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The Hush of War

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Ceasefire (n): 1. An order to stop firing. 2. Suspension of active hostilities; a truce.

Harry woke with a start and the echoing ring of that strange singing still reverberating in his ears. He groaned and absently rubbed at his scar, even though he knew, subconsciously, that it wasn't the cause. He hadn't gotten much sleep at all, and his head was pounding—from what, he didn't know. Surely, it was too early to be awake.

Sighing heavily, Harry rolled over, landing squarely on top of something that was very definitely not his mattress. He cracked an eye open warily.

And only saw his hair, doing a fine job of covering his eyes. Huffing from the throb of his head and frustration at being awake in general, Harry angrily swiped it from his face and focused sleep-bleary eyes on the offending object. The offending Seamus, he realized with some puzzlement.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Harry asked, throat scratchy and strangely raw.

Seamus mumbled incoherently, and Harry noticed two things in quick succession: Seamus was drooling onto his pillow and the both of them were undoubtedly naked. Completely. Realization crept into Harry's mind about the same time that he figured out why his throat hurt, why his head hurt and why his bum felt not unlike it did several times over the summer after a night of watching Aurors in Love. Harry poked Seamus urgently.

Eyes cracking open slowly and then immediately closing again, Seamus rasped a pathetic "Morning," and then immediately rolled over to hide his head under the pillow—far away from the harsh sunlight.

Harry took note of his headache—obviously the result of being so thoroughly drunk the night before—the intense morning sunlight and the fact that he wouldn't be sitting well for some time, and asked huffily, "What's so good about it?" There was no need to ask what they did the night before; Harry was well aware. Seamus had been openly bisexual—supposedly leaning more towards gay—for three years now, and with Harry not exactly secretive about the magazines in his trunk, there was no surprise that they had ended up in bed together after some heavy drinking.

Moreover, he found he wouldn't mind a repeat performance—only, maybe without being hung-over the next day. He'd never considered Seamus as a possible boyfriend, or even lover, but after the fact, it didn't seem like such a raw deal.

That Seamus was gay was just another fact of life; the wizarding world was so strange sometimes: their numbers were dwindling rapidly, and that seemed to Harry like something that would make homosexuality looked down upon, if only for the lack of offspring.

If the scramble over the orphans was anything to go by, Harry should have been terrified of being gay, but as it was, it was very well tolerated—if not exactly encouraged. There had been half a dozen boys in Harry's class alone that were openly gay, and he'd never thought a thing about it. No one had, really; if he'd been in the muggle world, while he most likely wouldn't have been ostracised for it, he certainly wouldn't have been given this much acceptance.

And to be fair, it wasn't even really acceptance; it was on the same par as heterosexuality—it just wasn't given any thought, so normal was it considered. If he wasn't beginning to feel so nauseous, he might have smiled at his rare good fortune.

"Didn't say it was good," Seamus mumbled from beneath Harry's drool-covered pillow. "Just said it was morning." He pulled his head out and stared down the bed, at the general location of his bum. "Good gods above, below and in-between, Harry. My arse hurts like nothing else."

Harry snickered softly, momentarily forgetting his own aches and pains. Unfortunately, there were echoing snickers from outside the curtains around his bed. Harry sat up quickly and reached for his glasses on the bedside table. He had found that he was unable to break the habit, even if they weren't exactly necessary any longer; it was a defence mechanism.

"Ron?" Harry asked cautiously. "Tell me it's just you out there." Sure, there was nothing wrong with being gay, but being caught after a shag by the lads was never a good thing—Harry would have been just as embarrassed if he'd had a bird in his bed.

"Try again!" Dean crowed from outside the curtains.

Harry groaned. "You, too?"

Seamus lifted himself all the way up and stuck his head out, saying, "C'mere, you wankers; there's blokes trying to get some fecking sleep, and you eejits are nattering on like me mam. Fecking hell," he added once he'd pulled his head back in, "I got Harry in the nip."

The snickering started again, even as Harry fought to control his blush. "Shagged out?" Dean asked with a laugh.

Seamus rolled his eyes and replied, leering at Harry, "More'n one way."

"Shut your gob," Harry said, tossing the drooly pillow at Seamus' face in embarrassment and irritation. "And keep your spit in your mouth when you're in my bed."

"Invitation to return, is it?" Seamus smirked.

"Hate to interrupt this—admittedly touching—moment," Ron teased loudly, "but afternoon classes start in ten minutes, Harry, and you've got Snape today."

"Fucking hell," Harry yelled, tumbling out of the bed and sparing no time to be embarrassed over being found in bed with Seamus. The other boys didn't seem to mind, and he could fret over them hearing about the sex later—perhaps in Potions, when he would be floundering to brew his Arithmantic Potion. He scurried around, trying to find his pants. "I missed DADA?"

Ron, who was sitting on Dean's bed, watching with amusement as Harry scrambled to dress, nodded smugly, and said, "Hermione wasn't pleased."

