The concealment screen felt like a ripple over Harry's skin as he passed through it. The grass was longer here near the lake, and it whipped around his shins. He heard Hermione insisting, "We can't leave the fire till it's completely gone out. Oh, for — no, Ron, stay here."
Harry reached Draco and grabbed his shoulder, swinging him around. Draco must have been deep in his own thoughts, because he stumbled, his eyes widening as he saw Harry.
"Are you out of your mind?" Harry demanded.
Draco looked, of all infuriating, unbearable things, surprised to see that Harry had followed him. Harry stared at him, shaking with anger.
"Oh." Draco tried out a smile. "All finished with the cup, then?"
"How the hell could you wander off like that? Now?"
The smile slipped and became something with an edge to it.
"Oh, come on. Did you want me to hang around while you played 'Let's Reminisce'? I don't know all your funny car theft stories, Potter." He turned his head, looking out over the lake. He couldn't turn away completely because Harry still had hold of his shoulder. "I was being considerate, if you must know." His voice was distant. Then he shifted to look at Harry again, his eyes slitting. "I realise it's a foreign concept for you."
Harry wanted to shake him until he couldn't stand upright. "Who wants you to be considerate? I thought — that you — were dead."
Draco scowled. "Of course you did. Sorry; I should have known."
He turned, dipping his shoulder to shrug Harry's hand off. Harry moved with him, reaching to grab Draco's other shoulder so that he held both. He stepped closer, their faces inches apart as he scanned Draco's expression.
"You can't walk off like that, Draco." His voice was strained. "I can't — I don't know how to stand it."
He could feel the puff of Draco's breath against his mouth in the cool air. The other boy had his eyes squeezed shut. His jaw was a clenched, set line.
"In second year, your house-elf Dobby blocked the entrance to Platform 9 3/4 to try to stop me from going back to school," Harry said. His attention was on the feather of Draco's fringe that had fallen down to touch the dark blond shadow of his eyelashes. "Ron and I borrowed his dad's flying car so that we could get to Hogwarts.
"Now you know the story."
Draco didn't say anything. Harry ducked his head, feeling his own fringe tickle his eyes. "You can't disappear," he said again; as though if he said it enough he could make it true. "You can't."
Draco made a frustrated sound in his throat. His hands came up to hold Harry's face, pulling him forward the last inches to catch his mouth. "You're impossible," he said, pulling Harry's lower lip between his teeth and nipping softly. "You don't even know what you want." His fingers clenched almost painfully on Harry's jaw, his mouth forcing Harry's open. Harry gasped, the sound desperate, and opened his mouth wider. His hands on Draco's shoulders gentled their grip, sliding to pull him closer, one slipping up to tangle in his hair.
"You don't get it," Draco was saying, in between nipping kisses at Harry's lip. His mouth slid hot along the line of Harry's jaw to his ear. "You're not even thinking. You never — never think beyond the bit where you save somebody." Harry turned his head, finding Draco's mouth again and kissing deeply, frantically. Draco moaned, pulling away to nuzzle at his neck. "You think that it's the most important thing in the world," he said, his voice muffled and breathless as he kissed and bit Harry's neck. "And then it's over and there's something else that's the most important thing in the world."
"Draco ..." Harry had the impression that Draco was telling him something important, but he couldn't think. He slid a hand down Draco's back to his waist, pulling him closer, sliding under the soft woollen jacket and tugging at the shirt tucked into his trousers.
Draco came back to his mouth. The slide of tongues and hot breath was intoxicating. Then he pulled away again to kiss Harry's cheek, to kiss his eyelids that fluttered closed at Draco's touch. "That's all it is," he mumbled, his forehead on Harry's, the fine mess of his fringe tickling Harry's over-sensitised skin. "I'm not your best friend, here. I'm — I'm the person who stamped on your face, here."
"No." Harry wasn't sure he could actually talk, but he needed to say ... he needed ... His fingers moved over Draco's lower back, under his shirt, to skin that was unbearably smooth. The other boy shuddered and leaned in, his whole body pressed up against Harry's. "That's not ..."
Draco's hands moved down Harry's back. Harry gasped, arching as Draco's cold hand pushed under his jacket, the other moving back to his neck and caressing the soft hair at the nape. Harry could die of this.
Draco kissed him again, close and hot and with a desperation like drowning, as though Harry were air and light and warmth. Both hands came up to Harry's head, tangling in his hair.
Then he shuddered and broke the kiss, his forehead resting on Harry's again for a moment while Harry panted. "It's different for me," Draco said quietly.
He stepped back, pulling out of Harry's hold.
"What?" Harry stepped towards him again, but he was already turning away.
His hands clenched uselessly as he watched Draco walk away, quick and straight-backed.
Harry's knees wobbled. He slumped against the trunk of an elm, the bark rough against his back. Draco had been telling him something, if he could think well enough to understand. But god, he just wanted —
He shook his head, rubbing at his eyes. His glasses were gone, he realised. How had he not noticed that? He dropped to a crouch, feeling about in the grass, and finally found them half-hidden in a drift of leaves. He stood, his legs firmer, and slipped them back on.
Ron was staring at him from the Fiendfyre circle.
There was no sign of smoke now, which must have been why Hermione had taken down the concealment screen. Ron stood in front of the circle, but Hermione was facing away, intent on the dead fire. As Harry watched, she half turned, shooting a look at him and then away, and tugged on Ron's shoulder.
