Amicus Curiae – 2/2 – Sunryder

Title: Amicus Curiae
Author: Sunryder
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Crime Drama, Family, Hurt/Comfort, Pre-Relationship
Relationship(s): Draco Malfoy/Harry Potter
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Violence – Domestic and/or Against Children
Word Count: 50,700
Summary: Purebloods learned magical contract law at their parents’ knees. (How else were they to keep from accidentally entering into a marriage contract?) It turns out, Harry Potter was not taught these fundamentals. When Potter swears he didn’t put his name in the Goblet, Draco has to ask himself: was it likely Potter outsmarted Dumbledore and got his name in the Goblet, then regretted it so much he’d denied the contract and moped for a month? Or was it more likely that Potter was an uninformed idiot and fate had made him her plaything for the fourth year in a row? Well, when Draco put it that way, there was only one answer.
Artist: Tintalle



CHAPTER NINE

Appare Indicium called for six runes to be drawn on the ward stone with a mix of mud from the house’s grounds, freely given blood from a member of the household who had access to the wards, and blood from the Auror asking the question.

It was dramatic, complicated, and the only option Minerva had left.

Minerva had begun her quest with casual questioning of all those outsiders she remembered being present for Halloween. Then, she’d eavesdropped on students, looking for one who stayed up all night watching the Goblet like they were waiting for Santa Claus. From there, it was discovering who had snuck out to put their name in the Goblet under cover of darkness, implying detention while checking for who they might have seen. She turned to Sirius for suggestions, but neither had a better idea than asking Hogwarts herself.

But for all they remembered, asking Hogwarts meant asking Elphinstone.

The Wizarding World being what it was, Elphinstone Urquart had never been Head Auror. Public recognition or not, Phin had spent his entire career as one of the most trusted Senior Aurors on the force. With a few smiles and a polite lunch or two, he could have been the head of the DMLE, but he preferred legwork and case solving, not paperwork and politics.

That incorruptible nature made Phin the one people called to investigate the most complicated of crimes. (No one had believed Abraxas Malfoy had died of preventable natural causes until Elphinstone said the old man was stubborn, not poisoned. Half of Lucius Malfoy’s power came from people pretending they hadn’t believed he’d murdered his father.)

To be incorruptible also meant Elphinstone was trusted with the best and oldest secrets of the Auror department, and a spell or two that were necessary evils in the pursuit of justice.

Appare Indicium was one such secret. With no options left to her, Minerva had braced herself for the pain of memories, and gone home over winter break.

Elphinstone’s personal belongings had stayed with Minerva after he died, tucked away in their empty house in Hogsmeade. The Urquart family treasures had gone back to siblings who had never much liked Minerva since she made their brother wait decades for marriage. But Elphinstone’s notebooks, those were too dear for Minerva to give up but too painful to keep in her rooms. Tucked safely away in a journal meant only for Minerva’s eyes – and how dearly she’d loved his practical, preparatory nature – was Appare Indicium. Minerva had sat in her old house for far too long, wrapped in one of Phin’s old sweaters as she traced the looping lines of his handwriting.

When she could bear it, she came back to Hogwarts and went to bed.

(She hated wasting time, but some things were necessary if she was to do her job with any poise over the week.)

Minerva felt she had pulled herself together by Wednesday afternoon, but then there was a teacher’s meeting, and detentions on Thursday, and it wasn’t until late Friday evening that she managed to have enough time that she could perform the spell properly and no one would miss her.

The trip to the Hogwarts ward stone wasn’t impermissible by any means. She was the Deputy Headmistress, after all, but the main door to the ward stone was situated in the Headmaster’s office. Technically, the door was situated in the room that was always and forever the Headmaster’s office. Just open the secret door and climb down a winding staircase to the castle’s foundations, each step growing brighter and warmer as one descended to the castle’s heart.

However, the secondary door that went from the Deputy’s office to the ward stone had to move.

With each Deputy, the castle had to forge a new winding path through the castle walls from the ward stone to whatever office the Deputy held. For Minerva, the path was a long, slow, slope down that joined Albus’ spiraling stairs a few meters above the heart. Her tunnel was made of cold stone walls indistinguishable from the castle proper. But the floor looked like a single stone had been dragged wide to make a hallway where one shouldn’t be. Sometimes, the sound of Minerva’s footsteps tapped a note higher, like the floor had been stretched a hair too thin and if she trod too hard it would shatter beneath her feet. It made for a cold and tense walk, juxtaposed by the near blinding heat that hit the moment she reached the stairs.

The ward room itself was small and tight, somehow lit solely by the meter square block of stone hovering in the air. As Deputy, Minerva could see tendrils of magic holding it up like a web, occasionally crackling with power, but usually wispy and ghost-like. (She’d been there with other professors and they saw nothing at all, while Albus saw nothing but electric light.)

The light was rather more electric today than it had been in times past, which Minerva chose not to take as a sign of anything at all because she had no evidence one way or the other.

Instead, she put aside fruitless speculation and went to work.

Into a wide bowl carved from Hogwarts stone, she poured a jar of mud scooped from the training grounds, freshly churned after a flying class. Then went the water from the Black Lake, poured carefully because cleaning Charms were useless against ingredients for ritual magic. Next was stone ground from the top of the tallest tower, then fire bottled from the kitchen hearth, all stirred with a branch from the Forbidden Forest. Last was blood from her left hand, freely given as a keeper of the wards. Then blood from her right, as the seeker of the truth the wards possessed.

Complicated was a day when blood magic was the least difficult part of a spell. With a flick of her wand in her left hand and a brush in her right, Minerva hovered above the ward stone to write the rune Ansuz, a question to be asked. The other five sides were a mix of runes, Greek numerals, and thinking very clearly about the specificity of her question.

Elphinstone had come home complaining more than once about the sloppiness of the few other Aurors trusted to do this kind of work. One couldn’t just ask the ward stone who had been in the Entrance Hall between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on the night of October 30th through the 31st. That was too specific a place and too specific a time.

(If she’d been asking about last night, maybe the stone could’ve managed it, but she probably would’ve had to draw the stone a map delineating the precise boundaries of the Entrance Hall. Even then, the ward stone might have told her about people in the Hospital Wing because above and below weren’t quite concepts a map could manage.)

No, after two months, a few hundred students, all the people who’d been around for the First Task, people who were already there for the Second, the Yule Ball, and Christmas? The ward stone had far too many names and details roaming about its intelligence for Minerva to waste time trying for something so specific.

She tailored her runes and numbers to ask for humans – no matter their shape, Pettigrew had taught her a lesson – in the bounds of Hogwarts on the entirety of the 30th through the entirety of the 1st. That provided just enough leeway on either side that Hogwarts wouldn’t exclude someone on a technicality.

Eventually, Minerva has covered all her concerns and the mixture sank into the stone, glowing white against the surface before it sank.

Now, she just had to wait.

No ward stone in existence liked giving up information, and the Hogwarts ward stone had probably never been asked to share before. The spell might conclude its work tomorrow, or more likely, in a month. At this point, Minerva would just count herself lucky if it gave her any leads to follow at all.

CHAPTER TEN

“Let me see if I understand this: we’re trying to help Potter prepare for the Second Task without Potter knowing that we’re trying to help him prepare.”

“Yes.” Draco nudged Hermione through her hesitation at the sight of Blaise and Pansy already in one of the dungeon study rooms and asking questions. Draco had picked the one farthest away from the Common Room, hoping to keep people from hearing the egg. In hindsight, a Gryffindor might have taken it as a good place to dump a body.

“Granger is hoping that we’ll know what the sound is just by listening to it, tell her, and then she can walk into Gryffindor Tower and claim that she figured it out by reading a book.”

“Yes.” Draco locked the door behind them and cast a Muffilato.

“And precisely how would Granger be able to determine a sound from a book.”

“They’re Gryffindors, Pans,” Blaise drawled from his chair in the corner. “We don’t keep them around for their common sense.”

Pansy interrupted Hermione before she could take unjustified offense. “That still doesn’t explain why we’re helping Potter when he doesn’t want our help.”

“We’re not helping Potter; we’re helping Granger,” Draco said, dragging a table into the center of the room for her to set the egg down.

“That’s a distinction without a difference.”

“Hermione is the one trapped in the tower with Potter and Weasley in their snits. She’s the one who is going to have to do a mountain of research when Potter finally gets his head out and starts preparing for the Second Task. We’re helping Hermione with her preliminary research so it doesn’t all have to be done in another mad rush.”

When Draco had finally explained to Pansy that the week he’d all but vanished had been spent helping Potter with Charms to use against a dragon, she’d walked out and spent the next six hours in dead silence processing the impossibility. (Pansy had woken Draco up in the middle of the night and dragged him to this very room so she could shout about consorting with idiot, ungrateful Gryffindors. Draco had sat there in silence because he didn’t have a counter-argument.)

The month since the Yule Ball had been… well, Draco didn’t quite have words to describe it.

Potter wasn’t a complete lummox, so after the second time he’d tried to lure Draco into goading him into a fight, he realized that Draco was no longer participating.

Things had rapidly dissolved from there. Potter was casting tripping jinxes in the hallway, spilling ink on Draco’s papers, trying to frame him for dung bombs, shoulder checking as they passed in doorways, and other juvenile First Year pestering that wasn’t up to Potter’s usual standards. Potter had also cast aside even the most Gryffindor form of subtlety and landed himself more detentions in the last month than he’d gotten in the prior three and a half years.

(Granger had taken advantage of her known friendship with Draco and popped up to complain about this behavior at least once a week. She’d informed him that Potter had even been hauled into McGonagall’s office for a lecture, which was an emotional punishment that even the Weasley twins had never earned.)

However, Potter’s reign of nastiness hadn’t turned into the free-for-all of bullying that Draco had feared. Potter had turned his wand on his fellow housemates, hexing them before they could get Draco in the back. The Weasley twins had kept the rest of Gryffindor in line, so there was no more antagonism between the houses than usual.

(Hermione had reported that the twins had left Harry to his machinations with nothing more than snickers about substandard work. Weasley Jr. had shouted that they could help if they thought it was so terrible. The twins had replied with identical smirks that Hermione said were better suited to sharks. “Oh, ‘ickle Ronnikins,” they said, “You’re going to be miserable when you figure out what you’ve been helping with.”)

Harry’s tantrums were easily avoidable and not outright malicious. Draco blocked the hexes when he caught them and told Potter that spilled ink was no problem since he’d already duplicated his notes. Potter had never been good at insults in the first place, so when Potter tried to spout something cruel, Draco would just blink, silently express that he expected better, and walk away.

Honestly, the worst part was that Draco still got his hopes up every time Potter came slouching back to apologize for things he’d said. But, every time Potter appeared, Draco was alone, caught in an empty hall, or sequestered at some back table in the library. The apologies were progress, but the secrecy was not.

Draco was prepared to endure this holding pattern until the week before the Second Task – when prior experience suggested Granger would snap and force Harry to seek Draco’s superior skill before she killed him to save the Task the trouble – but Granger had turned up the first day of February with sparks coming off her hair and complaints flying off her tongue about how the only research Potter had done was to settle in his bed every day after classes, open the egg, listen for ten seconds, close it, put it aside, and start plotting with Ron about what to do to Draco tomorrow.

Draco thought he’d made appropriately apologetic noises, but somehow Granger had taken those as an offer to help.

Before Draco could mount a proper defense, Granger was making plans to borrow the egg from Potter for ‘research purposes’ and Draco was ushering them all into a study room so they could listen to an egg scream.

Draco hadn’t quite believed Granger’s description of ‘painful shrieking,’ though it was accurate. She let the egg go for a few seconds then slammed it closed while they all unclenched and gathered their breath.

“Ready?” Blaise asked.

“Ready? We just did it?” Granger seemed to trust Blaise’s intelligence, but the two of them snapped at one another more than Draco did at Harry.

“Well, we have to do it again.”

“The sound doesn’t get any different.”

“Are you sure? Have you done it for a whole minute or is it always for seconds at a time? Because that’s not enough to track whether or not the sound gets legitimately painful, or if it changes pitch, or maybe it will cut out eventually.”

“Harry hasn’t reported anything like that and he’s done this more than anyone.”

“Forgive me for not trusting Potter’s opinion on matters.”

Rather than snap back, Granger steeled her jaw and flipped the egg open. She flinched but refused to cover her ears like the rest of them. Blaise had his hands fisted at his sides and his eyes watered. The two of them would have stayed there competitively glowering Draco hadn’t darted forward and slammed it closed.

“What is wrong with you two!”

“Draco!” Pansy whispered, he was about to tell her that shouting was perfectly acceptable when people were being idiots, but she was looking over his shoulder, white as a sheet.

There… there was a mermaid outside the window. Hovering in the water with a trident in her hand, tentacles floating about her face, and staring at them like she wanted to know what the ruckus was.

Draco was ready to toss Granger in a corner to hide from whichever Slytherin would come running to find the sound that must have escaped his muffling charm, but Blaise mumbled, “It, uh, it might be Mermish.”

And that made 100 times more sense than one of Draco’s Charms spontaneously failing.

Granger snapped something at Blaise, who snapped right back. Draco and Pansy rolled their eyes and left the two to snarl at one another.

Later, Draco would learn that the snarling had turned into a research binge at the library, Granger trying to find something about the Mermish language that would justify how she’d figured out screeching was their language. They’d determined that it had to be listened to under water, and Blaise had suggested the boys wouldn’t even ask how she’d found it, just accept that she had.

The problem was, Granger needed a proper lie because if she didn’t have one, the truth would come spilling out at the most inopportune time.

In this instance, it came out after she, Potter, and Weasley had stuck the egg in one of Hagrid’s rain barrels – for reasons that passed all understanding, Gryffindor didn’t have bathtubs – and Potter had been dunking his head in and out of freezing water while he dictated the egg’s warning to his friends. Weasley had been irritating her all day – of course – so when Hagrid asked Hermione how she’d figured it out, she spat that she’d asked Draco.

Things had gone downhill from there.

Ron had shrieked a “What?” that could have been mistaken for Mermish and Granger had offered up some explanation that gave Draco far more credit than simply being in the room when a Mermaid swam by.

Weasley had shouted, then Hermione had shouted, then Potter had found something to be angry about, and they all stormed off in different directions. Potter had been wet and freezing, but Granger had gone off in the direction of the castle’s front door, so he’d gone around to a side entrance, like they wouldn’t run into one another on the way up to Gryffindor Tower.

