Chapter Eight

The Hufflepuff Vampire

"Harry, wait!"

Hermione's cry only made Harry walk faster.

"Mate, do you mind slowing down?" Ron yelled. "We just spent the whole bloody night on the floor."

That stopped him. Harry turned and grimaced. "Sorry," he said, miserable. Harry's rude awakening did not compare to Ron and Hermione's night, which must have been horrifically uncomfortable. And they had stayed outside the hospital wing for him. Harry had at least slept in a bed. Warm bed, and warm, naked Malfoy wrapped around him.

"What happened?" Hermione asked when they caught up with him. They both looked tired and dishevelled and Harry's guilt intensified.

He winced and forced a shrug. "Pomfrey found me and threw me out. She was a bit upset, that's all." Told like that, it did not sound like the sort of thing that would have made Harry storm out of the hospital wing, he knew, but Harry was reluctant to share the whole story. Harry had been awakened by the clearing of a throat, and he had opened his eyes to find Madam Pomfrey standing by the foot of the bed, frowning at the scene before her. To say Harry had been embarrassed at being caught in Malfoy's bed, naked, would be quite an understatement. What happened afterward was a bit of a blur. Harry had been in such a hurry to get dressed and avoid Pomfrey's whispered lecturing, he was amazed he had managed to find all of his clothes, or had not ended up wearing his pants on his head. On top of that, Pomfrey had managed to make him feel horribly guilty when she reminded him Draco was in the hospital because he had been struck with the Cruciatus Curse multiple times and was in dire need of a good night's sleep.

Ron and Hermione exchanged a look. If they realised what exactly had happened, they, mercifully, chose not to make any comments.

"We should head back to the tower," Harry said. "It's still early. You two should get some sleep."

"Too late for sleep, too early for breakfast." Ron sighed.

Hermione cleared her throat. "In other words, he wants to go down to the kitchens to have a bite before we go up to the tower for a nap."

"Well," Ron said airily, "if you insist, I suppose we could."

"Yeah, okay." Harry nodded. What he wanted more was to go to his dormitory and bury his head in the pillow. If he got lucky, he might suffocate.

Ron looked pleased and Hermione resigned; though, she added, "I could eat."

They turned and made their way to the ground floor. Ron and Hermione were yawning and clutching their sore backs, and Harry was regretting he had not realised Madam Pomfrey could enter the hospital wing through her office, which must have had another entrance, possibly connected to her chambers. He was also dwelling on the sad fact that the dirty pillow Malfoy had placed under his hips was still on the floor beside the bed. And the fact that Madam Pomfrey had not been inclined to give him some privacy while Harry dressed. He could have woken up Draco, too, and said goodbye; Malfoy had slept through Pomfrey's whispered tirade, blissfully unaware of their embarrassing situation.

A squirming, giggling pear, which Ron had just tickled, pulled Harry out of his gloomy thoughts. The pear turned to a green knob and the three of them pushed inside.

It was dark in the corridor, but it was darker still in the kitchens. Harry, Ron and Hermione hesitated, then walked in carefully, peeking around at the suspicious quiet.

"Look!" Hermione gasped, pointing near the enormous brick oven that was the only source of light in the room. The faint fire illuminated a hundred small bodies, piled up close to one another into a massive heap; it looked like someone had gathered all the Hogwarts house-elves, tossed them carelessly on the floor, then swept them neatly into a pile.

"Blimey!" Ron yelled. "Do you reckon someone murdered them?"

Ron's loud cry was all it took. The elves jumped as one, some scrambling to grab random pots and pans, other snapping their fingers to light up the room; some Apparated, popping here and there so fast it was impossible to keep track. In seconds, the room was brightly lit, the brick oven roared and flour rose in the air, creating instant mist, as the elves set to making bread and buns with frightening speed and vigour.

Three elves appeared before Harry, Ron and Hermione, and the one with the longest nose bowed regally and said, "How may we be serving you?"

Hermione spoke before Harry could. "We are so very sorry," she said. "We didn't mean to disturb you."

"The house-elves are not disturbed!" the elf said, indignant.

"Yes, well, I just meant, you've been sleeping—"

"The house-elves were not sleeping!" the elf cried. "The house-elves were, er, resting. Briefly."

"Right. Well, good for you." Hermione smiled at him; the elf scowled.

"I thought you lot cleaned the castle every night."

"Ron!" Hermione turned to glare at him. "They have the right to sleep! I mean, rest," she added hurriedly.

"Of course!" Ron agreed. "I just thought—"

"The castle is being very clean!" the elf cried. "The castle is being spotless!"

"Spotless," the two elves beside him echoed, nodding seriously.

"The house-elves had found time to rest. Briefly," the elf stressed.

"Brilliant!" Harry said before this turned into a discussion. "We just thought you might have some sandwiches for us."

"The house-elves always have sandwiches!" the elf assured them, then added. "Er, if you will be waiting—" He looked shiftily at the mass of elves who were making bread.

"Briefly?" Ron suggested.

The elves scowled at them and then quickly retreated.

"We must be too early," Hermione said. "Maybe we should go."

"That would only insult them," Ron argued.

Hermione glared at him, probably thinking Ron cared more about getting the sandwiches than the house-elves' feelings. She was probably right, but so was Ron. If they left now, it would mean the elves had failed to serve them and that would make them miserable. They might even decide to iron their ears.

They did not have to wait long. The long-nosed elf appeared with a platter piled with smoking hot ham sandwiches. The warm bread smelled so lovely, Harry's stomach growled.

They thanked them and hurried outside, attacking the sandwiches with passion as they walked. They scorched their tongues and gums on the bread pulled fresh from the oven, but it was worth the burns.

Ron moaned in delight. "Bless those house-elves."

"I'm lucky Winky didn't see me," Hermione grumbled as she swallowed. "She'll want those socks."

Harry winced. "Sorry."

"Yes, well." Hermione studied him, gaze falling to Harry's neck.

It must have been covered with bruises again. He would have to talk to Malfoy about his persistent attempts to maul his throat. Harry quickly took another bite. Eager to redirect Hermione's attention away from himself, at least a little, Harry told them about Malfoy's blackouts and his belief he was behind everything that had happened. Harry was sure it made no sense, but he was reluctant to trust his own thoughts when it came to Malfoy.

Ron and Hermione's reaction lifted his spirits.

"But didn't McGonagall say that whoever had Stunned Tommy and Conjured those candles has some extraordinary magical power?" Hermione pointed out. "If Malfoy was so extraordinarily powerful, I think we would have noticed. It doesn't matter if he'd been Imperiused or possessed; his power is his own."

"But I've been possessed, too," Harry said, "and I did have some of Voldemort's abilities."

Hermione shook her head. "You had a part of his soul in you, Harry. That's different."

"Maybe Malfoy has a part of someone's soul in him," Ron argued. "Maybe Peeves possessed him!" he exclaimed suddenly.

"Poltergeists can't possess people, Ron." Hermione sighed. "And what happened to Harry was rather unique. It happened under very special circumstances. The odds of that happening to Malfoy, as well..." She waved her hand dismissively.

"I was joking," Ron assured her. "I actually thought it's obvious Pritchard and his cronies were behind the fire in the Slytherin dormitories. They clearly have a thing for arson and they hate little Peterson. Maybe they tried to scare him, like they tried to intimidate Malfoy. Maybe Pritchard's extraordinarily powerful and extraordinarily stupid. Maybe he Stunned Tommy, too. It's his O.W.L. year. Maybe he bought fake potions from him just like Goyle had."

Hermione didn't look pleased with that theory, but instead of commenting on it she glared at Harry's neck and took out her wand. "Oh, I just can't look at those anymore; it looks like someone cursed you! Episkey!"

Harry winced when the spell hit him. "It's... I must have..." Fallen and hit my neck? She knew what they were and how he had got them; there was no point in pretending.

Hermione glared at him and then suddenly looked behind Harry, at Ron. "Did you tell him about the Shield Charm?" she asked sharply.

"Hermione!" Harry spluttered in indignation. "We're not talking about this!"

"Harry," she said, not unkindly, "It's just... I'm aware of your upbringing and I think there are some things you ought to know and perhaps you've never had a chance—"

Harry turned around and hurried down the corridor, away from her. Not only did he not want to discuss sex with her, he was also fearful she would somehow discover he had completely forgotten about the bloody charm.

"I told him. Give it a rest, Hermione," he heard Ron say.

"But he seems so confused..."

Harry was so busy seething, he almost ran over someone when he rounded a corner.

"Oi!" Neville cried as he pulled Hannah out of harm's way. "Don't knock out my girlfriend."

"I think you broke my toes, Harry," Hannah grumbled.

"Sorry. Didn't see you there." Harry smiled at them sheepishly.

"Wait, Harry!" Hermione voice carried across the corridor; it was coming closer. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to point out that if you're having sex with someone like Malfoy, you ought to be the one with a sense of responsibility, because who knows what he—" She yelped as she ran into Harry's back and spotted Neville and Hannah. "Um," she said and fell silent. Ron caught up with them and stopped, staring.

Neville and Hannah seemed stunned into silence, as well. Even though he was embarrassed, Harry sighed inwardly with a wry sense of resignation. No secret could last forever, he comforted himself.

"So." Harry cleared his throat; he noticed Neville and Hannah both looked ruffled and flushed. Neville's shirt was buttoned up all wrong. "Why are you up so early? Where were you?"

"Er," was all that Neville managed. He was staring at Harry.

"We were running," Hannah said. "From McGonagall. We were, er, having a stroll and she found us in the Great Hall. She was a bit cross." Hannah blushed.

Harry sympathised, though he dearly wished to know what the two of them were doing in the Great Hall. And on which table.

"Yeah, she doesn't like it when people stroll," Ron commented.

Neville coughed a little and seemed to regain his ability to speak. "Yes. Besides, she was tired; the teachers were out in the forest searching all nig— OH!" he exclaimed suddenly, eyes going wide.

"Yes, oh!" Hannah agreed. "We have news! You'll never guess what happened!"

Harry latched onto the change of subject just as hard as Neville and Hannah had. "They've found Pritchard and the others?" he asked.

"No," Neville said, then grinned. "But they found someone else in the forest: Fenrir Greyback." Neville beamed at them.

Harry blinked. "Pardon?"

"What do you mean they found him?" Hermione asked. "They caught him? Is he here? In the castle?"

"No, no." Neville frowned. "I mean, yes, I suppose he's technically here. I mean, his body is."

"His dead body," Hannah added, grinning.

Harry stared at them. "They found Greyback dead in the forest?"

"What, did they just stumble on him?" Ron asked, sounding as incredulous as Harry felt.

"Apparently." Neville was still grinning. "They didn't exactly share all the details with us. We were eavesdropping and heard McGonagall tell Flitwick they found him near the edge of the forest. By the looks of it, it seems he'd been there for days. His skull was smashed. Can you imagine? And the Aurors and Hit Wizards are out there looking for him all over the country, and all this time he was here. Dead."

"Didn't the Carrows say Greyback was with them and they had planned to infiltrate the castle together?" Hermione asked.
"Yeah," Harry said. "And then he abandoned them. Or, apparently, he didn't. At least, not willingly." He looked to Neville. "Do they know who killed him? Do they have any suspects?"

"Dunno." Neville shrugged. "They deserve a medal, though."

"It must have been someone from the castle," Hermione said.

"Or someone from the forest," Ron pointed out. "Centaurs? Some beast?"

"You don't look happy, Harry." Neville studied him.

"I'm happy," Harry assured him. "Just a bit shocked." Another person was dead; found so near the castle. And Harry was glad Greyback was gone, but he would feel much better if he knew who had done it.

"We should go," Hannah said. "If one of the teachers finds us again, we'll be in so much trouble."

Neville nodded, then looked at Harry again. He opened his mouth to say something, but Hannah pulled at his sleeve and Neville merely grimaced and shook his head. "You should head back to the tower, too," he told them and they rushed past and away.

"Blimey!" Harry turned around. "Greyback's dead! Can you believe it?" Please, please, let us discuss Greyback, not Malfoy again.

Harry wished in vain.

"I'm so sorry, Harry," Hermione said. She looked sorry, too. "I didn't know Neville and—"

"Werewolf! Suddenly dead!" Harry cried. "Can we please focus here?"

"In a minute," Ron said. He looked frighteningly serious. "Hermione's just... we're just worried, Harry, you know? It's not just about whether or not you're using the right charms. It's Malfoy, Harry. We don't want you to get hurt. And I'm not saying he'll curse you and you should be careful—though he might, so do be careful—that's not all. It's Malfoy."

"I know who he is," Harry said quietly.

"Do you?" Hermione worried her lip. "Because it seems like you've forgotten. What happens when you remember?"

"People change."

"Do you think he's changed?"

Damn. "I don't know," Harry confessed. "But it's too late now, anyway. If I stop it now, I'll still get hurt." That was the only truth he was sure of.

Ron blew out a breath so hard it sounded like he was blowing a raspberry.

"Dead werewolf?" Harry said hopefully.

Ron and Hermione were silent for a while longer, but then Hermione sighed and said, "It does sound too good to be true."

"Exactly!" Harry said quickly, relieved, and they spent the rest of the way discussing Greyback and his potential killer, and not Malfoy.

By the time they reached the Gryffindor Tower, they were exhausted and decided to retreat to their dormitories to grab a few hours of sleep. Harry considered sending a message to Malfoy, to make sure he was all right, but Malfoy was probably asleep and Pomfrey was there with him, so Harry quickly talked himself out of it.

Sleep did not come easy. The moment he lay down, Harry could not think about anything except Malfoy's naked body pressed against his. Without that newly discovered feeling, the whole process of sleeping felt like a waste. You're a hopeless idiot, Harry berated himself, but then happily relived the night with Malfoy in his mind. Some parts especially, others, though... Malfoy's blackouts were worrisome. He should talk to someone about that. Someone who's not me. Harry had no idea how to help him with that. Malfoy sounded so troubled and lost at times. You're real, Malfoy had said. Why wouldn't I be?

The day, when it came, moved torturously slowly. They had no lessons and it seemed no one was in the mood to study. Not even Hermione. The most disconcerting thing was, since everyone was discussing Greyback's demise and yesterday's fire, Harry heard students mention Malfoy so many times he was beginning to worry he was going mad and what he was actually hearing was his own thoughts echoing through the castle.

He could not stop thinking about Malfoy. He had sent him a message during breakfast, when Malfoy didn't show up, asking if he was okay. His Galleon burned promptly with the word Fine. Glad though Harry was that Malfoy was fine, the more he stared at it, the more snappish it looked. He had tried again, several times during the day, and Malfoy always replied, but with messages such as, "Fine," "Fine, Potter," and finally, "Leave me the fuck," which Harry suspected meant to say, "Leave me the fuck alone," but it did not fit, thanks to the four word limit.

Harry was ever-so-slightly cross with himself. He had never expected Malfoy to burst into the Great Hall, walk up to Harry and act friendly, but he hadn't expected him to sound so annoyed with him, either. He probably should have. Just because Harry didn't regret what happened yesterday, it didn't mean Malfoy hadn't. Harry felt a little better when he heard Pomfrey had released Malfoy from the hospital wing—Harry could have gone to the hospital sooner to check, but he did not want to risk meeting Pomfrey. If Malfoy was deemed healthy, then there was a good chance Harry would see him at nine o'clock, when their patrol would start. The sad thing was, Harry had plans for tonight and he would have to abandon Malfoy and leave him to Ron and Hermione's care, but he was determined not to go about his business before he had a chance to talk to Malfoy, however briefly.

Nine o'clock could not come fast enough. When it finally did, Harry all but ran down to the dungeons. The Greengrass sisters stepped out of their common room shortly, and then so did Zabini, but there was no sign of Malfoy for a good long while. Harry's watch claimed Malfoy was only five minutes late, but that couldn't have been right. Surely.

Malfoy finally walked out, scowling even before he saw Harry; when he did see him, his scowl only deepened. Harry was tempted to jump at him and kiss him, but then Malfoy said, "Goyle's missing," and Harry resisted the urge.

"Are you worried?" Harry asked.

"Of course I'm worried!" Malfoy snapped. "He's a complete idiot and there's no telling what he's up to. And I've explicitly told him to stay put after nine. He normally listens."

"Okay," Harry said quickly. "We'll find him." Harry inconspicuously checked his watch; he still had a little time, but he had not meant to spend it on looking for Goyle. It was worrisome news, though. Two days ago, if a student went missing, they would find him snogging someone in a random cupboard. Things were no longer so simple, it seemed.

"We should try the kitchens," Malfoy said. "Though he always punches that pear and it never lets him inside. I don't know why he bothers."

Harry nodded and they set out for the kitchens. It was not far and Harry did not have time to work out how to start a conversation with Malfoy. Silence seemed to suit Malfoy just fine. Harry scowled at his back as Malfoy tickled the pear. The knob appeared promptly and Malfoy tried to push the door open but failed.

