|The If Sieve (Harry/Draco)
||[Mar. 31st, 2007|11:37 am]
Harry Potter | Harry/Draco | 37,000 words | PG-13
Summary: An If Sieve lets you see how things would have unfolded if somebody had made a different decision at a particular time.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to rigel_7 for the brilliant beta. For the sake of her reputation, I should mention that she wanted me to lose many more commas.
Disclaimer: These are Rowling's world and characters, not mine. Additionally, there's a certain amount of canon dialogue in the fic, which is also not mine but which ought to be fairly obvious in context. No money is being made from this fic.
A/N: This is a seventh-year Hogwarts fic, Half-Blood Prince-compatible. Not Deathly Hallows-compatible unless I turn out to be rather more psychic than I expect.
OR listen to aphelant's podfic of the story.
OR read psychen16's Chinese translation.
The If Sieve
The device sat on Draco's bed, denting the heavy green quilt into a rumpled dip. It looked a little like a Pensieve: a solid stone bowl filled with quivery silver liquid. But it was suspended between gleaming silver rings; three, intersecting at base and top. The rings were mounted on a square base and the bowl itself was held between the rings with about an inch of air between bowl and base.
"Are you sure it's not still broken, Draco?"
Draco rolled his eyes. He'd been talking about the sieve nonstop for the last two weeks. Only Crabbe would still have questions.
"No, it is broken, but I've worked out how to get around it. I told you that. I have to do the arithmancy by hand, because the rings don't work anymore."
He felt a bit smug about that. The calculations involved were rather difficult. He doubted he could have worked them out at all without the practise he'd had last year in recalibrating the magic of the vanishing cabinet.
Although he wasn't going to think about that.
"I want you two to keep watch for me tonight."
Goyle looked up at that, an expression of alarm sweeping his face. He was halfway through tying his shoelaces into the complicated pattern he'd been perfecting since first year. He held the laces in place with his thumb as he looked at Draco.
"Do we have to Polyjuice as little girls?"
Draco grinned. "That was a brilliant idea, don't you think? I loved how Potter kept stopping and patting you on the head, like a complete dork. But," he waved his hand, "this time you won't need to, because using the If Sieve isn't against the rules. I just don't want to be disturbed."
He turned back to the gleaming sieve on his bed. He supposed it might have been against school rules to steal it from the Room of Requirement. But it had been shoved in there with the vanishing cabinet and all the rest of the junk because it was broken.
He shrugged. Really, I doubt anybody's going to miss it.
"Are you sure it's going to work?" Crabbe asked. He'd been struggling with the Slytherin tie at his neck before the sieve distracted him. The two ends were looped together and then fell in a sad sort of tangle onto his chest.
"Yes," Draco said. "Sort of. Well, I tested it this morning between Potions and Charms. You know I told you every If had to be a real possibility — a choice the person might have actually made? Well, I put in one that was unlikely and the sieve spat it right out again. So I think that means that if I get it to accept the If then it will definitely work. Rather than trapping me inside forever, or something."
He'd put in: If Lord Voldemort chose to open a bunny slipper emporium. The parchment had been spat out in pieces, along with a bad-tempered shower of sparks.
He glanced at Crabbe again, who was looking worried about the trapped inside forever idea, which apparently hadn't previously occurred to him.
"You haven't finished knotting your tie. Come on, we're going to be late for dinner."
Draco got Goyle to lift the If Sieve back into the chest at the foot of his bed while Crabbe scrambled with his tie. He warded the chest before they left.
Nott was slumped against the opposite wall when they came out, his arms resting on his knees. Zabini stood above him, his arms crossed and his shoulder blades pressing into the stone wall.
"Finally." Nott got to his feet. "That's the last time I let you lock us out of the dorm, Malfoy, I swear."
Draco smirked. "Admit it, Nott, you get off on being told what to do."
Nott made an obscene gesture.
"Theo?" Zabini had pushed through into the room behind them. "Do we want to know why they locked themselves in the dorm? Because Malfoy's bed covers are kind of mussed."
"Wanker!" Draco called.
Nott followed Zabini into the dorm, snickering.
"They're going to be even later than us," Crabbe said.
"Come on, then." Draco tugged his arm.
There was a little thrum of excitement in his belly as they hurried through the halls. He wasn't sure that he'd actually be able to eat tonight — not when he knew he'd be using the sieve after dinner.
If Sieves were designed to help you judge whether you'd made the right choice about something; everybody knew that. You wrote down the place and the time — the moment of choice — and then the opposite choice to the one you'd made and watched what would have happened unroll like a memory in a Pensieve.
Draco had read up on If Sieves a bit, though, last year in the times where he'd been trying to distract himself from the growing panic over the vanishing cabinet. He'd found out that you didn't have to put in one of your own choices: it could be a choice made by anybody at all.
The arithmancy — which the silver rings were supposed to generate by themselves — narrowed the focus down to the thing or the situation that you actually wanted to see the effect on. Otherwise you'd likely find yourself watching the changed fortunes of the ant colony you stepped on, or those of the girl at the corner shop whom you forgot to smile at. Draco had had to work out how to write the equations that would restrict the focus to himself and Potter, since the rings were broken.
