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         HARRY POTTER


   UNTHINKABLE
    THOUGHTS
                               CHAPTER ONE

                                      ~

                      UNEXPECTED USE FOR A WAND

The Fifth Year Boys' Dormitory in Gryffindor tower, a room so magical and
peaceful and secure that it had long since been the only place Harry had
ever felt at home, was silent. It was very early in the morning. The
wonderful clock that Sirius had sent him for his latest birthday - a small but
perfect sphere in the style of a Snitch that hovered quietly whirring and
clicking next to Harry's pillow, whose thousands of intricate working parts
could tell him the time in any bedroom in the Wizarding World - informed
him politely, and with a natural respect for the hour, that it was just after
4:30am. Harry did not know why he had woken so early, but it was
becoming a regular occurrence since he had come back to Hogwarts for his
fifth year.

Perhaps you have something on your mind? Hermione had suggested.
Well done, Herm, thought Harry. When had he ever not had something on
his mind?

Perhaps you are developing insomnia? Ron had suggested. Ron, who
would take forever to rouse himself each morning after so many hours of
trouble-free slumber that he could sleep for England, what could he
possibly know of insomnia?

Perhaps Madam Pomfrey could make you up a sleeping draught? Neville
had suggested. Hmmm, perhaps. But Harry didn't have any trouble falling
asleep; it was waking up that was the problem. His mind drifted.
Many people mattered deeply to him. Most of them were in the
immediate vicinity of where Harry now lay awake, staring in the darkness
at the thick hangings around and above him. Dear, dear Ron, asleep just
feet from where Harry lay, who had made his own family Harry's. Always
first to jump to his defence, always first to voice his outrage at the slightest
unfairness. Ron would lay down his life for Harry, and Harry knew it. Harry
prayed that he deserved Ron's unconditional friendship, and wondered
whether he himself could be as good a friend to Ron if the circumstances
were reversed. He knew how difficult it was for Ron to be always in
Harry's shadow, always the guy at Harry's elbow; but never the guy with
scar, the guy with the Firebolt, or the guy with the fame. And of course
Hermione, who in her own way loved Harry as dearly as her own parents,
and who, despite her better judgement, had a thousand times got Harry
out of the muck with some evil piece of homework. Harry understood the
differences between Ron and Hermione, but what he loved about them
most were their similarities: they gave him - without limit - what they each
had to give.

Others crowded his thoughts. Neville, Dean and Seamus, fellow warriors
in the perpetual battle with the Slytherins. Hagrid and his unquestioned
support. Fred and George with their fierce loyalty. Ginny and her
flattering affection. Other Weasleys, who had made Harry one of their
own. McGonagall, who worried and cared but couldn't show it.
Dumbledore's wonderful wisdom.

And Sirius. Finally, a tangible link with his past, with his parents.

Harry hoped hard that he truly deserved all this love, for surely that's what
it was. Hogwarts was home, in every sense of the word. And on each of
the recent mornings that he had found himself awake at this hour, he had
realised that he was now over halfway though his time at the school, and
that before he knew it he and the other Gryffindors would have to leave
the protective walls and find their way in the world. That thought was as
scary to Harry as any possible scenario involving Voldemort. In such
moments, Harry knew that even the aspects of life at Hogwarts that
seemed sent specifically to test him - Snape, Malfoy and all the other
Slytherins - appeared less irritating, less important, less significant. In
these silent hours before the Tower awoke, Harry's softened view of his
world was a comfort to him, and he realised that actually he enjoyed these
moments of solitude and reflection. Perhaps that was why he continued
to wake: this was the only time he got to himself.

It was raining. Quidditch practice could be messy and dispiriting in the
rain, but still he looked forward to it that evening. He went over the
requirements of the day, listing the lessons in his head. A tedious
Transfiguration essay was still due after lunch; his was by no means
finished, and he knew Ron hadn't started his yet. That seemed the only
blot on the landscape of the day, and he resolved to get his underway and
wake Ron a little later to give him a chance to hash together his own
version of Harry's work. Harry smiled. Hermione disapproved of copying,
like she disapproved of many things, but she often left her scrolls lying
conveniently around when she knew the boys were close to missing a
deadline. He had found her Transfiguration scroll on his bed the previous
evening, no doubt delivered by her cat Crookshanks, who was always her
accomplice in such subtle subterfuge. That way, Harry surmised,
Hermione's own conscience was clear. Still, he silently thanked her and
cast around for his wand.

'Lumos,' he whispered.

There was some good stuff here, Harry thought. Hermione was certainly
more than just an astonishingly hard worker, she was a very talented
Witch deep down. He read through her scroll and within an hour had
cribbed enough of her work to complete his own. As if on cue, the silent
form of Crookshanks landed lightly on his bed next to him, and he nuzzled
Harry's neck affectionately. Harry had long since ceased to be amazed at
Crookshanks' ability to get around the castle, the way that closed doors
and bed hangings never seemed to pose him any difficulty. Another ally,
thought Harry gratefully, reaching through the hangings to replace his
wand on the small cupboard next to his bed. As he held the hangings
open, Harry gave the cat Hermione's scroll and Crookshanks sprang away
noiselessly, back to the girls' rooms. The door to the fifth form boys'
dormitory neither opened nor closed. That was just what Hogwarts was all
about, another aspect of his home that he now took completely for
granted. I should take fewer things for granted, resolved Harry.

'Tempus,' he whispered.

The Snitch-clock informed him that it was now just after 6am. I'll wake
Ron at half six, thought Harry. That will give him easily enough time to
cobble together an essay and still get to breakfast before the majority of
the school. Ron didn't appear to understand Harry and Hermione's liking
for getting to breakfast early, but most days he grumpily went along with
it. Gives you the psychological advantage, said Hermione. All those
slovenly Slytherins emerging from their sewer of a dungeon at the last
moment, when we've been chatting over toast for a good while. The best
start to any day! Harry smiled as he heard her saying this in his head. The
conversation happened nearly every morning, but he didn't mind. He was
with Hermione on this one completely: anything that set them apart from
Malfoy's mob was a good thing.

How would he fill this slack half hour before he would get Ron up?

It was raining more steadily. The sound of the rain beating against the
small leaded windows was strangely comforting and he snuggled further
under the covers, sumptuously comfortable in the warmth of his bed.
Sometimes he dozed back to sleep at about this time, but he knew that
morning that it wasn't to be so. Despite his comfort, or maybe because of
it, his mind strayed away from the images of security to those which
troubled him. Big issues like his parents, his battle with Voldemort, his
concern for Sirius's safety, they never really went away: a constant dull
ache in his stomach and in his heart. But lately, there had been something
else. Or perhaps it had always been there.

It was pouring with rain now. The slashing of the rain against the window
now seemed distressing rather than reassuring. Harry allowed himself to
consider this latest sick feeling in his chest.
It absolutely couldn't be. Please no. How could he ever tell his friends
that?

He dragged his mind away from it, but he knew from experience that the
fight was in vain. Why? If he could fight the Imperius curse, if he could
summon a Patronus and fight the Dementors, if he could fight Voldemort
and win, why couldn't he fight this? Deep, deep down Harry knew why:
because those things were magical, whereas this, this was primal.
Something that would be there even if he weren't a Wizard. The images
and thoughts and feelings wouldn't go away and his mind was racing in
full, horrible flow now. A desire so strong it scared him was welling up
inside him. He could feel his own body responding to the desire, and the
state of arousal he was experiencing was more fierce than it had been for
some weeks. Hell, why should he fight it? He was a sixteen-year-old boy
after all. His hands wandered around his body, tantalisingly avoiding their
ultimate goal.

Harry knew his own body. He had been exploring it for years, behind the
screen of the hangings around his bed. He knew his sensitive spots; he
knew where one touch would send him over the edge. But that had been
different, that had been a young boy coming to terms with what his body
could do. Now, that whole innocent exploration was tainted with
unthinkable thoughts. Now, it was like someone else was with him in his
bed, sharing this most intimate of moments. But whose fingers were they
that ran tentatively over his chest? Whose tongue played exquisitely over
his lips and neck? Whose hand ruffled his hair when the pleasure became
unbearable?

Harry did not know for sure, and he had a dreadful fear of analysing the
feelings too closely in case they gave him an answer he couldn't deal
with. But he knew one thing though: this lover who bubbled up from his
subconscious in times of great desire, it was not a girl. It was not Cho, or
Ginny, or even Hermione, or any of the other girls who had shown an
interest in him. That in itself was a realisation that he was still coming to
terms with. But please, please, please, Harry thought, don't let it be Ron.
It would be the ultimate betrayal. Certainly Harry wouldn't deserve his
friendship then. He wouldn't even be able to look Ron in the eye. So he
didn't dare examine his imaginary lover too eagerly; he allowed to him to
keep his anonymity. That delicate, diaphanous veil of secrecy allowed
Harry to carry on talking to Ron every day as he had for more than four
years now. It was essential that Harry never looked at the face of whoever
it was that tormented him each morning in these dark lonely hours of
wakefulness, whoever it was that drove him ever upwards into more
intense climaxes, whoever it was that knew Harry's body as well as Harry
himself.

Harry was on a collision course with ecstasy. His body writhed furiously
under the covers, and his imaginary lover smashed his tongue deep into
Harry's mouth. Harry gasped out loud at the intensity of the sensations,
the reality of the feelings. He seized his most intimate part and began the
final assent. He was flying! Like the ultimate airborne freedom of
wheeling around on his Firebolt, his body and mind soared beyond the
Gryffindors' dormitory. His breath was ragged and his heart racing, and
the delicious warmth of his surroundings was given a fiery edge by the
combined body heat of Harry and Whoever-He-Was. Harry felt them
rolling over and over each other, their bodies pitching into the pleasure
that felt so profane, yet so right. The climax rose, unstoppable,
inexorable. Panting and gasping, Harry bucked uncontrollably and his
body delivered its blissful gift. Oh God! Why did boys ever get out of bed
when they could do this? Elated, exhausted and smiling manically despite
himself, Harry flopped his head back on his pillow and tried hard to catch
his breath. Wow!

He looked around in the gloom. The rain was still heavy. It was the same
every morning: his lover had now vanished, disappearing at the moment of
climax, but Harry didn't have quite the same sense of desperation now.
Sure, he keenly felt the loss, and just one morning he would love to find
out that the boy was real, tangible, touchable, and that he had a lovely
face, and that they could laugh and cuddle together in the afterglow of
their shared intimacy. But the absence of Whoever-He-Was, and the
realisation that he had never been there at all, were never enough to
obliterate completely the immense pleasure he had just experienced. As
he came back down to earth, he heard the Snitch-clock tell him that it was
6:30. Just a few minutes, Harry thought, then I'll wake Ron. But as reality
clicked back into place, a sniggering from beyond his bed hangings told
him that he might not be the only one awake.

'Bloody hell, Harry,' he heard Seamus say, 'that was your noisiest yet!'

Harry bolted upright and shoved his head out of the parting in the
hangings.

'What?' he said, alarmed.

Seamus had pulled back the hanging on his own bed and was laughing.

'You!' he laughed. 'You make so much noise! It's a wonder anyone can
sleep. Sounds like you were enjoying yourself though.'

Harry was embarrassed but could not help laughing a little himself.

'Sorry, Seamus, I sort of get carried away sometimes.'

'Sometimes?' came Dean's voice. 'You're always like that. Every morning.
It's more reliable than the alarm on your Snitch-clock.'

The conversation disturbed another Gryffindor.

'What's going on?' came Neville's voice.

'Harry again,' laughed Seamus. 'Playing boys' solitaire as usual.'

'Oh,' Neville stuttered, a little embarrassed. 'Actually he didn't wake me
this morning.'

'Do I often wake you up?' asked Harry, blushing a bit.

The other three all laughed.
'Don't get a complex, Harry,' said Dean. 'Of course not every day. But
when you get it into your head that you're going for it, nothing seems to
stop you!'

'Oh God! I had no idea my habits were so public!' Harry groaned, surprised
that he could still laugh. 'What about Ron?'

'Nothing wakes Ron,' said Seamus. 'You know that.'

They all laughed again. Then came Neville's small voice.

'Harry,' he asked curiously, 'have you got two wands?'

'No,' said Harry, bemused. 'Why do you ask?'

'It's just that, well, your wand is still next to your bed on your cupboard.
Don't you, er, use it?'

Dean and Seamus looked suddenly at the wand. Harry was nonplused. Er,
what do you mean, use it?'

'Blimey!' exploded Dean. 'You don't, do you?'

'Don't what?' said Harry, feeling a bit edgy. 'What are you talking about?'

'Harry,' said Seamus. 'Have you never used your wand when you, er...go
for it?'

Harry tried to make light of a situation that he did not understand. 'In
what way do you mean 'use', Seamus? You mean to see what I'm doing?'

'Oh my God, Harry,' said Dean. 'This is unbelievable. You don't know, do
you?'

'So how do you get so, er...worked up, without it?' asked Seamus.

'I haven't any idea what you are all talking about,' replied Harry, now
getting irritated. 'How can you use a wand to, erm...you know?'

Seamus got out of bed and sat on the end.
'Harry,' he said, eyes glinting. 'Bloody hell have we got something to tell
you!'

'Tell me what?' Harry had not felt so out of the loop for ages. It was like he
was discovering being a Wizard again.

Dean jumped out of bed too. 'This is weird. You shouldn't be hearing it
from us. I just can't believe you don't know. Hasn't Ron ever told you?'

'No he hasn't! Will you just bloody well tell me?' fumed Harry. Then he
softened. 'Sorry. But remember that I that I haven't really ever had a
family, either Magical or Muggle. There's probably still loads about
Wizarding that I don't know.'

'OK' said Seamus. 'But first, I'm curious: how do you do it?'

Harry was acutely embarrassed. He got out of bed too, picked up his
wand, and sat down on the trunk at the foot of his bed, shuffling his feet.

'Erm. Well. Well, how do we all do it? I just get myself, you know, worked
up...' - he made a halfhearted simulation with his hand along his wand -
'...till, you know, till the sap rises.'

He looked up hopefully.

'My God,' said Neville, slightly in awe. 'He does it all with his hands!'

'Don't you?' said Harry, extremely surprised. 'Doesn't every boy?'

'Every Muggle boy probably does,' said Seamus. 'Who knows? But, Wizard
boys use magic. Well at least I think we all do. We've never really
discussed it. It's not the sort of thing you talk about.'

'So how do you all know then, if you don't talk about it?' said Harry.

'Well, I guess it's just instinct,' said Seamus. 'There's no handbook. Older
brothers sometimes tell you stuff of course, but, only jokily. How many
Muggle boys ever need to be told how to do it? You just, er, discover.'
'So how do you use magic then?' said Harry, intrigued.

There was a funny silence where Dean, Seamus and Neville all giggled a
bit.

'Well,' began Dean slowly, 'it's personal I guess. I suppose everyone is
different. But, essentially, you just learn a few spells and charms and
adapt them just for this, er, very purpose.'

Harry had never seen Dean blush before.

Seamus was a bit more forthcoming. 'You know, certain hypersensitivity
or constricting spells; Exquisitus is a good one, and then there's trusty old
Frictia, that certainly, er...increases the blood flow.' The others all
laughed.

'Or you could use an engorgement charm,' chipped in Neville. Dean and
Seamus exploded with laughter.

'You use an engorgement charm, Nev?' choked Dean.

'Yeah, sometimes,' said Neville, a bit embarrassed.

'That's so funny!' spluttered Seamus, 'I've never even thought of that!'

'There you go then,' giggled Harry. 'None of you lot know how to do it
either.'

'Well, I did say it was personal,' said Dean. 'Anyway Harry, from the sound
of it, you don't need magic. I've tried it a couple of times when I've not got
my wand with me, but I've always thought it's a bit boring.'

'Yeah, I reckon it's crap without a wand too,' said Seamus. 'But, Harry, if
you've got to age sixteen without ever using one, then maybe you've got
more tricks up your sleeve than we can imagine. We're not saying you've
got to use magic; just...we are really surprised it's never occurred to you.
Anyway, it's probably safer without.'

'What do you mean?' said Harry, his mind alive with new possibilities.
'Well, do you remember when we were in the first year and Lee Jordan
had to spend a couple of days in the Hospital Wing? It was supposed to be
a secret, but Fred and George couldn't keep the news to themselves.
Apparently Lee had a nasty accident with a new pulsating charm he was
experimenting with.'

Neville, Seamus and Dean were all laughing uncontrollably.

'Last time I went to see her, Madam Pomfrey said she's always having to
sort out embarrassed boys who've got carried away trying out new spells,'
said Neville, finding some confidence from the conversation.

Dean and Seamus looked at him incredulously and then another burst of
laughter rolled over them.

'What do you mean, "last time you went to see her"? You've been there,
haven't you!' yelled Dean. 'You can only know that if you've been there
yourself! Come on Nev, what happened?'

Neville was crippled by a flush of embarrassment and Harry tried to think
of something to say to stop him having to answer the question, but the
diversion was unnecessary.

'What the fuck is all this noise?' A bleary-eyed Ron appeared between his
hangings. 'It's only, shit, quarter to seven!' he wailed.

A babble of noise greeted Ron as he made his appearance, everyone
speaking at once.

'Ron!' cried Harry. 'Sorry to wake you!'

'Ron!' yelled Seamus. 'Just wait till you hear what Nev's done!'

'Ron!' urged Neville. 'Don't believe anything they tell you!'

'Ron!' laughed Dean, 'you're Harry's best friend, why haven't you told him
what Wizard boys need to know?'
Ron was completely overwhelmed by this and sank back into his bed again,
ignoring them all. Amid still lots of laughter, the conversation broke up
more or less there and then, and the day proper began, as Dean and
Seamus started to sort themselves out for a shower. Neville made himself
scarce back in his bed, and Harry went over to Ron and tried to speak to
him softly about McGonagall's Transfiguration essay.

It was moments like this that made Harry appreciate once again how
happy and at home he was at Hogwarts. Most days there was nothing but
hilarity and petty worries about schoolwork. These are good days, he
reminded himself. And even as Ron said 'Sod off, Harry' as Harry tried to
stir Ron into action over the essay, Harry found himself smiling.

'What's so funny?' said Ron, smirking, unable to maintain being bad-
tempered while Dean and Seamus were fooling around.

'Long story,' said Harry. 'Now do this essay and then we'll go down to
breakfast. And then, Ron, we've got to have a long overdue conversation.
It appears that there's loads you haven't been telling me.'

'Eh?'

About an hour later the five fifth year boys were in the Great Hall having
breakfast with Hermione, Ginny, the twins and assorted other Gryffindors.
It was jolly scene and again Harry forced himself to realise that these
moments must not be taken for granted. He would not have them
forever. He sat back and watched his friends discussing Quidditch
heatedly over tea and toast, and felt a warm sense of belonging. His eyes
glazed over a bit.

'Harry? Harry! You all right?' Ron's voice cut through his reverie. 'Oh
Lord, why does he have to be here?'

Harry cut back to reality and saw Ron throwing an evil look over to the
other side of the Great Hall where a group of fifth years were just sitting
down at the Slytherin table. A sudden sense of something chased through
Harry's body as he saw Draco Malfoy take his seat, flanked by his ever-
present henchmen. Harry's eyes met Malfoy's for a split second. There
was no outward reaction from either of them, but again Harry felt a charge
run through him.

God, how he despised Draco Malfoy.
                               CHAPTER TWO

                                      ~

                          AFTERNOON OF A FAUN

He woke suddenly.

What had woken him, he had no idea. But it was like a herd of hippogriffs
had just trampled over his body, rousing him from an extraordinary dream.
He stared around in the blackness, unable to see anything out of the
ordinary, or indeed anything at all, but even so his heart was racing and he
was rather out of breath. It was just before 6:30am.

Draco lay back and allowed his pulse to return to normal. Blimey, he
thought, that must have been some dream, and he tried hard to remember
what he had been dreaming about. It must have been a nightmare, he
concluded, to have woken so suddenly. But something nagging in his head
told him it hadn't been a nightmare. Nightmares he was used to: the
perpetual threatening presence of his father and his father's expectations
and demands reached him even in his sleep; but this had felt different. It
had felt exciting. It had felt exhilarating. It had felt - what was the word? -
illicit.

His fellow Slytherins were still asleep, and Draco could hear at least two of
them snoring. Almost certainly Crabbe and Goyle, he thought. God, how he
resented the presence of this pair of brainless thugs. It was one thing for
one's father to choose his son's books and robes for him, but to choose his
'friends' too? And some friends Crabbe and Goyle were. Draco couldn't
recall a single conversation with either of them that he had found
enjoyable or rewarding in any way. Granted, they seemed to show him a
great deal of loyalty, but Draco suspected that that was because their
fathers desired the friendship too. And however long paternal pressure
kept this trio together as an efficient and nasty bullying unit, Draco knew
that he would never truly like them. Still, at the moment, they were all he
had.

He was wide-awake now, silent, thinking in the darkness. The lessons of
the day ahead presented no real problems, as usual. History of Magic
(yawn), Defence Against the Dark Arts (sometimes interesting), and then
Care of Magical Creatures after lunch with that giant oaf Hagrid. He owed
McGonagall an essay on Transfiguration that he had spent a lot of time on
(mainly in secret away from Crabbe and Goyle) and with which he was
secretly quite pleased, but he doubted that it would be fully appreciated
by her as she constantly seemed to favour her Gryffindor students and was
always telling the Slytherins that Hermione Granger was far and away the
best at Transfiguration in the year, maybe even in the school.

Bloody Granger. Would he ever beat her at anything? His father's taunts
about her rushed through his head: Only second in the year, Draco? And
who came top? Oh yes, Granger, a Mudblood. You ought to be thoroughly
disgusted with yourself. Secretly, and he could never admit this to a single
other Slytherin, Draco rather admired Hermione. Or perhaps it was envy.
Her knowledge of magic was absolutely first class. And he couldn't blame
McGonagall for taking a certain amount of pride in Hermione's
achievements; after all, Snape's unfair favouritism of his own Slytherins
was so blatant that it was beyond funny. And there was something else
about Hermione that Draco envied: she had friends. Real ones. Not like
Crabbe and Goyle who followed him around with sickening devotion just
because they fundamentally needed someone to follow. If being a
pureblood, who at his father's insistence could only be friends with other
purebloods, meant that he had to have friends like Crabbe and Goyle, then
he didn't know if he was interested. But he could never tell his father that.

He sighed deeply and rolled over. It was raining quite heavily; from his bed
in his dungeon dormitory, he could hear the water splashing around in the
gutters and drainpipes above his head. Maybe it was the rain that had
woken him. Oh get real Malfoy, he told himself. It hadn't been the rain. It
had been something else, some strong feeling or emotion left over from a
powerful dream. But what had I been dreaming about? What had triggered
the dream? Very gradually, sounds began to filter through the building
down to the dormitory, and Draco could hear Slytherin House slowly
stirring itself for the day. He decided he would join them, and got up
suddenly. He gathered his stuff together and went off to the boys'
bathroom, hoping that a long hot shower would rid his body of the
strange, unsettling sweatiness of the dream.

Some time later his regular bunch of Slytherin cronies all assembled in the
common room and set off for the Great Hall for breakfast. Here we go
again, thought Draco. He turned on the sickly charm and set the sneer on
his face as he did at this time every day. Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy, Millicent,
Blaise and the others all simpered round him as they ascended the stairs.
Slytherins rule! he thought. Purebloods forever! He snorted to himself. As
they reached their table Draco was aware of a large amount of noise from
the other side of the hall where the Gryffindors sat. He looked over and
saw Harry, Ron and Hermione with their stupidly happy gang all laughing
and arguing energetically. Draco felt a twinge of sadness as, by
comparison, he suddenly resented the bitchy backstabbing that was about
to begin at his own table, and as he looked over he caught Harry's eye for a
fraction of a second. Harry did not appear to react but Draco felt
something weird flood through him, a feeling that reminded him strongly
of the dream he had not long woken from.

What on earth did that mean?

                                    ***

After breakfast the Gryffindors left the Great Hall in small groups of twos
and threes and wandered back to the tower with time to spare before
lessons began for the day. This was usually the slot that Harry and Ron
used to catch up on their homework (sometimes with Hermione looking
on with pursed lips and a disapproving glare, muttering about how they
were never going to learn anything properly leaving everything till the last
minute). But since Harry had starting waking early there had been far less
urgency about work deadlines and Harry and Ron were beginning to see
for the first time what Hermione got up to in this part of the day. Sure,
there was the library, Hermione's favourite place in the castle, and often
Hermione was to be found there checking something in preparation for a
practice OWL paper or looking up some detail pertaining to Elvish rights.
But what they had no idea of was that, for fifteen minutes or so, Hermione
and Ginny very often sat in a corner of the common room and chatted in
low voices and with a general air of secrecy. There were a lot of
surreptitious looks around the room and the occasional burst of giggling,
and Ron in particular was extremely intrigued with what they were talking
about. But on that morning, as on several previous mornings, the girls had
refused to allow him and Harry to join their conversation and this had
irritated Ron more than he cared to admit.

'What are they talking about?' moaned Ron to Harry. 'Why's it all so
secret?'

'I've no idea,' said Harry. 'But it all looks horribly girly. They're probably
discussing bras or cosmetics or something.'

'Harry, do you really think that Hermione would spend her time talking
about make-up when she could be doing extra Arithmancy? It's got to be
something bigger than that. When has she ever been a girly type of girl
before?'

'Well, last year at the Yule ball for a start. When I distinctly remember you,
my friend, noticing how she looked, and being rather jealous that she was
with Krum.'

'I was not jealous. Blimey Harry, you don't half have a selective memory. I
expect you've also blanked out the facts that you were appallingly rude to
Parvati and a crap dancer.'

'Me a crap dancer? Me rude to my date? Ron, you appear to be Hogwarts
champion at recalling things inaccurately. You were shockingly rude to
Padma, and anyway we both spent much of the evening hiding in the rose
garden if I remember clearly. Which I do. And I also recall that you were
achingly jealous that Herm went to the ball with Krum, and don't deny it.'
'Well, OK, a little bit maybe. She did look really good that night. But
whatever, that doesn't give her the right to sit round having secret girly
chats - with my sister of all people! - and cut us out of it like we don't even
exist.'

'Cut you out of it Ron. Not me. I want no part of it anyway. And besides,
you and I need to have a conversation of our own, oh so-called best friend
of mine.' Harry smirked sideways at Ron.

'What about?' said Ron curiously. 'Is this what you mentioned this morning
at about 4:45 or whenever it was that your shouting woke me up?'

'We were not shouting and it was quarter to seven' laughed Harry, 'as you
well know! Anyway, yes it is about that. I've been totally embarrassed in
front of the others this morning and I'm afraid I'm laying all that
humiliation at your door, Ron.'

'Wha--'

'I thought you were my ally in all matters magical,' persisted Harry, still
smirking.

'You know I am. What are you tal--'

'Then why have you never told me what wands are for?'

Ron was totally baffled. But there was no time for the conversation to
carry on as at that moment the bell rang for the start of lessons and within
about two seconds Hermione was standing next to them hurrying them
along to Charms. The school day began.

Charms was interesting but fiddly, as usual. As usual Hermione was
brilliant: there did not seem to be a charm that she had not heard of and
practised on her own before it came up in the lesson. As usual Ron was
quite good but not bothered about how well he did, and as usual Harry
was also reasonably good and in awe of Hermione's ability to do just about
anything asked of her in any subject. As usual, Neville was awful, and while
practising a gyrating charm he managed to set much of the furniture
spinning instead of his cushion. As usual Dean and Seamus found this
funny and hilarity ensued. Harry laughed and found himself thinking once
more, I must take fewer things for granted. These times will not last
forever.

The heavy rain of the morning had stopped falling by break, and by lunch it
was really quite warm and sunny. Professor McGonagall walked down the
Gryffindor table reminding all the fifth years that she wanted their latest
Transfiguration essays in her office before they went off to Care of Magical
Creatures that afternoon. Harry looked up from his chicken-and-ham pie
(his favourite) and looked at her as she was saying to Ron, 'I've got a free
afternoon so I would like to read them all before our lesson tomorrow. You
have done it haven't you, Weasley?'

'Of course, Professor! Ages ago,' protested Ron in mock innocence.

Harry, Ron and Hermione all sniggered to themselves, all aware that had it
not been for Crookshanks and for Harry's early waking, then there would
have been no way that McGonagall would have had a full set of essays that
afternoon. McGonagall sensed there was some joke between them and
smiled to herself. She couldn't actually tell them of course, but she was
rather fond of all three of them.

Harry watched as she went down the Slytherin table giving the same
instruction, and he noticed the half smile on her face. And then suddenly
the smile was gone, and Harry saw that it was undoubtedly because she
was speaking to Draco Malfoy. He seemed to be giving her some backchat
that was being hugely appreciated by his Slytherin cronies. Shut up Malfoy,
thought Harry, don't give her a hard time. As Harry was thinking this he
looked straight at Draco, trying to drill that thought into Draco's head
across the hall. At that very moment Draco looked up and his eyes met
Harry's, and Harry felt the charge of dark emotion that ran through his
body whenever he looked at Draco. It was becoming so familiar that Harry
had now christened this feeling the Malfoy Shiver but he had kept this to
himself as he was deeply troubled by his own capacity for hatred where
Malfoy was concerned.
God, how I despise you, thought Harry. Draco's eyes did not break contact
with Harry's. He looked puzzled, then his usual cynical sneer returned to
his face as he mouthed the words fuck off, Potter for Harry's own private
benefit. Harry stared at Draco for some seconds afterwards, trying to inflict
great pain into him just with the intensity of his glare. But Draco had
looked away and was laughing with the Slytherins, and just as Harry was
thinking that he had definitely won that particular staring competition, he
was brought sharply back to earth on hearing Seamus say, 'So who's going
got be essay monitor then? No point all of us trooping up to McGonagall's
office is there?'

'I reckon it should be whoever's made the biggest pig of themselves at
lunch,' said Ron, pointing at Harry, and the others all cheered.

'Harry it is then, no competition,' declared Dean, 'seeing as it's chicken-
and-ham pie today!'

Scrolls began to fly at him from around the table.

'Not fair!' wailed Harry, laughing despite himself.

Shortly afterwards Harry found himself approaching McGonagall's fourth
floor office trying to carry his book bag, wand and an armful of scrolls
when he suddenly stopped because he heard voices coming from inside
the room. Good God, thought Harry, Malfoy is talking to McGonagall!
Why? What about?

He stood silently and listened for a little while. Harry could scarcely believe
his ears. Malfoy was talking to her about Transfiguration. Since when had
he become a keen, hard-working student? Harry knew that Draco was
clever, everyone knew it: he would be top of the year if it weren't for
Hermione's outstanding ability. But Harry had never thought of Draco as
actually wanting to do well before. He had thought, if he had ever thought
about it at all, that Draco was one of those amazingly clever guys that got
good marks despite doing no work and showing no interest whatsoever in
the academic. But here was evidence to the contrary. Perhaps he was
secretly working very hard and hid it from his fellow students, most
especially his fellow Slytherins. That would be interesting, especially if
news of this new Malfoy were somehow to leak back to Slytherin House.
Oh but anyway, who cared?

'Afternoon, Professor!' chirped Harry as he entered her office. 'One
complete set of top-quality Gryffindor essays for your enjoyment!' he
announced as he let them roll all over her desk. Then he pretended to
notice Draco for the first time and let his lip sneer slightly, as Draco himself
was at that very moment doing.

'Are you always so rude and ill-mannered, Potter?' snarled Draco. 'I was
talking to Professor McGonagall, in case you hadn't noticed.'

'Sorry Malfoy, no, I hadn't noticed. Funny. Usually your dungeon stench is
detectable from some distance. Nothing some time in a nice light airy
tower wouldn't cure of course, but there's little chance of that I suspect.
Anyway, I can see you're busy acting the dedicated student, so I'll be off.
Not sure my stomach could take much more of that to be honest.
Afternoon, Professor!'

He turned away, enjoying that he had managed to get one over on Malfoy,
and in front of a member of staff as well. In fact, he was sure he had seen
McGonagall try to suppress another half smile. Ha! Some days were just
worth living. I'm certainly not going to take that moment for granted,
thought Harry, smiling to himself as he went off back down the corridor,
replaying the incident in his head.

Because of the essay delivery, he arrived several minutes after the others
at Care of Magical Creatures, but he could see that there was a great deal
of excitement around the paddock outside Hagrid's hut. It was now rather
hot, the rain of the early morning now completely forgotten; one of those
early autumn days when it seems like summer is still in full force. Harry
screwed up his eyes against the sun and looked round for somewhere to
drape his cloak for the next hour as Hagrid bellowed in his usual
enthusiastic manner.
'Fauns!' cried Hagrid, obviously excited. 'Yeh'll need to be in pairs, and
yeh're gonna get the chance to speak to real-life fauns this lesson!'

Harry joined the other Gryffindors, and found that Ron, Neville, Seamus
and Dean were standing slightly away from the rest of the group, highly
amused about something. Harry knew instinctively that Neville, Seamus
and Dean were bringing Ron up to speed on the issue of Harry's not
knowing how to 'use' a wand. Harry again smiled and moved over to join
them, and to laugh at himself a bit with the others. But Hermione touched
him on the arm.

'Don't go over there Harry,' she sort of half-begged, 'you'll only encourage
them. God knows what they're talking about, but I suspect strongly it's
either misbehaviour or smut, or maybe both judging by the sniggering.
Anyway, I need a partner and so do you.'

Harry stopped next to Hermione; he could always catch up with Ron later.
Meanwhile Hagrid was still speaking and Harry and Hermione pretended
to be really interested so he wouldn't get upset.

'Course,' he continued, 'fauns in't really creatures like flobberworms an'
screwts an' stuff, oh no.'

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed Draco join the group, straight
from his cosy academic chat with Professor McGonagall, and pair himself
with Pansy. Harry looked away and back to Hagrid again.

'They're intelligent, intense beings, bit like centaurs in that respect. Only a
bit, mind. Course, their interests are a bit, er, earthy, but steer clear o' racy
talk an' it'll all be alright,' cried Hagrid, and he seemed genuinely quite
animated.

Harry found himself wondering exactly what Hagrid meant by 'racy'
conversation and looked to Hermione for guidance, but she looked blank
as well, and anyway Hagrid was already talking again.

Over Hagrid's shoulder Harry noticed that Ron was grinning like an idiot
and trying to catch Harry's eye. Harry knew exactly what Ron was trying to
signal to him. Harry tried hard to hide his own half-embarrassed, half-
amused grin, but he couldn't stop himself sniggering out loud when he saw
Ron make a series of obscene but friendly gestures privately to Harry
which implied that a) Ron had now heard the whole story from Neville,
Dean and Seamus, b) that Ron found it hilarious, and c) that Ron and Harry
would have to have 'a significant talk' later on. Harry's reaction was a
sudden and intense feeling of deep comradeship with Ron. He knew Ron
wouldn't dream of laughing at him over this, he knew that the amusement
Ron was experiencing was with Harry rather than at his expense, and he
also knew that Ron cared enough about Harry to make a potentially
cripplingly embarrassing conversation seem funny and perfectly natural.

Harry smiled his agreement with all of Ron's frantic signalling, and then
looked away. He thought suddenly of the phantom lover that 'visited' him
each morning. Please, please, let it not be Ron, Harry hoped with all his
heart. Hermione realised that Harry's mind was elsewhere, and prodded
him in the ribs to nudge his attention back to Hagrid.

'Don't take no nonsense, do fauns,' he was saying. 'And highly excitable
they are, so don't go speakin' in high spirits or Gawd knows what'll
happen. But seeing as how a whole herd just arrived in the Hogwarts
grounds this morning, I thought it would be a shame for yeh not to meet
them. Now jus' get with your partner and pick a faun and go and chat to
'em. That's it, nothing to it. Be polite and complimentary and yeh'll get on
like a house on fire!'

The various pairs were moving towards the group of fauns who were
standing idly around preening themselves on the far side of the paddock,
but Harry heard Hagrid call him and Hermione back.

'Sorry you two, can't let you go in like that,' he beamed.

'What do you mean?' asked Hermione.

