Harry wished the Aurors would realise he wasn't at their beck and call. Would they ever stop questioning him about defeating Voldemort with the Elder Wand? Voldemort was dead. Wasn't that enough? And if they had to ask him more questions, couldn't they at least come earlier, when he would be pulled out of class, instead of during his free time, on a weekend, or making him almost miss dinner?
Entering the noisy Great Hall, he scanned the Gryffindor tables for Ginny, Ron, and Hermione, rising up on tiptoe to try to spot the red hair of the Weasleys. It wasn't as easy as it used to be. Hogwarts had received a huge influx of students in autumn, including several more redheads. Twice Harry had mistakenly plopped down next to a pair of twin girls before realising they weren't Ron and Ginny.
Finally spotting Ginny at the far end of the Gryffindor table, Harry started to take a step toward her when he felt a hand on his chest, stopping him.
"Not so fast, Potter. I'd like a word with you."
Tamping down his irritation at the increased delay, Harry turned to face a glaring Malfoy. A few feet behind him, Goyle shifted uneasily.
"What do you want?" Harry asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.
"It's about what you and those Weasleys were discussing last night at the Hog's Head."
Inwardly, Harry sighed. He knew Malfoy had been peeved by what he'd overheard the night before. He'd made it plain enough at the time. But did he have to bring it up again?
"What about it?" Harry's stomach rumbled and he wished Malfoy would hurry up and spit out whatever he was going to say before Ron ate all the treacle tart. He braced himself for a scathing retort.
Instead, Malfoy dropped to his knees in front of Harry.
Dumbfounded, he stared down at Malfoy, whose expression reminded Harry of Ron's face when he was spitting up slugs in second year. Despite his apparent disgust with the matter, Malfoy placed his hand over his heart and spoke clearly.
"As repayment of my life debt, I pledge myself to you for the period of ten moons. Until that time has passed, you will be my lord and liege. I will serve your needs, obey your commands, and protect your life and your honour as if it were my own. Of this I do swear."
Damn, Harry thought. Malfoy's lost his mind.
* * *
"Tell me again what happened at the Hog's Head." Hermione whispered furiously while keeping one eye on Malfoy, who was lounging on a sofa across the room. Malfoy had a Transfiguration textbook open, all the better to ignore the angry look he was receiving from Dean and the wary one from Neville. Parvati had entered, glanced around the common area the Gryffindor eighth-years all shared, then hurriedly ducked into her tent.
Harry wished he could duck into his, too. Due to the influx of students and the corresponding damage done to the castle during the battle, space was at a premium. When McGonagall had led the returning eighth-years to the third floor corridor, no one had known what to expect. They were surprised to find that four large rooms had been selected to serve as dormitories for the eighth-years, one for each house. The rooms were equipped with chairs, sofas, and tables of various sizes. Surrounding the walls of the rooms were tents, one per pupil.
Each tent, with its use of magical space, was equipped with a bed, a nightstand, a desk and accompanying chair, and, best of all, a private bath with shower. Ron, Hermione, and Harry had shared a grimace at having to spend more time in a tent, but it wasn't so bad. He noticed that neither Ron nor Hermione minded the increased privacy, especially on those nights they disappeared into a tent together. Harry had hoped to take advantage of that same privacy with Ginny, but that hadn't worked out yet and, the way things were going, seemed highly unlikely.
"Like I told you," Ron said, "nothing much happened. Harry and I were talking with Ginny when Malfoy came over, spouted off at us in front of a bunch of Slytherins, then left."
Harry shook his head. "That wasn't quite it, and you know it, Ron."
The Hog's Head had been busy the night before. Although the younger students still steered clear of it, the older students frequented the place on a regular basis. Aberforth grumbled about it, but he still took their money.
"Malfoy means 'bad faith' in French," Ron said. He then took a gulp of his Firewhiskey and promptly had a coughing fit.
Sitting pressed against Harry's side, Ginny laughed. Harry only smiled. "Did Hermione tell you that?"
Blinking his now watery eyes, Ron shrugged. "What if she did? The thing is, it makes sense, doesn't it? Malfoy means bad faith and the whole lot of them are rotten."
Harry glanced across the length of the tavern to where Malfoy was sitting with the other Slytherins who'd returned to Hogwarts to finish their education. Idly, he noted how the light fell on Malfoy, making his hair gleam unnaturally bright while creating shadows on his face that concealed its pointiness. Malfoy was sipping something from a glass instead of a mug like everyone else and, from the distance, it looked like blood.
Before Harry could figure out what the drink really was, Malfoy glanced up at him. Their eyes met and held, until Pansy leaned forward to snatch the glass from Malfoy's grasp to steal some. Malfoy's gaze shifted to her and a wry smile spread across his features.
Harry turned his attention back to Ron and Ginny. "Yeah. Rotten," he mumbled. "But what about Malfoy's mum?"
"What about her?"
"She did save my life," Harry reminded him.
"Yeah, but...but she's not a Malfoy by birth, so that makes her less rotten. Besides, you paid her back the life debt, didn't you? If it wasn't for your testimony, her family would be in Azkaban, like they deserved."
Harry looked down at his glass. "I don't think telling the truth clears a life debt."
"Maybe. But I wouldn't hold my breath expecting Malfoy to clear his life debt with you. When it comes to Malfoy, the bad faith name holds true."
"Does it, Weasley?"
Upon hearing Malfoy's voice, Harry had jerked his head up. The Slytherins were standing near them, paused on their way out the door.
"If names reveal the truth about people, what do you suppose your name says about you?" Draco had sneered. He'd glanced over to where Harry and Ginny sat snugly together. "And Potter would be up to his elbows in clay instead of Weasleys, though I suppose when it comes down to it, there's not much difference between the two. They're both as common as dirt."
Now, back in their make-shift common room, Harry glanced over at Malfoy. "I guess he decided to prove us wrong." He turned toward Ron. "So I suppose it's your fault, then."
"Well, it's not like I expected him to hear me," Ron said. "Bad faith or not, he's still a git – the way he was going on about my name."
"And mine. Later, Neville's too," Harry added.
"Neville's? What did he say about..." Hermione bit her lip as a tinge of red coloured her cheeks. "Never mind. I can imagine."
"Taking an Oath of Fealty isn't that unusual," Ron told them. "Though it usually happens between people who are already good friends."
"Like the story of Neplethorpe and Gunther during the Second Goblin War," Hermione said. When Harry and Ron stared at her with blank faces, she added, "You remember - Binns taught us about them during third year."
"Er...right," Ron nodded. "Unlike Harry, most people don't risk their life for someone they hate, so there's never been a need to get out of the Oath on the part of the receiver."
"You have to help me." Harry placed his hand on Hermione's arm and looked pleadingly at her. "You have to get me out of this. I don't think I can stand ten months of Malfoy. In a couple of months we'll be taking our NEWTs and what am I going to do with him then? Move him in with me?"
Hermione smiled gently at Harry. "I'll do some research and—"
"It won't do any good." All three startled as none of them had noticed Draco leaving his spot on the sofa. "Like Weasley said, it's usually done between friends so there's no way you can force me to rescind it." He shrugged at them. "I couldn't help but overhear."
"You're really bad at eavesdropping," Hermione sniffed.
"Actually, I excel at it. It's one of my many skills." Smirking, he turned to Harry and, once again, dropped to his knees. "How may I serve you, my Oh Not-So-Great and Absurdly Dim-witted Master?"
"If he has to obey your commands, maybe you can command him to get lost? Or to take a walk into the lake?"
"Ron!" Hermione scolded.
"It was only a suggestion."
Harry decided that it was going to be a long ten months.
* * *
"Good lord, Potter. Your room's so messy it matches your hair – a feat I thought before now to be impossible."
Harry spun around, almost running into Malfoy, who'd entered his tent directly behind him.
"What are you doing here?"
"The Oath. I'm to Serve and Protect you, remember?"
"Couldn't you do that somewhere else?" At Draco's arched eyebrow, Harry huffed. "I don't want you in here."
"You don't have much choice in the matter. It wouldn't do to have me stay elsewhere. Someone might think I was not keeping my Oath - showing bad faith or something." Before Harry could think of a reply, Malfoy pointed at Harry's desk.
"I suggest we pitch my tent over there."
"On my desk?"
"No, Potter." Malfoy rolled his eyes, clearly of the opinion that Harry was an idiot. "The desk will have to go."
"And where am I supposed to do my assignments?"
"Perhaps where you've always done them - at Granger's side, struggling through your essays on dollops of her help and assistance."
Harry folded his arms across his chest and glared stubbornly at Malfoy. "I need my desk."
For a moment, Malfoy glared back and it looked as if a standoff might occur. Then a gleam appeared in Malfoy's eyes and he smiled knowingly. "Ah, I see how it is. Really, Potter, I never would have guessed."
"The ploy is so very obvious. Of course, seeing how you're a Gryffindor, it would have to be. The only reason I didn't suspect sooner was that I thought you were thoroughly devoted to the Weaslette."
"What are you babbling about, Malfoy?"
"I gave my oath to serve you in all ways. By denying me my own tent, my own space and, most especially, my own bed, you are choosing to have me join you in yours. You wish to make use of my nubile, young and no longer innocent body, forcing me to cater to your deviant sexual desires."
Malfoy flung himself across the red duvet on Harry's bed and closed his eyes. "I only ask that you be gentle with me."
Harry's mouth dropped open in shock. "What? You're crazy!"
"Fine. Don't be gentle with me. Rough is better anyway."
"Get off my bed," Harry said through gritted teeth.
Malfoy opened his eyes to look at Harry in mock confusion. "You would prefer to take me on the floor? Or up against the wall? Or perhaps bent over that desk of yours? Is that why you refuse to get rid of it, because it has a starring role in your lusty fantasies of using me?"
Taking a deep breath in the desperate hope that it might calm him down, Harry took his wand from his pocket and waved it at his desk, banishing it. "Pitch your damn tent," he snapped.
Opening his mouth to say something, Malfoy must have seen the expression on Harry's face and thought better of it. Instead, he rose from the bed and left Harry's tent to fetch his own. Harry wished he hadn't banished his desk quite so quickly. He felt a deep and urgent need to tear something apart. Even though he'd prefer tearing apart a certain blond, the desk would've been a good substitute.
And it was only because of the way Malfoy blabbered on, confusing him, that had caused Harry to have a brief flare of arousal. That was all it was.
* * *
"Save me." Harry slid into his seat between Ron and Ginny at breakfast.
"Mmph?" Ron mumbled, caught in the act of chewing a piece of bacon.
"Malfoy's after me. The only way I could escape was to get him busy talking about himself and then duck out without him noticing."
Hermione seated across from Ron, paused in stirring her tea. "Interesting. You're more scared of Malfoy now that he's bound himself to you by Oath than you ever were when he was the enemy."
"I'm not scared! Well...not much. But before, he just wanted to hurt me. Now it's worse."
"How could it be worse?" Ginny asked.
"Torture," Harry confided.
"Torture?" Hermione began, but was interrupted by Malfoy's voice ringing out as he entered the Great Hall.
"Potter!" Malfoy yelled.
Harry tried to hide behind Ron, but Malfoy spotted him and approached.
"Really, Potter. We've only tried eleven hair products so far. We have fourteen more to go before I bring out the stronger potions."
Harry could practically feel the weight of the gazes as everyone's attention turned towards his hair.
"My hair's not that bad." Harry fought the urge to cover his hair with his hands.
Next to him, Ron nodded. "That's right. Looks like it always does."
"You've made my point, Weasley," Malfoy told him. "And as long as I'm bound to serve Potter, I refuse to have him going around looking like he's wearing a Kneazle on his head. An angry, frazzled Kneazle, at that."
Hermione grinned at Harry. "So – you're being tortured with styling gel and such." She turned toward Malfoy, who was staring at Harry's hair as if its existence was a personal insult to him. "Have you tried Sleekeazy's Hair Potion?"
"Amateurs," he huffed. "That's obviously not strong enough. I started with Sorcerer Inaglio's Hair Imperio and went from there."
"Excuse me," Harry said. "Do you both mind letting me eat my breakfast in peace?" He pointed to the Slytherin table. "Malfoy, why don't you go eat with your friends. You can protect me from over there, right?"
After a moment's hesitation, Malfoy moved to the Slytherin table and eased in between Zabini and Millicent. Harry was a little surprised to see that Malfoy had chosen a spot that gave him a direct line of sight to Harry. He watched as Malfoy said something to his friends and they laughed while shooting glances at Harry. It didn't take a genius to guess that it had been an insult of some kind.
Ginny must have seen it too, because she let out a sound of disgust. "Slytherins! I don't think they should've let them come back. Not any of them."
"The NEWTs weren't given last year." Hermione's tone conveyed that despite the war and the Battle of Hogwarts, someone had badly fallen down on the job. "Everyone needs an education."
"I don't care," Ginny said. "You don't know what Neville and I went through last year and the Slytherins were a big part of it. McGonagall must be as crazy as Dumbledore was to allow it."
Harry opened his mouth to say that Dumbledore hadn't been crazy, then shut it again. Ginny had a right to feel resentment toward the Slytherins, but he always wondered if she might be exaggerating a bit. To hear her tell it, she and Neville had been made to suffer daily at both the Slytherins' and the Carrows' hands while Harry, Hermione, and Ron had been larking about on a camping trip.
"Ginny," Hermione said slowly. "You wouldn't know about some of the pranks being pulled on the Slytherins, would you?"
"What pranks?" Harry asked.
Next to him, Ron grinned. "Haven't you heard? Things have been going on all year, from Belch powder being snuck into the Slytherins' food to stink pellets being placed in their dorm. Yesterday, someone fed a potion to a rat that made it fall in love with Pansy Parkinson. It chased her around the corridors until Goyle caught it and put it in a cage.
Ginny laughed. "In my opinion, it was a match made in heaven."
Hermione looked at Ginny with disapproval. "I'd be careful if I were you. I heard Pansy vowing to her friends that she'll get her revenge."
"Like I'm afraid of her," Ginny scoffed.
As Ginny began to describe, for what felt like the hundredth time, all the traumas she'd endured the year before, Harry snuck a glance over at Malfoy. He and Zabini were having a whispered conversation, one that apparently necessitated Zabini practically having his mouth on Malfoy's ear.
It was irritating how Slytherins seemed to always be whispering in each other's ears, practically climbing into each other's laps to keep their stupid secrets.
Scowling, Harry decided that since Malfoy was occupied, now was his chance. Slipping off of the bench, he started for the door to the Great Hall, keeping as low to the ground as he could while still maintaining a quick pace. He was almost at the door. Just a few more feet and he could disappear into the hall and—
"Are you stealthily tracking doers of evil?" Malfoy's voice boomed so loudly that if any such doers had been within a mile radius, they were now forewarned.
Straightening up, Harry turned to glare at Malfoy, who only smiled broadly in return.
"Don't worry, My Loathsome Liege and Fashion Icon for Those With Truly Terrible Taste. Together we will vanquish all manner of enemies, and might I suggest we begin our epic struggle by returning to our battle with your hair?"
Harry closed his eyes and manfully resisted the urge to kill Malfoy.
* * *
"He's going to kill Draco." Seated in McGonagall's office the next day, Harry decided that Lucius Malfoy actually had a point.
McGonagall glanced at Harry, who tried to pretend he hadn't made up a list a few hours earlier of ways to off Malfoy. He'd planned to show it to Hermione to get her advice on preferable methods, but now decided against it.
Apparently unable to read minds like Dumbledore and Snape, McGonagall gave Lucius a tight-lipped smile. "I highly doubt that will occur."
McGonagall's words had no effect on Lucius, for he seemed as icily enraged as he'd been when he'd arrived a short time earlier and demanded an audience with the Headmistress, Draco and Harry.
"Doubt all you like. In the meantime, I demand that you do something about this at once. This situation is intolerable and must end."
Harry leapt to his feet. "Yes!" He paused upon realising he'd just agreed with Lucius, then added sheepishly, "What he said."
McGonagall peered at Harry over the rim of her glasses. "I do not believe that Mr. Malfoy needs you advocating his position.
"Nor wants it," Lucius added beneath his breath, but loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Unlike when he was on trial before the Wizengamot for war crimes," Harry said, doing the same thing as Lucius.
They glared at each other for a moment, then turned their combined gazes on McGonagall, who was unfazed by both of them.
"The Oath, as you know," McGonagall explained, "is non-binding. There are no magical consequences to breaking it. If young Malfoy wishes to no longer be bound to Mr. Potter by his Oath, he has only to renounce it."
Lucius spun to face his son, who'd been sitting so abnormally quiet in his chair that Harry had almost forgotten he was there. "Draco, I must insist that you—"
"No," Malfoy said. His mouth had a stubborn set to it.
"But surely you can see how untenable this situation is? A Malfoy being Oath-bound to a...a...."
"Gryffindor?" McGonagall provided.
"Prat?" Malfoy suggested.
"Person who kicked Death Eater arse?" Harry gave Lucius a smile that showed his teeth.
Lucius drew himself up to his full height. "To a temperamental teenager who has always viewed my son as an enemy and who may use my son as a convenient outlet for his anger and frustration."
"Potter wouldn't do that." Draco rose to his feet and crossed the room to stand next to Harry.
Harry was fairly sure that he wouldn't do it (if Malfoy hadn't driven him mad enough to lose control and do it by now, it was unlikely to happen). Still, he felt a warm feeling toward Malfoy for coming so readily to his defence.
Then a thought occurred to Harry: wasn't Malfoy Oath-bound to come to his defence? He had vowed to protect his reputation. The warm feeling diminished greatly upon realisation that Malfoy had been bound to do it.
"It wouldn't be the first time Potter attacked you physically like some...some..."
"Impetuous student?" McGonagall suggested.
"Crazy loon?" put in Draco.
"Person who kicked Death Eater arse?" Harry was deriving great pleasure from the increased hatred radiating off of Lucius.
"Ruffian," Lucius spat out, not making it clear if he were calling Harry one or merely finishing his sentence. Not that it mattered.
"This is something I must do," Draco stated. "Not fulfilling the Oath would call into question both my honour and that of all Malfoys. Trust me on this, Father."
"I do," Lucius conceded. "You're my son and have been raised accordingly. It is not you I don't trust, but that...."
"Impulsive youth?" said McGonagall.
"Complete git?" said Malfoy.
Harry smirked. "Person who kicked Death Eater arse?"
"Will none of you ever let me finish a sentence?" Lucius shouted. Instead of going ahead and finishing his statement, he spun toward Harry and pointed his cane at him. "Mark my words, Mr. Potter. If anything happens to Draco, you will sorely regret it for the short remaining time you will have left on Earth."
"You don't scare me."
"It's not me you need to fear, but my wife. For Draco, Narcissa betrayed Voldemort, the most powerful Wizard who has ever lived - a betrayal that ultimately led to his downfall at your hands. It would do well for you to remember that fact."
With a flare of his robes, Lucius turned and left.
Harry thought about Narcissa. Again, Harry decided, Lucius had a point.
* * *
"Mr. Potter." Dawlish greeted Harry with a perfunctory smile.
The unused classroom he'd entered was becoming all too familiar to Harry as was Dawlish's partner, Walston, who nodded a greeting at Harry. Walston, slimmer, younger, and with decidedly longer hair than Dawlish, always allowed the more experienced Auror to take the lead when questioning Harry. Harry had answered so many questions so far for the Aurors that the reports they'd written had to be thicker than Hogwarts: A History.
Dawlish's smile faltered as Malfoy followed Harry into the room. "What's he doing here?"
"I go where Potter goes," Malfoy stated.
Dawlish looked down his nose at both boys. "This is highly irregular. Our business with Mr. Potter is classified."
"Malfoy," Harry said. "I think I'll be safe. They're Aurors."
"Sorry. I swore an Oath," Draco said, happy to be a constant thorn in Harry's side.
"Now see here, I don't think—" Dawlish fumed before being interrupted by his partner.
"It will be fine," Walston said. "After all, our report will eventually be public record."
Still looking peeved, Dawlish motioned for Harry and Draco to take a seat and waited while they each chose a desk. "We need to review once more all of the Death Eaters that you saw during the Battle of Hogwarts. There is ample evidence that a few combatants may have escaped punishment."
Next to him, Draco nonchalantly pushed up the left sleeve of his robe. Dawlish's gaze focused on the Dark Mark revealed on Draco's arm.
At first, Harry found the way Dawlish stared at the Dark Mark almost as amusing as Draco, who was grinning. But, as the moment grew longer and longer, it became unsettling and he wished Dawlish would say something, even if it was only too sputter in anger or outrage.
After an increasingly awful time, Walston said quietly, "Don't you have some questions for Mr. Potter?"
Dawlish seemed to break out of his trance, gave himself a small shake, and began to ask questions that Harry had answered several times already.
The interview was just as boring and time-consuming as all the other ones. At least Harry wasn't the only one who found it tedious this time. For ten minutes Draco hunched over his desk and rolled his wand back and forth, back and forth. When he grew bored with that, he turned to gaze out the window while tapping at his lower lip with his wand.
As Dawlish noted Harry's replies to his questions, then referred to his notes, Harry watched Draco from the corner of his eye and wondered if he was going to accidentally hex off the tip of his pointy nose. As he continued to stare at Draco's mouth, watching him tap away, Harry's idle curiosity became a more intent examination. Draco really did have a pointy face, but his eyes weren't too bad. His skin was so pale that if Harry hadn't known better, he would've thought he was sickly. His lips...His lips were okay. Pink, not too plump or thin, not too wide either, but a good size. Those lips were probably his best feature. They looked soft, but not wet. Not wet at all. They wouldn't feel a bit like Cho's if they kissed.