"That's odd," he said. "It's locked. It's never locked."

As Malfoy took out his wand and tried to spell the door open, Harry considered the possibility that the door was locked because of what had happened this morning. Perhaps the house-elves did not want any more students to catch them resting. Which was ridiculous, really; they were right—the castle was spotless. They had preformed their duties admirably.

"If it's locked, he's not in there," Harry said as Malfoy grew frustrated. If the house-elves locked the door, it would be hard to open. "Or do you think they've kidnapped him?"

Malfoy turned around; his scowl was back. Harry expected him to yell, but Malfoy sighed in defeat and tucked away his wand.

"We could try the library," Harry suggested.

"The library?" Malfoy scoffed.

"You said he'd been buying Wit-Sharpening Potions. He must be worried about his N.E.W.T.s. Maybe he decided to take advantage of the quiet to study in peace."

Malfoy looked unconvinced, but he grumbled something and headed toward the staircases. Harry took it as acceptance.

They made it as far as the main staircase when Harry just couldn't take it anymore.

"So we're not going to snog at all, then?" he asked.

Malfoy froze, staring. "Excuse me?"

"Are you upset with me?" Harry stepped closer. "Why? Is it because Pomfrey found us? Did she say something?"

Malfoy was still staring, silent, shocked.

You're real. Did Malfoy change his mind?

Harry touched Malfoy's arm lightly. "I'm real, remember?" He felt stupid saying it, but Malfoy's eyes widened, his expression brightening.

"Of course you are," Malfoy said in a clear attempt at nonchalance. "I know that."

In the next second, they were kissing. Malfoy's hands were in Harry's hair again, his lips hard and hot against Harry's, his tongue pushing into Harry's mouth; Harry felt dizzy from sheer relief. He had wanted to do this the entire day; he was beginning to think the moment would never come.

"Ugh," someone said.

"Are we early?" another voice put in.

Harry's mind slowly recognised Ron and Hermione. Why were they here? Because I asked them to come. Harry pulled away with a gasp. Malfoy was reluctant to let him go; his fingers clutched Harry's hair, his neck bending to kiss Harry's throat. "Malfoy! We have company!"

Malfoy jumped back at once. He glanced around and visibly winced.

"Not early, then," Hermione said. "It seems we've saved your neck, Harry."

Harry avoided looking at her; first, he wanted to beat his blush into submission. He glanced at her eventually. "Nice one," he said.

She grinned. "Yes, it's funny, isn't it? Because he's evil and a vampire, apparently." She gave Malfoy a grumpy sideways look; Malfoy pointedly looked away.

"Vampire! Right. I should..." Harry looked at Ron, expecting to see him grimacing in disgust, but Ron was not looking at him; he was looking up at the marble staircase.

"Is that..." Ron frowned and cocked his head. "Is that a house-elf? Look!" He pointed.

They all turned and looked up. There was a small bundle at the right edge of one of the steps, huddled beside the banister, barely visible on the shadowy staircase. It seemed to be moving. Harry thought he heard a soft sob.

"It can't be!" Malfoy gasped and ran up the stairs. Harry followed him, a nasty suspicion on his mind.

Malfoy reached the bundle and bent down, staring at it. "Goyle?"

The bundled unravelled at once. Harry winced. It was indeed Goyle, if a very tiny version of Goyle. He seemed about a foot high, perhaps even less.

"Draco!" Goyle gasped, struggling to stand. His voice was very high.

Malfoy seemed reluctant to touch him, but Goyle could not stand—he seemed much too upset to do anything constructive—and Malfoy finally reached out, grabbed Goyle's tiny shoulders and lifted him to his feet.

"Who did this?" Malfoy asked, then: "Did you eat something? Did you drink something?"

"Did it say, 'Drink me,' on the label?" Hermione added.

"Hermione!" Harry chastised.

Hermione grimaced apologetically. "I'm sorry; I couldn't help it."

"I don't know," Goyle wailed. "I was coming back from the Owlery and then suddenly everything was big. I tried to go down the stairs and back to the dungeons, but it was so hard. I had to give up."

Harry hoped no one would tell him he was ten steps away from the ground floor.

"And you didn't see anyone?" Malfoy asked "Or hear them?"

Goyle shook his head.

Harry looked to Malfoy. "Can you think of anyone who'd want to attack him?"

"How should I know?" Malfoy snapped. "He keeps punching people." Malfoy gave Goyle a sharp look. "Did you punch anyone today?"

"No!" Goyle said promptly, but then he scrunched up his nose, apparently thinking hard. "Maybe?"

Malfoy sighed and Goyle sniffed, tears rolling down his cheeks.

"I'm sure Madam Pomfrey will fix you right up," Hermione said, sounding extraordinarily kind, either because she was sorry she had teased him earlier or because she felt the need to coo at someone so small and distressed.

Goyle looked up at her, with a soppy, grateful look, but then he must have recognised her. His expression darkened into an ugly grimace. "Granger," he growled or, at least, he tried to growl; it sounded more like a squeal. Goyle's eyes narrowed. "Don't talk to me." He brandished his tiny little fist. "You're just a filthy—" Goyle yelped as Malfoy grabbed the front of his robes and yanked him up to his chest.

"I'll take him to the hospital wing," Malfoy said, cheeks pink. Goyle made a sound as though he meant to complain and Malfoy shook him; Goyle's legs swung back and forth. Malfoy pressed Goyle tighter against his chest, holding him like a child would hold a doll. Goyle was silent, obviously struggling to breathe in Malfoy's tight grip.

"Right, then," Harry said, glancing at Ron and Hermione. "You do that, and I'll, er, I have to go."

Malfoy frowned at him. "You... what?"

Harry forced a smile. "Ron and Hermione will keep you company." And make sure no one tires to murder you again. Harry omitted that part, but he was sure Malfoy would draw the right conclusion.

Malfoy looked at Ron and Hermione then back at Harry, quite obviously horrified. "What?" he repeated. Harry resisted pointing out Malfoy would crush Goyle if he continued to squeeze him so tightly.

"Sorry." Harry grinned, taking out his Invisibility Cloak. Malfoy looked so distressed, Harry could not hold himself back. He leaned forward and pressed a quick kiss to Malfoy's lips. He heard Ron groan, and Goyle kicked Harry in the chest.

Malfoy was stunned into silence and even failed to make a comment when Harry pulled on his Invisibility Cloak, saying, "I have to go vampire-hunting."

Harry bolted, eager to be as far away as possible before Ron, Hermione and Malfoy started fighting. He did not want to witness it. If they started hexing each other, Harry reasoned, at least they would do it on their way to the hospital wing, and then Madam Pomfrey could heal them all.

Harry dashed up the stairs heading toward the fourth floor. He hoped he was not too late. Once he reached the dark corridor where Draco and he were attacked by a hooded figure, Harry tiptoed to the wall that led to the hidden room. It was smoking, ever-so-slightly, and Harry stood a little farther away, pulling out his wand and making sure his cloak kept him well-hidden.

Minutes tickled by and Harry considered breaking into the room. For all he knew, it could have been empty. He had set the trap carefully, had even asked Ginny for another favour; she had been indignant at first, but calmed down and agreed when Harry explained what he wanted. Perhaps it wasn't enough, though. Perhaps the Hufflepuff Vampire had found another place to haunt, even though Harry had offered this room to it on a silver platter.

The wall glowed red. Harry stood up straighter, holding his breath. The door formed and opened slowly, and a dark, hooded figured stepped outside, wiping its mouth. Harry waited for the door to close and then pulled off his Invisibility Cloak.

"Stop right there!" he ordered, wand in hand.

The figure whirled around, took a step back, then reached for its wand.

"You won't hex me, will you, Lavender?" Harry asked.

The figure froze, staring for a long moment. Then she growled and pulled off her hood so sharply it messed up her long blond hair. Lavender looked wild in the faint light. Her eyes flashed, her expression hardened; even her scars looked angry. But the look she directed at Harry was full of hurt.

"It figures!" she spat. "I should have known you were waiting here. This is why you had Ginny Weasley patrol with Parvati! And here I was thinking you let me patrol alone because you understood. But no!" She scowled. "You sent me to the fourth floor because you wanted to catch the nasty vampire."

"Or werewolf," Harry said.

She growled again. "Hardly! Half a werewolf is right. Are you happy now? Will I get blamed for everything that happened?"

"Should you be?"

"No! Harry!" she cried, indignant. "How can you even—I Stunned Demelza! There, I confess! Arrest me."

Harry had not actually meant to blame her for everything, or even anything specific; she clearly had some wolfish characteristics, strength, heightened sense of smell, but werewolves were no more powerful than regular wizards; nonetheless, a person who skulked around the castle every night must have known something.

"What are you doing, exactly?" Harry asked. His gaze was drawn to a smudge of blood on her cheek, near her lips.

She must have noticed where he was staring and wiped at it angrily. "Feeding, if you must know."

Harry was slightly alarmed. "Feeding on what?"

She sniffed suddenly. Harry could see her eyes shine in the torchlight. "Meat, Harry. The bloodier, the better." Her voice was shaking. "I eat a plateful of steaks almost every night. I like them rare. Very rare. And during the full moon, I... I like them very, very rare." She looked a little shifty.

"Oh." Harry winced. Then that was her only secret, the only thing she was trying to hide. Harry was sorry he had ever caught her. It must have been embarrassing for her: the need for bloody meat. "You've been stealing them from the kitchens?" That's why the cloaked person was always seen near the Hufflepuff common room; Hermione was right: it was about food. Except that it had stopped when Harry reunited the D.A. The cloaked figure was not seen again, because there was no one to see her except the D.A. members, and Lavender knew where they were and how to avoid them.

"I'm not stealing!" she cried and Harry was just about to point out that it hadn't been an accusation, he was just thinking out loud, when she added, "The house-elves are giving me steaks. Every night, they leave a platter for me outside."

"They are?" Harry was surprised and not a little suspicious. "What do you mean they leave a platter for you outside? Outside where?" As far as Harry knew, if you wanted to get food from Hogwarts house-elves, you had to walk into the kitchens and request it. Ron had mentioned once he would love room-service, but Hermione had pointed out the house-elves were most likely forbidden to serve food anywhere except the Great Hall and the kitchens. If they were not, the students could easily abuse their servitude.

"Well, everywhere." Lavender shrugged. "A few weeks ago, I went to the kitchens at night; I was so hungry. I planned to ask the elves for some bloody steaks. But I didn't even have to! They left a whole platter for me outside the door. And after that, they always left it there for me. Except..." She narrowed her eyes at him. "When the D.A. started their patrols, it was harder to reach the kitchens, since I always had a partner. And then, on the night of the fire, I went out late, planning to go to the kitchens, but I heard someone; I thought it was Filch—it was just Harper, but I didn't know that—and I hid here. I found the entrance by accident. And guess what I found inside? Steaks, again. Don't you just love house-elves?"

"So..." Harry was confused. "You've never actually talked to them? You've never actually asked the house-elves to give you food?"

"Well, no. But they're house-elves. They live to serve. They know things."

"But they can't read minds."

"I... well, who else would do that for me? It's food. It had to come from somewhere. And in Hogwarts, it has to come from the kitchens."

That was a fair point. The house-elves seemed a bit odd lately. Their sudden urge for resting, the locked kitchen doors. Who knew what other oddities they had in store?

"You don't believe me, do you?" Lavender sniffed. "What does it matter where the food came from? I needed it. I'm not hurting anyone."

"I believe you," Harry said quickly. Surely she had no reason to lie.

She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "Like the scars aren't enough," she said bitterly. "I'm half an animal."

"No, you're not," Harry said. He thought of Bill, who had a wife who loved him by his side. "You have nothing to be embarrassed about. What happened to you isn't your fault."

"Oh thanks, Harry. I'll just stop being embarrassed now, because you said I should. Believe me, I'm well aware of whose fault it is."

Fault of a man who had just mysteriously died. Harry hated himself a little for badgering her, but he had to ask. "I assume you heard Greyback's dead?"

Her face transformed instantly. She looked furious. "Are you trying to blame me for that? So, what? Now you think I'm a murderer? Just because I'm half a werewolf?"

"No!" Although, who else could have killed Greyback? Lavender was the one wandering every night. She had a strong motive, she was angry, she was clearly capable. "I'm not blaming you, Lavender. If... Even if you've done something, I mean, maybe it was an accident. Self-defence. Even if it wasn't, I wouldn't blame—"

"I didn't kill anyone!" she screamed. "I'm glad he's dead. I'm so glad I could dance. He dropped dead and died like the rabid dog he was. Don't think I didn't wish for it. I wished for it every second of my life, ever since he did this to me, turned me into a monster. But I didn't kill him, Harry."

Harry stared at her. "You wished for it," he repeated, goose bumps forming on his neck and arms. Wish. One word, always coming up.

She shook her head in disbelief. "Of course I did."

What do I wish for? Harry had asked himself in his dream. It was an important question, but Harry had not known the answer. But now he did. He had wished for a mystery. He wanted to catch Death Eaters. He wanted to save people, stop them from getting hurt. He wanted to do something important, not waste his time.

And I got my wish. Minutes after he had stood in front of the Room of Requirement, wishing, it had come true.

You suspected Malfoy of something before anything happened?

Oh god.

Harry could not breathe.

"Harry?" Lavender asked; she sounded worried.

"You wished for the steaks, too. You were desperate for them."

"Must you keep repeating everything I said?" she snapped.

Harry's ears were buzzing; blood had rushed to his head. "Goldstein wanted Harper dead. Smith wanted to get Malfoy. Little Peterson wanted light."

"Wishing isn't a crime," Lavender said slowly as though speaking to a small child. "And don't you dare compare me to Goldstein. He murdered Harper."

"No more than you killed Greyback. Or I Stunned Tommy."


Harry snapped out of his daze and reached into his pocket. "We have to send messages," he said, pointing his wand at the Galleon, concentrating. His hand was shaking.

Lavender yelped as her Galleon burned and then took it out. "McGonagall's office?" She looked alarmed. "Why do you want everyone there? What will you tell her? I didn't kill any—!"

"I know, Lavender!" He grabbed her hand. "Come on!" He pulled her toward the staircases.

She wrenched free far too easily. "No! What will you tell McGonagall?"

"I'll tell her we have to get the hell out of this castle," Harry said and grabbed Lavender's hand again, frowning. "Pritchard!" He remembered suddenly. "Damn, I forgot. We need Jaime Peterson. He can't get out of the common room alone. The Slytherins, where are they? Zabini and the Greengrass sisters? Which floor?" Malfoy was too far, all the way on the first floor.

The question must have surprised Lavender because she answered promptly, forgetting to argue. "Luna and Zabini are on the fifth."

"Good. Come on!" He ran, pulling her along, and this time she went without a struggle. They bumped onto Zabini and Luna on the staircase, even before they reached the fifth floor. Harry asked them to go down to the dungeons, get Peterson and bring him to McGonagall's office.

Zabini studied him. "Anything else you'd like?"

"Will you do it or won't?" Harry snapped.

"We'll do it, Harry," Luna said. "Let's go, Blaise." Luna tugged at his sleeve and he obeyed her without another word of complaint.

Lavender stared after them. "Blimey. Do you think—"

"Oh, who cares, come on!" Harry turned to go up the stairs.

"Harry, wait!" Lavender cried. "There's a passage further down, leading up to the Headmistress—"

"I want to check something first. And I need you. Lavender, please."

She huffed but ran after him. They reached the seventh floor in no time. Harry hurried toward the Room of Requirement and pulled the door open. The Room was as dark and dead as ever.

Lavender peeked inside. "What were you expecting to find?"

Harry did not reply, but instead said, "Lavender, wish for a platter of bloody pig steaks."

She blinked at him. "Wish for—? But I just ate!"

"Just wish. Imagine. Imagine me holding it. Plateful of bloody steaks. Barely cooked at all. Stuck a fork in them and they'll drip blood."

Lavender's eyes darkened and a plateful of steaks appeared in Harry's hands. They looked very bloody indeed; Harry nearly dropped the plate in surprise. He suspected they were raw.

"It can't be," Lavender said, looking at the steaks, then glancing at the Room. "It's not working anymore; look at it! And even if it did, it can't Conjure food. Neville always said... No, it can't be. We were here this spring, we all wished for food, so much, but it just couldn't give it to us."

"The Room couldn't, but the castle can. Don't you see? The Room has been destroyed, but the magic survived. It's in the castle now, on the grounds. It has access to the kitchens."

"But how is that even possible? How could it just move?"

"I don't know," Harry said, despairing. "We have to talk to McGonagall."

Harry dropped the steaks to the floor, much to Lavender's distress.

"Wait, Harry!" she cried. "I'll just take one."

"Lavender!" Harry said, outraged, but she had already bent down and picked up one of the steaks, ready to take a bite. But then she froze, staring toward the staircases.