'Gotta be single-sex pairs with fauns,' Hagrid chuckled conspiratorially. 'All
sorts could happen otherwise. Hermione, you'd better go wi' Pansy. And
Harry, you go wi' Draco.'
Hagrid shot Harry a look of sorry, mate as he said this, but Harry was
nonetheless pretty appalled at the prospect of having to spend the next
hour chatting to Draco Malfoy and a faun.

Draco himself was hardly delighted with the idea either.

'That giant oaf of yours has really surpassed himself this time,' he sneered
at Harry, as they reluctantly made their way over to the far side of the
paddock where a single faun remained. 'Marvellous. What a complete
waste of lesson time. My father will be interested to hear of this latest
venture of that cretin. And as if conversation with such a ridiculous
creature itself wasn't bad enough, I'm now lumbered with you too. Still,
that's two ridiculous creatures, I suppose. You might get on rather well
with a faun, Potter.'

Harry's blood coursed in resentment through his body, the Malfoy Shiver
in full angry flow.

'Your father is hardly in a position to go to the Ministry to complain about
anything these days, Malfoy, not now I've formally identified him as a
Death Eater,' said Harry sharply. 'So excuse me if I don't react to your
empty threats with quite as much awe-struck reverence as your detestable
sycophantic Slytherins. I've no doubt Hagrid has his reasons, and perhaps it
could be rather interesting to meet a faun. But I expect your mind is as
closed as it always is, Malfoy.'

'Interesting to meet a faun?' choked Draco, looking genuinely highly
amused that Harry might think this. 'Did I hear you right, Potter? Have you
no idea what fauns do all day? And what their only topic of conversation
is? It seems you really are as stupid as Professor Snape says.'

Harry had not even the first piece of knowledge about fauns, but he wasn't
going to let Draco know that. He was just thinking up a suitable retort
when he and Draco reached the far side of the paddock where the only
faun left unengaged in conversation was leaning casually against the fence
in the hot sun.
'Hello boys, good to meet you,' leered the faun. 'What're your names
then?'

'Harry,' said Harry, trying to appear bright and enthusiastic.

'Draco,' said Draco, sullenly.

'Good-oh,' the faun grinned horribly. 'I'm Dixter. Now, down to business.
What do you want to know? Now come on, don't be shy, there's no
subject I won't consider giving advice on. As I am sure you are aware, fauns
do have a certain amount of specialist expertise and we are always willing
to share our experience with the Uninitiated.'

The faun's voice was slurred, and he had a general air of slovenliness about
him as if he'd been in the Three Broomsticks for the best part of a week;
but that was by no means the most remarkable thing about him. With the
upper half of a man and the hind legs of a goat, Dixter would have been
pretty odd to look at in any light. But the fact that at least 50% of him was
human in form did not seem to be important enough to him to consider
wearing clothes. Harry tried hard to maintain eye contact with Dixter
because he was sure it would be highly inappropriate to look anywhere
else. But the undeniable fact was that despite Dixter's astonishingly hairy
chest and the pair of short horns poking out of his extremely untidy hair, it
was impossible to miss that between Dixter's legs hung a stupendously
large and monstrously furry set of faun genitalia. It was beyond indecent.
Harry suddenly thought of Neville - who only that morning had practically
owned up to having used an engorgement charm at least once - and Harry
was filled with a weird urge to ask Dixter if he had done the same.

But as Harry sniggered at this thought, Dixter was saying, 'So, Draco, like
the look of what you see, eh? I won't deny it's all rather impressive. The
ladies do always seem to be most appreciative of course, but it's nice to
get recognition and admiration from fellow players from time to time as
well!'

Draco coloured crimson right up to the backs of his ears and Harry burst
out laughing.
'Caught checking out a faun, eh, Malfoy? Good God, is there no limit to the
depravity and perversity that you and your Slytherin cronies will lower
yourselves to?'

Draco was absolutely incensed, so much so that he could not find any
words at all.

'I, er...er, well...of course not!!!' he eventually blurted out, blushing even
more furiously, but Dixter seemed to ignore him completely.

'Course, to be fair, Draco, most fauns are pretty well equipped down there,
but I do seem to have done better than most, I have to say. What do you
think, Draco?'

Harry was loving every second of Draco's discomfort.

'Yes, Malfoy, what do you think about it? I'm just dying to hear,' crowed
Harry.

Draco seemed to choke back just enough of his fury to be able to find his
voice.

'That is absolutely enough. I refuse to stand here and be insulted by a part-
human whose only interests outside violent fornication are boasting about
his prowess and lauding the size of his genitals...'

Dixter chuckled slightly and winked at Harry. But Draco, warming to his
theme, was in full flow.

'God knows why Professor Dumbledore allowed you lot in here. I know
what fauns are like! We had one get in amongst the livestock at Malfoy
Manor last year. And it seems you lot don't bother with niceties like
discriminating between animals and humans either, oh no. Cows, sheep,
house elves, domestic staff - even my father's elderly black wolfhound -
none was safe from that sodding randy goat! Have you no bloody shame,
or even a shred of decency?'

Far from being affronted by this, Dixter seemed remarkably animated.
'Ah! Now you're talking, Draco! House elves, you say? Good Lord, I'd like to
have seen that. Wonder who it was? Down at Malfoy Manor? Sounds
exactly like the kind of stunt my cousin Ramrod would pull, but I know he
was ravaging in Ireland for most of last year. Says it's by far the best place
to go these days: lots of fragrant young maidens sitting around bemoaning
their virginity. You should get over there, Draco, sounds like your type of
place!'

Draco was practically spluttering. 'Well!...of all the...!' was about all he
could manage.

Harry was laughing so much he could hardly stand, but then Dixter
diverted his attention away from Draco.

'What about you then, Harry?' he inquired jovially. 'Got a girlfriend? Good
goer, is she? Gives you what you want and so forth? No point carrying on
with them if not. Just ditch them and find another one. No shortage you
know--'

'Oh yes, Potter!' squealed Draco, now with all his vocal powers
miraculously restored. 'Do tell us about your girlfriend. And who is it this
week? Which hapless young ingénue has been ensnared by the famous
scar, only to find there's a pathetic weakling behind it?'

Harry shot Draco a look of pure venom but unfortunately Draco was not
able to see it, because, at that moment, obviously having decided to
remain in conversation with Dixter for as long as Harry was being made
uncomfortable, he was pulling his school jumper off to try and get a little
cooler in the hot sunlight. Harry watched as the jumper rose up over
Draco's head, taking the Slytherin t-shirt he was wearing underneath with
it, in the process exposing a foot or so of Draco's lean, hard, flawless,
creamy-white torso. At this image, the Malfoy Shiver made one of its most
violent appearances yet and surged through Harry's body, but this time
Harry found himself even more uncomfortable with it than usual. What
was happening? Draco showing a little flesh had produced a whole-body
shock in him? What on earth did that mean? Could he really hate someone
that much?

Troubled and tense, and feeling himself flush, he did the first thing that
occurred to him, which was to follow Draco's lead and remove his own
jumper. At least his burning face would be hidden from Dixter and Draco
for a few seconds. As Harry pulled his own jumper off, he felt his own
Gryffindor t-shirt rise up in exactly the same way Draco's had done, and,
astonishingly, he could feel Draco's eyes on his body as sharply as if Draco
was poking him in the chest with a wand. Jumpers removed, the two boys
glowered at each other.

'Well,' said Dixter. 'There's a turn-up for the books.'

'What are you talking about, you stupid goat-fuck?' enquired Draco.

'I mean, I've heard of it between humans as an interesting alternative, as a
way of ringing the changes kind of thing, but actually as a first choice, as a
preference? Odd. Yet, intriguingly, decidedly full of possibilities...'

'What do you mean?' asked Harry, trying to be more polite than Draco had
been.

'But if that's the way it is, then, OK.'

Both boys looked at him as if he were barking mad.

'Anyway, down to business. It's obviously time for me to do my faun thing.
I don't always enjoy it actually, but it's what fauns do of course - certainly
it's what's expected of us; and it is something I do rather well, I have to
admit. But I will say this: I certainly didn't sense that it would be necessary
when we first started this cosy lads' chat. Must be losing my touch!
Nevertheless, nice talking to you boys, but duty calls, and good luck with,
well, you know...'

And at that he started to hop around most distressingly.
Harry and Draco looked at each other wondering what on earth Dixter was
doing. Over the following thirty seconds his jumping got progressively
more energetic, and then he started braying in a desperate, deafening
manner. More disturbing was that Dixter's already madly overlarge tackle
was stiffening into a ferocious looking erection. More alarming still was
that a few seconds later when he was without doubt fully erect, thrusting
his body around like he was actually rutting an invisible faunette and
braying at the top of his voice, he actually made a lunge at Harry.

'Watch out!' yelled Draco, and immediately wondered why he'd shouted a
warning. Helping Harry was an unusual experience, and he would have
pondered this for longer had circumstances allowed.

Gone was the cheery 'open-minded' creature they had just been talking to.
Instead Dixter looked like he was crazed with lust. Harry rolled out of the
way and then Dixter made a swiping pass at Draco. Suddenly Harry was
aware that they were both in extreme danger. If Dixter actually got hold of
one of them, who knew what might happen. It didn't bear thinking about.
Draco had fallen to the floor after Dixter's initial lunge, and Harry saw him
step back as if about to jump onto Draco himself. Harry grabbed Draco's
arm and hauled him out of Dixter's path in the nick of time. At that single
touch, the immediate jolt of the Malfoy Shiver nearly floored him with its
strength. Harry looked at Draco, somehow aware that he had sensed this
shock too. But at that moment Harry became aware of lots of activity from
all over the paddock, and the Shiver was temporarily forgotten.

'Get away from him!' Hagrid was yelling at them as he chased over
towards them. 'Get away! Quick! They're dangerous when they get like
this!'

Neither Harry nor Draco needed telling twice. Grabbing their jumpers they
ran away from Dixter, passing Hagrid who was charging in the opposite
direction. 'All of you get outside the paddock!' came Hagrid's hollered
instruction as he raced over to Dixter.
The class stood and watched the bizarre scene. Most of the other fauns
were beginning to show the same behaviour as Dixter.

'Oh my God!' yelled Seamus. 'It's going to be carnage! We need to get
Hagrid out of there!'

But it was not carnage that ensued. It was instead, bluntly, an orgy. After a
couple of minutes the whole herd of fauns were in what could only be
described as a wild, cavorting, thrusting, rutting heap. Once Hagrid had
shepherded them all together into a single group he casually strolled past
the swirl of faun limbs, batting off a playful advance from an adventurous
female faun, and approached the fence from where the Gryffindors and
Slytherins were watching, amazed.

'Well, that's fauns for yeh!' he chuckled to the class. 'Only ever one thing
on their minds. But ah've no idea what triggered it. Usually they're happy
just to talk for hours, unless o' course...'

'Unless what?' asked Dean.

'Well,' Hagrid got rather embarrassed and shuffled his feet a little, 'unless
one of 'em gets a better idea of course!'

The students all laughed, even the Slytherins, and that definitely appeared
to be the end of another eventful Care of Magical Creatures class. As they
were picking up their cloaks off the fence, Harry's hand brushed against
Draco's. The electricity of the contact jolted both of them again, and was a
blunt reminder of what had just happened. They looked at each other
furiously, neither of them speaking.

Then, for half a second, the words thanks Malfoy seemed appropriate to
Harry. Draco had, after all, shouted a vital warning. But the words never
got spoken, because just as it looked like Draco might himself actually
thank Harry for pulling him out of Dixter's way - Harry swore he could
actually feel the words forming in Draco's head - Draco sneered nastily and
said, 'Remind me next time Potter that having you as a partner is to be
avoided at all costs. Frankly I would rather drink my own urine.'
He turned and walked away without looking back. Harry looked at Malfoy
as he rejoined the Slytherins on their way back to the castle, unable to
decipher his own complex feelings. Hermione watched thoughtfully.

The other Gryffindors assembled and were sorting through cloaks and
jumpers. Reunited with Ron and the other boys, Harry was immediately
high-spirited again.

'Harry, you cretin!' Ron spluttered as he came bounding over to Harry and
Hermione. 'I just don't believe it! Is it really true? Except of course, I know
you so well, I just know that of course it's true! It's just so you to be so,
so...so cretinously cute, so stupidly, innocently under-informed, so, so
Harry!'

Both Harry and Ron were laughing a great deal, even though Harry knew
he was blushing. Ron's warmth was so wonderfully welcome after the chill
of Draco's words.

'Ron, what on earth are you talking about?' asked Hermione, perplexed.

'Oh nothing, Herm,' he said, enjoying his chance to get back at her for not
telling him what she and Ginny had been talking about, 'just boys' stuff. In
fact, no offence Herm, but could you give Harry and I a few minutes?
There's a couple of things we need to talk about.'

'None taken. Of course you can have your smutty little chat,' said
Hermione graciously, with no trace of the slightest curiosity, which Ron
found rather irritating. 'It's quite handy actually,' she continued, 'because
there's something I want to check in the library.'

And with that she quickened her pace and was out of earshot within a few
seconds.

'Now,' said Ron, clapping Harry on the back, 'it's time for a chat with your
uncle Ron!
                              CHAPTER THREE

                                      ~

                      MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING?

Ah, the Library.

Books, Knowledge, Learning, Experience.

Hermione's favourite place.

With a clear head, and with an academic's intellectual approach, Hermione
determined to draw no conclusions until she had done the research. She
circled the shelves with intent, face set in a look of half stern purpose and
half enjoyment. Expertly flipping books down from their perches, she
amassed a pile to begin with, then tottering slightly with an armful of
about a dozen volumes, she made her way to the corner reading table, set
the books down and tapped the lamp with her wand.

'Lumos,' she intoned lovingly. The lamp flickered into life.

Hermione was quite territorial in the library. This table was the one she
had favoured since she had first come to Hogwarts, when she had spent a
great deal of time in the library, soaking up everything she could about her
new world. And then, part way through that first year, she had become
firm friends with Harry and Ron, but her habits were set, and the corner
reading table in the library had remained Hermione's ever since. Other
regular library users respected her territory, as she did theirs. Funny
places, libraries, especially magical ones. The atmosphere is as important
as the books. Hermione looked at her watch: forty-five minutes till
supper. Easily enough time to make a start.

She began with Magical Creatures and Where to Find Them. Four pages on
Fauns, which Hermione devoured.

'Hmmm.'
Then Woodland Folklore.

'Really.'

Then, in swift succession, A Brief History of the Forbidden Forest and
Pastoral Delights: A Study in Faun Behaviour.

'Good Lord.'

There was more to fauns, it seemed, than met the eye. This new
knowledge was filed away in her orderly mind, under a new directory:
Fauns and their possible implications.

Onward. The enquiring mind knows when to explore further and when to
sit and reflect, and Hermione's research took a left turn. Next was
Essential Principles of Magical Biochemistry. Hermione was captivated.

'Extremely interesting.'

Reluctantly she turned her attention to Ten Ways to See the Truth:
Interpreting Emotions.

'Useless fluff.'

Still, it had given her an idea. She got up and walked quickly to the shelves
where official documents were archived: the Ministry's annually published
statistics of births, deaths, marriages, census returns, employment figures,
domestic arrangements and all manner of other socio-demographic
information concerning the magical world. She looked extremely
thoughtful. Then, replacing the reports quickly (and accurately of course)
she turned round and went back to her table. She glanced through the
books left unconsulted from her original selection.

And then at five minutes before supper, The Crimson Cloud: Love in the
Wizarding World.

'Good God...!'

Oh.
                                   ***

While Hermione was busying herself in the library, Professor McGonagall
was just starting her weekly meeting with Professor Dumbledore. Truth
was, that this was an important time for both of them. In happier times,
the two used this time for tea and idle chat, cementing their friendship,
while Dumbledore - neither of them admitting that they were aware of
what was happening - went about the business of passing on absolutely
everything he knew about most matters in general and Hogwarts in
particular, in preparation for the day that they both knew would come
sooner or later: the day when she would have to take over the helm of the
school.

Before, such a day had seemed ages, years, away. But now, with
Voldemort on the rise again, both suspected that Dumbledore would be
called away to deal with higher matters, and the responsibility of Hogwarts
would fall to this determined, principled, highly able Scottish witch.
Lately, their conversations had been concerned with more serious matters,
and increasingly prominent on their agenda was the security of the school
and those within its walls, the ever-present threat of Voldemort hovering
between them, rarely voiced. This day was no different.

'Minerva!' said Dumbledore, his eyes glinting warmly. 'Pumpkin juice or
Earl Grey?'

'I think you should know my preference by now Albus,' she replied equally
warmly, as she watched the great wizard effortlessly conjure up a tray of
delicious tea things.

Both settled down for their chat, which, even in traumatic times, was
enjoyable for both of them.

'Hagrid's had some fauns in today, I hear,' said Dumbledore, smiling. 'I
wonder what consequences there shall be this time?'

'I honestly don't know why you permitted it, Albus,' came McGonagall's
reply. 'You know the trouble it caused last time. Ravenclaw was an
absolute nightmare after their last visit. I would have thought that, at this
time, we would have tried to eradicate anything, which was likely to upset
the precarious balance of this school.'

'Right you are, as usual, Minerva, but' - he took a mouthful of cake and
then sprayed crumbs down his beard as he carried on - 'we must
remember after everything that this is a school. Creatures as interesting as
fauns don't come visiting that often. The school has every right to learn
about them.'

'But honestly, fauns,' protested McGonagall. 'And already I have heard
that there was a right scene down at the paddock. Something triggered a
full-scale orgy. And my own Gryffindors were there!'

'Yes...yes, indeed.'

'What is it? You know something, don't you?'

'Well...yes. Alastor's box of tricks has been going haywire for the last
hour.'

'Oh, that load of nonsense. Really Albus, I would have thought that a
wizard of your ability would not put so much faith in a collection of old
toys.'

Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody, ex-Auror and friend to both Dumbledore and
McGonagall, had sent the Headmaster some magical detection devices at
the beginning of term, as his own contribution to the increased security of
Hogwarts. A couple of sneakoscopes, a large sapphire that glowed in the
presence of dark magic, a chart similar to the Marauder's Map and a half
dozen other gadgets, some of his own design.

'Maybe so, Minerva. But this one has been spinning like a whirlwind since
the fauns... er, you know, since the fauns, er, did what fauns do...'

'So it can tell you that fauns are randy old goats. What a hugely useful
device.'
'Yes, indeed; I did not need a box to tell me that. But, when I heard it
rattling, I got the others out, and, well, I really think you ought to see this,
Minerva. I don't know yet whether it is good news or bad, but, whichever,
it is certainly going to create a stir, and it just could be very important
indeed.'

He proffered a small sphere at McGonagall. It was clear like crystal, but
light as air, like a beautiful delicate bubble. Inside were a thousand minute
crimson fireflies, all glowing like superheated coals. McGonagall was
captivated.

'What is it?' she asked.

'It's an Orbis Ardens. If you like, it's, erm, ahem, it's a love detector.'

'Oh really Albus. What nonsense.'

She handed it back to him, no longer interested in it.

'Don't mock, Minerva. This is a highly perceptive device of great magical
provenance, and as far as I am aware, it is one of only three in existence.
Alastor said that this one was crafted by Rowena Ravenclaw herself. You
know how complex the magic surrounding love between two magical
people can be. Their innate magic combines in some way; very few
wizards understand it completely. The love itself can take on an
independent force, binding couples together in a way that Muggles cannot
imagine, giving the couple emotional strength beyond the sum of their
parts. The fact that neither you nor I, Minerva, have been blessed enough
to feel this intensity of emotion for ourselves should not mean that we
close our minds to its, erm, possibilities.'

'So, what are you saying? That we can tell who is in love with whom at the
school?'

'No, nothing that base. Or that worthless either. At first I thought the
same as you, that this device would be useless in a place like this. I
thought that with all the hormones washing around the castle, the
readings would be confused and unclear. But...this globe seems to act as a
filter, removing all the usual teenage crushes, in fact, ignoring them
completely. It has been totally inactive since the beginning of term. Until
today. When I looked at it about an hour ago, it showed me - a picture I
suppose, an image - of two of our own students, both experiencing a level
of emotion so powerful that the tiny flies were buzzing in a frenzy.'

'What are you getting at Albus?'

'Imagine if we had had this here at Hogwarts in years past. What would it
have shown us? Couples that we know of, for sure, whose love was so
obvious and warm and strong that it brought joy to all those around them.
The Browns. The Weasleys. Severus and...'

The pair looked at each other with smiling eyes.

Then Dumbledore hesitated, and continued slowly and quietly, 'James and
Lily.'

There was a long sad pause. Eventually he went on.

'And maybe, couples that we don't know of, who didn't realise their love
till after they left school. And of course, couples that didn't get together at
all, but married others or stayed single. With this, we would have been
able to make sure that none of that emotion was wasted. We wouldn't,
have of course; but we certainly would have been able to.'

'Yes. But why is this important now?'

'Because this is a true piece of wonderfully ancient magic, like the Mirror
of Erised. And I think that anything it tells us, it is doing so for a reason. I
don't believe that something like this is here by accident. I think it needed
to be here, to tell us something. Something that might help us. Minerva, if
the love between this pair of students is as strong as the Orbis indicates,
we might be able to, er, harness it in some way. Think what a positive and
potent force it could be. Think how useful that might be in a fight against,
say...a powerful dark wizard.'

McGonagall pondered Dumbledore's words for some time in silence.
'But, it's playing God. Manipulating children for our own gain.'

'You are right. It is those things. But, ordinarily of course, such meddling
would not be necessary. Those concerned would know as clearly from
their own experiences as we can see with the Orbis.'

'So then, we need do nothing. As the pair are obviously both at the school
at the same time, they will get together; and when they do, they may be
able to help in some way.'

'You're right again, Minerva. But, say that the couple concerned don't
understand what they are feeling? Say that they face each other across
such a vast divide that any conciliation is unlikely? Do we owe it to them
to put them right? Do we need to correct this misunderstanding for their
gain, or for ours, or both?'

There was another long pause, as Dumbledore refilled their cups.

'Who is it, Albus? Who did you see?'

Dumbledore reached slowly for the Orbis and gently tapped his wand
against the wafer-thin glass, muttering an incantation so quietly
McGonagall couldn't make out one word. He stared at it for several long
seconds, lost deep in thought again. Then he passed it to McGonagall.

Letting out a loud gasp, she stared, not noticing she had dropped her cup
in a tinkle of delicate china. Dumbledore's voice sounded clear and
controlled.

'Over the last hour I have thought about this a great deal. It's not actually
surprising, if you can look past the sensational. They both come from
highly magical backgrounds. They are both immensely headstrong and
determinedly independent. And, the level of animosity is such that neither
is likely to appreciate exactly what they are feeling; indeed, for every
reason that we could think in favour of uniting them, they would each be
able to come up with ten for ignoring us. And of course there were the
fauns. But. But...we may need every weapon and more. And considering
whom it is, any increase in ability would be of significant importance. And
remember: we're not manufacturing this love; it's already there. We may
just be steering a little.'

McGonagall was still totally silent.

'But I understand your reservations, Minerva. Of course I do; they are
mine also. So. We wait. We see what happens. We wait.'

                                       ***

Draco left the paddock feeling decidedly unnerved by the whole faun
experience. Back in the Slytherin dungeon, in the slack period before
supper, he was as unsettled and uncomfortable as he had been when he
woke from the dream that morning. He lolled on his bed, half puzzled, half
furious with Dixter the faun and with blasted Harry Potter. Crabbe and
Goyle were cooking up some mischief for the next day's Potions class, but
Draco was uninterested in their little schemes. There was a time when he
would have been the one organizing the trouble making, but now, his
henchmen's plots seemed childish and immature. And unworkable: no
way were they going to get Weasley to fall for that!

He went over the strange happenings of the Care of Magical Creatures
class. Dixter's reaction had been, precisely that. A reaction. But to what?
And why on earth had Draco found himself looking so intently at Potter's
chest when he had taken his jumper off? And why had he experienced an
amazing body shiver when Potter had looked at him? And WHY, why had
he almost thanked Potter for dragging him out of the faun's path? And,
even more bizarre, why, when he spat out his usual insult at Potter, just as
they had left, did he feel a pang of regret? Crabbe and Goyle had certainly
found it funny. Ha! Drink your own urine! Good one, Dra! But, it had felt
empty. No venom. No feeling. No nothing. Just regret.

Surely not. No. It was unthinkable...wasn't it?

The Slytherins were congregating for supper. Supper was a meal that they
did well. Not like breakfast, which the Gryffindors had the monopoly on,
with their constant cheery chatter and happy laughter. When the senior
Slytherins arrived at supper, the whole school would notice. Draco would
take his seat; acolytes would position themselves around him in order of
social standing. Pretentious conversation would ensue. Pansy would flirt
and simper. Crabbe and Goyle would laugh at his wit. God, no. Not
tonight. He wasn't going to go.

Crabbe and Goyle were confused by their leader's mood.

'Not going to supper? But that's when we show the pureblood pride!
That's when we are truly Slytherins, for all to see!'

'Bloody well do it on your own for once. I'm not going to supper.'

Pansy affected concern.

'Feeling alright, Draky? Under the weather? Shall I send for Madam
Pomfrey?'

'No. Sod off, Pansy. I can be moody if I want. You are most of the time,
after all.'

They left. Strangely, Draco felt no better when he was on his own. There
was just...confusion. Draco hated not understanding things. He was
clever. He was smart. He was bigger than this. It was nothing. He could
turn his hand to anything. Potter unnerving him was hardly the end of the
world. If he could cope with his father, he could cope with Potter.

Some time after his cronies had left, Draco tried hard to snap himself out
of his stupor.

A shower. It had worked that morning. He stripped to nothing and chose
a luxurious towel. It was good to be in the House alone. He strutted along
the corridor to the senior boys' bathroom, a room of oceanic size and
almost indecent luxury. Feeling slightly better, he stood and preened in
front of one of the large mirrors. Damn it, Draco Lucius Malfoy, you are
one hot looking wizard! He ran his hands over his white blond hair, then
ruffled it madly. Ha! Even with messy hair you look great! Messy hair.
Messy hair...
Fuck off out of my head, Potter!

He selected his favourite shower cubicle. Cubicle was not really the right
word, as it was a palatial black marble chamber with heavy gold fittings;
almost as good as some of the showers at Malfoy Manor. The water
coursed over his body. Warm, safe, soothing. He stood. Totally still, the
water plastering his hair to his head and his face. This was a great
shower. Good water pressure (one reason to be pleased about living at
the bottom of such a large building), totally private, plenty of room. Yes,
plenty of room. Easily enough for two, if that was your thing. Except,
Draco knew not one person in the whole world with whom he wanted to
share a shower. Bloody Pansy. How she would jump at the chance. And a
fair few others. Sycophants, all.

Well, never mind. He was only sixteen. There was still time, it wasn't
embarrassing still to be a virgin at sixteen. Seventeen however, that was
different. If he were to maintain the Malfoy reputation, he would have to
do it soon. Or, be seen to have done it at least. Who should he choose?
His father, as usual, had been prescriptive and definitive on the matter, in
one of their more sensitive chats last holiday.

I don't care how casually you screw around, he had said, but make sure you
start soon. But if you get some halfblood or Muggle pregnant I will kill her.
Then the baby. You will not besmirch the family name by siring some
mongrel. You know who the purebloods are, find your fun among them.
That way, there need be no 'accidents'.

And then he had grinned, like he had just shared the secret of life man-to-
man with his son and heir. Oh Christ. Draco felt his eyes close in shame,
as if he were blinking back tears. Fuck, he was blinking back tears.

Blanking out the thought of his father, he picked up a bar of soap, and
began to rub it idly over his chest. Surprisingly, Potter's chest had seemed
much more muscly than he had expected.

Expected?
Had he actually had a previous mental image of Potter's chest with which
to compare the real thing?

Surely not.

Must be all the Quidditch training, constantly tensing himself in all
directions trying to grab the Snitch. Still, Draco was a Seeker too; why
hadn't he got muscles like Potter?

Oh God, Potter...

His thoughts came fast and furious as he tried to ignore his increasing
arousal. There had been some connection with Potter that afternoon.
Draco had felt...something. And that bloody faun. Dixter. Dick-ster. He
had sensed it. What had he said? Something about something being
unexpected. A turn-up for the books. Something about he'd heard of it
before, but actually as a preference, as a first choice? Draco knew about
fauns. Hey, they were a boy's favourite magical creature; all that endless
fornication with no shame. They had some special powers too. Mainly to
do with sex. But what had he meant?

Surely not...

Oh God, Potter. Potter, FUCK OFF!

Why are you in my head? Why are you smiling at me like that? Why do
you offer me your hand when we hate each other? Why is your hair
always unruly? What does it feel like to run your hand through it? How
did you get muscles like that? What do you dream of? What does your
skin smell like? What do your lips taste of?

WHY AM I THINKING LIKE THIS? WHY ARE YOU HAVING THIS EFFECT ON
ME?

The shame hit him at the same time as his climax. He dropped to his
knees, tears streaming down his face, his seed sliding down the drain. He
wailed, like a baby in distress, alone, scared, guilty, bitter, unsure,
panicked, ashamed, crying aloud like he never had in his life. The surge of
emotion in him was more powerful than anything he had ever
experienced. He was breathless, he was drowning. And in that moment,
with the water crashing over his shoulders and the back of his neck, as he
stared unseeing at his knees on the marble floor of the shower, he saw
that no amount of water, not even an apocalyptic deluge, could wash away
the feelings that had made him more alive than he had ever been. In that
moment, his life had realigned itself: ghastly, terrifying, unthinkable.

                                    ***

When Hermione arrived at supper, there was a great deal of hilarity at the
Gryffindor table.

Ron, Seamus, Dean, Neville, the twins and a number of other senior male
Gryffindors were huddled in a group, poring over their food and something
else on the table, all exploding in regular howls of raucous laughter. Her
eyes instinctively scanned the room for Harry, but he was nowhere to be
seen.

Faced with the choice of eating with the large group of boys or the giggly
group of Ginny, Lavender and Parvati at the other end of the table,
Hermione opted for the girls. It wasn't usual that she chose not to eat with
Harry and Ron, but, well, seeing as Harry was not there and as the other
boys were obviously continuing talking about whatever smut it was that
they had been obsessed with all day, the girls looked like a much more
pleasant proposition. And anyway, that particular male gathering looked
like one of those boys' talks that she would only have a passing interest in.
Ron was so caught up in whatever the boys were discussing, that
Hermione couldn't even catch his eye to signal that she would be eating
with Ginny.

'Hmmm,' peeved Hermione to herself, subconsciously pursing her lips
slightly, 'I wonder if he ever actually notices me?'

'Oooh, let me see,' said Lavender as Hermione dumped a pile of books
next to her as she sat down, on top of which was The Crimson Cloud.
'Didn't know you were into all this stuff Herm,' she tittered.
Parvati was also extremely interested, and the two buried themselves in
the book. Ginny looked up at Hermione.

'What on earth happened down in Care of Magical Creatures this
afternoon, Herm?' she asked, smiling, 'rumours are that there was an
orgy!'

'Well, to be honest, I think there was,' laughed Hermione, 'at least, among
the fauns! Hagrid chased us all out of there the moment things got frisky.
Funny though, it just blew up out of nowhere. One minute we were all
chatting to them - my God, Ginny, have you ever spoken to a faun? They
are obscene! - and the next there was just mayhem.'

'What caused it?'

'I'm not entirely sure,' mused Hermione, still pondering on what she had
read in the library. 'But I'm fairly certain that fauns will be off the
curriculum for the time being! Hey, Harry!' she called out, seeing him
enter the hall.

Harry saw her and waved but made a beeline for the secretive huddle of
boys where Ron appeared to be holding court. Hermione was surprised to
see Ron refuse Harry (albeit extremely good-naturedly) admission to their
group. Harry however did not seem to mind, and slid into a seat next to
Hermione, smiling.

'OK,' said Ginny, 'tell us. What the bloody hell are that lot cooking up?'

'Erm, er...' said Harry, 'I'm really, honestly, not at all certain, but I think it's,
well, it's something to do with...'

'Oh for Heaven's sake spit it out Harry,' interjected Hermione, 'or is this
censored by that ridiculous Boys' Code of Ethics that you lot have?'

'Well, yes,' he grinned sheepishly, 'I rather think it is actually...'

'Fine,' she said, though not at all unkindly. 'I'm hardly interested anyway!'
she added, unconvincingly.
'Aren't you? I am,' laughed Ginny.

'So am I,' said Lavender, giggling.

'Me too,' Parvati smirked.

'Well, I definitely can't tell then if you lot all want to know,' laughed Harry.
'It's against the rules of being a boy; I'd probably have my membership
revoked or something! Anyway I'm not really sure; and besides, you lot
have your girly chats before breakfast and don't let us hear, and I'm telling
you it drives Ron insane that he can't know what you're talking about!'

'Ooooh, does it?' said Lavender, eyes wide.

'Excellent,' said Hermione, with a broad smile.

All four girls laughed loudly, temporarily attracting the attention of the
boys further down the table. The girls exchanged looks and Harry realised
he was out of the loop on this one as well as concerning whatever Ron and
the boys had wanted to hide from him.

'See?!! You're doing it now!' laughed Harry. 'That girly thing you do is just
as exclusive as what Ron and company are talking about! I should think - '

But he was cut short by a sudden sharp feeling in his stomach
accompanied by a lightheadedness and dizziness.

'What's the matter?' asked Hermione urgently. 'Your scar...?'

'Er, Herm! Oh God, oh, nothing...' moaned Harry, 'Oh, Herm, shit, oh GOD
where did THAT come from?'

'What?' asked Ginny, nervously looking at the ashen colour Harry had just
turned.

Hermione grabbed Harry's wrist and felt for his pulse.

'Blimey,' she said quietly, 'your pulse is--'
But she didn't get to finish as Harry slumped inelegantly forward over the
table, narrowly missing a glass of pumpkin juice. Fainted. Out cold.

Hermione scanned the large room for Dementors, but of course there
were none. In fact she was quite at a loss to see anything that might have
caused this. It was a serious moment on the Gryffindor table. Hermione,
suddenly desperately worried about Harry, began to wonder how she
could engineer his being covertly carried out to the Hospital Wing, and she
shot another quick look around the whole hall. All seemed to be as
normal, and miraculously, Malfoy did not appear to be anywhere to be
seen.

Ron was there in a flash, all joking gone from his worried face.

'Herm! What happened?'

'No idea, he was laughing with us and then, all of a sudden, whoosh.
We've got to get him out of here.'

Unspoken between Ron and Hermione, and among all the Gryffindors, was
the knowledge that The Boy Who Lived did not faint without reason.
There had been precious little news of Voldemort's increasing rise outside
the safety of Hogwarts, but what there had been was worrying. Both Ron
and Hermione knew how sensitive Harry was to all kinds of Dark Magic and
Hermione feared Death Eater involvement, or Dementors, or maybe even
the proximity of Voldemort himself.

The Gryffindors snapped into order, leaping into action as naturally as if
they had rehearsed this drill a hundred times. Ron took control. He
gathered Harry in his arms as Hermione performed a simple charm to
make him about a quarter his normal weight. Ron swept out of the hall,
Harry lolling unconscious, looking as pale as death. Hermione walked
alongside, trying to shield what had happened from the rest of the school.
Seamus, Dean, Lavender and Parvati surrounded them. Neville and Ginny
exited behind them making a lot of noise as a distraction, and the twins
remained at the table having a sudden game of Exploding Snap to divert
the school's attention from the urgent entourage that was leaving the hall.
Outside, Ron spoke quickly to the group.

'I'm taking Harry to the Hospital Wing,' he said in a low voice. 'Hermione,
you go to Dumbledore, and Ginny, you go to the Owlery and send Hedwig
to Sirius. The rest of you, form a group around me and we'll try to keep
the rest of the school from panicking; the sight of our main hope against
the Dark Lord out cold will not instill confidence in the others.'

Hermione looked at Ron, a huge mixture of emotion suddenly enveloping
her. What on earth was wrong with Harry? This was no ordinary faint; he
had been out for about two minutes now. Her heart plummeted at what
this might mean, for Harry, for all of them. Then there was Ron, who,
when it mattered, even when they argued and fought, would rather die
than let anyone harm Harry.