Suddenly, Harry realised what he'd been thinking and jerked so hard that he tumbled from his chair. Dawlish looked up from his notes, startled. Walston moved forward from where he'd been standing behind Harry and gave Harry a hand back to his seat.
His face as red as a beet, Harry glanced toward Draco, whose startled expression at Harry's fall was rapidly being replaced by a smirk.
"A thousand pardons, Potter," Draco said. "Next time, I'll do my best to protect you from the furniture." He eyed the chair Harry had been using. "Shall I blast it into splinters in retaliation?"
Why had Harry ever thought Malfoy had nice lips, anyway?
* * *
"He's trying to kill me," Harry moaned to Draco a few days later. He would've moaned it to Hermione and Ron, but they were off doing couple-type things. Since Ginny was busy with Quidditch (and eighth-year students weren't allowed to join the team) Harry was reduced to airing his complaints to Malfoy. Well, at least he was good for something.
Across the library table, Draco looked over the top of the Transfiguration textbook he was studying. Next to him, Goyle – often Harry's second shadow by proxy nowadays - looked up, too.
"Who's trying to kill you this time?" Draco asked.
"The new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor. I can't believe Professor Shingleton's making us write a four-foot scroll on curses involving bodily functions."
Like Lockhart, Shingleton took special care with his appearance. His long dark hair, moustache, and goatee reminded Harry of someone from The Three Musketeers. Unlike Lockhart, Shingleton knew his subject and, through massive amounts of assignments, was going to ensure all of his students knew it, too.
Draco returned his attention to his book. "I don't think my Oath involves protecting you from assignments."
"I'll have you know that Defence Against the Dark Arts professors have been trying to kill me for years. It's almost a Hogwarts tradition."
"Really," Draco deadpanned, not looking up from his reading. "Well, I've always been a firm believer in tradition."
Seated next to Draco, Goyle spoke up. "I don't think the assignment is all that bad."
Harry pointed to Goyle's scroll. "That's because you're drawing pictures of the curses."
"Illustrations," Goyle corrected. "That's what Draco calls them." Murmuring a spell, Goyle waved his wand and the stick figure sneezed, causing its head to explode into a bloody, gory heap. It stayed that way for two seconds, then reverted back to the original figure. Harry eyed the drawing suspiciously – it was wearing glasses.
"Is that supposed to be me?"
Goyle looked up at him, astonished. "Is it? Draco told me that this was how you drew people."
"Are you truly so vain, Potter, that you think everything, including Greg's illustration, is about you?' Draco asked.
"I'm not vain!"
Harry tried to settle back into writing his essay, but couldn't help glancing again at Goyle's scroll. Goyle had drawn the Entrails-Entangling Curse - the lower half of the stick figure knotted so badly that its stomach burst. Harry was positive that the figure had a scar on its forehead.
He heard Draco, still mostly hidden behind his book, snicker.
"Hey, Malfoy, if I promise to never save your life again, will you rescind your Oath?"
"Not a chance."
"That wasn't a very nice of thing to say," Goyle told Harry, as he drew another figure with glasses and a scar to torment.
* * *
When Draco started to follow Harry and Ginny into Harry's tent later that evening, Harry put up a hand to stop him. "I think I'll be safe enough in my own tent."
Draco looked as if he were biting back a staggering number of inappropriate comments before finally settling on one. "If you find you can't handle things, call out."
"And you'll come to help?" Ginny was wearing an expression of distaste.
Draco shook his head. "Don't get too excited, Weasley. I wouldn't touch you with a ten-foot wand and even I'm not that naturally gifted. I was only planning on pointing and laughing."
Scowling, Ginny pushed past Harry to enter the tent, hitting the flap so hard that it slapped against the side.
"Go away, Malfoy," Harry snapped.
"Whatever you say, My Liege and Lustful Lord. Since you're rejecting my brave offer of protection, before I leave might I offer my services in another capacity? As I'm sure your education in sexual matters is sorely lacking, perhaps you'd like some advice on what goes where? Or, better yet, a primer on satisfying your partner, a subject that I could write a book on. There are things that one can do that will drive your partner wild."
Harry couldn't help it – his eyes rose to Draco's mouth before he got control of himself and wrenched his gaze away.
"The only thing I want you to do is to shut your mouth and get out of here. Ginny's not that type of girl." Harry turned abruptly and closed the tent flap in Draco's face.
At the moment, Harry wished that Ginny was that type. Something was going on with him that he didn't understand. It was making him think weird thoughts and was giving him the wrong feeling about...about things. He wanted to pull Ginny into his arms and prove to himself how wrong those feelings were.
But, sadly for Harry, he'd been telling Draco the truth – Ginny wasn't that type of girl. Last year, before he'd left for the Horcrux hunt, she'd welcomed his advances and had made quite a few of her own. But it must have been the excitement, the heat of the moment, because since the Battle of Hogwarts, she'd cooled off considerably. She hadn't acted like she minded being labelled as his girlfriend in all the photographs of them in The Daily Prophet, but maybe she had. Or maybe it was just him she minded.
Although he tried his best, he felt like he was always doing something wrong. Like there was some secret language for relationships that he didn't understand. Even when he'd fretted over her Christmas present, wanting to pick out the perfect one, he'd still disappointed her. Ginny had opened the jewellery box and Harry had watched as her face fell at the sight of the bracelet he'd bought.
"God, I hate Slytherins," Ginny said. Harry crossed the tent and sat next to her on his bed. He watched as a malicious gleam came into her eyes. "Did you hear about Peeves raining Dungbombs on the Slytherins this morning?"
"No." Harry paused for a moment, trying to think of the best way to phrase his objection, then gave up on finding the right words and plunged ahead. "I think you should stop playing all these dirty tricks on them. The Slytherins affected by the Belching Powder were mostly first and second years. You know they didn't do anything last year."
"Hmmph. It's not like it hurt them. And I can't say the same for what Neville and I went through."
"Yeah, I know." Harry didn't want to start a fight with Ginny, as it'd been a while since they'd been alone for any length of time. Although Ron always seemed to expect Harry to give him private time with Hermione, he felt it was his job as a big brother not to allow Harry to have the same level of privacy with his sister. He was almost always interrupting them or including himself in their outings.
Harry eased closer to Ginny and wrapped his arm around her waist. "How have you been lately?"
"Good. You should come out and watch our Quidditch practice next time. Coote and Peakes are flying great. They practiced together over the winter hols and their accuracy with Bludgers is amazing. If they continue to fly like they've been, we have a good chance of winning the Cup."
"I didn't want to talk about Quidditch." Harry pulled her closer. "Actually, I didn't want to talk at all."
She allowed him to kiss her for a while, but as soon as he tried easing her back onto the bed, she squirmed out of his arms and sat up. "Don't." She straightened her clothing, but refused to look at him.
"Don't what?" Harry sat up as well. "We weren't doing much," he said, too frustrated to watch his words and tone. "We never do much."
"You can't expect me to...not with Ron and Hermione right outside."
"That's an excuse and you know it."
Ginny leapt to her feet and headed for the tent flap. "I thought you were different. But you're just like all the other boys."
"What other boys?" Harry shouted, but she was already gone.
Harry flopped back on the bed and flung an arm over his eyes. Why was everything with Ginny so hard? He liked her. He truly did. He could even see marrying her some day. In the meantime, he didn't want to be one of those boys who only wanted one thing from a girl...but was it so wrong to want that thing too?
Hearing the soft magical chime that signalled someone was standing outside the flap of his tent, Harry quickly sat up.
Maybe it was Ginny. Maybe she'd changed her mind, he thought. "Come in." A hum of anticipation and excitement filled him.
To his shock, Pansy Parkinson entered his tent. The flare of excitement sputtered out.
"Malfoy's not here," Harry said on a huff of breath.
"I know. I didn't come here to see him." Pansy stepped further inside, letting the flap of the tent close behind her. "I came to see you."
"I wanted to talk to you about Draco. I'm so worried about him."
Draco was such a prat; Harry couldn't figure out how he managed to get people to worry about him. He could sort of understand Draco's parents doing so, but anyone else must be off their rocker. But here was Pansy, looking concerned, so somehow the prat did it.
"Malfoy's fine. You can go find him and he'll tell you."
She shook her head. "No, he wouldn't. Not if it was something absolutely awful. If it was something small, I'd never hear the end of it. But important things – he keeps those to himself. Like during sixth year. Not even Greg or Vince knew what was going on."
Harry was mulling that over when she sat down next to him on the bed causing him to let out a startled squeak.
"You're not hurting him, are you?"
"No!" Harry surreptitiously scooted further away. He didn't know why Pansy had to sit beside him when there was a perfectly good chair across the room. "I wouldn't do something like that."
"I wouldn't blame you if you did," Pansy said. "Well...not much, anyway." She looked down at her hands for a moment. "What I said in the Great Hall before the battle - about giving you to Voldemort to save everyone else – that was pretty horrible."
Yeah, it had been. Of course, a short time afterward, he'd turned himself over to Voldemort in order to save everyone else, so he couldn't fault her too much.
She glanced up at him and her eyes were filled with tears. "Would you....Could you ever forgive me?"
Oh, god! She was going to cry! He hated when girls cried. Awkwardly, he patted her back, hoping that might somehow stem the flow of tears.
Her arms wrapped around him and Harry had to bite his lip to keep another squeak from escaping.
"No, it's not," Pansy snuffled into his shoulder. "It's not okay at all." She turned her face to peer up at him. "You died!"
"Yeah, but I didn't stay that way."
She gave him a watery smile. "Then you forgive me?"
Harry nodded and gave her back another pat. Maybe this would be the end of it and Pansy would finally go away.
She didn't. Instead she leaned closer and before he'd figured out what she was planning, she'd kissed him. Dumbfounded, he stared at her and she took the opportunity to kiss him again. And again. And she kept on kissing him.
Cho had been Harry's first kiss and it hadn't been very good. Ginny had some experience with her various boyfriends before him; her kisses made him think of warmth and belonging. Pansy's kisses, however, were pure sex. They were deep and thorough, like she was sucking his soul out; and maybe she was, because while he knew he should stop her, that this wasn't right, he started kissing her back.
She gave him a little push and he fell flat on his back onto the bed. Pansy took advantage of his position and clambered on top of him. She wasn't just kissing him anymore, either. Her hips were moving, creating the most amazing friction in the very best place possible.
Harry broke free to pull in a gasping breath. "We shouldn't—"
"Touch me," Pansy whispered.
When he hesitated, she took a hold of his hand and pressed it to her breast. Against his palm, he could feel the hardness of a nipple. Fascinated, he rubbed it and watched it become more pronounced. Above him, Pansy gave a breathy moan.
Harry was going to go to hell for this. Too bad that thought didn't stop him.
One of Pansy's hands went to Harry's chest then slowly, tantalizingly, it started a downward journey. It reached the waistband of his trousers and Harry held his breath for a moment before Pansy's fingers nimbly undid his belt buckle.
"What the hell is going on?" Ron's outraged voice filled the tent.
Like a splash of cold water, it woke Harry to what he was doing, doing with Pansy, of all people. He moved to shove her away from him, but she was already off him and on her feet.
"Nothing's going on." Pansy headed toward the flap of the tent. "At least nothing now. Oh, and Ron, do me a favour and tell your sister I said 'hi'." She gave Harry a flirty wave, which Harry ignored, and left.
Ron and Harry stared at each other, the silence thick between them. Anger was making Ron's face grow red and Harry knew he was turning the same shade, if for a different reason.
"What happened?" Hermione asked, hurrying in with Ginny and Draco not far behind her. "We saw Pansy and..." Hermione's voice trailed off as she took in the rumpled state of the bed and the undone buckle of Harry's belt.
Ginny must have seen the same things for she let out a cry, burst into tears, and rushed out.
"Oh, Harry." Hermione shook her head in dismay. "I can't believe you—"
Whatever else Hermione was going to say, Harry didn't hear it, because Ron stepped forward and punched him in the mouth. The blow knocked Harry back onto the bed and by the time he'd struggled to sit back up, one hand attempting to staunch the flow of blood that was trickling down his chin, both Ron and Hermione were gone.
He glanced at Draco, expecting him to have a smug look on his face, but he didn't. His face was blank and remained that way as he moved closer and drew out his wand.
Too late did it occur to Harry that Draco might view Pansy as his and be angry. Harry drew back and started reaching for his own wand.
"Hold still," Draco said quietly. He grasped hold of Harry's chin and aimed his wand at the cut and already swollen lip. "Episkey"
"Thanks," Harry muttered, more humiliated than he'd been in all of his life.
"For what? If I'd been protecting you as I was supposed to, it wouldn't have happened."
"You don't have to protect me!"
"There's an Oath that says I do." Draco stared down at Harry thoughtfully. "I suppose I could go punch Weasley to avenge you."
Harry let out a small groan that had nothing to do with the pain he still felt in his face. "Please don't."
Draco perked up at Harry's distress. "It would be no problem. Honestly."
"Now that I think about it," Draco said, obviously getting into his role, "I believe that I'm Oath-bound to go smash Weasley's face to a pulp. It's my duty. My sacred honour. I shall be your shining-haired knight in stylish robes come to rescue you from the monstrous attacks of that oaf."
"What you can do is find me a window so I can throw myself out of it." Harry lay back onto his bed. "God, I've made a mess of everything. Ron's mad at me. Ginny probably won't ever speak to me again."
"Yes, now if you could only piss off Granger, your life would be perfect."
Harry felt too terrible to even yell at him. Instead, he said wearily, "Malfoy, just...just go away."
To Harry's surprise, Draco did.
* * *
The next morning, Draco was back to his now uncontested place at Harry's side.
For the first time in his life, Harry was grateful for Draco's presence. At breakfast, Ron purposefully sat several places down the table from Harry and focused all of his attention on ignoring him. Hermione made her way to Harry and murmured a few words of encouragement in his ear. He didn't really hear what she said, too overwhelmed with relief that he hadn't lost her as well. She squeezed his shoulder comfortingly, before continuing on to Ron's side.
Ginny sat quietly near Ron, her shoulders rounded, and her hair hung loose, hiding most of her face. Several of her friends shot Harry angry glances and whispered furiously behind their hands.
Through it all, Draco acted as if none of it mattered. Harry glumly ate his porridge while Draco prattled on about how it was a crime there were no eighth-year prefects, and thus none of them were allowed to use the Prefect Baths. He went on and on, without any apparent need to have Harry participate in the conversation.
The day seemed to drag by and Draco's voice was a constant drone in Harry's ear. Throughout Transfigurations, he made whispered comments on what Professor Onslow, with his mind-numbing lectures, might transfigure into. Harry reminded him that people didn't really change into dirt, logs, or rocks, no matter how boring they were. Though if anyone could turn into a rock, it would be Onslow, who looked as if he was halfway there already with his grey hair, lumpy body, and plain grey robes.
Occasionally, Draco would spout something so insane Harry would be yanked out of his doldrums in order to stare at him. For instance, he couldn't help but gape disbelievingly at Draco as they made their way to the Library during a free period.
"It's absolutely true," Draco assured him. "Long ago, Veela were dull, homely creatures. Quite ugly, really. But then one caught sight of a Malfoy and fell instantly in love with him and his beauty. Veela have attempted to mimic that beauty, decidedly poor imitations, if you ask me, ever since."
"So – everyone falls for Veela, but Veela fall for Malfoys?'
"Naturally," Draco said. "For eons, our beauty has been our curse."
Harry pretended to study Draco. "Congratulations then. The curse has been lifted."
"You're just jealous," Draco sniffed.
Harry smiled and was about to reply when he caught a glimpse of Ron and Hermione approaching the Library from the opposite corridor and his momentary good mood vanished. Next to him, Draco swore under his breath.
Upon reaching the Library, Draco hurried forward and swung the door wide. "After you, My Lord Who is Destined for Pretty Much Nothing Useful Now That You've Offed Voldemort."
Harry could only sigh and shake his head at Draco as he entered the Library. He didn't even have the heart to yell at him a moment later when Draco let the door swing closed in Ron's face.
* * *
Saturday morning, Harry took the opportunity to stay in his room. When Draco exited from his own tent into Harry's bedroom and asked about breakfast, Harry told him that he wasn't very hungry and preferred to sleep longer. The truth was Harry didn't feel up to facing everyone else again, especially on a day when he didn't have to. He didn't feel like pretending not to see the looks people were giving him as he walked past, nor pretend not to hear the whispers that swirled in his wake. He wanted some peace and quiet.
Half an hour later, Draco returned and the peace and quiet disappeared.
"I brought you some breakfast." Draco placed a platter filled with a mound of sausages, bacon, and sweet rolls next to Harry, then plopped down on the bed.
Harry sat up and eyed the platter. "Did you leave any food at all in the Great Hall?"
"Not much. I charged Greg with the task of fixing a plate for you, forgetting he would assume that you eat like he does."
"Goyle eats like this all the time?" Harry asked.
"He's a man with a mission, and that mission appears to be to get as big as a house." Draco snatched up a sweet roll from off the platter and bit into it. "The Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff Quidditch game is today. Shall we go and laugh at their ineptness?"
Harry took a moment to think about it as he chewed a sausage – did he want to watch the game knowing that he'd be ignored by Ron and Ginny as they discussed the players and strategies? And what would the rest of the Gryffindors do? Except for Neville and Hermione, he didn't think they'd be too welcoming. "You can go without me."
"Impossible. I have been far too neglectful of my duties recently. If you don't wish to go to the game, then I shall remain here with you. Not for me the thrilling excitement of Quidditch. My Oath is far more important. It is a harsh sacrifice to forego the pleasure of watching a sport I love, but I'll do so willingly, and with no complaint."
"No complaint?" Harry repeated sceptically.
"None. After all, we'll be far too busy to miss the game overly much. You'll be ecstatic to know that in this morning's mail I received four more potions to try on your hair."
Harry sighed. "I guess we're going to the game."
* * *
It reached the point where Harry couldn't delay leaving his tent for the game any longer. Already, Draco had brought out the four bottles, whose contents were scary looking (one of the bottles held something that looked alive) and lined them up in the bathroom.
Upon exiting his tent, Harry breathed easier when he found the common room empty, everyone else having left for the game by then. Only when stepping out into the corridor did he realise that he and Draco were going to have company despite his plans.
Goyle pushed away from the wall he'd been leaning against. "Thought you two weren't ever going to show up. The game's about to start."
"So sorry," Draco told him. "Potter lost his mind for a bit."
"Potter has a mine?" Goyle asked.
"No, but I'm sure his mind and a mine are similar - big, dark, twisty places where you have to dig deep to discover anything of value."
Goyle nodded, but as they left the castle he sidled up to Harry while Draco was busy going on about how he hated cloudy days and he'd never known that such things as clouds existed as a child because his mother had charmed them away on a daily basis.
"It was the clothes, right?"
"Draco can never decide what to wear for matches. That's what made you late, wasn't it?"
"Um...sure," Harry lied.
Goyle nodded sympathetically. "It happened before every match, even matches we were playing. Should he wear the ankle-high dragon boots or the knee-high leather ones? Which gloves had the better grip given the weather? And he can argue with himself for hours on the benefits of long versus short socks. Once, during second year, he was so slow that Flint bodily carried him out to the field and told him that if he didn't catch the Snitch he was personally using Incendio on all of Draco's clothes, even the ones he was wearing. Good thing we were playing Ravenclaw that day and not you."
Harry stared at Goyle. First of all, he'd never heard Goyle say so much at one time. Secondly, Harry had never paid attention to his boots or his gloves and knowing that Draco had, made him feel like he hadn't known nearly as much about Quidditch as he should have. Thirdly, the thought of Draco naked had made Harry momentarily wish that they had been playing against each other that day. Because it would've been funny, Harry quickly amended the prior thought. Not for any other reason.
Mentally scampering away from that entire subject, Harry tried to come up with something to say to Goyle and after a few seconds, succeeded.
"Thank you for the food. Draco told me you picked it out."
Goyle grinned shyly at him. "I tried to pick what I thought you'd like."
"Well, you did. Thanks."
"Potter!" Draco yelled. "Do stop flirting with Greg."
Both Goyle and Harry jumped apart while wearing similar terror-stricken expressions.
"Really, Potter," Draco scolded. "First Pansy, now Greg. What other Slytherins do you have your sights set on? Should I warn Nott that he might be next?"
Harry shoved his hands into his pockets and quickened his pace toward the stands. "Shut up, Malfoy."
"That reminds me," Draco continued. "I heard a rumour and dismissed it, but now I simply must ask. Is it true that as Snape lay dying, he wished to gaze into your eyes one last time?"
"So that seething hatred of you by Snape was just a front?"
"And all those Remedial Potions lessons weren't actually Remedial Potions, were they?"
Harry wondered how the weather in New Zealand was this time of year because it was becoming clear he was going to have to move there in order to escape from Draco. "Please shut up."
"Your wish is my command, My Lord Who I Really Hadn't Thought Had Had It In Him."
Yes, Harry thought. Raising sheep in New Zealand sounds like an excellent career move.
