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A Purely Selfish Act

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A Purely Selfish Act

Fifty-one.

Fifty- two.

Fifty-three.

Fifty-three owls.

And each of them carrying some sort of scroll, package, or oddly-shaped envelope covered in Muggle stamps. Harry’s mouth twitched in the beginnings of a smile as he remembered the letter that Mrs. Weasley had sent to him so many years ago. A lifetime ago, really. He wondered if, like Molly, whoever had addressed those particular envelopes thought that just because he grew up with Muggles meant that he missed living among them and thus enjoyed the reminder. He didn’t, but he didn’t feel like hurting anyone’s feelings, either. If it made the sender happy, what harm was it?

A gust of cold winter air quickly bit through Harry’s reminiscence, making him shiver and step back away from the window. Large flakes, as big as Harry had ever seen, were falling lazily around the parliament of owls, dusting their majestic wings with white. Winter had hit early this year and now, six days before Christmas, the world was coated in sparkling white. It was beautiful, Harry thought, if oddly lonely.

Lost in his thoughts again, Harry started a bit when the owls began to hoot at him impatiently. “Alright. Alright. Don’t lose your feathers. I was just looking at the snow.” He stepped back and opened the sitting room window as wide as it would go. One by one the owls soared through, swooping over his favorite chair and snagging a treat off the dish he kept on the small mantle before dropping their burdens and once again flying out into the chilly morning. It was a surprisingly quick procession for fifty-three owls, but Harry knew that the majority of them had been through the queue many times before and therefore knew the drill. He was just glad that the new owls seemed to understand how to follow suit and that none of the senders had bothered tying their missives to their bird’s leg, which always slowed things down horribly.

Once the last owl had departed with a grateful hoot, Harry closed the window behind it and turned to the miniature mountain on the floor. A heap of mail, all from that week, lay piled on the rug. Still chilled, he pulled out his wand, lit the small fire and sat down on the rug next to his mail. This was going to be an all-day affair.

It was the same every day. Right after lunch, the post owls would show up with letters and gifts from his admirers. (The howlers, hexes and curses Hermione had managed to spell away with a Confundus Charm she’d created especially for post owls bearing ill will. It didn’t bother the owls in any way, simply sent them straight back to their owners.)

Right after the war, he’d loved the outpouring of affection and kindness, but over the years that excitement had worn off. The post had continued to come, but he had ceased to care. Beautiful words from strangers he would never meet or think of again. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate the wizarding world’s kindness, but it had begun to feel…empty.

Much like Harry himself.

After the fall of Voldemort, the wizarding world seemed to explode with opportunity and excitement. Everyone had been ready to rebuild, to start over and make things right, and many of them had. Hermione had made her way into the Ministry and was climbing ever higher. Ron had spent a few years with the Aurors, working on new protocols that they’d developed based off of his experiences hunting Voldemort.

But Harry had just…drifted.

There was no other word for it.

At first, he’d joined the Aurors with Ron, working tirelessly to help bring about a new, better age of wizarding law. But after a few years, the work had started to wear on him. With the Ministry in a much better place, he’d lost interest and quit. From there he’d worked with different charities and other special groups. Everything he tried started out exciting, until the day came when it no longer interested him.

The worst had been a sponsorship offer he’d received from the Nimbus Racing Broom Company. They’d asked him to help design a new broom, one that they’d name after him and he’d then endorse. Harry had said yes immediately and started making notes and sketching ideas. He’d worked on it for two weeks before his first official consultation with Nimbus. But when he’d shown up at their offices, scrolls in tow, they’d presented him with an already-designed prototype that they wanted him to provide a signature for. His name was to go on the handle in gold lettering with a tiny Snitch that fluttered around it. It would be brilliant and sell millions, they’d promised him. Crushed, Harry hadn’t bothered mentioning a single idea. He’d signed the enchanted parchment that would be used to make the logo transfer, posed for a few pictures with a forced smile on his face and left. He’d trashed his parchments with a single flick of his wand on the way out.

The Potter Nimbus did indeed sell millions, and cemented the Nimbus Racing Broom Company as the very, very best, leaving the brand even more sought after than before.

Harry hadn’t bought a single one of the Potter Gold Edition and the one they’d sent him he’d given away to the next charity he’d been asked to speak for. They’d auctioned it off, complete with a handshake from Harry himself, for five thousand galleons. Harry could still remember the look of joy on the winner’s face, and the hollow feeling that was scooping out a large portion of his insides.

It wasn’t that Harry wasn’t happy at all, that he didn’t have a good life, because he did. He did enjoy being able to help with charities and he was still close with Ron, Hermione and the rest of the Weasley clan. But he’d always thought that by the time he’d reached his early thirties he’d have more to show for it. A house, rather than a flat. A job that truly meant something to him. Someone to love. Maybe a few kids.

Trying to push the daydream out of his mind, Harry sighed and grabbed the first letter off the top of the pile. After ripping it open and scanning the first few lines (Dear Harry, I love you. You’re incredible. I think we would…), he tossed it on the rug next to him. They first of what promised to be a very large pile for Luna. What she did with his fan mail, he didn’t know. He imagined that she was using them to wallpaper her new house, or maybe making her own version of recycled paper out of them, or possibly wrapping gifts. Maybe someday she would tell him. Maybe someday he would ask. But for now he didn’t care, so long as they went to someone who wanted them.

The next three went in the same pile while the next, a bill for his subscription to the Daily Prophet, he placed to his left. For the millionth time he thought about cancelling it as he never read beyond the first page. And like all of the times before, he decided to think about it later, after all of the mail was sorted, which meant that he would most likely end up renewing it out of habit. Again. After that he picked up a small parcel that turned out to be an assortment of Honeydukes' best, which started a new pile for Ron. The next package was a small plush owl that started a pile to be donated to charity or St. Mungo’s; whichever was up for this month. He liked to collect all of the small gifts and toys and donate them to the hospital or a worthy charity switching back and forth each month. This month’s donations already comprised three bags of assorted toys, gadgets and clothes that would make quite a few people very happy.

Harry’s eye was next caught by the corner of a pale golden envelope, the likes of which he’d never seen before. It was hidden beneath two other letters, one covered in Muggle stamps, the other basic parchment, and it practically glittered in the late morning sun streaming through the window next to him. Normally he took the pile in order, but that one begged for his immediate attention.

For some unknown reason, Harry’s heart began to pound a little bit faster as he slid the delicate envelope from the pile. The script on the front was elegant, yet precise, the black ink a stark contrast to the soft gold. Over the years, he’d come to recognize the handwriting of certain fans and the pre-printed labels that came from bill companies or other official organizations, but this handwriting he’d never seen before. He was sure he’d have recognized it, if only because it was so beautiful and almost antiquated, like something you would see on an invitation to a fancy dress party.

Turning it over in his hands, he studied the wax seal on the back. Dark gold, the seal had an ornate M with what appeared to be a small snake for one of the strokes pressed into it that rivaled the beauty of the script on the front. Frowning, Harry tried to remember why that particular M seemed so familiar. He knew he’d seen it before, years and years ago…

Malfoy.

It was the Malfoy family seal.

Harry stared at it in confusion. It had been over twelve years since Malfoy had been sentenced to a life term in Azkaban, and Harry had tried very hard not to think about him since. Azkaban was no longer ruled by Dementors, but it still wasn’t a happy place. And from what Harry had heard, it was especially dangerous for ex-Death Eaters. Lucius had died years ago - of what, Harry didn’t know. So that only left Narcissa. What could she want, Harry wondered as he carefully opened the envelope.

Unlike before, with the stamp covered envelope, Harry was gentle, lifting the flap and freeing the seal as carefully as he could. A letter this beautiful demanded to be opened with some respect. After perching the gold envelope on his knee, Harry unfolded the crisp parchment. It was the same pale shade and had been precisely creased in two places, each of the folds exactly the same width. It read:

Mr. Potter,

Proper social etiquette dictates that one should always start out a letter, no matter the purpose, by observing certain social graces and niceties. But, for the first time in my life, I shall not observe those graces as time is short.

Specifically, my time.

I have tried, over the years, to reach you, to ask you for a favor. But every time I was denied an audience.

Now, I am dying and I wish to speak with you. In person.

Please do not ignore this request. I hate to imply that you owe me any sort of debt, or to try and guilt you into visiting me in my last days. I am not yet so ready to throw all of my manners out of the window. But I am asking, nonetheless, that you consider our history.

If you are agreeable to this, the Manor’s apparition wards will allow you through tomorrow, on December nineteenth, between the hours of one and two.

Most Sincerely,
Narcissa Malfoy

“You got a letter from Narcissa Malfoy?” Ron’s exclamation shocked Harry so much that he jumped, scattering the pile of toys and causing the golden envelope to slip and get bent in the shuffle.

“What?” Harry’s heart pounded painfully in his chest. The letter had gripped him so fully that he hadn’t heard Ron come in. “Huh?” He couldn’t stop his brain from going over and over Narcissa’s letter as Ron continued to talk.

“Hermione is on her way up.” Without asking, he pulled the letter out of Harry’s grasp, wrinkling the perfect parchment in the process. “So, what does she want…” His brown eyes searched the letter and Harry watched him, still thrown by the request and Ron’s shock.

“Knock-knock!” Hermione’s voice called from the front door, followed by her footsteps and the smell of whatever she’d brought for lunch.

“I’ll never understand why she does that,” Ron said, his eyes never leaving the parchment.

“Because it is only polite to announce one’s arrival, Ronald.” Harry looked over at Hermione and wondered if it didn’t also have to do with the fact that her arms were full. Forgetting the letter for a minute he rushed over and grabbed the large pizza box she’d been carrying like a tray and the brown paper take-out bag she had clenched in the other hand. With a sigh of relief she dropped the remaining bags that had been dangling from her arms. After massaging the life back into them she gave Ron’s shoulder an affectionate punch. “I did ask you to help me carry the things up.”

“I know!” The tips of Ron’s ears burned red in embarrassment. “I just…” He dropped his head and mumbled an apology. Harry had seen him look the same way when apologizing to Molly and the sight made him snort a laugh before he could stop himself.

“Oh, honestly,” Hermione sighed as she took in Harry’s appearance. “It is lunch time, Harry. Why aren’t you dressed?”

He looked down at himself, trying to see what the problem was, but all Harry saw were the dark grey lounge pants and ratty Hogwarts t-shirt that he’d put on that morning. He’d even washed and combed his hair. “What?” he asked, genuinely confused.

“Couldn’t you bother to put on some proper trousers and a jumper?”

“For a lazy day of sorting through my mail and eating pizza?” He had to stop himself from rolling his eyes at the pizza box. It had been Ron’s choice, Harry was sure, as his best friend was currently going through a Muggle food phase after visiting Hermione’s parents. Harry, who had always loved the food at Hogwarts and Mrs. Weasley’s cooking, had never really seen the appeal. When the Dursleys had ordered pizza, Aunt Petunia had only ever let him eat Dudley’s day-old leftovers. “I’ll put on proper,” he mimicked her tone, “clothes tomorrow.”

Hermione, sensing it was a losing battle, shook her head. “Well, I-”

“Look at this, Hermione!” Ron bounded over, a slice of pizza in one hand and the golden letter in the other. Harry wondered how long it would last before it ended up with grease stains on it. “Narcissa Malfoy wants Harry to come for a visit! She thinks Harry owes her something!”

That, Hermione couldn’t ignore. “What?” She took the message from Ron and Harry wondered when his mail had become public property. Well, the mail that he’d chosen to keep as his own anyway. “Why could she possibly…” Hermione read the note over a few times as if expecting it to change with each pass. “She’s dying?”

“Guess so,” Ron said through a mouthful of pizza and Hermione shot him an annoyed look. He swallowed before saying, “that’s what it says, doesn’t it?”

“Can I have that back, please?” Harry plucked the parchment from Hermione’s grasp before she could comment. Before it had looked so beautiful, almost ethereal; now it was crumpled and smudged with pizza sauce, which made Harry sad. He tried to find the envelope, but it had gotten lost in the shuffle. In the end, he gave up and placed it on the mantle under a small Snitch figurine with fluttering wings he’d been given years ago.

“Well,” Ron came out of the kitchen, three bottles of butterbeer in hand. Hermione had placed the pizza on the coffee table in front of the couch, but rather than picking up a slice, she had the paper bag on her lap and was taking out a small container. “You gonna go?”

“Of course he isn’t. Harry doesn’t owe her a thing,” Hermione said, opening the white box to reveal thick linguini noodles covered in creamy Alfredo sauce and topped with chunks of chicken. It looked so much more appealing than the pizza that he wondered if she might be willing to share, until her words sank in.

“What?” Truth be told, he hadn’t really had a chance to decide what he wanted to do about Narcissa’s request. The shock of getting a letter from her at all had completely stumped him. “I hadn’t actually thought about it yet. You lot came in and that was that.”

Ron plopped down on the couch and pulled another slice of piece out of the box. No plate. No napkin. Harry watched in dismay as a large chunk of sausage and mushroom fell on the carpet. Before he could say anything Hermione had cleaned it up with a swish, flick and eye roll combination she’d mastered years ago. Ron, as usual, didn’t notice a single thing. Not even the plate on his lap. “Wh wunt e go?” Ron garbled before taking a drink.

“I think the better question is, why would you think he would?” Hermione’s exasperation seemed to be getting the better of her. “For the love of Merlin, would you please eat like a civilized person? If your mother…” Ron took another bite and chewed as obnoxiously as possible, just to irritate her. Before things could go from bad to worse, Harry sat down on the floor with the coffee table between them and picked up his own slice of pizza.

“I hadn’t thought about it. It’s so curious; Narcissa Malfoy contacting me after all these years? I haven’t seen her since the trials.” He hated to think about the trials, about Draco and so many others being hauled away to Azkaban. They might not have been friends, but Harry had never thought that he’d deserved that. If only there had been something he could have done. Spoken on his behalf, perhaps, but he’d practically been locked away afterwards, so many people had wanted to get their hands on him. Those first weeks, months…they were still a blur to him. He tried sometimes, to remember what had happened, but all Harry could seem to recall was retelling his story countless times, being escorted from his safe, warm Gryffindor dorm and checked into a secure room at the Ministry that had been charmed to resemble Gryffindor tower and listening in on hearings.

He’d been haunted with if only ever since seeing Draco Malfoy hauled off to Azkaban, being pulled from his mother’s arms as they both cried and fought against the guards. Harry still heard his terrified screams sometimes in his dreams.

“Harry, you do remember what the Malfoys did, right?” Hermione was staring at him with a searching gaze. Her fork was half-way to her mouth, a chunk of sauce-covered chicken speared on the end.

Of course he remembered what Narcissa Malfoy had done for him.

He would never, ever forget that night.

It was Hermione and Ron who didn’t know what she’d done for him. Harry had kept that to himself. It was his.

“Why are you asking that, Hermione?” For once, Ron’s voice was clear, not a single garbled or slurred syllable. “Of course Harry knows. Right, mate?”

Out of nowhere, Harry heard himself say, “I think I’m gonna go.” He felt about as shocked by this as Ron and Hermione looked. Harry nibbled on the tip of his pizza slice, suddenly finding the pizza very interesting – the shapes of the mushrooms and olives, the colors of the pepperoni and sausage – how had he never noticed these things before?

“Harry!’

“Mate?”

Harry took another small bite, pointedly ignoring both of them.

“You don’t owe the Malfoy family anything!” Hermione placed her take out on the coffee table with so much force that a couple pieces of chicken jumped out. “They let Voldemort into their home! Tortured me! Tried to kill-”

“I’ve made up my mind, Hermione.” Harry’s tone left no room for argument. “I need to go. I can’t explain why, but I need to go.” His stomach turned at the thought of being anywhere near Malfoy Manor again. “I’ll understand if you don’t want to, but if you’d like to come with…” Appetite completely gone, Harry tossed his barely-touched slice of pizza back into the box. He hated pizza anyway. “I’d really appreciate it.”

Hermione didn’t reply.

Instead, it was Ron who spoke. “Harry, mate, I can’t say I get why you feel like you need to do this, but I’ll be there, if you want backup.” Harry hadn’t thought he’d ever hear Ron willingly offer to go anywhere near anything remotely Malfoy related again.

