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The Serenity of His Rage

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All the pulses of the world seemed to beat in Draco’s heart as he sat in that chair in the middle of Dumbledore’s office. He finally raised his head and nodded.

“Splendid, my boy. My dear boy.” The Headmaster beamed at him and held out his hand for Draco to shake. Draco couldn’t help noticing that the other one had black and twisted fingertips, as if Dumbledore had stuck them in a fire. “I knew you would make the right choice. I knew we weren’t risking too much by counting on you.”

Draco just shook Dumbledore’s hand and said nothing. He wasn’t choosing the sanctuary that Dumbledore had offered him for his own sake. It was because he saw, with every passing day, how the Dark Lord wouldn’t forgive his family even if Draco did complete his task. And Draco wanted better than that for his parents.

Maybe Father would still have to go back to Azkaban. But Mother…

She would be safe. That was what mattered.

“Now,” said Dumbledore, brisk, and Draco was grateful. “We can’t have you disappear too suddenly from the school, of course. We’ll wait a fortnight. That will bring us up to the Easter holidays. I think it’s best you vanish on the Hogwarts Express.”

“There’ll be so many students there,” Draco said. Including other Slytherins. “Do we have to wait that long?”

“I’m afraid so. It’ll take me that long to get your parents out and prepare identities and a safehouse for all of you. And find members of the Order of the Phoenix who will honestly protect you, instead of trying to take revenge on you and your family for the sins of others.”

The Order of the Phoenix is real, then. Draco hadn’t been sure, since he’d only heard the name among the Death Eaters. Professor Snape never dropped anything in his vague hints, and the one time Draco had spoken to Dumbledore before this, he hadn’t used it, either. “How many are there?”

Dumbledore smiled. “That’s rather need-to-know information, m’boy. Enough.”

Of course he still doesn’t trust me. On the other hand, Draco had to admit he had reason. He nodded again. His chest still felt like he was going to jump off the Astronomy Tower. “What should I do now?”

“Continue about your routine as usual,” Dumbledore said, and then tapped his forehead with one finger. “And here I was forgetting.” He reached behind him with the blackened hand and hauled a Pensieve forwards. “And, of course, it would be helpful if you could contribute memories of the Manor’s defenses and grounds so that the Order members who will rescue your parents know exactly what they’re dealing with.”

Draco grimaced a little. He could imagine what some of the ancestral portraits would say about him being willing to do this at all. 

But it was for the family. And family—the only people in the world Draco could really admit to caring about—always came first.

He began to take memories from his temple with his wand, a technique Aunt Bellatrix had taught him that summer when they worked on Occlumency. Dumbledore watched with a quiet smile. Now and then he reached out and scratched his crooning phoenix, who sat on his shoulder, under one wing.

Draco finally pulled his wand back from the Pensieve and stared at it. Brimming. Full.

Sort of the way he felt now, as though he was carrying a bowl of water that he must not spill.

“Thank you,” said Dumbledore, and looked straight into Draco’s eyes. Draco put up his Occlumency barriers out of habit, but he didn’t think Dumbledore was trying to read his mind. “I promise, my boy, this is the best decision you’ve ever made.”

Draco thought of protesting, but it would be of little use. He thought. He didn’t really know anymore. 

He stood up and made his way down the office stairs, thinking, for the first time in a year, that he might not regret taking the Mark when he woke up tomorrow.

*

The woman was in a cage.

Harry looked around, not understanding. He had been walking through a mound of ashes, and now he was here. It was a large stone room that seemed to stretch into the distance and then turn into mist at the edges.

The woman was in a cage that sat on a round silver platform. There was a silver chain around her neck—no collar, just a chain wrapped around the skin—that connected her head to the bars of the cage. She knelt there naked and shivering, her long pale hair falling around her face.

Harry wanted to walk around in front of her and see if he knew her. He wanted to open his mouth and ask if she needed help. But for some reason, he couldn’t do that. He could only stand there and stare at her.

And there was something pressing on him, like hunger. It was—happiness? Harry thought for a second it was, but why?

…Then the barrier broke apart, and the vision became sharper and filled with shadows at the edges where torches shone, and Harry wanted to be sick even though there was no way his stomach would cramp here. He knew where he was. He was sharing Voldemort’s head, again, and the monster’s emotions, again.

But because he was sharing his memories, too, Harry knew who the woman was even though he couldn’t ask. Narcissa Malfoy.

“I find myself pleased,” said Voldemort. He turned and beckoned a Death Eater Harry had never seen before. The man came and knelt at Voldemort’s feet, sniveling. Harry could only see that he had a thick neck and blond hair.

“Not pleased with the actions of certain people among my faithful, that is true,” Voldemort muttered. “Luckily, I have other faithful at Hogwarts who will tell me when one of them slips.” 

A shadow twined around his feet, and he dropped his hand to the snake’s head. Harry wanted to flinch at the touch of the scales, flat and cold. At least he could understand the Parseltongue that followed. “When we are rid of this one, Nagini, I shall let you devour her son.”

Thank you, master.”

Harry wanted to shudder, too, and almost managed it, almost enough to tear himself free of the vision. Nagini sounded disgusting. Dumbledore had told Harry that she was probably just an ordinary snake, but he had also admitted she could possibly be a Horcrux. Harry didn’t care what made her that nasty.

He just knew that he didn’t want to face her in battle.

“Now,” said Voldemort, and turned to the blond Death Eater. “Make me proud, Rowle. Kill her for me. And not painlessly.”

“Master,” said Rowle, in a voice that sounded just like Nagini’s to Harry, and climbed to his feet. He wore a black cloak that he swirled dramatically around him as he made his way to the cage. Harry wanted to laugh for a second. Rowle was even more melodramatic than Snape.

But then the meaning of Voldemort’s words sank in, and Harry threw himself against the bonds of the vision, struggling. No! He didn’t want to see Narcissa Malfoy die. He didn’t like her, in fact he hated her because of the part she’d played in getting Kreacher to betray Sirius, but that was different from wanting her dead.

He just wanted Voldemort dead. Not anyone else.

Nothing he did made any difference. Voldemort was wrapped around him like rope, and Harry tried to wake up and give him a headache and possess his body the way Voldemort had done to him in the Department of Mysteries. Still Voldemort just stood there and smiled, and then Rowle raised his wand.

The first spell made Narcissa scream and recoil, and Harry saw blood dripping down her skin. She tried to roll and get away from the curses, but the chain brought her up short. Then she stared at Rowle from under her hair and said something that might have been a plea. Harry didn’t think so, though. It sounded defiant.

Rowle glanced back at Voldemort. Harry felt Voldemort’s emotions moving through him like syrup, thick and hot. Harry held himself back from really feeling anything.

And he held still, too. If he had to stay here and witness this, then he would at least watch Narcissa’s death. It was the only thing he could still give her.

Rowle seemed reassured by whatever he saw in Voldemort’s eyes, and turned around, sending more and more curses at Narcissa. Harry watched when he saw muscle, and when he saw bone, and when he saw one of her limbs hanging almost off.

Narcissa never tried to shield herself or get away. Of course, without a wand and with that chain around her neck, there was little she could do. But Harry thought, from the look in her eyes when Rowle finally severed her head from her neck, that she might also have done that so the end would come quicker.

Finally, Rowle stepped back from the cage and bowed to Voldemort. “It’s done, master.”

“I can see that well enough for myself,” said Voldemort indifferently, and walked away from the cage. Harry wondered if he made it a policy not to show emotion freely to his Death Eaters, or something. Because he was certainly brewing with violence and joy on the inside, and a kind of satisfaction that made Harry shiver.

The vision released him like an opening hand at last. Harry scrambled up and out of bed, tripped on a trailing curtain, and was sick all over the floor of the bedroom.

“Mate?” Ron was out of bed in a second.

Harry raised one hand and held Ron back until he’d finished heaving and cleaned everything up with a murmured Scourgify. He ran his tongue around his teeth and winced. His mouth tasted absolutely, disgustingly awful. 

“Vision?” Ron was bending over him.

“Yeah.”

“Sorry, mate.”

Harry nodded once and then grabbed Ron’s hand and let Ron haul him up. “I need to get to Dumbledore and tell him what he saw,” he said. “He’s—going to want to know.”

He’d had time to think about Voldemort’s words now, and he thought he knew what they meant. Draco Malfoy had been doing something, and Voldemort was holding his mother hostage so he’d do it. But he’d stopped, or failed, or something. And other people at Hogwarts had told Voldemort about it, so he’d decided to punish Narcissa.

It was probably that git, Snape, who told Voldemort, was Harry’s first thought.

His second was to wonder what it would be like to have your mother die when you were old enough to remember her. He found himself blotting at his mouth again as Ron led him gently into the bathroom and made him wash his face. Then Ron whispered the necessary soothing words to their other roommates and accompanied him to the gargoyle and up to Dumbledore’s office.

*

“And that’s all I saw, sir.”

Dumbledore was sitting slumped over his desk. Harry leaned back in his chair and waited. Something else was going on, he thought. Dumbledore hadn’t even looked that low when he was telling Harry about the Horcruxes and how dangerous they were. The blackened fingers on his hand stood out so clearly Harry thought they were going to fall off any second.

Ron bounced up and down in the chair next to Harry, hands gripping the edges. Harry reached out and touched his arm. Ron stopped bouncing, although maybe that had to do with Dumbledore’s continued silence instead.

Finally, the Headmaster sighed and murmured, “I hate to ask this, Harry, but I must. Voldemort used the connection between the two of you to trick you last year. Is there any way this could be a similarly false vision? A trick to make you go rushing off and tell me, so that we would act on false information?”

“I don’t see how, sir. I mean, I barely know Mrs. Malfoy, and it’s not like he just showed me that she was in danger and I’d have time to rescue her.” Harry hesitated and finally added, “And couldn’t you check on whether Malfoy has really stopped whatever he was trying to do?”

“I fear that he has.”

Ron stiffened. Harry tried not to draw his wand, the way he was learning to when he practiced beside Ron in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and asked, “Fear, sir?”

Dumbledore turned to him, his face haggard. “Ah, Harry.” He glanced once at Ron, and then added, “What you hear in this room, Mr. Weasley, I expect you to keep as quiet as you have your part in Harry’s adventures thus far.”

“Of course, Headmaster.”

“Mr. Malfoy came to me this evening, and swore that he would give up his—pursuit of Voldemort’s ends in return for protection for him and his family. He provided memories of Malfoy Manor, where his parents currently are, so that we could go and rescue them.”

Harry closed his eyes. Too late. He licked his lips. His mouth tasted metallic. He had to force out the next words. “Did—what time was it, Professor Dumbledore?”

A warm hand touched his, and Harry started. Dumbledore was smiling at him kindly, even though the twinkle in his eyes had dimmed to the point that his face looked old and tired. 

“Do not blame yourself, Harry,” Dumbledore said quietly. “It was well before curfew. You would not have been asleep to see the vision.”

Harry just nodded. “But—that’s awfully fast, sir. How do you think Voldemort learned so fast about Malfoy deciding to switch sides?”

“I am afraid that Mr. Malfoy bears the Dark Mark, and what Tom can do with such evil magic, soul-magic, is beyond even my compass. I meant to make a study of the Mark someday, but I always put it off with other things I wished to do. And now…” Dumbledore lifted his darkening right hand, then dropped it again.

“I rather suspect, however, that rather than learning directly through Mr. Malfoy’s Mark, Voldemort gathered information from other students in the castle who have the Mark. There were probably some of them watching him to make sure he completed his task, and all they would have had to do was follow him here. I did not think such—security risks existed, or I would have urged him to be more careful.”

Harry just sat and stared at the floor. He didn’t know what he could do to make it better. But he knew what he most wanted at the moment.

He looked up. “Do you think Malfoy’s going to change back to being a Death Eater now that his mum’s dead?”

“No,” said Dumbledore, with a swift shake of his head, but his mouth tightened in a way Harry didn’t like. “It is not your concern, Harry,” he added, rather more sharply, when Harry tried to open his mouth. “We will handle the matter of sanctuary—that is, the Order of the Phoenix will. You are to concentrate on the matter you and I have been discussing the past few months.” His gaze bored into Harry.

At last, Harry nodded. He didn’t even have the excuse to spy on Malfoy anymore, he supposed, unless he did go back to whatever he’d been doing.

And that reminded him of something, “Sir,” he added, as Dumbledore started to turn towards his fire, “I think you might check Crabbe and Goyle. Malfoy used them as distractions sometimes to guard the Room of Requirement.”

“A good thought, Harry. Now, please return to your rooms. I will have a long night of work ahead of me, but there is no reason you should be deprived of more sleep than you have already lost.”

Ron had been silent all through the conversation and was silent most of the way down the stairs. But when they reached the bottom, he cleared his throat, and Harry looked at him. His eyes were as round as two moons.

“It’s intense. I don’t know how you do it, Harry.”

“I have lots of great friends,” Harry answered, and slung an arm around Ron’s shoulders, and led him back towards Gryffindor Tower.

*

Draco slowly woke. He sat up and cast a Lumos, then carefully looked around the interior of his bed curtains. They were still tied shut and spelled shut. He had no idea what could have woken him up, except some ache from the Dark Mark, and that was utterly quiet. Draco rubbed his arm anyway.

Still, nothing happened. He turned and opened the curtains to get started on the day. It was early, but no hour was too early for a shower. And it was important to act normal in case other Slytherins followed the Dark Lord and wanted to report departures from his usual routine.

“How was the Headmaster, Draco?”

Draco kept himself from flinching. He was afraid he froze for a second, though. And then, as Vincent started laughing from behind him, he decided he might as well turn around so he could see what direction the curse would come from.

Vincent stood there twirling his wand between his fingers, smiling in a vicious way. Draco thought for a second he probably practiced it in the mirror. Then he carefully decided to stop thinking about that. He was already in danger. He couldn’t afford any distractions.

Heads started popping out of curtains around them. The only one Draco was interested in was Greg, to see if he would come over to join Vincent. But he only looked as confused as ever. Draco focused on Vincent and asked, “Why?” It was useless to ask “what.” 

Vincent moved a step nearer and whispered, “All those years you paid more attention to Potter than you did to us. Did you think we’d ignore it forever?” He gestured at Greg, who still stared at them. “No. There are other people than you who can undergo pain and make sacrifices. And who can notice when someone does something that he’d have no reason to do. Unless he was doing something stupid like betraying the Dark Lord.”

Draco felt for a second as though someone had plunged him into ice water. Vince and Greg knew the basics of his plan, and they’d taken the Mark, but they’d kept their voices low around Blaise and Theo for exactly the reason that the two of them had kept their loyalties hidden. And Draco didn’t think Blaise and Theo had suddenly made an alliance with his bodyguards that excluded Draco. They would at least have tried to feel Draco out first. Vincent must be so confident if he was speaking out like this that…

It meant Draco’s life was in danger. Here. Now. Draco felt his breathing shift into hyperventilating, and he worked his way back, aware of obstacles, mind racing through dueling lessons.

He might actually have lost. After all, Vincent was cleverer than Draco had thought, and he might know more destructive spells, too.

But then Vincent sealed his own fate.

“You might want to ask the Dark Lord,” said Vincent, and he was grinning almost insanely now, “how dear Mummy is doing.”

Draco made another mental leap, and knew he had arrived at the correct conclusion as certainly as he’d known from Vincent’s words that his game was up.

And grief and rage exploded inside him at the same moment as he moved, wand flicking, spells racing through him and off his tongue that he’d never tried, that he’d only ever seen when he’d watched his aunt dueling hapless Aurors.

Adoleo cutem! Intercutis plumbum! Anguicomus!

The others were smart enough to duck back, but the curses all hit Vincent, the way they were meant to. Vincent screamed as his skin immediately burned and blistered, and his hair turned into snakes and coiled around his ears, hissing as they pumped poison into his veins.

But he screamed loudest and longest because of the bulge that was growing on his stomach. Draco knew why. His second curse had poured boiling lead under Vincent’s skin, and it was going to kill him in a few seconds.

Finite Incantatem!

Draco whirled on Blaise, ready to kill him, too, but Blaise dropped his wand on the floor and raised his hands. “He has to live,” he said, dark face still, eyes never moving from Draco’s face. “He has to live, so he can be punished and they can get details from him. You know that, Draco.”

Draco snarled at him, wordless. The rage pounding in him demanded satisfaction.

“Killing him is too easy.”

And that finally brought Draco back, although not for the reasons Blaise intended. Draco wasn’t thinking about justice or even punishing Vincent. He knew Vincent hadn’t been the one who had killed his mother.

Draco had to live. He had one person to care about now: his father. He had to live and get his father away from the Dark Lord and into Dumbledore’s safety.

Draco had only ever had his family to care about. He had made a mistake by expanding his heart to try to take in friends and the Dark Lord. So now, he would live so he could make sure the Malfoy family lived.

And I will use whoever I have to, he thought as he stood there, watching Blaise and Theo bind and Stun Vincent and Gregory try to awkwardly apologize for his mother’s death. Dumbledore. Potter. Myself.

Only the people I love are important.

Chapter Text

“You have no reason to doubt Mr. Crabbe’s word, then?”

Dumbledore’s voice was low and dejected. Draco, sitting in the chair in front of his desk where he had sat less than twelve hours earlier and staring down at his wand clutched in his hands, shook his head.

“I only have my father left now,” he said, and lifted his head. His head and heart still felt as if they were filled with cold, black, sparkling dust—coal dust, maybe. “Can you move faster to rescue him?”

Dumbledore peered at Draco over his glasses for a little while. Then he sighed and said, “I asked you the question not because I really doubt that your mother is dead, my boy. And for that, I am sorry.”

Draco just nodded without letting his face move. He had a question that was important, and Dumbledore hadn’t answered it. “Can you move faster to get my father out?”

Dumbledore shook his head. “The main obstacle in finding Order of the Phoenix members to guard you and guide your family to safety is your father, Mr. Malfoy. I doubt they would have minded helping you or your mother that much.”

If their last name is Weasley, they probably would. But Draco said nothing about that. He only let his mask slip a little. “He’s the only member of my family I have left.” 

And the only tether you have on me. If Dumbledore didn’t get his father out, then Draco had no reason to stay with him or ask for the “sanctuary” that hadn’t done a single bloody thing to help his family so far. He would go independent and find a way to free Father himself.

He could do it. He knew Malfoy Manor better than anyone here would, and he was in the state of mind where he would use Dark magic on anyone and everyone now. And he would, if Dumbledore didn’t move soon.

“You may think that you have no reason to live right now, Mr. Malfoy,” Dumbledore began, and Draco looked at him. “But I promise you do.”

“I have a reason to live,” Draco said, his voice gaining in strength. He couldn’t believe Dumbledore had misinterpreted his behavior so badly. “I just don’t have a reason to cooperate with you if you don’t bring him to me soon.”

Dumbledore sat back behind his desk and regarded Draco with a faint frown. Draco stared back. He wondered for a moment what Dumbledore had thought he would do. Simply give up? Go along with Dumbledore’s side because it was the right thing to do?

I expected him to learn at least that much from the Dark Lord. Threatening the people I care about it is the only way to get me to do something. I’ll only be loyal to the people who can protect them or help me. 

It pleased Draco, in a hard, cold way, to know this much about himself. He still didn’t know if he and his father would survive. But he did know what he wanted, and what lengths he was willing to go to to get it.

It was knowledge he’d never had before.

“You must realize,” Dumbledore murmured, “that these things take time. Besides the guards we have to arrange, we have to plan a raid on Malfoy Manor—no small thing, even with the notes you gave us. If Voldemort is in residence—”

Draco flinched, and then tensed. He was going to train himself out of reacting to that name. People would probably run around saying it all the time, if only to test him. 

“I know they take time. But you already took enough time that my mother died of it. If my father dies too, I might as well run away on my own, and see if there’s some way to take down the Dark Lord outside your Order of the Phoenix.”

Dumbledore stroked his beard and looked at his phoenix as if he held the answers. Draco looked with him. Fawkes sat on his perch staring at Draco with bright eyes, but he didn’t make a sound.

“Very well,” said Dumbledore, something like a sigh in the back of his voice. “We will make getting your father out of the Dark Lord’s custody a top priority, Mr. Malfoy. In the meantime, I ask that you be open to meeting with me at any time, in order to ask questions that we may have about your home.”

Draco nodded and stood up. “What’s going to happen to Crabbe?” he asked. He was wondering if he would have to deal with consequences from the other Marked students he suspected were in Slytherin, and how openly Crabbe got arrested or expelled would alter their behavior.

“He will be arrested and taken by the Aurors to be interrogated. Indeed, he should be in the Ministry already.” Dumbledore paused as if he wanted to see what Draco would say to that, but Draco had nothing to say, at least right now. “He’s of age, which means they may try him for conspiring with a Dark Lord. They can certainly try him for Dark magic.”

“And me?”

Dumbledore gave him a chiding look. “It would certainly help your cause if you didn’t reach for Dark Arts so readily in the future, my boy.”

Draco said nothing to that. He wasn’t Dumbledore’s boy, but he didn’t need to go around making that point constantly. He stood there meeting Dumbledore’s eyes, and again the Headmaster sighed in a little aggravation. He prefers it when everyone plays his games.

“Your roommates are willing to vouch both for your extreme agitation and that you used spells that were—less harsh than the reality.”

I’ll need to make sure I let both Blaise and Theo know they have my gratitude. What Draco could do for them was limited, and the way they’d moved didn’t automatically mean they weren’t loyal to the Dark Lord. It could be that they had some kind of rivalry with Vince in the Death Eater ranks and saw this as the best way to get rid of him, or even that they thought the Dark Lord was better shed of such tediously stupid servants.

But it did mean that Draco didn’t have to worry about them as much. And he would take any lessening of his burden right now.

Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix wouldn’t take as much of his burden as Draco had first hoped. It only made sense to try and spread it around to others.

*

Severus bent his head over Albus’s wrist. The dark stain of the curse hadn’t advanced past the place it had been three days ago. Severus was cautiously pleased.

Not in hope of Albus living. There was, ultimately, no hope for that. But it might mean he could live as much as two or three months past Severus’s initial prognosis.

“We must do something to bring the Malfoy boy under control.”

Severus felt his muscles tense, but he only grunted. There was little enough he could do. Albus knew all about Severus’s efforts to argue Draco into sanctuary, which Severus had done because he could not bear to see someone else make a stupid mistake of the same magnitude as his had been. 

Severus had convinced Draco to ask for it at last. But with Narcissa Malfoy dead, Draco was going to change. There was little enough Severus could do to stop that, and it might be irresponsible to Draco’s future survival if he tried.

“I had hoped the offer of rescuing his parents would be enough, but with Narcissa,” said Albus, and then simply let his glance rest on his fingers. Severus remained stubbornly silent. Assisting Albus in the decisions he wanted to make, that he was determined to make, could also be irresponsible. 

“I am afraid he might decide to risk a suicide charge. Or he might decide to root out every other student who is a Death Eater. Or simply take his father and flee.”

Those decisions would make sense from his point of view. But Severus knew he also wouldn’t gain anything, and wouldn’t help Draco, by saying that. So he was quiet.

Albus sighed and said, “There is something else I need to tell you, my boy.” Severus felt his back go up as it always did at that form of address, but he only grunted again. “About what I hinted before, concerning the way I was injured.” He waved his hand. “About Horcruxes.”

Severus’s back tensed so much that he knew he was near to triggering another spasm, like the kind he got when he bent over his cauldrons for too long. Once, he hadn’t thought he would ever live long enough to grow this old.

He stepped back and surrendered to asking. “What about them?”

“Voldemort has several,” Albus said, more eager as he always was before an audience, “although two of them have been destroyed. And I know where one of them is that I did not know before.” He paused. “Inside Harry’s scar.”

Severus felt his eyes widen before he could hold it back, little though he liked playing to Albus’s sense of drama. Then it was too late to go back on his startled reaction anyway, and he simply folded his arms, and stared, and asked, “Why does this matter to me?”

“Because I think there may be a way to draw the Horcrux out and benefit young Mr. Malfoy at the same time.”

Albus’s eyes bored knowingly into him. And because of Lily, Severus thought, with a resigned glare back. Always.

“How, then?” Severus had to react, but he could at least make sure that his answers were as small and sparing as he could make them.

“There is a bond between Harry and Voldemort because of the Horcrux. A soul-bond, I suppose you could call it.” Albus chuckled, but Severus remained unmoving, and at least this time it earned him an explanation. “That was the cause of the dreams and visions that you attempted to train out of Harry with Occlumency last year.”

“Such a cause would require more than Occlumency to abate it.”

“Exactly. And if I forge a soul-bond between Harry and young Mr. Malfoy, I believe we may be able to do that.”

Severus felt as though someone had slammed a fist into his stomach. He wheezed a moment, then snapped, “Have you forgotten that Mr. Malfoy came to you for protection?”

“Of course not.” Albus was either actually ignorant or pretending to be, and Severus had never been able to tell the difference. “This will protect him. Harry would feel compelled to protect anyone who was bound to him with his life, and his friends and Order members will be much more willing to accept that Mr. Malfoy is worthy of protection, as well. And the bond should draw Harry’s soul away from the Horcrux. Difficulty in separating them is the main problem with the Horcrux having remained in Harry for so long. I would try to remove it and put it into a different object that we could destroy, but it is intertwined with Harry’s own soul now. If his soul has another bond, however, and a whole and much purer one at that, it should start to leave Voldemort's shard behind.”

Severus shook his head. He wanted to speak through the thick betrayal clogging his throat, although he suspected that Albus wouldn’t understand the source of Severus’s objections even if he could actually voice them. 

But he wanted to say: Draco is not a tool. Not a thing to be used in the saving of Potter. I chose to give you a vow to protect Lily’s son and place myself into your hands; use me as you will. But you will not use Draco in the same way.

He could not say it. Albus would ignore his objections and go ahead and do it anyway. If he had come this far in his consideration of it, he probably already knew exactly how he would establish the soul-bond, which of the several complicated rituals he would use and how to make sure that neither Potter nor Draco died from the shock.

Severus said only, “And will the bond afford any benefit to Mr. Malfoy beyond the extra protection that Potter and his defenders might feel compelled to give him?”

“I think it will, Severus. I think it will cure what I have long found Mr. Malfoy’s most appalling fault. He cares only about his family, and perhaps a little about his friends in Slytherin—but he was certainly quick enough to curse one of them when he found out that that friend might have betrayed him to Voldemort. Contact with a pure soul like Harry’s can heal Mr. Malfoy as much as it will teach Harry’s soul what an untainted one looks like.”

Severus looked at the wall. He was thinking of another man called Peter Pettigrew, and how Albus certainly had felt Sirius Black’s drive for vengeance on him—a drive sustained through twelve years of captivity and possible insanity—was understandable after Pettigrew betrayed him. Yet somehow, Draco should have spared Vincent Crabbe and done nothing. 

It isn’t even what Gryffindors would do. It is because Draco was Sorted into the wrong house and has the wrong sort of family, and Albus will never look past that.

Severus said only, “I shall leave you to explain it to them. I have no desire to be there.”

“I thought, Severus, that you might approach Mr. Malfoy and—”

No.”

Albus paused. Severus wondered for a moment whether he had actually broken through to the man, whether he would see that this was making Draco a tool and a sacrifice for the sake of Potter.

But Albus said only, “If that is the way you feel, Severus. Of course.”

Severus turned and stalked silently out of the room. As he went down the stairs, his mind returned to another memory. This time, it was of the owl that had come to him last summer, from Narcissa Malfoy, saying she had a favor to ask of him.

But there was another owl a day later, saying that she couldn’t come to Spinner’s End now, because the Dark Lord watched her too closely. And that had been the last Severus had heard of Narcissa Malfoy.

For Draco’s sake, he wished she could have had the chance to come.

*

“What?”

Harry felt as if his mouth was made of paper. No matter how he tried, all he could get to come out was that little croaking word.

Dumbledore folded his hands on his desk and watched Harry with dim eyes. On his perch, Fawkes was preening endlessly, making little fire-colored feathers drift down to the floor. Harry thought that maybe Fawkes was just as upset as he was.

“I understand it’s a lot to ask of you, Harry. But young Mr. Malfoy knows Occlumency, and he can shut off his own emotions so you won’t feel them. The soul-bond will basically be identical to the one you share with Voldemort. You will feel Mr. Malfoy’s emotions—when his side of the link is open—and you can catch visions of where he is at the moment. But that is all. There will be no voices in your head, no ability to control your body or compel you to do something.”

Harry stared at his hands. He wanted to say it wasn’t even the bond that bothered him.

Well, all right, no, that was a lie, sharing his soul with Malfoy bothered him a whole hell of a lot. But far worse was the news that he had apparently done it with Voldemort for years.

“When did you figure out I was a Horcrux, sir?” he whispered.

“I started to have my suspicions third year. I had time, then, to investigate the diary, and realize it was a far more powerful artifact than I had thought it was. Nothing ordinary could have contained the shade of the young Tom Riddle and also drained the life from young Ginevra.”

Harry just nodded. He wondered for a minute why Dumbledore called people “young” all the time. Maybe he just didn’t know what else to call them. Or maybe from his perspective, everyone else was young.

You’re stalling. You have to think about this. You have to think about having part of Voldemort’s soul.

“And the discussion I had with you, about why you could speak Parseltongue?” Dumbledore looked directly into Harry’s eyes, and Harry felt his panic calm down. “I told you Voldemort had transferred some of his powers to you. Of course, what I did not know at the time—I was under the power of an unfortunate experience in my youth, when I trusted someone who told me it was possible—was that that could not have happened. Voldemort would have had to perform an extremely complicated ritual using his own blood.”

“So the powers come from me being a Horcrux.”

“They do.” said Dumbledore, with a slow nod.

“Is that also why the Hat wanted to place me in Slytherin?”

“That I cannot answer, Harry,” said Dumbledore with infinite gentleness. “What I do know is that you have made the choices that placed you in Gryffindor consciously, with your eyes wide open.”

Harry nodded, a little unwillingly. He wondered if he would have known what to choose if he’d come to Hogwarts like a Muggleborn, not knowing anything about the Houses.

Well, That’s still not a good comparison. Hermione’s Muggleborn, and she’d read all about the Houses before she came into the school.

“All right.” Harry licked his lips a little and tried to remember what he’d read about soul magic, which wasn’t very much. The idea of Horcruxes was still new, and the thought that he had one in himself was just…

Harry’s mind reeled. His vision darkened. He found himself leaning over without remembering that he’d decided to, his elbows braced on the arms of his chair while his terrified breath rasped in and out of his lungs.

“I’m sorry, Harry. I’m so sorry. I should never have placed such a burden on your young shoulders.”

Harry shook his head blankly as he felt Dumbledore’s hand on his shoulder. A second later, Fawkes was perched on the other one, trilling softly, his tail spread as though he was holding off danger. Harry turned his head and buried his face in Fawkes’s soft breast feathers.

“Ask all the questions you need to, Harry.”

Hoping Dumbledore could understand him without him moving his face, Harry asked, “Will we have to have sex?”

“That I should have given you that impression.” Dumbledore’s voice was soft and mournful. “No.”

“Will we—be able to talk in each other’s heads? Will one of us die if the other one dies? Will we have to spend a bunch of time with each other?” Harry rushed the questions out, and Fawkes crowded closer and closer to him, wings spread and drooping.

“The answer to all of those is no,” said Dumbledore. “Actually, I would not have chosen a bond that required you to spend a large amount of time together, as you will need to return to your relatives’ for the summer and Mr. Malfoy will be going into hiding with his father as soon as I can arrange for suitable guards.”

Harry nodded, and finally pulled his face away from Fawkes. Dumbledore was looking at him with bright sorrow in his eyes. Harry swallowed. “Fine. Then—it’s a lot like the bond I have with Voldemort, just—not Horcrux-like.”

Dumbledore shook his head calmly. “And these bonds, or ones like them, have been used in the past in times of war. It is useful to be able to tell from emotions when a comrade is in danger and where they are, if necessary.”

Harry could see that. He listened to Dumbledore talk soothingly about it, and some of his fears dissolved.

Besides, there was only one big fear now, one that he had to give everything else up to if he was going to avoid it. He didn’t want to be a Horcrux for Voldemort anymore. If this was a way to get him to stop being one, he would do anything.

It’s probably going to suck for Malfoy more than me. Harry couldn’t imagine he would take the news calmly.

*

The phoenix took off with a squawk as Draco shattered its perch beneath it.

Dumbledore sat in the middle of a shimmering shield that Draco hadn’t noticed before, bouncing off the splinters. He only blinked patiently when Draco turned his wand on him, but the twinkle in his eyes was more like the light shining off steel.

“Do you think you can defeat me and stop this, Mr. Malfoy? Tell me the truth now.”

Draco said nothing. He had to arrange his words in the right order and stop the bile from burning down his throat. But once he had them ready, he opened his mouth and spat them out at the man who just sat there and watched him.

“You pretended you really wanted to give me and my parents shelter. You pretended you really cared what happened to us. But you don’t, do you? This is just a way to spare Potter from having to deal with the Horcrux and fight the war. If I’d just come to you and asked for shelter, then you wouldn’t have granted it. I have to have some strategic importance in the war or I’m useless.”

“The soul-bond will provide protection for you as well. The Order of the Phoenix members I mentioned are all eager for Harry’s victory and will be more than happy to protect his bondmate. And Harry risks his all for those people he cares for…”

Draco opened his mouth to vomit forth some more words that Dumbledore deserved, and then paused and closed it. He could feel his throat still thrumming with the desire to spit, but he did have to think about something else.

Harry risks his all for those people he cares for.

More than likely, Dumbledore was only spewing what he thought would convince Draco, what he thought Draco needed to hear before he would surrender. But what if part of it was true? Draco had certainly seen how stubbornly Potter held to his friends’ sides, and there were both rumors and solid stories about the risks he had taken for that insane godfather of his, and he’d even challenged Draco on a broom in their first year for a nobody like Longbottom. Just because he saw them threatened.

Draco breathed out. He met Dumbledore’s gaze a little off-center, to prevent Legilimency, and said, “I’ll go along with this.”

He didn’t need to reveal all his convictions and plans right away, did he? Not like a Gryffindor. 

He had already decided he was only going to do what the people who mattered to him needed. Dumbledore didn’t have to know that. And Draco had never heard of a soul-bond exactly the same as the one Dumbledore was proposing, but he had read about others like it.

He knew soul-bonds created friendships and comradeships, because they had to. Souls were pulled closer to each other. Sharing emotions taught people more about each other. It was one tool used to make arranged marriages succeed. If the people in the soul-bond didn’t know each other before the marriage, they would learn each other afterwards.

That meant Draco would inevitably come to care a little for Potter, which was probably another thing Dumbledore intended, so his favorite would have another layer of protection.

But it also meant Potter could—would—come to care at least a little for Draco. And Potter protected what was his to protect fiercely.

Draco bowed his head and listened to some more rambling about purity of souls and how brave Draco was, while he thought. 

He needed weapons to save his father. He would have a formidable protector on his side once the bond was performed. He would have someone who would probably give Draco a lot of sympathy even if Draco couldn’t exactly pay back the debt, the way Potter had with Longbottom.

And if souls drew each other towards them, and Dumbledore thought Potter’s would separate from the Horcrux shard in him…

Well. As Potter came closer to Draco, he would drift further from Dumbledore, as well. Which would be an excellent means of revenge.

You’re forging your own doom, old man. And you don’t even know it.

Chapter Text

Draco stood with his arms folded on the parapet of the Astronomy Tower, staring over it at the ground below. It was hard to see, especially with dim stars and a hidden moon, but he found that appropriate.

He shifted to feel the weight of his wand along his arm. He had spoken to Dumbledore that evening about how efforts to protect his father were going, and the answer was apparently “going.” Draco snorted. Of course they would be. 

Dumbledore had said something about being afraid that Slytherin Death Eaters would discover what was going on and stop them if he told Draco much more. Draco had pointed out that he knew Occlumency and the only Death Eater with much chance of spying on him in his rooms was already in the hands of the Ministry.

It hadn’t changed anything.

He doesn’t trust me.

Part of him could acknowledge that Dumbledore was probably right not to. Draco would never go back to the Dark Lord again, not after what he had done to Mother, but he might take information the Order of the Phoenix gave him and use it to act on his own.

But that wasn’t the point. The point was that Draco could have given an Unbreakable Vow, and Dumbledore would still act like he wasn’t trustworthy until Draco was in the bond with Potter. Because, for Dumbledore, “trustworthy” meant “under his control.”

Like Potter is. And pathetic with being that way.

“Malfoy?”

Draco set his back and his hands, and got ready to whirl around and draw his wand if he had to. Was Potter here to spy on him for Dumbledore? An awfully strange coincidence, for him to come to the Astronomy Tower now, a place where Draco had not only gone to be alone but where Potter had no reason to be.

But Potter only added, “Are you up here?” and, for a wonder, didn’t sound confrontational. Draco turned with narrowed eyes and silently balanced feet.

Potter was standing near the staircase, looking around. A second later he saw Draco and nodded. He didn’t come towards him, though. He stepped off the staircase and walked towards the opposite parapet.

Draco stared. He couldn’t believe that Potter had come up here for any reason but something to do with him. And Potter had been saying his name. How dare he now act as if he didn’t care whether Draco was here or not?’

“Did Dumbledore send you?”

“No. I thought we should talk about the bond before he sets it up, though. He was telling me he wanted to do it tomorrow night.”

Draco opened his mouth to comment on Dumbledore not telling him about that, then closed it again. Now that he thought back, Dumbledore had probably mentioned it. But Draco had had other things on his mind at the moment, and real reason to shrug it off. 

He stared at Potter’s calmly turned back. The wind tugged at his hair, but unlike Draco, Potter made no motion to reach up to it. Then again, the wind probably couldn’t make his hair look any worse.

“Why did you agree to the bond?” That was the most important question Draco was actually willing to ask.

Potter nodded, as if responding to the silent importance behind the words as well as the actual question. “Because Dumbledore told me that it doesn’t have some of the consequences I assumed it did. We don’t need to spend a lot of time around each other. You can use Occlumency to block my thoughts, so you’ll have some mental privacy. It won’t be any worse than sharing my head with Voldemort.” Draco felt as though someone had stabbed an arrow through him at the name, still, but Potter went on. “You probably won’t torture people to death.”

Draco paused. “You saw my mother die.”

“Yes, I did.”

Draco said nothing. He wouldn’t have wanted to see that memory. On the other hand, he wished he could take it whole out of Potter’s head and transplant it into his own. He didn’t want to share his mother with anyone.

“Why aren’t you mocking me?”

“Because while I don’t know a whole lot of what it’s like to be you, I know what it’s like to not have your parents there when you want them.”

Potter turned around at last. For the first time, Draco wished it wasn’t so dark on top of the Tower. He would have liked to stare into Potter’s eyes and figure out whether his expression matched his words.

“I still think it would matter more to you than this. Being bonded to your worst enemy.”

“I am already bonded to my worst enemy. This is part of the solution.”

Draco stared at him. Questions tumbled through him, and then an entirely ridiculous one came out his mouth. “You mean I’m not your worst enemy?”

This time, he knew he didn’t miss either the quick lift of Potter’s eyebrows or the swift smile that followed. “Get back to me when you manage to travel back in time and make me an orphan, then possess a professor and drink unicorn blood, then return as your sixteen-year-old self and make me have to fight a basilisk, then resurrect yourself from my blood in a graveyard.”

Draco leaned slowly back. He thought, and Potter didn’t interrupt him. Neither did he leave. He stood there, and Draco’s mind got to its conclusion much more quickly than he might have otherwise.

The Dark Lord is my worst enemy, too.

He had already planned for this bond to work, no matter how many snarls and insults he had to hold back. It was a pleasant surprise to find out he had even this much in common with Potter.

“You really don’t mind.”

“I wish there was some other way to do things. But then, I found out what Dumbledore told me about my…soul. I don’t want that. I want you in my head a lot more than I want that. And Dumbledore says you can help me get rid of it. That’s that. 

“I was more surprised that you agreed,” Potter added a second later. “I mean, you don’t seem to get much out of it, other than I suppose Dumbledore will trust you more once we’re bonded to each other.”

Draco thought about getting angry. But his anger was cold ashes, and he couldn’t persuade them to fire up right now.

“I get your protection. I get the Order of the Phoenix’s help to free my father. I care about my father more than anyone else.”

“Yes, I understand that.”

Do you?” Potter might say he understood losing a mother, but he couldn’t remember living with his parents. If someone had asked Draco to think about who Harry Potter valued most—not that he would have much time to waste on such a pointless exercise—Draco would have said it was probably his best friends. Maybe the Muggle family he lived with and wasted so few words on.

“Yes,” Potter said. “If I had a family, of course I would want to save them.”

“Then you understand what I was doing this year?” Dumbledore. Dumbledore must have told him.

Potter stared at him. “No. I don’t know what that was. But it makes sense that you would do it mostly because Voldemort threatened your parents.”

Draco turned his head. He didn’t even know what he was feeling now. The desperation, and the deadly desire to free his father, and the determination, and the anger under that, ready to flower into fire after all if he gave it the right kindling. But he didn’t know what he should feel towards Potter.

Soon you’ll know. All the time. You’ll know if Potter says something that sounds kind and he’s mocking you underneath.

Draco didn’t know what to do with that revelation, either. He stood there and thought. Potter stirred, though, and moved past him, towards the staircase.

“You don’t care that you’re being bonded to me?” Draco asked again.

“If there was an alternative, I would have taken it. But there’s not an alternative.”

“Don’t give me that, Potter. No one’s really that self-sacrificing and heroic.”

“I suppose you’ll see my real motives tomorrow.”

And Potter went down the stairs, and left Draco staring after him. Potter hadn’t sounded bothered about the revelation, which meant…

Does he just not care? Has the Dark Lord threatened his life so many times that he’s stopped caring about what he does with it? 

But no, Draco didn’t hear that kind of resignation in his voice. He had known that resignation himself, so he would have known what it sounded like. He’d lain awake at night a lot in the past year and tried to think of some way to get his parents out that would let him just give up. He didn’t mind dying if it would save them, giving up if it would save them. He had never wanted to do the Dark Lord’s impossible task in the first place.

No, Draco didn’t understand Potter any more than he ever had, and he didn’t know whether Potter had come to offer him understanding or something else.

Well. I suppose he’s right and I’ll understand him better after tomorrow.

*

“Potter.”

Of course Snape is here. Dumbledore had at least warned Harry that he would be. Something about the Occlumency and Legilimency that apparently helped form the bond. Harry wondered why Dumbledore couldn’t do it himself, when he was also an Occlumens and a Legilimens, but he hadn’t asked.

He didn’t—he didn’t care that much about the how, he had decided. It was one reason he hadn’t gone to the library with Hermione and done the reading about bonds she’d offered to help him with. He suspected she had done it herself and would be waiting to help him after this was done.

Which he did appreciate. But knowing about it wouldn’t change it. He still had to go through with it. He might as well get on with things.

“Professor,” was all Harry said, as he took off his Invisibility Cloak and balled it up to slide into his robe pocket. Snape stared at him the entire time. Merlin knew what he was thinking. Harry glanced around the cavern the Room of Requirement had turned into. It was made of smooth black stone that shone like oil in the light of the roaring fire in the center. Harry couldn’t see any windows or decorations.

When he looked at the fire, he also noticed it wasn’t burning on a hearth, just what looked like a circle of rocks. 

Snape moved a little to the side. He probably wanted Harry to ask what he was doing. Harry wasn’t about to oblige him. He linked his hands together behind his back, because touching something would probably get Snape to bark at him about ruining the ritual preparations, and waited.

The fire blazed hot. Snape was pouring something from a potions vial onto the floor. Harry didn’t think he was making a circle around the fire, although Harry’s vague ideas of bonding rituals told him a circle was probably required. Maybe he was making a small one on the stone in front of him.

“Why did you agree to this, Potter?”

Harry blinked and turned to Snape. “Because Dumbledore told me it would help get the Horcrux out of me,” he said. Dumbledore had insisted he trusted Snape with everything, so Harry would take him at his word.

“And you believe him? I noticed that you did no research the past week to find out if it was the truth.”

“I don’t have any reason to distrust Professor Dumbledore, Professor.”

“You are a fool.”

That’s Snape. Harry would have liked to snap back, but he’d done his own kind of preparation this past week, thinking about what was important. He kept his mouth shut and concentrated on the sound of his own breathing.

Snape abruptly appeared in front of Harry, between him and the fire, and Harry started and reached for his wand before he thought better of it. Then he forced himself to unclench his fingers. He was sure Snape would do worse than scold him for drawing on a professor.

“You’ve never thought about why you got away with things?” Snape hissed at him. Harry shuddered a little. The basilisk had nothing on angry Slytherins. “You’ve never thought about why the Headmaster favors you? You’re going to march to the end he chose for you with his eyes trustingly shut?”

“I know now that he favored me partially because he thinks I can destroy Voldemort—”

Do not say the name.”

And finally, long past the point where he thought he should have been able to, Harry lost his temper. He took a step forwards, his nose almost smashing against Snape’s, and Snape was the one to back up a step. Harry grinned. That felt so good, like a jolt that had got his heart beating again.

“I can say it if I want to. I have a piece of his bloody soul inside me, don’t I? And that makes me disgusted like you wouldn’t believe. Headmaster Dumbledore said this would help. I’m willing to trust him, yeah. I don’t think he’s lying about this, and I don’t think he’s lying about the bond making it better. So there.”

Snape didn’t even take points for the language. He only stood there with his robes gathered around him, and then he not-quite-snapped, “So you think this bond will also be for Mr. Malfoy’s good?”

“I talked to him yesterday. He told me what he hoped to get from it. I understood where he’s coming from. We can both live with it. I can, anyway. A lot more easily than I can with being Voldemort’s Horcrux.”

“Well put, Harry. Is the potions circle ready, Severus?”

Harry turned around. Dumbledore had walked into the room, and behind him came Malfoy, walking as though there was a straight, clear road in front of him. He nodded once to Harry before his eyes flicked away.

“It is.” Snape seemed to have tucked whatever strange thing had made him confront Harry fully away. He turned and took something else out of his pocket. Harry squinted at it. It looked like a huge ruby, but it was so dark that even the fire didn’t illuminate it well. Now and then Harry just thought he could see a deep red flash from it. “When you are ready, Headmaster.”

“Now, boys.” Dumbledore turned and faced them. The way he was standing, the firelight caught all too well on his black and withered hand. Harry flinched, but reminded himself they were doing this partially to get rid of Horcruxes and Voldemort’s evil forever. “You’ve read about the ritual.”

“Yes.”

“No.”

Dumbledore bent a soft, disappointed gaze on Harry. “I would have expected better of you, Harry.”

“It’s going to happen anyway, and I’m going to go through with it no matter what you ask of me.” Harry ignored the sensation of Malfoy gaping at him. Maybe he hadn’t really believed what Harry had said on the Astronomy Tower yesterday. Well, that wasn’t Harry’s fault. “Nothing you can do would put me off, Headmaster. I didn’t need to read about it.”

“You didn’t want to know what you needed to do? How like your father.”

Dumbledore raised a hand, but Harry answered back anyway. “You would have told me what I needed to do anyway, because you wouldn’t trust me if I said that I did read it—”

“Enough, Harry. The first step, boys, is that you need to bare the part of you that possesses a connection to Voldemort.”

Harry caught a glimpse of Malfoy rolling up his left sleeve, and shuddered a little. The Dark Mark was going to be ugly. He hoped he could calmly look at it. He pushed his fringe up and bound it to the top of his head with a quick Sticking Charm.

Snape snorted. Harry ignored him.

“That will do,” said Dumbledore. Harry thought, from the sharp twinkle in his eyes, that he was on the verge of laughing himself, but Harry wouldn’t mind it from him. “Now. Harry, you need to step back until Professor Snape tells you to stop. You’ll be inside the potions circle on the eastern side of the fire, and Mr. Malfoy, you’ll need to back up on the western side of the fire until I tell you to stop.”

Hoping that Snape, with his random hostility towards the bond, wouldn’t give Harry the wrong instructions, Harry backed up slowly. He felt his heel touch something slick at the moment Snape barked, “Stop.”

Harry did, and then glanced across the fire. Malfoy was already in place. He watched Harry with intense pale eyes. That helped distract Harry somewhat from the Mark on his arm like a massive bruise. 

“Right,” Dumbledore said, nodding. “The circles of potions around you will attune you to each other. Luckily for us, you have the connections to Voldemort that will make your souls somewhat similar already.”

“A piece of the Dark Lord’s soul is inside my arm?”

Harry smiled a little. Malfoy had said that calmly, considering.

“No,” said Dumbledore soothingly. “Only that his magic in your Mark should respond to the Horcrux in Harry’s scar. We will not be bonding two complete strangers. This is one reason I’ve chosen a bond that replicates the one the Horcrux gives Harry.”

Dumbledore began to chant in Latin. Harry heard Snape pick it up from the fourth side of the fire. Harry supposed it was the northern one. That would fit Snape’s soul, he thought.

Although Dumbledore hadn’t really said what they should do, Harry kept his eyes locked on Malfoy’s across the flames. Malfoy only watched him with the same glitter in them, and Harry swallowed when he realized there was something writhing and twisting on Malfoy’s arm. He tried not to look at it.

Harry felt the first tug of something in his scar a minute later. He wrapped his arms around himself, but did nothing. If he had managed to survive Dumbledore telling him that he was a Horcrux, then he should be able to do the same thing now, when he was finally on the verge of getting rid of it.

The magic began to coil around him and Malfoy then, in a blazing mist that Harry could see making huge rings throughout the cavern. Dumbledore’s and Snape’s voices were getting sharper now, more urgent. 

Is the spell not working? 

But when the mist around them broke into fire, then Harry decided there wasn’t a problem. And then a chain of fire wrapped around his forehead, at the height of his scar, and the uncomfortable squirming he assumed was the Horcrux stopped.

At the same moment, a bracelet of blue flame wrapped around Malfoy’s arm. Malfoy shifted a little as if to ease some pressure, and then the blue flame whipped towards Harry, who was wearing his own red and gold.

Harry bowed his head a little. The chains connected in the middle, over the bonfire, and there was a smacking, rattling sound as though someone had slapped bones together.

Harry gasped. He felt that in his bones, something that had woken up and wasn’t the Horcrux. It was as if he had—another arm, a limb he’d never felt before, and it was numb and tingling and on the other side of the room. He wanted it with him.

He felt something else turn over and fall towards him, and looked up in time to see a lime-green light tumbling in a curtain from the ceiling of the cavern. He waited for it to touch him, since that seemed to be the right thing to do.

Then it inundated his head and shoulders, and a second later he screamed in agony.

*

Why is he over there? He needs to be closer.

Only the knowledge that they had to keep their feet in circles made of potions kept Draco from moving towards Potter. He clenched his teeth instead and watched as the curtain of mingled emotions touched Potter first. He had known it would. Potter had the “heavier” need for the bond, in the terminology of the books Draco had read. Dracowasn’t the one with a murderer’s soul-shard attached to his own. Therefore, the bond would root in Potter and grow towards Draco, and the magic would transform him more.

But Potter seemed not to have known that. He was screaming. He dropped to his knees, and Draco nearly surged forwards. If he got out of the circle of potions…

But even though Potter had knelt, he was apparently still inside the circle. Eerie green light draped his head and shoulders like the tendrils of plants. He turned his head, and he’d stopped screaming. Draco could, though, see a small line of blood running down the corner of his jaw where he’d bitten his tongue.

Potter

Draco wanted to go to him, but he needed the bond to work more than he needed Potter to be okay right now. He stared, and then saw a curtain falling towards him from his own section of the roof. This one was made of lacy, transparent light, but Draco knew it would hurt when it touched him. He shut his eyes.

Even so, the brilliance when it touched him was so bright it flared like a sunburst on his closed eyelids before the pain began.

It echoed around his head, more like a scream than anything. It burned in his limbs, and expanded until Draco thought it was worse than the Dark Lord’s Cruciatus. He felt as though someone had cast that curse on him, then cast it again.

And amid his bones tearing loose of their sockets and the scream that started to cramp in the back of his throat, there was something else. Not pain, but anxiety and the frantic desire to stand and run.

Not mine.

He was feeling Potter’s pain, too. Or his fear of it. The physical sensation wouldn’t actually translate across the bond, Draco knew. He had read all about it. He would be able to tell if Potter was happy when he rode his broom, for example, but not actually feel the broom beneath him or the wind in his face.

The lessening of the pain, that distance from it, meant he could think again. Draco got his hands beneath him—he had knelt without realizing it, too—and lifted his head so he could look across the fire between them. 

Potter, panting, turned his head to stare at him. He was no longer screaming or holding back a scream. Draco felt the wonder in his head, the expanding shock, and the desire to hold back the emotions.

Draco grimaced and closed his eyes. It was up to him to raise the Occlumency barriers. Potter would be hopeless at it, with those wide-open, clear, expressive eyes and the incurable honesty that made him do things like follow Draco up onto the Astronomy Tower.

Draco thought of the Tower, the sleek, rearing bulk of it, and he layered stone after stone in his mind until the wall was acceptable. Then he nodded and opened his eyes. The emotions had already dimmed to the point that they only lapped at the bottom of his tower. He could open the gates and let them in at any time, but they wouldn’t dominate him.

From the way Potter gaped at him, he was still feeling Draco’s. Draco shrugged. That was the way it was. He could block the assault of Potter’s, but his own still went flowing over the top of the tower like wind. If Potter actually cared about that, he would learn to build Occlumency walls of his own, and quickly.

Draco sneaked a look at his Dark Mark. The Mark had gone back to normal, and the sensation of something struggling and alive in it had vanished. He nodded and rose to his feet. All the while, he tested his ability to keep the tower intact while he stood and moved.

It was easier than he had thought, balancing that load in his mind. Draco shook his head a little. Yes, the whisper of Potter’s emotions grew stronger when he paid attention to them, but he didn’t have to pay attention to them. In time, it would become simply part of the murmuring background noise of his mind, the way the pain of a slight headache was for him.

But there was one aspect of the bond he remembered being mentioned that he was curious about. “Headmaster, you said we would also be able to see through each other’s eyes,” Draco said, turning carefully to face Dumbledore. “Does that start soon? Or do we have to consciously concentrate to find it?”

“I think Mr. Potter can explain that better than he can. He is the one with the most extensive experience with the bond to Voldemort.”

Draco hated the way he felt as though someone was digging splinters under his nails at the name, but he nodded and turned to Potter. Potter had stood up himself and was feeling with slow fingers over his scar. He glanced up at Draco, and the waves lapped with more strength at the base of the tower.

Draco ignored them.

“Most of the time, I can only see through his eyes in dreams,” Potter said, his voice getting stronger. “I haven’t ever tried to seek him out beyond that. And once I saw through the eyes of his snake, but that’s because she’s also—a Horcrux. I don’t think you have to worry about that.”

As if I was. Draco slowly slanted his head down. “So I simply have to maintain the Occlumency barrier in dreams?” The fact that he hadn’t immediately acquired double vision here was an excellent argument that it didn’t function all the time.

“Yes. Or, of course, you can let it down and have someone to fight beside you in your nightmares.”

Draco wondered incredulously why the Headmaster had thought that tactic would appeal to Slytherins. But he only nodded and said, “Yes, sir. I understand. What else do we need to do in the next few weeks?”

As Dumbledore began to explain, Draco was aware of Potter staring at him. He ignored that, too. Until he decided how much of Potter’s emotions he wanted to let through and how Potter was reacting to his, ignoring the bond was the best thing.

*

I never knew he was so different.

Harry had felt Malfoy’s fear jump when Dumbledore spoke Voldemort’s name. He had felt him tense when he rose to his feet, and he could sense what Malfoy felt now, a swirling mixture of impatience and worry and determination and—

“Are you paying attention, Harry? This affects you just as much.”

Harry flushed, knowing Snape was probably sneering at him, and focused on Dumbledore again. “Yes, Professor. You said that we should try to keep the barriers up during dreams, we don’t have to spend time with each other during the day, and I should keep away from Malfoy so if there are other spies in the school, they don’t suspect what’s going to happen.” Which was the disappearance of Malfoy and his father after the Easter holiday.

“Potter can parrot the words back without knowing what they meant,” Snape said. “Potter, I am going to give you a book on Occlumency. Pay attention to it.”

Malfoy’s amusement spiked and played up and down in the back of Harry’s head like someone on a piano. “Yes, Professor,” Harry said. 

I’ll have to learn to separate my emotions from Malfoy’s, and soon.

But he also knew that even if the bond was only ever one way, and he saw Malfoy in his dreams and felt Malfoy’s emotions but Malfoy didn’t with him, things were going to change. Because now Harry knew when Malfoy was upset or afraid or laughing or trying to hold it together, no matter what his face said.

It was…

I can know someone else. Someone who’s not Voldemort. 

And Malfoy didn’t feel the sharp loathing that Harry had suspected he would find. Malfoy didn’t seem disgusted that Harry was a Horcrux.

It was different than Harry had thought. It was something he could lean on, think about, be with. 

They’ll probably break the bond after the end of the war, Harry told himself, something Hermione had shared with him. Or even when the Horcrux shard is far enough away from my own soul. There’s no reason to have it continue after that.

But right now, Harry knew he would mourn such a prospect. And he and Malfoy had only been bonded five minutes.

He’s not just a reminder of what I’m fighting for. He could be someone I fight for.

Chapter Text

“I wish you wouldn’t watch Malfoy all the time, mate. It’s kind of disturbing.”

“It’s the bond making him do that, Ron. He can’t help it.”

Harry blinked furiously and turned his gaze away from the Slytherin table. It was hard not to simply watch Malfoy all the time, but Ron was right. It was disturbing. Malfoy had maintained his Occlumency barriers since their bonding ritual. It was clear that he wanted nothing to do with Harry’s emotions, and whatever would make the Horcrux in Harry drift closer to Malfoy’s soul, it would simply have to happen over time.

He turned back to his food just in time for Hermione to plop a huge book in his lap. Harry blinked and opened it to find gold-tinted illustrations staring up at him. One of them had a gem like the one he’d briefly glimpsed in Snape’s hands before the ritual started.

“What is this?” Harry asked, tracing a finger around the nearest of the images.

“The kind of research you should have let me do before you went into that room and agreed to the bond. It’s pretty profound, Harry. Soul-bonds always are.”

“What about when one of the bond members is an Occlumens and can block the other one out, though?”

Hermione immediately reached for another book that she appeared to have stacked on the chair next to her. Harry held up his hand. “Look, I’ll trust whatever you want to tell me about it.” Quickly skimming the words next to the images in the tome she’d handed him, he didn’t see anything that would have made him hesitate or change his mind. It mostly seemed to be a list of potions ingredients, probably the ones that Snape had used to make the circles on the cavern floor.

“An Occlumens can block out the emotions, but only one way,” Hermione recited. “He can prevent himself from feeling what you feel. But you still feel what he does.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. That’s why I was distracted the other day in Potions. I must have felt it when he was getting something right.”

Hermione seemed satisfied with that explanation, but Harry knew it wasn’t the whole truth. He had got distracted enough when he felt a burst of savage joy from Malfoy to drop a whole beryl in the potion he and Hermione were making instead of a crushed one, and they had ended up with a ruined potion while Malfoy had a perfect one.

But Harry had also glanced at Malfoy enough times to know that he was staring at a book on his lap below the desk. He didn’t think Malfoy’s triumph had anything to do with the potion.

“You need to spend more time with that book on Occlumency Professor Snape gave you, Harry.” Hermione paused to brush hair out of her face. Harry wondered when she would figure out that Ron was running his fingers through it on the back of her head and letting it escape from the hold of whatever charms she’d been using it to make it stay in place. “You can’t just go around feeling what he does all the time.”

“Why not?” Harry muttered. “It’s harmless enough.”

“It distracts you. Like it did during Potions. And with exams coming up…”

Harry sighed in response. Yes, he knew Hermione would care about that. And Snape had told him to pay attention to the book he’d given Harry the night after the bonding. He would probably demand it back soon. Harry would at least use a Duplicating Charm to make a copy of the most important parts before he gave it back. He didn’t think the first chapter, which was on the history of Occlumency and kept putting him to sleep, was important.

But he knew it would be a loss to him. It was…pleasant to feel Malfoy’s happiness, like little bubbles bursting against his teeth, and even his intent, focused anger. It had such a different flavor to the emotions he tasted from Voldemort.

Malfoy lifted his head and glared at him from across the Great Hall. Harry winced a little and returned his attention to his food.

He needed to remember that he wasn’t the only person in this bond, though, he thought. Malfoy hadn’t entered it of his own free will. It was basically the price for Dumbledore’s help in freeing his father, and Harry wouldn’t like it either if he’d been bonded to his worst enemy and he knew that so far, his only family was still a prisoner of the Death Eaters.

Although it’s hard to tell who I would care about. If Sirius was still alive, maybe. But the Dursleys? Voldemort could have them.

Then Harry sighed again. He wasn’t very good at deceiving himself. He would still want to rescue the Dursleys and stop Voldemort from torturing them, even though he wouldn’t want to see them again.

“Harry, you need to get some more sleep, and study that book. I’ll help you with studying if you want to—Ron!”

Hermione had finally caught on to who was disarranging her hair. Harry hid his smile and nodded in response, then fixed his stare firmly on his breakfast. Malfoy didn’t want to associate that closely with Harry and didn’t get distracted by the bond the way Harry did. Well, what else was new? Other than with Ron, Hermione, Sirius, and Professor Lupin, Harry’s only close bonds were unwanted ones. Voldemort and the Dursleys and the persona of the Boy-Who-Lived.

I’ll get through this. It’s nothing new.

*

Draco opened his eyes and went still at once. He wasn’t in the Slytherin common room, where he’d fallen asleep, or even his bedroom. He put a cautious hand on his wand and spent a moment gazing at the walls. 

They had a thick red sheen that made him wonder for a moment if he was in the Gryffindor common room. Dumbledore had said something about sharing dreams with Potter, and that made it a likely place to end up.

But then he saw the rippling light that flickered up and down the walls as if a candle was traveling underwater, and had to snort. No, he wasn’t in any place that solid. This was a dream, because Potter had predictably failed to learn Occlumency the way he should. 

Draco still kept his wand drawn, though. He’d heard the rumors about Potter’s nightmares.

For long enough that Draco grew impatient, the unstable red flickered up and down around him. He began to wonder if he would be trapped in this place all night, since his Occlumency barriers were solid but Potter’s weren’t, and what effect that would have on him when he woke up in the morning. He didn’t want to be tired when he was trying to plot the best way to rescue his father.

But then something changed. Black streaks cut through the red and charged around Draco, making him spin and leap. They looked like cracks, and the last thing he wanted was to fall down one of those inside Potter’s mind.

But the cracks halted a few centimeters from his feet, and then Draco heard a voice that made him drop into an instinctive kneeling position.

“You are certain no one knows of our target, Rabastan?”

The Dark Lord. Potter has a soul-connection to the Dark Lord. Draco breathed slowly around his fear. He had no idea how active the thing was from the Dark Lord’s side. At least once, he knew, the Dark Lord had used it to entice Potter with false visions of his godfather in trouble.

This had to be another false vision. There was no way the Dark Lord would want Potter to know about a real plot he was spinning.

But the real question at the moment, the important one, Draco thought, looking around at the cracks and the redness, was whether the Dark Lord would be able to sense Draco’s presence in Potter’s mind.

“I’m certain, my Lord. It was easy enough to take some of the details Vincent gave us and make sure we were close behind her all the way through Hogsmeade. She never looked around. Polyjuice and Apparition will take care of her easily enough.”

“Excellent.”

The way the Dark Lord hissed the word made Draco shudder, but more than that, he wondered what the hell was going on. It sounded as though the Dark Lord was plotting to kidnap some student who went to Hogsmeade, but Draco wondered what in the world he could hope to gain. Muggles made better hostages for the Death Eaters to torture, and students couldn’t have fought against him and his people and made them angry.

Unless…

It’s the same thing it was with me. I got punished for the failures of my parents. These are students who are being punished for things their families did.

It didn’t matter to Draco, not in the ordinary sense of the word. He didn’t care about what some random student’s family had done, and whether they would be kidnapped or not. But he did care that the Dark Lord not get what he wanted.

He glanced around, trying to figure out some way to change things from here, to wake Potter up or learn how much he’d heard. He started when he saw Potter’s face hanging on one of the red walls, eyes closed and jaw slack.

“Potter,” Draco called softly. There was no response, except for the face’s jaw swinging back and forth like a door knocker. Draco grimaced and picked his way across the shifting red floor to it.

“I know you can hear me,” he said, although he didn’t actually know that. “You can at least feel me.” He tried to shape his determination and anger like an arrowhead and aim it at the heart of Potter’s mind, wherever that was. “Wake up and talk to me and tell me who that is!”

*

Harry felt as though someone had hooked a Portkey through his navel and hauled him out of Voldemort’s head. He sat up, confused and blinking, and looked around. But he wasn’t in bed. He was somewhere in a mist of red and black, and standing in front of him, arms folded and a scowl on his face, was Malfoy.

Harry reoriented himself. Dumbledore said we could share dreams. Right.

“I don’t know who he’s talking about,” he said. “The dream had just started when you pulled me out. I didn’t have time to hear names.”

Malfoy growled and paced back and forth. Harry watched him in silence. He could feel the emotions leaping all around Malfoy, winds that cut and swirled back and forth. He didn’t say anything, though, because Malfoy hadn’t said anything intelligible.

“What good are you, if you can’t even use this soul-bond to spy on the Dark Lord?” Malfoy demanded, and spun back towards him.

Harry found himself opening his mouth in a silent hiss, as if he really was Voldemort. “What good are you, if you get drawn into my dreams even though you have Occlumency barriers? I thought I would feel things from you, but you wouldn’t feel them from me!”

Malfoy paused, as if he hadn’t thought about that, and Harry glared at him in silence. His enchantment with the bond had faded. Yes, it was nice in some ways to know what Malfoy was thinking. But Malfoy gave no sign of being interested in him back. That meant Harry had to get some distance from him, and fight to keep it. Malfoy would be more powerful than him otherwise, just like Voldemort was.

Harry refused to have two soul-bonds that went that way. It was disgusting enough being a Horcrux.

“You only want to stop the Dark Lord. Right?”

Malfoy spoke with his head turned away. It irritated Harry for some perverse reason. He shook his head. “I never said that. I want to stop him and survive. That was what the soul-bond with you was supposed to give me some chance of doing.”

Malfoy turned around with narrowed eyes that caught the red light flickering around them and looked particularly bizarre. “You haven’t even given me a chance to prove that I could do that.”

“You’re using Occlumency and it’s not working on the dreams, but on the emotions,” Harry said, and gestured around. “It’s the worst of both worlds for me. I could at least stop sharing dreams with you. That way things could go on pretty much as before.”

Malfoy’s eyes widened again, but Harry wasn’t sure what he had said that changed things. Maybe Malfoy had just realized how pitiful Harry was at Occlumency.

“But it’s a soul-bond. They can’t go on as before.”

“They have for you.”

“Keeping Occlumency barriers up all the time is annoying. It forces me to keep some of my thoughts concealed and ignore the wave of your emotions.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “And what do you want me to say? Sorry? When I can feel yours all the bloody time? Not bloody likely.”

Malfoy folded his arms. “Tell me whether you heard anything about who the Dark Lord is going to kidnap, Potter.”

“I already told you no. You pulled me out of the dream just as it was beginning. Now go away and let me go back to sleep.”

Harry was already turning around to find the place in the crackling red-and-black wall where he would be able to go back to his own mind. He felt more tired than usual. Battling Voldemort was one thing, but he had hoped—well, not that Malfoy would be nice. More that he would be understanding.

I’ll probably wake up even more tired than usual tomorrow morning.

*

Draco stared at Potter’s back. He felt as though one of the cracks had caught him and swallowed him up after all.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to work. Of course things had changed after the soul-bond, and Potter should have felt the same way. It was a bloody soul-bond!

Draco crossed the distance between them, physically or however it worked here, and caught Potter’s arm. Potter turned to look at him, his face pale and harassed. His scar stood out on his forehead like a ruddy flame, reminding Draco of the fire that had burned at their bonding.

“There must be something you know. Some name you heard.”

“I heard him ask Rabastan about a plan, and Rabastan talk about Polyjuice and Apparition, and then you pulled me into your dream.”

“This is your dream, not mine.”

“Whatever, Malfoy. Raise your Occlumency barriers higher and go back to sleep, yeah?”

Draco shook his head. “The dream had to have been going on longer than that. I was here waiting before I could hear the Dark Lord’s voice.”

Potter rolled his eyes and tore his arm from Draco’s grip. “Yes, I must be lying to you. Why? It’s fun, I suppose. Look, you can close off my dreams. Or you ought to be able to. So go do it.” He stomped towards the red wall he’d emerged from.

Draco shook his head. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be going. The bond was supposed to give him Potter as an ally, not someone who sounded as though he was upset and weary of the whole thing.

Maybe Draco could still appeal to him, through the compassion that Dumbledore insisted Potter had. He opened his mouth and phrased his complaints as calmly as he could.

“You have no idea how hard it is, Potter, losing a parent. I know yours died, but that was before you could really remember them. And—”

“I hear my mother dying every time a Dementor is near, you wanker.”

Draco shut his mouth. Potter had conjured a wand from somewhere and had it aimed straight at Draco’s chest. He was panting a little, his face pale.

“And I watched your mum die, too. Had no choice, didn’t I? Voldemort was there, watching, and I can’t do anything when I’m in his head. So.” Potter flicked his hair back over his shoulder and shrugged, still watching Draco. “And I saw Sirius die last year. Shut up about this you don’t have the least idea business, Malfoy. You’re the one who has no idea what it’s like to have Voldemort in your head.”

Draco spent a moment contemplating that. Then he looked up. “But I heard his voice.”

Potter rolled his eyes. “Of course. Forgive me. That means you have an idea of exactly what it’s like for me to have a piece of Voldemort’s soul in me at all times. And stop flinching at the name, will you? I’m not going to call him by that adoring name you do just to make you more comfortable.”

“I don’t adore him. Calling him the Dark Lord acknowledges his power—”

Potter gave him a nasty smile, and Draco fumed, but kept silent. “Right. So. You might as well leave. You’ve upset me and heard his voice and as much of his plan as I know, either. Good-bye.”

The way he turned his back infuriated Draco. He darted around in front of Potter again, which wasn’t any more difficult than it would be in a school corridor, now that he was trusting to the stability of the room. He grabbed Potter’s wrist, and admitted it would have been easier to speak without the wand jabbed up his throat.

“Similar,” he did get out. Potter paused, cocking an eyebrow at him. 

“We’re similar,” Draco finally clarified. “I’m the only one who’s heard his voice like that, besides you, right?”

“He did possess Ginny in her first year,” Potter said.

“But no one else has heard him like this,” Draco said. “Shared your dreams. Been this close to you and known how appalling—You-Know-Who is.” Draco wasn’t about to call him by the most dangerous name, but he did have to admit that “Dark Lord” was the sort of thing Death Eaters would say. “Surely we can build something out of that.”

“But I thought you didn’t want to. That was why I said the bond hadn’t changed anything. If you strengthen your Occlumency barriers, then it’ll be like we never bonded at all.”

Draco shook his head and sighed a little. “I know we’ll still be bonded. Keeping the walls up hasn’t worked for me, either. I can still hear the roar and the call of your emotions even if they’re beneath me.”

Potter’s nostrils flared, and Draco realized what that sounded like. “I mean, literally beneath me. It’s like being in a tower with the sea washing around it. That’s what I meant.”

Potter just studied him closely, then apparently decided to let it go. “But if you raise your barriers even higher, then you can be rid of all the inconveniences.”

“I have them up. It didn’t prevent me from coming here.” Draco hesitated, because he hated to make this offer after the way his words had gone down so far. But if he didn’t, then nothing would change. Potter would just go on being a noble, suffering martyr, and Draco would probably still wake up in his head.

“How much Occlumency have you learned?”

Potter’s neck and face both turned an ugly color. Draco pressed in, sneering a little because he couldn’t help it. “You can’t read it? You need another book? What?”

“The book and Snape both keep telling me to clear my mind,” Potter said, in a high-pitched imitation of what he probably thought was Professor Snape’s voice. “I don’t know how to do that. They don’t tell me how to do it, either! They just keep repeating to clear my sodding mind.”

“But it’s obvious.”

“It is not.”

“You have to—clear it.” Draco stood there, licking his lips a little. When Bellatrix had told him that was the first step, he had immediately known what she meant.

“Yeah, Malfoy, you’re so helpful.”

“Okay, look,” said Draco, thinking that the bond was coming in useful for one thing after all. He moved forwards and reached out to wrap his fingers around Potter’s temples. Potter’s eyes met his, willfully distrustful. “I can’t hurt you here. I’ll feel it.”

“No, you won’t.”

“In the dream? Yes, I will.”

Potter sighed, then said, “All right. So what do I do next?”

“What do you do when you want to go to sleep?”

“Lie there until it happens.”

“There must be something other than that.” Draco knew he would never have got any sleep in the past year if he’d had to rely on his body to collapse into it, not with the amount of worries he had.

“I don’t know any other way. Counting things in my head doesn’t work. Breathing slowly doesn’t work. Counting heartbeats doesn’t work. Thinking about things I have to do tomorrow doesn’t work.”

“I should think not,” said Draco, a little relieved. At least now he knew what the problem was. Potter was missing all the basic information. As always. “You have to be calm and not think about things you were worrying about.”

“Yes, that’s so easy. With Voldemort and the rest of it.”

“It’s enforced relaxation.” Draco paused as he took in the way Potter was suddenly standing. “No one ever told you that?”

Potter snorted softly. “No. Snape would yell for me to clear my mind and then attack me with Legilimency. Hard to relax with the pain and the memories flashing past my eyes.”

Draco shook his head a little. He’d thought better of Professor Snape. He supposed the professor’s hatred for Potter just ran too deep. Draco’s might have if he wasn’t bonded to him.

“All right.” Draco shifted his fingers on Potter’s temples, attracting his attention again. “Listen. The next time you’re trying to go to sleep, think of this. The way I’m touching you. The way my fingers are pressing down.”

“It involves an element of pain?”

“It’s not supposed to, I think, but that’s the way I learned. At least you won’t get the Cruciatus Curse the way I did from dear Aunt Bella.”

Potter gave him a sympathetic look, and Draco felt something unknot in him. This bond might work after all. Then he began to whisper, “Think of the way my fingers dent your skin. But I’m holding you, right? Not hurting you. The same way I knew my aunt wouldn’t torture me to death because she didn’t have orders to.”

“Jesus, Malfoy.”

“Don’t think about that. Think about the way I’m holding you, and I could hurt you, but I won’t, because I would feel that through the bond, too.”

“You’re the one who brought it up...”

Draco gave Potter a stern glance, and he did shut his eyes and keep quiet. Draco kept on talking, hoping that somewhere within his voice lay the thread Potter could follow out of this labyrinth.

“Think about the way my fingers are cradling your head. The way I could hold it and twist it around and hurt your neck, but I’m not. Can you think of anything but that?”

“Your aunt and your mum.”

Draco sighed. Perhaps he shouldn’t have brought up Bellatrix, even though he had done it to convince Potter that the things he was moaning about weren’t such huge inconveniences after all. He shook his head, then murmured, “Repeat my words to yourself. The ones about the way I hold you, and the sensation of my fingers, nothing else.”

“For how long?”

“For as long as you need to.”

Silence. Potter seemed to have settled on repeating the words to himself, which was fine with Draco. He stood there, watching the flicker of Potter’s closed eyes, and wondering absently if this was the way he looked when he was asleep, too.

*

Harry thought this was stupid, honestly. Not that much better than Snape yelling at him and then dredging up all his worst memories of the Dursleys. How could Malfoy just tell Harry that he’d been tortured and expect him to think about something else?

But he evidently did. So Harry began to repeat the words Malfoy had last spoken to himself. Oddly, it was a lot easier to remember them than it would be with most people if it was a few minutes since they’d spoken. Harry supposed that was another side of the bond, one he should probably be grateful for.

Think about the way my fingers are cradling your head. The way I could hold it and twist it around and hurt your neck, but I’m not. Can you think of anything but that?

This was stupid.

Think about the way my fingers are cradling your head. The way I could hold it and twist it around and hurt your neck, but I’m not. Can you think of anything but that?

But it was true that when he really concentrated on the sound of Malfoy’s words and the sensation of his fingers, it was harder to force his mind away. In fact, he kind of wanted to think about them.

Think about the way my fingers are cradling your head. The way I could hold it and twist it around and hurt your neck, but I’m not. Can you think of anything but that?

Malfoy could hurt him, but he wasn’t. And he seemed to think the bond was more important than Harry had assumed. Harry knew he couldn’t trust that mood to last forever, but maybe he didn’t have to. All he had to do was lift his Occlumency barriers to match Malfoy’s, and then they could ignore the washing of each other’s emotions. Malfoy could get on with rescuing his father and disappearing into a safehouse. Harry could get on with fighting Voldemort.

Think about the way my fingers are cradling your head. The way I could hold it and twist it around and hurt your neck, but I’m not. Can you think of anything but that?

The fingers bore into Harry’s skull, skin and temples, and his breathing slowed. He felt as though he had fallen into a doze, but one with someone lying beside him in the bed, still imprinting his fingers on Harry’s face.

Not such a bad thing, not if it meant Harry could stay safe from other dangers.

Think about the way my fingers are cradling your head. The way I could hold it and twist it around and hurt your neck, but I’m not. Can you think of anything but that?

No. No, he really couldn’t.

The sensation of physical fingers disappeared from around him. Harry had the thought that he’d slipped out of the dream, but so what? He was drifting somewhere that neither Malfoy nor Voldemort could touch him now.

And he drifted off and dreamed better than he had since the start of the term, with no tossing emotions of any kind to disturb him.

Chapter Text

Harry sipped the tea Dumbledore had given him, and waited. Dumbledore had asked Harry up to his office, given him tea, turned away to stroke Fawkes, and not spoken for five minutes. Harry knew something was wrong, but he didn’t know what.

His bond with Malfoy was actually working out better than he’d thought it would. They ignored each other most of the time, could get along when they met in dreams, and had the basics of Occlumency on both sides now. Harry could still feel Malfoy’s emotions like a rising wind when they got too strong, but they weren’t distracting now. He felt like he was finally back in control of his own mind.

“I’m afraid that I have bad news, Harry.”

And there it is. I knew my life was going too well. Harry put down the teacup and asked, “Sir?”

Dumbledore turned and silently showed Harry his hand. There were black streaks creeping up past his wrist now, two of them aimed like fangs at his shoulder. Harry winced.

“That’s—that’s the Horcrux you destroyed?” He still didn’t know all the details, but Dumbledore had told him that much.

“Yes. And Professor Snape’s estimate of how long I have to live keeps fluctuating.” Dumbledore sighed and folded his hands on the desk. “That means I will not be able to help you as much in the Horcrux hunt as I had imagined. I have a good idea of where one of them is, and as soon as I can gather more information about the defenses, we may go and fetch that one. But the others…”

Harry swallowed and sat up. “I understand, Professor Dumbledore. I’ll do anything I can to make it easier for you.”

Dumbledore smiled mistily at him. “You’ve done well, Harry. Grown into a young man I can be proud of.” As Harry flushed and tried to pretend he hadn’t heard, Dumbledore added, “There is another problem with my swiftly approaching adventure.”

Oh, death, he means, Harry decided after a confused second. Not looking for that Horcrux. “What is it?”

“None of the Order members who are competent to break into Malfoy Manor and rescue Lucius Malfoy are willing to do so. Or at least willing to guard him past the initial escape. They are all convinced they have more important tasks to do in the war than staying in a safehouse to guard an escaped Death Eater.”

Harry blinked, trying to imagine what Dumbledore wanted him to do about that. “D’you—I’m sorry, Headmaster, but I don’t really think the Dursleys would want to shelter him or Draco.”

Dumbledore burst out laughing, and bent over his desk with his shoulders shaking. Harry stared at him, but had to smile when Fawkes trilled, too, and landed on his shoulder to rub his head under Harry’s chin.

“Thank you for that laugh, Harry,” Dumbledore said, sitting up with a smile that made Harry’s widen. Fawkes trilled one more time and flew away to perch on Dumbledore’s shoulder and start preening his hair. “It is good to be reminded that even in the darkest despair, joy might still shine.”

Harry nodded and waited, but Dumbledore seemed involved in tickling Fawkes’s breast feathers again. “All right, sir. But what do you want me to do?”

Dumbledore glanced up, his eyes cool now. “Convince Mr. Malfoy to wait. I know I promised that I would have his father rescued by the Easter holiday at the latest, but those promises mean little if I cannot guarantee his safety afterwards.”

Harry started. “I—don’t think he’ll be willing to wait. His father is all he seems to care about.” When he knew what the bursts of emotion he could still feel from Malfoy were about, they were always connected to his father in some way. There was a certain kind of rage, like a winter wind, that Harry knew Malfoy only experienced when he thought about his father possibly dying.

“He must. What good does it do if we free Lucius and then he dies through lack of the Order’s protection?”

Harry opened his mouth, hesitated, and shut it again. Dumbledore nodded encouragingly to him. “Go on, Harry. What were you about to say?”

I’d be willing to protect Lucius, because of my bond with Draco. Could you have the Order members break him out and then I could take over the duty of guarding him?”

Dumbledore smiled, but his eyes were still sad. “That’s also impossible, I’m afraid. You will be busy with the last of your year at school and the Horcrux hunt.”

“Is Draco just going to leave school, though?” Harry’s tongue felt strange. He had never used Malfoy’s first name this much, ever. But he couldn’t just get him mixed up with Lucius all the time. “If he goes with his father into hiding?”

“That is something we had already discussed, and that young Mr. Malfoy is willing to do.” Dumbledore leaned back and regarded Harry curiously. “Do you think he’s changed his mind? If he has, then he needs to come talk to me.”

No!” Harry snapped, and then flinched a little as Dumbledore looked at him with calm eyes. “Sorry, Headmaster. It’s just—I really think that we have to get Lucius out of there soon, or Draco is going to go mad.”

“In literal terms, or with worry and anxiety?” Dumbledore shook his head, but Harry thought it was a thoughtful shake. “I do see your concern, Harry. If Mr. Malfoy ends up experiencing such intense emotion, then it might overcome your still shaky Occlumency barriers and end up distracting you when you’re trying to do something else.”

Harry opened his mouth to protest, then shut it. He’d been going to say that that wasn’t it at all, that Draco simply needed his father free and Harry understood why, but this might be a good way to actually get Lucius free. For better or worse, Dumbledore’s plans rode on Harry. And Harry didn’t think Draco would care all that much how his father got to safety, as long as it happened.

Then Dumbledore sighed. “I am afraid that he still must wait. The fact that most of the Order members are unwilling to protect an accused former Death Eater is simply intractable. I will search among some of my other contacts. Private duelists, former Hit Wizards, and the like. They are not in the Order—some are not even from Britain—but they may be willing to take on the challenge of moving Lucius into hiding.”

“Let me talk to Draco. Please?” Harry added, when Dumbledore focused on him and seemed a little doubtful. “I can at least make it clear to him what’s going on and why it’s going on.”

“And you think I wouldn’t be gentle enough with him.”

Harry flushed. “I think Draco’s his own worst enemy when it comes to taking news like this. He might be rude. You might get upset—well, no, but you might get him upset. And then he might go off and do something crazy. We don’t want that, because of the bond.” And because he’s a living human being who got promised something and deserves to have the promise kept. But Harry honestly didn’t know if Dumbledore would accept that reason right now. “He’ll listen to me better, because he can know that I’m sincere about what I’m feeling.”

Dumbledore seemed to be thinking. But then he nodded, slowly, judiciously. “Do what you must, Harry,” he said, reaching over to pat Harry on the shoulder. “As long as young Mr. Malfoy understands the need to wait and won’t endanger himself or you by going off on a mission that has no chance of succeeding, I suppose it doesn’t matter much where the news comes from.”

Harry bowed his head once, then turned and strode out of the office. On his way down the stairs, his thoughts leaped like a ball between two conclusions.

One, Dumbledore was not going to change his mind. He would try to rescue Lucius, but he was going to wait.

Two, Draco would never accept that.

Harry straightened his shoulders. Looks like it’s up to me to find a solution.

*

Draco glanced up in annoyance. He’d finally found a corner of the library not overrun with Ravenclaws to study a book on wards in, and here came Potter. He could tell when Potter was drawing near, of course, because the surging and seething emotions in the back of his mind began to gain voices and whisper.

It didn’t mean he wanted him there.

Draco laid the book aside and waited. Potter paused at the entrance to Draco’s little alcove and waited. Draco tried to stare him down. Potter just stood there and waited some more.

“What do you want?” Draco finally snapped, deciding that at least part of it must be some verbal acknowledgment.

“I came to warn you about something Dumbledore told me. And see if I can’t find a solution.”

Draco blinked. This was more promising than the way he had thought a conversation with Potter would go. He leaned back in his chair and eyed him. Potter still didn’t sit down, but he did slip into the alcove and cast a nonverbal spell that left Draco with a slight ringing his ears.

“Anti-eavesdropping spell,” Potter explained, then lowered his voice anyway. “Dumbledore said that he doesn’t have Order members who will agree to protect your father. They can get him out, but none of them want to stay in a safehouse and guard a convicted Death Eater. Dumbledore is talking about leaving your father in the Manor until after the Easter holiday.”

“That is not acceptable.”

Potter swayed a little and put his hand to his head, and Draco remembered abruptly that someone other than him could feel his own swirling, lava-like rage. Well, he didn’t intend to calm down because of that. He only stared at Potter with hot eyes, and Potter finally nodded and said, “I agree.”

Really?”

“You took on a soul-bond for the sake of rescuing your father, Malfoy. I think the least Dumbledore can do is keep his word.”

Draco slowly dropped his shoulders. “Better than I expected of you, Potter,” was all he said. Potter said nothing, and Draco couldn’t read the dim tumult of his Occluded emotions, only that they were strong. “Fine. What exactly do you think you can do about this?” Because something would be done. Draco would not let the Headmaster simply get away with changing his mind, and he didn’t care about the ethical scruples of Order members. They would help him and his father or suffer for it.

“I don’t know. Can you tell me? I promised I would talk to you about it, because I thought you at least deserved to hear it from me. And I volunteered to be the one who guards you, but Dumbledore said I was going to be busy with schooling and hunting down Voldemort.” Draco didn’t flinch, but Potter grimaced a second later and said, “Sorry.”

“You volunteered for that.”

Potter shrugged, his eyes dark. “I don’t know how much good I would be when I haven’t even finished my sixth year yet. But I do know a lot about Defense, and I would be willing.”

Draco just closed his eyes. He wanted to say something about the kinds of sacrifices Potter was willing to make for this bond and that he probably shouldn’t expect the same kind of thing from Draco in return, but honestly, he couldn’t muster the words right now. The facts of Potter wanting to guard him and his father just banged and boomed around in his skull like balls made of metal, until they finally settled into their proper place—down low—and left Draco able to think.

