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Fic: Untiltled (H/D), PG-13 (1/2)

To: jtsbbsps_dk 
From: tinarebekka 
Gift: Fic
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: Uh…about 15,000.
Summary: 8th year, post war, AU after OOTP (some people never died): The new school year just started and something is far from right at the castle. Harry is curious and concerned while Draco has more personal reasons to investigate.
Author’s notes: Dear jtsbbsps_dk, I tried to come up with something to do your prompts justice and I think I managed to incorporate some of them. I really hope you like it. Anyways, have a wonderful Christmas! :-) 
  
  

Draco Malfoy had been wondering why the amount of indistinctive school owls among the birds delivering messages to the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry had increased over the last days, maybe even longer. Now it looked like he might get an answer since one of those animals was headed for him. The grey-brown owl dropped a letter in front of him, only barely missing his plate, and Draco opened it curiously, only to stare at it with a frown once he had skimmed the content.
 
Was this supposed to be a joke?
 
Draco looked around him, noting that several other people were reading parchments looking similar to the one he was holding. He wondered if they all got missives with the same content as he did.
 
“Draco? Is there something wrong?” Pansy Parkinson enquired to his right and Draco blindly reached for his fork, scooping some egg in his mouth and giving her a half-hearted grin around his mouthful.
 
“No, why should there be anything wrong?” He put the letter down face first. Maybe now was not the right time to study it carefully. There were far too many witnesses for his taste and as long as he didn’t know who was the instigator of this rubbish, he didn’t want to be caught mulling over it. He didn’t intend to give them the satisfaction.
 
“Oh, you stopped eating all of a sudden,” she said, looking him up and down. “And you’re too skinny as it is.”
 
Blaise Zabini leaned over the table, gesturing for Draco to lean forward as well. Complying, Draco was told, “She’s right. And if you know what’s good for you, listen to your girlfriend!”
 
“She’s not--” Draco started protesting but gave up. At least Blaise hadn’t talked loud enough for their housemates to overhear his comment.
 
“Uh uh, no need to deny it,” Blaise said, his gaze wandering to the girl sitting beside Draco. And finally he understood why Blaise had to bring her up regularly. He was jealous and needed to know that she was really free. The problem was, apparently he found it impossible to believe Draco when he tried to tell him just that.
 
“I’m not denying anything,” Draco said haughtily. Glancing at the letter, he knew that this was the biggest lie ever and the worst thing was that someone seemed to know that.
 
--
 
He didn’t get to take a closer at the letter until late that night. Draco had retired to his bed, closing the curtain around it for more privacy despite the fact that he was alone in his room. Slytherin was the house that had lost the most students due to the war, and so out of the remaining students the older years didn’t have to share rooms any longer. As far as Draco was concerned, that was the only positive thing about having to come back here to finish his education.
 
Shaking off those unwelcome thoughts of the past, Draco put the letter in front of him, smoothing out the wrinkles it had gotten during the day, stashed in his pocket, because he believed placing it in his bag would be too careless.
 
Now, having read it for the third time, he had to acknowledge that the contents hadn’t changed, no matter how much he wished for it. It was actually pretty carefully worded, making you overlook most of the subtle threats. But Draco wasn’t fooled that easily. He had been confronted with a lot of sick goings-on and had to learn the hard way to detect subtle and not so subtle approaches of manipulation if only for his own protection.
 
What he hated most about that damn thing was that he recalled mostly the younger years getting these kind of letters and that actually explained why it had been able to spread the way it had. What were those children supposed to do? Either they had no idea of the consequences, meaning they hadn’t understood what it was all about, or they understood too well, were scared and sent off the required five missives in order to protect themselves. That was the request that ended the letter: Send off five letters on your own and you will be protected from whatever mysterious threat it was referring to. You were supposed to choose five people who were likely to need that protection as well and if you failed to do this, some of your deepest secrets would be revealed publicly.
 
That was the basic summary. Of course there was a lot of blah blah written above that request, enough to fill an A4-sized parchment, but that could be ignored. It didn’t help in any way to identify the sender of this particular letter, let alone the instigator of it all. Draco had run every spell over it that he knew of and that was a rather impressive amount.
 
Looking at the letter pensively for a moment longer, Draco lay down eventually. He knew it by heart anyway and right now he needed to think. He Nox’d the light and allowed himself to close his eyes for a brief moment – not to sleep, of course, just to rest them for a moment.
 
The next time the same grey eyes fluttered open it was already early in the morning of the next day and Draco jumped out of bed, almost running toward the bathroom and the shower. He had already wasted too much precious time and now he was no closer to a solution than he had been last night and this morning another, bigger, group of students would be confronted with the content of that despicable letter.
 
While he was lathering his hair with shampoo, rinsing it carefully and applying the conditioner, he mused that in his earlier life he wouldn’t have given a damn about those other students, but now he believed that no one deserved to live in fear and was determined to stop it. Now that he was seventeen years old, he felt like it was his duty to look out at least for the tiny first and second years. Especially the Slytherins since most of the teachers did their best to ignore them instead of coming to their help.
 
“Huh!” Draco smacked his forehead, thereby getting conditioner in his eyes and cursing himself. How could he almost have overlooked the lost important thing? Washing out his eyes and ending his shower early before he harmed himself further, Draco used a simple drying charm on himself and dressed, thinking about what he’d seen over the last days. And when he left his room in order to head to the Great Hall for an early breakfast, he was certain that most of the letters had reached his fellow Slytherins. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he was that it had all started as a plan to make them pay for the sins their parents or older siblings or any other relatives might have had committed.
 
In other words: revenge.
 