They walked for a few seconds in silence before Goyle spoke quietly. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. Snape was tall and smart. I can understand you being attracted to him."
As Draco howled with laughter, Harry could only groan and wonder if he needed a passport or a visa to immigrate.
* * *
Harry found one benefit to being completely humiliated on the trek to the Quidditch stands was that by the time he climbed the stairs and sat down, the incident with Pansy and accompanying scandal wasn't at the forefront of his thoughts.
Hermione smiled at him as he chose a place to sit. Ron and Ginny didn't smile, but they didn't send hostile looks his way, either. They seemed uneasy for some reason. A few murmurs rose up from the crowd as Harry, Draco, and Goyle entered the stands but, after Goyle cracked his knuckles and glared about, those murmurings quieted.
It wasn't bad sitting between Draco and Goyle, especially since Draco had manoeuvred them so that Goyle blocked the wind. However, he could have done without Draco's scarf hitting him in the face as Draco arranged, then rearranged it so that it draped just so.
"Whitby will catch the Snitch and Hufflepuff will win." Draco leaned close so Harry could hear him over the noise of the crowd. "Ackerley's slow and his Beaters don't help him any, too busy strategising to do anything."
On the other side of Harry, Goyle grunted in agreement. "Ravenclaws think too much."
"He's right," Draco said. "I was fortunate my teammates never had that problem, especially not Greg."
Harry glanced over at Goyle to see if he was insulted, but he was nodding his head. "Easier just to try to kill everyone on the opposing team. Vince and I..."
Goyle's voice trailed off.
Harry hadn't liked Crabbe. Crabbe trying to kill him had pretty much sealed that deal. He didn't even like Goyle, not really, but he couldn't just sit there and say nothing.
"You two made a great team," Harry ventured.
Obviously remembering games where he and Crabbe had broken bones and crushed skulls, Goyle smiled fondly. "Yeah. We did."
A moment later, after Goyle's attention returned to the Pitch, Draco bumped Harry with his shoulder.
"What?" Harry turned to face him.
Draco shook his head. "Nothing, Potter. Nothing at all."
Draco was very strange sometimes. Despite not quite knowing what was going on in that blond head, Harry bumped Draco back.
With a roar of the crowd, the game started. Luna was commenting in her usual manner. She was the epitome of fair since both sides were equally ignored while she advised everyone to cover their ears as the cold and windy weather was perfect for Wrackspurts.
Not only were Wrackspurts real, Harry decided, but one must have floated into his ear. That's why his brain was feeling fuzzy and why he couldn't concentrate on the game. The only thing that he could think about was how the stands were overcrowded, forcing him and Draco close together. He could feel Draco pressed against his side, could feel the length of Draco's muscled thigh against his own, and Draco's warm breath against his face as he made nasty comments about various players.
As people cheered for the teams or as they flapped their arms at invisible Wrackspurts that Luna claimed were diving toward them, they jostled Harry and Draco, shoving them into each other. Once, when a student was passing behind their row, Harry was knocked so hard that he almost fell into Draco's lap. Though Harry's face flamed, Draco simply reached out to right him.
After what seemed like forever, but at the same time felt like only a few minutes, cries went up around them, Harry blinked, confused as to the reason. Draco stood and Harry's side immediately felt cold and bereft.
"Told you Whitby would catch the Snitch," Draco said.
Harry rose to his feet and nodded, still feeling emotionally and mentally off-balance. "Yeah, you did." Numbly, he followed Draco down the stairs and out of the stands. They were passing by the broom shed when Draco spun around and gave Harry a puzzled look, making Harry stop short.
"What?" Harry asked.
Before Draco could answer, Harry heard Ron call his name. It had a strained edge to it, as though it wasn't the first time that Ron had yelled for him.
He looked about and saw Ron headed toward him, Ginny at his side. Hermione must have already gone to the castle.
"I know you've a right to be mad at me," Ron said as he approached, "but I didn't expect you to walk right past me like I wasn't there."
"Listen, I wanted to say I was sorry. You know, for misjudging you and, well, hitting you like I did."
Harry stared at him. "What?"
"I'm sorry, too," Ginny said, stepping forward. "I should've known it wasn't your fault."
"What are you talking about?" Harry looked back and forth at the two of them.
"At breakfast this morning, Pansy was going on and on about how she'd tricked you. Bragging about it, really."
Harry's eyes widened. "Pansy said that?"
"Yeah. I felt pretty rotten for punching you since it wasn't your fault." Ron eyed Harry's face. "At least it wasn't too hard since it didn't swell or anything."
"Malfoy fixed me up," Harry said. He paused to look over at Draco, who was standing a few feet away next to Goyle and looking smug. Too smug. Harry got a suspicious feeling. "Malfoy thinks it's part of his Oath to fix things."
Ginny pushed forward so she was standing right up against Harry. "Since Hufflepuff won the match, it means that Gryffindor is in a good position to win the Cup. The team and I are planning a little celebration – would you like to go with me?"
"I...I think that you and I need to talk," Harry told her.
"Then you aren't accepting my apology?" Ginny's lower lip wobbled, but for the first time that Harry could remember, he didn't care too much if she was upset.
"Like I said, we need to talk. Alone." He looked pointedly at Goyle, Draco, and Ron.
It was Goyle who got the message first and turned toward the castle. Goyle walking away woke Ron up, who gave Harry and Ginny a tentative grin before following.
Draco, however, crossed his arms and leaned against the broom shed. "Don't mind me."
Shooting an irritated look at Draco, Harry took Ginny by the arm and steered her back toward the Quidditch pitch. By the time they'd returned to the stands, everyone had left. To the west, only the last strands of light were left in the sky while stars were appearing on the horizon in the east.
"I am sorry," Ginny said as she sat down on a bench. "I know things haven't been quite right between us lately, but I should've known what I saw wasn't your doing. I should've known it was all the fault of that Slytherin."
Harry sat down beside her, telling himself it was probably a stupid thing he was about to do, but he wasn't going to lie or, in this case, lie by omission.
"It wasn't all Pansy's fault."
Ginny patted his knee. "Harry, I know what you're trying to do, but it's not necessary. You don't need to be chivalrous and take the blame to protect Pansy's honour, if she has any left."
"What I'm trying to do is tell the truth. Pansy may have started it, she may have taken me by surprise, but...but I didn't exactly try to stop her, either. And by the time that Ron came in...."
Harry's voice trailed off as he let the implication sink in. Ginny must have understood for she stood up and stared down angrily at him. Her right fist lashed out and pain blossomed in Harry's nose.
Weasleys could certainly lay a guy flat, Harry thought as he heard Ginny stomp down the stairs as she left. He waited a few minutes to make sure she was gone before leaving himself.
Trudging toward the castle, a shadow detached itself from the wall of the broom shed.
"What happened now?" Draco asked, plainly bewildered and frustrated.
"Isn't it obvious?" Harry motioned to his damaged nose and the blood on his shirt. "She hit me." Draco pulled out his wand and aimed it at Harry's nose. "Episkey" He grasped Harry's chin back and forth and examined his work in the dwindling light for a moment before finding it adequate. "What I don't get is why she hit you. I thought everything would be all right between the two of you now."
"You mean now that you convinced Pansy to tell everyone that I was nothing but a dupe to her machinations?"
"I didn't convince Pansy of anything."
Harry crossed his arms and waited.
"Though there may have been a minor amount of blackmail and a smidgen of bribery involved. And don't you look at me like that." Draco pointed a finger at Harry. "My Oath includes protecting your reputation as if it were my own. While it wouldn't have bothered me a whit to have it known that I was caught with a winsome female on my bed, it bothered you. For some reason beyond my comprehension, you actually care about those Weasleys, so I was forced to do something."
"Thank you," Harry said grudgingly. "I think."
"Then you had to go ruin a perfectly good scheme by telling your now-firmly-in-the-ex-column girlfriend, something entirely different. Both Weasleys were practically crawling on their bellies to apologise to you!"
"I told Ginny the truth – that I knew what I was doing," Harry said stubbornly.
Draco snorted in disbelief. "I highly doubt that."
"It's true." Harry felt a bubble of anger building within him.
"Ha! You probably didn't have a clue what to do, much less be an active participant in that sordid little scenario."
Harry clenched his fists. "I was participating just fine."
"Right," Draco scoffed. "I'm actually surprised Weasley managed to walk in on you and Pansy doing anything. I'd have thought she'd still be instructing you on how to hold your mouth when you kiss."
In an explosion of frustration and rage, Harry threw himself forward, knocking Draco back against the wall of the broom shed.
"What—" Draco started to say, taken by surprise.
Harry pushed Draco against the wall a second time and held him there. "I know exactly what to do with my mouth."
As the moment lengthened, Harry slowly realised that Draco wasn't trying to get away. He was looking at Harry as if he'd never seen him before.
Harry knew he'd never seen Draco like this. In the rising moon's light, Draco's skin, which seemed too pale by day, fairly gleamed. He almost looked pretty with his sharp edges softened, his hair mussed, and his eyes wide as they stared back at Harry. The tip of Draco's tongue flicked out to wet his lips.
Harry's gaze latched onto that mouth. Draco's lips were slightly parted as he sucked in breath after breath. It would take so little for Harry to lean forward and capture that bottom lip with his teeth, taste that vicious tongue, shove Draco harder, press closer, and feel the entire length of his body against his.
That last thought was too tempting to resist. Harry moved forward so that his body was pressed firmly against Draco's. Draco let out a small 'oof' in response.
But why wasn't Draco pushing back? Harry wondered, and in a flash the answer came to him.
Draco couldn't push back. He couldn't fight Harry because of his Oath. That's why he was allowing Harry to do this with no retaliation.
Feeling uncomfortably like a bully, Harry backed away. "Sorry," he muttered.
Keeping his gaze down, he shoved his hands into his pockets and headed for the castle. After a few seconds, he heard Draco follow. The entire rest of the way to the castle was made in silence except that Harry could have sworn he heard Draco babbling something to himself about 'no clue'.
* * *
Minutes later, Harry could still hear Draco prattling on behind him, when the floor of the Hogwarts corridor opened and swallowed Harry.
He was pretty sure he hadn't fallen that far, but before he could get a good sense of where he was, the hole he'd fallen through vanished. Harry drew his wand and shouted "Lumos!"
Surrounding him were four stone walls, a stone floor, and no doors. The space was only about five feet by five feet, so he had a small amount of room to manoeuvre, but not much. The floor was filled with dust and above him were the remains of so many cobwebs that Harry was surprised he'd fallen and not been caught in them. Through the broken strands, he could see that the ceiling was well above his head. Because of the distance Harry figured he was some place on the floor below the one where he'd been walking versus stuck between floors.
He shot a small Reducto at the ceiling above him, not wanting to blast a ton of stone onto his head. When not even a crack appeared, he sent a second, stronger one. Then a third. Giving up at last on the ceiling, he shot Reductor curses at all the surrounding walls and the floor, to no avail.
Exhausted, Harry sank to the ground. Years ago, he never much minded the cupboard below the stairs because he'd always known that he'd be let out eventually, if only because the Dursleys had chores for him to do. He had no such hope now.
* * *
Harry was about to get up and start trying again when he heard a grinding of stone against stone. By the light of his wand, he watched as the stones next to him shifted and moved in a way that reminded him of the wall behind the Leaky Cauldron that led to Diagon Alley.
After only a matter of seconds, an opening appeared - large enough for Harry to escape through. In the corridor outside was a very anxious-looking Draco.
"Are you all right?" Draco grabbed hold of Harry's arms and shook him. Dust flew off of Harry's clothes and strands of cobwebs swung back and forth.
"I'm fine. A bit dirty, I suppose."
Draco shook him harder. "Don't do that again."
"I didn't do it this time!" Harry protested. He broke away from Draco, scowled at him, and started once more toward the eighth-year dormitories. "How'd you find me, anyway?"
"Truthfully, I didn't know what to do at first." Draco matched his pace to Harry's. "Tried blasting it, but when that didn't work, I went for help."
"Help?" Harry glanced around, not seeing anyone.
"I asked Snape's portrait. He lived here most of his life and knew practically everything there is to know about Hogwarts. After he sneered at me for wanting to save you, he told me there was a trap set in that hallway and all new teachers are warned of it, just in case someone manages to trigger it by accident. He also told me how to fetch you out of it."
"Why do they have traps like that in Hogwarts?" Harry asked as they entered the common room for the Gryffindor eighth-years.
"Why do they have moving staircases? Or enchanted ceilings? Or a huge secret chamber that housed a basilisk under the whole place? My guess is that the builders were all completely barmy."
Hermione hurried across the common room toward him wearing a worried expression, reminding Harry again of the state of his clothes. Ron joined her.
"What happened?" Hermione asked.
Ron eyed Harry's bloody shirt in particular, then glared at Draco. "Anything we should know about?"
Harry shook his head.
At the same time, Draco shouted, "Yes! This cursed castle tried to eat Potter!"
"What?" Ron yelled while Hermione blinked in surprise at Draco's agitated attitude.
"You heard me. We were walking along and the floor fell out from under him. Fortunately for Potter, I used my head and discovered how to get him out of there."
"Are you hurt?" Hermione asked. "Maybe we should get Madame Pomfrey to examine you."
Embarrassed by all the attention, Harry waved away her concern. "I'm fine. Really."
Ron pointed to the blood on Harry's shirt. "What about that?"
"That's from your sister punching him," Draco explained. At Ron's confusion, he added, "She punched him after he confessed, like the git he is, that he wasn't an inactive participant in his little tryst with Pansy."
"What?" Ron yelled again.
"Focus, Weasley," Draco shouted back. "The castle tried to eat Potter! That's what's important."
"It didn't try to eat me." Harry broke past the group and headed toward his tent. It had been a long day and he badly wanted to take a shower and go to bed. "I just fell into a trap, that's all."
"Then perhaps you'd like to explain to the rest of us who triggered the trap," Draco said snidely. "Face it, Potter, someone wanted to do you in and, for a change, it wasn't me."
Harry stopped in his tracks. He hadn't thought about that.
* * *
"Are you quite sure you saw no one about?" Hermione asked Harry and Draco for a second time.
They'd left the common room in favour of Hermione's tent. When she did a silencing spell with a well-practiced flick of her wand, Draco gave her a speculative leer.
"Been doing that a lot recently, Granger?"
"It keeps noise out as well as in," Hermione stated primly, but a tell-tale blush crept up her cheeks. Even if she'd hidden her embarrassment better, one had only to glance at Ron, whose face was bright red, for confirmation.
Hermione and Ron sat on her bed, though well apart from each other. Draco commandeered the only chair, forcing Harry to sit on the floor. So much for being Lord and Master.
"I told you - we didn't see anyone," Harry told Hermione.
"I suppose it could be someone so unprincipled that they go about with an Invisibility Cloak." Draco nudged Harry's arm with his foot. "You know the type, Potter – sneaky, underhanded, and more than willing to listen in on private conversations or play dirty tricks on innocent and amazingly handsome fellows."
"Since when were you ever innocent?"
"Do pay attention and stop clouding the issue with unrelated facts," Draco scolded.
"Or," Hermione said slowly, "it could have been someone who was so good at Disillusionment Charms that he was essentially invisible." She grabbed a quill and parchment and began to make a list.
"They'd have to know them as well as Dumbledore, then?" Harry asked.
"Or Hermione," Ron suggested. He turned toward Hermione. "You got good at those last year, didn't you?"
"So – our two prime suspects are someone who's been dead for over a year and Granger, who's on our side." Draco rolled his eyes. "Excellent detective work, you two. I'm shocked that the Aurors aren't pounding on the door, clamouring for your services."
Ron glared at Draco. "And who do you suspect?"
"Hagrid, of course. My theory is that he needed fresh meat for one of his foul creatures because McGonagall, unlike Dumbledore, frowns on him using the flesh of young students."
"You're never going to get over Buckbeak attacking you, are you?" Harry asked.
Draco shook his head. "Not as long as I bear the dreaded scar of that horrific incident."
"You have a scar?" Harry strained upward to look at Draco's arm. "Where?"
"There!" Draco pointed at a dot on his arm.
Harry looked closer. "That's a freckle."
"What!" Draco shouted. "I have a freckle?"
"Do shut up, all of you," Hermione yelled. "While we can't rule out the possibility of an Invisibility cloak, we also know that they're rare enough that it's unlikely one was used. It's much likelier for someone to use a Disillusionment Charm. I've come up with a list of possible candidates."
Taking the list from her, Draco examined it, then handed it back. "Add Blaise to it. He's the one who helped me perfect the charm."
"You know how to do it?" Ron asked suspiciously.
Draco nodded. "That's right, Weasley. It was me. I trapped Potter and then saved him to abate your suspicions. Fear me."
"Shut up," Harry said wearily.
"Yes, my Unsuspecting Lord Who Will One Day Feel My Wrath."
Hermione stared at Draco for a moment before choosing to disregard him. "We'll divide up the list. She carefully separated the list into three sections and then handed one section to Harry and another one to Ron. "Each of us will investigate the people on our list over the next few days and report back next Saturday."
"Ahem." Draco crossed his arms and looked miffed. "Don't I get a list?"
"You're Oath-bound to protect Harry," Hermione reminded him. "That's your job."
"Why do I get the feeling that might be the hardest job of all?' Draco asked of no one in particular.
* * *
"I really didn't need to have that mental image." Harry shook his head with disgust as he and Draco walked down the corridor from Flitwick's office the next day after not-too-subtly questioning him about his doings after the Quidditch game.
"You Gryffindors are so naive. Of course Sprout and Flitwick had a wager riding on the game. Be glad all Sprout asked was for Flitwick to perform charms on her fertilizer, even if he was literally up to his neck in it. I've heard rumours that some of the wagers aren't nearly as innocent. In any case, that eliminates both Flitwick and Sprout from our list of suspects. Who's next?"
"A definite possibility. At last she's wreaking her revenge for how you treated her at the Yule Ball in fourth year."
"I don't think that's a legitimate reason for wanting to trap me."
"Ha! You didn't see the way you danced. Not to mention," Malfoy said, going ahead and mentioning it, "the way you ignored her to mope over Chang."
"Fine," Harry said. "She might have some teeny, tiny, deeply buried, completely unlikely reason. But why is Dean Thomas on the list? We've been dorm mates for years."
"Maybe his hatred has been festering all this time," Draco suggested. "Or at last he discovered a way to get back at you for stealing the female Weasley from him."
"But I rescued him from Malfoy Manor! Wouldn't that count for something?"
Draco considered it for a moment. "Maybe," he said slowly, "it's not you that they're after but me. Maybe the trap misfired and they got the wrong person. Thomas might have been trying to trap me in a horrible act of vengeance against Malfoys for keeping him prisoner in our cellar."
"It'd better not be you," Harry said. "If we have to investigate your enemies, it could take years."
"I'll have you know that people love me. They fall at my feet."
"And when they do, you smash their noses in."
Draco stopped to look at Harry, then smiled flirtatiously. "Why, Potter. I had no idea you felt that way about me. I blame my preoccupation at the time with being assigned an impossible murderous task by a madman with my parents' lives at stake. Though it's a paltry excuse, it's the only one I have for not recognising your feelings for me sooner. It does explain why you followed me around, watching my every move. You were smitten."
"I was not!"
"You were. It's all so obvious now. I do hope my lack of response didn't dash your hopes overly much. No, wait – it must have. Why else would you have become involved with Weasleyetta unless your heart had been so thoroughly broken that you no longer cared whether you lived or died?"
"I was following you around because I was trying to find out what you were up to!"
"And you almost killed me in the process."
The teasing tone vanished and was replaced by a coldness that made Harry think of Draco's father. Before Harry could come up with a reply, Draco snatched the list out of his hand.
"If that's how you normally investigate people, Potter, then perhaps I ought to carry the list. Although I can't say I care for Thomas, I still don't wish for him to be slashed to death with a curse, either."
They walked in silence for a minute or so. Quietly, Harry said, "I didn't mean to hurt you that badly. I didn't know what the spell did."
Draco opened his mouth several times, but each time he said nothing, forcing the words back down his throat. Finally, after what seemed like a long time to Harry, Draco said tightly, "You shouldn't use spells when you don't know what they do."
Harry nodded his head vigorously. "I know that – now. The note next to where I'd read it said that it was 'for enemies'. So when I thought you were going to curse me, I used it. But...but I never intended to kill you."
Again there was silence before Draco murmured. "It's over and done with. I'm alive without even a scar to show for it."
"But it's not over," Harry choked out. "Last year, people talked about how I liked to use Expelliarmus, but they didn't know. They didn't know about what I'd done to you the spring before." His gaze ran over Draco, reassuring himself that Draco was alive and well. "There was blood everywhere. So much of it. All over you, covering the floor, on me. I...I think I lost any enthusiasm I might've had for most curses that day."
Draco glanced over at him, his face not nearly as hard as it'd been only a short while earlier. "Are you saying you're sorry?"
"God, yes! Of course, I'm sorry."
"Oh. You've never said it, you know. At least not to me."
Harry stopped where he was and grabbed Draco's arm, turning him so that they faced one another. "Draco, I'm sorry I almost killed you."
Draco stared at Harry for a moment and gradually the tense set of his shoulders eased. As they continued to gaze at each other, the coolness in his manner melted and whatever had done it was affecting Harry, too, for he suddenly felt uncomfortably warm.