“I’ve been studying warding,” he said finally, and held up his book. Potter looked at it and nodded, but didn’t ask questions. “I don’t think the safehouse has to be a problem. If we can take my father out of the Manor, I think I can guard him virtually anywhere.”

“With anonymity the best defense?” Draco popped open his eyes at hearing that sentence come out of Potter, but apparently his surprise wasn’t strong enough to make Potter question it. He only nodded. “Yes. And I could swear the Fidelius, if that would work for you.”

Granger must have phrased the sentence that way at least once, for Potter to memorize it. “I think it would be better for me to swear it. I’m not in such constant danger.”

Potter looked at him, eyes a deeper green than they were even in the dreams he and Draco shared. “Whatever you want. Whatever you need.”

Draco closed his hand into a hidden fist down at his side. With Potter now raising Occlumency walls, he wouldn’t sense everything Draco could pour down the bond. And Draco had to ask, anyway, not keep this hidden. 

Such trust was terrifying.

But Draco plunged anyway. “If you mean that, Potter, then help me get my father out of the Manor now. This weekend. Let’s not rely on Order members who might also decide to desert in the middle of the mission. Let’s not rely on Dumbledore and his tendency to change his mind. You want to help me? Prove it.”

*

Harry stared at Malfoy, feeling as though someone had tossed a Bludger at him and he didn’t have a broom to dodge it.

He’s serious, though. Harry knew that without checking the bond. Of course he would be. Harry had come to realize that nothing mattered to Malfoy as much as his family, not even his own safety. The boy Harry had known in third year, who had cringed and whined from a hippogriff scratch, had vanished.

Been murdered. Died when his mother did.

Harry didn’t like such thoughts, so he willingly replaced them with the consideration of what Malfoy was saying. “All right. I know you know the Manor well enough. But there’s the fact that I might not know enough Defense to protect us.”

“I know enough. You wouldn’t believe how much I’ve been studying this year, including the last few weeks.”

Malfoy’s face was as bitter as a sword. Harry blinked at him and hazarded a guess. “And you won’t hesitate to cast the Dark Arts spells that I wouldn’t touch. Right?”

“Exactly.” Malfoy stood up suddenly, and Harry straightened from where he’d been leaning on the wall, because it looked almost threatening. “The question in front of us now is, are you going to come along and let me cast those spells?”

Harry sucked in his breath and held it, something he’d done before when he wanted to think. But it was harder to think now, when he had emotions churning and thrashing so hard in his head that his eyes were watering.

He could feel the heat blazing from Malfoy, and he could feel his own panic at the thought of Dumbledore breaking his word and Lucius Malfoy dying and Harry himself probably having to watch it, and he could feel the clatter and clamor of different emotions on the other side of his fragile Occlumency barriers. He didn’t know how he could make the right choice when he had all of that happening around and inside him at the same time.

He had to, though. Because Malfoy’s eyes were already hardening, and he would walk out of here and attack Malfoy Manor on his own if Harry didn’t say something. He made his choice.

It’s not like it was that time with Sirius. At least this time I know the danger is real.

“I agree,” he said, and Malfoy froze in the act of turning away. Harry lifted his head and spoke the words that might damn him as one kind of moral person but would at least let him be another. “I’ll come with you and protect you while you get your father out. The only thing I ask is that you don’t torture or kill another person unless it’s in self-defense or defense of your father. No—no random killing just because you think someone hurt him. We get in, free him, and leave.”

Malfoy watched him. Harry didn’t know what he was thinking. Not for the first time, he wished the bond included telepathy. That would have been more useful than the emotions. 

He knew Dumbledore had picked this particular soul-bond because it was the most similar to the one he and Voldemort shared, but, well, he just wished Dumbledorehadn’t, that was all.

“I promise,” Malfoy said at last. “And a promise in return, Potter.”

For a minute, Harry wanted to rebel. Wasn’t going into Malfoy Manor and rescuing Lucius enough?

But he supposed not. This was about extra promises, not keeping Dumbledore’s promises for him or doing what Harry thought was right. “All right,” he said. “As long as it doesn’t involve murdering anyone in your place.”

“You don’t have a high opinion of me, do you?” Malfoy asked in an almost clinical way, but he held up his hand when Harry would have objected. “No need to answer that, Potter. I know why you don’t, and it’s as much my fault as yours.”

Harry quieted, and watched as Malfoy seemed to brood on the past a moment. His emotions had stilled and hardened, but as he lifted his eyes again, Harry recognized that particular quiet. It only meant they were becoming what Harry thought of as an obsidian spearpoint. He’d seen a picture in one of Dudley’s old books that he’d read during a summer when he was desperately bored. Cool, and hard, and sharp.

“I want you to go with me and promise that you won’t tell your friends about it. Or Dumbledore. Or anyone else who would try to stop you.”

*

This is the part where he falls down. No way will good little Gryffindor Harry Potter go without a Weasel at his side and without telling the Headmaster who keeps him safe and favors him so much.

Draco felt Potter’s struggle as he stood there. He didn’t care. He would still have Potter’s help regardless. And he would try to live up to the promise Potter had required of him—if he could have this. 

The help was about getting his father out of there. This was more about the private testing of their bond, whether he would always be the supplicant and the one who had to ask favors, or an equal partner, or the one who could make Potter do as he wished, because it was more in Potter’s interests to appease Draco than the other way around. He knew his father would have approved.

He might not approve this mad bond in the first place. But he would approve of the way I’m acting now.

“Are you going to tell Professor Snape?” Potter asked abruptly. He had looked up and into Draco’s eyes as he spoke.

Draco sneered a little. He understood, now, the cryptic hints Snape had dropped during the earlier part of the school year and the way he had approached Draco. But understanding did not mean forgiveness. “No. He has more interest in me as a student than he does in my father. I think they were even rivals for the Dark Lord’s favor at times. He would try to stop me.”

Potter uncurled his fingers a little from his fist. He was looking at one of the shelves. Draco could tell from the storm in his head that it was merely a convenient target for his eyes, though, and he leaned forwards.

“Well, Potter?”

Potter turned his head centimeter by clockwork centimeter. Draco sneered, and Potter said, “Yes, I promise.”

Draco stared. His Occlumency walls actually trembled, and he felt a coldness from Potter that he hadn’t expected. It seemed Potter had hardened his own emotions into a block of ice.

“Why?” Draco blurted.

Potter stared at him for a second. Then he said, “Because Dumbledore should have kept his promises. Because I’m in this bond, too, and unless Dumbledore decides it should be severed some time in the future, it’s probably going to be forever. And because I can feel how much you care about your father.”

“My Occlumency shields—”

“Do slip sometimes.” Potter’s voice was gentle. “And anyway, it’s obvious how much you care about your dad, Malfoy. It would have been without the bond. You were always talking about him when we were kids.”

Draco shook his head a little, feeling as if water had flowed into his ears that needed to be cleared out. “I—I didn’t know that you cared about my caring, Potter.”

“Now that we have the bond and you accepted Dumbledore’s promise of a safe haven, I do.” Potter’s eyes hardened again, and he flicked one hand off to the side as if he was casting a wandless Shield Charm. “He should have kept that promise.”

“That matters to you,” Draco said, and when Potter looked at him as if to say, Of course, Draco tried to explain further. “Word of honor. Giving someone what they asked for.”

“If they keep the promise,” Potter said, and smiled a little. “And anyway, I’ve broken the rules and not told my friends and Dumbledore about important things before. It’ll hurt like hell later, but what’s that at the moment when you’re on the broom and speeding after the Snitch?”

Draco felt as though someone had sealed his tongue against the roof of his mouth. He had thought—

Potter was going to be a shield to protect his father and himself. Maybe someone Draco could come to care for in time. But this wasn’t time. This was just a moment in a library and a downwards slide so fast that Draco didn’t even know when the ground had started breaking under his feet.

“So,” Potter said, and smiled at Draco. “When are we going to do this?”

“This weekend,” Draco said. “Friday night.” It was a time when the prefects and professors were both a little less vigilant than usual, and more inclined to overlook breaches of curfew, at least by students in their fifth year and above.

“Good,” said Potter. “Owl me with more details.” He nodded once and left Draco, walking out of the library with his head as high as though he hadn’t just been plotting what was essentially treason against Dumbledore.

Draco stared blankly at the books again. Things had changed, and he felt as though he was on a broom, or that downwards slope of a mountain again, or—

Or just around Harry Potter.

It wasn’t the first time his world had changed and reoriented abruptly when Potter did something. It was just, he decided slowly, the first time the change had ever been positive. That was what was so strange about it.

And hopefully that won’t be so strange for so long.

Chapter Text

You must use your Invisibility Cloak or whatever other means you possess to leave Gryffindor Tower just before curfew. Come to the Astronomy Tower and meet me there. Bring your broom. We will fly out beyond the outskirts of Hogwarts and Apparate to the Manor from there.

Harry sighed and tucked the parchment Malfoy had sent him away, then fed a bit of bacon to his staring owl. The bird hadn’t waited for a reply, but simply took off. Harry knew Malfoy wouldn’t be looking at him, either. His emotions had been blowing the cold, steady wind for two days.

As far as Malfoy was concerned, this insane plan to rescue his father was set, and they didn’t need to communicate anymore.

“Who’s that from, Harry?”

Harry felt his stomach churn. He hated lying to his best friends, even though Ron was a lot more likely to accept a lie than Hermione was. Luckily (or not), Hermione sat with her nose literally almost closed in a book, an enormous one that she hadn’t looked up from for the last hour.

“Dumbledore,” he murmured. He even did have an appointment with Dumbledore tonight, to talk about Horcruxes. That would help cover where he was going if someone noticed he was missing on Friday night, too. He hoped.

“Oh.” Ron widened his eyes and nodded. “Rough luck, mate. We were going to have Quidditch practice.”

Harry punched him in the arm. “And you’re heartbroken, because one practice where people don’t pause to watch me catch the Snitch just pains you.”

“No, what I’m heartbroken about is you not missing more often, because then I have to give the Captain’s badge back. And it likes being with me, doesn’t it?” Ron patted his pocket.

Harry grinned. Ron took over as Gryffindor Quidditch Captain on the nights when Harry, as was more and more common lately, had a meeting with Dumbledore or some homework to make up for. “I don’t know how you can know the opinions of an inanimate piece of metal without even an enchanted mouth on it, but not realize Hermione’s more often,” he said, lowering his voice a little.

Ron cast a glance of mild panic at Hermione, then turned back to Harry. “What did she say I did?”

Harry grinned more widely. Now Ron was completely distracted from any questions he might have about a slightly mysterious piece of parchment. “I wasn’t speaking in specifics,” he said, and stole the ham sandwich Ron had spent the last five minutes putting together. Over Ron’s loud “Oi!”, he bit into it and added with a full mouth, “Just in general.”

“Will you please not talk with your mouth full?”

Hermione gave the lecture without bothering to look up from her book. Harry shrugged apologetically at Ron and resisted the temptation to glance over at Malfoy as he stood. The cold wind was still blowing against Harry’s Occlumency walls, telling Harry all he needed to know about his bondmate’s emotions. “Sorry.”

“You should be,” Ron muttered, reaching for the next components of another heroic sandwich.

“I wasn’t actually talking to you,” said Harry sweetly, and dodged the swat Ron aimed his way before he made his way out of the Great Hall, laughing.

His mood changed quickly enough when he saw Snape waiting for him in the corridor. Harry turned aside to face him and nodded swiftly. “Sir?”

“Since you seem to have made some progress with Occlumency, I require the book I lent you back.”

“Here, sir,” said Harry, and dug in his bag. A second later, Snape had the book in hand. He glanced at it as if to make sure that Harry hadn’t ripped out pages or scribbled his name on the binding or something, and then he took a slow step towards Harry.

“Mr. Malfoy tells me that he taught you Occlumency during one of your shared dreams. That you did not actually get instruction from the book.”

Mr. Malfoy has a big mouth, Harry thought, a little exasperated. Why would Malfoy be discussing the inner workings of the bond with Snape, of all people? Harry hadn’t told Dumbledore about the dreams in any detail. He hadn’t even considered doing it.

Of course, he might have to make a different decision if Dumbledore had actually asked. Maybe Snape had demanded some kind of progress report from Malfoy. Or maybe Malfoy had wanted to brag about the way he had managed to teach the unteachable.

“He was the one who taught me what it meant to clear your mind,” said Harry, deciding that he would get his own back at Snape by being as polite as possible. He was sure he saw Snape’s lips thin a little, and resisted the temptation to dance a little. Take that, Mr. “Occlumency Is So Simple.” “But the book helped teach me about the history of Occlumency, sir. Thank you for the loan.’

Snape only stood there and stared at him. Harry stared back, although he had learned to look more at Snape’s eyebrows and the ridge of his nose. He wondered what else Snape wanted their conversation to include.

“Was there anything else, Professor?” he finally asked. “Only I was going to go the library and study a little during my free period.”

“Free time that you spend in the library obviously means you are up to something,” Snape replied, but absently, as if had only given the answer because long habit required it. He leaned forwards with his arms crossed. “Mr. Malfoy agreed to the bond because of his intense anguish over the death of his mother.”

“I know that, sir.” Before Snape could add something asking how, Harry added, “I felt a lot of his emotions before I closed up the barriers. I know how much he misses her.”

That got him some more indecisive staring. Then Snape seemed to remember Harry wasn’t a Slytherin. “He may make poor decisions because of such intense—rage.”

“I know he might,” Harry said. He wondered if Malfoy had hinted at anything of their plans to Snape. That would be beyond stupid, but just because Harry had relaxed a lot around Malfoy didn’t mean he had forgotten the past five years. Malfoy did come up with stupid plans on a regular basis.

“As long as you remember that.” Snape stood tall and stood back. “Because this bond is meant to make him survive.”

And me, Harry thought, but he had long since stopped expecting Snape to care much about his life except if he was in immediate danger. “I know, sir. Thanks for reminding me,” he added, turning away and walking towards the library. He did have a free period that he wanted to use for study, or Hermione would bother him later about missing the time he would spend with Dumbledore this evening.

Snape’s eyes remained on his back. Harry knew that from long experience of it in the classroom. Not until he went up one staircase and turned a corner did he feel free of them.

Harry sighed and shook his head. He did hope Malfoy hadn’t told Snape. On the other hand, Snape could stop it a lot more easily than just standing over Harry and dropping cryptic hints. All he’d have to do was go to Dumbledore.

So that left open the possibility that Snape might have come up to Harry and hinted at him for another reason. But no matter how long he thought about it, Harry couldn’t imagine what reason that was.

In the end, he opened his books and got to work. As Hermione would say, his school life didn’t stop because he had a mystical soul-bond. 

*

“I hope you know what you are doing, Mr. Malfoy.”

Draco started and looked up. Professor Snape was the only person who could still sneak up on him. Draco had become much more paranoid since Vincent’s betrayal, and had started placing silent spells around every area he used on a regular basis to warn him when someone approached.

Of course, he was in the professor’s lab, and he ought to have anticipated that the professor would have counters for them, might even have counters built into the walls and equipment that would disrupt the spells as they were being cast. “I do, sir,” he said, and turned back to his cauldron. “This will eat through stone easily.”

“I was not referring to that, but to your plan to snatch your father back from the jaws of the Dark Lord.”

Draco turned around slowly. He had thought, the other day, that he’d felt the stab of a Legilimency probe past his barriers, but when Professor Snape had said nothing about it, he’d dismissed the feeling.

“Why wait to confront me?” Draco asked. Denial was useless. “Did you already go to the Headmaster and tell him what Potter and I are doing?”

“As I thought. You convinced the foolish boy to help you.” Professor Snape sighed, the loudest and most revealing noise Draco had ever heard him make. “Has it occurred to you that if the Potter boy dies during this mission, then your best hope of living in a world free from the Dark Lord perishes, also?”

“I don’t know that,” Draco countered. He had never really known why Potter was such a savior, though from hints Professor Snape had dropped, Draco suspected heknew. “And I don’t care. My father is more important than anything else.”

“Will your father want to live in a world where the Dark Lord has triumphed?”

“He would want to live.” Draco wondered why no one except him seemed to understand that. Well, Potter came close, sometimes, but that was only the artificial understanding of the bond, nothing Draco could use or depend on. “My father’s not some noble hero who’s willing to die to spare others suffering. My mother and me are the only people he might do that for. And right now, he can’t spare either of us that way.”

Professor Snape closed his eyes. He seemed so weary that Draco wondered absently if he had actually stayed awake worrying over this.

If he did, he’s horrible at trying to express that worry.

“I wonder why,” Professor Snape said, as if talking to himself, “I have not yet reported you to the Headmaster.”

Draco knew the answer to that one. “Because you don’t like him any more than I do,” he said, and Professor Snape’s head turned in swift surprise. “Because even I could tell he was forcing you to participate in that bond ceremony. He has some sort of hold over you, I know that. But that doesn’t mean you’re his willing spy in everything.”

Professor Snape’s lips turned up in a parody of a smile. “By definition, someone with a hold over someone else cannot make that person willing.”

“It depends a lot on what the alternative is.” Draco shook his head when he saw the expression on the professor’s face this time. “Look, I don’t have any ties to the Dark Lord now. I’m not going to report you as Dumbledore’s spy. I don’t care. Will you leave me to do what I need to do to rescue my father?”

Professor Snape was still for a long time, looking meditatively into Draco’s cauldron. Draco watched his face even as he added a few more flecks of mica. He knew he wouldn’t see whatever Professor Snape was seeing in the potion anyway.

“You have added too much rock salt,” Professor Snape finally said, and turned away, to the door of the Potions lab.

Draco watched after him for a moment. But he truly didn’t believe that Professor Snape was going to do anything else to hinder him, and he had a potion to finish. He added some more mica to counteract the rock salt, and then reached for the waiting scraps of lemon peel.

*

Severus leaned his arms on the windowsill in front of him. It was an enchanted window, one he thought he was the only person still remaining in the school to know about. It looked out on the bottom of the lake, and showed churning mud, thick green water, and the occasional set of gliding merfolk who looked at him as if he was the exhibit for their amusement.

Once, it had showed other visions. This was one of the rare windows that a wizard could control to show him hidden perspectives, not just the bottom of the lake but bedrooms, bathrooms, secrets, lives. Severus’s Slytherin yearmates had thought it was great fun to spy on some of the prefects taking a bath.

Severus was beyond that now, but perhaps because part of him still associated the window with childhood, he had come here to think.

The same question echoed in his head that he’d asked Draco. Why not report these stupid adolescents to Dumbledore and have done with it? Perhaps the Headmaster would not be able to change Draco’s mind, but he could corral Potter easily enough.

Can he, though? Or would Potter never have gone along with Draco in the first place if he still obeyed Dumbledore in all things?

Severus drew a finger slowly along his bottom lip. One reason he had thought it strange for Dumbledore to choose the soul-bond that he had was the potential effect it would have on both people involved. Yes, it was likely Draco would come to care for Potter and align himself more closely with the Order of the Phoenix’s goals. Simply having someone to sympathize with him might draw Draco away from his obsessive focus on revenge.

But why would Potter not draw closer to Draco, as well? Come to think of him as an ally, someone who should be listened to?

Severus sighed gustily. Sometimes he thought Dumbledore had indeed foreseen this, and was trying to give Potter someone to rely on after he was gone. Other times he thought Dumbledore saw only the immediate chessboard, and not several moves ahead into the game.

But regardless, Severus had chosen his side, even if it was only not being involved in this particular mess. Draco’s mind was easy to read these days, with the constant focus and revolving around rescuing his father. Dumbledore could see it as well if he chose to look. Or if he chose to glance into Potter’s eyes.

Severus would leave the discovery up to him.

*

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

Harry looked curiously around Dumbledore’s office as he stepped into it. His first impression was that something had changed, but he couldn’t tell what it was. The silver instruments still clanked and hummed to themselves all around him. Fawkes was preening on his perch, now and then turning his head to slide his beak under some feather Harry supposed must be particularly stubborn.

“Yes, Harry. Have a seat.”

Harry sat down across from Dumbledore, who turned and regarded him gravely. Harry gasped a little when he saw at least one change. Most of Dumbledore’s arm to his elbow was now black.

“Yes, it has spread,” said Dumbledore, glancing back and forth between Harry and his arm. His smile was pained. “That is one reason I wanted to talk to you tonight, Harry. We must find some clues to the hiding places of other Horcruxes as soon as possible.”

Harry swallowed and brought up one point Dumbledore had mentioned last week. “You said you think Nagini is probably a Horcrux.”

“Yes. A living Horcrux, like you, but without a soul-bond that should draw her Horcrux away from Voldemort’s.” Dumbledore’s eyes were very blue and very close. “I hope that you will not let sympathy for her stay your hand.”

“No, sir.” Harry shuddered. He would never forget being in Nagini’s head last year and seeing her attack Mr. Weasley. He would feel safest when she was dead.

“I have decided that Tom is unlikely to have hidden any of his Horcruxes in the orphanage where he once lived. To be honest, I do not know if the building is still there.” Dumbledore reached down absently to touch the ring he still wore on his blackened hand. “But he would so far, I think, hide the Horcruxes in places he felt more secure, and more connected to his triumphs, if he could. The Muggle world of London would be too unpredictable for him.”

Harry swallowed. “Then you think there’s probably one in Hogwarts?”

“Yes, I do. And I think we must find and destroy that one as soon as possible. I do not know whether it might not be poisoning someone else as we speak.”

Dumbledore paused. Harry waited, and then waited some more, nervously, when he saw the way Dumbledore was peering at him over his spectacles. Harry shook his head. “I don’t have any idea where the one in Hogwarts could be, Headmaster.”

“I know that. But we must consider the hiding place—or perhaps I should say, the previous hiding place—of the one you destroyed.”

“The Chamber of Secrets?” Harry winced a little at the thought of going down there again. He would have to bring his broom this time.

“No.” Dumbledore’s voice was very gentle. “Its hiding place before that.”

Harry knew what Dumbledore meant, but he wasn’t going to say it aloud. “You think there are other Death Eaters that Voldemort might have trusted? I vote for Bellatrix Lestrange. She was always bragging about how close she was to him.”

“Harry.”

“Look,” Harry said, unaccountably angry, “if there’s some Horcrux hidden somewhere in Malfoy Manor, then Draco’s never mentioned it.”

“I would not expect him to. In fact, I would not expect him to know it was a Horcrux. Voldemort is unlikely to have entrusted the purpose of his objects to his followers, although he may well have entrusted the objects themselves. I am fairly certain that Lucius Malfoy only thought the diary was a means to open the Chamber of Secrets, not a piece of his Lord.”

Harry nodded in response, but he still had something to say. “If you think that Draco needs to hand over this Horcrux to bargain for his safety—he already promised and it should be honored—”

“No, no. What I want you to do is ask Draco if he remembers any powerful Dark artifacts in his parents’ house. The kinds of things they would have hidden, for example, in cellars under the drawing room, to protect them from the Aurors’ raids.”

The kind of things that Lucius Malfoy was trying to sell in Borgin and Burkes, Harry remembered with savage clarity. Of course, that might only have been the diary at the time, but Harry highly doubted that was the only inhabitant of the hidden room.

“You understand what I am asking you to do, Harry? Not to betray your bond. Not to harass young Mr. Malfoy when he is grieving with questions he cannot answer. Only to do what we both must to save the world.”

There it is again. Always my bloody duty.

But when it came down to it, Harry thought, he would always have to do his bloody duty. Because what kind of world would be left if he didn’t? And what kind of people would face down Voldemort otherwise? People too scared to do anything when a baby defeated him? Half-trained students from the DA? Ministry workers who still thought Voldemort wasn’t back half the time?

It’s the cause Sirius died for. The cause my parents died for. The reason Cedric died. I can’t let them down.

“All right, sir,” Harry said heavily, trying to ignore the way the twinkling in Dumbledore’s eyes seemed to speed up. “I’ll ask him.”

“Splendid! And questions are all I ask, Harry. Not, as I said, demands that he would more than likely not be able to fulfill.”

Harry just nodded. His throat already hurt as though he was betraying someone. He just didn’t know who.

Chapter Text

“Come on, Potter.”

Draco didn’t understand why Potter was blinking and squinting at him as if he had a headache. Draco would have known that through the bond. He had his barriers a little lowered this time, so that he was only in a house above the sea of Potter’s emotions, not a tower.

“Just a minute,” Potter said, and put a hand on his scar. 

Draco stared at him. “Your scar is hurting?” He didn’t think it had hurt since the night he had shown Potter how to do Occlumency in his dreams. Again, it was something he would have sensed through the bond.

“It’s strange,” Potter said, focusing on the stone wall in front of them instead of Draco. Draco stirred impatiently. He’d had Potter sneak down to the dungeons to meet him under the Invisibility Cloak instead of having Draco meet him in Gryffindor Tower, because it was easier for Potter with that ruddy cloak. But now they were wasting time standing around outside the common room. “It’s like a storm that’s about to break. It’s like it’s about to ache, but not actually aching yet.”

Draco looked at Potter again, then held out his hand. Potter didn’t notice, bent over and muttering to himself. Draco sighed. “Come on, Potter. Let me help.”

“How?” Potter turned to him, still bent over, with glassy eyes.

Draco moved towards him and put his hands on Potter’s shoulders. “Our bond ought to be strong enough to fight off something that’s not even happening yet. Right?”

“I don’t know…”

“It should,” Draco said. He wanted to get on with going to the Manor and helping his father, not soothing Potter’s anxieties. “Take my hands and look into my eyes. We’re going to do something about this.”

Potter’s hands were shaking and his eyes were strange. They were still green, but it was as if all the blood vessels in them had flooded to the surface at once. Draco frowned. They did look almost red.

But they weren’t the Dark Lord’s eyes. Draco refused to let them be.

“Take my hands,” he repeated, when Potter didn’t immediately return the grip. Draco squeezed down until Potter grimaced and returned the hold, probably realizing he wasn’t about to get out of this. “Now look into my eyes. I want you to tell me what you see when you look there.” From the way Potter blinked at him, the question wasn’t clear. “What kind of reflections? What kind of color?”

“Um, blue,” Potter said, and blinked and frowned. Some of the blood vessels seemed to sink back into their proper place, which relieved Draco inexpressibly. “No, grey. And there’s a sort of reflection of the torches behind me…I think?”

Draco nodded. “Can you concentrate on me and stop thinking about the pain in your scar?” Let’s see. Pressing down on Potter’s temples worked last time. Let’s give him a little pain to think about now. He squeezed with his hands again, but all it did was make Potter look dazed. 

“No,” Potter whispered suddenly, his head bowing as another flash of red racked his eyes. Draco couldn’t feel the pain itself, or the ache, but he did get a tense pressure along the edges of his temples that was probably equivalent. “Sorry. It’s—it’s Voldemort. He’s planning something. He’s happy about something. Probably a raid.”

“That’s good,” Draco said, and he knew it had to be false cheer. “That means that he’ll be away from the Manor, and we can sneak in and get my father out without our most dangerous enemy there.”

“But if he’s doing something—”

There was no warning. One moment, Potter was bent over in Draco as if he was about to vomit from rancid food and his mouth was twitching but he spoke in a relatively normal voice, the next second he began to scream.

It was a hoarse, bellowing cry, and Draco knew there was no way it would go unnoticed in the Slytherin common room. He reacted without really thinking, sweeping the Invisibility Cloak around both him and Potter and bustling them around the next corner. Then he clamped a hand over Potter’s mouth.

And he did something else. He released the tight control that he, at least, had always had over his emotions, and swept the bond into Potter’s head as a blast of pure, stunning force.

Potter’s bellows stopped at once. Draco could feel his astonishment, like a curling, cold wave pulling Draco further into the undertow of his mind. It covered over the pain and drowned the sensation that the Dark Lord was forcing through his soul-bond with Potter. Potter’s hands touched Draco.

So did his emotions.

Draco could barely keep his feet. Potter’s curiosity and shock felt so much more intense than his own. It was like eating dull, bland food that was good for you all the time and not paying much attention to the taste, and then suddenly having a four-course feast deliver itself straight into your mouth. There was freshness and sweetness, and Draco wanted to explore and find out what else there was.

There was resentment of him, for one, for keeping his mind closed all the time and acting with (what Potter thought was) smug superiority since he was so much better at Occlumency than Potter. Even the resentment tasted crisp and snapping, like some of the brittle biscuits that the house-elves used to make at home.

The way his mother used to eat those biscuits, sitting in front of the fire with a book when Draco was very small, and Draco would cuddle beside her, and now and then Mother would put a hand on his head…

Potter followed the feelings about his mother, and Draco shook his head a little when he remembered that Potter could see into the deepest, loneliest corners of his mind just as easily as Draco could see into his. So he would need to back off on opening the bond. He thought he had done what he wanted to, anyway. Potter seemed thoroughly distracted from any notion of the Dark Lord invading his mind.

Draco floated slowly back, until he was once again in the house beside the sea, shielded by his Occlumency walls. He had a lot more temptation to let the walls down again, though. Now, he knew what the sea was like.

He slowly opened his eyes. Potter’s face was hovering right in front of Draco. His eyes were green again. He reached up and put a hand on Draco’s shoulder that felt weird, although Draco thought he would probably have felt it the way Potter meant it if the bond was still open.

And that was a thought too strange to be putting up with. Draco shook his head and, in the starry night underneath the Invisibility Cloak, muttered, “What happened?”

Potter closed his eyes again. “There was a raid. But I only saw part of it. I was paying more attention to the bond with you than the bond with him at the moment.”

Draco couldn’t help the smugness that ran like foaming cider under the surface of his mind. At least Potter wouldn’t sense it with the barriers of Occlumency up between them again, or at least Draco didn’t think he would. He nodded shortly instead and asked, “What happened?”

“It’s a raid on Muggleborns’ parents.” Potter’s voice was soft and distant, and his eyes were fixed on the wall—or rather, the slope of the Cloak’s cloth—behind Draco’s head. “I didn’t recognize any of the names that he mentioned, though. Maybe he’s only raiding people’s houses who have young Muggleborn children.”

“Nonsense,” Draco had to point out. “How in the world would he know about them? Only Hogwarts staff hold that knowledge.”

“And the Board of Governors, right?”

Draco stiffened. But he couldn’t afford to get into a shouting match with Potter or his accusations right now. “Yes,” he acknowledged, and then swept on. “Anyway, we’re going to get outside the walls and then Apparate to the Manor. You’ve been through Side-Along Apparition before, right, Potter?”

Potter grimaced, which was answer enough. Draco nodded back and started dragging Potter along towards the entrance hall.

“Wait.”

Once again, bloody Potter was setting his feet and acting as if he was owed something before they continued. Draco tried to shove down his impatience and smile as he turned around to face Potter. “What?” he whispered. Footsteps said at least some students had come out of Slytherin and decided to look around.

“I need to ask you something.” Potter had his eyes locked on his hands. “I think—I mean, there’s a possibility that there could be Horcruxes hidden in Malfoy Manor. Since one was already hidden there. I need to ask you if you can think of any Dark artifacts hidden there that might be more of them.”

Draco stared at him. He had no idea what Potter was talking about. “Horcrux? You? You weren’t there?”

“No.” Potter swallowed a good deal of air and lifted his head. Draco writhed in an agony of impatience—if Potter had to ask this stupid thing, he could at least hurry up with it—but Potter stood there stolidly before he continued. “During our second year, your father gave Ginny Weasley a diary that possessed her. That’s why she acted like the Heir of Slytherin and ended up in the Chamber of Secrets with the basilisk that I had to kill. The diary was a Horcrux. I want to know if you can think of any other artifacts like that that your family has.”

Draco blinked slowly. He knew he looked like a lizard, but he didn’t care. “I didn’t know anything about the diary, Potter. What makes you think that my father trusted me with knowledge like that on a regular basis?” 

“I didn’t think that. I just thought you might know—”

“I don’t know of any powerful Dark artifacts in the Manor,” Draco interrupted him. And he would go on interrupting until Potter made some sodding sense. “My father didn’t want me around them for the very good reason that my father loves me and they’re Dark.”

“Right,” Potter said. and sighed. “All right. Then let’s go and rescue your father.” He started to move down the corridor.

Draco had to follow him right away, because it was that or be left behind to slip out of the Cloak, but he had questions. “Why did you suddenly decide to ask me that right now?”

“Does there have to be a reason? I remembered the diary was a Horcrux and I thought, well, where one of them came from, another one could—”

No, Potter. I might buy that from someone I wasn’t bonded to, but I can feel my head ringing when you tell a lie.”

“What an extremely inconvenient thing,” Potter muttered.

Draco gave a hard grin and kept moving. “Planning on telling me a lot of lies, were you?”

“I mean it might happen when we’re in the middle of a battle or something, and if it prevents you from casting a curse or dodging one—”

“Come on, Potter, you won’t be telling me lies in the middle of a battle.” Draco thought it was time to move the conversation back to what they should have been discussing in the first place. “What made you think up that question?”

“I didn’t think it up. I promised Dumbledore I would ask it. He’s the one who decided there could be more Horcruxes in your Manor.”

Suddenly sour, and not sure he should have forced Potter to answer his question, Draco paused. Potter paused behind him, and murmured something. Draco licked his lips, his mouth too filled with that sourness to answer.

Potter is always going to be more loyal to Dumbledore than he is to me, bond or no bond.

Well, of course he would. It had been Dumbledore’s idea that they bond, after all, not Potter’s. But Draco had thought he was making some good inroads, helping Potter and convincing him to do something that wasn’t at all in Potter’s usual nature. He’d been wrong, because Potter had asked the question after all.

“Draco?”

“No,” Draco snapped before he thought about it, and saw Potter flinch. “You don’t get to call me that. Not here. Not now. Not when you just revealed that you were acting on Dumbledore’s orders.”

He kept moving ahead, making sure to keep Potter under the Cloak with him, but otherwise not paying much attention to him. So far, then, he had failed in making Potter embrace Draco’s view of things. He would have to try something else.

The problem was, Draco wasn’t sure what else he could do. He had the bond, but Draco became too distracted when it was fully open, and Potter didn’t even like the idea that they couldn’t lie to each other. Which sure seemed to argue that he was planning on doing lots of lying.

I’ll have to find something else, that’s all.

*

Quiet.”

Harry staggered as Malfoy pulled him after him, and through the large iron gates of Malfoy Manor, which opened without a sound. Harry felt gravel under his feet, but couldn’t see clearly. And he knew what Malfoy would think of the idea of using a Lumos Charm.

To be fair, it was the same thing Harry would think about using a Lumos right now, when they were trying to sneak quietly into enemy territory. But he felt, through the bond, a tense, strained impatience directed towards him. Malfoy probably thought Harry was stupid enough to make the suggestion, anyway.

Malfoy, not Draco.

Harry told himself solemnly that he wouldn’t forget that again. Malfoy didn’t like it when Harry called him by his first name? Harry never would again. He wouldn’t forget the way Malfoy had snarled at him with foam practically flecking his teeth when Harry had said it, either.

“This way.”

Harry followed the tug on his arm. He would be going in blind, but he had to trust it wouldn’t be for long, that they would reach a place where he could cast a curse and duel anyone who was there to be dueled and basically distract the Death Eaters’ attention while Malfoy went and found his father.

“Whatever you’re planning, stop it.”

Harry grinned a little. It seemed Malfoy didn’t like it when Harry had private thoughts, either, but this time, Harry had no compulsion to share them.

“I thought I could be a distraction while you got your father out of whatever cell they’re keeping him in,” he muttered to Malfoy as they maneuvered around the edge of what sounded like a fountain and up to the front door. “You know the floor plan better than I do. And you’d have a better idea of where you’re keeping him.”

“I risk feeling whatever emotions you’ll feel when you’re doing that, and it might distract me. We go together—”

In the name of the Dark Lord, halt!

Harry snapped his head up. He knew that voice. And the wand aimed at them out of a square of light falling from the center of a huge window onto the grass, and the cloak swirling behind the Death Eater with the aimed wand. 

“Too late, we’re seen,” Harry said. He couldn’t seem to stop grinning as he drew his wand. This felt appropriate. “I’ll hold her off. Go and find your father. She might not have noticed that you’re here.”

Yes, it’s appropriate. The only thing that might be better is if Neville was here, but since that’s not going to happen…

Harry threw the Cloak off his head and laughed in joy. The figure in the doorway staggered back in shock, and Harry whirled his wand, cast a Leg-Locker Jinx that didn’t land, dodged a Cruciatus Curse that was aimed solely at him and seemed to indicate that Malfoy would get away with not getting noticed, and ran towards Bellatrix Lestrange.

*

My bond partner’s going after my aunt.

Draco had only a moment to feel strange about that. Then he cursed softly as he realized he could do nothing here without making the situation worse—nothing except what Potter had told him now. Bellatrix might not attack him, but she would try to capture him, and other Death Eaters were coming now to deal with the single intruder they thought was there. That would leave most of the deep places of the Manor unguarded.

And Potter was right about Draco knowing those deep places and where his father was likely to be imprisoned better than Potter did.

Draco flew up the steps and into the house through the front doors, dodging the Death Eaters who bolted past him with snarls. None of them spared a glance for him, proving it was much easier to use an Invisibility Cloak when you were alone. In a few seconds, Draco was in one of the internal corridors that led to the great dining room, alone.

Draco had to calm himself down, after that. He could feel Potter’s emotions swirling and battering against his walls, and he knew he could lose his focus in them too easily. He stood there silently and refused the impulse to run and shout. That was what the Death Eaters were doing, and it wouldn’t avail them against Potter. From the sounds of it, he was still fighting.

When Draco thought he was balanced, he drew his wand and breathed out, “Point Me Lucius Malfoy.”

The wand tugged hard to the left, and Draco sped off that way, through an arched doorway that had once led to a welcoming room for guests. It didn’t now, but Draco didn’t pause to look at all the grotesque decorations the Dark Lord had filled the room with and hung on the walls. He bounded, instead, through the secret passage hidden behind a bookcase and down the swirling, bending tunnel beyond, and then into the portion of the cellars that usually held the wine.

That had once held the wine. Now, there were barred doors set up, and Draco waited for a moment, panting harshly, looking around and wondering where the hell his father was. The spell was pointing down the corridor, but there was a swirling mass of magic there, blue and green and threatening, that made Draco hesitant to walk that way.

“Draco?”

Fuck my instincts, Draco thought, when he heard the hoarse voice of his father calling. Yes, it was from beyond the mass of magic, and Draco’s fears melted away to nothing when he heard it. He sprang directly for it.

“Draco!”

Yes, there it was, his father’s hand thrust between the bars. He was staring at Draco in fear, though, as if Draco wasn’t the person he had expected to show up to cut him out of this cage. Draco gave him a smile as wry as he could while he drew his wand and prepared to slice through the chains binding his father to the floor and the bars.

“What are you doing here?” Father whispered.

“Getting you out of here before the Dark Lord can do the same thing to you that he did to Mother,” Draco said crisply, and concentrated as hard as he could before he spoke the more powerful version of the Cutting Charm that he’d studied last week. He had thought he might have to do something like this. “Abscido.”

The nearest chain snapped apart in sheer frenzy, and then the same invisible blade cut through the one on Father’s feet. He stood up slowly, wobbling back and forth. “Can you open this door?” he asked.

Draco nodded, both in answer and in approval. Father had given up on asking what could be dangerous, useless questions until they were both out of here. He had more sense than Potter and some of his friends would have. “Yes.” Draco turned and stared at the door, and let out all the rage that had been building inside him since he first heard about Mother and realized what the Dark Lord might do to Father.

Absumo!

The spell roared out of Draco, and he found himself thrown back against the far corner of the cellar wall by the force of the blast as the barred door burst into pieces. He nearly hit his head on a rack that had once held bottles of wine. Draco panted and pushed himself upright with one hand, still shaking his head. He was going to get out of here, and so was his father, and they would go far away and hide behind the spells he had practiced to keep Father safe, he reminded himself. He didn’t have time for a dizzy, aching head or any of the other things that were trying to crowd on him right now.

“Draco.”

He especially didn’t have time because Father was right in front of him now, watching him with eyes that had gone pale with grief. Draco reached for him. “Come on. We don’t have much time. Potter is holding the Death Eaters off right now, and the Dark Lord isn’t here, but he might come back at any moment.”

Potter?”

Draco reflected that he could have sprung the surprise on his father a little better. But he didn’t have time to explain about the bond now, and he was sort of reluctant to. Father might think Draco could have done better, that a true Malfoy would have found some sort of way out of the predicament of saving his parents that didn’t involve soul-bonding to someone on the opposite side of the war.

“Yes. Come on, Father. Please,” he added, when Father hesitated after all as if he would ask more questions.

Father again showed the good sense any Malfoy was born with and rushed wildly after Draco down the cellar corridor. Draco started back up the secret tunnel he had come down, but Father caught the collar of his robe. Draco turned around, doing his best not to snarl in impatience.

“I know a route that comes out on the grounds,” Father explained. “We’ll be much less visible to anyone who sees us.”

Draco paused only once. Potter was fighting back the way he had come, and Draco wasn’t sure he would know what was going on if Draco went another route.

But it wasn’t as though Draco planned to abandon him here. He was just going to make sure Father was safe first. He would come back for Potter if necessary.

He was a few steps up the new corridor when pure horror blasted through the Occlumency blocks he had up and dropped him straight down on his back. Draco heard Father calling him sharply, and heard even more distant screams and shouts, but he couldn’t keep the horror from holding him there, like chains made of cold water.

“Draco? Draco!”

But Draco couldn’t open his mouth to reassure his father that he was all right. His head turned towards where Potter was fighting, and his mouth opened, and he screamed. 

He didn’t know what he screamed. Pain? Reassurance? He didn’t know. But he did know that one minute he was in his head, and the next he was with Potter, hovering inhis head, in the middle of his battle.

The battle Potter was losing.

Didn’t Dumbledore say we could do this? Draco thought muzzily, turning his head back and forth. That we could see each other’s surroundings as well as feel each other’s emotions? This is part of the soul-bond, but not one that I knew about.

And then he lost all sense of anything but pain and horror, because the Dark Lord had come through the door of the dining room.

Chapter Text

Voldemort was there.

Harry knew that. He’d known it the instant Voldemort Apparated or Portkeyed or whatever he’d done to the grounds of the Manor, because his scar had burst into pain. Harry had managed to stagger away from the curse Bellatrix was firing at him right then and catch himself against a wall. Then he’d gone back to fighting.

Because what else could he do? Draco was still somewhere in the Manor rescuing his father, and Harry wasn’t going to let Bellatrix escape without punishment when she’d been the reason for Sirius’s death.

But it was hard to make his limbs move the way they should. Harry could feel himself slowing down, exhaustion and pain dragging at him. Even Draco’s excitement that leaped like breaking waves through him—which probably meant he’d found his way to Lucius’s cell or room and managed to get him out—couldn’t give him more energy.

Then Voldemort came through the door.

Bellatrix immediately turned and cast herself flat on the floor, her hair sprawled around her, murmuring something. Harry thought it was all that saved his life. His scar, hisHorcrux, was burning, and Voldemort’s gaze was eating him up, and Harry did the only thing he could think of at the moment.

He set Bellatrix’s hair on fire.

Bellatrix leaped to her feet, screaming. She dashed in between Harry and Voldemort, caught the curse Voldemort had been ready to throw at Harry, and collapsed in a heap. Harry turned and ran.

He didn’t know where he was going, which made it worse. But he found himself heading down a flight of stairs and around in a large loop through a corridor that led into two rooms linked together by wide doors, and then up again. There was a big window in front of him, or maybe a set of glass doors, facing into the garden. Harry bowed his head and kept his feet moving. He thought he might be following the tug of the bond, heading towards Malfoy and his father.

If he wasn’t, then he was probably fucked.

His Horcrux scar took fire again. Harry didn’t look back. He knew how Voldemort was feeling and where he was. There wasn’t anything he could do about either of those things. Or the hissing he could hear from behind him, which was probably going to summon Nagini.

Harry threw a Blasting Curse in front of him, and the glass cracked and fell. Harry leaped through, feeling shards scrape along his arms and set the blood flowing. He rolled as he hit the ground, grunting aloud in pain at all the wounds, and then turned his head.

Yes. He knew where Malfoy and his father were, now, the same way he knew where Voldemort was. He didn’t really see Malfoy’s surroundings the same way he used to see Voldemort’s in his dreams, but he could see ghostly, flickering glimpses of trees and walls superimposed on his own vision of the gardens.

A curse streaked past him and hit the ground. Harry twisted to the side, away from it, and away from a cage of blue light that tried to grab him. Then he focused as hard as he could on the memory of winning his last Quidditch match and shouted, “Expecto Patronum!

The silver stag materialized in front of him, and Harry snapped, “Go confuse them!”

He didn’t have time to say more than that since Voldemort was trying to hit him with the Cruciatus, but the Patronus seemed to understand. It bobbed its glowing antlers once, then turned and bolted in the direction of Malfoy Manor.

Harry thought he saw another curse pass through its body and make it shine like flame before he staggered around the corner of the Manor and almost bumped into Malfoy. He was lying on the ground like a drunk. Harry hauled on him, ignoring Lucius who was gaping at him, and shouted, “Come on, go, run!”

*

Draco reeled. He could see the way Potter was running, but the route kept mixing with his own memories of the Manor and the gardens, old memories as well as new ones, and the mixture made him dizzy.

Then someone pulled on his arm and shouted in his ear, and the bond stabilized. Potter was right beside him, without any more dancing memories to confuse him. Draco managed to lift a pitiful mockery of his Occlumency walls into place and follow Potter. Father was running beside them, glancing over his shoulder.

Then a curse touched Draco’s leg. He knew what it must have been, but he didn’t feel it for a moment. Pain tipped him up and he fell, bleeding. He knew he screamed aloud in despair and hatred.

Potter whirled and lifted his wand. A stone wall materialized behind them, absorbing a few of the flying curses. Draco also heard a smack that made it sound as if at least one running Death Eater had hit it.

“How strong do you have to be to break through the anti-Apparition spells that Voldemort’s put around the Manor?”

It took Draco a second to realize that Potter was talking to Father. Father seemed to take the same amount of time to realize it, and then he shook his head slowly, grey eyes wide. “You cannot. The Dark Lord’s power is too great. Why would you try?”

“Because we don’t have any other option.” Potter cast a Lightening Charm on Draco and slung him over his shoulder, then stuck out his arm while Draco was still trying to deal with seeing the garden from an upside-down perspective. “Come on.”

Draco felt Potter’s balance shift a little as he took Father’s arm. Then Potter said, “All right. All right. I know how to do this. I know—”

With a rumbling crash, Potter’s stone wall fell behind them. Potter didn’t seem to notice. He was still facing forwards, his attention locked on the air above the garden. Draco felt all his determination, all the water in the sea of Potter’s emotions, draw together into a single small, intense ball of water.

A faint thought touched Draco, or maybe it was Potter’s thought, about how heavy water could be when you had to carry it like that…

From Draco’s perspective in the bond, Potter threw the water of his emotions at the Dark Lord’s anti-Apparition spells.

And they broke. Draco saw a flicker of reflected lightning, saw through Potter’s eyes lightning traced in the shape of prisms against the sky, and then it was gone and Draco could breathe more easily.

“Where to?” Father asked, catching them as they fell.

“Hogsmeade,” Potter gasped, and then the world darkened twice around Draco, once in the bond as Potter fainted and once in his sight as Father Apparated them.

*

Severus jerked awake. There was nothing strange about the flaring of his Floo, because of course it had happened before, even during the calmest night. But there was something that made him feel as if this moment was especially urgent.

He noticed two things then. The mutter of pain that always came through his Dark Mark had grown stronger. And his Floo had opened itself, not merely flared, and Albus was shouting through it. “Severus! Severus!

Severus got up and lurched out of his bedroom, barely managing to pull his robe tied around him. Albus was kneeling on the other side of his Floo, his face pasty. Severus glanced instinctively at the man’s blackened hand, but there was no change in that.

“I have just heard from Poppy,” said Albus, without preamble. “Mr. Malfoy and his father have staggered into the hospital wing. They are bearing Mr. Potter with them. I do not know what Mr. Potter did, and neither of them can properly describe it to me, but I fear he is dying of magical exhaustion.”

Severus didn’t waste time questioning it, although he could feel the fires of wonder and apprehension both burning in him. He turned to fetch the right potions, nodding when he heard the Floo close. Albus knew Severus would meet him in the infirmary with those potions. There was no need to linger and give him more explicit instructions.

Severus did contemplate, as he worked, how Lucius and Draco and Potter could have escaped the actual anger of the Dark Lord. But that was one of those questions that would doubtless have to wait to be answered.

As so many of mine always are.

*

Draco leaned slowly back against the pillows of the bed that Madam Pomfrey had plopped him in “just in case” after she healed the wound on his leg. She was finishing with her examination of Father, and she nodded.

“The bruises and the broken limbs will heal,” she said. “The Starvation Curses will be a bit trickier to cure, but won’t leave any permanent damage. I’ll be back with the potions you need in a moment, Mr. Malfoy.” She stepped away from Father, and flicked a look at Potter as she did so.

Draco looked with her. It was hard to miss that the bed was the center of all the bustle in the infirmary even if you didn’t know who was there right now.

Potter lay motionless on the bed. He was breathing; Draco knew that, because he could just imagine the commotion that would happen if he wasn’t. But Draco could feel nothing from him, nothing down the bond. There was only blank silence, eddying back and forth in his mind. Draco tried to reach out to the blackness.

There was no response. Draco might have had a bond to someone whose soul a Dementor had taken.

“Ah, young Mr. Malfoy. I wanted to speak with you.”

Draco had known he would have to face the Headmaster. He nodded and turned around. Dumbledore sat down on the end of the bed and smiled at him.

“I want to know why you told young Mr. Potter to leave the safety of the school and go with you on such a difficult and dangerous mission,” said Dumbledore, without preamble.

Draco didn’t look in the direction of Potter’s bed again, but only because he knew there was nothing new to be seen there. He shrugged and replied, “I wanted my father out of the Dark Lord’s prison. And I knew that I might never get that, if I stayed with you.”

“Why would you think that?”

Father had once told him that the mightiest of Dumbledore’s weapons was the ability to feign innocence, even hurt. Draco saw it then. He felt the tug of desire to confess everything and admit he’d been wrong, that the Order of the Phoenix members had reasons not to want to protect his father.

But then he remembered Mother again, and the cold rage came back. He’d lost her. Perhaps he’d lost Potter, if the bond couldn’t reverse the damage or whatever it was that had happened when Potter broke the Dark Lord’s spells. But he still had Father.

That meant this had been worth it.

“Because you kept putting me off, and respecting the scruples of people who hated Father more than his life,” Draco hissed. He didn’t care if Pomfrey overheard them. He was sure that Dumbledore would make her swear an oath or Obliviate her or do whatever was necessary to make sure that she didn’t turn against them.

“We had to be sure your father was safe once we had rescued him, my boy.” Dumbledore sighed heavily and looked at the bed where Father was now drinking potions while Madam Pomfrey stood by with her hands on her hips. “You might have rescued him only to doom him.”

“I’ve studied enough wards to transform any ordinary place into a safehouse,” said Draco, and put his chin up proudly when Dumbledore turned to look at him. “You should have asked me whether I could take care of Father. The answer is yes.”

Dumbledore sighed again. “The only spells that could do that are Dark.”

“So?” Draco didn’t understand why Dumbledore thought that would hold him back.

“You could go to Azkaban for some of the spells I’m sure you mean to use, my boy.”

Draco laughed bitterly, and ignored the way that Dumbledore blinked and pushed his glasses up his nose. “And I could have let my father die if he stayed there. I knowwhat you care about. The war, and Potter.” He decided, graciously, that he wouldn’t say anything about Horcruxes in front of Madam Pomfrey, where Dumbledore mighthave to use a Memory Charm on her. “That doesn’t mean I have to care about the same things.”

“The bond you have to Mr. Potter—”

“Meant he rescued us,” said Draco. “Saved my life. Saved my father. I won’t forget that, but that’s different from not doing all I can to preserve my father’s life.”

“If you go to Azkaban,” said Dumbledore, and his eyes were intent in that unnerving way, “what do you think is going to happen to Mr. Potter? When all he can feel through the bond is your despair and the desire to die?”

“I wouldn’t simply sit there and feel that,” said Draco, which was true. He leaned back and turned his attention again to the other bed. He thought he could feel a faint flicker of response from Potter now as Professor Snape poured the potions down his throat. “Potter can count on me to feel rage and the conviction that I’m innocent.”

From the way Dumbledore frowned, he might have thought there was something to that. “I cannot simply allow you to do whatever you like in the name of protecting your father, Mr. Malfoy.”

Draco leaned forwards and held Dumbledore’s eyes. “Then find something that will work,” he said softly. “Because otherwise, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Dumbledore seemed to look away from Draco with an obvious effort. “I will speak again to the members of the Order,” he said, and stood. “In the meantime, Mr. Malfoy, I suggest you rest.”

Draco chose to take that as directed to Father, since Dumbledore was partially facing in that direction, and simply looked in silence at the other bed. Father was half-asleep already, probably a consequence of the potions. Professor Snape was still silently working on Potter, using some of his hair and blood with a clear orange base that Draco didn’t recognize to make some specialized potion.

What the hell did Potter do?

*

Harry felt as if he was walking down a dark corridor. He could feel a certain solidity beneath him, and coolness around him. But when he looked up and down, he couldn’t see walls or windows. No light. If it hadn’t been for his sense of touch, he would have thought he was nowhere instead of somewhere.

He thought about turning around and walking back the way he’d come. But that seemed equally useless. He kept simply moving on, and he thought he could feel the floor bending in different directions now and then.

Potter.

The voice was distant, more like a thought than English. Harry chose to ignore it for the moment, while he turned another corner.

Potter. If you do not come out of this and back to the surface of your mind, you will die.

That voice was familiar this time. Professor Snape’s, and it sounded exactly the way it had last year when Harry went to him for Occlumency lessons and he ended up wasting both their time. Harry stopped and considered the ceiling, or what was probably the ceiling if he was in any sort of normal corridor. “Why would I die?”

You’ve exhausted your magic.

“That seems to mean I should rest some more,” Harry pointed out, and then kept wandering down the corridor. He was getting a little bored. He would be all right with coming back to the surface of his mind, he decided, if Snape would show him how to do it.

Using your magic like that weakened the connection between your body and your soul. It is possible that your soul might detach.

Harry paused. “Huh. How can you talk to me right now if I’m mostly a wandering soul, though?”

I brewed a potion which allows me to cross some of the barriers. It is hard to hold on to the connection, and it will probably snap soon. Join me, Potter. Rise, or I cannot maintain the connection to you and show you the path back.

“How do I do that?” Harry looked up, or what he thought was up, and decided maybe it was as simple as wishing that he could float. But when he did that, nothing seemed to change. He still had his feet on something smooth and cold, and there was still darkness all around him, with no growing approach of light.

You must follow my voice.

Harry scowled. Of course he would have to do something to get closer to Snape. “Even my subconscious is in league with Dumbledore,” he muttered.

What?

Harry shook his head. “Not important.”

Like most things you think about, Snape said in immediate agreement.

Harry only rolled his eyes and tried to follow Snape’s voice. But it kept drifting out of reach. One minute he was heading in the right direction, and then things seemed to spin around and send him drifting away. At least, Snape sounded more muffled when he spoke again, and Harry supposed that meant he was getting further away.

You are dying. This method will not work.

Harry swallowed a little. He really didn’t want to die. “Then what will?”

The bond. Concentrate on your soul-bond with Draco. It was meant to move one piece of your soul closer to his. You should be able to at least track where he is with it.

Harry wanted to argue that Dumbledore hadn’t said anything like that to him, but he decided it could wait. He reached out and tried to feel the bond humming in the darkness, thrumming with waves and the sense of walls that he’d felt when he was awake, filled with Draco’s impatience and—

There. There was a direction that felt stronger than the rest, a direction that felt like it had something in it, which most directions here didn’t. Harry floated off the corridor floor and towards it. He could hear Snape saying something else, but this time, he didn’t pay enough attention to catch the words.

The bond suddenly became visible, too, a little point of white light that Harry followed trustingly. Then he began to smell the sea, and when he stretched his hands out, he could feel himself drifting past rough stone walls that were probably the shape of the Occlumency walls Draco had raised around his portion of the bond.

Harry floated through an arched doorway and then suddenly into pain. He gasped and thrashed around, ignoring the hand that tried to restrain him. He almost wanted to flee back into the darkness, because at least there he hadn’t hurt.

Draco’s emotions battered him now, springing around him and spinning him like waves. Relief. One of them was minty-bright relief.

“Hold still, Mr. Potter.”

It was Draco’s relief more than his own desire or Snape’s sharp words that kept Harry still. He managed to lie down flat and close his eyes, telling himself that he’d felt worse agony and ignored it.

Only the agony when Voldemort had tried to possess him, that was true. But because it was true, Harry let Snape flush some thick, sewage-tasting potion down his throat and then cast a spell that made blood flow out of his arm.

“He will recover.”

The next instant, Harry heard another voice. “Harry? Harry, my dear boy, can you hear me?”

Of course I can bloody well hear you. But Harry could just imagine the outraged gasps he would get if he said that to Dumbledore, so he nodded weakly and opened his eyes instead, to find Dumbledore standing over him and staring down at him with a gentle hand reaching out.

“Good,” said Dumbledore. He hesitated, then added, “Can you tell me what you did, Harry? I’ve never seen magical exhaustion quite like that.”

Harry was in the hospital wing, he knew, which meant more than one person might overhear. But he couldn’t care about that right now. He just shrugged and croaked, “I used accidental magic on the anti-Apparition spells.”

“How can one use accidental magic that way?” Snape sounded disgusted. “Accidental magic comes when it will. You cannot command it.”

Dumbledore raised one hand. Harry was glad to see Snape shut up. So there were some things he respected.

“I just thought of what I wanted to happen really hard.” Harry shifted around on the bed and winced. His muscles ached and he was so tired that he wanted to go back to sleep, but Dumbledore sat there and waited, and he had done so much for Harry, like finding the bond for him, that Harry had to continue. “When I did accidental magic the other times, I wanted something to happen more than anything else. So this time, I wanted the spells to collapse. And it worked.”

There was silence for a second, and then Snape snorted. “Are we to believe this nonsense?” he asked of no one in particular.

Harry glared at him a little. He didn’t understand why anyone was even asking Snape. He wouldn’t be satisfied no matter what, so why ask his opinion?

“You should.” That was a voice Harry couldn’t really recognize, and he craned his neck to the side. Lucius looked droopy-eyed, but he was sitting up in another bed, smiling at Snape. “It is nothing more than the application of will and emotion to the problem at hand. Wandless magic, if you will, rather than accidental. Most adults do not manage to apply the magic because they want too many things to happen at once, and our emotions are confused and less clear. But adolescents can sometimes do it.”

He turned and bowed his head to Harry. “Congratulations to you, Mr. Potter. I owe you my life.” His gaze was weirdly intense.

I don’t know if that’s because of the life-debt or because of the bond, and at the moment, I don’t care. Harry yawned hugely and turned over. Maybe someone wanted to scold him for going to Malfoy Manor, but at the moment, he wanted to sleep even more than he wanted to talk to Dumbledore.

He felt something pouring down the bond, though, before he could fall asleep. Harry ignored the sound of adults arguing and cracked open an eye, turning his head.

Draco was staring at him.

There was still relief pouring down the bond, and something else, now, as well. Harry thought it was wonder.

He shrugged back and closed his eyes. He would be glad if this meant Draco lowered his Occlumency barriers a little and they could be more like friends.

But in the meantime, not even that mattered as much as going to sleep.

Chapter Text

“Why didn’t you take us with you?”

Harry put his hands behind his head and ignored the steady humming of the bond in the back of his mind. Ever since they’d escaped from the Manor, Malfoy’s emotions had been more open. Harry didn’t think they would stay that way, though. For all he knew, Malfoy was just too tired and didn’t see the point of investing too much power in building up his Occlumency shields.

“Because I thought you would get in the way,” he told Hermione, who stood next to his bed with her hands on her hips.

She gaped a little at him, and Ron promptly jumped in. “That’s not fair, mate.”

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked in the next instant.

Harry sighed. “I thought you would want to investigate the Manor and look for Dark artifacts. Or get upset if Malfoy used a Dark Arts spell, and delay us with the complaining. Or you just wouldn’t want to come. Not to rescue Lucius Malfoy.”

He was looking at Ron when he said the last thing, and saw his face twitch and work for an instant. Maybe he was seeing Lucius brawling with his father in the bookshop before their second year. Maybe he was thinking of the man who had almost killed his little sister.

“We wouldn’t have!” Hermione said.

“Can you be sure? I couldn’t. So I had you stay there, and I went with Draco.”

Hermione folded her arms. Her eyes were wide and hurt. “You chose him over us. You decided that you would rather listen to the insane plans he comes up with than the sensible ones that I would try to get you to do.”

“Both of you,” Harry said, and turned to her. “Malfoy’s hurt you in the past, too. I mean, Draco. I couldn’t be sure—Hermione, we needed a whole-hearted commitment to this. I couldn’t be sure that you wouldn’t hesitate if there was something we needed to do and you thought it was the wrong thing.” She paused in turn, and Harry drove in the final argument. “I couldn’t be sure that you wouldn’t tell someone. McGonagall. Dumbledore.”

Hermione looked away. “You should have told him. Even if no one else.”

“I thought he would also try to stop me,” said Harry. It wasn’t the time to try and explain the more complex doubts he was having about Dumbledore. He didn’t think Dumbledore was evil or malicious, just—he didn’t have Draco’s best interests in mind, and Harry was someone who needed to have those interests in mind, from now on. “And we needed to go there and get Draco’s father out. That was just the way it was.”

“What did Malfoy say to convince you?”

Ron’s voice was deep and soft, the way it sometimes got when he was trying to work out Harry’s intentions towards Ginny. Harry had to pause and think. “It wasn’t what he said so much as what we are.”

“What—” Ron began, and then he stopped. “Bondmates.”

Harry nodded. “He’s opened his Occlumency walls so I can feel more of what he feels. And I know how relieved he was to get his father back.” He took a deep breath. “Icouldn’t let someone whose mum had died in that horrible way just go in and maybe kill himself trying to rescue his dad.”

“I know you feel sorry for him, Harry.” Hermione’s voice was kind. “But that doesn’t mean you should risk your own life!”

“Maybe not,” Harry admitted. “And I don’t think I’ll have a lot of other chances. Draco and his dad are going into hiding.” He stretched one hand beneath his pillow, and flinched as he felt his skin get sensitive from the way the cloth rubbed against it. Maybe lingering side-effects from having his soul wandering outside his body. “I won’t see him again. Or at least not for as long as the war lasts.”

“Good,” said Ron. “I don’t really mind you having a soul-bond with him, mate. I know that’s something Dumbledore wanted you to do. But you shouldn’t let it make you actstupid.”

“That, we agree on,” Harry said, and smiled at Ron. He would have said something else, but Madam Pomfrey came out scolding then.

“Don’t you think you’ve stayed long enough to convince Mr. Potter of your friendship for him? And if you’re his friend, you’ll respect how draining his wounds are and let him rest.”

Ron grinned a little, for the first time since he’d come into the hospital wing and heard about Harry and Draco’s adventure in Malfoy Manor. Harry reached out and squeezed his hand once. He knew why. This was back to normal, for Ron; reality often included a scolding Madam Pomfrey when Harry had been injured.

“All right,” said Hermione, and she began to pull Ron towards the door. She gave Harry one more dour look before Madam Pomfrey managed to herd her into the corridor. “But we’ll talk about Dark Arts and soul-bonds and all the rest of it before long.”

“We sure will,” Harry promised her, and then lay back and let Madam Pomfrey fuss over him as much as she needed to. He deliberately kept himself from looking at the beds that held Draco and his father, the way he held all morning.

He had to separate himself from Draco and learn to start thinking of them as less than pure bondmates. He really should have practiced that before. He’d always known that their closeness to each other wouldn’t be permanent, even if the bond was.

And it’s time for me to stop being stupid.

*

Draco chose his time well. Professor Snape hadn’t yet come back to the hospital wing; Father was asleep; Madam Pomfrey had muttered something about having to check on the status of the Blood-Replenishing Potions and had marched into her supply cupboard. And Potter’s friends had already visited, so hopefully they wouldn’t return soon.

“Potter?”

The surge of emotions through the bond made Draco blink, but they ran back and vanished again before he could tell what they were. Potter turned over to acknowledge him, nodding. “What is it, Malfoy?”

“I want you to know that you saved our lives.”

“Well, yes,” said Potter, frowning as though he had expected a declaration of more importance from Draco, even though Draco thought this was just about the most important one anyone could make. “I know that.”

Draco blinked. “That doesn’t matter to you?”

“I’ve saved several people’s lives over the years,” said Potter, and his lips twitched as if he was recalling something funny. “I suppose you could say I even did it in first year, when Ron and I helped rescue Hermione from the troll.”

“Your friends won’t necessarily remind you of life-debts,” Draco said, and caught his eye. “I am.”

Potter’s amusement vanished. He watched Draco in silence. Draco waited for the inevitable questions.

But when Potter finally asked one, it wasn’t the one Draco had prepared for. “Does that matter?” he asked, shaking his head a little. “You’re going into hiding soon, and we probably won’t see each other again until the end of the war—if then. I suppose you can look me up then if the bond’s nagging at you and do something for me. Merlin knows, by then I might want someone to scare the publicity away or something.” His smile was tired.

Draco slowly closed his hands down on the blanket. “A Malfoy would never let debts go so lightly. I owe a debt to the Dark Lord that I shall see repaid. And I won’t forget about the one I owe you.” He looked at where Father slept in his bed. “You’re the reason I still have a family, Potter. I won’t forget that.”

“You want to do something that would repay me?”

“Yes.” Draco turned quickly back towards the other side of the room, although he hardly believed Potter had gone from disregarding the life-debt Draco owed him to deciding how to use it. “What do you want?”

“Call me Harry. That way, I won’t have to feel as awkward as I do when I call you Draco and then remember we aren’t even on a first-name basis.”

“That’s nothing like enough to pay a life-debt of this magnitude,” Draco began. It wasn’t Potter’s fault he didn’t know the way proper wizards behaved. Well, it was sort of his fault, in that he should have taken better care not to anger Draco their first year, but it would be counterproductive to blame him for that right now.

“It would be for me. Hermione told me once that life-debts can only be considered paid if the person who owes them saves the person who saved them—or until the person who’s owed them decides he’s satisfied. Isn’t that right?”

“Yes.” Potter’s eyes seemed almost impossibly bright, like the scar on his forehead was really flashing lightning, and Draco couldn’t look away.

“Then I want to be satisfied by you calling me Harry. Unless you decide that’s one of the prices you can’t pay.”

“Only the price of my father’s life or my family heirlooms and home would be too much.” Draco shook his head, not in refusal but because Potter was so dim sometimes. “Do you know what I would take the chance to collect if you owed me one?”

“I don’t really care. Despite the soul-bond, we are different people.” Potter sounded tired. “Will you call me Harry?”

“Yes.” Draco spoke the word not expecting anything to happen, but there was a dim flash in the air between them, and his shoulders felt lighter. He stared at Potter, who smiled a little and closed his eyes.

“There, see? Now you know I was sincere when I said that my first name would be enough.”

Draco sat there and considered that. Then he whispered, “Harry?”

“Hmmm?” Harry—because Draco thought he should start practicing in his head, too, just so he wouldn’t slip up aloud—rolled his neck back and forth. Draco listened to the snapping joints and winced a little. There was no pain rolling down the bond, which seemed incredible to him.

“Why do you think you’ll never see me again after I take Father to a safehouse?”

That brought Harry’s eyes flipping open. He stared at Draco in silence for long moments, and then said, as if he was explaining to someone who didn’t understand English that well, “Because we’ll be apart? And there’s the chance either one of us will die in the war, no matter how well you’re protected. And the soul-bond is only supposed to make the Horcrux in me move further away from the rest of my soul.” He glanced automatically around for Madam Pomfrey, but Draco had already done that, and didn’t think he needed to look away from Harry’s bed. “Because you have no reason to want to see me now?”

Draco leaned slowly forwards and braced his elbows on the bed. “Why do you think I didn’t put up the Occlumency walls again?”

“Because you’re too tired, and that kind of magic takes concentration.”

“I was less hurt than you were in the raid on the Manor.” Draco didn’t let his indignation into his voice, because that would have the opposite effect he wanted. Harry thought he was weak enough to still be suffering from magical exhaustion? Really? Well, he would address the misconception at a later date. “It’s because I have my own notions of what I owe you for what you did.”

Harry snorted. “Now that the life-debt is paid, you can raise your walls again.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Why?”

Now it was harder than ever to meet Harry’s over-bright eyes, but Draco did it because he wanted to. “Because I think I owe you something different than a life-debt for helping me protect my only remaining family. I don’t know anyone else who would have done something like that for me.”

“I…” Harry frowned at him. “Dumbledore promised to.”

“And you saw how well he kept that promise.”

“Perhaps he would have done better if you’d given him more time,” Harry suggested, and then sighed. Draco could feel his own disbelief welling through him so strongly it nearly strangled him; that meant it had to be almost swamping the bond. “No, I don’t believe that. I don’t think he meant your father to die, but he would have delayed and delayed because of good intentions, and something would have happened that he didn’t intend.”

“Exactly.” Draco smiled a little. “And your opinion of my friends in Slytherin is vindicated. None of them would help me like that. None of them would try to save my life at the risk of their own.” He shrugged. He wouldn’t say that Blaise’s and Theo’s friendship was worthless, but he would say that they wouldn’t see the value of taking such a risk. They would never have agreed to the soul-bond, much less assaulting the Manor with no warning to any of the professors.

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that,” said Harry. His awkwardness tasted like stones in Draco’s mouth. “Okay. Keep down your walls if you like.” He smiled a little. “Maybe it’ll be a comfort to us both, when you’re in the safehouse and I’m with my relatives, to feel someone else’s emotions.”

“I won’t get bored easily with Father’s company, if that’s what you’re implying.” Draco thought of what he would give to spend one more moment with his mother, and had to clamp his hands down against a harsh blast of emotion.

“I wasn’t. Just that you might want to have a reminder of the outside world occasionally.”

“Well, what about you, then?” Draco asked, turning the conversation back on Harry the way Father had always drilled into him. Of course it was a comfort, a luxury, to talk about himself, but Draco was no longer the child who believed everyone would stare at him in fascination when he did. “Do you have such need of someone to comfort you and believe in you when you’re at your relatives’ house? Why? I thought they pampered you?”

“You’ve been listening to Snape again,” said Harry, and leaned back on the bed. “They’re not that bad, but not that great, either.”

Draco gasped as the emotions in the bond broke over him, cold water that dissolved straight away into foam and bubbles but still stung. Then he bowed his head and wheezed a second until he could get his breath back again.

“Draco? Are you okay?” A touch of concern came down the bond, too, and caught Draco like a board floating in the water, bobbing him back up to the surface.

Draco had his breath steady, now. He sat up and said, “You shouldn’t try lying when we have a bond that connects us emotionally, Potter.”

“And you shouldn’t have said that you were going to call me by my first name if you didn’t mean it.”

Once again Harry’s surface didn’t match what was underneath, but Draco was better-braced to resist pain than the disgust and anger that had drowned him before. He swallowed, then said, “I’m sorry, Harry. But my point stands, regardless of the name I used to talk to you about it.”

“You don’t make much sense, you know.” Harry looked at him. “I don’t know what I’m lying about.”

“You hate your relatives.”

“Oh, you could feel that?” Harry was still for a second, and then he rolled his head in that gesture again. “Well, it doesn’t matter much. You’re the only one who’s ever picked up on that.”

“Why do you hate them?”

“For being such oblivious Muggles.”

This time, Draco was able to keep his head above water, and he said the first thing that came to him. “That doesn’t sound much like the hero Dumbledore’s been raising.”

“It’s probably not.” Harry stared off to the side, and snorted. His emotions receded a little, although Draco knew he could reach out and feel the sea of them any time he wanted. “And I don’t hate all Muggles. Only them.”

Draco held back what he wanted to say, that he couldn’t see any reason not to hate all Muggles. Harry would only get tiresome if Draco voiced it, and probably want to argue. Instead, he murmured, “Tell me why.”

Harry gave another glance around before he answered. Draco knew Father was deeply tired from the way he breathed, probably sleeping off the exhaustion and fear of his captivity as well as the Starvation Curses that the other Death Eaters had cast on him.

But his curiosity was piqued as to what Harry would think he had to keep secret from Madam Pomfrey.

“All right,” said Harry. “The Muggles I live with are my mother’s sister and her husband. And my cousin,” he added in a slightly less dismal voice. “They don’t like magic. Well, my aunt and uncle, anyway. I don’t know if my cousin ever knew about me being a wizard before I turned eleven.”

Draco made a quick calculation, based in part on the salt water that once more touched his throat. “But you didn’t know, either.”

Harry shook his head, staring off into the corridor, although he tensed when Madam Pomfrey made some noise back in her supply cupboard. “Not about being a wizard, not about magic, not about how my parents died, not about Voldemort—” Draco winced, but said nothing. “None of that.”

“I don’t understand,” said Draco, memories taking him over as strongly as the emotions. “You acted like you knew what I was talking about, when we met in the robe shop.”

“Really?” Harry grinned at him suddenly. “When I didn’t know what the Houses were, or what Quidditch was, or what you meant by ‘the other sort’ that you thought they shouldn’t let into Hogwarts?”

Draco hesitated. Then he admitted, “You have a better memory of the conversation than I do.”

“Of course I do,” Harry said, almost gently. “You were only the second wizard I’d met. Met to know, I mean. Sometimes odd people came up to me and hugged me, and I suppose they knew…But more important, you were the first wizard my age. And then you sort of ruined it.”

“I wouldn’t have ruined it if I knew.”

Harry only shrugged. “Right, but I wanted a friend who didn’t care about my fame. And I didn’t have one until I got Ron.”

Draco swallowed back apologies that wouldn’t come out right if he tried to say them and objections that Harry wouldn’t want to listen to, and continued. “But didn’t that get lonely, once you went back to your relatives in the summers?”

Harry nodded. “I always look forward to coming back to Hogwarts. They were vaguely decent last summer, though. Nothing’s been as bad as the summer before second year.”

“What happened then?”

Harry glanced sideways at him. “Your old house-elf Dobby showed up, and thought he was saving my life by making sure I couldn’t go back to Hogwarts. He cast a spell that my relatives thought I was responsible for. Hell, even the Ministry thought I was, from the warning about underage magic they sent me. My relatives locked me in my room.”

Draco stared. There were so many different things wrong there that he didn’t know where to begin addressing them. “How could they lock you in your room?” he finally decided to ask first. “Couldn’t you just break out?”

Harry laughed, in a voice completely without humor. “When I couldn’t practice magic during the summers and there were five locks on the door?”

Five.” Draco stared again. From the way Harry shifted and glanced away, he was getting the full force of Draco’s emotions through the bond, and he probably also wished that Draco would stop gaping like an ignorant schoolboy. Draco couldn’t help it, though.

He knew Harry was spoiled. He knew Harry had been raised with the knowledge that he was like a prince in the wizarding world and had come to Hogwarts prepared to break the rules that the rest of the students were expected to obey. He knew all about the luxurious upbringing from Father, who was certain Dumbledore wouldn’t allow just anyone to raise the Boy-Who-Lived, and the rest from Professor Snape.

But now he had to admit all that knowledge was wrong, and it was like falling from a mountain. He shook his head once and then again. Harry’s gaze came back to him and fixed on him, darkly amused.

“Don’t shake your head so hard,” Harry told him. “You’ll jar something loose.”

Draco studied Harry. It was still true that he broke school rules and caused Professor Snape nothing but trouble. Draco found himself wanting to know why as fiercely as he had once wanted Harry to take his hand.

“Tell me more. I know there’s more.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

Harry’s voice was bland, his eyes just a little mocking. Draco knew that for a mask, though, the same mask Harry used whenever Professor Snape asked him something in class. And the emotions still seethed and danced under the surface, although Harry had reined them in a little and it was no longer as easy for Draco to tell exactly what they were.

“I mean that they didn’t just keep the secret of your magic from you and put five locks on your door because they were angry at you one day. What else did they do?”

“You don’t want to know that.”

“Because I’m in the habit of asking constantly about things I don’t want to know.” Draco folded his arms and rolled his eyes. “Indulge me, Pot—Harry. Talk to me about the other things they did to you. It would ease some of the pain, wouldn’t it?”

“Not really. The other times I’ve tried to tell someone about this, I’ve regretted it.”

“So you admit that there is more!”

*

Harry stared at Draco, and wondered how in the world he could ever explain without using words. He could push a bunch of emotions down the bond, but Draco wouldn’t understand everything from those, either. He could feel hatred and anger.

He wouldn’t know about the hunger. He wouldn’t know about the cupboard, or the lies about Harry’s parents, or the way that Aunt Marge sicced Ripper on him, or the way that sometimes Harry lay there and ached with the force of his desire to run away.

But that’s a good thing. That’s not anything you want to admit to people. You saw what happens when you do. You get the Dursleys angry at you for no good reason, and nothing changes.

But the Dursleys wouldn’t ever know Harry had told Draco if Harry didn’t tell them. Draco and Lucius would be miles away, maybe in a whole other country. The knowledge would leave Harry alone after that.

Harry nodded. He had probably known he was going to do it from the minute Draco started asking, if he wanted to be honest with himself.

But really, he wanted to be honest with someone else. Someone who couldn’t hurt him, who couldn’t interfere because he wouldn’t be there, and who had every reason in the world to keep it to himself, because he would have to explain how he knew it otherwise.

Draco leaned forwards on the bed. Harry basked a little in the curiosity that blew down the bond, like a friendly gust of sunshine.

“The first thing I remember is the cupboard.”

Chapter Text

“You’ve spent a lot of time telling me about the things they did. And just as much time reassuring me about the things they didn’t do.”

Harry sighed as he rubbed his eyes. He’d had to stop talking to Draco because Madam Pomfrey had come back into the hospital wing and fed him a bunch of potions. Harry had the impression she’d agreed to leave them alone after that because she thought he would sleep.

But he didn’t have the normal reaction to sleeping potions, either. At least this was one “gift” he didn’t mind possessing.

“That’s because I know what people think when they hear someone’s abused,” said Harry. “Beaten up and threatened and shoved and hit and kicked and pushed down stairs. Broken bones. They never did that.”

Draco was quiet enough that Harry looked at him. The bond was more open, but Draco still didn’t project emotions as much as Harry knew he did.

“What about your cousin?” Draco finally asked. “Didn’t he ever break any bones with the way he was beating you up?”

Harry shook his head a little, and pulled together some shards of the discomfort he’d felt when he started talking. He didn’t just sit there and tell people about the Dursleys. He knew Ron and Hermione knew some of it, but they’d put it together from other clues. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Draco stared at him. And now the bond was recoiling and lashing back and forth like a whip. “What kind of answer is that?”

“An honest one.” Harry rolled his eyes when he saw the way Draco was sitting up. “My relatives never took me to hospital. I don’t know if any of my bones got broken or not. Sometimes it was hard to breathe. Dudley liked to hit me in the ribs, so it’s possible that I had broken ribs. But I never knew.”

“Where else did he like to hit you?”

“My hands. My face. But I know what a broken nose looks like, and I can use my hands well enough, so I don’t think I ever had anything broken there either.”

Draco closed his eyes and sat there. He looked like he was meditating, the way that Harry had done when he was first trying to learn Occlumency. But from the waves that pulsed and beat in the bond, he wasn’t having a lot of success trying to relax himself.

“I’m going to say something,” said Draco slowly. “I don’t want you to snap at me. I want you to listen to me all the way to the end and try to understand what I’m saying. Can you do that?”

“You sound like it’s going to be some kind of revelation that won’t make me like you very much,” Harry muttered. He glanced at Lucius Malfoy, still asleep and breathing slowly, in a way Harry didn’t think was just pretending.

“Not me, but my words. I want you to promise that you’re going to hold still and listen and let me speak. Okay?”

“It sounds horrible,” Harry said, but he caught Draco’s eye and sighed. “Yes, I understand what you want. Talk about it.”

Draco watched him as if he thought that wasn’t a true promise, then gave a put-upon sigh. The bond echoed once more like racing wavecaps, then settled down. Draco murmured, “You say that you don’t want someone to think you were abused in the way you described, but you do acknowledge you were abused.”

Harry almost said, “Yes,” but in the end he nodded instead, remembering his promise not to talk. Draco paused, then went on, his voice gaining more confidence.

“But when you talk so much about how you weren’t beaten and you weren’t hurt and you might have had broken bones but you weren’t sure, as if it didn’t matter—that makes it seem, to me, as if you don’t think you were abused. Because things happened to other people that didn’t happen to you.”

Harry let his breath out carefully. Draco was watching him with such shrewd eyes that Harry did feel attacked, but the bond was steady, not echoing with impatience or hurt or any of the other emotions that might have made it intolerable. Harry forced himself to say, “What happened to me was horrible. And Voldemort, too. He makes my life awful.”

“But you would still say that you didn’t have it as bad as other people.”

“My mum didn’t die in front of me!”

Draco raised his eyebrows slowly. Harry could feel himself flushing. Draco said, delicately, a second later, “Mine didn’t. It was awful enough to hear about, later. I would never—” He closed his eyes, and Harry waited while the bond sang soaring in his head like a bird of pain. Then Draco went on, “I would never wish for anything worse than that.

“But your mother did die in front of you, Harry. Even if you were too young to remember it. And the fact that you forgot that just now in your haste to reassure me…” Draco shrugged. “It doesn’t speak well to your acknowledging your abuse enough.”

Harry stared at the bottom of Draco’s bed. He wished at the moment that he was back in the Gryffindor common room, if only to have a fire to look at. It gave him something more natural to do with his eyes.

“Harry?”

This wouldn’t disprove Draco’s point, but Harry still thought it was important to say. He opened his eyes again, and looked into Draco’s face, and said, “I do remember my mum dying in front of me. Part of it. It’s what I see when the Dementors come. The green light of the Killing Curse—well, that second. I hear her pleading with Voldemort to spare my life and him telling her to stand aside and then laughing.”

*

If I had known that, I would never have made fun of him for fainting around Dementors.

But Draco had to shake his head when he thought that. They had all been different people then, in third year. He sometimes thought he had changed into a different person completely when his mother died and he made the soul-bond with Potter. That person still valued his family, but he could learn to value other people, too.

“Thank you for telling me that,” Draco said.

The different emotions coming from Harry began to calm down. He once again adopted the posture of lying back with his arms behind his head, which was probably meant to convince Draco he’d relaxed completely.

I used to think he was relaxed when I saw him lounging around the library and agreeing with Weasley that he didn’t need to study.

“How many lies do you tell people on a daily basis?” Draco added, because he really wanted to know.

Harry blinked, and his emotions surged and shone again like a wave breaking on a cliff, then ran back down into the calmer waters of the bond. “A few dozen, maybe. Mostly about how brave I am and how I feel and the secret plans I supposedly have for facing Voldemort.”

“You wanted to tell the truth last year. When Umbridge punished you for it.”

Harry smiled wryly and held up his right hand with the back facing Draco, but their beds were too far apart. Draco shook his head. “What am I looking at?”

Harry waved his wand lazily, and suddenly the air between them became small and clear, like a prism, showing Draco the back of Harry’s hand. Draco blinked. He hadn’t seen that spell before, and his first thought was to question where Harry had learned it.

But only until he saw the words etched into the back of Harry’s hand, made shining and red now by the prism.

I must not tell lies.

“The results of a Blood Quill,” said Draco. He could feel the bond lying still, but that was deceptive, rather like the way that a lake might lie still before erupting in storm.

“Yes,” said Harry, and tucked his hand back against his side. “I do tell the truth about things like Voldemort coming back. Just not about things like how I feel.”

“Why not?”

“Because half the time, no one believes me anyway.” Harry rolled his eyes. “Some people could be benefited by knowing Voldemort was back, but no one would benefit from knowing that I’m scared to face him. And no one believed me when I told them I wasn’t the Heir of Slytherin. And when I said I wasn’t lying last year. After a while, it’s easier to know when you have to let the truth go.”

“I never believed you were the Heir of Slytherin. The Heir would have more class than that.”

Harry grinned. “You’d think the Heir would also have more class than to write in letters of blood on the walls, but you would be wrong.”

Draco longed to ask him if the rumors were true and the Heir had been Ginny Weasley possessed by a malevolent spirit, but he wanted their bond to flourish. Asking Harry questions about the Weasleys would probably drive them back to guarded neutrality, at the best.

“I want you to know it matters to me,” Draco said. Harry raised his eyebrows this time, and Draco added, “How you feel about things. What happened to you in Umbridge’s detentions. What you really think.”

“You only feel that way because we have a soul-bond now.”

“Well, so do you. That’s the only reason you ever agreed to come with me to rescue my father.”

“You’re right.” Harry looked in the other direction. “I probably would have fought for you to have the chance otherwise, but I wouldn’t have gone against Dumbledore.”

Draco paused. He might have the chance to move the conversation around to another place he wanted it to go, as long as he didn’t look or sound too eager. “What do you think of him? Do you think he’s doing everything he should as leader of the Order of the Phoenix and leader of half this war?”

*

Harry felt his lips twitch. If that was some attempt to recruit me to the Death Eaters, it’s not a very good one.

But then again, Draco would have no reason to want Harry to fight for Voldemort now. Harry tried to treat the question as he thought Draco meant it.

“I think he does use people. But that’s what you have to do to win a war. That’s why I’m no good at it. I just charge ahead and kill a basilisk or battle Voldemort or something, but it’s not like I planned those things. Dumbledore maybe isn’t a great person, but he’s a good general.”

“Is he, if his way litters the ground with sacrifices?” Draco shook his head, but his eyes were bright and insistent. “You might be one of those sacrifices. At least, I think you are. Why does he make you live with people who despise you?”

“He told me once that he knew I wouldn’t have a good childhood there, but I needed to stay alive. And he wanted to give me a chance to be a child. That’s why he didn’t tell me about—about everything I needed to do to defeat Voldemort before I turned fifteen.”

The bond whipped up into whitecaps again. Harry sighed a little. He didn’t like a lot of what Dumbledore had done any better than Draco did, but he didn’t see the point in sitting around blaming him for it, either. They just had to go on and do the best job they could.

“Does he want you to go back to your relatives in the summer?”

Harry blinked. “Of course. Although I think it’ll only be for a month this time, until I turn seventeen.”

“Then you’ll come to the safehouse with my father and me,” Draco said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Harry stared at him. “I can’t do that. I have—my friends, I have things to do—”

“I didn’t mean right away.” Draco made the bond vibrate, along with having an insufferably smug expression on his face. “I don’t think my Hogwarts education will be worth much to me now. Maybe I can take my NEWTS later, after I’ve had some private tutoring. But you should stay and get what you can out of the rest of your sixth year. I meant during the summer, after you’ve spent what time you have to with them.”

Harry was wordless now. But not emotionless, and Draco turned his head to the side and appeared to listen hard.

