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survival is a talent

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Harry believes in asking for forgiveness rather than permission, but Draco insists on leaving Pomfrey a note before they sneak out of the hospital wing. Since his boyfriend is the one that’s going to have to deal with her anger later, he doesn’t argue against it, even though it seems counterintuitive to both leave a note and undo the monitoring spell on the front door which allows them to sneak out undetected.

Their friends must have taken the tunnels to get to the chamber of secrets, because they’re already waiting for them when they arrive from the entrance in the girls’ bathroom. Harry doesn’t know what the expression on his face is right now, but he’s assuming it’s nothing good based on how Myrtle has only given his backside two firm pats before making herself scarce rather than hanging around to bother him like she usually did.

Ron gets to him first by virtue of his very long legs, although Pansy isn’t that far behind. Draco quickly takes several steps back so he doesn’t get pulled down when Ron tackles him to the ground.

“Ow,” he says, patting him on the back, although he wishes he’d saved it for when the rest of them pile on top of him, even Blaise getting pulled along by Millie. They’re yelling at him for doing stupid things without thinking of the consequences, which he doesn’t think is very fair because he’s been doing stupid shit without thinking it through since they met him. They should be used to it by now.

“Yes, yes, I’m very stupid,” he grumbles, letting Hermione pat him and down while Blaise looms disapprovingly. “Look, I figured something out and I need to tell you guys.”

“While you were dying?” Pansy asks pointedly.

“Yes,” he says, refusing to rise to the bait because he knows from experience that she’ll make him regret it. “So, look, this is important. There are two places – planes – worlds? No, planes, I guess–”

“Darling,” Draco says, blinking, “I’m going to need you take a step back for me here.”

Using words to describe this is hard. Slughorn and Anastasia hadn’t used just words when they’d explained it, but he can’t replicate the experience without killing all of them, which isn’t ideal.

“Okay,” he says slowly. He can feel impatience pressing against his skin, but his friends have always been so patient explaining things to him that he didn’t understand, so he’s going to be the same. “Necromancy is a type of magic. A necromancer is someone who performs necromancy, right?” He gets a series of cautious nods. “A Mother is not a necromancer.”

“Of course they are!” Hermione scoffs before frowning a moment later. “Isn’t it? That’s what all the books said.”

“Well, most books about necromancy that you’re able to read weren’t written by necromancers,” he points out. By the look of consternation on her face, he knows that’s something that hadn’t occurred to her before. “Just keep that in mind for a moment. There are different types of magic, right? Healing magic, for example. It’s your magic and the – the shape, like you’d said before, the shape of your magic changes when you cast a healing spell. When you cast any spell, your latent magic has to change to perform the spell that you want. Your magic fuels all your spells. Except with necromancy, if you’re doing it properly, you’re not using any of your own magic.”

Blaise raises an eyebrow. Everyone else looks equally skeptical. “I’ve seen you cast necromancy spells before, Harry. You use a lot of magic.”

He doesn’t address that. They’ll get there eventually. “So there are two planes, I guess. Not dimensions, that’s wrong. Realms might be better. Ours. The one that we all interact with. The one of the living. The other is the realm of the dead. People who’ve said that necromancy is unnatural and shouldn’t exist were right. Because necromantic magic is not meant to exist in our realm. That’s why it’s so dangerous. The process of twisting your own magic into the shape it needs to be in order to perform necromancy is extremely difficult, prone to backlash, and magically draining, because it’s not something that should exist. All the other magic we perform is to do things that happen, even if not exactly like we’re doing it. People heal, things fly, one thing becomes another. But the dead don’t get up and start walking around. They’re not supposed to. That’s why the killing curse is so easy for people to perform, compared to other death magic. People die.”

“But you said that necromancy doesn’t feel evil,” Ron protests, starting to look worried.

“Because it’s not,” he answers, not wanting to get too distracted from his point but also not wanting his friends to waste time being worried. “Breaking the rules isn’t evil. The rules themselves aren’t good or evil. They just are. We exist in a realm where the dead have no power. Ghosts are unnatural for this reason too, but they’re not evil just for existing. In order for necromancy to work, or for ghosts to exist, you have to break those rules and use necromantic magic. Creating your own necromantic magic is difficult and dangerous. Using the necromantic magic that already exists is easy. Well, comparatively.”

Hermione is the one to figure it out first, as usual. “The realm of the dead. That’s where you get the necromancy magic from, isn’t it?”

“If you’re doing it properly,” he agrees. “But for most people accessing the realm of the dead is more difficult than just performing necromancy normally would be, even if once they do manage to take from that realm they have access to a lot more powerful magic than they could ever create on their own. Some people manage it, or become so skilled at forcing their own magic into the proper shape that they can manage advanced spells without needing it. Those are the necromancers that are really successful.”

“That’s not you, though,” Blaise says bluntly. “Your control isn’t good enough for that.”

Ouch. It’s true, but still. “That’s what makes a Mother a Mother. We’re not born necromancers. We are born able to access the magic from the realm of the dead. That’s what they mean when they say we live in Lady Death’s shadow and she knows our name. When I perform necromancy spells, I don’t even have to try and pull the magic from the other realm. It just happens. When I try and use my own magic, things like the graveyard in fourth year happens, or when I got distracted with the inferi. That would have killed anyone else who tried but it didn’t kill me. My body and magic can handle necromantic magic to extent that other people’s can’t. So the necromancy spells I can perform are more powerful and they’re less likely to harm me. But people aren’t able to hold an infinite amount of magic inside their body at one time. A Mother, or someone good enough to access the necromantic magic from the other realm, can only hold as much necromantic magic at one time as they can their own magic. Just because you have access to a practically infinite amount of necromantic magic doesn’t mean that you can use it.”

A lot of this is stuff that he really wished he’d known earlier. But he’d been doing it properly when he’d been practicing with the other Mothers so they probably thought he was doing it on purpose, and the necromancy books he’s read wouldn’t have dared to put something like that in writing. Or well, there are probably some books out there that have, likely in code and under several wards, but he hasn’t read them.

Now all of his friends are staring at him. “But Harry,” Millie says, “you do have a massive amount of magic.”

“Yeah,” he agrees, thinking back to several spells that absolutely should have blown up in his face but didn’t just because he had enough to magic to make up for the skill he lacked. He’s been lucky so far. “But even still, the amount of magic I have access to is finite. I can only do so much with what I have. It’s not like I can perform an infinite amount of normal spells now, after all. The only time that a Mother doesn’t have a limit on the amount of necromantic magic they can control is for a very short period between death and moving on. This is when Lady Death stops being in our shadow and we move into hers. During this period, Mothers can still affect our realm while having complete access to all the necromantic magic of the other realm, and they don’t have to worry about blowback or control or any of that. What they can do in that period is practically limitless. We’ve always known that. But we also knew that this period was short, only lasting a couple of minutes, although, granted, a couple of minutes in the other realm is a more, uh – flexible, than in our own. But obviously you can only do it once, because you’re dead. Either your soul moves on from Mother’s Shadow or your pulled back to our realm as a ghost and cut off from the other realm completely.”

“I don’t understand,” Pansy says, frustrated. “This is all really interesting, but why did you pull us out of bed in the middle of the night to tell us about it?”

“Because Anastasia is very, very clever, Voldemort is an idiot, and Slughorn has had a rough time of it,” he answers. Pansy reaches for her wand, so he quickly summons the necromancy book and flips to the reverse killing curse that they couldn’t figure out and holds it out to them, even though he knows they can’t read it. “I’m an idiot. We all understood the spell just fine we just didn’t have the context to understand what it was for. I just didn’t know what I was looking at because I didn’t think it was possible. Once you enter Mother’s Shadow, there’s no coming back alive. If you return to our realm from there, you become a ghost. That’s it. No exceptions.” He taps the page. “Except this one. Anastasia figured out a way to get to Mother’s Shadow and then to leave it and live. To die without being fully dead. The altered killing curse works just like we thought it would – it kills you and call your soul back to your body and it does it by leaving half of your soul behind in your body. It severs the soul itself and repels that part outside of the body instead of just repelling the whole soul like the normal killing curse. It’s not enough to stop you from dying, but it’s enough that you can find your way back again – if you’re someone who can already move between the realms without needing an additional spell to do it. It’s a spell than can only successfully be cast by Mothers, and it means that a Mother that can perform the spell successfully gets a chance to do the impossible not just once, but over and over again.”

