1.1. Hogwarts Corridor, Nexus minus 13 hours
"Harry! Oh, bloody hell!" gasped the man who had appeared out of the cloud of smoke, and Harry was struck by the bizarre thought that if Ginny and Draco Malfoy had a baby and that baby grew up, this was what heíd look like.
The redheaded man pushed his glasses up his nose and took a deep breath, his freckles contrasting unpleasantly with the greenish cast of his skin. He took a step forward, lost his balance, and threw up.
1.2. Draco's Lab, Nexus plus 6 years 333 days
Draco sighed and pushed his glasses up his nose. He tilted his head to one side, then the other, wincing as his neck cracked, then bent over his newest Time Sieve again.
"More arrests have been made today in the Constance case," said the Wireless cheerily, and Draco pressed his lips together but didnít allow his gaze to leave the Sieve. "Aurors are no closer to locating the leader of the Banned Order, but remain hopeful that if enough of her followers are found, one of them may lead them to the elusive Granger. The Head of the Auror Department has remained as close-mouthed as ever when pressed." The radio crackled briefly, and a hubbub of voices could be heard shouting questions.
"The team on this case know what theyíre doing," Harry could be heard saying, his voice impatient. The radio cut back to the reporter. "Mr. Potter has declined to comment further or address rumours that he will be taking on the case himself if results are not seen soon. Mr. Potter was also unwilling to comment on whether the Aurors have made any progress on the topic of the Disappearances, and refused to speculate that they may indeed also be the work of the Banned Order."
"Weíve gone over this before," Harryís voice came through again. "You canít blame them for everything. Granger says theyíre not causing it, and I believe her."
"Do your superiors?"
"How should I know? Ask them. Now get out of my way."
Draco gave a small chuckle and tried to concentrate on his Sieve as the radio babbled on.
"The head of the Wiltshire Factionís Aurors, Ronald Weasley, was just as reluctant to speak when questioned."
Draco looked over at the radio in surprise. Wireless newscasts from Wiltshire? That was new.
"Itís not our business," said Weasley, and Draco could hear his impatience, too. "And no, we are not cooperating. The Ministry Aurors can do what they like to find her in their jurisdiction, but theyíre not coming into our territory."
"Which means she may very well hide in your territory," the reporter pointed out. "Donít your superiors care about that? And donít they care that sheís Muggle-born?"
"They may; I donít," said Weasley. "Besides, it doesnít make any difference. Itís not her birth, itís her crimes that we object to."
"And if youíre asked to cooperate with the Ministry?"
"Not a chance," snapped Weasley.
Draco sighed again, then waved at the Wireless and it switched to a music station. One good thing about the Schisms; more choices on the radio. Not worth it at all, though.
He glanced around his lab idly. It was a horrid mess, as per usual. Piles of parchment in no particular order, most of them bearing only a few scribbles; stacks of tomes falling over; droppings from the bloody owls that brought Draco research from around the world; potion bottles in every stage of fullness and occasional fermentation...
God, he really needed to tidy up in here. This was rather disgusting. Dobby wouldíve been ironing his own hands full-time if heíd ever let things get this run-down back at the Manor.
Well, the Ministry had turned the Manor into a bed and breakfast for Muggles, who no doubt wet the beds every so often if Great-Uncle Betelgeuse was still doing that thing where he wandered about showing people his see-through prick, so it really wasnít Draco's concern any more. He vaguely wondered how Father was doing in his never-ending quest to get the place back into Malfoy hands.
Draco sighed and made himself gaze back into the bowl, trying to focus on the tiny people scurrying about inside. Where the hell were they now? He frowned. Looked like some sort of old, run-down pureblood estate where the money had fled long before the attitude had. The only thing missing were bloody white peacocksÖ
Ah. Right. The Carrow mansion. This was after Voldemortís fall, so of course the Carrow twins were long gone, but Draco could still remember the creepy feeling that generations of malicious Carrows were watching him and his team, as they picked through their pretentious and pointlessly Dark artifacts for the Ministry.
Now -- what the hell was that? That crinkling?
He murmured the Magnify Spell on his glasses, and winced as the figures came into better focus but a sharp stabbing pain got him right between the eyes.
There. Some sort of cloudiness or visual distortion. Vague wavy lines, possibly. Just like two of the other Sieves, but much, much smaller, and not just because of the time difference.
He made a notation on his parchment. July 12th, 2000, five years ago, and measuringÖ damn, it was so infernally hard to see the details of it, even with Spelled glassesÖ measuring about an inch...
He refocused on the swirling fog and wished he had something stiff in him to deal with the nausea and headache caused by the glasses.
Something stiff like a drink, that is. Thereíd been woefully little stiffness of any other sort lately.
He finished his measurements, and moved to the 1990 Sieve. Ah, lovely: a trip to the Alps with his family, and from the look of it, theyíd been resting after a long day spent skiing. He remembered that; all heíd wanted to do was sit and listen to the music of the quartet at the inn, and gaze out the window at the snow falling softly on the darkening slopes, but Mother had insisted on him bringing out his violin and joining in. Not that it hadnít been pleasant too, in its own soothing way, but sometimes he really wondered if it had ever occurred to either of his parents to just let him be a child once in a while.
He made a small notation. This far away in time, there was almost no chance of hearing anything from the Sieve, though the modified Extendable Ears made it a little easier. There was generally nothing of interest in this Sieve anyway; wouldnít be until next year, when heíd begun Hogwarts.
He moved to the 2002 Sieve, but there wasnít much going on there. Too bad; the figures were a bit larger, and wouldíve been easy to see, if not for the occasional clouding.
All right, 2003. Happily, this was Grangerís Sieve, not his, and so he got to look in on Grangerís rather spectacularly unexciting life instead of reliving his own sorry past. If it was his Sieve, heíd be seeing... he checked the date. April 12, 2003. Not too long before his parents final split. No need to see that again.
"You are betraying everything we fought for!" Father had shouted at Mother the last time theyíd spoken. "And you are betraying your vows!"
"You are betraying our family! What is more important than that, Lucius?" Mother had flung back, before Apparating away.
Draco himself, from what he vaguely remembered of that time, had stayed as discreetly drunk as possible as often as possible. And enjoyed the dubious pleasures of Morph Potion.
So, a day in the life of Hermione Granger in 2003. Sheíd still been concerned mostly with research, and with supporting her friends and family as their own lives spun more and more radically out of control and out of sync with one another. Acting as (ridiculously incompetent) marital counsellor to Harry and Ginny and keeping Harryís reputation within the Wizarding community from going down as spectacularly as his marriage was. Trying to play peacemaker to the various factions arising from the War Reparations debacles.
Funny how a life could sound and be so busy and yet be so uninteresting to review. Though he supposed it was going to get mighty interesting mighty fast, as the date of the failed Hopkirk Mission was fast approaching, and with it the beginnings of the Schisms. He supposed he should get other historians in here to see what had happened, from the enemyís point of view. And maybe some of the Aurors as well, to see if they could get any information about the Orderís current whereabouts from the events of Grangerís disappearance. As for Draco, he could live a long and happy life never thinking of any of that again.
Happily, right now Granger was sleeping. Even in sleep, she looked prim and proper, well groomed as he hadn't seen her since... since not too long after this peaceful scene, in fact. He gazed blankly at her tiny form for a few more minutes before making a note and moving on.
All right, 1997, his least favourite year ever. Another era he had no need to revisit. You had to love a year that started with getting a Dark Mark and went downhill from there.
He checked the date. Still stymied with that blasted Vanishing Cabinet. He could so clearly remember the stench of his own fear, that after all those apples and little birds and the occasional rat had died in there, that his test of the thing was going to end up exactly the same, with him dead in a Cabinet - and nobody would find him because that's what the Room of Requirement was, wasn't it? A place where you could never be found. And in the end he'd done it anyway, stepped into it, because he didn't really have a choice. Because it was either step into the Cabinet and come out at Borgin and Burkes, or step in and end up dead, but the choice to simply not step through wasn't viable. He had nowhere to go. He had nothing left; Voldemort was going to kill his mother, and his father, and Draco himself.
And then -- the joy, when he arrived safe and sound, and then came back to Room of Requirement, and couldn't stop himself from an entirely undignified display of joy, whooping and yelling and feeling so, so relieved...
He could still remember it all, the entire year, so very well. And Harry might tease him that it was a measure of his own narcissism that he spent so much of his days watching his own past, but it was bloody excruciating sometimes. Watching his reaction to his fatherís imprisonment. Watching himself in agony as the Mark was burned onto his arm. Watching the pride heíd felt upon his "selection" for Voldemortís special task turn into abject fear. And the stomping episode with Harry on the train at the beginning of the year had been rather mortifying to watch too, because although he could remember the intense pleasure heíd felt at the time, watching it all he could think was Oh MERLIN stop it!! And all he could feel was an almost overwhelming desire to drop a thimbleful of water on the tiny scene below him and drown everyone in the compartment.
In comparison, re-watching his own struggles with his orientation had been almost pleasant. Except for a vague dirty-old-man feeling as heíd watched his fifteen-year-old self discover the joys of Blaise Zabini, and vague curiosity as to whether or not anyone could get off on the sight of tiny little doll-like beings going at it in a bowl, no matter how enthusiastic the tiny little dolls were.
The Ministry had been concerned about voyeurism, so they had placed strict limits on Time Sieve research that said that a researcher could only watch his own past. They had, however, turned a blind eye to his still keeping an eye on the Sieve Granger had abandoned when sheíd fled. The very thought of coming across Granger engaging in anything tawdry with Ron Weasley -- or whoever sheíd shacked up with after disappearing -- made Draco shudder.
There was nothing going on with Zabini right now. He watched a tiny version of himself hurrying down a corridor, probably late for class, its movements weary and nervous. No need to wonder why. Even from way up above here, where the people looked like gnats and the sounds were barely as loud as a whisper, he could remember the desperation in his gut, the sense of doom, the crazy wish that Harry would somehow fix this for him, rescue him as heíd so often mocked him for rescuing others, and sometimes it felt like he was right back there again, and Harry needed to save them all, but this time there wasnít any one thing that could be fixed, no one enemy that could be taken down to bring safety to them all, because it was all out of control...
Something stiff to drink wasnít going to do it. Something mellow to smoke, then. And no, three in one day wasnít a problem. He reached behind the counter and took out his dried Gillyweed and started to roll it up.
1.3. Draco and Harry's home, Nexus plus 6 years 341 days
Draco emerged from his lab to find Harry lounging on the sitting room couch, knocking back a Firewhisky. Harry glanced down at the joint in Dracoís hand. "How many is that, today?" he asked conversationally.
Draco stiffened. "Not that many. Itís been a long day."
"And Iíd had a splitting headache most of the day before I turned to the Gilly," said Draco. He nodded at Harryís now empty tumbler. "You just got in."
"Iím not allowed to have a splitting headache most of the day?"
Harry gave him a humourless grin. "This is a new low for us, I think. Not five minutes home, and already spoiling for a fight."
"I didnít start it."
Harry sighed and shrugged, evidently already bored. "Suit yourself," he said, and took the joint from Dracoís hand. "Howís work?"
"Slow. Iím still not seeing a bloody thing in the newest Sieve."
"Still obsessing over our game in third year?"
"For Godís sake," said Draco, "I donít see why I bother to tell you anything. Iím not still obsessed with that bloody match. That was years ago."
"Not looking for ways to go back and change the outcome?"
"You canít, you dolt. History dovetails. Besides, Iíll have you know that Iíve moved on."
"Iím now obsessing over sixth year."
Harry huffed an unexpected laugh, and grinned at him tiredly. "Come here." He gave Draco a brief kiss and chuckled. "God, I chase after evil wizards bent on destroying the Wizarding world as we know it, and either bringing back pureblood shittery or mucking up what peace weíve got. You spend your days looking at yourself. Says a lot, donít you think?"
"I do not. I spend the bulk of my days researching, not just observing. And the fact that I'm looking at myself is not my doing. I canít look at anybody else. Invasion of Temporal Privacy, or donít you remember?"
"Still, awfully convenient, donít you think?" Harry grinned again. "So, what are the little people doing now?"
"Sadly, nothing exciting at all."
"Five Sieves, and nobodyís doing anything worth noting? This Iíll have to see."
Draco smiled and opened the door to his lab, following Harry inside. Harry gazed down at the tiny figures, fascinated despite the lack of action.
"Have Ron and I already had our oh-so-famous duel here yet?" he asked, looking at Granger's sieve.
Draco shook his head. "That's still a few weeks off, I think."
"Wouldn't mind seeing that from her perspective when it happens."
"Aren't you nicely morbid tonight?" said Draco, and Harry chuckled. "You know, I don't much like seeing the bad parts of my past in here."
"I'm surprised you opened the 1997 Sieve, then. What could possibly be good about that year? Other than seeing Pansy draped all over you, that is?"
Draco grimaced. "Yes, like a shrill pug-nosed afghan." Harry sniggered. "Believe me, I regret opening that one." Although really, that was unkind. Pansy had been a good friend, and it wasn't her fault that every time she went clingy on him he wistfully wished she was Zabini. Or -- he blushed to remember this now -- Cormac MacLaggen, the handsome but relentlessly heterosexual bastard, or even Zacharias Smith. Or, that if he had to have a girl-blanket, she could at least be Astoria Greengrass, with the perfectly sleek chestnut hair and dancing eyes and biting sarcasm, who could make him completely forget that whole epiphany he'd had about how much more he liked boys. The girl had a mouth like a sailor and a sense of humour dirtier than the Hog's Head loo, and he'd always wondered what that mind and mouth would be able to come up with in bed.
"Díyou think youíll ever actually go there?" Harry asked. "Time travel back into the past?"
"That is the whole point of the work Iím doing. Iím fairly sure the spell Iíve devised should work. It's getting back that's tricky."
"And youíd dive into this thing," said Harry, marvelling at it. "How will you fit? Itís about as wide across as a toilet."
"Thanks for that image," Draco grimaced. "I wouldnít dive. Iíd step in."
"And flush yourself into history. The worldís first toilet time traveller."
"Eloquent as ever. If I ever do it, remind me not to hire you to write my press releases."
"I wouldn't call you that. I'd come up with a new, exciting name. Like the Muggles did for the Astronauts."
"Star travellers?" said Draco. "Muggles have gone to the stars?"
"Well, not yet. They're still working on that. But they have gone to the Moon."
"How about Chrononaut?" said Draco.
They gazed in. Draco floated the Extendable Ear over to the bowl, focussing it to get better audio.
"Donít you ever get scared that youíll drop something in and crush them?"
Draco rolled his eyes. "As Iíve explained a dozen times, history dovetails, you twit. I canít change the past, because the past cannot be changed. Even if I did end up going into the past, anything I did would be something that had already happened. It would fit together seamlessly." And Draco had given up pointing out that Harry knew all of this because he'd done it himself once, with the giant chicken monster when they were in third year.
"So why try to become a Chrononaut, if you can't change anything?"
"Because you can learn from the past. You can change your present, and your future, if you comprehend your past."
The 1997 Sieve was actually perfect for just that, he reflected. Re-watching his horrifying failures with Katie Bell and the necklace, and seeing the aftereffects of the poisoned mead on Ron Weasley, had certainly given him plenty of food for thought. His bloody encounter with a bathroom, a drama queen ghost, and Harry's thrilling demonstration of "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" had also made him think -- mostly about how uselessly stupid he'd been during that entire year, but even that could probably prove useful at some point in his future.
"What would you do if you could, though?"
Draco blinked. "What -- díyou mean, what would I do to change the past?"
"Stop myself from saying those asinine things I said about Weasley before we were even Sorted," said Draco after a long pause. "Save us both years of antipathy."
"You turned out to be right about him," said Harry, his voice low, still watching the small figures scurrying about the Time Sieve.
Draco blew out his breath. "No I didnít. Heís neither vacant nor from contemptible family background. In fact, his background is considerably less contemptible than my own."
"So youíd change that? Be more polite to him?"
Draco thought for a moment. "Actually, on second thought, I wouldnít. It would save me years of embarrassment and pettiness, but part of why we got together may have had to do with that very pettiness. Who knows; maybe if youíd taken my hand in school, and become my friend, and come into Slytherin, we might have ended up friendly acquaintances by this point and nothing more." He paused. "We might have ended up as friendly towards each other today as we are with our actual best friends from school."
Harry picked a green apple from their living room fruit bowl and tossed it to Draco with a grin. "Thank God for asinine teenagehood, then," he smiled at Draco and Draco smiled back. Harry came closer and hugged him, then tucked an errant strand of Dracoís hair behind his ear, chuckling. "Eat," he said, nodding at the apple. "Youíre tinting again."
Draco nodded and took a bite of his apple, a warm glow suffusing him. Thank Merlin that somehow they were still able to do this, have these moments of affection, despite everything.
Harry looked back at the Sieve thoughtfully. "Donít you ever get tempted to drop something? That apple, or something? Maybe squish Hagrid under it before he almost killed you with Buckbeak?"
Draco shrugged. "Something would happen to prevent it," he said. "No apple, gigantic or not, ever squished that oaf during my school days, ergo no apple, gigantic or not, could possibly land upon him if I dropped it today. Amusing as it would be." He took a bite of the apple.
"Whatís wrong with those ones?" asked Harry, pointing at one of the other Sieves.
"To be honest, I donít know," said Draco. "Iíve got a few theories..."
"None Iím willing to share at this moment in time."
"You could tell me, but youíd have to kill me?" asked Harry.
"More like I could tell you, but then Iíd have to bore you," said Draco, chuckling.
"Fair enough," said Harry, and stretched, yawning. "Well, Iím going to do some paperwork and then turn in. You?"
"Probably the same," said Draco, and smiled as Harry kissed his cheek on his way to the study. He sighed, watching him go and reflecting that once upon a time they wouldíve gone to bed together -- "going to bed" being a euphemism, as most of their sex life took place outside the bedroom.
But that had been a long time ago. Stress, work, Morph, Gillyweed, all of it conspired against them these days.
He sighed again and looked down at his Sieve again. Maybe he'd find something nice. See one of those spats between Harry and Ginny that Harry swore had started happening as early as sixth year, the ones that had been portents of the later troubles that had pushed them apart. They'd looked so nauseatingly perfect together that year, and he'd seemed so completely unattainable. Draco had been so ridiculously jealous of her. And yet to hear Harry tell, he'd been an arse from the beginning, keeping secrets from Ginny from the beginning, making his own girlfriend feel like a stranger in his life.
Not that Draco couldn't sympathize. Harry had never been good at trusting anyone but Ron and Hermione, and even then he kept a lot from them.
With both of them gone from his life...
Draco cleared his mind and returned to his research.
1.4. Draco and Harry's home, Nexus plus 6 years 354 days
"How are the Wiltshire hearings going?" he asked, as Harry leaned back into his embrace and passed him a joint.
"You donít want to hear about it," said Harry, staring at their flickering fireplace.
Draco held the smoke in for a moment, then exhaled. "Any closer to extraditing my father?"
"No. Ronís fighting me tooth and nail over that."
"Really?" Dracoís eyebrows went up as he passed the joint back.
"Yeah. Thereís no love lost between them, I donít think, but itís the principle of the thing."
Draco nodded. "Iíll tell Mother. She'll probably leap at the chance to help you." He paused, shifting a bit on the sofa before settling Harry back against his shoulder. "What about Granger? Any closer to tracking her down?"
"No. Not at all." Harry sighed and took a deep drag. "And itís so stupid. Sheís not the leader of the Banned Order; sheís just the closest thing they have to a brain. Or a conscience."
"But sheís young and clever and dynamic," Draco pointed out. "Plus itís hard for anyone to take Arthur Weasley seriously, whether the Order calls him their leader or not."
"The Minister takes him seriously."
"Heís still pushing to target him more than Granger?"
"As always," Harry sighed. "Enough about my day. What about that cloudiness issue in your little bowls?"
"You donít want to hear about it."
"Maybe I do," said Harry quietly, swirling around the whisky in his glass. "Maybe I want to know a lot about your work, because I donít understand it at all, but at least it doesnít make me sick, like mine does."
Draco sighed and stroked his hair. No doubt. Just hearing about Harryís work made him sick sometimes. Made him wonder if maybe the Order had the right of it after all, and the Auror department was nothing but a collection of thugs doing their very best to make Voldemortís days seem like a happy memory. Yes, it these were dangerous times, yes, you had to fight fire with fire, yes, the Wiltshire faction often seemed no better... but some days...
"Hard day at the office, then, love?" Draco asked. Harry took a deep drink, and silently beckoned for the joint again. "Harry."
Nothing more forthcoming. One of those days. Draco cleared his throat. "Speaking of my work, and Granger. Thereís something I wanted to talk to you about."
"What?" Harry passed back the joint, grimacing, and washed away the taste with whisky.
"I know itís awkward right now with the Banned Order."
"My work, though, is leading me to where Iím not sure I can go any farther."
Draco carded his fingers through Harry's hair. "And you know thereís only one person I can--"
"No," said Harry flatly, and Draco suppressed a wince.
"I said no." Harry downed the rest of his whisky, sat up, and reached for the bottle on the coffee table to pour himself another.
Draco inwardly rolled his eyes. "Little early to get sloshed, donít you think?" he said mildly, sitting up as well.
"Maybe. Youíre still not calling her."
"Too difficult to justify bringing her in without arresting her. The diplomatic red tape alone, not to mention the trouble it would cause if the Wiltshire Faction--"
"You know Weasley wonít object."
"I donít care what he will or wonít object to. I object."
"Bloody hell, Harry. Not much bitterness in you, is there?"
"Go to bed, Draco."
"Weíre going to talk about this again," said Draco, picking up his own drink and standing.
"Youíll get the same answer," said Harry. Draco sighed and went to his lab.
The problem was, he didnít know where else to go with this.
Story of his life right now.
He drained his glass and contemplated going back, trying to talk to Harry... but it was pointless. Talking didnít help. Sex helped, sometimes, and whisky and Gillyweed and Morph helped too. The violin used to help, he thought, as he sat down and watched himself play in one of the Sieves. But he hadnít picked up a violin in years. Didnít even know where it was stored any more.
He put his head in his hands, abruptly weary, and felt his heart sink as he recognized an inevitable wave of gloom about to overtake him. It was the Morph, he knew that, but it didnít make it much easier to take when it came because everything just got so overwhelming and...
And it was all wrong. All of it. Not just his research and the disturbing discoveries he was making, but all of it. The fact that he couldnít talk to Harry about it, that Harry shut him down so frequently, that their once feverish need for one another had been worn down to indifference and occasional affection by... life, really... the fact that the boy heíd fallen in love with had grown into a man who sometimes frightened him with his single-minded dedication to his goals, even when he didnít even seem to particularly believe in those goals, the fact that heíd been compared to Voldemort more than once and sometimes Draco didnít even disagree with the comparison...
No, that was going too far. But it was wrong, their life together, the world in general, his reliance on Gillyweed and Morph, Harryís reliance on whisky...
"Draco?" Harryís voice startled him briefly but he was too far gone to care right now. Heíd be fine, this always passed relatively quickly, but he really didnít need to deal with Harryís impatience right now--
"Draco, whatís wrong?"
Draco shrugged, raising his head from his hands and taking a deep breath. "Nothing, just tired."
Harry frowned. "Look, Iím sorry--"
"Donít be," Draco said. "Rather not talk about it." He stood up, moving to the drink cupboard. "Did you come back for a bottle?"
Harry frowned, hesitated, then approached him. "Come here," he said, holding out his hand, and Draco took it. "Look, Iím sorry. All right? Iím sorry for what I said, Iím sorry I donít understand your work..."
"Harry I donít really want to discuss--" and he was startled when Harry leaned close and brushed a kiss against his cheek.
"Itís all right," Harry whispered. "We donít have to talk about anything." He paused. "We donít have to do anything but this." He kissed Draco again and the faint taste of whisky whispered against Dracoís tongue. Draco pulled back slightly, and Harry suddenly seemed unsure of himself.
Oh for Godís sake. After this long, he was going to get delicate because Harryíd had a mite to drink? He leaned forward and took Harryís lips again, and sighed as they parted under his. He ran a hand through Harryís hair, cupping the back of his head, and brought them together. Harry smiled against his lips. "We donít have to do anything else," he agreed. "Weíve got right now."
"Weíve got right now," Harry repeated. It was like a mantra to them. Right now, because for some reason they never talked much about the past or the future.
Was it because they didnít have a future?