“You don’t agree with me.”

“No. You’ll be with your father, and I think it’s best if you stay safe there. But I’m probably going to be hunting Horcruxes.”

Draco’s face changed again, and the bond only a moment later. Now it was roaring and surging, and Harry winced back from it as he would from a crash of spray against his face. “What? What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about going on a hunt to destroy the other Horcruxes besides the one in me, and two that have already been destroyed,” said Harry. “Dumbledore’s teaching me about them. There’s no one else who can do the job.”

Why?”

Harry rolled his eyes and pulled his hair back to show his scar.

“Don’t give me that.” Draco’s voice was low and controlled, and the bond had dropped back to an almost ominous stillness. “You and I both know what that scar reallysignifies. Why can’t Dumbledore do it? Why can’t the Order of the Phoenix do it? These wizards who weren’t ready to guard my father, surely they can do something that would matter as much to the future of the world as destroying the objects that the Dark Lord uses to hold on to immortality?”

Harry frowned off to the side for a second. Well, he supposed he had no choice now, and Draco didn’t want Harry to lie to him.

“There’s a prophecy,” he said. “About Voldemort marking a child born at the end of July as his equal, and neither one of us being able to live while the other one survives. Dumbledore only told me last year after Sirius died.” Harry winced and realized that the bond had grown sharp now, as though someone had laid needles against his temple. “Dumbledore and my friends can help me, but that does argue that I’m the one who actually has to defeat the bastard.”

Draco leaned slowly back into his bed. He looked as though he was the one who had really suffered in the raid on Malfoy Manor. Harry held still and watched him, wondering what was going through his head.

The bond had emotions only, not words. Harry had been relieved when Dumbledore first explained that to him. Anything else had seemed too intrusive.

But at the moment, Harry thought, they could have used words in their heads. It would have been easier to just think at each other rather than struggle to find the right way to say it.

*

There’s no chance of persuading him to walk away with me and Father and give up the struggle against the Dark Lord.

Draco shook his head a second later. He hadn’t thought seriously in terms of that until today. He wanted vengeance on the Dark Lord for what had happened to Mother, and he was determined to do whatever he had to to get that.

But going up against the Dark Lord had already proven harder than he’d thought. If he could have escaped with Father and Harry, and hidden away with them and known that the only family he had left and the person he owed the most to were safe, then Draco would have been tempted by the idea of turning his back on the war. And the temptation had temporarily seduced him.

It’ll have to be temporary, Draco realized as he saw the fires in Harry’s eyes and felt the heat running up the bond.

“I didn’t know that you enjoyed playing the hero,” said Draco aloud as he wrenched his mind back from visions to his present course.

“Don’t enjoy it. Have to.”

Oh, dear, and now he’s almost monosyllabic. Draco decided he must have sounded like Professor Snape, who sneered about Harry’s heroic tendencies all the time. He reached out with one hand and made a little gesture of peace. “I understand. A prophecy is a hard thing to refute.”

“Not to mention all the people who would be let down if I ran away.”

Draco frowned. It seemed to him that people shouldn’t be that let down. There were lots of Aurors with more combat experience than Harry—and many more Death Eaters—and there was Dumbledore, and Professor Snape, and Professor McGonagall, and other adults who seemed more competent to fight a war to Draco. Not to mention the much-vaunted Order of the Phoenix.

“How are you supposed to defeat the Dark Lord?”

“I don’t know. The prophecy speaks of a power that the Dark Lord knows not, and I suppose I’ll have to use that.”

“But you don’t know what it is, either.”

Harry settled back and shook his head. The bond was no longer vibrating, just swaying back and forth gently like a line in the wind. “No, although I do think that it probably has something to do with the Horcruxes. Maybe I can face Voldemort better because I have a whole soul and he doesn’t.”

“You have a soul of your own plus mine.”

Harry’s eyes met his, and Draco felt an intense charge strike down through his body, like a lightning bolt that had decided to root him to the bed. He shivered, and Harry’s eyes grew sharper and more piercing, but also brighter.

“Yes. And I’m still grateful that you agreed to share yours. It makes a lot of difference to have a soul-bond I can choose.”

Draco cleared his throat a little. His cheeks were horribly stained with what he suspected was a flush, even though he had no reason to blush in front of someone like Harry, someone who already knew a lot of his thoughts and apparently didn’t mind them.

“All right. Well. I’ll let you know when Father and I are ready to leave. It can’t be before Madam Pomfrey decides that we’re ready to get out of bed, anyway.”

“Does anyone ever listen to her all the way through?” Harry shook his head and tilted to the side, sticking his legs out of bed. Draco caught his breath, but apparently Harry could stand up just fine. He nodded triumphantly to Draco. “Don’t let her bully you, I say.” He shrugged and made for the door out of the hospital wing, wobbling a little.

“You almost died.”

“And now I’m alive. I only stayed here so long because I wanted to talk to you.”

Draco felt his throat dry out, and he was still staring when Harry tossed him a wink and slipped out of the hospital wing.

“Draco.”

And now Harry has to feel my start of embarrassment and wonder what the hell it means, Draco thought, turning numbly towards Father. Father, who had his eyes open and very clear and direct, which meant that he’d heard most or all of the conversation. At least he wasn’t smiling.

“You should be careful, Draco,” Father said. “I understand enough of the circumstances to grasp why you turned to Potter for help. But you have no need to continue the association once we go into the safehouse. You should turn your attention to other allies and strengthening our position as Malfoys.”

“The soul-bond will still be there, though. I can’t exactly get rid of it.”

“Attitude, Draco.”

You get your father, your only remaining family, back, and you intend to argue with him over Harry Potter? Draco closed his eyes and breathed deeply enough that a second later he coughed. Father was right. The soul-bond would be there, but Harry had laid out some of the reasons it would have to stop mattering to them as much. They would spend the majority of their time apart from now on; they might never see each other again if Harry got killed in the war.

I don’t want that to happen. Draco shocked himself with the force of how much he didn’t want it to happen, actually.

“I don’t want to simply say that nothing about him will matter to me now that we’re leaving,” Draco finally said. He thought his voice was acceptably calm, although in the end only his father could be the judge of that.

“Of course not. And I owe him a life-debt that I must think of how to repay.” Father smiled gently at Draco, and reached out a hand. Draco slid to the edge of his bed and clasped it. “You will leave suddenly, of course?”

“Of course.” Draco wasn’t going to give Dumbledore the chance to cage them here, in case he wanted to do that to influence Harry. “And you think you’ll be well enough to travel shortly?”

“Hmm.” Father looked down at his arms. “They didn’t use me as hard as they could have. Of course, I think that means they were saving me for something worse.”

What could be worse? Draco wanted to ask, but it occurred to him in time how stupid a question that was, and he didn’t ask it. He only nodded, and then whispered, “You think we’ll be safe from the Dark Lord?”

“I know that, as soon as I can get hold of a wand, I’m going to cast some spells on our Dark Marks that should make us safer still.” Father closed his eyes for a second, and then continued, “Your mother would never forgive me if I failed to protect you. She would probably never forgive me for ending up in a prison cell and making you come to fetch me.”

“She would forgive us a lot for still being alive. And the best way to honor her is to go on being that way.”

For an instant, Draco didn’t think Father had heard him. He was drifting in some world of his own, one that troubled his breathing and made his eyelids quiver. But then he nodded and looked up, with hard eyes. “Of course you’re right, Draco. Of course I should be thinking about how to survive her, not how to mourn her.”

Draco smiled. Now and then he felt a quiver down the bond from Harry’s emotions, but they didn’t seem as present and real without Harry here to read the expressions on his face.

Of course they had to separate. Of course he saw that now. Harry had enough Occlumency to separate their emotions and enough insane determination that Draco couldn’t persuade him to turn his back on the war.

All the same…

Draco was still thinking of what could be.

Chapter Text

“It’s not so much that you didn’t take us with you, mate. I mean, you’re allowed to do things on your own, of course you are. It’s just that you trusted Malfoy.”

Harry nodded. He was sitting with Ron and Hermione outside beneath the Whomping Willow; they’d got close enough to hit the knot in the trunk that made it freeze. No one else was nearby, which meant Harry thought it was safe to talk without a lot of precautions. Not that many people would probably approach even if they saw the Willow frozen. They would probably think it was going to start up again any second.

“Why did you trust him?” Hermione shivered and cast a spell that warmed her hands. Harry smiled. Even with Easter not that far away, it was hard to write outside. Hermione was trying to finish an essay at the same time as they talked.

“The soul-bond. I’ve trusted him since I started feeling his emotions through the bond.”

“So all we need to do is complete a dangerous and difficult ritual and you’d trust us?” Hermione was a little sharp.

Harry touched her arm. “Don’t be silly. We already did our dangerous and difficult ritual. It’s called ‘defeating a troll together.’”

Hermione’s smile seemed to turn the whole world warm. Ron was staring at her with his mouth slightly open, and Harry had to struggle not to roll his eyes. When the hell is he going to ask her out? A blind Slytherin would know how he feels about her.

Harry was sure Draco knew, even though they’d never talked about it. But then again, he didn’t intend to ask Draco what he thought of it. He was sure he would get scathing feelings down the bond.

“Okay, but then, you’ve known us for years and you didn’t trust us with it. You knew Malfoy a fortnight and you go off with him to get killed?”

“I’ve gone off with you to get killed plenty of times,” Harry pointed out. “The Department of Mysteries, the basilisk, going to get the Stone. And I’ve known Malfoy about the same amount of time. It’s only right he gets his fair chance.”

Ron’s glare said that didn’t impress him. Harry leaned back against the tree and sighed, letting his gaze go over to a pair of Ravenclaws walking at a distance. He wondered if they’d also come out here for privacy and were disappointed not to find it.

“It’s what I said to you in the hospital wing,” he muttered finally. “I was afraid you would hesitate and not want me or him using the spells we needed to use because you would think they were too Dark. We barely got away as it was. I didn’t need to use any Dark spells, but I think Draco did.”

“If you didn’t need to use any, then no one needed to use any,” said Hermione, her mouth turning down in a stubborn scowl.

“And I magically exhausted myself and nearly died because my soul was detached from my body,” Harry said, turning to face her. “I would have died if not for the soul-bond. Not even Snape could call me back. It was Draco who did. Is it better to do that all the time, or use Dark Arts some of the time?”

Hermione closed her eyes, her eyelashes making lines against her cheek. “I think Dark Arts can corrupt you more easily.”

“Well, yeah. I’m not saying magical exhaustion would have corrupted me. I think it would have killed me.”

Ron gave Harry a warning look, and reached out as though he would put his arm around Hermione’s shoulder. A second later, he jumped and pulled it back as if he had just remembered that he couldn’t touch her according to his own bizarre rules.

Harry rolled his eyes. He was glad Ron wasn’t dating Lavender anymore, but this silly behavior wasn’t much better. If Ron asked her out soon, then Harry wouldn’t have to watch it anymore, at least.

“I just don’t think you should do anything like that again,” Hermione whispered. “Not even if he asks you. He could ask you to do something that would seriously damage you, Harry.”

“This did,” Harry said. He thought he understood why Hermione and Ron wanted to hide from the fact that he had almost died. Hell, Harry wasn’t comfortable thinking about it himself. But he refused to let them do it when they would blame Draco if they did. “With just Light magic on my part. I used the Patronus, and I broke through the anti-Apparition spells without hurting anyone, except maybe Voldemort. Those are Light spells. That doesn’t mean they didn’t almost kill me.”

Hermione said, “Fine. Will you at least involve us next time?”

“Would you spend time lecturing Draco?”

“It’s strange that you call the git by his first name, mate.”

“Not so strange, when we’re soul-bonded.” Harry kept concentrating on Hermione. She was the one who really had to make the decision. Ron might hate Draco, but he would swallow that and go along with this if Hermione reconciled herself to it. Ron cared more about Hermione, in the end, than he did his family’s feud with the Malfoys.

Hermione sighed and straightened out her robes and spent some time considering them before she raised her eyes. “I reserve the right to tell him about the safer and Lighter ways to do things if he wants to do something Dark.”

“As long as it’s not in the middle of a battle,” Harry said, and eased back, and smiled at her. “Besides, I probably won’t go charging off with Draco any time soon. He and his father are going to that safehouse I mentioned.”

“Where?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t think anyone except Dumbledore will know that for sure. They’ll probably be under the Fidelius with him as the Secret-Keeper. That’s the safest thing.”

Of course, immediately after he had said that, Harry wondered if Dumbledore would do the safest thing. If he was still disappointed that Harry and Draco had rescued Lucius their way, or if he was dying from the curse on his hand, then he might pick some other Secret-Keeper.

“Watch out,” Ron said abruptly. “Snape coming in from the right.”

Harry turned and looked up at Snape. He had no idea what expression was on his face, but then, he hadn’t seen Snape since that last time he was in the hospital wing to stuff potions down Harry’s throat.

Snape looked at him only as if Harry was a decaying shrew, instead of a decaying mouse. “The Headmaster wants to see you in his office, Potter,” he murmured. “Immediately.” He turned around and stalked away.

Since Snape hadn’t told him the password, Harry assumed he would have to actually follow him. He stood up and shrugged at his friends. “Think about what I said. I don’t want to abandon you and just run off with Draco.”

Hermione nodded, her expression thoughtful. “Thanks for telling us, Harry. I’m just not always sure the ends justify the means.”

Harry hid the way he rolled his eyes until he turned away. He didn’t think Hermione would convince Draco with that reasoning.

Of course, she wouldn’t have to convince him anyway. The thought of Hermione and Draco ever fighting side-by-side was more remote than ever now that Draco and Mr. Malfoy were going to safehouse.

And if there was an ache in Harry’s throat about that, well, he was pretty good at losing things and surviving anyway.

*

Severus kept a close eye on the Potter boy as they headed for the castle. Potter’s expression had clouded; now it was clear. He walked with a spring in his step, exactly as if nothing was wrong. The boy had learned to hide his emotions more cleverly since he had practiced Occlumency with Draco.

Severus hoped he had also learned to hide some of his reactions. He waited until they had passed through the entrance hall and climbed the first stair. Then he moved in closer and grabbed Potter’s elbow.

Potter turned smoothly, and his wand ended up in Severus’s gut.

Severus grunted, but he was impressed, and did little to hide that reaction. Potter might not recognize the signs, from the way he watched Severus’s face. He had moved backwards now, a little, getting ready to toss Severus into the wall if he could, or shake off his grip and run.

“The Headmaster did not summon you,” Severus said.

Potter waited, watching his face. Then he said, “But he should have.”

Severus nodded. Potter had indeed improved. Maybe it was just Draco’s influence through the soul-bond, Severus comforted himself. Potter could hardly be bonded to someone so much more intelligent than himself—someone who had actually managed to teach him Occlumency—and not change.

“Draco and his father will leave today,” Severus said. “I will be their Secret-Keeper. The safehouse is a small one that Lucius directed the goblins to send money to buy yesterday, and Draco will be responsible for all the spells that guard them. I thought you might want to say farewell to them.”

Potter shut his eyes once, then opened them again. “Right. You’re the Secret-Keeper because Dumbledore is dying, right?” He pulled the wand away from Severus’s gut and slid it back into his holster.

“Yes,” Severus said. He wondered for a moment what Albus had chosen to share with the boy, but discarded the thought of asking. The best way to escape Albus’s games was to stop playing them.

And Severus thought Albus played games at this point because he honestly knew no other way to deal with people. He had spent years thinking of them as pieces on a chessboard; now some of the way he thought was necessity and some self-protection. Severus intended to secure his freedom soon, but now was not the best moment to try.

“Draco may try contacting you after he goes to the safehouse,” Severus went on, resuming the walk up the stairs to Albus’s office. “I must ask you not to write back.”

“Can I tell him that?”

“He is meeting with Dumbledore right now, with his father. You will not have the chance. At the very least, the Headmaster may want you to keep up the writing, so that he will have a way to speak to Draco through you.”

Potter stood for a second with his eyes closed, chest barely moving. Severus was reminded of nothing so much as some of the moving statues the Dark Lord had designed for guards when the Death Eaters met under poor wards.

He looked up at last and asked, “And that would be terrible because?”

“Dumbledore does not have as much of a care for Draco’s life as he does for yours,” Severus said, and watched in satisfaction as Potter’s eyes widened. “He does not hate him or despise him or wish him dead, but he does not take as much care. That is shown in the way he asked Draco to pay the price of the soul-bond for his sanctuary, while he has asked you for no such price.”

Potter smiled, unexpectedly. “I already knew what the price was. I agreed to pay it. But you’re right that Headmaster Dumbledore doesn’t care as much about the ones that Draco is going to pay.”

He began to climb the stairs again. Severus walked behind him, eyeing his back and wondering if the conversation had gone the way he wanted it to after all. Potter hadn’t made the promise not to write to Draco.

He began to clear his throat again, only to be stopped by Potter saying clearly, calmly, “I understand, Professor Snape. I won’t write to Draco. But I’d like to ask you whether you’d pass along the letters from me to him, and his to me.”

Severus opened his mouth and let it hang there. His first thought was that no one could pay him enough to become involved in the correspondence between two teenagers.

He thought, then, that these were not two ordinary teenagers, and Draco would have little enough diversion in the safehouse where he would outwait the remainder of the war, no matter how many books he took with him or how many NEWT courses he managed to study for.

“I will.”

Potter flung a swift, brilliant smile at him over his shoulder, and left Severus shocked on the stairs for a moment behind him as he climbed. Shock like that was a weakness Severus had always despised; he had seen it often enough on the faces of his fellow Order of the Phoenix members when they heard some “horrible” news of the Dark Lord’s activities, things they should have toughened themselves to by now.

But Severus had an excellent reason. That was Lily’s smile, down to the teeth.

*

Draco lifted his head. He had felt the sharpened arrowhead of Harry’s emotions growing clearer and closer, but he knew Harry didn’t know they were about to slip away. He had thought it was a simple coincidence, that Harry was passing the Headmaster’s office on the way to Gryffindor Tower.

Now, though, there could be no doubt. Draco’s bondmate was on the stairs. And then the door opened, and he came in, escorted by Professor Snape.

Draco knew who he had to thank for Harry learning about this “secret” meeting. He met Professor Snape’s eyes and held them for a long moment before he turned to Harry, and let the deep, soft look directed at him overcome him.

“I thought I’d come and say farewell,” said Harry, ignoring, for the moment, the way the Headmaster’s eyes had widened. He turned abruptly and bowed to Father, seated on the other side of Draco. “And there was something I wanted to talk to you about, Mr. Malfoy. The matter of the life-debt you owe me.”

Draco blinked. The bond’s emotions were leaping, so chaotic that he couldn’t tell whether Harry was serious about this or not. But from the way Father sat up and turned towards Harry at once, he would take the risk and play along anyway.

“Of course. How would you like it fulfilled?”

Harry turned and stared fiercely at Draco. Draco stared back, and felt as if the bond would come pouring out of his mouth in a second, all the emotions simply forming themselves into whatever words were waiting, whether or not they made sense.

Draco had to hold himself back. He had to remember that Dumbledore was right there, and might object. It hurt that he couldn’t say farewell to Harry properly, but that was the way it was.

“Take care of Draco. I know you would anyway because he’s your son, but even more fiercely than that. Protect him. Guard him. Make sure he’s not bored. And,” Harry took a deep breath, “when the war ends and you come out of the safehouse, then make sure that he has a happy life, and not just a happy Malfoy life.”

Draco sat in his chair. He couldn’t have stood if he’d tried. He did at least manage to clasp his hands in his lap so they wouldn’t tremble and give him away, but even that was difficult.

Father, the picture of courtesy, inclined his head. “Of course. Thank you for my freedom, Mr. Potter. I will indeed make sure that Draco is happy, both as himself and as a Malfoy.”

Harry smiled, maybe at the way Father had still managed to sneak something about the family name in there, and then turned and held out his hand to Draco. Draco hesitated, wavering. He knew what he wanted to do, but there was still Dumbledore to consider, and even Professor Snape. Not to mention Father, and what he would think was weakness.

Harry still held out his hand, rock-steady, and looked into Draco’s eyes while the bond foamed, and said with complete sincerity, “Good-bye. Stay safe. I hope you have everything you want.”

Fuck it, Draco thought, not a thought he’d had before, and stood and wrapped his arms fiercely around Harry’s waist. Harry froze, blinking. Draco hugged him, and Harry finally understood and hugged him back.

If this is the last time I see him, I’m going to make it count.

“Stay safe yourself,” Draco whispered fiercely. “Don’t get killed in the war. Since I won’t be around for you to have adventures with, I insist you at least take your friends.”

Harry laughed, a little puff of air. “I don’t think they’d let themselves be left behind, not now.” He squeezed back once, and then said, in such a rush that Draco almost couldn’t distinguish the words, “Don’t write to me. Write to Snape.”

Draco had time to blink and then nod as he pulled back. With all luck, he thought, Dumbledore would think he was just nodding in response to Harry’s farewell.

And the reason for the odd request was perfectly obvious when Draco thought about it. Harry wouldn’t be able to write to Draco and have the letters go through the wards without possibly giving them away. But Professor Snape was their Secret-Keeper and could pass letters safely back and forth.

That Harry would want to write to him made a sharp warmth fill the bond, and let Draco steady himself through the crashing waves he could already feel.

“I’m sure you won’t forget each other,” said the Headmaster in a genial tone that couldn’t fool Draco. He was already waving Draco back to his chair, and looking between them as if he thought there was something he could do to sever their bond. Draco looked at his blackened hand and then away.

We all pay our prices. That this one didn’t end up costing me everything is something you’ll just have to live with.

“I hope you take plenty of books with you,” Harry said, nodding between Father and Draco. “Otherwise, you might be bored.”

Draco smiled at him and reached for the playful tone that Harry had established. No need to show more than he already had. “I assure you I’m also taking a broom. And some of those books are on meditation, to let me survive the effects of the emotions coming through the bond.”

Harry laughed and started to respond, but the Headmaster cut in then, and Draco wanted to spit. “I don’t see why you should have to suffer those effects if you don’t want to, Mr. Malfoy. After all, you can simply use Occlumency to close the bond.”

He has no idea, does he? Draco thought, and smiled at Dumbledore. “I could, Headmaster, that’s a good point.”

He didn’t say he would do it, and after a moment, Dumbledore seemed to realize he should give up waiting for that reassurance. He sighed a little as he turned back to Harry. “You realize it would be absurdly dangerous for you to be in contact with Mr. Malfoy?”

“Oh, I know that, Professor.” Harry’s face was blank and respectful, while the bond surged and roared. Draco held back a snicker. Harry did lie a lot with his face, much more than Draco had thought him capable of. “I just wanted to say goodbye. Will we have Horcrux lessons again tonight?”

Dumbledore stirred, but Draco caught his accusing gaze and didn’t turn away. Of course he had told Father about the Horcruxes. It was the only way he could explain the soul-bond to Father in a way that made sense of why he would take up a dangerous connection to Harry Potter. If Father hadn’t got the answer he wanted, he would just have kept pressing forwards anyway, until he did get it.

Dumbledore made a faint distressed sound and said, “Yes, we will, Harry. Thank you for coming by when you did.”

Harry nodded once, completely disregarding Dumbledore’s attempt to take credit for their meeting on himself instead of giving it to Professor Snape, and waved once at Draco. “Have fun,” he said, and headed out.

Draco turned his head unerringly towards the door, feeling the way Harry’s emotions moved down the stairs, and turned, and approached the door at the bottom of them…

“I confess to some disappointment in you, Mr. Malfoy.”

Draco turned to face the Headmaster again. “Why?” he asked. “I didn’t go out and bring him to me. And I did want to say farewell to him. He helped me. He saved my life, and my father’s life. He’s my soul-bonded.”

For a moment, Dumbledore looked puzzled. Draco wondered what part in his statement was hard to absorb. But a second later, Dumbledore smiled and nodded.

“You are treating him as if he were your soulmate. Commendable, Mr. Malfoy, when you consider where this bond began. But you must remember that Harry is his own independent person, and so are you.”

Draco just bowed his head, while he inwardly crowed at having got something past Dumbledore that he hadn’t even counted on. Dumbledore thought Draco had a crush on Harry or something! He didn’t think there was any chance the soul-bond could be anything but an imposition, even now. Certainly not something treasured, not a bond that Draco would fight to keep. He thought Draco would get over this infatuation and go on.

Even as Draco straightened and Dumbledore started to talk about something else, Draco caught his father’s eye. He could tell Father was displeased at the notion that Harry mattered to him, displeased at the hug, displeased at the loss of appropriate Malfoy dignity, probably everything except what Harry had actually asked for in payment for his life-debt.

But Draco had had to make the decisions he did on his own. If Father had been free, it would have meant Mother was as well, and then everything would have been different.

Draco would continue to protect the people important to him. Everyone else would have to fall in line with that.

And it doesn’t matter if those people are my Headmaster or the ones I’m trying to protect. They’ll get used to it in time.

Chapter Text

“Get to your bedroom, boy. I don’t want to see you again.”

Harry turned his back and stomped up to his bedroom without answering Uncle Vernon. He knew what would happen if he did: Aunt Petunia screaming at him, and Dudley awkwardly trying to intervene. Harry didn’t want to do that to Dudley.

And I don’t really want to listen to Aunt Petunia, either, he had to admit as he closed the door to his bedroom behind him. Or Uncle Vernon.

The bedroom looked smaller and dingier than ever. Harry collapsed on his bed and sighed, watching the puff of dust that went up and plastered itself for a second against the walls before it faded into them.

The real problem is that I miss Draco.

It seemed a lot of color had gone out of his life when Draco and Mr. Malfoy went into hiding. Harry could still write to him, and receive letters from him. But distance did have an effect on the soul-bond. Harry still felt Draco’s emotions. It was just like seeing a view through a distant window when he’d been used to having it right in front of him, close enough to touch.

Right now, the bond boomed and surged with something Harry thought was interest and excitement. Draco was probably flying again. He had said in his letters that he was usually doing that when Harry felt him at his happiest.

Harry closed his eyes. What kind of things is he feeling from me, while I’m sitting here and envying him?

Nothing good, Harry was sure. He shook his head briskly and sat up. He had to work again on the list of possible Horcrux locations and hiding places. The year had ended with Dumbledore letting Harry tell Ron and Hermione about all the Horcruxes.

Unfortunately, Dumbledore had told Harry, Professor Snape hadn’t managed to cure the curse that had blackened Dumbledore’s hand. So Dumbledore would still die at some point soon. Harry and Ron and Hermione needed to get on with the quest before Dumbledore couldn’t help them anymore.

But Dumbledore had also insisted that Harry go back and stay at the Dursleys’ for the first part of the summer, until his birthday.

Harry didn’t understand. They were under a time limit! Dumbledore even thought there was more than one, because Voldemort might figure out what they were doing at any time—maybe even because he wasn’t able to get into Harry’s mind as easily anymore—and start protecting his Horcruxes or gathering them all close to him. Why didn’t they just go and fight? Why did Harry have to stay at Privet Drive?

Dumbledore had told him gently that Harry was their best chance, the one who was destined to conquer Voldemort, so he should stay out of public awareness for right now and let Voldemort forget about him a little. Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix would work on the Horcruxes until Harry was ready to join in.

Harry closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead a little. He no longer got visions of Voldemort in his mind at night, but no Occlumency could completely shut out the anger or other strong emotions from Voldemort flowing along the soul-bond.

I miss Draco.

Harry scowled fiercely and sat up. At the moment, he wasn’t doing any good, just sitting around and letting his worries get the better of him. At the very least, he could do something productive with his time and read the books Dumbledore had piled him with when he went “home” for the summer.

Yet even the words on the page swam in front of him, and Harry finally admitted to himself what he wanted to do most of all: write to Draco.

He had ink and parchment with him, thanks to staging a fight with Dudley and storming upstairs with his trunk right at the beginning of summer. Harry dug them out and started writing without any pause. He didn’t have to hide his thoughts from Draco or pretend he was more cheerful than he really was, which he thought he had to do even with Ron and Hermione sometimes.

Dear Draco,

I hope you’re having more fun than I am…

*

...since I’m locked in my room and can’t really go anywhere. I have to stay with the Dursleys until I come of age. I’m not really sure what difference it makes, but on the other hand, I’ve accepted Dumbledore’s leadership since I came to tell you good-bye. I can’t just rebel and fling off his guidance now.

I haven’t seen my friends. I can’t feel your emotions as well, either, but I think I told you that in the last letter I wrote. I’m always glad when I can feel you getting happier. Imagining you flying lets me imagine it, too.

You have no idea how glad I’ll be to be out of here. I don’t hate my cousin anymore, he’s pretty decent now, but I don’t think we should spend the rest of our lives together, either. I’ll be so glad to step out the door for the last time and cast a spell without worrying about the Trace.

I can’t tell you about the quest for the you-know-what’s, because it hasn’t really started yet. Ron and Hermione are only communicating with me at a very basic level. Dumbledore’s worried that Voldemort might be able to feel me as the blood protections get closer to falling, even with me using Occlumency all the time, and there could be Death Eaters waiting the minute the protections are gone. Communicating with owls all the time would definitely be strange at a Muggle house.

I suppose there isn’t much more to say. At least I know Hedwig will be happy to take this letter to Snape, since it always gives her a chance to get out of here. She doesn’t like this room any more than I do.

Yours,
Harry.

Draco ran his fingers gently along the creases of the letter for a moment before concentrating on the bond. He hadn’t identified the emotions he felt through it so well before, because he’d rarely encountered them when Harry was still at school. They smelled of dust and drifted like clouds of them, too, instead of the water that Draco had always thought would symbolize Harry’s emotions before.

Harry was bored. Trapped. Frustrated. Trying to be patient.

Draco narrowed his eyes and walked out of the small, book-lined bedroom that he’d established for himself in the little safehouse immediately after he and Father arrived. There were only two other rooms on the first floor, a bathroom and Father’s study. On the ground floor were the kitchen, a drawing room with a fireplace that only Severus came through, Father’s bedroom, and an unused room that Draco and Father had turned into a potions lab by mutual agreement.

Draco could fly his broom outside. He could read. He could brew. He could continue his disastrous experiments in cooking; thanks to the Dark Lord’s enchantments on the Manor, Father had had no ability to call one of their house-elves to them.

It always seemed like a limited range of activities. But it was at least better than what Harry had.

Father sat in the drawing room, as he usually did this time of day, making one of his long lists of what to do when they got out of the safehouse. He sat back when Draco came in, and Draco got the impression that he was glad of any distraction.

Strange, Draco spared a thought from his purpose. It seems strange not to know what everyone is feeling when I look at them now, just because I know what Harry is thinking.

“I want to invite Harry to come here and be with us.”

Only Father’s fingers curling around the edge of the parchment showed what he thought of that idea. His voice was mild. “Have you thought about how Dumbledore would react to this?”

“Why should we care about that? In the end, we provided sanctuary for ourselves.”

“And he has every reason to leave us alone as long as we don’t trouble his plans.” Father studied Draco as if he assumed that someone had stolen Draco’s skin and was wearing it like robes. “Do you want to stir that power from slumber?”

Draco shook his head. The bond lay quiet and dusty in his head at the moment, making Draco picture Harry staring at the ceiling, motionless, trying to entertain himself. “I don’t care, Father. Dumbledore has never told Harry why it’s so important that he stay with his relatives. And he’ll be seventeen in a fortnight. I think we should have him here.”

“If it’s only a fortnight, then he can endure it easily.”

Draco ground his teeth and avoided saying what he really thought. It wouldn’t let him win. “Doesn’t it matter to you that he saved my life and yours?”

“It matters to me,” said Father, leaning slowly back so that he was studying Draco from a different angle, “but we have paid the life-debts. If you find yourself spending more time thinking through the complications of a soul-bond now than you did before you took it up, it is only fitting punishment for you.”

Draco stood there for a second. Then he said, “Harry wanted you to make sure that I had a good life and not only a good Malfoy life.”

Father nodded, unblinking. “I’m confident I can provide that for you, or I wouldn’t have agreed to that price for the life-debt.”

“You understand the difference, then?”

“Between what?”

“Between a good life and a good Malfoy life?”

Father made an impatient pass with one hand. “Of course I do. A good Malfoy life is what I have always tried to give you, making sure that you enjoy the importance and power provided by our family name and money. Beyond that, you will want some enjoyments for yourself. That good life is the one I promised Potter to give you.”

“And right now, I need Harry to be happy.”

Father opened his mouth to answer, then paused. Draco stared back challengingly. He wasn’t surprised, although pleased, to see the way Father closed his mouth a second later and passed a hand over his eyes. His sigh came from the back of his throat, the bottom of his stomach.

“How can I be sure you really need that and that you aren’t simply confusing the emotions coming through the soul-bond with deep desire?”

“The same way I can be sure you only made a mistake when you bowed to the Dark Lord years ago and not deliberately sacrificed our family’s fortune and position for the fun of torturing Muggles.”

Father cracked open an eye. “I have raised you to be perceptive. It might have been a mistake.”

Draco smiled at him, and patiently waited for Father to decide what in the world he wanted to do.

Father sighed and leaned back further, the most casual posture Draco had ever seen him take in a chair. “Go and invite him, then. I don’t know that he’ll have a way to get here—”

The rest of the words faded behind him as Draco turned and galloped up the stairs.

*

Hello Harry,

What you said about the Muggles and the way they’re treating you sounds absolutely dreadful. And if Dumbledore won’t tell you the reason you have to stay there until your birthday, I don’t see any reason you should have to, either.

Come to me. Please? I know there are ways to do it. For one thing, it’s extremely hard to trace Apparition because it takes such a short time. Father can Apparate to your house if you give him the coordinates and take you out of there. Or you could meet Professor Snape somewhere and do the same thing.

Admittedly, I’d have to talk to Professor Snape to make sure he’d be willing to do it. I’ve already convinced Father, so I think we should just use him.

Will you do it? I know you have to go on this hunt for the you-know-what’s, and there’s nothing I can do about that. But at least you can spend some time with your soul-bonded before you go, and I can ease the feeling that I’m going to lose you forever.

Write back to me with the Apparition coordinates so Father can come and get you. Please.

Draco.

Harry sat there with his finger tracing the words and such a warmth in his heart that he had trouble breathing. Then he fell back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. His breath was coming short, and he wondered if Draco was feeling the emotions and smiling, or maybe panicking, not knowing what could have happened to make Harry feel that way.

The thing was, Harry wanted to. He wanted to live in a wizarding house for the next twelve days before he came of age. He wanted to see the rooms that Draco had described to him in various letters, and laugh at Draco’s jokes, and enjoy the sensation of the bond pouring through him up close, instead of feeling as though he was just watching a painting.

But he had to remember what Dumbledore had told him before he left school, something Harry hadn’t considered seriously until now because he had thought there was no way he could see Draco again before the end of the war.

“Mr. Malfoy and young Mr. Malfoy will be in danger if anyone suspects where they are, Harry. That could include members of the Order of the Phoenix as well as Death Eaters, unfortunately, given how much personal pain Mr. Malfoy has caused some of them. I must ask you to stay away from young Mr. Malfoy during the war, and even exchange letters as little as possible.

Harry closed his eyes. What he wanted, he couldn’t have. That wasn’t new, but it stung nearly as much now as if it was.

He picked up parchment and ink and started writing, ignoring the itching feeling along his nerves. Yes, he wanted to be with Draco. Yes, it would probably be safe for Mr. Malfoy to come to Britain and pick him up.

He still didn’t want to take the chance. Better to live with a distant bond than one that was gone forever.

*

“It seems your bondmate is more mature than you gave him credit for, Draco.”

Draco laid the letter down on the table in silent rage and stared at it. Then he read it again.

Draco,

You don’t know how much I want to come to the safehouse and be with you. You probably don’t know even if you’re really concentrating on the bond, because that doesn’t reflect everything I feel with the same strength. And thank you for the offer.

But even though I don’t know exactly why Dumbledore wanted me to stay here, there must be some reason, or why would I be here? He would probably have me out already hunting the you-know-what’s if it wasn’t important. I keep thinking that I might miss a letter from him if I leave, and if I was in the safehouse, the owl might follow me there and reveal where it is. I care about your life even more than about being with you. I won’t do it.

I wish I could, though. I really want to be with you.

Yours,
Harry.

“He holds your life above his own,” Father murmured, still busily reading the paper while keeping one eye on Draco in that way he always seemed to think Draco wouldn’t notice. “That’s admirable, that care and concern for you. I honor him for it.”

Draco leaned slowly back in his chair, the way Father had the other day. He was thinking, mind whipping through patterns of persuasion he thought would work on Harry and rejecting others he was sure wouldn’t.

Should he tell Harry again that he knew Harry would have to leave for the Horcrux quest, but he still wanted Harry with him until then? No. He’d already tried that, and too much begging would leave him looking like a fool.

He should be able to simply ask and have Harry come. Because they were bondmates and they should be more important to each other than a whole host of other people.

Draco felt his eyebrows rise. What would happen if he simply wrote and told Harry that? That he expected Harry to be there if he asked for it, because Harry should owe him that?

It was at least worth a try. If it backfired, then Draco wouldn’t be in a worse position, since he still wouldn’t have Harry here.

He’d gone upstairs and was reaching for parchment when he felt it. A storm of emotions crashed along the bond, so strong that they made Draco curl over his stomach in his chair, gasping as they punched him again and again. His face hurt and he felt his eyes burn, ready to water and then to narrow in outrage.

“Father!”

Father was up the stairs in a moment, springing directly to the back of the chair and grabbing Draco’s hand hard enough that it grounded Draco a little in the midst of that storm. “What’s wrong?” he demanded in a harsh whisper, crouching down and running his hands gently along Draco’s shoulders.

“I don’t know. Something’s happened to Harry.” Draco closed his eyes and reached out along the bond, dropping the rudimentary Occlumency barriers that had guarded him up until this point. Harry! he shouted even though their bond didn’t let them speak mind-to-mind. What happened?

*

Harry backed up, keeping a wary eye on Uncle Vernon. He wished he had his wand, but it was locked up in his room.

That should have been enough. Harry knew carrying his wand around the Dursleys’ house was asking for trouble, which was why he didn’t do it. And Dumbledore had emphasized over and over again how Harry had to avoid antagonizing them. It was only for a few more weeks. Then he would be free.

Harry had come downstairs today when the Dursleys were eating and gone to the counter to make himself a sandwich. Either that or the little grumble he’d given when he opened the refrigerator and saw they were out of lettuce had been too much for Uncle Vernon.

Now he was backing Harry up against the counter and spraying him with spittle as he ranted.

“If you think for one minute that we want you eating our ruddy food, boy, you should think again! We take you under our roof, we shelter you out of the goodness of our hearts, and then you dare to act like there’s not enough good food for you, like it matters what you stuff down your gullet…”

Harry could feel his rage building even faster than his fear. He was a lot bigger than he’d been, and Uncle Vernon couldn’t intimidate him that much anymore. But here he still was, cowering in front of his filthy uncle as if he was a kid.

He had to go defeat Voldemort soon. He’d broken Draco’s father out of prison. He had a piece of a monster’s soul inside him and a tie to another person’s soul who he might not even get to see again.

It was too much for Dumbledore to tell Harry all that and then expect him to cower in front of his uncle.

“And another thing—” Uncle Vernon was beginning to say when Harry snapped.

“Shut up.”

Harry’s voice was quiet, and he thought that was the whole reason Uncle Vernon shut up at all. He stared at Harry with his eyes bulging, and then he whispered back. “What did you say?”

Dudley was standing up and moving in from the side, a look of concern on his face for the first time. Harry turned and glared at him. Dudley raised his hands and stayed where he was.

“I told you to shut up,” Harry said, turning back to Uncle Vernon. “It’s the sort of thing someone should have told you a long time ago, but I think everyone else was always too afraid of you to do it. It’s too bad. Maybe you could have been a tolerable human being if someone had.”

Uncle Vernon stared at him in silence. Then his hand shot out.

He might not have intended to hit Harry. Harry would never know. He twisted to the side, out of the way, and then he turned and grabbed Uncle Vernon’s arm and hauled on it, one of the techniques he had showed the DA.

Uncle Vernon weighed so much that ordinarily, the pull would never have worked. But he wasn’t well-balanced, either, and Harry thought he’d never fought the way Dudley had. He wavered once and then dropped straight to the floor, with a pained bellow as he measured his length on it.

Harry leaped out of the way and stared at Dudley and Aunt Petunia. Well, mostly Aunt Petunia. She looked as white as chalk, and she was standing there with her mouth gaping open. Dudley had gone to check on his dad.

“I’m sick of it,” Harry continued, in a precise voice that he’d never known he had in him. He sounded like Professor McGonagall, honestly. “The way you act as if it’s your right to starve me because I’m not what you wanted. Because I have magic. The way you lied to me for years, and the way you’re still talking about locking the locks on my door and feeding me through the flap at the bottom. Yes, I can hear you when you’re shouting at night,” he added, as Aunt Petunia swayed on her feet and had to grab the table for balance. “My hearing doesn’t magically stop because I’m up in my room.”

The pitiful thing was that Aunt Petunia looked more upset at the word “magically” than anything else Harry had said. She swayed some more and finally found her voice.

“We never asked for you. We never wanted you! If my sister hadn’t been such an idiot as to get herself killed—”

“She died sacrificing her life so I could live. Don’t say anything else about her.”

“She was an idiot—”

Harry took a step forwards, his rage so black that he could barely see.

Two things stopped him. One was Dudley calling out frantically behind him.

The second was the bond vibrating urgently in his mind. Draco was responding to Harry’s fury with an endless, endless calling, a wash of fear and carefulness and attention.

He must be able to feel what I’m feeling, Harry realized. He probably thinks I’m being attacked by Death Eaters or something.

And reality crashed down on him. Harry had more important things to do than punish the Dursleys for the way they’d treated him. He had more important things to do than stay here until his birthday, too.

He turned and grabbed his half-made sandwich, saying in the same precise voice, “I’m going to be leaving soon. I’ll go up and stay in my bedroom until I leave. Dudley can bring me food. You shouldn’t say anything else about my parents, and you should let the person who comes for me take me without antagonizing him, either. Do you understand?”

He thought Uncle Vernon might have protested, his face was so purple, but Dudley got there first. “We understand, Harry,” he murmured. “I’ll bring the food. Just—I think this is the end.”

“It is,” said Harry, and looked only at his cousin. “I’m sorry it had to end this way.”

“So am I,” said Dudley. And Harry thought he might even have put out his hand if he hadn’t had to live with his parents afterwards.

“Good-bye,” Harry added, and walked briskly up to his room again. He shut the door and reached for parchment and ink, scribbling down a few neat words. Then he woke up Hedwig to carry them.

I believe I’ll be coming to you after all, Draco.

Then Harry ate his sandwich and did his best to send calmness down the bond, deepness and softness like dark waters. He didn’t even know when he fell asleep, between one bite of the sandwich and another.

Chapter Text

The first thing Harry noticed when he came out of the Apparition with Lucius Malfoy was how much better he could feel Draco’s emotions. He turned unerringly to the front door of the little cottage, a house so unassuming that Harry was surprised the Malfoys could live there.

Then the door opened, and Draco stood there, staring at him.

He looked as if he’d grown taller since the last time Harry had seen him, but then, he’d had a birthday, too. For a second, Harry wondered where the Potions book he’d sent Draco for a gift was.

Then Draco started running towards him, and Harry realized that was a stupid thing to wonder when he could be looking at Draco instead. And he’d broken free from Mr. Malfoy’s hold without even realizing, and he was running, too.

Mr. Malfoy made a faint exasperated noise. It wasn’t half as bad as the similar noises the Dursleys made.

Harry was busy grabbing Draco’s shoulders, anyway, and laughing straight into his face. Draco stared back, looked offended for the bare second it took him to get over himself, and laughed back. Then he hugged Harry as hard as he had when Harry last saw him in Dumbledore’s office. The bond was jumping up and down between them like a bed with two huge dogs on it.

“You’re here now,” said Draco, with a satisfaction as strong as his Occlumency barriers used to be.

“Yes,” Harry said, and then he slung an arm around Draco’s waist and led him towards the house. “I think I owe you an explanation for the emotions you probably felt yesterday.”

“Yes, you damn well do.”

Draco. Language.

Draco gave a nod and a “Sorry, Father,” over his shoulder that Harry could tell he didn’t mean at all. He led Harry into a fairly neat kitchen and asked, “Do you want some tea? I don’t know what you’ve had to eat lately.”

“A sandwich yesterday and some soup this morning,” said Harry. “Tea would be wonderful.” He ignored the scowling presence of Mr. Malfoy, sitting in the chair at the head of the table. Well, maybe he wouldn’t be scowling. Maybe he would be carefully sitting there with his mouth pursued and not saying anything.

That would almost be worse, but Harry could solve the problem by not looking at him, by looking at Draco bustling around with the tea things instead, and he could laugh. “You’ve become a regular house-elf.”

“No,” said Draco, swinging his wand through some domestic charms Harry would have been prepared to bet his Firebolt Draco didn’t know. “I’m doing things because otherwise Father and I don’t eat. Not having to labor for other people.” He gave Harry a heavy glance.

Harry gave one right back. Lucius Malfoy didn’t know about Harry’s past as a slave for the Dursleys, and Harry didn’t want Draco to tell him, either. It would probably only make Mr. Malfoy decide Harry was even more unfit company for his son than he thought now.

“It’s still amazing you can do it,” Harry said, as he watched tea and scones and a huge pile of sugar cubes and butter appear to the side of the plate. He ate two scones before he drank his tea, aware that Draco was watching him critically.

“How much was it?” Draco asked, softly.

Mr. Malfoy seemed to sit up, as if more alert in the presence of a question he couldn’t identify, but Harry didn’t look at him. He looked Draco in the eye and said calmly, “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“I’m waiting for that explanation you said you’d give me.”

“My uncle and I had a disagreement over how much food I was going to eat. He got angry and started yelling at me. I yelled back, which is something I don’t do often. Then he tried to hit me. He ended up on the floor.”

“Accidental magic?” Mr. Malfoy asked, breaking into the conversation for the first time.

Harry gave Mr. Malfoy a smile that he knew might not improve the man’s opinion of him. Well, that was hard. Harry still wanted to give it. “No. Because I grabbed his arm when he tried to hit me and tugged him off-balance.”

“Was he wounded?”

Harry wasn’t sure why Mr. Malfoy would want to ask that question, unless he thought Harry was going to be a danger to himself or Draco. Harry took a large gulp of the tea and shrugged. “I don’t know. My cousin went over to tend to him. I made it clear to my aunt how it was going to be.”

“Which was?” Draco again, leaning in as if he was addicted to the clear, freshwater emotions washing down the bond. Well, Harry was. Why not Draco?

“They would bring up food to me—well, my cousin—and stay out of your father’s way when he came. That was all.”

Draco shook his head. “I don’t think I could have handled them that calmly.” And the curling wave of rage, about to break down the bond, made Harry nod.

“It wasn’t calm.” Harry drank again from his cup and ignored the way Mr. Malfoy had sat back from the table, one hand gliding down the shaft of his wand. “It was just very matter-of-fact. My cousin is a lot better than he used to be--”

“I hope so.”

Harry paused, his eyes darting up to Draco’s face. Draco nodded to him, pleasant and firm, while the wave curled around above Harry’s head, broke, and felt as if it drenched him with stinging foam. “He is. I think he accepts that I saved his life from Dementors last summer, better than my uncle can. Anyway, he told me that he would bring up the food and keep his parents away from me. And that’s what he did.”

“I cannot understand,” said Mr. Malfoy, his voice as pure as though he was considering a theory in Defense, “why Dumbledore would have left you with Muggles like that instead of with wizarding adoptive parents.”

Like you, you mean? Harry thought he hid his expression sufficiently behind his cup, although by the glance Draco gave him, nothing could hide it from the bond. “I don’t really know. Something about blood protection, though. My mum sacrificed her life to save me. My aunt is my mum’s sister. Something about that worked to keep me safe.”

“Blood protections can exist,” said Mr. Malfoy, and his frown came and went. “I sensed none there when I came to collect you.”

“Interesting,” Draco breathed, and his eyes came back to Harry. The emotions had turned thorny with his interest. “And you don’t know when Dumbledore was going to explain to you why you had to stay there?”

“For a long time he was reluctant to explain things to me because he thought Voldemort would pick up on it thanks to the soul-bond we had.” Harry noted that Mr. Malfoy still flinched from the name, but he didn’t care to pursue it. “Now, I don’t know what the reason is.”

“The excuse,” Draco corrected, meeting Harry’s eyes with bright, clear ones. “You know that’s what it is for Dumbledore at this point, don’t you?”

“I suspect. The very fact that he hasn’t explained things to me means I don’t know.”

Draco snorted, quietly, but said, “Now that you’re here, we can do something I know you’ve been dying to do.”

Harry grinned and grabbed a last scone. “Fly?”

“You know me so well,” Draco said, with a smile that made Harry want to dance.

He didn’t, because he was in front of Mr. Malfoy and it would be stranger than just being happy to be in Draco’s presence again, but he knew Draco knew exactly what he was feeling, and he was fine with that. More than fine, really, when it meant Draco darted upstairs, grabbed his own broom, and ran down to unshrink Harry’s so they could go outside.

*

Harry was meant to be on a broom.

Draco felt breathless as he watched Harry spiral and swoop and shoot up and down after small golden stars Draco had conjured, substitutes for the Snitch he hadn’t managed to bring with him. Harry’s bond emotions had changed into pure, lightly pulsing waves, a perfect lagoon to lie beside. And Draco felt lighter and happier than he had since he and Harry had separated in the spring.

With a start, he realized Harry was chasing one of the golden lights towards him and had almost reached him. Draco dived and came up beneath the light, snatching at it even though he knew perfectly well the light would only dissolve. He knew another thing, and rejoiced in it: the sound of Harry’s laughter.

“It’s not a real Snitch, you know,” Harry teased him, hair blown back from his scar and care blown from his face.

“I know that,” Draco said. “You would think you were the one who didn’t, from the way you went after it.”

In response, Harry turned and tore after another globe of golden light. Draco followed him more slowly, and shook his head in disbelief as he watched the way Harry angled his body to the side and turned in a complete circle when he got on an angle that should have crashed him into the ground.

Harry had to be using magic as he flew. He linked more completely with the charms on a broom than anyone Draco had seen before, and Draco thought he was manipulating them silently.

“What’s the curdled emotions for?”

Draco smoothed his expression out before he remembered why that didn’t work. He sighed and zoomed towards the ground. Harry caught up with him, but luckily didn’t pass him. He just flew next to Draco and studied him, while worry lapped up the bond.

Draco landed and got off to stretch his legs. Harry hovered in front of him, carelessly graceful as a hummingbird, and watched him some more.

“You’re so good that it distracts me,” Draco said. “I just don’t know how you can do half the things you do. That kind of innate talent—”

“Is the kind you have at potions,” Harry interrupted him suddenly. His eyes were narrow and his chin so set that Draco thought rocks would break on it. “I don’t understand them, and you don’t understand the way I fly. That’s fair. If anyone, you’re better off, because you’re still really good at flying, while I can’t do any work at all on Potions.”

The bond was wavering and snapping around him. Draco paused, then said slowly, “Just because we’re both good at things doesn’t mean that I can’t admire your talent.”

“And I admire yours.”

“You had a funny way of showing it before we bonded,” Draco muttered. He was still trying to figure out why saying something he thought was obvious—that Harry was just enormously good at flying—had got him this reaction.

Harry rolled his eyes and landed with a motion that made his feet jab into the grass of the pitch. Still, the bond was calming, and Draco no longer felt as if he was about to be flayed by Harry’s emotions. “And your way of showing your admiration was apparently to weave all sorts of crazy patterns around me while shouting at me.”

“There’s that,” Draco admitted. He decided he would worry about the way Harry had reacted later. They still had ten days together, after all. “What do you think is going to happen on the Horcrux hunt?”

Harry sighed and rubbed his legs for a second. Then he stood up and said, “I want some sweets if we’re going to have that discussion.” He paused, then added, “Do you think I would risk revealing your location if I called Dobby?”

“Dobby?” Draco blinked. “The house-elf Father used to own?”

Harry gave him a level look, and a single wave of exasperation skimmed over the surface of the bond, although it calmed quickly. “You can’t own them,” he said. “But yes, that’s him.”

“Then I think you could call him,” said Draco. “I mean, most of the time no one pays attention to the way house-elves come and go anyway, and it’ll take even less time than it took Father to Apparate to Britain.”

Harry nodded and turned around and called, “Dobby!”

Draco narrowed his eyes as he watched Dobby appear immediately. He’d given Harry permission because he believed what he was saying, but he’d also thought it unlikely that any house-elf could get through the Fidelius. That they could made him wonder how many other things or people could sneak through that they simply weren’t taking account of.

“How can Dobby be helping—” the elf, who wore a huge pile of hats and at least three pairs of socks, began. Then he saw Draco and immediately squealed, pulling back and reaching for Harry’s hand. “Master Harry Potter must be getting away from evil Malfoys!”

“No, no, Dobby, it’s okay,” said Harry, shaking his head a little at Draco. Draco took his hand off his wand again. He would attack anyone who tried to take Harry away so soon after he’d arrived. “I’m soul-bonded to Draco now.”

Dobby’s ears came up. He gave Draco the most intelligent, considering look he’d ever seen on a house-elf, and then turned and studied Harry. Then he nodded. “It is being true. What does Master Harry Potter be needing?”

Are all house-elves this changeable? Draco tried to mouth at Harry, but he either didn’t notice or didn’t choose to respond. He smiled at Dobby and said, “I’d like some biscuits and some chocolate cake, Dobby.”

“Dobby is bringing chocolate cake and biscuits from Hogwarts!” Dobby squeaked, and immediately disappeared.

“That was—strange,” said Draco, as diplomatically as he could.

Harry eyed him for a second as though waiting for more, then nodded. “Dobby is a little strange even for a house-elf, but he’s a good friend. I didn’t think so second year, when he was trying to prevent me from coming back to Hogwarts, but now he is.”

“He thought you were going to be unsafe at Hogwarts?” Since Harry was sitting on the grass with no care for whether it might stain his Muggle clothes, Draco decided he could do the same with his robes. After all, he could actually use his wand to clean his clothes, which Harry couldn’t do while he was still subject to the Trace.

“Yes. Because of your father, actually, and the plan to open the Chamber of Secrets. Although I didn’t know that at the time.”

Draco cautiously turned his head. Harry lay on his back with his eyes closed and no emotion except enjoyment on his face. “Um. You’ve forgiven Father for that now, right?”

“Yes.” Harry opened his right eye. “I mean, maybe Ginny won’t, but she doesn’t have to come here and forgive him. And as long as he doesn’t bring it up and gloat about how he wished the diary would have killed her, that’s fine.”

Draco nodded slowly. He would have said something else, but Dobby popped back then, clutching the trays of sweets and beaming in a way that told Draco further conversation would be impossible.

“Dobby is bringing chocolate cake with three layers of chocolate for Master Harry Potter! And biscuits, and chocolate milk, and apple pie, and…”

At least Draco could admit it was better cooking than he’d had since they went under the Fidelius.

*

Harry licked chocolate from his fingers and grinned a little at the emotions coming through the bond. Draco was looking pointedly in the opposite direction. “Sorry if I grew up not wanting to waste anything sweet.”

That was probably the wrong thing to say, Harry reflected as Draco spun around with a sharp exclamation. “No! I didn’t mean—I mean, I think it’s fine, Harry.” He seemed to calm down and then shook his head. “And we were going to talk about something more important when you decided to ask Dobby for food.”

“Yes.” Harry sighed and lowered his face against his knees. Now that he wasn’t flying or plotting to escape his relatives’ home or eating, the worries had come back. “I don’t know what’s going to happen when we hunt Horcruxes. Dumbledore doesn’t know much about where they are, or he didn’t at the end of term. Maybe he does now.”

“He’s had a month? And how many years before that?”

Harry frowned at him. “He didn’t know that Voldemort had any Horcruxes for a long time.”

“He’s had since our second year to figure it out.” Draco leaned forwards and studied Harry closely. The bond had calmed again, but it rippled, and Harry felt the curiosity even before it came out in Draco’s words. “Why do you still obey and trust him, Harry? You know that he didn’t care that much about me and my father.”

Harry paused. Then he said, “I told you already. I don’t think he’s the greatest person ever, but he’s the one who’s conducting this war. If he decides that he has to make sacrifices, then he will.”

“You didn’t defend him making a sacrifice of us before.”

“No. And I won’t. But I understand why he felt that way about me. Until he came up with the plan to soul-bond me to you, he probably thought that I’d have to die to get the Horcrux out of me. When he could, he chose to spare me.”

Draco abruptly stood up and stalked over to him. Harry sat up to meet him. Draco reached out and put a hand lightly on Harry’s throat. Harry felt the bond roaring around him like a waterfall.

“Talk like that again, with that level of disregard for your own life,” Draco whispered, “and I’ll get Professor Snape to make a Draught of Living Death and I’ll keep you here until the end of the war, when the Dark Lord is gone.” He shook Harry’s neck a little. “No one I’m soul-bonded to should sit there and discuss getting killed so casually.”

Harry reached up and pried Draco’s fingers off his throat, one-by-one. “Careful,” he told Draco. “That’s the kind of thing that could make Dobby come back and whisk me away from the evil Malfoys.”

Draco folded his arms and glared at him. “Enough with the casualness, Potter,” he said, while his fury whipped up around him. “Tell me the truth.”

Harry sighed. “I have. It’s not casual. It’s just what I think might have happened. Dumbledore started suspecting the truth about me, didn’t want to kill me, but also didn’t think of any other way to remove the Horcrux. You have to destroy the container to get rid of the Horcrux. Always. The shard of soul in the diary would have survived if I hadn’t destroyed the diary. But when Dumbledore saw some way to spare me, he took it. Doesn’t that make him good?”

“No.”

“Forget what he did to your dad and you for a second,” Harry implored. “Think about it from his point of view.”

“No.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Now you’re being childish and sulky for no real reason. I know perfectly well that you wouldn’t feel this way about what Dumbledore was doing if it wasn’t about you or your father or me, someone who’s soul-bonded to you.”

Draco looked at him with an ivory face. But Harry no longer thought he was good at controlling his emotions, just his expressions. The bond showed the grinding, roaring blocks of ice he really felt.

“You wouldn’t be this calm about it if it was someone other than you, either,” Draco whispered. “As proved by the fact that you came with me to rescue Father and you insisted on saying farewell to us no matter what Dumbledore wanted. You can sacrifice yourself all you like, but you feel differently about other people. Don’t tell me that I can’t feel about you that way.”

Harry rubbed his forehead. Draco was right, and it wasn’t just the pressure of the emotions along the bond telling him so. Harry would have been upset if someone else had told him Draco had to be sacrificed and that was just the way it was.

“What made you so casual about your own life?”

Harry lifted his shoulders. “Do you want the tiresome answer or the real one?”

“The real one.” Draco kept studying his face as if he had no idea what Harry meant and no idea why he would make a distinction.

“All right.” Harry rubbed his hand across his face this time. “I think I just—there was always something more important, you know? You probably saw some of the risks I took in Quidditch games. Well, catching the Snitch was important.”

“So you could defeat Slytherin.” Draco didn’t sound accusing, though. His emotions were all poised, waiting.

“Exactly. And defeating the basilisk was important. And I tried to get people to believe me when I thought Snape was after the Stone, and it turned out to be Quirrell, but—when they didn’t believe me it was more important for Ron and Hermione and me to go after it ourselves.”

“You always take the chance and leave your life to take care of itself,” Draco said. His emotions were trembling again.

“Not always. But there are things more important.” Harry hesitated. “Saving my godfather, last year. Battling Bellatrix, when we went into Malfoy Manor, and then making sure that I could break you and your father free so he could Apparate us. I came closer to dying from the effort it took me to destroy the anti-Apparition spells than anything Bellatrix or Voldemort did to me.”

“I know.”

Draco stared down at him for a second, then abruptly sat and leaned in towards him. Harry almost scrambled away, he was so startled, but instead, Draco picked up his hand and squeezed it hard.

“Maybe I was one of the people who encouraged you to risk your life, so I’m guilty. But I want you to stop now.”

“A little late for that, isn’t it? I mean, the Horcrux hunt is going to be inherently risky. And Voldemort is going to be trying to kill me all the time.”

“There’s a difference between doing something important that you think is going to succeed and might hurt you, and doing it without thinking.”

Harry paused. “I was thinking. That’s why I did things like try to find someone to tell about the Stone and Sirius. And I did take some time to think before I went with you, you know. Not just jump into it.”

“Then also think that your life is more important to someone than what you might achieve by dying,” Draco said, his voice pitched so low that Harry squirmed before he thought about why. Draco paused and studied him, then smiled faintly. The bond was tranquil for once, making it actually harder for Harry to tell what Draco was thinking. “Think about that.”

“But if I don’t destroy Voldemort, then you don’t have a future, either.”

“I would rather have a future with you, even if we had to run away from Britain, than one where you died.”

Harry turned his head. His breathing was labored. He stared at the sun and the clouds until black dots swarmed in front of his eyes, and then he slowly reached out and patted Draco on the shoulder.

“I’ll—remember that,” he said, and he knew his voice was shaky. But he couldn’t help it. What Draco had just revealed…

He was going to remember that for the rest of his life. There was no way he wouldn’t.

He shook his head and jumped to his feet. They hadn’t come together to talk about the Horcrux hunt and remember the war. Harry, at least, had wanted to come be with Draco for different reasons.

“Race you to the house,” he snapped, and took off while Draco was still protesting about the unfairness of the challenge.

Draco drew level with him, and caught his eye. Harry had to swallow and look away again.

He still won. But it took some effort.

Chapter Text

Severus stopped when he got into the kitchen. Potter was sitting at the table as if he had been there every day before when Severus had visited, reading the Daily Prophet. He looked up and nodded a little at Severus, then turned and flipped over a sandwich he was cooking in a pan above the fire. The sandwich was made of toasted bread with cheese running out of it, Severus saw. Such a Muggle thing.

“Where is Mr. Malfoy?” he asked Potter, and if Potter had been paying attention, he couldn’t have missed the extreme rage in Severus’s voice.

Potter only glanced at him and smiled as though he had decided to ignore that, and murmured, “He’s still asleep, I think. Draco is probably studying. Or brewing. He did say something about that.”

Severus had meant Draco. He had to grip the back of the chair in front of him to prevent himself from exploding with rage, while Potter gave him a quiet, impish grin. A grin he probably thought was impish, at least. He abruptly flipped the sandwich into the air. When it came down, he studied it, nodded, and then grabbed it out of the pan and tossed it onto a plate.

“Why have you left your relatives’ house?” Severus asked then.

“Oh, it was by mutual agreement,” Potter assured him.

Severus bit his tongue sharply to keep from screaming at the exasperating child. “I did not ask how.”

“Oh, you asked why. It’s because I decided that I was tired of starving and being locked up like Dumbledore’s secret weapon while the war went on without me, and Draco invited me to stay with him.” Potter produced a bright smile from somewhere. “Are those more acceptable answers?”

“Potter.” Severus sank down in the chair across from the boy and stared at the crumbs falling to the floor as he crunched into his sandwich. “Do you want to put Draco in more danger with your presence?”

“Are you going to turn traitor and spy for Voldemort instead of Dumbledore?”

Severus choked. He was sure that Potter hadn’t had the power of making him do things like this while he was still at Hogwarts—in fact, the few months between Easter and the end of the term had been the quietest in that regard that Severus had spent for six years—and wondered when he had acquired it.

“What kind of question is that?”

“A sane one.” Potter bit into the sandwich and spoke around a gooey mouthful of cheese. “I’m safe under the Fidelius as long as I’m here, unless you turn traitor and break it.” He licked his lips thoughtfully. “Are you going to?”

“Of course not,” Severus snapped, feeling as though someone had cracked a whip at him. “What a ridiculous thing to ask.”

“Someone had to ask it,” Potter said, unabashed, and went back to eating.

Severus turned away with a shake of his head and a small snort of disbelief. At least footsteps were coming down the stairs. That meant someone saner would show up soon, and perhaps, combined with Severus’s words, a Malfoy’s innate good sense would agree that Potter should go back to Surrey.

But Draco, when he stepped into the kitchen, looked at Potter with a pride and satisfaction that made Severus’s stomach sink. Worse, he then looked at Severus in a way that made it obvious he knew what he was thinking.

And didn’t approve. Or at least didn’t agree.

Draco walked behind Potter to the fireplace, to fetch his own breakfast, toasted bread that Potter must have made before Severus came in. On the way, he trailed his fingers over the nape of Potter’s neck, a casually possessive gesture that Potter only responded to with a smile and a tilt of his head.

This is worse than I thought. Severus gripped his wand because it was hidden and no one would guess his state of mind from such a simple gesture, and said, “Mr. Malfoy, you would agree that having Mr. Potter here is unsafe?”

“Not exactly,” said Draco, with a tilt of his head that made it clear how stubborn he was going to be. “After all, he was more unsafe with his relatives than with me. Or they were unsafe with him. Take your pick,” he added, and Summoned a napkin to spread beneath his toast.

Severus turned back to Potter. Potter shook his head. “I already told you about being starved and locked away. What other reason do you need?”

“You cannot be literal—”

“I am,” said Potter baldly. “My family’s starved me for years, and they also locked me away in a cupboard until they started thinking someone was watching them. You should ask Dumbledore what address was on my Hogwarts letters. Or maybe Hagrid. Well, no, wait, the one he brought me had a different address on it, because my uncle was trying to keep me from going to Hogwarts and was dragging me around by then.” Potter took another bite of sandwich and gave Severus a frankly disgusting smile.

Severus felt as though his Occlumency walls had taken a beating from the Dark Lord. He said slowly, “You were being literal.”

“Yes.” Potter shrugged. “They didn’t try to lock me in the cupboard this summer, but I’ve had to stay in a room with locks on the door. And I’ve spent day after day there while Dumbledore and Ron and Hermione do—I’m not sure what. Apparently I would have been able to leave the day of my seventeenth birthday, but why? There’s no specific deadline other than the blood protections dissipating that day. And Dumbledore won’t tell me anything, so I don’t know if he would have completed the Horcrux hunt by then or what.” This time, he handed Severus a blank look. “I should be as safe here.”

Severus took a step back. “You could be putting the Malfoys in danger.”

“I was in danger without him,” said Draco. “The bond was pulling at us, and it was torture not being able to sense his emotions well enough. I don’t intend to give him up now.”

Oh, no. Severus had once heard Draco say much the same thing about his rivalry with Potter, when Severus had tried to counsel him about not showing his disgust for Potter so openly and working against the brat in more subtle ways.

Now—now the force of that rivalry was the force with which Draco beamed at Potter like an intoxicated lover.

Lover. Wonderful.

Severus swallowed back the bile and said, “I should speak with your father about this.”

“Be my guest. But my father is trapped by his own promise to Harry to give me a happy life. And I need Harry to be happy.” Draco gulped a little more toast and stood up. “You want to come outside and fly, Harry?”

“Yes,” said Potter at once, sliding off his chair. He gave Draco a smile of the same intensity as they left through the front door.

Severus stood looking after them in silence. He had made a vow to protect Lily’s son. He had tried his best over the years to be a good Head of Slytherin House and ensure that his students, including Draco, did well and got what they needed, if not always what they wanted.

And now it seemed that the way to fulfill both vow and promise was to leave Draco and Potter together.

Yet, that cannot be, not when Potter would have to leave for the war anyway, Severus thought, with a frown. Lucius cannot have thought this through. Draco will be unhappier in the end than his brief joy at having Potter here can justify.

“If you have an objection I haven’t made, one that might actually convince Draco to let go of Potter, then I’d like to hear it.”

Severus started and turned. Lucius had come downstairs after all, although Severus hadn’t heard him. He watched as Lucius made his own tea and then sat down in the chair Draco had abandoned to brood over his steaming cup.

“He should let go of him because Potter would put you and your son in danger. I can convince Potter of that if you get him alone.”

Lucius sighed. “I did try that yesterday evening. I talked to him and explained how much effort Dumbledore will put into searching for him. I thought I’d succeeded. But then Draco came into the room, and Potter turned towards him, and—that soul-bond, it doesn’t allow them to reach other’s minds, does it, Severus?”

“Not words, if that’s what you mean. Only emotions.”

Lucius sipped his tea and watched the steam. “That is apparently enough. Draco accused me of distressing Mr. Potter and warping his mind. Then he fed some emotion through the bond to Mr. Potter, apparently. And Mr. Potter told me that he can’t leave, because it would upset Draco too much.”

“I warned Albus this might happen,” Severus spat, while his stomach clenched.

Lucius sat up. “What might happen?”

“They’re growing emotionally dependent on one another. It can happen with the sort of unnatural closeness this bond brings.” Severus turned his head and looked out the window. He could only occasionally see Potter or Draco, given the way the brooms dipped as they flew. “I thought it might not happen because they had a rivalry before the bond, and Draco does not seem the sort of person to grow close to anyone. But with the loss of his mother—”

He stopped, remembering who else had lost someone in this room. Lucius only looked at him once before he sighed and said, “Narcissa’s loss has influenced me as well. After all, I might have promised more to Draco than I meant to because I was still in shock over it.”

Severus grimaced. “I will get Draco alone and speak to him. Potter is too willing both to sacrifice his own peace of mind and cling to his friends. Draco is the more independent one.”

“Now?” Lucius slowly shook his head. “Draco has never had a best friend. And he seems to have expanded his definition of family to include Potter. At least, I have seen him looking at the boy as I only saw him look at his mother and me before this.”

Severus swallowed the impulse to tell Lucius there were worse things than Draco considering Potter a brother, and said, “I’ll talk to Draco tonight.”

*

Draco leaned back in the chair of the Potions lab, where Professor Snape had invited Draco to watch him brew a tricky potion, and waited patiently. He knew as well as Harry did, from his arched eyebrows when the invitation came, that Professor Snape had some ulterior motive for this.

And it was probably related to Harry. Draco couldn’t remember Professor Snape ever spending a whole day with them since they’d gone under the Fidelius, but now he had.

Harry’s emotions pulsed gold and soft in the back of Draco’s mind. Draco had left Harry on his bed reading one of his own favorite novels. Draco would hang onto that and use it as a weapon against whatever claims Professor Snape urged.

It started slowly, Snape speaking with his gaze fixed on the cauldron. “You have magnificent implements here.”

“Thank you. I do think the best taught me. Slughorn was nothing in comparison to your skills or discipline.”

Professor Snape sneered slightly. “Yes, it would not be difficult to prefer someone else’s teaching.” He sighed once and continued, “You might find little time to keep up your brewing with Potter here. He does not care for the art.”

“I knew that.” Draco shrugged. “But we have enough in common to find other things to do.”

“About that, Draco.” Professor Snape got to the point sooner than Draco had thought he would, turning around and watching him with deep eyes. “You know you cannot keep up this ridiculous infatuation with him. Someone will find out.”

“An infatuation,” Draco said, testing the word on his tongue for the first time. He hadn’t honestly considered it before, but now he could feel it draping over him, weighing him down like a robe of cloth of gold. He cocked his head and nodded. “Maybe it is one, at that.”

Professor Snape made an urgent motion with one hand. “Of course it is. And you should know that you will not be allowed to continue it.”

Allowed?” Draco smiled, liking the way that expression made even Professor Snape pause. “Who’s to forbid me?”

“Dumbledore. The Dark Lord. Potter himself.”

“Harry’s mine,” Draco said. “He missed me as much as I did him. He won’t disrupt the soul-bond unless he did it to save my life.”

“Which it would be.”

Draco snorted. “It would take one of Harry’s miracles to find a way to revoke this soul-bond that Albus bloody Dumbledore himself said was irrevocable. You’re thinking in terms of him leaving me, not him disrupting the soul-bond.”

Professor Snape paused. He was studying Draco, and Draco studied him right back. Snape had faint, harsh lines in his face now, lines that hadn’t been there the last time he visited. Draco thought he might well be finding his double life as a Potions professor and spy stressful.

That was his burden, though. Just as stealing his father back and bearing the soul-bond had been Draco’s. The fact that he might empathize with Snape’s sense of duty didn’t mean he would go back to treating Harry like a burden now that he had learned the joys of him.

“You have taken your vengeance for your mother’s death,” Snape said softly. “Exposed the Death Eater who watched your movements and taken back your father before the Dark Lord could torture him. What need do you have to disrupt the Headmaster’s war plans?”

“How does having Harry here disrupt them?” Draco asked in interest. Maybe he was finally going to learn something about why they’d needed to keep Harry at the Dursleys’. “If Harry had to stay in one place until his birthday, what does it matter whether it’s here or in Little Whinging?”

Snape paused again, although Draco didn’t know why. Then he said, “So Potter has told you where he lives.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Yes, well, he had to do that so my father could find him and Apparate him here.”

“I don’t know what has come over you, Draco. There was a time when you would have done anything rather than risk your father’s life.”

“Do you still think of me the same way you did on the night of my mother’s death?”

Professor Snape looked surprised at the abrupt question. “Yes,” he said a moment later. “If you mean do I think you weaker? No.”

“Well, it’s a mistake. I’ve changed,” Draco elaborated, when Snape looked as if he might faint at the thought of Draco admitting to weakness. “That means I don’t think that Father leaving my sight automatically means him going back into danger. And it means I can value people other than my family right now.”

“You would not value Potter so if not for the soul-bond.”

“And you wouldn’t think so highly of me if I hadn’t been a Slytherin.” Draco rolled his eyes. “I don’t see any point in ignoring the facts and pretending that hypothetical situations might have changed our minds. The fact is, those hypothetical situations didn’t happen. The ones we’re in did.”

Professor Snape turned back to his cauldron, because one had to at this point in the potion. His back was stiff, and once Draco would have feared a detention, or at least a scolding about letting his hatred of Harry show itself so openly.

This time, Draco didn’t have to fear either. He sat still and thought about the conversation, and by the time Snape turned around again, he was able to say, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“Which one was that?”

“Why it makes a difference if Potter is in Little Whinging or here. You don’t know, do you? You don’t know why Dumbledore was so insistent on keeping him in one place?”

“Only that there were blood protections there that would keep him safer than anywhere else.” Professor Snape hesitated once. “I cannot blame you for the opinion you have of the Headmaster, when he didn’t try as hard as he should have to keep your father safe, but I can tell you this. There is no way he would have risked Potter. If he thought Potter should have stayed safe in that place, he would have been safe.”

“I don’t know much about blood protections. Can you tell me some of the theory?”

“You know enough to be going on with.”

Draco widened his eyes in innocence. This was something that he wanted to share with Harry later. “But it’s been a long time since I revised it, and I don’t think I brought any of the books about it with me,” he said in an anxious little voice. “I didn’t think I’d need them here. Are you sure you can’t tell me about it?”

Professor Snape gave him the sort of glare that said he wasn’t fooling anyone. Draco sat there and smiled. He didn’t need to fool Professor Snape on the what of what he wanted to ask about, only on the why.

“I suppose it would do no harm,” Professor Snape began grudgingly, and Draco wanted to cheer, especially when he felt Harry’s emotions, still purring steadily and contentedly down the bond. Harry was safe and happy. Professor Snape probably thought telling Draco some of the truth would make Draco concede to sending Harry home.

It never would, but Snape didn’t need to know that.

“Blood in a family is a powerful connection,” Snape said, “but mostly because the pure-bloods themselves make it that way.” He sneered a little. “If you didn’t already believe in the importance of the connection, it wouldn’t have magical power.”

Because he knew about other things, like the way catching a Snitch could be lucky, that only happened because people already believed in them, Draco had no trouble accepting that. “But what about blood connections after one of the family is already deceased? Can one of them still have that power?”

“Of course. Otherwise your family portraits wouldn’t care about their descendants.”

The family portraits did little enough when the Dark Lord took over our house. But Draco knew why that was. Father had chosen to submit himself to the Dark Lord. Against a free choice, portraits could do nothing. Only if Father’s Imperius Curse defense from the first war had been true could Malfoy family magic drive the Dark Lord away.

Father was a fool. But I will not be.

“The magic of sacrifice, which protected Potter, is different.” Snape sighed, and looked a hundred years older suddenly. “His mother willingly gave her life to save his. The Headmaster thinks that is largely the reason that the Killing Curse bounced. Potter was shielded by Lily Potter’s love for him.”

Draco sat up. “Then you have part of the problem right there.”

“What do you mean?”

“Because his mum loved him, and his dad, but his Muggle relatives didn’t. Would there have been any power to the blood protections then? Could his mum’s love attach to a house where his aunt hated him?”

Professor Snape stared at Draco in silence. Then he said, “Because you have grown up in a family with extraordinarily close and protective parents—”

“Oh, spare me.” Draco knew exactly what the professor would say: that Draco couldn’t understand Harry’s Muggle relatives because he’d always had a loving family, and families loved in different ways, and so on. “I know what I felt from Harry. They hate him.”

“He may have the impression that they did. He may hate them.” Professor Snape’s tone said he wouldn’t put any atrocity past Harry. “But the blood protections would not have taken if it was true on their part.”

“And how strong was the blood protection? Were you ever at Harry’s house and able to check?”

Professor Snape paused. Then he said, “Dumbledore would not have placed him in a house without any protection.”

Draco shrugged. “I wasn’t there myself. Father was, and he said that they were extraordinarily weak, like strips of mist.” He stood up. “I thought it would be interesting to get your perspective if you had seen them. Anyway, I think I’ve proved that they probably weren’t very strong and Harry’s as safe here as he would be with his family.”

Professor Snape said in a strangled voice, “What am I supposed to tell the Headmaster?”

“Whatever you want.” Draco smiled over his shoulder. “I’m sure a master spy should be able to come up with something convincing.”

*

“And you don’t think Snape would try to make go back to the Dursleys’?”

“You’re mistaken if you think that Snape has any kind of power over you outside of school.”

Harry swayed a little back and forth on his broom as he thought about that. He and Draco were flying together, and Draco was right beside him instead of circling above or below trying to beat Harry like he’d done this morning. He seemed to have decided a conversation was better when he was right beside Harry, staring at him.

Well, it’s easier, anyway, Harry conceded, and said aloud, “It’s strange to think about that. I mean, he’s a member of the Order of the Phoenix, too, and I’m just used to having to do what they say.”

Draco gave him a sudden fierce look, and the bond throbbed with a cresting wave. But before Harry could figure out exactly what Draco felt—which was harder when the emotions were combined than when they were single—Draco dived in front of him. Harry dived after him, a little bewildered.

Draco landed with a roll and a bounce on the ground, and came up, standing, to frown at Harry. “You don’t have to do what they say.”

“They are more experienced wizards than I am. And they’ve fought the war with Voldemort longer—”

“Not all of them, not if that Auror Tonks you told me about is a member,” said Draco, rolling his eyes. The wave had crested, and yes, there were the cold stinging waters of exasperation breaking around them. “And you break rules all the time, Harry. I’m only surprised that you stayed at the Dursleys’ as long as you did.”

Harry hesitated. “Dumbledore told me it was important.”

“And you always do what Dumbledore tells you to do.”

“If it keeps other people safe, then yes.”

Draco turned around and glared at him. “So it’s the same thing we talked about yesterday? That you’re fine with doing whatever you have to do to protect other people, but God forbid that you do anything to protect yourself?”

“Now you sound angry because I was trying to keep myself safe.”

Draco and the bond together made a noise like a squalling cat, and he kicked the ground. “Safe isn’t separate from me.”

Harry took a hesitant step towards him. “But I am going to have to separate from you in eight days. You know that.”

Draco kept scowling at the grass. Harry clapped him on the shoulder. “I promise to come back and see you when I can.”

Draco looked up. “That’s not enough.”

Harry rolled his eyes a little. “Because the Great and Powerful Draco Malfoy says it shouldn’t be?”

“I mean there’s no reason you can’t use the safehouse here as a base of operations.” Draco sounded calm and persuasive. “Conduct the hunt from here instead of Hogwarts. Don’t run around all over Britain without a holiday the way I think Dumbledore would want you to. Come back here to rest after part of the hunt.”

“I would love to do that,” Harry said longingly, and he knew the bond was blazing and rattling with his yearning. “But I just don’t see how I can. Dumbledore is probably going to be keeping a pretty close watch over me to make sure that I can’t, among other things.”

“Why? Why would he want to prevent something that would strengthen you?”

When Draco put it in that light, Harry couldn’t come up with an answer, especially when he still wanted to defend Dumbledore’s motives. He hesitated once, then shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Right.” Draco touched his hand. “I’m just asking you to give him an answer that includes me in your life. It’s up to you when you do that.”

“Good,” said Harry, suddenly determined. “Because right now, I don’t want to think about it. I want to go inside and teach you how to bake a chocolate cake.”

“A chocolate cake?” The bond went still to match the blankness on Draco’s face. “Why?”

“Because it’s complicated, and you’ll probably be horrible at it the first time. And I want you to have sweet things again after I leave. And because I need you to stop being right all the time.”

Draco’s face gentled, but he nodded and followed Harry into the house. Harry found it easy, for the moment, to ignore the soft murmur that Draco gave as he did.

“I want to always be right concerning you, because so many other people are wrong.”

Harry knew that meant Draco would want to fight for him against some of the things that Dumbledore might want him to do. And at the same time that Harry worried about the consequences of that for the war…

He felt warmed and soothed by the notion of someone fighting for him. Just for him.

Chapter Text

“You’ve been frowning at that letter for ten minutes,” said Draco, on the other side of the chessboard from Harry. “It’s short enough you could have read it in one. Give it here or I’ll take it and start reading it aloud.”

“That wouldn’t embarrass me,” Harry pointed out, frowning at Draco in turn over the top of the parchment. “You already know what I feel.”

“But there are lots of things that make you react as if you want to storm the gates of someone’s Manor,” Draco said. “You should take up Dark Arts. They’ll purge that right quick.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Harry said, with a roll of his eyes, but it wasn’t as though Hermione’s letter contained secrets about Horcruxes that Draco didn’t already know. He handed it across the table, and Draco triumphantly put down a pawn and snatched the parchment, skimming it.

He promptly snorted. The bond rippled in an arrow-like pattern of cold Harry had already come to recognize. It meant Draco was going to say something insulting about his friends, or really, anyone who wasn’t Draco himself, Snape, or Mr. Malfoy.

“She doesn’t know why Dumbledore wanted me to stay with the Dursleys, either. But she trusts him, and he hasn’t really given her any reason not to. Don’t talk about her intelligence, or her House, or her blood, or her relationship with Ron.”

Draco paused and stared at him in consternation. “That takes away all the good insults.”

“That was sort of the point.” Harry rubbed the back of his neck, which was aching, and not really because of the hour he’d spent crouched over the game thinking about ways to snatch an impossible victory from Draco. “Listen, Draco, you distrust Dumbledore, and I don’t blame you. But my friends don’t have any reason to—”

“I would, if only because he mistreated a friend of mine. I would listen to my friend before I listened to the Headmaster of the school.”

“Really?” Harry took his hand off his eyes. “You mean to say that if Goyle came to you and complained that some professor wasn’t treating him fairly, you would believe what he says without investigating?”

“Who said that I would skip the investigation step? But I would believe him enough to look into it. Not simply assume that it must be for the best because a professor was doing it, and scold you about homework.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “It’s been years since Hermione did that, either. I think the last time she really went to the professors that upset me was when she took my Firebolt third year because we didn’t know who it had come from and she thought it might be cursed. She gave it to McGonagall, and I couldn’t use it until it had been checked for curses.”

“And it turned out to come from the man who was trying to kill you.”

“My godfather,” Harry said, and closed his eyes for a second. The bond must have revealed to Draco what he was feeling, because his voice softened and he reached out to move Harry’s hand away from the chessboard.

“Please don’t feel like that. It freezes my brain. It’s like being in a snowstorm.”

Harry tried to snort and sound amusing. “You’re lucky that we weren’t soul-bonded right after it happened, then. There were a few days when I just thought about all the things I could have done to save Sirius over and over again.”

“Tell me some of those famous plans. Since it seems, from what you’ve told me, that you could hardly do anything with Umbridge obstructing you.”

“He’d given me a two-way mirror as a Christmas gift. I could have used that to talk to him and seen whether he was okay.”

Draco blinked for a second. Then he said, “Yes, well, that’s more sensible than I thought you would say.”

Harry smiled faintly. “You acknowledge someone else can be right? Start up the presses! We need a special edition of the Daily Prophet!

Draco sniffed and moved his pawn in what Harry thought was a random direction. Then again, Ron’s attempts to teach him chess hadn’t availed much. “What are you going to write to Granger?”

“That I’m well and I’ll see her in a few days.”

Draco’s hand paused, even though he didn’t look up. “That’s all?”

“That’s all,” said Harry, with a firm nod. “I don’t know what’s going on with Dumbledore, what he might have told them. Without that knowledge, I can’t know if I need to persuade her into acting against Dumbledore or not. So I’ll remain polite and noncommittal.”

The bond trembled. Harry snorted. “What, you didn’t think I knew a word like noncommittal?”

“More that I didn’t think the great Harry Potter who’s always been so loyal to his friends would ever deliberately conceal information from them. Especially when Granger demanded to know where you are.”

Harry shrugged. “I reckon that Dumbledore probably already knows. Snape most likely told him. If he does anything with that knowledge, that’s one thing. But either he doesn’t know yet or he hasn’t told Hermione, and if I tell her, then either way I have to deal with problems. By keeping silent, I win.” He eyed the board. “Can you move your knight that way?”

“I can do whatever I like when you’re this distracted from the game.” Draco shook his head a little. “I just didn’t think you would be this sensible. It sounds more like rhetoric I would have expected from a Slytherin, to be honest.”

Harry reached out to the bond. It shook, and it did have a fluttering edge that Harry had learned to put down to surprise, even a dazed emotion.

“You’re the one who taught me some of that, you know,” Harry said quietly.

“What?” Draco didn’t look up again, but the bond fluttered still harder, and he actually almost knocked one of his pieces off the board with the way his hand was moving.

“That I should be sensible, and that it’s not the end of the world if I do something Dumbledore and my friends don’t want me to do. When we went to the Manor to rescue your father and I survived, I learned that.” Harry smiled at him. “Anyway. If she sends another letter I’ll just ignore it. I want you to help me learn Potions instead.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Because that’s something I can teach you in seven days.”

“You’re probably a better teacher than Snape.”

“I’ll never be a better brewer than Professor Snape,” Draco corrected him, with a hard stare that Harry ignored. “He’s incredible.”

“Yes, but brewing and teaching aren’t the same thing, are they?” Harry pointed out. “I doubt Professor Slughorn brews most of his own potions anymore, but he’s still a better teacher. And he explains some things pretty clearly. Not so clearly as the Half-Blood Prince, but—”

“Yes, that book you supposedly learned so much from.” Draco sat up. “Why do you need me to teach you Potions if you have that?”

Harry made a face. “Don’t turn into Hermione. You’re already halfway there with correcting me on Snape’s title. And there are plenty of potions that don’t have any notes, or where I can’t decipher his handwriting, or where some other information is left out. I’m sure of it. I’ve tried brewing some of those potions and still didn’t get them right even though I’m sure I followed every instruction.”

