Draco was feeling along the walls with his hands and muttering to himself when Harry arrived. Raising a pale arm, he knocked on one tile and then another.
Harry wondered briefly if the Slytherin had cracked under pressure and was now insane.
"Uh, hello Malfoy," he ventured.
Draco only hissed for quiet and felt his way along the wall to on another tile. He muttered the same incantation and knocked thrice. The tile glowed white-blue for an instant and much to Harry's surprise, the head of Moaning Myrtle popped out.
With a series of loud sighs and groans, she extracted herself from the tile and hovered above the wet floor. Almost immediately, she burst into noisy tears.
"Do you have any idea how horrible that was?!" she bellowed, flying an angry circle around Malfoy. "Trapped in a wall for almost an entire week?"
"Actually," Draco drawled, still ignoring Harry's presence, "You were in there for the better part of five months. Must not have been that bad if you thought it was only a few days."
"A few days? A few days, he says! Do you have any idea how lonely and boring it was?!" she shrieked now, fists clenched. "To be trapped in a wall for five months?!"
Draco sighed. "It was that or be exorcized by the Carrows . . ." he explained again, "I've already told you -"
Myrtle only wailed louder and floated into one of the cubicles. "I wish I had been exorcized! Some friend you are! You think it's so great to be stuck in a wall, maybe you should try it for half a year!" she sobbed.
Malfoy shook his head. "I came back for you. I said I would." Myrtle ignored him save for an increase of volume in her sobbing. Before long, the bathroom floor would be covered with water.
"You're welcome," Draco answered dryly. He rolled his eyes and walked toward Harry. "So, what did you wish to see me about, Potter?"
Harry was taken aback, but he recovered quickly. "Why would the Carrows try to exorcize Moaning Myrtle?"
"Why are you the hero of the Wizarding World and still have such awful hair?"
"Excuse me?" Harry asked, indignant.
"I asked a question first. I've got many others, so we can stand here all day trading stupid questions if you like." Malfoy made a show of cleaning his nails on his robe. "Or you could just answer the first one."
Harry decided to just get on with things.
"I'd like to give you back your wand."
That made Draco look up. His pale eyes narrowed. "Why?"
Harry blinked. "Don't you want it?" He hadn't planned on Draco being suspicious.
"I'm to sit and beg for it, is that your plan?"
"No! Look Malfoy, I just . . ." Harry was dangerously close to sounding submissive. He pressed his lips together. "Here's the situation. You were the master of the Elder Wand until I disarmed you. You must have heard that by now. I'd like for you to have your wand back, but the Elder Wand's allegiance must stay with me."
"And I suppose you're going to use it for good deeds?" Draco asked flatly.
"No," Harry snapped. "I'm not going to use it at all."
It was Draco's turn to look shocked. "You . . . aren't? But that makes no sense. There's going to be a mess rebuilding and r-rounding up your enemies," he stammered. Harry saw fear replace scorn for just a moment. Draco tried to make his face impassive once more. "You'd be powerful."
"I know. I don't want to be."
"Why not? Everything would be so easy! You could rebuild all the destroyed places that meant something to you. You could put anyone in Azkaban, anyone at all, and nobody would argue with you -"
"Then how am I any better than Voldemort?"
Draco flinched. "Don't. I never . . . I never want to hear that name again." His hands shook and he concealed them by folding his arms.
Voldemort was dead and gone. His name would no longer bring death, but he'd left yet more scars in his wake. Harry decided not to press the issue. There was a silence in the bathroom save for the echo of dripping water and soft snuffling from Myrtle's stall. She had apparently quieted down to listen.
"You're really not planning on using the Elder Wand? Even though you know the war is just barely over? It could start again somewhere. If someone you love is in danger - you're not going to go back on your word and take it along to the rescue?" Malfoy asked lowly, when he could speak without trembling.
"I'll be tempted. I won't lie. But the Elder Wand will stay here, at Hogwarts."