"I still think that I ought to be the one to question Parvati," Draco finally said, before heading for the eighth-year dormitories with renewed enthusiasm. "She's intelligent and values that in others, so I'm sure to appeal to her. Most people cannot resist my charm."
As Harry followed Draco, he couldn't help but concede that Draco might be right about that last part.
* * *
"Not Flitwick or Sprout, not Parvati, Thomas, or Zabini, and not even my personal favourite, McGonagall."
Hermione, perched on the chair in Harry's tent, arched an eyebrow at Draco. "Although I'm aware that everyone on the list needed to be investigated, you seriously thought McGonagall was behind the attempt to trap Harry?"
Draco, not to be outdone by Hermione, arched an eyebrow back at her from the end of Harry's bed. "Aren't you aware that it's always the one you least suspect? But I'm far too clever for her, so McGonagall's my prime suspect."
"I thought you said it was Hagrid." Harry lounged against his pillows at the top of the bed. "Are you now confessing that you were wrong?"
"Sacrilege!" Draco cried, causing Harry to grin.
"If McGonagall is your prime suspect," Hermione said slowly, "then doesn't that mean she isn't the last one you suspect so therefore she isn't the culprit?'
"Yes! But McGonagall is smart. She knows she'll be the last one you suspect, so therefore you'll suspect her first. Then, by not being the last one to be suspected, she will get away with her fiendish plans."
Hermione stared at Draco for a full minute before turning to Harry. "Make him stop. His logic is hurting my head."
"That's because you're not a Slytherin," Draco told her. "Even the littlest Slytherins would understand it easily."
"Harry," Hermione said, "you know how most people think Slytherins are evil?" When Harry nodded, Hermione continued, "I have a new theory. They're not evil; they're just touched in the head."
"Yes!" Draco rubbed his hands together in glee. "Our evil plan to make you think we're not evil is working."
Harry could only laugh at the expression on Hermione's face.
"Getting back to the matter at hand," Hermione said, struggling to get back to more familiar ground, "I spoke to Sinistra, Hooch, Pomfrey, Terry, Padma, Ginny, and Neville. Everyone but Neville has someone to corroborate their location at the time Harry fell through the trap. Neville claims he was searching for herbs on the edge of the Forbidden Forest after the game. Unfortunately, he was unable to tell me what herbs he'd found."
"A-ha! Longbottom is the perpetrator. That bumbling oaf persona never fooled me, especially as he was so quick to shed it last year when his life was on the line."
Harry sighed and swung his feet off the bed. "It's not Neville."
"While I don't believe that it's Neville, either," Hermione said, "with no alibi, we don't know that for certain."
"It's not him," Harry repeated. "Not only do I trust Neville completely, he and I talk sometimes about...things."
"What things?" Hermione asked.
When Hermione still looked puzzled, Draco smirked. "He means sex, Granger."
"It's not sex," Harry said quickly. "Well...not specifically about sex, but I do know that Neville could probably prove he was in the Forbidden Forest after the Quidditch game if need be."
"Do you mean that Longbottom's seeing someone? Someone in secret?" Draco crowed, earning a glare from Harry. "Who is it – no, wait, let me guess. Animal, vegetable, or mineral?"
"Why do I get the feeling that you're a very bad guesser?" Harry asked.
Draco was too busy mulling over the possible choices of Neville's secret love to take offense. "Hmm. Who could it be? And why did he tell you? I'm sure you can't provide any helpful hints, so why would he...Dear God! Is Longbottom shagging a professor and coming to you for advice on how to manage a relationship that transgresses the normal boundaries between student and teacher?
"What?" cried Hermione, turning to stare at Harry. "When did you—"
"Come now, Potter," Draco said. "Don't bother to deny it. The entire school knows about you, Snape, and your secret and ultimately doomed love."
"Snape?" Hermione asked, fully bewildered now.
"The entire school?" Harry repeated.
"Perhaps not the entire school. I only mentioned it to a few people, well, not including my fellow Slytherins. Most people upon reflection felt that it explained so many things and were surprised they hadn't figured it out themselves. Some were deeply touched by your tragic tale - the Greengrass sisters in particular. I believe they've started a petition to name you as an honorary Slytherin so that you would be allowed to visit the common room at your leisure and gaze longingly at the portrait of your lost love."
"Snape?" Hermione said again faintly.
Harry put his face in his hands. "Can we please get back to the investigation?"
He could hear Draco say sotto voce to Hermione, "He doesn't like to talk about it. It's all too painful."
"Um...right," Hermione said. "As for our interviews with the various suspects, we're still waiting for Ron to get back. I don't know what's keeping him."
"Does Weasley usually run off and leave you two hanging?" Draco asked.
Harry and Hermione exchanged glances.
"No," Harry stated. He got to his feet. "Ron may not always have been the most reliable of people in the past, but that's in the past. He would never bunk off our meeting. Not unless something went very wrong."
Draco stared at Harry. "Isn't that a bit of an overreaction? He could've simply forgotten."
Hermione rose from the chair. "We need to find Ron. Now."
"Who was he going to interview?" Draco asked. "We ought to start there."
"I know a better way to find him." Harry went to his trunk, flipped it open, and began rummaging through it. "Here it is!" He withdrew a blank parchment out of his trunk. Taking his wand from his pocket, he used it to tap the parchment. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
Draco leaned over Harry's shoulder to look at the parchment. "What are you...." His voice trailed off as he saw lines appear, then more lines until a map formed. His gaze moved from the map to Harry. "You have a map that shows you Hogwarts and everyone in it? God, I hate you sometimes."
"Only sometimes?" Harry didn't bother to take his eyes off the Marauder's Map. Ron wasn't in the dungeons or the Great Hall or the Infirmary...
"There he is." Draco pointed to a dot with Ron Weasley under it. "What is that git doing in the library? I thought he was allergic to books and such."
"I don't know why he's there." Harry rolled the map up and shoved it back into his trunk. "But I'm going to find out."
Hermione reached the tent flap before Harry did. "I'm coming with you."
"You know, there was a time not too long ago when Weasley going missing would've filled me with joy. Ahhh, those were the days. Wait a moment – it still fills me with joy." Despite his words, Draco followed behind Harry as they left to talk with Ron.
* * *
As they approached the library table piled high with books, Ron glanced up from the scroll he was working on. Spying their expressions, he became alarmed. "What's going on? Anything I need to know about?"
"You tell us," Harry said.
Hermione stood over Ron. "What do you think you're doing? Did you forget that we had a meeting? We were worried when you didn't show up."
"I wasn't," Draco pointed out. He plopped into a chair across from Ron and picked up one of the books from the pile.
"A meeting? Oh. Right." Ron got a confused expression on his face. "I remember thinking about it and then...I guess I thought I should work on my Transfiguration project. Onslow told us it was due next week. I'm working on a description of how someone transfigures someone else into dirt."
Hermione looked at Harry meaningfully. "Something is definitely wrong."
"You mean you can't transform someone into dirt?" Ron asked. He read over what he'd written and scratched out several lines. "I'll have to come up with something else, then."
"That's not what she meant. Though that's right; you can't," Harry added after half a second. He sat down on one side of Ron while Hermione took a chair on the other side.
Draco put down the book and snatched up Ron's scroll. "I take it Weasley doesn't often get an undeniable urge to do his assignments on a Saturday afternoon." Reaching over, he took Ron's quill as well, and began to write insulting comments in the margin.
"Ron's study habits make Harry look like a Ravenclaw," Hermione said.
"Hey!" Ron and Harry protested together.
"Which means the urge to study must have been projected onto Ron. Foul means had to have been used because I've been trying to get Ron to study since first year, with little success. Whoever it was could have used an Imperius Curse." Hermione eyed Ron closely. "Do you still have a desire to study?"
Ron shook his head. "Not if I don't have to. Besides, the assignment's not due till Tuesday. If I work on it Monday night, that should be fine."
"Not a victim of Imperio then, since the urge is gone," Hermione concluded.
"He could've been Obliviated," Draco said. He wrote down something else in the margins and suppressed a snicker. "After Obliviating him, a person could have modified his memory by making him think that he'd been on his way to the Library."
"Possibly. Or perhaps a potion was used to make him susceptible to suggestions." Hermione turned toward Ron. "You talked to the people on your list, didn't you?"
"Yeah." Ron reached into his pocket and withdrew a wad of parchment. "Took notes and everything."
Hermione smiled at him.
"Knew you'd quiz me later," Ron added. Harry noticed that suddenly Hermione didn't seem quite so pleased. "Ernie and Justin were playing Exploding Snap in their common room. They knew Smith was there, too, because they almost set his tent on fire and he came out and screamed at them. Called them idiots."
"Always did like Smith." Draco had stopped writing comments and had started folding Ron's parchment into a shape.
"He's a prat and a coward," Harry said, with more heat than he'd intended. He still remembered the way Smith had hurried out of Hogwarts before the battle.
Draco looked up in surprise. "Trust a Gryffindor to judge a man by his desire not to foolishly risk his life in the face of overwhelming odds. Smith made a strategic retreat. And, of much more importance than any ability in battle, Smith has excellent hair." Draco looked pointedly at Harry. "Unlike some I could name."
"What about the teachers I asked you to investigate?" Hermione asked Ron.
Ron, who'd been staring at Draco, shook his head, shaking off Draco's comments like a dog shakes off rain. He looked back at his papers. "Shingleton was giving some kid a remedial lesson in Defence Against the Dark Arts." He held up a hand. "Before you say anything, I tracked down the student who said he'd been there most of Saturday. Slughorn was at the game – remember? He had a couple of visitors with him. Onslow went to Diagon Alley."
"I don't think anyone saw him go in and out of Hogwarts, and if they had, I doubted they would've paid enough attention to remember it." Ron looked up from his notes. "When I asked Onslow what he'd bought, he took it as interest on my part. He showed me every single thing, told me how much he'd paid for it, then told me why he'd bought it versus its competitor. It had to be the truth because no one could've made up something that bloody boring."
Hermione sighed. "That's it then. We're out of suspects."
"Someone could have Transfigured into something small, something so small neither I nor Potter would've noticed," Draco said. "For instance, did you know that Rita Skeeter is an Animagus?"
Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked at one another. "We figured that out," Hermione finally said.
Draco shrugged. "Then the lot of you will have to think of something else."
He tapped his wand against Ron's now folded parchment. Wings unfurled and the paper phoenix rose from the table. It flapped over Ron's head before bursting into flames, raining ash on Ron's face and hair.
"Hey!" Ron yelled. "I was working on that!"
"Think of it as an intellectual critique of your work." Draco said.
* * *
"Potter." Draco stuck his head out between the flaps of his own tent that evening. "I'm out of shampoo. You don't mind if I fetch one of those that we've tried from your bathroom, do you?"
"Not at all." Harry motioned Draco to come in, then immediately regretted it.
All Draco was wearing was a towel.
Since coming to Hogwarts, Harry had seen boys in towels every day and twice on Quidditch game days. It had never bothered him a bit. Except for one time with Oliver Wood, but that was Oliver! Harry wouldn't be surprised if the possibility of seeing Oliver in a towel had served as incentive for half the people trying out for spots on the team.
Harry resolutely looked down at the book he was reading, though he was now unable to comprehend a single word. The only thing in his head was the glimpse he'd caught of Draco's chest. It wasn't nearly as scrawny as Harry remembered it from sixth year, though all of Draco had been pretty scrawny then. Now Draco's chest was lightly muscled, dusted with hair, and looked far too tempting for Harry's good.
"Stupid hormones," Harry muttered under his breath.
"Thank you," Draco said a moment later, emerging from the bathroom with a bottle in his hand.
As he headed back for his tent, Harry let out a low sigh of relief that the ordeal was almost over. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on which part of Harry's body you asked, the bottle slipped out of Draco's grasp. When Draco bent to retrieve it, Harry couldn't help but take a quick indrawn breath. Draco's movements had caused the sides of the towel to part and reveal previously hidden skin, including the jut of a hip.
Straightening, Draco turned toward Harry. "Something wrong?"
"No." Harry's eyes darted back to his book. "Just glad the bottle didn't break."
"Right," Draco said, as if he wasn't quite sure if he should believe Harry's explanation.
* * *
It had been hours since Draco had entered his own tent. Hours since Harry had heard any noise emerging from it. In the dark, Harry slid his hand under the covers and wrapped it around himself. The strokes he used were familiar, almost routine, but the direction his mind wandered was anything but. He'd never actually do what he was thinking. He'd be downright embarrassed to even admit to the thoughts currently plaguing him. Deciding there was no harm in a little fantasy, Harry closed his eyes and pictured Draco as he'd last seen him.
"Put the bottle down," Harry could've said. Draco, most likely, would've replied with something about how Harry obviously didn't understand how to use shampoo. Then Harry would repeat himself. "I ordered you to put the bottle down."
Draco might have looked momentarily uncertain before covering it up with false bravado. "The bottle's down. Happy now, Potter?'
"Not yet," Harry would've replied. "But getting there."
He'd motion to Draco. "Come here."
Draco would take a step toward him.
Harry would shake his head. "No. Closer."
"Is this near enough?" Draco would say.
"Almost. I want you on the bed, but first...that towel offends me. Take it off."
"You want me to take off my towel?"
"Are you threatening to disobey me? No, forget I said that. Please disobey me. Give me the excuse to tie you to the bed."
Draco's hands would tremble as they went to loosen the knot at his waist. When the towel dropped to the floor, his face would be cast downward to hide the red that bloomed on his cheeks.
Harry's gaze would run over Draco's body, pausing to linger at his chest, which was rising and falling as Draco attempted but failed to control his breathing. Sparse hair trailed down Draco's body, enticing Harry's gaze to follow it. The trail grew narrower and darker the further south it travelled.
Avidly, Harry watched as Draco's hand lowered to capture himself, already half-hard and rising to the occasion.
"Harry," Draco gasped as his hand began to move.
"Call me 'Master'"
"You still up, Potter?"
Harry paused, confused, as he hadn't meant for Draco to say that next. Then it hit him - Draco, the real Draco, had said it and, from the sound of his voice, was about to enter Harry's bedroom.
Stifling a yelp of alarm, Harry yanked his hand up and scrambled to shove the blankets around his lower torso in an effort to hide what he'd been doing.
"What do you want?" Harry yelled, hoping against hope Draco wouldn't come in.
Like with everything else, Harry didn't get his wish. Draco exited his tent and made his way toward Harry's bed.
"I wanted to talk with you about..." Draco paused and tilted his head as he looked at Harry. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Harry all but shouted.
"You don't look fine. You look like you've seen a basilisk."
Harry, who thought one part of him was as petrified as possible without the aid of a basilisk, shook his head again. "I said I was fine."
"And I say you're not," Draco said. He considered Harry for a moment. "Your breath is coming too fast and you're sweating." Something changed in Draco's expression and he smiled in a way that made Harry shiver.
"I think we need to find out what's wrong," Draco said, prowling toward the bed. "Do a thorough examination of you - head...." His gaze swept over Harry, then returned to where the covers were bunched, "...to toe."
Harry scooted back from the side of the bed, but that didn't stop Draco. He simply leaned forward and placed a hand on Harry's chest.
"After all," Draco purred. "Isn't it my duty to take care of you?"
"Nightmares!" Harry shouted.
Draco, who already had one knee on the bed, stopped. "What?"
"I have nightmares," Harry said, slightly less panicked. "Lots of nightmares. Ask anyone who was in the dorm with me."
Draco backed off of the bed. "You had a nightmare?"
"Yes. A horrible one - filled with snakes and Voldemort and Dementors and Voldemort and...and other bad, bad things." Harry gave an exaggerated shudder. "Ugh."
"A nightmare," Draco repeated.
"But you woke me from it." Harry gave Draco his widest, most innocent looking smile. It felt horribly fake, pasted on as it was, but Draco took another step back in response to it. "Thank you, Draco. You saved me from my nightmare."
"You're welcome," Draco said, sounding less than gracious.
Perhaps a little improvising wouldn't go amiss, Harry thought. "I certainly appreciate your timeliness in doing so, too. Voldemort's snake was after me and I was about to get swallowed whole."
"Not likely to get swallowed whole now," Draco muttered, and headed back to his tent.
"Just a minute," Harry said. "You wanted to talk about something?"
Draco shook his head. "Turns out that now's not a good time. It can wait. It's waited this long already."
The next morning, Harry asked Draco what he'd wanted the night before. Draco pretended he had no idea what Harry was talking about.
* * *
After the previous night, Harry decided Sunday morning that some time away from Draco might be a good idea. He chose to go to somewhere he thought Draco wouldn't dare follow. Unfortunately, he'd underestimated Draco's relentlessness.
"Whatever you do," Harry whispered outside of Hagrid's hut, "don't eat the rock cakes."
"Why would anyone be so idiotic as to eat cakes made from rocks?" Draco fidgeted with the sleeves of his robe. "That would be almost more idiotic than actually visiting the oaf."
"Stop it," Harry hissed. "Hagrid is my friend and I expect you to treat him with respect." At Draco's arched look, Harry added sharply, "If you can't be civil, then at least stay quiet."
"I can be civil. Malfoys are the very soul of civility."
"Right," Harry scoffed. "Funny how I missed seeing that quality in you every time you started a fight."
"If you must know, in the last few years, I've had an abundance of practice being civil, what with the Dark Lord being a guest in our home. It wasn't easy maintaining a genteel attitude as he strode through Malfoy Manor as if he owned it while all sorts of foul minions scurried after him, eager to do his bidding, followed by that loathsome snake."
"Oh," Harry said. He would've said more, but Hagrid chose that moment to open the door.
"Harry! Good to see you. Not often I get a chance to visit with you or Hermione or Ron these days." His gaze shifted to Draco and his countenance darkened. "Malfoy."
"Professor Hagrid," Draco said, in a bright, insincere manner. "My, aren't you looking tall!"
Harry nudged Draco's side with his elbow, then grinned at Hagrid. "Can we come in?"
"Where are my manners? 'Course you can." He motioned Harry in with a wave of his hand. "You can come in, too, Malfoy," he added reluctantly.
Draco was undeterred by Hagrid's lack of enthusiasm at having him as a guest.
"My, my," Draco said, looking around at the clutter and manoeuvring carefully so that his clothes didn't brush up against any of the dusty surfaces. "This is certainly...cosy. And so aromatic. How many animals do you have living with you these days?"
"Just me and Fang here."
A snarling sound rose from a wicker basket set in a corner. Hagrid gave Harry and Draco a nervous half-grin, then snatched his coat from a hook and flung it over the basket. The snarling continued, but much muffled.
"Do have a few beasties staying with me temporary like. Much too small and helpless to be on their own, you see."
Draco eyed the basket and purposely chose the chair furthest from it. "I'm sure the animals are quite grateful to you for your expert care."
"Where did you find them?" Harry asked.
"Was paying my respects to Dumbledore last night. Great man, Dumbledore." Hagrid shot a look at Draco as if he expected an argument. "Heard some noise, terrible sounds, and when I went to see what was what, I found the remains of their mother. Don't know why someone felt the need to kill it, but they did. Didn't even tell me, either, so that I could bury it proper. When I followed her tracks back to the forest I discovered the little ones.
"How interesting," Draco said, though his tone was one of polite disinterest.
If Draco wasn't going to show any curiosity, Harry would have to show twice as much. "Can we see one?"
Hagrid thought for a moment, then shook his head. "Better you didn't."
"Come on, Hagrid," Harry urged.
"Potter, if he thinks we shouldn't, then it's truly best that we don't."
"Well...'suppose it might be okay as long as you don't come to close. Especially you, Malfoy."
Draco nodded and scooted his chair back even further. "I am more than happy to listen to your quite reasonable advice."
After another moment's hesitation, Hagrid reached over and folded the corner of his cloak off of the basket. He stuck his hand in the basket, let out a wince, then withdrew it. Attached to the side of his hand by its teeth was a furry black animal that resembled a bear.
Leaping to his feet, Draco backed as far away as possible. "A Bugbear? You've got a litter of Bugbears in here?"
"Thought you were going to be civil," Harry muttered to Draco.
"He's got Blood-Sucking Bugbears!"
Hagrid cooed at the creature gnawing at the calluses on his hand. "They're only babies. Nothing for even you to fear, Malfoy,"
"What are Bugbears?" Harry asked. He reached toward the one Hagrid held only to find that Draco had jumped forward to grab him by his robe and yank him back.
"Watch it!" Draco shouted. "They eat children. Consequently, they're not the type of animals one usually finds at a school. Congratulations, Hagrid, I thought Salazar Slytherin was mad for keeping a Basilisk at Hogwarts, but you've outdone him."
"They wouldn't harm a hair on Harry's head. Only eats nasty children."
Draco looked pointedly at Hagrid's hand. "And I suppose that's actually a bad child at the end of your wrist versus a hand."
Harry couldn't help but stare as the creature continued to gnaw with its teeth at Hagrid's tough skin. He swallowed hard. "It might be a good idea to take them back to the Forbidden Forest. Maybe somewhere even further than Aragog's cave?"
With a sigh, Hagrid nodded. "Just wanted them to have a good home. That's all."
Even though Hagrid returned the Bugbear to the basket, Draco refused to sit back down so Harry found himself making his excuses so they could leave. Unfortunately, not before Hagrid pulled him aside to offer Harry his personal condolences on his loss.