Because fate was fickle, Draco was tucked in that side courtyard while he and his fellow Slytherins basked in the rare February sunshine like the snakes they were.

Potter just lost it.

He came out of nowhere and shoved Draco off a rock. Draco would’ve fallen on his face but for Quidditch reflexes. “Potter! What—?”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing!”

Draco tossed up a Shield Charm. “You’re the one shoving me!”

Potter charged and bounced off the Charm, stumbling ass over feet and hitting the ground. The Slytherins laughed, of course, and Potter just scrambled up and screamed that he didn’t need Draco’s help.

Potter quite obviously did. And though Draco kept his mouth shut, that was all over his face. Potter reared forward and Draco was certain that the Charm would’ve crumbled under the flicker of his enraged accidental magic. “Fine!”

“Fine?” Potter had been expecting a fight, not for Draco to shrug and agree.

“Fine.” Draco turned back to his group, ignoring how they all had their wands drawn and were just waiting for Draco to give them permission to curse Saint Potter.

“Malfoy!”

Draco kept his eyes firmly forward and flipped through the pages of his textbook. “I’m not helping you with anything right now, Potter. My friends and I are working on Transfiguration so there’s nothing for you to complain about.”

Potter lunged between Draco and the group. “You and Hermione went behind my back!”

Potter was about to announce to the hoard of gawking students things he would regret letting them hear. Draco tucked the textbook into his pack and headed back to the castle.

“Malfoy!” Potter sounded scandalized.

“If you’d like to have a conversation about my friendship with Hermione, find me when you’re not wet and ridiculous.”

Draco left Slytherin snickering in his wake, which meant Potter would see red and follow. Draco waited until he passed through the door before he picked up speed, trusting that Blaise might slow Potter a bit but still keep Slytherin House from picking too big a fight with Harry bloody Potter.

Draco’s brisk walking was nothing compared to Potter’s sprint on the stones behind him. Draco ducked around a corner and behind a tapestry into one of the nooks the older years like to use for their amorous activities. Potter’s steps were just far enough behind that he came around the corner to nothing. He skidded to a stop just outside the tapestry, frantically spinning around to find where Draco had gone. There were no dramatic gasps at the sight of Potter and no demands to know what he was doing, so Draco assumed they were alone enough that he could reach out and snatch the idiot Gryffindor into the nook.

“What the—”

“Unless you want everyone in the school to know that you couldn’t solve the egg on your own and Granger had to ask me for help, you should keep your mouth shut, Potter.”

“You’re the one who lured Hermione into it!”

“I didn’t lure her into anything. She asked you if she could take the egg for further research and that research just happened to be consulting me.”

“You—”

“No!” Draco tossed up his hands. “We’re not doing this again!”

“You mean not betraying me again?”

“How is helping Granger help you a betrayal?”

“I don’t need help!”

“You were just opening the egg on your bed every night and letting it scream, like that was going to solve anything!”

“Not all of us live in the bloody Black Lake with mermaids swimming by!”

“That’s not—” Draco forced himself to breathe. “Fine,” he said, with all the restraint he could summon. “You don’t want my help. That’s fine. When Granger comes to me in a panic in two weeks because you can’t manage a Bubble-Head Charm to literally save your life, I’ll tell her ‘no, Potter doesn’t want my dirty, Slytherin help anymore, even though I’m the one who showed him how to Summon his broom, and put out fires, and got him a lawyer, and taught him contract law, and figured out the egg!’ He’d be so much better off relying on Granger, who’s been tearing her hair out trying to do all the work, or on the Weasel, who hasn’t done a damn thing beyond encouraging you to behave like an idiot! Bloody hell, Potter! You might be the only champion in history who’ll be banned from the Triwizard Tournament because you’re serving detention instead!”

“Don’t talk about Ron that way!” Potter shoved Draco into the wall. “You don’t know him at all!”

Strangely enough, Draco didn’t want to rear forward and tell Potter that he didn’t want to know Weasley. And Draco didn’t want to reach for his wand to curse Potter for having the gall to lay hands on him twice in one day. Draco just wanted to go back to the sunshine and laugh at Blaise trying to turn his hedgehog magenta.

“No, Potter. I don’t know him like you do, but I know enough. But you think he’s a friend, and you’ve asked me to stay out of it, so I will. You have been getting along fine with just Granger and Weasley thus far, so I’ll leave you to continue as you have been.”

Draco stepped for the tapestry, not caring that he was probably going to see a hallway full of people outside who’d followed the yelling.

“Why are you doing this?” Potter demanded.

“Doing what, Potter? Not letting you bully me?”

Potter yanked the back of Draco’s robes, dragging him away from the door. “I’m not the bully here, Malfoy.”

“I’m not the one who shoves people for helping their friends.”

That made Potter step back. “You went behind my back, again. Just like with the lawyers.”

Draco wasn’t going to apologize for that. “Yes, I did. And I told you: the next time Granger asks me, I’ll say no. Now, good day, Potter.”

“Why are you being so weird? You’re supposed to yell and shove me back, not whatever it is that you’ve been doing!”

That made Draco turn around. “Is that why you’ve been after me like a Firstie? What, you think that will make me act like one too?”

“I haven’t been—”

“Spilled ink and tripping jinxes aren’t up to your usual standard, Potter.”

He half shrugged. “Normally, I leave you alone and you’re the one who…”

“Who picks the fight with you.” Potter looked uncomfortable at putting it that way, but he didn’t object. “I don’t want to anymore.”

“I picked them and you haven’t…”

“It’s not that I don’t want to be the one picking the fights, Potter. It’s that I don’t want to fight at all anymore.”

Potter licked his lips. “So, you don’t want to…”

Apparently, Draco was going to have to carry all the weight of this conversation. “Merciful Merlin, I owe Pansy an apology. We really are all idiots. No, Potter, I’m not saying I don’t want to be friends. I’m saying I don’t want to meet in secret rooms until we yell at each other and then don’t talk for a month until you need my help again.”

“You’re the one who pulled me in here!”

“Because you don’t want people to know that I’ve been helping you!”

“I don’t care who knows!”

“Then why did you come running up and hit me for having anything to do with it!”

“Because you won’t talk to me! You won’t even look at me! But then Hermione comes around and you’ll help her!”

“You didn’t ask!”

“You—”

“No!” Draco cut Potter off. “This! I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to act like a dramatic First Year.”

“We acted like this, this year.”

“And I don’t want to anymore! I don’t want to be a child throwing tantrums because we’re not friends. I want to be the kind of man my mother can be proud of, that she can rely on, not one she has to clean up after.”

Potter was about to spit something back about how he didn’t know how parents worked, but something clicked in that occasionally clever brain of his. “What happened?”

“Nothing.”

“Something happened. What did your mother have to clean up? Did you get in trouble? Did—did Lucius do something?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “I’m not a half-mad House Elf, Potter.”

“Dobby is weird, not crazy, and you’re not going to distract me. What happened?”

“Nothing happened, Potter. A person can decide they want to be more of a grownup without something happening.”

“But something happened anyway. Tell me.”

“I can’t explain it.”

“Try.”

Draco slouched against the wall, that being the only way Potter was going to give him any space in this interrogation. “My parents were a team at Yule. My mother had a plan for something that my father didn’t know about, but she smiled at him and he trusted her. He knew that whatever she was planning, it was right, and it was clever, and he should help her with it. And she knew that she didn’t even have to ask Father and he would help.”

“Okay?” Poor Potter looked baffled, and Draco didn’t blame him. Draco was certain his parents must have done things like that all the time but this was the first time he’d noticed.

“But if you didn’t do anything wrong, then why did you—”

“It’s not about being wrong, Potter. It’s about wanting to be right. I don’t want to have screaming matches with my secret friend anymore. I want my mother to be able to look at me at a party and trust that I can help. I want my—friends to trust that I can help and that I won’t do whatever it is I’ve been doing this year.”

“You’ve been helping me.”

“In between screaming matches and pretending one another doesn’t exist.”

“So, you didn’t like it when I tried to hex you into a hallway to tell you what was going on with the lawyers.”

“No.”

“And…” Potter pressed his back to the wall beside Draco. “I didn’t like it when you invited Hermione and Krum over to sit with you at the Ball but not me.”

Draco carefully didn’t look over at Potter. “And George?”

“He was with Fred. Said he only got one Ball and he didn’t want to spend it listening to me and Ron complain. But I don’t like it when you say horrible things about Ron.”

“And I don’t like it when you say horrible things about Professor Snape.”

“But he’s horrible!”

“And I think Weasley is horrible!”

They both breathed and didn’t look at one another. Gryffindor that he was, Potter was the one who broke first. “I’m sorry I’ve been an ass.”

“You have been.” Draco nodded.

“So have you!”

“Not recently! I got better before you did!”

Harry just snorted and nudged Draco’s shoulder. “Yeah, you did. And I am sorry that I didn’t know you wanted to be real friends. I thought you just… liked being smarter than me.”

“I do enjoy that, but I’m smarter than everyone.”

“Not Hermione.”

“Not when it comes to books, but I am in practicals and that’s good enough for me.”

They were quiet for a long minute as they leaned against the wall, neither quite ready to break the silence, but also not ready to move along. “Draco?”

“Hm?”

“Was it really just watching your mum and dad smile at each other?”

He nodded.

“That’s nice.” Draco could hear the ‘that must be nice’ in between his words.

Draco slid along the stone and pressed his shoulder into Harry’s. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that I just wanted you to stop being an ass.”

“I wouldn’t have believed you. Friends?” Harry held out his hand.

“If we must.” Drago sighed and shook.

Harry laughed. “Come on.” He dragged Draco through the tapestry, not a care for who might be on the other side. Harry released his palm after a beat, but it was long enough to make Draco’s heart skip.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Draco and Harry came stumbling past the tapestry with a laugh. For a few beats, Draco thought they were alone and their only problem would be the courtyard full of students who’d seen them fighting at wandpoint.

Of course, that hope was squashed at the sound of frantic whispering down the hall. That turned into a stampede of students who thought they’d just caught Draco and Harry crashing around a corner in a brawl. It was a scrum of different houses, most of them there to watch the fight, though a few red and green ties were looking for an excuse to curse somebody.

While Draco was more concerned with controlling the gossip, Harry was more worried about the drawn wands. He stepped between Draco and the rushing students, like any of them were stupid enough to attack Harry bloody Potter.

Draco blamed the strangeness of Potter standing between him and anything at all for why he did nothing to protect himself when he was snatched from behind.

Draco flailed until he caught sight of Moody, wand keeping him dangled like a scruffed cat. He froze, waiting for what Moody would do this time. With a twist of his wand, Moody dragged Draco close so one gnarled hand could squeeze his cheeks. “And what are you up to?” Draco drowned in the foul smell of potion on Moody’s breath.

Moody caught a red hex on a shield, his magic dropping Draco, and nails searing trails down his cheeks.

Harry yanked Draco away from Moody, wand up and ready, still sparking red from whatever he’d cast. Moody held his shield, but Draco could see the rage in his eyes. Moody rolled his wand between his fingers like he was wrangling himself back under control before he cursed another student.

Draco let Harry keep himself between them, but as subtle as he could, Draco drew his wand. If Moody cast, they were going to lose. But Draco wouldn’t let Harry go down alone.

A hoard of students – witnesses – meant that Moody snorted at Harry like he wasn’t still fingering his wand. “Nothing like a broom cupboard to make a boy lose his common sense.”

Potter hadn’t known about boys together a month ago, but he didn’t blush. And he didn’t put his wand away. “I’ve got plenty of sense.”

“Not enough to keep from getting caught with a snake who’d as soon curse you as look at you.”

“We weren’t breaking any rules.”

“It’s not about rules, boy!”

“If it’s not about rules, then it’s not your problem.”

“It’ll be a problem, Potter.”

Mine, not yours.”

The students behind them ‘ooh-ed,’ like Harry was picking a fight with a fellow student instead of a trigger-happy Professor.

Moody rolled his wand, Harry shifted to his toes, and everyone held their breath.

Thank Merlin himself, Professor McGonagall appeared. She stepped around the corner behind Moody and everyone panicked for an entirely different reason. “Gentlemen?”

Draco grabbed Harry’s wrist and squeezed to shut him up. Moody stomped his way over to McGonagall. “Caught your fool boy sneaking out of one of the closets.”

McGonagall raised an eyebrow. “Well, that’s a better resolution than the fight I was called to break up.”

“We weren’t fighting,” Harry said. Their audience looked at Harry like he was an idiot for such a massive lie. “All right, not that kind of fight.”

“What kind of fight?” Moody sneered.

“It doesn’t matter.” Harry glowered. “We fought. We made up. We’re fine.”

McGonagall looked baffled that Harry was talking to his favorite professor that way, then she glanced down to where Draco still had Harry’s wrist. Draco let go like he’d been burned, but Harry snatched his hand back, palm to palm. Draco’s face lit with a blush, but Harry was standing there with a hoard of students at their back and two of the few adults he valued in front of them, and he was holding Draco’s hand.

Well, Draco had wanted Harry to stop hiding him. If he wanted a slow, subtle transition, he probably shouldn’t have made friends with a Gryffindor.

“Well then, if we’re all fine, let’s everyone be on their way,” McGonagall announced. Everyone kept standing there, but McGonagall raised an eyebrow and everyone moved along.

Everyone except Moody.

“Are you well?” McGonagall asked.

Harry kept his eyes on Moody, so Draco answered. “We’re fine, Professor.”

McGonagall looked back and forth between Potter and Moody. “Anything else you’d like to explain to me, Mr. Potter?”

“No, Professor.”

McGonagall didn’t believe it but she still sent Harry on his way with a “Mr. Malfoy.”

Moody wasn’t having it. “I’ve got something to say to Potter.”

“You’ve got nothing to say to me.” Harry snapped.

“Not even something about that egg you’ve been struggling with, Potter?”

McGonagall got out half a sentence scolding Moody for cheating, but Harry steamrolled over her. “You could hand me the Goblet and I wouldn’t want it.”

Draco yanked Harry away before things got worse, managing them both while Potter walked backward so he could keep glowering at Moody. “We’ll be on our way now, Professors. Thank you for your concern.”

