Actions

Work Header

Incongruent

Work Text:

“You bloody what?”

Professor McGonagall pursed her lips. “Language, Mr. Weasley. You heard correctly. To assist with the rebuilding process, Ministry officials will be permanently situated on Hogwarts grounds for the duration of the school year.”

Hermione and Ron shot each other a worried look, but Harry just stared straight ahead at the back of Professor McGonagall’s office, his face blank. The portraits of past Headmasters gazed down on them all sternly, but were oddly quiet. Dumbledore was absent.

“With all due respect, Professor,” Ron continued, a horrified expression on his face. “She’s not a Ministry Official. She’s a toad.”

There was the faintest twitch at the corner of Professor McGonagall’s lips, but that was all. She cleared her throat. “A little unoriginal, don’t you think, Mr. Weasley?”

Ron gave a surprised snort.

Hermione frowned. “Don’t you think you’re down-playing the situation a little, Professor?” she asked cautiously. “You remember what she did to Harry, don’t you?”

“Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagall said, her tone softening despite the harsh lines on her face. “My memory is as flawless as it ever was. I regret to advise you that we have no choice. If I may be frank, although the Ministry has not said it in as many words, it is clear to us here at Hogwarts that they feel this move is not only necessary, but essential to ensuring they regain control over the people they failed so terribly. We work in partnership with the Ministry, or not at all.”

“But it’s not the Ministry we’re protesting, Professor. It’s her, just her.” Hermione’s voice had turned pleading.

Harry still had not said a word. His eyes were fixated on the portrait of Dumbledore, seemingly mesmerised by the red velvet background in front of which the Professor usually stood.

“I have fought this, Miss Granger. I have lost. That is all there is to the matter.” Professor McGonagall stood up; a clear signal that the meeting was over. She paused, seeming to deliberate over one final piece of information. “There will be an inquiry,” she said as they followed her lead and stood. “It was all I could manage. But do not allow yourselves to hope. It involves one of their own and decisions they have made and defended for years; they will stall.”

Hermione pursed her lips together in a frighteningly oblivious imitation of the Headmaster. “Then we’d best speed it up.”

At that, Professor McGonagall actually smiled. “I wish you the best of luck.”

Harry turned abruptly away from the desk. Hermione and Ron hurried to follow. Just before they slipped out the door, Professor McGonagall spoke quietly to Harry.

“I’m sorry.”

 


-~-~-

 

HOGWARTS REBUILD SET TO BEGIN

In the wake of the fearsome final battle, the like of which has not been seen since the famous duel of Grindelwald and Dumbledore, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is set to be restored to its former glory, with a little help from the Ministry of Magic.

“The Minister is adamant for Hogwarts to receive the care and attention it needs to reinstate itself as a school of excellence,” Ministry Representative Dolores Umbridge informs the Daily Prophet. “It will take a little care and attention from all sides, but the Ministry is confident that Hogwarts can be rebuilt.”

Plans include the addition of “rebuilding sessions” to the students’ schedules, so that the rebuilding workload may be shared amongst all affected parties.

“No one ever died from a little hard work,” Umbridge ensures with a smile. “And our team of Anti-Prejudice Students will ensure that no student earns an unfair share of the work due to their parents’ alleged role in the war.”

Hogwarts Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall, denies claims that students are falling prey to bouts of bullying similar to the divisions of class experienced in the war. “Unsubstantiated rumour mongering,” she claims, before demanding no further comment.

Nevertheless, this reporter can confirm the mysterious absence of the Sorting Hat - Hogwarts’ long standing champion of the four school Houses - Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Without the Hat, students at the first year ceremony were asked to choose the house where they felt most comfortable, leading to a distinctly one-sided sorting result for the first time in decades.

“There is nothing wrong with a year level comprised largely of Gryffindors,” Headmistress McGonagall insists, before dismissing reporters from school grounds.

“We hope that this will be the only change to Hogwarts’ tried and true traditions,” adds Dolores Umbridge. “It would be terrible to go to all the effort of rebuilding Hogwarts, only to discover the school spirit had fallen beyond repair.”

 


-~-~-

 

Harry smoothed the covers on his bed and sat down. Across the dormitory room, Ron was already unpacking his things, humming tunelessly as he did so.

Harry wasn’t sure how to feel. He had been surprised when Ron had agreed to come back, although he suspected Hermione had a lot to do with it. That, and the fact that if he didn’t come back, he would have to enter the adult world alone. There was something about fighting a battle that made the slow, steady pace of Hogwarts seem suddenly attractive. An extra year where they could take their time learning spells and figuring out what they wanted to do with their lives when they weren’t chasing down dark wizards.

The implication for Harry being: now that he suddenly had a life to look forward to.

But now that he was here, he felt odd. He was so used to being in charge, to carving out his own way, that he wasn’t sure how to act with the teachers anymore. He’d proven himself a leader. Someone capable of making quick decisions, and employing a decent amount of skill when doing so, and now - what? He was meant to be a good boy and take detentions when he was given them?

Not that he would necessarily be given any detentions. But even still, how was he meant to act? How was he meant to be? Particularly with Umbridge breathing down his neck.

And that was the other thing. He was hardly surprised that the Ministry was so quick to act, shoving themselves into every piece of the rebuilding effort so that no one could question their lack of support during the actual war - history could be re-written, after all - but how was he meant to deal with it? He’d been looking forward to a relaxing year with his friends, living without an enemy for the first time since first year, and now he was faced with someone who had made his life a living hell. And she was still in a position of authority.

The newly fostered, leadership part of him didn’t care. He wasn’t afraid of her. But this new, sensible and aware part of him also recognised that the Ministry was desperate. They were rebuilding their image. This image relied on Harry Potter’s cooperation.

What would they do to get it?

He lay back on his bed and sighed. He’d just have to make sure it was on his terms. That they didn’t threaten or blackmail him into accepting whatever petty games Umbridge tried to play. Because she would try to play them. But desperate people are unpredictable, and he’d need to be careful. As much as they relied on him for their image, he also relied on them to keep Hogwarts running as Dumbledore would have wanted. To not abuse their power to ruin one of the few things he had left.

Image or no image, the Ministry could still do that.

So many questions, and still no answers.

“Knut for your thoughts, mate?”

Harry waved a hand at Ron’s concerned expression. “Nothing,” he said, forcing a smile. “It’s just strange to be back, you know? I feel a little jumpy.”

Ron laughed, looking relieved. “I know what you mean. I keep expecting the Snatchers to pop out of the shadows.”

Harry shuddered. The door opened and Neville walked in.

“Hi, Harry,” he said with a grin. “Hi, Ron. Looking forward to the year?”

Ron dropped down onto his bed and laughed. “You mean am I looking forward to sleeping in a comfortable bed again? You bet.”

“You’ve been home for ages now, though,” Neville said with a frown.

Ron shrugged, his face falling. “Yeah, but George has moved back home,” he said quietly. “It’s not really… you know. Comfortable there.”

Neville nodded sadly. “Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s going to be hard, studying again. Feels like a waste of time. Like we should be doing something more important.”

“Except it is important,” Harry said suddenly, forcing a smile. “Because it’s moving forward.”

Ron opened his mouth to reply, when the door swung back again.

Harry froze. In the archway, Draco Malfoy stood, staring at the three of them, his face shifting slowly into an expression of abject horror.

His hair had grown since Harry had last seen him, though only slightly. It was still smoothly swept back, though without the greasy product. It looked almost effortless, like the wind had caught it and simply left it there. A few small tendrils fell down the front of this face, nearly in front of his eyes, but not quite. The haunted look from sixth year had gone, although in its place was a stiff, haughty expression that didn’t quite match the cool arrogance of his earlier years.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Malfoy said, his lip curling.

The three Gryffindors gaped at their newest dorm mate.

“No bloody way.” Ron stood up. “McGonagall didn’t say anything about sharing.”

“Too right, Weasley,” Malfoy said, turning away. “Much as I’d love to stay with you pack of morons, I’ll find my own room.”

While Malfoy was speaking, Harry was looking around the room with an increasing sense of dread. “Actually, Malfoy,” he said slowly. “I think that might be your trunk.”

Malfoy turned to where Harry was looking and blanched. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

He turned abruptly and left.

After an awkward silence, Ron gave a nervous laugh. “It’s a mistake, right? I’m not sleeping in the same room as that git.”

“They are rebuilding though,” Neville said hesitantly. “And since they weren’t able to expand the house areas for us-” He stopped mid sentence, seemingly unwilling to continue.

“But, surely the Slytherin dorm has heaps of room,” Ron protested, his voice getting higher by the second. “Half of them didn’t come back. Don’t tell me that’s why Seamus and Dean aren’t in here - because they’ve made room for him.”

The sound of raised voices alerted them to a commotion in the corridor.

“I refuse to share a living space with those cretins. How am I expected to pass any classes when I have to put up with their late night idiocy? I don’t need bloody Gryffindor pillow fights and midnight feasts, right now.”

“Mr Malfoy.” Professor McGonagall’s voice, although firm, sounded oddly sympathetic to Harry’s ears. “The decision has been made. You will stay in the room you are assigned, or you will not complete your education at Hogwarts.”

“This is unacceptable.” Malfoy’s voice was surely audible outside the eighth year dorm rooms by now. “Just wait until-” he stopped speaking.

Ron snorted, while Neville looked amused in a vaguely ashamed sort of way. Oddly, Harry only felt uncomfortable.

“Mr Malfoy, could you please take this letter to Professor Slughorn?” Professor McGonagall’s voice had returned to its normal authority.

Harry heard a frustrated noise, which he imagined accompanied some form of acquiescence, and then Malfoy’s footsteps were fading into the distance.

There were several minutes of silence, and then a high-pitched whistling sounded through the room.

“Headmistress approaching!” a voice screeched from all around them. “Headmistress approaching!”

There was a polite cough from the other side of the open doorway.

“Er, we’re decent, Professor,” Harry said after a pause.

Professor McGonagall rounded the corner and stood in the doorway, adjusting her robes smartly. “I was on my way to inform you of some last minute adjustments,” she said with a small quirk of her lips. “But I see you have already discovered them.”

“Umbridge and Malfoy?” Ron whined, the capability of speech having apparently returned to him. “What did we do to deserve that?”

“Gentlemen,” McGonagall continued, ignoring Ron’s outburst. “After an amount of deliberation, I’ve decided to engage in an unprecedented level of honesty with the three of you.”

Harry heard the underlying threat - don’t make me regret it.

“Mr Malfoy’s return to Hogwarts was unexpected, and the reactions of the students are, as of yet, unpredictable. Not least of all, the reactions of Mr Malfoy himself. As it had already been decided to allow eighth years the privilege - as Ministry recognised adults - to reside in a separate dormitory to the rest of their house, sleeping arrangements for Mr Malfoy involved a somewhat lively discussion amongst staff.”

“He’s the only Slytherin that came back, isn’t he?” Harry realised suddenly.

“Precisely,” Professor McGonagall answered quietly. “Tell me, Mr Potter, Mr Weasley, and Mr Longbottom - given the choice between the available eighth year boy’s dormitories, where would you place Mr Malfoy?”

Leaving Malfoy to terrorise the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws… or putting him with three Gryffindors who had proven themselves in the war. The three of them would be able to deal with Malfoy’s crap, no question. Harry wasn’t so sure about anyone who didn’t know Malfoy as well.

On a superficial level, it meant they were being punished for their strength and achievements, but Harry could at least see why.

“No problem, Professor,” Harry said, speaking over Ron’s indignant protestation and ignoring Neville’s apprehensive expression.

Professor McGonagall nodded. “Then I shall leave you to get settled.”

“Oh, I get it.” Ron grinned suddenly. “Good one, Harry.”

“Huh?”

“So we can keep him in his place, yeah? Dibs on putting frogs in his bed.”

“Ron.” Harry’s voice had an unexpected edge to it. “Just drop it. Let’s see how he goes.”

Ron frowned. “But-”

“He’ll probably be pretty quiet this year anyway,” Neville interjected. “Since his father’s in Azkaban and his mother’s on trial.”

Ron made a face, but nodded. “But the second he slips,” he warned. “Frogs.”

Harry and Neville laughed.

“Bloody Ginny,” Ron muttered, turning back to his trunk. “Running off to join the Harpies. She doesn’t have to put up with bloody Umbridge and bloody Malfoy.”

They went back to putting away their things, but although it took a good hour or more before they had finally settled enough to sleep, it wasn’t until well after the room was dark that Harry heard Malfoy slip into the room to unpack.

 


-~-~-

 

Harry ducked behind the statue of Boris the Bewildered and took a deep breath. He had decided to continue with the subjects he had started in sixth year, even though he couldn’t decide what to do with them after exams were over. Auror was as good a choice as it had always been, and he didn’t particularly feel like discussing career options with Hermione all over again when he knew the conversation would go nowhere.

But now that he was actually faced with returning to Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts, he found he just needed… a moment. That was all.

He took another deep breath. Slughorn would just have to deal with the fact that Harry wasn’t quite the prodigy he had appeared to be, and at least Harry had found out that Umbridge wasn’t teaching this year.

It hit him suddenly that he was hiding behind a statue like a quivering first year. He stepped quickly back into the corridor.

And straight into Malfoy.

Malfoy grunted and stumbled back. “Watch it,” he snapped, before realising who he was talking to. He grinned. “Potter? Are you crying in the corner already?” He laughed, the noise escaping like it surprised him. “Poor Potty, missing your pet werewolf?”

All Harry’s burgeoning sympathy for Malfoy faded in an instant. “Don’t you dare speak like that about him,” he snarled, grabbing Malfoy by the front of his robes and shoving him back into the corridor. “You’re not even half the man he was.”

Malfoy continued to grin. The sharp angles of his cheekbones caught the light, casting shadows across his face that distorted his grin into something eerie. The part of Harry that was still thinking rationally acknowledged that this was quite a strange reaction from the boy who had squealed when punched by Hermione, but that part of him was rather small right now and Harry wasn’t particularly inclined to listen to it. He pulled back his fist and swung a punch straight at Malfoy’s nose.

Malfoy ducked and drove his fist up into Harry’s stomach. Harry doubled over in shock and pain, before launching himself on Malfoy and knocking him down to the ground.

A sound like a thunderbolt rang through the halls, and Harry was thrown suddenly back into the wall behind him. A disoriented attempt to figure out what had happened showed him that Malfoy was sitting in front of the opposite wall, looking equally as stunned.

Hem hem.”

Harry froze. For several long seconds, his mind was transported back to fifth year. He felt trapped, lost, and powerless.

“Now now, boys,” the high pitched voice continued, piercing through Harry’s memories. “Muggle dueling will earn you twenty prejudice points. Wand fights will earn you thirty. We wouldn’t want to tar our records so soon into the school year, would we?”

The spell of fear shattered, and Harry remembered that he was no longer a powerless fifteen year old. He stood and turned to face Umbridge.

“Do I call you ‘Professor’?” he asked, plastering a politely inquisitive smile on his face. “Or is it just Dolores? I suppose it is, since you’re only a guest now.” He spat the word guest, and grinned internally when he saw Umbridge tense.

“Ms. Umbridge will be fine,” she said, her smile never changing. Harry studied her eyes and found them alarmingly blank. Apart from that first small flinch, there was no indication at all that she was threatened by him. “And I’m sure the Ministry will coordinate many opportunities for us to work very, very closely, Mr. Potter. As the Ministry’s primary representative in the rebuilding effort, I must say I am so delighted to be given this opportunity.” Her grin widened.

She was threatening him, though he had no idea what leverage she was going to use. For now.

“I bet you are,” he said lightly. Then, he turned and left, shoving past Malfoy as he did.

Malfoy, for his part, hadn’t moved during the exchange, his expression remaining closed and guarded. As Harry left, he heard Umbridge speak again.

“Mr. Malfoy, so wonderful to see you again. Tell me, have you considered-”

He rounded the corner and heard no more.

 

 


-~-~-

 

“So, we have to, what? Clean things for an hour?” Ron wrinkled his nose as he checked his schedule again. “What else could it mean?”

Hermione shrugged. “It probably is just cleaning, Ron, but that’s alright. Every little bit helps.”

Harry frowned, looking at the students assembled around the Great Hall. Since there were only a small number of eighth year students, they had all been scheduled for “Rebuilding” at the same time, whereas other year levels were rostered in shifts.

Harry was dreading this Rebuilding session, but not for the same reasons as Ron. McGonagall had warned them that this would be the only time they were forced into close quarters with Umbridge. The rest of the time, she and the other staff were doing their best to ensure Umbridge’s contact with students was minimal and that she was too focused on the coordinating the rebuilding effort with the teachers to care about abusing her power. But the scheduled Rebuilding sessions were the purpose of her stay, after all. It couldn’t be avoided.

Hem hem.”

Harry twitched, but stayed silent. Their encounter the other day had left him with no clues as to how Umbridge was going to treat him, and whether or not he would be able to deal with whatever power she was choosing to hold over him.

The doors swung open. The sound of heels clicked sharply through the hall as the small woman tottered her way to the front of the group. When the eighth year students had entered the hall, Professor McGonagall had guided them so that they were not facing the Professors’ dais, which meant that Umbridge had no height leverage over the students. Harry smirked, wondering if it was deliberate.

“How wonderful it is to see so many brave students returning to Hogwarts.” Umbridge straightened her pink cardigan, staring at the sea of students with a bright smile. She paused, assessing. The smile widened. “Now, now, this won’t do.” She tapped her wand on the table next to her, transfiguring it neatly into a set of stairs.

She climbed the stairs and turned to face them, so that she was now well above their eye level. “Much better,” she said. “As The Ministry’s chosen representative, I am here to tell you just how very proud we are of your support during the recent apprehension of social deviants.”

Harry choked. “What?!” he spat, before he could stop himself.

Umbridge raised her eyebrows politely. “Did you have a question, Mr. Potter?”

“Social deviants? Are you serious?” The rest of the eighth years were looking at him now. Fortunately, unlike fifth year, they had all seen the chaos of the war. They had all suffered under Voldemort’s reign in one way or another. This time, they weren’t buying it.

The yelling started immediately.

“They were evil bloody wizards, not social deviants!”

“Was You Know Who just a bit cheeky, then?!”

“People died!”

A chair exploded somewhere near Seamus.

Just as the students began to arc up properly, an eerie silence fell across the room. Harry looked around the room, opening his mouth to question what was happening, but no sound came out.

“Much better,” Umbridge repeated softly, lowering her wand. “I must confess, I really am quite unsure as to what the fuss is about.” She looked around the room, arranging her features into an expression of polite confusion. “The Ministry congratulates you for your advocacy. We thank you for your support of the Aurors, and for your assistance in allowing the Ministry’s representative to address the threat.”

Professor McGonagall stepped closer to the makeshift dais, her eyebrows knitting close together, but she made no move to interrupt just yet.

The Ministry’s representative. Was that what they were calling him? Harry slammed his fist down on the table next to him. It made no sound, though several people turned toward the movement. Umbridge eyed him triumphantly.

“In the aftermath of a Ministry operation - particularly one on a scale such as this - it is always important to keep your head high and move forward, forward, forward,” Umbridge continued, looking only at Harry now. “While it is ever so tempting to dwell on the past and the losses received, one must remember that such actions will only lead to stagnation and emotional turmoil. And a sad, doomed place Hogwarts would be, then. No, the Ministry will not allow Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to become a war museum. The Ministry is here to assist you, to guide you forward one step at a time, and to ensure you embrace the future with open hearts and open minds.”

Harry had heard enough. He turned and pushed his way back through the students, toward the doors. The other eighth years looked at him in alarm, but their expressions mirrored his own: shock and disgust.

“Of course, this mighty effort could not be achieved without the wonderful collaboration and partnership that the Ministry shares with Hogwarts. Fortunately, our preferred leadership partner has been recently relieved of his Ministry representative duties,” she giggled girlishly at the phrase, “and is ready for his new position.”

Harry froze.

“So it is with great pleasure that I invite Mr. Harry Potter to come forward and accept his position as Hogwarts Liaison.”

He felt, rather than saw, the other students turn to him. His hand was nearly on the door, he could walk away from this. He could leave, and he’d never have to deal with whatever horrifying torture Umbridge had in store from him.

But that would be running away. And what was it that Umbridge had said? The Ministry would not allow Hogwarts to become a war museum?

That was it. That was the threat. If he didn’t partner with them and allow them to shape the future as they desired, with The Ministry remaining at the forefront of wizarding authority, that was what would happen.

He ground his teeth together, took a deep breath, and turned around. As Harry climbed slowly to the dais, he saw Malfoy watching him with his face twisted into an expression of derision. He gave Harry a slow, mocking clap as Harry passed, the noise silenced by the spell.

Harry fought the urge to slam him to the ground again, and instead rose to stand next to Umbridge.

Umbridge lifted her wand and removed the silencing spell, but no one spoke. They barely breathed.

“Mr. Potter,” Umbridge said. From this close, Harry could see that she was shaking in anticipation. “Do you accept your duties?”

Harry stared at the outstretched hand. Standing slightly straighter, he turned away from it and looked out at the students who watched him. He might have been made into The Ministry’s unwilling figurehead, but he wouldn’t bow that easily. He heard Umbridge give a quiet, presumptuous “hem hem”, before she moved her hand graciously, as if it were never offered.

He searched for Ron and Hermione’s faces in the crowd. Hermione was outraged, but he could see her resignation to what he had to do. Ron, for his part, gaped in horror, most likely unaware that the silence spell had even been lifted.

Harry grinned without humour, turning to McGonagall and giving her a nod. It was clear that she was poised to rescue him at a moment’s notice, but she was too clever a woman not to realise what was happening. Not to realise that, really, he couldn’t be rescued.

“I do.”

 

 


-~-~-

 

Umbridge quickly split them off into groups. Mostly she allowed them to work in houses, but, of course, for Harry she made an exception.

“Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy, I think,” she said primly when they were the last two left. “Now, since it was Mr. Potter’s actions that destroyed the left corridor on the seventh floor, it will be fitting for you to start there as a show of good faith. Reparation for misdeeds, naturally.”

Harry glared at her. “By getting the last Horcrux, you mean? It was Crabbe that cast the bloody Fiendfyre. But sure, why not blame me? Seems fair.”

“Tsk tsk, Mr. Potter.” Umbridge smiled. “We must accept responsibility for our errors, mustn't we? It is the only way forward, after all. You knew Mr. Crabbe was a trained Death Eater, and instead of managing the situation, you backed him into a corner and provoked hostile circumstances that could have resulted in the untimely termination of a Ministry operation.”

“Ministry operation?! The ministry didn’t even-” Harry stopped, turning and bracing himself against the wall lest he do something utterly, utterly stupid. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see even Malfoy looked taken aback. But the expression was quickly replaced with a smug smile.

“Such actions without appropriate backup and countermeasure implementation are certainly not what one wishes to see from an individual hoping to join the elite ranks of the Aurors,” Umbridge continued behind him. “For your sake, Mr. Potter, I do hope the Ministry doesn’t look too deeply into your suitability once they read my final report. I fear they may find you lacking.”

Harry turned back to see an expression of mock sympathy on her face, while amusement danced in her eyes.

“I’m sure you’d be devastated,” he spat, pushing away from the wall. “I’ll do my best not to fail your rigged report then, shall I?”

“Accusations of prejudice will earn you ten prejudice points if proven to be unfounded, Mr. Potter.” Umbridge slowly bared her teeth. They both knew who was winning this exchange. “Accumulations of more than sixty prejudice points go on your record. Something to keep in mind, Mr. Potter.”

Harry, for the first time since he had seen her again, wisely kept his mouth shut.

“Very good. Please collect your expandable rubbish bags and report to your designated cleaning area, students.” She turned to Malfoy, her tone becoming even more sickly sweet. “And Mr. Malfoy, as head of the Anti-Prejudice Squad, please keep an eye on Mr. Potter. There will be no special treatment, even for the Hogwarts Liaison, and Mr. Potter’s behaviour has so far been rather questionable.”

Malfoy smirked. “Oh, I’ll keep an eye on him,” he said staring directly at Harry as he spoke. “I’ll make sure he stays in line, too.”

“Excellent.” Umbridge finally left them.

Harry continued to stare at Malfoy until his smirk faltered, just a little.

“Anti-Prejudice Squad?” Harry repeated in disgust. “You can’t be serious. That’s what all these ‘prejudice points’ are for?”

“Got to keep you lot in line, after all,” Malfoy said, his lip curling arrogantly again. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his robes and leaned back against the wall. “It’s always the victors that seem to suddenly think they can get away with anything,” he added airily.

“What the hell are you on about, Malfoy?” Harry stared at him incredulously. “Are you even listening to yourself?” He turned and walked off in the direction of the seventh floor staircase, snatching one of the rubbish bags as he went.

He heard Malfoy following some distance behind, but didn’t bother to turn around. He had hoped that Malfoy might be a little contrite this year, since Voldemort had lost and his family were on trial. Instead, it seemed that McGonagall was right to put Malfoy in the dorm with he, Ron, and Neville. Somehow, the git had come through the losing side of the war with all his arrogance intact.

When he reached the hole in the wall that used to hide the Room of Requirement, he nearly turned straight back around. It was something out of a horror story. Blackened stone crumbled around the entry, while the inside was a mess of charred rubble that stretched so far back that Harry couldn’t see the walls.

Behind him, Harry heard Malfoy swear under his breath. Harry ignored him and stepped into the room.

“I’ll leave the bag open in the middle,” he said curtly, throwing the bag down and moving to the left. “You clear the left and I’ll clear the right.”