There was some sort of bond between them, Hermione knew. Perhaps
that of a boy who wanted a brother with one who could have spared three
or four; or perhaps the bond of a boy who had craved to be needed with
one who wanted to learn in an instant eleven years' worth of magical life.
When Harry had been introduced to the magical world, Ron was the first
person he had connected with, and he had subsequently seen everything
new in terms of Ron's own experiences, through Ron's own eyes; from
Quidditch to chocolate frogs, from Dumbledore to Lord Voldemort.
Hermione had never been a factor in that part of their friendship, where
they had stayed up half the night talking about things Ron took for granted
and of which Harry had no knowledge, but she did not regret it. She was
warmed to think that these two boys, her own two best friends, were
themselves inseparably close. Simply, they brought out the best in each
other, and, Hermione found herself thinking, the best in Ron was really
very fine indeed.

He looked wonderful there in that moment, his best friend possibly in
danger, his comrades rallying to the cause, his easy natural leadership
blooming. She shook herself, blushing slightly, cursing her frivolity at such
an important moment, and made her way in the opposite direction to find
the Headmaster while Ron efficiently marshalled his troops to the Hospital
Wing.

Hermione had never been to Dumbledore's office before. She knew where
it was, but when she got there she had not the remotest idea of how to get
in. She knew that the password was likely to be something you could buy
at Honeyduke's, but when she had exhausted everything she could think
of, she just slumped down on the floor against the stone gargoyle and
prayed that a member of staff would come along soon who could help
her.

Help in fact arrived quicker than she could reasonably have hoped for, and
from an unexpected source. As she leaned back against the gargoyle she
suddenly felt a grinding in the stone behind her and as the secret door
opened she actually fell backwards into the space and landed right at the
feet of Professor McGonagall.

'Miss Granger! What on earth are you doing?'

'Oh, Professor McGonagall!' she cried as she jumped to her feet. 'I need to
see Professor Dumbledore! It's Harry! Something's happened!'

'Come up, Miss Granger,' came Dumbledore's voice from the top of the
moving staircase. 'You too, Minerva, if you wouldn't mind.'

Hermione told her story to both of them. They sat in silence as they
listened. And when she had finished, they remained in silence. Hermione
sensed they knew more than they were letting on.

'Well,' said Dumbledore eventually. 'What do you think, Minerva? A
catastrophe, or just the natural reaction of a boy who hadn't eaten enough
in an exciting and overly warm day?'

Oh God, thought Hermione. Of course. What a fuss we had made. He had
only fainted after all, but we are just so protective of him, we couldn't help
but fear the worst.
'I think,' replied McGonagall, 'twenty points to Gryffindor for Weasley
acting calm under pressure, and a bar of chocolate for Harry when he
comes round. Which he almost certainly will have done by now. Crisis
averted.'

Oh how bloody foolish do I feel now? wailed Hermione inside her head.

But then, as always with Dumbledore, came the unexpected.

'Miss Granger, would you mind telling me exactly what happened in Care
of Magical Creatures this afternoon?'

Thrown off track for a second, Hermione quickly recounted all she could
remember.

'Interesting creatures, fauns,' mused Dumbledore to nobody in particular.
'They have some unique magical powers. Still, I expect you knew that Miss
Granger, being the fine student that you are.'

Hermione didn't quite know what to make of this, and said nothing.

'You can learn a lot from fauns,' continued Dumbledore, 'all sorts of
surprising things sometimes. They have a knack for seeing things, things
the rest of us don't notice.'

Hermione looked at McGonagall for guidance at this point, but there was
none coming. Her face was unreadable.

'Oh yes. Very surprising, some of the things are.'

There was another pause, then Dumbledore seemed to snap out of
whatever he was thinking.

'You did right to come and see us, Miss Granger. An extra five points to
Gryffindor for your especially inventive attempts at the password. Now
get back to your friends, and see if Harry is all right. I'll be along to see him
myself in a short while.'
That was most definitely the end of the interview, and Hermione withdrew
with a lot less drama than she had entered.

                                    ***

Draco lay in bed, devoid of all feeling, staring blankly into nothing. He was
utterly drained, both physically and emotionally, by his experience in the
shower earlier that evening. It had totally wiped him out. And without a
wand too, he thought absently. He had fastened the drapes round his bed
and ignored all efforts from the Slytherins to coax him out to join then on a
nocturnal trip out of the dungeon for some malicious mischief.

His tears had finally gone away, but his conclusions would not.

                                    ***

Later that night, the Gryffindors were all sitting around the common room,
still concerned for Harry even though Dumbledore had not seem worried
at all. They talked over the events of the day, from the mad Care of
Magical Creatures lesson to the events of supper and after.

Madam Pomfrey, true to form, had shooed them all out of the hospital
wing soon after she had got Harry settled in a bed. He still had not come
round, but she maintained that he was in no immediate danger. And as
they had all trooped out, Dumbledore had met them on his way in, and
beamed at them all.

'Well done, all of you, especially you, Mr Weasley. Earned yourselves
some serious house points this evening, as I am sure Miss Granger has told
you.'

Ron had flushed scarlet at his pride at being singled out by Dumbledore for
individual praise.

'Now get back to your common room, and I don't want you to worry about
Harry. I'm sure he will be fine.'
Now they were back in the common room, and even without Harry, the
situation seemed a lot less desperate. Maybe they had overreacted. But,
how were they to know?

Hermione was still thinking about what Dumbledore had said to her about
fauns. She was sure he was encouraging her to do some research into
them. Well, some more research. He probably knew she had already been
in the library for that very reason. He seemed to know everything in fact.
She was suddenly very tired, and with thoughts of Harry and Dumbledore
and fauns swimming round her head, she excused herself and went up to
bed.

'Good night Herm,' said Ron warmly as she left the room. Hermione's
heart skipped a beat as he said it, but she didn't look back.

'Come on,' said Ron, to Seamus, Dean and Neville, who the only ones left
in the common room, 'let's finish it. I'm sure he could do with a laugh
when he gets back.'

Their mood was lighter again. Harry was fine; he'd be back soon, maybe
even that night. Up in their dormitory, the boys got back to work on what
they had been doing at supper, and were soon laughing and joking as they
had been before.

They got so engrossed in their task that, about an hour and a half later,
when Harry got back from the hospital wing, he was able to stand
unnoticed and watch his friends secretly busy with something on Seamus's
bed for a couple of minutes before he coughed and smiled at them.

'Glad to see you're all terrifically worried about me!' he laughed, as the
others all whooped and Ron rushed over to him.

He reached out and held Harry's shoulder. 'We were worried, you git,' he
beamed, 'the whole bloody house was.' Then, softer, so the others
couldn't hear, 'are you OK? You gave me a bloody fright. What on earth
happened?'
'I'm really not sure. Neither is Madam Pomfrey. I just fainted, no bloody
idea why. I think Dumbledore might know though.'

'Really? What did he say?'

'Nothing. That's how you tell with him! I'll talk about it tomorrow, I'm
sure ready for bed right now,' he said, smiling.

'Oh no you don't,' said Ron grinning, 'we've got a small presentation to
make.'

'What?'

'Get yourself over here, Harry,' called Seamus, laughing. 'We've got a little
present for you!'

'What is it?' Harry always got excited about presents, probably because
after years with the Dursleys, they were still something of a novelty. 'Is this
what you were up to at supper?'

'Sure is,' said Dean, grinning as madly as the others.

They all stood up and Ron handed Harry a small book. Handmade,
parchment sewn together with cord, in a black leather cover. On the front
in gold lettering some words had been magically emblazoned into the
leather:

               THE BOYS' BOOK OF SPELLS (SPECIAL EDITION)

Harry looked at them all, his eyes wide with an imminent roar of laughter.

'Is this what I think it is?' he said as he opened the cover and read the
frontispiece.

                                   To Harry

                        The Boy Who Used His Hands

           with best wishes from your long-suffering room mates
Ron, Neville, Dean and Seamus had all signed it underneath the
inscription.

'Well, we said there was no handbook, but now there is!' laughed Dean.

'Wizard Wank Manual,' stated Neville, grinning as widely as the others.

'Including a silencing spell,' added Seamus, 'so you don't carry on waking
us up at the crack of dawn every morning!'

Harry was laughing so much he had to sit on the end of his bed.

'Oh my God! Have you been doing this all day?'

'Everyone put in their favourite spells and charms,' said Ron, his eyes alive,
his embarrassment factor nil. 'Fred and George knew loads! And we got
to speak to Charlie in the fireplace and he sent us this wicked one he
learned in Romania. Well, he said it's wicked; none of us have tried it yet.
You'll have to let us know. Welcome to the Wizarding World, Harry.
Wands are not optional from hereon in.'

Harry looked at them all in happiness.

'I don't know what to say,' he said, a bit choked.

This was one moment he definitely wasn't going to forget in a long time.
                              CHAPTER FOUR

                                     ~

              THE BOYS' BOOK OF SPELLS (SPECIAL EDITION)

The Fifth Year Boys' Dormitory in Gryffindor Tower, a room so peaceful
and secure and comfortable that it always felt warm whatever the time of
year, was the centre of Harry's life. The rattly old lead windows somehow,
as September was just turning into October, magically repelled the
increasingly chill winds that whipped around the tower. And although he
shared this room with his best friend Ron and their fellow warriors Neville,
Seamus and Dean, it had remained a private space, and was rarely, if ever,
visited by other members of Gryffindor House.

Which was just as well, because at the moment the room was a bloody
disgraceful mess; the kind of mess that would have had Mrs Weasley
clucking her disapproval and would most likely have sent Aunt Petunia into
an apoplexy. It did not seem to matter how often the house elves worked
their magic in the room, within a day or so it was always a total tip. As
Harry looked at it shortly after breakfast on the Saturday after the now-
infamous Care of Magical Creatures lesson, it really did seem worse than
usual. But then, his mood was pretty fierce. Bordering on aggressive, to be
honest.

There were books and scrolls everywhere, on the large table, on the trunks
and on the beds, and - where it had been necessary from time to time to
actually go to bed - shovelled off the beds and onto the floor in heaps.
Quidditch equipment hung from the four-posters, brooms stood or lay
around in awkward places. Shoes, each one separated from its brother, ran
in a chaotic jumble right across the room. Robes were strewn on every
available area of floor space. And, wherever the position of the furniture
allowed, heaps of other clothes - clean and worn alike - would accumulate,
which were sorted through most mornings as the Gryffindors searched for
something to wear that day. The contents of Ron's trunk lay in a disorderly
pile next to his bed, as he had upended it the previous day looking for
some clean socks. There hadn't been any.

But the Age of Chaos was about to come to an end, and as Harry stood and
surveyed the mess he briefly wondered whether he would actually miss it.
There was something wonderful about the mess in the room; it made it
totally, territorially, theirs. And in most cases nothing was ever actually
mislaid, as each boy always knew roughly where to look for whatever he
needed. But an interfering prefect had been hassling them about it for
weeks, and finally after one particularly stern warning (which, like the
others, had gone unheeded), the unimaginable had happened: Professor
M McGonagall, Order of Merlin (second class), Deputy Headmistress of
Hogwarts School and Head of Gryffindor House, Nationally Renowned
Witch, Transfiguration Expert and Animagus, to say nothing of Stern
Disciplinarian, had been summoned by the despairing prefect. Harry well
remembered trying to ignore her lip curling in something considerably
beyond disappointment as she duly threatened the boys with the loss of
twenty points each if the room did not get straight and stay straight,
straight away. There was to be an inspection at 6 o'clock that evening and
the five were supposed to be meeting to start the clean up, but so far
Harry was the only one to have arrived. Where the bloody hell were they?

He sat on his bed. Sure, the room was a disgrace, but hardly the most
important thing in the world. He idly ran his hand round the edge of his
bed and his fingers alighted on a book, the one thing that was safely stored
away in its own place. Just the one thing in the whole room: the Boys'
Book of Spells (Special Edition) was tucked down between the mattress
and the headboard of Harry's bed. Harry didn't know quite why this object
was so special to him, considering the other wonderful things he owned,
like a Firebolt and an Invisibility Cloak; but there was just something about
the amount of trouble the others had gone to that made Harry stash it
away like a little prize.

And sure, it was a great thing to have.
Well at least that's what he'd thought when they had first given it to him.
He'd tried out a couple of the spells in recent days (with the silencing spell
in place for decency's sake) and then all the boys had wanted to borrow
the book to try out Charlie Weasley's special spell from Romania. All things
considered, Harry had had to admit that the Wizarding Way was far
superior to the Muggle Method, and he had laughed with the rest of them
at how he had ever managed without a wand. But since that very morning
though, Harry wondered whether the book had become too dangerous to
use. As he sat down heavily on his bed, he tried to stop his mind from
recalling the details of just a few hours previously when...when, oh shit, it
was too awful to think about.

But as always with things we try not to think about, the very act of not
thinking about them keeps them at the front of our minds. It had been
another early morning - earlier than usual, not long after 4am - when his
eyes had blinked open in complete wakeful alertness, not one glimmer of
fatigue in his mind or body. Thoughts and feelings and emotions had
begun their usual clamouring, hemming him in, pinning him physically to
the bed, stabbing into his chest. So much disappointment, so much shame,
so much guilt. How could he ever tell them?

Ron would hate him. Even worse, Hermione would offer sympathy. Neville
would be disappointed. Seamus would be unbearably smug. Ginny would
be heartbroken. Gryffindor House as a whole would be uncomfortably
embarrassed, maybe worse. The other Houses, especially Slytherin,
fuck...can't think about that. The same thoughts, the same desperation
every morning. Why couldn't he just tell them the truth, why couldn't it
just be a non-issue? After all, he had never had to own up to having black
hair or green eyes, and this unspeakable secret was as much part of him as
those outwardly obvious things. He couldn't tell them. He couldn't.
Hogwarts was his home, Gryffindor his family; the risk of rejection was too
great and the consequences of rejection unthinkable. He would be alone.

But, he was alone.
To have such a secret from Ron was destroying their friendship. To lie to
Hermione about girls he fancied was an insult and a betrayal. To live in
such familiarity with his room mates was a deception. Everything he took
for granted was his because of what he kept hidden. The same thoughts,
the same destructive circle of conclusions and fears. Every bloody
morning. And, as every morning, there was really only one way out of the
endless cycle of worry: a few fleeting moments of physical pleasure. And
the boys themselves had now given him the means to make these private
moments more exciting, more thrilling and more breathtaking than they
had ever been.

But that morning, he had got more than he had bargained for.

Instead of the welcome luxury of forgetting his current situation for a short
while and allowing himself to inhabit a world where he could caress his
imaginary lover in a way that felt natural and loving and innocent, there
had been a horrible, unimaginable catastrophe. Caused by the book, he
was sure. Well, not the book itself, but the information it held. There was
something about magically assisted pleasure that heightened perceptions,
intensified experiences, enhanced imagination; and that morning, as Harry
and Whoever-He-Was had tussled in their childish but intimate play, an
image as sharp and clear as a colour photograph had erupted from Harry's
subconscious and smashed him between the eyes.

His lover, his companion, his fantasy: he had (gulp) blond hair. White
blond. And creamy skin. And clear, cool blue-grey eyes. And a handsome
oval face that he recognised. And, bizarrely, a smile.

Oh Christ. Now there was nothing left. Nowhere to retreat to, nothing that
wasn't tainted. Life with the Gryffindors was bearable because he could
escape once a day and let his mind roam free of expectation and honour
and respectability, and now, in that special place, in Harry's own private
world, the face of his arch rival and sworn enemy grinned back at him.
Mocking, sneering, jeering.

He hadn't cried though.
Sure, he had wanted to, but crying had never been something that he had
done. Crying was like admitting defeat, and the Boy Who Lived never
admitted defeat, not even when duelling with Voldemort, not even when
he thought of his parents. But something within him had taken
responsibility for his actions and he had found himself suddenly acting
with purpose, but without his knowing where the motivation had come
from or what the purpose was. He had sat up, all arousal obliterated. The
wand and book had suddenly seemed redundant and incriminating, and he
had stuffed them under his pillow. He had jumped out of bed and
showered quickly. He had dressed in the first things that he had found,
wrapped a scarf around his neck and pulled on his robe. Then he had
quickly left the castle and stepped out into the grounds a little before
dawn, and negotiated a complete circuit of the lake.

Fast, deliberate walking, head empty but for the mental effort demanded
by the act of walking itself.

Then, on his second lap of the lake, his mind began to consider some of
what had happened, initially just tiny, inoffensive thoughts that gradually
coalesced into a plan.

He would stop being close to Ron, in preparation for the inevitable day that
they would no longer be friends. That way, Ron would not be hurt as much
by the secret that Harry would one day have to tell him; he should never
have allowed himself to get that close to Ron anyway.

He would stop relying on Hermione to get him out of trouble with work.
When the shit hit the fan, he would have to get used to working on his
own, and so now seemed a good time to start.

He would ignore Ginny; that way she would lose interest in him and go and
find someone more worthy, someone who could return her affection.

He would not join in any more boyish pranks organised by Seamus or Dean.
When they found out what he really was, he would hardly be welcome in
their gang, so he might as well extricate himself from it now on his own
terms.
He would stop visiting Hagrid as much, as he had to learn to stand on his
own two feet if he was ever going to survive when he left school.

He would not take any further advantage of the favours and privileges that
were so often afforded him by McGonagall and Dumbledore, so that when
their disappointment in him was revealed, he did not feel he owed them
anything.

He would withdraw from the Quidditch team, as he wanted no part in
anything where people relied on him.

He would stop pleasuring himself completely. Of course. Immediately. That
one went almost without saying.

And above all, he would pay not the slightest attention whatsoever to...to,
God, he could not even think his name, to the blond boy. Who is he
anyway? I've never even heard of him. He does not exist.

It was after 7am when Harry completed his second circuit of the lake.
Smoke from the squat chimney told him a fire was burning in Hagrid's hut
but Harry did not stop off for an early cup of tea. He reentered the
dormitory as the other boys were rising for breakfast, but ignored their
questions as to where he had been. He spoke to nobody at breakfast,
choosing not to hear Hermione and Ron's nervous enquiries as to how he
was feeling. They had been wary round him since he had fainted at supper
earlier that week - and what the fuck had that been about anyway?
Another example of his weakness.

He would not faint any more.

Up in the dormitory again, staring at the mess as he awaited the clean up
operation, he reflected that it was fitting that all this was going to change.
Again, something in him snapped him out of his dreaminess and dictated
an astonishing burst of activity. Getting sentimental about mess? Honestly.

He would not be messy any more; it was a shocking example of weakness
and immaturity.
Fuck it, he didn't need the others, wherever they were. Still laughing at
breakfast probably. Hermione would be lecturing as usual on the
importance of the bloody psychological advantage over the bloody
Slytherins. Hell, he didn't need them. He went over the entire floor space
of the room picking up things that belonged to him, tossing the others'
belongings aside. When he had his bed full of his stuff, he packed it away
into his trunk and locked it, the Boys' Book of Spells at the very bottom.
Dirty clothes went in the laundry. Books, scrolls and quills were organised
on top of his trunk. He made his bed. All the remaining untidiness was not
his responsibility. He left the dorm again, and headed down to the
common room, where the great mass of happy souls were just arriving
from the Great Hall.

Oh shit. He didn't want to see them. Ever.

'Hey, there you are!' beamed Ron, his face full of warmth and friendship.
'Why'd you leave breakfast so early? We were worried. Are you feeling ok?
Ready for the war against mess?'

Harry took a deep breath.

'Just so you know, in future you can save your energy by not worrying
about me again. And please stop asking me how I am, it is becoming
tedious.'

Harry looked Ron straight in the eye as he spoke. The crowd of Gryffindors
went instantly quiet, unable to miss Harry's completely uncharacteristic
iciness towards Ron.

'Er, I was just, I didn't mean to be...' said Ron, totally taken aback, but
Harry ignored him and began to walk straight through the group towards
the portrait hole. He pretended not to see Ron try to say something else
while Hermione tugged on Ron's sleeve to warn him not to continue.
Harry's heart tried to remain dispassionate as he saw the look of almost
unbearable hurt on Ron's face as his best friend had just spoken to him so
coldly in front of all the others.
'This came for you in the post,' said Ron brusquely, and stuffed a letter into
Harry's chest. Harry cut through the crowd, muttered an inaudible word of
thanks and left the room.

'What the hell is the matter with him now?' fumed Ron, to the group in
general and Hermione in particular.

'Let it go, Ron,' said Hermione softly. 'Whatever it is, he will tell us when he
can. You know what he's like.'

'Yes, I do,' said Ron. 'A rude, ungrateful bastard.'

                                     ***

He read it again, sitting on a rock on the far side of the lake. Here indeed
was another bloody complication.

Dear Harry

I have just received a worrying note from Ginny via Hedwig about you
fainting at supper. I hate the thought of you being ill or in distress while I
am so far away, and as I have received no news about you for a while I am
going to come to Hogsmeade this weekend. Meet me at the Shrieking
Shack at lunchtime on Saturday, and bring some food if you can.

Sirius

Bloody Ginny.

Still, it was probably Ron who told her to write the note.

Bloody Ron.

Now Sirius was going to endanger himself while he was trying to run an
important mission for Dumbledore at the same time as staying one step
ahead of Fudge's men. It was such a risk coming to Hogsmeade! And now
because of Harry, Sirius was going to put himself in danger by coming to
check up on his stupid fainting godson.
Lunchtime on Saturday. That was still a couple of hours away. And it
wasn't, strictly speaking, a Hogsmeade weekend. But deep, deep down,
deeper down than wherever the strength he had found to make the
decisions by the lake had come from, Harry didn't care. He wanted to see
Sirius. It suddenly seemed so important. He just had to be able to count on
him. If he didn't have Sirius, he had nobody.

Well, the Shrieking Shack was as good a place to mope as any. He might as
well go there now. He went back to the castle, 'raided' the kitchens (Dobby
and the other house elves happily made up a picnic hamper for him) and
walked out of the school gates in broad daylight. Why bother with the
cloak or the secret passage? He didn't care if he got into trouble.

Up at the castle, two people watched thoughtfully as by chance they saw
Harry leave the school grounds. Hermione, worried, upset, concerned.
Dumbledore, smiling slightly, guessing correctly whom Harry was going to
see.

                                    ***

Bad moods abounded at the castle that Saturday.

Ron was upset, in fact furious, at having been so publicly dropped by
Harry. When his fury began to ebb it was replaced by a profound sense of
confusion coloured with a big serving of hurt. They had argued loads of
times before, but this was different. It had always been about trivial things
and they had made up almost instantly, never bearing a grudge, each too
dependent on the other for their disputes to last more than a couple of
hours.

There had been that time of course that Ron had not spoken to Harry in
the run-up to the first Triwizard Test, but if he had ever thought about it
afterwards, Ron guiltily suspected that it was his own jealousy that had
been the root cause of that difficulty. Or rather, his jealousy further
aggravated by the nasty combination of both his and Harry's astonishing
stubbornness. But even that was not like this. They hadn't even argued this
time. Harry had just said, well he couldn't remember the exact words, but
it wasn't what he had said, it was the manner in which he said it: the look
in his eyes had glared fuck off out of my life. But why? What on earth had
he done?

Hermione and Ginny had mooned around in the boys' dormitory that
morning, ostensibly to help with the Great Clear Up, but Ron knew that
they were as upset as he was and felt the need to be close to him. The
clear up itself had become a tedious and soul-destroying occasion,
Hermione acting as unnecessary supervisor, Ginny idly flipping through
Ron's stuff, trying not to think about what had happened. Neville ignored
the whole affair, thinking that Harry had always been highly-strung and
unpredictable, and Seamus and Dean were treading on eggshells, wading
their way through the disgraceful disorder in the room whilst attempting
to inject a little light humour into the proceedings.

Up to a point they all silently ignored the moments when something of
Harry's was discovered, merely placing his things in a slowly growing pile
on his bed; but when Ron found Harry's Snitch-clock, which had rolled
under his bed amid a tumble of Seamus's socks, his frustration suddenly
burst out and he let out an involuntary shout of anger and hurled the clock
at the wall. With lightning reactions, Hermione deftly flicked her wand, and
muttering the words Accio Snitch-clock under her breath, the clock
changed direction in midair and neatly landed in her hand with a light
thwok that seemed just as loud as Ron's furious outburst. She slowly
walked over to Harry's bed and placed it carefully on the covers with his
other things.

Ginny sighed deeply and said, 'I'm going out,' and she left.

Hermione was feeling scarcely any less distressed than Ron, but she tried
hard to maintain a degree of rationality. Even so, she was furious with
Harry for behaving like this. She could think of no justification whatever for
his actions and words, but the situation had been made worse by
Hermione's immediate assumption that Ron must have done something
awful to get Harry in such a mood. Following Harry's surprising words,
there had been half an hour of bitter accusatory glowering between her
and Ron, before she realised that Ron was both genuinely hurt and totally
mystified.

Her heart had melted a little then and, Harry temporarily forgotten, she
had looked at Ron and wanted to hug and comfort him and tell him that he
was not to blame; and later, over the incident with the Snitch-clock, she
had so sympathised with his anger and distress that she was almost sorry
that she had prevented it being damaged. She had looked at Ron, and he
at her: he, grateful for her actions; she, thinking that the combination of
hurt little boy and angry young man was suddenly dangerously attractive.
Her heart had thumped a little faster at this moment of nonverbal intimacy
between them, until Ginny had unwittingly (or deliberately?) broken the
tension by announcing her departure.

Bloody Harry, she mused. When she got hold of him she was going to give
him a Bloody Stern Talking To. He better have a watertight excuse for
upsetting Ron like this, OR ELSE.

The cleaning up continued eventually and Hermione had wandered over to
the window, half-listening to the most pathetic of arguments between
Seamus and Dean about who had thought it would be a good idea to mix
up the playing cards in four separate decks, and as she was wondering
exactly which spell would offer a solution, she had caught sight of Harry
leaving the Hogwarts grounds, the weak sunlight glinting on his glasses.

Now where on earth was he going?

Ordinarily she would have been highly agitated by this crazy disregard for
his own security, but she kept quiet about it and added it the list of things
that needed to be considered later, when she was alone, and when Ron
had been calmed.

                                     ***

On the other side of the castle another fierce mood was in evidence.

Draco lay on his bed, refusing to talk to any of his fellow Slytherins, his
sense of despair growing with each hour. He had not slept at all the
previous night, and hardly at all since the day of the Care of Magical
Creatures lesson with the fauns. And he had more or less totally
withdrawn from interaction of any kind with his housemates in that time,
as wrestling with whatever was going on left little time and no inclination
for the dreary reality of Slytherin life.

This thing with Potter would simply not go away. He had examined it from
all angles, clearly and objectively, furiously and in deep uncertainty, until
he thought his head might explode. And then, at sometime after four
o'clock that morning, he had been hit with a blisteringly vivid image of a
semi-naked Potter, laughing warmly, slightly out of breath and flushed in
the face. It had been a deeply intense, erotic vision, and its clarity and
reality had shocked him hard, leaving him both aroused and disgusted at
his own arousal. He had abandoned the idea of sleep for another night,
dressed silently and slipped out of the castle for some air to clear his
thoughts. And maybe, just perhaps, think about something else.

But, incredibly, with a realisation that was beyond infuriating, he had seen
someone else wandering the grounds early that morning, a cloaked figure
moodily walking the edge of the lake in the murky gloom of pre-dawn,
looking for all the world like a Romantic hero embarking on some epic
odyssey, and with a howl of indignation he had recognised the figure as
Potter.

Fucking HELL!!! There was nowhere that he could escape this blasted boy!
Not in his head, not in his bed, not even at 4:30am in the (otherwise)
deserted grounds of the castle!

Draco slumped to the ground in despair, exactly where he was standing,
just right there on the ground next to the castle wall, and for a long while
found himself watching Harry, whose outline gained in definition and
clarity as the dawn progressed. With the stillness of the time of day, and
the strangely comforting sight of Harry prowling the shoreline, Draco
began to feel more relaxed than he had felt for some days. It was, he
realised with some resignation, like if he could actually look at Potter, he
felt much calmer, much less distressed, much less confused.
Breakfast had been a sorry affair too. Back in the castle, Draco felt all his
bitter anxiety return, and he took the odd step of resolving to sit where he
could see Harry: after his feeling noticeably less uneasy while he had been
watching Harry earlier by the lake, some tiny piece of logic told him that if
Potter was the cause of his distress then he might also be its remedy. He
was gruesomely uncomfortable with this scenario, but as he couldn't
possibly feel any worse, he began to plan a number of 'experiments' - for
want of a better term - to try to work out exactly why it was that Potter
got under his skin so, and if his logic was founded properly, then also what
it was about Potter that helped the distress fade away. But his plan had
been shot to pieces by Harry's early exit from breakfast, in fact only a
couple of minutes after the Slytherins had sat down.

Draco fumed in silence. Experiment #1 failed.

Or had it? He had learned from it that the sight of Potter retreating from
the hall had left him feeling absolutely awful, which kind of confirmed that
his state of emotional strength was somehow tied up with Potter's physical
presence. Oh God. The omens were too unthinkable to consider.

But consider them he did.

Back in Slytherin house after breakfast, while Harry was off to the
Shrieking Shack and the remaining Gryffindors were wading through a river
of mess, he had returned to bed, and the full appalling nastiness of the
situation began to make itself clear, as if Draco were daring to look at it full
in the face for the first time. He felt totally wretched, and had now
reached a state of such heightened anguish that it was becoming
increasingly difficult to focus his mind on being constructive. With a near-
monumental effort, he shrugged some of the torment away, sat up and
reached for a quill and some parchment with a view to making his feelings
clearer by outlining them on paper. But there was nothing concrete he
could write down.

Sure, there were vague things. He felt bad beyond description, but was it
actually a physical illness? Maybe a mental one? He knew that Potter was
at the heart of it, but he didn't know why. He had dared to acknowledge
that he might have a subconscious attraction to Potter, but that didn't
make sense, because he hated him. And everything he stood for. And
everything that went with him, and everyone that surrounded him, and
more.

And, hang on Draco old boy, you're missing the obvious here: Potter is a
boy. Is that a shock? Is it even news?

Draco scanned his whole adolescent memory looking for a girl he had ever
felt sexually attracted to. There were none. But: there were no boys either.
So, what was he attracted to then? What did he think of in his most
intimate moments? He racked his brains. Nothing. Nobody. And out of this
mysteriously blank came the painful realisation that he must only ever be
concerned with his own pleasure; other people didn't even appear in his
fantasies as faceless sex objects. Was that possible? What astonishing
narcissism. Draco felt sick. He had probably never given a single thought to
anybody but himself for his whole life. There was not one person he was
even fond of, apart from himself. And at the moment he wasn't even sure
he liked himself.

Shit, this line of thinking was getting nowhere.

But one thing was sure, he had never fantasised about a boy until a few
days before in the shower on the day that that bloody faun had created a
furor in the paddock. And the memories of that particular shower still cut
into his psyche like a knife. Maybe it wasn't about girls or boys, maybe it
was just about Potter. That might explain why Potter himself, even just the
sight of him, seemed to act as a soothing, calming influence. There was still
a lot of finding out to do where that was concerned.

Oh God oh God oh God. Was he actually considering entertaining this
whole Potter thing? He had two options, as far as he could see: a) he could
ignore it and hope it all went away, or b) he could try to find out more
about what he was actually feeling and why. Taking option b) didn't mean
of course that he had to act on anything he might find out (yeuch...) and
put in those terms, it seemed silly just to hope everything went away.

Draco! Are you being positive about this? You're going to do something
constructive? Does that mean that you are interested in Potter? NO NO
NO! screamed Draco inside his head. I don't even like him! I hate him! But
I've got to do something!

It was too much.

He scrambled out of bed and went through his trunk until he found the
half-packet of cigarettes he had taken from his mother's dressing table at
the end of the holiday. She seemed to like one of these when his father
was being particularly foul. Draco had tried them a couple of times before
and found them to be neither enjoyable nor disgusting, but as he drew
hard on the cigarette a minute or so later, he saw instantly why his mother
kept a pack of these odd Muggle things hidden away. Calm gradually crept
over him until he could think straight again. Draco knew a lot about magic,
and he knew a lot about emotions, (well, how to manipulate them in other
people anyway) and he also knew in the core of his being what all these
signs and happenings and feelings added up to. There were some things he
didn't understand, but probably only because, he pondered, that he had
never imagined that they would be directly relevant to him.

The library may be able to yield some answers. And it was maybe an idea
to look a bit more closely at precisely what fauns could sense that humans
couldn't. At least it was somewhere to start. He put out the cigarette on a
saucer next to his bed and waved the smoke away with an incantation and
a casual flick of his wand. Then, with a little more purpose than he had for
some days, he left Slytherin House for the library.

                                   ***

'Right then. What on earth is the matter?'

It came out of the blue.
They had been chatting for about an hour about everything and nothing
and Harry found himself glad to be in the company of his godfather -
someone from outside the whole Hogwarts mess, someone who he could
talk to and forget the crisis that was overtaking him in the rest of his life.
Harry had been genuinely delighted when Sirius, looking healthy, clean and
alive, had warmly greeted him, having just seconds before been the large
black dog he had seen sniffing round the Shrieking Shack. If Harry had
been several hours early for their rendezvous, then Sirius had been even
earlier, which had pleased Harry in a way he had not felt before. Both of
them had not really had breakfast, and they attacked the food parcel with
great mutual enjoyment. Now, in response to a definite change in the
atmosphere, Harry eyed his godfather, totally unsure of what he could tell
him.

'Nothing,' he replied, lamely.

'Do you expect me to believe that?'

'Believe what you want. I didn't ask you to come here. You should be doing
Dumbledore's work wherever that takes you. Not coming here worrying
about me.'

'What kind of godfather would I be if I didn't worry, Harry?'

'I don't know.' Harry's manner now bordered on surly, and he felt ashamed
of his words, and got up to go and look out of the window. Sirius replied
anyway.

'I had a note from Ginny, and I just knew I needed to see you. And it looks
like you need someone to talk to. So, this meeting is good for both of us,
no?'

Harry turned to Sirius and managed about 10% of a smile. Sirius supplied
the other 90%, and took a step towards Harry.

Harry wanted to, he needed to feel it, but, he was not a little boy any
longer, and he stopped himself stepping towards Sirius. They looked at
each other, silent. Sirius watched Harry closely and then spoke very softly.
It was like the previous hour's conversation hadn't existed.

'Harry. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for you growing up with
no support and no love, and I curse every day of those years in Azkaban
when I should have been with you giving you a home and a family. And
though we can't have those years again, we have many more to come.'

Harry stared at Sirius, all the strength he had found by the lake that
morning crumbling into one single desperate need, to know, that he was
not alone.

'I don't really know how to be a parent of any kind,' continued Sirius, even
softer, 'so I'm more or less going on instinct here. But I can see, Harry, that
there is something eating away inside you, and my instinct tells me that
you need to talk about it. And I need to hear it too. It's the very least I owe
you, after...' his voice trailed off into nothing.

'Sirius! You don't owe me anything. It wasn't your fault!'

Harry's voice seemed loud after the whisper Sirius had ended in. He looked
up at Sirius and repeated, 'it wasn't your fault!' as he took the step forward
he had been fighting against. Sirius moved quickly over the remaining
distance between then and tentatively placed his hand on the boy's
shoulder. All Harry's remaining strength disappeared with that touch, and
he felt a huge welling of emotion inside him, like some fierce animal
wanting to burst from within him. His head fell against Sirius's shirt front
and Sirius gently pulled the boy towards him, encircling Harry in the most
secure, safe hug of Harry's life.

In fact, the only hug of his life that he could remember.

                                     ***

Hermione had had enough of the boys' dormitory. She wandered out
about half an hour after Ginny, her mind still full of recent events. Harry
was acting very weird, and had been since the day of the fauns.
The fauns.

It was Saturday and she had no homework left to do, so she cleared her
mind of Ron and Harry, gathered up some books and made off for the
library. The comforting surge of familiarity washed round Hermione as she
entered the library, and as usual she was pleased to see that her own
reading table was vacant. Nobody would dare!

But as she glanced along the shelves that housed the section on Magical
Zoology, she found to her surprise and irritation that a good many of the
books on fauns, which she had consulted earlier that week, were missing.
How odd. This had not often happened to Hermione before. Where books
were set as school texts or were required for any conventional piece of
homework, she had either consulted them long before the rest of the class
had thought of them or had her own personal copies. When she was using
the library's extensive resources for her own purposes, such requirements
had rarely, if ever, overlapped with someone else's needs. But obviously
here was someone else going into fauns as thoroughly as she had already
done.