“I need a drink,” Blaise mutters. Millie pats him on the back but she’s also rubbing at her head. It’s probably pretty mean of him to do this to them without even asking Dobby or Winky to get them some coffee or something, but it’s important, so.

Ron narrows his eyes. “Okay, so I’m assuming Anastasia is the author of the book. But how to Voldemort and Slughorn factor into this?”

“Voldemort isn’t a Mother,” Harry says. “When he was a student, he drugged Slughorn with truth serum and asked him about the most powerful spell he knew, which was obviously that one, and then obliviated him, although luckily he wasn’t that good at it. Slughorn couldn’t remember specifics of the conversation or who he’d had it with, but he remembered that it happened. But that spell in Anastasia’s book is complicated, and dangerous. If you can’t perform it correctly, you die, so obviously there aren’t that many things that worth the risk. Voldemort fears nothing more than death, so of course he wasn’t going to risk performing it, which is unfortunate for us because it would have just killed him since he’s not a Mother. But he didn’t cast the spell on himself. He cast it on Moaning Myrtle.”

“You can’t cast the spell on someone else,” Hermione blurts. “It’s not designed that way, the math just all falls apart. It doesn’t make any sense. It’d be like casting the levitation charm on air.”

Draco frowns like he’s considering if that’s something he could actually do. Harry hurries to continue before he loses them to complicated theoretical math questions. “Yeah, unfortunately Voldemort is actually pretty smart. Or at least he was, back when he was Tom Riddle. He managed to run the spell through a physical object before directing it towards Myrtle. So what happened was she was killed and the force of it split his soul in half and trapped that piece of his soul in the object that he’d run the spell through.”

“The diary?” Ron demands. “He stuck half of his soul in his diary? How does someone even survive that?” 

“They don’t. Not really. That’s why Slughorn was worried about being overheard once he died. Voldemort has some ability to affect the realm of the dead now, and those that reside there, although it’ll never be close to what a Mother could do. In a lot of ways, Voldemort has been dead since he was sixteen years old, ever since he cut his soul in half. That diary was probably more him than he’s been in a long time.”

“Ginny’s going to be so mad when she hears about this,” Millie mutters.

Yeah, that’s part of the reason he didn’t ask her, Luna, or Neville to be here. When they tell her, they’re probably going to have to lead with the whole diary bit, and he didn’t want to put Luna or Neville in an awkward position with Ginny in the interim. Although, it’s entirely possible that Luna will know before they tell her, but there’s nothing he can do about that.

“Slughorn said that he called them horcruxes,” Harry continues.

Blaise catches on immediately. “Voldemort made more than one?”

“At least three,” he answers. “Probably more, but I don’t know how many. After the first one, he was – managing. More or less. But he made another one while he was still at school, about a year after, and that’s when things starting going wrong. Bodies aren’t meant to exist without souls in them, but they’re really not meant to be walking around with only part of a soul. The strain of constantly at once trying to eject something that doesn’t belong, and protect it because it sort of does belong, was tearing Voldemort’s body apart. That’s when he used the imperius on Slughorn. He sent Slughorn into the woods to kill the centaurs and take their marrow so he could use it to stabilize his body, although since he was under imperio, Slughorn didn’t know it was him at the time and only figured it out later.”

“That,” Draco starts angrily before trailing off, staring into the distance. “That might work, actually.”

“It does,” Harry assures. “Sort of. Enough.”

Pansy crosses her arms, tapping her foot against the floor in irritation. “Okay, well this is all very useful. Is there are particular reason that Slughorn didn’t tell you any of this before?”

Anger comes rushing back, but he forces it back down. It won’t do him any good here. “He was under an unbreakable vow. He couldn’t.”

“Voldemort’s?” Hermione asks. She clearly thinks it’s a rhetorical question.

“No,” he answers. He can’t keep his lips from curling back into a shape that’s probably closer to a snarl than a smile. “Dumbledore’s.”

For a moment no one says or does anything. Then Hermione turns, slashes her wand down so an arc of white hot fire disintegrates a whole stack of cushions. She puts out the reminder of the fire with an equally sharp swish of her wand before turning back and saying with a chilling level of calm, “Oh?”

There’s a beat of wary silence.

“Can you be just a little less terrifying?” Draco asks. “I’m already dealing with a lot right now, emotionally.”

“I’m not going to set you on fire,” she answers. Draco doesn’t look entirely convinced.

“No one is getting set on fire,” he says, and gains six skeptical stares in return. It’s a rough day when he has to be the voice of reason. “Slughorn didn’t know who had controlled him, but he could take a pretty good guess as to why. Apparently Voldemort wasn’t the first person to try something like this, just the most successful, and Slughorn was pretty smart too. So he went to Dumbledore and told him what he thought had happened.” This is the part that makes him angry, but since he’s apparently being the responsible one tonight, he does his best not to let that show. “Dumbledore was worried that this knowledge was too dangerous. He’d just come off the war with Grindelwald and he was trying to prevent another one. So, in exchange for convincing Headmaster Dippet not to fire him, he had Slughorn take an unbreakable vow to never tell anyone about anything that had happened. He’s the one who tore the pages out of Slughorn’s book. He’s known since the first war what Voldemort had done and why he wasn’t truly dead.”

All this is why Slughorn had been so jumpy and upset every time Harry had met him. He’d never been comfortable with practicing necromancy, and it got even worse after everything with Voldemort, but he’d known what they were all after and what they were doing even if they hadn’t, since Dumbledore hadn’t told them what they were after. Slughorn had known they were after a horcrux and he’d been terrified that he was one wrong word away from triggering his unbreakable vow and the messy death that would follow.

Although. It hadn’t made much difference, in the end.

“Bellatrix is the one who put him under the imperius curse this last time and she’s the one who killed him,” Harry says.

“Are you telling me Bellatrix Lestrange made a horcrux?” Blaise demands.

“No,” he assures, then frowns. “Probably. I’m pretty sure she was collecting it for Voldemort. To be honest, I didn’t think to ask.”

Pansy pinches the bridge of her nose. “That doesn’t make me feel better.”

“I’ll know more after I talk to the other Mothers,” he says. “Honestly, they’ll probably know what to do with all of this, or at least know more than me.”

“What do we do about Dumbledore?” Ron asks.

Harry shrugs. “Nothing for now. He doesn’t know we know, and until I talk to the Mothers, I’m not eager to let him know that we know. Based on everything we know about him, he probably hasn’t told anyone else, and I don’t think he – look, as pissed as I am right now, he probably thinks he’s doing a good thing. Keeping this sort of knowledge out of the public eye is a good thing.”

“Yeah, well, taking good intentions too far until they loop all the way back around into a shitty thing seems to be his specialty,” Draco points out.

Also true. “We can’t do anything about it right now,” he repeats. “Voldemort probably isn’t back in a corporeal form yet. When he was possessing Quirrell and drinking unicorn blood, it still took three years and a dark ritual to get him in a body again. We have time.”

No one looks convinced, but Millie says, “Well, at least we have a better understanding of what we’re doing now.”

“Three horcruxes,” Hermione says. “Why did you say at least three? The one he made when he killed Myrtle using his diary, the one he made the next year that made his soul destabilize from his body, and what else?”

“Er.” They’re not going to like this. “The locket that Dumbledore had us go after over the summer was a horcrux. How he knew what it was or where it was I have no idea, but that’s what we were after.”

“He had you going after it and he didn’t even tell you-” Pansy says, enraged.

