We can't play this game any more
But can we still be friends?
Things just can't go on like before
But can we still be friends?
Harry stared at Draco, his thoughts exploding in panic.
One part of his brain gabbled, it's all right, it's perfectly all right, Draco is just suggesting a sleepover, get your mind out of the gutter, do you want to ruin everything? Another part was screaming in Draco's direction, we just established that I'm confused here, what on earth do you think you're suggesting, I don't know if I'm even, are you, could you?
Another part was staring at Draco in a stupid, avid way all of a sudden, letting him down by getting all mixed up in the rush of happiness and relief. The curve of Draco's hair against his neck was riveting.
"Er," he said.
Draco laughed. "I'm sorry, that was a very tactless way to put it. Especially since you're in crisis," he added conscientiously. "I mean, I'm having an overnight gathering here to discuss the spy and other events. I'd like you to stay."
"Oh," Harry said. "Oh. Yes, of course."
Draco beamed winningly at him. "Good," he answered.
Harry had missed that smile, devious and generally alarming though it was.
"I'm going to speak to you all with a pointer," Draco continued. "It's going to point to things. It endows me with a great air of authority."
He went and sat on his bed, producing the pointer from under his pillow, and beckoning Harry proudly over to see it. He waved it a few times, experimentally.
Harry frowned at the pointer. "Draco. Isn't your wand enough?"
Draco smirked. "Nothing's ever enough, Harry."
"It's too much when it looks like compensation," Harry advised him. Draco hit him with the pointer.
Harry eased himself onto the bed, an enormous sense of relief seeping through him. They were still - right, and he could keep it right.
Draco pulled his legs up and sat in lotus position on the bed, leaning his pointer against his knee.
"We have a while before everybody else gets here," he said. "We should talk about your crisis."
"Um, no, it's all right," Harry told him quickly. "Let's talk about something else. How have you been?"
Draco brightened as something occurred to him. "I displayed my project today," he announced. "I think it might have gone well. You know. Adequately. In a way where perhaps I was brilliant."
Harry looked fixedly at the green coverlet, not looking away from the threads.
"Actually, I saw it." Please don't be furious. "It's just - I'd heard you talk about it so often I wanted to see it. So I, um, I used my Invisibility Cloak."
"Really?" Draco laughed, sounding almost startled. "Well... that's kind of voyeuristic. But also flattering, so it's all right. Harry! What did you think?"
He looked eager. Harry smiled at him, relieved again, and tried to form some kind of intelligent sentence about the display.
"It was - different," he said. "I liked it a lot. It was like... concentrated dreams."
Draco glowed. "Well, I am stupendously clever," he admitted shamelessly. "I prattled in Latin from the cradle. Always the little genius, yours truly-"
"Showing off is not clever, Draco."
Draco looked offended. "On the contrary," he said. "If you don't show it off, who's going to know?" He paused. "What were we talking about?"
"You're so clever, you tell me."
Draco tapped Harry on the knee with the pointer. "I know," he said. "Your crisis. All right, don't worry about it. I'm going to help you."
"Er," said Harry. "How?"
Draco bit the side of his lip. "I have to think it over. If only Blaise were willing to help but, well, he hates you, so that's that."
Harry blinked several times after Draco had spoken, and the sentence remained frightening.
"Is Blaise Zabini gay?"
Draco blinked at him in turn. "Yes," he said carefully. "And the sky is blue, Harry. The robes we generally wear to school are black. Just in case you hadn't noticed, over the years."
"I don't even like Zabini," Harry said, still shocked. "How could you think-"
Draco sighed, and then looked contrite. "I'm sorry. I forgot about you being sentimental."
"I'm not sentimental!"
The door opened, and Pansy Parkinson came in, dressed in an oversize flannel shirt. Harry only just stopped himself from snapping at her to come back later.
"So the meeting begins," Draco said in an undertone, and reached out and gripped Harry's shoulder, palm flat against his collarbone. "We'll talk later."
Harry smiled at him, unable to help it. "All right."
"Harry Potter," Pansy said archly. "What a surprise this is."
Draco grabbed her lightly as she approached the bed, and shook her by the hips. "We're talking about this later, woman. The conversation may include the words 'unwarranted interference.'"
"It's a house pastime," Pansy said, shrugging. Draco laughed and released her.
"Were we supposed to bring parchment and quills," Blaise Zabini began as he came in the door, and then his face changed when he saw Harry. "What is he still doing here?"
"I invited him," Draco said calmly, hand still against Harry's collarbone.
Zabini stood looking down at Harry with disfavour. "Why? I thought we were all supposed to decide who should be present at the meeting."
Draco moved closer along the bed towards Harry, and quite deliberately slid an arm around his neck and leaned forward.
Harry glanced over at Draco's profile, jaw not two inches from his shoulder, and tried not to catch his breath.
"This is my room," Draco told Zabini softly. "So these are my rules. I'll have anyone I want in my room, and if you don't like it, you can leave."
Harry tore his gaze away from Draco, and glanced over at Zabini. He and Draco were staring at each other, clearly locked in a contest of wills. Zabini never even came close to winning.
He dropped his eyes, and then gave Harry a resentful look.
"Good," Draco said in the very cheerful way he had when he was feeling triumphant and wanted to rub it in. "Besides, I think he'll be useful."
The door opened and Crabbe and Goyle came in. Harry was just a little stunned to see Crabbe had Marvin the Mad Muggle pyjamas. Both of them stopped and looked at Harry, and then looked at Draco with incomprehension.
Zabini flicked up an eyebrow. "Yes, utility is the idea, I'm sure. Because you invited these two here so we'd all get the benefit of their astonishing brain power, I don't think."
Draco stood and went over to Crabbe and Goyle, standing between them and Zabini as if they needed his physical protection.
"I don't think you should talk about them that way," Draco said in a cold voice.
"Oh, please. You talk about them that way. You talk about them that way every hour of every single day."
Zabini rolled his eyes, still scornful. Draco nodded in a 'you've got me there' manner, and then smiled one of those unexpected, irresistible smiles.
"That's different," he said, glancing back at them. "They're my boys."
Crabbe and Goyle stood stolidly behind them. Either because Draco was saying nothing they did not know, or because they really were extraordinarily stupid.
"By the way, you two," Draco added casually, "it was all a misunderstanding. Harry's back. Everything's as it was."
There would be no questions from these two. Goyle nodded.
"Hello, Harry," Crabbe said, as if laboriously coming up with a tactical manoeuvre.
Harry gave him a quick smile. "Hi."
"So that's all settled," Draco remarked. "Isn't harmony a beautiful thing? I have a warm glow. And here are the guests, just in time. Lovely."
Zabini threw himself into the chair he had been occupying earlier, looking as if he had the groundwork for an ulcer. Pansy leaned against the bedpost, and Draco made a welcoming gesture as Parvati Patil opened the door and peeked cautiously around it.
She had her black hair in a long beautiful plait, and Harry saw Draco appreciatively eyeing the picture she made in her rose-coloured pyjamas. Harry had some uncharitable thoughts about the shamelessness of people running around schools in their night clothes and luring Slytherins who were supposed to be sitting next to Harry.
Then she saw Harry and looked thrilled, exclaiming, "Harry, I am so glad you're here," and rushing over to sit beside him. Since she had ignored Draco, Harry allowed himself to feel guilty and like the terrible person he undoubtedly was.
She was also taking Draco's place, but he was not petty enough to notice that.
"Parvati, did you actually doubt my word of honour on why I wanted this little rendezvous?" Draco inquired, looking hugely amused.
Parvati blushed. "Well, you said no other Gryffindors would be coming. I wouldn't have if I'd known Harry would be here."
"Well, this is certainly my week to have my motives misinterpreted by virtuous young ladies," Draco said. "I had no idea I had such a terrible reputation. It's very thrilling."
Pansy snorted and Draco made a face at her.
"Draco," Harry said. "What did you do?"
"Me?" Draco exclaimed innocently, and made another welcoming gesture as Terry Boot, Mandy Brocklehurst and Lisa Turpin came into the room. They were all in their pyjamas and Terry was in the lead, Lisa and Mandy clutching notebooks to their chests. Draco flashed them a smile. "I was explaining to those already assembled that I tried to invite Hermione Granger to our little gathering."