“It all happened so long ago, Harry,” Hermione said, “why bring up the past?” Despite having asked a question, the look on her face said it all. She didn’t care for an answer, and she wouldn’t be coming. Harry couldn’t really blame her; they’d all had a hard time dealing with their experiences during the war. Hermione had tried to help out with the trials more than he and Ron had, but it had taken its toll on her. Harry could vaguely remember times when she’d been off, like she’d wanted to tell him something. Harry had tried getting her to talk, but she never would. After a while, he’d given up trying to find out what was bothering her and she’d eventually gone back to the confident Hermione he knew and loved.

That was that. Harry Potter was going to visit with Narcissa Malfoy. Part of him was regretting the decision already, while the other - the part of him that still dreamt of Malfoy’s terrified face - felt better already.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

“She’s not coming?” Harry looked at his watch (one fifty-seven pm) and then at Ron, hoping he’d say something other than the obvious.

“Did you honestly expect her to change her mind? I mean-”

“No, I get it. I understand.” Harry unconsciously reached up and rumbled his hair. It was still a constantly untamable mess.

“So…” Ron’s voice trailed off. It was clear that he was searching for the right way to say what was on his mind and having a hard time of it. “Care to explain why this is so important?”

Harry dropped his hand, considering Ron’s question. “I don’t know. After the trials, everything went by in a blur and I didn’t really do anything to help. I could’ve, and-”

“We have to go,” Ron interrupted, grabbing onto Harry’s shoulder. Before Harry could protest, Ron began to twist, his face screwed up in concentration. A glance at his watch told Harry that he had seven seconds before the Apparition points at Malfoy Manor closed. He’d wanted to wait until the last possible second for Hermione and they had. Thankfully Ron had had the presence of mind to keep an eye on the time for them.

A quick twist.

A jerk behind the navel.

The next thing Harry knew, his knees were crashing into a very hard marble floor. “Mph.”

“Oi! I thought I was the one who was supposed to be rubbish at Apparition?” Ron yanked Harry to his feet.

“You caught me off guard. Good thing you knew where to take us, I’d have gotten myself Splinched otherwise.” Harry tried putting pressure on his right foot and his knee throbbed in protest.

Ron eyed him like he was trying to figure out the answer to a very important question. “I know I said I’d come with you, but I don’t get this, Harry. What’s going on? Why are we here?”

“You are here to grant a dying woman her last wish,” a voice that sounded oddly familiar hissed, and for the first time since arriving, Harry looked around himself.

A large circular room swept around him, a wash of white and silver that might have once been beautiful. Now everything looked dull and dingy with age. The windows, tall and arched, were covered in floor-length drapes that were currently closed, the only light coming from the sconces lining the walls, making the room glow eerily. Harry could make out frames on the walls, but he couldn’t see what they held. There was an ornate mantle of the same white-and-black flecked marble of the floor that framed a fireplace as tall as Harry. A delicate couch, low table and a couple of chairs sat on a large, circular threadbare rug in the middle of the room. There were two people sitting there, a man and a woman, but they weren’t enough to draw Harry’s attention away from the massive bed placed at what could only be the head of the circular room. It sat high off the ground on curved feet, its silver curtains tied back, revealing a plush, if worn, comforter. In the middle, a woman lay so still that she could have been dead.

Narcissa Malfoy.

The couple sitting in the middle of the room approached Harry and Ron, their faces drawn and exhausted. If he hadn’t seen them up close, Harry would have never believed it was them.

Blaise Zabini was taller than Harry remembered, his dark hair slicked back, revealing a face so gaunt his cheek bones looked like they could cut something. Next to him, Pansy Parkinson, though the same age as Harry, looked ten years older than her former classmates. Her black hair, once shiny and lustrous but now heavily streaked with grey, was secured in a loose braid that hung slightly past her shoulders. Dark circles rimmed her eyes and she had heavy lines around her eyes and mouth. Harry wondered what had happened to her.

“Zabini. Parkinson.” Ron nodded at them both cordially, but without any real warmth. Still, it shocked Harry to see Ron Weasley be anything but hostile towards an ex-Slytherin classmate. Harry raised an eyebrow at him in question. “We worked together on a Ministry assignment,” was all Ron offered by way of explanation.

Pansy and Blaise both ignored the explanation and said their own hellos to Ron instead. It was odd, being left out of what felt like some sort of reunion. Almost as odd as Apparating willingly into Malfoy Manor, but not quite. Unable to stand it anymore, Harry held up the rumpled letter. “Care to tell me what this is about?”

Pansy’s tired eyes took in the letter and she sighed deeply. “Narcissa is dying, which I’m sure that even you have figured out.” Harry felt his willingness to stay draining slowly away. “She doesn’t have much time left. We’ll be lucky if she makes it to Christmas. She-”

“Can still speak for herself.” A soft voice quickly pulled all of their attention away from whatever Pansy was about to say next and the entire room seemed to hold its breath in anticipation. “Harry Potter, please…” Narcissa coughed and the ragged sound of it made Harry’s chest ache. “Come to me.”

From where he stood by the small gathering place, Harry could just make out a frail hand hovering a bit above the comforter. It wavered a little before dropping back onto the bed and Harry found himself approaching her with caution. He'd seen more than his fair share of death, but he’d never seen anything quite like this. Narcissa looked as small and fragile as Ginny had when he’d found her in the Chamber of Secrets. She was all bones and sagging skin, her once silvery hair was now a mess of rough grey. And her eyes had sunken so deeply into her skull that Harry felt as if he were being looked at by a skeleton.

Those around him had been cut down in battle, caught by curses or jinxes. Their deaths had been swift and laced with magic. But this was something else entirely. Harry had never seen someone waste away and die of old age or disease. He’d never watched as someone he cared about shrunk away to nothing. And as he faced the possibility of a similar fate, Harry felt his own life catch up with him. Would he be like her some day? Sick and bedridden, alone in a beautiful house with no family around him? He hated to think of it, but he couldn’t help it. It was like he’d never truly understood the idea of death from natural causes before that moment. But now, death was something else, it had a face beyond that of a Killing Curse or battle wound.

“Erm…” It made him sound like he was still at Hogwarts, but Harry couldn’t think of anything else to say. “Hi.” Harry felt Ron step up behind him and wished that he could take some comfort in it, but he still felt as nervous and uncomfortable as before.

“Thank you for coming.” Narcissa took a deep breath, trying to pull in as much oxygen as her lungs would allow. It wasn’t much. “I was starting to think that you’d decided against it.”

Harry didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing.

“All those years ago, after the way…” Another breath. Another cough. “I tried to get to you, to speak with you, but someone always stopped me.”

“I never knew…” Harry turned to look at Ron, who shrugged helplessly.

“They decided it was for the best, mate.” Ron sounded like he agreed with the decision to keep people away from him, which irritated Harry.

“They who?” He’d never known. Harry had always thought that his friends had simply kept reporters and well-wishers from bombarding him. If Narcissa hadn’t been able to get to him, who else had they kept from him?

“Everyone. Mum, Dad, Kingsley, Minerva…” Ron left his own name out, but Harry could tell that he, too, had been part of it.

“Did none of you think to ask me?” Harry’s feelings of guilt compounded. How had he been so naïve? If he’d have only thought about it back then, surely he’d have realized that something was going on, that he could be doing more to help. Wouldn’t he have? “Where did you lot-”

“Gentlemen, please.” Narcissa sounded so much like a disapproving mother than Harry shut his mouth instantly. “What’s done is done and now here we are.” Pansy walked over to the bed, conjured a small chair with her wand, and sat next to Narcissa, her eyes strangely alert despite her exhausted demeanor. Blaise stood by the bedpost across from Harry, his arms crossed casually over his chest. “But it is time I finally asked what I wanted to ask you all those years ago. It is time that I called in my debt.” Her eyes, so like Draco’s, were cool and alert.

Harry could feel Ron tensing behind him, but he ignored him.

“I want my son back, Harry Potter.” Narcissa looked like she needed to cough, but she pressed her thin lips together, refusing to give him. “And you are going to give him to me, like you should have before. I saved your life. Now it’s your turn to save his.”

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

“What does she mean she saved your life?”

“You will do this, Potter.”

“You never told us!”

“Don’t you dare think about backing out…”

Harry stood dazed as Ron and Pansy argued around him. After making her request, Narcissa had announced that she was tired and needed her rest. Pansy had quickly rushed to her side to make sure that she was comfortable before ushering them out of the room and into a small sitting room off the bedroom where she’d cast a Silencing Charm. From there it had turned into a giant shouting match between Ron and Pansy. There was a small part of him that registered amusement at the fact that they both seemed to be arguing with themselves as he hadn’t said a single word. Their voices continued to rise, demanding this or that, but he ignored them both, trapped in his own thoughts.

Narcissa wanted him to save Malfoy in order to repay his debt to her. He’d always wondered about that, about why she’d never come to collect sooner. And to find out that she had tried but that his own friends and family had stopped her from seeing him made him sick to his stomach. If he’d have known, he would have tried to help Malfoy in a heartbeat. Not because he liked him - Hermione was right about what the Malfoys had done to her and to them - but Narcissa had risked her life to save him. Whether she did it to save her son or not didn’t matter. Harry was alive now because of her.

“You must help, Potter.” Amid the shouting around him, a deep voice whispering next to him rang out louder than the others.

“Wha?” Harry turned to look and found that Zabini was standing next to him, his dark eyes intent. Harry could barely make out the sounds of Ron and Pansy sniping at each other, but he didn’t care what they were arguing about it. It was Zabini whose soft voice was the loudest in the room. “I…”

“You need to help Malfoy.” Zabini, tall and dark, looked at him intently. Where he’d once been menacing, Harry now found a man who seemed resigned to his fate, but also desperate. “This…” He paused and turned his gaze to Pansy who was shaking a fist at a gaping Ron. “This isn’t right.” Harry wanted to agree, but he kept his mouth shut. “Draco didn’t deserve to be sent away for life. Something tells me you know that.”

Harry dropped his gaze to the ornate but threadbare rug he was standing on. It was black with a faded pattern of silver snakes and roses. It might have been pretty once upon a time. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything.

“The Malfoys deserved better. So does Pansy.” That made Harry look up. “She should be running our department at St. Mungo’s. She should be running the entire hospital. But instead she chose to become Narcissa’s nursemaid the second she fell ill.”

Pansy Parkinson? Running St. Mungo’s? “I never knew she was that smart.” Harry’s voice came out shocked and he instantly regretted it.

“She’s brilliant,” Zabini said with so much affection that it made Harry’s heart restrict painfully. “She was in the top five of our year, but no one cared because of Granger.” He didn’t sound bitter or angry, just matter of fact. He’d never thought he’d have such a conversation with Blaise Zabini. “Now here she is, wasting away her talent.”

“What do you think I can do about it?” Harry wracked his brain, wondering how he could help. It wasn’t like he could change the past; all of the Time-Turners had been destroyed and it was impossible to create new ones. Many witches and wizards (Hermione included) had tried and failed horribly. It wasn’t possible. And even if he managed to get Malfoy out of Azkaban now, it’s not like that would change what had happened. It would only give Narcissa a little time with her son before she died.

“You will do everything you can, Harry Potter.” Pansy marched over to him, her eyes wide and her hair wild. “Absolutely everything.”

“She plans on sending you back in time!” Ron stepped pointedly around her. “She’s mental! Completely mental!”

“I am not mental!” she snarled. It was then that Harry saw it, the exhaustion and anger and desperation behind her eyes. The snobby, giggly Pansy Parkinson that Harry had known was gone and in its place was a hard, angry, tired woman who would do anything to claw her way out of the hole she was in. “I have found a way to send you back, Potter. It’s an ancient ritual that I uncovered in a volume in the Malfoy library. It was difficult, but I managed to translate it. It won’t send you,” she gestured at his body, “but it will send your consciousness. It will be your current mind in your post-war nineteen-year-old body.”

“Oh, because that makes it sound completely sane!” Ron burst out with an angry wave of his arms.

Before either of them could say another word, Harry held up his hand to silence them. Pansy looked murderous and Ron mutinous, but they would have to deal with it. “Zabini.” Harry paused, considering the man before him. The picture of calm, Zabini clearly had a deeper motivation that was keeping him there. “Is it true? Is there a way to send me back?” Ron spluttered, but didn’t say another word.

“Yes. But it is risky.” He looked to Pansy and their eyes met and Harry realized what it was that kept him there, so calm and quiet. He loved her. And it was obvious that she didn’t know. “According to the book, the ritual hadn’t been performed in centuries.” The fact that this statistic had been correct when the book was published hung in the air between them. Merlin knew how long it had actually been. “But if Pansy’s translations are correct and the spell is cast properly, you should be fine.”

Should.

Should be fine.

“And if it isn’t?” Harry heard himself ask.

“Well…” Zabini seemed to be considering his words very carefully. Harry didn’t blame him. “The book wasn’t exactly clear on that, some of the passages were too faded to decipher completely.” Harry could feel Ron seething behind him, he could just picture his face turning an awful shade of puce. “The best we were able to figure out is that your mind could end up stuck in the past while your body, which would still be here, withers and dies.”

“Harry!” Ron could no longer contain himself. “Please tell me that you’re not actually considering this genuinely stupid plan all for Malfoy!” Pansy hissed in irritation. “I’ve never once heard of this ritual and I’m just as much a pure-blood as the Malfoys.” Harry was shocked to hear Ron refer to himself as “pure-blood.” The Weasleys had outlawed any such talk since the end of the war.

“Don’t you dare listen to him, Potter.” Pansy all but ran towards him, grasping the lapels of his jacket in a fit of desperation. “He may come from a pure-blood family, but that doesn’t mean he knows everything. Trust me, I’ve done the research. I know what-”

“Then let me take it to Hermione.” That seemed fair to Harry. If the spell was legitimate, she would be able to tell them and then Ron wouldn’t be able to complain. He would then be able to decide if he wanted to take the risk.

The look on Pansy’s face, however, threw a bucket of cold water on that idea. Where her dark eyes were full of passion and anger only moments ago, now they looked hollow. “There’s no time for that, Potter.”

“Why?” Harry gently pried her hands off of his jacket and took a step back, looking apologetic. Maybe Ron was right. Forget that, he thought, Ron was right. This truly did sound like a genuinely stupid plan, but he couldn’t stop himself from listening and considering and thinking that maybe he wouldn’t only be able to save Malfoy, but himself as well.

“Narcissa’s dying, you dolt!” From the look on Pansy’s face, she hadn’t meant to say that. Not out loud, anyway. After taking a deep breath, she lowered herself onto the small black couch. The sitting room, just off the bedroom, was decorated in rich silvers and blacks with a small couch, two chairs and a coffee table. Despite its smaller size, it was still handsome and rich. “I apologize. I’m very…” She let the words trail off. She needed no further explanation. “Narcissa is dying. From my calculations and experience, she’ll be lucky to make it until Christmas day.”

“But that’s…” Harry quickly counted in his head. “Five days. Wouldn’t I return to this moment? Like a Time-Turner?”

“No, Potter.” Pansy’s voice took on a more professional quality and he hoped that she’d managed to control her emotions. For all of their sake’s. “It’s not like that, where you eventually work your way through time, back to the moment you left. With this spell, once you go, for lack of a better word, under, time will continue on with and without you.” Harry felt the confusion crossing his face, but before he could ask her what she meant, she continued on. “Your body will still be here, in this time, going through the minutes, hours, days, as if you were asleep. If your mind gets stuck in the past, your body will still continue moving forward and you’ll be stuck in what the Muggles refer to as a coma until you die.”

“Oh.” Harry still wasn’t sure if he completely understood, but comas he did get. He vaguely remembered Aunt Petunia talking about a friend of hers slipping into a coma after falling ill and having to visit her at the hospital. A quick picture of himself lying in a bed, unable to wake until he died, quickly popped into his mind. It was horrible.

“And if you do manage to live through the past, once you catch up, there’s no telling what would happen.”