“He’s trying to destroy them!” Harry hurries. “I think. Although I don’t know how successful he’s going to be without some basilisk venom handy.”

The anger simmering under his skin is much easier to control when he’s focused on making sure that his friends’ doesn’t boil over.

Everyone still looks pissed. Blaise shares a glance with Millie and they both force the fury from their expressions before he says, “It’s late. Or early. We can still get a couple hours of sleep in before have to go to class, so we should do that.”

That sounds like a great idea. Even as good as Pomfrey is, he can still feel exhaustion dragging him down. He snags the front of Draco’s robes to pull him forward for a quick kiss before sneaking back with Ron and Hermione to the Gryffindor dorms.

~

Draco begs off from returning to the common room with his friends to head back to the hospital wing, which is a great way to dismiss their concerns without getting yelled at. Poppy is probably awake by now, and has likely discovered both his note and their empty beds. The sooner he lets her scold him for sneaking out with Harry, the better. He knows from experience that giving her the time for her irritation to get a proper lather going is a mistake.

He steps inside, intending to head straight to Poppy’s office, but he hears, “Draco!”

“What are you doing up?” he asks automatically, pivoting to walk over to Katie’s bed. He pulls out his wand and casts a quick diagnostic spell without thinking and gives an approving nod. She’s not quite as healed up as Harry, but she also doesn’t have his magical reserves, so he’s not much worried about it. Another day or so and maybe some booster potions and she’ll be good as new. “You need your rest.”

She rolls her eyes. “I’m always up this early.”

Horrifying. “Why?”

“I go running in the morning,” she answers.

Even more horrifying. He should probably do that too. Flora is an excellent quidditch captain, but she doesn’t push them nearly as hard as Cassius had when it comes to training off the pitch.

“Thank you,” she says earnestly, pulling his attention away from his exercise routine and back to her. “Pomfrey already told me I’d be a lot worse off it wasn’t for you.”

Shit. There’d been a very small part of him that had hoped he’d be able head her off before she found out they snuck out. With Harry gone there was no hiding it, and she knew all of his tells anyway, but still.

“Don’t mention it,” he says dismissively. What else was he going to do, after all.

She sighs. “Do you have to make everything difficult?”

“You sound like Pansy,” he tells her, just to watch the way her face scrunches up. “Hey, so, obviously you’re still recovering and everything and this is something you’re going to have to tell the aurors, and whatever, but do you know who put you under imperio?”

“How did you,” she starts before shaking her head. “Okay, you kind of saved my life, so sure. But I don’t know. They cast it on me when my back was turned. It was a woman’s voice.”

Of course. It can never be easy. “What were you supposed to do with the necklace?”

“Um,” she frowns, her eyes going unfocused as she thinks. “She told me to throw it in the Great Lake.”

Draco stares. That really isn’t what he’d been expecting. “Did she say why?”

“Oh yeah, the person who put me under an unforgivable curse took the time to explain why she wanted me to do that in really precise and illuminating detail,” Katie says.

He frowns. “Okay, okay, I was just asking. That’s it? Just throw them in the lake?”

“That’s it,” she confirms.

What in merlin’s beard. If someone had just been trying to get rid of them, then there has to be a better way to do that.

Poppy’s door opens and she says, “Miss Bell, Auror Tonks is here to speak with you abo – Draco!”

“Hi Poppy!” he says, turning to face her with a bright smile. Tonks is standing behind her and she waves at Draco, her hair an electric blue and done up with short spikes all over her head. She’s also sporting a tan which he thinks is a natural byproduct of her vacation and not due to her metamorphmagus abilities.

“I should turn you inside out,” she scolds, and his stomach flips, because Poppy is skilled enough that it’s possible that’s something that she could do. “What were you thinking?”

“Harry’s fine! I’m fine! I checked!” he protests, then remembers who he’s talking to and changes tactics. “I’m really sorry. You know how Harry gets about the hospital wing. I left a note!”

“I see that you’re not making any promises not to do it again,” she says shrewdly.

Well, yes, because that would make him a liar and lying to Poppy never ends well for anyone, especially not him. She can and will take her displeasure out on him during healing tutoring sessions and he’d like to avoid that if he can. “It’s been a while since I’ve done a quality check on your potions cabinet, hasn’t it? All those terrible smelly potions that need to be looked over and reorganized based on effectiveness.”

She sighs, her hand dropping from her hip, which is how Draco knows that he’s in the clear. “Fine, that can be your punishment. Tell Mr. Potter to come see me for a check up before lunch. As much as I trust your assessment, a trained healer has to sign off on his clean bill of health.”

“Yes, Poppy,” he says obediently. That he can definitely do, even if he has to bribe Harry with a little broom closet action to do it.

“Hi Draco,” Tonks says. “If you want to stick around I have to interview you too. Plus everyone else who was there.”

“Sure,” he says, because he can get started on the potions cabinet in the meanwhile, then, “Hey, you have the cursed necklace, don’t you?”

Tonks narrows her eyes. “Yes.”

“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to throw it in the Great Lake just to see what happens?” Poppy and Tonks stare at him. “That’s what Katie said the person who cursed her told her to do.”

Tonks pinches the bridge of her nose. “I can’t throw evidence, and currently our only lead, into a lake. Ignoring all the reasons involved in solving the case that I can’t do that, I would be fired. Immediately.”

He waves a dismissive hand. “You’re Percy Weasley’s fiance. No one’s going to fire you.”

“As much as I appreciate the faith you have in Percy’s ability to influence almost anything, I really don’t want to test it,” she says. “We’re not throwing the pearls in the great lake just to see what happens.”

Uhg. This morning sucks.

~

Harry sends off letters to all the Mothers before going to class and kind of forgets about the part where he was subjected to the effects of a cursed necklace until he gives in to Draco’s bribery to go to the hospital wing and finds Sirius and Remus waiting for him.

“I’m fine!” he says. “I’m totally fine, ask Madame Pomfrey, I’m fine!”

“I haven’t gotten a chance to confirm that yet since you snuck out this morning,” she says dryly.

Harry means to respond to that, but Remus grabs him by the back of the neck and shakes him, and Sirius grabs his shoulders, looking him in the eye as he says in Tamil, “I’m an old man, you can’t keep doing this to me.

You’re not even forty,” he shoots back, then realizes this is a really good way to get himself grounded over the holiday break, and adds, “Sorry, it was an accident, I didn’t do it on purpose.”

Could you maybe not get yourself into life threatening situations on purpose?” Remus asks.

Life threatening seems like kind of an exaggeration, what with Draco having been right there and all, but he’s smart enough to keep that to himself. “I’ll try.”

They both roll their eyes and then Sirius says in English, “Better than nothing, I suppose.”

It’s not until Pomfrey declares him fully recovered once he gets some rest that they both relax. Harry almost asks them to stay, almost skips lunch to drag them to Hogsmeade so he can fill them in on everything that he’d learned while under the curse’s effects. But he doesn’t want Dumbledore to know that he knows yet. He doesn’t think they’d tell Dumbledore if he asked them not to, but he knows that they’re going to be mad when they hear everything. Which is fair, because Harry is mad, but Sirius and Remus lost any sort of deferential feelings they had for Dumbledore around the time he tried to get them to leave Harry at the Dursleys and told Sirius that he shouldn’t leave Grimmauld Place. Order meetings are still happening, if less frequently now that Voldemort has been discorporated, and he doesn’t trust for a second that Sirius could interact with Dumbledore without letting him know that he’s pissed at him. Remus might be able to manage it, but only because he’s becomes excessively polite as a form of hostility. Of course, Dumbledore absolutely knows that about him, so it wouldn’t be very an effective way not to arouse his suspicion.

He’ll talk to the other Mothers first.

For once, he’s not going to go running headfirst into something without knowing all the facts.

He doesn’t know if this is just him getting older and smarter or years of Draco nagging him finally making a dent.

Sirius and Remus leave after extracting a promise from him not to get himself cursed again before the holidays, which seems to be inviting bad luck more than anything else.