"Well - surely that would be a good idea. She's the brightest student in school," Terry remarked. His dark-grey eyes moved around the room, and clearly took in Harry, but he made no other comment.
Mandy and Lisa both deserted from behind Terry and went to sit on the bed with Harry and Parvati.
Marvellous, Harry thought. It's after I start being attracted to a boy that girls in their pyjamas decide to swarm me on a bed.
"Good to see you here, Harry," said Lisa, who he barely knew.
"Er, thanks," he replied.
Meanwhile, Draco was looking a bit sulky. "Granger's not all that brilliant," he grumbled. "And I asked her to come, anyway. It's not my fault that she - ah - misinterpreted my request."
Everyone in the room looked entertained or startled. Harry boggled.
"She what? She never said!"
"She didn't need to apply to her menfolk for protection," Draco said wryly.
Pansy bubbled with laughter. "She hit him," she told everyone gleefully. "Slapped him around the face."
"Oh, not again," Harry exclaimed. Now Pansy and Zabini were looking startled too.
Draco went faintly pink. "I'll have you all know that I was young, and not yet quite so charming."
"Yes," Harry said. "She seems to have been very impressed by your current level of mature charm."
Pansy and Parvati both laughed, and Terry Boot cracked a smile.
"I merely wished to explain why Granger would not be gracing us with her presence."
"Why didn't you explain to her?" Terry asked practically.
Pansy rolled her eyes. "Somebody thought it was all just too funny, didn't he? Useless creature that he is."
"It is funny," Zabini chimed in. "Imagine Granger thinking that Draco was overcome by lust for her."
"I think I could be," Draco said with an introspective look. "I like a girl with spirit."
"That's enough, Draco," Harry said.
Draco glanced at him. Harry looked back. It's Hermione, so it's not funny, and I'll never in a million years back down like Zabini did.
Draco did not drop his eyes either. "Or she will never realise our great passion," he said lightly. "Tragic though that would be. Ah, the Hufflepuff contingent has arrived."
Susan Bones slipped inside, drawing a floral dressing gown tightly around herself. She looked around as if she was in the lions' den, and then Draco beamed at her. She smiled back tentatively.
"Where's Smith?" Zabini asked from his armchair.
"He isn't coming," she said, quietly. "I'm sorry. He said he wasn't sure about Malfoy."
She spotted Harry and the other girls, and slipped over to them as fast as she could. Harry Potter, ladies' man, was beginning to feel as if fate was playing a practical joke on him.
"Fine, excellent. We can get started then," Draco said, and flourished his pointer. His lips tightened only fractionally when he added, "I never liked that Smith much anyway."
Blaise and Pansy sighed in very loud unison. "And we all know why, too," Pansy remarked.
Draco looked stubborn. "I don't like blonds."
Pansy looked like a woman who had heard this before, and who was now affectionately exasperated. "Draco, he did not steal the idea from you. You don't have blond copyrighted."
"On the contrary," Draco said. "I'm sure my family must have copyrighted it around 1600. If I could just find the records, that upstart Smith would pay."
Everyone laughed this time. Harry looked around and did not think that Draco had planned to start actual business a moment sooner than this. Everyone looked at their ease, enjoying the others' company.
It was a really impressive performance.
"Let me make a few things clear," Draco continued, on a different note. "I asked all of you here and gave all of you who needed it the Slytherin password, and all I said was that I wanted to discuss current events. All of you must have been quite puzzled - aside from those who thought that I was offering sexual favours, of course."
"You're not?" Pansy asked. "That's it, I'm off."
Draco laughed and pretended to throw her into the chair opposite Zabini. She hooked her legs over an arm.
"The official story is that all you girls are attending a pyjama party of Pansy's in her private room, and all the boys are attending one in mine. Obviously, people will suspect there was a certain amount of mingling, but that will just make us all seem more interesting and we will be the envy of our classmates." Draco flashed an impish smile. "Nobody will ever have to know the dreadful truth that Harry hogged all the girls."
Harry looked around the bed. "Which would you like?" he asked. "I've got a selection."
Parvati giggled and punched him in the arm.
Draco looked soulful. "I have to pick just one? Sharing is caring, Harry. You should keep that in mind. Now, does anyone have a question about the alibis?"
"I do," said Zabini. "Where are your pyjamas?"
Naturally Harry had never liked Zabini. He constantly asked people offensive personal questions.
"Excuse me," Draco said in his most aristocratic manner. "I could not possibly get changed before my guests arrived. I had company."
"Never stopped you before," Zabini pointed out.
Draco glanced over at Harry and grinned. "I had special company."
"Enough of this false modesty," Zabini said. "I seriously object to men wearing clothing at night."
Perhaps Draco had had a point, and Harry should really have noticed about Zabini before.
"Take it off!" Pansy put in helpfully.
People were laughing again, very naturally.
"We're here," Draco continued, "because I thought it would be a good idea to have an interhouse group in which we can share secrets and think up plans - not only with less possible interference from the spy, since the spy could be one of us - but without the jurisdiction of the teachers."
"Yeah, Potter," Zabini said slyly. "What we're talking about is breaking the rules. Sure you don't want to scurry off?"
Harry laughed, genuinely startled. "Well, now I'm sure you really don't know anything about me, Zabini."
He saw Susan Bones was looking a little hesitant at this open talk of rule-breaking, though, so he smiled at her reassuringly. She smiled back, looking more confident.
"I'm not just talking about breaking rules," Draco continued. "We can also do morally questionable things that Professor Lupin obviously can't openly countenance. I haven't a moral to my name, and I'm quite prepared to lie, cheat and steal to do any damage to the Dark Lord."
There were nods from the Slytherins around the room, and Terry Boot, but Harry looked around the bed and saw hesitation until he nodded too. Then Parvati and Susan started nodding as well.
"And we can point fingers at who we think is the spy, and investigate them, instead of pursuing this policy of pretending to trust everyone and watching desperately for a random clue. We can point fingers at teachers, even. And of course," Draco concluded grandly, "I have one final argument to sway people into agreeing to these meetings."
He opened his wardrobe. On one door was fixed a calendar-sized notepad, clearly meant to serve as a board. Draco gestured to it with his pointer and a certain amount of pride.
"I think it all looks very official now," he said. "Now, let's have some names. Sorry, Parvati - Padma Patil."
Parvati sat up straight at Harry's side. "I know why you're saying it," she said, "but I know my sister. There's no way. It's not her."
Draco's eyes were cold. "Whoever the spy is," he said softly, "they has people who believe in them. Who trust them implicitly, and who are being betrayed."
"Not Padma," Parvati insisted.
He smiled. "Then let's prove her innocent, shall we, sweetheart?"
He wrote 'Padma Patil' on the notepad. Parvati was still trembling with quiet defiance at Harry's side.
"What about you?" she asked. "People suspect you."
Pansy sat up straight. "Look, you little-"
"Sh, Pansy," Draco said sharply. He turned and wrote his own name down. Harry noted with amusement that he did so in much fancier script than he had used for Padma's name, and he added a curl to the 'y' with a flourish.
Apparently being suspected of dark deeds was all right if you could do it with style.
Parvati still looked unsettled, and it was beginning to infect the other girls on the bed. Susan reached over and held onto Harry's elbow: when he glanced at her in bewilderment the look on her face was a cry for reassurance.
He had not looked over at Terry Boot, but it seemed uncertainty was no confined to the bed.
"In the spy hunt, we can't forget the final threat is You-Know-Who."
"I don't," Draco replied shortly.
"Then - how can we use a little group like this to affect him?"
"Well, what do you suggest we do?" Pansy demanded, looking like a small, determined dog ready to attack. "Sit around here and get picked off one by one? Brilliant plan."
Draco glanced, quickly, from one to the other. "Ravenclaws are noted for their brilliant plans," he drawled.
Terry blinked at her. "I wasn't attacking-"
Draco needed some help.
"A group can make a difference to Voldemort," Harry said, and silence fell abruptly. Harry saw Blaise Zabini's lip curl at this solemn-hero comment, and decided to stun him silent. "Though of course, it might be a bit much for Draco's nerves."
Pansy and Zabini both looked suddenly bent on murder.