They worked in silence, Accioing rubble into the open rubbish bag. They managed about twenty minutes of blessed quiet, where Harry started to think that maybe all this wouldn’t be so bad, before he felt something sharp and heavy hit the back of his head.

“Ow!” He turned around and saw Malfoy still working as if nothing had happened. “Really, Malfoy?” He raised his eyebrows and waited for the Slytherin to turn around.

“Apologies, Scarhead,” Malfoy said with a sneer. “Did I miss the bag?”

Harry flicked his wand and sent a pile of what had once been something wooden flying straight at Malfoy’s head. Malfoy ducked.

“What the bloody fuck, Potter?” Malfoy swore, smoothing his hair back out of his face. “Trying to kill me again?”

“Well, you’re definitely making me regret saving you, that’s for sure,” Harry said pointedly.

Malfoy clenched his teeth and turned away. That should have been it, it should have been enough. But something about the way Malfoy just… ignored him like that… no contrition, no sheepishness, nothing. It was too much for Harry to handle.

Who the hell did Malfoy think he was? Harry had saved his life, and he was just going to go back to the way things were?

“Accio bag!” Harry said, making sure Malfoy heard him.

Malfoy turned back, his eyes wide, and leaped out of the way just as the bag of rubbish slammed into the wall behind where his head had been.

“You little-” Malfoy snarled and brandished his wand. “You dare to attack me, when you know it’s thanks to me and my mother that you’re even still alive?”

Harry forced a laugh. “What, because neither of you handed me over when you had the chance? That doesn’t make you my saviour. It makes you a little less of a coward, but that’s it.”

“Flipendo!” Malfoy shouted, pointing his wand at Harry with such force that he almost threw it.

Harry dived out of the way, missing the knockback jinx by inches. Malfoy threw it again and again, each time missing Harry by a hair.

“My father is in Azkaban!” Malfoy yelled, ducking as Harry cast a Langlock jinx in an attempt to both shut Malfoy up and gain some advantage. “You could have testified for him like you did for me. Like you did for my mother.” He cast another spell, this one burning as it skimmed Harry’s cheek. Harry threw a stinging jinx in return; despite his strong urge to smack Malfoy in his stupid face, he wasn’t particularly interested in straying far from spells he knew well. Not this time. “But you didn’t, because you’re so obsessed with sitting up on your bloody pedestal and looking down at your simpering fans.”

“Levicorpus!” Harry shouted, before looking around for something he could use as another projectile.

Malfoy countered with a shield charm and sent a large piece of what might have once been a statue hurtling toward Harry’s head. Harry sent it flying away and threw up his own shield.

The two boys stood, staring at each other, chests heaving.

“You really think I’m loving this, Malfoy?” Harry spat. “You never did quite grasp what was going on, did you? And why the hell would I testify for your father when it’s thanks to people like him that Fred is gone? That Remus and Tonks are gone? You reap what you sow, Malfoy. Maybe I should have let you do the same.”

Malfoy dropped his hand to his side and glared at Harry. “Life isn’t black and white, Potter,” he hissed. “You need to grow the fuck up and join the real world.”

Before Harry could say anything, Malfoy turned and stormed out. After Harry’s breathing had returned to normal, he cast a Tempus charm and realised they were at the end of their session anyway. He left the bag where it was, since they’d be back here tomorrow, and left the room.

 

 


-~-~-

 

“What do you think she means to do with you?” Hermione asked seriously when they were back in the eighth year common room. It was only the three of them still sitting up - everyone else had gone to bed.

Harry shrugged. “Destroy my life?”

Ron snorted. “Ow!” he exclaimed as Hermione hit him.

“This is serious. Just because the Ministry believes Harry for once, it doesn’t mean they’re not going to use him. This could be really bad.”

Harry leaned back with a sigh. “I wish Kingsley had made Minister, instead of Scrimgeour’s cousin.”

Hermione pursed her lips together. “I believe the Ministry will need to hold an official election once the political landscape has calmed down. We’ll see what happens then.”

“Nothing will happen, Hermione,” Harry said. “The Ministry is never going to change. We just have to try and make sure that they don’t allow Umbridge to close down Hogwarts.”

“Why would she do that though?” Hermione asked with a frown. “What could she possibly gain?”

“She’s a spiteful cow,” Ron interrupted. “That’s why.”

Harry nodded. “What more excuse does she need? She was run off the castle grounds by centaurs, and Hogwarts is a place I love. I think she’d take great satisfaction from that alone.”

“And you think she’s going to use you to do it?”

“I don’t know how, yet,” Harry admitted. “But yes. She’s making it look as though she’s on our side, but she’s twisting it. We can’t let her.”

“You could give new interviews?” Ron suggested. “Make sure the Prophet prints your side before she gets a chance to change it.”

Hermione looked surprised. “That’s a good suggestion, Ron.”

“Could you just pretend that’s not a shock?”

As Hermione began to argue, insisting that she wasn’t surprised, Harry noticed Malfoy slip quietly into the room. The way that the eighth year dormitory was designed was the same as the house areas - you had to come through the common room to get to the bedrooms.

Since it was well past dinner time, Harry assumed Malfoy had been waiting until most people were asleep before returning. Just like he had been gone by the time Harry woke up that morning. Harry wondered where he had been. Did he wait in the Slytherin common room? Harry supposed he probably had friends in the lower year levels.

Malfoy saw them and stiffened slightly, before turning away and walking past the armchairs toward the dorm stairs. Harry was amazed that Malfoy would just ignore them like that, would ignore him like that.

“Not brave enough to start something without your cronies with you?” Harry called after him. “Must be hard, having to actually risk someone fighting back for a change.”

Malfoy whirled around. Ron and Hermione stopped arguing mid-sentence and stared at him. “You think I care about you and your stupid friends, Potter?” he spat. “I’m here to pass my NEWTs. That’s it. The war’s over. You’ve done what you were chosen to do, and I’m sorry to be the first to tell you, but you’re not special anymore.”

Harry snorted. “Yeah, you tell yourself that. And when you’re bullying first years as Head of the Anti-Prejudice Squad, I’m sure it’s just to pass your NEWTs.”

Malfoy’s hand twitched, as if to pull out his wand, but before Harry could move he spun around again and ran up the stairs.

“Nothing’s changed,” Harry muttered. “He’s just the same git as he was before.”

Ron nodded, his face twisted in disgust.

“I’m not so sure about that,” Hermione said, looking up at the stairs thoughtfully. “Maybe-” She trailed off. “Maybe just give him a chance?”

“What?” Harry turned to her incredulously. “A chance? A chance to what? Torture students? He’s already been given a ton of power over the younger kids, and it’s only the first day back.”

Hermione winced. “No, just… He never would have walked past us before, you know? He never would have walked past you before, not without saying something.”

“Yeah, but he’s outnumbered this time,” Harry protested. “He’s a coward, that’s all.”

Hermione shrugged. Harry found that he didn’t have the stomach to talk about Umbridge anymore. He stood up abruptly.

“I’m going to sleep,” he announced. “See you tomorrow.”

He left them in the corridor, probably thrilled to have some alone time again, and went up to the dorm room. Malfoy was already in bed, facing away from the door. He didn’t stir when Harry walked in.

Harry watched him, deliberately rustling the curtains on his bed and kicking his shoes off loudly to see if he could get a reaction. Apart from Neville snorting briefly, the room was quiet. Malfoy didn’t move.

Harry got into bed and went to sleep.

 

 


-~-~-

 

“Don’t forget - stir your potions once and only once!” Slughorn said from the front of the room. “The effervescence of the potion is more than enough to mix this volatile brew.”

Harry looked down at his cauldron, which was rather lacking in effervescence, and which smelled like wet socks, and gave an extra stir.

The liquid gave an ominous pop and turned blue.

Harry looked over at Hermione’s bright yellow mixture and sighed. “I wish-”

“Harry James Potter,” Hermione interrupted without looking up. “I’m sure you weren’t about to say that you miss Professor Snape’s text book, because I know you’re far too intelligent to think that cheating your way through a class with a book that nearly killed someone is a thing to be missed.”

Harry’s eyes slid over to Malfoy, who was working with a seventh year Slytherin Harry had never seen before. “It didn’t nearly kill someone,” he protested. “It wasn’t the book’s fault.”

“You’re still defending it?” Hermione looked up, her eyebrows raised.

“Well, only that it wasn’t the book,” Harry repeated. “It was me.” He still felt uncomfortable whenever he remembered that day, no matter how things had worked out in the end. He looked back at Malfoy. “Does he look like he’s planning something to you?”

Hermione turned to look where Harry was looking. “You mean which ingredient to add next?” she said dryly.

Harry shook his head, missing the tone. “I don’t know, he just seems far too thoughtful. Malfoy wouldn’t normally be this quiet in Potions.”

“Exactly,” Hermione agreed, dusting her potion lightly with powdered snake skeleton and handing the jar to Harry. “He’s changed. I’m not sure how yet, but I don’t think he’s quite as abrasive as he used to be.”

Harry unscrewed the lid and upended the jar into his cauldron without looking. Hermione gave a panicked gasp and snatched the jar out of his hand just as his cauldron exploded.

Slughorn hurried over, coughing through the smoke and clearing his way with his wand. His face fell when he saw whose cauldron hadn’t survived the lesson.

“Ah, Harry,” he said, vanishing the mess from the table. “Often happens, that the lid drops off just as we’re sprinkling, doesn’t it?” He gave Harry a genial smile. “Not to worry, you can use some of Miss Granger’s for the next part of the lesson - Miss Granger’s is a perfect example.”

Hermione looked torn between pride at Slughorn’s praise, and indignation that Harry was getting out of trouble once again.

When Slughorn moved on, Harry looked back at Malfoy. “See,” he whispered to Hermione. “He hasn’t even looked up. He should already be insulting me.”

Hermione glanced at Malfoy, who was watching his cauldron carefully. Suddenly she frowned, before turning to give Harry a shrewd look. “Maybe he just doesn’t care about you anymore,” she said lightly.

Harry snorted. “He must be planning something to do with the Anti-Prejudice Squad,” he continued as if he hadn’t heard Hermione. “Maybe some way of regaining favour with the Ministry. He’s probably trying to weasel his dad out of Azkaban.”

“I wouldn’t blame him,” Hermione said quietly, but Harry had long since stopped listening.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Their next session with Umbridge was both better and significantly worse.

She didn’t talk for as long - that was great. Any unexpected reprieve from her girlish obnoxiousness was cause for celebration, in Harry’s mind. Unfortunately, it came at a cost.

“Mr. Potter.”

Harry clenched his teeth as her high pitched voice carried through the Great Hall.

“Mr. Potter, this way please.”

“Don’t wait up,” he muttered to Ron and Hermione, and turned back toward Umbridge.

“Yes, Dolores?” he said pointedly as he reached her.

She smirked at him and gestured to the wizard beside her. “This is Arthur Scrimebore,” she said in a tone of utter delight. “He’s here to write a report for the Prophet, and it just wouldn’t do to have an interview without the Hogwarts Liaison present!” She gripped Harry firmly by the shoulder - despite their difference in height - and shoved him down onto the bench.

Harry stared at her. He didn’t understand this. It was one thing to make him into a Ministry figurehead that would support their choices and therefore assist in building them up to power again, and it was quite another thing to do... this… He had assumed that Umbridge would keep him well away from any actual representation duties, and far out of reach of any forum where he could actually voice an opinion. So what was she playing at? Was this another Rita Skeeter?

He turned to Scrimebore and eyed him warily.

“Mr. Potter,” Scrimebore began, his eyes lighting up like a cat who had just fallen in a swimming pool sized vat of cream. “Could I begin by expressing my complete, whole-hearted, and absolutely sincere gratitude and admiration for the service you have provided all wizardkind.”

Not another Rita Skeeter then.

“Er,” Harry said intelligently. “Thanks.”

Beside him, Umbridge tittered. “Isn’t it just delightful, Mr. Scrimebore,” she said, sitting down and brushing an imaginary speck of dust from her pale lilac skirt. Harry had the sudden and brilliant image of what Umbridge might look like should someone, hypothetically, conjure a box of mud skippers to open just above her head. He valiantly pushed the image from his mind.

Harry realised she was still talking and tuned back in.

“The Ministry is so thankful that Mr. Potter was up to the task, so to speak.” Scrimebore began taking notes, his quill speeding across the parchment. “Can you imagine where we would be if He Who Must Not Be Named had chosen to set his sights on someone a little less cooperative?” She giggled. “A terrible state of affairs, to be sure. No, we at the Ministry are so very glad that Mr. Potter chose to work in partnership with officials, and assisted us in fetching the necessary items that we - as the covert nature of our operation dictated - unfortunately could not access ourselves.”

“You mean the Horcruxes,” Harry said flatly. “Which you knew nothing about.”

Scrimebore perked up at the word ‘Horcruxes’, speaking over Harry’s final words. “I’ve read all your interviews on the Horcruxes, Mr. Potter. Tell me, how did you feel when you located the final one?”

Harry turned back to Scrimebore, wondering if the sensation of fleas crawling under his skin was a bad sign. “Relieved, I guess,” he answered as he had done hundreds of times before in other interviews. “We weren’t sure we could find the last one, but the ghost of-”

“It was the final piece of the puzzle, of course,” Umbridge interrupted. “We were able to get word to Mr. Potter with mere minutes to spare, and he did a superb job following our instructions. Isn’t that right, Mr. Potter?”

Harry blinked slowly and reminded himself that counting to ten was a valid, adult method of dealing with these situations, and that punching people in the nose was not.

If the Ministry was so desperate to insert themselves into the winning side of history, did it really matter? So long as they didn’t destroy Hogwarts, he really didn’t care. He took a deep breath and twisted his face into a smile.

“It’s so true, Dolores, that I could swear you made it up.”

Umbridge narrowed her eyes, but said nothing.

The interview continued in much the same way as it had begun. Harry would give an answer, and Umbridge would tack on whatever desperate lie she could think of to make it sound as though the Ministry had been with Harry every step of the way. It was nauseating, and Harry had to wonder if anyone would really buy it in the end. The interview would sound completely different to every other interview he had given; surely people would see through it. But even if they did, it would still show that Harry was supporting the Ministry, and he supposed that was all that mattered to Umbridge and the rest.

As Harry turned to leave, Umbridge stopped him.

“Do thank Mr. Malfoy for his list the other day,” she said, her lips quirked into a smile. “The students have received their appropriate penalty points for such devastating displays of prejudice.”

Harry gritted his teeth and turned away. By the time he had finished and left to meet Malfoy in the Room of Requirement, he was absolutely fuming.

“Poor Potter,” Malfoy said, looking up with a smirk. “Did they photograph your bad side again?”

“Can it, Malfoy,” Harry muttered, spelling a piece of rubble into the bag with such force that it exploded.

“Tsk, tsk,” Malfoy continued, his grin spreading. “Vanity isn’t everything.”

“Dolores sends her regards, by the way,” Harry spat.

Malfoy looked surprised.

“The list?” Harry prompted, his lip curling in disgust. “Who did you dob on this time? Little first years make you cry, did they?”

Harry expected another fight to break out, and to be honest, he would have welcomed it. But to his surprise, Malfoy just clenched his fists and turned away. After several moments of tense silence, Harry shook his head and began clearing his side of the room. When the hour was up, he turned around and saw that Malfoy had already gone.

 

 


-~-~-

 

MINISTRY DECLARES HOGWARTS REFURBISHMENT HUGE SUCCESS

An exclusive tell-all with the Boy Who Lived has revealed the new Ministry-Hogwarts partnership could not be running smoother and, in fact, has deep roots in a relationship years in the making.

“The Ministry have taken great pains to ensure Hogwarts is restored to its former glory,” champions Ministry Rebuilding Representative, Dolores Umbridge, “and we’re thrilled to be working closely with the Chosen One - or, I should say, Hogwarts Liaison - to usher in this new era.”

It is the first time anyone has heard mention of the Ministry’s role in the planning leading to Voldemort’s defeat, and Harry Potter’s calm appreciation leaves no doubt in this reporter’s mind that he values their strong working relationship.

“Without Mr. Potter’s cooperation and willingness to act as the Ministry’s arm, all our efforts of researching, identifying, and locating He Who Must Not Be Named’s Horcruxes would have been in vain,” Dolores adds with a laugh. “The Ministry has always felt that it missed the opportunity to fully acknowledge the role of students during the so-called ‘Battle of Hogwarts’. This rebuild is the Ministry’s way of appreciating these brave children.”

A characteristically modest boy, Harry Potter remained humble for the duration of the interview, supporting Dolores with a smile and a nod where necessary. When asked to clarify Ministry action, he replied only that “it’s so true.”

 

“Those scheming little-”

Harry rested a hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “Let it go, ‘Mione.”

Ron stared at his girlfriend, a healthy amount of fear in his expression. The three of them were sitting in the boy’s dormitory, lounging on Harry’s bed with the combined pillows of the dorm stacked behind them.

“How can we just let that go? Don’t you see what they’re doing?” She shook off Harry’s hand and glared at him.

“Oh, I know, Hermione,” Harry said darkly. “They’re re-writing history. But so long as they don’t affect the present or the future, I don’t care. We’ve got to remember what’s important, and not provoke Umbridge into shutting Hogwarts down for good.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “That’s very mature, Harry. I guess you’re right.” Her frown didn’t quite match her words.

Harry shrugged. It irritated him no end that the Ministry were going to get credit for something they hadn’t even known about, but too few people knew the full story of what he, Ron, and Hermione had done in their year away from Hogwarts for him to really argue it.

He leaned back against the pillows and wondered what this could really mean for Hogwarts. Maybe he should try to lessen the amount of power the Ministry regained. After all, it wasn’t as though they had proven to be very good with it in the first place.

But he had to be rational about this. This wasn’t the easy, black and white certainty that he had felt when he had known Voldemort was out there and needed to be stopped. This was… grey. This was politics. When it had been to do with Voldemort, he had held something over the Ministry - the knowledge that he was right, and that the world was in terrible danger. But no one was in danger now. Hogwarts was fine. The world didn’t need a Chosen One.

But they did need a Ministry. And he needed Hogwarts. He needed it to stay as it was, as Dumbledore would have wanted it to be. Which meant that he needed to play the political game, which was not exactly his forte.

Harry looked up as Neville walked in. Neville took one look at their faces and grimaced. “What’s happened?

Harry showed Neville the article and waited while he read it.

“What a bummer,” Neville said sympathetically as he handed back the newspaper. Apart from Luna, Neville was the only other student still at Hogwarts who was able to recognise the article as complete crap. “What are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing.” Harry folded the article carefully into a paper plane and sent it soaring across the room.

Ron flicked his wand to keep the airplane circling.

“Bummer,” Neville repeated.

The alarm voices suddenly kicked in, screeching at the top of their lungs. “Ministry Representative approaching! Ministry Representative approaching!”

The four of them stared at each other in alarm.

“What?!” Harry stared at the door.

Hem hem,” came the sound from through the doorway.

“Buzz off,” Ron muttered under his breath.

Umbridge turned the corner. “Did you address me, Mr. Weasley?” she asked in a simpering tone.

“Nope, you must be hearing things,” Ron said, flicking his wand casually.

The airplane article crashed into Umbridge’s head.

The room, minus Ron, froze. Harry stared in vague horror as Umbridge slowly picked up the article and unfolded it. What had gotten into Ron this year? He was reminding him of… of Sirius.

While Harry was sitting here trying to pick his battles. He was a little concerned that he might have been a bad influence on Ron of late.

Umbridge scanned the paper and smiled. “I see you’ve been keeping up with your press, Mr. Potter,” she said, tucking the article into her clutch bag. “It must be difficult to read an interview where you are no longer the centre of attention.”

“Well, the lies are still the same, so nothing has really changed,” Harry replied, standing up so that he towered over her. “What can we do for you, Dolores?”

“Your presence as the Hogwarts Liaison is required, Mr. Potter.” She somehow managed to look up at him in a way that made it obvious she felt she was looking down. “This way, if you please.”

Harry stepped through the doorway in front of her and strode quickly to the common room exit.

Hem hem.”

He turned slowly and waited, teeth grinding together.

“I don’t know all that much about Chosen Ones,” Umbridge smirked. “But I’m quite sure they still require hearing their instructions before following them, hmm?”

Harry waited. Umbridge lifted her chin and walked past him. She rapped on the portrait and exited smartly, Harry following not far behind.

“Now, Mr. Potter, as Liaison you will need to assist in not only the rebuilding process, but the Final Project as well. Please understand that this project is top secret, and you will be prevented from discussing it with anyone here at Hogwarts.”

Not forbidden; prevented. Harry didn’t miss the distinction. He followed Umbridge in silence as she led him through the castle to a disused classroom in the Astronomy tower. Inside, the tables that usually held crystal balls were instead covered with Pensieves. The walls were lined with tiny vials, their contents shimmering silver in the light. Harry frowned.

Umbridge lifted her wand, and the door shut quietly. “Potter,” she said, the smile dropping from her face for the first time since Harry had seen her this year. “Before we begin, I will need to bind you to secrecy. Please extend your hand.”

Harry didn’t move. “What do I need to keep secret?”

“Well, now, as much as I’m sure you’re a trustworthy young man, I really will need to hold you to it before we proceed any further.”

“Well, the answer’s simple, then,” Harry said, turning to the door. “We won’t be proceeding, because there’s no way in hell I’m letting you cast anything on me.” He pulled the handle, but the door held fast. “Alohamora,” he muttered, but the door didn’t move.

He gritted his teeth and turned back to Umbridge, ignoring her smug smile. “You can’t hold me here,” he said. “McGonagall will destroy you.”

“Oh, I shan’t hold you,” Umbridge said. “I merely wanted to inform you that what is happening in this room will continue with or without your help.” The lock clicked.

Without taking his eyes from her, Harry tried the handle. It opened. “So, I can leave.”

“At any time you like.”

Harry looked at the Pensieves on the table. So many Pensieves, each full of memories. And more lining the walls. What could she possibly be doing with them? If he left, he could get McGonagall and find out another way.

But Umbridge would have thought of that. She would move everything. Or lie. Or both. His only chance of finding out what she was up to was to stay and be bound to silence. He dropped his hand from the door.

“I knew you’d make the right choice,” Umbridge said softly. “Now, you won’t be able to talk to anyone about what goes on in here, unless of course, like myself, they’re here with you and therefore already know. And if you think about bringing any of your little friends, I would advise against it. The door is warded, and I’d so hate for anything nasty to happen to them.”

She walked over to him and rested her wand on his lips. It felt like such an intimate gesture that Harry wanted to vomit. He pressed his lips tightly shut and held her gaze.

He didn’t know the words she muttered; it wasn’t a spell he had heard before. But given his experience with her favourite quill, he trusted that it would prevent him from speaking about what he saw here. She tapped her wand three times against his closed mouth, before grabbing his hand, lifting it, and waving her wand in a small circle around his palm.

“So, what twisted shit are you up to now?” he said before he could stop himself.

Umbridge smirked. “Only the truth,” she said, gesturing fondly to the vials in the shelves. “I’m collecting memories of Hogwarts students. Memories of prejudice and segregation.” She sounded like a mother proudly talking about her child. Harry grimaced as he estimated just how many memories must be here to fill this many Pensieves. “But of course, we can’t expect the Wizengamot to look through all the memories themselves. Which is why the Ministry has requested a trusted representative to witness the memories and certify our report.”

Her voice had become thick with anticipation. Harry frowned. Why would this project make her so happy? So, the Ministry would see that some kids were nasty little bullies - why did that matter?

“Once the Wizengamot realises the extent of the racial hate that occurs here at Hogwarts, they will have no choice but to shut down the school.”

When he looked up, her eyes were piercing. “What racial hate?” he snapped, confused. “There are only a few Slytherins who call people Mudbloods, and they’ve mostly been weeded out in the war. The rest might be bigoted little snots, but they don’t go around spouting it.”

He had the terrible certainty that he had said exactly what Umbridge had hoped he would say.

“And what of the way Slytherins are treated?” she suggested. “Surely there are students in other houses who share equally bigoted views, but are they ever targeted? You wouldn’t even be able to name one. How can you possibly think that a school-wide perception of a single house as “evil” would not contribute to the relevant students’ sense of identity? How can you possibly justify such prejudice?”

Harry gaped at her. She wasn’t talking about prejudice against the Muggle-borns; she was talking about prejudice against the Slytherins. It hit him. She was trying to show the Wizengamot that Hogwarts had bred Voldemort. That the culture had made him the way he was.

“You’re nuts,” he said when he could finally speak. “No one will believe this. What about Grindelwald? He wasn’t at Hogwarts. You can’t possibly build a case from this.”

“The memories speak for themselves, Mr. Potter,” she finished, her eyes shining with glee. “Kindly witness the memories and store them as evidence.” She opened the door, but turned back suddenly. “And, Mr. Potter? Don’t be alarmed if the memories have a little more… physicality than usual. A mere side effect of the secrecy spell.” She giggled and shut the door behind her.

Harry stared at the room in horror. She honestly expected him to contribute to Hogwarts’ permanent closure. How could the memories possibly build such a case?

He moved to the closest Pensieve and stuck his head into the shimmery water.

A trembling first year stood before the Sorting Hat. As the Great Hall watched, she stepped up and rested the hat on her head. It slipped and fell below her eyes.

There was a long pause. Harry pictured the Hat discussing the houses with the girl, as it had done with him. Finally, the hat shouted “Slytherin!”

Slytherin table cheered, but the other tables were mostly silent. Harry caught a few grimaces and eye rolls from the Gryffindors.