But days pass into weeks and nothing else attacks him. He gets a letter back from the Mothers saying they’re dealing with something in Mexico, but they’ll let him know as soon as they can leave. Which is frustrating, but he knows that they’ve been working on figuring out what happened with Slughorn too, so they wouldn’t be making him wait if it wasn’t important. Also he thinks in hindsight he could have made his letters sound a little bit more urgent than he did, but it’s too late for that now. He doesn’t want to seem like he’s changing his story for attention, so he’ll just wait.

He’s sort of aware that that’s a flawed way of thinking and that if he told his friends his reasoning then they’d yell at him for it, so instead he just decides to keep his reasoning to himself.

Leanne seems more rattled about everything than Katie, which makes more sense when he sees them kissing in the corner of the common room a week later after they win their quidditch game against Hufflepuff.

They’re slowly working their way through the griffin sword. Blaise and Millie spend all their spare time sitting pressed up against each other, their heads bent over a shared piece of parchment, including at meal times or in the spare minutes between classes where everyone can see them. Harry thinks that this seems like suspicious behavior that they should perhaps be avoiding, but no one else seems to find it at all out of the ordinary.

Defense continues to be decent bordering on good. Wandless and wordless magic is apparently a marathon rather than a sprint, so after the initial lessons it’s something they work on a little bit each week rather than every class.

Of course, Snape feels the need to end his streak of being tolerable by finishing today’s class with, “Stay behind, Mr. Potter.”

Ron glares while Hermione squeezes his shoulder. Draco waits until he’s at Snape’s back and therefore out of his direct line of sight to sketch a heart in the air with his wands and then blow him a kiss. This nearly causes the unfortunate circumstances of him smiling in Snape’s direction, which would certainly be a disaster.

Snape waits until all the students have left to sit behind his desk, lean back in his chair, and asks, “Have you learned anything from the book?”

For a brief moment, Harry thinks he’s talking about the necromancy book and panics about the state of his occlumency shields before he realizes that he’s referring to the book he’d given him special permission to check out from the forbidden section.

“Different types of magic are not always incompatible,” he answers, which is ironically only something he’d been able to understand after his conversation with Anastasia and Slughorn. This next part he’s kind of guessing, because he thinks this is what the book was saying, but it’s impossible to know for sure without checking the math, which isn’t something he’s capable of doing even if he wanted to. “Unforgivables work because the caster manages to shift their external magic into the same shape as someone else’s internal magic so it can affect it directly. However, the similar magics repel each other, so in order to be successful the caster has to be strong enough to force the spell through anyway. It’s also how people can fight off the imperio curse. It’s not just pure blind will, but using that will to fight against the foreign magic and shifting your own internal magic into a different shape so that while they’re no longer repelling each other, they’re also no longer compatible.”

Snape does that same thing with his mouth as he’d done before, that’s not a frown and not a smile, and Harry’s not sure what to do with it.

“If someone changed their internal magic in between a killing curse or a crucio being cast and hitting them, would it still affect them?” Harry asks.

A look that Harry can’t explain passes over Snape’s face. “The author of that book thought so, although the spell doesn’t take shape until it’s already touched their target. The span of time before the spell connecting and taking affect is barely a second, so that’s an extremely limited amount of time to do a very complicated thing. But that was her theory, although her limited practical research doesn’t lean in that direction.”

“Practical research?” Harry frowns. “The book didn’t mention anything like that.”

“She were unable to write down her results,” he says. “The theory and the math holds that it’s possible, but it’s just a theory. What other theory was in the book?”

Harry wants to ask more about the unpublished research, and how Snape knows about it, but he knows Snape well enough by now to know that it’ll just piss him off.

Anastasia had said that like attracts like, which is true, but not with what the book and Snape is talking about. That’s about Mothers knowing each other and being able to trace death magic to more death magic. This is different. “Opposites attract. The idea was that fundamentally incompatible magic, if performed together, would amplify the other so they were each stronger than they would be on their own. The caster would no longer be limited by their own magical stores, but could instead strengthen their magic with less strain.” He pauses. “Did this one have practical experiments too?”

Snape’s lip curls back into a familiar sneer before his face freezes and he seems to actively force his face back into a less antagonistic shape. “Something like that. Does this answer your question, Mr. Potter?”

“A wand shapes a person’s magic to match their will,” Harry says slowly. “To be able to do something so complicated as give your magic the ability to take on a new, different shape, and then overcome the initial repelling nature of the magic once it does matches, then someone would have to have perfect control over both their internal and external magic to manage that.”

“Theoretically,” Snape continues. He glances at the door. “You’re going to be late to potions.”

Harry bites back his initial sarcastic response, because that’s of course Snape’s fault. He never would have thought that he’d want to spend more time in Snape’s presence, but there’s something else, something that he’s not saying. Harry can tell. But he’s never been able to get Snape to do what he wanted before and there’s no reason to think that’ll start now.

He pulls his bag onto his shoulder and heads toward the door, stuck in between confusion and irritation. He thinks he preferred it when Snape was just a straight up asshole.

“We can discuss it more later,” Snape continues right as Harry is about to step into the hallway. “If you’d like.”

He looks over his shoulder, so surprised that for a moment his mouth just hangs open and no sound comes out. He’d think that he was hallucinating, except that Snape grimaces, like he regrets his words, but he doesn’t take them back.

“Yeah,” Harry says cautiously. “Uh. That’d be. Um. Nice? Thank you.”

Snape stares at him for a moment before saying, “Goodbye, Mr. Potter.”

Harry gives an awkward nod before leaving, already thinking of how he’s going to explain this to everyone.

Something light hits him in the back of the head and then the door to the defense classroom slams shuts. Harry’s years of seeker reflexes means he turns just in time to see the door close and catch the crumpled ball of paper before it hits the ground.

He’s not sure whether to be offended or not. No one’s thrown things at him since Pansy got especially bored in history of magic class in fourth year, but also it’s so benign and petty it’s hard to take it seriously. He nearly just throws it out, but he sees writing on one of the crumpled corners, and curiosity gets the best of him. He smooths it out then has to spend several seconds blinking at the closed door.

It’s a late pass.

Quinn actually does a double take when he gives it to zir, which is pretty great.

~

“Flora,” Draco groans, flat on his back and with the sun in his eyes. Everything hurts so much that he doesn’t even want to go to the effort of lifting his arm enough to cover his face. “I’m begging you to be nicer to me.”

“No,” she says, without a hint of remorse. “You’re the one that wanted us to focus on basics.”

There’s a chorus of groans from his fellow chasers. He thinks someone makes a half hearted kick in his direction, but he doesn’t turn his head to check. “Why aren’t you like us? You were doing the same things we were! You’re even standing!”

“Well, Draco,” she says, in a particularly mean tone of voice that reminds him of Ginny, “some of us never slacked on our physical conditioning to begin with.”

“I’ve been busy!” he protests. He’s finally submitted his papers for Poppy and Filius and they don’t have to focus on figuring out the random spell in the necromancy book anymore, which has freed up a lot of time, relatively speaking. But if this keeps up he’s not going to have time to work on things like forging the base for their fake griffin sword because the idea of even lifting the hammer in the forge is enough to make him whimper.

Flora snorts. “I can say I don’t care in thirteen languages. Would you like me to go through them?”

“No, Captain,” he says gloomily.

“Say thank you for listening to your thoughtful suggestion,” she continues.

She’s trying to get him killed. His teammates are going to murder him for this. As soon as any of them are able to move. “Thank you for listening to my thoughtful suggestion, Captain Carrow.”

Flora squats down to pat the top of his head. “You’re welcome, Draco.”

She’s so mean to him. He loves her.

He drags himself to the showers in the locker room rather than going back to the dorms because he can feels pools of sweat going tacky on his skin and he wants a proper shower now now, and not to scourgify himself and then walk back to the dungeon. It’s nearly dark when he finishes and makes his way back to the castle, but he doesn’t bother to light a lumos charm. He’s walked this path so many times he could do it blind, so he can certainly manage it under moonlight.