Draco took Harry's wild throw and ran with it. He looked ridiculously haughty. "If you're referring to that time when I was eleven and a little upset by seeing the Dark Lord drinking unicorn blood and thus made a strategic retreat..."
"Strategic retreat in which you ran screaming like a girl," Harry said sweetly. Susan laughed nervously.
"Little-known battle cry of the Malfoys," Draco explained. "Causes untold confusion. Should really be changed."
The Slytherins relaxed. Attack was obviously all right with them, but only as long as they did not feel Draco was threatened. And the others laughed, and stopped looking threatened themselves.
"Oh, I'm sure," said Harry.
"Well, I'm sure we'd all adore a valiant speech. Everyone's going to get a turn with the notepad and the pointer in the end, anyway," Draco said, neatly letting everyone know there would be no leader. Then he presented the pointer to Harry with a flourish. "Come on then. You up for it?"
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Why not."
He took the pointer and stood up, fighting the sudden feeling of awkwardness and panic. This was important.
Draco took his place on the bed, and there were representatives from every house all together now.
Draco leered ridiculously around. The girls looked amused and Parvati, fully recovered now, gave him quite a creditable leer back. He slipped an arm loosely around Parvati's shoulders, and Harry crushed down a flicker of - something.
Draco was only teasing. Harry didn't want someone's arm around him as if he were a bloody girl. Harry didn't know what he wanted.
He pulled himself together. "I got a lot done with two people, when I was much younger than we are now. It's useless to talk about what we haven't got, and what we can't do. We have to pool our resources and achieve what we can."
Susan and Parvati were nodding, looking impressed, and the Ravenclaws were looking thoughtful and almost convinced.
Harry had to trust Draco to deliver the Slytherins.
"It makes sense to work outside the rules sometimes. And it makes sense to work together," Harry said slowly, trying to put into words what he had only just worked out, and not daring to get anything wrong. "The Sorting Hat was always talking about different strengths houses had. We have to combine them, so we can be stronger - so we can be more effective."
"So we can crush them." Blaise Zabini sounded pleased. He and Draco exchanged a swift, fierce look and then Draco looked back at Susan Bones.
"Of course, the strength of the Slytherins is cunning plots. But you'll have already noticed that." He reached over for a pillow, deftly stripped it of its case and pulled the case over his head. Then he waggled his hands. "Whoo," he said, very dry. "I'm a Dementor."
Laughter all around.
"One of Draco's singularly cunning plots," Harry agreed solemnly. "Shame about the utter failure."
Draco pulled off the pillow case, smoothed down his ruffled hair and flashed Harry a smile.
"Ah, but that was because I didn't have all the necessary data," he said. "Which is why we need the Ravenclaws."
Mandy and Lisa looked up from their writing, and both smiled. Then Draco glanced over at Terry Boot, and Harry's eyes followed.
Terry looked interested. "Go on, Harry," he said. "Everybody's listening."
"We didn't get all that much done," Harry murmured.
"This meeting wasn't about action. It was about establishment," Draco murmured back. "And I owe you big, Potter. That was great."
"Don't worry about it. You're not the only one with scores to settle."
The meeting had ended at half past two in the morning, when bed had been decreed all around. The bed had been immediately and stridently declared to be the property of the girls, though Draco had looked very plaintive about the whole affair.
"It is my bed," he had pointed out in small, wistful tones.
"And so as the host, you'll give it up to the ladies who are forced by curfew to stay in your badly equipped room," Pansy had told him firmly. "If all the ladies will go on. Does your bed fit five girls?"
"I've never had the opportunity to find out," Draco had answered, his lip trembling. "My life has been sad and empty."
All the girls had fitted on, though there had been much giggling and kicking of legs. Draco had watched the entire proceeding with huge, tragic eyes. Meanwhile, Blaise Zabini took the two armchairs and made himself a comfortable bed.
"I have to sleep on the floor?" Draco had said, appalled. "Oh, the wages of virtue are bitter and cause back problems in later life."
"You can share with me if you like," Zabini'd offered.
"Ah - no. It would be a little cramped."
Terry Boot had blinked. "The floor is fine."
"Well, either Crabbe or Goyle would break the chairs and kill me. And don't even think about it, Harry Potter."
"Don't worry," Harry had returned.
Zabini, propped up on one elbow, had given him a venomous look. Harry had scowled back at him, and then looked at Draco, who was watching them with a thoughtful look on his face. Crabbe and Goyle were behind him as they always were, one step behind and backing him up. He had turned and tilted his head, deliberately, in Harry's direction. Goyle had moved out and away from Draco, and positioned himself at Harry's elbow.
Harry and Zabini had just stared.
"For..." Zabini'd said irritably, and then rolled his eyes in Draco's direction. "You can share if you like, Potter," he said in tones that added 'and if being smothered with a pillow is your idea of a good night's sleep.'
"No thank you, Zabini," Harry had answered, very sweetly. "Though it was kind of you to offer."
Now the remainder of the group was stretched out on the floor. The bulk of Crabbe and Goyle, sleeping snoring mountains, provided a wall against Terry Boot, and indeed the rest of the room. Harry and Draco were talking in whispers.
"One thing," he said quietly. "I want Ron and Hermione at the next meeting."
It was dark, but Draco's voice indicated that his face was twisted in that peculiarly disdainful manner. "Granger of course," he answered readily. "But I don't need the Weasel."
"Well, I always need Ron," Harry told him in a low, determined voice. "And he has been very useful in the past, and I think he'll be useful again. And even if he wasn't - what use are Crabbe and Goyle?" He stopped, and thought of the insult to Ron implied there. "And Pansy," he added hastily.
When people had begun theorising and accusing, the only person besides Crabbe and Goyle who had remained quiet was Pansy. She had helped Harry, and she was loyal to Draco, and Harry was quite prepared to like her, but he did not think she had an analytical mind.
"That's different," Draco replied sharply. "They're mine-"
"And they're mine," Harry told him.
There was a pause. Harry heard the slight sound indicating that Draco had rolled onto his side, and when he spoke next his voice was closer to Harry's ear.
"Fine," he said crossly. "Have your nasty little friends."
"I will," Harry returned, and then felt a brush of warmth. Draco's hand must be lying curled at his side, and whenever Harry breathed there was the smallest contact between Draco's knuckles and Harry's hip.
It was nothing. It was barely contact at all.
Harry spoke quickly, desperate to distract himself and fighting to keep his voice even. "I knew you would understand," he said factually, letting slip things he had realised but not spoken aloud in his haste. "That was - something I missed. That you understood some things."
Draco sounded comfortable, on the point of sleep. His lazy voice was actually like a purr.
"Well, you understood about what I wanted for the meeting."
Keep talking and don't think. "I know how you think," Harry admitted, "and once I could see that, I wanted to do something to help. I feel better as long as I'm doing something."
"I know. And people trust you, they count on you to act and to act for the best. You reassure the others. I needed something to bring them together."
"It'd alienate the Slytherins, though, if you and I didn't-" Understand each other. "-get along."
"But we do. And we can create the right atmosphere of relaxation, and they can work together. It's politics."
Harry had understood all that before, but Draco's cool voice disturbed him a little. He was speaking as Lucius Malfoy's son, the son of the perfectly corrupt politician.
"I didn't want to use us getting along as politics," Draco whispered with sudden violence. "I thought it wouldn't have anything to do with that."
And Harry relaxed and felt ashamed, because Lucius Malfoy had never felt the slightest compunction about using people - eleven year old innocents, his own son. And he had remembered something he should not have forgotten.
"It's all right. You can use it if you like. I trust you."
He could hear the smile in Draco's voice. "I always said you were gullible."
"I'm not gullible."
"I hate to tell you, but the only other option is stupid."
"If I had a pillow, I'd hit you with it."
Draco poked him in the side. "Bring it on, Potter."
Harry turned on his side to protect himself and poke Draco back, but then one of his hands was on Draco's body and Draco's breath was warm on his face and Harry, this way madness lies.
"I need sleep, you know. Picking up your slack can tire a man out."
Draco's laugh was affectionate. Even though there were strange things going on in Harry's chest and breathing was this overly difficult task, and Draco's hand still just touching his side seemed like the universe playing tricks, he was happy.
"Good night, Harry."
"Malfoy asked you to his room and you didn't tell me?"