--HD--
 
“Oh, it seems like one of us is going to get mail today,” Ron Weasley observed, using his fork to point toward the owl headed in their general direction.
 
“And you know that why?” his girlfriend, Hermione Granger asked without looking up from the book she was reading. “We’re surrounded by dozens of students at this table alone, not to mention the few other people in the Great Hall.”
 
“It’s looking toward us,” Ron insisted and Harry Potter, the couple’s best friend, chuckled.
 
“In daylight that bird is probably as blind as I am without my glasses.”
 
Ron huffed.
 
“You’ll see!” was all he said before he resumed eating his breakfast.
 
Harry shrugged but couldn’t help following the animal’s flight with his eyes. And Ron was right; it actually dropped the letter it carried in front of Hermione before it took off again.
 
“See?” was all Ron said when the young witch reached for the letter, a hint of suspicion visible on her face.
 
“Did you send this?” Hermione asked as she opened it. She scanned it, rereading it with wide eyes while her face fell and she paled.
 
“Hermione?” Ron leaned closer, trying to read it above her shoulder but she turned away from him, giving him no chance to look at what was written.
 
“I repeat the question. Was that your doing?” Her tone had gotten a lot sharper.
 
“No,” Ron insisted and scooted away from her as far as he was able to without bumping into his sister Ginny who was sitting beside him on the bench. He looked hurt.
 
Hermione, her eyes having narrowed into slits, glanced at him and her expression softened.
 
“I’m sorry, but I had to ask. You seemed to know beforehand that I was getting mail and this is so not funny… But I shouldn’t have suspected you. I apologize,” she repeated. “And it was more the initial shock anyway. Please, Ron, I know you love me and I also know that you wouldn’t want to hurt me.”
 
“Hurt you? What is this?” Harry chimed in, motioning at the letter.
 
“Crap,” she stated before turning back toward Ron. “Please. Are we good?”
 
Ron sighed. “Can I see? It turned you into a harpy for a moment and I’d like to know what I have to steer clear of in order to avoid a repeat,” he said, smiling faintly. Hermione was known for her temper if provoked accordingly.
 
Hermione handed over the letter without another word, looking shamefaced, and Harry thought that it had been a while since she had reacted that extremely. Since the end of the war their lives settled down considerably and that was doing wonders for everybody’s temper, including Hermione. So today had been something of a surprise.
 
Leaning over the table as far as he could, Harry tried to catch a glimpse of the parchment now lying in front of Ron. He failed.
 
“Can you turn it a bit so I can see as well?” he asked.
 
The only response he got was a growl. Harry blinked, staring disbelievingly at his friends.
 
“What the hell happened to you? Is this thing poisoned?”
 
He wasn’t joking. Some sort of poison could be absorbed over the skin, so his concern was not unfounded. Maybe he could ask Snape about this? Immediately his gaze wandered toward the head table. The Potions Master was present but seemed to be occupied by his own mail and so Harry was unable to try and catch his gaze.
 
It still amazed Harry that after all the hatred that had dominated their relationship, he and Snape had formed some kind of truce. Well, being comrades in a war against the attempt of a crazy dark wizard to establish a reign of terror affected everyone in a way, he mused.
 
A rustling sound near him brought his attention back to his friends.
 
Ron had finished reading and thrust the letter into Harry’s hand.
 
“Read this!”
 
“But if it’s--” he started protesting before Hermione cut in.
 
“It’s poisoned all right but not the way you think.”
 
“Huh?” Harry frowned and started reading.
 
“Merlin, is that supposed to be funny?” He asked, unknowingly showing the same reaction another student had shown the day before.
 
“I don’t know…” Hermione said, shaking her head. “But if it is, that person has a sick sense of humour.”
 
Harry nodded. He agreed on the last part but he thought it was something else, not just as personal as his friend seemed to believe.
 
“It’s a chain letter. I didn’t know they had those in the Wizarding world.”
 
“What?” asked Ron at the same time as Hermione exclaimed, “Of course!”
 
Ginny turned around asked, frowning, “What’s wrong?”
 
“Nothing!” Ron waved her off impatiently. “Okay, now, what’s a chain letter?”
 
“A chain letter,” Hermione explained, “is a letter started by someone with an aim. It can be harmless fun or, like here, anything but funny and not as harmless as we’d like it to be. It always contains a message of some kind and people are convinced by one means or another to send it on to an indicated amount of people. If they don’t, if they break the chain, they are either betraying the cause – which I think is a bit stupid but it doesn’t harm anyone, or they are threatened with bad luck. Or, in this case, their secret will be revealed.”
 
“So whoever sent it to you assumes that you’ve got something to hide?” Ron asked to clarify.
 
“It seems that way, yes.”
 
“And…do you?” Hermione rolled her eyes.
 
“It’s likely, isn’t it? Harry, honestly, everybody’s got a few things they aren’t proud of or want to keep to themselves for some reason. You of all people should know that.”
 
“Yeah, I know. But this is not about me. What is the worst thing you think will happen if you don’t send that crap to five more people?” Harry asked, concerned. He knew Hermione quite well and he knew a lot of things she had done over the years that she wouldn’t want the whole school to know, but nothing was that bad that it would scare her into passing the letter on. At least he didn’t think so. “You don’t plan to send it on, right?”
 
She shook her head. “I don’t think there’s anything about me that no one knows except me…” she said confidently but she had barely closed her mouth when she paled once more.
 
“Hermione?”
 
