Author: kerfuffling

Pairings and Main Characters: Harry/Draco, Hermione, Ron, Nott, Crabbe, Goyle

Summary: Thanks to a clever bit of magic and the help of an old acquaintance, Draco is given the chance to relive his years at Hogwarts with the knowledge of what exactly is in store for the future. However, when things tumble out of Draco's grasp, he finds himself losing his memories of the life he's already led as everything takes a startling turn away from what he'd always assumed to be his destiny.

Rating: R

Word Count: 86,000

Warnings: Character Deaths (not Harry or Draco), Dub-con, Time Turner, Torture, Violence

Genre: Action/Adventure, Magical Alternate Reality, Angst, Drama

Canon: Hogwarts (Year 5 and 6)

Notes: A big thank you to my beta topsyturvy who took the time out of her busy schedule to proofread this behemoth of a fic. And, of course, thank you to the organizers of this big bang extravaganza, without whom this wouldn't be written.

Draco strode into Diagon Alley, using the patented Malfoy I-am-better-than-you walk that he’d been taught when he was young, and although most didn’t consider the Malfoy name to be any better than mud nowadays, Draco pretended he didn’t know it. It was mid-October, and the streets were festooned with Hallowe’en decorations, ranging from large pumpkins to live bats hanging from posts outside of Magical Menagerie. Astoria was out somewhere, no doubt buying things she didn’t need at an extortionate price, and Draco had accompanied her only to stop her nagging about how he never paid her any attention. He really had no business to conduct in London, Knockturn Alley or otherwise, but he amused himself by looking in the shop displays, spending a good ten minutes in front of Quality Quidditch Supplies reminiscing about his Nimbus Two-Thousand-One and decidedly not thinking about the number of times Slytherin lost to Gryffindor as he played on it.

Most of the other shoppers recognized him and were giving him a wide berth. When he was younger, it may have caused him to sneer or scoff, but in the end, he couldn’t dredge up the energy to do either and settled on ignoring everyone. No matter what people said, his parents had escaped punishment after the Dark Lord’s fall, and so had Draco, so what was done was done, and Draco firmly felt that he shouldn’t be blamed for the nonsense any longer, not a good twenty-odd years since the war had finished.

Effectively sidestepping a young boy who wasn’t being properly watched by his parents, Draco managed to run headlong into a tall wizard that hadn’t been there a moment before. Draco just barely managed to keep from falling, and he would’ve snapped an annoyed, “Watch where you’re going!” if he hadn’t looked up and recognized the man’s face.

“Draco,” the man said, his voice low and soothing. “I didn’t expect to see you on this side of Diagon Alley.” The slight was underhanded, suggesting that Draco should stay in Knockturn Alley where he belonged, but Draco paid it no heed.

“Boone,” he said in a bored voice. “How are you?”

“Fine, just fine,” Boone said, smiling widely and showing off his crooked underbite. “Yourself?”

“Can’t complain,” Draco replied, looking around to see if he could find a way out of the situation. Boone had always given off a distinctly creepy air that never sat well with Draco.

“I was actually going to owl you this week,” Boone said, his face still lit up in a slightly eerie way. Draco almost shuddered from it, which was stupid because he wasn’t ten any longer.

“Oh?” said Draco, nonplussed. Long ago, when Draco still worked in a lowly office job at the Ministry, he used to sometimes see Boone, but Unspeakables hadn’t exactly mingled with the other departments. The only reason Boone knew Draco at all was through their family connections -- the Boones were an old Pureblood family, strictly Slytherin through and through, but they’d been crafty enough to escape the taint of being employed in the Dark Lord’s service, even though there had been unfounded rumors. Boone had used to talk to Draco when they met in the corridors, everything from the weather to politics, and Draco had never felt very comfortable in any of their conversations. Draco had no idea what Boone could possibly want with him -- they hadn’t spoken in at least five years.

“Indeed,” Boone continued. “If you could possibly visit me at the Ministry sometime soon, I do think I have something that might interest you?”

“Pardon?” asked Draco, still confused. He hadn’t been under Ministry employ for over a decade, and as such, had no reason to suspect that Boone would have anything to show him that would matter to him at all.

“Yes, yes,” Boone said, still smiling. “You definitely need to come in. Perhaps this Tuesday? I understand you’ve recently been doing freelance work, so I imagine it would be possible for you to take some time off?”

“I still don’t understand,” Draco said in lieu of a reply. “What can you possibly need with me?”

“Not here, boy. I can’t discuss it here,” Boone deferred, glancing sharply around to ensure that there were no eavesdroppers. “But you need to see this, I daresay.”

Whether he liked the situation or not, Draco’s attention was piqued. He considered the possibility of refusing Boone’s request, because Malfoys shouldn’t be ordered around like that, even if it was by someone of a prominent wizarding family, but in the end, he was too curious not to agree.

“Tuesday would work,” he said reluctantly and then hastily added, “but no later than eight. I can’t be wasting my entire day.”

“Of course not.” Boone’s grin, if possible, widened even further, and Draco had to force himself to not look away from his face. “I shall see you then, Draco.”

“Of course,” Draco answered. Without another word, Boone turned and strode away, walking towards the Leaky Cauldron. Draco watched after him for a moment before he decided it was high time that he found his wife and returned home himself.

* * *

Draco Apparated into the Ministry bright and early on that Tuesday, and hoped like hell that he’d be able to avoid any familiar faces. Potter, Weasley, or Granger might be around, and he’d much rather stay away from them if possible. Draco didn’t want any trouble or suspicion that morning, especially since he was at the Ministry under official request that had nothing to do with criminal proceedings whatsoever. Approaching the lift, Draco ducked his head as a harried witch darted past him, cursing under her breath as she dropped papers all over the place.

It was early enough that Draco was alone in the lift, save for a few memos darting above his head, and he made it to the Department of Mysteries without having to speak to anyone. He fervently hoped that Boone was waiting outside for him, because if he wasn’t, Draco wasn’t prepared to be questioned as to why exactly he was loitering in the corridor like some misbehaving schoolchild.

However, in that unerring way of his, Boone was standing outside the entrance of the Department of Mysteries, watching Draco approach even though Draco was a good half an hour early. His eyes never wavered from Draco, and it made the journey down the longish hall almost nerve-wracking. Draco wouldn’t allow himself to show any discomfort, but the scrutiny was off-putting, and he was half-wishing that he’d decided not to show up by the time he finally reached Boone, coming to a halt.

“Good morning,” Draco said stiffly, fingering his wand uneasily in his pocket.

“I’m glad to see that you decided to come,” Boone said, eyeing Draco up and down one final time before he turned and opened the door so that they could enter. Draco had never been inside of the department, and his momentary curiosity overwhelmed any negative thoughts he might have had about following Boone inside.

“What I have to show you is really quite spectacular,” Boone said, holding the door open for Draco to step through into a circular room that was almost oppressive in its darkness, lit only by blue flames interspersed evenly among the walls. Letting the door fall closed, Boone stood next to Draco as the room began to spin, making Draco feel off-balance and slightly dizzy. By the time the walls’ movement had ceased, Draco was completely confused and entirely unsure of how to make his way back out into the main part of the Ministry. The feeling that he shouldn’t have come solidified in his stomach, but at this point, there was no turning back.

Boone seemed to know exactly where he was, however, and directed Draco through a door to their right. The room that lay beyond the door was empty, even though Draco was sure that Boone wasn’t the only Unspeakable hanging around the Ministry, no matter the early hour. The walls of this new room were lined with towering shelves, each containing a great number of trinkets and curios, the likes of which Draco had never seen before in his life. For a moment, he felt like a small child again, looking around in wonder at the revolving shapes and metal instruments that adorned the shelves.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Boone said smoothly, leading Draco further back into the room, looking over his shoulder as they walked. “I have spent a great deal of time developing what I’m about to show you.”

“I still don’t understand,” said Draco, a bit crossly. “Out of everyone you know, what could you possibly have for me to see?”

“Oh, you are most definitely the right person for this particular object,” Boone said. “It’s a bit of a secret, you see. No one else knows about it.”

“Great,” Draco muttered under his breath, but if Boone heard, he didn’t comment on it. Suddenly, Boone stopped, and Draco almost ran into his back. Stumbling to the side slightly, Draco cursed as he just barely managed to overturn a small table. Turning on his heel, Boone swung himself around so he and Draco were face-to-face again.

“What do you know about time travel, Draco?” he asked, his eyes gleaming with an unidentifiable light.

“What?” Draco said, thrown off by the non sequitur.

“Time travel,” enunciated Boone, throwing his hand out to encompass a glass case that seemed to be full of what Draco believed to be Time Turners, although he’d never actually seen a real one.

Draco furrowed his brow at the unusual question and tried to think of an answer that didn’t make him sound willfully ignorant. “It’s not a subject I’ve devoted much time to,” he hazarded.

“But do you ever think about it?” Boone pressed, leaning so close that Draco had to quash the urge to take a hurried step backwards. “About changing the past?”

For a moment, Draco was sixteen again, on top of the Astronomy Tower at Hogwarts, watching Dumbledore fall off of the embattlements to the ground beneath. “Sometimes,” he breathed, more to himself than to Boone.

Something in his response must have pleased Boone, though, because the straight set of his mouth exploded into a crooked grin. “Excellent,” said Boone. “Most excellent.”

“Why?” said Draco cautiously, wary of what Boone was trying to get at.

“The concept of time is something that’s always interested me,” Boone said absently as he turned again and started fiddling with something that Draco couldn’t see. “Sort of a hobby, if you will.”

Draco was starting to get annoyed at Boone’s blathering and was quite ready to know why he’d been persuaded to come to the Ministry in the first place. “Now see here,” he said in his most commanding voice. “I don’t know what you’re getting at, Boone, but I’m sick of following you around. Tell me what you want with me.”

Boone continued on, heedless of Draco’s outburst. “Such a fluid thing, time. If you change the past, you change the future. I’ve always wondered what could be achieved if true change was to take place. Time Turners have their limitations, you see, and I wanted a more definite answer than what they provide.” He turned again, suddenly, holding what looked to Draco like a very complex little object, almost reminiscent of the Time Turners besides him. It was a small hourglass surrounded by inter-circling bands of gold, numerous and detailed with a large amount of tiny runes.

“What is that?” Draco asked, all ire forgotten.

“I haven’t yet thought of a name for it,” Boone said. “In fact, I’m not entirely sure it works.”

“So why are you showing it to me?” Draco said, feeling something worrying in the pit of his stomach.

“I feel as though you’d be the perfect test subject,” Boone said. “Quite a bit of regret in your past, isn’t there?”

“What -- I -- I’m not a lab rat,” said Draco, outraged, but, quick as lightning, Boone pressed the instrument into his hands.

“Now don’t drop that,” Boone warned. “The results could be catastrophic.”

Draco’s mouth dropped open, but before he could do anything or try to give the object back, Boone whipped his wand out and tapped one of the gold bands, utilizing a wordless spell. Without warning, the floor dropped out from beneath Draco’s feet and his vision began to black out.

“Good luck, Mr Malfoy,” he heard Boone say distantly, and then there was no more.

* * *

When Draco woke up, his head ached fiercely and he was freezing. Disoriented, he blinked several times before a few key details made their way past the haziness in his brain. He was lying on something soft but it wasn’t his large bed from his house. He was alone, but he could hear someone snoring somewhere in the room, and for five seconds, he couldn’t remember why the noise was so familiar and yet so disturbing that it felt like something cold had slipped into his belly.

And then, with a start, he sat up sharply, clutching his head as the sudden movement made it throb in protest. As soon as his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could discern that he was lying in a four poster bed with the dark curtains closed, and he was certain that he could hear Crabbe, which was so impossible that Draco almost felt as though he was going to get sick. He threw his hands out for balance as he felt his world shift alarmingly, and he knocked against something that was on the bedspread of a bed that Draco couldn’t fathom that he was on again. Closing his hands around the object, he brought it to his face, but it was too dark to see anything properly. Draco panicked for a moment before he remembered that his wand had been in his pocket when Boone had taken him into the Department of Mysteries, so it had to be around somewhere. He tried checking to see if he could feel it against his legs, concealed in his robes, but he wasn’t wearing any. Instead, he was in what felt like silk pajamas, and he hadn’t worn those since he was young.

The discomfort in his chest rose to an almost unbearable level, and he began to frantically throw his hands out to either side in search for his wand. They came up empty, and Draco was about to yell in frustration when a stray thought crossed his mind, and he thrust his hand under the pillow. Immediately, his fingers came upon the smooth polished wood of what couldn’t be anything else but his wand, and things were officially Not Right, because the habit of placing his wand under his pillow before sleeping was something that he’d broken as soon as he had come of age.

Draco lit up his wand, but for some reason, the skills he had once had at wordless incantation were failing him, because he couldn’t manage it without a muttered, “Lumos.” His wand immediately flared to life, and he could see that, whatever Boone had done to him, he still had that strange instrument that had apparently transported him here. At the same time, he could now see where exactly he was, and his heart skipped several beats as the reality of his situation settled into place.

Unless he’d gone stark-raving crazy and was now in St Mungo’s, he was back in his bed in the Slytherin dormitories. There was no mistaking the fine silver embroidery on the green bed hangings, and without thinking about if it was a good idea or not, Draco threw the curtains back and swung his legs over the side of the bed. His feet immediately jerked back from the cold of the floor, and that was the same too, because the dungeons were always frigid, winter or not. Draco looked around for a second, noticing the familiar set-up, the five beds arranged around a small heater, with haphazard laundry and school bags scatted on the floor. He held his wand up above his head and was able to see his slippers. He slid his feet into them immediately and stood up, catching hold on his dresser as he regained his balance.

“Impossible,” he said to himself, and then snapped his mouth shut in case the noise had awoken any of the room’s other occupants. Someone muttered in their sleep and someone else turned over, but there was no indication that Draco was about to be discovered in a dormitory he hadn’t lived in in over twenty years. The snoring that sounded almost exactly like Crabbe’s continued on, and suddenly Draco couldn’t stand being in the room any more. On light feet, he stole his way across the floor to the door that led to the stairwell, dodging dirty laundry as he went.

Quietly, he slipped the door open and darted outside into the chill air of the common room. Letting the door shut silently behind him, he tiptoed down the stairs and practically ran into the boy’s lavatory that was attached to the common room. He wasn’t sure of where else to go and didn’t want to risk leaving the relative safety of the Slytherin dorms to enter the castle proper. In any case, it was either very early in the morning or very late at night, and the lavatory was abandoned. The torches automatically flared to life when Draco entered, and he stopped short as his face came into view in one of the mirrors above the sink. He felt himself sway on his feet and only through sheer determination of will did he keep from passing out right there on the stone floor.

He was looking at a reflection that couldn’t possibly be true: himself, only young, younger than he could’ve ever imagined. He looked appropriately like a Hogwarts student, his hair sleep-ruffled and all there, falling over his forehead like it had when he’d been at school. He was slight and shorter, perhaps, than he should be, and so young. Making a noise that Draco would later vehemently deny was a squeak, he approached the mirror cautiously, as though it would attack him if he made any fast movements.

Nothing changed. He touched his face hesitantly, and so did the reflection, prodding at his cheek, which was firm and pale beneath his hand. Either he had gone mad or Boone had transported him to Hogwarts for some unearthly reason and was playing a horrific joke on him.

Except not, a nasty voice said at the back of his mind. Boone was talking about time travel, wasn’t he? And here you are, looking all of sixteen again.

At this thought, everything Draco thought he knew about time travel became muddled. He’d learned a little, of course; wouldn’t be a proper wizard without some kind of knowledge on how Time Turners worked. At the same time, he’d always known that Time Turners, although able to transport people back in time, made it so there were duplicates of someone in a certain timeframe. He’d never heard of one that could actually make it possible for someone to go back in time and inhabit a past self’s body; the very thought was ludicrous.

And, yet, he couldn’t help but remember what Boone had said to him. Time Turners have their limitations, you see, and I wanted a more definite answer than what they provide.

Did that mean that Boone, that crazy codger, had managed to devise a way to enable someone to go back in time as themselves and change history before it happened? Draco could feel himself trembling at the thought, because something that powerful was almost too much to comprehend. And if it was so, why had Boone wasted it on him? Yes, true, Boone had always been a little strange, a little off. But he’d never been close to Draco, and this was such a gift, a way for Draco to right every wrong that had ever occurred in his life.

All at once, things began to pour into his head, because Draco could see how this could change everything he’d ever known. If he were to repeat his last couple of years at Hogwarts, he could fix things that had turned his life into a clusterfuck. Like he’d have the strength of mind and ability to finish things on the Astronomy Tower. He could save Crabbe from the Fiendfyre. He could warn the Dark Lord of Potter’s plan and tell him how possible it was for him to die, once and for all. If he’d gone back far enough, he could even warn his father from going to the Ministry and stop him from getting arrested.

Draco wanted to laugh in relief, because he now had the chance to redo some of the events that spawned the biggest regrets he had ever known. Singlehandedly, he could make it possible for the Dark Lord to succeed and rule the world with an iron fist, ensuring blood-purity and dominance over the weak.

As soon as the thought hit him, however, Draco no longer felt like laughing. Sure, all of that sounded right and good when he was planning it in his head, but had it really been what he wanted? He still had nightmares, even when he entered middle-age, about Voldemort torturing people on Draco’s dining room table, of his Aunt Bella torturing Granger in their study.

Of Crabbe burning in a fire that was his own making while Harry Potter saved him on a broomstick.

Was that something he wanted? Draco couldn’t tell any longer. Now he didn’t feel happiness at the growing loom of opportunity but instead dread. There were so many choices, and he didn’t feel equipped to make any of them.

Suddenly, his mind snapped to his family, to his son, and he realized with a start that Scorpius didn’t exist anymore. In fact, if Draco fucked this up, his son might never be conceived. The thought of what he could lose welled up inside of him until he felt the overwhelming urge to be sick.

He managed to get in front of a toilet before he disgraced himself by getting sick on his feet, but it was a close thing. His head throbbed hugely with every gag, and the slimy taste of vomit on his tongue was vile. Sinking to his knees, he allowed himself to fall into an undignified position, the coolness of the toilet seat soothing his headache to a slow drum.

Draco didn’t know what to do anymore.

* * *

Draco forced himself to stand after a couple of hours. He could hear rustling above and knew that people were waking up and getting ready for lessons. Circe, he didn’t even know what day it was, or what year he was in, or his lesson schedule. He felt wholly unprepared to step out into a world he thought he’d left behind years ago. However, as much as he’d like to, he couldn’t spend the rest of his life hiding in the Slytherin lavatories, so slowly, he got to his feet and walked out of the stall to the sinks.

He looked awful, eyes red-rimmed and hair mussed, but he did his best to smooth everything over. If Pansy was the same as he remembered, she’d be giving him hell either way, but it was better to look as though he’d at least tried. Gathering some cold water in the basin, he splashed his face a couple of times, becoming more alert at the shock of the frigid water on his skin. Finally running his fingers through his hair one last time, he turned and left the room. His head had finally stopped hurting, but his legs were fawn-weak and threatened to overturn him with every step.

There was a scattering of people in the common room, a couple of younger students, and Draco didn’t look at any of them as he ascended the twisting staircase to get back to his dormitory. He stopped in front of the door, and, taking a deep breath, stepped inside. He halted as soon as he was in, though, taking in the sight.

Nott and Zabini were up, dispelling Draco’s hope that this was all a bad dream or a practical joke, because they looked as young as he remembered. He hadn’t seen either in a very long time, and he must’ve been staring because Nott growled wordlessly at him and lobbed a rolled-up pair of socks at his head.

“Rough night, Draco?” Blaise said smoothly, a knowing tilt to his mouth. Draco opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

“What’s up with you?” asked Nott suspiciously, looking up as he did up the fastenings on his robes. “Someone hit you with a Confundus Charm?”

Clearing his throat twice, Draco forced himself to get a hold of himself. “I wish,” he said in a voice much unlike his own, too muddled and unsure-sounding. “But no, I’m just looking at your ugly mug. It’s enough to turn anyone’s stomach.”

It was a weak answer, but Draco couldn’t manage anything further. Blaise gave him a slightly confused look, but didn’t comment, and Nott only snorted and started doing up the laces on his shoes with his wand.

“You’d better wake up Crabbe and Goyle,” Blaise offered over his shoulder as he left the bedroom, now fully dressed. “If they sleep much longer, they’ll miss breakfast, and they’ll be inconsolable until they’re able to stuff their mouths at lunchtime.” He left before Draco could answer, which was probably a good thing, because Draco was still trying to think of how he would’ve responded to come up with something appropriate to say.

Instead, he went over to Crabbe’s bed, looking at him a moment longer than necessary before he pushed roughly at Crabbe’s shoulder. “Wake up,” he said. “God, can’t you ever get up when you’re supposed to?”

Crabbe gave a sleepy murmur and turned over, knuckling at his eyes. “Don’ wanna,” he mumbled, and Draco started. He half expected Crabbe to be still, to be dead like he remembered.

“I don’t particularly care,” he snapped, perhaps more harsh than he usually would have. God, why couldn’t he remember how to talk to these people? They were once his friends, weren’t they? He’d spent seven years in their presence, after all.

Moving over, he repeated the same ritual at Goyle’s bed and got the same response. Goyle was another shock, because Draco had just seen him last week (or, in this case, twenty years from now. God, if he continued to think about this time-travel stuff, his head was going to explode). In any case, he hadn’t remembered just how young Goyle had looked without the gray hair or lines on his face, and he had to remind himself that he was what was wrong with this picture, and if anyone found out, he could quite possibly be in a heap of trouble.

Now that he had managed to get his friends up, Draco figured it was high time that he get ready himself. Skeptically, he approached his bed and his trunk, but there was no alter-Draco sleeping there. Just his stuff, in the same black school trunk he’d always used, and his school robes, freshly laundered and pressed, hanging in his wardrobe.

After he’d managed to clothe himself, he started to search through the detritus in the bottom of his bag for a school schedule. He was unrolling an old History of Magic assignment when he felt someone come up behind him. He stiffened, but it was just Crabbe, blinking wearily down at him.

“Whatter you looking for, Draco?” he yawned, shifting from foot to foot.

“Nothing,” Draco said. “Just -- it’s nothing. Go down to breakfast. I’ll be there soon.”

“‘Kay,” Crabbe said affably, and after a moment, Draco heard both him and Goyle leave, letting the door slam behind them.

“Finally,” he muttered, relishing the solitude while wondering how exactly he was going to be able to survive the day on tenterhooks.

After about twenty minutes of searching, Draco managed to find his timetable at the bottom of his trunk. He rejoiced for a second because he’d been half-afraid that he’d thrown it away, and studied it for a second. He wished he knew what day it was, but at least he knew which classes he took this year in which order. He still didn’t know what year he was, and he hoped fervently that Boone hadn’t been sadistic enough to put him back in the middle of sixth year. If he had, Draco didn’t know how he was going to be able to cope.

The common room was practically empty when he left it, and it took a minute standing in the corridor before he remembered how, exactly, to get to the Great Hall. It had been so long since he’d been in Hogwarts that he was almost scared that he wouldn’t know his way around anymore, but the entire castle was ensconced in his sense memory. He managed to get to breakfast without thinking and without making a single wrong turn.

The booming noise of a thousand chattering students hit his ears as he entered through the huge double doors, and he didn’t let his gaze stray from the Slytherin table. At this point, he wasn’t sure if he could deal with taking in everything at once, and it was better to be safe than sorry, as he didn’t want to make a scene in front of the entire student body.

It wasn’t too hard to find Crabbe and Goyle, and he sank down next to them, grateful that no one had hailed him as he made his way over. They were too busy stuffing their faces to acknowledge his presence, but that was par for the course, if Draco was remembering correctly. Quietly, he pulled a plate of toast towards him and selected two slices.

“Draco, you look awful,” said someone in a simpering voice, and as he looked up, he could see Pansy looking at him with sympathetic eyes.

“Didn’t sleep well last night,” he said, beginning to spread some marmalade on his toast.

“Maybe you should see Madam Pomfrey,” she suggested sweetly. “She might have a sleeping draught.”

“I’m fine,” he said shortly.

“I was only trying to help,” she pouted, but in a non-angry kind of way.

“Defence is going to be awful today,” moaned Nott, who was sitting a little ways down from Pansy. “Umbridge is going to make us read again. It’s almost as boring as Binns.”

“Oh, stop complaining,” Pansy said airily. “She’s been driving all the Gryffindors mad; a little bit of reading is more than okay with me as long as she keeps knocking Potter down a rung or two. Right, Draco?”

“Right,” Draco said absently, digging into his school bag and extricating his crumpled schedule. Thank Circe for small miracles, because now he knew that it was Tuesday and that he was in fifth year. Stupid of him to forget that he could’ve figured out what year he was easily by looking up at the teachers’ table. Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers were a less-than-subtle indication, after all.

Making a mental note to look outside to try and ascertain what time of year he’d managed to land himself in, Draco turned back to his breakfast. He’d have enough time to return to the dormitory to get the necessary books before lessons, and he seemed to be acting okay enough to discourage any unnecessary suspicion. Nevertheless, he squared his shoulders, because one hour was not enough to ensure that he would make it through the day, and he had enough to deal with without Pansy or Blaise making a stink about how he wasn’t acting right.

Forking some rashers onto his plate, he ignored Pansy’s prattle about recent school gossip as he tried to steel himself back into the mindset of a fifteen year old boy. How had he been at fifteen, again? Well, that was before the Dark Lord had come and mucked his life up, before his father had gone to prison for breaking into the Ministry and trying to kill Harry Potter. He’d been sure of himself in fifth year, working for Umbridge, spying on the Gryffindors, certain that he was on top of the world.

Perhaps he’d been a tad too arrogant back then, but he knew better now. All he had to do now was make a choice between how to proceed. How to change his destiny. If he’d been asked before all of this happened, he would have thought that the choice was easy. Now that he knew how Voldemort lost the war, he could rectify it. He could make sure that his family was at the top of pyramid and help Voldemort win his bid for power.

But now... Now Draco wasn’t so sure.

* * *

As he mucked his way through the sodden grounds back from one of the greenhouses, Draco wished that he hadn’t been so eager to figure out what month he was in. Judging from the sleeting rain to Professor Sprout’s enthusiasm about the upcoming O.W.L. examinations, it was easy to see that it was probably April, early May at the very latest. He was laden with homework that he knew he’d done before and now had to do again, and all he wanted to do was go up to his bed, dry off with a warming spell, and go to sleep.

Unfortunately, it was only lunchtime, and he had to get through a Charms lesson and Arithmancy before he’d be able to even think about sleep, and from the looks of how the morning had gone already, he’d have to try and tackle his homework before then. Draco was very glad that he’d been astute enough to choose Crabbe and Goyle to be his closest companions back in first year because they endured his snappishness without a wayward glance.

Worse than that, Draco had been trying to complete spells that had used to be old hat when he was older, when he was in his proper time and place, and he’d developed a block about them. The only things that came easy enough were simple spells, spells he’d learned in his first four years of study at Hogwarts. This was another worry he had to contend with, because he’d been counting on his memories and already-acquired knowledge to make his time a little easier, but it now looked like he was going to have to relearn everything over again, which was just as frustrating as the concept that he was going to have to redo every homework assignment he’d ever done from now until the end of his seventh year.

So involved was he in his dark musings, he wasn’t exactly watching where he was going as he approached the Great Hall. Crabbe and Goyle had gone ahead, too excited at the prospect of warm food to wait for Draco, so they didn’t provide a warning, and Draco accidentally plowed into someone.

“Oi!” the kid said. “Watch where you’re going, Malfoy, you great git.” Of course. Of all the people to accidentally knock into, it had to be Weasley.

Standing straight again from where he’d stumbled sideways, Draco fixed Weasley with a cool stare. “Oh, don’t be such a baby, Weasley,” he drawled. “It’s not like I can make your shabby excuse for school robes any filthier even if I tried.”

Weasley went bright red, which used to be one of Draco’s favourite things to do. He looked like he was going to say something, no doubt what he would think to be a scathing retort, but there was Potter, glaring at Draco as he put a placating arm on Weasley’s shoulder.

“I don’t know about that, Malfoy,” he said. “Seems like you’re filthy enough, considering your dirty Death Eater father.”

Draco saw red and plunged his hand into the pocket of his robes to grab his wand. “Don’t you talk about my father,” he snarled, ready to pull his wand out and hex Potter at the next nasty words to come out of his mouth.

“Don’t open your big mouth next time, then,” Potter said, and unless Draco was much mistaken, he was about to go for his wand too.

“Honestly,” someone tutted behind them. “It’s not worth it. Let’s just go get lunch.” Granger came up behind Potter and Weasley, and she looked at Draco contemptuously.

“You’re right, Hermione,” Weasley said loudly. “You’re not worth anything, Malfoy.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Weasley,” Draco returned. “If you say it enough times, maybe it won’t sound like the lie that it is.”

Granger huffed and shifted her schoolbag further onto her back, freeing both hands so she could grab both Weasley and Potter and try to pull them into the Great Hall. They went reluctantly and Draco’s scowl deepened as he watched them walk over to the Gryffindor table without a backwards glance.

* * *

The rest of the afternoon was as awful as the morning had been. Flitwick had taken most of the lesson reviewing advanced levitation charms, and Draco couldn’t get a hold of it, no matter how hard he tried. In the end, he wanted to chuck his wand into the wall because he knew how to do these but it didn’t matter in this here and now. Vaguely, he could remember messing one up in his Charms O.W.L. practical, and his anger doubled. What was the point in traveling backwards twenty years in time if he was just as rubbish at the things he failed at as he was when they first happened?

Arithmancy was a confusing mess of angles and runes, and Draco spent most of the lesson trying to remember everything he’d forgotten since he left school. Unlike the other lessons he’d had that day, Arithmancy was something he never used now that he wasn’t studying it, and it didn’t come as easy to him as it once had. At one point in the lesson, he answered a simple question wrong and was haughtily corrected by Granger after Professor Vector told him he was going to have to study harder if he wanted to get good marks on his O.W.L. Face burning, he left the lesson without waiting for Blaise, ready for the wretched day to be over with once and for all.

He was striding down a crowded hallway as fast as he could, dodging students on their way to dinner as he tried to get to a corridor that would lead him to the blessed peace of his common room when someone called out his name.

“Mr Malfoy!”

Draco barely kept from groaning as he turned around, because he could only remember one person having a voice that high and annoying. Sure enough, short, dumpy little Professor Umbridge was hurrying along, trying to catch up to him. She earned several angry glares, mostly from Gryffindors, but she ignored them until she was close enough to Draco to talk to him without shouting.

“Yes, professor?” he asked, almost forgetting her title in his annoyance. He could remember liking her, but for the life of him, he didn’t know why he had. The sight of her was setting his teeth on edge, and he wanted nothing more than to hex her hair on fire.

“I was wondering if we might have a word in my office?” she asked breathlessly. “Just a moment, dear. I know you would like to get to dinner.”

Draco wished he could tell her off and head back to the dungeons, but he felt in light of everything that that would be a bad idea today. “Of course, professor,” he responded, as politely as he could through gritted teeth.

“Excellent.” She smiled widely and turned away to lead him to her office. He had to walk supremely slowly so as not to overtake her short-legged stride. It took less than five minutes for her to get to the appropriate room, unlock it with a wordless spell, and usher him inside, but Draco was already ready to get out of her company.

“Make yourself at home,” she declared, sweeping her hand towards the lurid pink chair that was situated in front of her desk. Draco sat gingerly, avoiding the creepy cat plates that she had posted on her walls. He could feel their eyes on him and he didn’t quite like it.

Umbridge sat down primly in her own seat, folding her stubby-fingered hands and leaning across her desk. She regarded him seriously for a moment before she broke into a wide smile.

“I just wanted to commend you, Draco dear,” she said. “You’ve been doing such a good job as part of my Inquisitorial Squad in helping me locate those who have a penchant for trouble-making.”

“Thank you,” Draco said, hesitating for just a second as he struggled to remember what exactly he’d done as part of the Inquisitorial Squad. He was rewarded with a memory of getting Potter and Weasley into heaps of trouble, and he just barely managed to keep his mouth from curling into a smirk.

“You didn’t lose your badge, did you?” Umbridge asked, gesturing towards his chest. “I do have more, if you need one?”

Draco looked down at his robes and noticed that he was missing his Prefect’s badge as well. Bollocks -- he’d have to pay more attention in the future. “No, professor,” he said instead, schooling his face into a self-deprecating grimace. “I didn’t sleep well last night, and I must have forgotten to put it on this morning.”

“Oh, no worries, dear,” she said, still grinning her pointy-toothed grin. “That’s quite all right. I do have another question for you, though.”

“Oh?” Draco’s head was beginning to hurt at the effort it took to pretend that he liked Umbridge.

“Yes. I heard that you were being bothered by Mr Potter and his friends before lunch this afternoon, and I quite wanted to make sure that he hadn’t gotten away with anything he shouldn’t have. You do know you can come to me and I’ll make sure he will be aptly punished. He’s been behaving most belligerently lately.”

For a second, Draco’s heart soared at the opportunity to tell Umbridge that Potter’d been insulting his father, but at the last second something stopped him from snitching. “No, ma’am,” he said, barely believing the words as they left his mouth. “Nothing happened this afternoon. Just a civil conversation.”

Umbridge’s eyebrows rose so high they almost disappeared into her hairline. “You don’t have to cover for him, Draco,” she said, leaning over the desk so she could place one hand on top of his. “If he’s been threatening you, I need to know so I can make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

“I’m not afraid of Potter, professor,” said Draco, bristling at the implication. “I would tell you if he’d been untoward to me.”

Umbridge still didn’t look like she believed him, but she sat back again, sighing slightly. “If you’re quite sure then,” she said, looking put-out. “Unless you have anything else to tell me, that’s all I needed from you, Mr Malfoy. You can run along to dinner now.”

Draco stood up and smoothed imaginary wrinkles out from his robes. “Have a good evening, professor,” he said blandly, turning towards the door. As soon as he left her office back out to the corridor, he felt his shoulders stiffen as he felt his face fall into a confused expression.

Why had he hesitated to tell Umbridge what had happened between him and Potter? Back when he had gone through this year the first time, he would have never waited to exaggerate and tell her that Potter threatened to hex him after insinuating that his father was a Death Eater. But something had stopped him in there, and he wanted to know what.

All of a sudden, it came rushing back to him. He’d just been exonerated from prison, mostly due to Potter’s testimony that he’d been unfairly coerced into serving the Dark Lord (and Draco still bristled to this day at the fact that he’d needed Potter’s help so desperately at that point in his life) and he was sitting alone in the Manor, waiting for his parents to go to trial and desperately scanning each morning’s copy of the Daily Prophet for news on his friends and acquaintances. And there, firmly in place on the front page, had been a lengthy article detailing Dolores Umbridge’s rise and fall from power as she was convicted of war crimes and sent to Azkaban for a stay of fifteen years without possibility of parole.

She’d been accused of wrongly imprisoning Muggle-born witches and wizards under the Dark Lord’s regime, and later on, it had come to light that she was about to start a process of creating a concentration camp set-up for underage witches and wizards who could not prove the purity of their blood. It was supposedly what Draco himself had been supporting as part of the Dark Lord’s inner circle, but the thought of those children living in what practically amounted to slave camps had turned Draco’s stomach at the time. He could remember the Dark Lord forcing him to torture Muggle children until their wails for their parents had turned to nothing more than weak, wracking sobs, and at that point, he was quite glad that Umbridge was going to Azkaban.

Funny how things change.

And that was why Draco didn’t like her now as he had when he had originally been sixteen, he surmised. When he’d first met her and gotten to know her as a teacher and discipliner, he’d not known what she would do in the future. She had a nasty streak back then that had purely benefited him, so he had not cared what she did as long as she protected his own. Now whenever he looked at her, all he could see was her angry face from the picture that was included in the Daily Prophet, taken just after she’d received her sentence.

It was enough to turn anyone against her, Draco told himself firmly. His stomach gave a pitiful rumble, but Draco wasn’t feeling up to heading to dinner and subjecting himself to more conversation. Instead of taking the right turn that would lead him into the Great Hall, he turned left and headed into the damp dungeons.

* * *

When Draco woke the next morning, he spent a couple of minutes lying in bed hoping that when he opened his eyes, he’d be safely back in the Manor, under his own sheets and next to his wife, with an owl from his son waiting downstairs at the breakfast table. He was sorely disappointed when the first thing he saw as he cracked his eyelids open was the top of his four poster bed, however, and he sighed deeply as he sat up. He was still very tired even though he’d gone to sleep almost as soon as he’d entered his dormitory the previous night, but he could hear someone rustling about around him and he knew that he needed to get up.

His head began to hurt at the thought of the homework that he’d left last night and how late he’d have to stay up today in order to finish it in time to give proper thought to how he would get through this ordeal. He couldn’t fail out of school, obviously, but homework had never been further from his mind, and he didn’t much care either way if it was completed or not. Maybe if he was lucky, he could nick Blaise’s before class and just hurriedly copy it into his own words.

“You all right there, Draco?” asked someone to his left when he’d thrown back the curtains on his bed and slid out of it.

“Worry about yourself, Blaise,” Draco snapped, not bothering to look up as he set his wand on his nightstand table.

“Grumpy, grumpy,” Blaise muttered, and Draco resisted the urge to tell him to shut it. He had enough to be getting on with without caring what Blaise thought of him, after all, and it was Blaise’s own fault for being nosy.

“Sorry,” he said, not meaning it. “I just don’t want to go to class today.”

“Your own fault for deciding to take Care of Magical Creatures,” Blaise said. “I don’t feel sorry for you.” It seemed that Draco’s rudeness had already been forgiven, for which Draco was thankful.

Breakfast passed in a blur as Draco tried to formulate a plan of action in his head. Obviously he had to figure out what he wanted to do now that he was fairly certain he wasn’t going to wake up back in his old life anytime soon. He twirled his wand in his fingers and half-heartedly attempted a bowl of porridge before giving it up as a bad job.

“Are you still feeling unwell?” Pansy simpered next to him, placing one hand on his forearm that Draco shook off impatiently.

“Just thinking,” he said absently, looking over at the Gryffindor table where Potter, Granger, and Weasley were talking to each other about something. He shook his head to clear it and then forced himself to take one last bite of breakfast before Pansy strong-armed him into going to the hospital wing.

“I can’t believe we have only three weeks left till O.W.L.s,” moaned Nott from down the table, and Draco started so suddenly that he upended his pumpkin juice.

“What?” he said before he could stop himself. “Only three weeks?”

Pansy let out an uncomfortable laugh. “Draco, how could you have forgotten? The professors have only been reviewing for a month.” Draco’s stomach sank down to the tips of his toes. God, he’d forgotten he’d have to retake his O.W.L.s, and wasn’t it enough that he was already struggling to relearn five years of wizarding lessons that he’d forgotten that he had to go ahead and take immensely important exams on it all? If Draco had been a Hufflepuff, he might’ve put his head down on the table and started sobbing right then and there, but Malfoys had more pride than that, and besides, he didn’t want crumbs in his hair.

Hadn’t he thought it’d been early May only a couple of days ago? How was it possible that it was June already? Had he really been that mistaken about the timeframe?

All thoughts of formulating a plan forgotten, Draco followed Crabbe and Goyle down to Care of Magical Creatures, ignoring all of Pansy’s attempts at starting conversation. She eventually huffed and gave up, but Draco didn’t notice. He was frantically going over how much time he’d have to spend revising in order to have any possibility of passing his O.W.L.s, on top of the homework that the teachers had already assigned. He was so caught up in panicking that he didn’t even join in with Crabbe and Goyle’s clumsy laughter at the half-giant’s bruises.

Hagrid spent the entire class reviewing knarls and fire crabs. He put both of them in enclosures and separated the class into two groups: thankfully, Draco was with the knarls, attempting to distinguish them from hedgehogs. Someone must’ve been looking out for him because Granger and Potter were in their group too, and no one had to even open their book before Granger was pompously announcing that they needed to procure some milk to try and infuriate the knarl.

Distracted momentarily from his worrying as the knarl went crazy over the milk, wreaking havoc, Draco glanced over to his right. Granger was trying to subdue it with an Impedimenta, but the knarl was bucking around quite quickly and her aim wasn’t perfect. Then, with surprising competency, Potter whipped his wand out and shouted, “Impedimenta!” The knarl immediately stopped moving, subdued by Potter’s hex, and Granger looked at him, breathlessly pleased.

“Good, Harry!” she complimented, and Draco scoffed under his breath.

“Oh, yes, excellent job,” Pansy snorted. “Real good hitting the hedgehog with a curse, Potter. How will anyone ever top that?”

“Sod off, Parkinson,” Potter snapped, all good humor gone.

“I didn’t see you do any better,” Granger added, irked.

“I don’t waste my time on stupid garbage like this,” Pansy sniffed, and Granger rolled her eyes.

“Come on, Harry,” she said, pulling at Potter’s arm. “We’d best review how to feed and groom the knarls. Who knows what will show up on the O.W.L.?”

As Potter moved to stow his wand away in his pocket, Draco saw something he couldn’t quite place on the back of his hand. He craned his neck to look and then couldn’t contain his surprise when he saw the words that were scarred there.

“What is on your hand, Potter?” he drawled before he could stop himself. Potter looked confused for a moment, pulling an expression that was so perfectly Goyle that Draco almost laughed, and then looked down at the hand in question.

“None of your business, Malfoy,” he said brusquely, pushing past Crabbe to follow Granger into the nest of knarls.

Draco didn’t pay any attention to Pansy’s questioning expression as he mulled things over in his head. Why on earth had Potter gone and inscribed I must not tell lies into his own hand? He tried to think of a suitable answer, but class ended before anything plausible came to mind.

* * *

The next couple of weeks passed in a blur as Draco struggled to keep his head up in all of his studies. He was averaging only a couple of hours of sleep a night as he tried to review everything he could, struggling over old Charms and Transfigurations assignments. Every night, he dreamt of mixing potions and executing complex charms, and whenever he awoke, he immediately felt drained and exhausted, ready to be free from the examinations once and for all. Whenever things got to be too much, all he did was think about the last time he took them and how he’d been certain he’d never have to complete an O.W.L. again.

If he ever met up with Boone again, he was going to throw magic to the wind and punch the man in the face.

Apart from the constant review, Draco had another problem that he kept revisiting. As well as he could remember, the anniversary of his father’s disastrous foray into the Ministry of Magic was fast approaching, and that was really the turning point, wasn’t it? His father’s failure and subsequent arrest had thrown Draco’s entire family into turmoil. It was because of this that Draco had been drafted to kill Dumbledore in the first place. Lucius had been in Azkaban when Draco had been marked, and the Dark Lord had told him as much, hadn’t he?

“Draco,” he’d said. “Please do try to not fail as your father did. I shall be most displeased.”

And Draco had mucked that up, hadn’t he? Snape had to kill off Dumbledore, and the Dark Lord spent the entire following year using Draco to torture Muggle children and Mudbloods.

So the logical solution was to ensure that his father didn’t fail, then. Every evening, Draco would take a break from studying after dinner and pick up a quill, trying to draft a letter to his father that didn’t sound like he’d snapped. The words never came, though, and night after night, Draco ended up screwing up bits of parchment containing half-completed letters on them and lighting them on fire with his wand.

Because what was he to say? Dear father, I think that you might get bested by Harry Potter if you follow him into the Ministry of Magic this coming week? Or, Dad, don’t go to the Ministry because it’ll be a giant muck up? No matter how he tried to write it, they always ended up sounding like he was crazy.

And that was the only lead Draco had, really. He knew from his father that somehow the Order of the Phoenix had learned that Potter had gone to the Ministry of Magic even though there were no Order members present in Hogwarts at the time, and that was why the Order was able to ambush his father and his aunt. Now, Draco wasn’t stupid; he now knew that Snape must’ve provided the hint, especially after all of that time Potter had spent after the war proclaiming Snape’s innocence.

But that proved to be another set of problems, because what could Draco do to stop Snape anyhow? He was entirely unsure of when this whole Ministry debacle took place, his memory addled by twenty years of time. And the only thing he could do was try and distract Snape, but how long would he have to do that to ensure that Potter’s presence at the Ministry was unknown? And who was to say that something else wouldn’t get in the way and throw a kink in that plan? By changing the past this way, Draco could be opening another can of flobberworms.

As crunch-time drew nearer, Draco was still struggling with his huge list of dilemmas. He was absently flipping through his Standard Book of Spells, Year Five book trying to absorb everything he could about Charms so he wouldn’t dismally fail their first O.W.L. practical, but he couldn’t concentrate.

“How are you so calm?” Nott demanded from across the table in the Common Room that the fifth years had appropriated in preparation for their tests.

“Hmm?” Draco asked, distracted. He looked up and saw that Nott looked like he’d just rolled out of bed, his hair askew from the number of times he’d run his hands through it.

“It’s like you don’t care,” Nott accused. “What’s your secret? I feel like I’m going to explode.”

“Just not worried, I guess,” Draco lied.

“Well, then, you should help Crabbe and Goyle,” Pansy suggested from beside him, scribbling on a piece of parchment in a frazzled manner. “They’re still having trouble with Third Year spells.”

Goyle and Crabbe looked up hopefully because although Pansy’s suggestion had been vaguely insulting, they did indeed look like they needed help.

“Sorry,” said Draco, not sorry at all. “I still have a lot of things to review so I can pass.”

“Please?” Crabbe asked, and Draco had half a mind to scold him for not paying attention in the first place, but in his mind’s eye he could see Crabbe’s crazed face as he set off the Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement and the charred remains that had been identified as his bones three days later.

“Oh, all right,” Draco snapped, shaking his head to clear the dreadful image. Goyle and Crabbe exchanged incredulous looks, and Draco immediately wanted to rescind his offer, but they were already clumsily flipping through their books trying to find the correct spells that they were struggling with. Sighing, Draco pinched his nose to try and ward off his impending headache and leaned down over Goyle’s book, ready to spend half the night correcting Latin pronunciation and proper wand movements before he could get some real revision in himself.

* * *

The next morning was extremely tense. Nott had gotten little to no sleep and kept nodding off into his breakfast, once memorably placing his head down on his toast and getting marmalade on his forehead. Blaise was muttering incantations under his breath, and Pansy was barely eating, her face pale and pinched. Draco himself didn’t feel very hungry at all either, and he kept going over everything he could remember about Charms, thinking what would happen to him if he failed. Those thoughts didn’t induce anything but blind fear, though, so he forced himself to take several measured deep breaths to try and calm himself down.

It wasn’t long before he was summoned with the rest of the fifth years back into the Great Hall. The rows of desks and chairs were as ominous as he remembered, and the proctor sat at the front of the room where the professors’ table usually resided, looking unusually stern. Pansy was shuddering beside him, and Draco cursed for the hundredth time why he hadn’t paid more attention the first time he’d taken these bloody things. He couldn’t remember a single question now, and his mind felt like a giant sieve, leaking information all over the place.

Taking a seat near the back, Draco centered himself and breathed deeply, trying to remind himself that he wasn’t sent back in time to do well on his O.W.L.s and reinforcing the idea that they hadn’t mattered at all once he’d left school. This line of reasoning didn’t stop his heart from skipping a beat as the proctor waved his wand with a flourish, causing each occupied desk to suddenly be equipped with an exam paper. Goyle’s furious muttering ceased, and Draco bent his head over his paper and began to work.

* * *

The rest of the week passed in a blur as Draco strained to retain all the information he’d ever known and regurgitate it onto test papers. His mind was feeling more and more like a wrung out cloth, and when he lay in bed at night, he often had trouble remembering things that had been old hat before. It was beginning to be worrisome, because try as he might, he couldn’t recall anything that happened in the month before he was sent back in time, and as such, he was slowly losing grip on who had done the sending. He found a little object in his desk drawer, an oddly intricate Time Turner, but he didn’t remember where he got it or how it had been used.

This, on top of everything else, was making Draco feel as though he was being smashed under a giant boulder.

And he still had no idea how to stop his father from mucking everything up and throwing their family into ruin. He had never woken up with a letter fully formed in his head, no matter how hard he wished for it to happen, and by now it was too late. He would be taking his last practical in just a few hours time and he was almost certain that things were to be going down this evening, if his shoddy memory was serving him well, which he wasn’t entirely sure it was.

Draco was still awake at five in the morning, though it wasn’t from the buzz of excitement about the last day of examinations or because he was gleefully discussing the attack by the Ministry on Hagrid or Professor McGonagall either, though he still secretly thought that Hagrid, at least, deserved it.

No, he was spending his time trying to come up with a plan, even though nothing was forthcoming. He knew that he had to do something, or else he was wasting his second chance, but he was damned if he could figure anything out. He was half-tempted to try and get to the Ministry himself after his History of Magic test, but he didn’t know where it was in London, nor did he know how he’d get there now that he didn’t know how to Apparate anymore.

Utterly disconsolate, he got up from his bed before his alarm went off, dressing methodically before heading down to the Great Hall alone. It was mostly empty, with only a few early birds hanging about, and Draco could see Granger at the Gryffindor table, her head bent over what Draco assumed to be her History of Magic notes. The sight didn’t make him feel anything but anger and a desperation to figure out how to fix things so that she and Potter and Weasley didn’t screw up his life for a second time.

By the time Crabbe and Goyle traipsed into breakfast, Draco had eaten his fill and was petulantly pushing baked beans around on his plate. He’d already listened to a couple of fourth years happily repeating the story of Umbridge’s attack, embellishing the story with their own added details, no doubt, but he wasn’t as happy about it as he remembered being.

“Almost done,” Blaise sighed as he sat down across the table. “Cor, I’ll be glad when this is all over.”

