Actions

Work Header

Like Lightning at your Fingertips

Work Text:

Harry’s eighth year at Hogwarts starts like this:

1. He misses the Hogwarts express. (Which isn’t hard to do, because he never actually goes to the station.)

2. He learns McGonagall policy on motorcycles, flying or otherwise.

3. He begins to realize of the true breadth of the destruction to the castle, which is far greater than has been reported in The Prophet.

4. He moves in with Draco Malfoy.

All the returning eighth-years (and there aren’t many of them) get room assignments. There’s not really anywhere for all of them to go as a house. Last year’s sixth-years are now seventh-years, and there’s still a fresh crop of firsts-years coming in, despite the war and the torture, and Hogwarts being run by fucking Death Eaters less than a few months before. People still need to learn magic, even know. Especially now.

With the castle still half in ruin there’s no way to get an extra floor added in each dorm, so the eighth years are paired and sorted into whatever space can be coaxed from the castle.

By the time Harry makes it to the eighth-years’ new common room, McGonagall’s words about respect for customs and the sanctity of magic still sharp in his ears, most of the gathered eighth years have dissipated, but there’s still a small crowed milling around the bulletin, as if they can’t quite make themselves leave. They keep glancing back at the list, as if hoping or expecting the words to change.

Harry finds Ron at the back of the crowed.

“I’m sorry, mate,” Ron says grimly, his own face set in hard lines. Ron is less for words these days, than he might otherwise be, before the war, before the death, before. But his sympathy is still in place. There’s somethings even the war couldn’t burn away.

The crowd around the bulletin shuffles, then shifts, then parts to let Harry through, a few of the students glancing guiltily at him, as if they know he won’t like what he sees. Through the crowed of shifting shoulders, Harry catches sight of his own name, as well as the one next to it. Of course that’s how it is. Of course it is.

Ron comes forward and lays a hand on his shoulder. None of the other eighth-years will meet his eyes. “Hermione got Pansy,” he says, as though it’s some sort of explanation and maybe it is.

“What about you?” Harry asks. He’s having a harder time caring about any of this than he would’ve thought. Maybe camping for a year will do that to you. Maybe there’s something in him that burned away, after all.

Ron grimaces. “Goyle.” He says, then shrugs. “At least it will be quiet.”

That bit’s true at least. Besides playing backup to Malfoy’s chorus of insults, Harry doesn’t think he’s ever heard Goyle say more than ten words at a time. Those words weren’t particularly pleasant, but still. They did just spend the last year camping in the rain. The bar has been lowered.

“Neville got a room to himself though, no idea how he managed it.” Ron adds.

Harry glances back at the paper and it’s true, right down at the bottom reads, Longbottom, Neville, followed by a blank space.

Ron goes on, “so he’ll probably have a spare bed, you know, if one of you kills the other.” He doesn’t say which.

Harry laughs and the other eighth-years finally glance his way and it’s as if they were waiting for this que to leave because they all start meandering towards the door.

“I wouldn’t do that to Neville.” Harry says. “Even if he kept the sword.” He doesn’t say which either.

 

**********

 

Harry’s room is in a tower on the opposite side of the castle as the Gryffindor common room. He tries not to feel the distance as he walks, the pull that wants him to turn around and go back the way he came. There’s no space for them there, even if the castle wants there to be. He wonders if it really is the castle he’s feeling, if the corridor he’s walking down truly is getting a little longer, of if it’s just him. He considers the two options as he walks, and just when he’s decided, for sure this time, that yes, it is the castle, that the hallway is truly stretching, he reaches the staircase.

It’s not guarded by a painting. Which is good, because Harry didn’t even think to ask about a password. Instead, two suits of armor stand side-by-side, swords crossed in the middle. Harry wonders if he should try tickling them, like the pear guarding the kitchens, and is honestly about to try it, swords and all, when the one on the right says, “Potter,” voice rumbling throughout its hollow chest, then drops his sword to let Harry through. The suit of armor on the left remains completely still and Harry has to maneuver his way past the second sword. It’s still better than having to slide down toilet pipes.

Harry re-adjusts his clothes and begins to climb. The staircase has twelve less steps than the one leading to Gryffindor tower. He counts them off. He tries not to mind.

The door at the top is clearly new, and bares a suspicious resemblance to the stone walls on either side of it, which tells Harry that, though the suits of armor are old, and possibly the room beyond as well, the door is new. The castle can still make some of its old magic after all.
Harry takes a breath, braces himself, and pushes the door open.

And there, on the other side of the room, framed in the light of an enormous window overlooking the lake, is Draco Malfoy.

 

**********

 

When Draco gets to the door of his room he expects to see Potter on the other side. His traveling cloak has a small rip on one side since one of the fucking suits of armor wouldn’t move it’s fucking sword and he’s sure he can blame that on Potter somehow. Only Potter isn’t there. Instead he’s greeted by two neatly made beds, a pair of desks, and two cupboards. The room is neat, crisp, and tidy, and the only indication that Potter is coming at all is his trunk, which is sitting next to Draco’s, and has somehow managed to become unbelievably shabby, despite it being a model that is two years newer than Draco’s own.

Without the babble of voices coming from the common room, the room is unbelievably quiet. Draco takes out his wand. It’s his mother’s, actually, and he can still feel a hint of her in it. The spells she used the most flow like water through his wrist, without him barely saying a word. Her favorites glow and blossom, filling him with light, and the darker ones, the things she used to survive, stick to the back of his throat, even if he was only thinking of casting. There’s some of his grandmother, too, and her mother before that, and when Draco is calm and concentrates hard he can feel the itch of unknown syllables at his fingers. The strength of his families’ magic curls at the base of his skull, weaving into complex intonations and subtle shifts in his pronunciation. Old magic, is what it is, like being a part of something.

He was probably supposed to have his father’s wand, (and his name, and face, and life, to continue the legacy). But it had always felt wrong in his hand, like he was just holding any old wand you could get from Ollivander’s, not something sacred and passed down. He had always felt ashamed and had told no one. Not even Crabbe and Goyle, who carried their fathers’ wands and their fathers’ names with pride. He had been proud, too, but there was always a desperation to it, a need to prove something.

The last time he had held his father’s wand, after the battle, before the trial, while his face was still covered with grime and blood, he had felt it reach out a tendril, something dark and searching, and he had felt a part of himself begin to answer. It was just a replacement, something his father had skimmed off another Death Eater, possibly even a corpse, but it still held traces of his father’s magic. A whisper of the darkness within both of them. And then his mother had taken it away. With a look of cultivated passivity, she had snapped it cleanly in two, right there on the battlefield. The pieces fell to the ground, becoming so much ruble. The cumulative magic of countless generations of Malfoy’s lay in the dust. Then she had taken his hand and led him away. She never once looked back to see the spot the pieces lay.

They pled guilty at the trial.

It was over quickly. It would never be over. Lucius’s crimes were far greater than their own. In the end, and Draco could barely believe it himself, Draco had killed no one. Narcissus had killed no one. The had been accessories at worst, prisoners at best. Cowards. Liars. They heard all this and worse, but Azkaban wasn’t for cowards. And it certainly wasn’t for Narcissus Malfoy, who denounced her husband, and all he stood for with the same look of bland disinterest as when she snapped his wand, all with Draco’s hand clutched tightly in hers below the railing of the witness stand, where no one could see.

It shouldn’t have happened the way it did. By all accounts, Draco was probably supposed to be rotting away in a cell in Azkaban, while his mother walked the widow’s walk and wailed for her husband, and yet.

And yet witnesses came forward from the most unlikely places. Lovegood. Thomas. McGonagall. Potter.

And that was it, really, Potter striding into the courtroom, decisive and disheveled, and nearly too late, but there. There. Stoic, and solid, and the savior of the magical world and speaking on behalf of Draco and his mother. It was without pity or sentiment. Neither Draco nor his mother were saints, and Potter never tried to paint them as such, but it was enough. The sentences were given. Draco’s father got life in prison. His mother got house arrest. Draco got to go back to school.

Draco looks at the two beds. He sits on one, then the other. For a moment, he thinks of giving Potter the worse of the two choices, but the thought passes. What fun would that be, anymore? Like, yes Potter, I know we both fought a war, watched our friends and family die, but see how you’ll deal with this lumpy mattress! He thinks of how this moment would go a few years ago, about the glee he would’ve gotten out of having arrived first, and the trouble he would’ve gone through the make Potter suffer, and he misses it. Their petty feud. The untroubled nature of it all.

In the end, he chooses the bed by the door, so he can hear anyone approaching, and uses his wand to move his clothes into the nearest wardrobe. There’s an extra swish that comes naturally at the end, which presses fresh pleats into his shirts. The air smells vaguely of lavender.

He’s just put away the last of his robes when he hears footsteps on the stairs. They stop at the stairwell and Draco waits. One beat. Two. Nearly a third. Then Potter opens the door.

It occurs to Draco that this is the first time he’s seen Potter since his trial. Potter is wearing a worn pair of jeans, a frayed hoodie, and a look of resignation. He wonders if Potter is realizing the same thing.

Potter stands in the doorway for a few long moments, before taking a step forward and shutting the door.

Draco wanders if this is the first time that they’ve both been in a room alone together where neither of them is bleeding, or about to be. He hopes that neither of them is about to be. And then, because Potter is still standing there like he doesn’t know what to do with his feet, Draco nods at the other bed,

“The one by the window’s yours, if you want it.”

Potter looks at the bed, then back at Draco, like he’s both touched and startled at the offer. Draco hadn’t meant to offer him anything. But now that he has, he doesn’t want to take it back, so he adds, “I thought you might like the air.”

“I do,” Harry says, then, “thank you.” The idea of Potter thanking him makes Draco’s skin feel a little too tight, so he nods and turns away.

When he looks back, Potter is staring morosely at the bed, like if he looks long enough it might sprout red and gold stripes and a four-poster. Draco doesn’t miss the Slytherin dorms like that. Sure, the green and silver looked great with his skin (and really, they had all lucked out that way, hadn’t they? The Slytherins. Imagine going through puberty spots and growth spurts in red or yellow) but he can get plenty of that from his own wardrobe, and it had begun to feel too much like a war room, towards the end, with all the families turning out their finest pint size representatives, Draco chief among them. He’s glad to leave that to his memoires. To let it rot and turn to dust deep down in the dungeons.

Let the fresh-faced Slytherins pour in. Let them study and flirt and play spin the bottle on the same rug where Pansy heard her brother had died or Draco bragged about his mark and fawned under the admiration of his friends. Let them gossip and giggle and practice spells that turn leaves into teacups, and nothing more sinister.

Everything else can rot, for all her cares. Draco tells himself this, and then reminds himself, every day. Because he does need reminding. Reminding to let it go, despite the good bits. Despite the memory of Pansy dramatically, and incorrectly reading his tea leaves, because he had called her miniskirt cheap and now the whole common room had to hear about the boils that would soon be pultruding from every inch of his body, yes Draco, even there, or Crabbe earnestly quizzing Goyle on potions ingredients, or Blaise swinging his feet up into Draco’s lap and Pansy eventually forgiving them all and leaning her head on Draco’s should to whisper commentary, also dramatic and incorrect, to Nott and Blaise’s chess game. There had been good moments too, even at the end. And it’s hard to shake himself of that.

By the time Draco has focused again, Potter has already unpacked, because it appears that, apart from his robes, he owns approximately three things. Old Draco would have mocked him about this. Old Draco didn’t have any fucking priorities.

Potter looks at him again, like he can’t quite believe he’s there. Or maybe like he can’t believe either of them are there, and Draco feels the impossibility if it all. Him. Them. Here, at Hogwarts. There was a war, for fucks sake. And now they have class tomorrow. They’ll probably be expected to bring quills and parchment and show up on time.

It’s so absurd he almost laughs, which makes Potter squint, so instead he busies himself with setting up his desk set. There’s a new ink well from his mother and his old favorite quill, which somehow survived it all. Somehow. Potter stands in the middle of the room for a moment longer, clearly at a loss, then he clears his throat. “Right,” he says, “I’ll be back later then,” and heads out the door. Draco knows when he gets to the bottom of the staircase by the way he swears at the stoic suit of armor. Draco almost smiles.

 

***********

 

Ginny still lives in Gryffindor Tower, of course, she was a sixth-year then, and a seventh-year now, even with the horror that was Hogwarts a year ago (the Lost Year, they’re calling it, for all the students who came and suffered but still moved on. There’ll be make-up curriculum, and extra classes, but everyone is a year up. Everyone is moving forward.)

She’s sitting with her legs curled up under her on one of the over-stuffed couches in Gryffindor Tower and Harry can’t tell who people are staring at more. Sure, he’s The Chosen One and The Boy Who Lived Again, symbol of hope and resilience and the right side winning out, but he was gone for the worst of it, off doing heroic things that people only heard about, and never quite believed all the way, and she was here. Day after day with The Carrows and the ministry and the resistance, despite it all. There is more comfort in presence than symbols.

No one is really starring at Ginny. They’re looking at her, sure, but not like they’re looking at him, like they don’t quite know what to do with their hands or eyes. They know what to do with Ginny. A passing fifth-year touches her arm. Two second-years, tiny and giggling, attempt to recreate her messy braid. A sixth-year has borrowed her copy of “Quidditch Through the Ages” and is adding tiny notes in the margin. Harry catches a glimpse of half a conversation written in different hands the next time she turns the page.

“It can’t be too bad,” Ginny says, somehow practical after all this time, “living with him. I heard the rooms have all be spelled to stop you all from hurting each other.” Her fire has gone to more important things, and now all that’s left for Draco Malfoy is only an old simmer. He was always a half-rate Death Eater at best. A coward at worst. And they’ve all seen worse.

It’s probably the most surreal experience of Harry’s life, sitting on a couch with Ginny, discussing the mundanity of living with Draco Malfoy. “I mean, it can’t be fun,” she continues, twining the end of her braid through her fingers, “but I can kind of see why McGonagall did it, to make us all deal with each other, inner-house unity and all that.” She flicks the end of her braid free and winks at the second years, who giggle more. Harry can’t help thinking that she is more of the suave hero than he’s ever been. He doesn’t even mind. Ginny has always been a heart-throb.

“That’s easy for you to say,” Harry mumbles, “seeing as you still get to live in Gryffindor Tower with the rest of your house.” He’s trying not to sound bitter, but it creeps in anyways. It was always going to.

Ginny shrugs. “I dunno,” she says, “I didn’t spend too much time in the tower last year, a lot of us lived together, and it wasn’t so bad. Well, other than the death and torture,” she amends. “It was nice, to be around the other houses.” Her eyes light up. “Did you know the Ravenclaws have their own study guide achieve, passed down through the years? Or that the Hufflepuffs can take cooking classes? And the Slytherins have playbook of every quidditch player’s weaknesses, which they can study before the game.” He face falls a little. “I mean, we didn’t get to play a lot of quidditch, but the cooking came in handy.”

She sees Harry staring. “Yours is recklessness, by the way,” she says, “and that you tend to faint left. Also someone wrote that your head is so big it shouldn’t let you get off the ground, but I don’t think that’s strictly accurate commentary.”

Harry is staring. “You had Slytherins with you, in the Room of Requirement?” The thought never occurred to him before.

Ginny shrugs. “Sure. I mean, not a ton? But a few, some of the younger one’s especially, or kids whose families hadn’t stepped up to go all murder-wild. It was a decent mix, toward the end.”

Harry grimaces. “But Malfoy though.”

Ginny laughs, and her face is bright. “I know,” she admits, “it’s awful, he’s a smug racist bastard and you can cry to me at least once a week and I promise I’ll listen seriously to whatever you think Malfoy is plotting.” She cocks her head. “Well, mostly seriously.”

Harry spends the rest of the visit hearing about Ginny’s plans for the newly revived Gryffindor Quidditch team, which mostly involve frankly terrifying endurance drills and strategies for stealing peeks at the Slytherins playbook. She seems to have an unending stream of friends and admires, who stop by to chat about classes or upcoming visits to Hogsmeade. She laughs and chats and knows every single one of their names. Harry sits back and enjoys the familiar ebb and flow of the common room around him. There’s a moment, when he closes his eyes and lets the voices wash over him, where it’s good to be home.

 

**********

 

Harry’s first week living with Draco Malfoy goes like this:

1. He’s late to every single one of his classes. Which isn’t really Malfoy’s fault, but Harry blames him anyway. Just because. For old-time’s sake.

2. He learns how little time he can spend in his room during the day, if he works at.

3. He keeps getting woken up at five in the morning.

 

Malfoy, it seems, gets up at five in the morning, to go running, of all things. It’s so mundanely muggle that Harry doesn’t believe it, the first time it happens, just rolls back over and later wonders, between bites of toast and sips of pumpkin juice, why his subconscious decided to present him with an image of Malfoy wearing joggers.

The third time it happens his brain catches up to his eyes and he lets out a mumbled, “what’re you doing?”

Malfoy, for his part, isn’t doing much. He’d laid out his clothes the night before, and he hasn’t lit is wand, which is more courteous than Harry would ever imagine him being, but he sleeps lightly now, when he sleeps at all, and movement from the room’s other inhabitant is enough to wake him.

The shadow that is Malfoy turns towards Harry’s bed. “I’m going for a run.”
He’s so tired and it’s so early that Harry says the first thing that pops into his mind, “Why?”

The shadows are still for a moment. Then because he’s tired and because it’s early Malfoy answers him. “Because it makes me remember I’m free.”

The image follows Harry throughout the day. Malfoy running, the wind moving his pale hair, feet hitting the dirt, Hogwarts slipping by. The muggle-ness of it all. The mundanity. He’d probably had to go to a muggle store to buy his shoes. He probably drinks out of a water bottle. His father would hate it.

Then Harry remembers with a lurch that his father is in Azkaban, and not in a position to know anything about how his son spends his mornings. Harry sits up straight in Transfigurations. Lucius is a Death Eater, and a bastard, and deserved everything he got, Harry saw to it, but still. Still. He’s never going to see his son running past the place where Voldemort once offered him his hand and not stopping.

He spends the rest of the day thinking vague thoughts about what Hermione would call prison reform and missing every time a teacher calls on him.

 

**********

 

The problem, Harry finds, on the fifth night, with having an insomniac roommate is that they find out you’re an insomniac too.

It’s rounding on 3:00 in the morning when Malfoy rolls over and asks, “Why aren’t you asleep?” And it seems too childish to say, “Why aren’t you asleep?” so Harry tells him.
“I don’t much, anymore, since the war.”

There’s a shuffling of blankets, of Malfoy moving onto his back and then Malfoy breathes, “Yeah. Me neither.” Like a confession. It’s possibly the second most surreal moment in Harry’s life, lying here in the dark, talking with Draco Malfoy. His past self would’ve simmered and raged, would’ve used the opportunity to try and ferret out just what exactly Malfoy was hiding for his latest scheme, but at some point, Harry had acquired bigger monsters. An arch nemesis you could have a nighttime chat with wasn’t really an arch nemesis at all.

It helped, he supposed, that he and Malfoy had had some moments together during the trial, to work out some of their more violent grievances. Harry had shut the door in the room where they had been keeping Malfoy (separate from his mother) and because he was Harry Potter, the guards had let him. There had been the crash of bodies meeting walls, and the flash of wands being drawn, then discarded, as they took there grievances out with their fists. It had been cathartic. Peaceful, even. A few moments of bloodshed, of this petty, school time rivalry, of nothing but pain and the acceptance of pain, and he had Malfoy had worked through it.

But then, there had still been a war to end, and deals to strike, and Malfoy knew things that helped other people and it wasn’t that Harry forgave him, it was just that there were bigger evils in the world than Draco Malfoy. And he still needed to look Narcissus Malfoy in the eye. So there had been a truce of sorts. A moving forward. Harry honestly thought he might not ever speak to Malfoy again. Before the room assignments. And the insomnia. And really, who else was there to talk to when the rest of the castle had been asleep for hours?

The dark settles between them.

“Nightmares?” Malfoy asks. It’s a common enough question. They all have nightmares, after the war. Potter would be surprised if Malfoy didn’t.

“Yeah,” Harry says, “but also,” and this is the part he’s never put into words. But it’s dark, and it’s only Malfoy , after all, and who cares if he doesn’t understand him? Who cares if he wants to mock him for what he’s about to say? The last time he cared about Malfoy’s mockery was truly his last free day.

“If I go to sleep,” Harry says, “I’m going to wake up again.”

Malfoy lets out a huff of laughter. “Potter, you morbid ass!” He doesn’t add that he could make sure Potter never wakes up at all. They’re somehow past that. Like yes, Harry faced down the Death Eaters and the Dark Lord, but now he’s going to be murdered in his bed by a git of a Slytherin barely past puberty. Harry is suddenly pleased beyond measure that Malfoy didn’t say, Oh Potter, you tragic war hero, your suffering is noble.

Harry laughs a little too. “I know,” he says, again reeling that it is Malfoy he’s having this conversation with, but his words come naturally in the dark, “but I don’t mean I don’t want to wake up, it’s just that there’s a moment every morning where I don’t remember where I am and what’s happened, and then it comes over me again.” All the loss, all the death, the endless span of days where he has to work out for himself how to go on now that he’s not just a hero anymore.

Malfoy sobers. “Way to bring down the room,” he says.

“Sorry,” Harry says. He’s about to roll over and start courting sleep when Malfoy adds,

“It was different, just having to survive.”

“Yeah,” Harry says.

“Yeah,” Malfoy offers.

They stay like that, on their backs in the dark, for a long time.

At 5:00, Malfoy goes for a run.

 

**********

 

Classes are a joke. Harry just spent a year crash coursing how to survive in the worst possible situation and now he’s expected to transform armchairs to nightstands, all because there’s supposed to be at least one question about it on the N.E.W.Ts. As though anyone wouldn’t hire the Boy Who Lived Twice because his knowledge of the Goblin Wars is shoddy at best.

And the castles gone funny, too. It’s hard trying to sort out which potions ingredient is which when there’s a gaping hole in the wall and all the magic in the room seems to be draining out of it. Half of the dungeons have been quarantined, thanks to the rigorous over-investigation of dark magic on the grounds, so they’re in a room on the second floor that seems nonetoo pleased to be hosting the potions class.

The second time Harry’s knife slips out of the precise dicing pattern he set it on Harry slaps it down and stalks off to glare at the brickwork. The 7th year beside him spares him a furtive look and shifts her work mat farther to the left. She’s been inching away from him all lesson and her ingredients are starting to hang off the end of the table. She can’t actually say, I know you’re the chosen one, and we’re all supposed to be eternally grateful to you, but if I fail this lesson I’m dumping my stink worms in your lap, but it’s there in her eyes.

When Harry glances down at the edges of the jagged hole, for a moment there is nothing. Just air slipping out over the crumbled brick and falling towards the grounds 30 feet below. But then he looks closer. The wall itself is slowly dissolving. So slowly that no one but an overly stubborn Gryffindor, who would sit here all night, if it means getting to the bottom of this, thank you very much, would notice anything at all. Luckily, Harry is an extremely stubborn Gryffindor, and after 15 minutes of staring at the exact same spot, while the rest of the class tries their very best not to stare at him, because he is still the Chosen One, after all, unhinged or not, Harry sees the slight gleam beneath the specks of loose dust, and the way they are edging slowly towards the hole.

He taps at them with his wand, jamming the point up against the rock, but the glimmering specks continue to shift forwards, like dust in a moat.

His classmates are starting to whisper now, his reputation be damned, and from their bench across the room, he can feel Ron and Hermione’s eyes on him, but they don’t come and join him. They did, for a while, but he’s spent enough time stalking around the grounds and prodding at corners that they mostly leave him to it now. Mostly. Hermione says that it’s important to establish your own grieving process, and he tries very hard not to roll his eyes at her. Not that she’s wrong. It just feels weird to hear her say it, like she’s removed somehow, and he guesses she is.

Hermione took to grief like everything else: efficiently, and mostly on her own. She left for Australia two weeks after the final battle, and came back with her parents in tow, glassy-eyed and a little worse for wear, before leaving again for two weeks to get them set up and reacclimated at a new dental practice in the country.

Harry was not too surprised when Ron went with her, nor when they came back and took up residence at the Burrow for the rest of the summer, grieving for Fred and Tonks and Remus and the list went on. They had grown into each other, in a way Harry had missed. He’d just blinked, and there they were, his two best friends, hand-in-hand. The war had done what six years at Hogwarts could not. There was some tenderness from the destruction, after all.

Ron, for his part, might’ve joined Harry in his chaotic explorations, for the sake of companionability, if nothing else, but he wants to be an auror, and Best Friend to the Boy Who Lived will only get him so far. He needs that potion mark. Harry, for his part, mostly doesn’t mind. Mostly.

 

**********

 

After class, Harry goes to find Neville. He’s been in the castle all through the war and knows it now like the curves of his own name. He’d had to, to outsmart the Carrows and build the resistance. The last time they’d talked he’d casually gestured Harry towards a back passageway that hadn’t even been on the Marauders map.

Neville’s room is in a hallway that was once dimly lit, but has somehow become light and airy, because the castle is a little bit in love with him.

The door is painted a cheerful blue. Harry knocks.

To his surprise, Ginny answers. He face is half turned into the room behind her and Harry can hear laughter and conversation.

When she sees him, her grin spreads. “Harry! Come in!”

“Haaar-rey!” comes an echoing yell and Harry ducks through the door to find Dean, Shamus, Neville, Luna, and a handful of kids he vaguely recognize as a mix of Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and even Slytherins lounging on a collection of mismatched couches. Dean’s hands are cupped around his mouth and Seamus, who is sitting on the ground with his back propped against Dean’s legs, has his head thrown back against Dean’s knees in answering laugher. Ginny squeezes his arm, then picks her way back across the room the flop down next to Dean and Luna.