That broke Harry’s glower, just so he could turn it on Draco. Draco just yanked him again and glared better than Potter could ever dream. “Let’s not pick a fight with a professor who likes cursing students, shall we Potter?” Harry glared back over his shoulder and Draco didn’t let him go in case Potter went back to pick another fight. “What is wrong with you? You like Moody!”

“Not anymore.”

“Because he thinks I’m an evil Slytherin? You thought that twenty minutes ago!”

“No, I didn’t.” Draco rolled his eyes, and Harry dug in his heels to drag Draco to a stop. “I didn’t.”

“Okay.”

He stepped in front of Draco and stood there in silence until Draco looked him in the eyes. “I didn’t. You were just—”

“I get it.” Potter obviously didn’t believe him, so Draco huffed out a sigh and put aside his pride to take Potter by the shoulders. “I get it.” Harry unwound. “Now, Potter. What was that?”

“He shouldn’t hurt you.” Draco manfully didn’t point out how amused Potter had been when Moody turned him into a ferret at the beginning of the year. “He’s a grownup.”

“Potter?” Draco didn’t understand where this was coming from.

“Come on.” Potter did the tugging this time. “We have to go tell Hermione that she doesn’t need to find us before we get expelled.”

“Expelled? For what?”

“Fighting.” Draco let himself be dragged along, hand still in Harry’s.

“You don’t make any sense to me Potter, I want you to know that.”

“Feeling’s mutual, Malfoy.”

@@@@@

It was not a steep angle up and out of the ward room, but Minerva was no longer a young witch and today had been trying. It was just steep enough that she dropped the stack of papers on her desk and charmed herself a glass of water before worrying about the contents.

The wards had pinged during her office hours this morning, but Minerva couldn’t just tell the line of students outside her door that she had more pressing business to attend to. At least, until a Prefect turned up, panicked about Potter and Malfoy cursing one another in the hallways. That had turned into a spat with Moody, then returning to the line of students who needed help.

It took hours after the wards summoned her for Minerva to head down and set a squared stack of paper below the ward stone. Then, she floated up a series of ink bottles over the stone and spilled them one after another until the ink was dripping down the sides. When the stone decided it had enough ink to do its job, it pressed down on the stack like a stamp. It came up with a peeling pop and left behind the papers, unmoved, but transcribed with the name of every person within Hogwarts’ walls within the 72-hour period she’d asked for. The list wasn’t delineated by time or place, but it held more information than she’d gotten from students.

After her break, Minerva stared at the stack, tempted to leave it for next weekend’s project. But she was irritated enough that she needed something to do.

The first step was sorting out what information she didn’t need. Minerva laid the student register on the left – turned to the page listing First Years – put the ward stone’s list in the middle, and another stack of empty paper with a waiting quill and ink pot on the right. Then, she cast a modified sorting spell on the lot of it.

The quill labeled the page ‘First Years,’ and began jotting down the names found on both the register and the ward stone’s list.

Minerva went about the rest of her afternoon, stopping occasionally to turn the register’s page when the quill waved itself at her. All of the students late to her office hours had the sense just to stare, not to ask.

She tucked the First through Fifth Year pages off to the side, trusting that Albus’ age line had done its duty. The Seventh Years were all viable candidates, and she’d have to cross-reference the Sixth Years herself to separate the few who’d been old enough on Halloween. Next was the register’s list of Beauxbatons students, then Durmstrang, then the Hogwarts professors. The final list would take a bit of finesse with the sorting spell, pulling out names that hadn’t been sorted anyplace else – encompassing ministry officials, reporters, gawkers, etc.

Minerva hoped that somewhere on the ‘Uncategorized’ list a name would leap out at her and answer all her questions in one fell swoop. (No small part of her expected Peter Pettigrew, hence the broadness of her search.)

As she mulled on how to modify the spell, the quill scribbled out her colleagues’ names: Rolanda Hooch, Minerva McGonagall, Irma Pince— when the wards nudged at her again, this time with the specific summoning that meant Albus would like a word. Considering Albus’ habit of knowing everything, Minerva had been expecting him to ask her thoughts on today’s turn of events. (A student had drawn their wand on a professor. Somehow, those words were less dramatic than Potter drawing his wand on Moody.)

But… Albus’ worries weren’t about that.

“Ah, Minerva my dear. I trust the wards were up to your satisfaction?”

Minerva did not stumble out, ‘What?’ She sat down across from Albus, looked him in the eye and said not a thing. Her Occlumency was up to snuff, but Albus would no doubt be able to feel the irritated disbelief lurking behind her eyes.

“Were they not?”

“I would think you’d be less concerned with my opinion on the state of the wards than with Moody laying hands on Mr. Malfoy.”

“It is my understanding he was breaking up a fight.”

Levicorpus doesn’t require that a grown Wizard with a history of bullying a particular student squeeze his cheeks so hard they go red.” Minerva clearly pictured the scratch trails blooming on young Malfoy’s face.

“Hmm. I will have another discussion with Alastor about appropriate methods of punishment.”

“That’s all?”

“Considering Alastor’s feelings about dark families, he has shown great restraint. We all know that Harry’s name must have been put in the Goblet by someone loyal to Voldemort, and if Mr. Malfoy were of age, he would be the primary suspect.”

No, Draco Malfoy would never do anything so reckless as put the name in himself. The primary suspect should have been anyone Malfoy could talk into things, which would have been half the student body. “That doesn’t change the fact he’s transfigured a student and then physically damaged that same student, Albus.”

“The student who has positioned himself as one of Harry’s most trusted companions. It is suspicious.”

“He is a 14-year-old child in our care.”

“And I will speak with Alastor about the issue. Now tell me, is that what took you down to the wards today?”

For the first time in a decade, Minerva lied to the man she had long considered her best friend. “I was checking the settings. Given everyone’s short tempers since Yule, I wanted to see if the wards might warn me about more than just threats to life and limb.”

Albus rambled something lovely and kind about Minerva’s care for the students, and it took the full extent of her professionalism to endure.

Albus didn’t know Minerva had asked the ward stone something. He didn’t know she’d been down there twice. He hadn’t checked the wards in the month since she’d gone down and asked her question. They had students and strangers running about everywhere, and Albus hadn’t been checking.

Minerva made it back to her office and left the unsorted names right where they were. She couldn’t cast when she was this angry or she’d set the papers on fire. It was a matter of moments to decide what she could do, hesitate, and then set the hovering quill to paper anyway.

“Dear Lady Malfoy:

“While I am certain that Draco has written to you about the events of this afternoon, I wanted to share with you what was related to me, and what I personally saw. I can offer you little comfort on the subject, less when I acknowledge the temper Moody has always had for the House of Black, but I can offer clarity and recommendations.”

@@@@@

“He really is pacing.” Granger’s baffled voice threw Draco off his stride.

“I told you,” Blaise said, both of them standing in the doorway of the private study room where they’d opened Potter’s egg. There was no mermaid this time, just Draco, pacing back and forth someplace where he’d have the privacy to go round and round his head.

“I didn’t believe you. I didn’t think Draco knew how to pace.”

“He’s mulling.”

“And this is different than plotting?”

“Plotting happens when he has an actual plan, so it requires stillness and a parchment. Mulling happens when he’s got too many thoughts and hasn’t made up his mind yet.”

“Do the two of you need to be doing this here?” Draco snapped. And yes, he was still pacing.

“I brought you, Granger,” Blaise said, all the hauteur of a cat who wanted credit for bringing a mouse without acknowledging that they’d gone to any effort to retrieve it.

“I didn’t ask for Granger.”

“No, but you need her.” That’s what Draco got for insulting a cat.

“Not yet.” Draco turned on his heel and picked up his speed, raking a shaking hand through his hair.

“Blaise,” Hermione whispered, “his hair is ruffled.”

“Now you see why I dragged you away from studying.”

“You’re right. It is serious.” Granger stepped into the room and dropped her bookbag.

“My hair is not ruffled. And I don’t need you here.”

Blaise tossed up the mirror Charm. And really, Draco didn’t need to see himself like that. “That’s rude.”

“It’s your face, Draco.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my face!” He snapped, because really. Blaise was on the short list of students who were arguably more handsome than Draco, but it wasn’t polite to go around saying it.

“Right!” Hermione interrupted them. If they were going to interrupt her homework, they ought to be efficient about it. “Blaise, out. Draco has things to ramble at me about.”

“I don’t—”

“I’m off then!” Blaise grinned like the snot he was and then closed the door with a snap that managed to be just as rude.

Nothing about this was how Draco had imagined his evening would go.

Draco and Harry had rejoined the rest of the student body still holding hands, causing more than just their overlapping circle of friends to heave a sigh of relief. They’d gone back to the same courtyard – still full of Slytherins – and Blaise and Pansy had just chatted with Potter like nothing about that was weird.

Draco knew that Granger had been crossing the line between Gryffindor and Slytherin for the sake of having people to complain to, but he hadn’t been aware that she and Blaise were done with the sanctity of the entire house system. She’d popped up a few minutes later with Longbottom in tow.

The whole thing had been awkward, but Harry ignored them all to settle next to Draco and scribble out a list of things he’d “sorely miss.” Draco leaned over to cross things out that the Professors wouldn’t consider worth missing (his Firebolt) and things that no one with sense would risk if “it won’t come back” and thus should be hidden in Hermione’s dorm the night before the Task (Dad’s cloak).

(Draco had questions about whatever word Harry had written down before “Dad’s” and scribbled so hard that he’d torn a hole in the parchment.)

Dinner had been next, full of Draco smirking while Harry rolled his eyes so hard at overreacting Gryffindors that Draco could see it clear across the Hall.

Only… as amusing as dinner was, it gave Draco time to think.

Usually, those quiet moments with everyone chatting were like white noise, giving Draco a chance to let his thoughts percolate without books or assignments there to distract him with things he ought to be doing.

But tonight… it wasn’t enough. Or perhaps it was too much? Draco couldn’t tell.

He’d gone from dinner to his dorm, which did not a bit of good because Blaise looked at him with a lifetime’s experience of knowing when Draco’s brain was overloaded and tonight there was only one thing he could be overloaded about. From there, Draco retreated to the furthest study room, only to be interrupted before he could get his thoughts in order.

Full of cheek, Granger propped herself up on the table and just raised an eyebrow.

Since there was no way in the world she was going to leave, where to begin?

Easiest would be what everyone in school already knew: Harry had shot a hex at Moody.

But why?

‘Grownups shouldn’t hurt children,’ Harry had said.

But Moody hadn’t hurt him. Had barely touched him compared to the Transfiguration at the beginning of the year. So, had something else happened? Or did Harry not consider full human-to-animal transfiguration as ‘hurt’? Or was Draco now under some banner where Harry cared who did and didn’t hurt him?

Or… had Harry always had this rule and Draco missed it when they were archnemeses?

Harry had a secret. Draco could smell them like other people scented supper. But what was the secret?

And really, should Draco even be asking? Did Gryffindors have rules about this kind of thing? Because, in Slytherin, if you couldn’t keep a secret, you deserved whatever happened when people figured it out.

Potter obviously hadn’t told Weasley about whatever it was, because he would’ve been spreading it around the moment they were no longer best friends. (Unless he didn’t think it would hurt Harry to tell. But if it didn’t hurt, why would Harry be hiding it?)

If anyone knew, it would be Granger. Both because she was more trustworthy and because she would’ve sat Potter down and grilled him while she took notes. Maybe Granger wouldn’t even tell him if he asked. Maybe it was private. Maybe it was something Harry wanted Hermione to know but not him. Draco shoved that thought aside and told it to go suck an egg.

No, Draco was a Black, and Blacks went after what they wanted, and what Draco wanted was the truth. If he were a Hufflepuff he would have patiently waited for Potter to come to him or waited for the perfect moment to spring the question. But today, Draco was a Black, and there was no waiting in the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black.

Harry had done a massive thing today – and he probably didn’t understand that he’d all but declared an alliance between their houses by walking around the school hand in hand – and Draco wanted to reward Harry for good behavior. (That’s all. Draco didn’t care that there were things about Harry that other people knew. Blaise had no call to snicker about Draco being territorial. He was just being a good friend. He was.)

Granger sat there, her furrow getting fiercer the longer Draco took to decide. Really, the only words Draco could find to sum it all up were: “What do you know about the Muggles hurting Potter?”

Granger went stone-faced and cast a Muffilato at the door.

“What do you know?”

Draco crossed his arms, and they got to work.

CHAPTER TWELVE

After Granger caved and told him everything she knew and everything she suspected, Draco spent the rest of the night staring at the drape of fabric over his bed and just breathing.

He and Granger had prepared a letter for the McGonagall brothers before they’d left the study room – Granger wrote, Draco edited, both signed. Draco sent a copy to his mother, with a question mark at the bottom. He’d tried to add a whole paragraph laying out his questions, but he couldn’t put them into words.

How could this happen?

Draco had been taught his whole life that children were the greatest gift magic had ever given their people, so for any magical child – let alone one with Potter’s name and power – to be left with such Muggles… it didn’t make sense.

Some part of Draco that sounded unfortunately like Hermione pointed out that Pansy’s life was at risk, and Blaise’s abusive stepfather wouldn’t have lost his seat on the Wizengamot if he’d lived.

Draco spent the night working the problem out, trying to find the line between acceptable and not. Where children were so important people would sacrifice magic for one of their own blood, but they weren’t so important that the Savior of the Wizarding World could be abused.

Charms and a pepper-up got Draco through the day, but all his friends seemed to know he wasn’t quite there. Blaise and Hermione each copied their notes after class and tucked them into Draco’s bookbag, while Potter bodily put himself between Draco and anyone who so much as looked at him. None of them asked for specifics. They all just carried on, like it was perfectly normal for Draco to stare off at nothing while his brain tried to reconcile what he was quickly beginning to suspect was unreconcilable.

It was Potter who snapped, of course. Though he didn’t start demanding to know what was going on in Draco’s head. He just started casting the Bubble-Head Charm at himself like he thought mispronouncing Latin and pointing a wand at his head was acceptable behavior.

(Harry tried it thrice before the practical part of Draco’s brain kicked back on and pointed out that they liked Potter too much to sit there and watch him blow his head off.)

“What are you doing!”

Harry jumped at Draco’s shout, then bit his lip to keep from grinning. “Practicing the Bubble-Head Charm. Hermione said that should get me through the lake.”