Draco was still paler than normal, but he nodded. "That's . . . smart of you." He admitted slowly, as if it pained him. "What would be even smarter is if you destroyed it. But I don't think it can be, can it? Or you'd think it would have been already."
"I don't know. Dumbledore needed it, for me to defeat Vol- er, Riddle," Harry corrected himself. He glanced at Draco, who's arms were still crossed. His earlier façade of haughtiness seemed to have been shaken loose and now he was staring at the drain in the floor as a spider crawled out of the grate and scuttled to a corner.
"If anyone could have found a way, it would've been him," Malfoy said quietly. "He would've searched and found it, then he would've done it. Don't you think so?"
To Harry's mind, Draco had just proven he deserved his wand back. He wanted nothing to do with the Elder Wand, just as Harry had said to Horace Slughorn. In a very odd way, Harry felt almost proud of him.
"Yeah. He would've left something for me at the very least - telling me how to do it." Harry pulled the black hawthorne wand out of his pocket and extended it handle first to Malfoy. The pale-eyed boy lifted his head, and returned Harry's gaze evenly.
"You're sure about this? You're sure if I take it, I won't get . . . the allegiance of both wands?" Draco asked. "Because my family is enough of a target as is, Potter. I won't have them endangered."
"You're not any better than me, just like I'm not any better than you. Not here, not right now. For once, we actually share something in common."
"And what's that, Potter?" Draco asked, without derision.
"Neither of us love war."
Draco stared back at him for a long moment, then lifted his arm. His fingers took the hawthorne handle and briefly touched Harry's for a moment, before Harry let go. Draco looked at the wand for a moment and then turned from Harry, flicking it at the space over the cubicles. There was a shimmer and then white things began to float down from the ceiling. Harry realized in short order that it was snow.
Malfoy appeared satisfied, and his grin didn't waver - not even when Myrtle burst out of her cubicle shrieking. "Snow! Most girls get flowers or chocolates after they've been away for five months but no, not Myrtle. I get snow!" she ranted.
Draco only laughed, and waved his wand again. The snowflakes turned into pale blue delphinium blossoms, plopping wetly wherever they landed - some even landed in the toilet bowls.
"Oh ha, ha, ha! Very funny, I don't think!" Myrtle flopped in the window and sulked, though Harry noticed she was eyeing the way the delphiniums prettily floated along in the currents made by the drain.
Draco turned and left the now decorated boy's bathroom, and Harry - not really wanting to be left with Myrtle when she was agitated or otherwise - followed him.
"Do you know how long it's been," Draco said lightly, when they were half a corridor away, "Since I just wanted to fool around like that? To do something with magic that didn't have to mean anything purposeful."
"You mean since you had fun?" Harry supplied.
"Exactly," Malfoy answered. He glanced at Harry sidelong. "I still think your hair is awful. Does that mean we're still not friends?"
"Sure," Harry said, without rancor.
After a moment, Draco spoke up again. "You wanted to know about Myrtle and the Carrows."
"Right," Harry had almost forgotten. "Why would they bother going after a ghost?"
"They wanted to get rid of certain presences at the school," Draco answered. "Moaning Myrtle was one of them. At first the Carrows thought Riddle would want her to stick around. She was his first Muggleborn kill and all that. But he gave them the go-ahead to get rid of her, so they set about it. C-Crabbe . . . Crabbe was talking about it to Goyle, that's how I learned early on."
"So . . . Why'd you-"
"Why'd Ihelp her?" Draco supplied for him. "Nobody else was going to. Myrtle's happiest being miserable and feeling like a victim. You saw her sense of gratitude. It was horrendous."
"If you think that, then-"
"I still like her, alright?" Draco admitted finally, looking vexed. "I'd miss her if she was gone. She's miserable and hilarious and a good person to talk to when you've got nobody you can trust. And she's possibly the only girl in the school who thinks you're a heinous murderer. If she hadn't been so distracted by me, she probably would've attacked you with toilet seats."
Harry was suspicious. "You were hoping to see that, I suppose. That's why you chose the bathroom?"