Ron didn't seem to notice. Harry could see that his mouth was open from here. Harry stared back, his cheeks hot. The awful, sick roiling in his stomach was worse than ever.
Harry raised his hand in a small wave. Ron blinked twice.
Harry turned and started back to the castle.
Draco sat with a group of fifth-year boys at dinner. His nervous energy had come back; Harry could hear him telling them wildly improbable stories about how the Quidditch World Cup had gone in his world. The younger boys hung on every word he said, their faces bright with reflected excitement. Harry wasn't sure whether they believed the stories or not. He suspected that they weren't sure either.
"So," Ron said. He was stirring his soup, his eyes fixed on the spoon. Harry gave him a sideways glance, then looked at his own bowl, his cheeks reddening. Ron had been working his way up to saying something all through dinner.
Ron cleared his throat. "So," he said again. "You and Malfoy."
Harry ducked his head. "Not really."
Ron choked, finally looking up. "How was that a not really?" he demanded, his voice a hoarse undertone. "You were .. he was ... it seriously didn't look like not really, Harry."
Harry looked at his spoon. "He doesn't want —" He shrugged. He was embarrassed, on one level, but it was mostly lost in the ball of misery that had lodged in his insides. "Anyway, it doesn't matter," he said. He made an effort to sound firm and competent. "We just have to worry about this spell tomorrow, that's all."
He darted another look at Draco. He'd been real and warm at the lake, but in the bright torchlight of the great hall, his outline looked uncertain once more. Harry's stomach tightened further.
"How long —?" Ron started to ask.
Hermione nudged him. "Leave him alone, Ron."
He was still casting surreptitious looks at Harry as they climbed up to the common room. Hermione had gone ahead, saying that she had books to return to the library. Finally Harry stopped and looked at him. "What?"
"I thought you liked girls." Ron's mouth worked. "Ginny. You dated my sister."
Harry grimaced. "I do. I liked Ginny. I just ..." like Draco more.
Ron was still staring at him. Harry scowled. "Tell me you're not going to be a bastard about this," he said.
Ron gaped. "Of course I'm — bloody hell, Harry, you're completely smitten with somebody who could disappear into nothing at any moment and never be seen again. Of course I'm not going to be a bastard!"
"Oh." Harry's shoulders slumped. "Good."
"Yeah, well, only if we can save him tomorrow," Ron said.
They'd reached the portrait hole. Ron said the password and stepped through ahead of him. Harry was about to follow when footsteps behind made him turn.
Draco was puffing; he'd obviously had to run to catch up. Harry hesitated, his hands flexing uncertainly. Draco looked intensely uncomfortable. "I — wanted to apologise," he said. He looked at his hands. "I shouldn't have kissed you. That was stupid."
"It's okay," Harry said quickly. Draco looked at him, then away again. He grimaced. "No, it was weak. And stupid. And — and I'm going to bed now."
He moved past Harry, careful not to brush his shoulder, and climbed into the common room. When Harry followed, Draco was already disappearing up the spiral staircase to the dorm.
It was a muffled thud that woke him. Harry cracked his eyes open, fumbling for his wand and glasses.
He cast Tempus. A quarter to midnight.
Over the way, Ron had woken too. He was sitting up, mid-yawn, a dim Lumos surrounding his wand. There were pillow-creases on his cheek. Dean was pushing himself upright too, now. Neville and Seamus were motionless shapes beneath their blankets, Seamus quietly snoring.
Draco's bed was empty. Harry had already swung his legs out of his blankets when he heard a soft curse. A moment later, Draco crawled out from under his bed.
He looked groggy. He stood up, carefully, meeting Harry's, Ron's and Dean's startled faces.
He blinked at them. "I think that I fell through the bed."
As Harry watched, he flickered again, stumbling as the hand he threw out to catch his bedpost passed through it. And Harry realised what the dim light had concealed: he was flickering constantly, his face grey. He stood in the middle of the dormitory, shaking, fading into the background and then back again.
Harry slipped out of bed, his heart racing. He made himself speak past his dry throat. "We can't wait till morning. We have to do the spell now."
Harry and Draco ran down the stairs, their feet thudding on the stone. Harry had never appreciated how far it was between Gryffindor Tower and the dungeons, before. He had hold of Draco's hand, terrified to let go even though fear was making the hold chill and sweaty. Every time Draco flickered beside him, Harry felt the nothing sensation against his palm, heard the hitch in the loud noise of Draco's breathing close beside him.
Ron had stumbled down to the common room with them, calling up his Patronus on the second try and sending it up to rouse Hermione. He and Hermione were going to fetch Pansy and Crabbe and Goyle, then meet the others at Professor McGonagall's office. Harry wasn't sure how they were going to get into the Slytherin common room in the middle of the night, but that was their problem.
His was keeping Draco with him while they ran down to the dungeons to wake Professor Slughorn.
Torches burned low around them, casting vague light and shadows on the stone. They clattered down another flight of stairs, but this one ground into motion when they were halfway down. Harry groaned as it swung around and deposited them into the wrong corridor. They turned and ran up it again, turning at the top to choose a new way down.
"Sometimes — I hate — this castle," Draco panted.
Harry wanted to reply — Draco talking meant that he was alive and warm and here — but his breath was coming short and panicky in his chest. He had none to spare for conversation. "Come on," he managed, pushing open the door to the Great Hall and running down the space between the tables. The quickest path down to the dungeons was via the passage behind the Slytherin table.
