There was no sign of Malfoy when the others woke up the next morning. Harry might have thought it had all been a bizarre vision from Voldemort if it weren't for the rumpled covers on the extra bed by the window.
Seamus and Dean seemed to be more or less used to the idea now. They skirted around Malfoy's bed on their way to the bathroom without giving it a glance. Neville wasn't paying it any attention either, but then Neville was messing about with seedlings in the little window tray he'd set up, and he never tended to notice much else when he was doing that.
Ron glanced at the bed once, grimaced, then concentrated on beating Harry to the shower.
Malfoy wasn't at breakfast. Neither was Hermione; Parvati said that she'd dashed out of the dorm very early, and that she'd been speculating before that on whether or not the headmistress was likely to be an early riser. She yawned as she spoke. Hermione had apparently kept her and Lavender up the night before with muttering and half-sentences that she wouldn't explain.
Hermione slipped into their first class two minutes late, her cheeks flushed and her expression pleased.
Slughorn, who liked her, gave her a tolerant nod and ignored the lateness. Ron made an indignant face at her, and she smiled back.
Harry only noticed in a distracted way. He stirred his potion, noticing that it seemed to be a slightly different consistency to Ron's. He frowned and checked the quantities in the ingredients list again. He found it a bit hard to take his subjects seriously this year, when there were Voldemort and Horcruxes to worry about, but he suspected that if he did no work at all he'd probably be expelled. And Hermione was right: they'd come back this year because they needed the Hogwarts library if they were ever going to find the Horcruxes and face Voldemort with a chance. They couldn't get kicked out.
He added another salamander scale, then glanced up at the professor. Slughorn wasn't looking at him. He tended to pendulum in his opinion of Harry. He still showed a disturbing tendency to make a favourite of him, but he also appeared to feel personally betrayed by Harry's lack of Potions brilliance this year. He gazed at him at mealtimes with the air of somebody mourning a delinquent son.
Harry wondered whether Slughorn knew where Malfoy was; whether McGonagall had shared anything new with him.
"Could she stop looking so smug?" Ron muttered. Harry looked at Hermione, working at a desk with Dean. She was trying to concentrate on her potion, but her mouth kept slipping into a smile; she looked as though she were bursting with news of some sort. She looked up, feeling their stares, and her smile widened.
Ron made a frustrated noise and tore a piece of parchment out of his notebook.
He scrawled, What's happened? on it, then charmed it to fly low across the room to Hermione. She looked disapproving as she reached down and snagged the parchment nudging her knee, but she read it. And she replied, which Harry thought was proof that she really was bursting with her news.
Ron pushed the returned parchment flat against the desk. Harry leaned over to read it.
Professor McGonagall agreed with my theory about Malfoy.
Ron wrote, You're very, very clever. So WHAT theory? You haven't told US.
Hermione read it and looked up, glaring. Yes, I am, she mouthed. Ron made an urgent motion and she smirked, stirring her potion with her left hand as she wrote again. Ron snagged the note out of the air and Harry leaned over Ron's shoulder once more to read it.
Think about this. What if Malfoy really was hit by that killing curse at Merope's grave?
Ron blinked. He wrote, Then Harry has some competition for the Boy Who Lived title? Harry rolled his eyes and scrawled underneath, Gee, that would be TRAGIC.
He thought about Draco having to put up with everything Harry had had to deal with as the Boy Who Lived. He was in the middle of a fantasy about selling scorching love-triangle stories involving Crabbe and Goyle to Rita Skeeter when Hermione's answer flew back, bobbing low against their legs.
Well, yes, but that's not the point. What if Malfoy got hit by a killing curse, and by a banishing hex at exactly the same moment? What would happen?
"Why can't she just tell us?" Ron muttered. Still, he scrawled back, Wouldn't the killing curse win?
Hermione read that and looked up, shaking her head.
It's not a matter of one spell winning and the other one losing. When you combine spells their effects combine into something new. Remember what happened to Malfoy when fifteen Hufflepuffs all hexed him with something different on the train that time?
Ron and Harry shared a grin, remembering. Then Harry grimaced again. It had been so easy to know what Malfoy was in fourth year, when he was mouthing off about Cedric and Voldemort and he wasn't sleeping in Harry's dorm.