Harry looked over as he was zipping up his trousers and asked just as smugly, "Speaking to you, is she?"

Ron scowled as Dean laughed and said, "Not hardly, but she was pretty vocal about your absence. Said she was going to cast the inebriating and the sobering spells on you over and over in rapid succession until you figured out that hangovers were more than drinking was worth."

"Didn't say anything about my not drinking, though," Ron added sulkily.

"Probably 'cause you were not-drinking with Lavender Brown," Seamus added from Harry's bed. He'd made no move to get dressed, and was instead lounging there with the curtains pulled open, watching the proceedings.

"Shut it, Finnigan," Ron said. Seamus shrugged as much as he could with his arms crossed behind his head.

Harry was buttoning his shirt when something else occurred to him. "Does Neville know?"

"Nah," Ron said. "He was up and out before the sun this morning—working on his thesis for Advanced Herbology today."

"Good," Harry said with a relieved sigh. The last thing he needed was Neville having a moral conundrum over whether or not to report them, given his new status as a prefect.

"Nine minutes," Ron said loftily.

"Fuck!" Harry said again, running for the door.

"Good luck with Hermione!" Ron yelled as the door was closing. The snickers started again from inside the dormitory and Harry only barely avoided tumbling down the steps when he realized just how much luck he would need with Hermione today. Fucking hell, indeed.

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The first thing Snape said when Harry skidded into the Potions classroom was 'Oh, fabulous: Potter's here,' in a wholly out-of-character voice. As the class snickered, Harry could only focus on how he hoped to Merlin that Snape hadn't somehow used Legilimency on him when he came in and seen what he and Seamus had done the night before.

He kept his eyes down on the way to his desk, partially to prevent Snape from reading his mind and partially because he'd seen Hermione's death glare from the corner of his eye and, with it, he wasn't wholly convinced that she didn't have a little Basilisk blood in her.

Harry slid gingerly into his aisle seat next to Hermione. He never would have thought that he would prefer sitting next to a Slytherin, but Theodore Nott was on the other side of her and of no use to him as a battlement. Even worse, Malfoy was sitting in the aisle seat directly across from him. If he'd only arrived sooner, he could have possibly avoided all of this entirely. But he would have had to have made it to DADA for that to have happened.

Harry quickly scanned the area to make sure no one was paying any attention to him any longer before he whispered to Hermione, "Have I missed anything?" She turned her nose up and scooted a little closer to Nott on the bench.

Frustrated with how bad the day was already turning out to be, Harry pursed lips, whispering louder, "Wouldn't it be terrible if all three of us failed this assignment for lack of cooperation?"

"It would indeed, Potter," Snape breathed into Harry's ear. Harry jumped, having not even noticed the professor coming up behind him, and scowled. "Five points from Gryffindor for unnecessary chatter—now get to work."

"I would, sir," Harry gritted out, "only I have no idea what I should be doing."

Snape straightened up and sneered down at Harry in one go. Raising his eyebrows considerably, he said, "I am unsurprised. Five more points for coming to class unprepared." He walked away without a backward glance, but the Slytherins all snickered quietly. Even Nott—the prat.

"I can't believe you, Harry," Hermione hissed as soon as Snape was back at the front of the classroom. Harry rolled his eyes; better they get this over with immediately so that they could possibly work on the potion. He really needed to pass this class—if only to piss Snape off.

"Sorry," he muttered.

Hermione was unimpressed. "Where were you this morning?" she asked, as if she didn't already know the answer. Harry answered, if only to get the conversation moving.

"Sleeping."

"And why were you sleeping so late?" she whispered back.

"Hung-over," Harry said. Nott snorted, and Harry leaned around Hermione to glare at him. "As if that's not something you and your Slytherin mates don't experience often enough."

Nott gave him a serene look. "Certainly not on school days," he said, and then added, "and certainly not without having plenty of hangover potions on hand. Really Potter."

Defeated, and unable to think of anything suitable to reply as his headache seemed to have returned with the mention of a hangover, Harry sat back on the bench.

"What kind of messages are you sending Ron, drinking like that when you know he's recovering from it himself?" Hermione added in a low hiss. Harry wanted to say something about not broadcasting Ron's business to all and sundry like that, but no one was really in hearing range except Nott—who already knew—and Malfoy—who had found Ron to begin with.

"He didn't have any," Harry replied sullenly, and it was true—so far as he remembered anyway. But the truth of that was that he didn't remember much at all after six or so drinks. The night before with Seamus was only returning to his mind in vague, disjointed snatches of memory, but it seemed like it had been fun none-the-less. His lips quirked slightly as he thought he would definitely like to try it sober. He'd like to fully remember it, anyway.

"What are you smirking at now?" Hermione whispered furiously.