Draco’s eyes sparked, and the bond did much the same, rippling until Harry felt as though he would get a headache. “Now there’s a challenge worthy of a Malfoy,” he said. “Teaching someone who finds even excellent instructions hard to learn from? Probably because he ignored basic information for a long time just because the professor was a right git to him? Yes, let’s see if I can pack it into your head.”

“Just because the professor was a git,” Harry repeated faintly.

“What?” The bond was fluttering again, and from the way Draco looked at him, Harry knew he profoundly didn’t understand what Harry’s objection was.

“I think that’s a good reason not to learn a subject!”

“A Malfoy would have found the advantage in what the professor could teach him and ignored purely personal interactions for the sake of knowledge,” said Draco.

“When you tilt your head like that, I can see up your nose. It’s hairy.”

Draco clapped a hand to his nose immediately, even though he should have been able to tell from the bond that Harry was lying. The next instant, he’d jumped over the chessboard at Harry and was struggling with him on the floor, while Harry laughed.

“You git!”

“Hey, take the advantage of knowledge from the insults,” Harry gasped, tilted his head to the side away from Draco’s ineffectual punches. “Like in this case, the knowledge that you need to trim your nose hairs.”

Draco got more serious then, and they rolled over several times before they finally came to a stop against the side of Draco’s bed. Draco had “won,” in the sense that he was gripping Harry’s shoulders and shaking him, because Harry was laughing too hard to put up any resistance. Draco shook him again, and Harry managed to get his chuckles under control and grin up at his bondmate.

“I’m just trying to teach you to apply the lessons you’re teaching me.”

Draco leaned towards him until their noses touched, and the bond was sluicing cold and warm water around them in equal measure—exasperation and fondness, Harry thought. “When I want your teaching, I’ll ask for it.”

“I imagine there’s a lot of things I can instruct you on,” Harry said, to be deliberately provocative, and slid a hand onto Draco’s hip to heave him off.

Draco froze and stared at him with shocked eyes. Harry frowned back, wondering what was wrong now, especially when the bond had also frozen like someone had cast an Icing Charm on a whole lake at once.

Then he realized that his hand was on Draco’s hip, and Draco was leaning against it, and it was warm, and the warmth radiating down the bond with Draco was…

Harry rolled over quickly and buried his head against the floor. Draco took a long minute to stand up in response. His leg dragged along Harry’s hip in turn, and now that Harry knew how it had affected Draco, that set up tingles in his skin, too, like falling fireworks.

“I—I think it’s best if I start teaching you to brew,” Draco said in a strangled tone.

Harry thought about making a stupid joke about stirring rods, but let the occasion pass. He wasn’t sure what would happen if he started talking about it now, honestly, and the way the bond was cracking and rippling like ice in the sun…

He didn’t think Draco knew, either.

Harry cleared his throat. “Okay. Let me—I mean, you go ahead and set up the lab, and I’ll stay here and—tidy up the chessboard.”

It was a stupid excuse, but the way Draco accepted it immediately and left the room showed it was the one they needed. Harry “listened” to the way that Draco’s emotions dimmed as he went down the stairs, and shook his head a little. His hands shook when he picked up the first chess pieces, which made them complain.

Harry put them down, and put his head in his hands again.

It was only a little moment when Draco had been on top of him and Harry had made a stupid joke.

But it had changed a lot of things, and Harry wasn’t sure what would happen now when he went downstairs and asked Draco to teach him potions. Would he keep thinking of the other things Draco could “instruct” him on?

Well, don’t, that’s all, Harry told himself harshly, and began putting the chess pieces away again. At least this time, he didn’t increase the complaints they already had.

*

Don’t watch his arse.

Draco dragged his eyes away from, well, Harry’s arse as Harry bent over a cauldron and tried to move the stirring rod in the way Draco had shown him. Perfectly innocent things now seemed obscene. Draco bit his lip to the point it ached and told himself that it was even more awkward because they could each sense what the other one was feeling through the bond.

From the way Harry moved uncertainly back from the cauldron and gave him a stiff smile, he might not know what Draco’s arousal felt like through the bond, but he knew exactly how and when things had changed.

I’m distracting him more than Professor Snape ever did with bad teaching. Draco told himself that he had to pay real attention, because in a Potions lab accidents happened with incredible regularity, and forced a smile in return. “Yes, good. You have to keep it up that way for five minutes.”

“How do you keep track of the time? I never saw Snape set a Tempus Charm, and the way he forbids anyone else to use their wands in class…”

“Honestly, the great Potions brewers develop an instinctive sense of time, especially when they brew a potion multiple times.” Draco took pity when he saw the way Harry grimaced. “But I think it’s perfectly fine to use a Tempus to keep track when you don’t have a partner to count the seconds for you.”

Harry’s eyebrows went up. “You had partners do that? We were too busy having two people dice and cut each ingredient.”

“Vince was surprisingly good at it,” Draco began, and then flinched as different memories of what Vince had done came back to him. Harry’s hand was on his back in an instant, rubbing gently while the bond closed around Draco like warm arms.

“Hey,” Harry said softly. “I think it’s reasonable to hate him for what he did and want to remember the good parts at the same time.”

Draco nodded stiffly. His mind stopped buzzing in six different directions as he stood there close to Harry, and he regretted it when Harry suddenly coughed, moved away, and started concentrating intensely on the cauldron again.

“Will you count the time for me?” Harry asked.

You could just cast the charm. It was on Draco’s lips to say it, but he stopped when he felt the bond shaking again. And Harry wasn’t that shaky a person.

“Yes, of course,” Draco said. Harry immediately smiled at him in a way that was even more like the warm arms around him.

Draco dragged his mind away from what else was warm, and chanted the time to himself in his head while Harry stirred. Harry wanted to make this potion, he wanted to involve Draco in more than just a professor position, and he wanted them to get close again after the madness of what had happened upstairs. That was more than obvious.

Is it madness? What if—

But Draco let the thoughts go, not least because it was breaking up his concentration on the numbers. He faithfully called out the end of five minutes, and Harry took a step back and looked at him expectantly.

“Let me just see,” Draco muttered, brushing past Harry to get to the cauldron.

He wondered if he should be thankful or not that Harry was angling his hips away from him in the next second, so Draco had plenty of room to stand without contact with him and look into the cauldron.

Thankful, he decided firmly when he felt the bond fluctuating again. Fantasies and dreams weren’t worth it if they disrupted the peace and stability of the friendship he and Harry had.

Even if they were hard to ignore.

*

“At times like this, it seems so strange to think that I’m going out to hunt Horcruxes soon.”

“You don’t have to mention that, you know.”

Harry smiled a little. Draco’s eyes were closed, and he sat in one of the pair of chairs that had been outside the Malfoy house since the first day Harry arrived. Harry had assumed one was for Draco and one for Lucius, and he’d offered to build his own chair, but Draco had only stared at him until Harry agreed that he could sit in one of those already there.

“I sort of do,” Harry said. The day had slid by like golden molasses after their little wrestling match that morning. They’d eaten and argued and read side-by-side and tried to do more with the potion that kept stubbornly refusing to work the way it was supposed to do when Harry stood over the cauldron.

But Harry wasn’t doing any kind of preparation for the Horcrux hunt, and that did bother him.

“Not yet,” said Draco. His voice was a plea. His hand slid over Harry’s side as he shifted positions, and Harry started. He hadn’t even realized Draco was sitting that close. He supposed it was natural to regard his presence as safe now, thanks to the bond. “Let’s just think about what we want to do for a while. I assume Dumbledore’s going to train you or teach you or whatever when you go back. Just—stay here.”

Harry sighed. “And think of ways to tell him that I want to visit you when I’m tired?”

“Yes,” said Draco. “It’s not going to be like it was earlier this spring and summer. I won’t ever be that far from you again.”

“You know I’d love you to go along if—”

“If Dumbledore would agree. If your friends would agree to let me participate in the hunt, instead of standing back and making doubtful noises about my capacity. Or my goodness, maybe.”

The bond had changed until it felt like spruce needles were stabbing into Harry’s brain through his eyes and ears. He sighed and rubbed at his nose. “I talked to my friends about the way we went to Malfoy Manor, and it seemed like the main problem they had with it was that I didn’t tell them. If they knew you would be there…”

“But we both knew Dumbledore would never allow that. And you’re not in the mood to defy him.”

Harry was quiet for a second. Then he said, “Maybe once I know more, I will be.”

“Know more about what?” Draco’s eyes were closed, but Harry knew his attention was on him because of the arrowhead shape of the bond in his mind.

“Know more about what the Horcrux hunt is supposed to do.” Harry rubbed his chin with one knuckle. He would have to ask Draco to cast a Shaving Charm again soon, unless he wanted to grow his beard. “I don’t know if we’ll be plotting in Hogwarts, or attending a regular Hogwarts year and taking off somewhere whenever someone finds a Horcrux, or be on the move all the time. I don’t know how easy it will be for you to come along.”

Draco’s body jerked as though Harry had cast lightning directly into him, but he didn’t open his eyes. His voice was breathless anyway. “You would want me to?”

“Of course. You know lots of spells, you’re smart, you’re loyal, you have as much reason to oppose Voldemort as any of us.” Draco still jumped a little in his seat, but the bond didn’t flinch when Harry said the name. Harry opened his eyes and smiled at Draco, proud of him. “But like I said, I would want to talk to Ron and Hermione first. They deserve to know.”

Draco was quiet for a second, still watching the sunset. Then he said, “I notice Granger hasn’t written back to you since you said you would talk to her later.”

“No. But then, she mostly wasn’t writing to me when I was with the Dursleys, either. I think Dumbledore told her the risk was too great.”

“Was it?”

Harry knew what Draco was asking, especially with the way his mind pressed on Harry’s now. He wasn’t asking him to know things he couldn’t know. He was asking him to make a moral decision.

Harry reached out and pushed his hand down onto Draco’s. Draco tensed for a moment, and then seemed to physically remind himself to start breathing again.

“I think,” Harry said, “if it was so great, Dumbledore should have explained it to me.”

Draco rolled in his seat to face him. His eyes were alight. “Yes,” he said.

“I’ve always done better with more information than too little,” Harry went on. “I didn’t know why it was so important that I had to learn Occlumency in my fifth year, and why Dumbledore was avoiding me then. I would have worked harder if I’d known. And if Snape had been willing to try the style of Occlumency with me that you did, or if Dumbledore had been willing to teach me himself, then Sirius might still be alive.”

“I’m sorry for what I’m about to say.”

“What?”

Draco’s hand glanced gently off Harry’s jaw, rubbing along it the way Harry’s own hand had when he contemplated the Shaving Charm. He found himself shivering with something he thought was delight. “I’m glad that neither of them taught you, because then I wouldn’t have been able to. As awful as that sounds—and I know it sounds like I’m wishing your godfather dead—I’m glad I was the one to teach you.”

Harry felt frozen for a second with conflicting emotions. There were several things he could do, and all of them were further than he wanted to go.

He contented himself with gripping Draco’s hand hard and shaking it once. “I’m glad that you did, too,” he said.

“Then that means—what?”

Harry accepted the weight of the decision and the pleading that shone from Draco’s eyes, and inclined his head. “It means I’ll at least tell my friends that you’re going with us on the hunt. And—ask Dumbledore. Ask only because I don’t know yet what he’ll say and how I have to get around him,” he added quickly as Draco’s eyes narrowed. “He may agree for reasons of his own. You know how strange he is.”

“Barmy,” Draco murmured, but he seemed too swept away by satisfaction to care as much as Harry had assumed he would be. “Well. Good.”

And it seemed they sat there beaming at each other like idiots for too long until Mr. Malfoy came out and commanded them sharply to come to dinner, it was cold.

*

Draco knew exactly where Harry was at all times. Of course, with the bond and them being closer to each other than they had been all summer, that wasn’t a surprise, but it did have a different meaning now when he lay down in the bed next to the one he had conjured for Harry and turned his head towards the sound of his steady breathing.

Harry is going to fight. For me. And for me to have the right to go along and defend him. Just like we were—friends.

But Draco hadn’t doubted they were friends for a while, and so he didn’t have a word to express what pounded and shouted in his head, part of the bond and yet outside that.

Before he fell asleep, though, he found the word.

He’s mine.

Chapter Text

Harry paused when he woke up on his seventeenth birthday and found the bed beside his empty. He turned his head and reached along the bond, and discovered that Draco was outside. Not moving, either, the way he would have been if he was flying. And Harry could feel how hard Draco was struggling to mute his emotions, without raising the Occlumency barriers.

Harry blinked and touched his hair slowly. It was as messy as ever. He wondered for a second if he should shower and dress and cast a charm to try and make himself look respectable. Draco seemed to be acting almost as if he was having an argument with his father. Harry didn’t want to show up looking “disreputable,” as Mr. Malfoy sometimes said of his hair, and make it worse.

But Draco’s part of the bond also pulsed with impatience, as regular and strong as the tide. In the end, Harry reckoned that Draco could put up with his messy appearance as long as Harry did whatever Draco wanted him to do.

And he had no idea what that was yet.

Harry took a deep breath and swung his legs out of bed. No, he didn’t know what he was going down to face, and he half-thought it was pretty serious, but at the same time, anticipation filled him like a rising sun, and Draco would know that.

Time to go down and face the day.

*

Here he comes.

Draco knew it by the way the bond grew stronger as Harry walked towards him, of course, but more than that, he knew it by the way his own head felt filled and flowing with emotion. He smiled a little. He had almost forgotten what it was like to be alone in his own mind—something Professor Snape would probably glare at him for admitting.

But Draco preferred the sensation of walking along a flowing stream to standing alone in the middle of a barren field, especially since he’d felt so barren after his mother died.

“Will he understand the significance of the celebration?” Father asked from the head of the table he and Draco had placed outdoors. That was the only contribution Father had made to the preparations. He had sat and watched, face expressionless, as Draco strung the red and gold banners and set up a single thorny, flowering branch in the middle of the table and placed a single treacle tart on the plate. Draco had had to ask Dobby for that.

Dobby had actually come when Draco asked, and peered at him unblinking for long moments. But he had agreed to bring Harry’s favorite dessert, something Draco didn’t think he could make on his own. And then he had looked around at the table and banners and nodded before he vanished, so at least he didn’t disapprove.

“He won’t,” Draco said. “Until I explain it to him. It’s more important that he have it.”

Father shifted in his chair, an eloquent complaint to anyone who knew him.

Draco ignored that. His whole, quivering being was focused on the doorway Harry would walk through any second. The bond surged closer, but Harry seemed to be walking slower than normal. Probably on purpose to irritate me, Draco thought, although he knew that Harry had no idea why this birthday was so special and traditionally important. He only thought he did.

Harry stepped outside and stared at the banners that Draco had floated on pure air as well as strung through the trees and on the house. Then he looked at Draco, and the bewilderment gave way to a bemused smile.

He’ll always smile for me, even when he’s utterly puzzled, Draco thought, and the bond surged.

“I reckon you wanted to celebrate my birthday?” Harry asked, and looked at the floating banners again.

Father sniffed. Draco ignored him. “Yes,” he said. “Since this is the birthday you come of age, and that’s always a special one.” He paused, and asked a question he very well knew the answer to. “No one explained to you the ceremony that’s usually done on this day?”

“No. Ceremony?”

Draco nodded solemnly and indicated the flowering branch. “This signifies that you’re entering both the pleasures and the perils of adulthood.” He felt the bond jump at the same time as Harry bit his lip. Draco ignored that regally. Harry could laugh at the phrasing later. “The banners always have your House colors, because by this point, you’ll have spent six years with them, and they deserve to be acknowledged.” He nodded towards the plate. “And you always have one of your favorite sweets, because adults can eat sweet things and be trusted not to eat too much the way children might.”

Father, looking intensely at the sky, twitched a little at that. Draco knew why.

“Wow,” Harry breathed. His eyes were bright as he walked over and sat down in front of the plate of treacle tart. “No one ever explained that to me. Thank you.” Then he glanced suddenly at Draco. “Did you make this?”

Draco grinned. He’d been surprised that Harry hadn’t asked the question earlier. “No. Dobby did.”

“Oh, good.” Then Harry seemed to realize what he’d admitted with that little sigh, and flushed. “I mean—not that you can’t do exactly as you want, of course—not that youshouldn’t do exactly as you want—”

Draco laughed, partially to end the rambling speech and partially because he didn’t like the emotions coming along with them. Harry convinced he was being ungrateful was like a shot of bitter water into a clear stream. Draco had sometimes felt echoes of that when Harry talked about the Dursleys, but he never wanted it associated with him. “Are you going to eat your treacle tart or not?”

“Sure,” said Harry, and started, although he did look at the empty plates in front of Draco and Father first.

Draco shook his head. “We’ll eat later. For now, everyone’s attention should be on you as you achieve your age of majority.”

Draco hadn’t known someone who wasn’t a Weasley could get that red. But Harry gamely ate his way through the treacle tart, and made conversation with Draco about the Chudley Cannons and their chances. One of the unfortunate things Harry had picked up from his Weasley connection was a fondness for that team. Draco was trying to teach him better, but he was stubborn, as usual.

“You’re just arguing because you like the Falcons better!” Harry exclaimed at one point.

“Yes, and I like them because they win,” Draco retorted. “What reason can you give for liking the Cannons?”

“Because the orange looks as though it would bother you,” Harry said at once.

Draco laughed, and caught a strange expression on Father’s face as he did so. Father looked as if he was listening to the kind of conversation he’d never expected to hear in his life.

Well, that could be true, Draco reflected a second later. Father could be surprised that I’m sitting here laughing and joking with Harry Potter, or someone on the opposite side of the war from us. That doesn’t mean I have to stop.

And Draco turned back to Harry, and they continued the argument over breakfast for all of them once Harry was done with his treacle tart, and the cleaning-up, and half the broom flight that they took after that. But then Harry unfairly changed that flight into a race, so Draco could either pay attention to the broom or the words.

He had to choose the broom, and had the joy of nearly beating Harry to the finish line on the far side of the front garden before Harry curved back, laughing, and held up a fist in triumph to the sun.

Draco’s breath was raspy and hot when he watched him, a little like his sweat-streaked face as they landed near the table again. Father had remained outside. Draco thought that was unusual, but it wasn’t until Harry—even more triumphant in being able to use his wand without the Trace—conjured a stream of water to fall over Draco that Father spoke, and Draco knew why he had remained.

“What have you considered doing with your life, Mr. Potter?”

Harry twisted around, his wand still in his hand but not pointed at Father. Draco was glad that he didn’t have to step between them. But the question was a traditional one asked of someone on their seventeenth birthday. They didn’t have to make a decision—although it was good luck if they did—but did have to show that they’d started on the process.

“A lot of things,” Harry said finally. His face was solemn for a second, and the bond leaped once and then was still, like a dog listening intently for some command. “I thought about becoming an Auror, but the more I think about it…that was something I said because I had to say something under the circumstances more than anything else.”

“Circumstances?”

“Umbridge.”

“Ah,” Father said, and Draco opened his mouth. He wanted to know more about those “circumstances,” even if it would mean discussing some awkward things, like the way Draco had been a member of her Inquisitorial Squad. But Father got there before him. “And you no longer think that you’d like to be an Auror?”

“Even with Draco teaching me, I’m no good at Potions,” said Harry, and grinned sideways at Draco. At least the bond leaped and swayed more happily now. Draco touched his arm. “And I know an Auror has to have a Potions NEWT. At this point, I don’t know if I’ll even be going back to take my NEWTS next year.”

“Professor Dumbledore will not be coming to take you back to school?”

“I think he’ll want us to hunt Horcruxes instead.”

“Mr. Potter,” said Father in sharp agitation, “you had better not be including my son in the hunt the way it looks like you intend to do.”

Harry turned to face him, and looked as though he could be talking to the Dark Lord himself and wouldn’t back down. Draco touched his elbow, a reminder to go gently. He cared for both of them, and didn’t want them hurt.

Harry sent a flood of reassurance down the bond, like a sharp spring tide, and answered Lucius’s question mildly. “Well, this day is evidently a special one. And Draco’s already had his seventeenth birthday. So I don’t see why he should listen to you make his decisions for him. He’s the one who will have to tell me if he doesn’t want to go.” He turned around, caught Draco’s eye, and waited patiently.

Draco held back the temptation to howl with laughter, and bit his lip instead. If he could act contrite, that might ease Father’s temper.

Because he did intend to go with Harry. And from the way Father was glaring, he probably thought Draco had set up this celebration just to make Harry think of using someone’s coming-of-age as a weapon. Draco shook his head slightly at Father and said, “I didn’t think he would take it that way.”

“Take what what way?”

Harry still hated being left out of things. Draco faced him and held a hand out. “I didn’t set up your birthday celebration just to make you think about me being of age and able to make my own decisions. I believe Father was thinking that I manipulated the situation to my advantage.” He was a little sorry he hadn’t thought of that, actually. It would have been a brilliant move.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Slytherins.” There was really no condemnation in his voice, though, as he looked at Draco. “What do you decide?”

“I decide to go with you. Could you really doubt that, after what we talked about earlier?”

Harry’s smile was slow, but it grew. That helped make up for the way Father’s face seemed to be turning to marble.

“It will be dangerous,” Father began.

“So was going to rescue you,” Draco said. He put Harry’s arm aside when he tried to extend it in front of Draco. Draco understood and appreciated that Harry simply wanted to prevent him from arguing with his family, but that was too bad. Some arguments were worth having.

“This will be much more complex and dangerous, and there is no honor or family duties that mandate it.”

“A different kind of honor and duties do,” Draco said, looking at Harry. “Those of friendship.”

For a moment, Harry’s eyes and the bond flared the same way, and Draco knew why. Harry would be wondering if it was only friendship, after all. And Draco knew it wasn’t.

But the last place he wanted to confront that was in front of his father, before he and Harry had had a chance to talk it out for themselves. He faced Father instead, and lowered his voice significantly, so Father would have to listen instead of shout. It was a technique Professor Snape used all the time. Draco would have to thank him for that the next time he saw him. “I can make decisions as an adult, Father. I didn’t have the chance to think about what I would like to do on my own seventeenth birthday. We were already in hiding then. And I don’t think you asked me the same question you just asked Harry.” In fact, Draco knew he hadn’t. He had waited all day in dread of the question, because he didn’t know what the answer would be.

Perhaps Father had feared the silence, and not asked it for that reason.

Father blinked, hard. Then he said, “You are young, Draco. You have years to make decisions. Wiser ones than I have made,” he added softly.

Draco blinked hard for a moment, because that was true, and at the same time, it was spinning things in the way Harry had just muttered about. Father was trying to bribe him with affection. Stay here. Forget about going with Potter on his Horcrux hunt. Forgive me for not asking questions. You can find an answer here.

It was all unspoken because it had to be, and that left Draco with an advantage. He ignored the words and continued aloud, “I wonder why you asked Harry, then. Because he’s even younger than I am.”

“You didn’t have to point it out.”

Draco made a swatting motion with his hand at Harry, and Harry shut up. Father, in the meanwhile, was watching him with an intense gaze that Draco understood well. Father wanted him to surrender to love and duty and their being the last Malfoys and shut up and keep safe.

Draco refused to. He knew what Father would advocate. Hiding for a while, leaving Britain if the Dark Lord won, and finding a pure-blood girl as soon as possible, one who wouldn’t mind secrecy and diminished funds. Have children so there would be more Malfoys. Steal heirlooms from the Dark Lord when they could get them, or surrender and present themselves as victims to Harry’s side if they won, so they could keep what mattered. Not try to grow the family wealth or prestige in this generation. Leave that promise for future ones to fulfill.

And perhaps Draco would have managed to agree to that without the same pride Father had taken so much time to encourage in him. Draco didn’t want his children to be the only ones who achieved something. He wanted to do something now.

“Mr. Potter has something he cannot escape waiting for him,” Father said. “A trap, if you will. I know that you can escape it.”

“You assume I would want to,” Draco said softly, while his chest ached. He had never seen as much open emotion in Father’s eyes as he wore now. “I understand all the arguments, Father. But I am going with Harry to fight this war.”

Father leaned back slowly. “Then I suppose I will be left alone to mourn the death of my family,” he said, and his voice was ancient in a way Draco had never heard it. “Because you will die in this war, Draco.”

Draco shook his head as confidently as he could, and then faltered when his father glared at him. “All right, I can’t be sure,” he conceded. “But I really don’t think you need to glare at me as if you’re sure.”

“I am,” Father whispered.

“You can’t be—”

A shimmer at the edge of the field made Draco turn his head. He would almost be grateful for Harry’s friends charging into the argument at the moment and trying to insist that Harry needed to come with them to hunt Horcruxes right now. It would at least be something different.

But it was worse. Professor Snape came walking towards him, his cloak flapping behind him, his face wrought with gloom.

And behind him came Dumbledore.

*

Harry hadn’t realized how much he was dreading Dumbledore’s appearance until he felt the adrenaline that flooded his body. He tensed. He had meant—he really hadmeant to write some sort of reassuring letter, and he hadn’t.

But that didn’t mean he thought the Headmaster had the right to level him with the disappointed look he did. Harry stood his ground, and felt the bond move around him as if Draco was building a steel wall with his emotions. Harry didn’t flash him a grateful smile, because it would probably just upset Dumbledore further, but at least he knew someone who cared for him was there.

“Harry.” Dumbledore nodded to him, not smiling as he usually did, but with the feeling that he could. “Many happy returns of the day.”

“Thank you,” Harry said warily. He could see Snape glaring at him for his level of disrespect, but to be frank, Harry didn’t give a shit. He was going to handle this his own way, which included demanding some answers and not trusting blindly.

“Do you know why I asked you not to come here, but instead to stay with your relatives?”

And Harry found that he could be angry, after all. He deliberately took a step towards the Headmaster that put Draco behind him. He arranged the words in his mouth so he wouldn’t shout them when he did begin to speak, and demanded quietly, “When did you make it a choice between coming here and staying at Privet Drive? You neveroffered me a choice. You told me I had to stay with my relatives until my birthday. You didn’t say why. We never even told you we were communicating, because you would have tried to stop it. So why would you act now like I should have stayed one place instead of the other place?”

Dumbledore watched him intently. Not sadly or angrily, either of which would have set Harry off further. He had the impression that the Headmaster was trying to figure him out.

“I hoped, by separating you, to somewhat lessen the intensity of the soul-bond,” Dumbledore said. “You told me before that you once lost yourself in Nagini when she was biting Arthur, and the same thing happened with Tom before Mr. Malfoy taught you Occlumency.” He gave a bow to Draco that made the bond thrum. Harry was fairly sure Draco thought it was condescending. “I did not want you to lose yourself in the bond with Mr. Malfoy.” He sighed. “Which seems to have happened.”

“I know exactly who I am, and who Harry is. This ‘losing’ that you talked about hasn’t happened.” Draco pronounced Dumbledore’s word as if it was a worm in his soup.

“That is not the only definition of losing,” said Dumbledore. He hesitated once, then seemed to brace himself. “If Harry cannot put the war above you—”

“Why should he have to?” Draco asked, and his voice was as quiet as Voldemort’s in some of the visions Harry had had of him. “I’ll be going with him, helping to fight the war. It can only help to have the person who taught him Occlumency and who has a soul-bond with him at his side. Don’t you agree, Headmaster?”

Dumbledore looked at both of them in silence. Harry saw the way his eyes flickered and knew the moment when Dumbledore might have told them the truth had passed. He still wanted to hide why he’d required Harry to stay on Privet Drive and why he didn’t want Draco to go with him.

Or maybe he wants to hide the reason that he dislikes the soul-bond.

Harry waited, and Dumbledore was still silent. Finally Harry said, “These are reasonable questions. Why wouldn’t you answer them?”

“How dare you ask such things of the Headmaster,” Snape snarled quietly.

Harry ignored him. He no longer thought Snape would curse him for disrespect, and he had to know Dumbledore’s reasons. “Listen, sir,” he said, putting in the word “sir” only to stop Snape from ranting, “the soul-bond’s a fact. And I stayed here with Draco and his father for almost a fortnight and nothing bad happened. I don’t even think anything bad happened to the Dursleys, or you would have told me. So what is it that you don’t like? Me not doing what you say? Me being with my soul-bond? What?”

Draco shifted behind him in extreme smugness while the bond rippled and flowed like water in sunlight. Harry didn’t know exactly which words of his had made Draco that happy, and he didn’t care. He just stood with his eyes fixed on Dumbledore and waited for the answer.

Dumbledore finally sighed hugely and admitted, “I thought things might go wrong, but they did not. That doesn’t make it safe for you to leave the sanctuary of the blood protections on the Dursleys, my boy.”

“How strong were those blood protections?” Draco asked instantly. “Professor Snape couldn’t sense them, and neither could my father. Would he have been safe there? Or were you thinking more of the safety of the Muggles?”

“Do you even know why I left?” Harry added. “Did Professor Snape tell you? What did you think of it?”

Dumbledore remained silent. Then he said, “I would prefer to explain this to you in private, Harry.”

Draco’s hand clamped on Harry’s arm instantly, and he leaned in to hiss into his ear, “Don’t you dare.”

“I wasn’t intending to,” Harry reassured him, before he looked at Dumbledore again. “I think you can say it in front of Draco and his father or not at all, sir. And I won’t fight the war under you if you think you have to keep it private.”

Dumbledore closed his eyes and pressed his lips together. For the first time, the coldness of fear touched Harry. He had thought Dumbledore was being stubborn and wanting to have everything his own way, but how he acted now…

Maybe there’s something real here. Maybe there’s something that he’s afraid of.

Dumbledore sighed one more time and said, “As little as you will believe me, my dear boy, I did try to spare both you and Mr. Malfoy anguish. The soul-bond…did not work as I hoped. I planned to attach your soul to Mr. Malfoy’s to lessen its dependence on the shard of Tom’s inside you. At that point, with the shard so clearly separated, I thought it would be easy to destroy. You would essentially stop being a Horcrux.”

Harry nodded. He remembered Dumbledore saying that. “What do you mean, it didn’t go as planned?”

Dumbledore looked at him with eyes like changing light. “The soul-bond has tied you harder to life without changing the positioning of your own soul or Tom’s shard. You are still a Horcrux. And there is no destruction for a living Horcrux but death.” He sighed and shivered. “I thought, by keeping you separate from Mr. Malfoy, I would at least spare him some anguish and immerse you further in the war so your own inevitable sacrifice would be less painful for you. I am sorry, my dear boy.”

Chapter Text

“What?”

Draco’s hand was so painful on his arm that Harry made an attempt to pull away from him. But then he realized that about half that pain came from the bond, poking sharp and thorny in the back of his mind—and the eyes Draco turned on him were brilliant with outrage.

“You want to go with him so he can kill you right now, I suppose?” Draco stepped towards him, and Harry winced. Not only was the anger in the back of his mind even sharper, but he could only imagine how fierce the rage was, that Draco didn’t feel Harry’s true emotions down the bond. “Just lie back and bare your throat like a good little sacrifice? Well, I’m not a good little sacrifice. And you’re mine.”

Harry saw Dumbledore’s and Snape’s faces, and briefly closed his eyes. Dumbledore seemed to blame him for letting Draco grow this close to him. Snape probably blamed him for “corrupting” Draco and making him care about someone with the last name Potter. He probably thought the soul-bond shouldn’t have been created at all.

Don’t I, too?

But he couldn’t, Harry thought. Even if it hadn’t worked the way it was supposed to, and Draco shouldn’t have been dragged into this with him. He couldn’t regret it, not when it felt so wonderful. And nothing Harry had done could have affected the main motivation for this, the death of Draco’s mother. Voldemort would still have killed her no matter Harry’s promises or temptations or opinions on the matter.

“Mr. Malfoy does have a point, Harry,” Dumbledore said, and Harry opened his eyes, hoping that meant he was wrong about how bad this was and something different would happen. But instead, Dumbledore just watched him with uncomfortable pity. “We will have to make sure that the soul-bond is dissolved first. Otherwise, there is the chance that your death could pull Mr. Malfoy into death with you.”

And at that point, not only Draco’s father but Snape looked bleak. Harry swallowed. It seemed like a loud sound, but that might just have been the silence that had fallen over the little garden in front of the house.

“I understand, sir—”

I don’t.”

Draco’s voice was so loud that Harry winced again, and his emotions dug in like barbed arrows. He grabbed Harry’s arm, gave everyone a poisonous little smile, said, “Excuse us,” and then dragged Harry behind the house.

Harry turned around the minute Draco stopped dragging him and said, “You know that they’ll just—”

Shut up. You were ready to die.

Harry decided the smartest thing he could do when Draco sounded like that was to shut up. Draco was glaring at him from less than two centimeters away, and Harry could feel his breath on his cheeks. Draco shook his head, but didn’t move back.

“You were ready to go with Dumbledore,” he said, his voice softer now but no less ugly. “I felt it. You were ready to die.”

Harry closed his eyes. “I’ve known for more than a year now that Voldemort might kill me,” he whispered. “That’s what the prophecy says. I don’t want to die. There’s a difference between what I feel and wanting to die.”

“Then explain it for me? Because somehow I’m not getting all the nuances, even though we have a bloody soul-bond.”

Harry sighed and opened his eyes. This was one time he longed for Ron and Hermione. Ron would have understood without Harry having to say the words, and Hermione could have found the ones that would let Harry explain this to Draco.

Not that either of them would be any happier that Harry might have to die. But they had different kinds of sensibilities about it than Draco. Draco sounded upset because of the way it pertained to him. He wasn’t thinking about the wider picture.

“On second thought, don’t explain it to me if your explanation’s going to be as stupid as what I’m getting through the bond.”

Harry folded his arms and threw his head back. It landed with a thump that was more like a crack against the wall of the house, but at the moment, that was satisfying. “I can’t explain if you won’t understand,” he growled.

“I can’t save you if you won’t cooperate.”

Harry closed his eyes again. “I don’t want to die. If only because it would mean that you died with me. What would happen to you? Death like Dumbledore says?”

“I think the better question to ask is,” Draco said, catching his hand with nails that cut into his palm, “what happens when a bond becomes as close as this is. And what are the ways to keep one end of the soul-bond alive when he’s determined to die?”

Harry threw up his free hand. “I don’t want to die! I want to live! And be with you!”

“Good,” Draco breathed unexpectedly, his voice sounded calmer, and Harry hadn’t even opened his eyes to ask why when Draco’s lips clamped on his.

It was the missing piece Harry had sought without knowing it, he thought dimly even as he curled one arm around Draco’s neck and dragged him down and down, until Draco’s forehead almost slammed into his. This was the kind of joke he had been afraid to make the other day when Draco sat on him. This was the edge to Draco’s remarks, and his smiles, and the way that Harry had thought vaguely they were more than friends without having words for what they were.

Now he did.

He slid his hand up beneath Draco’s shirt, and felt him arch in surprise and grunt a moment before the bond’s emotions slammed into his mind. God, they were wild. Draco wanted to devour him and sweep him away and hold him safe like a shell on the edge of the sea. Harry sagged against him for a second, almost drunk on them.

Draco’s hands were the ones urging him back up and into the conflict of their mouths. Harry kissed him and kissed him and kissed him until his throat was dry, and sighed out when Draco finally pulled his head back for a desperate breath. His own lips tingled. Harry ran his tongue over them and winced a little at the pain.

“It’s all right,” Draco whispered, sliding his hand along Harry’s chin. “I know a spell that makes them hurt less.”

Harry took a breath that filled his lungs, let it out, and said, “Let’s not use it yet. I want to look like this when we go back around the house to confront Dumbledore.”

Draco’s eyes bulged for a second, and the bond rippled as if starting back. Harry blinked. He had thought part of the reason Draco wanted to kiss him was to convince Dumbledore he couldn’t just march in here and take Harry away.

But then Draco whispered, “And in front of my father and Professor Snape?” and Harry understood his reluctance.

He grinned and studied Draco for a second. His hair was pretty frantic, and his lips were roughed up, although maybe not as badly as Harry’s; Harry couldn’t tell that without a mirror. And he looked as though he didn’t know whether to be pale or red, the way the bond couldn’t tell whether to be in motion or still.

“In front of all of them,” Harry said, and slung his arm around Draco’s waist, and led him around the corner of the house again.

*

Severus closed his eyes when the two of them appeared. Two boys, Albus persisted in calling them, or at least he did until the time he slipped up and started talking about how mature Potter would need to be to save the world.

Except that Potter was strutting now, his eyes as wide and wise as if he were an ordinary boy, and his arm was tight around Draco’s waist. And Draco was leaning against him and looking at Potter in the kind of adoration that Severus had never thought to see him look at anyone with. Or to see anyone look at Potter, he had to admit. The Weasley chit was stupid for admiring him.

As if he had heard the thoughts, Draco’s eyes turned towards him. Severus winced. The outrage in them was all too clear. Draco blamed him for being part of this, for trying to end the war with Potter’s life.

Severus himself did not much like it, given the vow he had sworn to take care of Lily’s son. But on the other hand, Albus had told him what the boy would become if he did not die. A captured prisoner, probably kept in a box for the rest of his life—which would be forever, because he was part of what kept the Dark Lord immortal, and the Dark Lord would certainly not want to destroy him, once he knew the truth.

This way was still better, no matter what Draco thought at the moment. Severus wondered if there was a chance of getting Draco alone and explaining that.

The two halted in front of him, leaning on each other in a way that stirred up disturbing memories in Severus. He had once gone on a full-moon search of the Forbidden Forest for certain ingredients that needed to be harvested then, and stumbled across a pair of unicorns standing with their necks entwined and their horns leaning across each other’s foreheads.

They cannot have become like that.

But they had, and the soul-bond had had effects Albus had not foreseen, because of course it had. Severus held back a sigh of disgust and sat down in an abandoned chair at the table. He would have no chance to talk to Draco alone any time soon. Among other things, he didn’t seem to want to let go of Potter.

“You can’t destroy him, that’s all.”

Draco was speaking to Albus in an adult but condescending tone, as if that was what it would take. Severus checked another sigh. He had taught Draco better than that. Always show respect to people who had power over you, even if you didn’t respect them.

That way, you had the better chance to overpower and destroy them later.

Perhaps Draco thinks that chance will never come, or at least that he isn’t risking it now.

Albus gave Draco a wan smile. “I know what you would like to think, Mr. Malfoy. But there are larger matters at stake than the survival of a single individual. I think Harry knows that,” he added pointedly, leaning to the side as if he would see something different in Potter’s eyes. “After all, he nearly sacrificed himself once to save young Miss Weasley when a Horcrux might have killed her. And he might have died last year when he went to rescue his godfather in the Ministry. Or in the Triwizard Tournament. Or during your first year when he rescued the Philosopher’s Stone.”

With the litany, Draco was growing more and more rigid, and now seemed more inclined to loom over Potter like a dragon over her eggs, instead of a unicorn with its mate. Severus caught his breath in a groan.

“So you say that you consider his life of less value because it’s nearly been lost so many times?” Draco demanded in hushed tones. “Wow.” He sounded a little dazed, and he laughed suddenly. “I thought it would be the other way around, that his life would become more valuable because he had shown how strong and brave he could be, but you…you assign the exact opposite meaning to it. Wow.” He laughed again.

Then he moved in front of Potter and held up his wand towards Albus. “This is the end of all those sacrifices,” he said. “I’m coming with you, and I’m going to research Harry’s condition. There must be something out there on living Horcruxes you haven’t found. Don’t try to stop me,” he added flatly, and Severus was not sure whether the words were for Albus or Potter.

Useless, if they are for the former. For Potter…

Severus looked at Potter, and then hastily away again. He realized that he had never considered what would happen, where his loyalty would lie, if Potter did not agree with the Headmaster and wanted to live.

I shouldn’t have to be in this situation. Bloody soul-bond.

*

Draco was enjoying himself.

For a certain value of “enjoy,” of course. The emotions rattled around in his head like stones, and he didn’t enjoy that. But for once, he was in the right, and he knew it, and he didn’t have to stand around smiling and being grateful and humble that someone like him was allowed to exist at all. He had the right to have a say and defend his life.

Which was bound up with Harry’s life. Draco knew that would have annoyed his Father, and would have annoyed a certain past reflection of himself, who had never wanted to be bound to Potter in the first place. But now it was nice to both be in the right and protect someone he had come to care for.

“I have done enough research to be sure there is no other cure,” said Dumbledore. He looked remarkably mild and soft and grandfatherly. Draco was sure it was a ruse, and ignored it. “I did that research during the last few months. I cast the spells that told me Harry’s Horcrux had not really changed during the months when he was at Hogwarts and separated from you.” He looked at Draco with eyes that seemed to beg—what? Well, forgiveness was the least of it. “There is no time to do years of research in the middle of a war.”

“So he should die because it’s convenient?” Draco demanded.

Harry’s emotions were doing strange things inside his head, rolling and wavering back and forth as if Harry had boulders on a cloth he was bouncing up and down in a windstorm. Draco ignored that, too. Harry could be influenced by whoever was speaking to him at the time. Dumbledore’s mild act worked on him. Well, it was just a good thing that he had Draco with him to watch out for his interests.

“I never said that.”

“You didn’t have to,” Draco told him, a little smugly. “You implied it.”

Dumbledore let out a loud whistling sigh and turned to Harry. “Can I speak with you alone for a few minutes, Harry?”

“No,” Draco pointed out.

“Draco,” said Harry softly. The bond had turned so that it was flowing like clear water towards Draco again, and Draco snorted a little as he imagined what Harry was feeling beneath that. Like a martyr, probably.

“No,” Draco repeated. “He only wants to get you alone so he can convince you, and he wants to convince you to die. So you’re not going with him.”

“Is that not what you did when you took him behind the house, Mr. Malfoy?” Dumbledore asked, his voice heavy and soft. “I would not believe that you would insist on exposing Harry to a tactic that only you could use, while forbidding me the chance.”

“Well, if you put it like that,” Draco said, and waited until Dumbledore smiled at him, because he thought Draco was yielding. Draco finished triumphantly, “No. Because I also kissed him. And I don’t think you’d be willing to.”

Dumbledore’s face looked like chalk. Father growled something wordless off to the side. Professor Snape opened his mouth with the same expression that he wore when forced to take points from Slytherin, and then put his head in his hands.

“Well?” Draco demanded, turning back towards Dumbledore.

“You are right,” said Dumbledore, and there was a faint twinkle in his eyes after all, which Draco instantly distrusted. “I would not kiss Harry. But I do need to speak to him.”

“No.”

“You can speak to me here, can’t you?” Harry asked, and stirred away from Draco’s side, which displeased Draco until he saw the way Harry frowned at Dumbledore. At least he isn’t giving in and going along just because someone speaks nicely to him. Not anymore. “Everyone here already knows about Horcruxes and the soul-bond Draco and I have and all the other secrets that you might want to keep.”

“There are things I think only you should know about, Harry.”

“I really can’t think of what they are. And if you can’t give me an example in front of Draco, maybe they’re not all that important.”

Harry’s voice was implacable, his face calm and smooth. Draco wanted to hug him in sheer exhilaration, and he only held back because he thought it might make them seem less serious to Dumbledore.

At least he could send his emotions ricocheting down the bond in a sort of hug, and Harry caught the edge of the tidal wave and winked at him.

“Very well,” said Dumbledore, giving in so suddenly that Draco was suspicious again. But all he did was look at the house and assume an expression of bland patience. “Your soul is so tightly entwined with Voldemort’s Horcrux, Harry, that I think now I could never have moved it far enough to get it out of you. The shard can’t be changed or soothed. It must be killed.”

Harry shuddered a little, and disgust filmed the bond like oil floating on top of water. Draco flung an arm around his shoulders and led him towards the table, shaking his head a little when Harry glanced at him. No, nothing could make him pull back from touching Harry or make him think Harry was evil. Not even the soul-shard that apparently competed with the tie to Draco’s own soul to influence Harry.

He’s mine. That’s not going to change.

“But,” Dumbledore continued, and his voice was sharper than before, “I think there’s a chance that you might survive the removal of the Horcrux, Harry. At least if it’s taken care of in a particular way and at a particular time.”

*

Why did he want to tell me that by myself? Harry immediately thought. It’s nothing that he couldn’t say in front of Draco! It’s the most hopeful thing he could have said!

But he thought a second later that he knew why. Dumbledore had said he wanted to spare Draco anguish, that he had actually thought Draco might forget about the bond and Harry if they were separated for long enough. Dumbledore had only said there was a chance Harry could survive. He might be afraid Draco would take it as a certainty.

Or rightly judge that he should just act as if it’s a certainty and take me away.

Honestly, if Draco asked him to run from Dumbledore right now, Harry thought he might agree.

“What do I have to do?” Harry asked. He would have gone towards Dumbledore, but Draco held him tight at his side. Probably for the best, Harry considered a second later. He wouldn’t want to deal with a hysterical Draco.

“It is more what Voldemort has to do.” Dumbledore was so tightly focused on him that Harry thought he didn’t even noticing the others flinching at the name. “And that is cast a certain spell at you that he thinks would eliminate you. If I’m correct, the spell would kill the shard of soul instead. You essentially have two souls. The Horcrux could take the place of yours, could die so you wouldn’t have to.”

“What spell?” Draco demanded.

“The Killing Curse.”

No.”

Draco was yanking Harry around by his arm again, as if trying to pull him backwards would make Harry more inclined to listen to him. But Harry was already inclined to listen to him, and this was just annoying. He stiffened his legs against the pull and told Dumbledore, “You sound certain about that. How can you be when this has never happened before?”

Draco tried to yank him again. Harry sent a flood of warning down the bond, and Draco stopped, sulkily. But he still hovered, as if he thought Dumbledore was going to cast the Killing Curse at Harry any moment and he would have to jump forwards and in between them.

“Because the Killing Curse is the same spell that failed to kill you before,” said Dumbledore, and his voice was so weary that Harry shivered, thinking of carrying that weight of weariness around. “Because it is indirectly responsible for you becoming a Horcrux, when it rebounded on Tom and tore loose a piece of his soul. Because it is the spell that he likes to use most of all to kill—I think Voldemort values the terror that comes from seeing unmarked bodies as much as he values torture—and it makes sense that he would use that when he had finally captured you.”

“Ah,” said Draco, and his voice was high and shrill with anger, while his emotions howled down the bond like a winter wind. “So you don’t just want Harry to stand there and let someone kill him, you want him to walk up to the Dark Lord and do it.”

“There is a chance that the Killing Curse cast by someone else might have the same effect,” Dumbledore said quietly. “But I am not certain. It seems to me that we should do the best we can to tilt the odds in our favor, and part of that is letting the one who first created the Horcrux get rid of it.”

“You don’t know it’ll work at all,” Draco snarled at him. “You don’t know if it’ll just result in Harry’s death or not. You can’t expect him to try just in case it will!”

“In the end,” said Dumbledore, and his voice was mild, “Harry is the one who must make that decision, and not you, and not me. I came to ask him, only. To tell him the truth and ask him to choose.”

He turned to Harry.

Harry closed his eyes. He could feel the weight of all the arguments he’d had with Draco pressing on him. There were things larger than him. And sometimes he was the only person who could do those things. Who would have saved Ginny, if he hadn’t gone into the Chamber of Secrets? He was the only one who stood a chance of opening it with Parseltongue, and the only one who stood a chance of understanding what was happening once he was there, since Ron didn’t know about Tom and the diary.

And this, too—maybe even more so—was something only he could do.

But he had obligations. What would his death do to Draco? Seeing Voldemort torture and kill people in visions was bad enough. Harry couldn’t imagine what it would be like to feel someone dying down a soul-bond. And Draco had already endured that once when Harry’s soul was wandering free of its body.

What would his death do to his friends? They might reconcile themselves to it, especially if Dumbledore explained to them what he was going to have Harry do, but it would still hurt.

And he’d like…

It sounded selfish, but he’d like to live for himself, too. He’d like to enjoy the sunlight on his face and the taste of treacle tart and the sight of the Snitch clenched tightly in his hand as he won a game.

And Draco’s kisses. He’d like more of them, too.

Harry looked up. “I’d only be willing to try this if you were sure there was a chance I could come back,” he told Dumbledore. “If there was a way to set it up so it wouldwork, not just a half-mad plan where I go stalking up to Voldemort the minute we’ve destroyed all the other Horcruxes and ask him to kill me. I’m not willing to risk my life for anything less.”

“But you’re still willing to risk your life,” Draco said, while the bond sang like a siren of all the deep hurt that his voice wouldn’t allow him to express.

Harry turned his head and touched him. Draco closed his eyes a second. Harry let himself forget about the other people there and the way they were staring, and told him, “Only because Voldemort is going to hunt you and me forever if I don’t do something. But I’m not going to do something that doesn’t work, either.”

The rest of them were silent. Maybe they didn’t know what to say.

Draco opened his eyes, and even though the bond couldn’t convey words, what he wanted to say was written well enough in them.

*

Severus sighed out slowly. For now, Potter would go along with Dumbledore. And Draco was borne along with both of them.

His allegiance and his promises weren’t going to be tested.

Not yet.

Chapter Text

“We missed you so much, Harry.”

Harry flung his arms around his friends. Well, it was Hermione and part of Ron, really. Ron had seemingly had yet another growth spurt that Harry had missed, and now he stood almost as tall as Charlie.

“Why did you go to Malfoy of all people?” Ron asked him, pounding Harry once on the back and then dancing out of the way so Hermione could have a turn. He was grinning, though, and the question didn’t have an edge. “We wanted you with us instead!”

“I thought you would turn me over to Dumbledore if I left Privet Drive before my birthday,” Harry said honestly, and stepped back to study his friends.

Ron’s grin dropped away. “I—I never thought about it that way,” he said. “I didn’t know that you blamed him for something.”

“I blamed him for not telling me why I needed to stay there,” Harry said grimly. Then he relented and hugged Hermione, who had gone stiff in his arms. “But now he has, and although I don’t like the reason, it didn’t work anyway. So it’s all right.”

“What was the reason?” Hermione stepped back and brushed frizzy hair out of her eyes, frowning at Harry. “I mean, I asked him a few times, and he didn’t give me a response, but I thought he’d written it to you.”

“He wanted me separated from Draco so our bond would weaken,” Harry said, and sat down in the corner of the bedroom at Grimmauld Place where they’d met. It looked like Hermione’s bedroom, from the books sprawled on the bed and under the bed and at the foot of the bed, but this time, there was no indication she was sharing with Ginny. “Because he thinks I’m going to die in this war destroying the Horcrux that’s in me, and he didn’t want Draco to mourn over me.”

“There’s more.”

“What?” Harry blinked.

“You always twist your lips like that when you’re trying to avoid saying something unpleasant.” Hermione folded her arms and tapped her foot on the floor.

Harry swallowed. He noticed they hadn’t really reacted to him saying anything about the Horcrux in him, which meant Dumbledore must already have told them. Maybe he’d wanted them to be prepared, too.

Or maybe he thought they would take it better and it would sound less shocking coming from him. Maybe it was a way to keep them allies of his instead of allies of mine.

Harry reminded himself firmly that he had no proof of that, though. And anyway, he knew his friends would always fight by his side.

“Well?”

Harry dragged his attention back to Hermione and Ron, and told them what else he had to say. “And he wanted me to be less attached to Draco. He was afraid that if the bond was really strong between us and I liked being bonded to him, then I would be more reluctant to die the way I have to.”

“I—suspected something like that,” said Hermione, and gave a deep sigh. She must be really upset, Harry thought, considering her. She would normally never have spoken a cross word against Dumbledore. She sat down on the bed. “But we’ll find some way that means you don’t have to die. So Dumbledore doesn’t have to worry about you staying bonded to Malfoy, either.”

“It will have to be a spectacular way to escape,” Harry warned her. “Because otherwise, we’ll have to destroy the soul-bond. I won’t have Draco dragged into death because his soul is still attached to mine when the Horcrux is destroyed.”

“He couldn’t be dragged a little? Just enough to bruise?” Ron asked wistfully. He flushed when Harry glanced at him, with Harry didn’t-even-know-what kind of outrage in his eyes. “Sorry.”

Harry hesitated, and then decided he might as well lay everything out on the table. They’d done the same with him. “I’ve decided that I want to—date Draco.” It sounded stupid as well as bald, put like that. How could you date someone in the middle of a war?

But the way Ron turned pale and sat down with an abrupt choking sound took Harry’s mind from the stupidity of the words. Hermione turned and cast a Throat-Clearing Charm at Ron, then shook her head chidingly at Harry.

“Different ways to break it,” she said. “Different ways to break it would have been appreciated.”

“What, a gentler way?” Harry asked, trying to understand. “I mean, I suppose I could have tiptoed up on it, but Ron wouldn’t have understood, and then you would have and blurted it out, so either way he had to hear it like that.”

“Oi!” Ron had normal color in his face again, which might not be all Hermione’s spell, and glared at them with folded arms. “I’m not stupid.”

“No, but you have no context for this kind of revelation,” Hermione told him absently, studying Harry all the while. “Maybe you’re right, Harry. I have to say, though, the notion of you dating Malfoy strikes me as strange. Are you even gay?”

“I have no idea.”

“Well, then,” said Ron, sounding hopeful, “you can try dating a girl and seeing if you like it before you date Malfoy. What about Ginny? She’d broken up with Dean, and she still fancies you, you know. And she plays Quidditch. So it’s not like we’re asking you to jump straight from a boy to a girl who faints all the time and giggles over her nails, like Lavender.”

Ron!” Hermione snapped. “Considering that you were dating Lavender most of last year…”

“I don’t mean she’s an idiot. Just not the kind of girl that would attract Harry,” Ron defended himself. “And we have to find a girl who will.” He turned to Harry with an air of determination. “What do you like?”

“Draco.”

Ron sighed and bowed his head. “It’s hopeless, isn’t it,” he said in a low voice. “Maybe it was from the time you started staring at him last year.”

Harry shook his head. “Or from the time we soul-bonded. But I’m not going to let him go now. When we go on the Horcrux hunt, he’s going with us.”

“Then there is going to be a hunt,” said Hermine, with a little wriggle of satisfaction in her chair. “I told you,” she added to Ron, who was grimacing. “We weren’t just going to stay in Grimmauld Place doing research all the time.”

“I didn’t say we were. Just that it’d be preferable.” Ron rubbed one ear, glanced at Harry with a look of embarrassment, and then looked away again. “You understand, right?” he muttered under his breath. “I don’t want to run around in the middle of a war. It’s not that I’m a coward. I just don’t want to do that.”

Harry only nodded. “And I don’t want to be a Horcrux, and I don’t want Draco to be in danger. I know it might not seem like it, but I do understand.”

Ron glanced at him with the flicker of a smile. “Yeah, you do.” He paused for a second, his eyes cutting back and forth between Harry and Hermione, who had started rooting in a book on the end of her bed, muttering something that sounded like she was searching for clues about the Horcruxes.

And that would be another reason not to want to go anywhere that might bring her into danger, Harry thought, as he tried to wink at Ron without making it obvious. I don’t want to do that to Draco, either.

Unfortunately, it seemed like neither of them would get a choice.

And the soul-bond was starting to do something Harry could only describe as tightening, throbbing softly as though Draco was concentrating on him as hard as he could. Harry cleared his throat and stood up. “I think I should go,” he said. “Draco is missing me.”

“And that’s painful?” Hermione’s head popped up over the edge of the book at once, as if she was so fascinated to learn something about the operation of a soul-bond that she couldn’t not ask the question.

Harry smiled a little. “It can be. It was when we were separated during the summer. But that was the point when we thought we might not ever see each other again. It’s easier now. I just think he wants me to come home.”

Hermione a thoughtful sound between her teeth. “I wonder if that’s one reason the blood protections were weak.”

“Dumbledore told you about that, too?” Harry was a little startled.

“No, I reasoned it out. I knew they had to be weak because it was obvious that people who loved you didn’t live there, and blood protections depend on love as well as shared heritage.” Hermione’s eyes flashed for a moment, and Harry had the feeling that he and Draco hadn’t been the only ones to ask persistent and uncomfortable questions. “But if you never thought of the place as home, that would be another reason.”

“I tried,” Harry said, uncomfortable with the knowing way Ron looked at him. “Dumbledore said it was important. But Hogwarts was always more home to me, and then the Malfoys’ house.”

“I’m so glad that we don’t have a Time-Turner anymore,” Ron muttered unexpectedly.

“Why?”

“Because now I don’t have any temptation to go back in time and bring forwards your past self so he can hear you saying that you think of the Malfoys’ house as home.”

Harry rolled his eyes, and grinned. “And your past self would probably think poorly of you for putting up with that kind of declaration so calmly.”

I know the context. He wouldn’t.”

Hermione broke in before they could continue the context. “If Malfoy’s going to come with us, Harry, then he’ll have to promise not to cast any Dark Arts spells. Professor Dumbledore has done a lot of research, and he thinks that Horcruxes increase any angry and hateful tendencies you have when you’re in contact with them. We’ll be in enough danger without Dark Arts.” She gave Harry a stern look, and probably didn’t expect him to respond with a little grin and shake of his head.

“Sure, I can tell him that,” said Harry. “But I don’t think that it should be one-sided, as if he’s the only problem we might have. You’ll have to promise not to get angry at him, either.”

“No matter what he says?” Ron snorted. “Malfoy can’t go a minute without making some bigoted comment about Hermione, mate.”

“He will if I ask him to,” Harry said quietly, absolutely certain of that. If nothing else, Draco wouldn’t enjoy the recoil of Harry’s unhappiness on him down the bond. “He’ll do anything I ask him to. And he would even refrain from Dark Arts spells, too. But the angrier he gets, the more I’ll feel it. And it’s not fair to put all these restrictions on him and not have them on us.”

He’s the one who always starts it!” Ron exclaimed.

Harry smiled at him. “Then you should have no trouble refraining from saying anything about his family, right? Or his name. Or his hair. Or Slytherin and how it’s filled with sneaky spies and criminals. Or his father and how horrible it is that he escaped from Voldemort. Or people with the Dark Mark on their arm and how they’re all terrible. Or—”

“All right, all right.” Ron held up his hands in surrender. “But it’s too bad, you know.”

“What do you mean?”

“Some of those would make great insults.”

*

“Dumbledore doesn’t have much idea of what these Horcruxes are or where to find them, does he?”

Harry sighed a little and leaned against the side of his chair. Draco didn’t mind that. It would be even nicer if Harry was leaning against him, but at least the side of the chair he’d chosen was the one nearer Draco.

“He knows a few,” said Harry drowsily. Draco suspected the sunlight, huge and heavy and lazy, was having an effect on him, from the way Harry yawned. “The diary that I destroyed in second year. The ring that he destroyed. And now he’s practically sure that the cup he showed me in a few memories of Tom Riddle is one. The one that belonged to Helga Hufflepuff?” he added, when Draco made an inquiring sound. “Salazar Slytherin’s locket. He’s not sure about the Ravenclaw artifact yet, but he’s still looking.”

Draco reached out to run his hand casually through Harry’s hair. Harry jumped a little, then smiled and closed his eyes. They were still new to touching each other, Draco thought, and they shouldn’t be that new. But as long as Harry enjoyed his touch, then he had nothing to complain about.

“That doesn’t make the full complement.”

“Well, the Ravenclaw artifact.” Harry shifted lazily so that more of his scalp was directly under Draco’s searching fingers. “Dumbledore doesn’t think Voldemort would make one out of an artifact that was important to Gryffindor, and I think I agree.”

“He might want to,” Draco said, thinking back to what he knew of the Dark Lord. It had taken a few months, but now he could think of him without flinching. “He might think it was a desecration. Or do it for spite.”

Harry shrugged, moving Draco’s hand in a way that was pleasant for Draco, too. “Maybe, but there’s just a lack of candidates he could have changed. I mean, there’s the Sword and the Sorting Hat. They’re both safe at Hogwarts, and Dumbledore would be able to sense if they had a piece of soul in them, now that he knows what to look for.”

“Mmm.” Draco could feel the temptation of laziness himself, his fingers wanting to skitter away from the top of Harry’s head and wander to his neck. “He’s sure about that?”

“Yes. Or otherwise he couldn’t know that I had a bit of Voldemort’s soul in me.”

Harry shivered, despite the sunlight and the way Draco touched him. Draco shook himself back to awareness and put down the heavy book that contained information on soul magic. “No thinking about that,” he ordered. “You’re going to think about something pleasant instead.”

“What would that be?” Harry rolled his eyes, even as Draco felt a lighter, sweeter current make its way through the bond. He sat up and stared at Draco with a smile. “The harder you tell someone not to think of something, the more they think about it.”

“Sure,” Draco said, unimpressed, “if the person who tells you to think about something doesn’t provide you with a distraction.” He turned around and put his legs on the ground instead of coiled up in the chair. Then he spread them and patted his knees.

It took Harry a second to understand, which made Draco want to laugh, but then he did, and smiled. He scrambled down until he was sitting between Draco’s legs, leaning back against his knees.

“Yes,” Draco said softly. “Now I’m going to give you a massage like the one I just gave you, but more intense. If you can still think of anything after that except my hands, I’ll give up and never do it again.”

Harry bowed his head and shivered. Draco both saw and felt that. It was a ripple in the bond that turned it all to blazing, streaming gold for a moment, and it was a sensation in Harry in front of him, making his shoulders shake.

Draco thought the best thing he could say at the moment was nothing at all. He reached out and ran his fingers through Harry’s hair to begin.

“You’re so good at that,” Harry muttered, his head hanging forwards and the bond trembling in a variety of ways, mostly sideways. Draco touched the back of his neck. “Is that why you became famous in Slytherin?”

Draco tried very hard not to laugh, although he thought some of what he felt must have leaked into the bond anyway. Harry opened one eye and glared at him, only to close it again and sigh in bliss as Draco rubbed hard with his thumbs.

“For my scalp massages? No.” Although now that he thought about it, Draco reckoned he should have tried it with a few people. Particularly the people who shouted all the time and got on his nerves. It might have improved their tempers.

“Oh, good.”

Draco paused. “Why? I would have thought that would dismay you. It means I’m not practiced.”

The bond was once again going through one of those weird fits where it wavered back and forth, but so quickly that Draco couldn’t get much of a glimpse at Harry’s emotions. At least until Harry tilted his head back and smiled sweetly at him, shaking his head a little.

“I know. But it means more to me that I have your fingers all to myself.”

Draco blinked. His throat was thick. And from Harry’s expression, the bond was doing interesting things in his head as well.

“Hell, Harry,” Draco breathed. “Sometimes you know just the right thing to say.”

“Being in your soul probably helps.” Harry cleared his throat and ducked his head, his cheeks turning so pink that Draco would have known what he felt even without the bond. “As it is…I think you were going to touch me like that again?”

“Yes, I am,” Draco said, and dug his fingers deep.

*

Harry drifted slowly, in utter relaxation, his eyes closed. He couldn’t remember anyone caring this much about how he felt. And it was probably partly because Draco could tell how he felt and he would hurt if Harry was uncomfortable, but…

Harry was pretty sure he was allowed to not care about that.

He could feel each individual stroke of Draco’s fingers through his hair, down the nape of his neck, along his shoulders and towards the middle of his back. He could feel the way Draco’s fingernails scraped him, and hear Draco’s harsh breathing. He could feel, too, the temptation to twist around and take hold of Draco’s lips in a sudden kiss.

But the temptation was distant. Mostly, his muscles were puddles of warm liquid. He breathed deeply himself. The bond drifted over his head like another sun. He was there, he was breathing, but it didn’t matter. What mattered most was the way Draco touched him.

And all in all, it was wonderful.

Harry drifted. There was grass beneath him. Sunlight overhead, behind a cloud right now, but still sunlight. Warmth on his back. A soft smell of distant flowers in his nostrils.

Fingers massaging his shoulders. They hesitated, drifted down to the middle of his back, and then began to dig and work, soothing out knots that still lurked there even when he felt as if he was made of oil. Harry sighed in soft contentment.

The bond flowed over him, liquid and gentle. Harry had never drifted in a huge, slow-moving bath except when he’d briefly gone into the Prefects’ bathroom to examine the golden egg, but now he knew what it was like.

Draco paused in his digging and whispered, “How much tension do you carry?”

“Lots,” Harry said simply. It didn’t sound stupid or defensive or weak. This was the way it was.

“Then I’ll make sure I can take care of all of it,” Draco said, and he slid down from the chair and knelt behind Harry so he could reach his back and shoulders better.

Harry closed his eyes again. There were distant bird sounds now, a pair of birds scolding each other. Leaves rustled. A shutter on an upstairs window banged back and forth. Draco’s fingers hesitated at the top of his arse.

“Go on,” Harry mouthed into his folded arms.

The hands began confidently moving again, stroking through cloth—I didn’t even take my clothes off, Harry thought muzzily—and easing down over his arse. Harry spread his legs. Draco massaged his thighs, and Harry felt the bond bow and wriggle between them, replete with emotions Harry didn’t need to describe.

“Turn over.”

Harry flowed over, not sure what would come next, only knowing it would be good.

Draco bent down and kissed him again. This time, it wasn’t hard and desperate the way it was when Draco was trying to think of some way to keep him alive. It was gentle. Warm. The way it should be, Harry thought, and pulled Draco down on top of him.

They kissed for so long Harry’s lips were numb at the end of it, his tongue tingling. But Draco, even if he hurt more, didn’t try to pull away. He only laid his head down on Harry’s chest and sighed away some of his own tension—which had been there, Harry was sure. He touched Draco’s throat and ran his fingers up it.

“It’s a shame not all our days can be like this,” Draco whispered.

“But some will be,” Harry murmured, not knowing where the words came from, only that he believed them. “Because we’ll fight, and hunt Horcruxes, and do whatever we need to do, and then we’ll come back here and make the days like this.”

“We will,” Draco said, and his fingers curled again into Harry’s shirt.

Harry cupped the back of his neck and kissed his cheeks. “Thank you for being so good to me.”

Draco closed his eyes hard enough to make him look sick, but the bond was alive between them, singing contentedly. That was all Harry needed to make him know the truth.

I don’t want to leave him. I might not want to leave him even more than I want to defeat Voldemort.

And wasn’t that a scary thought?

No. It can’t be. Not with Draco here in my arms.

Chapter Text

“Hello, Harry. Thank you for taking the time to see me.”

Harry bit back the instinctive response—that he’d only come to Grimmauld Place because Dumbledore had summoned him, not because they were old friends meeting for a chat—and only nodded. He sat at the table across from Dumbledore and looked around him. The house had slightly brightened, he thought. Maybe Hermione had cast Cleaning Charms at the walls. She would think it was cruel to use Kreacher.

Dumbledore opened his mouth to speak, and then shut it again when Draco tumbled out of the Floo behind Harry. Draco brushed some soot off his robes, with what Harry thought was unnecessary fastidiousness, and then smiled at Dumbledore before he sat down on Harry’s right side.

“Sorry I was a little late. I had to mend this sleeve that that acidic potion spilled on. You remember, Harry, this morning?”

Harry nudged Draco in the ribs. Draco was being a bit too bright and chattery for someone who honestly wanted to get along with Dumbledore. Draco only turned his head enough that he could beam at Harry before looking back at Dumbledore.

By now, Harry thought, the Headmaster looked resigned. Maybe he didn’t think Draco would actually betray Harry; maybe he was beginning to have some actual faith in their bond. Whatever it was, he only sighed a little and continued, “I have located the locket Horcrux. It is in a cave that Voldemort once took two children from his orphanage to. It has…formidable defenses.”

“Which Harry isn’t going alone to defeat.”

“Of course not,” said Dumbledore. “If nothing else, you would need two people to get into the cave, from what I have observed.” He glanced at Harry. “The cave includes a lake full of Inferi surrounding the small island where the locket is, and only a payment of blood can open the door to get to it.”

“How wonderful,” Draco said. “One might almost admire the Dark Lord’s cleverness.”

Dumbledore peered at Draco over the top of his glasses. “Mr. Malfoy,” he said, “I understand that you are unhappy I kept the truth from Harry. Perhaps even unhappy I engineered the soul-bond between you.”

“I’d be a lot happier if you’d stop trying to manipulate people with every breath you take,” Draco said, shaking his head. “It’s at the point where I don’t even know if you realize you’re doing it, now. Do you? I’m happy being bonded to Harry. I won’t regret it no matter what you say. Save your breath if not your effort.” He gave Dumbledore a chiding glance and reached out to entwine his hand with Harry’s beneath the table.

Harry was ready for that, but not the way that Draco promptly lifted their entwined hands to the top of the table and laid them there. He scowled a little at Draco. Draco looked back with fluttering eyelashes and smiled at Dumbledore.

Apparently, he was going to deal with Draco’s accusations by ignoring them. He turned to Harry. “You admit that we need help on this?”

“Yes,” Harry said. “Lots of help. Have you told Ron and Hermione what you’ve learned about the Horcrux?”

“That I had found one,” said Dumbledore, tilting his glasses a little as if he wanted to see Harry from a different angle. “Not the specifics of the protections that I have just shared with young Mr. Malfoy and you.”

“Then you’ll need to tell them. I think they need to come.”

“While we need help, we do not need that much help,” Dumbledore said cautiously. “I think Miss Granger, in particular, might try to research solutions that would not aid us in this case.”

“Why not?” Draco asked.

“Because the research to be done is on Voldemort’s background.” Harry didn’t think Dumbledore had necessarily used Voldemort’s name to make Draco flinch, but he hadn’t held back on doing so, either. “I have already completed that research,” Dumbledore continued, sounding a little proud. “She would think there was more to do. She might have ideas about the door and the Inferi that would hold us back instead of help.”

Harry stared at Dumbledore in silence. He only looked back, and Harry finally said, “Not if you tell her what you found.”

Dumbledore’s face turned faintly flushed. “That is true,” he said finally. “I am sorry, Harry. Will you forgive an old man? I have been alone for too long on this quest, and I tend to forget simple things.”

I’ll forgive you if you stop using this pose of the harmless old man,” said Draco harshly. “You should at least be able to see things like this without someone explaining them to you.”

Dumbledore turned a blank face towards Draco, and Harry stirred a little. “Draco.”

“We’ll only get anywhere if we share the truth between us. And with Harry’s friends,” Draco added, both his tone and the rippling bond making that sound like a great concession.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Fine. So everyone will be honest, and stick to being honest.” He looked hard at Dumbledore. “Is there anything else about the cave that you’ve neglected to explain to us, sir?”

Dumbledore sighed. “The specifics of how we will cross the lake, and the defenses that I have thought of a way to get around.”

“Great.” Harry stood up. “Then I’ll call Ron and Hermione down, and you can share them with everyone at once.”

He was aware, as he left the kitchen, that Draco had turned an almost predatory gaze on Dumbledore. But Harry also thought that if anyone here was capable of defending himself, it was the Headmaster of Hogwarts.

*

“You might as well stop pretending you care about him.”

Draco said it casually, which he knew would make the words strike harder on Dumbledore’s ears. Other than a slight narrowing of his eyes, however, the Headmaster gave no sign that he’d noticed the manipulation. “I do not know what you mean, Mr. Malfoy.”

Draco folded his hands together under the table. He could feel the resignation and the softly moving deeper emotions in the bond as Harry climbed the stairs. He still hadn’t completely got over the shock of hearing that he had a Horcrux inside him and had to die to remove it. He’d just adapted.

You’ll be able to do that, Draco thought towards him. He wished once again that their bond was a telepathic one, and then he focused on Dumbledore. “You told him he had to die, and just expected him to accept it. I think it’s clear. You don’t care about him, just about the way he could save the world.”

Dumbledore gave a single, subdued motion of his hand, and then relaxed. Draco watched him with his hands ready to move in return.

Then Dumbledore said, “You are the one who taught him to think the worst of me. This would not have been such a shock, before. I would have been able to explain it to him in such a way that he understood.”

Draco shook his head. “That he accepted, you mean. He would have gone ahead and died because you wanted him to.”

“And you think that would not cause me grief?”

Draco considered Dumbledore again. “The problem is, you’ve spent too long manipulating people. I don’t know how sincere any expression on your face is. I don’t know ifyou do,” Draco had to add, conceding what might otherwise be a bit unfair. “Whether you think what you feel is honest and you’re only feeling it, or whether you let it out a bit to shape people’s behavior and don’t realize you’re doing it.”

Dumbledore was silent. Draco was content to watch him as a clock ticked and the old house-elf muttered to himself in the background.

Dumbledore finally said, when the sound of footsteps was on the stairs, “Then do you trust me to be honest with his friends?”

“I expect you to try as hard as you can to keep that promise,” Draco said coldly. “And I think you can try harder than most other people succeed.”

Then he turned away to welcome Harry back. As much time as they might have to spend combating Harry’s enemies, in the end Draco knew Harry was more important than any one of them.

*

By the time they Apparated to a desolate beach, Harry’s head was spinning with information. He almost wished he was back in the days when Dumbledore had kept all the secrets to himself and expected Harry to win his own way through to defeating Voldemort.

Then he felt a comforting squeeze of his hand, and looked sideways to smile at Draco. And Ron and Hermione, standing beyond them but shoulder to shoulder.

No. It was silly to think he had ever won his own way—that was, alone. He might have been alone when he faced Quirrell and the basilisk, but even then, the memory of Dumbledore’s words and Fawkes and the Sorting Hat had come to help him.

I doubt Draco will ever let me be alone again, now. The steady, determined throb down the bond spoke of that, at least.

“This way,” Dumbledore said softly, and led them towards the roaring waters that separated them from the cave. Harry shivered and tilted his head back. There was a keen edge to the wind that almost let him hear it howling and muttering. He wondered if Voldemort had chosen to hide a Horcrux here partially because he liked the weather.

Dumbledore studied the water for a moment, and then nodded and cast a charm that Harry couldn’t remember seeing before. It only seemed to part the air like a golden knife for a second before it vanished.

“I cannot break all the spells Tom put on the cave,” Dumbledore said with a comforting smile when Harry looked at him. “For example, the ones that prevent us from Apparating directly into it. But I can break one of those that would force us to swim.”

Harry nodded and took out his own shrunken broom, enlarging it with a tap of his wand and a harsh sense of satisfaction. It was wonderful to know that he was able to use his wand without the Trace, now. Ron and Draco were doing the same things. Hermione climbed on behind Ron, her eyes closed and her voice running in a quiet chant.

Harry had to smile when he recognized some of the information on brooms and flying that she had memorized before their first lesson in first year.

Using the brooms, they flew quickly over the water.

The narrow entrance of the cave was like a throat waiting to swallow them. But Harry felt Draco’s quiet strength flowing towards him down the bond, and he smiled and squeezed his hand for a moment.

Inside the cave, Dumbledore spent some time searching the walls. Harry watched in silence. This was the place of the invisible door that could only be opened by a payment of blood.

Dumbledore had never intended for someone else to pay the blood, or so he said, and Harry found that he believed him. Draco didn’t, and stood there squinting at him while he pulled out his wand. He relaxed only when Dumbledore sliced the palm of his left hand and blood began to drizzle to the floor.

“Oh, Professor Dumbledore,” Hermione breathed. She sounded slightly sick.

When Harry smiled at her in reassurance, though, he saw that she was standing solidly at Ron’s side. She had been told all about this, they all had, and so she wouldn’t try to force herself forwards and heal him.

When Dumbledore smeared his blood across the door’s lintel, it snapped into being. Harry shivered. For a second, he felt a sharp pulse in his Horcrux, as though Voldemort had opened his eyes somewhere.

“He can’t feel it when someone destroys his Horcruxes, sir?” he whispered.

Dumbledore paused to give Harry a gentle look, even as the door swung open and Harry heard the lapping of water beyond. “He would otherwise have already begun his search for the diary and the ring, my dear boy. Or, more likely, since he knew the diary was last in Lucius Malfoy’s possession, demanded it from him the instant he returned,” Dumbledore added.

Harry flushed. “Right.”

Draco leaned heavily against him so he could whisper in Harry’s ear. “No matter what happens, he’s not going to find my father, now.”

Harry nodded. Then they walked forwards into the cave, and he stared out over the dark lake Dumbledore had told them would be there. One reason Dumbledore had waited so long to go after this Horcrux was that he had wanted to make sure of all the Horcrux’s defenses before he tried to breach them. What had happened with the ring would never happen again.

Harry couldn’t help sneaking a look at Dumbledore’s blackened hand. He’d said that Snape’s potions had managed to turn back the curse on it, a little bit, and give him longer to live. But he hadn’t actually said how long that was…

Dumbledore was feeling around in the air before him with one hand, an infinitely patient look on his face. A second later, he started and snapped his fingers straight, and then cast a spell that formed a gleaming light around the links of a chain, and finally the shape of a boat.

“I will ride this,” Dumbledore whispered. “We need to get across the lake without disturbing the Inferi.” He turned to Harry, and he nodded and picked up his broom again.

The brooms soared swiftly over the dark water, while Dumbledore crossed in the boat. He was hunched, Harry thought as he looked back at him, and his lips were moving, too. Harry wasn’t sure what he was saying. Perhaps words to strengthen himself, perhaps some spell to keep the Inferi quiet under the lake.

But the bond was blazing and strong, drawing Harry’s eyes away from Dumbledore and back to Draco. Draco smiled reassuringly at him. With that, Harry could forget, for a moment, even the sucking sound of the black waves as they landed on the island. Dumbledore was up beside them a second later. Ron and Hermione had to hover on his broom, since there wasn’t enough room for them to land.

There was a basin there, as Dumbledore had said there would be. And looking into it, Harry thought he could make out the shimmering golden form of a locket.

“How can we be sure that’s it?” Draco asked abruptly. “The Dark Lord could have taken it and put a decoy in its place.”

“There is no sign of that,” Dumbledore said. “I researched this thoroughly, Mr. Malfoy. And I wish you would call Voldemort by his proper name.”

Draco flinched, but not strongly enough that he would have been in danger of falling off the island, the way Harry knew once would have happened. He put his arm around Draco’s shoulders and silently sent a flurry of sparks of pride down the bond. Draco leaned on his shoulder in response.

“The potion cannot be changed or altered in any way,” Dumbledore said. “Not Vanished. Not Transfigured into water, which would be a normal way of bypassing something with liquid defenses. Not absorbed.” He sighed. “It must be drunk. And I fear it will be fatal for whoever drinks it.”

Harry felt a jump in his stomach. Dumbledore had told them the first part before, but not the second one. He stared, and Dumbledore smiled sadly back at him.

“I never intended that you should do this, Mr. Potter,” he said. “Or anyone else. I always meant to be the sacrifice myself.”

Because he thought I would have to die later, and he never intended to bring anyone else along, Harry thought, with strong indignation.

He didn’t realize he was also feeling Draco’s indignation, until Dumbledore started to bend his head towards the basin and Draco said abruptly, “Wait. How are we going to find the other Horcruxes without you?”

“I’ve left the information in a private letter at Gringotts,” said Dumbledore simply. “Including information about how to destroy them. That letter will come to you when I am dead.”

“You’re still being ridiculous,” said Draco, and drew his wand. “Serpensortia!

The snake that boiled forth from the end of his wand was a deep black with swirls of silver and green in its scales. Harry narrowed his eyes at Draco. “Show-off,” he muttered, knowing Draco had probably given the snake Slytherin colors on purpose.

Draco only shrugged, smirking, and gestured the snake to crawl forwards. Dumbledore watched it with wary eyes.

“Why not at least have the snake try drinking the liquid first?” Draco argued. “You seem to leap straight to the idea that you have to sacrifice someone, but that’s not true. A conjured creature is worth less than a human.”

Dumbledore considered Draco for so long that Harry winced, sure Dumbledore was about to find fault with something Draco had said or the way he’d said it. But at last Dumbledore shook his head a little and moved aside with a faint smile. “You’ve said it well, Mr. Malfoy. Why not let the snake try?”

The bond twanged for a moment, and Harry thought Draco was probably reading “snake” as “Slytherin” and another insult. But he moved majestically towards the basin, ignoring it, and commanded the snake, “Come up here and drink.”

The snake twined up to the edge of the basin and lowered its head. It began to drink, and Harry stared at the green liquid. It really didn’t seem to be changing in level at all, falling or not.

But the poison hadn’t killed the snake yet, and it went on slowly sipping.

After a little while, Harry realized he could see a change. The locket looked closer to the surface of the basin than it had been. It seemed he couldn’t actually see the green liquid diminishing. Maybe a snake could get around the enchantments on the locket and the cave and be able to just haul it up?

But nobody else seemed to think so. Dumbledore was bending down—close enough to the poison that Harry got a little nervous—and nodding as he watched the snake drink.

“Fascinating, fascinating,” he said. “I should have thought of it before. Tom always had an affinity for serpents. He would probably create a venom that couldn’t poison a snake, just in case he ever had to conjure one.”

Draco smiled slightly. “Or maybe just because he didn’t want to injure one.”

“Possibly. Although if he cares about anything besides himself or Nagini, I haven’t seen it yet.”

Draco only shrugged and faced the basin and the drinking snake again. Harry began to relax. Maybe, in the end, it would go all right.

*

Draco felt the bond loosen and soften, glow with light, as Harry lost some of his tension. He smiled. He knew Dumbledore might take that wrong, but he didn’t care.

He didn’t understand the man. Confronted by a dangerous potion that couldn’t be magically altered, what did he do? Volunteer to drink it. The same way he had decided to volunteer Harry to die.

At least he shares it around equally.

But Draco didn’t like the idea that Harry might have been volunteered to die simply because Dumbledore was mad. He kept his eyes on the snake and away from the Headmaster, but he had no faith left now, and he knew he would have to talk to Harry about it at some point.

The green potion went down so slowly that Draco’s nerves started jumping again. Maybe the Dark Lord didn’t have enchantments on the cave that would tell him when people simply broke in, but he might have one that would tell him when the potion had been disturbed.

At last, though, the potion was only flecks of green in the bottom of the basin, and Harry reached in and picked up the golden locket, after looking at Dumbledore as if for permission. Draco shook his head a little. They would have to talk about that, too. He didn’t think Harry had given up being a follower, instead of a leader, in his heart yet. But he would have to.

“Something’s wrong.”

Draco raised his wand at once, but Granger wasn’t looking at the lake, and apparently no Inferi had begun to rise out of it. Instead, she was looking at Harry, and Draco narrowed his eyes, annoyed that she had noticed Harry’s mood change by the expression on his face faster than Draco had noticed it change through the soul-bond.

“It may be nothing,” Harry said at once. But he continued to stare at the locket in his hand with the bond twanging.

Draco didn’t ask permission, even though most of the time he would have. He simply reached out and snatched the locket away. The thought that it might have been poisoning Harry wouldn’t let him leave it there.

Draco.”

Several of the most searching spells Draco knew didn’t reveal poison on the links of the chain, or on the locket surface, the place Draco would have thought it most likely for someone to smear it. He lowered the locket and eyed it again. Holding it, he felt nothing Dark from it.

Nothing Dark…

“That’s it, isn’t it?” he asked Harry, as their eyes connected over the empty basin. “You don’t feel it as Darkly as you should? Or maybe you thought it would respond to the Horcrux in your scar and it’s not doing it.”

Harry nodded. He glanced at Dumbledore then. “I think you told me that no one except a Parselmouth could open the locket?”

“That’s one of the legends,” said Dumbledore, his eyes narrowed on the locket in a way that made Draco want to slap him. But then, he felt there were a lot of reasons for wanting to slap Dumbledore. “I am inclined to doubt it, myself. The locket has had enough different owners that few of them would have been Parselmouths. Still, Harry, if you would do the honors?”

Handing the locket back to Harry was a lot easier now that Draco knew it most likely wasn’t a Horcrux. Of course, as Harry hissed at the thing, Draco had to look around at the lake and boat and hidden door, and wonder.

If the Dark Lord had set up this elaborate a trap to protect a fake, what would finding the real one be like?

“There’s a note!”

Draco whipped around. The contents of the note could tell them a lot about the Dark Lord’s state of mind and whether he had come here recently, especially if he mentioned Draco or his father.

Before he could take it, though, Dumbledore held out his hand, and Harry put the note into it. Draco narrowed his eyes. Another thing we have to have a talk about is blind trust.

Dumbledore studied the note, and then read it aloud in a slow voice. Draco knew he would have to make sure to look at it later, so he could tell if Dumbledore had left out any of the contents.

“To the Dark Lord
I know I will be dead long before you read this but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret. I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can. I face death in the hope that when you meet your match you will be mortal once more.
R.A.B.”

Draco blinked. “So someone else found out about the Horcrux and came here to exchange it? How long ago?”

“There are some spells we can perform on the parchment that will estimate its age,” said Dumbledore. His hand moved to his wand.

“But those spells would destroy the note, Professor Dumbledore,” Granger said anxiously. “Shouldn’t we copy it first?”

Dumbledore gave another of those long, slow sighs that he used when people were acting like human beings instead of blindly going along with his plans. Then he nodded. “You are right, Miss Granger. I suppose…” He trailed off, staring at the note for a moment, then shook his head and stuffed it back into the locket.

“Well, we’re not worse off than we were,” said Weasley in a heartening tone. “At least we know that he doesn’t have the locket.”

“Unless this is another trick,” said Dumbledore, but even he sounded doubtful.

“It would make more sense to change the protections on the cave if he knew that information had got out,” Draco argued. “It wouldn’t make sense for him to just put a fake locket here and then not sign his name to the note.”

“True. And Tom does love taunting those who he thinks are not intelligent enough to catch on to his plans.” One more sigh, and Dumbledore faced the lake again. “I think we should head back while we still can…”

He trailed off. Draco looked around him, and saw why. A hand had come out of the water and clasped the edge of the island.

As Draco watched, the Inferius hauled itself out of the lake and came for them with silent, wide, dripping jaws.

Chapter Text

Draco would give Granger credit for one thing: when she acted, it was quickly.

Granger darted forwards, her hand extended and her wand blazing away. In a second, a circle of fire crackled across the surface of the lake, and expanded out in more and more rings that fed on and grew from each other. The Inferius was burned apart before it could get fully out of the water.

Granted, she also seared Draco’s eyebrows and almost inflicted burns on Harry. But at least the first one was destroyed.

Draco tugged Harry back against his skin and cast a spell that would soothe some of the heat without requiring water from the befouled lake. Harry had his teeth clenched, but he nodded when Draco glanced a question at him. “I’m all right.”

“I do not know what awakened the Inferi,” Dumbledore murmured, even as he drew his wand. “They should not have responded unless someone tried to drink the waters of the lake.”

“Well, they’re awake now,” Draco said. He hesitated as the incantation for Fiendfyre came to mind. The main problem was that he didn’t know what would happen if he cast it in an enclosed space like this.

And, of course, he would be casting a Dark spell in front of Harry’s friends and the Headmaster. He wasn’t looking forward to the consequences of that, either.

“Indeed they are.” Dumbledore strode forwards to the edge of the water. He looked strong and confident, Draco thought, the way he’d appeared first year when all Draco had known about him was what Father said.

A wizard who opposes me at every turn. A wizard who should not have been allowed to become Headmaster of Hogwarts when he also held political power.

But great.

Dumbledore aimed his wand above the water and spoke a long incantation that made light gradually begin to rise from the stone. Draco winced as he saw the surface of the lake bubbling and shifting on every side. More Inferi were waking up from their sleep and shambling towards them.

