Chapter Thirty Five – Pensieve, Parchment, Party

Harry wasn't tired enough to go back to bed and Hermione seemed agitated after their visit with Draco.

"Never a dull moment with Malfoy, is there?" Harry commented mildly.

"He's bloody annoying, exasperating, and impossible to understand," Hermione snapped. Harry nodded thoughtfully. She would never have to worry about a placid, predictable relationship with that one.

"Want to go up and use the Pensieve before McGonagall wakes up?" he asked. Hermione nodded and in short order they found themselves standing before the basin. Harry shook the vial experimentally and dumped it in.

Strangely, this memory took place outside, near the lake. Hermione popped into existence next to Harry. Dumbledore was absently conjuring handfuls of grain and scattering it on the lake for the ducks that greedily snapped up the treat. Snape, of course, stood beside him.

"Why didn't you bring the damned thing to me?" Snape said bitterly. "It was stupid of you to destroy it alone. You're lucky I was able to stop the curse before it took your whole arm. Or worse."

"Will you stop nagging me like a mother hen?" Dumbledore said impatiently, although he raised his withered hand and looked at it with a grimace. Harry realized with a start that the memory was recent—it must have been right after Dumbledore had destroyed the ring Horcrux. "I'm aware of my failings."

"No, I really don't think you are," Snape said with his usual sneer. "Next time you have the urge to traipse off after a Horcrux, you should bloody well take someone with you. If you don't trust me, then take your little Gryffindor hero. Isn't it past time you started letting him in on some of your secrets? The brat's nearly of age."

"I'm certain Harry would agree with you."

"Well, that would be a first, wouldn't it?" Snape's black eyes flashed.

"Why do you hate the boy so much?" Dumbledore asked tiredly and then held up a hand to forestall Snape's reply. "Never mind. I don't wish to get into another argument about Potters and purebloods and perceived wrongs. I thought your opinion had softened somewhat, after Sirius."

Snape rolled his eyes. "Not in regards to Potter. Frankly, I don't see why you fancy those Gryffindors so much, except for their insane propensity to race headlong into danger without a moment's thought for the consequences." Snape looked pointedly at Dumbledore's withered hand. "Rather like you, I suppose. Gryffindor to the core, are you not?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "Guilty as charged."

"Yes, well, as Headmaster, I would expect you to place a bit more value on some of the students in Houses other than your own."

"Several students joined 'my Gryffindors' last year, including some Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, I believe."

"Yes, well, Cho Chang was smitten with The Boy Who Lived and Luna Lovegood is hardly a prime example of a Ravenclaw. What of Slytherins? Are none of them are worthy to stand beside The Chosen One? Potter's opinion seems to be quite tainted in that regard."

"And who would you choose to stand beside Harry Potter against Voldemort? Frankly, most of your Slytherin students seem more likely to carry banners proclaiming Voldemort's imminent reign than stand up to prevent it."

"I've done my best—" Snape began.

"You've done your best to encourage the same purebood nonsense they believe Voldemort stands for!" Dumbledore snapped. Snape's face flamed.

"It isn't nonsense! My most talented students are purebloods—"

"As are the most imbecilic! If purity of bloodline equals talent, then how to you explain Crabbe and Goyle? Without young Malfoy's assistance, they would have been tossed out of school years ago!"

Snape sniffed. "They have the talent. They just do not apply themselves."

Dumbledore glared at him. "You are babbling nonsense. Explain Hermione Granger."

It was Snape's turn to scowl. "An aberration. Freak coincidence."

Hermione balled up her fists and punched Snape in the stomach. Her fist went right through the vaporous memory without effect, but Harry grinned, applauding the effort.

"Aberration. I'll give you an aberration, you horrible, small-minded—" Hermione began, but Harry hushed her in order to hear the rest of the memory. She folded her arms and glared daggers at Snape.

Dumbledore dragged his good hand through his hair in a credible imitation of Harry Potter.

"Enough! This discussion has not been resolved in over fifteen years."

Snape grinned evilly. "And yet you continue to bring it up."

"I keep hoping that you will see the error of your ways," Dumbledore said sadly.

"As do I," Snape replied with a superior air.

The two were silent for a time and Dumbledore went back to feeding the ducks. Finally, Snape asked, "Do you intend to go after another Horcrux?"

"Possibly."

"Do you agree that you will not go alone, next time?" Snape asked blandly. Dumbledore looked at him suspiciously.

"Out with it, man," he said. Snape shook his head.

"Not without your promise."

"Fine. I promise to take at least one other person on my next Horcrux hunt," Dumbledore said with finality.

"Excellent. Then, I may know where you can find one."