However, since it’s pretty much dark all around him, he notices the lights are on in the greenhouse, and not just in the part that houses the plants that need more sunlight than the sun can provide. He debates minding his own business, since trying new things is good for him, but heads toward the greenhouse anyway.

There’s a locking spell, but since Sprout encourages her students to steal from her, it’s easy to undo. He slips inside, creeping along the edges of the wall to keep from drawing attention to himself.

Neville and Blaise are bent over a table with various petri dishes of soil and a disturbing amount of test tubes with seeds in various stages of growth submerged in some sort of pale orange liquid.

“It’s too acidic,” Neville says, reaching out to poke one of the piles of soil.

Blaise slaps his hand. “We need it to be acidic. Better not enough growth than too much.”

“Better the right amount of growth,” he argues, nudging one of the petri dishes in Blaise’s direction.

He glances at it and frowns. “That one increases the likelihood of mutations once it roots.”

“Mutations, growth, what’s the difference really?” Neville asks. Blaise glares and he adds, “We should figure out how to do it successfully and then we can figure out how to do it consistently.”

“Gyffindor,” Blaise mutters resentfully and Draco has to bite his lip to keep from laughing. “No, we should make sure our actions are easy to replicate so we can easily replicate them, not just doing things randomly in the hope that it will get us the result we want.”

Neville rolls his eyes and picks up one the of test tubes with a seed with little roots coming out of it and waves it in Blaise’s face. “We’ve been doing things your way and it’s gotten as a lot of things that don’t grow or that have grown way too much.” They both glance in the direction of the incinerator, which probably means they have a lot of fun stories that they’ve been selfishly keeping to themselves. He wonders how many times they’ve come close to recreating the plant monster that took over the great hall at the end of last year. “We can keep the ones we’ve already started going. But we should start a new batch and just let them mutate and see. They’re not all going to be the same if we succeed anyway.”

Blaise goes cross eyed staring at the test tube and then pushes it away. “Okay, fine. But we’re documenting every single incremental change we can quantify. Doing something once is an accident. Doing it multiple times is the first step us actually making something useful.”

“I don’t know if I’d categorize what we’re making as useful,” Neville says. Blaise deliberately steps on his foot as he walks past him to get a fresh set of test tubes.

They’re such nerds. How embarrassing for them. Draco can’t relate at all.

He leaves the same way he came, equally quiet so he doesn’t get caught. They’ve been so tightlipped about their experiments that he knows they’ll be pissed if they know he’s been eavesdropping, even though he doesn’t have any better idea of what they’re doing than he had before.

Draco considers getting an early night’s sleep or doing some of the reading he still has for Poppy, but instead he heads to the Gryffindor tower. Harry’s around somewhere and Draco’s positive he can get him to abandon whatever he’s currently doing to tell him he’s pretty and badly braid his hair. It’s about the effort, really, even if Draco ends up having to redo it himself half the time whenever Harry tries to do anything more complicated than a simple three strand braid. Maybe Pansy could teach him.

He’d given Draco pigtails once as a joke but Draco had worn them to breakfast the next morning to make a point. He’s still not entirely sure what the point was, but he made it, and that’s what matters.

He stops outside of the Fat Lady’s portrait. “Must we always please these games, my dear lady?”

“Password,” she sighs.

“You know you’re going to let me in,” he cajoles.

She raises an eyebrow.

“Peaches and cream,” he says, then blows her a kiss what the Fat Lady swings open. He thinks he might even see her smile, but she’s out of sight too quickly for him to be sure.

The Gryffindor common room is empty of everyone except Hermione, who’s lying down on one of the couches with her neck on edge of the couch so her hair can fall over the side to avoid it being squashed. An empty Gryffindor common room before midnight is unusual enough that Draco actually looks twice, as if there were people he’d missed the first time. “Where is everyone?”

Hermione looks up from her book and answers, “Dinner, probably.”

Oh, damn, it probably is dinner time. This is what happens when he takes the entrance near the greenhouse and doesn’t have to walk by the great hall. “Why aren’t you at dinner?”

She raises the book a little higher to cover her face. “Just wanted to finish the book.”

He raises an eyebrow. If she was actually so invested in the book that she was skipping dinner to finish it as soon as possible, then she wouldn’t even be responding to him. He walks over and tugs the book from her hands. She pulls back for a moment, but ultimately lets him take it, which is all that he needs to know. She’d probably set him on fire if he tried that on something she really was trying to read. She’s not looking at him, her mouth pulled into a scowl. “Hermione.”

She pushes herself up so she’s sitting upright on the couch with her back to him. “Today’s another anniversary.”

Draco’s confused before he remembers that Lavender likes to celebrate each month that she’s with Ron by being as embarrassing as possible until Ron either turns an unhealthy shade of red or he drags her out of the great hall. Last month she’d barely gotten more than a sentence in before he’d literally thrown her over his shoulder and walked out of the great hall that way.

He and Harry have never really focused on anniversaries. He’s not sure when theirs would even be. The day they met? When they got their soulmarks? Their first kiss? The first time they went on a real actual date in public? He has no idea and he’s not going to ask. Besides, Harry’s forgetful enough that deciding on an anniversary and setting up expectations around that date is sure to end up stressing the both of them out. He loves Harry. He’s kind and thoughtful and caring. But he barely remembers his own birthday and Draco sees no reason to add another recurring obligation to their calendar. If he wants Harry to spoil him and tell him he’s pretty and take him somewhere nice, then he can just ask for that and his soulmate will do it happily and no one has to have anxiety about forgetting an important date.

Draco considers going on that spiel for a second because at least it’ll be distracting, but there’s the elephant in the room that they’re not discussing. Harry’s washed his hands of the whole thing because it was seriously stressing him out so he’s elected to instead actively ignore it instead, but Draco has a much better track record of meddling in other people’s love lives. Really, he’s more qualified to have this conversation than Harry is.

Although, Hermione’s a lot more likely to set him on fire than she is to set Harry on fire, and it’s important that he take that into account as well. He should approach this delicately. Sensitively. With a light touch, so to speak.

“You know that you could have Ron throwing you over his shoulder and doing whatever it is that he does after that with you instead of Lavender if you just asked, right?”

What’s the point of being a healer if he has to worry about little things like third degree burns, after all.

“Draco!” she snaps, twisting around to glare at him.

He continues, “I know it, Lavender knows it, the whole school practically knows it.”

“Well, then Ronald probably knows it too,” she says, practically shouting, “and he hasn’t done anything about it so clearly he doesn’t want to do anything about it!”

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

“Do you know what the difference between you and Lavender is?” he asks. Hermione’s hand twitches for her wand, so he better talk fast if he wants to keep his eyebrows. “She actively went after him. She’s been flirting with him since the opening feast and she practically had to flash him before he bought a clue. If you want him to do something, you’re going to have to just come out and tell him that’s what you want.”

“Easy for you to say,” she says. “You and Harry are soulmates. You’ve never dated anyone else!”

He doesn’t roll his eyes, but just barely. “Yeah, exactly. I’d spent two years running after Harry doing stupid shit for him and because of him. I literally have his marigolds on my hip. And he was still nervous about trying to kiss me! And I made him make the first move! Harry! Harry Potter! I risked my entire love life on Harry James Potter making some sort of romantic overture! Harry doesn’t know how to flirt with people. He barely knows how to flirt with me, and we’ve been together since we were fourteen!”

Hm, on second thought, maybe the reason Harry doesn’t know how to flirt with people is because they’ve been together since they were fourteen.

Maybe he’s not giving Hermione enough credit. The idea that either of them would date other people honestly hadn’t occurred to him and if Harry had dated someone else he probably would have … not handled it anything close to how Hermione has. Someone would have ended up in Azkaban. Maybe him, maybe whoever Harry was dating because Draco may or may have not framed them for some sort of crime.