Harry turned to see Ginny and Parvati standing there, with twin expressions of shock.

"Lavender?" Parvati whispered. "What are you—?"

Lavender dropped the steak with a cry. "Nothing! It's doesn't matter! Come on! We're having an emergency here!" She ran past Harry in a flash.

"Er, Harry?" Ginny said.

Harry grimaced at them; there was no time to explain. "We have to hurry!" he said and ran after Lavender. Thankfully, Ginny and Parvati followed him without question.

They rushed to the Headmistress' tower. They found Ron, Hermione and Malfoy at the entrance, on their way upstairs.

"Harry!" Hermione said, doubling back. "What's going on?"

Harry's gaze raked over Malfoy, making sure he was all right. He looked all right, if a little grumpy. Harry looked back at Hermione. "Did Pomfrey help Goyle?"

Hermione shook her head. "She's still trying, but nothing seems to be working."

Harry suspected as much.

"What happened to Goyle?" Lavender asked.

"He shrunk," Harry said. "Come on," he said for the umpteenth time that evening. "We have to talk to McGonagall."

Ron frowned and Malfoy asked, "Did someone else get hurt?" He eyed Lavender, Ginny and Parvati suspiciously, possibly wondering what they were doing with Harry.

"No. And no one else will," Harry said. We just have to act fast.

Harry ran up the winding stairs and the rest of them followed quickly.

"It's okay, Harry. It's not like we have to know what's going on," Ron grumbled after him.

They found most of the D.A. members crowding McGonagall's office, as well as McGonagall herself. She looked quite cross.

"I hope you have a good reason for this invasion, Potter." Harry noted he was no longer Harry, apparently.

"Professor," Harry said, well-aware that everyone was listening and he was about to sound like a crazy person, "we have to evacuate the castle."

McGonagall's eyebrows rose.

"Why? What happened?" Hermione ran up to him.

"That's a fair question," McGonagall said, then her expression sharpened. "Has another student been hurt?"

"No," Harry said, "I mean, yes, someone shrank Gregory Goyle and Pomfrey can't fix him." Someone snickered at that, but Harry ignored them. If circumstances were different, a shrunk Goyle would be funny. "But it's only a matter of time before someone else gets hurt. Professor, I think I know what's going on." Harry hesitated; McGonagall looked expectant and Harry did not know how to present his theory in a plausible way. "There was a room in this castle, the Room of Requirement, I'm sure you've heard of it. Dumbledore's Army used to meet there in our fifth-year, and this spring they were hiding there from the Carrows. It had its own special magic; once inside, it gave a person everything they want, with few limitations. But when they left the room, it all Vanished. It only ever had power within the Room itself and nowhere else.

"It was destroyed during the Battle of Hogwarts. It burned down. It no longer works; it's just a dead room. But... I think the magic survived. It wasn't destroyed with the room. I think it somehow bled into the castle. And it's trying to do what it has always done—fulfil wishes."

McGonagall's expression was impossible to read. Harry could not tell if she was thinking about what he said, or thinking about calling Pomfrey to give Harry an Anti-babbling Potion. Harry looked to Hermione for help.

Hermione was biting her lip. "Oh, I don't know, Harry. It would explain so much, but then again... didn't the Room require specific instructions? And it fulfilled every wish. If it was doing that all this time, within the castle, we would notice."

"And though the magic was not destroyed, since it can't be, and, yes, we've discussed this, I remember," McGonagall said, "it doesn't mean it will retain its form. It was bound to the room. When the Room was destroyed, the magic lost its purpose. Yes, I suppose, one could say the magic is still in the castle, it still exists, it is everywhere, but the Room was enchanted and that enchantment has been broken. When you lift the Dancing Charm from your teacup, Potter, the magic does not run off to enchant another cup."

"I know. But this isn't a Dancing Charm. This is an ancient enchantment; ancient magic that came with the castle. Isn't it possible that something so old and powerful could break rules? What if it's impossible to evict it, impossible to destroy it because it's a part of the castle, like Peeves? Oh! Peeves!" Harry exclaimed. "Everyone wants to get rid of Peeves. The students, the house-elves; everyone's always hoping Peeves won't show up. And we got our wish. And if this magic managed to get rid of Peeves, there's no telling what else it can do."

"I'm wishing for my very own Firebolt right now, Harry," Ron said. "But..." He waved with his empty hands.

Hermione looked indecisive. "That's a good point. Although..." She frowned. "It is possible for magic to be Transformed; to be enchanted to transform as a way of protection. Isn't it?" She looked at McGonagall.

"Theoretically," McGonagall allowed. "Destruction of one enchantment could trigger another. However, what Potter is suggesting here... Do you think the founders would allow such dangerous magic to enchant the castle?"

"Not deliberately, of course," Hermione agreed. "But such an enchantment would require a certain sentience from the magic; in a way, it had been enchanted to protect itself. So, when the Fiendfyre threatened it..."

"It ran?" McGonagall pursed her lips.

"Possibly?" Hermione said. "But it must have been damaged; it lost its purpose, was unable to serve, because it hadn't really done anything before..." Hermione turned pensive. "Didn't it all start on the day of the Gryffindor-Slytherin match?"

"It did," Harry said. "Oh! The match!"

"Oh yes!" Hermione exclaimed. "All those people wishing for the same thing, well, two opposite things—for their team to win. Those Bludgers knocked down so many players, on both sides."

"That's it!" Harry looked back to McGonagall. "Just imagine, Professor. For centuries, the magic knew what it was supposed to do. And then suddenly it found itself in a castle filled with hundreds of voices, all of them wishing for something all the time. It was just noise, it couldn't hear everyone, it couldn't fulfil every wish. If you're in a crowded room and everyone's yelling, all at the same time, you have a better chance of understanding them if there's a group of people yelling the same thing. Or if someone's yelling the same thing over and over again, especially if it's a voice you already know.

"That Sunday everyone was emotional, focused on one thing. That must have been when it understood us for the first time, when it realised it can do what it had already done in the past. It locked the entrance because a bunch of Gryffindors wanted the match not to take place. It turned the match into a massacre, trying to please both sides. After that, it must have listened to desperate wishes of the people it knew because they had been in the Room before. Members of Dumbledore's Army, like Goldstein, who wanted Harper to fall off a tower; Smith, who wanted Malfoy dead. A little kid afraid of the dark: Pritchard and his friends had locked Jamie Peterson in the Room of Requirement before; it knew him, too. It didn't matter how specific the wish was; I think it listened to emotions, despair behind it. It listened to what it learned to listen to on the day of the match.

"Oh, and the Map! Hermione, the Map! The Room never showed up on it because it was Unplottable. And as the magic of the Room spread throughout the castle, the Map slowly disappeared.

"And Parvati!" Harry turned to face her and she jumped a little. "Harper was Apparating all over the castle, near you, because you wished it."

Parvati shook her head in denial but Harry did not believe her.

"And Tommy Wright?" McGonagall asked. Harry was glad to hear her speak. "Fenrir Greyback?"

"I Stunned Tommy," Harry said, miserable. McGonagall looked shocked. "I mean, I went into the castle that day, thinking Malfoy would curse him." Harry did not dare to look around at Malfoy. Sorry, he thought. "I went up to the Room and stood there, regretting that I came back to Hogwarts. I wanted to be out there, hunting Dark Wizards, doing something worthwhile. I wanted action, mysteries, excitement. I wasn't specific; the Room must have improvised; gave me what it thought I wanted. It even gave me cobwebs."

"Why the hell were you wishing for cobwebs?" Ron asked.

"It was stupid. The room looked so dead and eerie. I remember thinking cobwebs and dust would make it look more natural, less scary. And it Conjured them, too, not in the Room, but around Tommy. I think the Room is still the best place to wish for something. It must have heard me and then gave me a package of everything I wanted; the Room's best guess. And then it must have moved the stairs, made sure I found my mystery.

"And speaking of spiders! Did you notice how clean the castle is? And the house-elves are sleeping. They seem to have more free time than ever; they must have wished the castle clean, together. It's something they think about all the time.

"And Greyback..." Harry hesitated.

"My wish," Lavender said quietly.

"And mine!" Parvati cried. "Don't you dare think it wasn't my wish, too!"

"Greyback was with the Carrows in Hogsmeade," Harry said. "We knew about the Carrows; the D.A. was desperate to make sure they didn't break into the castle. And they couldn't break in. Greyback, though; we didn't even think about him. But Lavender did, she wished him dead. And when he tried to get inside, the magic seized its chance. He was found by the edge of the forest, near the border where Hogwarts' protection ends."

McGonagall was silent for several long moments. "I'm inclined to believe you, Potter," she said at last. "Though, I've not heard of anything like it before. I'm sure the Ministry and the Board of Governors haven't, either. They will want to investigate, prove your theories. It won't be easy to convince them, you've said it yourself, the motives are there; what you want to do, essentially, is to prove everyone's innocent and the true guilty party is an ancient magic with sentient qualities, which escaped from a Room whose existence was not widely known."

"Then forget about them," Harry said urgently. "Don't you see how dangerous it is for anyone to stay here for a minute longer? One more wish and someone else could die. We've been so lucky. People wish for the craziest things all the time. We've been lucky it only listened to desperation. But it's all piling up; not a day goes by without something dreadful happening. It's learning, becoming more powerful. We have to get out of the castle, Professor. Tonight. As fast as we can. This isn't something we can control. If someone wants to investigate, they can do it once we all leave."

"The Board of Governors—"

"Is not here! It's your decision, Professor."

McGonagall did not have a chance to reply. The door opened and Luna and Zabini walked in, leading a sleepy-looking Jamie Peterson inside. Harry rushed to the little kid's side and knelt down on one knee, grabbing his shoulders.

"Jamie, I need you to tell me about the night your dormitory burned down. I need you to tell me the truth."

Peterson looked alarmed. "I don't know anything. I've already said."

"Are you sure? Because I think there's one thing you haven't told us. I think you saw the candles. I think you saw them and you were very happy they were there."

Peterson shook his head, his eyes wide.

McGonagall stood up and approached them. "Mr Peterson, you are in no trouble, but you must answer truthfully."

"The fire wasn't your fault," Harry said gently. "We know that. Even if you think otherwise, but you have to tell us what you've seen."

Peterson hesitated, glancing between Harry and McGonagall. McGonagall smiled at him and that seemed to make him bolder. "It was so dark," he said at last. "Earlier that evening, they locked me inside that horrid room; Draco Malfoy let me out." Harry glanced at Malfoy. He was at the far end of the room, leaning against the wall, expressionless. Harry did not like the look in his eyes; he was staring at Harry. "I was so scared; in my dormitory, too, when it got dark," Peterson continued and Harry looked back at him. "And those creatures were outside the window, staring at me. I just wanted the dormitory to be bright; like the Great Hall." Peterson looked miserable. "And then... then there were hundreds of candles floating near the ceiling. I have no idea how they got there, but I was so relieved. I was just scared the others would notice and make them disappear, but not one of them woke up. And I fell asleep. But when I woke up, there was fire everywhere."

Careful what you wish for, Harry thought. The magic helped him, but when the fire started it could do nothing; not until Lavender and the others showed up and spelled it and wished it, away. "And last night?" Harry said. "When you were in that room again, what were you thinking?"

Peterson blinked. "What was I thinking? I was scared."

"I know, but there were things you thought about, things you wanted. Did you want to send me a message?"

"Of course I did. But they took my Galleon."

"But you thought about it, right? If you had the Galleon, what would you write? Where were you? What do you call the room? The Horrible Room?"

Peterson shook his head. "The Dead Room. It looks dead."
"Yeah, it does. I did get your message."

"But I never sent—"

"What else did you think about?"

Peterson was growing frustrated. "I don't know!"

"Of course you do. Three boys had just locked you up again. Didn't you think about them, too? You wanted to stop them, remember?"

"Well, yes. I did think about them. About how horrible they are. How much..."

"What?" Harry urged.

"How much I wanted them to just leave me alone. To go away. To disappear."

McGonagall sucked in a breath. "They've been Vanished."

Peterson gulped. "But I just wanted it. I didn't do anything."

"Oh, Jamie, you did," Harry said. "It's a very special room. It gave you what you wanted." Harry looked up at McGonagall. "There's a good chance that Tommy and Goyle will be fine once we get them past the grounds. The magic should have no power there. But Pritchard and the others, if they've been Vanished..."

"We have to retrieve them." She wrung her hands, staring at Peterson. "And you have to help."

Peterson shook his head violently. "I can't do that. That's too advanced. I can't even Conjure a glass of water."

"It was your wish, Mr Peterson, your intent that Vanished them. And you know them and the Room knows you. You have the best chance to retrieve them with minimal damage. And it seems..." McGonagall glanced at Harry. "Intent is all that matters. You just have to wish them back hard enough."

The expression on Peterson's face clearly showed that he did not wish that at all.

"If they are not retrieved, they are as good as dead. It might be too late as it is. Vanishing human beings... It should not be even attempted." McGonagall gave Peterson a sharp look. "Take out your wand, it will help you focus. The incantation is—"


The spell hit the floor behind McGonagall with a sharp crack; it glowed yellow, dissipating slowly to reveal a heap of boys, three of them stacked one on top of the other. One of them moved and groaned.

Harry whirled around to see Malfoy with his wand out, pointing at the newly-appeared Slytherins. Malfoy slowly tucked his wand away. He glanced at Harry. "The Room knows me, too, remember? And I'm fairly certain I wanted them to go away at some point, as well."

Harry gave him a small, unsure smile. Malfoy looked so distressed, so gloomy. Why did he always have to be so miserable?

Another boy groaned and Harry turned to look at him. They seemed fine; Harry hoped that meant Tommy would be all right, too. He regretted he had never actively wished for Tommy to wake up; he wanted him to live, he wanted to catch whoever had Stunned him, but he had never actually sat down and desperately wished for him to recover. Not as desperately as he had wanted his mystery and excitement. McGonagall was wrong when she said he was trying to prove everyone was innocent; everyone was guilty, the Room's magic was their tool.

McGonagall was staring at the Slytherin boys on the floor, clutching her chest. Harry suspected she had not truly believed him before she had seen the Vanished students appear.

She looked sideways; Harry thought she might have been looking at Dumbledore's portrait, but he was not sure. She turned around, paler and older than Harry had ever seen her. "Alert your classmates," she said. "Have everyone pack. I'll alert the other teachers and summon the carriages." Her lips thinned. "We're leaving the castle. In the meantime... be careful what you wish for."

Chapter Nine

The Last Wish

As the rest of the Gryffindors headed toward the tower, Harry ran down the stairs.

"Malfoy, wait!" he called, catching up with the small group of Slytherins. Malfoy nodded at Zabini and the Greengrass sisters and lingered behind.

Harry caught his arm. "Are you all right?" He did not like the blank expression on Malfoy's face.

"Peachy," Malfoy said.

Harry's fingers wrapped tighter around Malfoy's arm. "Pack fast, will you? You almost died three times."

"The Room's magic must not like me very much. I did have a hand in destroying it."
"No!" Harry said, though it had crossed his mind, too. The possibility that the Room was too eager to fulfil Smith's and Pritchard's wishes. Or mine? The thought horrified him, but he could not stop thinking about it. What if he had some deep secret desire to save Malfoy, again and again? What if that kept throwing Malfoy into danger? But that could not have been true, could it? He had been so desperate to keep Malfoy alive, but what if the magic had misinterpreted his wish? Harry remembered the night Malfoy had spent broken on the pitch; he had been dreaming about Malfoy's dot on the Map. It had vanished and Harry had cried, desperately wanting it to reappear. Was it possible his desperation had helped keep Malfoy alive, despite all odds? That meant he had got his wish, but it was small confront if he had been the one who had helped get Malfoy hurt in the first place. If he hadn't, why was the Room's magic so quick to give Smith what he had wanted? Smith hadn't been wishing it for long; he was supposed to be fast asleep, system full of Dreamless Sleep Potion. He had no thoughts. And why had the Room led him to the pitch? Why not just break Malfoy's broom and let him fall; it did not need Smith's presence. "Crabbe burned down the Room."

"And I led him there. And the Room reads minds, remember?"

Harry squeezed Malfoy's arm even tighter; he was probably hurting him. "You had better be on the first carriage away from here."

Malfoy's lips twitched. "As you wish."

"Smartarse." Harry barely got the word out when Malfoy leaned in and kissed him. The hard, toe-curling kiss left Harry embarrassingly dizzy. "Well," Harry said, breathless when Malfoy pulled away.

Malfoy smiled, though Harry did not like that smile. "Goodbye, Potter," Malfoy said, then turned and left.

"I'll see you soon!" Harry called, frowning. Malfoy did not look back.

Harry was tempted to follow him, grab him, Summon his Firebolt and fly them out of the castle right now, but Ron and Hermione showed up by his side, and the momentary urge passed.