“And you’re practicing on your face?”

Harry’s guileless grin was not at all believable. “It’s the Bubble-Head Charm. Where else am I supposed to cast it?”

“On a training dummy, you idiot! But at least try and get the words right first!”

Draco still had questions – more now that it had been two days and they’d gotten no response from his mother or the brothers McGonagall other than telling Harry to stay focused on the Second Task – but they were of significantly less importance than stopping Harry from ruining his stupidly pretty face. (Draco bit his tongue before he said that out loud, though his blush might have communicated it anyway.)

Bullying Potter into mastering the Bubble-Head Charm had taken a day. After which Draco had subdued the voices in his head by raising his concerns that Potter might not be able to hold the Charm for an entire hour under the frigid water of the Black Lake. The lot of them had planned on bundling up and watching Potter roam around with his head a meter below the water’s edge. Potter had blushed at the suggestion, and Granger had rolled her eyes and insinuated that Potter had nothing to be embarrassed about in the swimming suit department. That had just made Potter’s blush hotter and spit out that he didn’t know how to swim.

That… presented an entirely new issue. Yes, Draco was a competent swimmer. But no, he didn’t think he was the best person to teach anybody. He endured Potter’s teasing since the Gryffindor thought that meant Draco was actually a terrible swimmer and was just trying not to get caught. (A better assumption than Draco not trusting his body’s reaction to a wet and mostly naked Potter.)

Which is how Draco found himself supervising as Pansy – and Longbottom of all people – tried to teach Potter to swim in the pool that the Come and Go Room had offered up to Granger’s demands.

They’d only been at it a day, but learning was slow going while Pansy and Longbottom struck the right balance between harsh and spineless (respectively). Blaise kept his feet in the water and his bottom on dry land while he called out not-so-helpful tips from a book they’d checked out from the library.

(Hermione had tried to help Potter for all of five minutes before they ended up in a shouting match that Draco had honestly thought would damage their friendship beyond repair. Instead, they’d huffed at one another for thirty seconds then declared someone else ought to teach Potter the basics.)

The best part of ‘helping’ Harry learn had nothing to do with swimming and everything to do with Granger being just as miffed as Draco by the adult silence. Although, Granger kept saying they should do something about it themselves, and Draco was beginning to understand how the Golden Trio kept ending up in such messes.

However, their reliance on Potter’s preoccupation with not drowning only protected their conversation for two days. It wasn’t until Potter asked, “What are you talking to Malcolm and Robert about?” that either of them realized he was perched on the pool’s edge, chin resting on his arms while he watched them vent.

In his own mind, Draco could admit that he hadn’t frozen at getting caught. He was distracted by Potter’s unexpectedly serene smile. But Draco’s pause meant Granger was the one who answered.

And unless they came from a book, Granger’s answers were always wrong.

“We weren’t talking to them.” She squeaked.

Potter gave her an indulgent smirk. “It’s okay, Hermione. I’d be surprised if you weren’t. Is it something for you, or is my swimming so bad that you’re trying to get me out of the Tournament again?”

Neither. And neither was close enough to the truth for Granger to autonomically choose that answer. “Uh…” she looked to Draco.

“Draco?” Harry asked, nervous.

Right. Draco steeled himself. Potter valued honesty in his friends and they were being friends now. “Emancipation.”

“What?”

“Emancipation.”

“What’s—”

Granger tumbled off the bench and hit her knees on the edge of the pool. “Your relatives.”

Potter clenched so tight he sank like a stone. Granger grabbed him and half-dragged him out of the water and up beside her. “Hermione!”

“Harry! They’re not coming or anything!”

“No one—” he glanced at Draco then back to Granger, “no one invited them for the Second Task, did they? They won’t want to come.”

Ah, Granger hadn’t told Potter that she’d told Draco. Draco would be irked that ‘honesty’ only extended to things Potter wasn’t embarrassed about, but since Potter was embarrassed by abusive relatives and Draco was embarrassed by homicidally-inclined relatives, he was willing to exercise a pardon.

“If you’d asked, I’m sure McGonagall would’ve found a way to get the Muggles here to watch. But since you didn’t, no one is going subject themselves to those wretches.”

Potter blanched. “You know.”

“You hexed Mad-Eye Moody, Potter. Of course, I was going to ask questions. Granger told me what else you’d let slip and, as with almost everything in your life, you just didn’t have the right information to make a smart decision. I knew what the McGonagall brothers could, ought, and would be doing if they had the slightest inclination, so we went to them.”

“But… you…” Potter still looked mortified.

“Don’t be gauche, Potter,” Blaise drawled, kicking his feet in the water like none of this was fraught. “One of my stepfathers didn’t like me and Draco went straight to Narcissa, who went straight to my mother. If I were you, I’d be telling him thank you for going to the lawyers instead of forcing his parents to act as an alibi when the Aurors show up to ask about a murder. Again.”

Potter blinked, but none of the Gryffindors had anything to say about that. “Thank you?”

“Much better. Now, emancipation allows you to legally be considered an adult in the Wizarding World, though Granger tells me Muggles have an equivalent. According to our research, you meet all the requirements for both our laws and theirs. However, we imagine that the entire Wizarding public would lose their collective minds if you were on your own.”

“And emancipation would require a hearing, where you’d have to tell a judge all about why you want to be emancipated,” Hermione added. “We didn’t think you’d want to do that.”

Potter’s shake ‘no’ was particularly pathetic when he was wet and bedraggled.

“We’ve sent it all off to the McGonagall brothers, and they’re gathering information and working on precisely which option is best.”

In theory that’s what they were doing. It’s what he and Granger would be doing if they were handling things. But telling Potter, ‘another set of adults that we convinced you to trust told us all to sit tight and didn’t offer any more information’ didn’t seem helpful.

Granger tolerated Draco’s not quite truth and pulled out the paperwork they had been reviewing because she couldn’t bring herself to patiently wait for the grownups to get back to them. She smacked away Potter’s wet hands when he tried to touch and went about explaining. “It’s complicated, because just knowing that your relatives are terrible isn’t the same thing as proof that they’re terrible, and there’s only so much we can do about that without extracting some memories from your head.”

“We could do that!” Harry perked up.

Pansy tossed a towel over Potter’s head, having gotten out of the pool and into her robe when it looked like this break was going to take a while. “You don’t go around sharing memories unless you have to Potter.”

“And memories can be altered,” Longbottom added, still from the water.

“Why would I change my memories?”

Longbottom just shrugged, but the Ministry was just stupid enough where Potter was involved to think he would.

“Either way, even if we get you out of the house, you’re probably going to need a new guardian, which is a whole different kind of problem. Apparently, you’re the heir to House Potter, which comes with all sorts of obligations that Draco keeps refusing to explain because he thinks I’d spend too much time researching them.” Granger glowered at him like his objection wasn’t perfectly reasonable. “That shortens the list of potential guardians to people who can teach you those kinds of things, which rules out my family. From that short list, we’re trying to find people who you already know, and who will love you properly, and who – sorry – aren’t marked.”

Pansy shrugged. It was what it was. And as much as she and Draco liked to think it would be enough to say to their fathers, “This is my friend, Harry. Be nice to him,” it wouldn’t.

“Draco and I have been putting together a list of likely candidates, just in case the McGonagall brothers don’t come back with someone.”

“They will, of course,” Draco added before Harry could get suspicious about them not having a list already.

It wasn’t enough, because Potter gave Hermione a weighted look when he asked who the candidates were.

“Your darling Weasleys, despite their disadvantage,” Draco began before Granger could break under the weight of that look. “Professor Flitwick and all three McGonagalls are also near the top of the list, but none of them have any noble blood, so getting them deemed guardians will be difficult to get through the Wizengamot, despite your fondness for them.”

The two Gryffindors kept staring. “There are a few noble light families who you have little to no relationship with who could do the job, like the Boneses. Though, Lady Longbottom is the preferred option.” Longbottom tried to smile at Harry, but Granger was biting her lip.

“Harry…”

“What about—”

“Don’t!” She stopped him.

“What about who?”

“You shouldn’t, Harry. It’s not safe.”

“It’s Draco.” Draco’s heart thumped at the ease of that justification.

“That’s not a good enough reason to go telling people!”

“But it’s the best option!”

“He’s a criminal!”

“Are you two talking about Sirius Black?” Blaise interrupted.

Granger went flame red, and Potter stuck out his chin to power through. “He’s my godfather.” He announced, as though that was some world-shattering piece of information.

“Yeah?” Blaise looked at Harry like he’d announced the sky was blue.

“He’s… he’s my godfather.”

“We’re Purebloods, Potter,” Pansy said. “We all know who’s godparent to who. It’s a special kind of magical alliance that could come back to bite you if you get it wrong.”

“He didn’t betray my parents.”

“Beg pardon?” Draco’s voice cracked.

“He didn’t betray them. Wormtail did.”

Pansy dropped next to Draco on the bench and leaned in. “We’re going to need more context, Potter.”

“Peter Pettigrew. He was my parents’ friend at school and their Secret Keeper. Only, he was a Death Eater too.”

Pansy glanced at Draco, who shook his head no. His father had never mentioned this tidbit. He’d been irritated that he hadn’t been told that Black was an undercover Death Eater.

“When Sirius—” Sirius? “—found my parents dead, he went after Wormtail. But Wormtail is a rat animagus. So he shouted to everyone that Siri was the Death Eater, then blew off his finger, and transformed.”

The most pertinent question was: how did Harry know this? Followed quickly by, Siri? But somehow, the first thing out of Draco’s mouth was: “How did that lie hold?”

“What?” They all blinked, trying to follow Draco’s logic

“The lie. Pettigrew ‘died’ in a blasting curse that killed 12 Muggles in front of who knows how many others. The Aurors should have pieced everything together in excruciating detail from the witness memories. Black’s wand should have been priori-ed and not shown the blasting curse. And, good Merlin, the angle of the massive hole in the ground would have shown that the curse didn’t come from Black’s direction! How did the lie hold?”

“Siri didn’t have a trial.”

“Of course he didn’t.” Because that was exactly the sort of thing that happened to Gryffindors. “Siri?”

“He’s my godfather.” Harry shrugged, like that was an explanation.

Draco pinched the bridge of his nose. “You’ve been cavorting with Britain’s most wanted, haven’t you?”

“‘Cavorting’ isn’t really the—”

“Shut up, Potter.” Harry shrank back like Draco meant it. “Stop that. I’m panicking. You have to give me a minute.”

“Why are you panicking?”

“Because you just told us that the Wizengamot falsely imprisoned the Lord and last living heir of one of the few Noble and Ancient Houses.” Pansy sounded as horrified as the four Purebloods felt.

“That’s worse than just falsely imprisoning anyone?”

Yes.” Granger didn’t like that explanation, but at the moment, Draco didn’t care.

“I have to write to my mother.”

“What? Why?”

“She’s the only living Black and her Lord was unjustly imprisoned.”

“But he’s on the run. Your mum can’t do anything.”

Draco caught the horror in his throat and reminded himself that Potter didn’t know. “Harry, I have to do something.”

“Because he’s a noble?” Granger sneered.

“Because I’m part Black! He’s not my Lord, but he’s my family. If I could do something to help him and I don’t, the Black family magic is vindictive enough that the part of me that comes from them might dry up!”

“What?”

“Family magic, Granger.” Pansy drawled.

Blaise started to giggle before that fight could turn any worse. Though, the Gryffindors turned on him like they were about to reach for their wands. “Sorry.” He waved their glares away. “It’s just, Mr. Malcolm is going to break the Ministry in half. When he finds out the Ministry put your godfather in prison without a trial only to dump you with Wizard-hating Muggles,” Blaise gave a chef’s kiss, “It will be beautiful.”

Harry just stared at them all like they were speaking a different language. Draco was not a Gryffindor and, thus, did not roll his eyes. “Don’t be a Hufflepuff about this, Potter. The Ministry did the wrong thing for the wrong reason and they deserve to get hit with the full weight of Malcolm McGonagall and my mother. Think about all the other—”

Harry held up a hand and cut him off. The cheek of that boy.

“What happens when you tell them?”

“My mother makes them wish they were never born and Mr. Malcolm tears them into tiny pieces.”

“But what about…”

This time Draco did roll his eyes. “He’ll be cleared and your guardian with be your godfather Siri. Obviously.”

“Promise?”

“No. But it’s my mother.”

“If she wasn’t going to do everything in the world to appease the Black family magic, she’d do it for Draco,” Blaise added, as though such a thing needed to be said.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Draco just wanted it pointed out for the record that he’d never been summoned to Professor Dumbledore’s office before he became friends with a Gryffindor.

“Really? But you have meetings with Professor Flitwick.”

“Those are his study hours,” Draco hissed, trying not to panic right there in the hallway. “It’s not the same thing.”

“Maybe Dumbledore just wants to help you with… whatever it was that he used to teach.”

Draco paused his mental preparation to stare at Potter, who replied with an awkward smile that was more incriminating than his words. “Dumbledore knew about your godfather.”

“Maybe.” Harry’s voice cracked, which meant, ‘yes, Draco. In fact, the most notorious Light Wizard of the age helped hide the Wizarding World’s most wanted.’

“So, school rules just don’t apply to any of you Gryffindors, do they?”

“I didn’t think you minded people getting away with breaking rules.”

“Not the stupid ones! But the ones about hiding supposed mass murderers should probably be enforced.”

“But he wasn’t.”

That… was a valid point, but Draco was in the middle of panicking and not in the mood for such things. “Look, Potter. We’re worried about what Dumbledore is planning right now, not whatever he got up to then.”

Potter bit back his grin. “Yes, Draco.”

“Don’t give me that look.”

“Look, Dumbledore already knew about Siri, so whatever you think we’re in trouble for, we’re not.”

“Him knowing about Black and us not being in trouble are not mutually exclusive.”

“Yes, Draco.”

“Look, Potter. If Dumbledore knew about Black, then I don’t know why we got called here. I like knowing why I’ve been summoned to Professor’s offices.”

“Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters. We can’t prepare for a confrontation if we don’t know what it’s going to be about.”

“It’s not going to be a confrontation. It’s Dumbledore.”

That was precisely what Draco was concerned about.