"Didn't know you were that close to Professor Snape," Hagrid said. "You'll be happy to hear the Professor's being considered for the Order of Merlin. The man deserves it for what he did for you." Hagrid flushed. "I mean for what he did to help in the war, not what he and you did private-like."
Not wanting to bother explaining the truth, Harry muttered his thanks to Hagrid while Draco snickered next to him.
"I'll check back with Hagrid next week to make sure he follows through on his promise," Harry assured Draco as they walked back to the castle.
"Good. I can't believe there was a full-grown Blood-Sucking Bugbear on the grounds last night. Whoever killed it did the school a service."
"I guess," Harry said. "But why didn't they tell anyone what they'd done?"
Draco had no ready answer for that.
* * *
During the following week, despite Hermione's best efforts and organizational skills, no headway was made on the investigation of who'd tried to trap Harry. Despite Ron's best efforts at procrastinating, his Transfiguration assignment was completed. Despite Harry's best efforts, he still found himself unreasonable attracted to Draco, though after the last time, he didn't dare try to release any more of his pent-up feelings. Stupid hormones. And, despite Draco's best efforts at Transfiguration, Ron was still not a gerbil, but he had started eating raw vegetables with great relish.
On Friday, as they made their way to Transfigurations class, Draco was vowing to give Ron whiskers when a young boy stopped him in the hall.
"McGonagall wants to see you."
"What do you suppose she wants with you?" Harry asked.
Draco only shrugged and then headed toward the Headmistress' office.
Sitting in class next to Neville, Harry felt like something was off. After ten minutes, it struck him what was wrong – Draco wasn't there. Ron and Hermione sat together now. While Neville was a good friend whom he trusted implicitly, in a very short time he'd grown used to having Draco at his side.
When Romilda Vane came to the classroom's door to tell Professor Onslow that Aurors were here again and wanted to talk to Mr. Potter, Harry was more than happy to pack up his satchel and leave with her.
"I can find it myself," he told Romilda upon exiting the classroom.
"They said they've changed the room. I was told to escort you there."
"Okay, then." They went a short distance together before Harry said, "I've been meaning to talk with you. Now seems as good a time as any."
Harry hesitated for a moment before plunging forward. "Neville's my friend and I wouldn't want him hurt. I know the two of you have been seeing each other and I have to ask – you didn't use anything to make him like you, did you?"
"God, Potter! I was in fourth year when I tried to use a love potion on you." When Harry kept looking at her, she rolled her eyes. "No, Potter. I didn't use a potion or a spell on Neville."
"I honestly like him," Romilda added. "He's strong, brave, sweet – everything I once thought you were."
Romilda gave him a small apologetic smile. "What can I say? You lost your chance with me." She flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Besides, from what I've heard, you were already involved at the time."
"I didn't get together with Ginny until the end of the year."
"I wasn't talking about her."
Romilda looked around the empty corridor, then lowered her voice to a whisper. "You can tell me – was he everything that big nose of his promised?"
"What? Oh my God! I am not having this conversation!" Harry fumed.
"Fine. Keep it a secret. See if I care." Romilda stopped and pointed to a door. "This is the place.
As Romilda walked away in a snit, Harry looked around and tried to reorient himself. The room where they were meeting seemed to be near where he'd first found the Mirror of Erised, back in first year. It was probably a good thing Dumbledore had moved it. Harry wasn't sure he wanted to know what he truly desired right now.
After a rap of his knuckles against the door and a muffled 'Come in,' Harry entered the room.
* * *
Harry opened his mouth, then shut it without saying anything. He didn't like the way Dawlish was on the edge of his seat waiting for him to answer the question while Walston watched, still and silent, eyes boring into him. Something didn't feel right. It hadn't felt right since he'd walked in the door ten minutes before. The Aurors had never been overly friendly, but there had never been this undercurrent of frustration and tension before either.
And Harry definitely didn't like the new subject of their questions.
"Does Kingsley know you're asking me about the Elder Wand?"
Dawlish and Walston glanced at each other for a moment before Dawlish replied. "Minister Shacklebolt assigned us specifically to do everything we could to find and defeat the remaining Death Eater menace."
"In other words, the answer is 'No'."
"Do you have any idea what your obstinacy is costing—" Walston put his hand on Dawlish's shoulder, who immediately bit back the rest of his rant.
"Let me explain what's going on." Walston squatted down beside Harry's chair.
"Please do," Harry said, his voice obtaining a level of snideness that would have made Draco proud.
"In the war with Voldemort, you did your part," Walston said. "No one can deny that you fulfilled your destiny and did the wizarding world a service it will never be able to repay. And you paid a great price for that. You lost your parents. You lost your childhood. You lost friends."
"Go on," Harry said cautiously, less sure of himself.
"Although I'm positive you'd gladly volunteer your services again, we could never ask it of you. But...things are not as they should be. The reason that we've been questioning you about Death Eaters, the reason for our concern about the Elder Wand is that the Wizarding World is under attack."
Alarmed, Harry looked back and forth between Dawlish and Walston, who both nodded. "Why haven't I heard about this? It hasn't been in The Daily Prophet!"
"No, it hasn't. We can't allow it to be reported. With all the arrests made in the Magical Law Enforcement Division and at the Ministry this past year, faith in our institutions has been seriously undermined. People are already nervous and anxious about the future of the Wizarding World. To add to those worries with stories of Death Eater attacks would not be wise. Minister Shacklebolt is working night and day to keep the Ministry from crumbling. If he were any less capable, he would have already failed."
"I-I didn't know."
Walston gave Harry a sympathetic smile. "I understand. But what you also don't know is that we're losing men, good men with families."
"Last week," Dawlish murmured, "one of my friends in the Department was killed. No one knows who killed Proudfoot, but we can guess."
Reaching up, Walston clapped a sympathetic hand onto Dawlish's shoulder, then turned back to Harry.
"I know you think that hiding the Elder Wand away is the best thing to do. I might do the same, if I were in your position. But men are dying. On top of that, there's the fear that the Elder Wand might fall into the wrong hands and we wouldn't want that, now would we?"
Harry stared at Walston, who stared back at him, not unkindly. Harry then shot a glance at Dawlish, who seemed as if he were still lost in mourning for his friend. For a long time it was quiet. Then Harry spoke.
"The Elder Wand..." Harry took a deep breath. "...is in a safe place."
Dawlish leapt to his feet. "Now see here—"
"No," Walston said, interrupting him. "Harry's doing what he thinks is right. We can't fault him for that. Instead we need to trust his judgment." He smiled, though it didn't reach his eyes. "Trusting him didn't work out too badly before. And you trust me, too, don't you, Harry?"
Harry hesitated a moment, before nodding. "I suppose."
"Good," Walston said, "Because I'm going to ask you—"
The door slammed open as Draco burst into the room. "A-ha! Thought you could hide from me by using a different room, didn't you, Potter?"
For some reason that Harry didn't fully understand, the tightness that had been growing in his lower belly, a tightness he hadn't even realised he'd had before then, began to ease at the sight of Draco.
"I should have known better than to try to hide from you." Harry smiled in relief.
Draco started in surprise at Harry's welcoming attitude, then grinned back. "One day you'll learn, Potter. I will not be thwarted. Ever."
Harry shot up from the chair and hurried to the door and Draco. Once there, he paused uneasily. "You don't need me for anything else, do you?" he asked the Aurors.
Walston smiled as he gripped his wand. "Go ahead." Looking as if he was in a stupor, Dawlish said nothing.
Harry and Draco had turned one corner and were only halfway down the next, when Draco grabbed Harry by his robe and shoved him into a nook behind a statue of a Crooked Little Man with a Crooked Little Cat.
"What was going on in there?" Draco asked.
"What do you mean?"
"First of all, you looked at me like Goyle looks at pie, the way Granger looks at books, and the way everyone used to look at Oliver Wood. Okay, not exactly like the way Goyle looks at pie since I sincerely doubt that you want to eat me, but you get the idea. You're at least two shades paler than normal and you almost ran me down trying to get out of that room. I repeat – what was going on?"
"Dawlish and Walston wanted to know—"
Draco's hand clapped over Harry's mouth and he pulled them deeper into the shadows as footsteps could be heard approaching.
Passing by were Walston and Dawlish. Walston wasn't smiling now as he strode down the corridor, Dawlish trailing behind him.
"Do keep up," Walston snapped. Dawlish, in response, scurried forward.
Draco and Harry waited in silence as the pair of Aurors turned the corner, then waited for another minute, just in case. Draco was still staring at the spot where the Aurors had disappeared from sight. As he continued to stare, a shiver ran through his body.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked.
"Nothing. That just reminded me of something."
Draco shook his head, though he still seemed disturbed by his thoughts. "It's not important. What is important is that you tell me what had you so bothered when I got there."
"How did you find me, anyway?"
From the pocket of his robe, Draco withdrew the Marauders' Map. "You show me a map of Hogwarts, a secret magical map, and yet expect me not to use it?"
"I expected for you to keep your hands off of my property. I'm surprised you don't have my Invisibility Cloak in your pocket, as well."
"It wouldn't fit," Draco said. When Harry extended his hand for the map, Draco shook his head and put it back into his own pocket. "I'd better keep this for now, seeing how you've taken to wandering about. Speaking of which, perhaps you ought to tell me what was going on in that room."
Knowing that Draco wasn't about to let the matter go, Harry sighed and slumped to the dusty stone floor behind the statue. "Do you ever wonder if you're doing the right thing?"
"Since I'm assuming that's a rhetorical question, I won't bother to formulate a response. However, with your typical Gryffindor mentality of rarely questioning yourself, I do wonder what's caused this introspection." Draco slid down the wall so that he was seated next to Harry and nudged him with an elbow. "Talk to me."
"They told me there are still Death Eater attacks being carried out and—"
"You are not going back out there to fight, Potter!"
Draco was about to work himself into a lather, so Harry quickly shook his head. "No, I'm not. They're not asking me to. But they do want something from me – the Elder Wand."
"You're not going to give it to them, are you?"
When Harry shook his head again, Draco breathed out an audible sigh of relief. "Thank God."
"Why does it matter to you so much what I do with the Wand?" Harry asked.
"Because, you numbskull, it's a powerful weapon. Even though you're a complete idiot at times, I trust you with the Wand. I don't need to worry that you're going to go mad and take over the world."
"Not bloody likely."
"You never know."
"I do. What did you do after killing Voldemort? Did you parlay your heroism into a position of power? Although you're young, you could've done it. The Ministry would've welcomed you into their ranks," Draco said. "Instead you're here, taking classes, doing assignments, and not studying nearly enough for the NEWTs. If you're not going to take power when it's handed to you on a silver platter, I seriously doubt you have any plan to seize it."
Harry thought about that for a moment. He was sure that if someone like Lucius had been in the position Harry had been in, he'd be head of the Magical Law Enforcement Department or sitting on the Wizengamot by now. Harry had been more concerned about getting a sandwich and taking a nap.
"Fine," Harry conceded. "I'm not the 'take over the world' type. But that doesn't mean I'm right by not allowing the Wand to be used."
Draco was silent for a moment. When he spoke his voice was so quiet that Harry had to lean closer to hear him.
"One of my nightmares - and I have many, all legitimately earned - takes place in the dining room of my home. Voldemort is there, torturing a teacher who's spinning above the table. He says he needs a new wand, but instead of taking my father's, which is what he did in reality, he grabs mine from my hand."
"He would've become the Master of the Elder Wand," Harry breathed out in horror.
Draco nodded. "He would've won, then. No one would've been able to beat him. All he had to do was choose my wand."
"Damn," Harry swore. He eyed the statue, the small crooked mouse almost unseen as it hid behind the crooked cat, while he absorbed the implications of what Draco had said. He'd always known he'd owed his survival to luck. He'd had numerous close calls, he'd even died, but he could have drunk all the Felix Felicis in the world and it still wouldn't have helped if Voldemort had had the Wand.
"If I were you, I wouldn't let anyone near the Wand," Draco added.
"It depends on who it is," Harry argued. "There's a few I'd trust with it - Ron, Hermione, Neville."
"You'd be surprised at how much I trust Neville."
"I wouldn't trust anyone. I admired Snape and he saved my life, but I wouldn't even have trusted him with it."
"I would've," Harry said, causing Draco to look at him in surprise. "Snape always did the right thing, even if he hated doing it."
"Well, of course, you'd say that, what with Snape being your lover and all."
"He wasn't my lover." Harry gave Draco a playful shove which, since Draco was seated, only served to rock him and encourage him to continue mocking Harry.
"They say one always remembers one's first. Knowing you, you'll name one of your children after him – Little Snapey Potter."
Harry laughed, but couldn't let that go by without some retaliation, so he shoved Draco again. This time, the shove almost unbalanced him, but Draco grabbed Harry's robe to keep from falling back.
"You'll tell Little Snapey how brave and smart Snape was. How you spent countless hours in detention with the man, failing, however, to mention all the time you spent bent over his desk."
Shoving Draco a third time was a mistake, for this time Draco did topple over, with one hand still grasping Harry's robe, causing Harry to fall over, too.
Draco let out a triumphant laugh as Harry sprawled on top of him. "All this talk has caused you to want to relive your memories with Snape, hasn't it? Should I begin berating your ability to create potions?"
Harry could barely hear what Draco was saying as his blood was pounding in his ears so hard. He hadn't meant for this to happen - well, maybe for Draco to fall - but certainly not for him to wind up on top of Draco. He could feel Draco beneath him, exactly where he'd imagined him, and it was so much better. Except he'd never imagined that Draco would still be babbling nonsense. Though, thinking about it, he really should've included that bit in his fantasies because it was so like Draco not to know when to shut up.
"Potter, you imbecile, you need to add the ginger roots after the beetles, not before," Draco said, his voice a fairly good imitation of Snape's snarl. "As you are too incompetent to live, allow me to demonstrate the proper stirring technique for this potion. First you must stir clockwise four times..."
At that point, Draco decided to match his words with actions. Wearing a teasing grin that was in complete opposition to his berating words, Draco tilted his hips and began to shimmy them in a clockwise direction.
Harry let out a low groan as Draco's body rubbed him there.
Draco stilled. "Oh God! The thought of Snape is turning you on."
"It's not Snape!" Harry yelled.
"It's not?" Draco's eyes brightened with interest. "Hmmm, dare I guess who it is that is, shall we say, getting you all stirred up? Better yet, let's experiment." Draco once more rotated his hips.
"Fuck," Harry said. He clenched his eyes shut and took deep breaths trying desperately to regain control. "Stop that."
"Stop what?" Draco did it a third time. "Do you mean this?" A fourth.
The sounds coming from Harry were ragged, strained things, clawing their way out of his throat and escaping past gritted teeth. All he wanted to do was grind his hardness into Draco and keep grinding. Thrust down, harder and faster against Draco, who was writhing under him. He wanted...God, how he wanted.
Harry forced himself to look down at Draco.
"What are you waiting for?" Draco smirked. "I'm all yours."
A bucket of cold water wouldn't have worked nearly as well as Draco's words. With a cry, Harry wrenched himself off Draco, rearing back and hitting his shoulder on the statue's crooked cane in his flailing attempt to get away.
Taking Draco now, when Draco was under Oath to him, would be wrong. He couldn't, no, he wouldn't do it.
Breathing heavily, he staggered to his feet and made his way to the nearest bathroom. Although he didn't bother looking to see if Draco was behind him, he knew he was there from the muttered curses coming from that direction. When he reached the bathroom, he pushed the door open, then whirled on Draco.
"If you follow me inside, I will kill you."
Startled at his vehemence, Draco nodded.
He was still wearing a stunned look when Harry slammed the door in his face before entering a stall to finish himself off.
* * *
If Harry had hoped for a quieter, subdued Draco when he re-emerged, he would have been sorely disappointed.
"Who exactly raised you, Potter? Trolls? Because what you did is entirely unacceptable by civilised people." At Harry's confused look, Draco rolled his eyes. "Not what you did in the bathroom, you git, but what you did earlier with me. Or should I say to me?"
Now that other things were no longer ruling his body, shame filled Harry. "Sorry. It won't happen again."
"Are you positive, Potter? Because if you try to do that a second time, I won't be accountable for my actions."
Harry nodded. He must have been more out of control than he'd thought because he hadn't realised Draco's true feelings. He'd actually believed Draco had been enjoying himself.
With his gaze locked onto his beat-up trainers, Harry put his hand in his pockets, hunched his shoulders and nodded. Of course Draco was upset. Harry had attacked him.
"Would you like to hit me?" Harry asked. "If you want to, I'll let you."
"I know I deserve it. It was wrong and if you want to hit me, that's fine. Or...or if you don't want to be around me anymore, I'll understand."
"I can't believe you! Even trolls aren't this socially backward."
Harry frowned as Draco stalked off. Now that he thought about it, if the Dursleys had some troll ancestors it would actually explain a lot.
* * *
Harry was sitting on the couch in the common room with Neville when Draco finally came out of the tent. Earlier, Draco had shoved past and gone into Harry's tent, then into his own and Harry hadn't heard anything from him since.
He figured it was taking a while for Draco to regain his composure.
Still ashamed of how he'd acted before, Harry pretended not to notice when Draco emerged from hiding. Despite the Oath, he figured he should probably give Draco as much breathing room as possible. Especially now.
Harry shifted so he could better pretend to have an avid interest in how Neville's Screechsnaps were growing. From the corner of his eye, he could see Draco staring at him from across the room.
"...isn't that amazing?" Neville asked.
"Fascinating." Harry had no idea what Neville had been talking about. "Tell me more."
"Really?" Neville grinned. "Most people get bored after a while. I suppose I do go on and on about my plants."
"I don't think it's boring," Harry lied. When Neville looked sceptical, Harry added with a laugh, "Okay, maybe all that information about Screechsnaps was a bit over my head, but you're one of my best friends. I enjoy talking with you."
"Would you, I mean if you're not busy sometime, like to see my plants?" Neville moved closer to Harry. "Professor Sprout let me have a section of Greenhouse Three for my own and my Matthiola bicornis are due to bloom any night now."
"Sure. Let me know when you want to do that."
"How about tomorrow evening? The moon's supposed to be full and—"
Harry looked up to see a very miffed Draco looming over him. Draco grasped him by the arm and pulled him to his feet.
"So sorry to intrude upon your little tête-à-tête, Longbottom," Draco sneered. "But I have to talk to Potter."
"Er...okay. Well, think about it, Harry," Neville called as Draco dragged Harry away. "Remember - be in Greenhouse Three by nine if you want to see my Matthiola bicornis."
Harry yanked his arm out of Draco's grasp as they entered his tent. He wished he knew what Draco's problem was. Although he'd been trying to give Draco some space, he apparently still hadn't calmed down.
"What's so important, Malfoy?" Harry put as much distance as he could between them.
"I simply thought you might want to know about my conversation with McGonagall."
Harry stared at him. "That's what you wanted to talk about? That's why you interrupted my conversation with Neville?"
"Excuse me, Potter, but I thought it a tad more important than you flirting with Longbottom. And from what I've heard, his bicornis is nothing to write home about."
Harry's mouth dropped open.
"Really, Potter," Draco continued. "I thought you had some standards. Although the female Weasley has that garish hair and is covered with spots, she's not altogether unattractive. Pansy is a lovely girl, but all wrong for you. But Longbottom? I can only assume you're attempting to use sex to alleviate your loneliness now that Snape, your one true love, is dead."
"Snape was not my one true love!" Harry shouted.
"That's the spirit, Potter. Hold on to the hope that you'll find someone else to live your life with. Who knows? That certain someone might be even closer than you think. In the meanwhile, you might want to harness those slutty tendencies of yours."
"Yes. I believe cold showers might be helpful to keep your libido in check. Might I suggest that you go take one now?"
It was a pity they were living in tents, Harry thought. Banging your head on the side of a tent wasn't nearly as satisfying as banging it against a wall.
Only when he was in bed did Harry realise Draco still hadn't told him about his conversation with McGonagall.
* * *
"What did McGonagall want with you, anyway?" Harry asked as he and Draco headed for breakfast.
Draco sniffed. "She thinks she's smarter than I am, but we'll see about that."
"Huh? McGonagall wanted to see you because she thinks she's smarter than you?"
"Must I spell everything out for you?" Draco asked, exasperated.
"Yes," Harry replied. "Please do."
"Fine. When I got to the Headmistress' Office she kept me waiting – an amateurish power play. Upon being admitted, I was asked to sit and we then spent several minutes politely inquiring as to the state of the other's health and making small talk until she finally asked why I wanted to see her."
Harry halted next to a portrait of three giggling girls gathering flowers in a sunlit meadow and stared at Draco. "I thought that Hufflepuff said she'd sent for you. Why'd he say that if it wasn't true? Is he trying to get back at you for something you did to him?"
"I didn't do anything," Draco stated, then paused. "Well...Let's say that I don't remember doing anything, but seeing how he's a Hufflepuff, there are a few things he might have a problem with. But I'm way ahead of you, Potter. I have a theory of my own. One with much more sinister implications."
Harry leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. "What's your theory?"
"McGonagall realised we suspected her when we questioned her on her whereabouts before. Being devilishly cunning, she asked to see me and pretended that she hadn't in hopes of intimidating me and reminding me of her power over me."
"Yes, but never fear. I didn't back down. I stood and told her that I'd be watching her very, very closely from now on. The woman was absolutely speechless."
Harry bit back a grin. "I'm sure she was."