“How are we going to handle this?” he whispered.

Dumbledore evidently overheard him, although Draco had meant the words for Harry. Dumbledore smiled reassuringly over his shoulder and replied, “The light I called is not simply for illuminating the way, my boy. Watch.” And he lowered his wand until it was right above the base of the island, then tapped it a rough, stop-and-start pattern that reminded Draco of his own attempts to play the piano when he was five.

The bond jumped with Harry’s shock when the light turned into shimmering, pearly fire that leaped silently from the rocks and began to consume the Inferi.

I didn’t know he could do that, Draco thought, as he drew his wand and got ready to cast Blasting Curses if any of the burning Inferi made it onto the beach. I don’t even know what that spell is. Or the one that Granger cast at first, even.

Draco nodded slowly. If he was going to keep both of them safe through this crazy hunt when going through the kind of traps a paranoid Dark Lord would leave behind, he would have to study even more magic than he had done so far.

“Get ready to cross the lake,” Dumbledore said in the kind of calm voice made for leading armies, even as the lake started boiling again and more and more Inferi rose out of it. “Use your brooms. Unless they suddenly develop jumping abilities, you should be as safe as you were before.”

“What about you, sir?” Harry demanded, even as he snatched up his broom. Draco did the same thing, and was in the air before Harry. He reached down and tugged on his shoulder, firing arrows of concern down the bond.

At least Harry got a leg over his broom, but he stood there still, watching Dumbledore, who seemed not to have heard his question. He was watching some of the Inferi melt into the water under his shimmering fire and others slowly bobbing to the surface and reaching out with clawed hands.

“Hmmm?” Dumbledore murmured at last, and finally turned his head to give Harry a winsome smile. “I’ll improvise, Harry.”

And he plunged abruptly into the water.

No!” Harry shouted, and Draco’s own broom plunged and bucked as the cold fear swamped him like the lake water. But Weasley was already moving forwards with Granger, and Dumbledore’s robes floated around him as he swam, and Draco wasn’t going to be left behind on this island.

Or leave Harry behind.

“Get up,” Draco said, firmly, the way he had heard Madam Pomfrey speak some of her instructions when they were in the hospital wing. “Come on, Harry. The best way to help him is fly so he doesn’t have to worry about you!”

At least Harry seemed to listen to that. His broom rose fast enough that Draco had to chase him for a second, afraid he would slam into the cavern roof, but then Harry angled a bit more towards the floor. Draco breathed in relief and followed him more sedately, glancing back once to make sure they weren’t leaving Granger and Weasley behind.

He blamed looking behind, later, for why an Inferius had managed to grab hold of his broom and drag it down. It seemed they could jump.

*

Harry honestly wasn’t sure what he felt first: his own fear or Draco’s that exploded through him like a lightning burst as his broom lurched towards the lake in the dead thing’s grasp. They were so much part of each other now that it even seemed strange that they would have separate emotions.

Harry didn’t really think. He whipped his wand at the thing’s arm and shouted, “Incendio!

The fire that lit from the tip of his wand was a lot more explosive than normal, and raced towards the Inferius like a comet. It exploded all over its arm, and the thing opened its mouth and staggered back, although it made no sound. Then it started to slide back into the lake, still holding Draco’s broom.

Harry spun his wand in a movement that he had reason to know pretty well this time. “Accio Draco’s broom!”

That yanked the broom towards Harry so fast that he could barely see it move. Draco had his hands clamped down, fastening him to the shaft of the broom, and a terrified expression on his face.

The Inferius came, too, still on fire.

Harry turned a little and caught Draco with his arm, hauling him onto his broom. Then he cast another Incendio, and the Inferius let go of the broom to claw at the flames that crawled up and down its body. Draco’s broom was on fire, too, by now, and Harry had to swat the burning wood off his lap.

“That was my broom,” Draco complained, his head tucked against Harry’s shoulder as Harry steered his way over the water with his knees.

“I know,” Harry soothed him. Draco’s emotions were much more subdued and quiet than Harry was used to feeling them, and so was his voice. “I’m sorry. I’ll buy you a new one.”

Draco turned his head enough so that Harry could see one of his eyes. “It had better be a Firebolt.”

“It’ll be a Firebolt,” Harry promised, half-laughing, half ready to scream. That they were even talking about something like this while fleeing madly on a single broom across a lake…

At least Draco knows how to play Quidditch. He was instinctively arranging himself on the broom so that Harry had enough space to see around him, and he clung even harder than he had when Harry had Summoned his Nimbus.

Harry looked down and back. Ron, his face pale, nodded to him and yelled, “All right, mate?” He and Hermione were flying near the cavern ceiling now.

“Yeah! Where’s Dumbledore?”

Ron pointed down. Harry looked, and caught his breath.

Dumbledore was standing on something that looked like a platform made of pouring water in the middle of the lake, hurling curse after curse at the Inferi reaching for him. Some of the curses were fire, others light, and some an odd mixture of both, dripping with darkness at the edges, that Harry didn’t know how to classify. The Inferi kept crumpling back into the water or disintegrating or both, but they also still kept coming for Dumbledore.

“How do we help him?” Harry demanded, coming to a stop near the roof. There was so much emotion inside him now that his ears ached, and he wondered for a second whether Draco could even hear him.

But Draco answered as strongly as Ron had, leaning forwards with his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “I think he’s handling himself on his own, Harry. I have to admit I’m surprised the Inferi are still coming. Most of the time, they’re terrified of fire.”

Harry shook his head. “And according to what Dumbledore said, they shouldn’t have awakened at all if no one had touched the lake. None of us did.” He sighed and forced himself to keep flying, although he turned his head towards Dumbledore as he did. “I hope Voldemort isn’t waiting for us right outside.”

Draco hissed and flinched, but his hands never moved from their clutch on the broom, and at the moment, that was all that really mattered to Harry.

They were most of the way across the lake, flying near the height of the ceiling with Ron and Hermione now, when Dumbledore made his move.

The platform of water he stood on rose and rotated once. Then it began to spin faster.

Harry looked back, craning his neck on the broom and making Draco mutter crankily under his breath about people who couldn’t keep their eyes fixed forwards, in time to see the water that poured off the platform change to fire.

The spells Dumbledore had cast, the ones that burned on the rocks and the surface, seemed to soar down and mingle with the water. Suddenly everything in sight was one leaping, dancing, writhing, phoenix-bright wall. And a part of the platform laid itself out across the lake, made of thin rungs of fire with something soft and bright that might have been gleaming water in between.

Dumbledore strode across the horizontal ladder, his eyes distant and hard. Now and then, the persistent Inferi would try to grab hold of his legs anyway.

Always, they burned and died.

Mesmerized, Harry watched Dumbledore get more than halfway across the lake before Draco pushed hard at his shoulders. “Keep flying,” Draco snarled. “I don’t want to get trapped here by some Inferi who decide to see if they can climb up the rocks!”

There were a few of them already doing that, Harry realized with a start, trying to use the sides of the cave to escape the flames. And Dumbledore seemed to be doing all right, and Ron and Hermione were already waiting for them by the entrance of the cave. He flew on, as fast and straight as he could.

*

Draco kept one eye sharply behind them as they flew. He could see Dumbledore holding his wand up and directing sparks from it to hit the heads and hands of the Inferi who still tried to get close to him.

For the most part, though, his flames had finally scared them the way they were supposed to be scared. Most of them cowered away. Or climbed the walls and got close enough that Draco winced constantly, imagining what they would do when they spotted the broom.

Still, they had already behaved unnaturally. And a few of them tried to press close to Dumbledore even now, as the flames turned them into blackened shapes of ash.

Draco felt the disturbance when it began, the surge of Dark magic snapping his head around until he was looking at the back of the cavern. Something built there, something as black as the lake water had been before the battle.

A shape swirled and assembled itself, taking in some of the shadows created by Dumbledore’s fire and some of the ash that coated the burning Inferi. Draco knew what the shape resembled, more intimately than any of the others could. A giant shadow version of Nagini reared there, tail slapping back and forth as she slithered towards the water.

Snake!” was all Draco could shout. He shouted it at Harry mostly, but at Dumbledore, too, and Harry’s friends, just in case any of them had a miraculous idea that could take care of this.

Harry jerked and swore and almost fell off his broom. Dumbledore turned and stared at the shadow-snake. Draco saw the way his face turned pale and his eyes closed for a moment.

Then he opened them again and took a step to the very edge of his fire-ladder. But Draco knew what the signs meant. Dumbledore would keep fighting, because he had to. But he didn’t really know how to handle this.

“Harry,” Draco whispered. The soul-bond between them was humming so tightly that Harry’s fear and fury were his own. He would do a lot to make sure he survived himself, but anything for Harry.

“There might be something I can try,” Harry gasped. “Wait.”

Draco wanted to say he had no idea how to do anything else, but that seemed like it might be a bad idea. He nodded and closed his eyes and bit his lips, and held on, again, as Harry turned back to face the shadow-snake.

*

It was even bigger than Harry had been afraid it was. Of course, part of the fear he’d been picking up was Draco’s. He hadn’t been able to look back as much as Draco had because he had to concentrate on steering the broom.

Now, he knew, as the snake began to slither across the surface of the water and smother the flames before it, that he had to concentrate on this.

“Stop!” he said, in what he knew was Parseltongue, because he was looking directly at the snake and from the way Draco jerked in front of him.

The great, silhouetted shape did, curling motionless except for the slight bob of the head. It was reared, like the basilisk had been. Except that they didn’t have the Sword of Gryffindor with them now, and Harry wasn’t sure how dangerous the snake’s fangs and eyes might be, and…

Harry took a deep, shivering breath, and began to speak, still in Parseltongue, trying to keep his own eyes on where the snake’s would be if it was mortal. Or material. “I killed a basilisk for defying my will. I am the lord of snakes, the one who binds them.” He reached out, although he hated to, and pulled back his fringe so the thing could see his scar. “I carry within me a piece of the one who bound you here. Turn back, now.”

The sickness that touched him down the bond was still hard to distinguish, he thought, dizzy. It could be his because he had a Horcrux inside him, it could be Draco’s from having to hear him speak Parseltongue…

But whatever it was, it sufficed. The image of the snake bowed its head further, and further, until it lay along the water. Then it dissolved into nothing more than the sputtering of shadows from Dumbledore’s flames.

Harry leaned back, shaking, and felt Draco encircle his waist with one arm. “It’s all right, it’s over,” Draco murmured to him, and then kissed Harry on the cheek, something that both shocked him a little and helped to ground him as probably nothing else could have done.

Harry smiled weakly at Draco and steered the broom towards the entrance of the cave again. The Inferi had gone quiet. Harry still had no idea what had stirred them up in the first place, but presumably Dumbledore or Hermione would figure that out later.

He did notice, as they slipped out of the cave and into the free air again, that Dumbledore’s eyes were fixed gravely on him. He nodded a little when Harry stared back, but didn’t look away.

Maybe he’s angry about me using Parseltongue. Harry pushed his hair back from his fringe. Probably that’s it.

At the moment, though, he couldn’t bring himself to care. And he knew that was his own feeling as well as Draco’s.

*

The tactic only didn’t work because Draco was expecting it.

The moment they arrived back at Grimmauld Place, Granger asked for the note and the decoy locket. Dumbledore handed them over to her, smiling when she said that she wanted to research the possible writer of the note in the Black library.

“I think you might find the answers closer than even a book,” he told her.

Granger lit up at once, and scrambled out of the room with Weasley right behind her. Draco wondered how in the world they could still be so energetic, and then remembered that they hadn’t participated much in the fight with the Inferi.

Dumbledore collapsed into his chair at the kitchen table and closed his eyes. Harry hovered over him, looking anxious. Draco restrained his own reaction to that sight. He could feel through the bond that Harry’s anxiety was less deep and warm than what he’d felt when Draco was grabbed by the Inferius. Dumbledore was no threat.

“Is there something you need done?” Harry finally asked. “Some spell that would help with magical exhaustion?” He looked around vaguely, as if expecting Madam Pomfrey to pop up from some corner.

Dumbledore sighed. “A little quiet conversation would be best, my dear boy,” he said. “About Inferi, and Parseltongue, and traps that spring when you aren’t expecting them.” He turned his head. “But I think Mr. Malfoy will want to take a shower and rest, and you should go with him.”

Draco narrowed his eyes. There. That was the sort of thing Dumbledore did all the time, probably thinking it was for the greater good and not even being actively malicious, and that Harry was already opening his mouth to fall for.

Play the greater victim, and Harry would be on your side. And if Draco went to take a shower and clean up, then Dumbledore would be alone with Harry and could talk to him about things Draco would rather hear.

“I didn’t use nearly as much magic in the battle as you did, Professor,” Draco said, and sat down in another chair next to where Harry hovered. “I can use a Cleaning Charm, though. And I have to admit, as someone who didn’t expect the Inferi to come out of the lake, I want to know why you think it happened.”

Dumbledore blinked hard and then looked away. Draco saw a faint flush on his cheeks. Despite his lack of a soul-bond and how inexplicable he found Dumbledore in general, he didn’t think it was a flush of anger. He thought it was one of frustration, maybe faint shame, that he had once again tried to do something that would separate Harry and Draco.

Draco nodded. His theory that Dumbledore didn’t even realize what he was doing most of the time—that manipulation was simply as natural for him as breathing—was confirmed.

It didn’t mean Draco liked it, of course.

“As long as you don’t think you need to rest,” Harry said dubiously. “Either one of you,” he added, catching Draco’s eye.

Draco smiled back at him and reached out to take his hand, tugging him into a chair. Harry seemed utterly oblivious of whether he might be magically exhausted from that fight. He simply sat and looked back and forth between them, his face pale with honesty and concern.

“What did you say to the snake that convinced it to back down?” Dumbledore asked quietly.

“I told it that I killed a basilisk for disobeying me,” Harry said, and smiled with the side of his mouth at Draco, probably because he’d felt the bond bounce. Well, it was one of those things that Draco knew had happened, but he always forgot how impressive it was until Harry spoke aloud. “And I told it that I could bind snakes, and I had a bit of the one who bound it or made it inside me.”

Dumbledore closed his eyes. “I feared it might be something like that,” he murmured. “There would be no other reason for the snake to yield to you, when Tom would not have designed it with a vulnerability to Parselmouths. And it was probably the only way we could have escaped.”

“And yet you blame Harry for it anyway,” Draco said, because he knew where this was going by now.

Dumbledore opened his eyes, ignoring Draco. He gazed earnestly at Harry instead. “I am not sure if you know it,” he whispered. “But the more you claim kinship with the Horcrux inside you, and call on its powers, the closer it drifts to your own soul.”

Harry winced a little, but didn’t take his eyes away from Dumbledore. “Every time I use Parseltongue? You didn’t object when I needed to open the locket.”

“We might have been able to find another way to open it, if not right then.” Dumbledore shifted his weight in the chair and held up a hand to forestall an objection that, as it turned out, Harry didn’t make. Draco thought he turned his laugh into a cough in time, but he wasn’t sure. “But yes, Harry. I am sure now, now that I am watching the state of your soul. The soul-bond did not work the way I intended, and it might be in part because of the way you have used the poisonous gifts granted to you by the Horcrux.”

“Show me one of the spells that you use to look at my soul.”

Draco leaned back comfortably in his chair. Their bond might not include telepathy, but Harry had just successfully anticipated his next question.

Dumbledore didn’t look upset at having to do it, though, which confounded one of Draco’s expectations. He took out his wand and sat for a moment, drawing in his breath.

Draco felt the power drawing up in response, and winced. Even with one hand poisoned by a Horcrux’s curse and all the magic he’d used just an hour ago, Dumbledore was still so strong that Draco dreaded the thought of taking him on in a head-to-head fight.

Let’s hope I don’t have to.

Animus acclaro,” Dumbledore whispered, and soft blue light rushed out of his wand and over Harry.

Draco blinked and looked at the glow. There were several things floating in it. A dark, pulsing oval throbbed behind Harry’s scar, transparent inside his forehead. And inside Harry’s body was a glowing golden twist, with a bridle of light extending out of it and towards Draco.

It vanished when it touched him, though, probably because the spell wasn’t meant to show Draco’s soul. He studied the objects, and then shrugged. “The distance between my soul and the Horcrux looks equal to me, Professor.”

“Perhaps I erred in talking about it in terms of distance,” Dumbledore conceded. “What it has done is grow stronger and darker. The Horcrux,” he added, as if either of them might not know what he was talking about. “And I am afraid of what it will mean if Harry continues to use Parseltongue.”

“You’re afraid, Professor? I’m not.”

Draco glanced sideways at Harry. He didn’t approve of the rush of suicidal courage that was making the bond glow golden. Harry stood up, although he still held Draco’s hand, and gave Dumbledore one nod.

“I’m alive,” he said. “I have my friends and my bondmate.” Draco shifted, wanting to object to the order there, but not daring to interrupt. “There’s a chance I might have to die to get rid of the Horcrux, but we don’t know yet if it’s a death sentence. So. We’ll do what needs to be done, and worry about my Horcrux when the others are destroyed.”

Draco squeezed his hand in silence, and stood up, too. He still didn’t approve of any desire Harry had to risk himself, but he wanted to be alone with him to show how much he approved of this.

“Wise of you, Harry,” Dumbledore said, and sighed and cast a Finite that made the glow around Harry vanish. “I am sorry. Forgive an old man’s fears.”

“I can,” Harry said, and then drew Draco up the stairs, towards the bathroom that Draco knew had showers.

He didn’t say he would, Draco thought, but resisted the temptation to glance over his shoulder. He was sure Dumbledore had caught the nuance, and he didn’t really need to see him frowning over it.

Besides. Watching Harry was so much more important.

Chapter Text

“Are you all right, Draco?”

Harry had to admit he was a little concerned, and he tried to keep an eye on Draco as he pulled off his shirt behind the half-open bathroom door. Draco had been almost entirely silent since they came upstairs. He’d been watching Harry with a funny little smile, but refused to explain himself. He nodded and exclaimed when Harry was talking about how they had to find out what made the Inferi rise from the lake, but even that was more absent-minded than Harry would have expected to get from him.

Now, he said nothing, either. Harry stuck his head around the door and saw Draco sitting in the middle of his bed.

He was watching the bathroom door, and thus Harry, the way he had been all evening. Harry frowned at him, and Draco shook his head and stood up.

The way he was acting, Harry thought he would leave. But instead, Draco walked towards the bathroom door and calmly pushed it open.

Harry stumbled a bit, twisting so that his shoulder and not his side hit the wall. He’d discovered when he started taking off his clothes that he had a huge bruise along his ribs, probably where the Summoning Charm had made Draco slam into him when Harry pulled him back from the Inferius.

Draco stood there and continued to be silent. Harry waved a hand in front of his face. “Did Dumbledore cast some sort of spell on you?” he demanded.

“No. You did.”

Harry opened his mouth—he didn’t cast a spell and Draco was starting to scare him, with how strange he was acting—and then Draco leaned forwards and kissed him.

Well, that’s more like it, Harry thought in approval, grabbing Draco’s head and immediately dragging them to the side so that his back could rest comfortably against the wall and avoid his bruise. Draco was moving his tongue back and forth as if he didn’t know what to do with it, and the bond hummed with contentment from both of them.

It was like wine, that contentment, going to Harry’s head. He kissed Draco harder and pushed him back. Draco stumbled in turn, but managed to sit down on the edge of the bathtub without tripping over Harry’s shirt or upsetting the little piece of soap in its dish.

Harry smiled and knelt in front of Draco. Draco’s eyes widened, and he half-trembled as if he was going to get up and run. The bond had snapped straight to a kind of tension Harry had only felt before when they were sneaking into Malfoy Manor. He shook his head and reached out to touch Draco’s knee.

“You’re the one who can refuse me if you want to,” Harry muttered. He knew he was already too far gone to resist what his body wanted him to do, but he wanted Draco towant this. Frightening him was a bad thing.

For one moment more, Draco hesitated. Then he smirked and spread his legs. “Well, what’s taking you so long?”

Harry nodded. “Thanks,” he said softly as he started to pull Draco’s robes off. “I can feel how much this is frightening you.”

“I am not frightened,” said Draco loudly, enough that Harry turned and kicked the door shut. The last thing he wanted was Ron or Hermione coming in here because they thought Harry and Draco were having an argument. “Who said anything about frightened? Who could be afraid of a little pleasure?”

“We have a soul-bond between us, Draco,” Harry had to point out, rolling his eyes a little as he unbuttoned the robes and pushed them back. Draco did wear a thin shirt underneath that, but it was long enough to cover him even down to below the waist. Harry’s breathing made him dizzy as he stared at it.

“That doesn’t mean it’s fear. It’s just—tension. The kind you can get rid of by blowing me.”

Harry bent and kissed Draco’s knee without answering. Yes, he knew what Draco was feeling, and he didn’t despise him for it. Even if he’d had a hundred partners, Harry thought, or Draco had, they had to be a little nervous the first time they touched someone they were soul-bonded to.

*

I wish he didn’t understand me so well.

But then Draco felt the careful way Harry framed Draco’s kneecaps, and knelt down to kiss the inside of his thighs, and had to take that wish back. Because there was no way he could wish for someone who didn’t understand him well to do this.

Maybe it’s strange to have someone you’re soul-bonded to be your first, Draco thought mindlessly, leaning back and back until his head was on the back wall of the shower. Harry was still parting his legs and kissing the skin until it felt tingling and as though Draco was going to faint from the pleasure. Maybe I should have had experience with someone who didn’t understand me well, to really appreciate the contrast…

But that thought faded under the tender pressure of Harry’s hands. No, he only ever wanted Harry.

Harry, who had finally apparently pushed open Draco’s legs to his satisfaction and now was just kneeling there looking at them. Draco gave a wriggle of his left foot, and Harry jumped. Then he grinned up at Draco.

“All right, all right, I’m doing it,” he said, and leaned forwards to take Draco’s cock in his smooth mouth without any more protestations.

Draco tried to grunt and moan and swear all at the same time. It was embarrassing. He ended up making a sound like an overexcited monkey or something. And he was losing his balance on the edge of the tub and sliding into the tub.

“None of that,” Harry chided him, and pulled Draco back up. Then his mouth fastened in place.

Draco lost track of the room and the rest of his body. Nothing existed except his cock and Harry’s mouth. That was the way it should always be. No spells, no anger, no war with the Dark Lord, no Horcruxes. Only this.

Harry seemed to agree, if the way he was taking his time was any indication. He licked and sucked and stroked along the bloody skin inside Draco’s thighs again, and then moved his hands further down, behind his knees. Draco found himself rising on his toes, even sitting down, as if that would convince Harry’s hands to stop.

It didn’t. Harry found his knees and shifted Draco’s hips a little. His tongue was making languid motions along the bottom of Draco’s cock at the same time.

“Were you always this good?” Draco whispered, delirious, not caring what he said now. “Were you always this good and I never thought to try you?”

“I might have had some objections if you’d decided to try me,” Harry said, pulling his head back.

The bond was smooth and glassy-colored with contentment, but that didn’t mean Draco wanted any interruptions. He pushed Harry’s head back down with one hand in the center of his brow, and Harry laughed and returned to what he was doing.

“It’s not fair you’re this good.” Draco felt too big for his skin now. He kept arching his shoulders against the back of the tub, pushing and shoving, trying to find some way to melt into the pleasure that circled around his body and become one with it. “I don’t think I’ll be this good.”

“You’re Draco. And that’s always good enough for me.”

Even though Harry had to pull back his head to say that and Draco huffed in irritation, at least he put his mouth right back. And at least Draco felt his own happiness multiply and grow like crystals once he understood the words.

Then he felt…

It was familiar, of course it was familiar. Harry was the first person who had ever sucked him off, but it wasn’t as if Harry was the first person he had ever come with!

Even if the other one was only me, Draco thought, in the brief moments before his vision seemed to close in from the sides and a glassy tunnel enveloped him. He caught his breath with a whoop, and then he was coming in Harry’s mouth, humiliation and satisfaction gripping him by turns.

He hadn’t given Harry enough warning to get out of the way. He hadn’t given him enough of anything, except come that had overflowed his mouth, Draco thought as he rolled dazedly to the side and then sat up. He was reaching out with one hand, already trying to caress Harry’s cheek as he babbled apologies.

“Saying you’re sorry sort of kills the mood,” Harry muttered, swiping at his cheek. There was a trickle of white there that Draco couldn’t keep his eyes off.

“But I am,” Draco said softly. “That you couldn’t swallow it all, that I didn’t do it to you first…”

“Was that an offer?”

Harry’s eyes were so wide and glazed that Draco felt some of his immediate conviction—that he wouldn’t be able to live up to what Harry had done to him—melt away. He smirked and slid down to his own knees. “Yes.”

Harry’s fingers fumbled as he reached for his trousers. Draco held his hand back and shook his head. He was going to take his time, and that meant taking time to enjoy the expanse of bare chest stretched before him.

I can’t believe I didn’t pay attention to it before now, Draco thought, and slid his hand around Harry’s old scars, and let his fingers circle Harry’s nipples. Harry was giving trembling little gasps, his mouth open as if he was running a race. He had one hand held out, gripping Draco’s wrist.

Like he wants to feel me touching him.

Well, that was one desire Draco had every intention of gratifying. And it didn’t have to be just touch, either. Before Harry could guess what he was going to do, Draco leaned forwards and bit him on the nipple.

“Ouch!”

Well, that went better in Draco’s fantasies than it did in reality. Or else he’d bitten too hard. Or Harry just didn’t enjoy biting. Judging by the way Harry was rubbing his chest and glaring a little, it could have been all of those.

“Sorry,” Draco whispered, and kissed Harry again. That went over just fine, and Harry snogged him enthusiastically back, pushing Draco onto his back on a bed that felt like it was made of his robes.

“Wait a minute here,” Draco finally said, when Harry had pulled back to catch his breath and was kneeling over Draco and eyeing his chest. “How am I supposed to return the favor if you’re looming over me like that?”

“Oh,” Harry said, and the bond paused for a minute. Draco blinked again, settling into what felt oddly like silence. He hadn’t realized how much of the whispering in the back of his head, telling him the right thing to do, probably came from the bond.

Then Harry shook his head and grinned. “I thought I would just feed you my cock as you lie there, actually.”

Draco gasped so loudly that he became afraid someone would come into the bathroom to investigate. But Harry, who was taking off his trousers finally, shook his head, probably catching a little spurt of his fear from the bond.

“I used the strongest Locking Charms I knew,” he muttered, and kissed Draco again, solidly on the lips before he moved on to the cheek. “Hermione could get through them, but she’ll know there’s something I’m doing that I really want to be private if I put those up. She’ll come back later.”

Draco swallowed the temptation to say that he would really prefer Granger not to come back at all, and opened his mouth instead. At least that got a gratifying gasp of his own from Harry, and then he yanked down his trousers the rest of the way.

Draco felt a little dazed as he stared at Harry’s dangling cock. It wasn’t that it was bigger than he’d pictured, because he’d never had reason to picture Harry’s cock before this year. It was that it looked incredible and nerve-wracking at the same time.

I’m going to have that in my mouth.

That made it a lot better. Draco wriggled himself a little closer, and then had to stop because his back was grinding on an uncomfortable little lump that was probably one of Harry’s discarded socks. Or his discarded sock.

Looking ridiculously proud and worried himself, Harry moved closer and then knelt over Draco’s hips. Draco sighed. He was too tired to respond the way he would have liked, but maybe they could do that later. For now, he settled for rubbing his knuckles over Harry’s hip and then flicking his tongue out.

That encouraged Harry to crawl closer, until he was sitting right over Draco’s mouth. Draco gasped once and then took his erection in and began to suck on it.

*

This is so wonderful.

What Harry wanted more than anything was to plow forwards and almost slam Draco’s head into the floor with his thrusting. Well, he wanted to thrust. Not keep it down to paltry little pushes that got him almost none of that delicious warmth.

Then again, he wanted Draco to speak to him tomorrow, too.

So Harry kept his hips, reluctantly, to soft little flexes, and the sensation got more intense as it thundered up and down his spine. He found himself gripping the crumpled shirt and robes next to Draco’s head, staring into his eyes. Draco stared back. Maybe he smiled around Harry’s cock, but if so, Harry couldn’t see it.

He was too busy feeling.

Draco’s mouth was warm, his lips were wet, his tongue was everywhere. Harry groaned and hunched forwards, making sure he was holding himself up on his hands. He would crush Draco if he fell over him, and Draco would stop sucking, and that was unacceptable.

Draco finally began to make noises, little grunts of his own, things that might have been words. Harry shivered. They were adding to the intensity, and the air between them was warm and thick with scent, and he had to finally admit that his thighs were cramping up something fierce.

But it didn’t matter. Not as long as everything stayed exactly the same, with Draco’s mouth on him and the bond between them humming and singing like a mad bird and Draco’s tongue lapping a steady path down and around him.

It shouldn’t matter. But Harry finally felt a stir at the base of his spine that told him what was happening, and what would change, although it had never felt so powerful before.

Already mourning, Harry opened his eyes. He was going to try to pull back, to see if he could overwhelm Draco less than Draco had overwhelmed him. Draco had seemed sorry about it. Harry didn’t want to be.

But Draco sealed his mouth stubbornly when Harry would have pulled out, and shook his head. His eyes were fierce. He reached up and slipped a hand between Harry’s bowed legs, wriggled between his thighs, and managed to find his balls.

Which he pulled.

Harry soared over the edge with no warning, but he supposed Draco had done that on purpose and it was its own kind of warning. Harry was lost in the hot, still, panting atmosphere that had enveloped him. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t think. All he could do was crouch there, and pump, and come, and feel drained at the end.

But because certain things were still unacceptable, he still managed to make himself collapse sideways at the end, and not hit Draco in the face or bruise him. Draco grunted when Harry settled on top of his chest, but, well, compared to everything else that had gone on, Harry didn’t think that was bad.

Draco stirred under him at last, but with no more than a token protest. Harry leaned over and slid his fingers languidly down Draco’s cheek. It was all the motion he was capable of making right now.

“I don’t want to spend the night,” Draco said, rolling over.

Harry blinked at him, not understanding what that meant. “You don’t want to stay with me?” The bond didn’t feel like that. The bond felt like it had eaten a huge meal and gone to sleep. But Draco might be uncomfortable or shy around him now that they had done this, Harry supposed.

I won’t be hurt. I won’t be. We’re going to be together no matter what, now that we have the bond.

“I don’t want to spend the night on the bathroom floor,” Draco finally said, getting the yawn and the words both out at the same time.

“Oh.” Harry could understand that. It took him a few seconds to feed information to his legs so that he could stand and shake out trembling arms, but he managed. Then he reached down for Draco, and nearly pitched back down.

“I don’t expect you to carry me,” Draco said, laughing, and slid his hands beneath him. Harry still had to help him to his feet, but Draco blamed that on the awkward position he’d been in, not their weakness.

Together, they cast a few Cleaning Charms and staggered out of the bathroom. Harry collapsed on the bed with his arms wrapped around Draco, and only then sighed. He’d meant to take a shower.

“Later,” Draco said, either reading his emotions through the bond or just the shift of his legs towards the side of the bed.

Harry nodded and curled up again. The strength of his clasp around Draco’s chest made him smile. So did Draco’s arms wrapped so tightly around him. So did the softness of the sheets beneath them, and the way they started breathing in unison almost at once, and the way Draco sighed out and made Harry shiver as his breath warmed Harry’s skin.

Stop smiling already.

That sounded like Snape’s voice. But not even Snape, Harry thought as he buried his head beneath Draco’s chin, could have soured his mood right now, not if he came striding through the door.

*

“There is no other way to destroy the Horcrux than Harry’s death, Severus.”

Severus stood looking out the window in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place, and didn’t respond. He would have liked to say that Potter appeared not to prefer that, and there was Draco to consider. But Albus knew those arguments already, and was making this one anyway.

“Are you listening to me, Severus?”

Severus turned around and nodded. But still he said nothing. He was not certain what Albus meant by pulling him here to speak about the Horcrux in Potter’s soul. As far as Severus knew, nothing had changed since the last time they’d talked about it.

“I want you to speak to Harry, Severus. To tell him—if you must—the history of your friendship with his mother.”

Severus coughed. It felt as though someone had blown ash into his mouth. “What?”

“I know how hard it is for you,” said Albus, laying his blackened hand on the table, the one that was going to kill him. Not soon, Severus knew; his potions were good for that much. But he would die of it. “How much you love and mourn Lily still. But I would not ask a greater sacrifice of you than I plan to give myself.”

“I have no idea why you think hearing about that will make a difference,” Severus said. “The details should not move him except to more love of his mother. And she died to save him. Why would this make him more eager to lose that life?”

Albus glanced at Severus chidingly. “I am not after that, Severus. What I am after is for Harry to gain some understanding of sacrifice, and a life lived in pursuit of duty. I think he might have known it better before he lost Sirius.” Albus sighed. “Not that I think his grief has overwhelmed him, but that he was looking around for someone else to take Sirius’s place, and found young Mr. Malfoy.”

Severus found good places for his teeth in his tongue, and held onto it. He was familiar, after all, with Albus’s need to convince himself of some of the strangest things, to build up a good base of that belief before he asked someone else to do as he wanted. This was only another strange thing.

“Perhaps I should not have allowed them to bond,” Albus whispered. “It seemed the best way to keep Mr. Malfoy loyal to us, and to save Harry from the Horcrux. But the one purpose may be lost beyond reckoning, and the other has failed.”

Severus could keep silent no longer, even knowing he would be punished by that chiding turn of the Headmaster’s chin that he hated so much. “Draco is not a replacement for Black, Albus. Unless you think Potter was fucking his godfather.”

And yes, there it was, the smothering of light in Albus’s eyes, and the turn of his head, that made Severus feel as if he was shouting down an eager child. But he held onto his own perspective, forged in the heat of a terrible fire. No, Albus was not a child. And he ought to be long past the sort of interference that drove him now.

“Then I have given Harry an even greater chain to life,” Albus sighed.

Severus decided he might as well keep replying now that he had started. “What did you think would happen, Headmaster? That the soul-bond would leave them unaffected? That Potter could sacrifice himself if he had no one he cared for?”

“Oh, I know that he cares for young Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley.” Albus waved a hand that had started to tremble as if with arthritis. “And their friendship is true and has sustained Harry through his massive struggles. But it was never so strong that I thought they would die with him. Harry had to understand love and happiness and the part of the world that has them so he would love them enough to die for it, but he couldn’t be the part of it the same way everyone else would.”

Severus closed his eyes. The only way he managed not to snap at Albus was because he knew Albus believed those words—and grieved over them. Albus didn’t want Potter to die. He was accepting it as a necessity and then trying to come up with a way to achieve it with the least modicum of grief.

Albus would die filled with horror and self-hatred over his sacrifice of a child. He would probably decline all the faster once Potter was gone, because he did love the boy. But he would do it all the same.

Sometimes Severus thought he had never known anyone more terrifying than Albus Dumbledore.

“Speak to him, Severus. Promise me. Show him that someone can have a great love and yet do what they must in pursuit of that duty.”

And that only shows how little you understand me, Severus thought wearily. Because I would never be here if Lily was alive. And I made every attempt to preserve her. Not sacrifice her.

All he could do was say aloud, “I promise, Headmaster.”

And watch the moment come closer and closer, the moment of his inevitable choice.

Chapter Text

A soft muttering that seemed to be happening right in his ear woke Harry up. He turned his head, blinking. His eyes were always blurry in the morning, whether or not he had his glasses on. But he thought he would see Draco if he was up.

No. Draco still sprawled across the bed, sometimes next to him and sometimes on top of him. He was breathing so deeply that Harry thought it would probably be hours before he woke. He trailed gentle fingers along the top of Draco’s scalp and then turned his head a little more.

There was a hunched shape standing next to the bed. Harry hissed under his breath. He knew that shape even without his glasses.

“What do you want, Kreacher?” Harry asked tiredly. It wasn’t like the elf to mutter and grumble this softly. Maybe it was Draco’s presence, since Draco was part Black, that had made him refrain from waking them up.

The elf stopped speaking and glared at him as if Harry hadn’t been supposed to wake up. Harry refrained from rolling his eyes. It would only make Kreacher more upset if he did understand it.

“You have it,” Kreacher said.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Harry found himself shifting automatically as if to cover Draco from the elf’s sight, and then stopped. Since when did house-elves care about things like whether a human was naked or not? Even Dobby and Winky had never showed that they cared.

“Kreacher has seen it.” Kreacher’s fingertips scrabbled for an instant at the blankets on the bed, and then he leaned forwards and stared obsessively at Harry. “The locket with Master’s handwriting in it.”

Harry caught a painful breath that made him cough, and ruined all his fine attempts to keep Draco asleep. Draco twisted and muttered next to him, and then sat upright, shaking his head as he brushed his hair behind his ears.

“What is it?” And then, even in the midst of his question, Draco’s eyes found him, and he gave Harry a private smile that was sweet and wistful. Harry found his hand and held it. Nothing else existed for a minute but the two of them. Not Kreacher and not the Horcruxes and not the war and not what Harry thought he’d just found out about the handwriting in the locket. Nothing except Draco’s soft breath and the tremble of his fine, pale golden eyelashes.

Kreacher brought him back to earth with a little bump. “The locket with Master’s handwriting!” The elf was clutching his ears and rocking back and forth. “Kreacher wasseeing it!”

Draco caught his breath in turn. It didn’t sound as painful as Harry’s had been. “Your master?” he whispered, and then turned and shook his head at Harry. “I should have thought of it before. Those initials with the B at the end. It could have been Black.”

“Could have been, but that doesn’t mean it had to be,” Harry said, anxious to keep Draco from blaming himself, even if it was mildly and for silly reasons. “There are lots of other wizarding families that have last names starting with B. Like Bones.”

Draco only shook his head and looked at Kreacher again. “Your master,” he said. “What was his first name?”

“Regulus.” Kreacher had stopped rocking and was staring at them in what Harry thought was hope, maybe because they hadn’t immediately sent him away and told him he couldn’t have the locket. “He was being Regulus Black. He is being dead.”

“Well, that’s not a surprise,” Draco muttered. He sounded shaken. “Harry, you know—I mean, I know the history of my mother’s family pretty well, but did your godfather ever talk about his brother?”

“Only once that I can remember,” Harry said, shivering a little at the intensity of the memory. It was as if he was standing with Sirius in front of the worn Black family tapestry again. “But yeah. He said he was a Death Eater and believed in blood purity, and he was their parents’ favored son.”

“Master Black,” whispered Kreacher, and his hands clutched at his ears again. “Master Black was betraying the Dark Lord. He was only telling Kreacher.” He lifted his head, and one eye glared at them under a mess of ear hair. “Only Kreacher.”

And he probably wonders how in the world we wound up with the locket, Harry finished silently. He exchanged a look with Draco, who hadn’t turned away from Kreacher until now. Maybe we can make a bargain with him.

“We found our way to the locket differently,” he told Kreacher, trying to feel his way carefully and find the right words. “I mean, not the way your master took.” It had to be that, or either Dumbledore would have been careless or Regulus would have been more prepared. “We took the fake locket he left there—”

Kreacher cut him off with a wail. “The locket was to be staying there!” he said, and stamped his foot. “It was to be staying! Nasty, dirty, filthy Mudbloods! Thieves!”

“No, no,” said Harry, speaking before Draco could. Draco might have had better words, but he might also have said the wrong thing. Harry only knew for sure what he could feel in his own throat. Even the bond was flat with Draco’s shock, revealing nothing much right now. “I mean—Kreacher, there was another locket that your master took away from the Dark Lord, right? Where is it? We have to destroy that one before we can give you Regulus’s locket. We have to exchange them.”

The bond gleamed abruptly, like obsidian catching the sun, with Draco’s respect. Harry grinned at him and faced Kreacher again, who had hesitated and was tilting his head back and forth, eyes turning from one to the other of them.

“You will be giving Kreacher Master’s locket if he is letting you destroy the other locket?” Kreacher asked suspiciously.

“Yes, we will,” said Harry, recklessly committing himself. He didn’t know if that was such a great idea when he hadn’t talked to Ron and Hermione and Dumbledore, but on the other hand, Dumbledore wanted the real Horcrux as much as they did. Maybe more. He probably wouldn’t care too much about how Harry had got it as long as it was there.

Kreacher disappeared. Harry sat up and turned to put his glasses and his shirt on.

“And you think he’ll bring it to us?”

Harry paused and looked at Draco. “Do you have some reason to distrust him?”

“Only that he betrayed your godfather.” Draco would have looked like Sirius at the moment, Harry thought, if his hair was black. He’d raked his hand through it until it was standing on end. “I don’t want him to get the chance to do the same to you.”

He reached out and encircled Harry with both arms, and Harry leaned against him with a small sigh. Then Draco muttered into his ear, “Especially now that I know what a good blowjob you can give. It wouldn’t be right to let you die without getting to experience that at least once more.”

Harry rolled his eyes and shoved him away. “Git. Anyway. You can deal with him, if you’re worried. I’m the one who can technically command him since I inherited the property, but you’re a Black by blood. He might listen to you better.”

“And I have the naturally more commanding personality.”

Harry would have stuck his tongue out in response, but that would only have proven Draco’s point. He settled for lying back with a snort and muttering, “Go ahead, do what you want.”

Draco smiled and faced the spot where Kreacher had reappeared, clutching a long golden chain that presumably had a locket at the end of it. Harry couldn’t actually see the locket, since it was wrapped up in Kreacher’s hands, but he sucked in his breath anyway. There was suddenly a feeling like a greasy, heavy darkness in the air.

He caught Draco’s eye and nodded.

Draco nodded back and faced Kreacher, looking perfectly arrogant even half-naked. “You know what we can do to you if you’ve tricked us?” he asked.

“What would Master Malfoy be doing?” Kreacher glanced from the locket in his hands up to Draco. Harry felt the bond thrum, and tensed a little. They might lose their chance if Draco acted too arrogant.

“I would make sure that your head never hung on the wall with your dead ancestors the way you want it to,” Draco said.

Harry started to sit up, but the threat made Kreacher whimper and crouch on the floor. “Master Malfoy is being cruel,” he whimpered. He sounded as though he didn’t know whether or not to be happy about that.

“Yes, I am.” The bond was bright with something like radiance now, and Draco never wavered. He sat up and stared at Kreacher down his nose. Harry shivered, remembering the way that would have infuriated him once, if Draco had done it to him in Hogwarts, and had to cross his legs to control his new reaction.

“I will do what must be done,” Draco said. “The locket you have must be destroyed. The one we have must be given to you—unless you’re trying to trick us.”

Kreacher shook for a few more minutes. Harry was glad Draco was there to squeeze his shoulder when he started to open his mouth to respond to Kreacher’s pleas. They had to stay silent and let Kreacher convince himself. Intellectually, Harry knew that.

It was just damn hard to remember in practice.

“Have you made up your mind?” Draco finally asked, with a voice so snooty that it sounded as though he was talking through his nose.

Kreacher stood up and shuffled towards them. He was staring at the locket in his hands, which looked so much like the one they’d found in the cave that Harry blinked.

But the sense of Dark magic he could feel around this one continued to make his bones ache.

Draco didn’t seem to be in any doubt, but Harry still felt the bond relax from a taut state as Kreacher laid the locket in Draco’s hand. Draco nodded and put it on the bed, then reached for his wand. “Accio fake locket,” he said in a bored voice.

Harry heard a few loud, rattling bangs, as though the locket had had to pass through a few doors to get to them. But once it was there, Kreacher reached out with a twitching hand and grabbed hold of the chain, not even letting it fly to Draco on the bed.

“This is the one Master put in the cave,” Kreacher whispered. He kissed the locket with such a loud smack that Harry saw a few trickles of saliva run down the side. “It is the one he was putting there, with Kreacher watching him.”

Harry started to open his mouth, but maybe Draco thought this wasn’t the time to question Kreacher, because he only said haughtily, “I doubt you want to spend time around us, and we don’t want to spend time around you. You may go.”

Kreacher looked at Draco worshipfully and then bowed once before he vanished. In the silence, Draco turned and lifted the locket with a spell, shuddering as he hung it around one of the bedposts.

“You know Hermione and Dumbledore are going to be a little upset when they find out what you did with the fake locket,” Harry said mildly. “Especially since Kreacher probably won’t give it back.”

“Granger will come round.”

Harry had to grin at the way Draco completely failed to mention Dumbledore, and then Draco turned his head and beamed, and Harry’s breath caught.

“Besides,” Draco added, “we just found the first real Horcrux. We should be able to ask for whatever the fuck we want, and Dumbledore should give it to us.”

Harry cleared his throat. “He might not if you put it that way.”

Draco shrugged and reached out as if he was going to touch the Horcrux, but he pulled his hand back at the last moment. Harry couldn’t help but approve. “Then I’ll put it another way. But the fact remains, we have one of them.” He looked up, and his eyes and the bond had the same luster. “And nobody had to die for it.”

Harry wanted to look away, but he told himself a second later how silly that was. Draco didn’t think Harry should be sorry for having a Horcrux in his head, unless he decided to embrace dying and didn’t do something about the soul-bond first. Or tell Draco. Or maybe embraced it at all.

“I don’t want to die,” he said, and leaned out to slide a hand down Draco’s face until he reached the top of his ear. “Especially after last night.”

Draco flushed, but his smile was vicious with delight. “Good,” he said, and reached up to encircle Harry’s wrist with two fingers. “And what are you going to do if Dumbledore tells you that you must?”

“Find another way.”

“If it doesn’t exist?”

“We don’t know that yet.”

“I know.” Draco shifted a little, folding his legs as if the bed had suddenly poked him with a spring. “I’m only trying to come up with some of the objections that Dumbledore will probably make.”

“Oh.” Harry hesitated once, and then committed himself. “Then we’ll do something to the rest of the Horcruxes, and you and I will be the ones to make the decision. To sever the soul-bond—”

“That’s never going to be a decision I make,” Draco said pleasantly. “I just want to tell you that right now.” His fingers had tensed on Harry’s wrist until Harry winced, knowing they would leave a bruise, and even then, he thought Draco only released him because he felt the pain through the bond. “There’s no way to force me to forsake you, Harry. To sever the bond, or walk away from you and let you get yourself killed, or stand back while you do something risky. So give up the notion.”

“Then I don’t know,” Harry said, exasperated and tender both at once. He wanted to lean forwards and kiss Draco, and he wanted to have a very serious conversation about how some things were worth more than his individual life—only he knew Draco would never listen to him even if he did. “I don’t know what I’m going to do if Dumbledore tells me the only way to end the Horcrux in me is to die.”

“Good,” Draco said, which startled Harry so much that he stared at him. But the bond was placid and rippling with light like a lake in the sunset, and Draco beamed at him and reached up to cup Harry’s chin. “That was all I wanted to hear. If you have a plan, I want to know about it.”

“And otherwise?” Harry whispered, because he could almost hear the words lingering behind the ones Draco had actually spoken.

Draco kissed him. “We find the way forward together.”

*

“I am—impressed with how you managed to retrieve this Horcrux, Mr. Malfoy.”

Draco held back a vicious chuckle, and simply smiled at Dumbledore. He wondered if Harry could see how hard the man was struggling not to say something else, something that wouldn’t be praise.

From the amused looks Harry was darting at him, he at least knew what Draco was feeling, if not all the nuances.

“Who would have thought that simply asking a house-elf for the locket would be effective?” Dumbledore marveled, picking up the Horcrux and turning it over.

Harry twitched when he did that. Draco hadn’t missed it. He didn’t think Dumbledore did, either. But with how carelessly and ceaselessly he manipulated people, he probably didn’t even realize that doing that made Harry more twitchy and on his guard around him—or at least he would deny it if asked.

“We never would have found it if Kreacher hadn’t approached us first,” Draco said. “And I have to give a large part of the credit to Harry.” He ignored the way Harry turned towards him and Dumbledore’s eyes narrowed. This was true no matter how many people it surprised. “Harry is the one who taught me to listen to house-elves. I’m used to just dismissing them as irrelevant. But Kreacher approached us, and, well.” He gave a modest little shrug and leaned back, most of his attention on Dumbledore and part on the bond.

The only problem with that was that he hadn’t spared any attention for Harry’s friends, and he jumped like a startled deer when Granger spoke. “You should have been paying attention to house-elves all along, Malfoy. Maybe it would have prevented you from getting into as much trouble as you did.”

Draco bit back the reply he wanted to give to that, and saw Dumbledore give Granger a weary look. It would be wonderful if he was as tired of her scolding and lectures as Draco.

“Maybe I should have,” Draco said, and just looked back at Dumbledore again.

“The most powerful secrets are so often found in the most humble of creatures,” Dumbledore whispered. He sounded as if he was talking to himself. He turned the Horcrux locket over once more and set it back on the dining room table. “There only remains the question of how to destroy it.”

“How did you destroy the diary?” Draco asked at once. “And the ring?”

Dumbledore visibly shuddered and touched his blackened hand. “The ring was the result of carelessness on my part,” he murmured. “We would not want to use the same method.”

“Well, I used the basilisk fang on the diary,” Harry offered. “So basilisk venom is probably the way to do it.”

“We must take the Horcrux to the school, then,” said Dumbledore, and he seemed to sit up and smile more strongly. Draco eyed him in hostility. He didn’t like the idea of anything that would make Dumbledore do that. “The basilisk fangs that you left in the Chamber are the only ones I know of, Harry.”

“If you knew about them, why didn’t you use them on the ring?”

Dumbledore ignored him, which was a convenient habit for him, Draco thought. Granger and Weasley didn’t look anything less than blindly trusting, of course. They only nodded, and Granger said, “Do you think if we found basilisk venom for sale in an apothecary we could trust it, Professor Dumbledore?”

“I would be afraid that it had been diluted, Miss Granger. But there is no reason we need fear going back to Hogwarts. The basilisk Harry killed is easily within our reach.”

And you want us back at Hogwarts for some reason, Draco thought, watching him. Is it only because you feel safe there in a way you don’t elsewhere? Because you think I won’t dare return given the way I had to flee, and you think you can get Harry alone?

If that was the reason, then Draco was more determined to go along than before. He wouldn’t leave Harry to Dumbledore’s possibly nonexistent mercy.

Or rather, he feels mercy for everyone else, but none for Harry.

“Mr. Malfoy, will you be returning to your father’s house?” Dumbledore asked then, making it plain what his gambit was.

Draco let his eyes widen and his mouth curve in a little smile. “But why should I, sir? I was wounded in the battle with the Inferi, and I’ve risked as much as anyone to destroy the locket Horcrux. It would be a comfort to me to watch it dissolve into sludge, or melted metal, or whatever happens to a locket when it’s stabbed with a basilisk fang.”

Dumbledore gave him a long, steady stare. Draco didn’t quite meet it, since he was looking at Dumbledore’s nose instead of his eyes. Catch him meeting a Legilimens gaze for gaze.

“You don’t need to go, Mr. Malfoy,” said Dumbledore. “Since you were wounded, you probably need some rest.”

“He got a lot of rest last night,” Harry said. He casually stretched out one arm so that it rested along the back of Draco’s chair.

Dumbledore sighed. “Then you can come along to the Chamber of Secrets with the rest of us, Mr. Malfoy. But I’m afraid that the sight of a dead basilisk isn’t as romantic or glorious as you may have thought.”

“Harry knows better than to try to romance me with something like that.”

Dumbledore gave Draco another look that suggested he didn’t understand everything Draco was doing. Draco widened his eyes back, just as delighted at that. And finally Dumbledore turned away and said softly, “Very well. Since we have one of the Horcruxes and a good idea about the means to destroy it, I see no objection.”

Harry nodded and stayed silent until they were back in their bedroom—or his, Draco thought. Then he flopped back on the bed and closed his eyes. “What objection couldthere be, for Merlin’s sake? You got the Horcrux!”

We got the Horcrux,” Draco pointed out, stretching out and curling around Harry as much as he could while Harry was sprawled in that undignified posture. The bond swept back and forth over them in a smug, warm sea, but with an edge to the waves that Draco suspected was Harry. “You were the one who made the original bargain.”

Harry didn’t dispute that, which Draco thought was another good sign that he had changed. He didn’t have to be modest with Draco, and he knew it now. “Dumbledore’s still acting like he distrusts you,” he mumbled, turning his nose so it was buried in Draco’s collarbone.

“He does.”

Harry blinked at him. “But why?”

Draco shrugged and offered up what he thought was the real reason, if not a good one. “He dislikes and distrusts Slytherins. He doesn’t think that I’m a good influence on you. The soul-bond didn’t go the way it was supposed to. I only joined your side in the first place to get my father out, and for revenge. Those aren’t good motives—”

“Whatever brought you to me is a good motive.”

Harry’s eyes were burning, and Draco felt a dry lump in his throat. He swallowed it and smiled, because he suspected they were about to go on to something a lot more interesting than a conversation about Dumbledore. “Really?”

Yes,” Harry snapped, and pulled Draco on and over and down into a kiss.

Draco was right. What they did next was a lot more interesting.

Chapter Text

“I did want to have another look at the decoy locket before you gave it away, Harry.”

Harry had to grin at Hermione over his shoulder. He’d opened the door to the bedroom he’d shared with Draco only after making sure that everything potentially embarrassing was out of sight. From the way Hermione kept her gaze fixed on him and only him as she came in, she was doing her part to make sure she wouldn’t see anything if it was there.

“Sorry,” said Harry, with a shrug. “But you have the note, and I think Kreacher might let you look at it if you beg nicely enough.”

Hermione smiled a little. Then she sat down on a chair that stood near the door and said, so quickly and quietly that Harry would have missed the tone in her voice if he hadn’t been listening carefully for it, “So. This is a rebellion against Dumbledore?”

“I don’t know if I would put it that way.”

“Yes, I know it sounds dramatic.” This was a much calmer Hermione than he’d ever dealt with, Harry thought. Maybe she was trying to control her emotions until she heard what they were going to do it. “But you and Malfoy are acting as if he’s an enemy.”

“Not an enemy. Just someone we can’t trust all the time.”

Hermione sighed and stared between her knees at the floor for a second. Then she said, “Ron is downstairs in the kitchen with Dumbledore. His parents came this morning. They’re all talking. Well, Dumbledore is talking to Molly and Arthur, anyway.”

“So Ron wanted to visit with his parents?” Harry didn’t understand why she sounded like she was making an excuse for Ron not being here. He didn’t see the need to make excuses for Draco. He’d just gone home that morning to tell his father what was happening before they went to Hogwarts.

“No. He’s staying down there to make sure that Dumbledore doesn’t think all three of us are meeting secretly and talking about him.”

Harry blinked at her in shock. Then he grinned. “It sounds like you’d make a good mastermind for the rebellion when we decide to have it, Hermione.”

“I’d feel happier if I knew why we had to distrust Dumbledore.” Hermione’s hair bristled as she leaned forwards and cast a spell at the door. Harry recognized it as one that would warn them by letting them hear the sound of someone’s footsteps coming towards the doors. “I know why Malfoy does. But why you?”

“He thinks I have to die to remove the Horcrux from me,” said Harry. “And I don’t think he’s given up on that plan even though Draco and I have told him all the problems with it. Like the soul-bond. And the fact that Draco wants me alive.”

“We want you alive, too!”

Harry came over and put his hand on her shoulder. “I know, Hermione. I never thought you and Ron would just go along with it.”

“But you don’t trust us as much as you trust—Draco.” Hermione looked as if she didn’t know whether to be angry or sad as she stared up at him.

“I have to trust him more in some ways because of the soul-bond we have connecting us,” said Harry quietly. “That doesn’t mean I want to leave you behind, or think that you’re on Dumbledore’s side.”

“You’re sure it’s his side. And that you’re going to be on the opposite one.” Yes, the sadness was winning out. Hermione held her hand across her mouth for a moment before she reached for him.

Harry hugged her back, and whispered, “I don’t want it to be. But at the moment, Dumbledore is still trying to shut Draco out of things, and I know he thinks the soul-bond didn’t work out the way he hoped. He did the soul-bond in the first place because he wanted to keep an eye on Draco and he didn’t trust Draco to be loyal to us.” He sighed as he felt Hermione’s arms tighten around him. “So, in a way, it makes sense for Draco not to trust him.”

Hermione started to answer, but someone tapped on the door. Hermione immediately leaned backwards, her wand springing into her hand so fast that Harry jumped. “Someone canceled the spell that would have warned me,” Hermione told him in a low voice. “And Ron wouldn’t have.”

“I need to talk to you, Mr. Potter.”

“Oh, wonderful,” Harry muttered, recognizing Snape’s voice.

“He might have something to say about Dumbledore,” Hermione said, and pushed him towards the door with her fist in the center of his back.

Harry whirled his arms around to keep his balance, and turned to frown at her. “Are you going to leave, or what?”

Snape, probably hearing them, instantly said, “It is a delicate matter that I will only speak to you about alone, Mr. Potter.”

And he probably waited until Draco left, too, Harry thought. He shook his head a little. Dumbledore and Snape and anyone else who wanted him to die because of the Horcrux should understand that he would only tell Draco later anyway. And anything that made him feel strong emotions, Draco would feel before he got back.

“I think we can trust him enough,” said Hermione. “I mean, Dumbledore isn’t going to march you outside right now and try to kill you to remove the Horcrux.” She gave Harry a troubled smile. “Oh, Harry. Try to be polite, all right?”

Harry just nodded. “Because you asked me to,” he added. “Not because I trust either of them right now.”

“Well, maybe they aren’t on the same side,” Hermione said, and opened the door and slipped out past Snape before Harry could stop staring at her. “Professor,” she said, with a single inclination of her head, before she went down the corridor and then down the stairs.

That left Harry staring at Snape.

I hope that he’s on the same side as us and Hermione knows what she’s doing, Harry thought, even as he tried to tone down his emotions. He didn’t want to summon Draco back from his father’s house before he was ready. Right now, Harry wasn’t in any physical danger.

At least, I don’t think so.

*

Severus made out the deep wariness carved into the boy’s face, and subdued a sigh. Of course it would be there. He had done nothing not to earn that. Even though he had been part of creating the soul-bond between Draco and Potter, Potter hadn’t trusted him at the time, whatever his feelings about the bond now.

Severus leaned on the wall next to the door, instead of against it, hoping that leaving the way to escape open might calm the boy. Potter turned a little so he could watch Severus. He moved smoothly on his heels, with more grace than Severus had thought he would. Perhaps the fighting experience Albus had told Severus about had benefited Potter more than it had appeared at first.

“What did you have to tell me?” Potter asked.

Severus could put it off no longer. “I had a friend, once,” he said. “A friend I would have given up everything for. Your mother.”

He could see from the widening of the boy’s eyes that he had him. And he knew the way he could hook him further. Spin out a thread made of memories of Lily, clip a dangling bait to the end, and capture him. He could perform such feats of capturing and teasing that Albus would applaud him.

Now I only must decide if I will.

“I didn’t know that,” Potter whispered, and shifted a step nearer, although he then took one to the side as if to make up for that. “So few people talk to me about my mum, except when they say I have her eyes and Professor Slughorn told me she was great at Potions. Can you please tell me more?”

Severus gritted his teeth. He had thought that Potter’s express lack of interest in his mother had happened because he would rather hear about his father instead. Well, and because he had no idea, for excellent reasons, that Severus had been her best friend. It wasn’t the sort of thing the werewolf or Black would have brought up, either.

Instead, it seemed that it was only ignorance that had stilled his questions. Just as ignorance about the soul-bond had probably compelled him to go through with it.

“There is something else you must know, Potter,” said Severus, and so made the first of the decisions that had been waiting for him.

“What’s that?” At least Potter’s eyes had taken on a wary cast again, although he still looked as though he would follow Severus through Inferi-infested darkness for a tidbit about his mother.

Severus sighed. “Albus was the one who asked me to speak with you about Lily. I made a bad decision because of the—memory you saw last year.” He grimaced at having to speak of it, but he had made the decision, and truly, whatever path he spun down, he would have had had to do this. “Lily was my one connection to a normal world, my only friend. After she and I had the rupture between us—”

“Because you called her a Mudblood.”

“Yes.” Do not flinch, Severus. You should be long past flinching. Severus didn’t know if he hid the wince, but he knew he was still on his feet and staring at Potter, that he hadn’t backed away to run down the corridor, and that alone was something.

“Go on.”

Potter had folded his arms, but not turned away. Not yet. Severus drew in his breath and spoke quickly. “I became a Death Eater not long after that. I served as one who was relatively faithful until I overheard the part of a prophecy that Sybill Trelawney was proclaiming to Albus. I ran off and reported it to the Dark Lord. But when I realized that it could apply to Lily—and to you—I begged the Dark Lord to spare Lily.”

“Just my mum.”

“Just her,” Severus echoed softly. He ignored the stab that Potter’s curled lip gave him. He had endured worse stabs. “So. I failed. Or, rather, I believe he gave her the chance to step aside, and she didn’t take it—”

“That’s what I hear when the Dementors are near,” Potter whispered. “Voldemort telling her to step aside and my mum refusing.”

Severus stared at him, arrested and shaken beyond words. So much for the thought that I was prepared for this conversation.

But he had chosen, so he caught his breath and went on. “I made a solemn promise to Albus that I would make up for my mistakes. It was my loyalty to Lily and my grief at her death that caused me to make that vow. I swore to protect you and fight the Dark Lord when and if he returned—as Albus never doubted that he would.” Severus closed his eyes. “Albus wanted me to tell you this so that you would understand what it means to suffer a great loss and yet go through with one’s duty anyway.”

“He wanted you to help persuade me to die.”

“Yes.”

Potter folded his arms and hunched in on himself in a way that Severus didn’t think he’d ever seen before. “But you don’t sound like you’re doing that.” He might have muttered the words to himself rather than intending to share them with Severus, although Severus heard them anyway. “Or you would have done it better.”

“I am gratified that you understand that,” said Severus.

A moment later, he froze. He might have undermined Potter’s trust by speaking to him the way he would Draco—

But the green eyes that rested on him weren’t unfriendly. Perhaps that was the best he could hope for, considering their past and the inherently unpromising beginning he had been forced to make.

“Why did Dumbledore try to make you do that?” Potter asked.

Severus opened his mouth, and then closed it. He had been about to correct the boy on the matter of Albus’s title, but he could hardly deny that the boy had reason to take away that title if he could.

“Because he loves you, but also thinks you need to die for the greater good of the world,” Severus said. He was watching for it, and saw the moment when the boy winced. “Never doubt he loves you. Never doubt he would be willing to do anything—short, perhaps, of killing you himself—to see the world saved from the Dark Lord.”

“I won’t doubt it. Thank you.”

Potter craned his neck back a second later, and added, “Why did you decide to change your mind?”

“Instead of persuading you?” Severus shifted to the side, once again making sure not to block the door, although this time he thought Potter would trust him enough to listen. Draco, however, when he came back, might fly through the door and not pay attention to anyone except Potter who was on the other side of it. “Because of Lily. And because when it came to it, I could not fulfill Albus’s purpose.”

There was a faint, sad smile on Potter’s lips. “I think I was a disappointment to him, too.”

Severus tightened his shoulders, refusing the offered sympathy that Potter might be holding out to him. He wasn’t entirely sure. But they had other things to speak of now. “I do not care any longer about being a disappointment to him. We must plan now what to do. I can baffle any questions he asks me, but I am not sure about you.”

“I’m not going to give him the chance to ask any,” said Potter firmly. “If he wants to know what to do about the Horcrux, I’ll tell him that Draco and I want to find the others before we make a decision about the one in my head. If he wants to know that you told me the story about my mother, I’ll tell him that you did.”

He hesitated. Severus, understanding where his reluctance to discuss strategy came from, held his tongue, and finally Potter added, “But I would like to hear more about my mother some other time. Um, when you’re not acting under Dumbledore’s orders.”

“I will tell you about her,” Severus answered. He could not say that he would rejoice or be glad to do so, but Potter seemed to understand, from the faint, relieved smile he gave Severus. Perhaps the assurance had been all he wanted.

“You might want to move out of the way of the door, sir,” Potter added abruptly, and smiled in its direction, the same vague smile Severus had seen Draco give when he was listening to the emotions of the bond. “Draco is coming, and he’ll probably bang the door open when he gets here.”

Severus nodded. He was done here, anyway, and he suspected that the boy’s course with regard to Albus was wise. “I suspected as much about Mr. Malfoy, and I am standing—”

Then the door flew open, and proved Potter’s predictions right and Severus wrong, as it crashed into his shoulder with a reverberation that seemed to shake his bones. Severus hissed and rubbed his arm. Potter gave him only a slightly shamefaced smile before he looked at Draco.

And the smile that transformed his face when he did that

For the first time, Severus thought each of them might have a treasure to mishandle, rather than Potter being a danger to Draco and not understanding the soul he had bonded to.

Keep him safe, Draco. If you care him for that much, and he cares for you, keep him safe until the time comes that you can make your own decisions in front of Albus and have them stick.

Severus slid silently out the door. From the looks of things, including the stream of words that Draco immediately launched at Potter, the boys were too occupied with each other to notice him go anyway.

*

Draco felt as though someone was yanking his head around by a halter. He broke off in his explanation to Father and stood up. He noticed Father gripping his wand and shook his head a little.

“I think it’s Harry,” he said. “He’s all right. But something happened, or he learned something, that really agitated the bond.” And he closed his eyes and let himself fall into the raging waters of the bond in order to feel out what he could.

The emotions skimmed past him and around him. Draco felt as though he was ducking under cold waves. Not anger, he thought quickly, so he doubted Harry had learned something new from Dumbledore or was fighting the Dark Lord or even having an argument with his friends. But he was in shock. Yes, shock.

Draco felt the emotions suddenly smooth down, and came back to the surface of the bond. Father had put his wand down on the table, but in a place where, Draco knew from long experience, he could get at it quickly. And he was watching Draco with a pinch of a frown around his forehead and eyes.

Draco nodded at him swiftly. “There was something wrong. It’s calmed down now. But I think I should go back.”

Father raised a hand. Draco waited, obedient to the fact that something significant happened when Father did that, and relieved that he didn’t feel like he had to hurry back to Harry’s side immediately. He was still in Grimmauld Place, as far as Draco could feel it; if he’d been Apparated somewhere, the bond would have felt strained and distant, the way it had when Harry was in Surrey.

“You would choose this young man even over family loyalty?”

Draco tensed. He supposed he should have known this was coming, but… “No,” he said. “Harry wouldn’t want me to, anyway. He came with me to get you out, and risked his life to make sure that you escaped safe.”

Father looked at him with eyes blind and bright as the sun, or as the bond sometimes was. “I still do not understand why.”

“Because,” said Draco, with all the patience he could muster, “Harry would do anything for me, too. That’s the other side of the bond.”

“How this can have happened when you were only soul-bonded for a short time…”

“You don’t know what it’s like,” was all Draco could say. “I know you and Mother loved me.” He had to close his eyes then, and he was only not ashamed because he had noticed Father turning his head, too. “You love me,” he continued. “But it’s not the same as having someone who always understands what you’re feeling, and you always understand them, too.”

“I hardly think that you and Potter were as sanguine about each other at first.”

Draco shook his head. He still wanted to get back to Harry, but since he had calmed down, the danger couldn’t be immediate. “But we had to share dreams, and it was hard to know that he wouldn’t get away with any secret plans, and neither would I, as long as we were connected. At the very least, I would feel him getting agitated as the time got closer. He would feel the same thing.”

“You could have used Occlumency to hold him at bay.”

“Not after what took place at the Manor.”

“Even then.”

“If I wanted to,” Draco agreed, turning his head in the direction that the bond seemed to thrum most strongly, “perhaps I could have. Although it would have been difficult when he almost died with his soul drifting from his body and I was the one who brought him back, and when you owed him a life-debt. But I chose not to.”

“Then call this my final question,” Father said, leaning forwards. “I can see that you are anxious to go to your young man.” Draco ignored that. It wasn’t worth responding to. “What traits in you made you make the choice to embrace the bond instead of keep Potter at bay?”

“A love of teaching,” Draco muttered, but relented when he saw the unblinking stare Father gave him at that. “I taught him Occlumency. No one else had managed that, even Professor Snape. So I was proud of that, and invested in him living, and addicted to someone managing to understand me that much.”

“It could be a weakness.”

“So is this,” Draco said, and tapped his left forearm, which made Father flinch. “That isn’t the same as assuming that I shouldn’t do it.” He stood up. “If you’ll excuse me, Father, I think I have been away from Harry long enough.”

Father frowned, but he didn’t say anything else. And Draco was confident he understood. He was only being stubborn.

“Farewell,” said Draco, and bowed his head a little. He jogged towards the door that led outside, pausing only when he heard Father clear his throat behind him.

“Good luck.”

Draco smiled over his shoulder. If Father had decided to speak the words at all, he would mean them sincerely. “Thank you,” he said, and then he disappeared through the door and walked straight to the Apparition point.

Despite knowing that he would have felt something more through the bond than the blurred, vague excitement he did now if Harry was in danger, he still Apparated swiftly to Grimmauld Place and moved swiftly through the door and up the stairs. And then he heard Professor Snape’s voice in the bedroom and dropped his wand into his hand.

Professor Snape still might be one of those people who was in favor of Harry’s death.

Draco came through the door at full speed, and heard Professor Snape hiss as the door collided with his shoulder. Draco nodded to him and focused on Harry, who was smiling at him in a way that meant nothing was very wrong after all.

Either Professor Snape was on Dumbledore’s side and deserved a door in the shoulder, or he was not and wouldn’t hold a grudge about it. He held grudges about profounder things, like a refusal to try in Potions.

And he was leaving. Draco ran a hand up the side of Harry’s face and murmured, “You’re all right? Nothing happened to you while I was gone?”

“Yes. No. Only—Hermione told me that she and Ron will stand with us, and then Professor Snape came and told me about being friends with my mum.” Harry sighed and stepped into Draco’s arms. “He said that Dumbledore told him to. Something about how I could be persuaded to die if it was my duty, or you could learn to leave behind happiness and do your duty, or something. I think Snape is going to help us now, too.”

Draco leaned against him, in wonder. Harry sounded full of wonder himself, and the bond hummed with it, as if it was an unexpected thing that his friends would want to help him. Well, speaking honestly, a hated professor wanting to help him and turning against the Headmaster were probably more mysterious to him.

“I had to come back,” Draco murmured. “The way your emotions peaked and then dropped back again…”

“Thank you.”

And then Harry kissed him, and Draco entwined his fingers through his hair, and he felt a surge of utter satisfaction at the way things were working out.

This was the life he had chosen, and while he would still have wished his mother alive over anything else, he no longer thought it was a bad one.

Chapter Text

“What a place.”

Harry could hear Draco’s voice and feel the bond, but even so, it was hard to tell what he was feeling. There was too much there, Harry thought, all mixed together like the small stones and pieces of glass that made a mosaic. He laid a hand gently on Draco’s wrist and pulled him forwards into the Chamber of Secrets.

They’d come here, the six of them—Fawkes had jumped up and joined them as soon as they entered the school—and Harry found it more overwhelming than he had when he was twelve and here alone. He’d been focused solely on finding Ginny then, and getting help from Tom. He hadn’t realized how large it was, how dark, and how much it stank.

Of course, that was probably the basilisk corpse, which sprawled along the floor a short distance away from them. Its fanged jaws were parted, its eyes still ruined messes of fluid and gore. Harry turned his attention away from it and back to Draco.

Draco was staring at the Slytherin statue, and sometimes at the carved snakes on the walls. He turned back to Harry and shook his head, looking overwhelmed. “I can’t imagine how you fought a snake that large alone,” he whispered.

Harry smiled. He thought he knew what one of the confusing emotions was now: worry, with Draco a little disgusted at himself for worrying when Harry was right thereand not hurt. “I know,” he said, and tilted his head at Fawkes. “But I wasn’t alone, you know, not at the end. I had Fawkes, and the Sorting Hat.”

The phoenix gave a sudden trill, surprising Harry. Harry looked up as the bird left Dumbledore’s shoulder and flew over, hovering above Harry. He shed a few tears that fell on Harry’s scar.

There had been a throbbing pain there that Harry hadn’t even noticed until it stopped, as it did suddenly now. He reached up and touched his forehead, blinking, turning his fingers in several directions.

“So that was where so much of my pain came from. You really have to notice things like that more, Harry.”

Harry rolled his eyes at Draco. “If neither of us could even really feel it or tell where it was coming from, why is it just my responsibility?”

Draco opened his mouth to retort, but Fawkes began to sing. Harry went immediately silent as he listened to it. There was something here, something beyond Fawkes just singing to soothe their anger, but he couldn’t tell what it was.

Fawkes landed on Harry’s shoulder and rubbed his head against Harry’s cheek. Then he turned and flew over to Draco, of all people, and landed on his shoulder, too, rubbing his head up and down on Draco’s cheek until Draco relaxed.

Only then did Fawkes launch himself again, flying up and perching on the Slytherin statue. He sat right on the nose, which made Harry give a little laugh. Fawkes sang for a minute more, trills fading into a small chirp, before he closed his eyes and appeared to go to sleep.

“Do you know why he did that, sir?” Harry asked, turning to look at Dumbledore.

The Headmaster looked just as surprised as the rest of them, though, staring up at the phoenix for a few seconds before he shook his head and turned back to Harry. “No idea, Harry,” he admitted easily. “Perhaps we’ll find out if we spend a little more time in the Chamber, yes?”

Harry just nodded. He couldn’t imagine what else he could say or do. Dumbledore was quiet this morning, looking around as if he wanted to surprise some shadow he thought he saw lurking in the corners of the Chamber. He then shook his head and moved towards the basilisk corpse.

Harry did the same thing, aware of Hermione and Ron spreading out. Hermione was looking around the Chamber with fascinated little murmurs, while Ron studied the snakes carved on the walls with a dubious expression.

“Can we handle the fangs safely?” Draco asked abruptly. “Or are we going to be poisoned by them when we pick them up?”

“If there were such danger in the Chamber, then Fawkes wouldn’t be so relaxed.”

Dumbledore spoke in a voice of absolute authority, and Harry saw Draco’s lip curling in response. He spoke hastily before Draco could say something unfortunate. “I think we can probably handle them. The one I used to destroy the diary didn’t poison me where I was holding onto it. I was already poisoned by that point.”

Draco turned around and stared, and the confusing surface of the bond settled into one overflowing, overpowering flow of cool water. “What?”

Harry held his eyes and frowned. “You knew about that, didn’t you? That the basilisk bit me before I could destroy the diary? I only lived because Fawkes healed me with his tears.”

Draco stood there as if Stupefied for a second, and then reached out and yanked back Harry’s sleeve. He was staring down at the scar on Harry’s arm from the fang with a more than slightly appalled expression.

“I did hear that part of the story,” he finally acknowledged, tilting his head back and meeting Harry’s eyes with a faint frown. “But I never knew…I suppose I never thought about what it meant.”

Harry was glad that Snape wasn’t with them at the moment. Even with the man’s confession the other day, he would still have made a sarcastic remark at Draco’s expense. Harry settled for putting his hand over Draco’s and squeezing.

“I know. But I’m here now.”

Draco opened his mouth to answer, and then Dumbledore said abruptly, “Get behind me!”

Harry turned around hastily. The basilisk’s corpse was moving, or at least there was a stirring and fluttering in the scales near its throat. Harry conjured a mirror immediately and turned so that he was standing between the movement and Draco.

“Stop being so ridiculous,” Draco said at once, and pivoted Harry around with a grip on his arm so they were standing side-by-side.

Harry didn’t get the chance to argue. For one thing, the movement was much faster now, as something purple and silver shot out of the basilisk’s decaying scales at them. Dumbledore intercepted it first, though, swinging his wand around and down. “Petrificus Totalus!

Harry thought the thing was going too fast to be hit by the spell. But a second later, it stopped, tottering, and fell over. Harry stared down at it and wrinkled his nose. It stank like the basilisk, and there was a suggestion of snake about this thing, too, with its low body and long tail and scales.

But most of it was just a four-legged thing. A large lizard? Maybe. It had a long neck, and sharp teeth that gleamed like the poison Harry remembered staining his arm where the fang had gone in.

“That’s a creature I don’t recognize,” Hermione whispered, stepping up behind him.

Draco muttered something, but Harry ignored him. Hermione was clever with magical creatures, even though she’d dropped Hagrid’s NEWT class like everyone else. She was the one who’d figured out Slytherin’s monster was a basilisk, after all. “Does it look like anything else you recognize?” he asked.

Hermione opened her mouth to answer, but Dumbledore got there first. “It’s a moonborn lizard,” he said gently. “I’m afraid this is bad news.”

“What’s a moonborn lizard, Professor Dumbledore?”

Draco rolled his eyes again, probably at Hermione’s painfully earnest tone, but Harry saw the shadow that covered Dumbledore’s face in the moment before he chuckled it away and began to wrap thick chains around the motionless lizard. Chains, Harry saw. Not ropes. He wondered, uneasily, if that was because the lizard could chew through ropes.

“Moonborn lizards are unnatural magical creatures,” Dumbledore said. “Rather like basilisks. But even rarer, because they can only be made from the corpse of a dangerous, Dark beast with the application of Dark magic. Most experimental breeders aren’t willing to spend their time and money on creating one beast, and then killing it just to raise moonborn lizards.”

Draco caught on before Harry did. “That means someone has been here performing Dark magic since Harry killed the basilisk?”

“Five points to Slytherin, Mr. Malfoy.” Dumbledore looked tired, and Harry caught him glancing at his blackened hand, too. “And I fear it means that Voldemort has been here, and he may now know that we killed the basilisk.”

Harry did, you mean,” Draco said, but Harry touched his arm to calm him and asked the next question.

“Do you think he would have been able to sense that the diary Horcrux was destroyed here, too?”

“I fear it may mean that,” said Dumbledore, with a slow nod. He was turning in several different directions as if trying to figure out what spell he could cast that would identify Voldemort’s presence. “But we cannot know for sure.” He turned to Harry and gave him a gentle smile. “I think you should most definitely proceed with the destruction of the locket now, though.”

Harry blinked, because he’d thought Dumbledore would want to do that himself, and had only brought along the others because they insisted. But then he shrugged and moved forwards. He’d handled a basilisk fang before. He knew how to make sure it wouldn’t hurt him.

*

Draco trusted nothing about the situation, including the way Dumbledore’s eyes gleamed as he watched Harry.

What does he want? To see how the basilisk fang affects Harry when he’s holding it? To see if it’s different now that Harry knows about the Horcrux inside him?

That seemed to be it, from the way Dumbledore leaned forwards a little when Harry grasped the fang. But if he was waiting for something incriminating, he had to be disappointed. The fang didn’t smoke or glow or make any noise when Harry took hold of it. Then he turned to Draco, and Draco took out the locket.

“Put it on the floor,” said Harry, without even glancing at Dumbledore. His emotions in the bond were vibrating, but calm.

“Why should I?” Draco asked, and fluttered his eyes at Harry, who looked absolutely stunned in response. Draco held back a chuckle and said in a pouting voice, “There’s no law that says I can’t be holding it when you destroy it, is there?”

“I’m worried about harming you with the fang,” said Harry, which was true enough, if Draco could trust the bond. His policy was to trust the bond unless there was a good reason not to, so he nodded and put the locket on the floor of the Chamber.

“You might want to step back, Mr. Malfoy,” Dumbledore murmured, “just in case Harry misses.”

Draco refused to pay attention to that, his gaze locked on Harry and remaining there even when Harry hesitated. “I trust you,” he murmured.

Harry finally nodded and leveled the fang again. Then he stabbed down.

Draco jumped when he saw the locket flip open just before the fang could reach it. Dark smoke poured out and assumed the form of a boy who stood with his back to Draco. However, from the way the image’s hair gleamed blond, Draco was fairly sure it was meant to be him.

“How could you kill me?” the false Draco whispered. “How could you try to destroy me?” Then he paused and laughed softly, but the sound was full of despair, the way Draco had laughed right after his mother died. “Oh, I forgot. You destroy everyone and everything you come into contact with anyway. I shouldn’t be surprised this happened to me!” His voice rose to a shriek that made a dark wind rip around the Chamber.

Draco stepped back and moved to the side. Harry had actually frozen with the tip of the basilisk fang buried inside the smoke flowing from the locket. His eyes were so wide and the bond thrumming so hard that Draco couldn’t even feel his pain, just a numb panic.

“It’s not me,” said Draco. “It’s not real. I’m here.” He reached out and shoved as many of his emotions as he could through the bond at Harry, forcing him to wake up and realize he had no bond to the figure in front of him.

Meanwhile, that figure was laughing again, the kind of hard, cackling choke Draco had heard Pansy use when she wanted to be sophisticated. “You can’t even do it, can you?” the fake Draco asked, shaking his head. “You can’t kill me when you know you’re going to have to anyway. Everything you earn, you have to give up. No one can spare you from that fate. Not when you’re a Horcrux.”

Harry’s hand twitched for a second, and then, as Draco fed him more strength and anger, he reared back and roared, “That’s not all I am!”

The fang surged forwards again, and this time, it struck the locket lying behind the smoke. Draco heard a rusty shriek. It rang like metal dropped on stone, only on and on. Draco finally gave up the pretense of caring for his dignity, and clapped his hands over his ears.

Of course, a second after he did that, the noise faded away. Draco blinked and lifted his hands. Then he looked down at his feet.

There lay the shattered halves of the locket, with a dark stain on the floor beneath them that was probably from the basilisk poison. And Harry stood in front of him with wild eyes and his hand trembling on the fang.

“I knew it couldn’t be you,” he whispered. “But that was only with my heart. My mind thought…I couldn’t strike because I thought I would hurt you.”

He dropped the fang, which made a softer and, luckily, shorter rusty noise on the stone than the locket had, and grabbed Draco in his arms. Draco hugged him back, and laid his head on Harry’s shoulder. He could feel the bond throbbing between them like a cat picked up and held.

And he was in the perfect position to watch Dumbledore, at last.

Dumbledore studied them with a thoughtful expression, and nodded, as if he was meeting someone’s eyes other than Draco’s. Then he turned calmly away and began to speak to Weasley and Granger.

Draco didn’t bother to listen to the nonsense he was saying. Something about courage and strength and Gryffindor tenacity and all that rot. Of course he would never give the soul-bond he was angry he’d lost control of credit for saving Harry.

But it had, just the way it had managed to pull Harry back into his body when his soul was wandering.

I’m responsible for that, Draco thought in perfect happiness, and tilted his head back to let Harry’s mouth fasten on his.

*

“I witnessed something disturbing in the Chamber of Secrets tonight, Severus.”

I can imagine little that would not be disturbing about the Chamber, if it is what legends have always painted it, Severus thought, but he was wise enough not to voice that thought in front of Albus.

Albus took another sip of the tea he had offered Severus; Severus had refused. Then Albus sighed deeply and leaned forwards. Severus’s expert eye took in the lines of pain and worry on Albus’s face, and he thought they were real. Then again, those lines hadn’t appeared recently.

“The Horcrux we were destroying created a defense in the form of young Mr. Malfoy when Harry tried to stab it with a basilisk fang. It was speaking taunts about how Harry destroys everything he cares for, and was fated to lose young Mr. Malfoy as well.”

Severus only nodded, not sure what so disturbed Albus about that, or what he was expected to do about it. It was to be expected—for a moment, his eyes fell on Albus’s blackened hand—that the Horcruxes would have formidable defenses. The form of this one might have surprised Albus, but its existence should not.

Albus sighed again and contemplated the wall from some grey void that he was the only one to see, and then leaned back and considered Severus closely. “Perhaps you will tell me that I am overreacting.”

Very likely, if I am permitted to give my honest opinion. But Albus wasn’t inclined to listen to Severus’s honesty except when it came to reports on the Dark Lord. Severus contented himself with looking inquiring instead, and Albus sighed again and murmured, “I have come to think that Harry cares for Mr. Malfoy more than for the quest to destroy Horcruxes.”

Of course he does. Otherwise Draco could never have persuaded him to refrain from marching to his death when you asked him to. Looking back, Severus supposed he could admit to his own blindness at that point: he should have seen the side he would have to choose right then.

If Potter wanted to live, then Severus would have to help him live. His promise to Lily required no less.

“And perhaps more for Mr. Malfoy than for his friends.”

“Do you think this because you believe the Horcrux should have manifested images of his friends instead?”

Albus sat up and nodded. “You have a way of putting things I am thinking about into clearer words than I could manage, Severus. That is exactly it. Harry has always been devoted to Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger. The Horcrux should have taken their form if it really meant to defend itself.”

Time to play my part. Severus had had time during the last few days to think about this, though, ever since he had confirmed to Albus that he’d spoken to Potter about Lily. He pursed his lips and looked deeply inquiring.

“You have something to say, Severus?”

“Nothing you will like, I fear,” said Severus, and rolled his eyes a little. That would reassure Albus; it would make his dislike of Harry seem to be continuing, and lull him into thinking all that was normal. “Given your usual reaction to negative remarks about Mr. Potter.”

“Do remember that Harry is involved in a war, Severus, and having to make some very difficult and highly charged decisions.” Albus steepled his fingers together the way he did when he wanted to look like a wise old sage. “Still, I would be interested in your thoughts.”

Of course you would. I am a tool to you, as all the others are, But I am more shaped to your hand, and you do not expect me to cut.

Severus chased the thoughts from the surface of his mind. Even though he trusted his Occlumency walls to hold out against Albus’s probing—they always had against the Dark Lord’s, and Severus knew the Dark Lord a stronger master Legilimens in terms of sheer power—they might influence his posture or the tone of his voice without his meaning them to.

“I suspect that Potter is in love with Draco,” he said, and knew he had adopted the right tone of voice, truth struggling with disdain, when he saw the way Albus’s head lifted. “Or infatuated. That makes it less surprising that the Horcrux’s defense should have taken Draco’s form.”

“But isn’t that bad news, Severus? It means the soul-bond has twisted into something we never intended.”

Don’t include me with your high-handedness, old man.

Severus chased those thoughts away, too, and gave Albus a pretense of serious, respectful attention. “Infatuations never last long. Certainly a soul-bond that has lasted five months is nothing against the years of friendship Potter has with Granger and Weasley.”

“They don’t have soul-bonds with him, though. Miss Granger said something about that to me today. She’s afraid she and Mr. Weasley might not have as much to offer Harry, without that…connection.”

I wish Granger had come to me with that nonsensical concern. Severus kept his face smooth as he shrugged. “From what I know of the interactions of adolescents—more than I wish to know, I confess—”

“Severus,” chided Albus, but his eyes were twinkling in that familiar way. Severus judged he had thrown him off the track from Severus’s real motives, at least for now.

Severus gave him a single look, and pressed on. “Jealousy over intense relationships and friendships is as common among them as are infatuations. Presumably Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley will overcome it.”

“That is not, truly, what I called you here to discuss. I wished to ask you what you thought about the wisdom of a soul-bond connecting Harry to Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley.”

Severus nearly wanted to vomit when he thought about it, about the intense preparations he would have to go through to perform the ritual again, and the way their uncontrolled emotions would slop into each other without the Occlumency that Draco had learned. Granger could perhaps make rapid advancement in the art, but that would only lead to the connections being blocked from one side alone.

