Notes: Written for Reena's 15 Ways For Harry Potter To Hug Draco Malfoy And Live To Tell About It Challenge from back in 2005, only I read it the other way around, which made for quite the challenge.  So consider this 15 Ways For Draco Malfoy To Hug Harry Potter, only there aren't fifteen.  Take this as you will – genfic, H/D, or somewhere in between. This could not have been done without the wonderful Susan, to whom I am always indebted.

 

Reena, despite your harassing me about babies for hours, this is 100% all for you.

 

 

 

Inexpert and Unexpected Things

 

 

 

1. \

 

It's the fourteenth of August and Harry can hear the rain from where he sits, cross-legged, at the bottom of Ron's bed.  The duvet is thrown back, the sheets full of crumbs, and Ron is half-propped against his headboard, one hand still inside a packet of crisps, snoring.  This scene might be amusing if it weren't for the fact that Harry has spent the past eight days this way, and that the rain is starting to give him a headache.

 

'I found the book on Helga we were–' Hermione begins, poking her head in the door, though at the sight of Ron she cuts off with a slight smile.  'Sorry, I thought you were still working.'

 

'Taking a rest,' Harry shrugs, indicating Ron's still form just as he gives a spectacular snore.  Hermione sends them both a wry glance and then sits down on Harry's bed.

 

'Your room is a mess, you know,' she says conversationally.  'Have you even left since yesterday?  I swear I heard Ron Accio those crisps up here.  Honestly, being able to use magic is a privilege, and besides, it really wouldn't hurt for the two of you to get out more often–'

 

Harry says, sharper than he means, 'Get out where, Hermione?  You want to take a stroll around Grimmauld Place?  Maybe pop over to Diagon Alley and see Fred and George's new jokes?  We've got to find out – about the Horcruxes–'

 

'I know what we've got to do,' Hermione says in an even tone.  She's barefoot and wearing the same loose t-shirt she was wearing the day before, but her hair smells of lavender, as if she's just washed it.  'I'm working on it.  We're all working on it.  But don't you think–' here her voice goes meek, the way it does when she is about to say something she is sure he will not like – 'don't you think it all seems a little unreal?  Like we're – sort of – playing at being adults?'

 

On the wall, a map of the United Kingdom is hung crookedly with Sellotape; Harry's Invisibility Cloak is draped with most of his discarded clothes over a chair too rickety to bear anyone's weight; next to him, Ron is snoring amidst several empty crisps packets, a thick book spread open on his chest.  Harry has no idea what time it is, he hasn't seen Molly Weasley or Remus Lupin in three days, and he can't remember the last time he showered.

 

Because he knows she is right, Harry says angrily, 'I'm the one who wanted to go after Snape, but you said we had to do research!  And now you have a better plan?  What do you want us to do, charge around the countryside shouting Voldemort's name?'

 

'I only meant–'

 

Ron chooses that exact moment to wake up, and he struggles to a full sitting position before mumbling, 'Whazgonon?  What about You-Know-Who?'

 

'Hermione thinks we're wasting our time,' Harry snaps.  'That all we've been doing is totally useless.'

 

'It's not useless, I only think–'

 

'Well, what exactly–'

 

'I could have told you that,' Ron says, interrupting both of them.  'I just spent two hours reading about Rufus Algernon Barbary, and all I found out was that his wife slipped him some Alihotsy leaves and he's still raving in St. Mungo's.  Load of rubbish.'

 

'You tell me where the next Horcrux is, then!' Harry exclaims, shoving his own book – the diary of Rupert Belby, grandson of Flavius – off his lap.  It slides further than he means it to slide and drops with a soft thud onto the floor.  Harry isn't surprised to see a little cloud of dust rise up from the carpet.

 

Hermione worries her lip.  'Harry, I'm sorry I said anything.  It's just that Zacharias still hasn't owled us, and nobody knows where Snape is – and when I talked to Lupin in the fire, he said Dumbledore's portrait is still sleeping, and he still thinks R.A.B. is Regulus, but he hasn't any proof–'

 

Ron says, 'I wish Sirius were here, he'd know.'  As soon as the words are out of his mouth, he sends Harry a look that lies between guilt and apology, but Harry nods.  He'd been thinking the same thing.

 

'Anyway, Ron, your mum's coming by tomorrow with Ginny,' Hermione says, after a pause filled only with rain.  'And she said to tell you not to forget about airing out your dress robes, and to tell her if they need cleaning before the wedding.'

 

'As if I need her when I've got you to nag me,' Ron snorts.  'She'll only try to convince you to stay at the Burrow, Harry – and Gin'll want to stay here, of course, like she ever shuts up about it–'

 

'We work better here,' Harry says resolutely.  They all know it's true; the Burrow is chaotic on a typical day, and with Fleur's entire family in temporary residence, it's become a madhouse.  'Your mum even knows that.  And Ginny–' here he feels a twinge of something in his stomach, some longing, but he pushes it down – 'isn't of age, she's still got to live with your parents if they say so.'

 

Hermione leans back on Harry's bed, resting her head against the wall.  'Maybe we ought to quit for now,' she sighs.  'Just tonight.  We're all too frustrated to get anywhere, anyway.  We can get takeaway and – and play Gobstones.'

 

Ron stares at her.  'Hermione,' he says, 'have you ever played Gobstones?'

 

'Fine,' Hermione sniffs, 'then Exploding Snap,' which, to Harry's knowledge, she has never played either.  Ron points this out, and she gives him a disparaging look.  'Some people,' Hermione says, 'had better things to do in school than waste time playing games.'

 

'No time like the present,' Ron says.  Neither he nor Harry point out that the time they are wasting now is even more precious than an extra hour of revision.  They just let her Apparate to get the food and slouch downstairs to wait, past the portrait of Mrs. Black, who never shrieks anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

Ron falls asleep immediately that night, as he usually does, and Harry is treated to both the incessant tattoo of the rain on the roof and Ron's even less melodic snoring.  He lies there, awake, hands folded behind his head, staring into the darkness.  He never had trouble sleeping with four other boys at Hogwarts.  Why should he have trouble now?

 

'He ought to take a potion for that,' an unpleasant voice says from above Harry's bed.  Harry jumps, but it's only Phineas, and Harry says hopefully,

 

'Dumbledore's portrait?'

 

'As unreachable as your companion there,' Phineas says.  Your impatience will get you nowhere.  It took me two years to wake, you know.'

 

'Well, maybe Dumbledore will be faster,' Harry retorts.  'He is a better wizard.'

 

Harry thinks he hears Phineas snort, affronted, and after a moment's silence, his query of 'Phineas?' yields no answer.  He relaxes again, but words swim behind his eyes, and sleep is impossible.  Rupert Belby likes his tea with toast and marmalade . . . Hermione still can't link Hepzibah and Zacharias on the Smith family tree without his help . . . Lupin says Regulus was a very private person . . .

 

Just as Ron's snores are fading and the welcome haze of sleep has begun to envelop him, Harry is startled awake by a loud tapping noise.  He sits up, glancing about.  Yes, it's definitely something at the window.  Mind swimming eagerly with thoughts of Zacharias Smith, he slides out of bed, the cool fog of the night rushing over him when he pushes the window up.  He leans out into it as the bird lands on the windowsill, offering its letter.

 

The faint light from the party that seems to be going on next door is just enough for Harry to make out the words.  Still, he has to read them twice to make sure he isn't seeing things.

 

Potter.  How do you feel about ice cream?

 

It isn't signed.  But after six years of receiving post over breakfast, Harry would recognize that owl anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

Diagon Alley has not changed since Harry saw it last, nearly a year ago.  Several more shop windows are boarded up, and those that are still open bear the Ministry of Magic posters that he remembers.  Harry passes Bellatrix Lestrange's picture as he walks, head down, towards Fortescue's; she bares her teeth at him, her thick, dark hair wild around her shoulders, and he quickens his pace.

 

The large windows of Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour are boarded, and graffiti of a skull has been drawn inexpertly across several pieces of wood, as if it were done hastily in the night.  Behind the boards, Harry can see that one of the windows has been shattered, but beyond that, there is only dusty darkness.  He pauses beside the door, wondering if he has made a mistake.  But it is too late for that and, gripping his wand, he glances behind him: no one.  He touches the door handle, but an Alohomora is not even needed; it swings open easily, and as he slips inside, he hears the sad, familiar tinkle of a bell over the door.  Fortescue, he remembers, used to give him free ice creams all the time.

 

'Malfoy?' Harry says, low.  Nothing moves.  Everything is covered in dust, the old ice cream counter is cracked and empty, and several chairs lie toppled on the floor.  As he takes a step forward, a cloud of dust rises around him, and he sneezes.

 

The next thing Harry realizes, there is a wand pressed hard against his collarbone, and Malfoy is standing before him, mouth curled in a familiar sneer.  Harry raises his own wand high enough to prod Malfoy's stomach, and Malfoy's sneer turns into a snarl, his wand pushing against Harry's throat almost hard enough to choke him.

 

'So you are here,' Harry manages.  'Were you planning something?  Because this doesn't look like an ambush.'

 

'I'm the one with the wand against your throat,' Malfoy hisses. 

 

'Oh yeah, forgot about that,' Harry says.  He concentrates, and a minute later, Malfoy is thrown back against the nearest upright chair, several large ropes having wound themselves around him.  Harry can't help showing a small grin of triumph when Malfoy struggles and cannot move.  'Nonverbal magic,' Harry says casually.  'Someone wasn't paying attention last year, it seems.  Too busy working for Voldemort, were you?'

 

Malfoy pales a little, but he stares defiantly at Harry as he retorts, 'Well, I succeeded, didn't I?'

 

'Did you?'  Harry takes a step forward and grabs Malfoy's wand, still clenched in his hand.  Malfoy tugs back for a moment, but he has no leverage, and Harry yanks it from him and sticks it in his pocket.

 

'What do you want, Potter?' Malfoy demands, eventually.

 

'I'm not the one who came here for something,' Harry says.  'Tell me why you owled me, Malfoy, or I'm leaving.  And I don't plan on untying you, either.'

 

Malfoy is silent for a moment; Harry can see him straining against the bonds, but Hermione had practiced the Incarcerous spell with him and Ron for hours one afternoon, and he knows the ropes are not likely to give. 

 

'Well?'  Harry's eyes flicker pointedly towards the door.  'I'll be taking your wand with me, of course – you won't be needing it–'

 

'Snape told me to come to you,' Malfoy blurts.  He looks flushed and desperate from struggling against Harry's spell, but he leans back as far as he can when Harry whirls on him.

 

It only takes two steps to carry Harry to Malfoy; he leans over him, one hand fisted in his shirt, and says, 'Where is he?'

 

'I can't–' Malfoy twists in his grasp, the muscles in his neck standing out as he wrenches his head back away from Harry, 'I don't know–'

 

'You do,' Harry snarls, more eager than he's felt in months, 'you've seen him, he took you somewhere, he took you away from Hogwarts, where is he?'

 

'I don't know!' Malfoy repeats loudly, his face pinched with annoyance and what might be a trace of fear.  'I never knew where we were, he never told me, it's all a blur–'

 

'What did he do, drug you?' Harry's impatient and yanking on Malfoy's shirt and he doesn't care; he's so close to getting to Snape, so close.  'You're lying to me,' he hisses.  'Malfoy, you're lying, I can tell.'

 

'I am not!' Malfoy snaps.  'You can torture me all you want, Potter, but I can't give you an answer!  All I remember is that it smelled like potions.'

 

Harry lets go of him and he slumps in his chair.  For his part, Harry starts to pace, kicking at a chair when it gets in his way.  'That's helpful,' he says sarcastically.  'I can't imagine why Snape would be around potions.  That tells me exactly where to find him.  Thanks loads, Malfoy.'

 

'Excuse me if my first thought wasn't to remember any clue that would help you!' Malfoy retorts.  'Look, I don't know where he is, and that's final.  I didn't come here to turn Snape in, anyway.'

 

'No, you came here because he sent you,' Harry says bitterly.  'Well, go on, what does he want?'

 

Silence falls between them, more sudden than Harry expects; Malfoy is staring at him with an unreadable look, and only when he looks away does he say, 'To protect me, naturally.'

 

Harry would laugh, but the truth is, the same idea has been lingering in the back of his mind since he first unwrapped Malfoy's message.  Instead, he just sighs.  'And why should I protect you?'

 

Now Malfoy refuses to look up.  Harry knows it's cruel of him, but he hooks a chair, sits down, and yanks Malfoy's chin towards him.  'Why,' he says again, challenging, 'should I protect you?'

 

Looking as if every syllable pains him, Malfoy mutters, 'Dumbledore said that he would help me–'

 

'DUMBLEDORE'S DEAD,' Harry yells without warning, his face right in Malfoy's.  'Do you hear me?  Who's fault is that?  Maybe you'd be safe now if you'd just listened to him.  Oh, I heard him, all right.  I was there. I saw the whole thing.'

 

'How–' Malfoy starts, before his embarrassment at his own curiosity cuts him off.

 

Harry shrugs; there's no harm in telling Malfoy now.  'Invisibility Cloak.'

 

Comprehension dawns on Malfoy's face and quickly morphs into rage as realizations come flooding in, but Harry doesn't have time to argue about school pranks.  'Why would I help you?' he asks again.  'Why wouldn't I just kill you?  It'd save me and Voldemort a lot of trouble.'

 

'You wouldn't,' Malfoy sneers, but he's half-bluffing, and Harry can tell.  'You're Saint Potter, you wouldn't kill anyone–'

 

'I would.  Don't test me.'

 

Malfoy's mouth twists cruelly.  'You think you're so big, do you, Potter?  You've been through so much, you've done everything–'

 

'If you would have come at me with a curse, instead of just the threat of one,' Harry interrupts, his voice even, 'I would have fought you.  And I would have won.  If it came down to killing you, I would have.  I don't have time for your games, Malfoy.  If you have something to say, say it.  Otherwise, I'm leaving.'

 

There is silence, and Harry's harsh breathing, and then Malfoy says, his eyes on the floor, 'I can give you Snape.'

 

Harry's bout of patience fails.  'You said you didn't know where he was!' he yells, having forgot how furious Malfoy can make him.  'Make up your mind!  If you're lying to me, I'll find out.  If you're trying to pull some kind of trick–'

 

'Snape sent me here because he knew you could protect me,' Malfoy says, talking fast, 'but he didn't know I would turn him in, because I don't know where he is.  I don't, Potter,' he insists, when Harry gives him a suspicious look.  'But he's sworn to protect me.  He swore an Unbreakable and if he doesn't, he dies.  I can get him to come to me.'

 

'An Unbreakable?' Harry repeats, brow furrowing as he recalls eavesdropping during Slughorn's Christmas party last year.  He had assumed, upon getting Malfoy's owl, that finding Malfoy would mean finding Snape, but he had not thought about it in these terms.  'Why didn't you tell me this before?'

 

'Because I didn't want to turn him in!' Malfoy snaps.  'He saved my life, all right?'

 

'And now I'm saving it,' Harry says, rather unkindly.  'How easily Slytherins can be bought.'  When Malfoy starts to interrupt him, his face going red, Harry presses onward, 'I can't promise what Dumbledore promised, I don't have the same connections.  I'll try, Malfoy.  You have to come with me, though.  If nothing comes of it, I'll let you walk free.'

 

'Walk free?' Malfoy echoes, his voice strained and thin.  'To whom, the Dark Lord?  Oh yes – he's the forgiving sort, you know, he'll certainly welcome me back–'

 

'So you came here to ask me to save you, really.'

 

Malfoy looks at him and something about it reminds Harry of that day in the bathroom, the furious, sharp glitter to his eyes as he whirled around.  He thinks of Malfoy, walking unsteadily back through Diagon Alley, wandless, head bowed, while Bellatrix's giant face leers above him.  How long would it take Voldemort to find him?  To rip his chest open like Harry did, only let him bleed this time?

 

Malfoy snarls, 'I came here to make a bargain–'

 

'Fine, you came here to bargain with me to save you, then,' Harry snaps.  'I've said all right, haven't I?  All right, I'll help you!'

 

Harry is not sure why he expects Malfoy to fall at him in thanks, but Malfoy does nothing of the sort.  His eyes narrow and, backpedaling, he exclaims, 'You want me to trust you?'

 

'If you want to call it that.'

 

Malfoy's eyes are still wild.  'You were just blithering on about killing me without a second thought, and now I'm supposed to believe you when you say I'll be pardoned?'

 

'It's the best you'll get,' Harry says.  'Take it or leave it, Malfoy.  You're the one who doesn't have a choice.  You're the one who came to me.'

 

Malfoy's mouth tightens.  'And my mother?'

 

Harry hesitates, thinking of the tall, haughty woman he had seen at the Quidditch Cup in fourth year, blonde hair streaming down her back like pale water weeds.  From what he could tell, she always looked as if she had just caught a whiff of a Dungbomb. 

 

He mutters, 'I'll see what I can do.'

 

'My father?'

 

It's Harry's turn to grimace. 'Your father gave my girlfriend a cursed diary on Voldemort's orders,' Harry grits out.  'He's a known Death Eater.  He tried to kill me.  Why would I do anything for him?'

 

'Snape,' Malfoy says simply.

 

Harry shuts his eyes and remembers that he can't call Ginny his girlfriend anymore.  He thinks, Lucius Malfoy for Severus Snape? 

 

But in the months since June, there has been no question of whom Harry despises more.  'He has to let me break his wand,' he snaps.  'And he'll be watched all the time.  If he does anything funny, I'll kill him myself.'

 

'I'm not giving up my wand,' Malfoy says sharply.

 

'If the Ministry agrees, I won't make you.  But I'm keeping it for now.'

 

Malfoy scowls.  'As if you'll give it back.'

 

'I'll give it back tomorrow, if you behave yourself,' Harry insists.  He feels suddenly like Malfoy's father and has to stifle a laugh.  Half-smirking to himself, he adds, 'But you have to be on your best behavior, Malfoy, no shenanigans from you–'

 

'Fuck off,' Malfoy says, his face pinched.  He's beginning to look as if this wasn't such a good idea.

 

Harry shrugs.  He silently ends the Incarcerous spell, and the ropes slither off Malfoy and dissolve.  'No second chances, Malfoy,' Harry says then.  'You've got this one, and that's it.  You back out, forget it.  You sell us out, it's over.  I shouldn't even be helping you now, you know.  When Dumbledore offered you help, you refused.'

 

'Make up your mind,' hisses Malfoy.  'Are you or aren't you?' 

 

'I am,' Harry says.  'But this is your only chance.  I mean it, Malfoy.  This isn't Hogwarts.'

 

Malfoy glares at him, tense and silent.  'I know.'

 

'Well, then?  Come on.'

 

Seconds pass and Malfoy doesn't move.  He's like a feral animal, holding still as if he'll disappear, wary of motion.

 

'I said come on,' Harry says impatiently.  'I bet the Apparation wards are still in place here.  We'll have to go out back.'

 

After a second, Malfoy slouches to his feet and follows him into the back room of Fortescue's, but when Harry pushes a creaky wooden door open into the back alley, he hesitates.  It's raining outside, and Harry stands there tapping his foot, droplets spattering onto his too-thin shirt.  After a moment, Malfoy says, 'Potter–'

 

'You already agreed to come,' Harry interrupts, fed up.  'What's the matter now?  Can't you Apparate?'

 

Malfoy steps out the door, looking belligerently embarrassed.  'I never,' he says, 'I never got my license.  There wasn't – my birthday wasn't til June, and by then–'

 

Harry tenses at his allusion to Dumbledore's death, but he says only, 'Do you know how?'

 

'Of course I know how,' Malfoy says, but as Harry gestures for him to go ahead, he flushes.  'Well – I didn't go to all the lessons – I was–'

 

'Busy, I know,' Harry says sharply.  'Fine, there's no point in you splinching yourself on the way there.  Come on.'

 

'Come on where?'  Malfoy's voice is rising, which is almost comical, but it's starting to rain in earnest.  Harry grabs him by the wrist and yanks him forward, hard.  Malfoy squeaks out, 'What do you think you're–'

 

'Hang on,' Harry says and shuts his eyes.  He feels Malfoy's cold arms slide with sudden fear around Harry's midsection, and everything is compressing, he can't breathe–

 

And then, they are standing in the yard of the Burrow, and Arthur Weasley is at the door, looking alarmed at the sight of Harry, dripping wet, with Malfoy still attached.

 

'Welcome to the Burrow,' Harry mutters, as Malfoy leaps away from him.  He doesn't bother looking at Malfoy to catch the look of disgust he knows is there.  Just walks forward.

 

Malfoy will follow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. \

 

The kitchen of the Burrow is exactly how Harry remembers it, with several pans undergoing a vigorous scrubbing in the sink, and the teakettle heating up on the stove.  Harry catches sight of a bowl full of peas, which are dutifully shelling themselves into a pot, both sitting on the countertop next to an open cookbook.  Mrs. Weasley's wand rests between the pages. 

 

'Oh, Harry,' she fusses just then, pushing a steaming mug towards him, 'don't you want anything else?  Something to eat?  A change of clothes?  We were just at Grimma – at the house, and Hermione said you'd been missing!  You poor boy, out in the rain!  Are you sure you wouldn't like a warm plate of food?'

 

 'I wouldn't mind some chocolate,' Malfoy says loudly, but Mrs. Weasley doesn't even spare him a glance.  He's still shivering.  His hair is wet, slicked down around his forehead, which gives him the appearance of a drowned rat.  Despite his haughty sneer, he looks, in Harry's opinion, quite pathetic.  After a moment, Harry takes pity on him and pushes his mug across the table.

 

'Now what did you want to ask us, Harry, dear?' Mrs. Weasley asks, looking at Harry with concern.  Her eyes flicker for a brief second at Malfoy, as if to say, and what does it have to do with him?  From the next room, where he is listening to the Wireless at a low hum, Mr. Weasley is waiting for the answer as well.  

 

Harry looks down at the table.  'I know it's a big favor to ask,' he says.  'But, well, Malfoy is going to be.  Er, helping us.  And he needs a place to stay.  I mean, because he needs watching over–'

 

'Excuse me?'  Malfoy, who has finally stopped glaring at the mug and taken a sip, chokes on his mouthful of liquid.  'Potter, you cannot make me stay in this hole!  That was never part of the deal!  I refuse to live like a, like an animal–'

 

'Don't talk about the Weasleys that way!' Harry snaps.

 

'You can't make me live with them,' Malfoy hisses.  'I won't, I won't do it, I'll go to the Dark Lord instead–'

 

'That will not be necessary,' Mrs. Weasley says, sounding icier than Harry has ever heard her.  'We simply can't fit one more person in this house, Harry.  There's just no room, you see.  All of Fleur's relatives are here – it's quite hectic–'

 

Harry frowns.  'But you wanted Ron and Hermione and me to come live here,' he says.

 

'Well, there's always room for you, Harry,' Mrs. Weasley mutters, looking distractedly around the kitchen.  'You and Hermione, you're like family – it's only that, we're so busy, and no one has time to look after the – after – him.'

 

Just as Harry is about to argue that Malfoy won't take up much space, there is a commotion outside the kitchen, and a second later, Fleur flounces in, followed by Ginny and a petite blonde girl who is barely recognizable as the Gabrielle Delacour who Harry saved from the lake during the Triwizard Tournament.

 

''Arry!' Fleur exclaims before anyone else can move, swooping down on his chair and giving him a kiss on each cheek.  'What a pleasant surprise zees ees!  I 'ad not been told you were coming!  'Arry, zees ees my seester, Gabrielle!'

 

Harry says, rather taken aback, 'Er, hello again, Gabrielle.'  Across the room, Ginny rolls her eyes at him, which makes him feel slightly cheered.  He is about to ask about the progress of the wedding plans when Fleur makes a noise that sounds halfway between a hiss and a snarl.

 

'Ees zat 'im?' she demands, her voice unrecognizably furious.  Her nostrils flaring, she hisses, 'Ees zat ze 'orrible leetle boy who let a werewolf into ze school to bite my husband?  Ees zat ze boy who ees responsible for Bill's 'orrible wounds?'

 

Malfoy is staring across the table at Fleur in a mixture of enthrallment and terror.  And everyone else, including Ginny, is staring daggers at Malfoy.

 

Harry says meekly, 'Maybe he won't be staying here, then.'

 

''Im?' Fleur whirls on Harry, her silvery hair flying.  'Zat monster, in zees house?  At my wedding?  I will not allow it!  Zat – zat murderer – will not ruin my wedding any more than he already has–'

 

'What's he doing here, anyway, Harry?' Ginny interrupts.  'Did you catch him, then?'

 

'I happen to be sitting right here,' Malfoy says.  'In case you hadn't noticed.'

 

'Shut up, Malfoy,' Harry snaps.  'Before he died, Dumbledore offered Malfoy protection for himself and his family.  I – I have to follow through.  It's what Dumbledore wanted.'