"Never fear," Draco declared. "She's bound to overplay her hand and we'll have her yet." With an air of triumph at his imagined victory over the clever Headmistress, Draco turned and strode toward the Great Hall, his head held high.
Shaking his head in amusement, Harry pushed away from the wall and moved to follow Draco, who was already halfway down the corridor, when someone called his name.
Harry groaned. He recognized that voice. Slowly, he turned around to face the painting frame behind him. The girls who'd been picking flowers were cowering behind a tree. Standing in the middle of the sunny field was a dark and gloomy Potions Professor.
"Professor Snape," Harry said as politely as he could. "How are you, sir?"
"Dead and immortalized on canvas, though it does not surprise me that those pertinent facts have escaped your notice."
"Is there something you wanted?" Harry asked. "Or are you berating me out of boredom?"
"Although I could spend all of eternity insulting you without once repeating myself, there's a matter I wish to discuss with you."
Harry paled. Somehow, Snape must have learned of the rumours Draco had been spreading of Harry and Snape's relationship.
"I know what it is and I'm sorry. There's nothing to be done."
"Nothing to be done? Of course there is. All that is necessary is for you to speak up."
"Potter!" Draco called from the end of the hallway. "Please stop ranting to yourself and come here and listen to me rant."
"Sorry." Needing no further encouragement, Harry took off at a run after Draco.
Although Harry knew that Draco saving him from Snape's interrogation didn't count as saving Harry's life, it probably came close.
* * *
Harry was trying not to pay attention to Ron and Draco's argument about the various merits of Quidditch World Cup teams from twenty years before they were born. It was difficult, as he was seated in between them. Across the table, Hermione was reading while eating her toast and Harry wished he'd thought to bring a book, as well.
Being Saturday, breakfast was a much more casual affair than during the week, and Harry idly watched the groups of students come in as other groups meandered off. Then a face at a nearby table caught his eye.
"Draco," Harry said, nudging him with an elbow. "Isn't that the person who told you McGonagall wanted to see you?"
Turning away from where he'd been demonstrating a Chaser strategy, Draco glanced at the squat, sandy-haired boy Harry was pointing at. "Yes. Why do you ask?"
"Because I think I should find out who sent you to the Headmistress when she didn't want to see you."
"Potter, I told you already," Draco said with exaggerated patience. "It was all part of McGonagall's evil plans. That Hufflepuff is merely a hapless dupe in her nefarious schemes."
Undeterred, Harry rose from the table and by the time he got to the boy he wanted to question, Draco was at his side.
"Excuse me." Harry tapped the boy on the shoulder, which caused half the people at the table to turn and look at him. "Can I talk to you for a minute? Privately?"
The boy looked around the table and, as if given silent permission from all of his friends, stood and followed Harry.
"What's your name?" asked Draco.
"Owen Cauldwell," the boy answered, not taking his eyes off of Harry.
"Listen," Harry said, when he thought they'd gone far enough from the other students not to be overheard. "This is a bit awkward, but...."
"I think I know what you want to talk to me about," Cauldwell interrupted. "When do you want to meet?"
"What?" Harry said, confused.
Cauldwell shot a glance at his friends at the Hufflepuff table, then lowered his voice. "I'd rather it didn't get out, if you don't mind. The others might not understand why I'm with you or the reason why we're doing it."
Harry took a quick step back. "What are you talking about?"
"Apparently, your slutty tendencies have become well-known," Draco told Harry before turning on Cauldwell. "He doesn't need you. His standards may be low, but he would never sink to Hufflepuff level." Draco frowned and turned to Harry with a worried look on his face. "You wouldn't, would you?"
"Of course he doesn't need me," Cauldwell told Draco. "I need him."
"Get in line," Draco snapped.
The boy's eyes grew large. "There's a line?"
"Will both of you shut up?" Harry shouted, causing several students at nearby tables to stare at him. "Listen," Harry said to the boy, bringing his face closer. "I only wanted to ask who sent you to fetch Draco yesterday for McGonagall."
Cauldwell opened his mouth, then stopped and frowned. "That's strange. I don't remember."
"That woman's so devious!" Draco said with admiration. "She should've been in Slytherin."
Harry scowled at Draco before turning back to Cauldwell. "Do you remember anything?"
He shook his head. "No. I remember History of Magic. I remember heading for the Infirmary, as lately I've been falling asleep and losing all track of time. I do remember passing on McGonagall's message, but as for who told me to do it, I've no idea."
Harry sighed. "Well, if you remember, could you let us know?"
"Sure, but...does this mean you're not going to help me?"
"What do you need help with?" Harry asked.
"Defence Against the Dark Arts. No matter how hard I try, I'm not getting it, not even with extra lessons, so I've been looking for a tutor. My friends have tried to help me, but they aren't all that good themselves so that hasn't been working, either. But you...." Cauldwell looked at Harry in admiration, "You've taught Defence to other students before. Maybe you could teach me, too?"
"I don't have too much time, not with the NEWTs coming up." At Cauldwell's disappointed face, Harry added, "But I might be able to do one short lesson. Next weekend?"
Smiling brightly, Cauldwell nodded, and scampered back to his friends.
"How sweet," Draco sneered as they headed back to their own table. Hermione had finished and left, but Ron was still eating what must have been his third helping of sausage. "What's next? Rescuing Kneazles out of trees?"
Harry shrugged and grinned. "I suppose I would if one needed rescuing."
"You're a sap, Potter."
"I think I liked it better when you were calling me your Lord and Liege. Why don't you start that again?"
"Fine. You're a sap, my Lord of all Pushovers and Foolish Liege."
Ron looked up from his plate as Harry and Draco sat down again. "What did you two want with Cauldwell?"
"You know him?" Harry asked.
"Sure." Ron said. "He's the one who had remedial lessons with Shingleton."
"Shingleton?" Harry repeated.
Draco grew serious. "Shingleton, who just happens to be on the list of suspects Weasley was investigating when he forgot about the meeting and wound up in the Library."
Harry nodded. "And now Cauldwell can't remember why he was told to fetch Draco. Maybe his mind has been fiddled with, too."
"But why?" Ron asked. "Why try to trap Harry? Why make me go to the Library? Why do anything to Cauldwell?"
Harry and Draco looked at one another, both at a loss.
"I don't know why," Harry said. "But I'm going to find out."
* * *
"What's going on?" Harry asked.
"Shingleton's still in the classroom with Cauldwell," Draco said, lazing on Harry's bed.
"Damn." Harry paced back and forth while Draco studied the Marauders' Map. "How are we supposed to find out what's going on if he doesn't go anywhere?"
"Speak for yourself, Potter. I'm finding out plenty. Did you know that Terry Boot is seeing Hannah Abbott? And I think we should be insulted for it seems that Pansy is having a party and failed to invite either of us." Draco looked closer. "I suppose it could be an orgy, in which case I'm even more offended."
"I can't believe you're using my map to spy on people," Harry said. When Draco looked pointedly at him, Harry flushed. "I mean using it to spy on people who might not be currently plotting something evil."
"Potter, do you have any idea what this is?" Draco asked. "It's the ultimate blackmail device. Any Slytherin would give up his trust fund for such a map. Having a problem in Charms? Ask Flitwick what he and Hooch were doing in the broom shed for two hours on a Saturday night. Filch catches you out late at night? Mention Madam Pince and the Library stacks."
"It's wrong to use it to spy on good people going about their business."
"Have it your way," Draco said with a shrug. "I suppose you don't want to know where Ginny Weasley is at the moment or who she's with, then."
Harry snatched the map out of Draco's hands and searched for Ginny on it. Half a minute later, he lowered the map, and scowled at Draco. "She's in her dorm with her dorm mates."
"That's right. But you wanted to know, didn't you?"
"Yes," Harry said. Annoyed with himself, he tossed the map onto the bed. "But it's still wrong."
"Whatever." Draco picked up the map and returned to studying it, but after a moment, glanced up at Harry. "Say, you didn't use this much in fourth year, did you?"
"But you believed the same thing you do now, right? So when those Durmstrang students were visiting you weren't paying any attention to unused classrooms in the dungeons late at night, were you?"
"What are you talking about?" Harry asked. "Why would I—"
"Hold it!" Draco shouted. He grabbed the map and swung his legs off the bed. "Shingleton's on the move! Cauldwell's still in the classroom, but Shingleton's leaving."
"Let's go then!"
Harry ran out and headed for Ron's tent. When there was no answer, he stuck his head inside. The tent was empty.
"According to the map, he's not there," Draco said.
"You could've told me that." Harry raced to Hermione's tent.
"She probably can't hear you," Draco said, when no one answered Harry's shout. "Silencing charms."
"Right." Harry moved to go in, but Draco grabbed his arm, stopping him.
"Don't think you want to do that. Weasley and Granger are together. Couldn't help but notice that on the map."
"Oh," Harry said, then said 'oh' again in sudden understanding and took several rapid steps back. "We'd best go ourselves."
"It looks like Shingleton's headed outside."
In response, Harry took off for the door.
"You're not planning on confronting him or anything, right?" Draco hurried out of the dorm and down the hall after Harry.
"Of course not! I just want to see what he's up to."
"Promise?" Draco caught up with Harry as he paused at a door that led outside.
"Yeah. Any idea yet where Shingleton is going?"
Draco looked at the map, then pointed east. "That way. Toward the lake. But there's not much over there."
"Maybe he's meeting someone," Harry said. He slipped out the door, waited a moment for Draco to do the same and eased it shut behind them.
Despite the moonlight, the darkness provided them adequate cover and they moved quickly across the grounds. Soon, they could see Shingleton ahead of them. As they travelled further from the castle, Harry grew more and more certain that Shingleton wasn't meeting anyone. And Harry had a good idea where Shingleton was headed.
A few minutes later, Draco whispered, "Isn't that--" but Harry clapped a hand over his mouth before he could say anything else. He and Draco hunkered down behind a tree and watched as Shingleton reached the edge of the lake and stopped.
Dumbledore's tomb shone in the moonlight, the gleam of it reflected in the water of the lake. Shingleton stood before it, a dark shadow against the whiteness, and waved his wand. The top of the tomb fell to the side with a resounding thud that made Harry's blood freeze. Around them, the creatures of the night halted their chirping and serenading as if they, too, were shocked into silence by the violation of Dumbledore's final resting place.
"The boy said it was here." Shingleton approached the still form the tomb held as he muttered to himself. "So it has to be here. Have to look again. Have to look harder this time."
"No," Harry said, low and furious. "I couldn't stop Voldemort from doing it, but I'll be damned if I let it happen while I'm standing right here."
Draco grabbed at Harry's sleeve. "What do you think you're--"
Harry shook off Draco and leapt to his feet. "Expelliarmus! Harry shouted.
Unfortunately for Harry, this Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor was no Lockhart, but one whose skills were more akin to those of Professor Snape. Upon hearing Harry voice the spell, Shingleton dove to one side and the spell flew past him to spill across the stone of the tomb.
"Stupefy!" Shingleton shouted.
A flash of red light poured from Shingleton's wand. Harry tried to duck out of the way, but felt pain blossom in his shoulder, then echo down his arm and side. He fell upon the grass, but retained a tight hold of his wand.
He shot a second Expelliarmus at Shingleton, who this time was fully prepared and it bounced harmlessly off his shielding charm.
Harry dove back behind the tree for shelter.
Draco was no longer there and Harry assumed he'd left once it had become dangerous. Harry let out a low curse and wished he'd gone ahead and interrupted Hermione and Ron.
"Potter?" Shingleton repeated. "Come out. I mean you no harm. All I want is to ask you a few questions."
"I know what you want," Harry yelled. "And you're not going to get it."
This time when Shingleton spoke, Harry could tell he'd moved closer. "The Elder Wand - it's not in the tomb, like Mr. Weasley told me, is it? I looked for it briefly last week, but was interrupted when a Bugbear happened by. Mr. Weasley couldn't have lied. When I questioned him, I used Veritaserum."
Harry could hear the sound of Shingleton's footsteps in the grass and the rustling of his robes and knew he was even nearer. A small outcropping of rocks was close by and Harry eyed it, but doubted he'd be able to get there without drawing fire from Shingleton.
"And if Mr. Weasley wasn't lying when he said you returned the Elder Wand to Dumbledore's tomb, then it must be you who lied to Mr. Weasley."
Shingleton was almost there. Harry took a deep breath and steeled himself for one last attack before his teacher was upon him.
"Locomotor Mortis!" A flash of light flew from the cluster of rocks and Harry caught a glimpse of Draco's bright hair.
As Shingleton dealt with the curse, Harry flung himself out from his hiding spot. "Petrificus Totalus!" Harry shouted.
The curse hit Shingleton squarely in the chest. He stiffened and then slowly tipped back to land on the grass.
"Incarcerous!" Harry was taking no chances that the man might somehow break the body bind.
Only when Shingleton seemed not only petrified, but fully bound with ropes, did Harry approach him. He was joined a moment later by Draco, who seemed torn between staring at the wizard on the ground and at Harry.
"Potter, has anyone ever told you that you're attractive when you've gone mad and start taking outrageous risks?"
"No," Harry said.
"Then stop bloody doing it!
Harry turned to stare at Draco, who looked infuriated.
"If it doesn't drive droves of people into lusting after you, then I can't think of a single feasible reason to continue risking your life! Yes, Shingleton was violating Dumbledore's tomb, but I can assure you, seeing how Dumbledore's dead, he doesn't give a damn. Even if he knew, he was barmy enough that he'd think the whole thing was funny."
"Instead of attacking Shingleton, you could've simply reported him to the authorities." Draco shook his head in disbelief. "Gryffindors!"
"What's going on?" Neville said, running up to them, wand in hand. "I was going to the greenhouse when I heard noises coming from this direction."
"So instead of reporting it, as a sensible, non-Gryffindor would do, you came galloping up to save the day?"
"Um...yeah?" Neville said.
"Then, as the only one not a Gryffindor and thus possessing a brain, may I suggest we go to the Headmistress and let her know why her students just attacked and bound one of her professors before the rest of the Gryffindors show up in hopes of risking life and limb?"
Not waiting for them to agree, Malfoy turned and headed back toward the castle at a brisk rate muttering about idiots.
* * *
The Department of Magical Law Enforcement was contacted by McGonagall, who was appalled that Professor Shingleton had been conspiring to obtain the Elder Wand under her very nose. Shortly afterwards, Dawlish and Walston showed up and Harry and Draco spent the next hour answering questions. Neville had been asked a few himself before being allowed to go back to the dorm. At last, the Aurors seemed satisfied with their replies, and took Shingleton away.
The number of questions the Aurors had for them paled in insignificance compared to those Ron and Hermione asked. Fortunately, Draco had calmed down by then and didn't act as if he were irritated with Harry, at least no more than usual.
Harry and Draco sat side by side on a couch in the common room and did their best to explain what had happened.
"So Shingleton found out through me that the Elder Wand was in Dumbledore's tomb?" Ron asked at last.
Harry nodded. "Apparently. He must have decided to question you instead of me after Draco helped me escape the trap. It must have seemed like a godsend for you to approach him right when he needed to get you alone. Afterwards, Shingleton Obliviated you and sent you off to the Library."
"Good thing it was the Library and not the Kitchens," Draco said. "No one would've suspected a thing."
Ron shot Draco a glare. "Don't know how I feel about having my mind being messed with like that," he said, turning back to Harry. "Hey, do you suppose he did something else to me? Lately, I've been having the weirdest desire to dig in dirt with my bare hands."
Gerbil, Draco mouthed to Harry. He started to say something else, but Harry elbowed him in the side. "Not a word. And that's an order."
"I was simply going to point out that Weasley wasn't the only one to have his mind messed with. Cauldwell was Obliviated, too. Except for the fact that Cauldwell was learning nothing from his remedial lessons, it was an excellent alibi. Every weekend, Shingleton could do whatever he pleased to find the Elder Wand while Cauldwell would swear that they'd been together."
"It was during those lessons last weekend," Harry added, "when he first tried searching Dumbledore's tomb, only to be interrupted by a Blood-Sucking Bugbear."
"A Bugbear!" Ron shouted, eyes wide. "Blimey!"
"I know!" Draco said. "Hagrid actually had a litter of Bugbears in his hut."
Ashen-faced, Ron turned toward Harry, who tried to calm him. "Don't worry," Harry said. "Hagrid took them into the Forbidden Forest."
Ron nodded, but still seemed shaky. Harry had thought Draco had been overreacting at Hagrid's. Now, given Ron's reaction, it looked like that wasn't true. Seated next to him, Hermione, was abnormally quiet. "Is anything wrong?"
"I don't know." A small frown marred her features. "Shingleton is well-respected and doesn't strike me as particularly ambitious. Why would he want the Elder Wand? Something seems off."
"What's off," Ron said, "is that we weren't there. Harry had to depend on the prat to help him instead of us."
"If it makes you feel better, Weasley," Draco sniffed, "I would have gladly traded places with you."
Draco, Hermione, and Ron suddenly looked appalled as they remembered exactly where Ron had been and what he'd been doing during the time Draco had been with Harry.
"That's not what I meant!" Draco shouted, aghast at what he'd implied. "I meant that you should've been the one watching Potter risk his life instead of me. Not me and Granger doing...that. Dear God, I think I'm going to be ill."
Harry rose from the couch and grabbed Draco's arm. "I'd better get him out of here before he makes a scene."
"I don't make scenes!" Draco's shout instantly drew everyone's attention to him. "I can't believe you're saying that I would stoop to such a thing!" he said in an even louder voice.
"You're absolutely right," Harry said, leading Draco into the tent. "You can't help it if you possess a flair for expounding on a subject at great length and at great volume."
"It's a gift," Draco told him. "All Malfoys have it."
"I'm sure they do." Harry let go of Draco and headed for his bed. Upon reaching it, he yawned. "Why don't you tell me more about it in the morning? Right now I need to get some sleep."
"You're not sore, are you?" Draco asked. "That was quite a hit you took."
"It's nothing." Harry sat on his bed and began to undress. "It just gets old, though. It's always a Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor out to get me."
"That's true," Draco nodded knowledgeably. "I even heard that they formed a club. The Teach and Kill Potter Club. Quite popular among lunatics and madmen."
"Speaking of madmen..." Harry took off a shoe and tossed it at Draco.
Draco easily ducked out of the way; his eyes glittering with amusement. "Lockhart was Secretary and took minutes in which he both proposed and seconded everything himself. Snape tried for years to get the DADA position simply so that he could join. If the club had known the truth, that he didn't really want to kill you, he would've been rejected out of hand. Voldemort wanted to join, too, but they told him that only wanting to kill Potter didn't meet the qualifications."
"Prat." Harry tossed his second shoe at Draco as well.
Draco laughed, caught the shoe, then dropped it to the ground. "For years I aspired to a teaching career so that I, too, might join such an elite group."
Harry's grin faded and he looked down at his stocking feet. "Do you still feel that way?"
"Not at all. Once I realised there was more to teaching than just the fun of berating and mocking students as Snape made it out to be, I decided that I was ill-suited for it."
"Not that," Harry said, a half-smile reluctantly appearing at Draco's words. "I meant the other."
"The other? Oh..." Draco paused and then shook his head. "No. Not now, anyways."
"When did you stop?"
Draco crossed the room to sit next to Harry. "The better question would be, when did I start wanting you dead. Though I hated you, I don't think I truly wanted you dead until you had my father sent to Azkaban. All the other times...well, in addition to your dubious skills and charms, you possess the knack for pissing me off."
"Likewise," Harry said. He bumped shoulders with Draco, who bumped him back.
"The first time I realised I didn't want you dead anymore was when you were caught and brought to Malfoy Manor. I knew if I identified you - and can I say that I think you've never looked better than you did at that time – then you'd have been killed. I didn't want you to die, just as I didn't want you to die tonight. Though you're still managing to thoroughly piss me off."
"You're not still mad about tonight, are you?"
"Tonight I was understandably irate," Draco said. "Which was minor in comparison to how I felt after you saved my life.
"What on earth did I do to you after saving your life?"
At Harry's confused look, Draco continued. "You can't go around saving people's lives and making them think that they matter to you, that they hold some importance to you, only to then ignore them for most of a year. It's not right."
Harry stared at Draco. "I didn't mean to."
"You didn't mean to ignore me? You were doing a damn good job of it, then."
"No, I..." Harry paused. He couldn't tell Draco he hadn't meant to make Draco think that he mattered to him when he'd saved his life. Especially not now, when Draco did matter. "I didn't mean to hurt you, but I wasn't ignoring you. Not really. I could never ignore you."
When Draco looked somewhat mollified by Harry's words, Harry let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.
He bumped shoulders with Draco a second time. "You're too much of a git to ever ignore."
"Likewise," Draco said, bumping Harry back.
Harry smiled at Draco, who smiled back. After a moment, Draco's smile was slowly replaced by an intent look and he shifted on the bed to face Harry more squarely. Harry was starting to wonder what was wrong, as they'd been getting along well, when Draco leaned forward and kissed him.
Harry stilled, which gave Draco the opportunity to deepen the kiss, an opportunity he ruthlessly took.
Draco's hand cupped the back of Harry's head, holding him in place, as his tongue flicked into Harry's mouth, tasting him. Harry's hands felt clumsy as he reached out to grab at Draco's shoulders, keeping him close.