"Seamus," Harry replied without thinking. Immediately, he blushed bright red—it was entirely possible that Hermione—and certainly Nott and Malfoy—had not known about that. He glanced to his left to make sure Malfoy hadn't heard their conversation, and was relieved to find him working diligently on his potion.

Hermione's eyes narrowed shrewdly. "I seem to recall Seamus also not being present for DADA this morning." When Harry looked over at her, he was chagrined to see that Nott was leaning forward, eagerly listening to this bit of the conversation, even as he continued to crush ingredients for the next part of their potion.

Harry cleared his throat. "Er—I wouldn't know. Wasn't there, you know."

Hermione narrowed her eyes even further. "I do know—so where, exactly, was Seamus this morning?"

"Asleep?" Harry tried.

"Where?" Hermione volleyed back.

Harry winced, and that was all the answer she needed. Nott snorted again and went back to giving his full attention to their potion, obviously satisfied with the information supplied.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me that you and Seamus were seeing each other," Hermione said. Her eyes flicked to the front of the class, where Snape was beginning to walk the room, and then back again. "We'll discuss this later, but I hope that one of you at least remembered to cast a protection charm."

Harry sighed and tried to remember if they had or not. He was pretty sure Seamus had, but he couldn't be certain. "So what are we doing today then?" he asked, gesturing to their potion.

Already Hermione was back to ignoring him, so Nott answered quietly, without even lifting his eyes, "Continuing the Draught of Derbyshire, of course. Today we have to add the second layer of the potion, which will float on top of the base for two weeks. After fourteen days—if made correctly—it'll congeal, and then we use a specific Arithmetic formula to combine them. Once that's done, we'll have fifteen minutes to determine the new Arithmantic formula created and apply it before the potion is ruined."

Harry gaped. "No one ever thought to write it down?" he asked, terrified at the prospect.

Nott and Hermione rolled their eyes together. "Of course not," Nott answered. "It's different every time because of the different proportions used when brewing bases."

Harry frowned. "Then why couldn't we all just use the same proportions, since it doesn't matter for the bases?" he asked.

"Because," Nott answered slowly, "humans make mistakes. It would be impossible to get the exact same proportions on any two potions. You can get very close, but never exact. That's why we use maths."

Harry's mouth made a little 'O' and he felt himself blush again. He would never understand potions. Or magic in general, probably.

"You should be helping," Hermione added, and passed a pile of moonwort to him. "This layer, unlike the base, must be very precise. Powder the moonwort until it's a fine, shimmery powder and don't let any of it touch your hands. The oils from your skin will ruin it once it's powdered."

"A fine task for me," Harry muttered as he scooped some into his mortar. His headache was intensifying with just the thought of focusing so much on such a mundane task.

Hermione only glared. Harry set to work. He'd only been working for a few minutes when he got the feeling of being watched. Odd how that happened, Harry mused as he surreptitiously tried to figure out who was watching him. It was strange that one could feel something intangible like being watched. Nevertheless, he could, and it was making him nervous. He cast his eyes upwards without raising his head.

It was Snape.

The professor was staring at him, head still bent slightly from where he had been marking essays. Their eyes locked for several seconds, and Harry was startled enough by the blank look on Snape's face that he forgot to not make eye contact. In the end, it didn't matter—Snape never tried to enter his mind. Harry wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not, but as he saw Snape's eyes flicker over his face, he could do nothing to look away.

A knock on the door drew Snape's eyes away and a sneer immediately fell over his face. "Enter!" he barked.

Zacharias Smith, the only seventh year prefect not taking potions, came in, not at all looking as if Snape intimidated him. He probably didn't, Smith being such a cocky bastard. "Professor," Smith said politely. Harry, whose eyes were still flicking back to Snape every second or two, noticed that Snape was very close to rolling his eyes. Harry didn't blame him; Smith might have been passably polite, but the arrogance still rolled off him in waves.

Snape remained at his desk, the raising of an eyebrow the only response he offered.

Smith began to fidget, much to Harry's amusement. Clearing his throat, he finally said, "The headmaster has asked the Head Boy and Girl to his office immediately, sir. There's to be a meeting."

Snape was not in the least impressed. He cast his eyes sardonically towards Harry's table and then back to Smith. Harry glanced at his partners and cringed. Gods above, if he were left alone to work on this potion, none of them would make it out of the dungeons alive. From the looks Nott and Hermione were giving him, they agreed.

"We are in the middle of a rather complicated potion, Smith."

Smith's chin lifted slightly. "I understand, sir, but it's quite urgent."

"And what could be so urgent as to require two of my students during class time?"

"Ministry official," Smith said with a slight edge to his voice.

Snape smirked. "Your mother's come to visit? How lovely." He stood, cast another glance around the classroom, lingering a moment longer on Harry, and came to a decision. A surprising one, at that. "I expect she's here to discuss educational matters; as it happens, my budget for the coming year is prepared and I should like to speak to her myself."