The room is a cheerful confusion of sleeping bags and cots. There’s even a hammock attached to the back wall, and a flurry of posters and banners covering the walls. Harry can make out Seamus’s cherished West Ham, edging up against the bedraggled remains of the classic Potter for President banner. It’s held up surprisingly well, despite the years. And the war.

Neville ducks out from where he’s sitting, squished between Hannah Abott and a Slytherin 3rd year.

“Come on in,” he echoes, “We have snacks, somewhere,” he looks back around him like the snacks will materialize in the air.

“No, we ate them,” Seamus says, nudging a pile of napkins with his foot.

“Already?” Neville asks, pushing a hand into his hair. It’s grown into a untidy mop on his head, which somehow looks charming and disheveled, not messy.

“We don’t have to ration, anymore.” Hannah shrugs.

Neville laughs. “True,” he says, and turns back to Harry. “So we don’t have snacks, but what can we do for you?” He knows somehow that this isn’t a social visit. Probably because Harry hasn’t come to find him sooner and Harry almost feels a little guilty, but it’s Neville, after all, and Neville won’t mind.

“It’s about the castle,” he starts, “I just had potions, in that room on the second floor that’s still under repairs, and,” he catches the eye of a curious Hufflepuff, who he thinks might be Cho’s sister, and lowers his voice. “It’s like it’s still coming apart.”

Neville wrinkles his nose. “They really shouldn’t have potions up there, too ungrounded.” He says the last part as though he’s expecting to Harry to know exactly what he’s talking about, and here Harry realizes that there is a second person who’s read “Hogwarts: A History.” He supposes Neville really did have a lot of time away from class to get reading done.

“What?” He asks, feeling stupid.

“Oh,” Neville says, subtly shifting into an explanation. He doesn’t seem to mind at all that Harry doesn’t already know what he’s talking about. It’s no wonder so many of the resistance still wants to be here, instead of going back to how things were. “Well, potions are mostly organic, plants and animals, you know? Things like that need to have roots somewhere, it helps the magic get a foothold, to grow into something.” He tilts his head. “Why did you think we always had potions in the dungeon?”

Harry tries very hard not to shuffle his feet. He doesn’t think because it’s creepy is a very good answer. “I guess I never thought about it,” he says, finally.

Neville nods, accepting his answer. “Yeah, I don’t think a lot of people do. It’s just become how things are. But it’s like why we have an astronomy tower, and not just classrooms with telescopes. Or why the Slytherin common rooms are also in the dungeons,” he adds, as though Harry is following along. Why are they in the dungeons? He wonders. But he feels too embarrassed to ask.

Pride, Ginny had said, when she’d told him it just wouldn’t work, not like they’d wanted, and he supposes she hadn’t been wrong.

“Things are still out of place,” Neville goes on. “The castle needs a strong foundation to renew its magic. I’m not surprised it’s having trouble.”

Behind him, Ginny draws Cho’s sister into an argument about the Holly Head Harpies new seeker, and her chances in the upcoming session. Seamus opens his mouth to defend his own idea of the best sport and Dean brings a hand to his face to smother his laughter. Besides Ginny, Luna comments mildly that Harpy’s do so well because they’re an all women team, and that fits with the ritualistic genesis of the sport.

There’s a familiarity here, one Harry used to feel in his own common room, a sense of belonging and home. He wonders why no one has made them go back to their own common rooms yet, but then, McGonagall probably has enough to deal with, this quiet rebellion, this comfortable resistance can be forgiven. And Neville’s room really is big enough to share. There are some things, Harry knows, that are hard to come back from. Some things that seep into your bones and make a home there, and all of a sudden you find yourself changed.

Harry spends the rest of the afternoon in the Second Room of Requirement (named thus because it has everything they need), squeezed in between Neville and Luna, and Neville helps him finish up the potion’s homework he missed when he was pocking around at the wall. Neville, it turns out, is quite good at potions, when he’s not being terrorized by an ex-Death Eater. He knows practically everything about the plants they’re using and is patient when Harry does not. Snape, it turned out, was on their side in the end, but he was a shit teacher.

 

**********

 

Draco Malfoy’s first week at Hogwarts goes like this:

1. He gets into a swearing match with a stubbornly unmoving suit of armor.

2. He learns he could probably pass his lessons with his eyes closed.

3. Harry Potter touches his arm.

 

The 8th time that night Draco catches Potter staring at the tail of the dark mark peeking out from his shift he rolls up his sleeve.

“For god’s sake Potter, it’s not going to bite.” Draco holds his arm out, wrist up. “Here, touch it.” They’re in their room after dinner, both trying and failing to care enough about their homework to get some of it done before bed. Draco’s throat is still ragged from the sharp words he pushed out of it, and his robes are ripped from the sharp point of a sword that resolutely did not listen.

Potter hesitates. Draco gives his arm an impatient shake. Potter should be used to it by now, after all the marks he’d seen at the trial, but Draco supposes seeing it and living with it are different things. He knows they are for himself. Potter steps closer. Cautiously, he presses two fingers against the mark. Draco lets out a hiss. The mark burns under Potter’s fingers. Potter looks up, surprised.

“Does it hurt?”

Draco looks at him. And decides that he’s going to tell him the truth. Why the hell not? It’s only Potter, after all. And it’s not like there’s some strategy in keeping it a secret, in suffering in silence. It’s not like keeping silent will do any good at all. He’s born the mark in silence (well, mostly silence, also some bragging) for years now, and all it got him was on the losing side of a fucked up war.

“Like the devil.” Draco says, matter-a-factly. He doesn’t draw away. “Bastard couldn’t even leave us alone now.” Then, seeing Potter’s fear-stricken face, “No, Potter. He’s dead, you killed him. Well, you and Longbottom, nice bit with the sword there, in the end.” It had been. Nice. The sword. Draco can still see it flashing down, can still feel that astonishing relief that soon, finally, it might all be over.

He shakes his arm again. “Go on then, give it a feel, make sure there’s nothing lurking in the edges.” He says it as a joke, a flippancy, but part of him is anxious for Potter’s verdict, for someone else besides Draco to touch the mark and claim it benign.

Potter starts and moves his hand. The mark’s raised like a welt, skin tight and angry, and beneath Potter’s fingers it squirms slightly.

Draco pokes at one raised edge with his free hand. With practiced disinterest he says, “He used to do this to us when he was displeased, among other things. It’s been this way since he died.” The disinterest is practiced. He’d cultivated it carefully, while dozens of hands had poked and prodded him during the trail, when the doctors had examined him and declared there was nothing they could do, when his mother had apologetically stroked her hand against the dark skin.

Potter gawks, horrified.

“And you just live with it like that?” Draco knows what he’s thinking. It seems so much worse than just living with a static mark. Like the dark magic’s so much closer. Like you’d have to keep an eye on it in case it moved.

He can feel the resignation on his face. He hopes it doesn’t look too noble or long suffering. He doesn’t deserve that.

“Nothing else to do. Traditional healing does nothing, and the ministry won’t look into it. They seem to think it’s fitting punishment. And so far, nothing I’ve tried worked.” He looks contemplatively at the window on the other side of the room. He can just make out how the lake laps darkly into the shore. “I think Nott tried to burn his off.” He says, “But last I heard, he still had the mark, if not most of his arm.”

Potter is, again, horrified. It’s beginning to be a favorite look of his. “Aren’t you worried about him?”

Draco looks at him. Really looks. It’s important that Potter hear this. “Nott’s favorite pastime during the war was torturing muggle children.” He says. “I’m hardly going to weep at his bedside.” He inclines his head, musing. “Which, I suppose, is the Ministry’s point.

“But you can’t just live like that,” Harry says, again, more insistent this time. He seems very sure of what Draco can and can’t do.

For a moment, Draco is incensed. He feels the old anger at Potter curling in his gut. What does Potter know about what Draco can endure?

“I can and I will.” Draco snaps. He will. No matter what, he is going to stay alive, fuck Voldemort, and the Ministry, and his father. Sometimes, when it is very late, and no one is paying attention, not even himself, Draco vows fiercely that he will have a good life.

He doesn’t say any of this. He doesn’t have to give Potter all his secrets, just because he’s the Boy Who Lived and saved him from a life of misery and ruin. Some of this he gets to keep, just for himself.

Potter is looking at the mark speculating now, his touch light. Draco should know that look, and that he’s in trouble. It’s Potter’s “I’m a Gryffindor hero and all my ideas are brilliant and not a bit disastrous” look.

“I wonder if,” he trails off, a thought flitting across his face. Draco doesn’t have time to think. The next time Potter opens his mouth a hiss of undecipherable syllables slithers out.

The result is immediate. Draco flinches back, a tug of something hot in his stomach, and holy fuck no, this cannot be happening. Potter is still speaking, like smoke through wet grass, and Draco would give half of his magic to be anywhere else in the world right now. He scrambles further up the bed and Potter, noble bastard that he is, tries to follow.

“Are you ok?” Potter’s face is etched in concern and Draco sort of wants to punch him, but that would mean moving towards him and that worst idea right now.

“Do not talk to me,” he hisses, but Potter keeps moving. At least he’s speaking English now. Small miracles.

“Are you hurt?” Potter asks again.

“Do not talk to me,” Draco repeats. He draws his knees up to his chest and thinks frantically of Goyle’s soggy socks, of that time Blaise kneed him so hard in the crotch he saw literal constellations, of flobberworms.

Beside him, Potter’s expression slowly melts from concern to mirth. “No,” he says. “No way,” A smile is blooming across his face.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Draco grunts.

“How did you sit through Death Eater meetings? You must’ve been constantly –”

Draco cuts him off. “The Dark Lord didn’t actually speak Parseltongue to us that much. He just talked to his fucking snake.”

“Still though, that’s fucked up!” Potter laughs. But it’s not mean, just like he’s heard the best joke in a while.

Draco can’t help himself. “I know!” he whines. He’s wild with it. The light in the room. Potter’s laughter. There was a moment when they hung on the edge, when Potter could’ve moved back in disgust, where Draco could’ve hexed him, where this whole tentative thing could’ve dissolved. But now they’re laughing, and Draco can see how it’s sort of funny, in a really fucked up sort of way.

“Just give me a minute,” he says, and it’s almost painful to talk. But Potter’s face is the lightest it’s been since the war, and that’s something. His eyes twinkle.

“Sure,” he says, and there’s a hint of a sibilant ‘s.’ This is what hell must feel like, Draco thinks. He’s in literal hell.

“Potter,” he says, as calmly as he can, “The moment it’s a good idea for me to move again, I’m going to kill you.” Potter laughs. It’s a good sound.

 

**********

 

The next day, Harry gets up close behind Malfoy in the greenhouse and mutters, “snake fucker!” Malfoy whirls around and glares. It could part the great lake on spite. Beside him Hermione shakes her head.

“Harry! We’re supposed to be getting along with each other and now you’re back to calling Malfoy a snake? I thought you two were ok.” She is equal parts earnest and disapproving, which is a hard look to pull off when you’re up to your elbows in potting soil, but Hermione has always been above average.

“We are!” Harry protests. “I wasn’t calling him a snake. I was calling him a snake fucker, because he wants to – ”

Malfoy snaps, “Potter, I swear to god if you finish that sentence you’re going to wake up with my dark mark so far up your ass!”

Harry doesn’t so much as flinch, just opens his mouth and feels the sharp edge of a consonant against his throat.

Malfoy looks murderous. “Kill. You. Painfully. I know where you sleep.” He spits out. And Harry can’t help it, he just grins. “Like I fucking sleep!” he says.

Malfoy barks out a laugh that startles Hermione so much she jumps. Potting soil goes everywhere. She looks between them like they’re two of Fluffy’s three heads, and she’s trying to figure out where the third is.

Finally she says, “I think I would pay you both good money not to tell me what’s going on.”

Harry closes his mouth over a string of writhing syllables and grins.

They’re interrupted by a cough from Professor Sprout. “Mr. Potter,” she says, eyeing where Harry is standing, clearly out of his work station. “Would you care to tell us why we’re using protective gloves to repot the Shrieking Violets?”

Harry looks up at her, every inch the amiable Gryffindor, “No,” he says. “I would not.”

“Pardon me?” Says Professor Sprout, eyes going wide in surprise.

“No, thank you.” Harry says again. Then adds, “Professor.” Professor Sprout closes her mouth. She blinks.

“Oh,” She says, “Right. Miss Brown, then?”

“Harry!” Hermione hisses, but Harry turns and walks to the other side of the greenhouse, and Hermione’s hands are too far into the dirt to follow.

Malfoy does though. He saunters after Harry like he was going in that direction anyway, thank you very much, even though his station is right next to Hermione’s.

“What are you doing?” He asks, “don’t you need this class?”

“No,” Harry says. He’s rummaging around in the lines of pots left over by the class before them.

“Don’t you want to be an auror?” Malfoy asks, crossing his arms over the chest of his suspiciously pristine robes.

Harry looks up. “No,” he says, as though it surprises him. “And be honest, you know they’d let me be an auror if I stood naked on my head during the interview and told them I was the emperor of Bulgaria.”

“Oh,” says Malfoy. What else is there to say? Then, “What are you doing then?”

“I’m trying to see why these are wilting.” Harry brandishes a pot in Malfoy’s direction. A leaf droops sadly out over the rim. It is the only thing that matters. Here. The castle. Not the mostly fictitious world where people still want him to fight wars. He turns to go back to rummaging, but Malfoy stops him.

“Do you want help, then?”

Harry looks back at him. “Don’t you need the class?” A smile curls up one side of Malfoy’s lip.

“They wouldn’t let me be an auror even if I stood naked on my head during the interview and told them I was the empire of Bulgaria.”

Harry laughs, surprised. “The future’s fucked,” he says.

Malfoy nods. “The future’s fucked. Hand me a pot.”

They spend the rest of the period poking and prodding in the dirt until it’s time to go back inside.

 

**********

 

His third week into his improbable 8th year, Draco Malfoy realizes three things:

1. Somehow, he has not yet killed his roommate.

2. The dungeons are shrinking.

3. Harry Potter has stopped going to class.

 

Draco Malfoy likes to think that he is a patient sort. Maybe not in the way that’s obvious to other people, because he usually gets everything he wants, or at least used to, before the war, and Death Eaters living in his house, and death and threats and impossible tasks, but he’s been trained since a young age with poise and elegance, impressed with the importance of customs, and doing things just so, so when the third person in so many minutes asks him where Potter is, he grits his teeth and bites out that he doesn’t know. He’s a seeker, not a keeper, after all. That little bit of humor is lost on the wide-eyed 4th year, who’d only approached him after a long conference with her friends in which, Draco is sure, lots had been drawn.

The fourth time he feels a tap on his shoulder, he does snap. Which is unfortunate, because this time, it’s McGonagall.

“Mr. Malfoy.” She says, somehow managing to look distastefully down at him, despite the disparities in their height. “Your friend is looking for you.” He’s about to growl that Potter isn’t his friend when McGonagall holds up a hand, “Not,” she says, voice crisp, “Mr. Potter.”

Pansy had been next to him in muggle studies, snickering over cooking appliances, and doing her best not to appear interested in something called a curling iron. And well. After that, Draco’s really only got one friend left.

Goyle is sitting on what remains of his four poster bed when Draco ducks into the room. He has to duck because the entryway has fallen to approximately shoulder height. Goyle’s head is bowed forward to avoid the drooping draperies. His face is cast in green, from the sliver of window still letting in the murky light of the lake. Draco can just make out the edge of one of the merperson’s fin, but he blinks, and then it’s gone. Goyle looks down at his hand.

“How long has it been like this?” Draco asks. He realizes, with some guilt, that he hasn’t come to see Goyle since their first week. They’ve been meeting in the great hall for meals, and Draco thought nothing of it.

“It’s not so bad,” Goyle grunts. “Weasley and I were doing ok until the second bed went.”

Draco looks to the corner where a second bed is suspiciously absent. In its place is a small puddle of greenish lake water. “Surely you could’ve gotten another room,” Draco says, “Weasley’s a war hero, and you,” he trails off, “Well, neither of us did too much damage, in the end. Nothing a Gryffindor babysitter can’t keep an eye on.” He’s not stupid. Potter may fall into the wide-eyed victim act, but Draco knows why they were assigned a room together.

“There weren’t any other rooms in the dungeon. Didn’t want to leave.”

Draco props himself against the edge of the bed. His elbows brush Goyle’s. “Weasley was ok with that?” Draco can’t much imagine Weasley being alright with wringing his socks out every morning for the sake of Goyle’s nostalgia.

Goyle shrugs. “He’s alright,” he mumbles. “We talked about it.” Any animosity Goyle may have once had for blood traitors seems to have bled out of him during the war. Though the idea of him and Weasley talking is still vaguely frightening.

“But you have to leave now.” Draco could swear he feels the bed shrinking below them. The puddle in the corner has grown bigger.

Goyle shrugs again. His shoulders stay hunched up by his ears.

Raised as they were to follow in the footsteps of their mighty, pureblood fathers, they’ve never had the luxury of putting words to all their feelings. They’ve never been that kind of friends. Draco wonders, for a moment, how it all might’ve been different, without their father’s names. More than in all the years under her teachings, more than at the trial, he is suddenly very grateful for the sense of Professor McGonagall. He is even grateful for the wide-eyed fourth year, who kept him standing in the entry hall for an extra few minutes, where McGonagall found him.

He puts a hand on Goyle’s shoulder. He imagines them children. Imagines them young boys, wrapped in Slyterin scarves, enchanted by the sheer joy of riding a train towards a school where they were going to learn magic.

“You can’t stay here,” he says.

Goyle grunts. His shoulders flex under Draco’s hand. “I know he was a murderer, and a bastard, but he was my friend.” He says. There will be no war memorial with Crabbe’s name. This place, with its leaks and shrinking floors, is all that’s left. And now it’s time to go. The walls are already beginning to fold in on themselves. Draco wonders, suddenly, how the castle managed to hold for so long.

Goyle looks down at his hands, big and empty in his lap. Draco knows that in his head are images of fire, flickers of flame, a missing part of himself that will never truly be whole. Goyle curls his hands into fists. Something inside him seems to resolve. They will go on. There is nothing else to do. He cannot sit in the collapsing frame of the dungeons forever.

Goyle stands. Draco thinks, not for the first time, how odd it is to see his solitary figure. There’s no trunks to grab, nothing to take except one last look around the room.

The lake disappears as they step into the hall. The wall seals behind them, with a final, gasping sigh. Draco realizes how much the castle must’ve fought to give them those final minutes of farewell. There is nothing left to show it used to be a room at all.

“Where will you go?” Draco asks. He wonders for a moment if he should offer his own room. Surely he and Potter can make room. They used to share with five other boys, after all.

“There’s a room,” Goyle says. “Weasley went ahead.”

“A walk then, something to stretch our legs.” Draco is suddenly desperate not to let Goyle leave too. He does not suggest they go flying.

Goyle shakes his head, “I should go, Weasley’s teaching me how to play chess.” And with the casual reveal of that small miracle, he reaches his hand out to Draco. It is their own small intimacy, just formal enough to be passed off as civility. Draco takes it. He waits a moment before letting go.

“Come visit, sometime.” Goyle says, and strides off down the hall.

 

**********

 

“The dungeons are shrinking,” he tells Potter, in their room after dinner. Potter looks up from where he’s folding his shirts (by hand, the absolute muggle). No wonder his creases are never straight.

“They’re shrinking? How?” A shirt hangs loosely from his hand. He’ll have to start all over now.

“Goyle’s room in completely gone, and I heard the Slytherin common room lost a few feet.” Pansy had told him, during dinner, her small features pinched in concern, but otherwise feigning interest in the rolls. They were pumpernickel, her favorite. Which Draco has sworn, on pain of death, not to tell anyone.

“Didn’t Weasly tell you?” he asks, and Potter shrugs.

“He said they’d switched rooms, but he didn’t say why.” He gives his shirt up as a bad job, shoving it, unfolded, into a dresser drawer. Draco stares. No wonder Potter always looks like he just lost a fight with a hippogriff, he doesn’t even try. It’s unseemly. Draco imagines for a moment what his etiquette teacher would say about Potter’s dress sense and winces.

“No one cares about the dungeons,” Draco tells Potter. “I bet Weasley didn’t even think twice about the room being gone.”

Potter’s should edges up to his ear. “Yeah, well,” he says, “That’s because the dungeons are creepy.” He deigns to look slightly apologetic as he says it, but not enough that Draco doesn’t take offence. Though, to be fair, Draco takes offence at most of the things that leave Potter’s mouth.

“The forest is creepy, Potter. It’s still part of the castle.” Exasperation seeps out in his tone. “Hell, the ghosts, the squid, the staircases that move by themselves – this whole place is creepy. We live in an enchanted castle in the hinterlands. If you start picking it apart by what’s “creepy” or not, you’ll have nothing left.”

Potter looks down at a pair of socks, before tossing them haphazardly into a drawer and pushing it shut with his knee.

“I guess,” Potter says, and Draco can tell he’s won something, even if Potter isn’t going to sing his genius praises.

Potter looks down for a minute, then seems to remember something. “Hey Malfoy,” he asks, “Why are the Slytherin rooms in the dungeons?”

Draco blinks. He thought everyone knew this. Sure, none of his classes ever directly included it in their lesson plans, but all classes are formulated around the principle, and lore on the castle is easy to find. “Slytherins come from the old families.” he says slowly. “It’s traditional. Our magic comes from the earth. When we’re older, we can cast anywhere, but when we’re just learning, it helps to be closer to the ground, to have roots.” He says this with the air of someone referencing a much had conversation, sure any minute Potter will tell him that yes, of course he knows that, he was asking for a different reason.

Potter blinks at him. Draco suddenly feels a rush of sympathy for every single one of Potter’s teacher’s, even Professor Trelawney, who once told Draco he had the nose of a traitor and a predisposition for boils.

“You know how there are different types of magic,” he prompts, sure any second Potter will catch on.

Potter blinks again. He’s starting to look like a toad. “There are what?”

The skin under Draco’s collar starts to grow hot. Surely. Surely not. There’s no way that the boy who saved the entire wizarding world did so without knowing even the most basic fundamentals of magic. He won’t allow it.

“Different types of magic, Potter.” He snaps. “Of the earth, of knowledge, of the hearth, of spirit, yes?” Potter is still looking up at him, blank-faced, and Draco is suddenly feels like he’s going mad. Yes, he thinks, this is what madness must feel like, explaining the basics of the wizarding world to its mighty savior.

He continues, “Each house represents one. You can channel your magic different ways, but every wizard has a certain type at their core. Merlin, Potter,” He says, rather desperately, “you didn’t think we were really sorted by courage or cunning or whatever? Just because the hat sang a song? That’s a story for children.”

Potter finally has the decency to look sheepish. “I like the hat’s songs,” he mumbles. Then is eyes go wide. There is a hint of alarm in his voice. “We’re supposed to do magic different ways?”

And Draco was wrong before. This, this is what going mad must feel like. Because here, on a Tuesday, in the middle of their relocated dormitory, the Boy who Lived, Mighty Hero of the Wizarding Word, is sitting before him admitting that he is as powerful as he is using only one fourth of his magic. Draco might swoon. He might break something.

Somewhere, at the back of his mind, it occurs to his that this is what his father always meant, when he insisted that none-purebloods didn’t know enough about the ancient customs to be trusted in the world of magic. The other part of him, the one that reminds him of his mother, wonders how anyone let him get so far into his education without knowing this. And if the Boy who Lived, actual Savior of the Wizarding World, doesn’t know, that what else might they all be missing?

Potter is still looking at him in alarm. Draco doesn’t know if he wants to slap him or comfort him. And edge of that familiar, burning envy is climbing up the back of his throat. He swallows it down. “Yes, Potter,” he says, as calmly as he can manage. “We’re supposed to do magic different ways.” A thought occurs to him. He fights back a scowl. Here, just like this, one of his few legs up in their constant battle for superiority is about the be erased.

“This might be why you’re so truly awful at potions.” He watches Potter’s face change, realization dawning as it all begins to slip into place, and feels the bottom drop out of his stomach. All this time, all this time he’s been fighting a battle against Potter, and Potter’s had one hand tied behind his back. And both legs. And even with all of that, Draco’s been barely clinging on. It’s over now. He realizes, with a rush. Potter’s won. Even if it’s not this week, or the next week, or the one after that, one day Potter will come into his power and Draco will mark this moment as the one that began everything. He really is going to make a truly terrifying auror one day.

Draco turns away. Let someone else tell Potter the extent of his power. It’s not like he won’t find out now, now that he knows where to look, he’s got Granger on his side after all. Granger, who, like Draco, probably assumed Potter knew it all already, but the moment she finds out he doesn’t she’ll be lending him books and teaching him spells and Potter will move another step away from him.

It’s an entirely self-pitying thought. Draco indulges in it. He can have this one thing, surely. Without ceremony, he strips off his robes and reaches for his pajamas. He hears a cough behind him.

He does not turn around. “Your hero-worshippers were asking after you today, Potter.” Draco says.

There is the quiet rustle of Potter moving in the space behind him, performing his own nighttime tasks. His new magical knowledge turning over in his mind, slotting into place. “Did you tell them where I was?”

Draco sighs. “How would I know where you were. We’re not friends, Potter.” With a savage yank he flings the blankets down on his bed. They come entirely untucked. Perfect. Another thing he can blame on Potter,

“You wanted to be my friend, once.” Potter says, mildly, completely unaware of the silent war waging in Draco’s mind.

Draco climbs into bed, fully intending to ignore Potter in the pantomime of sleep. “I was eleven, Potter. I also wanted to eat an entire tablet of Honeydukes fudge and have my friends call me ‘Malfoy the Magnificent.’”

Harry laughs. He looks like he’s just discovered how to fly without a broomstick. “What? Why did I never hear that?” He climbs into his own bed, sitting with his knees drawn up in front of him and clearly intending to keep talking. The bastard.