“I know what you mean,” Draco agreed, though Blaise was under the impression that Draco was just anticipating the end of O.W.L.s as he was.

“Who cares about History of Magic anyway?” agreed Nott. “Stupid, boring subject. Maybe I’ll fail and I’ll never have to listen to another one of Binns’ lectures again.”

“I think you have to take History of Magic, no matter what,” Draco said, spearing a bean on his fork before mashing it down with the tines. “But you don’t have to take as long of a lesson if you don’t want to.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Blaise muttered. “Who cares about goblin rebellions anyways? Goblins are only around for one thing -- to manage wizards’ gold.” Draco was suddenly unpleasantly reminded of the goblin that lived in the Malfoy Manor dungeons during the last year of the war, and he shuddered as he remembered its smooth, cutting voice and the way that it would look at him with an expression that said quite plainly that it wanted nothing more than to rip Draco apart with its teeth.

“Too right,” agreed Pansy. “I hate goblins anyway. They’re always really rude whenever mum and me go into Gringotts.”

“Doesn’t matter if we like them or not,” Draco said. “We’re still going to have to remember their names when we take our exam. Just because we can fail doesn’t mean I want to.”

“And that’s exactly the problem,” Blaise moaned. “My mother will flay me alive if I come home with a T, even if it is in History of Magic. And I can’t remember all of the bloody names and dates Binns told us in class.”

“Make it up,” Goyle said suddenly. “That’s what Crabbe and I always did, and we never failed.”

“You never did exceptionally well either,” Draco muttered, but either Goyle hadn’t heard or he was too invested in his toast to register the insult.

Before long, Draco was sitting at a desk, ready to make up a load of garbage in answer to every question he didn’t know the answer to. The air was heavy and thick, and his head was swimming with how much he wanted to just put it down and fall asleep, but he kept telling himself, Three more hours and you’re done. You can do it. Even though that wasn’t necessarily the truth, it bolstered his resolve enough that he was able to pick up his quill and read through the questions without much difficulty.

He was just rereading his final answer to ensure that it made sense when someone’s yelling filled the air. He nearly upended his bottle of ink in surprise, so absorbed in his exam paper that he’d forgotten that this had happened. But now that he was reliving it, now that he knew what happened afterwards, he realized that this was it. This was the catalyst that began the fight in the Ministry, where his father failed so miserably that Draco couldn’t do anything but take his father’s place to uphold his family.

Potter was yelling, and he was practically on the floor besides, and the room had exploded with panicked murmurings as people craned their necks to see what was going on. The proctor, Professor Tofty, rushed from his spot in the front of the hall to get to Potter’s side, and it wasn’t long before he was issuing a command of silence as he ushered Potter just outside the doors.

The quiet that followed was uneasy, and Draco gave up working on his paper, looking around for Weasley or Granger, because he was certain that they were going to find Potter as soon as the exam was called to a halt, because that’s what Gryffindors did. And, because he had no better plan, he was going to follow them and see what they were planning. He knew that before, when he’d first lived this day, he’d been in Umbridge’s office with Weasley’s little sister, the odd Lovegood girl, and the good-for-nothing Longbottom before the silly girl Weasley had hit him with a hex that attacked him with flying bogies. But he could change all that now, could figure out just how to follow Potter to London and officially stop him from doing whatever he did that ruined Draco’s life.

Sure enough, as soon as Professor Tofty called time and waved his wand, effectively collecting all of the papers, Weasley and Granger were out of their seats like someone had set them on fire, and Draco was quick to follow, pushing past Pansy and ignoring her yell of protest. It took some effort for him to fight his way through the throng of people to get out of the hall, and for a second his heart sank because he was sure that he’d lost them. But thank Circe for Weasley being abnormally tall, because Draco caught a glimpse of red heading off into a hallway and he darted after him as soon as he was free of the crowd, making sure to stay far enough behind that he wouldn’t be noticed.

The corridors were still full as the rest of the school filtered out from their own exams, and it took all of Draco’s concentration to keep in line with Weasley’s hair, pushing little first years out of the way as he went. It didn’t take long until he could see Potter at the top of a marble staircase, and he ducked his head so as not to be seen as Weasley and Granger made their way to him. Draco began to follow, not as closely as before in case Potter had noticed him, but it seemed that luck was on his side for once, because no one said his name or asked him what he was doing, and before long, he was loitering outside of an empty classroom, hidden in the shadows.

What?” came Granger’s voice, filtering through the crack in the door, and Draco smiled widely because now that he could hear what they were talking about, he’d have a better grip on what he would have to do to stop them.

Potter was talking very fast, agitated, detailing how he had dreamt that Black was in the Department of Mysteries and trying to convince Granger and Weasley how they were supposed to save him. Pieces of the puzzle that had before been lost to Draco were suddenly becoming clear -- now he knew how the Dark Lord had tempted Potter into the Ministry. But he still wasn’t clear on how they actually got there, and he was so engrossed in trying to figure out their next plan of action that he almost wasn’t quick enough to hide when Weasley’s younger sister and that Lovegood girl came around the corner, their chatter dying as they heard Potter’s yelling voice.

Even though they entered the classroom almost immediately, Draco remained crouched in the dark little alcove that was proving to be an excellent hiding place. He couldn’t afford to be found out now, and even though it was perhaps a little harder to hear, they were talking loud enough for him to get the gist of their plan anyway. Their conversation, along with the memories Draco had of capturing Lovegood, Weaslette, and Longbottom from Before, helped him at least form a rudimentary plan as to how to proceed.

Sure enough, when they all came out, they were too involved in what they were about to do to notice Draco. He thought for a second that the Lovegood girl had seen him, her silver eyes flashing to where he was for the briefest of seconds, but she didn’t say anything. Potter tore off in the opposite direction as everyone else headed for the staircases, and Draco let them get ahead of him before he followed, wary of messing everything up before he’d even gotten started.

It was ridiculously easy to tail them without them noticing. They were talking in hushed whispers together, no doubt coming up with a plan that they thought they’d be able to use successfully (and Draco took great pleasure in knowing that they were wrong). It wasn’t long before they came upon the corridor where Umbridge’s office was, and Draco took great pains to hide himself in an empty room before they could commence with trying to clear the hall of any stragglers. With any luck, they wouldn’t think to check to see if someone was occupying the surrounding rooms, and for once, Granger seemed to have made a crucial oversight because Draco remained hidden.

Celebrating silently to himself, Draco settled himself against the wall and began his wait. It wasn’t very long before he heard the group disperse with plans on blaming the Weasley twins’ stupid joke products on why no one could come into the hallway, and there were soft shuffling sounds just outside the door which Draco took to be Granger waiting nervously for Potter’s return.

Potter’s footfalls were quick and heavy when he came, and he was out of breath as he and Granger hid under his cloak (and damn, Draco wished he had known of Potter’s stupid invisibility cloak when he’d been a first year. It would have been so much easier to get him in trouble). Weaslette’s voice filled the air and Draco heard her warning off students. He was poised, ready to follow at a moment’s notice, and it wasn’t long before things became loud and riotous.

He wondered briefly if his absence would cause history to shift, because if it did, he might be in major trouble. He could hear Umbridge yelling, and Snape’s approach and subsequent departure, and the scuffling that ensured that his fellow Slytherins had succeeded in their attempts to capture Weasley, Weaslette, Longbottom, and Lovegood. Everything seemed to be going according to what Draco remembered, and he scoffed a little at how hard it was to muddle with time, even though many wizards considered it to be dangerous to travel with Time Turners in case they did just that.

Draco was about to leave when Umbridge forced Granger and Potter to the Forbidden Forest, but something stopped him at the last second. After all, Potter’s stupid friends should have been getting the jump on the rest of the Inquisitorial Squad in just a short while, and it would presumably be a lot easier to just follow them. He could recall Umbridge being captured by a group of rogue centaurs, and he knew that there was at least one giant sequestered in that forest, as well as a number of other nasty creatures. It was the safer bet to wait and follow the four of them, especially since Umbridge wouldn’t be around keeping an eye out for trouble.

He heard Crabbe’s yell of surprised pain moments before the corridor filled with the noise of the rest of Potter’s group escaping, punctuated by Weaslette’s gleeful cry of, “Take that, you stupid git!” He ducked out of the empty room as quickly as he could so as not to lose sight of his quarry, following them much as he did before. They were out of the castle and tearing off towards the grounds before he knew it, and he was momentarily afraid that someone was going to see him and ask him what he was doing. But the lawn was devoid of students, except for Draco and the rag-tag group he was following, and they made it down to the forest without interruption.

Draco gulped as they entered the sparse line of trees that signified the beginning of the forest. It was a lot harder to see in here, the trees shielding the faint light of dusk, and there was no real defined path. Not only that, but Draco had to be extra careful to not make any noise so he wouldn’t alert anyone to his presence. He lost them a couple of times as he clumsily avoided fallen branches and rocks, but they were making enough noise to rouse even the heaviest of sleeping animals, and he found them soon enough every time.

It took them a while to find Potter, long enough for Draco to begin to get seriously worried that they were going to run into something unpleasant. Hiding behind a particularly heavy thatch of trees, Draco listened into their conversation, his heart hammering loudly in his chest.

Because now that he was here, he had no idea how to respond to the situation. He could think of no reason as to why they met here or why they weren’t returning to the castle. He could hear them talk of the centaurs and the giant, and then Potter was whining about how they were going to get to London.

And then the Lovegood girl suggested flying, and Draco was elated because if he was quick enough, he could get his broom and follow them easily. Draco’s mind was racing with the possibilities and potential pitfalls to this course of action, thinking about how easy it would be to lose them in the dark and the possibility of ending off course over the Atlantic Ocean, and he almost missed it when the loony Lovegood girl was talking about flying without broomsticks.

Now Draco was really confused, but with a jolt, he understood, just as Weasley said, “Is it those mad horse things?” Draco chanced being seen to poke his head through and get a glimpse of them and the clearing they were in, and dammit, it seemed like he couldn’t see the stupid things again. And how exactly was he to follow them if he couldn’t see what they were riding? His heart seized in despair and he began to panic, trying to gauge if he could even get to his broomstick and back in time to find them and follow them. Chances were no. More options were running through his head, everything from the Knight Bus to the Floo Network, but those all took time that Draco was quite certain he didn’t have.

In the meantime, Potter and everyone else had seemed to come to consensus about using the Thestrals to get to London, and Draco was well out of options. Either he could give up and try to make it back to the castle on his own, or he could reveal himself and hope to high heaven that they wouldn’t stun him as soon as they saw him. The decision was a heavy one, but all Draco could think about was his father in Azkaban before he was striding forward, wand raised, crashing through the underbrush.

“Well, well, well,” he said, disguising his panic and apprehension under a well-rehearsed drawl. “What have we here?”

The looks on everyone’s faces would have been comical had it not been for Draco’s nervousness. Immediately, Potter dismounted his invisible horse, and unsheathed his own wand.

“Shove off, Malfoy,” he said viciously. “Go back to the castle where you belong.”

“I don’t think so,” Draco said. “I want to know what you all are doing, trying to fly these mad horse things all the way to London. I don’t think the professors would be too pleased if they knew, do you?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, Malfoy,” Weasley snarled, hefting his own wand into the air, “there are six of us and only one of you.”

“What are you going to do to me?” Draco scoffed. “Stun me and leave me in the forest at night? Tie me to a tree? You’d get in even worse trouble, I’m sure. There are too many things in this forest to ensure that I’d make it out of here unhurt.”

“I’ll take my chances,” Potter snapped, drawing his arm back as though to cast a spell. Draco was just about to execute a nasty little hex that he’d had in his repertoire since third year when Granger flung herself at Potter and yanked his arm down.

“He’s right, Harry,” she said breathlessly. “We can’t just leave him here. He could be seriously injured!”

“Who cares, Hermione?” Ron demanded. “He’s a nasty git, and he’d deserve it!”

“Standing right here, Weasley,” Draco said, trying his best to sound bored, as though he wasn’t concerned that he was on the receiving end of five wands.

“We could just hex him,” Weaslette suggested nastily. “Something incapacitating until we have the chance to get away.”

Granger chewed on her lip for a second. “It’s too risky,” she moaned. “What if something comes along? We’d be in so much trouble.”

“Then someone will just have to take him up to the castle while we go on ahead to London,” Potter said decisively. “Ginny, you and Luna--” There was an instant cacophony of protests as they disputed his plan.

“Not fair, Harry!” Weaslette whined.

“FINE,” Potter roared. “We’ll just have to bring him with us, won’t we?”

“Harry,” protested Weasley, “we can’t just take Malfoy to London with us.”

“You could just leave me,” Draco pointed out. “I’m sure that everyone up at the castle would be delighted to know that you lot went off to London on school property without permission to try and rescue a wanted criminal.” Circe, Draco hoped this gambit worked out.

Potter’s scowl deepened. “Well, what do you suggest, Ron?” he asked, ignoring Draco completely. “We obviously can’t leave him, we can’t stun him, no one wants to take him up to the castle. We’re wasting time here! Voldemort could be killing Sirius as we speak!”

“But Harry!” Weasley said, but Potter held up a hand, cutting him off.

“I’m not letting Sirius die because of sodding Malfoy,” he said, giving Draco an extremely mean glare. “Just get him on a bloody Thestral.”

Draco hated the stupid Thestrals almost as much as he hated Potter, who was guiding him towards one at wandpoint as Lovegood helped the rest of them onto their respective steeds.

“No funny business, Malfoy,” he warned. “If you try anything, I’ll stun you right off of this Thestral.”

“No you won’t, Potter,” Malfoy said assuredly. “You’re too much of a pansy to do anything like that.”

Potter’s eyes narrowed. “Try me,” he said shortly, patting something invisible just in front of Malfoy. “Here you go. Get on.”

It took several aborted attempts before Draco was able to mount his Thestral, and Weasley laughed meanly as he almost fell off of it, only managing to stay on by flinging his arms around what he hoped was the Thestral’s neck.

“Go on, Potter,” he said. “I’m dreadfully excited to see how this awful plan of yours works out.”

“Shut it, Malfoy,” Granger said tersely as she tightened her legs around her Thestral’s midsection. “Or I’ll do it for you.”

Draco wasn’t scared of her threats, but it was infinitely more advantageous to have his voice, especially if he was supposed to waylay a fight in the Ministry, or warn his father, so he obediently shut his mouth. Granger looked surprised for a split-second, and then Potter was checking to make sure that everyone was ready and directing the Thestrals to fly to the Muggle entrance to the Ministry in London.

For a few sickening seconds, Draco was sure that he was going to be bucked off of the Thestral and sent plummeting to his death in the trees. It was horridly disconcerting to be riding something that he couldn’t see, and from the panicked cries around him, he wasn’t the only one disturbed. He could feel the Thestral’s hindquarters jolt with every pump of its wings, and each time, he felt as though he wouldn’t be able to hold on. He had a death grip around the thing’s neck, his legs painfully tight around its middle, and he screwed his eyes tight as they soared off to London.

* * *

When the Thestral finally decided it was time to descend, Draco was utterly miserable. His face was freezing, his hands were cramping around the Thestral’s mane, and he felt as though he was about to tumble over the Thestral’s head at any second. Thankfully, it didn’t take long before he was on solid ground, and he managed to keep his feet under him once he’d dismounted, which was more than anyone could say about Weasley. Draco laughed under his breath, but it went unnoticed until Potter started trying to usher them into a box on the street.

“You’re joking,” Draco said disbelievingly. “I’m not getting into that thing.”

“Then stay here!” Granger snapped. “No one wants you along anyway, Malfoy.”

“I’m not staying here either,” Draco said, because that would be completely counterproductive to his plan and furthermore, he knew nothing about Muggle London and assumed it to be quite unsafe.

“Then stop complaining and come on,” Potter urged, and with great trepidation, Draco squeezed himself into the box just after Potter, and he was throughly surprised to note that the Muggle entrance to the Ministry had not been magically altered to be larger on the inside than it looked on the outside. He was completely squashed, and then Potter was telling someone to dial numbers on the strange looking box affixed to the wall and suddenly a cool voice filtered down around them.

“Welcome to the Ministry of Magic,” it intoned. “Please state your name and business.”

“Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger,” Potter said quickly, “Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood...we’re here to save someone. Oh, and Draco Malfoy, here to be an insufferable git.”

Draco’s mouth dropped open at that, and he managed to sharply dig his elbow into Potter’s side. Insufferable git his arse! If anyone was insufferable, he was wearing stupid round glasses and had hair that looked as though it had never been brushed.

The voice seemed not to care that Draco’s purpose at the Ministry wasn’t particularly well defined as it said, “Thank you. Visitors, please take the badges and attach them to the front of your robes.” Several badges slid out of the funny box and Granger took them without saying anything, passing them back to their respective owners without so much as a squeak. Draco took offense to see that the words Insufferable Git were etched under his own name on his badge, but he pinned it to the front of his robes anyway. He couldn’t afford to start trouble now that he was so close to his end goal.

“Visitor to the Ministry, you are required to submit to a search and present your wand for registration at the security desk, which is located at the far end of the Atrium.”

“Fine,” Potter said loudly. “Now can we move?” Without warning, the box gave an almighty rumble and the ground outside started to move, almost as if they were being buried alive. It was soon pitch black inside of the box, and Draco shifted nervously as they began to sink further and further underground.

Suddenly, a gold chink of light widened from the floor and rose up their bodies in what Draco assumed was the search that the voice had told them about. Seconds later, the Atrium of the Ministry came into view, and Draco gave a sigh of relief at the familiar sight of that stupid fountain.

“The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant evening,” the voice said, and then the doors flew open and they were all falling over themselves to get out of it. Once they had righted themselves, Weasley suddenly whirled around, aiming his wand directly at Draco’s chest. Draco, who hadn’t been expecting an attack so late into the game, froze with his wand dangling limply in his right hand at his side.

“We can leave him now,” Weasley said. “We’re not exactly in the forest anymore, are we? We can just leave him stunned right here and get on with it.”

“Ron, no,” Granger said desperately as Potter looked like he was seriously considering it. “Who knows what might be going on? We can’t leave him here unconscious!”

“His father’s a Death Eater,” Potter pointed out, looking towards the elevators with an undisguised look of impatience. “They won’t hurt him.”

“If they notice who he is!” Granger said. “And who’s to say that they will? We can’t just leave him, especially if You-Know-Who is really here.”

“He is, Hermione!” Potter yelled. “I saw him! And for all we know, Malfoy’s a bloody Death Eater too.”

At that, Draco stepped forward, ignoring the way the Weasley’s arm twitched at the movement. He was fairly certain that he was too much of a Gryffindor to hurt him when he wasn’t being directly threatened. Seizing the cuff of his left sleeve, Draco pulled it enough to show his pale, unmarred forearm to Potter.

“Happy?” he asked sarcastically. “I’m not Marked, Potter. Not a Death Eater.”

“Yet,” Potter said darkly.

“We can’t be sure,” Granger said placatingly. “He’ll just have to come with us.”

“Hermione!” Weasley said, evidently shocked.

“If you have a better idea,” she said, her mouth set in a grim line.

“Let’s just go,” the Weasley girl said tersely. “We’re wasting time here, and if Sirius is in trouble --”

“He is,” Potter interrupted.

“-- if he is in trouble,” she continued, “then we need to get going.”

And that was that, and Draco, hardly believing how smoothly things were going, was allowed to trail off behind them, holding up the rear of the group. Weasley kept giving him glances over his shoulder, obviously not trusting Draco, but Draco paid them no heed. In no time, he’d make sure that his father would win this stupid little fight and keep himself from going to Azkaban.

Everything was going to work out just as Draco ever could have hoped for.

Potter was at the lifts before anyone else, jamming his hand against the buttons half of a dozen times before one of them arrived at their level, the doors opening slowly. Draco chanced one last glimpse at the empty Atrium as the grille slid closed again, and they began to descend, the silence only punctuated by the voice that announced they’d reached the Department of Mysteries.

Draco felt a familiar tingle in his spine as they stepped out of the lift and headed down the long corridor that led to the black door that was the entrance to the Department of Mysteries. The last time Draco had been here, he’d been forty years old, and now he was back again, sixteen for the second time in his life. He kept expecting Boone to jump out of the door and take him back, to steal this glimpse of how he could change everything, but nothing came.

“Maybe someone should stay out here,” Potter offered quietly when they had reached the door. “Keep an eye on Malfoy.”

“No way,” said Weasley’s sister firmly. “You could be miles away, and I’m not standing out here with this sorry excuse for a human being.”

“Not like I want to be around you either, you filthy blood traitor,” Draco muttered.

“Maybe we should’ve left him in the forest,” Weasley said loudly. “He could have been werewolf food by now.”

“We don’t have time for this,” Granger reasoned. “We’re all coming through, Harry. That’s just how it’s going to have to be.”

Potter sighed deeply, running one hand across his forehead as he did so. “Fine then,” he groused, and turned back towards the door. It swung open immediately without him even doing anything. Suddenly, he whipped around, looking straight at Draco with an unsettling look on his face.

“You first, Malfoy,” he said, gesturing with his wand. “I want to keep an eye on you.”

“I’m not going in there first, you crackpot,” Draco blurted. “Who knows what could be waiting for us inside? This was your crazy plan, Potter!”

“You’re the one who followed us in the first place,” Potter pointed out.

“Doesn’t mean I have to follow your orders, Potter!”

“Oh, for goodness sake,” Granger snapped, pushing forward. “I’ll go first, then Ron, then Malfoy, and the rest of you can hold up the rear. Does that sound acceptable?” Without an answer, she walked straight through the door, much to everyone else’s alarm. They all waited on tenterhooks to see if anything would happen to her, but she was quite unscathed, standing in the middle of the room. They all filed in behind her, standing quite a bit closer than necessary in the middle of the circular, blue-lit room.

The sense of deja vu was almost overwhelming at first, and Draco suppressed a nervous shudder. Potter told someone to shut the door, and Draco just barely managed to not warn him that that wasn’t a great idea. He would have to be careful not to divulge any information that he wasn’t supposed to have now that they were here, and the weight that had settled on his shoulders somehow became even heavier. Even though he’d managed what he’d assumed to be the hardest part, things weren’t seeming to be any better on this side of his plan.

The room immediately spun into action, whirling around them nauseatingly, the blue flames blurring together to form a kind of band of light on the walls until everything blessedly went still again.

“What was that about?” Weasley said, sounding very off-put.

“I think it was so we wouldn’t know what door we’d come in through,” his sister pointed out, and Draco had to give that to her because he hadn’t even thought about it like that until now. All of the doors were, in fact, identical, and Draco couldn’t pinpoint which one they’d come through, let alone which one Boone had taken him through the last time he’d been down here.

“How are we going to get out?” Longbottom asked, sounding very nervous.

“It doesn’t matter,” Potter said forcefully, stepping forward. “We’re not leaving until we find Sirius.”

“Don’t go calling for him, though,” Granger warned, sounding uncomfortable as she scanned each door as though they’d divulge a heretofore unmentioned clue.

“Where do we go, then, Harry?” Weasley said, looking around with Granger even though he was obviously going to be nothing but a hindrance to their operation, in Draco’s humble opinion.

“I don’t --” Potter said, and then took a moment to get his bearings before continuing. “In my dreams, I came down the hallway we were just in and went through the door and was in a room -- this room -- and then I went through another door into a room that kind of glitters? I think we should just start trying doors until I find the right one.”

“You’re joking,” Draco said loudly. “We’re here because of a dream? We flew all the way to London because ickle Potter had a nightmare?”

“Shut it, Malfoy,” Potter said menacingly. “I don’t have the time to deal with you right now.”

“If you’re so scared, just go back up and wait in the Atrium,” Weasley said under his breath.

“Oh, brilliant plan, Weasley,” Draco said sarcastically. “But wait! How am I supposed to know which door to leave through, hmm? Seeing as the walls just moved around!”

“Stop bickering!” Granger said hotly. “Ron, Harry, just ignore him. The longer we spend trying to look after him, the less time we have to do what we came here for.”

“Okay,” Potter said decisively from behind Draco, making Draco’s shoulders twitch as he imagined a wand tip pointed directly at the small of his back. “I’ll know the right way when I see it. C’mon.” He prodded Draco forward with his wand and must’ve given some sort of signal to Granger and Weasley because they started forward, going towards the door that was directly in front of them. Like the other door, it swung open immediately at Granger’s push, and they all stumbled in to a large, rectangular room, which was quite empty save for a few desks placed here and there.

“Eugh, what is that?” Weasley said, obviously in reference to the small aquariums that were situated on the desks, each containing something gray and slimy.

“No idea,” Potter said, sounding a little perplexed.

“Are they fish?” contributed Weasley’s sister, sounding both disgusted and curious. Draco could hear her step forward.

“Aquavirius maggots!” exclaimed the Lovegood girl insanely. “Daddy said the Ministry was breeding them!”

“Oh, for the love of,” Draco murmured, casting his gaze over his shoulder so he could give the dingbat a withering glare for being so utterly dumb.

“They’re not,” said Granger faintly. “They’re brains.”

“What would the Ministry want with brains?” breathed Weaslette.

“It doesn’t matter,” Potter said firmly. “This isn’t the right room. We should go out and try another one.”

“There’s another door here, Harry,” said Weasley. “Cor, how big is this place?”

“Don’t tell me we’re going to be wandering around here aimlessly for hours,” Draco said bitterly. “I thought you knew what you were doing, Potter.”

“I will put a Silencio on you, Malfoy, unless you shut your big mouth right now,” Potter said, before adding, “In my dreams, I always went through the main room to get to where we’re supposed to be. I think we should try those doors first.”

Without another word, he turned around, ready to go back into the room they’d just come from. Potter was looking around curiously as Longbottom and Lovegood made their way out, but he steadied his wand at Draco’s chest, making Draco’s fingers twitch on his own wand where it was gripped in his right hand.

“We’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything, Harry,” Granger said. “Let’s just get going.” Draco was beginning to feel like a prisoner, and he desperately wanted to hex the lot of them and go find his father to warn him that things were about to go sour, but he’d never make it, not when there were six of them and only one of him, with no Death Eaters in sight to back him up. The order decided, they all hurried back into the circular room, Draco a bit more reluctantly than the rest of them.

“Wait!” Granger cried, as someone, presumably Weasley, moved to close the door. “Flagrate!” From the corner of his eye, Draco saw her whip her wand through the air, and for a second, he was sure that she was about to hex him, but it seemed that all she was doing was marking the door so they’d know where they’d been, as a red X immediately scorched itself into the wood of the door they’d just exited through.

“Good thinking, Hermione,” said Potter, impressed. Draco chose to scoff to himself rather than risk being hit with a Silencio for his cheek, annoyed with how easily impressed Potter seemed to be. The room began to spin again, disconcertingly dark, and Draco could feel his unease heighten with each passing second. When the room came to a stop again, Potter chose another door, ready to lead now that he’d foisted Draco off onto Weasley and Granger. Draco found himself being ushered into a dark, damp room that smelled old and dusty, heavy with age. They were at the top of a dais, looking down at a raised platform that had a tattered curtain blowing mustily in a nonexistent wind.

Immediately, Draco could hear voices chanting as though from very far away, calling to him. As though he could read minds, Potter immediately said, “D’you guys hear that?” as he started down the worn stone steps towards the crumbling archway. Without thinking, Draco followed him, eager to get to the source of the noise.

“Who’s there?” Potter demanded as they drew closer to the curtain.

“Careful,” Granger hissed, but Potter paid her no heed.

“Sirius?” he called, and the noise was off-putting, unsettling in the air as it hung unanswered. Draco felt as though someone was waiting for them just on the other side of that curtain, asking them to come through and join them, and he was very keen on it, leaning forwards as Potter did to see if there was anything hiding behind the tatters of the black fabric. Mysteriously, there was no one, and the voices only got louder, coalescing into a convincing murmur that made Draco want to walk through the archway and join them.

“Let’s go,” Granger said, sounding panicked and worried. “This isn’t the right room, Harry, come on.” Potter was quiet for a second, watching the curtain ripple in the breeze.

“What are you saying?” he said suddenly into the silence. “Who’s there?”

“Harry, no one’s there,” said Granger desperately. “It’s just a curtain! Can we please just leave?”

“Someone’s whispering behind there,” Potter said to himself. “Ron, is that you?”

“No, I’m not saying anything, mate,” Weasley responded.

“Malfoy?” Potter said out of the corner of his mouth. “You’re not doing this, are you?”

Draco wanted to say something scathing, he really did, but all he could come up with was a, “No, it’s not me.”

“There’s someone in there,” Lovegood said loudly. “I can hear them too!”

“What do you mean in there?” said Granger scathingly. “There’s no one there! It’s just an empty archway!” She bounded forward in front of Draco and began to pull on Potter’s arm, but he stood still, resisting her attempts to make him move.

“Harry, we are supposed to be here for Sirius,” she said in one last attempt to make him give up on examining the veil.

“Sirius,” Potter said, and then, as though everything that had just happened in the last five minutes fell away, he turned from the archway back towards the stone steps they’d just climbed down. “That’s right. Come on!”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Granger said in a very annoyed tone of voice. “Come on, Malfoy,” she said, pulling at Draco’s arm when he didn’t immediately follow Potter back out to the circular room.

“Let go of me, Mudblood,” he said, but there was no ire in his voice, no real irritation. Slowly, he let her lead him away from the veil, feeling as though he was missing something rather important by not staying.

When they’d all gotten back to where they started, Granger marked the door again and let it fall shut, prompting the walls to go back into motion. When they stopped, Potter tried another door that failed to open. He dithered over it for a couple of moments, even going so far as to try and unlock it with a funny knife that Draco didn’t recognize, but their attempts were for naught. Eventually, Granger persuaded Potter to give it up, reasoning that he always could get through the door without extra help in his dreams, and Circe, Draco still couldn’t believe he was here based on Potter’s ludicrous nightmares.

Granger marked that door as well, and almost as if the room sensed what they were thinking, it began to spin again. Draco was beginning to be thoroughly sick of watching the blue flames spin nauseatingly around him. As soon as the walls became still again, Potter tried another door, pushing it open.

This is it,” Potter said loudly, bounding through the open door to a room that seemed to be glittering. The rest of them followed after him with a little more trepidation. Once Draco’s eyes had adjusted to the shimmering quality of the light, he could see that the walls were covered in clocks, and the ticking of them was almost a palpable presence in the air, oppressive and very loud. Draco’s breath caught in his throat, because it almost looked very familiar. Almost, but not quite, and he chanced breaking away from Granger to run a hand over the nearest clock, gathering quite a bit of dust on his fingertips as he did so.

“This way!” Potter called, quickly walking forward through the narrow passageway in between the numerous desks that lined the walls, each sagging under the weight of their own clocks. Draco followed immediately, his heart pounding against his sternum, because they were almost there. He could feel it. In just a few minutes time, he’d be able to turn the tide on everything that had gone wrong in his world.

They approached a large crystal bell jar, that the Weaslette took an inordinate amount of interest in. “Oh look,” she said, pointing at it in wonder and looking as though she wanted to stop in front of it and watch it. At first Draco wasn’t sure what she found to be so interesting -- was she really so poor that she’d never seen crystal before in her life? -- but as he came closer, Draco could see a small egg, buoyed up by an incandescent golden wind. As he watched, it rose in the air, cracked, and a hummingbird emerged from the shell, fluttering to the very top of the jar. Then, almost as if it had hit an unseen wall, it began to grow young again, its feathers becoming ragged and wet, and by the time it reached the bottom of the jar again, it was again enclosed within the egg. It was a fascinating sight, and Draco was almost keen to stop and watch it, but Potter apparently had other ideas.

“Keep going,” Potter said, continuing his plight forward even though it was obvious that Weaslette wanted to keep watching the egg through the bell jar.

“You dawdled long enough at that stupid arch,” she said under her breath, but she kept moving with only one last glance at the egg. Draco himself watched it until it was unfeasible to do so, and Potter led them through yet another door into yet another room. Draco was beginning to feel disoriented at how large this place was.

“This is it,” Potter said, sounding excited and breathless. The room was very large, the ceiling so high above them that Draco almost couldn’t see it. There were shelves as far as the eye could see, stretching above them, each adorned with rows upon rows of little glass balls, dusty with age and neglect. Draco shivered at the chill in the air, and he could see the flicker of the blue flames, and his heart was now positively leaping into his throat, because he knew that this was it. This was the Hall of Prophecy that his father had talked about. In just a few minutes, he’d be face-to-face with his father.

“You said it was row ninety-seven, didn’t you?” Granger asked Potter nervously, still steadfast in her position behind Draco. As though he’d leave now, he thought derisively. Sometimes Gryffindors really didn’t understand the way of the world.

“Yes,” Potter said, breathless.

“We need to go right, I think,” Granger continued, and Draco turned around slightly so that he could see what she was looking at. “Yes, this one is row fifty-four.”

“Wands out,” Potter warned. “Except for you, Malfoy.”

“I’ve got an eye on him,” Weasley said seriously.

“Oh, I’m nervous now,” Draco drawled. “Weasley’s got an eye on me.”

“Come on,” Potter said, leading the way, presumably towards whichever place he’d been seeing in his cockamamy dreams. They were creeping along silently, and Draco longed to make some noise to warn whomever was waiting for them, but Weasley had pressed his wandtip into Draco’s back, and Draco had seen Weasley’s shoddy wand-work in class before, and he didn’t want to be incapacitated by an incorrectly performed spell this close to the finish line. It took a couple of minutes, with Potter and Longbottom in the front, examining the placard at the end of each shelf as though they thought they would be out of turn instead of numerically ordered.

“Ninety-seven,” Longbottom whispered, pointing his wand down a deserted corridor. Draco’s stomach fell to his feet as he strained his eyes looking for a sign of his father, of anyone that he could tip off before things happened, but he could see nothing but the shelves and the tiny glass baubles.

“He’s right down at the end,” Potter said, even though it was obvious that no one was there. “You just can’t see properly from here, is all.”

“Potter, you nutter,” Draco hissed. “There’s no one down there.” But Potter paid him no heed, focused on the job in front of him, and slowly led them down the alley.

“He should be here...” Potter muttered, mostly to himself. “Anywhere here...really close.”

“Harry,” said Granger cautiously.

“Somewhere” he continued, not paying attention to her, but Draco was quite sure that somewhere under his smooth veneer he was panicking.

“Harry,” Granger said again as they reached the end of the hallway and stepped back out into the dusty silence.

“What?” Potter snarled.

“I -- I don’t think Sirius is here.”

“Oh, that’s perfect, Potter,” Draco snapped. “You bring us all the way here for a wild goose chase.”

“Shove off, Malfoy,” Weasley said from behind him.

Draco ignored him, eager at his chance to make some noise now that he had a plausible reason to. “I mean, what, you dreamt that your flea-bitten godfather was here, and now you’re surprised that he isn’t? I don’t know if anyone told you this, Potter, but dreams aren’t real!”

“I’m serious, Malfoy,” Weasley said in a dangerous tone of voice that wasn’t the least bit intimidating. “Shut up.”

“Harry,” Longbottom called from somewhere behind Draco; he’d been waylaid looking at the little glass balls, apparently.

“What?” snapped Potter, looking more agitated by the second now that his brilliant plan had gone up in smoke.

“Have you seen this?” Longbottom continued, a little quiet, a little awed. Draco could hardly think what unimpressive thing had caught Longbottom’s simple mind but he turned as Potter swept past him to join him in looking at the shelf. Potter seemed to think that Longbottom had found a clue as to why he’d been summoned there in the first place, but Longbottom was just staring at one of the little glass balls in faintly-disguised curiosity.

“What?” Potter said again, dully, not impressed by Longbottom’s discovery in the slightest.

“It’s got your name on it,” Longbottom said in an awed voice, and this was it, this was why they were here. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up in anticipation as Potter stepped closer to the ball, staring at it intensely.

“My name on it?” Potter repeated dumbly. He had to crane his neck to look up at it, and Draco did too, catching a spidery scrawl revealing Potter’s name, along with a series of initials and another name that Draco read to be Dark Lord.

“What is it?” asked Ron, sounding completely unnerved, though his wand didn’t waver from Draco’s back. “What’s it doing here?”

“I dunno,” Potter said. “But I’m the only one who has one. None of you have your names on any of them.”

“Harry, don’t touch it,” Granger said desperately. “You don’t know what it is. You shouldn’t touch it.” The suspense was so heavy in the air that it almost felt as though it was pushing Draco into the ground. His throat was dry with the anticipation of what was about to come.

“It’s got my name on it,” Potter said stubbornly, reaching out suddenly and picking it up. Draco was expecting something amazing to happen, a minor explosion or, at the very least, sparks or a flash of bright light, but nothing happened. Potter just cradled the ball in his hands delicately, looking into it as though it held the answers to the universe. Draco was so intent on watching him that he forgot what was coming next, and when his father’s voice rang through the silence, he jumped at the noise.

“Very good, Potter. Now turn around, nice and slowly, and give that to me.” Draco whipped around so quickly that he felt Weasley’s arm falter on his back, but now that he was facing his father, he knew that the rest of them were keeping one eye on him and the other on the black shapes that were appearing out of nowhere, blocking them into the aisle. Draco’s breath caught in his throat -- he had so many things to say -- but the sight of his father’s face hidden behind the ugly Death Eater mask that Draco had forgotten he’d worn made any semblance of speech die in his chest. The assembled Death Eaters all had their wands pointed at each of them in turn, and for the first time that night, Draco felt fear.

“To me, Potter,” his father said, and Draco wanted to ask him why he hadn’t noticed him or said anything, but Potter had pushed his way harshly in front of Draco, and every one of the Death Eaters had focused their attention on him.

“Where’s Sirius?” he demanded harshly, trying to form a barrier between him and the rest of them but failing miserably. Someone laughed, harsh and grating into the air, and Draco would recognize that voice anywhere. Looked like his Aunt Bella had come to play as well.

“The Dark Lord always knows,” she crowed, stepping forward so that she was standing right next to Draco’s father.

“Always,” said Lucius quietly. “Now, give me that prophecy, Potter.”

“I want to know where Sirius is!”

I want to know where Sirius is,” mocked Aunt Bella meanly, and far from being reassuring, her words sent ice water running down his back. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been going crazy, trying to kill as many people as she could in the Great Hall. He couldn’t say that he was very upset at her death, even if she was put down by Weasley’s mother.

The Death Eaters were closing ranks on them, pulling themselves in even tighter so there’d be no room for escape. Draco couldn’t help it anymore, couldn’t stop himself from speaking, pushing himself in front of Potter. “Father,” he croaked, even though he probably shouldn’t have drawn attention to the fact that he knew his father was within the hidden group, although he was quite certain that Potter recognized his voice.

His father paused and so did Aunt Bella, obviously floored by his presence with Potter at this point in time.

“Draco?” his father asked, sounding entirely perplexed and not nearly as strong as he had just a few seconds prior.

“Why, Lucius,” someone crowed to his right. “Looks like your son’s gone and turned traitor.” Draco wanted to protest, wanted to tell them that he was here because he knew that the Order of the Phoenix was coming, but something inexplicably stopped him, and he scarcely breathed from the fear that was welling in his chest.

“Scum,” his aunt shrieked suddenly, whipping her wand so that it was pointed directly at Draco’s chest. “I thought better of you, Draco!”

“Bellatrix,” his father said, even though it was clear that he was as confused as Draco felt.

And Draco should have said something then, should have told his father that the Order was coming, that they’d all be captured before they could get the prophecy, but nothing was coming up his throat. Potter was still and strong at his back and his aunt looked like she was about to curse his intestines up his throat, but he couldn’t do anything but stare, dumbfounded. Several things flashed through his mind: the Dark Lord torturing the Muggle Studies teacher above his dining room table, watching as Death Eaters had a “fun” little time with a small Muggle boy, being held under a Crucio until he was sobbing in pain just because, and Dumbledore falling, always falling.

Faced with this future, moving forward into becoming one of the Dark Lord’s trusted, eradicating all the Mudbloods and scum of the country and then, later on, the world, Draco thought he should want this. He should have felt the need to turn on Potter right then and tell his father everything, should have darted across the open space until he was standing with his comrades-in-arms, standing up for everything he’d always been taught.

He still couldn’t move.

Potter, ever the Gryffindor, pushed his way in front of Draco again, making it so Aunt Bella’s wand was pointed at his heart instead, and Draco was suddenly back in the Fiendfyre, clinging to Potter on that broom as Crabbe burned. Potter was right in front of him, protecting him even though he shouldn’t, and Draco wanted to hate him, loathe him like he always had for butting in and ruining Draco’s life, but he couldn’t manage anything above numb disbelief as he saw the figure that was his father stiffen.

“Draco,” his father said again, and it was a command, and Draco was so close to Potter, close enough to wrest the prophecy from his hand and walk over and triumphantly hand it over, but he just sodding couldn’t, and instead of trying anything, he finally allowed himself to move, one step back until he was right in front of Granger.

“Oh, Draco,” his aunt sighed heavily. “We’re going to have to kill you now, I hope you know.” It was a call to action, maybe, a threat, and Aunt Bella never cared too much about the bond brought about through blood, so Draco wasn’t entirely sure she wasn’t serious. Sure enough, she again pointed her wand towards him, and he could imagine the expression on her face, ugly and crazy.

“Where’s Sirius?” Potter demanded desperately, ignoring Draco’s plight completely for his own stupid worries. “He’s here. I know he has to be.”

Aunt Bellatrix immediately snapped her wand back to Potter, and her mocking laugh made the hairs on the back of Draco’s neck stand straight up. “Did the wittle baby wake up and think what he dweamt was twoo?” she cooed, taking a sadistic pleasure in Potter’s anxiety. Beside him, Draco could feel Weasley stirring.

“Don’t do anything,” Potter said out of the side of his mouth. “Wait for me--”

“Listen to him!” Aunt Bella laughed. “Giving the others instructions as if they think they could beat us in a fight.”

“Of course he is, Bella,” Draco’s father said, a little shaky but sure on his task. “You don’t know Potter as well as I do. More brawn than brains. The Dark Lord knows that he has a weakness for heroics and that will be his downfall. Now, Potter, stop stalling, and give me the prophecy.”

“No,” Potter snapped. “Where’s Sirius? What have you done with him?”

“Who said anything about your godfather?” Draco’s father continued smoothly. “I think it’s high time you learned the difference between fact and fiction. The prophecy, Potter. I shan’t ask again.”

But Potter didn’t move, standing stubbornly in the front of their little group. “No,” he said, and his voice wasn’t quavering even though Draco thought it should be. “No, you’ll have to kill me first,” he finished, and Draco wanted to roll his eyes at the theatrics, but seeing as things had gone extraordinarily wrong, he figured that Potter was his best bet of getting out of here alive at the moment, unless Draco could find the perfect time to go turncoat and prove to his father that he wasn’t a blood traitor.

Fat chance of that happening, though, seeing as Draco couldn’t make himself do anything but stand there at the moment. He had never seen his father act like this, demanding, threatening, murderous, and seeing it made his feet stick as if he’d been stunned.

Potter tensed, almost as if he was expecting to have to start throwing spells any second, but none of the Death Eaters moved. Potter raised the glass ball to his face, looking at it as though it was the most important thing in the world. Which, considering that they were about to be attacked by fifteen odd Death Eaters who were desperate to get their hands on it, was a pretty apt description.

“What did you say this was?” Potter stalled, playing coy. “A prophecy? What does Voldemort want with it anyway?”

“You dare speak his name?” Aunt Bellatrix breathed. “You, a filthy half-blood?”

“Voldemort’s half-blood, too,” Potter said matter-of-factly. “Or did he not tell you that?”

“How dare you?” shrieked Aunt Bella, raising her wand above her head. Draco flinched, but all she said was, “Accio Proph--”

Potter obviously wasn’t as stupid as he was playing out, though, because he shouted, “Protego!” before she’d even had a chance to finish her spell, and by sheer dumb luck, he managed to keep a hold of the prophecy.

“Oh, the little baby knows how to play,” mocked Aunt Bella. “Why don’t we challenge him a little, hmm? Show him what a real fight’s like.”

“No!” said Draco’s father sharply. “If you smash the prophecy, you know the consequences.”

That, if anything, was something that shouldn’t have been said aloud, because Draco could tell that the cogs were working in Potter’s mind as well. If his father was so desperate to have this prophecy, Draco had two options for survival: somehow manage to get it from Potter...or hope to hell that Potter would be able to hang onto it somehow. The idea to just tackle Potter from behind and hope that the little glass ball didn’t break was tantamount in Draco’s mind, but every time he steeled himself to do it, something twanged in his stomach, and all he could think about was death and blood and decay.

“What kind of prophecy is this?” Potter asked. “Why is it so important?”

“Surely you jest,” Draco’s father said impatiently. “Hand it over or we’ll start torturing your little friends. Start with the Weasley girl, I think.”

“You come anywhere near any of us and I’ll smash it. I swear I will,” warned Potter. He made a gesture as though he was about to throw it down to break upon the stone floor, and Draco’s father made an aborted gesture as though he was trying to catch it.

“This is stupid,” Aunt Bella burst out suddenly. “We should not be sitting here listening to such insolence! And from a schoolboy, no less! STUPE-”

“I said no!” Draco’s father bellowed, pushing at Aunt Bella’s hand so that her stunning spell crashed into a shelf, causing several glass balls to shatter. “Not until we get that prophecy!”

Several pearlescent beings shimmered into place, and Draco thought that they were ghosts at first. All of their voices crashed over one another, and it soon became obvious that they were something akin to memories because none of them even acknowledged where they were.

“Great misfortune--” one said in a monotone.

“No more shall come,” said another.

“Light of the full moon,” intoned yet another, and the cacophony of voices was making Draco’s head ache.

“Do not attack,” commanded Draco’s father. “We must not harm the prophecy!”

“He dares to speak the Dark Lord’s name!” protested Aunt Bella. “He should be put down like the dog he is for saying such things!”

“Wait until we have the prophecy,” Draco’s father said again, steel in his voice. By now, all of the shimmering figures had disappeared as quickly as they’d come, and the floor was scattered with fine shards of glass.

“Hurry up, Lucius,” Aunt Bellatrix snapped. “We do not have all night.” She was breathing very heavily, incredibly incensed, and Draco was certain that she’d be attacking with deadly force just as soon as she could. Yet another formidable reason to try and take the prophecy from Potter, but he still could not bring himself to move and pigeon-hole himself into that future.

“You still haven’t told me what this prophecy’s about,” Potter said calmly, still not letting on that he was even the least bit fazed by the threat of fifteen Death Eaters.

“Now is not the time for games, Potter,” said Draco’s father coldly.

“I’m not playing at anything,” Potter returned, and Draco caught him lift his foot up and subtly trod on Granger’s toes.

“What?” said Granger in barely more than a whisper.

“You mean to tell me,” Draco’s father said, “that Dumbledore never told you that the reason why your parents are dead was recorded here in the Ministry of Magic?”

“What are you talking about?” Potter asked, very quickly. “What about my parents?”

What?” Granger hissed, sharper than before.

“You really don’t know?” asked Draco’s father and then, inexplicably, he started to laugh, joined by the rest of the Death Eaters in turn. Perhaps sensing his chance, Potter turned his head almost imperceptibly to the right.

“Smash shelves--” he said in the faintest of voices, so soft that Draco almost didn’t hear him.

“I cannot believe this,” Draco’s father continued, his laugh finally trailing off. “Well, no wonder you didn’t come running--”

“-- when I say go --”

“-- when he showed you where it was. We were sure that you would want to know the reason why he had to kill your parents.”

“Did he?” Potter asked, and his voice was shaking now, but with rage, not fear. “Why did I have to come and get it, then?”

“Because,” Draco’s father responded, “the only people who are able to retrieve prophecies from the Department of Mysteries are those whom the prophecies are about. And surely the Dark Lord was not about to stroll into the Ministry of Magic, not when they’re so graciously ignoring his return.”

“So that’s why he lured me here,” Potter said slowly. “And that’s why he’s got you lot doing his dirty work for him, right? And why he tried to get Bode to steal it -- and Sturgis?”

“Very good, Potter,” said Draco’s father meanly. “But the Dark Lord knows you are not unintell--”

“NOW!” Potter yelled suddenly, and suddenly everyone behind him excluding Draco was shouting, shooting Reductor hexes at the shelves. Immediately, more transparent people appeared as the glass balls began to rain down on top of them like hail, and Draco covered his head to keep from being knocked unconscious.

“RUN!” Potter shouted, and he grabbed Draco’s arm as he shot past, pulling Draco along with him. It was as if his brain was finally allowing him to move again, and instead of yanking free and turning around to join his father, to apologize, Draco began to run with Potter, making sure that he had a tight grip on his wand and was ready to hex anyone who’d try to hurt him.

The shelves were still falling all around them, and Draco could barely see Granger through the dust and the figures, couldn’t hear anything above the din of the catastrophe. Everything was echoing oddly due to the high ceiling, and Potter still hadn’t let go of Draco’s arm, was still pulling him inexorably forwards.

All of a sudden, a Death Eater appeared out of nowhere in their path, but Potter didn’t hesitate, whipping his wand through the air with a rushed exhale of, “Stupefy!” The Death Eater immediately went down, and Draco rushed over his soft, prone body.

“A LITTLE HELP HERE, MALFOY!” Potter shouted above the noise as he Stunned another Death Eater that was trying to impede their way.

I’m not on your side, Malfoy wanted to say, or, Why are you helping me? but he didn’t. Instead, he raised his wand hand to the ready, and when they burst out of the alley and down the main aisle-way, he threw a curse of his own at one of the two Death Eaters that were bearing down in front of him. From the mangled yell that ensued, he was sure he’d got him, but there was no time to do anything but run through the door in front of them. They were the last ones through, and as soon as Potter had slammed the door behind him, he let go of Draco’s arm.