 

'And you see what he got for trusting those sorts?' Fleur sniffs.  'He trusted zat man who killed him – do you want for zees boy to kill all of us, 'Arry?'

 

Harry says, without looking at Malfoy, 'Dumbledore didn't think Malfoy was a killer.  And – and neither do I.'

 

Fleur stares down at him, then says very stiffly, 'I expected better from you, 'Arry Potter,' and stalks out of the kitchen in a whirl of silver hair.  Gabrielle looks back and forth between the empty doorway and Harry.

 

'Grimmauld Place it is, then,' Harry mutters, jerking his chair back and moving towards the door.  He can feel Ginny's eyes on him, but as painful as it is, he doesn't look up – just goes. 

 

 

 

 

 

Hermione is standing in the doorway of the kitchen when Harry arrives home – home, he thinks, this isn't home – and for an instant, hands on her hips, she resembles Molly Weasley so much that Harry has to stifle a smile.

 

'What are you smirking about?' Hermione snaps, which is even further like Mrs. Weasley, and Harry bites his lip to keep the smile off his face.  'Well, go on, where were you, and what was so important about it that you had to run off without telling us where you were going?  We were worried sick, we thought Voldemort–'

 

'I'm sorry,' Harry says, instantly realizing how Hermione and Ron must have spent the past few hours.  'I hadn't thought what it would look like, I just had to go.'

 

'Go where, exactly?'

 

'Fortescue's,' Harry begins, just as Ron appears in the door behind Hermione and exclaims,

 

'But he's dead, or might as well be.  Isn't he?'

 

'If you're talking about me, Weasley,' Malfoy says just then, stepping inside, 'you'll have to take your little fantasies elsewhere, as I'm in perfect health.'

 

Ron yelps, 'Malfoy?  What the fuck is he doing here?'  When he realizes that Harry is entirely too calm, he turns his accusing stare at him and says, 'Harry?  What's he doing here?'

 

Here we go again, Harry thinks. 

 

He says, 'Malfoy's going to be staying here for a little while, Ron.'

 

But it is not Ron who reacts first; he is too busy recovering from the shock.  Hermione is the one who, before Harry can even pull out his wand in self-defense, has both Harry and Malfoy slammed against the wall, iron bands circling their wrists, with one shouted spell.  Harry feels as if he's just been hit by two Bludgers at once, and even Ron looks taken aback by Hermione's reaction.

 

'Now,' she says briskly, tucking away her wand and wiping her palms on the sides of her jeans, 'maybe we can talk.  Ron, I'm not entirely sure that's Harry.'

 

'And that's why you have me chained to the wall?' Harry exclaims.  'Hermione!  Come on, it's me, who else would it be?'

 

'Well, a Death Eater,' she suggests, her gaze fixed coolly upon him.  'Snape does have the location of Grimmauld Place, I told you that when we came.  You could be Snape himself.  One of Malfoy's friends, maybe.  Voldemort.'

 

'I am not Voldemort,' Harry exclaims, though he has to appreciate Hermione's quick thinking.  'Look, Malfoy didn't bring me here.  I brought him.  You can check with the Weasleys if you want, we were just at the Burrow.'

 

'And I suppose they'd know better than we would if you were yourself?' Hermione demands.  'We'll wait at least an hour, in case it's Polyjuice Potion.  Meanwhile, there's got to be a spell to figure out if someone is himself, hasn't there?  I'll look in the library while we're waiting–'

 

Ron sees the expression on Harry's face and says tentatively, 'Herm, isn't an hour a – sort of a long time–'

 

Hermione raises an eyebrow.  'Would you rather be killed?' she says.  'Come on, you can help me look for some way to tell whether it's Harry or not.  Don't worry, the spell will hold, I've practiced.'

 

'Yeah, no doubt,' Ron says, fixing Harry with a look that manages to convey both his sympathy and suspicion, and he lopes up the stairs after Hermione, his shoulders slumped guiltily.

 

'Some friends you have, Potter,' Malfoy mumbles beside him.  He jerks his arm experimentally, twisting against the wall.

 

Harry sighs, looking away from Malfoy.  He doesn't bother struggling.  He knows Hermione too well for that.

 

 

 

 

 

When an hour passes and Harry is still himself, Hermione interrogates him for at least half an hour longer.  It is when she gets to the point of demanding, 'What was the first Gryffindor password in second year?' that Ron rolls his eyes.

 

'Come on, Hermione, I don't remember that,' he mutters.  'It's Harry, okay?  Let them down.  Well, let Harry down, you can leave Malfoy up there all day.'

 

Hermione lets both of them down with a hmph, though she does look embarrassed when Harry rubs at his wrists.  Glancing away, she says, 'Now, Harry, what is Malfoy doing here?'

 

Harry shrugs.  'He's going to be helping us.  So we're letting him stay.  Remember what I told you about Dumbledore?'

 

Ron is eyeing Malfoy with distaste, and he says warily, 'Harry, you aren't Dumbledore.'

 

'I didn't say you had to trust him,' says Harry, whose patience has worn thin after hanging on the wall for an hour listening to Malfoy alternate between complaining and insisting that if Harry had not taken his wand, he could have escaped already.  'Ron, I don't trust him.  But Dumbledore said he would keep Malfoy and his family safe, and Malfoy said he'd give us Snape, so–'

 

'Snape for Lucius Malfoy?' Ron demands.

 

'Excuse me,' Malfoy interrupts.  'You are talking about my father.  I am standing right in front of you.'

 

No one listens to him.

 

'We need Snape,' Harry says, his voice tight.

 

Ron is about to argue, but Hermione stays him with a hand on his arm and says instead, her voice low, 'Do we?  Or is it you who needs to find Snape, Harry?  Because you want revenge?'

 

'He killed Dumbledore,' Harry says, his voice hoarse with the effort of keeping quiet.

 

Hermione says softly, 'He isn't Voldemort.'

 

'I made my decision,' Harry retorts, even as he knows that he isn't acting how any good leader should act, or even any friend.  'This place belongs to me, and if I say Malfoy's staying, then he's staying.  If you don't want to deal with it, you can leave.'

 

Hermione stares at him for a moment before saying exasperatedly, 'Harry, we're not leaving.  Don't be ridiculous.'

 

For his part, Ron mutters, 'Well, don't expect me to share a room with him.  Or to be nice to him.  Or to help him out if anybody comes after him, because I'm not risking my life for his scrawny–'

 

'Same to you, Weasley,' Malfoy says with venom, at the same time that Harry says, 'I know, Ron.  You can stay in the room we have; I'll stay with Malfoy to keep an eye on him.'

 

'Fantastic,' Ron and Malfoy mutter in unison.  They glare at each other.

 

Harry says, for what he feels might be the twentieth time today, 'Malfoy, come on.'

 

As they move toward the stairs, Hermione touches Harry on the shoulder.  Rather more sharply than necessary, she says, 'For your future reference, Harry, the password was grindylow.'

 

'Shh!' Ron hisses, glowering at her.  'Now Malfoy knows!  He'll tell everybody!'

 

'Yes,' Malfoy says disgustedly, 'let me write that down, I've an entire horde of imposters I'll need to contact at once.'

 

Ron throws up his hands.  'See?'

 

'Oh, please, as if I couldn't take you myself,' Malfoy snarls.  'I'd sleep with one eye open if I were you, Weasley.'

 

'Now he's making threats, Harry!' Ron exclaims.  'What kind of idea is this?  I'm sleeping with my door locked.'

 

'Afraid of me, are you?'

 

'No, I'm not bloody afraid of you,' Ron shouts.  'Hermione, back me up here–'

 

'I'm going to bed now,' Harry says loudly.  'Malfoy, you are coming with me.  And, if everyone is still alive in the morning, we'll talk about it then.  Got it?  Okay.  Good night.'

 

He spell-locks Malfoy's curtains closed just in case.

 

 

 

 

 

Three days later, when the most harmful thing Malfoy has done is yowl at the top of his lungs when confronted with a spider in the shower, Harry gives him his wand back.  Malfoy, grinning gleefully, waves it in his face and shouts, "Avada – just kidding!' 

 

'The next time you do that,' Harry says without flinching, 'I'm taking back your wand, and this time I'm breaking it in half.'

 

'Well, I'm glad to see you've survived this long with your sense of humor intact,' Malfoy drawls in return.  'I'm going to kill some spiders.  Excuse me.'

 

'Don't you dare use the Cruciatus Curse!' Harry yells at his back, but Malfoy has already turned the corner.  He sits back down.  The map is there on the wall, several points circled and starred, and it's still just a blur of unconnected ideas and theories going nowhere.  The blue dots, according to Hermione's system, are the locations of all the deaths reported in the last month, even those explained as car accidents or spells gone awry.  The red stars are potential locations of potential Horcruxes.  The purple circle is Zacharias Smith's house.

 

'Harry,' Hermione calls from downstairs over an hour later, when the map makes even less sense, 'can you come down here?'

 

'Just a second,' Harry yells back.  To a slumbering portrait of Mildred Horace Black, he mutters, 'Ten Galleons says it's something Malfoy did.'

 

When he reaches the fireplace, he sees Hermione on her knees, leaning towards someone in the fire.  '. . . has got to be an easier way,' she is saying, brow furrowed.  'Polyjuice Potion is just too easy to obtain.  The fake Mad-Eye Moody had us fooled for nearly a year.  I'm still not certain that Harry's himself–'

 

'I'm me,' Harry says, over her shoulder.  Hermione jumps.  'Hullo, Fred.'

 

'Hi there, Harry,' Fred says cheerfully.  'Nothing like being accused of a stolen identity to make a chap feel welcome, eh?  Hermione, I'm still not sure what any of this has to do with us.'

 

Hermione rubs at her temples.  'I was thinking about your mum's clock,' she mutters.  'It knows where your family is and can tell her if they're at work or in transit or in mortal peril . . .'

 

'You want one for the Order?'  Fred looks thoughtful.  'I'd have to talk to George, but I suppose we could take it apart, take a look.'

 

'Well, that would be nice,' Hermione says, businesslike as only Hermione can be, 'but that's not what I was getting at.  Hasn't there got to be some kind of tracking spell out there?  Or some way for magic to – to recognize somebody–'

 

'There's got to be!' a voice exclaims from the fire, though Fred's mouth doesn't move.  After a moment, Fred's head disappears, and George's pokes through.  He exclaims, 'There are all kinds of spells linked to one person specifically.  Maybe it's linked to wands?'

 

'But people can steal wands,' Hermione says impatiently.  'I don't think it is.  I think it's connected to a person's inner magic.'

 

'Like a fingerprint?' George continues.  'I think you're onto something!  What do you say, Fred, want another partner?  You'd have to become a Weasley, of course – I'm sure Ron would oblige – a double wedding, perhaps– '

 

'Oh, stop,' Hermione says, blushing.  'I don't want to be a partner or an investor or any of those things.  But I think this could really help the war effort.  I thought I'd pass it on, because we're so busy researching, and I wouldn't know the first thing about inventing something like this–'

 

George grins.  'Leave it to the pros.  But we'll be having all the fun while you'll be mucking around with musty old books.  Sure you don't want to stop by and brainstorm for a bit?'

 

'I can't,' Hermione says, 'but I'll look up a few books for you.  In fact, I think there was something in the Hogwarts library, called Your Magic Identity or something of the sort.  It seemed like divination rubbish, but it might have something of use.  And keep me updated on what you figure out, I'll want to know–'

 

'Of course,' George says.  'Stop by sometime, we'll show you our new products.'

 

Hermione raises an eyebrow.  'We'll see.  Oh, George, by the way, how did you hear what I was saying?  I thought only the person in the fireplace could do that.'

 

George winks.  'Extendable Ears, of course.  An eavesdropper's best friend.'

 

'Oh,' Hermione says.  'Of course.  Well, if that's all – wait!  What did you say?  An eavesdropper's – George!  Why haven't you put the Ears into wider circulation as spying devices?  What if we could turn them into something smaller, some way to eavesdrop on conversations further away?  Muggles have video recordings and hidden microphones, I'm sure we could–'

 

'For the Order,' George agrees.  'Every Auror should have one, and you're right, we could make something a little more easy to hide, maybe–'

 

Harry can't help grinning.  'Why did you even call me down here, Hermione?'

 

She looks distracted when she glances up at him, hair falling into her face.  'Well, you are – sort of in charge – aren't you?  I thought you should know what was going on.'

 

'Even if I'm an imposter?'  He raises his eyebrows at her.

 

'Oh, Harry.  I know you aren't.'

 

Harry squeezes her shoulder.  'It's okay.  Go on making plans with George, you can tell me later.'

 

'I'll send a report,' Hermione says with perhaps a bit too much enthusiasm.  Harry winces as he moves back towards the stairs.  Receiving reports are far too official for his taste. 

 

'Maybe I can get someone to read them for me,' he mutters aloud.  'Though that would make me feel even more official.  Bollocks.'

 

'Hearing voices again, Potter?' Malfoy drawls, from where he stands at the top of the stairs, tapping his wand on the banister.  Harry can't even bring himself to sneer back.  Downstairs, Hermione is planning the newest war technology, and he knows she is shrewd enough to make sure only the Order gets it this time.  Things are finally happening.

 

He doesn't stop to think about the fact that they started with Malfoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. \

 

Harry has always maintained that the House of Black has a particular sort of personality; even when Mrs. Weasley spent days ordering them to clean, the gloom still lingered, and each doorknob, fanged cabinet, and creaking, hissing faucet had fought her cheery invasion.  Now, however, the nature of 12 Grimmauld Place is a bit funnier when its target is someone else.

 

In the first week, Malfoy runs into a suit of armor – 'I swear it moved!' he yelps, when Harry finds him trapped beneath it – has two windows slam without warning on his fingers, and gets into a wrestling match with a wardrobe that tries to shut him inside.  To make matters worse, Ron amuses himself by agitating the bats until they fly at Malfoy's head.  Once they chase him out of the bath, clutching several towels around him and screaming.  Harry and Ron laugh so hard they almost choke.

 

'I don't like it here,' Malfoy whines at night, after Harry has turned out the lights.  'It's cold and dark and everything is after me.  I nearly got shut in a wardrobe, Potter.  And it smells in here.  I'll wager that's you.'  Malfoy takes a moment to snigger to himself.  'Or was this that mangy dog's room?  Your flea-ridden godfather, yeah, of course you'd want to sleep in the same filthy place he did, wouldn't you?  I shouldn't think this room's been cleaned since before he went to Azkaban–'

 

Harry grits his teeth and says nothing.  Eventually, desperately wishing he had Ron back as his roommate, Harry casts a Silencing Spell in the direction of the curtains around Malfoy's bed.  As he falls asleep, he wonders how long it will take Malfoy to realize that no one can hear him complaining and finally shut up.

 

But to Harry's dismay, Malfoy decides that Harry is the most likely ally of the three of them and promptly attaches himself.  He takes to following Harry around 12 Grimmauld Place, complaining from everything about rust in the water to the size of Ron's ears.  'I've been wearing the same shirt for three days, Potter,' he says petulantly one afternoon, trailing Harry down the stairs to the sitting room where Harry left a book. 

 

'That's because you refuse to wear any of my or Ron's clothes.'  Harry grabs the book without looking at Malfoy and heads back to the stairs.  Malfoy, unshakable, follows at his heels.

 

'I'd rather live in filth than wear the Weasel's ratty clothes,' Malfoy scoffs as he trudges up the stairs behind Harry.  'I'd likely catch some sort of skin disease.  Or a parasite.  Lord, whole generations of Weasleys have probably worn those moldy old rags–'

 

'They have not,' says Harry, who could swear they've had the same conversation twice already, 'and they aren't rags, and Ron does not have parasites!'

 

'What do you call Granger, then?' sniggers Malfoy.  When Harry turns around to shove him down the stairs, Malfoy almost looks disappointed at Harry's lack of appreciation for his joke.

 

'I don't even hate him anymore,' Harry hisses to Ron in the kitchen that evening, as Hermione is finishing dinner, 'I just want him to shut up–'

 

'Spit in his food,' Ron suggests brightly.

 

'Well, that's hygienic,' Hermione says, with a hint of disapproval, but Harry has already done it.  Ron snickers.

 

'It came from Harry's mouth,' he argues, 'it can't be any worse for Malfoy than it is for Harry.  Anyway, people swap spit all the time–'  But he stops and turns crimson as he realizes that he is nearly suggesting that Harry and Malfoy swap spit.  'Eurgh,' Ron says.  'Sorry, Harry.  Now that's unhygienic.'

 

'I don't quite follow your logic.'  Hermione sounds as if she is struggling not to laugh.

 

'Because it's Malfoy's spit, obviously.'

 

Hermione stares at them for a moment.  As she turns back to the stove, Harry thinks he hears her mutter something like, 'Boys.'

 

'I don't know what gave Malfoy the idea that I'm the nicest,' Harry says.  'I'm the one who's been dueling with him for ages, and I've punched him at least–'

 

'But Hermione slapped him,' Ron remembers, sunning in the memory.  'Anyway, maybe it was your Furnunculus Curse on the train in fourth year – after all, I went with Tarantallegra – boils was like going easy on him–'

 

'Boils are worse than dancing!' Harry exclaims, despite the fact that he would have disagreed wholeheartedly with this statement during the Yule Ball.

 

Hermione gives a loud snort.  'It's because he made the deal with you, Harry,' she says in the long-suffering tone she uses when she has waited at least five minutes for Harry and Ron to figure out what she already knows.  'Not with me or with Ron, but with you.  And for all the things you are, Harry, you don't break your promises, not if you can help it.  Malfoy has to know that.'

 

'He has to know Harry's got a good Furnunculus up his sleeve, too,' Ron snickers.

 

Harry thinks of Sectumsempra and says nothing.

 

In the next three days, Malfoy leaves spiders in Ron's bed, hexes Harry's sheets so they glue themselves together once he's between them, and talks loudly every chance he gets about the lice he's seen in Hermione's hair.  'I have not got lice,' Hermione says crossly, and channels her fury into knitting, producing four hats in one night. 

 

'Who're you forcing these on, then?' Ron asks, passing through.  'Kreacher?  Or are you going to send them off to Hogwarts for some poor, unsuspecting elf to find?'

 

'It's none of your business,' Hermione starts up, but Ron catches a glimpse of Malfoy and hurries off with an eager grin before she can finish her sentence.

 

It turns into prank warfare.  Harry and Ron have never had Malfoy alone, at their mercy, all the time, and both of them have been trapped inside the House of Black for weeks with only Hermione and several archaic biographies of wizards with the initials R.A.B. for company.  For his part, Malfoy takes to skulking in the drawing room, wand in hand, jumping the instant anything moves.  Once, he sends a swarm of bees chasing after Harry; they buzz at him for nearly three hours before Hermione can figure out the counter-jinx.  He thinks, ruefully, that Malfoy's constant whining might have been a very small improvement.

 

It comes to a head one Sunday afternoon when Ron is standing at the kitchen counter, trying to get Malfoy to eat a Canary Cream.  'They're really delicious,' he enthuses, shoving it at Malfoy, who stares at it as if it might be poisonous.

 

'I wouldn't eat that,' Hermione warns as she passes through the room with a pile of books under one arm and Crookshanks under the other.  'It's from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, it'll turn you into a canary.'

 

'Oh, have you got a crush on me, Mudblood?' Malfoy says at once.  Crookshanks hisses at him, and he narrows his eyes.  'I wouldn't touch you if you paid me, you realize.'

 

'She wouldn't touch you if you were the last person on Earth!' Ron retorts hotly, and before anyone can stop him, he yanks Malfoy towards him with a fistful of his shirt and tries to shove the Canary Cream into his mouth.  Malfoy, teeth clamped shut, elbows Ron viciously in the ribs to get Ron's fist out of his face, but Ron's hand is still doggedly gripping Malfoy by the shirt.  Malfoy howls, 'Get off me, you fucking oaf!'

 

Ron, encouraged by this, smears the Canary Cream in Malfoy's hair.

 

'Petrificus totalus,' snaps Hermione, whom both of them seem to have forgot about.  The curse sends them both crashing to the floor, frozen as if they've been Petrified.  Malfoy has still got sticky cream in his hair and is glaring up at Hermione, who is standing over them with her hands on her hips.

 

Which is how Harry finds them a second later when he wanders downstairs for a snack, then takes a step back at the look on Hermione's face.

 

'Oh, no, you don't,' Hermione says.  'You get in here too, Harry Potter, because you are just as guilty.  First of all, Malfoy, I think you're a spoiled, awful scumbag of a person, and I'd rather snog Kreacher than you.  And second of all, boys, there will be no more fighting in this house.  How many times have I told you that magic is a privilege?  Yes, even for you, Malfoy, I don't care how many centuries old your family tree is!  Honestly, you're all acting like a couple of first years, and if we were at Hogwarts, I'd give you all detention.'

 

Harry snorts, then tries to look innocent as Hermione fixes him with a glare.  'You can't give us detention, Hermione.'

 

'Well, there's plenty else I can do,' Hermione sniffs, then looks at Ron and Malfoy, still lying stiff on the floor.  'All right, Finite incantatum.  And behave.'

 

 

 

 

 

What Hermione doesn't understand, however, is that playing pranks on Malfoy is what keeps them sane; it is a kind of catharsis, some sort of release.  For a few moments, Harry is not The Chosen One or even a seventeen year old boy in a bleak, bitter house in the middle of a war; he's figuring out the right place to poke Malfoy so he jumps, and when Malfoy yelps, it's perfect.

 

Besides, if he tells that to Hermione, he can already imagine her sympathetic 'oh, Harry,' followed by her brisk 'Well, I think it's good that you're having some fun, in the middle of all this research and stress, but it's not harmless, is it?  It could be turning him against us, after all, which is rather the opposite of what we want to happen – and besides, there are better ways to release tension than to harass people – oh, I'm not saying you're like him, Harry, I'm only suggesting–'

 

So he doesn't tell Hermione. 

 

Either way, it goes on under her nose for less than two days, and then she happens to be passing the drawing room just as Ron shoves frogspawn down the back of Malfoy's robes and Malfoy yells.

 

'Honestly, you're just wasting valuable Potions ingredients,' she says crossly, after dragging an unwilling Ron into the kitchen by the front of his robes.  'Am I the only one who does any work any more?  Do I have to remind you that Voldemort–'

 

'You-Know-Who!' Ron insists.

 

'–that Voldemort is growing in strength every day, and he most certainly isn't wasting his time dropping frogspawn down people's robes–'

 

'Hey, I spent six hours reading that fat book about Britain's six oldest wizarding families yesterday,' Ron retorts.  'I reckon even you don't know the first wizard to win the Triwizard Tournament–'

 

'You mean Arhippa Tanskanen, in 1294?' Hermione says absently.  'I think he was Finnish, but he went to Durmstrang . . . anyway, it only took you six hours because you kept trying to hide Martin Miggs comics behind your book and read them instead.  Didn't you find anything about the Smiths?'

 

'Oh yeah, Leodwald Smith used to manage the Appleby Arrows, a couple of centuries ago!'

 

'Anything useful?'

 

'Only if you count the rumor of a curse that falls on the firstborn son of the sixth daughter every ten generations, something about being an albino–'

 

'That's ridiculous, Zacharias Smith is not an albino,' Hermione snaps.

 

'I wasn't – I know he – he isn't,' Ron tries to wheeze out, but he's already laughing so hard that it's a difficult task.  'I just thought it was – interesting, I didn't say it had anything to do with – ha ha ha – with Smith–'

 

'Oh, it doesn't matter,' Hermione says snippily.  'If you and Harry and Draco are itching for action so badly, you ought to practice defense.  We can use the empty room next to my bedroom, and we can conjure some cushions.  It's no Room of Requirement, but it ought to do the trick.'

 

'I'd rather do Stunners than think any more about Zacharias Smith,' Ron shrugs to Harry afterwards, so they end up in the empty room, working on their nonverbal Shield Charms and the Impediment Jinx.    After nearly an hour, Ron drops onto the pile of cushions, sweating.  'Harder when it's you instead of Neville,' he says, grinning.  'Or Hermione, even.'

 

'What are you talking about,' Harry says, 'you got in some good blocking, I mean it.  Where is Hermione, anyway?'

 

'Probably knitting a SPEW hat for Malfoy,' Ron snickers.  'Where's he?'

 

Harry shrugs.  'Dunno.  I asked him if he wanted to come, but he probably thought we'd just hex him the whole time.'

 

'You mean we wouldn't have?'

 

'Good point,' Harry says.  'Besides, he doesn't seem to care much about defense, he isn't very good, is he?'

 

But late that night, Harry wakes with a start, blinking several times in the lamplight.  Without his glasses, all he can make out is the blurry shape of Malfoy, bent over his desk, holding open a book with one hand and practicing wand movements with the other.  For an instant, Harry's mind leaps to suspicion, to Unforgivables, to the Dark Arts.  But then he hears Malfoy mutter distractedly, 'Ex-pec-to pat-ro-num, no, wait, ex-pec-to pat-ronum–'

 

Harry smiles and goes back to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, the rain rolls in, finally making good on the threat of heavy clouds that have been hanging around for the past week.  It's a cold, foggy humidity that makes Harry think of Dementors and the air feel like soup.  Sometimes, Harry wonders how exactly Dementors breed, but he doesn't want to know badly enough to ask Hermione.

