would probably be, and that after that, there would be nothing. He didn’t want to die; he didn’t want to die here in the dark-

“I know it,” said Granger.

“What?” said Harry and Draco at the same time.

Granger was rolling up her sleeves.

“I know the spell,” she said. “I know the theory, at least.”

Draco’s heart was still hammering away, for some reason his confusion felt like disappointment.

“It’s not just about casting it, you need to keep control-“ he began.

“I know, Malfoy,” she said facing the still unmoving wizard. “I was there too. You’re sure it has to be that spell?”

“I’m sure.”

“Alright,” she said. “Maybe stand back a bit?”

She sounded nervous. Harry, who was still holding on to Draco, took a step back and pulled Draco with him. Granger raised her wand and her voice seemed to drop an octave as she enunciated the complicated syllables of the curse with perfect precision. The sound of it sent a chill down Draco’s spine, he inadvertently took another step back and then almost stumbled when he was momentarily blinded by the bright, white light of the fire bursting from the tip of her wand. The flames shot forward and coiled into the fiery body of a monster – the heatwave blew back Draco’s hair, the smell of sulphur and molten iron hit his nostrils and for a second he was back in the room of hidden things, inches from his death.

The fire was a chimera, a phoenix, a dragon; predatory muscles of white-tinged flame that moved beneath its shoulder blades as it turned its massive head to look at him. There was only the one creature, and it was still leashed by Granger’s wand. Her face was wet with sweat.

“Come on!” she grunted as she stepped forward, herding it towards the wizard.

The demonic fire still burned nothing but her magic, but its eyes were on the three of them, not on the slumped and shrivelled figure ahead, and Draco could sense the single minded sentience behind them, the desire to consume him and everything else in this dungeon that would burn. Granger flicked her wand again, like a whip, and slowly the creature turned away and walked – surged – ruptured – towards the undead wizard.

His robes caught flame even before it reached him, and then it engulfed his whole body and the flames were wrenched apart, losing all semblance of an animal. Tongues of fire shot out and coursed and curled along the body, and for a moment the body in the middle of the inferno seemed completely unharmed. Then Harry screamed: “Down!”, and Draco didn’t have time to react before the blast wave hit him in the chest and threw him to the floor. White hot pain shot through his shoulder and it was all he could do to still hold on to his wand. The world dissolved in the roar from the explosion.

 

It only lasted a moment and then everything was quiet except for a distant ringing in Draco’s ears.

Slowly, he climbed to his feet.

He was still halfway blind from the light of the explosion, but in the faint glow of the stag patronus he could make out the shape of Harry staggering towards a dark shape on the floor.

“Hermione! Hermione, are you alright?” Harry called.

The otter patronus lay nestled against her side, fuzzy at the edges, mostly see-through, but it was still there, so she had to be conscious. She had to be alive.

Draco looked towards the wall where the molten remainders of the chains glowed dimly red. He stood up. His balance was terrible and he swayed dangerously as he staggered to where Harry was leaning over Granger.

“I know a spell,” he said.

Harry didn’t seem to hear him, so Draco crouched down too, breathing in the acrid scent of burnt hair. Granger’s robes were singed and he could see burns on her hands and wrists as well as around her nose and mouth. A soundless cough shuddered through her. He pointed his wand at her throat, muttering the incantation. He moved to her chest, repeated it. Her breathing became easier.

“What are you doing?” asked Harry.

“I don’t know any healing spell that would help, I’m just taking the pain away.”

Harry started and looked back over his shoulder. A second later, Draco felt it too. A ripple. A chill. They were huddled with their backs to the wall where the wizard had sat and they could still feel the stones emanating heat like a fireplace, but on their faces, despite the protecting light of Harry’s patronus, they felt a biting chill and all around them they could hear the rattle of dementor breaths. The fog had thinned.

“Draco, your patronus,” said Harry.

“Right,” he said raising his wand. “Expecto patronum.”

His snake curled in the air. Granger was holding on to Harry as she pushed herself upright.

“What’s happening?” she muttered.

“We cut off the source,” said Draco, the realization dawning on him as from all sides dementors turned their faces towards them. “They’re choking.”

“What?” said Harry, putting an arm around Granger’s back to help her sit.

“The wizard’s gone, we’re all that’s left for them to feed on down here.”

Harry’s eyes widened.

“We need to get back upstairs,” he said.

He grabbed Granger’s arm and pulled her up. Her eyes were unfocused, she blinked slowly. Her wand slipped between her fingers and clattered to the floor. The ghostly remnant of the otter patronus vaporizedt, the dementors flocked closer, and Draco felt the endless misery drift from his mind throughout his whole body like a cold shiver, the sort of sadness that meant he would never be happy again. The nostrils of Harry’s stag flared wide as it tripped a nervous step backwards. Draco inadvertently followed the movement.

“Draco, come on!” Harry snapped.

And then he plunged ahead into the bodies of the dementors, herding his patronus forward. Draco snatched up Granger’s wand and followed.

Hermione leaned heavily on Harry, he felt her trying to shift her weight away from him, but her legs and feet were unsteady and he had to catch her from falling. He could hear Draco right behind him, breathing over his shoulder. They were moving ever so slowly back through the dementors. They kept close to his patronus, but where before the spell had meant that the dementors shied away from them as they made their way through, the stag now had to jostle them out of the way with it’s antlers, and from all sides they pressed towards them, desperate, starved mouths open, the ones in the front pushed closer by the hundreds behind them. They crowded against the shield, sucking in the white light. This deep in Azkaban, even two corporeal patronuses wasn’t enough to keep them out entirely and Harry could feel their effect seeping into him. He thought he could make out the light from Hermione’s tracking spell on a distant wall and he kept his eyes on that when he could, and when it disappeared from view, he just hoped the patronus was leading them in the right direction.

“I think I see the stairs,” he called.

There was no answer and Harry glanced back over his shoulder. Draco was still following closely behind him, but he wasn’t looking ahead; he had his eyes fixed on the nearest dementor and the light from his patronus had faded to a dim glow. The snake was only a thin thread of silver. As Harry watched, one of the dementors surged forward and the patronus snapped and winked out. Draco flinched and raised his wand reflexively:
Expecto patronum!” he cried.

The snake reappeared, it threw itself at the dementors, a rotten hand reached out and dragged through it like it was only mist.

Expecto patronum!”

Silver light, the shape of a snake blinked into existence, then collapsed. Hermione shifted her weight against Harry, her breathing was beginning to sound troubled again.

“Expecto patronum!” cried Malfoy; there was no light, no patronus.

“Cast it again!” said Harry.

“Expecto patronum!” he yelled, but it didn’t sound like a spell anymore; they were just words.

Cast it again!

But Draco’s expression was vacant, he lowered his wand as if he had suddenly forgotten the use of it, and gazed up at the dementors, his breath forming white clouds in the freezing air. In the back of his mind, Harry could hear his mother screaming.

“Come on, Draco, focus!” he said, but Draco didn’t seem to hear him.

He was still within the circle of light from Harry’s patronus, but only barely, and they were still so far away from the stairs and Harry wouldn’t be able to drag him there when he was holding up Hermione. His heart was pounding and his throat swelled as the fear and helplessness welled up in him. And then a dementor slid between him and Draco, and another one, and then they all crowded around him like flies around an open wound and he was swallowed up in the mass of them and disappeared from view.

“No!” Harry screamed.

He threw himself towards him, still holding on to Hermione, dragging her with him as he tried to physically shove the dementors aside with his free arm, but his hand just sank uselessly into their flesh and shards of cold shot up his arm.

Malfoy screamed.

“Get away from him!” – Harry’s voice broke on the panic, a high desperate pitch.

He couldn’t even tell how many dementors were between him and Draco now; his patronus was doing nothing to push them away, it stayed by him and Hermione but Harry could feel his own mind starting to slip; for a second his vision was swallowed by the memory of a bright, green light. He shook his head violently and the dementors swam back into view. Harry aimed his wand at them, his mind empty except for the knowledge that he wasn’t going to lose him, that he was going to get all of them home safely.

Expecto patronum!” he cried.

The soft silver glow flowed out around him and condensed into the shape of an animal that bolted forwards, pushing itself between the dementors until Draco came back into view. He stood as he had when Harry lost sight of him, stiff and frozen with his arms hanging down his sides, but as the dementors pulled back, he turned to look at the patronus. Slowly and with a dazed expression, he put his hand against it’s side. Harry’s breath was fast and shallow, his heart still pounding away. There was a strange buzz in the fingertips on his wand hand, like a mild electrical current. The edge of his vision was blurry, making the apparition in front of him even more unreal. The second patronus was a dream thing, bright and warm and safe, yet he couldn’t really believe it was there, even when he was looking right at it, even as Draco ran a hand over the silver fur. It wasn’t a stag either; it had no antlers.

The doe took a step towards Harry and Draco followed. The dementors had retracted into the darkness, leaving a narrow path for Draco to be led back to the others.

Harry wanted to grab him as soon as he was within reach, to shake him and scream at him and hold on to him and never let go again, but Draco hardly even looked at him.

“Did they get you?”

Draco shook his head almost imperceptibly. He walked with his eyes empty and fixed straight ahead, his hand resting against the doe’s flank, his wand held limply down his side.

“Draco, look at me, did they get you?” Harry tried again, but Draco didn’t answer him and so there was nothing for Harry to do but walk with him, his familiar patronus to his right on the other side of Hermione, Draco and the strange patronus to his left.

 

"Harry," Hermione whispered. "Who's here?"

"No one's here."

"Then whose patronus is it?"

"It's mine, I think."

o

They reached the wall, the stairs, and they climbed slowly upwards. Hermione’s breathing was laboured and gravelly, but she was carrying more of her own weight. When Harry glanced over at Draco, he looked like he was about to throw up again, but also more like himself; less empty. The two patronuses were still with them, Harry’s whole hand was buzzing and as soon as they reached the first landing, they stopped. Hermione disentangled herself from Harry and leaned against the wall breathing deeply. Harry pulled three chocolate bars from his pocket and handed them to the others. Draco took his gratefully and had devoured it before Harry had even gotten the paper off of his. Harry watched him pull a second one from his own pocket.