And that would lead to Potter becoming less stable, and thus more likely to lose the war as well as being less of the support Draco needed.

“I think it would be an idea undertaken only for the gratification of a Gryffindor’s ridiculous fears,” he said. “The ritual that we used before is adapted to two people, remember, and even that one required some modification as we did not wish to promote the physical safety of the people in question. Finding one that would bind three, and one that would not influence Granger and Weasley with the bit of the Dark Lord’s soul still in Potter, is too difficult and time-consuming for me to recommend.”

In truth, Severus knew mentioning the Horcrux in Potter was his strongest argument. Where he had not cared for a Slytherin’s safety, Albus cared strongly for those students of his old House. His face paled slightly.

“No. Letting Tom gain Miss Granger’s knowledge and experience with spells, or influence Mr. Weasley when he is Harry’s best friend, is not to be thought of.”

Severus hid his own appraisal of two sixth-year Gryffindors’ abilities with a short nod. He started to stand, but Albus stretched out a hand to detain him. It was the blackened one, making Severus pause.

Albus caught his eye, and Severus strengthened his Occlumency walls without even thinking about it. “Do you think, Severus,” Albus whispered, “that since your attempts to persuade Harry seem to have failed, we should approach Mr. Malfoy?”

Severus didn’t have to feign his next words, or his derisive laugh. “If you believe that Mr. Malfoy will ever cooperate in driving someone he is also in—infatuated with to death, I think you have become delusional, Albus.”

“I see.” Albus sank back and looked thoughtful.

Severus shook his head as he let himself out of the Headmaster’s office. He had almost said Draco was in love with Potter, but in truth, Severus did not know that. He had no desire to spend time looking at teenagers’ emotions unless they were about crimes and errors committed with his Potions supplies.

And besides, his instincts whispered to him, the less Albus knew about the soul-bond between Draco and Potter, the better.

Chapter Text

“You had a bad night.”

Harry scowled at his plate. Sometimes he regretted that the bond had no telepathic side, and sometimes he was glad. This was one of those times. It was annoying enough that Draco had picked up on the cause of Harry’s bad mood when they weren’t actually sharing thoughts. He didn’t want Draco to hear the cursing he was doing right now.

“You know, most people think ignoring something makes it go away only until the age of eight.”

Harry had to roll his eyes. “Did you meet some of our classmates?”

Draco leaned towards him. They were eating together in Hogwarts’s Great Hall, at a small table that seated him, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Snape, Dumbledore, and the other professors still in residence—Hagrid, Trelawney, and Vector—without trouble. Hagrid had dominated the conversation with loud exclamations about “secrets” for next year’s Magical Creatures class and booming “whispers” about what Malfoy was doing there. Harry supposed it was a testament to how much Draco had changed that he ignored Hagrid.

“Let’s play it this way, then. You could get away with ignoring this if I wasn’t here. But I am. So talk.”

“Yes, I had a bad night. Dreams that there was a Horcrux somewhere in Hogwarts.” Even the word made Snape scowl at them, and Harry lowered his voice further, although Hagrid couldn’t hear them anyway, and Trelawney only seemed interested in her cup of what was probably alcohol. “Okay? I know they’re nightmares. I’m so paranoid that I’m dreaming about them everywhere.”

Draco’s face had taken on a strange look, though. “Where did you dream it was?”

“In the Room of Requirement.” Harry paused when he felt the blankness coming through the bond. Of course, Draco probably didn’t know it by that name. “Oh. I forgot. The room where you were—working. And the room where I held sessions of Dumbledore’s Army last year.”

“Did you really have to name it that?”

“Didn’t know then what I know now, did I?”

Draco considered this, then seemed willing to be convinced of it. “There were so many old things hidden away there. It would probably make the perfect hiding place for a Horcrux. The Dark Lord would think that no one would look for it among all that rubbish.”

Harry nodded slowly. “But I wasn’t dreaming like I was linked to him. It was just a nightmare. How could it be true?”

“Why couldn’t it be true?” Draco interrupted at once. “You knew the difference between the decoy Horcrux and the real one when we were in the cave. What if you’re feeling some of the Dark magic now because you know you’re a Horcrux and you’re more sensitive to things you would have ignored before?”

Harry hesitated. He wanted to say that he hadn’t ever had dreams like this before, except the ones from Voldemort. But maybe he had. Maybe he’d just ignored them, or forgotten them, or decided they were visions when they weren’t really.

“We’ll check the room,” Draco said decisively, and reached out to snag some toast from his plate, even though there was a huge platter of toast right in front of them.

The bond between them simply shimmered when Harry raised an eyebrow at him. Draco nodded at Harry’s plate. “Because this is warm from your touching it, of course. I’m surprised that you didn’t think about that.”

Which utterly disarmed Harry, of course, and had probably been the whole point. But still he couldn’t help smiling helplessly at Draco, and letting him take whatever else he wanted for the rest of the meal.

Sometimes Ron gave him baffled looks, but Harry only looked at the way he kept trying to take Hermione’s hand under the table without her noticing and saying something, and enjoyed it himself when Ron turned red.

*

Draco looked around sharply as he stepped into the Room of Hidden Things. He couldn’t help thinking he ought to spot the Horcrux at once, now that he knew it was there; he had the Mark on his arm and a lot of experience being around the Dark Lord, after all. He could sense it as well as Harry.

But either Harry did have a special connection to the Dark Lord because of the Horcrux in him or there were just too many artifacts in here with magic that felt similar and could block Draco’s perceptions. Draco turned towards Harry and waited.

For a moment, Harry was turning his head back and forth with his eyes closed, like a dog blindly seeking a scent. And then Weasley and Granger piled in behind them—because of course they were there, of course they had insisted on that—and Harry’s eyes snapped open again. Draco hid a delicate, disapproving sigh and nodded to the nearest pile of rubbish, which had a few broken chairs with silver designs on the back and a moldering tapestry in it.

“Should we start with that? It would be better to have a plan to tackle things instead of just plowing through random piles.”

“Of course it’s easier if we have a plan. We should start with the biggest pile, though, and work our way down to the smaller ones.”

Granger was forever ordering people around and changing perfectly reasonable ideas, Draco thought. But at least he could raise his hands and shrug his amusement when Harry glanced at him, and the bond between them recorded his honest emotions, which weren’t savage. Harry smiled at him in relief and followed Granger and Weasley to the highest pile.

Draco did make sure they were standing next to each other when Harry started sorting through what looked like a mound of broken watches, and murmured, “Anything?”

Harry shook his head. “The problem is that I think he mostly uses Founders’ artifacts, and anything in here could be that.”

“You think so? When there are so many dirty and broken objects here?”

“That just makes it all the more likely that we wouldn’t recognize the value of something when we touched it,” Harry argued, holding a watch up in front of him and squinting at it before he shook his head and tossed it away. “And maybe Voldemort even cast illusion spells to make it look worthless.”

“I don’t know,” Draco murmured. He wanted to say the Dark Lord was too arrogant for that. He would come up with strong defenses for his Horcruxes, but he wouldn’t make them look tarnished or like rubbish, because he would want others to admire them and envy him.

But short of Harry sensing Dark resonances from the right object the way he had the real locket, Draco didn’t know how they would find it in the middle of these defenses. He went back to sorting through chains that had once been connected to the watches, and necklaces, and brooches and rings with missing stones. One of the Horcruxes had been a ring. It was possible that the Dark Lord would have chosen another piece of jewelry, too.

Founders’ artifacts. What do I know about Founders’ artifacts?

Not a lot, Draco had to admit. His family had mostly been interested in their own heirlooms and sometimes the artifacts of other families that they might be able to steal once they’d conquered those families; they’d retained a list of what the Weasleys used to own for a long time after the last Weasel ancestor of note had gambled their fortune away. But the only stories Father had ever told about the Founders concerned Slytherin, and Draco had never even heard of that locket the Dark Lord had housed his soul in.

Sort, look at, toss aside. Granger was using her wand to float the discarded objects into a pile of their own, which Draco had to admit was a good idea, and they were already mostly through the tall one they’d decided to tackle. But so far, they hadn’t come near anything that made Harry flinch and grab his scar, or that felt the slightest bit like greasy Dark magic to Draco’s perceptions.

“I don’t think this is going to work,” Harry finally said. “We could sort through everything in here and still miss it if it was tucked inside a box.” He took a step back from the piles and rubbed at the sweat on his forehead. He was fetching like that, Draco thought, even with the red of his scar glaring through the sweat like a lamp, and had to look away.

“Well, then?” Granger didn’t sound challenging, but out of breath. “I don’t really know a better way, Harry.”

“I know. And it might not be here at all. It might just be a nightmare.”

Harry was casting Draco an appealing look, as if he wanted him to agree with that. Draco only stared back. He had no idea, honestly, but if there was the slightest chance that the dream was real and they had a chance to get their hands on a Horcrux before Dumbledore did, then he thought it was their duty to do it.

Harry only nodded in resignation as though he wasn’t surprised to see Draco’s determination, and said, “I could sense the decoy locket wasn’t a real Horcrux right away. Let me stand still and see if I can feel the Dark magic.”

“There’s too much here to confuse it—”

“But we haven’t felt anything like that yet,” Harry interrupted, with a little glare at Draco. Honestly, though, it was the feel of the bond sending small pellets of ice flying into his face that made Draco shut up. “So maybe there aren’t actually that many Dark objects here. It’s worth a try.”

“Yes, it is,” said Weasley, who leaned back against the wall of the room and fanned himself. Draco held back a snort. Was Weasley a wizard or not, that he had forgotten about the Cooling Charm?

“You only think that because it means less work for you,” Granger scolded him in an undertone. “The way that you used to want me to do your homework for you because it would mean you’d have less work.”

“But you love me for it.”

Draco, with far less desire than the others might have to hear tales of Granger and Weasley’s love life, cut in, “Be quiet for a minute. Harry needs to concentrate.”

That got him glares from both of them, but at least they melted when the pair of them glanced at Harry and saw him standing still in front of the pile they’d excavated, his hands held out. His scar was turning a brighter and brighter red as Draco watched. Draco shivered. Even knowing they would never have been soul-bonded without the Horcrux in Harry, he didn’t have any tender feelings for it. He wanted it out as soon as possible.

He just wasn’t willing to pay any price to get it out of there, unlike Dumbledore.

Harry pivoted slowly to face the back of the room. His hands were twitching now, at the wrists, and his fingers curling back and forth as if he’d been hit with a lightning curse. Then he nodded to no one in particular and started walking towards the far wall, marching over the sliding piles of bricks and books and furniture in the way.

Draco hurriedly drew his wand and started to clear some of the floor, and glared across at Weasley and Granger until they helped, too. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to, Draco thought, but they needed someone with leadership skill to give them some direction.

I just hope that won’t need to give them this much direction if they’re with us when we destroy the next Horcrux.

*

Maybe it was just that he’d been in the same room for long enough now to disregard some of the other impressions he received, but Harry could hear the Dark magic of the Horcrux as clearly as a shout.

He moved slowly forwards through the clutter, his eyes closed and his feet stumbling. If he opened his eyes, he was afraid he would lose the source of the emanations. But the bond with Draco would jump whenever he was on the verge of losing his balance, and Harry would readjust the way he was walking and go on.

The Dark magic came from something solid, and Harry ran his hands up what felt like the back of an overstuffed chair. And then there was something else on top of there. A bust? A statue? His fingers were exploring eyes and ears for a second, and then—

There was something still higher than that. Something thin and flexible, and when Harry touched it, he shuddered. It was made of metal, the way the locket had been, and maybe metal just held Horcrux magic better or something, but Harry knew that he was receiving a much clearer impression than he had been.

Then his hand actually touched the thing, and he opened his eyes in time to see that it was a thin headband of some sort, a tiara or crown or something, before an explosion of Dark magic hurled him backwards into the wall.

The thing tumbled off the bust it’d been hanging from, and to the floor. Harry saw Ron reach out to pick it up, and yelled as loudly as he could, “No! I think it has defenses—the way the locket did when we tried to destroy it—”

That was as far as he got before a dark band crossed in front of his eyes, blinding him, and then pain stabbed his temples. The Horcrux had a defense, all right, but it wasin him, trying to possess him the way Voldemort had in the Department of Mysteries, and Harry cursed and then screamed aloud at the pain.

His real concern, though, was Draco. If Draco could feel the same agony through the bond, then Harry was frantic. And if the Horcrux somehow managed to flow through the bond and possess Draco because they were connected…

There was an echoing, choking laugh in his ears. The Horcrux, laughing and pressing close as if looking eagerly through his ears into his brain.

Yes, yes, I know. You care more for him than yourself. And that settled, why am I here? Why am I not already possessing him? Unless you were willing to trade yourself for him so I would leave him alone…

Harry opened his mouth, not sure what he would say. The pain was so great, and he didn’t want it to continue, and the Horcrux was stabbing as his thoughts and memories with little jabs like bolts of lightning, and he hated it. But he would hate the thought of the Horcrux possessing Draco far worse…

Then it’s all right with you? We have a bargain?

Harry never got the chance to see what would happen if he’d said yes, because the pain suddenly had a whole new target, and he heard the sound of metal ripping apart at the same time, and the black band flew away in front of his eyes as he heard the Horcrux snarl again.

*

We have a bargain?

Draco didn’t know how he could hear the words—perhaps because he was floating the Horcrux in the air in front of him when Harry started to scream—but he knew what they meant, and they maddened him. Harry probably would sacrifice himself to keep the Horcrux from touching Draco, which was romantic and all, but Gryffindor and horrible, and Draco had to keep it from happening.

He didn’t know what possessed him to cast the spell that should start melting the metal of the diadem—because that was what it was, maybe even Ravenclaw’s, the legendary diadem that had been lost for hundreds of years. But he did it, and he heard the same scream down the bond and saw the black band crossing Harry’s eyes loosen and fade.

Then Draco had to turn, because the diadem was flying towards him and it was dripping molten metal on the floor, and it was too, too pitifully obvious that he couldn’t just fire spells like that at a Horcrux and expect to destroy it.

The diadem tried to bind itself around his head. Draco ducked under that. Then he rolled desperately aside from the drops of molten metal, and ended up casting a charm that cooled the silver and stopped it from dripping. It was just too dangerous with the diadem flying around the room like that.

The Horcrux came to a stop, hovering, above a huge pile of empty boxes and snapped chair legs. Then it darted behind it and out of sight.

But Harry was still panting like a dog, and even though the Horcrux had stopped blinding him and speaking to him, Draco didn’t think its influence was gone. He crept over to Harry without taking his eyes from the spot where the diadem had disappeared, and whispered, “Are you all right?”

Harry gave him a fragile nod, and Draco felt the same reassurance come down the bond. What made him really relax was Harry’s solid anger, like lava, burning up or transforming the water that was usually Draco’s picture of the bond. Harry stood up, shook his head, and said, “Where did it go?”

“Behind there,” Granger said, pointing, and took a step forwards.

The diadem came zooming out and straight at her. Draco shouted. He didn’t think Granger had anything that would let her resist, not like the soul-bond with him had let Harry resist. And it made sense that she would hesitate just a little too long at the thought of all the knowledge in the diadem, because she was the most Ravenclaw-like of them, and lose to it.

But Granger stood her ground and coolly cast a wordless spell that made a net rise from the floor around the diadem. It must have been some sort of charm meant to trap birds, because the net snapped together at the top and sides, and when the diadem tried to turn to the side and slip through the space between the meshes, Granger just tightened it. The Horcrux ricocheted around inside, making insane noises when its silver scraped against the net, but at least it couldn’t escape.

Draco sighed and knelt down beside Harry, who had dropped back to his knees. “Is it talking in your head again?”

“Not talking. Just sort of muttering.”

Draco kept his hand supportively on Harry’s shoulder and looked at Granger. “Can you get Professor Snape and bring him here?” Because it was for Harry’s sake, he made his voice polite.

“Right. And Professor Dumbledore.” Granger turned towards the door, shaken, but looking stronger by the minute.

“Not him.”

Granger spun to face him. “But this is serious! This is about Horcruxes, and Professor Dumbledore has done the most research on them!”

“Of course he has,” said Draco. He made his voice less condescending when he saw the way Granger glared at him. She could make things difficult for them, as much as he hated to think that. “But I don’t think he has the best intentions when it comes to me and Harry and the soul-bond, and I could only hear the Horcrux because of the soul-bond. Come on, Granger,” he added impatiently, when he saw her opening her mouth. “Harry was the one who came to me and told me that you offered to help us against Dumbledore. It’s the only reason I trusted you enough to bring you along.”

“What about me, then?” Weasley demanded.

Draco gave him a withering glance. “I thought you’d made your allegiances sufficiently clear by distracting Dumbledore at Grimmauld Place. Otherwise, of course, you’re simply a disease that follows Harry and Granger around everywhere.”

Weasley turned as red as a blood-splattered rose, but Harry spoke before anyone else could. “W-wait, Ron. Please. Get Professor Snape.”

Weasley bent down at once, and Harry relaxed a little at the sight of his concerned face. That reassured Draco. It was the only reason he let Weasley ask the question instead of shooing Weasley away to do what Harry had asked him to do. “Why, mate?”

“Because he knows Legilimency,” said Harry with a sigh, and closed his eyes. He was leaning so heavily on Draco now that Draco was afraid he was going to slump over if he moved. “And he’s been in my mind before. And he helped set up the soul-bond, but he doesn’t want me to just go and die. P-please.”

Weasley gnawed his lip like his teeth needed the exercise for a second, before his face went blank with determination and he jumped up. “Right. Come on, Hermione.”

Granger only raised her eyebrows, as if to say all her protests were exhausted when both her best friends were against her, and followed Weasley out of the room.

Draco sank back down against Harry. “How do you feel, really?” he whispered, seeking out the bond. It shivered with exhaustion, and felt thinned and stretched. Draco really, really hoped that was because the diadem Horcrux, still dashing around in its net, didn’t sit in the middle of the bond between them. He hated the thought of sharing his bond with Harry with that thing.

“Tired. My head hurts. And I want Snape to make sure that the Horcrux didn’t leave anything in me.”

Because that was the exact same fear he had, Draco tightened his arms around Harry, and they stayed like that until Professor Snape and Harry’s friends came through the door.

*

Severus sighed when he opened his office door and found Weasley and Granger there. He sighed harder as he sorted through the confused tumble of their tale and figured out what had really happened.

“So you went after another Horcrux,” he said. “Without a basilisk fang or anything else that could potentially destroy it with you.”

He could still make Granger pale with his voice alone, but Weasley, who’d developed a most undesirable streak of independence, glared and answered back. “Well, the last one didn’t fight back until it was time to destroy it! We thought the same thing would happen with this one!”

Severus simply shrugged and went to fetch a Headache Draught. Clearly, there was no arguing with some Gryffindors. Potter, as much as it pained Severus to say it, was the most sensible one among them, in sending for him.

It was only as he turned around with the potion in hand that a realization came to him. He was preparing, now, to defy Albus openly. Before, he had had the pretense of making his conversation with Potter the one that Albus had wanted him to have.

This, he had no sanction for.

Severus stood still only a moment to say farewell to his old self, the one that had labored under his debt to Albus and hated teaching all the little brats that came through the school and believed he was winning some manner of redemption by spying on the Dark Lord and working with the Order of the Phoenix. Then he took the first step on the road away from that self.

“Let’s go,” he said, sweeping past Weasley and Granger.

He did retain enough of his old self to be amused as he watched them scramble in his wake.

Chapter Text

“Let me into your mind, Potter.”

That was about the third time Snape had said that. Harry gritted his teeth and tilted his head back, feeling sweat streaking his brow where Draco touched it. He was trying.He was honestly trying. But no matter how much Snape kept trying to get into his mind, it was like there was a solid Occlumency barrier there, of the kind that Harry had wanted to use during his actual training.

Why am I so useless when it actually matters?

Draco stroked his sweaty hair back from his forehead and murmured, “I think that proves the Horcrux is sitting in Harry’s mind, Professor. I don’t think he could do this on his own.”

“He certainly could not,” said Snape in a disgusted voice, and Harry heard a clink as he set some bottles down. He’d given Harry the Headache Draught right away, but he’d had Ron and Hermione go for other potions later. “All right. Then I must do something else.”

Harry continued to lie with his head in Draco’s lap, eyes closed, as he listened to them shifting around. Snape was snapping commands to Ron and Hermione in a low voice. Once Ron said something indignant, but Hermione hushed him, and they went back to whatever they were doing.

Finally, Snape said, “Very well, Potter. Come here. Draco, help him.”

Harry staggered to his feet with Draco’s help. His head felt better, but still stuffed full, with a sickening kind of fullness he didn’t think really belonged to him. The Ravenclaw diadem was still streaking around in its net and bumping against the sides constantly.

Harry looked at it, then away. He wondered for a second why it didn’t just lie still, but after all, they knew what it was, and it wouldn’t get away with looking harmless. And it probably didn’t get tired the way humans did.

“Here, Potter.” Snape gestured impatiently in front of him.

Harry saw that Ron and Hermione had arranged some of the tapestries and chairs and blankets into a sort of bed. Draco helped him lie down on it, and then sat behind Harry on the wobbly seat of one of the chairs, still stroking his hair away from his forehead. Snape knelt in front of Harry, frowning with concentration.

“Part of it is that the object continues to draw on your fears,” said Snape. “We must stop that from happening. In particular, I must ask you to look into my eyes and trust me.”

Harry swallowed. He trusted Snape a little more after the conversation they’d had in Grimmauld Place than he had before, but Snape was still asking for something that felt impossible.

“I know,” said Snape, and Harry started until he realized Snape had read that thought out of the top of his mind. He reached out and moved his hand slowly over Harry’s chest, as though sensing vibrations that told him where he should put it, until it came to rest a little below Harry’s heart. “I can read your mind clearing now. Good.”

Harry tried not to glance at the diadem, and Snape nodded, eyes glittering so violently that they looked like jewels lit by fire.

“Good. Concentrate on the people around you rather than the Horcrux you are afraid has taken over your mind. In particular, concentrate on your bond with Draco.”

“Like that’s hard for him,” Draco scoffed, and Harry laughed a little. He turned his head and found Draco smiling down at him with desperate love. His hand had stilled in Harry’s hair, but it still rested there, and Harry reached up and clasped Draco’s wrist.

“It might be hard in another way,” Harry murmured, so softly that he didn’t think Ron and Hermione could hear him. Snape seemed to, if the appalled look on his face was any indication.

Draco laughed very softly, and his eyes didn’t stir from Harry’s face. “Keep thinking like that. Humor and trust. Relaxation. Gentleness.” He lowered his voice and slid his hand over Harry’s forehead again, soothing the scar that had got inflamed. “God, I wish we could talk to each other mind-to-mind. Emotions are nice, but there are times I really want to know what you’re thinking.”

Harry concentrated on the bond as well as he could without closing his eyes. Snape would need eye contact for the Legilimency to actually do anything. “I hope you know how much I love you.”

And he poured golden emotions, thick and stirring as honey, through the bond when Draco’s eyes widened. He flavored them with memories of flying with Draco and making love to him, and Draco’s hand trembled where it lay.

“Good,” Snape whispered. “I can feel the barrier dissolving.” He took hold of Harry’s head and began to turn it towards him. Harry let him pull it. He didn’t need eye contact with Draco to concentrate on the bond, even though it was nice. “Good. Now—”

And there it was, the same sensation of openness that Harry had felt before when Snape was trying to teach him Occlumency, except this time he could welcome that openness instead of despising it. Snape nodded without looking away, and then said, in a whisper as soft as the wings of a bee, “Legilimens.”

*

This time, the barrier was gone, and Severus dropped into the usual churning morass that was Potter’s mind. Potter’s mind was easy to read because it was undefended and Severus was a master at Legilimency, but still, memories flashed and sped past him in an undisciplined chaos.

Severus’s purpose was different now, though. He envisioned himself spinning in one place to look around for the Horcrux.

For long moments, he sensed nothing. Then a pulse of darkness caught his attention from what he regarded as the left at the moment, and he sped towards it like a swimmer cleaving thick water.

The darkness felt old and deeply-rooted. Severus grimaced as he surveyed it and saw the threads snaking away from it into the chaos of Potter’s mind. How had the diadem managed to establish itself this quickly?

Then he followed one of those roots, and felt as though someone had slammed something sticky into his throat and was forcing him to swallow it. Those were far too old to have come from the mere swift possession by the Horcrux that Weasley and Granger had described to him.

It must be from the shard of soul that Potter had carried in himself for most of his life.

When Severus pulled back and hovered, he saw that he was right. The canker sore, the cancer, of the Horcrux within Potter had grown to the point that it was stirring and rippling darkly down most of the pathways in his mind.

But how? Severus had been inside that mind last year, and for all that Potter had never been very smart, Severus knew he would have felt something so obviously malignant. The Horcrux had not been growing like this for long.

Looking around, for as long as it took him to sift through memories, led to another answer. There were paths cut through Potter’s mind like lightning strokes on the bark of trees. The two strongest ran in different directions. One was connected to the glittering bond that tied his soul to Draco’s. Severus nodded grimly. That would make sense. The bond had not worked as Albus wanted, hadn’t freed Potter completely from the Dark Lord’s soul, but it had awakened that Horcrux from sleep.

The second wound was so recent that it could only come from the diadem’s possession of Potter.

Severus closed his eyes and shut out the analogues and half-imagined sights of Potter’s mind in front of him, in preparation for resurfacing. As he did, he wondered what in the world he could tell them. If he tried to conceal the truth, it might let the Dark Lord win, but he hated the thought of what the news would do to Draco.

And Potter, even. The new Potter, the one I know.

Severus grimaced as he popped back into his body and broke the intense eye contact he’d held with Potter. In the end, he could only tell them the truth, at least if he did not want to be another Dumbledore—distrusted because he concealed secrets, and ultimately left behind as Draco and Potter made their own decisions.

“Professor Snape?”

It was Granger, holding out the second Headache Draught he’d sent her to fetch once he sensed what was needed. Severus nodded to her and sipped from it, which gave it more time to work on the subtler kind of headache he had now. “The Horcrux inside you is alive,” he told Potter bluntly. “Disturbed from its sleep by the traumas of bonding and possession. I do not know how to make it go back to sleep.”

Potter shut his eyes once. His friends were the ones who gave terrified little squeals of dismay, not very different, Severus had to admit, from the swearing that followed from Draco a little later.

“Do you think that means we have to destroy the Horcrux faster than even Dumbledore wanted to?” Potter finally whispered, and give his friends credit, they shut up to listen to the boy. Draco had already fallen silent, one hand clutching Potter’s hand and the other his forehead as if he could obliterate Potter’s scar by sheer force of will. “I mean, we don’t have any choice now? Because it’s awake?”

“I am not sure how much speed was a factor in Dumbledore’s plans,” Severus admitted. “I do not know enough about them. He might have wanted you to die right away. He might have wanted you to help with the hunt for the other Horcruxes and die only when they had been found and destroyed.”

He faced the diadem hovering in its conjured silver net. Granger’s work, almost certainly, Severus thought. As though it was impatient with his notice, or thought he should help it because of the Dark Mark on his arm, the quiescent object came to life again, buzzing around and slamming against the meshes.

“The other disturbance to your Horcrux should go away when we destroy the object that possessed you,” he continued.

“How can we do that without basilisk poison?” Weasley folded his arms and looked a little mutinous. Probably had more than his daily modicum of politeness required from him, Severus thought acidly.

“There are other ways,” Severus said. “Other spells that destroy objects completely.”

He saw Draco nod, but Granger was the one who stepped forwards and whispered, “Are you talking about Fiendfyre, sir?”

“I am.” Granger was more deep-minded than Severus had given her credit for. He had almost always thought of her knowledge as broad but of the kind that needed books to spark it. She would be brilliant at modifying spells, but would jump too hastily to conclusions instead of inferring them.

“I thought Fiendfyre couldn’t be controlled,” said Draco slowly. “At least, that was the reason my father gave for never wanting me to conjure it.”

“Your father is wise,” Severus said. “In truth, few have the will to conquer it. Or the hatred.”

“Why does a spell need hatred to end it?” Potter was sitting up, although he leaned back against Draco and frowned at Severus. “I thought you would only need hatred to cast it, the way you do with the Cruciatus Curse.”

Severus opened his mouth to ask how Potter knew that little tidbit, then closed it again. No reason to ask, when he knew the probable source.

“Because the spell will only end when it meets a stronger force of hatred than is required to create it,” Severus said, and ignored Potter’s flinch as he stood. He was going to destroy this Horcrux today. It only made sense for Albus never to find out, but in that respect, their present surroundings were perfect. There were no portraits here to spy for Albus, and Severus himself could not have found this sanctuary without Weasley and Granger’s help. “I can provide that hatred.”

“What do you hate?”

This time, Severus sneered at Granger, who backed up an instant later and looked abashed. “You ought to be able to figure that out on your own,” Severus snapped at her, and stepped past her to confront the silver net.

The Horcrux inside it promptly dropped back to the floor. That confirmed Severus’s intuition that it was not intelligent as such. It had defenses and formidable magic, but it was not “smart” enough to realize that lying low after demonstrating such strength would not fool its captors.

Severus regarded the Horcrux in silence for a few moments, while his memories gathered and pumped hatred into his mind, like a reverse of the process of calling up a Patronus. He remembered the moments when he had turned away from Lily or she had turned away from him, and the moments when he had crouched before the Dark Lord and damned himself for his choices, and the long, long years of self-loathing.

When he finally whispered the incantation for the Fiendfyre, he had long since ceased to be aware of the presence of the children in the room.

But the swift leap of the fire along the old artifacts made him aware of them, if only because Granger let out a ringing cry of dismay. Severus whirled and saw that some flames licked teasingly at the edge of the bed he had them make for Potter. Potter—of course—was late stumbling out of it.

Severus stalked towards the Fiendfyre, and watched some of the faces in the flames turn into lions with mutilated snakes dangling from around their necks. They eased back from the flammable tapestries Potter had lain on and focused on him. Fiendfyre was always more interested in its caster than anyone else, at least until it actually touched those people and made them into flammable material.

The caster was the one who had called it, the one it wanted to consume in the end, the only one who had the power to dismiss it. Severus held up his wand in utter disdain, and the flames roared cheerfully and surged towards him.

Severus turned in the center of a wide circle and glared back at the diadem, now thumping madly in the center of the net again. Those silver meshes Granger had conjured were beginning to melt now from the heat, but so was the metal that made up the diadem. None of the protections Severus thought of as common for Horcruxes could stand against sentient fire powered by hatred.

“That is what I wish you to eat,” said Severus softly, and swung his arm forwards.

The flames, now looking like dragons with dangling intestines, flew up and came down, breathing still more flames through their pointed red jaws. The Horcrux shrieked in a human voice as it began to perish. Severus stood, his arms folded, ignoring the curious tongues of fire licking at the hem of his robes. He had to make sure no shard of soul escaped this trap.

None did. The Fiendfyre closed in on it, and there was a moment when there was a tiny dark dot trapped within a circle of teeth. Severus, if he had looked closely enough, thought he might have been able to see the Dark Lord’s face staring out at him.

He did not look closely.

The jaws snapped shut. The dot vanished, and the Fiendfyre turned and flowed towards him.

Severus held up his wand. He thought again of the way he had felt after Lily abandoned him, of the way that he had felt when Albus commanded him to enact the soul-bond between Potter and Draco, how he had stood in front of Potter to tell him about his mother and didn’t think he would find the courage to defy Albus.

He hated himself more than he had ever hated anyone else, even the Dark Lord for destroying Lily. His had been the words that made the Dark Lord decide on that course, after all.

The Fiendfyre halted and wavered back and forth a moment. One voice, that sounded composed of crackling noises like the kind logs made as they crisped to ash in the fireplace, began to speak. It suggested that he could let the flames eat him, and then he wouldn’t have to endure the hatred anymore.

But Severus answered with wave after wave of dark emotion. No, because then he wouldn’t be alive to suffer for his crimes. And if the Fiendfyre went mad, out of his control, and consumed Draco and Potter and the others, then he would suffer more. His spirit would be a tormented ghost.

He hated everything in those moments, those breathless moments when he fought for control back of the Fiendfyre and was not entirely sure he would get it.

Then the moment passed, and the sudden reeling motion left Severus standing in the middle of a charred pile of broken objects. He blinked and turned his head to find Granger sheltering Weasley, Potter, and Draco behind a strong Shield Charm. It wouldn’t have done much more than give them the time to Summon brooms, but Severus nodded.

“It is gone,” he said, and winced when he heard how hoarse his voice was. Of course, it always sounded like that when he called Fiendfyre. Severus assumed it came from either breathing in the smoke or the effort of not screaming aloud.

“Pro-Professor Snape?” Granger’s eyes were wide. She didn’t drop the shield yet.

“Yes.” Severus waved his wand and banished a trail of the smoke that was curling up from some of the embers at his feet. “The flames are gone.”

“And the Horcrux?” Draco knelt with his eyes fixed on Severus, even when his hands remained occupied with Potter.

Trust a Slytherin to ask the important questions, Severus thought, pride surging. He nodded. “I saw it snuffed out of life.”

“Then…” Draco moved his head a little towards Potter, his eyes wide.

Severus nodded and knelt down in front of Potter, although he took a moment to compose himself. The last thing he wanted was to blast Potter with the force of the accumulated hatred in his mind.

But Potter let his head fall back and his eyes open trustingly, more than he had when Severus was actually taking precautions to make him comfortable, and Severus delved into his mind with another murmured, “Legilimens.”

The lightning-like track of the possession had already begun to scab over, and Potter’s Horcrux had drifted back towards silence. Severus sighed. That wound was at least on its way to healing.

But the soul-bond between Potter and Draco remained, and as long as it did, then the other wound would remain open and the Horcrux tugged towards awareness. Severus shivered. The diadem possessing Potter might not be the worst result that would happen, should the bond remain in place.

He opened his eyes and murmured, “Perhaps if the soul-bond were to be severed…”

“No.”

Draco had the same wide-eyed, stubborn look he’d got in first year when Severus had tried to suggest that he stop tormenting Gryffindors if he wanted to appear to best advantage in Professor McGonagall’s eyes. Severus looked at him and grunted sourly, turning away. He knew after that glimpse that he wouldn’t convince Draco.

Potter was his best choice. The boy had already proven that he would do anything to protect Draco. Severus spoke directly to him. “The soul-bond is moving the Horcrux in you to new life. It might try to possess you or Draco if the bond is left in place. Do you want that to happen?”

“No.” Potter’s word was a breath. He reached up and clasped Draco’s hand on his shoulder, holding it still, while he watched Severus with wide eyes.

Severus nodded, delighted to discover Potter could be sensible even without Granger prodding him to be so. “Then we need to find some way to end it.”

*

“Harry. No.”

Harry only tilted his head in response, but Draco could feel the weight that had settled into the bond. Harry was considering it. Not because he wanted Draco to feel as bad as he did when they were separated, but because he wanted to save Draco’s life.

And he always, always believed the bad news someone told him, rather than looking for ways that good news might be true.

Draco turned to Professor Snape and ignored, as best as he could, the vibrations of the bond that were steadily darkening and turning colder. “I want to know if you think the Horcrux is going to wake up soon.”

“Not as soon as it would if we had not destroyed the diadem,” said Professor Snape, and looked at Draco calmly. He kept his eyes away from Harry, at least. That was an indication of decency Draco hadn’t expected him to show. “But yes, it is waking. There will be nothing you can do to contain it when it does. It will be free to move.”

“What?” Draco demanded. “How do you know that?”

Professor Snape hesitated for the first time. “The bond that you have appears in Potter’s mind as a wound leading back to the Horcrux. It will provide the shard of soul with a clear road.”

“But could it possess us both at once?”

Professor Snape shook his head with a faint frown. “But it would only need one of you to use as a weapon against the other.”

“What if we split it between us?” Draco asked, the idea coming to him just before the words. “Would that weaken it? It couldn’t possess us both, could it?”

“Draco,” Harry whispered, and the bond tensed and tightened. Draco didn’t care, because it also turned lighter. That told him Harry was touched by what Draco wanted to do for him, and at the very least, longed for someone to stand up for him.

“I don’t know.” Professor Snape stood as still as he did when in front of an overflowing cauldron, only staring. “No one has ever proposed such an action before.”

“Well, I am now.” Draco tightened his hold on Harry’s hand and shook his head when Harry might have opened his mouth. “Not now, Harry. Be quiet. Just because you’re not used to people fighting for you doesn’t mean someone should.”

“Maybe that person shouldn’t be you—”

“Do shut up,” Draco told him wearily, and faced Professor Snape again. “I’d like you to look into that again. Please.”

“Professor Snape,” said Granger, voice low. “There’s another possible solution. I proposed it to Professor Dumbledore a few days ago—”

“If that was honestly a solution in your mind and not a clever diversionary tactic for the Headmaster as I had assumed, Miss Granger, then I retract the respect I had for you.”

Granger flinched. Draco wished he knew what Professor Snape was talking about, but right now, he couldn’t afford to lose the eye contact. “Will you look into it?”

After what seemed far too long, the professor slowly nodded. “But do not expect me to find much.”

“I wouldn’t have thought of the soul-bond before we had one,” Draco said, and managed to smile at the professor. “We’ll do this somehow. Thanks.”

Professor Snape nodded, still looking disturbed, and swept out. Draco turned back to Harry. He had comforting to do.

“Draco, I can’t let you take on a burden that should belong to me.”

And some talking, it looked like. Draco settled down to do the convincing, grateful that there was at least a Harry to talk to.

Chapter Text

“Goodness, Severus. You look as though you’d been wrestling werewolves.”

Severus gritted his teeth and simply shook his head. He had once thought such passing references came from forgetfulness—Albus was intelligent, but had too many matters to juggle—or perhaps were some means of trying to reconcile him to Remus Lupin. Now he saw them in a different light.

“Not werewolves,” he said, and took his seat in front of Albus’s chair, moving as though he had aches in his muscles instead of his magic. It wouldn’t do to let Albus know he had been casting Fiendfyre. “A Horcrux.”

That made Albus lean forwards. Severus met his eyes and nodded almost imperceptibly. Albus knew he couldn’t get through Severus’s Occlumency walls by now, and so he wouldn’t try. That would protect more secrets than it usually did.

*

Harry thought half the ideas in the strategy meeting had actually been Draco’s.

“We can’t just do whatever we want, of course,” said Draco calmly. He was sitting next to the couch Snape had Transfigured into a bed in his quarters for Harry. Harry found this intensely embarrassing, but since no one else responded to his pleas to change the place, he’d had to accept it. “Dumbledore has to know something about our plans to change the bond.”

“Change it?” Hermione was quick to pick up on that. “I thought you said you were going to sever it?”

“Oh, I didn’t say that,” said Draco, and smiled at her. “Professor Snape was the one who came up with that idea. I don’t like the idea, so we’re not going to use it.”

Harry, a little irritated at the thought that someone else’s objections got paid attention to, opened his mouth to protest. Draco contracted the bond in a way that felt like a pinch on his brain. Harry huffed and crossed his arms.

“But no one else has ever changed the soul-bond in the way you want to do. Whereas they have severed a soul-bond.”

“And do you know what the consequences are, Granger?”

“Of course not. I haven’t had enough time to look them up yet.”

Harry met Ron’s eyes over Hermione’s hand, and they grinned at each other. Hermione was up-front about what knowledge she already had and which parts she had to look up, and while Draco and Snape might find that exasperating, Harry was only glad of her honesty. It meant he had a good idea where all her knowledge came from and he could look at it for himself.

Honestly, Hermione would probably be thrilled if he wanted to check up on it.

“The consequences aren’t what anyone wants to endure.” Draco’s voice was a little softer than it had been, though, probably because Hermione had admitted her ignorance. Harry knew he found someone trying to pretend they knew something far worse than just not knowing. “They can result in damage to both souls.”

Hermione gaped a little, but then her eyes narrowed, and she said, “Can result. It doesn’t mean it happens every time, does it? Or no one else would ever break a soul-bond. But sometimes, it must be worth the risk.”

“Well, yes, sometimes,” said Draco, and Harry squeezed the bond, because Draco was venturing near the boundaries of condescending. “But since we won’t be breaking this bond, we don’t have to consider the question.”

“You should think about breaking it, though. You heard what Professor Snape said about the Horcrux.”

“But we’re going to alter it before then,” said Draco, serenely. “You’re going to look it up and figure out how we can do that, aren’t you, Professor Snape?”

Harry glanced at Snape. The man looked as though he had barely heard Draco’s words. He was frowning at Harry. Harry blinked, then returned the stare with one of his own. He knew he hadn’t done anything to earn that particular look from Snape, which made it more irritating that he got subjected to it anyway.

“How does the Horcrux feel?” Snape asked, when they had all fallen silent enough to listen. He spoke directly to Harry, and didn’t look at Draco or Hermione. Or Ron, for that matter, although Ron hadn’t been talking as much or appealed to him.

Harry blinked and tried to concentrate. Now that he knew what a Horcrux felt like, he thought it ought to be easier. But then again, the piece of Voldemort’s soul had sat in him and felt like nothing much for years.

Down the bond with Draco came a thrum of support and encouragement. Harry reached out towards that—

And gasped.

Snape sat forwards at once, his face so stern that Harry would have cringed for the inevitable loss of Gryffindor’s points in an ordinary situation. “Yes?”

“It feels—strange,” Harry whispered, his eyes closed. He squeezed Draco’s hand, and without words, Draco knew what he needed and kept the flow of emotions clear and strong down the bond. “I can feel something that leads in the opposite direction from my bond with Draco. I don’t know how to explain it other than that. Something flowing in another direction, something dark and muddled where this is light and clear—”

He reached out even harder after that unknown sensation, and ignored Hermione when she tried to ask him something and Draco when he tried to ask Snape something. He had to get hold of that feeling, or he might let it simply slip away.

And yes, now that he knew what he was looking for, it was obvious, although maybe only because the Horcrux was more “awake” than it had been. There was something brooding in the back of his head. It “felt” like Voldemort had when their link was more open and Harry had been touching his mind in dreams. There were violent thoughts there, and hateful ones.

In a way, it was a relief. Harry had been Voldemort when he dreamed, and it was horrifying to wake up and realize that he’d felt the desire to torture or kill someone as though it was his own. But the Horcrux was separate, and Harry thought he might even be able to isolate it or drive it out of himself with appropriate training.

“—arry!”

Harry jumped and opened his eyes. He hadn’t felt Draco shaking him. He gave him a faint smile and turned to Snape. “I can feel it,” he said. “It’s isolated from me, now, and it sits there wanting things I don’t want.”

Snape gave an even fiercer frown. “Good. But while what you describe accurately reflects what I saw in your mind, that does not mean you would be able to stop the Horcrux if it reached out for Draco.”

Harry hesitated, distressed. Again Draco was the one to answer, and the bond vibrated as though he was forcing something thicker through it than it could carry. Honey, Harry thought, bathing in the sweetness when it actually reached him. The sweetness of trust and belief. Draco wanted to be with him no matter what the consequences were.

Even if Harry couldn’t, in good conscience, allow that, it was good to know Draco wanted to.

“We’ll find some way to contain it,” Draco said. “You told me once that you could do remarkable things with Occlumency, Professor.”

“I know of no way to contain this.”

“But if two people in a soul-bond know Occlumency and one of them managed to teach the other when he had no skill at it—” Draco skillfully ignored the little jab of irritation Harry sent at him “—then they might be able to contain it. Don’t you think so? Better than a soul-bond where neither had any Occlumency, anyway.”

“The problem is that we do not know.” Snape’s face was tight, and Harry stared at him, wondering for the first time if some of it came from anguish rather than anger. “We will not know until we do some experiments. And I refuse to use you as the testing ground for those experiments.”

Harry thought he was looking mostly at Draco, but his eyes shifted to take in Harry, too. That was a surprise. Harry lay there and thought about it while Draco and Snape tangled.

“We could do research—”

“I have been for the past few hours.” Snape waved the book he had been clutching like a cross. “There is nothing in any of the works on Occlumency or soul-bonds that I am familiar with that brings this up.”

“There must be some books that you’re not familiar with.”

“Very few.”

Hermione spoke at last, and her voice was soft, but it pierced through the argument anyway. “What about what we’re going to tell Dumbledore? I think we need to worry about that right now more than whether it’s possible to do what Malfoy wants to do.”

From the thrum of the bond in Harry’s head, Draco disagreed, but Snape sighed and slowly massaged his forehead as if he would get better results that way than a fast massage. “Yes, we must. He will probably know that something has happened, simply because we all vanished at once. But what do you suggest we tell him?”

And again it was Draco who leaned forwards and said, “There’s one thing that he’ll always believe, given his distrust of me.”

*

“And you say Mr. Malfoy came up with this idea?”

“He did,” said Severus, and let doubt paint his face and drip down his voice. It was no longer as hard as it once would have been with Albus, because Severus no longer believed that Albus had everyone’s best interest in mind. “He said that transferring the Horcrux to him would leave Potter free of it, and I must admit that it seems as if it would.”

Albus focused on the far wall, tapping a finger against the desk. Severus waited. He had told Albus that they had slain the diadem with a basilisk fang Severus had taken from the Chamber because he was interested in the properties of the venom for potions. Since Severus had gone to the Chamber this morning and indeed retrieved a fang to make the lie truth, he was not worried about being detected.

That idea had been his contribution to their mutual defense. But the other parts of the lie and the plan had been Draco’s.

Severus sincerely hoped he would never find himself on the wrong end of a plan from Draco. The boy was becoming a master, although only perhaps because he had less to lose now and new things to gain, with his mother dead, his father rescued, and his bonded in danger.

“No,” said Albus abruptly. Severus started and then hid his relaxation. Albus had reacted exactly as Draco had thought he would.

“No,” said Albus again, shaking his head and staring deeply into Severus’s eyes. Severus had to let him do it now, but he readied shields behind his shields. “I don’t think Draco Malfoy could possibly be that generous. What do you think lies behind the suggestion?”

Severus let himself hesitate a moment too long before shrugging. “I have no idea. I think he does care for Potter, and—”

“Severus. How long have we been comrades, fighting for the good of the world?”

Never, Severus wanted to answer. I was fighting for Lily, and I think now that you were doing something else entirely than what I assumed.

But he only nodded a little as if Albus’s words had struck home, which let Albus go on, smoothly, persuasively. “I know you care for Draco as a student and someone of Slytherin House, but there are things that matter more than House loyalty.”

There are. There are indeed. And you created one of them when you bonded Draco to Potter. How is it that you don’t understand that, after all this time?

Of course, it was Albus’s gullibility and lack of understanding that they were exploiting at the moment, so perhaps Severus should be grateful instead of exasperated. But he could not find the gratitude inside him that he perhaps should have, so he only lowered his eyes and nodded.

“Good,” Albus said softly. “So. I need your thoughts, as someone who does understand Slytherins, on why Mr. Malfoy would have done this.”

Severus pretended to ponder, while inwardly he marveled at how the situation had played out exactly as Draco had thought it would. Draco might not be a good manipulator when it came to most people, and he had grown worse since he had decided that Potter mattered so much to him. But he saw further into Albus than Albus did into him.

“I suppose,” said Severus at last, the prepared lie dragging at his throat, “that Draco plans to use the flaw in the middle of any soul-bonding ceremony to destroy the Horcrux shard of soul instead of letting it attach to him. It is the only possible solution to the problem that might occur to him.”

“The flaw in the middle of any soul-bonding ceremony?”

“That two souls do not want to be linked to each other and have their natural boundaries, of necessity,” Severus said calmly. “You know we needed both Potter and Draco to consent to the ritual we put them through. And we needed that similarity of the Dark Mark and the Horcrux behind Potter’s scar.”

“Yes,” said Albus, but not as if he was convinced.

“The Horcrux cannot consent in the same way, and would not want to be bound to Draco,” said Severus. “It would fight if we tried to move the shard of soul. But that it canbe moved, we know, because the Dark Lord removed them from himself in the first place to put them into objects, and this one tore loose to attach itself to Potter.”

“Severus. I do wish you would call him by his name, instead of that silly title that implies respect.”

Severus did not waste his breath in saying that he found the name “Voldemort” itself sillier than the Dark Lord title. “So. If we began a soul-bonding ceremony between Draco and the shard, the shard would fight. There would be at least a moment when it was spending more time fighting us than focusing on Draco. And Draco could use a spell to destroy it.”

“What kind of spell?”

“A Dark Arts spell.”

Severus met Albus’s eyes fearlessly now. Of course only that kind of spell would qualify as one that would destroy a soul. And Albus knew that. He was only trying to make Severus admit to that in the hope—futile by now, he should know—that that would somehow change or challenge Severus’s allegiance.

Albus sighed the rattling sigh of a disappointed old man. His blackened hand flexed for a moment. Severus regarded it with an expert eye. Time for another dose of the potion soon that should slow and control the curse.

And he was no longer sure that the draught he had brewed in the past was sufficient to halt the curse. He would probably have to strengthen the dittany.

“So,” Albus whispered. “That is what he wants to do. He still does not believe me that the best way to destroy the Horcrux is to have Harry die at the hands of Voldemort.” He lifted his head and surveyed Severus intensely. “There is the chance that he could return, Severus. That the Killing Curse would destroy only the Horcrux and not Harry. I am not certain, so I didn’t want to hold it out as a sure hope. But there is the chance, Severus.”

A chance that people other than you would take, so you don’t care about it as much.

There was even the chance that Albus thought he would die before Potter did, so he need not witness what he’d wrought. The thought made Severus swallow a mixture more foul than bile and keep his eyes on the Headmaster as he spoke.

“I think Draco would prevent us from playing those odds.”

“He has so much devotion to someone who was his enemy such a short time ago,” said Albus, in honest wonder. “Why?”

If you had read more about how soul-bonds work before you decided to bind them with one, Albus, then you would know. But Severus refrained from saying so. Albus probably knew that already and was watching Severus’s reaction to his words to try and trick him into something. Severus contented himself with a little sneer.

“Who knows? You seem to think that Potter has the ability to charm people—an ability I have seen no evidence of.”

“Perhaps it did work with Mr. Malfoy.” Albus gave a determined nod. “Regardless, Severus, I hope that you will encourage him away from all thoughts of Dark Arts spells and doing things that may prove—unfortunate when it comes to Harry. We will find a way around the Horcrux ourselves. We need only hold young Mr. Malfoy in limbo for a while longer.”

Severus inclined his head and stood. “When will we begin the next phase of the Horcrux hunt?”

“There is one place I have refrained from looking because it is indeed formidable, and I do not know how to assault it.” Albus gave another sigh, the kind that encouraged the whole world to sigh with him. “I will need to spend some time thinking before I come up with a good plan. But the first priority, of course, is to make sure that the Horcrux is located there at all.”

“Yes, Albus,” said Severus. He wondered if Albus would notice how close it was to a Slytherin student saying “Yes, Headmaster,” but he doubted it. He turned away and started towards the staircase.

“Oh, by the way, Severus…”

Severus turned and raised an eyebrow. Albus had stood behind his desk and watched him now with that twinkle which masked all manner of faults.

“I do wonder how you destroyed the Horcrux with a basilisk fang,” he murmured, “when both of them are in my possession.”

Severus rolled his eyes then. “Did you replace one of the fangs with an illusion, Headmaster?” he asked, making sure to keep his face calm and bland. “It must have been after we used it, then. I am sure the one in my possession is real.”

Albus stared at him, and for the first time in years, Severus felt a brush against his Occlumency walls. Severus stared back, undaunted but quietly furious. He and Albusknew certain things about each other. They had bargains.

If Severus was not going to be able to count on the nature of those bargains any longer, his life would become dangerous indeed.

But in the meantime, this childish attempt to trap them would not work. Severus knew the fang he had was real. He had watched the basilisk poison work on a mouse this morning, and not the most skilled replica could reproduce the effects of the venom.

After a moment, Albus chuckled and waved a hand. “Only teasing, Severus. I took one, in fact. I thought it would be interesting to have on hand in case I encounter a Horcrux alone.” He looked at his hand, and the teasing fled his expression, leaving behind the melancholy layer that he sometimes convinced Severus always backed his emotions. “So that Harry does not have to make the same decisions I did.”

The same boy you are bound and determined is going to die because he doesn’t have a choice? But Severus restrained the urge to lash out. He only nodded, so expressionless he defied Albus to find a crack in his surface. “That was wise of you, Headmaster.”

He left before Albus could come up with any more delaying tactics, his steps so rapid on the stairs that he nearly stumbled off them before they finished turning.

He will not conquer or hold me. Not this time.

Chapter Text

“We need to work on splitting the Horcrux between us.”

“Or severing the soul-bond.”

Draco gave a long, luxurious stretch. Harry was still sprawled out on the Transfigured couch in Professor Snape’s quarters. Draco did think that was safest. Professor Snape could fend for himself in front of Dumbledore, but the Headmaster would figure out something was wrong if he looked at Harry now.

“Would you excuse us, Granger, Weasley?” he asked politely, not looking away from Harry. “This is a matter we have to discuss in private.”

“I think we should be there, too.” Granger’s face was flushed, and she ignored the way Weasley frowned at her. “I mean, I had an idea. We could split the soul-bond between us and Harry, too, and that way, the Horcrux’s influence would be less.”

Draco turned slowly. Only with such words was Granger worthy of his attention. He could feel Harry’s disapproval of his attitude down the bond, but it was almost obscured by the clear freeze of his shock.

“No,” Draco said. “I am not becoming bound to you. That will never happen. And Harry isn’t going to be, either.”

Granger had never heard of the word “stop,” obviously. She plowed on. “You don’t have to be bound to us. It would be bonds that linked me and Ron to each other and to Harry, and you can just stay on the other side of him.” Before Draco could sneer at the ragged metaphorical way she was putting things, she turned to Harry with a melting look. “And in the meantime, we already have bonds between us that are deeper than any magic could make.”

“That’s not true,” said Draco coldly, “or you would have been chosen by Dumbledore to bond with him already.”

“We all know that Dumbledore isn’t infallible. That’s why we’re not listening to what he says anymore. But I’ve done the calculations.” Granger pulled out a page that, honestly, looked like her Arithmancy homework. “The chance that our bonds will take is pretty high. It always is for old friends. And we don’t have the Dark Mark on our arms, but both Ron and I have faced Voldemort now. We know—”

“You were facing his minions, his reflections, not him,” Draco interrupted. “There’s no way that you can simply expect to bond with Harry and have no—both Dumbledore and Professor Snape had to help with the last ritual. How are you intending to do this without them?”

“I’ve already mentioned the idea to Professor Dumbledore, and he approved it.” Granger shrugged, showing she had no idea what keen rage was beginning to cut through Draco. “He wouldn’t have to know the real motive we have for doing it. He’ll probably think Ron and I are going to act as a rein on Harry and keep him more ‘Gryffindor.’ He’ll gladly help us.”

“No.”

Draco thought the word was in his own voice for a moment, except that he would never have sounded so polite to Granger. Then he glanced down and met Harry’s eyes. Harry squeezed his hand and sent calm feelings flowing down the bond before he looked at Granger.

“I appreciate what you want to do,” Harry whispered. “More than you can know. This soul-bond was an enormous risk, and Draco only agreed because it was Dumbledore’s price for trying to rescue his dad. But I’m not going to take the chance that the Horcrux could affect you, too.”

Granger tried to argue, but Draco remained silent. He was turning those last words over in his head, wondering how they mattered to the argument he was trying to persuade Harry of.

“I don’t want to,” Harry said. “I wouldn’t cooperate in any ritual. It’s more than just not wanting to put you at risk. I don’t know what it would do to me to have two more soul-bonds just added like that. Especially when neither of you have any Occlumency training.”

“I could learn,” said Granger, and she had her hands clasped and a smile so hopeful on her face that it pained Draco, and he had to turn his head away. At least he knew it pained Harry, too, from the arrow-shaped ripples that made their way down the bond, although he thought that had less to do with the reasons it did for Draco and more because Granger was his friend. Harry didn’t want to refuse her anything.

“We could both learn,” Granger continued, including Weasley with a wave of her arm. Weasley had an expression on his face that Draco would have liked an explanation of, but Granger was bowling on. “You didn’t know, either, when Malfoy started teaching you. With four people in the bond and two people who know—”

“No.”

And that word came from Weasley, and was, Draco thought in satisfaction, the explanation of the expression on his face.

Granger turned around, her own look chiding. “Ron, you promised me you wouldn’t cause any trouble because you didn’t want to be bonded to Malfoy.”

“It’s not that, is it?” Weasley tilted his head back and narrowed his eyes. “It’s that Harry doesn’t want us to.”

“Really?” Granger whipped back to Harry. “But not really, right, Harry? I mean, more people in the bond can only keep you safe and lessen the influence of the Horcrux, right?”

“We don’t know for certain,” said Harry. He still sounded tired, but he pushed himself up and then off the couch. Draco watched him sharply. Harry didn’t collapse or waver, though. He looked Granger in the eye, and kept doing it until she looked away. Then he asked gently, “Why do you think I agreed to this soul-bond, Hermione?”

“Because you wanted to help Malfoy,” she said, though with an uncertainty to the words that revealed how little she really knew. She glanced at Draco once, then away. “And maybe yourself. Because you trusted Dumbledore.”

“That last part was really the most important,” Harry told her. “At the time, I didn’t really trust Snape. I thought he might sabotage the bonding ritual, if he could.” He turned and smiled at Draco, maybe because he’d felt the inarticulate protest that was forming on Draco’s end of the bond. “It was a long time before I realized that he cares too much about Draco for that.”

“Of course,” Draco murmured, holding Harry’s gaze and not letting him look away even when he thought Harry might look to. “He was my Head of House, and he’d been trying to help me all year.”

“Not that you understood that at the time, either.”

Draco opened his mouth to reply, everything in him yearning towards the untroubled warmth shining in Harry’s eyes, but Weasley interrupted. “So those conditions don’t apply, now?”

Harry shook his head. “Definitely not the Dumbledore part anymore. No, Hermione,” he added, when Granger rushed to speak. “He’s a Legilimens, and he could read the truth out of your heads while you still didn’t know Occlumency. And he might add something to the ritual that none of us would recognize or know about.”

Harry. You can’t think that badly of him. Not Dumbledore.”

“Well, maybe not that badly,” Harry admitted after hesitating for a moment.

That’s all right, Draco thought, and frankly didn’t care how much of his distrust came down the bond. I’ll think badly enough of him for the both of us.

“But I don’t really see any reason to do this except to soothe some people’s fears,” said Harry, demonstrating his version of diplomacy by not saying which people. “I won’t put more people than Draco at risk.”

“We’re at risk fighting alongside you,” said Weasley, his jaw jutting. Draco frowned at him, wondering exactly which side he thought he was on, but then understood as he saw the way Weasley looked at Granger. He didn’t want to be bonded to Draco and Harry, no, and he was trying to come up with arguments that would help Harry defeat Granger’s before she could get them entrenched.

“Not the same kind of risk,” said Harry, and he sounded so calm and appraising that Draco glanced at him in surprise. Harry winked at him and faced Weasley and Granger again. Looking at them when the bond glowed with Harry’s soft, simple affection for them, Draco felt as if he was seeing them as they really were, as Harry saw them, for the first time.

Granger had anxious eyes and too much tendency to trust in authority figures, but she tried to use that for Harry’s good; she was doing her best to protect him. Weasley was a solid presence, someone who had always been there. Given what he knew about Harry’s family and his life in Hogwarts, where even Hufflepuffs turned against him on a regular basis, Draco could see how valuable those things must be.

I’m going to get sentimental and agree with Granger in a minute, if I don’t watch out.

But Draco reminded himself that at least Weasley was on his side—a comfort now where it had been a nuisance before—and inclined his head. “Harry’s right. This is a spiritual and mental risk.”

Granger sniffed. “And you don’t think some of the curses and Dark Arts they would use don’t cause that kind of thing?”

Draco stepped towards her before he could stop himself. “You have no idea—

Harry’s hand gripped his arm hard enough to stop him. Of course Granger had no idea. She hadn’t seen his mother die, she hadn’t seen anything that would explain to her what real life was like in the Death Eaters.

“Let me handle this one,” Harry murmured.

Draco nodded shortly and stepped back. Then he tried to calm the jagged emotions that he knew were flowing down the bond. Harry would do better reasoning with his friends if he wasn’t distracted by Draco’s feelings.

But Harry only smiled at him as if he understood, and turned away. Draco leaned against his back and closed his eyes.

Father could doubt the wisdom of the soul-bond all he wanted, even Professor Snape and Harry could, but the fact remained that Draco didn’t know what he would do right now if he didn’t have Harry.

*

“Draco and I know a lot about each other,” Harry told Ron and Hermione. He could see the caution in Ron’s eyes and grinned. “Don’t worry, Ron, I don’t intend to tell youall the details.”

“Thank you,” said Ron, so sincerely that Harry laughed, and for a second it was like being back in the Gryffindor common room after some chess game he’d lost.

“But we could deal with that, Harry,” Hermione said, drawing his attention back to her. “We already know a lot about each other! You trusted us to take your side against Dumbledore, and we did. I’m not saying that we should bond with you because he approves of it. I think it’s a good idea.”

Harry had to smile. Yes, there was Hermione’s trump card. It was a good idea, if one didn’t know how the soul-bond worked and saw only that he and Draco had got closer to each other.

“Well, look at it like this, Hermione,” Harry said. “Would you want to know when Draco and I are having sex?”

“You said,” Ron murmured mournfully, shaking his head.

Hermione had turned pink with surprise. She let out a wobbly little breath, but there was nothing wobbly in her gaze as she looked at Harry and said, “I could get used to that. And the Occlumency barriers would block the emotions, anyway.”

“Not until you learned them,” Harry said. “And Draco only managed to make me learn it because he was pulled into the dreams I was having because of Voldemort. Do you want to experience the same nightmares?”

“No, I don’t,” Ron said. “You know I’ll stand by your side against him, mate, but I don’t want to be in the middle of your messed-up dreams.”

Hermione gave a little gasp, but Draco, who Harry had thought might be offended, was shaking with silent laughter behind him. Harry nodded to him. “It was hard even having Draco there,” he said, giving Ron and Hermione something he hoped they could understand, and which wouldn’t offend Draco too badly. “It was hard to learn and share. I don’t want to do it again.”

“Even if we could help you, Harry?” Hermione looked at Draco, hesitated, then went on quickly. “Even if we could help keep Malfoy safe because the Horcrux would have more people to focus on?”

“I don’t want you exposed to the Horcrux, either. Bringing more people in defeats the purpose. Draco is involved because he won’t agree to let me sever the soul-bond—”

“Thank you for understanding,” Draco interrupted.

“I still wish you would,” Harry told him plainly. “I don’t want you in danger. I just think trying to keep you out of it by severing the soul-bond would be worse.”

“As long as you know that.”

Draco’s eyes were so intense that Harry ended up looking away again. At least the emotions coming through the bond didn’t feel as strong as that gaze. “I do know that,” he whispered. “Anyway. Hermione, Ron. Thank you for wanting to bond with me. But I’m not going to do it.”

Hermione promptly settled in for a long argument she obviously hoped would persuade him. Harry settled into the long, tedious process of politely resisting without offending her and also without giving in.

At least the sharp emotions coming down through the bond calmed a little, finally, and Draco settled back against his side.

This is the right thing to do. It has to be.

*

“You are still concerned about Harry and Mr. Malfoy?”

Severus inclined his head. He was pacing on top of the Astronomy Tower with Albus, who had Flooed him early that morning and asked him to come up. Whatever Albus couldn’t discuss in front of the portraits must be something important, perhaps Dark. Severus knew some of the older Headmasters didn’t approve of all Albus’s actions.

Severus had gone mostly because he thought it would probably concern Harry or the other Horcruxes.

“I would not be worried if this bond was not as intense,” said Severus, choosing his words carefully. “I think Draco may do something stupid if he is not watched.” Albus looked pleased, and Severus suspected it was both at his putting-down of a Slytherin student and that he didn’t sound concerned about Harry at all. “On the other hand, severing the bond now would only make Draco more inclined to do something stupid.”

Albus sighed and looked out from the Tower, towards the distance where the Forbidden Forest shaded into misty green. “There is that. But I am going to tell you something now, Severus, that must not reach Mr. Malfoy’s ears.”

Severus widened his eyes. “Am I going to be compelled to share it with Potter? Because, in that case, I can’t guarantee it will remain a secret.”

“I will tell Harry and swear him to secrecy myself.”

I outright tell you how intense their bond is, and you don’t listen? Severus turned and leaned an elbow on the parapets around the top of the Astronomy Tower, bowing his head a little. No, Albus didn’t listen, of course not. He had his own prejudices, in some ways as bad as the ones against Potter Severus had once carried, and he let them guide his actions.

“Go ahead, Albus.”

Albus stood looking away from him, a wind moving his silver hair and the sleeves of his robe a little, exposing his blackened hand. Severus studied it critically again. Albus had let Severus give him more of the healing potion last night, but he hadn’t seemed very interested in the outcome. Severus supposed he had accepted his inevitable death.

That does not mean others must.

The strength of the protectiveness in Severus’s thoughts surprised him, and he was still blinking his way through it when Albus spoke.

“I have wondered whether it would be possible to pull the Horcrux out of Harry in some other way. Not by means of a soul-bond ritual, even the one Miss Granger wanted to enact, which might spread the connection between Harry and Tom thin. But a ritual conducted with other Horcruxes.”

Severus straightened and didn’t have to pretend his interest or his anxiety. “You are not talking about Nagini?”

Albus shook his head at once and turned his head gently to twinkle at Severus. “You acknowledge me as a genius, Severus, but I haven’t yet figured out a way to get that snake away from Tom.”

Severus nodded and said nothing. Albus had mentioned another Horcrux before this. Severus waited to see what it would be.

“I believe Tom turned a cup that once belonged to Helga Hufflepuff into a Horcrux,” Albus went on obligingly. “I have been sure of that for some time. The problem has been making sure of where it was—and where it was not.” He spent a moment combing his fingers through his beard. “I have looked in the other places that once hid Horcruxes, although admittedly I didn’t think of the Room of Requirement.”

Severus only nodded and maintained his usual lack of an expression. Albus wasn’t looking at him, anyway.

“And I think now, based on a few finding spells I performed with another artifact of Helga’s,” said Albus, with a windy sigh, “that I must conclude it is surrounded by protective spells of so high a nature, and so many goblins, that it is in—”

“Gringotts,” Severus whispered. He should have thought of that himself. The Dark Lord had plenty of followers who would have vaults and the loyalty to protect any artifact he asked them to, without knowing what it was or whether it was dangerous.

“Exactly.” Albus turned around again, and Severus lowered his eyes a bit. “But it is hard to determine what vault it is in, even so. I can bring up various magical signatures through the connection between the cup and the artifact I have, but I recognize none of them.”

“You think Draco might,” Severus said flatly. He knew without asking that that was the main reason Albus had brought him up here, and also that it was dangerous.

“Yes,” said Albus. “And if he does, then we can focus our efforts on getting that one Horcrux out of whatever Death Eater vault it’s in, and then we don’t need to risk Harry’s life or young Mr. Malfoy’s.”

Albus was probably right. The problem was, once Severus had turned to distrusting him, then he had no guarantee that was so. He turned his head and looked blindly across the sleeping castle, the still pitch, the misty Forest. He felt Albus come up behind him and didn’t react when the man touched his shoulder.

“I know that this is unexpected,” Albus said soothingly. “I didn’t suspect such a ritual existed myself until I ran across a reference to it in one of the books I was reading for a different purpose. But I promise that I can save both Harry and Mr. Malfoy with this.”

“What would the ritual require?”

“For Mr. Malfoy to walk through fire.”

Severus turned around, glad that he had suddenly discovered a road back to morality. “And you think that safe enough for me to recommend the ritual to them? Are you out of your mind?” More than usual, he added silently.

Albus smiled as if he had heard the extra words and didn’t mind them at all. His eyes were locked once again on Severus’s face, and he also didn’t seem to mind when Severus turned aside again. “I think it would be safer than having him try to battle Voldemort face-to-face or sever the soul-bond. And those are the things that will happen if we leave them to happen. Don’t you think so, Severus?” he added softly.

It probably would be, Severus acknowledged to himself. But only because Draco had lost all sense of proper boundaries with Potter, and wanted to be with him and help him face all his demons endlessly.

“Tell me more about the ritual.”

Albus beamed and proceeded to do so, while Severus made as calm a face as he could and nodded continually.

I will need to investigate this ritual and carry the knowledge back to Harry and Draco and Harry’s friends, at least. That is not the same as cooperating with Albus or agreeing that he knows best.

I hope.

Chapter Text

“Thank you. I know it was hard for you to resist them.”

Harry sighed and bowed his head. He and Draco were still in Snape’s quarters, with Draco massaging his shoulders on the couch, even though Harry would have thought Snape would come back now and kick them out. And they had survived the discussion with Ron and Hermione.

“It was hard,” Harry admitted, rubbing his hand against his cheek. “I understand why Hermione wanted to bond with me—us.”

“Did you also understand that Weasley didn’t?”

“I picked up on that, yes,” Harry said dryly. “Somewhere around the time when I had to admit that Hermione made a good point with one of her arguments and I caught sight of Ron shaking his head frantically behind her.”

Draco made a rough sound, while the bond dumped more emotions on Harry. They were so thick and mingled that Harry couldn’t make sense of them all at once. He could feel relief and fear and exasperation and…

“You know,” Harry said, rolling over so that he could take one of Draco’s hands, “you haven’t told me if you’re okay.”

“I wasn’t hurt in the same way you were,” said Draco, his gaze aiming somewhat over to the side of Harry’s head.

Harry tapped him on the nose, which apparently was unexpected enough to make Draco jerk his head around and stare at him. “Listen to me,” Harry said. “I can feelwhen you’re disturbed. Given that, do you think it’s wise to act like you can lie to me?”

Draco opened his mouth as if he was going to rebel for a second, then gave a complicated noise, and the emotions in the bond cleared out a little. “Mostly, I was afraid of what you would say if I told you the real reason that I didn’t want us to bond with Granger and Weasley.”

“Try me.” Harry squirmed around so that he was facing Draco, and resisted when Draco tried to start massaging his shoulders again. “Look, that’s nice, but I can’t relax completely as long as my bondmate is feeling bad.”

Draco started to answer, then paused. Even though the bond vibrated clear and bright with amusement, his expression was one of outrage. “You sneaky little manipulator.That sounds like something I would say.”

“What can I say? I have a mentor in the fine art of manipulation, one I’m rather—close to. It would be strange if none of the lessons had rubbed off.”

Draco gave him a temperate smile, and massaged the back of his own neck for an instant. Harry waited. He had grown used to the techniques that Draco used to put conversations off, too, and he knew Draco was never patient enough to outwait someone determined to talk to him.

“Fine, then,” Draco said. “I didn’t want to have you share bonds with them because the bond we have is important to me.” He gestured between them before Harry could open his mouth, and added, “And it’s important in a selfish way. I want to be the only one to have a soul-bond with you.”

“Well,” said Harry as gently as he could, “there is that little problem with Voldemort, you know.”

“Why do you think I’m so determined to see him dead?”

Harry pulled on Draco’s arm, and Draco ducked his head. “All right,” he said, in a muffled voice. “It was mostly for my mother at first. But for a long time now—” and he raised his head in a way that made Harry unexpectedly freeze, pinned with those bright eyes “—it’s also been because of you.”

Harry shook his head. He wanted to say all the things that applied with Ron and Hermione, too. He wanted to say that he didn’t want to risk Draco, that this didn’t have to be his war, that just because they were friends didn’t mean Draco had to fight the same battle.

But the situation was different with Draco, of course. He would probably die if Harry died. He would certainly feel it. They were linked at the soul. And Harry didn’t think he would hide any longer from what that meant.

There was nothing he could say that would change or damage that, at least not more than he had already accidentally damaged it with little insinuations. There were ways he could put it right, though, and Harry leaned forwards and put one of them into practice.

Draco froze and made a blurting noise as Harry kissed him. One of his hands rose as if he was going to caress the back of Harry’s neck and burrow his fingers into the hair there, the way Harry wanted him to, but then it froze, too. And Harry felt the bond snap as taut and tense as Draco’s thighs suddenly felt under him.

Harry pulled back and tried to smile as calmly as he could, although he thought his burning eyes rather destroyed the image. “Well? Don’t I get a kiss back?” He pouted and lowered his head a little. “Or are you not that kind of man?”

He was teasing, of course he was teasing, but Draco’s eyes still took fire before he pressed Harry back and down and began to kiss him so hard that Harry felt his lips numb a little instead of swell.

At least this was something they could both do, instead of having to talk about facing the Horcrux one by one, and Harry got his hands under Draco’s shirt and hissed a little as he felt the skin there. He’d felt it before. Apparently it made no difference to his sense of touch.

Or maybe that was partially Draco, absorbed in wrestling with Harry’s shirt, too, and projecting satisfaction and lust down the bond.

Then Draco broke free again, and Harry looked up, ready with some choice words for Ron and Hermione if they’d dared to come back and interrupt them. But it was Draco who had interrupted himself, and he had his hand over his face and his skin going such a bright red that Harry glanced at the door anyway.

“We can’t do this here,” Draco whispered.

“Yes, we can, Draco,” Harry said, and started at the sound of his own voice, thick and rough and rich with resonances that poured down the bond. He concentrated on the bond, on making sure Draco could feel all he felt, and saw with satisfaction the slight glaze that took over his eyes. “We can—”

“These are Professor Snape’s quarters, though.”

Harry froze, and then scrambled off the couch, pulling down his robes so that they covered his groin. Draco followed, laughing quietly, and put an arm around his shoulders to guide him to the door.

“We need to go somewhere that we can’t be disturbed,” Draco whispered, his voice making little hairs on Harry’s earlobe that Harry had never known about stir. “I’d like that very much.”

Harry nodded to him, and then considered. Gryffindor Tower meant Ron and Hermione might walk in. There was no one else in the Slytherin dungeons right now, and they were closer, but Harry still felt reluctant to try sleeping together in a bedchamber gloomy from the lake being so close and probably with snakes crawling around the bedposts.

“Let’s go back to the Room of Requirement,” he said.

Draco tensed his shoulders, but Harry projected reassurance, calm and golden as honey, down the bond, and Draco finally nodded.

*

Draco hadn’t fully absorbed that the Room of Hidden Things could become other rooms until he watched Harry pull open a door made of thick ebony, banded with iron, and saw a softly blue and green room with tapestries of lions and knights on the walls, and a huge bed in the center, in front of a fireplace that stretched the length of the room.

“You like some decadent luxury after all, I see,” Draco said in a stunned voice as Harry urged him inside.

“Well, when I’m about to get naked I like to be warm.”

That spun Draco around before he could even think about it, and he kissed Harry hard enough to make his own tongue sting from where it was driven against his teeth. Harry looped his arms around Draco’s neck, too, and his eyes were brilliant, his neck arching as he begged for another kiss.

Draco sent as much joy as he could down the bond. Harry’s eyes rolled back in his head, and Draco had to catch him as he almost fell.

“Let’s wait…until we get on…the bed.”

Harry couldn’t get that much breath into his lungs, but Draco knew what he meant, and agreed entirely. He pulled Harry over to the bed and settled him, his fingers skimming the sheets for only a minute before he shook his head and told himself not to be an idiot. He’d almost undressed Harry in Professor Snape’s quarters anyway. He could do more than that here, now that they were alone.

“I trust you.”

“I know that,” Draco snapped, and tried to accompany it with a haughty glare back. It didn’t work very well when Harry’s eyes were so patient and so bright, so on him, his hand reaching out to give Draco’s a small squeeze.

Draco swallowed and finally pulled Harry’s shirt off. Then he tried his trousers. Those at least came off more easily. And then the pants were down, and Draco froze and stared in spite of himself.

“You saw it before.” Harry was twisting, breathless, sleek as a snake.

But I didn’t intend to do then what I intend to do now. Draco shook his head and sent more reassurance down the bond. He didn’t want Harry to think his nerves were Harry’s fault.

But his hand still trembled as he reached out and stroked Harry’s groin, his erection down to the tip, making Harry hum and press closer, rubbing himself against Draco’s hip. Draco was shaking with desperate longing, and he finally decided that the only way to deal with this was to get naked as soon as possible.

He pulled his robes off. Harry tried to help, but Draco gave him such a fierce glare and blast of emotions that he raised his hands and lay back, only his eyes moving over Draco’s body. That was still enough to make Draco hot and ready to burst. He sat on his heels and closed his eyes until he calmed down a little.

Then he said, “You know what I want to do.”

“I think I do.”

And you don’t need to spell it out more than that. Draco had never been so relieved. He gave Harry another shaky smile and looped his hands in his pants, tugging them off. He knew some wizards swore by wearing nothing under their robes, and that certainly would have been an advantage now, but on the other hand, Draco had never been able to bear that much itchy fabric on his skin.

I’m babbling. Can you babble in your head? Well, if the bond between me and Harry was telepathic, then we would probably find out. He’d be babbling all the time…

And I’m doing it again.

Harry’s hand finally reached out and squeezed his. “It doesn’t matter if some things go wrong the first time, Draco. Do you know how many chances we’re going to have to practice to get it right?” His voice was threaded with laughter. “How many times did you have to practice Quidditch before you got it right?”

Draco opened an eye. “That comparison isn’t as comforting as you think it is, Mr. Natural-Talent-on-a-Broom.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Harry rolled his eyes and pressed his hand against his chest. “Should I deny my natural talent to make you more comfortable?”

And then he abruptly changed tones, and flopped back on the pillow, and lay with his eyes all hot and bright and there. His voice lowered until it sang along Draco’s nerves. “Show me your natural talent, Draco. It’s your turn to win now.”

“It was always my turn to win,” Draco snapped back, but he couldn’t help but feel a little more unnerved. He ran his hands slowly down Harry’s shoulders, because nothing there was unsafe or could give a direct comparison with the time before this, when they’d sucked each other off.

“It’s all right, Draco.”

Harry’s voice was deep, but not serene. His hands were reaching out, urging Draco down, to press down harder, take what he wanted. Draco finally swallowed, nodded, and did as Harry was asking, or commanding.

The bond thrummed between them, sparking with desire. Draco grew more and more confident as he watched the way Harry shifted towards his hands, uttering little moans when Draco found some particularly sensitive patch of skin. Some of those patches were where Draco would never have thought they would be, scattered in random places on Harry’s hips and the side of his legs and the side of his arms. There was one near his left elbow that nearly sent him into spasms, and made him grab Draco’s hand with his and hold it there.

Somewhere between feeling Harry’s intense pleasure down the bond and watching him writhe under Draco’s touch, a new thought came to Draco.

No one else knows this about him. No one else has ever touched him this way or found these places. He might not even know about them himself.

Draco leaned over after that and fastened his lips hungrily on Harry’s, because the thought energized him like nothing had. He found himself kneeling on the bed, straddling Harry’s hips, and panting because it was so good, so hot, the burning center just beneath him was what he wanted—

And Harry’s gaze caught his, and shivers vibrated through Draco, making him arch as if that gaze was a hand.

This is what it can be like between us. And I don’t give a damn any more if this would have happened without the bond. What I know is that I want it, and Harry wants it, and no one can stop us from taking it, and we’re going to have it.

Draco’s first attempt to conjure lube was ruined because his hand was shaking too hard to cast the spell the right way. Harry reached up and clasped his wrist, guiding the wand in the slow, wide circle required. Draco’s lips still formed the words of the incantation by themselves, but Draco could almost sense Harry’s voice echoing down the bond, holding and supporting his, cradling the words in both their intentions.

This is the way it should be. With both of us, doing exactly what we want to do.

That reminder that Harry wanted this as much as he did steadied Draco’s hands. He leaned in and kissed Harry, and Harry kissed back, wriggling as if he was seeking the lube out with his arse. Draco laughed and restrained him with one hand in the center of his chest. Harry relaxed long enough to flutter his eyes at Draco a little.

“I want it,” he said.

“Yes, I know,” Draco said, and he reached down and back. In the end, he had to let his hold on Harry go so he could reach properly. He wouldn’t have thought Harry was that long when he was covered up by robes that seemed to dwarf him, but apparently he was.

Harry only arched his neck and looked interested as Draco slowly parted his cheeks. There seemed to be another sensitive spot for Harry right near the outside of his hole, and a second later, he wasn’t watching Draco because his eyes had drooped shut and he was uttering little hisses between his teeth.

Draco covered his fingers with lube and slid them into Harry while he was doing that.

The little hisses stopped. Harry tilted his head and held it there, at such an unnatural angle that Draco winced and nearly pulled out again. “Harry? Are you all right?”

“Just—getting used to a new sensation.” Harry’s words were strangled, and he blinked several times as he opened his eyes again. “It’s so—new.”

Draco smiled at those words, although his heart beat fast enough and the bond shook hard enough that he waited until Harry had relaxed a little. Then he slid his fingers back in and deeper, carefully probing. He had no idea, not really, how to make this less painful for Harry. It wasn’t like they’d had time to read about sex instead of Horcruxes.

But Harry seemed to have reached the point where he could do it on his own. He spread his legs wider, held his thighs up with his hands when Draco asked him to, and submitted to Draco’s fingering without a murmur. At least, he did until Draco touched something else he had known was there but not made a point of searching out.

Oh.”

Draco touched Harry’s prostate again and again, and Harry finally tossed his head and said irritably, “Don’t keep doing that unless you want me to come before you even get inside.” His breathing was heavy, sweat forming under his eyes.

“I might want that,” Draco said, shocking himself with how low his own voice sounded. He prodded with another finger, and Harry curled up tight, his feet leaving the bed as if he wanted to kick an invisible attacker.

Draco paused, but didn’t take his finger out, because the bond was so bright that it felt as if a star had exploded in his temple and was beaming the light down into his mind. “Harry?”

“Sorry,” Harry said, not sounding sorry at all. He unbent his legs and rested them on the bed again, then opened blurry eyes to stare at Draco. “But I give you permission to continue going, because that feels really, really good.”

Draco could smirk now, confident and back in control, and stretch out his fingers to prod around once more. The inside of Harry’s arse felt as hot as coals, and Draco added another finger, then smeared some more lube on his own cock. He bucked, but almost absently. His hand felt good, sure.

But he was mostly thinking about how good it would feel to finally be inside Harry.

When he lined himself up at last, Harry reached out and gripped his own legs again. His eyes were bright but weary and hazed, and Draco paused, making sure that his cock was in place and that Harry was focusing on him.

“Oh, this is another attempt to make sure I’m fine with something I’ve already shown I’m fine with?” Harry asked suddenly. He rolled his eyes and lifted his legs higher and wider, making his hole shine from the lube in a way that caused Draco’s breath to stutter uncomfortably. “Do your worst.”

Of course, what Draco really did was his best, sliding slowly forwards and down, cushioning himself with his hands on Harry’s hips and a rest against his arse when it felt too sudden, too overwhelming, even despite the pace. He bowed his head, panting, and the bond flared brighter and brighter with what felt like the light of that star.

“Draco.”

Draco opened his eyes. Harry’s were mostly closed, although Draco could see a little flare of green under the lids, and his face ablaze with delight.

“It feels good, it feels good, it feels good,” Harry half-chanted to himself, sounding like the words were a revelation.

“Yeah, it does,” Draco whispered, and went with the motion of his hips, the natural thing they wanted to do, which right now was a mad rut against Harry’s arse. Harry didn’t seem inclined to stop him, with his eyes tumbling back in his head and his hands dancing weakly on the blankets of the bed.

And the bond…

The bond was the reason this felt so good, Draco thought, dazed and fighting his way through what felt like waves of great golden dizziness. There was the bond not at the edge of their minds but all the way in the center now, and whips of crackling, shared sensation striking through them.

Draco almost thought it would never end, that he and Harry would simply rut and rock back and forth like this for as long as the Room of Requirement would let them, for as long as the fire burned.

But then Harry squeezed Draco, hard, down and beside him and all around, and began to come. Draco did it at the same instant, taken entirely by surprise. The bond pulled them after each other, as if their souls had the experience instead of their bodies.

After Draco finished falling through intense white radiance and reached the bottom and found Harry waiting there for him, there was soft silence for a little while. Draco lay on something and honestly didn’t know what it was, Harry or the blankets. His own panting was hoarse in his ears.

“Draco?”

Draco let out a soft little grunt. He didn’t know what Harry wanted, but he wanted to be left alone.

This time, the bond was blue-green like the sea with amusement. Harry pushed his hair gently back from his forehead and murmured, “We don’t have to leave yet, but I want to send a Patronus to let the others know where we are. Can you move so I can reach my wand?”

Draco started to respond, and then a sharp yawn split his lips. “Don’t know,” he said sulkily, rolling to the side and letting Harry pick up his wand. “How much movement is it going to involve?”

Harry chuckled and kissed his forehead. “No more than this,” he said, and conjured the Patronus. Draco couldn’t help but notice, and feel smug, about how quickly the Patronus came out. No question about what memory he’d used for this one.

As Harry gave the message to the stag to carry, Draco closed his eyes further. He was exhausted, and so was the bond, which felt thick and dull, like it couldn’t carry any more emotion after the intense ones it had been.

But when Harry cuddled close to him, Draco felt the contentment, all rose and gold, and smiled without looking at him.

Yes, this was good. I knew it would be.

Chapter Text

 

“Is Dumbledore insane?”

Harry would have laughed at the words, but it was clear Draco meant them. Snape had just told them about Dumbledore’s proposed solution when it came to finding the next Horcrux. And now Draco sat there with his head in his hands, and Snape watched him.

They were once again back in Snape’s quarters, and there was a dusky red fire burning on the hearth. Harry looked at it bleakly and wondered why it seemed so much darker to him than most ordinary fires.

Maybe just the news.

He turned back to Snape, who had a tumbler full of some strong drink on his knee. Harry knew it was strong because he could smell it, and the scent made his nose itch. He tried to keep his voice as calm as he could. “What do you advise, sir?”

“Albus has made his demands clear. If you refuse to cooperate on this, then he’s going to start wondering what else you’re doing.”

Harry sighed and rubbed his scar out of habit. Draco reached out and caught his wrist, turning his hand over so they could link fingers. Harry smiled at him in thanks and then faced Snape again. “We’ll have to let him wonder, then. There’s no way Draco can walk across fire, and for such a—a nebulous goal. What would happen if he did it and then didn’t recognize the magical signatures of any Death Eaters? Or what happens if the Horcrux isn’t in Gringotts? These are just guesses on Dumbledore’s part.”

Snape raised his eyebrows slowly, as if he was considering something deep and interesting, and then nodded. “Your vocabulary has improved from your Potions essays.” He swallowed more of his drink, whatever it was.

Harry leaned forwards so far that he was secretly impressed with himself for not tumbling from his chair. “This is serious.”

“I know that.”

Harry started to speak again, but Draco put a hand on his arm, and a moment later, Snape cut him off with a gesture. “I’ve told you what Albus wants, Potter. That doesn’t mean I know how to convince him that it’s not what he wants, but I’m thinking about that. For now, I’d rather think than listen to your nebulous concerns.”