 

He's lounging in the kitchen with Ron, the static of the Wireless in the background, both of their heads slowly drooping towards their books.  'Ow,' Ron says, when he jerks awake for the fifth time and his neck snaps back.  He rubs at it.  'Baiting Malfoy was fun for a while, but now Hermione's got her eye on me all the bloody time – Harry, we've got to find something on R.A.B. before the boredom kills me.'

 

Harry shuts his book and puts his head on it.  'I know,' he says.  'Lupin is probably right about Regulus, but how do we know?  We've looked through every piece of information we can get on him, and it all shows him to be a loyal Death Eater.  Fanatical.  Plus, the only people we can ask are dead or Death Eaters themselves.'

 

Ron frowns.  'What about Malfoy's mum?'

 

'Even if she gave us a straight answer, Malfoy won't tell me where she is until I promise him immunity.  And to do that, I've got to talk to Scrimgeour.'

 

'Well, why haven't you?'

 

Harry leans forward.  'I don't know.  I just keep thinking about how Dumbledore trusted Snape, and look where it got him.  What if we're making a mistake?  Maybe Malfoy's not dangerous, but he already knows too much.  Just because he wanders around killing spiders and kicking us doesn't mean he isn't planning something . . . he's like Kreacher, that way . . .'

 

Ron gives him a skeptical look.  'Hey, you're the one who brought him here, not me.'

 

'Because he's not a killer,' Harry says.  'I know that.  And he wouldn't be cursing you with boils if he wanted us dead.  But what if he's a spy?  If someone else is going to do the dirty work, he might–'

 

'It's a little late to be having doubts now,' Hermione says as she walks into the kitchen.  'You brought him here, Harry, not to mention harassed him out of his senses for the past two weeks.  Now we're responsible for him.  We can't throw him out for Voldemort to find, not now.'

 

'Why not?' Ron demands, scowling at her for using Voldemort's name.  'He's a rotten little shit, why do we care what happens to him?'

 

Hermione sighs.  'For one thing, because he knows too much.  And for another thing, because even Malfoy doesn't deserve that, not if he's telling the truth and Voldemort's after him.'

 

Ron looks as if he's inclined to disagree, so Harry jumps in.  'Then what do we do?'

 

'We be nice to him,' Hermione says decisively.  'Oh, Ron, don't give me that look.  After the way you've treated him, he almost deserves a nice turn – stop glaring at me, I think he's horrible too, you know I do–'

 

'Oh, and that's why you're sticking up for him all the sodding time?'

 

'It was Harry's idea bringing him around!' Hermione snaps.  'So now we've just got to deal with him, all right?  I'm not suggesting that we trust him; it's true there's a very good chance that he's a spy, and it's just as likely that he could be actively plotting against us–' here Ron pales – 'but the truth is, we've got him here, so we have to keep him here.'

 

Ron snorts.  'Oh, that's rich.  He could be planning our deaths, and you want to throw him a birthday party?'

 

'His birthday was in June,' Hermione says, 'but you know, we could always throw him a late one.'

 

'I was joking!'

 

Hermione shrugs.  'I wasn't.  If we want him on our side, we have to get him to want it, too.  You boys, all you think about is violence and humiliation.'

 

'That's all that'll get through Malfoy's thick head!' Ron exclaims.

 

'I doubt that.'  Hermione raises an eyebrow.  'He's the son of Lucius Malfoy; I think he understands the power of bribery.  But who knows?  If we're nice to him, maybe he'll be nicer to us.  If we're going to win this war, we need to reach out to as many people as we can, and that goes for our enemies, too.  That's what Dumbledore would say if he were here.'

 

'Oh, how do you know?' Ron begins, waving a hand at her.

 

'No, Ron.  She's right.'

 

Ron's gaze switches to Harry.  'What?'

 

Harry looks up at Hermione and gives her a reluctant smile.  'She's right,' he says again, then ceases trying when the smile doesn't stick.  'If Dumbledore were here, that is what he would say.'

 

For a second, Ron just stares at both of them.  Then, he gives a heavy sigh.  'Fine,' he mutters.  'But I only have it in me to be nice to Malfoy or to suffer through these stupid books.  I can't possibly do both.  It'd kill me.'

 

Hermione laughs.  'About that.  Harry, I had a thought.  What if we asked Mrs. Black about Regulus?'

 

'Mrs. Black?'

 

'Well, you said that anyone who would know about him is either dead or an enemy of ours.  She may not like us, but she is hanging right there on the wall.'

 

'It's a good idea,' Harry says.  'I just don't know if she'll talk to us.'

 

'Well, maybe we can throw her a birthday party,' Ron suggests brightly.  Hermione gives him a withering look. 

 

Mrs. Black is awake when they parade towards her portrait, her curtains open, but her eyes are glassy and empty, the way they have been since they moved in.  Her old screams of rage have been replaced by silence, and when Hermione says politely, 'Excuse me, Mrs. Black?' there is no response.

 

'I know you don't like us,' Hermione pushes on, 'but we want to talk to you about your son, Regulus.  We know he was a Death Eater – which you should be very proud of, um, because he was so committed to the Pureblood cause–'

 

'Yeah, killing, um, Mudbloods, and stuff,' Ron joins in, somehow managing to sound both enthusiastic and terribly uncomfortable.  Under his breath, he hisses, 'Sorry, Hermione.'

 

'Unless you aren't proud of him,' Hermione says.  'Unless he wasn't fully committed to the Pureblood cause.  Being a Black, he must have been very close to the Dark Lord, probably a very valuable Death Eater.  And I'm sure he would never turn against Voldemort.  Unless he did.'

 

Mrs. Black only stares blankly at the wall beside Hermione's head.  After a minute of waiting, Hermione throws up her hands.

 

'I'm sure it was the subtlety that threw her off,' Harry says wryly.  'I'm sure she would have answered if you'd only been a bit more obvious.'

 

As if in response, Ron folds his arms.  'You can throw all the parties you want for Malfoy,' he says.  'This, we're trying me and Harry's way.  Mrs. Black, you uptight old cunt, if you don't tell us everything you know about Regulus, we're going to dip your portrait in turpentine.  And then we're, we're going to set it on fire.  And then we're going to paint a landscape on it and sell it to some Muggles.'

 

Mrs. Black, in her silent and stoic way, looks unimpressed.

 

'Nice going, Ron,' Hermione says.

 

It's at that moment that Malfoy chooses to come down the stairs, looking bored.  'What is this, a convention?' he says.  'Are you having a party without me?'

 

At the word party, Ron gives a muffled snicker.  Malfoy sends him a suspicious look.

 

'We're trying to find out about Regulus Black,' Harry says when no one else answers.  'Mrs. Black is the only one who might know anything.  But she isn't talking.'

 

'I can't imagine why,' Malfoy drawls.  'Get in the kitchen, Mudblood and Mudblood-lovers.  I'll handle this.'

 

'Who're you calling–' Ron begins angrily, but Hermione is already shoving him in the direction of the kitchen.  Harry steps around the corner and leans against the wall, listening.  Sure enough, after a minute of Malfoy introducing himself and his extensive family history, Mrs. Black's shrill voice is heard exclaiming, 'A Malfoy!  What a surprise!  And Narcissa's son?  You don't say!'

 

Malfoy lowers his voice.  'Yes, I'm only here with them because I'm spying,' he says.  'The Dark Lord put me here on purpose.  I'm gathering information.'

 

'Ah,' Mrs. Black says.  'A Death Eater, are you?'

 

'No,' Malfoy says.  'Bowing and scraping and getting all bloody, that's not my kind of thing.  I do what's best for me.  Well, and the people I like.  Who knows, with the right offer, I might even spy for Potter.'  He pauses.  'I still hate Mudbloods, though.'

 

'A man after my own heart,' Mrs. Black chuckles.  'Looking out for yourself.  That's what I like to hear.  Regulus, he was too much of a follower.  He got what was coming to him.'

 

'Oh, did he?'

 

Mrs. Black sniffs, 'Suddenly thought he could be a leader.  Just a fool, in the end.  I had fools for sons.  Blood traitors, Muggle-loving traitors.  Now, with a boy like you . . .'

 

'Yes, a boy like me,' Malfoy echoes, preening.  'I am every mother's dream.'

 

'You ought to come around and chat with me more often,' Mrs. Black says.  'The brightest conversation I've had in a year is Kreacher.  "Yes, Mistress!  Right away, Mistress!  Shall Kreacher polish Mistress's frame?  Kreacher hates those dirty Mudbloods, yes he does!"  It's enough to drive one mad.  And don't let that stupid girl push you around.  She's a filthy, dirty Muggle.  And she ought to do something with that hair.'

 

'I quite agree,' Malfoy says amiably.  'And now, just to get things straight, are you saying that Regulus Black actively tried to stop the Dark Lord from rising to power by sabotaging his Horcruxes?'

 

In his surprise, Harry nearly topples around the corner.  When he recovers himself, Mrs. Black's eyes are already shut.  Malfoy sticks his hands in his pockets.  'Excellent,' he says to the portrait.  'You have a pleasant day.'  He starts to turn towards the kitchen, and Harry draws back.

 

When Malfoy rounds the corner, he isn't expecting Harry, and he trips right into him.  Suddenly finding his arms full of Malfoy, Harry shoves him backwards.  'What are you doing?'

 

'Helping you out,' Malfoy snaps, brushing himself off indignantly.  'And as a reward, I had to touch you.  That's the last time I do something like that.'

 

Harry grabs him by the arm and drags him further down the hallway.  'Be serious, Malfoy.  What'd she say?'

 

'Well, you were standing right there, I should think you heard the whole thing.'  Malfoy raises an eyebrow.  'She said exactly what you thought she'd say, of course.  I don't see why you've been wasting weeks reading books about everyone with the initials R.A.B. when the answer was right here.  No wonder the Dark Lord has things so easy.'

 

Harry leans against the wall.  'She wouldn't have talked to us.  You know that.'

 

'She would have, if you'd done it right,' Malfoy says.  'Do you really think the woman is stupid enough to listen to your whispering and then just dump the exact information you're looking for as soon as I give her a smile and a wink?  You play the right games, she'll play them back.'

 

'All you did was prance around and recite your family tree.'

 

'I didn't say they weren't fun games.'

 

Harry rolls his eyes.  'That doesn't make any sense.  There's no reason she'd want to help us–'

 

'Of course she doesn't want to help you,' Malfoy scoffs.  'You wouldn't understand, you're not Pureblood.'

 

'What has that got to do with–'

 

'Blood ties mean obligations,' Malfoy says, cutting Harry off with a look.  'Blood faith, a common bond, you know.  If someone with the proven pedigree calls in a favour like that, you do what you can.  Pureblood etiquette, it's a law older than Hogwarts.'

 

'But the information was to help–'

 

Malfoy smirks.  'Naturally, she thought it little price to pay for my ultimate gain.  By giving me what you needed, she gave me a bit of power over you.  I expect she thought I'd gain your trust that way.'

 

Harry frowns.  He has never heard Malfoy this candid, and for an absurd second, it makes him want to trust Malfoy more.  He says, 'Did you mean that?'

 

'Mean what?'

 

'About being out for yourself.  About spying for Voldemort.'

 

Malfoy bats his eyelashes at Harry.  'Wouldn't you like to know?' he drawls, looking far too much like a twelve-year old girl.

 

'Yeah, I would,' Harry says coldly.  'Especially because your safety, and the safety of your parents, relies on it.  I'd also like to know how you found out about the Horcruxes and Regulus destroying one.  How'd you know that's what we wanted to know?'

 

'I don't know what the hell a Horcrux is,' Malfoy says.  'But I do know that you have very messy notes.  For the first three days, I thought they were called hancroves.  And by the way, don't think I did all that for nothing.  I demand a reward.'

 

Malfoy is dangerous, Harry thinks.  Malfoy could be lying to us.  And Malfoy isn't stupid. 

 

He says, brightly, 'How about a birthday party?'

 

Malfoy says, 'Excuse me?'

 

Thankfully, Harry is saved from explaining himself by Hermione, who rushes out of the kitchen with a letter in her hand, looking more distressed than Harry has seen her in quite some time.  'Harry, there you are,' she says, flustered.  'And Malfoy, you too.  We've just got letters.'

 

Harry takes his from her, but he only has to look at the seal to know.  'Hermione?'

 

'Yes,' she says.    'All the rumors are true.  Hogwarts has been shut down.'

 

 

 

 

 

Rufus Scrimgeour's office is a stark, uncomfortable place, though several cushioned chairs and one overstuffed sofa dot the room, as if someone tried to make it a bit more appealing and somehow made it worse.  His desk is kept meticulously neat, though it isn't without its fair share of paper piles.  As Harry stands before it, several paper airplane memos whiz through a window and come in for a landing in a box labeled 'Incoming.'

 

Scrimgeour's official robes are discarded over a chair and, sitting at his desk with a folder in front of him, wearing a dress shirt with the sleeves pushed up, he could be any Muggle businessman with a few extra scars.

 

Except for the wand he's twirling in his hands.

 

'Harry Potter,' he says, looking at his wand instead of Harry.  'Well, well.  I knew you'd turn up sooner or later.  It seems to me, the last time I saw you, you insisted rather rudely that you were–'

 

'Dumbledore's man through and through,' Harry finishes.  'I always will be.  If you don't know that, you don't know me very well.'

 

Scrimgeour frowns.  'I am not the stupid man my predecessor was, Potter,' he says.  'If you've come here just to mock me, I won't have it.  You may think you're clever, playing the revolutionary, but you see, the Ministry is the ruling authority in Wizarding Britain, and–'

 

'Yeah, I know that,' Harry says.  'That's why I came.'

 

'Did I mention that I hate being interrupted?'

 

'No, I don't think you did.'  Harry glances behind him, but the closest chair is still a good distance from Scrimgeour's desk, so he opts to continue standing.  'Look,' he mutters, 'I have a proposition.'

 

As stoic as he is, Scrimgeour cannot quite hide his surprise, though his eyes narrow.  'Publicity?' he says quickly.  'You and me, what do you think?  We could hold a press conference–'

 

'A press conference,' Harry snorts.  'I am not here to agree to a press conference.'

 

'It wouldn't be difficult,' Scrimgeour says, in a tone that suggests that he is a reasonable man.   'I'd do the talking.  You'd just have to sit next to me.'

 

'And smile,' Harry says, his tone flat.

 

Scrimgeour chuckles almost appreciatively.  'Well, of course.'

 

'I'm not doing a press conference,' Harry says, 'and I'm not entering into any kind of alliance with the Ministry.  I'm proposing to work with you for one thing.  Not for you.'

 

'I see.'  Scrimgeour has a thin, pale scar running down his neck, and Harry focuses on it despite himself.  It disappears into his collar, and Harry wonders how long it is, and who gave it to him.

 

All this is for Malfoy, Harry reminds himself, and cringes inside; he wants little to do with the Ministry, particularly in the public eye, and the thought of doing so for the sake of Malfoy seems mad. 

 

We need Malfoy, he thinks.  To get Snape.  Then the Ministry won't matter.  It's not as if he's blind to the headlines in the Prophet and the letters to the editor that run daily, from witches and wizards who have never met him and still see fit to comment on lies they believe to be true.  Just yesterday, Ron read aloud a letter from a witch in London who felt deeply that if the Ministry was providing Harry with a dozen Aurors for protection, the least they could do was buy him a new pair of glasses.

 

'Aurors,' Hermione had scoffed, and turned the paper to ashes with a flick of her wand.

 

Tersely, Harry says, 'So?'

 

Scrimgeour chuckles again.  'All right then, Potter.  Tell me about this deal.'

 

Harry rests his hands on Scrimgeour's desk and leans forward.  Out of the corner of his eye, he sees another airplane memo zoom into the box and flatten itself out neatly.  He says, 'It's about Draco Malfoy.'

 

 

 

 

 

When Harry gets back to 12 Grimmauld Place, he finds Malfoy asleep on Harry's bed, a book on Pureblood families open at his side.  Sighing, he pokes Malfoy in the arm. 

 

'I'm sleeping, Potter,' Malfoy says, face still buried in the pillow.

 

'Yeah, on my bed.  Get off.'

 

'Granger was just telling me this morning that I ought to make myself at home,' Malfoy continues without moving.  'I decided your bed was more comfortable.  Don't you want me to feel at home, Potter?'

 

'Not in my bed.'

 

'There are several responses to that I am choosing not to make,' Malfoy snickers.  Finally, he rolls over and sits up.  'What do you want?'

 

'I–' Harry begins, then glances down and sees Malfoy's book.  'What are you doing, reading about yourself?'

 

'Just brushing up on a little family history.  We are a powerful bunch, you know.  Descended from kings–'

 

'And Merlin himself, I'm sure,' Harry snorts.  'Never mind, I know how narcissistic you are.  I just came to tell you that I went to the Ministry today.'

 

Malfoy sits up straighter.  'And?'

 

'And they agreed to privately pardon all three of you on several conditions.  You'll be under strict watch by both the Ministry and the Order.  You'll have to be split up, you know – Scrimgeour will order your father's execution, publicly, and the Ministry will say he's dead, it's a good cover.  As for you and your mother, the papers can report finding your bodies – it wouldn't surprise anyone if Voldemort killed you for betraying him–'

 

'I didn't betray him!' Malfoy snaps.  'I just–'

 

'Shut up and listen.  Second, you hand over Snape.  None of this is solid unless I get Snape.'

 

'Unless you get Snape?'

 

Harry's mouth quirks.  'The Ministry doesn't know about this part of the deal.'

 

'Oh.'  Malfoy looks curiously pale, but he says, 'You'll get him, all right?  He's got to protect me, it's an Unbreakable.'  His mouth twists as he adds, 'What else?  There's got to be more than that.'

 

'All your assets become Ministry property,' Harry continues.  When Malfoy's mouth opens in indignation, Harry pushes onward, 'You'll all be dead, it's got to happen.  Anyway, I thought your dad liked giving money to the Ministry.'

 

'When it does him some good!'

 

'It is doing him some good,' Harry retorts.  'It's saving his life, and his wife's, and yours.  In case you forgot.'

 

'I haven't forgot, Potter.'  Malfoy stares at him for a moment, hands fisted on top of his knees.  Finally, he says, 'Is that it?'

 

Harry says, 'And you have to meet some people.'

 

Malfoy says, 'Excuse me?'

 

'And apologize.  You have to meet the people I want you to meet and apologize for killing Dumbledore–'

 

'I didn't–'

 

'You caused it!' Harry snaps.  'Without you and your cabinets and your Dark Mark, he wouldn't have died!  So you have just as much to pay for as Snape does, you're lucky that you're getting off this easy–'

 

'Oh, come off it,' Malfoy says.  'You say you were there?  Then you saw him too, Potter.  He was practically dead already.  Even if I hadn't been there, I'll wager he would have been finished within the hour.'

 

'That's not true!' 

 

'Isn't it?'  Malfoy smirks, and it's so pointed that Harry almost thinks he's doing it on purpose.  'He couldn't even stand up by himself, the fool – sliding all over the place–'

 

'You're lying,' Harry hisses.  He hasn't been this angry with Malfoy in days.  'He would have recovered!  He was the greatest wizard – he – you're lying!'

 

But part of Harry wonders, secretly, if Malfoy really is lying.  Because if he isn't, that means that it was not Malfoy, or Snape, who killed Dumbledore; it was Harry himself, tipping cupful after cupful of that potion down Dumbledore's throat, tricking him into drinking it again and again.  Sick, Harry remembers the way Dumbledore had yelled out, 'KILL ME!'

 

And Harry had not stopped, even when Dumbledore had begged . . . he had gone on tipping the potion down Dumbledore's throat, promising him relief with each new cup . . .

 

'You're lying,' he says again, quieter, and Malfoy just looks at him.

 

'I was sleeping, Potter,' Malfoy says after a pause.  'If you don't mind?'

 

Harry folds his arms and looks back at him.  'You know, Malfoy,' he says, bitter, 'the Ministry wasn't exactly leaping to pardon you.  "The Ministry has new leadership now," that's what Scrimgeour kept saying.  He wasn't too keen on aligning himself with the Malfoy name, even in private.'

 

'Yes, and?'

 

'I convinced him to do it.  It wasn't easy.  I had to tell him that I trusted you.  Which I don't.'

 

Malfoy looks bored.  'What do you want, a thank you note?'

 

'You could apologize.'

 

'Apologize?  To you?  Oh, no.' Malfoy stands up with his book.  'Listen, Potter, I'll spew fake apologies at your merry band of followers if that's what it takes, but I am not apologizing to you.'

 

'Fine!' Harry snaps.  'It's a deal.  Then you can start with Ron and Hermione.'

 

'Fine,' Malfoy mimics.

 

'I didn't want an apology from you anyway,' Harry says to his back.  He's sure that Malfoy hears him, but Malfoy makes no sign of it.  Still, if he had turned around to demand, 'What do you want, then?' Harry would have had no answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. \

 

Though Malfoy is as unpleasant as ever, after their little chat Mrs. Black seems in better spirits.  At least once daily a noise will tip her off and she'll shriek, 'Mudbloods!  Staining the purity of this noble house!  DIRTY FILTHY CREATURES–'

 

'Well, it's nice to see that someone's feeling happier around here,' Hermione says delicately, after being chased from the room by Mrs. Black's ear-splitting screams for the second day in a row.  She is making a pot of porridge, filling the kitchen with the smell of warm honey as Malfoy comes thumping down the stairs.

 

'What's that smell?' he asks suspiciously, poking his head into the kitchen.  He still has a faded bruise on his neck from his fight with the wardrobe, well over a week ago, which makes Harry smile despite himself.  Malfoy's wearing one of Dudley's old shirts – 'Did you used to be an elephant, Potter?' he demanded, after Harry neglected to tell him it had once belonged to a Muggle to prevent having to hear about it all day – and he's swimming in it.

 

'Hermione's making breakfast,' Harry says. 

 

Malfoy lifts his upper lip.  'Well, I certainly don't want her filth in my breakfast–'

 

'Perfect,' Hermione interrupts.  'It's about time you start helping with meals.  We all take turns.  You can have Thursdays–'

 

'Hermione, no!' Ron groans, wandering into the kitchen just in time to hear her.  'He'll poison us!'

 

'It can't be any worse than your dinners, I'm sure,' Hermione says mildly.  In his seat, Harry quickly turns his snicker into a cough as Ron sends him a glare.  Once, Ron had made a meal of tea and hard-boiled eggs, the only two things he was certain would turn out right.  In fact, Ron made so many eggs that they were eating the remnants for three days.  Even now, Hermione turns a bit green at the mention.

 

'Excuse me, I don't cook,' Malfoy says, as if cook is a dirty word.  'That's the kind of work left to servants and house-elves–' he looks briefly at Hermione, and adds with relish – 'oh, and Mudbloods and Squibs.'

 

Harry is about to open his mouth to tell Malfoy off, but Hermione gets there first.  'I slapped you once,' she says, 'and I'd do it again, don't you think I wouldn't.  That's the problem with you.  Thinking you're better than other people, thinking that means you can order them around.  When I think about how your family treated Dobby – and all because most witches and wizards have been socialized to think they've got the right to keep house-elves enslaved, that house-elves don't want to be free, that house-elves aren't quite like people so it doesn't matter what's done to them – it's sick, Malfoy, it makes me sick and so do you.  I ought to make you cook for Dobby and iron your hands when you flummox it up!  See how you like it!  Bang your head against the wall a few dozen times, then see how good you think you are!' 

 

Then, breathing hard, Hermione seems to remember her resolve to be nice to Malfoy.  She says quickly, 'Besides, I'm sure you're capable in a kitchen, you'll probably catch on right away, since it's a bit like Potions, and you're – you're good at that.'

 

Malfoy looks taken aback.

 

'S.P.E.W.,' Harry shrugs by way of explanation.  Ron mimes spewing vomit behind Hermione's back.

 

'I saw that, Ron Weasley,' Hermione says.  'And before you go comparing me to your mum, you ought to think about how hard she has to work in the kitchen with no help from a house full of people.'

 

That shuts Ron up for at least a minute.

 

When Hermione finally gets Malfoy into the kitchen, with a combination of force and flattery, the result is nothing any of them, least of all Malfoy, can stomach.  It smells a bit like boiled cabbage, but has the appearance of sawdust floating in water, and after tossing his portion out the window – 'Hey!' someone next-door shouts – Harry makes himself a plate of toast and carries it upstairs.  

 

'I wouldn't even feed that to you,' Harry says to Hedwig, who hoots and flutters over.  'All right, all right, here.'  She takes the pieces of toast he feeds to her and nibbles at his ear affectionately when she's done. 