He stroked Harry, and Harry ran a hand down to his trousers. "Well. What have we here?"
Draco sniggered. "If I have to explain it to you, really, thereís not much point--"
Harry chuckled and ran his fingers down and effectively stopped Dracoís powers of speech. "Itís been a while, hasnít it?" he asked softly. Draco closed his eyes. Yes, it had been. Between work and politics and the fucking, fucking potions and Gilly, it had been so long...
Harryís hands were stealing into his trousers, deftly undoing his flies, and Draco gasped.
"Comes back quickly, doesnít it?" said Harry.
"Like flying a broomstick," Draco moaned. "Oh, God, donít stop that."
"Wouldnít dream of it." He leaned forward and took Dracoís mouth in a long kiss. "I know... I know we donít..." he hesitated another moment, then shook his head and touched their lips together again hungrily.
This was what they needed, and Why the hell donít we do it more often? Draco thought feverishly as Harry plundered his mouth and finally took him in his hand. He leaned his head back against the wall as Harry dropped to his knees and engulfed him in one swallow, Dracoís fingers carding through Harryís hair as Harryís tongue danced around him and the pleasure rose faster than any potion, any Gillyweed high.
"Harry, Iím going to--" he gasped.
Harry chuckled and renewed his efforts, the pleasure spiking through Draco as he braced himself against the wall and panted, his hips involuntarily pumping up despite his best efforts to not choke Harry, and from the sound and movement he could vaguely tell Harry was working himself in tandem with the suction, then he couldnít hold back any more and he groaned as his climax rushed through him and out of him and Harry moaned around him, and then he was pulling Harry up frantically, the aftershocks racing through him as he closed his hand over Harryís and fell into Harryís rhythm and Harry blindly mouthed his neck, small whimpers escaping him, and then moved to his jaw, his temple, and down, and--
"Oh God Draco--" and Harry came in his hand, gasping into his mouth, holding him close, shudders shaking them both.
Oh God indeed. And thank God for these moments of grace.
1.5. Truce House, Nexus plus 6 years 364 days
And here she was, the elusive Hermione Granger, her utter panic at suddenly finding herself trapped turning to confusion as she recognized the mishmash threadbare furnishings of the Truce House.
"Granger, look, Iím sorry--"
"Is Harry all right?" she interrupted him.
"Yes, heís fine."
Grangerís eyes narrowed. "Then what is it, Malfoy? Youíd better have a bloody good reason to use the Truce."
"I do," said Draco, keeping his voice admirably free of irritation, he thought. "Iím using it exactly as itís intended to be used. For a purpose greater than the War."
"You know the research you were doing in Time Keepers before the Schisms?"
Granger, if possible, looked even more put out. "Are you seriously telling me you breached Secrecy and used a Truce Charm to talk to me about research I did five years ago--"
"Well Iím doing it now, and I need your help. I wouldnít use the Truce if it wasnít important. For one thing, Harryís going to kill me when he finds out."
"He doesnít know--"
"No. He expressly told me not to contact you."
Granger pursed her lips. "And you did anyway."
"Come," said Draco. "I need to show you something." He led the way to where he'd set up the Sieves, Granger following him with a bemused look on her face.
"Iíve got five going, now," he said, waving his wand at the sconces so they flared to life. "1990, 1997, 2000, 2002 and 2003. Look at the later Sieves. See that... cloudiness?"
She nodded, absently braiding back her unkempt hair and brushing a smudge of dirt off her face as she leaned over the Sieve. "I remember seeing it when I first made my 2000 Sieve. I thought it was my methodology. I thought I just needed to make the image clearer."
"I thought it was, too. Thought Iíd fixed whatever the problem was when I made my first Sieve, going back farther in time, but then the images were so bloody small I thought maybe it was just harder to see the clouds. So I made another one for 1995--"
"You made two in one year?" Granger gave him a suspicious look. "And survived? Iíd no magic for weeks after just making one."
"I thought Iíd found a way to prevent magic drain, by protecting my aura with a Schermo spell."
"And did you?"
"I went into a coma for two weeks."
"Pride goeth before the fall," said Granger, her mouth quirking with only slightly malicious amusement.
"It wasnít pride; it was extensive knowledge of Italian Magic Preservation Theory. Specifically Damien Franzaniís latest work, which I would highly recommend, especially the second-last volume of--" Draco stopped himself. The look of fascination on Grangerís face was not the point of this Truce kidnapping, after all, welcome as it was after only ever talking to Harry about his work and mostly eliciting only baffled incomprehension from him. "Never mind. The point is, that Sieve was clear. When I was finally able to look at it without passing out."
"So you assumed youíd fixed my problem? And now you donít think so?"
"For one thing, I made one for 1999 the next year and it showed the same clouding, only much smaller. For another thing, I developed these for better visibility." He handed her his magnified glasses. "Look. Look closely at the newer Sieves."
She gave him a suspicious stare, then peered into the Sieves in order. "What... the... hell... was that?" she muttered, peering at the 2003 Sieve. She leaned closer. "Itís not just clouded. Itís..."
"Itís not clouded at all. Itís fractured."
"What?" She looked up.
"Itís fractured. Look. Those are fracture points. Not really clouds at all."
Granger looked fascinated, and Draco cursed the bloody Schisms that made her his enemy. Oh, to have that keen intellect to work with every day.
"Why is that?"
"I donít know. I have theories, though." He passed her his scroll, and waited patiently as she read. She finally looked up, shocked.
"Time doesnít dovetail," Draco said, nodding. "At least, it doesnít always. And it looks like at some point, time was fractured."
Granger swallowed. "Somethingís gone wrong."
"And it went wrong here," said Draco, nodding at the 1997 Sieve. "Iíve plotted back my measurements of the fractures in the more recent Sieves, and Iím not sure exactly when in 1997, but thatís when whatever it was happened."
"Then we need to find it."
1.6. Truce House, Nexus plus 7 years 11 days
Draco watched as the wards went up and the room began to shiver. Ten minutes before the Wilshire Faction and the Banned Order arrived.
The Truce House had a little of everything that made the British Wizarding world so special, post-Schisms. Where else could you see Mad-Eye Moodyís official picture glaring down at you from the same wall that held Albus Dumbledoreís twinkling battiness and Minerva McGonagallís tartan grimness? Ministry-issue parchment and quills with "Sanity, Loyalty, and Constant Vigilance" slogans engraved on them, pureblood House motifs on the wallpaper, and phoenixes on the wall sconces -- it all added up to an assault on the eyes and sense of aesthetics.
The heavily tartan furniture and carpet decor had to have been McGonagallís idea as well, and Draco once again smirked internally at the idea of his father dealing with her on a daily basis. Yes, the purebloods had needed someone to champion their basic rights after Voldemortís fall. But necessity made for strange bedfellows.
A brief, horrid image of Lucius Malfoy and Minerva McGonagall on a bed together flashed through his mind, though thankfully the covers were drawn up to their chins. Still: ugh. Enough to put anyone off sex for life.
The factions had finally settled on five representatives from each group: one from government, one from Law Enforcement, one Spell Expert, and two others, whoíd turned out to be sort of representatives from the most conservative to the most progressive elements of each. Of course, with the Banned Order, it was mostly nominal, as they didnít really have a formal government per se, but so far (for once) nobody seemed particularly interested in being difficult. Evidently both of Dracoís counterpart Spell Experts had convinced their people that this was serious.
Draco glanced around at the others. Harry was pacing, brooding as usual. Moody, well, you could never tell what that bastard was thinking, and the very idea that he was Minister still gave Draco the willies, but what the hell, at least he wasnít glaring at Draco with that god-awful eye of his. Dracoís mother sat at the table and studied her nails, pointedly ignoring the other three.
"Youíre late," she snapped at Fred Weasley as he exited the Floo. Weasley glared at her but didnít bother to reply, and gave Moody and Harry a tight nod.
They couldnít even get along within their own group. And if Draco knew anything about the personalities involved, the Wiltshire faction almost certainly enjoyed the same level of peace and harmony as his did.
"Finally," grunted Moody, and took up the parchment with the names of the other representatives. He waved his wand. "Open to the enemy as you open to the friend," he muttered, "and allow Arthur Weasley, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Hermione Granger, George Weasley, and Severus Snape into this place."
He shoved the parchment at Draco, who wondered if the brusque, offhand way he spoke the names of the senior Weasley and Shacklebolt, once two of his strongest allies, was a reflection of his true feelings or just an act.
He took the parchment and waved his wand. "Open to the enemy as you open to the friend," he said, "and allow Minerva McGonagall, Ronald Weasley, Padma Patil, William Weasley, and," he paused briefly, "Lucius Malfoy into this place." The wards shimmered and then steadied and he put the parchment down, looking up as Harry put a gentle hand on his shoulder.
Harry gazed at him wordlessly. It was also moments like this that mattered, where he could feel Harryís love and concern without Harry needing to say a word. He covered Harryís hand with his and gave it a brief squeeze.
The Floo came to life and Ron Weasley stepped out, followed by his relentlessly handsome eldest brother and the rest of the Wiltshire team. The Weasleys gave curt nods to Harry and Fred, ignoring Draco and his mother and Moody, but Draco barely noticed them as he braced himself for the arrival of the one Wiltshire delegate he was least eager to see.
"Hello, Father," said Draco quietly as Lucius finally stepped out, and his father gave him a cool nod. The stony silence between his parents was as cold as ever.
The Floo burst to life again as the Banned Order came through, and Draco reflected that the hell of the Schisms wasnít so much the former friends and family who had no use for one another any more; it was the ones who still cared, still loved their bitter enemies. The hell of it was there in Grangerís eyes as she gazed at Ron Weasley and Harry. It was there in the sorrow in Severusís voice as he murmured a hello to Draco and his mother, as he ignored Luciusís sneer.
Father could feel hatred for Severus, for his perceived betrayal of what Father saw as the only right way. Draco couldnít manage it, not with Severus, who had tried so hard to help him, had risked so much on his behalf. The choices heíd made since then, that made him Dracoís enemy, didnít matter.
"All right," said Draco, taking charge. "Letís get started. I trust youíve all read the reports?"
There was general agreement.
"And you have verified my findings?" He turned to the two other Spell Experts, who both nodded.
"Heís right," said Granger. "Weíre not a dovetail. Weíre an alternate timeline."
"And it's a timeline that isnít stable," added Patil.
"You say itís possible that this is related to the disappearances and other odd occurrences that have been happening in the last few years?" asked McGonagall.
"Well, it seems to fit. The Aurors certainly canít explain them, and neither can the Department of Mysteries," said Draco.
"The Obliviators are earning their pay, keeping people from panicking," said Moody. "And itís all I can do to keep the people from thinking itís one of you lot," he growled.
"Trying hard to keep them nice and quiet-like, are you, Moody?" said George Weasley bitterly.
"Yeah, he is," snapped Fred Weasley. "Itís something weíre good at. Not scaring holy hell out of everyone for no good reason."
"Lying to them, you mean," George snapped back.
"George, this doesnít help," Granger put her hand on his arm and he subsided, glaring at Fred with disgust that was perfectly mirrored on his twinís face.
Funny how little they looked like each other now, now that Fred wore Ministry robes and George was as bearded and rough-looking as the rest of the Order members.
"I take it this was found through your original research," said Bill Weasley to Granger.
Granger nodded. "I began research into Time Magic several years ago," she said. "And it wasnít totally original research; I got started using the writings of Magda Geschichte, a Time Magic researcher from the 1950s. Harry had come across her writings during Auror Training, and passed them on to me. I created a device called a Time Sieve, a sort of hybrid between a Pensieve and a crystal ball. Where a Pensieve is made to contain memories which can only be properly seen by entering the Pensieve, a crystal ball presents glimpses of the future and presents them to a Seer. A Time Sieve presents the past in the manner that a crystal ball presents the future. Unfortunately, itís incredibly hard to see into the Sieve; the farther back in time you go, the smaller the figures and the softer the sounds."
"And what about going into a Sieve, like you do with a Pensieve?"
"Theoretically one could step into the Sieve, the same as one does for a Pensieve, and see the events in the past first-hand, but I hadnít done it yet. I was doing research into it, but I had no idea what would happen to anybody who stepped back in time."
"Why didnít you finish your research?"
"Political considerations," Granger said levelly.
"And health reasons," added George.
"What health reasons?" asked Patil.
"Someone was trying to kill her," said George. "Several someones, actually."
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"Draco has taken over my research, though. Iíll turn this over to him."
"Iíve been studying Time Magic for the last few years and made a number of discoveries, most of which arenít relevant so I wonít bore you with them," said Draco. "The only relevant one is this: there are cracks in time. When I look into the recent past in a Sieve, there are places that appear clouded, but are in fact fractured. And the closer we get to the present, the more there are."
"Precisely what does that mean?" asked Severus.
"I didnít know, at first. And Iím still not absolutely sure. But I began to get curious, so I started looking at what had happened in the times where Iíd seen a lot of clouding. I found all sorts of reports of strange things happening: people going missing; buildings disappearing; strange clouds hovering in the air. And nobody can accurately describe any of them."
"What do you believe is causing this clouding?"
"Paradoxes, I believe. Things that were supposed to happen a certain way and now canít, because somethingís been changed."
"Why do you think so?" asked McGonagall.
"Because of Magda Geschichteís writings. Iíd come across a discussion of the possibility in some of her last papers, but it had been discounted by researchers whoíd looked into the topic since then."
"What do you mean by paradoxes?"
"Itís like this," said Patil. "We know, for example, that Rufus Scrimgeour became Minister for Magic in 1996."
"Right," said Harry.
"And that he lost to Mad-Eye in a vote of No Confidence in 1999."
"Obviously," said Severus, glancing at Moody.
"What if Rufus never became Minister at all? Then the election of 1999 would not proceed the way it was supposed to. Election-related events -- speeches, debates -- might contain odd events and disappearances, and show up clouded in the Time Sieve."
"Only election-related events?" asked Ron. "I would think if anything changed the past, it would create these clouded areas, all over the place. I mean, Scrimgeour not becoming Minister would mean that the day after he became Minister, when he was supposed to have made his ĎThese are dark times aheadí speech, heíd be at home and, I dunno, go to the loo, and the bathroom would get clouded and heíd disappear down the toilet or something. Right?"
"Thank you for that image," said Granger, rolling her eyes. "No, in fact, according to Geschichte, most post-change events wouldnít be in danger of having that happen, because the events themselves would still be possible. Yes, everybody would be doing something different that day, but it wouldnít be all that different from what they wouldíve done in an unpolluted timeline. Except for a few people -- Rufusís press secretary, his family, a few people like that -- most people would do what they were going to do anyway. And although Rufus would probably not do exactly what he would have done as Minister on that day, and would end up not living in the Ministerís mansion, he would still be married to the same woman, visiting the same friends, doing the same things -- quite likely even at the same times that he would have done them otherwise. The timeline is apparently able to deal with a few small personal differences."
"Didnít you tell me a theory once, about how a hurricane can be caused by a butterfly beating its wings halfway around the planet or something?" said Ron, and Dracoís eyebrows went up. How bizarre to hear either of them refer to their shared past. "You said the slightest change could have consequences youíd never be able to imagine."
"Yes, the Butterfly Effect," said Granger. "Geschichte didnít put much store in that."
Patil nodded. "Another example, the old story about ĎFor want of a nail, the shoe was lostí and all that, ending in the loss of the kingdom -- thatís not the way time works. A horseshoe normally has a number of nails. All that will usually happen is that some day when you go to get the hooves looked at, the farrier will replace one more nail. No difference at all."
"So whatís changed?" asked Ron.
"We believe that gradually the differences between the original timeline and ours have become larger and larger," said Granger, "until time can no longer compensate. Scrimgeour divorcing his wife, for example, where he might not have, had he been Minister. Not meeting the people he would have met had he been Minister. Not to mention the differences in the personal life of whoever became Minister in his place. And then the cumulative differences, getting more and more frequent. Mad-Eye, for example, might have become Minister in the next election anyway, and hopefully brought us closer to what was Ďsupposedí to have happened... but maybe not. Maybe without Rufus as an opponent, Mad-Eye might not have won the next election. More differences; more divergence of timelines. Not just in the lives of Rufus and Mad-Eye, but whoever became Minister instead of them, and everyone who worked for them, everyone affected by their policies..."
"Yeah but all of that couldíve happened even if the change had been a really small one," Ron insisted. "Eventually there would be a lot of small changes that would add up to really big changes."
"Geschichte described it as though Time were a house," said Granger. "Remove one brick, and in all likelihood it wonít fall down. If itís a corner brick, it might."
"We are to take it a corner brick was removed?" said Severus.
"Essentially, yes," she replied.
"And we are part of a Ďdivergingí timeline, then?"
"Diverging since when?" asked Moody.
"I believe I may have located what weíre calling a Nexus," said Draco. "Itís where the clouds seem to originate in terms of time and space. They donít originate from there, of course, they... itís... hard to describe," he trailed off, and suddenly very much wished for some Morph to dull the discomfort of all these people staring at him in incomprehension. He closed his eyes, briefly, making sure he was still concentrating enough to keep the freckles out of sight. And the hair. Not for the first time, he wondered if he should just admit defeat and just colour it all.
"So where is it? When is it?"
"Itís June 12, 1997. At Hogwarts."
There was a ringing silence as the others absorbed the information.
"Good Lord," murmured Arthur Weasley.
"Youíre serious?" asked Moody.
"Yes. As far as I can tell, somebody went back in time, and changed something on that day. Made that day not happen the way it was supposed to."
"June 12, 1997," began Fred.
"The day that..." said George.
"The day that Albus Dumbledore took a short trip off the Astronomy Tower," said Moody.
"And thatís caused time to go badly?" said Severus. "To diverge and keep diverging until now there are numerous cracks in time, and they are becoming larger and more frequent?"
"Thatís what we believe," said Granger. "Something that happened on that day and in that place. You must admit, it probably counts as a cornerstone of history."
Bill Weasley sighed heavily. "All right, then. Do we have any solutions?"
"Yes," said Draco. He nodded at Granger and Patil. Time to explain this, and make it palatable.
"There are two possible solutions that Geschichte wrote about," said Patil. "The first is what she called Ďpatchingí. Itís like patching a house; the weakness is seen, patched, and the house remains as it was. Time is solid again."
"And how do you do that?"
"Geschichte believed that if temporal divergence occurred, it might be possible to develop a way to compare an original timeline to an altered one, and try to weave a spell that would fix the cracks in the altered one. Itís not clear whether the spell would somehow make the new timeline stronger, or bring it closer to the original timeline. The research Iíve done into this -- and Iíve done more than Malfoy or Hermione -- looks promising. I think itís doable. Possible, even."
"How would that be possible?" said Arthur. "What could you possibly do now, seven years after that date, to bring us closer to what the original timeline would have been?"
"Itís impossible," said Fred.
"Not impossible," said Draco. "Not according to Geschichte. And she knew more about Time Magic than anyone else."
"You said it was all speculative, though," pointed out Ron Weasley.
"You donít exactly sound reassuring," Bill.
"To be honest... weíre not enthused about it," admitted Granger. "It looks a bit like trying to mend a ripped cloth when youíre running out of thread--"
"Loathe though I am to interrupt your brilliant presentation," said Severus. "Is Time a house, a horseshoe, a butterflyís wing, or a piece of cloth?"
"Itís all of those, and none of them," said Granger patiently. "We speak in confusing images because we donít have the proper vocabulary for discussions relating to the fabric of time. Itís like trying to explain Ďsweetí when youíve never had a sense of taste at all. Would you describe it as a sort of a soft, high sound on your tongue? Or like a reddish colour? Like silk?"
"The point is," said Draco, "patching doesnít look terribly promising. Like patching a hole in a wall when youíre not sure you have enough nails. And the problem is that I donít think the house can be saved," said Draco. "Itís falling apart, and I donít think we can patch it. Itís time to either put back the stone that was taken off, or patch extensively, and I very much doubt we will have time to do enough research to figure out what Geschichte herself hadnít fully explored, figure out how to detect the cracks, and how to patch them, before our time runs out and the Disappearances destroy everything."
"Do you have a Plan B?" asked Moody.
"Itís Plan A, actually," said Patil.
"What is it?"
"Somebody has to go back in time, to the Nexus," said Granger. "And fix whatever happened."
"What do you mean?" asked McGonagall.
"Go back and make events happen properly. The way they should have."
"The problem is," said Patil, "that if we put back that one stone, the rest of the house will not be how we know it."
"It would be preferable to having it collapse all about us," McGonagall pointed out.
"You think we can send someone to the past," said Moody. "And that would fix the paradoxes? Make everything go as it should have gone?"
"If nothing else, it might bring back the people whoíve died in this pointless war," said Arthur.
"Youíre admitting itís pointless, now?" said Moody.
"Itís always been pointless," said George. "If you lot would stop attacking us, the war would stop."
"If you lot stopped behaving like you belong in St. Mungoís Idiot Ward, the war would stop," shot back Fred.
"What do you think of patching?" Arthur asked Granger, giving his sons a pained look.
"I have to agree with Malfoy," said Granger. "I donít think itíll work. Padmaís good. Very good. And if she says she can come up with a spell to help us figure out how to patch, I believe her. But..."
"But I canít say when itíll happen," Patil admitted. "I donít know how long it would take to perfect it. I donít know how many people would be involved doing the patches, and whether it might not just make things even worse."
"And in the meanwhile, we do have some idea -- theoretically at least -- of how to travel back in time," said Granger, "and fix this at its source."
"Iím assuming weíre all thinking this means somebody would have to save Albus Dumbledore," said McGonagall.
"Wait, how do you know it was actually Dumbledoreís fall that day that caused everything to go wrong, though?" said Ron.
"Do you doubt that he would have made a difference if heíd still been able to lead us?"
"Thatís not what Iím asking," said Ron. "I mean -- the progress of the war aside -- what if the Nexus wasnít Dumbledoreís fall, but something entirely different that happened that day? Who knows -- maybe it was a house elf who was tricked into picking up a sock that day and its freedom changed everything."
"I think we need to study this more," said Arthur.
"Weíre running out of time to study it," said Granger. "The Nexus is approaching. Soon it may be too late."
"What díyou mean?"
"Draco has a Sieve opened to the days before Dumbledoreís fall, but the day of that event is approaching."
"Then make another Sieve open to an earlier time, then. Buy us time."
"Iím not sure I can," said Draco. "Itís bloody difficult to make a Sieve. Iíve only been able to do it four times, after a lot of effort, almost a yearís worth in each case. And while I faff about with that, the fractures continue to increase."
"Well," said Bill. "Assuming we do decide to send someone back to fix this, whoíll go? And how will they come back to the present?"
Draco shook his head. "Whoever goes canít come back," he said. "We have no way of returning. Whoever it was would be going back in time seven years, and would have to wait until now to meet everyone again."
Harry stared at him. "And what happens to the rest of us, when the past had been fixed?"
"Seven years," said Moody. "A lot could change in seven years. If Albus hadnít fallen that night... who knows what any of us would be doing right now."
George nodded, brooding. "A lot of things might have turned out very different."
"Some people who died might not have," said Fred. "Like Neville Longbottom. And Colin Creevey."
"And some who are alive now might not be," said Moody.
"Thatís worth considering," said McGonagall. "What if Albus Dumbledoreís salvation could prevent the Schisms, but kill off individuals? What if certain people who are alive now died in that timeline, because of Dumbledore?"
"Weíre talking about Time itself breaking down here," said Harry, annoyed. "That affects all of us. Itís already making people disappear, and the disappearances are speeding up. So what if saving Dumbledore killed individuals?" He paused. "Even if I knew it would kill me, I would still vote for it, in a heartbeat, if that meant the rest of you could be safe."
"How very noble of you," sneered Lucius.
"Heíd do it, too," said Ron.
"Heís still holding on to his pathetic fantasy about having to be the one to kill the Dark Lord," snapped Lucius. "His willingness to engage in pointless heroics has nothing to do with saving us and everything to do with his narcissistic need to be The Chosen One."
"Whoís talking narcissism, Malfoy?" Ron snapped back. "Youíre only disagreeing with him so you can--"
"Weasley. Malfoy. Enough," said McGonagall impatiently, and both men bristled but closed their mouths. Draco had an uncanny flashback to the many times sheíd said those exact same words in Transfigurations class. It felt a little unreal, having his father step into Dracoís place.
"He wouldnít be going," said Draco. "I would."
Beside him, his mother uttered a small sound of dismay. Luciusís eyes widened slightly before he got his expression under control.