“Because they didn’t.” Draco says, “Which is why they’re still my friends.” He grimaces. “But I did eat the fudge. I think I was sick all over Goyle’s four-poster. So that shows how good my judgment was.”

Harry tilts his head, a memory stirring behind his eyes. “You Know Who had his friends use a title for him in school, back when he was Tom Riddle. That’s when he became Lord Voldemort. The Death Eaters too. They were all sort of this weird little clique.”

Draco’s hand jolts toward his forearm at Voldemort’s name. He lowers it deliberately.

“How on earth do you know all that?” He asks. Leave it to Potter to use three of the Dark Lord’s names in a single sentence. It’s a wonder the taboo didn’t catch him the first second it was invoked.

Potter shrugs. “I started learning about him, a while back. Dumbledore and I figured if I was going to be the one to kill him I needed to know what I was up against.”

Draco snorts. His mark throbs. “That’s quite the Gryffindor hero complex you’ve got there. Thought it was all up to you, did you?

“Well,” Harry shrugs, “It sort of was. There was this prophecy.”

“A prophecy.” Draco deadpans. That sounds like another story for children. Trust Dumbledore to cook up some sort of poetic reason why everything was down to Potter.

“Yeah,” Potter says, he raises his hand to conduct a string of invisible words, “Neither can live while the other survives, the one with the power to vanquish the dark lord will be born as the seventh month dies.” Harry runs the words off easily. Like he’s long since memorized them. Draco is stunned. He didn’t think the prophecy actually existed, but here’s Potter, reciting it.

“Actually,” Harry turns towards Draco, “That’s why Voldemort had your dad break into the ministry. He wanted him to steal it for him, the prophecy. They tried a bunch of things before, but nothing had worked. Then your dad broke in, and it all went to shit, and I think you know the rest.”

“Neither can live while…” Draco murmurs. “Potter. Why are you telling me all this? Isn’t that like Top Secret or something?”

Harry shrugs, his head flops back against his backboard. “War’s over. What does it matter?” It’s strange, that Potter is telling him this. Stranger still to have it all said at once, not pieced together in cryptic conversations and behind locked doors, and in fragments of overheard messages. Strange to have it all laid out, stark and clear, what the other side had known all along, what Draco had never realized. It’s a trusting sort of thing. A hand held out over clear space, palm empty.

“War’s over,” Malfoy murmurs. The curtains around their window move in a cool night breeze. Somewhere, out in the distant grounds, a beast howls.

 

**********

 

They’ve both finally drifted off when Draco’s wand alerts him that it’s 5:00. Dutifully, he gets out of bed and starts putting on his clothes.

“Malfoy?” Potter is a disheveled lump admits a pile of blankets, because he sleeps with all the grace of a bludger. “You can’t be series. Come back to bed.”

Draco’s hands still on his laces. There is a pause. “Your bed.” Potter fumbles. “Go back to your bed.” There is a spray of Gryffindor scarlet rising across his cheeks.

“Why Potter,” Draco drawls, “I didn’t know you cared.” It is, by all accounts, much too early for drawling, but Draco will make an exception.

“Shut up,” Potter mutters, and drags a pillow across his face. “It’s just so early,” he continues, voice muffled by feathers.

“Yes well, you know what they say,” Draco crosses the room and then, just because it is so early and he can tell Potter is still blushing under his pillow, he leans down and ruffles Potter’s hair. “No rest for the wicked.” The feeling of Potter’s hair stays at his fingers for a long time.

 

**********

 

The Hogwarts’ grounds at 5:00 in the morning are bitterly cold. Draco keeps his hands balled into fists to keep them from freezing solid. He jogs down from the entrance, taking the path that will lead him around the edge of the lake. His footfalls and the splashing of the giant squid in the shallows are the only sounds beyond his puffed breaths.

Draco runs. He doesn’t worry about pacing himself, or trying to make time, he just puts his head back and lets his feet carrying him as far from where he started as possible. His lunges burn and his arms swing at his side and he moves. Like he couldn’t do for all those months in Malfoy Manor, or as a Hogwarts first-year with his hair slicked back and a destiny already riding heavy on his shoulders. He runs like he should’ve from the top of the Astronomy tower, from the vanishing cabinet, from promises of fame and glory and always so much hate. He runs like this is the only thing in the world that matters, and for a moment it is. Just him and the lake. Him and the pale sky still moving towards morning.

When he reaches the edge of the Forbidden Forest he slows, feet falling into a familiar jog. He lets himself catch his breath, a kindness he doesn’t always allow. After weeks of early mornings, he knows the tree line, a familiar blur of green that ebbs and flows with the dawn.

It takes him a moment to realize that something is moving within it, great hulking shapes that cast jagged shadows against the trees. Draco slows. The beasts of the forest, centaurs and thestrals, and once Draco had heard tell, a giant spider (but who can believe everything?), don’t usually come out this far, but there is definitely movement between the trunks. On instinct, Draco slips off the path. It would be just his luck to survive the invasion of the Dark Lord, only to get eaten by a rabid unicorn, months later.

Now that Draco is still, he hears the crash of branches. Whatever is moving in there is making no efforts to do so gracefully. Draco peers into the gloom until his eyes ache. He’s about to slip away, save himself the trouble of being digested, when one of the creatures smashes into a thinning between the trees. It’s one of the Hogwarts’ gargoyles. Its stone flesh is marked and burnt, all the worse for wear from the battle and whatever else it’s been doing since then, besides nearly scaring Draco to an early grave. Behind it, others come into view, all in no better shape than the first. They fumble methodically through the trees, carving a path along the edge of the forest where the plants start to thin. If Draco didn’t know what it was, he wouldn’t have noticed it was there.

Draco watches as the gargoyles continue along the line of the forest and out of site.

 

**********

 

By the time he gets back to the castle, Draco is freezing. His shirt is soaked through, and standing still for half an hour in the frigid dawn did him little good. He squeezes past the suits of armor without so much as a word. The one on the left is still stuck in a Thou Shall Not Enter position, and he has to duck out of the way of its sword, which, like always, barely misses the top of his head. It’s not so bad, he finds himself thinking. The dungeons are still flooding.

When he gets to their room, Potter is once more curled under his mountain of blankets. Draco honestly thinks he hasn’t noticed that the house elves are giving him extra. It’s blatant favoritism, but he did save the entire wizarding world, so Draco thinks most people will let it slide. Draco keeps stealing some of the blankets, and Potter hasn’t noticed that either, so there you go.

He bends to shake Potter awake and Potter groans like he’s just hit him with a beater’s bat, the dramatic fucker. No wonder Granger always looks so long-suffering. The more time Draco spends with Potter, the more sympathy Draco has for Granger and Weasley.

Potter rolls over and glares up at him. Then his eyes focus on where Draco’s shirt is sticking to his chest.

“Your shirt’s wet,” he mutters, words still clouded by sleep.

Draco rolls his eyes. “It’s sweat.” He says, very slowly, like he’s talking to a small child. “I went for a run. What did you think I did every morning? Court Moaning Myrtle?” Then he winces. Not the best subject to bring up, all things considering. Potter blanches, and Draco pretends not to see. He crosses his arms across his chest, breaking Potter’s gaze.

“I saw something on my run, something in the forest.”

Potter blinks, “There’s lots of things in the forest,” he says, and Draco remembers that the Forbidden Forest is practically Potter’s back yard. He’s probably made daisy chains form the Venomous Tentacula. And given them to the centaurs. Honestly, the fact that he made it to seventeen for the Dark Lord to try and kill himself is a miracle.

“Not something regular,” he moves his hand through his hair in agitation and Potter’s eyes follow that. “I think it was the Hogwarts’ gargoyles.”

“What were they doing there?” Potter asks, gaze still on Draco’s head.

“I don’t know,” Draco shrugs. He feels his hair fall against his forehead. “They were just walking around the boarder of the forest.

“Are they still on patrol?” Potter asks. “Did they not come back, after,” he trails off, looking somehow sheepish.

“After you saved Hogwarts and all the wizarding world from sheer destruction?” Draco finishes. “Yes, after that.” He considers. “Could be, they looked like they’d been out for a long time, covered in leaves and things. Why though?”

Potter shrugs, like it’s still too early for his brain to be working properly. Like it’s ever working properly. Draco can feel his eyes on the lock of hair falling across his face. “Don’t be weird about it,” Potter says, “but your hair looks good like that.”

It is only the challenge of not being weird about it that keeps Draco from doing something embarrassing. Instead, he draws all of his haughty, highbrow, pure blood manners into place, looks down his nose, and graces Potter with a, “Thank you.” All seventeen years of his etiquette training might just have paid off. It’s possible it’s still a little bit weird. But then, he’s never had a lesson on what to do when your arch nemesis compliments your hair. Arch Nemesis. Nemesis. Annoying roommate. Whatever.

“Are we still nemesis?” he asks Potter. Potter rolls back over in bed.

“If you don’t turn out the light.” He mumbles into his pillow. “I killed Voldemort. I’ll kill you, too.”

Draco scoffs. “Is that how you win all your other arguments?”

Potter lifts his head. “I killed Voldemort. What other arguments?”

Draco starts to pull off his shoes. “Big tough man,” he says.

Potter props himself back up on his elbows, eyebrow raised, smile cocky. “Maybe I am,” he says, and it’s a challenge. Draco can hear the Parseltongue edging into his voice. A shiver runs down his spine.

“Don’t.” He says.

Potter’s grin widens. “Or what?” He thinks he’s got him.

Draco takes a moment, turns. His bare feet are silent against the carpet. His smile is feral. “Or I’ll let you.”

There’s the moment when Potter doesn’t understand, and then the moment when he does, and then he falls back into his blankets with a soft, “Oh,” and Draco smiles. It feels good to win.

 

**********

 

The next morning, Ron pulls Harry over as soon as he gets to the Gryffindor table.

“I think there’s something up with Hermione,” he whispers frantically. He gestures with his fork and little pieces of fried potato go dancing across the table. Harry follows the crumbs to where Hermione is sitting and, oddly, Pansy is perched beside her. It seems that everyone has given up sitting at their own tables. Looking around the hall, Harry can make out other groups of students wearing Gryffindor red and Hufflepuff yellow sitting together. There’s even a small knot of Slytherin green mixing with Ravenclaw blue.

When he looks back, Pansy has hopped up onto the table and is talking loudly while she braids Hermione’s hair. Hermione looks dazed, but not overly distressed.

“I think she’s making friends,” Harry says, oddly pleased. He’s never seen anyone braid Hermione’s hair before. It suits her.

“Yeah, but it’s Pansy,” Ron whines, “She tried to kill you.”

Harry reaches over and grabs some toast. He’s never appreciated Hogwarts’ spread more than after the war. Well, maybe during his first year. “To be fair,” he says, “she tried to let someone else kill me.”

At the sound of his voice, Pansy looks up. When her eyes land on him, she hops down from the table and makes a beeline to where he’s sitting.

“Potter,” she says, eyes fixed squarely on his face, “I owe you an apology. I’ve been meaning to do it for ages now, really, but you’re always sneaking off somewhere,” she jabs an accusing finger at his chest, as though he should be apologizing to her.

“Yes?” Harry asks. It comes out meeker than intended.

Pansy flips her hair. “Right,” she says, “Here goes. Potter,” her gaze is fixed squarely on his eyes again. He tries not to flinch. “I’m sorry for telling the whole of the student body that we should give you up to be murdered,” her face turns peevish, “though really it was only to save us all from destruction, and that’s really a terribly Gryffindor thing to do.” She straightens her shoulders and holds her head up. “But I’m sorry for saying it. And for laughing at you after those Rita Skeeter articles came out, and for being a general ass for all these years, I really didn’t mean it, but house rivalry and all, you understand, and,” a sly smile creeps across her face, “I’m sorry I never told you that I have just the product that could fix that wretched hair of yours. Just a few pumps and you’d be positively dreamy, Potter, I’m ever so sorry for not telling you before, I’ll give you a sample. It was terribly cruel for me to keep it from you. But we’re all friends now, inter-house unity and all that, so I might as well share.”

She says all this in a huff of breath that leaves Harry speechless for a moment while she looks at him, hands on her hips, clearly waiting for a response.

“It’s alright,” he says, finally, because there seemed to be at least one apology in there. And then, because he’s feeling honest, or perhaps because she offered him haircare, and no one’s ever done that before, he adds, “that’s what I ended up doing, in the end, handing myself over to save the castle. I thought I’d die. Well,” he says, “I did die. For a bit. But I’m back now.”

Pansy’s face lights in a grin. “I knew it!” She crows, “Well, not the dying part, that’s terribly morbid Potter, you should really talk to someone, but I knew I was horrid and Gryffindor, well done me.” She gives herself a little pat on the shoulder, looking pleased. “So we’re all friends now, yes?” She says, and is already leaning forward, to give him a little pat on the arm, before Harry can respond. He supposes they are. War’s over, and all that.

Pansy flounces away and Harry remembers to breath. Her words are still washing over him like ripples from a tide. Ron is staring, like he’s seen his second miracle of the day.

“What was that?” Ron asks, and Harry shakes his head. He really has no idea.

Ron turns to Hermione, “And she’s your friend too, now?”

Hermione shrugs. “She’s not so bad,” she says, “once we worked through a few things about blood status and class relations. I think she likes having someone to play with. It’s like I’m a new accessory.” Hermione taps her lip. “But she did quiz me on Arithmancy last night, and she didn’t even complain when I asked her to read back the definitions to me, so it’s not completely one-sided.”

Harry and Ron both look guiltily at their plates. They always complain when Hermione asks them to read back the definitions on the cards she answered correctly. To be shown up by Pansy Parkinson, of all people, is a new low.

“I think a lot of the Slytherins are changing,” Hermione says, “Or we’re just seeing a new side of them, now that there’s not a war brewing. Pansy really does care a lot more about the latest trends in hemlines than about what dark magic is doing. I think she just got swept up in it all. You know,” she says. “Because she was being groomed to be the new Malfoy heiress.”

Harry upends his glass of pumpkin juice over his toast. Ron barely notices, just waves his wand vaguely to clean the spill.

“Not that either of them wanted that,” Hermione continues, “but they couldn’t exactly say no, considering who their fathers are.”

“Malfoy was going to get married?” Harry asks, staring intently at the side of Hermione’s head.

“Well yes,” Hermione says, “A lot of the old houses still do arranged marriages, didn’t you know? They want to keep the blood line pure, keep the old magic alive.”

Old magic. It reminds Harry of something. “Malfoy is – ” he begins, voice intense.

“Yes, yes,” Hermione says, “Malfoy is up to something, we know.” Ron, the traitor, nods along beside her.

“No,” Harry tries to push on, to tell them about the mark, and the way it had reacted to his magic. He’s not sure, yet, if he’ll tell them the other part, but he’s saved the decision by Hermione waving her hand.

“Really, Harry, enough.” She says. “You’re his roommate now, you can follow him all you like on your own. Go through his things, ask him pointed questions, but you are not dragging us into it anymore. The war is over. Malfoy’s been pardoned. The worst he can do is set your bedding on fire.”

Harry turns to Ron for support, sure he’ll have his back in this argument, but Ron just shrugs over his second helping of potatoes. “She’s right, you know,” He says. “You’ve been after Malfoy since first year. It’s time to either do something about it, or give up, but either way stop dragging everyone else into it with you.”

Harry gapes. He doesn’t know what to say. How could his two best friends in the whole world absolutely not understand that his quest to find out what Malfoy’s been up to has been all part of the war effort? All part of keeping them all safe and whole for the past years. And as for now, well, there is something up with Malfoy, whether or not Hermione and Ron want to hear it. He guesses he’ll just have to figure it out himself, without their help.

“I was only going to say that Malfoy doesn’t seem like he wants to get married,” he mumbles into his second glass of pumpkin juice.

“Of course you were,” Hermione says. She doesn’t pat his head like a child, but it’s a close thing. Ron, tactfully, changes the subjects to this week’s quidditch scores.

 

Later, Harry finds himself walking beside Malfoy on his way out to the grounds. Hermione is walking with Ron ahead of him when Pansy leaves the entrance hall. She absolutely flounces across the courtyard, swooping in to link her arm with Hermione’s.

There’s no one else to share the moment with, so Harry turns to Malfoy. Malfoy smiles. He looks unconcerned that Pansy has forsaken him for Hermione. “Pansy is an experience.” He says, and Harry can’t disagree. From ahead he hears her say.

“Fourth year, that thing you did with your hair for the Yule Ball, tell me absolutely everything.”

He sees the fond smile on Malfoy’s face and thinks, for a moment, that she and Malfoy would’ve made a fine couple, if it had come to that, would’ve made it work, all in all. There’s so many futures stretching out before them that will never be, and Malfoy and Pansy are one of them. If Harry feels a pang of loss for them, just now as the sun shines of Pansy’s hair and Draco watches the way her face lights in response to Hermione’s answer, he keeps it to himself. Some thigs were lost to the war, after all, and this is one of them.

He spends Transfigurations staring out the window and being lectured by McGonagall.
At dinner, Hermione hands him a stack of N.E.W.T self-study guides.

“You don’t have to pay attention in class, but you do need an education,” She tells him. “And I know you don’t care about it now, but one day you might want something that you need grades for.” She does not say. You can’t make a life out of being The Boy Who Lived.

He takes the stack with a mumbled, “Thank you,” he does not say. What life?

The weight of everything unsaid crowds him out of the Gryffindor table, and he goes to eat outside. He pretends not to notice where Neville, Ginny, Luna, Hannah Abbot, Cho’s sister (he really should learn her name), and a smattering of other houses are sitting grouped together, so he won’t have to join them.

He finds himself standing in front of the Whomping Willow, just out of reach of its swinging arms. Somehow, a resolute bird has made a home in its branches and the nest flies past his face, barely grazing his cheek. He sits down to eat.

He can see the forest through the willow’s quaking leaves, eerie and rustling as always. He, better than most, knows the kinds of creatures it hides. But none like Malfoy said. If he squints, he can just make out what might be a path cut through the trees.

He squints. He tilts his head. Sunlight glints off his glasses back into the air, slicing it to gleaming fragments. He opens the first book in Hermione’s stack and begins to read.

 

**********

 

That night, in bed, when they’re both staring up at the ceiling on opposite ends of the room, trying to pretend like sleep is something that will happen, at some point, if they just lie very still and try not to think about it, Harry tells Malfoy, “I couldn’t do anything with my dick, during the war.”

Because he feels like he owes him something, somehow, to restore the delicate balance of their weird new relationship. The dark and the quiet make him say things, things he would never bring to the light of day. Their room at night is a place removed from time, sleepless, unending, uninterrupted by hours and seconds. When he’s not thinking of anything in particular and his mind starts to drift, he’s reminded, at the corner of his thoughts, of his cupboard, all those years ago, the way it was close and still. It was a prison of sorts, sure, like being here with Malfoy, but it was also all his own. An escape, in world so full of responsibility and violence. He really is spending quite a bit of time in his room after all.

“Me neither.” Malfoy says, and Harry starts. He’d nearly forgotten he’d said anything at all.

“Well,” Malfoy amends, “apart from a few unfortunate incidents.” And Harry knows he is purposely not mentioning Harry’s unusual talent. For once, he doesn’t either. “It was just so awful. All those Death Eaters swarming the house, knowing the Dark Lord was only a few rooms away. The way Greyback looked at my mother. It was like a pale over the house.”

Harry can picture it. Death eaters walking through the hall Malfoy had played in as a child, sitting around the dining room table, carving their initials in the wood. He’s never imagined Malfoy having a particularly happy childhood, but this, the werewolves and the snake, Harry’s own friends sitting bound in his dungeon, it paints a bleak picture.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Malfoy says, and Harry wonders if he does. “Poor baby Death Eater, forced to play house with his friends while muggleborns and half-bloods were sitting in cages.” There’s a mockery in his voice, something that tells Harry that he thinks this, no matter what he says.

“I think we all suffered, during the war.” Harry says quietly, his words moving out into the dark space between them. It helps, he think that Malfoy has done his best to make amends with Dean and Luna, that it came out in the trial that he used to figure out how to be the one to bring them food so they got enough to keep them fed – bread without mold, meat if he could manage it. The Death Eaters had thought it was a punishment. Demeaning Malfoy to servant tasks. Malfoy had taken it. He had bided his time. And when the moment came, he had lied for Harry. It was not the largest act of bravery. It was enough.

“Well then,” Malfoy says, and Harry can hear the purse in his lips, knows Malfoy’s face well enough to understand that he has an eyebrow raised in gentle self-mockery. “To the defeat of evil and functioning dicks.”

“To functioning dicks!” Harry laughs. “They should put that on the war monument, it’d be better than the drivel that’s on there now.” They sit a moment in near companionable silence. Then Harry says, “no one wants to talk about this stuff anymore, about what it was like.”

It’s not necessarily true. They’ve all got trauma to process, one way or another. But no one has their feet stuck in it, quite like Harry has. No one is standing in the forest, ready to give their life, while the Dark Lord bares down. The first week he got back to the castle, Harry had sent a letter to Cho Chang, telling her he was sorry. It was a start.

Malfoy sighs. “I know,” he says. “Pansy hexed me the last time I tried to talk about the manor. Took the tip of my ear clean off.”

Harry snickers, “at least it was just your ear.” Malfoy throws a pillow at him, and then immediately demands to have it back. Malfoy is like that: entitled.

The room is quiet for a moment, and Harry finds his mind wondering to something he’s been thinking about for the past few days, ever since he saw Malfoy slipping into muggle running shoes.

“What are you going to do about your dad?” It’s a dangerous question, one that might get him hexed in the light of day.” But in the dark of their room, Malfoy says.

“I don’t know if I want to do anything about him,” And it sounds like a confession. “He let those people live with my mother. She still has nightmares about Greyback. And I know she can’t go into the dining room anymore. We eat in the kitchen now.” His voice takes on a tinge of humor, “Like absolute trash,” he says. And if Harry hadn’t spent the last few weeks with Malfoy, his fists would be balling with anger, but as it is, he can hear the joke, the element of self-mockery.

There’s the sound of Malfoy shifting beneath his covers, then he continues. “I’m not sure he’d take my help, anyway. Even if it means the difference between house arrest and azkaban. He thinks I’m soft. Not following in the pure blood path of righteousness and murder.” There’s silence for a moment, then the humor is back in Malfoy’s voice.

“And he walked in on me and Nott once,” he says, slyly. It’s something that’s only funny because there’s enough space between then and now, and Lucius is safely locked behind bars on an island in the middle of the ocean.

“I thought you said you wouldn’t cry at his bedside?” Harry asks.

“I wouldn’t.” Draco scoffs. “He’s an evil bastard and I hope he gets what’s coming to him. But he could do this thing with his magic that made you forget there were Death Eaters in the kitchen.” Malfoy considers. “Well,” he says, “Different Death Eaters, besides us.”

Harry can imagine it. Malfoy, wild-eyed and desperate, trying to clutch on to anything he could get his fingers in. He had been the same.

“I proposed to Ginny.” He says, because it’s only fair.

“Potter.” Harry can almost hear him rolling his eyes. “Committing to a life of longevity and happiness with the youngest Weasley is hardly the same as swapping spit with Nott.” He’s not wrong. But he’s not entirely right, either.

“We wouldn’t have been happy, though, I think.” Harry says, “It just felt like what I was supposed to do. You know, marry my Hogwarts’ sweetheart, have two and half kids we name after dead war heroes. The basics. Luckily Ginny’s always been smarter than me.”

Malfoy laughs. “You’re a dramatic bastard, but you’re not wrong there.” Then he adds, “I heard she’s dating Seamus, now.”

Harry shakes his head, “No, she’s seeing Dean.” He’s kept a general eye on Ginny, making sure she’s well, making sure she’s happy. He hopes she is.

“At least it’s not Nott,” Malfoy says, then snickers. “Not Nott. Merlin, we used to give him hell for that, before,” Back when he was just a kid, before he became an actual murderer.

“The war made us do stupid things.” Harry says. He thinks Malfoy will understand.

“The war made us do stupid things,” Malfoy agrees.

“Now what?” Harry asks.

“Now we do stupid things on our own.” Malfoy answers.

The shadows on the ceiling ebb and sway. If Harry stares long enough, he can almost make out shapes, almost make out a picture. He falls asleep before he can figure out what it might mean.

 

**********

 

Draco leaves class early on Wednesday. He’s tired. He’s cranky. All he wants is to lay down in the quiet and maybe, just maybe, go to sleep.

Potter is in the room. Of course he is. Why wouldn’t he be, when the only thing Draco wants the world, besides, perhaps a full ministry pardon and the renewal of the Malfoy name, is to lie by himself in the quiet. Apparently, even that small comfort is beyond him.

Potter is hunched at the desk, one hand tangled in his hair, disturbing both it and Draco beyond saving, punching the air with periodic grunts of frustration.

Draco tries to ignore him. He does. He lays down, rolls to his side, and conjures images of soaring over the lake. But sleep is allusive at best and Potter really is making a terrible amount of noise. At the third muttered, “Fuck!” (and really, who knew the Boy Who Lived had such a mouth on him?) Draco gives up. He rolls out of bed and pads, barefoot, to Potter’s shoulder.

“What is it?” he asks, with the longsuffering air if a particularly martyred saint.

Potter jumps, as though he was so involved in whatever it is he’s currently turning the air blue about that he didn’t realize Draco was there.

Draco peers down to where the tip of Potter’s wand is jabbing into the depths of a collapsible cauldron, where he’s trying to encourage the ingredients to blend together. They stare mildly back up at him, still distinctly separate, still making no movements to attempt to change that.

“What are you doing?” Draco asks again and Potter looks sheepish.

“I’m trying to, you know, use different magic.” He mumbles.