“Where are the rest?” asked Hermione, her voice hoarse and not at all like her own, and in the brighter light up here the burns on her face and arms looked worse.

“The rest of what?” Harry asked.

“The dementors. The stairs were packed when we came down, so where are they?”

Harry looked around. They hadn’t risen far above the pit yet, but she was right: There wasn’t a single dementor on the landing or behind them, and none ahead of them either.

“Maybe they headed upstairs,” said Harry. “For the prisoners.”

“Or maybe it’s working,” said Draco quietly.

He stood by the railing and was looking down to the floor below. Harry went over to look with him. He could see billowing fog and dementors down there and it took him a second to realize what Draco meant. There were still dementors down there, but now there were also spaces where they weren’t; holes in the mass of bodies. They hadn’t been there when they came down.

Harry felt nervous hope stirring in his chest – they couldn’t be sure yet, he told himself, they couldn’t be sure what was happening or why, but still-

“We need to get back to the others,” he said.

“Right,” said Draco.

“Harry, will you give me a hand?” asked Hermione.

He took her arm again and they turned to the steps. They ascended in silence, but he knew they were all thinking the same thing: It had worked.

Chapter Text

It was a long walk to the top of the tower. There were no more dementors, but their gloom persisted, and Harry wanted to keep the patronuses with them, but his whole right hand had gone numb and soon his concentration started slipping. The doe faded before the stag did, but both were gone before they reached the fourth floor. When the last silver light died away, Harry felt a shudder of discomfort and sadness, but that was all.

They continued their ascend in near darkness. Harry kept turning his head, listening for rattling breath, braced for another assault on his mind, but he didn’t see anything and all he could hear was the scuffling of Draco’s uncertain feet and Hermione’s laboured breathing.

Then he noticed the light ahead of them. It spilled down the top of the stairs, not the flickering, orange light from the torches, but the silver glow of patronuses. None of them said anything, but they sped up.

 

When they reached the landing of the fourth floor, Harry stopped dead, staring up at the sight in front of him. It was an elaborate spiderweb, thin strings of patronus light that ran along the walls, across the chasm over the pit and up above them, illuminating the entire inside of Azkaban with calm, ghostly light. Harry craned his neck back, staring up at it, for a moment so overwhelmed he didn’t notice the other change that had occurred – that sound had returned to Azkaban. The oppressive, unnatural lack of acoustics was gone and though the screams had quietened, they could now hear quiet weeping echoing between the walls.

“It’s-“ Harry began, but didn’t get any further before Draco pushed past him, all signs of his trance-like state vanished in place of sudden urgency.

“Where are you going?” Harry called, but Draco ignored him.

He stopped in front of a cell just a few paces ahead.

“Dad?” he said only just loud enough for Harry to hear him and his voice sent a chill down Harry’s spine.

“Oh no,” said Hermione quietly.

She let go of Harry’s arm and he took a hesitant step towards Draco.

“Dad, can you hear me?” Draco said.

He reached out towards the bars of the cell door, but then stopped, glancing down at the thread of silver that ran across them. Harry was close enough now that he could have reached out to pull him back, but he didn’t. Instead, he looked into the cell. Through the shimmer of light, he could make out the figure of a man huddled under a blanket, his face peeking out but half obscured by shadows. His cheeks were sunken and his skin ashen, and Harry hardly recognized him without his long, silky hair. Of course Harry had known Lucius would be there somewhere in Azkaban, Draco had told them. But he hadn’t spared it a single thought that they might find him. They had to have passed him on the way down too and he hadn’t even noticed.

Harry touched Draco’s arm and he flinched, turning to Harry with a guilty look on his face.

“Harry, I-“

Draco swallowed and glanced back into the cell.

“Do you think maybe we could-“ he began again, but before he could finish his sentence, a mighty crash sounded from above.

Harry, Draco and Hermione all looked up.

“What was that?” Draco asked.

“I don’t-“

A second crash and the light in the tower dimmed as if the power had been cut. The glow condensed around the thin wire of the patronus chain, and then it snapped just as Draco’s patronus had in the pit. Harry threw himself at the railing, looking up in time to see red light flashing from the topmost gallery. A girl cried out, the words lost as her voice echoed down the tower. Harry thought it might have been Ginny.

“We’re coming!” he yelled back, then turned to reach for Hermione.

She took his hand and Harry looked at Draco.

“I’m sorry-“ he began, but Draco cut him off, shaking his head.

“Forget it,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Harry nodded and they ran for the stairs.

 

They moved as fast as they could along the galleries of the fifth floor and then the sixth. The voices of people shouting curses became clearer, the light of the spells continued to flash like lightning above them, but Hermione wasn’t breathing right and each step seemed to cause her agony, so by the time they reached the second floor from the top, they had once again slowed almost to a walk. She heaved in gasps of air and then coughed hard, buckling over and clinging to Harry to stay upright.

“Sorry,” she wheezed.

“It’s fine, you’ll be fine,” said Harry, his words nearly drowned out by another barrage of spells from above. “We’ll get you to the hospital wing as soon as we’re back.”

Hermione nodded.

“You just-  go ahead. See what’s happening. I’ll catch up.”

“No, we’re almost there-“

“Just go, Harry.”

She coughed into her sleeve, letting go of Harry to steady herself with a hand against the wall instead. Harry was about to protest when a curse and a scream sounded in close succession from above.

“Draco, can you do your spell again?” Harry asked with a questioning look at Hermione.

She nodded. Draco pulled out his wand and pointed it again to Hermione’s throat and then her chest, muttering the incantation.

“Thanks,” she said.

Draco reached into his pocket.

“Your wand,” he said, handing it over.

She took it, grimacing as her burned fingers closed around it.

“Now go,” she said.

And they did.

 

They raced up the final staircase and launched into the chaos on the topmost gallery. Spells were flying everywhere; one brushed by Harry’s face so close it singed his ear.

He could see one auror lying on the floor right by the door, but the other three were still standing. Ginny was the farthest away from him, quickly retreating down the gallery as she took on one auror by herself, throwing curses like mad and dodging the attacks as well as she could in the narrow space between the wall and the railing. Between her and Harry, the other three were duelling the remaining two aurors, who still hadn’t noticed him and Draco.

“Neville, duck!” Harry called, and Neville dropped to the floor.

In the same moment, an auror hit Luna with a stunner.

Stupefy!” Harry cried, and the red light caught the auror in the chest and threw him back against the wall.

His partner turned, catching sight of Harry and her eyes widened in disbelief.

“What the– who the fuck are you?” she cried as she threw a wordless hex at them.

Draco cast a shield charm faster than Harry could react. The moment the auror was distracted, Ron turned and sprinted towards his sister, who was backed up against a cell, throwing shield spells with frantic speed. The auror heard him and spun around, aiming her wand at his feet. Draco slashed his wand downwards in a wordless curse at the same time Neville cried:

Expelliarmus!”

Draco’s spell missed by an inch, but Neville’s hit and the wand flew from the auror’s hand into his.

Stupefy!” Harry and Draco said in unison.

One red jet caught her in the chest, the other the side of her head, and she collapsed. They all turned, wands raised, to the last standing auror, who was still fending off Ron and Ginny. Harry couldn’t tell which of their spells caught him, though one stunner came uncomfortably close to hitting Ginny instead. The auror stiffened and fell like a tree tipping over.

Ginny lowered her wand. She was sweating and out of breath. Ron was bleeding from where a severing charm or something like it had brushed his cheek. Harry’s heart was pounding hard, his fingers felt strange and numb. He watched Neville step over the fallen auror at his feet to kneel down by Luna.

Rennervate,” he muttered and she stirred with a quiet groan.

Ron and Ginny were coming towards them and Ron’s eyes swept anxiously from Harry to Draco.

“Where’s Hermione?” he called.

“She’s fine,” Harry said. “She got hurt, but she’s fine. She was right behind us.”

Ron’s face was a grimace of anger and confusion, he opened his mouth to speak, but then someone coughed. Harry turned around and saw Hermione coming up the stairs. A moment later, Ron pushed past him, running down the gallery and pulling her into a hug as soon as he reached her. She winced from the touch and he immediately released her.

Only then did he seem to notice the burns.

“What-“

“It’ll be fine,” she said, her voice rough and unconvincing. “I need Madam Pomfrey, but I’ll be fine.”

“Did you find the source?” asked Ginny, calling Harry’s attention away from Ron and Hermione.

He nodded.

“And you destroyed it?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“What are we going to do about the aurors?” Draco asked, gesturing to the four unconscious people on the floor.

“Leave them?” suggested Harry. “The dementors are gone, they won’t be hurt from being in here.”

“They saw us,” said Draco. “They recognized you.”

“They’ll think we were polyjuiced.”

“Why weren’t we?” asked Ginny. “We didn’t even bother to cover our faces.”

“It’s fine, no one will believe it was us,” said Harry.

“But if the aurors say they saw us, we’ll probably be questioned, and the investigation will focus on people who might have been able to get a hold of hair from all of us. And even if they don’t suspect us, if they recognized Malfoy, that could be a problem…”

“Memory charms,” croaked Hermione.

Her and Ron had re-joined them, she was leaning against him, his arm was looped around her waist.

“Right,” said Harry. “Of course. Who knows memory charms apart from Hermione?”

 

It turned out Draco did, and it took only a couple of minutes to wipe the memories of the four aurors. Draco took care of the two who had collapsed the farthest from them, Hermione the ones right where they stood. Once it was done, a strange quiet settled among  them. They stood close together next to the bodies of the stunned aurors, hurt and exhausted and right by the door that would lead them out, but none of them moved to leave.

“Do you think they’ll still use it as a prison?” asked Luna quietly.

“They’ll have to find something safer,” said Draco. “It won’t be inescapable with the dementors gone.”

He sounded certain, but it was hard to believe him. Standing inside Azkaban, it still felt inescapable. It was still a fortress; the walls were just as thick, the bars just as real. But the dementors were gone and the darkness of the place was a sane one. The dementors were gone and the awareness of the cruelty of what the place had been was like a steady beat through Harry’s brain.

They kept people here.

The anger he felt at that thought pounded through him like a fever, except it felt right and natural, and it was mending something inside of him that had been broken.