 

'Yeah, I bet you could make a better meal, too,' Harry says absently, stroking at her feathers.  'I don't eat mice, though.  You could try Crookshanks.  Or Malfoy.  I don't reckon he'd say no to any sort of food, right now . . .'

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, when the post comes, Hermione has a thick scroll in addition to her copy of the Prophet, and she unrolls the long letter happily.  'Oh, good,' she mutters to herself at one point, trailing a finger down the parchment.  'Yes, I always said that was a bad idea.'

 

'Who've you got a letter from, then?' Ron asks, snatching her Daily Prophet and making a face at the now-common tales of disappearances and deaths. 

 

'Viktor,' Hermione says without looking up, even when crumbs spray out of Ron's mouth as he splutters in indignation.  She takes a bite of her own toast.  'He's really interested in helping with the Order, you know, I said I'd ask Lupin or someone–'

 

'Yeah, I'll bet he just wants our secrets!' Ron exclaims, mouth still half full, before Hermione can finish. 'Durmstrang's all about the Dark Arts, his headmaster was Karkaroff, don't you think it's all a bit suspicious–'

 

'Don't you think this is getting a bit tiresome?' Hermione retorts.  'Honestly, it's been years–'

 

But before they can get into a real row, Harry heads them off.  'Speaking of the Order, I've got a postcard from Lupin.'  He holds up the piece of cardboard sporting a picture of the Arc de Triomphe; it looks as if it has been through at least one rainstorm.  Luckily, Harry notices, Lupin had the sense to use waterproof ink. 

 

'Anything interesting?' Ron asks, momentarily abandoning his mutterings about Hermione's taste in men.

 

'It just says, arrived safely, waiting for company and enjoying the sights,' Harry reads, feeling a flutter of disappointment.  'I suppose that means Malfoy's mum should be headed there in a couple days.  Oh, and he's scribbled a bit about chatting soon at the bottom.'

 

'He'll probably tell us more then,' Ron shrugs.  'Hey, I wonder what Malfoy's mum will make of Tonks?'  The very thought of Narcissa Malfoy's expression at the sight of Tonks's bright, bubblegum-pink hair makes both Ron and Harry chuckle.

 

'They're related, aren't they?' Hermione replies absently, still half-absorbed in her letter.  'Narcissa Malfoy's sort of her aunt, though I suppose Tonks's side of the family was technically disowned.'

 

'Well, why don't you go around telling Tonks to be nice to the Malfoys?' Ron asks, still sour about her campaign to make Malfoy feel welcome.  'I don't see Tonks leaping to make friends with her aunt, and they're even related.'

 

'Not having much luck with Draco?' Hermione says, glancing up at last, only to find Harry and Ron staring at her.

 

'Draco?' Ron echoes, revolted.  'Oh, it's Draco now, is it – you do fancy him!'  He has an expression on his face like someone just forced him to swallow a whole bottle of Stinksap.  'I take it back, Hermione, you can write to Krum, you can even write to that troll McLaggen, or, or Lockhart even, just don't go all sweet on Malfoy–'

 

'Don't be ridiculous,' Hermione sniffs.  'I only think that if we're trying to make friends with him, we ought to at least stop calling him by his surname–'

 

'Maybe he likes it,' Ron suggests unhelpfully.  'Tonks uses hers, doesn't she – besides, who wants to make friends with Malfoy?  Ignoring him is hard enough!  And,' Ron continues, glaring at Hermione when she tries to interrupt him, 'it's not like Malfoy wants to be friends with us, he thinks you're dirty because you've got Muggle blood, and when has he ever shown signs of liking me or Harry?'

 

'Yeah,' Harry says, 'and he's got no use for friends who won't take orders from him, his only friends are the ones stupid enough to worship him . . .'

 

'Yeah,' Ron picks up, 'like Crabbe and Goyle and Pansy Parkinson, even you think she's a–'

 

But Harry never hears the exact word Ron is about to choose for Pansy Parkinson, because at that moment, Malfoy stomps into the kitchen, clatters a glass onto the counter, and fills it with water.  'Potter,' he says.  'Make me a sandwich.'

 

'Make you – no!' Harry exclaims.  'Get your own sandwich!'

 

'See?' Ron says, pointing at Malfoy but staring at Hermione.

 

'Stop pointing at me,' Malfoy whines, and stomps back out of the kitchen.

 

'I wish you'd be a bit more mature about this,' Hermione snaps when he's gone.  'He's like Kreacher, don't you understand?  Malfoy's a product of the world we live in.  He hasn't ever known anything else.  And if we'd all been a bit nicer to Kreacher, maybe he wouldn't have felt so compelled to report to the Malfoys, and maybe–'

 

'Don't you dare blame Sirius's death on our not being nice to that little–' Harry begins, just as Ron exclaims, 'Are you mental?  Kreacher hated all of us because we were either blood traitors or had Muggle blood, he wasn't going to change his mind no matter how nice we were – you see how he acts when you talk to him, he still calls you that M word, doesn't he?'

 

'I didn't say it would be easy,' Hermione says loftily.  'I just think it's worth the effort.'

 

'Right,' Ron mutters, but the minute Hermione gets up to wash her plate, he adds in Harry's direction, 'At least I agree with her on one thing.  Malfoy is like Kreacher, they're both pathetic and disgusting to look at . . .'

 

And after Hermione goes off to finish reading a thick biography of Rowena Ravenclaw in the hopes of pinpointing what another of Voldemort's Horcruxes might be, Ron leans towards Harry, grinning.  'Don't tell her,' he whispers, 'because she doesn't know I saw, but last night she caught Malfoy trying to set fire to a book – it was one of Fred and George's new stock, the ones that insult you, you know, reckon they got the idea from the Marauder's Map – anyway, she started shouting and set that lot of birds on him.'

 

'So much for Draco,' Harry snickers.

 

'She looked a bloody lot like Madam Pince, too,' Ron adds.  'You know, shrieking about the sanctity of knowledge and depraved schoolchildren.'  He does a very accurate imitation of Madam Pince swooping down on them, flailing her batty arms, and imagining Hermione doing the very same, Harry can't help but laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

He is fast asleep when Ron wakes him that night, Lumos flaring from his wand and blinding Harry.  'What time is it?' he demands groggily, struggling to reach his glasses, when he hears Malfoy yowl from somewhere close by.  'Ron?  What's going on?'

 

'I caught him trying to send an owl,' Ron accuses, jabbing his finger in the direction of what appears, to Harry, to be a flesh-colored mass.  When he finally shoves his glasses on, Malfoy comes into view, red-faced and struggling against the grip Ron has on his upper arm.  'Trying to get help, were you?' Ron continues, scowling.  'Or were you sending spy information?  Maybe warning Snape?'

 

'You can look at the letter if you want,' Malfoy snarls.  'Maybe you ought to have done before waking up the whole house.'

 

Harry sighs and reaches for the roll of parchment Ron's crushing into Malfoy's arm.  'I'm awake now, so give it over.'  He isn't sure what he expects, but it isn't a few lines of Malfoy's childish scrawl addressed to Pansy Parkinson.  Something twists in his stomach; he can't tell if it's relief that there isn't proof of Malfoy spying, or irritation at the same thing.

 

'Let me read,' Ron says immediately after Harry is finished.  He scans the paper, and then tosses it on the bed.  'You're writing to Parkinson?  That's what all this is about?'

 

Dear Pansy, the letter says.  I want you to know that I'm alive.  Don't believe anything they tell you.  I can't tell you where I am, but it's like we talked about that night.  Keep safe.

 

Harry almost feels guilty as Malfoy snatches back his letter, crumpling it protectively in his fist.  But it's Malfoy.  He scowls.  'Is there some kind of hidden message you're sending her?' Harry demands.  'Are you spying through Pansy?  Is there a code?'

 

'A code?'  Malfoy looks intrigued at the possibility, but his surprised interest says everything; even if he were smart enough to think up a code for his letters, it hasn't crossed his mind until now.  'It's not a spy letter, Potter, all right?  I just needed to tell her something.'

 

'That you're alive,' Ron says.  'Exactly what we don't want people knowing.  Smart thinking, Malfoy.'

 

Malfoy is pale, arms crossed over his chest.  'But she – she's going to read the article and think I'm dead!'

 

'That's kind of the point,' Harry says.

 

'She's my friend.'

 

Ron snorts. 

 

For some reason, Harry thinks of the way Malfoy had his head in Pansy Parkinson's lap that day on the train, at the beginning of sixth year, and how possessive her fingers looked combing through Malfoy's hair.  Then, he hated the smug, protective smile she wore. 

 

'Malfoy,' he says, 'you can't owl Pansy.  You may trust her, but I don't.  And even if I did, anyone could find that letter.  It would ruin all the work we've done to make it look like you're dead.'

 

Malfoy rolls his eyes.  'As if I care about your plans.'

 

'You should,' Harry snaps, trying to keep his tone even, 'because this entire thing is for you, to save your life, and if you think I'm just generous, if you think I'm doing you a favor, I'm not!  It's a deal.  I save your life.  I get your pardon.  I do the same for both of your parents, who I happen to despise, almost as much as I despise you, and in return you give me your information, you give me Snape, and you go along with my plans, or you know what?  It's off, the whole thing is off, and I'd be perfectly happy to leave you in the middle of London with a flashing sign above your head telling Voldemort exactly where you are!'

 

'Yeah!' Ron says, before Malfoy can open his mouth.  Behind Malfoy's back, Ron then mouths something that looks a bit like, 'Hermione's birthday parties?'

 

'I'm tired,' Harry says, 'and I don't want to deal with Rufus Scrimgeour any more, and I don't want to go to Azkaban tomorrow, and I don't want to ever see your father's smug, slimy face again without being able to hex him, and I really don't want to keep seeing you every single day at breakfast, but I'm doing all of these things, all right?  I'm doing them because you are going to co-operate, and you are going to help me, and you are even going to be nice sometimes, and–' Harry scowls at Ron, who is apologetically mouthing something about Hermione, '–and, and fine, if you are, we'll throw in a cake.'

 

'You'll what?' Malfoy says, glancing over his shoulder at Ron, who glares at him.  'Wait, Potter, why are you going to Azkaban tomorrow?'

 

'To see your father,' Harry sighs.  'I've got a letter from the Ministry to give the warden.'

 

Malfoy's eyes have a strange light to them.  Harry waits for him to protest, to demand to owl Pansy, or at least to make some snitty comment in return, but nothing happens.  After a second, Malfoy just frowns and glances up, letter abandoned.  He says doggedly, 'I want to come.  To Azkaban.  I want to come.'

 

 

 

 

 

It's a full day hike to Azkaban from where the No Apparating Wards begin, and the instant Harry lands, the back of his neck begins to prickle, there are so many defensive spells.  Malfoy, who is clutching onto Harry's arm, shivers, though it's noon and the sun is out.

 

'All right?' Harry says.

 

'This is ridiculous,' Malfoy starts up as soon as he catches his breath.  'You never told me we'd have to walk there.  And I refuse to be out in public looking like a – a Hufflepuff!  After Granger disfigured me–'

 

'She turned your hair brown,' Harry says mildly.  'And she put a bit of a crook in your nose to disguise you better.  That's it.'

 

'I look hideous,' Malfoy continues, 'and now you're making me trudge in the cold so I can sit on a cliff while you go to Azkaban, which you also didn't tell me.  There I was, believing that I could go on in with you, and see my father, and of course you neglect to mention that I have to wait on the other side until about ten minutes ago–'

 

'Malfoy, you chose to come.'

 

'Well, I don't want to come any longer!  I want to go back to that rotting old house!'

 

Harry smirks.  'That's nice, Malfoy, but since you can't Apparate by yourself, I'd have to Apparate you back and then Apparate myself back here, and I don't have the energy to do that.  Now, if you would learn to Apparate, maybe this all could have been prevented–'

 

'Shut up, Potter.'

 

'It's true.  Also, you do look a bit like a Hufflepuff.'

 

'Potter–'

 

'I was joking.  Anyway, Hufflepuffs aren't ugly as a general rule, I mean – Susan Bones is all right, and well – Justin Finch-Fletchley–' 

 

This is quite out of Harry's territory and comfortably so, but he feels somehow obliged to make an effort.  And aside from Cedric, Justin and Susan are the only Hufflepuffs he can recall.  Ernie Macmillan eventually comes to mind, but even Harry's untrained eye cannot find Ernie Macmillan handsome.  'Justin's not half bad, is he?' Harry finishes up, rather lamely.

 

'His face looks as if he got on the wrong end of a Stretching Charm,' Malfoy says, and peers at Harry as if he's sustained considerable head damage.  'Will you carry me?'

 

'Will I what?'

 

'I'm tired of walking, will you carry me?'

 

'Oh, god,' Harry says, 'I really should have Apparated you back.'

 

By the time afternoon begins dulling into evening, even Malfoy has lost the energy to whine; still shivering, robes clutched around him, he trudges a few steps behind Harry, occasionally muttering when he trips or stumbles.  It is dark when they stop walking and Harry, fumbling, sets up the small tent Hermione found in a back closet in 12 Grimmauld Place.  Malfoy crawls into it at once.

 

'Want some bread?' Harry says. There's a creaky old electric lantern hanging from the ceiling that he turns on, and it flickers on their faces with an eerie light.

 

'Potter, I want to kill you.'

 

'I told you it'd be a lot of walking–'

 

'No, the Quidditch field to the Astronomy Tower is a lot of walking.  This is torture.  Can't they have shuttles?  A bus to Azkaban?  Do they make the prisoners do this, too?  When I become Minister of Magic, my first act will be to implement a bus route to Azkaban.'

 

Harry snorts.  'That'll really make you popular.'

 

'It's useful.'

 

'And, aside from the fact that you'd be rubbish at it, how are you going to become Minister of Magic when everyone thinks you're dead?'

 

'I would not be rubbish,' Malfoy says indignantly.  'Also, I won't always be dead.  Eventually things will be explained.'

 

'Maybe,' Harry says.

 

'Excuse me?'

 

Harry looks at him, and not for the first time, he sees the panicked edge beneath Malfoy's faŤade of spoiled righteousness.  He sighs.  'Malfoy, I don't know what's going to happen.  If you are alive when all of this is over, and if I am alive when all of this is over, and Voldemort is dead, well–'

 

'Well?'

 

'We'll see.'

 

Malfoy gapes at him from the flickering shadows.  'But I,' he says, 'I didn't agree to–'  His voice rises with a touch of desperation.  'You mean, I have to look like this all the time?'

 

'I don't know.  I don't know!  It just depends, all right?'  Harry sits still for a cold few seconds while Malfoy looks away from him, then abruptly lies down with his back to Harry.  'I'm,' Harry says.  'I thought you would know that.'

 

'I'm going to sleep,' Malfoy says.

 

'You don't want anything to eat?'

 

'I ate that rancid chocolate bar you shoved at me the last time we stopped,' Malfoy snaps.  'Shut up, Potter, I'm tired and I have blisters and I'm going to sleep, all right?'

 

'If–' Harry starts, then pauses.  'Fine.  All right.  Good night, Malfoy.'  When no response comes, Harry sits there, not quite sure what to do with himself.  Eventually, he yanks out a blanket and tosses it in Malfoy's direction.  Malfoy tugs it over himself without looking back at Harry.

 

Outside the tent, it's not windy, just chilly; Harry stands there with one hand in his pocket, gnawing on the piece of bread he's holding.  He'd planned on getting to Azkaban that night and camping at the transfer point, then crossing to the prison in the morning.  Now, it's at least another hour's walk, if not more, if Hermione's calculations are right.

 

Harry stands there for a few minutes, looking out at the dark and wondering what he is really doing, and if any of it makes sense.  Then, he ducks back inside, pulls out the second blanket, and flicks off the light.

 

It's quiet.  Outside, there's the barest whisper of a breeze, and if Harry listens, or maybe he is imagining it, the sound of the ocean.  His legs ache, he feels exhausted, but he's wide-awake.

 

He lies there next to Malfoy, shivering, and feels absurdly like he is back in Hogwarts, staring out into the darkness and listening to the sounds of four other sleeping boys.  He can hear Malfoy twisting in his blankets.  Harry sighs.  After a second, Malfoy sighs, too.

 

In the dark, Harry murmurs, 'Malfoy?'

 

'What?'  Malfoy snaps the word, and he adds irritably, 'Some of us are trying to sleep, you know.'

 

'Tomorrow's the first of September,' Harry says.

 

There's a long pause.  Then, 'So?'

 

'So we'd be going back to Hogwarts for seventh year if everything was normal.  Going to King's Cross and getting on the train–'

 

'Wretched mode of transportation,' Malfoy mutters, though his voice is pitched soft, and Harry realizes he has never heard Malfoy speak this quietly.  'We ought to be allowed to get there any way we like.  Father would have found a better means of travel, that's certain.'

 

'You would have found me on the train,' Harry continues, his teeth chattering, as if he hasn't heard a word Malfoy said.  'To make some stupid little dig at me or my friends.  You always did.'

 

Malfoy snorts in the darkness.  'Don't tell me you miss it, Potter?  I've plenty of opportunity to taunt you now, you realize.'

 

'I don't miss it, I just,' Harry says.  He rolls over, facing in Malfoy's direction, though he can only make out faint shapes and shadows.  'I don't know, everything's different, isn't it?  No more welcoming feast, no Sorting, no speech–' For a cold second, he forgets about Dumbledore's death, and when he remembers it, his stomach clenches painfully.  'It wouldn't have been the same without Dumbledore anyway.'

 

'That's touching, Potter,' Malfoy drawls.  'But we're sleeping on the ground and I'd like to go to sleep some time in this century, so spare me your emotional outpourings, would you?'

 

'You won't miss Hogwarts?' Harry presses, undeterred.  It startles him to realize he may never watch rubies fly upwards in Gryffindor's hourglass, or doze off in the common room, or race to Charms again.  'Not even a little?  Not even Potions, or Hogsmeade weekends, or, or Quidditch–'

 

'I know it's difficult to comprehend, Potter, but some of us were beyond the novelty of a clean bed and enough food.  My father always thought it was a second-rate school.  Full of Muggle-lovers and Mudbloods.  I suppose that's why you liked it there.'

 

'Don't call them that,' Harry says automatically.  After a moment of silence, where Malfoy neither apologizes nor argues with him, Harry adds, 'Anyway, I suppose you wouldn't miss Quidditch; you hardly even played last year.'

 

'I did miss it,' Malfoy snaps, far more vehement than Harry expects.  'I just had more important things to do, Potter, I didn't have time for games–'

 

'Yeah, loads of good that did you,' Harry mutters.  'You'd have been better off trying for the House Cup than killing Dumbledore.'  The words make something rise up in him, some dull anguish, but he isn't furious, he can't muster that for Malfoy.

 

After what seems a long time, Malfoy says, 'Well, I'm here, aren't I?'

 

'You aren't safe yet.  Nor is your father.  So I'd watch it, if I were you.'

 

Harry can't see Malfoy through the darkness, but at Malfoy's tone, he can tell that he's smirking.  'Afraid I'll try to kill you, Potter?  All alone up here, nobody watching us?'

 

'I'm not afraid of you,' Harry says.

 

'You should be,' Malfoy says, but the smirk is still there in his voice.

 

'Oh,' Harry says.  'Oh, yeah, I bet.  You're so formidable, Malfoy.  But then again, you never did beat me at Quidditch, did you?  And now you never will–'

 

'Shut your mouth, Potter.'

 

'Well, it's not as if you could, even if you had the chance.'

 

'Please,' Malfoy sneers.  'You only win because you've got a faster broom than everybody else.  It's got nothing to do with how good you are–'

 

'It does so!  Brooms only get you so far, Malfoy – thought you'd know that, since your dad buying new ones for your whole team didn't guarantee you anything–'

 

But Malfoy doesn't answer with the retort Harry expects, instead shivering, 'What kind of moldy old blankets are these?  Like everything else in that stupid house – they might as well be riddled with holes–'

 

'Want me to do a heating charm?' Harry says.

 

Malfoy snorts.  'Are you joking?  The wards aren't only for Apparating.  You can't do any spells here.  Nothing.'

 

'What?'

 

'You didn't know?'

 

'Well, I mean, I assumed–'  Harry pauses.  'No, I didn't know.  I thought Hermione would have told me.  Wait, why didn't you tell me?  Are you sure?'

 

'Yes, I'm sure,' Malfoy snaps.  'I read every book I could find about Azkaban last summer.'

 

After a minute, Harry says, 'So–'

 

'So basically we can't protect ourselves if attacked,' Malfoy asserts dryly.  'The bright side is, our attackers couldn't use magic, either.  You really thought this through, didn't you?'

 

'I did,' Harry insists.  'I thought we'd make it to the transfer station before we had to stop.'

 

They're both quiet for a long time, and Harry starts to think that Malfoy has fallen asleep when he hears Malfoy's teeth chatter.  'Oh, for god's sakes,' he says, and rolls over, yanking his blanket with him, until he encounters something warm that yelps.

 

'Potter!' Malfoy squeaks.  'What are you doing?'

 

'Sharing body heat,' he says, and tries not to snicker at how scandalized Malfoy sounds.

 

'I think it's actually called unwanted sexual attention–'

 

'Shut up,' Harry says tolerantly.  'Do you want to freeze to death before you see your father?'

 

'You mean, before you see my father,' Malfoy snipes, but after a moment, his arm creeps around Harry.  Immediately, Harry thinks of what Ron would say, finding the two of them spooned together under a heap of blankets, and starts shaking with silent laughter.

 

'You're sick, Potter,' Malfoy says.

 

'Shut up,' Harry says again.  'Your hair tickles, anyway.'

 

'It's not my hair.  It's some ugly brown straw that Granger charmed on my head.  My hair doesn't tickle.'

 

'She only changed the color,' Harry says.  Malfoy is warm, though a bit bony, and after Harry jostles his elbow a little to the right, more comfortable than Harry expects.  'Night, Malfoy.'

 

'Don't you dare drool on me.'

 

Harry snorts and shoves at Malfoy's elbow, which is now digging into his hip.  Idiotically feeling somehow safer, having a warm body next to him in the middle of nowhere, Harry falls asleep and if he dreams at all, he doesn't remember in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

Even in early September, Azkaban is cold; it might be the ocean, or years of Dementors, but Harry starts shivering the instant he sets foot on the island, two Aurors on either side.  Malfoy, grumpier than usual, is in the company of four more, back at the station.  There is enough fog, rising around the small island and its forbidding, towered prison, that Harry can't even see the other shore.  He has a sudden, irrational fear that the Aurors will leave him there and won't return.

 

'This is as far as we go,' one of the Aurors says, as if reading Harry's thoughts.  'We're at the gates.  Straight through and you'll reach the doors.  The warden's expecting you.'

 

'Okay,' Harry says.  He looks up above him, at the intricately curled wrought iron gate, rising like a knotted doorway over his head.  'And you'll come back, will you?'

 

'We'll be waiting in the same spot we landed,' a different Auror says; perhaps it is meant as reassurance, but it sounds far from it.  'After two hours,' the Auror adds, his expression souring further, 'we'll return to the mainland, come back at half past to check again, and then leave for good.  Understand?'

 

'Perfectly,' Harry says, swallowing.  His wrist accidentally brushes the edge of the gate and a searing, cold pain shudders through his whole arm.  He flexes his fingers and they feel stiff, as if he hasn't used them in days.  'Two hours,' he repeats.  'I'll be there.'

 

Like the gate, the heavy entrance door to Azkaban is so cold it burns, and it slides open at his touch.  Harry swallows and steps inside.  He tries not to think about Sirius.

 

The warden's office is just to the left, beside the entrance to Azkaban, and Harry peers cautiously around the open door.  Behind an ever-replenishing stack of papers, he spots a dirty, empty teacup, and a half-eaten piece of toast on a plate.  'Hello?' Harry says.  'Er, excuse me?'  On the warden's desk, there is a plaque that reads ONA ELLERBY.

 

Still, Harry is faintly surprised when the warden, who stands up from behind her desk brandishing a folder, is a pale, dark-haired woman wearing glasses and a set of dark grey robes.  For a moment, she reminds Harry of Bellatrix, but at the sight of him, she smiles and he takes it back.

 

'Harry Potter,' she says.  'The Minister sent you, did he?  I don't know why you personally had to hike out all this way, but I can't say I mind – it's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Potter–'

 

Seeing her extend her hand, Harry hurries over to shake it.  'I've got a letter from Scrimgeour – I mean, the Minister,' he says, pulling the scroll from his pocket.  'I suppose he explains everything–'

 

She takes the letter and unrolls it, adjusting her glasses.  As she reads, Harry glances around her gloomy, crowded office.  On her desk sits what looks like an instrument of torture; it could be a magic wand if not for the blue lightning continually crackling around one end.  Beside that lie several pairs of handcuffs.  In the corner is a coil of chains, and next to it, a box filled with enough chocolate to make Remus Lupin go faint.