"But sir—"

Snape glared nastily at Smith. "Mind what you say, Smith. You're taking one of my students to speak to a Ministry official—your mother or not—and as head of his house, I've a right to be there. I assume Professor McGonagall will be there for Ms Granger, yes?"

"Yes, but—"

"Very good," Snape said and then turned to the class. "All of you, apply the appropriate stasis charm to your potion and return your cauldrons to the shelves. Class dismissed."

"What the…" Harry muttered incredulously. They still had over an hour left of class. Snape had never once dismissed them early. He glanced at Hermione, only to find her looking back at him already. He whispered, "What's going on?"

"I don't know," Hermione admitted, but she didn't sound very worried. "Yasmin Smith works for the Department of Education at the Ministry. I'm sure it's just a yearly check in."

Nott grinned. "Hardly," he put in. "She's here to scout."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked.

Nott shrugged, looking slightly amused. "Think about it Potter. You've met her, or so Smith has said. Said his family came to your house over the summer for dinner."

"Yeah, so?"

"I'll tell you one thing," Nott said quietly as he applied the stasis spell to their potion. "Yazzy Smith loves nothing so much as her son, but she loves every one else's children almost as much. She's devoted her entire career to ensuring that students learn as much as they can at school; now you tell me who's going to need schooling in the years to come."

"The orphans," Hermione whispered suddenly. Nott nodded, smiling at her, which Harry thought was odd to see—even if he already knew they were friends of a sort. "But won't the families adopting them be able to ensure they're properly educated?"

Nott gave her a look. "Well of course, but not every family who adopted one of them is absurdly wealthy. Some of them already had a child or two before the adoptions. Many of the families have been on waiting lists for years, and many of those families are middle-class. Working families. Who's going to educate the children before they come to Hogwarts?"

"Lots of people's parents work," Hermione pointed out.

"And those children are usually taught by their grandparents. I've lived with mine for most of my life, but some of the families being granted adoptions don't have that option for one reason or another. We don't have pre-Hogwarts schooling in Britain…yet. While places like Southern Europe and America have day schools for working families—and for the children to learn social skills—England is very traditional; we've maintained a home-schooled environment, until the age of eleven, for centuries."

The three of them were now putting the last of their supplies back in their bags. "So what does Smith's mother expect to accomplish?" Harry asked.

"A day school," Hermione inferred, glancing to Nott for affirmation. He nodded and she grinned. Turning back to Harry, she said, "I'll bet she wants to establish a primary school now that England will have so many children in need of one in the next few years. She's here to get ideas."

"And advice," Nott added. "Word has it that she's not very fond of Dumbledore, but she respects him and thinks him quite wise, if a little too old-fashioned for the good of things."

Harry gaped. "Dumbledore's not old-fashioned. Isn’t that what makes him so unpopular sometimes?"

Nott laughed softly as the three of them hefted the cauldron up and began walking it towards the back of the classroom. "Hardly. Dumbledore's philosophies—especially the ones pertaining to this situation—have been around for centuries. Wizards have been angling to get muggle-born children into our world before Hogwarts for nearly a century, but Dumbledore maintains that they should be allowed time with their families."

"They should!" Harry hissed, looking around to make sure no one was following their conversation. He looked to Hermione for confirmation, but she seemed to be thinking about something.

"And then once they've finished school," Nott said, somewhat sarcastically, "they'll be torn between this world and their other. That's not very safe. That's why we have magic restrictions when we're not at school."

Harry remembered his father mentioning something like this over the summer. Everything, lately, was all coming back to the beginning.

"And we'll feel like we're betraying our families if we want to stay here," Hermione added quietly.

Nott looked at her fondly, if a little sadly. "Yes, exactly." They stared at each other for only half a second, but it was enough to make Harry uncomfortable, especially as he still had a huge cauldron in his hands. Nott cleared his throat and added, "But you belong here."

The words were said as if to generalise all magical people, but from the way Nott was still looking at Hermione, it was obvious whom he was speaking to.

Harry cleared his throat as the three of them hefted the cauldron onto the shelf. "Well, I guess it's a good thing that at least these kids won't have that problem," he said hesitantly.

He was still a little unsure how Hermione felt about the whole orphan thing, even though she seemed to be a little wistful about it—as if she'd wished she had been one of those kids—one of those kids who wouldn't have to make the same decision she would eventually have to make—and one of those kids who wouldn't feel so out of place when they eventually got to Hogwarts.

"Yes," Hermione agreed softly. "At least they'll—"

"If you're quite finished," Snape interrupted from the front of the classroom. All three of them jumped, startled.

"Yes, sir," Nott called back. "Sorry, sir." The other students were already filing out the door, and Nott and Hermione hurried to follow. Harry walked slightly slower, contemplative and unsure yet again.