Harry leaned back with a mutter, and listened to Draco talking to Snape. They seemed to be talking about potions that would let Draco resist the fire, and from there they went on to theoretical magical concerns that Harry couldn’t follow. Draco was alert but relaxed, and Harry wasn’t getting a lot of worry or explanation down the bond.

But it made him want to be doing something, since he couldn’t join in their discussion. As he sat there, he knew he could come up with a plan. But Draco wouldn’t let him out of his sight so that Harry could actually do something about the plan. That was a problem.

The only thing to do was to wait until tonight, when they would separate again, and then write an owl.

And Harry wasn’t sure that he would follow through with what he’d decided. It might be that it would turn out differently than he thought it would. But he knew he had to do something, or go utterly crazy for lack of being able to help.

*

Draco kept a careful eye on Harry. They’d just come out of Professor Snape’s quarters, and Draco thought they would stay together, perhaps sleep in the Room of Requirement again. They hadn’t done very much today except talk to Snape and listen to what he’d said about Dumbledore’s plans to find the next Horcrux, but that was enough. It was a lot to think about, and Draco wanted to hold Harry in his arms and talk before they went to sleep.

It seemed Harry had other plans—something Draco had known from the way the bond had started thrumming when he was halfway through his conversation with Snape. Now Harry was yawning and stretching theatrically, and he craned his head towards Draco with another yawn. “I’m awfully tired.”

“So am I,” Draco said, and smiled a little when Harry looked at him. “Well, you know. Tired mentally and morally.”

“So am I,” Harry said, and the bond turned green and gold with what Draco thought were probably his true emotions. Then he coughed and added, “I mean, enough that I don’t want to—do anything other than sleep tonight,” and the bond turned muddy green and brown again.

“Oh, is that it?” Draco asked.

“Right. So, if it doesn’t bother you too much…” Harry trailed off, but Draco stood there, smiling and not being helpful, until Harry said a little desperately, “I thought I’d sleep in Gryffindor Tower tonight.”

“And I could sleep in the dungeons?”

From the glare Harry gave him, Draco still wasn’t being helpful in the right way, but Harry wasn’t about to say so. He nodded and tried out another yawn, which Draco looked through. “We could? If you don’t mind?”

Draco rolled his eyes and decided he was done with pretenses. Honestly, he should have put a stop to this earlier, when he began to sense Harry’s busy planning, but he’d been debating a delicate point with Professor Snape then, and hadn’t wanted to back off the conversation. “I don’t think you should go to Dumbledore or Voldemort, Harry.”

Harry leaped as though Draco had pinched him, and came down glaring at him harder than ever. “I wasn’t going to go to Voldemort!”

“As though Dumbledore’s much better at the moment.” Harry opened his mouth, probably to say something in defense of his old mentor, and Draco continued, talking over Harry out of necessity. “They both want you dead!”

“Dumbledore would kill me for a specific reason—”

Harry stopped, probably because he’d realized how stupid he sounded. It would be hard not to, Draco thought, with Draco’s glare cutting through him. Harry glanced away and sighed, and sounded more normal when he spoke again, thank goodness.

“All right. I know. But I thought I might be able to talk to Dumbledore and come up with another way to find this Horcrux than having you walk through bloody fire. Or I might be able to work out whether he’s really going to depend on this, or it’s a cover for his real strategy.”

Draco sighed and put his arms around Harry. Harry stood stiff, for a second, as if he was expecting an explosion, and then he hugged Draco back.

“I might have known it would come from you trying to spare me,” Draco whispered. “Idiot. You’re such a beloved idiot.”

Harry said nothing, but Draco could feel the bond relaxing and contracting in regular pulses, like it was a heart pumping blood. That usually meant Harry was thinking. And Draco didn’t want to discourage the thinking, but when Harry did it on his own, he often got into trouble.

As witness this, he thought dryly, and brushed his hand across Harry’s cheek and up through his hair until Harry was paying attention to him again. “What is it? Do you think Professor Snape can’t protect me? That I can’t protect myself?”

Harry flushed hard enough that Draco could see the tips of his ears gleaming with embarrassment, and he shook his head. “Of course I don’t think that. Professor Snape probably knows more curses than I do, and…” He trailed off.

“You don’t want me to fight,” Draco guessed, with a faint sigh. “You don’t want to risk me the same way you didn’t want to risk your friends by exposing them to the Horcrux.”

Harry immediately pulled back and gave him a doubtful look. “Don’t think that I’m exposing you to the Horcrux on purpose. I didn’t know it would be a danger to you when we bonded, or I would have refused then.”

Draco paused. He had expected Harry to say that he hadn’t really known Draco when they bonded, so he hadn’t thought of him as in danger from the Horcrux, but of course that wasn’t Harry. Harry cared about everyone, even strangers.

At least when it comes to facing dangers that he thinks it’s his duty to face alone. Draco narrowed his eyes a little and folded his arms. “I didn’t mean it that way. I mean that you’ll always try to protect people who matter to you. This is another instance of it.”

“Yes,” Harry said slowly, while the bond pulsed as if he was trying to figure out what problem Draco had with him putting himself in danger.

It was hard to avoid rolling his eyes, it really was, but Harry must have picked up some of his true emotions through the bond and was already giving Draco an offended look. Draco held back a snort and said succinctly, “I don’t want you to put yourself in danger, either, you great twat. And if someone explicitly asks you to stop protecting them that way, you’re supposed to listen.”

Harry’s eyes widened a little, and then he nodded and looked away. “I’ll remember that,” he muttered. “Of course, that leaves us in the same position, where we don’t have any idea what to do next and no idea if the ritual Dumbledore’s proposing will work.”

“There’s no reason that we can’t use a variation on the plan you came up with,” Draco said. When Harry looked at him with blank eyes, he smiled and added, “I can be the one who talks to Dumbledore, that’s all.”

“Don’t be stupid, Draco. He’ll suspect you from the beginning.”

“He will,” Draco agreed calmly, “but he won’t be able to walk circles around me like he could around you. And he’ll think he understands why I’m there. Because he’s already suspicious of me, he won’t be as suspicious as he will be if he sees you come walking into the office, ‘ready’ to collaborate with him.”

Harry paused, then tapped his ear with the palm of one hand. “I suppose that makes sense in your head when you say it,” he admitted, “but it doesn’t really make much sense in mine.”

Draco sighed tolerantly at him. “What I’m telling you is that I can manipulate Dumbledore more successfully than you can, and if you think about it, then you’ll be able to see why that’s so.”

Harry grumbled at him, but if nothing else, from the clear blue and silver feelings streaming down the bond, Draco knew he had won. Harry would let him go, although he said aloud that it was only because of the bond that would let him know in seconds if something went wrong and Draco was feeling distressed.

Draco nodded, and made soothing sounds of his own, and then took him to sleep in the Room of Requirement again. And do something more than sleep. Even though Harry had planned to confront Dumbledore tonight, Draco preferred to do it in the morning, when he would be fresher.

And Harry didn’t have it in his heart to disagree with him, not when Draco gave him the little winsome smile he’d been working on perfecting.

*

Severus knew he had had more Firewhisky than was good for him, but he suspected his vision was no more muddled than before he’d drunk it.

Particularly my mental vision, he thought as he stared sullenly into the fire. There was a dark red flicker at the heart of it that resembled a ruby, and Severus kept surprising it there when he’d thought it had vanished. I can’t see any way out of the trap Albus has set, or even if it’s a trap. It might not be. It might just be the best hope that anyone can come up with, the vision that Albus has had and needs help to come true.

There was something nagging at him, though, more than his usual conviction that he had failed somewhere along the way and there should have been a way to prevent Albus from coming this far and trying to force them into a corner. Severus drank another half a glass, frowning, before the memory came to him.

He stood and strode rapidly along his bookshelves, his fingers skimming spine after spine until he came to the one he wanted. With a grunt, he pulled out the heavy book bound in red leather and slapped it into his arms, then stood back to stare at it.

Fire and Its Purifying Properties.

Severus skimmed rapidly through the pages. He didn’t need to look at the index, because he had only ever read two chapters of this book. One was on potions that were fairly tricky to brew unless the balance of elements in the cycle was exactly right.

The other was on rituals that concerned themselves with fire. Severus had read it in hopes that it might complement the potions chapter, but he had ended up more bored than anything else.

Once he reached that chapter, he flipped through a few pages of rambling paragraphs that were more like the writer’s private notes and preoccupations—one of the risks one took with older texts like this—until he landed on what he remembered.

The firewalk is one of the most dangerous and yet most trustworthy rituals in the whole pantheon of elemental magic. It shows that the one who commits to it is pure of purpose, because otherwise the coals will burn his skin off. It takes that will and that purpose and works great magic, magic so strong that some have sought to combine the firewalk with other rituals to do more than grant a single wish. It has never worked, however. Fire is too pure to be chained to a lesser ritual; it will burn through pretenses to take its rightful central place once again.

Severus rolled his eyes. The book’s author, Wilhelm Grimmnasty, had expressed himself with characteristic pompousness.

But that was what he had remembered. Albus talked of having Draco firewalk in service to another ritual. But that wouldn’t work.

Thoughtfully, Severus laid the book aside. He would raise the point with Draco the next time he spoke with him, and advise him on how to proceed. If he wanted to take the risk anyway, then he must, but Severus did wonder how Albus planned to pull off something that went contrary to the laws of elemental magic.

*

“You wanted to see me, Headmaster.”

Draco had hoped coming this time of the evening would at least disconcert the Headmaster a little, but Dumbledore seemed perfectly composed. In fact, he looked composed for sleep, with his phoenix already sitting on its perch with its head tucked under a wing. That phoenix raised its head and gave a reproachful trill when Draco walked in.

“I was not expecting to see you precisely, but I did want to ask you something.” Dumbledore gave a small smile. “Without Harry present. The same way I wanted to talk to Harry without you when we were first discussing his unfortunate Horcrux.”

Draco didn’t react the way Dumbledore might have expected him to, by spitting and running out of the room. He had known when he came here that Dumbledore would be infuriating, and he had survived living with someone who was more than that, who was actively terrifying. Keeping the lessons from the Dark Lord in mind, Draco simply nodded. “Yes, sir. What is it?”

“I want you to know that it is of utmost importance that we find a way to destroy the other Horcruxes before we work out a way to destroy the one in Harry.”

Draco just kept his face rapt and attentive as he nodded. His private thoughts raged about how, if the one in Harry was so delicate, they should work on it first, and how Dumbledore hadn’t cared about that when he came to talk to Harry on his birthday…

But he smoothed out his thoughts, and strengthened his Occlumency shields. He already knew how to look at someone and appear to meet their eyes without actually doing so. Dear Auntie Bellatrix was good for one thing. “All right, sir. But how are we going to get Nagini away from the Dark Lord?”

“I do wish you would call him by name, dear boy,” Dumbledore chided. “Calling him Voldemort or Tom reduces his power. And if you think of him as Tom, then you don’t even need to flinch,” he added, as Draco flinched.

If it means thinking of him as less powerful than he really is, that seems like a good recipe for suicide to me. But Draco chased that thought away, too, and simply nodded again. “Yes, sir. I see what you mean. How are we going to get Nagini away from Tom?”

“I will worry about that when we have the last Horcrux, which I suspect is Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup, in hand.”

“Yes, sir. You said something about having me walk across coals?”

“Look here.” Dumbledore reached out and picked up an immense book that had been lying on his desk facing him, so big that Draco’s eyes hadn’t even told him it was a book; it had looked like a mat for the desk itself. He turned it around, and Draco bent down and looked at what he quickly recognized as a ritual diagram. The Dark Lord had worked on them often.

“This illustrates the way that a firewalk can be connected to visions and feelings of magical signatures,” Dumbledore said in a low, urgent voice. “We have several challenges here. Finding the Horcrux is only one of them. Entering Gringotts is another. So is identifying the Death Eater who actually has the artifact in their vault, so that we do not waste time entering those that aren’t candidates. With this ritual, we can do it all at once. Do you see?”

Draco studied the diagram and nodded as if he did. In reality, this kind of esoteric ritual theory was beyond him. He could understand the ideas, with a little more explanation, but he didn’t know how to interpret the sketches that showed how it all fit together. “What if we had another method, though?”

“Another method?”

Draco stepped back and pretended to be looking into Dumbledore’s eyes again. “Yes, sir. I was in the Death Eaters’ inner circle for months, and they didn’t bother to hide anything from me. They always chattered in front of me as if I was a dumb animal that couldn’t understand anything they said.” Draco didn’t have to feign the bitterness in his voice. Dear Auntie Bellatrix had been one of them, which was why Draco didn’t feel like thanking her for her Occlumency training.

Dumbledore leaned forwards. “Go on.”

He probably thinks that my bitterness is going to make me absolutely loyal to him, or something. Draco did. “There are very few Death Eaters that the Dark Lord would trust with something like this. My father was entrusted with one Horcrux, and I don’t think the Dark Lord would give him another one, knowing what happened to it.”

Dumbledore nodded. “But we cannot know for sure that the Dark Lord knows about the diary. He cannot feel their destruction, or he would know what we are doing already.”

“Then in that case, he probably doesn’t want to give more than one mysterious artifact that guarantees his immortality to a single person.” Draco shrugged. What he was saying made sense to him, and Dumbledore was wrong to tell him that it had to be wrong. “And he doesn’t trust Fenrir Greyback. He’s made that clear on many occasions, usually to Greyback’s face.”

“He might be saying that to fool others…”

“He also said that when he was alone with me, when he was alone with me and Aunt Bellatrix, and when Greyback was absent,” Draco said dryly. “He thinks of werewolves as beasts, not humans. He wouldn’t.”

“Say that I accept your analysis for the moment, Mr. Malfoy. You’ve only provided possibilities for where the Horcrux isn’t. Who does that leave as a trusted Death Eater who would possess it?”

“My aunt.” Dumbledore only sat there without reacting, which made Draco wonder if he didn’t know of the family connection between the Black sisters. Draco hid a shudder as he added, “Bellatrix Lestrange.”

“The Lestranges are possibilities, yes,” Dumbledore said. “But only one among the many I had considered.”

It’s not my fault that you don’t have enough insight to power a Lumos. “Her fanatical devotion is easier to see when you’re close to the Dark Lord,” Draco said, and ignored the smile of pity Dumbledore gave him. “She values him above anything else—her wand, her life, her husband, her sisters. She used to be a little more sane about it, two years ago, but not now. And I think she would be the only one he would give it to.”

“If he gave it to them before the war, then would that still be true?”

Draco snorted. “I was only an infant when she went to prison, but I always heard that she didn’t bother hiding her allegiance to the Death Eaters, sir. She was one of a very few who didn’t. And two of the others share a vault with her.”

Dumbledore sat silent and still, frowning. Draco watched him. He wondered for a moment if Dumbledore simply didn’t trust him and that was the reason for his resistance to Draco’s ideas, or if he wanted to use this ritual for another reason.

Maybe it’s also a way to sever my soul from Harry’s.

Draco buried the desperate panic that thought immediately invoked. He didn’t know, not for certain, so he wouldn’t try to defend against the possibility until he had more proof than his fears.

Would that Dumbledore could follow the same course.

“We could try to confirm it’s the Lestranges,” Dumbledore said slowly. “But we will only get one chance, if that, to break into Gringotts. I would rather make sure before we waste our resources.”

And trust the word of a Slytherin, right? Draco only shrugged. “All right, sir. Can I go now?”

“There is another reason that I wanted you to undergo the firewalk, Mr. Malfoy.”

“What’s that, sir?”

“It might be a way to destroy the Horcrux in Harry at the same time.”

Draco stared at him, and then he sat slowly back down. Even knowing that Dumbledore was a master at manipulation, even knowing he had probably been lucky to get Dumbledore to listen as much as he had, he still couldn’t ignore the chance.

At least he had an ally on his side who would recognize both the probings of another Legilimens into Draco’s head, and the attempt to alter memories.

“Go on,” he said.

Chapter Text

“The bond shared between you and Harry has already weakened the Horcrux. It might have awakened it as well, but a Horcrux cannot share the same place in you with love. You’ve changed it, driven it to the edges of your awareness.”

Draco tried to breathe as normally as he could. Either shallow or rapid breathing might give Dumbledore the undesirable impression that he was managing to influence Draco.

“But I thought you said the bond hadn’t worked the way you wanted it to. Hadn’t pulled Harry’s soul away from the Horcrux the way you thought it should.”

“I did think that,” said Dumbledore, and sighed a little. “I’ve done more research into the nature of soul-bonds since then, however, and based on what Severus has told me as well as my own observations, I believe there have been changes. Not ones I anticipated. But changes.”

Draco stiffened his shoulders. The problem with Dumbledore was that he could make things sound reasonable, but then he never gave enough specifics for Draco to decide if they actually were. “What changes?”

“It’s hard to define them precisely—”

“Try. Or I won’t convince Harry to go along with your plan.”

Dumbledore gave him a long, slow look. Draco sat there and didn’t back down. He was pleased to notice that what he’d said to Harry was true: he didn’t need to keep within boundaries and pretend to be impressed with Dumbledore the way Harry would have. Dumbledore already expected disrespect from a Slytherin, so he actually tolerated it better.

“I will ask you to be polite to me, Mr. Malfoy.”

“And I’ll ask you to be clearer.” Draco leaned forwards and slapped the edge of the desk with one hand when Dumbledore opened his mouth to make some other excuse. “Listen. You can come up with whatever excuses you want, but you’re the one who thinks that the Horcrux has to be destroyed in this particular way. I’m not a Gryffindor, to follow you blindly. Convince me.”

Dumbledore looked as though he’d swallowed his own beard for a long moment, but he finally nodded and reached into a drawer of his desk. Draco tensed despite the phoenix crooning reassuringly off to the side. At least Dumbledore only pulled a parchment out and not his wand or something else far worse.

“Look,” said Dumbledore, and unrolled the parchment. Draco blinked at the look of the ink on it, such a bright silver that it flared against his eyes. “The possible directions that a soul-bond can move a soul are highlighted here.” He ran his finger down the side of the circle in the middle of the page, along a line that looked bluer than the rest. “It would work the same way with a soul-piece—even better, in some respects, because a shard doesn’t have the same protections against being influenced by a bond that an entire soul does.”

Draco made a polite noise under his breath and leaned over to study the lines on the parchment. Once again, he wasn’t worried about not understanding them completely. Professor Snape could read them in Pensieve memories and tell him what they were all about. Or even Granger, assuming she had the relevant knowledge and experience.

He found, though, that at least one of the lines, the bright blue one, was familiar. He’d seen something like it in one of the innumerable books that Father had had him read between fourth and fifth year, when he thought Draco needed to focus more on magical theory and less on Quidditch. Draco had hated that summer, but at least it was paying its way now.

“This represents the way that a soul would usually move when joined in a marriage bond, right?” he asked, tracing the blue line with a finger.

Dumbledore jolted beside him. Draco kept his eyes down and resisted the temptation to smile. Even if it was just because he enjoyed being the one who explained everything, he didn’t think Dumbledore had expected him to know that.

“Yes,” said Dumbledore, after a cough and a long pause. “And that is what your soul-bond with Harry most resembles. A marriage bond, as I’m sure you know, doesn’t permit the people in it to marry someone else unless they dissolve it of their own free will first.”

“But Harry still has both the tie to the Horcrux and the soul-bond to me,” Draco mused. He knew they were on the verge of something, but he didn’t know what yet.

“Yes. Under ordinary circumstances, if there was a lingering, one-sided soul-bond, the tie to the Horcrux would have been forced out by the person willingly undergoing the new ritual, and your soul-bond would have taken its place. But a Horcrux is different.” Dumbledore sighed a little. “I hoped that might happen anyway. It did not.”

Draco nodded politely. “And how does this relate to the firewalk that you think is going to free Harry from the Horcrux?”

Dumbledore stroked his beard and stared pensively at Draco. Draco resisted the temptation to cross his eyes or laugh.

“Fire is the elemental power most used in rituals of purity,” Dumbledore began. “I think the firewalk—”

“Would purify Harry so the Horcrux wouldn’t be able to hold on to him anymore?” Draco frowned. “But then he should be the one doing it instead of me. And that wouldn’t help us identify Death Eater magical signatures.”

“What I was thinking,” said Dumbledore, at his softest and most grandfatherly, “is that it would serve to purify you. The purity would pass along the bond between you and Harry, and force the Horcrux out that way.”

“I have nothing to be purified from.”

Dumbledore watched him and waited as if he thought Draco would change his mind about that declaration, then shook his head a little. “I don’t think that’s true, my boy.”

Draco let his sneer work its way onto his face. Dumbledore was irritating him enough that he no longer really thought keeping the peace important. “Well, that’s a problem, isn’t it? Because if you think that and I don’t, then the ritual won’t work.”

Dumbledore grew a little paler in the instants before his jaw firmed. “I think this ritual is the best chance to help Harry, Mr. Malfoy. I think you probably believe so as well, or you would have argued more with me about it.”

“But I don’t think I have anything to be purified from,” Draco said softly. “Nothing to purge. I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t tortured them. I might have come close a few times, but I never succeeded. I played childish pranks, but so did the Weasley twins, and I don’t see you recommending a firewalk for them. And if you think that I need to be refined because I’m a Slytherin…you’re ridiculous. Professor Dumbledore.”

Dumbledore said nothing, but simply looked at him. It took Draco longer than it should have to realize that he was looking at Draco’s left arm.

Draco flushed and clasped the Dark Mark before he could stop himself. Then he said, “That would cause a problem, though, wouldn’t it? If I was purified of magic related to the Dark Lord, then there’s a high chance the ritual might sever the soul-bond instead, because the magic would be intent on removing me from any lingering remnants of the Dark Lord. Like the Horcrux inside Harry.”

“We can modify it so that that will not happen.”

“The problem is, Professor,” Draco said, standing up and making sure he had his hand near his wand and his face bowed a little so Dumbledore couldn’t look him directly in the eye, “I don’t trust you to modify the ritual.”

“You must,” said Dumbledore urgently, standing. His blackened hand caught Draco’s attention for a moment, and Draco was almost sure the curse had moved further up the man’s arm. Then he jerked his eyes away and moved towards the door. “I am the only one who understands all the theory!”

Draco held his tongue about Professor Snape. The longer Dumbledore could be fooled into thinking he was still on the side of sending Harry to his death, the better. “I’ll do some research of my own,” he said calmly, and opened the outer door of Dumbledore’s office. “I think I’ll have to, because there’s just no way that I can trust you enough.”

“If trusting me is the only chance you have to save Harry’s life, would you still resist?”

Draco closed his eyes and let his fingers tap on the door for a second, and tension work down his jaw. Then he said, “I don’t know that it is, and I can’t trust you when you say it is. So I’m going to go away, and ask some questions, and think about it.”

“Draco.” There was still power in Dumbledore’s voice, enough that Draco shivered when he spoke his name. “You need me. There is no one else who has the knowledge I have and who cares so much about Harry.”

Really? I think Professor Snape and Granger might come close.

But again, it would have been criminally stupid to say that aloud. Draco just nodded, said, “I’ll think about that, Professor, and work on it as hard as I can,” and opened the door to step out onto the moving staircase.

Dumbledore didn’t fire a curse at his back or try to hold him there. Draco became aware that he’d been waiting for that.

He relaxed only when the staircase had carried him down six turns from Dumbledore’s office and there was no sound—except the phoenix’s crooning, which Draco could hear even through the closed door. He sighed and refocused his mind.

He and Harry wouldn’t have much time to relax. Draco wanted to meet with Professor Snape and Harry’s friends as soon as possible. Even Weasley might have some insights to contribute, about Dumbledore if nothing else.

*

Severus stared a little blankly at Draco as he finished speaking. The five of them were once again gathered in his office, after Severus had Flooed Albus to tell him he was going to Diagon Alley and Granger and Weasley had asked permission to visit Weasley’s parents.

The longer Albus had no reason to look for them, the better. And he would hardly be surprised that Harry and Draco were avoiding him.

“Sir? Do you need me to repeat something?”

Severus put a hand over his eyes and shook his head. No, what Draco had said was a true and faithful recounting of his conversation with Albus. Lucius had trained Draco well in memorization, if only because he had thought Draco might take his place in the Wizengamot someday and have to be able to recite conversations quickly and accurately to his political allies. This had happened.

But what Albus had said was…

Against all magical theory. And not only for the reason Draco had identified, that burning away the Dark Mark might not have the effects on the Horcrux that Albus hoped it would.

“Sir? What’s the main reason that won’t work?”

Severus looked up. Miss Granger was leaning forwards, her hands resting on her knees. She gave Draco a frowning glance, but then focused on Severus again. “Can you tell me, Professor?”

“Fire is a purifying element, yes,” Severus said aloud, slowly, thinking of the best way to parse the tangle of his thoughts and lay them out in a clear, easily followable way. “But it is not—tamable. Not in the way Albus intends to tame it. It cannot be subordinated to other rituals. The rituals it is used in cannot be easily modified. With time, yes, I think Albus could work on this the way he did on the uses of dragon’s blood, and figure out insights that would elude lesser minds. But not in the amount of time he has had. I think he is acting out of desperation and fear, and that makes me warier than ever of relying on him.”

“Could he have been working on this a while? For something different, I mean, and this is just the first chance he’s really had to use it?”

“The soul-bond ritual was like that, Miss Granger,” Severus said, and focused on her for the moment. Harry and Weasley didn’t understand enough, and Draco stood with his arms folded and an expression that said he was clearly too intent on interrupting. “He had developed part of the theory behind its modification for a friend, and then he thought of ways it could be used for Draco and Mr. Pot—Harry. But he showed me his notes and calculations right away, and involved me in designing it when he knew he wanted to use it. We worked on it for hours. In this case, he has not done so.”

He paused, meaning to clear his throat and go on, but Granger took it from there. “So either he hasn’t been working on it for long at all, or he hasn’t started, or he doesn’t trust you enough anymore to involve you.”

“All of those are bad news,” Severus agreed quietly. “But the first one, perhaps the worst. There are reasons that those who modify rituals usually have partners. There are simply too many aspects to keep track of. Working under a deadline, with the conviction that he must do it alone, working with unstable aspects and with the distrust of Draco that he has in place…at best, he would create something that would not work.”

“At worst?” It was Harry who asked that, his shoulders a little bowed and his back the same, as if preparing to accept some weight.

“At worst, he would create a modification of the ritual that might well destroy Draco, or anyone else attempting it.”

Harry shivered and took a deep breath. “Maybe I should be the one to talk to him, after all,” he said, sitting up and trading glances with Draco that made Draco’s eyes narrow, hard. “If I can get him to see that he’s working too fast and he needs help—”

“How can you, without betraying that Professor Snape is working with us?” Draco demanded, in a voice as harsh as a crow’s. “It’s ridiculous, Harry. I knew I felt there was something off about this, but I could never lay out all the objections the way Professor Snape just did. You can’t go talk to Dumbledore.”

Harry sighed and messed up his hair in a way that reminded Severus more of Lily than James. “Fine. But we have to do something.”

“There is something we can do,” Severus said. “A masking ritual.”

Draco and Granger, as he had expected, jerked and stared at him with wide eyes, but Weasley was the one who spoke. “I don’t like the idea of anything that makes Hermione look like that,” he said. “What is it? Professor,” he added grudgingly, when Severus turned to him.

“It’s a ritual that works under the cover of another,” Severus said. The more he considered his new plan, the more he hated it. Draco and Harry had already been asked to put their safety too much at risk. But this was the only strategy that would allow them to use Albus’s wisdom and prowess without alerting him to their true plans and loyalties. “We would let whatever ritual Albus wants to use—the firewalk, perhaps—begin as he intends to use it. Then we would cast a spell that wrenches the rising power over to our control, and conduct the actual ritual. If done properly, all the movements, gestures, words, and symbols we use would look like the ones Albus expects.”

“It would work on Professor Dumbledore’s mind,” Granger added, and sighed a little shakily. “It’s very Dark, isn’t it, sir?”

“Not any Darker than the sort of thing he wanted to use on me,” Draco snapped, his arms folded, and his power churning around him in a way that made Severus certain the bond between him and Harry was active with—interesting thoughts. “Yes. Let’s do it.”

“We have not yet heard from the other person most intimately concerned in this,” Severus said, and turned to face Harry.

*

Harry’s stomach was twisting. At this point, he almost would have welcomed knowing that Dumbledore wanted to use the firewalk ritual to kill or purge Draco. Everything was—changing too fast for his liking. Too uncertain. The masking ritual would be Dark, it might not work, Dumbledore might have rushed into this and Draco might get hurt even if everything went the way they planned it…

He started when he felt a hand on his elbow and realized that Draco was studying him, his eyes and the bond alive with compassion. Harry gave him a weak smile in return and sat up a little straighter.

“How likely is the mask ritual to hurt Draco?” he asked Snape.

Snape’s eyes widened a bit, but he answered at once, “It will not. It cannot. Its only purpose is to work on Dumbledore’s mind, to fool him into seeing what we want him to see, and to drain the power raised by the firewalk in a designated direction.”

“But we’ve talked so much about the other rituals potentially going wrong. Why wouldn’t this one?”

“The others are—think of them as blades,” said Snape, after a moment’s thought. “This is a sheath and a sheath only. It can hold magic raised by other sorts of rituals, but it cannot, in and of itself, strike like them.”

“A sheath could still hurt if you thumped someone in the back of the head with it,” Harry muttered, and was surprised when Snape laughed. He hadn’t thought anyone but himself and Draco would hear that.

“You have a unique turn of mind, Harry,” said Snape, and Harry blinked through the strangeness of being called by his first name, again, by someone who had hated him most of his life. “To continue the unique metaphor, rest assured that this sheath will never get out of our control. We need only set the masking ritual up properly, and it will do everything that we want it to do.”

“That sounds too simple. How can we set it up properly when we don’t know what Dumbledore’s going to do and he probably won’t share it with us?”

“That’s the great thing about a masking ritual,” Draco interrupted, before Snape could say anything. He knelt down in front of Harry and took his hands. The bond between them flowered with blue and gold. “It’s made of intent and power—and half the power gets stolen from the other ritual it’s being used with. All we have to do is go in there with a certain clearly defined set of intentions, and that in and of itself will guide our hands and our words.”

“This sounds so simple, though,” said Hermione, and Harry shot her a grateful smile. He’d been about to say the same thing. “If it is, why isn’t everyone using masking rituals all the time?”

“And won’t Dumbledore think we might use one?” added Ron. He still looked a little uneasy at rebelling against Dumbledore. Harry reached out to squeeze his hand. Ron smiled faintly at him and sagged against his chair.

“It’s illegal,” said Professor Snape with a shrug. He looked more interested and calmer than Harry ever saw him during Potions class. Maybe it had something to do with not being afraid that a horrible accident would happen every second. “It takes a great deal of power, as well. Most of the same reasons that people do not usually use the Unforgivables, despite the incantations being common knowledge.”

“But if we were there all together…” said Hermione, and her eyes were bright. Harry smiled at her, and saw the way she looked at him and Ron, the same gleam in her face that had been there when they first started looking for information on Nicholas Flamel. “If we convinced Professor Dumbledore that we really wanted to help the ritual, for the same reasons that Ron and I wanted to be bonded to Harry…”

“That you thought that was a good idea,” Ron muttered.

Before they could start bickering about that, Harry interrupted firmly. “Yes, you’ll have to convince him that you want to help, and you have a reason to be there.” He turned and looked at Professor Snape. “Is he going to let you be there if he doesn’t trust you, sir?”

Snape gave a slow smile that Harry was glad he’d never seen in class. “There are certain precautions that I think not even Albus would wish to neglect, such as protective spells around the outside of whatever chamber he chooses to make sure no one interferes. If I volunteer to set them, I think he will let me participate.”

“Good,” said Harry briskly, and turned and looked at Draco. “And he can’t split me apart from you.”

Draco met his gaze, and smiled. The bond was everything between them in that moment, rippling with running, cool colors of green and white. “He knows better than that. He knows that he won’t get away with anything if we’re apart.”

Harry reached out and let Draco draw him to his feet. He stood with his hands in Draco’s and felt the warmth fluttering between them. Harry honestly couldn’t tell how much of it was the bond and how much simply their shared heartbeats.

He leaned in and kissed Draco, not caring about Ron clearing his throat or Professor Snape averting his eyes with a frown. This was what he wanted to do at the moment, and no one was going to take it away from him.

Draco’s hand was cupping and gentle on the back of Harry’s neck, pulling him in until Harry swayed and gasped, drunk on the lack of air. Then he moved calmly backwards and looked at Professor Snape again.

“Well?”

“Yes,” Snape said, and inclined his head while still looking at the floor, as if he didn’t want to look up and catch some glimpse of the kiss that might be lingering. “You might as well go to him, and tell him that we want to begin.”

At the last moment, he did look up, and the desperate concern in his eyes as they rested on Draco made Harry feel calmer.

That’s something we have in common, at least.

Draco glanced at him, and the softly winged fluttering in Harry’s chest calmed.

And strength is something we have in common. We can do this.

Chapter Text

“I have to wonder why you agreed to this, Harry, my boy.”

Harry leaped into the air and came down facing Dumbledore. He honestly hadn’t known he was able to move that fast. One moment he was standing on the Astronomy Tower, looking up at the stars, and the next he was—

There.

“What do you want, sir?” Harry asked quietly. He didn’t draw his wand, but that was mostly because he and the others knew that Dumbledore’s trust in them was fragile already. The last thing Harry wanted was to destroy the pretense they’d spent so much time setting up.

But now things were moving forwards. Dumbledore had accepted their several demands, including that Harry and Draco be in the same room when Draco performed the firewalk and Snape be the one to cast the protective spells around the outside. That had to mean Dumbledore had dropped his suspicions a little, right?

Not even close, Harry realized, seeing the way that Dumbledore moved a step or two closer. Harry sighed as if he was merely annoyed at the intrusion and turned his back so he could tilt his head and consider the stars.

It also kept Dumbledore from looking into his eyes and piercing through his Occlumency shields that were only really meant to protect him against Voldemort.

“Harry, my boy,” Dumbledore persisted, making Harry’s back stiffen in rejection before he thought about it. “There is something that concerns me. Something about Tom.”

Harry glanced over his shoulder before he could help himself. Of all the people that he could be worried about right now, it was Voldemort?

“What is it, sir?” Harry finally asked in resignation, when he realized that Dumbledore wasn’t going to say anything until he asked.

Dumbledore moved up beside him. Harry stepped backwards automatically. Dumbledore gave him a sad glance, but he fixed it on the stars so quickly that it was hard to tell if he was really upset about Harry avoiding him, or more about the eternal sadness of the world.

“You have been talking to Mr. Malfoy, and Professor Snape, and your friends,” said Dumbledore. “You have been focused on destroying Horcruxes. Does it not surprise you that Tom has made no move in all that time, and in fact, never since he killed Narcissa Malfoy?”

“Well, I mean, he was pretty pissed when Draco and I broke into Malfoy Manor to rescue Lucius.”

“Yes, but since then, he hasn’t sent you any visions, has he? He hasn’t hinted of his rage and preoccupation with you? He hasn’t raided any Muggle towns or sent the Dementors or Death Eaters out?”

Harry had to shake his head, but he also had to point out, “I might not sense any visions or the connection between us in my scar, sir. Draco taught me Occlumency well enough to keep all my nightmares out.”

“Sometimes, Harry, sacrifices in the name of the greater good have to be made.”

“I’m not going to make this one,” Harry said, and wished he dared catch Dumbledore’s eye in order to frown at him. “Not when it would mean that Draco would have to suffer through the nightmares and whatever pain comes down my soul-bond with Voldemort, too.”

“You have changed so much,” said Dumbledore, his voice sad and wistful. “Putting young Mr. Malfoy’s safety above the safety of everyone else. There was a time I know you wouldn’t have deigned to spit on him.”

Harry had to turn around at that. “Oh, I would have spit on him,” he said. “What you might be thinking is that I would have laughed when I did it, instead of doing it by mistake and helping him up. And what did you bloody expect, Headmaster? You’re the one who initiated a soul-bond between us.”

“Harry—”

“No, listen to me. It’s no wonder that I care about him! It’s no wonder that I don’t want to leave him alone or expose him to pain! Even if we hadn’t fallen in love, I would want that. How could you think a soul-bond wouldn’t cause this kind of effect? It’s not like I knew anything about it!”

Dumbledore looked pained now. “It might have had some unanticipated effects,” he conceded. “But I was doing it for what I thought were the right reasons. The best.”

“Then I am, too. Are you angry because you think I’m not, or just because you know that my best and yours aren’t the same anymore?”

“I am not angry, Harry. Fearful, perhaps. When the only one who can defeat a monster like Voldemort starts to think in such narrow terms, I have to be more concerned than I would be if someone like Miss Granger or Mr. Weasley did it.”

Harry stared at him. “You know,” he said, “somehow I never noticed that before. I concentrated on the part where you told me I was special and chosen and could do things that no one else could do, not the part where you put everyone else down.”

“Harry—”

“No,” said Harry, and broke free from the hand reaching to detain him. He was shaking, but he made an effort to keep his voice calm and his head clear. He knew Dumbledore would never listen to him if he sounded too agitated. “You can hate what Draco taught me if you like, but one of those things was how to think.”

Dumbledore turned so that his back was to the parapet, and he faced Harry as Harry clattered towards the stairs down from the Astronomy Tower again. His eyes were deep and shone, and Harry only barely twisted his head in time to avoid them. God, if Dumbledore used Legilimency on him now

“I never wanted this to happen. I never wanted us to be at odds.”

“Yeah. I know. Because this way, it’s harder to convince me to walk to my death because you think that’s the only way to destroy the Horcrux.”

“It is the only sure way to destroy the Horcrux,” said Dumbledore, and his voice was grave, with a tone of some emotion that Harry couldn’t identify. “I don’t know how to convince you. I could recite the magical theory to you, but you wouldn’t believe in or understand it. And any other kind of argument I came up with, Mr. Malfoy would find a way to counter it.”

He must not believe Snape really agrees with us. Harry caught that reassurance and managed to say, “He would be right. I don’t understand why you can’t tell me in simple terms. I mean, I remember Professor McGonagall said once that any professor who can’t explain complex concepts in simple terms isn’t much of a teacher.”

Dumbledore tried to talk, but Harry raised his voice and talked over him, even if some part of him felt horrible for doing it. “No. Why can’t it be simple? Why does it need to be me dying? Is it just because we have to use things like basilisk venom and you don’t think I could survive basilisk venom? Can’t you tell Fawkes to come and cry on me right after we stab me with the Sword of Gryffindor or something?”

“I would never do anything so risky, my boy. My dear boy…”

“No, you would just have me walk up to Voldemort and have him kill me!”

“There are reasons. I have tried to explain the reasons to you. Perhaps I haven’t done a good job, if you’re still so resistant to it.” Dumbledore was talking almost to himself, his eyes disturbed as they fixed on Harry. “Should I try again?”

“No. Because now I know how to value my life. Draco taught me how, and my friends.” Harry decided again that he shouldn’t risk exposing Snape’s allegiance to them, no matter how much he wanted to be honest. “So it doesn’t matter what kinds of arguments you use. You won’t convince me to die.”

Dumbledore stayed silent as Harry trotted down the stairs. He was shaking, and he had to stop and turn and lean his forehead against the stones, swearing when the trembling wouldn’t calm down.

Damn it. Damn it. I already knew that he didn’t hold the exact same ideas, or he wouldn’t have told Draco that this ritual would provide us with a way to get the Horcrux out of me, too. I know that he changes his mind and tells us different things. Probably to see if we tell each other the truth or keep secrets.

Harry stood still for a few moments more, his head bowed and his breathing labored. Then he raised his head and walked back towards the Room of Requirement, where Draco was waiting for him. Pretty patiently, really, given that he hadn’t come to find out where Harry had disappeared to.

I’m going to listen to what Draco and Ron and Hermione and Professor Snape say, and that’s it. No more Dumbledore. He’s had his chance, and he still couldn’t explain.

*

“I trust that you understand how critical this ritual is, Severus.”

Severus sneered a little. He had perfected the mask so long ago that it no longer felt as if he was putting on a mask. “I know that, Albus. Would I have volunteered to cast the protection spells for it otherwise?”

“I thought you might have volunteered out of a desire to safeguard Harry. Or young Mr. Malfoy,” Albus added, probably because he’d got a good look at Severus’s eyes.

Severus turned away without answering and began working the elementary protection spells outside the door of the Room of Requirement, the ones that he could activate after everyone had crossed them. His skin prickled and he kept his eyes down. Albus’s Legilimency had never been able to get through his Occlumency shields, but this was the last time he wanted to find out differently.

"Severus. Did you hear me?" Albus's voice was gently insistent.

"I heard you without being aware that you had asked a question," Severus corrected him, and moved his wand in a careful circle. The floor glowed for a moment, and then a blue protective rune faded to what looked like ordinary stone. Severus hid a smile. The rune was actually one of those that would become part of their masking ritual, but with the way it concealed itself, Albus wouldn't be any the wiser.

"I want to know how loyal you really are to me."

And Albus had stepped in front of him, and there was no more time to draw conduit runes that would siphon off the energy of the main ritual in order to pull it into their own. Severus looked straight into Albus's eyes and said nothing. There was no brush of Legilimency against his shields, maybe because Albus knew it wouldn't avail him.

There was only the steady gaze of two blue eyes that Severus had once thought were the wisest in the world. In times past, when Severus's guilt over Lily was stronger, that had sometimes been all Albus needed.

Now, Severus only met those eyes and asked softly, "Did you really expect me to approve of every plan you came up with? When I disapproved of even the one that tied Potter and Draco in the soul-bond?"

"Perhaps you were right, at that. Those boys have grown too fond of each other, when they should know how this ends."

Yes, of course, they should immediately have resigned themselves to Harry's death when you told them. But Severus kept his mouth closed and his expression smooth. Albus was heading towards some point he hadn't arrived at yet. Severus looked down his nose and waited.

"Mr. Malloy will have to firewalk. The ritual requires a committed heart, without self-doubts, or it will fail." Albus leaned in and looked searchingly up at Severus. "I can't read Mr. Malloy. I don't know if he has that committed heart."

"I think you may count on him striving to keep Potter safe no matter what he thinks about his own chances."

"Ah. And you know that because you are loyal to me?"

Severus smiled, and didn't care that the twist to his smile made Albus flinch. "There have always been contradictions in my loyalty to you, haven't there, Albus? There have been days that I could barely drag myself out of bed because of the intensity of my self-loathing. And you encouraged that. Because, without that self-loathing, there was nothing to tie me to you. A normal Severus Snape wouldn't have served your purpose at all."

"My dear boy." Albus's voice was a whisper. "That is not true. No one has wanted to see you heal more than I have. The problem is that, without the war being over, your healing would be incomplete. You needed to see Lily's murderer dead before you could rest."

They were the exact words Severus had said to him the night he swore himself to Albus, which only made him more resentful. "Rest. Not feel better."

Albus stared at him and said nothing. Of course he didn't understand the distinction, Severus thought, feeling as though he had rolled a boulder a long way. No one could who was as wrapped in plots and counterplots as Albus.

He actually plots more than a Slytherin, because he always thinks that he'll need to outplot a Slytherin.

"I only wanted to know whether you had encouraged young Mr. Malfoy to go through with this ritual, or if you had tried to hold him back."

An interesting definition of loyalty. Severus inclined his head a bit. "I gave my advice. Mr. Malfoy chose not to listen to it."

Not even someone as unversed in intrigue as Harry could have missed the way Albus stood a little straighter after that admission, or how his hand was strong and steady now as he clasped Severus's shoulder. "Thank you. I should have known you would do the best for your Slytherins. You've always been good in the Head of House position."

To which I appointed you. The words were as clear as lightning for all that they were unspoken. Severus simply nodded, and watched Albus until he was sure that he had turned back to the closed door of the Room of Requirement and left Severus to cast the right spells.

Severus bent his mind to the task, to the movements of his body and wand and the way the tip traced the runes. He was going to make this as perfect as he could, for the sake of Draco and Harry and Weasley and Granger. Albus had allowed the last two in the room as watchers for the firewalk Draco would make, probably relieved that Harry was acting "like a Gryffindor" by having them there.

For the moment, Severus had to assume they would play their parts perfectly, because that was how he intended to play his.

*

Draco knew from the constant currents of emotion flowing through the bond how nervous and impatient Harry was. But there was nothing he could do about that, not now. Instead, he held his breath when he needed to, when the currents were the worst, and then he let it out and went on steadily breathing.

They were standing--well, Draco was kneeling--in the middle of a huge room that had a circle on the floor. Well, it had looked like a circle when Draco first glanced at it. The more time went on, the more certain he became that it was an oval, made of chased gold, set mostly into the floor but rising a little above it.

The circle had runes around it. Draco hadn't paid much attention during his sixth year for understandable reasons, but he had no trouble recognizing some of the signs for fire.

Granger hadn't stopped muttering about the others since they came in here. Draco wished she would, if only because she was making Harry's anxiety spike up and down like waves lashed by thrown rocks.

Weasley stood off to the side, his eyes narrowed and his wand twisting in his hand. He wouldn’t be doing any spellcasting, but he was tense and alert as though he would.

And Harry was still making the bond ripple and bounce like he was a child jumping on a bed in the Slytherin dorm. Draco sighed soundlessly and reached out a hand towards him, taking Harry by surprise. Draco had wanted to meditate to ready himself for the ritual, but it was impossible.

“You said—” Harry began as he stumbled to his knees beside Draco.

“I know,” said Draco, and then he latched his lips onto Harry’s and ignored the way that Weasley and Granger shifted and shuffled. They had seen him and Harry kiss before. They could bloody well put up with it.

Harry tensed and shifted himself, but at last he seemed to understand that Draco wasn’t trying to smother him or anything. He leaned his head on Draco’s shoulder and sighed a little when the clasp of their lips broke. Draco stroked his hair and reveled in the quietness of the bond.

“I need you to relax as much as you can,” he whispered into Harry’s ear. “I know this is scary and complicated, but I’m the one who’s going to be walking across the fire. You’re the one who needs to stay safe and steady for me, okay? You know what will happen to my concentration if you start panicking in the middle of my firewalk.”

Harry drew in a huge rasping breath as if Draco had just reminded him what they were facing, but his back stopped trembling as Draco stroked it. “All right,” he said. “I know. It’s just—I didn’t realize there were this many runes or any other parts of it. It looks a lot more complicated than the ritual that joined us in the soul-bond, and I thought that was about as complex as it could get.”

Draco nuzzled his neck and shook his head a little. “It can get a lot worse. But I need you to hold onto your strength. To anchor me. To remind me why it’s worth concentrating and going along with this, and not just jumping across the coals to strangle Dumbledore.”

That made Harry laugh, the way Draco had intended, and relax even more, which was nice, although not something he had thought for sure would happen. “Right.” Harry’s fingers drifted above Draco’s arm, making all the little hairs stand up and flutter at him. “I understand. I’ll make you proud, Draco.”

“Give me something to come back to.”

“I promise.” Harry’s eyes and the bond both sparked as he leaned back on his heels and caught Draco’s gaze again.

“Good boy,” Draco said, and observed with raised eyebrows the interesting shivers that spread through Harry’s body when he said that. This was something they’d have to explore further later—not now, because the door of the room was opening and Dumbledore and Professor Snape were coming in. Draco rose to his feet and cast Harry one more glance before he moved to the side of the golden oval.

Harry stood up and moved backwards to join Weasley near the wall. This time, though, he was feeding steel and strength down the bond to Draco. Draco gave him one more smile and faced Dumbledore.

“You know what you have to do, Mr. Malfoy,” Dumbledore began.

“But we don’t know all the details,” Granger cut in unexpectedly. “Can you explain it to us, please, Headmaster Dumbledore? I really want to know. These runes don’t look like any of the ones we studied in Professor Babbling’s class.” She glared at the outside of the ritual “circle” as if that was the runes’ fault.

Dumbledore glanced at her and frowned a little, and Draco wondered for a second if Granger had given away everything. If she had, he intended to leap into the oval and start walking across the coals, because it would force Dumbledore to pay attention to him.

“I don’t think I could explain all the runes right now, Miss Granger,” said Dumbledore, and his voice was calm and patient. His eyes twinkled again over his glasses, so Draco didn’t think she had given them away. Still, he frowned at her, and Granger ducked her head a little. “Perhaps later, when we aren’t so busy doing something immediate?”

Granger nodded. Draco shook his head as he turned back to the oval. He didn’t know what the point of Granger’s interjection had been. Perhaps she simply thought that she would make it easier for Draco if Dumbledore wasn’t forcing him into the ritual right away.

“It’s time, Mr. Malfoy.”

Either meditating, or, more likely, calming Harry down, had done some good after all. Draco nodded and stepped forwards. The runes carved around the edges of the oval flared at him. Draco smiled and caught Professor Snape’s eye. He would have established some runes outside the door that would feed off the energy they raised here. It calmed Draco to know he had someone so powerful and devious on his side.

Harry is powerful, he had to admit as he walked into the center of the oval, and felt the power turn slowly around like a dragon waking from sleep. But I don’t think anyone could call him devious.

Professor Snape was murmuring beneath his breath as he stared at Draco. But since he wasn’t moving his wand, Dumbledore probably thought he was just hoping this worked, or even praying for Draco’s safety. One could call upon runes without wand movements, though, at least if they were all properly carved.

“Now.” Dumbledore twitched his own wand, and the ordinary rocks that he had laid in the center of the oval all began to glow, transformed, or maybe Transfigured, into coals. “You know what you have to do. Keep the purpose of the ritual firmly in your mind. The purification that fire can bring.” He looked at Draco’s left arm. Draco had deliberately worn a sleeveless shirt that bared his Dark Mark. “Ready?”

Draco nodded without looking away from the coals. He didn’t know for sure if this would work, but he caught Harry’s eye, and it didn’t matter if it would work or not. It was still worth it to try.

Knowing he couldn’t even keep track of all the swirling magic that would fill the room in moments, and that he shouldn’t try, Draco stepped forwards into the fire.

Chapter Text

Thank you again for all the reviews!

Chapter Thirty-Three—Siphoning

Draco could feel the Dark Mark on his arm burning from the moment he stepped onto the coals.

That wasn’t surprising, Draco thought, as he kept his face and feet focused forwards. After all, he was thinking of purification, and the magic all around him was meant for that. Dumbledore was wrong, probably, about whether getting rid of the Mark would really eliminate the Horcrux in Harry, but it reacted with the presence of purifying fire anyway.

Draco kept walking even as the dull pain beneath his feet turned into low-smoldering agony. Refining fire. Think of that. Dumbledore’s phoenix. The low fire the house-elves used to leave burning in his room when he was still afraid of the dark, because his parents had never thought to tell the elves they couldn’t. The way his mother’s eyes had lit on fire when she stood up to the Dark Lord in the last moments of her life.

It didn’t help. The pain was building, and Draco was gasping. Even though it seemed like he only had a few meters’ worth of coals to cross, he didn’t see how he was going to do it.

Then the bond quivered, and Harry’s love and strength poured over him like a pail of cool water. Draco found his spine straightening entirely without his permission. He moved forwards carefully and confidently, and there was a harsh sound of peeling skin.

When he glanced to the side, half his Dark Mark’s top layer of skin was dangling from the snake, blackened as though he’d already been burned there.

Draco swallowed. They hadn’t discussed what would happen if Harry interfered in the firewalk through the bond; until this moment, Draco hadn’t had any idea that he could. Or what would happen if the Mark really did burn away.

This was just supposed to be cover for the masking ritual and the power they were going to take from it.

But Draco had to keep going. He couldn’t be in charge of manipulating the power that flowed from the ritual into their mask. He watched the red, dancing flames in front of him and took another step.

*

Harry could see the way that Hermione’s wand moved constantly down by her side, hidden from Dumbledore by the way she was standing, and knew she was siphoning off power from the ritual through the runes Snape had drawn outside. Ron stood behind her, hands on her shoulders. They’d already cast some sort of blessing spell Hermione had found that linked them together, and that meant Ron could give Hermione his strength when she started to falter.

Harry and Draco hadn’t used the same spell. But Harry thought that their bond was going to make a good substitute for it.

This is what I have to do now, Harry thought, and turned his gaze back to Draco as he felt pain down the bond again, sharp spikes that stabbed the tender inner flesh of his mind. Again he sent forth waves of love and support, and Draco’s head came up. Even the shadows that the fire cast on his face seemed to diminish. This is the person I want to save most right now.

He was so close. Even with the ritual oval between them, Harry felt as if Draco was standing right beside him, one hand on his pulse. Or his heart. He could feel the pain from the firewalk lessening, and it only made him want to lessen it more and more. He poured as steadily as he could, and saw Draco’s faint smile as he began to stride instead of simply walk.

Then, and at the same moment, Harry felt a sharp, stabbing anguish in his forehead.

He held himself still. Professor Snape had warned him this might happen as a side-effect. They were using the masking ritual to hide their true intentions from Dumbledore, but also to fuel their own desire, which was to find the cup Horcrux. They had discussed trying to get rid of the Horcrux in Harry right now, but in the end, Snape had decided that wouldn’t be a good idea, given that other Horcruxes still existed. They would destroy the cup first.

It was hard to stand there with his teeth gritted and throw calmness and love and strength at Draco while his own strength danced and rippled like a flag in the wind. But he had to, and that meant he did. He had done things that hurt more than this, things that he didn’t have Draco there for.

And he would not, he would not give up and die the way Dumbledore was expecting him to.

Even when he knew his scar was bleeding and he had to reach up constantly to wipe at the blood dripping down his nose and cheek, he kept looking, he kept throwing love, and he kept avoiding Dumbledore’s knowing eyes.

*

Severus hissed as one of the runes he had woven into the stone outside the Room of Requirement exploded in a shower of blue sparks. It had risen from the floor first and danced back and forth in the air like a questing snake.

Then it was gone.

Severus turned and cast a glance through the half-open door at what Granger was doing. She didn’t seem to have dealt with explosive runes as yet. She was moving her wand constantly, and her chanting was inaudible. She had started to lean more heavily on Weasley, though, and that meant she was losing strength fast.

Severus had no one to give him strength.

Until his eyes fell on Harry, and he saw the way he wiped stoically at the blood on his face, never taking his gaze from Draco.

Severus hissed, and gathered himself. Lily, you birthed a fine son. Someone capable of looking past years of hatred and rivalry. I will do what I can for him.

He had another idea in mind, He turned back to the runes in front of him and watched as another rose from the floor, glowing red.

This would hurt.

But so what?

Severus used the flick of his wand, this time, to cut into his arm instead of trying to work directly with the rune. When the blood welled up, he dipped his wand in it and then flicked the blood into the air, tracing the path of the rune.

This one froze instead of exploding. It hung there, and a steady pulse began to beat from it, echoing Severus’s heartbeat.

Severus stared at the rune and thought again of the self-loathing he’d summoned when he destroyed the diadem Horcrux. But this time, he was doing something different with it than trying to create Fiendfyre.

He thought of the hatred, the abiding hatred, that he would always feel for Sirius Black and James Potter. Just because he had learned better when it came to James Potter’s son did not mean he would ever hate the bastard any less. He would gladly rip his teeth from his head with a spell and feed them to him. Or use them in a potion. It wasn’t easy to come by such high-level ingredients as the teeth of a Gryffindor pureblood who would scream at the destruction of his looks.

He thought of the hatred he felt towards himself, each and every day, for destroying Lily. He should have fought harder against the temptation to surrender to loyalty for the Dark Lord. He should have realized sooner that the prophecy might apply to her. He should have turned to Dumbledore before he had.

But then he thought of the distrust he felt towards Dumbledore now, and laughed darkly. He braided the emotions together, the helpless hatred and the darkness, the grief that would always be there, the core of terror that he was only a blackened and wretched thing no one could ever love.

The red rune was still twisting in front of Severus when he opened his eyes again. He was panting and soaked with sweat, and he didn’t dare glance at Draco to see how near he was to the end of his firewalk, or Granger to see if she was still managing to draw on the power of some of the runes.

Severus reached out, through the rune, which had become one of seeking and finding. He demanded the location of another source of rage and hatred and pain that could match his, something else that contained such a darkened soul.

And he felt it.

The growing throb in the bottom of his stomach, the sudden sick feeling in the center of his head, almost behind his brow, in the place that Harry had his scar...Severus was sure this was it. He turned, staring through the rune, focusing his will and his hatred into a kind of pulsing agreement with the distant Horcrux.

He gazed through the rune, and he saw.

He was looking into a Gringotts vault, crowded with so many treasures and loose coins and wrapped objects of dubious worth that Severus had to prevent his eyes from wandering. Instead, he locked them as hard as he could on the first gleam of a golden cup handle. And yes, there it was, on a high shelf over everything else.

Now he only needed some kind of proof about which vault it was in.

Letting his eyes dart around proved surprisingly easy, once Severus had learned to look through the clutter and the rubbish. And there, there was something significant, a rusty spear that looked as though it had flecks of old blood near the head. The handle was made of ebony wood, and carved into it was the Lestrange coat-of-arms.

Severus wanted to lean his head on his hands and chuckle in exhaustion. Draco had been right after all.

He started to withdraw. They had the information they needed now, and Draco was probably near the end of his firewalk, which, given the size of the ritual oval, honestly hadn't looked that long. Best to pull back and use--

The image of the vault was vibrating. Severus found himself putting his hand to his wand despite the fact that this was an image and couldn't hurt him. Was someone opening the vault right now? Did the Dark Lord have foreknowledge of their plan to destroy the Horcruxes? He might have made the decision to move the cup elsewhere.

The rune twisted in front of him, and made a sharp noise that Severus usually associated only with potions about to boil over. He moved a slow step backwards, and this time, he cut the magic link between himself and the rune.

But he couldn’t so easily cut the link of self-hatred between himself and the Horcrux.

The rune flared red and passed into oblivion, but Severus still saw the image of the golden cup in front of him, even if it had become isolated from the surroundings of the vault. It was flowing as if it was melting, and he thought he could see the handles and the slight sheen on its surface better than ever.

It was coming towards him.

Severus barely had enough time to duck. The cup flew past him and slammed into the wall with a noise like an enemy spear. Severus turned to stare at it, and saw the Horcrux rolling over a few more times than the fall could account for. Shadows that no gold should bear moved on its surface.

It was there.

No image. No fake. Severus was absolutely sure, from the pulsing like an evil heart beneath his forehead, that this was the real thing.

He floated it into the air, shaking his head as his brain passed swiftly over what must have happened. Both he and Granger were working on the runes, and while his desire had only been to find the Horcrux, Granger might have harbored a wish to make it easy on all of them and summon it somehow.

Either that, or we were using different definitions of the word “find.”

Severus sighed. He had to go back into the room in a few moments and face Albus, and he did not want to. At the very least, he would not keep the Horcrux here, where Albus could see it and guess at the nature of the masking ritual.

He cast a spell that wrapped the Horcrux in thick twines of silk, one of the most magically muffling materials he knew, and then flicked his wand in a way that sent the Horcrux flying down the corridor and into one of the most shadowed corners in the castle. The chances that anyone would find it there before he could retrieve it were minimal. Right now, he didn’t have the time or the strength to send it all the way to his quarters.

Severus had just turned back to his guarding position when someone began to scream from inside the Room of Requirement.

*

“Harry!”

There were people screaming the name as Draco walked over the last coals and leaped lightly to the floor, spinning around. He didn’t think much of it at first. He knew Harry was in pain as the Dark Mark began to peel off his arm. But he was in pain, too, and all through the walk, Harry’s love had never faltered. How could he be in that much trouble if he could still sustain Draco like that?

But then he saw Harry on the floor with a pool of black blood spreading around him, and he knew.

Draco sprinted towards the edge of the ritual oval. He didn’t plan to leap over it, only tear across it. Really, he had no plan except to get to Harry as quickly as possible.

But he slammed against a barrier strong enough to daze him, and it rippled in the air and made white sparkles show up around the edges of Draco’s vision for a second. He leaned back and gasped, then stared at Dumbledore, who had his wand up and a look of such sorrow on his face that Draco felt himself go cold.

“I am sorry,” Dumbledore said quietly. “I cannot allow you to go to Harry right now. The ritual is still in progress.” He nodded to the flames that were flickering and dying around the coals. “It will be until the fire is gone.”

“Let me pass.” Draco didn’t know his own voice.

“I cannot. Not unless you want everything that we fought for to be destroyed.”

What did we accomplish?” Draco screamed. His throat was hoarse with the noise he’d already made. He turned and flung himself against the barrier again.

Now he knew why he hadn’t felt any pain down the bond, which had been so reassuring for a while. The bond was thin and flickering, as close to gone as Draco had felt it at any time since they first began it. Harry was unconscious and sinking.

“The Dark Mark is almost gone, of course,” Dumbledore said, sounding a little surprised. “And the Horcrux in Harry has been affected. It is true that Harry may be dying, but I think he will survive. And you will die if you leave the circle, Mr. Malfoy—”

“It’s an oval, you stupid—”

“I will not sacrifice lives without need.”

“Or maybe it doesn’t matter to you that much because you already think Harry needs to die!” Draco yelled the words as hard as he could, and lifted his fists to slam them into the barrier in front of him. “If you don’t let me go right now—”

The barrier dissolved. “The fire is gone.”

Draco didn’t even look back at the coals to be sure if that was true or not. He simply ran to Harry’s side and rolled him over. Granger was swaying towards them as well, but she looked as pale as cheese and Weasley had to catch her.

“Listen,” Draco breathed, staring at the black blood smeared all over Harry’s face and robes. “You have two choices. You can live or you can die and take me with you. That’s the only set of choices to have.”

Harry twitched a little under his hands. He didn’t say anything. His mouth was open, and looking into it was like looking into an underground sea. Draco reached out and took Harry’s shoulder and shook him as hard as he could.

Mr. Malfoy!”

Draco paid absolutely no attention. There was only one thing he was interested in, and that was seeing Harry restored to life. He shook him again, and when his head only flopped limply, he closed his eyes and reached out along the bond.

Maybe it was closed to him now. That didn’t matter. Because Draco still had the key to the door on his side of the bond, even if Harry was too out of it to hear him and let him in.

It took some pounding, as if he was trying to breach an Occlumency barrier that was still up, but then he fell through abruptly and found himself tumbling down a long tunnel. At the bottom was something that still moved and breathed, if only a little. It reminded Draco of the time he had gone hunting Harry’s wandering soul, helped to guide it back. If he could do that much, he ought to be able to do this.

And it made him angry. Because, once again, Harry was lost and wandering because he’d tried to take on too much. What level of strength had he given Draco, to make him collapse? And his scar, bleeding like that. Why hadn’t he kept anything for himself?

He knew part of the answer, of course, Draco thought as he stood there shivering in the darkness. Harry’s relatives and Dumbledore had convinced him that he didn’t need that much. And now Dumbledore was pushing it further, with the idea that the only worth Harry had was to die, and so destroy the Horcrux.

The horrible, chill anger surged up, and Draco started speaking words that he couldn’t have imagined speaking to his soul-bonded just an hour ago.

“Why is it always about you? Why do you have to spend yourself so ruthlessly, for such short-term gains? You know what’s going to happen to me if you die. What was the good of keeping me alive in the ritual, if you knew I would just die when your body did?

“You’re selfish. So is Dumbledore, but at least he’s not soul-bonded to someone and he knows he’s going to die anyway from that blackened hand he has, so he’s making plans. You just leap headlong into whatever challenge is in front of you today, and you never think about the future. What if you did? What if someone forced you to think about the future, and you didn’t have any choice?”

And Draco forced Harry to do it, far fiercer than he’d thought he could be. He reached towards the breathing, shifting darkness ahead of him, the part of Harry that he thought he could still feel down the bond, and he yanked.

There was a grunt, and surprisingly heavy resistance, like a boulder was tied to the other end of the soul-bond. Draco didn’t give a fuck. He leaned more and more heavily on the bond, and called again, or pulled again. This time, something came flying towards him.

It slammed into Draco, and bowled him backwards, so that he came nearer the “surface” and heard people exclaiming over him and someone shouting. But he didn’t care. He dived right back down into that darkness and shook Harry good and hard. Harry looked fine here, without any blood pouring from his scar.

“You’re selfish,” Draco spat. “Did you hear me say that?”

“And what was I supposed to do? Stop the ritual?” Harry put on a sickly sweet smile that reminded Draco disturbingly of Umbridge. “Oh, excuse me, let’s stop this extremely important and risky magic, my scar is bleeding and my poor little face can’t handle that!”

"It was more than just your scar!"

Draco yelled the words right into Harry's face, and he folded his arms and glared back. "I'm not suicidal, Draco. I'm not stupid. I did what I thought was best. And it was just my scar at first. It didn't start the deeper bleeding until you were almost all the way across the fire."

"Were you trying to come back to me?" For some reason, Draco found himself almost holding his breath.

"Of course." Harry blinked at him. "I just didn't have the strength, though." He grimaced a little and spent a moment rubbing his shoulder, where Draco had grabbed him. "I reckon that I spent most of it trying to pour more power into the bond those last few minutes, and then I didn't have enough to stay in my body."

Draco swallowed and let out a few harsh breaths. As long as it was that, as long as Harry hadn't deliberately abandoned him over some notion of the "greater good" and what he owed other people...

"Come back now," Draco said, and held out a commanding hand.

Harry hesitated, but stopped Draco from exploding by asking quickly, "Do you have enough strength to pull us both back? Because, if not, I can't see the point of exhausting you. You should go on."

"My life would end here anyway, if the soul-bond did," Draco said, and he prided himself on not huffing through his teeth. "Would you please take my hand so we can start pulling now?"

"All right."

Harry was strangely subdued as he leaned against Draco's shoulder and followed the pull back up into the light, but thinking about it, Draco thought he could understand why. Draco had just showed up and told him in no uncertain terms that he was going to cause someone's death if he stayed here, but Harry wasn't used to being the one rescued. He must have reached the end of his power and thought that was the end.

Draco didn't think so. And even though he was exhausted too, he had the benefit of having drunk in so much of Harry's strength, and an insane determination that not even death could take away.

Step by step, they went back towards the surface, the light and voices Draco had heard once before. And then, suddenly, they were there, and Draco was gasping in pain as the air seared his lungs and he felt blood coating his hands.

When he opened his eyes, Harry was lying still and soaked enough that it scared him, but Professor Snape was kneeling to one side, and he nodded to Draco once.

"He will live."

Draco had nothing else to say; he needed nothing else. He closed his eyes and lay down next to Harry, looping an arm around his waist.

He did hear Professor Snape's next mutter before he drifted off.

"We have to stop him from risking Potter's strength on a whim all the time."

Draco fully agreed with that, but at the moment, it was too much effort to open his eyes and say so. He just drifted into silence and the low, steady flicker of the soul-bond at the back of both their minds, trusting Professor Snape to say what needed to be said.

Chapter Text

"If Harry would talk to me, he would see that I mean him no harm."

It felt to Harry as if he was lying under an enormous, soaked blanket. He found his eyelids trembling, and scowled a little. He ought to be able to open his eyes and sit up right away, because that was what he wanted to do.

But instead, he had to lie in what felt like one of the beds in the hospital wing and listen to an argument between Dumbledore and--Draco? It sounded like him, but the bond between them was faint and muddied, and Harry couldn't feel as much as he should have been able to. He listened harder.

"But you did mean him harm. You held me back when I tried to go to him."

"That was saving your life, Mr. Malfoy. And I didn't think you were so ungenerous or unintelligent as not to realize it."

Draco made a snarling sound, and some of his emotions came down the bond to Harry after all. There was spiky rage, mixed with glinting golden-green waves of concern and regret. "The fact still remains that you wouldn't be upset if the ritual had killed him."

"Mr. Malfoy, I certainly do not--"

"Oh, wait, never mind, you would be upset," Draco continued in a sweet tone that made Harry wince for Dumbledore even before Draco got to the end of his sentence. "Because, of course, Harry has to die at the time and place you chose for him, probably by the Killing Curse, not just because a ritual went wrong."

Harry felt he had to sit up after that. At least it would probably distract Draco and Dumbledore from each other if he was a flailing, pathetic mess. He did his best, and it worked in at least one sense, in that Draco came racing to his bedside a second later.

"You ought to lie still," Draco muttered, one hand smoothing back Harry's fringe. Harry found himself wincing, because he thought his scar would be inflamed, but Draco's hand simply glided over it without hurting it. "You're still magically exhausted, and Madam Pomfrey doesn't know when you'll be able to leave your bed."

"I'll be all right," said Harry, both proud he could make the words come out and stunned because his voice was so faint. "Tell me what happened after I collapsed and you brought us back. Are Ron and Hermione all right?"

Draco stood beside him, in between Harry and Dumbledore, and gave Dumbledore an absolutely vicious glance when he tried to say something. With the smallest of sighs, and a shake of the head, Dumbledore moved back, although he continued to watch them both from under his lowered eyebrows.

"Weasley and Granger are fine, although Granger had to rest. Professor Snape checked and made sure you were going to live," Draco said, turning to Harry with an air of self-importance that made Harry have to conceal a smile. "Then we brought you to the hospital wing. You're magically exhausted." He paused and let his fingers brush against Harry's scar. "And something changed with the Horcruxes."

Harry blinked, and caught a pulse of warning down the bond. He didn't think Draco was necessarily talking about the one inside him, but they had to pretend they were since Dumbledore was there.

"What was it?"

"We don't know for sure," Draco said. Harry watched the flicker of his eyelid and lip and thought they probably did know, but they weren't going to say for now. He nodded. Draco bent down and kissed him lightly. "But there's this." He pulled back his left sleeve.

Harry stared. He could still see the Dark Mark on Draco's left forearm, but now it looked as though someone had traced it in Muggle pencil and never come back to complete the design. He touched it, and looked at Draco in wonder. "No raised scars, even," he breathed.

“No,” said Draco, and smiled at him with the kind of drowning expression that made Harry want to pull him into his arms. “The ritual accomplished that much.” He turned his head and looked evenly at Dumbledore, and Harry realized that Draco didn’t think it had accomplished much more than that, either.

“If you could bring yourself to talk to me, Harry,” said Dumbledore softly.

“I’m starting to think Draco’s right. What bothers you isn’t the fact that I might die, it’s that I might die in the wrong time and place. Right?”

Dumbledore sighed and reached out to take a chair near the bed. Harry only watched, and said nothing. On the one hand, part of him still longed to reassure Dumbledore, to tell him that he understood how hard it had to be to make decisions that affected so many people, and how he wanted to work with him.

But he still remembered the way Dumbledore had come up to him on his birthday and simply dropped the news of the Horcrux on him. And the way he had talked about Draco as if he was untrustworthy simply because he was a Slytherin. And how he had insisted that Harry undergo the soul-bond ritual and then tried to make him see it as a mistake.

Dumbledore made mistakes, too. The problem was that he didn’t want to admit them, and tried to keep other people from thinking of them as errors, either.

Harry realized that he was squeezing Draco’s hand as hard as Dudley might and projecting anger down the bond when Draco shifted next to him. Harry nodded in recognition and tucked his feet under him on the bed, watching Dumbledore and saying nothing for the moment.

Dumbledore didn’t seem to notice. “The ritual had one of the purifying effects I hoped it would, but not the other,” he said quietly. “Young Mr. Malfoy’s Mark is mostly gone, but not your Horcrux, Harry. From what I could tell of it, it didn’t even seem to be affected.”

Harry tried to look sideways at Draco without letting Dumbledore see. Had Dumbledore cast some spell on him as he lay there? What had he learned about the Horcrux and the soul-bond?

But the only thing he knew for certain was that Draco was calm. That must mean Dumbledore either hadn’t done anything too bad or didn’t know anything. Harry sighed and said, “So are we going to try another plan, now? Or are you going to let Draco try his?”

“I was unaware that young Mr. Malfoy had a plan.”

“He said that he thought that other Horcrux must be with the Lestranges, because Voldemort trusts them the most. So we should try to get into Gringotts and their vault, right?”

Draco squeezed Harry’s hand. Harry paused. He knew Dumbledore would probably just see that little motion as something meant to calm Harry down or maybe thank him for his support.

But to Harry, along with the pulse of very strong emotion down the bond, it was suggesting something else.

Harry restrained himself from asking what Draco meant for the moment, and simply inclined his head to Dumbledore. “What do you say? Are we going to try and break into Gringotts?”

“I know of no way to pass all the security of the bank. Otherwise, believe me, Harry, I would already have tried. Young Mr. Malfoy’s guess is as good as any, and I believe we are running out of time before Voldemort either figures out that some of his Horcruxes have gone missing or launches a major offensive. That means that we need to finish this quest quickly.”

“But there must be some way. I mean, Quirrell broke into the bank during my first year. Why can’t we just figure out what he did and do it, too?”

“Two reasons. First, the goblins will undoubtedly have discovered whatever flaw in their security let the attempted theft of the Philosopher’s Stone happen and patched it.” Dumbledore pushed his glasses up his nose. “And second, we can be sure that whatever method Tom used, it was Dark. I will not stoop to using the Dark Arts.”

Harry could feel the incredulous way Draco was staring beside him, and spoke hastily, almost before he thought, simply desperate to keep Draco from ruining everything with Dumbledore. "But what if that Dark method is the only way we can win the war, sir? Then can we use it?"

"There is another way we can win the war," said Dumbledore, and his eyes were lingering on Harry's scar.

"No, you bastard. No."

Harry made a hasty grab at Draco, but Draco shook him off and sent a blast of cold down the bond that made Harry cough and reel. Draco moved, turning a little, shielding Harry from Dumbledore's sight. The only frustrating thing about that was it meant Harry couldn't see Dumbledore's reaction, either. He nudged at Draco's ribs with his elbow, but it still didn't make Draco move or change the implacable stare on his face.

"Killing Harry, having Harry kill himself, wouldn't win the war." Every one of Draco's words clanged like an iron ingot falling out of his mouth. "Even if his Horcrux was destroyed, that leaves Nagini and the Horcrux in the bank. The one you say we can't reach. We can't break into the bank with Dark Arts, because that would be a step too far for you somehow, but we can send someone who's fought as hard as he can to his death. My bondmate. How is that sane? How can you stand here and preach victory when we would still have Horcruxes to destroy?"

"Mr. Malfoy--"

"No. I want to know. Why are you so desperate for Harry to die? More secrets you're hiding from him? I have no idea how there could be more after the Horcruxes and the prophecy, but that's Light wizards for you, I suppose. What is it, Dumbledore?"

For a long moment, there was silence. Harry finally managed to sit up and lean so he could see Dumbledore's face. His expression was drawn and old, and he sat gazing down at the blackened hand in his lap, the remnant of his own battle with a Horcrux.

Harry felt a stirring of pity, only to find himself hit with a blast of snowflakes and freezing water down the bond.

"Don't you dare," said Draco, in a whisper so low and hissing that Harry jumped. He thought for a moment that a snake had somehow got into the hospital wing. Draco turned and faced Dumbledore, and once again his face looked as if it was carved out of iron. "I want an answer."

Dumbledore looked up slowly. His voice was gentle and faltering, and Harry thought he had never seemed so old. "The answer, Mr. Malfoy, is that I cannot taint my soul with Dark Arts. Nor do I want to taint yours when I worked so hard to rescue you." He turned a slow, moody look on Harry. "But Harry--"

"What? Deserves to be tainted? Needs to split his soul? What?"

"I knew Harry would have to kill Voldemort. The prophecy said so. And when I found out about the Horcrux, I thought--well, he has a taint there already. It will not hurt him as badly if he is the one who uses the appropriate methods to recover the Horcruxes. He cannot--he will not be spared at least the taint of murder, by the will of fate. This way, he at least could take the fall and spare innocents who have a choice."

Draco, Harry could tell from the bond, was lost in a rage so incandescent that he couldn't speak. So Harry was the one who did.

"I understand."

"No. No."

Harry held up his hand to make Draco be silent, and never looked away from Dumbledore's eyes. He thought it was okay. He knew Dumbledore wouldn't dare try Legilimency right now, not after he'd just admitted to the crime he'd been committing against Harry. "I don't mean I'm going to march out there and die. I just said I can understand the logic. It's like locking up someone who has a disease so they don't spread the disease, even if that means they die anyway. It's what we do with werewolves. It's like cutting off a limb that's dying to make sure the rest of the body doesn't die." He glanced at Dumbledore's hand.

"You do know it," Dumbledore breathed, and closed his eyes. Harry saw the gleam of tears around the corners of his closed lids, and didn't even think he was being manipulative.

“That doesn’t mean that I’m going to agree when we have an alternative.”

“But the ritual did not work to destroy your Horcrux,” said Dumbledore at once. Harry wondered, for a moment, if he saw all the possible ways that this conversation could turn in his mind, and he was ready to block any possible gambit. It must be like playing chess with instinctive strategy, the way Ron did. “That means that we have no choice but to destroy it another way.”

“Which doesn’t have to involve me dying.”

“It must. Can you not see that, Harry? A moment ago, you acknowledged the necessity.”

“I said I could understand why you would see it that way.” Harry sighed and braced himself against the strength in the bond, which was flowering with approval now, as Draco understood what he was doing and supported him in it. “That doesn’t mean I agree.”

“If you know that you must die, that you must be cut off from the body for the body to flourish—”

“But that’s still just a metaphor. And I’m a human being, not a limb.” Beside him, Draco nodded so hard that Harry felt him wince a second later; he’d hurt his neck. “And we don’t have two of the Horcruxes yet. How will having me die before we get them help with anything?”

"I can think of ways to deal with those other Horcruxes," said Dumbledore quietly. "Fiendfyre. The basilisk fang. I would not put you through those painful ways, Harry."

"That assumes you could get hold of the other Horcruxes in the first place." Draco's part of the bond was lashing with fury, as much like wild waves as it had been since they started to put up the Occlumency walls, but his voice and face were both tranquil. "So you want Harry to die, just not in pain. I see. What a generous distinction."

"The Killing Curse is painless. And I believe that having Tom cast the curse at Harry that he survived once before--"

"Is the mark of a generous human being. A great leader. A--"

Harry squeezed Draco's hand to shut him up just as Dumbledore interrupted. "I said I believe that it would give Harry a chance to survive the curse, in a way he most assuredly would not if he was having a different spell cast at him, or one in the middle of a battle. We need to make sure that we set up a situation where Tom can cast the spell at him and not be suspicious. Then there's the chance to come back."

"You believe."

"I also believe I said that, Mr. Malfoy."

"But that means that you also don't know. That also means there's the chance Harry could die. And if he did, you would just expect him to go ahead and die, right? And me with him. That would be the price of doing business."

Dumbledore bowed his head.

Draco was shaking as if he'd fly apart. Harry decided that he really didn't want him to speak anymore. His part of the bond was so upset that it would only hurt him more if he did. So he sat up, and shook his head when Draco tried to turn on him with fire in his eyes.

He also sent a strong pulse of reassurance down the bond. Draco might think Harry was actively trying to hurt himself, but he ought to know that Harry would never do anything that would drag Draco into death along with him.

“I understand,” Harry repeated. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to do what you want, sir. Not this time. Not ever again.”

Dumbledore raised his head. “Nothing, Harry? Not even take the actions that would save dozens of lives? Perhaps hundreds, if Voldemort finds out what we are doing before we complete it and creates more Horcruxes? I never want to accuse you of selfishness. This is perhaps the first thing you’ve said that’s selfish.”

Harry took a deep breath and held it. It helped. It also helped that Draco was now so overcome with outrage that he couldn’t speak at all.

Dumbledore, of course, went on, his voice eloquent and pleading. “I won’t say that the whole burden should rest on your shoulders, or that what you’re being asked to do is fair. But because of the prophecy, we have to think of you as the only one who can do this. I don’t know any other way to interpret the words.”

Draco squeezed Harry’s hand. Harry suspected he knew what Draco would say if he had the breath and sanity. Just because you don’t know…

“And there is truly no greater contribution you can make than getting rid of the Horcrux inside you. Other people, including me, can hunt the other two, and destroy them. But there’s only one way to remove this one.”

Draco was almost writhing. He stopped only because he saw Harry sitting up and opening his mouth, Harry thought. And not even that impulse would hold him silent much longer.

That meant Harry had to make this good.

“I won’t do as you say,” Harry agreed quietly. “And it has nothing to do with your belief that getting rid of the Horcrux in me with the Killing Curse is possible. It might be possible. And it might also be possible that I could survive it. I don’t know.”

Dumbledore seemed to be the one holding his breath, this time. “And what is the real reason you won’t listen to me?”

“Because you soul-bound Draco to me without thinking of the consequences. And you keep talking as though I should just allow myself to be killed while doing nothing to save him. I think you knew about the ‘only’ method to get rid of the Horcrux when you set up the soul-bond ritual, not just when you came to talk to me on my birthday. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“I suspected it, yes. But I didn’t know it until I had done some research. I swear to you, Harry.”

“And you took the risk anyway. You decided to tie Draco to me even though you knew it might mean his death, because you were so—I don’t know, desperate or hasty. You only did the research about how I could get rid of the Horcrux later.”

“I thought that the soul-bond might still work the way I hoped it might, that it might draw away your soul from the Horcrux and towards Mr. Malfoy’s—”

“The point is,” Harry said, and felt the words ache like a spike driven into his lungs, “you took risks with Draco’s life. And you were even thinking about taking them with Ron and Hermione’s, when you listened to Hermione’s plan to soul-bond with me. It’s not—you can do what you want with my life. I might put myself into your hands and trust you with that. You have no right to do the same thing with other people.”

Dumbledore was silent. He looked at Harry with sharp eyes. Harry didn’t bother to look away. If Dumbledore read some of the truth out of his mind, then so be it, although Harry thought he would recognize the sensation of Legilimency by now. But he needed to face Dumbledore down and make him understand.

He’d had no right.

Finally, the Headmaster stood up, looking as though he’d had to pick up the burden of the world. Harry only watched him. He knew how that felt, but Dumbledore knew so much more than he did and didn’t have a soul-bond. He ought to be the one to figure out what they were going to do.

Some other way.

“I can only hope that you will reconsider,” Dumbledore said, in a whisper so soft that Harry would have missed it if he hadn’t been listening intently. “If you would only see how much more you can do than any other…it’s not only that you’re already marked and prophesied, Harry. It’s that you have talents other people don’t.”

“Like what?” Harry asked. From the way Draco squeezed his hand, he probably thought Harry shouldn’t risk even this much conversation, but it was still something Harry wanted to try.

“Like being able to stand up to evil and not run away from it. Did you never wonder why the wizarding world was always so eager to shove the saving of the world off on your shoulders, when there were powerful and experienced wizards available to save it?”

“Don’t try that one on him,” Draco snarled, apparently having reached the point where silence was physically impossible for him. “Just don’t. Not when he was one year old and no one knew he would have this supposedly remarkable world-saving ability.”

“But when he defeated Voldemort when he was eleven—”

“That was Voldemort as a spirit and hiding on the back of Quirrell’s head,” Harry interrupted impatiently, noticing that Draco wasn’t even flinching. Good for him! “Not now, with him back at the height of his power and still having some Horcruxes. I’m not going to walk out and die for you, Headmaster. Get used to the idea.”

Dumbledore continued to gaze at him with a long, searching, earnest look. Harry stared straight back and said nothing. Dumbledore finally had to turn away, with a weary, defeated sigh, and make his way to the far side of the hospital wing and out, his shoulders slumping.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” Draco said, and raised so many protective and privacy spells around the bed that Harry blinked in surprise.

“What? Your sexual fantasies?”

*

Draco paused, both to chuckle and to feel the overwhelming rush of relief and gratitude. This could have been lost forever. Harry’s stupid jokes and stupid trust in Dumbledore would have died along with the rest of him during the ritual.

But Draco had rescued him. And Dumbledore had better not try to do anything else to Draco’s favorite possession.

Draco crowded in close to the bed and whispered, “Professor Snape managed to summon the cup Horcrux.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open, and his eyes widened so far that Draco could read the thoughts in the back of them without Legilimency. But luckily, he didn’t ask anything stupid like why they hadn’t told Dumbledore yet. He reached out and grasped Draco’s hand, and Draco gave him a hard squeeze back, grinning.

“How are we going to destroy it?” Harry murmured, barely moving his lips, as if he wanted to keep them from being read.

“The basilisk fang, probably.”

Harry nodded and leaned back on his pillow. His face turned sly. Draco blinked and focused on the bond, which hummed with a strange candy-colored glow he’d never seen before.

“And I know I have you to thank for my life,” Harry whispered. “We have a little while before Ron or Hermione or Madam Pomfrey come back, probably. How would you like your reward?”

Draco twitched, and then leaned closer. Harry’s lips were so seductively parted, and his face was so earnest

“I don’t think we have enough time, regrettably,” Draco breathed out. “But let me tell you what I want.”

And he did, so thoroughly that by the time Weasley and Granger did enter the hospital wing five minutes later, Harry had three blankets balled on top of his groin to make sure no one could catch a glimpse of what Draco’s words had done to him.

Draco just sat back, listened, thought of the Room of Requirement later, and smiled.

Chapter Text

“Ahhh, Harry….”

Harry kept a smile from forming on his lips as he carefully sucked Draco, wondering if Draco would ever know how intense and interested and vulnerable he sounded. Then he decided it probably wasn’t a good idea to tell him that. He sucked, instead, and worked his jaw carefully open so that he was taking in more and more of Draco’s cock.

But no teeth. It had only taken one scrape to break the mood earlier, and he knew he couldn’t do it again.

He moved his head from side to side as he hollowed his cheeks. He found that he enjoyed the faint salty taste and the weight in his mouth more than he’d thought he would.

And Draco’s fingers clutched in his hair, pulling backwards and then yanking harder, only pleased him. He knew it meant that he was doing a good job.

I love making him feel good.

Keeping that in mind, Harry sucked again, and reached down to stroke himself. He had to stop when he started to focus on more on his own hand than his mouth and almost let his teeth out. But there were still other things he could do. He reached up and back, sliding his fingers in a tickling caress over Draco’s balls.

Draco shouted and bucked. Harry gagged a little, moved back, still kept his teeth from popping out, and then leaned in and sucked hard again.

Draco’s hands were in his hair so firmly this time that he couldn’t move backwards when Draco came. But that hardly mattered, when Draco was sighing and shouting and saying something incoherent that had his name somewhere in it. Harry kept his throat relaxed as long as he could stand it, and then swallowed hard a few times.

It didn’t taste as good going down. But that hardly mattered, either, Harry thought, as he wiped his mouth with one hand and stared at Draco. Draco had fallen so that he was sprawled on the bed in the Room of Requirement. His chest heaved up and down, but barely. His eyes were crossed when Harry moved to the side to look at him.

Harry sat down next to him and reached for his own cock. He wanted to come, too, and it was clear that Draco wasn’t going to be any help.

But then he cried out because Draco was grabbing him and rolling him over, so that his hand was pinned between his cock and the blankets. Draco kissed the back of Harry’s neck with a tender viciousness and shoved his arm roughly so that Harry’s hand was free again.

“I want you to come because of me,” Draco said. Harry tried to protest that it would have been because of him, that he was hard because of Draco in the first place, but from the way Draco was rocking steadily on his back, he wasn’t about to listen to Harry anyway.