Unconsciously pursing her lips, making the look on her face rather intent,
Hermione considered the only remaining book on fauns: L'Art de l'Amour:
Les faunes et ce qu'ils peuvent voir. Well, it would have to do for now,
provided she could find a dictionary.

As L'Art de l'Amour had been the only book left on the shelf, whoever it is
besides me who is interested in fauns, thought Hermione, as after about
half an hour she finally reached page ten, obviously doesn't speak French.
And nor, she concluded, do I. Hermione's parents had taken her on holiday
to France every summer since she could remember, and she was perfectly
capable of ordering an ice cream or even asking directions to the
swimming pool. But when it came to wading through an ancient book
written in turgid, florid, archaic prose with only rudimentary knowledge of
the language and an antique dictionary, Hermione was, for once, lost. She
silently determined to have a word with Professor McGonagall about the
state of language teaching at Hogwarts as she made her way back to the
shelves to replace the book.

As she rounded the corner into the Magical Zoology section she stopped
dead still, not quite understanding if what she was seeing was significant
or not. Hermione was no fool. She knew more or less, even without
understanding whatever it said in L'Art de l'Amour, what had been going
on in the Care of Magical Creatures class a few days before. And over the
following few days she had begun to realise the full likely consequences of
what she had learned and deduced. But to come face to face with a factor
in the equation which she had until that moment deliberately blanked out,
well, that was still something of a shock.

Standing at exactly the place where the books on fauns were housed was
Draco Malfoy.

He was replacing a stack of books at the very place Hermione was herself
making for. A sinking feeling overtook her, not one actually of realisation,
but more one of horrible confirmation, and she tried to move silently away
from the shelves before Malfoy saw her. But in the best style of someone
trying to make an unobserved exit, she slightly caught her robe on a shelf
and it moved one of the books in the Divination section. The noise was
next to nothing, but it was just enough to cause Malfoy to turn round and
see her. She felt she had no option but to pretend she had been heading
for the books on fauns all along.

'Ah, Granger,' said Draco; rather subdued, Hermione thought. 'You've got
it. I wondered where it had gone.'

He indicated the copy of L'Art de l'Amour that she was holding.

Is that it? thought Hermione. No insults? No disgusting Mudblooding?

Hermione didn't quite know what to say. Two things were odd here. One,
she and Draco had never once had a conversation that did not end in one
or both of them throwing insults at each other. The feel about this one was
quite different. Draco looked drawn and tired, ill perhaps; certainly
preoccupied with something, and obviously couldn't be bothered with the
usual formalities. Two, he had without doubt been doing some research
into fauns. They eyed each other, each deeply suspicious, but not exactly
hostile. What does he know? she thought. As much as me?

'Yes,' she replied, eventually.

'Didn't know you spoke French, Granger. Another string to your overfull
bow.'

Good, thought Hermione, this is more like it. Insults. Home territory.

'I don't,' she said. 'Not very much anyway. That is, I know enough to know
that your name means bad faith, which, face it, is all the French the
average Hogwarts student needs.'

Draco snorted. 'Oh well done, Granger. Good retort. Been working on that
one for a while, have we? Interesting that you only think of yourself as
average; I could have told you that years ago.'

Funny, thought Hermione. He was definitely better than her at throwing
insults, even right then, when his heart was most definitely not in it. She
looked at him closer. He seemed utterly exhausted, and not a little
vulnerable. She tried a different approach.

'What do you want this book for anyway? I didn't know you spoke French
either.'

'Hmmm. Well I suspect there's rather a lot that you don't know about me,
Granger--' he said curtly, neatly swiping L'Art de l'Amour out of her hands.
'--thankfully...' he added, under his breath as he turned and left.

But Hermione heard him.
                               CHAPTER FIVE

                                      ~

                             A WINTER'S TALE

Over the following weeks, the tension in Gryffindor Tower went from Bad
to Worse, passed through Bloody Awful and eventually levelled off at
Utterly Intolerable.

In mid November the unseasonably mild weather was brought to a swift
end with a day of odd stillness as the weather changed direction, and then
a cold front swept in from the North East, bringing with it biting winds and
sharp icy mornings. The temperature dropped by about ten degrees in
under two days, but whatever the chill factor outside the castle, it was
nothing to the frostiness that now pervaded the Fifth Year Boys' Dormitory
in Gryffindor Tower.

Ron's emotions were the easiest to see. He hid none of his dismay, his
hurt and his anger towards Harry, and if left up to him they would have
argued ferociously, got into a brawl, knocked five types of shit out of each
other, collapsed bloody and broken on the floor, and arrived at a point
where dialogue - and an explanation - would have been the only way
forward. Ron played this scenario over and over in his head, always with
the same ending: with Harry apologising wholeheartedly and with buckets
of sincerity, saying that he, Harry, was totally to blame, that Ron was and
always been his friend - how could he have been so blind? And then of
course Ron would graciously forgive Harry (probably not immediately, but
definitely by Christmas) and then they would be the rock-solid larking-
about thick-as-thieves best mates they had been since they had met on
the Hogwarts Express four and a bit years earlier.

But as Hermione so often told him: Ron, wake up; this has gone so far now
that I cannot see such an easy way out. And unfortunately for Ron, Harry
had obviously not read this particular script, because all Harry ever did was
ignore him, as if the room were empty, as if Ron's voice were not audible
on his frequency. Ron found this more hurtful and upsetting and
infuriating than any number of insults and threats and nastiness. Seeing as
Ron's plan was to goad Harry into some dreadful confrontation, a ghastly
painful stalemate had been arrived at, where Ron was furious with himself
for caring about it so much, and Harry just drifted in and out doing exactly
as he pleased, not seeming the remotest bit bothered by the oceans of ill-
feeling he had created.

Much of the rest of Gryffindor House felt the same as Ron to varying lesser
degrees. The real crunch had come about two weeks after the Care of
Magical Creatures lesson, which Hermione had identified as the point at
which the rot had set in. Professor McGonagall had stormed up to the
Gryffindor table at breakfast, and demanded to see Fred and George at
once in her office. Oh dear, thought the body of Gryffindor house, rather
amused, what on earth had they done now? But it was not at all what
anybody suspected. About ten minutes later the twins reappeared at
breakfast with a pair of identical looks on their identical faces, black as
thunder. Oh God, thought Ron, they've been expelled. Ginny clutched his
hand as Ron became spokesman for the now silent table.

'Fred? George? What's happened?' he asked, his voice soft, his mind
running through a dozen wild possibilities. But nothing he considered
came close to what they said.

'Harry Potter...' sputtered Fred.

'...has withdrawn from the Gryffindor Quidditch team,' finished George.

'McGonagall says we've got to find and train a new Seeker before the
Hufflepuff match next week...'

'...so we've got to hold trials immediately. This evening in fact.'

There was an instant furor. Ron's anger found new intensity as he sat
there and literally seethed with fury. Ginny was worried about him, in fact
about all three of her brothers. Until that point, the dispute, if it could be
called that, had seemed to be directly between Harry and Ron, with
Hermione and Ginny drawn in as bystanders, but now, the whole house
felt that his actions were aimed specifically at them. As Hermione and
Ginny secretly discussed later, it was lucky for Harry that he was not at
breakfast that morning. He might have been lynched, or worse. Looking
at the outraged Weasleys at that moment, anything could have happened.

The occasion of the Hufflepuff match had been another turning point in
Gryffindor Tower.

Fred and George selected Ron himself as the new Seeker, which was
another torment to Ron. Should he accept the position knowing that the
chance was only coming his way because Harry was 'not available' and
worse still had been rather shamelessly given him by his own brothers, or
should he rise to the occasion and think about the honour of his House?

It was Hermione who convinced him to take up the challenge, and he was
glad he had listened to her. The week before the match he had practised
and practised, with the twins drilling him in all sorts of manoeuvres until
way after dark, all thoughts of Harry totally forgotten. And his skills were
definitely improving. Sure, he was not Harry. Nobody flew like Harry did,
with the ease and grace of a wheeling seabird, and nobody in the school
other than Harry owned a Firebolt. But Ron had given it absolutely
everything he had and then some, and it had nearly paid off. Lanky and
ungainly as he was - and, riding a Cleansweep 6, hopelessly outpaced even
by the Hufflepuffs - he had chased and spun and dodged and dived for all
he was worth, and even though Hufflepuff won 170-80, Ron had been
given a hero's reception back in the Tower.

Harry had not been at the match, and he was not present at the party in
the Gryffindor common room, and for once Ron hadn't noticed.
McGonagall had given him a broad smile and twenty points for sterling
effort, and the House had toasted him with Butterbeer smuggled in by the
twins, which had just about capped off a great day. But later in bed,
hearing Harry move about in the soulless, vacant, anonymous manner in
which he did everything now, Ron was deeply saddened to think that this
moment, one of his best ever, had only happened because of Harry's own
inexplicable behaviour; and yet despite Ron's fury with him, none of the
congratulations he had received meant anything without a clap on the
back from Harry himself. After the unbearable tension of the week
preceding the Gryffindor v Hufflepuff match, Ron and Harry went back to
the level of hostility they had reached before, which is to say that Ron
went back to trying to provoke Harry into a fight while Harry remained
oblivious to anything Ron did, said, thought or felt.

Hermione's feelings were much more complicated than Ron's. She had
more reason to object to Harry's behaviour than Ron because not only was
she having to deal with Harry ignoring her like he was everybody else, but
she personally was having to pick up the pieces of the lives of the two
most junior Weasleys that had been wrecked by whatever it was that had
got hold of Harry.

She had been a tower of strength to Ron, always there for him,
encouraging him in his Quidditch practice, comforting him when Harry's
actions left Ron feeling lower than low, feeling furious with Harry on Ron's
behalf. And, glory be, Ron had started to notice her.

Well, he could hardly not. They were in each other's company from
breakfast to bedtime, and as Harry was absolutely no company at all, she
had loved the time they had spent together, whatever the reasons behind
it. And on the night of the Hufflepuff match, when Ron had been grinning
and laughing like he hadn't for weeks, she felt a warmth developing
between them that had a wonderfully right feel to it. He hadn't actually
kissed her, or even looked like doing it, but he had just held her, not
wanting to let go, hugging her for ages in relief that he hadn't embarrassed
himself on his broom, wanting her by his side for the whole evening,
wanting to share this mini-triumph with her. But Ginny had been harder to
deal with. Hermione could offer no words of comfort to her at all, and
over time worked out that the best thing for Ginny was simply to spend
time her and Ron and the twins, where she felt at home and could try to
forget Harry's inexplicable rudeness.
But behind all this Hermione was desperately worried about Harry, in a
way that Ron wasn't. Hermione couldn't bring herself to try to antagonise
him like Ron, moon over him like Ginny, or even write him off like the rest
of the House. She knew that there was something fearfully the matter
with him, but his utter refusal to let her anywhere near him meant she was
incapable of trying to help. She knew, because she kept track of this type
of thing, that Harry had attended only four meals in the last five weeks;
even at the Halloween feast he had eaten next to nothing and stayed,
sitting next to Neville but remaining silent, for just fifteen minutes. She
also knew that he hadn't slept properly for the same length of time, and
was losing weight at an alarming rate. She watched him silently in class, as
he kept himself to himself, walking between classes speaking to nobody,
arranging his books and quills without care on his desk, missing deadline
after deadline on homework, losing untold house points in Potions
because of inattention; as she watched him, she could see the bags under
his eyes, the scared look on his face, the air of impenetrable loneliness that
surrounded him like a fog. And she cried to herself sometimes as she
looked at him, physically having to restrain herself from rushing up to him
and hugging him and begging him to talk to her.

Oh God, Harry, how can I help if you won't let me near you?

The Quidditch thing had been the last straw. If there was one thing that
Harry loved, it was flying. She had written to Sirius twice, but his replies
had been noncommittal: just sit tight and try to put up with him, I am sure
it will work out in the end. She had even been to see McGonagall, who
had said more or less the same thing. On top of this, Hermione knew
much more than Ron about what was troubling Harry, and her suspicions
were beginning to weigh her down. She had done her thinking, spoken to
Hagrid about fauns, read up everything she could think of that might be
relevant, and she had arrived at the only conclusion possible. And then
she had just hoped that it would go away. But it hadn't gone, and it wasn't
going.

Soon, she thought. I am going to have to speak to Ron soon, or we may
lose him forever.
Harry himself had hit rock bottom some weeks earlier. In his more clear-
sighted moments he knew he had stuck rigidly to the plan he had worked
out that morning by the lake, and although he couldn't judge its success or
otherwise, he felt that as long as he stuck to his guns on this one, he was
through the worst.

He was now no longer friends with Ron. Now, when he eventually had to
reveal his secret, he would already have been through the pain of losing
Ron. And fucking hell, what pain it had been. To see and hear Ron, face
tearstained, begging him to tell Harry what he had done wrong, had very
nearly broken him. But he had somehow managed to keep a cool exterior
while his insides had been churning and mixing in shame and regret and
self-disgust. And fuck did he miss him; it was like he had lost a limb. He
had watched Ron from underneath the stands as he gave his all in the
match against Hufflepuff and rejoiced in how well he'd done, thinking how
proud he was of Ron and how much he wanted to congratulate him. And
he had watched the growing closeness between Ron and Hermione with
some pleasure, knowing that they would before long have each other and
would not miss him. He had taken no pleasure in ignoring Ginny, but it
had definitely worked, ok she hadn't actually started to look for anyone
else yet, but it would surely only be a matter of time. Seamus and Dean
didn't speak to him anymore, nor did Neville, which would now save him
the humiliation of being tossed aside by them later.

But this kind of 'rational' thought belonged only to his clear-sighted
moments. At other times, in fact by far the greater part of his life, he was
drowning in a depression so deeply entrenched in him that he could go
through whole days and remember nothing. He knew he wasn't eating;
mealtimes were too painful, so every now and again he would go to the
kitchens and brave Dobby's insufferable chatter to get something in his
stomach, but he didn't have the mental strength for it very often. He had
long forgotten what it felt like to sleep properly. Wracked by destructive
insomnia, he wandered the castle and the grounds at night, the same
desperate thoughts running in endless circles in his head until dawn, when
he would then go through another meaningless day in a cloud of
indifference. His physical appearance was now so wretched that he had
stopped looking in mirrors completely. His grades were so poor
McGonagall had had him in her office and fumed about her
disappointment, but he couldn't even remember her words. Snape had
deducted fifty house points for catching him wandering the grounds in the
middle of the night, but he felt no shame or concern for house pride. And
Hermione. She looked at him, all the time, forcing him to make eye
contact with her, refusing to be pushed aside. She glared at his thin body,
at his shabby appearance, at the bags under his eyes. And she knew. She
knew.

The only bright spots in his life were with Sirius. They had met each
Saturday at the Shrieking Shack since that first picnic they had had five or
so weeks earlier, and gradually Sirius had begun to pick through the
blackness of Harry's moods and tried to coax out of him the cancer that
was rotting away his insides. Harry found the anticipation of his meetings
with his godfather far better that the actuality of having to dodge
questions and fake answers, but still he wouldn't be without these days,
whatever the personal risk to Sirius. Each week was the same. Sirius
would Apparate right into the Shack, and they would share some food
while Harry talked, sometimes nonstop, always about nothing, but talking
all the same. Sometimes he went whole days without uttering a single
word to anybody, once an entire week; and to be able to talk about
anything at all felt like the life flooding back into him. But then Sirius
would begin his 'therapy', encouraging Harry to talk about what was
bothering him, about why Ron and Hermione never came with him, about
why Sirius received regular owls from Dumbledore about Harry's well-
being.

But no way could Harry ever tell him what, and who, was on his mind
every waking minute of his life.

He couldn't tell him that he wandered the grounds in the middle of the
night with only one thought on his mind.
He couldn't tell him that part of his very soul was being eaten away by a
desire that he couldn't bring himself to acknowledge.

He couldn't tell him that he was so afraid of what his friends - his family -
would think of him that he had pushed them away for fear of rejection.

And he surely couldn't tell him that he tried to restrain from pleasuring
himself for fear of the image his subconscious would conjure, and yet
sometimes the desire became so strong, so irresistible, that he would find
himself masturbating in a desperate frenzy with the singular aim of
glimpsing exactly what, or rather who, he was going to extraordinary
lengths to deny the very existence of.

Oh God no. He couldn't tell him any of that.

So Harry would clam up, bitterly resenting the interference, until they
would eventually part sadly, both knowing that they would go through the
same things next week, Harry knowing that it was the only thing he had to
look forward to.

The Saturday in mid November after the weather swung round from the
north, they met in the same way for the sixth time, and true to form, the
same things happened. But this time Sirius decided he couldn't ignore the
overwhelmingly obvious any longer. Harry was ill. Dangerously low,
malnourished, utterly exhausted. After failing to persuade Harry even to
go and get a sleeping draught from Madam Pomfrey, he arranged to see
him the same time the following week, hugged him warmly goodbye, then
delved into his robes for some parchment and a quill.

He wrote quickly and succinctly - Please do something. I am terribly
worried. Sirius - then began the tricky operation of transforming into
Padfoot, going into Hogsmeade, sneaking into the Owlery at the Post
Office, changing back into Sirius and dispatching an owl to Dumbledore.

                                     ***

Unnoticed by most of the school, but not all, another boy was in trouble.
Draco's state of mind had not been as publicly discussed as Harry's but
that was only because Draco was doing his best to make sure nothing was
obvious. But to the few that thought they were close to him, it was
impossible not to know that something was tearing him apart. Crabbe and
Goyle sensed it - how could they not? - he hadn't entered into any pranks
and tricks against the Gryffindors for weeks. Draco sighed. Pansy noticed
it, simpering little bitch, and was constantly asking how he was and what
she could do to help.

And, Granger noticed. She watched him like a hawk, ever since that day in
the library that they had squabbled over that French book about fauns.
She knew, without a doubt. Draco wondered all the time whether she had
spoken to Potter about it, but decided not. Everyone in the school knew
that Potter hadn't spoken to anybody for weeks, not even Granger, not
even his brother-in-arms Weasley. But even so, why hadn't Granger acted
on her knowledge? So in this horribly unsure situation, Draco kept up
appearances. He strutted in the corridors. He made snide remarks in
class. He held court at supper at the Slytherin table. But it wasn't him any
more.

Whereas Harry's angst and denial had resulted in serious depression and
insomnia, Draco's mind dealt with everything in cold clear reality. He had
seen the dreadful state that Harry had sunk to, and felt contemptuous of
him. Well, sometimes there was contempt. Other times there
was...compassion. And understanding. And affection? And underlying all
these things, there was attraction.

It was now undeniable.

Draco had had ample opportunity to study Harry's decline because he
inexplicably felt better when he could see Harry, and so he watched him as
much as he could. He would sit behind him in class, so he could stare at
the messy hair and the robed back; at mealtimes he would sit in such a
position so that if ever Harry made one of his very rare visits to the Great
Hall, he would be able to see him; and every night he crept around and
outside the castle until he spotted him, walking, walking, walking.
Draco would sit somewhere he could watch him, pacing the Quidditch
pitch in the starlight or clambering over rocks around the lake with his
wand lighting the way, grateful for the moments of relative peace that the
sight of Harry would afford him, but detesting the necessity for his
actions. He often wondered why it was that Harry did not seem to be able
to gain the same strength from him as Draco did from Harry. He must
have just willed me out of existence, he thought. If he's denied me away to
nothing, then he wouldn't ever think to look at me, so he may never have
discovered. After all, he hasn't actually looked at anyone for weeks. It was
at these moments that he felt closest to Harry, and felt an enormous
sorrow at the sight of a boy gripped by such dreadful misery. One day,
thought Draco, I am going to have to drag you out of that depression,
before...oh fuck no, not that. You wouldn't be that stupid, would you,
Potter? You bloody better not.

And in fact, now it wasn't inexplicable why the nearness of him affected
him in this way. He knew what the matter was. He knew what was
happening, what had happened. He felt awed by it and furious with it, but
sort of relieved as well. There was only one way forward, and even though
the idea of it was unimaginable, he at least knew that there was a way he
could feel better.

But at what cost?

At best it would mean the beginning of something horribly unknown; at
worst, unspeakable humiliation, devastating rejection and the end of
everything he had so far ever been part of. Oh God. Hold on, Draco.
There has to be a way to make this easier. Here we are, two people,
caught in the same mess. One arrogant, one stubborn; but both so fiercely
independent that it's surely a nonstarter from the off. But Potter, he
thought, if we don't do something soon, then I am going to go mad, and
you, you're so unstable at the moment you might, you might...his thoughts
trailed off. He couldn't entertain the possibility.

It was unthinkable.
                                    ***

On Saturdays, there were no lessons, which was just as well, because
Seamus and Dean were well behind with their work, and the weekends
offered them a chance to catch up. They didn't often take that chance
though, and this Saturday was no exception.

'Where is it? Quick, where the fuck is it?' hissed Seamus as Dean was
rifling through Harry's trunk. 'Come on, he could be back at any minute!'

'I don't know! It's not here, he must have hidden it somewhere else.'

'There is nowhere else. We've looked everywhere. It's got to be in there.
Get out of the way and let me have a look.'

Seamus pushed Dean aside and delved into Harry's trunk, right to the
bottom. It felt like an extraordinary invasion of privacy - hell, it was an
extraordinary invasion of privacy - but he and Dean had now given up
waiting for the mood in the Tower to lighten sufficiently for them to be
able to ask Harry directly if they could borrow it. And he surely wouldn't
mind: if he had been actually talking to them he was bound to say yes,
he'd never denied them anything before. Shaky logic to be sure, but
Seamus was now more or less convinced by it. His hand lighted on what
he was looking for: a small, slim volume, handmade and bound in leather.
He pulled out The Boys Book of Spells (Special Edition) and looked at it.

'Got it!' whooped Seamus.

He grinned madly and Dean laughed. 'Let's see!'

Seamus opened the book. They both crowded over it and Seamus flipped
through until he found what they were looking for: Charlie Weasley's spell
from Romania. 'Ha!' crowed Seamus. 'Me first!'

'No way, you Irish git. I opened the trunk. My privilege.'

'Yeah but I found it, you perv. Shove off and give me half an hour.'
'Half an hour! You don't need half an hour. Never taken you that long
before, with your crappy technique. If you want half an hour, I'm
definitely going first. Ten minutes and then you can have the book for as
long as you want.'

'Ten minutes!' Seamus was laughing his head off. 'Ten minutes!!! You
amateur! How old are you Dean? You really only want ten minutes?'

'Well, maybe fifteen,' said Dean, laughing as much as Seamus, and trying
to wrest the book out of Seamus's hands. He managed to grab hold of it
and pulled it hard, and the two boys - both laughing yet unwilling to give
up the book - fell into a heap as they squabbled over it.

'Give it up, Deano you tosser!'

'Hey let go or...'

The sound of the book ripping in half tore through the room and silenced
both boys, who stared at each other with the look of someone suddenly
caught in a highly compromising position.

'Oh shit,' they both said softly.

As a single page fluttered slowly to the floor, the door opened. The piece
of parchment drifted to a halt at Harry's feet.

'Oh shit,' they both said softly.

Harry stooped down and picked up the page, then walked over to Seamus
and Dean. They remained in their rather awkward heap on the floor as
they each silently passed him one half of the book. Harry held all the parts
of the book in his left hand and tapped them with his wand, cleared his
throat and muttered Reparo. The book miraculously rebound itself in a
sudden whipping of paper and thread. Harry walked over to his trunk,
dropped the book back inside and then knelt down and whispered an
incantation over it, so softly that neither Seamus nor Dean could make out
which locking spell he had used. There was a difficult uneasiness as the
two boys stood and all three of them faced each other.
'Why didn't you just ask?' said Harry without emotion.

'Because, Harry, you haven't spoken to us for six weeks,' said Seamus
boldly.

'So then what made you think you had the right to go though my things?'
came Harry's response, just as blandly as before.

'Because, we thought, well, I thought, that had we been speaking, you
would have said yes. But as we weren't speaking, you couldn't say either
yes or no. So, I kind of took the yes as unspoken, and convinced Dean.
Like, you know, as if you'd been away on holiday and we wanted to borrow
something', said Seamus, aware that his thinking seemed much more
dubious when it was voiced aloud.

'Besides', said Dean, 'it's not as if it's secret. We know what's in the book.
 We wrote it, if you remember...'

'Yes', said Harry, his eyes itching, 'I remember of course. It was a present,
when...' he trailed off.

'When... when we were all mates, Harry,' ventured Seamus. 'When in fact
you were one of the best mates any lad could ask for. When Neville and us
used to enjoy your company better than anyone's. And when Ron used to
get encouragement and energy and love from being your mate. Now he
just seethes and storms and, when it gets too much, goes and cries on
Hermione's shoulder. But you wouldn't know that, Harry, because you
don't speak to us any more. And you don't care.'

Harry was silent for some time. The meeting with Sirius from which he
was just returned had been emotionally draining enough, and he did not
want to be in the company of Seamus and Dean at all. He should just walk
away. But he couldn't. Something was tugging at him inside. He hated to
think that Seamus and Dean thought he didn't care about them. The
words formed themselves on his lips without his really being aware of
them.
'But I do care, Seamus,' he said eventually, almost inaudibly, and a single
tear leaked from his right eye. He brushed it away hastily, lest they should
see this sign of weakness. 'I never stopped caring about all of you, it's just,
I can't be that Harry any more...'

Seamus leaned over and gently touched Harry on the shoulder. He
mouthed 'Go and get Ron' to Dean, who left the room swiftly and quietly.

'So why, Harry,' he continued, 'have you been behaving like a total
bastard?'

                                     ***

The owl arrived at Dumbledore's office not ten minutes after Sirius had
dispatched it. A clever and eager tawny, it was always delighted to get a
job that meant going up the school, and to get to go to the head man
himself, that was indeed an honour. Dumbledore looked up from his desk
as he heard the tapping on the window, and the grateful owl fluttered
around the room, showing off slightly, after he had let it in.

'Come here, little one', smiled Dumbledore, 'let's see what news you
bring.'

The owl landed lightly on Dumbledore's wrist and offered him the note,
gratefully accepting a small treat that the old man held out for him. Then
as he read the scribbled message, and let the lively owl back out of the
window, his face turned thoughtful.

'What is it, Headmaster?' asked Snape, his oily voice managing to find a
modicum of concern. 'Something serious?'

'Perhaps, yes perhaps, Severus. Tell me, how is Draco Malfoy?'

Snape was mildly taken aback. 'Is that connected with this note?'

Dumbledore paused, politely waiting for his original question to be
answered.
'Different. Quiet. Putting energy into work. Moody. Insomniac as well I
think. Generally adolescent. Why?'

'How do you know he's suffering from insomnia?'

'I have seen him around the castle at night. In the grounds sometimes as
well.'

'Really? I don't recall any house point deductions for that misdemeanour
in respect of Mr Malfoy. There was recently a fifty point penalty for Mr
Potter for the same crime, though, if I recall...'

Snape shuffled uneasily but Dumbledore, having made his point, did not
leave Snape to wallow in discomfort, and continued more or less
immediately.

'So. Generally adolescent.'

Dumbledore let the words hang in the air as he picked up the Orbis from
his desk and watched the tiny fireflies reflect the intensity of feeling that
surrounded Harry and Draco. He turned to McGonagall.

'Minerva, what about Harry. How is he coping?'

'He is not, Albus. He is undernourished, exhausted, depressed and
despairing. Crippled by insecurity and insomnia. Dangerously low, and
unstable. I am desperately worried. We must do something.'

'That is more or less what this note from Sirius says'.

'Sirius? Sirius Black?' snorted Snape. 'How long has he been around
again?'

'Ever since this current business between young Potter and Malfoy was
brought to my attention'. Dumbledore fingered the Orbis again. 'He is
helping at my invitation, Severus.'

'What business between Potter and Malfoy?' grimaced Snape, trying to
hide his curiosity.
'Severus, are you blind?' McGonagall's voice had a hard edge. 'Harry has
hardly been himself for five or six weeks or so. He does not speak to
anybody in the school. The only conversation he gets is once a week with
his godfather. He has not eaten nor slept for weeks. Honestly, Severus,
you teach him as often as I do. Have you not noticed?'

'I do not pay any attention to the behaviour of my students outside my
classes. Their adolescent adjustments are not my business as their potions
teacher.'

Dumbledore watched the squabbling between his two most senior
members of staff, thought about interjecting to stop it, but then sat back
with the Orbis and decided to let it run its course.

'Adolescent adjustments? And you a Head of House, Severus. If you had
any care for your students you would have noticed that both Potter and
Malfoy are in the grip of something that neither of them can handle.
Malfoy is better at hiding it, that's all. And I object most strongly to the
fifty point deduction you imposed upon Potter. His housemates should
not be made to suffer for this, especially as Potter is doing all he can to
cope, in his own way that is. I have seen both Potter and Malfoy out
around the castle night after night, and notice Severus that I have never
penalised Malfoy in this way.'

'Presumably because it's difficult to punish students while you're in feline
form, Minerva.'

Snape had a distrust of Animagi that he had never been able to overcome.
But his comment riled McGonagall to an extent that he had not
anticipated.

'The difference between you and I, Severus, is that although I do often,
and especially recently, go out at night around the castle as a cat, I do so
for two particular reasons. One, I am extremely concerned about Harry
and I find it easier to check he is all right if I can follow him closely. Two,
the other cats in the castle nearly always witness everything and are a
good source of news; indeed Mrs Norris and Granger's cat Crookshanks are
excellent colleagues in this respect. Whereas you, Severus, patrol the
corridors so you can penalise. And only penalise non-Slytherins, at that.'

'Perhaps if you had let me know of whatever this impending crisis is...'

'Case conference!' cried Dumbledore, 'is that what they call it? You're
right, Minerva. Can't leave it alone any more; I'm worried about both of
them. The three of us, Sirius Black, Poppy Pomfrey, my office, tomorrow
morning at ten. I will owl Sirius immediately. Minerva, please bring
Severus up to date with this whole business.'

Dumbledore smiled benignly at both of them and the meeting, it seemed,
was over.

                                    ***

Dean rushed down to the common room and found Ron and Hermione
talking quietly in a corner with Neville.

'Ron, upstairs, quick,' said Dean quietly, so as not to let the rest of the
common room hear. 'It looks like... maybe Harry has begun to talk. He's
with Seamus now.'

'And why should I go rushing off at the first moment that Harry summons
me? Fucking hell Dean, I've spent enough time waiting around for him.'

'OK Ron, it's your call. But, it's not like that. Harry hasn't summoned you.
It's just that Seamus seems to have finally made some connection with
him, and he thought that you might like to be there. Harry doesn't even
know I've come to get you.'

Hermione gripped Ron's hand, whether out of her own hope, or happiness,
or relief, or Ron's, she didn't know. Ron spoke to the group.

'OK. Let's hear what he's got to say.'

But as they all trooped over to the stairs, Harry came down them, avoided
all their eyes, and left the common room. Seamus appeared straight after
him, and watched Harry exit the room.
'Sorry team', said Seamus sadly, 'thought he was going to talk. But he just
clammed up and left, true to form.'

'Right', said Hermione, taking charge. 'Case conference. We need to talk,
and I'll start. Boys' Dorm, five minutes. Neville, find Ginny; Ron, Seamus,
how about a trip to Dobby to get us some snacks to see us through?'

'Sure', said Ron. 'Herm, do you know what this is all about?'

'I'm afraid I think I do, yes.'

                                    ***

Saturdays were always harder than the regular days of the week.

Without the distraction of lessons, Draco was left to stew for hours at a
time. And lying on his bed in the Slytherin fifth year boys' dormitory that
Saturday morning after the weather turned, Draco was certainly stewing.
As far as these things were quantifiable, he was feeling worse than usual,
although 'worse than usual' had ceased to have any real meaning since
'usual' itself had become 'intolerable' some weeks previously.

And as Draco was caught in the same emotional vortex that he was every
day - a cycle of psychological need and denial that Draco would analyse
and understand then try to refute - his responses were also the same every
day, to the point that he knew how long he would stew for, at what point
he would decide that he could not tolerate the dormitory any more, where
he would begin his search for Potter, and in which order he would scour
the castle and grounds until he found him. And then he would watch him
from afar, the sight of him easing the need a little, but highlighting the
denial, until the sight of Harry would no longer be any comfort, because all
it did was tell him that he wanted more than the sight of him. And that
morning Draco was just reaching the point at which he would stop stewing
and go searching, when he suddenly thought fuck it and decided to try
something else that day.

He brushed his hair, using his wand with a styling charm to create just the
kind of floppy blond sexiness he knew would turn heads, cleaned his teeth
and put on a smart bottle green cashmere sweater his mother had sent
him, together with some snug fitting black moleskin jeans and a pair of
dragonhide boots. He swirled his heaviest black winter cloak around his
shoulders and left the dormitory with a purposeful stride, enjoying the
masculine thud of his boots on the stone floors, and increased his walking
speed until the cloak billowed behind him pleasingly. One of the large
mirrors in Slytherin house told him all he needed to know: he looked
dashing, charming, stylish, irresistible. Yes, hopefully irresistible. The
mirror whistled her approval softly, and the inner enjoyment he got from
the whistle seeped through to an outer smile, and Draco found himself
using facial muscles he had forgotten he had. The very act of using these
muscles seemed to make him smile wider, and at the next mirror he
caught sight of a young man he almost didn't recognise. Fuck, you look
good Malfoy, he thought, nearly voicing it aloud.

'Ooh, Draco, who's the lucky girl?' cooed Pansy as he swept through the
common room on his way out to the grounds.

'Not you babe,' he said, emphasising the bass in his voice to give the
common room's fleeting image of him a few extra ounces of sexiness. 'In
fact, not any girl at all,' he continued under his breath as he left the room.

                                     ***

Shit, that had been close.

He had almost cracked when talking to Seamus. Somehow Seamus had
just got under his skin enough to begin to coax him away from his plan, but
luckily he had managed to force himself to leave before that happened.
And good thing too, because it had looked like Ron and the others were
just on their way upstairs, and he knew he would not have had the
strength to resist all of them together. Especially Ron.

Harry always found the time on a Saturday after he had spoken with Sirius
the most difficult time of the week to fill, a time when he found it even
more stressful being around the others. So after leaving Seamus in the
dormitory he naturally headed out to the lake where one spot on the far
side had become a favourite place to sit and think in solitude. Solitude was
a funny thing. You could live in it all week, avoiding contact with people
and dodging difficult situations, but it was only when you actually were
geographically displaced from those same people and situations that real
solitude kicked in. And Harry had found that he liked such solitude, for
some quite revealing reasons.

However much Harry acknowledged to himself that the acute depression
he was suffering was real, and however much he knew that to ignore it
was potentially dangerous, he seemed to gain a dark sense of enjoyment
and satisfaction from allowing himself to descend into ever-deeper pits of
despair. Like, to walk close to the edge of a cliff, to flirt with danger itself
was on some level exciting, exhilarating. And sometimes when he was out
by the lake, either at the weekends during the day, or in the week at night,
Harry used such solitude as the location afforded to let him contemplate
his own mortality. As he stared into the dark deep icy waters of the lake
he let himself sit on the edge of life and death itself, knowing that just one
moment of bravery could see him arc gracefully into the depths and not be
troubled by the whole business of being in love with Malfoy again. It had
become a delicious, addictive sensation: to flirt with the ultimate danger,
to allow the depression to gain so great a hold that such an act seemed
logical. And even though Harry was aware that it was only the depression
that made him feel this way, and that this issue was not important enough
to die for, he also knew that it was only in these moments of pure solitude,
when he allowed his mind to think these unthinkable thoughts, that he felt
truly alive - alive in the same way that he used to feel when he was
wheeling in great free circles on his Firebolt.