Harry’s head began to ache as he pondered the possibilities. What would happen? Would there then be two of him? One in the coma, one alive? Would his past-self cease to exist altogether? Or would he change time so drastically that his current-self no longer mattered? The possibilities seemed endless, and each more horrible than the last. He shook his head a little, hoping to clear it before it exploded. He’d never considered the science behind time travel before – he’d always accepted its magic at face value. He wished that Hermione had come along and that she could make some sense of all this for him because every little piece of him was screaming that this was a bad idea.

Until Ron spoke, that is.

“You don’t owe these people anything, Harry! Narcissa may have saved you, but she probably only did it to save herself from Voldemort.”

“You’re almost right. She saved me to see if her son was alive. But if she hadn’t…” Harry reached up and scratched absently at his messy hair. Memories of that night came back to him… Walking into the forest. The fight with Voldemort. Hagrid’s wails. If it hadn’t been for Narcissa lying for him… “If she hadn’t, the war may have turned out very differently, Ron. I think that’s a pretty big debt to repay.”

Pansy’s sharp intake of breath caused Harry to look down at her. She was staring up at him, her eyes wide and hopeful. “Do you mean-”

“Harry! Mate!” Ron stepped between them, blocking his view of Pansy. He looked like he was about to make a last-ditch effort to stop Harry from going through with the plan. “I kind of get why you think you owe her something, but think of the risks! Say you do make it back, what if you change too much. I’m happy! Hermione is happy! You’re happy. What if you screw all of that up?”

“But I’m not happy.” The words were out of Harry’s mouth and there was no taking them back. Silence rang through the small room and everyone was staring at him. Harry felt about as shocked as they all looked. He’d never once felt that way, never thought of himself as unhappy. Sure, there were things that he’d wished were different about his life, but everyone had things they wished were different, didn’t they?

And in Harry’s case, those things were pretty minor – he wanted a job that gave his life purpose, which he could put more effort into finding. He wanted a man to love, another thing that he could put more effort into finding. Those things seemed so small when compared to a woman wanting to see her son before she died. But the more Harry thought about it, the more he realized it was true. “I’m unhappy,” he whispered. “Have been for a long time.”

“But Harry,” Ron implored. “Look at everything you’ve done…” He seemed to be searching for the magic words that would change Harry’s mind. “Everything you did for the Ministry. Your charity work. Your…”

“Even you can’t think of anything else,” Harry said. If his own best friend couldn’t come up with more reasons why his life was so great, Harry figured that said it all. “This is a chance. I can go back; I can put myself on a better path.”

“How?” The tips of Ron’s ears were red and his chest huffed angrily. He was very close to losing his cool. “What do you think you’re going to do, go back and save the world because we’re all so unhappy? Or no… It’s-”

“Me. I want to save myself.” It was a selfish, selfish statement, but at least it was the truth.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Pansy shift a little on the couch, like she was trying to stop herself from saying something. “Pansy?” Harry asked.

“I don’t care what reason you have to come up with to justify going back for Draco,” she emphasized the words, “just do it.”

“What if you ruin everything?” Ron looked livid and Harry couldn’t blame him because he was right…What if he did screw everything up by going back?”

Harry shook his head, “I won’t.” He tried to sound convincing, to believe it himself.

He failed.

Ron shook his head and stared him.

“Please, Ron. I’ve time-traveled before and things didn’t turn out so bad. Did they?”

“I said I would come with you to hear what she had to say.” Ron took a few steps backward, looking betrayed. “I never agreed to anything like this. And neither would Hermione.”

“Well, seeing as she isn’t here,” Harry made a point of looking around the room. “I can’t exactly ask her opinion, can I?”

“But-”

“I hate to interrupt this charming debate, but we really don’t have the time to spare.” Pansy stood up, pressing her palms into her thighs. She had the look of someone who was preparing themselves for a very unpleasant task.

“Ron, please,” Harry begged. “Don’t leave me. Just stay and make sure everything goes ok. Ok?” Ron looked torn between the desire to run out of the room and to stand his ground. It was so obvious that a war was going on inside his head that Harry could practically hear the battle raging within him. “In case they are up to something,” at this, Pansy rolled her eyes dramatically, but didn’t say anything. “I’ll need you here to hex them into oblivion, yeah?” There was no better way to appeal to Ron Weasley than with the promise of violence towards a few ex-Slytherins. Well…there was food. Food usually did the trick, too. Pity he hadn’t brought any pumpkin pasties to Malfoy Manor, Harry thought.

Ron nodded, and though he didn’t look totally convinced, it was a start. “I’ll stay, but I need to step out for a moment.”

“We don’t have time to waste, Weasley.” Zabini, who had been silent for so long, finally spoke.

“Won’t be long. Start setting up.” He gestured vaguely towards Harry and Pansy like matters were settled. Harry watched him, feeling confused by his sudden eagerness, but he forgot about it when Pansy started speaking.

“Whatever,” Pansy said. “We’ll be setting up in Narcissa’s room. There’s plenty of space, and I’ll need to be able to keep an eye on her and the spell while it’s active.”

Harry’s stomach flipped painfully as he watched Zabini, Pansy and Ron head into the other room. What had he done? Had he really sided with Pansy Parkinson over his best mate? Had he really decided to go back in time to try and save Malfoy and fix his own future? He’d made a lot of rash decisions in his life, but this one seemed like it had the potential to be the worst.

And maybe, a tiny voice at the back of his mind whispered, the best.

Standing in the sitting room all alone, Harry took a deep breath. How was he going to do this? Ron and Pansy were right; the potential to alter their present state was huge. He didn’t want to come back to find that Ron and Hermione were miserable. His own happiness wasn’t worth that. But Harry also couldn’t ignore the chance to find a better life for himself. He felt like he was split in two. He was desperate for something better, but he didn’t want to sacrifice his friends either. How could he do this without hurting them?

He just would. That’s all there was to it.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Thin ribbons of blue smoke twisted and curled into ruins that Harry had never seen before, untangling themselves and flowing up and over a large archway that Pansy had summoned in the middle of Narcissa’s room. It reminded Harry of the garden trellis that uncle Vernon had given Petunia for Mother’s Day one year. She’d had him place it in the back corner of the yard and then she’d plated climbing roses all around it. Harry had been forced to tend to the roses more times than he could remember, and the memories of sticking himself with the thorns still made his fingers prickle.

Instead of lattice, however, this archway was made up of swirling smoke ribbons that formed odd symbols at will and seemed to be filled with tiny purple sparks that popped and hissed ominously. Harry’s eyes went from it to Pansy, who was sitting on the stone floor about ten feet in front of the archway. She had small bowls filled with different herbs spread out around her, her wand lying on her lap. Her eyes were pressed tightly shut and she was murmuring an incantation that Harry couldn’t quite make out. Sweat poured down her forehead, plastering loose hairs to her skin as she rocked back and forth. She grimaced and Harry wanted to grab her shoulders to make sure she was ok, but Zabini stopped him with a single touch on his arm. It was clear that he was worried too, but more importantly, he looked confident, like he knew Pansy would be ok, so Harry did nothing.

“Once the archway is complete, all you have to do is step through it. It will take you where you need to go,” Zabini said as Pansy continued to chant. They watched as she reached into a bowl without looking at it, grabbed a pinch of the yellow powder within, and tossed it at the arch. The tendrils of smoke tensed and spasmed as if in pain before turning a darker shade of blue. They looked stronger now, and Harry wondered, not for the first time, how stable this spell was.

“Yeah, just take a bit of a run if you’re nervous!” Ron winked at him, and Harry remembered how he’d looked before they started the spell. He couldn’t help feeling like his best friend was up to something.

“Potter,” Pansy called. Her voice was weak, but it was still commanding. The purple sparks were running through the smoke ribbons, lighting up the twisted ruins and giving them a haunted look. It sent a shiver down Harry’s spine. “When you step through this archway, you will be taken back to this day, after this same date. Time will pass the same here as there. Don’t waste time. Get back quickly. Narcissa doesn’t have much time.” She threw another pinch of powder at the archway and it pulsed a shocking shade of blue before calming once again. “Most importantly, Potter,” she looked at him, deadly serious, “don’t screw anything up.”

“Errr…,” was all Harry could say.

“Are you ready?” Zabini asked. His face showed hints soft lines that were on their way to becoming permanently etched into his skin. He was worried and that caused Harry’s stomach to clench.

Harry wanted to yell out that he wasn’t ready, that he’d changed his mind, that this was a terrible idea, but he clenched his jaw tight and took a step towards the archway. He’d never given in to the temptation before and he wasn’t about to start now. His gaze flickered to Zabini (who looked worried), to Pansy (exhausted), and finally to Ron who looked…expectant. There was something going on there, but before he could ask his best friend what he was up to, another thought popped into his mind. “What’ll happen to my body?”

“What?” Pansy asked, her focus split between him and the twisting archway.

“My body!” Harry couldn’t help it; it came out as a yell. “What’ll happen?”

“When you’re ready, I’ll activate the next part of the spell, so when you walk through, your consciousness will be the only thing that’s able to pass through the archway.” She said it so matter-of-factly that she sounded like she was explaining how to make toast.

“And my body…” Harry noticed Ron staring towards the door out of the corner of his eye. “What’ll happen to it?”

“It’ll remain here.” Another pinch, this time of tiny purple leaves. “Obviously.”

“What? I…”

“What did you expect after I told you your body would be here, unconscious?” Pansy looked at him like he was a complete idiot. The sparks in the archway crackled behind her.

“I…I don’t…” What had he thought? To be honest, now that he was standing before an archway made of twisting smoke, Harry couldn’t remember much about the original description. “Who will watch over me?”

“That’s why I’m still here, mate.” Ron nodded, looking like the best mate Harry knew he was. “I’ll make sure they don’t leave you to rot.” Harry couldn’t see her, but he was sure that Pansy was sending Ron some nasty looks.

“Alright.” It was now or never. “Run at the arch, then?” Harry’s palms began to sweat.

“Yes.” Pansy looked at him, really looked at him. She looked totally drained; the spell was clearly taking its toll on her. “On the count of three?”

Harry nodded, his mouth too dry to speak. There were so many things he didn’t understand, so many things that could go wrong.

“Three…” Pansy took a deep breath, summoning all of her strength. “Two…” She threw her arms towards the arch, the ruins lighting up like fairies on a Christmas tree. “One!” A thin layer, as fine as a spider’s web, glistened in the open archway, the purple sparks suddenly swarming over it. It looked like a storm, and Harry had a moment where his feet stuck on the ground, his body refusing to move. “Go! Potter!” Pansy’s arms shook as she tried to hold up the barrier’s curtain through sheer force of will. “Now or never!”

Without another thought, Harry ran. It was a short distance, barely eight feet, but it felt like he was running the length of the Quidditch pitch. Right before he hit the veil, his heart pounding in his ears, Harry heard Hermione’s voice. “Harry! Stop!” A moment later, the smoky fog of the gossamer curtain had swallowed him whole, wrapping his body in velvety warmth that made his skin tingle. He thought that he could still hear her, a faint echo screaming that this was dangerous. But then again, Harry figured maybe that was only his mind imagining what she would say. So that, he realized, was what Ron had been waiting for. He’d somehow called Hermione, most likely with a Patronus.

Thoughts of Ron and Hermione drifted away as the fog pulled him forward. Harry felt as if the threads of time were reaching out and wrapping around him, taking him deeper into the past. It tickled and Harry tried to scratch the spots, but found he couldn’t. Trying not to panic, he vaguely remembered Pansy saying that only his consciousness would move through time, but he still felt whole. He was still moving forward. Or was it backwards? Either way, Harry still felt like his body was there, which was a huge relief. Even if he couldn’t actually touch himself.

As the magic pulled him forward, Harry began to notice swirling images in the dense fog around him. They weren’t clear, more like the silvery shimmering ghosts of Hogwarts, but Harry could still make them out. He caught a glimpse of himself on his last birthday, trying to look excited about the gag gift Seamus had given him. Then there was one of Ron and Hermione telling him they were finally moving in together. He’d been happy for them, but also a little jealous; he wanted to live with someone he cared that deeply about. Harry turned away from that moment and caught glimpses of others as he twisted from side to side, trying to take in everything.

Ron holding Teddy.

Hermione helping Ginny pick out a dress for her wedding to Luna.

Himself holding the keys to his new flat for the first time.

Ron was right, their lives weren’t bad. In fact, they were pretty good. But still, watching it all pass by in reverse, Harry wanted more. There were so many things missing for him. Happiness, true heart-gripping happiness. The kind that makes you feel like you’ll explode because you can’t handle it all. Love. Fulfillment. Excitement. Contentment.

Maybe it made him selfish, but Harry wanted it all.

And he was going to have it.

Even if it meant saving Draco Malfoy in the process.

The ghost images continued to speed by and Harry noticed that he was starting to look younger in them, much younger. He grew skinner, his eyes brighter and less tired. But his hair remained stubbornly the same, no matter his age. Finally, the images began to show the months after the war. And when Harry felt like he was around Christmas time, the smoke dissolved, the tendrils no longer ushering him along, and he found himself running through Narcissa Malfoy’s bedroom.

But unlike the room he’d recently left, this one was cold and lifeless, the furniture draped with sheets and everything covered in a heavy layer of dust. One good sneeze and Harry would be caught up in a dust storm. The room had a deserted feel to it, like the manor had been abandoned after the war - which it probably had. Harry vaguely remembered something about the Ministry seizing it and doing a top-to-bottom search, but he couldn’t remember the specifics of what had happened after that.

He stood in the middle of the room, exactly on the other side of where the arch had been in the…past? Or was it his present? Harry shook the thought of time out of his head; he found that all of this was much easier if he didn’t try to figure it out. Instead, he looked down at himself and was shocked to see a pair of raggedy white-and-blue trainers that he hadn’t worn since he was nineteen years old. A quick inspection revealed that he was thinner, and scars that hadn’t bothered him in years pained him like they were still healing. His body felt the same yet different, like meeting a friend he hadn’t seen in quite some time. Harry wanted to find a mirror, to see what he looked like, but the sounds of a door opening and voices made him freeze.

What happened if he got caught?

Without thinking, Harry spun and focused on the first place that came to mind.

Opening his eyes, he found himself in the makeshift version of Gryffindor tower that the Ministry and had conjured for him to stay in during the trials. It was much smaller than the real thing, only a fifth of the original to be exact; his portion of the room had been replicated exactly, down to the very last detail.

Ron and Hermione had thought about staying with him, but Mr. Weasley hadn’t been able to convince the Ministry that they required the same protection that he did. It had caused an outrage that had led to the entire Weasley family camping out in front of the Ministry in protest. It wasn’t until Kingsley had been sworn into office in January that Ron and Hermione had been given the room and treatment they deserved.

Harry turned, trying to find the mirror and came face to face with…

Himself.

The other Harry, the one that belonged in this time and place, looked as shocked as he felt. They had only a moment to recognize each other before the younger version disappeared into twisted ribbons of purple smoke, leaving only himself behind.

So that was what happened? He had just replaced himself? Harry wondered who had been practicing this particular ritual before deciding that he didn’t want to know.

Finally finding the mirror, Harry had to force himself to keep from puking up his lunch. He’d done it. He’d traveled through time. He was nineteen again and he had no idea what was going on with his real body back in his time. And, as far as Harry knew, there wasn’t any sort of magical time-traveling owl that could get a message back to them, either. Hermione would probably know of some answer, but he had a feeling that cluing this time’s Hermione in on what was going on might have cataclysmic effects that weren’t worth the risk.

The longer Harry stood there, staring at himself in the mirror, the more tired he felt. It was as though going back all of those years had totally wiped him out and now all he wanted was a nap. But if he lie down, how long would he sleep? There was no telling, and Harry was short on time as it was. Sleep would have to wait, he thought, as he scrubbed his hands over his face. Where was he? No…when was he?

Five days before Christmas right after the war.

What was going on then?