Apparently Crabbe was thinking about the sieve too. He frowned deeply as they walked. Eventually he opened his mouth.
"We still hate Potter, right?"
Draco sighed. "Look, it's ... complicated, alright? I just want to know if I'm right."
"That you and Potter could have been friends," Crabbe said, testing.
Draco winced. It sounded stupid like that.
"But if we hate him, why would you want to be friends?" Goyle joined the conversation.
Crabbe pushed open one side of the big double doors to the Great Hall. The noise level went up by a factor of a hundred, a din of voices and clattering plates and yells and laughter. There were still scores of students milling around. Draco relied on Crabbe and Goyle's imposing bulk to clear a path to the Slytherin table.
People turned to watch them when they were elbowed out of the way. A few blanched and pulled away, frightened or angry; but most stared with avid curiosity. Everybody knew that Harry Potter claimed that Draco Malfoy had helped murder the Headmaster last year. Whether they believed it or not, the whole school was enjoying the drama.
The good thing about the stupid mess was that Slytherin House had closed around Draco like a solid wall against the rest of the school. Draco sometimes thought Slytherin house loyalty would trump even loyalties for or against the Dark Lord, if it ever came down to it.
"Potter's already there," Goyle mumbled in his ear; the surprisingly deep baritone that still startled Draco sometimes, coming from someone he'd known since they were four. He turned his head.
Potter was sitting with Granger and Weasley, all three heads buried together. It looked as though they were trying to be surreptitious about the conversation, but they were extraordinarily bad at it. They might as well have put up a screen with 'Important Quest in Progress: Do Not Disturb!' printed across it.
Everybody also knew that nobody was supposed to know that Potter and his friends were searching for something terribly important this year and even had permission from the Headmistress to leave school grounds if they got a lead.
Draco was deeply suspicious about the fact that the one time they'd done so it had coincided with a Transfiguration test. Although Granger had, predictably, arranged to sit a make-up test the next day.
Potter scratched at his neck, feeling the stare, and looked up. His eyes narrowed and darkened and ...
There hadn't been that much hatred there before, had there?
Draco shivered, uncomfortable.
Nott and Zabini squeezed into the space next to Goyle about ten minutes after the food appeared. Nott leaned around Goyle to talk to Draco, spooning mashed potatoes onto his plate at the same time.
"Tell me you three were locked away because you're working on some new scheme," he said. "Because Blaise and I are about to expire of boredom this term."
Draco gave him a slight smile. "Sorry," he said. "Secret."
Nott hesitated, scanning his face.
"Damn," he said, going back to his food. "I can't even tell anymore when you're saying that for real and when you're just trying to annoy me."
"Give over, Theo." Zabini rubbed his shoulder. "Honestly, let them have their little sex games in the dorm."
"You've already made that joke." Draco rolled his eyes. "It was even less funny the second time."
Nott reached too zealously for the pumpkin juice and almost toppled it. He grabbed for the handle just in time and found a more secure stretch of table for it.
"Is there some reason that Potter's staring at you?" he asked as he settled back.
Draco looked up. Potter looked as though he hadn't shifted his gaze since he first sighted Draco. It was still that stare of death — his expression so black and focused that Draco almost expected the ambient magic of the Great Hall to produce small thunder clouds.
"Potter always stares at me," he said, looking back at his plate. "He has this thing where he doesn't like me. I don't remember why. Oh, wait, there was something ... no, it's gone."
Zabini raised his eyebrows. "You know, I think it might have been the Dumbledore thing, most recently. Which reminds me, is that what your latest scheme is about?" He stretched in his chair, luxurious as a cat. "Because you should probably be careful if it is. I don't think the school will allow you more than one dead teacher."
"That's true," Nott said, picking pieces of onion out of his salad. "Even Potter's only been allowed one actual death."
"Stop saying that," he said. "I didn't kill Dumbledore." He stabbed at his plate and Zabini laughed.
"Only you could find murder so funny," Draco muttered. "I swear, Zabini, you must have had the weirdest childhood."
Zabini shrugged. "Being able to see Thestrals was cool, though."
Draco shifted his food around his plate throughout dinner. He'd been right, he couldn't really eat; his stomach was jumpy and uncomfortable. He didn't have the heart to tear Goyle away before the pudding came out but he didn't think dinner had ever been this long before.
Potter had gone back to his conversation with Granger and Weasley but he continued to lift his head every now and then and give Draco a black, suspicious glare.
Draco wondered what he was expecting him to do, exactly. How many teachers could he murder while sitting down eating dinner?
He bit his lip. Not as funny as I meant it to be.
He snuck a glance at Potter the next time he went back to his Very Significant conversation. Granger seemed to be telling him off for being distracted.
He didn't like Potter. Potter was a complete git. He didn't admire him or wish he had any of his qualities. But he — recognised something in him. He always had. There was something in Potter that spoke to something in him and it wasn't about admiration or having things in common, it was just about — that. That feeling that was almost kindred.