Harry had never kissed a boy before. He'd thought it'd be different, but it was pretty much the same as kissing girls. Which meant it was amazing and utterly fantastic and he wished it could go on forever. But it was with Draco, who was under Oath to him, so it was also very wrong. Another minute or so wouldn't hurt, though, would it?
Draco released Harry's mouth in favour of licking down the side of Harry's neck, causing a shiver to run up his spine. "Want you to fuck me," Draco murmured.
Those words were all Harry could think about. Even though he wasn't quite sure how it worked with two boys, Harry wanted nothing else but to yell 'Yes' and get down to it. Instead, he wrenched himself away. It physically hurt to do so.
"No," Harry panted out. "It wouldn't be right because of your Oath."
Draco grabbed Harry's arms and yanked him back. "Potter, are you under the impression you're forcing this on me? Is that why you're always pulling away?"
Harry nodded. "You vowed to obey me. It wouldn't be right to take advantage of that."
"Good Lord, Potter! While you were acting all noble, like the idiot you are, I was thinking you were nothing more than a cock tease. Getting me all hot and bothered but never following through."
"You were hot and bothered by me?" Harry felt a rush of pleasure at the thought.
"Gryffindors aren't the most observant creatures in the world, are they? Never mind that." Draco waved away Harry's protests. "Seeing how this noble thing of yours is causing you difficulties, I've the perfect solution. I'll tie you up, gag you, and then you can't possibly believe you're taking advantage of me."
"No, that's okay," Harry said in a rush. "If you say you want this, then I believe you."
"Good. We'll save the tying up for another time, then." Draco's expression became predatory. "Now where were we?"
"But what about Ron?" Harry asked.
Draco paused. "You're determined to ruin the mood, aren't you?"
Harry glanced at the entrance to the tent. "He does have a tendency to interrupt things."
Draco huffed out a breath and stood, and for a brief moment Harry's heart stopped, thinking that would be the end of things. But Draco held out a hand for Harry to take and hauled him to his feet.
"Come with me, Potter." Draco led him into the tent he'd set up for his own use.
Harry looked around, curious, but the room appeared exactly like his own, only Draco still had a desk. The bed looked the same as Harry's, only with a green duvet, but Draco continued past it to the bath area.
"Where are we going?" Harry asked. "We're not going to do this in..." His voice trailed off as he saw that in Draco's bathroom, another tent had been set up, this one with the Malfoy crest emblazoned on it.
This time, when Harry got past the tent flap, an entirely different sight met his gaze. The place was massive! Couches, tables, bookshelves, a fireplace, and one of the biggest, most luxuriant beds Harry had ever seen.
The unfairness, outrageousness, and sheer Draco-ness of this struck Harry hard. "Are you telling me you've had this tent within a tent within my tent all this time?"
"You're a wizard, Harry," Draco said. He spelled the lights low and lit a fire in the fireplace before turning all of his attention back to Harry. "You ought to be used to wizarding space by now."
Before Harry could protest, Draco leaned forward and kissed him and all other thoughts disappeared out of his head.
Robes were fumbled open and clothes pushed and pulled off as they moved closer to the bed in between kisses. When Draco shoved him onto the mattress, the bed proved to be even more comfortable than it'd looked.
Draco's hand wrapped around Harry's erection and he gave it an experimental stroke. Harry bit his lower lip, but a groan still emerged. He hoped that Draco didn't mock him too much if this was over too quickly.
Harry tried slowing things down. He hadn't had nearly his fill of looking at Draco's body, studying the lean muscles as they moved and flexed under his pale skin. He wanted to touch him all over. Explore in depth several places that enticed him, places he wanted to taste and maybe bite.
As Draco stroked him a few more times, Harry reached down to stop him.
At Draco's questioning look, Harry mumbled, "I'm too close."
"You are? Excellent! Better to get the first time over quickly so that we can enjoy the second time at our leisure."
"Stop thinking. It's not your strong point." Draco softened the insult by leaning forward and kissing him again. By the time the kiss was done, Harry was clutching at Draco, and making fierce, demanding little whines while his hips moved of their own volition.
"Of course, if you're still worried you might be forcing me, I could leave." Draco let go of Harry and shifted back on the bed.
Even knowing Draco was teasing him didn't stop Harry from letting out a growl of frustration and tackling Draco, pinning him down. "You're not going anywhere."
"What would you like me to do for you, Master?" Draco said, smirking. He ran a hand down each of Harry's sides. "Kiss you?" Draco lifted up so that he could kiss the side of Harry's neck. "Suck you?" Draco murmured the words against Harry's skin, causing Harry to tremble. Draco's hands reached around to cup Harry's ass. "Let you fuck me?"
"Yes!" Harry vowed. "All of it. Everything."
Though Draco smiled at him, his tone was serious. "Your wish is my command."
* * *
At breakfast two days later, Ron kept darting glances at Harry and Draco, then shaking his head and mumbling "I don't want to know." Hermione studied them as if they were a book written in an untranslatable language, but one she was determined to decipher.
Harry didn't think he and Draco were acting any different. They still argued most of the time. Draco continued to insult the state of Harry's hair. Perhaps they sat a little closer than they used to. And, of course, neither of them could mange to keep smiles off their faces for more than a minute or so at a time.
Those smiles made Harry think of other things and he was soon wondering if the last Charms class before the NEWTs was necessary or if they could take a break from it. He was just about to suggest bunking off class when an eagle owl he recognized as belonging to the Malfoys flew in and dropped a letter on Draco's plate.
Harry watched as Draco opened the envelope and read the letter. As Draco read it a second time, Harry could almost feel Draco draw away from him despite not moving an inch. Then, without saying a word, Draco rose and headed for the doors.
"I'd better go after him," Harry said in response to Hermione and Ron's concerned looks.
Harry caught up to Draco in the hall. "What's wrong?"
Draco crumpled the letter in his fist. "My father's been arrested."
"What did Lucius do this time?" Harry asked. Draco shot him an angry look. "I meant, what's he accused of doing?" Harry amended.
"An Auror was killed a couple of weeks ago – name of Proudfoot. They think my father's responsible. He didn't do it."
"I'm sure he didn't," Harry agreed. Although Dawlish and Walston had told him of Death Eater attacks, Harry had never thought for a moment that Draco's father might be involved. Lucius was far too cunning to risk his hide on what was a lost cause.
"Mother's distraught. My father...he didn't do well in Azkaban the first time. Fortunately, with your intervention, he was spared a second round after Voldemort was defeated. Mother fears what this latest incarceration will do to his health."
"I could talk to Shacklebolt. Ask him—"
Before Harry could finish, Draco was shaking his head. "No. This time my father is innocent and the truth will come out. Mother's retained the best solicitors in Britain to see to it. I just wish I could go to her."
"Why can't you?"
Draco looked at Harry as if he were being even stupider than normal. "The Oath. I'm bound to you."
"That's easy enough to get out of."
"I won't break it," Draco snapped.
Harry put a calming hand on Draco's shoulder. "That's not what I meant. Draco, I'm ordering you to go to your mother and help her cope."
"What?" Draco appeared stunned.
"Are you questioning my commands?"
"No, but what about you?"
"Shingleton was arrested, remember? Besides, for years I've survived quite well without you being by my side. Actually, I survived quite well with you being on the opposing side. I think I'll be perfectly fine without you hovering over me for a few days."
"If you're sure—"
"Yes, I'm sure," Harry said. "Now you'd better go see McGonagall and let her know where you'll be."
Draco nodded and turned toward the door. He'd taken only a few steps when he paused. Whirling around, he strode back to Harry, yanked him into his arms, and kissed him hard.
"Thank you," Draco said, drawing back.
Before Harry could even catch his breath, Draco was gone.
"You're welcome," Harry said, his eyes lingering on the doorway.
* * *
"Harry? Harry Potter?"
Hearing his name, Harry stopped outside the Great Hall and turned around to see two girls staring at him in awe. Giving a mental wince, he hoped these girls weren't the type who saw him as the Chosen One, the Defeater of Voldemort, the Essence of All Things Good, and all that rubbish. Though it had been nearly a year since the Battle of Hogwarts and Voldemort's death, the occasional marriage proposal still arrived in the morning mail. More often were requests for photos and autographs.
The younger girl stepped forward. "I'm Astoria and I'm sure you know my sister, Daphne."
Harry nodded at the older girl whom he'd seen in his classes with the Slytherins, but who he didn't remember ever speaking to before. "Hi."
"We've been wanting to talk to you," Daphne told him.
"Me? Why do you want to talk to me?" Harry momentarily wished that Draco had been with him. Not only did Harry miss him after only one day, Draco would do that sneer he did so well, say something insulting, and make them leave Harry alone. Harry, however, always felt he had to be polite.
"As you know, a terrible injustice has occurred." Daphne told him, as they stepped to the side of the corridor so that a group of students could pass by.
Astoria nodded. "A wrong that needs to be righted."
"It's a cause that needs a champion and you're just the man to do it." Daphne added.
"A champion," Astoria echoed.
"What is it?" Harry asked warily. In response, they shoved a paper at him.
At the top of the paper was Severus Snape - The Unsung Hero of Hogwarts.
Harry stared at it, then at the two girls standing before him, both wearing identical anxious but hopeful expressions that reminded him of fluffy puppies and kittens.
"Please, you must help us," Astoria said. "There's going to be a hearing at the Ministry about whether or not to posthumously award Professor Snape the Order of Merlin."
"If you were to testify on his behalf, I'm sure they'd have to give it to him."
Harry was grateful for all Snape had done. He truly was. Testifying before the Ministry so they'd give Snape some stupid award he couldn't use anyway, what with being dead, was something Harry was not going to do. But the way the girls were both looking at him, their eyes round and pleading – he couldn't tell them the truth.
"Um...I'd like to. Really, I would," Harry stuttered. "But..." What would Draco do in such a situation? Harry thought, and immediately knew the answer. Draco would lie outrageously.
"I can't," Harry said. "I'm sorry, but you must understand – to talk about him, to even think about him – it tears my heart to shreds. We were soul-mates. Bound together for all eternity. Now, without him, it is as if I am only half a person, doomed to walk this earth alone until I die and am at last reunited with my one true love."
One of the girls sniffed. The other reached out to pat Harry's arm in sympathy.
"We understand. We won't bother you again."
Harry did his best to look like he was bravely suffering. "Thank you."
Only after they'd turned the corner at the end of the corridor did Harry breathe a sigh of relief. But he breathed it far too soon.
Slowly, Harry turned to face the frame that five minutes before had held a still-life of a bowl of apples. Now it held the glowering visage of Severus Snape.
"Did I hear what you said correctly, Mr. Potter?"
Harry scrambled back from the portrait. "I don't know. What did you...Oh, look at the time!" he said, ignoring the fact that he wasn't wearing a watch and there were no clocks in sight. He shoved the paper he held into his satchel. "Sorry, I'd love to talk to you but I've got to go!"
"Mr. Potter!" Snape roared.
Not caring how it might look, Harry took off at run and headed for the nearest exit.
He almost escaped, too. Harry was almost at the Grand Staircase when he ran into Walston and Dawlish.
"Harry," Walston said, smiling widely. "We were just coming to speak with you."
"Again?" Harry asked.
Walston laughed. "Actually, this time we wanted to talk with you about Professor Shingleton. There's a few things we need to clear up before his trial." He looked about. "I think it might be better if we conduct our business in private."
Together, they entered the first classroom they found not to be in use. From the corner of his eye, Harry caught a glimpse of Snape pushing an elderly gentleman out of a frame in order for him to glare at Harry. Harry hoped that the presence of the two Aurors was enough of a deterrent to keep Snape from bothering him further.
"This is still much too public," Walston said, surveying the room. From the pocket of his robe, Walston withdrew a lump of bright red cloth. Across the top were the initials MLE.
"Portable holding cell," Walston explained as he unfolded and enlarged the cloth. When it was about six feet by three feet and seemed to be reduced to two layers, he attached it to the wall with a sticking charm. "During the first war, the Ministry used these all the time, as it wasn't always convenient to take prisoners in immediately, especially if they were captured in the midst of a battle. As we seem to be interrupted a lot lately, I thought that this might afford us some privacy." Walston pulled the top layer aside to expose a wooden door on the layer beneath, which he opened.
Peering inside, Harry could see a rough-hewn table along with a couple of chairs. The table was set for tea. Not only were cups laid out, but there was a plate of sandwiches nearby. Along the back wall was a cot with a musty gray blanket. "It's more comfortable than you might think," Walston said. "It even has a loo."
Harry started to step inside, then hesitated. Even with the sticking charm, the cloth draped loosely on the wall, the ends flapping in a way that reminded him of the veil that Sirius had fallen through in the Department of Mysteries.
"I'll go in first, shall I?" Walston said. He slipped past Harry, went inside, and sat down in a chair.
Feeling foolish, Harry entered and sat down in the chair opposite Walston. Dawlish, however, was still outside.
Until that moment, Harry hadn't taken too much note of Dawlish. He hadn't been his usual blustery self, demanding that Harry reveal all his secrets. Instead, he'd been quiet and withdrawn. Harry had almost forgotten he was there.
Looking at Dawlish standing outside the room, Harry noted a sheen of perspiration coating the man's forehead. In addition, he seemed to be trembling. Dawlish really shouldn't be there if he was ill, thought Harry.
"Dawlish," Walston prompted. "You need to come in and pour the tea for our guest."
Dawlish shook more, but at last he took a stumbling step forward, then another until he reached the table. As he poured the tea, the liquid jumped and spilled into the cup, some splashing on the saucer and droplets landing onto the table beneath.
"I must apologise for my partner," Walston said. "I don't think he's recovered from his friend's death at Lucius Malfoy's hand."
"Lucius didn't kill anyone." Harry couldn't believe that he was defending a man whom he hated with a passion.
"If it wasn't him," Walston asked, "then who do you suppose it was?"
Dawlish set a tea cup down in front of Walston with a thud causing Harry to glance up at him. If anything, Dawlish was shaking even worse as he poured a second cup of tea for Harry.
"You said there have been attacks by Death Eaters, so there have to be other suspects."
Walston nodded. "You're quite right. But we've always suspected there was a ringleader, one who is seeking to fill the void that Voldemort's death left."
Harry took a sip of his tea. It was more bitter than he cared for, so he added some sugar and stirred.
"Lucius didn't do it twenty years ago, when he had more influence in the Ministry, why would he do it now?" He took another sip of tea and, though it was still a little bitter, he drank it down.
"Perhaps he didn't attempt to seize control precisely because he did have so much influence. It's a different situation now. The Ministry's currently weak. Weaker than it was when Voldemort took control. I was there when that happened. I witnessed what Voldemort's followers did. Now it would take even less effort. Shacklebolt would need to be assassinated first. After a few more assassinations, the public would be panicky. They'd flock to anyone who seemed powerful."
Harry shook his head, then shook it a second time, trying to clear his thoughts. "I just don't think Lucius would try that now. And the public knows not to trust him."
"You always did have good instincts, didn't you, Potter?"
Walston's face seemed to blur and Harry blinked, trying to bring it back into focus. "Obviously not good enough," Harry said. He tried to stand, but found he could barely move. "There was something in the tea, wasn't there?"
"I'm sorry, Potter," Walston said, nodding. "But unfortunately, I've run out of time. I thought my report on Shingleton had closed the case and that would be the end of it. However, I discovered, by mere happenstance, that they intended to question Shingleton further. Once they do, it won't be long until the truth comes out. But first, I believe, I must have your wand."
"What are..." Harry swayed in his seat. He could feel Walston fumbling about in his pockets, but couldn't lift a finger to stop him. Though when his wand was discovered and taken, Harry found he could let out a small cry of dismay.
"That should serve as defeating you, I believe," Walston said as he stowed Harry's wand in his pocket. "Now all I need to do is find where you've hidden it away."
"I don't understand," Harry managed to choke out.
"As soon as the other Aurors discover that I used Imperio to force Shingleton to search for the Elder Wand, they'll be after me. Therefore, I need the Wand now. Where is it, Potter?"
"In a safe—"
The blow across his face snapped Harry's head back. The flare of pain briefly woke him from his stupor.
"Stupid boy. You should've given the Elder Wand to me earlier, instead of being so stubborn. I could've spared you this."
"Never going to tell," Harry muttered.
"You'll tell. Depend on it." He turned to Dawlish. "Let Potter have a taste of the Cruciatus Curse."
Dawlish's wand rose, though his hand was shaking so badly that it wavered from side to side, looking as if he were conducting an orchestra. "Cru-cru-..." Dawlish stuttered. His wand dropped down and he took deep, gasping breaths. "I-I won't."
A curse from Walston knocked Dawlish off his feet and sent him sprawling. A second curse, and Dawlish was in a full body-bind. Harry could only watch helplessly as Walston stalked forward and, picked up Dawlish's wand and put it in the same pocket he'd put Harry's.
"You really have been more trouble than you're worth," he told Dawlish mildly. "I've had to renew my Imperio countless times. I was even forced to kill your friend Proudfoot when he became suspicious because of the way you were acting."
Dawlish's eyes flew wide open at that.
"If you weren't becoming increasingly hard to Imperio, I might have decided to keep you. As it is..." Walston shrugged and pointed his wand at Dawlish. "Avada Kedavra!"
In shock, Harry watched the green light hit Dawlish and the life disappear from his eyes.
Walston spun to face Harry. "Perhaps now you'll tell me where the Elder Wand is."
* * *
At least, Harry thought, the space in which he was being held was of decent size, unlike his cupboard and the trap he'd fallen into a while back. But years ago at the Dursleys', he'd never had to share his cupboard with a dead body.
Once he was strong enough, he'd used the blanket on the cot to cover as much of Dawlish as possible. However, whenever Harry grew frustrated with trying to think of a way to escape, his eyes would drift back to the legs and shoes that stuck out from the end.
Walston would be back, but Harry had bought himself some time. He'd spent it searching for a way to escape, but had come up empty-handed. Despite tearing apart the room, he'd found nothing that could be of use. He was determined, though, because this might be his only chance. As attested by the body on the floor, Walston was playing for keeps.
The first hit of the Cruciatus Curse had knocked Harry out of his chair as his body spasmed, his nerves aflame with pain. It wasn't until the third hit, that Harry had screamed. He wasn't sure if he should feel absurdly proud or absurdly foolish for holding out until he'd been hit a fifth time before he'd screamed a promise to tell Walston where the Elder Wand was.
Harry decided to test the walls for the third time when the door slammed open and Walston stormed in. As he turned to lock the door behind him, Harry caught a quick look at the room outside the cell. It was no longer the empty classroom where they'd been before, but appeared to be a private room. One with a fireplace, couch, paintings on the wall, and a floral-patterned rug on the floor.
"You lied!" Walston's face was flushed with anger and Harry instinctively backed up.
"I didn't!" Harry swore. "The Wand is there."
"You just didn't look hard enough."
Walston shook his head as he advanced on Harry. "After blasting through floors and tons of rock to get to the Chamber of Secrets, I can assure you I looked hard enough."
Harry swallowed hard. "What are you going to do to me?"
"Nothing for now," Walston said. "But as soon as I get to a safe spot, I look forward to taking you apart bit by bit until you tell me the true location of the Elder Wand."
Giving Harry one last hard glare, Walston spun on his heels and exited the cell. Harry rushed the door, hoping it was still unlocked, but no such luck. He pounded on it, but there was no response. At last, he slumped next to it and wondered if anyone would ever find his body.
The scrape of the door alerted Harry it was about to open and he jumped back. Walston had only been gone a few minutes. Surely it was too soon for him to have left the Hogwarts grounds, much less Apparate to a safe location.
The door was flung open and Draco appeared. "Potter!" he yelled. Reaching inside, he grabbed Harry's sleeve and yanked him out of the cell. Harry blinked to discover that they were still in the private room he'd spied earlier. Hermione and Ron were there as well, both with their wands pointed at an enraged Walston standing with his back against the wall.
Walston's clothes were rumpled and his lip was split, blood trickling down his chin.
"Don't worry," Draco assured Harry. "My fist doesn't hurt me nearly as bad as that git's mouth hurts him." He looked Harry over. "Though the two of us taking a quick trip to the Infirmary might not be a bad idea."
Harry eyed Walston warily. "He's insane. He wanted the Elder Wand and was controlling Shingleton to get it. He also killed Dawlish."
"We've sent a Patronus to fetch McGonagall," Hermione told Harry. Her eyes flickered from their captive to Harry for a brief moment.
"And I've got his wand," Ron added. "Yours as well." He turned to hand both wands to Harry.
As Harry's fingers clasped around the wooden wands, he realised something wasn't right. He'd just opened his mouth to ask where Dawlish's wand was when Walston pulled out Dawlish's wand and hit the ceiling with a blasting curse. Stones rained down and a cloud of dust filled the room. Another curse and the dust multiplied, becoming thicker and impossible to see through.
Amidst the dust, Harry heard Hermione shout "Petrificus Totalus but he didn't hear or see a body fall, so he figured she'd missed Walston. Near him, Draco was coughing out banishing spells and the dust surrounding him was beginning to clear.
Harry tried to remember where he'd seen the door. He couldn't let Walston escape!
Pushing past Draco, Harry hurried in the direction of the door, careening into an end table and letting out an 'oof'. He heard Draco following behind him, but didn't slow. Upon finding the door, he stumbled into the hallway in time to see Walston racing away.
"Expelliarmus!" Harry shouted, but Walston threw himself to one side and the spell sailed past him.