Harry racked his brain trying to remember, but it was long ago and the details were fuzzy. Christmas after the war…Christmas after the war…

The trials! There were still going on, Harry remembered. How had he forgotten? It seemed impossible to believe that he’d forgotten the trails after the amount of them he’d had to sit in on. But to be fair, most of that time was a blur to him. It had been a whirlwind of activity in the wizarding world, and he’d been at the center of it. What he did remember was being shepherded from courtroom to courtroom before being taken back to his room, where he’d spent a lot of time out of the spotlight. Looking back now, Harry didn’t understand why he hadn’t fought for more freedom. That was one thing that he could change this time around, Harry thought - if he had time, that was.

But first…Malfoy. Where was he? If Harry remembered correctly, Malfoy’s trial had been right before Christmas, he had to find a way –

A loud knocking at the door pulled Harry out of his thoughts, and before he could answer, the door opened. Harry felt trapped, like an animal caught nosing through the bins. What if whoever was on the other side of the door realized there was something different about him? He stood with bated breath, waiting to see who was on the other side.

“Harry! Mate!” Ron barreled into the room and Harry breathed a huge sigh of relief. “Would you believe it? They told me to come and fetch you, like some sort of ooof.” Ron exhaled sharply as Harry through his arms around him. Sure, Harry had seen him only moments ago, but looking at this younger version of him made it feel like a lifetime. “Whawastha?” Ron breathed out, his words jumbled together.

“Nothing, just…just happy to see you.” Harry took an awkward step back, trying to remember how he acted right after the war. He seemed to remember being both incredibly tired and excited. At the moment though, all he seemed to be able to manage was confused. “So, er… you were supposed to come and get me? What for?” It seemed like a reasonable question to Harry. Ron however…not so much.

“The hearings?” Ron looked as if he were trying to figure Harry out. “You’re supposed to listen in on Malfoy’s testimony today.”

“Malfoy!” Harry knew he’d sounded a little too enthusiastic the second the name came out of his mouth. “Right. Totally forgot. Haven’t been sleeping well.”

“Uh…huh.” Ron didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t push it. “Let’s get going, you’re already late.”

“I know this sounds stupid, but what do they want me to do for Malfoy again?” Harry followed Ron out of the room and down the hall towards the hearing rooms. It had been so long since he’d had to go to one that Harry was glad he had someone there to guide him.

“If your sleeping is that bad I can always ask mum-”

“No, it’s fine.” They rounded the corner and Ron stopped in front of a large door. It had been so long, Harry thought, as he looked it. But as he reached for the handle, memories of long days spent in this room came back to him. Person after person – victim, Death Eater, survivor – he had to listen to their stories to help sort through what was true and what wasn’t, to help decide who should go to trial and who shouldn’t. It had been horribly daunting and he’d hated every minute of it. He hadn’t enjoyed sending one person to trial, no matter how awful they’d been. He hated having that level of authority and responsibility. He’d wanted, for once, to be young and without responsibility. “I remember now.”

Before Harry could make his way into the room, Ron grabbed his elbow and held him back. “You sure you’re ok?”

“A good night’s rest, that’s all I need.” Before Ron could say anything else, Harry walked into the room.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

The room was sparse, nothing like the elaborate chamber that Harry had reported to for his own trial before fifth year. It was small with horrible grey walls and three tables. The table at the head of the room was reserved for whatever deputy the Wizengamot had decided to send over for the day’s hearings and the unlucky reporter who had to take down the conversation. There were many and they were rotated throughout the week so that they wouldn’t become overwhelmed with all of the testimonies they heard. Harry had always found this ironic as no one had cared whether or not he, Ron or Hermione were worn out by the constant testimonials.

Along the left side of the room was a longer table with six chairs – one each for Ron, Hermione and himself, the other three for whoever showed up to listen to that day’s testimonies. Sometimes it was friends or family of the person being tried, other times it was someone speaking against them. Today he didn’t recognize the other people sitting at the table, but from the looks on their faces, they weren’t there to support Malfoy. He had a fleeting moment to wonder where Narcissa was.

“Well? What say you?” The deputy’s voice, cold and harsh, rang out through the small room and seeming to suck all of the energy out of it. McMyers. Harry’s least favorite of the deputies, about as ancient as the book Pansy must have gotten her spell out of and twice as nasty. Harry couldn’t think of a single person that had been pardoned by him. And there Malfoy was, slumped over in a chair in front of him, awaiting judgement. Harry remembered this day vividly in some of his worst dreams.

Despite being the same age as Harry, Malfoy looked like a little boy. He was thin and frail, his blond hair hanging over his eyes and in need of a trim. His clothes, if they could be called that, hung on his frame, dirty and tattered, like he’d been wearing the same thing for weeks. The chair he was sitting in didn’t have shackles, but his arms were secured around his middle, like a cruel version of a Muggle straight jacket. And when their eyes met, grey and green, Harry saw the look of desperate terror in Draco’s eyes that still haunted his dreams.. What had they done to him? What had been going on? Harry thought that the witches and wizards waiting for their hearings had been kept in fair conditions; everyone had assured him of that. But Malfoy…How had Harry not noticed this before?

Harry racked his brain, trying to remember if any of the other Death Eaters or suspects had shown up for their trials looking the way Malfoy did, but he couldn’t. Was it possible that they had and he’d blocked it out? No, he told himself, there was no way. He’d have said something. Wouldn’t he?

“Potter, do take your seat,” McMyers spat at him from across the room. He gave him a look more evil than a Devil’s Snare and Harry quickly hurried to an open chair. “Now, if you are done making your grand entrance, we shall proceed. Unless, of course, you have something you’d like to add?” He shot Harry another dirty look before turning back to Malfoy.

“No, I’m sorry, err…” Over thirty years old and this horrible man still had the ability to make him stutter. It was embarrassing. Harry shrank down in his seat a little and Hermione patted him on the arm. He had to fake a cough to hide his gasp at how young she looked. It shouldn’t have been a shock, he’d known that everyone would look younger, but it was still surprising.

“Again, I say, and I hate repeating myself…” He scribbled something on the parchment in front of him, the tip of the quill scratching over the paper. “What say you, Mr. Malfoy?” It was clear that McMyers didn’t give one hoot what Malfoy had to say.

“I,” Malfoy’s voice was scratchy with disuse. “I didn’t have a choice.”

“You didn’t have a choice in whether or not you plotted to kill Albus Dumbledore?” McMyers looked at Malfoy over the fine golden rims of his frail looking glasses. He looked, Harry thought, like a vulture, sharp eyes and a long beak of a nose. He was clearly waiting to devour Malfoy.

“N… n…” Malfoy hugged himself more tightly, even though his arms were already bound around his waist. “No. The Dark Lord. Voldemort.” Everyone in room hissed except for Hermione, Ron and himself. “He threatened to kill my family, to kill me, if I didn’t-”

“Did you not think to come to Dumbledore, or perhaps to the Ministry for help?”

“I…Voldemort…” Malfoy looked wildly from McMyers to the woman transcribing the report to Harry. When their eyes met again, Harry felt his heart clench painfully. Malfoy was terrified. He could understand him being scared, Malfoy deserved to be a little worried after the part he’d played in the war, but he acted like a caged animal frightened of what was going to happen next. What were they doing to him, Harry wondered again. “He tortured me, used the Cruci-”

“Enough,” McMyers spat out, “no one is interested in your sob story.”

Next to Harry, Ron snickered and it made Harry start. How could he find this funny? The trials were supposed to be fair and this was anything but. Why had he never said anything before? Harry ground his teeth and gripped the arm of his chair. Ron shot him a look asking what was wrong. Harry didn’t respond.

In that moment, he hated himself for the person he’d been - and still was. The person who had sat back and hadn’t said a word. How many other lives were ruined because he hadn’t paid attention? All he’d wanted after the war was to rest, but what had that cost so many others?

“I’ve heard enough, Malfoy. It is of this court’s opinion that you be moved to a grand hearing in front-”

“No,” Harry said. “It is not of this entire court’s opinion.” All around him he heard angry gasps and mutterings. He was positive that he heard Hermione’s voice saying him name. But he didn’t care. He wasn’t going to sit back this time. “I want to hear more. I want to know what Malfoy has to say.”

And with that, Harry changed the course of history.

Or was it the future?

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

“Harry! What was that?”

“How dare you!”

“After everything he did!”

“What would Dumbledore say about this?”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“You were only supposed to sit in and listen!”

“You don’t honestly think he deserves a pardon?”

Who said what, Harry didn’t know or care. All he cared about was getting to Draco Malfoy. He had to see him, to see where they were keeping him and how they were treating him. “Where are they holding Malfoy?” Harry came to a complete stop, causing Ron and Hermione to crash into him. After the hearing, Harry had rushed out of the room, trying to catch up with Malfoy, but the angry mob at the door had held him up and now Harry had no idea where they’d taken him.

“To the holding cells, you know that!” Ron’s face was bright red, whether from anger or trying to keep up with Harry, he didn’t know, but he was pretty sure it was a mix of both. “Why are you-”

“I told you, I had a bad-” Harry ran smack into someone much shorter than himself and very blonde.

“Oh, hello Harry.” Luna looked up, her eyes wide as saucers. “I’ve just heard what you did. I think it’s very brave to stand up for Malfoy like that.” She clutched a stack of Quibblers to her chest; Harry hadn’t realized her father’s beloved magazine was printing again. He was tempted to ask for a copy, but the need to see Malfoy was more pressing.

“Er, thanks, Luna.” Harry thought about excusing himself, about stepping around her and walking away, but then he remembered. “Luna… Don’t you sit with the people waiting for their hearings?” He vaguely remembered hearing about Luna asking to be allowed to visit with the prisoners who were waiting for the chance to plead their cases.

Her eyes lit up, this was clearly something that was very important to her. “Yes, I bring them their meals, read them letters from their families, I even read them the news.” She held up the stack of magazines in her arms. “I know that most people in the Ministry think it’s a waste, but a bit of kindness made all the difference when I was in the Malfoy dungeon.” How Luna was able to talk so easily about her time as a prisoner of the Dark Lord was beyond Harry. He’d always hated talking about what he’d gone through during that last year, but here Luna was, completely open about her experiences. It was amazing. “Are you going to visit them today? I’m sure they’d-”

“Draco Malfoy,” Harry interrupted. “Can you take me to him?”

Luna’s pale eyes went impossibly wider at the mention of Malfoy. “They keep him locked away in the high security area. I’m not allowed in there very often. Only once a week.”

Harry’s mind reeled. “Have you visited him this week? It’s very important.” In his chest, Harry’s heart pounded painfully. He didn’t have the time to wait until next week.

“No…” She studied him, her eyes as wise as an owl’s. “Are you back here to help him, Harry?” He found her choice of words unnerving, but didn’t say anything.

Behind him, Ron made a sound that was part outraged gasp and part moan. Harry thought of Narcissa lying in her bed, of the state of his own life. “Yes, Luna, I am.”

She looked at him, her eyes shining, it was clearly what she’d been hoping to hear. “Wonderful. Just wonderful.” Luna beamed at him, rubbing his arm. “You must tell his mother, she’s been trying to speak with you. McMyers wouldn’t let her in the hearing today!”

“Luna!” Ron and Hermione exclaimed at the same time.

“We didn’t… We were only…” Hermione pleaded, wringing her hands together. Her guilt was palpable and it made something inside of Harry click. This was it, the thing that had been upsetting Hermione so much - but knowing the reason for her unrest didn’t make him any less angry. “We didn’t want her to upset you or…”

There it was. The secret his best friends had been hiding from him. Harry wanted to turn and confront them about it then and there, but there wasn’t the time for it. And maybe, he thought, part of changing his past was ignoring things like that. “Take me to him, Luna.”

And she did exactly that.

After twisting corridors, flights of stairs that seemed never-ending and a few security checkpoints, Harry found himself standing outside of what looked like a small cubby but what was actually a cell.

Malfoy’s cell was like a room without a door, a small space that looked like it had been carved into the wall. There was barely enough room for a tiny sparse bed with a thin brown blanket and a minimal toilet, which was afforded no privacy by virtue of the apparently open door - because while it looked like there was no door, Harry knew better. There was a very powerful enchantment in place where the door should be, and should anyone get too close to it, it would zap them backwards like a bug hitting a Muggle bug trap. It was barbaric and dehumanizing and only the worst of the worst were kept in such cells. Harry couldn’t understand why Malfoy had ended up in one.

He was about to ask Luna if she knew why when something stirring on the floor caught Harry’s eye. Wedged in between the bed’s leg and the toilet was Malfoy, his forehead pressed into his knees and his dingy prison suit blending in with the walls. His hair looked oily and his skin sallow and when he looked up, Harry saw the same fear he’d see in him earlier. This wasn’t the Draco Malfoy Harry knew. They’d never been friends, but Harry couldn’t stop the pang of anger that flared through him at the sight. Malfoy didn’t deserve this.

“Guard!” Harry called, his eyes never leaving Malfoy. “Guard!” Hermione looked at him anxiously, her eyes flicking between him and Malfoy. She looked so torn that Harry had to wonder how much she’d been fighting against what was happening to Malfoy and how much of it she’d been forced to accept.

“Oh, Harry….” Luna sighed. “I knew you’d be able to help. I told Draco that if anyone could, it would be you. He didn’t believe me, but-”

“Yes! What is it? What has the prisoner done?” A wizard dressed in black robes with a shield charm over his face came trotting down the hall. He stopped abruptly when he realized who had called him. “Mr. Potter. Sir.”

Harry had hated people within the Ministry calling him Mr. Potter. It always made him feel like a small child who was being humored and looked down upon. Now he planned to use it to his advantage. “What is going on here? Why is Malfoy in maximum security?”

“Because he’s a git, that’s why,” Harry heard Ron whisper under his breath.

The guard looked at him; he was clearly confused by the question. “Because that is where the most dangerous war criminals are being held…sir.”

“How does Draco Malfoy qualify as one of the most dangerous?” Harry gestured at Malfoy, who was watching him in confusion. Don’t worry, Harry wanted to say to him, I don’t know what I’m doing yet, but I’ll help.

The guard pulled out his wand and summoned a scroll from the guard station. He unfurled it and read, “Attempted to murder Albus Dumbledore. Spy for the Dark Lord. Opened his home up to the Dark Lord…” He let the sentence trailed off as if to say, need I go on?

Harry hated to admit that when put like that, he had a point. Malfoy didn’t look so good. But he knew that there was more to it than the words on the page. “Does your scroll also mention that he was being tortured and held captive in his own home? Does it point out that Voldemort was using his family against him? That that is why he plotted to kill Dumbledore?”

The guard said nothing. It was clear that he was flustered. Harry couldn’t blame him, he was only doing his job, but that didn’t make Malfoy’s current situation right.

“Call Kingsley,” Harry heard himself say. “I want Malfoy moved out of the area.” Next to him, Luna bounced on the balls of her feet before rushing to the invisible barrier, where she knelt as if to put herself on the same level as Malfoy. Harry heard her whispering to him, telling him not to worry. Watching her made Harry’s chest ache and his stomach turn. Had she really promised Malfoy that Harry would help him? How much had he disappointed her by not doing that the first time they’d been in this position? Once again, Harry hated himself for his inaction.

“Harry, what are you doing?” Hermione looked at him like she would a worrisome creature – part fear and part curiosity. “What’s going on? I thought you agreed that Malfoy needed to be watched?”

“I never would have agreed to this! And I can’t believe you did either!” His voice was louder than he’d intended and everyone turned to look at him, including Luna. “I don’t want to be like this anymore.”

Hermione’s mouth opened and closed in silent protest and tears sparkled in her eyes. Harry knew then that she hadn’t wanted this for Malfoy, which meant that she’d been overruled. It must have killed her, knowing she couldn’t help.

“Mate?” Ron looked at him as if inspecting him for some sort of hex. He reached out for Hermione and pulled her a little closer to his side. “You’re not making any sense. Are you sure you’re alright…”

Harry wanted to scream out that no, he most definitely was not alright, that where he had been unhappy before, he was downright disgusted with himself. Instead, he chose to ignore his best friend. “Kingsley. Now.”

“As you wish.” The guard bowed before returning to his station to summon Kingsley.

“What has gotten into you, Harry?” Hermione wrapped her arms around herself and tried to blink back her tears.. Ron noticed and put his own arms around her shoulder, shooting Harry an accusatory look.