The girl shuffled quickly to the Slytherins, as if she were trying not to be seen. Harry followed her and listened closely.

“It wanted to put me in Gryffindor,” she muttered to another first year. “But I know I’m not brave enough. But I do so desperately want to do well here, like mother.”

The first year clapped her on the back. “Ambitious,” he said with a grin. “You’ll fit right in.”

The memory swirled and became another.

The same girl played with her hair, while watching her reflection in the bathroom mirror. No matter how she twisted it, she didn’t seem to be happy with it.

Two girls entered and stopped short at the sight of her. Harry noticed they were in Ravenclaw.

“Urgh,” one girl muttered.

“Agreed,” said the other, stifling a laugh. “Careful, she might curse us. I hear it runs in the family.”

The first girl went bright red. “My mother never cursed anyone! It was all a-”

“Save it.” One of the others laughed. “We all know she went to Azkaban.”

“Trials can be wrong.” She looked like she was going to burst into tears.

The two girls shared a smirk, before pushing past her. The first girl lifted her wand.

“Look out!” They both pulled their wand in response, and before Harry could see what had happened, the first girl was writhing on the floor covered in welts from a Stinging Hex.

Harry felt a sharp pain stab his side, before pain blossomed all across his skin, sending him crashing to the ground in agony. The Ravenclaw girl was exceptionally good at Stinging Hexes.

As the memory faded, he heard one of them say, “Told you.”

Harry came to on the floor of the classroom. He lifted his shirt and saw that his torso was covered in angry red welts. He stood up and ran his hand through his hair. What the hell was he going to do?

He ran back to the dormitory. Ron and Neville were already snoring. He paused, wanting to wake them, but also not sure what he could say with the spell Umbridge had cast.

He took off his shirt and examined the wounds. They were just as angry as they had been when cast.

A small noise behind him alerted him to someone else in the room. He turned around and saw that Malfoy had just entered, and was staring at him in shock. Their eyes met.

After a long pause, Malfoy twisted his face into a sneer, though Harry noticed that it didn’t look as arrogant as it usually did.

“Didn’t pick you for a masochist, Potter,” he said, walking toward his bed.

“Malfoy,” Harry said suddenly. “Umbridge-” he paused, the words unable to pass his lips.

Malfoy watched him, an eyebrow raised when he continued to mouth soundlessly.

“Don’t worry, Potty. I won’t share your kinky secret.” Malfoy drew the curtains on his bed, dismissing Harry completely.

Harry smacked himself on the forehead and gave up trying to speak. He settled into bed and wondered why he had felt the sudden urge to tell Malfoy. It showed just how strong Umbridge’s spell was, though. He hadn’t been able to even hint at what had happened.

Which meant he couldn’t tell Ron and Hermione anything, because they would just panic that he was being hurt again, out of their control. He had to figure out a way to solve this on his own, before Umbridge prepared her report.

He had to admit, if the rest of the memories were like that, he might have a bit of trouble doing so.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Harry waved his wand at the rat on the table. He winced as one of his welts rubbed against a seam, and the spell shot off to the side.

Ron yelped and ducked. “Watch it, Harry!” he hissed. “I don’t really fancy being a cat today, but thanks for the offer.”

Harry rubbed his head and groaned. This year was meant to be peaceful, normal. Instead, it was shaping up like every other year, and he couldn’t even tell anyone. Not that he hadn’t tried. He’d spent all morning trying to explain to Ron and Hermione where he had been with Umbridge last night - he’d even tried writing it down and playing charades - but all he had succeeded in doing was saying that there was a secret task for the Ministry.

Somehow the spell even stopped him from looking frustrated at his own inability to speak, which meant that Ron and Hermione had gotten annoyed at him, thinking that he was snubbing them. Frankly, the fact that they believed he would keep things from them annoyed him so much he stopped trying to say anything.

“Malfoy’s watching you, Harry,” Hermione said suddenly.

Harry looked up to see Malfoy quickly glance away, but not before Harry had seen the thoughtful expression on his face.

“Wonder what the git is up to now,” Harry muttered, watching Malfoy keenly. “I told you he was acting strangely.”

“I’m well aware that he’s acting strangely,” Hermione said, staring at Harry pointedly. He didn’t notice.

McGonagall walked over to their table and looked down at Harry’s rat. “Having trouble, Mr. Potter?” she asked, raising one eyebrow slightly.

“No, Professor,” Harry said quickly, returning back to his work.

McGonagall moved on. Harry spent the rest of the lesson trying to catch Malfoy looking at him, but he could never quite be sure.

 

 


-~-~-

 

At eight o’clock that night, the alarm voices went again. Harry didn’t wait for her to enter, he just got up and walked out the door, ignoring Ron’s beginnings of a protest.

“So, this is a nightly date, is it?” he muttered as he walked past her.

“Oh dear, Mr. Potter,” she said, walking quickly behind him, her heels clicking on the cobblestone. “I had rather hoped you would show more commitment to the anti-prejudice movement.”

“You know, you call it that,” Harry said through gritted teeth, “but you’re… how should I put it? Wrong.”

“You don’t believe that every student should feel safe from harassment at Hogwarts?”

Harry whirled around to see her blinking in polite - and utterly fake - confusion. He took a deep breath through his nose. “It’s a two way street, Dolores,” he snapped.

“Absolutely, Mr. Potter,” Umbridge said, walking past him. “And we must make sure that both sides stick to basic manners.”

Harry grabbed handfuls of his hair and pulled, hard, as he fell into step behind her. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a flash of blond hair that quickly moved out of sight around a corner, but he was too angry to pay attention to what Malfoy might be doing now. “I can just go there myself. Each night at eight? Is that how you’re playing this?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you mean by ‘playing’,” Umbridge called behind her. “But certainly if I can rely on you to do your duty in my absence, it would serve the report well.” She stopped suddenly and turned. “Bring me your completed vials by ten each night, and we’ll consider your duties fulfilled.”

The way she said duties made Harry tense in remembered pain, but he simply nodded and walked past, up to the astronomy tower.

Once inside, he surveyed the room with a sinking stomach. Two hours of this, and he knew that Umbridge would most likely have something terrible in store for him should he return with only a small number of completed vials.

He grabbed one at random, tipped it into the closest Pensieve, and stuck his head in after it.

A small group of Slytherin seventh years surrounded a Gryffindor student who looked to be in second or third year.

“Thought you’d send that bludger my way, did you?” one of them sneered.

The younger student stood up taller and glared - rather bravely, Harry thought. “See, that’s what you do in Quidditch. You hit the bludgers at the opponents.”

The one at the front of the group grabbed the Gryffindor by the collar and pulled him close. “You don’t hit it at the same player for the whole game.

The Gryffindor student laughed. “So what? It’s not against the rules.”

The Slytherins pulled their wands, and a fight broke out.

Harry couldn’t see through all the hexes, but he could feel them. Every one. He pulled abruptly out of the memory and dropped to the ground, writhing as the combined effects of about four different jinxes hit him. He braced himself by his hands and waited for the shudders to pass.

“Come on,” he muttered, when he finally felt his body returning to normal. “That wasn’t even bullying. That was just a fight.”

He heard a noise behind him and spun around, half crouched on the floor.

A student stood in the doorway, his face blanched as he took in the sight of Harry on the floor, covered in cuts and welts. For an absurd second, Harry thought it was Malfoy, until the boy moved and Harry saw that he looked completely different, even if he was blond. His hair was more mussed than Malfoy’s, although it still had the same windswept look. His face was angular as well, although in a different way to Malfoy that Harry couldn’t quite put his finger on. He looked less pointy, and more like a model. Harry guessed him to be about seventh year.

“Are- are you okay?” the boy asked, his voice strangely deep, as if it had only just broken.

“Sure,” Harry said, standing up and eying the student warily. “Did Umbridge send you?”

The student paused, then nodded.

Harry frowned. “Why? I thought this was my own special torture.”

“Well,” the student began, looking around the room with interest. Before he could say anything further, Harry noticed a Slytherin tie poking out of his robe pocket.

“Ah, you’re Slytherin,” he said flatly, stretching and attempting to hide a wince as he did so. “That explains it.”

The boy looked down at his pocket, his eyes widening. He started to shove the tie deeper, then stopped. “Yeah,” he said.

“So, what were your instructions?” The boy leaned over one of the Pensieves and prodded it carefully.

“What were yours?” Harry countered, watching him suspiciously.

“To supervise you, of course,” the boy said, turning around with an arrogant smirk that reminded Harry so much of Malfoy that he wanted to hex the kid.

Instead, he took another deep breath and simply smiled. He had been doing a lot of that lately.

“Well, supervise away,” he said, his voice mocking. “Hopefully, you enjoy watching me get beaten up, because that’s mostly what you’re going to see.”

“Why?” the boy asked. He immediately looked like he wished he could take it back.

“Because it makes Umbridge happy,” Harry said with a sigh. “What’s your name anyway?”

“Derek,” the boy said immediately.

“Well, Derek.” Harry picked a new vial. “Enjoy the show.”

The memory was longer this time, with a fight that began at one of the Slytherin study tables in the library. Clearly insulting a Muggle-born, the Slytherins started a fight with a table of mixed houses. One of the quietest fist fights Harry had ever seen broke out, safely out of view of Madame Pince.

In the midst of being pummelled into submission by invisible hands, Harry wondered how on earth this could be considered bullying of a Slytherin. Until he saw the third year Slytherin round the corner and double back in shock. Someone - Harry didn’t see who, but it wasn’t a Slytherin - grabbed the kid and dragged him into the fray.

Gasping, Harry pulled himself from the memory just as everything went black.

He woke up with his head on someone’s lap and an unfamiliar face staring down at him, concern showing in the boy’s eyes.

Derek, Harry’s memory supplied.

“What the hell?” Harry groaned, trying to sit up.

“Just sit for a second, Potter,” Derek pushed him down gently.

Harry didn’t want to admit it, but having six people punch him relentlessly for thirty seconds was making him feel a little worse for wear. He shut his eyes again.

“You know, you can call me Harry,” he said drily. “Otherwise you sound too much like-” he paused. “Just call me Harry.”

He felt cool fingers tentatively resting on his temple. “Your pulse is slowing,” Derek said quietly. “Are you feeling better?”

“Yeah, just gimme a minute,” Harry mumbled. He didn’t even care that he was resting on some random Slytherin student’s lap. Derek didn’t seem to mind, and his fingers on Harry’s temple felt nice.

After a few moments, he sat up. Derek leaned back until he was at a respectable distance and eyed Harry shrewdly. “So what the fuck happened?”

Harry snorted. As quickly as possible, he explained what Umbridge had done to him, feeling oddly relieved to have someone who had witnessed it and was part of it, and therefore someone the spell didn’t limit him from talking to. “So I assume Umbridge swore you to silence too?” he asked.

“Yes,” Derek said, distracted. “But I didn’t know it was so intense.”

Harry laughed. “This is classic Umbridge,” he said, standing up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to do several more of these and bring them to the poor dear by ten. Do me a favour, and if you think I’m about to get killed, drag me out?”

Derek paled. “What if-” He paused, and then started again, standing up. “What if I did some as well? She won’t know.”

Harry stared at him. “Sure,” he said after a pause. “But… they’ll probably hurt you too. And she’s not going to reward you for it or anything. She only wants me to do it. She just wants you to ensure I don’t cop out, I assume.”

Derek shrugged. “You only have to do half then.”

Harry nodded slowly. “Alright. Well, stop if it gets too much.”

In answer, Derek plucked a vial from the shelf, poured it into a Pensieve, and peered into the surface.

For the remaining hour, Harry and Derek worked relatively silently, viewing vials and healing each other between memories. Now that Derek’s initial shock at seeing Harry being attacked by invisible hands had passed, he seemed more relaxed. The concern he had shown at the beginning had made Harry think that Derek’s personality was oddly Hufflepuff for a Slytherin, but now that he was acting naturally, Harry could see the Slytherin in him. Arrogant movements, driven by a sort of poised grace that Harry - if he was honest - wished he had; a derisive laugh whenever Harry made some comment about Umbridge; and a faint expression of distaste when he viewed a memory he didn’t like. Since the memories were entirely about Slytherin being the underdog, the sneer on his face was relatively permanent.

But despite all that, Harry was grateful that he was here. It had been wishful thinking that Umbridge would let him work alone; of course she would send someone from her little squad to watch him. The joke was on her that she’d happened to send someone who was willing to help, instead of someone who would just watch and laugh. At least she hadn’t sent Malfoy.

As they said goodnight, he watched the other boy carefully, wondering how he could have never seen him around the castle, and yet how he could seem so familiar at the same time.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Despite Derek’s healing, Harry was still moving slowly in class the next day. Fortunately, neither Hermione nor Ron seemed to notice. He looked out for Derek, but since he didn’t see him, he assumed he must just be a sixth year after all.

He arrived at the Room of Requirement before Malfoy, and groaned when he saw just how little they had actually done.

Malfoy walked in, carrying a new bag. “Thought we might need this,” he said, throwing it into the centre of the room without looking at Harry.

Harry stared at him in shock. Malfoy kept looking at the ground until he had to either acknowledge Harry or pointedly ignore him. He saw Harry’s expression and blinked in surprise.

“What, no insult?” Harry asked, eyebrows raised.

The surprise immediately transformed into a sneer. “You’re not worth my time, Potter,” he said, turning away.

For some reason, the silence annoyed Harry.

“Enjoying your new power?” he shot, picking a new area in the room and beginning to clear.

When Malfoy didn’t answer, he looked up to see the blond staring at him incredulously.

“What power, Potter?” he said. “In case you haven’t noticed, the Anti-Prejudice Squad doesn’t actually do anything.”

"No, it doesn't do anything at all," Harry snapped back. "Nothing except go to special dinners and report students for stupid bullying charges that could get them kicked out of Hogwarts."

Malfoy stared at him, his jaw slack. "Maybe they should be kicked out, Potter," he spat. "Have you ever thought about that? Or are you too busy screaming the praises of Muggle-borns to notice that some of them aren’t nice?!"

Harry made a rude noise. "Are you seriously accusing me of prejudice, Malfoy? Come off it. I'm the biggest supporter of Slytherin in this damn place-"

Malfoy snorted loudly. It momentarily struck Harry that it wasn't a gesture he'd ever seen Malfoy make. "You are not. You say you are, but what have you really done to prove it? You've never even had a decent conversation with a Slytherin."

"That's not true," Harry began to say, intending to mention Derek, but stopping at the last second because he didn’t want to talk about Umbridge. Besides, the curse probably wouldn’t let him.

"That's what I thought," Malfoy said nastily. "And you've done nothing but watch me since we returned. You're just begging for me to step out of line, aren't you? It never crossed your mind that I might have regrets?"

"Regrets?" Harry laughed. "You might be better than you were, Malfoy, but you're still a right git. Just watching you stalk the hallways with Umbridge's special badge on your robes and your nose so high you can't even see, proves that."

Malfoy lifted his hands to the air dramatically. "See? This is what I'm talking about, Potter. You say I haven't changed - look at yourself."

"I don't need to change," Harry replied, glaring at Malfoy. "I wasn't a Death Eater."

Malfoy froze. "Fuck you,” he hissed.

They stared at each other, tense, but both unwilling to draw their wand. Eventually, Malfoy turned away.
After about fifteen minutes, Harry filled the first bag and threw it roughly to the front of the room. Malfoy raised one eyebrow, but said nothing.

Harry set the other bag up and then looked around to see what to start next. With a groan, he realised what they had both missed.
“Malfoy,” he said unwillingly.

Malfoy looked up in surprise.

“We can’t just clear the rubble.” Harry pointed.

Malfoy turned to see where Harry was looking. His jaw dropped. “You can’t mean-” He swallowed. “Surely not. It’s just rubbish. Throw it away.”

As much as Harry would never admit it, he tended to agree with Malfoy. But he knew it was wrong. “We can’t,” he said, his voice slipping into another groan. “It would be wrong.”

“Live a little, Potter,” Malfoy said, still eying the pile with growing apprehension.

Harry turned to Malfoy in surprise. Even Malfoy looked suddenly taken aback that he had said something so casual, almost friendly.

Malfoy cleared his throat. “Well, I guess we should move straight onto the cleaning, then? This rubble is a pretty small job by comparison.”

“Guess so.” Harry moved closer to the pile of artefacts that the mountains of burnt wood and stone had hidden. They had thought the room had nothing salvageable in it, which meant they could just clear the rubbish and move on. Unfortunately, some of what had been in the Room of Requirement had survived. And given how much the Room had helped him, he felt obligated to rescue as much as possible.

“How do you think we clean it all?” Harry asked, stepping over a large collection of possibly-once-bookshelf and picking up a dirty statue that had managed to survive the wreck.

Malfoy muttered something that sounded distinctly like ‘with fire’.

Harry bit down hard on his tongue to stop himself from laughing at a joke made by Malfoy, of all people. He tentatively aimed his wand at the statue and cast a Scourgify. A small amount of dirt came off the statue.

“Damn.”

“Try two quick ones,” Malfoy suggested, picking up an odd glass contraption that looked like it might have been a Sneakoscope.

Malfoy cast two Scourgifies in quick succession at the glass artefact, so that they overlaid each other. It exploded.

“Shit.”

Harry tried the same thing on the statue, but it exploded as well. Malfoy sighed.

“What about-” Harry began, and then stopped, not wanting to suggest it.

“What?” Malfoy snapped, carefully brushing his hands free of glass.

“What about if I strengthen it while you Scourgify?”

Malfoy raised one eyebrow. “You mean, work together?” Malfoy’s voice was mocking. “Be still, my beating heart.”

“Just cast the spell, Malfoy.”

Malfoy watched as Harry strengthened a stone, claw-footed bath tub, and then cast two quick Scourgifies. The bathtub lightened.

“Hey, it worked,” Harry said with a grin.

“Want a medal?”

Harry ignored him. They continued cleaning in silence until the bath tub shone.

“At least we know what to do next time,” Harry said, casting a quick Tempus charm. “Why do you think so much survived?” He said it idly, not expecting Malfoy to reply.

“Fiendfyre burns hot, but close,” Malfoy said. “It doesn’t have a high radius of heat, or else we would have died simply by being in the room, with the amount of fire that was in here.”

“Oh,” Harry replied, surprised at such a normal response. “Right.”

“See you next time, Potter.” Malfoy left the room.

Harry watched him as he left, but Malfoy didn’t turn around. Harry wasn’t sure what to make of this new Malfoy. Surely, he had to have an ulterior motive.

Unless he didn’t. But that would mean he had just had a pleasant conversation with Malfoy.

He pushed the thought from his mind and left.

 

 


-~-~-

 

It was during Charms that he suddenly realised it was up to him to save Hogwarts. No Ron, no Hermione. Just him.

For some reason, that notion was more daunting to him than the knowledge that he alone needed to defeat Voldemort had been. Voldemort had been prophecy, destiny. This was politics.

He hated politics.

He could try to get through Umbridge’s spell, but how long did he really have? Even if he managed to break it, he still had to solve the real problem, and he would have just wasted all that time on something that may not be worth it. The answer to Umbridge wasn't going to be found in a book, or by pulling a sword out of a lake, so telling Ron and Hermione what was happening wasn’t necessarily going to change a damn thing. He was on his own.

He spent the rest of the day thinking about it. He couldn’t go around collecting his own memories, even though Umbridge had clearly collected her memories with a bias and it would therefore be relatively easy to prove her wrong. But he couldn’t do it, because it would involve asking students for personal memories without giving an explanation. Or giving some lame excuse that would never cut it.

And sooner or later the news of what he was doing would get back to Umbridge, and there was every chance he wouldn’t be able to prove anything with the memories anyway. What did it matter if he could prove that Slytherins were just as nasty as Umbridge was trying to make out the other houses could be? It would just make Hogwarts look like it was full of bullies, which Umbridge could surely turn to her advantage.

What he really needed to do was find evidence of students working together, helping each other out. Something that could make the memories that Umbridge had collected seem isolated and out of context.

Harry had no idea where to find that sort of evidence. Which meant that when he burst into the Pensieve room that evening, already at breaking point, and found Derek sitting calmly at one of the tables, he exploded.

“Come back to gloat have you?” Harry snapped, slamming the door shut behind him.

A look of shock crossed Derek’s face, before he sneered. “Gloat? Really? After I spent all bloody evening yesterday helping you? Yes, certainly, I’ve come back to gloat because that’s what a sane person would do. Merlin, are you always such a temperamental prat or am I just the lucky one?”

Harry blinked in surprise. Derek was right, but Harry had never had anyone respond like that before. Ron would get offended, Hermione would be close to tears, but no one had ever… fought him before.

Harry was forced to come to the conclusion that he must be insane, because he liked it. For once, someone wasn’t tiptoeing around him, and they certainly weren’t going to cry.

He grinned at Derek. “Yeah. You’re right. Sorry.”

Derek’s jaw dropped.

Harry took a seat opposite Derek and grimaced. “So, I’m trying to stop Umbridge from closing down Hogwarts, but I can’t think of anything. Any ideas?”

Derek blinked. “Closing Hogwarts? What?”

“What did you think she was doing with all these memories?”

Derek looked thoughtful. “I hadn’t thought about it,” he admitted with a small frown. “Which, I have to say, was a little stupid.”

Harry snorted. “Not really. If you’re on the Anti-Prejudice Squad-” he looked at Derek for confirmation. Derek nodded. “Then, really, she’s twisted that damn squad so that it looks like she’s just trying to clean up the culture. Plant the Ministry’s flag, and all that. I don’t blame you for believing her.” He narrowed his eyes. “Although you would have been in third year when she was here last, so really, you had to have seen what a monster she was before?”

Derek’s eyes widened. “Well, “he said slowly. He stopped and cleared his throat. “I didn’t see her much. I only had her for Defence Against the Dark Arts, and she- she didn’t talk much.”

Harry laughed bitterly, remembering her classes. He supposed that, since she had focused so much on him in them, her other classes were probably quite boring. Copy the textbook. Do the test. No practicals. If you weren’t in the line of fire of one of her rules, you probably wouldn’t have seen that much of her at all. What an odd thought.

“Well, that’s what she’s doing,” he continued. “She wants to prove that Hogwarts built a culture of prejudice towards purebloods, making Slytherin house believe they would never amount to anything more than Death Eater scum, or supporters at least, and therefore that we created Voldemort. The obvious point there is that if we’ve done it before, we’ll do it again. She wants to label us as a poisonous culture and get Hogwarts shut down.”

Harry looked up, expecting to see Derek looking shocked and appalled. Instead, he looked thoughtful.

“Don’t tell me you believe that crap?” Harry snapped, his anger rising again.

Derek raised an eyebrow. “My, my,” he said dryly. “We really must do something about that temper.”

Harry opened his mouth, ready to argue, but Derek held up a hand and continued speaking. “I’m not saying I believe it, Harry,” he said slowly, obviously thinking the words through as he spoke. Harry noticed that the way Derek said his name was odd, as if he had to remember it every time, like the name was unfamiliar. “I’m just saying I don’t disbelieve it. I’ve seen the memories Umbridge has unearthed; they build a strong case. I’m not saying it’s the only case, but you have to admit, it’s interesting.”

“How can you be so calm about something so scathing?” Harry asked, incredulous.

Derek smirked. “Maybe because I’m used to having scathing things said about me and my house,” he said pointedly. “Don’t you find it interesting that you’re not?”

Harry burst out laughing. “Okay, firstly, do you have any idea the number of scathing things that have been said about me? Because if you don’t, you’ve been living under a rock. And secondly, I was nearly sorted into Slytherin. So don’t start this stupid ‘us and them’ mentality - it’s clearly that mind set that Umbridge has honed in on for the memories she’s collecting, so there’s no point continuing it now-” he trailed off. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Derek’s eyes were bugging out of his head. “You were nearly in Slytherin?” he yelped. “You mean all those years ago when you-” He shook his head furiously. “Never mind.” He stood up and began pacing, smoothing his hair viciously.

Harry stared at him as he muttered under his breath. He thought he caught words like “hand” and “train”, but it made no sense.

Derek finally turned back to him, looking considerably calmer. “You have to realise that you look down on everyone in Slytherin as if they were scum, don’t you?”

“What?” Harry burst out. “How can you say that? One of the bravest men I knew was a Slytherin, I would never-”

Derek laughed. “Listen to how you say that. One of the bravest men you knew. There is one Slytherin who you respect, and you refer to his house as if it were a curse. It’s like a dirty little secret-” Derek’s voice turned mocking. “He’s a Slytherin, but he never let that hold him back.” Derek’s suddenly froze, his expression turning shocked and almost… incredulous? “Who is it?” he asked.

Harry blinked. “Professor Snape,” he said, wondering why Derek would be so interested.

Derek’s expression turned blank. “Right,” he said flatly. “Of course. Well, anyway, you see what I mean? You say ‘Slytherin’ like it’s a dirty word. And since you say you were nearly a Slytherin, and yet here you stand as a Gryffindor, I can only imagine that you flat out pleaded with the Sorting Hat to never put you in such a dastardly evil place?”

The cynicism in Derek’s voice was tangible. Harry cleared his throat awkwardly. Derek had a point.

“Sure,” Harry said. “Alright, fine. Let’s say I am a little… biased. I have good reason, but anyway. The point is that no amount of bias created Voldemort. He was always going to become who he did, and we can’t let Umbridge close Hogwarts just because she has a chip on her ugly pink shoulder.”

Derek laughed. “Fair point. So what’s your plan?”

Harry’s face fell. “I don’t have one.”

