Cheer up, you still have good hair.
It was, Draco thought, a ridiculous note. He would have assumed it was from Pansy, save that she was travelling somewhere glamorous and he was back in this battered excuse for a school because his mother thought it appropriate he obtain a qualification now that Minion of Evil was no longer a valid career path.
Plucking the note from its pin on his door, he strolled back to the common room. It was quiet tonight, the fire was dying down and only a few students were left chatting in the soft green glow of the lakelight. The two Draco was looking for were there, though.
Daphne and her sister both looked up. He held the note up and waved it at them. ‘Thanks for this. I’m assuming it was one of you.’
The girls smiled, but shrugged. ‘Not me,’ said Daphne.
‘No idea what you’re on about,’ added her sister. ‘But if you’re interested in a game of exploding snap or snakes and dungeons, we’re still playing.’
Draco did not believe them, but he smiled and sat with them and asked to be dealt in. Astoria shuffled the cards with a friendly grin, and Daphne passed him a glass of butterbeer. For the first time since he had returned to Hogwarts, Draco relaxed.
You should be in Azkaban with your father.
Draco crumpled the parchment and tossed it into the air, incinerating it with a quick flick of his wand. He had become quite good at immolation charms since school began, even Professor Flitwick had complimented him. With several such notes making their way into his bag or pockets of a week, there had been plenty of practice.
He looked up. Daphne was coming up the corridor towards him, giving him a sympathetic smile. ‘Hate mail?’ she asked as she drew close.
‘Some stationer in Hogsmeade is making a fortune,’ Draco replied with forced cheeriness.
‘Really, you’re martyr to the needs of the small businessman,’ Daphne said, nodding seriously.
It worked, Draco laughed. He was still laughing when they rounded the corner and encountered Potter and his acolytes. From the Greek, Draco thought, akolouthos: a follower, and accurately so in this case. Potter had quickened his pace to stay ahead of the horde that followed with its cacophony of ‘How are you, Harry?’ ‘You’re looking good!’ ‘Can I have your autograph?’ and ‘I love you, Harry!’
‘Look, Daphne,’ Draco drawled affectedly. ‘Snatcher re-enactors! Run, Potter, run!’
Potter had drawn level with him by now, and Draco heard a snort as he passed, whether of laughter or disdain, he couldn’t say. But several of the followers stopped to tell Draco what they thought of him.
He already knew, they’d been telling him constantly for the past three weeks. This time the girls restricted themselves to complaints at his bad manners, which he bore well, they were fair enough, while the two small boys at the back began a diatribe on his politics – again, not uncalled for. Then one of them began on his mother.
Draco took a step forward.
His would-be victim was dragged backwards by the ear.
‘What’s the rule on Narcissa Malfoy, Spriggins?’
The boy muttered something apologetically.
‘I can’t hear you.’
‘Narcissa Malfoy is a brave woman who saved Harry Potter,’ Spriggins recited.
‘That is correct. Now off you go.’
Spriggins and his friends fled.
‘Granger,’ Draco greeted the ear pincher.
‘Malfoy. Have you seen Harry?’
‘He went that way.’ Draco pointed over his shoulder. ‘Pursued by hordes.’
‘Cheers,’ said Granger, trotting off in pursuit.
Draco and Daphne watched her go. ‘Was that odd?’ Daphne asked. ‘It’s reached a point where I can no longer tell.’
‘I’ve been at that point for ages. Come on, we’re going to be late for Arithmancy.’
They made it to their desks just in time, but Professor Vector had begun discussion on four-digit primes and their relationship to time-shifting magic before Granger crept through the door.
‘Ten points from Gryffindor,’ she said smoothly, before returning to the lecture.
Granger didn’t seem upset, if anything, she seemed amused by the idea of points still mattering. It was that amusement that spurred Draco to speak, or so he told himself.
Professor Vector paused her flow of numbers. ‘Yes, Malfoy?’
‘Professor, Granger was unavoidably detained with prefectly duties. There was a crowd harassing Potter and she was needed to rescue him.’
‘I see. And there were no other prefects available to assist?’
‘Only me, professor, and I’m hardly in the best position for dealing with Gryffindors.’
Vector blinked at him, as though weighing up his statements. ‘All right. Ms Granger, you should have mentioned this on your arrival. No points from Gryffindor, five points to Slytherin for fair play.’
Draco waited until Vector had turned and was writing complex intersecting sequences of primes in the air with her wand before he glanced at Granger. She was looking at him with mild curiosity, and did not look away as his gaze met hers. Instead, she gave a small and gracious bow. Draco mirrored the gesture, then returned to his note-taking.
He lagged behind at the end of class, and Daphne did likewise. Once the room was empty, she came and sat on the edge of his desk while he finished arranging his books. ‘I’m sure you have a cunning plan afoot,’ she said, handing him his quill. ‘Is it one you can let me in on?’
‘I was just ...’ Draco paused, and his eyes opened wide. When he resumed speaking, his words came faster. ‘Greengrass, you may be a genius. You’ve known my family your whole life, tell me, who are you more afraid of, my father or my mother?’
‘Your mother,’ said Daphne, without hesitation.
‘Exactly.’ Draco smiled broadly. ‘My mother, sainted and feted and welcome in all the best circles thanks to Potter’s loud praises of her Voldemort-defying ways. While poor old pater is back in Azkaban for the second time in two years.’
‘For three months, which will be up soon,’ Daphne pointed out in fairness.
‘I’ve spent years trying to emulate him. Trying to wield power the way he taught me to, and it occurs to me that I have been a complete idiot the whole time.’
Daphne blinked. ‘You’ve lost me.’
‘I am rubbish at intimidating people these days,’ Draco said. ‘In fact, I suspect the only reason I ever had any success was that my two best mates were behemoths and my father had a reputation for Unforgivables. So …’
A smile spread slowly across Daphne’s face. ‘So we should remind people you’re your mother’s son.’
‘Goodness no, dear Daphers. I can’t rely on her for my reputation. Besides, actions speak louder than words.’
Daphne began to laugh. ‘Merlin’s pants, you’re going to try charm.’
‘That’s practically malicious in this climate.’