"You said it was only theoretical," said Dracoís mother. "You... why would you go yourself?"
"For one thing, itís my Sieve, showing me my own past," said Draco. "Itís familiar territory. Anyone else would have to try to remember what they were doing at that time, and extrapolate where they would likely be. It would be much easier for me."
"And although nobodyís done it yet -- that we know of -- Padma and Draco and I have been doing some preliminary research on this," said Granger. "And Iím fairly sure Iíve worked out a few of the uncertainties Draco had been unable to deal with. He should be able to do it."
"And you trust her?" said Lucius, addressing Draco for the first time in years. His fatherís face was slightly paler than usual, Draco noted. Was he actually concerned for his safety?
"Yes," said Draco.
"A Muggle-born?" Luciusís lip curled with a sneer.
"I trust her too," said Ron quickly.
"As do I," said McGonagall. Bill Weasley and Padma Patil nodded their agreement.
"So Lucius, your entire group's going against you," smirked George. "Not too happy with having let Muggle-loving members into your little club now, are you? No matter how pureblooded they are, blood treason shows, doesnít it?"
"This has nothing to do with blood treason and everything to do with logic and rationality," said McGonagall.
"Which you brave little rebels could stand getting acquainted with," said Fred.
"George, please," said Arthur, putting a hand on his sonís arm as George opened his mouth for a retort. "How soon do you estimate somebody would have to travel?"
"To get to the past with any hope of influencing the Nexus? Less than two weeks. To prevent time from breaking down beyond repair? Less than six months."
"How long does it take to make a Time Sieve?"
"About six months or so."
"So, really, whoever it is would have to travel back in less than two weeks."
"Those are all estimates," said Lucius. "Youíre engaging in fear-mongering worthy of the Order. Not surprising, considering who is assisting you." He glanced at Granger.
Arthur Weasley pressed his lips together and ignored him. "I think itís worth getting more information. Hermione, please consider this your highest priority. Take whoever you need to help you."
"What if we come back with proof? Proof that going back in time is what we need to do in order to stop these rips from happening?"
"Then we shall decide what to do," said Lucius.
"Who is Ďweí?" asked Granger. "This group?"
"We are here, we are representatives from all three factions. And we will need the resources of all three factions to figure out how to do this and carry it out," said McGonagall.
"This doesnít just touch us, though," said Arthur.
"Well, Iím sorry that we canít bring in wizard representatives from outside the British Isles--" Lucius said sarcastically.
"Not just that. It affects the Muggle world."
"I can tell you for certain that the Muggle world would want to change," said Granger. "Theyíre the ones suffering the most. Not that the rest of you care," she said, giving Ron a scathing glance.
Oh, good, thought Draco, and sat back to watch the bloodletting as the three factions began to tear into each other. Once he would have been thrilled to see this kind of thing -- infighting among enemies. Now it just made him sad.
He wished for some Gilly or Morph. Automatically checked his hands. Good. No freckles. He sighed and sent his thoughts ahead, out of this room with its bickering representatives, back to his lab and his Sieve, and his need to do something, anything, to make the crawling anxiety die down.
"I simply don't see this as the responsible thing to do right away," Arthur was saying a while later. "We don't know enough."
"We know that the timeline is cracking," said Granger. "Those blank spots--"
"Can you prove that it's due to this change in the past?"
"I can't prove it, no--" said Granger.
"But we are running out of time," said Patil. "Look, all three of us believe it's happened."
"What will happen to us, if Dumbledore is saved?" asked Lucius.
"We don't know," admitted Patil.
"Look, I was a friend of Dumbledore's," said Arthur. "I would love to be able to see him strong and healthy again, but--"
"But the fact is that the man was already dying before that night," Snape said impatiently. "You know that. He would have had less than a year of life left anyway."
"He could have used that year to--" began Harry.
"Could have doesn't matter," said Snape.
"No, what could have happened doesn't matter," George said impatiently. "What matter is that whatever it was, it should have happened."
"Would you still say that if in this supposedly intact timeline, you died?" said Lucius. "Or been permanently injured or maimed, or driven mad?"
"Typical Slytherin cowardice, looking out for nobody but yourself," said Harry, and Draco rolled his eyes.
"Think we're done here," said Moody, cutting off the bickering that was sure to follow. "We're taking a vote. All in favour?"
There was a rustle of disquiet in the group, and then hands started to go up.
"Against?" He paused to count hands. "Abstain?" He paused again. "Right, then, six vote to go ahead, four against, five abstentions."
"We do nothing, then," said Draco, feeling ill. "Albus Dumbledore tumbles down the Astronomy Tower, and I'll get to watch it in my Sieve in thirteen more days. Any of you feel like witnessing it yourselves, by all means come and take a look on that day."
1.7. Truce House, Nexus plus 7 years 23 days
"The Nexus is in less than a day," said Draco thirteen days later. "And my father will not allow us to do anything about it." He looked around at the small group of glum, exhausted people who had gathered at the Truce House.
Patil sighed. "Look, I can keep trying, Iím pretty sure we can still get the delegates to--"
"Theyíll never agree," said Granger. "They will discuss to death what all of this means, and by the time theyíve made sense of it, itíll be too late."
"It wonít do any good," Draco agreed wearily. How fucking infuriating. Lucius had always been a piss-poor father -- Draco could understand that now as he hadnít been able to as a child -- and in the last few years since the Schisms had not said a single word to him or to Mother, but in this circumstance Draco couldnít say for sure that it wasnít belated paternal concern fuelling his obstructionism. What bloody awful timing. "My father wonít budge."
"And McGonagallís too close to losing control of the Wiltshire Faction to the Death Eaters as it is to keep fighting him," said Ron Weasley. "And heís got my father, of all people, convinced that we 'need more information' before making any rash decisions."
"And Moody doesnít trust me or my research," said Draco. "And he doesnít trust Harry with anything that has to do with me, and hasnít trusted Granger since she went over, and--" He stopped himself. "Thereís no point in discussing this any longer. We will not be able to get everyone to agree, or even to carry a majority vote. But this isnít a democracy, and we donít actually need their approval."
"I canít believe Iím saying this," said Granger, "but youíre right. I canít convince Arthur, and I hate to go against him, but..."
"You are sure that the Nexus concentrates on Fenrir Greyback, then?" said Severus.
"Padma confirmed it," Granger nodded. "The fracture lines concentrate on both him and Dumbledore, on the Tower. Unfortunately..."
Patil stepped in. "Unfortunately thereís a slight complication. Weíve found itís not just one focal point or Nexus."
"The others arenít as big, though," said Draco. "And itís quite possible that if we deal with the big one, the others will disappear."
"But it still muddies the water a bit," said Granger.
"What are the other disturbances?" asked Severus.
"Weíve now found a number of different possible alterations to the timeline at that general point in the past," said Patil. "The biggest and most obvious is of course Dumbledoreís fall, but there were two others in the Room of Requirement that day, then at the old Black Family mansion the next day, then Gringottís a few days later, and the Forest of Dean where Voldemort and Nagini were killed a few weeks after that."
"Iíd say thatís probably the answer to the Great Horcrux Mystery," said Harry, and Severusís eyebrows went up.
"The what?" asked Patil.
"Nothing, never mind, itís utterly irrelevant," said Granger. "And has nothing to do with Dumbledore." Patil still looked uncertain. "Itís nothing, only weíd thought there were some objects that Voldemort had that helped protect his life, and we thought theyíd have to be eliminated before he died. There were four of them left around the time of the Nexus, one probably Nagini herself. The disturbances may have been somebody getting rid of them."
"And killing Voldemort himself?" asked Patil.
"Maybe," said Granger. "Itís hard to tell, though. The main Nexus is still the Tower."
"So the general assumption," said Harry, "is that whoever goes back--"
"That would be me, Harry," Draco said.
"Whoever goes back," repeated Harry, not looking at Draco, "has to somehow prevent Fenrir Greyback from getting onto that Tower. The files I got from the Ministryís inquest into that night give a fairly good estimate of where people were and when that night -- Draco, Dumbledore, and me, that is. We never figured out where Fenrir came from."
"Funny to think another great mysteryís most probably now been explained," mused Granger. "In that he came from the future."
"Fenrir Greyback, historyís first Chrononaut," said Draco with a grimace. "And who goes back is not up for discussion. I have the Ministryís information and I know what I was doing that day. At least Iím unlikely to meet myself."
"We donít know, though, how Greyback got to the Tower," Granger pointed out. "Nobody did, since he had the decency to fall off with Dumbledore and not linger on."
"I only have to stop him, then go to the other places at the times we have written and make sure thereís no other interference. Iíll have Harryís Invisibility Cloak--"
"Thatís it?" said Harry. "What if whoever else came back has other stuff? Things that can see through my Cloak? A powerful Charm?"
"Well, if they end up having the Elder Wand itself, then you can come back in time to save me," said Draco.
"The what?" said Granger.
"Old childrenís story, wand that canít be beaten," said Draco impatiently. "Youíll be watching--"
"We donít know whatíll happen if -- when you go back, though, do we?" said Harry. "Do we wink out of existence the moment you step back? Do we--"
"Harry, we canít keep arguing about this forever. Somebody has to go. That somebody has to be me. I have to stop Fenrir Greyback."
"No Fenrir, no push," said Patil.
"No push, no broken Dumbledore," said Granger.
"Loathe as I am to bring this harmony up at this late point in time," said Severus, "just how exactly do you know that it wasnít Dumbledoreís death that was prevented? Maybe in the original timeline, he didnít just fall from the Tower, but actually died."
"Fenrir Greyback, coming back in time to save Dumbledoreís life?" said Draco. "Why would he bother?"
"Besides, Dumbledore was as good as dead anyway," said Patil dismissively. "Why would anyone come all the way from the future to go back in time to save Dumbledoreís life and then leave him as he was?"
"Iíve wondered about that too," said Granger. "It might have been the reason the other time disturbances happened. If they tried to save Dumbledore and couldnít, then they tried to do something else that would be helpful to us."
"Merlin, please, no Horcrux theories," said Draco. "Weíre not actually going to start trying to figure that one out, are we? Because people have been over and under and around that one for seven years. If it hasnít been solved by this time, weíre certainly not going to succeed right now."
"Though this could be the answer to the dead Death Eater mystery," said Patil. "If whoever went back in time killed all those Death Eaters."
"And maybe thatís why your Cabinet didnít work that night," Granger said Draco. "Somebody disabled it before the Death Eaters could--"
Draco rolled his eyes. "Yes, thanks for that sop to my ego. I got over that years ago."
"Maybe somebody came to push Dumbledore and destroy the Horcruxes," said Severus.
"Who would do that?"
"Someone wanted both Dumbledore and Voldemort out of the way. Wanted power. Wanted to play both sides against each other." He glanced at the Wiltshire Faction. "Heavens, I wonder who that might have been."
"Stuff your little looks, Snape," said Ron. "I donít care what you think; nobody from Wiltshire wouldíve wanted this. And we do not Ďplay both sides against each other.í Itís you lot who have the monopoly on that."
"Well you must admit it doesnít make much sense that somebody would send Fenrir Greyback, or that Fenrir would send himself, back in time to push Dumbledore off the Astronomy Tower, and then go and do exactly what Dumbledore would have helped Harry to do if heíd been able to."
"Weíre getting away from the point here," said Granger. "And I donít think itíll do us any good to start questioning whether the person who went back in time did so to push Dumbledore off the Tower or save him."
"I donít think we are getting away from the point," said Harry. "Because the point is, there was probably more than one Chrononaut."
"And if there is, thereís not a lot we can do about that."
"We could send more than one Chrononaut back, too."
"Not a chance," said Draco flatly. "We risk making everything even worse."
"I said no," said Draco, and Harry glared at him but, to his surprise, dropped it.
"All right then, what happens when you go back?" asked Harry. "You save Dumbledore, and then what?" He paused. "How do you come back?"
"Harry, we told you, thereís no way to travel forward in time," said Patil gently.
"Thought you mightíve worked on something," Harry muttered, turning away from her. "What with all the scurrying back and forth and making exciting discoveries and all."
"Besides, this future wonít even exist," said Granger, oblivious to the strained silence between Harry and Draco. "It will turn into a future where Dumbledore lived and helped Harry find the Horcruxes and then kill Voldemort."
"Itíll still be a contaminated timeline, though," said Harry.
"Itíll be as uncontaminated as possible," said Draco patiently.
"Youíll still be in it."
"I don't know about that. I may disappear in a puff of temporal logic. In any case, the method Iím using to travel back isnít the same as the one Geschichte described in her initial works. So assuming whoever went back used her method and thatís why they changed history, I think my actions will simply dovetail into how history should have happened. Fix it all."
"Am I the only one who thinks thereíre an awful lot of assumptions there?" asked Harry.
"Not really," Granger admitted. "But we're really not sure thereís any other choice."
Patil cleared her throat. "Thereís another small elephant in the room that weíre all ignoring."
"Which is?" asked Harry.
"Well, say he saves Dumbledore. History goes on as it should."
"Including the part where, some years later, someone, probably Greyback, goes into the past and pushes Dumbledore off the Tower again."
"Oh god," groaned Harry.
"And it all goes wrong," said Patil. "Again."
"Mental," said Ron.
"Possible," said Severus.
"And Iím not sure we have enough information to speculate as to what will happen if--"
"All right, enough," Harry interrupted her. "We donít have all the information we need, and we donít know whatís going to happen and we donít have the authority to do anything about it. But weíve run out of time to get any of that." Harry cleared his throat. "Fine, Draco. If you want to go, go."
Draco blinked. "Really?"
Draco frowned, disconcerted by the speed of his about-face.
"You like a mystery," said Harry. "Well, hereís loads of them -- the great mysteries of what the hell happened to the Horcruxes, what happened to the Death Eaters, and how did Voldemort die even though I had bugger-all to do with it..." and his voice caught.
Draco looked away.
Harry cleared his throat again. "So, youíre going. I assume every minute counts?" he asked Granger, who nodded, her eyes filled with compassion.
"Well, you canít go right this moment," said Harry. "Youíre exhausted, youíre irritable... you havenít had any Morph in a little too long..."
Grangerís eyebrows went up.
"Donít tell me you didnít know," said Harry.
She traded a glance with Severus. "Iíd had my suspicions," she said. "We both have. I have some in my purse, you know."
"Trust a member of the Banned Order to carry Morphmagus Potion in her purse," said Harry.
"Youíre not going to arrest me for it, are you?" she said, giving him a small smile.
Harry shook his head.
"Well, I can either take some or sleep, not both," said Draco.
"Go rest, then, Malfoy," said Granger. "Padma and I will finish our work, make sure the incantations are right so we donít send you back in time and have you arrive in mid-air without a broom."
"Thanks." Draco stood, feeling a bit unreal, and headed for the bedrooms set aside for Truce meetings that went too long.
"Harry," said Granger. "Go with him."
"Go," said Ron. "Youíve got three hours. Get some sleep."
"Or do... whatever it is you need to do to get ready," said Patil innocently. Draco noticed Ronís slight blanch and sniggered.
Harry followed Draco into the small Ministry bedroom, expanding the single bed into a double, and turned down the bedcovers. Draco took off his glasses, got into the bed, and pulled the covers around himself. It was so cold, and he was so tired. And he needed Morph, so much. He rubbed at his scar.
Good old Morph. He hadn't grown dependent on it for its pain-relieving and muscle-relaxant properties; those had merely been a happy side-effect. The real dependence came from the fact that the twinges from his scars, while not terribly painful, always reminded him that he'd once been mauled by a bloody great werewolf, on one of the worst days of his life, and that he could have died -- or worse, become a werewolf himself.
Damnation. Maybe he should've taken Granger up on her offer. He tilted his head from side to side, trying to get rid of the discomfort, knowing that what he needed the most right now was sleep and Morph wouldn't help with that. It tended to energize rather than sedate. Maybe he'd take some with him, and take it as soon as he arrived in the past...
Harry got into the bed, settling into Draco's arms and resting his head on Draco's chest. Draco shifted, tilting Harry's head up and pulling him closer, kissing him.
To hell with sleep.
"Erm... what are you doing?" murmured Harry between kisses.
"If I have to explain it to you," Draco chuckled, "then maybe we should stop--"
"Youíre supposed to rest," said Harry, pulling back a bit.
"Iím supposed to do something thatíll make me feel better," said Draco. "What do you think Iím doing?"
Harry chuckled and kissed him back. "I'm just thinking maybe this isn't the time."
Draco blew out his breath. "Harry. We won't have any other time."
"Maybe I'd rather not think about that."
"Would you rather go and have a drink? Stay good and numb until I'm gone?"
"Thanks, Draco," said Harry, his voice low.
Draco pulled away and sat up, turning his back on Harry.
"Maybe I don't want to think about the fact that you may not be alive in a few hours, if what you're doing doesn't work," said Harry, behind him. "Maybe... maybe I don't want to think about the fact that I may not be, if you manage to correct history. Or that we may both survive, but have no memory of the last four years."
Draco heaved a sigh. "I know."
Harry put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Please, just... lie down. We can do whatever you want."
"As long as it doesn't involve talking," said Draco, and Harry laughed.
"D'you remember when we first started dating?" he asked.
"Vaguely," said Draco.
"Remember Hermione said she could never understand how relationships between two men could ever work, since men were so pathetic at communication and having two men more than doubled the difficulty?"
Draco chuckled. "Granger's always been too smart for comfort," he said. He turned around and gave Harry a kiss. "We haven't done that badly, have we?" he asked quietly.
Harry's eyes abruptly filled with tears, and Draco pulled him close and pressed a line of soft kisses down his cheek and towards his ear, and pretended he hadn't seen.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered. "I'm sorry for... the last four years."
"They weren't so bad," said Draco, nibbling on Harry's earlobe.
"They weren't always so good," said Harry.
"It hasn't been all you," said Draco.
He stopped Harry's lips with his own. Words weren't necessary. They didn't have anything to talk about. And they'd never been any good at talking. Just at avoiding, and fighting.
He lay back on the bed, drawing Harry down with him, and tried not to think about just how long it had been since the last time they'd shared a bed as more than a sleeping space, with sex confined to the occasional fuck on the couch or against a wall.
Harry lay on top of him, covering him and gently biting the side of his neck, and Draco shivered. He moved them onto their sides, and then slowly unbuttoned Harry's shirt and ran his hands over Harry's chest. So strong, so familiar, so scarred. There was the one from the raid on the old McNair estate. The one from fighting an enraged centaur. The long sinuous whip-like one from the Slashing Ivy, that wended down from his ribs across his stomach to his pelvis -- the only one that Harry had had covered, with a glittering tattoo of a silver snake.
He left a trail of kisses down Harry's chest to the tattoo, then licked his way down the curving snake the way that always got Harry hissing in Parseltongue. The actual appearance of the snake still filled Draco with ambivalence; Harry claimed it was a Slytherin thing and a sort of peace-offering to Draco for being a shit in school, but somehow it always reminded Draco of Voldemort's murderous pet. The effects of the tattoo, however, were very definitely worth the appearance.
Draco felt himself hardening as Harry's neck arched back and his mouth dropped open and a hiss came from his lips. He touched Draco's hair, gently stroking it, and Draco took Harry higher, and higher, and Harry moaned and hissed and trembled under him, and how was Draco going to live without this? Even if they didn't always have much to talk about, even if some days their flat seemed more like a Truce House than a home, even if this kind of thing happened less and less often because they were better at numbing themselves than facing themselves, how could he say goodbye to this?
"Stop, I'm too close," whispered Harry. He put a hand under Draco's chin and pulled him up, kissing him with all the passion they'd first discovered in one another so many years ago, when they'd first found each other in the middle of all of Harry's confusion over his Weasley girl and Draco's uncertainty over his own future in a post-Voldemort world and all the chaos of the Wizarding world teetering on the brink of disintegration. Some days it seemed they'd disintegrated along with everything else. Some days it seemed they were the only thing that hadn't fallen apart.
Harry ended their kiss and turned them over, undressing Draco slowly, caressing him gently, teasing him with lips and tongue and teeth.
"Merlin, you are too good at that," Draco sighed.
And now Harry's tongue was doing wicked things to him, and he was quickly losing the plot. This was better than Morph. Better than Gilly. Better than anything.
And they were running out of time. Much as he wanted to prolong this until the next week...
He took a deep breath and pulled Harry over him. "Please. I want you," he said, and parted his thighs in invitation.
Harry's eyebrows rose, but he murmured a spell and reached down, stroking Draco with the lube he'd just conjured. Gently, almost too gently and slowly, and Draco just let himself feel all the care that Harry couldn't express in words, all the love they never talked about.
"Now. Please," Draco whispered. Harry moved over him and he tensed, as always a bit uneasy when he wasn't topping. He forced himself to relax, reminding himself to see this as joining, and not an intrusion.
And then they were joined, their bodies together as their minds could never seem to be for long. Harry took Draco's hands in his, lacing their fingers together, and nuzzled his neck as he started to thrust harder, his rhythm speeding, pushing Draco higher, setting them both on fire. Harry was holding him, keeping him safe, and Draco was pushing him to go faster, harder, holding on to him with all he had, wishing this moment could last forever, and then Harry tensed and gave a small cry, and Draco followed, his entire being shaking with the force of his release.
1.8 Truce House, Nexus plus 7 years 23 days
"Draco?" Severusís voice at the door was uncharacteristically gentle, but Draco wasnít really asleep.
He took a deep breath and turned on his side, where Harry lay watching him.
"Time to go," he said. "And Iíll see you in seven years."
Harryís eyes were shadowed. "I suspect if youíre right, Iíll never see you again."
He stood and started to get dressed, handing Draco his glasses and clothing. They left the bedroom and went back into the Truce conference room. The Sieve had been placed in the centre of the room.
"I think it should be safe, sending you back now," said Granger nervously. "Your younger self is doing a detention with Snape, and there should be nobody in the corridor just outside of the Room of Requirement. You step in while we surround the Sieve with Time Magic." She handed him a bag. "We also thought you might need a few supplies -- some of your research, some food, that kind of thing. Harry said you should also take his Cloak."
Draco nodded and took out his wand. Severus, Granger and Patil took out theirs and stood around the Sieve, and as each one cast a wordless spell, a warm yellow light surrounded the bowl.
"Somehow I canít quite believe youíre doing this," said Harry, his voice hollow.
"I have to," said Draco.
Harry took him in his arms. "Yes, you do." He touched Dracoís lips with his own. "I love you. Goodbye."
It was just like when he'd stepped into the Cabinet. The fear and desperation, the knowledge that he just might end up dead at the end of this trip, but there was no choice.
Draco stepped back, took a deep breath, and stepped into the Sieve.
2.1. Hogwarts corridor, Nexus minus 13 hours
"Harry! Oh, bloody hell!" gasped the man who had appeared out of the cloud of smoke, and Harry was struck by the bizarre thought that if Ginny and Draco Malfoy had a baby and that baby grew up, this was what he'd look like.
The redheaded man pushed his glasses up his nose and took a deep breath, his freckles contrasting unpleasantly with the greenish cast of his skin. He took a step forward, lost his balance, and threw up.
2.2. Hospital wing, Nexus minus 12 hours
"What the bloody hell?" said Ron, staring at the ashen features of the man on the hospital bed.
"What happened?" asked Hermione.
"I don't know," said Harry. "He just appeared, right outside the Room of Requirement, and just threw up and fainted. I got him to Pomfrey, but then I saw this--" Harry showed Ron and Hermione the scroll he'd taken from the man's bag.
"I don't know. It was with some other papers in his bag -- the rest was mostly just runes and gibberish. But apparently he's got something he's doing here. Something he didn't want anybody to know about--"
"Death Eater, from the look of him," said Ron.
Harry shook his head. "I don't think he's a Death Eater, despite what he looks like."
Harry hesitated. "What did they tell you about time travel when you got the Time Turner, Hermione?"
"That you mustn't be seen. That as few people as possible must know what you're doing." Her eyes widened. "You think he's a time traveller?"
"He was carrying this, and it was addressed to me." Harry unrolled the scroll, and started to read it to Ron and Hermione. "'This is probably stupid,'" the scroll began. "'The point of this is not to contaminate the timeline. But if you're reading this, it's already been contaminated...'"