He stared at his best friends in the world, trying to come up with something to say. He couldn’t tell them the truth, obviously. But they weren’t about to let this go, either. He had to say something. Maybe part of the truth would be enough. “I’m not happy with what I’m doing. I need to do…more.”

“Oh Harry, you’ve done so much.” Hermione sagged a little bit in relief and leaned into Ron. Obviously his explanation had been enough for her. Ron, however, still didn’t look totally convinced. “It’s ok for you to take a break for a while. Let other people take over for a bit.”

And there it was, Harry thought. That was how it had all started. Not with Hermione, per se, but everyone. Everyone had encouraged him to sit back, relax, and take a break after everything he’d been through, and he’d happily done that. The problem was that he’d never stopped, never gotten himself going again. “No. It’s not.”

“Harry, I’m sure-”

“Potter!” A booming voice echoed down the hall, its owner following soon after. Kingsley Shacklebot. “Good to see you, son!” Kingsley pulled Harry into a tight hug that caused his back to crack. After releasing Harry, he said, “What is this I hear about Draco Malfoy? You’re unhappy with how he’s being kept.” The fact that it was a statement was not lost on Harry.

“Take a look at him.” Harry gestured to Malfoy, who was still sitting on the floor, but was much closer to Luna and the barrier than he’d been before. Malfoy looked from Harry to Kingsley, but didn’t say a word.

“Yes, I see him.”

“This is inhuman! He doesn’t deserve this!” Once again, Harry’s voice was rising without his permission.

“I know that the conditions in the holding cells are…less than ideal, but it’s all we have right now.” Kingsley spoke as if he were explaining that the sky was blue and grass green.

Harry couldn’t blame him. They had had this conversation before, Harry remembered. But this was the first time that Harry had raised a fuss about it. “I want him out.” Malfoy’s eyes went wide, surprise written all over his face, but he didn’t say anything. “Now.”

“I understand that you want to be more proactive,” Hermione said, “but I hardly think that this is-”

“What do you propose to do with someone who is facing serious charges for war crimes?” Kingsley ignored Hermione and considered Harry. For a moment, Harry almost felt as if Dumbledore were once again surveying him over the tops of his half-moon spectacles.

“Prove that he doesn’t deserve to be sent to Azkaban.” It was a long shot, near impossible with McMyers in the way, but Harry would do it. For Narcissa and for himself.

“You’re mental!” Ron shouted, finally unable to stop himself. “This is Malfoy we’re talking about. Do I need to remi-”

“No, Ron, you don’t.” Ron opened his mouth to protest, but Harry cut him off again. “I can’t explain why this is important, but it is, ok?”

“If I let him out, he will be under your care,” Kingsley said gravely. “Do you understand me?”

“Yes, of course.” Harry could hardly believe what he was hearing. Why, Harry wondered, would he agree so easily? Harry wouldn’t have if he’d been in Kingsley’s shoes, but there was something in Kingsley’s penetrating gaze that told Harry he understood, even if he didn’t know all of the details.

“You will be confined to your room and have a guard with you at all times. If the tiniest thing goes wrong…”

“Of course.” Harry nodded and Malfoy stood up, looking as if he couldn’t believe what was happening. Harry didn’t blame him. He couldn’t believe it either. “Thank you.”

“I hope you find what you’re looking for, Potter.” Kingsley turned to Ron, who looked shell-shocked, and Hermione, who looked as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. “I trust that you two will support him in this?” He didn’t wait for them to answer. Harry thought that it was because he knew what their real answer would have been, if he’d given them the chance to speak.

“I’ll help as well.” Luna had finally left Malfoy and had come to stand next to Harry. Her sudden presence made him relax just a little. “I would never desert my friends.” Ron and Hermione looked sheepish at this.

“I would never doubt you, Miss Lovegood.” Kingsley smiled at her kindly. “Ah, is that the latest edition of The Quibbler? Do you mind?” He reached out and she handed over one of the magazines she’d been clutching to her chest. “I’m always proud to support the truth.” He flipped through it, considering a few pages before her turned his gaze back to Harry. “This is not a free pass for Mr. Malfoy. He is still expected to show up for his hearings and, if necessary, stand trial.”

Harry nodded and said, “Yes. I’ll make sure he’s there.”

“Harry, please be careful,” Hermione whispered as if worried about how he might react, but still unable to stop herself.

Harry looked from Hermione to Ron to Kingsley before settling on Malfoy, who still looked shocked. “I’d like him released now, please.”

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

“Er…Here…” Harry scooped up a pile of dirty laundry and tossed it in the bin in the bathroom. It was ridiculous, but he didn’t want Malfoy to see his room a mess. “Come in…” He spun around, trying to find something to do or say that wouldn’t make him feel like a complete idiot. Malfoy hadn’t said a word since he’d been released from his cell, and it was starting to unnerve Harry.

“If that’s it?” The guard from before, Rheon, stood in the room with them, clearly uncomfortable with the whole situation. Harry nodded, and he made to step out of the room, but before he did, he said, “I’ll be right outside, should you…need me.”

Harry waved him off. He had more important things to worry about right now. After shutting the door behind him, Harry turned to find Malfoy staring at him. And though he was no longer in a cell, he still had the haunted look of a scared, caged animal. They stood like that for a few moments, staring at each other, neither sure of what to say.

When Harry could stand it no more, he pointed out the obvious. “You…you should take a shower.” He pointed lamely at the bathroom door, feeling stupid as he did so. “I can find some fresh clothes for you.” Or, he hoped he could. Not only was Malfoy painfully frail, but Harry wasn’t one hundred percent sure he remembered where he’d kept things. “They probably won’t fit.” Malfoy tugged self-consciously at the frayed hem of his prison-issue shirt. “But they should be ok…for tonight.”

Malfoy didn’t answer. Didn’t move for the longest time. Instead, his grey eyes searched the room like he was trying to find a way to escape. It was only then that Harry realized his room, no matter how comfortable, must seem like another cell in what must have been a long line of them.

“I’ll get dinner while you’re cleaning up. Whatever you want. Have you ever had pizza?” It was only Harry’s deep discomfort that made him think of pizza. Something told him that a proper Malfoy had never heard of such a thing, but Harry was desperate and Malfoy was silent, so there it was. Pizza.

For a second, Malfoy looked like he was about to say something, and Harry held his breath, waiting for what it would be. But before a single sound came out, he seemed to think better of it and shut his mouth again. Without further prompting, he made his way slowly to the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

Alright, Harry thought, it wasn’t much, but it was definitely a start. Now he just had to figure out how to keep Malfoy out of jail - and soon. Harry’s stomach rumbled in protest and he decided that food was definitely the best course of action at the moment. He tried to tell himself that it was only because he was starving and not that Malfoy was wasting away to nothing, but he found himself feeling oddly protective of Malfoy all of a sudden. And he was reminded of his chest monster, that long ago friend that had raised its head and flapped its wings whenever Ginny had been near. It was nothing, he told that tiny creature in his chest. Nothing more than a desire to see Malfoy washed and clean and properly fed…So he did the only thing he knew how to do, he sent an urgent Patronus to Molly.

She’d never been able to resist an orphan, and Harry could only hope that generosity would extend to Draco as well.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

“Harry, dear!” Molly, as plump as ever, pushed her way into the room, completely ignoring Rheon’s protests. “I came as quickly as I could!” She pulled Harry into a one-armed hug, shifting all of her bags to her free hand. Once he’d been released, Harry took the burden from her, hoping that it might win him some favor. “What’s wrong?” Molly touched his cheek, searching his face. When he’d sent her the message, he hadn’t been completely honest, and his stomach turned in shame.

“Mrs. Weasley-”

“Molly, dear. Call me Molly.” She nodded at him encouragingly and Harry felt even worse.

“I need your help. Not for me, but for-” Of course, Malfoy would choose that moment to come out of that bathroom. Why couldn’t he have waited five more minutes? Malfoy took one barefooted step, caught sight of the two of them, and froze. His hair was still wet and his pale skin flushed from the hot water. Harry’s sweat pants and t-shirt hung off of him like a suit on a skeleton. “Malfoy.”

Molly didn’t look surprised to see him, but she did seem unsettled, which Harry couldn’t blame her for. This time when she searched his face, Harry felt like she was trying to figure out how to react to the situation.. Harry looked at her with pleading eyes, trying to convey how desperately they both needed her. Harry couldn’t be sure how long they stood there like that, the three of them, but it was Molly who broke the silence.

“Draco, dear…” She tried out his name carefully, putting as much motherly affection into it as she possibly could. It wasn’t her best, but Harry could see a tiny bit of the tension in Malfoy’s shoulder slip away. “Come here; let’s do something about that hair of yours.” Harry was instantly reminded of Bill’s ponytail and Molly’s desire to chop it off. She was in her element now. “Don’t be afraid.” She drew up a stool in mid-air that dropped to the ground in front of her and patted the seat gently. “Up you get.”

Malfoy didn’t say anything, but he did walk forward and take a seat. “There you are. Just a trim, that’s all you need.” Molly sliced her wand back and forth with precision, taking off enough of Malfoy’s blond hair that it no longer hung in his eyes. It was shorter than Harry had ever seen it at Hogwarts and he was surprised to find that he liked the look. After another few waves of her wand, Molly cleaned up the clippings and surveyed her handiwork. “Much better. Now we can see your lovely eyes.” She didn’t wait for a response before tucking her wand away and turning to her bags.

For the second time since arriving, Malfoy looked like he wanted to say something, but seemed to think better of it. Harry couldn’t blame him. He could barely imagine what he must have gone through under Voldemort’s reign, and being locked up hadn’t been much better. Words would come, Harry realized, even if it took a bit of time. He only hoped they wouldn’t run out of it before Malfoy found his voice.

“Now, let’s see…” As she rooted through her bags, Harry perched on the edge of his bed and watched Malfoy. He was following Molly closely, curious about what she was doing. He seemed so young - which, Harry reminded himself, he was. At this point, Malfoy was around nineteen, and he was barely over thirty. Malfoy was still a kid, despite everything that had happened, and it showed in his face. “This should fit you much better than what you’re wearing,” Molly held out a stack of clothes – socks, jeans and what was clearly an old Weasley jumper. Harry wondered which of her children she’d originally knitted it for. “And if not, I know a charm to-”

“No.” It was one single word, but it sounded like an explosion in the small room. Malfoy’s face flushed a horrible red and he dropped his gaze to the floor. Harry watched him like a hawk, ready to jump up if need be. Molly looked startled, but not offended. After seven kids, she’d probably been through every sort of fight and tantrum imaginable. “I…I’d like to keep what I’m wearing. Please?” It sounded like he was begging, and Harry’s heart contracted painfully. What had this poor child gone through?

“Of course.” Molly smiled softly, like she was trying to calm a toddler. “But how about I leave these here?” She made a show of placing the pile of clothing on the desk next to her. “Just in case?”

Malfoy nodded. Harry couldn’t tell if he was agreeing only to change the subject, or because he was really ok with her leaving the clothes. “Thank you,” he whispered.

Molly didn’t say anything; instead, she began to root around in her bag again. “Harry, if you don’t mind?” She handed him what looked like a picnic blanket of brown, orange and yellow stripes. “Spread that out.” She waved to the open floor and Harry did as he was told, thinking that if she’d wanted him to lay out a blanket he could have used one of…

Harry’s thoughts were caught short when he stretched out the blanket to find an entire picnic setting on it. There were large brown poofs (that had seen better days) to sit on, cloth napkins and pale yellow dishes with small chips out of the edges, each setting complete with flatware and glass. He marveled at it and looked up, hoping to find that Malfoy was as amazed as he was.

Malfoy was watching, but not the magic of the picnic blanket. Instead, his grey eyes were raking over Harry as if trying to figure him out. “Thought you could use a real meal,” Harry said quietly.

Molly broke the moment before Malfoy could. “More than one, I’d say!” She pulled steaming dishes of her best recipes from her bag and placed them on the blanket. A quick wave of her wand and their glasses were filled with pumpkin juice, and Harry knew that the glasses would refill themselves if they got too low. “Now, Harry, make sure he eats as much as possible,” Molly leveled a motherly gaze at Malfoy who seemed to shrink under it. “I want you to send me an owl and let me know how he’s doing.”

“Of course, Molly.” Harry smiled at her, so relieved that she’d come through for him in such a bizarre turn of events. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to repay her for trusting him.

“Well then, I’m off.” Molly gathered her things, and Harry moved to see her out. She looked like she wanted to wrap Malfoy up in one of her hugs, but after looking at him decided to think better of it. Harry agreed; he looked like he might shrink away into nothingness if anyone tried to touch him right now.

Once they were in the hall, Rheon pointedly looking the other direction, Molly turned her sternest gaze on him. “I don’t know what’s going on here, Harry, but it’s clear this is important to you for some reason. Ron is livid and Hermione is…” Molly waved her hand around, like she couldn’t find the right word to describe Hermione, “but they’ll calm down in a few days.” She patted him gently on the cheek. “Please be careful. He is still a Malfoy, after all. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

Harry nodded and she didn’t say anything else.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Dinner was quiet, but Malfoy did eat. Slowly at first, but after some reassurance from Harry that it was ok, Malfoy had piled his plate with mashed potatoes, fried chicken and glazed carrots. Unsurprisingly, it was all delicious. Molly still cooked all the time, but sitting there on the picnic blanket, Harry realized that he’d come to take it for granted. Watching Malfoy, though, whose eyes were closed as he bit into his third piece of chicken, Harry realized that he’d forgotten what it was like to enjoy eating something that much.

“Molly is a great cook,” Harry said, helping himself to a forkful of steaming garlic mashed potatoes. Malfoy looked at him over the chicken leg, his eyes clearer and more open than before. “I remember the first time I had her cooking. It was better than Hogwarts. Still is.”

Malfoy licked chicken grease off of his lips before setting the bone on his plate. He wiped his fingers delicately on the napkin before picking up his half-empty glass of pumpkin juice and draining it. Harry watched it refill after he set it back on the blanket. “It’s delicious,” was all he said before tearing into the mound of mashed potatoes like they would disappear if he didn’t eat them straight away.

It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

“You take the bed.” Harry placed his hands on his hips and looked around the room, a perfect replica of his dorm. When Harry had originally lived here, it had felt spacious and comfortable, but now, with Malfoy there, it suddenly felt tiny. “I’ll take the floor.” Sleeping on the floor didn’t exactly excite him - he’d done enough of that while camping as they’d searched for Horcruxes - but he didn’t see any other option. The armchair, while nice and soft, was sure to leave an even worse crick in his back than the floor. And there was no way that Harry was going to suggest they share the bed. For starters, it was rather small…and then there was the fact that no matter how young Harry looked, he was still a man in his thirties. It was too weird to even consider.

Malfoy looked from the floor to the bed, but Harry didn’t give him a chance. Instead he rolled out what he hoped was a soft blanket on the floor and sat down on it. “Things will be better,” he said, not knowing where the words were coming from, “in the morning.” He lay down, hoping that Malfoy would get the point. He did. Harry tried to act like he was drifting off to sleep as Malfoy climbed carefully into bed, as though his bones ached. As he tucked himself in, Harry wordlessly extinguished the lights.

“Leave one on?” Malfoy’s voice was soft, hesitant, like he felt like he was asking for the world.

“Yeah, sure.” Harry’s ruse clearly hadn’t fooled him, so he didn’t bother using a wordless spell or hiding his wand as he reignited the small bedside lamp by Malfoy’s pillow. “Better?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Malfoy went quiet, and this time Harry closed his eyes in earnest, the exhaustion from earlier coming back full force. It had been a very long day, and he could feel the comforting pull of sleep already. “Would you…” Harry jerked a little, wondering if he’d really heard Malfoy speaking, or if it had been a dream. “Would you move closer?”

This time is was Harry’s turn to be silent. Of all the things Malfoy could possibly want, having him closer had never crossed Harry’s mind. “Er…” He tried not to sound surprised, but had a hard time hiding it. “Sure.” Harry stood and moved his (not-soft) blanket next to the bed, so that he was laying as close to Malfoy as possible. But it didn’t feel like enough, so Harry sat up and leaned against the bed. His back was to Malfoy, but he could feel him there, wide awake and alert, his weary eyes on Harry’s back. “Better?” he asked. Harry couldn’t help feel uneasy – Malfoy was fragile as it was and he didn’t want to make things worse.