And as so often in the recent past, Harry sat among the rocks on the far
side of the lake, looking at the castle, and at the mountains and forests
beyond, and staring deep into the eternity of the water, and thinking of
Malfoy, about what he would love to say to him, and what he would love
to do with him, if only he and Malfoy were different people and the world
were a different place. It was bitterly cold, but rather than huddle his
cloak closer to him and get lower into the rocks, Harry forced himself to
stop shivering and tried to allow his body temperature to drop accordingly
so that he did not notice the cold. The first few flakes of snow of the
winter swirled around his head and began to fall silently into the lake, each
flake landing gently on the surface of the water and effortlessly becoming
one with its alluring darkness. Time ceased to have any meaning. There
was just the snow, and the cold, and the water, and Malfoy.

'Hello Potter.' The voice came from behind him, and forced Harry's mind
to drift back to the here and now. Even so, it was some moments before
he could place the voice.

'Hello Malfoy,' said Harry, without turning around. 'What are you doing
out here?'

Harry noticed that there was no leap of joy in his heart, nor any surge of
hatred.

'I was just out taking a stroll and saw you sitting here,' came Malfoy's
response. 'Do you mind if I sit down?'

Harry turned round and looked at him. He looked beyond beautiful, his
clothes, his face, his teeth, the snow settling in his perfect hair.

'If you like,' said Harry. 'But why do you want to?'

'I'm not sure, to be honest,' said Draco brushing the snow off a rock a little
distance away from Harry. 'Maybe because I've seen you sitting here
before, and it looks a good spot'.

Draco sat down and there was silence for a little while. Harry felt slightly
edgy. What on earth is he doing here? Why is he being civil? Is he trying
to trick me into something? But he can't be, because he can't possibly
know what I think about him...Oh God why is he here, in my own place,
ridiculing me in my own peace?

What is he thinking about? thought Draco. Has he really no idea what I
think about him? But despite this slight anxiety, Draco felt better than he
had for weeks, being as close to Harry as he was then, even bearing in
mind the temperature.

'Would you like one of these?' Draco's voiced seemed louder than
necessary coming after several minutes of nothing. Harry looked at him;
he was holding a packet of cigarettes.

'Malfoy, why are you being nice to me?'

'Would you prefer it if I were rude?'

'At least I would know where I stood.'

'Hmmm, it's difficult not knowing where you stand isn't it?'

Harry did not really know what to make of this exchange and didn't reply,
but Draco was still holding out the packet of cigarettes. 'So, would you like
one or not?'

'I don't know. I've never had one before. They say they kill you.'

'Yeah I know, I kinda like that about them.'

'OK'. Harry took one. 'What do I do?'

'Just suck gently while I light the end. You'll probably cough at first, but it
gets better.'

Harry held the cigarette to his lips and Draco took out, not his wand, but a
bronze Zippo cigarette lighter that he flipped open expertly and struck to
produce a bright dancing flame which he held close to Harry's face. Harry
dipped the end of the cigarette into the fire and duly coughed a little.

'I don't think I've done it right,' said Harry.

'Here, it's not lit properly. Let me.' Draco took the cigarette from Harry
and held it to his own lips, lit it, then passed it back to Harry. It was an
astonishingly intimate gesture, but neither boy noticed any unease in the
other. Draco lit his own, watching Harry. Harry thought that the cigarette
tasted hot and smoky, but not unpleasant.

'Are you a regular smoker? I thought it was a Muggle habit,' ventured
Harry after another short silence.

'It is mainly; well, cigarettes are at least. Lots of old wizards have pipes
though. And no, I'm hardly a hardened smoker. I've had' - he looked into
the packet and counted the remainder - 'eight in my whole life. No, just
seven; you've had that one of course.'

'Blimey,' said Harry a few moments later, 'I feel slightly lightheaded.'

'Yeah', said Draco. 'Nice, isn't it? Nicotine is a relaxant or something.
Good for creating a few stress-free moments. Not easy to do it in the
castle though. Have to get outside. Outside is better though, a lot of the
time, even without a cigarette. I notice you are often out in the grounds.'

'I like it out here. Fewer people. Sometimes I come out at night. Actually,
most nights. It's beautiful out here in the moonlight.'

'Hmmm, I know.'

Exactly what Draco knew, whether he knew about Harry coming out at
night, or whether Draco himself knew how beautiful it was, Harry didn't
ask. He didn't feel he needed to. He was feeling more and more relaxed
as the minutes ticked by, but whether it was the cigarette, or Draco's
presence, he wasn't sure. He looked out over the lake again, and stubbed
his cigarette out on a rock. Still looking away from Draco, Harry spoke
again.

'Well, this is a first. Two firsts in fact: a cigarette and a conversation with
you.'

'Yes. Strange eh?' Draco stubbed out his own cigarette. 'And not at all
disagreeable. Neither the cigarette nor the conversation.' He watched
Harry looking out over towards the castle. 'Anyway. It's cold. I'm going
in. Don't stay too long, you'll freeze.' Draco stood up.
Harry turned to face him. 'OK. Thanks, Malfoy.'

'Thanks, Potter.' Draco shook the snow from his hair, pulled his cloak in
and walked away.

Harry went back to looking out over the lake, and he watched Draco's
progress on the walk back to the castle. He felt relaxed and at ease, and
he hadn't felt that for a very long time.
                                 CHAPTER SIX

                                        ~

                         THE COUNCIL OF HERMIONE

Ron's bed was crowded. He and Hermione sat at the pillow end, crossed
legged, leaning back against the head. Ginny lay propped up on her
elbows at Ron's feet, and Neville sat opposite her on a chair jammed next
to the bed with his feet up on the covers in front of Hermione. Dean and
Seamus had taken pillows from their own beds to cushion their backs as
they each sat against one of the posts at the foot of the four-poster. The
hangings were tied back out of the way, but even so it was a cosy and
intimate gathering. A pile of cakes and sandwiches lay in the middle of all
of them, together with a couple of flagons of pumpkin juice. Once they
were all settled, Hermione called the case conference to order.

'Right gang. Listen to me. I suggest that I do the talking first, telling you
what I know, then what I suspect, and then if anyone's got anything to add
we can take it from there.'

'Oooh, this is exciting,' said Ginny. 'I feel like we're planning a great
adventure. Seamus, can I tuck my feet under yours?'

The group all chorused their approval to this request, including Hermione
who smiled at the look that was passed between Seamus and Ginny. Once
all feet and legs and arms were tucked comfortably wherever was
appropriate, Hermione began to talk. Everyone listened.

'First the facts. Harry is not himself. The evidence for this is chiefly as
follows: he has not spoken voluntarily to any of us for a number of weeks.'

There was silent reflection on this sad fact.

'More than not talk to us, he has actually ignored us when we have tried to
talk to him. I know we have all tried. We surely all recall the occasion near
the very beginning of this sorry episode when Ron tried everything to get
Harry to talk. And then all the times in between then and now, all as
fruitless as the rest.'

More silent thought. Hermione continued.

'And it's not just us. I've been watching Harry closely for ages. He hasn't
spoken to anybody at all. Not even Hagrid. Except, on Saturdays, he goes
to the Shrieking Shack. This gives me comfort for two reasons. One, I
expect he's meeting Sirius, and two, he has never got into trouble for
leaving the school grounds in this way, which makes me think he is going
with Dumbledore's blessing. The thought that Dumbledore is also on the
case is a good one, and I have another reason to think that, more of which
shortly.'

'You're right,' said Ron. 'He always disappears on Saturdays. How did you
know where he was going?'

'Well, I first saw him leave that day we were cleaning up the mess in here.
He just walked out bold as brass, coming back several hours later, carrying
what I'll now swear was a food parcel. I noticed he went the following
week again, so the week after that I followed him. I didn't actually see
Sirius, or anybody at all, but I still think that Harry has no other reason to
go there.'

'Unless he's just going to be alone,' said Seamus.

'Yes, possibly. But if he were just going for solitude, why go to the same
place at the same time every week? It must be a rendezvous. Besides, I
have written to Sirius twice outlining my worries. And so did Ginny
remember, that day he fainted in the Great Hall and you carried him to the
hospital wing, Ron. So we know Sirius isn't oblivious to the problem.'

'Oh yes,' said Ginny. 'I'd forgotten that. And anyway, who else does Harry
have in his whole life other than us and Hagrid and Sirius?'

'I've written to Sirius too,' said Ron. 'With little result I have to add.'
Hermione smiled at him. 'We should have coordinated our efforts. Well
anyway, it's got to be Sirius he's talking to. There is nobody else.
Although, I did wonder about your parents, to be honest. I think your
mum is rather fond of Harry. He might have turned to her.'

'More than rather fond,' said Ron. 'Mum worries about him like she does
all of us. I think she sort of thinks of herself as a stand-in mother for him.
Especially since the Triwiz debacle.'

'No go,' said Ginny. 'I wrote to mum about it a few weeks ago. She said
she hasn't heard a word from Harry since the summer.'

'Hmmm, we've all been thinking along similar lines I see,' said Hermione.

'Seamus and I went to talk to Hagrid only last week. He kept asking after
Harry,' said Dean.

'Blimey, lots of duplication of effort I see. I've been to Hagrid too,' said
Hermione.

'Me too,' said Ginny.

'Me too,' said Ron.

'He must wonder what on earth's going on,' said Neville.

'Well, we're all wondering that,' said Seamus.

'Actually I went to speak to Madam Pomfrey,' said Neville. 'I know she's
bound by an oath of confidentiality and all that, but I was just hoping to
find out if Harry had been to see her for any reason at all. She didn't think
she was giving anything away, but she did let slip that she hadn't seen
Harry since that day he fainted.'

'Oh,' said Hermione.

Another pause.
'Other facts. You may or may not believe me but Harry has dined with us
for a total of only five times in the last five weeks. I have kept track. I
went to see Dobby but he was rather protective of Harry and wouldn't let
on if Harry had been down to the kitchens for food on his own.'

'He told me though,' said Ron. 'About twice or three times a week over
the last month. Eats like a pig for five minutes then leaves.'

'Even so,' said Hermione, slightly piqued that Dobby had not divulged this
to her, 'he's losing weight drastically, and he doesn't have much to lose to
begin with.'

'Well, without being crude, Hermione,' said Seamus, 'you only get to see
him with his robes on. We see him undress each night. He's as thin as a
rake. He looks awful.'

'All bones and sadness,' said Neville.

'And then there's sleep,' said Hermione. 'You will know this better than
me and Ginny. But he looks like he doesn't get much.'

'He goes to bed OK,' said Ron, 'so I don't know if there's a problem there.'

'Ron, you can't possibly know about Harry's sleep patterns,' said Dean.
'You fall asleep instantly and snore till breakfast.'

'I do not,' said Ron, slightly smiling, as he knew this to be true.

'Yes you do Ron,' said Neville. 'I can tell you that Harry goes to bed every
night and then lies awake for a while. Then he gets up and goes out. And
he doesn't use the cloak anymore. He comes back about 4 or 5 in the
morning, then sometimes sleeps fitfully for a couple of hours. He is
absolutely exhausted, but doesn't, or can't, sleep like the rest of us do. It is
very sad indeed. Beyond sad.'

'Have any of you ever followed him?' said Hermione.

'I haven't,' said Dean. 'But I've seen him in the moonlight from the
window, pacing the Quidditch pitch.'
'Alone?' asked Hermione.

'Oh yes, totally,' said Dean.

'So, no sleep, no food, no human contact,' continued Hermione. 'Also. He
pulled out of the Quidditch team. We all know how much Harry loves
flying, loves Quidditch. It's in his blood. I was astonished that he pulled
out of the team.'

This needed no comment from the group. The vivid memories of the
Gryffindor v Hufflepuff match were still fresh in all their minds, most
especially Ron's.

'So, we know all those things. But now here are some things that you may
not know.' Hermione had the complete attention of the group. 'It all
started the day of the Care of Magical Creatures lesson when Hagrid got
that herd of fauns in. If I'm right in what I think, this is highly significant.'

'That was also the day that he fainted,' said Ginny. 'The day I first wrote to
Sirius, and the last day Harry went to the hospital wing.'

'Hmmm, and the day I was put on the right track by Dumbledore,' mused
Hermione enigmatically.

'And that was also the day...' began Neville.

'...When we gave him the book,' finished Ron.

'What book?' asked Hermione and Ginny in unison.

There was a silence in which all the boys smirked a little.

'It was a present for Harry,' said Ron. 'From all of us.'

'We wrote it,' said Seamus, 'with contributions from others, the twins and
Charlie Weasley to name a few.'

'But what's in it?' persisted Hermione. 'It could be very important.'
'I really don't think you'd be interested,' said Ron, awkwardly. 'It
was...boys' stuff.'

'You mean you're not man enough to own up to whatever smut it
contains,' said Ginny.

'Exactly', said Hermione, grinning slightly.

After a pause, Neville ventured, 'I don't think any of us would be totally
comfortable telling you what is in it. It might be easier just to show it to
you.'

'It's locked in his trunk,' said Seamus. 'And we don't know the locking
spell. Is it really important that you know?'

'Yes', said Hermione, seriously.

There was another pause while all the boys looked at each other.

'I can get it.' said Dean. 'Just call me the Artful Dodger'.

'Who?' said Ron, perplexed.

'Muggle book,' offered Hermione, by way of explanation.

Dean left the bed and went to Harry's trunk. Within two minutes he had
opened it and found the book lying on top just where Harry had dropped it
shortly before. He passed it to Ron, who reluctantly gave it to Hermione.

The boys found the few minutes that the girls flipped through the book
excruciating. Hermione had a look of surprise and amusement somehow
penetrating her tightly pursed lips. Ginny was sort of giggling and sort of
not.

'So,' said Hermione, trying to adopt a matter-of-fact tone, 'this is a guide to
magically enhanced masturbation.' She and Ginny both goggled at each
other.

'Blimey,' said Ginny, looking at one of the pages. 'Is that even possible?'
'My God,' continued Hermione, 'I just do not understand boys. Why on
earth is there a need for such a book? Ginny, what do you make of this?'

'Erm, it's frankly too graphic for me to contemplate. And worse still, it
contains contributions from four of my six brothers, which is conjuring
squicky images best left well alone.'

Ron squirmed awkwardly.

'Yick!' said Hermione. 'Nuff said, Ginny. Pass it back here.'

'Do you lot really talk about that kind of stuff?' said Ginny.

'Well, no, not really,' said Ron, an odd shade of scarlet which sat
uncomfortably with his hair.

'That was the whole point,' said Seamus. 'We don't talk about it. Not
ordinarily anyway. That's why we wrote it down.'

Ginny didn't really grasp the subtlety of this distinction, but Hermione was
still flipping through the book. Each rustle of the pages turning was almost
unbearable to the boys. Then Hermione said, 'Well, I am glad I have seen
it. It makes a lot of sense now I put this piece into the overall puzzle.'

'Does it?' said Ginny.

'How?' asked two or three of the boys together.

Hermione paused and then carried on carefully. 'This must be what you
lot were all talking and laughing about on the day of the Care of Magical
Creatures lesson. Tell me, if the question isn't too delicate, why was such
a book necessary? Why did the four of you, with accomplices, decide that
this would be a good present for Harry? Isn't he a boy like you? Didn't he
know?'

There was silence. Then Ron spoke, very softly.

'Hermione, despite all the difficulty and hardship and pain and downright
nastiness that Harry has caused over the last few weeks, if I answered that
question, if any of us did, it would be a horrible betrayal of him. When
that book was written and presented, it was because of an astonishing
honesty and openness that existed among all of us in the dormitory, and
the very act of bringing that book into existence was not done for the sake
of smut or filth, but because Harry was our mate. There was no
embarrassment or anything. Well, maybe a little' - all the boys smiled -
'but the point is we can't tell the circumstances that led to the idea of the
book, because it's just not right. He would be mortified to know that you
even knew of its existence, let alone had seen it, and I won't lay him bare
here and now by telling you why we gave it to him.'

It was Hermione's turn to reflect. She passed the book back to Dean, who
went and secured it in Harry's trunk. 'OK, I understand. Boys' Code of
Ethics. The girls have a similar code of course, and neither Ginny nor I
would dream of going as far in divulging things as you have today.' The
two girls grinned at each other. Ron's interest was again acute, but he said
nothing. Hermione continued softly, 'I have to say that he is incredibly
lucky to have friends like you lot.'

'Pity he doesn't see it that way,' said Ron.

'I think he does,' said Hermione. 'I really do think he does.'

'Hermione, what did you mean by the book making sense in the larger
puzzle?' asked Neville.

'Well, to tell you that I am going to have to surmise a few things. You
needn't comment, that way Harry's honour and privacy will be
maintained. But, I suspect that you gave Harry that book because he didn't
know about magically assisted masturbation. "Cretinously cute" was your
exact phrase if I remember, Ron. And don't think that I am scornful of that
because that's a lot of what Harry's charm and appeal actually is, his not
knowing things. Just answer me one question that won't compromise
Harry. How much more intense is the magical kind than the regular kind?'

'Erm...' ventured Seamus, at the same time both embarrassed and amused
at hearing Hermione say the word masturbation, 'potentially infinitely;
depending on how good your wand skills are, and the strength of your
innate magic.'

'Oh,' said Hermione. 'Well we know Harry's innate magic is very powerful.
He can resist the Imperius curse, and he can summon a mature patronus.
And he is exceptionally susceptible to Dementors, because he still carries
some of his mother's innate magic. And in the regular classroom sense, his
wand skills are excellent. Oh dear; the poor boy.'

'Er, let us in on this, eh, Herm?' said Ron.

'Sorry, yes, back to my theory. You gave Harry the means to achieve -
what would have for him been - overpoweringly intense feelings.
Especially as, to him, I am guessing - no need for you to say anything! - that
they would have been entirely new. But the problem was the timing of
this gift, not the gift itself. Because on the day of the Care of Magical
Creatures lesson, Harry was in a highly vulnerable emotional state,
although I didn't realise that till afterwards. And I bet he didn't either. For
evidence of that vulnerability, we have his fainting.'

'Herm, I just do not see what you are getting at,' said Ron. 'We didn't give
Harry the book until the evening after the lesson, when he came out of the
hospital wing.

'Yes, but if I am right, then what happened in the lesson is still having its
effect now. A few hours after the lesson would have made no difference.
Better would have been for you to give it to him the day before, although
this is all with hindsight. We can't change any of it, and I suspect that the
book just acted as a catalyst rather than a cause. Presumably Harry didn't
actually er, 'use' the book until the next day at the earliest, but the writing
was already on the wall. It had probably been there for years. Coupled
with the extraordinary intensity the book would have helped him to, and
what happened in the lesson, it's no wonder he has reacted strangely.'

'Herm,' said Ginny, 'you have completely lost all of us. Go slower, and
don't assume that we are taking things for granted. I have absolutely no
idea what you're talking about.'
There were murmurs of assent from around the bed.

Hermione sighed. 'OK, but don't interrupt. You are all going to find it
quite difficult to accept the implications of what I think I know. Just listen,
and try to understand.'

More noises of approval. Hermione started.

'Fauns are interesting creatures. Crude, but interesting. I know this from
three sources. First, from the library; I went there immediately after the
lesson because, let's face it, that was one of the most extraordinary
lessons we have ever had here, even by Hagrid's standards, and I wanted
to know more about why they reacted the way they did. In short, I wanted
to know what had triggered the orgy.'

'And what was it?' said Seamus, but Ginny kicked him to shut him up.

'Second, from Dumbledore. Remember I went to see him after Harry
fainted. He obviously knew loads loads more than he was letting on about
the lesson and Harry's fainting. Dumbledore himself directed me to the
books on fauns in the library, saying that you could learn a lot from fauns,
and sometimes some very interesting and unexpected things indeed.
Third, from Hagrid. When I had read all I could, I went and spoke to him.
After all, he knows loads about all sorts of creatures. And everything I
learned about fauns added up to the same thing about Harry.'

The Gryffindors on the bed were totally silent, hanging on her every word.

'But before I tell you about the fauns, you need to know a little about
something quite different. About love. Specifically, about love between
people with innate magic. In the Muggle world, love is a hit-and-miss
business. You just have to hope that you meet the right person at the right
time, and love can take ages, perhaps years, to manifest itself fully, or it
can be evident immediately and fade shortly afterwards. In the magical
world, this of course is also true; but there is another aspect. The innate
magic of two magical people can bind together so strongly that it creates
couples who become stronger than the sum of their parts.'
Hermione looked at Ron and Ginny.

'Your parents, Ron, Ginny, are a classic example. You've probably heard
the story of how they met so many times it doesn't mean anything any
more, but I've only heard it once, last year when I was staying with you for
the Quidditch World Cup, and when I think about it now, it is immensely
telling. Your mum said that she just knew, the second she first saw your
father, that he was the one. And he knew it too. And they were both
young, at school here of course, but it didn't mean that what they were
feeling was immature or adolescent in any way.'

'Mum's always telling that story,' said Ginny. 'We just tell her to stop being
soppy.'

'I'm glad now that I heard it,' said Hermione. 'OK, that can happen in the
Muggle world too, although very rarely. But for the Weasleys, both being
purebloods, their magic bonded immeasurably strongly, making them
emotionally perceptive, mildly telepathic, totally dependent on the
physical presence of the other for their well-being. Effectively they
became, magically, a single unit. They can use each other's wands, feel
each other's moods, sense when the other is in danger, achieve magical
feats they were not previously capable of, all because they are now both
drawing on an exponentially enhanced pool of innate magic.'

'Mum can tell which room of the house Dad is in,' said Ron. 'And he can
tell when one of her spells has gone wrong. Funny, I've never thought
about it before.'

'Really? That's very interesting, in fact,' said Hermione, breaking her train
of thought for a minute. 'And it may be unique to them, because the exact
science of it is extremely complex and I think it is probably different for
each couple. But for now it is enough to know that when two magical
people meet, there is the potential for their magical selves to bind
together irrespective of what the rational mind is saying. We know other
magically bound couples of course, and I suspect that Harry's parents
themselves were such.'
Hermione paused and took a sip of pumpkin juice. The mention of Harry's
own parents in this context was particularly poignant.

'Fauns act as a barometer of this magical attraction, and they can sense
the auras surrounding magical people as clearly as if they were visible, in
fact to fauns, such attraction-auras are visible. Apparently they are even
colour coded, with crimson being the strongest possible match. Also, in
totally exceptional cases of deep love between magical people, the
'crimson cloud' can actually become visible to the human eye. Your
mother in fact spoke of it herself, although I don't know if she expected me
to understand its significance at the time. What's more, fauns cannot help
but react when they encounter particularly well-matched and vibrant
auras. The nature of such a reaction is nearly always a spreading of
sympathetic joy, or lust if you like, throughout the entire herd. They feed
on this love energy as much as they do real food. This perceptive ability,
and the resulting orgies, is the very essence of fauns.'

'You had that book, Herm, on the day of the lesson!' said Ginny. 'The
Crimson Cloud or something. We looked at it at supper, when Harry
fainted.'

'Yes. And it is just about the most interesting book I have ever read. And it
was also by far the most relevant of all the books I looked at that day, or
since.'

'Blimey,' said Ron. 'Imagine the library actually being useful for once!'

'Consequently,' continued Hermione, ignoring him totally, 'exposing a
crowd of adolescents to a herd of fauns is a potentially dangerous exercise,
although not quite as risky as you'd think, as fauns are not fooled by your
average passing teenage crush or any effects of surplus hormones.'

Despite the seriousness of the moment, there was some giggling, during
which Ginny wriggled her feet under Seamus's legs.

'However, Hagrid knew a thing or two about this, and in order to eradicate
the risk of a dangerous full-blown faun orgy, he sent us into the paddock in
single-sex pairs, knowing that if there were any potential magical couplings
in the group, they would be left to develop at their own rate rather than
be forced into the open by the fauns' reactions. But Hagrid had
overlooked one thing. He watched all the couples go into the paddock and
they were indeed all single-sex pairs, except for the last two. He then split
up me and Harry and paired us differently. It was Harry's faun, Dixter, that
started the orgy, in reaction, Hagrid says, to the strongest love-aura Dixter
had ever sensed. Vivid crimson, he told Hagrid afterwards.'

Hermione took a deep breath.

'And on that afternoon, Harry's partner was Draco Malfoy.'

There was utter silence as this began to sink in. Hermione gave them time
to adjust to the fact, but there were no comments forthcoming, and she
carried on.

'I am certain that at that point, neither boy had any idea of what had
happened or what had caused it. Also, until that time, and possibly still,
Harry despised Malfoy. But this is not that surprising on closer inspection.
The fact is that, like it or not, Harry and Malfoy are destined to be a couple
as close and as loving as the Weasleys, but given the enmity that has
existed between them since they first met, neither is about to let that
happen, especially if they are not aware of it.'

'More than enmity,' said Neville. 'It's disturbing, the level at which that
animosity is maintained. I don't know how they find the energy to fuel the
acrimony so heatedly. It's like the existence of the ill-feeling is itself some
kind of driving force in both their lives.'

'Exactly Neville,' continued Hermione. 'And let's think about how they met
and what happened. On the Hogwarts Express on the first day of our first
year, Malfoy offered Harry his hand in friendship and Harry refused it. He
refused it because Malfoy had just insulted the friend he had just made:
you, Ron. You hate Malfoy because of the silly blood feud that goes back
years between your two families. Harry hated him because you did. Harry
had no reason to hate Malfoy himself. Not then, not when he didn't know
about Death Eaters and their role in his parents' deaths.'

'It is not a silly blood feud,' said Ron. 'If you knew some of the things
Lucius Malfoy has--'

Hermione raised her hand sharply as a sign to stop. Interruptions were
obviously so unwelcome at this point that she couldn't even find the words
to object. Ron felt a little stupid and shut up.

'It makes more sense if you know that - as only Harry and Malfoy, and I
think, me and Ron know - that on the train that day was not the first time
Harry and Malfoy had met. They had both been in Madam Malkin's robe
shop on Diagon Alley about a month before, selecting their new robes for
Hogwarts. On that occasion, there was no actual hatred. Certainly they
did not hit it off well; Harry told us afterwards when he realised who the
boy had been, that even from the very start he seemed cold and arrogant,
and was already - at that age! - voicing his father's opinions about letting
Muggle children into Hogwarts.'

Hermione consciously slowed down and let each snippet of information
hang in the air, so the assembled Council could watch them assemble
themselves rather than have to piece it all together in haste.

'But despite this, there was no malice or hatred between them,' she
repeated. 'Malfoy did not know who Harry was, and Harry did not really
have a reason to hate Malfoy. It was only when they met on the train that
Malfoy knew Harry would be better as an ally to him than an adversary,
and that Harry felt indignant on your behalf, Ron.'

The significance of that moment all those years previously began to dawn
on the group. It was a distinctly uncomfortable feeling.

'And in that moment, that one refused handshake, the love that would
ordinarily have started to grow as their innate magic bonded and
combined, got twisted as the 'rational' minds got involved, and the coin
that bears the love-hate thing got flipped over to the hate side. And as the
emotional intensity between them increased over the years, it increased
as loathing, until Harry was worried by how much he hated Malfoy, and
until Malfoy's only reason for existing became to bring down great,
virtuous, honourable Harry Potter. Until, as you say, Neville, the existence
of the ill-feeling itself became some kind of driving force in both their
lives.'

Ginny made some kind of gurgling in her throat. It was the nearest she
could get to speech.

'And perhaps it would have remained so for ever, with neither of them
knowing what the real root of the strength of feeling between them was,
until the day the fauns came.'

Not one of the Gryffindors liked the way this was shaping up. Even in that
moment, where they seemed to be sitting on the edge of something
horribly new and uncomfortable, Ron recognised that Hermione was
totally in control of the facts, and that nothing had escaped her keen
thought processes. Thank God someone is on top of all this! He felt a rush
of affection towards her, and looked at her closely. But her eyes were
closed as she was evidently going down some mental checklist, and
unfortunately for her, she didn't see the glance. After a glug more
pumpkin juice, she was off again in full flow.

'So we come to Harry's current behaviour. I honestly don't think that he
knows all this. He's never been one for looking things up in books and
doing research, he nearly always goes with gut instinct. He's a Gryffindor,
after all. Hatred between him and Malfoy has intensified even further
since Harry came face to face with You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters
on the day Cedric died. That 'hatred' would have been burning brightly
between them when they met Dixter, as Hagrid had forced them to spend
the time together, and, tragically, together in the presence of a faun.
Dixter's reaction was bound to have affected Harry and Malfoy in some
way. And, in this highly vulnerable state, Harry sits down at supper, maybe
catches sight of Malfoy, or maybe Malfoy is experiencing some, lets say,' -
she felt herself blushing - 'some intense feelings of his own somewhere
else in the castle, and the telepathic thing kicks in. Result: Harry is
overwhelmed; he faints.'

'Oh God, yes!', cried Ginny. 'Do you remember? He just slumped forward
without warning. He said, "Where did that come from?" or something like
that!'

'I think it's a compelling theory,' said Hermione. 'There was absolutely no
obvious reason for him fainting that day. So, I'm guessing now, but after
the lesson, he probably understands nothing, but he knows Malfoy is
involved somehow. When it happened - the fainting - I went to see
Dumbledore, and Harry was swept up to the hospital wing. Dumbledore
told me to look into fauns. He knew, even then, for sure!'

'Oh blimey!' said Dean. 'I can tell what's coming now...'

'Yes. When Harry comes out of the hospital wing, you give him the book.
He's a boy, he's hormonal, and he's intrigued. He tries out one of the
spells. I'm guessing again, but going on what you said about your parents,
Ron, there is probably some kind of mental link between him and Malfoy,
and maybe it is particularly strong at er, such times; but still neither boy
understands it. Immediately Harry sees the danger of the book and locks it
away. It's enough to drive him to despair: to be obsessed with someone he
hates. Surely that's what's happened! The symptoms he's showing are
classic depression. He's terrified of what we, his friends - effectively his
family - might think if we discover his secret, the secret that he himself
hates and doesn't understand. So he pushes us away: his logic being that
he won't have to face rejection from us if he rejects us first.'

'Oh God...' moaned Ron, the awful realisation washing over him.

'And not just us, but everything. He's built a new world, where he can
wrestle with this without our knowing. No schoolwork, no friends, no
Quidditch, all by conscious decision: a textbook defence mechanism. And
conversely, because of the depression he's sunk into, no peace, no food,
no sleep: just Malfoy in his head and the cloud that is drawing them
together against both their wills. There is only one person who he thinks
won't judge him. And he meets him every week to cry on his shoulder.
Except, if I know Harry, he won't cry, because it will be giving in. So even
Sirius is probably getting nowhere.'

Hermione seemed to have stopped talking for the moment. There was an
aching, oceanic silence, broken only by tiny sobs from Ginny, whose head
was buried in Ron's chest. It was a very long time before anybody said
anything. Eventually Seamus spoke.

'Herm, I think you're right. When Harry came into the dorm earlier, when I
accused him of not caring about Ron and the rest of us any more, he said
that I was wrong, that he still cared, that he'd never stopped caring, but
that he just couldn't be "that Harry" anymore. But he wouldn't say
anything further, and he just left.'

There seemed to be no way to view this other than as corroborative proof
of Hermione's explanation.

'Also,' said Ginny extremely quietly, 'during the Hufflepuff match, Harry
was hiding under the stands. I saw him when I went to the toilet. He
didn't see me, and of course I didn't go up to him because he was House
traitor and everything then. But he was cheering. He was shouting 'Go on,
Ron' at the top of his voice. I never told you Ron, because I thought it
would have upset you.'

Ron moaned and buried his face in his sister's neck as Hermione held both
his hands. The boys ignored that fact that Ron was bordering on tears.
The Boys' Code of Ethics said that boys didn't cry of course, so when it
actually happened, the form was to pretend that it wasn't.

Neville's voice came next, his voice too was shaky, but his words were
sensible. 'Hermione, how much of what you have just told us is fact, and
how much is guesswork?'

'Everything about the fauns, and the nature of magical love, and the auras,
the Crimson Cloud, that is all fact.' The stability of Hermione's voice had a
vaguely soothing effect on the group, even though the words themselves
were unwanted. 'So are naturally all the events that have happened,
including the circumstances of Harry and Malfoy's first meeting, the Care
of Magical Creatures lesson, his behaviour since.'

She pondered slightly, then carried on.

'Guesswork based on observation accounts for my explanation of Harry's
actions. Hagrid confirmed to me in tears that such a link certainly exists
between Harry and Malfoy, based on what he remembers of the lesson
and what Dixter told him afterwards. I have checked Harry's symptoms in
a Muggle psychiatry textbook. I am guessing about the telepathy between
them, but that guess is based on other textbook cases, and that seems to
have been given more weight by what you said about your parents, Ron.'

Hermione took a deep, deep breath, and continued in a much more quiet,
unsteady voice. The others were totally still.

'I also know, again based on reading, that if the pair both reject the match,
and try to stop the innate magic in both of them bonding, the magical self
will become volatile, like a chemical reaction only half completed. They
have to accept it, or live in agony. As far as I see it, the two are bound
together, but they are neither likely to allow this to happen. The book
merely acted as an accelerator. As long as they both deny it, they will each
become more psychologically and magically unstable.'

Hermione was suddenly much more emotional, and she began to gabble,
as if her control and logic had deserted her.

'Oh God, we've come this far, you might as well hear what I think the
horrible deduction of all this is.'

Her breathing was quicker, her speech faster her hands moving agitatedly.

'It's impossible to ignore this instability in Harry any longer. I'm sorry you
have to hear this, I really am, but Harry may already be approaching a
crunch moment. He may in fact be actively considering what would for
him be the next 'logical' step: the realisation, oh Jesus, the realisation that
his depression may have triggered, the realisation that he has only two
options, to give in and go with it, or...' Hermione was starting to cry now.
'...Or, sorry, but it needs to be said, or to end it all. I am almost certain
that Harry does not have all the facts that I do, that we do. He will be
driven solely by emotion and instinct, and who dares imagine where the
emotions and instincts of a self-hating teenage boy may lead him,
especially one who has divorced himself from all the stabilising elements
of his life and spends hours and hours on his own...at night...'

She couldn't carry on.

'We've got to go to him!' cried Ron urgently, red-eyed. 'Tell him we love
him no matter what! Herm, if what you have said is true, every minute he
is left alone he is in danger!'

'Oh God, no!' cried Hermione. 'We can't do that!'

'Why on earth not?' said Ginny, nearly shouting. 'And why haven't you
told us all this before now?'

'Oh God! I don't know!' wailed Hermione. 'Because, because, like Harry I
guess, I was just hoping it would all go away! That he would find a way
round it himself, that things would go back to normal! And we can't go to
him! Imagine what we would have to say! We would have to tell him all
this, and if, I as I suspect, he doesn't know, it may tip him over the edge,
and then how on earth would we feel, if we had actually precipitated the
crisis!'

'How we feel shouldn't matter now!' shouted Ron. 'What the fuck do we
do then? I'm not going to sit here and do nothing while my best mate is in
this state!'

'Too right! He's our friend!' shouted Seamus, 'we can't let him go through
this alone!'

'He's loads more than a friend!' wailed Ginny, sobbing, 'he's our bloody
family!'

'CALM DOWN!' bellowed Dean.
The yelling subsided.

'Herm,' continued Dean, trying hard to restore some calm to the group. 'I
know I speak for all of us when I say thanks for telling us all that you know.
It cannot have been easy for you to bear this knowledge alone, and I
personally apologise for not taking more notice of things and looking
harder into them.'

Hermione, distraught, looked grateful for his intervention.

'Yes, well done Hermione,' said Neville.

Ginny and Ron snuffled their agreement.

A long deep silence settled over the whole group. It was like time had
stopped, and that nowhere else existed in the world other than Ron's bed.
The unthinkable consequences of what Hermione had suggested were just
too appalling to consider, but they could hardly do otherwise. After a long
time, when the possibility for hysteria had passed uncomfortably, it was
Dean who broke the silence.

'So, Herm, what do you suggest?' he said. 'You've done all the thinking on
this one.'

With a monumental effort, she began to speak very softly once more.

'We can't go to Harry. What he needs is stability, and if that stability
means carrying on this seeming lack of care on our side, then it has to go
on. He engineered this current state of affairs, so somewhere in his mind
it's what he wants. Anything else could be a destabilising threat. So we
will let it continue.'

'That is not an option,' said Ron. 'Not from where I'm sitting.'

'Well, we could speak to Dumbledore...' said Hermione, although she did
not seem convinced of this suggestion.

'I'm not sure I can face that,' said Ron, slowly.
'Why not?' asked Ginny.