 

Ona sees Harry looking.  'I wager you know about the properties of chocolate in combating and healing from the Dark Arts.  You'd go mad here without it.'

 

'Er, right.  So everything's in order, then?'

 

'Well, I suppose,' Ona says.  'But Malfoy?  Really?  Well – Ministry's orders–'

 

'I'm not here to get him today or anything,' Harry reassures her.  'He, Lucius Malfoy I mean, I don't think he knows anything about this yet.  I just wanted to, to come by.'

 

'Bit out of your way,' she says mildly.

 

Harry flushes.  'I know.  I wanted to see it.'

 

Ona raises an eyebrow at him.  'There are pictures in books, which is the route most wizards take to satisfy their curiosity.  Of course, you aren't most wizards.'

 

'Someone I knew was kept here for a long time.'  Harry avoids her eyes; he looks instead at a framed picture on her desk, in which Ona, a handsome Asian man whom Harry guesses is her husband, and a small girl sit smiling.  In the photo, the man tickles the girl – their daughter? – and she giggles.   Harry watches the photo, then says, 'He's – he's dead now.  But I wanted to know.'

 

'I see.'  Ona glances down at her desk, then back at him.  'Can I get you anything, Mr. Potter?  A coffee, I could brew up some tea–'

 

'I'm fine,' Harry says.  'But, er, before I go, can I ask you a question?  Were you always the warden here?'

 

'Not until after the Dementors left,' Ona says.  'But I worked at the transport station then.  Wondering about your friend, are you?'

 

Harry takes a deep breath.  'I was wondering if I could see the cell he was in, if you knew it.  He was – I'm talking about – Sirius Black.'

 

Ona looks at him, then says steadily, 'Black's former cell happens to be the one Lucius Malfoy is in now.  It's four flights of stairs, third on your right.  But remember your time limit.  If you don't make it back in two hours, the Aurors will–' 

 

'Leave without me, I know.  But aren't you afraid I'll do something to him?'

 

Ona snorts.  'Malfoy?  You don't know very much about the magical world yet, do you?  I'd say Lucius Malfoy is better protected than Rufus Scrimgeour himself.'

 

'Don't tell Scrimgeour that,' Harry says, and she laughs.

 

'Hey,' she says.  'Before you go.  My daughter's a bit of a fan.  She's only six, and well, it would mean a lot to her if I – could I have your autograph?'

 

Harry, embarrassed, quickly scrawls his name on a slip of paper and gives it to her.  As he's on his way to the door, Ona calls out one last time.

 

'Oh, and Mr. Potter?'

 

'Yes?'

 

'Best not to touch anything if you can help it.  There's a reason few visitors come to Azkaban.  The walls have been known to suck people inside them.  One man had the bars of a cell twist around his arms, and he starved to death there.'

 

'Right,' Harry says, feeling a bit colder.  'No touching, I can do that.'

 

But as he moves through Azkaban, Ona's words echo louder in his head – there is a continuous sound of soft weeping, as if it is coming from the walls themselves, and from outside, the angry sounds of the sea, a whistling moan on the wind.  As Harry reaches the second floor, someone begins screaming, from what sounds like far below.

 

Large, black beetles scuttle across the wall, their pincers grasping at the air.  Harry thinks of rats and then of worse things, hands reaching out to grab him, bars twisting around his body like Ona had said.  Along the third floor stairs, some kind of venomous plant is crawling up the walls.  It looks almost like ivy, though its color is jet black, and as Harry passes, its tendrils creep out to taste the air, flicking like little snakes' tongues.  One wraps, ice cold, around Harry's wrist. 

 

'Get off me!' he yells, realizing only afterwards that his words come out in Parseltongue; the tendril, almost guiltily, recoils.

 

When Harry finally reaches the third cell on the right side of the fourth floor, he thinks at first that he has made a mistake.  The person inside is lying down, perhaps asleep, with his back to Harry.  It takes Harry a full minute to process the fact that this is really Lucius Malfoy.  His hair, once blonde and sleek like his son's, is dirty and matted, and his shoulder bones jut sharply, his figure gaunt.

 

Harry glances away from the way Lucius is curled in on himself.  It is all too easy to imagine this thin, haggard body as Sirius, and if Harry feels horror and sympathy for Sirius in these conditions, he might as well feel –

 

This is what Lucius Malfoy deserves, Harry thinks fiercely, but he still averts his eyes. By the edge of the cell, there is a bowl of some kind of gruel, half-eaten and grey.  It looks a tiny bit better than the sort of dinner Malfoy fixes, but not by much.

 

'I'm sorry, Sirius,' Harry says, glancing down to where a fat beetle scuttles by his trainers.  'I'll find Peter, and I'll make him pay for this.  I swear it.'

 

Just then, a voice croaks, 'Is that you, Potter?'

 

In the cell opposite Lucius, with his hands around the bars as if the very sight of Harry is akin to freedom, is the squat, dirty wizard Harry recognizes as Mundungus Fletcher.

 

Harry says incredulously, 'Mundungus?  You – what are you doing here?'

 

'Oh, it's bad, Harry, you can't make an honest living these days, I'm telling you.  They've still got me for impersonating an Inferius, which you know, it was only a minor offense, it wasn't even much of a costume–'

 

'You were stealing,' Harry says, but his mind is already racing ahead of him.  Mundungus was a thief . . . Harry had seen Mundungus, months ago, in Hogsmeade . . . he had been carrying a suitcase stuffed full of things from the House of Black . . . and Harry remembers, suddenly, that in cleaning out the drawing room cabinets, there had been . . .

 

'Dung?  When you were stealing from Sirius, you didn't happen to take a locket, did you?'

 

'Now, Harry, you're being a little harsh – I don't know if I would call it stealing as–'

 

'Did you or didn't you?'

 

'I, well, I might have,' he says, eyes shifting to look at Harry and then away.  'Yes, now that I think about it, but I can't be sure, can I?  If I weren't rotting away in here, I might be able to remember.'

 

Harry grits his teeth.  'I think you can remember just fine here.'

 

'Harry,' Mundungus whines, 'come on, I'll tell you if you get me a pardon–'

 

'You'll tell me or I'll get you much worse than that,' Harry hisses.  'What did you do with the locket, Dung?'

 

'Well, I can't exactly recall,' he mutters, 'there was – I mean – well, it might have been at Hogsmeade, I met up with Aberforth – we made a deal, you see, since I've been banned from his place for years, he does hold grudges, but – he won't say no to a good deals, now an' then–'

 

'I saw you there, remember?' Harry says.  'In Hogsmeade, with all Sirius's stuff, you were nicking it and then you Disapparated–'

 

'Right, right,' Mundungus wheezes before he goes into a coughing fit.  When he is finished hacking, he adds weakly, 'Might've left that suitcase in his basement, I might've, just for – for safe-keeping – Aberforth's still got it, I bet–'

 

'Aberforth–'  Harry stops.  Hadn't Moody once said that name?  And hadn't Dumbledore mentioned something about a goat? 

 

'Aberforth Dumbledore?' Harry exclaims.  'Where is he?  Who is he?  Why–'

 

'Why, he's the bartender at the Hog's Head Inn,' Mundungus says, as if this is common knowledge.

 

'Oh,' Harry says faintly.  Everything goes sliding into place.

 

 

 

 

 

Malfoy is waiting when he returns; Harry gives a nod to the Aurors who've transported him and then turns to Malfoy.  The other boy is standing by the cliff, arms wrapped around himself, shivering from the cold; his hands are bone-white and it seems, for an instant, as if the wind will blow him over.

 

'So?' he says, without looking at Harry.

 

'I saw him,' Harry says.  'He was sleeping.  He looked all right.'

 

Malfoy's eyes have a hunger Harry's never seen in them when he whirls around to face Harry.  He leans forward so much that Harry is afraid he might topple over.  'Did he – he's all right?' he says eagerly, not bothering to mask his urgency.  'He's not – hurt?  They haven't done – things to him?'

 

'No, they haven't done things to him,' Harry mocks.  'Malfoy, he's alive and he's okay.  And your mum should be on her way to France within the week.  They've got it all arranged, she'll be staying with Lupin–'

 

But before he can continue, Harry suddenly finds himself with an armful of Malfoy, sharp and bony and cold.  It's not a hug, and Harry would never call it that, for the sake of his own embarrassment, not to mention Malfoy's.  He can barely think to pat Malfoy on the back, some effort of comfort, before Malfoy disentangles and looks at him disdainfully, as if it were Harry who accosted him.

 

'That wasn't a thank you,' Malfoy says loftily, staring out at the prison across the water.  From here it looks like nothing more than an island wreck, little more than a dot in their vision.

 

Harry half-smiles.  'I know,' he says.  'Come on, Malfoy.  We can Apparate from the transfer point this time.  Let's go.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. \

 

They're in the middle of dinner when the owl comes.  It overshoots and, instead of dropping the letter to Harry, it drops it right in the middle of Hermione's casserole.  'Oh, for heaven's sake,' Hermione mutters, and casts a quick Scourgify.  'Here, Harry – take the letter, it looks official–'

 

It is, indeed, official; the seal on the parchment is the Minister's, and upon unrolling it, Harry sees Rufus Scrimgeour's scribbled signature on the bottom.  'It's from Scrimgeour,' he mutters.  'It's – he says – huh.  Hey, Malfoy, can I talk to you outside?'

 

Malfoy, who is in the middle of separating the beef from the noodles ('I loathe food all mashed together,' Harry remembers him once complaining), looks up in surprise.  Still, after a moment, he puts down his fork and heads for the door.

 

'You can't just say it in here?' Hermione begins, but at the look on Harry's face, desists.  As Harry leaves, he sees her point her wand at Malfoy's plate and mutter some sort of spell; the casserole at once splits into its separate ingredients.  Amused, he recognizes the spell as the same one she uses for blended potions.

 

'Here,' Harry says, yanking Malfoy into a corner once they're out of the kitchen.  'Malfoy, it's about your dad.'  He looks down at the stained floorboards rather than at Malfoy's face.  'He doesn't, er, want to be helped – says he's going to stick by Voldemort, and–'

 

'And what?' Malfoy says impatiently.

 

Scrimgeour's letter does, in fact, specify what else; apparently Lucius Malfoy made it clear that if his son and wife did not follow his lead, and instead appealed to the Order for protection, he would consider them no more than blood traitors and a stain of dishonor on the Malfoy name.  Harry, however, does not feel quite comfortable delivering this message to Malfoy's pale, expectant face.

 

'Er, he says that you and your mum ought to do the same,' Harry finishes.

 

Malfoy snorts.  'Oh, is that all?'

 

'Look,' Harry says, and this is the part that he was not ready for Ron and Hermione to hear, 'Malfoy, I know I promised you that if this didn't work, you could walk free.  I'm not going to pretend I'd be happy about it, and we'd have to Obliviate you and your mum, but you can go if you want.'

 

'You'd let me rejoin the Dark Lord,' Malfoy says blankly.  'And – and work with my father – against you–'

 

Harry looks at him, his pointed features, the spots of color rising in his cheeks.  'We'd have to Obliviate you,' he says again.  'But I – I promised.'

 

'I could just walk out that door?' Malfoy says.  There's an incredulous note in his voice.  'But you'd likely come after me as soon as you'd wiped my memory, wouldn't you, you'd kill me immediately–'

 

'I'd give you at least ten days.'  Harry glances over his shoulder at the kitchen, then smiles wryly.  'After that, I can't be accountable for Ron.'

 

'You'd tail me, though,' Malfoy presses, 'in case Snape came to get me, you'd have me followed–'

 

Snape, a voice in Harry's head pipes up eagerly, Malfoy hasn't got him yet, and this is your chance, you could get Snape either way, even if you lose Malfoy's help in catching him . . . he killed Dumbledore . . . you could have Snape . . .

 

'Not for ten days.'

 

'I don't believe you,' Malfoy says. 'You're lying.'

 

'You know Occlumency, don't you?' Harry says.  'I'm no good at blocking, go on, look in my brain if you want, you can tell I'm not.'

 

Malfoy stares at him.  After a second, he says, 'I don't trust you, Potter.  You're trying to trick me, I expect, get me to lead you straight to the Dark Lord–'

 

'It's not a trick!' Harry exclaims, but upon searching Malfoy's expression, he sees Malfoy flick his eyes away, as if there's something he doesn't want Harry to see.  Harry narrows his eyes.  'You're sticking around, then?' he says.  'The deal's the same, you know.  The Ministry's still taking all your things, you've still got to hand over Snape.'

 

'I know, Potter.'

 

'But you're – staying?' Harry says, a bit incredulous himself.

 

They're silent; Harry can hear the clink of a fork against a plate from the kitchen.  After a long pause, Malfoy says stiffly, 'I don't turn my back on those who've helped me, all right?'

 

'Oh, don't you?'  Harry arches an eyebrow at him.  He says, 'I thought that was exactly what you did.'

 

'Who're helping me, then,' Malfoy amends.

 

Harry trusts him a little more than before, after that.

 

 

 

 

 

THE END OF AN ERA: OLD FAMILY MEETS BLOODY DEMISE

 

Wiltshire, England – Late yesterday evening, due to a tip-off from a concerned local wizard, Ministry officials investigated a tragedy at the ancestral home of the Malfoy family line.  Upon searching the Manor for any of its occupants, they found a shocking scene.

 

Narcissa Malfoy, formerly Narcissa Black of the esteemed Black family, was found murdered in her own bedroom, draped in silk robes and pearls.  'It is always important that one dies as elegantly as one has lived,' the woman once said, at the funeral of a friend; such words apply equally well to her own death.  Her body was taken immediately to St. Mungo's, where healers ascertained that she had died from the administration of poison, though its ingredients are yet unknown.

 

The Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, has not yet issued an official statement.  One Ministry official, who prefers to remain nameless, believes that the death of Mrs. Malfoy was the work of the henchmen of You-Know-Who, his infamous Death Eaters.  However, no Dark Mark was seen above Malfoy Manor.  Until further evidence is found, it is impossible to know the true identities of the Malfoys' killers.

 

Draco Malfoy, the only remaining heir of Lucius Malfoy, who is currently held in Azkaban, was also found within the manor.  He was still alive when found, though unconscious, and died before he could be transported to St. Mungo's.  Young Draco would have been a seventh year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry had the school remained open this year.  After vanishing last year, no one knew his whereabouts until now.

 

Harry Potter, a schoolmate of Draco Malfoy's, could not be reached for comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 'Thanks,' Harry says to George, as Fred taps the last of Harry's boxes with his wand and shrinks it to a more manageable size.  'Hermione has been waiting for these, she'll be thrilled.'

 

'We've been experimenting with cameras,' George says.  'You can tell her that, since it was partially her idea.  Something about mirrors, and jewelry, you know, something people can wear that's connected to a screen somewhere else . . . but it's not going very well, not yet.'

 

'On the upside,' Fred adds with a wink, 'we're getting to see quite a lot of Fleur.'

 

Harry says, 'What?'

 

'Bill's helping us,' George says brightly.  'Well, he doesn't really know that he's helping, does he, but bone's a better conduit for magic than metal, and that fang earring of his–'

 

'Oh,' Harry says, chuckling.  'Well, good luck.  Let us know when you get more of these Ears in.'

 

He exits, steps into the main street of Diagon Alley, and nearly trips over his own feet.  Standing with her hands fisted before the doorway is Pansy Parkinson, looking pale and scared and determined, and very much like she's been waiting there at least half an hour for him to emerge.

 

'Potter,' she snarls.

 

He says, 'Er, Parkinson?'

 

Her hair is hanging limp around her shoulders and the instant he speaks, her eyes redden with unshed tears.  Before he can even come to terms with the fact that Pansy Parkinson might be about to cry, she throws herself at him, sobbing, pounding weakly at his chest with her fists.  'You didn't save him,' she chokes out as she flails at him, 'you let him die, he said you'd save him and you didn't,' and she takes in a great shuddering breath, tears streaming down her cheeks.  Harry has absolutely no idea what to do.

 

'I'm,' he says.  'I'm sorry.'

 

'You had better be!' she retorts shrilly.  'No one ever knew why, but he said you would help, he believed in you!  How dare you let him down!  How dare you–'

 

'I'm sorry,' Harry says again, feeling something tighten in his throat, even though he'd seen Malfoy just a few hours ago, when Malfoy read his obituary in the Prophet aloud five times during breakfast, and Ron threw orange slices at his head.  'I didn't know–'

 

'You should have!'  Pansy smacks him on the arm, tears still running down her face. 'You're supposed to be a hero, Potter!  You're not supposed to be incompetent and get people killed!  You unworthy little twit!'

 

Harry has never been called an unworthy little twit by a crying girl, including Cho Chang, and this makes him both irritated and more apologetic.  He hasn't had the best experiences with crying girls.  Several witches pass by on the street and give him a scandalized look.  He can imagine the headline already: HARRY POTTER MAKES GIRLS CRY. 

 

He winces.

 

'Look,' Harry says awkwardly, 'I did try, you see, it's only that – Voldemort is pretty, uh, powerful–'

 

He stops, because he realizes that he sounds exactly like an unworthy little twit.

 

'You are positively hopeless,' Pansy says and smacks him in the arm again.  'I suppose I'll have to help.'

 

It is said in the same tone that she's been using to yell at him, and utterly bewildered, Harry says, 'What?'

 

'I'm coming to help you and your idiot Order.  Get it through your thick head, Potter.'

 

The next thing he knows, it will be Blaise Zabini flinging himself at Harry, or worse still, Crabbe and Goyle.  'Um,' he says, at last.  'I guess that would be okay.'

 

'Well, all right,' Pansy sniffs, attempting to regain some dignity.  She gives him a scornful look, as if it is Harry who has just come to her for assistance.

 

'We won't trust you, you know,' Harry says.  It's an afterthought, and it sounds clumsily like one, hanging in the air after he speaks.

 

'Naturally.'  Pansy sneers at him and, for the barest second, the look on her face is exactly like the look typically found on Malfoy's.  Gathering her packages, as if she hadn't just been crying and flailing at him, she says, 'You can owl me, Potter,' and then flounces away without another word.

 

Harry thinks in exasperation, Slytherins.

 

 

 

 

 

Malfoy is sitting in the kitchen with his feet on the table when Harry comes home, flipping through a cookbook with a look of disdain.  'People actually eat this?' he drawls, just as Harry steps through the door; by the sink, Hermione is chopping vegetables.  'Hey, Potter.  Would you eat something made of ham, cheese, tomato sauce, and pineapples?  That's revolting."

 

'You were just bragging about how you ate snails for your sixth birthday,' Hermione retorts, looking a bit tired of Malfoy's insufferable company.  'Hi, Harry.  Did you get everything from Fred and George?'

 

Harry sets his mini-packages on the table and, with a tap of his wand, returns them to normal size.  One of them topples over Malfoy's feet and into his lap.  Without pause, he shoves it onto the floor.

 

'Hey, those are important!' Hermione snaps, retrieving it.  She inspects the label.  'Oh, Extendable Ears!  Good, they did find a way to camouflage them better.  Now all we have to do is find a way to hide these in the Ministry–'

 

'You're spying on the Ministry?' Ron says, entering the kitchen.  Sparing a sneer for Malfoy, he reaches around Hermione to retrieve a carrot.  'Isn't that – I don't know, not right?'

 

'Unethical, you mean?'  Hermione worries her lip.  'I know, we just need it–'

 

At the table, Malfoy snorts.  'Spare me,' he says.  'My father had listening spells put in every room of the Ministry five years ago.  Fudge let him, with ah, a little persuasion.'

 

The three of them gape at him.

 

'That's disgusting,' Harry says first.  Ron adds, 'Your father is a rotten bastard.'

 

Hermione says, 'Can we use them?'

 

'Herm–' Ron starts, but she shushes him.  'I mean it,' Hermione says.  'Malfoy, they're already in place.  Do you know how much time and effort that would save us?'

 

They're all still for a second, and then Malfoy cocks his head and frowns, as if considering.  He narrows his eyes.  'What do I get?'

 

Ron snorts.  'Let's see.  Safety?  Protection?  Food, shelter, not being strangled in your sleep?'

 

Malfoy opens his mouth to retort, but Harry intervenes.  'If you let us use your dad's spells,' he says, 'you can send your letter to Pansy.'

 

'I can?' Malfoy says.

 

'He can?' Hermione says.

 

'Yeah.' 

 

Malfoy considers, and then the corner of his mouth tilts up, the tiniest bit.  'Fine,' he says.  'There's a device linked to the spells that's hidden in his study at the Manor.  You'll have to get it before the Ministry takes everything.'  At this, his mouth returns to its sour, displeased smirk.

 

'We'll get it,' Harry says generously, 'and anything else you want to keep, if we can carry it.  Go and get a jumper, we'll go right now.'

 

'Yes, Mother,' Malfoy mocks, then colors, as if he regrets the joke.  Harry, amused, watches him stomp upstairs.

 

As soon as he is out of earshot, Hermione says, 'Harry, what's going on?'

 

'I ran into Pansy Parkinson in Diagon Alley today.'  Harry shrugs.  'She sort of threw herself at me.'

 

Ron looks both disgusted and intrigued.  'Always knew there was something fishy about her,' he says.  'Bet she fancies you, Harry–'

 

'I don't think that's quite it.  She was upset that Malfoy supposedly died.  She kept telling me that I had been supposed to save him, that he had told her that I would save him.'

 

'Well, look here, you can't just be expected to–'

 

'No, hang on.'  Harry rubs his temples; he's starting to get a headache.  'She said she wanted to help us.  And Malfoy's bound to try and owl her again anyway, so I thought that maybe she could come and help, and then he could tell her he was alive.'

 

Hermione raises an eyebrow.  'You want us to trust Slytherins to help us?'

 

'She said Malfoy told her I would help him,' Harry says.  'She said that.  Why would she come to me otherwise?'

 

'Spying?  Revenge?  Sexual attraction?'

 

Hermione gives Ron a withering look.  'He does have a point, Harry.  Just because she was upset about Malfoy dying–'

 

'I just figured she could make us tea or something,' Harry mumbles.  'Hermione, she wanted to help.  How many people do you know who fling themselves at me, wanting to help us?'

 

Under his breath, Ron mutters something that sounds a bit like 'Ginny.'

 

'But that's just it!' Hermione exclaims, pulling Harry's attention away from Ron.  'Why wait for them to offer?  Why just Slytherins?  Why not all the houses?  They haven't got anything to do, with Hogwarts closed, and I'm sure some of them would be interested.  We'll send out owls – all the DA members, everyone we can think of.'

 

'That's brilliant, Hermione,' Ron says.  She smiles a little.

 

'Come on,' she says eagerly.  'We'll start while Harry and Malfoy go to the Manor.  I've got quills upstairs.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. \

 

On the morning of Bill and Fleur's wedding, Harry is already halfway through breakfast when the Daily Prophet comes.  'Anything good?' Ron asks, wandering into the kitchen with his dress robes draped over his arm.  His hair is sticking up in the back, and he looks as if he's just woken up.

 

'Probably not,' Harry says, giving the owl a handful of coins and taking the rolled-up paper.  He tosses it at Ron without opening it.  'Reckon Malfoy'll wear those weird dress robes of his again?  The ones that make him look like a vicar?'

 

'Of course,' Ron snickers.  'Don't you – oh.'

 

Harry says, 'What is it?'

 

Ron holds up the paper.  On the front page of The Daily Prophet, the headline reads: INFERI ATTACK AZKABAN!  ALL ESCAPED OR DEAD!

 

Harry thinks about Ona Ellerby and her six-year-old daughter who wanted Harry's autograph, and feels suddenly as if he's going to vomit.

 

'How?' he says, then, 'Dung, Mundungus, he was there, too.'  Then, 'What about Malfoy?'

 

Ron scans the article silently, then tosses it back to Harry.  For a front-page piece, it's a short one; it details how, late in the evening the night before, hordes of Inferi presumably working for Voldemort overcame the prison's defenses and killed all the guards, including those at the transfer station. 

 

Several known Death Eaters, including Lucius Malfoy, were also casualties of the attack.  Whether these deaths were accidental or on the command of You-Know-Who is not clear.

 

'So, Lucius Malfoy,' Ron says grimly.  'I suppose he had his chance, didn't he?'

 

'Yeah,' Harry says.  'Do you – do you think Malfoy knows?'

 

Ron shrugs, his expression still dark.  'Maybe.  Here, I'll find Hermione, see if she's heard.  You take Malfoy.'

 

Harry would joke that he'd rather tell Hermione and Ron could take Malfoy, but he doesn't feel much like joking.  As he ascends the stairs, he thinks about his last glimpse of Lucius, and how he looked, curled with his back to Harry on the dirty brick.  If Lucius had been awake, Harry knows, he'd have looked far less vulnerable, less human.  Harry almost wishes he had been left with a memory of Lucius snarling at him in disgust, rather than that one image, matted hair and a cold stone floor. 

 

He will never tell Malfoy about that one glimpse of his father.  It's bad enough that Harry knows.