"Don't you think things like that can wait, mate?" Ron asked. "Am I snogging my girlfriend? No, I'm not. We're supposed to be packing. And that was your idea."

Harry forcibly pushed Malfoy out of his mind and studied his friends. "You two do believe me, right?" He glanced at Hermione.

"Sentient magic possessing the castle... what's not to believe?"

Harry narrowed his eyes at her, suspecting sarcasm.

"Of course I believe you, Harry," Hermione said. "I just can't decide if your theory breaks the laws of magic or merely expands on them. Or I have somehow misinterpreted them originally." The possibility she might have misinterpreted something seemed to terrify her.

"I doubt something like this was ever described in some book," Harry said. "Perhaps you can study this phenomena and write your own book."

"Hmm," she grumbled. "I do wonder, though, if Hogwarts magic turned against us, so to speak, what will happen to the school? It was only recently restored and now..." She looked sad.

"Can't we just... wish the magic away?" Ron asked. "Tell it to go back to the Room? Or wherever?"

"But does it even have a sense of self?" Hermione countered, looking pensive. "Would it even know what we're asking? What if it concludes that by magic we mean our wands, or ourselves? It reacted on instinct when it ran from the Room of Requirement; I'm not sure it could do something like that consciously, without the threat of destruction, which would awaken its instincts."

"Better not risk it," Harry said. He hoped some experts would be called in and they would be able to do something, make the school safe again. I should stop wishing for things, he reminded himself. "Let's worry about the students first."

She nodded and they hurried to the Gryffindor Tower to pack.

By the time they reached the common room, it was already empty. They could hear yelling upstairs. "Pack! Pack! Pack!" someone was ordering with the utmost authority. Harry thought it might be Lavender.

"We shouldn't let people panic," Harry said. "People think odd things when they panic."

"Probably a bit late for that." Hermione grimaced, squeezed Ron's hand and rushed to her dormitory. Ron and Harry did the same.

They found Dean and Seamus packing, and Neville sitting on his bed, holding his Flitterbloom and looking gloomy.

"Pack!" Ron told him.

Neville did not move. "Do you think it's real?" he asked. "Hannah always claimed she never sent it to me."

Ron stared at him. "What, the plant?"

Neville nodded. "With the blue blossom. It's so rare."

"Er," Harry said. "Did you desperately want it? For a long time?"

Neville nodded again.

"What, the plant?" Ron repeated, sounding even more incredulous.

"Sorry, Neville," Harry said and then shrugged at Ron when Ron mouthed, "Mental."

Dean yelped. Harry looked around to see his books and clothes jump into his trunk one after the other. "I'm not doing that!" Dean cried.

"Dean, calm down," Harry said.

"It's helping us pack now?" Ron looked up and down, left and right, as though he might see some mysterious magic appear.

Harry grimaced. "We have to hurry. The students were told they have to leave immediately; they must be scared and eager to get out. The castle might end up shaking us off like fleas."

"Don't say that!" Ron ordered. "Don't give it ideas."

"Right. I have to stop thinking, too, probably." As he said that, he could not help thinking it would be a miracle if they all got out of here alive.

Groaning, Harry hurried to pack his trunk.

Trouble found them almost two hours later; it was nearing midnight. Harry, Ron, Dean, Seamus and Neville lingered behind, making sure all Gryffindor boys were packed, accounted for and ready to leave. It all took much too long for Harry's liking.

The common room was crowded and everyone was yelling. It took awhile for Harry to push to the front and out of the portrait hole, where he was greeted by thunderous racket.

"Harry, the staircases!" Hermione called, rushing to his side and pulling him toward the main staircases. Harry froze when he saw them. They were wild, bucking left and right, up and down, now they were connected to this corridor, now to the other. They were all moving, all the way down to the ground floor.

"I think... I think they're trying to help," Hermione said. "Get us down fast."

"I said we shouldn't panic," Harry said, panicking.

"EVERYONE! CALM DOWN!" Ron's voice thundered. Harry winced and turned to stare at him. Ron was standing near the portrait hole, grinning. "SONOROUS CHARM," he explained, quite needlessly. "NOW EVERYONE WISH FOR THE STAIRCASES TO STOP MOVING. CONCENTRATE!"

"Why would that help?" someone asked. Several students murmured their agreement and confusion. Some demanded to know what was going on. Perhaps they should have told everyone their wishes were not safe, but there was no time and it might have induced greater panic.

"NEVER YOU MIND!" Ron boomed. "JUST DO IT!"

Hermione looked worried. "Will that be enough? Even if they stay still, they could start moving again once we're halfway through."

"We have no choice, Hermione. We have to get out and every route is potentially dangerous."

With a mighty roar, the staircases slammed against each other and stayed put. The students looked shocked.

"Come on, Hermione." Harry took her hand.

"Don't move, don't move, don't move," Hermione chanted as they stepped onto the first step.


It worked, though it had taken awhile for the other students to follow Harry and Hermione. The D.A. members grabbed a few arms, pushed a few students forward and down they went.

They made it to the ground floor safely, if slowly, and Hermione directed them down the dim corridor leading to the Entrance Hall. They had barely taken a few steps when the torches that lined the walls burst into wild flames.

Students screamed as several robes caught fire, as well as a little girl's long hair. Hermione whirled around and Vanished the small fires instantly.

"Honestly!" she cried, restoring the little girl's hair with a wave of her wand. "The corridor is bright enough." The moment she said that all the torches went out and left them in the dark. "Oh, for heaven's sake!" She groaned and lit up her wand. Harry followed her example and so did several other students.

They reached the Entrance Hall by wandlight. McGonagall was there, surrounded by several other teachers. She walked briskly to meet them.

"We were just planning to come up and fetch you. Is everything all right? All the other Houses are already out on the grounds."

"Small trouble with the staircases," Harry said. "But everyone's fine."


"Mr Weasley!" McGonagall jumped in fright. "What on earth—?"

"SORRY, PROFESSOR!" Ron looked sheepish, and then he yelped when Hermione turned and pointed her wand at his throat. "Quietus!" she hissed.

"Blimey! My throat hurts." Ron grimaced. "But it really is odd that the Ravenclaws got out before we did."

"Well, they're Ravenclaws," Hermione said. "They're organized and pack faster." She stared at the students exiting the castle, her expression sad. "I can't believe we're leaving. What about our N.E.W.T.s?"

"Don't worry," Harry said. "I'm sure you'll pass all your N.E.W.T.s with an Outstanding, Hermione."

She gave him a sardonic sort of look. "Yes, well, if we stayed here, I could have wished for it and it would come true."

"You hardly need such tricks, Miss Granger," McGonagall said. "Come along now. The carriages are waiting. We're the last ones here." She looked around the castle; Harry thought her eyes looked a bit bright.

The D.A. members waited with the teachers for everyone else to leave.

"I'm sure someone will, er, fix the castle," Harry told McGonagall.

She pursed her lips. "Tommy Wright and Gregory Goyle were led outside almost immediately. They're both fine. Mr Wright is awake and Mr Goyle has returned to his original size. And Professor Plunkett had been miraculously cured, as well. It seems the students had wished his voice away." She shook her head. "You were right. Which means... this is something that will not be easily fixed. I'm certain a way to contain this magic will be found, but it might take a good long while."

Harry was happy to hear Tommy was all right, though he tried not to show it; McGonagall seemed too melancholic to appreciate happiness at the moment.

But then McGonagall smiled suddenly, even laughed a little, though it sounded sad. She looked at Harry sideways. "I liked being Headmistress," she confided. Then she shook her head again and sobered. "Should have known you would ruin it for me, Potter."

Harry's jaw dropped in indignation. "Me? I didn't—"

"Oh hush!" She gave him a fond look. "It was rather stressful; that can be my comfort. Come on. We should leave before I regret it and express a wish to stay."

Outside, they found an outrageous number of carriages lined up neatly in long rows. Students were Levitating and lifting their trunks onto the carriages in the first row, though some trunks, Harry noticed, jumped up all on their own. High up above them, floating candles were burning, hundreds, maybe thousands of them. They cast bright light and warmth down on the snowy grounds.

The magic's kind, Harry thought. It was only ever trying to help, trying to serve.

Farther to the left, Harry noticed a small assembly of Hogwarts ghosts; they glowed faintly in the night.

"Are the ghosts leaving, too?" Harry asked McGonagall. "The magic wouldn't fulfil their wishes, surely?"

"That I do not know. I've explained the situation, and the fact that the magic has Vanished Peeves worries them. It seems they're reluctant to take any chances. The house-elves are gone, too. They have Disapparated."

Harry frowned. "Should we try to retrieve Peeves?"

"We should leave, I think." She looked up at the mass of candles. "There will be time to retrieve Peeves. We'll leave it to the experts. The castle is not going anywhere. Now go put away your trunk. There are not enough carriages for everyone. We'll pass through the gates on foot and they will take us to Hogsmeade station in batches."

"Oh." Harry looked around. "I forgot my trunk." He had left it in the common room and gone outside to see what was going on. "I'll Summon—" The trunk appeared before him. "Thanks," he grumbled.

McGonagall shook her head. "A single thought was enough. It seems it is getting more skilful."

Perhaps it was, but everyone was thinking about packing and leaving, so perhaps the magic was simply attuned to it. Frowning, Harry hurried to load up his trunk; his housemates had gone ahead and were already Levitating their luggage onto the carriages. Harry's gaze scanned the grounds and found a familiar face in the crowd that was moving toward the gates.

"Be right back," he told Ron and ran over to the group of Slytherins. "Zabini!" he called, pushing his way through. "Have you seen Malfoy? Where is he?" Harry could not see a white-blond head anywhere.

Zabini paused and looked at Harry disdainfully, as though to say: "Are we mates, now? Why are you speaking to me?" A little boy stood next to Zabini, clutching his hand. Harry smiled at him and the boy raised an eyebrow in perfect imitation of his brother's disdain.

Harry eyed Zabini expectantly, ready to beg for information if he had to.

Zabini shrugged. "He was here. Must have gone ahead."

"Did you see him go ahead?" Harry looked toward the gates, trying to spot Malfoy again. "Is he wearing a hat?"

"No, I've not seen him. And, curiously, I actually don't remember who was wearing a hat and who was not. I'll try to remember such things in the future, I'm sure." He cocked his head. "Wish him here, why don't you?"

Harry had actually tried that, though not purposely. He did not say that, though, but settled for a scowl. He pushed past Zabini and found the Greengrass sisters, Millicent Bulstrode, and even questioned Nott. He tried the same with Pansy Parkinson, but she ran away from him. None of them knew where Malfoy was, although Astoria Greengrass had assured him they had led the Slytherins out of the dungeons together, but she had not seen him since.

Harry threw caution to the wind and actively wished for Draco to appear. Maybe he's already past the gates. If he was, then Harry could not call him back. Harry had begged him to get out as fast as possible. Maybe Malfoy had listened.

Goodbye, Potter.

Harry's chest hurt; his heart was beating too fast. Why had Malfoy said goodbye? And said it in a way that sounded so final? It's just something you say. It meant nothing. But Harry could not shake away a growing sense of panic. He doubled back, questioning everyone he knew and every Slytherin who crossed his path. No one had seen him and Harry grew desperate. I want Malfoy, I want Malfoy, I want Malfoy. It did not help.

A little ahead, he spotted Parvati and Lavender. Parvati was yelling as Lavender lifted her enormous trunk onto the carriage with ridiculous ease. Harry ran toward them; he had not questioned them yet.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Parvati was saying, nearly screaming. "You have to eat what you have to eat! It's not your fault! There's no shame in that!"

"Oh, easy for you to say," Lavender spat. "You have nothing to be ashamed of. Look at you! You're as pretty as you've always been. And me? I'm a monster." Lavender sniffed. "Sometimes it hurts to look at you. You're everything I used to be."

Harry winced and took a careful step back, intending to flee; they did not need his questions now. And it was unlikely they had seen Malfoy, anyway. They had arrived with Harry.

Harry almost turned, but then he stopped short, staring at Parvati. A bloody steak appeared in her hand. She gave Lavender a wild look and bit out a huge chunk of bloody meat, so angrily Harry feared she would break her teeth.

"There!" she yelled; there were smudges of blood on her cheek. She chewed savagely and swallowed. "Now I'm a monster, too!"

A broken sound tore from Lavender's throat and then they were hugging and crying, clinging to each other as Parvati chanted, "You are beautiful. You are, you are."

Embarrassed for intruding, Harry tried to disappear as inconspicuously as he could. Lavender noticed him, however.

"Harry!" she called, pulling away from Parvati, but only slightly. "Is everything all right?"

"I... er, sorry," Harry said and Parvati wiped away her tears. "I just can't find Malfoy."

Parvati frowned. "Didn't see him."

"Did you send him a message?" Lavender asked.

Bloody hell. The Galleon. "I forgot. Will do that. Thanks." Harry took another hasty step back.

Lavender shook her head at him.

Harry hesitated for a moment, telling himself to shut up and run away, but he heard himself say, "You know, scars are cool, Lavender. Very warrior-like." He grinned nervously as she raised her eyebrows. "You should be an Auror. You'd fit right in."

For a second, Harry thought Lavender might walk over, punch him and tell him to mind his own business and shut up about what he didn't understand, but she snorted and said, "I might just do that."

Harry smiled. He thought of suggesting she should talk to someone. Perhaps Bill Weasley. He liked his steaks rare, too, but did not appear to crave them so desperately. And so bloody. Perhaps if Lavender allowed herself to eat whatever she wished regularly, her cravings would not be so strong.

This was not the time for that conversation, however. Harry ran away, taking out his Galleon as he went. The Hogwarts grounds were slowly clearing. Most students had already left.

Harry touched the Galleon with his wand and concentrated. His message appeared on the Galleon and Harry stared at it, waiting. He was not sure how long he stood like that, but then someone tugged at his sleeve.

"Did you find him?" Hermione asked when he looked at her. They must have heard he had been searching for Malfoy.

He shook his head. "He won't answer my message."

"But then he must be on his way to the station," Ron said. "And he didn't notice his Galleon went off. What else? You think he stayed behind?" Ron looked up at the castle. "Why?"

Goodbye, Potter. "No. I don't know."

Hermione stared at him. "You think the Room is trying to kill him, don't you?"

"I don't know," Harry repeated, frustrated. "I just want to make sure he's all right with my own eyes." Please, don't be in danger. Please be here. Harry was desperate, but the magic was not listening.

"Maybe we could try wishing him here?" Ron suggested. "You know, together."

Hermione did not look happy with that suggestion. "I don't think this is something we should rely on. It's too easy to misinterpret a wish. What if the magic sends him flying here and he breaks his neck?"

"We could wish him to be here, safe and healthy," Harry said. "It's worth a try. He's not here on the grounds. I looked everywhere. He's either gone or he's in the castle. And if he's in the castle, he could be in danger. It's worth the risk."

"Wait, then." Hermione pointed her wand at the castle's entrance. "Homenum revelio," she whispered. Nothing happened. "The castle's empty," she said.

"Then it can't hurt to try wish him back," Harry insisted. At this point, he was prepared to believe Malfoy was all right, only after he saw him.

"All right," Hermione said at last. They closed their eyes and wished; when they opened them, Malfoy was not there.

"Maybe we need more people," Harry said.

"Harry, everyone's gone."

Harry looked around. Hermione was right. A few teachers were standing by the gates. McGonagall was looking their way, impatient.

"With only a handful of us left," Hermione said, "It must have heard us. If Malfoy was in the castle, we'd wish him back. And as far as your theory goes, Harry, the Room had a chance to kill Malfoy, but it never did. So I don't think you're right about that."

"Yeah, you're right." Harry's teeth bit down on his lip painfully.

Goodbye, Potter.

"Come on," Harry said. "Before McGonagall tries to Summon us."

They hurried toward the gates. The only two people left on Hogwarts grounds were McGonagall and Ginny.

"Is there a problem?" McGonagall asked.

"No," Harry said quickly before Ron and Hermione could mention Malfoy.

"Yes, there is!" Ginny said.

"Miss Weasley," McGonagall scolded. "Off with you."

Ron frowned at his sister. "What's wrong?"

She looked up at him, clearly distressed. "Hagrid's horses disappeared when he led them past the gates. And Neville's plant, too."

"Er, well, that's..." Ron looked at the book she was clutching to her chest. "What do you have there? Oh Ginny, whatever it is, it's not worth staying here."

"Come on." Hermione wrapped her arm around Ginny's shoulders and led her past the gates. The book was still in her hands, but Ginny said, "I can't look! I can't look!" She shoved the book into Hermione's hands and closed her eyes. "You look! Is there a letter inside?"

Bemused, Hermione searched through the book. "Hmm, I don't... Oh, there it is. It's from... Gwenog Jones?"

Ginny's squeal pierced the sky. "It's real! Ron! It's real!"

Ron was there at once.

That leaves McGonagall, Harry thought.