Draco prods the cauldron with the tip of his finger. The liquid inside begins to bleed together at his touch. Potter looks undone.

“Why aren’t you doing this with Granger?” Draco asks. Even with her own class load, he’s assumed Granger would gleefully take up Potter’s tutelage.

Potter looks away. “I didn’t tell her,” he says.

Draco blinks. “What?” he asks. Surely he misheard something.

Potter turns to face him. “I didn’t tell her!” he says, eyes blazing.

Draco is completely taken aback. “Merlin, Potter,” he says, “Why ever not?” It’s hardly a shame to admit you’ve only been using a percentage of your magic, when you’re already more powerful than most of the wizarding world as it is.

Potter looks away again. “I didn’t want her to know I’m not, I don’t know, complete or whatever. That I only saved the world by accident. I don’t want anyone to know.”

“But I know,” Draco says slowly.

“Which is why I’m practicing here, and not somewhere else,” Potter says, as though Draco is a little bit dull. He might be, Draco realizes, in comparison to Potter. He is not as disheartened by the notion as he thought he’d be. It’s no small feat, he realizes, to come second to greatness, if that greatness is the kind Potter is. It’s that thought, perhaps, that has him pushing up his sleeves. His nap is forgotten.

“Right,” he says, “it’s about centering your magic. Where do you feel it now, when you’re not doing anything at all?”

Potter looks surprised, but doesn’t argue. He hesitates a minute, then lays a hand over his chest.

Draco nods, unsurprised. “Good, now see if you can move it lower, into your stomach.” Gryffindor and Slytherin are the closest together, after all, no matter what the feud says.

Potter looks ahead for a moment, then squints his eyes. Draco can see his tongue working inside his mouth, flicking out against his teeth and drawing back into his throat. Draco tries to remember how his mother taught him, so many years ago. Words come to his mind.

“Try to think of it like a stone sinking into a pond,” he says and something on Potter’s face clears. He nods. When Potter’s face has settled into a look of steady concentration, Draco reaches out and touches his hand. “Now try again,” he says, guiding Potter’s wand forward with a thumb at his wrist.

Potter opens his eyes. Draco feels a jolt, like an electric current beneath Potter’s skin, and the ingredients in the cauldron hesitate, shiver, then swirl together as one. In the rush of success, it takes Draco a moment to realize that Potter never said a word. He takes his hand from Potter’s. He counts backwards in his head from ten. Then, when he thinks his voice is steady enough he says, very calmly,

“Potter, are you casting wordlessly?”

Potter is poking at the contents of the cauldron, checking the consistency of the liquid.
“I mostly cast wordlessly, now,” he says, as though remarking on the weather.
Draco could eat the entire world. He feels the urge rise up in him, push behind his teeth. He wants to destroy something, to ruin it.

“Potter,” he says, very slowly, “I’m going to need you not to talk to me for at least five minutes,”

Potter looks surprised, then confused, then hurt, though surely Draco has misread that last bit.

“Why?” his triumph at the success of the spell slipping off him in layers. Draco cannot possibly explain without causing great distress, mostly to himself. So instead he stands up straight, neatens his robes with a precise flick, and monotones. “Because I want you to still respect me in the morning.” Potter’s confusion deepens. He opens his mouth, as if to say more, and Draco spits, “I swear to god Potter,” and Potter’s mouth snaps shut. He doesn’t talk to Draco for at least five minutes, and when the five minutes are up, and Draco has put himself back together again, neither of them mention it at all.

 

It becomes a pattern. Draco gets back from class, where he’s learning how to transform the color of his hair, and enchant chairs to push themselves in, and other useless things, and Potter is there waiting for him. They’ve pushed the furniture up against the walls, clearing a spot in the middle of the room for what quickly becomes a series of lessons. Potter explores how to work with his hands in pots of pilfered potting soil, how to sift the dirt through his fingers and feel them tingle with the possibility of growth, he lets Draco put his hands on his head, to try and draw the magic up and center it in his forehead.

They have to try for session after session, Draco’s hands dug into Potter’s hair, as Potter’s resolutely Gryffindor heart resists the shift. Finally, deep into a Saturday night, when the rest of the castle has grown dark around them, Potter manages to translate a series of runes sketched onto the wall in front of him. He woops in delight, unrestrainedly, unabashedly, and whirls on Draco, lifting him without a thought by the waste and twirling him around the room until they slam into Potter’s bed and both come away with bruised legs. Both of them stoically pretend it never happened, but Potter translates page after page after that, and Draco has to hide a small smile every time he catches sight of the small patch of purple on Potter’s shin, fading slowly to green.

The days pass. Draco walks the castle and thinks of ways to explain Arithmancy in a way that Potter, ruled by his heart and never his head, will understand. Of how flying relates to spell casting. There’s a fluidity to both he thinks Potter feels in his bones. What it means to tame a wild creature, and let it eat from your hand.

The second suit of armor guarding their door still will not budge, and they’ve taken to hanging bits of things off his sword point for the other one to find. Leaves. Chocolate frog trading cards. A truly terrifying and realistic portrait of the giant squid romancing a centaur (Draco thinks Dean is probably to blame for that, as it really is quite impressive, but Potter no doubt instructed him. He might’ve paid him, too. He’s heard Dean sometimes works on commission).

Draco starts testing the other suits of armor almost by accident. He’s got half a notion that if he can figure out how they move, he can coax movement back into the one by their stairs and give Potter the fright of his life. It’s only when Draco gets to the third one that he realizes something is off. The first two, he thought we’re simply asleep, or ignoring him, as the Hogwarts automatons are want to do, but the third is a particularly jovial rendition of Gwaine the Green Knight (before he was green), down by the kitchens, and has never before missed an opportunity to attempt to joust with passing students.

Draco raps twice on its helmet, just to be sure, and is met with only the ring of empty metal, and a feeling in his throat like unease. He walks out to the grounds slowly. He’s probably supposed to be in Transfigurations right now, or Potions. He can’t remember which, but it hardly matters, all this tutoring of Potter has put him so far ahead of most his classmates that even Granger had looked impressed, the last time he’d raised his hand in Muggle Studies. That bit hadn’t come from the tutoring, strictly speaking, but just from living with Potter. Who is so mundanely muggle at times that now that Draco has started to pay attention he’s bound to pick a few things up.

Potter is down by the lake and Draco is not surprised. Potter has taken to stalking the castle and the grounds while the rest of them are in lessons. That no teachers have stopped him is blatant favoritism, but Draco is finding it hard to mind, when Potter uses his daytime wanderings to bring back rare cuttings from the forest or treats from the kitchens. His younger self would’ve raged at the special treatment Potter received from their professors. His older self is starting to get the sinking suspicion that those professors are a little bad at their jobs. Someone should be making sure Potter’s getting an education after all. He adamantly refuses to admit that that someone is him.

Potter is busy chatting with the giant squid, probably thanking him for posing for the latest drawing, and Draco winces at the memory of where those tentacles had been. Potter really is a wonderfully demented bastard, it’s probably why Draco’s starting to like him. Tolerate him. Why he’s starting to tolerate him.

“Half of the suits of armor aren’t moving anymore,” he says to Potter by way of greeting. They really aren’t all that formal with each other, a relief to Draco after his upbringing.

“I know,” Potter says, raising a hand to let one of the giant squid’s tentacles nuzzle against his palm. Draco is momentarily offended. His first thought had been to tell Potter, and what? Potter hadn’t even thought to tell him? But then he remembers that they’re not friends, no matter how much time they spend together, and they actually don’t owe each other anything, and his anger subsides. It’s nice, not owing someone anything.

“I noticed a few days ago,” Potter says.

Clearly done with them, the giant squid retreats back into the water with a splash of limbs, showering Potter in lake water and dousing the tips of Draco’s shoes. Potter shakes out his hair. Water flies everywhere. “It’s worse by the places where the repairs are still underway.”

Draco hadn’t noticed this, but he supposes it makes sense. There are great swathes of the castle still holding the damage of the final battle: rooms with walls torn out, sections of floor burnt by the flame of past spells, paintings missing their occupancies, who may never return. Destruction still rings through the halls of Hogwarts.

“And?” He says. He assumes Potter has a plan. Those Gryffindor types always do.

On the bank of the lake, Potter is wringing out his shirt. He looks up at Draco. “Want to go for a ride?” he asks. And with this non-sequitur, he turns and starts walking down the bank, assuming Draco will follow him. Draco does.

 

After they leave the lake, Draco realizes two things:

1. Potter keeps his motorcycle in the forbidden forest, because of course he does.
The forest’s occupants have probably vowed to guard it and keep it safe. And,

2. Potter has a motorcycle.

 

“How is this allowed?” Draco asks, incredulous, eyes skimming over the bike. It’s big and black, and if Draco knew anything about bikes he’d probably be impressed by its make.

Potter shrugs. “I don’t think it is,” he answers truthfully. “But I saved the wizarding world, so you know,” he gives a cocky smile, lips quirking up in mirth, and Draco can suddenly see how he gets away with anything. All these years he thought was blatant Gryffindor favoritism. But it’s that smile. It’s just Potter.

Potter slides on, and the bike roars to life. He doesn’t even bother with a key, just wraps his hands around the handle bars and it jumps to attention.

“Hop on,” he says, and tosses Draco a helmet. Draco holds it in his hands for a moment, unsure of what to do. He’s seen pictures of muggles using helmets. Unlike wizards, who can just magic their brains back into place, muggles tend to take more precautions to safety. It’s actually a terrifyingly good idea. Potter puts his on, and Draco follows suit. The helmet muffles the sound of the bike so that Draco can actually hear some of his thoughts again, though they are, unhelpfully, mostly confined to Merlin, Potter has a motorcycle.

Potter is still looking at him expectantly, and there’s nothing for it. Draco slides onto the bike behind Potter and gingerly clutches the back of his robes. He refuses, absolutely refuses to wrap his arms around Potter. That would be crossing some line that he’s not sure he could go back from and that seems like all too much for a Wednesday evening.

Potter reves the engines, just because he can, and the bike pitches forward. Draco braces a hand on the seat, realizing horribly what this ride will entail. Draco’s survived a war. He can survive a motorcycle ride with Potter. Barely.

With another reve of the engine, the motorcycle roars into the sky and Draco cannot think, cannot breath. It is not like flying on a broom. It’s not like apparating. It’s like straddling a comet as it thunders into the sky.

Draco is suddenly reminded of the last time he flew with Potter, of flames licking at his feet and Crabbe’s horrible screams, and for a moment he is back in the room of requirement, feeling it, and half his childhood, burn to the ground around him. Then he feels Potter’s hand on his knee. It’s the type of thing he would never allow on the ground. Never. But here, soaring above the Hogwarts grounds, he can pretend it never happened.

“Alright?” Potter’s voice sounds in his ears, over the rush of wind and the growl of the bike, and Draco realizes Potter must have enchanted the helmets, because it sounds like Potter is speaking directly into his ear. He shivers.

“Hands on the handlebars!” he yells, and Potter takes an unnecessarily long time to replace his hand. He can hear the grin in Potter’s voice when he says,

“I want to show you something.”

Potter leans and the bike dips down over the forest. From this distance, Draco can see the tops of the trees, a tapestry of different greens and a few purples (it is a magic forest, after all). It takes him a moment to see anything beyond the trees. Then he notices. A carved tunnel in the greenery, right at the edge of the forest, right where Draco saw the gargoyles, and then, a little farther in, what looks like a camp, a swath of cleared ground, cut in the trees, surrounding a small pond. Draco thinks they’re rocks at first, but then he realizes. The Hogwarts gargoyles form a semi-circle around the pool and from far off, Draco can hear chanting.

Potter takes them over for another pass, staying high enough up that the gargoyles don’t notice them. They are made of stone, after all, how good can their hearing be? Draco watches as they shift and rumble and begin to pace around the pool. One raises a hand and throws something into the water. From this distance, Draco can’t see what it is, but its impact sends a cacophony of ripples shooting out from the center. The gargoyle raises its other arm. The two beside it converge, and then the arm is gone. It takes Draco a second to realize what has happened. The gargoyle accepts his arm back from the others, raises it high, and tosses it into the water. The chanting continues.

“They’ve been doing that for weeks,” Potter says, raising his voice over the chanting. “There used to be about twice that many of them.”

A sick feeling rises in Draco’s stomach. He doesn’t know why, they’re just chunks of rock, after all, Hogwarts last line of defense, but the scene fills him with an awful sense of unease.

“There’s more,” Potter says, and turns to wheel the bike back from the forest. Draco’s last glimpse is of a headless gargoyle, raising its arms to the sky.

Potter flies them above the greenhouse. The air is cool and crisp as it rushes over Draco’s skin and the grounds stretch out beneath his feet. For a moment he can pretend there’s nothing wrong in the world.

Then Potter tips the bike, bringing them down to skim over the gardens behind the greenhouse. Draco has spent a lot of time in those gardens, cultivating plants and collecting samples for special potions. He remembers the full moon, high and hard above him, how he and Pansy huddled together for warmth, as they waited for the moonflowers to bloom. That was when he convinced himself he loved her, and under the moonlight he did. He can still remember the feeling if his hand in hers, the moment it slipped away and she said, voice dipped low in apology, “Darling, I’m not the catching kind.” He’s still desperately glad for that moment, for that understanding, and desperately glad they forgave each other.

The front of the garden, where students often frequent, looks as it normally does, lush and green and full of curious and reaching plants, but beyond that boarder, where the garden tapers off to less frequently used specimens, is a wash of grey and brown. The plants are dying, leaves and vines curling in on themselves in a last attempt to push water down to their roots. Draco’s never seen anything like it. Never seen a drought or a blight that affected everything so completely, even the stoutest, most stubborn plants.

Harry tips forward, until they could reach out and tough the tips of leaves, if they wanted too. Draco does. A Shrieking Violet crumbles to dust under his fingers. He recognizes it as one they just repotted. Apparently even their efforts couldn’t save them.

“Professor Sprout has been using all her magic to keep the first section alive,” Potter says. The whir of the bike adds a layer of base to his voice, “so people won’t notice what’s going on.”

“How could they miss it?” Draco asks. The dust of the violet is still thick on his fingers.

Potter’s shoulders rise and fall before him. “They’re not looking.” He says.

 

Potter takes them up and over the lake, tips the bike so Draco can glide his fingers through the water. For a moment, Draco sees a reflection of his eyes through the visor of the helmet. They swim before him in the water and for a moment Draco can almost read something in them, then Potter reves the bike and speeds them away.

They soar over the quidditch pitch and up around the astronomy tower. Draco’s fingers tighten in Potter’s robes and Potter tips them into a dive. The wind buffeting Draco’s chest makes him forget almost everything for a moment. The castle comes with scars. But there is also this.

Then Potter slows the bike, curving it lazily through the air in a series of swoops and sweeps, out past the lake, out past Hagrid’s cabin, out past even Hogsmeade and the surrounding muggle town. Stars blink into view above them. Moonlight casts Potter’s helmet a light silver. They are gone a long time.

 

**********

 

Harry is night-blind and windswept when he returns to the castle. He tells Malfoy he’ll meet him in their room, to which Malfoy replies, “I’m not your keeper, Potter,” and laughs like it’s a joke. They really have been spending quite a bit of time together.

He goes to find Hermione. She’s in her room, not the library, which is a bit of a surprise, until Harry notices the spread of books across her desk and the map of the world pinned to the wall. Apparently Pansy is obliging when it comes to room décor.

He notices all this from the hall, as Pansy meets him at the door.

“Potter, darling.” She says, leaning a hip into the doorframe and throwing a hand up to her chest like she’s the swooning heroine in an old muggle movie (they’ve been watching them in Muggle Studies and Pansy has taken a liking. She’s a fan of robes and all, but thinks old Hollywood glamour got it right. Harry knows this because she’s told the class so three times. Also that she would fuck May West. Who wouldn’t? Harry had replied and Hermione had hit him. But only, he suspects, because she would too, and didn’t want to admit it.)

Harry can see why Malfoy has such a liking for Pansy. When she’s not offering him up for death, or lamenting about blood status, she really is a lot of fun.

“Pansy,” he says. Then, on impulse, makes a little bow. Her eyes light up like Christmas has come early and Potter has just given her her favorite present. Probably something with batteries.

“I hate to leave you,” she says, pouting her lips and fluttering her eye lashes comically, “but I really must be going, I have an engagement with a truly marvelous boy.”

“Who?” Harry asks, fighting back a grin. Pansy is quite fun, after all.

Pansy flounces into the hall, her fitted robes swishing around her legs. Harry suspects she didn’t get that tailoring done at Madam Malkin’s. “I haven’t decided yet,” she says, loftily. “Kiss kiss.” Then really does kiss Harry on both cheeks, before pausing to wipe away a spot of lipstick. She pats his cheek in a manner that could be mistaken for fondness and saunters away. Harry is hard-pressed not to watch her leave. Her robes really are quite fitted.

“She doesn’t really have a date, you know,” Hermione says from the room, “she only did that so we could have some privacy, but don’t tell her I know that, she’ll be offended I saw through her ploy.” She gets up from her desk, “come in, Harry.”

When Harry ducks through the doorway, he notices three things. 1. Pansy’s desk seems to have been converted into a vanity table. 2. To make up for it, there’s a third, smaller table pushed up beside Hermione’s desk, covered with a few of Pansy’s books and what appears to be the overflow from Hermione’s desk. And 3. Hermione looks tired.

Harry feels a lurch in his chest when he realizes he hasn’t really looked at her in a few days.
There are circles under her eyes and her hair, though braided prettily over one shoulder, is escaping at the edges. His request dies in his throat. Instead he says,

` “Are you alright, Hermione.”

Hermione waves a hand. “I’m fine,” she says, “I’m fine. What did you need?” He looks at her a moment longer. She concedes.

“Well no, I’m not. It’s my parents.” She lets out a huff of breath. “They’re not coming along like they should. Both of them are back to work, but they both sometimes forget my name still. Or that I’m their daughter. I’d say it was normal, and that they’ll make progress in their own time, but I don’t really know. No one’s done something like this before, so there’s nothing to compare it to.” There isn’t a book she can reference for this, Harry realizes.

“It could be fine,” Hermione says, as though she’s trying to comfort him, “It really could, but they could be stuck like this.” All of a sudden, Harry sees the tremor in her lips. He wonders how long it’s been since Hermione’s parents called her their daughter. “I don’t know if it was right,” she says, “me coming back to school, when they’re like this, but I didn’t know what else to do.”

The war’s over, Harry thinks, for the hundredth time this month, and we’re all stuck in the aftermath. It might’ve been hell, but it was easier, somehow, to be camping in the countryside, on the lookout for death, trying to save the world.

“Come here,” he says, and hold out his arms. Hermione folds into them, and he feels a damp spot bloom on his shoulder. They stand there like that for a long time. When they come a part again, Hermione’s eyes are dry.

“Thanks, Harry.” She says. “I’ll be ok, it’s just hard keeping it all in.” Harry has the urge to apologize, but the words get lost on his tongue.

Hermione wipes her cheeks. “Now,” she says, and the moment is lost, “what did you need?” Harry realizes, suddenly, how often he needs something from Hermione, how often she is ready to give him something before he even asks, when he sometimes thinks he doesn’t even want it.

“Nothing,” he says, “I just came to say hello.”

Hermione’s face clears. She smiles. “Hello,” she says.

They’re still talking when Pansy gets back. The boy she’s found, is Ron, and she’s towing him behind her in a manner that suggest she’s done it before.

“Oh good!” She says, upon seeing Harry, “You’re still here. You can accompany me to the kitchens for a late night snack.” She soothes her robe out over the generous curve of her hip. “A lady should never go somewhere unchaperoned, and it’s date night.” She prompts Ron forward with a wave of her hand and he goes, giving Harry a look that is not without humor.

“I was planning on a date night, soon,” he says, a little sheepishly.

“Of course you were,” Pansy answers. Then to Hermione, “Hermione, dear, you look absolutely radiant, borrow my scarf,” and positively tugs Harry from his seat.

 

The kitchens, somehow, seem to know they’re coming, and have made Pansy’s favorite cream puffs. She coos to the house elves about how clever they are, which is probably a little condescending, but they seem to take it in good humor. They do like a girl with an appetite, after all, and Pansy has several.

They tuck into the sweets and Harry feels his shoulders relax. The air the kitchen is warm and smells of all good things, and he can feel himself getting sleepy and happy. Then Pansy begins to talk.

“Now,” she says, sucking cream from her fingers, “What are you doing with Draco?”

Harry blushes. He doesn’t know why, but blood floods to his cheeks. Maybe it has to do with that thing Pansy is currently doing to her thumb. “I’m being perfectly civil with him,” he says, and his voice comes out higher than normal.

Pansy releases her thumb with a pop. “That’s not what I asked,” she says. The room is suddenly much smaller. Harry lets his gaze slide to the bustling house elves, already hard at work on the preparations for the next day’s meals.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says.

Pansy squints at him. She sticks another finger in her mouth, considering, then lets it go with a sigh. “One day, Potter, I might just tell you.” She says.

Harry doesn’t know what to say, so he says nothing.

A gentle look passes over Pansy’s face, blink and you’d miss it. Harry does. “Just be kind,” she says, and before Harry can mumble that he is, she waves her now cream-free hand. A second tray of cream puffs bobs over from the ovens. Pansy selects the roundest one. “You can go now,” she says, I’ll find my own way back.” And Harry flees.

 

Harry gets the books from the library, after all, the ones he was going to ask Hermione about. He spends an hour browsing through the shelves, though Hermione could’ve found them in a matter of moments, until Madam Pince soars down on him like a bird of prey and chases him from the stacks. He comes away with a pile that includes “Hogwarts a History,” (he vows he will engage Hermione in at least one conversation about it when he’s done) “A History of all Magiks,” “The Founders Plan,” and “Roots of Tradition: The Light History of Dark Magic.” He steals himself for a long night of reading.

 

**********

 

They’re getting ready for dinner when it happens. Potter has just showered and, though dressed, hasn’t bothered to put himself all the way back together yet. Draco picks up Potter’s glasses from where they’re lying on the bedside table and holds them out at arm’s length. “Jesus Christ Potter, you really are blind as a bat.”

Potter looks up. Stares at the glasses. “I read in the dark a lot as a kid.” He says, as though it’s something serious.

Draco doesn’t catch the warning tone. “What, every night?” He squints at the lenses.

“Pretty much, yeah.” Potter’s voice is funny, like he’s suddenly far away.

“Dear God, why?” Draco asks. Even Potter can’t be that dim. Draco knows he didn’t know about magic then, but Muggles have other ways of keeping their houses lit.

Potter doesn’t answer.

Draco continues. “You had to realize you were fucking up your eyes. Surely you could make your way to a light switch.” Muggle studies has been required for everyone in their year. Draco’s a little proud he remembered the word.

“Leave it alone, Malfoy.” Potter’s voice is dark. Draco doesn’t get it. Sure, they’re never going to be bosom friends or whatever, but they’d been getting along fine, he’d thought. Potter had touched his mark. They’d talked about their dicks. It was a weird bonding moment.

Potter still doesn’t say a word. Draco’s getting angry. What, all of a sudden Potter isn’t deigning to talk to him again? Doesn’t want to debase himself with Death Eater scum? Maybe he hadn’t been fine with the mark after all, with Draco sacrificing his free hours to teach him magic. Maybe they hadn’t bonded, maybe he was just feigning some scrap of politeness out of some sort of misguided Gryffindor honor.

“What,” he sneers, feeling his first-year self rise to the surface. The part of him that’s wild and desperate and will lash out at anything, just to get his teeth in it, “Is this some secret about your dead parents? Did they leave you the glasses?”

It’s not great, as insults go. It’s enough. He expects to get hit. Is waiting for it, really. That’s been he and Potter’s language of choice for years. There’s pieces that Draco hasn’t been able to translate to words, even now. Maybe there’s no equality. And they’ve been civil so long, been moving around each other without tension, Draco is suddenly, fiercely, spoiling for a fight. For a fist in his face. A knee at his stomach. Anything.

But Potter doesn’t say anything. Just picks up his books and leaves the room. He doesn’t even grab his glasses. Draco doesn’t know how he’s going to manage any of his reading.

 

Weasley approaches him outside of the Great Hall, after Draco has wandered down, maybe to get dinner, still in a daze.

“What’d you do to Harry?” Ron asks. And Draco is surprised all of a sudden to realize that Weasley has grown up. He’s fixed in on his priorities. He isn’t shouting, or pushing. His voice is low and concerned, focused.

“I don’t know.” Draco says, because he doesn’t, and lying to this new, focused Weasley seems like a waste of time.

Weasley searches his face. Sees something that satisfies him. Nods. “Fix it.” he says, and walks off. Just like that. Draco has been turned down for a fight by two of the most hot-headed Gryffindors. Just like that.

 

**********

 

Draco finds Potter in the third floor corridor outside of the Transfiguration classroom. It’s one of the ones that was smashed to pieces in the final battle, and hasn’t been put back together yet. Potter is levitating pieces of rock back into the wall. He’s got grime on his face and scrapes on his arms.

He doesn’t look at Draco when he approaches, just keeps at his work, moving rocks, on-by-one, until they become something else.

“McGonagall said I could work on the repairs, I’m not doing anything against the rules. Leave me alone.” He says.

Malfoy is taken aback. He’d expected Potter to rage, to yell, to hit him – some part of the promised violence that had simmered in their room before Potter had stormed out.

“Potter,” He says, “I could give a Hippogriffs shit if you’re breaking rules. Can you just hit me and then we can be done with this?” Draco won’t even hit back. Probably. He doesn’t know why, but there’s an imbalance in his and Potter’s relationship all of a sudden, and for once it bothers him.

Potter lowers his wand. The rock he was levitating tumbles to the ground.

“I don’t want to hit you.” he says. There’s an admission there, something Draco can almost see in the space between Potter’s words, but then Potter shifts, and the meaning is lost.