He couldn't get it any clearer — and he had tried. He was used to being able to talk to Crabbe and Goyle as if they were extensions of himself, to be honest, so it was frustrating to not have been able to express this. He was just sure that they should have been friends; so sure that he left every confrontation with a sick, angry feeling in his gut, no matter how trivial it was. This year — maybe because McGonagall wouldn't let him focus his energies on anything actually useful — he'd become increasingly fixated on the idea that they could have been friends, if something had gone differently.
And, the part that he was barely admitting to himself: he secretly hoped that if he could see that they could have been friends, then maybe they kind of still could.
Possibly. In some way that wouldn't involve Draco ever giving Potter the opportunity to judge him unworthy a second time.
The If he'd chosen seemed the obvious one. It had poisoned his whole first month of school, after all, and made him completely lose confidence in his ability to understand people; as though suddenly the rules of social interaction had been changed and nobody had told him. He'd always intended to make loads of friends the instant he got to Hogwarts, but after the thing with Potter he'd restricted himself to Crabbe and Goyle, whom he already knew.
He let Goyle get about halfway through his enormous bowl of rice pudding before his patience finally gave out.
"Come on." He stood, adjusting his school robes. "Let's go. I want to go."
Goyle gave his bowl a longing sort of look but got up. Crabbe had already finished one bowl and had been casting around for the dish to serve himself another but he looked less disappointed to be leaving early. For Goyle, pudding was something sacred, whereas for Crabbe it was all about the volume consumed. Crabbe seemed to need about four times as much food as anybody else just to keep breathing.
Nott looked up as they left, his eyes narrowing in curiosity.
They picked up the sieve from the dorm and headed to the library. Crabbe carried the sieve under his heavy outdoor cloak. It wasn't exactly secretive but casting a Notice Me Not charm on it seemed over-the-top.
They found a desk in a corner of the library, overshadowed and mostly concealed by bookshelves, and Goyle set the sieve down. Draco took the parchment with his calculations out of his robe pocket and checked over them again. They were perfect, he knew they were; he'd checked them a dozen times already. He dropped the parchment through the silver rings and the surface of the sieve closed over them without a sound. Then he got a new piece of parchment and wrote: If Harry Potter chose to accept Draco Malfoy's hand when he offered it on the Hogwarts Express in their first year at Hogwarts.
He dropped it between the rings.
The parchment sank into the silver liquid. The surface of the sieve rippled and turned a pearlescent shade of blue.
"Did it work?" Crabbe asked.
"Yes," Draco said. Well. I think so.
He took his wand out of the pocket in his sleeve and extended it carefully between the rings until it touched the surface of the sieve.
The world tilted.
He found himself standing on the gently rocking floor of a carriage on the Hogwarts Express. He expected it to be Potter and Weasley's carriage but apparently he'd come into the scene a little early. Only himself, Crabbe and Goyle were actually inside the carriage; all of them eleven years old and looking astonishingly young. The door was open and a couple of boys were hanging about it, laughing. The eleven year old Draco was in the middle of an impersonation of somebody. Longbottom, apparently, since he was miming a search for an imaginary toad.
Goyle was laughing so hard he nearly made himself throw up. Draco could barely believe they'd all been that young. Photographs never prepared you for Pensieve memories.
Just as in a Pensieve, none of the occupants of the carriage noticed that he was there.
"My own sweet Trevor, come home to me," Sieve Draco cried, clasping his hands together.
Goyle made little hopping frog motions with one hand, so helpless with laughter that he fell over onto his side on the long window seat. He grabbed his pumpkin juice just as it started to fall from its precarious perch on the seat and took a great gulp. He was still giggling, which meant he snorted some of it up his nose. Crabbe slapped him on the back.
"I don't think that's very funny," a voice said from behind the boys in the doorway. They swung around.
Granger — and god, her teeth really had been quite appalling back then — swung her bushy hair and sniffed. "Nobody's seen Neville's toad, you know. I asked Harry Potter but he didn't know either."
Sieve Draco's head snapped up. "Harry Potter's on the train?"
"I knew that," one of the boys at the door volunteered. Draco recognised him as a Ravenclaw from the year above him but couldn't recall his name. "The Weasley twins met him on the platform. They said he's in a carriage down near the end with their little brother."
"I heard that too," somebody else piped up. Draco looked over and recognised a very young and be-pigtailed Hannah Abbot, who'd come out of the opposite carriage and was hovering around the door. Slytherin never shared any classes with Hufflepuff so Draco didn't know much about her beyond that she usually looked like a startled and rumpled rabbit. She'd got rid of the pig-tails at some point since first year, though.
Sieve Draco was looking at her with a bit of a sneer, as though he didn't have much interest in learning more of her, if it came to it. "My sister said Fred Weasley said he didn't know how to get onto the platform and their mum had to help him. He didn't have any parents with him or anything."
"That would be because his parents are dead," eleven year old Draco said scathingly.
"He looked nice," Granger said. "He wasn't awfully helpful about looking for Neville's toad, though."
Sieve Draco ignored her. "Which carriage is he in, then?" he demanded of Abbot and the second year boy.