Something he'd thought to be morally questionable, if not despicable, was turning out to be a relatively good thing. He wondered if children born as squibs would eventually come to be secretly…traded, of a sort…back to the muggles. He wondered if wizarding families, who wouldn't be Obliviated like the muggles had, would willingly give up their magic-less children if it meant they could possibly live a better life—without all of the stigma attached to be a squib—if wizards would switch children out, perform the blood rite on both of them so there were no questions. He wondered, even more, if squibs would stop being born if there weren't so much inbreeding.

He was so lost in thought that he had not even realised he was the only student left in the classroom, and furthermore, he didn't see Snape waiting impatiently for him by the door. His schoolbag was slung over his shoulder, and he nearly dropped it in shock when the professor's cold hands gripped tightly to his shoulder.

"Sir?" Harry asked, eyes wide.

Snape narrowed his eyes at him, and leaned down from his considerable height to hiss quietly in his face. "What, exactly, are you up to, Potter?"

For the first time, Harry had no idea what Snape was referring to. His mouth worked, but he thought of nothing to answer, save for a rather pathetic, "I don't understand…"

Snape sneered and leaned in even closer, "You are playing a very dangerous game, Mr Potter."

He had to lean back just to focus on Snape's face, the professor was so close, and as he did, he fought to maintain not only his balance, but his head. He only vaguely understood what Snape was talking about, and even then, he had no idea why Snape had decided to bring it up then—in a doorway in the dungeons of all places—anyone could hear them.

Maybe that's what Snape wanted, Harry suddenly thought. It wasn't as if Voldemort were unaware of his probable treason; Voldemort himself had told Harry of it—there was no reason, really, for Snape to fear being called a traitor. He walked a fine line—weaving his way into both sides so that he would be victorious no matter which side was; his only saving grace being that Voldemort believed—and even more so now that he'd struck something of a deal with Harry—that he would win. The Dark Lord, really, had nothing to fear from Severus Snape because so long as it looked as if Voldemort had the upper hand—and it most certainly did to those aware of such things, such as Harry—Severus Snape would lean more heavily on his side.

It disgusted Harry. He would rather Snape be one or the other, and right now, he didn't particularly care which. In fact, he didn't really care about what side anyone was on because it wouldn't matter in the end. All that would matter was their world, saving it, protecting it, ensuring that it survived and having the wherewithal to help do it.

So who did Snape want to hear their conversation? Harry had no idea, but he also had no time to consider it because Snape's glare was getting colder and colder by each passing second of unfulfilled silence.

"Like you, sir?" Harry asked, not quite sarcastically, but still with a sharp edge. He wondered, belatedly, if a professor could take points for his impudence when talking about such things.

Snape smiled a sinister smile that was wholly incongruent with the soft voice he answered in. "I have less to lose than you, child."

Harry inhaled slowly, trying to process everything all at once—the conversation, Snape's strange demeanour since the beginning of term, the fact that someone was probably listening—that this had been orchestrated.

"What would you have me do, then, sir?" he asked.

Snape straightened up, but his glare remained. "What are you trying to accomplish?"

Harry gaped again. Was Snape offering advice? He wanted to answer, but he didn't know how to explain all the many rushing thoughts and ideals that swam in his brain at any given time—many of them only half-formed ideas for a better world, many of them desperate questionings of his morals, but all of them unfulfilled and unanswered.

"To save the world?" Snape prompted with a sneer.

Yes, Harry thought, but then retracted it before it made its way to his mouth. He didn't want to save the world, he realises with crushing comprehension. Instead, he said, slowly, thinking carefully, "No, sir, I—I want to help the world save itself…and I want to save myself in the process, and…and I want to understand the difference between good and evil and the states in between that, and I want—I want there to be…" he paused, searching for the right word, and finally settled on one with amazing alacrity and conviction. "I want there to be balance—because, because I don't really think that there is a difference between good and evil anymore; I'm not sure that those extremes are always real."

Snape's eyebrows rose minutely, but enough was said with that small gesture for Harry to realise that he'd not only shocked Snape, he might have impressed him—even slightly—as well.

"How did you get yourself into this situation, Potter?" Snape asked, sounding exasperated.

Harry didn't even bother to try correcting people about his last name anymore. It had lasted for about a week before everyone—save a few—reverted back to Potter. He found he didn't mind it much. At any rate, he still didn't feel pure-blooded or noble or any of that other rot that went along with the surname 'Black'.

"I, erm—I have that link," he answered, pointedly pushing the red fringe from his forehead. "When you're so exhausted you can't be bothered to try blocking Voldemort from your mind any longer, sometimes you just give in, let him rant, and try to get some sleep."

Snape smirked slightly. "And is that what happened?"

"No, sir," Harry answered wearily. "He never did rant; he just talked—like a person, you know? Like a human being."

"That's hardly a reason to let a dark lord continue to infiltrate your mind," Snape chastised harshly.

"I know," Harry snapped. "But I was always so exhausted, and—and sometimes he said interesting things—things that I didn't know, or wouldn't have even thought about, but when I did think about them, they made sense, and—and I got tired of fighting. So I listened."