 

'Hello?' Harry says, cautiously, creaking open the door to their room.

 

But Malfoy is already standing by the window, leaning back on the windowsill, as if he's been waiting for Harry to open the door.  He holds up a copy of the Prophet and a sick sense of relief floods Harry.  He is perversely grateful that he doesn't have to be the one to break the news.

 

'You heard, I presume,' Malfoy says.

 

'Yeah.' 

 

Harry stops next to him, a step or so away; he stands there, hands in his pockets, and waits.  The sunlight spills over them, the sky painfully blue.  After a time, Harry realizes that Malfoy is not going to do anything, and they are just standing there, staring at each other.

 

'You don't have to come to the wedding,' he offers weakly.

 

'I'm coming, Potter.'  The corner of Malfoy's mouth twitches.  'It'd make the Veela too happy if I didn't.'

 

Harry smiles in spite of himself.  Malfoy's turned around now, staring out the window, something tight and frozen about his expression, and Harry puts his hand on the other boy's upper arm; says, 'Malfoy?'  He half expects him to turn and bury his face in Harry's shoulder, or something equally Cho-like, but all Malfoy does is clench his fists and push away from Harry, not angry, just determined somehow.

 

'Pansy's terrified of Inferi,' Malfoy says after a moment.  'She used to have nightmares about them all the time.'

 

'I saw some once,' Harry says.  He shivers, despite how far from that cold water he is now, how many months it has been since he led Dumbledore back over the rocks.  'A lot of them, really.'

 

'Is it true that they eat people?' Malfoy asks. 

 

'I don't know,' Harry says.  He wants to give Malfoy a definitive no, but that would probably be a lie, and Harry knows, somehow, that Malfoy would not appreciate the comfort of a lie.  Instead, he says, 'If there were a lot of them, it would have been quick.'

 

'At least his body couldn't get into the wrong hands then.'

 

'I . . . yeah,' Harry says, his mind flashing, briefly, to Sirius.

 

Quiet.  'Potter?'

 

'Yeah?'

 

'How do you fight an Inferius?'

 

'Fire,' Harry says. 

 

'Oh.'

 

'Like, Incendio.'

 

'I knew that,' Malfoy snaps, irritated, a little. 

 

'Okay,' Harry says. 

 

Malfoy is silent, too.  He turns his face towards Harry, slightly green.  'That could have been us, Potter.'

 

'Being on Voldemort's side wouldn't have saved you,' Harry says quietly.

 

Malfoy turns his head towards the window, as if he looks hard enough, long enough, he will be able to see Azkaban.  'I know,' he mutters.  They both know that had he come to the Order, Lucius would have been safe.

 

Harry glances at Malfoy.  He is skinny and pale and looks weakly all the time, but his eyes are hard in a way that Harry recognizes.  In that moment, Harry thinks very viciously, Malfoy is not like his father at all.

 

'I'm sorry,' Harry says. 

 

'Okay,' Malfoy says.

 

Nothing more than that.

 

 

 

 

 

The Burrow, though decorated for the wedding, is nevertheless the Burrow, and Harry is glad to see it.  He feels happier just looking at the Weasleys' fat brown chickens wandering the yard and catching sight of a garden gnome creeping around a fence.  Fairy lights and white ribbons are hung from all the trees, drifting slowly on the wind.  There are several rows of chairs set up for the guests, and off to the side, a large table so laden with gifts that it has begun to creak beneath the weight.  Every so often, the largest gift – from Fred and George, of course – emits an alarming shower of blue sparks.

 

'Still looks like a weasel hole,' Malfoy mutters, and Harry pokes him hard in the side.  Mrs. Weasley, hurrying over to great them, gives them both a curious look when Malfoy yelps.

 

They find seats near the front, next to Fred and George, who are still sporting their lurid green dragonskin jackets.  'Mum wanted us in dress robes,' Fred whispers loudly to Harry, 'but it's Bill, of course we can't look nice for him, it's bad enough that he's up there looking like a prat–'

 

'I think you look dashing,' a pretty girl in the row in front of them says, but Harry has to stifle a laugh when George mutters under his breath to Fred, 'Careful, I think that's a cousin – got a lot of them, we do–'

 

At that moment, a thin, raggedy-looking wizard sits down on the other side of Ron, still mid-conversation with Madam Rosmerta, who takes the seat next to him.  Ron's face falls noticeably, and Harry is sure that he's wishing Rosmerta had been the one to sit beside him.

 

'In any case, Aberforth,' Rosmerta is saying, 'I still have the best mead in the town, and my bar isn't filled with unsavory creatures–'

 

But before the raggedy wizard can answer, Harry has leapt up and shoved a startled Ron and Hermione down a seat each, so he is now sitting where Ron had been.  'Sir,' he says quickly, seizing him by the sleeve, 'um, pardon me, but–'

 

The man spins around, and Harry can't help thinking of him as the disheveled, stooped and dirty version of Dumbledore.  His grey, straggly beard hangs to mid-chest, and he is dressed as if he were cleaning the bar before realizing he was late for the wedding and didn't have time to change.  In fact, Harry is sure that he sees an old, dirty rag hanging out of Aberforth's pocket.

 

'Harry Potter, is it?' Aberforth says, 'I should have known you'd be looking for me.'  And he sticks out a thin, knobby hand.  Harry can't help noticing, as he shakes the wizard's hand, that Aberforth has a small tattoo of a goat on his forearm.  Even as Harry watches, the goat tattoo lifts its head, then suddenly goes galloping around Aberforth's wrist and paws a bit with its front hoof.

 

('Blimey,' Harry hears Ron whisper behind him.  'I want one of those!'

 

'A goat?' Hermione says incredulously.

 

'No, a magical tattoo!')

 

'And while I can hazard a guess,' Aberforth continues, 'was there something you needed to ask me?'

 

'I wanted to meet you,' Harry says.  'I never knew who you were, sir.  I wish I had known.'

 

'I keep a low profile,' Aberforth chuckles.  'If word got round who I was, people wouldn't be spilling their secrets at the bar anymore, would they?  It's good for the headmaster of Hogwarts to have a few extra eyes and ears around the area.'

 

'Yeah,' Harry mutters, and instinctively, he reaches out and puts his hand on Aberforth's arm.  'I'm,' he says.  'I'm sorry.'

 

Aberforth gives him a tired smile; it reminds Harry of someone, and it takes him a minute to realize that it's Lupin.  'To you, too,' Aberforth says.

 

They are both silent, and Harry can hear Fred flirting with the girl who might be his cousin.  He says at last, 'Oh, there's something else.  I think Mundungus Fletcher stole something from Sirius's house that we need.  It's a gold locket.  He said you might still have it, he left his suitcase in your basement.  Could you – could you check?'

 

'I'll see what I find,' Aberforth nods.  He looks almost amused.  'Anything else, while you're at it?' 

 

'No,' Harry begins, but at that moment, Hermione taps him on the shoulder. 

 

'Harry,' she hisses.  'We do need something, remember – we need a meeting place–'

 

'The Hog's Head!' Ron exclaims, while Harry and Hermione are still thinking of a way to ask politely.  'Can we use it?'

 

'Never stopped you before,' Aberforth says gruffly, but his eyes have a spark of familiar blue, and he winks at Harry before turning to face the front, where Bill Weasley is waiting to welcome the assembled witches and wizards to his wedding. 

 

 

 

 

 

After the ceremony, everyone mills about in the yard of the Burrow; Fred and George are already setting off fireworks, sending multi-colored stars ricocheting around the yard.  A table appears filled with heaping piles of Molly Weasley's cooking, from cold soups to four different kinds of potatoes to Harry's favorite treacle pudding, and a stack of plates that zoom back into the kitchen to be washed before their owners even let go of their forks.  Near the food, Fleur's family has positioned a small, self-playing orchestra, complete with a cello that twirls charmingly between songs.

 

But in the back of the house, Harry can hear that Charlie and several of his friends are playing their own music, which promises a bit more fun.   Harry thinks it sounds almost like the Weird Sisters, but at that moment, Gabrielle Delacour bounds past him, shrieking, 'It's The Mermen, I love them,' and pumping her fist in the air.  Somehow, in the last ten minutes, she has changed out of her bridesmaid dress and into what look like black leather pants.

 

'She's eleven years old!' Hermione hisses in his ear, sounding scandalized.  'She hasn't even started at Beauxbatons yet!'

 

After Harry assures Hermione that he is not interested in any first years, and certainly not Gabrielle, he escapes to the house, mumbling an excuse about finding Ron.  While Ron is nowhere to be found, Harry rather likes the relative quiet he finds, as opposed to the raucous party Charlie and the twins are cultivating in the back yard.  He is standing there, appreciating the calm, when he hears quiet voices drift out the window. 

 

After a second, he can make out the words: it is Bill, who's saying quietly, 'I know you wanted a chapel in France, mermaids singing, fairy lights – I'm sorry you got chickens and my horrible brothers and whole months with Mum instead, not to mention all these scars–'

 

'I love you despite ze cheekens,' Fleur says and Harry, embarrassed, decides it is time to rejoin the party after all.

 

 

 

 

 

He's getting punch when he runs into Ginny, still in her pale gold bridesmaid dress, her hair done up with pearls.  'Hi, Harry,' she says, leaning around him for a cup.  'Did you like the wedding?  Fleur looked beautiful, didn't she?'

 

'So did you,' Harry says sincerely.  He grins, 'You all did.  I think Gabrielle a little too much, judging from Ron's reaction–'

 

'Oh, gross.'  Ginny makes a face at him.  'I didn't need to know that about my brother.  Really.  Do you want to take a walk?'

 

'Sorry?' Harry says, distracted by the heated argument over Quidditch that's happening several tables away.  Charlie is pounding the table emphatically just as Harry's attention is pulled back to Ginny.  'What'd you say?'

 

'Do you want to take a walk?' Ginny repeats.  She smiles up at Harry, the sun catching in her hair.  'I can talk Quidditch, too, you know.'

 

'And a great Chaser on top of it,' Harry says.  'Yeah, let's take a walk.  I haven't been around the Burrow in ages.'

 

He follows her out past the house towards the woods, both of them walking slowly, punch in hand.  Harry finishes his first and sends his cup zapping back to the table, where it will find the bin itself.  He sticks his hands in his pockets.  'You with Charlie, then?' he says.  'Think Spain's got half a chance this year?'

 

Ginny rolls her eyes.  'Spain peaked half a decade ago.  Charlie'd know that if he stopped to think.  He's just got a soft spot for them because they were his team, back when he was at school.  He pays more attention to dragons than broomsticks, these days.'

 

'You wouldn't think it, the way he talks.'

 

'All my brothers are full of talk,' Ginny snorts.  'Anyway, Hermione said she heard from Krum, and he's on the recovery.  Once his knee is mended, Bulgaria will be top, I'll bet.'

 

'Yeah, you think so?'  Harry shades his eyes and looks towards the tree line, where the sun is halfway to the horizon.  In the distance, a flock of birds rises into the late afternoon, and everything feels syrupy, feels okay.  It's only then that Harry realizes how quiet Ginny is, and when he looks down, she's staring right at him.  As soon as he meets her eyes, she glances away.

 

'I think about you sometimes,' Ginny says, looking at her hands.  She's silent, then says in a rush, 'It's so stupid, it doesn't have to be like this, you know it doesn't!  Just because we're all in danger – I could come to Grimmauld Place, I could help you, can't we at least make the most of this time–'

 

Not now, Harry thinks, not this, not now.  He feels old and a little cruel when he says, 'I don't have any time.'

 

Her voice is small.  'For me, you mean.  You have time for Hermione and Ron.  You even have time for Draco–'

 

'Ginny.  It's not like that, you know that.'

 

'Isn't it?'  She looks up at him, and her eyes are so clear and hopeful that Harry feels himself literally cringing.  'It's just, you're around them all the time, and I only see you every few weeks.  It's so unfair!  How come Draco Malfoy gets to spend more time with you than I do?'

 

 Harry sighs.  'Malfoy's different–'

 

'Yeah,' Ginny mutters, and Harry remembers the unstoppable, wild-tempered girl she can be.  'Well,' she adds spitefully, 'maybe I should become a Death Eater.  Maybe then you'll find time for me.'

 

'Ginny–'

 

'Harry,' she says, looking fierce, 'I know you don't want to put me in danger, but that's not stopping you from seeing Ron and Hermione, is it?  And besides, we're all in danger now, you've seen Mum's clock – all the hands are always at Mortal Peril–'

 

'You're going to see me,' Harry mutters, 'you'll be at the house sometimes, we're re-starting the DA.'

 

'That's not what I was talking about,' Ginny says.

 

Harry shuts his eyes for a second.  The sunlight is filtering down through the trees, and he can hear the birds singing; it is a perfect, peaceful day, and it reminds him of the afternoons he used to spend with Ginny by the lake, though he knew even then that the time was fast approaching when those afternoons would end, when he would have to leave behind the illusions of safety at Hogwarts and go to meet Voldemort and kill him.

 

Afterwards, maybe, there will be days by the lake and sunlight.

 

He tries to believe that it can be that simple.

 

'I meant what I said, Ginny.  Those weeks with you – they were–'

 

'I know.'

 

'And if I were anybody else–'

 

'But you aren't,' Ginny says, and sighs.  'You're Harry Potter.  And that means that you've got to do this on your own, and find Voldemort, and put an end to all of this somehow.  You won't rest until you do.'  She slips her hand into his and squeezes, just once.  'I know that, Harry,' she says.  'It's why I like you so much.'  With a rueful smile, she adds, 'Not that I don't hate it, sometimes.'

 

'Ginny,' Harry says, and it hurts less than he expects, 'I've got to–'

 

'I know,' she says again, her eyes clear and bright.  'I trust you.'

 

It's the last thing Harry wants to hear, but he doesn't let go of her hand. 

 

They walk the rest of the way back in silence.

 

Hermione is waiting for them when they reach the Burrow, a cup of punch in hand, elbows resting on her knees.  Ginny hurries off to find Charlie, but Harry sticks his hands in his pockets and wanders over to Hermione. 

 

'Good talk?' she asks.

 

Harry shrugs.  'I suppose.  What are you doing out here, by yourself?'

 

'I'll show you,' Hermione says, standing up and linking arms with him, looking amused.  'And by the way, I'm glad you're sober.  Ron and Malfoy, they've been doing shots for the past hour – they both think it's a competition, neither of them wants to be outdone by the other–'

 

'Oh, god,' Harry says.

 

When they reach the back of the Burrow, Ron is sprawled on the grass, waving his arms at the sky; Malfoy is leaning against the side of the house, looking green and not quite able to stand on his own, mumbling to himself.  'Harry,' Ron exclaims, trying to sit up and failing.  He flops back to the ground.  'My best mate, Harry!  Come down here!  Come sit in the – in the grass!  Beautiful grass.  The beautiful Burrow grass.'

 

Harry snickers.

 

'Firewhisky,' Ron says knowingly, struggling to sit up before resigning himself to remaining splayed out in the lawn.  'Harry, have some – it stings a bit, but you stop noticing after a while–'

 

'That's because I've changed the whole bottle to water,' Hermione whispers to Harry.  'They haven't noticed yet, I put a bit of flavoring in.  Oh, there's Professor Flitwick!  He must be here for Bill, he always said Bill was good at Charms.  Let's go say hello.'

 

'What?' Harry exclaims, but before he can insist on staying with Ron, Hermione drags him over to Professor Flitwick and strikes up a conversation about Protean Charms, their postponed N.E.W.T.s, and magical tracking spells.  By the time they finish, Harry has tuned out Flitwick's delighted squeaks entirely, and evening is settling in.

 

'Perhaps we ought to check on Ron by–' Hermione says, turning to Harry, but as soon as their eyes find Ron, leaning woozily on Gabrielle Delacour's shoulder, he is sick all over her leather pants.

 

Gabrielle, of course, screams.

 

In the resulting chaos, most of which is caused by Fred and George laughing so hard they knock over a long table of food, Hermione does a Scourgify on Gabrielle and seizes Ron's arm.  'I'll go take care of him,' she says darkly to Harry, just as he glimpses Molly Weasley striding towards them, looking qualified to pen three or four Howlers without a single hesitation.  'You go find–'

 

'Yeah, I'll find Malfoy,' Harry says quickly, and escapes.

 

Malfoy, as it turns out, is sitting alone by the front of the house, his robes unbuttoned, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up.  His head is tipping sleepily back against the side of the Burrow.  An industrious chicken is strutting nearby, occasionally squawking in Malfoy's direction.

 

'Hey,' Harry says, hands in his pockets.  Malfoy blinks a couple times, as if he can't quite focus.  'What are you doing out here by yourself?'

 

'Potter?'

 

'Yeah.'  Harry says.  He sits down.

 

'Had a talk with Ginevra, did you?' Malfoy says, and it takes a minute for Harry not to say, 'Who?'

 

'I saw you wander off,' Malfoy adds smugly, as if he has accomplished a great spying feat.  'Snogging in the woods, Potter, that's, that's disgusting.  Unless you did more than snog – oh, I think I'm going to be sick–'

 

'Not on me you aren't,' Harry says in alarm, unsure whether Malfoy's apparent need to vomit is due to the idea of Harry and Ginny, or to his excessive alcohol consumption.  After Malfoy's head lolls in the other direction, Harry adds, 'I'm not dating Ginny.  And we didn't snog in the woods, or do anything else, in case you get that idea in your head next.'

 

'Oh,' Malfoy says.  His head tips back a little, a bit closer to Harry's shoulder.  Harry lets it hover there for half a minute, then shoves to his feet.

 

'We should go,' he says, reaching out for Malfoy's arm and yanking him upright; it's a more difficult task than he expects, as Malfoy neither resists nor assists him, instead just lying there like dead weight.  'Come on,' Harry says eventually.  'I'll get you back.  Otherwise you'll have a fit if you wake up in the morning in the grass outside Ron's house, and we'll all have to hear about it for a week.'

 

'Malfoys don't sleep in the grass.'

 

'Right,' Harry says, glancing away from Malfoy to hide his smile.  'And I'll do the Apparating.  You can't even make it across the room on a good day.'

 

'Can so,' Malfoy mutters.  'That is not, that is not true.  You, Harry Potter, are a liar.  Oh, you smell nice.'

 

Harry snorts.  'You smell like alcohol,' he says, wrapping an arm around Malfoy's waist and feeling the other boy's weight shift onto him.  Malfoy is surprisingly heavy for being so thin.  His head lolls against Harry's shoulder, his hair cool against Harry's neck.  Harry snickers, 'I hope you don't remember this in the morning.  It's bad enough that I will.'

 

Malfoy says, suddenly distinct, 'I'll remember.' 

 

Harry shifts to look at him, but Malfoy's eyes are shut, his head still heavy on Harry's shoulder.

 

'Maybe I can breathe fire,' Harry hears Ron exclaim from inside the kitchen.  He glances through an open window and sees Mrs. Weasley hovering over them, making indignant sounds as Ron exclaims, 'Herm – Hermione!  Think I can breathe fire?'

 

Harry grins and wraps his arms around Malfoy.  'Time to go home,' he says.

 

'Home,' Malfoy echoes drowsily, something in his voice.  It might be resentment, agreement, resignation.  Harry can't tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nearly a week later, Harry and Ron enter the kitchen to find Hermione bent over a pile of glittering coins and frowning.  She doesn't look up at their entrance, but says only, 'Sit down.'

 

Harry does.  'What's going on?'

 

Ron steps into the kitchen after him and his mouth falls open.  'Hermione,' he exclaims.  'Did you just rob Gringotts?'

 

'They're the fake ones, Ron,' Hermione answers calmly, her eyes still flickering between the pile of coins and her small book.  'Anyway, where's Malfoy got to?  He was telling me about his family's Portkeys last week and I need to ask him a couple more questions.'

 

There's a pause.  'I've used Portkeys,' Ron says.

 

Hermione glances down so that her hair hides her smile.  'I know, but you've never made one.'

 

'Neither has he!  Besides, how do you know he won't tell you the wrong information?  That it'll be a curse or something?'

 

'Harry trusts him,' Hermione points out.

 

'I do not.'

 

'Yes, you do.'  She looks up from the fake Galleons, and she isn't smiling anymore.  'Admit it, Harry.  Otherwise, wouldn't you have made a fuss already, that he hasn't followed through?  We're halfway through September, and you've kept your end of the bargain.  He's safe, and so is his mother, and well – you couldn't have helped what happened to his father–'

 

'If you're talking about Snape, I have . . . made a fuss,' Harry says, clearly remembering catching Malfoy in the drawing room and asking when he was going to get around to his half of the deal.  Malfoy had scowled, and Harry had narrowed his eyes, and reminded Malfoy of the terms of his safety.

 

Then again, perhaps that had been before the wedding.

 

'I have,' Harry continues, 'and he knows that if he doesn't, I'll–'

 

'You'll what?  Throw him out on the street?  Perform the Cruciatus Curse?  Oh, Harry, we've watched him eat breakfast a thousand times, you sleep in the same room as him–'

 

'I slept in the same room as Scabbers!' Ron interjects.  'Doesn't mean I couldn't change my mind, does it?'

 

Hermione makes a little sound in the back of her throat.  'That's what I mean, Ron,' she says.  'Harry has changed his mind, only the other way around.  Harry, Snape isn't the reason you're keeping Malfoy here.  He's here, we've all accepted that by now, and–'

 

'His dad just died!' Harry exclaims.  'I'll give him an ultimatum, is that what you want?  Snape or the streets?  Snape or his mum?  But can't it wait a week, or – you don't know what Lucius Malfoy looked like, there in that cell, and Malfoy–'

 

'I don't want anything,' Hermione says evenly.  'I was only saying, you trust him enough to let him stay without the guarantee of Snape.  So I trust him enough to ask him about Portkeys.'

 

Harry shuts his eyes and thinks of the tower, and how he only realized how thin and skeletal Dumbledore looked in the moment that he toppled over the ramparts and fell out of sight.  He thinks of how fragile Malfoy's arms felt outside Azkaban, on the cliff, crushed into Harry's ribs.  He thinks of Malfoy's wand hand trembling.

 

'Nothing's changed,' Harry says; it comes out hard.  'I don't trust him at all.  And I'll ask him about Snape.'

 

'I just meant–'

 

'Listen,' Harry interrupts forcefully, ready for a change of subject, then has to pause to think of something to say.  He finally continues, 'well, what are you doing with Portkeys, anyway?'

 

Hermione sighs.  'I'm trying to figure out how to get around the Ministry's Portkey laws.  This time, everyone can't just tramp upstairs to the Room of Requirement.  If necessary, we could have them all Floo in, but it'd just be so much easier to make their fake Galleons into Portkeys.'

 

'Is it hard to apply for some?' Harry frowns.  He is still thinking of the silhouette of Dumbledore's body, crumpled on the ground.

 

'Nearly impossible now that the war's begun.  It used to take between three and four weeks for personalized Portkeys, but now the waiting list is months long.  Scrimgeour wants the Ministry to look into each query personally.  Besides, this isn't the sort of thing we want the Ministry knowing about, is it?'

 

But at Scrimgeour's name, a thought occurs to Harry.  'Hermione,' he says.  The smile on his face is grim but triumphant, and he feels a strange pride at getting something right, even if it's not Malfoy.  'I'll get them made.'

 

'You will?  But –'

 

'I have the feeling Rufus Scrimgeour will be quite willing to bargain,' Harry says.  'Leave it to me.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. /

 

It's past noon on a Sunday when Lupin's tired head pops up in the midst of green flames and Harry kneels down to meet him.  'How are you holding up?' Lupin asks immediately.  'How are Hermione and Ron?'

 

'We're all fine,' Harry says.  'The wedding was good.'

 

'Was it?  I sent Bill and Fleur my apologies.  I hear you met Aberforth.'

 

'Yeah,' says Harry, only vaguely surprised.  'We're going to use The Hog's Head again, did he tell you that?'

 

'Yes, and I'm glad you're getting the others involved.  Hermione's idea, was it?'

 

Harry almost explains, 'Pansy Parkinson's, actually,' simply to see the look on Lupin's face, but he only nods.  'How are things on your end?  Er, how is Tonks?'

 

'Oh, she's fine,' Lupin says.  'She was sad to miss the wedding, too, but she left a fortnight ago for Wales and she just missed it.  She missed Narcissa, too, but I don't think she minded that very much.'

 

He smiles at Harry, who blinks confusedly.

 

'What's Tonks doing in Wales?'

 

'Never mind, it's not important.'

 

'But I thought she was staying in Paris with you?'

 

Lupin shrugs; his movement in the fire stirs up a bit of ash around his head, and he sneezes.  'Not at the moment.  She's got Auror assignments, and I'm here with Draco's mother.  That's what happens in a war, Harry.  The world changes quickly, there's always a new danger.  You heard Mrs. Weasley, didn't you?  The last time Voldemort was in power, people were getting married left and right.  Things seem a bit more urgent when you might be separated tomorrow, and one of you dead the day after that.'