Daphne patted Draco’s shoulder. ‘I’ve been worried about you,’ she confessed.
‘As have I,’ Draco admitted. ‘But I see a return to entertainment on the horizon. After all, we’re only young once.’
He hoisted his bag onto his shoulder and wrapped his other arm around Daphne’s waist, giving her a squeeze. ‘I shall bring peace and love to the entirety of the school. I can’t wait to see the looks of horror on their faces when they realise it’s me. I think I’ll start with Granger. If I disconcert her enough, I can beat her in Potions.’
Weasley needs your time. You don’t need to fix him, just be there for him.
Hermione stared at the note. It had been popped into her bag some time in the period between the end of Arithmancy and the start of Charms, but given she had spent most of that free period in the library, that didn’t narrow down the field much.
She looked around the common room. Ginny would never have referred to Ron as ‘Weasley’, Seamus would never have had such a considerate thought, and Harry would have just said something. As would Luna, Neville and Dean, while she doubted anyone else would have had enough free brain to notice such a thing.
It was standard black ink on medium-weight parchment that cost more than the standard, but not enough more to be remarkable. The handwriting was neat, but not distinctive and there were no identifying marks. She could lift identifying traces from it with relatively simple spellwork, but then she would need to compare them against everyone in the school’s to find a match.
She could also, she realised, just take the advice – it was good.
‘Is Ron upstairs?’ she asked Harry.
‘Yeah, I left him with Quidditch Monthly.’
‘Right. Okay, right, I’m ...’
‘Going to head up and check he’s all right?’ Harry finished the sentence for her.
‘And you’d like me to keep Dean and Seamus busy for a while, say a couple of hours.’
‘What? No!’ Hermione was aware that the blush creeping up her cheeks was betraying her.
Harry kept his face perfectly straight. ‘Because you will want to have some serious talking given he is still so upset about the loss of Fred.’
‘Yes! Yes, that’s precisely it. Yes. Thank you.’
‘Not at all.’
‘Off with Padma Patil for the evening, expect him back in the wee hours.’
‘You’re a good friend, Harry.’
He reached up and patted her arm as she went by, then returned to his book. As she trotted up the stairs, she could not help but smile – so many years of trying to convince Harry Potter to read only for him to turn to it as a respite from talking to people. She hoped he wasn’t avoiding talking too much, maybe she should ... there was the senior boy’s dormitory.
She knocked gently on the door. ‘Ron? It’s me ...’
‘Morning, Malfoy, mind yourself, Harry’s fan club’s just round the corner.’
‘Weasley,’ Draco replied with a nod that could be taken for mild gratitude.
‘He looked cheery,’ Daphne said.
‘He did,’ said Draco, turning to go the other way. He ducked to one side to let a fast-moving student past. ‘Morning, Granger,’ he called after her.
She paused, smiled, and sang out a reply of ‘Good morning, Malfoy!’ before setting off after Weasley.
Draco watched her catch him and the two of them link hands and change direction out towards the gardens.
‘She looks cheerier,’ Astoria said, quietly but pointedly.
‘I have no idea what you mean,’ said Draco with a smile.
‘Have you started your campaign of goodwill to all without saying anything to us?’ Daphne’s tone was mildly reproachful.
‘Sorry. It was a spontaneous decision.’
‘That’s very thoughtless. Astoria’s made bingo cards and everything.’
Draco raised both eyebrows in anticipation.
‘Do you want to see one?’ Astoria asked. She pulled a leaf of parchment from her bag, presuming Draco’s answer.
Draco read through the grid of boxes. Towards the centre were the likely outcomes: Detention Until March, Boxed Ears, Stunner From Longbottom, but on the outer rows were some more cheerful predictions including Hufflepuff Girlfriend and Securing A Junior Ministry Position Before Leaving School.
‘I’m not sure politics is a good idea for me,’ Draco said.
Daphne grabbed the list back and handed it to her sister. ‘I’m quite sure it’s not. Come on, Potions. And you have Charms, Astoria. Off you go!’
Professor Slughorn was a little late to the lesson, which gave Draco ample time to look about the room. He and Daphne had nabbed the rear desks as soon as term began, reasoning that they were far better to be in a position to observe rather than be observed.
Ron Weasley had positioned himself at the middle desk, with Harry Potter on one side of him and Hermione Granger on the other. He was trying not to look only in the one direction, and sometimes succeeding. In the rows immediately in front of and behind them were other members of Dumbledore’s Army, forming an informal protective barrier between Potter and the younger seventh years, many of whom would clearly preferred to have been closer.
‘It’s disgusting,’ Daphne muttered.
‘It’s natural,’ Draco said in fairness. ‘He did save their lives.’
Daphne reached into her bag and pulled out a parchment, on which she ostentatiously crossed out the Makes Draco No Fun box.
Slughorn entered the room at that point, slightly harried and peering over his shoulder back into the corridor. ‘Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,’ he said quickly. ‘My apologies for the delay. If you would take out your textbooks, we will be beginning on page 87, with An Elixir to Abate Melancholy. As you will no doubt note, this follows on from yesterday’s lesson in the ...’
Draco turned his mind to the lesson, but spared enough of it to watch his teacher. Slughorn remained out of sorts, even sighing audibly when Potter chopped his hellebore leaves rather than crushing them. Draco’s own potion was well made, even by his own standards, and he took a moment to help Daphne with hers. Ten points to Slytherin made it all worthwhile at the end, with Granger managing five for Gryffindor even while pressing her foot against Weasley’s for the entirety of the class.
‘Thank you all, creditable performances all round. Please read over your notes so you can see where you went wrong, I’ll be in my office between four and six this afternoon if anyone wants to discuss matters.’ Slughorn waved his wand and the door sprang open. He motioned for the students to leave, and then frowned ever so slightly as Draco made his way down to the front of the room.
‘Sir,’ said Draco. ‘I was wondering if you needed some help tidying up the classroom.’
‘What’s that?’ Slughorn peered over his moustache. ‘There’s no more points available, you know.’
‘No, sir, that’s fine. It’s just that you seemed a little harried and I thought I could help.’
Slughorn looked at him coolly. Draco looked back evenly.