Then they were in the passage, slate grey walls around them, and there was another flight of stairs. The walls were streaked with condensation now. Finally there was the corridor where the Potions Master's suite of rooms was located. Harry knew where it was only because Fred and George had set up an April Fool's joke here once, back when it had been Snape's room.
Harry felt a jolt of panic as it occurred to him for the first time that just because Slughorn had taken over Snape's job, didn't necessarily mean that he had taken the same rooms.
Draco leaned against the wall while Harry hammered on the door. Harry threw him a worried look and hammered harder. It was wrong, Draco breathless and pale and shaking. He was always pale, but he'd never been weak before. He had energy all the time, even when he was holding himself ruthlessly still, or lounging in a train carriage and pretending to be nonchalant.
Draco's outline blurred again, and he slipped partway into the stone wall. He jerked back, bumping Harry's shoulder.
Harry knocked on the heavy oak door again. The skin on his knuckles was beginning to feel battered.
At last there were sounds of movement in the room beyond. Bolts slid across and the door opened partway. Professor Slughorn's face — tucked between a floppy cap and the collar of an enormous nightgown — peered out at them.
"Harry, my boy." he said. He yawned. "Whatever are you doing here?"
Harry grabbed his sleeve, his other hand still clenched in a death grip around Draco's. "We need that potion," he said. "The one for the Transeo Tempus spell."
Slughorn frowned. His gaze slid to Draco. "Really, boys, I told you that the Revelium potion would be ready tomorrow. This is not at all a proper time to be waking me up."
"Professor, Draco's fading now! We have to do the spell now." Harry tightened his grip on Slughorn's sleeve. "Please."
Slughorn hesitated. Draco chose that moment to stumble again, his hand almost slipping through Harry's, and the Potions Master sighed. "Oh, very well. The Revelium won't be at full strength yet, but I suppose I can decant it early."
He looked decidedly bad-tempered about the whole thing. Harry honestly didn't care, as long as he gave them the potion.
The boys stood in an agony of waiting while he let them into his private potions laboratory and used his wand to check on the progress of the blue and gold-flecked potion simmering in a cauldron at the back. They waited while he chose a vial to decant it into, selecting first one then another from a shelf of empty blown-glass bottles. They waited while he used his wand again to direct the flow into the bottle he chose, the stream of blue-gold painfully thin, taking forever to fill the bottle.
They waited while he paused, looking at them with the full vial in his hand.
"I hope that you boys appreciate the trouble I've gone to, here," he said, his eyebrows lowering.
"We do!" Draco gasped. "I'm really, really grateful. Honestly."
"Sir," Harry pleaded. Slughorn handed the potion to Draco. When he flickered and stumbled again, almost dropping it, he passed it to Harry.
"Thank you!" Harry yelled over his shoulder. Draco's shoulder knocked his own as they squeezed through the doorway out to the corridor again, and pounded back up the first flight of steps.
Running up stairs was a lot harder than running down them. Draco seemed to stumble more and more, his face growing whiter and whiter. Halfway along a corridor on the third floor he disappeared entirely and didn't appear again for several long seconds. Harry almost sagged against the wall with relief when he appeared again with trembling legs that dropped him to his knees on the stone.
After that, Harry slipped one of Draco's arms over his shoulder. Draco didn't protest. That was frightening in itself, since it meant that he felt as bad as he looked.
Fourth floor, fifth floor — another trick staircase that changed direction halfway up like a crazy game of snakes and ladders, so back up to the fifth floor again. Then finally they were at the gargoyle at the foot of the spiralling staircase to the headmistress' office.
The gargoyle moved aside at the password and they stumbled inside.
In the darkness of the stairwell, it was too easy to imagine that Draco had disappeared again, for real this time. Harry grabbed his hand, concentrating on the undeniable reality of the skin under his palm, the fingernails bitten down, the pads callused from flying.
"I might need this hand again for something one day," Draco said shakily. "If you break it, you'll have to replace it."
Harry loosened his grip, feeling sheepish.
They reached the top of the stairs, and Harry pushed the door open, causing warm light to flood the stairwell.
Ron and Hermione must have moved fast. Not only was the headmistress there, stern in a tartan dressing gown, along with Ron, Hermione and the three Slytherins, but Narcissa Malfoy and Professor Sinistra were there too. Sinistra was yawning delicately, the folds of a blue satin dressing gown held around her. Narcissa was standing in front of McGonagall's desk, her fingers clenched on the desk behind her.
As soon as Draco appeared, she rushed forward, closing her arms around him.
Harry let go of Draco's hand to avoid having his own twisted off.
His eyes found Professor McGonagall. "We have to do the spell right now."
She nodded, her gaze on Draco. Even with Narcissa's arms around him, the blurred edge to his outline was visible, along with the way he faded almost all the way out of reality every couple of seconds. "So it would seem," she said. "Mr Weasley informed me that you had gone to fetch the Revelium potion from Professor Slughorn?"
Harry pulled the potion out of his dressing gown and handed it to her. She set it on her desk, then transfigured a row of quills into small beakers.
Ron and Hermione hovered near the bookshelf, looking worried. Hermione tried to smile when she saw Harry looking at her, but it was a strained effort. Pansy was holding Goyle's arm, her face white and scared. Her nails dug into Goyle's forearm, which he endured with an occasional grimace. His eyes, like Crabbe's, were fixed on Draco, worry warring with faith in his eyes. He patted Pansy's hand, awkwardly.
Harry blinked, focusing on McGonagall. He had the impression she might have said his name several times. Her face was kind, though — or the Minerva McGonagall approximation of kind, which involved less disapproval than usual and tiny worry lines around her eyes.