Harry looked at Ron with some concern. He was pacing the cold floor of the Owlery and looked as if he might have an apoplectic fit.
"Of course I didn't," Hermione answered. "I'd already slapped him, and you would have killed him and ended up in a lot of trouble."
"I wouldn't have - well, fine, I would have killed him, and why not? You're my girlfriend!" Ron exploded. "People can't go around making, like, indecent proposals to other people's girlfriends!" After Ron had said 'indecent proposals' his ears had gone red. Harry thought he knew that, and that it was making him angrier. "Anyway," he added in truculent tones, "who'd miss him?"
"I would," Harry said mildly.
"Harry, mate," Ron said. "I know you had a rotten childhood, and I'm going to assume that it warped your mind, and so I forgive you when you say things that are mental. But Hermione-"
Hermione was looking out of one of the glass-less windows again, her eyes smarting from the wind. She turned back to Ron with a rather distrait air.
"Well, it turned out all right, didn't it?" she asked, obviously trying to focus. "You heard Harry. Malfoy wasn't trying to proposition me, he was trying to recruit me for this dangerous little vigilante group."
"Hermione, that's not fair," Harry said. "You know if Lupin hadn't set up the Young Order you would have been the first to think up some kind of organisation to let us help."
"That may be," Hermione returned seriously, "but Professor Lupin did set it up, and I see no point in setting up some kind of conspiratorial band. Professor Lupin is doing a wonderful job-"
"Of course he is!" Harry exclaimed. "But people are getting kidnapped, and Professor Lupin is a teacher, he can't sanction creeping around and breaking rules. And this - conspiratorial band, if you like - it could really help other houses to understand each other. We were all almost getting on last night."
Ron looked unmoved.
"I don't want to understand Malfoy," he said flatly. "I think it would bring me out in a rash. And this group is Malfoy's idea, and the headquarters is Malfoy's bedroom, and I don't want anything to do with it!"
"Ron, I know how you feel," Harry ground out. "I'm not asking you to like him. I'm asking you to give this a chance."
Ron's colour was rising again.
"Look, Harry... Hermione's right. We've got the Young Order. I don't need to get mixed up with Malfoy and I know he's your-" Ron made a face - "friend again, and you've made up with him after some fight that I'm sure was entirely his fault, and so I don't think you're entirely objective about this situation."
Harry sprang away from the wall.
"You're not, either," he snapped. "It wasn't his fault. You don't understand-"
"Please!" Hermione interrupted in a frayed voice. "Please, you two! Don't fight. I can't take it, not on top of everything else. Can't we just sit here and wait for this damn bird!"
She stood there looking cold and tense and unhappy, her hair flying in wisps in the cold wind. Hermione hardly ever swore.
Ron sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets, going over to stand by the window beside her.
"Fine," he said in a rough voice, but taking her hands gently and rubbing them between his own. "He's not worth it anyway."
"I think he is," Harry said in subdued tones.
Hermione made a sound a little bit like a laugh. "Harry, we know that," she told him. "Just - stop talking about it. For now."
"I will if you say you'll talk to Parvati," Harry pushed on. "Or Terry Boot. Or someone. Just think about it, think about giving it a try."
Hermione did not look pleased, but she nodded reluctantly. She and Ron stood together at the window, shivering slightly.
"It's freezing," Hermione said. "I hope the weather breaks for June."
June coming already. And if the spy isn't caught, they either go out into the world as a trusted member of the real Order and betray people, or stay in Hogwarts with new people on the Young Council and Hogwarts gets decimated.
Harry had thought that this was the perfect opportunity to try and talk Ron and Hermione around. It was a Saturday and most people were at Hogsmeade, and they were all waiting up at the Owlery on Dumbledore's orders.
All the teachers were so busy these days, and it was essential that someone get the Owl from Juno McGonagall as soon as it came. Hermione was taking the responsibility very seriously.
In retrospect, possibly it was not the best time. Harry was a bit on edge about this too.
"If Professor McGonagall's sister says no..." Ron said at last, with his unfortunate habit of saying things people were trying not to think.
"She has to say yes!" Harry replied fiercely. "She wants justice for her sister, doesn't she?"
"It's just some old witches are very conservative," Ron warned. "And this is very experimental."
Hermione took refuge in explaining what she knew, her body easing as she spoke. "It's the same principle as the Priori Incantatus spell," she said earnestly, as if the problem would be solved if she could convince Ron and Harry. "Except instead of displaying the last spell produced from a wand, you are supposed to be able to see what wand cast the last spell on the object... or in this case the..." She stopped, and swallowed, and then said "body" in a short, hurt way. "There's a margin for error," she said hastily, "But this could really lead us to the murderer. She has to see that."
A thought was taking shape in Harry's mind, dark and inevitable.
That spell has to be performed, he thought, whether or not she does.
He couldn't ask Ron or Hermione to do that. Break the law, yes, perform experimental spells on Professor McGonagall's... no. But he would do it.
He and Draco could do it. If it had to be done.
Harry's thoughts were interrupted by wingbeats from above. Two owls were flying in, and they settled on the window ledge where Ron and Hermione stood.
Perhaps it would be all right. Hermione was already untying the letters, and she would open the one addressed to Dumbledore and send the owl flying to St. Mungo's mortuary with proof that permission had been received from the next of kin.
Hermione looked agitated, pushing her hair back from her face in two sharp movements. "Ron, Harry, they're both addressed to Dumbledore - what should I do?"
It was Harry who answered, absolutely sure. "Open them both. We have no time to waste."
Hermione opened the first with shaking hands. Ron held her shoulder, his knuckles white, but she did not seem to notice that his grip was too tight. She gave a little cry of relief as she scanned the contents.
"It's from Juno McGonagall - she said yes! It's all right. Ron, quick, get my bag, get out an envelope and a quill and some parchment-"
Harry never knew what made him say it. "Hermione - what's in the other letter?"
She opened it hastily, carelessly, as Ron strode back over to them with her bag in his hands. And then her fingers shook again and the letter dropped.
Ron dropped her bag as well. She knelt down and reached for the letter, her fingers scrabbling heedlessly through the straw and the owl droppings. When she looked up, her face was very white.
"What is it?" Harry asked. His mouth was dry.
Even her lips were white. "Someone took it," she said. "Someone took Professor McGonagall's body. They stole it right from St. Mungo's mortuary - God knows what they've done to it - they didn't want us to find out who did it and now we won't!"
Hermione stood up, her hair practically crackling, and the wild set look on her face that Harry had only ever seen a few times and that always alarmed him and made him feel as if he had underestimated her. Someone, her stance suggested, would pay for this.
This time he was in full, grim agreement. Someone had to.
Still, her words surprised him. "We should have had it done right away," she said furiously. "You-Know-Who and his people aren't staying within the law, are they? We should have known what would happen if we delayed. We shouldn't have cared about the stupid-"
For a panicked instant, Harry thought Hermione was going to cry. Then she began storming towards the door.
"Harry, where's Malfoy?" she demanded. "I'll join his stupid group! I'll do whatever it takes! Come on, let's go to Hogsmeade!"
She was down the stairs in a whirl of her cloak. Harry glanced over at Ron, who looked as bleak as Harry felt, but who still looked as if he needed persuading.
"Well," he said, "you're not going to let her go to meetings in Draco's room without you, are you?"
They went after her.
They found Professor Dumbledore and Lupin and told them before they went anywhere. With that and their walk to Hogsmeade, Hermione calmed down. They were all used to absorbing shocks and going on by now.
Nothing made her waver. Harry was desperately proud of her.
They looked in several shops, and found the Slytherins in the Three Broomsticks. Crabbe and Goyle seemed to be having pub lunches, Draco and Zabini had half-finished drinks and Pansy was eating a large chocolate sundae. In spite of everything, Harry smiled as he saw Draco trying to steal some of the sundae.
Pansy hit him on the knuckles with her spoon. "Draco, if you touch my ice-cream again I'll hex you," she warned. "I am a woman. It is chocolate. What part of this do you not understand?"
Hermione strode over to their table.
"Malfoy," she said. "I want to talk to you."
Pansy cast a disgusted look over her shoulder. "Oh look," she said. "It's a little pack of ravening Gryffindors. C'mon, Blaise, let's get a great big drink. Draco, don't touch my ice-cream."