 

'Oh,' Harry says, 'right.'

 

He suddenly feels very lucky to be at 12 Grimmauld Place with Ron and Hermione.

 

When Lupin's eyes stop watering – 'Dratted Floo powder,' he mutters – Harry changes the subject.  'Why'd you owl me about talking, anyway?  Do you have something on Zacharias?'

 

'Who?' Lupin says.  Harry chuckles; if Lupin ever knew the Hufflepuff's name in DADA, he's clearly forgot it by now.  'No, sorry. I actually wanted to see if Draco was around.  I thought he might want to speak with his mother.'

 

'Oh.'  Harry scowls, though he can't tell if he begrudges Malfoy his living mother or the reason for Lupin's call.  'Hang on,' he says, then turns and bellows, 'Malfoy?'

 

He waits, and Malfoy comes stomping down the stairs.  'It may come as a surprise, Potter, but I'm not hard of hearing,' Malfoy snaps.  'Oh, it's the werewolf.  What does he want with me?'

 

'He has a name!'

 

'It's all right, Harry,' Lupin says mildly, smiling at him.  'Draco, I merely thought you might want to speak with your mother.  She has been asking about you.'

 

Harry gets up from the hearth to let Malfoy take his place.  When Lupin's head vanishes and the pale blonde tresses of Malfoy's mum appear, Harry retreats to the door of the room, but stands there, arms folded, watching.  He can't hear what either of the Malfoys are saying, but he can see the tears streaming down Narcissa Malfoy's face, and Malfoy reaching out to brush them away into the hissing green flames.

 

Their talk is short, but at its end, Malfoy leans forward to let his mother kiss him on the cheek.  As the flames extinguish themselves, he sits back on his heels and looks at Harry.  His eyes are shining.

 

'We can still take it all away,' Harry says, a flash of anger knifing through him at the almost easy way the corner of Malfoy's mouth tips up.  How dare Malfoy forget, or think that Harry has?  'Snape, remember?'

 

Malfoy's mouth tightens.  He looks back to the fire, only embers now, and says nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

The first meeting in Hogsmeade is on a Wednesday evening on the brink of October.  By this point, Harry is nearly used to the extra weight of Malfoy hanging onto him as he Apparates.  'The first thing I'm going to do when I'm alive again,' Malfoy mutters into Harry's neck, as they land in Hogsmeade, 'is get my Apparition license.'

 

'I thought you were going to make a bus route to Azkaban,' Harry says with a straight face.

 

'That's when I become the Minister of Magic,' Malfoy corrects him.  'Keep up, Potter.'

 

'Yeah,' Harry says, 'I'll be sure to remember your life aspirations next time.'

 

They reach The Hog's Head only minutes before the first DA members begin arriving by Portkey, and while Hermione is busy magically dusting off the tables, the pub fills with voices eagerly greeting each other after their extended time apart.  Most of their conversations, Harry can hear, revolve around the news in the Prophet and why they decided to come, though he hears at least ten people exclaim, 'Draco Malfoy?  What's he doing here?'

 

'Maybe Harry's going to hex him senseless in front of us,' Seamus says gleefully, looking as if Christmas has come early.  'Oy, Harry!  What's Malfoy doing here?'

 

But before Harry can open his mouth, Ron says, 'Same as you, I guess.  How's your mum?'

 

'Oh – she's fine,' Seamus stutters, thrown off.  'Er – you?  Everybody still intact?'

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry spots Katie Bell talking with two girls who have their backs to him.  He takes this opportunity to seize Malfoy by the sleeve and drag him towards Katie.  'Potter,' Malfoy says petulantly, 'stop mauling me, what do you want?'

 

'An apology for Katie, did you forget?  You did hear me when I told you the deal, didn't you?' 

 

'I don't forget anything,' Malfoy mutters.  'You, apparently, do, since you switch moods about ten times a minute–'

 

'Shh,' Harry hisses, as Katie catches sight of them.  But just then, he realizes who she has brought along – Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet, two of Harry's former Quidditch mates.  'Angelina, Alicia!  I didn't know you were coming!'

 

'Us either,' Angelina says.  She gives him a wicked grin.  'Hey, Alicia, he's grown up nicely, hasn't he?'

 

'Nice and handsome,' Alicia winks.  'Aw, but he still blushes like he's a first-year.  Still dating Ginny Weasley, are you?'

 

'Er, no,' Harry mutters.  At his side, Malfoy is snickering, and he elbows him.  'Sorry, I have to talk to Katie, we'll catch up later, all right?'  He waits for them to leave before prodding Malfoy forward.  'Go on, then.'

 

Malfoy looks at Katie like she might be one of Hagrid's more disgusting creatures and mutters, 'I sent that necklace that cursed you.'  After a long pause, and a hard poke in the back from Harry, he adds unrepentantly, 'Sorry.'

 

Katie glances from Malfoy to Harry and back, then says, 'Harry was always better than you, you little ferret,' then claps Harry on the shoulder and turns away.

 

Malfoy snorts.  'Well, that was a waste of time,' he says.  'Great thinking, Potter.'

 

'You aren't finished.  There's Aberforth, Professor McGonagall, Lupin, of course, you could stand to apologize to Bill again, Neville too, the twins–'

 

'Oh, yes, since I haven't got anything better to do than apologize to everyone who knew Dumbledore's name–'

 

But at that moment, Hermione shouts, 'Everybody be quiet!' and both Harry and Malfoy, after spending months in the same house at her, stop talking at once.  Everyone else quickly settles into a chair and looks in her direction. 

 

'Thanks for coming, all of you,' Hermione begins, beckoning Harry towards her.  He sidles a couple steps and she says impatiently, 'Harry, get up here.  You probably all know why you're here by now, but – well, we've been working on defeating Voldemort–'  A kind of hushed ripple goes through the crowd, and Hermione makes an annoyed sound.  'Yes, Voldemort,' she continues, 'and we could use some help, and since Hogwarts isn't open right now–'

 

'I'd rather help defeat He Who Must Not Be Named than revise for N.E.W.T.s anyway,' Ernie Macmillan announces, rising from his seat and straightening his robes pompously.  He gives a nod in Harry's direction.  'Why, this is – this is important work!'

 

'Right,' Hermione says.  'And it's more serious than what we did in the DA, too.  It's a serious commitment, and it's a dangerous one.  So if you aren't one hundred per cent committed, leave now.  We won't hold it against you.'

 

There is a long pause, but nobody moves.

 

'Good.  So, well, we have a place we're sort of using as headquarters, and from now on, we can meet there.  We'll change your Galleons to tell you where to go.  Oh, and if you mention the headquarter locations to anyone,' Hermione adds, voice steely, 'well, you remember Marietta.  It'll be worse.'

 

Several people blanch; Harry last saw Marietta at Christmas holidays, and she still had SNEAK written across her face.  Anthony Goldstein raises his hand, and when Hermione nods at him, he flinches.

 

'Could you, well, show us the jinx you used sometime, it's really quite a brilliant piece of spellwork.'

 

Hermione blushes.  'Sometime, I will,' she says.  'Right now, I think we ought to work on things that will actually protect us, or stop an enemy from attacking–'

 

('I don't know,' Ron mutters to Harry, 'that spell would probably stop Lockhart dead, d'you think?')

 

'So,' Hermione says tentatively, 'that's all, really, except – are we part of the Order now, or what do we call ourselves?'

 

'We're Dumbledore's Army,' Ginny says from the back of the crowd.  Her voice rings over everyone, and they go quiet to listen.  She says again, 'We're still Dumbledore's Army.  Just for real this time.'

 

There is a chorus of cheers.  Harry's face hurts from smiling.

 

After the meeting, when everyone is lingering, Aberforth beckons Harry behind the bar.  'What is it?' Harry says, wandering over.  'Do you want us to leave?  People are just a little excited, they haven't seen much of each other since Hogwarts was closed–'

 

'Thought this might come in handy,' Aberforth grunts, pushing a small, wrapped package across the counter towards Harry.  'Young Regulus, he wasn't all bad, you know.'

 

Harry glances behind him, where Malfoy is flicking peanut shells at Ron's head without Ron noticing.  In his hand, the package is warm and heavy, and he curls his fingers around it without thinking.  'Yeah,' he says, turning back to Aberforth.  'Yeah, I know.'

 

 

 

 

 

The locket is heavy and gold, with the ornate S curving on its front, and Harry shows it to Ron and Hermione at breakfast.

 

'Are you sure that's it, Harry?' Hermione asks.

 

'Yeah, I recognize it.  But what do we do with it?'  Harry dangles the locket between his fingers.  'When Dumbledore destroyed the ring, he ended up with his one hand all blackened – you all saw it –'

 

'Make Malfoy have a go,' Ron suggests.  When Hermione gives him a disgusted look, he says lamely, 'You know, because he's got, uh, experience with the Dark Arts, and we, uh, don't.'

 

'Well, there's only one thing to do,' Hermione says, taking the locket out of Harry's hand and examining it.  'We have to keep it safe until we can figure out how to destroy it.  Harry, I suggest that you wear it.  And in the meantime–'

 

'Wear it?' Ron exclaims.  'Hermione!  You think Harry's really going to wear a big gold necklace?  Who are you, Lavender?'

 

Harry sighs and rubs his thumb over a spot of dirt on the table.  'I'll wear it for now, Ron.  In the meantime, what, Hermione?'

 

But Ron groans.  'I know.  More research.'

 

 

 

 

 

Harry remembers 20 October because it's the first day Malfoy makes an edible breakfast and, despite the fact that he finds a Bertie Bott's bean in his porridge – 'Flavor?' Malfoy says hopefully – Harry has to admit that it tastes okay.

 

That's also the day Zacharias Smith shows up on their doorstep, his hand bandaged in several places.  'Tell your bloody owl to stop pecking at me, Potter,' he snarls.  'She nearly bit off my finger!  What the hell do you want?  Don't you people understand the idea of a holiday?'

 

Hermione appears at Harry's side, almost glowing.  'Zacharias!  Come inside!  Was your mother the daughter of Hepzibah or Hannah, or was it Henrietta Smith?'

 

Ron snorts from where he's sitting, able to hear the whole thing.  'More importantly, Smith,' he says, 'do you happen to have a big gold cup lying about your house?  Because we need it.'

 

'Who says I want to help you?' Zacharias says immediately, folding his arms.  But Hermione is already leading him into the kitchen, talking like Flitwick at his most excited. 

 

'Have a Butterbeer!' she exclaims, thrusting a bottle in his direction, then pushing him into a chair.  He splutters, but she's already off again.  'Is your family related to the Bones's?  I meant to ask Susan Bones, but she hasn't answering my owls, but no matter, do you know anything about your history with Hufflepuff?  Where do you keep your valuable things?'

 

'In Gringotts, of course,' Zacharias says, scowling down at his unopened Butterbeer.  'I didn't come here to be interrogated, Granger, and I certainly don't–'

 

'Can you take us to your family's Gringotts vault?'

 

'Voldemort wouldn't stick the cup back with somebody else's valuables,' Harry says, speaking up for the first time.  'He put the locket under all those protective spells, too.  It's not like he wants just anybody touching pieces of his soul, does he?  Come on, Hermione.'

 

'It's worth a try!  They'd keep it safe, wouldn't they?'

 

'Dumbledore said they would be hidden in places that had meaning for Voldemort. Unless he's secretly a goblin, I don't know–'

 

'It's worth a try!' Hermione repeats.  'Look, you don't have to waste your time, I'll go–'

 

But Zacharias is on his feet, scowling.  'I'm not letting you in my family's Gringotts vault!'

 

'I can't imagine what you'd have of value in there, Smith,' says a bored, drawling voice from the doorway.  Harry ignores him and turns back to Zacharias, but Zacharias has slopped Butterbeer all over himself and is staring at Malfoy with widening eyes.

 

'You're dead – you – aren't you?'

 

Malfoy's smirk unfurls.  'Not quite.'

 

Zacharias looks frantically around the room, as if he expects to find someone hiding behind Ron or Hermione or Harry, some kind of ally.  When he doesn't, he appeals to Harry, who wonders briefly why they always pick him.  'What's he doing here?'

 

Harry glances at Malfoy, then away.  'He's with me,' he says.

 

'Yes,' Malfoy adds.  'I've been put in charge of torture and interrogation.'

 

Zacharias chokes.  'Excuse me?'

 

Hermione wraps her hand around Harry's wrist and grips, hard.  Then she looks at Zacharias and says casually, 'Draco's the one who poisoned Katie last year.  And he would have killed Dumbledore if Snape hadn't got there first.'

 

Harry opens his mouth and she stomps on his foot.

 

'That was the work of an amateur,' Malfoy says, glancing in their direction.  'Luckily, I've had some time to hone my techniques, thanks to my newest loyalties.'  He seems equally delighted at Harry's rage as Zacharias's growing terror.  'Just the other day, who was it?  That man from the Ministry, I can't be expected to remember names.  He screamed for at least six hours.'

 

'Kept us up half the night,' Hermione adds, giving a little shrug.

 

Harry looks at her askance.  Lately, she's been reminding him a little bit too much of Malfoy for his own comfort. 

 

'M-maybe you can have a look at our Gringotts vault,' Zacharias mutters at last.  'But – I've got to come with you – you can't touch anything–'

 

'Oh, we wouldn't dream of it,' Hermione says innocently.  If Harry didn't know her at all, he might mistake the tone in her voice for apology, but he knows her very well.  She smiles at Zacharias.  'Here, do you want some salve for your hands?  Hedwig bites hard, I remember.'

 

 

 

 

 

They practice dueling during the first DA meeting at 12 Grimmauld Place.  To his surprise, a tall, freckled girl shows up with Cho Chang in tow, and both of them confer in whispers in the corner while Ron sends them suspicious looks.

 

'Hey, what's Cho doing here?' he demands.

 

'Dunno.'  Harry shrugs.  'Hermione?'

 

'How should I know?' Hermione says waspishly.  'Though come to think of it, Cho might be a big help.  We should really talk to one of the Ravenclaws, they might know something about Rowena that we can't find out from books.  House lore, you know.'

 

'House lore?' Ron echoes.  'When've we ever sat around the fire telling bedtime stories about Godric Gryffindor?'

 

'Well, Ravenclaw's a bit more interested in that sort of thing!  You know – learning!'

 

'Learning,' Ron snorts, and wanders off.

 

Harry, for his part, glances furtively over at Cho, though she is now shielded by the tall girl she came with, Katie Bell, either Parvati or Padma – he can't tell – and Ginny.  He makes an exasperated noise.  'Aren't there other Ravenclaws we can ask?  I mean, there's Luna, isn't there–'

 

'Yes, I'm sure she is an excellent source of factual information,' Hermione says.

 

'Come on – there's, well – the Prefect–'

 

'Anthony Goldstein, you mean?  And Padma, Parvati's sister?  And there's always Mandy Brocklehurst, and Terry Boot, and Michael Corner–'

 

'Oh yeah, he was the one who dated Ginny!'

 

'Eddie Carmichael was Professor Binns' favorite student, Binns even remembered his name, maybe we could ask him,'  Hermione continues, as if Harry hasn't spoken.  'Or the Grey Lady might know!  If we go to Hogwarts, I'll have to make sure to look out for her.  Orla Quirke said they once had a very stimulating conversation about the magic in the Hogwarts stones.'

 

'Who?  How do you know all these people?'

 

Hermione looks at him with what he thinks is an unfair amount of scorn.  'Harry,' she says, 'we went to school with them.'

 

'I know, but how do you know–'

 

'Oh, just go talk to Cho,' Hermione mutters.  When Harry gives her a blank look, she rolls her eyes.  'I know this is bit above and beyond Ron's level of advice giving, but if you want to know why she came tonight, maybe you should just go ask her yourself.'

 

'Fine, I will!' 

 

They all eye him as he approaches, but eventually the tall girl with freckles – Harry now wonders if she might be Mandy or Orla – breaks off, and the other girls follow.  Ginny gives Harry a sidelong glance, but heads off to talk Quidditch with Katie.

 

'Hi,' Cho says shyly.

 

Harry sticks his hands in his pockets.  'Hi.'

 

They stand in a very awkward silence, both their eyes shifting to look at other people.  At last, Harry mutters, 'How've you been, then?' but at the very same time, Cho says, 'Is this your house?' and they both lapse into silence once more, waiting for the other to answer.

 

'It's sort of my house,' Harry shrugs, when Cho seems disinclined to speak first.  'It's headquarters now.  Have you had, er, a good summer?'

 

'All right,' says Cho.  'I'm playing reserves for the Arrows, did you know?'

 

'You?' Harry says, then realizes that his response is not very nice.  'I mean, congratulations!'

 

A very small voice inside him is prodding him to say, I beat you at Hogwarts, you know!

 

Harry ignores it.

 

'Not Seeker,' Cho continues.  'Chaser, and I only just made it, and if I don't do well they won't keep me on.  It's a job, though, isn't it?'

 

'Sure,' Harry says.  'But if you're – then – why're you here?'

 

Cho sighs; she sounds a little like Hermione at her most exasperated.  'Marietta is my friend, and I still think you were very unfair, she was under a lot of pressure.'  When Harry opens his mouth, she hurries ahead.  'I just – that doesn't mean I don't want to help, does it?  After all Cedric did – and you–'

 

'Oh,' says Harry, who may judge people too harshly once in awhile, but certainly doesn't want to admit it.  'Well, can we trust you?'

 

'Can you trust any of these people?  Can you trust Kevin Entwhistle?'

 

'Who?' says Harry, who has never heard of a Kevin Entwhistle in his life.

 

'Exactly,' Cho says, and adds, 'by the way,' and her hair is still shiny and black, and her smile very pretty, 'I heard you were dating Ginny Weasley now, is that true?'

 

'I'm – sort of.'  Harry flushes when Cho gives him a quizzical look.  'I mean, I'm not.  I was.  And now I'm not.  But I still sort of am.  Just not right now.'

 

'Oh . . . kay,' Cho says after an uncomfortable pause.  'Well, good to know.'

 

'Is it?'  Harry studies her.  She isn't blushing, or crying, or leaning towards him with a tell-tale parting of her lips; those were really the only signs he ever had that Cho liked him, but he is still suspicious.

 

'Sure,' she says vaguely.  'I ought to tell Romilda Vane, I think.  Before she found out Hogwarts was cancelled, she was training every day on a broom.  Somehow, she got it into her head that you only like people who've played Seeker.'

 

'I – that's not – what?' Harry says, and then Cho is laughing, though not precisely at him, and suddenly he is laughing too.

 

After they pair up and practice dueling, everyone gathers in the kitchen; when it stretches to fit the crowd, Harry is no longer surprised, not after years with the Weasleys.  He stays by the door, wand still in hand, watching.

 

'Feels good, doesn't it?' Hermione says behind him, and he jumps.

 

'Give me some warning next time, will you?'  His heart is pounding.  'What do you mean?'

 

'I was just saying, it's nice.  House unity, like the Sorting Hat said.  What was it?  "And never since the founders four were whittled down to three, have the houses been united as they were once meant to be."'

 

Harry watches Pansy Parkinson shove past Neville, her lips forming words that can't be unifying in the least, and he says wryly, 'Not quite.'

 

'Still,' Hermione says.  'Still, it's a start.  Bringing people together, that's the only way we can fight this, you know?  Like the Triwizard Tournament, like the, like the house elves, the giants, everyone.  Oh Harry, don't you see?  Voldemort sows dissent and mistrust, didn't Dumbledore say that?  That's why we've got to stick together, we've got to unite.  It's just the opposite of what his Horcruxes do.'

 

Harry looks at her glowing face, the way she is beaming with conviction and knowledge and belief in him, and can't believe he ever compared her to Malfoy. 

 

'Hermione,' he says, throat tight, and hopes he doesn't sound like an idiot.  'You and Ron, I dunno what I'd do without you.'

 

Naturally, Hermione flushes.  'Oh, Harry, we both–'

 

'Don't,' he says, now thoroughly embarrassed.  'I know.'

 

 

 

 

 

After everyone leaves, Harry finds Neville lingering in the front hall, fiddling with his wand.  'All right, Neville?' he says.  'You did well tonight, that one Stunner when you were dueling Parvati was really–'

 

'Harry,' Neville says, then glances behind him.  'Er, can we talk?'

 

'Oh,' Harry says.  'Sure.  What's up, Neville?'

 

'I just–' here he looks around furtively again – 'wondered, well, why the Slytherins are here.' 

 

Neville is looking at Harry as if he expects Harry to clear it up in a moment, to explain everything away.  Harry swallows.  'Well,' he says, 'there were only two of them, weren't there?'

 

'The worst two!  I hate Draco Malfoy!  Everybody hates Malfoy!'

 

Harry can hear Hermione and Ron laughing in the kitchen, cleaning up, and wishes he were in there with them.  'Malfoy is staying with us for awhile,' he says, careful on every word, as if saying them slowly will mean they are disconnected, separate from their meaning.  Neville, however, seems to gather their meaning without a problem.

 

'You're letting him stay here?' he bursts out.  'That slimy – awful – killer–'

 

'He's not a killer,' Harry says quietly.

 

'But how do you know?'

 

'Neville, I saw him.  The night that Dumbledore died.  He couldn't kill him, he was trying and he couldn't bring himself to say the words.  He was even about to surrender and take Dumbledore's protection when the Death Eaters came–'

 

'But Malfoy is a Death Eater!' Neville exclaims.  'I heard Pansy Parkinson and Theodore Nott talking in the library last year about his special task given to him by You-Know-Who!  And just because he couldn't kill Dumbledore doesn't mean he couldn't kill somebody else!  Like me!  Or you!  Or–'

 

'He's had a lot of chances if he wants to kill me,' Harry says uncertainly.  'He's had his wand back for months, and we sleep in the same room–'

 

'You GAVE HIM his WAND?' Neville shouts.

 

'Er–'

 

'Maybe he's waiting for something, Harry, an order from You-Know-Who, maybe You-Know-Who wants to do it himself, that's why Malfoy hasn't done anything yet, but any day now, he could – how can you sleep in the same room with him?  He could do anything to you in your sleep!  After everything he's done, you're trusting him?'

 

Harry sees the betrayal in Neville's eyes.  'I don't – trust him–'

 

'Yes you do, if you're sleeping right where he can hex you or poison you or carry you off to You-Know-Who!'

 

'He's been all right,' Harry says.  'He whines a lot, and sometimes he'll chase me with bees or something, but it's been months–'

 

'But – but what if he's trying to gain your trust so he can more easily get to you – so he has more to tell, maybe he's a spy–'

 

'He's not a spy!  Look, Neville, I've got it under control, I know what I'm doing!'

 

I'm only here with them because I'm spying.  The Dark Lord put me here on purpose.  I'm gathering information.

 

Harry thinks of Malfoy laughing, and Malfoy pushing him away, but not too far away, the morning his father died.

 

By giving me what you needed, she gave me a bit of power over you.  I expect she thought I'd gain your trust that way.

 

'I don't think you do!'  Neville is glowering at him in a way that Neville never would have challenged Harry Potter as a first-year.  They stare at each other, and Neville says sullenly, 'Why is he even here, anyway?'

 

'He said,' Harry mutters, the solid anger he had felt only a moment ago dissolving rapidly into something slipperier, 'he said he could bring Snape to us.'

 

'But you said it's been months.'  Out of the gloom of the hallway, Neville's earnest face shines up at Harry.  His jaw is set, the way it is every time he casts a spell these days, ready to prove something.  'Harry,' Neville says.  'Don't you wonder why he hasn't done it yet?  Got Snape, I mean?  Why haven't you made him?  Why are you trusting him?'

 

I do what's best for me, Harry hears.  He thinks of the strange, reluctant look in Malfoy's eyes when Malfoy promised to give Harry – Harry personally, not the Ministry – Snape, and frowns in sudden, sharp recognition.

 

Well, and the people I like.

 

I don't turn my back on people . . . who're helping me . . .

 

Harry suddenly feels very stupid.

 

'Yeah, thanks, Neville,' he says.  'I'll just go – I'll go and sort it out, shall I?'

 

'Okay.'  Neville smiles at him.  'I knew you would.'

 

 

 

 

 

Malfoy is in the kitchen when Harry finds him, picking over a half-eaten box of chocolates he filched from Justin Finch-Fletchley – 'Malfoy,' Hermione says, 'you're such a horrible little brat' – and giving all the caramel-filled ones to Ron, who tells Hermione to shush. 

 

'I hate caramels,' Malfoy mutters.  'Disgusting substance.  Makes my teeth stick together.'

 

'Sho what?' Ron garbles through a mouthful of caramel and chocolate.  'Doeshn't bother me–'

 

'Well, you're an uncouth savage,' Malfoy says.  'One wouldn't expect you to understand.  Oh, Potter, there you are – what, what are you looking like that for?  What do you want?'

 

Harry marches over to him and wrests the box of chocolates away, tossing them in the bin without a second glance.  Across the table, Ron's small sound of protest dies halfway from his lips.  'I want to know where Snape is,' Harry says, tight and dangerous. 