Ron snatched the letter and read through it quickly. "Tryouts. For the Harpies. Blimey." He looked utterly shocked.

"Professor Slughorn showed her some Omnioculars' recordings and told her about me! Can you believe it?"
"Blimey!" Ron cried again, and then he laughed and picked up Ginny, twirling her around.

McGonagall huffed. "Well, at least someone is happy today."

"You'll be back here soon, Professor," Harry said. "I'm sure of it."

She smiled at him. "Ah, well now, if you're sure, it must be true."

Go. Please go.

She went. One step, another, and she was past the gates. Harry breathed a sigh of relief.

"Did you hear that, Harry?" Ron was saying. "My baby sister! Trying out for the Holyhead Harpies!"

"That's brilliant," Harry said. There must have been something in his voice that attracted everyone's attention.

Ron stopped smiling. "Harry?"

"We should go, Harry," Hermione said.

Harry shook his head. "I have to make sure he's not here."

Hermione's eyes widened in alarm.

"Who is here? A student?" McGonagall looked up at the castle and then took a step forward, as though to return to the grounds. Harry winced when she hit against the invisible barrier. She stared at him, shocked. "Potter? What are you doing?"

"He thinks Malfoy's inside," Ron said. "But he can't be, Harry."

Goodbye, Potter.

"I have to check. I'll be right back."

"Harry, no!" Hermione took out her wand and hurled spells at the barrier. It did not help. "Let us in! We'll go with you!"

"I'll be fine, Hermione."

"You cannot know that, Potter," McGonagall said. She had her wand out as well. "The magic just lost everyone; has lost its purpose entirely. It might latch onto all your wishes. It might be unsafe to think. If someone is still in the castle, we will send Ministry experts to retrieve them. Get out, Potter!"

Get out, Potter, Malfoy had yelled in Harry's dream, but Harry could not leave. He had to kill a dragon. "I'm sorry, Professor. I can't wait that long." Harry turned away.

"Harry!" Ginny's desperate cry was followed by more shouts of "Harry" and "Potter." Behind him, the night exploded with spells. They won't get through. Not if I don't let them.

Harry clutched the Galleon in his hand and ran back to the castle.


Harry went straight to the dungeons. Halfway there, he stopped. Astoria had claimed she and Malfoy had led the Slytherins out of the dungeons together. Malfoy had disappeared afterward. Maybe he had simply forgotten something and returned to his dormitory. Or maybe not.

Sometimes I end up somewhere, and I don't know how I got there. I meant to go to the pitch, but I ended up there, instead. Outside the Room. I end up there most of the time.

Harry whirled around and sprinted to the main staircases. They were zigzagging wildly around, but Harry did not pause. Stop, he thought and stop they did.

He's not here. He's not. He's not.

He could not have been. Why would he be? He must have reached Hogsmeade station ages ago. But Harry dashed up the stairs, head spinning as he went round and round, leaving floors behind.

He's not here. Don't be here.

Harry all but flew toward the Room of Requirement, and then froze, shocked.

Malfoy was there. The Room's door was open; Malfoy's hand was on the knob. He was staring at the darkness inside.

"Malfoy! Get away from it!" Harry screamed, but Malfoy did not seem to hear him, even though Harry was merely a few feet away.

Harry fully intended to run up to Malfoy and grab him, tear him away from the room, drag him out of the castle, but he never got the chance.

Something boomed in the distance, roared and creaked, coming from behind the wall that closed off the corridor in front of them, turning it into a dead end. High-pitched screams reached Harry's ears. It can't be. Everyone's gone. There was no one left to scream.

The screams grew louder and the wall cracked and glowed, first yellow then red.

"Help us!" someone cried and Harry suddenly recognised the screams. Hundreds of terrified voices; the Hogwarts portraits were in agony.

"Malfoy," Harry whispered, but Malfoy turned toward the glowing wall, away from Harry. "Malfoy!" Harry tried again, taking out his wand.

The wall melted and an enormous head of a fiery dragon pushed through, heading straight for Malfoy.

"Accio Malfoy!"

It worked. Malfoy spun around and shot toward Harry. They tumbled to the ground; Harry's head hit the stone with a dull thud. His vision blurred.

"Potter?" Malfoy was above him, staring down; Harry could barely make out his white-blond hair.

"RUN!" Harry bellowed, struggling to get up; his head hurt, the world was spinning. He could feel the heat of the Fiendfyre licking his skin, scorching it.

Malfoy yanked him upward, then dragged him toward the stairs.

"Hold tight!" Malfoy said, bodily pressing Harry against the banister, the push so sudden and hard Harry thought he would fall over the edge. He couldn't see.

"DOWN!" Malfoy yelled and Harry's stomach lurched. They shot downward, the stairs falling like a broken lift left to freefall.

There was light in front of Harry's eyes. Why can't I see? Everything was blurry; the pain in his head dulled and Harry realised—he had lost his glasses. They must have been knocked off when Harry had fallen. Harry wished them back and they appeared on his nose. He could see down, over the banister, all the way to the rapidly approaching ground floor.

"STOP!" he screamed.

"What—?" Malfoy turned his head, looked down and gasped. The stairs stopped moving.

A mass of fiery chimeras, serpents and dragons danced on the ground floor, filling it with fire, burning the screaming portraits, flying up toward them.

Malfoy looked up and made a strangled sound. Above them, the fiery dragon roared and spread its massive wings. It covered the whole ceiling, a sea of red-yellow fire.

Harry searched for a way out. "The corridor!" He pointed down. The corridor to their right was dangerously close to the fire below, but the stairs moved toward it at once and they jumped onto the marble floor.

"Where are we?" Harry asked, catching his breath.

A tall knight burst into one of the paintings hanging on the wall. He screamed, burning. The painting burst into flames. The one next to it followed suit, and then another and another, as far as the wall went.

Malfoy looked around wildly. "Second floor. I think." His dark eyes found Harry again. "We're trapped."

Harry grabbed Malfoy's shoulder. "Wish it away! Wish the fire away!"

"What the fuck do you think I'm doing? It's not working, Potter! It's Fiendfyre. It's out of control."

"Why did you—" There was no time for this. They had to get out. Find a window, a passage to the tower, anything. But the fire had closed off the Entrance Hall; it would never let them reach a window. They were in the middle of the castle; the windows were too far away.

A fiery chimera jumped into the corridor. Harry grabbed Malfoy's arm and they ran, dodging the flames that reached out from the portraits.

Second floor. There must have been a passage here; one that led somewhere useful. He only knew of the one that led to the ground floor. That was not an option.

"I know where to go!" Harry said, remembering. "Come on!" They turned left, then right, and it was a good thing they had because the fire was spreading, coming after them from every direction. They found themselves in front of the boys' bathroom.

Harry burst inside and went straight to the sinks. He easily found the one with a tiny snake engraving scratched on the side of one of the copper taps.

"Open!" Harry said. "OPEN!"

Malfoy had closed the door and ran up to Harry, staring. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

Harry looked at him hopefully. "I don't suppose you know how to say open in Parseltongue?" Ron knew, but Harry did not. He had heard himself speak the language of snakes, but it had always been so surprising; he could not hope to imitate the hissing sounds he had made. And lately, snakes' spits and hisses sounded like snakes' spits and hisses to Harry's ears. Malfoy just stared at him and Harry shook his head. "It doesn't matter." He focused back on the sink. "Open!" The Room should provide; it had helped with the stairs. "You try," he told Malfoy.

Malfoy blinked. "Potter, it's a sink."

"I'm aware of that! But it's also the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets."

Malfoy did not believe him; it was clear on his face.

"Malfoy, please. Just trust me and help me wish it open." There was smoke coming from the gap beneath the door; outside, Harry could hear the booming roar of the fire.

At last, Malfoy grimaced and glared at the sink. "Open!" he ordered, but it did not help. "OPEN!" Nothing happened.

We'll die in this bathroom. It was only moderately worse than dying in the Chamber of Secrets, Harry assured himself. They were trapped, either way. The only thing the Chamber could give them was time. Though, Harry could not help hoping that the Chamber was deep enough in the ground that the Room's magic had less power there. Or at least the fire could not reach them. Or perhaps the Chamber was well protected. It came with the castle just like the Room did. Perhaps Salazar Slytherin had protected it against everything imaginable, even the sort of magic that was contained in the Room of Requirement. Perhaps that was why the Room could not help them open it.

Malfoy pointed his wand at the sink. "Rictumsempra!"

The sink shuddered violently; it would not stop. Alarmed, Harry pointed his wand at it and shouted, "Protego!" a split-second before the sink exploded. The sharp pieces that flew toward them were contained and fell to the floor and through the large circular opening that had manifested before their feet.

Harry laughed, dizzy with relief. Malfoy looked disappointed, however.

"I expected better from Salazar Slytherin," he said. "Flitwick would laugh at him."

Harry grinned. "I could kiss you right now. I forgot about the damn Tickling Charm."

Harry did not kiss Malfoy, however; instead, he pointed at the pipe. "Go on."

Malfoy blinked. "In there? It's a pipe. It's a dirty pipe."

The bathroom door creaked; the smoke was filling the room. "Malfoy, plea—"

Malfoy cursed and slid onto the floor, then pushed his legs into the pipe. "Fuck this," he said, lowered himself and let go. Harry followed soon after. With a deep breath he let himself slide down, slowly gaining speed as the pipe twisted and turned, growing steeper. It seemed to go on forever, but finally the pipe levelled out and spat out Harry straight at Malfoy.

Malfoy cursed again as they tumbled to the ground.

"I hate you, Potter," Malfoy said, detangling himself from Harry and struggling to stand. Then he grabbed Harry's hand and pulled him to his feet, lighting up his wand in the process.

"This doesn't look like a Chamber. It just looks like a dirty old tunnel." Malfoy sounded disappointed again.

"Come on." Harry lit his wand. His feet made wet sounds as they slapped against the damp floor. They hurried on, rounding corner after corner; the tunnel seemed to stretch forever. Perhaps it would take them past Hogwarts grounds. The Chamber was below the lake and only a part of the lake was enclosed by the magical barriers protecting Hogwarts. Perhaps the Chamber was even farther away.

Finally, they reached a stone wall with two entwined serpents that stared at them with glinting emerald eyes.

"Tickling Charm again?" Malfoy asked and Harry nodded. He did not have a better idea.

Malfoy raised his wand but the wall cracked open even before he had uttered the spell.

It's following us, Harry thought. This time the magic had helped them open the door. Yet it had done no such thing in the bathroom. They, or rather Flitwick, had found a loophole and broken through Slytherin's defences, perhaps something like that was beyond the magic's capabilities; a simple charm but a conclusion beyond its limited comprehension, even though it must have seen the solution in their minds. The Chamber was safe, but now, they had let the magic inside.

They entered the long, dimly lit chamber. It glowed faintly green, just like Harry remembered. Harry closed and sealed the wall behind them, though he suspected the effort was futile.

Malfoy was looking around at the towering pillars and carved serpents that were lined up on both sides, leading toward the enormous statue of Salazar Slytherin.

"Ugh!" Malfoy said when they finally reached it. He was craning his neck for a better look. "He's ugly." Malfoy sounded impressed nonetheless. The sheer enormity of the statue was awe-inspiring.

Malfoy gasped suddenly. Harry followed his line of sight and spotted the giant skeleton of the Basilisk Harry had slain years ago. The King of Serpents, Harry thought, looked most unimpressive these days.

Malfoy did not seem to share Harry's view. "Is that—" His voice broke. "It can't be!" he breathed and ran up to the skull. He froze next to it and stared, as though the dead Basilisk had managed to turn him to stone.

Harry smiled at him and then scanned the Chamber. "I think we're safe here." For a few minutes or so. The fire would reach them down here eventually, but at least he had time to think.

He could not understand why the Room was so intent on murdering Malfoy all of a sudden. Because Hermione was right. It had had a chance to kill him before, several chances, but it never had. It rather seemed like the magic had saved Malfoy that night at the pitch. What had changed? Was it simply because this was its last chance? But how would it know that?

But the magic is kind, Harry reminded himself. Or rather, it only served. Surely, it would not want to kill of its own volition. Though, Harry could not know that for certain.

Harry scrunched up his face. He was acutely aware of his glasses, still on his nose. Had he Summoned them earlier, or had the magic Conjured a new pair for him? If the latter was true, then the magic was already as strong here as it was everywhere else in the castle.

I should wish for something.
He wished for a glass of water. He did not get it.

"Malfoy! Wish for something." Harry turned around. Malfoy was still standing in front of the Basilisk's giant skull.

Harry walked over. "Malfoy?"

"That's a Basilisk, Potter," Malfoy informed him.

Harry nodded. "A dead one."

"A big one." Malfoy looked at him, stared.

"It looks smaller now, actually," Harry said, uncomfortable. It truly did look smaller, though still enormous. It was only a skeleton and Harry was much taller than he had been the last time he had seen it.

Malfoy was still staring at him. "It was true, then." He shook his head. "It can't have been. It's a Basilisk, Potter."

"What was true? That the Basilisk was in the castle? You saw the students get Petrified, Malfoy. You threatened Muggle-borns with the big bad Slytherin monster, as I recall."

Malfoy shook his head. "But I was just... I heard the stories, but I thought someone else, a person, was behind it all. Not a Basilisk." Malfoy's forehead furrowed. "It's dead."

"You think so?" Harry could not help smiling a little, even though they were just standing around, wasting time. "Maybe it's just sleeping?" he suggested.

"You killed it. You actually killed it in our second-year."

Harry was losing patience. "Malfoy, this is old news. Everyone knows what happened. I've given more interviews than warranted." Technically, he had only given two, but they had been thorough and much too exhausting.

"Old news?" Malfoy repeated. "Everyone knew? Who in their right mind would have believed you, Potter? We were told the school would be closed, and then the next day Dumbledore stands up in the Great Hall and tells everyone the school will remain open because Harry Potter went down to the Chamber of Secrets and slew a Basilisk with a sword. The threat is no more!" Malfoy could not stop shaking his head. "It was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard! Scary monster no one has ever seen, skulking around the school. But fear not! This brave twelve-year-old boy found it and killed it, though no one actually saw it happen; and no, you can't see the dead body, because it's in a special secret chamber, which, you guessed it, no one has ever seen, either." Malfoy laughed suddenly. "And Dumbledore! He looked like he actually believed you. I had never been more sure he was a goner, insane, senile. I thought Lockhart gave you ideas and you followed in his footsteps, making up ridiculous stories; though, I must say yours was even crazier than Lockhart's. I thought, next, you'll write a book."

"Er," Harry had no idea what to say to that. "I suppose, it must have sounded a bit crazy when put like that."

"A bit?" Malfoy looked incredulous. "Harry Potter defied Voldemort and found the Philosopher's Stone, yet no one saw him; either way, Gryffindor gets house points and the cup. Harry Potter battled off a hundred Dementors! A hundred! But no one saw him do that, either. All hail Harry Potter! Our hero! He performs marvellous deeds while no one's looking! Honestly!" Malfoy's gaze went back to the Basilisk and stayed there. He seemed to have run out of steam.

"It was all true, though," Harry said, tentative. He could not help pointing that out. If nothing else, to defend Dumbledore. If nothing else, to impress Malfoy, a tiny voice in his head offered. Harry scowled at it.

"I gathered," Malfoy said quietly. "I'm a bigger idiot than I thought."

"What? You're not an idiot!"

Malfoy did not reply.

"I mean," Harry tried again. "You're right. When you put it like that, it makes sense you didn't believe it." It was hard to think like that, though; Harry had been through it all; he knew it was true. And he knew people did not believe him, but they were wrong because it was true. Harry could barely believe Malfoy had compared him to Lockhart. But, Harry had to admit, his stories were crazier than Lockhart's.

"It does make sense," Malfoy said, angry now. "But I'm an idiot for ever thinking..." He looked at Harry, his gaze searching. "For a moment, back in the hospital wing, I thought... and just now, when you came back for me..." He laughed again; it sounded bitter. "It's just something you do, isn't it? You run to fight Basilisks and Dementors, jump into fires. It doesn't matter to you."

Harry could not keep up with Malfoy's thought process. "What doesn't matter to me?"

"Whether the person you're pulling out of the fire is worth saving."

Harry blinked. "You're worth saving," he said, incredulous.

Malfoy laughed again, shook his head. "You'd say that, wouldn't you? Do you even know why you're saying it? Because I do." Malfoy's eyes were dark. "You know, I kept thinking, this whole time, that something had happened with the Room, with the magic inside it. I thought, I spent so much time in there in our sixth-year and I was there when it died, so maybe, maybe the magic was somehow helping me, maybe we had some sort of bond, and it was giving me what I wanted. And what I wanted, what I wished for, was you. And the Room provided, didn't it? I thought it had Conjured you; you kept showing up, you were so... worried and, the way you were looking at me! I thought, this can't be real. You aren't real. But then, sometimes, I almost believed it. I started thinking my theory was ridiculous; that the Room was dead and it couldn't have been helping me with anything. And then you burst into McGonagall's office earlier, with your brand new discovery, and I realised I've been half-right all along. Except you're not Conjured, you're controlled. By my wish."