She and Zabini got up, pushing past them. Draco looked up, his eyes wide as if he had only just noticed them.
"Granger," he said. "Charmed, I'm sure. If you're here to inquire whether my offer is still open-"
"Draco, don't," said Harry.
"Someone stole Professor McGonagall's body," Hermione told him shortly. "We can't perform the spell. Tell me about this group of yours."
"Someone did what?" Draco's eyes were suddenly narrowed and cold.
"Stole it," Harry said. "And someone's going to pay."
Something lit in Draco's face that had even been missing from Hermione's rage, frightening and fierce and like looking into a mirror, suddenly tilted up towards you.
"Oh yes," he answered. He and Harry shared a smile, like a furious promise.
Ron recalled them back to the pub and what had to be done now.
"They'll pay," he said grimly, taking Pansy's chair. "I'll join the group if Hermione does. I'll do what I have to do. But I don't like you, Malfoy, and I never will. And I don't think this is a good idea."
"Oh no, Weasel, you don't like me? How will I ever survive," Draco sneered. "Grant me the sunlight of your godly red-haired approval, or I will wither away and die."
"Sod off, Malfoy, because you are not funny."
Ron scowled and mashed Pansy's ice-cream with an angrily wielded spoon.
Hermione remained standing up with her arms folded. "Tell me about your group, Malfoy," she repeated.
Draco leaned forward. "It's not my group," he answered. "I'm not the leader. I just thought we should all conspire together to catch the enemy by any means necessary. Do you have any qualms about that - or about joining a group a Malfoy started?"
Ron looked at his intense face, and seemed unimpressed. He began moodily eating the chocolate sundae, but he looked resigned when Hermione spoke.
"Count me in," she said.
"I'm in if she is," Ron said steadily, spooning up another mouthful. Draco looked annoyed and Ron made sure it was a big one.
At least we're doing something, Harry thought. It's bad but we're doing something. He looked down at Draco, and Draco nodded.
Hermione seemed to deflate, her energy going. "I'll meet you in the library on Sunday to talk about our shared project," she said. "Ron, Harry, let's go."
It was time to go, especially since Zabini and Pansy were making their way back towards the table and Harry did not want to see his best friend die at the hands of Pansy Parkinson.
For some reason he lingered as Hermione and Ron turned to go, looking down at that bowed, silvery-blond head.
"Maybe we could do something," he suggested. "Later."
Draco looked up at him, and after a moment he smiled. "I'm a little busy," he answered. "But soon."
"All right," Harry said reluctantly, and followed Ron and Hermione as they went.
They were passing the threshold of the pub when they heard Pansy exclaim, "Draco, how could you?" There was a sound very much like someone hitting someone else over the head with a spoon.
"Ow!" Draco exclaimed.
Ron looked happy.
Harry arranged to meet Terry Boot in the library at the same time Hermione and Draco were meeting, anxious to see if they were co-operating.
He started laying out his parchment on a table near but not too near by, as Hermione walked up to the table Draco already had set up. Draco lifted his face to hers, his eyes dancing.
"Couldn't keep away?" he asked, a mocking caress in his voice.
"Save it, Malfoy," Hermione advised. "Harry explained. I expect I owe you an apology for misinterpreting your motives." Her tone indicated that she had no intention of offering any such apology.
"Oh, think nothing of it," Draco told her courteously. "Wishful thinking is a powerful influence on the mind."
"Please, don't flatter yourself. Can we get to work, Malfoy, or do I have to-"
Draco, who seemed to be having fun, smiled his most provoking smile. "Are you going to bitch-slap me again, Granger?"
"Maybe," Hermione said grimly.
He tossed his hair back. "Go ahead. I kind of like it."
"Malfoy!" Hermione went scarlet. She looked down at her parchment and apparently drew strength from it. "Malfoy, I promise you - there will always be countless people dying to slap you. Can we get to work now?"
Draco opened a large spell book, his face turning serious and absorbed. Harry looked over for another moment, and then Terry Boot came up to him with his bag slung over his shoulder.
Harry looked away and down fast, terrified that his face had betrayed him.
When he glanced up, Terry did not seem to have noticed anything. He took parchment and a quill from his bag and sat down opposite Harry, and seemed to be searching for something to say.
Harry had never been the type who mixed with lots of people, and all he knew about Terry was that he was shy and didn't like Quidditch. Normally he would have been at a loss for words.
He had been thinking, though, and he had something to accomplish.
"You're the Head Boy," he stated.
Terry blinked and rumpled his brown hair. Even without his reading glasses, Harry had never met anyone who looked more like a worried owl. "Yes," he said, his voice measured. "I have been for quite some time, you know."
"Yes, yes. But you're a Ravenclaw," Harry elaborated. "And you're the Head Boy. So you've got to have a certain authority there. Look... what Draco has been saying is true. We all have to start co-operating and mingling better. If the spy is a student, they're almost certainly using house prejudices. Nobody wants to think the spy is in their house, and it's much easier to distrust people you don't know. And if the spy is a teacher... we're in a situation where we have to work together. We absolutely have to."
If Sirius and Lupin hadn't distrusted each other, Sirius would never have put too much faith in Wormtail. And this isn't a few people... this is a whole school.
Terry still looked worried. "I understand what you're saying, Harry, but - well. We all know that house stereotypes don't always hold true. I mean, you could hardly call Draco's friend Crabbe cunning, and anyone would think Hermione belonged in Ravenclaw. But there are different - feelings in every house. Ravenclaws band together less than any of the other houses. We tend to decide things and act on them with individual judgements. I don't think we're the type armies are made of."
Harry looked over at Terry, and felt a flicker of resentment. I see what Draco meant, he thought. He's intelligent. They must have a lot in common.
He crushed it down because it was stupid. "Personal preferences or not," he said, "this is war. I'm talking sense. Draco's talking sense. You can see that, surely?"
"I can," Terry answered slowly. "I could last night. Draco is very astute."
"But we can't talk sense to an entire house. Draco especially won't be trusted. You say it depends on individual judgements, but you have to command a certain amount of respect. So - lay it out before them, and let them make their judgements."
Terry looked thoughtful. Harry looked over at Hermione and Draco, who seemed to be getting enthusiastic about some ancient runes together. Draco was smiling that small smile, the smile that was not for effect and that nobody was supposed to see.
A spy killed my parents. Let them try - just let them try - to touch my friends.
Terry made his decision. "I'll try."
Harry nodded. "Try to succeed."
It was Monday when it happened and, fittingly enough, they were all in Potions. Professor Lupin, the nicest substitute teacher ever made, was giving them tips on how to handle the upcoming practical Potions NEWT.
"The most important thing," he advised, his grey eyes gleaming in Neville's direction, "is not to panic."
Neville laughed, looking somewhat shamefaced.
"The most important thing is to make sure Granger's working next to you, Longbottom," Draco said in an undertone.
Harry turned around and gave him a reproachful look. Draco made an agitated gesture.
"Well he does!" he hissed. "I've seen her helping him! That's cheating!"
"I've seen you play Quidditch," Harry reminded him.
"That's different," Draco whispered back. "This is Potions."
"Mr Malfoy, Mr Potter," said Lupin. "I couldn't be more pleased that you two don't look like stabbing each other at the next Young Order meeting, but really, your practical is in two weeks. I'm sure your conversation can keep."
"I'm sorry, sir," Draco replied, resting his chin on his fist and undoubtedly looking up at Lupin with huge, limpid eyes. "It was all his fault. He's a bad influence."
The Slytherins snickered. Harry was pleased to see Parvati and Lavender giggle as he made a laughing protest over the noise, and then the door opened and an under-sized first year Slytherin came running in.
"Draco!" said tiny Edmund Baddock. "I m-mean, Malfoy!"
Draco glanced around. "This had better be important, Baddock."
"It is!" Edmund's words were tumbling over each other. "It is, he's - he's back, Malfoy! He's back!"
There was a stunned pause. Then Blaise Zabini gave an incoherent whoop, stood up and vaulted over his desk, displaying a flash of entirely non-uniform leather trousers, and then bolting out of the door.