‘All right then, yes, thank you, that would be very helpful.’
It was easy work, returning all the ingredients to where they belonged and making sure the cauldrons were clean. Draco made sure he worked quietly, and was rewarded when Slughorn waved Professor Sprout in, telling her to ignore Malfoy.
‘I’ve brought you some valerian,’ she said in a low voice. ‘To help you sleep.’
‘You’re a good woman, Pomona,’ he replied. ‘I keep seeing his face at the last, so desperate. I was so ready to think ill of him, when he was fighting on our side valiantly all along.’
‘None of us knew, that’s what he wanted. He was brave, Horace, till the end. Don’t hold it against yourself, it just proves he played his part to the utmost.’
‘I’d known him for years. I should have seen he was always Dumblebore’s man. I should have ...’
They lowered their voices further, but Draco had heard enough.
Professor Sprout did not stay long, but she distracted Slughorn long enough for Draco to scratch a note and fold the parchment. He was just about to slip it into Slughorn’s desk when he heard a soft cough behind him.
‘I’ll take that if you don’t mind, Mr Malfoy.’
Rumbled, Draco held out the parchment.
Slughorn read it quickly, then looked back up at Draco. ‘A portrait in the Headmaster’s office? Damned good idea. And Harry is keen but needs more votes, you say. Always keen to help out our Mr Potter, especially after all he’s been through.’
Draco smiled as Slughorn patted his shoulder amiably.
‘I may have misjudged you, too, my boy. Very considerate this. All of it. Seems we’ve all grown and changed a bit, doesn’t it?’
When Draco made it back to the Slytherin common room Astoria and Daphne were both carefully colouring in their Becomes Teacher’s Pet boxes.
‘I’ll have you know I have been making great strides in diplomacy,’ Draco told them, plonking himself down on the sofa nearby.
‘That would be why you have a Stun Me note taped to the back of your robes,’ Astoria observed drily.
Draco pulled off the offending item. ‘Bloody third years, they swarm over corridors like locusts and you can’t get by without some contact.’
‘Don’t let it bother you,’ said Daphne. ‘There’s another note addressed to you on your dormitory door and it’s much nicer.’
‘There’s no need,’ Draco said with a smile as he stood to check.
Don’t let them get you down. You’re loyal and you care, and that counts.
He took it back to the common room. ‘Much saner than the last one, ladies. Thank you. I do care, about the both of you. You’re thoroughly decent friends and I’m glad we’ve had a chance to get to know each other.’
‘It’s not from us,’ said Astoria, taking the opportunity to cross off the Becomes Slightly Unhinged box on her chart, even as Daphne told her not to.
‘Of course not. Random people have taken to leaving me anonymous tidings of goodwill.’
‘It wasn’t there when we went to Potions,’ said Daphne. ‘I waited for Astoria to get out of Charms before we came down, and it was there by the time we came in.’
‘How could I doubt such innocent faces? Right, what do you have planned for morning tea? Exploding Snap?’
‘Bugger that for a lark. What do you have planned for the next step in your campaign?’ Daphne replied.
‘I was thinking about cheering up Neville Longbottom,’ Draco mused.
Both the Greengrasses laughed.
‘Neville-gets-in-after-two-every-morning-Longbottom?’ asked Astoria.
‘The same Neville who is rumoured to be going out with Padma Patil, Romilda Vane and Luna Lovegood?’ asked Daphne. ‘With full agreement from each of the above, if the rumour mill is to be believed.’
‘Right. Well. Someone more serious. Dennis Creevey then.’
Daphne and Astoria exchanged glances.
‘Are you sure?’ Daphne asked. ‘He’s never really liked you.’
‘He worships Harry Potter, who you brawled with for years, and he loved his big brother, who was killed by people not wholly unconnected with you,’ Astoria added, eschewing subtlety altogether.
‘True on both counts,’ admitted Draco. ‘It will be a challenge. I’m aiming for your Effects Minor Miracle box.’
‘Good luck,’ said Daphne.
‘You’re more likely to end up with Needs Nose Repaired, but good luck,’ Astoria added.
‘Thanks. I’ll need to borrow your photo albums.’
Dennis Creevey liked to spend his lunches alone. It was easier than dealing with the pitying glances he received at his house table. The school elves had taken to bringing him a tray out in the courtyard, where he could watch the castle rebuilding that was still going on, or enjoy the swooping flights of birds overhead.
The one downside was that it was hard to make even a good stodgy lunch of chops and roast potatoes with crumble and custard to follow last that long when there was no one to talk to through it.
As had become his wont, Dennis reached into his satchel and prepared to deal with the morning’s homework. There was a new book there. Bemused, he pulled it out and began to flick through the pages. There was Colin. On every page. Waving, smiling, sometimes with his arm around another student – Harry Potter in several, Dennis himself in several more. Beneath the photos were notes: Taken by Anthony Goldstein at the DA meeting, February 1996; From the album of Hannah Abbott; Shot by Luna Lovegood in Hogsmeade – the last had Colin impersonating a nargle.
When Professor McGonagall came looking to see what had kept him from his History of Magic lesson, she found him in equal parts tears and smiles.
Dennis held the book up to her. ‘Who do you think could have done such a thing?’
She flicked through the pages. ‘All of them. All of them must have allowed their photographs to be copied and put together. Have you seen these before?’
‘A few. Not many. I only had a few photos of Colin, he was always behind the camera, never in front.’
McGonagall returned the book, and held Dennis’s hand for a moment as she placed the book into it. ‘It is a beautiful gift, Dennis. You should treasure it.’
‘I do.’ He took a deep breath. ‘There was no note, nothing. Should I find out who organised it all?’
‘Do you think they want you to?’
‘I think they just wanted you to find some comfort in it.’
‘And did you?’
Unseen by either of them, Draco Malfoy stepped back into the school. Things had not gone entirely to plan – after four days of rather complex work putting the album together from mostly illicitly copied shots, and a morning of waiting for a moment of unattended bag, he had planned to be the one talking with Creevey and forging a new friendship that way. Yet he suspected the Headmistress’s untimely intrusion may have been the better outcome on the whole, as Dennis looked ... comforted. He hurried back to the Slytherin common room before either of the Greengrasses could spot him and fill in their square for Goes Completely Soft.