He thinks he’s joking but he hopes he doesn’t ever have to find out.

“Harry flirts,” Hermione objects, but by the way she’s almost smiling he knows that she’s aware she’s speaking lies. Which, whatever, it’s not like one of the tenants of her house is honesty.

“That’s a generous description,” he says. Harry mostly just tells him he’s hot and gropes his ass. Which Draco’s not complaining about, obviously, but he’d hardly call it flirting. “You’re missing the point. You’re not a chess game and your friendship isn’t wizard chess pieces that can pull itself together again after he’s made the wrong play. He’s not going to play unless he’s sure he can win so you can’t just base his supposed disinterest on him not making a move. Not everyone can be Viktor Krum.”

She makes a face at that, but doesn’t set him on fire, which is good. “This is a pointless discussion. He’s dating Lavender now.”

“I really don’t think that would stop him,” he says. “Look, I’m pretty sure you can just talk to Lavender about it and she’ll take Ron for one more spin and leave you to it. She’s not stupid. She knew what she was getting into when she first set her eyes on Ron.”

Hermione’s quiet for a long moment and he thinks they’re getting somewhere, but she just shakes her head. “He didn’t interfere with my relationship with Viktor, so I’m not going to get involved with his relationship with Lavender.”

In another situation that might be healthy, or whatever, but in this current one it’s unbelievably frustrating. “You know you could just tell him how you feel and leave him to make whatever decision he wants to make based off of that, right?”

She rolls her eyes before reaching out to snatch her book back, pointedly leaning back into the couch, although she doesn’t seem as tense as she had when he entered. “I’m not going anywhere. If Ron decides he wants me, he knows just where to find me.”

Ron decided he wanted her around the time they were thirteen, but he thinks that if he tries to point that out then she really will set him on fire.

He’s going to go to the great hall and sigh very loudly until Millie asks him what’s wrong or Daphne threatens to suffocate him with his own mashed potatoes, whatever happens first.

~

Harry goes back and forth about doing this, because it’s not really fair of him, but the circle of people who know about this that he can ask is limited. His friends are too biased to give him anything close to a real answer.

He knocks on the doorframe of the potions classroom since the door is open. “Professor Silva?”

Quinn looks up from zir desk and breaks out into a smile. “Mr. Potter. What can I do for you? I don’t suppose you have any questions about the latest potions essay.”

That’s a joke, because if he did have any questions, he’d ask Draco and Hermione. It’s probably a net positive that the two of them bully the rest of them into doing their homework and doing it well, but sometimes it’s really annoying.

“Actually,” he says cautiously, “I was wondering if I could speak to my friend Quinn. I wouldn’t ask, but it’s important.”

Quinn presses zir lips together, but waves zir wand so the door softly slides shut. “Okay, Harry, what’s going on? Please don’t tell me anything I’ll be obligated to report to Dumbledore.”

“It’s not anything like that!” he insists. “Sorry. Is it awful for you to have switch back and forth?”

Ze shrugs. “It’s not too bad. Those of you that are my friends make the effort not to make this difficult for me and the ones that do try and makes things difficult for me are the same ones that I don’t give a shit about, so I have no problem giving them detention with Severus. Enough about that. What’s going on with you?”

“It’s about Snape actually,” he admits. Quinn grimaces, but he’s built up enough good will over the years that ze doesn’t him down immediately. “I just don’t understand what he’s doing. Draco’s convinced there’s some sort of conspiracy theory connected to his career trajectory, which I wasn’t putting much stock in, but he’s – different now. He’s a better teacher than he was before. But he doesn’t know any more than he did before and it doesn’t seem as if he likes us any better and I just don’t understand. He’s even answering my questions outside of class! Well, sometimes. Initially he just gave me a book to read, but that’s still more than he’s done before.”

“What book?” Quinn asks.

Harry thinks that ze’s trying to avoid to the question, but he still summons the book and hands it over.

Ze goes still when ze looks at the cover. Harry’s just starting to get concerned when ze asks, “Where did you get this?”

“Snape gave me permission to check it out of the forbidden section,” he says.

Quinn smacks zir forehead. “Why didn’t I think to look there! I’m going to give Severus a piece of my mind later. I can’t believe he told you about this book and not me.”

“Uh,” Harry blinks. “Do you have an interest in magical theory?”

“Not really,” ze answers. “But some of her potions work became declassified a few years ago and I loved it. When was this published?” He doesn’t know, but ze doesn’t wait for an answer, instead flipping to the first page. “Hm, it was published after she joined, but only barely. She must have done most or all the work beforehand since it wasn’t subject to the ten year hold. But she must have planned to continue the work there if she published under this name.”

Some days he thinks he has a handle on his life and has a general understanding about the world he lives in, then he gets himself involved in conversations like these. “Joined what? What hold? Continue the work where?”

“Hm?” Quinn looks up at him. “Oh, Hortensia was an unspeakable. Records say she was only active for about four years. Unspeakables’ identities are typically disclosed at their death, baring special circumstances, so I assume she left some other way. Although that’s pretty unusual, and sometimes I’m not so sure. If I was this smart, I wouldn’t be able to stop poking at the universe and telling everyone about the results, but the only other work I’ve read that’s nearly this brilliant is Severus’s, and I know he’s not Hortensia.”

He looks at the book in Quinn’s hand, trying to wrap his mind around that. “What do unspeakables do, exactly?”

“They poke the universe and hope it doesn’t poke them back, mostly,” ze answers. “They work in the department of mysteries trying to explain unexplainable objects, but that’s only a very small part of what they do. Mostly they just research really wild shit, but there’s a hold on all their research. None of it gets published for public consumption until at minimum ten years after they’ve left the unspeakables, unless it’s deemed to be time sensitive and culturally significant, although I’m not sure who makes that call.”

“What does an unspeakable have to do with Snape?” he asks.

Quinn shrugs. “No idea. Maybe nothing.”

Okay, fine then. Time to get back to the point. “Do you know something about Snape that you’re not telling me?”

“Most of the things I know about Severus are things I’m not telling you,” ze answers and he rolls his eyes. Ze hands back the book and leans against zir desk. “Harry, why are you asking me this? Why aren’t you asking him this?”

Harry struggles for a moment, debating whether he should get into this or just thank Quinn for zir time and leave, but he gives in and says, “I don’t want to like him.”

“You don’t have to,” ze answers automatically, and Quinn was the one that told him to look in Snape’s pensieve so he knows that ze understands all the things that he’s not saying. “You can get along with people you don’t like, you know. Just because you and Severus can manage to hold a civil conversation these days doesn’t have to mean anything.”

“But why can we?” Harry presses. “It has to be because he’s changed, because I haven’t, but I don’t really think he’s changed either.”

Quinn frowns, saying nothing before asking cautiously, “Why is this bothering you so much?”

“Because my mother loved him and I want to know why but also I don’t and I hate him but he’s saved my life but he made it miserable and it’s not fair! I want this to be easy but every option, every opinion I could possibly have on him sucks, it just contradicts something else and I hate that,” he finishes, then adds quietly, “It was easier when he was just awful all the time.”

“Oh, Harry.” Quinn reaches out to squeeze his shoulder, warm and nonjudgmental enough that he feels slightly less mortified about his outburst. “He was never awful all the time.”

“Quinn,” he groans.

“I’m serious,” ze insists. “Look, Severus was always a good instructor. He required all of his Newts students to have outstanding Owls scores, right? Well, the number of Hogwarts students taking Newts didn’t decrease after he became a teacher. It increased. A Hogwarts student hasn’t received anything below an acceptable on their potions Owl in nearly ten years – ever since students who’d only ever been taught by Severus started taking it. The Owls is a standardized test that all the magical schools in Europe take. Hogwarts is considered the best for several reasons, but how our students score is one of them. The only thing we don’t lead in is in defense, which isn’t something a lot of people pay attention to when we’re not in the middle of a war, and even then our scores are above average. Our potions program is considered one of the best in the world. Parents will send their kids here for that alone.”