"The third from the end," Granger said. "He didn't have his school robes on, either, and neither did the boy who was with him. I think they should, don't you? Don't you think we'll get there soon? I'm going to ask the driver whether we will."
Sieve Draco pulled his robes straight with dignity and got to his feet. "Come on," he said to Crabbe and Goyle. "Harry Potter's really powerful, everyone says, so I bet he'll be in Slytherin like us. We should introduce ourselves."
Goyle hurriedly slugged the rest of his pumpkin juice. He got up, casting a mournful glance over the mess of crumbs and wrappers on the seat in case anything had escaped that he could eat on the way.
"Come on," Draco said. Crabbe gave a cry of triumph and dove at something just under Goyle's fingers. It was an unopened chocolate frog. He opened it immediately and stuffed it into his mouth, grinning at Goyle through the half-eaten mouthful.
"I'm going to go without you," Draco warned. "I might not even come back. I might stay with Harry Potter."
"Sorry, Malfoy," Goyle said, giving Crabbe a betrayed look as they fell in behind him. Crabbe just grinned again, munching happily.
The real Draco followed them out.
Watching them like this was surreal. He'd had a sort of notion that Crabbe and Goyle hadn't really changed over the years; but these overgrown, bulky boys trailing after his own excited figure were so ... comfortable and identical, somehow. It was as if they hadn't worked out yet that they weren't the same person.
He found that he was getting nervous as the young Draco, Crabbe and Goyle came up to Potter's carriage door. So far everything had been identical with his memories — although admittedly he didn't remember most of the details until he'd seen them. This was the bit that was supposed to go differently. Potter had to accept his hand. Draco didn't know if he could bear to watch the scene play out again if he didn't. He might go mad from not being able to break anything.
Sieve Draco pushed the sliding door open and stepped inside, Crabbe and Goyle immediately pushing after and flanking him on either side. Watcher Draco squeezed past them so that he wouldn't have to look over all their heads. He saw his younger self focus on Potter and his eyes widen a little as he recognised him. Potter was sitting alongside Weasley on the seat under the window, surrounded by an absolute mountain of sweets, pasties, wrappers and lined-up chocolate frog cards. Goyle's eyes widened in awe.
"Is it true?" Sieve Draco asked. "They're saying all down the train that Harry Potter's in this compartment. So it's you, is it?"
"Yes," Potter said. Watcher Draco noticed that he didn't seem entirely sure. He also didn't look all that pleased to see the three boys. Sieve Draco, he knew, was privately crowing over the fact that he'd met Harry Potter practically before anybody else had, even though he hadn't known it at the time. Potter looked at Crabbe and Goyle.
"Oh," Sieve Draco said. There was a proprietary tone to his voice. "This is Crabbe and this is Goyle. And my name's Malfoy. Draco Malfoy."
Weasley snickered, disguising it with a cough. Both Dracos looked at him in dislike.
"Think my name's funny, do you?" Sieve Draco demanded.
Oh, come on, Draco thought privately. He'd snuck into Dumbledore's office in second year and had a look at the enrolment lists in an effort to work out who the Heir of Slytherin was. I honestly don't think anybody with the combination 'Bilius' and 'Weasley' anywhere in their name has the right to scoff at 'Draco'.
"No need to ask who you are." Sieve Draco gave Weasley a superior look. "My father told me all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles and more children than they can afford."
Weasley flushed and Draco could almost see his younger self filing the reaction away for future use. He turned back to Potter, still defensive. "You'll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don't want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I'll help you there."
He stuck his hand out. The older Draco squirmed for him. The stupid idiot simply didn't understand how badly this was going, because he was rubbish at reading people. He knew it wasn't turning into the immediate alliance he'd imagined between himself and the Boy Who Lived but he didn't really understand why Potter was frowning at him now, disapproval radiating out of almost every pore. And he didn't imagine, for one second, that he might be rude enough to actually turn down Draco's hand. That wasn't something people did.
And ... Potter didn't. For a moment it looked as though he would. Then he screwed up his face and took the offered hand. "I'm not going to be rude just because you are," he said with quiet righteousness, "but if Ron's the wrong sort then so am I."
He dropped Draco's hand and stared at him challengingly. Weasley also sat up straighter, fixing Draco with a very dirty look.
Sieve Draco hesitated. Watcher Draco held his breath. This is what would have happened this is what this is what ...
After a moment Sieve Draco shrugged. "Whatever." He leaned back against the frame of the sliding door. "Have you two decided what house you want to be in?"
"Not really," Potter said. He was still wary but relaxing a little.
Goyle had been staring in a more and more fixated manner at the mountain of food as the encounter went on. Apparently he'd become somewhat mesmerised, because without even seeming to know what he was doing now, he reached out and closed his fingers over a pumpkin pasty.
Weasley shouted in outrage at the same time that Goyle gave a howl of pain. He jerked his hand up. A mangy-looking rat was attached to his finger. He swung it wildly around his head until the rat flew through the air and hit the window.
"What have you done to him?" Weasley demanded, scrambling to pick the rat up.