He managed to keep his head square on his shoulders, ignoring possibilities that he couldn’t possibly choose from and instead focus on keeping his cool and keeping Potter’s mouth shut. Although, nothing in the world could have prepared Draco to climb the staircase into Dumbledore’s office and find both of his parents, Professor McGonagall, and– “Sirius!” Harry shouted and crashed into a too thin man with the sharp angles of Draco’s mother.

“You’re free?”

“As a bird.”

“Really free?”

“Really.” They were picture perfect together, staring at one another with tears shimmering in their eyes.

Lord Black dragged a hand through Harry’s hair, then glanced around the room like he just realized they had an audience. Black cleared his throat. “Excuse us for a moment. Harry and I need to speak privately.”

Black tugged Harry down the stairs, saying, “There’s a make-out corner out there where we can have some privacy.”

“I know.”

“Look at you.” Draco could hear Black’s smirk.

“Not like that, Siri.” He could hear Potter’s blush too.

Settled in the chair before Dumbledore’s desk, Lucius ignored that entire conversation and asked, “I hope you are doing well Draco?”

“Quite well, father.”

“No more bullying troubles?”

Bullying might mean either Moody overstepping his bounds or Harry retreating to prat-like behavior. Either way, both were well in hand.

“No, that seems to have cleared up, Father. Which is fortuitous, because I don’t believe my friends would have continued to allow it.”

Whether the friend was Harry dealing with Moody or Blaise dealing with Harry, the sentiment was still true.

“I am quite impressed with young Mr. Malfoy’s efforts to foster inter-house unity this year, Lucius,” Dumbledore interjected. For all the man was a master manipulator of those who had not a manipulative bond in their bodies, he was no match for the verbal repartee of those who’d been trained on it with their mother’s milk.

Narcissa gave the Headmaster an indulgent smile, like he was a child who had shown her a particularly atrocious drawing. “That he has.” Whether Dumbledore was referring to the aftermath of the Yule Ball or simply being friends with Hermione, Draco didn’t care to know.

Though Draco knew his parents couldn’t give him the truth when there were witnesses, he also knew he’d be expected to ask, “How did Lord Black come to be cleared, at Hogwarts, in your company, Mother?”

“It is growing near the time when you might claim the Black title so it might not languish as it has been. However, when I inquired, the family magic informed me that Sirius was still the heir. For that to be true, I knew he must be innocent of his conviction.” She shrugged, as though getting the most wanted man in the Wizarding World cleared was the work of an afternoon. (Knowing his mother, it might have been.)

“What excellent luck. I hope the matter has been thoroughly settled?”

“For the moment. I thought it was rather more important to see to my cousin’s wellbeing, so I sought bureaucratic assistance that is handing extraneous matters.” Which meant the McGonagall brothers were preparing to rain fire down upon the Ministry for an innocent man’s imprisonment. Mr. Robert was probably being charming, all ‘it’s perfectly understandable, with things at the end of the war being what they were,’ while Mr. Malcolm was scouring files the Ministry wouldn’t want to see the light of day.

Sooner than Draco expected, Black and Harry came stumbling up the stairs, both pretending their eyes weren’t red. Draco handed Potter a handkerchief in his endless struggle to keep the Gryffindor from getting snot on things. Harry took the handkerchief and took his place beside Draco. Black raised an eyebrow but took his place beside Harry.

“Good?” He asked Potter.

“Really good.”

Father stood and thanked Dumbledore for his hospitality. “As Lord Black is currently between residences, we will be taking Mr. Potter out of the school for a long weekend so he might have time to get to know his godfather.” He ushered them to the door.

Mother gave Dumbledore a polite smile and promised to have ‘them’ back before breakfast on Monday. The ‘them’ a subtle statement that Draco would be leaving with his parents.

“Ah,” Dumbledore cleared his throat, obviously having waited for this dramatic moment. “I’m afraid I cannot allow Mr. Potter to leave the school.”

Mother looked to Professor McGonagall. “Is there new paperwork for a guardian to check their child out of school? Oh,” she pressed a hand to her mouth in faux embarrassment, “have I been missing the right paperwork all this time?”

“A notice to the head of house is sufficient.” Professor McGonagall said, painfully dry.

Mother looked back and forth between Professor McGonagall and Dumbledore, the perfect picture of innocence. “Is this not notice?”

“There is a complication. Harry cannot leave Hogwarts without proper precautions being taken.”

“But I’ve gone to the Burrow before!” Harry objected, his hand in Black’s.

“Yes, after I have put the strongest wards known to Wizardkind around the Burrow, and Mr. William Weasley contracted his Goblin associates from the bank to raise the strongest of theirs.”

Father leaned particularly hard on his cane. “How convenient that Malfoy Manor possesses both the strongest wards of Wizard, Goblin, and Veela kind, and has for generations.”

“It is more than the worries about a visit, Mr. Malfoy.” Dumbledore let the silence hang.

Draco bristled at the notion that Harry couldn’t go with their family just because Dumbledore considered them dark. Black wrapped an arm around Harry and dragged him closer. To the surprise of them all, Black said, “You’ll have to be more specific about your worries, Headmaster. The only place I could take Harry would be a thousand times worse than my cousin’s house, no matter what her husband is like.”

That… who said that kind of thing about a man opening up his home? Harry nudged Draco, like he was the one who needed to be distracted from mouthing off.

Dumbledore sighed, like keeping Harry there was a great weight on him. “There are private matters I must explain to you, Sirius.”

“I’m just going to tell Cissi anyway, and she’ll tell Lucius, so you might as well save me the trouble of replaying the conversation in a Pensieve and then coming back with all the questions they tell me I ought to have asked.”

Oh. Draco understood it now.

His mother had always played the ‘beautiful but dumb’ card and people who really ought to know better always believed it. Now he knew it was a Black trait, not just his mother.

“Sirius, that is not information I consider prudent to disclose at the moment.”

“Then we get to go.”

“Harry—”

“No, Professor. I’m going to be living with Sirius in a few months anyway, and Professor McGonagall says that guardians just have to tell the Head of House when they’re taking someone out of school. Siri is my guardian and he told Professor McGonagall. We met the rules, so Siri and I get to be together for more than an hour.”

Dumbledore looked like a wretchedly sad grandfather. “Harry, my dear boy, I’m so sorry, but you won’t be staying with Sirius.”

“What?”

Harry’s voice cracked, and Draco snatched up his hand.

“When your mother died to save you, it placed a very old kind of protection on you, bound in the blood that you share with her, and…”

“That I share with Aunt Petunia.”

“I did not know about it until the difficulties at the end of your First Year—”

Draco whipped around to Harry. ‘Difficulties’ translated to the 10 extra house points that had unseated Slytherin.

“Voldemort was possessing Professor Quirrell,” Harry muttered, his focus still on Dumbledore.

“Pardon?” Draco shrieked, and every non-Professor was staring at Harry like Draco wasn’t the only person who’d never heard this before.

“Harry.” Dumbledore was pained. This was obviously the sort of thing he didn’t want Harry telling Draco’s father.

“What does Voldemort not being able to touch me have to do with staying with Aunt Petunia?”

“He can’t touch you?”

“I burned him out of Quirrell’s body.” Was the aside. Draco had never seen his father’s eyes so wide.

“I tied the blood magic that protects you to the wards around your aunt’s house.” Dumbledore tried to seize control of the conversation. “Neither Voldemort nor any of his marked servants will be able to enter that house. You see, Harry, you must return to your aunt’s house because it’s the only way to keep you safe when you are outside Hogwarts.”

Harry and Lord Black both wilted, but Father just leaned on his cane. Draco held his breath. “Forgive me, Headmaster, but that restriction sounds like a stunning lack of creativity on your part.”

Dumbledore’s eyes were not twinkling. “How so?”

“I don’t have to be able to enter a house to burn it down, or blast it, or shake it, or unleash a wild, wholly-unconnected-to-me magical creature upon the building and kill everyone inside.”

Harry’s eyes got larger and larger, like he was scared of Draco’s father. Draco leaned in and murmured, “Just think about what the Weasley twins could do if they had a mind.”

Harry furrowed, like he hadn’t thought of fire as the adult equivalent to the twins’ havoc.

“It seems to me,” Father continued, “that an unplottable residence or a trustworthy secret keeper would be far preferable to the child’s separation from his actual guardian. Particularly as the Wizengamot is likely to want to grant Lord Black every sort of leeway. You wouldn’t want them asking too many questions about young Mr. Potter’s prior circumstances and how his prior magical guardian had allowed those to continue.”

Father and Dumbledore were going to keep sparring, but Professor McGonagall stood, and no one spoke over Minerva McGonagall. “This is not our decision to make, either way.”

“Minerva?” Dumbledore blinked.

“Lord Black is Mr. Potter’s legal guardian as of this morning. You have informed him about the blood ward and it is his right to factor that into his family’s plans as much as he does or does not choose. Lord Black could take Harry home to his grandfather’s house and raise the same wards Arcturus did that kept Death Eaters out the entire war, or he could stick a Fidelius on a Muggle condo, or he could run away to America like he used to threaten to do in the worst of his teenage melodrama, or he could even move in with Harry’s Muggle relatives, cast some extendable charms on a broom cupboard to make it a flat, and be done with it. Either way, it is no concern of ours.

“Come along. The Headmaster has duties to attend to.” Dumbledore rose from his seat, but McGonagall kept talking. “I recommend that you use one of our family rooms to discuss safety measures before you leave the bounds of Hogwarts.” McGonagall swept for the stairs, everyone watching her go. “Come along!” She snapped, and everyone fell in line.

Harry stared wide-eyed at her back. Draco must have looked the same because they saw one another and giggled. McGonagall looked over her shoulder and gave them a smirk.

“That was wicked, McGonagall.” Lord Black said.

“I do have my moments, Lord Black.”

He groaned. “You’re not going to call me that forever, are you?”

“Until you least expect it.” When McGonagall led them up the stairs instead of down, father cleared his throat. He trusted the privacy of the family rooms outside Slytherin. McGonagall didn’t turn to acknowledge father, but she said, “I thought we’d use the family room on the seventh floor. Does that suit you, young Mr. Malfoy?”

There was no—oh, The Come and Go Room. There would be no portraits eavesdropping there. “That sounds perfect, Professor.” His parents accepted his judgment.

Mother filled the walk with aimless questions to Professor McGonagall about how the Triwizard Tournament had changed the year. Draco fell into step beside Harry. “How did your conversation go?”

“Well, apparently your mum can talk like a Gryffindor when she needs to.” Draco scrunched his nose. “Don’t look so grossed out. Siri says she sent him a letter and convinced him to come in.”

“Of course she handled matters perfectly, Potter. She’s my mother. Tell me about the conversation.”

“Well, Siri had to agree to meet your mum at all, and—”

“Between you and Black, Potter. Not between them.”

“Oh.” Harry blushed. “It was good.”

“Everything you hoped for?”

“Better. Siri said… he’s not okay. And that that’s okay. He said he’s trying to get himself sorted, but whatever comes next, we’ll face it together. And we’ll decide it together.”

Draco really would have preferred a definite plan, but Potter looked so baffled and happy that he let it slide.

McGonagall walked back and forth between the blank spot in the seventh-floor corridor three times and a door appeared to a family room done up in tasteful neutrals. Black looked mortally offended that the castle had a single secret he hadn’t known, while Draco’s parents just blinked like a dozen different stories they’d been told were now falling into place.

There would be no honest, unrestrained conversation with Minerva McGonagall in the room, so left them at the doorway with the excuse that she had some paperwork that really must be done today. “Forgive me, but I’ll need to leave you alone for half an hour.”

“Of course, Deputy Headmistress,” Mother said. “We thank you for sparing us as much time as you already have.”

McGonagall left and, somehow, things got tenser. Mother had no patience for that and if she were the sort of woman to roll her eyes, she would have. Instead, she settled on the edge of a chair between the opposing sofas that her husband and cousin chose, each man leaving a spot for their son. Harry dropped to the bench that completed the square and there was nothing for Draco to do but join him.

“To begin with the most pressing matter, I recommend you move to Castle Black since it has been impenetrable for 1,500 years. However, if you would prefer not to return home, I suggest Wildwood Cottage. The wards have held since it was a literal cottage nearly a thousand years ago, and no one would think to look for you at a dowry property in Cornwall that our family so loathed my mother snuck it into my marriage contract just to be rid of it. It is little known, so it would be easy to make unplottable. Perhaps most importantly to you, the house bears no trace of Aunt Walburga.”

“Thank fuck.”

“Siri.” Harry scolded.

“Oh, She’s awful, Harry.”

“She was a difficult woman,” mother agreed.

Black snorted.

“As for a secret keeper, which I assume Dumbledore will insist on at some point, I would recommend myself. However, I imagine Dumbledore wouldn’t allow such a thing.” Draco straightened in offense. “It’s all right, darling. Dumbledore is still in possession of enough of his faculties that even if he believed we were leaving the Dark Lord, he knows we would not simply replace him with another.”

Harry whipped around to look at Draco. Ah, apparently a change in allegiance hadn’t been clear.

“If it comes down to one of Dumbledore’s loyalists as the secret keeper, the Deputy Headmistresses would do well, though I would prefer Malcolm McGonagall.”

“He was one of the lawyers?” Sirius asked.

“The one who didn’t find you charming,” Father answered.

“Why him?”

“Because if you had not been amenable to my plans, he would have been the one to take custody of Harry.”

“What?” That conveniently distracted Harry from staring a hole in Draco’s head.

“He adores Harry,” Mother continued, “loathes Dumbledore, and bears the added burden of legal oaths that would likely kill him before he could speak the secret, should things reach that point.”

Black made a noise that could only be considered a squeak. Oh, when mother said Blacks were territorial, it wasn’t an exaggeration. Sirius had jealousy writ all over his face at the thought of anyone else guarding his godson.

“It’s not a clever choice,” Draco said. “Asking a lawyer to be a secret keeper is common sense, so people will be able to guess that it’s him. But he’s steady. And he loves Harry.” Harry blushed.

“He does not.”

“He thinks you’re daft and impetuous, but he does.”

“Malcolm McGonagall as secret keeper then, should one be needed.” Mother said. “We will still retreat to Malfoy Manor for the weekend to discuss our plans and steps forward. That will give you time to visit both Castle Black and Wildwood cottage to see if either is to your tastes.”

“I told Harry we’d make decisions together.”