Derek sighed dramatically. “Then I guess the Slytherin will have to think of something.” He quirked an eyebrow at Harry, the small grin on his lips making it clear that he was only joking.

Harry surprised himself by laughing. “Yeah, I guess so. All that I could think of is to try and find something that proves the students are all about interhouse friendship, just as much as Umbridge is proving they’re not. At least then her case won’t look so one-sided.”

“That’s it?” Derek asked, deadpan. “You managed to single-handedly locate and destroy seven Horcruxes, and this is the best you’ve got? ‘Oh I think if we just show the ministry some friendship, it might work out, you know?’” He snorted. “Would you like to plait some friendship bracelets while we’re at it? We could make them with all four house colours entwined and give them out at dinner. It would be just adorable.”

Harry scooped water from the Pensieve next to him and threw it at Derek. He dodged most of it with a surprised laugh, but his robes were partially drenched. “Gross, those are someone’s memories.” He shuddered. “I’ll bill you for my dry cleaning, shall I?” he said with a sniff, spelling his robes dry as best he could.
“Wizards have dry cleaning?” Harry asked.

“Of course. We’re not peasants. Washing spells can only do so much.”

Harry laughed. Derek sounded so pompous. It suited him. Derek looked up and grinned.

“Well, we’d better start clearing some memories,” Harry said, scooping up some empty vials in order to clear one of the full Pensieves. “Time to get beaten up.”

Derek made a face and grabbed some vials from the shelf. “See you soon.”

The session passed quickly, although they didn’t get as many vials completed as they had yesterday. Harry hoped that Umbridge would think they were longer memories and not check. The memories today had been particularly bad, leaving Harry feeling tender and bruised. He thought his ribs might be cracked, but he tried not to show it, letting Derek mend only his cuts.

As they were leaving, Derek suddenly grabbed Harry and pulled him back. Harry turned in surprise, and saw that Derek was looking off into the distance in shock.

“What?” he asked, pulling away from Derek’s hand.

“The Room of Requirement,” Derek said, still staring ahead.

“You know about the room?” Harry was stunned; he didn’t think any students knew about the room except for DA members and Malfoy.

“Students used to use it for trysts.” Derek turned to him. “They might have left messages to each other.”

Harry stared at him blankly. Derek looked exasperated. “Your stupid idea,” he reminded Harry. “To find evidence of inter-house friendship? Well, this is a decent bit further along than friendship, and it happened all the time. Always between houses. I think this might have a shot of working. It might actually make Umbridge’s evidence circumstantial and void, because it proves the bias.”

Harry frowned. “But the Room was destroyed,” he began, then he remembered yesterday’s discovery. “But not all of it!” he finished, excitedly. “Derek, you might be onto something!”

Derek looked confused for a second, before the expression passed. He shook his head as if it clear it. His excitement seemed to be fading. “Yeah,” he said, forcing a smile. “And you’re clearing it out aren’t you? With Draco? I thought I walked past you in the Room the other day.”

“Yeah.” Harry pulled a face. “I’ll just have to keep him distracted.”

“You could always ask him to help,” Derek said flatly.

Harry laughed. “As if he would. No offence to your house and all that, but he really is a git. Besides, I can’t talk about it with him. Umbridge’s spell, remember?”

Harry was surprised to realise that Derek was glaring at him, his expression ice cold. He opened his mouth to say something, but Derek interrupted. “Well, see you tomorrow, Potter.” He walked off.

“Yeah,” Harry said slowly to Derek’s retreating back. “See you tomorrow.”

 

 


-~-~-

 

Harry walked quickly down the corridor. He was late - again - since he had been trying to catch up on homework that stood no chance of completion with the schedule Umbridge had set.

As he rounded the corner, he saw a flurry of movement, and then a Stinging Hex skimmed past his face.

“Shit!” he muttered, ducking out of the way and pulling his wand.

“Take it back!” a small Gryffindor boy roared, shooting another Stinging Hex at the Slytherin in front of him.

“Protego,” Harry muttered, slamming a shield between the students. The two Gryffindor boys standing back looked up in surprise and fear.

“He started it!” a blond boy said, pointing at the Slytherin on the ground.

“And I care because…?” Harry asked drily, folding his arms and looking between the four of them.

The blond boy noticed Harry’s scar and gasped. He nudged his friend and one by one the three turned to stare. The Slytherin boy glared at him mutely, but took the opportunity to scramble to his feet.

“His parents killed my cousin,” the Gryffindor who had thrown the hex choked out, tears in his eyes.

Harry’s stomach dropped. Of course something like this would happen, he just hadn’t seen it yet.

“And now they’re in Azkaban,” the Slytherin spat. “Just like your parents should be for murdering my aunt.”

“Take it back!” The Gryffindor boy yelled again, hurling another hex that bounded off the shield and skimmed Harry’s head.

“Stop hexing each other!” Harry roared as he ducked, making the first years jump in fright. “For Merlin’s sake, you’re not in a war! You’re in school together! Act like it!”

“If we’re not in a war, he shouldn’t have picked Slytherin,” one of the other boys said smugly. “He could have chosen to be on the winning side, but he chose to stand against us instead.”

Harry stared at the kid incredulously. Had he been this much of a dickhead when he was eleven?

“The war wasn’t fought between Gryffindor and Slytherin,” Harry said slowly, mentally adding ‘you little moron’ at the end. “If the kid likes Slytherin house, he can be in Slytherin house. His family was probably in there.”

“Yeah, and look what that meant for them,” the other boy yelled, and they all began arguing again.

Harry aimed his wand at the ceiling and fired the biggest explosion he could without bringing the ceiling down on them.

The four boys stared at him in shock.
“When you’ve finished,” Harry began sarcastically. “I-”

“Yes, when you’ve quite finished,” a high pitched voice interrupted.

Harry groaned, turning to see Umbridge standing primly at the end of the corridor.

“Excellent work, Mr. Potter,” she said, stepping smartly over the cobblestone to reach them. “Three against one. I think you’ve made a fine apprehension for the Anti-Prejudice Squad.”

“They were just arguing,” Harry said through gritted teeth. “I’ve got it under control. Tempers were high. It’s fine.”

“Oh, I hardly think so,” Umbridge argued with a smile. “Children do not learn when there are no repercussions. Boys, this way, please.”

The four boys followed miserably after Umbridge as she left.

Harry stared after them, but it was too late. It had hardly been bullying, but then that wasn’t really what Umbridge’s Anti-Prejudice fight was about, was it? He’d been focused on the fact that no one in their right mind would call Slytherin students innocent victims, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that the source of the animosity and the fighting had no justifiable basis. Even though they were only little kids, Harry couldn’t really argue that one.

Harry ran a hand through his hair and hurried to class.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Malfoy was watching him strangely when Harry entered the Room of Requirement that afternoon. Like he was waiting for something; expectant.

Harry glared at him and moved further into the room. How was he meant to search for things without Malfoy interrupting? Or nosing into what he was doing? No matter how much Malfoy had insisted he had changed, Harry didn’t trust him with the knowledge that they were trying to save Hogwarts. Why would Malfoy care to save it? Hogwarts had never been a refuge for him, like it had been for Harry.

“You look purposeful, today, Potter,” Malfoy called out from behind him as Harry searched the rubble for something ‘trysty’.

“Just as purposeful as I always am, Ferret-face,” he called back.

As expected, that comment earned him a stony silence. Harry grinned to himself and kept searching.

“If you’re looking for something,” Malfoy interrupted again. “You could always ask for help.”

Harry stood up and stared at Malfoy in shock. Malfoy pointedly didn’t look at him, continuing to pick up rubble and throw it in the bag.

“Help?” Harry repeated. “Why would you help?” He was too stunned to even argue.

Malfoy shrugged. “Boredom? Comradery? The fact that I’m not actually the fucking arsehole you make me out to be?”

Harry continued to stare. “Well, yeah, you could help.”

Malfoy finally looked up at him. “So, what are you looking for?”

“Er.” Harry wondered what Umbridge’s spell would let him say. “Well, students used to come here to-” he trailed off.

Malfoy smirked. “Feeling frisky, Potter?”

Harry felt his cheeks redden. “No. But yeah, that’s what I mean. I was wondering if there was anything left over from those visits. Notes to each other. Messages scrawled on the wall. That sort of thing.”

Merlin, he had no idea what Malfoy would think of him now, since there was no way he could possibly explain why he needed those things.

Oddly, Malfoy didn’t question it. And it looked like he was fighting the urge to roll his eyes.

“Fine. Was that really so hard?”

Harry didn’t answer. Malfoy moved over to him - Harry fighting the urge to shrink away or draw his wand - and together they began to sort through the piles of leftover junk. As they worked, they cleaned what they found, Harry silently strengthening the items while Malfoy scourgified them.

It was oddly pleasant. Like working with Ron or Hermione.

Malfoy ran his hands along a stone chest. “Could be something in here,” he said, opening the lid cautiously.

The chest was mostly empty, except for a small notebook. Malfoy flipped idly through the pages.

“Dear honeymunchkin…yada yada... I miss you… write more frequently…yada yada… You are the snake to my badger… Oh my god, Potter, are you listening to this? How have you not vomited yet? Let alone the fact that a snake would kill a bloody badger. Or would a badger kill a snake?” He looked into the distance thoughtfully. “They’re both pretty cranky animals.” He shook his head and looked back at the notebook. “Either way, the sentiment is fucking stupid.”

Harry made a face. “At least it serves our purpose.”

“Yeah,” Malfoy said, throwing the notebook at Harry and giving him a very pointed look. “Whatever that is.”

Harry mentally cursed, but Malfoy just turned away and kept hunting. Harry thanked his lucky stars that Malfoy didn’t appear to possess an ounce of curiosity. They didn’t find anything more, and finished by cleaning up the last of the pile in front of them.

Just as Harry was casting the final strengthening spell, he twisted in a way that pulled on his ribs from where they had been injured last night.

“Argh!” He winced and pulled away.

Malfoy whipped his head up sharply and narrowed his eyes. “What’s wrong with you, Potter?”

“Nothing,” Harry muttered. “Just some spells gone awry.” Umbridge’s spell seemed to allow him to say that much.

Malfoy’s eyes slid down to Harry’s ribs. “Ribs are rarely ‘nothing’. Why didn’t you-” he stopped speaking.

Harry looked at him questioningly, but he didn’t continue. Instead, Malfoy raised his hand hesitantly.

“May I?” he asked, looking up at Harry.

Harry was struck by how piercing those grey eyes suddenly were. Partially frozen by the surrealness of the situation, he nodded.

Malfoy leaned forward and gently began to prod Harry’s ribs. When his fingers suddenly slid across the spot that sent sharp pains all through Harry’s lungs, Harry gasped and pulled back.

“Ssh,” Malfoy muttered, seemingly distracted. He pulled out his wand and muttered a spell.

Harry was vaguely disturbed to realise later that he had been so preoccupied with how close Malfoy was standing, and the intense focus in his eyes, that he had no idea what spell Malfoy had used.

The pain faded.

“Hey,” Harry said, surprised. “Thanks, Malfoy.”

“I’d say don’t mention it,” Malfoy said, straightening up. “But that’s what got you into this stupid position in the first place.”

Harry couldn’t help but grin at the wry smile on Malfoy’s face. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “I’ll mention it next time. You’re good with healing spells.”

“I am,” Malfoy agreed haughtily. “See you next time, Potter.”

“Bye.” Harry stared after him as he left, but he didn’t turn back.

 

 


-~-~-

 

That evening, in the eighth year common room, Harry decided to try again to tell Ron and Hermione what was going on. Now that he had something resembling a plan, maybe they could help.

“So, Umbridge is-” Harry began.

Ron stared at him expectantly, while Hermione hadn’t yet looked up from her book. “Umbridge is?” he prompted.

“Well, there’s this thing.” Harry tried again.

Ron blinked slowly. “A thing. Well, I know a lot of ‘things’, but really, you’re going to have to help me out here, mate. I need a little more to go on.”

“A bad thing,” Harry said. Umbridge’s spell made him outwardly very relaxed and laconic, as if he was dragging this out intentionally. Inside, he was seething.

“Right.” Ron frowned. “It’s that bad, you don’t even want to talk about it? Blimey. Okay then… is she-” He froze. “Oh my god, she’s coming onto you, isn’t she?”

“What?!” Harry burst out, breaking through the spell’s lethargy. Hermione’s head whipped up, shock on her face. He laughed, though his face was twisted in fear at the thought. “No. Merlin, no.”

Ron held a hand over his chest and gave a relieved sigh. “You scared me there, Harry.”

Harry ran his hand through his hair slowly; exasperated, but unable to show it. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s not like that.”

Ron frowned. “You keep bringing this up, but then never actually saying anything. What’s going on?”

“He’s bound to a secrecy spell,” Hermione said suddenly.

Harry looked at her in astonishment. Hermione lifted her hand and pointed straight between his eyes.

Harry flinched. “What are you doing?”

“Your pupils,” Hermione said, closing her book. “They’re dilated. And listen to your breathing - you’re almost hyperventilating. If we talk about this any longer, you’ll probably start coughing or sneezing.”

Harry frowned. “What the hell are you talking about?” He coughed, and then held up a finger at Hermione’s triumphant expression. “That doesn’t count,” he said. “You put the thought in my mind.”

“Harry, your autonomic nervous system is giving you away,” she said. “You should be happy. Whatever spell is on you is controlling every aspect of your body to ensure that you don’t give up the secret Umbridge is so desperate for you to keep. But it’s like a puppet master. Sort of.”

She frowned. “It’s like a puppet master that’s inside you; it can only control your central nervous system and your somatic nervous system to give the illusion of calm. It can’t control your reflexes. Your fight and flight response is giving you away.”

Harry and Ron stared at her, lost for words.

“What?” Hermione said defensively. “Just because you two thought that being wizards meant you didn’t need to have a Muggle education as well, doesn’t mean I made the same mistake.”

Harry gaped at her. “You mean, as well as studying magic, you’ve been studying Muggle high school?”

“No, of course not,” Hermione waved her hand dismissively. “How on earth would I have the time for that? But I can read. Honestly, you’d think you two never thought to pick up a book with how astonished you always are at what I learn from them.”

Harry didn’t know what to say. He shook his head. “So, magic can’t control my - what did you call it?”

“Autonomic nervous system,” Hermione said patiently. “And no, this spell doesn’t appear to be controlling it. So, while you look very calm, and you seem to simply not want to talk about it, you also - no offence - look like you’re on crack cocaine.”

Harry breathed a sigh of relief. “Hermione, I could kiss you.”

Ron looked alarmed.

“Don’t worry,” Harry said with a laugh. “I’ll leave that to you, mate.”

Hermione reached over and squeezed Ron’s hand, before turning back to Harry. “So, what do you need from us?”

Harry described the kinds of memories and proof he was looking for. He could see Hermione working furiously to try and figure out why he would need that, but in the end, she and Ron only looked confused.

“Alright,” she said carefully. “I’ll talk to some of the other girls, and see if they have favourite meetup places.”

Harry shook his head violently. “No talking. You can’t let word get back to Umbridge.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Harry, I think that I can ask another girl about her hook ups with a little bit less suspicion than you can.”

She had a point.

“Fine,” Harry said. “And I’m going to try to find the Sorting Hat.”

 

 


-~-~-

 

Harry almost ran into the astronomy room that night, he was so excited.

“We found something!” he said to Derek, who was leaning back in one of the chairs, his feet on the desk and his hands resting behind his head.

Derek’s thoughtful expression morphed into one of amusement. His lips quirked and he kicked his feet off the table, leaning forward. “What did you find?”

Harry threw the notebook on the desk in front of Derek. “And I had an idea. What if the Sorting Hat could help us?”

Derek paused from where he had been examining the notebook and looked up with a small frown. “What do you mean?”

“Well, it selects us for the houses,” Harry explained. “So surely it could testify to the Ministry that whatever it saw inside Tom Riddle when it sorted him - whatever was festering inside - was always going to go the way it did, no matter how Slytherin house was treated.”

Derek looked impressed. “You might be right,” he admitted. Then he narrowed his eyes. “But you’re missing the point, don’t you think?”

“What point?” Harry asked, confused. “That we have to stop Umbridge from closing down Hogwarts?”

“No,” Derek said sharply. “That these memories prove that every other house looks down on Slytherin like they’re the black sheep.”

“You are the black sheep,” Harry said before he could stop himself.

Derek’s eyes flashed with anger. “Oh really?” he snarled, standing up. “So when we listen to our parents and fight for what we believe in, we’re the black sheep, but when you do it, you’re just the golden child?” He started walking toward Harry, his step almost menacing. “And when we find creative ways to approach a task, it’s ‘cunning’ and ‘lazy’, but when you lot do it, it’s clever and innovative?”

He stopped just in front of Harry, their noses nearly touching. “You judge my house for our mistakes, and assume that we are all like the worst of us. Tell me, Potter, how would you act if you felt that no one would ever see you as anything more than a self-serving mastermind?”

Harry glared at him, standing up straight. “I would prove that I wasn’t,” he spat back. “I’d be kind and-”

“No you wouldn’t.” Derek gave a bitter laugh and shoved him backward. “You’d own it. You’d stick with the people who admired and respected you, and you’d own who you were. And anyone who stood against you could fuck off, because you’re strong and ambitious and cunning, and far too intelligent to think that sucking up to people who already despise you would ever make a difference to how those people saw you. The hat saw the Slytherin in you, but you rejected it flat out because you’d never been put in a position where you had to defend it. Luckily for you, you still haven’t.”

Harry shoved Derek back and stepped forward. “How would you know what I’d do? You don’t even know me.” He was fighting desperately to gain ground in this argument, but he was tired. He was so tired of fighting against something that he had spent far too long arguing in his own head anyway, and coming up with no answer.

“Oh, I think I do, Potter.” Derek grinned. “We’re a lot more alike than you’re ready to admit. Look at us. We’re working together - a big, brave Gryffindor and a scary, slimy snake. How could that be, if there wasn’t more to each of our personalities than we’re led to believe?”

Derek was right; Harry hated the Slytherin in him, and he rejected it whenever he saw it. He’d tried to convince himself that there was nothing wrong with being Slytherin - that a Slytherin could be worthy too - but he still cringed away from the thought of ever being associated with the house that had bred Voldemort.

Deep down, maybe he did think - hope - that he was better than them.

How was it that this student he had never met before could force him to confront what he had always tried to avoid, and somehow make it seem like a strength?

And suddenly, Harry was over it. He was over trying to pretend that he didn’t have parts of him that were cunning and ruthless and ambitious. He was over trying to pretend that he wasn’t ashamed of those pieces of him. He didn’t think Derek was completely right - Slytherins weren’t bullied little victims - but maybe he had a small point. Maybe Harry, at least, did assume the worst of them.

Strangely, the thought wasn’t as depressing as he had thought it would be. He lifted his chin and glared at Derek. “Fine,” he said, his voice low and angry. “Maybe I would have been just the same.”

Derek smiled; it was almost a cruel smile. He reached up and patted Harry’s cheek. “Well done.” he said. “Now as soon as you can see that that isn’t a bad thing, we might have made some progress.”

Harry made a sound that could have been a laugh and shoved Derek away. “I still think this ‘victim’ mentality is a bit rich. But I’ll stop saying that you’re the black sheep.”

Derek lifted his hands dramatically. “That’s all I ask.” He smirked, still close enough to Harry that they were nearly touching.

When Harry thought back on this moment later that night, he wondered if, maybe, had Derek not done what he had done next, would Harry have remained in blissful ignorance? And, really, would Harry have preferred that?

As Derek took a step back, he winked at Harry. A casual wink that was nothing more than friendly banter.

Harry felt a jolt deep in his stomach. His eyes fell to Derek’s lips, and the arrogant smile that still sat there. He hadn’t felt this sensation since he and Ginny had broken up. But surely… he wasn’t gay…

He looked up, his eyes meeting Derek’s. Derek’s eyes widened, and Harry’s desperate hope that maybe Derek hadn’t noticed vanished. Derek’s eyes dropped to Harry’s mouth. Harry felt his heart thudding in his chest, though he was frozen to the spot.

Suddenly, Derek shook his head and stumbled back. Without explanation, he strode quickly from the room, leaving Harry alone.

Harry sped through a stack of vials, dumped them on Umbridge’s desk, and fled back to his room. He was silently grateful that Ron and Neville were asleep, and Malfoy nowhere to be seen.

As he lay in bed, he tried to pass the sensation off as a strange impulse born from the surrealness of the conversation, but he knew he was lying to himself. He had thought about guys before, but never in a way that set off a question in his head. It was always just casual appreciation, like you would think of anyone who looked a certain way. He wanted to look the same, you know?

Unless it wasn’t that at all. Maybe he didn’t want to look like them after all. Maybe he really just wanted them.

The more he thought about it, the more he realised it was true. He didn’t blame himself for never having realised it before - he had been a little busy, after all.

But what was he going to do about it?

 

 


-~-~-

 

He tried to find Derek in class the next day, deliberately stalking all the sixth year classrooms that were near his, but he couldn’t see him anywhere. He didn’t even know what extra classes he was taking, so he couldn’t find him that way either. He debated going down to the Slytherin common room during lunch, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. What would he say anyway?

So in the end, he just hoped that Derek hadn’t been scared away, and would still come to the astronomy tower that night. Until then, he had to get through the rest of the day.

When Malfoy sauntered into the Room of Requirement, Harry was struck by the fact that he looked a lot more confident than he had so far this year. Which made Harry realise just how depressed Malfoy had seemed until now. It was a strange thought.

“Hello, Potter,” Malfoy said, shocking Harry into silence.

Harry managed a grunt, and frowned at the unexpected friendliness.

Malfoy smirked. “Eloquent, as always.” He gave Harry a look that Harry had the bizarre impression he was meant to understand, before moving into the back of the Room, where they had left off yesterday.

Harry followed slowly and picked up a metal chandelier. He strengthened it and waited for Malfoy to clean the metal.

Malfoy walked towards him and began to scourgify. Harry took a small step back; Malfoy was standing far too close.

Malfoy took another step closer. Harry looked up in confusion, but Malfoy was concentrating on the spell.

“Next one,” Malfoy said suddenly. “And are we still looking for evidence of naughty little students? Or are you over that already?” He looked at Harry, one eyebrow raised and a small smirk on his lips.

Harry froze, his mind racing with thoughts that Malfoy was too close, and acting too strange, and how had Harry never noticed that he smelled so good?

As Harry watched, in such a daze that it all appeared to happen in slow motion, Malfoy winked at him.

It felt like hours, but it must have only been seconds, before Harry yelped and stumbled back.

“What the hell, Malfoy?” Harry gaped at him, still too unsettled from the previous night’s epiphany to respond to the wink with any sense of normalcy.

Malfoy raised both eyebrows in polite surprise. “Unsettled by a wink, Potter?” he said, still grinning. “Careful. One might think you were interested.” He took another step closer.

“Interested?” Harry laughed, shoving all thoughts of Malfoy’s excellent cologne from his mind. “As if I’d be interested in you.”

Malfoy paused, his grin changing ever so slightly until there was a hint of a sneer. “A bit defensive on that one, aren’t we, Potter? You know, I’m beginning to think you actually like your partners to be a bit argumentative. Not sure how I never noticed it before, really. The Weaslette always had a healthy amount of sass in her.”

“Shove off, Malfoy,” Harry said, taking a step back. He had to admit, he was feeling somewhat shaken by the conversation. Hours after he realises he’s not entirely straight, and Malfoy is suddenly onto it? Where was the justice in the universe? He turned away to look for a new item to clean.

“You know, Potter, if you are interested, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. You know, I wasn’t going to tell you, but last night when-” Malfoy’s tone sounded strange, but Harry couldn’t think straight enough to analyse it. He just needed Malfoy to shut up. Right now.

“Malfoy,” he snapped, interrupting him halfway. “How could I possibly be interested in a snivelling, cowardly little Death Eater, who has never amounted to anything and will never amount to anything because he’s not interested in a damn thing besides the suffering of others?”

Malfoy’s face drained of colour. Through the surge of anger and fear that was ruling Harry right now, he felt a strange sense of confused guilt. Like Malfoy hadn’t expected Harry to react like he did - but why would he expect anything different?

Half a second passed, and Malfoy looked like he suddenly snapped back to attention. He stood up straight, a sneer plastered firmly across his face. “You know, Potter, I think you’re far more Slytherin than I give you credit for. Though you’re still a goddamned idiot.”

Harry watched in astonishment as Malfoy turned around and walked out, his arrogant stride a bizarre parody of Derek from last night.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Harry breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that Derek was waiting for him that evening. However, as Harry entered the room, Derek was silent, watching him without moving as he shut the door behind him. Harry took a deep breath, unwilling to admit that this was not the reception he had been hoping for.

“Hey,” he said quietly, walking over to Derek, who still had not moved. “Listen, I wanted to talk-”

“Why me?” Derek asked, leaning back in his chair and draping his arm over the back. He looked casual, relaxed, though his eyes were piercing.

“What?” Harry asked, confused.

Derek rolled his eyes. “Unless you’re about to give a very pathetic attempt at explaining why you eye-humped me last night, you’re about to admit that you’re gay - or bi - and interested in me. I want to know why.”

Harry frowned. This was not how he had pictured this conversation going at all. And, admittedly, he had been considering lying and saying that he had felt sick last night or something. Considering how Derek had acted, he had thought there was no point being honest. But now he was backed into a corner, and his Gryffindor instincts were kicking in.