Colloportus,” gasped Granger, sealing the door. She and Longbottom were the only ones in the room; both Weasleys and Lovegood seemed to have disappeared through another escape route.

“Where are the others?” asked Potter, breathing very heavily from their sprint.

“They must’ve gone another way,” moaned Granger.

“What are we supposed to do now, Potter?” Draco demanded, talking stiltedly due to his own heaving chest. “What’s next in this great plan of yours?”

“Shh,” Longbottom said quickly. “Listen!”

Draco could hear people just outside of the door that Granger had just sealed, moving quickly, and he heard his father’s voice filter through the air, muffled by the wall separating them.

“Leave Nott!” Draco’s father ordered. “We must find the prophecy. Jugson -- you’re with me. We must split into pairs and find them. Don’t forget that we need the prophecy from Potter! The others are expendable. Now, Bellatrix, you and Rodolphus go that way. Crabbe, Rabastan, go right. Mulciber, Dolohov, straight ahead. The rest of you find a door and keep searching until you find them!”

“Harry, what are we supposed to do?” asked Granger desperately.

“Get away from here, obviously,” Draco said. Now that he was in this fight, and on the wrong side, he was going to do his damnedest to make sure he wasn’t one of the expendable ones.

“Malfoy’s right,” Potter said reluctantly. “Let’s move before they find us!” They began to rush as quickly as they could, trying to get back to the circular room before they were discovered. It almost worked, but just as soon as they’d passed the bell jar, two thumps sounded from behind them. There was a muffled argument, and then someone yelled “Alohomora!”

“Hide!” hissed Potter, and he dove under a desk. Granger and Longbottom were somewhere ahead of them, and all Draco could see from his own place under an adjoining desk was the glint of Potter’s glasses as he chanced a glance out into the hall. The Death Eaters, now through the door, were running as quickly as they could.

“They could be out in the main room,” one said.

“Check under the desks,” the other warned, and Draco cursed under his breath. He should’ve known not to listen to Potter -- they were about to be discovered. Potter moved as soon as one came into view, stunning him quickly, but the other one was quick, whipping over Potter and raising his arm to curse Granger, who’d stupidly crawled out from under her own desk, presumably to take aim.

Avada--” he started, the power behind the curse making his voice terrible, and Draco did something without thinking -- without even considering it. He dove out from his own hiding place and grabbed the Death Eater by the knees, pulling him off balance and making him stumble backwards, giving Granger enough time to stun him.

“You’re going to get us killed, Potter!” Draco said as he kicked himself free from the Death Eater’s limbs. Granger was looking on in shock, but Draco had no time to analyze his actions now. All he knew was that he’d just saved a Mudblood’s life and probably firmly put himself opposite the Dark Lord.

Boone must be happy somewhere, Draco mused. I’m going to die before I even turn sixteen.

“C’mon!” Potter yelled, and they were off again, still running towards the door they’d come through originally. Suddenly, the door that marked their exit burst open and two Death Eaters stormed through.

“This way!” Longbottom yelled, veering to the left, and Draco had no choice but to follow him, angling towards another door that would almost certainly not lead them anywhere they wanted to go.

The Death Eaters were ready for it, though, and together they yelled, “IMPEDIMENTA!” Draco felt the force of the curse knock him over a desk, and he collided painfully with something heavy; to either side of him, he could hear Potter and Granger hit the floor as well, though not hidden as Draco was.

“WE’VE GOT THEM!” one Death Eater yelled. “WHERE’S THAT STUPID B--”

Silencio!” gasped Granger, and the Death Eater’s yell abruptly cut off.

Petrificus Totalus!” Potter yelled, and Draco managed to untangle himself and peek around the desk to see what was happening -- Potter had just managed to put one of the Death Eaters into a full body-bind, and the other was prodding at his mask as though he could restore his voice simply by touching his face.

Draco saw the silenced Death Eater’s arm move a second too late, and then with a flash of purple light and an exhaled “oh” of surprise, Granger fell over, and Draco could instantly tell that it was bad. Longbottom tried to crawl over to her to help, his wand raised, but before he could do anything, the Death Eater kicked out, snapping his wand in two and, judging by the sickening crack, breaking Longbottom’s nose as he did so. The Death Eater yanked his mask off as Longbottom gave a shout of pain and cupped his face, and Draco could see a sunken face that he identified to be Dolohov. Dislike curled in his stomach, because Draco had always despised Dolohov almost as much as he’d feared him.

Dolohov was gesturing to Potter, trying to nonverbally tell him to give the prophecy over or he’d do the same to Longbottom as he had to Granger.

“Like you won’t kill all of us once I hand it over,” Potter said desperately, cottoning on to Dolohov’s charades. Dolohov held three fingers up, ticking down, and before Potter could do anything, Draco beat him to the punch.

STUPEFY!” he yelled, launching himself above the desk, and his curse hit Dolohov square in the face. Draco took no little satisfaction watching him fall over and crack his head very hard on the stone floor. Potter didn’t even hesitate, dropping immediately to the floor to check on Granger. Checking over his shoulder, Draco stepped out fully into the hallway, walking towards Longbottom, who was getting to his knees so he could crawl over to Granger as well.

“Hermione,” Potter said, sounding wrecked for the first time that night. “Hermione, please wake up.”

“Whaddid he do to her, Harry?” Longbottom asked thickly, blood dripping from his squashed nose to splatter onto the floor. Draco felt like he should know, but his thoughts were molasses slow, spinning out of control.

“No idea,” said Potter shortly. Draco stopped a good five feet away from them and watched Longbottom seize Granger’s wrist.

“Dere’s a pulse,” Longbottom said triumphantly. “I’b sure. She’s alive, Harry.” Potter sagged in relief, but Draco didn’t feel any better about this revelation.

“We should just leave her,” he said sharply. Potter’s head swung around, almost as if he’d forgotten that Draco was there. “Those Death Eaters are still looking for us, and she’ll be nothing but dead weight if we can’t wake her up.”

“We’re not leaving her,” Potter said stubbornly. “She didn’t let us leave you in the forest, Malfoy, remember?”

“There weren’t fifteen grown wizards in the forest who wanted to kill us,” Draco hissed, mindful to keep his voice low in case someone was loitering around, trying to find them. Longbottom was watching them talk almost as if they were throwing a Quaffle back and forth, his head swinging comically each time they opened their mouths.

“You know,” Potter said slowly. “I don’t get it, Malfoy. Why are you helping us? You could’ve gotten the prophecy from me at any point back there but you didn’t.” As if sensing Draco’s attention on the glass ball, Potter hugged it even closer to his chest.

“I don’t know, Potter,” Malfoy says. “I don’t sodding know, all right? You think I want to be with you lot, running away from a bunch of people who want to kill us? You think this is how I planned the evening to go?”

“I have no idea, Malfoy,” Potter whispered furiously. “But if you do anything to screw this up, if you go to your father and try to help him, I swear to God--”

“Oh, what are you going to do to me?” Draco scoffed. “Believe me when I say I’m not the least bit scared of you, Potter.”

“You should be,” Potter said darkly, but there was a sudden scuffle from somewhere behind them, and they all whipped their heads around in turn to see what was coming. The room behind them was still thankfully empty, but chances were, it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

“We should be mobing,” Longbottom said urgently.

“As much as I hate to say it,” Draco said, “Longbottom’s right.”

“Okay,” Potter said, deliberating, and then, after a second’s pause, “okay. We’re almost to the exit, right? Neville, you take Hermione and see if you can get out of here and back into the Atrium. See if you can’t find someone and raise the alarm that there are Death Eaters down here.”

“Whad are you and Malfoy going do do?” Longbottom asked, trying to staunch the blood flow from his nose with his sleeve and failing miserably.

“I’m going to keep Malfoy with me and make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid,” Potter said, and Draco rolled his eyes. “I have to find the others.”

“I’b not leaving, Harry. I’b going to help you,” Longbottom said.

“Neville,” said Potter desperately.

“I can carry Hermione,” Neville continued. “You’re bedder at fighding dem dan I ab.”

“Too right,” Draco muttered.

“Well, then, take her wand at least,” Potter said. “Yours is useless.”

“My gran’s going do kill be,” Longbottom said morosely. “Dat was my dad’s old wand.”

Potter didn’t respond, handing over Granger’s wand silently as he made sure that their pathway to the door was clear. Longbottom, with some effort, managed to hoist Granger over his shoulder, sagging under her weight.

“Let’s go,” Potter said softly. “And no funny business, Malfoy.”

“Sod off, Potter,” Draco retorted, but he followed Potter’s leave. Better for Potter to get mowed down being in the front than Draco after all. They moved quietly but slowly, hampered by Longbottom’s stumbling gait, but nothing came after them and no Death Eaters suddenly burst into the room again. It wasn’t very long before they were leaving the door that they came through, and Potter let it fall behind them, walking out into the center of the room as the walls began to spin once more.

“Which way do you reckon we should go?” he asked Longbottom as soon as the walls had righted themselves, but he had no sooner gotten the words out of his mouth when someone crashed through a door to their right. Draco whirled around, ready to strike, and he barely kept himself in check from hitting Weasley square in the face with a hex.

“Ron,” said Potter, rushing towards them. “Ginny, Luna. Are you guys all right?”

“Harry,” Weasley laughed, too loud in the silence. “Ha ha, Harry, you look really funny. Your face is all messed up, Harry.”

“What happened to him?” Draco demanded disgustedly. Weasley looked even worse than usual, and that was really saying something. Something black was trickling from the side of his mouth, and he was gripping Potter’s robes so hard that Potter almost toppled over because of it.

“Ginny?” Potter said in follow-up to Draco’s question, but she only shook her head and sank to the floor, clutching at her ankle, which was bent at an unnatural angle.

“I think she broke her ankle,” Lovegood said seriously, for once in her life. “I heard it. We were in this dark room with all these planets, and it was really odd. They were just floating there--”

“Ha ha, Harry, I saw Uranus up close,” Weasley giggled. “You get it? I saw Uranus -- ha ha ha...”

“A Death Eater grabbed Ginny’s ankle,” Lovegood continued. “I tried to blow up a planet in his face with the Reducto curse, but I wasn’t in time. And I’m not sure exactly what they hit Ron with, but he’s gone a little mad, you see? It was really hard to get him to come with us.”

“Loony Lovegood,” Weasley was singing. “Loony, Loony Lovegood.”

“Can’t you shut him up?” Draco hissed. “Potter, they’re going to hear us.”

“We’ve got to get out of here right now,” Potter said. “We’re almost there -- we can get out--” He seized Weasley and managed to haul him to his feet, bracing his weight much like Longbottom was with Granger. He’d managed a couple of steps towards one of the doors, and Draco was about to follow him when someone else burst through into the room.

I found them! They’re here!” Aunt Bella shrieked into the silence. She’d thrown her mask away, and her hair was flying around her face in a frizzy mess, making her look completely demented.

“This way!” Potter shouted, hurtling himself through the nearest door.

“Longbottom, move,” Draco shouted, pushing at Longbottom until he was inside, Lovegood stumbling through with Weaslette and throwing the door closed just in time.

Colloportus,” Potter gasped, sealing the door, and Draco heard someone slam up against it. “C’mon, we gotta seal the other doors too.”

Lovegood immediately sprang to action, running around and trying to seal the doors in time. They were back in the brain room, and the water was casting sickly green shadows on the wall.

“Malfoy, help us!” Potter said furiously, but it was no use. Halfway between her spell, Lovegood was hurled across the room as the door was cursed open, landing on the floor in an unconscious heap.

“Get Potter!” screamed Aunt Bella; she was leading the pack of Death Eaters that had found them. Immediately, Draco ducked behind one of the tables that held the brains as Potter began to sprint away from them, obviously trying to draw their attention to him and his sodding prophecy.

“WE’VE GOT THEM!” a male Death Eater yelled. “THEY’RE HERE.”

“Hey,” laughed Weasley, who’d somehow managed to get to his feet and was tottering after Potter. “Hey, look, Harry! They’re brains!”

“Weasley, get down, you idiot,” Draco said under his breath.

“Ron, get out of the way!” Potter shouted, still running. “Get down, Ron!”

But Weasley took no notice of what Potter was saying. “Bet I could summon them, Harry!” he said animatedly. “Accio brains!”

“Ron, no!” said Potter, but it was too late. One of the brains had burst out of its tank and was flying through the air towards Weasley. It was like everyone had stopped to watch, and it began to disentangle its innards, unfurling long curlers that looked absolutely ghastly.

“Harry, come touch it--” Weasley said, and he reached an arm out. Potter tried to dart towards him to stop it, but it was too late. The curlers were already wrapping their way around Weasley, squeezing him.

Diffindo!” Potter shouted, trying to sever the tentacles before they wrapped their way around Weasley’s neck.

“Harry, it’ll kill him!” shrieked Weasley’s sister desperately, but a Death Eater shot off a Stunning spell that hit her right in the face and she slumped over, unconscious.

STUBEFY!” Longbottom was yelling, but his mispronunciation caused the spell to have no effect. “STUBEFY! STUBEFY!” Draco could not move as he watched the fight. The Death Eaters were shooting several spells at Potter and Longbottom, leaving craters in the walls. Longbottom very narrowly missed being hit with a Stunning spell, and Potter seemed to have another idiot plan, because he disappeared through another door. The Death Eaters, concerned about their stupid prophecy, followed him, leaving Longbottom alone and breathing heavily in the middle of the room.

Longbottom made a move to follow Potter, and Draco cautiously crawled out of his hiding place.

“Longbottom, you idiot, what are you doing?” he demanded.

Longbottom set his jaw stubbornly, staring at the space where Potter and the Death Eaters had disappeared. “I godda help him,” he said staunchly. “I’b the only one who can.”

“Don’t be daft, Longbottom,” Draco said. “You can’t even do a proper spell! They’ll kill you before you can do anything!”

“I don’t care!” Longbottom shouted, and Draco cringed, hoping that the Death Eaters were too preoccupied with Potter to come back and investigate the noise. “At least I’b not a coward like you, Malfoy!”

That barb stung just a little, and Draco was about to just let Longbottom go through with it and sacrifice his life, but he suddenly realized that all was not lost. The Order hadn’t arrived yet, and maybe if Draco could go in, pretend to help Potter only then to take the prophecy from him, maybe he could set things right.

“Put your head on right, Longbottom,” he snapped. “I’ll help Potter. You just stop Weasley from being squeezed to death by that brain.”

Longbottom gave Draco a throughly mistrustful glare. “How do I know you’ll help him?” he demanded.

“Stop being idiotic! I’m in just as much trouble as you are! Maybe I’ll manage to keep from dying, though, unlike you,” Draco said. “Stay here.” And then Draco was sailing through the door, edging quietly into the room so he could formulate a plan without being caught. They were back in the room with the archway, and it was still talking, still beckoning Draco closer. Everyone’s attention was on Potter and Draco’s father, who had gotten rid of his mask and was just about to tempt the prophecy away from Potter.

“Let everyone else go and I’ll give it to you,” Potter said desperately.

“You are not in a position to bargain here, Potter,” Draco’s father said. “There are ten of us and only one of you. Or did Dumbledore not teach you how to count properly?”

Draco’s heart caught in his throat, because this was it -- the Order wasn’t here and his father was about to get that prophecy, and maybe things would be right after all. But then Potter’s eyes flicked minutely to Draco and widened just a tad, and Draco knew for certain that Potter had seen him.

And now Draco had this massive choice in front of him. If he let Potter give the prophecy up, Potter would know that Draco had double-crossed him -- would tell everyone he knew. Draco could blame it on nerves, he knew, but he somehow felt as though this was it -- the final decision. Potter or his father. The Dark Lord or Dumbledore. Death Eater or not. He closed his eyes for the briefest of seconds, and Fiendfyre flashed in front of his eyes and Dumbledore was still falling, and when he opened them again, he knew what he was going to do even though it was going to devastate everything he’d ever thought to be true.

STUPEFY!” he yelled, Stunning the Death Eater closest to him. “STUPEFY, STUPEFY, STUPEFY.” Two more of his spells hit before someone had seized him around the middle, and this was it, it was all over, he was going to die -- he should’ve just let his father take the prophecy from Potter -- what had he been thinking?

“Oh, Draco,” his aunt cooed in his ear. “What have you done?”

“Shut up,” Draco gasped, looking desperately at his father as though he would help him now. But Lucius’s face was pinched and pale, and an ugly expression had overtaken his features.

“Is this what I taught you, Draco?” he asked quietly. “To betray your family for a bunch of blood traitors?”

“Father,” Draco gasped, but Aunt Bella’s wand was pointed straight at his throat, digging into the tender skin there.

“I am not your father any longer,” Lucius said, turning back to Potter, and Draco felt his stomach fall to his toes. “Do what you wish with him, Bella.”

CRUCIO!” his aunt shrieked suddenly, and Draco was seized with pain that he thought he’d never have to endure again. A million razor sharp knives were piercing his skin, digging into his bones, and he was yelling at the top of his lungs, but there was no relief. Bellatrix let it fall for a second but then she was using it again, and Draco was sure he was sobbing, but there was nothing but pain, and he wanted to die, he just wanted his aunt or his father to kill him right then because he’d never been under a Cruciatus curse for so long.

His aunt suddenly let it abate for a second time, and Draco found himself to be on the floor, his breaths hitching in his chest, his entire body sore.

“Tsk, tsk, Draco,” his aunt said. “You should’ve chosen the right side. I’m going to have to kill you now.” And Draco suddenly knew that she was going to go with a more sadistic route than Avada Kedavra, and sure enough, when she whipped her wand through the air, he didn’t recognize the Latin that fell from her lips.

His blood immediately began to boil in his veins, and this was worse than Crucio, a million times worse because he knew that he was going to die. He was clawing at his skin, trying to force the blood to the outside, trying to get the spell out of him, and Aunt Bella was laughing, shrill and loud, and it was the only thing he could hear. The pain was doubling by the second, quadrupling, and it felt as though his brain was boiling now, just cooking inside of his head.

And Draco couldn’t hold on any longer -- he was going to die, he was sure of it, and for what? For Potter and his stupid crusade. Just as he was sure that the pain was too much, that he was about to breathe his last, something stopped, something crashed through the door, and Aunt Bella’s laugh turned into a cry of rage.

The pain stopped, but Draco couldn’t hold on any longer, and he was sinking into unconsciousness.

* * *

When Draco woke up, he was incredibly disoriented. At first he was sure that Aunt Bella had managed to kill him and that he was somewhere In Between, but as his eyes adjusted to the light, he became aware of the high vaulted ceiling above him and the softness of the bed beneath him, and it wasn’t very hard to deduce that he’d somehow been transported to the hospital wing at Hogwarts. He tried to sit up but immediately winced at the pain in his limbs. He was incredibly sore and everything felt heavy, almost as though he was weighed down. Madam Pomfrey had wrapped his arms in thick gauze bandages, and with some effort, he peeled them back a little and saw raised welts on his skin, purple and ugly looking. He pressed down lightly, and a sharp pang of pain ran up his arm, making him very eager not to do that again. Using the curtains that had been conjured around his bed as leverage, he managed to prop himself into a sitting position, his back supported by the bed’s headboard and his pillow.

“Hello,” he croaked. “Is anyone there?” He heard some rustling, presumably from a bed beside his, and then someone was making their way towards him. Madam Pomfrey unceremoniously ripped his hangings back.

“You’re up, I see,” she said, and Draco shrank back away from her -- she looked to be in a terrible mood. She picked up his arm in a no-nonsense kind of way, tutting when he winced away from the pain.

“That hurts,” he complained. “Be more careful.”

“It’s your own fault,” she reprimanded. “Being so foolish as to get yourself wrapped up in the middle of a Death Eater quarrel. You’re quite lucky you survived. A couple of seconds longer under that spell and your blood would have literally boiled in your veins.” Draco shuddered at that mental image as Pomfrey began to peel his bandages back, touching the welts carefully with her wand as she did so.

“I didn’t exactly choose to be put under that spell, you know,” Draco said crossly, his pain and exhaustion making him perhaps a little cheekier than he should have been in the presence of an adult.

“It will take quite a while for you to heal,” Pomfrey continued, ignoring Draco as she conjured up fresh bandages, wrapping them around his right arm with flicks of her wand, barely making sure they had been applied correctly before moving on to his other hand. “You were put under a dark, dark spell. I am wholly surprised that you did not suffer more damage as it is.”

“How long will I be stuck here?” Draco demanded. He hated the hospital wing -- it reminded him of being sick when he was younger and being confined to his room under the clumsy care of one of his mother’s house elves.

“Until school lets out, I daresay,” Pomfrey said, ignoring Draco’s outraged gasp at the news. “Professor Dumbledore thinks it’s a good idea to keep you here until the end of term instead of sending you back to your common room.” Draco’s heart sank as her words fully filtered into his consciousness, remembering just exactly what happened to have him end up in the hospital wing in the first place.

“Have you heard from my parents?” he asked very quietly as Pomfrey finished up with his left arm and then began to wave her wand over his chest.

“No, I’m afraid not, dear,” Pomfrey said distractedly. “We did send word, of course, that you were in the hospital wing and were in critical but stable condition. But I’m quite sure that I haven’t received a return owl yet.” Draco could feel his stomach churning; he’d been fairly positive that his father was going to be well-washed of him after the fiasco he’d participated in at the Ministry, but he’d at least hoped that his mother would want to know what had happened to him. She’d always been overprotective, to say the very least, and Draco had thought that she’d perhaps defy his father for Draco’s sake.

“In case you are wondering,” Pomfrey said, standing up now that she was apparently done with her task, “Harry Potter escaped the Ministry unscathed.”

“Excellent,” said Draco tonelessly. Even though he’d practically thrown his life away for stupid Potter, at the moment, he couldn’t care less what had happened to him.

“Miss Weasley has been fully healed,” Pomfrey continued, “as has Mr Longbottom. Unfortunately, Mr Weasley and Ms Granger are also confined to the hospital wing for another week at least. They suffered severe injuries in your little foray into the Ministry.”

“Great,” said Draco. This was turning out even worse than expected -- not only was he disowned, not only had he thrown himself in with the other side, but his only company for the next week and a half or so was Granger and Weasley. Draco was just about ready to throw himself off of the Astronomy Tower and be done with it.

Madam Pomfrey smoothed out her skirt as she looked down at Draco sympathetically. “I expect Mr Potter will be up to visit shortly,” she said. “And I think Professor Dumbledore will want to have a word with you now that you’re awake. You’ve been unconscious for over three days now, you know. I will let him know at breakfast that you have finally woken.”

“Just what I’ve always wanted,” Draco said sarcastically. “Potter as a visitor and a one-on-one with Dumbledore. Fantastic.”

Pomfrey tutted disapprovingly as she turned on her heel to return to her office. “Professor Dumbledore, dear,” she said reprovingly. “And I’ll send over your food just as soon as possible.”

“Okay,” said Draco, fuming as he pulled his curtains back around his bed, regretting the movement as soon as it sent sparks of pain shooting throughout his entire body.

* * *

Draco kept silent behind his bed curtains for the rest of the morning as Weasley and Granger woke up. He could hear them talking, discussing what had happened at the Ministry, and where things would go from there. He took great satisfaction eavesdropping as they discussed how Potter was acting after the death of his godfather but was less amused to hear them talk about him and why he’d done what he had. He was still trying to think of a way out of his predicament, after all, and hearing them speculate that he’d only helped Potter because he was trying to two-time him at a future date made him inordinately angry, even though it was perhaps a correct assessment of his character traits. He felt that his sacrifice should be acknowledged by them, and although Granger seemed suitably confused, Weasley was, as always, downright vicious.

By the time Potter made it upstairs, Draco wished that he was still sleeping. Once they’d stopped talking about him and Potter, it had begun to be very dull work sitting behind his bed curtains and pretending that he was still asleep. Potter didn’t break the monotony at all, moping about his dead godfather while pretending that he was perfectly okay, a charade that Draco could see through in about a second, even though he wasn’t even looking at Potter. He lay very still and tried to fall asleep, but Potter was soon joined by Lovegood and Weasley’s sister and they were too loud to allow Draco to fall into unconsciousness, even if he was tired. There was only so much Draco could stand to overhear before he was longing to let them know that he was awake and did not appreciate their boring conversation. He was just about to whip back the curtains and snap at them all to just shut up already when someone came into the hospital wing and caused them all to fall quiet.

Draco could hear someone’s boots clicking on the stone of the floor, and then Potter said, almost sullenly, “Professor.”

“Good afternoon, Harry,” said Dumbledore pleasantly. “I had the feeling that I’d find you here. And in such good company.”

“Can we help you, professor?” piped up Granger, always the brown-noser.

“I’m afraid not, Miss Granger,” said Dumbledore. “I am here to speak to Mr Malfoy. Madam Pomfrey put me under the impression that he awoke this morning.” Draco struggled back into a sitting position, just as Dumbledore approached his bed, hoping that he didn’t look as bad as he felt. The others were just as quiet as they’d been when Dumbledore made his entrance, and Draco was quite sure that when the headmaster left, Draco would have to deal with Potter and his holier-than-thou attitude, something that made Draco’s mood even worse than it had been to start with, which was saying something indeed.

“Mr Malfoy, would you welcome some company?” Dumbledore asked, his shadow cast on the white of the bed curtains, and Draco resisted the urge to smooth down his hair.

“Yes,” he said sullenly, even though that was not perhaps the truth. He felt that it would be in bad form to deny Dumbledore the talk that he apparently so desperately wanted, though, considering the predicament Draco had landed himself in, so he readied himself for an unpleasant time.

Dumbledore immediately pulled the curtains back, bringing his lined, kindly face into view. Draco had the sudden impulse to hit him square on his crooked nose, but that was probably not prudent, considering the circumstances, so Draco just fisted his hands in his bedsheets instead. He could see Potter staring at him just under Dumbledore’s arm and Draco wanted desperately to give him a rude hand gesture.

Dumbledore summoned a stool wordlessly, and then, with a majestic wave of his wand, shrouded them both in purple curtains that encircled the bed and Dumbledore himself, stretching up to the ceiling.

“They will not be able to hear us,” Dumbledore said placidly. “You may feel free to speak as baldly as you wish to.”

“Great,” Draco spat. “That’s just perfect.” His hands were clenched so tightly his knuckles were almost white.

“I must admit,” Dumbledore continued, just as calmly as ever, “that I am quite pleasantly surprised that you did what you did.”

“Count that two of us,” Draco mumbled. “Although I can’t say I’m too happy about it.”

“If you would do me the pleasure,” Dumbledore said, “I would very much like to know why you decided to help Mr Potter instead of your father. I am curious, after all. It is not something that I would have expected.”

“Of course not,” Draco exploded. “I mean, I am a Slytherin, after all. Who would expect us to do any good whatsoever?”

“I did not mean it like that,” Dumbledore said gently. “I understand that it must have been a greatly difficult decision to go against your father in such a way. I am just having a little trouble with the details.”

“I was going to do it,” Draco said breathlessly, completely surprised that the words had exploded from his mouth when he’d been trying so hard to keep them inside. “I was going to let my father get the prophecy from Potter. I could’ve.”

“I’m sure,” Dumbledore said, without the least bit of censure in his voice. It just made Draco despise him more.

“I don’t know why I didn’t,” Draco said desperately. “Potter saw me, and I still could have done it, but there was something -- I don’t know -- ”

“You decided to help Harry instead,” Dumbledore concluded. “A wise choice, if I do say so myself.”

“Of course you think so!” Draco said, practically yelling. “I gave up my family for him! I gave up my future! And I don’t even have a good reason for it! I don’t know why I did it!”

“If I may interject my own interpretation,” Dumbledore said. “You were faced with a hugely difficult choice, as I’ve said before. And instead of following the path that you have been primed to take since childhood, you decided against it. You have taken your destiny in your own hands. By doing this, you have stopped yourself from joining Voldemort.”

Draco laughed humorlessly. “Fat lot of good it did me! Now my father hates me, my mother doesn’t care if I live or die, and I’ve nothing to do and nowhere to go.”

“That is hardly true,” Dumbledore admonished. “You have proven yourself to be an ally to our side. I will not let you flounder alone, Draco.”

“I don’t want your help,” Draco sneered. “Your side is the one that got me in trouble in the first place. What kind of help do you think you can offer me, anyway?”

“Your Aunt Andromeda,” Dumbledore said promptly. “I have been in contact with her. She has been an asset to our side since she married her husband --”

“Blood traitor,” Draco said under his breath.

“-- and she is quite willing to take you in, provided that you do not give her any trouble.”

“Well, now I’m all relieved,” Draco said sarcastically. “My Aunt Andromeda and her Mudblood husband took pity on their nephew who was stupid enough to throw his towel in with the wrong side.”

“I will ask that you not use that word in my presence,” Dumbledore said, and for the first time, there was a hint of steel in his voice. “I do not much care for it.”

“Sorry,” Draco mumbled, even though he was anything but. “And what am I supposed to do about money, hmm? Or the fact that most everyone in Slytherin probably wants to kill me right now?”

“Your aunt has expressed to me that she’d be willing to help you financially as long as you provide help for her in return. As far as your friends go, I am not entirely sure that they should be considered your friends if they despise you for saving an innocent boy’s life.”

“And putting their parents in prison!” Draco shouted, realizing a beat too late that he probably shouldn’t have let Dumbledore know that there were other children in Slytherin who had Death Eater parents. Not that he didn’t know already, of course.

“It has, of course, put you in a difficult position,” Dumbledore mused, and Draco snorted at the understatement. “I will place every effort into ensuring your safety, but you were, as you remember, chosen to be a Slytherin. I am sure that you possess the cunning to keep yourself from dire trouble.”

“Thanks for that,” Draco snapped.

“And, with a modicum of effort, I do think you should be able to make new friends,” Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling. “By joining our side, you have opened yourself to a new group of people.”

“If you think for one second that I’m going to make friends with Potter or Granger,” Draco said dangerously.

“Of course not,” Dumbledore said, but Draco was sure that he was laughing on the inside at Draco’s indignation. “I merely wanted to express the idea that you would catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If you should decide that you want nothing more to do with Mr Potter and his friends, that is, of course, your decision to make.”

“Too right it is,” Draco said viciously.

Dumbledore stood up abruptly and Vanished his stool without even looking at it. “Your aunt will pick you up in London after your journey on the Hogwarts Express,” he said. “I would advise that you stay under the care of Madam Pomfrey until it is time to depart. And you have my word that you will be afforded every protection offered to friends of the Order, as long as you continue to prove that you have earned it. I wish you a good recovery, Mr Malfoy.” With that, Dumbledore turned on his heel and walked through his purple curtains, causing them to disappear.

Dumbledore offered Potter, Granger, and Weasley a head nod as he exited the hospital wing, but they were all staring at Draco. Draco felt his cheeks heat under their scrutiny, and he whipped his bed curtains around him once again, pulling so hard that he almost dislodged them from their rings. He huddled in on himself and waited to hear them whispering about him, wondering what Dumbledore had had to discuss with Draco, but it seemed as though Granger also knew how to make it so their conversation was not able to be heard, because the press of silence was almost tangible, even though Draco was quite sure that they were huddled together, deep in discussion.

Draco crossed his arms over his chest, thinking about everything Dumbledore had said and everything that he’d meant to do with his borrowed time that he’d no longer be able to accomplish. Finding a way to switch sides was beginning to look to be an insurmountable task, and the only thing Draco could think to do was kill Dumbledore himself, wait for the perfect moment, and then present the Elder Wand to Voldemort as a peace offering. But, considering the fact that Draco had been unable to do that the first time around, he was quite unsure that he’d be able to manage it.

He’d really bollocksed things up this time, and it was beginning to look more and more like he’d effectively signed a life-long contract with the Order of the Phoenix with only a couple of Stunning Spells serving as his signature. In one night, he’d fouled up with his family and his friends, messed up his life beyond repair. Draco groaned as he put his head in his hands and thought of the future he was supposed to have. Things were slipping away from him like water, and he could feel now patches in his memory that he should still possess. For instance, he was quite sure that he’d had a son, but for the life of him, he could not remember his name or face. Panic was quickly blooming in Draco’s chest, and he wished that he’d never been given the chance to change things in the first place.

* * *

It took Draco a long time to fall asleep that night, his mind swirling around everything that had happened and concentrating on what Dumbledore had told him. He was utterly confused about how he’d managed to get to this point, and his arms were beginning to ache fiercely with the remnants of Aunt Bella’s spell. He’d tried to get Madam Pomfrey to get him some pain reduction potion, but she’d only tutted and told him that she had nothing that would sufficiently take the edge off. Weasley had laughed at that, meanly mocking Draco’s pain, but he was slightly assuaged when Granger hit him around the head for it. It wasn’t like Weasley himself wasn’t being plied with about twenty different potions a day anyway; he had nothing to make fun of without being a hypocrite.

Granger kept making advances as though she’d like to talk to Draco about something, but every time she cleared her throat and looked Draco’s way, he found some way to ignore her gaze, usually by drawing the curtains closed again. He had spent very little time with them open to begin with, but he was getting the feeling that he couldn’t avoid the Mudblood forever, even though he desperately wanted to.

He finally nodded off to sleep sometime around three in the morning, if the chimes of the bell tower were accurate, and when he awoke again, the air was dully lit by the beginnings of dawn, and he was still quite tired and very cranky. He wondered what had awakened him, shifting around in his bed as his bandages pulled on his wounds, which were somehow even more painful than the prior day.

Suddenly, someone pulled back the curtains of his bed, and he gave an aborted squawk before the intruder leveled their wand at him and issued a hurried Silencio that stole the sound from Draco’s voice. Draco plunged his arm under his pillow for his own wand, even though it wouldn’t really do any good seeing as he had no voice with which to issue any spells, but someone grabbed his wrist and squeezed. The pain caused by the pressure on his welts made him gasp soundlessly, and he began to whack the offender with his other hand until he was let go.

“Stop it,” the person hissed. “I swear to Circe, Malfoy, I will hex you if you don’t stop moving.” Nott. Malfoy recognized his voice as soon as he said his name, and he felt uneasy, wondering if he could upend the water pitcher on his side table and alert Pomfrey or Granger or someone that Nott was in the hospital wing when he wasn’t supposed to be. And Nott looked dreadfully angry, his face pulled into an ugly expression as he leveled his wand at Draco’s nose.

Abstractly, Draco knew why Nott was so angry -- along with his own father, Nott had also been captured in the Ministry, and Draco knew from the glimpses he’d taken at the Prophet that he’d sneaked from Granger’s bedside table that Nott was in Azkaban awaiting trial, along with a number of other Death Eaters who hadn’t been fortunate enough to escape the Department of Mysteries debacle.

“You try anything, and I really will curse you,” Nott said in a harsh whisper, nodding towards Draco’s wand, which had successfully been pulled out from under his bed clothing. “You know that I can do some nasty ones.” Draco opened his mouth angrily, eager to point out that it was quite stupid to try anything here with Dumbledore and Pomfrey milling around, but he obviously couldn’t manage it. Nott got the hint apparently, though, and he smiled widely and humorlessly.

“You chose wrong, Malfoy,” Nott spat, still speaking in barely more than a whisper. “You shouldn’t have decided to go blood traitor. I just wanted to let you know that.” Draco rolled his eyes, because he wasn’t stupid, and he’d figured that the news had already filtered down to the Slytherins anyhow.

“Me and Crabbe and Goyle,” Nott continued, “we’re not so sure that we like having you around anymore, Malfoy. We just wanted to let you know that you maybe should keep an eye on your back from now on. You’ll pay for what you did in the end, even if I can’t do anything here.” He seized Draco’s arm again and gave it a particularly painful twist that sent bright lights dancing in front of Draco’s eyes. Then, as suddenly as he’d come in, he was gone, leaving Draco alone in his bed, still Silenced, his arm throbbing with every beat of his heart.

* * *

By the time Pomfrey finally deigned it time to emerge from her office, Draco’s arm had stopped hurting as much, but his jaw was set. He hadn’t managed to fall back asleep, mind too busy coming up with a plan to protect himself now that he’d gotten on the bad side of all of his former allies, and his tongue was swollen inside of his silent mouth from the number of times he’d chewed on it while he was thinking of a suitable solution to his problems.

“Does this hurt, dear?” Pomfrey said absently as she rubbed some kind of salve on Draco’s wounds, but Nott’s spell hadn’t yet worn off and he couldn’t answer her. She repeated her question as though she thought he hadn’t heard her even though he was looking straight at her, and when it failed to get a response the second time around, she glanced up from what she was doing confusedly.

Draco used his free hand to clutch at his throat to show her that he couldn’t speak, and she stared at him uncomprehendingly for a couple of minutes before his motions finally seemed to seep through into her head.

Finite Incantatem,” she said firmly, and Draco felt something in his throat relax.

“No, it doesn’t hurt,” he lied hoarsely.

“Mr Malfoy,” said Pomfrey severely, “who Silenced you?”

“No one,” said Draco sullenly, and no matter how she pried, he still wouldn’t divulge that Nott had come in for an extracurricular visit before she’d awoken that morning. Snitching wouldn’t do anything but lose Slytherin some house points and put Nott in even a worse mood than before, and Draco wanted nothing to do with that.

Pomfrey was in a mood by the time she let Draco have his breakfast and left to go fret over Granger and Weasley, and Draco wasn’t feeling that magnanimous himself as he once again pulled his curtains closed and huddled into his bed, which was beginning to feel more and more like a prison. He was half-tempted to try and leave the hospital wing, but he wasn’t entirely sure his legs could support him yet, and besides, he didn’t have anywhere to go, considering that he’d managed to alienate practically his entire house in one fell swoop.

By the time mid-morning rolled around, Draco was cranky, in pain, and completely bored. He’d heard some people come in to visit Granger and Weasley, who’d been awake for some time, but Granger had done her magic to make the room silent again, so Draco didn’t even have eavesdropping for amusement. He was about to try and nap even though he wasn’t entirely sure he’d be able to do so with all of the ambient light filtering in from the high windows when Potter yanked his bed curtains open.

“I don’t recall telling you that I wanted to see you,” Draco said coldly, pulling his sheets up so that he was well hidden beneath them.

“Tough,” said Potter, his brow furrowing unattractively. “I want to talk to you.”

“I don’t care,” Draco snapped, trying to pull his curtains back around him, but Potter had a firm grip on the fabric and wouldn’t let him. Draco let go and plunged his hand under his pillow, searching for his wand so that he could try and use it as a threat to keep Potter away. For all the times that he’d had to get his wand from its hiding place, Draco began to think it was a better idea just to keep holding it indefinitely.

“For God’s sake, Malfoy,” Potter said exasperatedly. “I didn’t come over to fight with you. I just want to sodding talk! Stop being a baby about it.”

“I don’t trust you, Potter,” Draco said, fingering the smooth wood of his wand as he brought it out in front of him. Potter himself was holding his own wand lax at his side, but he was eyeing Draco’s hand with a less-than-appropriate amount of trepidation, in Draco’s opinion.

“The feeling’s mutual,” Potter assured him. “But I need to know something.”

“Why don’t you just ask Granger?” Draco asked sullenly. “She’s the know-it-all around here.”

“Shut it, Malfoy,” Potter said dangerously, slanting a look behind him to where Granger and Weasley were trying to pretend that they weren’t hanging on every word that Potter was saying to him and failing miserably.

“Make me, Potter,” Draco hissed back.

“Why did you do it?” Weasley suddenly exploded from his bed. Potter gave him a half-exasperated, half-pleading gaze that Draco ignored.

“Do what, Weasley?” Draco sneered.

“Why did you help me,” Potter said softly, looking at Draco with an expression that Draco couldn’t decipher at first until he finally realized that, for the first time in as long as he could remember, Potter wasn’t looking at him with a hateful, scornful expression.

“I wasn’t doing it for you, Potter,” Draco defended. “Don’t think so much into it. I was just saving my own skin.”

“No you weren’t,” said Potter, still unnervingly quiet. “If you’d been just looking out for yourself, you would’ve stayed with Neville and Ron. If you hadn’t followed me into the room with the arch, I would’ve given the prophecy to your dad. He wouldn’t be in Azkaban right now if it weren’t for you.”

“Shut it, dungface,” Draco said, practically yelling, rage twisting his face.

“No!” Potter shouted back. “I deserve to know why you did it! You’ve been a nasty piece of work for as long as I’ve known you, and I want to know why you saved my life!”

“I don’t know, Potter!” Malfoy said, his voice coming out desperately high. “I don’t know why I did it, okay? Will you just. Leave. Me. Alone?” He was clenching his wand so tightly that he was astonished it hadn’t snapped yet, and his knuckles were aching from it. He badly wanted to hex Potter’s stupid face off, or punch him until he went away, anything to keep Potter from looking at him like that.

“Okay,” Potter said, stepping away. “Okay, be like that, Malfoy. Only, I wanted to, I don’t know.” He trailed off, looking back at Granger as though she might be able to provide him with some sort of guidance. She gave a feeble nod of her head, and Potter squared his shoulders and looked Draco square in the eye again.

“I guess I owe you now, Malfoy,” Potter said grudgingly. “So...thank you. If you ever need anything...”

“I won’t,” Draco said viciously. “Keep away from me, Potter.”

Something hardened in Potter’s face, making his eyes glint like sharpened steel. “Be that way, then,” he said, turning his back to Malfoy and heading back to the chair that he’d stationed between Granger and Weasley’s bed.

“I will,” Draco shot back, always eager to have the last word when it came to arguments with Potter. He yanked at his curtains again, wondering if there was any way he could charm them to always stay closed, and sank back against the headboard of his bed, silently fuming.

* * *

True to her word, Pomfrey didn’t let Draco out of the hospital wing until the end-of-term feast was practically in progress. Draco’s wounds were itching like mad, but they weren’t hurting nearly so badly anymore, and they’d lost some of the angry colouring that had made Draco shudder every time he’d seen them. Granger and Weasley had been released the day before last, presumably because they didn’t have common rooms full of people that wanted to kill them, so Draco headed down to the feast alone, dragging his feet. Pomfrey had assured him that his belongings had already been packed and were en route to the train, so he had no reason to return to his common room. He almost didn’t want to go into the Great Hall, but at the same time, he felt that not showing his face would prove to the rest of the Slytherins that he was afraid of them, and that wasn’t something he was ready to concede, even if it was true.

Draco slunk into the Great Hall five minutes late, and the tables were already sagging under the normal fare of food prepared by the school’s house-elves. Keeping his eyes defiantly ahead of him, Draco took a seat at the end of the Slytherin table, several feet down from a cluster of first-years that kept looking at him sideways as they ate. Draco could feel hundreds of eyes on the back of his head as he forked some food onto his plate, but he didn’t give them the satisfaction of looking over as he ate. Slytherins up and down the table were whispering viciously, and Draco pretended as though he’d gone deaf, his food like cardboard in his mouth.

Draco didn’t listen as Dumbledore dismissed them, too involved in tracing the wood grain of the table with his fingers to properly pay attention to what was being said. Benches scraped against the floor as people got up to leave for the horseless carriages that would take them back to the train, but Draco kept his seat, only getting up when the hall was quite empty. He took the long way out of the castle, staying as far away from the people in front of him as he could manage, meandering when he got too close, and by the time he’d approached the place where students caught the carriages, most everyone had gone on already. He hitched a ride on one of the last ones, thankfully alone, and the carriage bumped along the uneven, rutted ground. He chanced one last look behind him at the turrets of the castle, stretching up into the sky, and couldn’t help but think that by the time he got back to it, everything would be different. Clenching his wand in one hand and the little, bastardized Time Turner Boone had given him in the other, Draco steeled himself for an unpleasant trip back to London.

* * *

Draco was barely able to avoid his fellow fifth-year Slytherins in the train, staying in an empty compartment by himself that was close enough to the Gryffindors for Potter to notice if there was any trouble but not close enough that he was broadcasting his strategy of hiding behind Potter and his friends to the rest of the train. He just missed Crabbe and Goyle, who were searching through the compartments with surly looks on their faces by darting into the loo at the last moment and standing on top of one of the toilets.

By the time the train finally pulled into King’s Cross, Draco’s nerves were shot. Unlike before he’d boarded to leave the castle, he seized his trunk as soon as he could and pushed his way into the throng of people who were trying to disembark the train and head back to their house for summer holidays, getting himself lost in the sea of students swarming onto the platform. For one shining second, he was sure that he’d see his mother in the crowd, her blonde hair a beacon for Draco to follow home, but when he’d managed to drag his trunk off of the train, there was no one Draco recognized.

Draco began to pull his belongings behind him, straining from the weight of it, searching the crowd for anyone in particular that he could go to for help. He saw the Parkinsons as they embraced Pansy, but the look that her mother shot him could’ve killed a manticore, and Draco slunk away, keeping an eye on his shoes as panic seized his throat.

All of a sudden, someone’s hand landed on Draco’s shoulder, and it took all of his restraint to not hit the offending person in the face with his wand. Instead, Draco whirled around, losing his grip on his trunk and letting it fall heavily to the ground.

“Careful, boy,” someone said, and Draco was quite sure that he didn’t recognize him, which made things about a million times worse.

“Who are you?” Draco said, his voice shaking only slightly. “What do you want?”

“Of course, you don’t recognize me,” the man said under his breath before squaring his shoulders and puffing out his chest. “I’m your uncle, Ted. Tonks, that is. Don’t know if your mother ever referred to me by my proper name.”

Draco narrowed his eyes at that. “Why should I believe you?” he asked, scoffing. “The only thing I know about Andromeda’s husband is that he’s a filthy Mudblood.”

The man gave him an annoyed look, waving his wand and making Draco’s trunk fall onto a waiting trolley, ignoring Draco’s noise of protest. “I wouldn’t be so nasty to the person who’s letting you in his house all summer,” he growled. “Andromeda is just outside on the Muggle side, waiting for us. You’ll see her soon enough.”

“I’ve never met Andromeda in my life,” Draco said

“She looks just like her infernal sister Bellatrix,” Tonks said, barely looking back at Draco as he joined the queue of people who were trying to leave the platform. “I daresay you’ll recognize her.”

“Or it could just be my Aunt Bella in disguise waiting to take me away and finish me off,” Draco said quietly.

“Don’t be stupid, boy,” Tonks said brusquely. “She wouldn’t waste her time coming to the train station to kill you. I thought Dumbledore had told you that we’d be waiting for you here.”

“Yeah, well,” Draco said derisively, avoiding Tonks’ gaze. He’d heard from his parents about his mother’s blood traitor sister and her Mudblood husband, but he’d never met them, and he’d been quite unsure of Dumbledore’s promises.

The line was moving fairly steadily, but Tonks didn’t move his eyes from Draco as they progressed closer and closer to the barrier. “Look here,” he said quietly. “Dumbledore told us what happened in the Ministry, but if it weren’t for my wife, I’m not sure I’d take you in. I knew your father, and he was always the cunning type, so forgive me if I’m not so sure I trust you quite yet.”

“Well maybe you should’ve just told Dumbledore to shove off then,” Draco hissed. “I didn’t want to leave with you either!”

“Mind your tongue,” Tonks said sharply. “Andromeda thinks that we might be able to find some good in you yet, but I don’t much care for this attitude of yours.”

“Stop talking to me, and leave me alone,” Draco muttered. He was almost on the verge of unearthing his broom from his trunk and flying back to the Manor to try and plead for his father to reconsider. Tonks sighed deeply but finally turned his attention to the line, which they were almost at the front of.

“This is going to be a long summer,” he said, and Draco couldn’t agree more.

* * *

It wasn’t hard to spot his Aunt Andromeda in the teeming crowd of King’s Cross, mostly because she looked as though she could pass for his Aunt Bellatrix’s twin. For a moment, his skin crawled and he was quite sure that he was being lured into a trap, but her face broke into a reserved smile as she saw them, pushing her way through a group of touristing Muggles to get at them. Her expression, so foreign on her Bellatrix-like face, made Draco uncomfortable, and he looked away from her.

“Draco,” she said warmly, stopping just short of him and putting her hands on his shoulders. He flinched at the contact and tore his gaze from Potter, who looked delightfully miserable with his Muggle relations, and met his aunt’s eyes for the first time.

“Hello,” he said stiffly, and Tonks snorted besides him.

“Figures he’d be polite to you and not to me,” he said.

“Ted, be nice,” Andromeda admonished. “Draco, you look just like I imagined you to.”

“Okay,” Draco said, nonplussed.

“I wish I’d had the chance to meet you before now, but you know how stubborn your parents can be.”

“It was your own fault,” Draco said before he could help himself, and he could feel her stiffen.

“I beg your pardon?” she asked.

“It’s not like you didn’t know what you were doing when you married the Mudblood,” Draco said viciously. He wasn’t quite sure that he liked his aunt; she was too different from what he was expecting.

“Now there’s the Draco that I met,” Tonks said, and Andromeda sighed heavily.

“I can’t say I’m not surprised,” she said. “Cheeky, just like his father.”

“I am standing right here, you know,” Draco said.

“Well, come on then,” Tonks said heavily. “We might as well be getting back home.”

“You’re not going to make me travel the Muggle way, are you?” Draco said, aghast. “I mean, you may not be proper wizards, but you still travel by magic, right?”

“You are rude, aren’t you?” Andromeda said over her shoulder. “Stop whining. We’ll go by Side-Along Apparition, as long as your delicate sensibilities can handle it.” Now there’s the Black blood that Draco was expecting to see, and he relaxed a little. The Mudblood might’ve beaten her down, made her a little more Gryffindor or Hufflepuff than Draco was expecting, but she was his mother’s sister, after all.

“Where do you live?” he asked. “Please tell me it’s not a hovel.”