--
 
Hermione had refused to elaborate what had come to her mind and turned her almost grey and disappeared to the library as soon as she could, leaving two puzzled young man behind. Ron had wanted to follow her but Harry had convinced him that then probably wasn’t the best time, reasoning that if she went to the library, she really was looking for some peace and quiet.
 
And so they walked to their first lesson of the day alone, figuring they’d meet her there – hopefully in a better mood than the one she had been in when she’d left earlier.
 
“What do you think she’s keeping from us?” Ron wondered for the fifth time since they left the Great Hall.
 
“A secret, perhaps? And it’s called that way because we don’t know about it,” Harry replied, less patiently than the four times before.
 
“But if it was something bad, she would have told us, right?”
 
Harry sighed. “If she thought we could help, yes, she would have told us. In any other case…I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s something that came up recently since it took her a while to remember it.”
 
“You’re right. It’s probably something from the past and has nothing to do with me…and you,” Ron added hastily.
 
“Hmm…” Harry was wary to agree. In his opinion nothing about her behaviour indicated that it was something that occurred long ago. It could easily be something that she blocked out but that had something to do with the war, for example, and that ended just a few short months ago. But who knew? Girls tended to be complicated, even more so than other people.
 
“So what do you think about this letter? A chain letter, you said?”
 
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen one where the threat is that obvious. It’s worded subtly but plain to see. I always thought those things were written more carefully. And the ones I’ve seen personally were always about something less serious.”
 
“You’ve seen them before?”
 
“Phew, well, yes. But that was in school and the message was something like... ‘Send this to ten of your friends and you will find the partner of your dreams.’ Never mind that we were nine or ten at the time and no one was even interested in finding a partner. But of course you made sure to send off the required amount of letters because you didn’t want to jinx yourself. Stupid, I know, but we didn’t know better. I even nicked stamps from Uncle Vernon’s collection.” Harry grinned. “I wonder if he’s ever going to notice that a few of them are missing.”
 
“Stamps?”
 
“Uh, little things you put on a letter to show you paid for its delivery. You can’t put coins there, right? And some people collect older and rare ones. You can’t, of course, reuse already stamped ones, but my uncle also had some collector’s editions that were new.”
 
“Stamps are stamped?” Ron laughed. “That sounds weird.”
 
“Postage stamps, yes, and they need to be marked as used because otherwise everyone would make an effort and peel them off of received letters and reuse them,” Harry explained.
 
They walked in silence before Ron spoke again.
 
“Do you think anyone else got a letter like Hermione? Or do you think it’s the first one?”
 
Harry jerked to a halt.
 
“You think someone’s out to get Hermione?”
 
“What do you think?” Ron asked testily.
 
“I think that this is a chain letter, meaning more than one circulating copy is more than likely. I cannot know who else got one of them so far, but I do know that if I should learn that some of the younger students are terrified because of that, I’m going to be pissed,” Harry said darkly. “Also, let’s be honest, no one can know everybody else’s secrets. The only thing crap like this does is play with people’s fear of exposure.”
 
“So you don’t believe there’s someone who knows more than we do about my girlfriend?”
 
“More than I do? Perhaps. More than you do? I can’t say,” Harry said, praying he’d finally made himself clear. They were his best friends but they were also a couple and that implied that he didn’t want to know everything Ron knew about Hermione. Also, the way Ron was mentioning this again and again led Harry to believe that he was worried Hermione had a secret that might endanger their relationship and if that was the case, he really didn’t want to know.
 
“You would say something if you knew anything, wouldn’t you?” Ron insisted and Harry groaned. He nodded and resumed his way to the classroom before he gave in to the strong urge to smack Ron up his head. Jealousy wasn’t becoming to him.
 
--HD--
 
Draco, seated between Pansy and the wall and ignoring both of them to the best of his ability, noticed two thirds of the Golden Trio enter the classroom and immediately picked up on the tension between them. Well, Potter almost radiated annoyance and the Weasel seemed to be oblivious as always. Whatever happened, you were always able to rely on certain facts of life. Wasn’t it wonderful?
 
They took their usual seats; the seat on the right of the Weasel remained empty for the Mu--, for Granger to take. Draco checked the time and raised an eyebrow when he noticed that she was cutting it close today. Usually she was one of the first students arriving for a lesson.
 
Curious.
 
The room filled up quickly and just before Professor McGonagall closed the door to start the lesson, Granger slipped in and took her designated seat.
 
Of course Draco was well aware that she didn’t make any attempt to greet her seat neighbour and when he looked at her, she averted her eyes. Was there trouble in paradise? Not that he was interested in what went on in the Gryffindor tower in general and those two in particular, of course. But since he hadn’t come up with anything even remotely worthwhile regarding the little letter issue, someone else’s drama was a welcome distraction.
 
Unfortunately the professor put a stop to it before it started to get really interesting. The Weasel had tried to interrogate Granger by whispering loudly into her ear and McGonagall told him unmistakably that whatever he wanted to say couldn’t be as important as her lesson and so he shut up and sat back, pouting.
 
Draco couldn’t help but snicker and earned himself a glare from the Weasel and a warning glance from the professor. It seemed like someone was in a bad mood today. Unwilling to get into trouble, Draco decided to pull himself together and making an effort to focus on the class for the time being. He would follow them afterwards and make sure that he didn’t miss anything remotely entertaining.
 
But after he had succeeded in the transfiguration they were told to do, Draco reconsidered his plans because, if his eyes hadn’t betrayed him, he had seen a glimpse of a letter just like the one he got in Granger’s bag. Now if that wasn’t interesting he didn’t know what was. Certainly not transfiguring a snake into something less dangerous, that much he knew. If one should ever cross his way and pose a potential danger, he’d kill it before he wasted any energy in transfiguring it into something else.
 