Hermione's eyebrows went up. Harry continued. "'Just in case Draco doesn't manage to save Dumbledore, here's what you need to know: I think the Horcruxes are to be found in the Lestranges' vault at Gringott's, the Room of Requirement, and Grimmauld Place. I don't know what they are, but I'm pretty sure one of them was a locket that belonged to Slytherin. Dumbledore and I went and found one the day he fell from the Tower, and that's what weakened him -- or rather, will weaken him -- but it was a fake. So if you see a locket in the Lestranges' vault, or in the Room of Requirement, or Grimmauld Place, kill it--'"
"What the hell?" Ron interrupted, peering more closely at the scroll. "It's in your writing, Harry."
"I know." Spooky, that.
The man in the hospital bed opened his eyes and coughed. "Oh fuck." He looked around. "What the hell am I doing here?"
God, he sounded just like Malfoy too. Harry, Ron and Hermione glanced around to see if either of the other two patients in the hospital wing was within hearing distance, then drew closer to him.
"Did you bring me here?" asked the man, his eyes widening.
"You appeared in a corridor," said Harry. "Then you threw up. Then you passed out. What was I supposed to do with you?"
"Who are you?"
The man closed his eyes. "And we'd never tested the spell," he muttered. "But there wasn't time, there wasn't time... and now it's all gone to hell."
"Who are you?" Harry repeated.
The man gave Harry an amused look. "God, it's so disorienting seeing you looking so young." He chuckled. "Who do you think I am?"
"No offense, mate," said Ron, "but you look like Draco Malfoy. Pomfrey says you are. Sheís gone to get McGonagall."
The man nodded again. "Right in one."
The man seemed to come to a quick decision as they gaped at him. "All right, I'm sure you've all got a lot of questions, but I'd rather not do this piecemeal so just be quiet till I'm done. Yes, Draco Malfoy. From seven years in your future. Twelve hours from now, something very bad is going to happen -- bad for your lot, anyway -- and I have to stop it. And I was supposed to just get here, land where nobody would see me, do it, and then fade off or... something. Now it seems I can't do that." He looked at them. "Iíd like to ask you to let me Obliviate you all and then go about my business, but I get the feeling that won't go over well."
"Youíre mental," said Ron. "We're not letting you go. You've got a Dark Mark."
The freckled man -- Malfoy, apparently -- seemed unfazed. "It's faded."
"Yeah?" said Ron. "So what?"
"Current Death Eaters have them bright as day."
"And what does that mean?" he prompted them.
"There's no such thing as an ex-Death Eater," said Ron.
"In my time, there're many such things," said the Malfoy. He smirked. "And you have no idea how hysterical it is to have you, of all people, saying that." Ron blinked, mystified.
"Just what is it youíre supposed to do?"
"I canít tell you."
"So why should we trust you enough to let you go, let alone Obliviate us?" said Hermione.
"Nothing comes to mind," Malfoy admitted.
"Are you here to save Dumbledore?" asked Harry.
Malfoyís mouth dropped open slightly. "What?!"
"We got this from your bag," said Hermione, and handed it to him.
Malfoy groaned as he skimmed over the words. "God, Harry, you complete arse."
"What?" Harry frowned, lost. "What did I do?"
"You wrote this, you berk. Ever the hero. Do you realize it's probably hopelessly confused the issue?" He read and re-read the parchment. He took a deep breath. "He must've put it in my bag while I was sleeping. LookÖ I'm sorry, I understand this must be as confusing as hell, but I promise if you just let me go, I'll Obliviate you all, save Dumbledore, and everything can go on as before."
"It can't," said Hermione. "Even if you Obliviate us -- the time that we've just spent in here with you is time that we would have been spending doing something else, like studying, or--"
The door opened and Pomfrey and McGonagall bustled in, McGonagall stopping short for a moment as she took in the bizarre sight of the older, freckled and red-headed Draco Malfoy on the bed. Harry quickly slipped the parchment, with its mention of Horcruxes, out of Malfoyís hand, stuffing it into his pocket and hoping McGonagall hadnít seen.
"Thank you, Poppy," said McGonagall, and Pomfrey nodded and went to deal with a student who'd accidentally Transfigured herself into a singing bowl of spaghetti. "Who are you?" asked McGonagall, approaching the bed.
"Exactly who I look like," said Malfoy.
"Nonsense," said McGonagall. "We just checked and Mr. Malfoy is currently serving detention with Professor Snape."
"He says heís from the future," said Hermione. "And that heís here to prevent something bad, and heíd like us to allow him to Obliviate us all and let him go his way, so that the timeline is not disturbed."
McGonagallís mouth pursed up.
"Iíve told him thatís impossible," said Hermione. "Weíve seen him; the timeline has already been disturbed -- weíre all here, dealing with him, instead of doing what we would have been--"
"Trust me," Malfoy interrupted, "history will not go wonky just because you missed an hour of study time and get one question wrong on your Potions test next week."
Hermione frowned. "But what if during the time we were supposed to be studying we would have found the solution to a Potions problem that could help us defeat Voldemort? Time has already been changed."
"It's like that butterfly effect thing you were talking about yesterday," Ron said. Hermioneís eyebrows shot up. "What? I listen to you sometimes."
The red-haired man chuckled. "Time isn't that fragile. The whole 'butterfly effect' analogy ignores the fact that if one butterfly neglects to bat his wings once, there's thousands of others batting away anyway, and everything will still happen just as it should. It's rare that there's any single moment that can really change history. What Iím supposed to prevent seems to have been one of those moments, though." He glanced at all of them, and Harry could see that everyone looked as blank as he felt himself.
"All right, then, think of it as a building," said the freckled man, only slightly impatient. "It's true that if you remove a single stone that happens to be centrally placed, the whole thing can come down. More likely, though, removing one stone will do absolutely nothing but leave a hole in the wall -- one easily covered by a cat-door or plaster. It's the same with time."
"Then why did you come back?" asked McGonagall.
"Because this event is a cornerstone. As long as that cornerstone is kept in place, the fact that you lot know about this won't matter. Especially if you only know about it for a few minutes."
"And the parchment I just saw Potter hiding?"
Malfoy shrugged. "He didn't need to hide it; it's his anyway, twice over, as it was meant for him and written by him in the future. I'd say that's future Harry's way of saying that if I keep the cornerstone in but the building comes down anyway, there are exits. The building will fall, but hopefully you won't be crushed. And here the analogy starts to come crashing down just like that building, so let's leave it, shall we?"
"All right," said McGonagall, pulling out a chair. "I think you'd best explain this to us."
"LookÖ you know, if youíre all here, there's someone else we need. Me." He gave Harry a slight smirk. "The younger, eviller me, that is."
"No. Not a chance," said Harry.
"He knows what's going on. He's the one who's been working all year to make Dumbledore's death possible."
There was a ringing silence.
So he'd been right, Harry thought, somewhat stunned. Though he had to admit, when he was trying to figure out just what dastardly crime Malfoy was trying to commit, killing Dumbledore hadn't been the top of the list.
"Well then, don't you know what he's doing?" said Ron. "You're the one who did it! Why do we need him?"
"Because I did all of this seven years ago, you twit. I don't remember everything I did back then. I do remember that it was hellishly tricky."
"But when you came back here you were going to get him, werenít you? The younger, eviller you, that is."
"No, I wasn't. But I wasn't counting on running into you lot. Having him here will make it a lot easier to convince you lot I'm not lying."
"What were you going to do?" asked McGonagall. "If Potter hadn't found you, that is?"
"I was going to hide in the Room of Requirement, spy on my younger self and see if that helped me figure out how Fenrir Greyback got into the school, and if that didn't work I was going to just go up to the Astronomy Tower with Harry's Cloak and wait until he and Dumbledore landed, then get rid of Fenrir before he had a chance to push anyone off the Tower."
"So Malfoy is working in the Room of Requirement!" said Harry.
"What's he doing? Something to bring Fenrir Greyback into the school? Why?"
Malfoy opened his mouth, then paused. He smirked. "I'll tell you everything... if you bring him here."
"And when he gets here? Should we tell him you're him, seven years in the future?"
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "It's going to be somewhat obvious, I should think. Even with this dismal colouring."
"Draco Malfoy is not exactly the most observant person I've ever known."
"Yes, he is," said the ginger version, amused. "You'd be surprised. I just don't always react to what I observe. That's called not being transparent."
"Not you Malfoy, the other Malfoy."
"This is going to be confusing," said Ron.
"We could call them Blond Malfoy and Red-haired Malfoy," said Hermione.
Ron frowned and shook his head. "How about Ferret Malfoy and Speccy Malfoy?"
"Oi," said Harry.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "If it's too much for your brains to handle, call me Eric MacCauley. I'll have no trouble answering to it; it's a name I've used undercover."
"MacCauley?" McGonagall repeated. "Very well, then, Mr. MacCauley. We will bring your... younger counterpart to the hospital wing." She stood and hurried off.
"So what's with the red hair and freckles?" asked Ron after she'd left.
Malfoy's -- no, MacCauley's -- nose wrinkled. "Ugh. Please. Do you think I chose this because I like it?" He tilted his head to the side. "Though I suppose I could have tried to use it to make you trust me."
"I suppose not."
"Is it natural? Or a glamour?"
"As natural as it can be. Itís permanent, if thatís what youíre asking."
"Mr. Malfoy," said Pomfrey, coming back from her singing patient, who seemed slightly better, though her hair was still somewhat stringy and sauce-filled. "I will need to examine you for a moment."
"There's no need--" MacCauley began.
"You look all right at the moment," she said, "but you had very low Transmuta readings when you were brought in. This won't take but a moment." She pursed her lips, looking at the light from her wand. "Are you nauseated?"
"Yes, but it's nothing you can help with," said MacCauley firmly. "Is there any point in asking you to stop doing that?" he nodded at her wand. "Maybe by reminding you that I'm an adult and not actually a student here?"
"You've landed in my hospital, and you appear to be Draco Malfoy, who is a student here," she said, still peering closely at her wand. "So no, no point at all."
MacCauley blew out his breath and sat back, letting her continue, until McGonagall walked in with a sulky-looking Draco Malfoy, who was protesting all the way.
"Just because he wasnít watching me scrub the cauldrons, that doesnít mean I was--" Malfoy broke off and he stopped short, his eyes widening almost comically at the man on the hospital bed. "Who the hell are you?" he asked.
"Poppy, thank you," said McGonagall. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to continue your examination of this gentleman later." Pomfrey scowled slightly, but left them and returned to her other patient.
"Short answer: I'm you," said MacCauley briefly to Malfoy, immediately turning back to Harry. "So, here we go, this should help convince you, Harry. He has been up to no good this year. Not only has he been diligently working on trying to kill Dumbledore, on the orders of Voldemort, but he almost got Katie Bell and Weasley here killed in the meantime. And he's been trying to find a way to bring Death Eaters -- a lot of them -- into the school."
Malfoy's mouth dropped open. "What?!" he gasped. "How dare you--"
"Shut up," said MacCauley. "Don't worry, he wonít succeed with what he's trying to do, but Dumbledore will still die. So Iíve come back here to save him. Or at least try to. If you lot will get out of my way and let me."
"Why would you be so bloody eager to save Dumbledore?" asked Harry.
"Itís not entirely concern for the man himself, Iíll admit. Itís the cornerstone thing I was talking about. In my time everythingís starting to crash down on us, time has been fractured. Paradoxes are creating events where people and things are disappearing. And it looks like we have two choices: try to fix the fractures by sort of patching them, which weíre not terribly confident about, or try to go back and get rid of the event that brought all of this on. Which means saving Dumbledore."
"But why would you be so eager to do that? Your side won, and you donít like it now?"
"My Ďsideí didnít win at all," said MacCauley. "Yours did, though by the time it won I was already on it. Dumbledore was taken out, but so was Voldemort, not very long afterwards."
"And that was bad?"
"Look, you don't understand," MacCauley said wearily. "You haven't seen what I've seen. It's not just losing Dumbledore; it's everything. Even if patching worked, it's still a shit future we're all suffering through."
"You said Voldemort dies, right? How is that bad?"
"Because he dies but the world still goes to hell. And it all starts with this one's hijinks in the Room of Requirement," he said, nodding at Malfoy.
Malfoy coloured up. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said, his voice a little too loud.
MacCauley snorted. "It's a little late to deny it. They already know. Even if I hadn't come back to tell them, Harry at least knew you were up to something dastardly. He even knew how you felt about it. Don't forget what he saw in the bathroom before he sliced you up."
Malfoy's Adam's apple bobbed, and his deer-in-the-headlights expression grew more pronounced, and he unconsciously touched his chest. Harry winced, thinking of the blood that had spurted out of Malfoy because of his own curse.
"Relax," said MacCauley. "They know. You don't have to be afraid, not right now."
"I'm not afraid."
"Yes you are. You're losing weight and miserable and haven't slept without nightmares in months. And you'll feel exactly the same tomorrow, but you don't have to feel that way now."
"I don't. I'm fine."
"Don't lie to me, you idiot. I'm you. I know exactly how you're feeling. You're desperate and overwhelmed and you wish the Dark Lord had picked anybody but you."
Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "Any task given to me by him would be an honour."
"An honourable suicide mission, you twit," said the older Draco, and Merlin that was bizarre. "And for what it's worth, in less than a day, you will have figured it out. And it'll be the happiest moment of your life. And then everything will turn to shit."
"So what happened?" asked Ron.
MacCauley raised his eyebrows. "You want a quick summary of seven years of hell?"
"By all means," said McGonagall.
"Voldemort died. Isn't that worth something?" said Ron.
"Weird to hear you saying that," said MacCauley. "Your people seem to think he's not really dead. Or rather, he is, but what's taken over is no better. And by Ďwhatís taken overí I mean a Ministry that's a little too reliant upon the great Harry Potter as head of the Auror Department and up-and-coming Dark Lord."
Ron made a sound of disgust.
"What do you think?" asked Hermione.
"I support the Ministry, and Harry. I know Harry's done a few things that some people don't approve of, but we are trying to keep the peace."
"Why do you need to?" said Harry. "The War's over, isn't it?"
"The War is over," MacCauley agreed. "But the Peace isn't terribly peaceful. It started with the reparations that supporters of Voldemort had to make. Most of the highest Death Eaters disappeared the same night Dumbledore fell, but not all of them had been on that trip to Hogwarts, and some of them survived and continued to support him. All of them -- the surviving Death Eaters, and the families of the ones who disappeared -- were forced to pay back exorbitant amounts for damage done to buildings, injuries and deaths caused to Muggle-borns and their families during the War. Even some Muggle disasters were counted against them, and they were forced to convert Galleons to pounds and pay back the Muggle families."
"How would they do that?"
"Different ways. Inheritances from made-up distant relatives, invented lotteries, that sort of thing. I worked with Harry on that for a while, actually. We got to be friends."
"What happened to the Death Eaters who disappeared the night Dumbledore fell?" asked Hermione.
"Nobody knows. I tested the Vanishing Cabinet myself, right before sending them confirmation that it worked. I really thought..." He trailed off, shaking his head, then continued. "Anyway, the Ministry forced the families of Death Eaters to pay enormous compensation for the crimes their members had committed. And you three led the way," he nodded at Harry and his friends. "Helping the Ministry to ferret out who had done what, caused what damage. I was able to shield my family from a lot of it by voluntarily admitting to and paying for a great deal. We made massive donations to widows' and orphans' funds, said we were sorry a million times, helped the Ministry track down our friends. And I brought a few important Slytherins to the Ministry's side."
"You?" said Hermione skeptically.
"Not that they were terribly happy about it. But they were practical."
"So what happened?"
"It went too far. Mad-Eye Moody was elected Minister in 1999--"
"What?!" "Are you mental?" "Alastor?!" and "Minister?!" said Harry, Ron, McGonagall and Hermione simultaneously. Malfoyís mouth dropped open.
MacCauley smirked at their reactions. "Yeah, thatís what I said too. He was, though. And he pushed through all sorts of very popular measures to go after the last remnants of the Death Eaters. You two were quite happily involved," he said, nodding at Harry and Ron, "though your friend Granger was somewhat skeptical. And then Neville Longbottom got himself killed right in front of Harry during a mission." Harry swallowed hard. "Because of a mistake Harry had made, allowing a Death Eater suspect to reach his wand. And Harry... went a little off his nut, to be honest. Started getting a reputation for excessive violence on arrests. Weasley tried to keep it under control, but frankly, he was dismally incompetent as the voice of your conscience."
Ron glanced sideways at Harry.
"And then Colin Creevey was killed while covering a Death Eater trial for Hogwarts -- they'd set up a journalism class, as part of the Ministry's new Muggle-friendly image. Somebody objected to the photographs and the questions, and Colin was found dead one day, right before the Wizengamot convened, with a Dark Mark over him. Harry used Imperio to force confessions from the Death Eaters present. Caught the killer that way, which helped win over some of those who thought he'd gone too far. And of course Moody had no problem with it."
"I -- I wouldn't do that," Harry protested.
"Don't be naive, Harry. You've a passing acquaintance with Unforgivables already," said MacCauley. "You tried to use the Cruciatus Curse on my darling aunt last year, didn't you?"
Harry's stomach lurched. "What?!"
Hermione and Ron were shaking their heads. "He would never do that," said Hermione firmly. "And if he did, he'd tell us."
MacCauley smirked at Harry. "Starting to believe me?"
Harry's stomach crawled. He had never told anyone that. How did this man know?
"Cruciatus?" Malfoy broke his silence. "Yeah, my aunt said that. Said it didn't work, though. He didn't feel it enough."
Harry's mind was racing and he opened his mouth -- to deny or confess, he didn't know which, but he was saved by MacCauley.
"Trust me, you figured out how to feel it," MacCauley told him with a wry smile. "You've used it quite often. It's standard operating procedure for the Aurors now, under Moody. If you're going after Death Eaters, that is."
"That's terrible," said Hermione.
MacCauley shrugged. "You can do anything you like, as long as you end up finding evidence. Oliver Wood's parents have been in Azkaban for five years. To this day, Wood swears the evidence found against them was planted by the Auror who first went after them, because he used Unforgivables and then realized they were innocent, and thought it would hurt his career that he'd been wrong."
"Does the Ministry have no procedures in place to prevent that kind of thing?" asked Hermione.
"You fought like hell to enact them. You were shouted down. 'Results, not red tape' is the motto of the Auror Corps."
"Stan Shunpike was never released," MacCauley continued. "Harry stopped fighting for his release, and Granger, youíve never forgiven him for that. Then Mafalda Hopkirk was arrested, again on possibly bogus charges, and some non-Death Eater purebloods started to say that perhaps it was all going too far. Started standing up for the other purebloods -- politics makes for strange bedfellows. Eventually they broke off and took over a section of Wiltshire, and now we've got a sort of armed truce. Harryís still loyal to the Ministry. You," he nodded at Ron, "have joined the Death Eaters. So have you," he said to McGonagall. "In fact, youíre their leader."
"You're barking," said Ron, utterly disgusted.
"Wish I were," said MacCauley. "Both of you -- and your sister and your brother, Bill -- loathe the so-called 'former' Death Eaters and all they stand for, but you've come to believe that they're actually less of a threat to the Wizarding world than the Ministry is. Youíre advocating complete separation from the Muggle world."
"And where am I?" asked Hermione.
MacCauley blew out his breath. "Oh God the Banned Order... Merlin. Don't... I've hardly ever a clue what they're on about most of the time. Granger, and a few other Weasleys, including your father, are with them. Itís the Order of the Phoenix, basically, plus a lot of malcontents and hoodlums. Mundungus Fletcherís gone, but a dozen other petty thieves have taken his place."
"And it's called the Banned Order?"
"Because it's banned by the Ministry. You've decided the Ministry is corrupt but your people either won't touch the pureblood faction, or you know they won't touch you, because of your blood status. Granger, you can't quite believe that Weasley's with them, but the truth is, I think a lot of your members would go to them in a second if they could. They're actually a bit more lawful than the Ministry under Moody. Unfortunately, despite people like Weasley here, and McGonagall, they still don't accept Muggle-borns."
"And what do we -- what do they do, that has them banned by the Ministry?" asked Hermione.
"You're busy folk. You've done things like raid Ministry detention centres to free people like Mafalda Hopkirk, or raid a Wiltshire Faction's research facility that you claimed was researching anti-Muggle Charms. They didn't agree; said you only raided it for the valuable magical heirlooms." He gave her a small smile. "You lead a feisty band of buccaneers."
"And I'm on the run from the law?" said Hermione.
MacCauley nodded. "Living out of a tent that I'm told smells like cats," he said. "And travelling all over the country to stay ahead of the Ministry and the Wiltshire faction. Sounds appalling to me, but apparently many people find it romantic and exciting. Someone even wrote a song about you, 'Hermione Granger the Pirate Queen'. Nobody sings it any more, though -- it was written when it was assumed that your great friends Weasley and Potter were secretly on your side and would soon be joining you in exile." He paused. "They didn't."
"So we're on... on different sides?" said Hermione. "All three of us?"
"Not that unusual in the Wizarding world, believe me. My parents haven't spoken in years; my mother stayed loyal to the Ministry, while my father -- predictably enough -- went with Wiltshire." Malfoy gave him a sharp glance, which he ignored. "Oh and Weasley, by the way, your identical brothers aren't so identical any more. At first they split up strategically -- one stayed with the Ministry and the other one joined the Order -- you know, having an inside man and all. But then apparently they disagreed on the Hopkirk rescue raid, and when it went bad, they disagreed even more... and now they can't stand each other."
"That's not possible," said Ron flatly.
"Even within the factions, there's no peace. Think about it. How happy do you think Alastor Moody is at having to work on the same side as two Malfoys? How do you think you two and my father get along? The Wiltshire Faction in particular are like sharks, tearing each other apart whenever they get a chance. No sense of cohesiveness whatsoever."
"And this is why you came to the past? To fix all of that?"
"I came to the past to fix the fact that the timeline is in shambles. Fixing what's gone wrong with the Wizarding world would be a pleasant side effect. I hope." He glanced at Hermione. "And not just for the Wizarding world. Granger's future counterpart pointed out that the Muggles are even worse off than we are. We can solve some of our problems with magic -- part of a road disappeared last week and the Knight Bus was able to Charm up a replacement as it travelled -- but the Muggles are helpless. Their death toll keeps rising." He glanced at Ron and McGonagall. "The Ministry tries to help when we can, as does the Order, but the Wiltshire Faction has officially decided the troubles of Muggles are none of their affair. Wonderful people you're dealing with."
"So what happened?" asked Hermione. "Who changed time? How did they do it?"
"As near as we were able to piece together, it was somebody who knew what had happened, and where people had been, quite intimately. At first I thought it was Fenrir Greyback, because he's the one who pushed Dumbledore off the Tower."
"Don't be stupid. Greyback's not even--" Malfoy shut his mouth.
"Not supposed to be one of the Death Eaters coming through the Cabinet, I know," MacCauley nodded impatiently. "Well, somehow he got into the castle. How, I've no idea, because after I realized the Cabinet really wasn't going to work, I went up to the Tower by myself, conjured the Dark Mark and waited for Dumbledore. The Order was all over the place, guarding the school, but of course they were looking for an intruder, not for a student. I went up, saw Dumbledore, spoke to him, I was going to go with him -- and then Fenrir came from out of nowhere and launched himself at him. They both went down. Fenrir died, and Dumbledore may as well have. But I was all alone, and you," he turned to Harry, "had been paralysed under your Cloak by Dumbledore, but the enchantment ended when Dumbledore lost consciousness and you were able to help me. The Order members there took me in to protective custody. Turned out all the Death Eaters that were supposed to have come through the Cabinet were gone. Nobody ever found out why."
"Gone. Then Voldemort and his snake showed up dead about a month later."
Harry, Ron and Hermione traded a glance and he could feel their desire to ask what had happened to the Horcruxes, but -- no. Later. Later, when McGonagall and Malfoy weren't standing right there listening to everything.
"We're pretty sure that in between, somebody also destroyed all of Voldemort's Horcruxes," said MacCauley, and Hermione muffled a small squeak of dismay.
"His what?" said McGonagall.
"Six magical objects that held Voldemort's soul," MacCauley explained to McGonagall and Malfoy, and Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged horrified looks. This incredibly secret Dark thing, and MacCauley just rattled it off like it was a charm to tie shoelaces. "His old journal, a ring belonging to his family, a locket belonging to Salazar Slytherin, a cup belonging to Helga Hufflepuff, something belonging to either Gryffindor or Ravenclaw, and his snake, Nagini. The journal and ring are already gone by now, but somebody found the locket, the cup, and possibly something that was in the Room of Requirement, since there were traces of Dark magic having been recently destroyed on the day after Dumbledore fell. We've no idea who it was, or how he knew where the Horcruxes were -- or how he managed to lure Voldemort to the Forest of Dean to fight him -- but that was that. War over."