You should be stomped on like the snake you are.
Draco tossed the note into the air and incinerated it. At least they were usually in different handwriting, he reflected. It was more comforting to be universally loathed than the object of one person’s obsession.
He looked up. Potter was frowning at him from the other end of the corridor. Draco raised an eyebrow, with only minimum superciliousness, and Potter faked tossing a note in the air and setting fire to it, finishing with an eloquently questioning shrug. Draco waved his hand dismissively – it was nothing – then pointed more urgently as a battalion of first years spotted Harry and began heading towards him. Potter glanced over his shoulder to confirm the threat, raised a quick two thumbs up at Draco, then fled.
Longest conversation they’d ever had without insults, Draco realised. And all conducted in mime.
It was Astoria Greengrass, so he waited for her.
‘Have you done anything yet today? Daphne says she was able to fill in Hangs Out With DA over breakfast, but I was standing closer and you and Weasley were just discussing Quidditch, so I don’t think that counts.’
Draco headed off to class, with Astoria following. ‘We were, so no, it doesn’t. You’re quite right. Either of you close to winning yet?’
‘Oh it’s almost impossible to win,’ Astoria said cheerfully. ‘I have lots of squares like Eaten By Troll and Runs Off With Merman lurking about on the board.’
‘Merman? I thought you had me running off with a Hufflepuff girl.’
‘I like to hedge my bets.’
‘You’re a subtle one, little Greengrass,’
‘So, who are you going to be bringing light and joy to today? I ask solely so I can secure a good view.’
‘I was thinking Justin Finch-Fletchley.’
‘The Mud--, er, I mean Mug-- ... differently parented Hufflepuff boy?’
‘There’s more than one,’ Draco pointed out.
‘Yeah, but he’s the hot one.’
‘I’ll take your word for it. Yes, that one. I’ve just been thinking about snakes, which made me think of him, and I realised that he’s been rather quiet since term began.’
‘Thinking of snakes made you think of Justin Finch-Fletchley? That Merman square is starting to look more promising.’
‘Hush, child. I scared him with one in Duelling Club about seventy years ago.’
‘You’re no more venerable than Daphne, you know, and she’s only two years older than me.’
‘That’s all beside the point. The point is that Finch-Fletchley shows considerable promise in the Wizarding world and his parents are apparently very important in the Muggle one, so obviously I should become a part of the new order and begin associating with him.’
‘This will be fun to watch,’ Astoria said, with a grin.
‘You’ll be in Transfiguration, I plan to make my move during History of Magic.’
‘I should have put in more Makes Draco No Fun squares,’ Astoria sighed, but winked immediately afterwards. ‘Tell me what happens, especially if he hexes you.’
‘You will be my first port of call, especially if I end up vomiting something unpleasant.’
Draco was most of the way to Professor Binns’s classroom when he heard his name. Since fortune had it that he was standing in front of a storeroom at the time, he ducked into it to listen.
‘But it’s Malfoy, you hate him.’ It was girl Weasley.
‘We were just talking about Quidditch.’ Her brother.
‘But we never talk to him. We hate him,’ she insisted.
‘I know, but all that seems a bit pointless now, you know,’ he said.
‘Pointless? Fred’s dead.’
‘Yeah, Gin, I know, I was there.’
‘So was Malfoy.’
‘Not fighting Voldemort, either. He was running away.’
‘Yeah, well, that might have been the most sensible thing he could have done at that point ...’
The voices were too far away to hear now, which allowed Draco to hear the second person breathing in his storeroom.
Taking his wand from his pocket, he turned around carefully and muttered ‘Lumos.’
In the back corner was a sheepish Harry Potter.
‘Malfoy,’ said Potter.
‘Potter,’ Draco replied. ‘Have you finally snapped?’
‘Hiding from fourth year girls who want me to take them to Hogsmeade this weekend,’ Potter admitted with a wry grin.
‘First He Who Must Not Be Named, now hormonal teenagers. Your life is one drama after another. Can’t your girlfriend scare them off?’
Potter mumbled something along the lines of just good friends and separate ways. ‘What she said just then ...’ he added. ‘We don’t all hate you.’
‘Yes you do.’
‘No. She probably does, and I used to, but I think this year taught me a lot about hate, and how it’s stupid. Your mother was willing to die to save you – we’re not so different.’
And Draco would have said something to him as Potter reached past to open the door and head out to class, but he was too astonished to speak.
It was more than halfway through the class when Draco spotted his chance to act on the Justin front. Binns had been banging on about the Goblin Riots of 1929 and the implications for the Global Wizarding Economy.
‘Sir?’ Draco said loudly. ‘Sir?’ he repeated more vigorously when ignored.
Binns stammered to a halt. ‘Is that you again, Granger?’
‘No sir, it’s me, Malfoy.’
Binns peered at him translucently. ‘Malfoy? What do you want?’
‘Sir, what happened to the Muggle economies?’
‘The Muggle economies. If the Wizarding ones collapsed, did it affect the Muggle ones?’
Binns stared. After a minute, he hummed. Then he hawed. Then he tutted disapprovingly. ‘This is History of Magic, Mr Malfoy, not History of Muggles. You can go to the library after class.’
Draco did not mind, he had achieved his goal, Justin was looking round at him with undisguised interest.
Binns had just begun to suck the life out of the Auror response to the barricading of Gringotts when Justin’s note gently flew to Draco’s desk. Draco unfolded the neatly folded owl and read: If you’re genuinely interested, I know the answer to your question.
Yes please, Draco wrote back on a fresh sheet of parchment. We both have a free period next, meet you in the library? He sent the note, shaped as a fan.
Give me ten minutes to grab a book from my dorm and I’ll see you there. Justin replied, with a hippogriff this time. Say what you like about the boy, his origami was first rate.
Draco and Justin exchanged nods and see you theres as the class ended. Daphne swept in and grabbed Draco’s arm.
‘Did I, or did I not, see you leaving the spare broom room with Potter just before class?’ she whispered into his ear. ‘I am going to have to set Astoria down and have her make up a whole new grid!’