"Done to him?" Sieve Draco cried. "Your rat's probably just given Goyle rabies!"
Potter got to his feet too. "It serves him right for stealing our food," he said. For some reason he seemed to be extremely worked up about that. "The greedy pig."
"Yeah," Weasley said. He was holding the rat in one hand now. It seemed to be entirely limp, folding at the belly, and Watcher Draco would have thought it was dead except that he could see the tail shivering as though ... Wow, he thought, is it actually snoring?
Goyle was flushed bright red and sucking on his finger. He looked mortified. Crabbe stepped up beside him, spreading his feet a bit and cracking his knuckles.
Sieve Draco zeroed in on Potter, almost shaking with rage. "You've got a nerve," he said. "Calling him a pig." His clipped drawl was choked and roughened with anger. "You'd got enough here to feed an army. You could feed the entire Weasley family on this junk. Well, we don't want your food anyway. Eat until you throw up and then roll in it, we don't care. Weasleys eat that way anyway. I might have thought your parents would have brought you up better, Potter, only ... oh no." He sneered. "They're dead, aren't they? You want to be careful you don't end up the same way, with the kind of company you keep."
Potter and Weasley both took a step closer.
"Say that again," Potter said, white faced.
Draco sneered at him. "You're not worth the bother." He looked at Crabbe, and at Goyle who was much less red now. "Let's leave the little orphan and his friend to make themselves sick."
He strode out the door. Crabbe and Goyle followed hard on his heels.
As the scene began to fade and Draco felt the whirling begin around him, he heard Potter say in a shaking voice, "That ... he ... I can't believe there's anybody I could hate more than my cousin."
He opened his eyes, blinking and unsteady on his feet. Crabbe's face was far too close.
"Did it work?" Crabbe asked.
Draco took a step backwards and sat down at the desk. Goyle had settled on the other side and had apparently been amusing himself by changing the settings on the enormous red and gold watch his mother had sent him last year. They called it the Super Watch; it was Goyle's most prized possession.
"No," Draco said blankly. "Well, yes, I guess." He scowled, staring down at the surface of the table, where centuries of students had scored their initials with cutting charms. "It worked, only it didn't change things. Not really."
He met Crabbe and Goyle's sympathetic expressions — sympathetic even though they had no idea why he was doing this — and wanted to swear with disappointment.
He'd been sure. He honestly had.
"Mr Malfoy, I have told you, the Order does not delegate tasks to school students."
Draco took a breath and practised his patience. He tried a winning smile. McGonagall's frown deepened.
"You know that I'm of age now, Headmistress. Surely the Order needs every qualified wizard it can get?"
She arched an eyebrow. "And yet you are not qualified, Mr Malfoy. Not until you sit your NEWTs later this year."
Damn. Walked into that one.
"I meant every capable wizard, Headmistress. You know that I could be useful in — in a lot of different ways."
The Headmistress looked long-suffering. "How many times have I told you no, Draco? There will be time enough next year for war, I'm sure. School is not the place."
"You know, somebody should tell Potter and his friends that."
McGonagall's face became impassive, as it always did when he brought up this — rather good, he thought — point.
"Mr Potter's position is regrettably unique, as I am sure you know. I'm afraid that I don't mean to discuss him." She shuffled the papers on her desk, which was her cue that she was about to dismiss him. "In the meantime, I believe you have a Herbology class in five minutes. It wouldn't do to neglect your studies, I think you will agree."
Given that you have such an unexpected chance to complete them. He knew that that was the unspoken end to the sentence.
"Incidentally, you really must stop inveigling your way past the wards into my office, Mr Malfoy."
He smiled politely but couldn't help shrugging as he left. He'd stop breaking in when she stopped making her passwords clan names. It was ridiculous: anybody with a copy of McGrath's History of the Wizarding Scots could break in easily. He didn't think it made any kind of sense to choose passwords that were always of a kind.
His shoulders slumped a little as he waited on the moving spiral staircase. It was frustrating to have decided, for himself, which side he wanted to be on, and then be unable to do anything about it.
At least the Dark Lord gave me a task to do.
Which he wasn't going to think about.
He reached the foot of the staircase and the gargoyle ground out of the way.
"Malfoy?" Furious green eyes met his as he ducked out of the stairwell and looked up. "What were you doing up there?"
He smirked. "Oh dear, Potter. Did somebody not tell you something?"
Granger put a hand on Potter's arm. "Don't get involved," she hissed sideways at Weasley and he closed his mouth with a snap.
"Does the Headmistress know you were up there?" Potter demanded.
Draco hesitated. "Well, I don't know. She can be a little distracted sometimes, don't you think? I'm fairly sure she noticed me, though."
He could feel three suspicious pairs of eyes on his back as he walked away.
"I just want to know what he was doing up there," Potter muttered from behind him and Granger murmured something soothing to him. Whatever it was it made Weasley yelp in outrage and furious whispering broke out.
Draco spared a thought for why they were all loitering about near McGonagall's office. No doubt something to do with their enormously important Quest to find ... whatever. He wished he'd said something to wind them up, now, while he'd had their attention. You'll never find it, Potter, my father hid it far too well. Something like that.