Harry took the beaker she offered.
The potion looked different in the beaker than it had in the cauldron. It was lighter, more colourless — more like bluish-gold air than liquid.
Narcissa stepped away from Draco. Her face was more or less calm as she accepted the portion of Revelium McGonagall gave her. Seeing that everybody was still holding the beakers in their hands, the headmistress frowned. "Well? Drink, all of you. They're not for decoration."
Harry gulped his down. It was only a couple of mouthfuls, but he drank too quickly in his nervousness and nearly choked.
The taste wasn't nearly as foul as he was used to, with potions.
For a moment, nothing seemed to be different, and he worried that when Slughorn had said the potion 'wouldn't be at full strength' he might have meant 'wouldn't work at all'.
Then Hermione made a surprised noise. A moment later, Harry felt the change himself.
It was an itch behind his eyes: a blurriness to the world, as though the things he was looking at had become a good bit less solid. This was because they had developed odd echoes of themselves, he realised. Everything he looked at had a sense of depth. The longer he looked, the more clearly he could see the tail that stretched behind even the tiniest object, gold and shadow-flecked; paths that vanished back far further than anything in the room ought to be able to. It was most noticeable in the people, however. Ron and Hermione, against the bookshelf opposite, seemed to stand at the head of golden-dark, neverending silhouettes that stretched behind them, subtly altered the further back he looked.
"You will all need to focus on Mr Malfoy," McGonagall said calmly. "Attempting to look at everything in the room will undoubtedly give you a headache."
Harry turned to look at Draco. Instantly he saw that he was different. The path behind him was shorter than that of anything else in the room. It stopped not far behind him, and it shifted and wavered in a way the other timepaths didn't.
Draco himself was the only one who hadn't drunk the potion. He brushed his robes down, looking unnerved at the wide-eyed attention of everybody else in the room; or maybe at the way their eyes focused on the gold-edged echo-shapes beyond him.
"Mrs Malfoy, I trust that you have learned your incantation?"
Narcissa, who had been staring, stricken, at the cut-off shape of her son's timepath, snapped her head up. "Shall I begin, Headmistress?" At a nod, she moved to stand in front of McGonagall's desk once more. Her fingers folded the material of her robe, but otherwise she showed no sign of nerves.
The others drew their wands, shifting into a rough circle shape. Their formation didn't matter, Hermione had assured Harry, but they all needed to be able to see Draco.
Narcissa began to speak.
The odd, not-quite-nonsense words set a strange humming feeling to Harry's skin. He'd only seen them written down before, in the book Draco had found the incantation in. Spoken, they gave Narcissa's smooth, well-modulated voice odd harmonics.
At the first break in the incantation, Professor McGonagall raised her wand to the flickering shape of Draco's timepath and cast, "Transeo Tempus." The smooth rhythm of Narcissa's incantation picked up immediately after it, including McGonagall's spell in its own shape.
At the next break, Crabbe cast, fumbling his entry slightly. Then Pansy, then Goyle.
At his own turn, Harry raised his wand and concentrated fiercely on memories of the Draco he'd known here. "Transeo Tempus," he said, feeling the rhythm of Narcissa's incantation sweep up the spell and include it in itself.
He'd cast the spell successfully before, though, and he could feel that what he'd cast now was struggling to take. There was a prickliness to the air that he recognised as significant magic build-up — he'd experienced it before when Dumbledore and Voldemort duelled in the Atrium of the Ministry — but there was a sluggish feel to it, as though it couldn't quite find a direction.
Ron cast, then Hermione, then Sinistra. Narcissa was still incanting — Harry had no idea whether she'd reached the end of the first cycle and started again, or even if she'd been through three or four cycles by now. All the syllables were meaningless, although they all had an odd weight and significance. Almost as though they were bending the air in some way.
McGonagall began the circle again with the next casting.
Draco was fading. He stumbled, dropping to one knee for a moment before he got to his feet once more. He closed his eyes, looking sick.
Narcissa's voice faltered, and there was a momentary lurch in the flow of magic around them. She quickly started up again.
Draco swayed again, and Harry couldn't help himself. He took three steps forward and pushed his shoulder under Draco's arm, holding him upright. Draco gave him a strained, grateful look.
Harry's turn to cast. He clutched his wand, focusing on the wavering gold and shadow lines radiating between his fingers where he held Draco, and said "Transeo Tempus."
He caught McGonagall's eye. She seemed to decide that he could cast from there as easily as from further off, since she nodded at him. Her face was tight.
The sluggish, heavy feel to the air increased each time somebody new cast. Narcissa was flagging, her voice hoarse. Hermione leaned on Ron.
"Concentrate on memories of this world's Draco," McGonagall said urgently, over the rhythm of Narcissa's voice. "The spell is struggling to find a direction. Concentrate harder."
Harry closed his eyes, pressing his face against Draco's shoulder, and obeyed. He remembered Draco Malfoy as he'd last seen him, running towards the boundaries of Hogwarts, a grey shape beyond Professor Snape's running form.
"Transeo Tempus," Hermione said.
Draco Malfoy on the tower, his face sickly green in the light of the Dark Mark shimmering in the sky, his wand wavering as he pointed it at Dumbledore.
Draco Malfoy in Madam Malkin's, eleven years old, his face screwed up as he looked through the window at Hagrid, beaming with two enormous ice cream cones.
Sinistra now, "Transeo Tempus."