Dumbledore stopped feeding the birds and turned his full attention to Snape.

"There is a cave by the sea…"

The memory ended, likely because Harry knew the rest. He staggered to the window seat and sat down. Each memory seemed to have its own frisson of horror. Hermione sat next to him and took his hand.

"Snape arranged the visit to the cave. He also made sure I went with Dumbledore. So that I wouldn't be here to stop Malfoy. I was the only one that suspected what he was up to…"

"Except us," Hermione whispered. "We were here. We should have been able to stop him."

Harry shook his head. "I don't think you could have. Snape was helping him." He got to his feet. "We need to talk to Malfoy and find out what Snape knew."

"Why?" Hermione asked woodenly and pulled him back down. "What difference will it make except to satisfy your curiosity? We know what Draco did. We know what Snape did. Learning how it all played out won't change anything."

"Everything involving Snape is suspect. Didn't you tell me it was Snape that told Malfoy Hufflepuff's cup was at the Riddle house? Why did he do that? Why did he kill Dumbledore? Why did he rejoin Voldemort if he is still opposing him?"

"Do you really think Malfoy will be able to answer those questions?"

Harry dragged a hand through his raven locks and sighed explosively.

"No. Damn it. Dumbledore couldn't even figure out Snape."

Hermione nodded. "I think our time will be better spent pondering the warning from the Malfoys. Why should Hogwarts be unsafe? And what were Greyback and Wormtail doing in the forest?"

"How can we possibly find the answer to those questions?"

"I'm not sure. But I think we should start with the Marauder's Map."

Harry dropped to his knees on the floor and spread the map out on his bed. Hermione sat on the bed next to the map and her hair brushed the parchment as she leaned over it.

"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good," Harry said and tapped the map. Lines appeared and darkened. "What shall we look for?"

"Let's start with a general search of each floor, starting at the top and working our way down," Hermione said. Ron sat up, roused by their quiet voices.

"What's going on?" he asked sleepily.

"We're checking out the map to see who is hanging around Hogwarts," Harry said absently. Gryffindor Tower was first, and showed the three of them in the boy's dormitory. Ginny Weasley was in the girl's. The map lines blurred and reformed, showing them Ravenclaw Tower. In one room, the names Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks nearly overlapped. Hermione blushed.

"I didn't really need to see that," Harry commented and chuckled.

Another room contained Jack Williamson and Alastor Moody. Neither overlapping, nor even close to each other, Harry was glad to see. Hestia Jones was walking through the Ravenclaw common room and they watched as she exited to the corridor and headed downstairs.

A quick sweep of the castle showed nothing unexpected. Draco Malfoy still slept in the hospital wing, tended by Madam Pomfrey. Minerva McGonagall was in the Transfiguration Classroom. Peter Pettigrew and Fenrir Greyback were both safely contained in the Hufflepuff dungeons. Harry sighed.

"It looks safe enough to me," he said.

Ron had crawled over to sit on the other side of the map from Hermione. He rubbed his eyes with a thumb and blinked at the map.

"Go deeper," Hermione suggested. "Look at the Chamber of Secrets."

Harry scanned the map until he located Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, and then moved the map view deeper, exposing a warren of chambers beneath the school. Most of them twisted, mazelike, and opened into each other. Harry looked up at Hermione.

"How is it that Fred and George never found the Chamber of Secrets with this map?"

Ron answered with a snort. "Did they care? They thought the whole Heir of Slytherin thing was a huge joke. Remember when they kept prodding you about being the Heir?"

"Until Ginny was taken."

"Yeah. And then they were too worried to think about the map. Plus, Mum wouldn't let them out of her sight long enough to use it."

"Too bad we didn't have it until Third Year. Why did Fred and George give it to me, anyway? I know they had all the passages memorized, but it was bloody useful to know where Filch was while sneaking out."

"Oh, they nicked it from you whenever they needed it," Ron commented. "It's not like you hid it. You usually had it jammed it your trunk there, eh?"

"They rooted through my personal items?" Harry said indignantly. Ron rolled his eyes.

"Do you recall who you're talking about? They would root through the personal items of the Minister of Magic for a previously chewed piece of Drooble's Best Blowing Gum. Be glad they always returned the map."

Hermione giggled. "Goodness, Harry, you act like we're the only one allowed to sneak around. The twins probably did so ten times more than we did."

Harry shrugged. "I suppose. I don't see anything in the Chamber of Secrets. It's deserted." He sighed in frustration.

"That's a relief, anyway. I was afraid Voldemort or some Death Eaters had managed to sneak into the school and were hiding there. None of us would be the wiser."

"Maybe we should set up some sort of proximity alert. In case that ever happens."