Maybe he should write to his mother, ask her if she'd have a word to McGonagall about letting him join the Order; or at least giving him something useful to do. She'd probably refuse, though. She'd been less than impressed when the Dark Lord had given him something to do.
He remembered the stark paleness of her face when Snape Apparated them into the manor; told her in brief, spare sentences exactly what had happened before Apparating out again.
She hadn't hesitated. She'd summoned a house elf and told it to send a trunk with all essential belongings of herself and Master Malfoy to an address on a small card she took from an inner pocket. Then she'd Apparated them both to France. She hadn't let go of Draco's shoulder at any point from the time Snape brought him to her to the time they Apparated out.
Snape's actions on the tower had obscured Draco's moment of weakness, or rebellion, whichever it had been, and saved him from immediate consequences at the hands of the other Death Eaters. It hadn't saved him from the Dark Lord's later disappointment, which Draco knew very well would have meant either death or a lifelong bondage and servitude.
Narcissa had been in the new Headmistress's office within half an hour, bargaining everything she knew about the Death Eater movement in return for Draco's pardon and protection at the school in the new year.
"Draco!" There were footsteps pounding behind him. "Malfoy, wait up!"
He turned just as Pansy caught him up, out of breath and with her satchel swinging wildly on her elbow. He noticed Bulstrode and Greengrass a way back. She must have run ahead of them to reach him.
"Hell, Draco, you could have waited," she puffed, annoyed. "I suppose you've just come from McGonagall's office, again?"
"Wait a sec, I've got something in my sock."
She got him to hold still while she grabbed his shoulder and twisted one leg up, fumbling inside her black patent leather shoe.
"Since when do you run, anyway?" he asked. "I thought you were morally opposed to all forms of exercise? I'm fairly sure that's what you told me when I tried to get you to come to try outs this year."
She looked back up and scowled, intense and flushed behind the dark hair that had got mussed and was falling into her eyes.
"I am," she said. "Only somebody wouldn't stop when I called their name. Aha!" She found the object in her shoe. She made a face at it and threw it away.
She put her foot back down and tested it. "There, it's gone. Did she refuse you again?"
"Cow," she said philosophically. She linked an arm through his elbow and tugged him into motion again.
"Did you do it last night?" she asked, her voice lower.
"Yes," he said again. He shrugged. "It didn't work."
"I thought you said you'd worked out the calculations!" She sounded personally betrayed by his fallibility and he smirked a bit.
"That part worked. But the — scene didn't go the way I wanted it to." He bit his lip. "I'm going to try again tonight, though," he said, deciding on the spot.
"You mean, with a different If-thingy?"
Pansy was the only person he'd told about the sieve other than Crabbe and Goyle. He hadn't entirely meant to but she moved like a steam engine when she thought it was worth her while. He remembered her determination when she decided that they were going to hang out in second year. And her insistence that he was going to keep her from looking like an idiot by publicly asking her to the Yule Ball in fourth year, since Nott wasn't even looking at her. (He also remembered the embargo she'd put on any Slytherin girl accepting an invitation from Nott that year, and his complete mystification over the way girls suddenly had something vitally important to do over the other side of the room if he tried to talk to them at any time during the lead-up to the ball.)
The only time she hadn't been able to wrangle a secret out of Draco had been when he was sneaking off every day to the Room of Requirement last year.
He dragged his thoughts away from that and nodded to Pansy's question.
"I've been thinking," he said. "The thing happened on the train because Potter had had Weasley fawning over him for an hour already, right?"
She shrugged. "Sure, okay."
"Which only happened because Weasley got star-struck because he was the Boy Who Lived."
"I'll bet you only went to his compartment because he was the Boy Who Lived."
"Whatever." He waved his arm. "I just wondered what would have happened if he hadn't been."
Goyle brought an Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle comic along this time and made a nest for himself with Crabbe's outdoor cloak against the foot of a bookshelf. Crabbe put the sieve down and stood back.
Draco checked his calculations again. He'd had to tweak them a little bit, since this time the choice-maker wasn't himself or Potter, but he was pretty sure they were right. He tipped the parchment in and then pressed a second piece of parchment flat and wrote: If Lord Voldemort chose not to attempt to kill Harry Potter and his parents in the autumn after Harry Potter's first birthday.
The parchment floated for a moment and then sank, the surface changing from silver to blue above it. Draco touched his wand to the pearlescent blue liquid. He felt the jerk of the sieve tilt him off his feet.
He had to blink a few times when he found his feet again. He'd half expected — he didn't know. Death Eaters in a field under a blood-red moon, maybe; or the Dark Lord curled in a high-backed chair with his snake.
Instead, a huge, crowded hall strung with evergreen branches and coloured ribbons stretched around him, thronged with witches and wizards in dress robes with glasses of juniper and strawberry wine. A babble of conversation — some polite, some genuinely happy — crowded up around his ears.
There was simply no way that the Dark Lord was here. Could he have messed up the calculations? Unless ... he thought he remembered reading that the sieve didn't always show the moment of choice itself. Not if there was a more optimum scene with which to show its results.