Harry breathed in the warmth and the scent of Draco's shoulder, his fingers tightly tangled in the material over his back. He remembered Malfoy with his Inquisitorial Squad pin, patrolling the corridors with Pansy Parkinson and Theodore Nott. Malfoy in second year, spitting Mudblood at Hermione as though the word were poison on his tongue. Malfoy in third year, keeping his end of the Slytherin table in gales of laughter as he acted out Harry fainting in front of the Dementors. In sixth year, tear tracks on his face as he stared, horrified, at Harry in the mirror behind him.
"Transeo Tempus." McGonagall's voice was hoarse, her brogue thicker than usual.
Harry held Draco with both arms now, silently mouthing along with the spell every time somebody cast, his lips pressed against the soft material of Draco's pyjamas. He could feel the other boy shivering in his hold, his body colder than it should be and only half there. Harry shut his eyes tighter.
Malfoy spinning Pansy at the Yule Ball, his smile giddy. Malfoy after the ferret incident, scrambling to his feet, his face pained and furious as he snarled at the teacher who'd turned on him. Malfoy at breakfast, his smile huge and smug as he unpacked a parcel from home, laying out sweets in a row along the table, his eyes flicking to Harry's side of the room to make sure that he'd seen.
"Transeo Tempus," and Malfoy tossed Neville's Remembrall high. "Transeo Tempus," and Malfoy offered his hand, chin lifted as he warned Harry against making friends with the wrong sort.
Narcissa's voice rose to a swell, and Harry opened his eyes and saw something beyond Draco's broken timepath. It was a long way back, but flecks of gold were gathering in the air, twining into a slender net, which became an intricate rope, falling backwards. "Transeo Tempus," Hermione said over the roaring in Harry's ears.
With a silent grace, as slow as continents, the bridging rope fell back into the distant end of the other timepath.
Draco stiffened, his eyes flying open.
Harry caught him as he crumpled, the weight shockingly real in his arms.
Narcissa had stopped speaking, Harry registered dimly. There was a low, excited hum of conversation in her place. Harry couldn't spare attention for it.
Draco opened his eyes. Harry tightened his arms, slipping to the floor until they were kneeling.
"Oh my god," Draco breathed. "It worked, didn't it?"
Harry leaned his forehead against Draco's. "Yeah."
"We're brilliant," Draco said hoarsely. Harry laughed, a cracked, dry sound. He knew that he should be getting up, should be making way for other people to reach Draco — for Narcissa to reach him — but he couldn't, not yet.
He folded Draco closer, breathing in the scent of him, feeling the sharp bones of his shoulder pressing into his arm. "You're not dead," he mumbled. He pushed his hands into Draco's hair, the strands heartbreakingly soft under his fingers, not caring how many people were watching. Draco shivered and ducked his head.
"No," he agreed.
Harry could hear Hermione talking to Professor McGonagall; Pansy giving a watery laugh at something Ron said.
"I should —"
Harry tightened his arms. "Don't go."
"What, ever?" Draco asked. There was a tremble of laughter in his voice.
Harry rubbed his face against Draco's hair. "I'm not — I just — I thought I was going to lose you," he said, almost inaudible. "Don't go yet. I can't lose you."
He heard Draco draw in a breath. Then he let it out, a puff against Harry's neck. "I really do have to get up and talk to my mother," Draco said. His voice was uneven, though, with something incredulous and happy.
Harry got to his feet, pulling Draco up with him. He stepped back, letting Draco be enfolded by Narcissa. She was white-faced and swaying with fatigue, but she laughed as she swept up her son; a low, triumphant sound
It was a bit chaotic after that. Pansy threw herself into Draco's arms as soon as she could get a clear run, hiccoughing tears. Crabbe and Goyle fought their way through to him and then just stood there, huge grins on their faces. Ron threw an arm around his shoulder and ruffled his hair, then shot a worried look at Harry and took his hand back. Hermione gave him a calm smile and shook his hand, telling him that she was glad. Professor Sinistra yawned delicately and stretched out in McGonagall's chair, watching the huddle around Draco with an uninvolved air.
Harry thought that it was noticing this last that determined McGonagall to get them all out of her office.
"Mr Malfoy." Her voice cut through the babble of voices. Draco looked at her, pushing his hair back where it had got mussed. "Before we all retire to bed — which I can assure you all will be very soon indeed — can you tell me whether you feel any effects of the link to this world's Draco Malfoy?"
Draco started to shake his head, then hesitated. "Actually, my head feels sort of full. Is that ...?" He frowned, narrowing his eyes. "Professor, did you give me detention in first year for being out of bed and talking about a dragon?"
She raised her eyebrows. It took Harry a second to realise the significance of what he'd said. Hermione was a moment ahead of him.
"You're remembering some of his memories," she said, her voice awed. She stepped forward. "That happened here — don't you remember, Harry? Oh, my. This is fascinating, Draco."
"Unexpected, certainly," McGonagall said. "Although perhaps it should not have been." She thought for a second, then came to a decision. "Under the circumstances, Mr Malfoy, I believe that you may be excused from classes tomorrow. I will inform your teachers that you need the time to grow accustomed to your extra memories."
She clapped her hands. "Now, out, all of you!"
Narcissa looked rather startled. Still, she inclined her head, preparing to leave via the Floo. It occurred to Harry that she'd been taught by Professor McGonagall too, when she was a schoolgirl. Being cowed by the older woman was probably a difficult habit to break.
Sinistra simply looked amused, but she allowed herself to be herded out with the rest of them.