Harry answered the note this time. But it was a banishing hex. That just sends you away. If the effects were combined, wouldn't you just be a corpse a long way off?
Hermione snagged a piece of hair with her little finger, chewing on it as she started to answer. Then something popped in her cauldron and she jumped, putting the parchment down and stirring furiously. Dean, calmly stirring his own cauldron, gave the note a curious look but didn't ask.
She picked up the note again after a moment, keeping a wary eye on her potion, and finished writing. Ron had to grab twice to catch it this time; the note was too eager and kept trying to fly between his fingers.
No. They would interfere with each other, rather than both of them working. You can't kill somebody if they're not there, so the killing curse would only partially work.
Ron groaned, quietly. What are you getting at, Hermione? he wrote.
She wrote quickly this time, her head disappearing beneath her cloud of brown hair.
An Avada Kedavra is essentially a severing curse. You both know that. That's how Voldemort is able to use it to create the items we're trying to find. The severing in the caster is a lesser reflection of the severing in the victim. The curse doesn't cause any major organs to fail, it simply cuts your connection to the living world — and then you're dead. That's why it's painless and there's no damage to the body.
So what if you were severed from the world at the same time that a non-destination-specific travelling spell, like a banishing hex, hit you?
You'd be sent away, but not to anywhere in the world. It would have to be outside it. In a different world. Or a different reality.
"It's a good theory," Harry allowed when they caught up with Hermione at the end of the lesson. "But I still don't believe it."
She waved a hand. "Of course you don't. You hate Malfoy." She frowned. "Well, I don't like him either. But this theory makes more sense than that he's playing some sort of deep game. There's no benefit to it — nothing except that he sleeps in Gryffindor Tower, and there are protection spells in the walls of all the dorms to keep that from being an issue. And anyway, Professor McGonagall agrees with me."
She nibbled on her lip, swinging her bag up onto her shoulder as it started to slip. "And I don't think Malfoy's that good an actor, no matter how many silly impressions he used to do. I saw him as I came out of McGonagall's office — that was why he wasn't in Potions, I think: he had another meeting with her and Sinistra. When we passed in the hall he didn't look at me the way he used to." She shrugged. "It was like he didn't have any especial opinion of me at all — he just sort of glanced at me and nodded a bit. The Malfoy we know couldn't have done that. He would have at least curled his lip or something."
Harry only paid attention to part of this. "Malfoy was in a meeting with McGonagall during Potions?"
"I just said, Harry."
Harry hesitated for a moment. If Malfoy had been in the meeting for the last hour, he was probably getting out right about now. And he'd be on his own, and left to his own devices, for the first time since Harry and Ron had found him. All the seventh years had a free period now, so there was no chance he'd be going to class.
"Um, look, I left something in the dorm," he said. "I'll meet you guys in the library, okay?"
He slipped away before they could answer. Ron would probably be annoyed that he'd spied on Malfoy without him; but they couldn't both fit under the cloak anymore, not comfortably.
Hermione, he thought as he raced up the stairs, would just be irritated that he was skipping Horcrux research again. He understood how important that was — of course he did. But finding out what Malfoy was up to was important too. Especially if whatever it was had to do with the Horcruxes as well. Maybe the mention of Merope's grave had been deliberate; maybe he was trying to draw Harry or Ron on to betray something. Or trying to lead them on a wild goose chase; or distract them from the clues they were following now. Or lead them into a trap.
He pounded up another flight of stairs, ignoring the Hermione-voice telling him: Or maybe he's lost and he's telling the truth, Harry, honestly. Hermione was too trusting.
The house-elves had been by. The dirty dishes from the night before had been cleared away, and Malfoy's bed, like the others, had been neatly made and turned back. He didn't have a trunk at the foot of it like everybody else, and it occurred to Harry for the first time to wonder what he was doing about clothes and schoolbooks and — a toothbrush, and so forth. Not that he'd been to a class yet, so he wouldn't have needed schoolbooks, but still. Had he had to go without brushing his teeth? He hadn't asked to borrow anything. Actually, Harry couldn't imagine him asking to borrow something.
He shrugged, turning to his own trunk and rummaging in it for the cloak. Maybe Professor McGonagall or Madam Pomfrey had given him a toothbrush.