"And you learned?" Snape queried.

"Maybe," Harry answered, not even sure himself. Just because he knew new things, did that mean he had learned anything? He wasn't sure.

Snape crossed his arms over his chest, the glare completely gone from his face. "Have you spoken to the Headmaster about this?"

"No," Harry answered quickly—probably too quickly.

Snape raised his eyebrows again. "And why, pray tell, have you not?"

Wincing, Harry wasn't sure how to answer, but he figured, somewhere deep in the recesses of his brain, that if anyone understood why he hadn't, it would be Snape. He wasn't sure if that was a comforting thought or not.

"I don't know."

The answer seemed to be all Snape needed, for he smiled—smirked—and nodded sharply. "Then I suggest, if you are, in your infinite wisdom, open to advice, that you continue to see that the Headmaster knows naught of what you are doing."

"Right," Harry said, nodding vaguely.

Snape sneered at him once more, lifted his head, and barked into the shadows, "Mr Malfoy, you will desist lurking at once," before turning and stalking off towards the Headmaster's office for the meeting with Yasmin Smith.

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Harry was still a little confused when Snape's last words registered. Malfoy? It was Malfoy who had been listening. Of all the people for that slimy git to—Harry stopped his mental ranting abruptly. Why not Malfoy? He wondered. He'd been trying to work on Malfoy since the beginning of term. Perhaps—perhaps if Malfoy knew a bit of what he was up to then it would be easier. Or perhaps harder.

And come to that, why did he even care what happened to Malfoy? He didn't have very long to contemplate it, though, because already his eyes were searching his surroundings for platinum blond hair. Malfoy took the initiative and stepped from his hiding place, startling Harry so much that he jumped. Slightly.

"Rather friendly, you and Snape, a moment ago," Malfoy prompted disinterestedly.

Harry stared at him, refusing to answer an indirect question. There were numerous things that Malfoy could be trying to weasel out of him; Harry didn't want to tell him more than he had to—or could feasibly get away with and still make some progress with Malfoy. This was too dangerous a game; even Snape agreed with that.

There was a wait—impatiently by Malfoy and warily by Harry—until Malfoy finally gave in and stalked forward, stopping a few mere feet from Harry. He narrowed his eyes and said lowly, "I want to know what's going on."

"Going on with what?" Harry asked.

Malfoy gestured angrily. "With you…and Snape. With those unveiled threats and cryptic messages you keep imparting on me like ancient wisdom." He stepped even closer and added, "I want to know what Dumbledore doesn't."

Harry shrugged. "Nothing's going on."

"Rubbish!" Malfoy hissed. "I know you, Potter," he sneered. "You may be family now, but you'll always be Potter to me, and I know how you work. I know how you react—what you look like when you're lying, or nervous, or confused, or cocky or just pissed off. You weren't confused when Snape was talking to you just now; you were nervous. Wrong reaction. You knew exactly what he was talking about, and from the way it sounded, he's letting you get away with something you shouldn't.

"Anything Snape lets you get away with is cause for suspicion. And furthermore," Malfoy continued in a deadly whisper as he stepped right up to Harry's face, "There have been things happening that I suspect you know about, and you aren't reacting correctly."

"How am I reacting?" Harry asked in confusion.

"Like you know more than everyone else. Like you've inside information—information that Dumbledore's side wouldn't have, or wouldn't feel comfortable with even if they did," Malfoy answered immediately.

"What are you trying to say?" Harry asked slowly. He didn't think that Malfoy had figured any of that out. He didn't think Malfoy was capable of figuring that much out; if truth be told, Harry didn't think Malfoy was worth much more than mindless cruelty, ignorance and arrogance.

Additionally, Harry wasn't sure he was prepared for Malfoy to be quite so intuitive. Had he read Malfoy completely wrong from the very beginning? He began to wonder if Voldemort, whom he suspected had by now reasoned out his self-proclaimed mission regarding Malfoy, had let Harry continue, in order to teach him something.

Harry had no idea where that realisation came from, but it seemed to fit. The only thing he couldn't work out was what he was expected to learn from it. That anyone can surprise you? That was rather cheap as far as life lesson went.

But it begged the question, was Malfoy really as bloodthirsty as Harry—and everyone else, really—suspected? Was Malfoy already fit to fight a war? Mentally? Was he as cunning and intelligent as his house was originally meant to be?

The year before, due to a cryptic conversation with Voldemort, Harry had contemplated the Sorting Hat, and how accurate it was with its sortings. The conclusion he came to regarding the Slytherin students was that it was very possible that they weren't sorted into their house because of their families, but because of the way their families raised them. Were Slytherin parents more likely to impart teachings that resulted in their children being more ambitious, more cunning, more likely to think things through from several perspectives and create a contingency plan for all of them? A simple game of Hide and Seek could be vastly different—mentally—for a Slytherin-raised child than for a Hufflepuff-raised child.