Now what should he do about that letter? He didn’t really believe she was the one sending them, she was too goody-goody for that, but could it be that she had been on the receiving end? That would mean he was wrong about the intention behind the letters…assuming that everyone actually got the same content. He couldn’t know that, of course.
 
When the lesson had ended eventually, Draco waited until most of the students had left the room and only Potter and some other insignificant people remained before he stepped up to him, determined to get some answers. Right now he didn’t care if that included having to talk to the Boy-Who-Lived. If he found out something, it would be worth the sacrifice.
 
“Potter. Could we have a word?”
 
“We?” Potter asked, surprised, but nodded at the same time.
 
“Yes, you and me. At least this is what most people are talking about when they say ‘we’.”
 
“Merlin, what a--” Potter muttered but stopped himself in time before he came to the insult. Typical for him, Draco thought. He couldn’t do anything right.
 
Potter heaved a sigh and continued in a bored tone, “Look, I already agreed to talk to you – though I haven’t got the faintest clue why I should do that. I must be demented. So I think it may be best if you actually started talking before I come to my senses and leave.”
 
Draco scowled at him and stood straighter. How dared Potter threaten him? He huffed as he looked around to ensure that no one was near enough in order to overhear their conversation and only when he was satisfied that they wouldn’t be disturbed did he start talking.
 
“I noticed something stuck in Granger’s bag. Something that reminded me of a letter…?”
 
Potter’s eyes narrowed. “Now why would you care what’s in her bag?”
 
“So you do know what I’m talking about,” Draco stated.
 
Potter shrugged.
 
“This parchment… Is that something she got or something she’s going to send?”
 
“Again, why do you care?” By now Potter looked like he wanted to hit him. Did he think he was the one to send it to her?
 
“Call it a natural curiosity…”
 
“I call it insanity if you’re the one who sent it and now you’re trying to fish for information on how it was received. Because if I find proof that it was you, Malfoy, you’re going to be very sorry.”
 
“What is it with those threats today?” So he was right. Potter thought he was the sender. That was rather unfortunate because Draco was well aware that his classmate could really hurt him if he wanted to. But on the other hand it also showed him that most likely Potter and his Gryffindor friends weren’t the ones to send those letters or else he wouldn’t have reacted the way he had…except he was trying to mislead Draco. But he wasn’t capable of doing that successfully. Or was he?
 
“No threat. That was a promise,” Potter clarified.
 
“I got one, too,” Draco said suddenly.
 
“What did you get?” Potter asked, suddenly not so sure of himself anymore.
 
“One of those letters.”
 
Potter swallowed. He thought for a moment and then he asked, “Okay, one: How do you know it’s the same? And why did you say ‘one of those letters’?”
 
Apparently Potter wasn’t as slow on the uptake as Draco always liked to believe him to be. Both questions actually made sense. He had to hold himself back before he showed any signs of being impressed. But on the other hand, he hadn’t noticed that there was more than one letter. Okay, he would hold back his admiration for now.
 
“From what I could see it looks like mine did and it’s kind of easier to see when you know that probably every tenth student or so got one of those things so far,” he explained. “So, she really did get a letter, right?”
 
Well, unless Potter was a really great actor it was likely that his concern, now visible on his face, was genuine.
 
“…Every tenth student?” Potter repeated disbelievingly.
 
“Well, I didn’t count them so I can’t be sure, but yes, about every tenth student. Or more like every second Slytherin and a few others…”
 
Draco’s eyes were fixed on Potter as he said this, anxiously waiting what his reaction would be.
 
But his face showed no emotion as he wanted to know whether Draco had read anyone else’s letter and upon him shaking his head no, how he could be so certain that everybody received the same content.
 
“You think there are differences?” Draco didn’t bother to tell him that he just knew. Potter wouldn’t accept that as a fact, anyway. When he didn’t get a response, Draco briefly recited what was written in the letter he got, no longer caring that he had sworn to himself to not talk about that with anyone.
 
Potter had been easier to talk to than he had anticipated and if he wanted to figure out the story behind the letter, he concluded that he really needed some help – even if it was only Potter’s.
 
--HD--
 
When Harry finally left the Transfiguration classroom he was awfully late for Charms and figured he might as well skip it altogether. There was no use in walking in there about twenty minutes after the lesson had started and disturb everyone. He had a lot to think of as it was, though, and so he retired into the Gryffindor common room, settling down onto a sofa close to the fire.
 
What Malfoy had described him of his letter sounded exactly like the one Hermione had gotten. Who would send these two people the same letter? Or, more important, why would anyone do that? Of course, a chain letter could be sent to anyone, really, but Malfoy and Hermione were as different as anyone could be. And if Malfoy was right, then the entire house of Slytherin had got one of those…and what the hell did Hermione have in common with anyone of them?
 
Maybe Malfoy was right and someone had it in for the Slytherins and Hermione got her letter by mistake? He had also mentioned that a lot of the younger students had been on the receiving end and it only took one of them to be desperate enough and pin the next best name on a letter in order to reach the required number of five. That would mean that there was no one who knew anything about Hermione and it was like he had thought: simply scary but not that serious.
 
Unfortunately he didn’t know, though.
 
It was all very disturbing and Harry was more determined than ever to find out who was behind that shit. They had better hope that Harry never found them, he thought.
 
And then there was the fact that he had more or less promised to work with Malfoy on this. They would both keep their eyes and ear open and had agreed to meet again the next evening, exchanging any news they hopefully would have gathered until then.
 