Draco shook his head. ‘Don’t lose your head, Daphers, it was pure coincidence. I was hiding from Weasleys, he was hiding from his fan club.’
‘Shame. So, date with Hot Justin?’
‘Appointment to discuss Muggle economics in the library.’
‘I can’t believe there is only one No Fun square for me to cross out.’
Draco leaned across and pulled the appropriate parchment from Daphne’s bag. With a quick flick of his wand he changed both Runs Off With Merman and Caught In Compromising Position With Giant Squid to Makes Draco No Fun, reasoning that there was at least a chance for Eaten By Troll.
‘Your sister,’ he said, handing it back, ‘has an unhealthy fascination for my relationships with aquatic specimens.’
‘She’s a sensitive girl, she knew to avoid ferrets.’
‘Off you go. If it turns out Justin is pining for a woman’s touch, you are to tell him about my loveliness and virtue.’
‘I will construct a plausible work of fiction on those very qualities.’
Even delayed, Draco still beat Justin to the library. For a moment he worried that he had been sent on a fool’s errand, but then a figure in Hufflepuff robes dived through the door, brandishing a book.
‘Took me a bit longer to find it than I thought it would, had to Accio the bugger. Right. Sit down, let me introduce you to the Great Depression.’
Three quarters of an hour later, Draco knew far more about the history of Muggle economics than he had ever thought he would or would need to. He also had an invitation to sit with Justin at dinner to continue their discussion on the pre-war mini boom and post-war austerity.
Better still, he knew exactly what was ailing Justin. How to go about sorting it was another matter entirely, but certainly not one beyond his considerable imagination and ability.
Mulling over the matter, he failed to pay adequate attention to his surrounds and had to quickly duck out of the way of a running Potter, only to find himself shortly thereafter surrounded by hostile first and second years.
‘Death Eater,’ one of them muttered.
‘Failed Death Eater,’ Draco corrected. ‘Bigotry is no excuse for inaccuracy.’
‘You tried to kill Harry!’ another snarled.
Draco was affronted. ‘I most certainly did not. The Dark Lord would have Crucio-ed me if I’d tried. As has been well established, I am an absolute failure at killing. Again, you are very misinformed. Do they teach young people nothing these days?’
‘We’re well enough informed,’ a Hufflepuff girl who barely reached his chest told him. ‘We know that you refused to fight with Harry in the Battle of Hogwarts.’
‘Because I could have hit my parents by accident, and your Potter had my wand.’
‘He should have killed you, as well as Voldemort!’ she growled.
‘Steady on,’ Draco pushed her back with a gentle hand to her belligerent forehead. ‘Three important failures of logic there: firstly, Potter saved my life in that battle, so it would be ridiculous for him to turn around and bop me on the head. Secondly, Potter is the one person worse than me at killing people in the entire school, he defeated He Who Must Not Be Named with an Expelliarmus for Merlin’s sake. Thirdly, why am I arguing with a foetus? Get outside and pursue The Chosen One if you must, I saw him headed down to the Herbology Greenhouses.’
Draco waited until they were all gone before he stepped away from the door to the bathroom behind him. ‘You can come out now,’ he said loudly.
Potter stuck his head out. ‘All gone?’
‘Off to bother Professor Sprout. With any luck, she’ll have some hideous job she can give them.’
‘Don’t mention it. It would ruin my reputation and make Granger suspicious of my motives.’
Potter smiled. ‘I’m sorry about ...’
‘It’s not your fault, it’s mine and I will deal with it.’
‘You haven’t Stunned any of them yet, I’m impressed.’
‘I never was one for violence, Potter, you should know that.’
Potter rubbed his nose eloquently.
‘I was on edge. As a rule, I am more known for sitting back and making snide comments.’
At that, Potter laughed. ‘I am sorry, though. And thanks again, it was good of you.’
‘Not at all.’
Draco had walked some distance before he heard his name called. He turned back.
‘I still have your wand,’ Potter said. ‘You should have it back.’
‘You defeated the Dark Lord with that wand, don’t you want to keep it?’
‘You won it fair and square.’
‘You weren’t trying to win.’
Draco was shocked into silence. ‘How do you know that?’ he whispered after a long moment. In the quiet stone hallway, it carried with ease.
‘I could see ...’
‘No, stop. I don’t want to talk about it. I have to go.’
This time, Draco did not look back.
Justin Finch-Fletchley has the worst case of Wrackspurts I have ever seen.
Draco paused to consider whether he needed to add any suggestions to his note, but reasoned that Lovegood was in Ravenclaw for a reason, so that would probably be sufficient.
There was a knock at the dormitory door.
‘Draco, is that you in there?’
‘Of course it’s me,’ he said, getting up to answer it. ‘Who else would it be?’
With Goyle and Zabini having left school and Nott in Durmstrang, he had the whole dormitory to himself these days. Occasionally the Bloody Baron stopped in to check on him, which he had to admit was preferable to the other less tangible ghosts the room held.
‘Have you been Bashed By Granger, Hugged By McGonagall or Eaten By A Troll yet?’ Astoria asked. ‘I am so close to completing a row!’
‘Let me see that. No you’re not, you’ve been cheating. I haven’t had Been Invited to Slug Club or Found A Secret Admirer yet, either.’
‘I think you have,’ Astoria chirped, pointing at the door, where a familiar-looking note, addressed to him, was pinned.
‘That’s just you and Daphne trying to cheer me up. Which I appreciate, but it’s hardly the same.’
‘I’m not sure what it will take to convince you it’s not, but anyway, Professor Slughorn asked me to send you his way when you had a minute, so you should go and see him. But read the note first so I know what it says!’
‘You already know.’
‘No I don’t! Humour me!’ she shouted desperately at his disappearing back, but Draco was gone, both notes in pocket.
Slughorn was in his rooms when Draco knocked. ‘Malfoy, my dear boy, do come in. How are you holding up? How’s your mother? Such a beautiful girl. She was looking remarkably well the last time I saw her, in very trying circumstances.’
‘I’m well, sir, Mother is well, too. Is there something you needed me for? Only Astoria Greengrass said ...’