Hermione shuddered. "I'd rather not go down there. From your description, it sounds dreadful."

"It was. Maybe you can put your brilliant mind to it and think of a solution."

"Maybe you can take a nap. You're getting snappish."

"I'm not getting snappish!" Harry snapped.

Hermione looked askance at Ron, who grinned.

"Not at all, mate," Ron said insincerely. Harry scowled and tapped the map sharply.

"Mischief managed." He rolled the parchment and tucked it back into his trunk.

"Well, I'm for some breakfast. Do you two plan to join me?" Hermione asked.

Draco was out of bed by late afternoon. He had pretended to sleep each time visitors approached. Granger and Potter returned around noon. Next it was Lupin. And finally McGonagall, but none of them tried to awaken him. He waited until Madam Pomfrey padded off before he slid his feet to the floor and sat up.

Vertigo assailed him, but he fought it. He had slept enough and was sick of being bedridden. His blood supply would replenish itself whether he lay around like a limp sponge or not.

His clothes were missing. Pomfrey was clever that way. She hated to have her patients sneaking out before she was ready to release them. Draco surveyed the blankets on the bed and grimaced. Wool. He sighed. He had no intention of parading around Hogwarts draped in scratchy wool blankets. He'd almost rather stroll back to the Slytherin dungeon in the altogether. Transfiguring them would be a hassle.

The thought of walking around naked brought Hermione to mind. He had noticed the return of his coin immediately upon waking.

Granger, he sent.

You summoned?

I need some clothes.

Really? Whatever for?

I know you prefer me unclothed, but walking about naked might offend some of the more inhibited females in the building.

You're grouping me with the uninhibited females?

You're the one that came down to my room and pounced on me.

Pounced? He grinned, sensing volumes of indignation in the word.

Delicately tried to seduce? he corrected.

Your ego certainly hasn't suffered any injury. I'll be right there.

He settled himself back on the bed, propped his arms behind his head, and waited.

Hermione arrived a surprisingly short time later.

"Did you run?" he asked as she set the folded clothing on the end of the bed.

"No."

Draco tossed the sheet aside, making certain he kept his gaze on Hermione's face. She blanched at the sight of him clad in nothing but black silk boxers. He refrained from grinning, with effort, and reached for the clothing. He was careful not to move too quickly.

"You shouldn't be up at all," she said. "Where is Madam Pomfrey?"

"She went to fetch something from the greenhouse. I plan to be gone by the time she gets back." Draco pulled on the white long-sleeved t-shirt. He followed it with a pair of charcoal grey trousers that fit perfectly. He noticed a smile playing about Granger's lips and looked at her suspiciously.

"Where did you get these?" he asked. Her smile widened.

"I borrowed them from Harry. It seems you're exactly the same size."

"I doubt that," Draco said archly and Hermione coughed when she caught his meaning. He chuckled to himself and was glad to see his boots near the foot of his bed. He donned Potter's socks and tugged his boots on, fighting a wave of dizziness when he sat upright. Hermione hurried around the bed to help him.

He waved her back impatiently and she sighed in exasperation.

"Why are you even out of bed? You look like you're barely able to stand."

"Because I'm a stubborn bastard, remember?" he asked and stood up defiantly. "Did Potter look at that locket?"

"We both did. Regulus destroyed it properly, thank goodness."

Draco nodded and bypassed her to head for the door.

"Malfoy—" she started.

He spun around with a flare of annoyance and walked back to her. He clenched his fists at his sides in order to keep from touching her. Merely standing this close to her probably constituted a violation of his promise to Weasley.

"Back in the forest," he said, "You called me Draco. Do you remember?"

Her eyes were huge pools of liquid chocolate.

"I remember," she breathed. "Draco…"

The sound slid over him like a caress. He closed his eyes and cursed Weasley to the ninth level of hell. As if conjured by his thoughts, the door opened and Ron stalked into the room. Draco could tell it was him by the agitated sound of his footsteps. Draco opened his eyes to see Hermione's hand, which had been reaching out to touch him, fall back to her side.

"I thought I'd find you here," Weasley said dryly. Draco turned to look at him and Ron's gaze met his with a flash of warning. Malfoy shrugged. Ron continued, "Neville is here. And Luna, and Susan Bones."

"Why?" Hermione asked.

"Thought they'd be safer here, I suppose. Neville's gran is still at St. Mungo's, but Neville can't stay there and they won't let him go home. Too dangerous. Luna's dad doesn't want her left alone. And Susan… well…"

None of them spoke. They all knew Amelia Bones had been horribly murdered, leaving Susan one of the unlucky few whose entire family had been eradicated by Voldemort.