"Mr Zabini," Lupin called after him mildly, "I'm sure those trousers aren't supposed to be-"
His voice was entirely lost in the sudden Slytherin racket. Crabbe got up, knocking his chair over and then stepping on it and breaking the back. He disentangled himself and made determinedly for the door, not looking back. All the others were flooding towards the door. Draco was in the lead.
They were all gone in under a minute.
"You may be excused," Lupin said in their wake. He turned and gave one of his tired, kind smiles to the others. "Come on. We can all go."
Harry made Ron and Hermione come with him quickly, although once they got into the corridors progress was difficult. Hogwarts seemed suddenly and insanely full of Slytherins, a racing, seething, brutally shoving mass of Slytherins all making for the Great Hall like lemmings for the cliffs.
Harry and the others just made it to the doors of the Great Hall when the first wave hit. Slytherins were slamming elbows into each other's stomachs to get there first, but the one who headed the rush turned out to be Pansy.
Pansy Parkinson, generally considered a hard-hearted cow, whose habitual expression was a scowl, and who now flung herself at Professor Snape and threw her arms around his neck.
"Professor Snape!" she exclaimed, "you're back! You're back! I knew you'd come back!"
Then she kissed him on both cheeks and burst into tears.
"A woman voluntarily touched Professor Snape," Ron said in an awed voice. "That's it, I've seen everything. I can die now."
Professor Snape looked absolutely horrified. "Miss Parkinson, please control yourself," he said, in his most severe tones. "This exhibition is entirely uncalled for."
Pansy released him reluctantly, stepping back and stifling a sob against her hand. No student in the history of Hogwarts, Harry thought, could ever have looked so happy to be told off.
"Me next," said Blaise Zabini intrepidly.
"Nobody next," Professor Snape said sternly. He looked around at the pushing crowd of Slytherins. "You all appear to be missing lessons," he said. "I trust this does not happen frequently. Malfoy?"
Draco was standing right beside him, looking into his face. He was not even smiling. He simply looked absolutely relaxed, and glowing. It was stupid and girly, but Harry couldn't help looking at him and thinking, beautiful.
"Yes, sir," Draco said, his voice calm on the surface and bubbling underneath, as if he was just about to break out into delighted laughter.
Professor Snape's unpleasant, rasping voice was even more dry than usual. "Did you happen to look up from your full-time occupation of hair care every now and then to check on the well-being of this house?"
"I did a month or so ago," Draco said earnestly, "but then I got a split end, Professor, and it required all my attention."
It was hard to tell since his face was set in those sardonic lines and behind that long, greasy hair, but Harry thought Professor Snape might have smiled just a little. "You can't take it with you, Malfoy."
Draco did smile then, his whole face lighting up. His voice was still pretending to be casual. "Then, sir, I'm not going."
Pansy was still sobbing.
"Oh, for... You may have my handkerchief, Miss Parkinson," Snape said, taking it out of his pocket. "Return it to me, and cease this disgraceful display at once."
She nodded and smiled in a way that was equally extremely bright and ridiculously watery.
Then the teachers arrived, walking past Harry, Ron and Hermione towards Snape. Lupin had Sirius' arm in a firm grip and was frogmarching him in Snape's direction. He offered his other hand cordially to Snape.
"Professor Snape, I'm almost as relieved as your students to see you back safe," he said, and smiled.
Snape darted a dark, suspicious look at him, but he cautiously accepted Lupin's hand, and shook it briefly.
"And of course Professor Black is..." Lupin shook Sirius' arm encouragingly and perhaps a little too hard.
Sirius gave Snape a baleful look. "I'm... all right with the fact that you're... not dead," he said between his teeth.
Snape sneered back at him.
"I'm very pleased that my staff are all getting on so charmingly," said Dumbledore in his genial and gently ironic way, coming up to Snape. He offered his hand, and this hand Snape took without hesitation. "Severus," said Dumbledore. "It's splendid to have you back. We have all missed you. I will, of course, wish to talk to you about your doubtless extremely instructive travels later."
There were people here who were not in the Young Order, and who had not declared allegiance one way or the other. It was not safe.
"Tomorrow will do well," Dumbledore continued generously. "Now, I believe, your return calls for a celebration. What do your students think, Severus?"
"We're actually celebrating Snape coming back to teach us. This has to be rock bottom," Ron remarked, making an astonished face at his Butterbeer.
Madam Rosmerta was looking surprised and thrilled. Monday night, Harry expected, was usually slow in the Three Broomsticks, and now all of Hogwarts had descended upon it and demanded drinks.
Loud music had been struck up, and people were dancing. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny had secured a little table. They had all ordered Butterbeers, but Harry had thought of another occasion in this pub, smiled ruefully at himself and ordered a mead.
"Harry, you're not eighteen yet!" Hermione hissed when Madam Rosmerta left. "You're breaking the law."
"I'll live with myself somehow," Harry said, and sipped his mead.
Ginny laughed. She was sitting close by Harry on the bench, and Harry was glad she was there. She seemed honestly happy for the Slytherins, and that Snape had returned.
"Look at them," she said, gesturing. "They feel so much safer now, you can see it. I'm so glad."
Harry smiled his gratitude at her, and she smiled back. She obviously felt what he wanted to feel, just open joy, and he was glad that Snape wasn't dead, and he was so relieved for Draco, but... Well. He had always hated Snape and that didn't change, and besides...
He was being small and petty and absurd. But Draco had never smiled that rapt smile at him, and he had tried to speak to Draco as they were all going into the pub and Draco had not even noticed. Obviously, he was occupied - but then he had been occupied all weekend, too.
He was sitting on the hearth by a crackling fire, close to Snape's chair. There was a whole ring of Slytherins there, who occasionally went off to dance or to drink, but who always drifted back.
"I hope Professor Snape brought back some information," Hermione said quietly, and then shook her head and obviously tried to distract herself. "Would you look at that cow Pansy," she said. "I caught her buying drinks for first years."
Pansy, all cleaned up now and apparently dispensing threats to anyone who brought up the crying business, was walking over to Professor Snape's chair and trying to balance her large drink in the crush. Harry had to admit that her black dress was very tight and very short, which was what seemed to be upsetting Hermione.
She rested her drink against the mantelpiece and ruffled Draco's hair, which looked gold in the firelight. Draco pushed her hand away, but he beamed up at her.
Really, her dress was too tight and short. He saw Hermione's point entirely.
"All the Slytherins look ridiculous," Ron agreed. "Look at Blaise Zabini."
Blaise Zabini had apparently been drinking shots, and was now dancing enthusiastically with everybody he could corner. Theodore Nott was looking traumatised.
"I still think it's nice to see people looking happy," Ginny insisted. "There's enough bad feeling around."
Harry finished his mead. "I agree with Ginny," he said firmly, and put a brotherly arm around her shoulders. Then he beckoned for another mead.
Everyone was relaxing, celebrating, there was nothing to do now and Harry was afraid to think. He drank the second as fast as he could.
Draco tilted his face up to Professor Snape's, still glowing, and he said something soft, but then everyone around them stilled and Harry realised that he must have said something serious. He leaned forward to try and hear better.
"Yes," Snape said in his carrying, harsh voice. "I'd heard. I was - almost overwhelmed by the news. Professor McGonagall was a very... worthy colleague, and it did nothing for my peace of mind to hear that she had been replaced by one I consider not only incompetent but dangerous."
His black eyes flicked over to Sirius, who was sitting at a table with Lupin. Sirius jumped up and everyone in the room tensed, but then Lupin quickly moved his chair so Sirius was pinned in between the table, the chair and the wall. Sirius snarled something in outraged protest.
"I'm sorry, Sirius," Lupin said, not moving. "Am I in your way?"
Sirius snarled something else and then sat back down and yelled for another Firewhiskey. Draco looked over at him, his eyes hard, and Harry had that feeling he had taken for granted for years - that he and Draco were on opposite sides.
He tried to catch Draco's eye, but could not. He felt a bit sick.
When he ordered his next mead, Ron decided he wanted one too. Harry cheered up slightly as they got into a bit of a competition and ordered Firewhiskey next.
Everyone was drinking a lot. Professor Snape had a really impressive collection of bottles in front of him, because every student in his house seemed set on buying him a drink.
Eventually, Hermione intervened. "Ron," she said firmly, "You're drunk."