“Because I like you?” he suggested, inwardly squirming. “You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met before. You’re strong and opinionated, but you’re not close minded. I like talking with you because you’ll push me for a different point of view, but you’ll also concede when you’re wrong. It’s like you said yesterday - we’re quite alike.” Harry suddenly smirked. “And I have a thing for blonds,” he admitted.

Instead of smiling, like Harry had hoped he would, Derek looked lost. For the first time, Harry saw his face stripped of its cool mask, and right now, behind the arrogant smirk was a strange sort of incredulous despair. It threw Harry so much that he stumbled to a halt, forgetting what he had been going to say next.

“You like that?” Derek said so quietly it was almost a whisper. “I thought you did, but then you-” he shook his head, sitting up and dropping his arm from the back of the chair. “But there are plenty of people who argue with you,” he said, staring at Harry intently. “Why me?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. It feels different with you.” Never before had he been forced to describe what he liked about someone. It was unbelievably embarrassing. “And there aren’t that many people who argue with me, really. It’s actually kind of rare.”

Derek stood up and began walking over to Harry. “But if you got to know someone else, say, well enough to realise that it felt right with them-”

“What are you talking about?” Harry interrupted, shaking his head. He was suddenly sick of talking at all. For the first time, the prospect of being with someone didn’t fill him with terror or anxiety. And whether that was because it was a guy, or whether it was because it was Derek, it just felt right, and he didn’t want to wait any longer. He had thought Derek was interested, but now it felt like Derek was stalling. “I’ve no idea what I’d do or think. But I know that right now, I’m pretty certain that-” he swallowed. “Well, I want to try it with you.”

Derek came to a halt a foot away from Harry. Harry could feel Derek’s warm breath on his face, but he didn’t think Derek even noticed. Instead, Derek seemed to be warring with something internally. He hardly seemed to even notice Harry in front of him.

“But, what about Draco?” Derek asked suddenly.

Harry blinked in surprise, before he realised what must have happened. “You saw us earlier? Don’t worry about Malfoy, there’s nothing between us.”

Derek stared at him. “But I’m very… similar to Draco,” he said slowly. “Surely there could be something-”

Harry couldn’t help it; he started laughing. The thought of him and Malfoy together… well, he couldn’t get beyond the initial idea to even picture it properly. Could you imagine trying to kiss someone while you were punching them? He held up a hand. “Trust me, there’s nothing there.”

Harry couldn’t read the expression on Derek’s face. Beyond a strange sort of desperation, the emotions were passing too quickly to follow.

With a sigh, he realised that he must have read it wrong, and Derek wasn’t willing to try this, even if he was interested. He began to move away, ready to start looking at the memories, when he felt a hand on his shoulder pulling him back.

“Have you-” Harry began to speak, before he felt warm lips crashing down on his.

It wasn’t like his kisses with Ginny, or with Cho. It felt different, but familiar in a way he couldn’t put his finger on. Something about the smell of Derek’s shampoo, or maybe the fabric softener on his robes, just smelled so good, like something he had smelled in Amortentia for years and never realised. Strong hands grabbed him and pulled him closer, until he was pressed completely against Derek. It wasn’t graceful, but right now he really didn’t care.

He moved his hands until they were sliding along Derek’s front, under his robes and into the folds of his shirt. Derek groaned beneath his touch and pressed closer, until Harry was forced to back up against the desk behind him. With a firm, but gentle shove, Derek pushed until Harry was sitting on top of the desk, and hoisted Harry’s legs around his waist.

From this position, he was nearly as tall as Derek, who was usually a good few inches taller than him. He grinned and pulled back, trying to catch a breath.

Derek’s eyes were black, their usual grey hidden beneath full blown irises. His breath was coming in long gasps.

“Never would have thought I’d have the Chosen One in my arms,” he said roughly, quietly.

The mocking tone to his voice didn’t even grate against Harry’s nerves like it usually would; instead of sounding like a dig at Harry, it almost sounded like Derek was mocking himself. And the cynicism was drowned out by an almost incomprehensible yearning. How could there be such an intense longing in his voice, when Derek had only known him such a short time?

But then, Harry supposed he had only just met Derek too, and only just realised he was gay, and he was already finding this moment so intoxicating that he had no idea how he was going to last a day without it.

Without warning, Derek moved against him, rocking slowly between Harry’s legs. Harry gasped and pressed forward, leaning in until Derek was kissing him again. Derek’s hands clasped Harry’s lower back, holding him still while Derek pushed against him in long strokes.

Harry wasn’t sure what he was meant to do. Was he meant to move? To stay still? They were already well past anything he had done before, let alone with someone of the same sex, and while he was already overcome with urgency and desire, a small part of him was feeling inadequate, like he couldn’t keep up with Derek’s confidence and surety.

“You’re so fucking beautiful,” Derek whispered against him, and then he stiffened, and when he moaned quietly, breathlessly, in Harry’s ear, Harry came undone.

When they had both managed to slow their breathing, Harry found that his arms where they were wrapped around Derek were shaking.

“So,” Harry said, catching his breath. “You’re interested then?”

Derek laughed; it wasn’t a laugh Harry had ever heard him make before. It was relaxed, almost carefree.

“Yes,” he said, pulling back to look at Harry. “I’m interested.”

Harry grinned. He felt like he really should be feeling awkward right now, but he didn’t. He just felt content. Derek stepped away slowly, running a hand through his hair to smooth it. Harry’s eyes followed the path of this fingers. He was struck by how strange it was to see Derek mussed, although even now he hardly had a hair out of place. It was only the flush on his cheeks and neck, and his still dilated eyes, that gave away what had just happened.

Harry had the sudden urge to see him completely ruffled. But they had to focus on the vials, or he would have nothing to show Umbridge for that night. They worked quickly and collected as many as they could.

When they parted ways, Harry found he was happier than he’d been in a long time.

Until he saw the smile Umbridge gave him as he opened the door. He swallowed an angry retort and walked forward, stony-faced.

“Your vials, Dolores,” he said, dumping the pile on the velvet cloth she had laid out.

“You’re making excellent progress, Mr. Potter,” she said in a honeyed tone, signing her name on the document in front of her with a flourish. “I’ve been thinking, perhaps we don’t need to use all the memories before we present our report.” She set her quill down and flicked her wand, floating the vials over to the cupboard behind her, where they lined up with all the rest. There were already hundreds inside. She turned back to Harry. “Isn’t that wonderful news?”

“Sure,” Harry said, turning away.

“In fact, I’ve invited the Minister to come for an inspection.”

Harry turned back to see her smile widening.

“As soon as his schedule permits,” she finished sweetly.

“I look forward to it,” Harry spat, pulling the door open violently and slamming it shut behind him.

 

 


-~-~-

 

“Harry!”

Harry looked up at the urgent whisper, surprised to see Hermione coming toward his table in the library.

“Hermione,” Harry said, impressed. “You’re talking loudly in the library.”

“Oh, this is hardly loud,” Hermione hissed, making several people turn around in surprise. She sat down next to him while Ron took the seat opposite.

“It is for you,” Harry countered with a smirk.

“What are you doing here by yourself anyway?” Ron asked with a frown.

Harry grimaced. “Well, I don’t have much time to study at the moment, and you’re both well ahead of me in homework so I didn’t want to bother-”

Hermione shushed him hurriedly, waving away Ron’s protest. “Not now, Ron,” she said, shooting him a look. “We need to tell Harry what we found.”

Ron rolled his eyes while Harry jumped to full alertness. “What did you find?”

“Only that basically everyone except for the three of us has been romantically involved with someone from another house.”

“Which really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, mate,” Ron said, looking at Harry with uncharacteristic seriousness. “Why on earth are we finding this stuff for you? I mean, look at the Yule ball. How many people went with someone in another house? I did, for Merlin’s sake. What is this going to prove, and why do you need it?”

He looked worried, and there was nothing Harry could do to settle his fears. Completely ignoring the fact that he was bound to secrecy, he was starting to question the validity of his plan altogether. Sure, it would balance out Umbridge’s report and hopefully make her evidence count for a lot less, but would it really change anything? If the Ministry wanted to close Hogwarts down, this desperate little defence wasn’t going to mean a thing.

He ran his hands through his hair and sighed.

Ron waved his hand dismissively. “I know, I know. It just feels… I don’t know, mate. Are you sure we can’t help?”

All Harry could do was shrug and lean back in his chair. He wasn’t sure they could help at all, but he desperately wanted them to.

“And before you ask,” Hermione said sadly. “If you even can ask - I’ve no idea how to get rid of the spell. Without knowing what she used, it could be anything. I’ve looked. All I can determine is that if we somehow fall privy to the secret another way, like through Legilimens, then we would be considered part of it and therefore be able to talk about it.”

“How’s your Legilimens going, Hermione?” Harry asked with a grin.

“Don’t laugh, Harry. This is serious.” Hermione glared at him, but behind the fierce expression she looked worried. Not knowing what the problem was, and knowing only that it was bad, was clearly taking its toll on her.

Harry could only shrug in response. Hermione sighed and pulled several pages of parchment out of her bag.

“Well, this is what we have,” she said sadly. “Romances, flings, marriages between students’ older siblings. It’s all anecdotal, but we could get the Pensieve memories if we needed to.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “But it’s only been a few days.”

Hermione looked smug. “You’d be amazed what girls like to chat about. Although now they all seem to think I want to two-time Ron with some Slytherin.”

Ron looked like someone had slapped him. Hermione leaned over and squeezed his hand.

“Don’t worry,” she said, giving Harry a sudden grin that made him shrink down into his boots. “I told them I was asking for Harry.”

Harry paled. “What’d you tell them that for?”

“Well,” Hermione said airily. “While it might not be your fault that you’re under a secrecy spell, I’m one hundred percent positive it’s your fault you were in a position to be put under the damn thing in the first place. I’m sure you had the opportunity to come and tell us, and instead you ran in there on your own like the pigheaded Gryffindor you are.”

“That hurts,” Harry muttered, sinking a little further in his seat.

Hermione only continued to smirk at him. “So if you have people enquiring after you and Parkinson or Bulstrode, don’t be alarmed,” she added sweetly.

Harry pulled a face. “So long as they’re not asking about Malfoy,” he said before he could stop himself.

Ron gaped at him.

“Why would they ask about-” Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Harry, is there something you’re not telling us?”

“Nope,” Harry said, sitting up and tidying his books. “Gotta go. Thanks for the research, guys. I’ll let you know how it goes. Or, you know, I won’t. But you’ll find out eventually.”

He left the library as quickly as possible without looking behind him.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Malfoy was quiet again when Harry made it to the Room of Requirement. He had been quiet for days, though it had taken Harry a while to notice. Some time after he had first kissed Derek, he had suddenly realised that Malfoy wasn’t being his usual annoying self during their rebuilding session. Harry was surprised to realise that now, he hardly even noticed him.

He seemed lost in his own thoughts, just as he had been at the start of the year. Harry was curious as to why, but he had to admit that Derek was occupying most his thoughts, leaving little room for anything else. Ever since the first night, their evenings in the Astronomy classroom had been taken over by make out sessions that left Harry aching for more. But with the short window of time they had before they needed to get the vials to Umbridge, it meant that all Harry could do was spend the next day thinking about it, waiting for the chance to see Derek again.

For once, someone else was coming before his suspicions of Malfoy.

Besides, Malfoy hardly looked like he was up to anything. He looked like he could barely keep one foot in front of the other. Harry watched him as he spelled objects clean, holding them up for Harry to strengthen before scourgifiying them quickly and efficiently. He moved like a robot, his facial expression giving nothing away.

Harry started to feel oddly guilty, like he should have noticed sooner. But he shook the thought off quickly.

Malfoy barely spoke as he left, and Harry tried to push it from his mind as he hurried to meet Derek.

When he arrived at the classroom, he was surprised to find himself immediately pinned against the wall, Derek’s body pressed against his.

“Whoa,” he said with a laugh. “Slow down-”

His words were cut off by Derek’s mouth on his. There was an urgency that Harry hadn’t noticed before. Derek was almost biting his lip, he was kissing Harry so furiously. Harry gave in, pressing back until he felt he had a little more control in the situation. He brought his hands up to Derek’s face, running his fingers along Derek’s jaw line and slowing him down until the kiss was softer and less desperate.

“How about we skip the memories tonight?” Derek whispered against Harry’s neck, his lips mouthing a gentle line upward toward his ear. “Spend some time together.”

Harry frowned, pushing Derek backward. “We can’t. You know that. Umbridge would do something to us.”

Derek looked confused, like he had forgotten about Umbridge entirely. He shook his head and moved back to Harry’s collarbone, his kisses creeping slowly lower this time. His fingers came up and slid Harry’s tie away from his collar, dropping it to the ground as he opened up the buttons below it one by one.

Harry swallowed. It was becoming rapidly difficult to concentrate, but he knew that he didn’t want to piss Umbridge off. Not when he was working so hard to stop her.

“Just a little longer,” Derek whispered when Harry tried to push him back again. He ground his hips forward, the outline of his erection pressing hard against Harry’s thigh.

“Why don’t you find me tomorrow, during the day?” Harry suggested, an edge to his tone before he even realised. “Or don’t you want to be seen with me?”

That was enough to make Derek stop. He pulled back and stared at Harry in astonishment, his expression almost bordering on fearful.

“No,” he said, licking his lips slowly. “Why would I not want to be seen with you?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said, pulling away and straightening his shirt, though every muscle in him screamed that he was an idiot for doing so. “But I’ve never seen you around the castle. We could spend all day doing this if you wanted to, instead of trying to cram it in at night, like this. Or we could go somewhere after we’re done tonight.”

Derek’s cheeks were flushed, but beneath that mark of desire he was very pale. “That might not be such a good idea,” he said slowly. “After this, sure. But not during the day.”

“Why not?” Harry demanded. “I can’t really do anything after this anyway. Ron would panic if he thought Umbridge had kept me out longer than usual. And what’s the point in being secretive about this?”

Derek’s mouth dropped open. “You want to tell your friends?”

Harry shrugged. “Of course. It’ll be a little awkward at first, but they won’t care. And what’s the point in dating someone if you can’t introduce them to your friends?”

“Dating?” Derek’s voice was barely above a whisper.

Harry stared at him. “Yes,” he said slowly. “Dating. You didn’t think this was-” He stopped and started again. “Don’t you want to date me?”

“Of course,” Derek said, and Harry could tell in his eyes and in his voice that he meant it. But there was something holding him back. Something that made him look almost lost with despair.

“You don’t want to come out to your friends yet,” Harry suggested, softening. “Well that’s alright. What if we just hung around together as friends? Got them used to the idea.”

Derek shook his head furiously. “It just wouldn’t work,” he said, his voice cracking with some emotion Harry couldn’t identify.

That was about all Harry could handle. “Well that’s just great,” he snapped. “How is this meant to work at all if you won’t even be seen in public with me?” He pushed away from Derek and walked over to the Pensieves. “You know what? Why don’t you just leave for tonight. I’ve got a lot of vials to catch up on. Umbridge is getting suspicious.”

Behind him, he could feel Derek was still. Harry didn’t turn around. After several moments, he heard Derek quietly open the door and leave. He hadn’t even had the chance to tell him about what Hermione had found, or to ask him where he thought they should look for the Sorting Hat.

The memories were painful that night, particularly since he was doing more of them than usual. He cast a Tempus charm, but saw that he was running late. He would have to heal his injuries when he got back to the dorm.

When he dropped the vials off, Umbridge wasn’t smiling. He felt triumphant for about two seconds, before he saw the wand in her hand.

“Mr. Potter,” Umbridge said softly, walking toward him. “I’ve been searching through the memories you are submitting, and I’m afraid to tell you that the impression these memories are leaving is certainly not meeting expectations.”

“You mean I’m not half dead every time I drop these off?” Harry said flatly. “How tragic. I’ll try to limp next time, would that make you feel better?”

Umbridge’s lips quirked into a humourless smile. “I would hate for you to think these memories were nothing more than transient thoughts,” she said, holding up her wand as she came to a halt in front of him. “After all, they are so much more important than that. We can’t have you forgetting about them so quickly. We can’t have you healing so well when the memories’ owners certainly did not. A poor witness you would make, Mr. Potter, if you did not fully understand the lasting effect these events had on our victims.”

“Well I’m not much use to you dead, so I’m not sure what you want to do about that.”

Umbridge laughed. “Oh they won’t kill you,” she said, resting her wand on Harry’s lips once again. A sharp jolt hit him, and he stiffened in surprise. “We’ll just make sure you can’t dismiss them anymore.”

When Harry tried to heal himself that night, nothing happened. Biting down on a yell, he pointed his wand furiously at one of his pillows. It exploded.

“Someone catch that chicken,” Ron mumbled as he rolled over, feathers drifting lightly down around him.

Harry sighed and got into bed. As he slept, he dreamed - as he often did - of a blond boy leading him ever deeper through the Hogwarts corridors, laughing, his hand warm inside Harry’s grasp. He never knew who the boy was; Harry just assumed he was some general representation of friendship.

Harry raced to catch up, but the boy only glanced at him, grey eyes gleaming, before running on. It was the first time he had seen the boy’s face, even if it was only for an instant. Harry huffed a laugh and sped up. He felt relaxed, free, like nothing else mattered.

He knew it was a dream, but while he was here, he was far away from reality, and that was nice. It was more than nice, it was… liberating. He gripped the boy’s hand tighter - wondering if the grey eyes meant his subconscious was morphing the student into Derek - and settled into the chase.

 

 


-~-~-

 

“Professor Flitwick,” Harry began again, trying to catch the Professor’s attention.

“Wrists high in the air!” Professor Flitwick called out. “Don’t let the bunting take charge!”

Harry cast a wary eye over the many strips of coloured bunting that were dancing their way across the ceiling, and took a large step backwards.

“Festive charms are always eager to be involved in their magic!” Flitwick added eagerly. “You must create a procession with authority! Mr. Potter, why aren’t you enchanting your Christmas bunting?”

Harry blinked slowly. He knew that Professor Flitwick was giving them an easy lesson as a break from their NEWT study, but really… as disobedient as the bunting may be, it was only bunting.

A distressed squawk made him spin around, only to see a seventh year student spinning around in circles while his bunting attempted to tie him up in a neat package. Professor Flitwick jerked forward in alarm, but the student spun free and angrily sent the bunting flying up to the top of the ceiling.

Professor Flitwick readjusted his robes with a small nod. “Excellent work,” he muttered. “Very festive.”

“Professor,” Harry said firmly. “I want to ask you about the Sorting Hat.”

“What about it, my boy?” Professor Flitwick still had not turned to face him.

“Do you know where it could be?”

“Not at all, not at all. No one does. Searched high and low.”

Harry sighed. Although they had paid significantly more attention to him, the other teachers had given him no further information. No one had seen it since the battle, and they had searched everywhere. Harry had no reason to think they wouldn’t have searched properly, since it was such an important piece of school heritage, and since without it they had been forced to let the students choose their houses.

He had already searched all the secret passages and rooms the Map could show him, asked all the teachers, searched in general around the school, and he was still no closer to finding the Hat.

Professor Flitwick clapped his hands, and the bunting all fell into one innocuous pile on the floor. “Class dismissed. Enjoy your holidays!”

Harry joined up with Ron and Hermione, shaking his head. “No idea,” he said. He looked around the room as everyone was leaving. “Hey,” he said, turning around to check everywhere. “Malfoy still isn’t here.”

Hermione and Ron looked around in surprise.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Ron said with a grin. “Maybe he’s sick. I hope it’s bad, that’d be the best Christmas present.”

“Ron,” Hermione said, giving him a small shove and frowning at him. “It’s unlike him not to come to class. I wonder if he’s alright.”

“He wasn’t in bed when we left this morning,” Harry said thoughtfully. “But he never is. I don’t know. I thought he was just late.”

“Do you think he’s up to something?” Hermione asked, biting back a small smile.

Harry didn’t notice. He shook his head. “No, I don’t think so,” he said slowly. “He’s seemed a little bit off lately. But he doesn’t seem to be planning something. Actually, it’s almost like he’s depressed or-”

“Harry!”

Harry turned around at the familiar voice and froze still in shock. Derek stood in the doorway to the Charms classroom, which was now nearly empty. He shoved his hands in his pockets and strode toward the three of them. Beside him, Harry could see Ron and Hermione turn to him in surprise.

“Derek,” Harry said, his voice catching a little bit in astonishment. “What are-”

Derek stopped in front of him, and it was different seeing him in the daylight. His blond hair was pushed back, out of his eyes, and his face looked sharper, harsher in the bright light. It was familiar in so many ways to Harry - the feel of every angle, the thickness of his eyelashes, the small twitch in his jaw when he was tense. But it looked familiar in a new way now. The arrogance to his stance stood out in this new environment and made him think of something, almost like-

Derek smiled, and Harry was blown away by the way his face suddenly lost its haunted expression. His eyes didn’t move from Harry, and Harry found himself stepping forward, into the space that Derek had tentatively left between them.

Derek relaxed. Harry turned to see Ron looking in confusion at Derek’s Slytherin tie, and Hermione looking… well… Hermione looking very odd. Her lips were parted in shock, but there was a small frown on her forehead, and Harry could see she was thinking a mile a minute.

Harry cleared his throat. “This is my friend, Derek,” he said. “He’s been-” Umbridge’s spell cut the words off. Harry looked at Hermione pleadingly.

She shook her head and focused on him, her expression now unreadable. “Right,” she said slowly. “It’s to do with Umbridge, is it?”

Harry nodded.

“I haven’t seen you before,” Ron burst out suddenly.

“Do you know that many Slytherins, then?” Derek asked cooly. He had stepped forward so that his shoulder was brushing Harry’s, just slightly.

“I s’pose,” Ron said, thinking it through. “Yeah, fair enough, mate.” He seemed taken aback, but not angry like Harry would have thought he might be that Harry had befriended a Slytherin without telling him.

Well, more than befriended.

“So, what are you doing here?” Harry asked, looking up at Derek beside him.

Derek eyes met his, and it was like everything else faded out and it was just the two of them. “Looking for you,” he said, smiling again. It was such a peaceful, content smile, with none of the strange desperation and unhappiness that Derek had shown lately.

Harry had the overwhelming urge to tell Ron and Hermione the truth about him and Derek, but he knew he shouldn’t do that without talking to Derek first, particularly after last night. It was a big step that Derek was even here right now, and it made Harry’s heart swell at the thought.

“Will we go down for lunch, then?” Harry asked, looking back at Ron and Hermione as well.

Hermione still wore the same strange expression, and Ron looked hesitant - presumably at the thought of walking into the Great Hall with a Slytherin.

Derek cleared his throat. “I was wondering, actually,” he said quietly. “If you wanted to go for a walk with me around the lake, Harry?”

Harry only paused for a second, before agreeing with a grin. He felt a little awkward at leaving Ron and Hermione so suddenly, and he definitely owed them a better explanation for this, but he knew they would appreciate the time alone.

One look at Ron confirmed this, although he seemed to be warring with taking offence at this new person’s audacity, and being pleased that it had worked out for him.

“You boys have fun then,” Hermione said shrewdly, before grabbing Ron’s arm and leading him away.

Derek and Harry were the last ones in the classroom. Even Flitwick had left. The second the door swung shut behind Hermione and Ron, Derek turned to Harry and pulled him in close, lowering his lips to Harry’s and pressing them there chastely, but with an intensity that left Harry breathless.

“So I get to see you in the daylight,” Harry muttered against Derek’s mouth. “This is nice.”

Derek smiled and kissed him again, his lips parting and bringing Harry’s with them. He kissed him again and again, stepping them backward until Harry was pressed up against the wall, his knees embarrassingly weak while the centre of him was hard and aching.

“Does this mean you’re not afraid to be seen with me?” he asked breathlessly when Derek finally pulled back far enough for Harry to look at him properly.

“I was never afraid of being seen with you,” Derek replied, his voice husky. “It’s just… it’s complicated.”

“I can understand if you don’t want to come out yet,” Harry said, bringing his hands further around Derek’s waist in case he had any ridiculous ideas of leaving. “We have time.”

A shadow crossed Derek’s face, but he said nothing, leaning back in to nuzzle against Harry’s ear. “We do,” he said simply. “Now, about that walk.”

After several long, glorious moments where Harry began desperately wishing they were somewhere a little more private, Derek gave him one final, feverish kiss, and then lead him to the door.

As Harry followed him, he felt one of the many injuries from last night suddenly twinge along his spine. He grunted, straightening up until the spasm passed. Derek turned back at the noise, his eyebrows furrowing as he realised what was happening. Suddenly, he looked guilty.

“Of course,” he muttered. “Here, take off your shirt. I can heal them now.”

Harry grimaced. “I don’t know about that,” he began slowly.

“Harry, just take off your damn shirt.” Derek glared at him.

Harry paused, but slid off his robe and school shirt. It was worth a try.

When Derek saw the red lines criss crossed across Harry’s torso, and the bruises beneath them, his face paled. “What on-” he froze, unable to speak.

Without the regular healing between the memories, and with doing twice as many as usual, Harry’s body looked terrible. He had only seen it briefly that morning, but he could understand Derek’s shock. He shrugged.

Derek ran his wand carefully along the cuts, muttering spells as he traced the lines of Harry’s injuries. Nothing happened.

“Umbridge changed the spell,” Harry said quietly, in response to Derek’s look of confusion.

Derek looked up as Harry spoke, their eyes meeting. Derek’s expression was fierce. “You mean they can’t be healed,” he said flatly.