Hermione hurried out and Draco followed at a more leisurely pace. As he passed Ron, Weasley's hand shot out and grabbed his sleeve.

"I thought you agreed to stay away from her," Ron muttered.

"I have," Draco said mildly, meeting Ron's stormy gaze with a hint of amusement. "You might to discuss the matter with her. She doesn't seem to be aware of your rules."

Weasley flushed and Draco allowed no satisfaction to touch his features, but he knew damned well that Ron wouldn't dare forbid Hermione to stay away from Draco. She would verbally slice off his head and hand it to him on a platter.

A quick jerk removed his sleeve from Weasley's grasp and Draco walked stiffly out the door. His right leg still hurt like the devil. It would most likely be sore and aching for a few days, until the memory of the break and impalement faded.

Everyone seemed to be in the Great Hall. Nearly all of the Order was present and the atmosphere seemed almost festive.

Hermione was talking animatedly to Neville, who started in surprise when Draco entered. Luna, standing next to Longbottom, caught sight of Draco and fairly danced across the room to fling her arms around Draco's neck.

She planted a lipsticky kiss on his cheek and fairly choked him.

"I never thanked you properly for saving me," she said. Draco tried to disengage her arms from his neck without success.

"Consider me properly thanked," he said, somewhat worried what a proper thanking might be to Luna.

"No, no. I have to do something for you."

Terrifying idea. "Fine. Give it some thought and get back to me. Take your time."

Luna sighed and released him. She stepped back and looked at him critically. Her radish earrings dangled when she cocked her head to the side.

"You're terribly pale. Have you been attacked by vampires? I can make you a garlic necklace to ward them off."

"You do that," Malfoy said absently. His attention had been snared by the approach of Neville Longbottom. The Gryffindor boy seemed different. He was two hand spans taller than Draco and his visage was serious and subdued. The anxiousness that used to occupy his features was gone.

Neville stepped forward and stretched out his hand to Draco.

"They told me what you did. You saved my life," Neville said seriously.

"Mine, too!" Luna cried and clapped her hands.

Malfoy reluctantly allowed Neville to shake his hand, but Neville stepped close and wrapped his left arm around Draco's shoulders. He hugged Draco tightly for a moment and Malfoy grimaced uncomfortably. Damned overemotional Gryffindors.

"Thank you," Neville said sincerely.

"You aren't going to kiss me, are you?" Draco asked wryly and Neville released him and stepped back as if burned.

"No, of course not!"

"Thank God. It's bad enough when Potter does it."

"Wha—?" Neville gaped at him.

"Joking," Draco said and rolled his eyes. Longbottom was such a thickwit. Malfoy brushed past him to stand next to Potter, who was talking with a girl Draco barely recognized.

Susan Bones had been a slightly pudgy, round-faced girl with a long plait of light brown hair, freckles, dancing brown eyes, and a ready smile. The freckles were all that remained of that girl. Susan was now thin as a rail. Her hair had been hacked off and stuck out from her head in a halo of brown spikes. Her eyes were hard and frigid as she looked at Malfoy with sheer contempt. Her lips were a thin line.

"I thought you were a Death Eater," she snapped.

"Not really," Draco said tonelessly.

"Aren't you directly responsible for Dumbledore's death?" she continued harshly.

Draco looked at Harry Potter with a pained expression and forced a sarcastic smile.

"I suppose I am. Great party. I think I'll go hang myself, now."

Draco turned and left the Great Hall. He wondered what had prompted him to join the bloody gathering. There were too many people and most of them had strong opinions about Draco Malfoy. He was either a hero or pariah. Frankly, he didn't give a damn what any of them thought.

"Malfoy, wait!"

Draco groaned and kept walking. She had to make it difficult for him, didn't she?

"Where are you going?" Hermione asked when she caught up to him. He stopped, but didn't look at her.

"Go back to your friends, Granger," he said tiredly.

"Not without you."

"Forget it. I don't belong in there."

"Of course you do!"

His head snapped up and he glared at her.

"Damn it, when will you stop trying to make me into something I'm not?" he cried angrily. "Everything I've done has been for my own selfish reasons! You're intelligent enough to figure that out, once you stop letting your overactive imagination control your thinking!"

Hermione's eyes narrowed at his outburst.

"What do you mean by that?" she demanded.

"You know what I mean. You've turned me into some sort of fantasy hero. I'm not a pale shadow of Harry Potter and I never will be! Go back to your Gryffindors, Granger, and leave me alone."

He stalked off. As an afterthought, he yanked at the cord holding the Galleon and flung it to the ground. He didn't look back as he fled to the Slytherin dungeon.