"You were born under a fortunate star, I believe, Mr Malfoy," she observed as she passed. Then she paused and tilted her head. "Which reminds me. I believe that Mars will be rising just about now." She changed direction and started for the Astronomy Tower.
Ron shook his head. "She's a bit mental, isn't she?" he said. Then he slung his arm around Draco's shoulder again. "Mars is rising. That means we're going to war, right?"
Harry shivered, letting himself think for a moment about all the things that hadn't been important while they raced to save Draco — Voldemort and Horcruxes and the war. Draco met his gaze, a gleam in his eyes. "Voldemort won't know what hit him," he promised.
Draco was let off classes the next day, but none of the rest of them were.
Harry yawned all through Charms. The parchment he was supposed to be charming to fold itself into an origami man and strut about his desk was picking up Harry's weariness. It kept stopping to lean against his books, the square paper head nodding onto its chest. Then that would remind Harry of Draco, yawning his way up to the dorm last night, feet scuffing along the stone floor. He'd grin stupidly, and the little paper man would stop to blink at Harry's inkwell, swaying.
Draco found them in the first break between classes. Hermione, adjusting the books in her arms, nearly bumped into him. She looked up with a start.
"What happened to the teacher who turned me into a ferret and then tormented me?" Draco demanded.
Hermione looked at Ron, frowning. "He had his soul sucked out, didn't he?" she said.
Draco blinked, brought up short. "Oh."
"He was a Death Eater," Harry explained. "He was using Polyjuice."
Draco looked embarrassed. "Oh, right. That was Crouch? I, um — the memory was a bit imprecise. I knew it was a teacher, but I didn't connect it to ..."
Ron nudged him into movement so that they could keep going, and he fell into step with them.
"Well, the Draco here didn't know about Crouch, I don't think," Hermione said. She shot him a glance. "Your memories are still coming, then? Or," she hesitated, "not your memories, but you know what I mean."
Draco hunched his shoulders. "They feel like my memories," he said.
Hermione shifted her books. "I suppose they would," she said. "If you had, say, my memories, you'd probably be able to tell they didn't belong, because we think in different ways, and approach things in different ways. But these ..."
"Are really confusing," Draco said. He left them at the Transfiguration classroom.
After Transfiguration, he caught up with them again. Ron and Hermione were bickering about homework a few feet ahead. Draco stepped into Harry's path and folded his arms.
"Explain to me," he said, "how lashing out with a cutting curse is an appropriate reaction to finding somebody crying in a bathroom."
Harry winced. "Um."
Draco narrowed his eyes.
Harry bit his lip. "I'm really, really sorry about that. Honestly, I didn't know what the spell did. I was just so angry at you for trying to cast Cruciatus."
Draco looked blank. "I ... didn't remember that part," he admitted.
"I'm still really sorry."
Draco fell into step beside him. "Was that before or after I broke your nose on the train?" he asked after a moment.
"Damn. I was really hoping that one was your fault."
Harry laughed, startled, and Draco rolled his eyes at him. "You still nearly killed me, you berk. You're the least emotionally mature person I've ever met, you know? Only you could react that badly to somebody crying."
Draco shoved his hands into his pockets. "It ... probably wasn't very mature to try to use Cruciatus because I was embarrassed at being caught," he said after a moment.
Draco knocked his shoulder. "Shut up."
He didn't show up again until lunch, and then he was quiet. He ate, but distractedly, and he accidentally drank from Hermione's pumpkin juice at one point. She looked startled, but didn't say anything.
"What?" Harry asked eventually.
Draco looked up. "Kingsley Shacklebolt," he said after a moment. Then: "Killed me."
Harry felt himself go still.
"He's in the Order," Harry said finally. "He's a good man."
Draco kept his eyes on his plate. "All right. As long as nobody expects me to smile at him, I suppose."
Harry thought about Kingsley Shacklebolt; his impassive face, the way he held himself like a soldier. His deep, careful voice the first time Harry met him, when he commented on how much Harry looked like his father.
Harry wasn't sure that he'd be able to look at him again without wanting to hurt him.
There were eddies of movement around the hall as lunch began to break up, and people drifted away from their tables. Pansy, Crabbe and Goyle materialised out of the throng. Pansy moved aside a bowl of bread rolls, and perched on the table.
"Remembered anything interesting?" she asked Draco.
He glanced up at her, puzzled. Then his face went still. He blushed.
Pansy crowed. "I knew it." She laughed. "What did you just remember? Was it that night after the first Inquisitorial Squad meeting, when —"
Draco jumped up and grabbed her arm, dragging her away from the table. "This is a really interesting conversation," he said. "We should go and finish it over here."
Crabbe and Goyle followed them as they moved out of earshot of the Gryffindor table.
Harry turned back to the table to find that Hermione was watching after them. She felt his eyes and turned to look at him.
"Things changed, didn't they?" she said quietly. "It all happened so fast, I hardly noticed it. Not just Draco; it's ... a new formation." She made a vague gesture, impatient with herself. "I mean — it's not the group Draco remembers. That was only you three. Now it's us, and Draco, and the Slytherins, and Ginny ..."
"We're still us, though," Ron said. He shot Harry a suddenly alarmed glance. "I mean, it's not as if you like Draco better than us ..."
"Don't be a wanker," Harry said, grinning.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "You know, maybe if I'd been best friends with Parvati and Lavender, my friends wouldn't spend so much time insulting each other because they don't know how to communicate."