'Because, this is kind of immensely personal to Harry. It feels almost wrong
that I know it all, and I'm closer to Harry than anyone. The thought of
speaking to a teacher is ghastly. We'd have to lay open his innermost
thoughts, and behind his back. It would feel like betrayal. Despite the
seriousness of all this, that really is last resort stuff.'

'Aren't we at the last resort stage now?' said Seamus. 'It's been six weeks,
after all.'

'Definitely feels like last resort time to me Ron,' said Ginny. 'Herm, what
do you think?'

'I'm with Ron. But for different reasons. I just have this nagging thought in
the back of my head that Dumbledore knows. And that is comforting. I
guess the reason I haven't told you all this earlier is because I have secretly
been hoping that Dumbledore himself would find a way out of this, or at
least wouldn't let it get out of hand.'

'That would make him a logical person to talk to then, Hermione,' said
Neville.

'Yes, I suppose that is true. But, I don't know, instinct tells me otherwise.'

'So we just do nothing?' said Dean.

'Well, I didn't say that exactly,' said Hermione.

'What do you mean then?' said Neville. 'What do you instincts tell you?'

'I suppose, well, I suppose there is something we can do.'

'What?' said Ron.

'You won't like it'.

'What is it?'

Hermione hesitated. 'We can go to Malfoy.'
'Malfoy?!' snorted Ron. 'No bloody way. And say what, exactly?'

'Ron!' sighed Hermione. 'For a start, all of us have got to get over our
Malfoy prejudices. If ever Harry is going to be the happy guy we know and
love again, Malfoy is going to be involved. Most likely as Harry's life
partner. And if we can't accept that, we are no friends of Harry's. It's
Harry's right to reject or accept him, not ours. And we better pray that he
accepts him, because the alternative will only put Harry more at risk.'

Another ghastly reality sank in.

'We can go to Malfoy and talk to him about this,' continued Hermione,
thinking aloud, and seemingly gaining in confidence as she outlined her
thoughts. 'Malfoy has no friends to push away, we know that. He will
have dealt with this on his own, like Harry. But he's more aware and more
shrewd than Harry--'

'You mean he's a Slytherin!' interrupted Ron.

'Yes, I suppose I do mean that, Ron. He is bound to have seen the real
situation sooner than Harry, in fact I know he's further down that
particular path because the only two members of the school who have
borrowed library books on fauns this term are me and Malfoy himself. In
fact I caught him reading up on fauns the very day that Harry first went to
the Shrieking Shack.'

Her control and logic were returning with each word.

'So we can go to Malfoy and make a truce. If Harry sees that we accept
Malfoy it might make Harry less worried about the consequences of facing
up to it all. Malfoy is likely to accept a truce, because in all likelihood he
understands as much as we do.'

Hermione seemed definitely to be increasingly convinced by this plan, and
the hope in her voice was enveloping the other Gryffindors.

'In fact,' she mused, 'it is slightly surprising he hasn't acted on his own
already: if Harry is Malfoy's only way out of discomfort, I would have
expected Malfoy simply to go out and sort of fetch Harry straight away. I
suppose the delay in his doing anything is evidence that there may be a
real person deep inside there somewhere, who is fighting as much as Harry
is, but is just better at hiding it. Or maybe for him there is just nobody to
notice how much he is struggling. Either way he's more likely to talk to us
than ever before.'

'Are you saying, Herm', said Ron again, thinking hard, 'that in order to have
Harry back as a friend, I have got to embrace Malfoy? In order to have
Harry back as brother-in-arms, I've got to accept Malfoy as brother-in-
law? For ever?'

Despite the tension around the bed, Hermione giggled. 'Hmm, yes, well
put, Ron my boy. You have it in a nutshell.'

'Oh Lord,' said Ginny. 'A Malfoy in the family. Who would ever have
thought it?'

'W-well,' stuttered Ron, 'I suppose, with a million years to get used to the
idea, I might just be able to accept Malfoy myself. But I refuse to accept
him as Harry's lot for life. Harry deserves so much more. He deserves the
happy ending: to fall in love with and marry my sister, a warm welcome
into a family that already loves him, lots of little Potters running around
their lovely large home, acres of love tying it all together. That's what we
all knew would happen, what we all wanted: for him to be happy, not be
tied for life against his will to some arrogant asshole because of some
stupid magical reaction.'

Ginny blushed but didn't say anything: she had already given up on that
idea some time ago.

'Ron, wake up,' snorted Hermione. 'That is never going to happen. Not
now, not ever. You have to decide, as do we all, whether your love for
Harry is greater than your hatred for Malfoy. Because that is all that
matters now. Harry and Malfoy are already an item. Their magic is
already bonding, may already have bonded. It started to bond the day
they met, in the same way it did with your parents. The fauns did not
manufacture this love, it was already there; they merely uncovered it. And
Harry has fallen in love; it's just that our presence in his life has meant that
he can't accept it. And maybe one day he will live in a large house, with a
loving partner, and lots of - adopted! - kids, and be as happy as we have
known him before. And I for one will be delighted to go there for dinner
and see him smile shyly in his innocent way, and hear him recall thrashing
Malfoy at Quidditch. And who knows, maybe Harry's presence in Malfoy's
life will make Malfoy himself a better person. But there is more chance of
that happy ending - and that's the only one available, Ron - if we offer the
hand of friendship to Malfoy. So. There. Shit, am I hungry now.'

And she took up a sandwich as the rest of the Gryffindors sat on the bed
and contemplated this brave new world.

Hours later, they were all more or less in the same positions, sprawled
over Ron's bed. The pile of food had gone and they had talked round and
round the subject again and again. The immediate crisis did seem to have
passed, but the longer term awfulness of it still pervaded the group to the
core. Despite these hours of circular talking, or maybe because of them,
no more had been achieved except for a vague plan to broach a
conversation with Malfoy. They had all wanted to go, but Hermione had
insisted that it would be overwhelming for him. Just Ron, she had said,
and me. After supper. We'll grab him as he leaves the Great Hall, take him
somewhere on neutral territory. Not threatening, she had said. Just open
and honest. It was the only way forward they had.

It was dark now and supper was not far off, and the group were just
thinking about getting up and stretching their legs before the meal, when
the door opened.
                             CHAPTER SEVEN

                                     ~

                      ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL?

Harry wasn't sure how long he remained out by the lake after Malfoy had
left. But it must have been several hours as it was now dark, and he was
covered in snow, and he was suddenly aware how cold he was, and aware
that he was starving. He stood up and set off at a fast pace to the castle,
thinking that he would grab some food from Dobby and then see if for
once he could maybe go to bed and get some sleep. Jesus, it was freezing.
He quickened his pace further. It had been nice, inexplicably, sitting with
Malfoy and smoking a cigarette. It was a shame he had left. Malfoy's
nearness had seemed to ease all the pain, and his warmth had remained
with Harry for some time afterwards. Perhaps, thought Harry, perhaps it
would not be unthinkable to see him again. They hadn't spoken about
anything - hell, how could Harry tell him all he had to say anyway? - but
the absence of animosity had been surprising and, and...hopeful.

                                   ***

Draco stood and watched Harry for the entire time after he left him by the
lake. It had been an awful wrench to leave him, but Draco didn't want to
rush things and scare him off. I don't honestly think he's got a clue what's
happened, he thought to himself as he stood in the third floor corridor,
warm, dried off, looking fabulous, staring out of a window as the lonely
figure of Potter got progressively more snowed up, until only Draco would
have been able to tell that one of the snowy lumps was not a lakeside rock
but the boy he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. And when he saw
Potter move away from the lake and towards the castle, Draco felt his
heart tick a little faster, and wondered when it would be best to see him
again. His inner self screamed tonight! but Draco's head said, wait, wait,
don't rush it. He'll come round. Shit, thought Draco. I've been listening to
my head all my life where he is concerned. And it's been wrong. I'll try to
see him tonight. Somehow.

                                    ***

It was dark now and supper was not far off, and the Gryffindors were just
thinking about getting up from Ron's bed and stretching their legs before
the meal, when the door opened.

Harry entered, snow still in his hair and over the shoulders of his cloak,
carrying a parcel that Ron immediately recognised as one of Dobby's food
offerings.

His entrance was electrifying.

'Oooh, is it snowing?' cooed Ginny, nervously reacting to the tension.

'Oh,' said Harry, slightly startled by the gathering, and the fact that they
had obviously just stopped talking. 'I'm sorry, I didn't realise I was
interrupting a party,' and he turned to leave the room. But his heart was
heavy, and he wanted to stay. They all looked so cosy there. He wanted
to belong with them.

As soon as he had turned away, Hermione was wildly shaking her head at
Ron, who had tensed to jump up and go to Harry.

'No!' she said in a whisper only Ron could hear, but Harry's almost
imperceptible delay in deciding to leave the room was enough to convince
Ron in that split second that Harry wanted to stay, but felt that he
couldn't. Before Hermione or any of the others could stop him, he was
behind Harry as Harry himself reached the door again.

'Harry,' said Ron, touching his hand on Harry's shoulder from behind.

The others watched, on tenterhooks, breath held, all dying to see what
was going to happen, yet feeling rather voyeuristic.

'We shouldn't be here,' hissed Hermione inaudibly. 'They're going to make
up, I can sense it!'
'Harry,' repeated Ron, and Harry turned round to look at him. Ron's eyes
were itching with silent tears.

'Ron, what on earth's the matter?' asked Harry as he saw Ron's face
screwed up in desperate hope.

'Harry,' repeated Ron, now with both his hands on Harry's shoulders,
'where have you been?'

'Just out by the lake, I didn't notice the snow getting heavy, that's all...'

But Harry knew deep down this was not the answer Ron wanted.

'No, I mean, Harry, you fucking stupid git, where have you been?'

'We need to get out of here!' insisted Hermione to the others. 'Quick,
now, before it becomes impossible!'

She got them all off Ron's bed and hurried them over to the door, where
Harry and Ron were on the point of reconciliation.

'Just off down to supper!' she said brightly, wiping a tear from her eye.
'We'll save you a couple of seats, it'd be great if you could both join us! No
hurry though,' she continued cheerily - Shit! Shut up! You're gabbling,
Herm! - 'take your time, but it would be great to see you both!'

Then the door was closed, and Harry and Ron were alone.

                                      ***

Draco sat at the Slytherin table, as usual with a clear view of the Gryffindor
table, surrounded by his usual cronies. Speculation was rife as to who
Draco had been out to see that afternoon, but Draco just sat above all the
chatter and gave nothing away. He had left all his smart clothes on and
restyled his hair for the maximum wow-factor. He wasn't sure, but he
thought it just possible that Potter would appear at supper that night.

After their meeting by the lake, Draco himself was feeling loads better,
even buoyant, and he felt that Potter's mood had lifted too. Potter's
unhappiness no longer seemed to be hanging like a weight around Draco's
neck, and he wasn't sure when it had happened, but he thought that one
of the effects of the magic love thing was that he could feel Potter's moods
even when they were separated. He just knew that wherever he was, he
was happier than he had been for some time. It must be the afterglow of
the time we spent together at the lake, thought Draco. The warmth is still
running though both of us. Heads had turned when Draco had walked into
the Hall. Draco ran his hand through his beautiful hair and smiled widely
as he sat down. He enjoyed the looks and shot a few sexy grins around the
Hall. Pansy watched carefully to see who he made eye contact with but
she was out of luck.

'Oh do tell, Draky,' squealed Pansy. 'Who on earth was she? You looked
so dreamy and yummy, and you haven't got dressed up like that for
weeks! You must have been out with someone!'

'Hope you didn't get frostbite, doing the deed out in this weather, eh,
Dra?' snorted Crabbe, and he and Goyle sniggered filthily into their food.

Draco rolled his eyes in fake theatricality.

Pansy noticed and giggled. 'Just tell us which House then!'

'Or which year group!' chipped in Millicent. 'Come on Draco, you don't get
all toffed up like that for nobody!'

The crass conjecture about his love life was beginning to get on his nerves,
and he suddenly found himself saying to the crowd, 'Quiet! All will
become clear, as soon as the time is right. Now, no more chatter about it.
It's none of your business. Yet.'

There were more squeals and chortles and a lot more nudge-nudging.

'So there is someone?!' Pansy was nearly breathless with excitement.

'Yes. Now quiet, and tell me how the plans to sabotage the Ravenclaws
are going before next week's match.'
The conversation gradually turned round and Goyle reported on some
broom-hexing they were thinking of. Draco's mind drifted back to his own
thoughts as the Slytherins settled down to skulduggery. Truth is, he sighed
to himself, as long as my father is alive it will be next to impossible to
pursue an open relationship with Potter. His fellow Slytherins could almost
certainly never know, nor anybody else. Even if he could win Potter over,
which was far from certain, he would never win his father over to the idea
that he would live for the whole of his life in a relationship with someone
who was a) not a girl, b) not a Slytherin, c) not a pureblood and d)
someone who, in addition to points a), b) and c), just happened to be the
nemesis of Lord Voldemort. Still, as far as Potter was concerned, he had
made a start. True, it had only been a ten minute smoke with him in the
snow, but, you hard to start somewhere.

With the attention temporarily away from him, none of his dinner
companions noticed that Draco's eyes followed the crowd of happy
Gryffindors which entered the Hall shortly afterwards and took their seats
in his direct line of view. Hermione and Ginny were laughing excitedly, and
Seamus, Dean and Neville were more than usually good-tempered.

Weasley was not with them.

Draco knew instantly what had happened, what was probably happening
at that very moment: Potter and Weasley were patching their friendship
back together. He had felt something ever since Potter had returned to
the castle not twenty minutes earlier. Draco didn't know whether that was
a good thing, a bad thing, or an irrelevant thing. Weasley might poison
Potter against him again. Or he might have had his ear bent by Granger,
who almost certainly knew everything, and could at that very moment be
pushing Potter towards Draco. Or, more likely, they had so much else to
talk about, that Draco's name would not be mentioned at all.

But whatever it was, Draco could sense that it was making Potter happy,
and for that he was pleased.
Lost in these thoughts, he suddenly felt a pair of eyes on him. But they
were not from his own crowd, they came from across the Hall. He looked
up in hope, but he saw Hermione looking straight at him, through her own
crowd of unseeing Gryffindors, making sure and certain eye contact with
him. And she was smiling, genuinely, warmly. She held the look for long
enough to impart to Draco that it was more than a chance meeting of
glances. Fucking hell, thought Draco, she wants to talk to me. Things are
moving. Fast. He nodded imperceptibly at her, and she smiled again and
looked away. Shit! What had he set in motion now? His mind raced.
Things had happened in Gryffindor Tower; of that he was sure. They were
still happening now. And then Draco was aware that Potter was very near
indeed. Fuck, he thought. He's about to walk through the door! And I can
sense it! Jesus this is weird!

It was no surprise to Draco that less than a minute later Weasley and
Potter appeared at the door to the Great Hall. That is, the event was not a
surprise, but the reaction of his heart was. It leaped and bounded nearly
out of his chest when Potter came into view. His breathing quickened and
he had to look away in case the Slytherins noticed. He knew he was
blushing. He took a mouthful of pumpkin juice, composed himself, ran his
hand through his hair, and entered into the conversation on broom-
hexing. I've got away with it, he thought. But just as he was in the clear
he had an irresistible urge to look up again, and there was a split second
meeting of his eyes with Potters'. The force of the emotion nearly knocked
him off his chair, and he pretended to be choking on his juice. It worked.
Just. The wondrous feeling of golden light that coursed through him lasted
for several minutes.

The Slytherins had not noticed any of this. But Hermione had.

                                   ***

Hermione rushed her charges down the stairs to the common room after
closing the dormitory door carefully behind her. Despite her caution, her
worries, and her knowledge of the situation, she was daring to hope that a
corner might have been turned in this appalling episode. She had loved
the time she and Ron had spent together, absolutely loved it. And she was
hopeful that they might have laid a foundation stone for something
stronger yet to come between them. But she also knew that time spent
with a Ron who had Harry back as his best mate would be even better.
And she was desperate, desperate, to make up with Harry herself. She
wanted to take him in her arms, hold him, tell him everything was OK, that
she would always love him whatever. And she did truly sense that she was
going to get to do that very soon. Careful though, she forced herself to
think. Don't get carried away. We're miles off a happy ending yet.

Ginny couldn't contain her excitement though. 'Herm! It's all going to get
back to normal isn't it! Isn't it!'

'Shh, calm down Ginny! They could be knocking seven bells out of each
other for all we know. Just hold on and see what happens.'

Ginny looked appalled at the prospect.

'They wouldn't would they? Would they, Seamus?'

'I dunno,' laughed Seamus. 'I might, if I were Ron!'

'Well, you're not Ron, thankfully,' said Hermione, smiling.

The boys were also filled with something like infectious hope. It had been
intolerable in the dormitory for weeks, and at last there seemed to be a
way through.

'Ha!' laughed Dean. 'You'll be able to borrow the book after all, Seamus!
See what Charlie Weasley's spell is all about!'

'Oh God, don't!' cried Ginny. 'That book is horrible. Just wait till I tell
Charlie what I thought of it!'

'You will do no such thing,' said Hermione, as they took their seats at the
Gryffindor table. 'We only know about that book due to exceptional
circumstances. It's boys' stuff, and must remain so, and you mustn't tell
Charlie or the twins that we know anything about it. Just think Ginny what
it would be like if one of your brothers came up to you with knowledge of
what we talk about sometimes! You'd be horrified. Forget the book, and
leave the boys their little thrills.'

Ginny faked a look of great abashment at this humorous rebuke and they
all laughed again. There was a good feeling about the Hall tonight. It was
alive with chatter from people who had been out in the cold snowballing
and larking about. A warm glow of comradeship and security was settled
over all four tables, blimey, yes, all four tables. There was a lot of laughter
at the Slytherin table too. Hermione cast a casual glance over there to see
if Malfoy were among the crowd. Ginny saw her looking and smiled.

She settled down next to Hermione, leaned over and whispered in her
ear. 'He's awfully attractive isn't he? In fact, tonight he looks absolutely
gorgeous.'

'Great! Sausage casserole!' Seamus boomed. 'Get stuck in everyone
before Ron gets here, or there'll be none left!'

Hermione turned her head and slyly whispered back, 'who are we talking
about Ginny? The stunning Slytherin over there, or the sandy-haired Irish
charmer opposite you?'

Ginny's mouth dropped open in mock horror and she pummelled a lot of
little girly punches on Hermione's shoulder. Both girls were laughing so
much that Ginny couldn't get any words out.

'Hey girls, calm it, calm it!' soothed Seamus. 'No need to fight over me!'

'I meant the stunner, of course, not the charmer!' Ginny blurted
eventually. 'Although, now you come to mention it...'

Ginny and Hermione descended into helpless giggles, the meaning of
which were lost on the boys, who were already well into their first
platefuls. Oh please, please let them both come down to supper tonight,
thought Hermione. She took some food, absently thinking about Ron and
Harry, and as another violent burst of laughter blew up around her, she
looked over to the Slytherin table unnoticed. Malfoy looked up almost
immediately. She held eye contact with him for several seconds, trying to
send him all sorts of messages just with her eyes. After what seemed like a
lifetime, she detected the slightest nod in reply, and she looked away.
Good, she thought. Contact with the enemy. I am sure that a meeting will
not be problematic now. Let's just hope it's still the right way forward
when Harry and Ron get here. If Harry and Ron get here, she forced
herself to think.

                                    ***

Then the door was closed, and Harry and Ron were alone.

'Where have I been, Ron? That's a very difficult question to answer.'

Harry felt his defences crumbling. All the weeks he had managed to live
without Ron and Hermione and Hagrid and all the others, he had always
imagined it would go on like that forever. But now, faced with Ron, not
able to back out without hurting him even more, Harry just couldn't go
through with it any longer. And after spending just ten minutes with
Malfoy that afternoon, Harry was filled with a good will that had been
missing for ages. Harry knew that he wanted to spend more time with
Malfoy, lots more, maybe a lifetime more, and he couldn't keep Ron at
arm's length for all that time. But, telling Ron what he felt about Malfoy
would end their friendship, even if there were any left to salvage. So he
just stood there, not knowing what to do, but increasingly aware of the
pressure of Ron's hands on his shoulders.

Eventually some words came, tentatively.

'I'm sorry Ron, I really am. I've...been thinking a lot on my own. I'm afraid
there's been something awful on my mind for weeks now.'

'Harry, Harry, listen to me. You don't have to apologise. You don't have to
explain. You don't have to say anything, not now, not yet. Just tell me
that you are all right, and that you are back.'

Ron's eyes were streaming. Harry was moved beyond anything he had
ever imagined he would feel. He had hoped against hope that
reconciliation with Ron would one day be possible, after the whole ghastly
Malfoy business was sorted out. But he was never, it seemed, ever, going
to sort out the Malfoy business in the way he had hoped. So why was he
even considering carrying on with this painful scene with Ron now? Even
now, it would be easier on Ron if he just left. Ron would never understand
about Malfoy. If he apologised to Ron now, as every nerve ending in his
body was telling him to do, wouldn't it only make it even more painful in
the end?

Ron sensed the terrific doubt and fear in Harry eyes, and the deep need
Harry had for friendship, then and always.

'Harry please listen. It doesn't matter to me what you have done, or what
your problems are. I will never judge you negatively. If you've killed
Snape or shagged McGonagall, or even vice versa, I'll be there waving the
bloody banners, you git. There is nothing you can tell me that will make
me change my mind. And I don't even want you to tell me now, for fuck's
sake. All I want is for you to say that you are all right, and that we don't
have to ignore each other for one second longer!'

He was sobbing openly now.

'Oh for fucking hell's sake Harry! Don't make me do all this on my own!
Please don't let me make a fool of myself any more! If you're going to go
again, just go, you bastard!'

Harry was cracking. In just seconds he would give in, he could feel the
tension about to snap his body in half. But, unbearably, Ron had even
more to say.

'Harry!' he was practically shouting by now, 'do I actually have to say it?
Haven't you always known that you're the best mate that I ever had, that
anyone ever had? Oh man, you've fucking torn me apart these last weeks,
not knowing what I've done! It's a fucking shocking way to treat anyone,
least of all me, who loves you like my own brother!'
He had hit the top of what his emotions were capable of, and he was
gripping Harry's shoulders so tightly that he couldn't let go. His voice came
again, but unable to maintain the intensity at such a breathless rate, it
cracked, trailing off into even more tears.

'...More than any of my brothers in fact, coz until recently you actually
treated me like a real bloody person, and not some sixth-rate inheritor of
some shoddy redhead genes...'

'Ron...' choked Harry in a tiny voice. 'Shut the fuck up. Let me speak.
Jesus, Ron, I'm so fucking sorry. I AM SO FUCKING SORRY! I really am!'

Harry grasped Ron's shoulders and pulled him into a hug. They gripped
each other tightly. Harry found that he was himself crying, and had been
for a few minutes. But these tears - so long held in, for so many years left
proudly unused - did not cause him to crumble into a heap. They forced
him to focus on how important a moment this was, forced him to realise
exactly how much Ron meant to him: so much so, that the realisation of
how he had hurt Ron had provoked a stronger reaction in him than
Quirrell, or Riddle, or Crouch, or Pettigrew or even Voldemort had ever
managed. Ron was part of him, an integral part, and the tears that Ron
had drawn from Harry's exhausted thin body seemed to give Harry
strength rather than cause his spirit to leak away. His voice got stronger as
Ron's lost all its impetus.

'Please please please forgive me! Believe me, Ron, honestly - Ron, are you
fucking listening? - believe me, I never, ever, meant to hurt you. NEVER!
How could I hurt you? You're like my bloody right arm! I did it because I
didn't want to hurt you! It seems so fucking silly now, but I thought, if we
weren't friends any more, then you couldn't get hurt by what I had to do.
Oh man this is so stupid. I can't believe I was so stupid, PLEASE listen and
forgive, Ron, please, I couldn't have done any of the things I've done
without you, you've got to believe that, you've made it all worthwhile, I
just didn't want to hurt you and...and...'
His voice trailed off now as well, and the pair of them stood in a tight hug,
swaying slightly, both still crying. But Harry had more to say. He spoke
softly into Ron's neck.

'Ron, I'm sorry, I can't expect you to forgive me till I've explained myself,
but I can hardly string two words together. You are owed the best
explanation I can give, it's just that you're going to hate me when I've told
you. And how can I apologise properly till I've told you, oh shit, Ron, this is
so difficult...'

There was a long pause before Ron pulled away slightly and looked Harry
in the face.

'Listen to me now. I will understand. I do understand, already better than
you know. But we've got ages for explanations. Not now. If it's what you
want, just tell me now that we are friends again, please, and let me decide
whether I can forgive you or not.'

Harry looked at Ron. How on earth could he ever have not wanted Ron as
his friend?

'Yes, oh yes, of course it's what I want,' said Harry, in a very small voice. 'If
you will accept my apology now, which I offer with every ounce of energy I
have left, I would be honoured to be your friend, Ron Weasley.'

Harry could feel Ron's anguish begin to dissipate as he said, very slowly,
'OK. It seems we have a deal.'

A glimmer of a smile appeared over both their faces, which became broad
tearful grins. They hugged again, the wounds fading as quickly as they had
been exposed.

'Jees, you look ugly Harry,' smiled Ron.

'You look bloody dreadful yourself, Ron,' said Harry, also smiling, relief
coursing through him like blood.

Eventually they separated. Ron looked at his watch.
'Not bad. Twelve minutes! Thought it was going to take hours, knowing
how fucking stubborn you are. Easily enough time for us to get to supper.
And you, Harry Potter, are coming to supper with me now, to sit with our
friends, who have all been off their heads with worry, and to eat a decent
meal for once. No arguments.'

'OK, Ron, no arguments. Are you sure they will want to sit with me
though?'

'Are you joking?' said Ron as they walked to the boys' bathroom to wash
their faces. 'Hermione was wetting her knickers to get them all out of here
so this sad little scene could happen. They will be made up.'

'Ron, thanks.' Harry paused slightly. 'I've really missed you, you know.'

'I know. And I've missed you, you git. And I've been, without wanting to
sound melodramatic, rather worried. You're just skin and bone. And
you're exhausted. And I think you're ill. But, we can talk about that later,
or tomorrow, or whenever. All that matters now is that you look a little
smarter for your public.'

Harry laughed a little. 'I haven't had to worry about you though,' he said.

'Well that's bloody nice, mate,' Ron laughed. 'And why not?'

'Because I notice that Hermione's been taking very special care of you. It's
been lovely to watch it happen from afar.'

Ron grinned at Harry. 'Yeah, weird that, isn't it? I didn't see that coming.'

'Didn't you? Everybody else did,' laughed Harry.

They were walking down the stairs to the Hall.

'Ron,' said Harry suddenly, 'you were fucking great on that Cleansweep
against the Hufflepuffs. You'd definitely have got the snitch if you'd been
on a faster broom.'

He clapped Ron on the back.
Ron stopped and looked at Harry. 'Thanks. Sincerely. You've no idea how
much that means to me. Thank you, Harry.'

Smiling, they walked into supper together.

                                  ***

The entrance of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley to supper that evening
made quite a stir for a number of people. Hermione and Ginny squealed
as they saw them walk into the Hall. Seamus, Dean and Neville stood up
and cheered. Dumbledore and McGonagall nodded to each other
knowingly. Draco's heart skipped several beats as he and Harry caught
each other's eye, and they both felt the charge of something good,
something that was just beginning, but something that needed hours and
hours more exploration before they would understand and accept it. But
there was definitely, thought Harry and Draco separately, a way forward, a
path to be trod.

As Harry and Ron reached their places at the table, Hermione ran towards
Harry and flung herself around him. She was crying buckets and Harry's
tears returned too as he was smothered by her warm hug. Ginny hopped
from foot to foot waiting for her turn, and when it didn't look like
Hermione was ever going to release him, she just barged Hermione aside
and sobbed on Harry's shoulder. The boys clapped him on the back and
Harry sat down between the two girls, who piled his plate up, neither of
them saying that he was dangerously thin, but both thinking it.

Harry felt blessed indeed to be back among these wonderful people, but
was aware deep down that this acceptance back into the gang was still to
be tested by some extraordinary revelations from him. He wondered sadly
how joyful any future winter suppers were likely to be, given what he had
to tell them, but for the moment he was so relieved to be warm, and still
wanted, that he could for the most part blank out this troubling thought.
Harry issued no public apology or explanation for his actions, and
miraculously it seemed that none was expected. He determined to speak
to all of his friends separately as the opportunity arose, however difficult it
may be for him.

The twins saw the commotion and moved their plates over to join the
crowd.

'What-ho, Harry, back in the fold I see?' said George, warmly.

'When are you going to get back on that Firebolt of yours then, Harry?'
said Fred, but Ron hushed him immediately.

'Quiet, Fred, there's loads of time to talk about that later. Just let him eat
in peace for now, eh?'

Ron, his Protector, had Spoken.

Harry knew they were all itching to ask him a thousand questions, but they
put on a show of a typical jovial Gryffindor supper to make him feel at
home, with no mention of the past few weeks. As the chatter carried on
around him, his eyes wandered instinctively to the Slytherin table, where
Malfoy, who looked absolutely beyond beautiful, was talking engagingly to
his crowd. Harry was suddenly aware that he himself looked awful, and
nobody other than Ron had said so, and he felt embarrassed to be seen by
Malfoy in that state. But Malfoy seemed to be able to sense this
insecurity, and looked up warmly at him, with the loveliest smile Harry had
ever seen him give anyone. The warmth of it rushed through both of them
again, and Harry felt that he could have sat there for ever basking in that
feeling until Hermione, seeing all as usual, flashed her own smile at Malfoy
and nudged Harry gently in the ribs, begging him to eat some more. The
meal ended eventually, and it had been wholly enjoyable for all.

But if Harry thought that all his problems would go away because he had
made up with Ron and the others, he was only partially right. Certainly he
ate a little more that night than he had recently, but he had no appetite for
anything like an ordinary meal. He saw the look of worry that flashed
between Ron and Hermione about this and was touched by it, but still he
didn't want the food. After the meal he spoke jokily to Seamus and Dean
while they were all gathering to go back to the common room, but he
watched out of the corner of his eye as Ron and Hermione had another
hurried conversation about something. Ron then ushered him out, and up
the stairs. When they were alone again in the dormitory, Ron spoke to
him seriously once more.

'Harry. I know it's early, and I know you'll think I'm fussing, but I'm asking
you to try and get some sleep. You're exhausted. I'll make sure the
dormitory is empty for a couple of hours and will keep everyone silent
when they go to bed. I am sure that time alone in your own bed with the
pressure taken away from you will at least get you some hours of slumber.
Will you try?'

Harry was grateful again, but he wasn't sure how effective these measures
would be. But Ron looked so worried, so concerned, that Harry just said,
'Yes, Ron, I will try. Thank you, I appreciate it.'

Harry didn't hear when shortly afterwards Ron gave instructions to this
effect outside the door to Neville, because, wonder of wonders, he did
actually fall immediately into a heavy sleep as soon as he had got into his
pyjamas. Ron looked back into the room to check Harry had got into bed,
and was pleased to see him already asleep. Excellent, he thought as he
rushed back down the stairs to find Hermione, who, if things had gone
according to plan, would have got hold of Malfoy for a quiet chat. Ron had
no desire for this forthcoming interview, but he didn't care, because Harry
was asleep upstairs, and Harry was his mate again.

                                    ***

Draco, Ron and Hermione stood in one of the empty classrooms on the
fourth floor, a part of the castle that was unlikely to be busy at that time
on a Saturday. True, they were all three of them in a room without any
outward signs of hostility, but there was a very long way to go, and nobody
was quite sure how to proceed.

The deadlock had been in place for a good ten minutes now, which
Hermione thought was a shame, as until that point it had all gone
swimmingly. As Ron had taken Harry upstairs to Gryffindor Tower,
Hermione had kept the rest of the crowd just outside the Hall, still
laughing and joking until the Slytherins left. As the two crowds had more
or less collided in the Entrance Hall, a slight (planned) skirmish broke out
between Seamus and Goyle, which Hermione used as a distraction to
stand next to Malfoy. Without even the Gryffindors noticing, Hermione
and Malfoy exchanged a few words. That is to say, Hermione whispered
'Charms classroom, 8pm tonight if you'd like to talk about a way out of this
mess,' and Malfoy nodded as he walked over to Goyle. Ron had come
bounding down the stairs shortly afterwards with the news that Harry was
already asleep with Neville as sentry, and then the group had retired to a
circle of chairs out of the way in the entrance hall to discuss a way forward
for the meeting with Malfoy, and had ended at about ten to eight with a
solid-sounding agenda. And then Ron and Hermione had gone up the
fourth floor, found Malfoy already waiting for them, and absolutely
nothing had happened since.

Eventually it was Hermione who broke the silence.

'Well, I think we all know why we are here.'

'Yes,' said Ron, encouragingly.

'Do we?' said Draco. 'Would you enlighten me then?'

'Why did you come, if you didn't know what we need to meet about?'
scowled Ron.

'Oh, curiosity of course,' sneered Draco. 'When a foxy unattached babe
like Granger gives me the eye at supper and whispers a secret rendezvous
in my ear shortly afterwards, how could I not be intrigued?'

'Shut up, Malfoy,' snarled Ron, 'don't talk about Hermione like that. You
have her to thank for our being here at all'

'Well, then thank you Granger, for this lovely little chat.'
'Quiet, both of you. This is not going to get us anywhere.' Hermione
thought for a while. 'I wasn't the only one catching people's eyes at
supper tonight, though, was I?'

'I am amazed you noticed anything at all at supper this evening, Granger,
what with the drama that was going on at your table, crying, hugging and
so forth.'

'OK, Malfoy, OK, we'll start there, seeing as you brought it up,' said
Hermione. 'Certainly, yes, this evening at supper was a rather emotional
occasion, and I am sure you know better than most why. After weeks of
very difficult times, Harry began to talk to us again. It was only natural
that we should be happy. And, of course, only natural that you should
have watched it happen.'

'So what's happened then?'' asked Draco, in a level voice. 'What happened
between his coming in from the snow and arriving at supper?'

'How do you know he was out in the snow this afternoon?' demanded Ron,
but Draco ignored him, and Hermione continued.

'There was a rather difficult scene, I gather,' said Hermione. 'Although I
wasn't actually there. You'll have to ask Ron.'

'OK Weasley, what happened?'

'None of your business,' snapped Ron. 'It was private between me and
Harry.'

'It doesn't matter actually,' said Draco casually. 'I know what happened.
Not the detail, but certainly the main thrust of it.'

'How do you know?' asked Ron. 'What happened then, O Omniscient
One?'

Draco paused. When he answered, his voice was quieter. 'There was
great hope, then a lot of tears and distress. Then happiness, in fact joy and
relief.'
'How do you know?' asked Hermione, gently.

'Because I...I felt it.'

The words hung in the air. A step had been achieved. Hermione looked
straight at Draco.

'So. We're getting somewhere. How long have you been able to sense
Harry's moods?'

'I'm not sure. At first I thought I was actually feeling that bad myself, and
then I gradually began to realise that what I was feeling was mixed up with
what Potter was feeling, and in fact his sadness was encouraging my own.'
Draco turned away slightly, embarrassed at having made such a personal
revelation.

'So Harry is genuinely happy now?' asked Ron. 'In your opinion?'

'No,' said Draco. Ron and Hermione looked sharply at him.

'No; right now, he is asleep.'

Draco sort of half grinned, and Ron and Hermione smiled too.

'But,' Draco continued, 'sorry to piss on your bonfire Weasley, but
although Potter certainly feels much happier now than he's recently been
used to, it's not real happiness. It's going to take more than a few tears
and a hug from you to put everything right.'

'Why do you insist on calling him Potter?' snapped Ron. 'He has a name,
you know.'

'My word, are you actually inviting me to address the great Harry Potter by
his first name? I'll call him what I like, Weasley; I'm in this mess, not you.'

'So you acknowledge there is a mess then?' said Hermione.

'Ha! Everybody in the school knows Potter's been the moodiest bastard
ever for ages now,' replied Draco.
'That's not what I asked,' said Hermione. 'Do you acknowledge that
Harry's condition is bound up with you?'

Draco dodged the question. 'So what is this, cards-on-the-table time?'