Walston smiled as he shouted a curse back at Harry, one that Harry didn't remember hearing before. A blue light flew out of his wand, aimed directly at Harry. Harry braced for the impact.
But it hit Draco, who dove in front of Harry, instead.
"Petrificus Totalus!" Harry yelled, hitting Walston and sending him crashing to the floor. Harry didn't spare a second glance at Walston, too intent on reaching Draco.
Writhing on the cold stone of the corridor, Draco let out a low, agonised moan of pain. His hands were wrapped around his stomach and he was almost bent double.
"Draco!" Harry yelled and dropped to his knees next to Draco. As gently as he could, he pried Draco's arms away to see the damage, but none were visible. The injury had to be internal.
"I saved you!" Draco gasped.
"You shouldn't have," Harry said. He clasped Draco's hand tightly. "You shouldn't have stepped in front of me like that." Harry glanced up to see Ron and Hermione stagger out of the room before quickly returning his attention to Draco.
"I fulfilled my life debt. Redeemed my family honour. Malfoys won't be known forever for their bad faith."
This couldn't be happening. It just couldn't. He couldn't lose Draco. Not now. Behind him, he could hear Ron sniff loudly.
"Promise me," Draco said, staring into Harry's eyes. "Promise me you'll let the world know of this so that the Malfoy name will once again be among the most glorious in the Wizarding World."
"Yes," Harry said. As Draco's eyes closed, he gripped his hand harder, as if he could keep Draco on Earth by sheer force of will. "I promise."
Draco's eyelids fluttered open. "And promise me that you won't forget me. That you'll never forget me."
"I won't," Harry swore.
Once more, Draco's eyes closed.
"Draco!" Harry shouted. "Draco, don't die!"
"He's not dying," Hermione said.
"What?" Harry and Ron said together. Draco opened his eyes to stare at Hermione.
Hermione shook her head. "He could die, I suppose, if he were left untreated. But Walston hit him with an Entrails-Entangling curse, which is reversible if done quickly enough as what it does is tie his bowels into knots. Pomfrey should be able to heal him in no time. His digestive system will most likely cause him some distress for a few days which, while unpleasant, is certainly not fatal."
"He's not dying?" Harry asked.
"I'm not?" Draco attempted to sit up, then lay back down with a groan. Hermione shook her head. "No, you're not."
Wiping at his face with a sleeve, Ron glared at Draco, as if it was Draco's fault he wasn't dying. "Stupid dust," Ron muttered. "Got in my eyes."
"You're going to live!" Harry grinned at Draco.
Draco didn't look particularly happy by the news. "Which means I failed. If the spell wasn't deadly, then I didn't save your life."
"Not necessarily," Hermione stated. When both of them turned to look at her, she continued. "You thought the spell was life-threatening and it would kill you if untreated, so I do believe it qualifies as fulfilling your life debt."
Before anyone could say anything else, McGonagall and several teachers showed up in response to the Patronus Hermione had sent.
* * *
"That was incredibly disappointing." Hermione sighed as the group walked out of the Great Hall, headed for the eighth-year dorms. "You'd think that Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests would be at the very least nasty or exhausting. Those tests were far too easy to qualify."
Harry, Ron, Draco, and Goyle all stared at her.
"They seemed nasty to me," Ron told her.
"And I'm exhausted," added Harry.
Draco shrugged. "I didn't think they were particularly bad until I found the hidden question on each test."
"Hidden question?" Hermione's eyes grew unbelievably round. "There were hidden questions on the tests?"
"You know - the question you have to use a spell to find." Draco turned to Harry. "How do you think you did on the hidden question on the Charms test? I thought that one was especially tiring."
"I don't think I got a single hidden question right," Goyle piped up. "Suppose that means I get nothing but Trolls."
Draco nodded sympathetically. "That is how they tend to mark them."
With a cry, Hermione whirled about and began running back to the Great Hall.
"Speaking of trolls...." Harry punched Draco lightly in the arm.
"What? Granger was disappointed that the tests contained no nasty or exhausting elements. Not wanting her to be so upset by the lack, I gave her what she wanted."
The truth was that Harry couldn't get too mad at Draco. He was still too relieved that Draco wasn't dead. Draco had spent one day under Madame Pomfrey's care and two days in the bathroom making the most dreadful sounds. The only damage done had been to Draco's dignity and even that hadn't lasted long.
If it hadn't been for Draco returning to Hogwarts after only one day away...Well, Harry didn't want to think about what might have happened.
While Draco had been laid up in the Infirmary he'd explained how he'd saved the day with help from Professor Snape's portrait, who'd told him Harry had been trapped in wizarding space by Walston and was currently residing in Walston's pocket. Draco didn't even mention Hermione and Ron.
It was only after talking to Hermione and Ron that Harry had a better picture of what had happened. Draco had shown up at Hermione's tent raving about how he'd come back as soon as possible only to consult the Marauder's Map and learn that Harry was in the Chamber of Secrets. Which Harry supposed was true, though he'd been spent the time stuffed in Walston's pocket. By time the three of them were ready to go after Harry, the dots representing him and Walston had returned to the main part of the castle and entered Shingleton's private rooms.
Draco, Hermione and Ron had been confused when they'd found Walston and Harry didn't seem to be around. They probably would've turned away, but Snape's portrait had intervened, shouting from a frame that Harry was imprisoned in a wizarding space cloth that Walston had on his person.
only wished he could've seen Draco tackle Walston to the ground to wrest the cloth away from him. On the other hand, he wished he hadn't seen Draco take a curse for him.
"I'd better go tell Hermione the truth," Ron said, interrupting Harry's thoughts. "Otherwise, she's likely to curse someone if they don't let her have her tests back."
As Ron headed back the way they'd come, Harry gave him a wave, then continued on with Draco and Goyle. "Neither of you seem all that concerned about the tests."
"Don't need them," Goyle said. "I've been recruited by the Ballycastle Bats. Would've joined them last fall, but they thought I needed to bulk up a bit. Had to eat like a Hippogriff, but I did it."
Harry looked at Goyle's heft. "Good job, that."
"Thanks. And speaking of eating, I'm going to the kitchen to fetch a snack. Do either of you want anything?"
As dinner was in less than an hour, both Harry and Draco shook their heads. With Goyle wandering off toward the kitchens, Harry and Draco were left alone. At least Harry thought they were alone until a voice from a painting spoke.
"Mr. Potter, it seems that once again you owe me for aiding you in a time of need."
"Your gratitude, as miniscule as it is, is not necessary. The only thanks I require is for you to appear before the Ministry on my behalf at the hearings on whether to award me an Order of Merlin." Snape stared down his nose at Harry, daring him to deny his request.
Harry knew he owed Snape and testifying before the Ministry wasn't a lot to ask for in payment. However, he'd been in Draco's presence long enough to know it wouldn't be right to make it too easy for Snape. "And if I don't testify?"
"Then I will feel the need to regale everyone with information on our relationship, star-crossed as it was, whether they wish to hear it or not. I'm sure that your fans will be titillated to hear how your less than average proportions were more than made up for by your willingness to perform any depravity I could imagine. Every detail will be expounded upon until ears bleed. Preferably yours."
Draco smiled in admiration at Snape's portrait. "Dead and still blackmailing people. Potter, I've decided you're not Snape's soul-mate, after all. I am."
Harry stared at Snape for a moment longer, then let out a sigh of resignation. "You win, Snape. I'll talk to Shacklebolt and whoever else it takes until you get your stupid medal."
Snape and Draco studied Harry.
"He conceded awfully fast," Draco remarked to Snape.
"Indeed. I now wonder if I should have insisted that a shrine be built in my honour, as well."
"A shrine's nothing. I bet you could've asked for him to name his first born after you."
"Not so. I'm sure Potter plans already to have his first son named after that incorrigible father of his. His second one, however...."
"I'd never name one of my children after you," Harry yelled. He grabbed Draco's hand and began pulling him toward the closest exit.
"Don't be too hasty," he heard Snape say from behind him. "You may find that you need my expertise in the future."
Harry hoped not. Snapey Potter was a terrible name for a child.
Once they'd reached the safety of the Hogwarts grounds, Draco slowed. "I suppose you plan to be an Auror."
"Yes, if they'll let me into their program," Harry said. "It depends on if I tested well enough."
"They're not about to turn you down even if you earn Dreadfuls on everything."
"That's not how I want to get in. I want to earn it." Harry glanced over at Draco. "And what are you planning on doing after Hogwarts?"
"Run the family business, of course. The last few years, due to my father's unfortunate preoccupation with politics, certain enterprises have not been performing as well as they should. A visit from the owner's son might jolt them back on track."
"Then you'll be travelling around Britain a bit next year?"
Draco shot him a puzzled look. "The first week, perhaps. Most of the time will be spent in Europe, though the profits of several of our holdings in South America have been troubling of late. The Asian ones merely need to be toured. The worst of the group will be North America, as the officers of the companies there will feel the need to entertain me and I'll have to allow it."
Harry stopped and stared at Draco. "How long do you plan to be gone?"
"A year. Possibly less."
A year. Before Draco had saved his life, Harry had begun planning for the remaining months of Draco's service. Already, he'd wondered if Draco would like living in Grimmauld Place or if they'd need to get a flat. Once the Oath had been fulfilled, he would do his best to convince Draco to continue to live with him.
But a year apart? And would Draco even care to renew their relationship afterwards?
* * *
"That's probably the last we'll see of Malfoy," Ron said a few days later at Kings Cross Station. He cast a glance at Harry, looking for a clue as to whether they should be elated or not.
Harry stared in silence at the exit Draco and his mother had just passed through. He'd wanted to say so many things, but hadn't known how, and the next thing he knew, it was time for them to leave Hogwarts. He'd tried to talk to Draco on the train, but with everyone popping in to say good-byes and make promises of meeting up in the future, they hadn't had much time alone.
For a few moments, when Hermione and Ron had gone in search of the trolley lady to fulfil Ron's odd desire for sunflower seeds, Harry and Draco had been alone in the train compartment. Before Harry could find the words to say what he wanted to, however, Goyle had come in and made himself comfortable on the seat across from Draco. If Goyle's presence hadn't been enough to deter Harry, Ginny entering half a minute later would've.
"Harry," Ginny said in a tone that was polite but nothing more.
"Ginny," Harry replied in what he hoped was a friendly tone.
Draco unsubtly scooted closer to Harry and glared at Ginny, who hadn't noticed as she sat down next to Goyle.
"I heard you were recruited by the Bats."
Goyle nodded. "Best team in the league."
"Not likely. I've joined the Harpies."
"Chaser?" When Ginny nodded, Goyle grinned. "Good. I've got experience hitting Bludgers at you already."
"Little good it's going to do you. I can fly circles around—"
Pansy chose that moment to burst into the compartment. "Draco! Greg! I've been searching all over for you two. All the other Slytherins are having a party two cars down. Blaise is drunk and doing a striptease."
"Nothing I haven't seen before," Draco scoffed. When Harry elbowed him in the side, Draco looked offended. "Not like that! We were dorm mates, remember?"
"Well, if you won't come, maybe Harry might like to," Pansy said. She smiled flirtatiously at Harry, who felt his cheeks turn red. "I'd love to show you a good time. Maybe we can finally finish what we started earlier this year."
"Back off, you wicked wanton woman!" Draco shouted. "Or you will feel my wrath."
"Whatever." Pansy motioned to Goyle. "Let's go, Greg."
Goyle started to rise, but Ginny laid her hand on his arm. "Sorry, Pansy. He can't go with you right now. He's busy with me."
"It's like that, is it?" Pansy said, arching an eyebrow.
"Yes. It's exactly like that."
Shrugging, Pansy gave them all one final wave before flouncing off. Once she was gone, Ginny turned to Goyle.
"She makes me so mad, but I still shouldn't have used you like that. Sorry."
"That's okay. I don't mind." Goyle stared at Ginny in soft wonder. "Besides, I'd rather talk Quidditch, anyway."
"Remember this day, Potter," Draco muttered to Harry. "If those two get together, then we may have witnessed the beginning of a new and terrible race that will destroy all of wizardkind."
Harry had laughed, but he couldn't help but wish that Ginny and Goyle would take their conversation and budding friendship someplace else and give him a chance to talk to Draco in private.
When they'd arrived at the station, he'd thought he might be able to pull Draco aside, but Narcissa had greeted them the moment they'd stepped onto the platform. Now Draco was gone after shaking Harry's hand and giving him a quick good-bye kiss. All the words, all the feelings Harry had wanted to express remained trapped inside of him, making his heart heavy.
This couldn't be the last time he'd see Draco. To his surprise, Hermione said the same thing to Ron.
"We'll see Draco again," she said. When both Ron and Harry looked at Hermione, she rolled her eyes. "The Wizarding World is a small place. The British Wizarding population is that much smaller. I'm sure we'll bump into him from time to time. Perhaps we'll make small talk with him at gatherings and such. Even if we don't run in the same social circles we'll probably see him at the train station as we send our future children off to Hogwarts."
"Future children?" Ron gulped.
Hermione shook her head at Ron's reaction. "Emphasis on future.
As Ron panicked and Hermione explained about how one generation naturally led to another, Harry thought about what she'd said.
Would that be him and Draco? Having stilted conversations that said nothing about what they'd once been to each other? Nodding at one another at the station over the heads of their sons or daughters? Acting as if they were complete strangers for the rest of their lives? A future without Draco stretched out before him, flat and empty and seemingly endless.
"No!" Harry said suddenly, startling both Ron and Hermione out of their argument about what their first child's name would be. "No, that's not going to happen."
"Not really your place to say, is it?" Ron ventured. "Besides, I've always liked the name Agamemnon Weasley."
"The future," Harry vowed, "is going to change."
* * *
Harry stood in the front parlour of Malfoy Manor and felt extremely uncomfortable. He hoped the house-elf who'd shown him in would hurry up.
"Dear God," a voice thundered out.
Too late, Harry thought.
Lucius prowled about the room, circling Harry. Harry decided it might be best not to make any sudden moves.
"You dare show your face here? After putting my son in danger? After almost allowing him to be killed?"
"I didn't mean—"
"Quiet!" Lucius roared. "You have been a plague upon the Malfoys since your birth, boy. And now you come here, to my home—"
"It's not the first time," Harry interrupted. "I've been here before, remember? Have some not-so-fond memories of your cellar."
"If you'd care to revisit your time there, I'd be perfectly happy to accommodate you."
Harry gripped his wand firmly and glared at Lucius, who returned it in full measure. Before any curses were thrown, the moment was broken by Draco's voice at the door to the room.
"Potter!" Draco strolled into the room, staring at Harry as if he might be a hallucination. "What are you doing here? I thought we'd said our good-byes."
"We did. But that can't be the end of things. I won't let it."
"He saved your life, Potter," Lucius spat. "He almost died repaying the life debt. What else could you possibly want from him?"
"Careful, Father," Draco said softly. "You might not want to hear the answer to that."
"I don't want anything from him," Harry said.
"You don't?" Draco stepped closer to Harry. "Why are you here to see me, then?"
"Actually, I'm not here to see you."
"What?" Lucius and Draco both said.
"Harry!" Narcissa greeted Harry warmly as she glided into the room. "I wasn't expecting you so soon. How are you, dear?"
"Narcissa?" Lucius said, shocked. "You knew of this?"
Draco, who'd been looking at his mother with his mouth open, turned to face Harry. "You're here to talk to Mother?"
"Not just talk." Harry strode toward Narcissa. Upon reaching her, he knelt at her feet and placed his hand over his heart. "As repayment of my life debt, I pledge myself to you for the period of ten moons. Until that time has passed, you will be my lady and my liege. I will serve your needs, obey your commands, and protect your life and your honour as if it were my own. Of this I do swear."
Pale, Lucius stumbled back to collapse onto a chair. He put his face in his hands. "Dear God, no."
"Is there a problem, Lucius?"
Lucius lifted his face to stare at his wife. "Is there a problem? Is there a problem?" He pointed his finger at Harry. "I refuse to share my home with that...that..."
"Gryffindor?" Harry asked.
"Person who kicked Death Eater arse?" suggested Draco.
Harry shot a grin toward Draco, but there was no answering grin. Draco appeared almost as stunned as his father.
"But Harry has sworn an Oath," Narcissa told Lucius. "Are you sure you can't be persuaded to have him here?"
Lucius leapt to his feet. "Never! You will never convince me to have him in our home." He turned to Draco. "Fetch me my cane!"
"You're not going to use it to beat Harry, are you? Or cast a spell on him?"
"Certainly not," Lucius stated as if offended by Draco's question. "I need to wave it around dramatically to make my point."
Harry had always known Draco had inherited a lot of things from his father – his looks, his sense of superiority, his prejudiced attitude toward all things Muggle – but Harry had never realised before how much Draco's ability to create a scene could be laid at Lucius' door. To Harry's horror, he found himself liking Lucius a little bit more than he had previously.
Inured by decades of Malfoy theatrics, Narcissa remained unfazed and held her hand out to Harry. When he took it, she urged him to his feet. "I'm afraid there's no getting around it. Lucius will not change his mind about having you here."
Harry smiled widely at her. Things were going almost exactly as Narcissa had predicted they would. "Well, if he won't change his mind, then it can't be helped."
"No, it certainly cannot," Narcissa agreed. "Therefore, I must assign you a task that keeps you away from my home. Did you know that I am extremely protective of my son?"
Draco was beginning to catch on. His doubts disappeared and his face brightened.
"Yes," Harry said in answer to Narcissa's question. "I am well acquainted with your protectiveness of Draco."
"Narcissa!" Lucius warned. "You can't possibly be thinking—"
Narcissa smiled at Harry. "Then I'm sure you'll understand why I'm giving you the task that I am. My son is planning on travelling and seeing the world while touring Malfoy holdings around the globe. I would have you spend the next ten months travelling with him, serving as his companion and protector."
Lucius groaned. Draco gave a shout of joy.
"It would be my pleasure, milady." Harry turned and gave Draco a wink.
Lucius groaned even louder.
"But first, I have one special request," Narcissa said, drawing Harry's attention back to her.
Harry bowed graciously before her. "Anything for you, milady."
"I'm so pleased you feel that way." Narcissa's eyes gleamed with amusement and suddenly Harry had a very, very bad feeling.
"What is it you wish for me to do?" he said, bracing for the worst.
"There's a ceremony next week to award Severus Snape an Order of Merlin. As I'm sure you may know, he was an extraordinarily good friend to me and to my son. I think it would be fitting that you be the keynote speaker at the ceremony. Especially given the extent of your personal relationship with the man."
Harry nodded and bit back a grimace while Draco howled with laughter.
"Massage my back," Draco ordered.
"I'm supposed to be your companion and protector, not your slave," Harry said. Despite his words, Harry climbed onto the hotel bed, straddled Draco's back and began kneading his shoulders.
"I'm sure that Mother misspoke."
"I'm sure she didn't."
Harry continued massaging Draco's shoulders for a few minutes before moving lower. A breeze stirred the lacy curtains of the open window revealing the cobblestone street in front of their hotel. He could hear the sounds of the residents of the small Romanian town as they headed home for the evening. It was close to dinner time and spicy smells were drifting in from a nearby restaurant.
That morning, they'd toured the Malfoy factory that created boots, gloves, and other items of clothing from the hides of dragons that had died on the Dragon Reserve. Draco had admired a pair of dragonhide trousers and had been presented them as a gift by the manager. Although Harry wanted to see Draco wearing them, he wasn't sure if he wanted anyone else to see Draco in them.
The afternoon had been spent overseeing the labs where those same dragons were separated into various parts and prepared for use in potions and such. Tomorrow was going to be busy as he and Draco had made arrangements to visit Charley Weasley at his work. In the meantime, all they had to do was relax and enjoy each other's company.
"Mmm." Draco moaned and shifted on the patchwork quilt like a cat getting a good scratch. "Do you remember that Horntail you had to get past in fourth year?"
"I'm hardly likely to forget her. She nearly killed me."
"I know. I was disappointed for weeks. Now, I'm glad she didn't."
Harry frowned. Draco was being sweet, always a sure sign that he was up to something. "What are you planning?"
"How suspicious you are! Can't I just be happy that you're alive and rubbing my back? Though I might get even happier if you decide to rub elsewhere."
"You won't put me off with sex. Not this time. Tell me, what's going on in that head of yours."
"Nothing. However, if something should happen while we're at the Reserve... something like that Horntail escaping...I am fully prepared to save your life and will happily take your Oath in repayment. Then you will be my slave."
Harry said nothing, only grinned as he felt like he was pretty much Draco's slave already. He wouldn't mind formally belonging to Draco.
"And once you're mine," Draco continued, "there are several more potions I'd like to try on your hair."
Okay, Harry thought. Maybe he would mind.
"By the way," Draco said. "There's one thing I'm curious about. If the Elder Wand wasn't in Dumbledore's tomb, where is it?"
"A safe place," Harry said with a smile.
* * *
Hundreds of miles away in Lancashire, Neville's grandmother won another neighbourhood Duelling Competition. Her friends once more exclaimed how she'd grown unbeatable in the last few months. Augusta told them it was simply luck, nothing more, but secretly, she knew better.
She'd won ever since she'd confiscated the new wand from Neville, when he refused to tell her where he'd got it. Never before had a wand meshed with her abilities so smoothly. It worked so well she doubted that even the Master of the Elder Wand could defeat her.