Harry obsesses over the books. His friends keep him sane. Draco flirts, Ginny confronts, Harry is oblivious. Another late-night talk with Voldemort. *pre-slashy overtones warning*
His friends, concerned at the way he was perpetually lost in thought, rallied together to keep him grounded in reality. Hermione good-naturedly chivvied him out the door at mealtimes and filled his plate for him; Ron shared the more bizarre stories from Divination to make him laugh. Millie and Ted confiscated his books for an entire afternoon and shared brainstorming ideas about their future company. Even Greg and Vince strong-armed him, protesting, out of the library and into the courtyard for a game of Exploding Snap. Ginny, with her indomitable Weasley spirit, took it upon herself to keep his schoolwork organized and to make sure he went to bed before midnight.
Of all his friends, though, Draco was the one who could break through Harry's haze of intense concentration the best. He didn't ask questions, or force Harry to do anything, but more often than not Harry would walk out of a class facing a free afternoon only to find Draco at the door holding two brooms and some biscuits. The only time Harry could fully let go of the troublesome words contained in the books on Empathy and Legilimency was when he was hovering over the Quidditch pitch, talking idly to his blond friend.
Cedric would join them occasionally, and the three Seekers would bicker playfully about the various teams in the British League. Harry was an ardent supporter of the Montrose Magpies. Draco insisted that the Falmouth Falcons had a far superior Seeker. Cedric just laughed at them and said that at least the Kestrels knew how to have fun.
It was on one of these days, when Harry and Draco were flying lazily around the Quaffle hoops, that Harry brought up a question that had been itching at the back of his mind for a while.
"I get that we're friends," he said, hanging upside down over Draco's head, "but why do you go to such an effort for me?"
Draco passed him a chocolate chip biscuit. "I don't know," he said, blushing faintly. "I've not had a friend like you before. I mean, Greg and Vince are /practical/, but they aren't intellectual. They don't have much of a sense of humor, either."
"Millie and Ted?" Harry asked.
"Best friends with each other since they were three." Draco shrugged uncomfortably. "I guess I'm just trying to make sure you don't stop liking me."
Harry lay along the length of his broom and looked over at his friend. "Don't you think I'd have ended this a while ago if I didn't like you still?"
"Perhaps," Draco said with a slight smile. "But then, you are far more Gryffindor than I."
Harry laughed at that and nosed the Firebolt into a dive, whooping loudly. As he pulled up sharply he skimmed his fingers through the neat grass and gathered a small handful.
"Merlin, Harry!" Draco shouted. "Are you trying to break your neck?"
Harry flicked the grass blades at him in answer, chuckling.
"Gah! You miserable sod!" Draco swiped at his robes and took his Nimbus at a run toward Harry, who cackled and pulled away in a streak across the pitch.
Draco chased Harry up and down the Quidditch pitch, the two boys hurling good-natured insults at each other. The blond boy, realizing he couldn't outstrip Harry's broom, kept on his tail and hurled pieces of biscuit at his friend.
Harry, giggling, took his broom into a controlled dive and tumbled off when he was a few feet from the lawn. Draco followed at his heels.
"You are mad, Potter," he said loftily. He looked down in amusement at Harry, who was lying flat on his back on the grass, grinning.
"I expect I am," Harry said in amiable agreement.
Draco sat on Harry's stomach, knees on either side of his chest. Ignoring Harry's strangled, "Oof!" he said with a wicked smile, "I still have a biscuit. And you threw grass at me."
"Aww, Malfoy." Harry looked at him pleadingly. "You threw all the rest of the biscuits at me. And I love chocolate chip."
"Nuh-uh, Potter. This one's mine." He leaned away from Harry's grabbing hands.
"Brat! Just a bite?"
"Just to get you to shut up about it." Draco rolled his eyes, but grinned at Harry's pleased smile as he broke the biscuit in two.
"Mm. Love Hogwarts food," Harry mumbled.
Draco leaned forward and brushed the crumbs off Harry's cheek. "I'll not ask where you were raised," he said wryly, "As I know very well you were raised by Muggles. But for someone with such good manners, you're a rather messy eater."
"How am I supposed to eat neatly? You have me pinned to the ground!" Harry pointed out indignantly.