'Yes,' said Hermione, 'let's call it that. What do you know?'

'No way, Granger. You first. We both know that I am the one who is more
directly concerned here. The reason I came up here tonight is because I
want to hear what you know.'

Another pause. Ron stood close to Hermione as she began to speak.

'Essentially I - and for I read me, Ron and some of Harry's other close
friends - know three things. One, that in some cases, when two magical
people fall in love, their innate magic bonds to make the love deeper,
truer, more long-lasting, and that if such love is not acknowledged the
individuals will be destroyed by the conflict between innate magic and
psychological intent. Two, I know that fauns can detect such magical
bonding and when they do are compelled to react to it. But they do not
manufacture the love, or enhance it any way. It is already there. Three, I
know that the afternoon of Hagrid's lesson with the fauns, your faun,
Dixter, reacted to very strong chemistry between you and Harry. Very
strong indeed. The crimson cloud in all its glory. Red Alert, you might say.'

Draco was deathly silent. So was Ron, even though he had already heard
this from Hermione.

'They are things that I know. In addition to that of course there are the
things that I have worked out or have guessed. First, I suspect that neither
you nor Harry had any idea of this until that day. Until the fauns of course,
the emotional intensity between you burned as hatred instead. Second, it
is entirely possible that Harry still does not understand, in fact it would
make sense if he didn't, as it probably explains why he clammed up and
pushed us away. If that is the case he may still hate you at this very
minute, asleep or otherwise. Third, you know much more than Harry
does. You've read the books on fauns. Coming from a pureblood family
you will know about the Crimson Cloud. You were with Dixter yourself.
You agreed to this meeting tonight. I suspect you know as much as us,
maybe more. And if you dare throw this back in my face and strut off
without a care, I will make it my life's work to bring misery to you at every
turn. The only reason that Ron and I are here is because we love Harry,
and we know that he is going to need you if he is ever going to break out of
the depression he has sunk into.'

The silence was deafening. Draco shuffled his feet, and Hermione and Ron
stared at him, no idea what to expect.

'You have a fine mind, Granger. Logical, orderly, well informed.'

'Blimey,' said Ron. 'Was that a compliment?'

'Yes, I suppose it was,' sighed Draco. 'I didn't know all that, actually,
Granger. I hadn't pieced together as well as you the nature of mine and
Potter's history up until the lesson with the fauns. Also I didn't know
about the Crimson Cloud, and it didn't seem logical to me that Potter could
possibly be unaware of all this, but, you know him better than I do, and
well, he is rather stupid.'

'He is not stupid!' stormed Ron.

'Actually, Ron, in matters of emotional perception, he's as dense as they
come,' said Hermione.

Draco smiled. 'That is curiously good to hear. I thought, in fact I was
hoping, that I had imagined it all. I still would rather that it was all
imaginary of course, but at least it now makes sense, knowing that Potter
hasn't got a clue.'

'And he is not going to take this news well,' said Hermione.

'Hence this meeting,' said Ron.

'Hmmm,' said Draco. 'Now let me tell you a few things. You're good,
Granger, but you haven't got the full picture. You deal in facts and
intelligent guesswork well, but you may have misunderstood Potter's
feelings a bit here.'

He shuffled his feet again.

'Go on then,' said Hermione.

'If we go any further, I want some assurances from you two,' said Draco
sharply.

'What are they?' snapped Ron.

'Malfoy, listen,' said Hermione. 'We know. What we know privately would
be as harmful in the public arena to Harry as it would be to you. If you are
going to swear us to confidentiality, you insult us. But that is your way, of
course.'

'Actually I wasn't going to say that,' said Draco. 'Not exactly anyway. What
I mean is, this business with Potter, I haven't spoken about it to anyone.
Nobody at all. Stated simply, I don't have anyone to talk to on that level.
And even if I did, I'm not sure I'm the kind of guy who blabs about stuff like
this anyway. But you two, however, have had each other, and your
supporting cast of jolly chums from the Tower. Your ideas are formed and
have been voiced before, but I am going to try to talk about it for the first
time, and to two people I dislike as well. So, I am saying this is difficult for
me. What I want your word on, is that you won't ridicule, or mock, or
disregard anything that gets said now, between us three. It pains me to
say it, but I need your support. And in return you will get the truth.'

Ron opened his mouth but Hermione stopped him from talking by jumping
in quicker. 'We understand. It cannot have been easy for you to say that.'

'What do you mean, it cannot have been easy for him to say that he
dislikes us?' roared Ron.

'Well that bit was easy of course,' said Draco smirking. 'I do dislike you.
But stop sidetracking me. The second half of the assurance is the bit you
expected, although I'm not asking for confidentiality regarding the rest of
the school, the public arena as you call it; in fact I think the nature of this
business is bound to get out at some time. Too many people know
already, even if Potter isn't one of them himself. BUT. If, after this
meeting, when Slytherin v Gryffindor hostility is bound to recur, if you two
ever use against me something that I am going to tell you know, I will not
be held responsible for my actions.'

'Ooooh, scary,' said Ron.

'That attitude is exactly what I am talking about Weasley. Granger, can
you possibly lose your puerile sidekick and let us talk alone?'

'No,' said Hermione, forcefully. 'Ron stays. He is effectively Harry's family.
Get used to him. I have.'

'Thank you for that unusual vote of confidence, Hermione,' said Ron,
oddly. 'If that's what it was.'

'It's difficult to be sincere with his moronic interruptions,' insisted Draco,
looking straight at Hermione and trying to ignore the face Ron was pulling
at him.

'If Ron finds it hard to take you seriously it is no surprise. He has had to
overcome years of ill-feeling to be here tonight. As have I.'

'As have I,' emphasised Draco firmly. 'Before we go on, if we ever do get
past the bickering, I want to make one thing very clear. You called me here
to this meeting. I came, because I assumed correctly what you wanted to
talk about. To me it is no laughing matter. It has been fucking intolerable
living with this, and I understand it; God knows what it's been like for
Potter. But I did have a strategy of dealing with this, and I still do. I do not
need to be here. I would like to be here, to hear what you have to say, and
to talk about it. But I do not need to be here. And, understand this, you
two: this is between Potter and me. Exclusively. As far as I'm concerned,
you two are bystanders. And any more fucking pratting about from you,
Weasley, and I'm out the door; and I'll pick up the pieces of Potter's agony
on my own.'
His voice echoed round the classroom. And then there was silence.
Hermione spoke next.

'OK. You have made yourself very clear. But now I want to say something.
I am not being deliberately confrontational here, but it needs to be said. I
accept that we are not important to you. But remember that Harry is
important to us. Right now that is a source of antagonism. But in the
future it may be that we all have to get along, so let's try and drop the
antagonism now, for your sake, and for ours, and of course for Harry's. Do
we have the means to go forward now?'

'Yes,' said Ron.

'I suppose, yes,' said Draco.

'Good. Now you said we may have misunderstood Harry's feelings a bit.
Carry on. We won't interrupt.'

'Right. OK. Yes.' Draco was flustered. Now it came down to it, it was
immensely hard to voice his feelings. 'Right. Well, I said that you were
good at facts, Granger, but not so accurate on emotions. And you've
definitely grasped most of it the same as me. But I think you might be over
exaggerating Potter's feelings a bit. What you've got to remember, and
that I think you have both sort of overlooked, is that this is, erm, well...it's
love. Which, in itself, is not a crisis. It may have dramatic knock-on effects,
like total uproar in the school when it leaks out, but it's not the crisis itself.
Ever since the day of the fauns, when I forced myself to come to terms
with some really awful crap, I haven't felt the same about Potter. I don't
hate him any more, I can't hate him, and I don't want to. Hating him now
is like hating myself.'

He paused.

'Sorry, it's not coming out in the right order. I've never tried to explain it
before, even to myself.'

'Hey, you're doing fine. Just go on however it occurs to you,' said
Hermione.
Ron said nothing.

No, thought Draco suddenly. No, no, no. This is wrong. What can they
possibly understand, this pair of nobody Gryffindors? What on earth am I
doing here, divulging the most intimate secrets I possess to Granger and
Weasley?

'I'm sorry,' he said abruptly. 'I can't do this. Or rather I won't. There is
only one person I want to tell this to, and he's asleep. And anyway he and
I are nowhere near ready for this conversation yet, and it feels horribly
wrong talking to you. I know you are only here out of concern for him,
but, for the same reason, I can't tell you what I feel before I've told Potter
himself.'

Hermione was about to say something when he brought the meeting
unequivocally to an end.

'Good night,' he said, as he turned and exited the classroom.

Hermione and Ron looked at other.

'Oh great!' said Ron. 'All that fuss and absolutely nothing achieved.'

Hermione was more thoughtful. 'I wouldn't be so sure. We learned two
very important things: one, he is human; two, he cares for Harry. I don't
think we could have hoped for much more to be honest.'

'Yeah, I suppose. It's just feels frustrating though.'

'Well that's you all over, Ron. You want everything sorted instantly. Have
you already forgotten that only a couple of hours ago you and Harry were
still not talking? Overall, it's been a bloody good day. Come on, lets go
and find the others.'
                              CHAPTER EIGHT

                                      ~

                        THE BATTLE OF HOGWARTS

Suddenly he was awake.

There was no gradual, gentle coming to, just an abrupt bursting into
instant consciousness. His eyes pinged open.

'Tempus,' he whispered.

The Snitch-clock informed him politely that it was just after 2am. Wow, he
thought. OK, it was early, very early, practically a late night rather than an
early morning; but that meant he had slept for at least six hours, maybe six
and a half. He had not slept that long since the beginning of term.

He'd fallen asleep so quickly that he hadn't unfastened the drapes around
his bed, and now, with the room faintly illuminated by the dying embers of
the fire, he could see that of the other four beds, only three were
occupied. Ron's was empty. Instinctively, he was worried, but two
seconds later he saw that there was no need: Ron was asleep in the deep
armchair next to Harry's bed, in his pyjamas and wrapped in a blanket.
Harry was touched. How ever could he have pushed Ron away for all that
time? He got out of bed and shook Ron on the shoulder.

'Ron,' he murmured. 'Get into bed. I'm not going to run away.'

But there was absolutely no response: Ron, true to form, was in a deep
sleep. Harry groped for his glasses and wand, muttered mobilicorpus, and
manoeuvred Ron into his own bed, pulling the covers over him. And even
before he had seen Ron settled, and despite what he had only seconds
before whispered to his sleeping friend, he knew what he was going to do.
There was a strong, irresistible pull in his chest, and Harry dressed swiftly
in his warmest winter clothes and left the dormitory.
As he sneaked through the castle shortly afterwards, he felt some of the
thrill of nocturnal wandering that had been missing for weeks, and he was
particularly careful about avoiding Filch, Mrs Norris, Peeves and anybody
else who might have been prowling the corridors. He had made it to as far
as the entrance hall when he saw something move in the shadows. The
silent form of a sleek tabby cat darted out from a side room and positioned
itself between Harry and the main door out of the castle into the grounds.
Harry stopped and contemplated the animal.

'Hello,' he said softly. 'Have you been outside? I wonder if it's cold. I
expect it's lovely with the moonlight on the snow.'

'I wouldn't know,' said Professor McGonagall, who stood before him in the
exact spot where the cat had been only half a second before. 'I haven't
been outside.'

'Oh shit,' muttered Harry under his breath.

Typical; the one night he was actually bothered about getting caught, and
he walked straight into the Deputy Headmistress. But if trouble was
coming, it certainly wasn't immediately obvious. McGonagall was looking
at him in her slightly-less-than-harsh face.

'Harry,' she said, with genuine concern, 'how are you feeling?'

'Er, I'm fine thank you, Professor,' he replied uncertainly.

There was a little pause in which Harry wondered if he should say
something else, but then she spoke again.

'It's late, Potter. And even though I haven't been outside, I am sure it is
freezing. You have one hour. If you're not back in bed within that time,
there will be a hefty point deduction and a detention. And don't think
because you haven't seen me means I won't know where you are. I can
get round this castle more stealthily than you.'
Harry was certain he saw a glimmer of a smile cross her face, but couldn't
be sure because at that moment McGonagall suddenly purred loudly and
slunk away back into the shadows.

Well, thought Harry. Curiouser and curiouser.

Out in the grounds, with only an hour's grace, Harry knew there was not
time to go over to his favourite spot by the lake. So, instead he made for
the rose garden where he and Ron had overheard Hagrid talking to
Madame Maxime nearly a year ago at the Yule Ball.

It was amazingly beautiful in the icy air. The snow crunched underfoot and
as his cloak brushed past one of the frozen rose bushes a shower of
petrified leaves scattered themselves over the path around him. The
image of frosted green on white was captivating, alluring, like the cold
depths of the lake, and Harry stared at the leaves for some minutes. And
when he finally dragged his eyes away, he noticed that there was another
scattering of leaves slightly further up the path, like somebody had
disturbed another of the bushes in front of him. Suddenly he knew that he
was not alone. He looked up and around the garden, and even before he
saw him he felt his presence. A figure in a heavy black cloak was sitting on
the stone bench about twenty yards in front of him, his white blond hair
gleaming in the moonlight. It was too dark to see if he were smiling or not,
but Harry could sense that he was.

'Hello Malfoy,' said Harry as he sat down next to him.

'Hello Potter. I was hoping you would come.'

They sat in silence for a little while. Maybe a minute, maybe fifteen, Harry
couldn't tell. Then Malfoy spoke again.

'It's as nice here as out by the lake, don't you think?'

'Yes. And different. The lake has a great beauty at night, but this garden
does too. Funny, I wasn't going to come here at all actually, but I am glad I
did now.'
'What made you change your mind?'

'To be honest, it was Professor McGonagall. She's given me a one hour
curfew. Not enough time to go to the lake and be able to sit for a while.'

'That's odd; she said something similar to me. She must be feeling
generous tonight.'

They both smiled.

'She's not a bad person you know,' Harry offered. 'Not as bad as you
probably think.'

'I'm beginning to discover that,' Draco muttered, rummaging in his cloak.
'Do you want another cigarette, Potter?'

'Yes, please. Although, I don't think I could actually be more relaxed than I
am now. It's so peaceful here, with the rest of the castle asleep.'

There was the smallest of laughs from Draco.

'Potter,' he coughed, as he lit a cigarette and passed it to Harry, 'don't kid
yourself that we are the only ones awake. It's a Saturday night. I expect
the Astronomy Tower is very busy, considering the weather!'

'You're probably right. But if that's true I'm glad there's nobody else out
here.'

They sat and smoked for a while. Harry began to feel lightheaded again.

'Whoa,' he moaned, feeling suddenly very dizzy, and he dropped his
cigarette into the snow, 'Malfoy, I feel...oh shit!'

'What?' Draco, and even though Harry felt like he was about to pass out,
he could still sense concern in Draco's voice.

'I think I ought to stop, I feel rather...dizzy,' and at that Harry began to
slump forward.
Quick as lightening Draco threw his own cigarette away and used his arm
to steady Harry next to him. It wasn't until about a minute later that
Harry realised his head was against Draco's neck and Draco had his arm
around him. Harry didn't move though, he didn't want to.

'OK now?' asked Draco, gently.

'Yes, thanks. Fine,' replied Harry.

Draco could feel Harry's cold breath against his neck. He felt himself
shudder slightly at the intimacy of their situation. Neither of them made
any move though.

'Filthy things. Still, they were the last two,' said Draco. 'And I have no idea
where you buy them from, so I guess that's my career as a smoker over.'

Reluctantly Harry felt he ought to move. He shifted slightly and Draco
removed his arm.

'I don't think I want any more either. Perhaps...' mused Harry, the words
slipping out before he had a chance to check them, 'we don't need
cigarettes to enjoy sitting here together.'

'I'm sure you're right,' whispered Draco, so softly that Harry felt the words
in his head as much as heard them.

The stillness of the night was intoxicating. The only movement was the
slight rise and fall of the boys' chests and the visible clouds of their breath
settling gently on the crystallised roses.

'Malfoy,' wondered Harry aloud, his heart in his mouth, 'what's
happening?'

'We're sitting here in the snow.'

'No, I meant...'

'I know what you meant, but...I was scared of answering. I don't know,
but, I know that I feel more peaceful now than I have ever been.'
'I feel that too,' confirmed Harry. 'Ever since we met by the lake this
afternoon, I feel...different. I made up with Ron, I even managed to sleep.'

'I know.'

'Really? How?'

'I...er, felt it. I felt you were asleep.'

Harry felt the extraordinary peace envelop him further as Draco's words
seemed to turn on the night air in front of him long after he had uttered
them.

'Malfoy,' he whispered, 'I think...I think I came to the rose garden because I
felt you were here.'

Draco's reply seemed to bypass regular speech and form right inside
Harry's inner being: 'I don't think it's anything to be scared of. At least, I
hope not. It would be a shame if we ran away from this because we don't
understand it.'

Harry's eyes closed in some kind of breathless relief. Every thought, every
sensation that he was having, Malfoy seemed to understand. And Harry
thought that he could sense Malfoy's thoughts inside his own head. He
opened his eyes again, and gasped slightly. He and Malfoy were holding
hands, and Harry had no memory of when, or how, this had come about.

Draco felt Harry's surprise, mingled with his own, but neither boy removed
their hand. They sat there for many more minutes, so still that to a
passerby they could have been two more statues nestling among the
frozen flowers.

Harry stirred first. 'Malfoy,' he declared, not knowing whether he was
speaking or thinking, 'you're cold. I can feel it.'

'Yes,' Draco agreed. 'So are you. We should go in. If you like, we could
come back tomorrow.'

'I would like that, very much.'
Harry felt Draco squeeze his hand slightly. And then, as they were both
about to stand - Harry could feel them both being about to stand - Draco
leaned over to him, and in one movement that lasted only half a second
and yet an entire lifetime, he delicately brushed his lips over Harry's,
exerting the slightest, most delicious pressure, like the faintest breath of a
winter breeze. Draco tasted of cold night air, of fresh-fallen snow, of
frozen roses; but there was nothing cold about the feeling that flooded
through Harry's body. Right from his fingertips to his toes the chill of the
still winter night was magically transformed into a sparkling, golden
tenderness, cloaking them both in the inner warmth of the other. The
almost unbearable exquisiteness of it faded gently until the glittering,
silvery iciness of the garden was restored.

'I...I'm sorry', stuttered Draco, 'I shouldn't have done that...'

'Shhhh,' soothed Harry gently. He squeezed Draco's hand.

The peace rolled over them again, and they could have sat there until
morning, neither wanting to break the spell, but a slight movement at the
other end of the garden disturbed them. A cat had appeared at the end of
the path leading back to the castle.

'I think,' Harry said softly, 'that our curfew is over. We should go back
inside.'

They both rose reluctantly and walked past the cat and up the steps to the
main door of the castle. The cat followed them in and brushed past both
their legs, before darting off again.

Draco and Harry stood in the darkness at the foot of the main staircase.

'Well, good night, Malfoy,' said Harry. 'I hope we will be able to meet
again tomorrow.'

'Yes. Good night, Potter.' Draco smiled, and stood and watched Harry
ascend the stairs, remaining motionless until Harry was finally out of view.
Slowly he turned away and made off for Slytherin House.
Professor McGonagall, human once again, stood in the shadows, moved by
what she had witnessed. She remained thoughtful for a little while, then
made her own way over to the stairs. Might as well have a clear out of the
Astronomy Tower while I'm up, she thought.

                                    ***

At shortly after 9am the following morning, Sunday, the castle was mainly
at rest. On Sundays, breakfast was a casual affair, with bacon and eggs for
those that wanted it from about 8:30 onwards, and tea and toast available
right up until noon for those who preferred to sleep in. Professor
Dumbledore actively encouraged his students to sleep late on Sundays,
and as he breakfasted alone at the staff table that morning, there were
perhaps just a dozen students in all dotted around the four tables.
Correction, three tables: the Gryffindor table was completely empty. But
even though attendance at breakfast was sparse, by no means all of our
main players were asleep.

In fact, only Ron was actually asleep, indeed in the same unbroken sleep
he had been in when Harry had put him to bed the night before.
Hermione and Ginny were talking quietly in the common room in their
dressing gowns and slippers, and in the boy's dormitory, Dean was reading
in bed, Neville was working on a Herbology project, and Seamus was
dozing, hoping he might drop back into sleep for an hour or so. Harry lay,
totally still, looking at the ceiling, practically unmoved since he got back
from the rose garden the night before. His mind was both empty and
overfull, as the events of the night before left no room for any other
thoughts whatsoever. Malfoy had kissed him. That was going to take a lot
of getting used to, but, he really wanted to get used to it. There were a
thousand thoughts connected with that same issue that ought to make
him regret what had happened, even be repulsed by it. This was Malfoy.
His father was a Death Eater, who might even have had a direct hand in
the deaths of his own parents. So why did he still want to see Malfoy
again, hold his hand again, even kiss him again? Harry also knew that -
elsewhere in the castle, at least half a dozen floors below - Malfoy was also
awake: he had slept heavily for three or four hours when he had
eventually got to bed, a couple of hours after Harry, as he had sat up in
bed pondering what had happened in exactly the same way that Harry was
now. Then he had slept, and, Harry knew, had woken about half an hour
before. He was still pretty groggy, Harry could sense; and he decided
Malfoy was unlikely to go to breakfast. So he saw no need to go himself.

                                     ***

To be honest Draco was more than groggy. The heaviness of the sleep he
had eventually drifted into the night before had left him feeling exhausted,
even slightly hung over, and his head was as confused as Harry's. When he
was feeling 'rational' he was just about still capable of dismissing this thing
with Potter as a silly infatuation. But, thought Draco, unerringly clearly
despite his emotional hangover, I haven't felt 'rational' for about ten days.
Before that, there had been maybe only three other such moments since
the day of the fauns. So which was rational, the 2% of his thoughts, or the
98%? He had to face it. He was in love with Potter, he had been in love
with him for some time, and he never wanted not to be in love with him
again.

But what right did he have to expect Potter ever to feel the same way?
There was simply too much bad blood to be overcome. There were too
many things he had said, plotted and schemed, too many times he had
insulted, deceived and betrayed. He was going to have to work very hard
at convincing Potter, but he wanted to start. Even if it takes a hundred
years, thought Draco, I'm going to have to try. We can't just carry on
talking about nothing, slipping easily into something that is not built on
solid foundations. Last night had been beautiful, the kiss had been
exquisite, but surely they had miles to travel before they could kiss again
and for it to be the beginning of something real, rather than a magic,
timeless moment in the snow? Shit, thought Draco, I want to see him.
Now. I know he is awake. Perhaps if I just went to the rose garden, Potter
would follow, the way he had done the night before? No. Not yet. God, he
was tired. Why couldn't he sleep? A few fitful hours grabbed here and
there between hours and hours spent trailing Potter round the grounds
had not been enough, not nearly enough. He slumped back into the
covers, willing sleep to come, almost at any cost.

                                     ***

A sleek tabby was at that very moment nosing around the Shrieking Shack,
wondering if she were too early. Her instructions had hardly been specific,
and she had thought it best to get there in good time in case there were
any mishaps. One of the problems with being a cat was that even though
she had the full mental capacity of an able Scottish witch, her concept of
time did tend to drift. She had no idea whether she had been there one
hour or two, as cats tended to judge time by how hungry they got and
when they last slept. The weather seemed to affect the speed of the
passing time as well, and when it was as cold as it was that Sunday
morning, it seemed to drag more slowly than humans could perceive. Still,
this was an important mission.

Another thing about being a cat when you were more used to being
human was that the urge to stalk and chase small vermin was often
irresistible. And for the last ten minutes (as far as she could judge) there
had a been a vole or something snuffling around in the snow under some
bushes about twenty yards away, and she had tried her best to ignore it.
But as she eyed the small creature with deadly intent, her muscles tensed
into stalk mode, and she took a couple of noiseless steps towards it, then
stopped and surveyed the surroundings. Cats have far more heightened
senses than humans, and even though her attention was totally on the
vole, she was suddenly aware of a huge, blundering, careless presence
behind her. She turned round, and a great shaggy black dog was exiting
the Shack. Despite the fact that this was whom she had come to meet, she
couldn't help but feel rather irritated at the interruption.

The dog and cat approached each other warily, but when they were right
up close, touched noses. Communication was problematic when you were
a cat too. She had no problem understanding, even conversing on a
limited basis with other cats, but dogs were a closed book to her. Still, this
was no ordinary dog, and she was no ordinary cat. After a couple of
minutes of snuffly inspection to make sure they really were both who they
thought they were, the cat set off with the dog trotting behind at a jaunty
pace. The cat's instructions were to take the dog into the castle
unobserved, and her route was worked out with exact feline precision to
avoid all possible human contact. If any of the inhabitants of Hogsmeade
noticed this odd couple traipsing through the village that Sunday morning,
it is thankfully irrelevant to our story.

                                     ***

There was a certain amount of ill-feeling in Professor Dumbledore's office
that Sunday morning. The case conference that he had called the day
before had not got off to a good start, frankly because Snape and Sirius
were bickering as incessantly and as nastily as Harry and Draco used to do.
First there had been the problem of who sat where, which had only been
resolved by Madam Pomfrey swapping places with Snape. Then there had
been the difficulty of Snape and Sirius not ever actually addressing each
other directly, but always doing so through Dumbledore. But if the great
man was irritated by this, he did not show it.

'Tea!' he cried happily, as a minor distraction. A sharp whip of his wand
produced not just a tray of tea and other breakfast type foods, but a small
table for the tray to sit on as well. McGonagall smiled at this little show of
magic. Nobody did this kind of effortless conjuring as well as Dumbledore.
Madam Pomfrey was not at all thrilled though, and made her views clear.

'Headmaster,' she said curtly, 'could we possibly get down to business? I
have three patients in the hospital wing, and I have been here fifteen
minutes now, still without any idea of why we are all here.'

'Right, yes, good point Poppy,' beamed Dumbledore. 'Minerva, would
you...?'

'Ahem,' coughed McGonagall, clearing her throat in exactly the same way
as she would if she were silencing an unruly class. Not that her classes
were unruly. Ever.
'To business. The Headmaster has assembled this particular group of
concerned parties because of a grave situation facing two of our
students.' She stopped, thinking. The truth was that since she had
witnessed the immense tenderness between the two boys the previous
night, she couldn't help thinking that this meeting was now largely
irrelevant. Oh well, on with it.

'The Crimson Cloud is hovering above Hogwarts at this very moment.
Ordinarily this would be a cause for celebration. It may still be. But the
two concerned, as we all know, are not at all amenable to the idea. At
least, they weren't yesterday anyway.'

'What on earth are you talking about, Minerva?' asked Madam Pomfrey
impatiently. 'Why are we here discussing teenage love lives? Headmaster,
I really do have more important things to attend to.'

'You certainly do Poppy,' confirmed Dumbledore, still smiling, 'because the
two concerned are both ill as a result of these circumstances. However
well they disguise it, both have appalling insomnia, and at least one has
acute depression and is positively malnourished. Very shortly I shall be
turning them over to your care for an indefinite period. During which, if
possible, you will try to restore a regular sleep pattern, build up appetites
again, and use your unmatched skills to banish the darkness from their
hearts. Because it is of the gravest importance that this couple are fit and
well and in full control of their abilities considering the current bleak state
of affairs beyond these walls.'

Madam Pomfrey looked immediately serious. 'Very well. Who are we
talking about?'

'Draco Malfoy,' snarled Sirius, as if the name were poison on his tongue.

'And Harry Potter,' sneered Snape, with equal distaste.

'Oh,' sighed Madam Pomfrey. 'Oh, indeed. The Crimson Cloud, you say?
How unfortunate.'
'No, not unfortunate at all,' said Dumbledore, still smiling. 'It's a joy. And I
sense that the two concerned are beginning to be reconciled to the idea
themselves, which is of course something to be encouraged at all turns.
But there's a long way to go, and for a way forward now, Poppy, I need you
to take them away from the rest of the school and provide them with an
environment where their physical and mental ills can be cured. And
where, of course, they can be together without distraction. Please place
them in the small side ward and make sure their visitors amount to no
more than half an hour a day, and nothing at all for the first week.'

'Headmaster, are you suggesting that I make my sanitarium into some kind
of love shack?'

'Good Heavens no. Two beds will be supplied, Poppy. I do not say these
things lightly. Potter in particular is dangerously ill, which is the real
reason we are here today.'

'What is it, Albus?' said Sirius. 'What has happened?'

Dumbledore's words became slower.

'The latest owl from the Ministry indicates that Harry may well be needed
sooner rather than later for...for, well we all know what for. Naturally I
will do all I can to shield him from any danger as long as possible, but none
of us can deny that he may well still have a crucial role to play. All of us
know that Harry in his current unstable state is highly vulnerable, but
happy and secure and drawing on the innate magic of both him and Draco,
his strength in any unthinkable situation would be greatly increased. It is
therefore in all our interests, most especially Harry's, if this matter is dealt
with immediately, for who knows how long it may take for the two of them
to become sufficiently comfortable to exist together without rancour.
Hence, the need for action. Sirius will be remaining in the castle incognito
for the immediate future. Poppy, please make your preparations and
expect both the boys before lunch today, and I will call by each day in the
evening for a report.'
Madam Pomfrey took this as her cue to leave. 'Certainly, Headmaster. I
understand.' She stood up. 'But I beg you to try and limit interest in the
hospital wing. Curiosity in the school at large is bound to mount swiftly. I
don't want it turned into a circus.'

'You have my word, Poppy,' Dumbledore replied, his face serious. 'Poppy,
on your way back to the hospital wing, I would be grateful if you could you
please seek out the head boy and girl and ask them to see me at their
earliest convenience.'

'Very well. I will expect you this evening,' Madam Pomfrey concluded. She
exited the room.

'Right,' said Dumbledore to the remaining members of the group.
'Another cup of tea, and then we have a lot to talk about. Fudge's latest
memo reads as follows...'

                                    ***

The Gryffindors were all in the common room just before noon that
Sunday, and excitement was mounting. A challenge to a mighty inter-
House snowball fight had been received by owl about half an hour before,
and the twins were marshalling their troops to the task. Practically the
whole House was assembled in the common room, all dressed in cloaks
and scarves and gloves. Fred was announcing strategies in snow warfare
to the junior years and George was ticking names off a list. But just as the
vast majority of Gryffindor House was about to pass out through the
portrait hole, the picture swung wide, and the Head Girl entered, obviously
bypassing that week's password with her own prefects' version which
seemed to override all others.

Emily de Souza was a ravishing Hufflepuff honey with flowing black hair
and a smile that could turn stone to jelly. She was clever and genuine with
a whiff of European aristocracy about her, the latest in a long line of
pureblood de Souzas who had been coming to Hogwarts for about eight
hundred years. But most of the school acknowledged she had not been
made Head Girl because of her breeding. She was simply one of the best-
respected and nicest people in the whole school.

'Good morning Gryffindor House!' she cried as she stepped into the
common room. All were silent more or less immediately. Normally an
intrusion by an outsider into the common room would not be viewed with
any delight, but normally such intrusions didn't come from Emily de
Souza. They waited expectantly for her to carry on.

'Please excuse my presence here in your lovely common room, but I bring
news of the arrangements for this afternoon's battles. At noon at the foot
of the castle steps the Gryffindor v Ravenclaw snowball challenge will
begin. It will last for no more than twenty minutes, and a panel of
independent judges situated nearby will assess your performance. The
panel will consist of Professors Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, Sprout
and Flitwick, together with Andy Johnson, the Head Boy, and myself. You
will be given marks for accuracy of targeting and effective blocking, as well
as for any whole-House manoeuvres or strategies that are spotted by the
panel. Madam Hooch will referee, she will be on her broom, but no
brooms are allowed for the competitors. If she touches you on the
shoulder, you have been penalised and should leave the pitch quickly. All
competitors are required to wear a house scarf as identification. At 12:30
Hufflepuff v Slytherin will commence on fresh snow in the Care of Magical
Creatures paddock. You are of course welcome to be spectators. At 1pm
the winners of the two semi-finals as judged by the panel will contest the
final on the Quidditch pitch. At 1:30 Professor Dumbledore will announce
the winner and the whole school will be treated to a large lunch feast in
the Great Hall. The winning House will receive one hundred House
points. Good luck Gryffindor, and may the best House win!'

There was a huge cheer, and the level of excitement was now rising
sharply. There was indeed so much anticipation of this surprise event that
only Ron and Hermione noticed that immediately after finishing her
announcement, Emily de Souza sought Harry out and spoke to him in a
hurried whisper for about three seconds. He nodded to her and then
turned back to the stairs. Ron followed him.
'What was all that about, Harry?' asked Ron as the rest of the House filed
out singing a Gryffindor battle song, hastily composed by the twins.

'Dunno. She said Dumbledore wants to see me in his office right away. I
was just going to take my cloak and stuff off. Go and give them hell Ron,
and I'll hopefully be back for the final, which of course we will be in right?
Hopefully against Slytherin too!' he grinned.

'You bet, Harry,' smiled Ron. 'See you shortly.'

                                       ***

At that very moment, the Head Boy had just finished making the same
announcement to Slytherin House, who were feeling as competitive as the
Gryffindors. And exactly as Emily had done to Harry, Andy Johnson
collared Draco and gave him the same instruction to go to see Dumbledore
at once. Draco was secretly quite relieved. Although he lacked no
competitiveness, he really didn't want to go jogging round in the freezing
snow taking hits from the Hufflepuffs in the name of house honour.
Blimey, his hair might get messed up. Nobody noticed as Draco didn't
follow the rest of house outside, but made off for Dumbledore's office
instead.

And as he turned the corner to where to stone gargoyle which indicated
the secret entrance to the Headmaster's study was situated, his face
cracked into a smile, because Potter was waiting there too.

'Hello, Potter,' he said.

'Hello, Malfoy,' came Harry's reply.

'What do you think we've done?' smiled Draco.

'No idea. Unless, well, we were out of bounds in the middle of the night in
the rose garden.' Harry blushed as he said it.

'You don't think McGonagall told him?' asked Draco.
'I wouldn't have thought so,' Harry pondered. 'I've really no idea what this
is all about.'

At that moment the familiar stone grinding came from the gargoyle and
the secret door opened. Dumbledore stood there, beaming.

'Ah! Mr Potter and Mr Malfoy, exactly on time, excellent, excellent,' he
began, eyes twinkling a little. 'Do come on in.'

The boys followed him up the moving staircase until they appeared in the
beautiful circular room that was the Headmaster's office.

'Sirius!' exclaimed Harry, and without even thinking, ran over to his
godfather who smothered him in a big bear hug.

'How're you feeling, Harry?' murmured Sirius as they parted.

'Good, Sirius, honestly; I feel better. I managed to sleep a bit last night.'

Sirius smiled. 'That is good news, Harry, you certainly look a little happier
this mor--'

'If we could possibly get this over with,' interrupted Snape, with the look of
utmost contempt on his face.

'Yes, yes sorry to rush you all, but I have a snowball thingy to be at very
shortly,' Dumbledore countered, beaming wider than ever. 'Take a seat
please, Harry, Draco.'

Harry sat next to Sirius on one side of the room, and Draco reluctantly sat
next to Snape on the other. Suddenly Harry had a horrible feeling of
foreboding.

'You will have as long as you like to ask questions about what I am about to
say, but not now. I will happily speak to you both at length this evening, if
you should want to. But for now I want you just to listen and do as I ask.'

Harry and Draco caught each other's eyes. What on earth was going on
here?
'Harry, Draco, this may come as a shock to you, but I suspect, not as much
as a shock as it could have been some weeks ago. The nature of your er,
predicament, has not gone unnoticed by me, and I have been distressed by
the acute lack of sleep you have both been experiencing. You may put on
brave faces now, here in this room, but I know if either of you denied there
were a problem you would both be deceiving yourselves, so I have decided
to take action, for reasons which I will explain at some future date,
presently unknown.'

Draco and Harry maintained eye contact at this unexpected turn of events.

'You will each go back to your Houses and pack a bag that will enable you
to stay in the Hospital Wing for an indefinite period. When you have done
that, you will go and report to Madam Pomfrey who will have further
instructions for you. Neither of you will be missed until this evening at the
earliest, by which time you will have been completely removed from all
the day-to-day stresses of the school. There will be no lessons or any
other school activities for either of you for the time being. I will call on you
this evening after supper.'