Harry was surprised by the anger he saw there. “Yeah,” he said, trying to make his tone as casual as possible. He grabbed his shirt and put it back on. “But that’s alright. They’ll heal in a day or two. I’ve had worse.”

“Yeah, from a fucking Dark Lord,” Derek spat. “This shouldn’t be happening. How are you just accepting this?”

“Because there’s nothing I can do about it,” Harry said with a wry smile. “We’re more than halfway through the memories, and when they’re all over, that will be it.”

“I’ll do them all,” Derek said suddenly. “I’m still healable.”

“No,” Harry said sharply, turning away, back to the classroom door.

“Yes,” Derek said, catching Harry by the shoulder and turning him back to face him. He grabbed Harry’s chin with two fingers and held him still, his eyes searching. “You’ll kill yourself otherwise,” he said firmly. “Or do permanent damage. I’ll do all the memories.”

Harry laughed and tried to pull away, but Derek held him firm. “It’s my torture,” Harry said, just as firmly. “I’ll do it.”

“Just because it was meant for you doesn’t mean you have to do it,” Derek argued, his hand sliding down to the back of Harry’s neck. “Let someone else be the martyr for a change.” His smile was humourless.

Harry brought his hand up to Derek’s and gently pulled him away. “Let’s go for that walk,” he suggested. “We’ll talk about it then.”

They left the castle while everyone was still eating, and made their way down to the lake. Harry found himself relaxing as they walked. He was no closer to finding the Sorting Hat, but at least with Derek he didn’t feel so alone in the task. Trying to talk to Ron and Hermione, and not being able to, was infuriating.

He told Derek about what Hermione had uncovered, and they began to discuss ideas for where the Sorting Hat could be.

“It’s weird that it just disappeared,” Harry said, casting a small shield on the ground to protect his clothing and dropping to the snow beneath one of the trees by the lake. “Why would anybody take it? Or why would it hide?”

A sharp crack sounded in front of them, and Harry jumped back in alarm. Derek laughed, and held his hand out to the house elf in front of them.

“Perfect timing, Missy,” he said lightly, accepting the tray of food from the smiling elf.

“Missy wishes you to be enjoying your food, Sirs,” Missy squeaked before Apparating away with another crack.

Harry bit his lip. “Don’t let Hermione see you do that,” he said with a laugh.

Derek waved his hand dismissively. “What Granger doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

They feasted on warm roast potatoes and slices of roast chicken, protected from the weather by one of Derek’s warming charms. Harry had to admit it was a very good charm; he could hardly feel the cold at all.

“I love Christmas,” Derek said suddenly, sighing contentedly as he leaned back against Harry.

Harry looked around in surprise, certain that someone would see them, but the grounds were clear. No one was foolish enough to be out in this weather. He brought a hand up and ran it through Derek’s hair, something he had been longing to do for days. Derek closed his eyes.

“Yeah,” Harry said, distractedly, trying to think what Derek’s cologne was reminding him of. Or was it his shampoo? “I didn’t used to, but it’s nice now.”

“Who doesn’t like Christmas?” Derek protested sleepily.

Harry chuckled. “Well, when you don’t get any presents and are made to cook all the food without getting to eat any of it, there’s not much to like.”

Derek’s eyes snapped open. “What are you talking about?” he asked, almost haughtily. “What in Merlin’s name kind of Christmas is that?”

“I was raised by Muggles,” Harry said, his smile dropping as the conversation turned serious. “They didn’t like me much, and that’s just the way things were.” He let his hand fall back to the ground as Derek looked up at him in shock and horror.

Derek sat up and turned to face him. “No presents? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

Harry laughed incredulously. “No presents is the best part about that story. I also lived in a cupboard and was practically starving all the time,” he finished flatly. “Not everyone is as well off as you obviously are.”

Derek must have been shocked, because he didn’t even protest the insult. “Starving?” he repeated. “No wonder you always eat like it’s your last meal.” He sounded distracted, like he wasn’t fully aware he was speaking. He lay back down and closed his eyes. “Well, I’ll admit I was never starving,” he continued. “And my family do love me.”

Harry snorted.

“But it’s not all peaches,” Derek finished as if he hadn’t heard Harry. “My family made some… poor decisions in the war. Very poor. And I supported them.”

Harry stiffened, wondering if Derek was admitting what he thought he might be.

“I stood by them because I never thought anything more of it. And I regret that. I should have done things differently, though I don’t know how I really could have.”

“What did you do?” Harry said.

Derek paused. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said finally. Harry could feel the tension in him.

“You might have to,” Harry said bluntly, shifting so that Derek had to sit up and look at him. “You sound like you were a Death Eater. I don’t want to be with a Death Eater.”

Derek stared at him, and all the haunted despair that had been emanating from him for the past week returned.

“Then maybe you don’t want to be with me,” he said quietly.

Harry felt sick. “Show me.”

Derek didn’t move.

“Show me,” Harry repeated, his tone sharp.

Derek slowly moved his hand to his sleeve, rolling it up, never taking his eyes from Harry. The mark sat there, shrivelled, but clear. Harry realised now why he had never seen Derek shirtless, although he had been sure sometimes that the Pensieve memories had left injuries there, beneath his robe.

Harry moved to stand, unable to believe what he was seeing. That he had kissed a Death Eater. That he was falling for a Death Eater.

Derek grabbed him and stopped him from standing. Harry tried to shove him off, but Derek was too strong. Harry turned to say something angrily, but stopped when he saw how lost Derek looked.

“Just wait,” Derek pleaded. “I know I can’t excuse it, but let me explain it.”

Harry froze, unwilling to listen, but unable to go.

“It was all my family had ever told me,” he said, his eyes begging Harry to hear him out. “The way that I was raised - do you really think it was so black and white? It wasn’t like I was told that torturing Muggles was right and fun. I was told that they were dangerous. I know that they are dangerous. And I was told about war. About standing up for what you believe in. I was told that Muggles and Muggle-born would have us captured and studied. Caged. Restricted. Of course I was going to want to stay in secret. And if death was the price to pay, well that was war. But then I saw it, Harry. And I couldn’t take it. I didn’t know what it was like under The Dark Lord’s reign until he was there, in my house, ruling us. It had been glamorised. For sixteen years I had been told of the power and strength of The Dark Lord, but I had never been told of the horror and the pain. The things I saw, Harry. I couldn’t agree with it, but by then it was too late. I would have been killed. My family would have been killed.”

“People die for what they believe in all the time,” Harry said harshly. “What makes you so special?”

Derek laughed, the sound cold and broken to Harry’s ears. “Nothing,” he said. “I’m just a coward. I told you I couldn’t excuse it, but can you understand it?”

Harry couldn’t understand it. He pushed Derek off and stood up. “I can’t do this,” he said, feeling trapped although he was completely in the open. “I can’t be with someone who was a Death Eater. You’ll always be a Death Eater, you’ll never be anything more-”

Derek’s face twisted. Something in what Harry had just said snapped him out of the desolate hopelessness he had been falling deeper and deeper into over the last week. He stood up, towering over Harry.

“How dare you, Potter,” he spat. “How dare you tell me what I will and won’t amount to. How dare you limit me by the mistakes of my past. If you gave it half a second’s thought, you’d understand what I was saying. But you can’t. Or, rather, you won’t. You refuse to. It scares you because then you might understand a little bit more about The Dark Lord, and your black and white world would come crashing down around you.”

Derek had moved close to Harry while he spoke, so that he was standing right before him. Harry shoved him back angrily, so that he stumbled back down the hill. Harry stepped forward, bringing them nose to nose.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said through gritted teeth. “I understand more about Voldemort than you ever could. You were scared of him; a snivelling little coward, by the sound of it. He didn’t scare me. I was scared of what he might do, but never of him. You know why? Because I was like him.” Harry’s voice had risen to something like a growl. “I had a part of him inside me for years, but it was more than that. I saw inside his head, just as he saw inside mine, and we understood each other in a way that you and all your little Death Eater buddies could never come close to in your wildest dreams. You want to talk about knowing him? About accepting him? Accepting my Slytherin side? Fine. I could have been him, Derek. If I had the same upbringing, the same hatred, who knows what I might have done? I saw inside the broken pieces of his soul and recognised myself there, no matter what Dumbledore tried to tell me otherwise. You want me to acknowledge that? Fine. I’ve always known it, and I’ve come to accept it. It doesn’t scare me. Tell me, Derek, does it scare you?”

They glared at each other, chests heaving. Derek suddenly grinned, and, absurdly, Harry found himself grinning back.

“Well that was a fun little confessional,” Derek drawled. “We should do this again sometime.”

Harry watched Derek as he smoothed back his hair, standing tall and arrogant once again. The anguish in his demeanour was gone again, and Harry found himself more relieved than he expected to be.

No one ever argued with him. No one ever gave him the challenge; they either tried to comfort him, or they cowered away from him. Having someone push back and force him to say the thoughts that were deepest in his mind - that were troubling him the most - but without hatred or animosity, was more than refreshing. Harry couldn’t bring these things up with anyone else for fear of tainting their view of him, but fighting it out with someone strong like Derek made Harry feel like he was bleeding some festering wound.

Although they hadn’t exactly agreed in the end, Harry felt strangely alright with everything Derek had admitted. Dumbledore had dismissed Harry’s fears of being like Voldemort to the point that Harry had felt he could never really acknowledge them. The fact that it was all down to Harry’s choices had never fully been a comfort to him.

But being forced to defend himself, to argue back, was making him certain. It was making him feel stronger. He could be these things, he could be Slytherin, he could be like Voldemort, and still be Harry.

So if that was true, maybe Derek was also right.

Derek was watching him carefully, no longer fearfully submissive, but not pushing Harry either. If Harry walked away, Harry knew that Derek would break. But he also knew that he wouldn’t show it, not anymore.

Harry reached forward and grabbed Derek by the collar, bringing him close. Derek’s eyes widened in surprise as Harry’s mouth came down on his. Harry kissed him furiously, parting their lips until their tongues were violently twining together. Derek brought his hand to the back of Harry’s neck again, holding him there, their breath quickening into gasps.

“You’re fucking weird,” Derek breathed against him. “Has anyone ever told you that?”

“You can talk.” Harry laughed. “Since when does fighting translate to sex?”

Harry felt Derek grin against his lips. “Feeling frisky, are we, Potter?”

Harry froze. Those words, and the way Derek had said them. Harry pulled back.

“You sounded like Malfoy just then,” he said with a frown.

Derek’s eyes widened, making him look more shocked than Harry would have expected. “What?” he stammered. “Why would I sound like Draco?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said, shaking his head and stepping back. “Have you- you haven’t been with him, have you?” The thought suddenly occurred to him.

Derek stared at him, before he suddenly burst out laughing. “Er, no,” he said, gasping a breath. “No, I haven’t.”

Harry quirked a smile. “Alright. Sorry. Where were we?”

Hem hem.”

Harry froze. In front of him, he saw Derek’s face go white.

“Can we help you, Dolores?” Harry asked, turning to face Umbridge.

Her hands were clasped before her neatly, her hot pink stilettos hovering a few inches above the snow. Harry didn’t know how long she had been there, but with the trees between them and the castle, it was possible that she hadn’t seen them making out. The look of polite interest on her face suggested that she hadn’t, and Harry hoped that was the case. He didn’t know what she would do with that information.

“Mr. Potter, your presence as Hogwarts Liaison is required,” she said sweetly. “This way, if you please.”

Harry turned back to Derek and pulled a face. “I’ll see you later,” he said quietly, before turning and following Umbridge back to the castle.

To Harry’s surprise, she led him to the Headmistress’s office. But it wasn’t McGonagall behind the desk; it was an official Harry had never seen before.

Harry wondered if McGonagall even knew they were in here.

“Mr. Potter, I’m pleased to introduce you to Mr. Milston. He will record your testimony today.”

“My testimony?” Harry repeated, his stomach sinking. “Don’t I need a member of the Wizengamot present for this?”

Mr. Milston bared his teeth. “Nonsense, Mr. Potter. This is only the preliminary report.” He held out his quill to Harry.

Harry eyed the large blue plume suspiciously, but took the quill. The second he held it in his hand, he felt light, almost drunk. He tried to drop the quill, but his hand wouldn’t move.

Umbridge walked in front of him, her smile predatory. “Mr. Potter, please record a summary of the memories you have witnessed for the Ministry’s report.”

Harry grabbed the sheet of paper that Mr. Milston slid in front of him and began writing furiously.

The memories show students arguing and fighting, through various perspectives and years at Hogwarts.

“Who is fighting?” Umbridge purred, watching his quill as he wrote.

He couldn’t stop writing. The words poured out of him.

Slytherins are always there, but the other houses vary.

“Do the Slytherins deserve the accusations against them in these memories?” she asked sweetly.

The Slytherins rarely deserve the accusations that begin the fights in these memories, Harry wrote, his eyes widening in horror.

“Then why are they accused?”

The fights begin because someone from another house believes the Slytherins are about to fight them, or are planning something evil.

“Are they?” she hissed, her eyes bright.

The memories do not show the Slytherins ever planning something that merits the fighting.

“Mr. Potter, do these memories demonstrate what you would term bullying?

Harry caught movement from one of the portraits, like its occupant had just come rushing back in. The door burst open behind Harry. It was like he had been thrown into cold water - the lightheaded feeling vanished. He dropped the quill and turned around to see Professor McGonagall looking livid.

“What is the meaning of this?” She turned to Mr. Milston, who looked suddenly uncertain. “Who are you? Young man, get out of my chair, this instant.”

Mr. Milston leapt up, grabbing the parchment and quill from in front of Harry.

“Are you drugging my students, Dolores?” Professor McGonagall asked, her voice low and dangerous.

“Not at all, Minerva,” Umbridge replied with a bright smile. “Mr. Potter was simply recording his honest thoughts for us.”

“Mr. Potter will do nothing of the sort for you without express permission from me.” Professor McGonagall’s voice was raising. “Mr. Potter, please escort yourself from my office.”

Harry jumped out of the chair and walked backwards to the door. The three adults glared at each other, looking on the verge of a duel.

As Harry shut the door behind him, he saw Dumbledore’s portrait watching sadly.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Harry thought about not going to the rebuilding session. He was tired, he was sore, and most of all, he was disillusioned. But he thought about Umbridge smiling her smug little smile, and he dragged himself to the Room.

Besides, if he was no closer to finding the Hat, he desperately needed to find some irrefutable evidence of inter-house relationships overcoming all odds.

To his surprise, as he approached the Room, he heard voices.

“Just because some people are incomprehensibly stupid, doesn’t mean I’m going to be the same!”

Harry frowned. Was that Hermione?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Granger,” Harry heard Malfoy’s voice in reply, spitting the words with contempt. “You sound even nuttier than usual. Go get your head checked.”

“I swear if you hurt him, Malfoy, you little-”

Harry rounded the corner. Hermione saw him and flushed.

“No more duelling!” She said in a loud, false voice, wagging her finger at Harry.

“What?” Harry stared at her, bewildered. “We’re not-”

“I’ll hear about it!” she said, still in that strange voice.

She gave Malfoy one final glare, and then left.

Harry stared after her. He shook his head and turned back to the Room. Malfoy looked paler than usual, and was watching Harry carefully.

“Where were you today?” Harry asked before he could stop himself.

Malfoy blinked in surprise, before shrugging. He seemed to be just as depressed as he had been before, although he was perhaps a little livelier than usual. Harry found himself feeling oddly concerned.

“So I’m still looking for that stuff,” Harry prompted, trying to get something more than a shrug out of Malfoy.

Malfoy nodded.

Harry sighed and began pushing through a particularly large pile of debris, toward the back of the Room. The Room continued forever; he had no idea how they were going to clear it before the end of the year if they were salvaging items as they went. But he couldn’t just throw everything out. Surely, the teachers would have to get the House Elves involved or something.

Not that Hermione could ever know.

A charcoaled tower of junk wobbled precariously before crashing to the ground in front of Harry. Harry jumped back, covering his face. When the dust had settled he saw a wooden chest of drawers lay, untouched, beneath the rubble.

“Worth a go,” he muttered to himself, opening the drawers. He noticed Malfoy looking over curiously.

A bottle rolled to the front of the drawer, impossibly shiny amongst the destruction.

“Firewhisky,” Harry said in surprise.

Malfoy huffed a laugh, stepping closer. “Really?” He sounded interested.

Harry jumped at the thought that Malfoy was acting something other than entirely flat, although a strong part of him refused to think about why he cared. He picked up the bottle and waggled it enticingly. “Full, too,” he said with a grin.

Malfoy paused before laughing, a surprised look on his face. “Naughty Potter,” he drawled. “On school premises. Give me the bottle.”

Harry handed him the bottle with a smirk. Malfoy uncorked it and took a swig before passing the bottle back.

“Oh, that’s smooth,” Malfoy said with a bright smile.

Harry took a long draft and gasped as it went down his throat. Malfoy was right, it was smooth. But Merlin, it was strong.

Malfoy grabbed the bottle out of his hand and drank for several long seconds. Then he laughed. Harry stared at him in shock, wondering how it could be that he’d never seen Malfoy laugh like this before, when it looked so natural on him. So perfect.

Malfoy held the bottle out toward Harry, dangling it between two fingers with one eyebrow raised. “Careful, Potty,” he said, and his words were already a little slurred. “You’re drinking with me. Someone might think we’re friends.”

Harry gave a start at the bitter tone in Malfoy’s voice. He snatched the bottle and skulled. “I’m fine with being your friend, Malfoy,” he said, wiping his mouth while the alcohol burned in his chest. He had no idea why he was drinking so much so suddenly when, normally, he hardly drank, but it felt somehow like a challenge. And it also felt like he might finally get some answers out of Malfoy if Malfoy was drunk.

Though Harry had the sneaking suspicion he might be drunk first.

Malfoy scoffed. “That’s a bloody lie,” he said haughtily. He kicked half a chair out of the way and dropped to the ground, leaning up against the chest of drawers Harry had just unearthed. “You hate me.”

Even sitting on the filthy ground, leaning back against a broken furniture, Malfoy still managed to look regal. Harry had the bizarre urge to brush his hair up, away from his eyes. Just to prove him wrong, Harry strode forward and sat down on the ground next to him. Malfoy’s eyes widened.

“See,” Harry said, ridiculously smug. “I don’t hate you.”

Malfoy continued to stare at him until Harry felt uncomfortable, like he was expected to say something. Before he could, Malfoy snorted and burst out laughing. Harry watched, incredulous, as Malfoy cracked up, laughing so hard that tears were coming out of his eyes.

“I know,” Malfoy said between gasps. “I know you don’t. But you don’t know you don’t. And- oh Merlin. You do though. Even though you don’t, you do, and I don’t understand. I just don’t understand, Potter. Harry. Why? Why don’t you? Why do you?”

“Malfoy,” Harry said urgently. “You’re making absolutely no fucking sense.”

Malfoy gasped. “You swore. You don’t swear.”

“The situation merited it.”

“Merlin, Potter, have you been reading the dictionary?”

“Well, you know what they say,” Harry said, staring into the distance thoughtfully. “Once you read the dictionary, everything else is just a remix.”

There was a long pause before both boys began laughing hysterically. Malfoy slipped sideways until he was leaning on Harry, who could barely hold himself up anyway.

“What-” Malfoy tried to speak, unable to form words between his gasps. “What’s a remix?”

Harry blinked. “You’re laughing and you don’t even know what a remix is?”

That set Harry off even more, and he collapsed back against the cupboard, his body shaking with fits of laughter.

After long moments where Harry was convinced he was going to choke to death, they eventually stopped laughing, calming down until they could breathe properly again. Malfoy sighed and relaxed further onto Harry.

Harry stiffened. What was Malfoy doing? Harry’s eyes darted around, looking for a trap. Surely Malfoy was trying to lure him into a false sense of security, only to spring something terrible on him.

Or he wasn’t, and he was just really odd, which made Harry more nervous. He ran a hand through his hair, trying furiously to think how he could move away without offending Malfoy. His brain wasn’t cooperating.

“You know, Potter,” Malfoy said conversationally. “You don’t know that much about me.”

“No,” Harry agreed. “I don’t.”

“I think you’d find we’re a lot more alike than you think. And you might actually like me.”

Harry laughed. “I already said I don’t hate you.” Harry didn’t know when that had happened, but he knew it was true. He had thought that Malfoy was up to something at the start of the year, but nothing strange had happened, and Malfoy really kept to himself most of the time. It looked like Hermione had been right, and he had changed in some way. Which meant that his morose mood concerned Harry more than it piqued his suspicions.

“No I don’t mean you wouldn’t hate me,” Malfoy said, exasperated. “I think you might like me. We could be friends.”

Harry paused. There was no real reason why they couldn’t be friends. If he was willing to overlook that Derek had been a Death Eater - I mean, he had seen the Dark Mark on his arm for Merlin’s sake - then there was no real reason not to give Malfoy another chance. Although Derek hadn’t been an incredible git to him throughout his entire stay at Hogwarts.

But then, Malfoy wasn’t being a git to him now.

“Alright,” Harry said, sticking out his hand with a grin. “Friends?”

Malfoy looked at him in astonishment. He looked down at the hand.

“I don’t know,” he said airily. “I think I can tell the wrong sort for myself, thanks.”

“Huh?” Harry asked, wrinkling his nose. He started to drop his hand. What was he talking about? Was Malfoy really just going to be a git after all that?

“For Merlin’s sake, Potter, give me your fucking hand.” Malfoy reached forward and snatched Harry’s hand, pumping it up and down in a furious handshake. “Yes, I will be your friend. Merlin. Are all Saviours this dense? Or is it just our one?”

“Malfoy, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Just you, then. Lucky us.” Malfoy settled back down against Harry, this time with his arm around Harry’s shoulders.

Harry froze. Malfoy hadn’t been acting oddly before, he had been acting normal; Malfoy was a cuddly drunk.

Oh, Merlin.

Malfoy snuggled closer. Harry’s eyes widened. How could he get out of this without Malfoy noticing or getting offended? Being suddenly friends with Malfoy was one thing. Cuddling him was another entirely.

Harry lifted his hand and gently lifted Malfoy’s wrist off his shoulder. Malfoy shifted and pulled Harry closer.

“Oh, Christ,” Harry muttered, trying to wriggle free. “Crap. What do I do?”

“What was that, Potter? You’re mumbling.”

“Nothing,” Harry squeaked, trying to subtly extract himself yet again. In his experience, cuddly drunks were also tearful drunks. He was so not ready to comfort a tearful Malfoy who felt rejected by his new drinking buddy.

“You’re moving too much. Why are you moving?”

“I’m not moving. You’re moving.”

“Potter, I think I know when I’m moving.”

“Do you though? You might not. I’m sure it’s you.”

“Potter, are you trying to leave me?”

“What? No-”

“I thought we were friends. Didn’t you just say that we were friends?”

“Of course I did. Malfoy-”
“You shook my hand. Why would you shake my hand if you were about to leave.”

Malfoy,” Harry snapped, making Malfoy look up at him in surprise. Harry was shocked to see just how piercing Malfoy’s eyes were. In Harry’s drunken mind, he thought they looked rather like Derek’s. “I’m not leaving,” he said gently, resigning himself to his uncomfortably comfortable prison.

“Good.”

“Who would’ve thought it,” Harry muttered to himself. Malfoy, a cuddly drunk.

“Who would have thought what? That I might actually be pleasant?” Malfoy drawled, misunderstanding Harry’s comment. “Is it really that astonishing?”

“No,” said Harry patiently. “Well, yes. But no. Things have changed, and we’re both different. I’m sure you’re very pleasant.”

“Oh, I am,” Malfoy said with a laugh like there was some joke Harry wasn’t getting. “I think you would find me unbelievably pleasant, if you gave me half a chance. Not that you will.”

Harry shook his head. The firewhiskey had hit them both fast, and it was only getting worse. Merlin, this stuff was strong. And Malfoy certainly wasn’t making any sense.

“You know, it’s been a shit year so far,” Malfoy said suddenly.

Harry looked down in surprise.

“I said yes to Umbridge’s stupid anti-prejudice thing because I didn’t know what else to do,” he continued, the words spilling out like he couldn’t contain them any longer. “After all, Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad was the last normal thing I did at Hogwarts before… well… before…” Harry almost snorted at the idea of the Inquisitorial Squad being normal, but through a massive effort he managed to restrain himself. Malfoy didn’t notice. “I thought maybe I could go back to how things were? Like Hogwarts could be fun again. Normal again. But I knew I was fooling myself from the start. How could I go back to what I was, when so much had changed? When I wasn’t that person anymore? Which meant I was left with absolutely no idea who I actually was.”

Harry realised suddenly, and far too late, that he had been correct. Malfoy was a tearful drunk. To be more precise, he was a pour-your-life-story-out-and-then-sob drunk. Harry sighed. When Harry was drunk, he was more inclined to simply announce to everyone within earshot that he refused to be the Chosen One anymore, and if they wanted a Saviour they could bloody do it themselves, then eat whatever was within reach and pass out. Embarrassing? Yes. But high maintenance? No.

Of course Malfoy would be high maintenance. And worse still, there was no food within reach. Harry sighed again.

“And then of course, the love of my fucking life has to go waltzing around with some new boyfriend.”

Harry’s ears pricked up. That was interesting. Malfoy, in love? His chest felt oddly tight. Strange.

“And they won’t even look at me, because I was a Death Eater. Let alone that I regret every. Single. Second. Of Voldemort’s reign.”

“You said Voldemort!” Harry interrupted excitedly.

“That’s his name,” Malfoy snapped angrily. “Are you listening to me? What do you think of that, Potter?”