"Why, so I do," Draco said in mock-surprise. He stood up and extended a hand to his prone friend. "Up you come, Potter. Let's go put our brooms away."
As they walked away carrying their racing brooms, Harry's arm slung companionably around Draco's shoulders, neither boy noticed a person get up from the stands and go into the Great Hall, brows knit in thought.
Harry collapsed onto his bed after dinner, already deep into his Empathy book. The first thing he'd learned in the book on Accidental Legilimency was how to close the link. He hadn't talked to Voldemort since before his talk with Dumbledore. His main concern was how to learn what he needed to before he approached Voldemort in a dream again.
"It is moste detrimental to the magicke of a witch or a wizard should the hearte, wich is the seat of the soul, become distant from the brainne," Harry read to himself in a quiet murmur. "Distance...I wonder."
He reached into the drawer of his bedside table and pulled out a Muggle ballpoint pen and a roll of parchment. No wonder Riddle seems like such a heartless bastard, Harry mused. With halving his soul again and again, he didn't have even a seventh of a soul, just a mere fraction.
His pen flew across the parchment, ink smearing in his excitement. If Voldemort repaired his soul, starting with the smallest piece and working his way up, he'd end up as he started when he'd begun his experiments on immortality- with half a soul.
"Better than nothing," Harry muttered. He bit the cuticle of his thumb distractedly. Scars on the places the soul's been ripped will be hard to fix... He wrote for a bit longer, consulting an unabridged Latin-English dictionary from time to time, crossing out and rewriting different Arithmantic equations. When he checked his wristwatch, he blinked in surprise. He'd worked straight through his dorm-mates coming in and going to bed.
He smiled to himself in satisfaction as he finally slipped under the bedcovers. It wasn't everything, but it was a start. Tonight, he'd talk to Voldemort again.
While Harry was sitting on his bed researching souls, his fiancÃ©e was tracking down Draco Malfoy. She found him in the courtyard after dinner looking over Greg Goyle's betting sheet, making little tick marks next to a few lines.
"Galleon on that one- no, that one," he was saying as she approached. He raised an eyebrow at her and continued talking. "Eight sickles on the Magical Creatures bet...excellent. And done." He stood up and walked over to Ginny, nodding at his friend as he left.
"Malfoy," she said tersely.
"Girl Weasley," he drawled. "Why so angry looking?"
She glared up at him from her diminutive height of five foot one. "I have a question for you, Draco Malfoy," she snapped. "Are you just playing with Harry or do you really fancy him?"
Draco narrowed his eyes at her. "This is hardly the best place to talk, G.W.," he said in a low voice, indicating their very public surroundings with an elegant hand. Ginny looked around; sure enough, a few people were watching the Malfoy heir and Harry Potter's intended go toe to toe with great interest.
"Fine," she huffed. She jerked her head in the direction of Hagrid's hut. "Let's walk. Start talking."
They were an odd sight walking together, the petite, androgynous redhead in secondhand clothing striding next to the elegant, thin pureblood boy who towered over her for all of his average height.
"I'm not going to let you yank him around, Draco," she said firmly as they tramped toward the CoMC paddocks. "He needs people he can count on. If you're going to hurt him, get out of his life."
He sighed. "I'm not going to hurt him." At her disbelieving look, he said more insistently, "I swear I won't. He's my first real friend. He can count on me if he can count on anybody."
"That's all well and good," she said, slightly less dubiously, "but- you do fancy him, then? Does he even know?"
Draco shook his head. "He's far too noble. If he knew, he wouldn't be spending any time with me, in case it offended you."
"Hardly," she snorted. "My brother Charlie's involved with a married couple at the dragon sanctuary in Romania. Besides, I know Harry likes me. He'll probably love me someday. His heart is big enough for more than just one person, though."
"Yeah," Draco said with a small smile, "he's rather amazing that way." He looked over at Ginny, slightly worried. "Are you sure it doesn't bother you?"
She put a reassuring hand on his elbow and smiled up into his eyes. "Very sure." She shrugged. "If you can't understand it that way, try this. There are so many arranged marriages with affairs on both sides that I think it's rather comforting to know exactly who wants Harry- and that you even bothered to ask me."