 

Malfoy's face goes pale; Harry can almost see his muscles tense up, and with them, the whole kitchen atmosphere.  'I don't know where–'

 

'You said you could get him to come to us!  That was the deal, Malfoy!  That was the reason we took you in!  And where is he?  He hasn't come, has he?  You haven't even tried, and it's been months, we should have demanded it ages ago–'

 

'He either knows I'm safe or thinks I'm dead,' Malfoy says miserably.  'He won't come if that's what he thinks – he hasn't got any reason to protect me–'

 

'We'll give him a reason to come, then!' Ron exclaims, cottoning on and looking as if he doesn't like what he's hearing.  'You have to be in danger, do you?  Well, we'll–'

 

'Wait,' Malfoy protests.  He glances from Ron to Harry.  'He's – he's hiding under a Fidelius Charm.'

 

'Why didn't you tell us this before?'  Harry seizes Malfoy by the wrist as Ron looks with sudden alarm at the chocolate in his hand, as if it might be poisoned.  'You didn't think that could possibly have been of any help to us?  In finding Snape?'

 

Ron begins, 'Malfoy, if you're going behind our backs–'

 

'I'm not working with the Dark Lord!' Malfoy says shrilly.  'I've told you that!  Potter, get your hands off me!'

 

'How do we know you're not lying?' Ron demands.  His gaze flies to Harry, then back to Malfoy.  'Harry says you're good at Occlumency, you could be hiding it from us!  And if you're not helping us, you could very well be working for – for V – for V-Voldemort!'

 

'Oh, Ron,' Hermione says, startled and proud. 

 

'Where's his hiding place, Malfoy?' Harry says, leaning over Malfoy where he sits at the table.  Malfoy opens his eyes wide, and says nothing.

 

'Malfoy,' Hermione says.  She is the last one Harry expects to speak, and he glances up at her; she is watching him, not Malfoy, her brow furrowed.  'You've got to tell us.  Or we'll.  We'll have to do something–'

 

'Do something?' he mocks.  'What's the matter, Granger, can't you say it?  If you can't even say the word, how are you going to use the curse?'

 

'I wasn't–' she pales.

 

'You tell us or we'll do worse than the Cruciatus Curse,' Harry snaps.  'And then we'll take you to the Ministry.  I've no doubt that they'll take you to Azkaban.  I'm sure Voldemort wouldn't mind sending his Inferi back for another little visit–'

 

'Look, I don't know!' Malfoy whines.  'What's gotten into you?  I told you, Snape took me there, but I forgot where it was – it's all confusion for me–'

 

'Who's the Secret Keeper, then?'

 

'How should I know?  We didn't trust each other – he knew I'd sell him out in an instant if it would save me–'

 

Hermione's lip curls a little.  'Just like you're doing, you mean.'

 

Malfoy sneers right back.  'Excuse me if I offend your delicate Gryffindor morals.'

 

'What more could I expect, from a Slytherin?' Hermione retorts.  'Either way, it doesn't matter.  It looks like you can't help us after all.  But Harry, it doesn't–'

 

'I already helped you!' Malfoy exclaims.  'I got your information from Mrs. Black, didn't I?  And I–'

 

'You only did that so we'd trust you!' Harry says.  'So we'd think you were on our side!'

 

'Well, I'm not on his side,' Malfoy says.  He's wearing a black shirt that buttons, and it makes his pale skin stand out even more; Harry looks at him, his jutting collarbones and the flush on his cheeks, and the way he can see Malfoy's ribs through the fabric.  For an instant, Harry thinks of Malfoy lying on the bathroom floor with blood spraying out of his chest, Malfoy's pale hands scrabbling desperately over the wounds.  Like spiders, Harry had thought then. 

 

'Wait!' Ron says, jolting Harry out of his thoughts.  'Harry, hey!  Didn't you make Kreacher and Dobby follow him?  Didn't you have them tail him to find out what he was–'

 

'Ron,' Harry says, 'you're brilliant.  Kreacher!  KREACHER!'

 

They all wait; after a minute, there is a loud crack and the wizened, gnarled house-elf appears, giving Harry a resentful bow.

 

Crack!

 

'That'll be Dobby,' Ron mutters, and sure enough, it is.

 

'Kreacher,' Harry says, 'and Dobby, you too, you've been following Malfoy, haven't you been?  Did you see where Snape took him after they fled from Hogwarts?  Do you know where they were?'

 

'Kreacher does not know the answer to Master's question,' Kreacher croaks, 'and if he did, Kreacher would not want to tell Master, nasty, Mudblood-loving Master that he is–'

 

'Harry Potter is a great wizard!' Dobby cries.  'Harry Potter is a noble, good wizard and Kreacher will not call him foul names or Dobby will–'

 

'Enough!' Harry bellows.  'All right, neither of you know where Snape is, I get it.  And you wouldn't know anything about the Fidelius Charm–'

 

'Dobby knows, sir!  Harry Potter, sir, Dobby knows who the Secret Keeper is!'

 

'You know who the Secret Keeper is?' Harry echoes, slightly doubtful, at the same time Ron demands, 'Well, who is it then?'

 

'Dobby is overhearing it, sir,' Dobby explains eagerly before Kreacher can say a word.  'Oh, but we is supposed to be keeping the secrets of our masters!  Oh, Dobby is betraying his great master, who gave him paying and socks–'

 

'Dumbledore would have wanted us to know!' Harry says, as Dobby promptly seizes the closest heavy object, which happens to be Malfoy's shoe, and begins beating himself on the head.  'Dobby, stop – stop that–'

 

'Sorry, sir,' Dobby says, his bat-like ears drooping.  'But Harry Potter, the Secret Keeper is Professor Dumbledore himself, sir!'

 

'Dumbledore?' Hermione exclaims.  She looks at Harry first, as if for conformation.  'But he's, he's dead . . . isn't he?'

 

'Besides,' Harry says slowly, 'why would Snape entrust his location to Dumbledore?'

 

Everyone is silent.  Then Hermione says, in that tentative voice that means she knows Harry will disagree, 'Maybe because Snape isn't – isn't actually working for Voldemort?'

 

'YES HE WAS,' Harry shouts.  'Hermione, I was there!  I saw him, I saw how hateful he was, how he looked at Dumbledore with – with disgust – Hermione, I know he's evil!  I know he's working for Voldemort, we've known that since we were first-years, we just never had the proof!'

 

'It doesn't matter,' Ron says, resigned.  'Dumbledore's dead, we'll never know now.'

 

'No,' Harry says with renewed energy.  'No, he'd hide it somewhere only I knew to look.  Come on, Hermione.  Didn't you say you needed to get some things from Hogwarts?  For the headquarters?  I'm going with you to get those books.'

 

'Me too!' Ron says quickly.

 

Hermione frowns.  'Someone's got to stay with Malfoy.'

 

'What am I, a child?'

 

'You could run off and warn Snape,' Ron says.

 

'I don't know where to find him!'

 

'Fine,' Harry says in frustration.  'Malfoy comes too.  We leave in the morning.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. \

 

The walk from Hogsmeade is a silent affair; Hermione leads the way, muttering to herself as she re-reads her list of books, followed by Ron, then Malfoy, and Harry at the back.  It's cool, but still autumn; the last leaves are lingering on the trees, rustling in the wind.  When they reach the heavy oak doors to the Entrance Hall, Hermione looks uncertainly at the rest of them.  'I told Professor McGonagall we were coming,' she says.  'She should be expecting us, she already told Madam Pince I could have as many books as I like.  Let's go, we've a lot of work to do–'

 

'Hang on,' Harry says in relief.  'I can't go, I've got to search Dumbledore's office.'

 

'Right,' Ron adds, 'and I thought I might nip down to the kitchens, just to, er, see how things are going–'

 

'To take advantage of slave labor, you mean!'

 

'Honestly, they enjoy it,' Ron insists, then barrels on as if he hasn't heard a word she's said.  'Actually, hey!  They don't have any work to do here, why don't they come to our headquarters?  They could cook for us!  And we won't have to eat Malfoy's food ever again.  Or mine, for that matter.'

 

'With whose money, Ron?  Because I refuse to keep house-elves without giving them a salary – and paid holidays, and the ability to quit if they'd like–'

 

'Well, I'm going to talk to them about it,' Ron says, and marches off towards the kitchens before Hermione can stop him.

 

'I suppose you don't want to come to the library either,' she sniffs at Malfoy before stalking off up the stairs, calling behind, 'Harry, you'll know where to find me!'

 

Malfoy sticks his hands in his pockets.  It's quiet, the sunlight filtering through the windows, the castle oddly still.  'Want to keep an eye on me, do you, Potter?'

 

Harry stares at him.  The night before, he said nothing to Harry, despite the fact that Harry has spent the past two and a half months listening to Malfoy complain incessantly about dust and Hedwig and vicious wardrobes and the size of Harry's shirts and blisters and Fleur Delacour and how much he despises casserole.

 

He says, 'It doesn't matter, Malfoy.'

 

'But you don't trust me.'

 

'Did you think I did?  Do you want me to?'

 

Malfoy flushes a little.  'No, but you haven't – you haven't forgiven me for what happened at the tower–'

 

'I can't,' Harry says.  He expects the pang of memory, and it surprises him with its familiarity.  He shrugs.  'You haven't forgiven me for what I did to you in the bathroom.  I don't expect you to.  Listen, Malfoy, that's not what matters now.  You're either with us or you aren't.  If you're out for yourself that's the same as being for Voldemort, in the end.  It's like Hermione said.  If you aren't one hundred per cent committed–'

 

'But my father–'

 

'Is dead,' Harry finishes.

 

'Because of you,' Malfoy says, but it's not rancor in his voice; in fact, it's almost like a question.

 

'Because of him,' Harry says.  'He chose his loyalty long before I got him put in Azkaban.  People have died on my side, too, you know.  Some of them because of him.'

 

Malfoy just looks at him.  After a moment, Harry turns back towards the doors.  'Listen, I'm going to Hagrid's for a bit.  You can come if you want.'

 

'To see Hagrid?  Excuse me, I don't associate with servants.'  Malfoy voice turns eager and Harry gets the amused feeling that it's one of his favorite subjects of discussion.  'That great oaf, he's lucky he never got sacked.  Taking me into the Forbidden Forest – setting wild beasts on me – I could have died, you know, I swear that stupid lump has always had it out for me–'

 

'I can't imagine why,' Harry says with a straight face, and turns back towards the doors.  'Fine, I'll go by myself.'

 

The hut is just as Harry remembers it, pheasants hung from the ceiling, a teakettle whistling on the stove.  It's sunny for November, and the breeze is mild.  The last of Hagrid's pumpkins are sitting around his stoop, and as Harry reaches the door, he hears a familiar bark of joy from Fang.

 

'Harry!' Hagrid yelps when he opens the door, and wastes no time in pulling Harry into a suffocating hug.  Before he knows it, Harry is seated at Hagrid's table, facing a platter of stoat sandwiches and a glass of whiskey, neither of which he wants.  Silently, he watches Hagrid dig through his pockets for a packet of crisps.  Before Hagrid finds it, he yanks out a salamander, a large ring of keys, a thin book called Fertilizers and Natural Remedies that Harry would wager was a present from Hermione, and two squeaking dormice.

 

'Always ge' in there,' Hagrid mutters, rummaging around again and pulling out a third.  'Dunno how.'  The mice scuttle down his coat and onto the floor, where they flee past Fang.

 

'And how's Grawp?' Harry asks nervously.  'Doing well, is he?'

 

'Oh, loads better,' Hagrid says.  'I've bin bringin' 'im clothes, he don' like some of them but he's improvin' every day – yeh saw 'im at Dumbledore's funeral, did yeh, all dressed up?'

 

'Oh, yeah,' Harry says.  'Yeah, I did.'

 

 'I'm awful glad ter see yeh, Harry,' Hagrid mutters, as he continues to fish through his many pockets.  'Jus' not the same, yeh know – Hogwarts without students, an' Dumbledore gone – it's bin too quiet, it has–'

 

At long last, he finds the promised packet of crisps, along with a small stash of Chocolate Frogs, which he promptly dumps in front of Harry.  Happy for an excuse to ignore the stoat sandwiches, Harry seizes one.  He unwraps the frog and is halfway through eating it when he looks at the card.  It's Dumbledore, staring up at him with his long white beard, a small smile on his face. 

 

'This was the first one I ever got,' Harry says softly.  In the picture, Dumbledore winks at him, and he feels his throat close up.

 

'Wha's that yeh said, Harry?'

 

'Here,' Harry says, handing the card over to Hagrid.  'It's Dumbledore.  I've already got one.  You keep it.'

 

'Great – great man,' Hagrid says, mopping at his cheeks with a crumpled, spotted handkerchief.  'Thanks, Harry.'  And Harry remembers suddenly that Hagrid had been with Harry when they found Dumbledore's crumpled body, and that Hagrid, too, knew Dumbledore as a man who had faith in him when no one else did, who stood by him time and time again, and gave him a second chance and a true home at Hogwarts.

 

'This one's fer Dumbledore,' Hagrid says, pushing Harry's glass of whiskey towards him.

 

'To Dumbledore,' Harry echoes, and lifts his glass with Hagrid.

 

 

 

 

 

On his way back into the castle, he runs into Professor McGonagall, carrying a load of heavy books under her arm.  'Oh, hello,' she says distractedly.  'Been to see Hagrid, have you?'

 

'Yeah,' Harry says.  'Er, Professor, are those for Hermione?  I mean, for us?'

 

'Yes, I've just been to the staff room, and I must stop in my office for a few others – Miss Granger certainly is taking a fair number of books.'  But a rare smile graces her lined face and she nods at him.  'Off to the library, then?'

 

'I was actually wondering,' Harry says, and pauses.  'Well, could I come with you?'

 

'To my office?'  She frowns and blinks several times.  'Oh, I'm not using the Headmaster's office.  I'm in my room on the first floor, as usual.'

 

'But–'

 

'I didn't see any point in moving, Potter,' McGonagall says calmly.  'Since we aren't currently open, there wasn't much need.  Besides, I'm rather fond of my old office.'

 

Harry remembers her old office as a bit drafty, despite the fireplace, but he says nothing.  'Might I – could I go up there, then?' he says.  'Just to – I'd like to look.'

 

'The password is ginger newt,' Professor McGonagall says, peering down her nose at him.  'Don't be long now, Potter.'

 

'Right,' Harry says.  He's already halfway to the stairs.

 

 

 

 

 

The circular office at the top of the moving spiral staircase is untouched, and Harry hesitates at the entrance, as if he might be interrupting something.  Dumbledore's silver instruments still whir; the Sorting Hat droops on a shelf.  Harry wonders, looking at it, when the last time was that Hogwarts did not open at the start of term.

 

On Dumbledore's desk, a small glass bowl of lemon drops sits, as if waiting for Harry.  He takes one absently.  There are no papers, however, no folders clearly labeled THE LOCATION OF SEVERUS SNAPE.  Harry glances around the room again.  Fawkes's empty perch, the Pensieve, the sword of Gryffindor, the afternoon light streaming in the windows.  And Dumbledore's slumbering portrait, chin on his chest, glasses tilting dangerously on his nose.

 

'Don't take two years,' Harry pleads with him quietly, stepping forward until he is face to face with the portrait.  'You're a better wizard than Phineas, I know you can wake sooner, I know it.

 

'Please, Professor Dumbledore,' Harry says, reaching out a hand, until his fingertips are almost brushing Dumbledore's crooked nose.  And then Dumbledore gives a long, quiet snore, and his eyes flick open.

 

Harry stares at Dumbledore, who stares back, until finally, he breathes, 'S-sir?  Are you – awake?'

 

'Ah,' Dumbledore says, and in his portrait, he gives a bit of a shake, as if discarding his long, heavy sleep.  'Harry, what good fortune it is that you should be here at the moment I wake up.'  And his eyes, though as far as Harry can tell they are nothing more than paint, seem to give their familiar twinkle.

 

'Professor–' Harry begins, overcome with questions, but before he can even get the first one out, the room erupts in voices.  From every wall, portraits are calling out, 'Dumbledore!' and 'Welcome, welcome!  You're awake!'  Several former headmasters and headmistresses even rush from their frames towards Dumbledore's, to shake his hand themselves.

 

'Please,' Dumbledore says, and his voice sounds reedy, exhausted.  'I am very tired, and while I am very happy to see all of you, Harry has little time, and I need to speak with him.'

 

'Professor!' Harry starts again.  'Snape – Snape killed you!  And Malfoy – they escaped, but Malfoy came to me, and he's been, well, staying with us, and his mum is with Lupin, but Lucius Malfoy refused any help and then the Inferi came so he's dead, but we re-started the DA and Aberforth gave me the locket but we don't know how to open it, and Zacharias Smith says he's the third cousin of Susan Bones, and Hermione thinks that the Bones's might have something that Voldemort wants or that he might be targeting them because of Amelia Bones and–'

 

'Ah,' Dumbledore says, and he holds up his hand, which is no longer blackened but quite whole.  Harry, caught up in staring at it, cuts off at once.  'I have no doubt that you have been busy, Harry,' Dumbledore continues.  'And I would very much like to hear about your adventures, and to tell you a little about my own.  But there is only so much time, and for now, I can only tell you a few things.'

 

'A few – what?' Harry exclaims.  'Sorry, Professor, but–'

 

'First of all,' Dumbledore says, as if Harry has not spoken, 'remember what I told you about keeping your knowledge of the Horcruxes quiet.  It would not do for a member of your DA to be captured and spill all your secrets to Voldemort at the first drop of Veritaserum.' 

 

'Right,' Harry says, 'I wasn't going to–'

 

'And secondly, you mentioned that you had befriended Draco Malfoy?'

 

'Not befriended,' Harry mutters, 'but he's, he might be helping–'

 

'An admirable move,' Dumbledore says.  'And finally, Harry, as I believe Professor McGonagall could tell you, I have left you something in my absence, and I hope it may be of help to you.  Can you guess what it is?'

 

'Guess?' Harry exclaims incredulously.  Hermione warned him, months ago, that portraits have different concepts of time, but he is still outraged.  'You want me to start guessing when you say we don't have much time, and you haven't answered any of my questions–'

 

'I wasn't aware you had asked me any.'  Dumbledore smiles.  'Very well, Harry, if you'd prefer to be told the answer, you may look behind you.  My pensieve is now yours.'

 

'I,' Harry stutters, unsure of how to take this gift, 'er, thank you, sir–'

 

'There is no need to thank me,' Dumbledore says, his tone even.  'There is one more thing.  My pensieve is protected from unwanted viewers.  I've left it to you, of course, but one can never tell whose hands a thing like that will fall into.'

 

'What do you mean, protected?'

 

Dumbledore's eyes seem to twinkle, even in his portrait.  'Later in life, I grew interested in the magic of emotions,' he says.  'For instance, the mysteries of love, such as your mother's self-sacrifice and the subsequent protection she gave to you.  They're quite clever, these spells.  Not much research has been done on them, at least outside the Department of Mysteries, but I devised a little something.'

 

'A little–'  Harry frowns.  'But I can get past it, right?'

 

'Oh, anyone can, Harry,' Dumbledore says.  'The only requirement is that the viewer believes, truly, in his or her heart, that Severus Snape is on their side, the side of the Order.'

 

For a moment, Harry says nothing.  Then he yelps, 'WHAT?'

 

'As for now, I'm sorry, Harry, but merely being awake is quite taxing.  You'll forgive me if I take a little rest . . . I've only just woken up . . .'

 

'Wait,' Harry says, 'wait a second,' but Dumbledore's eyes are already closed.  He says loudly, 'That's not fair!  Damn it, you can't just do that!  You're a painting, you shouldn't be hard to get answers from!  I thought you were on my side!  And I swear I can see your beard moving.  If you're laughing–'

 

It's not until he's on the stairs that he feels the tears in his eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

Malfoy is waiting for him when he reaches the Entrance Hall, but Hermione and Ron are nowhere to be found.  Before Harry can even ask, Malfoy glimpses the question on his face and says, 'Still in the library.  Granger's going spare over leaving books behind.  Now she wants to Floo some back.'  He sneers.

 

'Hermione knows best,' Harry says with utter faith.  'We could need those books later.  There are still two Horcruxes left to find, and we haven't destroyed the others.'

 

Malfoy looks at him almost curiously, and Harry realizes that he has just spoken to Malfoy like he talks to Ron.  Before he can do anything, correct himself or push on or turn away, Malfoy says, 'Did you find anything?'

 

'More than that,' Harry says.  'Dumbledore woke up.'

 

'What?'  There's a strange mix of fear and excitement on Malfoy's face.  'He didn't – does he know what's been–'

 

'What he didn't know, I told him,' Harry shrugs, sticking his hands in his pockets as his thoughts drift to what Dumbledore had told Harry in return.  Dumbledore had, after all, trusted Snape until the very moment that Snape betrayed him, and by then it would have been too late to change the Pensieve's protection . . . but the fresh memory of Dumbledore's familiar, enigmatic smile makes Harry wonder if there is something he still doesn't know . . . if Dumbledore's overly optimistic faith in people had not, after all, proven him wrong in the end . . .

 

Since Malfoy is still staring at him, Harry says,  'He had some other stuff to say.  Stuff I have to think about.  I don't know.'

 

'Did you tell him about me?' Malfoy presses.

 

Harry glances over at him.  'Yeah,' he says.  'He said he was glad.  You know, we're not going to send you to Azkaban, Malfoy, unless you give us a good reason.  Dumbledore means what he says, and so do I.'

 

'But you said–'

 

'Forget Snape for right now,' Harry says.  It comes out harsher than he means it, and Malfoy looks startled.  He doesn't say a word, but he sticks his hands in his pockets, too, and the taut line of his back curves a little in what could be relief. 

 

It's silent and cool in the Entrance Hall, and at that moment, it feels exactly like how it should be, late afternoon, everyone else in their common rooms or the library, studying for NEWTs or the next Potions exam.  Harry breathes it in, this one moment where he can pretend all is simple, normal, and then he exhales.

 

He says, 'How long do you think they'll be, in the library?'

 

Malfoy lifts a lip in disdain.  'Likely hours,' he sneers.  'Granger found a whole new room of books, she's driving Pince mad – the old bat won't let her alone–'

 

Harry laughs.  'Good,' he says, before Malfoy can finish.  'Let's go outside.'

 

'But it's cold,' Malfoy complains immediately, taking a step back from the doors as if he expects Harry to push him bodily through them.  'Potter, it's the beginning of November!'

 

'Yeah,' Harry says, 'it is.  You know what happens in November?'  Malfoy is staring at him as if he's gone mad, so he answers his own question.  'The first Quidditch match of the year.  Typically Gryffindor versus Slytherin, isn't it?'

 

'You want to play Quidditch?' Malfoy says.  His voice has raised several notches in incredulity, and he sounds almost like Hermione for a moment.

 

Harry grins. 

 

'Yes, Malfoy,' he says.  'I do.  Don't you?'

 

 

 

 

 

The only brooms in the shed are the school brooms, full of dust and most with snapped twigs; they look as if they haven't been cared for in months, and Harry runs into several spider webs as he extricates the best two.

 

'This is ridiculous,' Malfoy whines, but he takes the broom when Harry thrusts it at him, and a second later they're in the air.  And Harry forgets about the Snitch.  He forgets about winning; he even forgets about Malfoy.  The wind is shrieking in his ears and he's going at half the pace he's used to, since his broom has faulty brakes and wasn't speedy to begin with, but he does an experimental loop anyway, and then flings his head back and shouts out loud and does it again.

 

When he comes back around, Malfoy's snickering at him, and Harry shouts, 'Are we going to play or not?'

 

'We already are,' Malfoy yells, but his voice comes to Harry faintly, swept away by the wind.  Harry shoots off past him, and Malfoy tries to follow; Harry can hear him shouting at his broom, which appears to have trouble turning right.

 

So they play. 

 

It's more like a comedy of errors than a Quidditch game; Malfoy glimpses the Snitch first and, when he makes to shoot towards it, his broom malfunctions and stops so suddenly that he nearly pitches forward off it.  The instant Harry sees that he hasn't fallen, he goes for the Snitch himself, but his broom curves to the left and by the time he circles back around, it's gone.  Malfoy is across the field already, where his broom appears to be moving sideways.  Harry can see Malfoy flailing his arms in fury and can't help laughing.

 

Eventually, Harry catches the Snitch.  The moment after his fingers close around the fluttering little ball, Malfoy slams into him, shouting, 'Fucking school brooms, this hasn't got any fucking brakes–'  He's warm from the sun and his knees are sharp against Harry's thigh when his arms wrap around Harry for balance, and Harry laughs, in spite of himself, in spite of the war and the Horcruxes and all the things to come. 

 

'Oh, shut up,' Malfoy snaps, hair in his face, off-balance.  His arms are still around Harry.  He holds on a little too long, and Harry lets him.