"Thatís... it?" said Harry.
"And you never knew who did all of that?"
"Never. Never even knew if it was one person or more than one."
"But who would have done it?"
"Isn't that a good question? And isn't it nice that since you're asking this here instead of in my time, nobody's going to say anything nasty to each other over it."
"What díyou mean?" asked Hermione.
"We just had this conversation in my time. Severus made the rather logical point that the former Death Eater faction would have benefitted the most from something that got both Voldemort and Dumbledore out of the way. Weasley did not take kindly to it."
Ron bristled. "Thatís rubbish."
"Your disbelief doesnít make it untrue," said MacCauley.
"Hang on. What about the prophecy?" asked Harry.
"The one where either you or Voldemort has to kill the other? ĎNeither can live while the other survivesí and all that rot?" MacCauley gave a snort. "First off, it was a little ridiculous, donít you think? Since obviously both of you can live perfectly well while the other survives; youíve been doing so for sixteen years, havenít you?"
Harry frowned. It had occurred to him that the wording couldíve been a bit more precise.
"Well, we never figured that out either. Eventually we stopped wondering, since obviously Voldemort was dead and it was a moot point."
There was a silence.
Harry looked at McGonagall, who was staring at MacCauley, a thoughtful look on her face. "Professor?"
McGonagall abruptly stood up. "Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks are both assigned duties at the school today. Your story is compelling, Mr. MacCauley, but I am going to consult with them before making any decisions."
"Professor..." Hermione spoke up. "If he's telling the truth and trying not to contaminate the timeline, getting more people involved is exactly what we should avoid doing."
"If he's telling the truth, Miss Granger," said McGonagall, and left.
2.3. Hospital wing, Nexus minus 11 hours
The hospital wing was almost empty, the spaghetti student having been sent back to her dorm with a bottle of pesto sauce and the other patient having been diagnosed as suffering from a Weasley's Skiving Snackbox.
"This is ridiculous," Malfoy muttered. "I'm not doing anything wrong. There's no reason I should be missing valuable study time."
"You have been doing something wrong," said MacCauley sharply. "And I wanted you here for a reason."
Malfoy glared at him. "D'you expect me to thank you?"
MacCauley laughed out loud.
"God, it's so bizarre, actually talking to you. I've been watching you for months, but--"
"Oh for Merlin's sake, it's not like I've seen anything new. I am looking at my own past, you know."
"You're an idiot if you think I believe any of this rubbish."
MacCauley shook his head. "God, look at you. You don't even realize how out of control and shitty your own life has become. And how poorly you hide it."
Malfoy pressed his lips together.
"It's true," said Harry. "Even I could tell there was something wrong."
"You don't know anything," sneered Malfoy.
"I know you're doing something dangerous. I know you're scared." I actually want to help, he wanted to say, but didn't.
Malfoy did look horrible. And this man... he looked so much like Malfoy.
Suddenly Ron gave a start and checked his watch. "Oh bugger. Erm, mate. I think Ginny might be a little peeved."
"Think you were supposed to go see her in the Forest. About an hour ago."
Oh fuck. Harry looked at his watch. "Bloody hell. She's going to murder me."
"A little whipped, are you, Potter?" said Malfoy nastily.
"Oh, you have no idea," MacCauley chuckled.
"What?" said Harry.
"What are you talking about?" said Ron.
"Let's just say your girlfriend is a bit much," said MacCauley.
"I suppose in your future we're..." Harry trailed off, suddenly very sure that whatever MacCauley was hinting at, he didnít want to know.
"D'you want to know if you're together? The answer is a very definite No."
Ron frowned, then glanced at Harry.
"Don't worry, they both got over it," said MacCauley. "Completely."
"And now you're going to tell him she's a shrew and he's better off without her?" said Hermione. "Trying to make things difficult between them -- and between Harry and Ron?"
MacCauley laughed. "No. I don't have to." He paused. "Actually, to be honest, there's nothing particularly wrong with her, other than an impressive ginger temper. Once everything was over even Harry -- my Harry, that is -- was able to admit he'd been an arse and they weren't well suited for each other. Though he's never accepted that he also had some serious Mummy issues to deal with."
Harry frowned. ĎMy Harryí?
"She's still going to go mental that youíre late," said Ron, ignoring MacCauley. "And that you haven't told her anything about this," Ron indicated the two Malfoys.
2.4. Hogwarts lake, Nexus minus 10:45 hours
"Ginny, bloody hell, I'm sorry--" Harry said, out of breath as he ran into the glade next to the lake. And oh bugger, this was worse than heíd thought. A lovely picnic lunch, complete with two treacle tarts, lay untouched next to her on the ground. "I completely -- I had to do some stuff for Dumbledore, he gave me a note, and--"
"He's not here," said Ginny flatly.
"Dumbledore. I asked. He's not at school right now. How could he have sent you a note?"
"Please, don't bother to lie." She got up and started to put away the picnic with angry swishes of her wand.
"I didn't mean to--"
"You didn't remember at all, did you?" she said, and the treacle tarts flew into her sack.
"You said you would be here." She sent the Butterbeer bottles into her sack, and he winced as a muffled sound of breaking glass came from inside. "I studied until two in the morning last night to get through all of my Herbology revisions so that I could spend a couple of hours with you without feeling guilty. I bribed the elves for the tarts. And it completely slipped your mind."
Harry stared at her miserably, unable to respond.
"I don't mind that there're things you don't tell me," said Ginny. "But I'm not a doormat. And this isnít the first time youíve done this. Iím getting bloody well tired of always coming in fourth, after Dumbledore and my own brother and Hermione." Her voice was deceptively calm, but he could sense her seething resentment and hurt, and he stepped towards her, reaching his hand out to her in apology. She backed away. "You know, I got rid of Dean because he treated me like I couldn't think for myself, like he needed to protect me. I got rid of Michael Corner because he was a sore loser. I can get rid of you too."
Harry scowled at her. All right, enough was enough. "Why don't you, then?"
"Fine!" Ginny snapped, and stalked off.
What was that?
Had he just broken up with his girlfriend? Or rather, had she just broken up with him?
He gaped at where she'd gone, stood there for a while waiting, but she didn't come back.
Bloody hell. She'd just ditched him. Just like that.
2.5. Hospital wing, Nexus minus 10:30 hours
"What the bloody hell?" said Fred Weasley, stopping in his tracks. "Since when is Malfoy invited to Order meetings?"
George looked at the other Malfoy. "And in duplicate?"
"And... Weasley-tinted?" said Fred.
MacCauley rolled his eyes. "Trust me, I'm no more delighted at my appearance than you are," said MacCauley. "And the colouring is her doing," he nodded sourly at Tonks, who had come into the room right behind the twins, along with Lupin.
"What? What did I do?" she asked, and tripped over a stool.
"My dear cousin helped develop a Metamorphmagus potion," he said sourly as she picked herself up. "Nowhere near as effective as actually being a Metamorphmagus, and has some nasty side effects, but it's been in use for quite some time."
"And you metamorphed yourself ginger?" asked Tonks.
"Not voluntarily," said MacCauley, rubbing his arm absently. "The potion picks. And it has your sense of humour. I suppose I should be happy it didn't decide to turn my hair pink."
"Who the hell are you by the way?"
"Draco Malfoy, believe it or not, though I'm being called MacCauley to avoid confusion. Long story. And the answer to your questions is that if you take too much Morph, it can start to change your appearance or colouring permanently. I suppose I've been lucky, in that I only need to concentrate a bit to keep my colours right; Dawlish has an elephant nose, and can't get rid of it."
"Take too much of it? Why would you do that?"
"One of its side effects is that it's a powerful painkiller, especially for certain magical injuries."
"And you took too much of it?" said Ron.
"It's rather uncomfortable to stop once you've started."
"You're... you're addicted," said Malfoy. "To this potion."
"Unbelievable," muttered Ron.
MacCauley gave a snort. "Don't get self-righteous, Weasley. Potter here has whisky and Gillyweed joints as his best friend, and I've heard tell you're quite the drinker yourself. And your lovely little sister can't do without a few Gillyweed spliffs a day either. I'm told Longbottom got her into them when Harry dumped her. She probably uses them now to deal with being allied to my father and his cronies."
"Neither one of us would ever--"
"This is not germane to what we are here to discuss," McGonagall said, breaking in, and quickly brought Lupin, Tonks and the twins up to speed.
"Look, it's really quite simple," said MacCauley as soon as she was done. "It comes down to trust. That's all I'm asking you to do. I will simply leave here, all of you will be Obliviated, and--"
"I will not decide anything without Albus here," said McGonagall.
"Oh for -- he's not here, you stubborn witch, and by the time he comes back it'll be too late," said MacCauley, exasperated, and Harry couldn't help but be impressed. His Malfoy was rude, but never like this; not to McGonagall, anyway.
He wasn't his Malfoy, either.
"Look, I had that parchment, in Harry's writing. Doesnít that prove anything to you?"
"I'd have to analyse it."
MacCauley sat back. "I suppose it would be simple enough to come up with a charm to make your handwriting look like someone else's," he said glumly.
"No, in fact, it isn't," said McGonagall, frowning slightly. MacCauley looked up at her. "Which is not to say itís impossible. I should consult Filius--"
"The more people you bring in to this, the larger this gets, the worse," said MacCauley. "You ask Flitwick and itíll cause more interruptions in this timeline."
"This isn't something we can decide on our own," said McGonagall. "Although I agree that it should probably be restricted to Order members only."
"We're not going to miss out on this," said Harry, and Hermione nodded.
"Besides, they're here," said Ron, nodding at Fred and George.
"Ah, but we're in the Order too now, Ronnie," said Fred with a grin. "We were just handing over school security duties to Lupin and Tonks but this sounds a bit more interesting than going home to work on Snigger Jiggers."
George shook his head. "Wailing Woozies," he said. "Sniggers're purpled."
Fred's eyebrows went up. "Soylent?"
"Excellent. Wailing Woozies, then. But this is a lot cooler than--"
"Professor," said a Prefect, poking into the room. "There's been a disturbance from one of the school wards. Some odd activity going on near the Quidditch Pitch."
McGonagall got up, along with Lupin, Tonks, Fred and George.
"That ward's one of ours," said Fred and George, alarmed.
"I noticed last night there was something not quite right back there," said Lupin.
"You three stay here," McGonagall said brusquely, nodding at Harry, Ron and Hermione. "You also, Mr. Malfoy," she said to Malfoy, and they hurried away.
There was a short silence and MacCauley sighed, checking his watch, and Harry suddenly noticed that MacCauley was quite pale. Not as pale as Malfoy these days, but he certainly seemed to be competing for Ashiest Complexion right now.
MacCauley closed his eyes briefly, rubbing his arms and then his chest, and tilting his head from one side to the other.
"Why do you keep doing that?" asked Harry.
Harry repeated the movements.
MacCauley's lips pressed together and he looked away.
"What is it?" Harry pressed.
MacCauley turned back, annoyance plain on his face. "All right, if you must know, I haven't had any Morph in a while. It's making me a mite testy."
Harry frowned. Just like that, no 'mind your own business,' no rudeness, just 'I'm in withdrawal'?
"And this is where you say, 'I've told you you shouldn't take so much of that stuff'," said MacCauley.
MacCauley gave a hollow laugh. "Funny, I get so annoyed when you do that. I'd give anything to hear you say it now."
Malfoy made a low noise of disgust. "You know, even I donít believe you," he said. "I believe you're some sort of pathetic addict, I can believe youíve looked into my background to make yourself sound plausible. And youíve spied on some things Iíve done and invented all the rest, but youíre not from the future and youíre certainly not me."
MacCauley gave him a grim smile. "No? Then how would I know how you feel this year? Where would I get that kind of information?"
Malfoy sneered. "Oh, please."
"How would I know how you feel about him?" MacCauley nodded at Harry. Malfoyís eyes widened almost imperceptibly before the dismissive sneer came back.
"I don't know what on earth you're talking about."
MacCauley chuckled. "Youíve never told anyone. But I know how you feel. Youíve wondered about boys since forever, you had that thing going with Blaise last year and you loved it, even though heís an utter twat--"
Malfoy's eyes grew huge.
"You remember him sucking you off? Remember how it felt to come in his hand? Have him come over yours?"
"I know how much you want that with him," said MacCauley, nodding at Harry. "You remember how it felt to make his nose explode in blood on the train, and it felt really, really good, and you thought that kind of hate was all youíd ever feel for him. But lifeís become worse and worse this year, hasnít it?" Malfoy crossed his arms and looked away, an angry blush rising in his face. "You started to notice him more this year, you saw that Slughorn was all over him, and at first you thought you just felt the same bloody jealousy as always. How long has it been since you realized that there was more to it than that?"
Harry cleared his throat, suddenly desperately wishing that MacCauley would shut up. Because it was very obvious that he was hitting a nerve with Malfoy -- several nerves, in fact -- and Harry had no clue what to make of it or what to do and--
"You started talking to that pathetic Muggle-born ghost, because you needed somebody to talk to, and she was all you could get. You thought of telling her how you feel about him now. How you want him to save you, and you want him, and how youíve wanked to thoughts of him a few times. You hate him, but you want him, and when he saw you crying you tried to kill him because you could be weak in front of anybody, anybody but him--"
"Stop it," said Hermione. "Thereís no need for this."
MacCauley gave her a small smile and sat back. "Maybe not. But he definitely believes me now, whether heíll admit it to any of you or not."
"Not a chance," said Malfoy, standing up and moving as far away from them as he could and still remain in the hospital wing, and Harry winced. Because, slow as he was to pick up on some things without Hermione there to point them out, right now even Ron could tell that Malfoy was lying.
2.6. Hospital wing, Nexus minus 9:45 hours
"Malfoy?" Harry approached the window where he was standing and brooding, twenty minutes later. McGonagall and the rest were still dealing with whatever the problem was out on the grounds, Ron and Hermione were still chatting cautiously with MacCauley, and Harry couldn't take the uncertainty any more.
"What? What do you want?" Malfoy asked.
"Nothing. I... nothing."
Never mind, don't ask, Harry told himself. You won't get anything out of him. Just go back to Ron and Hermione and leave him alone.
"It's not true, you know," Malfoy blurted. Harry looked at him. "He's barking. I don't know what he's up to, but you can't possibly even think of trusting him."
"He does have some interesting points to make, though."
"No he doesn't!"
Don't ask. Don't ask.
"Are you working on a Cabinet?" he asked in a rush.
Malfoy's eyes widened. "Am I what? No! Of course not!"
They glared at each other.
"Look, if you're honestly gullible enough to fall for him saying I'm, I dunno, in love with you or something..."
Harry could feel himself starting to blush.
"Though of course it would make perfect sense to someone like you, wouldn't it? Naturally someone who's hated you for six years wants nothing more than to moon after you like that Weasley bint."
Harry blushed harder. "Sod off," he said. "No, I don't believe that part. But the Cabinet? That part makes sense."
"You're an idiot," said Malfoy.
"I saw you talking to Borgin at Borgin and Burkes. And you're up to something this year. And you look bloody pathetic, trying to deny it." Malfoy glared at him. "I heard what you said on the train back in September, and I heard what Snape said to you during Slughorn's Christmas party. I heard what you said to Myrtle, I know you've been worried about something and slinking around to the Room of Requirement--"
"Shut up, Potter," Malfoy snapped. "You don't know a bloody thing."
"As for your love life, I really couldn't care less--"
"Shut up!" Malfoy shouted. "Just shut up!!"
2.7. Hospital wing, Nexus minus 9:30 hours
"All I am asking you to do is let me go and stop Greyback," MacCauley repeated wearily, after the Order members had come back from the grounds.
"And let you out of our sight, and Obliviate us," said Hermione. "Thatís the part that nobody here is particularly eager to agree to."
"How do we know that's all you'll do?" said Fred. "How do we know you won't go and make sure the Death Eaters get through the Cabinet? You say you studied that damn thing all year--"
"I did, seven years ago, yes," said MacCauley. "And Iím not about to go back to it and try to solve in a day what I couldnít solve in a year. I never figured out why it didn't work. It should have. I said the spell, but nobody came through."
"And youíve no idea why."
"No. Look, the bloody thing was destroyed two days after Dumbledore's fall. And they destroyed its twin in Borgin and Burkes, too. I never did figure it out. The only Death Eater in Hogwarts that night was Fenrir Greyback, and Iíve no idea why. I didnít even know he was supposed to be on the mission." He paused. "And if it's any comfort to the rest of you, he mauled me that night, too. I made the mistake of trying to step in front of Dumbledore and he swatted me aside like a fly, almost took a piece of my arm off in the process. It's why I started to use Morph, in fact."
"And youíre going to prevent him from coming through?"
"I will go to the Room of Requirement and wait until youíve left," he nodded at Malfoy. "Then I'll wait until half past midnight to see if Fenrir comes out. If he doesnít, Iíll go to the Astronomy Tower and as soon as Fenrir appears there Iíll AK him -- all right maybe not AK," he amended hastily, seeing shocked expressions on everyone's face. Harry glanced at Hermione. What kind of world did MacCauley live in, where somebody could refer to using an Unforgivable so casually? "I will get rid of him, in some other, Forgivable, way. You," he gestured to Harry, "and Dumbledore will land, talk to you," he gestured to Malfoy again, "and take you into protective custody with the Order, Dumbledore won't fall to the bottom of the Tower, and rather than spending the rest of his days as a mindless vegetable until someone has the decency to end the life-keeping spells, he will instead be able to teach Harry here where to find the other Horcruxes. And everything will go on as it should."
"And you? When you're done, you go back to your future?
"No. I canít. Iíll probably just disappear."
"Or maybe just go into hiding," said Hermione.
"Yes. Hiding and trying not to affect anybody or anything. Whatever you want," MacCauley said impatiently. "Out of the way, where I canít bother anyone any more."
There was a brief silence.
McGonagall glanced around those assembled. "Any thoughts?"
"Are we taking a vote?" asked Fred.
"Absolutely not," said McGonagall firmly. "In Albusís absence, the security of the school is my responsibility and the decision is mine. However, I would appreciate hearing your opinions."
"I'm sorry," said Lupin. "I'm not convinced."
"I am," said Tonks. She shrugged at Lupinís questioning look. "It makes sense to me."
"I told you, there are so many ways he could be faking--"
"Why would he, though? And he was able to get into the school without setting off the wards--"
"Yes, I believe you two already had this discussion in my presence," said McGonagall. "I doubt youíll be able to resolve it. Anyone else?"
"Must admit this oneís a lot more likable and believable than his younger version," said Fred.
"Must be the colouring," said George.
"But we're not convinced either," they both finished.
"Neither am I," said Ron.
"I am," said Hermione. "Professor, he--"
"Potter?" asked McGonagall.
Harry stared at MacCauley. The story seemed so bizarre, and yet strangely plausible. And the idea of Dumbledore dying, of the Wizarding world torn apart, of he himself turning into some younger version of Mad-Eye Moody...
And Harry couldn't help noticing that MacCauley looked awful; he was pale under his freckles, his eyes seemed slightly glassy, and he kept tilting his head every so often, as if trying to get rid of water in his ear.
"I believe him," he finally said, not aware until he'd said the words that that was what he was going to say.
"If anyone's going to bother to ask my opinion, I think he's barmy," said Malfoy.
McGonagall nodded. "Very well, then. I'm afraid I agree with the majority here, Mr. MacCauley. You will remain here for the moment, and then we shall decide what to do with you. We will use the information you have given us to make sure that Albus does not--"
"And by doing that youíll change the timeline even further," he said. "Except if I know Dumbledore, heíll insist on going ahead and doing whatever the hell it was that he was going to do, and heíll probably still put himself in danger and still end up at the bottom of that wall--"
"You donít know that," said McGonagall.
"And he's going to die," MacCauley said bitterly. "He's going to lie there, this brilliant, powerful wizard, and die after a year of not knowing his own name and being tended to like a plant that shits and pisses."
Harry shuddered. "Since when do you care about him? In your timeline, he never did anything for you."
"In my timeline, you dolt, he offered me sanctuary. Disarmed and helpless, he didn't beg, he didn't rail at me; he offered to keep me and my mother safe. And then he was practically killed before my eyes. And then I saw all of you, lost." He stared at Harry. "In my timeline, you never got over that. He was the last protector you had. You've lost your way. You're not who you were. You drink a lot. You've lost your two best friends. And all of, all of you are miserable. It's a shit future you're heading towards."
"So why don't you tell us about it, so we can avoid it?" asked Tonks, waving her wand and conjuring a quill, parchment and ink bottle.
"Because some of why it's miserable is due to your own choices, but a lot of it is just the way the Wizarding world has fallen apart and I very much doubt I'll be able to change any of it, considering I'm having trouble convincing this group of anything."
"So where did we end up?" Tonks insisted, absently filling her quill with ink and landing most of it on the floor instead.
MacCauley heaved a sigh and closed his eyes, and rubbed the space between his ginger eyebrows for a moment. Tonks got out her wand to Vanish the ink spill. "Well, you two are with the Ministry," said MacCauley, gesturing to Lupin. "Got married later this year."
"You're mental," said Ron, but as they all gaped at Lupin and Tonks Harry couldn't help but notice that Tonks's hair was going from mousy brown to pink, along with her face and the now apparently forgotten ink blot. And Lupin's own cheeks looked pretty flushed too.
"You've separated, though, and it's anyone's guess as to whether you'll be able to save your marriage. Your mother was arrested by the Ministry on suspicion of aiding the purebloods after my mother got back into contact with her, and you two almost divorced over remaining loyal to the Ministry. Ted Tonks is now in the Banned Order; you haven't spoken to him in years. He blames you for not fighting harder to get your mother released; you blame him for participating in the raid that resulted in the pureblood detainees being Dementor-Kissed. Your daughter, Andie -- named after your mother -- is two years old, very sweet, bright green hair, never met her namesake and will never meet her grandfather."
"My Mum got Kissed?" said Tonks, her voice hushed.
"We had a child?" said Lupin skeptically. "That's ridiculous. Werewolves don't breed."
"Apparently you did," said MacCauley. He turned to the Weasley twins. "And you two and Angelina Johnson... well, that was one for the hideously uncomfortable family albums." Fred and George shared a baffled glance. "Fred got engaged, married, separated, and divorced from her all within six months, and then she joined the Order, and now he loses no opportunity to remind his brother that all he got were sloppy seconds."
"Now I know you're mental," said Fred, disgusted.
"I wish I was. I told you it's a shit future. You... all of you, you're miserable." MacCauley took a deep breath. "And now I get to watch it all happen again."
2.8. Hospital wing, Nexus minus 9:15 hours
McGonagall and the other Order members had gone to her office to discuss what to do with MacCauley, again leaving Harry and his friends, and Malfoy, to guard MacCauley. Harry had gone to look out the window, eyeing the lovely day outside and wishing he was there. Wondering if maybe Ginny was out there again. If he should maybe try to talk to her. Wondering if things like their relationship mattered, considering everything else that was going on right now, and wondering if this was precisely the kind of thinking that had broken them up in the future. His thoughts were restlessly churning with no particular resolution appearing before him, when he heard a soft cough at his elbow.
"It's true," said Malfoy, his voice low.
"What is?" asked Harry wearily. God, how many hours had he been in the hospital wing now? Too bloody long, anyway. And apparently he was supposed to go for a dangerous little jaunt with Dumbledore not too many hours from now? Barking.
And the bloody hospital wing was too quiet, too sterile, too reminiscent of various times he'd been in with one awful magic injury or another. Empty beds and bare floors and clean, crisp white bed linens. Vials with floaty bits in luridly coloured liquids all along the shelves on the wall.
"I'm not... I'm not in love with you." Harry blinked, startled. Malfoy drew a long breath. "But I did... do things... with Blaise. I never told anyone about that. I know Blaise didn't either, because I Obliviated him afterwards."
Harry's eyes widened. Good God. He turned around. "Why would you -- did you force him, or--"
"What?! No, Merlin's beard!" Malfoy said, angry. "I wouldn't -- that's just so typical of -- you sanctimonious--" he broke off, and there were two spots of colour on his cheeks. "I wouldn't force anyone! Blaise wanted to, believe me! Only I didn't want him to tell anyone afterwards."
"So you are... erm..."
"Gay, yeah," said Malfoy, a hint of defiance in his eyes, though his cheeks were getting rosier by the second.
"But on the train -- Parkinson was... erm..."