“Not a manor like the one you’re used to, I suspect,” Tonks said behind him. “But I’m sure you’ll find it very comfortable once you get used to earning your keep.”

“I am not a house elf!” Draco protested hotly.

“You’ll find that we don’t live a privileged life like the one you’re used to, Draco dear,” said his aunt, and there was something derisive and sneering underneath her cheerful tone. “It may take some getting used to.”

“Don’t think just because I’m coming along with you that I’m your new servant,” Draco said meanly.

“Of course not,” Andromeda said. “But you’ll do well to remember that we didn’t have to take you in. Your choices landed you here, Draco, and you’ll find that things aren’t as you might have thought they would be.”

“Too right they aren’t,” Draco said under his breath as they rounded a corner into an empty alleyway that was oftentimes used for Apparition by the wizards that frequented King’s Cross. His aunt gripped his shoulder, almost tight enough for it to hurt, and Draco felt the familiar sensation of being forced through a tube as they disappeared with a sudden pop.

* * *

They appeared again in a small garden that stood outside of a modestly-sized house that Draco couldn’t help but scoff internally at. It almost looked as though it belonged to Muggles -- there was no real indication that wizards lived here at all, save for the collection of herbs growing in the vegetable patch that would be useful in a number of potions.

“My daughter Nymphadora is here,” Andromeda said, stepping over a patch of earth that looked like it had maybe been disturbed by a garden gnome, which made Draco feel even more apprehensive than ever. “She was injured in the attack on the Ministry, you know. Arrived just after you fell unconscious, and she’s recovering here at home so I can keep an eye on her.”

“A little late then, wasn’t she?” Draco asked.

“Mind your tongue,” Tonks said crossly. “You’re alive, aren’t you?” With a wave of his wand, he unlocked the front door, which opened into a small foyer, decorated with moving pictures that did little to assuage his nerves.

“There aren’t Muggles living around here, are there?” he asked. “Please tell me you didn’t move into a Muggle village.”

Andromeda sighed again, which was rapidly becoming a punctuation to everything Draco said. “Take your shoes off so you don’t track mud into the house,” she said, waving her wand at Draco’s trunk and levitating it up the stairs. “We’re keeping you in the extra room for now. It’s quite small, but it should serve its purposes.”

“I look forward to it,” Draco said sarcastically, kicking his shoe off so it hit the wall with a heavy thunk, leaving a smear of dirt on the paint. He was worried about how she hadn’t answered his question about the Muggles, leaving him to think that he’d have to actually talk to one, or god forbid, wear Muggle clothing if he ever ventured out into the village. Andromeda frowned heavily at the scuff mark his shoe left on the wall, but it only took one more wave of her wand before it was clean again and she Banished Draco’s shoes into the hall closet.

“Nymphadora!” she called loudly. “We’re home!”

“In here,” came another voice, young and decidedly female, and Draco wondered if he’d be able to avoid meeting her by going upstairs to his new room instead. But Tonks was blocking him in, proving to be an effective barrier from using the stairs, and Andromeda was already heading forward into the sitting room.

Draco followed very reluctantly, looking for anything in the house that might make it feel a little familiar, that might make it seem like he was actually living with relatives and not complete strangers.

“Wotcher,” said someone new, and Draco pulled his eyes from examining an unfamiliar portrait to look at who was sitting on the couch. She was pale and looked very tired, her arm in a sling, but her hair was bright pink and spiked. “You must be my cousin.”

Draco gave her a very nasty glare, because the thought that he was related to someone like her was extremely unsettling. “Does your hair always look that dreadful?” he drawled.

“I dunno,” she returned instantly. “Does yours?” She smiled widely at her father, winking at him. “I was right, wasn’t I?” she said. “Dreadful little bugger. I heard Harry and his friends talking about him once when I was at the Order headquarters...” She trailed off, her eyes going sad in her face, a little color fading from her hair so it wasn’t quite as pink.

“You know Potter?” Draco demanded. “You’re in the Order?” Something told him that he should know this, something niggling at the back of his head, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

“How do you know about the Order?” Nymphadora said suspiciously. “It’s not something that we talk about, is it?”

“You just mentioned it though!” Draco said. “And I might’ve overheard my father telling someone about it.” His heart was beating very fast; it wasn’t extremely likely that she’d know that he’d time-traveled from the future to get here, but he’d have to be careful not to let slip that he knew anything more than he should. Something about her face was piquing his memory, and he wanted to escape somewhere alone so he could piece things together.

“Careful, Draco,” Tonks said conversationally. “She may not look like much, but ‘Dora’s an Auror. She could curse you faster than you think.”

“Don’t scare him, dad,” Nymphadora laughed. “But I might’ve done something to his room, you know. As a welcome present.”

Draco narrowed his eyes at her, but it didn’t seem to faze her at all. She just laughed harder, and Draco made a mental note to go over everything in his room before he went to sleep that night.

* * *

It took quite a bit of getting used to to learn to live in the Tonks household, and Draco certainly didn’t care for it. His new room was smaller than his closet back home, and within the first couple of days, he’d already been enlisted to do all of the Muggle cleaning that his aunt could think up, and she had a sadistic streak that meant she was having Draco get on his hands and knees to clean every corner and cranny that she could think of. He’d tried to get out of it on the first day, but she was more proficient than Draco would’ve thought with her wandwork, and she banished him into the small chicken coop that they had set up behind the house, locking him in after disarming him.

Draco was covered in feathers and chicken muck by the time she finally let him out, his face burning red. He muttered a few choice swear words, but she merely clucked at him.

“If you want to live here, you must help,” she’d said. “If you don’t, I’m sure we can make room in the coop for you.”

And that was that, because Draco might’ve done some Muggle cleaning under protest for detention at Hogwarts, but there was no way that he was going to spend his summer living in a chicken coop. By the time the first week ended, he was thoroughly miserable and quite ready to get back to Hogwarts, even if he’d be evading his former friends’ attempts to curse him. A little excitement would be better than all of the cleaning, at least.

Things only got increasingly worse as the summer progress. He got an official notice from his father, drafted by their family Arguer, disowning him, which he thought was wholly unfair and completely rash, considering that, according to the Prophet, his father was still in an airtight Azkaban cell awaiting trial. He heard no news from his mother, even though he thought she might have it in her heart to forgive him.

Every night, he spent quite a long time before trying to go to sleep remembering his life as it had been before he’d traveled back in time and changed everything. Things were slipping away faster than ever, almost as if he’d disturbed everything just by re-existing in this period, and even though it gave him a headache, he concentrated until he couldn’t think anymore, cataloguing even the most cursory of details in an attempt to remember things that he’d forgotten.

It was getting harder and harder, and the holes in his memory were wider than ever. He’d find that he’d spend hours trying to remember some significant detail only to forget it again the morning after. He still couldn’t remember if he’d had a son, or a wife, or a daughter, or what had happened to Potter after the war. Important things, things that had happened while he was at school or during the war, still remained, but they were weak, barely believable, and Draco had a very hard time figuring out if what he thought was fact was actually true or if he’d just dreamed it up on accident the night before.

It was very clear to Draco that his uncle disliked him, even though Andromeda seemed to be giving him the benefit of the doubt. Once their daughter had healed, she wasn’t at the house as often as she had been, which was excellent for Draco, because he absolutely did not care for her. Even though he’d learned she was a Hufflepuff, she was not a pushover, and she liked to play little tricks on Draco whenever she could, even though her mother admonished her for it. She seemed to know Potter well enough that his dislike for Draco had influenced her in some way, but she pretended to be pleasant enough, even though Draco wasn’t entirely sure he believed her act. He had the feeling that she was going to do something she oughtn’t, even though he couldn’t remember what exactly that was, but as the summer dragged on, she came by less and less, and something had changed in her, making her look ordinary and drab every time she came around.

The summer passed as slowly as Draco could ever remember a summer going and not nearly as pleasantly as it could have. Andromeda was not, perhaps, the harshest of taskmasters, but she always had at least a couple of chores for him to do once he got up, and Draco was feeling more and more like they should just give him a pillowcase and name him their honorary house elf. He spent a lot of time trying to avoid them, even though he found sometimes that his aunt was worth talking to when she wasn’t hiding her Slytherin wit, and he finished his summer homework earlier than usual. He was pleasantly surprised when he got his O.W.L. results, seeing as he’d managed to do fairly well, scoring an E in most of the classes that he deemed to be important, and even earning an O in Potions that he hadn’t been sure he’d managed.

He’d hoped that his aunt would allow him to go to Diagon Alley at first before he realized that he had no money with which to buy his school supplies. He was slightly worried that he wouldn’t have anything to take back to school and that he’d have to deal with having second-hand, Weasley-esque supplies to contend with as well as the notion that all of his old friends wanted nothing more than to drive him out of school altogether, but Tonks came back one evening after work with several parcels, delivering them to Draco’s room.

“Don’t say we never did anything for you,” he said, but he was smiling slightly. Draco felt as though maybe he should thank him, but he hadn’t quite lost all of his pride yet.

The night before he was to leave for Hogwarts, his aunt called him down into the sitting room. Draco was quite wary of her intentions, but he couldn’t ignore her for long, and about ten minutes after she’d asked him to come down, he slunk into the room and took a place on one of the chairs.

“What do you want?” he asked sullenly.

“To talk,” his aunt said unhelpfully.

“About what?” Draco said.

“About what happened last spring,” his aunt said, and if Draco had been expecting anything, it certainly wasn’t that.

“Why?” he asked. “Why now? You’ve had all summer.”

“I didn’t think you would tell me the truth when you first got here, honestly,” she said, looking at her nails almost disinterestedly. “But I must admit that I almost didn’t believe it when Nymphadora told me that they’d found you in the Ministry of Magic fighting alongside Harry Potter, of all people.”

“What makes you think I want to talk about it now?” Draco said.

“There’s more of that Malfoy venom,” his aunt said cooly. “But I think you’ll open up. If not now, eventually.”

“Why?” Draco demanded. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“You are my sister’s son. I know you better than you’d think,” she said, leveling a steady gaze his way.

“Your sister doesn’t want anything more to do with me,” Draco said, keeping his voice steady even though the hurt of it still burned deep in his belly.

“That’s not entirely true,” his aunt said.

“Oh?” Draco said, barking with humorless laughter. “So she’s secretly been busy visiting me while I sleep? Perhaps writing me invisible letters? Are you about to tell me that the disownment notice that I received earlier this summer was merely a joke?”

“Don’t be daft, boy,” his aunt snapped. “You have put your mother in quite a precarious situation.”

“Oh, have I?” Draco said, although he’d been thinking about it ever since he woke up in the hospital wing at Hogwarts.

“Don’t play stupid. It isn’t becoming. Put yourself in her shoes. Her husband’s in Azkaban for helping a Dark Lord that she’s already pledged allegiance to, and her son was found helping Dumbledore’s golden child.”

“Well, I’m sorry for being such a disappointment,” Draco said, incensed. There was a lump in his throat that he could scarcely swallow past.

Andromeda looked at him for a long moment. “It is not hard to guess that your father’s continued presence in Azkaban is a direct result of his failed attack on the Ministry. Your mother has been put in the most dangerous of situations, but she has done her absolute best to ensure your safety this summer.”

“Oh, has she now?” Draco said. “I’m sorry, but where’s the proof of that?”

“You do not have to see something to know that it is there,” Andromeda said dismissively. “I would just like you to know that you shouldn’t count all of your dragons before they have hatched. You do still have people who are looking out for you.”

“Great,” Draco muttered. “I have a blood traitor aunt, a Mudblood uncle, a half-blood cousin, and an absentee mother. I feel really protected now.”

“Sometimes I wonder if a good whipping might not cure you of your nasty temper,” Andromeda warned, her eyes glinting. “I would’ve hoped that a summer in our house would have taught you that things are not as they seem.”

“Well, I’m sorry that I’m not everything you expected me to be,” Draco said.

“You have made your decisions, Draco. You have alienated yourself from your father’s cause and likely cleanly severed any ties of friendship that you built up in one fell swoop. You do not have to like where you are, but you are there, so you must now accept the consequences.”

“Maybe I won’t have to,” Draco said, falling on false bravado. “Maybe I’ll change my mind.” There was something weighing behind his words, a dark threat that he was quite sure his aunt understood.

Her eyes flashed, and she pushed herself up from her chair. “If that is the path you wish to take, I’d like to extend my sympathies. It would take an extraordinary amount of cunning and good luck to reenter You-Know-Who’s favor. It is your life, Draco, but I’m not sure I would advise this.”

“You aren’t my mother,” Draco said savagely. “You cannot tell me what to do.”

“If Narcissa were here, I am quite sure that she’d strike you down for being such a child. You cannot change the past, Draco. Only the future.” Andromeda turned curtly on one heel, heading towards the kitchen, no doubt to relay the conversation she’d just had with her loathsome husband. Draco desperately wanted to tell her that she was wrong, that he was changing the past as they spoke, but even in his anger, he knew that that was a monumentally bad idea.

“Oh,” she said, looking over her shoulder. “I plan to take you to King’s Cross early tomorrow morning. If that suits you well.” She pushed through the door and disappeared from view, and Draco sat in his chair for only a moment longer before he got up and disappeared into his own room, seething.

It was very frustrating to be called a child when Draco still felt like a middle-aged man, and he paced his room, resisting the urge to kick a hole in the wall. He was acting much more mature than anyone had given him credit for, especially considering that he’d gone against all sense and reason to help Potter of all people, and now he’d ended up in one of the worst predicaments he’d ever been in.

Draco was in a foul mood for the rest of the night, but eventually he calmed down enough to throw all of his possessions pell-mell into his trunk. It took ages for him to fall asleep; even though he was delighted that he’d soon be leaving his aunt and uncle’s dreadful house, he couldn’t help but worry about the reception he’d get back at Hogwarts.

* * *

Draco woke up, groggy and exhausted, at his aunt’s rude awakening the next morning. He swatted at her hand, which she was using to rigorously shake at his shoulder in an attempt to rouse him.

“Come on, lazy boy, come on!” she said. “Breakfast is getting cold and it’s already half past nine.”

“I’m coming,” Draco grumped, rolling over and rubbing at his face. His eyes were scratchy from exhaustion, but now that he was awake, a sick sense of apprehension had settled in his stomach at the thought of returning to school, and he knew that even if he tried, he would be unable to get back to sleep. He rolled out of bed, glowering at the floor for several moments before he found the energy to get up and get dressed.

By the time Draco finally made his way downstairs, it was edging past ten. He bolted down a quick breakfast, which was indeed frigid, just as his aunt warned. He glared at her, because as a housewife, she should have known a simple warming spell, but she didn’t say anything.

“It would’ve been warm if you’d woken up on time,” she said over her shoulder as she started bewitching the clean dishes to fly into their proper places in the cupboards.

“It could be warm now,” Draco said.

“I am not your servant,” Andromeda replied, but she seemed to be in better humor than she had been the night before. Draco attributed it to the fact that she was probably as shot of him as he was of her.

“Where’s your husband?” he yawned over a piece of toast.

“Ted and Nymphadora are at work,” she said. “I assure you that I am capable enough to escort you to the train station myself. You are not so high-profile as to need a guard, after all.”

“Thanks for that,” he said, but she was nice enough to levitate his trunk down from his room when he’d finished eating. He had half-expected her to force him to drag it down himself, so it was a pleasant surprise.

As she had predicted, they were not intercepted at any point during their journey to King’s Cross, even though Draco kept looking around corners to see if he could spot anyone who’d try to harm him. They were early, even though Draco had dawdled.

“I can go through the barrier myself,” he said, pushing his trolley.

“Very well,” Andromeda said tiredly. “Not that I expect you to return the sentiment, Draco, but please do be careful this school year.” Draco looked up at her, surprised. “You are my nephew, however unpleasant you may be at times, and believe it or not, I would be upset to hear news that you have met with ill will.”

Draco could not think of a suitable answer for that; half of him wanted to snarl something sarcastic at her but the other half found some vestige of warmth in her words. He settled on giving her a tight little nod before turning back to the barrier, pushing his trolley at a quick trot until he found himself on the appropriate side, the Hogwarts Express billowing smoke into the air.

Draco wasn’t so naive as to expect as little trouble on the train ride back to school as he’d encountered on his way to London, but he was still very wary, picking an empty compartment near the back of the train. He levitated his trunk onto the train and settled himself as far away from the window as he could to avoid prying eyes. If he thought it would do any good, he’d lock the door, but he could not remember a locking charm strong enough to withstand an Alohomora, so it wasn’t worth the effort. For the briefest of moments, he wondered if he was expected to go to the Prefects’ cabin at the front of the train before dismissing the idea. True, he wasn’t particularly scared of Pansy, but he didn’t need her trailing him and telling the others.

The train quickly filled, and once or twice, he saw someone peek into the window on the compartment door to gauge whether it was somewhere to sit or not. Every time this happened, Draco gave the onlooker a withering glare, which seemed to work for the most part. By the time the train began to move, Draco was still as alone as he’d started off.

Draco was on tenterhooks as the train left London and then entered the sparse countryside, gripping his wand so hard in his pocket that he was surprised it hadn’t sparked under the pressure, but no one came. At one point, his stomach was grumbling pitifully, and he began to scrounge in his trunk for an extra sickle or two, coming up with just enough money for a couple of chocolate frogs, which would prove to be a meager lunch, but it would have to do.

He was listening intently for the trolley, hoping to intercept it quickly so he could enjoy his candy in peace when a shadow fell through into his compartment. Draco’s stomach rolled over and he pulled his wand out into an offensive postion as Nott’s grinning face looked through the window and he slid open the door, looking thoroughly pleased with himself. He was flanked by Crabbe and Goyle. Crabbe was cracking his knuckles menacingly, but Goyle looked vaguely conflicted, almost as if he wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted to be there at that moment.

“Well, look who it is,” Nott said quietly in what he obviously meant to be a dangerous tone of voice. “The blood traitor decided to come back to Hogwarts after all. I was wondering if he hadn’t decided to throw his wand away and join the Muggles for real.”

“Oh, do keep talking Nott,” Draco said, feigning boredom. “With enough practice, maybe you’ll get menacing enough to frighten a first-year Hufflepuff.”

Nott’s smile melted off his face, and he narrowed his eyes, stepping forward into the compartment so that the door could close fully behind him. He raised his wand, and Draco did likewise. He wasn’t very worried about Crabbe or Goyle -- sure, they knew jinxes but they’d always had trouble with the more dangerous stuff -- and kept his wand trained on Nott’s chest. If he got a chance, he’d strike first, but he had to time it well.

“I wouldn’t be so cavalier, Malfoy,” he spat. “You might find you meet with a sticky accident.”

“Honestly, Nott,” Draco said cooly, “All this talk and one might think you actually had real talent up your sleeve. But don’t worry -- I’m not fooled in the slightest.”

Nott’s eyes narrowed, if possible, even further, but he shrugged and let his mouth quirk upwards in a smirk. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Malfoy. There are other people who believe in me, if you catch my drift.” The way he said it set Draco’s hair standing up, and he let his eyes fall to Nott’s left arm unconsciously. Nott was already in his school robes, so Draco could not appropriately assess the situation, but he had the bad feeling that Nott was hiding something.

Nott had followed Draco’s gaze, and he was outright grinning now. “Wouldn’t you like to know, Malfoy,” he said mockingly. “But that’s not something I talk about with blood traitors.”

Malfoy’s skin went cold, and he knew in that instant that, Marked or not, Nott was no longer someone he could take lightly. He wasted no time, whipping his wand over his head and yelling, “Petrificus Totalus!” It was not, perhaps, the most sophisticated of spells, but it would work in a pinch.

Nott, a true Slytherin, was not caught entirely off guard, and even though Draco’s curse hit spot-on, Nott’s own Stinging hex caught Draco full in the face, making Draco stupidly drop his wand as he rubbed at his cheeks, trying to alleviate the pain.

Even though his eyes were watering from the pain, Draco could see Crabbe advancing on him, and he fell to his knees, groping blindly for his wand with one hand as he held up his other hand to provide some sort of feeble defense. Crabbe liked using hexes, of course, but he had a mean streak in him that had him resulting to Muggle dueling every now and again, and Draco saw stars as Crabbe’s fist caught him on the side of his head, causing him to fall backwards and providing Crabbe with an opening to kick him in the stomach.

Draco lashed out with one of his legs and heard a satisfying whoof of air, but he didn’t incapacitate Crabbe quite as effectively as he’d wished. Crabbe’s heavy foot still slammed into Draco’s stomach, and Draco had to curl around himself as the air was forced from his lungs. He kicked out as best he could, but he had no leverage to speak of and his wand was still elusively hiding from reach.

Stupefy!” someone said from the doorway to the compartment, and Draco only just managed to roll over in time to avoid being crushed by Crabbe falling over. The person issued another Stunning spell, and the ensuing crash made Draco quite certain that Goyle, even if he’d not been an active participant at the moment, was currently just as Stunned as Crabbe.

Gingerly, Draco got out from under the seat, kicking at Crabbe’s prone legs until he had enough room to maneuver and sat up, careful not to jostle himself too much.

“Nice friends you got here, Malfoy,” said someone that sounded suspiciously like Potter, and Draco glared at his kneecaps for a second before he raised his face defiantly and met Potter’s gaze straight on.

“Sod off, Potter,” he snapped. “Go play hero to someone who actually wants it for a change.”

Potter looked deeply offended. “I just saved your skin, Malfoy,” he said.

“I didn’t ask you to,” Draco shot back.

“Fine,” Potter said coldly. “I guess I’ll just let them have at you next time.” He was gone in a flash, heading down the corridor and leaving Draco to sort out the three bodies that were now haphazardly piled in his compartment. Just as an extra precaution, Draco stunned Nott too, and then, as payback for his bruised ribs, Draco kicked him as hard as he could in the face. It took a great deal of effort to pull Goyle, Nott, and finally Crabbe out so that they were lying in the aisle instead of in Draco’s compartment, but finally, his chest heaving with the effort, Draco was able to sit down in peace. He very much hoped that the passing students would leave them there so they’d be trodden upon as people disembarked the train, but it wasn’t very long before someone came upon them and took pity. Nott’s face was bleeding and Crabbe looked very angry as they came to, aided by a seventh-year Ravenclaw prefect, but Draco only gave them a jaunty wave through the compartment window. He was quite sure that they wouldn’t try anything else until they got to Hogwarts, and his instinct proved to be spot on.

* * *

Draco was not quite so lucky as to earn a carriage by himself and ended up having to share with a gaggle of second-years, which made the ride unpleasant, to say the least. He entertained himself by playing with his wand in full-view, looking at them and pretending to mumble under his breath, but that intimidation only lasted for a couple of minutes before they got bored and began to giggle about something or other, leaving Draco to rub his temples to ward off an impending headache.

When they finally got to the castle, Draco entertained the idea of skipping the Welcoming Feast for all of two seconds before he realized that he didn’t know the password to get into the common room. True, he could nip down to the kitchens and hide out -- perhaps in the Room of Hidden Things, as he was quite certain he remembered he knew how to get in there -- but he could see Blaise smirking at him from across the Entrance Hall and did not want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that Draco was fazed by the attack that had been levied on him in the train.

Once he got into the Great Hall, he sat down heavily at the very end of the Slytherin table, which remained empty until all of the first years were Sorted, and then Draco was surrounded by them, forced to listen to them prattle about lessons and professors. Although he never managed to get any food on the train, he found he wasn’t very hungry, even though the food was more appetizing than anything he’d eaten all summer. He made himself pick at some roast chicken and ate a couple of chips, but every so often, an older student would glance down the table at him and mutter to their neighbor, and it was so off-putting that Draco didn’t even help himself to any pudding, even though it used to be his favorite part of the feast.

By the time Dumbledore dismissed them all, Draco had worked himself up into a panic, even though he was very careful to make sure that he looked cool and collected on the outside. The thought of going to the common room, of subjecting himself to the mercy of his year-mates, who had once been his friends but now wanted nothing more than to humiliate him beyond repair, not to mention the older students, made his heart tremble in his chest. He tried to figure out whether it would be best to dash to the common room first and hide out in the dormitory in his bed or wait until everyone was asleep before he tried venturing inside, but each plan had its own particular downsides, and Draco’s priority was as Slytherin as he was: to protect himself above everything else. He may have forgotten it in May, but it was imperative that that be the only directive he follow from here on out.

In the end, there was no way to effectively dawdle, as he could find no reason why he should stay at the Slytherin table now that it was devoid of food. Waiting until a gaggle of Ravenclaws came close enough to his side of the table, he slipped into the middle of their group, staying close until they veered off in the Entrance Hall, going in the opposite direction of the Slytherin common room. Squaring his shoulders, Draco allowed himself to have only one second to brace himself before he allowed himself to be swept up in the mass of students heading down to the dungeons. All around him, he could hear people hissing to their neighbors, and once or twice, someone stuck their foot out to trip him, but it seemed that everyone was waiting for the relative safety of the common room to make their real move.

Draco was too far from the front of the group to catch the password, and the doorway to the Slytherin dormitories remained open as long as people were filing through. This in itself was slightly worrying, seeing as though Draco wasn’t exactly on speaking terms with anyone who’d give him the password, but he’d manage somehow. He always did.

Draco tried to push his way through a throng of whispering third-years, all of whom had fixed him with withering glances, to get to his dormitory as quickly as possible, but he was waylaid at the foot of the stairs by Blaise and Nott, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle.

“Where do you think you’re going, Malfoy?” Nott asked nastily, loud enough so that most of the common room had now fixed their attention on the confrontation. Draco was pleased to see that his face had been healed very poorly, and his nose was crooked and swollen.

“You know,” Draco said very slowly, tilting his head to one side, “your new nose is quite charming, Nott. I should give whoever altered it for you a compliment.”

Nott went an alarming shade of red. “I would watch what you’re saying, Malfoy,” he said. “Potter’s not around to save you now.”

“I don’t see anything I need to be saved from,” Draco said calmly. “Now if you could be so kind as to move aside? I know that you might need extra money because your father’s gone and gotten himself locked up in Azkaban, but I was unaware that you’d decided to earn it by being a gargoyle protecting the dormitory stairs.”

“Gobstones in a glass house,” said Blaise cooly. “I wouldn’t be making such comments if I were you, Draco.”

“And I didn’t know that your mother had decided to run in with You-Know-Who either, Zabini,” Draco said, mock-surprised. “Has she finally run out of pure-blood wizards to milk dry?”

“Don’t you have a go at my mother, Malfoy,” Blaise said, his face contorting nastily. He looked like he was about to go for his wand, and even though Draco already had his in hand, he was very aware that there were about a hundred students standing behind him.

“A little sensitive, aren’t we, Zabini?” Draco mocked. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were ashamed of dear old Mum. Well, we all know she’s a harlot, so maybe what you’re feeling is spot on -- ”

With a snarl of rage, Blaise whipped his wand out and threw a hex that Draco ducked just in time to avoid. He sent his own through the air, but his aim was affected by the ungainly move he’d had to make to avoid being hit square in the face by Blaise’s curse, so it crashed harmlessly into the stone wall.

Unfortunately, Draco was just not equipped to hold off an entire common room full of students, and even though he managed to shoot off a couple more spells of his own, hitting someone with a Jelly Legs jinx, if the grunt of impact was enough to go on, he found himself upside down in the air, suspended by an invisible rope. Nott was gleaming up at him, and Blaise was fingering his wand in a way that Draco took to mean bad news.

“Looks like your big mouth has gotten you into trouble, Malfoy,” Nott said, twirling his wand so that Draco’s body began to shake. His robes were falling down into his face, and he could feel all the blood rush to his head.

“Put me down, Nott, or I swear I’ll -- ”

“You’ll what, Malfoy? Set your father on us? Oh, wait, I think I heard that he disowned you this summer? Well, serves you right for putting your lot in with a bunch of blood traitors and Mudbloods.”

“You don’t know anything about what happened, Nott,” Draco snarled. “So don’t pretend that you do.”

“I’ve heard enough,” Nott spat. “Now, Malfoy, how would you like to spend the beginning of term in the hospital wing? I do have to pay you back for the train, you know.”

“What is going on here?” said a smooth voice from the back of the common room, and Draco could hear the collective sound of a hundred students turning to gauge the interruption. Almost instantly, the curse holding Draco upside-down was severed, and Draco fell to the ground in a heap, his head hitting the stone floor painfully.

“Nothing, Professor,” said Blaise in his smoothest voice. “Just talking to Malfoy here.”

By the time Draco picked himself up enough to see what was happening, Snape had easily maneuvered his way through the throng of students and was approaching the steps.

“I see,” he said, sparing Draco a glance but doing nothing to help him up from the floor.

“You understand, Professor,” Nott said. “Just -- making my point clear.”

“As much as I’d like to allow you to settle this on your own,” Snape said, his voice low but carrying throughout the entire common room as though he’d used a Sonorus charm, “I’m afraid I cannot allow it to go on.”

“We were just talking,” Crabbe grunted, looking at Snape resentfully. Draco managed to pull himself up to a standing position, ignoring the throb in his protesting body. He was going to be sore and bruised tomorrow, of course.

“Be that as it may,” Snape continued, “the Headmaster has asked me to ensure that no harm this common room.”

“We’ll be careful,” Nott said. “Don’t worry, Professor. We’re Slytherins, after all. We know how to keep internal affairs private.”

“I have no doubt that you do, Theodore,” Snape said, giving Nott a small smile. “But the Headmaster is keeping quite a close eye on the inhabitants of this room. I would ask that you give him no reason to suspect you of wrongdoing. As naive and biased as he is, you do know how well-connected he is, especially with every facet of this school.”

Nott scowled at the ground, looking almost like a gorilla as he did so. “Yes, professor,” he said sullenly.

“Be forewarned, Theodore,” Snape said. “Any unnecessary trips by anyone to the hospital wing will be met with great suspicion. I would encourage you to find other ways to voice your displeasure.”

“I understand, sir,” Nott said, looking more annoyed by the second.

“And Mr Malfoy,” Snape said, turning sharply on his heel. “I assume that it was you that caused the damage to the far wall?”

“Zabini’s hex hit the floor with his, sir,” he said, gesturing to the scorch marks that marred the carpet.

“I see no damage from Mr Zabini’s spell,” Snape said coolly, and Draco’s mouth fell open at the unfairness of it all. “Detention, with me, tomorrow for harming the common room with an unprovoked attack on your classmate.” Behind his back, Nott and Zabini were cackling soundlessly, and Draco flushed angrily. He’d never been on this side of Snape’s temper before, and it made him feel as though he’d been demoted to Gryffindor status.

Without another word, Snape made his way back out of the common room, leaving Draco to pick himself up from the floor.

“Sodding move,” he snarled to Nott, who only gave him a smug smile before waving him up the stairs. Draco spent the rest of the night pretending to sleep in his bed, ignoring the way every other boy in the dormitory spent at least an hour making snide comments about him.

* * *

When Draco awoke early the next morning, he was in a towering rage. His back and arms were mottled with bruises from the indignities he’d suffered the day before, and it took a bit of careful maneuvering to get himself dressed. He was out of the dormitory and through the common room before most everyone else had woken up

By the time he got to the Great Hall, he bypassed the Slytherin table immediately, heading up for the teachers. Snape was just tucking into his breakfast, predictably early as always, and Draco had to stand in front of him for at least a minute before McGonagall prodded his shoulder, forcing Snape to pretend to notice Draco standing there.

“Mr Malfoy, I am eating,” Snape said. “Whatever it is, it can wait.”

“I just wanted,” Draco said, his voice almost trailing off at the hard look Snape gave him, “er, to get my class schedule.”

“I will sort it out with you when I am done with breakfast, Snape said. “Same as always. Perhaps you’d forgotten?”

“No, I’m just not very hungry,” Draco said to his shoes.

“You will have to wait just like everyone else,” Snape said coldly. “You do not have the right to any special privilege.”

“Right, okay,” Draco said, his insides burning with anger. He’d half-hoped that Snape would be nicer to him without an audience, but he’d forgotten that he had no leverage. He returned to the Slytherin table, once again sitting as far away from everybody as he could, and dug into some porridge, ignoring the way that people from neighboring tables kept craning their heads to look at him.

Snape took his good old time getting to Draco with his new schedule, stopping to talk at length with some seventh-years about their N.E.W.T.s before he deigned Draco ready for a discussion. He spent at least three minutes scoffing at Draco’s less-than-stellar O.W.L. grades before approving him to go for Transfiguration, Potions, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Arithmancy, and Herbology. Draco had hoped that he might be able to scrape through into Charms, but Snape had taken one look at his Acceptable and told him that he had neither the talent nor the drive to continue on with the subject.

As soon as he got his schedule finalized, Draco booked it out of the Great Hall even though he hadn’t entirely finished his breakfast. He had a break before Transfiguration, but then he was off to Arithmancy, which he couldn’t say he was too keen on going to.

Draco did not go back to the common room as he used to during breaks, and even though he probably could do with a bit of extra studying, he headed up to the Room of Hidden Things, passing by the tapestry three times until the door appeared. He had never quite understood how Potter had modified the room to make it useable for his little secret defence group, but Draco knew that there was a broken desk in the back of the second-to-last row where he could sit and think, obscured by the detritus of ten centuries worth of students.

But try as he might, his attempts to come up with a suitable plan to make his new situation livable were as unsuccessful as they’d been all summer, though Draco had been hoping that he would have a better handle on things once he’d found himself back in the height of things at Hogwarts. He kept trying to sort out what he could remember from his first time going through sixth year, but he kept thinking of Vanishing Cupboards and Dark Marks and hiding in this room. Things were getting even harder to get a hold of, and even though Draco was certain that he’d been present for the final conflict between the Dark Lord and Potter, he could not remember the specifics. The details kept coming in and out of focus like a badly tuned radio playing a Weird Sisters song, and even though he tried to cup his hands in front of his face to block out the world and concentrate on what he knew, it was no help.

By the time he escaped the Room of Hidden Things to head off to Transfiguration, he was not in any way in a better mood, and he had the inklings of a headache besides. At this rate, he’d do well to invest in a stock of headache potion, or at least pilfer some from Madam Pomfrey. He spent the entire lesson listening to McGonagall prattle on and on about using non-verbal transfiguration.

By the time McGonagall finally dismissed them, Draco was very close to skiving off Arithmancy. Fiddly and complicated as Arithmancy was, he was unsure that he had the brain power to sit through an entirety of Vector’s lecture without going completely mad. Plus, Draco had used to spend the time in Arithmancy passing notes with Pansy or Blaise, and seeing as this option had been thoroughly exhausted, he didn’t have any other opportunities for a reprieve.

But in the end, Draco wasn’t entirely positive he could justify skipping Arithmancy on the first day of classes, so he slunk into Vector’s classroom just before the bell rang, taking the only available seat in the back next to a Ravenclaw he was unfamiliar with. The Ravenclaw gave him an affronted look and shifted her bags to the other side of the chair with a haughty sniff. Draco merely gave her a disinterested quirk of his eyebrow before he pulled out his book and opened it on the desk.

Vector started the class with a drawn-out speech about how the subject would only get more difficult from there on out, and Draco was very close to just putting his head down on the desk and sleeping. It was like every professor couldn’t start a new year without warning about how difficult everything was about to get, and it was very off-putting. Draco seemed to remember that it was all a bunch of hyped-up nonsense, but again, the specifics were failing to enter into his memory, so he only had a muddled impression of what they knew.

Vector spent most of the period using her wand to draw complicated angles and number charts on the board, expounding the difficult theories used to explain the magical properties inherent in the number twelve. True to her word, it was indeed more complex than anything Draco could remember, even though he was positive that he’d sat through this lesson before, and by the time her lecture had finished, his parchment was covered in notes he wasn’t sure he’d be able to understand come examination time.

“Now,” Vector said, clapping her hands together and smiling at them in a way that made Draco very wary of what was about to happen. “We have twenty minutes left before class adjourns, which gives me just enough time to explain the details of your homework assignment.” Many students groaned, Draco among them. McGonagall had already given him a three meter essay due the following week, along with about three-hundred pages of supplemental reading, and Draco wasn’t keen to think of all the homework that would steadily pile up during the day.

“Don’t be like that,” Vector chided. “I have something a bit different for you this year. Although I’ve used homework in the past as an individual exercise, it is not likely that you’ll encounter a job that uses Arithmancy where you are not working with a group of people. As such, I’ve devised a project that will span the length of the year that you will be allowed to work in pairs on. Teamwork is the only thing that will allow you to complete this assignment satisfactorily.” She waved her wand, and a packet of papers emerged from the topmost drawer of her desk. With another flick, the papers were soon distributed to the entire class.

“You are allowed to choose your partners and begin working. The first part of the assignment is due next class period. No excuses!” The rest of the class immediately broke into a low-level hum as people began to move around and find their partners. Draco himself was none too pleased at this turn of events, something that he couldn’t ever remember having to deal with. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Blaise and Pansy had paired up, and he looked over at the Ravenclaw next to him in the hope that she had no friends, but she had vacated her seat when his attention had been waylaid and was now talking to a Hufflepuff across the room.

The situation a little desperate now, Draco began craning his neck looking for anyone without a partner. The class was even-numbered, wasn’t it? He didn’t think he could live with the humiliation of having to go up to Vector and let her know that he was the only one without a partner.

Suddenly someone plunked their books down on the table next to Draco, almost making him start. He looked up and saw Granger, looking no-nonsense and eager to begin work on the assignment, staring at him.

“Would you like to be my partner?” she asked in a dignified voice.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Granger,” Draco said in an affronted tone. “I’d rather work with a house elf.”

“Considering there’s no one left to partner with, I think that might be your only choice besides me,” she said dryly, sitting down even though Draco had not given anything close to an acquiescence.

“I said no, Granger,” he hissed out of the corner of his mouth, aware that Zabini and Parkinson were watching them and whispering to each other.

“I don’t particularly care,” she sniffed. “You’re the only one left to work with, and I’m not failing this project because you’re acting like a giant baby.”

Draco’s scowl deepened, and it was almost funny how he could feel his bad mood worsen. He chanced a glance around the room to see if there was anyone else looking for a partner, but everyone seemed to be paired up at this point, and Vector was wandering around, writing down each group on a piece of parchment she had floating alongside her.

“Why do you want to work with me anyway?” he snarled. “There are plenty of other Gryffindors in this classroom.”

“You should be happy,” Granger said, not even looking up at him as she paged through the assignment, taking notes with her quill every so often. “I’m probably the only person who would have agreed to be your partner. You don’t exactly have too many friends nowadays, do you, Malfoy?”

“I haven’t sunk quite so low,” Draco said coldly, “to be friendly to Mudbloods.”

“Well, that’s tough luck for you, isn’t it?” Granger said, her voice raising a little in anger. “Seeing as you’ve alienated most of the Purebloods in here anyway. I would think that you’d be a little more civil considering the predicament you’ve found yourself in.”

“You thought wrong, Granger,” Draco snapped. “I know it must be hard for you to accept, know-it-all that you are.”

“Ho-hum,” Granger said, feigning indifference as she hunted in her schoolbag for her Arithmancy book, which she pulled out with a flourish. “You know, Malfoy, you might do well to remember that, as vile as you are, Harry, Ron, and I still remember what you did at the Ministry in June. And we may not get why exactly you did it, but we’re willing to listen if you ever get it through your fat head that you could make the best of this situation. As things go, we’re partners for the rest of the year, and I’ll expect you to put a fair amount of work in before the term’s over. I’ll meet you in the library on Saturday at three, if that works for you.”

Draco barely had time to gape at her before the bell rang, signifying the end of class. Vector was busy putting the flourishes on her list of partners, which undoubtedly now had Draco’s name next to Granger’s, and she flounced off without a second glance backwards, leaving Draco to mutter under his breath.

As long as the day had been so far, Draco was far from over, and he loitered in the shadows of the hallways outside of the Potions classroom for at least twenty minutes before class was due to start, avoiding the rest of the Slytherins as best as he could. It wasn’t too hard to keep from being noticed, dark and dingy as the dungeons were, and he was able to see the small group of students standing outside the classroom and gauge how the lesson would go without being subject to too much attention.

There were three other Slytherins in the class, which Draco thought he remembered but now wasn’t quite sure, and of course, Granger, Weasley, and Potter, who were talking lowly about something as Slughorn rounded the corner. Staying away from Zabini and Nott as best he could, Draco slipped into the classroom just as the bell was about to ring. Frustratingly, he only had the choice of two places to sit, one of which was obviously out due to its proximity to Nott, so he slipped into the desk next to Granger, glowering at the injustice of spending so much time next to her. She only gave him a fleeting glance, as opposed to Weasley and Potter’s outright stares, but Slughorn was prompt to call the class to attention.

There were several cauldrons bubbling with various potions, only one of which Draco thought he could correctly identify as Polyjuice Potion, as he could recall nicking some the first time he’d done this lesson and using it to great effect later on in the year as he completed his mission. Slughorn asked the class if they could correctly identify the potions in front of them, and Draco only half-listened as Granger promptly raised her hand and listed off every known ability possessed by the love potion that Slughorn had brewed for their lesson. Draco sorely missed Snape for a moment, since he would have definitely mocked Granger for her enthusiasm, but then he remembered the treatment Snape was bestowing on him at the present and changed his opinion.

Draco wasn’t about to let her take all of the credit, though, and when Slughorn asked for the name of the second potion, Draco raised his hand. “It’s Polyjuice Potion, sir,” he said, trying for the same voice he’d always used to suck up to his teachers before. “Used to transform someone into someone else.” He could hear Nott and Zabini laugh about something lowly from the other side of the room but ignored them.

“Correct, correct, Mr...Malfoy, right?”

“Yes, sir,” Draco said, and Slughorn gave him a brief, indulgent smile before he turned his attention to the remaining cauldrons, asking questions that Granger knew the answer to. Nott did an impression of her behind her back when Slughorn was praising her ability, and Draco had to remind himself that he wasn’t allowed to laugh at Nott’s antics anymore, even if they were funny.

Slughorn set them to making the Draught of Living Death, which Draco gave a summary glance to before setting to work. He had the feeling that he might succeed at the challenge and win some Felix Felicis because he had the good fortune of already studying and making this potion Before, but as it turned out, the copious amounts of steam and mounting headache that had been plaguing Draco all day were an impediment to potion making. He kept missing the tiniest steps, even though he’d sworn that he’d read the instructions thoroughly, and by the time the class ended, his potion was nowhere near the pale color it was supposed to be. He chanced a glance at Granger and scowled because hers might not be perfect, but it at least looked better than his. He had hoped that for once in his life he’d be able to beat little Miss Perfect at something, but it looked like today was not that day.

Draco eyed the Felix Felicis with undisguised longing as Slughorn began to make his rounds, checking for the best potion. Draco was wholly expecting Granger to win, especially given the fact that Slughorn had merely told him that his potion was passable, but he got a sudden shock to his system when Granger’s was bypassed for Potter’s, which made no sense at all, given how poorly Potter always did in Potions. Slughorn spent a good five minutes enumerating the ways that Potter must be an excellent Potioneer to receive such results, and Draco was about to get sick in his cauldron from the sap of it by the time Slughorn presented him with a vial of the lucky potion to take home. Draco wanted to see if he could nick some for himself, but Slughorn kept a close eye on the cauldron as people filed out of the classroom.

There was one small relief, though, because he kept an eye on the Polyjuice until everyone had left and Slughorn was giving him a confused look, and no one had managed to get their hands into that.

* * *

The rest of the week did not pass any smoother for Draco, no matter how he wished it would. Defence Against the Dark Arts had been a disaster, as Snape had taken the time to denounce Draco’s skill in front of the entire class for being unable to produce an unspoken jinx, and Draco was right sick of it -- he’d spent so long as Snape’s prize student that it was very odd to be on the other side of it. The other Slytherins followed Snape’s warning about not hurting Draco, but they didn’t draw the line at making his life a living hell. He got to Transfiguration and had to endure a ten minute lecture from McGonagall about being irresponsible and not completing her essay even though he was positive that he’d put it in his bag early in the morning. Somehow, at every mealtime, someone made sure to upend something on his lap or in his food, and it was getting to the point that Draco was avoiding the Great Hall altogether.

The house elves in the kitchen might be dirty, nasty things, but they were always pleased to make Draco something whenever he went down there. One of them in particular, who always was wearing the oddest assortment of clothing Draco had ever seen, gave Draco the stink-eye and refused to even come near him, but Draco had no use for recalcitrant house elves and no one to report it to besides. Still, it rankled, the way the thing stared at him whenever he was waiting for one of the others to bring him food, and once or twice, he heard it mutter, “Draco Malfoy is a bad boy! A bad boy!” That was very odd, but it was a house elf, so Draco always managed to forget about it as soon as he stepped back into the hallway with his plate of food.

The advent of the weekend was a welcome relief, even though Draco had more homework than he could ever remember having, especially since McGonagall was making him redo an assignment that he’d already completed on top of a completely new essay that she’d assigned out of spite. Draco had taken to carrying the majority of his books around with him at all times so that the light-fingered Slytherins in his dorm wouldn’t be tempted, but even though his bag was enchanted feather-light, he kept having to repair the seams with a badly cast mending charm, which only incited more underhanded ridicule.

Draco ended up spending a majority of his morning on Saturday in an empty classroom in the Transfiguration wing working through his assignments methodically. There were certain advantages, of course: no one would think to look for him in there, and he was allowed to eat the food he’d acquired from the kitchens without the constant threat of Pince finding him and enchanting his books to chase him out of the library. Once or twice, he thought he might like to relocate to the Room of Hidden Things, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Although it would prove to be a safe haven, Draco wasn’t entirely sure he could stomach being in the room that had essentially been his prison when he’d first lived through sixth year.

Three came and passed, and even though Draco was acutely aware of the time and the fact that he was supposed to meet Granger in the library, he didn’t move from his spot. If the Mudblood thought he was that easily led around, she deserved to sit alone waiting for him. Maybe if he was lucky, she’d do all of the work and he’d receive credit for it. And if worse came to worst, failing Arithmancy wasn’t nearly as detrimental as failing Transfiguration or Potions would be. He could deal with dropping Arithmancy anyway -- he’d be able to get a job without it.

The clock had just struck four, the chimes ringing loudly through the classroom, and Draco was entertaining the idea of nipping down to the kitchens for some tea, or at least summoning a house elf to bring it for him, when the door to the classroom burst open. Draco immediately went for his wand, but as soon as he registered the bushy-headed busybody to be none other than Granger, he dropped his attention back to his work, accidentally poking his quill through his parchment in irritation.

“I thought you were going to meet me in the library at three?” Granger said, and Draco could tell that she was annoyed even though she was trying to sound polite.

“I never said I would,” said Draco absently, running his finger through the text of his Potions book to look up the right answer for his essay.

“You never said you wouldn’t,” she countered.

“Silly you for assuming then,” he snapped, grasping his quill so hard, he was surprised when it didn’t break in two. “How did you find me, Granger?”

“Like this is such a clever hiding place!” Granger huffed. “Malfoy, I am not failing this Arithmancy assignment.”

“Well maybe you should have picked a different partner then, Granger,” Draco drawled. “I have no problem with failing.”

“Oh, for goodness sake,” Granger said, all politeness gone from her voice. “I should’ve known you’d be a complete baby about this. You’re worse than Ron.”

Draco felt his mouth drop open as he finally looked up from his essay to gape openly at Granger’s ugly, common face. “Surely you didn’t just say I was worse than a Weasley,” he said in horror.

“Well, you are. Making such a big deal out of the littlest things. It’s like babysitting a four year old. And I don’t see why you’re being so high and mighty about it anyway. What is it that you Slytherins call the Weasleys? Blood traitors? Well, I hate to tell you, Malfoy, but I heard some of them talking about you the other day, and I’m quite sure that’s how you were described as well.”

Draco was on his feet before he knew it, his chair askew behind him. He seized his wand from where it had been lying next to his ink pot, but he didn’t level it at her yet, wary of what she had hidden up her sleeve.

“Boys,” she said, throwing her arms up in the air. “You’re all alike! Go for your wands first without ever thinking about talking it over or using simple logic.”

“I will hex you, Granger,” Draco said, breathing heavily through his nose. “Leave me alone.” “No,” Granger said stubbornly. “We have a good four hours of work to do on this Arithmancy assignment, and it’s due on Monday. I’m not putting it off any longer.”

“Are you deaf as well as dumb, Granger?” Draco snarled. “I said I wasn’t helping.”

“Well then, I guess I’ll sit here and do it myself,” Granger said, dropping her bag unceremoniously on the floor and plopping into an empty chair.

“Oh, sod off,” Draco said. “You know as well as I do that there’s plenty of room in the library.”

“Maybe I don’t want to do it in the library,” Granger countered. “After all, it’s quite quiet in this section of the school. I never thought about it before, but I do think it’s the perfect place to get some work done.”

“Suit yourself,” Draco said, not even bothering to right his chair as he began to sweep things into his bag. “I’ll hopefully not be seeing you, Granger.”

She immediately stood up again, shouldering her bag prissily as she looked at him. “I think I’m going to follow you, Malfoy,” she said loftily. “Since you seem to know the best places to study in the school and all.”

“I’m going back to my common room,” Draco said, sweeping out of the classroom. “They won’t let a filthy Mudblood like you take more than two steps inside.”

“Oh, I doubt that you’re going to subject yourself to that,” Granger said in an irritating know-it-all voice from behind him. “You’re not very popular there nowadays, are you?”

“Mind your own business, Granger,” Draco spat, even though she was spot-on; there was no way he was heading back to the common room this early in the day.

“Well, it’s settled,” she said, still behind him and doggedly tailing his footsteps.

Draco whirled on his heel, and Granger almost ran straight into him. He half-hoped that she’d fall over backwards from the weight of her bag, but she just stood there after she’d gotten her balance back, looking at him expectantly.