“You don’t think they’ll try to bring the dementors back?” asked Ginny.

“They won’t want to,” said Hermione.

“We should go,” said Neville. ”They’ll have alerted the guards back on the main land. They could be here any minute.”

 

They took off from the top of the metal stairs on the outer wall of Azkaban, through icy pinpricks of rain. Harry flew at the back of their formation, watching the backs of his friends, of Neville, who shared Draco’s broom this time, Ron who was holding Hermione tightly in place in front of him, Luna with her arms wrapped around Ginny’s waist, her white hair billowing behind her. Ahead of them, the dark line of the shore was coming closer. When he glanced back over his shoulder, he saw the first light of dawn spilling over the horizon and the still visible shape of Azkaban silhouetted against it.

Once they reached land, they disapparated in quick succession.

Seven cracks sounded on the halfway point of the path that led from Hogsmeade station to Hogwarts. The castle ahead of them was still mostly dark, but here and there a square of light was visible.

“How late are we?” asked Neville.

Ginny looked at her watch.

“We’re not late. We’ve got fifteen minutes to spare,” she said.

“Oh,” said Neville. “Well, that’s…”

“Yeah,” said Ginny.

It felt like it had been days since they left Hogwarts.

 

They walked to the castle, all of them casting worried glances at Hermione, whose troubled breathing was only getting worse. Now and then a small whimper escaped her, and Ron held on to her a little tighter.

“Luna and I can take the brooms back to the locker rooms,” said Ginny when they were almost at the steps to the Entrance Hall. “You two just hurry and get Hermione to the Hospital Wing.”

Harry nodded. Luna and Ginny took off, the rest of them turned to the stairs. Draco was the first one to notice the figure who sat huddled on the top step and he jerked back in surprise. Harry recognized the green hems of Slytherin and already had his wand raised before he realized who it was.

“Pansy!” Draco called.

She lifted her head with a start, her eyes slow and confused before they settled on him. She stood up quickly, gathering her robes around her against the cold.

“You made it,” she said.

Draco nodded.

“Yeah.”

Her eyes slid from him to the rest of them.

“It worked, didn’t it?” she asked. “I think we felt it all the way here. I’ve been so fucking worried- where’s Weasley? And Lovegood?”
“Went to put the brooms back,” said Neville.
Then Pansy’s gaze fell on Hermione and her eyes widened.

“What the hell happened?”

 o

Ron and Harry left Draco and Neville with Pansy. They didn’t even make it across the Entrance Hall before they gave up on letting Hermione walk by herself. Ron picked her up and Harry pulled out the invisibility cloak. It was very early morning and the corridors were deserted, but on the off chance that they did run into someone, it would at least be less suspicious for them to find Harry wandering around by himself than the two of them helping an injured Hermione through the castle.

 

Harry pushed open the door to the Hospital Wing and looked inside. It was dark, the empty beds were islands of ghostly white, the curtains around them all pulled back.

“No one’s here,” he said and held the door open.

“Go wake up Pomfrey, then,” said Ron’s disembodied voice.

Harry let the door fall shut and ran to the door in the back wall. He had the terrible thought that Madam Pomfrey might not be there, but he pushed it back and hammered on the door, the sound seeming loud enough to wake the whole castle. An agonizing second passed and then another. He looked back over his shoulder – Ron had pulled off the invisibility cloak, Hermione was a dark shape on the bed. Harry pounded on the door again, his heart going crazy as it slowly and horribly started to dawn on him that they could loose her.

“Where the fuck is she?” called Ron.

“I don’t know!”

He reached for his wand – he was far beyond the point where blowing up a door to wake someone up would be a drastic move, and if for some insane reason Madam Pomfrey wasn’t in her quarters, maybe the noise would be loud enough to wake up another teacher, anyone who knew anything about healing spells, and then to hell with all of the secrecy- the door was pulled open and Madam Pomfrey, wrapped in her dressing gown, blinked up at him with sleep-drunk eyes.

“Potter?” she said. “What on earth are you-“

“Hermione is hurt. She got burned by fiendfyre, I think it might have gotten in her throat, or she was too close when it exploded, she can’t breathe properly, I don’t have time to explain how-“

But Madam Pomfrey didn’t ask any questions. She pushed Harry aside, and was already rolling up her sleeves and pulling out her wand as she hurried towards Ron and Hermione. She flicked her wand and the lights in the hospital came on. At the other end of the room, a locked cabinet sprang open, and an army of bottles, jars and vials zoomed to the table by the bed where Hermione lay. The tiny, old witch had cast three spells before she even reached the bed, and already the wheezing of Hermione’s breathing had eased. Ron jumped out of her way and Pomfrey grabbed a vial from the table.

“Merlin, poor child,” she muttered.

She uncorked the vial, but didn’t bother to have Hermione drink the potion; she guided the liquid with her wand so it swirled like three blue snakes from the bottle and into Hermione’s mouth and nostrils. Hermione coughed and shuddered, Pomfrey put down the vial, her eyes never leaving Hermione. She raised her wand over Hermione’s face and moved the tip in tiny figure-eight movements, the murmured incantation too quiet for Harry to make out any words. He and Ron watched her anxiously and at first the spell had no visible effect, but then Hermione’s skin moved, rising here and there, like fingers poking from the underside of it, faster and faster, until it looked like it was boiling. Pearls of sweat broke out on her forehead and ran into her hair. It pooled in the creases by her eyes and around the burns, where it sizzled and frothed. Madam Pomfrey moved her wand faster, Hermione’s skin bubbled, more white froth appeared and Hermione whimpered and squirmed on the bed.

“What are you doing?” Ron demanded, staring wide eyed at the foam that now appeared around Hermione’s fingers and soaked into the sheets.

“Trying to save the nerves in her skin,” said Madam Pomfrey without looking up.

She put down her wand and picked up a large, ceramic jar.

Fiendfyre,” she muttered, scooping up the thick, waxlike ointment with two fingers. “I’m going to have someone’s head for this…”

 

There were more potions, more spells, more sharply smelling ointments. Harry paced between the beds, cringing whenever another sob of pain escaped through Hermione’s gritted teeth. Ron stood like frozen next to the bed, his face pale and worried. He started when Madam Pomfrey suddenly stopped to look at him.

“Bring me a glass of water,” she said.

Harry stopped pacing and Ron blinked slowly.

“What?” he asked.

“There’s a sink over by the wall, dear.”

“Oh,” he said. “Right.”

Harry looked at Hermione. She lay flat on her back, the rise and fall of her chest was quick, but there was no more wheezing. Madam Pomfrey gently put an arm around her and helped her to sit up. The collar of her shirt was soaked. Her skin was glistening – whether from sweat or spells or potions, Harry had no idea – but the burns were gone. Ron came back with the water. He handed it to Madam Pomfrey, who held it to Hermione’s lips.

“There you go,” she said as Hermione drank.

She put the glass down on the bedside table.

“Did that hurt?” she asked.

Hermione shook her head.

“That’s good. Now, your throat should be completely healed. You might feel a bit sore right after eating, but you should have no trouble breathing or speaking. If you do, come see me again immediately.”

Hermione nodded.

“As for scarring, this is dark magic, but I think we got lucky. Your face is going to be fine. I’m sorry to say I can’t promise about your hands. You’ve had a heavy dose of skin replenishing potions and those should do for the worst of it, but your skin will be very sensitive for the next couple of days. There might be a certain numbness too, but you should regain all feeling shortly.”
Madam Pomfrey straightened up, fixing a pillow behind Hermione’s back.

“You will stay here for the next couple of days and rest. You’ll continue with the skin replenishing potion every morning, as well as applying dragon burn salve three times a day, and by then you should be as good as new.”

Hermione nodded.

“Thank you,” she said.

And finally, Madam Pomfrey turned to Ron and Harry.

“Now,” she said, “I think you two should explain to me how on earth she ended up like this.”

Harry and Ron exchanged glances, but before either of them could say anything, Hermione spoke up again:

“Ron, do you have my wand?”

“Right, yeah, I do,” he said.

He fished it out of his pocket and handed it to her.

“Thanks,” she said. “Madam Pomfrey, I’m really sorry about this.”

Madam Pomfrey looked at her.

“My dear, there’s no need to-“

Hermone raised her wand.

Obliviate,” she said steadily.

Madam Pomfrey’s face grew vacant. For a moment, she stood very still. Then she blinked slowly and looked around, as if she had just woken up in an unfamiliar place.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just have to go and… to go.”

With a dazed expression, she walked to the end of the room, went through the door to her quarters and closed it carefully behind her.

“I hate that spell,” Hermione said.

Harry looked at the closed door and thought that maybe he did too. He knew better than to think a spell was easy just because Hermione made it look that way, but it still seemed like there should be more to erasing someone’s memories than that. She had just saved Hermione’s life, and they hadn’t even thanked her. They hadn’t bothered asking her to keep it secret.

Hermione ran a hand over her face.

“God,” she said quietly.

Ron was still looking at her warily, as if her skin might start bubbling again any moment. She took a deep breath and swung her legs out of the bed.

“Alright, let’s go,” she said.

Ron looked alarmed.

“Pomfrey said you should rest.”

“I’m fine,” she said, picking up the skin potion and the salve. “We’re still following the plan: We’ll be back in our beds before anyone notices we were gone and wake up this morning like nothing happened.”

“Hermione-“

“I don’t-“ she began, still in her business-like tone.

Then Ron pulled her into a hug, burying his face in her hair.

“I’m so glad you’re alright,” he muttered.

Harry crossed and uncrossed his arms. Ron released Hermione and she looked up at him and then at Harry with a wry smile.

“So we managed to survive that too,” she said.

 

They left the hospital wing and walked most of the way back to Gryffindor tower in exhausted silence. Harry drank in the normalcy of being back in the corridors at Hogwarts with Ron and Hermione – even without the daily bustle of students, in the silent twilight hours before dawn when they were too drained to talk to each other, it still felt like coming home.

They were on their way up the last staircase, the one that led to the corridor with the fat lady’s portrait, when Hermione broke the silence.

“You could have told us, Harry,” she said.

Harry stifled a yawn.