"All right, maybe bi," said Malfoy.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Was any of what he said about... erm, about me..."
"He exaggerated," said Malfoy. "A lot."
Harryís eyes widened. That was as good as admitting it. Merlin. Malfoy had a sort of gay crush. On him.
He cleared his throat. "Why tell me this now?"
Malfoy didnít look up. "Potter... how would he know any of that? Iíve never -- not even said a word -- and definitely not written anything, and I know I still treat you the same way as before -- thereís no way he could possibly know--"
"Actually you donít treat me the same as before," said Harry. Malfoy raised his face and stared at him blankly.
"You donít -- I mean, I never wouldíve guessed you felt anything, erm, positive," Harry stumbled, and Malfoy looked back down, his cheeks reddening even further. "But if anything youíre more... I dunno, you act like me and Ron and Hermione hardly even exist. Like youíre not even thinking about us at all any more."
"You exist, believe me," muttered Malfoy.
Harry cleared his throat. "You donít act like I do. I suppose itís part of whatís made me suspicious of you this year."
"Did either of your little minions notice that?"
"Ron and Hermione? Theyíre not my minions. And no. Or... well, I suppose Hermione may have. They both thinking Iím mental, though. About you being involved in anything suspicious."
Malfoy smiled slightly.
"Actually to be honest they... erm, they said Iím sort of, erm, obsessed with you."
Malfoy looked back up at him, shocked.
"Not -- not, I mean, in a weird or, you know, g... erm..." Harry trailed off. Oh, that was tactful.
Malfoyís lips twitched. "Not in a weird, gay kind of way, you mean?"
Harry could feel his blush heating even further. This had to beat the time Uncle Vernon had had to explain the stains on Dudley's sheets, which Harry was in charge of laundering, for Most Mortifying Conversation For All Involved, Ever.
Harry cleared his throat. "That, erm, really didnít come out right. Sorry."
Malfoy chuckled and Harry found himself almost smiling. "So youíre obsessed, are you?"
Harry shrugged. "Iíd call it curious."
Malfoy laughed, and Harry suddenly realized he hadnít seen Malfoy laugh in a very, very long time. "Iím sure you would."
"You know, it actually doesnít feel all that great to find out I was right," he said, surprising himself.
"I... youíre... I know you donít want to do whatever it is Voldemort told you to do," he said, and winced in sympathy as Malfoy blanched at the name. "Youíre -- if MacCauleyís right, youíre not sure youíre right any more. Itís not -- I wanted to figure you out when I thought you were plotting fiendishly and, I donít know, laughing a sinister laugh or something." Malfoy smiled slightly. "Youíre not, are you?"
Malfoy wrapped his arms around himself. "No."
"Maybe itís a good thing he -- MacCauley -- came back in time. I mean, he said you accepted the offer of sanctuary. And he survived, and heís free, and all that."
"Thatís him," said Malfoy. "Thatís not me. Where he comes from, the Dark Lord is gone and all the Death Eaters died years ago, right? Last I heard, over here theyíre all still pretty alive."
"Yeah, but the Order is here. And if Dumbledore offered you sanctuary -- or, well, offered MacCauley sanctuary -- then Iím sure heíd do the same for you. And they can keep you safe."
"You put a lot of faith in one batty old man," said Malfoy.
"Heís beaten Voldemort before," said Harry.
Malfoy chewed on his lip.
"Think about it, at least," said Harry.
Malfoy gazed at him uncertainly and Harry reflected that this was the first time he and Malfoy had ever had a real conversation with no insults or hexes.
"Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Potter," said McGonagall, re-entering the room with the other Order members in tow. "Would you please join us?"
2.9. Hospital wing, Nexus minus 8 hours
"Now, before we contact the Ministry about Mr. MacCauley, there are a few things we need to--" and suddenly McGonagall was interrupted by a flash and a cloud of smoke, appearing as if from nowhere. Harry stood and spun to face the source of the noise, wand out. Through the smoke he could see everyone else in the same defensive stance, all wands at the ready. The smoke cleared, and Harry felt his mouth drop open.
"Harry?!" said MacCauley.
The man who had just emerged stumbled, then threw up, and Harryís mind reeled. What the hell could this be--
"No, Iím all right," gasped the man, though he was clutching on to MacCauleyís arm. "Only if thereís a chair or something..."
MacCauley glanced around and pushed the new arrival to the closest bed, pausing briefly to Vanish the mess on the floor. "What the hell are you doing here?" he said, his face pale under its freckles but a distinct vein of the closest thing Harry had seen to happiness beginning to colour his voice.
"Hang on," the man said weakly. "I -- no, I wonít pass out like you did, Hermione gave me Pepper-Up after we saw what had happened with your arrival, but I feel like Iíve been run over by a troll. On a train."
McGonagall cleared her throat. "Are you--"
"Harry, yeah, from seven years in your future," said the man. He looked up at Harry and gave him a wan smile. "So now you know what heís been feeling like," he said, cocking his head in Malfoyís direction.
"Mr. MacCauley, I take it that this was not planned," said McGonagall.
"Not in a million years," said MacCauley.
"MacCauley?" said the new Harry.
"To avoid confusion," said MacCauley.
The new Harry chuckled weakly. "Well if you're going by Eric MacCauley, I suppose I should go by Joshua Hayford, shouldn't I?"
MacCauley's eyes crinkled at the edges. "Never thought we'd use those again after the Tabard mission was over."
The new Harry smiled back at him. "Doesn't seem right to be nostalgic about that one. I remember you complained about the smell of sheep for weeks."
"Not as much as you complained about the banshees," said MacCauley, and Harry was struck by the genuine affection he seemed to have for the older version of himself. "Harry, not that I'm complaining, but why are you here?" MacCauley asked.
"You donít appear to be making much progress," said the older Harry -- Hayford, was it? "Yeah, weíve still got your Sieve open, weíre still watching -- though we can barely see a thing, even with Spelled glasses, and Hermioneís headache is getting blinding. It got really bad once youíd gone through -- not just the Sieve, but everything. Padmaís pretty sure thereíll be nothing visible in the Sieve, now that Iíve come through. As for the timeline itself, itís all bloody chaos."
"The Disappearances must be getting overwhelming," said MacCauley.
Harry -- Hayford, dammit -- nodded. "Not just that, though," he said. "You'd think that with the house burning down around us we'd be too busy scrambling to survive to take the time to trip each other up."
"You'd be wrong?"
"Couldn't be more wrong. It's insane."
"Your mother nearly killed your father at the Truce House," said Hayford bluntly. Malfoy's eyes widened, but MacCauley's face remained impassive.
"Was that due to the time collapse, or was she just checking off things she's always wanted to do before the end?"
"Hard to tell," said Hayford. "Fred and George have landed each other in hospital. I've got George in custody."
"You arrested me?" said George. "I mean -- you arrested him? After he'd got hurt?"
"He's in the Order," said Hayford. "Price on his head. The Order doesn't have proper medical facilities, so he had to come to St. Mungo's, which is in our territory. Don't feel too sorry for him; the wizard who was with Fred at the time will never walk again, and Fred himself was almost blinded."
"Merlin," said Ron.
MacCauley breathed in. "Oh God. What happened?"
"Disappearance at her nursery school. Remus and Tonks are frantic."
"And you were sent back as a last-ditch effort?"
"I volunteered. To see if I could convince this lot, and because Iíve got some information you donít." He turned to McGonagall. "You have to let Draco -- sorry, MacCauley -- do what he came here to do," he said. "Heís telling the truth. And if you donít let him... thereís still something you need to know, to win this thing."
"Well we all know that thereís in-fighting in your future," said Hermione gently. "Weíll make sure to avoid that--"
"Thatís not what I mean. I mean, thereís something Draco didnít know before he came back."
"What?" said MacCauley.
"Whoever changed the past? They fucked up."
"I think we all got that," said MacCauley, and Hayford shook his head.
"No, I mean worse than weíd thought. It wasnít just that they destabilized time. They... they missed a spot."
"Whoever went to track down and destroy all the Horcruxes. They failed. They missed a spot."
"I was the last Horcrux," said Hayford. MacCauleyís mouth dropped open. "Voldemort died, yeah, but a part of him was still left. In me."
MacCauley reached out for Hayfordís hand and held it, shifting to sit closer to him on the bed. "Oh my God. Harry, are you sure?"
Harry blinked. What the hell was that? Holding hands with Draco Malfoy? He glanced at his Malfoy, who looked just as bewildered.
"Hang on," said Harry. "Dumbledore's never said anything about that."
Hayford glanced at him. "Maybe Dumbledore didn't know. Maybe he would have told me eventually. In any case, I am a Horcrux. Weíve no idea how it happened, but it did."
"Who told you this?" asked MacCauley.
"Hermione." MacCauleyís eyes narrowed and Hayford shook his head. "I didn't trust her, and neither did Ron, so he had her arrested--"
"From the Truce House?!" said MacCauley, aghast.
Hayford nodded. "Tested her under Veritaserum. Then I went to six different people to confirm it. Padma Patil, Healers, researchers, the works."
"Harry, she couldíve--"
"Oi, you're the one who wanted to bring her into all of this in the first place," said Hayford. "Besides, all complex readings of magical auras and all that aside, there's one pretty simple test: if Iím a Horcrux, I can still speak Parseltongue." Hayford looked up. "Heís one too, obviously," he said, pointing at Harry.
Harry felt a crawling sensation along his spine. Bloody hell. That was... that was beyond disgusting. Suddenly he felt soiled.
MacCauley took a deep breath. "So it's not just the time shattering."
"It's not just the time shattering thatís gone wrong. It's me." Harry winced at the pain in Hayfordís voice.
"Harry, God, Iím so sorry," said MacCauley to Hayford.
"Funny, here you thought that maybe when you went back in time, we'd all disappear, right?"
"Draco, what if it's not everyone in our timeline that needs to disappear, but just me?"
Hayford looked down at their clasped hands. "I'm the one who's wrong. I'm the one who needs to just..."
"No, come on." MacCauley reached out and cupped Hayford's cheek, gently tilting his head up to look at him.
Harry could feel his mouth dropping open, and the general feeling of shock in the room was palpable. No. No way. It couldn't be. MacCauley had said that they were friends, but...
"The timeline would be unstable whether you were yourself or not," MacCauley said urgently. "The one doesn't have to have anything to do with the other--"
"It might, if the reason the timeline is unstable is that not only did Dumbledore die, but I was left alive. If what I've done, as Head Auror and fucking Voldemort Wrapping Paper, has been so different from what I should have done that--"
"You're not fucking wrapping paper, you're still yourself, only--"
Hayford reached up and brushed a strand of red off MacCauley's forehead, and gave him a grim smile. "Not really. Hermione, Remus, Padma, all of them tested me. I'm no better than Voldemort, because part of me is Voldemort. And Hermione's got a theory that once the original body of a Horcrux-maker dies, their Horcruxes grow more powerful within their containers, to try to get a new body. They were right all along."
MacCauley was silent for a moment. "I bet Weasley had a fine time saying I told you so," he finally said bitterly.
Hayford shook his head. "He cried," he said, his voice tight. "I havenít seen him cry since Molly and Percy died."
MacCauley drew closer and pulled Hayford to him. "Fuck," he said, and closed his eyes, burying his face in Hayford's hair, and it was as though there was nobody in the world but the two of them. "Fuck, all this time, all this worry..."
"But hey, maybe... maybe it'll all be all right, as long as I die," said Hayford. "Or rather, he does." He pulled back slightly and looked at Harry.
"What?!" said Hermione.
"He's a Horcrux," said Hayford. "What else should you do, with a piece of Voldemort's soul?"
2.10. Hospital wing, Nexus minus 7 hours
"All right, that is enough," said McGonagall, breaking in at last after a discussion that had raged for almost an hour. "Mr... Hayford," she said, turning to Hayford, "Regarding the decision to allow Mr. MacCauley to do what he came here to do, I am sorry, but the decision has already been made. I'm sorry that you apparently went to a great deal of trouble to come here and argue your case, but I still cannot allow you to do what you have asked us to. It would be utterly irresponsible."
"Even after seeing him?" said Fred, jerking his head towards Hayford. "Where d'you think he came from, then? And how does he know all the stuff he knows? Doesn't it prove anything to you?"
"It certainly makes coming to any decision somewhat more problematic, but in the end--"
"Somewhat more problematic?" said George. "Utterly buggered up, I'd say."
"Professor Lupin, what do you think?" asked Hermione.
"I am inclined to agree with all of you, that their story is extremely compelling," said Lupin. "But in the end... I'm sorry. I have to agree with Professor McGonagall. We can't just let them go."
"I already said I believe him," said Tonks. "I vote we let them go."
"And I already said that this is not a democracy and we are not having a vote," said McGonagall.
"So what are you going to do with us?" asked Hayford wearily. Harry couldn't help noticing that Hayford wasn't looking much better than MacCauley by this point, his hands trembling and his grey eyes bloodshot.
"Keep you here, until Albus returns," said McGonagall. "Then turn you over to the full Order, decide what to do with you as a group."
"Keep us imprisoned, then?" asked Hayford. "We haven't done anything wrong."
"I highly doubt you'll be confined for any terribly long period of time," said McGonagall.
"Just long enough to make sure we fail in what we came all this way to do," said MacCauley bitterly. He and Hayford shared a look of despair, and Hayford covered MacCauley's hand with his own.
"All right, then," he said, turning back to McGonagall. "I understand." He cleared his throat. "One thing, though. Hermione was also able to work out when the time traveller is going to land."
"We already knew," said MacCauley.
"No, we had a rough guess as to when the time traveller was going to affect the timeline," said Hayford. "Hermione and Padma were able to figure out that he's going to land in the Room of Requirement at 7:30. They said that if you still refused to let MacCauley go, you should still have someone meet the time traveller there. Especially as it's almost certainly going to be Fenrir Greyback."
"Very well," said McGonagall. "We will do so." She paused. "Thank you."
2.11. Room of Requirement, Nexus minus 5:15 hours
"Youíre sure this is where the time traveller came?" said Harry, as they all waited in the Room of Requirement an hour later.
"Iím sure," said Hayford. "Hermione and Padma checked and double-checked. They're sure too. It'll happen in the next fifteen minutes."
The room looked rather messier than usual, thought Harry. And rather like the Gryffindor boys' dormitory, minus the beds themselves, with posters of West Ham and the Chudley Cannons, paintings in various stages of completion, some weird bulbous weeds, scorch marks everywhere, and an empty owl cage in the corner. The Room of Requirement supposedly became whatever the 'requirer' needed it to be, but Harry had half expected to find what the time traveller they were trying to stop had wished for. He supposed it made sense that the Room would instead become whatever Hayford wanted it to be, but... what did that mean for the time traveller who was coming? He couldn't imagine Fenrir Greyback wanting to travel back in time to land in a boys' dormitory--
Actually, from what he'd heard of Fenrir, maybe that was exactly what he would wish for. Harry's stomach did an unpleasant flip.
They waited in silence for a few moments.
"You all right?" Hayford asked MacCauley in a low voice.
"About as all right as you are," said MacCauley.
"My sympathies, then," said Hayford. Then he blinked and looked slightly annoyed. "Damn, I nearly forgot," he murmured to MacCauley. "Hermione said it looked like you could probably use some of this." He took out a small vial from his pocket, and MacCauley gave him a wry smile.
Hayford nodded, and MacCauley stared at the vial in his palm for a moment, then folded Hayford's fingers around it and pushed his hand away. Hayford's eyebrows went up.
MacCauley shrugged. "Might need it more later," he said. He hesitated, then leaned closer and lowered his voice. "You know we could probably ask the twins to get you some Firewhis--"
"No," snapped Hayford. He closed his eyes briefly, then took a breath. "Sorry. No, no thanks."
"You're not exactly picking the best time in the world to pursue abstinence, you know," said MacCauley.
"Pot, meet kettle," said Hayford drily. "I'll tell you what. If we survive all this, I'm stopping cold."
MacCauley chuckled. "Think it's that simple, do you?"
"There's got to be a way to get rid of this... thing inside me," said Hayford, and Harry winced at the reminder. This thing, only a piece of his -- their -- parents' murderer, living on inside of both of them. It would make anyone turn to drink.
"Think that's all there is to it?" said MacCauley.
"Probably not," said Hayford. "But it'd be a start. Especially if I also didn't have to deal with Moody and the Order and Wiltshire and..."
MacCauley touched Hayford's shoulder, and Hayford covered MacCauley's hand with his. "We'll talk about it after," he said. "If there is an after."
Hermione cleared her throat. "I take it you two are a couple," she said to Hayford and MacCauley, her tone determinedly casual despite a bit of a rosy glow to her cheeks.
MacCauley gave a small chuckle. "Oh dear, is it obvious?"
Harry felt himself going red too. Which was ridiculous. He wasn't the one dating Malfoy, after all. No need to be embarrassed. Make that mortified. No reason at all.
"As in, dating each other?" said Ron.
"In fact, living together."
"Not at all."
"Since when?" said Hermione.
"About four years."
"Why didn't you say so when you first arrived here?"
Hayford chuckled. "Why, are you under the impression that that would have made his story more believable?"
Harry shook his head silently. The passage of years aside, this was the same person who'd almost killed Katie Bell. And Ron. How could anybody get over that? How could Hayford get over that?
"What happened to Ginny?" asked Ron, and Harry really wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Hayford and MacCauley traded a glance, and Hayford shrugged. "Just didn't work out."
Even Harry's ears were feeling hot now, and he desperately wished Ron and Hermione were somewhere else. Anywhere else. Romania seemed about right.
"And when did... this," Ron gestured between Hayford and MacCauley, "happen?"
"Oh he's known he was bi for ages," said MacCauley. "Since before Hogwarts."
"What?!" said Harry. "No I haven't!"
Hayford laughed. "No, he's just being a wanker."
"First year, then," said MacCauley.
"Seventh year, you arse. I distinctly remember not having much room to think anything about boys before that, other than 'Is this one going to try for Ginny too.'"
"So much time wasted," said MacCauley, shaking his head.
"Don't go on about time wasted with me, Mr. 'Astoria Greengrass made me question my own gayness.'"
"She'd make any queer question himself," MacCauley protested.
"Maybe because she's got bigger balls than ninety percent of the blokes out there."
"And marvelous tits and no gag reflex whatsoever," said MacCauley.
"That's information probably better left private," said Hermione, and Harry gave her a grateful look. "And how did you two get together?" she asked, and Harry's gratefulness evaporated.
"Erm. Do we have to hear this?" asked Harry.
"Actually, I'm rather fascinated," said Malfoy blandly, and Harry shot him a glare.
"I really wasn't obsessed with him that way in sixth year, if that's what you're asking about," said Hayford.
"When did you become interested?"
Hayford sighed and seemed to come to a decision. "If you must know, it was shortly after Ginny." He cleared his throat. "Erm, after she told me she was six weeks pregnant--"
"Pregnant?!" said Ron, and looked at Harry accusingly.
"...after I'd been away for two months," Hayford finished.
Ron's head snapped back to Hayford. "What?!"
Hayford shrugged. "I was away a lot. I had to have secrets because of work. She didn't appreciate that. I got tired of her carping on and on about it. We were fighting more and more -- and you two weren't doing much better," Hayford glanced at Ron and Hermione. "For what it's worth, you two were over pretty soon after that, too. And Draco was there, and I'd wondered about other boys for a while, and then one day we'd both been drinking and... well--"
This time the flash and the billow of smoke didn't send Harry tumbling to the floor. It seemed different from the other two apparitions, though -- more whirly, less bright, with slightly less smoke. Apparently, MacCauley had been right and the original time traveller had been using a different method to come back.
A figure stumbled out of the smoke, lurching towards a small model of Hogwarts on a table and supporting himself on it, then sank to the ground, unconscious. Harry drew back his wand to aim it at him, and froze.
The room was utterly silent.
"Merlin's Y-fronts," said Ron faintly. "Now there's three of you."
MacCauley gave a deep sigh. "Splendid."
2.12. Hospital wing, Nexus minus 5:00 hours
"Malfoy? What are you doing here?" asked the new time traveller, dazed, having woken up to the sight of MacCauley leaning over him. "Why do you look like that?"
"What are you doing here?" countered MacCauley.
The time traveller shook his head to clear it, then noticed the other people gathered around him. "I--"
"No, let me save your breath. You've travelled back in time to change the past, yes? Something to do with Dumbledore?"
The new time traveller was blinking rapidly, looking from one set face to another. "Who the hell are you?"
"Who the hell do you think we are, Harry?" said MacCauley impatiently. He gave a vague wave at the crowd. "Those are all people you might've been expecting to see here. This Harry and I," he indicated himself and Hayford, "came back here to stop somebody from pushing Dumbledore off the Astronomy Tower tonight." The other man gave a start. "We thought we were going to stop Fenrir Greyback. Apparently, we're supposed to stop you."
The man was frowning, confused. "Fenrir? Pushing -- no, that's completely mental, that's not--"
"Did you come back in time to push Dumbledore off the Tower?" asked Hayford.
"Push him off?!" said the new Harry. "Why the hell would I do that?!"
"So what did you come to do?"said Harry.
"To save him!" said the new Harry. "And keep the Death Eaters from coming into Hogwarts!"
"All right, this is getting bewildering," said Malfoy dazedly. "Can one of you just... do something about..." he waved his hand at the three Harrys, "this? It's getting on my nerves, badly, that you all look and sound the same."
"You know for the first time I really understand poor Mum," said George to Fred. "Let's not do the switching thing to her again, all right? Ever?"
"Ever," Fred nodded.
Hayford blinked, then laughed. "Right, yes, I suppose it is confusing. Here, I'll change my own colouring," he said, and took a sip of the Morph potion he'd brought for MacCauley. Harry watched, fascinated, as his hair turned light blond and his eyes turned grey, and reflected that despite the fact that he and the newest Harry had the same colouring, it had to be pretty easy for everyone to distinguish him from either of his older versions. He hadn't felt this skinny and spotty and full of awkward angles since the first time he'd spoken to Cho. The two older versions of himself both looked so much taller, stronger, their voices so much deeper -- the one from MacCauley's time slightly raspy, no doubt from smoking Gillyweed -- and their eyes tired and filled with pain.
"I loathe those colours on you," MacCauley remarked. "I swear you do it on purpose to make me jealous. Besides, you can't pull it off, at all." He glanced at the third Harry. "Funny, when I got here I was happy to see your younger self, because I thought it was as close as I'd ever get to seeing you again. And I'm glad you've come back yourself. But this..." he nodded at the third Harry, "this is rather too much of a good thing."
Hayford chuckled and put a hand on his arm and the third Harry blinked at them, bewildered.
"I take it we're not a couple in your future, then," said MacCauley.
Harry Three recoiled. "What?! No! Of course not! Don't be disgusting!"
Hayford laughed. "Oi. That's my boyfriend you're insulting," he said, and Harry Three gaped at him.
Hermione cleared her throat. "So what happened?" she asked. "Where -- when are you from?"
"2001," said Harry Three, tearing his eyes away from Hayford and MacCauley.
"What's your time like?"
MacCauley rolled his eyes. "I think we figured that one. Summary, in fifty words or less? Is Voldemort dead in your time?"
"May of 1998."
Harry started. That was awfully close. "Even though Dumbledore supposedly died -- will die in just a few hours?"
"No, letís start at the beginning," said MacCauley. "What happened the night he died?"
Harry Three swallowed. "Iíd gone with him, to try to find one of Voldemortís Hor--" he broke off, biting his lip and glanced around at the people listening to him.
"They all know about Horcruxes, you can go on," said Hermione.
Harry Threeís eyes widened, but he still looked uncertain.
"Harry," said Lupin gently, putting a comforting hand on Harry Three's shoulder, "if you're worried about letting out Order secrets, you don't have to be. Everyone here is either already in the Order or under our control," he glanced at both Malfoys, "and even if you don't believe that, you know now that the biggest secret -- the Horcruxes -- is now common knowledge."
Harry Three gazed at him for a long moment, then nodded slowly and began to speak. "We went to a cave. Thought weíd found it, but Dumbledore was... hurt, getting it. By the time we got back to Hogsmeade he was incredibly weak, and there was a Dark Mark over the Astronomy Tower." MacCauley and Malfoy traded a glance. "We flew back to Hogwarts and he wanted me to get Snape for him, but when we got to the Tower, Malfoy was waiting for him."
"By myself?" asked Malfoy.
"It never did work, then," Malfoy muttered.
"What didnít work?"
"No, it worked."