Harry could not believe his ears. He shook his head, trying to speak. It took awhile. "That's not true, Malfoy. No one's controlling me."

Malfoy smiled a little. It was a condescending, sad sort of smile. "Did you get past the gates?"


"Earlier, before you came back, did you leave Hogwarts grounds and return, or did you not even leave?"

Harry opened his mouth to reply, but then realised that perhaps it would be better if he lied.

Goodbye, Potter.

Malfoy was saying goodbye. He had said goodbye because he thought that once Harry left the grounds, Malfoy's wish would be cancelled and Harry would realise he had never wanted him at all.

Harry had stayed silent for too long.

"Thought as much," Malfoy said. "I wished you back."

"No!" Harry ran up to him and grabbed his arm, shaking him. "Don't be ridiculous! I'm not under anyone's control. It doesn't work like that; it can't work like that. There are things the Room can't give you, things that can't be Conjured."

"And how would you know, Potter? We know nothing about this sort of magic. And didn't the Room give Harper to Parvati Patil? She wished for him, and he was there, you said it yourself."

"But they both must have wanted it! And Harper was unwell, easily manipulated, his mind was a mess. Mine isn't. I know how I feel, I know what I want." Except he did not know how he felt, and he was not sure what he wanted. Sometimes he was not sure if he would rather punch Malfoy or kiss him. Or whether to pull him closer or shove him away.
It was too confusing, too ludicrous, too new. But it was real. It was not the mindless bliss of the Imperious Curse or the obsessive surety of a Love Potion, it was messy and frustrating, wonderful and frightening. Too complicated for the Room's magic to understand, no matter how sentient it was.

Malfoy smiled again. "A likely tale." Then he shoved Harry away, pulled out of his grip. "Doesn't even matter now, does it? We'll die here."

"Don't say that!"

"It's true! And that's not all. Don't you see, Potter?" Malfoy's face contorted. "I killed you. You're here because of me. I wished you here."

"I'm here because that's just something I do, remember? I jump into fires."

"No. No, I could have wished you away. I should do it now, but I can't. I tried, but I can't."

"Wish me away?" Harry stared at him. Wish us away. He meant, wish us away, surely. "Why are you here? Why did you stay behind?"

"I didn't stay behind. I was already on the grounds—and then I wasn't. It keeps happening. All the time. I found myself in front of the Room again. I tried to run away, but it kept pulling me back. So I gave up. Stopped struggling. It wants to kill me; you know it does. It can't be stopped."

Harry had said it; he had believed it. He had changed his mind. "It wants to kill you, does it? But you just told me that the Room gave you what you wanted most, which, apparently, is me. If it wants to kill you, why do that? It makes no sense, Malfoy."

"Just another way to punish me, I suppose. Perhaps it's just cruel."

, it's kind. "Punish you for what, exactly?"

"Oh yes, what could it possibly be?" Malfoy snorted. "Is this a part of my wish? To make you forgetful? I almost killed two people, I had Madam Rosmerta Imperiused for months, I led Death Eaters into Hogwarts, and it's my fault the Room burned and Crabbe died. Don't you see? The magic doesn't like me very much. It doesn't like a certain type of Slytherin much, either, now does it?"

"No, Draco, that's not true. The magic only serves. For the most part, it served the D.A. It listened to their thoughts, read their minds." What if Parvati had wanted someone else? Someone who had not been a Slytherin whose parents were Voldemort sympathisers? Would Anthony Goldstein have been so quick to wish him dead? Perhaps it wasn't just Goldstein, either. The rest of Dumbledore's Army never liked Harper. Everyone had known he was one of those Slytherins, the ones going around muttering about Mudbloods under his breath. All those negative feelings toward him; the magic only listened. "And it never meant to harm Peterson. It was only giving him what he wanted. It's only giving you what you want, Draco." Harry was sure of it now. That was why the Transfiguration classroom had been on fire; that had been Malfoy's wish. He had been tortured and he had taken it, never trying to free himself. He could have, though, because Draco was right about one thing: the Room's magic knew him best. He had spent so much time there; this year, too. The Room was attuned to his thoughts. He was drawn to it, and it was drawn to him. If he had wished it, he could have stopped the torture when Pritchard had attacked him. Malfoy said he had helped wish away Pritchard and his cronies, but had he wished them away before the fire started or after?

If he had wished it, he could have Apparated to the hospital wing back when he was lying on the Quidditch pitch. But instead, it had been Malfoy's wish that helped Smith's wish come true. Malfoy must have been feeling guilty that night. He could not have known his father was acting on the Ministry's orders; Lucius would not have been able to tell him; it was not the sort of information one sent in a letter. Draco must have believed Smith; he had believed his father was trying to bring Voldemort back. How miserable that must have made him.

And the stairs, the ones that had moved beneath their feet that Sunday; that could have been Malfoy, too. What had been going through his mind? Harry remembered saying, It would make your father happy to know we spent some quality time together, wouldn't it? and Malfoy had looked shocked. Had he been embarrassed of his father again? Miserable for being pressured to befriend someone he couldn't? Fearful that Harry knew exactly how Malfoy felt about him? How much he wanted him? Had he wished for the ground to open and swallow him?

Malfoy stared at him. "Don't be stupid, Potter. I don't want to die. I especially don't want to burn."

"Are you sure about that? Didn't you just say you're not worth saving?"

"That's not—" Malfoy stopped speaking abruptly. A long moment passed before he spoke again. "I want to live. Believe me, I do. But the Room won't let me. Don't you see what it's doing? It's trying to correct your mistake."

"My mistake?"

"Yes." Malfoy stepped closer, to glare. "The mistake you made back in May. When the fire spread in the Room of Hidden Things, I was sure I would die. I kept thinking, This is my fault. Because it was. If not for me, Goyle and Crabbe would have never found you. I knew how wild they were, but I didn't care. Crabbe started that fire, not knowing he couldn't control it, but I led them there knowing I couldn't control them. I thought only of myself and my parents. I thought if I could just surrender you... But when I was trapped on that pile of rubbish with Goyle, waiting for the fire to reach us, everything got so clear. Everything I've done, people I almost killed, people who had suffered and died because of me... I knew exactly what was happening—justice, Potter. Justice coming to get me. I thought you were dead, too. I thought you were all dead. You know, I never once thought you could actually defeat Voldemort. Not once. But in that moment, I thought, what if you could? What if you were truly the only one who ever could have? And I killed you. Killed my parents, too, probably. Killed everyone. And now I'll get what I deserve. Or so I thought. But then you showed up. Alive, coming back for me. Forgiveness, a chance, out of nowhere. I thought, you're not so hopeless after all, Draco. There's someone who thinks you're worth saving. But that's not what it was. That's just who you are, what you do, and I just got lucky. My luck's running out, though. All this time I knew it would happen, eventually. I was waiting for it. The magic's making sure that what should have happened then, happens now."

Harry flew at him, grabbing fistfuls of Malfoy's hair, clutching his head between his hands. "Draco, no. You did get lucky. You're lucky Katie Bell and Ron are alive, and, yes, you're lucky I got the chance to come back for you. But so what? It's not cause for punishment, it is a chance. I got lucky, too. I got lucky when I took your wand at the Manor and became the master of the Elder Wand. If that didn't happen, both of us might be dead. Others, too. You could have been a piece of the puzzle that ruined everything, but you weren't; you were the piece that helped defeat Voldemort."

"If I had known I had something Voldemort wanted, I'd have given it to him, Potter. I would have given it to him so he would leave me and my parents alone."

"And now? Knowing what you know now, would you still give it to him then?"

"What does it matter what I would do now?" Draco tried to escape Harry's grip, but Harry was not letting him go.

"It matters," Harry said. "Because you did get a second chance and now you're trying to ruin it. Stop going backward. You say you want to live and I believe you. If you wanted to die, you'd be dead already; you'd have died on the pitch if not before; you'd have died earlier when that dragon went after you. I wouldn't have been able to help. But if you don't let go, if you don't forgive yourself, if you don't stop thinking you deserve punishment, that this is justice, then the magic won't stop trying to give it to you. It thinks that's what you want; it thinks you're desperate for it; it thinks it's doing you a favour. It Conjured Fiendfyre for you, Draco. Fiendfyre that almost killed it, that killed the Room. The fire is cursed, wild, it can't control it, we know it can't. This time you won't be getting lucky. This time I can't save you. Please. You're the one with the power here. You're the only one who can save us. Wish us away. We can Apparate; the magic will help us. You just have to want it badly enough."

"I do want it!" Malfoy shoved Harry backward and managed to push him away this time. "I've tried to wish us away, but it's not working, Potter. You're wrong. It's not doing this for—" Draco froze suddenly; he paled, staring at Harry, at his eyes. No, not his eyes—his glasses. A deep, rumbling sound made Harry look past Draco, just as Draco whirled around. There was light coming from the very end of the long chamber; Draco must have seen its reflection in Harry's glasses.

The fire was coming, through the pipes, through the tunnels. The light grew stronger.

Harry ran at Malfoy, grabbing his shoulders, turning him around. "Malfoy, please, you have to try!"

"It doesn't work!" Malfoy's eyes were wild. "There's nothing I can do, Potter. You have to save us. It won't listen to me! Apparate us, anything."

He has too much faith in me. Malfoy was waiting for him to save them and Harry couldn't, not this time. He tried; he tried to wish them away. He even considered wishing those he had left in front of the gates to come help them, but promptly shoved that possibility aside. He would only lead them to danger; they might die, too. Had he not tried to wish Malfoy back with Ron and Hermione? Three against one and it had meant nothing. How many would it take to stop the fire? It did not matter. Harry would have to desperately wish for the magic to grant them entrance and he knew he could never do that, and the magic might not listen to him at all, if it decided his wish went against Malfoy's.

The magic clung to Draco's desperation, his guilt, his surrender. It would never let Draco leave, not while a part of him still believed he deserved this. Perhaps, when the fire reached them, perhaps Draco could finally break them free. Perhaps it would be too late. Fiendfyre might have destroyed the castle by then; the magic would have to run again.

The Chamber grew hotter, brighter. I have to make him see... But how? How do you convince someone they were worth saving? That this was not justice? That they have a chance to turn everything around? Hermione would know; Harry did not. But he had do something. Make Draco fight for survival, fight for himself, stand up in his defence; Draco had done it in the past, he could do it again.

Draco gripped Harry's shoulders; he was crushing them. "Potter," he whispered, he looked terrified. "You have to..."
"I can't help—"

"You have to leave. I want you to leave."

Harry's heart stopped beating. He'll wish me away. Blackness pulled at the edge of his vision; Malfoy's grip on Harry's shoulders loosened. I'm slipping away. Apparating. Leaving him behind.

"NO!" Harry cried. There was nothing he could do. Only one thing occurred to him. Harry clenched his fist and punched Draco in the jaw. His knuckles exploded in pain as Draco stumbled backward with a cry. The world straightened and the Chamber returned to focus. Very bright focus, growing brighter. The fiery dragon flew into the Chamber, soared high up to the faraway ceiling, covering it whole.

But Draco was staring at Harry, eyes wide.

"You think I'm not real?" Harry stepped closer. "You think I'm under your control?" Harry punched Malfoy again, in the same place, as hard as he could. Malfoy stumbled backward again, eyes flashing as he rubbed his jaw.

"How's that for real?" Harry said. "You think you can't do anything to help? Of course you can't! Look at you! Always waiting for me to save you. The one time I need you to return the favour—you can't! You know why? Because you're just a whiner. And a ferret. That's who you are. You're a pathetic little whiny ferret who just gives up when things get hard. Lies down and takes it." Harry's heart seemed to constrict painfully, as though begging him to shut up. My monster, Harry thought. His chest monster tried to tell him what to do, but he could not afford to listen to it. Not this time. "That's why you wanted my cock up your arse so much, isn't it? That's why you begged for it. Or did your daddy tell you to do it? You want to be like him? You want to crawl like him? Do you want this, too?" Harry swung his fist again, aiming for Draco's face, but Draco caught it, crushed it in a vice-like grip, his face contorted in anger; his nostrils flared.

"You arrogant piece of shit," Draco said, voice low and dangerous.

Don't tickle a sleeping dragon, Harry thought and braced himself.

Malfoy's fist connected with Harry's cheekbone; stars exploded in front of Harry's eyes. He would have fallen, but Malfoy was still holding Harry's arm captive, keeping him upright. The next blow landed on Harry's stomach, knocking out his breath, the next caught him on his face again, across his jaw and ear.

Harry was dizzy with pain and when Draco shoved him backward, he went down, falling onto his back.

Malfoy was on him in an instant, kneeling between Harry's spread legs. He caught Harry's wrists and held them above his head.

Harry waited for the next punch. His vision cleared. Draco was above him, face flushed, twisted into a grimace of fury. His wand was pointed at Harry's face. He was so angry, he was shaking.

"Would you like another scar, Potter?" Malfoy asked, nearly whispered. "I know just which spell to use. You showed it to me, remember?"

Seconds ticked by, but the spell was not coming. Malfoy was still shaking.

Harry could not help himself—he laughed. The laughter bubbled in his throat, filled him with lightness and relief.

Malfoy froze to stare at him. His eyes were on fire; the Chamber was not.

Harry looked up at the tall dark ceiling. He had thought the Room could not stop Fiendfyre, but maybe it could stop the one it had Conjured itself. Or maybe it hadn't been Fiendfyre at all, but merely an imitation. Harry didn't know, didn't care. It was gone.

Malfoy sat back on his heels; he was staring at the ceiling. He looked toward the end of the Chamber, then finally down at Harry again.

"Merlin, I'm fucked up," Harry said. His arse rested against Malfoy's thighs; his legs were spread. He was painfully hard. Apparently, that was something fighting with Malfoy did to him. Perhaps he should simply accept it.

Malfoy blinked and looked down at Harry's crotch and the noticeable bulge there. Then he glanced around the Chamber again.

"You're..." Malfoy began.

"I was right. Not to rub it in, or anything."
Malfoy shook his head. "The things you said..."

"Reverse psychology." Harry frowned. "I think."

"You didn't... mean it?"

"Not one word," Harry promised. "Well, except the ferret part. But you're in luck. I happen to like ferrets."

"You—" Draco drew in a sharp breath. "You idiot. I could have..." He still held the wand in his hand; he lowered it hastily.

"No, you couldn't have," Harry told him. "Because that's not you. Not anymore. You don't know it, but I do."

Draco stared at him and then leaned in so quickly, the sudden touch of his lips against Harry's was pure shock. "You idiot," Draco mumbled again against Harry's lips and then deepened the kiss. Harry's body flew upward, pressing against Draco, as close as it could. He could feel his trousers and pants disappear; cold air hit his bare skin. Malfoy's or his wish, Harry had no idea. We should leave. They really should. The magic was still here, still dangerous. But Draco thought I didn't want him. The urge to show him that he did, and how much, was stronger than any danger.

"Idiot, idiot," Malfoy repeated. "We can't... we have to..." Malfoy's hand slid over Harry's cock, his balls, and then his fingers were pushing inside Harry, slick, slipping inside steadily. It burned, felt so incredibly odd, but Harry heard himself moan. It would have been embarrassing, but Harry caught Malfoy's gaze, burning hotly, fixed on Harry's face that flushed under its intensity. All embarrassment was forgotten; Harry could focus only on Malfoy's eyes and his fingers, moving deep inside of him.

"Fuck!" Malfoy said and pulled away. Harry would have complained, but Malfoy's hand wrapped around Harry's cock, pulling on it so harshly Harry cried out.

"No, no," Harry gasped. "I want, I want you inside..." He needed it. Now.

"Yes," Draco breathed, kissing Harry again, his hand gripping Harry's cock. "Later, tomorrow, whenever, always. Not now."

"Now," Harry insisted, but hot licks of pleasure spread to his balls, his cock, the growing intensity of it made light explode in front of his eyes.

He wished it could last forever, but the Room did not grant him that. Harry forgave it; it had granted him Malfoy, alive and panting against Harry's neck, thrusting against Harry's hip before he shuddered with his own release.

Blood must have returned to Harry's brain because he was suddenly horrified by his earlier demands. The two minutes they just lost was too much. They had to leave. As soon as possible.

Malfoy gasped and shuddered again. Moments later, he rose up on his elbows. Harry blinked at him. Malfoy's hair was a mess, his face flushed, eyes bright, an ugly bruise was forming on his jaw. Pointy chin and pointy nose, which Harry had seen a thousand times before, but it only just now occurred to him—Malfoy was beautiful.

"You should punch me again," Harry requested promptly, ashamed of his own thoughts.

Malfoy frowned. "I don't want to."