Given that he'd asked it show the effects on himself and Potter of somebody ele's choice that only immediately affected one of them and that when he was a year old, he supposed it had been silly to suppose that he'd see the Dark Lord in a black chair somewhere, weighing up the pros and cons of murdering the newest Potter.
He moved through the drifting crowds, a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of people. The uniform-pillowcases of the house elves he spotted weaving throughout suggested it was a Ministry event of some kind. A moment later he saw a long banner stretching across one wall. Four Year Anniversary of the Defeat of the Dark Lord Voldemort was emblazoned across it, in tacky gold and orange lettering. He saw one or two people tipping their glasses to it as they wandered past.
That was cheering — that the Dark Lord could be killed at all, in any reality. He still wasn't sure what he was doing here, though. He made an effort to catch some of the snatches of conversation around him in case that would help.
"... knew that his days were numbered, of course," a fat little witch nearby was saying, waving her glass expansively and spilling a little of its contents onto her sleeve. "I always knew what was going on at the Ministry in those days because of dear Mildred and I remember telling her, 'Mark my words, dear, You-Know-Who hasn't a chance against that kind of opposition.' Why, it was ..."
Draco moved on.
"... so tiresome," a lean wizard in sky blue robes complained to the witch at his side. "And I suppose we'll hear the same speeches again this year, and the Potters and Joneses and all the rest of them will parade their Orders of Merlin over the podium. Honestly, Lavinia, couldn't you have a word in the Minister's ear about the benefits of putting the whole sorry business behind us and letting us off these infernal Remembrance events?"
The only interesting thing Draco could glean from that was that the Potters were alive, so apparently he really was in the right If.
"... very hush-hush about it, of course," a heavy-browed witch was saying to the small circle around her. "Very dark magic, I expect, and you know how the Ministry is about protecting that sort of information. But they say that the reason it took so long to kill him was that he had found a way to make himself near immortal. Broke himself up into little bits, they say — put his heart in Wiltshire, his liver in Dorset and who knows what he did with the rest."
One of the other women in the circle raised her eyebrows. "Why, it must have been like some kind of treasure hunt, to gather up all those. What a strange way to win a war ..."
Draco snorted. He could imagine the Dark Lord finding a way to make himself close to immortal — but honestly, did she imagine that removing his liver would help? Still, wandering through this world where Voldemort was really and truly gone — by whatever means — prompted a little shiver of longing in him. He wondered whether he should mention the liver thing in his own reality, just in case there was some kind of truth to it.
He lost his train of thought as he caught a glimpse of messy dark hair and a flash of glasses. The man with the hair and glasses was standing by a red-haired woman, who seemed to be laughing at something an elderly wizard near her had just said. It took Draco a moment to spot the smaller messy-haired person with glasses near their feet. He was scuffing his shoes against the floor and making faces at nobody.
Draco moved closer.
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind, Tobias," the red-haired woman — Mrs Potter, it had to be — said with a smile as he came up. The elderly man drifted away towards the long refreshment table along the far wall.
Potter — who looked to be about eight or nine years old — immediately stepped closer and tugged on her robes.
"I'm bored, Mum."
She rolled her eyes, ruffling his hair. "So am I, tiger, but we've both got to endure, I'm afraid."
Potter lifted his chin. "I could have stayed home," he pointed out. "Even though Percy couldn't babysit these holidays, I could have stayed on my own. I'm not a little kid anymore, you know — I'm going to Hogwarts in two years."
She grinned, a little tiredly. "So you are. And you'll be smoking cigars and twirling your walking cane any time after that, old man."
Potter rolled his eyes at her. "Mu-um."
The elder Potter finished trading back slaps with somebody in ceremonial Auror robes. He turned back to his wife and son, absent-mindedly trying to put his wine glass into his pocket. Mrs Potter saved it before he could. He smiled at her, one of those you-are-the-centre-of-my-world-and-you-stop-me-making-a-fool-of-myself smiles.
"I'm bored, Dad," the nine-year-old Potter said, switching parents.
"Didn't I see Lovegood and his girl about, writing up a society piece?" Mr Potter asked. "Why don't you see if you can find her?"
Potter looked at him as though he was insane. "Dad," he said. "Luna's a girl."
Mrs Potter smirked and began adjusting the gold chain around her neck, which had got tangled in the neckline of her robe. Draco caught a flash of the distinctive shape and yes, it was an Order of Merlin. He couldn't see what class.
Potter Senior raised his eyebrows and said dryly: "I remember you two playing together when you were four. If she has any special girl germs, I imagine you caught them long ago."
"How about we get you something to eat," Mrs Potter interrupted. "I've been waiting for a house elf to show up but they seem to be somewhat overworked. James, do you think you could beat a path to the table for your lady love?"
Mr Potter swept her a gallant bow, making the nine-year-old Potter roll his eyes again.
"For you and Harry, my lady, I would venture forth to slay dragons and dark lords." He paused. "Or, er, I would have, if you hadn't got there first."