“Yes. Thank you.” Malfoy repeated, but Harry was just glad to hear him speaking. Harry listened to him rustling around, trying to get comfortable. He wanted to turn and ask if he needed anything, but he kept his back to Malfoy, giving him that small privacy. After a few minutes, he settled, his hand dangling over the edge of the bed, brushing Harry’s shoulder gently.

Soon the room was filled with Malfoy’s soft snores and Harry could stand it no longer. He turned, taking Malfoy’s hand in his. It was so frail and bony, skin stretched taught over long fingers - but that wasn’t the most striking thing. What bothered Harry most was how cold his skin was to the touch. It was like ice. Harry had never felt someone with hands so cold. He wished that he had a pair of mittens to slide over Malfoy’s hands; that he could wrap them up in warm wool and make the chill disappear. He looked at the pile of clothes Molly had left behind, wishing she’d included some.

Harry drifted off to sleep with Malfoy’s hand clutched in his, willing his warmth to spill over into Malfoy. That night, he dreamt of Narcissa’s bedroom and the ghostly archway he’d stepped through. Hermione was there; her face bright red and her hair frizzier than Harry had seen it in years. She was filled with fury and her attention was on the cauldron in front of her. Pansy was passed out on the floor and Blaise had his hand pressed to her forehead. He looked calm, so Harry wasn’t worried. Ron was pacing back and forth next to Harry, who was also unconscious. There was a pillow under his head, and if Harry didn’t know the truth, he’d think he was napping.

Hermione stirred the cauldron three times counterclockwise before adding a hefty ladle of something sparkly. It caused a huge plume of green smoke to swirl up around her face, which she directed towards Harry. It swirled and twisted before slipping into his ear. As it did, she spoke. “Harry, if you can hear me, don’t do anything. Do not go near Malfoy or anyone else. Just lock yourself in your room for the next three days until the portal calls you back. Harry-” Whatever she was about to say was cut off as the smoke slipped out of his other either. It had gone from green to grey, its magic spent.

When Harry woke up, his first thought was that he’d had a very strange dream. His second was that it hadn’t been a dream at all. Hermione had found a way to get through and she was not happy. Worse yet, she wanted him to sit back and do nothing. It irritated him. Wasn’t that the whole reason he was here now? Because he was tired of sitting back and doing nothing?

Harry shook her words out of his head and tried to stand up, groaning as he did. His neck was sore from falling backwards on the bed, his back ached, and his tailbone was protesting being ground into the floor all night. It was amazing that he hadn’t worked himself back down to the ground as he’d slept. Rubbing at the back of his neck, Harry look around him. It took him a minute to realize what was missing – Malfoy.

For one terrifying second, Harry thought that Malfoy had escaped in the middle of the night. But that was impossible. If Malfoy had set so much as a toe out of the room without Harry there with him, the guards would have hauled him back to maximum security. Or worse, they’d have dragged him straight to Azkaban, which would have made McMyers very happy.

That left only one option…The bathroom. The door was shut, and Harry tiptoed towards it, listening for signs of life on the other side. Inside, Harry could hear the water rushing from the shower, and that was enough to calm Harry’s breathing, which until now, he hadn’t realized was shallow.

Realizing what he was doing, Harry jumped back away from the door. Sure, Malfoy was showering, but what if he was getting finished up? What if he came out to find Harry pressed up against the door? Not only would that be embarrassing, but it probably wouldn’t help Malfoy to feel relaxed. Harry wanted for Malfoy to…

Merlin, Harry thought, he didn’t know what he wanted for Malfoy.

All he did know was that he had to keep him out of Azkaban.

And he had, Harry thought, trying to muddle through all of his hazy memories of the day before...

Three days.

That was it. Harry only had three days to find a way to keep Malfoy out of Azkaban and to change his own past. How? How was he going to accomplish this? Harry reached up and rumpled his hair, tugging nervously at the roots. He couldn’t take Malfoy out anywhere. He couldn’t postpone his new hearing date. They were completely stuck together in this room, this cell, Harry realized. He’d traded one cell for another, but this time he’d locked himself away too.

Harry spun in a circle, trying to figure out some way to make the situation better. He stopped abruptly and promptly tumbled over his tangled up feet when he saw Malfoy standing in the bathroom doorway. His pale hair was soaked and plastered to his forehead, and he was dressed in another pair of Harry’s sweatpants and a heavy sweatshirt, both of which were as big as the others. “Morning,” he said, trying to keep himself from looking over at the pile of clothes Molly had left.

“Morning,” Malfoy echoed. Harry watched as he snuck little glances around the room. It only took Harry a second to realize what he was looking for.

“I can get us something to eat, if you’re hungry.” Harry tried to sound as casual as possible as he made a show out of folding the blanket he’d slept on the night before.

“Yes. Please.” Malfoy looked so awkward and young that it made the monster in his chest ruffle its wings protectively. Had he ever looked like that? Was that the reason so many adults had doted on him and tried to make him eat? He hated to think that it was, despite knowing it was the truth. He had been just as young and frightened more than once, and if not for a little kindness, he might not have turned out the way he did.

Keeping that in mind, Harry tried to appear calm as he tucked the blanket back into his wardrobe. “Alright. We can’t go out, but-” There was a small knock at the door that caused both of them to turn their attention to it. Harry couldn’t think of anyone that would be coming by right now, given the time, they were all tucked away listening to the morning’s trials. “I’ll…” Malfoy looked about as confused as Harry felt. “get it.”

Harry pulled open the door enough to peek out. Who he saw took him by surprise. Narcissa Malfoy, but not as he’d seen her the other day. Her long blonde hair was still glossy, if a little messy, and her cheeks were still full. There was a ragged edge deep within her eyes, but it was clear that her illness had yet to take hold. In her hands was a large, worn picnic basket that he recognized as Molly’s. Not daring to open the door anymore, Harry slipped out, leaving Malfoy standing there, looking as confused as before.

“Harry Potter,” Narcissa said, not bothering to try and hide the relief in her voice. “I’ve only just heard. What made you change your mind?” She gripped the handles of the basket, wringing it with unspent nervous energy.

Harry opened his mouth, but considered his words before he spoke. If he’d understood Ron correctly, Narcissa had been trying to get to him for months; she must have assumed that he simply hadn’t cared enough to listen to her. He felt a tiny surge of anger in the pit of his stomach as he thought of her thinking that he was ignoring her requests. “I hadn’t had the time to try and help him before now,” he lied. “I had to wait for his hearing date to come up.” He looked at her, felt her relief washing through him. “I’m so sorry, after what you did for me…”

She shook her head vigorously. She didn’t need his apology, she had what she wanted – someone was trying to help her son. Harry’s throat constricted as he watched her, remembering that he only had three days to pull off a miracle. Or, at the very least, get one started. “Here,” she thrust the basket towards him, “I came across Molly Weasley on the lift, she asked me to give this to you.” Harry took the basket and wondered what she would do with her hands now that they were empty.

“I would like to see him,” she said in a quiet voice. Now it was Harry’s turn to worry the handles of the basket. He wasn’t sure if that was a good idea, but how could he refuse her? “My son.”

“No visitors, ma’am.” Rheon’s voice echoed through the hall. It was clear that he was happy he could finally exercise some sort of authority, even if it was to keep a mother away from her son. “Strict orders. Only cleared visitors are allowed in.” Harry’s mind ran, wondering how Mrs. Weasley had gotten in. Perhaps she’d been cleared to visit Harry before?

Narcissa shot Rheon a mutinous look, but didn’t say anything. Harry thought about reaching out and giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze, but stopped himself when he remembered that, at that age, he wouldn’t have done that. Instead, he did his best to give her an awkwardly apologetic look, which wasn’t very difficult. She nodded back. She wasn’t happy, but she understood. “Take care of him,” she whispered. It wasn’t a question, so Harry didn’t bother answering. Without another word, she turned and walked back down the hall. Harry shot Rheon a dark look before disappearing back into the room.

Rheon didn’t seem to care, and once again, Harry was reminded of the fact that he was only nineteen-ish at this point. Hero or not.

“Looks like it's Molly to…” Harry’s voice trailed off as he took in the room. He had only been gone for about five minutes, but the difference was a shock. Malfoy, probably using Harry’s wand (he’d have to keep a better eye on it), had cleaned up what dirty clothes had accumulated since the night before and tidied the bed. His desk was no longer a mess of scattered papers, but instead had been covered in a dark red tablecloth which might have been a bed sheet previously. Harry would have to check the wardrobe to be sure. Malfoy had cleaned Molly’s dishes and laid them out on the makeshift dining table. It wasn’t fancy, a few plates, flatware and glasses, but it made Harry smile. “…The rescue.”

“I’m sorry,” Malfoy whispered. “I just prefer-”

“No,” Harry cut in and at the look of alarm on Malfoy’s face, hastened to add, “It looks great.” The clothes Molly had brought, Harry noticed, had been packed into her bag and placed by the door, the sleeve of the jumper peeking over the edge.

Malfoy seemed pleased; his lips quirking in what Harry hoped was the beginning of a smile. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Harry placed the hamper on the table and opened it. “It never looks like this in here.” Harry’s flat wasn’t perfectly clean, but it was neat, much neater than he’d ever have kept his room at this age. He was shocked to realize how much he enjoyed having his room organized. “It’s much better in here.”

This time, Malfoy did smile. A real smile that almost reached his eyes. The sight made Harry smile in return. “So…” he gestured at the basket with his frail hand.

“Er…right!” Harry wondered how long he’d been staring as he pulled out a plate of sausages and bacon that was being kept warm and fresh with a small charm. A soft iridescent dome glittered over the top of the food, sealed all around the edges of the plate. It would remain sealed until tapped with a fork. Molly had invented it herself, and she was extremely proud of it.

Smiling at the memory of Molly showing him the charm, Harry handed the plate over to Malfoy.

“What?” Malfoy held it, looking from the dish to Harry.

“Nothing. Just remembering the first time I saw this charm used.” Harry pulled out another dish, this one of fried eggs, and placed it on the table. A plate of hash browns followed. “Molly invented it herself. She’s pretty amazing in the kitchen.”

Malfoy eyed the charm, looking for flaws or seams in it. Finding none, he nodded in appreciation. “I can tell.”

“She used to have me and Ron help with chopping vegetables,” Harry reminisced with a chuckle. “It never ended well.”

“My mother never cooked,” Malfoy said in a moment of openness. Harry barely dared breathe for fear he’d clam up again. "I asked the house elves if I could help them bake biscuits once. They shooed me out of the kitchen so fast I never asked again.” Malfoy looked lost to a long-ago memory, and this time, Harry couldn’t stop himself from reaching out. He carefully placed his hand on Malfoy’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze of understanding. When he realized what he was doing, Harry pulled his hand away, feeling strange that it had been so easy to reach out and touch Malfoy. Harry would have given anything to be able to help his mother in the kitchen, if only once . “I think I’d have enjoyed cooking…”

Draco didn’t say anything else.

After pulling a steaming pot of coffee and a plate of toast out of the hamper, Harry sat down. He was in the cushy armchair while Malfoy was seated on the more uncomfortable desk chair. Harry thought about offering to swap seats before it occurred to him that Malfoy might have done it on purpose. “So… coffee?” He held up the pot and waved it enticingly at Malfoy. The offer earned him a slight smile and a yes, please.

They ate, for the most part, in silence, trading only small compliments to Molly’s cooking. Harry felt awkward, but he could tell Malfoy was relaxing ever so slightly, so he didn’t push it. Afterward, Malfoy insisted on cleaning up while Harry showered and changed.

Standing under the spray, Harry wondered, not for the first time, how he was supposed to accomplish anything in three days. It seemed completely impossible. What he really needed was for Malfoy to talk, to tell him what it had been like under Voldemort’s rule. But how was he supposed to broach that subject without coming straight out and asking?

He was still trying to figure it out when the water began to run cold. With a shiver, he stepped out of the shower, and was surprised to find a clean change of clothes sitting on the toilet for him. The gesture made him smile, and made something in his chest tingle. It had been so long since he’d had anyone to do little things like that for him. It was almost like…

No, Harry told himself. It was nothing like that. At all. He also tried to tell himself that Malfoy was not the change he needed in his life.

His chest monster wasn’t more alert, it wasn’t slowly opening is eyes after a long nap.

Harry’s stomach clenched. Malfoy was…Malfoy. While Harry didn’t think he deserved a life sentence in Azkaban, he was still an ex-Death Eater, he had still served Voldemort. Not to mention the fact that, at this point, he was still basically a child. A traumatized, suffering child. He couldn’t possibly be thinking about how nice it was to have Malfoy sneak changes of clothes in for him while he was showering.

Errr…, he thought, because there simply wasn’t anything else to think.

After toweling off and dressing in worn jeans and a plain green jumper, Harry stepped out of the bathroom, feeling (more than) slightly confused. He hadn’t felt like he knew how to approach Malfoy before and he definitely didn’t have any better ideas now.

Malfoy was curled up on the squashy arm chair, a small throw over his legs and a book in his hands. If it weren’t for the sharp lines of his cheekbones and the skeletal appearance of his hands, Harry would have thought that he looked at home, happy, and that little thing inside of him nodded its head in approval. This was good. This was an opening.

Trying to be as nonchalant as possible, which is to say, making sure that he didn’t trip over his own feet, Harry crossed the small room and sat on the rug in front of the arm chair. He sat cross-legged and looked up at Malfoy. Harry focused on looking non-threatening, going so far as to slouch. “Malfoy?”

Malfoy took a deep breath and looked down at Harry over the top of his book. It was one about Quidditch teams in America; Ron had left it the last time he’d stopped by. He seemed surprised to find Harry sitting at his feet, but he didn’t tense up. If anything, he looked more relaxed. “Hmmm?” he sighed.

“I need you to…” Oh Merlin, what did he need. Knowing he’d regret it, Harry gave in and listened to the monster in his chest. It was growing more awake with every heartbeat. “Talk to me. Please.” This did cause Malfoy to tense up a bit and Harry put his hand on the edge of the seat to try and bridge the distance. “I know that you probably don’t want to talk about what happened, but I don’t have much time to try and help you.”

“I thought they hadn’t set a new hearing date yet?” Malfoy eyed him, his gaze anxious.

“They haven’t,” Harry remembered and realized his mistake. “But I’m sure it’ll be sooner rather than later, especially if McMyers has anything to say about it.” Malfoy closed the book, but didn’t set it down. Instead, he clutched it to his chest like a child’s stuffed bear. “So, please,” Harry put as much emphasis on the word as he possibly could, “talk to me.”

For the longest time, Malfoy stared at him. He seemed to be fighting a war deep within himself. Whether he was winning or losing, Harry couldn’t tell. “What do you want me to say?” Malfoy’s voice was filled with so much pain that Harry could barely stand it.

“Anything. Whatever you want.” He slid his hand up the arm chair’s seat, moving closer and closer to Malfoy’s socked feet. “I want to help you. Tell me whatever you think will help.” He didn’t want to sound pushy, but he couldn’t keep the neediness out of his voice. Malfoy had to know how desperate he was to help or he might never open up. It was also possible that Malfoy wouldn’t open up, period.

Malfoy’s gaze narrowed and his fingers clenched on the book before relaxing. “Why?”

Harry was so shocked by the question that he couldn’t stop himself from saying, “Er…what?”

“Why?” Malfoy swallowed. “Why are you doing all of this? What’s in it for you?” It was the most Malfoy had spoken since arriving and it felt like a slap in the face. That, or like being shown a mirror that reflected your worse qualities.

Harry’s mind turned over and over trying to come up with an explanation that would help, but he kept coming up short. “Your mum.” Part of the truth then. That seemed like the way to go. “She asked me to help get you out. She wants to see you before…” Harry stopped himself, he couldn’t go that far.

“What else?”

Once again, Harry said, “Er…” and instantly wished he could erase the word from his vocabulary forever. “What do you mean?”