Him! Working hand in hand with a Malfoy! That was beyond weird…
 
--
 
During lunch Harry informed Ron and Hermione about the deal he made with Malfoy and, as expected, Hermione doubted it was a good idea while Ron told him outright that Malfoy was a slippery snake and using Harry in his evil master plan. The letters to the Slytherins, which no one had seen except Malfoy, by the way, were nothing but a distraction of the fact that he was trying to get Hermione. He argued that Malfoy would want vengeance because the war hadn’t ended the way he had hoped it would and therefore he wanted to make them suffer.
 
Hermione thought he was exaggerating but agreed that a lot of what Malfoy had said needed to get verified before they even thought about believing one word. When asked, she couldn’t tell them how to do that, though.
 
Listening to both his friends arguing for a while, Harry eventually pointed out that while they didn’t need to believe anything of what Malfoy had told him, it still had to mean something that he came to him in the first place and maybe, just maybe, he had been telling the truth when he said he wanted those letters to stop bothering the younger students. He had never said he was worried for himself.
 
Ron took that as his cue to defend his opinion but Harry insisted that Malfoy hadn’t seemed to be lying and Ron said that that only proved how devious he really was.
 
“Listen, of course I’m not capable of seeing what’s going on in that head of his, but you’ve got to believe me, okay? I’m sure he was honest and even if – note that I say if – he’s been kidding me he’s still making it easier for me to watch him now that he’s already agreed to meet me every now and then. Following him won’t be as conspicuous as it used to be.”
 
“Is there anything you forgot to mention, Harry?” Hermione asked with a strange glint in her eyes.
 
“Huh?”
 
“I’m just asking,” she said defensively. Harry snorted.
 
“Don’t start interpreting something into a situation that’s not there.”
 
When she looked at him as if she didn’t believe one word he was saying, Harry offered, “Do you want to deal with him from now on? Because you’re totally welcome, you know!”
 
“Oh. Hey, I didn’t mean it like that. Gods, I was just wondering if you forgot to tell us something he said, seeing that it seemed to be so easy for you to trust him. What do you think I was insinuating?”
 
Harry blushed. “Oh, uh… Okay, well, no. I told you everything I know. But maybe it’s different for me because I was able to see him worried, you know,” Harry tried explaining himself, sagging in relief when she nodded pensively.
 
“That must be it,” she said, still not entirely convinced but obviously willing to cut him a break.
 
“I say we’re starting our own investigation and keep a close watch on him. Just in case he’s more involved than he’s willing to admit,” Ron said, glancing at his girlfriend as if waiting for her approval.
 
“I never suggested anything different. But we could gain additional knowledge if Harry keeps up his bargain with Malfoy. Besides, I think it’s the right thing to do,” Hermione added as an afterthought. “We’ve been wrong about people before and should probably be careful who we condemn. If he was totally evil Professor Dumbledore wouldn’t have allowed him to come back to complete his education.”
 
Immediately Harry thought of Snape and what they’d been thinking of him for years and, looking at Ron, he saw that he had started to see her point as well. And Hermione was right. Apart from a lot of students who didn’t want to set another foot into Hogwarts, be it their own decision or their parents’, there had also been those who had expressed interest but who had been rejected. Therefore, if Malfoy was here, there had to be a reason and apparently knowing that was good enough for Ron at the moment. Harry, admittedly, felt better about everything once he remembered that there was a better security system in check now and he hadn’t been completely wrong about Malfoy.
 
The rest of their lunch break was over all too soon and they were on their way down to the Potions classroom. Harry had been taken aside on his way out of the Great Hall by the headmaster, having had to explain himself about him missing Charms without excusing himself. He suddenly developed a splitting headache but it had improved considerably since he had been lying down and closed his eyes for a while.
 
“What did he want, Harry? Something wrong?” Hermione asked once Harry caught up with her and Ron. Harry shook his head.
 
“No, he was just concerned because Flitwick told him I didn’t show in Charms. I told him I was sick but was feeling better now. I doubt he believed me, though.”
 
Dumbledore was still way more perceptive than most people gave him credit for but Harry knew that the old wizard let him get away with quite a lot. They had been through a lot together over the years and Dumbledore finally seemed to accept that Harry would tell him if there was something he should know. Besides, the eighth years were all adults plus they had come back voluntarily and were therefore treated differently than their younger schoolmates.
 
“Did he say something?” Ron wanted to know.
 
“No, but there was that knowing gaze in his eyes, you know. Well, I think as long as I’m going to be the perfect student for the rest of the day I think I’m forgiven.”
 
“Do you think it would be better to involve him? Maybe he could help?” Hermione suggested.
 
Harry wavered. He had thought about getting help from a professor himself but then he had asked himself what they would be able to do. Malfoy had told him that he had tried to find out who was the sender of his letter by casting a lot of detection spells but obviously nothing had come of it. What else was Dumbledore supposed to do?
 
“I’d say if there’s nothing new within the next few days, let’s say until the weekend, we’re going to tell him,” he decided, hoping his friends agreed.
 
“But if something happens during that time and we could have avoided it by getting help sooner?” Hermione threw in. Harry understood her all too well. The war had taken its toll on them, nowadays they tried to act more cautious because they’d seen first hand what could happen when you didn’t know exactly what you were doing and doing it anyway. Sirius’ death was a fine example for that. But this current case was different.
 
“What do you think will happen?” Harry asked, struggling to suppress the worry that was trying to creep into his voice.
 
“Probably nothing,” Hermione conceded and that was the end of that particular discussion.
 