All of that just makes Harry madder. “But he’s not a good teacher! Being a good teacher is more than just test scores. He treats everyone terribly. He’s not kind! Half of the school is scared of him and I know that the Slytherins don’t think he does a good job as their head of house. You can’t just hold up test scores and call someone a good teacher when he makes the people in his classroom miserable!”

“Well, he doesn’t exactly treat everyone like he treats you,” Quinn points out. Harry’s getting ready to yell again when ze says, “But you’re right.”

All his righteous anger is knocked out of him. “I’m right?”

“Of course you are,” Quinn says. “I said he’s a good instructor, and I stick by that, but being a good teacher, especially to impressionable young students, is a lot more holistic than how much knowledge you can cram into their heads. Severus can be a good teacher, I know that from personal experience, but only when he wants to be.”

“Well, if he doesn’t want to be a teacher, then why is he one?” Harry snaps. “No one’s forcing him!”

Quinn is suddenly very interested in the wall behind Harry’s head.

He falters. “Is – is someone forcing him?”

Ze presses zir lips together then says, “Come now, Harry, who could force him? Be reasonable.”

Who could force him?

There’s only one answer to that.

“Why is Dumbledore forcing him to be here?” he demands. “What does he have to gain from that?”

Ze doesn’t answer him, instead asking, “Who’s responsibility would you say it is to make sure the professors are doing their jobs responsibly and appropriately?”

Harry’s never thought of it before, but the answer seems obvious. “The headmaster. Dumbledore.”

Except he doesn’t, does he? Even ignoring Snape, who should have been fired for being an asshole to kids and a terrible head of house years ago, there’s more. Trelawney isn’t a good teacher, no matter how many prophecies she has to her name, to say nothing of how he’d handled the whole debacle with Slughorn, even if he wasn’t the headmaster then, and he’s had a notoriously light touch with all of their terrible defense professors over the years, although Harry’s willing to give that one a little bit more slack since the position is basically cursed and no one’s lasted more than a year –

Oh, wait. No, no way –

“Has Snape wanted the defense position all these years because everyone who takes it ends up dead or fired or worse?” Harry shouts.

Quinn grimaces. “Personally, I’m really hoping that he just gets fired. Or that the school board decides I’m not very good at this and Severus is forced to take his position back. I know how you feel about him, but he’s my friend. I’d prefer it if he didn’t end up dead.”

Harry doesn’t even know how he feels about Snape, so he doubts that Quinn does, but that’s hardly the point. “That’s insane. That’s literally insane behavior.”

“Well, you are the expert,” ze says and he glares but doesn’t let himself get distracted from their conversation. “Severus has been doing this for fifteen years. He doesn’t want to do it any longer, and now that he’d been outed as spy there’s no reason for him to do it any longer. I thought he’d have a much harder time even submitting the proposal for me to take over his position, even though I’m still technically under his supervision, but it went through relatively smoothly.”

He doesn’t know what to say to that. He doesn’t know how to feel about that.

Ze waves zir wand and the door swings open. “I’m sorry that there are no simple, straightforward answers. But people tend to be neither simple nor straightforward.”

He recognizes the dismissal. Part of him wants to stay and keep prodding, because all this didn’t even really answer the question he came here to ask, but the rest of him is more than ready for this conversation to be over. “Thank you, Professor Silva.”

“Anytime, Mr. Potter,” Quinn says, winking at him.

He really misses being a kid when he could just blindly hate people without feeling obligated to take nuance into account.

~

Draco can tell that something’s bothering his boyfriend, but Harry just dismisses it when he asks, so he decides not to push. Harry’s usually pretty good about telling them things, but sometimes he just has to stew in it for a while. If he doesn’t come clean on his own within the week, they’ll just send Ginny in, who if nothing else can be infuriating enough to trick him into yelling about what he’s upset about.

Except right now they’re supposed be on a kind of date and if Harry isn’t going to tell him what’s wrong, then he’d prefer it if his boyfriend was mopey on his own time. He supposes he could just start stripping. That typically gets Harry’s attention firmly on him, although considering they’re in the middle of Madame Pudifoot’s, that might not go so well.

“Did you finish the report for Hagrid?” Draco asks.

“Yeah, sure,” he says automatically before blinking and putting those pretty green eyes where they belong, which is, of course, on Draco. “What report? Since when does Hagrid have us write reports?”

“He doesn’t and there isn’t one.” Hagrid always gives the bare minimum homework that he can get away with, since he’d prefer for all their work to either be hands on or an oral quiz during class. Considering that one doesn’t become a world renowned zoologist without writing up plenty of detailed reports on his findings, Hagrid is more than capable of assigning and grading reports and essays, he just doesn’t. Personally, Draco thinks he just doesn’t want to have to read several dozen incorrect papers if he doesn’t have to and if they can all learn without having to write them. “Did that croissant offend you?”

“What?” Harry looks down at his plate, where he’s destroyed a perfectly good pastry by tearing it into distressingly small pieces. “Oops.”

Draco almost asks, because it would be so easy, the opening is right there, but if he’s learned nothing else about his soulmate these past few years it’s that he hates feeling forced into things. “What are we doing for the holidays? This is our first one when we’re not a secret. There’s a family dinner at the manor every year. You can come if you want, but you can also avoid it, since honestly it’s pretty boring and you’re not going to really know anyone besides me and my parents. The cousins won’t really judge me for you not showing up until we’re married, then you’ll have to be there. My mother throws a party on New Year’s Eve that’s actually a lot of fun. Blaise, Pansy, and Millie all come to that. You should come too. So can everyone else. Ever since my family’s break from Voldemort, Mum has been complaining about our guest list being a little light.”

That’s a sort of her own fault, since she killed some of her former attendants herself, but anyone currently fertilizing their flower beds probably wouldn’t have made the guest list anyway.

Harry is frowning at him, which isn’t the reaction he’d been hoping for. “Of course I’ll come to the family dinner. You’re my family. It doesn’t matter if I don’t know anyone, we’ll have to all meet eventually.”

Draco can’t climb over the table to sit himself in Harry’s lap and kiss all over his face because Madame Pudifoot will throw an aguamenti on them, so he settles for reaching out and threading his fingers through Harry’s. “Okay. Great.”

“The party sounds fun too,” he says warmly, with a look in his eye like he has an idea of what Draco’s thinking. “Do you want to come over in the morning for breakfast? I think we’re doing the same as last year, so the Weasleys and Hermione will be staying at mine for the holidays.”

“Okay,” he says, twisting their joined hands so he rub his thumb over the back of Harry’s hand.

~

Harry has just finished a lesson on the creative of application of repelling charms in the RA, which really has become more of a study group this year since Snape is actually doing his job, when Blaise taps him on the shoulder and he lingers behind, as does everyone else from their group, under the guise of helping clean up, which he thinks is a paltry cover at best. Everyone knows that Winky handles keeping things in order, usually.

Luna is leaning against Neville as she struggles to hold back her yawns, and Harry very desperately wants to ask what’s going on with them, but Ginny is right there and he doesn’t want to be put her on her shit list, so he says nothing.

“Millie and I have gotten the core stabilized,” Blaise announces.

Everyone perks up. That had been the last thing they’d been waiting on, since Ron and Hermione had managed to successfully alchemize the rubies last week.

“Why didn’t you tell me before?” Draco whines, poking Blaise in the side. “I could have finished forging it tonight! I already know how to use repelling charms.”

“Because you would have ducked out of dinner and probably skipped charms to finish it and having you mysteriously disappear for a day before we attempt to steal an extremely important magical object is stupid,” Pansy answers. “Also, if I’m not allowed to skip to work on Tonk’s dress, then you’re not allowed to skip it to forge our fake Griffin sword.”

“Is it actually a dress?” Harry asks, mostly to interrupt the argument between Pansy and Draco before it can start.