It hit him hard: Malfoy really was a Slytherin. Malfoy was infinitely more layered than anyone had given him credit—probably even more than his own father had; that made Malfoy markedly more dangerous than before, even if he wasn't really as vicious as believed.

Abruptly, he was pulled from his musings.

"I'm saying," Malfoy answered slowly, "that you know my father's not in Azkaban, even though it's not been reported in any of the papers and there are no rumours of it. You knew that before Lestrange said it, and you've had plenty of time to alert the Aurors, Dumbledore or even your little friends. You haven't done it and there are only a handful of reasons why you wouldn't have—none of which look good for someone on the Light Side."

Harry shrugged, feeling stupidly cornered. It wasn't like Malfoy could or even would do something if he figured out the rest of it. "That doesn't mean anything."

"Maybe not what you expect," Malfoy said, almost fondly. "But what it does mean is that someone told you that he was out of prison. The only people who know only make your case all the more incriminating."

"Incriminating by whose terms?" Harry asked incredulously.

Malfoy chuckled. "See? There you go; surely not by my terms: I love my father; I'd never turn him in. Not by his colleagues' terms: he's a friend. Not by his superior: he's been a very valuable asset." The blond cocked his head, slightly mockingly, and added, "Whose terms, indeed."

"I have to get to class," Harry said abruptly.

Malfoy fell into place next to him as he turned to walk. "I'll walk you," he said with a sinister smile. "I've Arithmancy, too."

"People will talk," Harry hissed, trying to dislodge Malfoy from his side. "Stop it."

"They already have something to talk about," Malfoy said with a careless shrug. "There's orphans who're no longer orphans all over the place, and besides, we've a project together for the class, or have you forgotten? You can always tell your little Gryffindors that we were planning for it."

"What about the orphans?" Harry asked, and knew immediately he'd walked right into another trap. He gave up on trying to out-walk Malfoy, and instead focused on looking pissed off and surly about Malfoy's company, which wasn't all that hard to do.

"Well," Malfoy drawled slowly, swinging his arms back and forth in a mocking, childish manner. "How about the fact that even you could figure out that not just anyone's going to abduct Mudbloods and give them to wizards?"

Harry's ears burned at the mention of the word 'Mudblood', but kept his lips tightly pressed together. If he let himself rant at Malfoy now, there was no telling what he might say—what he might give away.

"It takes a—" Malfoy paused and waved his hand philosophically, "—a, hmm, a special kind of person, wouldn't you say, to do that. Someone with different opinions than your run-of-the-mill Hufflepuff."

"You're playing with me," Harry muttered furiously.

"No," Malfoy immediately denied, expression no longer musing, but hard and determined. "You're playing with all of us, and I want to know what's going on."

"No way," Harry said. "I wouldn't trust you as far as I could kick you—as much as I'd like to do just that."

"You listen here," Malfoy hissed, grabbing Harry by the shoulder and stopping him in the middle of a busy corridor. There were several passing students inclined to watch and see what kind of brawl they would get into this time, but Malfoy sent them along with a vicious glare. He erected an unnoticeable silencing charm around them with a twitch of his wand before continuing.

"There is a war about to happen, Potter. A fucking war, and I don't know how much your little brain can comprehend, but some of us would like to have a life on the other side of it. If you've got information that will tell me where I need to be and when, I want to fucking know it."

Harry scoffed. "You'd pick your side based on expected outcome?" That was utterly disgusting.

Malfoy sneered right back at him. "As far as I'm concerned, the lesser of two evils in this situation is the one that's going to fucking win. Neither of them sounds that incredible to me right now, but it's pretty obvious that you've already put your money down. My bet is that your odds are fucking outstanding."

Harry's eyebrows shot up. "Really," he said. Malfoy only sneered more forcefully in reply. He tugged on Malfoy's arm to get him walking again; there was no reason to cause even more of a scene, and if they could blend in with the other students, the more the better.

"You want to be on my side, then?" Harry asked to clarify. What he thought Malfoy was suggesting just seemed too outlandish to be believed. "Not Voldemort's or Dumbledore's, but the one I'm on?"

"Don't spread your feathers just yet, Potter," Malfoy replied snottily as he fell into step. "I'm not saying it because I like you. I'm saying it because I suspect you're walking a fine line, and fine lines often end up having the most room to spare. Your conversation with Snape only adds to my conviction."

Harry couldn't have done it any better. Malfoy, oddly enough, had just thrown himself into his hands without Harry having to do any prompting at all. The only problem with this was that he hadn't thought it all through. For some reason, he'd wanted Malfoy on his side from the beginning—consciously or not—whichever side he was on, but he'd always wanted Malfoy on his side because he thought it was the right side to be on, not because it was the winning side.