‘Yes, yes, yes, of course. I was just hoping that you might be free this Thursday night. I’m having a little soiree in my rooms, nothing fancy, just a few of my better students, to discuss the lighter side of Potions as it were, over a light supper.’
‘That would be delightful.’ Draco very carefully made no mention of the last two years and his exclusion from the inner circle through them.
Slughorn, though, clearly felt some explanation was warranted. ‘I saw how hard the loss of your friend hit you during the war. And as we now know, your father was never quite the confidant of He Who Must Not Be Named that he was thought to be early on. Then of course there’s your mother ... All in all I realised that I had been remiss in not taking a closer interest in you and protecting you from the worst influences about.’
‘You could hardly ...’ Draco trailed off – no one could have protected him, really. Things had been set in stone before he was born.
‘But I wanted to let you know how proud I was of you coming through the whole experience a better man. Taking the time to let me know about young Mr Potter’s mission regarding Severus’s portrait ... that was thoughtful. That was the mark of a young man who is destined for a fine future no matter what has happened in the past.’
‘I was only ...’
‘Anyway, we can discuss these things further on Thursday night.’ Slughorn smiled genially. ‘Seven o’clock, casual dress, no need to make a fuss on my account.’
‘I will see you there, sir,’ Draco promised.
He took a very excursive route back to the common room, via the library, where he was lucky enough to find Lovegood laughing at some story of girl Weasley’s. Weasley stopped laughing at the sight of Draco, but managed not to glare, which he counted as a win. A few minutes’ focus on Ermintrude Jane Pritchard’s Basic Remedies for Quidditch Injuries in a nearby aisle and he had the perfect opportunity to drop his note for Luna and depart.
Astoria was waiting for him in the common room. ‘Am I right?’ she asked. ‘Can I keep my squares crossed?’
‘One of them,’ he admitted.
‘What did the note say?’
Draco rolled his eyes, but pulled it out anyway. ‘You are not as alone as you think you are,’ he read. ‘No, because I have caught the attention of the two maddest women in the school.’
‘We Slytherins need to look out for each other,’ Astoria reminded him. ‘There are precious few of us left in the upper years. Anyway, it seems I was right on both counts.’
‘Astoria, I know it’s ... oh ...’ Draco looked up in dismay. ‘You’re not trying to say that you or Daphne ... because I do genuinely care deeply for the two of you, only not like ... You’re laughing.’
‘I’m expressing very mild amusement.’
‘So there really is a mystery note leaver.’
‘There really is. And they’re very good at it; that one wasn’t there when I came in from Potions and then was there two minutes later when I came to get you.’
‘It appeared like magic! That ought to narrow down the possibilities.’
‘Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, Draco.’
‘I think you’ll find that’s Christmas cracker jokes. So. Mystery well-wisher. Who would think that a good idea?’
He registered Astoria’s facial expression.
‘Aside from me, of course. If it makes you happy to pretend there’s another person sneaking about the castle invisibly leaving little bon mots of joy rather than take the credit for your own niceness, I am happy to play along.’
Astoria sighed, and changed the subject. ‘How goes the Justin experiment?’
‘Excellent. With a bit of luck, Miss Lovegood will be accosting him even as we speak.’
Astoria gasped. ‘You haven’t set him up with Loony have you?’
‘Not in the way that you might think.’
‘Excuse me, do you mind if I check in your ears?’
Justin had been well brought up, so replied that he did not mind in the slightest.
‘Thank you,’ said Luna. ‘Ah, just as I thought. A misdiagnosis. You must have been woolgathering and some friend of yours has mistaken it for wrackspurts, they’re tiny creatures that float into your ears and ...’
‘... Make your brain go fuzzy.’
‘That’s right, fancy you knowing that.’
‘So,’ Justin said, ‘Luna says I can come down over the holidays and look through her library, apparently she has all the finest tomes on cryptozoology, says it’s a family interest. I’m really looking forward to it. If I can find a way of training properly, Dad will stop being so set on me doing something with Gringotts, and I can devote time to my thestral research.’
‘That’s brilliant, Justin.’
‘Hiya, Draco. Can we join you? It’s boring at the Slytherin table without you.’
Justin stood up and gallantly waved the two newcomers into seats.
Draco did the honours. ‘Daphne and Astoria Greengrass, this is Justin Finch-Fletchley. Justin, these are two of my other friends who have been dying to meet you properly.'
‘But of course, I already know Daphne, and I have run into her delightful sister on several occasions. So kind of you to join us and really make the party ...’
Draco would have groaned, but he had run out of small talk so it was a mercy, really.
By the end of dinner, Draco had consumed three servings of apple crumble and both Daphne and Astoria had plans to fill in their Meets New And Interesting People box.
Draco had also noticed something new. Every now and then Professor McGonagall would look out over the tables and wince. At first he thought it was in response to the unusually high level of table hopping – as Halloween drew near everyone had taken to chatting about their plans. But then he realised, she was seeing all the gaps. Places where students had been pulled out so they would not need to revisit a place that had shown them terror. And the worse places, where the student who once filled them would be learning nothing more.
She looked directly at him and frowned. Then pointed. Draco turned and grabbed the hand of the first year Slytherin who was attempting to pop a note into his bag. ‘Ah Sebastien,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘This is beneath you.’
He opened up the note: Your father was a traitor and so are you.
‘Nicely ambiguous,’ Draco said. ‘But it lacks clarity and force. You’ll have to practice your threats. Luckily for you, you will have ample time in detention.’
‘You can’t ...’ the small boy complained.
Draco pointed at his prefect’s badge. ‘I think you will find I can.’
‘And another for disturbing the peace at the Hufflepuff table,’ Ernie Macmillan chimed in from three seats away.
Draco was surprised to find himself smiling broadly as young Sebastien sulked away.
He was still smiling some half hour later when he grabbed Harry Potter and dragged him into a bathroom moments before a group of determined fifth year girls rounded the corner.
‘Honestly, Potter, you have an invisibility cloak. Have you not considered wearing it about?’
‘I’d miss our little talks.’
‘Thank you, by the way.’
‘No need, I am as keen to avoid your ravening fans as you are.’