Mrs Potter leaned close to his ear as they turned. "It's probably not a good idea to send him off with Luna anyway," she murmured. "It took you weeks to convince him that there was no King of the Wrackspurts last time they played together."
Draco followed them as they moved through the thicker crowds towards the refreshment table. James Potter went first to forge a path through the throng for his wife and son, as he'd promised. Potter kept one hand on his mother's robes, tugging at his own stiff collar with the other. They were making their way back out of the press of people, triumphant with a tray of Pumpkin Pasties, two fresh glasses of juniper wine and a goblet of pumpkin juice for Potter, when Draco saw his parents. And himself, trailing at their heels.
The Potters saw them at the same time.
The expressions of both elder Potters froze over. A similar change came over Narcissa and Lucius, although given that they hadn't been laughing the moment before the effect was less striking.
"Malfoy," Mr Potter said finally. "And Mrs Malfoy."
Lucius inclined his head, coldly. "Potter," he said. His expression suggested that he'd just found something unpleasant on his shoe.
Seeing his father again — free, arrogant, composed — Draco was finding that it was all at once difficult to breathe.
Lucius didn't acknowledge Mrs Potter at all. Draco was confused by that for a moment — his father's society manners were generally impeccable — but then he remembered. Of course, she was a Mudblood.
Neither of the women bothered with a greeting. Narcissa gazed through the elder Potters as though she, personally, were living on another plane in which petty things like Potters didn't even exist. Potter's mother was fixated on Lucius just as her husband was, her eyes dark with dislike.
"I admire your grace, Malfoy," Potter Senior said. "To come here and play nice at an event celebrating your own master's downfall — well, it can't be easy for you."
Lucius looked down his nose.
"You will have your jokes, Potter. People of your sort are often nervous and ill-at-ease at affairs such as this, I understand. It requires a certain level of breeding to remain — graceful, as you say — in such an environment."
Mrs Potter made a sharp motion with one hand, quickly cut off. Her eyes looked dangerous, now.
"And yet it doesn't seem your proper environment at all, Malfoy," she said, a thread of viciousness in her voice. "I don't know how it is, but somehow when I think of you I can only imagine you in a dark field in a blood-spattered robe and mask. Isn't that strange?"
"Very droll," Lucius agreed, his voice a hiss. He seemed to have forgotten that he wasn't acknowledging her existence.
The boys at their feet seemed only peripherally aware of what was being said above them. Potter was staring at Draco, unselfconscious and not very polite. Sieve Draco watched him back, his brows lowered.
"Your collar is dirty," the younger Draco pronounced finally.
Potter flushed and rubbed at the pumpkin stain. "My mum and dad are war heroes," he said, lifting his chin. Watcher Draco wasn't sure whether he was trying to change the subject, or if he thought that heroes in the family were a license to have a stained collar. "That's why we're here. Why are you here?"
Sieve Draco looked blank. "It's a Ministry gala," he said. "We always come to those. Father says that it's expected." His eyes strayed to the pumpkin stain on Potter's collar again. "I suppose if you're not used to them that might be why you're dirty," he said.
Watcher Draco wanted to snort at the replication of his father's insult.
Whether Potter would have found a response equal to Mrs Potter's remained debatable, since at that point Lucius put a hand on Draco's shoulder and said, without looking at him, "Come, Draco. The air is a little thick over this side of the room. We should move on."
The Potters watched them go. Mrs Potter's hand came down on her son's shoulder, an echo of Draco's father's gesture. Her voice was low and a little bleak as she said, "They are not a good family, Harry." She hesitated and added, "It would probably be best if you remembered that when you go to school."
Potter shrugged and twisted to look up at her. "I didn't like him anyway," he said, searching her face. She smiled at him, her face relaxing a little.
Watcher Draco thought he might have been angry if he'd been able to spare the attention. But he couldn't seem to take his eyes away from his father's back, still visible through the shifting mill of people.
He wondered, a little distantly, whether Sieve Draco was getting the same warning that Potter had just got.
He wanted to think that this was still what Lucius was like, rather than filthy and defeated in a cell in Azkaban. And then part of him wanted Lucius to never leave that cell; the part that raged and burned and — had been betrayed.
It was one thing for Lucius to pledge himself to a dark wizard. Or even for him to instil so many of his own opinions into Draco as he grew up that he never even considered not following his father into the Dark Lord's service, when Lucius sent him that letter after Cedric Diggory's death. But the fact was, by joining Voldemort Lucius had sold his whole family to the Dark Lord. That was something Draco hadn't realised until he began to understand that he might fail at his task in sixth year. Both Draco's and Narcissa's lives were forfeit to Voldemort, not because Lucius had failed his lord — that was just an excuse — but because he'd thrown his lot in with a wizard who considered his followers' families his rightful property.
There was no coming back from that kind of betrayal.
The jerk of the If concluding almost passed unnoticed in the painful darkness of Draco's own thoughts. He couldn't look at Crabbe and Goyle when he opened his eyes.
He muttered some excuse and walked quickly away, his eyes on the worn green-and-gold carpet. He knew they wouldn't try to follow him.