“There’s more,” Malfoy unfolded his legs and slid them over the front of the armchair. They were now so close that Harry could have pressed his forehead into Malfoy’s knees if he wanted. He could imagine it, how wonderful it would feel to be that close to someone he cared about. The thing in his chest purred a little in encouragement. “Something you’re not telling me.”

“I…” Harry shook his head, thinking about the real reason he’d agreed to this suicide mission. “It won’t help you.”

“Yes, it will.” He leaned forward a little, trying to urge Harry on. “I need for someone to…” Malfoy’s openness seemed dissolve into thin air and he leaned back into the armchair again.

All it took was one look for Harry to realize what Malfoy had been about to say. What he needed was for someone to be totally honest with him, someone to tell him everything, not keep him in the dark or lie to him. So Harry did just that.. “I’m not happy with the person I’ve become.” Malfoy’s eyes narrowed before widening in surprise. It was clear that he hadn’t actually expected Harry to answer him. “I’m tired of sitting back and doing nothing. I don’t want to be that way for the rest of my life.”

“So…” Malfoy considered his words. “You’re doing this for you?” He didn’t sound angry or judgmental. In fact, he didn’t sound anything at all.

“Yeah, I am.” Harry hated saying it, but Malfoy wanted the truth.

“That, I understand.”

“What?” Now it was Harry’s turn to shrink back.

“I kept trying to figure it out before. Why you were helping me.” A small shrug of painfully thin shoulders. “I couldn’t. But knowing that you’re trying to help yourself? That I understand, because that’s what I was doing, too.” Harry wanted to say something, but he didn’t dare interrupt Malfoy. “I was trying to stay alive all that time. Everything I did,” Malfoy rubbed at the spot on his arm where the Dark Mark would be, “I was trying to survive.”

Harry didn’t know what to say to that. He’d expected more, there had to be more. But the simplest explanation for what Malfoy had done during the war was that he’d wanted to survive. At nineteen, Harry wouldn’t have bought it, he and Ron would have shook their heads and said that Malfoy could have done something, could have tried to get out, but didn’t because he liked being so close to Voldemort. But time and age had changed Harry, if not Ron, and he completely understood the desire to survive. Even if he didn’t like the way Malfoy had gone about it.

“I understand,” was all Harry said.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

That night, Harry laid out his blanket on the floor again, making sure to stay as close to Malfoy as possible because, to be honest, that’s what he wanted. Malfoy wanted him near and Harry wanted to be near him. He extinguished all of the lights but one and wished Malfoy goodnight before tucking in. Harry slipped quickly away into a deep, dreamless sleep, barely noticing how hard the floor was. Sometime later, it could have been minutes or hours, Harry was wide awake and climbing onto the bed, reigniting all of the lights with a wandless command.

Malfoy was pleading, tears streaming down his face as he thrashed around in the heavy bedding. They twisted about his frail frame, holding him tighter and tighter like a vice. “No, no, no…” he begged in a broken sob that made Harry stop breathing. “Please, no, not my mother…” Harry gripped his shoulder and shook, trying to wake him, but it didn’t work. “Use the curse on me, not her…” Harry yanked at the duvet, tearing it off of Malfoy. He was soaked all the way through, the soft cotton of the pajamas clinging to every curve of his body. Malfoy took a shuddering breathe before letting out a gut-wrenching scream that filled the entire room.

“Malfoy!” Harry yelled, his entire body shaking from the adrenaline. “Draco!”

Malfoy still struggled, but he was putting up less of a fight. He continued to sob, his chest rising and falling rapidly. “Whaaa?” he mumbled, “What’s going on?”

“A dream,” Harry breathed, “just a bad dream.”

Malfoy rolled over to face Harry and suddenly burst into a fresh round of tears.

Harry didn’t think, didn’t consider, simply wrapped his arms around Malfoy instinctively, pulling him as close as possible. He’d done the same thing with Hermione after Ron had left during the war, and he’d done the same for Ginny after her own nightmares. It felt so normal that Harry didn’t feel strange or guilty about the fact that Malfoy was not only so much younger than him, but also Malfoy.

It just felt right.

Malfoy pressed in desperately closer, burying his face in Harry’s shoulder. His hands were caught between them, and Harry could feel his fingers burying themselves in the thin fabric of his t-shirt, holding on for dear life. With each shuddering sob, Draco’s chest pressed into Harry’s, crushing Malfoy’s fists between them. His hands, the hands that had looked so frail, felt strangely strong against Harry’s chest, and it made him want to hold on tighter.

“I did it,” Malfoy sobbed. “I did everything he told me to.” Malfoy’s knees pressed into Harry’s as he tried to curl in on himself. It was pitiful and desperate and Harry didn’t think of letting go. Instead, he held on and listened. “I tried to get away, but he…he…” Harry couldn’t begin to imagine what Voldemort must have done to someone who had tried to escape. Whatever it was, he knew that Malfoy wouldn’t soon recover. If he ever did.

“After that, he started to use my parents against me. If he wanted me to do something, he’d threaten to…” Malfoy trailed off, the memories too painful to give voice to. “I always, always gave in to whatever he wanted. And afterward…” Harry held his breath, sure that he didn’t want to hear what had happened. “The Cruciatus Curse. Always.”

Harry didn’t know what to say. He’d always known that Voldemort was pure evil, but to hear accounts of how he treated his followers made his stomach turn. He felt the bile rising up in his throat, burning as it tried to force its way out, but Harry kept his jaw clamped shut, thinking about the boy he held in his arms going to prison for life after all of that.

“I…I…” Malfoy struggled to speak, his sobs giving way to dry heaves that shuddered through his body.

“Shhh,” Harry whispered, finally finding his voice. “It’s ok, it’s all over.” He laid his cheek on Malfoy’s head, soft strands of blond hair tickling Harry’s skin. “I’m here.”

“Don’t leave me,” Malfoy begged, as if Harry had an option anymore. “Please.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” As he said it, the thing in Harry’s chest reminded him that he didn’t have three days any more. Now he was down to two.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

It was well past lunchtime when Harry woke up the next morning. His arms were stiff and his knees sore, but he hadn’t moved since Malfoy had fallen back to sleep. Harry eyed the bathroom door, his bladder screaming out in protest. He wanted to get up, but Malfoy was still fast asleep and he’d promised he wouldn’t leave.

When he could stand it no longer, Harry gently squeezed Malfoy and whispered in his ear, “Draco? Can you hear me?” Malfoy hummed softly, clearly only partially awake. “I need to use the loo, ok? I’ll be back in a few minutes, ok?”

Malfoy hummed softly and nodded, rolling over onto his other side and releasing Harry.

Surprised, but relieved that Malfoy hadn’t put up a fight, Harry stood up, careful not to jostle the bed, before running to the bathroom. Afterwards, he checked in with Rheon and collected Molly’s hampers – both breakfast and lunch were there waiting for him. Harry closed the door and placed both baskets on the table top. When he turned around, ready to climb back in bed, Harry was shocked to find Malfoy lying there watching him, his sleepy eyes opening and closing slowly. His eyes were dark and his hair a mess; Malfoy looked like he’d had the worst night of his life, even though Harry knew that that was nowhere near possible.

“What time is it?” Malfoy asked, his voice thick with sleep.

“Don’t know,” Harry whispered. “Must be past lunch though…,” he gestured at the baskets sitting behind him. “You hungry?” Malfoy seemed to consider the question before shaking his head no. Harry didn’t push it. If he’d had the night Malfoy had had, he probably wouldn’t have been able to eat either. “That’s ok,” he said.

“Thanks.” The words came out on a sigh, almost disappearing before it ended.

“Here,” Harry sat back down on the bed, arranging himself so that he was sitting up with his back against the headboard, and crossed his feet at the ankles. He opened his arms, a wordless invitation to Malfoy. For a minute, they looked at each other; they no longer needed words, after last night. As Harry knew he would, Malfoy slid towards him, pulling the flattened pillow along. He draped it over Harry’s lap and spent a few minutes getting comfortable. When he was finally done, Malfoy had buried his face in the pillow and wrapped his arm over Harry’s legs. Once again, Malfoy tried to curl in on himself, but when he couldn’t, he slid his knee over Harry’s shin a bit. When Harry was sure that Malfoy was comfortable, he wrapped one arm over his shoulders and began to gently run his fingers through Malfoy’s fine hair with the other.

As Malfoy’s breathing slowed and sleep pulled him under once more, Harry heard him ask, “How long will this last?”

Harry couldn’t bear to tell him that they only had another day and a half of this. That Harry was giving up a day of their precious time so that Malfoy could sleep in his arms, finding the physical comfort he so desperately craved.

He also didn’t tell Malfoy that he, himself, was just as hungry for affection, and that he hadn’t realized it until now.

All in all, the sacrifice was worth it.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

The next morning, Harry sat in front of the wardrobe feeling exhausted and more than a little uncomfortable about spending the night in bed with Malfoy. It had been nothing more than trying to comfort a traumatized person, Harry had tried to reason with himself. But he still felt weird about it.

He’d slept the day before, but had spent most of the night awake, trying to make the spell work. It was one that Hermione and George had come up with for him after the war, when he’d been shut up in the Ministry, unable to go anywhere without an escort for fear of being mobbed. It was part spell work and part Daydream Charm and it had allowed Harry the chance to escape without setting foot outside of his room. He hadn’t used the spell in years, and it had taken him all night to remember it and cast it properly. Harry had thought about sending for Hermione, but he didn’t dare. She was still acting odd since he’d helped Malfoy, and he didn’t need to make her anymore suspicious that something was going on. Ron already seemed to be wondering about his behavior.

He had only one day left with Malfoy and Harry didn’t know if it was a full one. For that matter, he didn’t know how he was supposed to know when his time was up. Harry could vaguely remember Hermione telling him to follow the portal in his dream, but he didn’t know what that meant. It scared him, not knowing. What if he got stuck here? Would he die in his real time? There was no way to try and find out, because the spell was so old that Harry was pretty sure no one other than Pansy knew about it. So, he decided to go about his day and hoped that the answers would become obvious when he needed them.

“Draco,” Harry whispered, wondering if he should be using the blond’s first name. “Wake up.” Malfoy rolled over, the skin around his eyes no longer bruised-looking and his pale hair a mess. “I want you to get cleaned up, ok? I’m going to get breakfast ready.” By now, Malfoy had to be starving; it had been a day since he’d last eaten. Even Harry had been famished, breaking down and devouring a plate of bacon from yesterday’s uneaten breakfast before working on the spell.

Without protest, Malfoy made his way to the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. Harry had left a fresh change of clothing in there for him. As Malfoy washed up, Harry laid out Molly’s hamper, courtesy of Rheon, who seemed to be growing more and more tired of being used as a food delivery service.

When Malfoy stepped out of the bathroom, his hair was dry, curling up slightly on the ends, and he looked…different. Good. It had only been a few days, but there was more color in his always-pale cheeks and he didn’t appear quite so fragile. The sight made Harry’s heart beat a little faster for reasons that he didn’t want to admit.

“Well? What’s the rush?” Malfoy reached up and pointlessly tried to smooth out his hair. Without the use of his wand, there wasn’t much he could do to tame it, and after Malfoy had taken it the last time, Harry had been keeping better track of it. “We can’t exactly leave. Or…” Malfoy seemed to consider things, “I can’t, anyway.”

“We’re not leaving, but we are going somewhere.” Harry smiled at the look of confusion on Malfoy’s face. It was exactly what he’d been hoping for. “I realized last night that this room…it’s just another cell.” Malfoy shrugged like that didn’t bother him, like he’d come to accept that confinement was his lot in life. Cell after cell after cell… “So I thought it might be good to get out.”

“I always knew you were mad,” Malfoy said, for no other reason than that he wanted to say something, Harry thought.

“I was. That’s the point.” Harry picked up yesterday’s lunch hamper; today’s hadn’t arrived yet, and stood before the closed wardrobe doors. “Hermione and George came up with a charm to help keep me from totally losing it in here. They came up with…” Harry pulled on the doors to the wardrobe, revealing not shelves stacked with spare linens, or extra clothes (all of which he’d shoved under the bed) but a sparkling white, snow-covered wonderland that glistened and gleamed.

“Harry,” Malfoy breathed, stepping closer. “What…How…”

“It’s not real, not really, but…” The tips of Harry’s ears burned and he hated to think about himself blushing.

“It’s perfect.” Malfoy looked at him and for the first time smiled, truly smiled, so bright and warm and kind that it rivaled the snow-covered forest before them. “Can I…” He placed a bare hand on the door of the wardrobe, like he was going to step up, but hesitated. “It’s cold? I don’t have…” Harry held up a bright red pair of mittens that he’d persuaded Rheon to send for. The guard had groused about it until Harry reminded him that he didn’t actually have a choice in the matter.

Malfoy laughed and took them from him, but before he could pull them on, Harry snatched one back and held it open. With an eye roll that Harry hadn’t seen Malfoy give since fifth year, he held out one hand and waited in mock annoyance for Harry to slide the mitten on. The look amused Harry so much that he flicked the mitten in Malfoy’s face before sliding it over his fingers. Harry held Malfoy’s wrist for a second, their eyes meeting nervously. Malfoy pressed his lips together, but the twinkle of the smile was still in his grey gaze.

Harry swallowed, wondering what to do next. His chest seemed too tight all of a sudden and he couldn’t think of what to say.

Malfoy, thankfully, broke the silence by waving the other mitten at Harry’s face and saying, “What about this one?”

Snatching it out of his hand, Harry laughed a little before pulling it over Malfoy’s long fingers and. “All better?” Without thinking, Harry pulled Malfoy’s hands towards his chest, pressing them tightly together. “Think you’ll be warm enough now?” When he realized what he’d done and how familiar and flirtatious it was - because there was no other way to describe it - Harry let go like he’d been stung. He couldn’t allow himself to go down that road.

Malfoy’s smile faltered for a second before recovering. He pulled his hands back and made a show out of rubbing them together. “We’ll see.”

Trying not to sound as nervous as he felt, Harry forced out a laugh before ushering Malfoy through the door. “After you.”

Malfoy nodded and Harry caught a trace of his long-lost attitude. It hit him how much he missed Malfoy’s overly aristocratic affectations. He missed Malfoy walking with the air of someone who’d been raised in a manor with servants underfoot. He missed the way Malfoy chose his words with precision and the desire to do as much damage as possible with them. He missed the way that Malfoy had always acted like he was better than everyone else. It had driven him completely mad at school, but Merlin, he missed Draco Malfoy being Draco Malfoy. It wasn’t that he’d liked that person, but Harry hated seeing him so lost and beaten down. What a horrible, terrible realization, Harry thought as he stepped up and into the wardrobe, following closely behind Malfoy.

“I thought it was going to be freezing out here!” Malfoy turned to look at Harry. He’d stopped walking, leaving Harry stuck between his room and the charmed forest. “What were these all about?” He held up his red-mittened hands like they’d offended him somehow.

“Just thought you might enjoy being warm for a change.” Harry didn’t tell him the truth; that after feeling his freezing hand that first night, he’d have done anything to keep him warm. Even if that meant covering Malfoy from head to toe in Molly’s knits in a tropical paradise.

Malfoy shot him a look that said he clearly did not believe him, and wanted a real explanation now, please. (Sarcastic emphasis on the please.)

“I didn’t think you’d want to be cold.” Simple and true. “It’s one of the aspects of the spell, you can control temperatures, and since the snow is technically not real…” Harry shrugged, as if this explained everything.

“That is…kind of brilliant. But these,” Malfoy pulled the mittens off one at time before throwing them in Harry’s face. They knocked his glassed askew before falling at Harry’s feet, “have to go.” Before Harry could retaliate, Malfoy took a few steps into the open clearing, his feet sinking into knee-deep snow. “It’s beautiful,” he said, as he spun around slowly, taking in the frost-covered trees that towered over them, glistening in the afternoon sun.

Harry met him and held up the picnic basket, a small table with two chairs appearing under it. Without looking, Harry set the basket down and turned to Malfoy, who was still taking in the sights. Harry wondered how long it had been since he’d been outside or able to feel the sun on his face. He’d planned on making a big show of his next plan, but he couldn’t bring himself to tear Malfoy’s attention away from the trees, so with a single thought, he made the command.