She lifts her nose into the air. “You’ll just have to wait and find out. I can’t believe they’re having a spring wedding! It’s too soon! I have so much work to do and not nearly enough time to do it in. Thank merlin for Winky, honestly. At least this time it’s not entirely made out of lace. If I had to handmake that much lace this time, I couldn’t do it even with Winky’s help.”

“Have they decided on a venue?” Millie asks.

Ginny rolls her eyes. “No. They almost had it at the ministry since that’s where they got together and they basically never leave anyway and they thought it’d be funny, but Mum threw a fit. Percy then asked if they could have it at the Burrow, which Mum was thrilled, but she got nervous about all the people that are going to be there and trying to accommodate them and all that, since our yard is big but the house is small. She said yes but then started panicking about it so Percy told it was fine and not to worry about it. Obviously he could pull some strings and get them into a slot at one of the popular venues, even this close to the date, but almost all of the good ones have political implications that they don’t want to deal with. At this rate they’re going to just end up getting married in their apartment.”

“What about Grimmauld Place?” Harry offers. “We’d have to take the fidelius charm off for a day, but considering Voldemort is discorporated and the wards around it have all been repaired and activated, it should be fine. I can talk to Remus and Sirius about it.”

“Oh, the greenhouse would be perfect!” Hermione says excitedly. “It looked so nice for Harry’s birthday, and we just did that in a morning.”

“There’s enough time that I could plant some wedding bells if I get creative with the growth potion,” Neville says, a far away look in his eyes that tells Harry that they’ve lost him to gardening plans.

Blaise raises an eyebrow. “Really? That’s a lot of effort for one day. Then what will you do with them? Wedding bells are a bitch to repot and they hate any soil that they didn’t grow up in. Plus if you’re not careful they’ll sound awful.”

“So I’ll be careful,” he says, shrugging. “You can control the volume by constricting their petals, and they only bloom in spring anyway. Most of the time they’ll just sound nice, and if they don’t then that’s what muffling charms are for.”

“Or scissors,” Millie says and laughs at the identical scandalized looks that Blaise and Neville throw her way.

“You can do anything you want in the garden,” Harry says, which is something that he knows he doesn’t have to check with his godfathers about because Neville’s been doing whatever he wants in there from the beginning.

Ginny claps her hands together. “Okay, you talk to Sirius and Remus and hopefully Tonks and Percy won’t have to get married in an apartment building that they’re in the middle of remodeling. Back to the task at hand. How long will it take you to finish the sword?”

Draco sucks his bottom lip between his teeth. “I can have it done in about two days if you don’t want me skipping things like quidditch practice or meals, although honestly I feel like I do that often enough when I get distracted by a project that it’s unlikely to raise any suspicion.”

“Well, considering if we mess this up then we’re inviting another goblin war, perhaps it’s better to err on the side of caution?” Millie asks.

Draco makes a face but doesn’t argue further.

“Once we have the sword, how are we supposed to swap it out for real one?” Luna asks.

They got silent. They hadn’t gotten that far.

“Could we come up with something to get Dumbledore out of the school for a couple of hours?” Harry asks.

“That’s not going to work,” Ron says. “He definitely has all sorts of wards and sensors that go off if someone goes into his office when he’s not there. We’re good, but us being able to get past those without setting them off when we don’t even know what they are is pretty impossible.”

“So, what? We switch it out while he’s in the office with us?” Ginny demands.

Ron grimaces. “Maybe we can arrange for him to be called away very suddenly when we’re already in his office so he leaves us in there alone? I’m not sure how we’d do that. I might be able to convince Nick but then he’d figure out what we’d done immediately.”

That seems unnecessarily complicated. “Why don’t we just use the invisibility cloak? One of us will go up and distract Dumbledore and the other person will follow with the sword under the invisibility cloak and switch out the sword. If they use a sound muffling charm and we can just keep Dumbledore from turning around at the wrong moment, it should work.”

Hermione shakes her head. “That will keep you hidden, but it won’t block out the magical signature of the sword, or even the person. Unless Dumbledore is really distracted, then he’s going to notice.”

“Um,” Harry stares. “It does block out magical signatures. It’s an invisibility cloak.”

“They don’t do that, love,” Draco says.

He’d almost think that they were messing with him, except they’re obviously serious. “Well, mine does. I can tell the difference when one of you guys is wearing it. As long as the person under the cloak stays quiet, no one’s going to notice.”

Pansy frowns. “Are you sure? My great aunt has an invisibility cloak. I’m pretty sure she would have mentioned if that was something that it could do.”

“The books all say that it just makes the wearer invisible,” Hermione confirms.

Harry shrugs. “Well, I don’t know about all invisibility cloaks, just mine. And mine makes you totally invisible, magical signature included.”

They share skeptical glances, but considering he’d know better than them, they drop it. Ginny continues, “So the plan is for two of us to walk into Dumbledore’s office, one of us under the cloak with the fake griffin sword, and just try and switch them out behind Dumbledore’s back and hope he doesn’t notice?”

There’s a beat of silence then Millie says, “It sounds like a really bad plan when you say it out loud like that.”

“That’s because it’s a bad plan,” Luna says helpfully.

“Well,” Draco starts then grimaces. “We’ve had worse plans.”

“At least put it in a bottomless pouch so you don’t get caught with the sword if this very bad plan fails,” Hermione says. “If this doesn’t work, we’ll at least get a chance to come up with something else as long as he doesn’t know what exactly we were trying to do.”

They really have had worse plans, but that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

The next two days pass at once syrup slow and way too quickly. Sirius and Remus enthusiastically agree to offer their home to Tonks and Percy for their wedding, which they gratefully accept, so that’s something to look forward to. Neville and Blaise start making plant plans that they’re going to implement over the holiday break which Harry quickly stops being able to follow.

Once the sword is complete, they all pile into the chamber again, just because they don’t want to risk being seen sneaking into the shrieking shack. There has to be some way to connect the tunnels that lead from the castle to Hogsmeade to the tunnels in the shrieking shack, because right now the most annoying thing is actually getting there without getting caught. It’s not like all of them can fit under the invisibility cloak and the disillusionment charm isn’t foolproof.

Draco unveils the sword and if nothing else it looks identical to Gryffindor’s sword. Harry’s never held the original, but when he picks up this one he can feel the power flowing through the blade and purification of the silver is strong enough that his skin tingles where he’s touching it.

“Damn,” Blaise says, swinging the sword in a neat arc that looks like he kind of knows what he’s doing. “We should make more of these. This is cool.”

“Well, you and Neville are the only ones with any sword training,” Draco says. “So it seems like it’d be a bit of a waste for the rest of us, but sure.”

“Neville’s better at it than I am,” Blaise says easily, handing him the sword.

Harry raises an eyebrow and Neville makes a face even as he automatically adjusts his stance and falls into a sword pattern that looks practiced. “Gran thought lessons would make me less clumsy. I don’t know much.”

“I want to know how to use a sword,” Ginny says.

Neville opens his mouth, probably to offer to teach her, and Ron hastily interrupts, “So, we have the sword and a sort of plan, now what?”

They debate on who exactly will deal with Dumbledore. They quickly decide that Harry should be the one who should talk to him, since he’s the most likely to be able to hold his attention. Who should go under the invisibility cloak and switch the swords lasts a bit longer, but Draco successfully argues his way into that position, claiming that since this whole thing was his idea that he should be the one to actually do it. None of them really agree with that reasoning since the basis of their friendship is to help each other do stupid shit, but Draco feels passionate enough about it that no one argues against it too hard. Blaise and Ron weren’t even in the running for that one since they’re so tall that they would have trouble maneuvering around under the invisibility cloak without accidentally lifting it high enough that their feet could be seen.

Tomorrow, they’re going to attempt to steal Gryffindor’s sword so they can return it to the goblins by just switching it out with a fake one while Dumbledore’s back is turned.

“It really isn’t the worst plan we’ve ever had,” Hermione says, trying to be comforting.

Harry doesn’t feel very comforted.