"No. Well, partly yes - I was hoping. Truthfully, Myrtle was the real reason I agreed to see you at all, Potter. I promised her I'd let her out when she was no longer in danger, but Mother would hear nothing of me going alone through the castle to do so. Not until Kreacher gave his word that I'd come to no harm if I went to talk to you."
Surprisingly, Draco had only mentioned Sectumsempra in brief anecdote, for which Harry felt grateful.
The boys walked together in silence, each savoring the moments before the inevitable awkwardness. They were saved from it when Hermione came tearing around the corner and nearly collided with Harry. "Oh, sorry - HARRY! Where have you been - you must come to the Great Hall!"
"What? Hermione - what's wrong?"
"I know how you feel and yes, they should be taken into custody, but she isn't the one to do it - I can't believe she even dared show her face here. She's claiming Ministry business and nobody can get near her, or the Malfoys . . ."
Hermione trailed off and looked at Draco, noticing him for the first time. "What," he rasped. "What are you talking about, Granger?" One of Malfoy's hands closed tight around the hawthorne wand.
"Umbridge," Hermione said, informing and somehow trying to warn him all at once. Draco was gone in the next moment.
Harry and Hermione flew after him as fast as their legs could move them, but Draco had been faster still and the door to the Great Hall was slowly closing shut again before them.
Harry couldn't believe he'd been so stupid. He'd given Draco Malfoy back his wand and he should have known the Malfoys wouldn't be safe here forever - he should have known Draco would get it into his head to protect them at any cost.
"Malfoy, wait!" He bellowed, slamming himself against the Hall door and stumbling inside. Slughorn, having failed to do more than delay Draco by attempting to grab him, stood with part of a torn cloak in his hands and naked alarm on his face.
" . . . all will be arrested and put on trial for your part in the war, and make no mistake - you won't be claiming immunity by the Imperius curse again, Lucius Malfoy," Umbridge was saying, her voice amplified over the Hall's clamor. Several students, including nearly all the present Slytherins, were attempting to break down the barrier that her guards had raised so that the arrest of the Malfoys could continue uninterrupted.
Headmistress McGonagall had managed to get one foot and most of her face in, but she could go neither forward or backward and was shouting at Umbridge noiselessly. Harry couldn't hear what; she had likely been silencioed.
Umbridge held out a sheet of parchment, reading aloud the official charges while repelling any effort on the Malfoys' part to move against her with a few simple flicks of her wand. She could have simply petrified them, but seemed to enjoy humiliating the two wandless people at her mercy.
"This is what I told you about the Ministry having to pull itself together!" Hermione whispered frantically by his ear. "There are factions now out for blood or out to feather their own nests and cover up their mistakes - and I knew she would be one of them. But I didn't think she'd actually try and come here." She wrung her hands. "It all happened so fast."
It was the injustice that Hermione cared about. Injustice, no matter who was the victim of it, that would make her protest like this on behalf of the Malfoys. Harry felt a surge of love toward her, and became even more determined to stop Umbridge.
"She's outnumbered by teachers and students - someone's contacted Shacklebolt by now, surely. What does she think she'll gain by arresting Death Eaters who've already surrendered and handing them over?" Harry demanded.
"Do you really think they're going to make it to any sort of holding cell? They know what she was up to the whole time, Harry! The Malfoys are witnesses. She's only still here because she's waiting to get her claws into their son!"
Cold dread permeated Harry's body. In vain he looked for Draco amid all the confusion, his view blocked by bodies either scrambling to help or move out of the way.
He saw a flash of white blonde hair and started forward, pushing and elbowing his way through the chaos. He had to do something - anything, to stop more bloodshed from happening.
He didn't reach Malfoy in time; a bright blue jolt of magic struck the parchment out of Umbridge's hands, sending it up in an arc of live embers. Draco had charged forward through the barrier - allowed solely because he was one of the accused - and was charging still when Umbridge turned, cutting a brutal slash in the air with her wand. The force of the spell flung him back and slammed him into the legs of the Ravenclaw table within the barrier.