By now they had reached the classroom and took their seats. Harry sat on Hermione’s left, waiting who would partner with him today. His friends had taken to be partners whenever Snape didn’t have any other ideas and Harry was the odd one out. Neville Longbottom wasn’t an option any longer since he had chucked Potions the first chance he got and the other Gryffindor still taking that class were also paired up. For Harry, that usually meant to deal with any Slytherin Snape forced him to work with, no matter how much they might dislike each other. So far, none of them had ever offered to partner with him out of their own free will and he couldn’t really blame them for it.
 
Well, today it looked like he was in for something new. The Slytherins were an even number and so there literally was no one left to be stuck with Harry. While Snape told him he would have to fend for himself, Harry glanced around discreetly, trying to figure out who was missing. When he couldn’t detect a blond head among the snakes, he knew that Malfoy was skipping potions. That was certainly unexpected.
 
“I think there’s enough in front of you to occupy your time without you daydreaming,” he was reprimanded by the professor and Harry snapped his head back to the front of the classroom. By now the instructions were written on the blackboard and people around him were already starting to set up their cauldrons or heading to the storage room in order to get the ingredients required for the healing potion they were supposed to make.
 
At first glance it didn’t appear to be all that difficult to make but Harry was certain there was a lot of steps for him to mess up. He seldom missed a chance to get scolded for his lack of talent in Potions.
 
And as predicted, it didn’t take long for the catastrophe to start taking its course. Maybe he shouldn’t have thought that way, therefore jinxing himself. As it was, Harry confused a five for a six on the ingredients list and consequently blew up the contents of his cauldron.
 
“Shit!”
 
“Mr Potter! Language!” Snape hissed before he, not too gently, pushed Harry out of the way. Then he took one look at what was left of Harry’s potions attempt before he banished it, the cauldron included.
 
“Hey! That was mine,” Harry protested under his breath. Snape snorted.
 
“And it was unsalvageable. Believe me, I would have made you clean it if there had been the slightest chance,” Snape stated, clearly unimpressed.
 
Harry sighed. Even though he knew Snape wasn’t actually the arsehole he pretended to be, in situations like this he had a hard time recalling it. Hell, it had been an honest mistake. Did the professor absolutely have to make him look like a fool?
 
Hermione smiled at him sympathetically, trying to be encouraging. Harry rolled his eyes and grinned back weakly, hoping Snape hadn’t seen their quiet exchange.
 
“Ms Granger, kindly ensure that your inept partner doesn’t follow Mr Potters example,” the professor said snidely.
 
Well, Harry thought, one could dream. Obviously Snape was in a worse mood than he had been for quite a while and when Harry recalled that McGonagall also had been acting strange that day, he started to worry. Was there something happening that only the teachers were aware of?
 
Hermione quickly turned her attention back to the cauldron in front of her, just in time to prevent Ron from stirring their potion in the wrong direction. While Harry had no idea what would have happened, he figured it was better that they hadn’t found out. Snape would have lost it and that was something no one wanted to witness.
 
Since it was too late for Harry to start over, he was forced to watch as his classmates more or less successfully finished their brewing, knowing that he had earned himself a T for that class. Exactly how long ago did he swear that he’d be the perfect student? It was really frustrating.
 
--
 
After he had survived Potions, Harry was done with his classes for the day and decided to go looking for Malfoy. He told himself that there had to be a reason for his absence in Potions…something better than him skipping class. Malfoy liked Potions, right? Maybe he had some news regarding the letters? Something he had just discovered?
 
Anyway, Harry wasn’t worried about the boy himself, he was just curious. And well, toward the end of the lesson Snape had received a message and was suddenly in a hurry to leave, dismissing the students even quicker than usually. But that didn’t have to mean anything. That he was also Malfoy’s head of house was a coincidence, nothing more.
 
And so he was wandering through the passages of the dungeons, assuming that he was most likely finding Malfoy there. Unfortunately he hadn’t found him so far and it proved to be difficult finding someone who had seen him. Eventually a second year Hufflepuff was able to tell him that he was seen disappearing into Snape’s office an hour ago, but no, she didn’t know where he went afterwards or if he was still there.
 
Before he had an opportunity to rethink his actions, Harry went to the office and knocked on the door. It was only when he heard steps approaching that he noticed the fault in his planning. Snape would ask him what he wanted and he had no idea what to tell him. “I’m looking for Malfoy just because” somehow sounded wrong. It had been his own idea to keep the letters to themselves for the time being, so he couldn’t tell Snape about them now, could he?
 
The door creaked open and Harry was still desperately trying to come up with a reason for his visit.
 
“Mr Potter. To what circumstance do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” the professor asked, looking anything but pleased.
 
“I...”
 
“You felt you earned a detention for your mediocre performance in my class? I agree. But unfortunately I don’t have the time to deal with you at the moment,” Snape said and Harry picked up on the implied dismissal. He swallowed around the lump forming in his throat and bravely stood his ground.
 
“I was told Malfoy was seen entering your office.” Harry tried to peek past the man, hoping to catch a glance of the inside of the room.
 
Snape, unerringly catching up on Harry’s attempt, shifted and blocked his view.
 
“Why are you looking for him?”
 
“I just am,” Harry said, once more starting to feel frustrated. Why did Snape have to act like a bodyguard for Malfoy? Either he was here or he wasn’t but couldn’t he just tell Harry? What was the big deal?
 
“Watch your tone,” Snape rebuked him. “Would your sudden interest in Mr Malfoy have anything to do with recent occurrences in the castle?”
 
Harry choked on his own saliva and coughed, struggling to regain his breath. Here he was, making an idiot of himself and Malfoy had already divulged everything. That was just great!
 
“Yes,” Harry admitted because, really, there was no use lying any longer.
 