“I should have told you what?”

“About you and Malfoy.”

Harry stopped. The lightness in his body dropped out of him. His stomach turned to lead.

“What’s going on with Malfoy?” asked Ron.

Harry stared at Hermione, who had just almost died, and was now looking away like she had no plans to answer Ron’s question. Harry looked at Ron.

“He’s-“ he began, and then didn’t get any further.

He could have told them, Hermione said. What exactly was it she expected him to tell? He had no idea what was going on with him and Draco. It wasn’t like he had to explain it to anyone.

“It’s nothing,” he said.

Hermione sighed.

“Harry, it’s not nothing.”

Ron was watching both of them curiously now and Harry grimaced.

“It’s just… We’re…” he trailed off again.

“You’re what? Snogging?” Ron suggested with a grin.

Hermione looked like she wanted to kick him.

“Something like that,” Harry choked out.

Ron laughed.

“Mate, it really kills a joke if you look like that when you say it.”

Harry wasn’t sure how he looked.

“I’m not joking.”

“What do you mean you’re not-“

“About me and Draco. We’re- I wasn’t joking.”

Ron’s eyebrows shot up.

“Oh,” he said. “That… are you serious?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit. Okay, well… wow.”

Ron took a step back down the stairs. He looked from Harry to Hermione, like he was assessing the conspiracy of both of them having known about this and not told him – or possibly like he was waiting for one of them to start laughing. When neither of them did, his frown deepened.

“You know, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but that actually makes a lot of sense.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harry snapped.

Ron held up his hands defensively.

“Nothing, nothing!”

“But it’s not just snogging, is it?” asked Hermione cautiously.

Ron’s face went completely wrong. He looked at Harry, horrified.

“You’re shagging him too?”

“God, Ron, that wasn’t what I meant!” said Hermione at the same time Harry exclaimed “No!”

A dark blush coloured Hermione’s cheeks, but she pushed on:

“It was just, after seeing the two of you in Azkaban, I thought there might be a bit more to it – that maybe you, you know, liked him as well?”

Harry glared at her. Just then, he was pretty sure he would prefer going back to Azkaban and taking on every single auror the Ministry was sending over there, rather than have this conversation.

“Why would I be snogging him if I didn’t like him?”

Hermione’s blush deepened.

“Right, no, of course… So you’re together, then?”

“That’s none of your business!” he snapped.

“We’re your friends, Harry, you don’t have to keep it from us.”

“Fine!” he said. “But I’ve got no idea if we’re together, alright? It’s not like it’s been bloody simple, but yeah, I like him. I like him a lot, and I’m sorry about that, sorry I didn’t tell you, I was going to, I just really didn’t want to have this fucking fight with you right now.”

Hermione crossed her arms.

“Is that what you think is going to happen? We’ll fight about it?”

“We’re fighting right now!”

Harry’s voice rose loud enough that it echoed up the stairs.

“You’re the only one who’s fighting, mate,” said Ron.

“Am I?” Harry snapped.

He turned to Hermione: “It’s not like you weren’t pissed when you found out I’d been flying with him – I was just talking to him then, I didn’t even like him, and you said he was emotionally amputated, that he wasn’t worth forgiving-“

“But Harry, that was all the way back in October!” she said, exasperated.

“And things have changed now?”

“Of course they have! We’ve been working with him and Pansy for months, we’ve talked to them, he was with us in the pit.“

“Ron was angry about him even coming with us, and that’s, what, two weeks ago?”

Ron looked embarrassed.

“It’s not like I don’t like him,” he said. “I mean, I don’t but... It was mostly that I didn’t trust him, you know? I just didn’t get why you wanted to bring him along, that’s all, it seemed bloody suspicious to me. But if you like him, that’s… you’re my best mate, Harry, it’s not like I won’t give him a chance.”

“But-“

Hermione cut him off before he could go on:

“No one is angry, Harry. It’s fine, alright.”

He looked at her tired face, and then at Ron, who mirrored her worried, sympathetic expression.

“But he’s a bloke,” Harry said, because he had to. Someone had to.

Ron looked confused.

“Yeah? I mean, I thought you liked girls, but you know…”

“I already told you we wouldn’t mind,” said Hermione.

“I do like girls, though. Not anyone specific, not right now but just… in general?”

“Yeah,” Hermione said. “That’s fine, that’s perfectly normal too.”

“It’s not like anyone’s expecting you to have stuff like that sorted out already. Charlie didn’t figure it out until he was in his seventh year either, and he had a lot less going on than we’ve-“

“Charlie is gay?” Harry interrupted. “Your brother?”

“Yeah,” said Ron. “Didn’t you know?”

Harry shook his head, and for a moment they just stared at each other. Then Harry’s face split into a grin. Ron started laughing too when he did, the relief and overtiredness washing over them, and there wasn’t anything funny about it, but then Harry was laughing because Ron was, and Ron was laughing at him.

“You boys are ridiculous,” said Hermione.

She looped a hand under both Ron's and Harry’s arm and dragged them with her up the stairs.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go get that half hour of sleep before breakfast.”

 

Chapter Text

Dragging himself out of bed that morning after barely an hour of sleep was without a doubt and by any measure the absolutely hardest thing Draco had ever put himself through. He had no focus. His thoughts slipped away from him halfway through every task. He had retied his tie three times. He would have to inhale unreasonable amounts of coffee if he was to even make it to lunch. If he could find Boyle, he might be able to get his hands on some of that Weasley candy that would make you sick, but in that case he would have to coordinate with the Gryffindors – they might get the same idea, and it would look too suspicious if they all fell mysteriously ill at the same time. With a jerk of uneasiness, Draco remembered Granger. The fiendfyre explosion, the smell of burnt hair and flesh. The clear cut image of Weasley picking her up when she collapsed, a burned arm in a singed sleeve dangling limply back and forth. He remembered other things from the night before as well, but each memory was like that: visceral, disjointed, the space between them blank or foggy. He couldn’t even recall how they had gotten from the island to the school.

“You going to finish tying that shoe?” asked Blaise.

Draco looked down at his hands. There were shoelaces and very little progress.

“Yeah,” he said and finished the bow he had stopped halfway through. 

He followed Blaise and Nott to the common room. Pansy was waiting for them there and they all walked together to the Great Hall. The other three made small talk about nothing in particular and Draco drifted along behind them. They came up from the dungeon and passed a window overlooking the grounds. Rain was drizzling from a grey and overcast sky. Draco stopped. The rain shouldn’t have surprised him. It was February after all, and since all the windows in the dungeon were under the lake, it wasn’t like he had had reason to expect anything else. And still, he had thought there would be sunshine. There was a lightness humming through him, like the one that comes with warmth and bright weather. He turned away from the window, hurried to catch up with the others and settled back in step behind them. He watched their backs and tried to determine if perhaps they were walking a little straighter. He felt as if a burden they hadn’t known they had been carrying might have been lifted. He wanted to ask Pansy about it, if perhaps she had noticed it too.

The four of them joined the steady trickle of students coming down the marble staircase. Ahead of them, Draco noticed professor Sprout and the headmistress standing close together outside the doors to the Great Hall. They were talking fervently, and then Sprout gestured to the stairs, McGonagall turned her head and looked right at the little group of Slytherins. Her eyes settled on Draco. For a short moment, she held his gaze and his heart stilled. Then she turned back to sprout, and Draco grabbed Pansy’s arm.
“What?” she said, like she hadn’t noticed anything.

He leaned in close to her.

“They know,” he whispered.

“What – who?”

Draco pointed discretely to Sprout and McGonagall.

“The teachers? How would they know?”

“McGonagall was looking right at me-“

“Draco, if they knew, there would be aurors running all over the place. Just act normal. Stop freaking out. Come on.”

She shook his hand off and continued down the stairs. Hesitantly, heart still racing, eyes still on the professors, Draco followed her.

He turned his gaze to the floor when they passed them, but he thought he could feel McGonagall’s eyes boring into him.

They entered the Great Hall, and Draco halfway expected the aurors to be waiting for them right inside the doors. Or that the hall would fall quiet when they entered and everyone would turn to stare at them. No one did. No aurors rushed out to arrest them. They walked to the Slytherin table and sat down like they would on any other morning. Draco poured himself a cup of coffee. He kept an eye on the doors, and didn’t have to wait long before while, McGonagall and Sprout showed up. They looked a lot less grim than he thought they had outside. They didn’t even glance towards the Slytherin table.

o

Draco was on his second cup of coffee when the owls arrived. They swooped in through the windows and his nerves spiked again as all around him the day’s Daily Prophet was delivered, knuts paid and owls sent off again. He thought it took quite a lot longer than necessary before an owl landed by his own plate. He yanked the paper away from it when it did and the bird ruffled its feathers indignantly. He paid it its knut and then unfolded the newspaper impatiently, already bracing himself for the headline – “Terrorist attack on Azkaban”, possibly even “former Death Eater Draco Malfoy suspected to be involved”.
But there was nothing about Azkaban. The front page was mostly taken up by an article dedicated to the Gringotts tax conflict that had filled the news for the past week. Draco scanned the smaller headlines of other articles, and there was still nothing.

“Anything interesting?” asked Pansy, leaning forward to read from across the table.

“Doesn’t look like it.”

He flipped through the paper, though if there was anything about Azkaban in there, it would have been front page news. Apparently the Ministry was keeping the whole thing quiet for now.

“’morning,” someone said.

Draco looked up. Across from him, a Weasley took the seat next to Pansy. Freckles and bright, red hair. Red and gold trimmed robes. It took him a moment to realize that Granger was there too.

“Good morning,” she said with a thin smile.

Draco stared at her. Then he turned to look down the table, making sure he was sitting with the right house. A few of the other Slytherins were staring back. Most were studiously pretending they hadn’t noticed the Gryffindors.

“Are they lost?” someone muttered.

Draco looked back at Weasley, who was pouring himself a glass of orange juice. Pansy was watching him like the act was deeply upsetting to her.

“What are you doing here?” asked Draco.

Granger smiled awkwardly.

“We just thought we’d try sitting over here today,” she said. “You know, everyone has been switching around a lot at the house tables this year so…”

She trailed off.