Still, even knowing that, Harry wanted Malfoy to be with him in this unlikely war. Sometimes, you knew something wasn't right, but you wanted it anyway. Once, Malfoy had told Harry not to make friends with the wrong sort; well, Malfoy would always be the wrong sort, but that didn't seem to lessen Harry's pathetic obsession with him any.

And maybe Malfoy would change some of his ideals. Harry almost snorted at the idea. Not likely.

As the silence began to stretch, Harry decided that if Malfoy at least had it in him to be a decent person, then that would be enough for him. Harry was certainly no one to judge, but he still had the ability to pick his friends, just like he'd had in first year. He didn't have to accept Malfoy if Malfoy didn't agree with anything he agreed with—however unlikely it was that Malfoy would want to be his friend anyway. Why was he even thinking about being friends?

Taking a deep breath, Harry finally asked, "What do you think about the orphans?"

"The orphans?" Malfoy asked, off guard.

"Yeah," Harry said. Rolling his eyes, he played one of his few remaining cards. "You know, the kids your dad's been dropping off in Derbyshire."

Malfoy smiled slowly. "I knew it," he said, almost to himself. "Pansy said I was being an idiot, but I knew this was the best option."

"I haven't agreed to anything yet," Harry reminded Malfoy sharply. They were nearing the Arithmancy classroom by now and time to get an answer out of Malfoy was running short. "The orphans?" he prompted again.

Malfoy laughed delightedly, as if he were in his own little world. It was a strange thing to see him so pleased, and Harry noticed uncomfortably that the way his face softened in laughter was more pleasing to him than it should be. He pursed his lips.

"I don't mind them," Malfoy finally said with a shrug.

"What do you mean by that?" Harry asked.

Malfoy shrugged again, still smiling slightly. "You're testing me," he said easily. "That's alright; I don't mind. I'll even go you one further and answer the real question you're asking me: How do I feel about Mudbloods.

"The answer? I don't give a shit about their blood. Magical blood is all the same; Pansy and I researched it in third year when I was on bed rest. Would I ever want to be a Mudblood? Certainly not, and for several reasons: one, there are positions of authority that can't be held by wizards not raised in a magical household—the Wizengamot, for example. Two, I love my family; I love my home and I like knowing that I'm a wizard, not a muggle, not someone who never knows for sure which world I belong in. I can trace my genealogy back to the days of the founders.

"The Dark Lord's idea regarding the orphans was the best I've seen from him. It's logical, something that I didn't see much of in his previous endeavours. That they thought far enough in advance to begin an irreversible blood rite on them is even more impressive; it means they can't be given back to their original families—it means they really are purebloods—because they're blood's been mostly replaced—and that they'll always be wizards."

"What if their adopted parents are muggle-born?" Harry asked. It was true what Malfoy had said; he really had meant to figure out what Malfoy would think about all the orphans being muggle-born. If he were honest with himself, he would admit that he'd expected Malfoy to rant about them tricking the rest of society.

"You're either a wizard or not," Malfoy said with disdain. "Two magical parents make you pure-blooded. One makes you a half-blood. None and you're a Mudblood." He shrugged.

"If you don't think there's a difference in blood," Harry finally said in exasperation, "then why do you still say 'Mudblood'?" He wanted to stomp his foot. Malfoy was such a contradiction.

Malfoy's eyebrows rose, not expecting Harry to actually say the word. "Just a general insult," he said with a shrug. "Like you'd call me a git, I'd call you a half-blood. There are wizards who really believe muggle-born blood is of lesser quality than pureblood—my father probably included—but the only thing that concerns me is ignorance of our culture—Tracey Davis is muggle-born, but I've never called her a Mudblood. That's because she acts and thinks as a witch should act and think—not like a muggle-born transcended into a new world."

They reached the Arithmancy door just as Harry remembered to say, 'Oh'. He stood there, unsure of what to do or say next, when once again, Malfoy made it easy for him.

"I've told you my part," the blond said. "It's your turn next. You've got Snape on your side, and he's an arse even to Slytherins in the privacy of our common room; there's no reason for you to reject me now. Especially because you just don't like me."

"I still don't know what exactly you want," Harry prevaricated, momentarily shocked with what Malfoy had said of Snape. There was no way Snape was on his side.

Malfoy scoffed. Good-naturedly, even. "Your information."

"My information is worth far more than your views on magical blood," Harry answered disdainfully.

Malfoy narrowed his eyes. "Believe me, Black," he said, deliberately using the name, "you'd rather have me on your side than the other, no matter what you think. And besides," he added jovially, as he opened the door and cancelled the silencing spell, "I might even be persuaded into throwing in a picture of my father for your little project. I expect we have a truce now."

Harry, stunned, followed him into the classroom. He looked around the room, seeing only two empty seats—

"Oh look," Malfoy added to him in a quietly mocking voice. "We'll have to sit together this class, shan't we? No time like the present to get started on our Arithmancy project, is there, old boy?"

Harry groaned, rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses, and hoped that he just hadn't landed himself into more than he could handle.

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