Malfoyís eyebrows shot up. "But then how -- why--"
"All the Death Eaters whoíd come through were delayed by people from the Order, and the DA, fighting them -- Iíd given them Felix Felicis but some of them were still injured, Bill Weasley was mauled by a werewolf--" and Ron made a soft sound of dismay. "They did get to the Tower eventually -- used Peruvian Darkness Powder to get past the Order and DA--" Fred and George started, eyes wide. "You were supposed to kill Dumbledore right away, but he stalled, and got you talking, and you looked like you were going to defect. You even lowered your wand."
Malfoy gazed at him, troubled.
"Finally Snape and the other Death Eaters showed up, and Snape killed Dumbledore--"
"What?!" There was a general outcry and Harry Three shook his head impatiently.
"No, no, it wasn't -- he only did it because Dumbledore had asked him to, he didn't want to--"
"Oh God,"said MacCauley. "Severus told me that once. How Dumbledore made him swear that heíd kill him if it came down to it, to spare me having to commit murder."
"He did?" said Hayford. "You never told me that."
"Severus didn't want it commonly known," said MacCauley.
Harry's mind was reeling. Snape? Forced to commit murder? On Dumbledore's orders?
"So how are you going to stop any of this from happening again?" asked MacCauley, as if he hadn't just delivered a piece of stunning news.
"I know a curse. I can make the Vanishing Cabinet kill anyone who goes through it."
"Thatíll take care of the Death Eaters," said Hayford. "What about Malfoy?"
"I know when he got up to the Tower. I know Dumbledore will be holding him off, but just in case Malfoy suddenly decides to grow a backbone, Iíll be there to stop him from hurting Dumbledore. And keep Dumbledore on the Tower so that Snape can help him."
"Heíll still die in less than a year," said MacCauley. "Severus told me the injury to his hand--"
"I know," said Harry Three. "Heíll have that year, though. And I can let him know where the Horcruxes are. And it'll all be so much easier."
"Harry, hasn't anybody told you itís dangerous to play with time?" said Hermione.
"You did, actually," he said. "It's your research that got me interested in all of this. It's your spell that I used, when I realized I could time travel without dovetailing, and actually change the past."
"And you still decided to ignore my warnings, and come back here to change things?"
Harry Three smiled at her sadly. "I had to," he said.
"Because everything's fucked up."
"How?" asked Tonks. "What happened?"
"Everything went wrong," said Harry Three. "The War... there was too much death, and too much violence, and four years later none of us are getting over any of it."
"What díyou mean?" asked Tonks.
"For starters, you and Lupin got married--" Harry Three began, and Lupin and Tonks both blushed again, and Tonk's hair was now closer to fuchsia than rosy pink, "but you were both dead before your first anniversary. Your son was only a few months old."
Tonks frowned. "You're serious?"
"You dad died, too, and your son, Teddy -- he's four, he's being brought up by your mother, who really can't do it. He's full of energy, and she has none. She's been in mourning for so long, for all of you... I try to help but I don't know what the hell I'm doing with him..."
"We had a son?" said Lupin.
"Something about werewolf reproductive biology not as accurate as you'd thought, then?" said MacCauley.
Harry Three turned to the twins, and hesitated before speaking. "You died, Fred." Fred's eyes widened, and George paled. "You died in a corridor during battle, I was with you, and one moment you were joking with Percy and the next you were dead. You haven't got over it yet," he said to George. "I can't... you don't want to know what life is like for you now. It's four years later and you still..." he trailed off, shuddered. He took a deep breath. "And your stories were repeated fifty times, at Hogwarts alone. In the months that I spent flailing about trying to figure out what to do, hundreds of people were arrested, disappeared, killed, Dementor-Kissed..."
"It's four years later, though," said Hermione. "Isn't life getting better? For anybody?"
"Nobody I know. You two," he motioned to her and Ron, "you've been on-again, off-again for years. Too much grief, and too much work, and too much fighting because you were both so bloody messed up."
"And you and Ginny?"
"Same story, only a lot uglier and with a lot more broken dishware. I'm pretty sure the last break-up was the last straw."
ďAlcohol have anything to do with that?Ē asked MacCauley drily, and Harry Threeís eyes widened. "Never mind, none of my business. Well, the future you gave us -- the future you will give us, that is -- isn't much better than that. Only it also comes with a complete breakdown of the fabric of space and time. So all in all, I'd say yours is the less miserable path, wouldn't you?"
"Dunno about you," said Hayford, "but I'd much rather deal with a shitty world that's got a hope in hell of still existing for more than eight years or so than one that doesn't. Why couldn't you leave well enough alone?"
"Just how are you going to make the Cabinet kill the Death Eaters?" asked MacCauley.
Harry Three eyed him suspiciously, but a quick glance around the room seemed to convince him it was safe to continue.
"A variation of Strigonomasmobile."
"Those are spells designed to cause harm to witches and wizards using objects for traveling illegally, aren't they?" asked Hermione. Harry Three nodded. "Used by the Ministry to prevent entry to forbidden places."
"Like the Department of Mysteries, yeah," said Tonks. "It was hellish trying to figure a way in last year when the Order was setting watch there."
Lupin closed his eyes briefly and muttered something under his breath. "Harry." All three of them turned to him, but he was addressing the man on the bed. "You're going to use Strigonomasmobile?"
"Yes. It'll work, no Death Eaters--"
"Dora, do you remember how we finally circumvented the one at the Department of Mysteries?"
Tonks frowned. "You went in and -- oh bollocks."
She turned to Harry Three. "Remus and Dobby went in and disarmed the wards. He was able to do it because Strigonomasmobile is only effective against witches and wizards. It doesn't affect house elves... or werewolves."
Harry Three gaped at her, stricken.
"So after you left the Room of Requirement, Fenrir came through," said MacCauley. "So he wasn't a time traveller after all." He shook his head. "And it's your fault I got mauled by him, then," he said to Harry Three. "I tried to step between Fenrir and Dumbledore, and he just swatted me aside and ripped my arm open. Thatís why I began to use the Morph potion; itís the only thing thatíll help the pain from werewolf wounds."
"Everything was so confused, though..." said Hayford, running a hand through his messy blond hair, making it even messier. "I remember Fenrir rushing past, I remember suddenly being able to move again, but it's all so blurred together..."
"That was you too, wasnít it?" said MacCauley to Harry Three. "You were up on that Tower, you Confunded us while you tried to figure out what to do. See if Dumbledore was dead. See if any other Death Eaters had managed to come through. And then you left."
Harry Three was shaking his head. "No, that -- I..."
Harry felt a pang of sympathy for the wreck sitting before them, being accused of doing all sorts of things he hadn't done yet.
"Whatís your plan?" he asked the bewildered man. "After you save Dumbledore?"
Harry Three frowned. "Plan? Nothing. He'll survive, he'll help you to find all the Horcruxes, and kill Voldemort. Youíll get it done faster than I did. All those people wonít have to die while youíre trying to figure things out on your own." He paused. "I also... I've got Dumbledore's wand, I took it from his grave--"
"Why the fuck would you do that?" asked MacCauley.
Harry Three rubbed a hand over his face wearily. "It's supposed to be unbeatable. It's the Elder Wand--"
"Oh God you really have cracked," said MacCauley. "The Elder Wand is a bloody fairy tale, you dolt! Next you're going to tell us you've also got the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility! Or maybe you've brought Babbity Rabbity herself, Cackling Stump and all?"
Harry Three gave him a wry smile. "The Stone's lost, but I do have my Cloak-"
"Don't be an arse, Harry, we all know about your Cloak. I've even got it with me. And I suppose you," he turned to Harry, "have one too?"
Harry nodded. "Back in my room."
"So we have three of the Deathly Hallows; does that make us all the Masters of Death now?"
Harry Three scowled at him. "No, it doesn't, because it's supposed to be the different Deathly Hallows. But the Cloak is one of the Hallows, whether you believe it or not."
"If you actually believe--" MacCauley began, but Hayford interrupted him.
"So what will you do if you don't save Dumbledore? Kill off the remaining Horcruxes, then go after Voldemort?"
Harry Three blinked.
"Because it looks like you did. In our timeline."
"The Death Eaters never came into Hogwarts. A bunch of them disappeared that night, actually. But Fenrir Greyback got in, and pushed Dumbledore off the Tower. Dumbledore died a year later, never having regained consciousness."
"Fuck," said Harry Three softly.
"And there were a bunch of odd incidents in the month between Dumbledore's fall and Voldemortís death." Harry Threeís eyes widened. "At the Room of Requirement, Gringotts, and Grimmauld Place. Any of those ring a bell?"
Harry Three nodded slowly. "Did... so Voldemort did die?"
"Yes, he did," said MacCauley.
"And his snake?"
"Yes. Found her dead next to him. In the Forest of Dean."
"So that's why it didn't matter that I didn't kill Voldemort," said Hayford thoughtfully, his grey eyes distant. "The prophecy did come true after all. I did kill him. Or rather, you did," he said to Harry Three. "Or you will."
"And in your timeline there wasn't a Ministry controlled by Death Eaters?" said Harry Three. "Or mass disappearances of Muggle-borns, or a war that almost destroyed Hogwarts?"
"No," said Hayford.
Harry Three took a deep breath.
"Unfortunately, you never did kill off the last Horcrux," said Hayford.
"The one inside me," said Hayford. "I dunno why. But it's still here. He's still here."
Harry Three stared at him.
"What were you going to do? Kill me after killing Voldemort? Because apparently, you failed to do that. Either he killed you too, or you just forgot to cross the last t and dot the last i in your plan, who knows, who cares. Thanks to you, Iíve been carrying him around for seven years. You fucking incompetent bastard!"
2.13. Hospital wing, Nexus minus 4:45 hours
This wasn't quite like a nightmare, thought Harry vaguely as they sat and waited for McGonagall to return with Snape. Nothing that horrific had actually happened; nobody was actually dead, no harm had been done -- yet. But it was all utterly mental and had that unreal quality of dreams, or Divination homework invented at four in the morning.
Ron and Hermione were talking quietly together, and he devoutly hoped that their conversation was about whether or not they would ever be a couple, and if so, whether they would be able to not get divorced and end up hating each other. Because otherwise they were probably discussing Harry's own relationship with Ginny, or, worse yet, his possible relationship with Malfoy.
The other Order members, Lupin and Tonks and Fred and George, were all huddled around Harry Three, busily discussing Order business no doubt. Or perhaps discussing Fred and George's newest inventions, it was hard to tell, as Harry Three looked in more dire need of cheering up than anybody Harry had ever met.
MacCauley and Hayford were in their own world, heads together, talking quietly, Hayford's fingers tracing random patterns over the freckles on the back of MacCauley's hand. Hayford leaned over and kissed MacCauley and Harry turned away.
Best not think about that, really.
"And now youíre just as desperate as I am, arenít you?" said Malfoy quietly taking a seat next to Harry. Harry tensed slightly. "Relax, Potter, I'm sure you'll be all right."
"How? Iíve got a piece of Voldemort inside me. How can that be all right?"
"Itís not your fault."
"He killed my parents and tries to kill me every couple of years like it's a tradition, but somehow, heís inside me. Heís the reason I can hear snakes. I thought it was so cool, to be able to do that, and now I find itís just--" Harry shuddered. "Fuck, this is sick."
Malfoy rubbed his hand across his hair. "Itís not your fault, Potter."
"I know -- but... fuck!"
"Potter, come on," said Malfoy.
"Besides -- did you see him? Both of him? The one from the right timeline looks like shit and has just come back to try to fix everything but heís too fucked up to do anything right, and the one from the wrong timeline is becoming Voldemort! Iím becoming Voldemort!"
"Heís not you!" Malfoy snapped.
"Yes he is! They both are! And one of them is a monster in the making and the other oneís a complete victim and about to fuck up everything..."
Malfoy put a hand on Harryís shoulder. "Potter! Get a fucking grip!"
Harry put his elbows on his knees and leaned forward, bowing his head and closing his eyes.
"Look, you... you arenít them," said Malfoy. "And now you know, and youíll do things differently. Youíll track down all the Horcruxes and then-"
"And then Iíll have to die, wonít I?"
"Of course not! Harry Three didnít die! I'm not sure how, but somehow he's alive and not a Horcrux and I know he said it was complicated but you just have to figure out how he did it and--"
"And how do I know Iíll be able to do whatever he did to survive?"
"Because you did it before."
"He did it before. Not me."
"You know where all the Horcruxes are now. You know how to kill all the Death Eaters, you know--"
"Yeah, well Harry Three knew too, didnít he? And look at how well that turned out for those poor bastards from the alternate timeline."
"He was working alone. You won't be."
Harry suddenly realized Malfoy was still holding his shoulder, and was sort of rubbing it in sympathy. And that it felt pretty good.
A completely bizarre and utterly inappropriate image of Hayford and MacCauley holding on to each other floated through his mind, and it was so insane how he felt like he wanted nothing more than to take more comfort than he should from Malfoy. Really, it was Ginny he wanted, he told himself. This was just a reaction to finding out he had to die in the near future. But...
"How do we know?" he said, forcing himself not to react. "Things could go wrong. Somebody could blab to Voldemort -- you saw how many people know by now. Voldemort could make himself even more Horcruxes. I could fail again--"
"And thereís no good future to look forward to here."
"Yeah, there is. The one where you kill that bastard completely, and do what Harry Three did and come back to life yourself."
Harry sat back up. "Hang on," he said. "Thatís a good future, to you?"
Malfoy suddenly stopped rubbing his shoulder.
Harry bit his lip. "You sound like youíre going to defect."
Malfoy gazed at him, uncertain, searching for something in his eyes. Then he pressed his lips together and gave a small nod.
"I donít see that thereís much choice," said Malfoy.
They sat in silence for a moment.
Harry finally broke it. "Does you deciding to come over to our side have anything to do with... erm. With me?"
Malfoy bristled. "Why?"
"Just asking," muttered Harry, wishing he hadn't asked. Wishing MacCauley and Hayford weren't on the other side of the room, quietly embracing, because now he was mortified and it was pretty obvious Malfoy was, too. And normally an embarrassed Malfoy would be a happy thing for Harry, but somehow in the last few hours he'd started to actually almost like Malfoy, and now...
"I don't know," said Malfoy finally. "Maybe. But it's mostly... well, it's not going to work, is it?"
Harry was brought down to earth with a sudden thump. Right. The Malfoy he'd met today, the older one with the red hair and freckles and the tragic story that made Harry want to help him, wasn't the one sitting next to him. Wasn't his Malfoy. His Malfoy had had no basic change in ideology, no maturing, no seeing he was wrong -- he was just being practical and acting out of self-preservation.
And why did this surprise him?
"Besides," Malfoy continued, "what would be the point of defecting for you? You've got your Weaselette. Who could compete with her?"
Harry dropped his eyes, not particularly caring to admit to his current lack of 'Weaselette'. "Your Cabinet is going to work, though. Or... well, it will if Harry Three doesn't muck it up."
"How likely do you think that is, Potter?" said Malfoy, indicating all the people in the room. "Even if I manage to get the time to go work on it and actually have my great breakthrough today, d'you really think anybody here is going to let me use it?"
Harry shook his head.
"I've got to use the loo," said Malfoy abruptly, and got up. Lupin and Tonks started, and Harry waved them back to their seats.
"I'll keep an eye on him," said Harry, and followed him into the hospital's bathroom.
"What do you want, Potter?" said Malfoy wearily as he entered. "Can I not even use the toilet without you hanging about?"
"I'm making sure you don't scarper off. What with you having confessed to trying to kill Dumbledore and all."
Malfoy grimaced sourly. "You're sure it's not nostalgia?"
"Well here we are. You, me, and a bathroom. It must bring back fond memories, no?"
Harry flushed. "No. You know it doesn't. I didn't mean for you to get hurt."
"Certainly looked that way from where I was lying and bleeding."
"I didn't know that spell would do what it did." He paused. "Did you get any scars from it?"
"Not bad ones. Snape was pretty good about healing them."
The door opened and Ron poked his head in. "You all right, Harry?"
"We're just talking," said Harry. "Don't worry, McGonagall took his wand, remember?"
Ron gave Malfoy an only slightly suspicious look. "You'll let us know if you need anything, right?"
"Yeah, thanks Ron."
They waited until the door closed.
"So what do you think we should do?" asked Harry. "With Harry Three, that is?"
"I believe him," said Malfoy, his voice low. "I think we should let them -- I mean, the older you and me -- MacCauley and Hayford, that is -- do what they came here to do."
Harry gazed at him. "Which means we'd forget all of this."
"A whole day," said Malfoy
Harry blew out his breath, suddenly a little disgusted with himself. "Yeah, we're looking at forgetting all of this. What about Remus and Tonks? And Fred and George -- and Snape? They're looking at losing so much more."
"I wonder what happened to me," said Malfoy.
"In Harry Three's time?" Malfoy nodded. "You could ask him."
Malfoy shook his head quickly. "I don't think I want to know."
"Have you taken a good look at MacCauley? How could it be worse than that?"
"You tell me. In MacCauley and Hayford's time, Snape is living underground with the Banned Order. In Harry Three's time, he's dead."
"He's a hero," Harry pointed out.
"A very dead hero," Malfoy shot back. Which was a good point, Harry had to admit.
"It's odd, that if MacCauley gets his way, we won't remember any of this."
"Or any of what'll happen in our future."
Harry nodded, and leaned against the wall of the bathroom. "I couldn't help noticing that in both futures, Iím not with Ginny."
"I noticed that."
"And in one, Iím with... you."
"I noticed that too," said Malfoy drily. "Why are you mentioning this? Feeling a little uncertain about your one true love?"
"Don't call her that."
"Ooh, trouble in paradise?"
"It's not paradise," he said flatly. "I mean, it is. Sort of. She's... we've had problems."
And no, this was absolutely not the thing to be talking to Draco Malfoy about. "Do tell," said Malfoy, a slightly malicious gleam in his eyes.
Harry blew out his breath. "I'm not sure she's my girlfriend right now," he said and almost immediately wanted to hit himself as he braced himself for another round of malice from Malfoy.
Malfoy opened his mouth, then closed it and the gleam dimmed a bit. "Why's that?" he asked, sounding genuinely curious.
"Because I... because I'm a shit who doesn't really consider her very much," he said slowly.
Malfoy smirked. "Why's that? Is she, erm, missing something?" He paused delicately. "Something you're... curious about?"
"No. Not... no. I don't think." Harry cleared his throat. "It's not that."
He was curious, though. And... and seeing MacCauley and Hayford together was so strange, and unsettling, and... all right, maybe a little hot...
And it felt weird as hell to be chatting to Draco Malfoy about this, but only Malfoy could understand what it felt like to see your future self and feel close and yet so distant from them, and what it felt to see your future self so obviously messed up, and also so obviously so in love with someone you despised...
"Or is Weasley not living up to her reputation?" asked Malfoy blandly. "Not as adventurous as promised on the bathroom walls?"
"No, that's -- what?" Harry blinked at him. "What bathroom walls?"
"Maybe that's only in the Slytherin dorm, then," said Malfoy.
"She's adventurous enough--" Harry began and oh blast was he now trying to defend Ginny's honour by affirming that she was a slut instead of blaming her for being a prude? "This isn't a good topic," he said.
Malfoy shrugged. "Why? We probably won't remember any of this later," he pointed out. "It's almost like it doesn't count." He ran a nervous hand through his hair.
"I suppose not," said Harry.
"D'you know what?" said Malfoy, his voice tight. "If this doesn't count, then there's no reason not to... not to take advantage of that."
"What d'you mean?" asked Harry, and drew in his breath, startled, as Malfoy stepped closer to him.
"This," said Malfoy, and stepped closer and pressed their lips together lightly, then pulled back.
Harry gaped at Malfoy, dumbfounded.
"We won't remember any of this afterwards, right?" said Malfoy. "And your girlfriend just broke up with you, and at least part of you is turned on by those two in there." He waited a beat, and Harry realized this was his opportunity to step away. And then the opportunity was gone, and Malfoy reached for Harry and it was so bizarre, but it was true, wasn't it, that he wouldn't remember any of this, and Ginny had broken off with him, and there was no reason not to...
Harry found himself inexplicably not backing away, only drawing in his breath as Malfoy's lips touched his again, his mind reeling at everything that had happened today, all that he'd seen and heard -- Dumbledore's possible fate by the end of the day, Snape's role in all of this, and the two older versions of himself, both so incredibly wounded, one of them only held afloat by an older version of the boy in his arms -- all of it as out of control as he felt, and he realized Malfoy's lips were soft and warm and felt like refuge. He returned Malfoy's kiss, distantly noting that it wasn't really all that different from kissing Ginny, pulled Malfoy closer and felt Malfoy hard against him.
Malfoy's scent was spicy, his hands warm as they started to wander down Harry's back, his body firm, his heart racing under Harry's palm, and his lips were setting Harry on fire, God where the hell had Malfoy learned to kiss like this--
This was insane, totally mental, what the hell were they doing?
Throwing caution to the wind and turning away from the insanity of what was going on outside this room, that's what. Malfoy's mouth left his and he moved to Harry's neck and Harry briefly thought this was a bad move -- more room to have second thoughts if he wasn't overwhelmed by Malfoy's mouth hot on his own -- but then Malfoy's lips reached the side of his neck and he lost the plot a bit, dropping his head back against the door of the bathroom because, oh, fuck, that felt incredible, and Malfoy's hand was going to the front of his trousers and Harry was harder than he could ever remember being--
He was gasping and helplessly rocking forward against Malfoy's hand, because God knew Ginny'd never gone this far with him, and he reached down to Malfoy's trousers -- what would it be like to touch another boy, he'd wondered, and now he was going to find out--
Malfoy's mouth left his neck and he moaned next to Harry's ear, pressing him hard against the door, the door handle digging into Harry's back, Malfoy thrusting against his hand, swearing softly, a whimper in his throat, and somebody could come in any moment now, and his back was going to be impressively bruised at this rate, and then Malfoy's mouth found his again, and anybody could come in--
"Oh shit," he said, wrenching himself away from Malfoy's lips, the hand that had been stroking Malfoy now grabbing Malfoy's hand away from his own trousers instead. "What the fuck are we doing?"
Malfoy was still panting, lips reddened, cheeks flushed, his grey eyes dark and hungry, and the sight had to be one of the hottest things Harry had ever seen, but he pushed that thought away in horror.
What the fuck had he just done?!
Malfoy closed his eyes and ran a trembling hand through his hair, his entire being screaming frustration and disappointment and humiliation, and Harry could still feel the heaving of Malfoy's chest against his, their bodies still pressed together against the door, and for the life of him he couldn't make himself push Malfoy away.
"Fuck, what the hell was that?" he repeated in a whisper, and Malfoy put a hand on the door and pushed off, turning away.
This was all so much worse for Malfoy, he realized suddenly. If Harry's mind was reeling with all he'd seen and heard today, if Harry was fearful of what had happened, if Harry was having a hard time accepting the whole Voldemort-Horcrux thing, what about Malfoy? To hear MacCauley tell it, the entire year had been hell for him, and now his whole world was being tossed upside down, the plans he'd made weren't going to work, and he didn't know what to do either...
Malfoy made a low noise in his throat and leaned back against the wall next to him, eyes closed, clearly trying to steady his breathing and get a grip again. And what had just happened wasn't Malfoy's fault, Harry realized with deepening shame. Malfoy had been acting on what he'd been feeling for a long time. Harry himself had just... gone a bit mad. He'd used a simple disagreement with Ginny as an excuse to do something completely fucked up; he'd been so eager to explore and get what he wanted that he'd told himself their spat was an actual break-up. He was going to have to Obliviate himself, no matter what happened next.
And how fucking cowardly was that?
He was more of a coward than Draco Malfoy. Very nice. Live with that, Potter, he thought in self-disgust.
He cleared his throat. "Malfoy," he said, his voice hoarse. Malfoy stiffened but didn't acknowledge him. "I -- fuck, I'm sorry." Malfoy's eyes popped open and he stared at Harry in disbelief. "I -- I'm sorry. I'm a total berk."
I'm sorry I went along with this, I'm sorry I pushed you away, I'm sorry I won't be repeating that again, I'm sorry you somehow fell for me, I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry.
"I'm really sorry," he repeated quietly. He cleared his throat. "Can we, erm, chalk that up to temporary insanity and leave it at that?"
Malfoy, incredibly, laughed. "You're unbelievable. Did you somehow miss the fact that the only reason I did that is that we're going to forget it?"