“Er,” Harry paused, thinking through what Malfoy had just said. It made him feel strange, to think of Malfoy chasing after someone. He didn’t like it. It must be because it was unrequited; he was feeling sympathy for Malfoy. “That sucks,” he said. “They… they should think about it a bit more. I mean, I’ve got someone-” he cleared his throat. “I just think... you can look past that? You know? It’s not easy. I mean, Christ, Malfoy. You were a Death Eater. But if they talked to you about it they might find... if you’re anything like this person I’m-” Harry stopped. Words were not coming easily, particularly because he didn’t want to talk about it at all.

“Mmm,” Malfoy said, eying him with an astonishing amount of shrewdness considering how drunk they both were. “They should think about it a little more, shouldn’t they?” he said pointedly, staring at Harry.

Harry’s eyes suddenly widened as a thought occurred to him. “That’s why you’ve been so upset!” he said, cutting Malfoy’s last words off.

Malfoy raised his eyebrows. “Well, yes,” he said slowly. “Sort of. That, and literally everything I just said.”

It all made sense now. Malfoy was pining. Harry rubbed his chest as the pain grew. He really was feeling sympathetic for Malfoy, poor guy. He also felt oddly protective, like Malfoy shouldn’t have to go through any of it.

Malfoy suddenly sat up and began rummaging through the drawers. “Doesn’t look like there’s any more alcohol,” he said sadly. “Oh look, a journal.” He threw it onto Harry’s lap. “There you go, Potter. Now you can cry to that at midnight when no one understands you.”

Harry caught the journal and flicked it open, ignoring Malfoy’s dig. He frowned, flipping through the pages. There were two sets of handwriting. One would write for several pages, and then the other would take over, like correspondence. Perhaps it had been sent back and forth between two friends or lovers?

Or perhaps it was magical, and allowed the user to correspond without owling?

I don’t see why we can’t just owl, A?

Harry settled on the magic theory and kept reading.

Really, is it so much worse for someone to intercept these letters than our others?

The second set of handwriting began.

It is so much worse, G, because our letters reveal only our plans. Plans can change, and ultimately nothing will be the worse for their discovery. They cannot lock us away for talking, and they cannot stand in our way.

But for this… my love, you know as well as I the antiquated hatred that stands in our way. I would rather not subject you to that at Durmstrang, and I know that it would cause difficulty here at Hogwarts.

The first handwriting took over again.

And yet they could discover the notebook at any time? Really, A, your stratagem is full of holes.

(I jest. I know the spell upon the notebook will hide the content, and referring to each of us only by first name will certainly lower those odds. You are right, as always.)

I miss you.

Harry wrinkled his nose and flipped several pages ahead. If it was between students at Durmstrang and Hogwarts, it would hardly help his case with Umbridge. It was nothing to do with an inter-house relationship.

A phrase caught his eye, bringing his idle page turning to a sudden halt.

The Greater Good.

Harry froze. The letters A and G. Albus, Gellert. It couldn’t be, could it? But Dumbledore had suggested a relationship there; something more than simply friends or business partners.

Suddenly he felt he was intruding somewhere he wasn’t welcome. He snapped the notebook shut and slid it into his pocket, so that it wasn’t left here for anyone to read. He would hide it later, somewhere out of sight.

As he did so, a piece of paper fell from the sheets. Malfoy was busy trying to open one of the drawers that was stuck fast, so Harry surreptitiously glanced at the paper.

It was a draft of a letter, full of crossed out words and blotted ink. Harry realised that he had seen the final copy of this before.

We must only use the force that is necessary - no more! This was your mistake at Durmstrang. If you were more familiar with Hogwarts, I could say to you that we must approach this as a Ravenclaw, rather than a Slytherin or even a Gryffindor, but since you are not, I am afraid the sentiment will not mean much to you.

The last part was crossed out, and Harry didn’t recall seeing it in the final letter that Dumbledore had sent to Grindelwald. He grimaced and shoved the letter back in the journal, and the journal deep into his pocket. He didn’t like the reminder of what Dumbledore had nearly been, of the choices he might have made.

Suddenly, the words sank in.

“He has the Sorting Hat,” Harry muttered, dumbfounded.

“What was that, Potter?” Malfoy asked just as the drawer smashed open with a bang. “Drat. Empty.”

“I know where it is!” Harry said excitedly, jumping up.

“You know where what is?” Malfoy asked. “Your dignity? Poor chance I’m afraid, that was gone long ago.”

“Hey, I’m sorry Malfoy, I’ve got to go find someone and then I’ve got to go somewhere,” Harry said quickly, aware that he wasn’t making much sense.

Malfoy frowned, grabbing Harry as he made to leave. “What do you mean? Where are you going? What are you talking about?”

Harry shrugged him off. “I know, I’m really sorry. It’s just - I don’t have much time. I’ll explain later. I’ve just got to go find- And then I’ve got to- I’ll tell you later!”

Malfoy sneered. “What, are you off to find your boyfriend then, Potter?”

Harry looked back in surprise. There was an odd tone to Malfoy’s words, almost like jealousy, but not quite. Bitter, certainly. But Malfoy’s expression looked vaguely confused and annoyed as well. It was a mix of emotions that made no real sense to Harry, but he supposed that with how Malfoy was feeling with his own unrequited love, the idea of Harry leaving him suddenly for his own partner wouldn’t be the nicest thing. Even if he did have no idea that Harry’s partner was actually male.

But Harry really couldn’t wait.

“Sorry,” he said again, and rushed out the door without looking back.

 

 


-~-~-

 

When the Slytherin portrait finally opened to reveal Derek, Harry noticed that Derek looked both out of breath and inordinately pissed off.

“Harry?” he asked, glaring at him fiercely. “What is it?”

“Sorry,” Harry said sheepishly. “I know you don’t like being seen in public and all that, but I know where the Sorting Hat is.”

Derek seemed to be warring between being pissed off and being happy to see Harry.

“Where is it?” he demanded finally.

He protested faintly when Harry grabbed him and dragged him down the corridor, but he didn’t pull back. Together they ran to the stone griffin that marked the Headmaster’s office.

“Didn’t you already ask McGonagall?” Derek asked, narrowing his eyes at the statue. It was clear he didn’t want to go inside.

“Yes, but Professor McGonagall doesn’t have it,” Harry said, muttering the password from the start of the year and hoping it was the same.

The griffin moved aside, and together they climbed upward. Harry was somewhat relieved to find that Professor McGonagall was nowhere in sight.

“Harry, my dear boy.”

Harry walked over to the portrait of Professor Dumbledore and stood in front of it. “Professor,” he said with a small smile, though he was feeling more than a little conflicted. “This is Derek.”

Dumbledore’s eyes slid to Derek, registering a mild surprise but nothing more.

“Good evening, Derek,” he said with a small smile.

Harry noticed Derek did a strange sort of grimace in return, but he didn’t have time to think about it in depth.

“Professor,” Harry said. “I’m sorry to rush, it’s just that we don’t have much time and I don’t want Umbridge to find us.”

“Be as brisk as you feel necessary, Harry,” Dumbledore said, turning his twinkling gaze back to Harry. “I’ll take no offence. Alas, recreational chats are a leisure not afforded to those on a mission.”

There was a sadness to his tone as he said the word mission, as if he were just as upset as Harry that Harry’s final year had not proved to be the relaxing break they had all hoped.

“Professor, I think you have the Sorting Hat,” Harry said. “And I‘d like to take it back.”

Dumbledore looked faintly surprised, though it quickly transformed into admiration. “Well surmised, Harry. I do have the Hat. But may I ask why you would like it returned? I put a lot of thought into its removal, so I feel obliged to myself to learn why that must change.”

Harry couldn’t help but smile, even though what Dumbledore had done had gone against everything that he was trying to prove. It was just so very Dumbledore, to act on assumptions and strategies, instead of trusting in those who had yet to prove their worth. But Harry knew that Dumbledore valued trust overall, even if he couldn’t quite bring himself to rely on it completely, and so he knew that he would give Harry the Hat.

“I know that you took it because you were worried about the Slytherins,” Harry said, feeling Derek stiffen beside him as he spoke. “That you thought the aftermath of the war would make everyone tense and unsure, and that we would retreat and segregate ourselves. And it was a good idea to take the Hat, so that we would be forced to mix up the houses without really knowing where we were meant to be, and so we wouldn’t feel like we could never be more than what our house told us we could be. But it’s not working. It’s too little too late, and people are still stigmatising.”

Harry felt Derek look at him in surprise. He was a little surprised himself; he hadn’t been planning on saying this, but he realised that it was true, whether or not he was trying to prove otherwise.

“And Umbridge is using that fact to close down Hogwarts. She’ll win if we don’t prove to the Ministry that it isn’t true.”

Dumbledore’s face was solemn as he took in Harry’s words. “And how will you prove that it is not true,” he asked, “if you are telling me now that it is?”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t know. That’s why we need the Hat. It’s fought for us before, and it can do it again. It can tell the Ministry that we’re more than our petty, inter-house squabbles, and if we can just convince the Ministry that this is true, then we’ll have a chance to actually change things.”

Dumbledore looked thoughtful. “I fear you’re learning too early the sort of battles adults must fight, even when there are no wars,” he said with a wry smile.

Harry smirked. “Yeah, I’d figured that.”

Dumbledore stood up and reached behind his chair. “I wish you the best of luck, Harry. May you succeed where I have failed.”

He held the Hat out toward Harry. Harry reached forward, and the Hat appeared at the front of the portrait, falling gently into his hands.

“I can hear a noise, Harry,” Derek said suddenly.

Harry wouldn’t put it past Umbridge to come snooping. “Thanks, Professor,” he said quickly. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

Dumbledore smiled, and Harry was struck by the hope he saw there. “I would appreciate that,” he said quietly. “Being confined to a portrait has more frustrations than I had anticipated.”

They hurried from the room, just as they heard voices on the stairs. They ducked behind the door and listened as Professor McGonagall and Umbridge walked into the office.

“Let me be quite clear, Dolores,” McGonagall said firmly. “The Ministry Representative may make Ministry demands when, and only when, they are qualified to do so.”

“That is the purpose of the Ministry Representative,” Umbridge argued, her tone shrill. Her heels were clicking quickly up the stairs, as she clearly ran to keep up with McGonagall’s long strides. “To speak on behalf of the Minister.”

“Precisely,” McGonagall interrupted. “So until you can provide a document signed by the Minister, I must assume your words are your own, and you will receive all the cooperation you deserve.”

“Then I’ll just have to get that document, won’t I?” Umbridge was almost yelling.

Harry and Derek ran quickly down the stairs and out the door.

“Well?” Derek asked once they were sure no one was around. “Put it on. Talk to it.”

Harry put the Hat on, but it was silent.

“Hello?” he said carefully. “Are you there?”

The Hat didn’t speak.

“Well, this is fabulous,” Derek said. “I must say, Chosen One, your plans are just second to none, really.”

“Shut up, Malfoy,” Harry muttered, listening carefully.

There was a long pause.

“What did you just say?” Derek asked, his voice weak.

Harry pulled the Hat off to see Derek looking pale and shocked. He thought back to what he’d said and laughed. “Sorry,” he said. “I guess you were reminding me of Malfoy.”

Derek continued to stare at him. “I remind you of Draco,” he repeated slowly. “But you’re definitely not interested in Draco?”

Harry pulled a face, exasperated. “How is this the time to be talking about Malfoy?” he snapped. “No, I’m not interested in Malfoy, for Merlin’s sake. You’re completely different.”

Derek still hadn’t moved. Harry looked back at the Hat, but it was clear that it wasn’t going to speak right now.

“I’ll have to think of some way to get it to talk,” he said. “Well, I guess I’ll go hide this in my dorm and then I’ll see you later tonight?”

Derek nodded. “You know,” he said slowly. “I might come and find you again in class tomorrow too, if that’s alright?”

Harry looked up in surprise. “Sure,” he said with a smile. “I look forward to it.”

They left quickly, before Umbridge could come out.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Last night, through a massive battle of wills that nearly came to blows, Harry managed to convince Derek that under no circumstances would he be allowed to view all the memories. As a result, he was in a large amount of pain today, more than he was willing to admit.

But then Derek walked into the Potions classroom at the start of the lesson, and he was so shocked he forgot all about his injuries.

“What are you doing here?” he asked as Derek came and sat down next to him.

“I wanted to see you,” Derek said, shrugging. There was something strange about him today, Harry noticed. Like he was in a trance.

Potions was a shared class with seventh years, but Harry had been sure Derek was in sixth year, so didn’t he have a class to be in?

“Don’t you have somewhere else you need to be?” Harry asked, watching him carefully. He seemed happy, but oddly so. Like a forced, almost unhinged happiness.

Derek laughed and shook his head. “No. I’ll manage fine in eighth year Potions, trust me.”

That wasn’t what Harry had meant. Harry looked around the room and saw the other students watching Derek with a range of frowns and confused expressions. Even the Slytherins looked unusually confused. Like they didn’t even recognise Derek.

Ron looked up from his seat next to Hermione and did a double take. “I thought you were sitting with Malfoy,” he said with a laugh.

Harry frowned. Malfoy was missing again. And Derek was acting so strangely.

Hermione opened her mouth to say something, but Slughorn walked in and everyone went quiet.

“Good morning, everyone,” he said, looking around the room. He was about to continue when he saw Derek. He frowned. “Mr… are you lost?”

Harry looked at Slughorn in confusion. He was head of Slytherin house now. Shouldn’t he know who Derek was?

Derek grinned brightly. “No, Professor. I think you were up to antidote potions this week, weren’t you?”

Slughorn’s brow furrowed further. “Indeed, I am. Indeed, I am…” He tilted his head to the side.

Harry stood up suddenly. “I’m going to the infirmary,” he said. “And he’s taking me.” He jerked his head at Derek and walked out of the room. He heard Derek rush to follow him.

“What are you playing at?” he hissed as soon as they were out of earshot of the classroom.

Derek only smiled and pulled him close. “I know what I’d like to be playing at,” he said huskily, bending down to gently run his mouth and tongue along Harry’s neck.

Harry gasped, pushing him back. “Not here,” he muttered. “And not now. What’s wrong with you? Something isn’t right.”

Derek laughed. It sounded deranged. “Actually, Harry,” he said, his voice rough. “Everything is right. It’s only like this that everything is right, you know? So that’s how it will have to be.”

“You’re not making sense.” Harry shoved Derek back. “I think you should go to the infirmary. I’ll take you now.”

“No,” Derek said, holding up a hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll go.” His smile had faded. “I’ll see you later.”

With that, he turned and left, leaving Harry staring after him.

Harry didn’t go back to class, he wasn’t feeling up to it. He went back to the dorms instead.

Derek was acting so strangely, and there was something that Harry couldn’t quite put his finger on. Something he felt he should be able to figure out.

He spent the day trying to get the Hat to speak, but having no luck. Instead, he fell into a restless sleep brought on from all the stress from the last weeks.

He woke to Ron shaking his shoulder roughly. “Hey, where were you today?” he asked, concerned. “We checked the infirmary, but Pomfrey said you never came.”

“I just came here to sleep,” Harry said, shaking his head. “What time is it?”

“It’s after dinner,” Ron said, staring at him incredulously. “Have you really been asleep this whole time?”

Harry shrugged, wondering why he still felt so crummy.

“Hey, anyway,” Ron said. “It’s the party tonight, remember?”

Harry groaned. He had forgotten - the eighth and seventh years had been planning a pre-Christmas party before everyone went home for the holidays.

“Down in the third floor corridor, yeah?” he asked.

Ron nodded. “Are you coming?”

“You know, I’m going to give it a miss,” Harry said, lying back. If everyone was at the party, maybe he could go and find Derek. Figure out what was wrong.

“I’ll stay too, then,” Ron said, still frowning.

Harry waved him off. “No, you go. Really. I’ve got stuff to catch up on.”

Ron didn’t look happy about it, but he eventually agreed to go, leaving Harry alone in the dorm. Harry decided to wait an hour or so, so that most people were at the party, before he went looking for Derek. He was confident Derek wouldn’t be at the party.

After what felt like ages, he cast a Tempus charm. Forty minutes. It would do.

He got up just as Malfoy stumbled in the doorway.

“Whoa!” Harry said in surprise, catching him just as he fell through.

“Potter?” Malfoy asked, looking up through bleary eyes.

Malfoy was drunk.

“Oh boy,” Harry muttered, half pulling, half carrying him over to Malfoy’s bed.

Malfoy toppled onto the bed gracelessly, dragging Harry down with him.

“Oh boy,” Harry repeated as Malfoy flopped partially on top of him, one arm wrapped tight around his chest. “Malfoy, you feeling okay?”

“Never better,” Malfoy hummed tunelessly. “Why aren’t you at the party?”

“Don’t feel like it,” Harry said. “Is that why you’re drunk?”

“Not at all,” Malfoy replied. “Imported Firewhisky.”

“On your own?” Harry asked, concerned. He tried to sit up, but Malfoy pulled him back down.

“Who else would I drink with?” Malfoy laughed, slapping Harry on the chest in mirth. “Get less bony, Potter. You’re a terrible pillow.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” Harry muttered.

“S’not disappointing,” Malfoy mumbled, his eyes closing.

Harry ran a hand through his hair, well beyond the rational mindset that would allow him to handle this. He needed to get to Derek, but he couldn’t just leave Malfoy. Malfoy seemed so fragile.

If Harry was honest, he had seemed fragile all year. Harry just hadn’t wanted to notice. In a strange way, Malfoy was reminding Harry of Derek right now. Like their desperation and sadness was coming from the same place.

“Why are you drinking alone?” he asked gently, managing to struggle into a half sitting position.

Malfoy sprawled more comfortably into Harry’s lap. “Because it helps,” he said quietly. “It helps me forget that he doesn’t love me, even though he does.”

“He?” Harry asked, surprised. He didn’t know that Malfoy was gay, not that it mattered. “How do you know he doesn’t? Have you asked him?”

“No, but he’s told me.”

Harry felt his chest burn at the thought of someone shutting Malfoy down. Which was absurd, because he did it all the time. He shifted uncomfortably.

“Maybe he’s lying,” he suggested.

“Maybe.”

“You know, you are a good person, Malfoy,” Harry said quietly, admitting it for the first time both aloud and to himself. Ever since his argument with Derek, where Derek had accused him of being afraid of the darkness inside him, he had been slowly wondering if maybe he had been too harsh on Malfoy. They had a long, annoying history, to be sure. But they had both been children. And Malfoy was clearly different now. He was clearly trying.

When Harry had been arguing with Derek, part of him had felt like he was arguing with Malfoy. Like, if they could just get past the walls they had built between them, that’s what it would be like if they could actually speak honestly, truthfully.

It had to be the blond hair and sharp features, but either way, a part of Harry often felt like he was with Malfoy when he was with Derek. Small reminders, like the way he held his head on the side when he thought, and the way he smelled, made Harry think of Malfoy. Even when they were kissing.

He realised that Malfoy was sitting up now. Harry’s heart was beating much faster than before. It was almost like Malfoy’s drunkenness was affecting him; like he was becoming intoxicated as well, just by Malfoy’s presence.

“I’m not really,” Malfoy said quietly, all trace of inebriation gone. His eyes were steady, holding Harry’s gaze captive. “But I’m trying.”

“You are,” Harry said slowly, his eyes falling to Malfoy’s lips. He looked back up quickly, hoping Malfoy hadn’t noticed. How could he be getting distracted by Malfoy’s lips when he was worried about Derek?

He felt guilty, but not guilty enough. It was the way that Malfoy reminded him of Derek - in almost every way, now that Harry thought about it - that was confusing him. It felt like he was here with Derek right now. Like Malfoy was somehow showing Harry a version of himself he had never revealed before, even when they had been drunk together the other day.

Malfoy seemed so familiar. Everything about him was drawing Harry in, and Harry had no idea how he hadn’t noticed it before. It had always been there. One way or another, it was always Malfoy.

Even when it was Derek, it was Malfoy.

It was Malfoy that he dreamed of kissing. In his dreams, it was Malfoy’s hair that he ran his fingers through, Malfoy’s cheeks that were flushed and Malfoy’s lips that were parted as he writhed breathlessly beneath Harry.

He wished that Malfoy would fight with him, would push him like Derek did. He knew that Malfoy wouldn’t back down weakly, like so many other people did, but would push him to be something more in this new world that had no markers or guides. He knew that Malfoy could show him the Dark in the world, like Harry could show him the Light, and that together they could find that middle ground to travel that would make sure everyone won.

Malfoy licked his lips, and the look in his eyes was filled with such yearning, such longing, that Harry broke. He closed the distance between them, catching Malfoy’s mouth beneath his and kissing him desperately, all thoughts of Derek far from his mind.

Malfoy made a faint sound of shock, but that was all he managed before he pushed back against Harry with surprising force, throwing him back against the cushions and pinning him to the bed. He kissed Harry furiously, their lips parting until Harry could taste the firewhisky on Malfoy’s breath mingling with the scent that was so uniquely him.

It was so familiar, like kissing someone he had kissed a thousand times before.

Malfoy’s hands caught in Harry’s shirt, tearing the buttons away as he fought to rip the fabric from Harry’s skin. Not to be outdone, Harry grasped Malfoy’s shirt and pulled it away roughly, over the top of his head, until Malfoy’s chest was pressed against his own.

Malfoy groaned, dropping his head lower along Harry’s neck and down toward his nipples. Harry could feel Malfoy’s hardened length against him, and it was both like and unlike it had been with Derek. It had the same passion and need, but there was also their history there, between them, which made it all the more intoxicating. Malfoy, who had fought against him for so long was here, now, boldly tracing a path ever lower, like it was all he had ever wanted.

Harry moaned as Malfoy’s lips reached his trousers, mouthing him through the fabric. This was more than he had ever done with Derek, and he was aching for it, his whole body tense with longing.

But then he remembered Derek. He cried out in frustration and pushed Malfoy back, just as his hands met Harry’s zipper.

“I can’t,” he said, panting even as he pulled away. “I can’t. Oh, Merlin.”

“Why not?” Malfoy gasped. His face and neck were flushed, his eyes dark with lust. Whatever desperate emotion had been festering inside him all year was gone, leaving no trace. He looked strong, confident. The way Harry remembered him to be. The way Harry dreamed of him.

“Because, Derek-” Harry tried to speak, to explain, but that was all he could manage.

Anger flashed through Malfoy’s eyes. “Right,” he spat. “You have a boyfriend. Nasty Potter, cheating on the love of his life with some cheap little fling.”

“What?” Harry shot back, his mind beginning to clear now that Malfoy was at least some distance away from him. “You’re not some cheap little- Anyway, what about you? Aren’t you in love with someone else? What are you using me for then?”

Malfoy laughed, a cruel, bitter laugh. “It’s you, you fucking moron,” he yelled, pushing Harry back against the wall. “How does that make you feel? For years it’s been you, Harry, and you never even noticed. Never even cared. Does it disgust you? To know how I thought of you for so long? Is it pathetic, the effect you have on me?”

Harry shoved him back, but Malfoy was too strong; he held him pinned, his eyes furious as they glared at each other.

“Does it disgust me?” Harry laughed. “We’re in bed together; what the fuck do you think? Malfoy, you really have a way of twisting shit, but if this is really how you want to do it, fine.” He brought his hands up to Malfoy’s hair, grabbing it and holding fast so that Malfoy couldn’t break away if he tried. “It’s always been you, too,” he hissed. “I never wanted to admit it because Christ, Malfoy, it’s fucked up. But it’s always been you. I’m in love with you. I dream of you. Even with my fucking boyfriend, I dream of you.”

The anger faded from Malfoy’s eyes. His grip on Harry’s shoulders went limp. “What?” he whispered.

“That’s right,” Harry muttered, disgusted with himself. He pushed Malfoy away. Malfoy fell back without protest. “And now I have to figure out what to do about that, when Derek’s clearly breaking down over something. But I can’t ignore it anymore.” He ran a hand through his hair, wondering how on earth this could possibly turn out alright.

“Wait,” Malfoy said.

Harry turned to him. Malfoy’s eyes were bright with an emotion Harry had hardly seen before. He looked hopeful, euphoric.

“It’s alright,” Malfoy said, laughing. He started to cough, like he was too shocked to laugh properly. “It’s okay, really. You don’t need to-” He laughed again, pushing his fringe back out of his eyes and smiling brightly, like Harry had never seen before. “It’s me,” he said, his hand still pressed to the top of his head, a look of incredulity on his face. “I’m Derek. I- I tried to tell you, but I didn’t know how, and there seemed no point. But, it’s me.”

Harry couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe. The words that Malfoy said hit him, but they didn’t make sense. They couldn’t make sense - they were words that someone else would say, that someone else would hear, in a situation far removed from anything Harry could experience. What could Malfoy mean? How could he be Derek?

His brain slowly processed the words, one by one. He took in Malfoy’s rapturous expression. His eyes fell slowly to the mark on Malfoy’s arm, shrivelled and faded just like Derek’s. He watched, as if in slow motion, the smooth arc of Malfoy’s hair as it rose and fell with his excited breath. The colour just like Derek’s.

His cheeks, his chin, the bones of his face so fine and sharp and harsh. Different to Derek’s, but only in a way that could be Transfigured. Only small differences. Small, but potent. A different kind of harshness. Unfamiliar, but so similar.

Derek’s voice, so strangely deep. Almost affected.

Malfoy was a talented Legilimens. He would only needed to have distracted Umbridge for a second.

His eyes met Malfoy’s and he felt sick.

“You what?” he whispered, the words feeling like lead as he forced them out.