He stood, pulling the swathes of silvery material out from under a tangle of scarves and coats, and pushed the lid closed with his foot. As he turned back towards the door, the handle shifted down. Obeying a momentary impulse, he slung the cloak around his shoulders and stepped back.
Malfoy pushed the door open and slipped inside.
He looked tired. He pulled his scarf off and dumped it on his bed. Then he sat down next to it and put his head in his hands.
He stayed there for what must have been nearly fifteen minutes. It felt like an hour. Harry wanted badly to stretch and move around a bit, but he'd learned his lesson about the difference between 'invisible' and 'undetectable' on the train at the beginning of sixth year. He didn't move.
Eventually Malfoy lifted his head a little. He shifted his hands, peering through his fingers at the room. Slowly he dropped his hands, then stood.
The dorm was fairly large. It needed to be, to fit five curtained four-posters — six, now — as well as trunks and the closets around the walls. The sun didn't properly hit the wide windows until the afternoon, but cool-edged daylight already streamed through them into the room. One of Neville's plants had plastered itself to the glass, pressed up as high as it could go to make the most of the light. It cast leaf-shaped shadows against the sketch of a Hippogriff rampant that Dean had tacked up on the opposite wall at some point.
Malfoy began to prowl around the room. He stopped at each bed and examined it. He looked at the Hippogriff sketch, irritably shaking its head in an attempt to move out of the shade, then moved on to the dog-eared West Ham poster next to it. His lip twisted in a tiny smirk, and he shifted his eyes to the opposite wall, to the mass of orange tearing exuberantly about in Ron's Chudley Cannons poster. Then he looked at a spot on the wall by the door, his eyes sliding over the place where Harry stood, tensed and invisible. He turned around, scanning the room as though looking for something on the wall that wasn't there.
He shrugged and moved to the window, running his hands along the sill. One of the seedlings nudged at his hand, its leaves shivering. He stared down at it, his expression oddly blind, then dropped back against the wall. He squeezed his eyes shut again for a moment, then opened them.
"Well, fuck," he said quietly.
Harry was still blinking when Malfoy pushed away from the wall and headed for the door again, grabbing his scarf on the way.
Harry waited thirty seconds before he followed.
He caught up with the other boy on the first flight of stairs outside the portrait hole. Harry slowed and moved closer to the wall — sometimes people came dashing down, and they noticed if somebody invisible was standing in the way — and kept a careful distance behind him. They walked down multiple flights of stairs, then Malfoy branched off towards the entrance hall. He seemed to be heading for the grounds.
At first Harry thought he didn't have any special destination, other than 'outside'. Once they got out, he certainly seemed aimless enough. Harry watched him turn his collar up against the chill breeze and overcast day, and pull his scarf (Gryffindor colours, oh it was so wrong) tighter.
Harry realised that he'd been mistaken about the aimlessness when they turned a corner of the castle and found most of the seventh year Slytherins sitting or leaning against the wall in the small garden there.
A thick growth of ivy clung to the stone walls of the castle here, making the garden feel even more closed-in and secluded than it was. The greenery even bridged the gap between the wall and a low stone bench, twining over the back and base.
Pansy Parkinson was half-sitting and half-lying against the front of the bench, leaning up to talk to Millicent Bulstrode. She twisted her neck around at the sound of footsteps. She took one look at Malfoy and launched herself to her feet.
"Oh my god, Draco."
She crossed the space in less than a second, threw her arms around his neck and held on. "Oh my god, we heard, but we didn't believe it, how could you have not told us you were alive, you complete bastard."
Apparently Malfoy hadn't filled his friends in on whatever his plan was, then. But he hadn't told anyone about the vanishing cabinet last year either, had he? Not even Crabbe and Goyle, who were helping him.
Harry slipped into the space behind some shrubs, where he could see everybody's faces.
Malfoy looked stunned. He held his hands as though he didn't know what to do with them, away from Pansy, who was still clinging and sobbing against his neck.
"Um ... Parkinson?" She hiccoughed and laughed, the sound rather drowned by his scarf and by her crying. "Um ..." He carefully disengaged her hands from his neck and stepped back, eyeing her warily as he dropped them. "Thank you for, er, worrying ... I guess. I, uh ..."