“And you may do so if there is a decision to be made. We don’t even know if Castle Black will permit you entry, so loyal was it to grandfather. And perhaps Wildwood Cottage has remained plottable because it won’t take the spells necessary to strike it from maps. If it turns out that both are options, you can check Harry out for an afternoon and then make your choice together.”

Something about the conversation passed Draco entirely by and Lord Black slid down in his seat, just staring at Mother. Mother said not a word, just showed the most expression Draco had seen her show to someone who wasn’t him or father.

“Why are you doing this, Cissi, honestly?”

“I told you, Siri—”

“Tell me again. You agree with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

Mother’s spine straightened even more, and Draco leaned forward. He knew that expression meant the full force of his mother’s intelligence was about to be brought to bear.

“I agree that our world needs to be protected from Muggles, our culture is being destroyed by Muggleborns who care nothing for it, and our children are being taught Ministry propaganda instead of truth. The rising generation is being reared to be nothing but mindless puppets who have no concept of Dark and Light and no concept of magic beyond the limited confines that might be taught in a Ministry-approved book that seeks weakness in us all. We live in a world where the Potters’ Will was disregarded, the Boy Who Lived was left with magic-hating Muggles who, by the grace of Merlin, did not manage to abuse him into an obscurus powerful enough to break the Statute of Secrecy and end the world. It was chance and fate that led Draco across young Harry at a moment when he was willing to speak, and I am not yet so prideful as to discard the will of Fate.

“I am doing this because I am tired, cousin. I am tired of mediocrity, of letting our world stagnate and fade to placate those whose magic is too weak to enact change or whose wills are too weak to try. My darling Draco suggested that instead of following one lord who seeks bloodshed or the other who has pursued placation, we could shape the world instead.”

Black leaned leans forward, hands on his knees. “I want to say that sounds like Black pride, but if anyone could do it, it’s you.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Minerva went back to her office fully accepting that she couldn’t leave the Malfoys and Potter-Blacks alone long enough to devise anything more than their next steps. Albus would be furious enough that she’d led them someplace where Hogwarts wouldn’t tattle. Furthermore, leaving Lucius Malfoy and Sirius Black alone in a room together tended to end in bloodshed. Minerva trusted Narcissa to at least cover the high points of the conversation before things devolved into violence.

That left Minerva with neither the time nor the inclination to sink into grading or do any real reading, but there was a half-sorted stack of names sitting on the corner of her desk. Minerva had gone to bed after she’d sent her letter to Narcissa, and woken to the woman’s pointed invitation to a neutral location. Every day since had been filled with plotting until the Malfoys appeared at Hogwarts’ front gate with a newly-liberated Sirius Black.

Running a particularized sorting spell seemed precisely the sort of thing that would let Minerva feel as though she was getting things done when really, she was just staring at her ceiling debating what ought to be done next.

Minerva shuffled the written pages away from the blank ones still awaiting unsorted names. The professors had been last ones written, and Minerva’s eyes immediately caught her own name, as every human being was wont to do.

But then she paused.

The sorting spell was set to alphabetical – her preferred method of organization – and the list of professors went from McGonagall, Minerva to Pince, Irma. Moody, Alastor should have been next. How strange that the list should categorize him by his first—no, Alastor, Moody was not at the top of the list either. Minerva scanned through the names looking for what must be Alastor’s true birth name, but there was nothing.

She read the list again, murmuring each name under her breath and placing a checkmark beside them to be sure her eyes hadn’t simply skipped him over. But she hadn’t.

Minerva’s first thought was that Alastor must have found a way to keep himself from appearing on a ward search. He was the man most likely to let his paranoia keep him off the books, even for a spell he should not have known the specifics of. (Moody was too prone to fly off the handle, to attack a Wizard for being ‘dark’ to be trusted with the method of speaking to rune stones.)

Minerva McGonagall did not leap to conclusions. She did not formulate hypotheses without all the relevant data.

Instead, she laid out the stack of already sorted names to the left, the ward’s list in the center, and a blank stack of paper to the right. She cast the modified sorting spell with all the care she showed on the First Year’s first day of Transfiguration and waited.

She did not pace.

She did not panic.

She sat in her chair and breathed while the spell sorted through the two lists of names. It would find those who had not already been sorted then arrange them alphabetically so the quill could write.

It took an age—no, it took seven minutes for the spell to sort and alphabetize. That was a perfectly acceptable amount of time since it had to scan through two entire lists. There was nothing to be fret over. She did not care that the most likely explanation was Alastor Moody being a paranoid bastard who enjoyed making her life difficult. All Minerva cared about were long, slow breaths, into her lungs and out again.

In truth, Minerva was grateful she did not have to hold her peace all that long. First was Ailes, Irene (a reporter for the Daily Prophet), then Bones, Amelia, and Bones, Artura (a niece and junior Auror, terrible transfiguration scores but made up for it in Charms), Bagman, Ludovic, and Crouch, Bartemius, Sr., and Crouch, Bartemius, Jr.

Minerva blinked. Then blinked again. Then took the paper out from beneath the quill mid-word and stared at both names to make sure her tired eyes weren’t playing tricks.

She waited through Lovegood, Xenophilius, and Maypole, Margaret (Bagman’s new secretary), and Pills, Hardovan (something Ministry, though he’d been frightfully dull and she hadn’t cared), to know that Moody, Alastor had not been misplaced on the list.

Minerva McGonagall did not panic and she did not act rashly. She was competent enough to know that minus one Alastor Moody and plus one dead Death Eater meant imposter.

Minerva did not storm out of her office, find the Death Eater masquerading as Moody and tear him limb from limb. She spent half a moment contemplating checking with Harry’s map, but that would lead to a hundred worse complications and the Death Eater already had enough child hostages in this school.

Her next thought was to go to Albus… Albus, who had spent months duped by a duplicate of his old friend. Albus, who hadn’t checked the wards/ Worse, there was a possibility that Albus would have her delay for the chance to discover the fake Moody’s plan. This was a situation when Albus’ dramatic planning wasn’t permitted. Things were complicated enough since it was a Friday afternoon at a bloody school. Children were everywhere and Minerva had no idea where the false Moody was.

Minerva released a breath and, with it, her rage. Anger wouldn’t serve anyone.

She was Minerva bloody McGonagall. She always knew what to do.

Minerva didn’t pause as she made her way back to the ‘family meeting room’ where the Malfoys and Potter-Blacks were talking things over. She didn’t hesitate at the stairs that would have taken her to Albus.

Their relationship being what it was, Sirius took one look at Minerva’s face and leaped out of his chair, wand drawn. “What happened?”

“I need you two to pick a fight.”

“Us?” Potter gestured between himself and young Malfoy. The poor boy looked nauseous, worried that he wouldn’t be able to manage it. (Gryffindor/Slytherin friendships always were the strangest, most adorable things.)

“No.”

Lord Malfoy understood. “Wouldn’t a fight between Lord Black and I rather undercut the point of today, Professor?”

“The point of today has changed. I need the both of you to storm out of this room in a screaming match that gets the attention of every person in this building. I want students huddled on the Entrance Hall stairs watching like you’re about to have a duel that will go down in infamy.”

Narcissa rose with fluid grace. “Shall I be longsuffering about having to mediate this inter-family strife?” Her features softened with exhaustion but still held a tightness in her jaw.

“Whatever drags it out and makes the whole mess more dramatic and demanding.”

“Do you need us to have any specific sort of argument, or shall we go with the standard ‘Slytherins are untrustworthy and evil, and Gryffindors are naïve and reckless?”

“Can you manage that loudly?”

“Minerva.” Sirius gave a wicked grin. “Don’t insult us.”

“How will we know when it’s gone on long enough?” Narcissa asked.

“You’ll know. As for you two,” Minerva turned to the boys, “you stay here.”

“Professor!”

“No, Mr. Potter. I need you and Mr. Malfoy to stay in this room.”

“Headmistress—”

“I would prefer to keep you with them, Narcissa, but you’d be missed.”

“Then send them to a common room.”

“Which, Mr. Malfoy? In whose house do you think they’d be safe?”

Narcissa sighed. “Have we reached that point, then?”

“We are closer than I’d like.”

“What if someone comes in?” Draco interrupted before Harry could demand to be in on the action. “The door doesn’t lock. I’ve tried before.”

“Us being there can make the fight worse.” Potter pointed out. “It’s us they’d be fighting over anyway.”

“She’s worried we’ll get hurt, Potter.” Draco nudged him. “She’s asking our parents to distract everybody so she can do something dangerous, and she doesn’t want the dangerous thing getting us before she gets it.”

Minerva couldn’t help the words. “You look terribly like your mother.” And truly, when the boy was being fiercely clever instead of whining dreadfully, he did.

“Thank you.” Draco meant it.

“Can we help you sneak up on the dangerous person, Minerva? Save you the trouble?” Merlin be praised, Sirius Black was recommending that someone sneak. She didn’t think he had it in him.

“I don’t know where they are. Your distraction will draw them out, and when their eyes are on you, they’re not on me.”

“Is it the argument or the players that will draw them out, Professor?” Lucius asked.

“Both.”

“Would, perhaps, they be drawn out by Sirius Black holding court on the Hogwarts lawn? Or by Lucius Malfoy roaming about these esteemed halls unmolested?”

“They’d have to know you’re here, and you were both far too quiet for that.”

“Can’t you just summon them?” Harry asked. “Like, Professor Flitwick tugged at the wards to let you know he needed to talk to you, and Dumbledore had Fawkes send us a note today. You’re Professor McGonagall. Can’t you just say you need them in your office and it’s urgent?”

“I haven’t summoned them before.”

“Deviations from the routine can be suspicious, Pup. Particularly when it’s someone who wouldn’t normally be summoned. Which means…” Sirius tilted his head and brought his Black cleverness to bear, but it was Narcissa who got there first.

“A professor. Who?” There were occasions when Gryffindors were much easier to work with. Ask Remus and Sirius to have a screaming match in the Entrance Hall and they would’ve been down there already tearing one another’s hair out. Include a Slytherin and everything got complicated. (Not worse, just complicated.)

“Moody,” Minerva said. The Malfoys stiffened. How much their reaction was at the unpredictable dark wizard hunter and how much was a parent’s rage at the man who had been bullying their son since the start of the year, she couldn’t tell.

“Well then, I should just get the map.” Harry steamrolled the tension.

“The what?” Harry froze with a blush, his brain catching up with his tongue. But, of course, he steeled his shoulders and said, “The Marauder’s Map,” like it wasn’t a secret.

“You have it?” Sirius might as well have been told Christmas was tomorrow.

“Yeah. The twins nicked it from Filch’s office and thought it might do me good.”

“Pardon me,” Narcissa said, “what is the ‘Marauder’s Map?’”

“Oh, it’s uh…”

Sirius grinned. “We made a map of the school that keeps track of everything and everyone in real time.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Where the staircases are, who’s in which broom cupboard, and most importantly to our teenage minds: where Filch and Mrs. Norris were patrolling. Didn’t know about this room though, so, well done, Draco.”

“Thank you.” His answer was autonomic since he was more concerned with glowering at Harry. “This is how you avoid getting in trouble for everything. You just don’t get caught in the hallways.”

“Sure. The map.”

Draco opened his mouth to demand what on earth that hesitation implied, but Minerva was on a schedule. “To Gryffindor and back, Mr. Potter. Fast as your legs can carry you, no stopping to examine, no chit-chat, no explanations to Mr. Weasley or Ms. Granger, no delays. Down the hall and back again.”

“On my life, Professor.”

“Yes, Mr. Potter,” she intoned against his jaunty smile, “It is.”

Harry sprinted out of the room, leaving the rest of them in silence. “I don’t imagine that you’ll tell us the specifics about what happened in the last twenty minutes to make you consider Alastor Moody a threat worthy of this response instead of a beloved ally?” Lucius asked.

“Alastor has never been beloved.”

“You could have fooled me.”

“I respect his zeal, but I was an Auror once too, and the pursuit of the guilty cannot come at the expense of justice. Then there is no point to any of it.”

“I didn’t—” Draco stopped.

“Yes, Mr. Malfoy?”

“Apologies, Professor.” He tucked his hands behind his back, like a little nobleman at a party. “I didn’t know you’d been an Auror.”

“She was a rising star,” Sirius said, sprawled back in his chair, chin propped on his fist like a lazy centerfold. Draco didn’t ask why, but his curiosity was writ all over his face. (He was still young enough that he couldn’t keep his emotions contained all the time.)

“Corruption and laziness, Mr. Malfoy. Two sins I cannot abide. Worse, every time I filed a quite detailed complaint – which was every time – my superiors were forced to act on them since my complaints were always substantiated by damning, actionable evidence. They were left with a choice: a force of absurd devils they knew, or one Junior Auror who refused to break.”

“You were fired?” Young Mr. Malfoy sounded like he couldn’t believe anyone would dare, which she appreciated.

“Almost. But then Albus came to visit and three minutes in, I resigned.”

“Are you… sorry, Professor.”

“Out with it, Mr. Malfoy.”

“Do you regret it?”

“Yes. Not for the work itself, but my husband was an Auror. Had I stayed, we would have had more time.”

A Malfoy came ingrained with enough politeness not to squeak out, “Husband?” like Draco so obviously wanted to. He might have found a polite way of asking the question sideways, like Severus was so fond of doing, but Harry burst into the room in a sweaty heap, and they had more pressing matters.

With a blink, the room gave Harry a table, upon which he spread out the map. Through sheer force of will, Minerva shoved aside the spell crafter in her to focus on scanning for names. Rather than explain the mechanics, Harry tucked and folded the map to a specific section of the castle, then flipped over several flaps that must have been levels of the corner tower where Moody had chosen his rooms and the adjoining office.

Potter paused. “Huh, that’s weird.”

“Mr. Potter?”

“Mr. Crouch is waiting for Moody in his office.”

Minerva stopped breathing.

“Draco,” Harry twisted the map around so Moody’s office was before him, “keep an eye on that office and the hallway. If Crouch is waiting for him then Moody must be coming back. Do you want me to find him before he gets there, Professor, or should we just wait for his meeting to start?”

“We don’t need to wait, Harry.”

“Were you going to ask him about Crouch?” Harry’s eyes went wide. “Is this about the Tournament?”

“No.”

“Professor?”

“That is not Alastor Moody.”