There was no sign of Draco in their next break. Harry left Hermione and Ron and took the long way to the Potions classroom, in case he was in the courtyard. There was a door you could take on the west side of the courtyard that led straight down, then cut across to the dungeons.
He passed Ginny on his way through the entrance hall. She was sitting in an alcove with Moaning Myrtle hovering beside her, half in and half out of the wall.
"No, see the thing is, you have to make them think that they're missing out if you shun them," Ginny was saying earnestly. "You're going about it all wrong."
She noticed Harry and lifted her hand in a distracted wave.
Harry's guess had been right: Draco was balanced on the broad back of a sleepy centaur statue in the courtyard, his head propped on the centaur's tail. He was rugged up in a scarf and coat.
He lifted his chin to look up at Harry, his smile easy and sweet.
"Hey," he said. "So, it turns out that it was only due to me that you found out you were a Parselmouth. It took you ages in my world." He stretched, pillowing his head in his hands.
Harry wanted to sit down next to him and just smile and smile at him. He had to go to Potions, though, so he said, "I guess I should be grateful, then."
Draco nodded. "You should," he agreed. "Snape must have tried to get Zabini to do the Serpensortia hex in the Duelling Club in my world, I think, but he messed it up and got a tortoise." He smiled again, his eyes drifting closed. "It was really funny."
After Potions, Draco was waiting at the door again. He grabbed Hermione's sleeve as the three of them came out.
"Why did I walk out onto the Quidditch pitch dressed as a Dementor in the middle of a game?" He shook his head, frustrated. "I keep looking, but I can't find the reason anywhere. Was it a dare?"
She detached his hand from her sleeve. "You were trying to throw off Harry's game. You wanted to make him fall off his broom."
Draco spun to look at Harry. "You fall off your broom in matches?" he asked.
"Once," Harry said. He frowned. "Didn't that happen in your world, when the Dementors walked onto the pitch?"
Draco shrugged. "Nope. You let Diggory catch the Snitch — even though I'd given you a perfect run at it by distracting the Hufflepuff Beaters — but you didn't fall."
Harry shook his head. "Well, when you dressed up as a Dementor I didn't fall. I knocked you down with a Patronus, then caught the Snitch."
"Always have to be the centre of attention, don't you?" Draco said, apparently unfazed. He stretched, pulling his arms up above his head. He wasn't in school robes since he didn't have classes, and Harry couldn't help noticing the way that his shirt pulled partially free of his belt, exposing a brief flash of skin. Draco cricked his neck, then fell in beside them.
After a second, Harry realised that he'd been supposed to answer that with something. He swallowed around a dry throat. "Um, what?"
Draco rolled his eyes. "No wonder you fall off your broom, Harry, honestly."
Harry had expected Draco to be waiting when they got out of their final lesson for the day, but there was no sign of him. He saw Pansy sitting on a low windowsill and swinging her legs, talking to Crabbe and Goyle, so he knew Draco wasn't with them.
He left Ron and Hermione and went back to the courtyard. It was grey and cold, now, and entirely empty. Harry shivered, pulling the sleeves of his robes down, and headed back inside.
Ginny and Myrtle were gone from the entrance hall, although there was a small group of second years playing marbles on the floor, in the dusty light from one of the windows.
In the corridor, he passed Professor McGonagall deep in conversation with the Grey Lady. He stopped and turned back.
"Professor? Have you seen Draco?"
The headmistress looked amused. "Have you lost him already?"
Harry shook his head and kept on.
The library was busy, with students cramming in homework before dinner. Parvati and Lavender gave him bored waves from behind teetering piles of textbooks.
Harry walked quickly along the shelves on the ground floor, looking for pale hair, then ran up the stairs to the higher levels and repeated the process.
He finally met Draco as he came out of the library again. The other boy had been going in.
Draco stopped. "I was looking for you."
"Hold out your hand," Draco said, interrupting him.
Harry stared for a moment. Then he offered his hand, palm up.
Draco rolled his eyes, impatient. "No, properly — like you're offering to shake my hand."
Harry got it, then.
He held his hand out. "Hi."
Draco looked at him narrowly. Then he took a step forward and took his hand, shaking firmly. "Hi."
They were just outside the double doors, near the first of the great marble pillars. The entrance hall was mostly empty: the only other people were two girls sitting across from each other near the far wall, absorbed in some Tarot cards that they'd laid out between them.
Draco dropped his head back against the marble pillar.
"It's sort of embarrassing that that felt so important," he admitted. Then he looked down. "You can let go of my hand now."
Harry cleared his throat, stroking his forefinger over the smooth skin and calluses of Draco's hand. "Do I have to?"
"You're impossible, Potter," Draco said after a moment. There was that odd, happy sound in his voice again, and Harry looked up so that he could see his expression. He looked uncertain, not quite smiling. Harry stepped closer, his grip on Draco's hand tightening.
"I know you said you didn't want to," he said quickly, "because you have this idea that I get carried away and kiss people that I want to rescue, then get bored once they don't need rescuing any more. But you're rescued, and I'm not going anywhere. And — I don't want anyone else. And —" He was screwing this up and sounding like an idiot, but he blundered on. "And I don't want to save you. Hell, I don't want you to ever need saving again, all right? I was terrified. I just —"
"You don't have to give my hand back."
Harry blinked at him. He felt slower than usual. "What?"
Draco's face was glowing, his smile as bright as a candle. He leaned forward, his free hand slipping up to Harry's neck, the trapped one turning in Harry's hand, lacing their fingers together. "You don't," he murmured, his mouth against Harry's cheek, "have to give my hand back. If you don't want to."