"I'll settle for a kiss, then." Smiling, Harry yanked at Malfoy's hair, pulling him closer. When their lips touched, the pain in Harry's cheek disappeared; Draco must have wished Harry's bruises away.

"I think these are my favourite," Harry said, breathless, long moments after. "Slow, right after..."

Malfoy stared at him. Well, they are, Harry wanted to say, defensive. But then Malfoy cocked his head and said, "Can you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Harry listened, frowning, but then he heard it: a deep rumbling sound coming from the distance. It grew steadily stronger. Harry pushed at Malfoy and sat up. "Draco, no!" He shook Malfoy's shoulders. "What are you doing? What are you thinking?"

Malfoys eyes were wide. "It's not me! I'm not—it's not me, Potter!"

"Malfoy, please!"

"It's not me!" Malfoy yelled. "I get it, Potter, I do. I have a chance and I'm taking it. Believe me, there's nothing I want more. I want to get the hell out of here and live. Fuck punishment. And..." He grabbed Harry's face. "This is real, I know it now. I know." He kissed Harry again, a desperate hard kiss. "I know," he repeated. "I'm fucking happy."

Harry swallowed thickly. "Then get us out of here." He struggled to stand. Malfoy sprang up and pulled up his clothes. Harry wished for his pants and trousers but they did not appear for him.

Malfoy grabbed his hand. "We'll Apparate."

"Wait. For fuck's sake, Malfoy, I need my pants!"

Malfoy blinked and then pointed his wand at Harry. "Aparecium!" he cried and Harry's pants and trousers were back where they belonged.

"Okay," Harry said, calmer now that he was no longer half-naked. "We should—" The ground shook and did not stop shaking. This can't be. Was he wrong? Was Malfoy right? Was the magic truly trying to kill him?

"Potter, I can't. I'm trying, but I can't Apparate us." The ground shook harder, the giant pillars squeaked, sooth flew everywhere, little pieces of rock fell from the above.

The world turned into a blur. Harry's glasses had vanished. They were Conjured; they were not mine. "Malfoy," Harry whispered. "My glasses..."

There was a bright flash of light and a pair of glasses appeared on Harry's nose. They were all wrong. They helped him see, but the image was not right and the glasses threatened him with a headache.

"They'll do for now," Malfoy said. "Come on, we have to concentrate."

Harry shook his head. It made him dizzy. "It won't help, Malfoy. The glasses were Conjured. By the Room. And now they're gone."

The earthquake grew stronger. The pillars won't last.

"But..." Malfoy looked around. "What's happening, then? Is the magic gone, destroyed? By the Fiendfyre?"

"Maybe," Harry breathed. "The Chamber's collapsing; we have to get out." But how? They could not Apparate and the tunnels were unsafe, too.

"Potter!" Malfoy whispered; he sounded alarmed. "Look!"

Harry looked above and gasped. The enormous head of Salazar Slytherin leaned forward, teetering, then leaned harder with a deafening creak. There was no time to run from something so large.

"PROTEGO!" They shouted as one, wands raised, and the head rushed toward them, larger than it had seemed seconds before. The left side of the giant face crashed against their joint Shields. Painful vibrations spread through Harry's arm, leaving it numb. Their bright Shields were dimming, but the head rolled to smash the Basilisk's skeleton with a sickening crunch. Pieces of rock and bone flew at them, bouncing against their weakening Shields.

"Potter, the pillars!"

They were breaking, one by one in a circle. We'll die here, after all. Harry's hand found Malfoy's and squeezed.

And then everything went still.

Malfoy's fingers felt cold in Harry's grasp. "Is it over?" Malfoy asked.

It did not matter. Harry had only one thing to say. "RUN!" he shouted and pulled at Malfoy's hand. They sprinted toward the tunnels; their feet made wet, dull sounds against the ground. If the ground shook again, they were not safe there, either, but if they stayed in the Chamber, their deaths were certain. Shields could not save them.

"Potter," Malfoy said, tone urgent. He tried to free his hand. "We'd run faster if were weren't holding—"

"We'll risk it!" Harry snapped back. He had no intention of letting Malfoy out of his sight or out of his grasp.

Parts of the tunnels had collapsed, but Harry and Draco cleared their way with spells. The way back seemed shorter, but they were both sweaty and breathless when they reached the wide entrance that led up to the pipe and, eventually, the second floor bathroom.

Harry rushed to the pipe's entrance and stared up. It was burnt, but there. "Any ideas?" If the magic was gone, and the absence of Harry's glasses seemed to indicate it was, then Ron and Hermione would be able to get into the castle. They would find Harry and Draco, eventually. But waiting around was not a plan. They could try to Summon their broomsticks, but those were all the way in Hogsmeade by now and even if they managed, flying up through a narrow tunnel would be complicated, to say the least. Harry turned to Malfoy. "I think we'll have to climb."

"Wait, I..." Malfoy scanned their surroundings and Levitated a large rock. It landed before him and Malfoy shot a few spells at it, grimacing. "It's a complicated enchantment," he was saying. "I only ever read about it." The rock turned into a square block; it looked like a stone step. Malfoy shot more spells at it. Harry recognised the Gripping Charm's incantation, which was usually cast on Quaffles to make gripping it in midair easier, and Geminio, cast several times, which duplicated the step.

Harry could do little but stare; he was not sure what Draco was doing, though he guessed he was creating a staircase. Draco cast another set of charms, but looked unhappy with them. He tried again, lips pursed, brow furrowed. Harry found himself smiling.

"What?" Draco growled. He must have noticed Harry's grin. "It will work. It's just taking awhile," he added.

"I believe you!" Harry said quickly. He did not want to explain why he was smiling. The sight of Draco working hard on getting them out filled him with warmth. It reminded him that, earlier, Draco had tried to save Harry, tried to Apparate him to safety and stay behind. It had infuriated Harry at the time, but now, the mere memory of it made him feel he could fly up that pipe without the aid of magic.

Draco pointed his wand at the steps and then at the pipe. The steps followed the indicated directions and flew toward the pipe, one after the other, creating a stairway.

"Er," Harry said, though he tried not to doubt Draco. "Isn't that stairway a little short?"

Draco grimaced. "It's enchanted. It's supposed to move with us."

"Will it?"

"We'll find out, won't we?" He made a shooing motion. "You first. It's safe," he added, when Harry hesitated.

"No, I just..." Want to keep an eye on you. "Thought I'd get to stare at your arse on our way up."

Malfoy gave him a disdainful look, though his cheeks were pink. "The last step is the original, Potter. If the enchantment wears off, I'll have to spell it again."

Harry did not move and Draco sighed. "I'll be right behind you." He took a step closer, grabbed Harry's face and pressed a rough kiss to Harry's lips. "I promise."

Reluctantly, Harry went, but not before he pointed his wand at Malfoy's jaw and healed the bruise Harry himself had left there. Malfoy rolled his eyes at that.

It was easier to climb up the steps on his hands and feet than Harry thought it would be. Malfoy had probably placed more enchantments on them than Harry had realised. They were glowing faintly, lighting their way; Harry could see them appearing in front of him, sprouting out of the pipe as they moved upward. The pipe was wobbly and burned through in places, but the steps clung to air when needed.

Harry could not help turning around to make sure Draco was following.

"Turn again, Potter, and I'll start poking you with my wand," Malfoy told him. "And guess where I'll poke."

Harry resisted the urge to check on Malfoy's progress after that, but he listened carefully to make sure Malfoy was behind him.

It was a long way and Harry's hands threatened to give out; the pipe was blocked in several places, but Harry widened the passage with the Gouging Spell. The third time he cast it, there was an odd breaking sound above them, as though Harry's spell had shattered glass or a sink. A waft of fresh air reached Harry's nose.

"I think we're close!" Harry yelled, looking down at Malfoy.

But Malfoy was frowning and staring past Harry. "What is that?"

"What?" Harry turned and something cold hit his nose. He blinked at the mass of white snowflakes floating toward him, melting away. "Where are they coming from?" Harry whispered, climbing up faster. They were heading toward the bathroom on the second floor; no snowflake could reach it. Was it the wrong pipe? It couldn't be.

Harry's heart beat faster as he inhaled a lungful of cold air. He could see the exit now; it was round, dark, starry...

Harry climbed out, looking around in horror. Malfoy followed him out, eyes wide, shock clear on his face.

"Where is it?" Malfoy asked. "How could it just..."

"I don't know." But somehow, Hogwarts was gone. All that remained was rubble. Stones, desks and sinks were strewn across the ground in all directions, as far as they could see in the dark. But that was all that was left of Hogwarts.

It can't be. Was it the fire? Had it swallowed the whole castle?

Bright flashes of lights twinkled above them. Suddenly a beam of light hit Harry's eyes and he squinted and grimaced, blinded.

"HARRY!" The voice came from above. "OVER HERE! THEY'RE HERE! THEY'RE ALIVE!"

Beams of light surrounded them, coming closer, becoming brighter. Hundreds of them. A broom shot toward Harry and he recognised Ron. Hermione was sitting behind him and she jumped to the ground and flew at Harry so fast it looked like someone had thrown her in his direction. Her arms wrapped around him in a choking hug. "I thought you were gone! I thought you were dead! Oh Harry!"

She was crying, Harry realised. He wrapped his arms around her. "It's fine. I'm fine."

Ron ran up to them, too. He was pale, almost green; his blue eyes seemed unnaturally large. "Thought we lost you there, mate," he breathed. His gaze flickered to Malfoy, who stood still, looking away. For a second, Harry was sure Ron would attack him, accuse him of almost getting Harry killed, but instead Ron looked back at Harry. "We thought you burned."

Hermione shuddered in Harry's arms.

More people flew at them; they were jumping off their broomsticks, running in their direction. Someone flew overhead, nearly brushing against Harry's hair. "Bad aim! Sorry!" Seamus cried from above.

Hermione pulled back and Harry breathed in some much needed air, but it was knocked out of his lungs again by Lavender's ferocious hug.

More D.A. members were crowding around him and Harry panicked, afraid they would separate him from Malfoy. He stepped to the side and found Malfoy's hand, squeezing it tightly, trying to will Malfoy not to pull away, but Draco returned the squeeze and held on.

It seemed half of Hogwarts was there, students from all houses; Harry noticed a few Slytherins nodding at Malfoy. The teachers were there, too; Harry was surprised to see McGonagall on a broom. She landed gracefully, but stumbled when she took the first step. There were unfamiliar faces in the crowd; Harry recognised a few Hogsmeade villagers and even an Auror or two.

And then Ginny was there, hugging him tearfully and pressing Harry's Firebolt into his free hand. "It was still in my trunk," she said. "I kept thinking, if you'd only had it with you..."

"It wouldn't have helped, Ginny," Harry assured her. "And I wouldn't have taken it with me even if it had been in my trunk."

She sniffed, unappeased. Her gaze fell to Draco's and Harry's joined hands. She shook her head. "Warm enough?" She eyed Harry. "Need a blanket?"

Harry bit his lip. "I'm all set, thanks."

She shook her head again and snorted.

McGonagall was staring at him; Harry thought he saw her glance at Draco and Harry's joined hands, too; her eyebrows rose at one point, but she made no comment on the subject.

"Where were you?" she asked.

"Chamber of Secrets. I thought the magic couldn't reach us there. I thought it was far enough. Perhaps even outside of Hogwarts grounds."

"Did it reach you?" Hermione asked and Harry nodded. "It did," he said. "The Chamber is a part of Hogwarts."

"What happened to the castle?" Malfoy asked, staring at McGonagall.

Hermione sniffed.

"We..." McGonagall's voice broke. "We Vanished the castle."

Harry blinked. "You, what?"

"Oh Harry!" Hermione cried. "It was on fire and you were in there. And we couldn't get inside! We didn't know what to do. The fire was spreading. Dragons and chimeras tried to break free. Go after us."

"We summoned everyone back," McGonagall said. "The students, the teachers, everyone we could reach. We broke through the magical barriers surrounding Hogwarts grounds easy enough, but the castle... The Fiendfyre was out of control. It was consuming the castle; it would have consumed everything in its path. We had to do something. The fire was Conjured; the best way to counter it was with Vanishing magic. So we tried it. First in groups, then all of us together."

"And it worked," Hermione said. "We Vanished the fire, the castle, everything. We think maybe the magic heard us and helped, even though we were outside. It must not have realised that if the castle was gone, it would lose its purpose. Or it did. I don't know. Maybe it was more aware of itself than I thought. We were so scared and angry. The magic must have lost control over the fire. It couldn't stop it so it stopped itself. In the only way it knew how. It destroyed the castle, itself with it, so we could stop the fire. We thought we'd Vanished you with it. If you hadn't burned already." She looked ready to cry again.

"But you didn't," Harry said quickly. "We're fine."

"The magic is gone," McGonagall said, "but we should leave, nonetheless. The site will have to be examined before it can be declared safe."

"And Hogwarts?" Harry asked. "Can it be retrieved?"

McGonagall's expression tightened. "I do not know."

Harry looked around at the distressed faces of his classmates and smiled at them weakly. "Thanks," he said.

Seamus shrugged. "So we blew up the school," he said. "Isn't that every kid's dream?"

"And we've saved the Saviour. Don't forget that," Parvati added brightly, but the tear-tracks on her cheeks told a different tale.

Students were staring at the rubble: charred desks and blackboards, broken statues and picture frames, trophies and sparkling gems, some red, some green, some blue, some yellow. House point hourglasses were shattered. Their history burned and vanished.

Harry stared at the gems. They were scattered everywhere, a mix of colours, without a pattern.

We can't go backward now, Harry thought suddenly. The knot in his stomach eased.

"Come along," McGonagall said and mounted her broom. One by one, the students followed her lead. No one said a word when Harry sat on his Firebolt and Draco slipped on behind him, arms wrapping tightly around Harry's waist.

They kicked off the ground and soared toward the sky. Despite everything, Harry could not help smiling. They were alive, Draco was with him, and he was flying.

They had to move slowly at first because there were so many people in the air; they flew forward in batches. Dumbledore's Army stuck close to Harry.

Draco leaned in to whisper in Harry's ear. "But the fire retreated in the Chamber. We were safe. The magic did stop it."

"But maybe that was all it could do," Harry suggested. "You wanted to protect us and it did its best."

"I also wanted..." Harry could hear Draco suck in a breath. "I burned down Hogwarts."

Harry turned around sharply. "No! Draco, this wasn't your fault. You didn't burn down the castle and our friends didn't Vanish the castle. It destroyed itself. And it only ever did it to help. It served us with its last breath." Harry narrowed his eyes at Draco. "Now, nod and say, 'You're right again, Harry.'"

Draco snorted and then bit Harry's ear. "You're annoying, Potter," he said instead.

"Good enough," Harry concluded with a smile. He turned to press an awkward kiss to Malfoy's lips, temporarily forgetting there were hundreds of people around them. If someone noticed and said something, Harry did not hear them.

"Eyes ahead, Potter," Draco said. "You're transporting a precious load."

"Why, I'll be more careful then, precious."

Draco's eyes narrowed, mouth twitching. "I meant your cock."

Harry laughed. He would have blushed, too, if a faint glow in the distance had not caught his attention. They had not moved far from the ruined castle, but it was covered in darkness. The last flashes of lit wands had abandoned it. For a second, Harry thought someone had been left behind, but the glow was too muted.

"Isn't that—" Harry said, frowning.

Draco turned to look. "Peeves? Is it Peeves?"

It was Peeves. Where he had come from, Harry did not know, but he was there, floating above the castle's remains. He had taken off his hat, clutched it to his chest and stared down at the ruins. Slowly, his small shimmering body grew dimmer and then vanished.

The only thing left to see was a huge block of white stone. Dumbledore's tomb, Harry realised with a jolt.

Sudden sadness choked him. Dumbledore's portrait was gone, too. Burned or Vanished.

Draco's arms wrapped tighter around Harry's waist.

"We'll build a new school," Harry said. A brand new Hogwarts, one without past a person could lose themselves in.

Draco pressed a kiss to his neck. "Fly."

Harry turned, angled his broom and set for Hogsmeade station.




They barely made it out alive. Harry was sure he would either suffocate to death or get squished by the masses. The fresh air filled his lungs and Harry felt better immediately.

"Blimey!" Ron exclaimed. "Whose bright idea was this?"

Hermione huffed and stuffed the packages into her beaded bag. "It was a bright idea," she claimed. "But apparently everyone else had the same bright idea."

"This is why one should do their Christmas shopping before Christmas Eve," Ron said wisely. "All the shops are packed today. Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, it doesn't matter."

"I bet Diagon Alley's empty," Hermione said bitterly. "I'm sure half of the wizarding world was in Honeydukes just now."