“No, it’s Barty Crouch. Well, Bartemius.”

“Junior.”

“What?” Lucius’ voice cracked in the silence

“I don’t know how, but if you were to walk into that office, you would see Alastor Moody standing before you.”

“But the map says, Barty Crouch. And the map is never wrong.” Harry hadn’t caught on.

“Transfiguration?” Sirius asked, an Auror standing before her.

“Not unless he’s got another spell over the top keeping me from feeling it.”

“Potion then.”

“The amount of Polyjuice necessary—” Lucius tried to object, hoping it wasn’t real.

“Large, but manageable,” Narcissa said.

“Particularly since Alastor has been keeping to his rooms.”

“Are you certain, Professor?” Lucius asked, more respect than he’d had since his Third Year.

“I asked the wards.”

Silence rang for a moment.

“What did the wards tell you?” Trust Narcissa to get them back on track.

“They gave me a list of everyone within the castle’s wards from October 30th through November 1st. Alastor Moody was not on that list, but Bartemius Crouch, Jr. was.”

“Is there a possibility—”

“Barty Crouch, Sr. was there too. And now, the map says it as well.”

Now, the party had all the facts. The next step was to see how the risk in trusting them played out.

Narcissa had brought Sirius home, yes. She had gifted Harry Potter protection beyond what any member of the Light had managed. There was no way to interpret that other than courting the favor of the Boy Who Lived. But to court Harry and play both sides was not the same as helping Minerva McGonagall catch a rogue Death Eater. Catch a man who had managed to get past Alastor Moody and trick his way into Hogwarts under Dumbledore’s nose. That kind of deceit would have required help.

If the Malfoys offered knowing aid to capture Barty Crouch, that would mean declaring allegiance. That was a dangerous thing to do with a Mark on Lucius’ arm that must be growing blacker by the day, just like Severus’ was.

Narcissa didn’t give Minerva enough time to worry. “Now that we know he’s in his office, luring him out with a fight seems an unnecessary risk. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about Hogwarts’ wards to suggest whether he can be subdued from outside the room or if we might have to storm it.”

“A bottleneck is risky too.” Sirius pointed out. He and Narcissa bounced ideas back and forth, while Lucius said not a word until the plan was done and his relatives glanced to be sure he would play his part. Lord Malfoy’s expression changed not at all. He simply took his wife’s hand, kissed her knuckles, and said they best be on with it.

Somehow, organizing the strike was the most difficult part of snatching up the Moody imposter. Lucius simply knocked on the door and stood far enough away that the fake Moody could get a long look at the pretty picture he made leaning on his cane. Lucius was prepared to do some taunting, but the mere sight of him was enough to make fake Moody step out of his door and get caught in a pincer of curses from Sirius and Minerva at opposite ends of the hallway. An Incarcerus charm, Mr. Potter’s invisibility cloak – which young Mr. Malfoy looked furious over – and a walk to the only portion of the dungeon that had ever officially been used as a dungeon, and they were done. Harry was sent to fetch Albus and Draco to fetch Severus (who brought the strongest truth potion he had).

And then, they waited.

The man could be woken, but there was nothing to be done about his transformation until the Polyjuice wore off. Once Severus verified the false Moody had the potion in his flask, Albus tried to send Minerva off to scour the fake Moody’s rooms looking for Alastor. However, it took all her glowers to keep Sirius and Severus from speaking to one another. This day didn’t need their dramatics accidentally releasing another Death Eater.

(“Alastor would willingly wait a few more hours so we could get the truth.”

“My dear Minerva, I am sure we could—”

Her eyebrow climbed high enough that Albus cut himself off before she could start telling all and sundry about how she’d been worried about things since the beginning while Albus had been the one suggesting they wait.)

Then Albus tried to send the Malfoys home, which Narcissa hadn’t dignified with a response. She just kept quizzing the boys on what they’d learned this year and Minerva trusted that under Narcissa’s tutelage Harry was going to end the year with the best grades he’d ever managed.

Within an hour, the spare leg clattered down and the false eye thumped to the floor and rolled to Albus’ feet.

They sat in the squishy silence it left behind until Lucius murmured, “I apologize for any doubts I might have had, Headmistress.”

“Accepted. Shall we begin?”

Minerva cast the enervate, and before the man could open his eyes Severus seized his cheeks and shoved the bottle of veritaserum behind his teeth.

“Hello, Barty.” Dumbledore intoned.

He flicked his tongue like the toad lurking beneath his skin. “What gave me away?”

Minerva put her hand on Albus’ shoulder and stopped him from wasting time on a verbal dance. “We’re not here to answer his questions.”

“Oh, but you’ll have plenty to answer for, won’t you?” Crouch looked to Lucius. “You betrayed him, you scum.” He hissed and writhed against his bonds with the strength of a man who had been well fed. “You denied him!”

“I was Imperius-ed.”

“Don’t lie to me, Malfoy. I know you. I know everything you did.”

“And what did you do?” Minerva asked.

Crouch’s eyes and his answer were all for Lucius. “I was loyal!”

“Loyal to a corpse?”

“I found him.”

“You found a shade.” Snape snapped.

“A shade no longer.”

“What do you mean?” Harry stumbled. Minerva mentally swore. It hadn’t crossed her mind that Sirius wouldn’t realize Harry should be removed. And if Harry stayed, so would Draco.

Crouch leered as well as he could. “He’s coming for you, Potter. He’ll take the—” Crouch choked. “He’ll take the—” he choked again, blood bubbling up over his lips. Crouch seized.

Snape darted forward and cast a dozen spells nearly at once, purging the veritaserum from his system.

“Severus?” He swore and slit open his Moody’s oversized clothes. Crouch’s chest was covered in a spiderweb of black ink. The tendrils burrowed in his chest like little daggers. With each moment, they spread higher and deeper, wrapping around Crouch’s throat as blood seeped from the hundred holes in his skin.

“What…”

Severus peeled back Crouch’s left sleeve and there was the Dark Mark, the snake in its mouth forked into a dozen serpents, then a dozen again, and again, each writhing as they killed Bartemius Crouch for opening his mouth to share Voldemort’s secret.

“Siri, what was… that shouldn’t have happened! What was that!” Sirius swept Harry to the door, too late to do any good and half-stumbling because he couldn’t keep his eyes off the gurgling body.

“Was that Voldemort? Siri? Did he kill Crouch? But Crouch was helping him? How did he kill him! Siri, what was that!”

“You need to leave, Harry.”

“But Siri, how did that—is he coming back? Is he back already?”

“Harry!” Sirius knelt before him and gave Harry a shake. “It’s all right!”

“No, it’s not! Voldemort was inside another professor! What am I supposed to do!”

“Sirius, take Harry to my office,” Dumbledore said. Sirius nodded, desperate to have someone who knew what to do.

“Draco?” Harry called over his shoulder in a panic. “Draco? Where’s Draco?”

Young Malfoy stumbled out of his parents’ arms. “I’m here, Harry.”

“Are you all right?”

“Am I—” Young Mr. Malfoy swallowed back his incredulity. “I’m fine.”

“Is your dad okay?”

“What?”

Everyone stopped at that question.

“It was his Dark Mark, Draco! His Dark Mark ate him. Is your dad okay?”

Draco’s smile was the sweet, soft one Minerva had seen so rarely on his mother’s face. “He’s fine, Harry. We’re all fine.”

“But your concern is well placed, Harry. Perhaps it is time that we thank the Malfoy family for their assistance and let them be on their way.”

Considering that Lucius Malfoy had just watched a fellow Death Eater be murdered by his Dark Mark after a potion forced him to speak, Minerva expected the man to flee to safer ground. Lucius Malfoy had done worse through his actions than Crouch had done through words. Unanticipated death via Dark Mark was a risk he was too clever to take.

But for reasons Minerva would never quite be able to understand, Lucius settled back in his chair, no care for the body cooling five feet from him. “Lord Black can take his son where he likes and soothe his worries, but I believe you and I have rather more pressing concerns, Dumbledore.”

“Do we?”

“Do we not?”

“There is a body in your dungeon, Headmaster. I assumed that, as an outside observer, you would want me to remain here to add my testimony to the Aurors you are no doubt about to summon.” The room was so silent Minerva would swear she could hear the Black Lake lapping against the castle’s foundations. “That is what you were about to do, wasn’t it?” Dumbledore cleared his throat, but Lucius spoke first. “No, silly me, you were about to rescind your authority to Professor McGonagall. She is the only member of your staff who has any experience with this sort of thing.”

“This sort of thing?”

“Tracking down whoever put the body there instead of doing the putting. We, all of us, have our own skill on that front.”

“I imagine the Aurors will be the ones tracking the killer.”

“But you are the Headmaster who chose to bring an unbalanced, retired Auror to teach in the first place. And you are the one who didn’t notice your old friend had been replaced for months, and you are the one who welcomed an Azkaban escapee into this castle where he had unfiltered access to children and tortured my son!” Narcissa put a hand on his shoulder and Lucius drew a breath. “The Deputy Headmistress, however, is the one who discovered it. Her judgment is to be held in the highest regard, while yours is in the highest doubt.”

“There is a Death Eater in my school, and you would have me step down and let Fudge pretend it never happened?”

In the empty space of their arguing, Narcissa glid across the room. “Draco, darling. Take Harry to the Great Hall.”

“Mother—”

“I suggest you gather those who have had run-ins with Crouch in the guise of Moody. The Aurors will no doubt have questions for every one of his students to be sure that he has not done any lasting mental or physical damage.” Which meant they were all going to be interrogated about Dark inclinations. There would be no telling if the Aurors would twist the children’s words to protect Dumbledore or throw him under the bus to keep word of Voldemort under wraps until they started asking questions. But somehow, this would be made into the Slytherin’s fault. They needed to be prepared.

“Yes, mother.” Harry stared at them all like he couldn’t believe they were being sent from the room instead of everyone breaking into a full-blown panic like he deserved to have.

Draco braced himself, then took Harry by the hand. “Come on, Harry. We have work to do.”

They were scared children off to protect their fellows when that was Minerva’s place. She should have done more.

“Boys,” Minerva interrupted. “Don’t let anyone point a wand at you. I don’t care who they are.”

“I’ll look out for him, Professor.” Draco declared.

“I trust you.” And wonder of wonders, she did.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Draco nudged Harry towards the Slytherin Common Room on their way to the Great Hall, but Draco froze outside the door, unwilling to leave Harry alone in the hallway where anything could happen to him. He couldn’t believe Professor McGonagall had willingly sent Harry off on his own when someone was running around the building who wanted to kill him.

“I could go in?” Harry asked.

“No outsider has been in the Slytherin Common Room in 700 years.”

Harry pursed his lips.

“You did something with that damn cloak, didn’t you?”

“This probably isn’t the time.”

Point. Having information that would make him want to kill Harry wouldn’t help the situation. He dragged Harry around a corner and insisted he put on the cloak and stay tucked away.

“Will do.”

“Promise.”

“I promise.”

“I told McGonagall—”

“I’ll stay right here and wait for you under my cloak. I promise.”

“So help me, Potter—”

“Just go.” Harry pushed him towards the Common Room. Draco paused outside the door and smoothed out his expression before striding in to collect Blaise and Pansy, her irritated and him with the study materials still in his hands since Draco hadn’t given him a moment to put them down. He hauled them both around the corner and started to panic at the utter lack of Harry.

“Here, Draco,” came from behind them and only Draco’s knew knowledge about the cloak let him catch the flicker as Harry tucked it into his bag.

“What took you so long?”

Harry opened his mouth and halfway through forming a word he switched to, “Sorry, Draco.” Obviously deciding that arguing with Draco was not the right choice.

The apology didn’t soothe him at all. Draco took Harry by the hand and dragged him down the hall, Blaise and Pansy in their wake.

“Why did you tell everyone to get to the Great Hall? And why are we following you there?” Pansy demanded.

“Because I don’t want you on your own when it happens.”

“When what happens?” Draco glanced to be sure they were alone, then nudged them all into a clump. “You need to remain calm.”

“Draco, you’re scaring me.”

“Barty Crouch, Jr. the dead Death Eater, has been Polyjuiced as Professor Moody the entire school year.” It was sheer force of will that kept either of them from shouting.

All the blood drained from Pansy’s face. “What?”

“Professor McGonagall figured it out this afternoon. Mother and father are here with Lord Black–“

“What?”

“More important topic.” Pansy disagreed, but she let him continue. “Professor McGonagall asked them for help, and the four of them found him and took him by surprise. They called for Dumbledore and Professor Snape, and waited for the Polyjuice to break.”

“What did he say?”

“Under veritaserum, he said that the Dark Lord is no longer a shade. But then the Dark Mark…” Draco swallowed.

“It killed him.” Potter was pale and Draco could feel him shaking beneath his hands, but he still dared to speak. Draco dragged Harry closer.

“It killed him.” He affirmed.

“How?” Bless Blaise’s ruthless practicality. “If the Dark Mark could do that to people for betraying him, half the Death Eaters would be dead.”

“We don’t know.”

“Is—” Blaise glanced at Harry, unsure what the golden Gryffindor knew.

“My father is currently trying to oust Dumbledore from his position for having an escaped Death Eater at his school and not knowing anything about it. He was insisting Dumbledore call the Aurors when we left. Mother told us to get everyone to the Great Hall to make it easy when the Aurors came.”

“Should you be telling us this? Won’t they wonder how we know?” Blaise asked.

“They’re going to find some way to blame us anyway,” said Pansy.

“They’re going to try. But you can’t protect yourself from what you don’t know. Now, we have to get up there.” They joined the shuffle of students on their way from the dungeons to the Great Hall. One or two broke off to Hufflepuff to warn their friends before the inevitable announcement, while a few took the risk to go to Ravenclaw. They left it to the other houses to tell Gryffindor.

They folded themselves into the Slytherins already in the Great Hall. Hermione dragged Longbottom over to cross House lines and ask Draco what was going on, but Blaise managed to distract her after Draco told her not yet. The eavesdropping Slytherins took it well enough, either trusting Draco or not wanting to doubt him now and pay for it later. The Hufflepuffs had the sense to see the Slytherins were wound up, and that never happened without cause. The Ravenclaws could do their studying anywhere, though they complained about interruptions to their workflow. Of course, the Gryffindors complained enough for everyone. The longer the wait went on, the student body got twitchier and twitchier, ready to leave any moment just to be done with it.