"Oh," Harry said. He could feel Draco's breath against his cheek. "I won't, then." That ridiculous smile was back in his voice. He leaned closer, and decided there'd been enough talking.
He realised that he still had questions later, up in the common room. It was empty while the rest of Gryffindor was at dinner. The house-elves had lit low fires in the hearths.
Harry and Draco had pulled one of the sofas up close to the hearth furthest from the portrait hole. Draco had then arranged himself against Harry on one of the sofas, moving him until he constituted an effective pillow; to Harry's secret delight. Harry was trying to be nonchalant about running his fingers through Draco's hair, now.
He almost didn't want to ask these questions, in case he didn't like the answers.
"Do you miss them?" he blurted. "The people in the other reality — do you miss them?"
"Yes," Draco said.
Harry moved his thumb so that the longer hair of Draco's fringe slid over it again. He concentrated on the sensation as he asked the next question.
"Do you wish you were still back there?"
Draco hesitated. "Yes. No. I don't know."
He twisted, pulling himself upright on the sofa and hugging his knees. Harry put his hands on his own knees; he didn't know what to do with them. He felt the space where Draco had been like an ache.
Draco must have heard the stepped-on quality in Harry's voice. He shot Harry a look, biting his lip.
"That Harry never snogged me in a window seat," he said.
Harry smiled because he couldn't help it. "Good."
Then he frowned. Because ... he wondered, actually. Draco had told him — or nearly told him — in the Yule Ball memory that his Harry hadn't been interested. That had been part of why Draco hadn't believed Harry was serious after what happened in the window seat, Harry knew. But Harry remembered the smile Pensieve Harry had greeted Draco with in that memory; had turned to him with, the instant he appeared.
Harry wasn't sure that Draco was all that good at reading interest.
Draco played with a loose thread on his robes. "Of course," he said, "on the other hand, you've never raced me across the Forbidden Forest on a broom."
Harry lifted his chin. "We'll go flying tomorrow." He tried not to look anxious. "What else did you do?"
Draco had a gleam in his eyes, now. "Well, we got falling down drunk in Hogsmeade once — I've never done that with you."
Harry stared at him. "They serve you alcohol in Hogsmeade?" He shook his head. "All right, we are definitely doing that."
"And you've never promised to be my slave for a month, for my birthday."
Harry shoved him with his shoulder. "Do you ever stop trying it on?"
Draco snickered, pillowing his head on his interlocked fingers. "Nothing ventured ..." He smirked, stretched full-length and relaxed as a cat, regarding Harry through slitted eyes. "Gryffindor, you know."
Harry grinned at him. "That is the least Gryffindor thing anybody has ever said."
Draco laughed. "Go and tell the Sorting Hat."
Harry dropped his head back against the sofa. "Will they ... do you think they'll think that you're dead?" He twisted his head to look at Draco.
"I don't know." Draco looked distant. "There won't be a body. And you — he — he won't give up. As long as they don't know for sure — Harry will keep looking."
Harry thought about Pensieve Harry's smile again. He cleared his throat. "Maybe — after the war, maybe we can find a way to send a message. If he knew you were safe ..." He shook his head. "They can't have you, because — because of the killing curse. But maybe we could send an owl?"
Draco looked wistful. "Yeah. Maybe."
Draco's hand was on his knee. Harry picked it up and ran his thumb over Draco's palm.
"When we go flying tomorrow, we should look at the Acromantula Nest from above," Harry said. "It's probably time we started looking for the next Horcrux."
After a moment, Draco nodded. "Mars is rising," he said, quoting Ron's words.
Harry twined his fingers around Draco's. "There's a war coming," he agreed. He lifted their intertwined hands, pressing them against his cheek for a second. "But," he added, "you're going to be here for it. And you're on my side, this time."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Yes, Harry, this is all about you."
Harry turned Draco's hand over and kissed the wrist, feeling self-conscious. "Shut up. It matters."
The other boy shivered at the contact, glancing at him: a quick slashing look from under his lashes, that caught and held. His eyes darkened, and he lowered his legs, crawling over to kneel above Harry.
Harry's breathing stilled. Draco looked at him intently, reaching out to brush his thumb over Harry's jaw. Harry tilted his face into the touch, and Draco leaned forward. Their mouths just touched; barely a kiss. Then Draco leaned closer again, nudging Harry's mouth open. Harry leaned up into the kiss; the heat and the feeling of Draco's tongue skimming his teeth, butterfly-quick.
Draco pulled back, hovering just above Harry again; less than an inch between their mouths.
"I didn't think I'd ever get to do this," Draco said quietly, the words a hum against Harry's mouth. He moved, minutely, his nose touching Harry's cheek. "I'm supposed to be dead, you know. How many people get a second chance in a new reality? And I — I left people behind, and I want — I want to see them again." He dipped his head, rubbing his nose against Harry's. "But I don't think I could." He squeezed his eyes shut. "Fuck. Harry. I don't think I could lose this."
Then he raised his head, giving Harry a warning look. His cheeks were pink. "Don't answer that."
Harry didn't even try to squash the huge smile on his face. "Um. Okay."
Draco rolled his eyes, letting his breath out. He turned, stretching his legs out on the sofa and leaning back against Harry once more. Harry shifted his arms, wrapping them around Draco's chest. He was acutely conscious of every place their bodies touched.
Harry hadn't saved Draco the first time; hadn't known he was worth saving.
Second chances, he thought.
He tightened his arms.