After that he keeps attacking the wall, levitating rocks into a rough pile, grinding it together then carving it all smooth again. Slivers shatter into the air as he works. One cuts a clean line into his cheek. He keeps going.

 

*****

 

By the time Potter gets back to their room, Draco is most of the way to pissed off. The moment he sees Potter’s face, exhausted and covered in grime, he gets all the way there. Is this how Potter deals with things now? Just runs off and does some creepy fugue-state shit. No explanation. No fight. Draco is furious.

“Is that how is now, Potter?” He spits. “Just going to go run and hide? I don’t know how you ever took down the Dark Lord.” All his forgotten rage, that he’s been breathing out in bursts over the last few months, is back now, boiling up under his skin.

“Well I did, didn’t I?” Potter bites back, and yes, come on now, nearly there. “He’s dead. I did it. I fucking manned-up or whatever. I don’t have to be brave or noble or anything anymore.”

Just because Potter isn’t going to hit Draco doesn’t mean Draco isn’t going to hit him. There’s a fight brewing between them and if it doesn’t come out now, Draco’s not sure what will happen. Draco shoves Potter’s shoulders, hard, and he thinks, for a moment, that Potter is going to shove him back, going to leap forward into a fighting stance, but Potter stumbles backwards.

There’s a solid three feet between him and the wall. It should be enough room for Potter to catch himself, to tense up and launch at Draco and then it would be on, they’d be ready to go from there, just like that. But Potter lets himself fall into the wall. Hard. His head thumps back with a loud crack.

Draco wants Potter to get up, to fight him, to yell, to do something. But Potter just stays there, where Draco pushed him, and suddenly his hands feel wrong. This whole thing feels wrong. Potter’s arms are at his sides and his head is lolling back. Draco could keep coming for him and he’d just let him, he wouldn’t move, or fight, or anything. And oh fuck. This is something that Draco doesn’t know how to deal with.

“Potter.” He says “Potter, look at me.” Potter’s eyes roll down to meet his. They’re glassy. Draco should have noticed earlier. Potter lilts against the wall and Draco sees a smear of red. “Oh shit. I think you’re bleeding.” Which is a funny thing to say, considering just a few moments ago Draco was strategizing on just how best to make Potter bleed. Potter does nothing, so Draco steps forward and pulls his shoulders from the wall.

Potter bends his head, letting Draco look. Potter is bleeding. It’s not a lot, not as much as Draco feared, but there’s a steady ooze of red at the curve of his skull.

Draco’s fingers shift to find the extent of the damage, and he comes across a thick scar, just out of sight at Potter’s hairline. It’s ragged and puffy, as though it never really healed right. Draco’s fingers pause against it.

“That’s from a long time ago.” Potter’s voice is soft. Far away. It’s a story for another time, not when Potter is looking like this, lost and uncertain.

Draco pulls Potter away from the door, lets his hand fall. Potter’s eyes are still glassy and Draco is suddenly very uncertain.

“I’m going to go get Granger and Weasley,” he makes to turn towards the door, but Potter stops him with a hand on his sleeve.

“Don’t,” he mumbles. “they won’t know what to do, no one knows what to do.”

Draco straightens. He knows. “Hit me,” he says again, but not with venom this time. He thumps his chest. “Right there, give it a shove.”

Potter looks at him for a moment, unconvinced, but Draco doesn’t break eye contact, and Potter pushes his hand against Draco’s shirt. Draco slaps him back, not hard, but enough to raise a flush in his cheek,

“You slapped me,” Potter says, somehow surprised.

“Yeah. What are you going to do about it?” It is a challenge and permission all at once. Potter shoves him. Hard. Draco’s knees hit the edge of his bed and he collapses, one hand snaking up to grab Potter’s so they both go down.

They both end up on Draco’s bed, lying side-by-side, staring up at the ceiling as it fades to dark.

“This isn’t fighting,” Harry says. His voice is clearer now. He sounds like Potter again.

“I guess it’s not,” Draco answers. The fight has drained out of him, somehow, gone to rest in the rocks of the castle, to bleed out with the magic. He’d wanted something from Potter that Potter couldn’t give him, not anymore, a simplicity and violence both, something neither of them can go back to. He wonders if fighting with Potter is always going to remind him of his childhood. He wonders what lying next to Potter will remind him of in the future. What new territory they’re entering now. He doesn’t think friendship. He doesn’t think enemies, either.

There’s a small cough from beside him, then Potter starts to explain. It’s only because it’s dark, only because it’s just the two of them, and what do they matter? That he speaks at all.

“My aunt and uncle,” he begins, then stops. It’s as though he’s searching for the right words, as though he’s never laid them out like this before. “My aunt and uncle didn’t like magic.” he catches a glimpse of Draco’s face and continues, “no, not like your side thinks muggles don’t like magic,” though Draco hadn’t said anything, “they didn’t like me. They ah,” he runs a hand over the back of his neck, where Draco had felt the scar hidden in his wild hair, “they used to keep me in a cupboard under the stairs.” He says this last bit very fast, in a rush of breath, like a confession. “It’s why,” he gestures to his eyes, then vaguely down the rest of his body. Draco wonders, suddenly, how tall Potter’s parents were.

He feels the burn of his mark against his skin, something ugly creeping up the back of his throat. Potter sounds ashamed.

Draco’s first instinct is violence. He feels a shout rising inside him, surprise and indignance both, and if it weren’t dark and quiet he might be spitting his distain, but there is a fragility to the moment, something in the way Potter’s shame colors the air, that makes him approach it like a wild creature. They can’t both be wild, not now, and Potter is the one who deserves it.

“Potter,” he says, very slowly. “You know that’s not your fault.” He’s not sure it’s the right thing to say. But it’s what he would’ve wanted someone to say to him. Potter doesn’t answer, just looks away. So Draco adds,

“My father used to practice the Imperius curse on me. Until my mother found out and hexed off his toes.”

“What?” Potter turns back with a startled laugh, some of the shadows slipping from his face. If that’s what it takes, then fine, Draco won’t begrudge him the memory.

Draco sketches the shape of something unreadable on the ceiling, some beast of the forest that begins to chase its shadow around the room. “Why do you think he had that cane?” He chuckles, “it wasn’t just for show.” The room is lighter for a moment, then Draco can feel his own smile slipping away.

“I honestly think he might’ve killed me before my final year at Hogwarts, if my mother hadn’t been there.” It wouldn’t have even been on purpose, which is the truly messed up thing. He just thought of Draco as a resource, something to be pushed around the board and experimented on until there would’ve been nothing left. He’s never told anyone this before. He supposes it’s only fair.

Potter sighs. He raises a lazy finger to the ceiling, traces a pattern of stars that begin to gleam and dance, looking very far away.

“I wonder what I would’ve turned out like, without them.” Potter says. He does not look at Draco.

Draco feels the burn of the mark against his skin. The rage in the back of his throat. “Me too,” he says quietly. He wonders if they still would’ve been lying here, side-by-side, if things had been different, if they hadn’t been pushed in such opposition together if they ever would’ve met at all. Maybe they would’ve passed in the halls, never touching. Maybe Potter would’ve even know Draco’s name.

“Adults are fucked up,” Draco says, instead of trying to put this to words.

Potter laughs, “let’s never be them,” and Draco ignores the fact that they are both 17, and of age, ignores the fact that they have both fought a war and come out the other side, ignores that they both watched their childhood go up in flames around them. Instead he focusses on the dip of the mattress beside him, where Potter’s weight creates a valley in the darkness, how the stars cast lights across their faces.

Potter looks around, takes in the sprawl of Draco’s bed as though finally noticing something. “Why do you have less blankets than me?” He asks.

“Because of my wicked ways.” Draco says.

Potter laughs. Draco’s getting used to that.

They wake hours later and the room is dark. Potter is just a shadow beside him.

“I guess we fell asleep.” Potter says, voice sleep-bruised.

“Yes,” says Draco, “I guess we did.” He doesn’t know what time it is, doesn’t know if time still exists, in this quiet, sacred space where he and Potter are breathing the same air. It feels like the moment could shatter with a single word, so he says nothing at all. After a countless string of moments, he realizes Potter has drifted asleep again beside him. Draco closes his eyes. He sleeps.

 

**********

 

Potter wakes up with a blinding headache and the realization that he is in Malfoy’s bed. (1. He has a blinding headache. 2. He is in Draco Malfoy’s bed.)

“I think I need an aspirin,” he says, and pushes himself up on his elbows.

“What the fuck is an aspirin?” Comes the muffled reply behind him, though really Harry was talking to no one.

One the bedside table, Malfoy’s wand begins to whir. It’s five o’clock. The sound drills into Harry’s brain like it’s trying to make a home there.

“Really, Malfoy,” Harry hisses, in an echo of Malfoy’s earlier words, “I’m going to shove that thing so far up your – ”

“Fucking try,” Malfoy groans, pulling a pillow over his unusually untidy hair. He sounds just as distressed as Harry.

“You could just not go.” Harry says. The room is warm and comfortable, and they’ve made a cozy nest in Malfoy’s blankets. He means, of course, that he’ll move back to his own bed, that they can both try and fall back into the usually elusive sleep. Of course he does.

There’s another groan from beneath the pillow, Malfoy stealing himself.

“I made a promise,” he says, though he doesn’t say to who. “I’m going to see it through.”

Harry doesn’t know where this new, resolute Malfoy came from. He wishes he wasn’t making his first appearance at five in the fucking morning when he’s in the middle of the first real night of sleep he’s had in who knows how long.

He’s about to say this, about to blame Malfoy for everything wrong in the world, when Malfoy pushes up from the bed behind him and well, then it would be weird if Harry didn’t get up too, and by the time he’s up, he might as well get a start on that day’s reading. He’s already a quarter of the way through “Hogwarts a History,” and he’s vowed to have something interesting to say to Hermione about it by lunch time.

Malfoy puts on his shoes. Harry leans up against the headboard and begins to flick ideally through the pages. This really was so much easier when Hermione did the reading and just pointed out the important bits to him, but he’s vowed to get through this on his own and, as Malfoy says, he’s going to see it through. Who knew he’d one day be getting morality guidance from Draco Malfoy, of all people.

Malfoy turns back at the door, “Let me know if you find anything,” he says.

“Let me know if you see anything,” Harry answers. Malfoy nods once. The door closes behind him.

 

Harry is a quarter and 30 pages through “Hogwarts a History” when Malfoy returns. Harry ignores the way his hair is rumpled from the wind, because it’s no longer early enough for him to say anything about it.

“Come here,” he says, and waves Malfoy over.

Malfoy runs a hand through his hair, distressing it further. He smells like the morning, like the fog that rolls in over the lake and the dirt he’d kicked up under his shoes, fresh and new.

“Did you find something?” Malfoy asks. Harry isn’t sure. It could be nothing. It could be. But still. He guides Malfoy’s gaze to the end of a passage.

“It’s in this section here, about the protections surrounding the castle.” And he reads, “When Hogwarts’ need is greatest, the guardians will give their all.” Malfoy bends forward to follow Harry’s finger. He catches the scent of wood smoke. Malfoy must’ve run past Hagrid’s hut.

“The guardians,” he muses. “Do you think it’s talking about the gargoyles?”

“Could be,” Harry nods. “Maybe it has something to do with that weird ritual we saw.”

Draco is nodding, looking interested and amiable, and Harry feels his chance rising. Malfoy had been gone long enough that he had been doing some other reading, too. Now is as good a time as any.

“There’s something else,” he says, carefully shutting the book to return to later. It’s not like he can investigate the gargoyle’s in person right now, and Malfoy is right here. He pulls a second, bigger book from the stack.

 

**********

 

“I have an idea,” Harry says, and Malfoy feels a sinking sensation in his stomach. He still has the air from the grounds singing in his lungs, but these few words from Potter pushes it out in a rush.

“You’re not going to like it,” Potter says and Draco knows. He knows what’s coming. Absolutely not, sits on the tip of his tongue, ready to be bitten off, but Potter raises a hand.

“I know this is weird,” he says, “but I really think I can help you. I’ve been reading about old magic, about how it can be bent, for good and evil. I’d like to try.” Draco would quite like to hit him. Just once. Just now. But Potter’s looking at him with that sincere, save-the-world expression and Draco feels himself waiver. He really has spent too long in the company of Gryffindors, if this is all it takes to sway him. But his arm really does hurt quite a lot, and it’s not like it will hurt anything but his pride to try.

“Fine,” he bites out, curt and quick. “But if you tell me to just lay back and think of England I will end you.”

Potter nods. There is a smile at his lips.

Draco sits with a pillow on his lap and resolutely does not look Potter in the eyes. This will be so much easier if he doesn’t.

There is a pause, like Potter doesn’t know what to say, and Draco snaps. “Get on with it,” he says, pushing his arm towards Potter, the dark mark blazing black against his skin. Potter nods. He begins to speak. There’s a hiss and flash of teeth. Draco screws up his eyes. He tries very hard to think of nothing at all.

For a moment, he thinks it’s working, then Potter slips haltingly back into English. “I think I need to touch you,” he says, and Draco could skin him alive. He could devour cities and continents. He doesn’t think it’s working at all.

He gives a curt nod. Potter begins again, though this time, he reaches out, placing two fingers over the skin of Draco’s forearm. The serpent begins to writhe, bending its head and swishing its tail in time with Potter’s speech. Draco’s skin, which is always burning now, grows hotter beneath Potter’s hand. It’s like he’s drawing something out into the air between them. Potter’s voice rises into a series of guttural hisses and Draco’s eyes slam shut again. Whatever this is, he’s not sure he wants to see. He counts to 20 in head. He names every single member of the Slytherin quidditch team, then the Griffindors. He doesn’t try for the Hufflepuffs. He imagines he is anywhere else in the world.

Then it’s over. Potter removes his hand from Draco’s forearm. He resolutely does not meet Draco’s eyes.

Draco excuses himself to the privacy of the bathroom. He stares at his own face in the mirror for a long time, transfixed by the familiar glint of his eyes, the curve of his chin. There’s nothing different there. He had though there would be. For the first time in as long as he can remember, the skin on his forearm feels cool and calm.

It’s only when he’s back in the room that he notices, and only because Potter says something. He’s just leaving the bathroom when Potter says, “Let me see,” and Draco raises his forearm.

The sight makes him stare. Gone is the familiar gash of the skull, left behind in its place, lies a black inked serpent, curled in on itself as though in sleep. Potter nods, pleased.

“I wanted to leave you something,” he says, and whispers something in a voice that sounds suspiciously Slytherin. Draco can’t make out the words.

Draco is late for class.

 

**********

 

Malfoy does not say thank you, but he does spend an extra 30 minutes letting Harry try to charm his hair pink, because Harry is trying to master transformative magic (by all rights a magic of spirit) using the practical center he has in his head, because he’s stubborn like that. Malfoy would say that he has no practical center in his head, but then Harry has been proving him wrong by coming along rather nicely in the Ravenclaw arts, once he mastered centering himself there to begin with.

Malfoy’s also not wrong, and soon Harry gives it up for a bad job, only the very tips of Malfoy’s bangs a light fuchsia.

Malfoy is just spelling them back to blonde when he says, “I don’t actually want to fuck snakes, you know.” It’s still not a thank you. But he says it like he knows he owes Harry something, and maybe this is it.

“Oh.” Harry says. He doesn’t know what else to say. There is still a light on in their room, and it makes this conversation seem so much more indecent, so much bolder than if Malfoy had said these things after dark.

Malfoy looks away, carefully studying the wall. “I like that you have old magic in you.” he says.

Harry does not say, You’d like it if I had old magic in me, because, no matter what Malfoy says, he’s not five, and he doesn’t think either of them are ready for the answer to that unasked question.

Instead he says. “Do you know about my father’s family?”

Malfoy blinks. “Of course,” he says. “I think you and I are actually very distant cousins.” Very distant, Harry hopes.

“Your ancestor invented a truly excellent line of haircare products. Pansy lost her shit when she discovered I used them,” Then, in a more serious voice, “I have some books about them, back at the Manor. I could have my mother send them.”

Theirs is something tentative between them. An extended hand. “I’d like that,” Harry says, softly. Malfoy nods, goes to turn away. And just like that, Harry tells him.

“I think I’m only a Parseltongue because of Voldemort. I think it’s left over from his soul being inside me.” He’s never said it out loud before. Never told anyone.

Malfoy turns back, his face carefully still. “Setting aside the bit where you had the Dark Lord’s soul inside you, and believe me Potter, we will get back to that, I don’t think that’s true.”

Something flares in Harry chest. He doesn’t want to call it hope. “You don’t?” he asks carefully.

There’s color on Malfoy’s cheeks, just enough that Harry knows he’s blushing, but trying to hide it. “It doesn’t feel like dark magic.” Malfoy says, like it’s taking something for him to admit it, “it feels old, like it grew in your blood. It feels –” he breaks off. The color rises.

“What?” Harry asks. He has to know. After all of this. He has to be sure.

“Merlin, Potter, don’t make me say it.” Malfoy mutters. And if it was anyone else, if it was Ginny, or Neville, or Ron, Harry wouldn’t. But it’s only Malfoy.

“What?” he asks again, more insistent this time.

Malfoy pushes air out through his nose. A concession. “It feels nice,” he says, the duality of the word tripping off his tongue to hang in the space between them.

“Oh,” Harry says. Something like relief pools in his stomach. Something like it.

“Anyway,” Malfoy brushes the moment aside with a wave of his hand. Anyone who wasn’t used to his face wouldn’t notice the tinge still present in his cheeks. “Old magic isn’t bad, that’s new age prejudice, it’s just traditional. It helps you commune with plants and animals. It needs ritual to keep it renewed. There’s some dark things there, blood magic and sacrifice and the like, but it’s not built into the magic. Humans are just lazy. The quickest ways are always bloody.”

Harry thinks of the dirt of the forbidden forest beneath his feet. The whispering voices of the spirits, sounding like rain.

“My family came from that?” He asks.

Malfoy nods. “A lot of families did, your father’s side, anyway. I don’t know about your mother.”

Harry remembers the brush of a hand against his check, a flash of red hair, his mother’s arms wrapped around him. “My mother was kind,” he murmurs. “Her magic came from that.”

It’s all falling into place now, the more Harry learns, the more his fractured understanding of magic comes together. Dumbledore had said his mother had kept him safe with the sacrifice of her love, and he now understands the power of that magic, the net she cast across him, with her final stand, that’s kept him safe all these years, through Voldemort, through the Dursley’s, through attack after attack on the castle.

If he stands very still, and thinks of nothing at all, he can feel both his mother and his father’s magic singing through his veins, curling together in his stomach, to make something new.

“A History of all Magiks” sits on the desk beforehand. A passage swims to the center of his mind, separating itself from the countless others he’s read in the past weeks. Magik is strongest when it is brought together. For a moment, he think nothing of this, that it’s just some fragment, rising to the surface, in a moment when his mind is clear. Then he realizes.

“Voldemort was a half-blood,” he says. “Like me,” Malfoy has turned back to his own desk, already looking posh and put together again, as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

“What?” he asks, not yet turning around.

“Voldemort was a half-blood.” Harry says again. Something is warming inside him, coming together. He wonders if this is how Hermione feels, all the time, flush with the swell of ideas rising to life. No wonder she never leaves the library, if this is what it brings her. “Most of his followers didn’t know. He wanted to keep the pure blood myth alive, but his father was a muggle. He must’ve had more than one type of magic.”

Malfoy does look at him now, “Potter,” he asks, “What are you saying?” there’s a curve to his voice that suggests he already knows, that the picture Harry is drawing is starting to grow roots in Malfoy’s mind.

“I’m saying,” Harry quotes, “Magik is greater when it is brought together.” This line of thought rings dangerously of ego, but it can’t be a coincidence that two of the world’s most powerful wizards have been half-bloods. And maybe there’s more. He’ll have to ask Hermione. No, he corrects, he’ll have to look it up.

Malfoy stares at him, arms crossed across his chest, studying him face. Then, finally, he says, “Potter, if we find out you really are the Heir of Slytherin, I will absolutely lose my shit.” Something in the moment breaks. The air is no longer dangerous. It’s just Malfoy, after all, and what does Harry care if Malfoy thinks he has an ego? Harry did save the world, after all, and defeat the Dark Lord, and heal Malfoy’s dark mark. Some ego is allowed.

 

The idea of power and what it means dogs Harry through his day. While the others go to class (He assumes they go to class, as he doesn’t go himself, it’s hard to tell), he wanders the halls, wrapping on the helmets of the suits of armor as he passes. A few shout back, raise their lances, challenge him to duels he politely declines, but a startlingly larger fraction make no move at all, even when Harry aims a swift kick at their armored boots. He goes away stumbling, but the armor makes no move at all.

He makes his way to the grounds, and the giant squid, in a series of splashes and pantomimes, tells him about the lake, places where the water is leaking out to flood the dungeons and pool into marshland, and how the merepeople are on guard from this attack on their ecosystem. Then, because it is hot, and he doesn’t give a damn, Harry strips off his clothes in the shadow of the castle and plunges into the water. It’s just as cold as he remembered it, just as eerie. But this time, there’s no magical time limit, no people for him to save, no impossible set of rules, so he strikes out, and swims until his legs are tired and his lunges are aching. The water sluices through his hair and down his shoulders, cold, cold, cold.

He flips onto his back, lets the sun warm his skin dry, peers up at the pillowed clouds and imagines he can see shapes there. When the merepeople come, he is not surprised. He remembers their harsh, grasping voices, the way their song grated his ears. Two take his arms, not gently, and with a tug, he is encased in a watery world.

Dim light filters through from up ahead. The merepeople’s skin is cast blue and green. Harry sees a stream of bubbles escaping from his mouth, from his hair, from between his fingers. The air flees. In its place comes the siren song, made lovely in the lapping water, melodic and arching. The lake weeps, the merepeople sing, their fingers still pushing into his arms, and he wonders, for a moment, if they are going to drown him. If, after all this, he will die suspended mere inches beneath the lake’s surface.

They hold him down for as long as he thinks his lunges can hold, their song filling his ears and wrapping around the base of his spine. The lake weeps. Just as black shadows begin to eat at the edges of his vision, one of the merepeople, with piercing silver eyes and a wide, smooth forehead, swims forward, and presses their lips to Harry’s. A breath of air flows into to Harry’s mouth, rolling down his throat to slosh into his lunges. The mereperson leans back. They blink their sharp eyes. Fix it, they say. A blessing and command both. Harry feels the air in his lunges. A gift. A bargain. He thinks of the magic swirling beneath his skin, of the way it felt to move it into his hands. He lets a shiver of it flow into the water, pushing the currents back towards the merepeople, his own gift.

When the spark reaches them, their song changes to an exclamation. Their teeth peek ragged from beneath this lips and the hiss of excitement bubbles through the water. Harry can’t help but grin, baring his own teeth, white water-slicked to the current, feeling the lake drip into his mouth, tasting of iron and salt, the merepeople’s life blood. They open their mouths in a shriek that must be a laugh and release his arms with a flurry of bubbles, propelling him to the surface so he breaks through in a wash of waves, rocking ripples all the way back to the shore.

 

**********

 

When he sees Potter, the first thing Draco says is: “Why are you wet?” The second thing is, “Does this have to do with why Padma Patil was telling everyone she’d just seen your butt?”

“I went for a swim in the lake,” Potter says, as though people do it all the time and live to tell the tale, “talked to the merepeople.”

“And?” Draco prompts, curious despite himself.

“And I think we need to go to the forest.”

Draco feels himself pale. The last time he went to the forest with Potter he’d nearly come face to face with some dark and evil creature. “Potter, I’m not going into the forbidden forest with you.”

Potter just shrugs, amiable. His wet hair makes puddles on his shoulder. “Ok,” he says, “then I’ll go by myself.” And turns to do just that.

“Merlin, Potter,” Draco mumbles. He can hardly just let the Boy Who Lived wander into one of the most dangerous places in the magical world. Again, he reminds himself. Because Potter is a stubborn bastard, and an idiot, and quite possibly one of the bravest people Draco has ever known. He is counting his mother, after all.

He strides forward to catch Potter’s arm, still damp beneath his touch. “Fine, Potter. But the minute I say we leave, we leave.” If Potter had his way, they’d end up wandering the trees until dawn. They’d probably camp out there.

Potter shrugs again, still amiable. If all it takes is the hint of death for Potter to be this way, Draco should threaten him more often.

“Sure,” Potter says. And Draco can tell by the curve of his mouth that he doesn’t mean it. Draco really is a stupid, stupid man. It’s a wonder either of them survived the war intact. Mostly. Mostly intact. They head to the forest.

When the shadow of the first tree hits Potter’s skin, his shoulders go slack. There is a loosening in him, a breath let out and not reclaimed, hands unfurled at his sides.

Draco is not sure Potter notices the way the trees welcome him in, how the path clears, slightly, before his feet, the way branches beckon him forward, reaching out grasping twigs like fingers, like Potter is some magical fairy tale heroine from the old tales, and the forest has been waiting to eat him alive. To make him queen. Draco doesn’t know which. He really is the stupidest bastard in all of magic.

Potter probably thinks the forest is like this for everyone, that everyone could walk in, arms wide, wand forgotten, and walk back out again. That the world is a wide and wild place, and all he has to do is step into it.

A reaching vine stays across the path to clasp onto the back of Potter’s robes. Draco brush it off. It snaps at him, leaving a red welt rising up on his wrist. He snarls back and off it sulks, back into the wilderness. Probably to get its friends. This really was a tremendously stupid idea.

Potter turns back from where he is striding blindly down the path, to see what is taking Draco so long. He grins when Draco jumps at a shadow. Which probably wanted to kill them, thank you very much.