So, of course, the first adult that entered the room was not a Professor coming to explain things, it was the Minister for Magic. He strode the door then froze the moment he realized he’d just stormed into a room full of children. Whispers erupted across the Hall, and the man had never had the sense to leave a crowd wanting more. “Hello… children. Don’t you worry. Everything is fine.”

The crowd straightened as half of them murmured, “Was it not fine already?”

“Don’t worry! The Death Eater is dead!”

There was a chorus of, “Death Eater!” and the stone-faced Auror stuck following the Minister looked to the ceiling for strength. Like a wave, the students looked to members of their house who wrangled everyone there in the first place, those students looked to the ones who had warned them, then to Slytherin House, until all eyes were on Draco.

There was no hiding Draco after a response like that, and the Minister perked up at the sight of him. He strode around the edge of the room, his Auror several paces behind like he didn’t want to be associated with this. The Minister should be asking his Head Auror if she needed anything from him, not trying to play politics with Lucius’ son instead of the man himself. The man’s very presence was a mess, so he stood there awkwardly for a moment before he led off with, “Your parents are well.”

Draco blinked, sheer force of will keeping him from raising an eyebrow. As far as the Minister knew, Draco had no reason to think his parents were anything other than well. “Thank you, Minister.”

Fudge cleared his throat. He didn’t know quite what to do. “And you are… nothing happened to…” Fudge smacked his lips. “I’ll tell him you’re well, shall I?”

“Thank you, Minister.”

Fudge gave him an awkward nod and roamed back to the Entrance Hall. Harry leaned into Draco’s side, baffled.

Pansy ignored useless government officials and murmured, “The Hufflepuffs said a whole hoard of Aurors arrived just before the Minister and went upstairs.”

“Hoard?”

“No accurate headcount, but Bones recognized her aunt.”

“The Head Auror,” Blaise said to Harry and Hermione.

“The Head Auror with enough Aurors to be described as a hoard.” Draco mocked.

“According to one of the reasonable Hufflepuffs.” Pansy corrected.

“Meaning it was actually a large number of Aurors and not just four and they were being dramatic.” Harry snorted at Draco calling anyone else dramatic. Draco flicked Harry and moved on. “You can’t keep things hidden with that many Aurors. And Fudge coming in here instead of storming to wherever Dumbledore is, means that it’s not a matter of covering up. The Aurors might actually be here to do their jobs.”

“Will wonders never cease.” Blaise drawled.

“But what was Fudge doing?” Harry asked.

“Panicking.”

“Because he can’t cover up a Death Eater pretending to be a professor?”

“Because he can’t cover up that they didn’t know about an Azkaban breakout.”

“The second in as many years,” Blaise added.

“And yes, Dumbledore will try to cover it up since Crouch was masquerading as a Professor, and goodness knows how many other students he abused while he was here.”

Harry went stone-faced. “You think he hurt other people?”

“I can’t be the only Slytherin he hated, Harry.”

“Professors shouldn’t be able to do that. It shouldn’t have mattered that Dumbledore thought he was Moody. You shouldn’t be scared of your grownups.”

“Harry…”

“You trust your Mum and Dad. And Hermione trusts hers. They’re Muggles who couldn’t understand half of what’s going on, but she trusts them. When I said I didn’t put my name in the Goblet, someone other than Draco and Hermione should’ve trusted me. It should’ve been the grownups.”

“McGonagall trusted you enough.”

“She figured it out. But why would Crouch have put my name in the Goblet? Why would Voldemort want me in this stupid Tournament?” The Slytherins all flinched. Harry rolled his eyes. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Draco took Harry’s hand in his, hidden behind the cover of the table. “You don’t have to figure it out alone.”

“You’re right, I’ve got more friends now.”

“And adults, you prat. You just said you should’ve been able to trust them, and now you can. McGonagall just proved herself smarter than Dumbledore.”

“Which anyone with sense ought to have already known.” Pansy pointed out.

“You’ve got Lord Black, you’ve got my Mum and Dad, and probably Professor Flitwick because he was the one with all the sense in the first place. You’ve got support.”

Whatever Harry might have said was cut off by a nudge from Blaise warning that two Aurors were striding down the aisle. Of course, they stopped before Harry. “Mr. Potter, may we speak with you for a moment?”

“Sure.” They stood there, waiting for Harry to join them but he stayed put like it didn’t cross his mind that they meant privately. One ushered Harry towards the door to the Great Hall, and Harry stayed put.

“I’m sorry, Sir. We were all told to stay in the Great Hall.”

“I’m sure an Auror’s request is enough reason to leave, Mr. Potter.”

“Not when it comes to McGonagall, sir. We were told to get to the Great Hall and stay there.”

“You’ll just be in the Entrance Hall outside.”

“I promised, Sir.”

“And you’re in the habit of keeping promises, are you?”

“I try.” Harry shrugged.

“Very well,” the other Auror interrupted her partner. “A privacy charm should be good enough. If you’ll just join us down this very table, still in the promised bounds of the Great Hall.”

“What would you like to discuss, ma’am?”

“That is best done under a privacy charm.”

“Maybe so, but I’d rather not.” The first Auror was about to lose his temper, while the other waved him quiet.

“Why?”

“It feels like skirting the rule on a technicality.” The second Auror crouched down like Harry was four years old, not a Fourth Year. “We’ll still be in the room, just like Professor McGonagall asked. We just have some questions that we need to ask you to help our investigation. You want to help the investigation, don’t you?”

“Well…” Harry hesitated. The only thing keeping Draco from taking over the conversation and stopping Harry from going off with the Aurors and giving something away was the firm press of Harry’s ankle against his own. “I just—I don’t see how I could. I’m a student.”

“Did you know I used to work with your godfather?” The first Auror asked, and Draco didn’t know how the man didn’t see the flash of anger behind Harry’s eyes.

It was more skill than Draco thought Potter possessed to smooth it out and ask, “Really?” like he cared.

“Yes. I could tell you all sorts of stories after we get these questions out of the way.”

“I’d like that. But McGonagall told me to stay here and not to talk to anyone.”

“She can’t have meant not to anyone, you’re already here talking to your friends.”

What a pathetic argument. But Potter shrugged like it was reasonable. “They’re not anyone, they’re my friends.”

Draco didn’t know what to do with this daft version of Harry. Though, it seemed neither did the Aurors. They just kept talking, trying to ask their questions without actually asking them, hoping that Harry might drop useful information that would justify their dragging him into a corner against his will.

“I’m sure you don’t want to bother your friends with my stories about your godfather.”

Harry blinked, thick like the worst Gryffindor in Potions. “Why wouldn’t I?” The Aurors sighed, and Harry’s bitten-back smirk was like a Lumos being cast.

Potter was playing with them. Not very well, but he was Harry Potter and these two Ministry employees had bought into Skeeter’s nonsense about Potter thriving on nothing but dumb luck. The longer Harry sat there and endured their talking, the longer Harry was giving everyone else not to be interrogated without a Professor present.

At least, Draco thought that was the extent of Harry’s machinations, then Malcolm McGonagall strode into the Great Hall like a hurricane and Draco realized that perhaps Harry had been paying attention during all those times someone had lectured to him about the law.

Both of the Aurors stiffened at the sight of him. “Auror Green. Auror Robards. Why are you speaking to my client without representation?”

“What?” The Auror’s voice cracked.

“Mr. Potter is my client.” The Aurors both just stood there, hopefully, some part of their training kicking in and pointed out that they’d just broken about fourteen different rules, all in front of unimpeachable witnesses who would happily turn over a memory to help the cause. “That means he is represented by counsel. Why are you speaking with him without me present?”

“Mr. Potter didn’t tell us!”

“Yes, I did,” Potter said, all big eyes, with the honesty of the stupid.

“He did,” Draco joined the chorus of affirmation.

“No, he didn’t!” The first Auror snapped.

“I did. I told you McGonagall told me not to talk to anyone.”

“Professor McGonagall!”

Harry looked at the Auror like he was the stupid one. “You thought I would call Professor McGonagall just by her surname? Who would do that?”

“A far stupider man than I,” Malcolm dropped, then ushered the Aurors towards the door. “Let us find your supervisor and discuss your flagrant disregard of proper procedure.”

“It was a misunderstanding.” They tried to cajole, but Mr. McGonagall wasn’t having it.

“Did you also misunderstand that Mr. Potter is underage and should not speak to an Auror without his guardian present?”

They didn’t have anything for that, so when Mr. McGonagall waved them towards the door, this time they went. He waited a moment and, with a twinkle in his eye, said, “Harry, if any other Auror enters this room, be specific when you tell them that every last one of you is a minor and none of you are allowed to speak.”

“Yes, sir.”

Draco kept his mouth shut until Mr. McGonagall had the Aurors out the door, prepared for whatever eavesdropping spell they’d used in the first place to know they needed to talk to Harry. “When did you call him?”

“I asked Dobby to get him when I was waiting for you in the hall.”

“That was…” Quite to Draco’s embarrassment, it was only now that he realized he’d been sitting there letting Harry Potter handle the problem. This was the first time Harry had been the one to manage things and Draco hadn’t even noticed he’d been sitting there, letting it happen, like Potter was competent enough to handle his own homework, let alone subvert an Auror interrogation.

“Draco?”

“I trust you.” Draco spat out, too confused to hold in his words for all they sounded like a question.

Harry gave Draco a smile he recognized from his own face when his friends were idiots, but he liked them just the same. “Yeah, you do.”

“I didn’t…”

“It’s okay, Draco. You’ll figure it out. Now, come on, we’ve got to guard the door.” Somehow, Draco’s hand had ended up in Harry’s. With a tug, Harry led them off, with Draco by his side.


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sunryder

Nerd, author, artist, and cookie addict.

27 Comments:

  1. I loved it ❤️Thanks for sharing!

  2. Terrific story!
    I did wonder for a while if Harry & Draco were actually going to manage to stop being quite so *teenage* (for want of a better term) about their relationship, because once or twice it did feel like they’d really gone too far. I suspect that says more about my attitude to arguments than anything else. Anyway, I trusted you as author & sure enough headway was made 🙂

    Harry is SO right about the grownups! They really should have been backing him up. It was awful to read about his distress at the beginning of the story. I felt quite emotional. Thank goodness for Draco!

    Great read. Thank you.

  3. Delightful. Had to snicker at Harry’s poor griffindor-ish acting. Poor Hermione is lucky not to have pulled out all her hair. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Oh my gosh!!! I loved how you characterized the two of them! It was absolutely hilarious to read. Very curious of the implications of Barty dying because of the mark! Thanks for sharing!!!

  5. Oh my goodness, I have to tell all my HP friends about this RIGHT NOW. This was SO AMAZING, not least of which because, yes! ADULTS! STEPPING UP! Poor Harry, so clueless… but honestly, Draco was just as clueless in his own way, gosh so cute.
    LOVED loved this, thank you so much for an amazing read! xxx

  6. This was such a good story! I love that Draco made the conscious decision to be better and his friends and family were there for him and chose him 😀

  7. Firewhiskey Reader

    Oh, I loved it!!! What a delight.

  8. Awesome. Thank you for this. I really enjoyed this universe you created and the people within it. so smart and sharp and funny and satisfying. Well Done You!

  9. That was delightful. Draco’s revelation was magnificent.

    Thank you

  10. Awesome

  11. I spent this entire fic giggling. Getting both Draco and Minerva povs was such a treat. There was so much sarcasm and sass and exasperated fondness. I really loved how a willingness to believe and protect Harry was all Hermione needed to decide the houses no longer mattered and Draco was her friend. And it was great to see some adults finally take an interest in Harry’s wellbeing.

  12. Wonderful story! I adored all of it. It’s great to know that they’ll have competant, not trying to get them to suicide, adult help from now on. I loved the Black-Malfoy team up and how you realistically redeemed those who needed it. The Draco-Blaise friendship was amazing, and I feel bad for Harry now since he’s stuck with Ron. Though, hopefully, not for long.

    Thanks!

  13. Ooh, love it! Great fresh take on GoF, and having BAMFs Narcissa and McGonagall is a definite plus. Very well done; thanks for sharing!

  14. I came into this story intrigued with your summary. That part didn’t disappoint at all, but the true delight was how you wrote the characters.
    I particularly liked your work with Draco, Blaise, and Pansy, and how your McGonagall finally woke up and began to actively protect her Gryffindors. I also really liked Malcom and Robert.
    Thank your for a great tale, I enjoyed it immensely!

  15. I loved Draco’s decision, Harry’s reaction, and the subsequent fight/make-up. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Loved your characterizations. Thanks for sharing

  17. This was beautiful and wonderful, thank you so much for sharing. My fav bit of your writing style for this part was when Min was going through the list. The pacing was wonderful, having the reader go through step by step with her. Great build up to a reveal we already knew but finally having Min figure it out was awesome.
    Loved getting to read this story. Thank you!!

  18. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
    Adults finally adulting is always great !

  19. This was awesome! Yay for adults actually stepping up and adulting! You did such a great jon with teenage characterization – I especually loved Blaise and Hermione in this, being helpful but also so exasperated and barely able to contain it with the Harry and Draco drama. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  20. Ah! Delightful. Really kept me reading and rolling and ramped up with the flow of events.

    Minerva’s insights and methods were stellar and I was so glad to see her HELP.

    The Family Malfoy was wonderful. Your representations of them all worked out deliciously.

    And Harry pulled it off in his own way . . . basically like he is wont to do.

    Thank you for this story!! It was great!

  21. OOO! I had so much fun with this!

  22. Oh, this was brilliant! And, damn, did you capture it wonderfully how tumultuous their relationship would be at the start, when they are still hormone-wrecked teenagers.

  23. This was so freaking brilliant, I am flailing. Harry’s machinations at the end, McGonagall’s sheer bad-assery, everything. this is a fic I’ll be reading again.

  24. This was truly lovely. Kudos. 😍

  25. I loved this! Good Slytherins, smart McGonagall – it was all great!

  26. A brilliant story.
    I loved Professor McGonagall taking steps to investigate and some of the other adults actually acting like adults.

  27. This was beautiful! I like the exploration of pureblood culture means from an innate knowledge viewpoint. It was hard sometimes to see them misunderstanding each other but also lovely to see them growing up and getting closer. Such a great story, thanks for sharing it with us!

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