Snape nodded as if he hadn’t expected any other answer and stepped aside, allowing Harry to notice the other occupants of the room. Malfoy was seated on the sofa but to Harry’s surprise he wasn’t the only one. Beside him sat a younger boy, probably a first year. He too was easily identified as a Slytherin by the badge pinned to his robes but that was to be expected. Students of other houses mostly kept away from the stern Potions Master.
 
The boy looked scared.
 
“Mr Potter, as you can see for yourself, Mr Malfoy is here. This is Mr Nott,” Snape gestured to the boy.
 
Malfoy glanced from Harry to the boy cowering against the armrest before he explained, “He’s one of the lucky recipients.”
 
Harry nodded. Yes, that kind of explained why Snape knew about the letters. But did the boy only get the letter today or was it longer ago? And if it was the latter, why was he here now? Looking utterly spooked, Harry added.
 
Having closed the door, Snape returned to his seat behind the desk.
 
“I understand that you, too, know about those letters?”
 
“I…yes.” For now, Harry decided, he would keep it to himself that Hermione got one as well.
 
“You’re also aware of the content?”
 
“Provided all of them are the same, yes,” Harry answered cautiously.
 
“As far as I can see, they are. Well, it seems like Mr Nott has the doubtful honour to be the first one to experience what happens if one fails to do like the letter instructed.”
 
Harry’s eyes grew big as saucers. A Slytherin who wasn’t looking out for his own interests? Well, okay, Malfoy also claimed he wouldn’t do as told, but he was a legal adult and not a child. Also, he was Malfoy, Harry thought, not daring to consider what that was supposed to mean.
 
“He didn’t send off the required letters?” Harry asked, still baffled.
 
“He made a mistake and sent only four,” Malfoy clarified.
 
Now that fit right into Harry’s view of the world. The boy hadn’t tried to do something good, he had just failed in his mission to keep himself safe. That, Harry found, he could believe easily.
 
“So what happened?”
 
Snape merely raised an eyebrow, not bothering to answer Harry’s question. Like before, Malfoy was more forthcoming with information.
 
“Just what the letter promised. Now there are rumours floating around and…let’s say they’re based on the truth.”
 
Wincing in sympathy, Harry’s eyes wandered to the boy. He hadn’t said a word since Harry had entered the office. Considering the state he was in, it seemed like what was written in the letter hadn’t been empty threats. He looked possible devastated.
 
Curious but unsure if asking for details would be all right, Harry kept quiet. He would ask Malfoy later.
 
“I think it would be wise to involve the headmaster at this time,” Snape announced, holding up his hand to stave off a protest when Malfoy opened his mouth. “I do think it is necessary to make him aware what is going on and that there are a few more revelations to be expected. It’s best to be prepared.”
 
“But I don’t want him to know about me,” Malfoy said quickly before the professor had a chance to cut in.
 
“I didn’t suggest telling him details, just that there are certain people who apparently like digging in people’s past and sharing their findings with everyone.”
 
“And what would that help?” Harry asked.
 
“He might be able to stress that he doesn’t approve if people start picking on those whose secrets are revealed,” Snape elaborated. Was there a hint of insecurity on his face, Harry wondered but discarded that thought almost immediately. After all, this had nothing to do with Snape personally. He was probably merely disgusted by all the possible drama ahead.
 
Malfoy looked relieved. “So you’re saying he won’t get to know who got a letter.”
 
“Yes. I don’t think it’s necessary. Furthermore, it is not something I know. I am aware of a few students’ names, but not of every one.”
 
This time Harry was the one to let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. Snape was suspicious as always, but he didn’t know everything. That was good, very good.
 
“Mr Nott,” Snape turned to his youngest student. “I will see that we put a stop to the rumours. Of course that won’t change the fact that your schoolmates are now aware of what you did, but no one’s going to give you a hard time because of it. At least they won’t if they know what’s good for them.”
 
“Thank you,” the boy said meekly. Malfoy patted his back in a reassuring manner.
 
“Trust him. He can be pretty convincing if he wants to, the headmaster as well.”
 
--HD--
 
They didn’t stay long in Snape’s office afterwards. Potter hadn’t anything productive to contribute and Snape said he wanted to go talk to the headmaster. Thomas Nott was sent back to the Slytherin common room in Snape’s company, so Draco was free to go where he wanted. As he was on his way out the professor had let him know that he wished to talk to him later, after he had sorted everything. Draco estimated that it would take him a few hours and so he decided to have a spontaneous meeting with Potter in the meantime.
 
“Let’s go in here,” Potter suggested when they walked by one of those unused classrooms in the dungeons. Draco peered inside, found it severely lacking on the part of basic hygiene but for Potter’s sake he agreed nonetheless.
 
“Okay, what happened? How did you know something was wrong?” Potter asked the instant a Silencing charm was placed on the room.
 
Draco rolled his eyes. For someone having fought successfully in a war Potter was incredibly dense sometimes. It was almost endearing. Shaking his head at that thought, Draco said, “You know, I find it hard to believe that we’re attending the same school. Where were you at lunch today? I’m almost certain I’ve seen you in the Great Hall but I must have been mistaken. I’m not certain as of now who brought it up first, but it was the main topic by the middle of the break.”
 
“What was?” Potter actually asked. Draco blinked.
 
“Uh, what happened with Nott and his family, of course?” Draco voiced it like a question, but wondered where Potter was with his head. Wasn’t it obvious that they had been talking about Nott’s secret?
 
“I’m aware we’re talking about Nott, but I had no idea it had something to do with his family,” Potter retorted, now impatient.
 