“Nobody switches around between Gryffindor and Slytherin, what are you thinking-“

“He told you, didn’t he?” interrupted Pansy. “About Draco?”

Draco’s heart skipped a beat.

“What are you-“ he began, but then Weasley and Granger exchanged a look.

Draco’s jaw dropped.

“He did?”

Weasley squirmed.

“Well… yeah, I suppose you could say that.”

“When?” demanded Draco.

“Uh, last night.”

Pansy leaned into Weasley’s personal space.

“And where is precious Potter this morning?” she asked, interrupting Draco before he could do the same.

He would have worded it differently. Weasley shrugged.

“He slept in, he’ll be down in a bit.”

“Anything interesting in there?” asked Granger, pointing to Draco’s newspaper.

She didn’t quite manage to sound casual.

“Nothing. You want to have a look?”

“If I may.”

He passed her the newspaper, ignoring the stares he knew he was getting from every Slytherin at the table.

“I’m glad to see you’re alright,” he said quietly.

She smiled quickly at him.

“Thank you,” she said.

She unfolded the newspaper and let her eyes run over the front page. She had just begun flipping through it when Draco caught sight of Harry over her shoulder as he entered the Great Hall and headed for the Gryffindor table. He reached it and was halfway down the side of it before he seemed to notice that his friends weren’t there. He stopped and Draco watched him as he turned around and scanned over the other tables. He looked over Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, turned back to Gryffindor and then to Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw again. And then, slowly, he raised his head and looked towards Slytherin. It wasn’t like it was hard to spot a Weasley head in a group of non-Weasleys, and Harry’s eyes found them quickly. He hesitated, but only for a second. And then Harry Potter walked resolutely away from the Gryffindor table, across the Great Hall to the Slytherins at the opposite end.

 By the time he sat down next to Draco, every student in the hall had noticed him. When Harry reached for the toast, everyone who hadn’t seen it for themselves had been told by their neighbour that the golden trio were sitting with Slytherin.

“’Morning,” Harry said. “So we’re sitting here today?”

Hermione shrugged.

“We thought it might be nice.”

“Sure,” said Harry. “Interhouse unity and all that.”

Pansy giggled and Draco glared at her. Since Granger and Weasley had both sat down next to Pansy, Harry had taken the place next to him. Which should have been fine. Draco had hit him and kissed him and slept next to him, and the four inches between them on the bench shouldn’t have been a problem at all, yet somehow they seemed more drastic than anything that had come before. It was very public proximity, and though the intentions of the Gryffindors might be good, he knew they wouldn’t get away with it. It was too big and too sudden a disturbance of the fragile truce in the school. Pansy sipped her coffee, and Weasley buttered his toast, and Draco sat rigidly in his seat, decidedly not looking at Harry and bracing himself for the moment when someone would break the silence of pretend normalcy and ask them what the fuck was going on.

He didn’t have to wait long.

Some third year boy Draco didn’t really know – a Zabini, one of Blaise’s more distant cousins – stopped dead in his tracks a few feet from the Slytherin table, staring at the trio like one might look at a blast-ended screwt if it decided to join for breakfast.

“What are they doing here?” he asked, his voice high and piercing.

Pansy glared at him.

“Piss off,” she said.

“They don’t belong here,” said the boy, his voice rising.

Several people from the other tables were stretching their necks to follow the scene.

“Why are you all letting him sit here after what he did to us?” the kid pointed angrily at Harry.

“Well, actually there is no rule that you have to sit at your house table,” said Granger in a polite voice she probably hadn’t meant to be condescending.

The boy looked livid

“Shut up you fucking mud-“

“That’s enough, Alain!”

There was a scramble as Blaise got up from the table. Alain turned to look at him.

“They’re mugglelovers! They can’t sit with Slytherin, they betrayed us, they-“
In three quick strides Blaise had reached the boy and caught his arm in a tight grip.

“You shut up right now or I swear you’ll be in detention for the rest of your life,” he hissed.

Alain shut his mouth. Blaise turned to the three stunned Gryffindors.

“I’m very sorry about this, Granger,” he said. “Potter. Weasley. You are very welcome at our table.”

He nodded to them and then left, dragging Alain with him out of the Great Hall. Everyone watched them go, and only when the two of them had disappeared through the doors did they turn back to their friends. Mutterings spread down the tables. Pansy looked mildly horrified, Draco was sure he wasn’t any better. An angry flush was still visible on Weasley’s cheeks. Granger cleared her throat.

“Well,” she said. “That was…”

“What’s Zabini going to do with him?” asked Harry.

He was still looking towards the doors where Blaise and Alain had disappeared.

“Talk to him,” said Draco. “I don’t really know Alain’s… situation. I think he’s usually a quiet kid, but there’s a lot of anger in Slytherin-“

“He had it tough last year,” interrupted Pansy. “I remember him, he- not that that excuses anything. But it’s good if Blaise can talk to him. They need to realize we’re not fighting anymore.”

 o

They finished their breakfast and managed to keep up a bit of conversation, though it mainly consisted of people asking to be passed the jam or the juice or the toast with perhaps too many pleases and thank yous. There were no other outbursts from the Slytherins. When the Gryffindors were done eating, they excused themselves, and just as he stood up, Harry leaned in close to Draco and whispered:

“Meet me outside.”

Draco gave him a minute’s head start. He finished his coffee and tried to convince himself he didn’t feel watched when he got up from the table and followed.

o

Harry waited for him at the top of the marble staircase.

“What is it?” Draco asked when he reached him, glancing back down towards the Great Hall.

“Come on,” Harry said, nodding his head at the empty corridor.

Draco followed him, but they had only made it a few feet into it before Harry stopped and pulled Draco with him into a niche between two suits of armour. And then without letting go of Draco’s arm, he reached up with his other hand, pushed it into Draco’s hair and pulled him in for a kiss. And Draco’s heart convulsed in anxiety as much as excitement, because this time they weren’t hidden away in the astronomy tower or in the secret room – no one was going to walk by and notice them, but anyone could. And he let it happen anyway, let Harry push him back against the wall, his hand cupped around the back of Draco’s head, holding him in place, his tongue pushing into his mouth. Draco looped his arms around Harry’s waist, pulling him back with him. Harry’s chest pressed against his own, his fingers clenched in Draco’s robes. Draco loosened his hold on Harry a bit, and Harry pulled back, looking slightly flushed but with a wide grin on his face.

“So,” Draco said, a bit out of breath. “You told your friends?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“All of them?”

“Just… well, just Ron and Hermione for now. But the others will find out soon.”

“They will if this is going to be a thing.”

Harry’s grin grew wider.

“Probably,” he said.

“So they were ok with it?”

“They decided to sit with Slytherin.”

Draco nodded.

“I can’t believe they did that.”

He leaned his head against the wall behind him.

“Shit,” he said. “You have really good friends, Harry.”

“I know.”

“I think if I had had friends like that, I might have… some things would have been easier. I might have done some things differently.”

He took a deep breath.

“Tell Granger I’m sorry about Alain.”

“Zabini already apologized.”

“I know, but it’s important that she understands-“

“She’s pretty smart, Draco.”

“I thought she was going to die. I thought we’d killed her.”

Harry nodded.

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “I thought so too for a little while, last night. But Pomfrey patched her up. She’ll be fine. Pomfrey’s brilliant.”

“She is. I bet you would have been killed off before third year if we hadn’t had her.”

“Probably.”

“I’m glad you weren’t.”

“Thanks, Malfoy, I’m touched.”

Draco pushed him away.

“Piss off,” he said.

Harry grinned.

“If you say so. I’ll find you later, though.”

He stepped back out of the niche.

“Fuck you, Potter,” Draco said.

He grinned and turned away to walk down the hallway. Draco stayed by the suits of armour and watched until he turned a corner and disappeared. Then he headed back to Slytherin.

 o

Draco pushed open the door to his dormitory and found that in his absence, his bedroom had been invaded by half of Slytherin house. Matthew, Nott, Blaise and Daphne were gathered by Blaise’s bed; Pansy, Millicent and Tracey were spread out on Draco’s fourposter, lounging on it as if they owned it.

“Well that took you long enough,” said Blaise, standing up as soon as Draco came through the door.

“If I had known we were holding council, I would have been on time, but since no one bothered to tell me-”

“Don’t be a prick, Malfoy,” said Daphne. “Pansy claims she doesn’t know anything, so I hope you can explain to us what just happened.”

He had been making out with Potter, that was what had just happened, and for a split second, he was tempted to simply tell them that. He felt reckless and elated, but all their eyes were on him and he could feel Pansy’s nerves quivering from across the room.

“You mean at breakfast?” he asked.

“She means Potter and Weasley and fucking Granger sitting at our table and acting all chummy like we’re all the best of friends,” said Blaise.

“Potter hates you,” Matthew added.

Draco shrugged.

“Not anymore,” he said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Draco crossed his arms as he looked around at his housemates. As much as he admired Harry’s friends for their loyalty, their decision to sit with him and Pansy didn’t really go well with the plan of being discreet until the affair with Azkaban had blown over.

“We’re friends,” he said, which wasn’t discreet either, but they hadn’t prepared for this, and the easiest lie to pull off would be one that was at least somewhat close to the truth.

Blaise huffed.

“You mean to tell me you have not imperiused him or slipped him a love potion and that he was actually acting of his own free will this morning?” he said. “Come on, Draco, in what world have you and Potter ever been friends?”

“We’ve been talking a bit this year.”

“When?” shot Matthew.

Draco sighed.

“You know how I’ve had trouble sleeping?” he asked.

There were nods and shrugs all around. He wasn’t surprised; he hadn’t expected Blaise to keep quiet about his nightmares.

“Right, so sometimes I’ve been walking around the corridors at night. Apparently Potter was doing the same thing and I’ve run into him a couple of times.”

Blaise raised a sceptical eyebrow, but he looked intrigued.

“And then you became insomnia-buddies?” he asked. “Just like that?”

“I would appreciate if you’d turn down the sarcasm a bit,” Draco said.

Blaise just rolled his eyes.

“Anyway, Potter told me learning the patronus charm might help with the nightmares, so I asked him if he would teach me.”

“And then he turned you down flat,” said Daphne.