"No, no," Ron replied with great conviction, coming back with two more glasses of Firewhiskey. "I'm not, I'm completely-" He missed his stool when he sat down, and looked up from the floor with a wide-eyed, injured look. "Hermione," he said, after a moment and in tones of great astonishment, "I think perhaps I am drunk. You're always right."
Hermione put her arm around him and helped him back onto his stool, but did not let go. Ron, who was apparently an affectionate drunk - and who would have thought it - leaned in towards her and whispered something in her ear, then kissed her under it. She relaxed a little and turned to him, their faces warm and happy.
Harry pulled both the glasses of Firewhiskey towards himself.
Blaise Zabini had finally managed to persuade Draco onto the dance floor, though he kept glancing back to the group around Snape. Still, he seemed to be having fun, and he danced well, lithe and smooth and light as a cat, slipping out of Zabini's grasp like water but sparkling at him as he did so.
Then he detached himself gracefully and made his way back to the group just as Crabbe got up from the sofa by Snape's chair. Draco took possession, curling his legs up on the sofa and looking like a happy cat.
Harry looked away desperately, and then saw Ron and Hermione smiling and kissing, and looked away desperately again.
"I'm so happy that you and Malfoy have made up," came Ginny's soft voice, putting her hand in his. It was a nice gesture of affection, Harry thought. He looked at her with relief. "I know how unhappy you were when you were fighting. Did Malfoy say sorry?"
Her warmth and sympathy was nice, too. Her red hair was going in and out of focus, a bright blurry shape around her, but her face was kind.
"How d'you know I didn't?" Harry asked.
Ginny blinked. "I can't think why you'd have to," she said. "I know you. You'd never try to hurt anyone. I don't believe you could want to hurt Malfoy. And of course he knows that, too. Anyone who knows you can see what you're like."
The enormity of her misplaced faith made Harry absolutely unable to contradict her. He didn't even want to. He wanted to be like that, wanted Draco to know that, wanted Draco to look at him with shining belief in his eyes, even if there was nothing else there.
"Harry, are you upset about something?" Ginny asked. There was such concern on her face. Harry soaked it up. The whole world seemed a bit blurry, and he was desperate for some comfort. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No," he murmured, and leaned forward without exactly meaning to and touched her lips with his own.
She leaned forward and melted into the kiss instantly, which he supposed was good. Her hands moved lightly to rest against his shoulder and his ribs, and he realised that he had forgotten to touch her, and her eyes fluttered shut, a red fringe of lashes against her freckled cheeks, and he realised that he had forgotten to do that too.
He shifted the awkward angle of the kiss, and found himself looking past her ear.
Draco was still curled up on that sofa, and he was looking straight at Harry at last. The glow was gone from his face, and he was staring blankly.
His eyes were cool grey and still, and the world came back into focus. Harry's hand came up, tilting Ginny's chin. He kept his fingers against her jaw, holding her in place, and he locked gazes with Draco.
The expression on Draco's face was unreadable but he was there, looking at Harry, paying attention. The fire was still playing on his hair and making it seem golden, but his eyes were as they always were, wide open and intent, and Harry was kissing harder and deeper, and...
Everything was shattered by Sirius trying to sing the Puddlemere United team chant.
Harry rocked back, shocked. What have I done?
And Ginny gazed up at him, her mouth looking almost bruised and her eyes huge. And Draco looked away without any fuss, turning his head to talk to Pansy.
"They're the men in purple, who no-one can withstand!" roared Sirius. "We're the men in purple, we always get our man!"
"Yes, Sirius, very nice," Lupin said patiently. "I think we should go home now. So you can still face your students in the morning," he added in an undertone.
He levered Sirius out of his chair, trying to bear the taller man, but then Sirius staggered almost into Harry's table. Harry tried to move, but he was on the wrong side of the bench and Ginny got there first, propping Sirius up as fast as she could.
"Ginny," Lupin said gratefully, "thanks so much. Would it be awful of me to drag you away? I think I need some help getting him home. I promise I won't keep you too long."
Ginny cast Harry a distressed look. Harry nodded encouragement with extreme vigour, so she slipped off the bench and went.
This exit seemed to be the cue for the other teachers to round up what students they could. The Slytherins were notably stubborn about going, but most of the students - below seventh year and thus definitely underage - from the other houses were rounded up. Harry relaxed, fairly sure that Ginny would not be allowed to come back but swept up and sent to bed with the others.
What had Draco thought of that? Oh, alcohol was a bad thing. He could see that now.
There was an arm against Harry's shoulder and a hand over his eyes.
Harry pushed the hand away and grinned. "Draco," he said, turning his head and reaching a hand up to touch the inside of the arm still against his shoulder.
Draco smiled amusedly down at him. Harry was eye-level with the pulse point at the base of Draco's throat. He looked hastily away and over at Ron, who had disentangled himself from Hermione and was looking appalled by the fact that Harry was touching Malfoy and probably getting all kinds of dungeon germs.
"Did we ask you to join us?" he said.
"Like I want to," Draco answered, his tone still light and playful. "I simply want to borrow Harry. I need him." He lowered his voice and spoke to Harry. "Hey," he said. "I know you don't like him and everything... but Professor Snape looks done in, and drunk out of his mind, and all of ours are having fun. Would you mind helping me out with him?"
"Sure, of course," Harry told him.
Draco moved away, which was a good thing, because he had been warm against Harry's back, and Harry was confused enough.
He waited outside the ring of Slytherins as Draco manoeuvred Snape out of his chair and past them, to a chorus of protests and farewells.
"I'll be back," Draco promised over his shoulder. "Buy me a drink and save me a dance."
"Who should save you a dance?" called Zabini.
Draco winked. "Everyone, of course. Who else?"
Harry grabbed Snape's other arm as they went out the door.
"What an oaf that Black is," Snape remarked loudly. "Like godfather, like godson."
It came as no great surprise that Snape was a nasty drunk.
"Don't worry, sir," Draco said cheerfully. "We'll all be humming the Puddlemere United song behind his back for weeks after this. You'll see, it will be fun."
Snape brightened. Harry set his jaw and pushed on. Snape, despite the fact he looked stringy as an underfed vulture, was actually kind of heavy. Harry was taking this as a cosmic punishment. You kissed Ginny Weasley, you ended up carrying Snape for all eternity. Or something like that.
They were nearly at the gates of Hogwarts when Snape stumbled and, despite all their efforts, fell hard.
He looked up at Draco through narrowed black eyes.
"This had - this'd better never be a story you tell around Slytherin House," he said, slurring his words. "Or it'll be house points. Dimin-diminishes respect, seeing your teacher-"
Draco took his arm, gently. "Don't worry, I still respect you more than anybody, Professor Snape. Except my father," he added. "You're my role models," he added, encouragingly. "Can you stand up now?"
Something clouded Snape's hook-featured face. "Lucius Malfoy," he said, with a venom he usually reserved for Harry. "Draco, you mus - you mustn't follow the example of your father. Or me." His mouth twisted on its normal bitter lines.
Draco knelt down and tried to ease him up. "But I want to," he said, soothingly. "Of course I do. Who else is any kind of decent example? It's just you and Father."
Snape's lolling head hit Draco's shoulder, but he did get up. "No," he said in a thick voice. "You're better than that." Then he glared over at Harry through his greasy locks, sidetracked. "What are you looking at, Potter? What are you even doing here?"
"Believe me, I'm wondering that myself," Harry replied, and grabbed Snape's other arm again.
Snape was practically unconscious by the time they got him down to the dungeons, and he could not even mumble out a last insult as they bundled him into his room and onto his bed. It was a spartan room, and the bed was the only piece of furniture in it.
Harry and Draco stood looking down at him.
"Are you, um, going to undress him?" Harry asked apprehensively.
"Um, no, no I don't think so," Draco said, sounding about equally horrified at the thought. "I told you, I respect the man. I want to still respect him in the morning." He shot Harry a laughing look. "You could do it," he suggested brightly. "Might help with that crisis of yours."
"Yes," Harry said, "by making sure that I never want to look at another human being again."
"He'll be fine," Draco decided. "Let's go."
They made their way back to Hogsmeade in the dark, and as they went Harry realised that this was the first time he had been alone with Draco since they'd made up.