Draco pulled her into a quick hug, pressing a brief kiss to the crown of her head. "You know, G.W.," he murmured, "If you weren't so female I might fancy you as well."
In Gryffindor Tower, in the fourth year boy's dorm, late at night, Harry was dreaming. He was flying above stacks and stacks of books, trying to find Hogwarts: A History, but all of the titles were in pig Latin and he'd forgotten the childhood rules about spelling it. Ginny and Draco were swimming in a mug of coffee while Fawkes sang above them and a house-elf wearing a tea-cozy tossed biscuits at Harry, and there was the book and he was falling toward Ogwarts-Hay: A-Hay Istory-Hay and the spine opened up and he kept falling...
There it was, the familiar old parlor room. The fire was blazing quite nicely, though it did nothing to improve the slightly creepy atmosphere. Harry scuffed his ghostly bare foot against the faded carpet and walked over to take "his" seat on the ottoman facing Voldemort's chair.
"Came back, did you?" the Dark Lord said sourly. "Pity. I'd hoped I'd scared you off."
"No," Harry said briefly. He looked into the eyes of the twisted being that used to be Tom Riddle, and his gut wrenched in pity. It is most detrimental to the magic of a wizard... he said to himself silently.
"Well, Potter? Just here to stare, or are you going to whine again?"
Harry took a bracing breath. "I've figured out how to counter the issues of you being resurrected while you're immortal," he told Voldemort.
"What?" the Dark Lord hissed. "Do you think me a complete fool, Potter? Why should I believe Dumbledore's little protÃ©gÃ©?"
"I don't think you're a fool. But you aren't Tom Riddle anymore, either. You are Voldemort, and you have ripped your soul to shreds just so you can live forever. You have"- Harry paused and thought back to his notes -"one-twenty-eighth of your original soul still inside you." Harry looked at him impassively. "A Dementor could Kiss you and I doubt you'd notice much."
"I have a seventh of a soul still," Voldemort spat. "The most magical number is keeping my immortality strong."
"You miscalculated," Harry said. "You were halving halves, and halving them again. The pieces of your soul all increase in size significantly the further back your Horcruxes were made."
Voldemort stirred restlessly. "And just what do you suggest I do?" he snapped, voice cold. "I ripped them from me. They can't be put back."
"They can," Harry said. "And it will be the most painful experience you will likely survive, the larger the pieces of your soul get."
"Never mind the pain," the Dark Lord interrupted. "I'm not a stranger to it. Tell me how, Potter."
Harry mentally consulted his notes again. "I wrote spells that check up against my Arithmancy work, and"-
"You wrote spells, Potter?" The Dark Lord was incredulous.
"The incantation is 'Animus Integro'," Harry continued calmly. "The most efficient wand movement is a tugging motion, wand point moving from the Horcrux to your, er" -he glanced at the Dark Lord -"chest. Your heart. Start with the smallest piece of your soul first."
"And you just happened to write a spell that would make me mortal if I choose to do it?" Voldemort asked, his voice heavy with sarcasm.
Harry looked at the pitiful man-that-was. "I did the calculations. You'd already torn your soul up something horrible by the time you did everything you did as a Dark Lord."
"I released a basilisk into Hogwarts," Voldemort said, almost proudly.
"And nobody died except for one girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Harry said. "They were going to close Hogwarts. You couldn't have that. It was your home, just like it's been mine. You didn't mean to kill Myrtle."
"And if I did?" Voldemort asked spitefully.
Harry shook his head. "Not my place to forgive you for it." He stood up, head tilted slightly. "Huh. It's getting toward morning."
"Going so soon, Potter?" the Dark Lord sneered.
"I'll come back," Harry said with an inscrutable smile. "Still have a lot to talk about, don't we?"
"Don't hurry," Voldemort snapped.
Harry nodded, and disappeared from the room.
And he was running along the edge of one of Snape's cauldrons, broomsticks and dragons soaring above him. Below him, in the bright blue liquid, Ginny and Draco were still swimming, tossing a Quaffle back and forth. With a joyful shout, Harry jumped in to join them.
For the first time since the school year had started, Harry Potter woke up with a smile on his face.