“What do I have to do to get you to leave me alone?” he asked exasperatedly. “Interpretive dance? Clever hex? What, Granger? ”

“I’m not going anywhere until you help me with this Arithmancy assignment,” Granger said stubbornly. “It’s your own fault. We could already be partway done with it if you weren’t acting so immature.”

Draco was gritting his teeth so hard for a moment that he almost cracked one of his back molars. Try as he might, he could think of no way out of this except to Stun her, and considering that Granger was top of their year in practically everything and friends with Potter to boot, he wasn’t entirely sure he liked the chances of being able to curse her before she hit him with a spell of her own, especially considering that he no longer had any back up.

“Well?” she asked, tapping her foot impatiently. “What will it be?”

Fine, Granger,” Draco said, conceding defeat.

“Excellent,” she said. “Library or back to that classroom? Your decision.” She waited for him to make a move, which was a good choice, seeing as Draco would have tried his damnedest to get away from her if she’d turned her back on him.

Draco spent a second weighing his options: stay cramped up in the small classroom with only Granger for company or go to the library with her and risk being seen by other students. In the end, there was only one viable option, even though Draco loathed it.

“Classroom,” he said. “Come on, Granger, I don’t have all day.” She swept her arm to one side, inviting him to go first and backtrack, and Draco was too irritated to think of denying the unspoken command. He stalked past her, smiling to himself as he ran into her shoulder hard enough to make her stumble.

“Again, we could be halfway done by now,” she said under her breath.

It took them nearly three hours before Granger was satisfied with the work they’d done, which was thankfully less time than she estimated but still three hours too long, in Draco’s opinion. He worked in silence, slow as he could, but she was unerringly persistent, asking for his opinion on certain number charts and fact-checking everything with her book. It was dull work, and even though he was letting her work on the more difficult pieces of it, she kept wanting to compare answers.

“It’s called teamwork for a reason, Malfoy,” she said, almost cheerfully, whenever Draco complained. He had the distinct feeling that she was getting a lot of pleasure out of bossing him around.

They’d written almost two feet more than they had to have done by the time Granger told him that they’d done enough to be getting on with.

“This should be good enough for Professor Vector,” she said, finally packing up her things. “We’ve even started on the next part of the assignment, so we have a heads up for what we have to do next week.”

“Great, Granger,” Draco said sarcastically. “I do so look forward to spending more time in your presence.”

“It’s not as if you’re the easiest person to work with either,” Granger replied in a dignified voice, which only worsened Draco’s temper.

“Then why did you choose to work with me anyway, Granger?” he snapped. “It’s not as if there weren’t about a hundred other people who’d want to be partners with you, seeing as you’re the school’s biggest know-it-all.”

“I figured that I would be the only one willing do the project with you,” she said.

Draco felt his cheeks heat up. “Don’t pity me, Granger,” he said lowly. “Don’t you dare.”

“Don’t kid yourself,” she said. “I’m not doing this because I feel sorry for you.”

“Then why?” Draco exploded. “I don’t know if you’ve realized this, Granger, but I don’t sodding like you.”

“Well, I don’t care for you much either, Malfoy,” she said. “But the fact of the matter is, last spring, you helped us when I was sure you were going to sell us out. Harry said that if it wasn’t for you, he’d have given up that prophecy to your father.”

“You don’t know anything about why I did what I did,” Draco said coldly. “Don’t trick yourself into believing that you do.”

“Whether I know your motives or not, you helped, and I’m grateful,” she said. “And seeing that most of the school hates you nowadays, I’d think you’d be happy for an ally.”

“Well I’m not,” Draco said. “Especially not if it’s you.”

“Maybe you’ll change your mind,” she said airily, closing the clasp on her bag. “I’ll see you on Monday, Malfoy.” He could only watch as she left, his stomach churning with a million different ugly emotions, each one more damning than the last.

* * *

Draco had never spent so much time alone as he did then, going from class to class, working on homework without so much as speaking. At first, he’d made himself believe that that was how he wanted things, but as the days shortened and October bloomed into being, he couldn’t deny that it was a lonely existence, with only Granger for intermittent company whenever they had Arithmancy work due.

Draco took on the role of casual observer in a way that he never had before; in some ways, he’d always been in the thick of things in one way or another, involved in that which was important to him. But things had shifted from what he’d known so quickly that it was very hard to get used to things the way they were. Never before had he been in the wrong place of the equation, on the opposite side of the line. Gryffindors ignored him, Potter gave him speculative looks in the hallways, and the Slytherins were still determined to do all they could short of bodily harm to make him go insane.

The old standby he’d used when he’d first been transported back was failing. No longer did he have the reassurances that everything would turn out right, especially not after he’d so royally changed the course of history. Things were spinning out of control in front of him, and with each passing day, something loosened in his mind, and he’d wake up and spend a few minutes forgetting that he’d lived this life before. It was getting very worrisome, and no matter how long he spent on Occlumency and the mental exercises encased within the study, things were getting steadily worse. It was as though there was a block keeping him from his old memories that was strengthening with each passing moment. Every time Draco thought about it, he couldn’t help getting more and more panicked; he’d spent the past half a year relying on what he knew from before, and now that that was slowly being decimated, he had nowhere to turn.

Furthermore, aside from all of the elementary trouble his fellow classmates were bestowing on him, there was an alarming trend he was noticing in Nott, if not Crabbe and Goyle, that set the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on edge. If anything, Nott was becoming steadily quieter, less likely to goad Draco as he had before, and Crabbe and Goyle were following his lead. There were some nights that Nott didn’t come into the dormitory before curfew, and even though Draco strained to hear his approach, he inevitably fell off to sleep before the door opened, signifying Nott’s return.

If Draco hadn’t been so on edge about everything else, he was unsure that he even would have noticed Nott’s strangeness. But that age-old standard was true -- protect yourself above all others -- and considering Nott’s newfound hatred, Draco was loath to trust him in any way. He had this niggling suspicion he couldn’t put words to, but Nott was up to something; Draco could tell in only the way that other plotters could that Nott was not showing his entire hand.

The first Quidditch match of the season dawned on a particularly nasty day mid-October: Slytherin versus Ravenclaw. Draco couldn’t bring himself to much care, considering he’d been unceremoniously dumped from the team and replaced with someone he hadn’t even bothered to learn the name of, and he was unsure that he was even going to attend.

It was luck, or perhaps the lack of it, that put Draco in the situation he found himself in that morning. He’d left the dormitory, early as always, to get food, and by the time the match was due to start, he was enclosed in a classroom, a different one from the one Granger had found him in. Having finished his Potions work, he was about to complete Transfiguration, noting the fact that although he had no idea what he was doing with his life beyond school, at least he’d have all of his homework done correctly, when he realized he’d left his text in his bed after checking it for something the night prior. He considered not doing his Transfiguration till the next day, but he’d just had a brilliant idea on how to answer the question McGonagall had assigned with the least amount of work possible, and he was afraid that he’d lose his train of thought if he procrastinated.

So he stole to the Slytherin common room quickly, slipping inside as a gaggle of third years left, bedecked in Slytherin colors and ready to cheer in the stands. There were a handful of stragglers around the fire, but no one Draco really knew, so he was able to get into his room and secure his book with little effort.

He was on his way back to the classroom when he heard the faintest hint of Nott’s voice as he passed the bathroom that led off from their room. Pausing for only a second, Draco crept as close to the loo door as he could, keeping close to the wall.

“No, I don’t have to tell you what I’m doing, Crabbe,” Nott said, and he sounded irate. “You’re so stupid, you’re just as likely to muck it up as you are to help. You’ve just got to help me, and keep your fat mouth shut about it.”

“But it doesn’t have to be during the Quidditch game,” said Crabbe petulantly. “I want to watch.”

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Nott snarled. “If the teachers get wind of what I’m doing, the plan will be for nothing, and I’ll be in very big trouble. It has to be now. No one will notice we’re gone.”

So intent on hearing the tail end of the conversation, Draco failed to notice Nott’s approach to the bathroom door until it was a second too late. He sprung away from the wall, but Nott still caught him lurking there, right outside the door.

“You,” he said, looking furious. “What are you doing here?”

“I live here,” Draco said. “I was unaware that your intelligence was this lacking, Nott. Perhaps you ought to see Professor Snape about being transferred to a less taxing course load. Maybe the second-year curriculum would be easier for you.”

Draco was expecting Nott to go for his wand, so when he was instead pushed so hard he lost balance and toppled over, he was completely caught off guard.

“I’d be careful if I were you, Malfoy,” said Nott.

“Oh, yes, I’m very scared of you,” scoffed Draco, brushing his robes off as he got back to his feet. “Very intimidating, the way you keep nicking my homework.”

“Maybe I’m just waiting for my real friends to turn up,” Nott sneered, smiling in a way that Draco didn’t like. “Maybe they’ll be a lot more eager to let me give you what you deserve, if you get my drift. Crabbe, Goyle, let’s get out of here.” Nott shoved past Malfoy, almost making him lose balance again, and Crabbe and Goyle followed his lead. Draco’s tailbone was going to be sore for at least three days, he was sure, and now he could feel a bruise forming where he’d been hit by Nott’s bony shoulder, but that wasn’t anything compared to the icy pit that had formed in his stomach.

“Draco, what have you gotten yourself into?” he muttered to himself after Goyle’s robe swished out of view.

There were really no two ways around it. Either Draco could ignore the fact that Nott had practically announced his allegiance to Death Eaters and continue on his business, or he could talk to the one person who’d be sure to stay on Nott’s trail like a Permanent Sticking Charm. Even though it was the last thing he wanted to do, there was still something to be said about involving Gryffindors instead of doing the dirty work himself, considering that he was largely friendless.

Draco did not return to his school work, which he had left abandoned in the classroom he’d been using, but instead made his way down to the pitch, pausing long enough only to throw his Transfiguration text onto his bed and to seize his cloak. He took the quickest way he knew to the Quidditch pitch, stumbling over the uneven ground until he could hear the rush of noise from the stands. He could see the teams flying above him, already playing the game, and part of him ached at how much he missed the sport. Before he headed into open air, he pulled his cloak over his head, which, thanks to the dreary weather, seemed to be a common fashion statement against the drizzle of rain.

Instead of taking the left and heading up into the stands that housed the majority of the Slytherin population, Draco weaved his way beyond the pitch until he reached the Gryffindors. It was slow work, climbing up all of the stairs needed to get to the top, but people weren’t much paying attention to him, which was working to his advantage. Everyone else had their eyes trained skyward, but Draco kept scanning the rows of people for his target.

At first he tried looking for Weasley’s distinctive hair but was distracted by the sheer amount of red and gold bandying about, so he decided to keep an eye out for Granger’s bushy mane, ignoring the mutters that followed him as he stumbled his way through the crowd. It took nearly ten minutes of wandering about like an idiot before he spotted Potter, Weasley, and Granger, sitting in the second-to-highest row and talking to one another as though there wasn’t a game going on. It took almost another ten minutes before Draco was able to squeeze his way through to them, treading on several toes as he went past. Thankfully, Weasley was sitting on the opposite side from where Draco was approaching so he could hopefully avoid all contact with the ginger abomination as possible.

“Oh, I’m sor -- Malfoy!” Granger said, startled as Draco pushed his way next to her, sitting down with great difficulty before Longbottom had the sense to budge over. “What do you want? What are you doing here?”

“Potter,” he said, because Potter was looking straight at him, just as shocked as Granger. “I need to talk to you.”

“Okay,” Potter said, nonplussed. “What’s going on, Malfoy?”

“Not here, you stupid lump,” Draco hissed. “After the match.”

“Then what did you bother coming here at all for?” Weasley complained bitterly.

“Because, Weasley, you half-wit,” Draco said, “it’s a lot easier to find you and sneak off somewhere when I don’t have to spend time looking for you first.”

Weasley turned an unappealing shade of red and made a motion towards Draco, which probably could be construed as distinctly unfriendly, but Potter put a restraining hand on his arm.

“Not yet, Ron,” he said darkly and then turned his attention back to Draco. “After the match, Malfoy.”

“I love how you’re giving orders about something I’ve already said,” Draco grumbled, but he pulled his cloak tighter around his head and looked upwards into the rain, following with little difficulty the rest of the match.

Draco let Potter and Weasley slip away after the match as he sat there, pretending to be invested in something Granger was saying, even though she was only pretending to be talking about something serious. It was, no doubt, a brilliant plan cooked up by Granger to keep them from looking like they were about to conduct business that Draco shouldn’t be involved in, and Granger had even gone so far as to wrap Potter’s Gryffindor scarf around Draco’s neck halfway through the match, much to his disgust. At least he got to revel in the new Slytherin Seeker’s abysmal gameplay while thinking that he’d at least have scraped them a caught Snitch, if not the game.

Five minutes after he’d seen Weasley’s head disappear around the corner, Granger told him in a cheery voice that she had something to show him in the common room, and he grudgingly took her lead and followed her down to the ground. His hood was still firmly up, and he hid beneath it as best he could, but he needn’t have worried. Every other student was busy talking about the match and couldn’t have cared less about Granger’s companion.

They met up with Potter and Weasley just underneath the stands, lurking in the shadows without saying anything until the last of the students had filed away and there was no one left to see them leave.

“This way,” Potter said tersely, leading them away from the castle until they were somewhere near the dirty half-giant’s hut, right on the edge of the Forbidden Forest.

Muffliato,” Potter said to the air, and Draco opened his mouth to ask what the use of that spell was but Potter quelled him with a single look.

“Here we are, Malfoy,” he said. “Talk.”

“Oh, yes, very nice, Potter,” Draco spat. “I have something important to tell you but you’re still acting like the king of all that’s good and right.”

“Stop being such a prat, Malfoy,” Weasley said.

“Get down to it,” Potter said.

“Very well, Potter,” Draco sneered. “I just thought you might want to know that I think Nott is plotting something that you should be aware of.”

“And that is?” Potter said skeptically as Weasley scoffed and shook his head disbelievingly.

“Hard as you may find it to believe, Potter,” Draco said scathingly, “not everyone broadcasts what they’re about to do before they do it.”

“So what you’re telling me is that you dragged me down here to say that Nott’s up to something? That’s it?”

“Stop being so self-righteous, Potter,” Draco said. “I came down here to tell you that there’s a very big chance that Nott’s gotten himself a nice little snake tattoo over summer holidays. And that maybe you should get off your high hippogriff and keep an eye on him, because I’m sure that he’s got something up his sleeve.”

Granger sighed heavily. “Oh, come on, Malfoy,” she said. “Don’t you think you’re jumping to conclusions? I’m sure Nott has been very nasty to you, from what I’ve heard, but a Death Eater? I think that’s stretching it, considering he’s still in school.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Granger,” Draco said. “I wasn’t under the impression that filthy Mudbloods knew anything about how the Dark Lord works.”

“Shut your mouth, Malfoy,” Weasley snapped, “or I’ll shut it for you.”

“I’d like to see you try, Weasel,” Draco said.

“Enough!” shouted Potter. “Malfoy, are you sure?”

“As sure as I can be,” Draco said. “He all but told me.”

“I think we should take this with a grain of salt here,” Granger said. “Malfoy, he obviously just wanted to intimidate you. I think you’re jumping to conclusions.”

“And I’m telling you that I know something’s going on,” Draco said heatedly. “If you want to ignore it, fine. I’m keeping an eye for me, though, and no one else, so on your own head be it.” Without even waiting for a response, Draco spun around and headed back up to the castle of his own accord.

* * *

Stung by how easily dismissed his theory had been, Draco made sure to keep out of both Potter and Nott’s way for the next fortnight. Unfortunately, he couldn’t avoid Granger outright, as she was nothing but persistent in her attempts at working together with their homework, but Draco tried his best to deflect anything she said not relating to Arithmancy with a snide comment, which just made her huff in annoyance and forget her train of thought, as long as he was careful enough to engage her in a battle of wits.

Somehow, Potter managed to corner him during break one blustery Wednesday, despite Draco’s best efforts at keeping off the well-trodden path.

“What do you want?” he said as nastily as he could, given that he wasn’t too overjoyed that the only form of company he got nowadays was from do-good Gryffindors.

Potter just looked at him for a moment, frustratingly distant and forthright. “Ron and Hermione might not believe you,” he said slowly, “but I think there might be something true about what you said.”

“Oh, do you, Potter?” said Draco. “Well, that’s certainly a relief. Alert the presses! The Boy King Potter believes me. I’ll die happy now.”

“You’re a right pain in my arse sometimes, Malfoy, you know that?” Potter said angrily.

“It’s everything I aspire to be,” Draco said dryly. “Is that all, Potter, or did you actually bother me for something important?”

“No, that’s not all,” said Potter hotly. “I want to know why.”

“Why what?”

“Why you think Nott is a Death Eater. Why you came to tell me this instead of keeping it to yourself. Why you helped me last spring.”

“Careful there, Potter, you might strain something,” Draco said when Potter finished his little tirade.


“All right, all right, keep your knickers on. First off, I can tell he’s planning something. I know him, even though we’re not on the best of terms of late. And he was definitely doing something during the Quidditch game because I caught him talking about skipping it when I went back to the dormitory for something. He has something planned, but I have no idea what, and Crabbe and Goyle are helping him, although I’m sure that they’re as much in the dark as I am.”

“So he’s planning something,” Potter said. “Doesn’t mean he’s a Death Eater.”

“He’s alluded to it twice already, to me at least,” Draco said. “The thing about Nott is he’s always been over-sure of himself. I’d bet my last Galleon that he was branded over the summer. The Dark Lord has him doing something. I just don’t know what yet.”

Come to think of it, that was a lie. If Draco strained, he could remember being Nott, or at least, doing what Nott was assigned to do. But for the life of him, he couldn’t remember anything but falling, someone always falling from the Astronomy Tower as Draco looked on in horror.

“Okay, if you’re so sure,” Potter said, but he didn’t sound convinced. “Why tell me?”

“Because you’re the one who’ll actually care about something like this and do something about it,” Draco said. “As your Mudblood friend is so fond of mentioning, I don’t exactly have very many friendly contacts nowadays, and I’m not on the Dark Lord’s good side either. It’s in my best interest that you keep an eye on Nott so I don’t end up in danger.”

“Always making other people do your work for you,” Potter said. “Why am I not surprised.”

“You’re a Gryffindor because of what you are,” Draco said. “I’m a Slytherin for the same reason. Everyone’s out for themselves in some way, Potter. I’m just up front about it.”

“Whatever, Malfoy. What about my last question?”

“What was that one again, Potter? I’ve spent so much energy trying to get through your thick skull, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten.”

“Why did you help me in the Department of Mysteries?” Potter exploded. “Why didn’t you just let me give the prophecy to your father? I saw you in the shadows -- you could have hidden or pretended that you weren’t around to help but you didn’t.”

“That’s for me to know, and for you to stop asking me about,” Draco said. “I have my reasons, but I don’t need to tell you about them.”

Potter’s gaze darkened, but Draco wasn’t sure what he was expecting from their little exchange if he thought Draco would actually give him an answer to that question. “I’m keeping an eye on you too, Malfoy. I don’t trust you.”

“Good. The feeling is mutual.”

“If Nott does anything else, tell me,” Potter said. “Make sure Ron and Hermione aren’t around because they don’t exactly think anything’s going on. But I know better.”

“I’m not your little turncoat spy,” Draco spat. “I don’t have to take orders from you.”

“But I thought you were looking out for yourself? Isn’t that what you just told me? There’s only so much I can do from where I am, and if you’ve got eyes and ears inside of the Slytherin dorms, you might be able to figure out something that I won’t be able to. Which will help you in the long run if it helps me stop him, and isn’t that what you’re after?”

“Touche, Potter,” Draco said. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Last word had, Draco picked up his bag from where he’d left it on the floor and headed off early to his Charms lesson.

* * *

Conversation with Potter aside, Draco had no intention of going out of his way to spy on Nott, mostly because he wasn’t about to put himself in danger for Potter, of all people. Nott kept giving him sidelong glances whenever Draco got too near, but he’d found somewhere better to discuss his plot, apparently, because Draco didn’t overhear anything for the better part of a month, even though Nott was giving him these little smirks every once in a while that did not bode well. Potter kept bugging him for news, and was affronted every time Draco had nothing to report. As for Granger, she was annoying as ever, finding Draco without fail every Saturday to spend a boring eternity working on their Arithmancy.

Snow swept in, blanketing the grounds thickly, by the middle of November, just in time for a Hogsmeade weekend. Draco was in two minds about going, because even though Hogsmeade had once promised a great deal of fun, he really had no reason to go. But Granger was hinting that she’d like to spend the extra time working together, and there was no way Draco was voluntarily agreeing to that, so he told her that he already had plans to visit the village, even though he definitely didn’t.

So, armed with his heaviest winter cloak, which was now about three inches too short, and all the gold he’d managed to scrounge over the past three months, he joined the queue of students on their way out of the Hogwarts gates. He was detained for a good twenty minutes by Filch, who had been given a false tip that Draco was dealing in illicit contraband, and Draco flushed bright pink as everyone laughed at the extensive search Filch put him through before he felt satisfied. It was almost enough to make him turn around and hide in the castle, considering that he’d seen Granger’s head disappearing down the path to Hogsmeade.

But the prospect of returning to the castle for another mundane couple of hours spent alone paled in comparison to an afternoon in Hogsmeade, which would at least provide a little bit of interest. Pulling his cloak and scarf tightly against his face, he bent against the wind and began the long trek by himself, careful to stay out of reach of anyone unfriendly, seeing as he was unsure that Snape’s threat would be upheld outside of the castle grounds.

By the time he reached the outskirts of the village, Draco’s hands were freezing through his gloves, and he was shivering uncontrollably from the bitter wind. He was about to duck into Honeydukes just for the warmth, and perhaps, if he was lucky, a sample or two, when he saw the hulking weight that couldn’t be anyone but Crabbe and Goyle heading off of the beaten path, away from the brightly lit shops that were enticing the rest of the students.

Draco hesitated for a good ten seconds, earning himself a heavy push from someone behind him because he was unmoving in the thick of a group of people trying to get further into the village. He knew that he should stick to his plan -- duck into the sweet shop before maybe stopping at the Three Broomsticks for a butterbeer, but Draco felt restless, spurred by the humiliation he’d suffered at the hands of the Squib caretaker, and all he could see was the meanly laughing face of Nott when he thought of ignoring what he was doing.

Draco reasoned that revenge was a suitable thing to want, especially considering that Nott was a deserving git, and as long as he was careful, he wouldn’t get caught. He kept about twenty paces back from his quarry, ducking into an alley when they stopped and Nott made a move like he was going to check behind him. By the time he poked his head out again, it was clear that they’d gone into the Hog’s Head, which was hugely puzzling, seeing as Draco knew no one who’d ever consent to taking a single step into that hovel.

Draco had to loiter outside of the front door of the pub for a good ten minutes before a couple of ragged adults made their way in so he could duck inside unannounced. He didn’t even head to the bar, instead darting sideways and sitting down in a dark corner, cringing at the level of filth adorning every available surface. Crabbe and Goyle were sitting at the other edge of the pub, looking for all intents and purposes to be fully involved with the tumblers of firewhisky they were nursing. Draco scanned the room for Nott, but as far as he could tell, he was nowhere to be seen.

Crabbe and Goyle sat at their little table for a good half an hour, not talking as they took little sips of their alcohol, but Nott never showed up again. Draco was confused and disappointed -- he’d been looking for solid evidence that Nott was up to something -- and by the time that Crabbe and Goyle left, Draco was thoroughly incensed.

Draco left about five minutes after Goyle did, avoiding the glare of the barman as he exited back into the cold. He figured he could go back into the main part of the village and at least do something enjoyable, but he was cold, miserable, and frustrated, so he just turned back to the path that would lead up to the castle.

“Malfoy!” someone called out from behind him, and Draco stiffened his shoulders but kept on going.

“What do you want, Granger?” he said harshly when Granger caught up to him, panting from the trot she’d had to execute through the heavy snow to catch up to him.

“Didn’t you hear me calling?” she asked exasperatedly.

“I don’t make it a point to wait up for Mudbloods,” he said viciously. “What do you want?”

“What’s got you in such a bad mood?” she huffed, but she was one to talk -- she looked thoroughly infuriated herself.

“Never you mind,” Draco said, sneering. “If that’s all, Granger, I have about a million things I’d rather do than sit and talk with you.”

“You’re heading back to Hogwarts early, aren’t you?” she asked plaintively.

“None of your business,” Draco snapped, even though it was pretty obvious, seeing as there was nothing ahead of them on the path except for the castle.

“So am I,” she continued, nonplussed. “I can’t stand Ron at the moment. I figured as long as you and I had the afternoon free--”

“No,” Draco interrupted. “No way, Granger. I’m not about to spend the afternoon with you doing homework. I’ve had a bad enough day already.”

“We’ll fall behind,” she said strictly, matching his stride even though he was walking as fast as he could in an effort to get away from her.

“I don’t care,” he said. “And don’t think you can chase me all over either; my common room is empty of anyone I might be wary of encountering. Go back and seduce Weasley with your filthy charm, for all I care.”

“You know, sometimes I forget you’re a nasty little git,” she said scathingly, “but then you’re always so happy to remind me.”

“Oh, what clever wit you have, Granger,” said Draco. “Leave me alone before I hex you.” Ironically, that was the last thing Draco remembered before everything went dark.

* * *

When Draco woke up again, his head was aching fiercely, and he was completely disoriented. As far as he could remember, the last place he’d been was the snowy pathway that led from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts, and it had been midday, at the very latest. And now he was lying on the stone floor of what seemed to be somewhere in the dungeons of the castle, though he was entirely unsure of where.

His first thought was that Granger had done something, but after a few seconds, it seemed like a very sinister thing for a Gryffindor to do. It took several minutes for Draco to get into a sitting position, and he very nearly got sick while doing it. He had to close his eyes against the pain for a good thirty seconds until his world felt upright again. The room he was in was dark, but he could feel his wand poking into his side, shoved somewhere where he didn’t remember putting it.

He pulled it out sluggishly and casted a rather weak Lumos. He was definitely in the dungeons, according to the greenish tinge of the walls and the dank coldness of the air, and he tested his weight as he stood up, careful not to overbalance and fall again. His wand was only providing him with about five feet worth of visibility, as the torches were extinguished, and as he leaned against the wall, he could see a splash of red on the floor. He extended his wand further and was able to slowly illuminate a message, written in blood or ink, Draco couldn’t tell.

Consider this to be your last warning, it read. Stay away.

“So dramatic,” Draco muttered, placing a ginger hand to his temple, which was throbbing, wincing as he discovered a tender goose egg nestled up against his hairline. There was something aching on his stomach, pulling at the skin there, but Draco couldn’t be chuffed to check at the moment.

He started dragging his feet in the direction of what he thought to be the exit when he very nearly tripped over something.

“What the,” he muttered, holding his wand up above his head and illuminating a pair of legs. He scrambled backwards, nearly falling himself, because there was a person on the floor, an unmoving person in the room that Draco had just woken up in.

It took him several more moments to get up the courage to see who was lying there, and his hands were shaking as he moved his wand further up, giving him enough light to see that there was a girl there, lying on the floor in nothing but her undergarments, and Draco’s heart nearly stopped when Granger’s bushy hair came into view.

“Shit,” he said. “Shit, buggery, what the flying mother of--” There were letters carved into Granger’s bare stomach, with a knife or a severing charm, Draco wasn’t sure.

Mudblood, they said, stark and red against her pale skin, and Draco almost didn’t want to touch her in case she was dead. Draco nudged her leg with his foot, but she didn’t wake, so after taking several calming breaths, Draco knelt down and held his hand out in front of her mouth.

There it was -- just the faintest exhalation of breath against his palm, and Draco breathed a sigh of relief before the severity of the situation became known to him again. He had just woken up in a room with an unclothed, maimed Gryffindor, and he had no idea how he’d come to be there.

Draco was very close to running out of the room in an attempt to find a teacher, but there was something about Granger lying there that stopped him. She looked very pale, almost blue, and be it misguided panic or an attempt to save his own skin from the blame of such an attack, Draco couldn’t make his feet move.

Ennervate,” he whispered instead, pointing his wand at Granger’s face.

It took a couple of seconds before Granger started to move, stirring feebly.

“Wha’s going on?” she said, her voice muffled. “Wha’ happened?”

“I don’t know, Granger,” he said, taking several steps backwards from her as she struggled to sit up.

“Malfoy?” she said confusedly. “What is...what?” Her voice was very weak.

“I don’t know, Granger, I don’t know,” he said. “I just woke up, same as you. I don’t know what happened.” His voice was raising almost to a fevered pitch.

“Don’t know...?” she asked before shaking her head a little. The motion seemed to wake her up slightly, or at least bring her back to her senses, because suddenly she curled herself into a ball. “Where are my clothes?” she demanded. “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Draco said. “I have no idea what happened.”

Granger was breathing very fast. “Where’s my wand?” she said. “What happened to my stomach?”

“I don’t know, but we have to get out of here,” Draco said.

“Where are we? Weren’t we in Hogsmeade? How are we back in the castle?”

“Stop asking me questions I can’t answer,” he said. He fumbled at his collar for a few moments before he realized that he was no longer wearing a cloak -- just the pants and shirt of his uniform -- and therefore had nothing to offer Granger so she could cover herself up.

Granger got up shakily and almost fell over again. Draco grabbed her elbow, almost harshly, and pulled her to her feet.

“I don’t feel very good,” she said faintly.

“Join the club,” he said. “Granger, I don’t have any clothing to give you. Where do you want to go?”

Granger made a pathetic little noise that made Draco’s stomach twist nauseously. “I just want to go to my common room,” she said. “That’s it. I’m so tired.”

“Go, then,” Draco said, but as soon as he let go of her, her knees buckled.

“I don’t think I can walk,” she said, and she was sounding loopy, almost Confunded.

“I’m taking you to the hospital wing,” Draco said.

“No-o,” she said slowly. “Not there.”

“Tough, Granger,” said Draco, grabbing her arm again and letting her lean on him as they slowly made their way out of the bowels of the dungeon and up into the main part of the castle. Draco left her leaning against a wall and darted down to the kitchens. The only house elf he could find was the crazy one who disliked him, but after several minutes of haggling, he managed to have it go and get Granger some suitable robes.

The castle was dark and empty, an obvious sign that they were out past hours, and Draco couldn’t decide if he wanted to be discovered or not. Granger was clothed, but she was still moving as though someone had hit her over the head with something heavy, and Draco wasn’t much better -- his head was aching even fiercer from the effort it was taking to haul Granger along to the hospital wing, but he couldn’t leave her because she was awake and she’d know that he’d left.

It took nearly an hour of solid work before he managed to get her through the entrance of the infirmary and onto one of the beds, and his chest was heaving with the effort of practically carrying her up all of those stairs. He took staggered steps until he reached the outside of Pomfrey’s office and then began to knock without rhyme or reason, echoing bangs that filled the entire room with noise.

His headache was reaching critical mass by the time Pomfrey burst out of her office, in her nightclothes.

“What is going on?” she said, and Draco almost couldn’t see through the pounding in his temples.

“Something’s wrong...with Granger,” he said.

“Dear boy, what are you doing out of bed so late?” she asked.

“I dunno,” Draco mumbled, stumbling sideways so he could sit down on one of the beds before he got sick all over the floor. He put his head in his hands to block out the ambient light of Pomfrey’s room and the shrill noise of her nagging, and before he knew it, he was being pushed to lie down himself as the hospital wing spun around him.

* * *

The next morning consisted of a slew of very unpleasant conversations with Snape, McGonagall, and Dumbledore. It was very frustrating, being asked the same questions over and over again, especially when he had no answers, and by the time they dismissed him, Pomfrey was loath to let him return to his dormitory.

“You suffered a severe concussion,” she said. “I will not have you risking brain damage by leaving early.”

Granger suffered a similar plight, although she at least had friends who came to visit. Draco pretended to sleep for a good part of the afternoon to avoid her, but Pomfrey kept coming by every hour to wake him up, which was making his ruse ineffectual.

Sometime around four, Granger had pulled her curtains up around her bed and disappeared behind them. Draco took momentary pleasure in her absence before he realized that Potter was sitting next to him and apparently had been for some time as Draco dozed fitfully.

“What have I done to deserve the honor of your presence, Potter?” he muttered.

“Hermione says that you don’t remember anything either,” Potter said bluntly, not even waiting for Draco to fully wake up before diving into his line of questioning.

“Well, give Granger a house point,” Draco said.

“I don’t get it,” Potter said. “Why did this happen? What did you do to her?”

“In case you forgot, Potter,” Draco said, incensed, “I helped her all the way up here, even though I didn’t have to. I didn’t do anything to her. I’ve told Dumbledore this, and Snape, and they seem to believe me, so I don’t know why you’re suddenly Grand Inquisitor here.”

“Well excuse me,” Potter said furiously. “It’s not every day that I wake up and realize that one of my best friends was practically tortured.”

“I didn’t do anything, Potter,” Draco said again. “Maybe you should put your energy into trying to find out what actually happened rather than make unsupported accusations.”

“I don’t get you, Malfoy,” Potter said, his voice low so as not to alert Pomfrey to the conflict. “You spend five years talking about how Muggle-borns and half-bloods don’t deserve to practice magic, and then all of a sudden you’re a turncoat, helping me fight against your father. I don’t trust you, and you have no proof that you didn’t hex Hermione when she found you on the road back from Hogsmeade.”

Draco was suddenly incredibly incensed, because it was bad enough that he had ruined his entire life for Potter’s cause, but it was quite another thing for Potter to be blaming him for things he didn’t do. “You know what, Potter?” he seethed, twisting his hands into fists around his sheets. “I did attack Granger. I hit her over the head and then I somehow made her disappear as I hovered her back to Hogwarts. And then, thanks to my brilliant wit and cunning, I hit myself over the head in the dungeons to make it look like I was a victim too. But before I did that, I carved this into my skin.” Without even thinking about it, Draco pulled his shirt up to reveal the fresh bandages wrapped around his tummy. He didn’t bother to neatly unravel them, instead pulling them down so they revealed seven thin letters engraved on his abdomen.


Potter visibly recoiled in his chair, obviously not expecting what Draco showed him, but his reaction gave Draco no satisfaction. “I mean,” he continued snidely, curling his upper lip in disgust, “it was incredibly worth it, using this dark magic to deface myself like this permanently just so I could give Granger a little comeuppance. If I do say so myself, I think this plan was utterly brilliant.”

Potter was silent for a very long moment, staring at Draco and the word on his stomach unflinchingly. “Oh,” he said, very quietly, which was so far from the apology Draco had wanted that he laughed humorlessly at it.

“That’s all you have to say, Potter?” he said, almost hysterically, either from anger or despair; he couldn’t tell which. “Oh? I ruin my life to help you, get disowned from my family, lose all of my friends, and you can’t even find it in yourself to not be a prick?”

“I don’t know what you want from me, Malfoy,” Potter hissed, but he was blushing slightly, so Draco hoped at least some of his words had hit home.

“Nothing,” Draco said. “I want absolutely nothing from you, Potter, except for you to leave me the bloody hell alone.”

Potter’s face, which had been almost comically serious, was beginning to look as though it had been set in stone. “You’re all talk, Malfoy,” he said. “You’ve given me no reason to believe anything you say, and you act like I’m the jerk when I want to know what you’re playing at. Maybe you should get off your high horse and actually help us out instead of sitting on the sidelines. I know you know more about Voldemort than you’re letting on. Maybe then I’d feel sorry for you.” Potter pushed away from Draco’s bed, his chair scraping noisily on the stone floor, and before Draco could come up with a suitably scathing response, Potter had gotten up and was striding out of the hospital wing, not even giving Granger’s bed a second glance before he left.

* * *

Draco was released from Pomfrey’s clutches just in time to attend class Monday morning, which he couldn’t say he was too pleased about. He still felt oddly sore, and the cuts on his stomach pulled painfully every time he moved, but as much as he’d like to skive off, he couldn’t imagine that spending the day roaming the castle or hiding in his dormitory would provide any more of a reprieve.

Transfiguration was nothing more than a joke, and McGonagall clucked in disapproval as Draco failed to complete the lesson, but as far as Draco was concerned, nonverbal Transfiguration was a waste of time. Draco spent most of Arithmancy looking into space drearily, only writing down about half of what Professor Vector was lecturing on, and even though Granger would give him hell for it, he knew that he’d be nowhere near able to complete his work on their project that weekend without some major independent study that he was not planning on undertaking.

Draco was about to skip off to lunch when he felt someone’s hand fall upon his shoulder. He twitched away, preparing himself for a verbal attack or maybe an insult, but instead, it was Granger.

“Can I talk to you?” she asked, giving him an undecipherable look.

“Look, I’m not really in the mood today, Granger,” Draco said in an annoyed tone. “Maybe next month. Or, you know, never.”

“It’s important,” she continued, pursing her lips. “We don’t even have to do it in the open, if you’re so ashamed to be seen in public with me.”

“What part of never don’t you understand?” Draco snapped. “I have nothing to talk about with you.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” she huffed, “but I don’t care. It won’t take long. Stop acting so immature.”

Draco actually stopped in his tracks, causing someone behind him to start muttering about annoying people holding up the traffic. “What will it take,” he gritted out, “for you and your band of merry idiots to leave me alone?”

“Oh, stop being so melodramatic,” she said. “It will only take a couple of minutes. Honestly, sometimes you act like Lavender.”

Draco took great offense to this statement, especially since he was well aware of Granger’s contempt for Brown considering her recent disgusting interest in licking Weasley’s tonsils.

“Fine,” he snapped. “What do you want?”

“I’d rather we not talk about it in the middle of the hallway,” she said delicately. “You never know who might be listening.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Draco said. “Maybe we should go to India, or something. You know, really get out of the way.”

“An empty classroom will work just as well, thank you,” she said primly.

Draco swept a hand in front of him. “Lead the way, Granger,” he said sarcastically. “Since my only purpose in life is to follow your every whim, apparently.”

Granger ignored him, keeping half a pace ahead of his as she led them to a derelict, small classroom that was probably only occupied for some silly club every other Saturday. She let Draco go in first and then closed the door behind them, looking at him expectantly. The attention she was focusing on him was starting to make him uncomfortable, and he shifted uneasily from foot to foot.

“Well, what do you want?” he snapped when she didn’t immediately say anything.

“To thank you,” she said simply, and Draco couldn’t help but be surprised at this -- he’d been expecting a rebuke or an interrogation, and he wasn’t quite sure how to proceed with the conversation now that he was pretty sure she wasn’t about to verbally attack him.

“What?” he asked dumbly, because it was the only thing he could think to say.

She stepped closer and laid a light hand on Draco’s shoulder, and Draco immediately shifted backwards so she wasn’t touching him, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Thank you,” she said again, softly, looking Draco straight in the eye.

“Okay then,” Draco said, still struck by how surreal this situation was. “Is that all? Can I go now?”

“You didn’t have to help me,” she said, plowing through as though she hadn’t heard Draco speak at all. “You could have left me down in the dungeon, and who knows where I’d be now.”

“I was just saving my own skin,” Draco sneered, ready to make her hate him again. “If someone had found out that I’d left you down there, I’d be in even more trouble than I am already.”

“Regardless,” she said. “You helped me all the way up to the hospital wing, and I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate it. I know Harry talked with you and he was less than courteous, but we’re all confused about you, Malfoy. We just want to know what you’re doing.”

“Nothing that will help you in any way, Mudblood,” Draco said.

Granger continued to appraise him, not even giving an indication that she’d heard his insult. “You could help us, Malfoy,” she said. “You could tell us what you know, and Dumbledore would put you under the Order’s protection. You don’t have to do this alone.”

“I’m not doing anything that’ll help Crackpot Dumbledore,” Draco said staunchly. “Just because I’m not a Death Eater doesn’t mean I’m on your side, Granger.”

“But you should be!” she burst out. “Don’t you realize what’s going on here? We’re at war, and once things escalate, you’ll be caught in the crossfire. If you help us, we can keep you safe.”

“Am I speaking in a different language?” Draco said slowly. “Are you not understanding me here, Granger? I am not helping you.”

She scowled deeply and started pacing back and forth, which was extremely off-putting. “But what have you got to lose?” she said, her voice loud and passionate. “Your family’s disowned you -- don’t pretend they haven’t, because Ron heard Zabini and Parkinson talking about it one day. You have no friends left in Slytherin. You have absolutely nothing stopping you from joining our side. You said it yourself -- you want to help Harry with Nott, even though I think you’re both making things up from nowhere. What’s so different about fully dedicating yourself to our cause?”

“Because it goes against everything I’ve ever been taught, Granger!” Draco said, incensed.

“What you’ve been taught is wrong!” she said. “And in case you didn’t notice, I’m not the only one with words carved on my stomach.”

“Shut up, Granger,” Draco said, gripping his wand so hard he was surprised it didn’t break. “I’m warning you.”

“I will not,” she said. “Not until you see reason. You’re a Slytherin, Malfoy! Aren’t you supposed to keep an eye on yourself above all others? Joining our side is nothing but beneficial to you!”

“That’s what you think,” said Draco coldly. “Maybe you haven’t thought about it, Granger, but just because my parents disowned me doesn’t mean that I don’t care about them anymore. Just because they would rather I didn’t exist doesn’t mean that if I act against them they won’t get hurt.”

“I get it,” she said, and she was trembling with how desperately she was talking to him. “You think I don’t? My parents are Muggles, Malfoy, and I’m best friends with Harry Potter. If I don’t keep my nose down, there’s a very big chance that they’ll get murdered.”

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t draw attention to yourself,” Draco said.

“This is bigger than that,” Granger said, and now her voice was shaking almost as hard as her body. “I’m not going to sit by and do nothing when people are getting killed and captured. I can’t. There are risks that I’m going to have to deal with.”

“Well I’m not,” Draco said, striding past her to get to the door. “Unlike you, I’m not a self-sacrificing Gryffindor, and I can see no reason to help.”

Draco was nearly back out into the hallway when he heard Granger speak again. “If that’s what you want,” she said.

Draco stopped in the doorway, staring out the tiny window directly in front of it at a faraway turret. “It is,” he said finally but he could hear the lack of conviction in his voice.

“Oh, and Malfoy? I’d like to work on Arithmancy in the library this weekend, please.”

“Fine,” Draco said, a little confusedly, and then he was gone, walking down the hallway aimlessly.

* * *

The end of term was fast approaching, and the professors were working them harder than ever, assigning mounds of homework. The only good thing was they kept Draco’s mind from the situation he’d found himself in, and he was able to spend long hours outside of his dormitory undisturbed as he tried to get through all the essays he was being forced to write before Christmas holidays began.

Granger wasn’t lying about working in the library for the rest of term, which turned out to be one of the most frustrating aspects of Draco’s life, which was saying a lot. The first Saturday, he’d shown up nearly a quarter of an hour late, which was more due to avoiding some seventh year Slytherins who’d been quite keen to get him alone than it was due to lack of regard for Granger’s plans, startlingly enough. But as soon as he rounded the corned and saw her, he’d turned right around again to leave.

Unfortunately, she’d spotted him and scathingly lectured him on responsibility and class priorities as she pulled him back to her table. Potter was sitting there, bent over a ratty copy of what looked to be their Potions text, but Weasley was grinning ear to ear.

It became sort of a routine for Granger to summon him to the library to study with Potter and Weasley, and it made Draco seethe every time he thought of it. He very much wished that he’d been able to gain any other Arithmancy partner, because no grade was worth this much trouble. His shoulder was still smarting from the bruise caused by Pince’s enchanted books flying at him, which she’d done when he and Weasley had gotten into rather a spectacular fight about Weasley’s dumpy family.

Potter was ignoring him, too, which was confusing and annoying in equal measure. Every time Weasley made an offhand comment or Granger began her lecturing, Potter pretended that he’d gone momentarily deaf, alternately spending time looking at the marked up potions book he had and conferring with an old piece of parchment that he hid under the table whenever Draco was near, which only piqued Draco’s curiosity further. He’d tried to engage Potter in a couple of fights to no avail; it was like every skill Draco had ever had at irking Harry Potter had been suddenly obliterated, and this did not make Draco happy at all -- taunting Gryffindors was one of the last earthly pleasures he had left.

Suffice it to say, his continued study-sessions with the gaggle of Gryffindors aside, Draco had quite enough on his plate to be getting on with. The Slytherins were constantly going out of their way to discover new ways to torment him, whether it be Stinksap in his shoes or Disappearing ink in his inkwell. Everything he knew from Before was still slowly leaking away, and try as he might, Draco couldn’t find anything that would stop the loss of his memories.

With three weekends left till the end of term, Draco was in a monumentally bad mood. Someone in Slytherin had conspired a plan that was making Draco thoroughly miserable, and try as he might, he never knew the most current password needed to get into their dormitory. Even when he tried to lurk outside of the passage, every student was on the same page, whispering the password in the lowest of voices so that even with a Supersensory charm, Draco could not hear it. He suspected magical foul play, but he was loath to go to Snape with it. This, of course, meant that Draco was unable to access any of his personal belongings, which in and of itself wasn’t too big of a problem considering he’d taken to the habit of carrying around everything he needed for class anyway, due to the recent bevy of light-fingered students roaming the halls.

But now he was not even afforded the luxury of clean robes, or a bed to sleep in that he could call his own, and he was spending more and more time in the company of house elves, which was demeaning to say the least, even if they did launder his clothes with nary a complaint. He’d taken to sleeping in the Room of Hidden Things, but he had a feeling that this wasn’t going to last for a long time. It always reconstituted itself once he’d left, and he’d seen Nott looking at him furtively, and once, memorably, following him near curfew, so he knew there was only a little time before Nott would be able to take this from him too.

When Draco swept into the library to finish a grueling number chart under Granger’s strict eye, he was nearly mad enough to hex Weasley without so much as a provocation. He ignored Granger’s bland greeting and instead concentrated on unearthing all of his school materials so he wouldn’t be tempted to do something he’d later regret.

It took several hours to properly calculate what they needed to do to properly finish the assignment, and Granger hadn’t let Draco leave for dinner, so his head was aching and his stomach was demanding food by the time twilight fell. Weasley and Potter, who had been allowed to leave to eat, were annoyingly chipper as they whispered to each other, and just as soon as Granger told him he could go, Draco was sweeping out of his chair without a second glare behind him.

He was intent on heading to the Room of Hidden Things, hopeful in the fact that he’d be able to elude any attention and maybe even entice one of the house elves to bring him something, when he heard someone calling his name. He was very nearly on the verge of ignoring whoever it was, picking up his pace so that he’d outstrip his wayward stalker, but it was with the determination of Gryffindors that Potter caught up with him, jogging so that he was in front of Draco and then turning around and walking backwards so they could have a proper conversation, one that Draco was sure he didn’t wish to have.

“What do you want?” Draco said viciously before Potter had done more than open his mouth.

“Glad to see you haven’t changed a bit,” Potter said dryly, but his mouth was quirking up ever so slightly, which only made Draco more incensed.

What, Potter?” Draco said, even louder. “I don’t have all day. Your precious little Granger made sure of that.”

“I see you’re not calling her Mudblood anymore just to make me and Ron mad,” Potter said shrewdly, still doing a terrible job at concealing his smile.

“Who’s saying that?” Draco said. “I’ve no problem with the word Mud--”

“Okay, you’re trying to make a point here that you’re still the same stuck-up prick that you’ve always been,” Potter interrupted, just barely missing a first year as he continued to walk backwards with only the occasional look over his shoulder.

“I don’t think you should be calling me stuck-up, Potter,” Draco said snidely. “What with you being the Chosen One and all.”

Potter sniggered, but he was being startlingly blase, and shockingly cavalier considering the fact that he’d been pretty much ignoring Draco for the past fortnight. “You’re so original, Malfoy,” he said. “But I didn’t find you because I wanted to insult you.”

“Not that you’d be smart enough anyway,” Draco said quickly. They were approaching the tapestry that led to the Room of Hidden Things, and Draco was quite keen to not be followed inside by Potter. Unfortunately, his recent plans had not been in the habit of working out, so when Potter looked once more over his shoulder, he stopped full-on right where the door would be appearing once Draco paced three times and concentrated on what he wanted.

“The Room of Requirement?” Potter asked. “Really, Malfoy? You got this idea straight from me, didn’t you?”

“Shove off,” Draco said. “I didn’t ask you to follow me. Besides, it’s a room in the castle, isn’t it? It’s certainly not out-of-bounds.”

“You know,” Potter said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, “actually, it’s probably a good idea to talk in here. Less chance of being overheard.”

“I am not shutting myself in a magical room alone with you, Potter,” Draco said. “Who knows what you’ll do to me?”

“Oh, come on, Malfoy,” Potter scoffed. “You’re not even worth the effort anymore.”

“I take offense to that,” Draco began heatedly, but Potter was already pacing in front of the tapestry, and it wasn’t long before a door appeared.

“What are you waiting for?” Potter said when Draco didn’t make a move to go inside. Draco was very nearly on the verge of turning around and lurking somewhere else, but he’d be damned if he let Potter take this from him too, so he swept inside as regally as he could, hoping that no one had seen him with Potter and was now regaling stories to the wrong sort of people.

The room had transformed into the exact opposite of what Draco would have wanted. The walls were a deep scarlet, too blood-red for Draco’s taste, and there were two cushy gold-colored chairs sitting caddy-corner from one another, which were positively hideous. Potter, of course, was completely charmed with what the room had come up for them, and sat down without so much as another glance Draco’s way. Draco took his seat with much more trepidation.

“Well,” Draco said impatiently. “Get on with it. I don’t have all night here.”

“Yeah you do,” Potter said, and if Draco didn’t know better, he’d think that Potter was mocking him with that drawl. “Not like you have any friends to hang around anymore.”