Blaise threw up his hands.

Imperius it is, then. Mystery solved.”

“He said yes,” Draco said.

“What, so he’s forgiven you for Voldemort, is that what you’re saying?” asked Tracey.

Draco glared at her.

“Yes,” he said coldly. “He testified at my trial, you know. In my defence.”

Draco didn’t actually know that. He hadn’t found the time to ask him. But he thought it seemed likely, and anyway, if he didn’t know, then neither did any of his house mates.

“Well that doesn’t necessarily mean-“ Tracey began, but then Nott interrupted her, speaking up for the first time since Draco came in.

“So can you do it?” he asked. “The patronus charm?”

He was looking earnestly at Draco. He hadn’t asked mockingly, like Blaise had, but with something like genuine interest.

“Yeah,” said Draco. “I can.”

He expected the harsh “Prove it!” to come from Blaise or Matthew, but it was Pansy who said in a curious tone of voice:

“Can we see?”

He turned surprised to her, looking for the smirk around her lips, the thing she was actually saying beneath what she had said, but he couldn’t find it.

“Alright,” he said.

He pulled out his wand and everyone in the room seemed to straighten up a bit. They all watched him attentively, even Blaise with his careful scepticism, and Pansy who already knew. Draco took a deep breath, concentrating on the shape of his memory, the feel of his patronus – and then he hesitated, not on purpose and not for dramatic effect, but the effect of it was dramatic. He had the attention of everyone in Slytherin house worth impressing. They were intrigued by his supposed friendship with Potter, and none of them would be able to turn the fact of it against him. Blaise wouldn’t be able to accuse Draco of being a turncoat like his father, if he decided to go for a low blow, because Draco’s patronus was a snake, and none of them would be able to ignore the significance of that. The realization hit him that this was exactly what he had wanted – a few months ago, he would have given anything for this. Once, the whole purpose of befriending Harry had been to get the people in this room to give him the attention they were giving him now, to regain their admiration, to prove that they had all been wrong to count him out. It felt good, only not as good as he had thought it would. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t a sweeping sense of redemption, because their approval was no longer the thing he wanted most in the world. They weren’t his friends. Pansy was his friend and so was Harry. And they had already forgiven him.

Expecto Patronum!”

The dormitory filled with a soft, pearly glow.

“Draco, it’s beautiful,” said Daphne softly.

Draco smiled and watched his patronus as the snake coiled in the air. It was beautiful. Looking at it made him feel slightly dizzy, though. He recalled the way it had snapped in the darkness of Azkaban. And hadn’t there been a moment where he stopped recasting it? Draco blinked as a sudden memory washed over him of dementors crowding close around him, Harry screaming his name before he disappeared from view, that moment of total darkness and complete cold – Draco’s hand was shaking slightly. He was still watching his patronus, he was still in the commonroom, but he didn’t like the way the shadows in there seemed to be getting taller, looming – he had wanted to die in the pit. He had looked at the dementors and felt nothing but fear and sadness and he had wanted to die. And then the doe had appeared. Harry’s patronus. Harry’s second patronus.

“Draco, are alright?” Pansy asked.

He started, the snake patronus flickered out.

“What?”

“Are you…. You’re crying?”

Draco quickly wiped a hand over his cheek. He hadn’t noticed.

“I’m not,” he said. “Anyway, that’s- That was my patronus.”

Blaise laughed.

“I can’t believe you’re actually friends with Potter,” he said.

 o

For one day, the stunt the Gryffindors had pulled at breakfast was all over the school. The theories for why it had happened quickly spun out of control. A few of them even included the detail that Draco Malfoy had learned the patronus charm, a piece of information that received intense scrutiny and debate, especially from former members of Dumbledore’s Army. For one day, Draco, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were dodging questions and deflecting attention, corroborating Draco’s story when necessary, defending the decision when challenged. And then the Daily Prophet arrived the following morning and suddenly no one cared much about something as silly as school gossip and unexpected displays of inter house unity, because plastered across the front page were the news that the prison of Azkaban had been infiltrated and all the dementors destroyed.

The article was fairly vague, the Ministry clearly still trying to hold back most of the information. There were no comments to questions of who could be behind the attack or what their intentions might have been, though the Ministry admitted that they didn’t suspect runaway Death Eaters, since there seemed to have been no attempt to free any prisoners. Most of the official Ministry statement concerned reassurance that a great number of aurors had been stationed at the prison to act as guards in place of the dementors, and that it was therefore still secure.

Not every Hogwarts student received or read the Daily Prophet, but halfway through breakfast, every single one of them had heard the news, and by lunchtime, everyone had read the article. Draco hadn’t seen papers so eagerly circulated since Harry gave his exclusive interview in the Quibbler back in fifth year. It was all anyone would talk about all day, and Draco was constantly on edge, anxiously anticipating the moment when someone would make a connection between the newfound solidarity between Gryffindors and Slytherins and what had happened at the prison, but no one did. Matthew did comment, without much sympathy, that it was unfortunate that dementors had become extinct just when Draco had learned the patronus charm.
“I guess you won’t have much use for it now.”

“It’s not like that’s what he learned it for, you squib,” Pansy snapped, and Matthew didn’t say anything else.

 

They had all expected it to be big news. They had expected these tense days of pretending they knew as little about the events as everyone else. Draco had expected the sideways glances from everyone who looked at him and thought that’s where your father is and assumed that was his closest connection to the events.

They had not anticipated the outrage.

It burst forth from the pages of the Prophet the day after the news came out: half of the debate section dedicated to letters from witches and wizards from all over Britain lashing out at the Ministry, not for the lapse in security that had allowed the dementors to be destroyed, but for the fact that it had not happened sooner.

 

Granger threw herself into the seat beside Draco in transfiguration that morning and shoved her paper at him.

“Have you seen it?” she said, her eyes wide with excitement.

“Yes, Granger, I get the Prophet too.”

She hardly listened to him and was already flipping through the pages.

“These are all just ordinary people writing in, but listen: “That the dementors were not removed from Azkaban immediately after the war, despite having joined the Dark Lord, seems to me the greatest lapse of our government since their fervent denial of the Dark Lord’s return…”,” she read aloud. “And this one: “It crushes my heart to think that every petty criminal in Britain has been treated like a Death Eater”. And this person is calling it “the most despicable treatment of human beings in the history of wizards.”

Draco had read all the letters and comments himself that morning, but he didn’t interrupt her. This was more than they had dared hope for. 

 

And it went on for days. The debate quickly sprawled into actual articles: a long feature with a St. Mungo’s healer explaining the permanent brain damage and loss of magical ability that can occur from prolonged dementor exposure; an anonymous interview with a retired auror, who had been stationed at Azkaban; the heartbreaking tale of a former prisoner, each of them sparking another burst of indignation and first, second and third hand stories with similar experiences.

The strangest thing was that the anger was mostly directionless. For a few days, the fact that it was not just the government that had ignored the awfulness of Azkaban, but every single witch and wizard in Britain, was conveniently and collectively forgotten, and people raged at the Ministry. But then high ranking Ministry officials were joining the debate as well, expressing the same resentment of Azkaban. Official Ministry statements declared that the use of dementors as guards, as a method of interrogation and as a method of execution was a crime against wizard kind and a violation of the natural rights of any magical person, and then it was no longer so easy for people to decide on who to blame.

It would have been impossible not to feel at least a little hopeful, but Draco was all too familiar with the sluggish process of the Ministry. It was clear that a new prison would have to be established, as well as a new system of imprisonment, but Draco fully expected it to take at least a year before the Ministry would be able to move any prisoners away from the Azkaban tower.

That was before the pictures were leaked.

Someone, possibly one of the many aurors now on the rotating schedule of guard duty at Azkaban, had smuggled a camera into the tower. It was amateurish photography, but it wasn’t like the motives needed much framing to convey the horrors of the prison. Draco couldn’t stomach looking at more than a few of them before he had to put the paper down. He wished he had done it sooner. He had seen it all before, he didn’t need to be reminded. He didn’t think he had needed to read that caption either: Many long term prisoners die in their cells and it is not uncommon for days or even weeks to go by before their passing is noticed and the body buried.

The photos ignited another wave of public outrage and the Ministry began the process of moving the prisoners to another “more humane” but “still secure” location almost immediately.

The names of the dead prisoners were made public shortly after. Draco felt he had known it for a while; he wasn’t surprised. That didn’t change the way the floor seemed to fall away under him when he read it. Knowing didn’t mean it didn’t feel like being stabbed repeatedly in the chest.

He skipped transfiguration and walked the long way to the non-existent floor near the Northern Tower, where there was a hidden room behind an invisible door in an inconspicuous stretch of wall.

The room was empty. The furniture was still there, looking sad and abandoned, but everything else had been tidied up, all the maps and notes and mess. He suspected it was Weasley, or maybe Longbottom who had carefully removed and destroyed all evidence of their mission. The books were gone too. Draco had forgotten all about them, so despite the favouritism of Madam Pince, Hermione Granger had apparently proven herself to be the most conscientious of the two of them and had actually managed to remember something like library fines even in the wake of being nearly burned to death.

Draco put his bag down on the floor and then curled up in one of the arm chairs. He had brought his textbooks with him, thinking he would want to be distracted, but he couldn’t bring himself to open any of them. He remembered how he had decided, after his first visit to Azkaban, that he already considered his father to be dead. It was odd how big the difference was between considering someone to be dead, and then for them to actually die. 

He did end up attending the rest of his classes that day, though when they were over, he couldn’t remember what any of them had been about.

In the evening he received a letter from his mother in which she asked him to come home for the funeral.

Chapter Text

It was still dark outside when Draco walked from the dungeon to the Entrance Hall. The cold early morning silence reminded him of the day they had come back from Azkaban, these hours when even the portraits were asleep and everything felt still and empty.

He was already in his dress robes. They would go to claim the body as soon as he came home and then have the funeral immediately after. There would be a memorial service later on where everyone who ought to be invited would be. Today, it was only himself and his mother.

The clack of his shoes on the marble floors echoed in the hall. He saw a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye and started, whirling around to see Harry standing up from where he had been sitting, on the staircase to the upper floors.