Both Lucius and Narcissa screamed his name, but Draco lay in a heap and did not respond.
No, Harry thought, heart sinking as he continued to press forward.
"Attack against a Ministry official," Umbridge declared smugly, turning back in the direction of Draco's parents. "I should think your family would have stopped adding to the list of charges, Luc--"
Her greatest mistake of that night, was forgetting that she had merely toyed with the Malfoys' ability to move, rather than render them securely immobile. Narcissa's movement was nearly too fast to chart as her right fist connected with Umbridge's face, knocking the woman arse over pink bow and staining her knuckles red.
Narcissa paid no heed to the resulting explosion of cheers and applause from the Great Hall, merely ran to Draco's side with Lucius following.
The barrier disappeared. Seeing their leader down had prompted Umbridge's goons to flee and they had good timing; Harry caught sight of Shacklebolt and his own personal guard of Aurors clearing the way for him. McGonagall stumbled forward, looking outraged. She raised her wand and strode quickly over to Umbridge, making sure the woman was bound and disarmed.
Anxious to find out if Draco was still alive, Harry started again to push through the crowd. Ahead was mostly Slytherins, and he could hear Zabini lauding cool praise upon Narcissa's handling of the entire matter.
Draco's voice rose in complaint then, demanding to know why they were all more concerned about a stellar right hook than whether he was dying of some horrible unknown curse. Several Slytherins gleefully started speculating diagnosis, complete with elevating stages of horrific side effects. Draco looked content to bask in the attention.
Harry had a better view of him now and aside from a nasty weal where Umbridge's curse had struck him across the base of his throat, Malfoy seemed fine. Just one more scar. He caught glimpses of others after Madam Pomfrey arrived, shooing away all the Slytherins interested in becoming her temporary interns.
She made Draco tilt his head back while Narcissa unbuttoned the top half of his shirt so Pomfrey could apply salve, both women gently slapping his hands down when he protested and tried to do them back up.
He saw the lines made by Sectumsempra, and he saw what looked like severe burns that had yet to fade, even with the aid of magical healing. Fiendfyre. Draco caught him looking and managed a smirk. "If we're having a comparison, Potter, I think I've won."
"Actually, I think having more scars means you've lost," Harry answered, putting his hands in his pockets. Draco was able to create the illusion of having landed on his feet - even when he was nearly flat on his back, being tended by his mother and the school's head nurse.
"Yes, but the girls don't really think along those lines. I look like I've gone through hell and back. You on the other hand look like you've gone and bonked your head on the cabinet door."
Harry actually laughed. Then he heard Hermione's voice as she relayed a statement to one of Shacklebolt's Aurors and felt guilty. Draco seemed to sense this and nodded congenially, shooing Harry away with a flick of his fingers, in the way of a tired king dismissing a jester. Harry chose to ignore that, and inclined his head politely to Narcissa and Draco and even made an effort toward Lucius, who just as stiffly returned it.
He withdrew, and let the returning Slytherins fill the void. He and the Malfoy family would probably have very little to do with each other for several years. Too much had happened for it to be otherwise. He suspected they'd be alright though; he heard Shacklebolt talking with them and congratulating Narcissa heartily for her excellent wandless defense.
Umbridge was burbling nonsensically as Medi-wizards loaded her onto a stretcher. Harry lingered, listening in amusement as she demanded a set of pink earmuffs for the darling happy little cauldron-pot skipping around on his precious little toesie-woesies.(1) He had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, but it was no less entertaining.
"Just when you think it's over," Ron said, joining Harry as he walked toward Hermione.
"It's far from over, Ron. I wish it was," Harry said, meaning it for both of them. They would have no more adventures for a while at least, but that didn't mean trouble wouldn't occasionally stop in for a visit. "We've got a mess to clean up."
"But not just us this time," Ron said, attempting a smile. He sighed blissfully. "And not while camping, thank Merlin."
(1) If you haven't read Beedle the Bard, you might not get that reference to 'Toadstool Tales'.