That stung more than Draco wanted to say, because he still took offense that Potter was surrounded by do-gooders while Draco was practically at the bottom of the food chain in a house that was full of snot-nosed first years. “Sod off, Potter,” Draco said, and even though he felt it might have, his voice did not show just how angry he was.

“Sorry,” said Potter, not truthfully. “Honestly, that isn’t why I followed you. Surprised as I am to say this, I really just wanted to talk to you.”

“What about?” Draco said, and he was scowling so hard that he could feel a headache brewing from the furrow on his forehead.

“About what happened with you and Hermione,” Potter said, and all levity was instantly gone from his voice.

“Not again,” Draco burst out. “Haven’t you talked this to death already? Haven’t I already had to listen to Granger prattle on about it? It happened a long time ago, Potter. I’ve nearly forgotten about it.”

“No you haven’t,” said Potter seriously. “I’m fairly certain that those words on your stomach are as clear as the ones Hermione still has.”

“So, what, are you going to try to make me admit to doing it in a clever ruse to debase your little Muggle-born friend? That’s what this is about, isn’t it? It’s always my fault, because that’s how it is with you, Potter.”

“No,” Potter said calmly, and Draco almost did a double-take because he’d been expecting Potter to duck his head or admit that he’d been thinking as such. “Hermione doesn’t think you had anything to do with it, and I reckon I believe her.”

“What a nice change of heart,” Draco said. “I’m glad that my plan worked then. Got you all convinced that I could never do something like that.”

“On the contrary, I think you’d be rather capable of something that evil,” Potter said. “But I don’t think you did it. I don’t think that there was anything in it for you.”

“Shows how much you know,” Draco said, almost laughing, and this line of conversation had almost turned self-damaging, but he didn’t care. “There’s plenty in it for me. Hurting Potter’s prize Mudblood? Plenty of Death Eaters would find that a perfectly redeeming action.”

“Something tells me they haven’t accepted you back with open arms,” Potter said, pursing his lips. “And seriously, Malfoy, you need to stop acting like I’m the enemy here.”

“Oh, that’s nice and fine for you to say!” Draco said loudly. “Who’s been going around talking about how I’m evil all the time? Saying things about my family and Slytherins in general even when you don’t have the slightest shred of evidence.”

“I heard your father in the graveyard when Voldemort returned,” Potter said stonily, and Draco flinched at the Dark Lord’s name spoken so baldly. “I’d hardly say that it was stretching the truth to tell people that he was a Death Eater.”

“Because things are always black and white with you, Potter,” Draco spat. “Always boo hoo, pity me because the Dark Lord killed my mummy and daddy, and never you mind if his followers aren’t exactly in it because they want to be.”

“Don’t pull that,” Potter said sharply. “You know full well that most of his Death Eaters do it because they believe in what he’s saying.”

“And the others? The ones who join his side so he won’t kill their family? So he doesn’t decide to set dirty great snakes after their children? Just because you think you’re so high and mighty there, being a great Gryffindor and all, doesn’t mean that us lesser mortals don’t have our own share of problems to be getting on with.”

Potter took several deep breaths, apparently trying to reel his temper in. Draco was almost disappointed -- he had gotten himself good and ready for a fight, and it wouldn’t be nearly so fun if Potter didn’t take him up on it.

“Look,” Potter said with an air of forced civility, “as much as you don’t like it and no matter how many times you try to protest that it isn’t true, you’re on my side now. And you can help and make sure that what happened to you and Hermione doesn’t happen again.”

“Oh, yes, because I’m some sort of great spy with all of this power able to stop the strongest wizard alive,” Draco said incredulously. “I have no idea what you’re asking of me, Potter.”

“Voldemort isn’t the most powerful wizard alive,” Potter said softly. “Dumbledore is.” Draco scoffed at that, because Dumbledore may have been good in his prime, before the Muggle-loving and the doddery foolishness, but there was no question that he would be bested by Voldemort in a fight at this point in the game.

“Don’t make me laugh,” Draco said, but it wasn’t very funny now that he thought about it. He’d thrown his towel in on Dumbledore’s side when it was apparent that Dumbledore no longer had the skill to win this war.

“And I’m not suggesting that you help against actual Death Eaters,” Potter plowed on, as though he hadn’t even heard Draco say anything. “I know that you don’t have any contact with your family outside of your Aunt Andromeda, but you do have connections here still, even if your entire house hates you.”

“Thanks for that reminder, Potter,” Draco said, clenching his hands into fists. “Are you actually going to get to your point sometime this century? And not rehash an argument I’ve already heard from Granger?”

“Nott,” Potter said slowly. “You haven’t told me anything about him since you said he was a Death Eater. You haven’t given any proof.”

“I’m sorry that I’m not as helpful as you want me to be,” Draco said. “Unlike you, I will be putting myself at a bit of a disadvantage if I try to spend my time spying on him. It’s not like I have people banging the door down to help me if I get into trouble.”

“Do you think he’s the one who hurt Hermione? And you?” Potter added that last bit almost as an afterthought, which did nothing to soothe Draco’s temper.

Truth be told, the thought had crossed his mind, and for a second, Draco was about to tell Potter that he was being stupid to save this little nugget of information all for his own use. But the longer he deliberated on that, the stupider it became -- Potter was the big dog around school nowadays and one of the only people who might believe Draco at this juncture.

“It makes sense,” Draco said hesitantly, not missing the angry light in Potter’s eyes. “He isn’t too happy with me, is he? And come to think of it, you’re not the only one in this school with an Invisibility Cloak.”

“Wait -- Nott has an Invisibility Cloak too?” Potter asked, and then his eyes narrowed. “And how do you know about mine.”

Draco’s heart skipped a beat -- when had he learned about Potter’s cloak, exactly? He couldn’t remember if it had been a piece of knowledge that he’d learned Before, in the time when he was his proper age and in his proper time period.

“Oh, please,” he scoffed. “It’s not exactly hidden knowledge. How else would you manage to keep out of trouble? People have been gossiping about it for ages.”

It was a flimsy lie, but Potter seemed to accept it, settling back in his chair, but his gaze was a little sharper than Draco would have liked it to be. “So, Nott?” he prompted.

“Had it forever,” Draco said. “Got it on holiday or something. His parents are certainly rich enough to afford it. Never lends it out either, stingy bastard.”

“So, what do you think?” Potter asked. “Stunned you and Hermione from behind on the way back from Hogsmeade, covered you with the cloak, and levitated you both back to the castle? Would that even work through all of the anti-secrecy wards they have up?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Draco snapped. “I’m not sure they’d catch us, would they now? It’s not like Granger and I don’t belong in the school. And I had just spent the afternoon trying to follow Nott around, so I imagine he wasn’t happy with me. Crabbe or Goyle must’ve noticed me or something.”

“Wait, you were following him? Why?” Potter said suspiciously.

“Because he was acting odd!” Draco exploded. “Heading off to the Hog’s Head -- no Slytherin in their right mind would go there, not even the poor ones! And taking Crabbe and Goyle too. I don’t care what you think, Potter, he’s up to something here. Maybe it’ll take a Mudblood or two to die before you believe me, but it’s true!”

“Haven’t I already said I thought you were right?” Potter said heatedly. “Something’s up here, Malfoy, and I know it too!

“Good,” Draco said, narrowing his eyes. “Finally someone sees reason.”

“That’s why I need you,” Potter continued. “You can follow him better than I can. See what he’s up to.”

“Nuh-uh, no way, Potter,” said Draco. “Too much of a risk for me. You saw what happened last time.”

“Which is exactly why you can’t sit around and do nothing,” Potter said. “I mean, he’s obviously dangerous, and he’s hurt you plenty already. You can get him into real trouble -- make sure he never does anything like this again.”

“You don’t even know that it was him,” Draco said lamely.

“You just told me you thought it was!” Potter said. “In any case, something’s coming -- I can feel it. And you can help, but instead you’re just going to take the coward’s route and do nothing!”

“Self-preservation is all I’m concerned about here, Potter,” Draco said coldly. “I’m not dying for you.”

“And I’m not asking you to,” Potter said. “But Malfoy, don’t you see what you can do here?”

“I’m not your puppet,” Draco said stubbornly. “I don’t have to take orders from you.”

Potter stood up so suddenly his chair fell over. His eyes were practically blazing, and for a second Draco thought he was about to be hexed. “You’ve already helped me in the Ministry,” Potter said through his teeth. “I don’t see what’s wrong with helping me now.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but that didn’t exactly end well for me,” Draco said.

Potter laughed, but it was short and cold. “I should’ve known you’d never change,” he said, shaking his head. He started to head to the door before he paused and looked over his shoulder.

“You’re not going to Tonks’ house for Christmas, are you?” he asked, completely out of the blue.

“Uh, no, Potter,” Draco said. “I’d rather live with Muggles than spend my holiday with them.”

“Good,” Potter said, and the door flew open before he’d even reached it, giving Draco a nice view of the empty hallway. “I’ll see you around, Malfoy.” He disappeared around the corner, and the door closed again, the echoing bang making Draco unsteady.

“I certainly hope not,” he said, mostly to himself and then relaxed as the room began to change to match what Draco wanted from it.

* * *

The only good thing about the last several weeks before Christmas holiday was the fact that Draco was so busy, he almost didn’t have time to dwell on how terrible they were. In a fit of cunning that Draco was hoping Nott wouldn’t possess, it turned out that he had effectually been followed to the Room of Hidden Things, and as such, increased patrol around that area had been put into place as soon as Filch had caught Draco lurking after hours and put him into about a month’s worth of detentions. Every time Draco saw Nott’s smirking face, he had to resist the urge to pull out an off-limits hex and instead preoccupied himself with thinking how fucked Nott would be in the end.

Because, even though Draco couldn’t remember things from Before in more than patches nowadays, he still knew that Nott was up to something that wouldn’t end well for him. Every night as he curled up on the stone floor of one classroom after another, wrapped in as many thick blankets as he could transfigure to keep the chill from seeping into his bones, he concentrated on the things he could remember in order to get a sense of what was coming and what exactly Nott was playing at.

It was maybe three weeks before Christmas, and by the time Draco slunk into a room just off of the Transfiguration hallway, it was nearly one in the morning and he was absolutely knackered. Filch had been skulking around, making it extremely difficult for Draco to find anywhere safe to sleep, and he’d be damned if he went to Snape or, Circe forbid, Dumbledore to complain.

He’d made his bed; now he had to sleep in it.

His thoughts were about as far from revenge as they possibly could be, instead centered on end-of-term exams and the news of raids in the Prophet, and when he nodded off, he slept badly, waking in fits and starts. By the time morning rolled around, he was almost as tired as he’d been before he’d gone to sleep, and his stomach was aching with hunger.

But he thought he knew what Nott was up to. Or at least a flash of it. It had been all he dreamt about.

Draco spent most of his morning weighing his options instead of paying attention in class, which would surely cause him some problems later on in the week, but he couldn’t care. In the end, though, when Crabbe shoved him into a wall as he passed by in the hallway after class, causing his bag to split, Draco had made his decision.

It wasn’t very easy to find Potter, especially since he seemed to always be surrounded by people Draco didn’t want to talk to (Weasley, for example, and Granger, who’d scoff at what Draco had to say) but he managed to catch Potter alone after several hours of observation, leaving the Great Hall after supper.

“I’d like a word,” Draco said without preamble, stepping out from behind the sculpture he’d been skulking behind to avoid a burly bunch of seventh-year Slytherins who unfortunately had more brawn than brains.

Potter didn’t even look surprised to see Draco, just quirked one eyebrow. “I don’t know, Malfoy,” he said smoothly. “I’m kind of busy right now. Can’t it wait?”

“No it bloody can’t, you tosser,” Draco shot back. “But not here.”

Potter rolled his eyes. “You could have picked a less conspicuous place to ambush me,” he pointed out. “It’s not like the Entrance Hall isn’t full of other students. You were right -- you’d make a terrible spy.”

“Stop being coy, Potter,” Draco said. “The sooner you talk with me, the sooner I can leave you alone, which will make us both happier in the long run.”

Potter sighed long-sufferingly, but Draco could tell it was just a ploy, and a badly executed one at that. “All right, come on, then,” Potter said, turning and walking down the hallway without even bothering to check to see if Draco was following.

Potter didn’t lead them to the Room of Hidden Things, which Draco had been expecting, but rather to a small room off of the library. “No one here to listen,” Potter explained, but he cast a spell nonetheless that Draco suspected would ensure that they weren’t eavesdropped upon.

“I think I know what Nott is trying to do,” Draco said in a rush. Potter’s eyes lit up with badly concealed excitement.

“I knew you’d come around,” he said softly.

“Don’t make this about you, Potter,” Draco snapped. “Nott certainly isn’t making my life very easy, and I figure if I can stick one to him, all the best for me.”

“Well, what is it then? What is he planning?” Potter was leaning forward into Draco’s space with anticipation, and Draco could almost feel the heat of him with the proximity. It made the hair on the back of Draco’s neck stand up.

“He wants to kill Dumbledore,” Draco said in a rush, because that was what he dreamt. Dumbledore falling from the Astronomy Tower, over the turrets in a tumble of purple fabric as Draco looked on with horror, everything else muddled. If there was one thing Draco was sure about in this one second, it was that Dumbledore’s murder had been ordered, and Draco would bet everything on Nott being that enforcer.

Potter took a sharp breath but then he started laughing, too loud in the quiet room. “Come off it, Malfoy,” Potter said. “Why on earth would Voldemort have Nott try to kill Dumbledore? I don’t know if you realized this, but it’s hardly a fair fight.”

“It’s not meant to be,” Draco said sharply. “You don’t understand, Potter. You don’t get what’s going on here. I don’t think the Dark Lord wants Nott to succeed. He’s punishing Nott because his father failed so spectacularly at the Ministry last year. In the end, I think he expects someone else to do it. Someone stronger. But he wants Nott to die trying.”

As soon as he said the words, even though they hadn’t occurred to him before that very second, Draco knew that they were true. Potter went very still, staring at Draco as though he could see straight through to what Draco was thinking. Steeling himself against any form of Occlumency, even though it was probably a fruitless exercise seeing as he hadn’t bothered to relearn it yet, Draco felt his entire body go tense, but nothing came. Obviously Potter hadn’t mastered that little skill yet either.

“You really think that’s what’s going on here?” Potter asked finally.

Yes,” Draco said. “I think that’s what he’s supposed to do. Everyone knows that You-Know-Who’s had it out for Dumbledore since the beginning. And it’s not really a stretch for Nott to think he can do it, is it? We’ve all seen Dumbledore’s useless hand. It’s practically been cursed off.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Potter said absently. “Dumbledore’s still the greatest wizard alive.”

“Who’s made himself quite a number of enemies, if I may say so,” Draco said snidely. “Whatever, don’t believe me, Potter.”

“I didn’t say that,” said Potter hastily. “I just don’t know if you’re telling the truth or lying.”

“That’s always it with you, isn’t it?” Draco said wearily. “The same old song and dance. I’m sick of it, Potter. I’m done with your games. Have a nice life.” Draco turned to leave, feeling both humiliated and sick with anger, and he was almost at the door when he heard the scuff of Potter’s shoe against the flagstone.

“Wait,” Potter said, “just wait one second, Malfoy. You’ve given me quite a lot to think about here! Don’t be such a drama-witch about everything.”

Draco whirled on one foot to face Potter, who took a hasty step backwards at the movement. “Get this, Potter,” Draco snarled. “Just because the rest of the school’s fawning over you doesn’t mean that I necessarily will too. And just because we hate each other doesn’t mean that I’m lying about this. I could be getting myself into serious trouble by telling you anything. I’ve already gotten myself almost killed more than once for helping you and your friends. And you still can’t help but doubt my every word. Fine, that’s perfectly fine, but don’t come crying to me when everything goes southwards, because I’ll just remind you that I warned you once and you didn’t bother to listen.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Potter said softly. “And if you want me to forget five terrible years of knowing you, you’re going to have to do the same with me, because you think you know me and you don’t. But I believed you about Nott, okay, when no one else did. And I believe you now. So I don’t know where this leaves us.”

“Completely bollocksed,” Draco huffed. “You can’t get close enough to him to find anything out, and if I try, he’ll just find another way to make my life hell without hurting me. Believe me, he’s clever like that.”

“I’m not giving up,” Potter said, stubborn as always. “He’s up to something, and he hurt my best friend and didn’t get in trouble for it. I’m going to make him wish that he’d never touched Hermione.”

“Thanks for not including me in your reason for revenge,” said Draco dryly.

“And if he’s really giving you that hard of a time, you should want to bring him down too. Make him pay for what he’s done to you.”

“Potter,” Draco said wearily, “there’s not a lot more I can do besides follow him around, and he’s already cottoned onto that plan.”

“Then get better at it,” Potter said. “Find out what he’s doing, and tell me so I can make sure he stops.”

“Somehow I don’t think you’ll be enough, Potter, no matter what you may think of yourself.”

“Don’t underestimate me, Malfoy,” Potter said, scowling, but he stepped forward enough to very briefly clap Draco on the shoulder. “Thanks for telling me. And helping me and Hermione. I may not know why you’re doing it, but I’m not stupid enough to ignore you. If you hear anything else, you have to let me know. If you’re in trouble, I’ll help you. I swear it.”

“Who’s being the drama witch now?” Draco mumbled, but Potter was out of the room and too far away to hear.

* * *

Draco was so relieved he could cry by the time Christmas break rolled around because practically every Slytherin had vacated the castle to go home for the holidays, which meant that Draco was, for once, free of the open hostility he had come to expect whenever he ventured into public. He was again able to eat in the Great Hall instead of scrounging for scraps from the house elves, and although he still hadn’t managed to discover the password that would let him get back into the common room, Filch had stopped his nightly rounds outside of the Room of Hidden Things, and Draco was finally able to get some rest in an actual bed somewhere that wasn’t freezing.

Draco spent the first couple days of break frequenting places he’d been socially banned from, eating his fill at breakfast before wandering to the best study spots in the castle. He wasn’t too keen on doing more homework, but he managed to check out some Quidditch books from the library that he was slowly reading at his leisure in front of a cozy fire.

He thought at first that he was the only one in his year to stay behind, but on the third day, he literally ran into Potter, who was heading down for a late lunch, it seemed.

“Watch where you’re going, Malfoy,” Potter said, but there was a hint of a smile on his face. Draco’s shoulder tingled pleasantly where it had made contact with Potter’s.

“Sod off,” Draco retorted but there was none of the usual bite. It seemed that he’d finally hit even ground with Potter, and he wasn’t entirely sure he liked it.

* * *

Granger and Weasley weren’t around, no matter how hard Draco kept his eye out for them, so he came to the conclusion that Potter had stayed behind alone, which was weird in itself. He spent a long night in the Room of Hidden Things, tossing and turning on his bed before he could fall asleep pondering the issue, and when he woke up and left the room to get some food, Potter was loitering right outside.

“What are you doing here?” he asked flatly.

“I could ask you the same thing, Malfoy,” Potter said jauntily. “Not exactly the most obvious of places to be coming out of this early in the morning.”

“It’s none of your business,” Draco said, shuffling in front of him in the hopes that Potter would give up the chase and go into the Room of Hidden Things instead, perhaps in an effort to investigate something that hadn’t happened there.

“You know what else is strange?” Potter asked, speeding up so that his strides met with Draco’s.

“No, but I’m sure you’re about to tell me,” Draco snapped irascibly. It was too early for this kind of nonsense.

“It’s incredibly odd that you went into the Room of Requirement last night, and you only just left it now.”

Draco actually stopped in the middle of the hallway, and Potter got about five paces ahead before he realized.

“Are you spying on me now?” he asked incredulously. “Really, Potter? That’s how you spend your time?”

“It was an accident,” Potter protested, turning around so he could look Draco full in the face. “You weren’t exactly very subtle about it!”

“Subtle about what?” Draco said suspiciously.

“I saw you go into the Room of Requirement last night,” Potter said, but something in the flush of his face told Draco that he was lying. “You are about the least sneaky person I’ve ever met. It’s no wonder Nott caught on to you when you tried to follow him.”

“Shove it,” Draco snarled. All the ire that he’d thought he’d lost with Potter the other day had returned fully-fledged. “And I’m not telling you why I spend my time the way I spend it, so stop sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong.”

“Why aren’t you going to your common room any more?” Potter asked, very softly.

“It’s none of your concern,” Draco said viciously. “Leave me alone.”

“No,” Potter said. “What is going on with you?”

“Don’t act like you’re my friend, because you’re not. I’m not impressed by your act of caring about my problems.”

“I do care,” Potter said, still serious. “Has there been something going on that you haven’t been telling me?”

“Contrary to what you must believe, I don’t tell you everything, Potter,” Draco said. “There are some things I keep private. Nor am I a sodding girl -- I do know how to take care of myself, you know. Just because I’ve had some problems this past year doesn’t mean I’m letting everyone walk all over me.”

“If you’re going to be a prick about it, then forget it,” Potter said with a curl to his lip.

“I’m not the one butting in where I’m not wanted,” spat Draco. “We have a nice working relationship here, Potter. Don’t ruin it by being nosy.”

“Suit yourself,” Potter said with a half shrug. “I was only trying to help.”

“Or not,” Draco scoffed. “Just go off and play in your tower, or whatever it is that you Gryffindors do when you’re not being self-righteous.”

Potter rolled his eyes as obviously as he could before walking away, but something told Draco that he hadn’t heard the end of that argument, and he was proven right later that evening as he tried to once again enter the Room of Hidden Things for a well deserved respite after spending the day around the castle.

Filch was actually guarding the tapestry that identified the entrance to the Room of Hidden Things, hardly moving, with a broom held tightly in his right hand, almost like a spear. Mrs. Norris was nowhere to be found, which meant she was off skulking looking for trouble. It wasn’t technically after-hours yet, but from the way Filch had taken up residence, he was obviously in it for the long haul. Livid, Draco stole down a hidden staircase before Mrs. Norris could place him, positive that Potter had some hand in this after the morning’s conversation.

Draco hunkered down in one of the classrooms that he’d been using during the first round of days where it had been too dangerous to sneak into the Room of Hidden Things. The dust made his nose itch, and he looked forlornly at the ground, which looked just as unyieldingly uncomfortable as it had been the last time Draco had slept on it. There was a definite draft in the room as Draco set about transfiguring as many chairs as he could into pillows and blankets, but even after several weeks of practice, his charms could do with quite a bit of work.

Draco had just finished making a nest for himself in the middle of the room when the door creaked open of its own accord. Draco immediately pointed his wand in the general vicinity, waiting for the briefest hint of noise that would alert him to where the room’s new occupant had taken up residence, because he hadn’t been able to survive relatively unscathed this past year without a healthy dose of suspicion.

“Calm down, Malfoy,” came a disembodied voice that Draco had no trouble identifying even though he was lacking a visual. “It’s just me.” Draco’s mood, which was foul enough to begin with, darkened so much that he had to restrain himself from breaking something with a Reducto curse.

“What do you want?” Draco said, seething, as Potter pulled something free from his body and immediately became visible. It looked like Draco was seeing the famous Invisibility Cloak in action for the first time since Before, and the thought of it didn’t really make him any happier.

“To prove a point,” Potter said nonchalantly as he leaned against the wall and surveyed Draco’s pitiable nest of blankets on the floor.

“Consider it proven,” said Draco, his fingers itching on his wand. “What, you come here to take the mickey out of me? I know it was you who tipped off Filch that I’ve been sneaking around out of bounds.”

“You’re only half right,” Potter corrected lazily, not even bothering to pull his wand from where it was sticking out, even though Draco hadn’t lowered his more than a fraction of an inch. “I did tell Filch, but it wasn’t so I could make fun of you.”

“Oh, right, like I’m going to believe that,” Draco scoffed. “You can’t possibly expect me to think that the great Harry Potter would miss an opportunity to laugh about how far I’ve fallen.”

Potter frowned and pushed himself off from the wall so that he was closer to Draco. Draco had to resist the urge to take a step backwards himself, so they ended up being uncomfortably close. “Why didn’t you go back to your dormitory?” Potter asked, following the line of questioning he’d started that morning. “When you saw that you wouldn’t be able to get into the Room of Requirement? Why sleep on the floor when you have a perfectly reasonable bed in the dungeons?”

“I’ve already told you,” Draco said, faux-sweetly. “None of your bleeding business.”

“I’m trying to help here!” Potter exploded, running a hand through his hair, which made it even more messy than normal, if that was even possible.

“You could have fooled me,” replied Draco cooly. “I see nothing resembling help.”

“Just tell me what’s going on,” Potter wheedled.

“Potter, you should know that you have no influence or power over Slytherins,” Draco said deprecatingly. “Even if I wanted you to come to my rescue like the shining knight you obviously think you are, there’s little you can do to assist me. I dug my own grave by helping you in the first place, so I’ve got to live with the consequences.”

“You can’t get in, can you?” Potter said flatly, and Draco felt his scowl deepen. “That’s it, isn’t it? They keep changing the password, and you can’t get to your bed. Hermione said that you always cart around your stuff in your bag, but we just assumed it was because your things were getting nicked or something. So you really have nowhere to go?”

“Or not,” Draco said, shrugging and turning his back on Potter so he could pretend he didn’t care that Potter had figured it out. “I just don’t like my dormitory. Is that so hard to believe?”

“Yes,” Potter said instantly. “There’s no way you’d be sleeping on the floor if you had anything better available. Malfoy, you should tell someone.”

“Newsflash, Potter,” Draco said, still talking to the wall. “No one cares about me. Snape would probably find it funny, and there’s nothing Dumbledore would do since I’m not in his golden-boy house.”

“That’s not true,” Potter said softly. “Dumbledore would help. You should trust him.”

“Yes, because he’s given me such good reason to!” Draco scoffed. “Constantly undermining my house, stripping us of victory that we’d rightfully earned. Admit it -- in Dumbledore’s eyes, Slytherins aren’t worth much of anything.”

“You’re wrong about him,” Potter said. “And about me.”

“Somehow I doubt it,” Draco returned. “I’ve seen no proof to the contrary.”

“Then I’ll show you some,” Potter said, and before Draco could even think of anything to challenge him or refute his statement, Potter was right behind him, putting a hand on Draco’s shoulder in a way that made Draco sure that Potter wanted the contact even less than Draco did. “Come with me. I’ll let you sleep in the Gryffindor dorms tonight.”

Draco couldn’t help it -- he whirled around so he was once again facing Potter. “No,” he said. “What are you playing at? Waiting to ambush me and interrogate me some more? Have something nasty planned so you can make sure I’m the horrible person you’ve always believed me to be?”

“Just because you’re used to dirty double-crossers doesn’t mean we’re all like that,” Potter said. “No tricks. Nothing up my sleeve. I’ll share my Invisibility Cloak with you and we can sneak to my common room. You can sleep in Ron’s bed -- he went home for the holidays.”

“I would never sleep in Weasley’s bed,” Draco said, still trying to grasp the situation. “Who knows what diseases I’d catch.”

“My bed then,” said Potter, annoyed. “Admit it -- it’s better than the floor.”

Draco wanted to refuse, tell Potter that he must be certifiably insane if he thought for one second that Draco would take him up on his offer, but a second glance at the floor made him entirely too tempted. The inherent risk of willingly stepping into enemy territory was outweighed by the prospect of sleeping on a cold floor with only half a dozen badly-transfigured blankets for warmth.

“No catch?” Draco asked warily. “Nothing that you’re going to make me do in return?”

“You have my word,” Potter promised, looking Draco straight in the eye. “Think of it as a show of faith.”

There was something about Potter’s expression -- maybe it was the way that he was earnestly gripping Draco’s shoulder even though he obviously didn’t want to be -- that made Draco believe him, Circe have mercy.

Draco narrowed his eyes in an attempt to seem more intimidating. “If you pull a fast one on me, so help me Salazar, I will get you back ten times worse.”

Potter chuffed out a breath of laughter. “You need to work on your intimidation,” he said, “but noted. Let’s go before someone hears us and puts us in detention for the rest of the year for being out past curfew.”

“Oh, we wouldn’t want that, now would we?” Draco commented sarcastically, but either Potter didn’t notice or didn’t care, because he was shaking out his cloak and then stepping right up into Draco’s space.

“What the bleeding hell are you doing?” Draco blurted, nearly tripping over his robes in his haste to get away from Potter, who’d apparently suddenly got ideas in his head that Draco did not approve of.

Potter sighed loudly and gave Draco a look that he’d obviously adopted from Granger, a sort of you-aren’t-really-that-daft-are-you? roll of the eyes that Draco found to be incredibly annoying. “We both have to get under the Invisibility Cloak for it to work,” Potter explained impatiently. “Or do you want Filch to catch you trying to sneak into the Gryffindor Common Room?”

“On second thought,” Draco said, “I’ll stay here. There’s no way I’m going to be able to stay that close to you for the time it takes to get to whichever godforsaken tower you lot live in. I’d probably kill you first.”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” said Potter. “It’s not even that far.”

“I don’t understand why you’re so eager to get me up there,” Draco pondered. “You have to admit that it’s not typical behavior.”

“Fine, be a baby,” Potter said shortly. “I’m sick of having this argument with you. Either you want a warm bed to sleep in or you don’t. I don’t care much whichever you choose.” His cloak was over his head before he’d even finished speaking, and Draco found the sight of Potter disappearing from view to be disconcerting to say the least.

“Have a good night, Malfoy,” Potter said unpleasantly, and then Draco heard his footsteps recede to the door. He had about five seconds of indecision as he listened to Potter’s departure, but one glance at his sad pile of blankets convinced him that no matter what Potter had planned, it was most likely better than freezing in that room.

“Potter, wait,” Draco hissed, stealing into the hall once he’d made a quick cursory glance to make sure that no professors were lurking to catch troublemakers out of bed.

Potter’s head appeared, floating in the middle of space at the end of the hall, almost like a sick illusion.

“What?” he asked unkindly.

“Let me under that cloak, will you?” Draco said, taking the hallway at double-pace before he could triple-think his decision. Potter’s mouth quirked into a half-smile that Draco could barely see from the dim illumination of the torches, but he had the distinct feeling that he’d just been played. And by a Gryffindor, no less. Draco felt he should be ashamed, but then Potter was there again, right by Draco’s side and throwing the cloak around both of them.

“Crouch down a little,” Potter whispered, much too close. “Your feet will show if you don’t.”

“No one would notice,” Draco scoffed, but nevertheless, he bent down a couple of inches so the cloak fell more uniformly around them. He figured, no matter how galling it was to take orders from Potter of all people, that Potter at least knew the best strategies for wandering around Hogwarts undetected, if all those stories he’d heard through the grapevine had even the slightest hint of truth to them.

In order to stay invisible, Potter pressed himself up tight to Draco’s side, the warmth of his body searing through Draco’s clothes. Draco shivered from the sensation of it and immediately told himself to get a grip. He was stuck following Potter to sleep with Gryffindors, for Circe’s sake. He should be feeling nothing except for deep disgust and remorse.

Nevertheless, Draco couldn’t dredge up any feelings stronger than deep confusion. Even as he tried to shift away to get as far from Potter as possible, Potter kept moving next to him again, making their shuffle down through the castle even more awkward than it already was.

“Stop fidgeting,” Potter said under his breath. “Trust me. I won’t get us caught.”

“I’ll never trust you,” Draco huffed, very softly, but he focused his energy on walking forward in tandem with Potter, soft footfalls that were obscured by the sound of wind passing through the hallways.

Super aware of Potter’s proximity, Draco barely noticed the length of their trip before Potter drew to a sudden halt in front of a portrait of an appallingly dressed woman who was snoozing half out of her frame. Draco had halfway walked out from underneath the cloak, following the bend of the hallway before he realized that Potter had come to his final destination.

“You’re joking,” Draco blurted before he could think to not talk.

“Er, no,” Potter said, almost as if he thought Draco was being purposefully slow. “We can’t all have blank patches of wall leading to our common room.”

“How do you know that?” Draco asked. “You’ve never been to the Slytherin dormitory.”

Potter raised an eyebrow but didn’t elaborate, and Draco made a mental note to figure out just how Potter had determined where the Slytherin common room entrance was when Draco himself had been completely in the dark about the location of the Gryffindors’ living quarters.

“Pig spleen,” he said clearly, and Draco thought for a second that Potter had lost his mind before the painting roused sleepily.

“Very well, very well,” the fat woman said without even cracking her eyes to see who was trying to enter before the entire frame was swinging forward, revealing a small hole carved right into the stone.

“Ladies first,” Potter said with a grand sweep of his hand.

“You then,” Draco said, and for a second, he was sure that he’d made Potter laugh. Potter pushed by him rather hard to climb into the hole, and Draco was on his heels so he didn’t get shut outside, even though he knew the password now. Potter really should have planned that better -- Draco now had a foolproof way to get into a dormitory he didn’t belong in.

The room Draco stepped into was exactly what he would’ve pictured if he’d been sad enough to spend his time wondering what the Gryffindors’ living quarters looked like. There were red and gold squashy chairs all over the place, and even though it was late and almost all of the students had gone home for break, all of the fires were still burning merrily, making the entire room glow cozily. It was almost enough to make Draco sick.

“Quite a cliche you have up here, Potter,” he muttered.

“Better than the dank dungeon you lot have,” Potter said out of the side of his mouth. “Although it is perfect for snakes, isn’t it?”

“I still want to know how you are so familiar with the Slytherin common room, seeing as you’ve never been invited inside,” Draco said crossly, running his fingers along the fringe of an ornately embroidered pillow that was thrown carelessly on a chair cushion.

“Never you mind,” Potter said primly, and that smirk was back, making Draco severely want to punch Potter straight in the nose.

Draco let himself be led up to the sixth-year Gryffindor dormitories, feeling very much as though he was in enemy territory even though there wasn’t a threat to him in sight. Potter kept shooting looks over his shoulder, but he’d seemed to have run out of things to say, kicking the door open with his foot when they reached the appropriate landing.

“Well, this is it,” Potter said lamely, and Draco stepped inside, one of his eyebrows crooked.

“Appropriately impressive,” he drawled. “Which is to say, not impressive at all.”

“Shove it,” Potter said. “If you want to go back to sleeping on the floor of that old classroom, be my guest.”

“Oh, yes, keep pretending that this is some sort of huge, life-altering favor that you’re offering me here,” Draco said, sweeping his arm in a grand, sarcastic gesture. “Shall I prostrate myself at your feet? Perhaps compose a sonnet?”

“You could shut up,” Potter suggested. “That would be the best sort of thanks, actually. You wouldn’t believe how sick I’m getting of your voice.”

“Oh, the wit on you,” said Draco dryly. “It makes me quiver in shame.”

“Just because we’ve formed some sort of a truce, doesn’t mean I won’t curse your mouth shut,” Potter said.

“I’d like to see you try,” Draco challenged, curling his fingers around the handle of his wand.

Potter sighed loudly, and ran his hand through his hair, making it stand up amusingly, almost like a wet dog’s. “It’s too late to keep arguing with you,” he said, almost whining. “I’m tired, and I want to go to bed.”

“Best idea you’ve had all night,” Draco said off-handedly.

“Finally we’re in agreement,” Potter yawned. “Because you’re a prissy git, you can take my bed. It’s this one over here. I’ll just sleep in Ron’s.

Draco eyed the rumpled state of Potter’s sheets with a healthy dose of trepidation. “Are you sure I won’t catch a disease from the state of your bed?” he asked, half-serious. “It looks like a health hazard.”

“It’s your decision,” said Potter. “I don’t care where you sleep as long as you shut up. Good night, Malfoy. Maybe in the morning, you won’t be as much of a prat, but I won’t hold out much hope.”

“Sleep tight,” Draco said, faux-sweetly. “I’m sure the bedbugs in Weasley’s bed aren’t as bad as we fear.”

Potter rolled his eyes in such an obvious way that Draco almost laughed with how absurd he looked doing so, but he seemed to have conceded to Draco this round and disappeared behind the curtains of Weasley’s four-poster without so much as another word. Draco smiled with the victory and gingerly pulled back the scarlet comforter on Potter’s bed, inspecting the sheets with a careful eye. They looked to be okay to sleep on, if not a little wrinkled, but Draco was still slightly skeptical. Potter was friends with Weasley, after all, and how many times had he heard about the dump that Weasley grew up in?

But after several weeks alternately sleeping in a bed in a magical room and on the floor of an abandoned classroom, Draco felt that he’d exhausted his ability to be picky. There were no stains on Potter’s bed-clothing, obvious or otherwise, so Draco stopped thinking about just how disgusting it was that he was about to bed down in this dormitory like a common Gryffindor, and removed his robes instead.

At first, the bed was too soft, too plush, and Draco couldn’t stop tossing and turning. He’d never thought he’d be so used to living like a commoner that the simple act of trying to spend one night in a normal bed would be so troubling, but after weeks of the floor, he felt like he was being swallowed alive. Equally galling was the fact that he could hear the deep sound of Potter’s breaths, indicative that Draco was still awake while Potter had managed to fall fast asleep.

For a while, Draco tried to amuse himself with thinking about how he could play a trick on Potter, or get him into trouble, but his plans weren’t as deviously cunning as he thought he could make them, and besides, there was this unhelpful twinge of guilt whenever he thought about it. He’d obviously been spending too much time out of the company of Slytherins if he was letting something as stupid as the small favor of being allowed to sleep in someone else’s dormitory keep him from wreaking havoc on the Mudblood-lovers of the school.

When he finally managed to drift off, he had unsettling dreams about hordes of Death Eaters trapping him against a wall as his father cursed him, reprimands that rung so loudly that he still remembered them when he gained consciousness late the next morning. Even though he was still tired enough to sleep an extra several hours, he was loath to slip back into this disturbance of his dreams, so instead he sat up, rubbing at his eyes.

For a moment, he’d forgotten that he’d taken refuge in Potter’s dormitory the night before, so he was off-put by the scarlet bed hangings that surrounded him, but it soon came back to him, making him scowl more than he’d already been doing. He ripped the curtains open with perhaps more force than was necessary, and for a moment, he thought that Potter had left him alone in the room, which wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that Draco had no way of getting out of the Gryffindor common room without being detected by an errant student.

But he needn’t have worried, because Potter was sitting cross-legged on Weasley’s bed, reading a book that looked to be about Quidditch.

“Finally,” he said, throwing the book to one side, where it landed haphazardly on the floor. “I’m starving. I thought you were going to sleep forever.”

“You could have left,” Draco said. “Not much that I could’ve done alone up here anyway.”

“That’s what you think,” Potter said darkly. “And just because I let you stay here last night doesn’t mean I fully trust you.”

“Thanks ever so much for that vote of confidence.”

“Well, you’ve certainly earned it,” Potter returned, standing up and stretching. “Get dressed and I’ll let you use my cloak to get out of here without being caught so we can finally eat something.”

“I’m not eating a meal with you,” Draco said, furrowing his brow. “Are you crazy?”

“Because so many other people are clamoring for your company,” Potter said. “At least I’m willing to talk to you, even if you are a major pain in the arse.”

“Likewise,” Draco said, “and I’d rather eat with a house-elf than spend that time with you.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” scoffed Potter. “I know your old house-elf, and he tells me that you treated him like dirt. No way you’d eat with them, even if you were at rock bottom.”

“Don’t pretend you know so much about me, because you don’t,” snarled Draco.

“Oh, stop being difficult and get dressed,” Potter said. “We can spend all of lunch sniping at each other as long as I get to eat something.”

“You’ve been hanging around Weasley too much,” said Draco. “Sooner or later, your body will match your fat head and your broom won’t be able to get you off of the ground.”

“Well, until that time comes, stop stalling and get ready. I’m not leaving you alone in here, no matter how much I want to.”

“Seeing as you gave me the password already, I think that your worries are stupid,” Draco explained, shaking out his robes so they didn’t look as wrinkled as they were before pulling them over his head.

“I’ve already told the Fat Lady to not let you in unless you were with me,” Potter said confidently.

“She’s a portrait, Potter,” laughed Draco. “You think she’ll listen to such asinine instruction?”

“You’re welcome to try.”

“Don’t think I won’t,” Draco said. Potter laughed, a full-blown, head thrown back kind of thing. “Of course you will. I can’t wait until she sounds the alarm that an intruder is trying to get into Gryffindor Tower. After what happened with Sirius, I’m sure that people will take it seriously.”

Draco flushed imperceptibly, but he adopted a smirk nonetheless. Potter may have thought he’d outsmarted Draco, but that was hardly the case. “Obviously, because your godfather was a useless Gryffindor who wouldn’t know cunning if it danced in front of him wearing a tea cozy. I’ll be infinitely more subtle.”

Potter’s expression sobered so much it was like someone had doused him in water. “I guess we’ll see,” he said, throwing the Invisibility Cloak over both of them.

“Why do you have to be under here?” Draco asked crossly. “It’s not like you’ll get in trouble for being in your own dormitory.”

“And risk you running off with it? I don’t think so,” Potter said. “Now, keep quiet. It’s going to be odd enough when the portrait hole opens on its own. We’ll have to wait until no one is looking to do it.”

“Brilliant plan, Potter. Because no one will notice it otherwise,” Draco said. “Ow, that was my foot!”

“Stop dawdling, and maybe I won’t accidentally step on you,” Potter retorted.

“Far be it from me to keep the great Potter from his meal,” Draco muttered under his breath, concentrating on keeping in step with Potter so they could make it down into the common room without incident.

There were only a couple of first-years milling around, but Potter led Draco the longest route he could in an attempt to stay as far away from them as possible. Draco had to stop himself at least five times from saying something deprecating aloud about Potter’s complete lack of coordination, but he figured that it would be a give-away if the invisible people in the room were loud enough to be heard.

It took them an additional five minutes standing by the portrait hole before Potter was convinced that they would be able to escape undetected, and he even had the courtesy to let Draco climb through first, though Draco thought that that was more to do with the fact that Potter wanted to laugh at his ungainly attempts to climb into the small opening than anything resembling chivalry.

“I haven’t had to sneak out of my own common room in a while,” Potter mused once they were safely outside and he had removed the cloak in the thankfully empty corridor.

“Why would you even want to do that?” Draco asked snidely. “Deprive all your adoring fans the opportunity to grovel at your feet? That’s cruel, even for you.”

“Boot-licking sounds more like your thing, Malfoy,” Potter said, without even skipping a beat.

“Well, considering that my shoes are worth more than several people’s entire wardrobe, I’d say that I’m not out of my rights requesting such a thing,” Draco said loftily.

Potter sniggered, which was a completely unpleasant sound. “Where are you getting that money from nowadays, Malfoy? Been doing a little extra cleaning on the side? I thought you were lying this morning about eating with house elves, but maybe I should’ve believed you.”

The small smidgen of good will he’d been feeling was snuffed out, and Draco felt his face settle into a dark expression. “Thank you ever so much for reminding me of my predicament,” he said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have much better things to do than spend my day with you.”

Potter stopped and threw an arm out to keep Draco from leaving. “Hey, don’t,” he said placatingly. “I’m -- I’m sorry.” The words sounded like they’d hurt a great deal coming out, and Draco was surprised Potter hadn’t choked on them. “I didn’t mean it.”

“Don’t be so sincere,” Draco said, his lip curling. “You might make me cry.”

Potter sighed loudly. “Look, this takes some getting used to, okay? I’m used to hating you, and it’s really weird that I’m trying to change six years of history here.”

“No one asked you to,” Draco said. “Look, I’m still the same person, and I still greatly dislike you, no matter how many times you try to prove that we’re going to be chums, or something like that. I’d rather stab my eyes out with my wand than spend the day with you. You can stop pretending now. Neither of us is convinced.”

“That wasn’t what I meant,” responded Potter.

“I’m sure,” said Draco dryly.

“Can we just try to be civil?” Potter asked. “Just for a little while? I think we can help each other if we stop having a go at one another.”

“Did Granger tell you to say that?” Draco said, following his gut instinct. “Because, in case she’s also mistaken, I still want nothing to do with her. I haven’t forgotten that she’s a Mudblood.”

“Watch your mouth, Malfoy,” Potter warned.

“You aren’t my mother,” Draco said. “And thanks to you, I don’t have parents who want anything to do with me. I don’t have to listen to you, and I don’t have to thank you for anything. You’ve ruined my life as it is, and you have quite enough going on to make it better in the first place.”

“I didn’t ruin anything, Malfoy,” Potter said agitatedly. “You did that all on your own.”

“Something that I’ve regretted every day since. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Draco turned in the opposite direction and started taking long strides down the hall. He half-expected Potter to call out after him, or try to stop him, but no interruption came.

* * *

Draco was expecting to spend the night in much the same manner as he had before Potter had had his misguided attempt at good faith, and seeing as Filch was still stalking around, Draco had the same limited options as always. But much the same as the night before, Draco was just preparing himself for an unpleasant night’s rest when Potter appeared.

“How do you keep doing that?” Draco demanded.

“You can keep asking, but I’m not going to tell,” said Potter childishly.

“What do you want?” Draco snapped, waving his wand too forcefully and causing a chair to smash against the wall instead of move there peacefully, like he’d wanted in the first place.

“And you wonder why no one likes you,” Potter muttered, and then, in a much louder voice, he continued, “I just wanted to see if you were interested in a bed tonight too.”

“Don’t do me any favors,” Draco said. “I’m not very much in the mood to accept anything from you.”

“Oh, stop being so stubborn,” Potter said. “I’m sorry about this morning, okay? And you shouldn’t have to sleep on the floor. I know you’re not used to it.”

“And here you go again, reminding me that because I helped you, I don’t have a family or creature comforts any longer,” Draco said snidely. “Thank you ever so much.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Potter amended. “Stop taking everything I say so seriously.”

“Stop being so insensitive, and maybe I won’t have to,” Draco retorted. “And I’m fine here tonight, thank you. Less chance of catching a disease on the floor than in your ill-kept dormitory.”

“You know, you really ought to stop being so stubborn,” Potter said.

“Oh, that’s rich. Cauldron, meet kettle. He’s black too.”

“You’re the one who’s not taking a perfectly warm bed over a stone floor,” Potter said patiently.

“You know what,” Draco said, stopping what he was doing so he could fully turn and look Potter in the eye. “I might think about accepting if I didn’t think you had an ulterior motive for being so deceptively nice to me.”

“I’m not hiding anything,” Potter said blandly. “You’re the Slytherin, not me.”

“So what you’re saying is that only Gryffindors are able to be selflessly kind, while Slytherins always have a secret agenda? Again with the backhanded comments that make me even less willing to accept your offer.”

“Now you’re just reading between the lines and making things up that I didn’t even mean,” Potter sighed. “I just want to talk to you, Malfoy. Maybe have a civil conversation about what’s been going on outside of school. I know that you have your own opinions, and I think that if we stopped going at each other’s throats all the time, we could make some headway that would be actually helpful.”

“I have been helping you,” Draco said staunchly. “I’ve been giving you all the information I can on Nott. If you haven’t noticed, it’s probably the reason why I can’t sleep in my bed any longer.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” said Potter. “And even you have to admit that we’ve hit a brick wall with that. I want us to get along, Malfoy.”

“Good luck with that,” Draco said.

“You’re all talk, but I know for a fact that you don’t hate me nearly as much as you did. I can tell.”

“Shows how much you know.”

“In any case, I think it’s time we put things behind us,” Potter plowed on. He held his hand out in an aborted gesture, waiting for Draco to shake it. “Truce?”

Draco couldn’t think of anything to say to that. The action hung heavy in the air, and there was a pregnant pause, wrought with tension.

“Six years ago, you wanted to be my friend on the train,” Potter said quietly. “We’re both different people than we were then, but I think I’m ready for that handshake.”

It took Draco five seconds longer, a long moment where he weighed his options, trying to figure out what would be best in the long run.

Without over-thinking it, he did the only thing he thought would be best for him at the current point in time. Grabbing Potter’s hand, he gave it a brisk, hard shake, ignoring the way that Potter’s mouth curved into a smile.

After all, if he had to betray Potter later, it wouldn’t matter what he did at this point in time, did it?

* * *

Things were incredibly different on the other side of the fence, Draco mused. True, even though they’d agreed to a certain level of civility, it didn’t mean that Draco immediately found Potter to be a friend, or vice versa. There was still a healthy amount of arguing and snide comments, but at the same time, there was something else about it, something more playful. Which was probably a terrible word for it, but Draco was finding their arguments to be amusing in a way he’d never had before.

Potter was still sneaking Draco into his dormitory every night, and even though Draco was sure he could come up with a plan of sabotage, he didn’t. As far as he could tell, there was nothing in it for him besides alienating his stalwart ally, and at that point in the game, he was reluctant to make Potter his enemy once again. Life was a little easier now that he had someone who was even halfway on his side.

The most disturbing bit of the entire ordeal, however, happened just a couple of days before Christmas. Draco woke early, though he didn’t know why, and it had become so commonplace to be sleeping in the Gryffindor dormitory that he didn’t even have to take stock of his surroundings before he remembered where he was. But as he looked up at the muted red of Potter’s bed hangings, something bothersome began to niggle at the back of his brain.

He was quite certain that he was forgetting something rather important, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember what. It was odd, because as far as he knew, everything important that he could possibly have to think about was accounted for, but nonetheless, he was certain that his memory was severely lacking.

He kept thinking the word Before, but he was entirely uncertain why. Before what? Before when? It was all a muddle of confusing emotion, and he pondered on it for a very long time before he gave it up as a bad job. With the way his life was going, it was probably prudent to only focus on the present.

* * *

Christmas dawned as a cliche, dark and snowy, and for a second, Draco just reveled in the warmth of his borrowed bed, too cozy to emerge just yet. But he could hear Potter stirring, probably what woke him up in the first place, and the garish noise of ripping paper that made him certain that Potter was in the middle of unearthing his Christmas presents.