“The last time I was in here we nearly died,” he reminds Potter, stubbornly ignoring the way the tree behind Potter is surreptitiously leaning down into the path to caress Potter’s hair.

“The last time I was in here I did die,” Potter counters, because he is a dramatic bastard and a sore looser both. Draco resolutely, adamantly, does not ask Potter to explain himself. That would be just what Potter wants, and Draco refuses to give it to him. He sets his lips in a hard line, to keep the words from leaving his mouth.

“Also your mom was there,” Potter continues. Draco does know that bit. His mother had lied. Pure and simple. She had taken Draco’s father, and the future of the war, and the pure blood legacy, in one hand, and Draco in the other, and she had chosen. Pure and simple. Never in his life does Draco know if someone has just chosen him before. He’s not sure they ever will again. It was the beginning of the end for the Dark Lord. It was the beginning for Draco and his mother.

Potter begins walking again. The tree behind him snaps up like it’s been minding its business this whole time. Over his shoulder, Potter says. “You were right to be that freaked out, you know, when we were looking for the unicorns.”

Draco picks up his head, but does not say anything. He had felt that terror in his bones, felt it turn his blood. No one could convince his that he shouldn’t have been afraid.

Potter ducks casually under a branch that is absolutely reaching for his hair. Draco swats it away. “It was Voldemort, feeding on the unicorns to try and stay alive.”

Draco feels a twinge in his mark every time Potter says the Dark Lord’s name, even now, when it’s not a mark at all. He supposes it will always be, in some way. He’s not sure he would wish it away.

“Potter,” he says, very slowly, a vine has slithered across the path and Potter steps over it. Draco steps on it. “How are you alive?” Potter seems to have almost kept the Dark Lord in his closet, he met him so often. It seems almost impossible that someone was trying to keep them apart. Maybe no one truly was. Dumbledore always was a strategic bastard.

“My mom died to save me and it triggered some old, protective magic,” Potter calls over his shoulder, like it’s nothing. But there was a hesitance in his voice that Draco caught, an indication that he wasn’t used to saying those words aloud.

“Oh,” Draco says, because what else is there to say? That he’s sorry? That the war did so any terrible things and he’s glad it’s over? That he never should’ve been on that side?

They walk on, Draco struggling behind Potter as branches leap back to hit him in the face. The forest seems to have taken a personal vendetta against Draco, because he keeps thwarting its attempts to grab Potter.

Finally, because he can’t help himself, Draco asks Potter. “So what’s this about you dying, then?” he keeps his voice as casual as if he’s asking Potter about the weather. Really, he doesn’t want to encourage behavior like that. Potter has as much regard for his own life as a flobberworm, something his Gryffindor mentors seemed to have encouraged. Someone should’ve sat him down and said, dying’s only an option once. Pick another strategy. But then, maybe quidditch matches wouldn’t have been as much fun. Maybe Draco would’ve won a few more of them.

Potter keeps plowing through the underbrush, oblivious to the crown of flowers that has now taken up residence in his hair. Draco snatches them away before they can take root. One sinks sharp teeth into his finger.

“I thought it was the only way to keep everyone safe.” Potter says, because of course he did. “So I gave myself up to Voldemort.” He dips his head, “After your mom saved me, of course. Then Voldemort killed me.” He laughs. “Did you know the afterlife looks like platform 9 and 3/4s? At least, it did nor me. I could’ve gotten on a train. But I came back.” The trees above his head bend and sway. “In the end, Voldemort only killed the piece of his soul that was inside me, from when he tried to kill me as a baby, and that was enough to defeat him.”

Potter’s voice echoes in his head, my mom died to save me and it triggered some old, protective magic. He is very careful not to say the words. He’s not sure if Potter is ready to hear them.

“Potter,” he says instead, “Please stop dying,” because someone should. Someone should’ve said it a long time ago, and if not Dumbledore, or Weasley, then it will have to be Draco. He hopes it’s enough.

Potter snorts a laugh. The forest preens at the sound. Draco’s not sure how Potter missed so many flowers blooming. Or that so many of them have teeth. But Potter’s always been a single-minded bastard. And Draco’s just a bastard. So he sees the way the sunlight drips off branches to pool in Potter’s hair.

Potter doesn’t tell him where they’re going. Draco already knows. Knew since the moment Potter dipped the handles of his motorcycle down and they skimmed over the trees. The forest hides a great many creatures. They are after a specific few. Draco hopes there’s some left.

The gargoyle’s clearing isn’t far from the path. Potter pushes through the greenery, using his memory of the forest from above as a guide, and Draco follows. Potter’s footsteps in the dirt shine with an eerie glow. The love of the forest is a terrible thing. It has tasted Potter’s blood. It hungers for more. It wants to eat his magic raw. Draco keeps a hand on his wand, ready. Just for comfort. Just in case.

When they reach the clearing, there are fewer gargoyles than they had seen before, and this close up Draco can make out the gashes and ruts in their hulking rock frames. The stone looks bruised, darker at the edges, feathering into a blue-green sheen. They tower in the air, as dangerous as anything else beneath these trees, and Draco wonders, not for the first time, if this really was a truly awful idea.

They sit around the pool, great stone arms balanced on legs – half-animal, half-approximate of man. There is a wariness here, in the way the forest holds them, afraid to let go, in the lessoning of their numbers, the pool before them spinning with immeasurable depth.

Potter seems not to realize the danger in the gargoyles’ clenched fists, not to see the wary light in their stone eyes. He approaches. And Draco, seeing as he, for some reason, vowed to keep Potter from death, must step forward, too.

The first gargoyle is taller still. Great, sweeping horns thrust from his forehead, carving the air before him to ribbons. When he speaks, Draco hears an avalanche. They really shouldn’t been here at all.

“Why have you come,” he roars, and Draco must brace himself from taking a step back. Potter doesn’t flinch. Gryffindor bravery is, after all, without sense.

“The castle is falling,” Potter says, and Draco realizes that it is, that that’s what all these pieces add up to. It was a picture he had not wanted to see.

“Yes,” the creature says, voice rolling through its chest like great rocks in a riverbed. “Its magic has been,” it tilts its head, forms the word, “drained.”

“Where has it gone?” Potter asks, and the gargoyle doesn’t answer. It has gone to the ground, to the walls that held hours longer than they should’ve, to the trees that bent to offer their branches as protection, to the armor that walked the halls, spears aloft, heads held high, to the spike of the astronomy tower. Draco knows this, somewhere, deep in his bones. He thinks Potter does too.

“A sacrifice. Must be made,” the gargoyle says, words falling like stones from its throat. “The magic must be renewed.”

“A sacrifice?” Potter says, but the gargoyle will say no more. It’s as if it’s used up its words for the day, as if it only had so many. It raises its hand, traces a pattern in the air, arm falling and rising with the breath of magic in the clearing.

The other gargoyles rise. Draco is small, small, small, in front of them. They raise their arms as well. There is the creak and groan of shifting rock, the whistle of wind in the trees. A storm is coming. The sky darkens, and the gargoyles look grim beneath it, leering shadows, sharp of horn and teeth, ready to leap forward, to attack. To do what they have been made to.

Draco remembers, suddenly, that they are made from the same stone of the castle, that they are undeniably of the castle, that the magic that holds it up is the same that runs through them. The stone is dark with age and weather, but Draco can tell. They share a breath, a heartbeat. Draco sees, too, where the stone has begun to crumble, the places where it is falling away. They are coming undone in great chunks, even as Draco watches. Their faces are fierce. They’re the stuff of nightmares. They will not go easily. But they have already held so long.

Before Draco can stop himself, his hand is on Potter’s shoulder. Like the forest, he is reaching outward. Potter is brave, brave, brave, but he doesn’t think he’ll like what’s going to come next. Doesn’t think he will either.

The gargoyles step forward. Their footsteps shake the ground. Somewhere, impossibly, a bird begins to sing. The sound slides through the darkening air. The forest is wild and waiting. It would happily make them part of the ground, grow from their blood, into something dark and new.

Potter wants to stay. To see for himself what will come next. To know. Draco does not need to know, he needs to get Potter out of the forest while there is a path back. Already it is shrinking away in the trees. The forest will bewilder them without hesitation, leave them grasping at the sky, trying to find a way back.

Potter’s robes are in his hands. He does not hesitate to pull. Potter stumbles back, momentarily crashing into Draco’s side, but then he is righting himself with a seeker’s grace and they are leaving the clearing.

It takes Draco half an hour to realize they have yet to pass any familiar landmarks. Potter is tromping along beside him, happily oblivious. Draco swats some darting, winged creature from Potter’s shoulder. Probably poisonous. He thinks, darkly. He should really just let the forest eat Potter and be done with it. He’d have a room all to himself. No one would ever speak Parseltongue again. He resolutely pretends not to mind.

“We’re lost,” he tells Potter, trying not to see just how fast the dark is falling. To be in the forest at all is risky. To be there after dark is to court ghosts. The ground at Potter’s feet has begun to swirl with mist, and Draco does not care for the way it curls around Potter’s boots. No. he does not care for that at all.

Potter, the bastard, does not seem to care that they’re lost. Draco really should just let the forest eat him. Munch much, motherfucker!

“We’re not lost,” Potter says, though of course the trouble is that Potter just likes to argue with him, and they are, in fact, very lost. Draco has never seen that tree before in his life. In fact, he’s never seen any tree that grew upside down, roots reaching up into the sky.

“We’re not lost,” Potter says again, clearly thinking this is still, somehow an argument he’s winning, “We’re right by where I died.”

Draco doesn’t even bother to swat the second pixie away, just watches in amazement as it takes off with a small strand of Potter’s hair. He swears the little beast had cut it away with a tiny, treacherous knife. Draco barely has a moment to stare in amazement at Potter.

“Potter,” he says, “Have I mentioned lately that I hate you? Like really and truly despise that I ever met you?” It is a sentence that carries a much different sentiment now than it would’ve a few weeks ago, because Potter, the bastard, laughs, and continues to crash through the underbrush, blithely ignorant to the bush twining out the wrap suckered tentacles around his ankles. Seriously? Draco thinks, what is with Potter and tentacles? Draco sends a stinging hex at the bush, which withdraws its vines reproachfully, swiping them spitefully at Draco’s leg as he passes. One of them makes contact, leaving a burning welt beneath Draco’ robes.

Potter turns to look over his shoulder, grin bright in the doom. “If you ever come back from the dead, I promise we can go visit the spot where you died. I’ll bring flowers, nice ones.”

Draco is about to spit out that Potter wouldn’t know “nice flowers” if they hit him in the face, when the words die in his throat.

“Potter,” he manages, before lunging forward to wrap an arm around Potter’s shoulders and pull him back. Potter loses his footing this time, his back thudding against Draco’s chest. There is a moment when he goes to rise, to walk forward again, but Draco holds him back. Before them stretches a clearing of small, white flowers, perfect and untouched in the moonlight. There is not a leaf or stem out of place. Farther out, near the center of the space, the flowers grow in a wild clump, pushing up from the ground in a white mound.

It is the eeriest sight Draco has ever seen. A breeze rises in the clearing, pushing through Draco’s hair. He can feel Potter’s heartbeat against his ribs.

“I’m going to let you go,” he says, slowly, “but don’t go into the clearing.” He lets his arm fall from Potter’s shoulders. Potter doesn’t move. He stays like that, leaning against Draco’s chest, as wind swirls around them. Draco doesn’t breathe, doesn’t move, doesn’t think. There is just warmth of Potter’s back and nothing else in the world.

“That’s it,” Potter says, very quietly. It takes Draco a moment to hear him. Before him, the clearing stretches, pale and lovely. “That’s where I died.” There is such a complex sadness in Potter’s voice that Draco doesn’t know what to say. It takes his breath away. There are no words he can offer Potter to make sense of that loss. Instead –slowly, so slowly, Draco raises his arms. Just when he thinks he won’t be brave enough, that Potter will begin to move away, that the world will shift and they’ll be Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter again, he leans in and wraps them around Potter, holding him there. There is a breath. Two heartbeats. The air is tender. Potter does not move away. Neither does Draco. Later, they will pretend it never happened.

“I’m sorry you died,” Draco says, the words are a small offering. What else does he have?

“We all do.” Potter shrugs. His shoulders press up towards Draco’s chin.

Draco listens to their heartbeats count out a measure. “I’m sorry you were so young.” He says. So young for all of it. Because he is. He hopes it will be enough.

Just when he thinks Potter will not answer at all he says, “Me too.” And the words spill out of his mouth and out into the clearing. Draco keeps his arms tight around Potter. Just for now, just in this moment, just where because this is where Potter died, so now Draco is holding him.

The flowers sway. They rustle. Draco is suddenly very aware that nothing in the forest has tried to kill Potter for a while.

Then the flowers begin to glow. The glow sweeps out in a wide arc, washing the clearing in pale light, covering the dark, out shining the stars. Draco is suddenly, alarmingly sure he doesn’t want that light to touch either of them.

“Potter,” he says, apprehension rising up his throat. “Potter, run!” He whirls around, taking Potter with him, and pushes him forward. If the light wants Potter, he thinks blindly, it will have to get through him. It is possibly one of the bravest thoughts he’s had in his life.

Before he can begin the mad dash for his life, Draco reaches down, plucking one of the flowers from the ground and tucking it into his pocket. There is a moment when the light reaches for his fingers, and a single tendril rises to brush his thumb, but he shakes it off and stumbles forward.

Potter is there, running beside him, and together they crash through the undergrowth. It is exactly as he expected the evening to end, all things considered. Draco has only been in the forest a few times, but each visit ended in approximately the same way. He wonders if this is how Potter’s trips to the forest end, when he’s not busy dying.

Now that he’s come back, the forest does not seem to want to let Potter leave again. Even Potter has caught on, as the trees in front of them begin to bend forward, their great trunks creaking and snapping as their branches grasp the air by Potter’s head. Potter raises his wand and blasts the branches out of the way. Draco does not wait until they’ve fully recoiled to grasp Potter’s arm and pull him through. Behind them, he can see the glow of light crawling across the ground. He has to keep Potter moving.

Potter jumps a creek bed and stumbles. Draco grabs his robes and heaves him forward, slapping at a patch of pollen on Potter’s robes that looks like it’s about to burrow into his skin. Draco doesn’t want to think about what it might do there. If he ever gets Potter out of here, he’s going to remember this spot for the next time Potter leaves socks across their floor. For all the time Draco spent plotting to harm Potter in the past, he’s ashamed that he never thought of taking him to the forest and just leaving him there. Though, he supposes, he actually did do that once.

They run until Draco’ breath is ragged and Potter, who has not been waking up at the ass crack of dawn to go running, thank you very much, is gasping beside him. In front of them, Draco can just make out the faint glow of moonlight where the trees begin to thin. Draco is immensely, embarrassingly glad they never encountered any of the forest’s larger inhabitants. He doesn’t think he has it in him to fight a thestral for Potter’s honor.

Which, of course, is when the tree reaches down and grabs Potter around the middle. The forest has a sense of humor, after all. Potter’s face is a comical mixture of breathless and surprised, expressions that look remarkably the same, save for the comically raised eyebrow, and there is a moment when he is still standing by Draco’s side, branch around his waist, surprise on his face, and the next he is flying through the air as the tree straightens to its full height. It’s not one of the giants of the forest – the titans, whose trunks are wider than the Slytherin common room at its finest – but it’s still a tree, after all, and soon Potter is a good 15 feet above his head, swaying slightly in the breeze. Draco feels like he should swoon. It’s been one of those days.

“Potter!” he yells, then feels like an idiot, because Potter is still right there and, apparently unharmed, the branch tightening around his waist just enough to hold him, but not so much as to squeeze him in half.

There is a knock to the top of Draco’s head, and it takes him a moment to realize that it’s Potter’s wand. Potter has dropped his wand. The bastard. Potter has dropped his wand and now Draco is the only one of them that can use magic to get Potter out of this. Draco aims. He takes a breath. At least he’s still, he thinks which is, of course, when the tree begins to move.

Draco finds himself pitching backwards as the roots pull up out of the ground, spreading like great snakes across the forest floor. Draco jumps and stumbles as one goes to wrap itself lazily around Draco’s ankle. He shakes it off, shivers rolling down his spine, grateful all at once for the reflexes of his quitdditch training. The root rolls past with one more half-hearted attempt to snake up Draco’s leg. He dodges it easily, patting himself on the back for his quick movements. Which is why he misses Potter’s yell. And the branch that reaches down to swoop him up.

Draco catches the branch around the middle with a whoosh of breath. He’s so dazed by the impact that it takes him a moment to realize he’s left the ground. Then he feels wind beneath his feet. And something fall from his hand. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. Potter is never going to let him live this down. Here they are, both snagged and wandless, and the tree has begun to move.

Draco can hear Potter bumping along beside him as the ground rushes past beneath his feet. The tree moves in great lurching movements and Draco is jostled and jerked back and forth. He can’t help it. He starts to yell.

“This is your fault!” he screams at Potter, because it absolutely is. The tree wouldn’t be bothering with Draco at all if Potter hadn’t been standing beside him. Hell, Draco wouldn’t even be in the forest at all, wouldn’t even be 100 feet close to it if Potter hadn’t dragged him from the castle.

Out of sheer spite, Draco goes to kick Potter. That would show him, trapped high above the forest floor, completely incapacitated and with a slight injury as well. But, because this is his life, and his life seems gain great joy out of torturing him, Draco aims his kick at exactly the wrong moment. Draco’s branch is swinging down, with the forward motion of the tree, and Potter’s is swinging forward. Draco’s kick provides just enough momentum to bring their branches crashing together. There’s a crash, then a tug, and Draco realizes they are now stuck together. 20 feet above the ground.

Draco swears. He uses every word Blaise Zabini ever taught him (and Blaze had a mouth on him, when you riled him up).

“Are you finished?” Potter yells, not out of anger, but to be heard over the crashing of the tree. Draco fumes. He lets out another string of expletives.

“Now I’m finished.” He says.

“Where’s your wand?” Potter asks. The tree lurches and Draco pitches forward. He reels back just before his head makes contact with Potter’s face. He’s going to burn this fucking forest down.

“My what?” he asks, stalling for time.

Potter raises his voice. “Your wand!” he shouts, “to get us out of here!”

Draco turns his head into his shoulder. “I dropped it,” he mumbles.

Potter leans forward. Draco leans back.

“You what?” Potter yells (directly into Draco’s face, thank-you-very-much). Draco whips his head back.

“I dropped it! Ok? I don’t have it!”

Potter looks at him stunned. “You dropped it?” he blinks.

“You dropped yours, too!” Draco is shouting now. Potter truly is an awful influence on him.

“Well yeah,” Potter shrugs. This close up, Draco can see the seam on his glasses where they’ve been mended over and over again. He wonders why Potter just doesn’t buy new ones. He has the money for it. “But I always drop my wand,” Potter says, “You’re like, reliable.”

Draco blinks. He doesn’t think anyone has ever called him reliable before. He certainly didn’t think Potter thought he was. The tree lurches forward. This time Draco really does smack his head into Potter’s face. Directly into it. Potter swears. Draco learns a few more words.

As if emboldened by Potter’s swear, the tree speeds up. It is now crashing through the forest at an alarming speed, jostling Draco and Potter back and forth in its wooden grip. Through the trees, Draco catches sight of a face, the tawny flank of a horse, the sharp point of a bow.

“Centaur!” he cries, clutching Potter’s arm, but the creature is already turning away.

“They won’t help,” Potter says, “they won’t go against the forest.” Potter’s eyes won’t meet his and Draco suspects the centaurs, for one, also don’t like Potter very much. Draco should go and live among them. They’d have something in common. King of the Centaurs, people could call him. He’d make himself a little crown.

“Then what are we going to do!” Draco yells. He can feel himself growing hysterical. It is unbecoming, and would get him lectured by all his fancy tutors, but he cannot imagine dying in the woods with no one but Potter for company and leaving behind nothing but mulch. It would be terrible. The wizarding world would mark Potter’s grave and he’d have to deal with all those tearful mourners.

“Let me try something!” Potter braces his hands against the bark of the tree and closes his eyes. Draco wants to hit him. He could say it was an accident. He could say it was the tree.

After a moment of nothing, Potter screws up his face. His body tenses and his fingers dig into the branch, gouging out small crescents at his fingernails. Draco can almost see the sparks rolling from his chest and down his hands. The tree falters. Draco pitches backwards, spine almost snapping in two as the tree jerks forward, mid step. There is a moment where Draco thinks this is it, that they are moments from freedom, but then the tree steadies itself and keeps moving.

“Dammit!” Potter yells, and Draco almost laughs at the absurdity of it all. After all of this, all of it, he’s going to end up, side-by-side with Potter for all of eternity. People will probably plant flowers on their graves. There will be songs sung about them, ballads.

Draco laughs. He can’t stop laughing. In front of him, Potter grunts and slaps his hands against the tree.

“It’s no good!” he says, looking incensed. Trust Potter to be offended at the failure of near-impossible wandless magic. “The magic is coming from too many places.” He throws his head backwards in frustration. Then he stops, and looks at Draco like he’s just heard what he’s said. “The magic is coming from too many places,” he says again, slower this time. Draco looks at him. He realizes what Potter is saying.

“No,” he says, just as Potter says,

“Give me your hand.”

Draco snatches his hands away from Potter, causing his branch to sway dangerously.
“Give me your hand.” Potter says again. When Draco still doesn’t comply he adds, “do you want to die with me in a tree in the middle of the forbidden forest and have everyone realize we’ve gone off together on some sort of madcap magic adventure?” Is that what they’re doing? Draco wonders. It just feels like getting kidnapped.

Hesitantly, he reaches a hand out across the space between them. Potter grabs at it, as if afraid Draco might suddenly snatch it back again. He might’ve.

“Now,” says Potter, Draco’s fingers tight in his. “I need you to give me your magic.” Draco almost does yank his hand back then, loss of fingers be damned.

“I’m not giving you my magic, Potter,” he hisses. Potter tightens his grasp.

“I will use my ghost to tell everyone we were in a magic, mystery solving gang called the Secret Sleuths and that we had a best friend handshake and matching tattoos.” His lip twitches up at the corner, “but I won’t say where.”

The tree lurches. Draco and Potter both jolt sideways, Potter just barely keeping hold of Draco’s hand.

“Fine!” Draco hisses, the moment they’re upright again. “but make it quick!” He’s not sure why he adds that last bit. There’s no reason for it to be quick or not. But it makes Draco feel a little better to think he’s had a say in the matter.

Potter nods like he’s agreeing and Draco feels smug. Then he closes his eyes. He finds his magic where it always is, pooling dark and liquid in the center of his belly. It is the only real elegance he has, where everything else comes from, from his speech to his hair, everything is mother gave him that his father or his tutors could never teach. For a moment, he holds himself in his magic, lets it fill him up. Calm him. The way it always does. There were years in his life where Draco could count on nothing else, but he could always count on this: the power he has running through his veins. Draco’s magic is water, liquid and slow. Cool to the touch.

Slowly, so slowly, he lets a trickle of it flow up his spine to his chest, lets it roll down his arm and into his hand. Potter is there. Draco gasps when his magic meets Potter’s. Potter’s magic feels like lightning. It crackles beneath Potter’s skin, roaring to leap out into the world. Draco doesn’t know how there is anything of Potter left, how he isn’t nothing but skin and magic, how he hasn’t already burned down the whole world.

It is only when Potter’s fingers tighten around his that Draco realizes he had almost pulled away. Grimly, he holds on. If Potter can do this, so can he. With a push, Draco adds his magic to the storm inside Potter. There are sparks. Literal sparks. And Draco looks down to see the crackle of power around their joined hands.

Perhaps for the first time, Draco truly understands why the Dark Lord had wanted to take over the world. If this is what it feels to have power, to be a part of the power that Potter has, he doesn’t understand how the Dark Lord ever stopped fighting. Draco feels something warm spread across his chest. It’s not like the Parseltongue, it’s not like dark magic, it’s like being seen.

When this is over, when they are out and alive and living their separate lives, Draco will never forgive Potter for this. Never forgive him for showing him just what magic could be like.

Potter’s eyes flash green. It’s only then that Draco realizes he’d had them closed at all.

“Now!” Potter roars, though Draco can’t tell if Potter is talking to him, or the tree, or himself, or some kind of higher power. Draco thinks all of them would listen, in this moment.

Potter presses their hands to the skin of the tree, grinding their fingers down against the bark. He doesn’t speak words, he doesn’t call on some old, strange syllables, he just opens his mouth, and thunders.

The tree stops. The forest stops. Draco’s breath stops. A single leaf drifts from the canopy to glide past Potter’s shoulder. Everything else in the world has gone wildly still. Draco can feel his heart beat in his chest. It seems to be spelling out Potter’s name.

There is only a moment of warning before their bodies plunge to the ground.

 

When Draco comes too, the world is dark. His hand has slipped from Potter’s. His magic feels spent, lacking, like muscles sore from a run, like whatever it is you’re running from. Potter lays beside him. His hair a mess of static curls.

Draco leans over to shake his awake, and a jolt of electricity leaps from Potter’s body to his. He recoils.

“Potter,” he says, very loudly. “If you do not come to this instant I will tell everyone I heroically saved your life and you admitted to a clandestine affair with the giant squid in your terror.” That last bit may even be true, Draco thinks vaguely. The best threats are.

Potter stirs, rubbing his eyes behind his glasses so they are in danger of sliding off his face. Only the curve of the wire over his ears saves them.

“What happened?” he asks, voice muffled by his hands.

“You preformed unheard of wandless magic and saved us both.” Draco says in a deadpan. “And I think you may have stopped time a little bit.”

Potter nods, dazed. “Good,” he says.

“You’re not surprised?” Draco asks, incensed. He seems to always be incensed around Potter.

Potter shrugs. “I defeated Voldemort twice. Once as a baby.” He says, as though this is an explanation. Draco supposes it is. With a shiver he remembers the thrum of power coursing through Potter’s veins.