Malfoy gasped in wonder as small red and green lights began to twinkle on all of the trees around him. The miniature dots of lights spread higher and higher until they reached the very tops of the trees and were so high they could no longer be seen. Their whole world was white except for the shimmering lights on the trees. “It’s almost Christmas,” Harry whispered. “I thought you might like-”

Whatever Harry had thought ceased to matter as Malfoy pressed his lips to Harry’s. It was such a surprise, so unexpected, that Harry gasped in shock. Despite the warmth all around them, he felt frozen, his hands awkward, his eyes wide open. He’d never actually thought about kissing Malfoy; Malfoy’s mental state and their age difference had kept those particular longings at bay, but now, with Malfoy’s arms wrapped around him and their lips together, nothing seemed more right. His chest monster seemed more content, like it agreed as well.

Much too soon, Malfoy made to pull away, and it was then that Harry realized he’d turned into some sort of ice sculpture. His mind reeled, worried about what Malfoy was thinking. Did he think that Harry didn’t want him to kiss him? Had he hurt Draco’s feelings by not instantly returning the kiss?

Before Draco could turn away, Harry smiled softly. Harry had kissed and been kissed many times before, but none of those moments seemed nearly as important as this one. “I want to,” Harry heard himself say, “but I don’t think-”

“Stop thinking, Harry,” Malfoy whispered against Harry’s mouth, their lips brushing together like the gentle beating of fairy wings. “I never thought I’d say this, but you think-”

This time, it was Harry’s turn to shut Malfoy up. As gently as possible, he released his hold on one of Draco’s hips before wrapping his arm around Draco’s back. He did the same with the other, locking the slender blond against him, Draco’s trembling finally gone. And if it had been cold, he would have wrapped his cloak around him, sealing them together against the chill. But despite the warmth, Harry felt Malfoy shiver. It felt so, so wrong, but Harry couldn’t bring himself to let go. “I’ve wanted this for so long,” Draco whispered against Harry’s mouth, the feather-light touches a prelude of what could be.

Harry’s heart thudded painfully in his chest as he thought about what Draco had said. Draco had wanted him. They could have been together for years by now…But would they have been? Harry suddenly remembered that he was not in his own time, that Draco was many years behind him in life. Who knows what they might have had. Could have, Harry corrected himself. But this could still happen, he thought. He just needed to figure out a way to-

A sharp pain in Harry’s stomach made him hiss and double over in pain. He reluctantly let go of Draco and placed his hands on his knees. The snow was so white around his feet, so beautiful. He thought that he could have happily lived in that moment forever, until the pain hit again, sharper this time. But it wasn’t alone. This time he felt a very insistent pull. No, he thought, not now. Not yet.

“Harry!” Draco was on his knees in front of him, his palms gently holding Harry’s cheeks. “What’s wrong? Should I…” He gestured helplessly back through the cupboard and to the door.

“No,” he said. “I…” Harry hated himself in that moment. He hated Pansy. He hated Narcissa. He hated everyone. But he hated himself most of all. How was he supposed to go back to the future now, with such a small taste of what could have been? For a second, he thought about ignoring the summons. He could live out his time here, get Draco out of prison and –

Another sharp pain forced Harry to his knees, the pull getting stronger and stronger. He could resist, he knew it. He’d fought of all of the Unforgiveables, this was nothing. Draco tried to get up, no doubt to fetch Rheon, but Harry grabbed his hand. “No matter what happens,” he forced the words out, trying to sound as calm as possible, “don’t…” What could he say without tipping Draco off that something was wrong? “I…” The pain threatened to rip him apart and burn him to ash. It was simply too much.

“It’s ok,” Draco looked torn between staying at his side and making a run for the door. If he tried to go, Harry knew that he wouldn’t be able to stop him. “I’m here. Tell me what to do.”

Relax. It really would be as easy as that. And no sooner had Harry thought the word that he felt himself being pulled away from Draco and the warm snow, being pulled back to the archway that was meant to take him back to his own time. He’d been there for four days, but he didn’t feel like he’d accomplished a single thing. “I’m sorry,” Harry heard himself whisper before slipping totally away from Draco.

The last thing he heard was Draco yelling his name.

When he reappeared, Harry found himself back in Narcissa’s bedroom, the ominous archway waiting for him. The strange runes seemed to be untangling themselves, the long strands separating and running along the archway independently. Harry stared at it, wondering what would happen when they’d all unspooled. He had a pretty good idea, but hated to think it.

The room around him was as dark and dusty as before, the furniture covered in sheets, making them look like a Muggle’s idea of a ghost. It would have been creepy if Harry hadn’t known quite a few ghosts over his lifetime. Instead, the room made him sad. It could have been - should have been - beautiful. Maybe, he thought, it would be once again.

Before he could rethink what he was doing, Harry stood up, took a deep breath, and ran towards the archway. He knew that if he didn’t, he’d never be able to go through with it and leave Draco.

Just as his foot crossed the barrier, Harry caught sight of himself appearing, as if from mist, right where he’d been standing moments before, looking confused. He wished he had time to turn back, to talk to himself, but there was no stopping his momentum, so he did the only thing he could do…he yelled, “Take care of him!” and hoped that the other Harry heard him. There was no way to know; once he’d fully crossed into the portal, it closed behind him, engulfing him in darkness.

The darkness seemed to rush past, and Harry caught a glimpse of a swirling image to his right as the threads of time pulled him forwards and away from Draco. It was faint at first, barely there, but Harry could just make out his younger self as he cautiously stepped through the wardrobe into the snowy clearing. Draco, looking terrified, ran to him. He didn’t stop before throwing his arms around Harry and burying his face in Harry’s neck. Harry smiled as the confusion on his younger face melted into something else. It wasn’t quite what he was currently feeling, but he knew that the other Harry would catch up to him eventually. He could feel it in himself, the confusion he’d felt in the past. It was so odd, feeling new memories forming in his mind and in his heart as the velvety warmth of time pulled him onward. Even though he hadn’t been there, in that moment, Harry still knew that it was the beginning of something special.

The scene dissolved, giving way to a swirling vision on his left. Harry watched as he led a much healthier-looking Malfoy in for his hearing. Ron and Hermione were right behind them. They looked uncomfortable, but they were there. That was what mattered. McMeyers was there, as usual, but so was Kingsley. Harry smiled as he watched; knowing that if Kingsley was there, everything would be fine.

Harry watched as Draco was pardoned, feeling the joy he saw reflected on his younger face deep within himself, as if it were a favorite memory. He cheered a little, smiling when Narcissa came rushing up, ignoring everyone’s protests, to throw her arms around her son’s neck. She and her son sank to the floor together, sobbing in each other’s arms. Harry wished he could have stayed with that moment, watching Ron and Hermione cautiously step forward to congratulate Draco, but the portal wouldn’t let him. It pulled him forward, speeding far too quickly for Harry’s liking.

After Draco had been officially released, he had told Harry he wanted to move back to the Manor with his mother. As Harry watched the conversation, he felt his gut clench. He’d hated that conversation, but he also understood. They’d both needed time and space to heal and grow. Harry watched himself reluctantly agree, but smiled when Draco asked to stop by for tea and biscuits once he got settled. Harry laughed, not needing to see a replay of that disastrous “date” to remember how a broken mug had led to a teastained rug and a small kiss.

Images twisted and turned around Harry, pulling him away from those first nervous dates and showing him snippets of how his life had changed. Ron and Hermione moved in together much more quickly than they had before, and the next thing Harry knew, there was a modest ring on her finger that could only mean that they were engaged. Harry saw Draco asking him if Molly would mind teaching him how to cook, and then Draco, looking a little older, telling Harry he’d like to open a little restaurant in Diagon Alley. Harry watched as he started his own foundation; he worked with witches and wizards who’d been unfairly imprisoned, helping them get out and back on their feet afterwards. It was his passion project.

Pansy and Blaise also made a few appearances. Awkward double dinner dates. An engagement party for Pansy and Blaise that Draco had cooked for. A pregnancy…or was it three? Harry couldn’t tell – both Hermione and Pansy appeared either pregnant or holding small children on different occasions.

As the years rushed past, he watched as Pansy and Hermione became reluctant friends, and the Weasleys, Ron included, came to accept Draco. He and Harry bought a small house together, even though Narcissa offered to let them live in the manor. (That, Harry didn’t see, but he felt the new memory forming in his mind.)

Harry watched in amazement as they grew together, laughing and loving, fighting and making up.

It was incredible, but despite knowing that he was watching his own life, he felt left out. It might have been his, but he wasn’t getting to experience it firsthand. He wanted to not only see those moments, but to feel them, to feel how they moved from being cooped up in Harry’s small room to…

“Harry!”

Harry stumbled, looking around him; he was no longer surrounded by mist, but a brightly-lit room that was covered from top to bottom in glittering Christmas decorations. The walks were bright white with rich golden tapestries that had been draped with holly garlands and fairy lights. Under his feet the marble floor was bright. It had recently been redone (another bit of information that Harry just knew). Against the wall, between two floor-to-ceiling windows, was a real Christmas tree that Hagrid would have been proud of. It was gigantic, taking up a large portion of the room, and it was covered in lights, moving decorations, tinsel and every other adornment imaginable. It took Harry a minute to realize it, but the beautiful room around him was Narcissa’s bedroom. Now, it was brimming with life.

“Harry! There you are!” Harry turned at the sound of his name and gasped. Draco. He was here.

Draco was dressed in a soft black sweater and grey trousers, his hair as fine and blond as ever. There was a beautiful tinge to his pale cheeks, and he was wearing thin silver glasses. He looked absolutely beautiful. “We’ve been wa- oof!” The sight touched Harry so deeply that he hadn’t been able to stop himself from wrapping his arms around Malfoy’s waist and kissing hungrily, as if Draco was the only thing he needed to live. This was right, Harry thought, this was all he needed.

Catcalls and hollers erupted around the room and Draco playfully swatted Harry’s chest. It was only then that he realized they weren’t alone. Looking around, Harry was shocked to find himself surrounded by people. Most had drinks in their hands, others small plates with appetizers on them. “Your mum’s Christmas party.” The realization came to Harry out of nowhere. Narcissa, despite her failing health, or more likely because of it, had insisted that they continue her tradition of throwing a Christmas Eve party at the manor. Draco had cooked, of course. And Harry had promised, like always, not to be late.

“Yes, my mum’s Christmas party.” Draco gave him a look which Harry somehow knew meant that while Draco wasn’t happy, he wasn’t angry either. “To which you’ve arrived very late. Harry-”

Harry was trying to focus on what Draco was saying, but he couldn’t stop himself from looking at everyone. Luna was sitting on a small loveseat smiling softly at Ginny. They weren’t yet dating, but the feelings were clearly there. Next, he noticed Ron and Hermione, two very red-haired children at their feet. As he watched the couple smiling warmly at each other, he felt his mind supplying him with something…they were expecting a third.

Pansy had her arm wrapped around Blaise. She looked as tired as before, but now she seemed happy. He waited for his mind to give him something and it didn’t disappoint. Pansy and Blaise had been married for two years, they had one very young son and Pansy had recently been promoted to Head of St. Mungo’s. But what about…

“Harry, darling, so good of you to finally show,” Narcissa chided him, her eyes full of laughter. She was sitting in a large armchair, a rich silver throw tucked around her waist, and she was dressed in her Christmas finest – red robes and a sparkling headband that might have been a tiara. Her cheeks were sunken and her hair dull, but she was alive. Pansy, he realized, had come up with a potion to help with her disease. It wasn’t a cure, but it was something. She would make it to see a few more Christmases, which made Harry’s throat tighten up.

“Hello, Cissa,” he said, addressing her for the first time as a dear friend - and he realized then that he truly did care for her. Not only because she was Draco’s mother, but because they’d developed a close friendship over the years that was built on a mutual love for Draco. “Sorry!” He grinned a little, feeling sheepish.

“Harry!” The tone in Draco’s voice made Harry jump and spin to face him. “Where are you tonight? It’s like you’re somewhere else.”

“Here, I’m right here.” And he was. For the first time in a very long time, Harry was perfectly happy and content with where he was in life. “Come with me?” Harry didn’t give him a choice, taking his hand and leading him towards the Christmas tree.

Behind the tree was a door that led out to a small balcony. Narcissa had always insisted they keep it closed during the party because of the cold winter air, but Harry could feel new memories forming, letting him know that this was their favorite place to escape to during her parties.

A cold gust of wind hit Harry’s face as he walked outside. He closed his eyes and smiled, enjoying the cool clarity of it. All around him the grounds were covered in sparkling snow. Even the balcony was covered in small piles. It made him think of the day in the cupboard, which was starting to feel like a very long time ago, although for him, it had just happened. Maybe, Harry thought, that was why they both enjoyed sneaking out here so much. It was reminder of their first kiss, an anniversary of sorts.

“Harry, what’s going on?” Draco continued to hold his hand, but stopped walking. “Something is different about you. Did something happen? Did the Nimbus company pull out?”

“No,” Harry smiled as his mind searched for the answer. Nimbus. They wanted to partner with Harry, but this time they really meant it. He would be helping them design a line of brooms come spring and Harry couldn’t have been more excited. “Nimbus is great. Everything is great.”

“Then what…” Draco looked thoroughly confused for a second before his eyes narrowed suspiciously. “If this has something to do with kids, I told you before-”

“No,” Harry laughed, remembering a recent fight they’d had. Harry desperately wanted children; he could feel that, and his chest monster agreed, but Draco wasn’t ready yet. Before, he hadn’t understood, but now, staring at him, Harry did. If only for selfish reasons. He wanted as much of Draco as he could possibly have to make new memories, ones that he got to experience firsthand, before he had to share him. Kids would come. Eventually. For now, he was happy it was only them.

“Then what…”

“Nothing.” Harry thought about trying to explain, but quickly crushed the idea. He would never tell a single soul about what had happened, what he’d done. He didn’t want any of them, especially Draco, to try and revisit the past he’d changed. “I wanted to tell you I love you, that’s all.”

Draco tried to hold back his grin. After all their years together, Harry could tell that Draco still got a little thrill from hearing those words. “Is that all?” He tried to sound indifferent, but failed. Horribly.

“Yes, that’s all.” Harry didn’tbother to try and hold back his laugh, wrapping one arm and then the other around Draco’s waist before pulling him in close. “I haven’t said that to you enough yet.” And he hadn’t. Truth be told, he probably never would. Standing there, with Draco in his arms, Harry felt something very deep and strong blossoming in his chest. The feelings that had been just beginning only hours before opened up and unfolded like a many petaled flower, each layer giving Harry a deeper understanding of his feelings for Draco. It was so powerful that it took his breath away. How had he ever lived without feeling like this before, Harry wondered.

“Harry…” Draco whispered, placing his hands on Harry’s chest.

Harry longed to hear the words come from Draco, not just in the memories that were forming rapidly in his mind. But for now…he was ok with not hearing it. For now.

Swallowing deeply, Harry gently pressed his lips against Draco’s, marveling at how perfect they felt. It was like saying hello to an old friend that he hadn’t seen in years – familiar, but strange and new because of all the time that had passed. Harry’s mind showed him quick flashes of kisses they’d shared over the years. Curious and hesitant at first, like they thought something might break if they weren’t. Heated with the desire of hungry first touches. Kisses filled with so much lust that Harry felt it straight down to his toes. Angry kisses that bore too many teeth. The sweet kisses of making up. The stomach-clenching ones of desperation. They’d shared them all.

But as Harry tentatively opened his mouth, gently inviting Draco to do the same, he knew that this was the most important of them all, because as far he was concerned, it was their first. Nothing before this counted.

Draco sighed softly, pulling away far too soon, but Harry let him. He wanted more, wanted everything, but he was ok with waiting. He would learn Draco, everything about him, even if his memories already knew it all. He would explore Draco with his hands and lips, he would get to discover his mind all over again.

And Harry wouldn’t feel selfish, taking as much of Draco as Draco was willing to give, because he would give all of himself to Draco for the rest of his life.