He looked around the circle of faces. Crabbe and Goyle stared at him like drowning men, the hope in their faces almost painful. Blaise Zabini, leaning against the lichen-encrusted castle wall, looked cautious; Theodore Nott had also been leaning against the wall when they arrived, but he'd taken a step forward when he saw Malfoy, his face lighting up. Millicent Bulstrode was still sitting down, her face inscrutable as she looked back and forth between Malfoy and Pansy.
"I'm glad that you're back, Malfoy," Millicent said now. "Where have you been?"
He looked at her, the panicked expression on his face smoothing over a little. "I guess I really was a Slytherin," he said. "But you must have heard about ... me. You must know that I'm not him."
"Oh, come on, Malfoy," Nott said. "You don't have to play that game with us. Whatever it's about, you have to know we're not going to rat on you."
Malfoy stared at him. "Was I really some kind of pathological liar here or something? Why does not one damn person believe me?" He shook his head. "I'm not lying about this. I'm sure that we were great friends, or whatever, in this godforsaken reality. But I barely know you guys. I ..." He looked around again. "I met Crabbe and Goyle a few times when I was a kid, then again on the train in first year. I met Nott a couple of times too. But ..." He looked at the expressions surrounding him and the next part was quiet. "I don't know you."
Pansy lifted her hands, as though she wanted to touch him but didn't know how to. "Draco, you can't say things like that." She was staring at him, tear-wet eyes intense, as though she could force him to acknowledge her. "I was your girlfriend for a year, you complete prat."
Malfoy looked taken aback. "Oh. I, um ... McGonagall didn't mention that."
Nott made a slashing, impatient gesture. "Malfoy, this is ridiculous. You might be able to sell some insane story about switching realities to the teachers, but we're not idiots."
Malfoy just looked at him. "It ..." he started finally; then his head swung around. Harry had shifted to keep from getting pins and needles, and he had a horrible suspicion that his knee might have been visible for a moment.
Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "For god's sake, Potter, would you come out of the bushes?"
After a second, Harry stood up, shedding the cloak. He could feel his face heating.
Pansy and the other Slytherins were staring at him. He suspected that they'd start looking pissed off when they stopped looking shocked.
Malfoy shook his head, taking in the flushed face and the twigs clinging to his robes. "You complete idiot, d'you think I don't know how to recognise the cloak by now?" he asked. Then in the next second, before Harry had had time to process his tone (had it been fond?), "I always knew you were pathetic, but crouching in the dirt?"
"Go to hell, Malfoy," Harry said. Which was lame, he had to admit. This whole scene had been too confusing.
He turned and strode off, folding the cloak over his arm.
"I'm glad you're not so much of a Gryffindor as all that," he heard Zabini say behind him, the sound distanced by the corner of the castle between them. Then Malfoy's clipped, "Excuse me."
Harry twisted around to see; Malfoy came around the corner as he did, also on his way back to the castle. His lip twisted when he saw Harry and he sped up, jolting Harry's shoulder as he passed.
Hermione raised her eyebrows. "Harry, I'm really not sure how the fact that Malfoy hasn't told his friends anything shows that he's even more evil."
Harry scowled at his dinner. "Well, why would he pretend like that, to his friends?"
Harry lifted his hand. "And don't say, 'Because he's not pretending' or anything like that, okay?" She rolled her eyes but didn't say anything, and Harry continued. "When Ron and I were Polyjuiced as Crabbe and Goyle, in second year —"
"When you were being a cat," Ron said, shovelling in a mouthful of potatoes with an innocent air.
"— we saw how he talked to his friends. He wasn't hiding anything. It was like he thought that telling them things was the same as telling them to himself."
"He might have changed a bit since he was twelve," Hermione said.
Harry ignored the interruption. "The only time he's not told them something was when he was plotting to kill Dumbledore."
Hermione looked at him.
"Being completely evil," Harry prompted.
Malfoy was at dinner tonight, but seated far down the other end of the table — more or less as far from Harry and Ron as he could get. Harry was a little bit disgusted to see that Richard Coote and Jack Sloper — two of his team members, even if he wasn't captain this year — were trying to talk to him. There was a shy bravado in their expressions and body language that was horrible to see.
Hermione gave a furtive glance around, then moved her wand under the table, casting a sound-scrambling charm around them. The giggling conversation between Romilda Vane and a bunch of other fifth years became vague and garbled.