‘You could have just hidden yourself and left me to them.’
‘Yes, but it would be like leaving a poor innocent kitten wandering about when a pack of crups are on the hunt. Not that there’s anything poor or kittenish about you and I don’t need to know about the innocent.’
‘You keep being nice,’ Harry said, pointedly. ‘Is it a new thing for you?’
‘I have always been nice. To people I liked.’
‘So we like each other now?’
Before Draco could answer, a ghostly voice cut in. ‘You’re not allowed to fight. I’m warning you, one wand and I am calling the headmistress.’
‘Hello, Myrtle,’ Draco said, and heard Potter echo the same.
‘We’re not fighting,’ said Draco. ‘We’re ... discussing.’
‘You went all tense and bit your lip, I thought you were getting ready for a hex.’
‘No, I was thinking.’
Myrtle peered at them both. ‘Do you like each other now?’ she asked. ‘Because that would make sense of all those years when you were just watching each other. And then all those notes—‘
‘Shut up, Myrtle,’ the two boys said quickly.
‘I’m just trying to help. And stop bloodshed.’
‘There’s not going to be any blood shed,’ Harry insisted.
‘Oh.’ Myrtle peered at them sadly. ‘Nothing exciting has happened in my bathroom for months. It used to be all bloodshed and trolls and snogging.’
Draco stared at her in horror. ‘Snogging? Why are you mentioning snogging?’
‘I ... just ...’ He rounded on Potter. ‘And you can stop laughing now.’
‘I’m not entirely certain I can,’ Potter replied.
Draco opened the door a crack and looked out. ‘Right, the coast is clear. You go off and avoid being set on by your fan club, I have homework to finish.’
‘Cheers, Malfoy.’ Potter took his hand. ‘Should we try liking each other?’
Draco found himself shaking the hand in his. ‘We can try. We’ll probably cock it up, but we were rubbish enemies, so there’s a chance it could work.’
‘Don’t get too caught up in your enthusiasm.’
‘I ...’ Draco stopped himself before he said something sarcastic. ‘I will give it a go.’
‘Me too. Right. That’s that sorted. Brilliant. Next up, school governors about Snape.’
Draco paused. ‘What, I was on your list of things to do?’
‘Things to fix,’ Potter corrected. ‘Things to fix that I had cocked up.’
‘Ah. All right then. In that case, I should take my share of the blame, too.’
‘I say we lump the whole lot on Voldemort and start over.’
‘Merlin’s balls, how did you defeat the most evil wizard of our time? No, don’t answer, I have homework . See you later.’
Draco left, but not quickly enough to miss Myrtle’s innuendo-laden ‘Things to do’, nor Potter’s spectacularly unhelpful laughter afterwards.
You look nice when you smile.
For once, Draco did not mind the phantom door noter. It had been a hellish morning. His father was due out of Azkaban and the papers had taken up the issue with half saying he had paid his debt to society and the other calling for a large book that could be thrown at him.
Student sentiments had been less evenly divided. Some notable figures had come out on Draco’s side, the rest had not.
He was grateful to the Hufflepuffs, though. Justin and Ernie had waved him over for breakfast, and Hannah Abbott, who had stayed back after the war, swapped him notes on her Arithmancy homework for his tips on top tinctures.
Daphne and Justin had an arrangement to walk down to Hogsmeade together on Saturday and Ernie was trying to convince Astoria to go with him.
All in all, it had been a bearable breakfast, but then he had failed spectacularly.
Hermione Granger had come in late to find her place at the table garlanded by flowers. She had kissed Weasley in front of the whole school, and told him he was the most thoughtful man imaginable. Honest, he had confessed that someone had suggested he should do something nice for her.
Always clever, she had frowned and asked, ‘In a note?’
When answered in the affirmative, her frown had deepened and she had replied, ‘But I’ve had a note, too. Who’s sending them?’
And Draco had been almost ready to stand up and announce that he had, and that students who had found tips on homework, recipes for spot creams and helpful suggestions regarding their future lives in their satchels over the last couple of months could all thank him now and feel shame if they had been behind any of his regular hate mail.
Almost ready, except that he couldn’t quite make himself.
And then when Potter stood up and said: ‘Does it matter? Obviously it’s someone who cares for you and wants you to be happy, what’s wrong with that?’, Draco found that he really couldn’t say anything. Not even to protest. Because their little chat in the bathroom now made sense. Potter clearly knew all about it. And even worse: awfully, horrifyingly, it was true.
He took a long walk in the gardens. And when that left him blank, he came back into the Slytherin common room and rounded up the Greengrass girls. ‘Bingo parchments out,’ he said.
He took a pen and made crosses on each, through Goes Completely Soft. ‘Right, there you are. Now all you need to win, Astoria, is for the headmistress to give me a hug, which means I think Daphne will take it out as she is down to Beaten By Granger, and since that will count for her trouncing me in Potions now I am personally bereft, as well as smacking me in the jaw if she works out I sent the notes, chance is on your side.’
They made him cups of tea and played Exploding Snap until class time, but even that was no help.
‘Harry? Can I have a word?’
It was still hard to think of Professor McGonagall as the Headmistress, but she had proved to be a good one.
‘Yes, of course. Here?’
McGonagall held out a note to him. ‘I wanted to thank you for this.’
Harry took it and read it. When you look out on the Great Hall, you are seeing all the students you saved.
‘It’s true,’ he said. ‘But I didn’t send it to you.’
‘Then who ...’
There was a knock at the door to the Transfiguration classroom. ‘Is now a bad time?’ Professor Slughorn asked.
‘No, yes, that is to say, I was just ...’
‘Ah, I see young Malfoy has been leaving you notes, too.’
‘Malfoy?’ Both McGonagall and Harry started at the name.
‘Yes, lovely boy. He’s been quite the star of Slug Club this year, Harry, shame you haven’t been able to make any of the suppers so far. Sent me a very sensible suggestion back at the beginning of term, quite out of the blue. Very considerate. Same sort of thing for you, Minerva?’
‘In broad terms, yes,’ McGonagall replied.