"We did buy everything we came for, at least," Harry pointed out, although he was unhappy with his purchase. He had no idea what to buy Draco for Christmas, so he had ended up buying him chocolate. Specifically, he had bought him a set of chocolate wands. It had seemed funny at the time. He imagined himself handing them to Draco, saying, "I remember taking a bunch of wands from you once. You can have them back now. I might have licked them, though." But now that he thought about it, he doubted Draco would appreciate the joke. It had been a stupid idea. And now Harry had no present for him.

"Where are you going?" Ron asked as Hermione went ahead, leaving Ron and Harry behind. "Aren't we leaving?"

"In a minute. I want to see something. Come on!" Hermione called.

Ron groaned. "This shopping business is tiresome."

Harry nodded gloomily. They followed Hermione, their feet crunching the freshly fallen snow. Hogsmeade was beautiful, bright and richly decorated with colourful ornaments and glowing fairies that twinkled and fluttered above them in all directions.

"Hermione," Ron sighed suddenly.

They had almost exited the village and Hermione stood on top of a small hill, staring ahead. "It won't just reappear, Hermione," Harry said when they reached her.

"I know." She sniffed.

Harry looked in the distance, where once the magnificent castle had stood proud and beautiful. There was nothing there now. The Ministry had gathered experts from all over the country and beyond; they had led a crowd of people back to the site and tried to force the castle to reappear. It never did.

Ron wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Everyone remembers how it looked. They'll build another, just like it."

Hermione huffed. It would never be the same, they all knew that. Harry shared Hermione's grief, but he kept his hope for himself. A new castle felt like a new beginning. And Harry had decided he liked beginnings.

"You know, I wonder..." Hermione said. "The magic never gave me anything."

"Well, it couldn't fulfil all wishes," Harry said. "And you hardly spent any time in the Room of Requirement."

"What were you desperately wishing for, anyway?" Ron asked.

Hermione shrugged. "Knowledge, perhaps. For everyone. For the wizarding world to change for the better." She sighed.

It will change, Harry thought. Maybe Hermione would get her wish.

"What about you?" Hermione looked at Ron.

"Ah, well," Ron said. "Got what I wanted most way before, didn't I?" He smiled down at her, his gaze soft.

"Oh," Hermione said. She sniffed again.

Harry cleared his throat.

"Oi!" Ron looked at him crossly. "You're interrupting a moment, mate!"

"You're interrupting my moments all the time."

Ron grumbled and mumbled something about evil blond gits.

"Speaking of..." Hermione coughed. Her cough sounded a bit like gits, too. "We should hurry. To cook, apparently. Not that either of us knows how."

Harry immediately regretted interrupting their moment. They had both promised to help him cook dinner before they left for the Burrow. Well, Hermione had promised; Ron had said he might peel the potatoes if he remembered the right spell. It would have been nice if Kreacher could help, but the house-elf spent his days in Buckbeak's old room. He insisted he was dying and wished to be left alone whenever Harry suggested he ought to clean or cook.

"Are you sure your mum won't be cross with me?" Harry asked Ron.

"For the tenth time, Harry, as long as you show up for Christmas dinner tomorrow and let her stuff you full of food, she'll be happy."

"Definitely," Harry said. "Draco's having dinner with his parents tomorrow, anyway." Besides, the three of them would surely cook a poor meal today and Harry would be hungry tomorrow and ready to eat several platefuls of Molly Weasley's delicious cooking. Harry knew he could have asked her to help him with today's dinner, too, and she would sent him packages of everything he desired and more—she might even be cross he had not asked—but Harry wanted to cook it himself. More or less. Ron and Hermione didn't count.

"Did you hear that, Hermione?" Ron mock-gasped. "Draco is having dinner with his parents. Remember Draco's parents?"

"Oh yes!" Hermione imitated Ron's gasp. "Draco's parents! Dear old Lucius and Narcissa."

"Lucius!" Ron exclaimed. "D'aw! You think I should start calling him Lucy?"

Harry glared. "I'm leaving." He promptly Disapparated. He reappeared a second later in front of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, slightly disoriented. He had never fancied Apparating. He was resolved to find another place to live, a place he could travel to by broom. Although, surprisingly, he was quite happy here, for the moment.

Ron and Hermione were staying with him for the time being. They hadn't really discussed where they would go from here, but, for now, it did not matter. They still had their N.E.W.T.s to focus on, as Hermione liked to remind them daily. Fortunately, the house was large, and they could all have their privacy, something Harry very much needed on the evenings Draco would stop by for a visit or a study session. Though, Harry was careful not to refer to his visits like that because the first time he had told Ron and Hermione that Draco would show up later for a study session, both of them had nearly died laughing.

"Is that what they're calling it now?" Ron had asked. "Last I heard, it was referred to as 'having a stroll.'"

The last couple of weeks had been peaceful yet exciting, which was something Harry would never have thought possible in the past.

Today, though, was not one of those peaceful, exciting days. Draco was supposed to spend the whole night here, which meant that, first, he would have to explain to his parents why he was abandoning them on Christmas Eve.

Ron and Hermione showed up soon after Harry, still laughing. It took awhile for the three of them to drag their feet to the kitchen. They were armed with a cookbook, Molly Weasley's handwritten instructions and several cooking spellbooks, and felt rather confident. Almost three hours later, the burnt meat, overcooked potatoes and something brown and slimy was thrown into the rubbish bin and promptly Vanished.

Hermione brushed flour from her hair. "The chocolate biscuits look good," she said bracingly.

Ron had already taken a bite and was hurriedly Conjuring a glass of water. "A bit spicy, though," he said, after swallowing a large gulp.

Hermione groaned and Vanished the biscuits, too.

"I'll make sandwiches," Harry said, defeated.

"Sorry, Harry." Hermione patted his shoulder.

He shook his head. "We tried. It was an experience, to say the least." The kitchen was a mess and so were they.

Ron thumped Harry's back. "You'll eat tomorrow, mate," he consoled him.

Harry snorted. "He might not come at all. Maybe I'll have to go rescue him from the Malfoys' dungeons." He winced. Perhaps he should not have mentioned the manor and its dungeons. The memory of that place was more than unpleasant, for all of them.

Ron waved his hand dismissively. "Piece of cake." But then he frowned. "But call us if that actually happens."

"I'm sure it won't," Harry said; though, he was not really so sure. He had no idea what Draco would tell his parents exactly and how they would react. Someone might end up in the dungeons after all.

To Harry's relief, however, Malfoy showed up half an hour later.

Harry successfully reached the door before Ron and Hermione. He had nearly broken his neck running down the stairs; his hair was still damp from the shower. Outside, he found a very grumpy Draco.

Draco showed a package into Harry's hands. "Mother sends pie," he grumbled and then shoved a bottle toward Harry, too. "Father sends wine."

Ron showed up and promptly snatched the bottle from Draco's hand. "Hermione, Lucy sent us wine!" he called.

Draco scowled at Ron, then at Harry, and pushed inside. Harry handed the package to Ron. "Could you please—?"

"Check for poisons?" Ron suggested.

"Of course not!" Harry said indignantly, but then noticed that Draco had already stormed off to the drawing room. Harry nodded at Ron. "Definitely check for poisons," he whispered.

Ron accepted the package and walked away, shaking his head.

Harry hurried after Draco. He found him sulking in the drawing room.

"That bad?" Harry asked tentatively. "They didn't disinherit you, did they?"

Malfoy shook his head. "They were..." He grimaced. "I told them everything. I think. I'm not sure what I told them, exactly. It's a bit of a blur."

Harry winced in sympathy. "And?"

"They seem to have misunderstood me. Somehow."

Harry narrowed his eyes at him. "Misunderstood you how?"

"Well," Malfoy looked uncomfortable. "Father looked ready to cry, I swear. I thought he lost it. I was ready to call St Mungo's, fearing he was having a heart attack. But, well, then he... thanked me. For, er..." Draco gave Harry a shifty sort of look. "Sacrificing myself."

"Sacrificing yourself?"

Draco nodded, clearly miserable. "He seems to believe I discovered your inclinations and have taken advantage of them. And now I'm... er, servicing you. Providing favours, which could later be collected."

Harry stared at him.

"He looked so proud." Draco shook his head in wonder. "I've never seen him looking so proud of me. He said he never thought I had it in me. That I would go so far to save the Malfoy family name."

"Er, and then what happened?" Harry suspected he knew the answer. "Did you explain it's not like that?"

"Well, I..." Malfoy coughed.


"He looked so proud, Harry! And then Mother made mince pie and Father brought elf-made wine from the cellar..."

"I get it, I do," Harry said. "But you can't just go along with it. Eventually, they'll realise—"

"Father promised to buy me a Firebolt. A Firebolt, Harry."

Harry sighed and gave up. "They're your parents. Do as you will."

Draco beamed, apparently no longer in a sour mood. "At least they won't give us any trouble."

"They will start asking for favours, you realise that? They'll tell you to ask something of me and they'll expect to get it. Then what?"

Draco was temporarily stumped, but he brightened quickly. "By then, I'll have a Firebolt and will be able to fly away very fast."

Harry laughed. "Brilliant plan, I'm sure."

"Mind the sarcasm, Potter," Draco said. "Or you won't get serviced tonight."

A muffled laughed sounded from the door. Harry winced as Hermione peeked inside, biting her lip.

"Malfoy," she greeted curtly.

Malfoy nodded at her, looking a bit flustered.

"Just letting you know we're leaving now, Harry," she said.

"Have fun, you two. And tell Mrs Weasley—"

"Yes, yes, yes," she said impatiently. "Stop worrying. We'll see you tomorrow." She smiled at him and, as she closed the door, she gave him thumbs up, probably indicating that the wine and pie were safe for consumption.

"Well now..." Malfoy said, studying Harry speculatively. "We're all alone. How unfortunate. What will we ever do to amuse ourselves?"

It just so happened, they did find something to do. And they did it promptly, right in the drawing room. And then they did it again in Harry's bedroom. At that point, Draco had expressed a wish for desserts and Harry had handed him a handful of chocolate wands. It had turned out to be a brilliant present, since Draco had been amused and then proceeded to show Harry what one could do with chocolate wands, a little imagination and a Melting Charm. It had been a scrumptious discovery. Harry was very proud of himself; he had even remembered to use a Shield Charm.

Soon, they were exhausted and famished, so they made their way to the kitchens to demolish Harry's sandwiches. It was late, but they were wide-awake, so they rushed back to the drawing room and Conjured a shockingly large pine tree. It would undoubtedly disappear in a few hours, but this did not bother them. Harry fetched a small box of Christmas decorations and Draco turned on the Wireless. They set to work and, together, produced the most horridly decorated Christmas tree Harry had ever seen. Parts of it were colourful, full of most ridiculous Conjured ornaments, parts of it covered with Conjured snow that insisted on melting, and parts of it filled with tinsel that glowed so fiercely it hurt to look at it. The fairies they had Conjured seemed displeased and were flying around the tree like mad, as though trying to find a pretty place to settle on. Finally, Draco stuck their feet to the branches with a Sticking Charm but, in retaliation, they had refused to glow.

Harry was in such high spirits he had even agreed to have a slice of mince pie and a glass of wine. The pie was delicious, but Harry claimed Lucius Malfoy's wine left him with a bad aftertaste. He promptly washed down the taste of it by giving Draco a very awkward, very short and very nerve-wrecking blowjob that had nonetheless left both of them grinning like idiots.

Afterward, they found themselves sitting on the carpet, half-asleep and tipsy, with their backs against an old armchair, staring at their tree. Draco's head fell to Harry's shoulder and Harry amused him greatly by casting a Cushioning Charm on it.

Harry studied the fairies, who were buzzing furiously, pulling left and right, trying to separate their feet from the pine needles.

"What will you do now?" Harry asked.

"Sleep?" Malfoy yawned. "I hope you aren't suggesting more sex. I refuse. I won't be up for it for another ten minutes, at least."

Harry snorted. "I didn't mean now. I meant, you know, with your life. After N.E.W.T.s. Plans for the future, career."

"Oh." Draco said and fell silent.

Harry waited, wondering if he should repeat the question. Perhaps Draco had fallen asleep.

"I don't know," Draco said at last. He raised his head, frowning at the tree.

Harry was sorry he had asked him that. Draco seemed gloomy.

"Something involving charm work?" Harry suggested. "And you're not bad at Transfiguration, either. You... er, you did fix that Vanishing Cabinet in our sixth-year. That sounds complicated." I shouldn't remind him of these things. Harry cursed his babbling mouth.

Draco scowled. "Took me half a year."

"But you did it! It would have taken me forever, I'm positive. And those staircases you Charmed back in the Chamber of Secrets were impressive, too."

Draco made a noncommittal sound, then gave Harry a sideways look. "You think so?"

Harry nodded enthusiastically. "Are you joking? That was brilliant!"

"Oh, well." Draco shrugged, possibly aiming for modesty. He failed at it. "I always thought I'd be a Ministry official of some sort. A very important one," he assured Harry. "Worrying about laws and paperwork, having lunches with important people."

"That..." Harry frowned. "Sounds very dull."

"It does," Draco agreed, though he looked surprised by his own proclamation. He turned toward Harry, grinning suddenly. "You know, I always dreamed of inventing something spectacular and clever. I had quite a few ideas, too."

"But?" Harry prompted. Draco's tone seemed to suggest a but.

"Well, it's ridiculous, isn't it? I could spend my whole life working on something and then..." He shrugged.

"Can I hear your ideas? Maybe they aren't ridiculous."

Draco bit his lip. "I'll tell you about them. One day." He shook his head. "I have time to think about what I want to do."

"All right, then. I'd love to hear them, though," Harry assured him. "Whenever you feel like sharing."

Draco pressed a quick kiss to Harry's lips. "And you?" he asked. "Running off to finally be an Auror, are you? I hear you already have a job offer."

"Yeah." Harry grinned. "I do have a job offer." He had talked to Kingsley after Hogwarts had Vanished and Kingsley had asked him to join the Auror Department again. "But I thought... maybe I should stop playing Auror for five minutes."

Draco blinked. "You don't want to be an Auror anymore?"

"Of course I do!" Harry exclaimed, scandalised. He had wanted it forever; he suspected he always would. "I just... thought I'd take it slow." His desperate wish to be an Auror had nearly cost Tommy Wright his life and he still wasn't sure whether or not he had helped lead Draco into dangerous situations just so he could save him. None of it would have happened if not for the Room's magic, but Harry felt like his own mind had betrayed him. Maybe he wanted to be an Auror a little too much, so much his wish might send him rushing into another situation he could not control, and then someone might get hurt again because of him. Forward, but slowly, he had decided. "I plan to go through training first. Three more years of additional studying. That sounds dull, too, but well... at least I'll have more time. For other things I want to do."

"Such as?"

"Well, have sex. And have sex. And maybe even have sex. And also—"

"Enough!" Draco laughed. "Has it been ten minutes, then?"

"Why, how did you guess?"

"We'll require crutches tomorrow, you realise that?"

Harry burst out laughing. "Hardly," he argued when he calmed down. "Now stop complaining. I think I have a right to make a few demands. You haven't even bought me a Christmas present."

Draco's eyes widened. "I have!" He frowned. "Well, I didn't buy it, but I did get you something. I planned to give it to you after midnight. But well, since you're so demanding..." Draco took out his wand and Summoned a small package.

Harry tried to snatch it, but Draco was not letting go. He hid the package behind his back.

Harry mock-gasped. "Oh, I'll never find it there."

"Come and get it, Potter. I'd like to see you try," Draco threatened.

What followed was a heated struggle with much hair-pulling that left both of them flushed and panting. Harry did get the box, but Draco had managed to bite Harry's neck, possibly leaving another nasty bruise there.

Harry quickly unwrapped his present. Draco grinned as Harry took out a pair of glasses.

Harry studied them. "Are they—?"

"They are," Draco assured him. "I went back to get them. Quite a feat, I must say. The area is restricted. I thought, maybe they survived. And they did. They were broken and partially Vanished, but they're as good as new now."

Harry narrowed his eyes at him. "What, you don't like my new glasses?" Harry had bought a new pair. A slim, elegant-looking things. They felt odd, but Harry supposed he would get used to them.

"No," Draco said and pulled Harry's new glasses away. Then he carefully slipped the old pair on Harry's nose. Harry closed his eyes, wincing, and opened them again when they were where they were supposed to be. Draco beamed at him, grey eyes raking over Harry's face. "Perfect," he declared. "Now you look like my Potter."

"If you say so." Harry shook his head, amused. He did like having his old glasses back. He leaned forward for a thank you kiss, but a deafening bang made them both jump. Their Christmas tree had popped out of existence. A few ornaments crashed against the floor, others disappeared. The fairies were gone, too.

"Pathetic," Draco declared, staring at the mess. "Next year, we'll get a real tree," he said, then blushed.

Next year, Harry thought, suddenly light-headed. And the next, and the next. Their whole lives were ahead of them.

Harry all but grabbed Draco and pulled him closer, lips pressed against lips. Draco's eyes were half-open, dark-grey, warm. Harry grinned. "Yes. I think we will."