He lifts his chin, suddenly haughty. “I’m a little surprised it took you so long that second time,” he says.

Potter laughs, “Me too,” he admits. “But I did have to track down and kill different parts of his soul.”

Draco does not even bother to stare. “One day,” he says, “you will tell me exactly what you were up to while I was busy making out with Blaise Zabini.”

Potter raises an eyebrow. “Blaise Zabini?” he says, impressed. Draco is suddenly very proud of himself. Potter isn’t the only one with skills. Maybe Draco can’t halt the world with a single breath, but he can pull.

“Yes.” He says. “Prospects were better before the war.” Potter laughs again and shoves his arm. It’s a terribly Gryffindor action. Draco is suddenly pleased, but he schools his features. He can’t risk letting Potter see it.

“Expensive flowers,” he says, instead of shoving Potter back.

“What?” Potter asks, beginning to make the move to climb to his feet.

“I want expensive flowers left at my grave, when we meet our inevitable deaths in this murder forest.”

A wry smile curves Potter’s lips. “Expensive flowers.” He agrees.

 

After much walking (and complaining, on Draco’s part) they make it back to the edge of the forest and collect their wands. The place is easy to find, as the roots of the kidnapping tree have left behind great gouges in the earth, ending in a pit where they first pulled themselves from the ground. It only takes a little searching to find their wands, discarded like so many twigs on the forest floor. Draco suspects that Potter uses a little of his residual power to track them down. He doesn’t say anything.

That is, until they are safely out of the forest and walking back up to the castle. The grounds stretch out before them, dark and soft in the moonlight, promising a secret magic.

“So that was something,” he says, looking straight ahead. It’s painfully inadequate, painfully lacking in comparison to what had happened, what Potter had done, but it’s a start.

“Yeah,” Potter says. His breath moves the air in front of him and something inside Draco breaks.

“Merlin, Potter,” he breathes, “We could burn down the castle.” Then something occurs to hi, a thought so big and lovely he can barely put it to words. “We could fix the castle,” he says, quietly. The idea tugs at his stomach, takes root. “Potter, we could fix the castle.” He’s suddenly never been so sure of anything, can feel it in his bones, in the place where his magic and Potter’s met. There is something old and vital here, a secret that’s been buried for generations. It feels like ego, to think and Potter could do this. It feels like truth.

Potter is looking at him, the dirt of the forest still painting freckles on his face. His eyes are unsure, roving Draco’s face as if for answers. Draco has to convince him. He has to. If anyone can do this, this impossible, magical thing, it is Potter. And Draco desperately needs to convince him. For once in his life, Draco’s going to be part of something good.

“Potter,” he says, whirling on him. He places hands on Potter’s shoulders. “How did the founders raise the castle?” he knows Potter knows. He’s seen the light of Potter’s wand, glowing far into the night, over pages of text, when even Draco has surrendered to sleep.

Potter looks as him. Really looks at him. Draco has the urge to turn away. He holds on. “Together,” Potter says, like it’s a secret. Like it’s truth. “They raised it together.”

Draco crows, letting his voice echo up into the endless sky. Something is growing inside him. Something wonderful. A smile starts to spread across Potter’s face. It is small and tentative, but it is growing. Draco’s hands are on Potter’s neck. He pushes their foreheads together, just like that, his own smile spreading, something electric beneath his skin. They could do this. They could save everything. They could build a home.

There is laughter in Potter’s eyes. The giddiness is catching. He hooks his hands over Draco’s wrists. He doesn’t move them away. Electricity sings through Draco’s veins. He throws his head back, yells, something joyful and wordless, howled at the moon. There is an echoing howl from the forest and Potter is laughing too, free and open, he pushes Draco forward, moving them both through the night up towards the castle.

“Come on, you madman,” he says, “Let’s see where this goes.”

Potter leads them to the garden beyond the green houses. In the moonlight, the dying plants shine silver, as if with frost. Potter lays a hand on a leaf. It curls up to him, desperately reaching for the light Potter has beneath his skin.

“I think you should do it, this time,” Potter says, “because of where your magic lives.” Draco is impressed that Potter was listening. That he’s learning this. His father was wrong, he thinks, not for the first time, magic like this can be taught. Perhaps it is stronger, when it is learned.

Draco raises a hand over a potted Shrieking Violet. The delicate purple blossoms are curled in on themselves. One lets out a feeble croon, nothing like its normal scream. Tentatively, Draco pushes his fingers into the soil. He feels it close over his fingers, feels his magic reach for it by instinct, flow down his hand and into his fingertips, feels the moment where it’s halted, the boundary it cannot breach. He breathes in.

Potter lays a hand against his arm. Draco would say that, this time, he’s ready for Potter’s magic, ready for the jolt of power. Draco would be lying. It hits him like a lightning bolt, like magic. Draco can feel it beneath his own skin, shocking and sparking. The enormity of the power fills him up again, and he must fight to remember what he is doing, fight to do anything besides sit with it, let it burn him whole.

He twitches his fingers in the dirt, feels the call of roots, the parched leaves, the dying flowers, and he pushes. Magic jumps from his fingers, nearly pushing him back into Potter, but he holds on. It flows from his stomach and down his arms and suddenly the air is full of shrieks. Every single one of the Shrieking Violets, every single one of them, has come alive. Their cries shatter the night. Their leaves are full and glossy beneath the moonlight.

Power sings in Draco’s hand. It is a struggle to stop the flow, to remove his hand and lay it instead on the trunk of a Wounded Willow. He closes his eyes. He breathes in.

They heal all the plants in the green house gardens in two hour. The sun is pushing up from beneath the hills by the time they stumble back to their dorm. Draco’s skin sizzles at a touch. He is never sleeping again.

 

*******

 

Draco falls asleep in Muggle Studies. Potter is not in class, as usual, so Draco alone finds himself snoring in the back of the class.

He’s shaken awake by Weasley. Waking to ginger hair might be the most disconcerting experience of Draco’s life. He gives a little yelp and jerks back in his seat, accidently pressing his bruised side against the wood. He winces and recoils, only to find Granger and Weasley looking at him with concern. This. This must be the most disconcerting experience of Draco’s life.

“What?” he snarls. Except it comes out more as a whine. His waist really does hurt quite a lot. That tree had a grip on it.

“Are you alright, Malfoy?” Granger asks tentatively, and Draco would growl at her, tell her that he doesn’t think it’s her business, thank you very much, but just then he doesn’t know why he would.

“I’m fine,” he yawns, “just tired. Late night last night.”

Weasley and Granger share a look. “Has Harry been sleeping?” Granger asks, carefully. Draco shrugs. He’s probably been sleeping as much as Draco has, at any rate. They seem to be getting along ok.

“Sort of,” he says. It’s as much of an answer as he has. Granger’s brow furrows.

“Has he been eating?” She asks, and Draco is opening his mouth to say yes when he realizes that he doesn’t actually know. Potter doesn’t seem to come to meals anymore. Draco hasn’t seen him in the Great Hall for about a week.

“I don’t know,” he says, finally. “The house elves are all a little bit in love with him, they could be bringing him meals. And he knows how to get into the kitchens.” It’s as good an answer as he has.

Granger nods. Her brow is still furrowed. “That’s what I thought,” she says, “Thanks for looking after him, as much as you have,” beside her, miraculously, Weasley nods too. Draco blinks. He didn’t realize that what he had been doing. He remembers Potter’s face in the forest, bright and alive in the face of disaster. He sees Potter’s empty seat at the Gryffindor table. The two images rest disorientingly together in his mind.

Draco feels something growing in his throat, the beginnings of a promise he doesn’t understand. Something he can’t quite look at full on.

“You’re welcome,” he says, finally, and means it.

Granger smiles. Her eyes really are the most beautiful shade of brown. “I made you a copy of the notes,” she says, and Draco realizes she has. There are two, neat pages of Hermione’s hand writing sitting in front of him. Even though Hermione, a muggle-born, already knows everything there is to know about the class, and doesn’t need to take notes at all.

Draco doesn’t know what to say. He resolves he will bring Potter a plate from dinner. He resolves.

 

*******

 

He finds Potter in the hallway outside of the converted Potions classroom. Potter is staring at the wall like it personally wronged him. Draco doesn’t know what Potter did with his day. Maybe it did.

“Here,” he says, and shoves a sandwich made from dinner’s leftovers into Potter’s hand. Potter looks at it for a minute, like he’s not sure what it is. Draco’s pretty sure it’s a sandwich. He had Pansy help him with it. Potter takes a bite, and then, to Draco’s horror, shoves the whole thing into the pocket of his robes. He’s going to have crumbs everywhere. He’ll probably track them into the room. Draco is going to have to explain crumbs to the house elves, least they think he’s the one who’s messed up the room so much.

Potter is busy staring at the wall like he didn’t just shove his dinner into his robes and Draco, for the sake of his own sanity, is forced to pretend he didn’t.

“Come here,” Potter orders, and practically drags Draco’s arm to him when he doesn’t move fast enough.

It takes Draco a moment to recover from being man handled by Harry Potter (King of the Wizarding World, their Holy Lord and Savior). He lets out an indignant squawk he sort of manages to turn into a cough. Potter doesn’t seem to believe him.

“What?” Draco says, as Potter brusquely pushes up the sleeve of Draco’s robes and wraps a tan hand around his wrist. He’s still chewing, for Merlin’s sake.

“It’s not working,” Potter says, through his mouthful of sandwich. “I need your help.” It takes Draco a moment to recover from Potter needing anything from him at all.

“Fine,” he says, as if this whole thing had been his idea all along, and he hadn’t just literally been dragged into place.

The moment the words leave Draco’s lips, Potter’s magic leaps at him. There is a blinding tingle in Draco’s fingers, then Potter’s magic is pulling at his skin, insistent and demanding, and Draco wonders madly what they’re doing, if Potter is truly about to eat him whole.

“Potter,” he manages, somehow managing to keep his voice calm and measured, “if you do not calm down, I will not be able to help you,” It’s not exactly the truth, not exactly what will happen if Potter’s magic keeps tugging at him, but it is close enough to the truth that there is no tremor in his voice. Potter eases. His hand loosens around Draco’s wrist.

“Sorry,” he mutters, “I didn’t – I wasn’t thinking.” He turns away. Potter is flustered, Draco realizes, the Great Gryffindor Hero made a mistake. The glee of it centers Draco’s feet on the flagstones.

“Just take a breath,” he orders, and doesn’t continue until Potter does. Then he lets a trickle of his magic roll down his arm and pool in Potter’s palm. Potter shifts his grip, takes Draco’s hand. It is not a war this time. It is an alliance.

It is also, Draco realizes with a start, that they are holding hands. In the middle of the hallway. Where anyone could walk by. He hadn’t realized, in the dark of the night and the forest. He wills himself, stoically, intently, not to blush. He will never hear the end of it if he blushes. Pansy will find out, somehow. She’ll never stop laughing at him.

“Right,” he says, because Potter is just standing there still, his hand in Draco’s. There’s something terribly Hufflepuff about it, this sharing magic business. “What were you working on?”

Potter uses their clasped hands to point to a crack running the length of the wall where light is filtering in. For a moment, Draco is distracted by the dark shade of Potter’s fingers against his own, but he shakes his head, and bites his check for good measure, and turns his attention to the wall. If he looks very carefully, and doesn’t blame it on air currents, he can see the way fragments of rock, as small as dust, are flowing from the crack and out into the open air. The castle is losing itself, bit by bit.

Potter raises their hands. He doesn’t ask, but Draco lets it slide, as he feels his magic drawn from their clasped hands. Potter doesn’t bother with his wand. He has it tucked behind his ear, in a manner that sends chills up Draco’s spine. He can’t even imagine what his etiquette teacher would say about that. It seems to Draco that sometimes, Potter’s wand just slows him down. Instead of plucking it from his hair, Potter spreads his free hand against the stone. Draco feels the draw of magic quicken, feels Potter pull it from his skin and roll it across his tongue, speaking ancient words.

Potter’s eyes narrow. His tongue darts out from between his teeth. His voice rises, then falls flat. There is silence in the corridor. Draco realizes that he’s been looking at Potter’s face, and not the crack in the wall. Quickly he turns, expecting to see smooth stone, but the crack is still there. Potter tries again, his words clipped and demanding. The crack shivers. Surely now it will heal, surely now the stone will begin to grow back together, but after a moment, the shiver stops. Dust continues to flow through the hole.

Potter throws Draco’s hand from his.

“It’s hopeless,” he growls, and Draco suddenly sees the rock dust in his hair, the sweat at his temples.

“How long have you been at this?” he asks.

“Not long,” Potter says, “around breakfast.”

“Potter,” Draco blinks, something unpleasant rising in his stomach. “It’s after dinner.” He says. Something of an accusation must slip through his voice, because Potter growls,

“Good for you for keeping time. It must be nice, to have skills like that. Is that why the Death Eaters recruited you?” Another time, in another day, Draco would’ve risen to the bait before Potter’s mouth had even closed over the last word. He would have lunged at Potter with all he had, no temperance, no caution, but now, Potter is sagging against the wall in front of him. His hand has just been in his.

“No,” he says instead, “then recruited me for my charm.” He brushes a smudge of dust from his robes. “And because I know the proper place settings for high tea,” He tips his head at Potter, “which might not sound impressive you, because you’re a plebian, but has seven different forks and three different ways of folding the napkins.”

Potter laughs, startled as the sound leaves his throat. They both know Draco was recruited as a pureblood and a bargaining piece.

Draco finishes smoothing his robes. Potter’s are a lost cause, even before the addition of a pocket sandwich.

“Are you finished?” he asks, and Potter ducks his head.

“Yeah,” he mumbles. And just like that, a battle is adverted. Just like that. It won’t be until later, when it is quite and dark in the dormitory, that Draco will realize he willingly turned down a fight with Harry Potter. Growth. What a concept.

“Good,” Draco says. He eyes the wall. The light from outside gleams tauntingly at him. “If we can’t heal it ourselves, what are we going to do?” Somehow, he knows the answer isn’t going to be leave it alone. Or tell an adult. In his young life, Potter has done many things, but none of them have been to leave things alone or tell an adult.

Potter’s face brightens. “I have an idea,” he says, and begins to lead Draco down the hall. His gait is slightly unsteady. Draco does not ask him if he’s ok. He doubts Potter would allow it, doubts Potter would hear him over the wild beat of his own heart. Instead, he deliberately drags his feet, stretching the distance between them and wherever Potter is leading. “Eat your sandwich.” He says, and is rewarded when Potter does.

 

*******

 

It takes them forever to reach the Second Room of Requirement, because Malfoy is dawdling and Harry, for some reason, doesn’t want to leave him behind. By the time the bright blue door pops out of the wall (and really, when did Neville manage to get it to hide, anyway? How did he manage to get it to hide?) Harry is brushing crumbs from the front of his robes and Malfoy is smirking at him, for some reason.

Harry’s fist is raised from a firm knock when he realizes what time it is. Late. It must be late. The candles in their holders are burning low, even though the castle could keep them whole, if it wanted. It seems to be trying to tell them to go to bed. Harry brushes off the notion. He’ll go to bed when this is fixed, when they have some sort of answer.

He raises his fist to knock again, only to almost slam it into Ron’s face.

“Ron!” he says, dropping his hand. Ron takes half a step back, then forwards again, when he realizes it’s only Harry. And Malfoy.

“Hi Harry,” he yawns, amiably. Living with a dozen brothers, then a dozen dormmates has turned him into the world’s most agreeable roommate. Harry realizes, suddenly, how much he missed that. But he doesn’t think he could go back, somehow, not now.

“What’s up?” Ron asks, and Harry can see far enough into the room behind him to see the cluster of cots and sleeping bags, as well as the students wandering between them. There seems to be a game of exploding snap going on, where Ginny is leaning between Dean and Seamus, and Luna is curled on the floor in front of them. The light from a fireplace, which Harry could swear was not there the last time he had visited, washes the room with a gentle glow.

“Oh,” he hears Malfoy say softly from behind him, and his gaze shifts to the back of the room where, nonsensically, Gregory Goyle is sitting on a sleeping bag, a stash of comics spread before him. There is a circle of empty space around him, as if the rest of the room’s inhabitants are still wary at his presence, but not so much to say he isn’t wanted. Ron’s cot, emblazoned with the bright orange of The Cannons, is pushed up next to his.

Ron sees where they’re looking, and glances back. “He’s settling in ok,” he tells Malfoy. “We’ve all had to have some hard conversations, and there have been some tense moments, but I think it’s good that we all spend some time together.”

“You’ve been spending a lot of time with Granger,” Malfoy says, and Ron smiles.

“I have been, yeah,” he says, and his face is bright. Harry feels something clench in his stomach, a longing so intense for a moment he cannot speak around it.

“What did you need?” Ron asks, and for a moment, Harry cannot answer. He’s about to try, to put feelings, impossibly, to words, when Malfoy says,

“We wanted to see the cracks in here.”

Ron looks around. He shrugs. “There aren’t any cracks in here,” he says, “at least, not any I noticed.” Behind him, Cho’s sister takes Luna’s hand.

“We found a way to fix the castle,” Harry says, because he’s finally able to speak.

“Oh,” says Ron, “That’s great.” He yawns again. “Can it wait until morning?” Ron had one quest in him, and he has since used it up. No. That’s not true. Ron has plenty of quests in him. He’s just learned to pace himself.

Harry is about to say that of course, it can’t wait, the castle is crumbling, for God sake, when he feels Malfoy’s hand on his shoulder. Ron’s eyes follow it.

“Of course it can,” Malfoy says, because he is a traitor. And when Harry opens his mouth to object, Malfoy tugs, unbalancing Harry on his feet (and really, when did the ground get so unstable?) and for some reason Ron is smiling.

“We’ll see you in the morning, then.” He says, and Malfoy pulls him away.

Harry is ready to gouge his eyes out, to insist that they have to fix the problem now, or it won’t get fixed at all, but then they’re at they’re in the hall, and Malfoy is maneuvering him past the stuck suit of armor and Harry blinks and they’re standing in their room. Malfoy is already dressed for bed.

Harry wonders how long he’s been standing there, stuck to the floor. He can feel his magic buzzing in his veins, jolting through his blood in lightning flashes. He can feel every hair on his body, every single one of his teeth, the pounding of blood in his ears. He thinks, suddenly, of the waves rocking into the shore of the tiny island they stayed on before his world was changed forever. He feels like that island, lost in a roaring sea, on the brink of something. There is lightning at his fingertips, thunder behind his teeth.

Stars burst behind his eyes. He blinks them away and the room is dark. Malfoy is in bed, moving the covers up over his stomach. Harry sways. He can’t move, can’t sleep, can’t think. The whole world is power, thrumming through his body. He’s so tired his eyes hurt. If he opens his mouth the world will burn down. It hurts to breathe.

When Malfoy looks at him, it’s as if all of this is written on his face. Harry tries not to let any noise escape his lips. He so badly wants to sleep, to stop, but his magic is running him ragged. The room is static. Harry is never sleeping again.

Then there is a shift. Malfoy throws off his blankets. “Come here you absolute madman.” he says, but not unkindly, and somehow, Harry goes. Malfoy’s bed is soft and warm. He must’ve been lying there a long time.

Carefully, as though Harry is a tender thing, Malfoy tucks Harry up under his chin. Then he leans forward and kisses Harry’s head. Harry freezes. Malfoy freezes. Around them, the room freezes.

“I’m not – I didn’t – um. Sorry?” Malfoy arms tense around Harry’s shoulders. His voice in the dark sounds mortified. It lifts up in a squeak at the end of his apology.

It is this that breaks Harry. His laughter comes like the tide rolling in, like the sea swallowing the land. He laughs until his magic is pouring out of him in waves. He laughs until he can’t breathe. He laughs until he is sure his voice has gone hoarse in his throat, and then he laughs some more.

“Well I’m glad you thought it was funny, Potter,” Malfoy scoffs. “That was probably the most embarrassing moment of my adult life, but no, no, please laugh at my pain.” And Harry does. What a funny way for the tides to turn, after everything.

He is left boneless. Malfoy’s arms have loosened around him and he’s breathing in little huffs in Harry’s hair.

“My mother used to do that, when I was upset.” Malfoy says, peevishly, as though he is accusing and explaining both. Harry feels the last of his laughter lap at his throat, then die away. The darkness sways around them, dreamlike.

“It was nice,” Harry says, finally, his voice quiet in the dark room. Here, everything feels like a secret.

“Hmm,” Malfoy hums loftily, shifting them slightly into the blankets. “Of course it was.” Harry is asleep before he can hear another word.

 

*******

 

Draco wakes to the light knifing in through the open window, and to Potter – sprawled out all over him – because even though he’s shorter, he’s not that much shorter. And he’s built like the fucking Hogwarts Express, solid.

“Potter,” he says, poking his arm, “Potter wake up.”

Potter does. Then promptly falls off the bed.

“What happened?” he squeaks. His hair is a disaster, sticking up at all ends like it’s never even heard the threat of a brush.

Draco soothes the blankets with a steady hand. “We slept together,” he snaps, “what do you think happened.”

Potter’s eyes go comically wide. “No,” he whines.

Draco has the urge to throw a pillow at him, so he does. “Not like that you complete, toadstool,” though really, Potter should be flattered, thank-you-very-much, “I mean you hogged the blankets and tried to compress my lungs into a single organ.” He winces. “And you may have succeeded.” Really, he’s going to have to take on liability insurance, if he keeps hanging around with Potter. His chest is already a mottle of bruises from the overly-enthusiastic tree.

Recollection is beginning to dawn on Potter’s face. There is a moment where he is embarrassed, and Malfoy is gratified to see a blush begin to color his cheeks, but then a smile begins to spread in its wake and Draco feels his stomach drop.

“You kissed my head!” Potter crows, suddenly gleeful. It’s as if he’s just won the quidditch cup and discovered that Cornelius Fudge had been charmed into a literal confection.

Draco feels himself begin to blush too, the color rising unseemingly. Potter sees it.

“You did!” he exclaims. Because I was upset and you wanted me to feel better!” His smile is gargantuan, “You did something nice!” He jabs an accusing finger at Malfoy’s chest and Draco bats it away.

“Well you liked it!” Draco hisses.

“I did!” Potter exclaims, still excited by his win. “It made me feel safe!” They both realize what he’s said at approximately the same time. There’s a moment where it looks like Potter’s going to try and take it back.

Then, “Good!” Draco yells.

“Fine!” Potter yells back, and Draco throws another pillow at him. He is now pillow-less, and Potter has two, so he is unsurprised when they both come flying back at his face. He wonders when fighting with Potter turned into this. He’s not sure he misses the old way. Well, maybe just a little.

There’s a knock at their door. Both of them freeze like they’ve just been caught doing something, Draco with a pillow raised in one hand, Potter lunging to his bed to re-load.

The knock comes again. “Harry?” Granger’s voice rings through the door. “Are you alright? We heard yelling.”

Draco and Potter exchange a look, each armed with a pillow. Then Potter flings his down, “Hermione,” he begins, “You’ll never believe –” Draco lunges. He leaps at Potter’s back as he crosses to the door, and slaps a hand over his mouth.

Which is why Granger opens the door to Draco hanging off Potter’s back, one hand over his face, and the other grappling with his shoulder. She gapes.

Pansy, however, glides into the room like there’s nothing out of the ordinary. She’s wearing a gauzy pink dressing gown, hemmed in fur, and couldn’t care less what Potter and Draco are up to.

“Darlings,” she drawls, “No, no, don’t stop on my account, it looks like things are just getting good.” Then she sits herself down on Potter’s bed and looks at them expectantly.

Draco slides off Potter’s back. Both of them look at the ground. Nothing makes or kills a moment like the presence of Pansy Parkinson. A smile creeps across Pansy’s face. She pats the bed beside her.

“Come on,” she says to the doorway, “They won’t bite. Well,” and Draco glares at he until he’s sure she won’t finish the sentence. It’s not his fault Pansy knows how he fights. Which is dirty.

Granger and Weasley step into the room. Granger still looks like she’s sure she interrupted something, and Draco can’t protest without making himself look more suspicious. Potter, disaster-haired and painfully oblivious, seems delighted to see them.

“Hermione! Ron!” he exclaims. And for a moment, Draco is sure he’s going to wrap them both in a hug. Weasley is looking around the room.

“Why is your furniture all up against the walls?” he asks. Potter hesitates. He looks at Draco. Draco is still not sure why Potter’s been hiding all this time, but clearly it’s time to tell them. If only Potter knew how.

Draco finds himself stepping in, coming to Potter’s rescue, ridiculously enough. “I’ve been giving Potter lessons,” he says, loftily. Granger looks interested. Weasley looks surprised.

“Lessons on what?” he asks, “how to be a pompous git?” Granger elbows him, “er,” he corrects, “on etiquette?” Draco should give Potter lessons on etiquette, that’s not a bad idea.

“He’s been teaching me to use different parts of my magic,” Potter confesses in a rush.

“Different parts of your magic?” Weasley asks, “How so?”

Potter rubs his arm. Smugly, Draco realizes it’s in exactly the same spot his pillow hit earlier. “Well,” he says, “you know how magic comes from different places in your body?” Potter asks.

Weasley nods, “yeah,” he says, as though this is the most obvious thing in the world. Ron is old magic after all, as much as Draco’s family wants everyone to forget.

“Well I didn’t,” Harry says in a rush.

Weasley looks at him. “Huh,” he says.

“Oh Harry,” Granger says, her face suddenly shaded in concern.

“No one ever told me,” Harry says, defensively, “or if they did, I wasn’t listening,” Draco thinks of all the references his professors have made to the magic system throughout the years, and the way it must’ve soared over Potter’s head. Maybe he thought it was a metaphor. Maybe he just wasn’t paying attention. “And it’s not like I could ask my parents,” Potter continues, and the room becomes slightly more uncomfortable. Draco is suddenly aware of everyone breathing.