“Hey,” he said. “I’ve been waiting, I was starting to worry I might have missed you. I wanted to see you off.”

He was in his crumpled school robes, hair sticking all over the place as usual, a wry smile playing around his lips and Draco’s heart made a strange jerk at the sight of him. He felt suddenly self conscious in his stiff robes with all their silver clasps and polished jet bead fastenings. It wasn’t as if Harry didn’t know where he was going, but Draco had so far avoided telling him much about it.

“I’ll only be gone for a day,” he said.

He fiddled with the cuffs of his jacket. He couldn’t even remember why he owned tailored funeral robes. When had he had them made? Had he thought about whose death they would be for?

“I know,” said Harry. “Come on, I’ll walk with you to the apparition point.”

 

The air outside was clear with frost and the wind scraped frozen teeth over Draco’s cheeks. The gravel crunched under their feet and Harry’s shoulder brushed against his as they walked.

“Aren’t you cold?” Draco asked him.

“I can do warming spells.”

“Didn’t see you cast one.”

“Didn’t see you cast one either.”

“They put them in the fabric when you buy proper clothes.”

“Amazing. Who would have known.”

“Not you, certainly. Do you own anything other than your school robes?”

“Don’t be an arse.”

“It’s a habit.”

Harry snorted. Draco looked back towards the castle.

“So do all your friends know about us now?” he asked.

Harry shrugged.

“Sort of. Ginny, Neville and Luna do.”

“You told them or..?”

“Yeah, Ron and Hermione helped. I don’t know about Seamus and Dean… they might have figured it out. They haven’t asked.”

“How did Weasley take it?”

“Ginny? She was a bit weirded out, I think. “

“Makes sense. Considering.”

A reluctant smile curved Harry’s lips.

“Yeah,” he said. “Considering.”

 

They passed through the gates. Harry had his hands stuffed deep in his pockets, his shoulders drawn up like he was freezing.

“You know, I’m really sorry about your dad,” he said.

Draco grimaced.

“It’s fine, Harry.”

“I don’t want you to think-“

“It’s fine, alright. Look, I’m apparating from right down here, so I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah,” said Harry. “See you tomorrow.”

Draco nodded and stepped away from him. He waved quickly and then walked the last few feet down to the marker that meant he was outside the area under the anti-apparition spell. 

o

It turned out there was a lot of paperwork involved in claiming a body. It took forever for them to even get their security clearance for entering the ministry, and then there had been some misunderstanding with the ceremony official and they had to find a replacement who would know how to deal with the wards in the Malfoy family mausoleum. When they finally returned to the manor, they received notice that the transportation of the coffin with Lucius’ body had been delayed, and Draco almost started laughing at the absurdity of it all – him and his mother in their traditional mourning dress, as if death was something that could be dealt with with ceremonious dignity, and then it turned out the whole thing was just a mess of practicalities and bureaucracy and inefficient delivery services.

The burial itself was over very quickly. The aurors helped levitate the coffin into its designated space in the mausoleum and then the ministry official sealed it off. They had asked the official not to make a speech or anything like it, so he only offered his condolences and then a house elf escorted him off the grounds.

Draco and Narcissa went back to the manor. By then it was well into the afternoon and they hadn’t had any lunch, but neither of them was hungry, so they sat down in the drawing room and had the house elves bring tea up there instead.

“At least we got to say goodbye,” his mother said, breaking the long silence.

Draco scoffed.

“It’s not like he knew who he was saying goodbye to.”

“Some part of him did, Draco. He hadn’t been given the dementor's kiss, he was still in there, he was just… very far away.”

Draco had long ago regretted his decision come home for this. He could have made an appearance at the memorial service, but there was no need for him to endure this awkwardness. His mother was looking intently at him, her eyes begging him to just talk to her. He picked up his cup.

“I never wanted to see him like that,” he said, looking down at his hands curled around the porcelain. “That’s not how I want to remember him.”

“And you won’t,” she said. “We can choose how we want to remember people. To me, your father will always be the man he was before the Dark Lord ruined him-“

“Mum, please-“ he began, but she kept talking:

“The one who managed to keep going after the first war, who rebuilt his entire reputation and ended up standing beside the Minister for Magic for years as one of his most trusted confidants, the one who loved his family more than anything, who loved us more than anything – and he was so proud of you, Draco. He loved you so much.”

“I know,” he said, his throat tight.
“I always tried to tell him he was spoiling you, but he wouldn’t listen. You remember that summer you kept going on and on about how Harry Potter had gotten a spot on the Gryffindor quidditch team, and you weren’t even allowed to try out for Slytherin until your third year? You didn’t even ask him for anything, he just went out and bought those brooms, no questions asked-“

“I know,” Draco snapped. “I know all that, but I just – you saw what he turned into, the way he begged and grovelled, and prattled on and on about how pure we were and everything would be better when the Dark Lord won, as if he still believed in any of it.”

“We were all scared-“

“And he didn’t even recognize us! You dragged me all the way to that fucking prison, and then he had no clue who we were!”

She put her cup down with a gentle clink of porcelain.

“I shouldn’t have taken you with me,” she said.

“No, you shouldn’t have!”

He hammered his cup down and stood up. He wouldn’t be able to keep himself from crying if he had to look at her crestfallen face.

“Draco-“ she said softly, but he cut her off.

“Potter’s patronus is a bloody stag!” he yelled, because he had wanted to yell that at someone ever since he found out. “Because that was his father’s animagus form, and I can’t even produce a patronus if I think of my father! I tried, and it didn’t work.”

“Draco, dear, I’m so sorry, I don’t understand-“
“Yeah, fucking Potter taught me because he thinks I’m his bloody friend, and all his friends are just fine with that, and they all have people who are dead because of what we did, and I can’t just go home and cry about my Death Eater father and still have that-“ Draco’s voice broke pathetically.

He wasn’t even sure what he was trying to say anymore.

“I don’t deserve it,” he said. “I don’t deserve what they’re doing for me.”

Narcissa stood up. She put one hand on his shoulder, the other one against his cheek, turning his face towards hers. Her rings were cold against his skin.

“Draco, look at me,” she said.

He did.

“You’re allowed to be sad that he’s dead.”

Draco swallowed.

“I’m exactly like him.”

“No,” she said. “You’re not. Your father was a wonderful man, and I promise you, some day you will be able to remember that about him. And in some ways you are very much like him, but he was a very flawed person, and this war destroyed him. It did not destroy you. You will get through all this awfulness and you are going to be a braver and kinder and better person than he was, and all the terrible things that have happened to us are going to make you stronger.”

“You don’t know that. Harry doesn’t know that, and he – I don’t deserve him.”

“That’s nonsense, darling. You deserve all the kindness you are given. It’s not your job to reject the people who want to forgive you.”

She dropped the hand that was on his shoulder and instead took hold of his forearm.

“You’ve made mistakes, Draco. And those mistakes have had consequences, but this was not your decision.”

Her grip tightened and her thumb pressed against the dark mark through the fabric of his sleeves.

“That was your father’s mistake, not yours, and it is the one I will never be able to forgive him for. But it’s not your fault, Draco.”

“I wanted to take the mark,” he said, his voice thick.

“You were sixteen, you were in over your head in something you didn’t fully understand, and a decision was made for you. It doesn’t matter how you felt about that decision – Draco, don’t look away, listen to me: It wasn’t your fault.”

The hand against his cheek held him in place and forced him to look at her until his vision grew blurry and he felt the warm tears spilling over and running down his face. She let go of his arm and pulled him into a hug.

“It’s not your fault,” she repeated softly, running her fingers through his hair. “It wasn’t your choice.”

Once he had started crying, it felt like it would never stop. His nose was running, he sniffled and all his breaths came out as loud sobs. He clung to her and he cried over the humiliation of his family, over the hearings and his mother’s distance from him and his own distance from her, and over Azkaban and his father’s imprisonment. He cried because Harry liked him and he was terrified by how much that mattered. He cried because his father was dead and as awful as it was, as sad as it was, it was also a relief. It felt like the real end of the war, the one he had been waiting for. The moment from which things could finally get better.

Chapter Text

Harry had always wondered at how different the process of moving into Hogwarts at the beginning of a school year was from moving everyone out at the end of one. There was a certain order and ceremony to returning to Hogwarts after the holidays, as everyone slipped into the order of years and houses, prefects and professors, but when summer approached, each day of good weather seemed like a reminder that school rules would soon be suspended, that they were approaching two months of freedom and no homework. There was a very persistent, school wide agreement among the students that you couldn’t get detentions when the O.W.L’s and N.E.W.T’s were over – Harry had never heard any of the teachers confirm it, but that didn’t seem to matter. As soon as the fifth and seventh years had sat their exams, respect for school rules was replaced by a rapidly spreading restlessness, a giddy longing for summer, which peaked in the last week of school in the form of late night common room parties, skipping classes for impromptu quidditch matches and a broad variety of Weasley-inspired shenanigans. The professors still detracted house points, but otherwise didn’t do much to rein it in. The end of school chaos had long ago become a tradition that no one bothered trying to contain.

Harry had never really been able to join in the excitement. For him, summer had always meant his forced return to the Dursleys, and replacing Hogwarts with Privet Drive hadn’t given him much to look forward to. This year, he would be going home with Ron to the Burrow, and so he revelled in the same yearning for freedom everyone else did. For the seventh years, though, the elation was tinged with some nostalgia. As much as Harry looked forward to spending the coming months with the Weasleys, he couldn’t help feeling sad to be leaving Hogwarts behind. Last year, when he had been on the run, he had still, in the back of his mind, been sure that he would eventually return to Hogwarts. And it wasn’t like this was goodbye forever, but when he did come back it would be as a guest, not as a student. It wouldn’t be his home anymore.