“It’s me,” Malfoy repeated, his smile faltering only a little. “I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, but you hated me - or I thought you did. So I couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t lose you. It got out of hand, and I didn’t know what to do, but- tell me you understand, Harry?”

Harry understood. He finally understood the words that Malfoy was saying, and he couldn’t believe he hadn’t realised it before. He had thought Malfoy was up to something. That his moods were too erratic, that he was planning some form of deception, but he had had no idea that it could be this. That Malfoy would be so self-serving, so heartless, to lead Harry along like that.

“Was it fun?” Harry asked, his voice quiet, seething. “Was it fun to see me desperate for you without even knowing it was you?”

“What?” Malfoy stammered, the colour draining from his face. “What do you mean? I never- no!”

“Did you love watching me gasping, panting, and all the while knowing that you were tricking me? That I would never be with you if I knew it was you?” Harry was yelling now.

“But you just said you wanted me! That it was always me!”

“But you didn’t know that!” Harry roared. He grabbed the closest thing - a lamp - and threw it against the wall, smashing it into pieces. “You lied to me! You played around with me, knowing that I was falling in love with Derek, but that Derek wasn’t real. How could you think that was okay? How did you think this would end? That Derek would just disappear one day and I would fall into your arms?”

“But you have,” Malfoy whispered.

“You didn’t know that!” Harry yelled again. “This isn’t how relationships work, Malfoy! You don’t deceive someone! You don’t string them along and make them believe that something is the truth. I thought I was cheating on him! I thought I was breaking his heart! I was breaking my own heart by hurting someone I cared for. It doesn’t matter that it was only for a short period of time. You tricked me. You lied to me. How can I trust you? How do I even know who you are? Are you Derek, or are you Malfoy? I don’t even know Malfoy, not really, and Derek doesn’t exist. How can this possibly work?”

Malfoy stood, stricken, while Harry grabbed another lamp and smashed it. Tears leaked down Harry’s cheeks as he tore the room apart. He hardly even noticed. When there was nothing left to smash, he stood in the centre of the room, chest heaving. He looked lost, broken.

With a final look at Malfoy, who hadn’t moved once during Harry’s rage, he ran his fingers through his hair, swore quietly, and left.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Harry wasn’t sure how long he wandered the grounds, but the moon was high by the time he finally made his way back to the dorm. Ron and Neville were already snoring in their beds, which meant it had to be well past midnight and closer to dawn, if they were already back from the party.

Malfoy’s curtains were drawn, but Harry was sure he was in there.

Harry sat down on his bed and pulled the curtains shut tight. He thought he could make out the quiet sounds of Malfoy breathing from the loud snores of Ron and Neville.

Hours had passed, and he still felt sick to his stomach. How had it all become so twisted? How could he trust Malfoy enough to move on from this?

Did he want to?

He didn’t want to think about it anymore. He closed his eyes and willed sleep to take him far away.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Harry stared at the front of the room, ignoring the empty seat off to the side. He could hear Slughorn speaking, but he couldn’t make out the words.

With a start, he realised everyone was already out of their seats, grabbing potion ingredients. He stood up and followed.

Ron appeared at his side. “Where do you reckon Malfoy is?” he asked with a snicker, nodding toward the empty chair.

Harry shrugged. “Sick?” he muttered, stepping back out of the way for Seamus to pass.

He felt Ron look at him. “What’s wrong, mate?”

Harry shrugged again. He heard Hermione make a shushing sound, but he couldn’t remember when she had entered the room. Presumably, of course, she had been here all along.

Ron and Hermione began arguing in furious whispers, but Harry didn’t bother to listen. When Ron finally walked back to the desk - giving him a clap on the shoulder as he left - he felt Hermione come forward to stand beside him.

“I’ll get your ingredients, Harry,” she said quietly. “Go sit back down.”

Harry turned away. Before he left he heard her say something else, but the words didn’t sink in until he was back at his desk.

“People do stupid things when they’re desperate.”

He looked over at her, frowning, but she was busy collecting jars from the shelf.

Malfoy didn’t show up to the next class either. Or the next. Harry thought he might appear for the rebuilding session, but the Room remained quiet and empty.

As he sat in the Astronomy classroom that night, building up the energy to begin on the memories, it occurred to Harry that while Malfoy may not have appeared, Derek might.

Harry locked the door and moved a desk in front of it.

He tried not to cry out from the pain of his fresh wounds, but with the old ones not yet healing, every fresh cut and break burned like fire. He knelt on the ground and braced himself while the shudders passed, a new vial waiting in his hand.

The door handle rattled. He whipped his head up to stare at the door as whoever was on the other side paused, waiting.

Eventually, they left.

When Harry made his slow, limping way back to the dorm that night, he saw a jar sitting on the bed.

Bruising Salve

Harry stared at the jar. He could see Malfoy’s curtains were open, though his back was to Harry and he was still.

Harry cast a Muffliato charm, broke down, and cried.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Malfoy eventually came back to classes, but he was so quiet and unobtrusive that no one seemed to notice. Harry couldn’t look at him. Ron tried to nudge Harry and make a joke, but Hermione smacked him so hard they fell into another heated argument.

“Just leave it!” Hermione hissed.

“Leave what?” Ron’s eyes were wide.

“It,” Hermione demanded. “Just leave it. Now shut up.”

Ron shook his head in utter bewilderment, but he stayed quiet.

As the weeks passed, Harry found his dreams changing too.

He was still running, still chasing the blond boy, but the boy seemed faster than before. He let go of Harry’s hand and sprinted forward.

“Wait!” Harry called out, his voice hoarse. “Stop.”

The boy turned slightly, grey eyes piercing in the darkness, and kept running.

The distance between them grew. As Harry chased after the boy, he felt the darkness of the corridor grow until the walls faded out and all he could see was black with one small beacon of blond in the far distance.

The darkness crushed around him like a living thing, suffocating him.

 

 


-~-~-

 

The moment Harry woke up, he knew that something was wrong. The alarm sirens in the bedroom were going off, but they weren’t warning him about someone entering the bedroom.

They were warning him about someone entering the castle.

“Minister approaches the gates! Emergency assembly in the Great Hall! Minister approaches the gates!”

Harry threw back the covers and sat up, looking over at Ron who was trying desperately to make sense of the noise.

“Smash it!” he whimpered. “Burn it! Shut it up!”

“Get up, Ron,” Harry mumbled, trying to put his pants on backwards. “We’ve gotta go to the Hall.”

Malfoy’s curtains flew back. Malfoy sat bolt upright, his eyes bleary from sleep. He was shirtless, the bedsheets rumpled around his lap in a way that suggested he might also be pantsless.

His eyes met Harry’s, and they stared at each other in shock, as if they had forgotten that one way or another they would have to acknowledge each other again.

Harry wondered if the redness around Malfoy’s eyes wasn’t entirely from lack of sleep. He wondered if Malfoy would notice the redness around his own eyes.

“Come on,” Harry said gruffly. “Something bad is happening.”

Malfoy shut the curtains, and within a few moments emerged again, fully dressed.

“Where?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

“Great Hall,” Harry said, turning away so that he didn’t have to look at him.

Ron and Neville pulled on their clothing, and then they were all ready to leave.

“Harry,” Malfoy said quietly as Harry was about to follow Ron and Neville out the door.

Harry nearly ignored him, but the fact that he said ‘Harry’, not ‘Potter’, had him turning before he could stop himself.

“Maybe you should bring the Hat,” he said carefully.

Harry shuddered as Malfoy reminded him of something only Derek could have known.

“You’re right,” Harry said quietly, grabbing the Hat out from his trunk and shoving it under his robes. “Though fat lot of good it will do now.”

He turned and left.

They were amongst the last to reach the Great Hall, but they pushed their way to the front with the rest of the eighth years. Umbridge smiled down at them from the teacher’s table, though she was the only one there. Behind her was a large object, taller than her and covered with a red velvet cloth.

As Harry watched, the crowd parted to let McGonagall through.

“What is the meaning of this?” McGonagall hissed, coming to stand next to Umbridge on the dais.

“I’m only doing as you suggested,” Umbridge replied sweetly. “You needed the Minister’s express approval of my actions. Does this satisfy your requirements, Minerva?”

Her expression of polite inquiry made Harry want to hex her. He clenched his fists and kept still.

“Ah, Minister,” Umbridge called out, looking over Professor McGonagall’s shoulder with delight. “Welcome.”

Professor McGonagall turned. Harry saw her fingers twitch towards her wand, but this was a threat that she could do nothing about. Not now.

“Dolores,” Minister Tallyson said with a smile. “I wasn’t aware this was a public event.”

Despite the unexpected exposure, the Minister seemed outwardly cool and alert. It made Harry on edge.

“Circumstances deemed it most fitting. I believe you have read my report?” Umbridge’s voice projected across the Hall, so that all the students could hear.

“I have,” Tallyson said, coming to stand next to Umbridge and then turning to face the front of the dais. His bodyguards shifted into position beside him. The Minister’s movements were subtle, but in a matter of moments his stance had somehow become more authoritative, more powerful. He had taken the situation in his stride and was making it his.

“And you have read the testimony of the Hogwarts Liaison?” Umbridge looked down at Harry with a smile.

“It was quite straight-forward.”

“Students,” Umbridge announced, holding her wand aloft. “It is with great sadness that I must announce the Hogwarts rebuild is to be put on an indefinite pause.”

The Great Hall erupted into noise.

Umbridge shushed the crowd. “Regrettably, evidence has been produced that the spirit of Hogwarts is not the kind, caring culture we would all like to believe.” She waved her wand.

To Harry’s horror, the cloth fell away from the mysterious object to reveal a Pensieve that had been spelled to hover on its side, the liquid rippling calmly as if it were flat. The scenes he had witnessed each night played soundlessly, and it was like all the worst parts had been plucked out and sewn together. Every hex or blow that landed on a Slytherin was showcased for the school to see.

Harry heard his own voice speak from the Pensieve.

“The Slytherins rarely deserve the accusations that begin the fights.”

Hermione and Ron turned to him in shock.

The words he had written with Umbridge’s spelled quill rang out through the Hall. “The memories do not show the Slytherins ever planning something that merits the fighting.”

It had all been twisted, even more than Umbridge already had done. Harry could hear the Slytherins muttering angrily, wanting to know where these memories had come from, and why it was only the Slytherins who were being hexed or beaten.

“But, other students get picked on too,” Hermione protested, the anger in her voice making her sound on the verge of tears. “They’re just not showing that. This is so one-sided.”

“Yes, but it’s still not wrong,” Harry said quietly, Umbridge’s secrecy spell broken. “Even if the evidence is planted, what she’s saying is based on fact. Think about it, how kindly do you look on Slytherins?”

Ron frowned.

“Such a poisonous culture of prejudice will harm these students’ welfare, wouldn’t you agree, Minister?” Umbridge’s voice, enhanced by magic, drowned out the protests of students.

Tallyson nodded thoughtfully. “It would seem that way,” he said, his eyes seeking out McGonagall who stood watching in stiff outrage.

“And years of resentment and contempt often lead to homicidal tendencies, do they not?” Umbridge continued. “Do you think it wise to allow these emotions to fester unchecked? Even without their official Sorting - with students choosing their own house on a whim - prejudice has still continued.” Umbridge flicked her hand and a long roll of parchment appeared in it. Harry didn’t have to see it to know that it was a list of names of students who had earned prejudice points.

“What is the Minister’s ruling?” she asked sweetly. It sounded like a death knell.

Harry felt someone move beside him. He turned to see Malfoy standing there, holding himself just far enough back that he wasn’t touching Harry. Malfoy looked pointedly at Harry’s robes where the Hat was hidden.

Harry pulled the Sorting Hat out and looked at it, bemused. What could it possibly do now that would save them, when Umbridge had so carefully moved everything into place?

Even if the Minister disagreed with her report, Umbridge had made the accusations publicly, and with evidence. There would have to be a proper investigation. And the Minister had no reason to want Hogwarts to stay open.

Open, Dumbledore’s legacy would threaten the Ministry for decades to come. Closed, it would be a war museum, serving the Ministry’s purpose and fading quietly into the annals of history.

Umbridge had won.

He shook the Hat, wishing stupidly that it would drop some kind of sword that could defeat a politician.

The Hat moved. Harry’s eyes widened. The Hat shifted, moving slowly, like an old man who was tired to his very soul. Harry heard it sigh before it floated up into the air. Slowly, every head in the Hall turned towards it.

Umbridge’s jaw dropped, and even Professor McGonagall looked stunned.

The Hat began to sing. As it sang, its voice grew louder until Harry felt it echoing in his ears like a drum beat.

 

 


For decades strong, I’ve sorted true
And though my doubts I’ve shown
I’ve let your strength and courage choose
The house I make your home

For whether you are red or green,
Or blue or yellow, fair
Not one of you is better than
The friends whose home you share

But as the years have whittled on
You’ve since become estranged
I’ve shared concern; I’ve cautioned strength
But nothing yet has changed.

Think you, the first to draw these lines?
To build up petty walls?
The Founding Four began as friends
But discord made them fall

They focused on their differences;
The weakness they saw there
And day by day their hatred grew
And stripped their friendship bare.

Each of you is set apart
That’s never been a lie
But if that is all you choose to see
You’ll overlook your ties

Evil is not born, it grows
Though easy to ignore
The nasty taunts of children's games
Will sow the seeds of war

Although my founders won’t agree
I have to see it said
If closing’s what will heal this rift
Perhaps Hogwarts is dead.

 

The hat fell silent. Not one person spoke. Umbridge’s lip curled, and she opened her mouth, a triumphant gleam in her eye.

Until Neville pointed. Every head turned back, and they saw the hat was moving once more.

 

 


But if you think there is a chance
To mend this ‘fore it breaks
Then think back to the Founding Four;
Don’t make their same mistakes

 

The Hall was still.

“You know, I’ve always thought you were pretty hot,” Seamus said suddenly to Astoria Greengrass.

Astoria slapped him. The slap rang out through the Great Hall. Harry wondered absurdly if he was dreaming.

Then Astoria blushed. “Sorry!” she whispered. “Reflex.”

Seamus rubbed his cheek, looking at her in awe. “Well, I’d say that was a typical Slytherin move, but I think the Sorting Hat might kick me out of Hogwarts.”

Then, suddenly, everyone was laughing. Umbridge stamped her foot, trying to bring order once more. No one listened. She waved her wand and brought her silence spell down on the students again, but the laughter continued. Students doubled over silently, laughing at they-barely-knew-what.

A sound like a whip-crack burst through the Hall, and the laughter rose once more. Harry turned to see Professor McGonagall, her wand raised and fury in her eyes.

“Is that really all you’ve got?” Someone from the crowd called out.

Harry looked around in alarm, shocked that for once it wasn’t him.

The voice continued. “That we’re all a pack of nasty bullies? You’ll have to do better than that.” Harry’s eyes fell on Neville, who was walking up to the steps. He stopped at the bottom and looked up at Umbridge and the Minister. The Hall went quiet to listen.

“Showing us those memories, giving us that warning.” Neville paused to nod respectfully to the Sorting Hat. “You know what that’s really going to do, don’t you? It’s not going to send us into hiding with our tail between our legs. We’ve come through far too much for that. I’m prepared to admit that I let the past cloud my judgment, and maybe I thought wrongly of people based purely on their house.” He shrugged. “But I’m not going to run off, red-faced. I’ll just change. Isn’t that what life’s about? Learning to admit when you’re wrong and moving forward?”

Umbridge spluttered. “There is no Healing this sick culture,” she trilled. “The Ministry will close down this shamble of a school before it encourages anymore ill rivalry.”

Neville laughed. “You and what army?”

The Minister smiled. “I think you’ll find,” he began quietly.

A new voice called out from the crowd. “I think you’ll find that you’re in breach of the Wizengamot Privacy Laws, section forty-three.”

Harry turned to see a Slytherin fifth year smirking up at the Minister. He didn’t know the boy’s name.

“Publicly viewing Pensieve memories without express consent is illegal,” the boy continued. “And invalidates any evidence derived therein.”

A Slytherin girl standing with him suddenly called out as well. “And no memory that is not viewed within contextual parameters - minimum three hours - can be included in the appendices of any legal report.” She flicked her hair back and glared at Umbridge.

“Who submitted the names on the parchment?” another Slytherin called out. “Where’s their official stamp?”

Harry couldn’t keep the grin from spreading across his face. Of course, Harry might be out of his depth when it came to politics, but a pureblood Slytherin, raised on laws and loopholes, was more than a match for a slimy Minister of Magic. So long as it was worth their while.

“Dolores Umbridge.”

Harry knew that voice. Kingsley Shacklebolt swept into the Great Hall, flanked by Professor Flitwick and Professor Trelawney. And… Harry blinked... Hermione.

He spun around and saw Ron staring around at the ground as if he’d dropped his wand. “She was just here,” he muttered, looking up at Harry in shock and then back down to the ground. “How’d she do that?”

“How does she do anything?” Harry muttered weakly.

“I’m here to escort you from Hogwarts premises,” Kingsley said, waving his wand to capture Umbridge in a set of tight, white ropes.

“On what grounds?” Umbridge’s voice shrieked through the hall.

Tallyson stepped forward in protest.

“Crimes against humanity,” Kingsley announced, waving his wand so that Umbridge was pulled over the sea of students, toward the doors.

Hermione climbed the steps and dropped a foot tall stack of papers on the table in front of the Minister. “A copy for you, Sir,” she said politely, before turning and walking back to Ron and Harry.

Harry reached over and tapped Ron’s jaw closed.

“I told you I was going to speed up her trial,” Hermione said, shaking back her hair and watching Kingsley’s exit with a triumphant smile. “I was still compiling her atrocities against the centaurs, but I guess I’ll have to add it as an amendment.”

“But-” Ron gaped at her. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“You were barely coping with your NEWTs as it was,” Hermione said crossly, as if it should be obvious. “I hardly wanted to make you more stressed.”

Ron pulled her into a hug. “I muv moo,” he muttered into her hair while Hermione flushed pink with embarrassment.

Harry turned to see McGonagall escorting a tight-lipped Minister from the dais. Her smile could only be described as smug.

Neville appeared in front of the four of them, looking bewildered but happy. “Gonna explain why you were narrating Umbridge’s show, Harry?” he asked.

Harry laughed. “Yeah, but later. I reckon I might give a proper interview after all this and clear some things up. Maybe I’ll write a book.”

Neville laughed. “Well, I guess she was a little bit right though, or at least the Hat was. It did try to warn us in fifth year after all. I guess we all got a little bit caught up in winning the war, and we forgot.”

Harry nodded. “We’ll just have to remember this time.”

“Maybe the student body could do with a demonstration,” Hermione called out innocently from her position in Ron’s arms. “I don’t know, something like a Slytherin/Gryffindor allegiance? As a show of good faith?”

Harry stared at her. How had he never realised just how much of a vindictive mastermind his best friend was?

He felt Malfoy shift uncomfortably beside him. “Greengrass and Finnigan would do a good job of that,” he said airily. “Give them half a shove and they’ll be snogging, I think.”

Harry winced at the pain he heard in Malfoy’s voice. He wasn’t ready to face this yet. He wasn’t ready to fix it.

But…

“Draco,” he said, turning to face Malfoy and ignoring the look of bewildered hope in those grey eyes. “What you did was stupid, and it hurt more than you can imagine. But I understand why you did it.” Malfoy’s lips were parted in shock. Harry took a deep breath, his face breaking into a wretched smile. “And I'm miserable without you.”

Malfoy twitched, a small movement like he had been about to embrace Harry, but pulled back at the last second.

Harry grabbed him by the collar and pulled him into a long, glorious kiss. It felt like coming home.

“WHAT THE BLOODY FUCK-”

Harry heard a loud smack from Hermione, and then everything else was drowned out by a wave of cat-calls and incredulous laughter.

Somewhere, Harry was certain he heard someone call for a ten galleon pay out. It sounded like Seamus.

And beyond that, there was only the sound of Malfoy’s gasping as his lips moved desperately against Harry’s own.

 

 


-~-~-

 

Harry and Malfoy left the party early. The celebrations were great - and the teachers were happily turning a blind eye - but the last few hours had moved too quickly for either of them to be comfortable in a crowd. They needed time alone, without fighting for once.

“Feel like a little therapy, Potter?” Malfoy suggested with a smirk.

“You can call me ‘Harry’ any time you like,” Harry said drily. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, there are all those vials and Pensieves still upstairs,” Malfoy explained, leading them toward the Astronomy tower. “And since Umbridge really has no need for them anymore, we should do her a favour and remove them.”

“You want to blow them up, don’t you?”

Malfoy grinned.

The room was as they had left it. Before Harry could think of where to start, Malfoy pulled his wand and sent a force of wind crashing into the front half of the room. Vials smashed and Pensieves clattered to the floor.

Harry huffed a laugh, surprised by Malfoy’s vehemence. “Shouldn’t I be the one pissed off?” he asked. “I’m the one still covered in wounds from the last memories.”

“You’re not the one who had to watched it happen,” Malfoy said quietly. “Powerless to stop it.” He raised his wand again and sent fire blazing through the desks. “You wouldn’t let me take the memories, so instead I just. Had. To. Watch.” Every word was punctuated by a blast of power hurled at the room.

Harry quickly made a mental readjustment from being prepared to destroy the room to being prepared to save it. Carefully, he doused the flames with water, watching Malfoy as he stood silently to the side, chest heaving.

“Everything has happened so quickly,” Malfoy said by way of explanation, his gaze set on some point at the back of the room. “I don’t know how I’m meant to feel or what’s meant to happen now.”

Harry studied Malfoy carefully. This wasn’t the Malfoy he had seen this year; the Malfoy that had slowly broken further and further as each day passed. The Malfoy that had been collapsing under the weight of self-loathing - the knowledge that if he had been just the slightest bit different, just the slightest bit removed from himself, that Harry would love him.

But it also wasn’t Derek. It wasn’t the Derek who had clung to Harry with a euphoria that could only exist when he let himself believe a lie. It wasn’t the Derek who had desperately held onto the threads of his happiness while the lie had slowly come crashing down around him.

This was someone new. Someone Harry had seen glimpses of behind every taunt and every argument. Someone strong. Someone who wouldn’t try to control Harry, but would push him to be more than he already was. Someone who had all the best qualities of Derek and Malfoy, and who wanted Harry as much as Harry wanted him.

Malfoy’s eyes slid to his, and Harry was thrown by the intensity of emotion he saw there. Without the lies and uncertainty between them anymore, Harry felt like he was finally back on solid ground. Just, instead of being sure that he wanted to hex Malfoy, he was sure that he wanted to snog him senseless.

“You know,” Malfoy said neutrally. “We have a bad habit of being interrupted. Usually by our own stupidity.”

Harry’s heart skipped a beat. He took a step closer to Malfoy. “What are you suggesting?” he asked, unable to keep the smirk from his face.

“I just thought I’d ask if you were feeling particularly stupid tonight,” Malfoy said, bringing one hand up to Harry’s jaw so that his thumb could run lightly along it. “Because if you are, I’d rather just leave now. I don’t think my cock could take any more disappointment.”

Harry’s breath left him in a rush at Malfoy’s candor. Without a clue who moved first, suddenly they were on each other, lips meeting and tongues tangling in a desperate fight for control.

For the first time in his life, Harry wanted to relinquish it all. For the first time, he felt like he could, and it wouldn’t make him weak. He brought his hands up to Malfoy’s hair, grasping, and angling himself so that he could do nothing but yield.

Malfoy’s lips parted and he moaned against Harry, grabbing Harry by the waist and turning to slam him back against the wall.

“God, I want to fucking taste you,” Malfoy mouthed against him while his hands fumbled with Harry’s zipper. “Please tell me you're not a prude, Potter, because I want you so bad. I want you in my mouth while you lose it.”

Harry felt a jolt in his stomach as he realised that everything he had done with Derek - everything he had nearly done with Malfoy - had still never been quite accurate. That Malfoy, in his desperation and fear, had been holding back. But now he was letting go, and it was glorious.

He felt Malfoy’s hands on his skin, shoving his pants down and out of the way. He dropped his head back onto the wall and groaned. Then Malfoy’s hand closed over his cock, and he nearly lost it. With a gasp he brought his head back up, meeting Malfoy’s gaze as Malfoy’s stroked him, slow and unhurried. Malfoy’s eyes glinted softly in the low light, sharp and predatory.

Even through the haze of need and want, Harry was barely able to stop himself from grinning stupidly. With Malfoy, there was no uncertainty, no second guessing. Now that they were passed the ridiculous beginning, and had finally given in, they could-

“Potter?” Malfoy purred.

“What?” Harry gasped, whimpering as Malfoy twisted slightly, running his thumb across the sensitive head.

“Stop fucking thinking.”

Then he dropped to his knees, and Harry stopped thinking anything at all.

Through the rush of blood in his ears, he could hear Malfoy moaning in appreciation, his lips hot and wet around Harry’s cock. Harry brought his hands forward into Malfoy’s hair and gripped tightly, holding Malfoy’s head still as he began to thrust.

“Malfoy,” he breathed.

When he felt Malfoy’s throat hum around his cock, it finally sent him spiralling over the edge. He came with a hoarse shout, gripping Malfoy tightly and pumping into him in long strokes.

Malfoy stood and pressed up against him, holding him against the wall as his knees felt like giving out.

“So, you’re interested then?” Malfoy said, grinning into Harry’s ear.

Harry laughed. “Guess I like them a bit argumentative after all.”

 

 


-~-~-

 

FIN.