“I just don’t understand,” Granger says, “It’s in so many books, half of the ones we read on Nicholas Flamel, or when we were researching the,” she pauses, looks at Pansy and Draco, lowers her voice, “potion.” Pansy is busy looking down at her nails and doesn’t notice anything. As Draco watches, she pulls a nail file from gods know where and begins buffing. Draco wonders why on earth the golden trio spent their time looking up some dusty old alchemist. The Gryffindor common room must really be boring as hell.

“The books you read,” Potter says, gently, as though he is being gentle with both himself and Granger. “I never read most of them, and you never thought to mention it, because it’s something everyone knows.”

Understanding dawns on Granger’s face, “Unless they’ve saved the world as an infant, and so everyone assumes they know all about the basic principles of magic.” she says slowly. Then, as though she’s remembering something, “I’d have read all about it, if it was me.”

Potter nods. “Exactly,” he says.

Beside Granger, Weasley is frowning. “I don’t get it,” he says, and Draco has the urge to mock him, but he continues, and Draco feels his mouth snap shut. “This must be happening to other people, other half-bloods or muggleborns who aren’t as well-read as Hermione,” He tips his head at her and she takes the compliment, “who no one thought to explain this to. Hell,” he says, “I don’t remember anyone ever explaining it to me, it was just something I knew. It’s such a part of magic I didn’t realize anyone didn’t, but if you didn’t grow up with it,” he trails off. Draco feels chagrinned. He hadn’t even thought of that.

But Weasley’s right, of course, he can’t remember his mother or his tutors (never his father) sitting him down and explaining magic to him, it was just what it was. It was in little things he picked up along the way – the way his mother held her wand to light a fire, the tingle at the base of his neck under the full moon, the way plants seemed to bend at his touch.

“I just always thought the things I was feeling, the different pushes and pulls, and such, was because I was the Chosen One,” Potter says.

“Harry,” Granger looks at him like she can’t believe his logic.

“Well I didn’t know!” Potter exclaims, “I can talk to snakes! Stuff is weird!”

Draco feels a tingle on his forearm, like something is curling and uncurling. He puts an arm over his shirtsleeve. Pansy’s eyes follow the movement. She raises an eyebrow.

“Potter can leach dark magic.” He says, because he can, and he owes it to Potter to say it. Potter wouldn’t think to on his own. Draco’s not even sure if Potter knows that’s what he did.

“Oh,” Granger looks at him. He can see the gears working in her head. “That’s,” she pauses, “different.” The way she says it, Draco’s not sure she believes him. She’s not sure she should believe him, all things considered, but this is about Potter and Draco owes him.

With a sigh, he shoves up his sleeve. Granger starts, flinching away slightly from the idea of the mark, but then she looks down. Really looks. Draco feels a shift on his skin and realizes that the snake has unfurled from its sleeping position to wrap around his arm. He feels the whisper of snakeskin against his own.

“How did he do that?” Granger breathes. Without asking, she steps forward, and leans down to peer at the tattoo. Draco lets her.

“He spoke Parseltongue.” He says. “It wasn’t pleasant.” Behind Granger’s head, Potter smirks. Draco scowls at him.

“I’m not sure that’s really possible.” Granger says. She raises a tentative finger and pokes at the tail of the tattoo, it squirms farther up Draco’s arm.

“It’s not?” Potter asks, voice higher than normal.

“Well it shouldn’t be,” Granger murmurs, still peering at Draco’s arm. Potter’s wide eyes meet Draco’s and he shrugs, comically.

Draco can’t help it. He wants to laugh. Here’s Potter, disaster Gryffindor, charmer of snakes, hogger of blankets, full to the brim with impossible things. He does not tell Granger that Potter now uses his wand as often as not. That’s a secret he’ll let Potter keep until he’s ready, but he does file the moment away for later use: Potter, standing in his bare feet and bedhead, realizes he’s preformed impossible magic (twice before breakfast) and all to take away some of the darkness in Draco’s life. Later, Draco will hold this moment like it is something precious in his hand.

On the bed, Pansy has finished filing her nails and is clearly bored. That, or she’s strategically guiding the conversation away from where Potter isn’t ready for it to go. It’s hard to tell with Pansy.

“What’s this I hear about you figuring out how to fix the castle?” she asks. Draco is momentarily surprised Pansy has noticed that there’s anything wrong with the castle at all, and then feels ashamed for thinking this. Of course Pansy noticed. How could anyone not? The castle is their home. They’ve grown with it, as much as it’s grown with them. It’s been the catalyst for their magic, the sturdy base as they experimented, and failed, and tried again. And now it needs their help.

Potter looks a little uncomfortable, like he’s sure someone is going to tell him he’s done the impossible again. “So we’ve figured out a way to combine magic,” he says, his voice hesitant. “It hasn’t worked on everything, but it helps fix things where one type of magic isn’t enough.” He pauses. “We fixed the plants behind the green house,” he confesses, “and defeated a magical kidnapping tree.

“That was you?” Granger asks, just as Weasley says,

“You got kidnapped by a tree?”

“Yeah,” Potter says, nodding at both of them, “we were in the forest, and,”

“Oh Harry,” Granger sighs, “You can’t keep going back there.” Something in her voice answers something for Draco. Potter disappearing, the ease with which he moved beneath the trees, his overall eagerness to court his own death. Potter is turning in on himself. Looking ashamed. Something clicks in Draco.

“I made us go,” he says, “I noticed something on my morning runs, the Hogwarts gargoyle’s gathering in the forest.” If Potter wants to keep skipping class and re-visiting the place where he died, then fine. It’s weird and morbid, and probably not all that healthy, but if Potter needs it, then Draco’s certainly not going to stand in his way. Potter saved the entire wizarding word, for Slytherin’s sake, he’s allowed to go a little off the deep end. He’s allowed to want something a little for himself, to need to hold his own death in his hand.

Potter is looking at him like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. Like gratitude. Draco raises an eyebrow, pushes his sleeve further up his arms, crosses them.

“You go running?” Weasely asks.

“Ron,” Granger admonishes, “that is clearly not the most important part of that sentence.” She turns to Draco. “You found the gargoyles?”

“You’ve been looking for them?” Potter asks, surprised.

“Of course,” Granger says, “We didn’t want to worry you, but they really should be back by now.” Beside her, Weasley nods. Of course Granger and Weasley were looking for the gargoyles. They probably had a map of the castle with little pins in it, marking every place something was broken or out of place, accompanied by Granger’s neat scrawl.

“We found them, yes,” Draco says, his head beginning to spin with all of the questions. “They’re sacrificing themselves, trying to use the old magic to save the castle.”

Granger purses her lips. “I was afraid of that,” she says. “It’s really a last stand defense, when there’s nothing for them to physically attack.” Draco remembers the gargoyles. The sheer size of their rock bodies and the timber of their voices. The thought of them physically attacking anything sends shivers down his spine.

“But we found a way to help them,” Potter says, “To add our magic to the cause.”

“Of course,” says Granger, and Draco can practically hear her snapping her fingers, “that was how the founders did it, why they were able to raise the castle at all. I’ve always thought it was their willingness to work together, to combine their skills, but it must’ve been a literal combination of their magic.” Draco can see the facts slotting into place in Granger’s head. It really is a terribly awesome thing to watch. He realizes, suddenly, just why it is that people call her the cleverest witch of her age. This conversation will probably end up in history books. Draco wishes he wasn’t wearing pajamas. Or sporting bruises from an overly enthusiastic pillow fight. Maybe he’ll bribe the editor to put him in formal wear. With some sort of dapper hat.

The gears in Granger’s mind continue to whir, “it’s so simple, really, once you think of it, you’d just have to push your magic together, to invite the other in. It would probably help if you were physically grounded, but standing shoulder to shoulder would suffice.”

Potter chokes. Draco feels himself going red. Granger realizes.

“Why,” she asks, “what did you do?”

“We stood shoulder to shoulder,” Potter lies, like the lying liar he is. It’s a wonder Slytherins are the ones with the bad reputation.

Granger looks at him like she doesn’t quite believe him, but doesn’t argue. Potter really is a truly terrible liar, but it seems Granger lets him have his secrets.

“And of course it would work best with different types of magic,” Hermione muses.

“Of course,” Potter says, as though he is participating in a truly serious conversation and hasn’t just lied to her face.

“We’ll need some Hufflepuffs,” Hermione really does snap her fingers this time, already miles ahead of the rest of them.

“I do love a good Hufflepuff,” Pansy purrs. Draco looks at her,

“No you don’t,” he says, “you love a bad Slytherin,” It’s such a cheesy sentence he can’t quite believe the words have left his mouth. Pansy brings out the worst in him.

“What do you know, darling?” She coos, “I’m branching out.” Draco supposes they all are.

From across the room, he meets Potter’s eyes. Neither of them had mentioned Potter’s weird flower tomb, or the way the first time Potter had used Draco’s magic he had had no wand at all, and very little actual grounding, just himself and Draco, 20 feet above the ground. Draco remembers the paleness of the flowers, the way the light in the clearing had painted Potter’s skin, the sacred quiet. He knows they both probably almost died there (Potter for the second time), but in the moments before the clearing had held them both like precious things. He isn’t ready to share that. He’s not sure Potter would want him too. When Potter meets his eyes, he can tell that’s what he’s thinking too, that when Potter dips his head, it means thanks you.

 

*******

 

Harry swears the Second Room of Requirement has doubled in size. There seem to be twice as many sleeping bags lining the walls, twice as many heads ducked together over games of cards and piles of books. Harry wonders how there are anyone left in their assigned dormitories at all.

Hermione has just finished explaining their plan to Neville, that they will assign teams and take the castle in sections, the older students working on the more complicated projects. It will take time, she tells him, but she thinks with all of them working they can manage it.

Neville nods, considering, “Well I’m not going to make anyone do it,” he says, “But I think we should still have enough to get a good start on it. It is a good idea.”

Harry bristles. “What do you mean you’re not going to make anyone do it? Why wouldn’t they all help?”

Neville ignores the edge in his tone. “They just survived a war,” he says, “they’re tired, they need to study for exams. Some of them just need to sleep.”

Harry is about to say that he just survived a war too, thank you very much, but he’s still pulling his weight, when he feels a pressure against his foot. He looks down. Malfoy’s foot has knocked against his, so lightly it looks like an accident, but it takes the temper out of him.

“That’s fine,” he says instead, “Whoever you think is up for it.”

It turns out, quite a few of them are up for it. They have Harry and Malfoy, Ron and Hermione, and Pansy of course, but also Neville, Ginny, Dean and Seamus, Luna, Goyle, the Patils, Lavender, Ernie McMillon, and a handful of other students. Harry notices that Cho’s sister is among them. Hermione tells him her name is Violet. Harry still can’t quite meet her eyes. He wonders if Cho ever got his letter, if she hasn’t written back because she’s busy, or because she doesn’t know what to say. Harry doesn’t blame her, either way.

They get to work. It reminds Harry of the Dumbledore’s Army days, them all working together, side by side, leaning over to correct someone’s grip or suggest a different spell. At first they all turn to him, naturally as their leader, because he is Harry Potter, and the Chosen One, and supposed to know what he’s doing, but soon he finds himself hanging back, letting Neville or Ginny take the lead, and the other’s follow. It is a natural shift. They were the ones who led them during the war, after all. A few of the students still tremble when Harry walks by. He doesn’t even know all their names. But Neville has given them a home, and Ginny has sat up with them while they were missing their homes or worrying about their family, distracting them with games of cards and tales from the quidditch pitch, and suddenly Harry understands what Neville said about just needing to sleep. Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing, after all.

It isn’t that Harry has lost his skill as a teacher. He’s still kept busy showing Dean how to find his center, or Luna how to extend her arm just so. It’s just that, for the first time in his life, no one is looking to him to save them all. He is exhaustingly, monumentally glad.

More often than not, he finds himself standing side-by-side in some dusty hallway with Draco Malfoy, arms pressed together and wands raised at some stubborn suit of armor or broken portrait. When it is just the two of them, Harry doesn’t bother with his wand at all. So far, Malfoy has not told anyone. It feel weird, to share these secrets with Malfoy, but Harry finds he doesn’t mind.

The walls are the hardest part, the actual stone of the castle. Malfoy and Harry try three different times, in three different spots, first with Harry using a wand, then without, then with them using each other’s wands (which is weird and strange and they don’t tell anyone about) but each time, the wall simply trembles and refuses to mend.

The third time, Harry swears the air blue, then violet, then back to blue again. His toes are bruised from kicking stone. Malfoy has a dogged look about him. There is sweat on his brow. Of everyone, Malfoy can keep up with him the best, but even he is beginning to flag as Harry roars the air raw and glares at the castle like it’s personally offended him. It has.

“Potter,” Malfoy says, just as he’s winding up to kick again. “Potter stop.” He’s leaning into the wall and panting slightly, clearly exhausted after their last attempt. “I know you’re a Gryffindor, and thus above this, but just stop and think.”

Harry is about the bite back that he’s about to be above something, which doesn’t even make sense, but that’s how frustrated he is, when realizes he doesn’t mean it. It’s just Malfoy, after all. Malfoy calling him names doesn’t really mean anything.

He stops. He thinks. “We need the others.” He says. Malfoy nods. He straightens up, brushing off his robes.

“So it would seem,” he says.

 

They find Pansy, Ron and Hermione, Luna, and Cho’s sister working on a painting in the library. Hermione has up righted the sofa and Luna is coaxing the occupants back into the frame. Beside her, Violet has a hand on her arm, lending her magic in support.

Harry waits until they’re done, barely. His magic is thrumming in his veins, raging to leap into the stone and jolt out through the walls and bind the castle back together. Malfoy puts a hand on his shoulder, to stop him practically leaping at Hermione.

“We need you,” Harry says, the moment Hermione is lowering her wand from the painting. Malfoy’s hand tightens on his shoulder. “When you’re ready.” He amends.

Hermione lowers her wand. She looks at Harry, a slightly amused smile playing across her face, and Harry tries not to take offence. Power flows from his chest, down his arms, itching to jump out into the world. The weight of Malfoy’s hand on his shoulder grounds him. He feels his feet in his shoes, air moving past his ears.

“We want to try a section of the wall,” he says. Hermione’s eyes widen.

“Oh,” she says, “none of us have been able to fix it.” Harry nods.

“We know,” he says. He can feel his toes throb from his last attempt. “But we think all of us together might work.”

Hermione is already nodding, moving forward. Like always, she is the first to stride out of the room, the first to push forward into this new idea. She seems a little sad to leave the library, as she always does, and Harry wonders what other secrets the books hold, what they’ve whispered to her in the stacks, what knowledge they’ve imparted that she cradles so tenderly in her hands.

The wall outside the library is sliced through with a large crack, golden light filtering in from the outside. It seems as good a place to start as any. Maybe the close proximity of the books, all those secrets about the castle, will help somehow, lift their magic.

It feels strange, suddenly, working with all those people, watching as they all file out, one-by-one into the hall to take their place in front of the wall. After so much time spent alone with Malfoy, it feels odd to be part of a group again, to have to wait for multiple pairs of feet to take their place. And when did he get used to just working with Malfoy? The two of them slid into place beside each other so easily somehow, their magic now ready to jump together at the merest suggestion. But really, they’d been working together before that too, investigating the castle, Malfoy teaching him magic, lying awake in the silence of their room, talking about the war. Somehow, Draco Malfoy has become one of the people Harry knows best in the world, and he hadn’t even noticed.

Now that’s a sobering thought. He feels someone’s eyes on him and looks up to catch Pansy’s gaze. She’s looking at him like she knows what he’s thinking, somehow, a smirk turning up the corner of her mouth, and Harry reminds himself to ask Malfoy about the origins of Occlumency. He has a suspicion that it might be old magic. He has a suspicion that Pansy might have a knack for it. It’s a shame, somehow, that so much attention was given to training the men of the war. Together, Hermione, Pansy, and Ginny could take of the world. Hell, throw Luna in there and the world wouldn’t even notice.

Harry shakes himself out of Pansy’s gaze and goes to take his place in the line, which is how he finds himself pressed shoulder with Draco Malfoy on one side and Ginny on the other. Something in his brain short-circuits, briefly, and he stares straight ahead to avoid looking at what it might mean.

Beside Malfoy, Hermione stands side-by-side with Pansy, Luna and Violet filling out the end of the line, Ron beside Ginny. It might be the most mixed group Harry has ever been a part of. He absent-mindedly resolves to spend more time with Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. He is, oddly enough, spending plenty of time with Slytherins. One Slytherin, at least.

“On my count, then” Hermione says, and Harry comes to. There’s a thrumming in the air, an edge of static where his shoulder presses into Malfoy’s, a warmth where it connects with Ginny’s.

He hardly notices when Ginny’s magic touches his skin. It is so similar to his own, it is like adding heat to heat. He feels the familiar lurch of Malfoy’s magic touching his, hears a gasp and a murmur down the line as magic joins magic. It’s a terribly intimate thing they’re doing, all in all, this contact of skin, this sharing of power. If he didn’t know them so well, if it wasn’t Ginny and Malfoy standing beside him, Harry might pull away. He feels a hitch in his throat.

Hermione’s voice is steady as she counts. “One,” she begins. Harry raises his wand. He feels the others do the same. “Two,” Hermione’s voice rings out clear and true in the corridor. Magic bubbles under Harry’s skin. Something is about to happen. “Three!”

“Reparo!” They say together as one, voices ringing out into the air in front of him. Harry feels his magic, and Malfoy’s magic, and Ginny’s magic, and all the rest, surge down his arm and through his wand, streaming out to blanket the wall with a wash of power. There is the grinding of stone against stone, a shower of sparks and rock dust, and Harry cannot see through the cloud, cannot tell if, at last, something has worked.

He feels Malfoy’s shoulder tight against his. On his other side, Ginny curls her free hand into his. They wait. The air is full of dust and promise.

Slowly, so slowly, the air begins to clear. Dust falls like a curtain to reveal an expanse of smooth stone. It’s not perfect. There’s still a seam at the corners where the wall has yet to fully heal, but it’s a start.

Cheers go up down the hall. Ginny whoops, freeing her hand from Harry’s to cup her mouth in amplification. Ron swears. Pansy joins him. Malfoy whirls on Harry and takes his face in his hands. For a moment, all there is only the flash of blond hair, the blue of Malfoy’s eyes, something rising in Harry’s stomach that he can’t name.

“We did it,” Malfoy says, low and quiet in his ear, and Harry thinks he is the only one that’s heard at all. Harry lays a hand over Malfoy’s and holds on.

He sees Pansy over Malfoy’s shoulder, looking like she’s won something. Ron grumbles and shoves something into her hand. It gleams in the dim light of the hallway. Maybe she has.

Harry has too. He stumbles from Malfoy’s grip and goes and lays a hand against the wall. The stone is rough and dusty. But it is healing. He feels a sigh of relief that may be him and may be the castle at large, but it most likely both of them, a rushing exhale he didn’t even know he was holding in as he realizes, finally, that they are going to be ok. For the first time in a long time, he feels his limbs begin to get heavy, his eyes begin to close.

Which is when Harry Potter, Boy who Lived Twice, Savoir of the Wizarding World, faints dead away.

 

*******

 

Harry wakes to the warm glow of afternoon light. He’s lying on his bed, back in his room, and beside him lies Draco Malfoy, hands tucked behind his head, looking at the ceiling. Harry is getting terribly used to waking up with him.

“What happened?” he asks. There’s a sore spot on his head that feels suspiciously like a lump.

Malfoy continues to study the ceiling. “You fainted,” he says, “like a delicate, swooning heroine. Granger had to charm you back to the room.” He does not say, I was worried. But he is lying on Harry’s bed with him, and Harry takes that for what it is.

“What time is it,” Harry asks, then, “Have you been here all this time?”

Malfoy purses his lips. It is only feigned annoyance. “Someone had to make sure you didn’t choke on your tongue.”
Harry pushes himself up on his elbows, winces when his joints protest. “And what, you’re too good for chairs?” he asks.

Malfoy finally deigns to look at him. “We turned the chairs into turtles, remember? And then you made us free them in the lake, even though I’m not even sure they were that kind of turtle. Besides,” he adds, voice becoming bemused, as only a dirty turtle murderer’s could. “I think we’re past chairs.”

Harry feels his face becoming hot. The room is bright and clear around them. This doesn’t seem to be a conversation for the light of day, but Malfoy is looking at him like he expects Harry to respond. Harry swallows. Starts. Starts again.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He says, eyes fixed on the bare inch of mattress between them.

Malfoy has turned to look back up at the ceiling again. “Harry,” he says, finally, “I know you’re a Gryffindor, and thus an idiot, but you’re not really that much of a Gryffindor.”

Harry swallows again. He feels a confession rising in him. Carefully, very carefully, he erodes the space between them, letting his fingers rest against the jut of Malfoy’s hip.

“The hat almost put me in Slytherin,” he says, because why not? Why not say everything now? Malfoy nods. There is light in his eyes, a spark of understanding.

“We would’ve made good roommates.” Malfoy says. Harry supposes they would have. Carefully, as though by accident, Malfoy lets one of his hands fall to his side. His fingers brush Harry’s. It could be coincidence. It’s Harry’s turn to look at the ceiling.

Malfoy turns, and for a heart dropping moment Harry thinks he’s pulling away, but he only shifts for a moment, rolling over to take something from the bed side table.

“I made this for you,” he says, as casually as possible, and Harry feels a small glass orb pressed into his hand. It’s surface is cool to the touch, like water, like Malfoy’s magic, and inside, suspended in the glass, is a single, pale flower. He holds it to his eye, feels the draw of another path, a different future seeping through the glass. It is unbelievably lovely. Harry feels something in his heart break. Resolve. Come back together.

“Now you don’t have to go back into the murder forest, or run yourself ragged, if you ever need to sit with your death.” Malfoy’s voice is light, as if he’d almost made a joke of it, but hadn’t. “I’m not going to say I understand, but I think you should get to have it, if you want it.”

It takes Harry a moment to find his voice. It seemed lost somewhere, in the cavern of his chest. “I do,” he says, very quietly. It’s possibly the nicest thing anyone has ever given him, and from Draco Malfoy at that. What will people say?

“So you’re giving me gifts now?” Harry laughs, nudging Malfoy’s arm with his free hand.

Malfoy shrugs. “Everyone already thinks we’re sleeping together.” He says, blandly. Which is to say that Pansy already thinks they’re sleeping together, and has probably told everyone.

Harry sneaks a look at Malfoy. His face is clear and open in the bright light.

Harry looks at the room, at the furniture pushed up against the walls, at their robes mingling together on Malfoy’s desk, over the familiar dip of the mattress beneath Malfoy’s back. “We kind of are,” Harry admits. Finally. Finally he admits. He shifts his palm and Malfoy’s fingers are in his. He feels warmth spread across his skin. It isn’t an accident at all. Malfoy smiles.

“Go back to sleep,” he tells Harry, and Harry feels his eyes begin to close. He shuts his eyes to Malfoy’s hair falling lightly against his face.

 

Harry’s 8th year at Hogwarts goes like this:

1. They fix the castle. It is arduous, and slow going, but Harry and Malfoy and the others work tirelessly through the days and weeks and finally, miraculously, the castle begins to mend itself. The suit of armor outside of Harry and Malfoy’s room begins to let them up the stairs, provided it’s in a good mood and they ask politely (they do not always ask politely. There is one night where they both end up sleeping in the hall, and later have to make up a ballad to barter its forgiveness), the plants behind the greenhouse flourish so much Professor Sprout must dedicate a whole week of lessons to trimming and repotting, the gargoyles come home. They are bruised, and fewer, but they are home.

2. Pansy insists that Ron move into her and Hermione’s room (since the assigned living is shot to hell anyway), but then refuses to move out herself. They are seen looking at ads for two bedroom flats in Diagon Alley, with a lease to begin at year’s end. Ron visits the Second Room of Requirement to play chess with Goyle, who’s studying to be a healer.

3. Hermione, with Ron, Malfoy, and Harry’s help, re-writes the entire first-year curriculum to include an introduction to the systems of magic. McGonagall accepts it with a wry smile. She does not say that she is proud. She is.

4. Harry receives a reply from Cho Chang. It says she understands. And invites him to coffee (not at Madam Puddifoots) with Luna and her sister. He accepts.

5. Dean, Seamus, and Ginny resolutely do not get engaged. But they throw a party anyways. There is drinking and quidditch and three people end up in the hospital wing with some sort of magical pox. Harry and Draco make up a song to sing her praises. It’s a good night.

6. At some point, Harry accidently charms his and Malfoy’s beds together, and they never get around to fixing it.

7. Malfoy writes to his father. He tells him his mark is gone and doesn’t miss it. He doesn’t get a reply back. Narcissus sends Harry 17 books on the history of his family, and one haughty invitation for high tea. Harry panics, but goes. Narcissus likes his flying motorcycle. She doesn’t say anything about the state of his hair.

8. Harry does not go to a single one of his classes. He blames his exam marks on Draco Malfoy. Which is to say, he passes.

9. Harry gets, and refuses, an automatic acceptance in the ranks of the auror’s. Neville Longbottom takes his place. Harry spends his time planning a trip around the magical world, with ex-con Draco Malfoy, in which they will identify and mend magic damage left over from the war, as well as pay visits to reformed Death Eaters. Someday he might be an auror. Someday he might be a teacher. Someday he might be the emperor of Bulgaria. For now, Harry Potter, Boy who Lived Twice, Savior of the Wizarding World, is going to sleep under the stars, with absolutely no one chasing him. Also, Draco Malfoy will be there.

10. Harry spends a lot of time with his hands in Draco Malfoy’s hair. Sometimes he speaks Parseltongue.