Each rock pushed Harry’s hips deeper into the blanket, and then Draco shifted a little to the side, forcing Harry to shift with him. And it felt as though someone was pressing on his cock from above and clutching it at the same time, and Harry gasped, and bucked in turn, almost hard enough to throw Draco off.

“I think that feels good,” Draco said into his ear, and then laughed and rocked on top of him some more, hard enough to make Harry gasp, and dig his fingers into the blankets, and cock back his hips, and come.

When he was as worn-out and sleepy as Draco had looked a few minutes ago, Draco drew Harry with him into the pillows, rubbing his fingers through Harry’s hair still and murmuring. Harry tried to stay up to talk with him. He wanted to know what they were going to do with the cup Horcrux. Snape and Draco had probably talked about that while Harry was still trying to recover from the ritual.

But he couldn’t keep his mouth open any more than he could his eyes, and when Draco reached out and traced around the curve of his ear and whispered, “Go to sleep,” directly into it, Harry did, the bond humming happily in the back of his head.

*

Draco wasn’t as tired as he’d thought he would be. He lay there with his arm around Harry for long moments, breathing softly and even keeping his eyes closed, but finally he gave it up and sat up to watch Harry.

He looked—impossible. Still there, still alive, still Draco’s, still beautiful. And still bonded. The soul-bond was right there when Draco reached to pluck it, although now it was only giving him the faint shadows of the emotions in Harry’s dreams.

Draco swallowed. He was honest enough with himself to know that no one had ever meant this much to him. He loved Father, of course, and he would grieve Mother’s death for the rest of his life. But Harry mattered in a way that his own soul mattered to Draco.

And he couldn’t let him die.

Draco closed his eyes. Professor Snape had come to see him during one of his shifts waiting for Harry to wake up, when Dumbledore hadn’t been in the hospital wing. He had told Draco, quietly, that he’d been researching ways to get a Horcrux out of a living being. Not the actual practice, since it had never happened before, but theories about what might happen if they could manage it, with similar cases where living beings had carried powerful magic inside themselves. Like an old pure-blood tradition of turning Squibs into literal carriers of heirlooms, simultaneously hiding them and giving the Squibs a valued place in the family.

It didn’t look good, had been the basic explanation. They would have to kill someone, probably. It didn’t matter if they killed Nagini, who would have been one of their targets even if she wasn’t a Horcrux.

It mattered, greatly, to Draco that they not kill Harry.

That brought a plan to mind that Draco had half-formed yesterday, as he sat in the hospital wing waiting for Harry to wake up. It wasn't one he particularly cared for. The chances were still greater than zero that one of them might die.

But, he had to acknowledge, even apart from Dumbledore's insane plans, there was still a great chance one of them might die. The Dark Lord would be looking for vengeance on both Draco and Harry, now. If he missed his Horcruxes, he might create more, and they might get killed destroying them. Dumbledore could do something desperate they weren't prepared for.

What Draco liked about his plan was that it would keep factors under their control, instead of someone else's. If he and Harry died doing something they had chosen, it would lessen the pain.

Not drive it away completely.

Draco shrugged. There was nothing he could do about that. He had the plan, and Professor Snape had agreed, reluctantly, that it was the best one. Now he only had to explain it to Harry and his friends, and hope they would go along with it.

Harry would be the bigger obstacle.

Draco smoothed his hand through Harry's hair once more, and lay down to watch him sleep--a much more pleasant vigil than in the hospital wing. Especially because, not long after he lay down, sleep claimed him, too.

*

"Thank you for coming when I asked you to."

Severus stood with his hands clasped behind his back, surveying his odd audience. Despite the way that Weasley and Granger sat right next to Harry, it had split naturally into two couples: Harry and Draco with their arms around each other, and Weasley and Granger clasping hands.

I am getting too romantic and exposed to romance in my old age for comfort.

Severus gave a soundless sigh and moved on to the purpose of his speech. "Since you know we have captured the cup Horcrux, this meeting is to discuss strategies for destroying it, as well as the one in Nagini."

"And the one in Harry."

Severus felt his eyebrows rise. He had known Draco would bring up the subject, but not that he would be so bold, or--as he assumed from the expression of mute surprise Harry turned on him--that he would do so without discussing it with his lover first. But Draco placed a reassuring hand on Harry's shoulder, and Harry slumped back against him with a soft sigh.

Young soul-bonds, Severus thought, even as Wesley asked, "But how are we going to do that if we're not using Dumbledore's strategy?"

"We're not."

"Bloody hell, Malfoy, I was agreeing with you!"

"Moving on," Severus said, and tried not to roll his eyes. They sounded like schoolchildren when they were supposed to be saving the world. "Tell them about the idea you came up with, Draco."

Harry turned absolutely trusting eyes on Draco at once. Draco gave the same look of adoration back. Severus had to look away, with something roiling in his stomach that was probably jealousy even though it had no right to be.

"We may not be able to split the Horcrux," Draco said softly, his fingers reaching out to trace the scar on Harry's forehead. Harry bowed his head and closed his eyes. Severus closed his own for a moment, too. "And putting it in me through the bond would only result in the same problem. But what if we bounced it?"

"Bounced it?"

"Yes, Granger. Bounced it back and forth between Harry and me, back and forth through the bond. It might be that that would not only loosen its hold on Harry's soul, but also mean each of us could take a non-lethal curse or dose of basilisk venom--and survive."

"That's an awfully big risk to take."

"Don't you think I know that, Weasley?" Despite the snappish tone of Draco's voice, he didn't look away from Harry or his scar. "But I've been reading about people with soul-bonds who did similar things--passing a disease or curse back and forth between them, for instance, so that the suffering was halved and it eventually weakened."

"How long did it take?" Granger's fingers were twitching as if she wished for ink and parchment.

"A long time," Draco said quietly. "Time we don't have, I know. But I think that, if we begin now, we might lessen the Horcrux's influence anyway. It has to have one soul to cling to if it's in a living being, right, Professor Snape?"

"But how can we know that when no living being has ever been a Horcrux before?"

"Thank you for the enlightening question, Miss Granger," Severus drawled, and had the satisfaction of watching her blush before he looked back at Draco and Harry. Harry was sitting up with one arm on the back of the couch and his face bright. "The answer is that I have researched analogous situations, including some of the curses that Draco was talking about. Soul magic does affect one living soul, whether that's making a Horcrux or casting a spell that is supposed to anchor itself to the victim's soul. Being passed back and forth always weakens such curses."

"We're depending an awful lot on chances and analogies, then."

"Your opinion is enlightening, too, Weasley."

"Let's try it."

All of them went quiet, in a way that Severus would have killed for in the classroom, and looked at Harry. He'd pulled himself up again, and as Severus watched, he reached out and put his hand on the place on Draco's forehead where an identical scar might have existed.

"I know that you wouldn't take chances with my life or my soul unless it was the best chance," he said, luminous and fixed on his soul-bonded. "And this is better than walking up to Voldemort and hoping the Killing Curse takes care of the problem and lets me come back. So much better."

"Why?" Draco breathed.

"Because you came up with it."

Severus had to close his eyes again at the sheer look on Draco's face. Then he cleared his throat loudly, and luckily Granger dropped the arguments she was probably about to bring up and Weasley managed to shut his gape off, and Draco and Harry remembered there were other people in the world and turned around.

"We will have to be careful how we do this," Severus reminded them. "Not only will Dumbledore perhaps recognize what we are researching and what we plan to do with it, but the Dark Lord may well feel a difference in the Horcrux."

Harry nodded seriously. His hand was entwined with Draco's, but at least he seemed to be paying attention to the conversation instead of his soul-bonded. "Do you think he's just been biding his time and waiting to strike?"

"I know a little about how the Dark Lord's mind works, but by no means all, Potter," Severus snapped, and saw the way Harry winced and Draco glared. He moderated his words. "But it is a possibility. One that means we will have to establish the oscillation early on, before he can interfere and perhaps pull on the Horcrux via his soul-bond with you."

"Oscillation?"

"It means the traveling back and forth between us that we're going to make the Horcrux do, Weasley. Keep up."

"We also have more to worry about than your petty feuding and bickering, Draco," said Severus, and took some satisfaction in seeing how pink he turned. "So. We will begin the process tonight."

"Can we help?" Granger asked.

"You can make sure that we are not disturbed," Severus said. "Distract Dumbledore, if you can. Ask him questions, or pretend to be worried about Harry in a way that will not point to what we're doing."

Weasley snorted. "There's something we can do that won't even take much effort. Play on his prejudices about Slytherins and how we're so worried that Malfoy is doing something to Harry, and he'll believe anything we say."

"You're more all right than I thought, Weasley."

"I do try, Malfoy." And Weasley didn't even look as smug as Draco might if he'd said something similar.

Severus shook his head to get rid of the temptation to praise them, and said, "Very well. Then I suggest we begin in a disused dungeon classroom."

"Why a classroom and not the Room of Requirement?"

"First place he would look after the ritual, Granger. And he probably thinks that we're spending time together there."

Which they are, Severus thought, nauseated. He had never wanted to know that much about his students' private lives, even when it seemed inevitable.

"No, a classroom is better," Severus said to make his own contribution. "That way, we have Albus's prejudices working for us in every corner. He has never liked to venture into the dungeons, or done it when he does not have to."

Granger looked thoroughly depressed at that, and Severus understood why a moment later. "Was he always this--convinced that Slytherins are up to no good, sir?" she asked softly. "Was there ever a time when he tried to understand them?"

"When he was a student and professor, I think so. Since he has been Headmaster, no," said Severus, and left it at that.

Granger nodded. "I just hate to think that I was spouting the same rubbish he was, and looking up to him, when he has all these beliefs that are just horrible."

Severus held in what he wanted to say, which was that Granger would find no one to follow who fit her ideal. Better to let her discover that on her own. For now, if it put her even more willingly on their side and ended any possibility that she might betray them to Albus, then it would work for them.

"How are you going to lie to him?" Harry asked suddenly. "Since he'll feel a lie."

"We're going to say that we're worried about you," Granger told him. "Which is true. And that we're especially worried about the influence of the most evil Slytherin in your life. Voldemort. Which is also true."

"And we'll tell him that we don't want to look into his eyes because we're worried about Legilimency," said Weasley, nodding. "We'll tell him we want our privacy. And he'll believe that, because we're being honest, and we're Gryffindors."

"If he thinks you do not trust him..."

"He knows that, though," Weasley said, and looked straight at Severus. "What we're going to do is give him a chance to convince us and win us back."

Draco snorted. Severus did the same, once he thought about it. Yes, Albus would probably be unable to resist the opportunity to "re-convert" two of Harry's friends who had started to distrust him.

"In the meantime," Severus said, and turned to Draco, "I must insist that you and Harry get some rest. You are still suffering from residual exhaustion from the ritual..."

"I know," said Draco, and rolled his eyes as though Severus had been nagging him all afternoon. Then he bent down and said something quietly to Harry, who nodded and stood. Together they walked out of the room, their hands no longer entwined but their heads bent so close together that there was no doubt they were whispering.

"Sir."

Severus turned back to Granger, a little surprised she was still there. He'd expected her to try and follow Harry, or else start preparing immediately for her effort to trick Albus. "Yes, Miss Granger?"

"Do you think they can do it?"

The withering reply Severus wanted to give, about how he was not Trelawney, died on his tongue. He inclined his head slowly, watching Granger all the while. "I think there is a strong chance that they can."

"Thank you, sir." Granger turned hastily away, before chance could make either of them deal with the glistening at the corner of her eye.

Severus went to make sure he had a Sobriety Potion on hand. He needed Firewhisky before this attempt began, but he also wanted to make sure he would be dealing with no consequences when he met the brats that night.

*

“How are we supposed to start this?”

“Meditation, of course,” Draco replied easily, sitting down on the mat that he’d Transfigured from an old blanket.

Harry rolled his eyes a little. Even with Snape on guard outside the door, his spells spreading out to cast a net that would keep most people from venturing too close and keep anyone from seeing the door if they insisted, his heart was jumping. “You know I’m rubbish at ordinary Occlumency, Draco. That includes meditation. How are we going to do this?”

Draco sat quite still for a moment, and Harry wondered (without really wanting to) if he had baffled him. And then Draco laughed, bright and free, and stretched out his hands towards Harry. Harry found himself taking them and smiling without being aware he was going to.

“I should have thought,” Draco said, chuckling. “We used our bond to create the Occlumency shields you have, so of course we can use it to create this kind of oscillation.”

Harry met Draco’s eyes easily. The bond was stretched tight between them at the moment, but that was mostly his own nervousness. The sticky hardness melted into flowing water as he touched Draco’s fingers, and Draco sighed and closed his eyes as the waves themselves turned pink and gold, like sunrise.

“I’d forgotten how good it is to be like this with you,” Draco said, and cupped Harry’s chin with his widespread fingers. He stared into Harry’s eyes, and Harry stared back, seeing the blue-flecked grey.

And the bond beyond that, which filled his mind again with images of the surging ocean.

The bond swirled and pulled them closer. Harry relaxed. He didn’t need to meditate when Draco could pull him into the depths of his own mind, which he knew nearly as well as Harry did thanks to the bond. Their breathing fell into an easy rhythm.

When the Horcrux stuck to break that rhythm, it was horrific.

Draco suddenly staggered and gave a hoarse cry. Harry tried to jump to his feet, but he quickly realized that the cry had only been in their joined minds. He was drifting along in a dark sea, watching the Horcrux enter the bond and attack Draco. It felt like a shark snapping mindlessly in all directions, trying to cause pain.

Harry only sat there for a second before he stood up, though.

Or at least metaphorically stood up. He lashed out at the Horcrux as hard as he could with the force that had defeated Voldemort that time he had tried to possess Harry in the Ministry: pure love, the kind that Voldemort wouldn’t know anything about.

The shark screamed. The Horcrux turned as if it wanted to dive back into Harry’s head and cause him pain, and Harry braced to absorb it.

“Hold it where it is, Harry! Toss it to me! This is what we want to happen, to begin the oscillation!”

If it was anyone other than Draco telling him what to do, Harry would have hesitated. But he trusted Draco to handle himself; he could feel that confidence blooming all around him, streaks of light and power. He tossed the Horcrux back to Draco, and it went, seeking some painful place away from Harry’s love.

Draco hit it with a blast of the things that he felt for Harry.

Harry was nearly too much in a rapture to catch the Horcrux as it once again fled back to him. Draco loved the color of Harry’s eyes, and his laughter, and the gentle way he touched Draco, and the way he had risked his life to save Lucius, and…

But then he caught the Horcrux in a net full of his memories of Draco. How he’d taught Harry Occlumency. How strongly he’d fought to make sure that Harry wouldn’t die simply to get rid of the Horcrux. How he’d made love to him with his eyes tender and shining. How he got along with Ron and Hermione even when he didn’t really like them because they were Harry’s friends, and he would do anything for Harry.

Harry felt the Horcrux turn in place, shivering and sweating like a nervous horse. He laughed aloud. They were caging it and taming it, and the Horcrux had no idea how to resist! It felt less dark and strong than it had when they began.

And then something else opened its eyes. Something else made a connection with the Horcrux and floated to its side, in a bond like the one that connected Draco and Harry, but thrumming with magic as thick as blood.

This is what you have been hiding, Voldemort said, in a voice that echoed in the hollows inside Harry’s bones.

And he and the Horcrux attacked.

Chapter Text

Draco hurt all over.

He could feel the pain leaping and radiating through his body as if someone had stabbed a wand straight through his forehead. If this was a tenth of the pain that Harry had felt when the Dark Lord was nearby and he made his scar hurt, then Draco had to respect his stubbornness and will all the more.

But in the meantime, they had to stop him.

Draco drove forwards, whipping the bond and the emotions that flowed between him and Harry like a rope. It curled around the Dark Lord and the Horcrux, burning them the same way that the positive emotions had a moment ago. The Dark Lord didn’t roar, but made a sharp hissing noise. The Horcrux shrieked.

This time, though, the trick didn’t work as well as it had. The Dark Lord reached out and drove hatred and pain radiating through the tie the Horcrux had to the rest of Harry’s soul.

And through the faded remains of the Dark Mark on Draco’s arm.

It was probably just as well that the ritual had burned most of that away, or Draco would have been in more agony. As it was, he reeled, and his concentration slipped, and the Horcrux scuttled back towards Harry while the Dark Lord turned his attention to Draco.

Narcissa and Lucius’s traitorous son. You shall tell me where your father is before you die.

Draco shuddered and pressed his hands against his ears. His head radiated more and more pain down his neck and chest, and the agony in his arm was reaching down below that. He wondered what would happen when his body became one oozing sore of pain.

You will die. And then you will whisper the secret to me as you pass, and know that your father is going to die in front of you. I know ways to bring the dead back, to bind their bodies and a remnant of the spirit. You will watch from rotting eyes as your father suffers.

That touched something off in Draco, ignited an explosion he hadn’t known could still burn. He raised his head and screamed as loudly as he could, You are not going to kill another one of my parents!

An onslaught of a different kind of love threw the Dark Lord back, and Draco surged back into his body and drove the pain away again. He reached out, and found the soul-bond with Harry bracing him, behind him. Harry was trying to cope with the Horcrux, but he willingly lent all the strength that Draco asked for.

Because they loved each other.

Draco twisted around to face the Dark Lord, and thought about the words he had spoken, and let them burn through him, and blaze into a fire that drove the hissing power back. Draco swallowed and said, You killed my mother, but you won’t kill my father. Or me. Or Harry.

I have no wish to destroy Harry Potter.

Because of the Horcrux, Draco thought, knowing well how to complete that sentence. He shook his head. Do you know what we’re doing? We’re destroying the bit of your soul that you valued so much you left it in the care of someone else for sixteen years.

The rage that spiked and washed over him was murky and suffocating, and Draco barely managed to reach down the bond towards Harry. Throw the Horcrux back to me!

But that will mean you’re dealing with both of them—

Attack him from behind once I have it!

Harry never hesitated, something Draco knew he could be grateful for. He tossed the Horcrux back to Draco, and it crashed into him and raked him with teeth that made him bleed. He heard the Dark Lord laugh.

Then Harry attacked him, and the Dark Lord roared instead. And Harry hurled the one taunt that Draco would never have thought of, the one thing that might have made the Dark Lord pause in his attack for even a moment.

Draco and I are soul-bonded, did you know that? And that means the Horcrux is as much his as mine. And if you kill him, then I’ll follow. You can’t even torment him without tormenting the one who holds your Horcrux.

That made the Dark Lord pause—for a moment, but it was enough. Draco hurled the Horcrux away from him, breaking off pieces of it with the fire of his love, and whirled it back to Harry. Harry wound coils of purity and strength around it, the same emotions that Draco felt flowing down the bond whenever he looked into his bondmate’s eyes, and the Horcrux screamed in an agony that Draco heard in the depths of his soul.

You cannot do this! You cannot be working against us both!

Harry didn’t respond as he threw the Horcrux at Draco again—smaller, it was smaller than before—and Draco knew why. If the Dark Lord wasn’t smart enough to figure out that Draco and Harry were working together, while the Dark Lord and his Horcrux couldn’t do the same thing, then he didn’t deserve a fighting chance.

The Dark Lord did what he often did when he was confused and upset, as Draco knew from experience. He struck at Draco with his magic. Someone had upset him, so someone had to suffer for it. It didn’t matter whether hurting that one person made any sense. And it particularly didn’t make any sense right now.

Draco held up the Horcrux as a shield. The Dark Lord’s magic rippled through it and carved off some of the darkness faster than either Draco or Harry could have managed on their own. Draco laughed hoarsely, and watched drifting pieces of blood or flesh or soul bob around in the currents of his mind.

You dare!

Draco shook his head. The Dark Lord couldn’t even accept responsibility for his own mistakes. As Draco tossed the now-diminished Horcrux back at Harry, he wondered why he could ever have thought this man worth following.

Why did Father?

That wasn’t a question he could answer right now, though, so Draco concentrated on washing his mind clean of the floating pollution. The Dark Lord was still roaring and trying to hurt him, but his connection to both of them was weak now. The Horcrux was dying. The Dark Mark had faded.

Draco looked up into the image of red eyes floating in front of him, and smiled.

The Dark Lord struck. Of course Draco knew he would, but he still screamed breathlessly. It hurt more than he would have imagined. His hands flailed out, and he grabbed a thin coil of strength coming to him from somewhere.

It felt strange, not like Harry’s power, but he used it nevertheless, making a shield in front of him to absorb some of Voldemort’s blows. Draco found that he couldn’t think of him by his title anymore. He didn’t deserve it.

The shield in front of him wavered, but held. And then Voldemort cried out again in anguish, and Draco finally blinked his eyes open and looked at the thing that was strung between his hands.

What was left of the Horcrux, a tiny remnant of the incredible will that had once tried to come down the soul-bond to conquer Draco. It felt like an oiled canvas. Even as Draco watched, the last tatters wisped about like a cloud in the face of the sun.

Voldemort howled.

It was an incredible sound, hitting Draco’s mind and making him wince. But at the same time, he saw Harry plunge at Voldemort’s back, his courage astonishing and beautiful, and Draco reached out his hand to feel it clasped.

Voldemort was beginning to lose his hold on them. Harry could drive him out of their joined minds as Draco, still struggling with bits of the Dark Mark, could not. That meant the Horcrux was truly gone forever.

Voldemort turned, and there was rage all around him, sharp spikes that poked holes in Draco’s hope. He had to remember how strong the Dark Lord had always been, even if he was weaker now. They would never win if they depended on luck.

We’re not depending on luck, Harry told him, and Draco started as the words rang down the bond. He hadn’t known that Harry was paying such close attention to his thoughts.

For now, pay close attention to Voldemort! Harry advised him, and then swept past Draco and down in a spiraling motion. Voldemort roared again, but Harry was darting ahead of him, outrunning the traps that Draco sensed him trying to put in Harry’s way without knowing exactly what those traps were.

Draco grimaced and hit Voldemort as hard as he could with his own love, his own stubbornness, his own determination to survive. He hesitated, and then let Voldemort see that knowing his mother was dead was what had turned him against the Dark Lord. Voldemort had cost himself his own war.

A cloud of choking darkness reached out in response, and Draco reeled back. All he could see was that darkness, working its way into his eyes and nose like water dripping through cracks in rock, and all he knew was the pain as he began to die for lack of breath—

Catch!

That was Harry throwing a metaphorical rope to him, a rope of clean air and light and breath. Draco snatched it and reminded himself again of why he was fighting, and how Voldemort couldn’t have any power here now that the Horcrux was gone.

You still bear my Mark. You still swore to serve me!

A promise I don’t intend to keep, Draco retorted, and was surprised by how calm he sounded. He opened his eyes and stared down Voldemort, who snarled at him with pointed teeth. But he was already fading, no longer the overwhelming presence he had been in the first few moments. Leave. You are not welcome here!

As he spoke, he pushed, and felt Harry join with him at the same moment, that force of cooperation that Voldemort would never understand, because he trusted no one and thought all powerful people had to be branded and made subordinate to him—

Harry pushed. Draco shoved. And they watched as the darkness in their minds became fainter and softer, and then it was gone, and their bond was ringing with love and triumph and exhaustion.

Are you all right?

Draco smiled and turned his head to burrow his face into Harry’s palm. Can’t you feel how all right I am?

Harry chuckled a little, but his voice was still soft and his eyes never left Draco. I think we have to return to our bodies soon, or risk our souls wandering the way mine already has twice now.

Draco started. Now that he thought about it, the bond and their minds and magic seemed the most real things in the world, and he couldn’t feel any physical sensation the way he had been able to at the beginning of the battle. You’re right. Let’s go back to the classroom and make sure that we’re all right there, too.

Harry reached out once to stroke his cheek before his image faded from in front of Draco. You were so brave.

Preening to himself, Draco eventually remembered that he could preen just as well in human form, and let himself fade after Harry.

*

Severus hissed under his breath as he watched these mad children begin to breathe in regular patterns again. He had come rushing into the room the moment his Mark began to burn him. He knew that the Dark Lord was here, but given how motionless both Harry and Draco lay, he didn’t know how to aid them.

In the end, he had remained silent and tense, knowing that interfering when they were in the middle of a mental battle could doom them all.

And now he was rewarded for his patience and good sense. He watched as Draco’s cheeks flushed again—his skin had looked far more like alabaster than even a Malfoy’s should look—and his lips parted to let a sigh escape. Harry rolled over and mumbled, and then abruptly sat up and blinked around.

“Did you feel it, sir?”

“I felt him,” said Severus softly, grateful that Harry hadn’t spoken the name aloud. “I don’t know exactly what—”

He abruptly choked, and fell to his knees next to the pallet Harry had been lying on, staring. Harry reached out to him, but Severus shook his head, and Harry’s hand dropped. It was Severus’s hand that rose, reaching out, tracing the suddenly unmarked forehead.

Harry’s scar was gone.

“Oh, that.” Harry sounded absurdly nonchalant, which made Severus want to strangle him. “We got rid of the Horcrux in me. So I’m not surprised the scar’s disappeared. Brilliant, right?” He yawned.

“You’re going to tell me what happened,” said Severus, in the sort of voice that he was more accustomed to using on Neville Longbottom. Threats hadn’t worked on Harry Potter since his first year.

“Don’t be bitter just because you weren’t there,” Draco said sleepily from behind him. “We just tossed the Horcrux back and forth between us until it started to tear apart, and Voldemort showed up to attack us, and we went on getting rid of the Horcrux, and he couldn’t stand alone against the combined might of our love. Simple, see?”

Severus did not see. He also knew that he would probably get nothing more out of Draco right now, given that Harry was asleep and Draco's eyes were closed with his breathing already gentle, and his own state of stunned wonder wasn't the best one in which to comprehend answers anyway.

"All right," he said reluctantly. "But if you do not tell me what is happening the instant you wake up..."

Twin snores answered him.

With a grimace of disgust for both their state and his own sentimentality, Severus conjured a blanket that he drew over the two of them. Draco rolled towards Harry and smiled a little, as though he assumed Harry was the one who'd done it. Severus stepped back and shut the classroom door with more force than necessary.

Granger and Weasley were waiting for him outside. Severus immediately raised the most powerful privacy spells he could think of and glared like a basilisk. Here were two people who were awake that he could take out his temper on.

"What did you mean, coming to this classroom when the Headmaster might come by?" He whisper-hissed the words, and saw Weasley flinch. At least I can still intimidate someone. "He might have followed you, and--"

"He didn't," Granger interrupted, with that blind confidence Severus had always itched to put a dent in. "I mean, we watched out behind us to make sure he wouldn't--"

"You stupid girl, you have no idea what powerful magic the Headmaster is capable of--"

"Don't call her a stupid girl!"

Severus ignored Weasley, but he did notice that Granger's mouth tightened before she seemed to put up her head haughtily and decide to ignore the way Severus was taunting her. "I admit I don't, sir," she said levelly. "But we gave him a lot to think about. We told him we didn't agree with his prejudice against Slytherins, and especially against you and Draco. I also confronted him with some of the things he said in newspaper articles in the past. He didn't much like that," she added.

Severus tilted his head. Perhaps Granger deserved to have smugness practically dripping off her. "What things did he say in newspaper articles? I am unaware of any recent interviews he has given."

"Not recent. I'm talking about things he said right after the war with Voldemort." Granger ignored his flinch. "He said that we all had to be on guard against the darkness in ourselves, because the way Voldemort really gathered support was from people who didn't care enough to stand up against him. Or who thought donating a little money to the Death Eaters was okay. Not the same as raiding with them, was it? Or who secretly sympathized with him even though they wouldn't have said that if you asked them. We had to be vigilant because we could think someone else was right to be horrible and bigoted, even a monster, as long as they weren't attacking us."

"And you accused him of having fallen back into that mindset."

"Yes. Or saying that it's all right for some people to die as long as they're 'bad' people. Like Slytherins."

Severus snorted in spite of himself. "Harry is not a Slytherin."

"No, but he has a piece of Voldemort's soul inside him, doesn't he?" This time, Granger only looked at him with pity when he flinched. "That tainted him by definition, the way Dumbledore looked at it. It wasn't as much of a problem if he died, even though it would still be tragic, because it wasn't the same as an innocent dying. He brought up a Muggleborn Gryffindor first-year as the kind of person Harry had to die to save, I reckon because he thought it would make me sympathize with him, and all I said that was that the Gryffindor first-year couldn't be a better person than Harry."

"So they deserved to die?"

"Neither of them deserve to die," said Granger, so fiercely that Severus took a step back. "We need to find another way around the problem. Not just throw up our hands and sigh and say at least it's not someone more innocent dying."

Severus raised his eyebrows and nodded. It was the sort of thinking he once would have expected to hear from Albus and Albus alone, but, well, that had ended quickly. Albus had said the right things in the right places, but Severus thought he hadn't believed them for years.

"So we told Dumbledore we were concerned about his attitude," said Weasley, and grinned. "I thought he'd get angry, but he sat there frowning and looking like he had a stomachache."

"It's because we're Gryffindors," said Granger, although she sounded resigned. "He just takes us more seriously. I don't want it to be that way, but it is." She sighed. "We also told him that he'd have to find another way to get the Horcrux out of Harry or lose our support, because we're never going to support just killing him."

It occurred to Severus that he was in a position to give them news he would never have thought possible. He schooled his face and said, "Such withholding of support might not be necessary."

They both stared at him, but Weasley, blunt as always, was the one who demanded, "How can you know that? You were down here and we were with him all the last hour. Did he send you a Patronus telling you he changed his mind or something?"

"No," said Severus. "The Horcrux is no longer in Harry."

That made them both shout, and Severus gladder than ever that he had raised the privacy spells. Yes, they protected them against Dumbledore overhearing, but they were also important to keep Draco and Harry blissfully asleep.

"How?"

"Did you do something to help them?"

"Did you shoot the Killing Curse at Harry?"

"No," snapped Severus, more than a little disgusted, and had the "good fortune" of at least seeing Weasley nod apologetically.

"Then how did it happen?" Granger said.

Severus decided they deserved no better than to have the rambling explanation Draco had given him, and arranged his face in studiously concerned lines. "They just tossed the Horcrux back and forth between them until it started to tear apart, and the Dark Lord attacked to defend his Horcrux, and Draco and Harry continued to fight the Horcrux, until he couldn’t stand alone against the combined might of their love. Simple, isn't it?"

Silence. Granger narrowed her eyes.

"Of course, when you put it like that, it's bloody simple," Weasley muttered, not loudly enough that Severus had to hear and scold him for language.

"There must be more to it than that," said Granger, shaking her head. "When they tried to share the Horcrux between them before, it almost destroyed Malfoy, didn't it?"

"This was not sharing," Severus said. "It was oscillating. And I do not think they used their soul-bond as a weapon before. I highly doubt this would be possible for any pair who was not soul-bonded."

He said that as much to hopefully head off Granger's self-recriminations as because he believed it true, and saw her eyes fill with a hard look anyway. "If we had pursued that plan to become soul-bonded to Harry--"

"He would not have been as familiar with your bond as the one with Draco, and any plan like this would therefore have taken longer to accomplish," Severus interrupted. "Even if it might have been safer with more of you, Harry and Draco both survived. You can talk to them when they wake up."

Weasley spluttered, but Granger gave him a too-perceptive smile and a little shake of her head. "You're very protective of them, aren't you, sir?"

"They have become my only hope of getting free of the Dark Lord," Severus said, and he hoped his voice was forbidding enough that Granger would think before she said anything.

No such luck. Granger only smiled more broadly and said, "I think it's more than that."

"I am Draco's Head of House. And I swore an oath to protect Lily Evans's son that I cannot believe Harry has not told you about."

Granger reached out and patted his elbow. "It's all right, sir. We won't say anything." Weasley nodded vigorously behind her, looking ill at the thought of saying anything. "It's not something they need to know about, anyway. We'll get some rest. And we'll come down later and take over guarding Harry and Draco later if you want."

They marched off. Severus stared after them. This had not been his afternoon.

The only mercy is that the privacy spells would also have prevented Harry and Draco from hearing anything, even if they had been awake.

Chapter Text

Harry winced as he came awake, and felt all the soreness in his muscles that he hadn’t while he was asleep. He did glance over and see Draco asleep beside him, though, one hand resting on his chest, so Harry couldn’t resent the pain too much.

And then the memory came up and hit him like a bounding, over-friendly dog.

We did it! We defeated Voldemort! We took away my Horcrux! We really bloody did it!

Harry whipped a hand to his forehead. The first thing he felt was his fringe, and then his hand crashed into his glasses, which he apparently hadn’t taken off to sleep. He groaned in annoyance and pushed his glasses out of the way, while he felt for some sign of the familiar scar.

Gone. No ridge or shape of a lightning bolt. Harry traced his fingers over the blank skin again and again, until Draco made a sleepy snuffling noise and sat up, looking at him with far too much quickness of eye for Harry’s taste. How could someone be awake that bloody quickly?

“I know it’s gone,” Draco said. “But I’m glad the scar is gone, too. I suppose the scar was really the visible sign of the Horcrux, instead of the backfired curse. That was what I thought.” He yawned. “But you look handsomer without it.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “And of course what I look like is your main concern.”

Draco abruptly ducked his head and brought their faces so close that Harry blinked and stared at him. “No, it’s not,” Draco whispered, and then bit Harry’s ear before he rolled away from him and stood up. “And don’t you forget it. Now, are we going to go find breakfast, or what?”

“It is here.”

Harry jumped as he turned around, which probably only amused Snape, who was coming in with a huge tray of porridge and eggs and sliced fruit that made Harry’s stomach start aching. But Snape didn’t show any sign of amusement as he set the tray down in front of them. “You will want to eat all you can. Magical exhaustion is not easily remedied without food.”

“I didn’t know that we’d magically exhausted ourselves,” Harry remarked, reaching out and picking up a piece of sliced orange. He held it out to Draco, who grinned and opened his mouth. The bond thrummed with swimming silver and blue emotions. Harry shrugged and fed him, although he did have to ignore the way Draco licked his fingers if he wanted to keep his mind on what they were doing. “It feels like physical exhaustion to me.”

“It would.” Snape stood by with his arms folded and his gaze fixed gloomily on them, as if to say that he shouldn’t be surprised Harry was stupid, and he already knew he would have to live with it. “That does not mean it is. You will have to get used to understanding as much. If you do not, then—”

“Either way, the war isn’t going to last that much longer, is it?” Harry interrupted. “We know that the only one left outside our control is Nagini.”

Snape paused, his face inscrutable again. Then he said, “I was referring to your life after the war, when you might want to perform feats like this more than once.”

“Oh.” Harry blinked and hid his blush behind as much of an omelet as he could. Draco pushed up to him, mouth open for a slice of pear that Harry had intended to eat himself. But it wasn’t much trouble to feed Draco and then stab himself another one. “I knew that.”

Snape didn’t make the obvious retort, just sitting down on the floor and watching them eat. Draco was the one who finally stopped snapping and gulping half Harry’s portion to ask, “How long have we been here? It can’t be that long, I suppose, or Dumbledore would be banging the door down.”

“It is the middle of the next day,” said Snape without as much as a twitch of expression in his eyes. “Weasley and Granger were guarding you most of the evening. Then I relieved them. Weasley and Granger have successfully thrown Albus into one of his crises of conscience, so you don’t have to worry about him noticing you missing right away.”

“Huh. What kind of crisis of conscience?” Harry had a hard time picturing Dumbledore as not believing he was right.

This time, Snape did smirk, although it was still small. “They told him they were beginning to lose faith in him. Which has the advantage of being true.”

Harry snickered into his food at the same time as Draco did. Then Draco laid an arm along his shoulders and sent a wave of contentment down the bond at the same moment as he spoke.

“Then you think Dumbledore is—what? Off brooding so that he won’t come down here and look for us?”

“I think the next time he faces you, he will want his inner defenses to be perfect. He was taken off-guard by what Weasley and Granger said to him. He will want time to recover and start building them back up again, the excuses for why he has done what he has done, the reasons and justifications for the greater good.”

Harry sighed into his plate. He supposed that was the ultimate sign that he wouldn’t be going back to his old relationship with Dumbledore, or even getting a new one. If Snape, who knew him this well, thought Dumbledore would try to justify himself again…

Draco poked him, and the bond shimmered grey and black. “What are you mourning about? You have me. You know how perfect I am.”

Harry wanted to flutter his eyelashes and go along with that, especially since Snape was looking more than slightly ill. But at the same time, he couldn’t help wincing and thinking of how he could explain. The bond shimmered blue again as he pushed his own emotions down it—sadness. “I just mourn the mentor I lost, that’s all. You and I were never mentor and student.”

“When I taught you Occlumency, we were!”

Harry held back his choke. Draco sounded so indignant, as though it was impossible to imagine that Dumbledore might have held a position in Harry’s life that Draco hadn’t.

“Well, fine, you can count that if you want,” Harry conceded, ignoring the way Draco’s eyes flashed and the bond lapped at him with stinging waves. “But I meant in general. Dumbledore was the one who taught me about things like how people saw me. And he was the one who explained death to me.”

Draco drew back like a snake that someone had tried to command in English instead of Parseltongue. “What?”

Harry glanced at Snape, since he thought Dumbledore would probably also have explained to Snape how death was the next great adventure, but Snape just watched him with his arms folded and his eyes so narrow that it was hard to look at him. Harry finally shrugged and turned back to Draco. “He said if you have a well-organized mind, death is just the next great adventure.”

“Ah. I see.” Draco was sitting very still and looked outwardly calm, but Harry knew him. He could see the repressed fury buzzing along under his skin, even better than he could feel it through the bond. “So he’s the one responsible for your desire to throw away your life. I suppose I should have known. Voldemort wouldn’t have that effect on you.”

“Since when do you call him Voldemort?”

“That’s what you take from what I say? I don’t know who’s responsible for your inability to listen, but I’d like to hunt them down and make them listen myself.”

Harry shook his head, disgusted. “Listen, Draco, I wasn’t trying to throw away my life on purpose, no matter what you may have thought—”

“No, just on Dumbledore’s say-so!”

“Perhaps you could calm down and listen to each other for a moment?” Snape stood up, his face so polite and blank that Harry would have laughed again if he wasn’t so angry. “While I stand outside the door.”

He left, while Draco turned to Harry and scowled at him. The waves of emotion in the bond were lashing dangerously now, so fast that Harry would have thought he’d be swamped by them if not for the Occlumency that Draco had taught him. As it was, he lifted a haughty chin and waited.

“You have no idea how much I hate him,” Draco whispered. “The way he came to you on your birthday and just told you that you had to die.”

“You’re still angry about that? I’m a lot angrier about all the other things that he’s done and subjected me to!”

“Not just that.” Draco reached out and stroked Harry’s cheek, fast, fleeting and fragile, once. “You didn’t give me the chance to finish the list.”

“Oh.” Harry sat back and sighed. “But I’m not going to try and die, Draco. I just meant—I can get used to thinking of myself as free and without the Horcrux, but it’ll take a while. And until we knew how to deal with the Horcrux, I did have to wonder if the simplest solution was to die.”

Draco paused. Then he said, “Would it have been the kind of death Dumbledore chose for you?”

“Walking up to Voldemort and letting him cast the Killing Curse at me? The one Dumbledore thought I might survive?”

“Yes. That one. Or the other kinds that he started to come up with when he realized he was losing his grip on you.”

“I never would have done it without some kind of assurance that things would really work the way he told me they would. And he couldn’t give me that assurance. I doubt he ever knew.”

“But you would have done it with an assurance.”

Harry looked him straight in the eye, listening to the bitterness of his voice and waiting for a moment before he replied. “I’m telling you the truth, Draco. I’ve changed since I got to know you and the soul-bond grew better. I’m—just telling you the truth. I would have had to consider dying.”

“Why? No one else would have!”

“Yes, they would,” Harry said quietly. “Put it down to a difference in our Houses if you want, or a lack of sense, but I know Ron and Hermione would have. And Dumbledore already made a sacrifice of that kind. Look at his hand.”

“That doesn’t mean he had the right to call on you to make it!”

“That’s a different kind of argument, though.” Harry took Draco’s hands, ignoring the petulant way he tugged to get Harry to release them. “I’m just saying there were other people who would have volunteered to die with a Horcrux in them. But I was the one who had the Horcrux, and the one who had to make the decision.”

“Now you know we’re going to destroy the cup, and Nagini. And the Horcrux in you is gone. So we don’t have to make that decision at all.” Draco stared at him with fierce, feral eyes. “Promise me you won’t consider it again.”

“Why would I, now that I don’t have to?” Harry asked, and leaned forwards to kiss him. “And now that I can spend my days with you?”

As Harry had thought that might, it changed his mind. Draco leaned back onto the pallet beneath him but didn’t end the kiss, dragging Harry with him, and they began to hump each other quietly on the floor, ignoring it when the tray Snape had left tipped over.

They had all the time for food in the world. But for each other, they had to have now.

*

In the end, their qualms about destroying the cup were for naught.

The cup began to rattle and hiss when Severus drew near it with the basilisk fang. But there wasn’t any black smoke leaking from it, or the same malevolent presence Severus had sensed when he accidentally summoned it. Perhaps the cup sensed danger. It spun and twisted, then stopped, huddling as if it thought it could pass itself off as a harmless inanimate object.

When Severus plunged the fang into the golden metal, there was a horrible shrieking noise like someone rasping claws up a stone wall, and Severus heard Draco and Harry both suck in pained breaths. But Granger, who was standing near it, only folded her arms and gave the cup a glad little smile. Weasley was nodding beside her, as if someone had asked him a question.

Severus kept the fang, which he had fashioned a hilt for, embedded in the cup until he was sure that every trace of the Horcrux was done. Then he backed slowly away. He had chosen to do this in a version of the Room of Requirement with utterly blank walls, leaving no magical objects for the Horcrux to latch onto or hide in should it try to flee its container.

Of course, without the battle he had been sure was coming, he didn’t know if it was actually dead. He glanced at Harry. “Can you tell—”

Harry rubbed a pointed finger over his unscarred forehead. “I can’t sense them anymore,” he said. “I mean, more than you lot can. There was that noise it made, and I felt some greasy Dark magic when we came in here, but that was it.”

Severus sighed and stared intently at the cup. It wasn’t a ruined mess like the locket, but it was tarnished now, and the slight aura of importance that had clung to it, the way it had drawn Severus’s eye all the time he had kept it imprisoned in his quarters, was gone. Severus still didn’t touch it with bare hands, but Levitated it into the firepit in the center of the room, where he burned it.

It burned in ordinary, hot fire, melting down into what looked like slag. It didn’t need Fiendfyre. Severus shook his head, conscious of a slight but burning sensation of disappointment.

“Now that things are going well, now he’s disappointed?” he heard Weasley mutter, but he chose to ignore the brat. He had to concentrate on the cup, make sure there wasn’t the slightest wisp of evil steam escaping it.

There wasn’t. When he cast a spell at the melted remains of the cup that would detect any trace of magic, not just Dark Arts, nothing responded to the spell. The object was as neutral as a Muggle plate.

“I told you it wouldn’t be as hard as you thought it would be.” That was Draco, more comforting than Weasley, stepping up beside Severus and catching his eye as if he was the student in need of reassurance. “We only have Nagini to go now. And then we can kill Voldemort.”

“The Dark Lord,” said Severus automatically, but he knew his voice was hollow. He kept frowning at the remains of the cup. He was wondering now if the cup he had thought he was destroying was the real one, or even if this vision of its destruction was just that, a vision, a dream conjured by the cup to hold him still and make him think it was real.

“Sir? I think I might know what the problem is.”

That was Granger, taking a step away from Weasley to isolate herself in Severus’s vision. At least, she would have been alone in his vision if he could stop staring at the cup. “There is no problem, of course,” he said. “None, Miss Granger. We destroyed the Horcrux.”

“Yes, we did,” Granger said gently. “And always before, we did it in the presence of at least one other Horcrux.”

That arrested Severus. He turned around. “What do you mean?”

“Harry’s,” said Granger, and smiled at her friend, who smiled back. “Harry was there when we destroyed the locket and the diadem, and I think his Horcrux increased the sense of danger we felt. It might even have been watching, if it was that sentient, trying to figure out how it could escape being destroyed the same way—”

“I would never stick a basilisk fang into Harry,” said Draco flatly. “Or burn him with Fiendfyre.”

“No one was seriously suggesting you would,” said Granger soothingly, a beat ahead of Severus saying the same thing in a much more sarcastic voice. He supposed it would be diplomatic to let Granger keep the peace. She turned back and smiled at him. “But either way, it would have added to the atmosphere in the room. And so would the sensation of having other Horcruxes to destroy, right? To know that this wasn’t the last one, but we had two or three or four to go.”

Severus nodded slowly. “What kind of research suggested that to you, Miss Granger?”

She blushed for the first time since beginning the conversation. Then again, his voice had sounded as if he respected her, and Severus suspected she was still vulnerable to praise from teachers. “It was a book I read about artifacts that all got imbued with their owner’s magic before he died. The magic was meant to call memories of him to mind when the artifacts got distributed among his legatees. When two of the artifacts were together, the memories they produced were almost overwhelming.”

“And so it was here,” Severus whispered thoughtfully. How much more powerful would not the owner’s magic, but a shard of soul, have been, if imprinted into these objects?

“Yes, I think so.” Granger gave a triumphant grin Severus never remembered seeing on her face before. “And now there’s only one left.”

“And we’re going to destroy her at the same time we destroy her master,” said Draco in satisfaction. If he could not keep that absolutely unwarranted hope from his voice, Severus thought, at least he had avoided speaking the Dark Lord’s name again.

“There’s something we have to do first, though.”

Severus glanced at Harry, not liking his tone. He’d spoken much less about the destruction of this last Horcrux they had than Severus had anticipated. No cheer when it was dead, either. His face was a little pale. “What is it?”

“We have to tell Dumbledore that the one in me is gone.”

*

They hadn’t wanted him to go alone. He’d got a lot more argument about that than about the necessity of telling Dumbledore in the first place, which even Draco agreed with, although mostly because Draco thought Dumbledore might literally try to stab him in the back otherwise.

But in the end, Harry had won, because he was more stubborn than all of them. He halted near the top of the moving stairs, and looked back. Draco and Snape would be waiting for him near the bottom, and Hermione and Ron were waiting halfway up the stairs, which Hermione had enchanted not to move for right now. It wasn’t as if there was really anyone else in the school during the summer who would urgently want to visit Dumbledore.

Is it wrong that I feel more nervous about facing him than I ever did about facing Voldemort?

In the end, Harry shook his head. He’d never worried about disappointing Voldemort, or the shade of Tom Riddle. He opened the door now and marched in.

Dumbledore was sitting behind his desk, teasing one finger along the feathers of Fawkes’s neck. His blackened hand lay on top of a book, looking almost as if it was detached from him. Fawkes was on his shoulder, and he crooned a little, sadly, when he caught sight of Harry.

“Have you finally come to tell me that you’ve turned on me, Harry?”

“No,” said Harry, and then he sat down in the chair across from Dumbledore and lifted his fringe. He’d always been better with actions than with words, anyway.

Dumbledore’s bad hand tightened on the book, and he took his other one away from Fawkes, who made a soft croon of disapproval. He stared so hard and so long at Harry’s forehead that Harry started to worry his eyes would dry out.

Then he blinked and looked aside. “What did you do?” he whispered.

“Draco and I were passing the Horcrux back and forth between us, stripping pieces of it off that way, and Voldemort decided to attack,” Harry said simply. Yes, simple was best. “We actually got him to attack the Horcrux a few times, when we tossed it back and forth and then he turned to strike at the one of us who was holding it.” He hesitated and decided to offer Dumbledore a little sop. “We couldn’t have done it if not for the soul-bond that you decided to set up between us, sir.”

Dumbledore said nothing for long minutes. Then he murmured, “And you never thought to involve me in this?”

“What could you have done?” Harry asked as kindly as he could. This was a better reaction than he’d thought he’d get. As long as Dumbledore wasn’t raging at him… “Draco and I were the ones who had to do the work, because of our soul-bond. The only thing anyone else could do was guard the room and see that we weren’t disturbed.”

“That was Severus’s role, I suppose.” Dumbledore’s hands were clasped so tightly that his good one was going white. The color on the bad one never changed.

“And Ron and Hermione’s,” Harry added. He thought Dumbledore deserved to know the whole thing. They would be leaving the school after today, because Snape thought the warded house Lucius Malfoy was living in was the safest place to plan an attack from. Voldemort knew all about Hogwarts. He didn’t know anything about the house, yet.

And now he can’t, because he doesn’t have the Horcrux to see through my eyes.

“Did Tom figure out that you were a Horcrux, dear boy?”

Harry nodded. “But since it’s dead and gone now, what we mostly have to be worried about is the care he takes of the other Horcruxes.”

“The one in Gringotts—”

“Snape summoned it, accidentally, during that ritual that was burning off part of Draco’s Dark Mark,” Harry interrupted, unable to help himself. “We killed it yesterday with a basilisk fang.”

Dumbledore stared at him once more, and shut his eyes. He looked ancient. But he also didn’t make a threatening move towards his wand or anything else, the way even Hermione had been sure that he would at this point. Score one for my intuition, Harry thought, and waited to see what would happen next.

“How much have I missed?” Dumbledore finally whispered.

“A lot,” Harry had to say. “And we’re going to kill Voldemort and Nagini on our own. I don’t know if you want to come—but the others wouldn’t allow it, anyway.” He had to grimace, thinking of that, but it was true. Hermione and Ron would maybe allow it if Harry argued with them for long enough, but Draco and Snape would be utterly against it.

Dumbledore sat there with his head downcast for long enough that Harry started to feel a little uneasy. But then he looked up, and his smile was wildly bittersweet.

“I suppose I have no one but myself to blame, do I?”

“I suppose not,” Harry said, and Dumbledore gave him a tamer and sadder smile.

“I am glad you got rid of the Horcrux, my boy, and without dying.” He held up his black hand and gave a small, dry chuckle. “And I think I would be of little assistance even if anyone else would suffer my presence. My time is almost done. My magic is being drained combating the curse in my hand. A few more weeks, maybe, and then I shall make a potion that I can take to be done with pain.”

Harry swallowed. “So—you would die the same way you wanted me to die?”

“No. Much less courageously, my dear boy. But defeat Voldemort for me first, before I go?”

Harry stood up slowly, nodding. He didn’t know what else he could do. This last conversation with Dumbledore hadn’t gone at all the way he’d expected it to go. He’d thought Dumbledore would be upset, try to convince him again not to trust Draco, and tell him he had to do things Dumbledore’s way.

But maybe thinking through how he was going to die had left Dumbledore less arrogant than he’d been. Harry didn’t think he’d ever know, now, not for certain. He and Dumbledore were not what they had been.

“Good-bye,” Harry said, at last. There were no other words that felt like the right ones to say.

“Good-bye, Harry. And thank you for telling me. For giving me the chance to see your scar gone.”

Harry walked out of the office remembering all the times that Dumbledore had wanted him to die, or told him to do something he didn’t want to do, or gently scolded him. And it still didn’t matter, not next to the words Dumbledore had just said.

Or the gentle trill of phoenix song that broke from behind him.

Chapter Text

 

"And you don't think Dumbledore is going to try to interfere?"

"No. As I was saying..."

*

Severus had no trouble wrapping the illusion of the cup he had destroyed around an ordinary rock. He had spent more than one evening brooding over that cup, feeling it stare at him from the shelf where he'd placed it, feeling as if the soul-piece in it could come to life any moment and was hungrily watching him. He had to concentrate harder to imbue the illusion with the sense of menace he'd felt from it, but even that was done at last.

Then he placed it, begrudgingly, in the custody of Weasley and Granger. He understood Harry's reasoning for saying they were the ones who had to have the fake cup. They were the only ones the Dark Lord would believe might destroy it, other than Harry. And Severus was more needed to get them close to the Dark Lord and Nagini.

It didn't lessen Severus's feelings of dread as he watched the illusion disappear into the bag Granger was holding.

"Cheer up, sir," said Granger gently, smiling at him. "I promise that we're going to make as many Death Eaters as possible come after us." She stroked the hilt of the mock basilisk fang Severus had also designed. "And scare Voldemort to death while we're at it."

Severus snorted, but stepped back to give her room to swing the bag over her shoulder. "See that you do what you can to bring him down, Granger." He would have said something else, but had to pause before the fierce light in her eyes.

"Oh, you can count on it, sir," she said softly. Even Weasley looked properly impressed.

Severus stood in the door of his office, watching them, for a long time after they had left the corridor. They were braver than he had thought. Better--well, people than he had thought. It had nothing to do with Gryffindor or Slytherin.

Then he grimaced and turned back to his office, to work on something that did.

*

"Well, I don't understand why I can't pretend to destroy the cup."

"Voldemort would never believe that you were anywhere except right there with me, Draco. And I need to be there when he dies."

"Why?"

"Because I want to make sure that he's dead with my own two eyes..."

*

"There is little likelihood that you will get a second chance to strike. The spell must be perfect the first time."

Harry nodded his understanding, eyes never moving from the target in front of him. Professor Snape had made it of wood that he'd then toughened, so it was approximately the toughness of the scale and muscle he would need to pierce through to destroy Nagini. Harry clutched the basilisk fang in his hand and felt his fingers slip on the hilt with sweat.

Not going to happen. I am going to show that I can do this.

"Time," said Snape, and the mock snake snapped to life, her head rotating to focus on Harry. The hiss that echoed through the room sounded demented, nothing like Parseltongue, but then, Harry didn't even know if he could understand that anymore.

Harry surged forwards, sweeping the basilisk fang in movements that would attract the snake's attention. As he went, he shouted out the words of the spell that Snape had made him practice more than a hundred times before now, focusing his magic as hard as he could through his wand core. "Debello!"

The magic filled the Room of Requirement with sweeping purple stripes of light, glittering white at the edges. All of them closed in on Nagini and wrapped around her, draining, conquering, her muscle and her scales, making them as thin as paper. The snake hissed in what might have been shock, rearing her head back.

Harry sprang at her and stabbed downwards with the basilisk fang as hard as he could.

It struck through enchanted wood, down and down, and came to a jarring stop on the floor of the Room. Harry gasped and staggered back, taking a moment to hope that he hadn't broken the tip of the basilisk fang. That would be a problem.

"Well done."

The words were still unexpected in Snape's voice, and Harry took a moment to adjust to them. He blinked around and found a small pile of--well, it didn't even look like broken wood. More like rotted wood. There was no trace of the semblance of a snake Snape had conjured.

"But it wasn't a real snake," Harry whispered in wonder.

"That does not matter." Snape appeared beside him, studying him intently. "That spell is meant to conquer, to take over the strength of any opponent and turn it against them. The stronger the opponent, the worse the result for them. It is only not used more often in battle because it takes enormous power to cast."

"Oh," Harry said, and swallowed through his aching throat. He had screamed without realizing it. He looked around automatically for Draco, reaching down the bond, and felt him shivering with waves of excitement and fear. Snape had insisted they not be together in the same room while Harry practiced the move that would hopefully destroy Nagini, since Draco might lend him strength and make the feat possible only with that magic. They couldn't count on being together during the battle, Snape had told them over and over, even though they would try their hardest to stay there.

Snape strode to the door to let Draco in, but Harry did have to ask one question that occurred to him as he stared at the shivered pile of rot. "Why didn't you want to kill Nagini the same way you killed the cup, sir? And the diadem?"

"Those were two different methods, Mr. Potter," Snape murmured, opening the door. Draco stepped in and hurried over, hugging Harry, while the bond blazed pink and orange. Snape watched them with what could have been contempt, or not. "Fiendfyre and a basilisk fang."

"You know what I mean."

"It is my job as a professor to teach you to use precision." Snape's eyes glittered.

Harry hugged Draco back but glared at him, and at last Snape answered with a tilt of his head. "Besides the fact that I will have to hold the Dark Lord's attention and get us into his headquarters, and I may or may not be able to do both those things and kill the snake? I am not powerful enough to cast the Conquest Curse."

Harry looked down and swallowed, a little humbled. He'd had no idea it was that difficult. Well, he supposed it had pulled on his power a lot, but that was part of the reason Snape had had him practice and practice and practice. He'd thought it was--well, precise.

"Are you ever going to talk to me, or am I just going to stand here hugging you for hours?" Draco said into his ear.

Harry started and fed more emotion down the bond, promptly. He never wanted Draco to think he wasn't valued, no matter what Harry had to do to make it up to him. "I think you want to stand here hugging me for hours."

"It has its benefits."

Harry looked over Draco's shoulder towards the rotted wood, and turned him when Draco made a discontented noise and tried to get his attention back. "That's what I'm hoping to do to Nagini," he told Draco. "You think you can do your part?"

Draco shivered, but his eyes and the bond were already as hard as lashing waves, in a way Harry knew well. "Nothing's going to keep me from doing it."

*

"But how can we be absolutely sure of where Voldemort is? He might be hiding anywhere, now that he's paranoid about his Horcruxes being destroyed."

"I don't know. I sort of wish I still had the link with him through my scar, that would be enough to tell us--"

"Leave it to me."

*

Severus leaned back and closed his eyes. He was in his office before the Floo, which he had often used to reach a point where he could safely Apparate. It was a symbol of transportation and travel, and symbols would be important in the task he had to perform now.

He still hesitated, focusing his mind and condensing his thoughts down to a single point, before he reached over and laid his right hand on the Mark.

The prompt, pounding pain in his head came as a surprise. He hadn't ever sensed it before, although most of the time the Mark would burn when the Dark Lord was angry. But this was different. This was all through his body, a symphony like a beating drum, and the edge of anger Severus had been accustomed to for years was absent.

After long moments when he drifted in the center of his own mind, practicing Occlumency just enough to maintain his separate identity, Severus discovered the nature of the change. What the Dark Lord felt now was fear.

Severus held back a vicious chuckle as he laid his hand more firmly on the Mark, opening and increasing the connection between them. He had never dared do this before, but then, the stakes had never been so high before. And during the years when the Dark Lord had been a bodiless spirit and the Mark faded, Severus thought he could not have done it anyway. It was the main reason Draco had not joined him, since his Mark was now an ugly scar without the power to reach across the distance.

But Severus had the power of Legilimency at his command. It was advanced enough that he need only look into a student's eyes to know what they were thinking. And while the Dark Lord was no student, he had never been as good at the shielding part of the equation as at the offensive. Severus reached out with an act of sheer will and slipped down the connection between them, under the Dark Lord's Occlumency walls.

There was a fierce struggle, which Severus had anticipated. The Dark Lord wasn’t resisting him consciously, because he didn’t know Severus was there, but fear and rage were strong unconscious defenses. But Severus ducked and wove between harsh drops and edges that tried to cut off pieces of his memories, and found himself standing in front of a door so tightly guarded that he only carefully knocked on it.

The door swayed for a moment. Severus bore down more firmly on the Dark Mark and tried to think of all the times that he had served the Dark Lord, or at least pretended to be faithful. In the end, this buried part of the Dark Lord’s mind recognized his own magic coursing through the Mark and unlocked the door. Severus slipped inside, darting his gaze around.

This was a shadowy place, only a “place” in the vaguest sense of the word. But Severus had long ago learned that many people’s minds reflected their concerns and the rooms they occupied on a daily basis.

He had to smile at seeing the repeated motifs of cup and snake constantly curling around the “walls” of this place. The Dark Lord would know they were the only two Horcruxes left, and probably couldn’t choose which one he worried most about.

The layout of the rooms was familiar, though, and Severus stood quietly until it came to him, relaxing his own mind and memory. The information he needed was more apt to rise on its own than when it was forced out.

And it did, suddenly.

Malfoy Manor. This is a replica of the receiving room at Malfoy Manor.

Severus snorted. He supposed they could have looked there in the first place, but he had been sure the Dark Lord would have moved from his former stronghold. If nothing else, Draco and Lucius could tell them the weak points in the wards, and the Dark Lord’s fear had probably escalated into paranoia by now.

Now, he had to get back out of the Dark Lord’s mind without the monster sensing him.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t that difficult. When Severus had slipped past the guard fears and spells, he found the connection pulling him so strongly back to his body that it was like having to run to keep up. He opened his eyes, gasping, in his own chair in front of his fire, and immediately snatched his hand back from his Mark.

It didn’t burn. Nothing happened despite the careful eye Severus kept on it, and the half-hour he waited before he stood to announce the good news to the others.

The Dark Lord didn’t know they were coming.

*

“You’ve planned this all out so neatly that you’ve practically left nothing for me to do.”

“I don’t want to put you at risk.”

“But Weasley and Granger get to take the cup somewhere, and Severus got to spy on Voldemort, and he’ll be the one who takes us there, and you’ll be the one who gets to destroy Nagini. What do I get to do?”

“Know that you inspired all this in the first place? I never would have tried this if we hadn’t soul-bonded. I probably would have gone hunting the Horcruxes with Ron and Hermione, and then walked out into the Forbidden Forest to let Voldemort kill me the way Dumbledore wanted to happen.”

“…I can accept that, I suppose.”

*

Draco winced a little at the crunch of grass beneath their feet as they landed outside Malfoy Manor’s walls. He gingerly touched the amulet his father had given him, one that would drop the protections of the Manor undetectably and allow them in. It was normally embedded beneath the skin of each Malfoy head of family; Father had had to pry it out with a bloody spell and send it to them.

Draco thought he could still feel a bit of his father’s blood if he rubbed the smooth pendant hard enough, but honestly, that was more of a comfort than not. At least it gave a small bit of someone else who couldn’t be here, to stand with them.

“Ready?”

Harry was speaking the words so close to Draco’s ear that the puff of air tickled it, but Draco only nodded. He knew as well as anyone that they couldn’t risk the Death Eaters overhearing them.

I know the risks. I’m the one who helped Harry break in here once before. Why are they acting like I’m a hopeless child who needs to be protected?

They’d explained it to him, of course. Draco couldn’t go with Weasley and Granger because he and Harry would both do “stupid” things—a Professor Snape word—if they were that far apart. He couldn’t leave Professor Snape and do something else to distract the Death Eaters because they didn’t know how many of them would actually leave the Manor to go after Weasley and Granger and their fake Horcrux. He couldn’t kill Nagini because he didn’t have the power to master the spell that would weaken her.

He had to go with Professor Snape and Harry, and wait and watch.

Draco might understand the reasoning. But he didn’t have to keep silent about it, at least once they were back in Hogwarts with the last Horcrux safely destroyed.

For now, the words boiled in his chest as Professor Snape cast some spells and stood as if communing with a forest spirit, his eyes closed. He finally opened them and nodded. “There are fewer magical signatures and Dark Marks present than there usually are. I would guess that the Dark Lord sent perhaps half of his Death Eaters to retrieve what he thinks is the Horcrux.”

“Excellent,” said Harry, and up the bond came emotions that made Draco shiver, blue and dark black waves constantly lashing. Well, he could hardly blame Harry for feeling triumph at the thought of conquering his enemy. “Draco, can you drop the wards?”

At least they’ve remembered that I’m here and good for something, Draco thought grumpily as he carefully wrapped his fingers around the amulet. He rubbed Father’s blood once more for luck, and ignored the way that the little artifact was trying to squirm under his skin. He rubbed it between both hands after waiting three heartbeats, and recited the proper incantation as he did so.

Cruor vocat cruorem.

The magic swelled through him and then broke almost undetectably through his fingers. This was one advantage of the magic that his ancestors had used to construct the amulet, Draco thought, as he watched soft brown ribbons weave out of him and climb up the first of the protective spells encircling the grounds. There was so little space for the magic to leak and alert someone, since it was entirely contained within Malfoy blood and bodies.

“When will it be safe?”

Now Harry was the one who sounded whiny and pouting. Draco shot him a superior look and bent close to speak as softly as he could and still be heard. “When all the protective spells are down.”

“Prat.”

“Git.”

Silence.”

Trust Professor Snape to interrupt our fun, Draco thought, but he used the bond to poke at Harry a little until Harry gave him a flatly irritated look. Then Draco stood there and tried to appear as innocent as he possibly could. He was tracking the progress of the amulet’s magic more than he was paying attention to the bond at the moment, anyway.

The protective spells finally collapsed, wrapping their power in the Malfoy magic. They would rise out of it again once Draco and his allies were safely across. Draco nodded to Harry, and he immediately surged forwards and vaulted over the fence.

Show-off. Draco let Professor Snape give him a boost over, but he had to admit he enjoyed the way Harry was waiting to catch him on the other side. He leaned his head against Harry’s chest for a second, and sighed into his heartbeat, until Professor Snape cleared his throat and motioned them on.

They didn’t speak now as they walked across grass that had once been as familiar to Draco as his last name. He could see places flowers had been torn from the earth, and once a spot of blood and white feathers proclaimed the slaughter of a peacock. Draco grimaced to himself and kept walking.

The house loomed so close to them at last that Draco winced and lowered his head. That didn’t feel the same, either. There had always been Dark magic here, but it was the effect of some artifacts and books and long-past spells. It had never been so single and overwhelming.

“Now,” said Harry, and nodded to Professor Snape, who nodded back and then whipped his wand in a circle.

“The snake is at the back of the house,” he murmured at last, and looked at Draco.

Draco didn’t have to think. “The library that looks out over the gardens,” he said. “It’s the most protected one in the house because it has all these glass windows we had to keep from shattering or keep someone from coming through.”

Professor Snape turned without a word and led them along the side of the Manor. Draco shivered. He knew there were a lot of Death Eaters here, even if he couldn’t feel them the way Professor Snape could. It was downright eerie to know they existed and he couldn’t hear or see them.

I hope that’s because more of them went after Weasley and Granger than we thought did. But Draco knew they wouldn’t get that lucky.

Finally, Draco caught a gleam of stray moonlight off the large glass doors that meant they were near the library, and tugged on Professor Snape’s sleeve. Snape glanced at him and nodded. Then he raised his wand and closed his eyes, moving his lips. Draco squinted, but there wasn’t enough light to make out what he was saying.

He understood, though, when Professor Snape thrust his wand into the air and at the same moment roared out, “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

Draco jumped at the shout as much as at the doe that burst forth from Snape’s wand. She wasn’t silver like every other Patronus he’d ever seen (which, admittedly, was pretty much limited to Harry’s). She was ornamented with red and gold flames, and there was a trailing Dark Mark flying behind her. She kicked with her hooves, and crushed it, only for it to form again.

Death Eaters came pouring out of the doors of the Manor. The other doors, not the library ones, Draco thought, and that only confirmed his impression that Voldemort was in there. Probably huddled with his snake, desperately fearing for the safety of his last Horcrux. Draco wrapped his arms around himself and shivered.

He could see it. He could almost hear it, even though the words echoing in his ears were really his own thoughts.

Harry charged forwards, to the doors. Draco followed him, glancing back now and then. Death Eaters were firing all sorts of spells at the Patronus, which let Professor Snape, hiding in the shadows, easily pick them off.

That’s a good distraction. But he’ll need to do another one soon.

Draco no longer regretted that he couldn’t go with Professor Snape to create the distraction, though. He thought the heart of the night would take place here, in the library whose glass Harry was even now smashing through with the Conquest Curse.

Voldemort turned to face them. He was less terrifying than Draco had expected—in fact, only as frightening as he had been in their bond after they’d destroyed the Horcrux in Harry. His hand reeled up, and his lips slid away from his teeth. At his feet coiled the snake.

Harry didn’t wait, tumbling out of the way of the spell that Voldemort cast, which shattered into burning stars on the broken window. Draco did the same thing, feeling the bond so high and brilliant blue with excitement that it seemed to shine in the faint firelight of the room.

Debello!”

Draco knew immediately that Harry hadn’t ever cast that spell so powerfully. It ripped into Nagini, making her give a hissing noise that was closer to a shriek than Draco had thought a snake could come. And even though she was at Voldemort’s feet, Harry came sliding in, reckless and brilliant, and stabbed the basilisk fang down into her.

There was a murky confusion of mist and blackness, and Nagini simply dissolved. The Horcrux that had left seemed to have taken her body with it, because there was nothing left but a dark splotch on the carpet. Draco stared at it and thought distantly that the house-elves would hate having to clean it up.

Voldemort lifted his wand. Harry looked up at him from his feet, and didn’t even bother to move. He was grinning too hard.

Avada Kedavra,” said Voldemort.

There was no way he could miss, not when he was that close, not when Harry wasn’t even moving, the horror on his face only starting to overcome the triumph—

But there was no way that Draco could miss, either, as he sped across the distance to Voldemort and leaped between Harry and the curse.

Absolutely no way he could miss.

Chapter Text

 

Harry felt the moment when the Killing Curse struck Draco, because he felt the moment when the soul-bond suddenly began to run with cold darkness like tarry blood. Draco slumped over with his eyes gone wide, but that was only the outer, visible sign of something Harry was feeling much more strongly inwardly.

No, he said, and there was no one to hear that, except Snape staring at him. There was an echo of emptiness down the bond that told him Draco wasn’t hearing.

Harry turned and plunged towards Voldemort. He was already close enough that it was a matter of scrambling across a tiny expanse of floor, and stabbing his wand into the creases of Voldemort’s robes.

Delego,” he said without sound, the incantation of the Switching Charm, and flicked his wand at Draco’s body. “Delego.”

Voldemort laughed, a sound that gurgled in the back of his throat and made Harry think of dying things. Nagini would have laughed like that, if she could have, before he killed her. “Did you think it would be as easy as this? That you would suffer no loss?” Harry saw one white hand reaching towards him. “Do you think to switch young Draco’s death to me? Did you—”

And then his eyes widened, staring at something past Harry. Harry didn’t care what it was. He had turned his gaze back to Draco’s body, and was setting himself to resist the last fraying threads of the bond.

No. It’s going to hold. I want it to hold. I will it to hold. I refuse to give up on this bond. Draco didn’t give up on me when my soul went wandering. That should mean I’m able to hold on to him, too. Magical exhaustion can be just as deadly as a Killing Curse.

Harry grabbed the threads of the bond and held on. He ignored the way that Voldemort screamed and shuddered as the piece of soul still inside his body got ripped loose and plunged into Draco’s body, while the death hiding inside Draco infused his. Voldemort’s corpse toppled over like a hollow tree.

And then Harry turned to Draco’s body.

The last piece of Voldemort’s soul was essentially a Horcrux now, so weak that it could be moved around and placed in other objects like one. By himself, Harry knew he could still destroy it. Right now, the determination and the rage spread through him like the venom from a basilisk bite.

There was no Draco to help him, as there had been with the Horcrux inside Harry.

On the other hand, there was no outside Voldemort to attack them and make the task harder than it should be, either.

Harry bowed his head and closed his eyes. He reached along the bond that had tied him to Draco, and felt the confusing, hesitating magic. On the one hand, Draco was dead, the soul Harry had been bound to drifting further and further away.

On the other hand, Draco’s soul had dwelt in his body for seventeen years, and that was a strong bond, too. And Harry had been intimate with Draco, knew the touch of his hands and his legs and his eyes.

Harry plunged down the bond and hit Voldemort with that love, that knowledge. Voldemort tried to retreat into the distant recesses of Draco’s body, and Harry followed him, hammering him with the emotions that had once driven him away when he tried to possess Harry in the Department of Mysteries.

Voldemort went further and further, and yet Harry followed, because there was no piece of Draco he didn’t know, nothing that wasn’t his.

And all the time, he called and yelled and yammered down the bond, as loud as Draco had been when Harry’s own soul was the one breaking away.

I love you. Come back! Look at me! Look at what I’m doing on your behalf! Your body is still alive and yours for the taking. Voldemort is keeping it alive. Come on, come on, come to me, come back.

*

Draco opened his eyes to darkness.

Well, maybe not darkness. He could see stars overhead, if he looked. But he had the distinct impression that he didn’t want to see stars overhead. He wanted to see something else. He looked around, peering for a glimpse of light.

There was something in the distance, now that he thought about it. Something gold-green and soft, like a sun on the horizon that never moved. Draco set off towards it for lack of anything else to do.

He knew he was forgetting something, something important, but the languorous pace he had to move at infected his limbs and head, too. He would remember it when he was ready.

On and on he went, and the dark country around him didn’t move or change, and the stars didn’t alter. Neither did the green-gold glow. But Draco did sense something he hadn’t before, and he slowed down to listen.

Music.

Soft and commanding, filled with a sweetness that made Draco’s eyes clench shut and his breath catch. He stopped moving to listen to it some more, but he immediately had the impression that that was the wrong thing to do. The music itself urged him to come to it, and he wouldn’t get anywhere if he was standing here.

The glow on the horizon, in fact, was getting bigger. Draco cocked his head in curiosity and kept drifting. The yearning call in the distance filled his mind. He thought it wasn’t music now—although he had to admit, he had a hard time remembering what music sounded like. It was someone calling his name.

And some other things, too.

I love you. Come back to me! Where are you? Come back this minute, Draco Malfoy

Draco would have paused again, unsure that he wanted to go towards someone who sounded so angry, but this time, he didn’t actually have a choice. Even when he tried to stop his feet, there was a motion like a current that pulled him forwards, across the dark featureless plain, closer and closer to the sun. Draco fought and struggled against it, but something within him rejoiced.

He came to a place where the edge of the golden-green light touched him. He gasped aloud as something new popped into his head.

A memory.

Green eyes and soft hands and a soul-bond so strong that Draco had once pulled Harry back from death because of it.

I’ll go to my death if you don’t come back! But part of you must still be alive, or I would have died already because of the connection between our souls.

Draco gave a gasp and began to run. Now that he was moving with the current, not against it, and towards the light, not away, there was a song of triumph in his mind, mingled with and yet separate from Harry’s words. It illuminated him, and stretched his muscles. Even the starlight from above felt warm.

On and on, and now Draco could make out other words. Words about Voldemort’s death and his soul-piece in Draco’s body, keeping it alive. How Harry had done that to try to make sure Draco’s body didn’t die before his wandering soul could come back.

But it’s your body, and that’s always an advantage. I know you can defeat him when you come back. His voice dipped. If you come back.

Draco tried to yell that he was coming, but it seemed he didn’t have that kind of voice here. After a second’s thought, he decided what he did have, and hurled emotions down the bond, love and fear and courage and ecstasy.

For a moment, Harry’s voice faltered and fell silent. Draco was glad that he had the light and the current to keep him moving in the right direction, or he might have got lost.

Then the green-gold glow expanded into a blossoming warmth that filled the darkness and the air and all the corners of Draco’s soul.

Draco.

Just that one word, sighed, not shouted, and Draco found wings where he’d had legs before. Or a broom! Memories were crowding back now, and he remembered flying beside Harry, fighting beside Harry, playing Quidditch against Harry.

I want to do that again. I’ll never do that again if I stay here.

On he ran. Draco could feel sensations leaking in around the corners, making him heave and pant and smile. He could remember what it was like to feel cold air burning his lungs, and his leg muscles burning as he ran. He could remember the strength of the hammering wind in his hair, and the grip of a broom between his legs.

And the grip of Harry between his legs, come to that.

As if the thought had been waiting to catch fire until he looked closely at it, suddenly Harry was the thought that consumed his mind. God, the way his eyes looked when he smiled, and how he had curved his arms around Draco as they made love, and the way he was pulling on him now, not letting him die, moving Draco closer and closer to the waking world—

Noise and confusion like nothing Draco had experienced hit him as he burst into his body. He was struggling with something that wrapped around him like a poisonous snake and crooned hideous words into his head. The thing was familiar, as if he had once followed it and listened to it.

But Harry’s hand was on his shoulder, and Draco knew without looking up what he would see: the beaming eyes fixed on him, the mouth moving in soft words of encouragement. He drew on the bond, and Harry responded without hesitation, wonder and courage and love that raced around Draco in widening spirals.

And it burned the oh-so-familiar thing whispering to him, which Draco now realized was the last piece of the Dark Lord’s soul. How it burned.

Draco actually had to turn away from the withering, shrieking screams of that soul-piece, which were as horrible as the death of the actual Horcrux in Harry had been satisfying. He clung to Harry until he couldn’t hear the screams anymore, and then leaned up and opened his eyes.

“Are you all right?” Harry should know the answer to that question because of the bond, Draco reflected, but his hands were moving anxiously, fluttering up and down Draco’s shoulders as if he were blind.

“I will be,” Draco said, and leaned against Harry’s chest. He was exhausted enough that he didn’t even protest when Professor Snape cast a Lightening Charm at him and scooped him off the ground.

“The other Death Eaters will be back soon,” Snape said, his voice vibrating with tension. “We must go.”

Draco just nodded, wordless. As far as he was concerned, it wasn’t really his decision. He would go along with whatever Snape decided, because at the moment he was probably the best voice of reason on offer.

“Of course,” Harry agreed, and then turned and stared long and hard at Voldemort’s body. Draco was about to ask what he was doing when he had just agreed they needed to leave, but then Harry waved his wand and incanted something long and nasty-sounding that Draco didn’t recognize. Voldemort’s body shrank and twisted and twitched, and in the end, Harry reached down to pick up a ring from the floor that looked as if it was made of bent iron.

“Potter, what in the world—”

“I don’t think anyone is going to believe Voldemort is dead without seeing the body,” Harry said, not flinching in the face of Snape’s absolutely disgusted expression. “Maybe they would. But I’m not taking the chance.”

Snape actually did hesitate a moment, then nodded. “Perhaps especially not Dumbledore,” he muttered, and then turned his head far enough to catch a glimpse of what Draco assumed was movement, although his head was lolling and he couldn’t be sure. “The spells against Apparition are gone. Take my arm, Potter.”

Draco let himself suffer from a little spasm of indignation as they vanished. The anti-Apparition spells being gone, when they should have been intact as long as the Manor stood, meant Voldemort had tied them to himself, and destroyed the work of a thousand generations of Malfoy ancestors.

Father will have words about this.

*

“Harry! You’re all right!”

Harry hadn’t realized how worried he was for his friends until they piled into the hospital wing, where Draco was asleep. Their shouts brought Madam Pomfrey scandalized and clucking out of her office, and so Harry led Ron and Hermione into the corridor where they could talk undisturbed (and where he could watch Madam Pomfrey so he would know when she’d gone away and he could sneak back in).

“Blimey, mate, what happened to Malfoy?”

Harry smiled at Ron, proud beyond words that he cared enough about Draco to ask that question. Ron promptly went pink and tried to mutter something about how Harry would be inconsolable if “that git” died. Harry didn’t care. He hugged him anyway.

“He took a Killing Curse for me.”

Harry had been planning on how he would tell them that, and it was just as satisfying as he’d hoped. Ron’s mouth hung open. Hermione began shaking her head as though she was cataloguing all the theoretical difficulties with what Harry had just said.

“But he didn’t have any special protection from his mum, or any protection against it—you can’t block the Killing Curse—”

“Oh, he didn’t block it. And neither did I,” Harry added, because they immediately both turned to him and clearly expected him to have done it. “He died. But because of the soul-bond, his soul wandered close to me, and so I took the piece of soul away from Voldemort’s body to kill him, and put it in Draco’s.”

Ron looked appalled, but Hermione’s eyes were shining as her mind raced through it. “The piece of Voldemort’s soul kept Draco’s body alive for long enough that you could reconnect it to Draco’s soul!”

Harry smiled at her, not least because she was calling Draco by his first name without any sign that she minded. “Right. It was kind of a stupid thing to do—” Ron snorted, and he and Harry exchanged grins “—but at least it worked.”

“And how is Draco?” Hermione glanced towards the hospital wing as if she could read the truth through the door.

“He’ll need a while to recover, Madam Pomfrey said. The same way I did when my soul was the one that went wandering.” Harry shook his head. If it had to happen again, which he sincerely hoped it never did, then he would rather be the one doing the wandering than waiting to see if Draco’s soul would come back. That had been unnerving like nothing else. “And magical exhaustion for both of us. She’s told me she won’t treat me if I try casting any spells before she says I can.”

Hermione let out a little breath that had relief and wonder and love and lots of other things in it, and threw her arms around him. “Thank Merlin it’s all over, Harry.”

“Don’t let Draco see you doing that. He’ll get jealous,” Harry said, even as he hugged her back and patted her shoulder.

“Draco?” Hermione’s eyes widened innocently. “I’m not worried about someone who can’t even lift a wand for a week yet. Ron, on the other hand…”

Ron just scowled back and then snorted. “As long as it’s Harry,” he said, both destroying the joke and bringing both of them into the circle of his smile.

Harry grabbed both of his friends at once, and for a long time they leaned on each other, silent, soaking up the depth of what had happened to them, what they had survived, and what was still to come.

*

“The mad way the situation played out…the risks he took…”

Severus, sitting on the edge of one of the two chairs in Albus’s office, said nothing. For one thing, he might have agreed that what Harry had tried was mad if he had heard about it beforehand and not seen it unfold. Perhaps fortunately, Harry hadn’t explained it in detail until after they had returned to Hogwarts.

And for another thing, Severus saw no reason to engage with Albus’s mutterings. He had told him what Harry had done, and that would be enough. He had no intentions of entering a long conversation with this man.

Albus leaned forwards, making Severus reluctantly look at him again. “You think neither of them will have lasting side-effects?” Albus whispered hoarsely. “Their souls and magic both seem normal?”

“I am hardly an expert in the soul, and Madam Pomfrey has forbidden them from using magic for at least a week,” Severus drawled. The darkness in the back of Albus’s eyes deepened, and Severus rolled his own and gave the answer he knew Albus was really looking for. “Neither of them has become another Horcrux, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“I was not.”

Albus’s dignity was wounded. Severus’s stare was more piercing. After a moment of clearing his throat and fidgeting, Albus looked away. Severus leaned back in the chair and waited for the next question. It wasn’t as if they were finished.

“Do you think Harry would want to speak to me again?”

“That’s a question Harry would have to answer.” Severus observed the score the invisible whip of his voice had left on Albus, and continued in a milder tone, “I think he is ridiculously forgiving and would probably speak with you. But you’ll never resume the relationship you had. Better not to ask for it.”

Albus nodded in silence and stared down at his desk. His blackened hand was more prominent than Severus had seen it in some time, although Severus didn’t think the curse had advanced. After observing him for a time, Severus decided it was because Albus had stopped trying to tuck the hand into his robe, to hide it.

“I little knew what I was doing to him,” Albus whispered, “when I bound young Malfoy to his soul.”

Severus shrugged once. “You didn’t. But it is the reason Draco is alive now and the Dark Lord is dead, and that is enough reason to be thankful for it.”

“The way Malfoy changed him…”

“I would not continue with that line of thought, Albus.”

Albus paused, and then tilted his head downwards. “I understand, Severus. But you are not Harry. I thought I might confide some of my misgivings to you.”

“I do not wish to listen to them,” Severus said calmly. It felt strange, as if he were standing in a wash of cool wind, to know that he could say whatever he wanted to Albus, and not be punished for it. After all, the Dark Lord was gone now, and Severus stood no chance of going back to Azkaban. “Draco and Harry achieved something remarkable. I thought you would wish to celebrate that, instead of downplaying it.”

“I only…”

Severus waited, but Albus was the one who had interrupted himself, and he did not continue. Severus sighed and stood. “If you wish to discuss something from a rational perspective,” he told him, “then call on me. Otherwise, I think it would be wisest to leave both Draco and Harry alone.”

Severus made his way to the door, and only paused once he was there to peek over his shoulder in what he hoped was a subtle manner. As it turned out, it wouldn’t have mattered. Albus was staring at his blackened hand in a way that took all his attention.

As he rode down the moving staircase from the Headmaster’s office, Severus decided that he understood. Albus knew he was dying, now, and while the Dark Lord was gone, he had not died in the way Albus had designed. The world would be quieter and at peace when Albus left it, but without the Headmaster of Hogwarts have such a great impact on its peace.

Severus balanced his emotions in his mind, and discovered he felt more wonder than pity. The war was over. Whether it ended in a particular way or not was less than a matter of no mind for Severus.

And now, I am going to enjoy things.

*

“What are people saying about the way Voldemort died?”

Draco looked over at Harry as he raised his eyes from a letter he’d been reading. His hair hung raggedly over his forehead, but that looked appropriate, Draco thought. They had been through a battle.

The bond radiated blue and gold and soft, soothing pink as Harry grinned. “What, you think you might have fans sending you post?”

“I want to know what they say,” Draco insisted, and sat up, giving a cautious look over his shoulder. Madam Pomfrey was back in her office, but nevertheless, Draco didn’t dare to reach for his wand on the bedside table. She didn’t want him casting any spells until his magical exhaustion had faded. Draco could admit that made sense, even if he had to admit it reluctantly. “I want to know if they think we’re both heroes, or we all are, or only you.”

Harry leaned nearer and kissed him on the forehead. “As if I would let anyone deny your part.”

Draco smiled at him, torn between gratitude and wishing they had the privacy and energy for Harry to kiss him somewhere a bit lower. “Then you won’t deny me an answer, either.”

Harry rolled his eyes and began to read. “‘Rita Skeeter requests an exclusive interview with Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, to tell the tale of how their heroic actions saved the wizarding world—’”

“Ugh!” Draco buried his head in the pillow. “I would have told you to save it if I knew that you were going to read me something from Skeeter.”

Harry chuckled and put the letter down, from the sound of crinkling parchment, then reached out to run his fingers through Draco’s hair. Draco relaxed into the sensation despite himself. “Most people know the truth, or a version of the truth. I said that Voldemort’s soul was unstable and we used the soul magic to kill him and save you.”

“You don’t want to talk about the soul-bond?”

“I don’t want people who want to kill me targeting you in an attempt to harm me.”

Draco blinked and rolled over. “But if we don’t tell people, then there might be idiots who think they can date you. Or ask you to marry them. I want people to know, Harry. Most of the people who would have reacted worst already know, anyway. Like your Weasleys.”

Harry blew out a short breath, his eyes focused on Draco. “And you don’t think that people would want to marry you, once they understand that you switched sides and played just as much of a part in destroying him as I did?”

“Maybe they would. I don’t care at all.” Draco let his fingers intertwine with Harry’s, not even glancing back at Madam Pomfrey’s door. He was strong enough for this, and blast all interfering mediwitches. “I want everyone to know, just like they understand the truth—or part of the truth—about how we did him in.”

Harry looked at him quietly, the bond and his eyes shining. And then he lowered his head and gave Draco the softest, most gentle kiss that Draco had ever received. Draco arched into it, and felt as though it was soothing warmth trickling through the parts of his body and his soul that still ached.

“I would be honored to stand beside you in every way,” Harry whispered.

Draco closed his eyes. He was going to cry if he didn’t, and he wanted to hold back the tears so that there was no possible way Harry would misunderstand his reaction.

Then he started as he realized that he had a method there was no possibility of Harry misunderstanding. So he opened the bond as far as he could and flooded it with all his warmth, his heat, his love, his strength, his desire.

Harry swayed as it hit him. Draco felt that much in the hand Harry had cupped along his jaw, but he still didn’t open his eyes and look in his direction until Harry said in a hoarse voice, “Look at me.”

Then Draco did.

And beaming back at him from Harry’s face, and then his lips as he lowered his head to kiss Draco again, was so much promise, Draco would have let his soul go wandering again just to see it.

The End.