None of the Gryffindor boys had started packing until the last evening, so after the feast their dormitory dissolved into accusations of uniform theft, attempts at bribing each other to face Madam Pince and turn in the overdue library books that had turned up in the strangest places, yelling about summer plans and promises of writing each other and keeping in touch. They didn’t get much sleep.

 o

In the morning, they dragged their trunks to the common room where they met with the girls. Together, all of them proceeded down to the Entrance Hall, where the prefects were trying to shepherd the younger students to the carriages in a somewhat orderly fashion. The teachers stood off to the side, seeing the students off and saying goodbye to the seventh years. The Gryffindors made their way towards McGonagall as soon as they spotted her. She stood next to Professor Flitwick, who had brought a small stepladder to stand on, so the students of his house would be able to find him in the swarm. On her other side was Slughorn, smiling and shaking hands and looking like he was enjoying himself immensely. Harry looked, but couldn’t see Draco anywhere in the throng of students eagerly wanting to ingratiate themselves further, though he did notice that a small tower of gifts was steadily growing next to the professor.

”Oh, we should have bought something for Professor McGonagall!” said Hermione when she saw it. ”Why didn’t we think of that?”

“Because you’re the only one who would have thought of it, and your head’s been full of N.E.W.T’s,” said Ron.

”I’m sure she doesn’t care,” Harry said.

They pushed a couple of fourth years out of their way.

“Hello, professor,” said Seamus.

McGonagall’s eyes settled on the little flock of seventh years and a sad smile came over her face.

“Oh no, am I really saying goodbye to all of you today?” she said.

And really, that was just as hard for Harry to believe as it was that he was leaving Hogwarts.

“It’s been a while since we were really your students, hasn’t it?” said Ginny with a smirk.

“Don’t say that, Ms Weasley. You’ll still be my students, even when you’re all forty and I’m teaching your kids,” said McGonagall, though her words were slightly undercut when she reached out and pulled Ginny into a hug.

They all said their goodbyes and then Neville went to talk to professor Sprout; Ginny, Dean and Seamus headed down to the carriages and Hermione took Ron with her to say goodbye to Flitwick. Harry would have followed, but professor McGonagall called him back:
“Mr Potter, can I have a quick word with you?”

“I’ll catch up in a second,” he said to Hermione, and then turned back to McGonagall.

Her eyes followed Ron and Hermione for a moment, but then she turned a stern gaze on Harry.

“Well,” she said. “I’ve had to hear from professor Slughorn of all people that you’re planning on taking a year off? Apparently, Mr Malfoy told him.”

“Yes, professor. Draco’s doing the same.”

“So I heard. Professor Slughorn seemed worried that you might spend too much time goofing off.”

“We won’t-“ Harry said hurriedly, but McGonagall continued before he could finish:

“And I of course asserted that if anyone has earned the right to a year of goofing off, it’s you. But I wonder why you haven’t mentioned this to any of your teachers? You know I would have been happy to talk to you about your future.”

“I know, but it’s a pretty recent decision.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear it. It’s only healthy to take a bit of time to decide what you want to do. But I want you to know that no matter which direction you decide to go in, there will always be a home for you here at Hogwarts.”

Harry smiled.

“Thanks, professor.”

“And when I tell you that I’m proud of you, I want you to know that I’m referring to this year as well as every one that came before it. Don’t think I haven’t noticed what you and your friends have done for the school this year. There were some things I thought even years of peace couldn’t mend, and to see the relationship between Gryffindor and Slytherin change so much in a single year has been nothing short of miraculous.”

“I don’t think you can give us the credit for that,” he said.

“Oh, I am aware that Mr Malfoy has played a significant part as well,” said McGonagall with a knowing smile that reminded Harry so much of Dumbledore he had to wonder if it was something that was passed down from headmaster to headmaster along with the office, or if it was simply a requirement for getting the job in the first place.

“Now you should probably get going,” McGonagall said. “I think Mr Weasley and Ms Granger are waiting for you.”

Harry looked back over his shoulder – Ron and Hermione were standing a few feet away, looking curiously at him.

“I probably should. Goodbye again, professor.”

“Goodbye, Potter.”

“What did McGonagall want?” asked Hermione when he joined her and Ron.

“I’ll tell you on the train,” he said. “Let’s go find a carriage.”

 o

Harry didn’t see Draco on the way from the castle to the gates either. They did pass Hagrid, who was managing the thestrals and helping the younger students with their luggage. Harry, Ron and Hermione had been by his hut for tea the day before and had said their goodbyes then, so they only waved to him before they climbed into their own carriage.

At Hogsmeade station, the Hogwarts Express was waiting for them, bright red and gleaming in the sunlight, white smoke billowing from the steam engine. Not all students had made it from the castle to the platform yet, but it was still crowded. They had just put down their trunks while they waited for a group of girls to board the train when Ron nudged Harry’s side.

“Your boyfriend’s here,” he said, nodding towards the carriages.

Harry turned and saw Draco disengaging from a flock of Slytherins. He came towards them, his luggage hovering obediently behind him.

“There you are!” he called.

He flicked his wand and his trunk landed neatly next to theirs when he joined them. He draped an arm over Harry’s shoulders, sagging heavily against him.

“Merlin,” he sighed. “I thought I’d never find you.”

“Don’t lean on me,” said Harry, trying to push him off. “You’re making me feel short.”

“It’s not my fault you’re practically an elf,” said Draco, ignoring Harry’s attempts to free himself. “Besides, I feel absolutely awful. Someone had the brilliant idea that we should have a little end of the year party in Slytherin last night, I’ve hardly slept at all.”

“You don’t look very hung over to me,” said Ron.

“Just because I wear well doesn’t mean I’m not suffering. I think I had a whole bottle of firewhisky entirely to myself.”

“I’m sure your pain is very real,” said Harry. “Should we get inside and find a compartment?”

“I guess we should,” said Draco, straightening up and finally releasing Harry.

“Pansy isn’t with you?” asked Ron.

“No, she’s off somewhere fighting your sister.”

Ron groaned.

“Again?”

“Yeah, so let’s get inside before they see us and hopefully they’ll sit with someone else.”

Ginny and Pansy didn’t sit with them, but despite Draco’s claims of exhaustion, it wasn’t a particularly peaceful ride from Hogwarts to London. It was only in the evening, when the sky had darkened and they were nearing King’s Cross Station that quiet finally settled in their compartment. They had finished all their candy long ago and Harry sat slumped back in his seat next to Draco, full and happy, the gentle rocking motions of the train making him sleepy. Across from him, Hermione had pulled out a book and Ron was absentmindedly reading through the facts on the chocolate frog cards.

"Can't believe they haven't put you on one of these yet, Harry," he said.

"Would be fun. They'd have to make ones for you and Hermione too."

"Maybe they decided against it when they realized there wouldn't be room for half the heroic shit we've done. Most of these guys are at least four times our age, and they’ve got nothing on us. After this year, I think my real résumé is starting to look more impressive than Lockhart’s fake one."

Harry grinned and glanced over at Draco, who would usually have made a snide comment about their egos about now, but Draco wasn't following the conversation. He sat rigidly in his seat, his gaze turned to the landscape rushing by outside. Harry nudged him.

"You alright?" he asked.

Draco started.

"What? Sorry, did you say something?"

"No, but you were spacing out."

"Sorry."

Ron frowned at him, but didn’t say anything. He resumed his reading of the chocolate frog cards. There was a stretch of silence before Draco cleared his throat and in a strained attempt at a casual tone asked Harry:

“So we’re meeting the Weasleys at the station?”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “You’re still worried about it?”

“Aren’t you?”

Harry shrugged.

“A bit. It’ll be fine.”

“But you have told them, right? Not just hinted at it, but actually told them?”

“I’ve told them,” Harry reassured him for about the hundredth time.

He had been mentioning Draco often enough in his letters to the Weasleys, and he was sure Ron must have too ever since Draco had started spending time with them, but in truth it had taken him quite some time to work up the courage to tell them they were more than just friends. It had been agony waiting for a reply to that letter. Mrs Weasley had been very supportive, but Harry was still pretty nervous about introducing Draco to them, though he wasn’t about to let Draco know that.

“Maybe we should have waited a bit longer,” said Draco, also for the hundredth time.

“Would’ve been a bit hard to explain why you’re coming to stay with us in August if we hadn’t,” said Ron.

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t tell them we’re friends-“

“I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna make much of a difference to them that you’re snogging him too.”

Draco sank deeper into the seat with a low groan and hid his face in his hands.

“I’m going to die.”

“You’re being dramatic,” Harry said.

Draco looked up again.

“Is it both of your parents who’ll be there?” he asked Ron.

"Probably. I think George might come by too, I know he really wants to see Gin before she leaves for the aurors. I mean, he has the whole summer to see her, but he'll probably get Lee to look after the shop if he can. Percy's probably not gonna take time off work, but I'm pretty sure Bill and Fleur will be there."

Draco grimaced.

Why do you have so much family?”

Ron pointed at Draco with a chocolate frog card.

“I actually have a theory that you being an only child played a big part in turning you into such a prat,” he said.

“Come off it, Ron,” said Hermione.

She turned to Draco:

“Molly and Arthur are very nice. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“I’m sure they’re nice to you,” Draco muttered, sinking even lower in his seat.

“Hermione’s right, you’ll be fine,” said Harry. “Ron and I have been giving regular reports on how much of an idiot you’ve been ever since first year, I’m sure by now actually talking to you can only improve their impression.”

Ron laughed.

“Thank you, that is very reassuring,” said Draco icily, but he was smiling a little.

Half an hour later, the train pulled into King’s Cross Station, and all four of them turned to the windows, scanning the crowd to look for their families. Harry thought he caught a glimpse of bright red hair and his heart skipped several beats. The breaks of the Hogwarts Express shrieked and Harry climbed onto the seat to pull his trunk from the luggage rack. Draco looked paler than usual, like he might faint any moment.

“Alright,” Harry said with a mad, nervous grin. “This is it, then.”

He jumped from the seat and the four of them pushed out of their compartment into the crowded centre aisle.

They spilled out onto the platform in the chaos of parents and students and screeching owls. Harry turned to look back up at the red locomotive still belching smoke into the air.

“I can’t believe we’re never going back,” he said.

“Don’t be an idiot, Harry,” Hermione said. “Of course we’re coming back.”

Then they heard Mrs Weasley’s voice calling out to them over the noise. A cold hand grabbed Harry’s wrist. He looked up at Draco’s strained face. Harry took his hand.

“Come on,” he said, and they followed Ron and Hermione to the group of Weasleys waiting for them.