"I want to-" he began, when Draco interrupted him.
"So, Ginny Weasley?" he said. Harry realised, with a sinking feeling, that he was going to make light of the whole thing. "Cute redheaded solution to the crisis. I highly approve."
"Ginny," Harry said, carefully. "She's-"
"She's very pretty," Draco filled in. "But if it's not serious-"
"Of course it's not serious!"
"Well, there's still Morag. And oh, you were getting on well with Terry Boot, weren't-"
Harry whirled on Draco. "Draco, don't!"
"I was only speculating," Draco told him defensively. "I happen to think Ginny Weasley is a very fanciable young thing."
At that point, Ron and Hermione appeared, on their way home. Draco glanced at Ron apprehensively, and looked quite prepared to use Harry as a body shield.
Neither of them seemed to have heard. "Harry, come back with us," Hermione said, looking a little anxious.
"Yes, you probably should," Draco agreed. "Slytherins will be the only ones left. Thanks for-"
"I'm not going," Harry snapped. "I want to talk to Draco."
Draco looked poised for flight. "We can talk later."
"We're going to talk now," Harry said.
"Well..." Hermione looked uncertain. Ron blinked at them.
Draco waved a hand. "Go on," he said in an imperious voice. Harry was distantly amazed when they went.
Then Draco began to walk, fast, towards Hogsmeade.
"What do you have to say?" he asked in a voice gone suddenly very casual. Harry looked over at the taut line of his jaw.
"You've got to stop doing this," he said bleakly.
"Doing what?" Draco inquired.
"You know what," Harry snapped.
Draco kept walking and Harry felt a completely unjustifiable surge of rage, and he grabbed Draco's arm and spun him around. Draco faced him, his eyes wide and cold with sudden fury. He tried to wrench his arm away but Harry hung on, and he tried to move away but Harry blocked him, and then he shoved with his other arm and Harry shoved back. There was a brief breathless tussle for a moment.
"Stop and listen," snarled Harry.
"No, damn it! I don't know what you're talking about," Draco yelled. "I'm not-"
"You've got to stop testing me!" Harry shouted. "You've got to stop not trusting me!"
Draco stilled and Harry got under his guard, forcing his chin up.
"You don't even look at me anymore," he continued, more softly. "You smile and then you look away, or you forget and look and then remember and look away faster."
"I'm looking at you now," Draco said in a strained voice. "You haven't changed. Good to know. Stop talking like a lunatic."
"I'm not," Harry snapped. "You know what I'm talking about. We had a fight and we only just made up and you don't have a free hour all weekend? You always did before."
They were off the path now, walking almost blind and shouting against the night wind. Harry didn't give a damn.
Draco lifted his chin. "I'm busy, and the world does not revolve around you, Harry Potter, despite what you've always believed. Besides, the fight wasn't my fault-"
"No!" Harry shouted back. "It was mine, but I explained, and you said it was all right. So why can't you let it be all right, Draco? Do you think I'm stupid? You pretend that it's all right and then you keep testing me. The accidental brush of a hand at night, your hand staying on my shoulder, all the stupid teasing about Hermione, talking about special company and the little trick with your hand over my eyes. I promised! So why don't you let your guard down for a change and believe me!"
"Why should I?" Draco snarled, fighting to get away again. "Why should I when you do things like kissing Ginny Weasley when you're looking... what am I supposed to do about that? That was bloody disturbing! How am I supposed to act if I don't know what to do?"
Harry leaned in furiously, trying to make him understand. "I don't know what to do either!" he yelled. "Do you think I do, how could you think I have any idea what I'm doing when I make horrible mistakes like-"
"Let me go," Draco said, his voice suddenly clear and very thin. Harry realised in a way that was confused at first then fast became precise and the only thing that mattered in the world, that Draco's face was very close. His eyes were cold but so focused, on Harry and only him, like a cornered predator. "Let me go," Draco repeated in thin ringing tones. "You promised, so let me go!"
Harry let go and Draco broke away, just one step but taking it as fast as he could and then rubbing his mouth with the back of his fist for no reason Harry could see. His chest was moving up and down hard.
"I'm sorry," Harry said. "I promised. So I let go."
"I should have bloody thumped you," Draco said balefully.
"But you didn't," Harry pointed out. "You trusted me to let go when you said. So why do I have to push you right to the edge to see if you trust me or not?" he demanded. "Why can't you just - trust me all the time?"
"I'm trying!" Draco shouted. He calmed down a little after that, and looked up at Harry properly. "It's not easy," he explained, that thin cornered note in his voice again. "People have their own agendas, I can't just be sure."
"What if you are?"
A corner of Draco's mouth twisted. "Screw you, Potter. Then I'm stupid." He paused. "Fantastic proposition, anyway. 'Trust me because I make horrible mistakes all the time.'"
"This is how normal people behave, Draco," Harry explained, and made a superior face at him. "I understand it's hard for you."
Draco made a half-hearted attempt to hit him. "Can I go back to my party now?" he asked plaintively. "It's cold, you know. This shirt is silk. If you think it keeps out the wind, you are more stupid than even I had previously supposed."
"Can you just trust me?" Harry asked.
Draco rolled his eyes. "I do, Harry. You have no idea how I do," he said in a bored voice. "For you are Harry Potter, brave and righteous saviour of the wizarding world. Who is there who doubts his nobility and truth? They will answer to the people, and the people will look upon them with scorn and bid them begone, and also make hurtful personal comments."
"I knew it all along."
Draco began to walk towards the path. "Naturally you did," he said. "That's why we had to have a screaming match in the middle of the night. Because you're so confident about everything in the whole world."
"Scenes are a thing we do together," Harry said, as they found the path.
"I'd rather eat ice-cream," Draco said. "Can we do that instead?"
"All right. How does tomorrow sound to you?"
Draco put his hands in his pockets. "Fine."
They were coming up to the Three Broomsticks now, and there was light and an awful lot of noise streaming for it. Draco cocked his head towards it and suddenly looked horrified.
"Oh no, it's the song," he said. "Maybe I don't want to go inside. No, I think I'll come back to the school with you."
"What song?" Harry asked.
"No song," Draco replied hurriedly. "How about that school, Harry? Come with me. I think you'll like it. It's castle shaped."
The tune was familiar. It actually reminded Harry of that malicious little jingle Draco had thought up in fifth year when Ron had had his ill-fated stint as a Keeper. As he recalled, it had ended up getting turned around on him when Ron made a lucky catch.
The familiar tune coalesced into almost-familiar words. Something mildly obscene and ending with the triumphant chorus of 'Malfoy is our king!'
"Ah, I see you've remembered," Draco said in a mock-chipper voice. "Yes, yes, my lovely housemates changed the song, yes they embarrass me with it almost every time they get drunk, yes I am an object of public derision. Why do all my cunning plots boomerang back on me?"
"I think that's kind of in the nature of a boomerang," Harry answered.
"No," Draco corrected him. "A warrior's trusty boomerang is supposed to fly out, slay his enemies, and then return safely to his hand."
Harry shrugged. "Maybe you need to get better at throwing boomerangs."
Draco opened the door a little, and more light and noise flooded in. "I have," he answered, grinning. "Hadn't you noticed? I've just stopped aiming them at you and yours."
"He throws tantrums, he gets seasick
He does impressions of Professor Flitwick
That's why Slytherins all sing
Malfoy is our king!"
Pansy opened the door all the way, face flushed. "Draco," she said loudly and cheerfully. "We're singing your song. Come on in!"
"I hate this song," Draco grumbled at her. He turned to Harry. "I should get some people and walk back with you-"
Just then, Lavender and Parvati walked out.
"Nah, I'll go with them," Harry said. "Have fun." He paused. "We're okay? Really?"
Draco reached out, then caught himself, laughed and let his hand fall. The lights of the inn outlined his hair and blurred his face.
"Yes," he said, his voice sure. Then he said, "Goodnight, Harry," and shut the door.
Harry stayed outside for a moment, ignoring Parvati and Lavender's call for him to follow. It was just - Draco's wide, almost savagely distrustful gaze, and the stupid malicious little song he'd made up, and the malice hadn't changed, he knew that much. It was something about the feel of him, and being able to scream out bleak things in the night wind.
No matter how stupid it was, he was certain.
I want that.