"I had a look at those maps of the Forbidden Forest Hagrid gave us," she said. "I know we don't have much of a lead, but I think it's worth a try."
Ron looked up, his eyes hunted. "We haven't looked into that idea about You-Know-Who's mum's grave yet."
"We're not going to," Harry said instantly. "Not when Malfoy was dropping hints about it."
"Honestly, Ron," Hermione said. "They're just spiders. We're going to have to do it some time — the Acromantula Nest is too obvious a hiding place. It's near Hogwarts, Voldemort knew about it, and it's got the best natural protection you can imagine. And it's a reminder of one of his early triumphs: framing Hagrid for his own crime."
"Just spiders?" Ron's voice was high. "A basilisk's just a snake, too. Just because you were safe in the hospital wing —"
"I was petrified, Ronald." Hermione's tone was like cut glass.
"Nobody's asking you to go and face a herd of — of disappointed teachers telling you you've failed, or whatever your ridiculous Boggart was!"
Harry shifted along the table about half a foot, sliding out of the sound scrambling spell. He could still hear the bickering, but not what they were actually saying.
Apparently Malfoy had decided that Coote and Sloper were worth talking to, at least for the length of a meal. He was telling them some sort of story, alternately lounging back in his chair and leaning forward, his eyes dark and alive. Whatever it was about, the younger boys were enthralled. Their grins skittered between nervous and devoted.
He was probably telling them improbable things about his alternate reality. Of course, I was Gryffindor Quidditch captain there. Head Boy, too. Well, they would give me those, wouldn't they, after I got twenty eight OWLs without losing a single match?
He heard Malfoy laugh, pleased-sounding, and for a moment he thought, What an arrogant tosser, laughing about his Quidditch wins, before he remembered that the Quidditch wins had only happened in Harry's head.
He flushed. Malfoy, who had until then been keeping his eyes firmly away from their side of the table, chose that moment to look around.
For half a second he was completely expressionless. Then he smiled — a tiny, cruel smile that took in Harry's flush and his scowl and the forkful of pastry that Harry had held suspended and ignored in his hand while he watched Malfoy. Then he turned back and said something to Sloper. The other boy's eyes widened as if he'd been slapped. He and Coote nervously edged along the bench.
Neville's wondering voice in Harry's ear brought him back to himself.
"Harry, is that ...?"
He looked around, following Neville's gaze.
For a moment he wondered where he knew the witch who had just come into the Great Hall. She had long blond hair caught back from her face in intricate braids, and pale blue robes which she held tightly around her away from the floor. She was tallish, and pretty in a restrained sort of way. Her lips were pale and pressed tightly together.
"Mrs Malfoy," Harry blurted, recognising her in a rush.
Conversation at the tables died away as she scanned the hall. She looked to the Slytherin table first, maybe out of habit, but Harry saw the moment she found Draco.
Something spasmed over her face, breaking the careful control.
Draco was pushing back his chair and standing. He looked tense and uncertain.
He doesn't know what she's thinking, Harry realised. The desperate hope in her face seemed obvious to him, but apparently Malfoy didn't know how to read his own mother.
Then she walked forward, quickly, almost running, the train of her robes dropping to the floor. Malfoy's face relaxed in relief that was almost painful, then Narcissa reached him and buried her face in his shoulder.
"Hello, Mother," he said. The quiet words were clearly audible in the quiet of the hall.
She pulled back a little, her fingers tight on his forearms.
"Hello, Draco." Her voice was shaky. "You look well." Her hands shifted on his arms — up to the shoulder, down to the wrist, reassuring herself of his reality. "You're alive," she added, the sound only just there.
McGonagall stood, clapping her hands. A house-elf appeared.
"You will want some time to speak with your son," she called to Mrs Malfoy in the hall below. "May I invite you to use my office?"
Mrs Malfoy drew herself up again, facing the older woman. "That would be very kind, Headmistress," she allowed.
McGonagall nodded. "Dimpy will show you the way. I will join you after the meal, if you would like to remain to discuss Draco's situation."
The Malfoys, mother and son, followed the house-elf out of the hall; nearly composed, nearly calm, if you hadn't seen them a moment ago — if you couldn't still see Draco holding his mother's arm, his grip white-knuckled.
"Bloody hell," Ron breathed.