The thought was sobering, because for the first time since Draco could remember, he knew he wouldn’t have anything at the foot of his bed to open. Closing his eyes, Draco let himself remember the Christmases he’d spent at home, the lavishly decorated tree, the way his mother’s eyes would sparkle with the light reflected from the tinsel as she handed gifts out.

Shaking his head roughly, Draco pulled himself from his own memories, his eyes stinging. He would not allow himself to get upset over his predicament; it was over and done, and they were the ones who had thrown him out in the first place. He was allowed a pity party, of course, but here was neither the time nor place, especially not with Potter lurking about.

Draco sat up and rubbed his eyes, thinking that at least he had some good food to look forward to -- Hogwarts house elves were certainly top notch, and he was certain that they’d outdo themselves with the Christmas feast today. Ready to emerge from Potter’s bed and ask him point-blank to let Draco escape the tower, Draco heaved a sigh and squared his shoulders, pulling the curtains back.

However, when he sat up, something thudded to the ground, nudged off of the bed by an errant foot. Draco furrowed his brow, unaware of the fact that the noise had torn Potter’s attention from his own presents, and leaned over to see what he’d knocked off.

There, on the ground, lay one solitary present, wrapped in silver paper and tied with an enchanted bow that wriggled in the air.

“What’s this?” Draco asked dumbly, forgetting that Potter was still in the room.

Potter sniggered, pushing himself up so he could stand next to Draco, cloyingly close. “It’s a present,” he supplied unhelpfully.

“Don’t be a prat,” Draco said. “I know it’s a present. What was it doing on my bed?”

“It is Christmas,” Potter said, still reveling in Draco’s general air of confusion. “Traditionally, presents are left at the end of people’s beds in celebration--”

“You are getting on my nerves,” Draco snapped. “Stop trying to be clever.”

“Open it, then,” Potter said, a weird half-tilt to his mouth that Draco wasn’t sure he’d ever seen before.

Bending over, Draco picked up the package gingerly, holding it as though it might explode in his hands. Which, considering the attitude held towards him by his fellow Slytherins, wasn’t such an outlandish thing to suspect.

“It won’t hurt you,” said Potter in a sobering voice.

“How do you know?” Draco asked absently. Potter didn’t answer, just gesturing towards the tag that was attached to the ribbon, and Draco turned it over.

Happy Christmas, the note read. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you this in person. From Hermione.

“Potter,” Draco said flatly, “one of your presents was left here by mistake.” He could feel his stomach sinking in disappointment, because how amazing would it have been if someone had actually had the forethought and caring to remember him? He supposed he should have known better, the way this past year had gone.

“It’s not mine,” Potter said stubbornly. “She told me she got it for you. Besides, I already opened what she gave me. Another book, which, let me tell, you was not a surprise.”

“Granger got me a present,” Draco repeated, and he couldn’t exactly tell how he felt about that. Anger, of course, because he was a Malfoy, and not someone to be pitied, especially not by a filthy Mudblood. But at the same time, she was the only one, out of everyone Draco had ever loved or been friends with or knew, who’d thought to give him a Christmas gift this year. It was all very confusing.

“Yeah, well, Hermione’s always said that we needed to be more open about inter-House cooperation,” Potter babbled. “Ron and I always said that she was nuts and we’d never trust a Slytherin further than we could hex him...but look where we are, I guess.”

Draco didn’t respond to Potter, lest he tempt him to make an even longer rambling speech, but he slid his fingers under the Spellotape, smoothing out the crease in the paper slowly.

“That’s it?” Potter asked. “No snide comments about how you don’t need presents from Muggle-borns? Nothing to say about how common it is?”

“Do me a favor,” Draco said, unearthing the box patiently, “and shut up.”

There really wasn’t anything fancy hidden underneath the paper, no matter how impressively fiddly the wandwork had been to enchant the bow. All in all, Granger had given him a box of Honeyduke’s chocolate. It wasn’t the highest-end sweet that he’d ever gotten, or the best, but he spent a long time looking at it anyways, tracing the lettering on the lid with his fingertips.

“Ron told her she was crazy,” Potter said. “To get you something, I mean.”

“Maybe she was,” Draco returned. “Not like I’m going to be giving her anything.”

“That’s not the point,” said Potter. “She wanted to do something nice for you.”

“Another show of trust?” Draco asked. “She thought that she could give me some chocolate and all would be right in the world and we’d sit up all night discussing hair charms and love potions?”

“Hermione’s not like that,” Potter said softly. “And if I were you, I’d be a little more thankful.”

“Don’t presume to tell me how I feel,” Draco said to his lap.

“Fine,” Potter huffed. “Be that way. Oh, by the way, here.” He threw another package on the bed, and it nearly bounced off with the force of the drop.

Draco gave Potter a flat look before staring at what had been deposited on the bed -- another gift, it looked like.

“I am not a charity case,” he said hotly. “I don’t know what you Gryffindors think of me, but I am not going to roll over and be your toy just because you give me some sweets on Christmas.”

“Oh, calm down,” Potter said disinterestedly. “That’s not what we think at all. It’s just -- I know what it feels like to watch everyone else get things at the holidays when you have nothing, and I thought it might be nice if you didn’t have to go through the same thing. Though obviously we shouldn’t have bothered. You probably had enough presents when you were little to fill your house anyway.”

“Don’t you find it odd that whenever you try to do something nice for me, you always ruin the sentiment with your big, fat mouth?” Draco questioned, scowling at the package and wondering if it was even worth it to open it.

“I can’t hep it that you don’t inspire warm and fuzzy feelings,” Potter said dryly. “It won’t bite. I didn’t get it from Hagrid, you know.”

“Thank Circe for small favors,” Draco murmured, and then curiosity took hold of him, and he started to peel the wrapping paper off. Out tumbled a book and a small can of broomstick polish, and when he examined it more closely, he realized it was a strategy guide of Quidditch plays, tailored specifically for Seekers. Draco might have been annoyed at this blatant attack on his ineptitude to even win a game against Potter, but something stopped him from pointing this out.

And sure enough, when he looked up, Potter was teetering on his heels, looking awkward just standing there. “Since you like Quidditch,” he said quickly. “It was weird playing against Slytherin with someone else as their Seeker. It wasn’t as much fun, because I didn’t care as much about beating them.”

“Oh, thanks ever so much,” Draco said. “Good to know that Quidditch is only fun when you hate your opponent.”

“Don’t be a prat,” Potter chided. “You’re fun to play against because you’re actually good, you know. Not that you’ll hear me say it again, since I’m sure compliments go straight to your fat head.”

Draco didn’t want to be flattered that Potter had paid him a compliment about Quidditch -- he really, really didn’t -- but he couldn’t help it when his chest swelled a little with this blooming of warmth. He busied himself with flicking through the book so he didn’t have to look at Potter and give him the satisfaction of actually getting through Draco’s defenses.

“When the weather gets better,” Potter said softly, “you and I should fly together. Play a friendly match or something. I’m sure you miss it. I did last year when I wasn’t allowed to play.”

“Only if you’re prepared to lose,” Draco said loftily.

“I’ll only lose if you cheat,” Potter pointed out, but the usual arrogance was missing from his voice -- this seemed to be nothing more than playful bantering.

“I never cheat,” Draco said. “I only do what I need to to win.”

Potter laughed, a rich sound that made Draco’s cheeks flush the lightest of pinks, though he was uncertain as to why. “Keep telling yourself that, Malfoy,” he said.

* * *

Draco never would have thought that Christmas would be enjoyable outside of his own house, surrounded by his family and the lavish decorations, but he was surprised when he was proven wrong. The castle may not have been as sophisticated as he remembered his family Christmas celebrations being, but there was something to be said about the twelve glittering trees festooned in the Great Hall, even if the caroling suits of armor left something to be desired.

Draco spent most of the day in a haze of good food and better spirits. Dumbledore had forced the entirety of the remaining students to eat together at one table, and even though the small handful of Slytherins stared outright, Draco pretended not to notice as he took a seat next to Potter, who was, sad to say, the only friendly face he was prepared to share the meal with. Something about Dumbledore’s small smile and the grim set of Snape’s lips shut Draco’s mouth, though, and he didn’t say anything throughout the entire meal, even though Potter tried to strike up conversation.

Someone had put up several strands of glittering fairy lights that flickered with an enchanted rhythm all around the Gryffindor common room and dormitories, and Draco liked the warm glow that they provided. Not that he would ever admit it, but he was getting quite used to sleeping in a haze of gold and red, and he was almost dreading the end of holidays, when he’d be forced to once again find alternate arrangements.

It was too early for sleeping once they were both safely tucked away in Potter’s dormitory, so Draco busied himself with the book Potter gave him and distinctly ignored every noise coming from Potter’s side of the room. Potter seemed to be looking through something himself, sighing loudly at alternating intervals, something that began to grate on Draco’s nerves after about half an hour.

“Would you stop?” he demanded. “You’re driving me absolutely crazy.”

“What,” Potter asked, genuinely confused. “What am I doing?”

“Oh, never mind,” huffed Draco. “Even when you’re not trying to be, you’re always completely annoying. What is that you’re reading, by the way? A bit keen to be getting school work done, aren’t you?”

“It’s not a school book,” Potter said absently, turning another page of his well-worn tome.

“Well then what is it?”

A look flashed across Potter’s face, too quickly to be read, and even though he was trying to act nonchalantly, Draco saw through it in about a second. “Just a book,” Potter responded, shrugging. “I think it’s interesting.”

“Oh really?” Draco asked smoothly, sliding off of the bed so he could pad over to where Potter was and get a proper handle on what exactly Potter was doing. “It looks a lot like our Potions textbook to me.”

“Well it’s not,” Potter snapped, covering the pages with his hands like a schoolchild would to protect an exam paper from cheating eyes. This immediately piqued Draco’s attention, and he craned his neck in an attempt to see around Potter’s fingers.

“Stop being nosy,” Potter said, making a move to put the book away, but he was hampered by his warring attempts at keeping the thing a secret and putting it in plain view for the second it would take to sweep it into Weasley’s drawer.

“Is it something inappropriate, Potter?” Draco asked in a joking matter. “Or maybe love letters from the forlorn Weaslette?”

“It’s neither,” Potter said. “Go away, Malfoy. It’s none of your business.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have been reading it when I was around,” Draco countered. “Just one look, Potter. I promise I won’t take the mickey out of you.”

“Somehow, I don’t trust your word on that,” Potter said dryly. “I’m serious, Malfoy. This isn’t any of your concern.”

“Doesn’t stop me from wanting to know what the great Harry Potter is trying to hide from me,” Draco pointed out, and his curiosity won over his general apprehension about getting anywhere close to Weasley’s bed, and he climbed on, quick as a snake, in an attempt to wrest the book from Potter’s hands. Anything that Potter was trying so valiantly to hide from Draco must be something worth seeing, and it was worth the Muggle-like tussle.

“Stop it,” Potter yelled, but there was a laugh hidden in his voice as he rolled over, trying to get out of Draco’s reach. He elbowed Draco in the stomach, not hard enough to do any damage, but it gave him the split second he needed to get a firm grip on the book once again. Unluckily for Potter, however, Draco had a good recovery time on the attack and managed to worm his wand out from the pocket of his trousers.

Accio book,” Draco cried, flicking his wand and feeling the magic flow down his fingertips. It almost worked, but with a wordless noise, Potter flung himself on top it, halting its journey to Draco’s hands.

“No fair, Malfoy,” he said, and then he was actually trying to steal Draco’s wand away from him with force and not magic. So surprised was he by the response, Draco let the wand be wrenched from his hand without much of a struggle. Potter threw it behind him to land somewhere on the floor.

“Watch what you’re doing,” Malfoy said, half-angrily.

“You deserved it,” Potter said, and then he was whipping the book out of sight, pulling his own wand out of nowhere and performing a charm that Draco didn’t recognize. “You can’t get at it now,” Potter laughed.

Draco’s eyes narrowed, and he sat up from where he’d been flung onto his back on the bed. “Try me,” he said. “I can be very stubborn when I want to be.”

“So can I,” Potter returned. “And now that I know you want to see it so badly, I’ll make sure that you’ll never have the chance.”

“Spoilsport,” Draco muttered under his breath, and then he remembered that he was on Weasley’s bed in the company of Harry Potter and he couldn’t help but wonder just when his life had become this. Potter was close, closer than Draco was entirely comfortable with, and they were both breathing harder than usual with the exertion of their wrestling match. Potter was looking at him strangely, and something in Draco’s chest twinged, a feeling he couldn’t immediately identify.

“Well, thank you very much for that astoundingly awful lesson in Muggle wrestling,” Draco said, trying to defuse the situation. “Now I have to scrounge around on the floor looking for my wand. Really, Potter, I don’t know how to show my appreciation.”

Potter wasn’t moving back at all, even though that had been the intention Draco had had when he opened his mouth to speak. “Thought it would toughen you up a little,” Potter breathed, very softly, and Draco went very still. Something was about to happen -- he could feel it -- and he didn’t know what or if he even wanted it.

Potter’s eyes were fixed on Draco’s lips in a stare that made Draco equal parts nervous and apprehensive, though he couldn’t say why. He wanted to move away -- really, he did -- but something was keeping him tethered to that bed, looking up at Potter looking at him, and then the last thing Draco ever could have expected to happen happened.

One moment they were just looking at each other, stuck in a situation that Draco couldn’t comprehend, and then Potter’s lips were on his, very dry but with purpose. Draco couldn’t do anything but gasp at first, shivering at the sensation, and he couldn’t think of anything beyond complete bewilderment at what was happening.

Draco had kissed someone before -- he wasn’t that much of an immature twit. After the Yule Ball in Fourth Year, Pansy had let him kiss her until her lips were swollen out in the gardens once Snape had stopped his rounds, and he could still remember how she tasted and how he’d felt afterwards.

This was nothing like that.

Potter’s mouth was awkward on his, a brush of wet mouth and the faintest hint of stale breath, but Draco could feel it down to his toes, shivering with the touch of it. He could only take in snapshot details: he was breathing sharply through his nose, Potter’s hand was on his forearm, burning through his clothing, his belly was warm with want, and Potter’s mouth was insistent on his.

It may have lasted a solitary second, or it could have been going on for hours -- Draco had no earthly clue. When Potter pulled away, he felt the separation deeper than it ought to have been, and he very nearly surged forward just to regain that feeling that had been like doing the most spectacular magic.

Then suddenly reality hit again and Draco’s eyes shot open even though he wasn’t even aware that he’d ever closed them. For a second, he was sure that he was having some sort of bizarre nightmare brought on by too much rich food, but everything felt too real to be imagined, even though he waited to wake up.

Potter looked equally shocked, sitting back on his haunches with two fingers pressed to his lips as though he couldn’t believe where they’d just been. For once, Draco was in full agreement with him.

“What the bleeding hell was that?” Draco screeched as soon as he regained composure, scrambling backwards off of the bed so quickly that he almost fell on his arse.

“I don’t know,” Potter said dazedly. “It seemed right at the time.”

“Seemed right at the time?” Draco demanded. “Seemed right at the time? Potter, there is absolutely no right time for you to be getting that close to me. Ever.”

Potter went so red that it looked painful. “I didn’t mean for it to happen,” he defended. “And besides, you weren’t exactly pulling away, were you?”

“Only because I was too shocked to react properly,” Draco shot back.

“That’s a load of dragon dung,” Potter said hotly. “Admit it. You liked it. You very nearly kissed me again, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know what kind of delusional world you’ve been living in, Potter, but I’d rather kiss a flobberworm.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Malfoy,” Potter sneered.

“Let’s get one thing straight, Potter,” Draco said, pointing a finger straight at his face. “I am not a bleeding fairy. You stay away from me.”

“You’re the one in my dormitory,” Potter said loudly. “It’s not like I forced you to come up here.”

“No, you just forced me to kiss you against my will,” said Draco.

“I did no such thing,” Potter yelled, waving his arms. “You weren’t struggling against it or anything, Malfoy! Far from it!”

“You are never to do anything like that to me again,” Draco said heatedly.

“Gladly,” Potter huffed. “I don’t even know why I did it in the first place.”

“Good,” Draco said, turning on his heel. “Now if you’re done proving to me why I hated you in the first place, I’m going to go to bed.”

“That I’m graciously letting you use,” Potter reminded him.

“After that display,” said Draco haughtily, “it’s the least you could do for me.” He flounced onto Potter’s bed and immediately pulled the curtains around him, yanking so hard that they almost came off of their rings. He flung himself down onto the bed, fuming, and it was nearly an hour before he remembered that he’d never retrieved his wand from where it had fallen on the floor. Even though he missed it like he would his right hand, he didn’t dare poking his head out and coming face-to-face with Potter again.

That’s it, he told himself. No more favors from Gryffindors. It only ever results in trouble.

* * *

Christmas holiday ended with just as much fanfare as it had begun with, which was to say, none at all. Draco spent the last couple of days ignoring Potter as much as possible, which was considerably easier than it had been before their debacle on Christmas night. Draco highly suspected that that was Potter’s doing as much as his own, and he didn’t argue.

Draco had refused to return to the Gryffindor common room, and Potter hadn’t found him to ask him to return, so he was once again holed up in the Room of Hidden Things, which had thankfully been abandoned by Filch. Even for a magic room, it wasn’t as comfortable as the Gryffindor dormitories had been, which Draco found to be incredibly galling and indescribably irritating.

The castle was unbearably overcrowded when all of the students returned from home, and Draco quite missed the solitude. Classes restarted with aplomb, and Draco rebuffed Granger’s questions about his holiday so harshly that Weasley tried hexing him, which, thanks to Weasley’s abysmal aim, did more damage to a nearby sculpture than it did to Draco himself. Still, Potter was being as distant as ever, Weasley was acting as though Draco had tried to kill his entire family, and Granger was stubbornly trying to get back in his good graces, even though he knew that she had no idea what she was supposed to have done wrong.

“Did something happen between you and Harry over holiday?” she asked pointedly a few minutes before Arithmancy started, which gave Draco no escape besides blatantly ignoring her.

“None of your business,” he snapped.

“Seeing as you’re being incredibly rude to me and something’s up with Harry, who happens to be one of my best friends, I think it actually does qualify as my business,” she said.

“Keep your nose out where it’s not wanted,” Draco said. Thankfully, Professor Vector chose to start class early, so he was spared the rest of the conversation, and the second that the lecture ended, he swept off to his next class, blending into the crowd so as to avoid Granger’s probing questions.

Annoying Gryffindors aside, Draco reinstated his practice of keeping as close an eye as possible on Nott, who unfortunately hadn’t learned the art of being unsubtle over break and was as mysterious as possible, with just a bit of cruelty thrown in. As soon as he figured out that Draco had adapted as well as he possibly could have to being denied access to the Slytherin common room, he let the password slip in front of Draco at dinner one night. As suspicious as he was about the obvious invitation back into his own bed in the dormitory he was supposed to sleep in, Draco felt that it would show an unnecessary amount of weakness to avoid the Slytherins any longer.

Then things started to get properly strange, because Draco had been expecting a slew of unpleasantness once he joined Slytherin ranks again, but he was being left alone, ignored at every turn, even by Professor Snape. There was no way he could take this sitting down, because he could feel the threat behind the peacefulness, and every time he was around his house-mates, his ears prickled with the surety that someone somewhere was talking about him. The rumor that he’d been more friendly than usual with Potter over Christmas had spread like floo-fire, but apart from a snide comment or two, there was no comeuppance from that.

It was incredibly unnerving.

By the end of January, Draco was exhausted at the sheer amount of effort he was putting into his personal life, not to mention schoolwork, so when a Hogsmeade weekend was announced, he elected not to go, especially since it was positively frigid out. He welcomed the quiet and the break from spying Slytherins and prying Gryffindors and the looks Potter kept shooting him when he wasn’t looking.

He should have known that it wouldn’t last though. When he awoke the next morning, late for a Sunday, and left his room, the entire castle was in a tizzy about a missing boy. Draco had no one to ask for details, but he sat close enough to Pansy at lunch to hear the full story: a third-year Hufflepuff, dared by his friends to try and purchase a firewhisky from the negligent bartender at the Hog’s Head, had never returned to school.

It was highly suspicious, and without thinking about it, Draco immediately focused his attention on Nott, trying to see if he had any indication of smugness or satisfaction on his face, but it was as stony as ever, perhaps a bit ashen. The whole thing wasn’t sitting well in Draco’s stomach, but seeing as he had less to go on than he’d had before when he’d accused Nott, there wasn’t much he could do about it. That, however, didn’t stop Potter from cornering him, once again pinpointing Draco’s precise location without so much as a hint to how he knew.

“I need to talk to you,” he hissed under his breath, and Draco was highly aware of a gaggle of Slytherin fifth-years who were only a wand’s breath away.

“I think not, Potter,” he said, soft enough that it didn’t carry.

“Tough,” Potter snapped, and he hauled Draco down the haul by the bicep, pulling strongly as Draco tried to resist.

“What is with you and Muggle violence?” Draco huffed, pointing his wand at Potter’s sternum in delayed retaliation once they were enclosed in what seemed to be an ill-kept storage closet.

“Maybe if you weren’t so bloody aggravating,” Potter retorted, and then he started to pace the room, which was a feat in and of itself, seeing as it was possibly the smallest place Draco had ever been enclosed in.

“Well spit it out already,” Draco drawled. “Or did you really drag me in here for nothing? I wasn’t lying when I said I didn’t want to talk to you, you know.”

“You’re going to talk,” Potter said agitatedly. “You have to know something.”

“I know a great deal of things,” Draco said, shuffling, “but somehow I don’t think that’s what you wanted to find out.” He was beginning to feel that being trapped in such a small area with Potter was a very bad idea, considering what had happened the last time they’d been in such close proximity to one another, and if Potter wasn’t blocking the door, Draco would have burst out already.

“The Hufflepuff,” Potter said abruptly. “David Gray. The one who’s gone. What do you know about it?”

Draco immediately backed himself against a shelf, wincing as something cut into the tender flesh of his shoulder blade. “You’re not serious,” he said disbelievingly. “I didn’t have anything to do with that.”

Potter blew his fringe out of his eyes frustratedly. “I wasn’t suggesting that you had. But you’re back in the Slytherin common room, aren’t you?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Draco’s eyes narrowed as something occurred to him off-handedly. “And how do you know that anyway? How is it exactly that you’re keeping such close tabs on me?”

“You tell me something useful, and maybe I’ll let you know,” Potter said cryptically. “And I’m sure you must have heard something filtering around. I know how Slytherins feel about Hufflepuffs. When we first met, didn’t you say that you’d rather be chucked out of school than be one?”

“That doesn’t mean we go around bragging about how we made them disappear,” Draco said, outraged. “I haven’t heard anything, Potter. There’s no one in my house who’s showing off the fact that they kidnapped a thirteen-year old boy. No one’s that stupid, besides.”

“It has to be someone in your house,” Potter plowed on.

“Oh, yes,” Draco sneered. “Because only Slytherins are capable of being evil-doers. What was that about your godfather and his friend? Death Eaters, weren’t they?”

“Don’t talk about my godfather like you knew him,” snarled Potter. “He was never a Death Eater.”

“Don’t make presumptions that you can’t back up with fact,” Draco said harshly. “I haven’t heard anything, Potter. And besides, Hogwarts students aren’t the only ones allowed in Hogsmeade, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Potter’s face instantly darkened, like he’d already considered the possibility and rejected it on the basic principle that he didn’t want to think about it. “I know,” he said curtly, and even though he was only being pragmatic, if maybe in a macabre way, Draco felt the tiniest pang of guilt.

Draco heaved a great sigh and leaned against the wall, adopting a leisurely stance to hide his tension. “I don’t know what to tell you,” he said, looking at a spot just above Potter’s shoulder where a spider was idling spinning its web. “I probably know just as much as you do. Less even, considering I had to eavesdrop to even know why everyone was so upset.”

“Everyone’s upset because a thirteen year old student disappeared without a trace,” Potter snarled.

“Yes, yes, very sad,” Draco drawled. “But I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

Potter laughed in a very humorless sort of way. “I should’ve known that you wouldn’t show any compassion.”

“It’s a sign of weakness,” Draco said flatly.

“Or so you think,” Potter said. “In any case, I think you should keep a closer eye on Nott. And Crabbe and Goyle, even though I don’t think they’re smart enough to plan their way out of an Invisibility robe without additional help.”

“Brains aren’t always the answer to everything,” Draco said, even though he quite thought Crabbe and Goyle were only good when they were using their brute strength in a beneficial way.

Potter huffed. “Whatever, Malfoy. Maybe if you were better at finding out what your old friends are doing, this kid wouldn’t be missing.”

That stung in a way that made Draco instantly angry. “I’m sorry, Potter,” he said hotly. “Am I not doing well enough for you? Not your good little spy, even though I’m working for nothing and getting all of the trouble for it?”

Draco was expecting a fight, maybe a comment that would give him enough reason to go for his wand, but instead, Potter stopped his pacing, took several deep breaths, and braced himself against the door. “That was unfair,” he muttered, almost as though it was physically painful to admit that he’d done anything wrong.

“Glad to know you finally see reason,” Draco spat. “Now, if that’s all, maybe you’ll do me the favor of letting me out of this Circe-forsaken cupboard?

Potter laughed again, and the sound made the hairs on the back of Draco’s neck stand up. “It’s funny,” Potter said, mainly to himself.

“What is?” Draco asked stiffly. “How long it’s taking you to move so I can get out of here?”

“No,” Potter continued, waving the hand he was holding his wand with absently in the air, causing the faintest rush of red sparks to light the darkness. “How every time I talk to you, you’re still the same prick as always -- ”

“Well, you are too,” Draco snapped.

“ -- and I can’t seem to stop thinking about you. How aggravating you are, and how you make no sense.”

“Same goes for me,” Draco said. “How you’re so self-righteous and think that everyone should bow down to you.”

“You’re bigoted,” Potter said, stepping forward dangerously. Draco was too excited from the conflict to notice.

“You’re naive,” Draco countered, mimicking Potter’s moves unconsciously.

“Arrogant,” Potter said, and he was getting too close.

“Reckless,” Draco said breathlessly. “Never think things through.”

“I should hate you,” Potter whispered, so near that Draco could feel the heat from his skin. “Everything you stand for is everything that’s wrong with this school, and I shouldn’t find one thing about you that I don’t dislike.”

“You should hate me,” Draco said. “I hate you.”

“No you don’t,” Potter said, impossibly soft, and Draco had just opened his mouth to retaliate, to insist that he loathed Potter with every ounce of magic he possessed, but it was too late because Potter was kissing him.

Just like last time, Draco couldn’t get his senses around him to stop the fanfare, and even if he’d been thinking straight, there was a distinct possibility that he wouldn’t change anything. Potter was kissing with this pent up rage and desperation that Draco felt every waking moment, and it made the magic in his blood sing with power, crackling just under the surface.

Potter took no prisoners, bringing his hands up to Draco’s jaw to maneuver it just so, and Draco was letting his mouth fall open wider, feeling the touch of Potter’s tongue and the sting as Potter let his teeth dig into the fullness of Draco’s lower lip. It was violent and terrible and everything Draco was looking for, and he felt his hand twist in the fabric of Potter’s robe of its own accord as their teeth clacked together.

Draco didn’t want this, he didn’t, but he did at the same time, and even though it was too warm in this stupid cupboard, so bloody stifling, he needed to be as close to Potter as he could, arching into Potter’s warmth as he felt Potter’s tongue moving against his, sensuous and so fucking angry.

This time, it was Potter who broke away first, but he did it without the violence of his previous action, breathing hard and tilting his forehead just so, brushing the very top of Draco’s shoulder.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” Potter mumbled. “This isn’t supposed to be my life. I’m not supposed to be thinking about you like this.”

“Then you should stop,” said Draco, his voice wrecked and ragged, because Potter just had to bring everything to surface like this, especially since Draco had been trying his hardest to ignore it.

“I can’t,” Potter said. “I’ve tried. You don’t understand. I have so many more important things to think about, and I can’t stop thinking about you.”

“Far be it from me to keep the famous Harry Potter from saving the world,” Draco said, but his words lacked their usual bite.

Potter said something so softly that even Draco couldn’t hear him before backing up so they were no longer touching.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said, low and fervent, and then he was gone.

* * *

Draco spent the next week in a very confusing place, which was something he didn’t appreciate in the slightest. Potter kept sneaking glances whenever he thought Draco wasn’t looking, and Granger had this air about her that was incredibly annoying, and even though Draco wished as hard as he could to be left alone by meddling Gryffindors, his Arithmancy project was picking up and Granger was in a mood that wasn’t able to be deterred.

Up until Friday, Draco thought that if he had maybe the tiniest spark of luck, Potter would take the hint and leave him alone until summer holidays, but such was not the case. The Hufflepuff boy, the one who’d gone missing in Hogsmeade and started a panic about the safety of Hogwarts and the students, appeared outside of the Three Broomsticks, startling Madam Rosmerta and generally causing a school-wide magic-storm of gossip.

The kid was whole and unharmed, although he had no memory of his missing week. For a while, people were saying that Dumbledore would figure it out, break through the memory charm or whatever it was that was causing the boy to be completely oblivious, but nothing ever came of that, as far as Draco knew.

On his end of the problem, Draco wasn’t so much concerned with Hufflepuffs who couldn’t keep out of trouble, but he was keeping as close an eye on Nott as he could without inviting retaliation, because something was brewing beneath the surface like a badly-made potion; Draco was sure of it. He longed to get Nott for something, sell him out to Potter or Snape or perhaps even Dumbledore, because he still saw the reminder of what Nott had done to him in the bathroom mirror every time he changed, and Malfoys were not so easily trifled with.

Nott was being as evasive and blocked off as he could possibly be, but Draco unintentionally did his bit of spying one Thursday night, so late it was early. He’d fallen asleep in an armchair in the very corner of the room, sunk so low into the cushion that his head was not visible over it, and he was startled awake when a low murmur permeated the silence.

“I dunno,” someone was saying, and it was definitely Goyle; there was no chance Draco didn’t recognize his voice. “This’s gettin’ risky. Could get in a lot of trouble, we could.” Draco’s ears immediately perked up, and he sunk lower into his chair.

“It’ll be worth it,” said someone else, who absolutely sounded like Crabbe. “‘S’that why you woke me up? Goyle, we’ll be killin’ Mudbloods in no time as long as we keep this up. ‘S’what we always wanted, innit?”

Draco’s heart began to pound triple-pace in his chest, because trust Crabbe and Goyle to be so dim as to discuss an incriminating plan right out in the open. He almost wished Nott would wake up and investigate their absence, because the fall out would be spectacularly entertaining. But only after Draco had heard his fill, of course.

“But Nott’s having trouble, and if this goes wrong and we get caught...” Goyle said hesitantly.

“We’re not getting caught,” said Crabbe derisively. “Dumbedore’s too old and stupid and sick to notice what’s going on under his nose. He’ll be gone soon enough anyway.”

“Gone,” Draco mouthed silently to himself. He didn’t like the sound of that word, or the way it settled in his stomach and soured in his mouth.

“But Nott’s plan -- ” Goyle said impatiently.

“Is gonna be fine,” Crabbe finished brusquely. “Now quit your worrying, or I’ll tell Nott and he’ll make you as sorry as Malfoy is, won’t he?”

“I guess,” moped Goyle. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“We’re going to be rewarded so well when this happens,” Crabbe said grandly. “And then you’ll feel really stupid for being such a pansy.”

“Okay,” Goyle said, and he sounded maybe a little more heartened than he had been.

“Now I’m goin’ back to bed,” Crabbe said. “Don’ wake me up ‘gain unless it’s for something important.”

“Okay,” repeated Goyle, and Draco practically held his breath as he listened to the lumbering footfalls that was Crabbe going up the stairs. It took Goyle nearly a half an hour longer to get up, his steps much quieter and subdued.

Although he hadn’t gotten much to go on, Draco’s stomach felt like it was full of Cornish pixies, and he had trouble sitting still. He supposed he could always go up to his own bed and try and sleep, but he didn’t want to alert anyone to the fact that he hadn’t been in the dormitory all along, especially not if Crabbe and Goyle were as deep into things as it seemed like they were. Resigned to it, Draco spent the rest of the night in the armchair, dozing fitfully when he wasn’t thinking about telling Potter about what had happened.

* * *

Draco stole out of the common room as soon as dawn broke and after-hours curfew was lifted, heading down straight away to the Great Hall. He was exhausted and in worse spirits than he’d been after his little discovery, because after an hour’s worth of excitement, he’d realized two things: he didn’t actually have very much to go on in the way of useful information, and he’d actually gotten anxious about talking to Potter, which obviously signaled the end of the world, at least in Draco’s eyes. Still, he sat very calmly at the Slytherin table, picking at breakfast and pretending to finish some last minute homework, keeping one eye on the Gryffindor table at all times.

Even though Potter and Weasley came down relatively early, Draco was careful not to show any indication that they were who he’d been looking for. Potter immediately stared at Draco, blushed, and looked away, which set something fluttering in Draco’s chest that he didn’t want to examine too closely. He let Potter leave and sat still for five minutes before he got up himself, brushing crumbs from his lap and making an unhurried pursuit.

Potter had disappeared in the labyrinth of hallways, and Draco took his time wandering around. After all, he knew that Potter would be in Potions class that afternoon, and as long as he was stealthy about it, he could get Potter’s attention without Nott noticing.

But for once, it seemed that luck was on Draco’s side, because he saw the briefest glimpse of black hair when he neared the library, and sure enough, Potter was on his way somewhere, talking animatedly with Weasley. Truth be told, he would much rather get Potter alone (and he wasn’t examining the reason why too closely, because he’d just eaten and he’d rather not get sick) but short of sabotage, he didn’t see how he could manage it.

Draco doubled his pace, because Potter may have been used to keeping up with Weasley’s freakishly long stride, but Draco wasn’t quite there yet, and when the hallway cleared of the stragglers that were heading in different directions, he made his move.

“Oi, Weasley,” he said, loud enough to carry but not quite at the level that he would be commanding attention from someone other than his quarry. “I heard that you managed to get a P in Charms this past week. Your mother must have been so proud, if you even had the gold to send her some post, that is.”

Predictably, Weasley whipped around, his freckled face already turning a mottled red from rage.

“At least my mother still loves me, Malfoy,” Weasley sneered in a passable impression of a Slytherin, and Draco steeled himself against the flinch he wanted to make, because he would never admit to Weasley getting the better of him.

Potter, for his part, merely sighed and rolled his eyes, though Draco could swear he saw just the tiniest bit of amusement lurking in the curl of Potter’s mouth. “What do you want, Malfoy?” he asked.

“I think I’ve got some information that you might find useful,” Draco said haughtily.

Weasley snorted, his face still tomato-red. “I doubt that.”

Draco shrugged and pivoted on his foot so he was facing the opposite direction. “Suit yourself,” he said over his shoulder.

Draco was barely one pace-length down the hall before Potter said, “Malfoy, wait!” Draco smirked to himself, rolling his shoulders in the satisfaction that was a well-played ploy before schooling his face into something more serious and turning around again.

“I thought your little bodyguard ginger didn’t want me speaking to you,” he said delicately.

“Don’t be an arse,” Potter said. “You obviously have something that you think I want to hear, and I want to hear it. So spit it out.”

“Out in the open?” Draco said. “What kind of fool do you think I am?”

“You know, it’s really funny how we always end up in closets or abandoned classrooms to talk,” Potter said drily.

“When did you end up in a closet with him?” Weasley asked, aghast.

Potter’s cheeks turned a delicate shade of pink, but he continued as if he hadn’t heard what Weasley had said. “But there’s no one here, Malfoy. No one to overhear, so just spit it out already.”

“Have it your way,” Draco snapped, even though he was quite certain that they were alone -- this was, after all, one of the less-traveled corridors in the castle. “Keep an eye out though. I’m not getting in trouble because precious Potter couldn’t find a safe place to talk.”

“Get on with it, Malfoy,” Weasley said impatiently.

“Fine then,” Draco huffed. “Nott’s definitely up to something. Something bad. I heard Crabbe and Goyle talking about it last night in the common room.”

“You guys aren’t still on this, are you?” Weasley said, shooting Potter a surprised look. “I thought you gave this up months ago! Didn’t Hermione say that there was no way that Nott would be expected to do anything for You-Know-Who?”

“Shut your mouth, because you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Draco said flatly.

“So you really think Nott is a Death Eater? Even though he’s not a full-fledged adult yet? Are you crazy, Malfoy, or just stupid?”

“I think I know a little more on the subject than you do, Weasley,” Draco snapped.

“That’s not something to brag about, is it?” Weasley countered.

“Enough,” Potter said. “Ron, stop egging him on. Malfoy, there’s got to be more to the story than that. Didn’t we already know this?”

“I think I know what they’re planning,” Draco said in a rush. Weasley’s eyebrows were raised so high they had disappeared into his fringe, and he had the most amusing expression of incredulity on his face, but Potter was dead serious.

“What is it, then?” Potter asked.

“I know they’re planning on killing Dumbledore soon. As soon as possible,” Draco said gravely. He’d told Potter this before without confidence, and even now he wasn’t sure where he’d got his initial inkling of this plan, but now he was sure.

Weasley immediately burst out in laughter, his guffaws echoing off of the stone walls in the most grating way. “You’re joking! You can’t really think that Nott and Crabbe and Goyle are going to off one of the most brilliant wizards alive?”

“I didn’t say they were going to succeed,” Draco said, his mouth tightening into a scowl. “I just said that that’s what they’re planning to do. Didn’t Potter tell you?”

“Malfoy,” Potter said slowly, “are you sure? It doesn’t exactly make sense, now does it? How have they come up with a plan already? What is it?”

“I just know that they’re going to do it. I don’t know how, or when, but it’s coming. Goyle’s getting cold feet.”

Weasley scoffed, but Potter only looked plaintive, his brow furrowed. “You don’t really believe this, do you, Harry?” Weasley demanded, looking affronted. “It’s Malfoy. He’s trying to trick you, because he’s the same sorry git he always was.”

“I don’t think you should be the one passing judgement,” Draco said smoothly. “I at least have some class, Weasley.”

“Oh, stop it, both of you,” Potter snapped. “Ron, he may be a prat, but he does sometimes have useful information.”

“It’s a load of bollocks! I can’t believe he told you this before and you never thought to let me and Hermione know,” Weasley protested.

“Potter knew you two would be too thick to believe it,” Draco scoffed.

“One more word,” Weasley threatened, brandishing his wand. “One more word, and I swear you’ll regret it.”

“Oh, I’m scared now,” Draco huffed lightly, not even letting his hand fall to the pocket his wand was in.

“Ron’s right,” Potter said suddenly, brusquely. “You really are a pain in the arse.” He grabbed Weasley’s wand arm, pulling him away from a confrontation, even though Weasley was obviously loath to go. Something nasty boiled in Draco’s stomach, because Potter should not be ignoring him like that, not if Draco had anything to say about it.

“Make sure Weasley actually bathes sometime this week,” he called out after Potter’s retreating back, taking savage pleasure in the way that Weasley’s shoulders tensed at the insult. “And I’m not lying you, know.”

Potter didn’t even acknowledge that anything had been said, leaving Draco to stew alone in the hallway.

* * *

Draco was hardly in the mood for class after his exchange with Potter, too riled up by the blatant dismissal, so he skived off class. As it was, he felt like being alone in a non-hostile territory, so he headed to the Room of Hidden Things, slinking around corners so he’d be less likely to be noticed.

He was on his second pass by the tapestry when he heard someone groan in impatience. He immediately whirled around and felt his scowl settle into stone.

“Don’t you have better things to do that follow me around?” he asked viciously, showing Potter his back just as Potter had done to him earlier in the day.j

“I’m not following you,” said Potter, equally angry. “I have just as much right to the Room of Requirement as you do.”

“Tough luck, Potter,” Draco sing-songed, turning so he could make his third and final pass before the door appeared before him. “I was here first.”

“Way to be a first year,” Potter snarled. “I’m the one who found out about it from Dobby, so I should be the one to be able to use it whenever I like.”

“Who on earth is Dobby?” Draco said, raising one eyebrow. “Wait, scratch that. I don’t particularly care. Just because you think you’re entitled to everything good in this world doesn’t mean I have to want to give you it. And I don’t even know why you’re so mad at me in the first place! I was just giving you what you wanted, wasn’t I? A little insight into my nasty, Slytherin universe.”

“Shove it, Malfoy,” Potter said, just as the door formed in the wall, shimmering slightly with the magic of it. “I’m going in.”

“Not if I get there first,” Draco said hotly, because this had suddenly become a contest he was unwilling to lose. Somehow, in a pique of immaturity, he found himself practically shoving through the entrance to the Room of Hidden Things, Potter a struggling weight digging into his shoulder. As luck would have it, they both stumbled in, Draco tripping and falling to his knees, hard.

Potter, of course, was on his feet, and the door slammed behind them. The room was a mottled mixture of green, red, and gold, and it made Draco’s skin crawl as he got slowly to his feet.

“Get out,” he said lowly.

“No,” Potter said, not looking at him. “I’m happy right where I am, thanks.”

“Well I’m not,” Draco said, literally shaking with rage. “Get out.”

“You aren’t the boss of me, Malfoy,” Potter challenged. “You can’t tell me what to do.”

“I can make you do it,” Draco said, and before Potter could respond, Draco was whipping his wand through the air, a hex spilling from his lips with only the slightest hesitation.

Potter, always quick on his feet, did some sort of rolling maneuver that enabled him to just miss the pathway of Draco’s spell. “You always did play dirty,” Potter called behind a makeshift shelter that had sprung out of the ground the second Draco had cast his curse.

“I never claimed to,” Draco said, slowly edging to one side so he could hope to catch Potter kneeling on the ground in a vulnerable position. “You, on the other hand, are the Gryffindor. What are you doing hiding in the middle of a fight anyway?”

“I’m not hiding,” Potter said, and he sprung from his place in some sort of animalistic leap, startling Draco enough that he practically lost grip on his wand as he took two hasty steps backwards. Potter barreled into him with enough force to send Draco toppling to the ground, Potter fully on top of him.

“What are you, some kind of heathen?” Draco grunted, struggling against Potter’s hold. “Are you a wizard, or aren’t you?”

“There’s a certain sort of satisfaction,” Potter huffed, successfully trapping Draco’s hands and pinning them to the ground on either side, “in beating someone down like this.”

“If you’re a Muggle,” Draco said derisively. “Potter, let me go!”

“You’re the one who started this,” Potter said. “And now I’m finishing it.”

“What precisely are you talking about?” Draco demanded. “You’re the one who’s been in a mood all day. You’re the one who won’t bloody well leave me alone.”

“Get out of my head, Malfoy,” Potter warned dangerously. “I’m not doing this.”

“I don’t want to be in your head,” Draco said. “Let go of me.”

“I can’t trust you,” Potter said. “I don’t know if you’re stringing me along, or if I’m playing right into your game, and it’s driving me insane. I can’t do it.”

“Stop being such a coward,” Draco spat. “I’ve been nothing but up front with you, and you know it. Just because you’ve started feeling a different way about me, and I don’t even know why, doesn’t mean that I’m the bad guy here.”

Potter took a deep breath and closed his eyes, but his grip on Draco’s wrists didn’t slacken. “I don’t want to feel like this,” he said softly.

“I can’t help that,” Draco said.

“You should try,” Potter said. “I should try.” It was barely a second before, for the third time, Potter’s lips were on Draco’s again. Draco knew he should bite, thrash until he was free of Potter’s grasp and able to locate his wand again, but this kiss was so fundamentally different from the other two that he couldn’t help but gasp against it, letting his mouth fall open.

Wherein the first two times Potter kissed him, it was demanding and tough, nipping teeth and desperation, this one was soft, probing, tentative. Everything that Potter wasn’t, and it threw Draco for such a loop that he couldn’t even think of how to react beyond opening his mouth further and kissing back.

Potter’s tongue touched his, just the briefest of brushes, and Draco couldn’t help it -- he had to arch into Potter’s weight, make the kiss angry and brutal, because that was how Draco knew things to be. Potter didn’t rise to the bait, though, only responded to the plunging thickness of Draco’s tongue meekly, like he didn’t know what he was doing or where he was. It was enough to make Draco pull away, thunking his head painfully against the stone floor.

“Make up your mind, Potter,” he said, turning his head so he didn’t have to look him in the eye. “What do you want with me?” “I don’t know,” Potter said. “I don’t know.”

“Figure it out,” Draco snapped, still staring at a point somewhere to his left. Potter’s hands left Draco’s wrists suddenly, and there’d be bruises in the morning, Draco knew, but for some reason, Draco didn’t try to dislodge himself. He lay there, quietly pliant under Potter’s weight, waiting for the next move while trying to anticipate what he was going to do to counter it.

Potter’s hands at his cheeks were entirely unlike his mouth had been, insistently turning Draco’s face so it was back at front and center. Draco’s eyes flicked to Potter’s of their own accord, and he couldn’t look away, pinned as effectively by Potter’s gaze as he was by the heft of Potter’s lower body pressing him into the ground.

“Tell me the truth,” Potter said, “and I’ll believe you, and I won’t ask again. Are you on my side? Are you trying to help me? Or is this some kind of ruse to get my guard down before you strike? What’s your end-game?”

Draco wanted to be biting, to lie and make himself seem more sinister, less pathetic than he was in that moment, supine and at Potter’s mercy, but he couldn’t muster the resolve.

“I haven’t been lying to you,” he said, keeping his eyes fixed on Potter’s even though the discomfort of it made him want to run. “I don’t have an end game. I just don’t want to die on the wrong side.”

Potter’s gasp was quick and sharp in the stillness around them, like he hadn’t been expecting whatever it was that Draco had so willingly offered up. “Okay,” he said, slowly, rolling the word on his tongue as if he was afraid it would bite him. “Okay, I believe you.” And then, even quieter, “I trust you, Malfoy.”

Draco wanted to say, “You shouldn’t.” He wanted to do something that got him out from Potter’s grip and away from him, sequestered again, comfortable with his feelings. He wanted it to be Before, whatever Before was, back when he was still a Malfoy with friends and standards and Slytherin pride.

He didn’t do any of those things.

Instead, he brought his hands up so they framed Potter’s wrists, and Potter jerked, almost imperceptibly, but his fingers didn’t falter from where they were resting on the underside of Draco’s chin. He looked at Draco with trepidation, almost as if he thought that Draco was going to use some kind of force, try and make Potter get off of him. Draco didn’t do that, either, even though that would have been the smartest thing. The least damaging option.

Instead, Draco traced the skin of Potter’s hands in mindless circles, and did what he wanted to in that precise moment: raise up as far as he could, which was just far enough, and kiss Potter in the same way that he’d been kissed just a few minutes prior.

Potter reacted in much the same manner as Draco had -- full-fledged surprise -- and then he settled down, most of his weight now on Draco, and kissed back. Draco immediately felt unhinged, separated from his body, kissing Potter breathlessly. He strained to get as close to Potter as he could, because he could feel the sparks of magic at every point of contact, and even though he knew he should be asking himself just what in the name of Circe was he doing? but he couldn’t and he wouldn’t, so he kept kissing Potter like his life might very well spin off track if he stopped.

Time spun on, endless, as if they were stuck in the loop of it, the chain of a Time Turner. Draco didn’t notice the cool stone at his back or the dig of Potter’s wand into the soft flesh at his belly, but he could respond to the flush of arousal that was building in his stomach, strong and alluring and as powerful as he’d ever felt it. He would be embarrassed, caught out like this, like a teenager who’d accidentally overdosed on lust potion without realizing it, but he knew for a fact that Potter didn’t shove his wand down his trousers, and if what he was feeling, hot and hard and insistent at his hip, was what he thought it was, Potter was very much in the same boat as Draco.

Potter was the first to break away with a cut-off swear. Draco was breathing hard, though that might have been from the heft of Potter pushing him to the ground, but he couldn’t think of anything to say that would make sense, that wouldn’t come out in the wrong way.

“What are we doing?” Potter asked, and suddenly he was laughing, low and long and genuine. Draco refused to give him the satisfaction of laughing along, but it was ironic enough that he let a huff of amusement escape his mouth anyway.

“Defying the laws of magic,” he said dryly, and even though he knew he’d regret this later, would spend the entire night turning it over in his head, looking for something that would redeem him, he couldn’t help but be content in that one moment, pinned to the ground by his arch nemesis cum kissing partner.

Potter settled back on his haunches, finally getting off of Draco to the point where Draco could move again, and Draco most certainly did not utter a little whine of disappointment when Potter’s touch disappeared from his body.

Potter stood up, and Draco was still on the ground, flummoxed and confused, and reality was settling in again, making everything seem insurmountable and so fucking wrong.

“I don’t get you,” Potter said finally, pushing his fringe back from his forehead before removing his glasses to quickly clean them on his shirt. “Speaking of which, I don’t get me either.”

“It’s not that hard of a riddle,” Draco said, maybe a little more harshly than he’d anticipated, because he was on the ground, being lorded over by Harry Potter, the boy he’d just finished snogging even though he wasn’t entirely sure he liked him to begin with.

Potter’s mouth quirked in a self-deprecating smile and he shrugged half-heartedly. “It’s your call now, Malfoy. Your turn to make a decision.”

“Already made,” Draco sneered, his head clear of the dangerous muzziness that had settled when he’d been kissing Potter. “Stay away from me.”

“If you mean it,” Potter said off-handedly, but the quirk in his step proved that he didn’t believe Draco in the slightest as he turned and headed for the door. Three paces in front of it, he paused, and then turned halfway around.