"I'm unbelievable?" said Harry. "Oi, I'm not the one who has a crush on someone they don't even like." He closed his eyes for a moment and gave himself another mental slap. "And, fuck, forget I said that part, too."
Malfoy snorted. "You're not the best at this, are you?"
"I did mention my girlfriend just ditched me, right?"
"Smarter than she looks, then."
"Don't mention it." Malfoy frowned, then narrowed his eyes and peered at Harry's neck. "Erm. Potter." He waved at Harry's neck. "You'll want to do something about... that."
Harry turned and looked at himself in the mirror. "Bollocks."
"The spell's called 'Nehickeypas'," Malfoy said helpfully. "Although if you can keep up that level of blushing you probably don't need to worry. It's blending in quite nicely right now."
He whispered the spell to get rid of the impressive love bite on his neck, firmly put aside all thoughts of the bizarre bout of insanity he'd just indulged in, and turned his attention back to the others.
"About the forgetting everything," he said. "You realize it's not a sure thing, right? McGonagall's not convinced."
"Those two can't have come back for nothing," said Malfoy. "They risked a lot to get here. There's a reason for it. Besides, Granger's smart. If she knew what was going on, and was desperate enough to send them back..." He blew out his breath. "Unfortunately McGonagall just can't see that."
Harry nodded and straightened his clothing. "Erm... your tie," he said to Malfoy sheepishly, and Malfoy checked himself in the mirror and got rid of all evidence of what they'd done. Harry watched him, thinking. "She's not infallible, you know."
"McGonagall? Yeah, well, unfortunately, she's in charge."
"No, she's not."
Harry gazed at him.
"What are you saying?" asked Malfoy.
"I'm saying, we can't just sit back and decide it's her place to decide what happens to all of us."
"Come on, Potter, what can we do if she doesn't change her mind?"
"There's how many of us now, who know about this?"
"Three of you, two of me, McGonagall, the werewolf, Weasley and his insane brothers, Granger, and my half-blood cousin."
"And soon enough, Snape. That's thirteen. And only McGonagall, Lupin, and Harry Three think we shouldn't let MacCauley do what he came here to do."
"It's not a democracy," said Malfoy.
"No, but it's not a dictatorship either," said Harry. It was going to be hellish, though, if McGonagall didn't change her mind. She would only be doing what she thought was right, and Harry sympathized, but she just didn't understand. And Lupin... there was no way Harry wanted to go against him. But it was really only McGonagall and Lupin who were blocking this, and--
"Harry?" Ron popped his head into the bathroom again. "McGonagall's back."
2.14. Hospital wing, Nexus minus 3:30 hours
"I have spoken to Severus," said McGonagall, coming into the hospital wing. Snape swept in behind her, holding a small vial, staring at the older Malfoy with curiosity and at both older Harrys with distaste. "He is going to speak to the three of you," she said to the time travellers. "The rest of you wait here." She led the group into Madam Pomfrey's office, and there was a sudden buzzing sound that indicated a sound-deadening spell in place.
The others sat in silence for a few moments.
"If she decides that this still isn't good enough, that she's still not convinced..." Malfoy began.
"Then we'll have to convince her," said Hermione.
"And if we can't?"
"We'll have to think of something," said Harry.
"We can't go against her," said George. "All questions of loyalty to the Order aside, she's a tough old bird, and smarter than just about anybody we know except Dumbledore."
"She's not infallible, George," said Fred.
"What are you saying?" asked George. "You'd deliberately disobey her?"
"Not like we haven't before," said Fred.
"But not like this," George protested. "Not with anything this big. This isn't skiving off Transfigurations class you're talking about."
"Which makes it even more important," said Fred. "This isn't something that if we disobey we might get a detention. This is real, George."
"I know it's real," said George, stung. "Just because I don't agree--"
"Just because we're talking about--" Fred began, and then broke off. They stared at one another, and Harry could almost feel their unease at finding themselves arguing.
Was that what was in the future for all of them? Brothers, best friends, spouses, entire families torn apart?
What was the alternative, though? If they tried to force time back to how it was 'supposed' to have happened, supposedly Fred and George would not end up as sworn enemies. Because there would be no Fred and George; only George, alone and shattered. Lupin and Tonks would not be torn apart by her mother's death and her father's disloyalty to the Ministry. They would both simply be dead, and their child would grow up an orphan.
If McGonagall didn't agree to let MacCauley fix the timeline, it was unlikely there would be three factions, he reminded himself; they knew, now, what had happened in one version of the future, and surely they were smart enough to not allow it to happen again. They wouldn't let Moody be elected Minister. They would make sure purebloods weren't unfairly victimized. They would figure out what to do with the part of Harry that was Voldemort's soul.
But time would be changed. Would start to break down. The only future that didn't hold a threat of eventual total breakdown was the bleak one that had produced Harry Three.
Harry closed his eyes and hoped. For what, he had no idea.
Finally the door opened, and McGonagall, Snape and the time travellers came out. Snape looked to be deep in thought, Harry Three sunk into despair.
"Professor Snape agrees with Mr. MacCauley and Mr. Hayford," said McGonagall. "We are going to put the timeline back to what it should have been."
Harry let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding.
"What changed your mind?" Tonks asked McGonagall.
"Professor Snape is a skilled Legilimens," said McGonagall, and all three Harrys grimaced.
"And neither elder Potter has improved on even the woefully minimal level of Occlumency they learned from me when they were fifteen years old," said Snape. "And Mr. MacCauley, who is a skilled Occlumens, agreed to take Veritaserum."
"The task we are faced with now is going to be exceedingly difficult," said McGonagall briskly. "It is of course no longer a mere question of making sure that nobody interferes with the Cabinet or prevents Severus from doing as Albus requested. We now also need to make sure none of us remember any of this. We will all need to make sure what we remember of this day is only what should have happened, up to the appearance of Mr. MacCauley."
"There is something you're not thinking of, Minerva," said Lupin. "If we put this timeline back to what it was supposed to be, what's to stop Harry -- our Harry, that is -- from taking the same steps as Harry Three, four years from now?"
"Yeah, I know, it's bloody depressing," said Hayford. "We're potentially creating an endless temporal loop." He sighed. "What I wouldn't give for some Firewhisky right now," he muttered, and pushed up his glasses with a trembling hand.
He really looked like shit, thought Harry uncharitably in the silence that followed. He was even paler than before, his grey eyes dull with exhaustion, same as MacCauley and Harry Three -- in fact, they all looked like shit. God, how the hell had they all allowed themselves to get into such a fucked-up state?
Harry pushed down his impatience, and reminded himself that, fucked up as they were, they'd all still managed to do something pretty damn heroic, travelling into the past to save the world.
And suddenly he felt oddly humbled by the three time travellers. And even more oddly humbled by Malfoy -- his own Malfoy, that is -- because Malfoy had apparently also been operating under a hell of a lot of misery all year long, and still persevered in doing his best to accomplish what he thought was the right thing to do, just like the time travellers had.
All right, so the goal itself was somewhat less world-saving than MacCauley and Hayford and Harry Three's. Still pretty impressive, when you looked at it a certain way.
He glanced at Hayford and Harry Three, reflecting that, all admiration of his two older alter-egos aside, he was never going to even think about trying Firewhisky again, no matter what Ron said. Sure, it looked interesting, but apparently he really couldn't handle it.
Of course, if MacCauley and Hayford had their way, he wouldn't remember that he shouldn't touch the stuff.
MacCauley cleared his throat. "I've been thinking about it," he said to Hayford slowly. "I think -- as long as you and I don't just disappear in a puff of time logic -- maybe you and I can try to do something about that. When the time comes. Maybe hide the Time Magic books that Granger started reading, the research from Magda Geschichte that started her down that path. Or maybe come and talk to Harry four years from now, somehow convince him not to go back in time."
"That's a lot of maybes," said Lupin.
"Are you objecting because you donít think I can do it?" asked MacCauley quietly. "Or is it because you've seen the future as it's supposed to be, and you don't particularly want to die?"
There was another heavy pause, broken by Snape. "I doubt any of those of us who have found out we're marked for death is particularly eager to die," he said. Harry glanced around at Remus, holding on tightly to Tonks's hand, and Fred, standing behind George, a set look on his face and a hand resting on George's bowed shoulders. "Nor are any of us particularly eager to have Albus Dumbledore die before our eyes three hours from now." He pressed his lips together, and Harry could see a tremor passing through him. Good God, Snape was going to kill Dumbledore. Mere hours from now, if they went ahead with this, Severus Snape would be forced to commit murder. "But I do not see that there is much choice. The alternative is a few more years of life, and then chaos that will not just touch us, but the entire Wizarding world -- and beyond."
"Remus," said McGonagall. "Your concerns are noted. But I'm not sure we have a choice."
Lupin nodded, his face pale.
"And if we're going to Obliviate everyone, Remus, you've always been good at this; will you do the honours?"
Lupin bowed his head, then nodded. "This will obviously work best if I not only take away your memories of all that's happened, but also replace them with memories of what you all supposedly would have been doing if none of these gentlemen had appeared today. For myself and Tonks, it'll be simple enough to create memories of the two of us simply doing our patrolling duties, so I'll leave us to the end."
"And we won't remember any of this," said Tonks quietly, her hair starting to fade to a softer pink. "Can any of you perform complex Obliviates?" she asked the time travellers. "It'll go faster if it's not just one person doing it."
MacCauley and Hayford nodded. "I'm good at it," said Hayford. "It's standard Auror Training under Moody: Obliviating, implanting false memories, retrieving memories for Pensieves..."
"Retrieving -- as in, someone else's?" said Hermione. "Don't they have to cooperate?"
"Not necessarily," said Hayford. "Not with a Deanimus spell."
"Wouldn't that be painful?"
"It was when Voldemort invented the procedure," said MacCauley. "I helped bring it into the Aurors, and make it less painful. It puts them to sleep first."
"It's still a terrible invasion of privacy."
"If you're innocent, you've got nothing to hide," said Hayford. "And if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. At least, that's how Moody puts it."
"Harry?" said Lupin, and Harry suddenly realized Lupin was addressing him. "What would you have been doing today?"
"Today? Oh, erm... Ginny," said Harry, and blushed a bit as Malfoy sniggered. "I mean, we -- I was supposed to meet her at the lake, only I didn't show up, and she... erm, we sort of had a fight."
Lupin smiled slightly. "I'll give you a memory of... a happy hour by the lake, then, and a pleasant day spent thinking kind thoughts about her," he paused. "Suppose I'll have to track her down and do the same to her." He turned to the twins. "What would you two have been doing?"
"Wailing Woozies," they said.
"There's too much wailing," Fred continued.
"And not enough woozing," said George.
Lupin blinked a bit. "Ah. Of course. Well then, I'll make a memory of you working on them in your workroom. Actually... you know, I could probably help with the Wailing Woozies, James once tried to--"
"We're trying to not change the timeline, Remus," said MacCauley, chuckling, and Lupin glanced at him, a bit surprised at the familiar address. Harry supposed MacCauley and Lupin were closer than mere former student and professor in his future.
"Right, yes," said Lupin. "Hermione, you would have been studying, no doubt?"
"Actually," said Hermione, "I was trying to find out the identity of the Half-Blood Prince."
"The who?" asked Lupin, and glanced curiously at Snape, who'd suddenly started coughing.
"Erm, the Half-Blood Prince, long story," said Harry. "Ron, what were you going to be doing?"
"Studying," said Ron virtuously, and Harry was hard pressed not to roll his eyes.
"Right, then. Severus?"
"Preparing a first year Defence Against the Dark Arts lecture on werewolves," said Snape, his coughing fit under control.
"Teaching them early, aren't you?" said Lupin mildly. "Minerva?"
"Grading twelve NEWTs-level clothing Transfiguration assignments and wondering whether or not I should be concerned that all of my male students made ruffled tartan knickers."
"Mr. Malfoy, you would have been working on the Cabinet in the Room of Requirement?'
Malfoy nodded glumly.
ďYou figured it out... not too much later than right now, as a matter of fact,Ē said MacCauley, looking at his watch. ďIíll give you the last piece of the puzzle when I Obliviate you.Ē
Harry Three stood slowly. "No. No, you can't do this. Put everything back the way it was. Make it so that everybody dies again, everybody goes through hell again--"
"It's the way the timeline is supposed to go," said MacCauley gently.
"No!" said Harry Three, his voice breaking. "You can't!"
"Shut up," snapped Hayford, his pale, red-rimmed eyes hard and uncompromising.
"You don't understand--"
Hayford stood up, his trembling hands now steady as he pointed his wand at Harry Three. "Sit back down. You fucking coward. You don't want to go through tough times, so you're willing to destroy everything--"
"To save you!" Harry Three shouted. "All of you! To make things better!"
"There is nothing better about where we came from!" Hayford shouted back.
"Harry, he's sick, he doesn't know any better--" said MacCauley, grabbing Hayford's sleeve, but Hayford was too far gone in rage to hear.
"You bastard! It's because of you that I lost almost everything that meant anything to me, that I became--"
Harry Three moved and suddenly his wand was pointing at Hayford, and Harry's breath stopped.
"Stop it!" cried out Hermione. "Harry! Stop it!"
"I'm not going to let you leave everything as it was!" ranted Harry Three. "You don't understand! People are going to die, again, because of you!"
"You're the one who doesn't understand!" Hayford flung back. "You're going to make people wish they'd died instead! Again!"
Every wand was now trained upon them as the two men faced each other, pain lining both faces, desperation making both of them shake. God, if he could just -- if somebody could stun one Harry at the same time as the other one got stunned, neither one would have the advantage over the other one -- and he prepared to cast Stupefy on Harry Three and hope somebody got Hayford--
"Avada Kedavra!" shouted two identical voices, both voices the same as Harry's and neither coming from his own throat, and both men were lying prone.
Harry drew in his breath.
"Harry!" MacCauley fell to his knees next to Hayford. "Oh God, Harry, what the fuck have you done--" he shook him, then picked up his limp body, hugging him close. "Oh my God, Harry, you stupid bastard, what've you done..." his voice broke and he buried his head in Hayford's hair. "Harry..." The name came out in a sob.
Dimly Harry was aware of movement around him, aware that Hermione had dropped down beside Harry Three and was frantically checking for vital signs, that McGonagall and Ron were kneeling as well, and he and Malfoy glanced at each other and joined MacCauley on the floor. MacCauley was now weeping, holding on to Hayford, and Malfoy cautiously put out a hand and touched his shoulder.
"I'm... I'm sorry," he said quietly.
"Is he dead?" asked Harry, and his own voice sounded so strange to his ears.
MacCauley nodded mutely, still weeping.
"So is he," said Hermione, her fingers on Harry Threeís wrist. "They both... they're gone."
Harry took a deep breath. He'd been a triplet there, for a few hours, and now he was a singleton again. Definitely the weirdest day he'd ever have, he thought vaguely. And if it wasn't, he certainly didn't want to know what could possibly be weirder.
Lupin was holding Tonks, as they all gazed at MacCauley, crying brokenly over Hayford. She wiped her cheek and rested her head on Lupin's shoulder, holding him close, her hair now the same mousy brown it had been when he'd first seen her today.
And this really wasn't the time to stop and wonder what that all meant.
That was that, then. Now there was only MacCauley to figure out what to do with, assuming they all survived what Lupin was going to do to them.
"Erm... it's almost ten," said Ron hesitantly. "Presumably Dumbledore's going to come back soon, and send Harry his note..."
"For fuck's sake just let him say goodbye, Weasley," said Malfoy, his voice rough.
"Ron, leave them alone," said Harry.
"I'm just saying, mate," said Ron. "If we're going to do this, the rest of us need to start moving."
Harry nodded. Fair enough. He gave MacCauley a cautious pat on the shoulder, knowing MacCauley probably wasn't aware of anything but the dead man in his arms. He started to stand.
"Erm... hang on," said Malfoy.
Malfoy was staring at Hayford's hand, and Harry followed his gaze.
He looked closer. Yeah, the fingers had moved. Slightly. "Malfoy... erm, MacCauley," he said, touching MacCauley's shoulder. "Erm. I think... can you sit up a bit..."
Malfoy bent forward, taking Hayford's hand in his. "He's..."
"I'm not sure he's dead," said Harry slowly.
MacCauley raised his head. "What?"
"He -- I think he's alive," said Malfoy. He felt Hayford's wrist. "I'm pretty sure I can feel a pulse here." Suddenly Hayford's body jerked, and he drew a shallow breath.
"Fuck!" said Malfoy, jolting back and dropping Hayford's wrist. "He's alive!"
There was mass confusion as everybody crowded around, and MacCauley sat up, wiping his eyes, staring at Hayford disbelieving as he breathed more steadily and finally opened his eyes.
"Harry," MacCauley said, drawing Hayford close again and kissing him. "God, I... what the hell happened?"
"Draco?" said Hayford, staring up at him, dazed. "What happened?"
"We've no idea," said Lupin. "You both cursed each other, but somehow you're still alive and he's gone."
Hermione frowned, then said slowly, "Hang on..." and took out her wand. "Serpensortia!" she said, and a snake flew out of the end of her wand.
"Hermione!" said Ron. "What the--"
"Can you speak to the snake?" Hermione asked urgently.
"Can I what?"
"The snake. Can you understand it?" Hermione repeated, and poked at the snake with her wand.
"Sssstop that!" hissed the snake, and Hayford gaped at it.
"No, I can't. I can't -- it's nothing but hissing. Can you understand it?" he asked Harry.
"Yeah, it's... not very happy," he said, figuring that what the snake had just called Hermione ("stupid female who lays hard-shelled eggs") wouldn't make any sense if he tried to translate it.
"Vipera Evanesca," said Snape, and the small irate snake disappeared.
"Which means what, exactly?" asked Ron.
"I think it means he's still alive but the part of him that died was... Voldemort," Hermione said, and gave Harry a look of apology.
Oh right. Because he still had a Voldemort-soul-nibblet in him.
There was a brief silence, broken by Lupin. "Are we still going to do this?" he asked. "Because if so, we're going to have to hurry."
There was a collective rustle as they all shook themselves and went back into crisis-managing mode.
MacCauley wiped his reddened eyes and cleared his throat. "Right. In a few minutes, Peakes will come and give Harry a note from Dumbledore, Harry will give Felix Felicis potion to all of you, warn you to protect the school, and leave with Dumbledore."
"Don't tell us any of that," said Ron.
"Doesn't make any difference, as you're not going to remember any of what Iím saying in a few minutes anyway," said MacCauley. "Harry -- sorry, Hayford and I will stay at the school, under Harry's Cloak. We'll stay to make sure everything goes the way Harry Three said it did. As soon as Snape and the Death Eaters are gone from the school, we'll come back here, pick up Harry Three's body, and we'll leave."
"And what'll happen in 2001?" asked Harry. "When I apparently get so fucked up I go and destroy the world?"
MacCauley shook his head. "I'll figure something out."
"That's it? That's all we're going on? Your ability to figure this out eventually?"
"I'll think of something. Maybe visit you, or send you a letter, or something."
"Draco is our best hope," said Lupin. "Trust him."
"Potter," said Malfoy quietly. "I think he's right."
Harry's gaze met Malfoy's, and it was bizarre, even after all that had happened today, to look into his eyes and not see sneering hatred or sullen hostility within them. To feel attraction towards him, and a kind of admiration, and trust, and regret, and so many conflicting emotions... none of which he was going to remember in just a few moments.
Harry squared his shoulders and faced MacCauley. "All right," he said. "Let's do this."
Hayford approached Ron, and took out his wand. "Ready mate?" he asked, and when Ron nodded, he said, "Obliviate."
"Are you ready, Harry?" asked MacCauley. And the last thing Harry saw was MacCauley -- Draco Malfoy's -- blue eyes steady on his, as he whispered, "Deanimus."
Draco peered through the fog, trying to see the families at the station. Ugh, this was why he didn't much miss Merry Olde England. It was like trying to see through pumpkin soup.
"There they are," said Harry, and Draco turned to see the large group Harry was pointing at making their way across the platform.
There they were, indeed. Harry, his wife, and their three children, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and their sprogs, and an assortment of trunks, cages, suitcases, schoolbags...
Harry nudged him and he turned again, seeing a much smaller group making their way across the station. Astoria had certainly aged well, he thought. Somewhat better than he had himself, considering the hairline and the scraggly... thing on his younger version's chin.
He still sometimes missed the white-blond hair and pale, unfreckled skin. And he'd often wondered what it would've been like to spawn, and looking at how his younger self smiled at the white-haired child with him, his heart twinged at the thought that he'd never have that for himself. And neither would Harry.
But there were far worse lives to be lived than the ones they were currently living.
"So that's James Sirius, Albus Severus, and Lily Luna," said Draco to Harry. "I'm amazed she didn't kill him."
"Well you're the one who told him he should stop drinking, crawl back and apologize to Ginny, get married, and have lots of kids named after dead people."
"Merlin, I was joking about that last part."
"He didn't know that. And he was not in a good place when he got that letter."
No, he hadn't been. Draco remembered the stories in the Prophet, the Boy Who Lived imploding, leaving his long-suffering girlfriend, dropping out of the Aurors, arrested for public drunkenness -- as if the papers didn't have enough misery to write about in the rest of the Wizarding world at that point.
He still wondered what Harry had thought of their letter. If he had kept the Pensieve that accompanied it, full of his own and Draco's memories.
"I wonder if he ever told anyone about any of it," mused Harry. "Or if he got rid of the memories and the Pensieve, and Obliviated himself."
The younger Harry looked up at that moment, spotted the younger Draco and his family, and an odd, thoughtful look passed over his features for a moment before he turned back to his own children.
"Whether he did or not, I'm glad I was right," Draco said. "And he certainly looks happy enough," he added, hoping his tone didn't sound as wistful as he felt. "They all do. They just needed time."
There was a brief silence, and then Harry nudged him. "Oi. You were right about him. You kept an eye out for him, saw what was going on in his life, and saw that Ginny was what he needed to get through the bad time. Despite the ginger temper and the Mummy issues."
"But I'm not him."
Draco turned to look at Harry. His Harry, the one with the warm grey eyes surrounded by laugh lines and the messy blond hair and the smile that still stole Draco's heart when it shone on him.
"You know, I can't say 'Scorpius' is any better, if we're going to be insulting our alternate version's taste in child-naming," Harry teased.
"It's traditional," said Draco.
"It's awful," said Harry.
"Well, yes, that too." Draco gazed at the family he could have had. "They look happy, though."
"Yeah. All of them do. I wonder if Astoria's actually enough to make him forget he's gay, or if he's got a dozen pool boys and she's just very understanding."
Draco smirked. "Maybe she enjoys watching him with the pool boys."
Harry chuckled, then hesitated a moment and asked, "You all right?"
"Yeah, it's just a bit odd, that's all," said Draco, and leaned back against Harry. "Seeing what's supposedly our happily ever after, only it's not ours."
"We did a good thing, you know," said Harry.
"Yeah, we did."
He glanced around the train station thoughtfully, watching the parents, the children, life carrying on all around him. It got a bit wearying sometimes, living lightly on the timeline as they did. Making sure they didn't influence anybody too much, didn't make any huge discoveries that could change the world, didn't have any effect that would outlive them. Living on a small farm on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, no children, no close friends, not even joining their local Town Beautification Council.
So different from all of this hustle and bustle, he thought, picturing their small farm. Their tidy little house, full of brooms and books and a well-loved and battered violin, white waves washing their cove, and no alcohol or any other recreational potions or herbs for seventeen years now, and counting.
"They're leaving a legacy, though," he said, gesturing at their other selves. Both men were speaking with their sons -- Harry kneeling down and earnestly saying something to a black-haired boy who looked so much like him it was eerie, and Draco giving his own little clone a warm hug and a fatherly smile the likes of which had never graced Lucius Malfoy's face. "They can... you know, influence the world..." He trailed off, unable to put adequate words to his feelings.
"We did influence the world," said Harry softly. "We bloody well saved it. That's our legacy, even if nobody but him," he nodded towards the younger Harry, now giving his son a hug, "even knows it."
Draco turned around and smiled at him. "Yeah. I suppose it is." He gave Harry a kiss. "Right, then. Are you ready to go?"
"Let's go home."
PS #1: Chrononauts is real. It's a totally brilliant card game:
PS #2: There really is a song called Hermione Granger the Pirate Queen:
PS #3: Malfoy Manor as a bed and breakfast is not my idea; I've just always fangirled geoviki's marvelous A Thousand Beautiful Things.