‘Good to see that a little bit of care and attention can so thoroughly reform someone. I’ve made a special case of him, think it’s all for the best. We do what we can for our students, eh, Minerva?’
‘Quite.’ She remembered herself. ‘Anything I can do for you, Horace?’
‘Signature on this parchment, need some extra classroom supplies and Flitch is being uncooperative.’
‘Of course. There you are.’
‘Many thanks. See you both later.’
They waited until he was gone before both let the surprise show on their faces. ‘So. Malfoy. He would have been one of my last guesses,’ Professor McGonagall confessed.
Harry shook his head. ‘It all makes sense. Except, why?’
‘Well, either he is a reformed character, as Horace suggests, or this is all part of a wily plan that will doubtless be revealed in full shortly.’
‘Perhaps he just wants people to be happy,’ Harry said quietly.
‘That would be interesting indeed.’
Draco was in no danger whatsoever when a strong hand grabbed his collar and hauled him bodily into Myrtle’s bathroom.
‘Was it a joke, or were you trying to help?’ Potter demanded.
‘Ah. I see this liking each other thing is going very well.’
‘I’m serious. Was it a joke, or were you trying to help?’
‘Does it matter?’
‘Of course. Everything matters to you. Right. Well, in that case, it started off as a joke and quickly turned into trying to help.’
Potter considered this for a moment. ‘Everyone except me,’ he pointed out.
‘I actively helped you,’ Draco protested. ‘I did useful things, like telling your acolytes you were in the greenhouses and telling you to wear your invisibility cloak.’
‘And so it wasn’t just revenge for my notes?’
‘Your notes? What notes? Oh ...’ Draco drew in a deep breath. ‘OH! That was you! I should have known! The whole thing had an edge of mockery that should have screamed Potter to me!’
‘What? Mockery? I wasn’t mocking, I was serious.’
Draco barely heard him. ‘I was even cheered up by them. I thought Daphne and Astoria were trying to give me a laugh, and it was you all along. Bloody typical. Well, I hope I gave you a good laugh.’
Potter was silently shaking his head, so Draco took the opportunity to flee the bathroom, straight into a Granger/Weasley clinch.
‘Sorry, sorry, I didn’t see you.’
‘It’s all right,’ Granger smiled forgivingly.
‘Are you okay?’ Weasley asked. ‘You’ve gone all red.’
The door behind him opened. ‘Malfoy ...’
Weasley turned away, and Draco took his chance to escape. He didn’t look back when his name was called, not even the third time.
By lunchtime, he had managed his fifteenth game of Exploding Snap and tenth cup of tea for the day. Astoria had taken to suggesting they go down and meet some mermen, just to see if he felt any stirrings. When the Headmistress came to call on him, Draco felt relieved, even though he suspected he was about to score Detention Until March.
Instead, she hugged him.
‘You’re a good boy, Draco Malfoy,’ she said, and left.
Astoria let out a whoop of glee and filled in the last square in her third row. ‘Bingo!’ she shrieked.
Hermione Granger appeared at the still-open door and thwapped Draco over the head with a rolled-up Prophet. ‘I don’t know what you’ve done to Harry, but you should go and fix it,’ she said.
‘I haven’t done anything!’ Draco protested.
‘Why couldn’t you have been just a little faster,’ Daphne wailed.
‘He’s down commiserating with Myrtle. You must have done something. He was absolutely cheery this morning, now he’s thoroughly miserable. You’re the only possible cause. Fix it.’
‘I ... he ...’ but there was no point, she had gone.
Daphne and Astoria looked at him expectantly. He opened his mouth. He closed it again. He shook his head. ‘I don’t even have a clue what’s going on, so there’s no way I can explain it to you.’
‘That’s fine,’ said Daphne, understandingly. ‘We’ll be here for you when you work things out. Unless I am off with Justin, in which case we’ll be here for you later.’
Astoria ignored the both of them and reached for another sheet of parchment on which she began to draw up squares.
Draco went to his dorm and collected up what he now knew to be the Harry notes. He read them. He read them again. He realised he was an idiot. He turned to go, then turned back and grabbed a sheet of parchment and a quill.
‘Yes,’ came Myrtle’s voice, ‘I admit you have had a hard time of it at school, but at least you haven’t been murdered. So you do have it better than some students.’
Draco knocked on the door. ‘Potter?’
Potter opened it up fully. ‘Malfoy,’ he said with a nod. ‘I was just passing the time with Myrtle.’
‘So I see.’
‘Granger thwapped me over the head with a newspaper.’
‘Not your fault. She told me I had to come and cheer you back up.’
‘Stop it, you’re sounding like Longbottom. As it turns out, I owe you an apology.’
Harry raised his eyebrows.
‘I re-read your notes.’
Harry’s eyebrows managed to convey mild embarrassment. ‘They weren’t very good notes, I had no idea what to say.’
‘Half of them seemed to want to convey the fact that I am not without charms in the looks department.’
Potter’s whole face had come in on the embarrassment lark now. ‘Well, you’re all right.’
‘Which is why I originally thought they could have come from a sixteen year old girl.’
‘No, wait, what I am trying to say is that all of this, and many other things aside, could all make some sort of sense if it turned out you had particularly noticed I am not without charms in the looks department.’
Potter looked down, then to one side of Draco, then, finally, he looked at him. ‘Maybe, a bit. But there’s no need to get your robes in a twist about it, we can go back to ignoring each other, or I can just see what Oliver Wood is up to ...’
Draco couldn’t help laughing, and was relieved to see Potter relax. ‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘I’ve had a full five minutes to think about it, and it’s all right.’
‘Ah.’ Harry nodded. ‘Well, that’s good. Handy. Less embarrassing than it could have been.’
‘Absolutely. And it means I have a note for you now.’
Harry held out a hand expectantly.
‘Wait a minute.’ Draco sat on the floor and scrawled quickly. He folded it, wrote Harry Potter on the outside, then stood up and handed it over.
‘If you want to,’ Harry read, ‘you could snog Draco Malfoy now. The both of you might enjoy it, and Myrtle would be thrilled.’
Harry did. They both did, and Myrtle was.
Had she been there, Astoria Greengrass could have crossed off the central square on her new grid.