“I believe what you tell me, you know,” he said. “About Nott? Keep an eye out, Malfoy, but don’t get hurt over it. It’s not worth it.”

“How touching,” Draco said, hoisting himself up onto his elbows so he could stare Potter in the face. “The Chosen One gives a dragon’s arse about me after all.”

“Just don’t want you to give him more of a reason to go through with whatever stupid plan he’s thinking up,” Potter said.

“Bite me,” Draco muttered, and then Potter was gone, leaving Draco on the floor and nothing but floating specks of dust in his wake.

* * *

After his disastrous time in the Room of Hidden Things, Draco made a pact with himself, and he was determined to keep it. Impossible as it was to avoid Granger, who was just as demonic about her schoolwork as ever and working Draco practically to the bone on their stupid term project, he could stay away from Potter as long as he played his Gobstones right. And Potter was sticking to his word too, because there were no more suspicious meetings after hours or in abandoned hallways, for which Draco was thankful.

However, as much as he stayed away from Potter physically, it was another thing entirely to stop thinking about him. And if there was one thing Draco didn’t care for, it was obsessing over something he shouldn’t, and it was driving him to the point of distraction.

When, for the fifth time in under an hour, he had to siphon the ink away from his parchment in order to delete yet another mistake he’d made on his section of Arithmancy homework, Draco knew that he needed to do something. He sighed loudly, resisting the urge to put his head down onto the table.

“You’re being an idiot,” Granger commented lightly, not even looking up from her book.

“Excuse me?” Draco said haughtily, because for all of the time they were now forced to spend together doing work, in no way, shape, or form did he consider Granger to be one of his friends, and as such, he couldn’t understand why she was talking to him like they had a relationship that wasn’t strictly professional.

“Don’t play dumb,” she said, underlining something viciously with her quill, as if her work had done her a great disservice. “You and Harry might think you’re acting subtle, but let me tell you, you aren’t.”

Draco’s stomach sank to his toes as quick as if someone had hit him with a Disembowelment Curse. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, with a finely acted air of indifference.

This comment finally warranted Granger’s full attention, and she raised her face enough so that Draco could see her eyes roll, fully dramatic in a way he hadn’t expected from her.

“Please,” she said. “Harry’s my best friend, and I’ve seen him look at you. And he used to talk about you all the time, stupid stuff, like how you were a prat and how he hated you, and on and on. But now he hardly ever talks about you at all, and he’s different, all business and schoolwork, and not Harry at all.”

“I fail to see why it’s my problem that Saint Potter has up and changed on you,” Draco sniffed. “I didn’t do anything to him.”

Granger scoffed and actually set her quill down, which was when Draco knew that she meant business. “I do talk to him, you know,” she said.

“I would never have guessed.”

“I know what happened between you,” she said, and Draco started so violently that he upset his ink bottle. “It’s not only nonverbal cues that I’m picking up on. I wormed it out of him two nights ago.”

Draco could feel himself turning pink against his will, an unsolicited reaction to his anger and humiliation. “He had no right,” Draco seethed, half under his breath and mostly for his own ears. Then, louder, he said, “I don’t know what sad sack story Potter’s been feeding you here, but he’s not the victim in this story. I didn’t start any of it.” He was deliberately vague, just in case Granger was fishing for clues instead of actually basing the conversation on fact, but her self-satisfied expression and the quirk of her eyebrow made Draco think differently.

“I know that too,” she said, a tad too loudly.

“Keep your voice down, Granger, you twat,” he spat, looking around wildly to make sure no one was listening to their conversation.

“I performed a Muffliato, don’t worry,” she said. “Ordinarily I hate that spell, but I figured this was an apt place for it.”

“A what?” Draco asked and then shook his head. “Oh, whatever, I don’t care.”

“In any case, Harry did tell me he was the one who kissed you first,” Granger said, matter-of-factly, and if Draco had had another inkwell to knock over, he would have.

“Practically molested me,” he hissed.

Granger made a pfft sound and rolled her eyes again. “I think someone’s in denial here, and it definitely isn’t me. You’re aware I did get the entire story from Harry?”

“Just his side though,” Draco said, clenching his fists underneath the table.

“Don’t paint yourself out to be a martyr,” Granger said, still high and mighty. “I’ve seen you looking at him too.”

“Only because I’m trying to figure out the best curse to hit him with once his back is turned.”

“That’s a lie, and we both know it.”

“Believe what you want,” Draco said coldly. “If that’s all, I’ll be going now, thanks.”

Granger actually had the gall to lay her hand on Draco’s forearm. “Don’t,” she said, even as Draco was whipping his arm out of her grasp, banging his elbow neatly on the chair back. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“We’re not friends, Granger,” Draco spat. “I’m not going to talk about this with you.” He started sweeping his books into his bag haphazardly, and he knew that he’d have a hell of a time separating things come that evening, but he could hardly care.

“I just wanted to tell you,” said Granger lowly, “that he really does like you. It’s not a game for him. And I think you like him back, and you’re just too afraid of the consequences to do anything about it.”

“Thanks for the advice, Granger,” Draco said, fixing her with a dangerous glare as he stood up to leave. “Please forgive me if I decide to completely ignore it.” Leaving, he could feel Granger’s eyes burning a patch into his back right up until he rounded the corner.

* * *

Now that Granger had pointed it out, it has caused Draco to actually pay attention to Potter whenever there came the off chance that they ran into one another. And Granger had been right, much to Draco’s dismay, because Potter was looking like a particularly pathetic crup who’d just been kicked whenever Draco caught a glimpse of him. And sometimes, when Draco looked up at just the right moment, he would catch Potter looking at him, an inscrutable expression on his face that just unnerved Draco even more.

But the most nerve-wracking bit about the entire situation? Draco couldn’t decide how he felt about it. He should hate it, should be taking the mickey out of Potter whenever he saw him, should be gloating over Potter’s lovesick demeanor. But he couldn’t, because he could feel something start in the base of his spine whenever he caught Potter’s eyes, something that smoldered into pixies in his stomach and put him on edge if he thought about it for too long.

It was becoming overwhelming, a distraction Draco couldn’t deal with, and he spent most nights thinking the whole thing over in his head. He kept telling himself that it was stupid to think about, because he absolutely couldn’t do anything with Potter. It wasn’t worth the risk, or the potential pitfalls, or the bad luck that seemed to follow Potter around like fate. But no matter what he told himself, it didn’t matter, because now that Potter had opened that gate, it was impossible to close again.

One Wednesday morning, Draco woke suddenly, very early, from a dream that he couldn’t remember, absolutely on edge. He lay in bed for a long while, trying to piece things together, attempting to soothe the ragged edges of his nerves that were making his heart beat twice as fast as normal, but nothing was working. For a second, he half-wished he could tell Goyle, or even Zabini, about what was going on without starting a house-wide let’s-make-Draco’s-life-a-living-hell campaign, because he needed some perspective on this situation that didn’t come from a Gryffindor.

But in the end, Draco couldn’t help it anymore, and he was sick to death thinking on the might-becomes to resist what he wanted to do, what he’d been resisting for the past fortnight. For all of her posturing and holier-than-thou attitude, the Mudblood had been right about one thing: Draco definitely felt something for Potter that went beyond their previous status as arch-enemies, something that had been born out of the grudging acceptance that had spawned between them.

Before he could talk himself out of it, Draco swung his legs out of bed, got dressed methodically, and made his way up to the owlery. His handsome eagle owl had never returned to him from the manor, so with a bit of luck and a couple of owl treats that he scavenged from a small barrel in the corner of the room, Draco was able to coax a school owl to come down from its post and deliver his letter.

The note proved much harder to write than anticipated, and by the time Draco had come up with something passable, there were about ten pieces of parchment crumpled on the floor and his hands were smeared with ink. It simply read: Potter, meet me in the Room of Hidden Things today at half past midnight. He didn’t sign it, unwilling to make it easy for someone else to read the missive and know who had written it, but his stomach still turned uneasily as we watched the owl take the letter in its beak and then go back up to its post to roost until it was time for mail to be delivered at breakfast-time.

Draco decidedly avoided Potter’s gaze for the entire day, unwilling to find out if Potter had come to the correct conclusion of the addressor of his hastily written message, and even though he nearly chickened out at least five times before midnight, nine o’ clock found Draco sequestered in a corner in the Room of Hidden Things, sitting haughtily in a chair even though it was hours before Potter was due to arrive. Draco tried every thought process he could to bar the room against unwanted visitors, asking it to only grant access to Potter, just in case someone else had come upon the note and decided to investigate for themselves.

By the time midnight rolled around, Draco was very stiff and oddly apprehensive, even though he was trying everything he could to calm himself down. He kept an eye on the time, checking his pocket watch every three minutes until it was reflex to play with the clasp of the cover, snapping it in and out of place by the second. Half past came and went, and Draco was beginning to think that Potter was deliberately skipping out on his request, something that was infuriating and distressing in turns.

When the door finally creaked open, it was so much of a surprise that Draco had to stop himself from falling out of his chair. Instead, he straightened up and schooled his face into the most indifferent expression he could, trying to brace himself against a situation that he had no idea how to handle. In fact, now that the time had come, he didn’t know what he was thinking, bringing Potter here in the first place.

Potter stopped five paces away from Draco’s chair, and he looked as tense as Draco felt, his cloak balled up in his hands, but Potter was nothing if not gutsy, and he looked Draco in the eye.

“You’re late,” Draco said, because it was the first thing that came to mind.

“Almost didn’t come,” offered Potter, running a hand nervously through his hair.

“That’s nice of you,” Draco huffed. “Not like I haven’t been doing you a favor by spying on my housemates to give you important information about your little war.”

“Can we not?” Potter asked, sounding uncharacteristically weak. “I didn’t come here to fight with you.”

That took the spark out of Draco for a second, because if he wasn’t fighting with Potter, he wasn’t entirely sure how to handle what was going on. “Why did you come, then?” he asked, ready for Potter to get the ball rolling because Draco had absolutely no idea what he was doing here.

Potter choked on a laugh and shrugged his shoulders. “I have no idea?” he said, phrasing it like a question. “Curious, I guess?”

The silence hung between them like something heavy and impenetrable, and Draco allowed himself to close his eyes for five blissful seconds, even though he knew when he opened them again that the situation wouldn’t have changed. “I don’t know what I’m doing here,” he said, lowly, exactly the opposite of what he wanted to say, because now Potter held the cards.

Except Potter must have been just as off-kilter, just as confused, because he only laughed his little, somber, unamused laugh and ran his hand through his hair again. “That makes two of us,” he said, looking somewhere just over Draco’s shoulder.

Even though it was a completely useless gesture, Potter’s complete and utter uncharacteristic meekness was enough to hearten Draco just a little bit.

“I hated you,” he started out, and that was a rough opening, but Potter’s shoulders relaxed the tiniest bit all the same. “You were everything that I shouldn’t want to associate myself with. Best friends with Weasleys and Mudbloods, the Dark Lord’s biggest enemy.”

“Don’t sell yourself to be the saint here,” Potter said, and there was a little more color in his voice, and this was what Draco was used to. “You would rather see half of this school die because they don’t have wizard parents. You’re rude and arrogant and racist--”

“You form the stupidest biases and opinions based on nothing,” Draco continued, his voice rising over Potter’s tirade. “You play tricks on people that are cruel--”

“You’ve done nothing but make my life miserable every time I see you,” Potter said, pointing his finger in an accusatory way towards Draco’s chest. “You tried to get Hagrid sacked about a million times, you lie, you cheat, you pick on first years--”

“You’ve ruined my life,” Draco said, so quiet that he almost thought that Potter hadn’t heard him, except Potter went impossibly still, his mouth closing with an almost audible snap right in the middle of his tirade. “This isn’t where I was supposed to be. I am a Malfoy. My place is helping my father with his cause, keeping allies in Slytherin close and my enemies in Gryffindor as far away as possible. Somehow you’ve managed to turn me so far around that I can’t get myself straight. I can’t even find a way to fix it.”

“Do you ever wonder if it’s better now, though?” Potter asked, taking one tiny step forward. “Instead of being what you were supposed to be, you’ve done something entirely on your own. Maybe this is how things were meant to work out.”

“Or maybe I was supposed to let you handle the Ministry on your own,” Draco countered. “Maybe I should’ve let my Aunt Bella kill you and all of your friends and get that stupid prophecy she was after.”

“But you didn’t,” Potter said. “You couldn’t. Even after five years of hating me, you couldn’t let it happen. What does that say about you?”

“That you fuck me up,” Draco said viciously. “Without even thinking about it, you’ve managed to make me just as much of an orphan as you are, and you couldn’t even stop there. You’ve made it so I can’t stop thinking about you and what you’re doing to me, and how I can’t stop it.”

“What are you going to do about it?” Potter croaked, and he looked like he wanted to move closer but he was just barely stopping himself from doing it.

“That’s the thing,” Draco said. “I don’t know. But you’re driving me crazy, and I can’t live like this. Not when I have about twenty Slytherins who want my head on a wand.”

“I gave you the choice for a reason,” Potter said. “You’ve got to make it. I’m not going to do it for you. I can’t.”

Draco stood there, hanging at the edge of a precipice for a very long time. Potter was still, looking at him with those intensely green eyes, and Draco’s heart was thundering so hard, it was all he could hear. The two choices he had were forefront in his head, and he was cycling through them so quickly, he was nearly making himself dizzy.

It didn’t matter, though. He knew what he was going to do the minute he’d walked into the room, and everything since then had only been stalling. Before he could give himself even one more instant of second thought, the moment he realized that he’d only been fooling himself because things were so fucked up they’d never be right again, Draco was taking three strides forward and forming fists in the loose fabric of Potter’s robes.

Potter tensed, like he thought Draco was about to push him or punch him, but all Draco said was, “God damn you, Potter,” and then Draco was hauling Potter close, crashing his mouth against Potter’s in a way that should have been awful and jarring but was anything but.

Potter’s mouth immediately opened beneath Draco’s, his voice stuck in something between a gasp and a moan, and even though he knew everything was against this, that it was the last thing he should have decided, Draco knew he’d made the right choice, because nothing had ever felt like this. Now that he’d decided to hell with it, he finally let himself focus on what he was doing, and it was everything he remembered intensified a million fold.

Potter’s hands had wormed their way under the front seam of Draco’s robes, catching on the shirt he was wearing underneath, and even though there was that added layer of clothing between Potter’s fingers and Draco’s skin, Draco could feel Potter’s touch brand him as if Potter was doing magic without his wand with the intent to burn Draco’s skin. Potter’s tongue was demanding, and it was all Draco could do to keep up, catching his teeth on Potter’s lower lip and arching into his heat, trying his damnedest to get as close as he could without letting any contact between them slide.

“Oh,” Potter said, the word lost between their lips, and Draco swallowed it like a benediction. It was as if his entire history between Potter was centered on this very instant, sharp and hot and powerful, and everything he felt was changing, twisting in on itself.

Draco didn’t know who pulled away first; it could have been a mutual act of separation, if he was honest, but he had to physically stop himself from closing the gap again. Potter’s glasses were smudged and askew and he looked just as disheveled as Draco felt on the inside, blinking at him as he licked Draco’s taste from his lips.

“Don’t do that,” Draco said faintly, because that wasn’t helping Draco’s resolve to keep his distance so he could regain function of his upstairs brain.

“I can’t help it,” said Potter, surging forward again and catching Draco’s mouth in another kiss that spanned an eternity and a second all at once, making Draco’s head spin with the headiness of it all. He wanted to sink down, pull Potter on top of him, and never stop kissing, and then maybe everything would be all right again. It would be as if the whole clusterfuck that was his life had never gone wrong, even though the mere fact that he wanted to continue kissing Potter of all people proved just exactly how screwed up things had gotten.

Potter seemed to be thinking along the same lines as Draco, because a couch sprung up out of nowhere, just to the right of them, and if it hadn’t grazed Draco’s thigh magicking itself into existence, Draco might not have realized anything had changed. Potter’s hands had moved to Draco’s biceps, and then he was being spun, and it was too much to keep hold of, Potter’s mouth and the sudden movement, and Potter was gone for the briefest of moments, falling back into the couch gracelessly, and Draco didn’t even think, couldn’t even be modest about it, just climbed on top of Potter, kneeling so he could straddle Potter’s hips, sinking into the cushions as he continued kissing Potter just as desperately as he could.

Potter’s hands were everywhere then, now that he’d gotten Draco where he wanted him, swarming over Draco’s back and down his sides, urging Draco to settle his weight more fully onto Potter’s lap, and Draco didn’t care that it might cause some unexpected issues to pop up, because Potter tasted like nothing Draco had ever experienced, and what they were doing was taking up too much headspace to account for any of his physical actions.

Their kiss was almost like a duel -- that was the only way to describe it -- both of them vying for control and taking what they could, and it was making something hot and twisting curl in Draco’s stomach. He could feel himself reacting to it in a purely teenage sense, as Potter’s hand drew sparks up and down his side, and it was getting too much, just to breathe and take everything in.

This time, Draco was sure that it was him who pulled away, drawing in a deep breath as he braced his hands on the back of the couch to keep his balance. Potter tried to chase after him, but Draco needed badly to clear his head, only allowing the faintest touch of Potter’s lips to his own before he was turning away and burying his face into Potter’s shoulder. It wasn’t what he’d planned on doing, but it was comforting, even if he did immediately sit up straight again after he’d figured out what he’d done.

“I don’t know what you’re doing to me,” he said, flatly, less of the accusation that he’d meant it to be.

“You’re doing it to yourself,” Potter murmured, his voice rough and low, its timbre causing Draco’s stomach to twinge pleasantly. Instead, ignoring the swollen expanse of Potter’s lips and the way his own felt raw and over-used, Draco leaned backwards and got his footing under him again, standing up on shaky legs. He was very tempted to turn around and adjust himself underneath his robes, but he was hardly going to give Potter the satisfaction of knowing that he’d gotten to him.

Potter’s voice, when it came, was softly curious. “Are we doing this then?” he asked, looking up at Draco through his fringe, almost, for a moment, looking like a small child.

Draco tried to convince himself that he dearly wanted to say no, but the decision had been made, hadn’t it? There was no going back for him now, now that he’d forged ahead on this road despite all of his best intentions not to.

“I guess so then,” he said, looking at the floor instead of at Potter. He was feeling distinctly like a Hufflepuff, shy and unsure, and he hated that, hated that Potter could have such an effect.

Potter stood up, brushing down his robes and looking uncomfortable from the glimpse Draco caught of him while he was decidedly not looking. “I’ll keep it quiet,” Potter said, like it was a promise he was making.

“You’d better,” Draco said, schooling his face into a glare and finally forcing himself to meet Potter’s gaze head-on. “I’m not going down for this.”

“Nor am I,” Potter said, squaring his shoulders, but then something quirked in his face, and he looked less stern than he had.

“For the record, Malfoy,” he said, “I’m glad this is what you chose.” He went bright pink, and Draco got the impression that he wasn’t the only one who said things he didn’t mean to when he was around Potter.

“For now, at least,” Draco said. “Who knows what I’ll do to you in the future. I have some nasty plans, you know.” It was a weak quip, an attempt to get them back on familiar territory.

“I have faith in you,” Potter said, shrugging a little. “And maybe -- maybe we should meet up this weekend? In here?”

“You’re so smooth, Potter,” Draco scoffed. “If I have time for you, I’ll let you know.” Draco turned to leave, determined not to be left alone again, and Potter seized his shoulder and pulled him back around, giving him one more kiss that seemed to plant Draco’s feet to the ground.

“You’ll have time,” Potter said, as confidently as he could, and Draco couldn’t suppress the shudder that went up his spine as he realized that, in fact, he probably would.

* * *

There was a dirty analogy that had been used by countless students at Hogwarts for as long as Draco could remember, and until now, it hadn’t been anything more than a source of abstract amusement. It had something to do with comparing someone’s house to how they shagged, and although Draco didn’t particularly remember the details, he could recall how some of the older students had, when he was young enough to be just the tiniest bit confused, said things along the lines of, “Cor, she was such a Hufflepuff in bed.” And even then, Draco could understand the distinction of that insult, because if there was anything a Slytherin wanted less, it would be a Hufflepuff.

Anyway, it had had something to do about how Ravenclaws were clinical, and Slytherins were cunning, and Gryffindors were courageous -- all of the same stereotypes that had been propagated since the beginning of Sorting. Draco hadn’t paid much attention to it, because he’d never been planning on having a relationship with someone who wasn’t of pure blood in a strictly Slytherin sense.

He was kind of wishing now that he’d paid attention.

The whole situation with Potter had blown up beyond Draco’s comprehension, try as he might to keep things under control. He was trying his best to play Potter, to always have the upper hand in...whatever it was that they were doing, use his Slytherin cunning to try and make things go his way. It hardly ever worked.

Whenever Draco tried to avoid Potter, or skip out on a meeting to show Potter that Draco could, in fact, live without him, Potter would find him, unless Draco was hiding away in his dormitory, which wasn’t the most ideal situation. And even if Draco managed to elude Potter, Potter would get him back -- would get Draco alone, kiss him until Draco couldn’t think beyond good and want and more and then he’d turn abruptly and leave. Draco was beginning to suspect that Potter had some Slytherin blood in him after all.

And things weren’t cooling off like Draco had hoped they would now that he’d capitulated and allowed himself to do just what he wanted. If anything, things were getting more intense, because feelings that had been fleeting before were intensifying, taking root in his chest like a particularly clingy Whomping Willow. And Draco couldn’t think too hard about what was happening, what Potter was doing to him, without feeling very suddenly adrift at sea with no hope of rescue. And even after telling himself that he wasn’t go to do anything with Potter anymore, countless times even, he still went back. It was beginning to be an alarming cycle, and he was at the point of giving up.

Between the dawn of spring, and with it the arrival of immense loads of work in preparation for year end exams even though they were months away, and Draco’s newfound company in Gryffindors, no less, time was spinning away from him. Granger kept shooting him knowing looks over her books whenever Draco deigned to work on Arithmancy with her, which was highly grating, and Weasley continued to be a dick, which was definitely par for the course. And even though he tried to act as normally as he had before anything had happened with Potter in public, he could feel his mask slipping. It was disarming and damn annoying.

One Thursday, after spending a very enjoyable hour hidden away on the Quidditch field with Potter and an aggravating fifteen minutes in the bathroom trying to get his hair to lie flat, Draco entered his dormitory to an unwelcome sight. Nott was leaning against the wall, just to the right of Draco’s bed, flipping through one of Draco’s school books that he’d left behind.

Draco immediately felt himself tense, because Nott had this lazy, self-satisfied smile on his face that didn’t sit well with Draco at all. “What do you want?” Draco asked tersely, and Nott looked up, his mouth widening into a full on grin, teeth bared and all.

“I was wondering when you’d come back up here,” he said, smooth as could be. “You’ve been away for quite a while, haven’t you?”

“It’s none of your business where I have or haven’t been,” Draco said viciously. “What do you want?”

“Maybe I just want to talk to you,” Nott said, shrugging. “Feel like we’ve grown apart in this past year.”

“Cut the dragonshit,” Draco said. “I’m still a Slytherin. I can see straight through you.”

Nott’s gaze sharpened. “Not to me, you’re not. You’re a filthy blood traitor.”

“Ho hum,” said Draco, feigning boredom. “Like I haven’t heard that one before.”

“You know,” Nott continued, haphazardly tossing the book back onto Draco’s bed. “I don’t get you, Malfoy.”

“And you never will, not with brains like yours,” Malfoy quipped, rolling his shoulders as though he was prepping for a duel.

Nott took a menacing step forwards that Draco absolutely did not react to. “I mean, hanging out with Gryffindors? With Mudbloods? There’s this most disgusting rumor about what you and Granger do in your spare time.”

Draco scoffed and raised one eyebrow. “Me and Granger? You can’t honestly believe that one, Nott? You may be dumb, but not even Crabbe is that idiotic.”

“We don’t know you anymore, Malfoy,” Nott spat. “Going against your father for fucking Potter. And now you hang around him all the time. Spreading Slytherin secrets, are we?”

“It’s none of your concern,” Draco said airily. “And don’t think I don’t know it was you who carved those words into my stomach.”

“You deserved it,” Nott said in barely more than a whisper.

Draco’s heart jumped into his throat at the confirmation; for all of his suspicions, he’d always liked to hold back for just one instant in truly believing that Nott had so quickly become capable of that level of evil.

“And you’ll get what’s coming to you,” Draco said, just as softly, reveling in the way Nott’s eyes narrowed.

“That’s not why I’m here,” Nott said, flippantly if not for the way his voice shook with badly concealed rage. “I just wanted to let you know that things are coming. Things that are bigger than you can imagine, if you catch my drift. And if you’re smart, you’ll stay out of them. You may have turned traitor, Draco, but you’re still a Slytherin. Keep out of my business. Stop sharing information with Gryffindors, and things just might not turn out quite as bad as they would otherwise.”

“You can’t tell me what to do,” Draco said flatly.

“Think of it as a friendly suggestion,” Nott sneered, backing away so he was in the center of the room. “You’ve chosen the wrong side, Malfoy. Just letting you know how things are now.”

“To each his own,” Draco said dangerously. “But don’t think I won’t be laughing at the end of this war when you’re in Azkaban, and it turns out I was right all along.”

“I guess we’ll see,” Nott said, the corner of his mouth twitching uneasily, and he swept off, his robes fluttering behind him.

* * *

Draco didn’t know why he never told Potter about Nott’s threats, about the fact that something was forthcoming because everything had already been said. He couldn’t substantiate any further information to Potter, but every time he caught Nott’s strained expression or Crabbe’s self-satisfied smirk from across the common room, his stomach churned unsettlingly. It was nothing more than a suspicion that Draco was harboring, nurturing in his head until it came to fruition to something he could share without thinking he was acting like a scared child.

Between trying to keep an eye on his erstwhile housemates, and, more importantly, his own back, and with whatever it was that was going on with Potter, all the while struggling with classes and assignments and the ever-looming threat of exams, Draco didn’t notice as March bled into April and then just as quick warmed into May.

“Should be studying,” Potter gasped into Draco’s mouth one warm June morning.

“Don’t care,” Draco grunted, leaning back to gain purchase. They were sequestered in the Room of Hidden Things, which had quickly become Their spot. Potter was worming a hand into Draco’s robes, his fingers brushing against the bared skin of Draco’s stomach, and Draco couldn’t help the shiver. No matter how long this travesty of a relationship lasted, his reaction was never less intense.

“I know,” Potter said, his lips curving into a smile against Draco’s as he began to rub Draco’s burgeoning erection through the thin material of his pants, ever the courageous Gryffindor.

This was as far as they’d gotten, which suited Draco just fine. Clandestine hand jobs hidden away in a magical room inside of the castle didn’t sound nearly as damning as sex would.

* * *

When it finally happened, Draco was not expecting it. Potter had skived off on one of their meetings without so much as a how-do-you-do, and he was seething, stalking into his common room and up to his dormitory so that if Potter should decide to show his face, Draco would be inaccessible. He didn’t know what he was walking in to until it was too late, interrupting a meeting between Crabbe, Goyle, and Nott, who were huddled in the center of the sixth-year dormitory. Nott’s wide grin, out of place on his tired face, sent pixies jumping alarmingly in Draco’s stomach, and he immediately turned to leave again, which was a stupid idea if he’d ever known one.

“On second thought,” he’d said, mainly to himself, and that was the last he could recall before everything went dark.

When he awoke again, his head was sore, and he was lying on the unyielding ground, Crabbe grimacing above him. “Don’t know why I gotta watch you,” he sneered, placing a well-aimed kick at Draco’s soft belly, rendering Draco breathless for a few startling seconds. Crabbe curled his lip and kicked Draco again.

“Poor ickle Crabbe,” Draco got out, as soon as he stopped gasping. “Forgot your magic so you have to fight like a Muggle now?”

“Shut your mouth, Malfoy,” Crabbe said, leveling Draco’s own wand at him. “If you hadn’t come sneaking around, I’d be fighting like a true Slytherin right now.”

“Crabbe, you can barely do first year spells,” Draco said, smirking even though his body ached with pain.

Crabbe laughed, a low, dull sound that did nothing to dispel the nervousness growing steadily beneath Draco’s skin. “The Death Eaters are in by now. Your new friends are in trouble.”

Draco’s heartbeat ratcheted up to the point where it was all he could hear, and his fear must have shown, because Crabbe only laughed again and turned his face towards the door, obviously eager to join whatever plan had been concocted by Nott. Draco lay very still, straining to hear any sign of whether Crabbe was just taking it out of him or whether he was serious, but there was nothing except for the heaviness of Crabbe’s breaths and the thundering of his own heart.

Crabbe obviously had other plans of where he wanted to be, because he was not taking as much enjoyment as he normally would have at the prospect of an unarmed prisoner. Every once in a while, he would deign to half-heartedly taunt Draco, or aim another physical attack Draco’s way, but his attention kept being diverted to the outside, which was all the distraction Draco needed.

When his last attack had rendered Draco with a spectacular bloody nose and Crabbe had once again turned his back on Draco entirely, Draco took his chance, steeling his strength. Crabbe was holding Draco’s wand motionlessly at his side, a rookie mistake, and as swiftly as he could, Draco rolled and grabbed at it, swiping Crabbe’s legs with the full weight of his body. It wasn’t enough to cause Crabbe to overbalance, but the surprise of the attack loosened Crabbe’s grip just enough for Draco to secure his wand and roll away.

Crabbe was already advancing on him, wand out, but Draco was quick in the same way that Crabbe was meaty, and when Crabbe’s nastily uttered hex swept uselessly over Draco’s head, Draco took aim and hit Crabbe square in the chest with a nicely timed Stunning spell. All things told, he would have preferred something a little more damaging, considering that his nose was still dripping blood, but the resounding crash of Crabbe falling to the ground was almost revenge enough. Once he’d struggled to his feet, Draco made sure to aim a kick at Crabbe’s face in retaliation for the abuse he’d suffered, and then he stood there, alone in the dormitory and dripping blood as he made his choice.

Draco knew he couldn’t stay in his house -- right now, if Crabbe had indeed been telling the truth about Death Eaters loose in the castle, and Draco believed he very well might have been, Draco was smack in the middle of enemy territory with a rather large bullseye painted on his back. That decided, Draco swiped a sleeve underneath his nose to try and blot some of the blood that was drying on his face, and then, ignoring the pang of pain in his bruised body, he prepared himself to dart out of his house.

He needn’t have worried, he discovered, as he cautiously crept down the stairs, because everyone gathered in the common room was enveloped in their own conversation and were barely giving him any attention. Most of the younger students had apparently gone to bed, but there were groups of older Slytherins hunched together and studiously away from the portrait hole that made Draco think that there was definitely something going on that everyone knew about. He made it across the room, sidestepping bags and keeping a death grip on his wand.

Once outside, Draco knew immediately what Crabbe had been trying so hard to hear. Although muted, Draco could identify the sounds of battle as clearly as if he were in the fray, and immediately he started shuffling through places he could go to hide.

And then his mind stuttered to a halt on one very important fact that he’d been overlooking. If there was a battle between Death Eaters and Hogwartsians, Potter was definitely in the middle of it. And even as Draco tried to tell himself that he didn’t care, that it was Potter’s own fault if he up and got killed by an errant Avada Kedavra, his feet were taking him away from the safety of the dungeons and up into the higher levels of the castle from which the majority of the noise was emanating.

For a moment, Draco was sure he was going to be sick, and the thundering grew louder, punctuated by someone’s ominously high-pitched laugh. With every step he took, he wanted to take two backwards, but some sick, morbid curiosity was pulling him onwards. He told himself it was because he needed to know what was going on and just who Nott had managed to sneak into the castle in the sense of self-preservation.

Except it wasn’t exactly the smartest move to be going towards the fanatics and their war instead of hiding in the dungeons like a proper Slytherin, but the other option was that Draco had become invested in Potter beyond their unhealthy quasi-relationship, and that wasn’t even a thought he could waste the time entertaining.

He was so preoccupied with how stupid he was acting that he almost missed it, nearly walked headlong into a situation that would have turned out very badly for his wellbeing. Just in time, he slowed his steps, quieting them, hearing a low murmur that sounded vaguely familiar.

“Let her go,” someone’s voice rang out, desperately, and that was what Draco had heard just moments before, the sound that had broken through the white noise in his head to entreat him to caution. Weasley, and he sounded like he was in trouble, not that Draco cared in the slightest.

With the tiniest steps imaginable, Draco began to sneak closer to the noise, which seemed to be around the corner and fortunately not in the midst of the raging duel that was taking place just one floor above.

“I wouldn’t, blood traitor,” someone else warned, her voice just loud enough to carry, and the hairs on Draco’s neck prickled, because he knew Aunt Bella when he heard her. “After what we did to your brother, I daresay you should stop being stubborn and just tell me where he is.”

“I don’t know,” Weasley yelled, and there was a sound of a struggle and a low, pained grunt.

“I won’t ask again,” Bellatrix warned, a note of amusement in her cold voice. “I will kill her, you know. Where is ickle Potter hiding? Surely he’s not going to let his friends die for him?”

“Okay, okay,” Weasley said, and his voice was breaking in a way that made Draco uncomfortable, just as he got close enough to the corner to peek around, careful not to be seen. It was indeed Bellatrix, and she had Granger clutched to her chest, her wand steadily aimed at Granger’s temple. Weasley was being held back by some large Death Eater that Draco recognized but couldn’t name, and they were so involved in each other that Draco knew he wouldn’t be seen unless he made a ruckus.

“Well?” Bellatrix asked, leaning forward and pressing the wand harder into Granger’s skin. “I’m waiting.” Granger didn’t even flinch.

“Don’t tell him, Ron,” she said sharply, gasping as Bellatrix slid an arm around her throat threateningly, cutting off her air supply with one sharp elbow.

“He’s in the common room,” Weasley burst out, his eyes fixed on Granger’s face. “We Petrified him because he wanted to fight, and we thought he should stay there.” Weasley’s story was laughably weak, and Bellatrix must have thought so too because her eyes narrowed.

“Fine then,” she said flippantly, “if you don’t want to tell me, then don’t.” With a quick movement, she had Granger on her knees and was raising her wand above her head.

Time slowed for Draco, even as he distantly heard Weasley’s yell, Granger’s mad try to scramble to her feet, and his aunt’s wand arm arcing high above her head. There was no time to make a choice, and he came to a decision without thinking. His wand, which had been held readily since he’d had the stupid idea to investigate further, was warm in his hand, and as Bellatrix was moving her arm down, beginning to say the incantation that would smear Granger on the stone, Draco let go with a curse of his own.

For a moment, Draco was sure that he hadn’t made it and he was about to be discovered with Granger dead on the ground, but his aim was true, distorted as it was by the corner he was lurking behind, and it was strong enough to knock Bellatrix off of her feet and hard into the wall. She crumpled to the ground, but Draco didn’t have a second to take everything in, because the big wizard who’d had hold of Weasley had let his quarry go and was striding forward, shooting off an Avada Kedavra so quickly that for a moment, Draco was sure that he was dead, ducking.

The curse sang through the air, passing just over Draco’s head, and he let himself fall into a roll, shooting off a spell in his opponent’s direction that harmlessly scorched the wall. It was fast and furious, and Draco was most definitely in over his head, dueling with rudimentary hexes and stunning spells as he tried to avoid the Unforgiveables.

In the same second he sent off a Stunning spell, Draco was hit with a particularly strong Cruciatus, and he felt the briefest flash of all-consuming pain before the Death Eater he’d been dueling was laid out on the ground.

“Where the bloody hell did you come from?” Weasley asked, and Draco started because he’d quite forgotten that they were there. Granger was still on her knees, deathly pale and clutching her throat, but her eyes were flint and her mouth was set in a firm line. Weasley was leaning over her, but his gaze was on Draco’s, questioning and relieved.

“Yes, don’t thank me for saving your skin,” Draco said. “I assure you, I’m quite used to the lack of gratitude.”

Granger fixed him with her gaze then, snapping to attention with a ferocity that Draco had been uncertain she still possessed. “Someone’s smuggled Death Eaters into the school,” she said, cutting off Weasley entirely.

“I hadn’t noticed,” Draco said flatly. “I thought I was just hallucinating.” A particularly loud bang from the floor above them caused them all to jump, and the hairs on Draco’s neck stood up.

“We’ve got to help,” Granger said desperately.

“Wait a second, Granger,” said Draco sharply. “I don’t see what you want us to do here. Seeing as you almost just got yourself killed, I don’t think it’s a good idea to join in on the fighting. Surely there are other of-age wizards who can handle themselves far more appropriately in battle.”

“There aren’t very many of them here,” said Weasley tightly. “And with Dumbledore gone -- ”

“Wait -- Dumbledore’s not here?” Draco said, his panic raising to a fever pitch. However much he disliked his headmaster, there always had been a certainty of safety with his presence.

Granger put a hand on Weasley’s shoulder and hauled herself up to stand on her feet again. She was unnoticeably shaking, but her shoulders were set in stubborn resolve. “All the more reason that we need to go up there and do what we can.”

“Where is Dumbledore?” Draco demanded. “And where’s Potter? Shouldn’t he be with you two?”

“Never you mind,” Granger said primly. “And it’s pointless to argue anyway. Ron and I are going up to help.”

“You don’t have to come,” Weasley added viciously. “I’m sure that the ickle Slytherin’s too afraid to face his old friends.”

“I did just save your life,” Draco snapped.

“Come or not,” Granger said, “but we can’t stay around and argue. People could be dying.” She began to hurry away, Weasley in tow, and Draco stood stock-still, the severity of what was happening still sinking in, before he chased after her.

“I’m not staying here alone, and I obviously can’t go back to my common room,” Draco said, though it was a see-through excuse, and he knew it. But at the same time, the thought of making his way back down to the dungeons, with the sound of battle all around him, was wholly unappealing. At least if he went with Granger, he could keep an eye on what was happening, hopefully out of sight.

“Suit yourself,” said Granger, ducking through a doorway masquerading as a wall, a shortcut to get to the next landing, and Weasley and Draco followed suit.

“Just don’t get in our way,” Weasley said, his voice low as the sound of exploding spells grew louder.

“I’ll let you die next time,” Draco hissed. “And I’m not fighting with you. I just want to see what’s happening.”

“Shh.” Granger held up her hand and they began to climb the staircase that would lead them into the heart of things. Draco could see spells arcing through the air from where he was standing, red and green exploding in sparks against each other, against the walls. It was deafening, and even though there was no one in sight yet, Draco tensed against what was coming.

And all of a sudden, it exploded around them, and there was nothing to do but dive behind a decimated statue that used to be some famous witch and hope for a reprieve. Weasley and Granger were somewhere else, hiding, and Draco could see someone on the floor, the stones slippery with blood, and instinct took over, and he was shooting spells off faster than he’d ever thought he could, watching them ricochet in the air.

Everything was hot, singing with energy, and Draco got caught by a particularly nasty severing hex, gouging a deep cut in his shoulder that immediately began to soak his robes with blood, but the adrenaline of it all made the pain numbing, not overwhelming, and he couldn’t breathe, he was so focused on the fight. He could see Granger’s hair, bushy from the static of all the magic, and she and Weasley were fighting as hard, aided by what looked like five teachers and a handful of people Draco didn’t know. His heart was in his throat, and his sleeve was sticky and sodden with the result of his injury, but he daren’t stop.

And when it was too much, when Draco thought he couldn’t handle it any longer, his hand shaking from the force with which he was holding his wand, Snape was charging through the hallway.

“It’s done!” he yelled, although to whom he was talking, Draco had no idea. “He’s dead!” Nott was running along with him, looking triumphant and pale, and in that second, Draco couldn’t feel anything but hate. Still hidden behind his statue, which was little more than rubble at this point, Draco took careful aim, unaware of anything but the disgusting curve of Nott’s back, and shot off one spell.

It wasn’t what Draco had meant to do, but it felt inexplicably right as Nott’s wand soared into the air and right into Draco’s hand. He saw Nott try to turn around, to face him, but Snape was grabbing his shoulder, pulling him through the hall and down the steps, out of sight. Two seconds later, Potter was tearing through the hall, barely missing a killing curse shot out by one of the giant Death Eaters, and Draco was after him in an instant, because if one thing was true, it was that Draco had taken leave of his sense that night.

Although he tried his hardest to keep up, Potter was running on pure energy, and as soon as they hit the grounds, Draco lost sight of him in the dark, distracted by the group of people huddled by the base of the astronomy tower, looking sickly in the green that was lighting the grass from the Dark Mark hovering above.

Draco’s heart was still hammering, and he looked around frantically for the figure of Potter running but there was nothing except for the hushed murmuring of the crowd that was slowly trickling out of the castle. Draco had a sinking suspicion that he’d know what he was about to see, but he needed that last confirmation, so he pushed his way through the pliant bodies to get to the center of the spectacle, half of his mind still centered on Potter and his mad dash to get to Snape.

Dumbledore looked almost peaceful, lying there in the grass, his glasses askew, but it made bile rise in Draco’s throat. He didn’t know how long he stood there, staring at the headmaster that he’d never much cared for as the murmuring around him grew to a fever pitch. When it suddenly died off, hushed and reverent, Draco snapped from his haze just in time to see Potter, war-weary and quiet, kneel next to Dumbledore’s body and fix his glasses.

Potter kneeled there for a while, saying something to Dumbledore that no one could hear, and Draco was keenly aware of all eyes on him and Potter, people straining to hear what was going on. He could see from the corner of his eyes a bevy of Slytherins, looking as though they were trying not-so-hard to contain their glee at Dumbledore’s body, and Draco knew that he had to get Potter out of there before he saw them too.

Draco stepped forward, one step, two, and then put his good hand on Potter’s shoulder. Potter leaned back, settling his weight into Draco’s legs for one minuscule second, before he turned and looked up.

“You’re bleeding,” he said quietly.

“So are you,” Draco retorted, because Potter was scraped to hell and back, and he looked as though he’d been taken through the wringer. “Always have to be the hero, don’t you?”

Potter’s eyes shuttered at that, and Draco almost wished he hadn’t said it. “Let’s get out of here,” he said instead of the apology that he thought was almost appropriate. “I’m beginning to feel suffocated.”

Potter blinked, and then he stood, shaking the dirt from his robes, grabbing Draco’s hand and dragging him all the way to the hospital wing. Draco tried to pretend that he didn’t like the comfort of Potter’s touch, but it was a losing battle.

* * *

When Draco awoke in the hospital bed, it took only a second before everything rushed back. He felt oddly empty, lying there, and Potter was sitting next to his bed, looking haggard and exhausted.

“Always have to be the center of attention,” Potter said quietly. “Just had to collapse as soon as we got here.”

“Next time I won’t fight with your stupid little friends then,” Draco said, equally soft. “Let them handle themselves, and I won’t get hurt in the crossfire.”

Potter’s eyes were oddly soft, and Draco shied away from their attention. “Snape killed Dumbledore,” he said.

Draco was shocked at this, couldn’t even form a sentence, but in a way it made perfect sense.

“And Bill Weasley is dead,” Potter continued brusquely, his eyes challenging now.

“I’m sorry,” Draco said, blinking slowly, because it sounded like something Potter wanted to hear. And for once in his life, the apology was as sincere as he made it sound.

Potter sighed at that, but his expression wasn’t nearly as tight now that he knew Draco wasn’t going to start something here in the hospital wing.

“I’m knackered,” he said, putting his hand briefly on Draco’s forearm. “I’m off to bed. Try not to die in the meantime.”

“I’ll do my best,” Draco managed, and Potter left, his shoulders hunched.

* * *

The day dawned like any other, bright and sunny and warm, and if Draco hadn’t known better, he would have thought that nothing of occasion was taking place if he’d gauged it on the attitude of his common room. Crabbe, Goyle, and Nott may have been noticeably missing, making his dormitory incredibly empty save for Blaise, but the rest of the house was teeming with gossip and good spirits.

No one would have thought that a funeral was taking place in only a few hours. Truth be told, no one in Slytherin particularly cared besides the fact that their position within the school had suddenly increased tenfold.

Draco had tolerated Dumbledore under the best of times and loathed him under the worst, but his impending memorial was like a weight on Draco’s chest, and he didn’t dawdle for very long before he emerged into the castle’s halls. Outside of Slytherin territory, the atmosphere was incredibly different, somber and quiet, and he passed at least three groups of students whispering urgently and another of Hufflepuffs crying in a disgustingly public display.

Draco didn’t particularly feel like staying inside, not with the quietness and the oppression and the outright stares he got whenever he turned a corner, so he forwent breakfast and instead emerged onto the grounds. The sun was hot, even though it wasn’t even midmorning, and he veered in the opposite direction of where the funeral proceedings were slowly taking shape, edging around the south side of the lake until he was shaded and out of view under an overgrown tree. Predictably, his solitude didn’t last long.

Potter was nothing if not obvious, and Draco heard him coming before he’d even rounded the bend, his feet clumsily trekking through fallen twigs and muck.

“Stop using your magic map to stalk me,” Draco said emotionlessly, not even turning around to see who it was. After all, he had afforded his only guess on Potter, and he was quite certain that he was correct in his assumption.

“Stop acting like a shady bugger, and maybe I will,” Potter said back, but his quip lacked life, and it hung in the air like an aborted spell. Potter dropped down heavily beside Draco, just close enough to brush legs and for Draco to feel the ghost of Potter’s hand over his own before it disappeared entirely.

They were silent for a long while, watching the ripples in the lake caused by the breeze. Draco felt oddly at peace for someone whose world was about to come crashing apart.

Potter took a big breath and let it out slowly. “You’re going, right?” he asked, a bit of steel behind his voice.

For a second, Draco was unsure of what he was being asked before it clicked. “I wouldn’t disrespect him in that way,” he said stiffly.

“There was a time you would have,” Potter said, so quiet his words were almost lost on the breeze.

“Yes, and there was a time when I would’ve been happy to stand by and let Granger and Weasley die,” Draco said tightly. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but things have changed.”

Potter laughed, dryly and humorlessly. “I’ve noticed,” he said shortly. Nothing was said for several minutes before Potter did an about-face so he could look Draco straight in the eye.

“I’m not coming back to school next year,” he said. “There are things I need to do instead.”

Draco wished he could say that he wasn’t expecting that, that it had been a great shock, but somewhere deep down, he’d known. Known it as sure as he knew that no matter what, Potter would never settle for being anything less than a great bloody hero.

“Of course,” Draco murmured, refusing to meet Potter’s eyes. “You have better things to do, I expect.” It was said with the greatest amount of scorn Draco could muster, and he heard Potter’s sigh before it was uttered.

“Don’t be a prick,” Potter admonished tiredly. “Dumbledore left me something to do, and I have to do it. There’s no way I can come back.”

Draco’s heart was stuttering in his chest, a tattoo against his sternum. He’d made his decision last night, without sleeping, without doing anything more than weighing his options. He knew what he was going to say.

“I’m going with you,” he said, his eyes still on the lake.

Potter’s intake of breath was sharp, punched out of him in surprise. “No, you’re not,” he said.

This time, Draco couldn’t help but turn to look Potter straight in the face. “I don’t see any other option,” he said emotionlessly. “I can’t come back, not when I’ve thrown my lot in with your side irrevocably and especially not now that Dumbledore is dead.”

“You don’t know that,” Potter argued. “McGonagall is still around, and Flitwick, and Sprout.”

“You and I both know that I’m not going to be safe here,” Draco said. “I’ve been a turncoat far too many times to escape punishment.”

“You can’t come with me, Draco,” Potter said, and his use of Draco’s given name for the first time was a shock but nowhere near enough to make Draco give up.

“I can’t come back here,” he said stubbornly. “I’m not dying like that.”

“Then you go into hiding,” Potter argued, his voice less than steady. “With Tonks’ mom -- your aunt. Or I’m sure someone else in the Order of the Phoenix--”

“You and Granger are the only people who trust me anymore,” Draco said. “And that isn’t even firm trust at that. My aunt will have a target on her back for who she married, and she won’t be able to keep me safe.”

“I won’t be able to keep you safe,” Potter argued.

“If you die, things are bollocksed up beyond repair,” Draco said simply. “I figure I’d rather die when you do, in a blaze of glory, quick as lightning, then suffer through hiding and waiting.”

“Draco,” Potter started, but it sounded as if the words were caught in his throat.

“Potter,” Draco said, returning his gaze to the water, “believe me. I’m a Slytherin because I know how to look after myself. This is me looking out for my best interests.”

It was as if Draco’s declaration had introduced an implacable weight into the air, because Potter was without words for a long time.

“I don’t have a plan,” Potter said finally.

“You never do,” Draco said calmly.

“I don’t even know what I’m doing. And I can’t tell you anything. I swore.”

“I don’t even want to know what fool mission I’m signing up for here,” Draco sighed.

“You’ll have to get along with Hermione and Ron, if they come.”

“Now that’s the hard part,” Draco said. “But I guess I can manage as long as they’re not too repugnant.”

“This isn’t a good idea,” Potter said faintly.

“I never said it was,” Draco said. “It’s the best one I have though. I know you, Potter. You’ll keep me safe, even if I make you hate me, and that’s all I want. I want to come out on the other side of this war whole and alive, and if staying with you is how I do it, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

“You’ll have to listen to me,” Potter said. “Do what I say.”

“I’m not your pet,” Draco said, a note of anger in his voice.

“If you want me to keep you safe, you have to,” said Potter.

Draco let out a low exhalation, and then extended his hand. “Shake on it,” he said. “I’ll keep out of your way, and you keep me alive.”

Potter took his hand. “Deal,” he said, and he didn’t let go, even as their hands fell. With the breeze in his hair, and Potter’s hand in his, warm and implacable and right, Draco let himself fall away.

He had a war to prepare for, after all.