“If you had paid a little attention to your surroundings…” Draco taunted and Potter just shrugged in response. That was no satisfying reaction in Draco’s opinion but he really wanted to tell someone about his afternoon and Potter seemed to be an interested enough audience.
 
“At first I just heard that one of the younger years was supposedly the one to blame for his parents getting thrown into Azkaban. Then someone said that he was the one who told the Aurors where his family was to be found. Next I heard that the respective student had not only betrayed them when he was interrogated, but that he went to the authorities himself to get them arrested,” Draco recounted. “Around this time I started thinking that, being detailed like that it was either a big fat lie or one of the reveals the letter talked about. So I started looking for the victim, so to speak, and that’s when I noticed that there was a commotion among the fristies.”
 
Draco paused for effect and Potter didn’t disappoint this time, looking at him with those big green eyes, clearly eager to learn more.
 
“I waited until the first few left the table and I was able to see who they were crowding. That was Nott. I waited until he got up himself and followed him outside, figuring that he might not appreciate any additional attention.”
 
Potter nodded. “You were right about that, I believe.”
 
Draco briefly smiled at him. He shouldn’t be grateful for the compliment he just got but he couldn’t help himself. Deciding to continue before the silence stretched too long after Potter’s comment, he went on.
 
“He didn’t want to talk to me, at first, but when I asked him outright whether he received a strangely worded letter lately, he said yes. I tried to find out why he didn’t send the required letters but he refused to tell me about that. Of course everything I just told you in three sentences took forever and we had already missed the better part of the first afternoon class. I sent a message to Snape, asking him to see me as soon as he could.”
 
“He got it shortly before the end of Potions. I wondered what it was about,” Potter cut in.
 
“Yes, well, now you know. – Why did you come to Snape’s office by the way? Was there a reason?” Draco wondered only now why Potter had shown up there. He couldn’t have a detention scheduled or Snape would have asked them to leave and come back later on. He rarely let other students see what went on in his office.
 
“I was looking for you and someone told me I might find you there,” Potter explained, blushing.
 
“You voluntarily went to Snape just because you were looking for me?” He really did? Draco couldn’t believe it. “I’m flattered.”
 
Potter blushed some more but didn’t offer an explanation. Some people were no fun having a conversation with, Draco thought. Too bad that somehow he still found himself talking to him...and found he was far from bored. Oh, today was a strange day. Draco took comfort in the knowledge that everybody was bound to have one of those sometimes.
 
Draco cleared his throat and went on, “So we went to Snape and I told him that Nott got this letter and what had happened during lunch. Snape looked really taken aback, you know? He started asking a lot of question and well, eventually Nott told us about sending the requested letters but admitted that he might have forgotten one. I don’t know how you can be too stupid to count to five, but that’s today’s youth.”
 
Potter chuckled.
 
“What?”
 
“Today’s youth… What are you? Ancient? Merlin, Draco, you’re only eighteen yourself,” Potter said, still laughing.
 
Huh? Did Potter just call him by his given name?
 
“What? Did I say anything wrong?” Potter asked, suddenly defensive, sobering quickly.
 
“You just called me Draco.”
 
“Oh… Uh, well, it’s your name,” Potter muttered, blushing again. Fortunately it looked good on him.
 
“Yes, I’m aware of that, thank you.”
 
Potter crossed his arms, scowling at him. Gone was the playful mood from only moments ago.
 
“Do you need me to apologize?” he asked acidly.
 
“No! No, sorry…” Draco hastened to reassure him. He should have kept his sarcasm down. Some people had difficulties understanding it, he should have known better.
 
As it was, Potter merely harrumphed and told him to go on with his story. There was no sign of forgiveness.
 
Defeated, Draco recounted the rest of his afternoon up to the moment Potter had joined them. After they had learned about the letters, both of them had been waiting for details of Nott’s secret but it had taken Snape quite a while to get him to talk. Apparently everything the rumours said was right and Nott claimed he had done it for his own safety. He was now living with an aunt and his older brother, Theodore, was shipped off to some other, more distant relatives.
 
“So it was not that big of a deal but he was afraid of people learning of what he did because he feared some of Theo’s friends would give him a hard time for it,” Draco concluded his narration.
 
“Well, he single-handedly put his parents into Azkaban. That’s…not a small deal either,” Potter said cautiously.
 
Draco nodded reluctantly. “But he’s now got the chance to lead a normal life. With his parents around he would never have been able to feel safe, right?”
 
“Have they ever done anything to him?”
 
“What a stupid question is that?” Draco asked, annoyed. “They killed dozens of people!”
 
Potter winced and Draco could see all too clearly what he was thinking.
 
“Fuck off!”
 
If Potter said one word about his own parents being Death Eaters as well, he’s hex him, Draco vowed. But Potter didn’t say anything. He just looked at him with those green eyes, a sombre expression on his face as well as a hint of pity.
 
“My mother didn’t kill anyone,” Draco said when the silence between them had lasted too long already.
 
That was the truth as far as he knew. As for his father…well, Draco was aware that he had done a lot of things he’d rather forget about but while he had feared for him during the past years, he had never felt afraid of him.
 
“I didn’t say anything,” Potter murmured, looking apologetic.
 
“That wasn’t necessary,” Draco said quietly. 

--HD--

Part 2

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
flamingolady
Dec. 25th, 2010 06:05 am (UTC)
Nice start. I'm really looking forward to moving on to part 2 to see how this turns out.
tinarebekka
Dec. 29th, 2010 08:16 pm (UTC)
:-) Thanks, I'm glad you liked it enough to check out the next part as well.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )