Author's Notes: Thank-you to my BETA readers, Koorime, Chibibecca and Schlicky youve all been a big help in setting my head straight while writing this ^^

For informative purposes, I wrote Blaise as a girl long before we found out, from JKR herself, that Blaise is, in fact, a boy. Please live with it.

I apologize for my absolutely terrible attempt at a Sorting Hat Song, and I thank ParanoidQ for helping me to realize it needed a little work to get it to the standard it is now at.

Obviously all recognizable characters are copyright J.K.Rowling, I do not wish to infringe on anything, Im just writing what got stuck in my head. All other characters and the original story are copyright to myself.


Conquer

Chapter Two

By Whisper Elmwood

       

"I can't find them anywhere. And my housemates, surprise, surprise, are not being particularly forthcoming."

Ron looked up as Malfoy lowered himself into the window seat across from him looking rather glum indeed. His gray eyes were clouded, blonde-white eyebrows pulled together in a frown of what looked like concern.

Harry and Hermione were in the main carriage at the front of the train being given their Head Boy and Girl duties. Leaving Malfoy and himself to fend for themselves for a while.

He had vaguely wondered if the Head duties were at all similar to Prefect-ing. He and the Slytherin had opted out of going to the Prefect meeting this year; as they had been to the two previously, they knew it would be just the same thing over again. Anyway, Harry and Hermione could give them their duties at any time; they didn't really need to go.

"No offense, Malfoy, but I can't see as how losing Crabbe and Goyle is, in any way, detrimental to-" he paused, "Ok, I take back the 'no offense' part."

Malfoy glared at him, folding his arms and hooking one leg over the other in what looked like a forced casual gesture. "For your information, Weasley, they actually happen to be two of the only 'nice' - and please understand I am talking about Slytherin, the term is relative - nice people in the entire house." There was a second's pause, "They also happen to be my friends."

Being what he was, and having a couple of other talents he had been told not to tell Harry or Hermione about yet, Ron heard the 'only' that fit into that statement all too clearly. Malfoy had deliberately omitted that little bit of information, and it was now ringing through his senses as if he had been standing under one of the bells in the Notre Dame, just as it was struck. He raised his eyebrows slightly, forcing himself not to probe further, nor indeed to even comment.

The two of them sat in silence for a while, Ron taking note of the way Malfoy's eyes kept darting to the compartment door, obviously hoping Harry would return soon. Eventually, as Ron turned the page of one of his new divinatory books, Malfoy muttered something to himself and rummaged through his trunk, pulling out a sketchbook and what looked like ordinary muggle pencils.

Ron marveled. He hadn't had any kind of inkling that Malfoy was an artist. This was a completely unanticipated level to the blonde Slytherin. He watched as the shorter boy sat back down again, with his back to the window and used his thighs as a rest. He turned another page, after a few minutes of skim reading it with half an eye on Malfoy, he then looked up, curiosity reaching its peak.

He closed his book, "I didn't know you could draw."

Malfoy looked at him, then shrugged and turned back to the pad, "Not many people do."

There were a few more minutes of silence as Ron watched him interestedly. "What are you drawing?" Malfoy's gray eyes flicked in his direction again before he replied, "I'm just doodling, really. Nothing special." Ron leaned forward a little, "May I see?"

Again the gray eyes fixed on him for a moment and then Malfoy tucked his pencil behind his ear and handed the pad over. Ron took it carefully and looked at what Malfoy had just called 'doodles.' His eyes widened slightly in surprise. Young Master Malfoy was a bloody good artist.

The page was covered in small sketches. One or two of which were studies of himself from when he was flicking through the divinatory book. Another was a small, but rather detailed, portrait of Harry, apparently drawn completely from memory. Looking closely, he saw that a few of the smaller sketches were dragons and lions, a hippogriff, a unicorn and even what appeared to be a mermaid.

Just holding the sketch pad, which appeared to be about half full now, he got the feeling of a dedicated artist, someone who was meticulous over who and what they drew and how the images looked. The knowledge was pouring through the pad into his hands and he realised Malfoy was every bit as devoted to this type of work as Harry was to Quidditch or Hermione was to her education, and the longer he held the book, the more certain he became that Malfoy was like this about everything he did, be it his education, his appearance or his relationships.

He blinked and handed the sketch pad back, "Those are really good," he said quietly, not really sure how to express himself while he could still feel the Slytherin's personality and dedication flowing through his senses. Malfoy shrugged again, exuding nonchalance from every pore and slipped the pad back onto his thighs, the pencil from behind his ear, getting back to 'doodling.'

After a small, not entirely comfortable pause, Ron pulled out his Divination book again and started catching up on Tarot and Rune reading, the two subjects for the coming year that he was most looking forward too. He'd already spent the past week practicing and had prepared his own Runes for the course, something he suspected he was supposed to do in the first week of term. At least he'd have a head start and he had enjoyed the process. Keeping his Tarot deck from the twins had been some trouble though, like keeping his I-Ching from them last year had been.

He absently squeezed the small bag that contained the home-made runes hanging on a thong round his neck as he read, going over the complicated meanings of the Tarot cards and Runes, trying to filter out what he had picked up from holding Malfoy's sketch pad. He focused on what the book was telling him; there were seventy-eight separate cards in the Tarot deck, as well as twenty-five Runes. All the information he had just received was making the learning and memorizing of the meaning of each one much harder work than was ordinarily necessary.

He kept at it, ignoring Malfoy and being ignored in return, listening to the light scratching from his sketching, until Hermione and Harry returned, both looking a little preoccupied. Hermione slid the compartment door closed behind her as Harry sat down near Malfoy's feet. Ron's smile of welcome faded when he looked up and saw the small frown puckering Hermione's normally gentle features. "What's wrong with you two?" he asked, glancing between the two of them. Hermione leaned back on the door and Harry shifted closer to Malfoy, who had now moved his feet and was looking as confused as Ron felt.

Harry folded his arms and sighed, leaning back into the comfortably stuffed carriage chair. "It's nothing really, but after all that extra activity over the summer, we've been given extra duties, besides what the letters told us about."

Hermione finally sat down, getting comfortable beside him and tucked her hands between her knees, the worried expression still on her face, "As well as all the usual stuff, we've occasionally got to patrol at night. We've also got to take some extra DADA lessons, to protect ourselves and defend the younger students. If it comes to that."

Harry smiled mirthlessly, a strange gleam in his eyes and Ron got the feeling he was keeping something from them, as he often did these days. It wasn't such an unusual feeling, as Harry was no stranger to secret keeping, but Ron and Hermione both knew he had been keeping a lot more from them since Sirius' death. Hermione often said it was 'hardly surprising, under the circumstances,' but Ron found himself wondering whether there was something more, under the surface, and he often had to fight the urge to have a look.

He watched Harry for a while, as the raven-haired boy got comfortable with Malfoy, flicking through his course books, contemplating that mirthless smile and nonchalant countenance.

       

Harry folded into the chair next to the window and looked out at the dark landscape passing by. Draco and Ron were out performing their prefect duties and Hermione had disappeared in the direction of her house sisters to catch up. He and Hermione were, of course, expected to help with the supervision of their fellow students, but it wasn't mandatory, so after a while they had both decided to take a break and had gone their separate ways.

Now, with little more than an hour to go before he reached the safety of the one place he thought of as home, (though, over the past few years, he had been harboring darker feelings towards the place) Harry found himself getting nervous, and thusly, he was brooding. He ran a hand through his unruly hair and pulled off his glasses, absently cleaning them with the corner of his robe as his mind wandered.

His thoughts flicked back to the conversation he and Draco had had after finding the Daily Prophet article the day after his birthday. At the time, Draco had proclaimed his absolute disdain for the thoughts of the rest of the Hogwarts student body. He had said, or at least implied, that their new-found friendship was too important.

Harry wondered, though, whether Draco had really thought it through, whether the young man who was so used to the adoration of his housemates and the indifference of the rest of the students, really knew what he was getting into. Obviously, the true nature of their relationship had to be kept between the four of them, but even the mere declaration of friendship with 'The Boy Who Lived' was going to be enough to turn half the Slytherins on him as well as the eyes of everyone else.

Harry himself was acutely aware of the changing moods and fickle nature of the Hogwarts students when it came to such things, so he knew precisely what to expect; curiosity from most, anger and incredulity from some, outright hatred from a few. There would eventually be acceptance from those who either knew one or both of them and those who simply didn't care. Though he increasingly found fewer and fewer numbers of those who didn't care about his personal life, and even fewer who didn't treat it as some kind of commodity.

He sighed and slipped his glasses back on, turning again to look out of the window, not really caring that all he could see now was his reflection.

Lost in thought, he closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the glass, barely noticing the cold feel of it against his skin, the tiny prickle it caused in his scar. He hoped to high whatever that he and Draco could pull through the first month back at school, as that first four week period would be the most trying of the year. He knew from experience that things tended to calm down rather significantly after about that length of time. Beyond that, they should hopefully be able to get on with things.

Another sigh escaped him as he thought of being unable to let the world know how happy he was, as the world wouldn't understand. Of course, he wouldn't have told the world at large anyway, even if he had been with a female Ravenclaw, or even a fellow Gryffindor for that matter, it was just far too risky. Lovers could be taken and used as leverage, whoever they were. Anything was possible in his life, in the reality he lived in everyday, which was why hiding the true nature of their feelings had been their only choice.

His decision had been helped by that fact that he still harbored a little fear of what would happen if he came out. After living so long with the Dursleys, he had come to expect nothing more than outright rejection, humiliation, even disgust, from anyone he told. The only reason he had eventually told Ron and Hermione had been because Dean had insisted, ensuring him that his two best friends wouldn't 'care which way he swung,' if they truly were the people he knew them to be.

He turned away from the window, gripping the arm rest so tightly his knuckles were white. He was suddenly furious at himself, at his life and what it meant. Of course, he had long since come to terms with his so called 'destiny,' but it still hurt to think of the amount of danger simply knowing him placed people in. The danger his lover was placed in was only a few steps up from the danger even his friends and acquaintances had to live with. But then, even they could be used against him, and he knew Voldemort knew this, knew that the Dark Lord almost understood his nature and sought to undermine him at every turn.

A few times since Dumbledore had revealed to him the truth of his destiny, the prophecy that had led to it all, the truth of what he had to do, he had contemplated cutting himself off from the world, from everyone he loved, everyone he knew. But, each time, he had talked himself off the proverbial precipice, reminding himself that it was the very people he was putting in danger, the ties to the 'real world' he was supposed to be protecting, that kept him sane and gave him the strength to do what he must. They gave him the strength to go on day by day, to keep him alive.

It was these ties that gave him real people to defend, to protect, save; these ties that gave him something to concentrate on beyond the nameless crowds that Dumbledore always spoke of, the nameless crowds he could neither see nor care for. These ties gave him something to aim for; they were the people he thought of to make himself get through the day.

He relaxed his grip and leaned his head back on the head rest, once again closing his eyes. He needed to stop thinking about such things, within little more than forty-five minutes he'd be getting off the train and into the Thestral-drawn carriages. At that thought he wondered whether Draco could see the creatures now and thusly, whether or not he had witnessed death since fifth year.

That question derailed him for a moment and his thoughts scattered.

There was a sound at the door and the object of his thoughts stepped into the compartment, closing it behind him. Draco looked a little wearied, but his now rarely bright eyes lit up when he saw him.

Harry smiled warmly and Draco took the seat next to him, almost slumping as he laid his fair head on the proffered shoulder.

"You look like I feel," Harry commented quietly, catching one of Draco's hands in his own. He got only a 'harrumphing' sound in reply and smiled to himself.

"Since when have the lower years been such ruffians? I don't remember being like that," Draco murmured, to Harry's amusement completely discounting his own memories of their constant skirmishes when they were younger.

Yes, here was a reason to go on. The young man curled up so comfortably against his shoulder embodied maybe the last thing he had needed to keep himself going. His friends and housemates gave him the ties to keep him sane; this new, just born, relationship with Draco gave him a real object to set his sights on. The friendships were just those, friendships, and after a few years he may not even have them anymore. He knew school buddies tended to drift apart. But this, this was real and solid, he could almost touch it.

His friendships got him through the day; this would get him through the rest of his life, if he let it.

His hand tightened slightly on Draco's as the blonde drifted into sleep, and he smiled, watching the pale lashes as they dusted even paler cheeks. Maybe he'd ask him about the Thestrals tomorrow.

       

Draco parted with Harry and the others just outside the Great Hall, completely ignoring the looks from many of the students around them as they went in to sit down. He and Harry didn't so much as briefly touch hands as they went their separate ways, and barely glanced at each other as they sat down in their usual seats right at the end of their respective tables, closest to the doors.

Sitting where he was, Draco had the unearthly feeling that it was right, that he sat here now simply because within less than nine months, he would be leaving this place as a man and pass on into society.

His eyes fell on the Gryffindor opposite him across the hall and they shared a small smile as students continued to swarm in through the doors. Already the four long tables were nearly full, which meant this year's first years were going to have to squash up with the older students. Hopefully there wouldn't be quite so many as there had been last year. In his sixth year, the students had all watched as around a hundred new first years came in, all looking small and scared and the tables had been overflowing by the end of the Sorting.

He rested his elbows on the table before him and steepled his fingers, looking around the hall interestedly. It was then that he became aware of the stares and discontented whispering that could be heard throughout the hall. He blinked and realised most of the stares were directed at Harry and himself. Glancing over again he saw that the dark haired Gryffindor was undergoing some sort of interrogation by his fellow seventh year dorm mates.

A heavy body settled itself next to him and he was interrupted from his silent observation. He looked over and was met with the silent stares of those of his housemates that used to adore him and the gruff expression on Millicent Bulstrode's wide face. Blaise and Pansy sat themselves delicately opposite him, effectively obscuring his view of the Gryffindor table. Crabbe and Goyle were nowhere to be found, still, and his eyes roved over the table searching out the rest of his year mates.

Theodore Nott could be seen a couple of spaces away on Millicent's left, completely ignoring him, and the obnoxious Rhianon Boyle was sitting with her sixth year boyfriend about halfway down the table. He turned back to his obviously annoyed housemates and gave them his best smile, raising his eyebrows questioningly as he did so.

He had been very careful on the train before they got here to make sure he looked as usual as possible, simply for this meeting alone. His hair was slicked back into its usual sleek style, his robes were a cut above most at the school and he had made sure to wear the stylish trousers and shirt underneath. He looked, for the first time in a few weeks, exactly as the young son of a Death Eater should; dangerous and untouchable.

It was Blaise who leaned forward, a frown marring her normally pretty features. The clamoring of the students around them hid her words as Millicent looked warily around, making sure they wouldn't be overheard, "He's not very happy with you, Draco."

Of course, he knew exactly whom she was talking about, and that little statement could probably earn the award for understatement of the year, if he knew anything at all about the Dark Lords temper.

"Isn't that nice," he responded dryly, "Do you think I should send him a card to apologize? Maybe a lovely bunch of flowers would do the trick." He inspected his nails, pretending to ignore them, knowing for a fact that this would only piss the two girls off even more than they were already.

Blaise looked ready to burst as she brushed a lock of short, deep red hair behind her ear, "You can't be serious!" a pause, "He's prepared to take you back, to forget about this summer, if you deliver Potter's head to him."

Pansy broke in before Blaise could continue, leaning forward slightly, her long auburn-blonde hair falling over her shoulders, "It can't be anything more than a ruse? Surely! It's preposterous to think that you, of all people, would defect to the Light!"

He raised both his eyebrows at the girls. He touched his voice with the old drawl as he said, "Of course not. Groveling at His feet and having nothing but seconds for the rest of my days, is exactly what I aspire to in life." Both girls sat straight, looking affronted and he continued, folding his arms on the tabletop as he spoke, "I will not give Him Harry, and I will not return to Him. You can run off to your parents and tell them to give Him this message, 'Not for all the money in Gringotts. You lost your chance the year my father was taken from me.' He'll understand."

The three Slytherins looked at him uncomprehendingly. He unfolded one arm and waved his fingers at them, as you would a naughty child, "Now run along, I rather like my space these days and I'm sure it wouldn't do to be seen with me."

All three girls looked murderous at being treated in such a way, but they did get up, "You won't hear the last of this, Draco" Millicent rumbled as she turned away and they all moved further down the table. "I'm sure I shan't," he muttered to himself as he watched them leave.

Well, he supposed he'd better get used to this. He was with Harry now, even if no-one actually knew that, he had to expect threats and attempts at coercion from his housemates. It was probably going to be like this for the rest of the year, if not attempts at getting him back, then there were undoubtedly going to be attempts on his life. He knew his housemates well too well to expect anything less.

He glanced round the room again. The conversation had taken no more than a couple of minutes and the hall was still noisy with students trying to find their places as well as those who were a little late getting off the train or carriages. He saw Harry was still deep in conversation with his fellow Gryffindors. For a moment he watched them, wondering what they were asking him and half understanding what he must be going through.

Two more figures obscured his vision and he looked up, surprised. Crabbe and Goyle! He stayed where he was, half expecting them to react to him as the three girls had, but the two of them smiled a little and sat across from him, again blocking his view of the Gryffindor table and Harry.

"Where have you two been?" he asked in an undertone, noting the wary looks in their eyes and the way they drew slightly closer together under the stares from some of the other Slytherins.

Gregory shrugged and Vincent leaned forward slightly, "We'll tell you about it later."

He lowered his eyebrows, confused, but nodded. Apparently he'd have to wait until they were back in the common room before he found out why they hadn't been on the train and why the other Slytherins were watching them just as much as they did him.

His thought process stopped as the doors at the back of the hall opened and Hagrid took his seat at the staff table. A moment later, Professor McGonagall entered the room, trailed by way more students than these tables could comfortably hold. He sighed and shook his head.

       

Harry, sitting in his usual seat closest to the door, shared a small smile with Draco. The blonde looked a little put out, uncomfortable. Before this summer, he wouldn't have noticed, but he now knew the Slytherin's face and body language as well as his own and those steepled fingers were meant to keep people away, they were a barrier for him to hide behind.

Before he could reflect any further, Seamus, Dean and Neville caught his attention. They had forced their way further up the table and were now sitting as close to him as they could get, which meant Seamus had plonked himself between him and Ron, and Dean and Neville were sitting opposite him, obscuring his view of the Slytherin table.

"Hey, Seamus! What the hell are you doing?" Ron exclaimed as the burly sandy-haired Irishman nearly knocked him into Hermione's lap - though Harry rather thought his lanky friend didn't really mind too much.

"Just squeezin' in to have a talk wi' Harry," and with that he and the other two Gryffindor seventh year boys turned to him and gave him a very long look. He blinked. Even Neville, who had admittedly gained some confidence and lost quite a bit of weight over the past few years, was looking at him as if he had grown a second head.

He looked at Dean and realised HIS look was a little less 'second head' and a little more knowing. Well, he supposed he could understand that, compared to Seamus and Neville, Dean knew a lot more about him. A lot more indeed. He mentally chalked that up as a contender for understatement of the year and then gave in, "What?" he said quietly, looking at each of them in turn as Ron and Hermione peered past Seamus to see what was going on.

This was exactly why he had avoided his dorm mates on the train, because he had known they would gang up on him like this and demand to know all. He hadn't been up to it then, and he definitely wasn't up to it now. He had hoped he'd be able to put it off until they had reached the common room or even until tomorrow when he'd had a good long night's sleep and a chance to sort out his answers. But, no, they had decided to pounce him during dinner, before even the Sorting. Somehow, this was ultimately unfair, but not exactly unexpected.

Seamus grinned at him, "What? You mean you can't figure it out?"

Neville piped up, stammering ever so slightly; that was another thing that had changed about Neville over the past few years, he didn't stammer these days unless he was particularly emotional about something, "Y-you and Malfoy!"

Seamus nudged him slightly too hard in the ribs, "Like Neville said, 'you and Malfoy!' What the hell's goin' on there? Just last year you two were throwin' insults at each other!"

"Actually, they weren't," Dean's voice cut in almost somberly, "they were ignoring each other last year, it was fifth year they were throwing insults."

It was actually Dean, and his more quiet nature, that had calmed Seamus down over the years, though it wasn't really noticeable at the moment. The welcoming manner of the dark skinned youth had that effect on almost anyone who spent time with him, it was one of the reasons Harry had fallen for him last year and the time they had spent together, even if it had been in secret, had been some of the most peaceful and loving of his life.

Though it hadn't lasted, Harry and Dean were still close and he supposed that may very well have been why he was looking at him with a certain amount of understanding. The muggle-born had probably figured out his true relationship with Draco already.

Seamus waved Dean's comment off with one hand and a grin, "Tell all! Harry Potter makin' friends wit' the son’a You Know Who's right hand man! Gotta be some story in there!" Ron snorted from Seamus' right hand side and they all looked at him. The red-head raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

After a short pause, Seamus grinned at him again, "Come on, stop hidin' it! We wanna know."

Harry sighed, eyeing the rest of the table. Some of the other Gryffindor's were looking at him, though most were getting on with the normal pre-Sorting conversations. He gave them a very abridged version of the events over summer, not mentioning the fact that he and Draco were a lot more involved than people thought, nor what Uncle Vernon had done to him. He didn't mention what the two Death Eaters had wanted to do to Draco, nor what the blonde Slytherin had told him about the summer after fifth year, and he only glossed over the two fights he had had with Voldemort's henchmen and Colin Henderson's death.

"So - Malfoy's really a good guy?" Seamus asked a little incredulously, over-simplifying things. Again Ron snorted, but Hermione shushed him and Harry nodded. Neville looked a little scandalized and very unbelieving. The only person who seemed to have taken it as told and truly believed him was Dean. The handsome, dark skinned, young man gave him an understanding smile, making him think back to fifth year, the first night back at Hogwarts when he had argued with Seamus. Dean had simply stated 'My parents are muggles....I'm not stupid enough to tell them....' and had rolled over, leaving it at that. The next morning he had told Harry not to worry about it.

Seamus continued to question him about Draco until the doors at the back of the room opened and Hagrid took his seat at the staff table, signaling the arrival of the new students. A moment later Professor McGonagall stepped in, followed by a mass of scared looking first years. He looked at them all and wondered quite whether he had ever been that small.

The mass of about sixty children queued up in front of the staff table, ready for the sorting, all looking incredibly scared indeed as McGonagall set out the stool and placed the ragged looking Sorting hat upon it. Harry smiled, knowing exactly what was coming next.

There was a collective intake of breath and an expectant pause as the hat took a moment to consider. A second later the hat began its song and all those students who had expected it and had been waiting, let out the expectant breath. Harry smiled to himself and listened.

A rip near the brim opened wide like a mouth - and the hat began to sing:

Hogwarts students, listen well!
Listen as I speak
Of the fate awaiting all
Of those who are too weak!
Within the year, there will be war,
But not as we would know it,
Every year, I quarter these masses, four,
As the ancient Founders saw fit.
But as I make this song, my rhyme,
The Dark oppressor's sat,
Quietly biding all his time,
Waiting until his plans are met.
Already all my simple warnings,
You have not taken heed,
For children there are now mourning,
And there was no need!
Two years ago, I sang a song,
That warned of deadly foes,
Now I sing another one,
But this time I warn of those
Within our very heart of hearts,
Plotting to undermine the two,
Who have already taken part
In bringing together the students, whom
I must too soon break asunder.
Students, please, take my lyrics
And within your separate houses, ponder,
Try to find the complex
Answer that will solve the question,
Of the divided fours resolve.
Since I have given you the lesson,
And must return to my duties of old,
Here are the Houses, Counted down!
Brand new first years, listen hard,
Wear a smile, not a frown!
As you put me upon your head,
I will sort you, girl and boy,
For that was good old
Godric's ploy.
If you happen to be brave and bold,
Into Gryffindor, that's where you belong!
Now, if intelligent and savvy,
To Ravenclaw before long!
If ambitious and rather canny,
To Slytherin, I think it best!
All those hardworking and gregarious
In Hufflepuff, your hearts will rest!
I think you'll find that's all of us,
So using the power I hold within,
Let the sorting now begin!

Harry's eyebrows raised as the whole room paused. For a few infinitesimally long seconds no-one moved, and then everyone clapped. This was just like fifth year's song, only with a more direct and obvious message. He wondered what the Sorting Hat had noticed while residing in Dumbledore's tower and for a moment tried to figure out if it was on about Draco and himself.

It was then that he actually looked at the Staff Table and promptly forgot about the Sorting Hat's song. His eyebrows rose and he leaned back, reaching behind Seamus, who looked a little confused, and poked Ron. Ron looked at him with a mixture of confusion and mild irritation at being interrupted mid-chat with Hermione, "What?" he mouthed silently.

Harry nodded toward the table and grinned. Ron turned, as did Hermione who had been watching them both and the two of them jumped slightly in surprise, turning back to him with identical jubilant grins. He nodded and the three of them turned back to watch McGonagall who had pulled out her long list of names.

Remus Lupin was sitting in the usual seat for Defense Against the Dark Arts Professors, right next to Severus Snape who didn't look particularly pleased, though that did tend to be his default expression. It appeared that in these troubled times, Dumbledore had talked the board of governors into letting him re-hire their favorite teacher. This year’s advanced DADA lessons were going to be a lot more interesting than last year’s.

He glanced back at the last remaining (he didn't think of Wormtail as anything other than a traitor and certainly didn't consider him in the same league as his father, godfather and favorite adult besides Dumbledore) Marauder and smiled. He looked a little better than the last time he had seen him, almost a year ago. He wasn't as thin and his robes were less shabby, he also appeared to have had a haircut. The older man caught his eye and smiled. Harry gave a short wave and the two of them returned to the Sorting.

He clapped along with the rest of the school as each of the new first years was sorted, clapping loudest, of course, for the new Gryffindors, as was tradition, and then looked expectantly at the dishes on the table, though he knew of course that Dumbledore would make a small speech to welcome the new students before they could eat.

Dumbledore stood and clasped his hands before him, "Welcome, welcome, new and old!" he waved his right hand vaguely at the room, apparently absentmindedly also taking in Lupin as well as the new students in the gesture, "I'll need to have your attention after the meal, now, please enjoy!"

He sat down again and the tables were suddenly overloaded with all different sorts of food. Harry pulled a few of his more favorite meal items towards himself and put a tolerable amount on his plate. He wasn't as hungry as he usually was during the opening feast, probably due to his apprehension of the coming week and Seamus' constant questioning, which he had actually started up again.

Harry ate slowly and answered what questions he could and then pulled his favorite pudding to himself, cutting off a slice of the treacle tart before pouring a little custard over it. At that moment an owl landed on the table in front of him. He jumped and stared, as did half the students nearest him.

"Uh, hello." He patted the owl on the head, offering it a sausage and took the scroll it had tied to its leg. It was highly unusual for an owl to arrive at the table during the first meal of the year, and for some reason he had a strange sense of foreboding. The owl took off again, carrying the gift of sausage with it as he opened the scroll. Dumbledore's by now very familiar handwriting met his eyes.

'Harry,
        I would like to speak with you before you leave for your chambers. After the meal, please come to my office, the password is 'Everlasting Gobstopper.'

Professor Dumbledore.'

Harry blinked at the short note and then looked at his Headmaster. The old man was watching him and when he looked up Dumbledore raised his goblet, eyes twinkling reassuringly. He didn't see the other owl take flight from the Slytherin table.

       

Draco read the note he had received from Dumbledore and watched as a second owl took flight from the Gryffindor table. Obviously Harry had received the same instructions, '....please come to my office....' He wrinkled his nose ever so slightly, knowing full well what the Headmaster was going to want to talk to them about.

He folded the parchment and put it in the pocket of his robes before returning to his sparse meal. He hadn't felt much like eating, which wasn't entirely strange as he rarely ate that much anyway. When the chatter and eating finally ceased he looked up, with the rest of the student body, waiting patiently for Dumbledore to start his yearly speech.

Dumbledore rose to his feet and clasped his hands before him once again, the new students all started in surprise as the uneaten food and dirty plates vanished. "As is usual I would like to warn newcomers that the Forbidden Forest just off Hogwarts Grounds is off limits, and, just as usual, I would also like certain older students to remember that." Draco wondered if he meant Harry and his small group of trouble-making friends every time Dumbledore said that.

"Once again, our caretaker, Mr Filch, would like me to direct all students to his revised list of forbidden objects, currently attached to his office door, as well as reminding everyone that spell's are not allowed to be cast within the hallways."

Draco hid a smile, remembering the countless times that had happened over the past six years. "Now, to business. This year we are glad to welcome back Professor Lupin who has agreed to once again take on the position of Defense Against the Dark Art's Professor."

There was much applause, mainly from the Gryffindor table, where there were also a few wolf-whistles, though Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff clapped heartily, almost making up for the lack of praise from Slytherin. Lupin, who had his elbows on the table, hands clasped before his mouth, nodded his head with a genial smile. Draco noted that he looked a lot healthier than the last time he had seen him, which had been third year, and his robes were a lot less shabby.

Dumbledore waited politely for the noise to settle down and then continued, with a much more somber air, "During these most dark of times, I would like students to keep in mind that though our dear Hogwarts is still safe, I would like for you all to be on your guard. Our Head Boy and Girl, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger respectively, will be around for your assistance if you require it, as will our Prefects, though to a lesser extent. Professor Lupin will be teaching all students the basic protection spells as an extra precaution during his Defense lessons."

Of course. Even though the long awaited War had not yet begun, the world was still unsafe and obviously Dumbledore wished Hogwarts students to at least be able to protect themselves when they left, either during the holidays and Hogsmeade trips, or at the end of the year, to be ready when the war finally broke, which everybody expected to happen this year.

Dumbledore's grave air dissipated and he smiled at the students, eyes twinkling as he did so, "Now! Tryouts for the House Quidditch teams will begin during the second week of term, so if anyone feels they wish to take part, be ready, though it is not open to those below second year. First years, the Prefects of your House will show you the way and inform you of the passwords. Now! Off you trot!" And he dismissed the school with a wave of his hand.

There was instantly a clamoring as students rose chatting and laughing, the new first years seeking out their respective Prefects. For a moment he sat and told Greg and Vincent that he would be back late, then he stood, ignoring the looks he was receiving from his fellow Slytherins and caught Harry's eye. The taller boy's eyebrows rose slightly, but he nodded and they both headed for the door.

"You got a note as well?" The Gryffindor asked him as the headed for the stairs to Dumbledore's office. Draco nodded, "I can just imagine what he wants to talk about." Harry nodded glumly and they walked in silence to the statue that hid the revolving staircase to the Headmaster's office and quarters.

Harry gave the password and the statue moved to the side. They both stepped onto the staircase, the statue moving back into place behind them. Almost without thinking about it, as soon as the statue hid them once more, Draco sought out Harry's hand and clasped it firmly, simply wanting the contact. The dark haired boy smiled at him, gripping back as they rode the stairway, letting go only when they reached the door at the top.

Somehow, Dumbledore was already in his office when they knocked.

"Come in, come in," his voice rang jovially.

Draco opened the door and Harry followed him in. Dumbledore was standing to one side of his desk, feeding the most gorgeous Phoenix he had ever seen. The old man smiled at them both and gestured towards the two chairs before his desk. Harry sat at once and Draco was slightly surprised when he asked, "How's Fawkes, Sir?"

Dumbledore gave the last tid-bit to the resplendent bird and moved to sit down, "Oh, he's doing well, as you can see. He's about halfway through his cycle now. Sherbet Lemon? Draco?"

Draco tore his eyes from the bird, which was now preening itself, and looked at the small packet Dumbledore was holding out to him. He blinked, noticed Harry was already unwrapping one and reached into the bag, "Thank- you, Sir."

He sat back and looked around, he had never actually been in this office before and all the contraptions on the shelves, as well as the paintings of former head-teachers, were fascinating. He supposed 'Fawkes' must be the Phoenix that was now ruffling its feathers a little. His attention returned to Dumbledore as the man leaned forward slightly, his elbows and forearms on the ancient desk.

"Now, you both probably know why you are here. After the events over the summer, there can be no doubt as to Voldemort's intentions when it concerns the two of you." He paused, gave them both a penetrating look and changed the subject, his voice changing to a gentler tone, "I noticed the way in which your housemates reacted. Were there any problems you may wish to address?"

Harry shook his head, "They just asked me to explain."

Draco took a moment to think, obviously Harry trusted this man beyond anything, it should be ok to tell him. "Voldemort say's he will take me back if I give him Harry." He managed, finally, to unstick his fingers from the sweet Dumbledore had given him and continued, not looking at either of them, "I told them to tell him where to shove it."

He heard Harry stifle a laugh and looked up, meeting his Headmaster’s eyes. Dumbledore looked both amused and concerned at once. "Well, since you both appear to be fine, let's get on. Concerning events over the summer, I wish to explain a few things."

Harry interrupted him, "Sir, before you do, could I ask something?"

Draco noticed the slight look of shock on Dumbledore's face, but the man consented with a smile. Harry's next question surprised him; it had actually been one he was thinking about himself. "How did the Sorting Hat know?"

Dumbledore sat back, his hands, though still on the table, clasping together tightly. "Ah. Of course you would notice, though I'm sure few others did." Draco found himself the object of a rather knowing look, he nodded, of course he'd noticed it as well, how could he not? "Yes, the Sorting Hat has a few properties of which even I cannot tell."

Dumbledore leaned forward slightly, "The song the Hat sang this evening was a surprise to me, normally I hear the final version before it performs, but for some reason the Hat composed a new one, replacing what I had previously heard with this rather undisguised warning."

Well, that was interesting. Dumbledore always heard the song before the rest of the school? Draco had thought that the songs where kept entirely secret until the debut at the Feast. "I suppose this means you're going to tell us to watch our backs?" he said quietly, without a trace of his usual sarcasm.

Dumbledore and Harry both looked at him, "I think that would be advisable, yes, but I know well how you both respond to such things, so I would not insult your intelligence."

Draco folded his arms with a slight frown and Dumbledore turned to Harry, "I'm afraid I cannot truly answer your question. Just take the warning to heart. And now," he looked at them both, "This summer."

His voice was uncharacteristically quiet when he spoke again. "I'm afraid I am at fault for all that happened. The real Mr Henderson was one of my men. He was a Squib, placed in work at your Uncle's business to keep an eye on him and to make sure nothing happened to him." Dumbledore suddenly looked weary, "Some weeks ago it appears he was... taken, by Voldemort's men. No one noticed, not until it was too late. As you know, Mr Zabini used a very powerful glamour and took his place, thus enabling him to... fix certain eventualities and learn of your whereabouts, Harry."

Draco frowned; both surprised and annoyed at once, "Zabini set Harry up? He made sure he would be in Bath?"

Dumbledore nodded, "The competition the Dursleys believe they won was fixed, assuring that the family would be in Bath at the right time, and they made doubly sure you would be there, Harry, by having 'Colin' ask to meet both children of the home."

"I should have known from the start, the only time my Aunt and Uncle ever win anything is when someone makes sure they do! I can't believe I was so stupid as to be taken in by that." Harry looked highly annoyed, he was sitting straight in his chair, green eyes blazing with a fire Draco rarely saw.

Dumbledore nodded, "Yes, that is why we began to suspect something, despite 'Colin's' assurances to the contrary. We knew where you were going, so we placed someone to watch you."

"Who?"

"Nymphadora Tonks, of course. She swapped places with Mr Shire and kept an eye on you from there. This is, perhaps, why Arcadia was attacked." Dumbledore sighed and Harry looked flabbergasted, Draco just sat back, watching them both and feeling a little like a third wheel. That was until Dumbledore looked at him, "You, my boy, though, you threw all their plans into utter confusion. I thank you for what you did for Harry and myself during those two weeks."

"I didn't do much, Sir." What was Dumbledore on about? All he'd done was look after the Gryffindor after that first attack, anyone could have done that. "You did more than you think, young man." He had the distinct feeling, at that moment, that Professor Dumbledore could see through him and read his very thoughts. It was a chilling idea and he felt a gentle shiver run through his body as he tried to figure out just exactly what it was Dumbledore thought he had done.

There was a thoughtful pause in which Dumbledore looked at them both, Harry still looked angry, but he appeared to be calming down. Eventually their Headmaster spoke again, looking directly at him rather than Harry, "I'm certain your friends, Gregory and Vincent, will tell you the reasons in their own time, but I would ask that you be understanding. This summer they followed in your stead and have spent the past few weeks living here."

Draco was stunned. He blinked and was about to ask why when Dumbledore abruptly changed the subject, "Now, boys, I'm sure you are both tired after your long journey." He stood and waited for them to follow suit. After a moment they did, in silence and moved toward the door. As he took hold of the door handle Draco saw Harry turn, "Thank-you, Sir." He looked back and wasn't surprised to see that the old man was standing behind his desk watching them both with a faint look of concern in his eyes.

When they reached the hallway again, it was absolutely silent and dark, save for the flickering torches at regular intervals. Not speaking, they made their way back to the entrance hall, occasionally their shoulders brushed, but other than that there was no outward sign of what lay hidden.

The hall looked cavernous at night, lit only by moonlight that streamed through the high windows, at the top of the staircase that led down to the dungeons they stopped and turned to each other. Harry smiled warmly, "Double Potions first thing tomorrow. Hermione and I got our timetables early." Draco paused, looking the raven-haired boy straight in the eyes, "Harry...." he started, but the Gryffindor just shook his head, "I know. It's a lot to take in right now, we should just sleep on it, talk about it all tomorrow."

Draco dropped his eyes to the floor for a second then glanced around them. "I suppose. See you in Potions then," he smiled slightly and raised a hand to Harry's cheek, gently running his finger-tips over the evening shadow that was starting to make itself known. Before anything else could be said, he leaned forward and kissed him.

They broke apart a long moment later, their breathing a little hitched and looked at each other, the silver rings in Harry's eyes were gleaming. He had to move now, or he'd never get away. "Night then," he whispered, turned and made his way down the staircase to his common room. When he looked back up, Harry was already gone, leaving him feeling a little - he didn't know what, but he eventually settled on the word lonely.

The common room was as dark and silent as the rest of the school; it was lit only by the slowly dying fire at one end of the room as, down here, there were no windows to let the light in. Closing the portrait behind him, he clearly saw Crabbe and Goyle sitting on the sofa in front of the fire, talking quietly between themselves and obviously waiting for him. Rubbing his arms because of the slight chill that was always in the air in the dungeons, he made his way over to them.

"Any chance my room's warmer than here?" He asked, dropping into an armchair close to the fire, offering them a little more privacy for this conversation. Being who he was, and Severus having certain knowledge about his person, when he had asked for a private room last year, he had been given it. It wasn't as nice as he'd heard the Head Boy and Girl rooms were, but it was certainly better than sharing a room with three adolescents who thought snoring was an Olympic sport.

The single room had also given him a few opportunities over the past year or so. There were only two, no, make that four now, other boys in his year, which he knew of, who preferred to 'keep it in the club,' as it were. There had been three or four in the year above him, and he never went below his own age. Boot had certainly enjoyed his single room; there were a few good memories from that short lived relationship, even if he was a Ravenclaw. The others had simply been conquests, to see whether he could do it, amongst other things that he tried not to think about.

Of course, it had been easy, they all seemed to like his pale looks and Seeker toned body. There were only two he hadn't touched, Justin Finch-Fletchly, a muggle born, (he thought there were some standards he had to keep, if only for his class status) and one boy from the year above him who had reminded him too much of - cold, clammy hands...

It had all changed now of course. Now he had Harry and there was something between them that made him realise he wanted to stay, to give up the conquests, that he didn't need them anymore; they had simply been a way of chasing off the feel of cold clammy fingers on his wrists and hungry red eyes that spoke of things he never wanted to know about.

He banished those thoughts from his mind as his two friends looked at him, "You sure, Draco?" Crabbe asked. He had always been the more cautious of the two, constantly questioning, always looking for the catch in any situation, making sure they had all the possibilities covered and the information they needed. Though neither of them were academically inclined, he often thought of Vincent Crabbe as the more intelligent, though they were both brilliant in their own ways of course. He nodded and stood, "Of course. It'll certainly be better than this place."

They got up and trailed him down one of the winding corridors that opened from the other end of the common room, his own room was quite a distance, just as he liked it, but it was further into the dungeons, further under the castle and there was very little light. As they reached the door, Goyle stepped in front of him and motioned for him to stay where he was. He frowned slightly, confused, as Greg pointed his wand at the door-knob, checking it and then opened it himself.

Nothing happened, but the more burly and magnanimous of the two made him stay where he was and went into the room first. Again, there was nothing, but he could feel the Dark Magic that surged from the room. Some of it he recognized as his own protection and guarding spells, but there was a hint of something new, something familiar.

"What?" he muttered, trying to move forwards. Vincent held him firmly by the arm and he stopped, "That's Blaise's magic in there," he said angrily. Vince nodded, "Yeah. We saw her come down here earlier."

Gregory reappeared at the doorway, there was a new feel to the air, the heaviness that Blaise's magic had left was gone, "It's safe now," he said in his quiet rumble, "They were just detection spells and stuff."

Draco stormed into his room and looked around, both visually and magically, "How the hell did she get past my protections?" he almost shouted as Vince closed the door behind him, shrugging. He closed his eyes and did a thorough search. The wards he had left in place before the summer were still there, as were the simple spells that made sure people didn't notice what was in here. But he could feel, now that he was looking properly, that, magically speaking, the spells had 'frayed around the edges' due to lack of use and much needed renewal, and that was how she had managed to do what she had done. "Shit," he muttered, opening his eyes and looking at his two oldest friends.

"Thanks. I probably wouldn't have noticed." They both nodded and sat on the old sofa that stood in the corner of his room, close to the large fire that he had asked the House Elves to keep blazing all year round. He dropped to the floor in front of it, legs crossed under him, wrists resting on his knees and looked up at them. "So, Dumbledore said something about you spending the past few weeks here?"

       

August 1st.

'Potter and Malfoy spotted together in Black Rose nightclub.'

'Last night, after the despicable happenings in Bath Abbey earlier in the day, full story on page 2, people were unready for a second shock. It was given in the form of Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, being seen with the son of Lucius Malfoy, a convicted Death Eater.

'The two boys were spotted together late in the evening in The Black Rose, a popular haunting ground for many of our sons and daughters in the Avon Wiltshire area. The nightclub itself is a respectable establishment, and on any ordinary occasion we should not be surprised to see the young Mister Potter within its walls.

'The fact that many witnesses reported seeing Potter and Malfoy at the club, enjoying both its music and each others' company beggars the question; have Potter and Malfoy put aside the animosity of previous years?

'For it is well known that the two boys have not been friends, either because of the deep rooted enmity between their respective houses or because of the feelings held on the elder Malfoys part, it is not known, but last nights activities appear to prove that the two boys are no longer on disagreeable terms.

'They even bought each other drinks, and at one point I saw them dancing. It was weird,' says local apprentice book keeper, Lawrence Arkwright. Madam Presley, of Thickwood, Colerne, agrees, 'They both looked pretty relaxed around each other, as if they were great friends and didn't care who saw them.'

'Young Potter has often surprised the magical world over the years. Memorable instances being the disclosure of his ability to speak Parseltongue, his participation in the Tri Wizard Tournament, his acquittal at a full Ministry court when he used magic, underage, to defend himself and his cousin from an attack by two Dementors and his involvement in the capture of Lucius Malfoy and other Death Eaters during the attack on Ministry headquarters two years ago.

'So, should we be at all surprised by this sudden turn of events? Harry Potter is a remarkable young man after all, so is it at all surprising that he should want to try and stop any ill will between himself and another young man, simply because said teen's father chose the Dark?

'"Potter lived a lonely life until he began his schooling at Hogwarts. He had a surprisingly harsh time, while living with his muggle relatives, for someone so well known, and this seems to have given him the desire to create friendships wherever he goes," says renowned psychiatrist, Dr Sharon Nollette, "This desire becomes more apparent when we bring to light his continued encounters with He Who Must Not Be Named. As a result, Harry shows an inclination to bring as many people as he can to the Light. This may be the reason for his recent attachment to Draco Malfoy."

'It is obviously apparent that Harry, after years of hostility between the two of them, has grown tired of it and taken steps to bring the younger Malfoy out of the shadow of his father's actions. To all concerned, this must be a joyous event, as another young wizard, on the brink of The Dark has been saved and will continue to live in the Light, helping in the fight against The Dark Lord.'

Vincent Crabbe put the paper down, leaving it open upon his lap, and sat back. With one eyebrow raised, something he had learned from Draco, he looked out of the window to his right, checking to see if Hell had frozen over. It hadn't, so he scanned the article again.

After a while, he closed the paper and looked at the photograph on the front page. It was definitely Draco, and he definitely had his arm round what were definitely Harry Potter's shoulders. They also definitely looked drunk and completely oblivious to the fact that the photograph had even been taken. The two monochromatic figures were stumbling and leaning heavily upon one another.

He supposed he could attribute this, well, severely out of character behavior, to Draco's being drunk. But he doubted it. He had seen Draco drunk a few times, and his mind worked just as well then as it did during any other time, evidenced by the fact that he had argued with Firenze while drunk last year and the old Centaur had conceded a few points to him. It had been unnerving to say the least, as he and Goyle hadn't even had the slightest idea what the two of them had been talking about in the first place.

Well, it appeared Draco had finally made his mind up about what to do now he had the choice. He was forsaking The Dark Lord to join Potter and the other Dumbledorians. It wasn't such a bad idea, especially after what Draco had told them Voldemort had planned for him. Especially considering neither of them was at all comfortable with the 'muggle-less future' Voldemort envisioned them all leading. A future where Pure Bloods would rule all and muggle-borns and muggles would be like the lowly House Elf, or worse.

A future where Lord Voldemort would probably have them all kissing his bloody 'I'm the master of everything' boots.

He should talk to Gregory.

       

August 2nd.

'Greg,

        'Did you read the Daily Prophet today? If you didn't, it had a piece about Draco and Potter, they're friends now. It's not very surprising; I've been waiting for it to happen since that summer. It just took longer than we thought it would.

        'Anyway, after reading the article I thought we needed to talk, I think Draco's got the right idea. I don't know about you, but I don't want to spend the rest of my life killing people just because of how they were born. It just feels a little bit, what was the word Draco always uses? Hypocritical. And I don't want to be killing anyone, anyway.

        'Father mentioned Voldemort wants to 'initiate' us soon, he sounds proud and very happy when he talks about it. I think we need to talk, soon. Can you get to an open Floo line tomorrow, around midday? My parents are out and I'll have the house to myself then.
        Vince.'

Gregory Goyle folded the parchment back up again and put it in his pocket. He looked around, making sure no-one was around and then closed his bedroom door. He was just checking, as the house was empty; apparently his parents were off at the same place as Vince's' were. Which meant they were probably all at a Death Eater get together.

He locked the door with a simple locking spell, to be doubly sure he wouldn't be interrupted without warning and then crossed to the fire. It was blazing merrily, just as he'd asked the House Elve's to make it. He and Vince didn't have much to worry about communicating this way, as every member of Voldemort's Inner Circle had private, unfathomable personal Floo lines as well as the usual ones.

He folded his burly form onto the floor in front of the fire and waited.

He didn't have long to wait as Vince always kept himself punctual. Within five minutes the fire turned green and Vince's head appeared, wearing a slightly furtive expression, which was a strange sight to say the least; normally Vince had a good measure of control when it came to his emotions. That was something they had both learned from Draco, and it had turned out to be a very helpful talent over the past few years, as showing certain emotions or tendencies around the parents they had been lumped with, was a sure fire way to a rather painful existence.

"Hey Vince. Don't worry, my parents are out too." The furtive look lessened slightly, and Vince nodded, "Good. You checked your room?" He nodded, of course he had, he wasn't that stupid. It was one of the necessities of life these days, making sure no one was evesdropping on him.

He nodded again, "We're safe. I got a copy of the paper by the way, had Hell's work making sure Dad didn't find out about it. I agree, Draco's got the right idea of it." Vince nodded again, "If we don't do something soon, we're going to end up eating out of The Dark Lord’s hands within the year. That or we'll be dead."

He knew the same thought was now going through his best friend's mind, if they were killed, or forced into the Death Eaters, who would look after Draco? Sure, neither of them was that good at school, and they always needed the blonde’s extra help to get spells right, but the two of them had been watching his back since they were seven. Ten years of doing that, of being there for him when he felt particularly put upon, or more recently when he had had arguments with his parents, when he had undergone that terrible night with Voldemort last year - well, it had left them with a certain feeling of protectiveness towards him.

It was strange, but they had known nearly all the Slytherins in their year since they were children, but he was the only one they trusted, wanted to protect. There was something about him, about the way he treated them, which was different to the others. He never looked down his nose at them in the way the rest did, he spoke to them like equals (most of the time, they easily looked past those times when he was in a bad mood and mouthed off at them) and was unfailingly perceptive of the amount of help they did or did not want when it came to their studies, giving it without question when they asked.

Draco may have been the appointed leader of Slytherin, with simpering fan- girls and boys at every corner, he may be the antithesis to the Gryffindor students and he may be the son of Voldemort’s right hand man, but to them he was a dear friend, someone they trusted implicitly and would do anything for.

There was silence for a moment, then Gregory looked out the window. For a second he said nothing, hardly noticing the confused look on Vince's face. When he turned back to the fire his eyes held hope, "We should owl Dumbledore."

       

August 3rd.

Their parents had taken them both to the Parkinson mansion.

It was not somewhere they currently wanted to be. They had sent an owl off to Dumbledore the day before, after spending almost an hour writing it together, consulting each other through the Floo network. In the end Vincent had sent it from his end, as his home was a little further North than Gregory's.

They had expressed both their intent to join the Light, and their worries over the fact that their parents intended to initiate them soon; they hadn't realised, though, that it was to be tonight. So they were both incredibly anxious.

And Pansy kept looking at them.

Ordinarily Pansy ignored them, which was a state of affairs they had both been perfectly happy with, as she was the resident ‘slut of Slytherin’ and not someone either wanted to associate themselves with. It was highly unnerving, then, that she kept pausing mid conversation with Blaise to look at them.

Eventually she and the redhead got up and moved over.

Vincent watched them warily and paused, his hand still an inch or so above the checkers piece. He saw, out of the corner of his eye, Gregory turn to look at them as well. He turned his eyes back to the board and managed to take two of Gregory's pieces before the girls reached them and sat down.

"Are you nervous, Crabbe?" Pansy asked in the sickeningly sweet tone of voice she seemed to think of as seductive. He turned his eyes on her, she was sitting next to him, one long leg hooked over the other, her side split, pale lilac robes hitched up slightly to show more thigh than was really decent.

He looked quickly at Greg and chuckled lightly in that practiced manner that sounded real, even to those who knew him well, "Nope."

One of Pansy's fingers trailed over his thigh, her long nails leaving an annoying tingle where they had touched through his thin summer clothing and he looked at her again. She smiled slowly, "Not even a little bit?" she purred, "I know a great way of calming those niggling little anxieties."

Blaise giggled lightly from her seat next to Greg and he looked over. His friend was trying, a little more obviously than he should have been, to edge away from her. His eyes moved back to the girl whose hand was now resting rather openly on his knee. He supposed any normal red-blooded teenage boy would have loved this situation, but seeing as he really couldn't stand the girl, and in a few hours time he was going to meet the scariest person on the planet, he found, without any hint of surprise whatsoever, that he really wasn't in the mood.

He picked up her hand and placed it delicately on her own knee, "I'm sure you do," he muttered. 'She must be the horniest person on the entire bloody planet,' he mused to himself, 'if she actually considered doing that, today of all days.' It wasn't as if he and Greg were the only two meeting Him for the first time today. Though he supposed it probably helped that the two girls weren't going to the meeting harboring thoughts of joining Dumbledore.

She gave him a pouty look and sat still for a moment, then placed her head on his shoulder demurely. "It's an open offer, Vince darling. I was just hoping to calm you down, you look so tense."

He did not look tense and he knew that for a fact. He had learned many years ago how to properly control his body, as had Gregory, so what she had just said was some sort of 'diversionary tactic' as Draco called it. What was she really up to?

He looked up in time to notice Blaise move round behind Greg and start rubbing his shoulders. His friend's eyes closed for a moment and when they opened again Vince noticed he was giving him an apologetic look. Gregory never had been any good at turning a girl down.

He felt an arm snake round his shoulders and Pansy whispered in his ear, "Well, I'm nervous. I could do with some calming...." He blinked, maybe this was all just about sex. It was Pansy, after all, and she was rather an uncomplicated person. He blinked again as her other hand trailed over his inner thigh and slowly moved to places that were beginning to betray him.

There was a knock on the door and it opened to show a nervous looking House Elf. The hand sneaking to places he'd rather not think about, moved back slightly and came to rest on his thigh again, "What do you want?"

The House Elf looked even more nervous at its mistress’s tone of voice, "Please, Miss Pansy, there is someone wishing to speak to Master Crabbe and Master Goyle." Pansy pulled back entirely and stood up, but the House Elf squeaked even more nervously, "Alone, please."

Pansy looked murderous but he and Greg stood, Gregory taking a moment to extricate himself from Blaise's wandering hands. They apologized to the girls and closed the door behind them. "Who is it?" he asked the scuttling little figure as they followed it down the corridor to the large library.

"He did not say, Masters." They entered the Library and the Elf disappeared, closing the door firmly as they made their way to the fire. Snape! They both stopped dead and just stared. What the hell could he want? Was he going to tell them what Voldemort had planned for them tonight?

The Slytherin House Master glared at them for a moment and then barked, "Well, come here!" They both jerked forward and moved closer to the fire, obviously expecting the worst, not what Snape next said to them.

"Dumbledore received your letter. I take it you are following in Draco's footsteps?"

Stunned, Vincent just nodded and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Greg do the same.

"It was not entirely unexpected, we had actually prepared something for just such an eventuality. As you undoubtedly know, there will be a Death Eater meeting this evening to which you both are expected to attend, as well as Parkinson and Zabini. I will be there. When I give you the signal, you will recognize it when I give it, use these."

Snape's long fingered, sallow hand snaked out of the fire and dropped two small objects on the deep rug in front of them. As his hand vanished back into the fire again the two boys bent down and picked up one each. They were rather lifelike models of themselves. Vincent looked back at Snape, "How do we use them?"

Snape appeared to smile slightly, as if grateful that he had asked the question, "They are voice activated Portkey's. Simply grip them tightly and say, however quietly, they will still work if you whisper it below normal hearing levels, 'Hogwarts' and they will take you there."

Vincent nodded and looked at Gregory who did the same, they turned their eye's back to Snape, "What about our stuff?"

Snape gave them both a long look, "I will take care of you 'stuff' later tonight. Now, I do not expect trouble, but if anything goes wrong and I am unable to give you the signal, you must use your own initiative to figure out when to leave. Hopefully, I will be able to make sure you can leave before The Dark Lord even has a chance to see you."

He paused for a moment giving them both a penetrating glare, "Be sure to watch yourselves and what you say if you are brought before him. It is very likely he will be in a bad mood this evening." There was a sudden pause and Snape looked to his right, he looked startled, which pretty much meant his eyes narrowed, and he looked back at them again, "I must leave. Be careful tonight, and let no-one see the Portkeys."

A second later the Potions Master disappeared and the fire returned to its usual colour. Vincent looked over at Gregory and hefted the small figurine, "Well...." Greg nodded and they both put the Portkeys into their pockets before turning to the door and making their way back to the room where they had left the girls.

Blaise and Pansy had returned to their little corner at the other side of the room and barely glanced at them when they came back in again. They moved nonchalantly to the small table they had been sitting at before and resumed their game of Checkers. They spent the next few hours repeating the game to pass the time, ignoring the girls and talking to one another in an undertone about what may happen at the meeting.

It had come as a complete surprise to the both of them that Snape was a spy for Dumbledore, at school he always seemed such a, well, such a Death Eater and Draco certainly hadn't mentioned it. Maybe he didn't know? Or had been told not to tell anyone? Whatever the case, at least they now had a means of escaping.

Vincent found himself gripping the small model tightly at one point and had to remind himself where he was, hastily letting go and paying attention to the game once more.

He and Gregory had absolutely no idea what to say to Voldemort tonight if they ended up face-to-face with him. They were pretty much relying on Snape to make sure it didn't happen. When the time came and their fathers arrived, Vincent found he was almost shaking with nerves. He took a desperate hold of his body, calming himself down and stuffed his hands into his pockets, taking a firm grip of the small Portkey.

All four of them were taken to the Library and handed deep black robes and the plain masks of the Death Eater. He pulled the robe on, feeling apprehensive and more than a little thankful that these things were made for hiding whoever wore them and placed the mask over his face. When he looked at Greg and the girls, the only one he recognized was his friend, and then simply because he was the taller, the two girls looked identical.

They wrapped themselves in over-large cloaks and stood waiting. A few minutes later their fathers reappeared, this time in their robes, but without their masks. They said nothing as they led the four teenagers outside. Vincent stared, again thankful for the mask, when he saw the Death Eaters. There were more people there than he had expected, and he couldn't see Snape anywhere. But then, it was impossible to tell who was who in these masks, maybe he was there somewhere, standing back so as not to be noticed?

They were led to the gazebo at the end of the garden and told to sit and wait by Blaise's father. He sat quietly next to Gregory and watched as their fathers made their way hastily to the large circle. He dug his hands back into his pockets and affected a slumped, nonchalant pose, trying to pass off as bored rather than apprehensive as he again gripped the Portkey.

He looked over at the circle. There was still no signal from Snape and it was looking increasingly unlikely that there would be one before they were brought before The Dark Lord. There was some sort of commotion and Voldemort shouted something. He blinked, Voldemort sounded very angry indeed and he was sure he had heard Snape's name mentioned.

He turned to Gregory and saw that he had heard it as well. It looked like they were going to be in trouble. If he had heard right, it appeared Snape wasn't even here. They were going to have to fend for themselves.

He glanced once at the girls, they were both watching the circle, and after a moment he turned back to it as well. There were a few minutes of quiet, it appeared Voldemort was talking to the Death Eaters, and then the figure he knew was Blaise's father and the one standing next to him, moved forward and dropped to their knees, ducking their heads.

Out of the corner of his eye, for he daren't look at her, he could see Blaise's eyes behind her mask. They were shining with fear for her father. Pansy's hand appeared on her shoulder as the figure of Zabini flinched at whatever it was The Dark Lord had said to him.

A moment later, the two men got up and returned to the circle, their every movement spoke of relief, but also of fear. There was a pause, and then his and Gregory's father stepped backwards, side by side, out of the circle and made their way towards them. He stood up, feeling Gregory following suit, and waited.

"Come, Vincent," he heard his father say gruffly from a few feet away. He nodded and stepped down, not looking at the two girls who he knew where watching him with sympathy in their eyes. A second later, Gregory was ordered to follow him. He knew that within a few minutes, the two girls would lose all sympathy for him and Greg, knew they would turn on them just as he knew they had Draco. His hands, still in his pockets, clenched tightly and the small Portkey dug painfully into his palm.

He focused on the smart of pain as he entered the circle, Gregory at his side, their fathers directly behind them, and focused all the more as they were pushed to their knees. He looked up at the person his father worshipped and fought back the recoil of fear as he met the blood-red eyes with their cat-like pupils. No amount of Draco's training could hide the fear he felt. It overwhelmed him and pushed back the rational part of his mind, leaving the single thought, 'I don't want to be here, I don't want to be a part of this.'

The voice, when it came, was higher pitched than he had thought it would be and only made the figure before him seem more terrifying as it whispered a single question. "Will you join my ranks?"

He shook slightly, his eyes left the red ones above him and found Gregory's. Without realizing his own actions were being mirrored by his friend, he looked at the ring of Death Eaters, taking in the encompassing robes and pale masks that hid the identities of those who served Voldemort. He came to a decision. Be it on his own head that he say this, but he couldn't think of anything else, his mind drew a complete blank.

At exactly the same moment as Gregory, he stuttered, "N - no."

There was a pregnant pause as they waited for Voldemort’s response. He realised, with a jolt deep in his chest, that the Death Eaters were all holding their breath and that their fathers had both taken a step back.

Eventually that high voice interrupted his silent world of inner terror with a simple whisper, "No?"

For some reason, he had expected more. He opened his eyes and looked up. The jolt of fear that ran through his body this time almost made him gasp. Those eyes! Voldemort's eyes were almost glowing with rage.

Again, that whispered question, "No?"

He blinked and quite without meaning too, shook his head. There was a sudden muttering amongst the Death Eaters ringing them and he felt, rather than heard, his and Gregory's fathers step further away and rejoin the circle, abandoning them. He quailed when Voldemort next spoke, and felt Gregory do the same next to him.

"Three. Three!" Voldemort took a step forward and he tried to move further away, falling to his rear as he did so, feeling Gregory stumble to hands and knees to his right. He looked up into those eyes again and wished he hadn't.

Voldemort leaned down and in one movement grabbed him by the collar of his robes and lifted him. It was no mean feat, he was of rather a heavy build. He blanched behind his mask as the inhuman creature brought him up to eye level, his feet dangling uselessly, hands scrabbling against the clammy skin of the wrist at his throat as its owner snarled into his face, "I am going to enjoy this."

He felt a wand jab into his ribs and new what was coming a second before the curse was whispered. "Crucio!"

His every sense was pummeled with a pain he thought would kill him and he screamed, hands tensing on Voldemort’s wrist as he did so, his nails digging into the soft, corpse-like flesh. He was dropped to the ground, but barely felt it, barely knew anything as the pain swept through him. As he heard the curse whispered again he realised Gregory had been caught as well, but soon, even this thought disintegrated as a fresh wave of pain enveloped him.

He had never felt anything like this. This was, he didn't have a word for it, but whatever it was, he tried to fight it. He curled up, clenched fists tucking against his stomach, trying to force back the bile that had risen in his throat. There was a new wave a second later as he again heard the curse muttered above him and even thoughts of fighting what was happening to him fled from his tortured mind.

He didn't know how long it lasted, but eventually the pain began to subside and he opened his eyes, drawing a ragged breath. The first thing he saw was Voldemort. He tried to recoil but then realised the man was standing a few feet away, two figures knelt before him, their left arms held out, underarms pointed towards the sky.

He lifted his head slightly and looked about, trying to find Greg. There were pin points of light shooting before his eyes as he moved, but he had to find him, had to make sure he was ok. There were feminine screams of pain, but he ignored them, he could see Greg lying only a few feet away, eyes open and looking at him.

It had to be now, they had to leave now, before Voldemort finished Marking Blaise and Pansy, before his attention returned to them. He blinked, trying to clear his head, and nodded slightly. Greg nodded in acknowledgement, and he closed his eyes, dropping his head back to the ground again, tiredly. He carefully moved his right hand down to his pocket and gripped the Portkey tightly.

Any moment now he would be gone from here, he would be safe once again. Screwing his eyes shut and hoping fervently that Snape's Portkeys would work; he whispered the name 'Hogwarts.'

There was a yell from the ring of Death Eaters surrounding them, but he ignored it as he felt the familiar tug behind his navel, felt what he knew to be his salvation. He daren't open his eyes, he just lay there, hoping Greg had managed to get away as well and let the feel of rushing air wash over him.

When he felt solid ground beneath him once more he didn't move. He let go of the small figurine in his pocket and stayed as he was, hoping that it had done its job, because he couldn't move even if he wanted to. There was a soft sound and he knew Greg had made it. Slowly, his senses began to come back to him and he heard urgent footsteps heading this way. A second later a door thumped open and there was an intake of breath.

He opened his eyes as long fingered, not ungentle hands turned him over onto his back. Snape. He was in the entrance hall of Hogwarts. He was safe. He smiled, not hearing a single word of what his Head of House was saying and his vision blurred into darkness.

       

"Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It's not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything."

Muhammad Ali.

       

Useless trivia: 'Everlasting Gobstoppers' are from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' by R. Dahl, you know the guy, he wrote all those kids books? Yah.


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