Harry turned his head. His thoughts felt slow. He realised that Hermione and Ron had ended their sound scrambling spell.
Ron looked a bit shell-shocked himself. "D'you think she really thought he was dead?"
"He was dead, Ron, honestly," Hermione said. "Except," and she looked thoughtfully at the door Narcissa and Draco had disappeared through, "now she has a living son again. That must be ..."
She didn't finish whatever it must be, but Harry supposed he knew what she meant.
The school as a whole got used to Malfoy being alive, and wearing a red and gold scarf, more quickly than Harry expected they would. He supposed that they'd dealt with other deaths and other resurrections — and that Voldemort's had been the more impressive — but it still seemed incongruous. He found it particularly unsettling that their dorm shifted so easily to allow the addition of an extra person: an interloper, a Slytherin, a Death Eater's son.
It should have been more dramatic.
After Narcissa's visit, Draco's bed had a trunk like everybody else's — only rather nicer — and he had toiletries in the bathroom and spare robes hanging in the wardrobe. He had a wand again, too. Harry assumed Narcissa had gone to Olivander's to get him an emergency one.
He came to classes like everybody else, although Ginny said that she'd heard that he had to do tests in all his subjects to make sure that he was up to seventh year standards.
In the Gryffindor common room, some people were wary, but there was always a small knot hanging around who seemed drawn to him. Coote and Sloper apparently got over whatever Malfoy had said to them at dinner, and showed disturbing signs of hovering about whenever he'd let them. Parvati and Lavender, too, developed a habit of hanging over the back of his chair and having murmured conversations.
Harry did his best to put out of his mind that moment with the Slytherins where Malfoy had seemed to forget himself and talk to Harry as if he were a friend; just as he'd been able to put out of his mind the look of stunned betrayal Malfoy had worn for only a moment, tangled in ivy that bound him to a statue out on the grounds.
The problem was that Malfoy kept doing it.
On Wednesday morning Seamus and Dean tried to race each other to the showers. They both ended up tangled in their sheets on the floor, cursing. Malfoy laughed and slid a grin across at Ron and Harry. Then he remembered himself and his expression blanked.
On Friday afternoon Professor Flitwick, their least demanding teacher, without warning produced a viciously difficult Charms test that he said was preparation for their NEWTs. Malfoy turned to Harry and Ron to share a look of dismay. Harry almost returned it before he caught himself, by which point Malfoy had looked away again and was focusing severely on his down-turned test paper.
On Monday Ron, Harry and Hermione came down to the Great Hall to find Malfoy holding court at one end of the table. Parvati, Lavender and a group of fifth year boys were almost choking with laughter while Malfoy re-enacted the disastrous Montrose Magpies/Hollyhead Harpies match the Daily Prophet had reported on that morning. Malfoy sat up on the back of his chair, sweeping out jagged motions with his arms; as Harry and the others came in he turned to look at them. His eyes were still brilliant and alive, his mouth open in a grin. Then his face flickered into coldness and he turned back to his audience.
Lavender was collapsed backwards onto Parvati's shoulder, her breath coming in helpless little hiccoughs. She noticed the exchange and looked curious, but nobody else did.
Harry found that he wasn't as hungry as he'd thought. They were already late anyway. Ron and Hermione had got into another argument about the Acromantula Nest, up in the common room. Harry agreed with Hermione, and by this point he was itching with the desire to just go out and try his luck; but he sort of wished that Ron would agree to stay behind for this one. Harry wouldn't especially want to face a cave full of Dementors, after all; it would just be easier all around if Ron didn't come along for the spider adventure.
Ron hadn't spoken to him for four days after he had mentioned that idea.
This time looked nearly as bad. Hermione had used the words 'irrational phobia'. Ron had flushed an outraged red and spent nearly twenty-five minutes detailing why being afraid of enormous spiders who ate people wasn't irrational in the slightest and Hermione 'My Boggart is a bad grade' needed to have her head examined.
So they were late. So it was hardly worth sitting down for lunch.
Harry turned and walked out.
Ron came with him. Hermione was still smarting over the argument, so she stayed behind, seating herself beside Neville in a deliberate manner and asking him to pass the butter.
They had Transfiguration after lunch, so Harry and Ron headed to the classroom early. Harry hoisted himself onto a desk, swinging his legs.
Ron sat on the other one. He fiddled with his tie. "He's not usually funny, is he?" he asked finally. "I mean, he wasn't before — not actually funny? I know he used to make the Slytherins laugh, but ..."
Harry frowned. "D'you think he was being funny?"
"Well, that ..." Ron hesitated. "I mean, that thing where he showed the Magpies Keeper flying into his own goalpost, that was quite good."
Parvati and Lavender came in, dumping their bags and dropping into their seats, still giggling to each other. Harry and Ron slid off the desks and into their seats.
"It's not as bad as I thought it'd be — having him in the dorm," Ron said, keeping his voice low as the professor came in.
Ron gave him a warding-off gesture. "Don't say it — dangerous plans, tricking his way into the dorm, Slytherin plots; I get it. I'm just saying, is all."
The Slytherins didn't seem to know what to make of Malfoy these days.
Pansy Parkinson couldn't look at him without her lip wobbling. After which she usually did something horrible to either Nott or Zabini. Most of the other Slytherin seventh years kept their distance, watching Malfoy with a sort of wary curiosity. Crabbe and Goyle, though, were so obviously miserable that Harry found himself feeling sorry for them. They hung around the edges of wherever Malfoy was, with a stubborn determination that made Harry think of a pair of scruffy overgrown dogs, abandoned but not lost.
Malfoy shot them curious glances out of the corner of his eye, mostly. Someone must have told him that they'd been friends, but he still seemed to find it confusing.
Harry overheard Parvati asking him about it. They were working together in Potions.
"Aren't you going to talk to any of the Slytherins?"
Malfoy looked blank. He glanced at Millicent and Pansy, working at the desk across from them.
"I don't think they especially want to talk to me."
Parvati raised her eyebrows. "Because you're the wrong Malfoy, you mean? Because I think that's rubbish."
She put the stirring rod she was holding down, rolling her sleeves back where they'd slipped. "I have a theory," she said. "It's like amnesia, isn't it? You're still the same person, more or less, but you don't remember being friends with them. They still remember though." She picked up the pewter rod again. "And anyway, you still want Harry and Ron to —"
"If you finish that sentence I'll drop the snake venom on you."
Parvati looked at the vial on the desk.
Ron's yell brought Harry's attention back to his own workplace. He looked in dismay at the dragon blood he'd let slip onto the bench-top. It was bubbling and gently eating away at the surface.
He had to stay behind to clean up the mess. This meant he came out of class at just the right time to see Malfoy, leaning against a wall and rummaging in his bag, look up and notice Crabbe and Goyle hanging about the stairwell. Harry stepped back into the shadow of the doorway.
"Hullo, Malfoy," Crabbe said awkwardly.
Malfoy stared at them for a moment. Then he rolled his eyes.
He swung the bag back onto his shoulder. "Come on then, if you're coming." He started up the stairs. "Since apparently you're completely hopeless without me," he added over his shoulder.
Crabbe and Goyle shared identical pleased smiles and fell into step behind him.
"So." Hermione counted off on her fingers. "The cup, the ring, the locket, the diary, the snake, and something of Godric's or Rowena's."
They were sitting on the steps just outside the Gryffindor common room. Harry and Hermione had their backs against the bottle-green glass of the window that began here and extended down to the next floor. Harry could feel the rain pummelling against the glass on the other side. It was oddly soothing. He let it give his thoughts a rhythm as he turned over clues about Malfoy in his head, only paying half an ear to the Horcrux conversation.
Ron was stretched out over the next step, teasing Crookshanks with the sleeve of his robe. "D'you really reckon he'd use something of Gryffindor's?" he asked. He twisted around, moving his hand just as Crookshanks hissed and took a swipe at it. "Weren't Salazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor all about hating each other? I would have thought if You-Know-Who was so proud of being Slytherin's heir, he wouldn't want to put a bit of his soul in something Gryffindor owned."
Hermione frowned. "That's a good point, actually." She opened the notebook in her lap. "All right, I'll put a question mark next to 'Something of Gryffindor's'. We should concentrate on finding out what Rowena owned."
Ron groaned, turning back to the cat. "She would've owned heaps of stuff, though. She lived for ages."
"Not much would have been passed down, though. Not as memorabilia, I mean. I can't imagine that anybody was hoarding her teaspoons after she died, after all. No —" she tapped her list with her quill, "judging by the cup and the locket it will be something like jewellery; something precious." She looked at Harry. "The cup did look valuable, didn't it?"
"What?" Harry blinked as Ron jerked his hand away from Crookshanks again, laughing to himself. "Um, I don't remember. I think so?"
Hermione tapped her list again. "Maybe we should look at the memory a — oh honestly, Ron, don't tease him, you know he's probably part-Kneazle; he grows his claws longer when he's annoyed. He'll take off your hand." She shook her head and looked back at Harry. "Dumbledore left you his Pensieve, didn't he?"
"Yeah, he ..." Harry trailed off, his eyes narrowing as he turned to look at the portrait hole. He jumped up. "Excuse me. I have to do something."
"Harry?" Ron sounded long-suffering.
"I'll tell you later!" Harry called back, starting down the stairs. Whatever they replied, he didn't hear. He was on the next landing by then, and starting down another staircase.
He searched the library and the great hall and the part of the courtyard that was undercover, but he didn't find Malfoy until nearly dinnertime. When he did, Malfoy was curled up in a corner of the courtyard with Crabbe and Goyle, arguing determinedly about something with them.
Harry fell back. Catching him with Crabbe and Goyle was no good. He needed to get him alone.
He didn't get a chance until after dinner that night. Malfoy left the common room earlier than the rest of them. He headed up the stairs to the dorm.
Hermione and Ron had their heads buried together over a map of the Forest. Hermione looked up as he slipped away, but didn't do more than narrow her eyes.
The narrow back stiffened in front of him. Malfoy turned, bracing one hand on the stone wall of the stairwell, and looked down at him. It was a narrow space, and the curve of the stairs was quite sharp, which meant that Harry had to step quite close to Malfoy for them to be able to face each other.
"I need to talk to you," Harry said quickly; because if Malfoy spoke first he'd say something horrible and Harry would get angry and probably they'd end up hexed and stumbling down the stairs. He couldn't let that happen; he needed to ask Malfoy to do something.
Then his mind twisted away from the impossibility of asking something of Malfoy as though it were a favour, and he wondered whether he could get away with phrasing it as an order.
Malfoy looked unimpressed. "Really."
Harry flushed and shifted his feet to get a more secure balance on the stair. "I have a Pensieve," he said.
Malfoy raised his eyebrows. "Right, and an invisibility cloak and an enchanted map. You're just Super Gadget Boy, aren't you?"
Harry rolled his eyes.
"Whatever, Malfoy. I have a Pensieve that Dumbledore gave me. If you're telling the truth, then I want you to prove it. Show me a memory of this other reality of yours." He looked at the other boy directly. "Show me that you were really a Gryffindor."
Malfoy stared at him for a moment. Then he licked his lips, looking away. "You think it will prove I'm a good person if you can see that I'm a Gryffindor?" he asked. "Because that's unbelievably stupid, and really arrogant even for you." He sounded distracted, though, and Harry could tell he was thinking about it. He waited.
"All right," Malfoy said after a moment. He looked back at Harry. His eyes were narrowed, and if possible he looked even less friendly than he had before. "On one condition."
Harry's shoulders tensed, but he lifted his chin in a silent, Oh, yes?
"We do a trade," Malfoy said. "You want to see that we were in Gryffindor together? Well, fine. I want the same."
Harry hesitated. "You want proof that I'm a Gryffindor?"
Malfoy stared at him. "You really are stupider here, aren't you?" he said. He waved a hand, a quick jerking motion. "No. I want to know what —" he looked away again, as though he couldn't make eye contact. "What it was like here. I want to see a memory of the two of us."
Harry thought about it. He could do that.
"All right, then. Bring your gadget to the Room of Requirement tomorrow after dinner. I'll give you a memory."
Malfoy turned and continued up the stairs. Harry went back down, thinking hard. He didn't know what Malfoy would show him, but he was sure that he'd be able to recognise if it wasn't real. If Slughorn, a wizard with nearly a century of experience, had botched so badly his attempt to modify the Horcrux memory he'd given Dumbledore, Harry had no illusions about Malfoy being able to do it.
All he had to do now was decide what memory he'd show him in return. If Malfoy wanted to see what it had been like between them here — well, fine. Harry would show him.