Removed from the school? wondered Harry. He could feel the same
bewilderment in Draco's head.

'Harry, Sirius will be remaining close by for a little while but I warn you I
am not going to allow an endless stream of visitors. Draco, Professor
Snape and I have decided, after much careful thought, that we will not be
notifying your parents of this action. Should you wish to owl them of
course, that is your right, and I will be only too happy to explain my
decision to them.'

It came so fast, that Harry didn't know what to make of it. Draco was
equally nonplussed. Dumbledore saw their confusion, and continued
more gently.

'Severus,' he requested, 'would you mind going and telling Madam Hooch
to start the contest without me? And please tell Minerva and the judging
panel I shall be with them in a few minutes.'
Snape looked livid at having been excluded from any further discussion,
but nodded curtly and left. Dumbledore carried on.

'Sirius, I suggest while the castle is empty you make your way to the room I
have made available for you. You will be allowed to see Harry this
evening, and I will want to speak to you again after lunch today.'

Sirius nodded, smiling. He knew that Dumbledore wanted a little time
with the boys alone.

'Sure, Albus,' he replied, and squeezing Harry's shoulder, he left.

The remaining three looked at each other. 'Professor...' began Draco, but
Dumbledore shushed him.

'Harry, Draco. You will think I am interfering. You'll think I have no right to
take the actions I have. And in some ways you are right. I have put off
meddling in this matter from the very beginning, but I now have serious
and weighty reasons for taking these steps.'

He softened further and spoke gentler. 'But my reasons are not only
serious or weighty. They are also because I am worried about you. You
need to sleep again, and you need to get stronger and feel happier. And
above all, you need to talk, probably for hours and hours, maybe longer.'

Then his eyes twinkled a little, and he said, 'And it will be easier and more
comfortable to talk in the warm than roaming the grounds in the middle of
the night.'

He looked thoughtful again, as he held what looked to Harry and Draco like
a small glass sphere, he looked hard into its depths, and then he
continued, 'So. Try not to look upon this as an imposition, although I am
certain it will sometimes feel like one.'

Harry and Draco wondered if this was the end but after another little while
he suddenly said, 'and above all, don't be scared. You are standing on the
edge of a wonderful thing.'
That definitely was the end. Draco looked at Harry, who was sort of
smiling.

'Professor,' wondered Harry, 'did you think up this snowball thing to give
us a chance to get out of our Houses without having to answer any
questions?'

'Now, Harry,' beamed the Headmaster again, 'would I do a thing like that?'

                                    ***

Ron and Hermione missed Harry much earlier than the evening of course.
Ron was looking round for him as they smashed Ravenclaw into oblivion,
and couldn't concentrate on the Hufflepuff v Slytherin fixture because he
was looking constantly at the castle door to see when Harry arrived. By
the final, which was indeed Gryffindor v Slytherin, Ron was getting edgy,
and couldn't get into the match at first.

'Where is he?' he moaned to Hermione. 'He won't want to miss this.'

'I don't kno--,' Hermione began, but then screamed, 'Ron, watch out!'

A forward wing of Slytherin snowballers came in a wave towards them and
suddenly the battle was on at a furious pace. Hermione veered off to
Ron's left with a terrific enthusiasm for combat, yelling obscenities that
Ron found quite scary. She was frenzied in her efforts, at the same time as
being more or less unable to control her laughing. Right in the thick of it,
at the head of the Gryffindor attack formation, Fred and George were
frantically screaming instructions at the troops behind them as, to be
honest, absolute mayhem broke out around them. The melee split into
several smaller battles and Hermione, Ginny and a group of fourth year
boys were swiftly overpowering a cohort of furious Slytherins who found
their retreat blocked by Fred and the Gryffindor seventh year girls, headed
by Alicia Spinnet, who looked frankly terrifying. At that moment Ron
found that he, Seamus and some third year boys were totally surrounded
by some leering Slytherin senior girls and, fearing the worst, he heard
Seamus bellow an Irish battle cry that practically froze the blood of all
those around him.

In an effort to sabotage this Slytherin ambush, George counter-attacked
from the rear with Lavender, who was displaying remarkable accuracy, and
Parvati, who had given up on technique and was just blindly kicking snow
in all directions, but screaming like a banshee in the process. But it was
Hermione - at least as much as the twins - who was the driving force of the
Gryffindor team that day. She was utterly committed to victory and, being
both bossy and determined, had gained control with her band of guerrillas
of practically half of the field, and after about fifteen minutes had
managed to hem in a big chunk of Slytherin House against the goal posts.
She had by no means the best throwing arm, but, the twins conceded
afterwards, she had more than made up for it. Ron was amazed at her. It
was like he was seeing her in a new light.

It was, quite truthfully, absolutely the most fun any of them had had for
ages. Madam Hooch swerved around above them all, but made no
disqualifications as it was impossible to see more than a fraction of the
action at any one time, but she did award Gryffindor ten penalty points
against Goyle, who had simply grabbed Dennis Creevey, held him off the
ground and stuffed snow down the back of his cloak. The Gryffindors
roared their approval and the match would probably have turned (even
more) nasty, but shortly afterwards Madam Hooch blew her whistle in a
shrill blast that brought the combat to a close.

All eyes turned to Dumbledore, who was conferring with the judges in the
top box of the Quidditch stand. His magically amplified voice rang out over
the pitch.

'Students of Hogwarts!' he boomed.

There was a mighty roar.

'The judges are completing their final tally of points in conference with the
referee', he continued. 'Very soon we will know the winning House, who
will receive one hundred House points!'
More cheering.

'After the winners have been announced, you will have fifteen minutes to
return to your houses and change into dry clothes. Then a vast and
delicious lunch will be served in the Great Hall.'

Even more deafening cheering. Then Dumbledore turned away to consult
with Madam Hooch. He then stood up tall, holding a Slytherin banner in
one hand and a Gryffindor in his other.

The entire school watched him with breath held.

And then, very slowly, Dumbledore raised the red and gold banner of
Gryffindor House.

The cheers echoed round the whole valley, and even in that huge noise,
Hermione could be heard screaming victoriously.

Up in the hospital wing, Harry and Draco looked out of the window of their
new room, watching Dumbledore holding the red banner aloft. Harry was
grinning sideways at Draco.

'Don't say anything,' sighed Draco, trying to fume, but failing. 'Just don't
say anything at all'
                                  CHAPTER NINE

                                       ~

                   ON THE EDGE OF A WONDERFUL THING

They watched the school file back into the castle, and then stared out at
the Quidditch pitch, which half an hour before had had a pristine covering
of gleaming white snow, and now looked like, well, exactly like a war had
been enacted on it.

'This feels weird,' declared Harry, as they turned away from the window.

'What does?'

'This.' He motioned with his arm around the room. 'This room. These
beds. Our clothes not being in trunks. No schoolwork. No mess. This
view from the window. It's all weird.'

'Well, I'm with you there, Potter.'

'How long do you think we are going to have to stay here?'

'As long as it takes, I guess.'

'As long as what takes?'

'Potter, I don't have any more answers than you.' There was mild irritation
in Draco's voice. 'You heard exactly the same explanation as me. Maybe
we will know more tonight, but until then I'm in the dark.'

'But you must have some idea,' Harry persisted, sensing Draco's rising
disquiet but ignoring it. 'I know you've got more idea than me.'

'And how exactly do you know that, Potter?' said Draco, becoming angry.

'Because I can feel it! I know you know something!'
'Well get used to it, Potter. Just because you've got some sneaky way into
my head doesn't mean I'm going to start telling you everything I know!
Work it out for yourself if you're that clever.'

'It is not a sneaky way into your head! And anyway you can do it too!'

'That doesn't mean I want to be able to feel all your pathetic moods,
Potter!'

They glowered at each other, and then went and got as far away from each
other as they could, which meant that Harry went to lie on his bed and
Draco went back to looking out of the window. They were perhaps just
fifteen feet apart.

The room was not exactly small, but hardly spacious. It was just off the
main ward in the hospital wing, at the other end from Madam Pomfrey's
office. There were two beds, not the sumptuous four-posters of their
dormitories but the regular sanatorium kind with bars at both ends. There
were two armchairs, old but comfortable enough. And one cupboard for
their things. A low table by the window. And a small bathroom with a
shower. And that was it.

Harry turned against the wall so he did not have to look at Draco. The ill-
feeling simmered for a while until Draco turned round again.

'Hey Potter, that's my bed. Shift your stupid Gryffindor ass to this one.'

'Get lost. I don't see a name tag on it.'

'Potter...' Draco's had a hard angry edge. 'Potter, I am not going to be able
to stand it in here if you carry on like this. Get. Off. My. Fucking. Bed.
Now!' He towered over Harry, glaring down, furious.

'What are you going to do, eh, Malfoy? Fight me for it?'

Despite Harry's words he could feel Draco was about to boil over, and
Harry was scared.
'Ha! You're scared!' sneered Draco. 'No fucking guts at all! I thought
Gryffindors were all about bravery!'

'And I thought that you might sort of be a decent bloke after all! But no,
you're just the malevolent bully that you've always been! And to think I let
you kiss me! Fucking hell, what a nightmare! Keep your filthy instincts to
yourself in future!'

Draco raised his hand to hit Harry. But mention of the kiss had stung him
hard, like a solid punch in the solar plexus.

'They're...they're the same instincts as yours, Potter,' he stuttered.

Almost eye to eye, they fumed, unblinking. Harry was trembling. Draco
looked as if he were about to cry. On the back of a wild instinct, Harry
quickly reached his arm round the back of Draco's head and pulled his face
towards him. Draco resisted for about one tenth of a second, then felt
Harry plant a firm, full, hard kiss on his lips, warm and urgent, but without
any sense of the violence that had threatened just seconds before. The
tension was temporarily diffused, and Draco sighed heavily and sat down
on the bed next to Harry.

'Now whose instincts are filthy?' he said quietly, but without malice.

There was a long silence as the anxiety dissipated to nothing. Harry spoke
first.

'Malfoy, I'm sorry. You can have the bed if you want.'

'No, don't worry about it. It's silly. Let's not argue about it.'

'We haven't done very well, have we?' Harry sighed, with an odd sadness
in his voice.

'What do you mean?'

'Well, half an hour. That's all we lasted before it got out of hand.'
Draco looked at Harry. 'Not a good start,' he agreed. 'Perhaps tomorrow
will be better.'

'Malfoy, I don't want us to argue again, but there really are loads of things
I don't understand. And I sense that you do.'

Draco said nothing, not quite sure how to respond.

'So,' continued Harry cautiously, 'whenever you want to start maybe telling
me what they are, I'd like to listen.'

'Potter,' Draco said kindly, 'one thing at a time. Today, who sleeps where.
Tomorrow, we move on. And let's face it, today's issue was hard enough
to resolve on its own, don't you think?' He smiled at Harry a little
sheepishly.

Harry smiled back.

'Hey,' laughed Draco. 'This is a nice bed Potter, but not quite as nice as
mine over there I suspect. I think you may live to regret your choice.'

The glint in his eye shot acres of warmth through Harry.

'Regret my choice, Malfoy?' said Harry, with the slightest hint of flirtation.
He looked straight into Draco's eyes. 'I hope not...!'

They looked closely at each other, their smiles so infectious that the
moment lasted for several minutes.

'Potter, I have to say that's the first argument I've had when the word
malevolent was used in the heat of the moment. Take two points for
evidence of a decent vocabulary.'

'Two points, Malfoy?' Harry grinned. 'Are you sure you can afford two
points, after Slytherin just lost the snowball thing?'

'Right!' Draco tried hard to feign seriousness, but he couldn't stop smiling.
'No more compassion! You've asked for it now, Potter!'
He launched himself on Harry in a kind of playfight that was far, far more
play than fight. They both collapsed giggling onto Harry's bed, until they
were as totally comfortable with each other's presence as they had been
the night before in the rose garden. Lying side by side, they both looked
up at the ceiling.

'This is nice,' mused Harry.

Draco turned onto his side and propped himself up on an elbow, looking
down at Harry's face. 'I think,' he said, 'that if we're lucky, it might get
nicer still...'

The mood turned serious, and Harry just knew Draco was going to kiss him
again. He felt the intention in Draco's head, and signalled his own
willingness with his eyes. But instead of kissing him, Draco reached over
and gently removed Harry's glasses. They looked in on each other's souls,
no longer needing speech for communication.

After a long time in perfect stillness, Draco spoke very softly.

'How about this for a way forward, Potter? We don't keep count of the
arguments, instead we keep tally of the times we are not arguing. On that
score, we've managed seven minutes of hostility and one hour fifteen
minutes of something much more pleasant. We have made a good start if
you look at it that way.'

'Ok Malfoy, that's a good plan.'

Draco nodded and smiled, and then, tantalisingly slowly, lowered his lips
to Harry's.

'Oh God...' murmured Harry in the faintest, faintest whisper, before his
voice was cut off by Draco's unbearably soft mouth.

                                     ***
'He's gone!' yelled Ron in desperation. 'He's gone somewhere! There's no
sign of him, and some of his things are missing! Wand, clothes, some
books, robes, his clock, even his pyjamas! Where on earth can he be?'

The Gryffindors had arrived back at the Tower in the most buoyant party
mood any of them could remember, but Ron had rushed straight upstairs
to see if Harry was in bed. Hermione had followed him, as did Seamus and
Ginny who, in the excitement of the snowball contest, had only just
noticed Harry's absence. Ron stupidly looked under Harry's bed in case he
was there, but the obvious futility of this action only made him more
frustrated.

'Ron, calm down!' said Hermione, although she was worried too. 'There
has to be a logical explanation!'

'There is a logical explanation,' came a calm voice from behind them. The
four of them spun round. Professor McGonagall was standing there,
looking half serious, half amused.

'Harry's gone, Professor!' blurted Ron urgently. 'It's just, I don't want to
betray his privacy, but you've got to understand, he's not well! I thought
he was better yesterday, he even slept for a while, but now he's
disappeared!'

'Mr Weasley,' McGonagall began, 'listen to Miss Granger for once and calm
down. Your concern for Harry is a credit to you, but there is no need to
worry.'

'Where is he then, Professor?' asked Hermione sensibly. 'Do you know?'

'Yes, Miss Granger, I do. Now listen to me carefully and don't butt in till
I've finished, Weasley. Professor Dumbledore has removed Harry from the
school temporarily. He is in the Hospital wing, where he will remain for
the near future, as we try to coax him back into a healthier sleep pattern.
And after that we will work on his appetite, and his depression, and his
other problems. You do not need to worry, he is going to get the help he
needs at last.'
Ron was relieved, but added, 'there is no need for him to be away from us,
Professor. We understand his problems totally. We can easily help him
sleep and eat. Anyway last night he slept for about six hours!'

'Mr Weasley,' McGonagall sighed. 'I do not doubt for one minute that you
have been a great help to Harry. And I am sure that you all have worked
out what is the matter with him, and are eager to help him. But the
problem is, he has not worked it out yet. And when he does, he may get
worse. So the Hospital wing is the best place for him, where he can be
looked after all of the time, and he can be encouraged to sleep at any time
of day. I know you have all been fretting for weeks, but you can stop now.
Rest assured he is in a safe place, and let your minds be concerned with
other things for the time being. Like your schoolwork for one, Weasley.'

Ron nodded reluctantly at her.

'When can we see him, Professor?' asked Hermione.

'Ah. You can't, I'm afraid,' said McGonagall, pursing her lips.

'Why not?' demanded Ginny, alarmed.

'Because those are Professor Dumbledore's instructions. No visitors at all
for a week, and then half an hour a day after that. So you can see him
after supper for a short while on Sunday, one week from today. And don't
try to sneak in there before then, any of you, or the consequences will be
dire.'

'But what if he wants to see us, Professor?' insisted Ron. 'A whole week
without visitors, that's ages!'

'As I understand it, Mr Weasley, he has just been several weeks without
talking to anybody. Just let it drop, please, and trust Professor
Dumbledore's judgement on this matter. Besides,' she added quietly, 'he
will not be alone in the hospital wing. So you really do not need to worry.
Now go downstairs and join the party. I have provided a few butterbeers
for you all,' she smiled.
'Is it Malfoy?' asked Ron. 'Is Malfoy in the Hospital wing with him?'

'Mr Weasley. I have said all I am going to say on the matter. Now, a
celebration party awaits in the common room. Go and enjoy yourselves.
It's not every day we score such a satisfying victory against Slytherin
House!'

There were smiles all round at that. The snowball thing really had been
fantastic.

'Pity Harry couldn't have been there,' moaned Ron as they trooped down
the stairs.

'Oh, and Miss Granger...' added McGonagall just before they reached the
common room, 'absolutely terrific performance this afternoon, I have to
say. The judges were all rather impressed with your battle skills.'

Hermione blushed slightly, but was secretly delighted.

                                     ***

It was some time later when they received their first visit from Madam
Pomfrey. They were still lying on Harry's bed, staring at the ceiling, lost in
each other's thoughts.

'Gentlemen,' she said curtly as she entered, carrying a tray with two
goblets of a smoky purple liquid. 'This room is equipped with two beds.
Deliberately so. One of you will please move now.'

Reluctantly Draco got up slowly and dropped into one of the armchairs.
Harry found his glasses and put them on.

'It was not my wish at all that you two should share this room, but
Professor Dumbledore insisted upon it. However I will not delay in moving
one or both of you to the main ward if I see fit. Is that clear?'

They both nodded.

'Now you will please drink one of these each.'
She set the tray down on the table. Neither of them moved.

'Go on,' she ordered firmly. 'I am not leaving until they are empty.'

'What is it?' asked Draco.

'A deep sleeping draught, just prepared for you by Professor Snape. You
will each sleep peacefully without dreaming for four, perhaps five hours.
The relaxant in the potion will stay with you for some time afterwards. In
time we will work on other ways to restore your sleep patterns to normal,
but for now I am insisting upon enchanted sleep for both of you.'

'It's the middle of the afternoon!' protested Harry.

'Mr Potter. This point is not open for discussion. Drink the potions now,
please.'

Draco picked up one of the goblets and carried it over to Harry, a gesture
which pleased Harry no small amount. Then, looking Madam Pomfrey
straight in the eye, Draco downed his in one gulp. Harry followed suit.

'Yick,' blurted Draco. 'What on earth is in that?'

'Sleeping potions are on the third year curriculum, are they not, Mr
Malfoy?' smiled Madam Pomfrey. 'You tell me...'

Draco half-heartedly pulled a face at her, but she did not react at all.

'Good,' she declared, smiling through tightly closed lips. She reminded
Harry slightly of Hermione.

'Now,' she continued. 'Pyjamas. Right now, please. You have at most ten
minutes before the potion takes effect. Come on, in your beds, please.'
She busied herself with turning down their covers, and tidying their few
solitary possessions on the table.

The two boys just stared at each other, aware that they had just reached a
crunch moment in the presence of a member of staff and with only
minutes to resolve it.
Madam Pomfrey sensed their discomfort, and found it rather endearing.
The Crimson Cloud is engulfing this pair like a fog, she thought, but they
are coy about getting undressed. It was sort of charming.

'Move, you two!' Her voice was commanding, but her tone was not stern.
'Come on, I've been in charge of this Hospital wing for more years than you
have been alive. There is nothing that you have that I have not seen
before.'

'You may have seen it all before,' said Harry, a little awkwardly, 'but we
haven't'.

Draco looked at him and they both sniggered together, aware of how
ridiculous this situation was. Madam Pomfrey found their laughter
curiously infectious, and she warmed to them in that moment.

Oh what the hell, thought Harry, and Draco sensed this thought in his
head. They sniggered again, then went to the cupboard to get their
pyjamas. They stood next to each other as they got undressed, not
wanting to look at each other, but unable not to look either.

Madam Pomfrey turned her back and secured the window and the
curtains. Draco was already down to his boxer shorts as he fished out his
pyjamas. For the boys, it was like Madam Pomfrey was not even there.
Their laughter was easy and natural, and would not go away.

'Move over, Potter, you just elbowed me in the ribs.'

'Malfoy!' gasped Harry, surprised. 'Are they your pyjamas? They're silk!'

'Of course. That's what pyjamas are made of aren't they?' Draco pondered
airily, as he removed his boxers and stepped into his pyjama bottoms in
one easy movement. Harry admired the skill of the move, wondering if he
could be that slick too.

'Oh nice,' commented Draco, snorting at Harry struggling into his own
pyjama trousers. 'They're a real stylish garment. Blue cotton went out
about forty years ago, Potter.'
'Shut up Malfoy,' blushed Harry. 'Pyjamas aren't supposed to be a fashion
statement!' Pyjama bottoms on, he pulled off his t-shirt and slipped on
the matching blue cotton shirt.

'Good lord,' Draco muttered. 'God knows why I find you attractive, you're
all skin and bone!'

They looked at each other, mouths agape at what Draco had just said, then
a loud volley of laughter rocketed between them as they remembered the
presence of Madam Pomfrey behind them. She smiled to herself. Not
much evidence of depression in here, at the moment anyway.

'Is this cabaret show over yet?' she asked good-naturedly as the two finally
stood before her, one in blue cotton, the other black silk.

'It would appear so,' Draco yawned.

'We do hope you enjoyed it,' said Harry, and they both sniggered again.
But sleep was now only moments away, and Madam Pomfrey hurried
them into bed.

'Professor Dumbledore will be here to see you when you wake.'

It was the last thing they heard.

As Madam Pomfrey watched them drop into sleep, she smiled once more,
then closed the door and left them alone.

                                    ***

'They are asleep,' declared Professor Dumbledore, to the group assembled
in his office.

'Headmaster,' blustered Snape, 'I do not see why this ridiculous matter is
taking up so much of our time.'

'Indeed, Severus,' said Dumbledore, but nobody could quite tell whether
he was agreeing with Snape or dismissing his comment.
'You may leave, if you wish...' Dumbledore added after a short time,
smiling benevolently.

The confusion evaporated instantly, and Sirius - enjoying Snape's
discomfort - pulled a silly gleeful face at McGonagall, who ignored him
completely. She still hadn't quite forgiven him for disturbing her stalking
the vole that morning. The two of them had a rather odd relationship. It
wasn't too many years since he'd been a student in her Transfiguration
class, and a very talented one too. Somehow behind her back he had
taught himself how to be an Animagus while still a teenager, which was no
mean feat at all. McGonagall considered briefly the other two boys who
had managed that same achievement in that very same class. One
tragically dead, one a traitor; and she was saddened to think of all that
Sirius had been through since those days and now. He was placing himself
in immense danger by being here, but to him, the danger was of no
consequence; the bond that linked him through James and Lily to Harry
was one of the driving forces in his post-Azkaban life, if not the only one.
It was a bond of a type she had never had and would probably now never
experience, although, she was very fond of Harry herself, even protective.
She caught Sirius's glance again and raised her eyebrows slightly in
response to his smirk.

Sirius smothered a laugh at this astonishing show of humanity from the
stern Scot.

'What's so funny, Black?' spat Snape icily, seeing the looks passing
between Sirius and McGonagall. 'What is this, Gryffindor v Slyth--'

'...but I would prefer if it you stayed, of course,' continued Dumbledore,
ignoring the previous tensions in the room. 'In the absence of Draco's
parents, I would like you here as his Head of House.'

Snape made no move, which the group interpreted as his intention to
remain.

'Are you going to inform Draco's parents?' asked Sirius.
'No,' replied Dumbledore, 'not yet anyway. Not unless Draco himself
specifically requests it. I will speak to him this evening, but I have a hunch
he won't want that yet. And the same instinct tells me, Sirius, that
similarly we cannot assume that Harry will welcome your presence either.
It may be some time before he is comfortable enough with his feelings to
be able to talk you, in fact considering your reports of your recent
meetings with him, I rather suspect this will be the case. You may see him
this evening, but if there is the slightest sign that your being there is
stressful for him, I will advise Madam Pomfrey that the no visitors rule
extends even to you.'

Snape's leering, gloating grin was as wide as his face and distinctly as
unattractive.

'Harry and Draco have got to be left alone to come to terms with this with
each other as well as individually. However painful this may be for those
closest to them to have to watch, it must be so, because we need it to
happen as quickly as possible. As soon as I think they are stable enough
mentally, even if they are not fully reconciled to their dependence on each
other, we must start to assess the stability and extent of their magical
bonding. This will require much extra work from all of us to establish as far
as we can how their magical symbiosis will affect their abilities, and then
to adjust their education accordingly.'

The mood in the circular room was now altered totally, all the petty
sniping banished by the seriousness of Dumbledore's tone.

'I am uncomfortable interfering in this at all, Albus,' said McGonagall.

'I agree totally, Minerva. Ordinarily we would simply leave the couple to
discover these things for themselves, but considering who this couple are,
and considering the increasingly worrying nature of Fudge's owls regarding
Voldemort, we cannot afford to wait for so gradual a process to complete
itself.'

Dumbledore paused, and then if anything his seriousness deepened.
'This issue is not going to be solved overnight I am afraid. And its potential
importance extends far beyond the walls of this castle. Very soon we are
going to have one, or maybe two, significant problems to deal with. The
dilemma here is that in forcing them to spend time together for a quick
resolution to their difficulties, we are hugely increasing the chances of this
news leaking out. The fact that these two archrivals are secluded together
away from the school will become known very soon I am sure. Minerva, I
believe you when you say that Miss Granger is already in possession of
most of the facts. I would have expected nothing less from her. But
whereas I am sure we can trust her not to inflame the scandal herself, we
cannot expect the same from most of the rest of the school.'

He glanced around the room at the attentive faces.

'Which brings me to the second problem. If knowledge of the Crimson
Cloud reaches any parents at all, or worse still gets into the Daily Prophet,
it is bound to reach Voldemort. He will know that Harry will be weakened
by this, and may act against him. Once he knows that the other half of this
equation is the only son of his most faithful follower, the threat becomes
immeasurably worse. He will know that a bonding between Harry and
Draco could possibly produce abilities in both of them that would be a
significant danger to him. Another complication is Fudge's blindness to the
facts. It is imperative that he receive no news of this.'

'It is going to be nearly impossible to keep this a secret!' Sirius despaired.

'I realise that. We must form a tight-knit group who alone know the full
picture, and we must pray that Draco's fear of his own father is enough to
prevent him telling Lucius what has happened. And we need a cover
story. At the moment I have no idea what that will be, but we must think
of a compelling reason why Mr Potter and Mr Malfoy should be secluded
in this way, something that we can allow to leak into the school without
the real picture becoming obvious. Please all put your minds to this, we
are going to need it I suspect before the end of the day.'
'Sleeping sickness,' provided Snape instantly. 'Some kind of sleeping
disorder which they picked up from that dratted faun of Hagrid's. Perhaps
we could say that the faun had been abroad somewhere outlandish, and
the malady is not fully understood in this country. It would explain why
only Potter and Malfoy are affected. It would also explain their bizarre
recent behaviour. And it would explain why we have removed from them
from the chaos of the school to the peace of the Hospital wing, and why,
because of the need for sleep, we are not allowing visitors.'

'Excellent, Severus,' beamed Dumbledore. 'That fits the bill all ways, and it
is interesting enough not to sound like a cover-up, too. We might be able
to keep the lid on this after all. Because of the extreme sensitivity of this it
is my proposal that absolutely nobody other than those already in the
know are made aware of what is really going on here. The four of us, and
Poppy Pomfrey. I think we must add Hermione Granger too. I will speak
with her myself and assess the extent of her knowledge. If Miss Granger
has spoken to her friends I will also speak to them and impress the
strongest need for security.'

The others nodded.

'But above all, I want none of the seriousness of this to reach the boys
themselves, who must remain no more troubled than they already are for
as long as possible. This should be a time of great joy for them, and who
are we to deny them all they may gain from being together? Especially as
this could be of immense worth to all of us, not just to them: we should
not forget that love for Harry Potter defeated Voldemort once before, and
it may do so again...'

                                      ***

Draco woke first. It was a peculiar feeling, rising from an enchanted sleep
in an unfamiliar room, and his first reaction was one of slight distress.

Then it all came back to him. He was in the Hospital wing, sharing a small
room with Potter. The curtains were drawn and it was more or less
completely dark but a small chink of light from under the door gradually
began to illuminate his surroundings. It was peaceful. He could hear
Potter's slow breathing from the other bed, and idly wondered when he
would wake. Come to that, he thought, what is the time anyway?

In the dim greyness of their room, Draco spotted Harry's Snitch-clock
hovering silently next to his pillow. He reached for his wand.

'Accio clock-thing,' he muttered.

The Snitch-clock made no move. Blast, he thought, you need to know
precisely what something was before you could summon it. He slowly got
out of bed and walked over to Harry to pick the clock up manually.

This is a neat little thing, thought Draco as he turned it over in his hand.
But there did not seem to be a dial or anything else that could indicate the
time. Even so, he was sure it was a clock. How does it work?

'What is the time please?' he asked, but it made no sign of having heard
him. Bugger and blast, is this thing enchanted so that only Potter could use
it?

'Potter, are you awake yet? How does this work?' he whispered in a low
voice.

Harry lay totally motionless but for the almost imperceptible rise and fall
of his chest. His face was not exactly relaxed and not exactly in torment,
and, like the clock, showed no sign of having heard him.

Draco looked closely at the sleeping Harry. His glasses were next to his
bed neatly beside his wand. Draco paused as he recalled the events of the
afternoon: an argument, nearly a fight, and two more kisses. If he wanted
to stop this thing now, he wouldn't be able. It was not much more than a
day since they had first spoken properly - out by the lake - but they had
already travelled further in that time than he had dared to hope. When
Draco had first roused himself from the endless stewing, got dressed and
gone out to have his first ever conversation with Potter, he had scarcely
thought that twenty-four hours later he and Potter would have spent
several comfortable hours in each other's company, kissed three times,
seen each other undress, and now be looking at an indefinite period in
private seclusion with no interruptions. Don't be scared, Dumbledore had
said. You are standing on the edge of a wonderful thing. Was Dumbledore
actively trying to throw them together? It certainly sounded like it. Why
would he want to do that?

His eyes remained on Harry. How painfully vulnerable you look right at this
moment, he thought. His feelings for Potter had changed so much
recently, changed out of all recognition. He knew he was fast falling in
love with him, he had been aware of that for some time. But he was also
feeling something else, another feeling that he was totally unfamiliar with.
He was beginning to feel protective of him. The strangeness of that
emotion was still unusual to him, but ever since he'd watched him
wrestling with things he couldn't imagine out by the lake, he had begun to
wonder how he himself could help drag Potter back into the light. Well, it
looked like he was certainly going to get his chance now. However much
longer they were going to have together, he was going to make every
second count. He reached down and gently ran the back of a finger over
his cheek.

Harry slept on unknowing.

'Oh, of course,' he said to himself. 'Tempus.'

The Snitch-clock informed him politely that it was a quarter to nine.

Harry was bunched up at the pillow end of the bed, and Draco pulled
himself up onto the foot of Harry's bed and sat with his back against the
wall, enjoying the closeness, feeling Harry's strange empty calm in his own
head. But there was not the same calm in Draco's head. For the first time,
his mind wandered to the implications of their growing relationship
beyond the school. This was Harry Potter for fuck's sake. His fellow
Slytherins...his parents...and even more unthinkable matters...

It was perhaps twenty minutes later, when Draco was still sitting at Harry's
feet, troubled yet at peace, when the door opened, and in walked
Professor Dumbledore closely followed by Madam Pomfrey and Sirius.
The bright light from the lamps of the main ward flooded into their small
kingdom and revealed the two boys as still as statues, one sleeping, the
other guarding him.

'Mr Malfoy,' grimaced Madam Pomfrey. 'I told you earlier that this room is
equipped with two beds. Please return to your own.'

Draco looked angry at this interruption, but sighed, slipped off the bed
slowly and sank into an armchair.

'Good evening, Draco,' smiled Dumbledore. 'How are you feeling?'

'Tired,' replied Draco blandly. 'Relaxed, but more tired than I have ever
felt.'

'And Harry?' continued Dumbledore. 'Is he just dozing?'

'No,' said Draco. 'He hasn't woken up yet.'

'Hasn't he?' The tone in Dumbledore's voice altered slightly. 'Poppy, how
long ago did you give them the potion?'

'Exactly six hours, Headmaster,' responded Madam Pomfrey immediately.

Sirius walked past Draco to Harry's bed and laid his hand across Harry's
head. 'He is sleeping deeply, Albus,' Sirius confirmed.

Draco sensed immediately the slight tension in the room.

'What's the matter?' he demanded sharply. 'Why is this a problem?'

'There is no problem, Draco,' answered Dumbledore soothingly. 'We are
just surprised that the potion is still having an effect on him. Its strength
was calculated for a maximum of five hours. Poppy will you please fetch
Professor Snape? I want to know precisely which version of the potion he
used.'

Madam Pomfrey left the room.
'Forget Harry for the moment please,' said Dumbledore softly. '...if you
can. I want to talk to you. Sirius, could you leave us for a short while?'

Sirius smiled and left the room.

'Draco, I need to talk to you about your parents. Usually when a student is
facing a long period in the Hospital wing I would owl the parents to inform
them of the situation. But I think we are both aware that these are not
usual circumstances and I don't think that that is a decision I can take. It
has to lie with you. Have you had any thoughts about this yet?'

'Professor, may I be totally frank?'

'Of course.'

'I am grateful for the opportunity you have given us, and I think I am
beginning to understand why you have done it. But I have a couple of
concerns. I have far more idea of why we are here than Potter does, so we
have a lot of talking to do. In the interim all I need is sleep, but he needs
much more. I don't know how to explain it, but I can sort of feel a great
hole in his head where the facts ought to be. And I sense he is very
vulnerable, and all the while he is like this I don't want to make the
situation any more difficult. Because of that I do not want you to tell my
parents. Their knowledge would bring them here, and their presence
could only bring...complications.'

'Very well. Your words are wise, Draco.'

'But surely they are not the main worry here; what about the rest of the
school?'

'I told the main body of the school this evening at supper that you two
have been suffering from a sleeping disorder caused by exposure to the
faun Dixter. Thankfully this has not caused as great a stir as you would
imagine. And certainly nothing like the kind of stir the truth would cause, I
suspect.'
'The truth is bound to come out sooner or later. I am not going to be able
to hide it once Potter is stronger.'

'No indeed. Hiding it will not be expected of either of you, in time. But
right at this present moment...'

'Exactly.'

After a pause, Draco continued, 'you must let me tell him everything when
I think he is ready for it, or when he demands it, whichever comes sooner.
He can sense everything in my head, and already knows I am holding back
on something. In fact we argued about it this afternoon. But, you can
leave it to me. It needs to be me that tells him all of what this mess is, and
what it all means. But it is delicate, and its importance spreads far
beyond him and me. So, no complications, no parents.'

There was silence as the two reached an unspoken agreement.

'Draco, I am impressed with your calm maturity. It is a great credit to you.
Harry is lucky. You both are.'

'Thankyou, Professor. I know,' said Draco softly. 'One last thing. There is
at least one member of the school who knows as much as I do, maybe
more, and a couple of others who are not far behind.'

'I assume you are talking of Miss Granger and her friends?' smiled
Dumbledore.

Draco nodded. He was beginning to see, like Harry, that practically
nothing escaped Dumbledore's notice.

'There will be no...complications from that quarter, Draco.'

The quiet remained for several more minutes until the door opened again
and Madam Pomfrey came back in. Snape and Sirius followed her.

Snape signalled that he had something to say, but Dumbledore told him to
say it despite Draco's presence.
'The potion was a standard five hour deep sleeping draught, Headmaster.
It had some extra sopora root as an added relaxant, to ease the passage
out of enchanted sleep. But it was nothing like enough to keep Potter in a
deep slumber. If he is still in such a deep sleep, it is not due to the potion,
indeed in Potter's current state I would have expected him to wake long
before the five hours were up, not sleep beyond that time.'

Dumbledore remained calm. 'Poppy. Sirius. Any suggestions?'

'None yet, Albus,' said Sirius.

'No,' sighed Madam Pomfrey.

'Still, we will not worry yet,' continued Dumbledore. 'It has only been six
hours. I think we can assume he is exhausted and leave it at that for now.
Draco, thank you for our chat earlier. We will leave you now. Please try to
sleep some more, but in case you cannot, Madam Pomfrey has some more
of the sleeping draught, which will be active for another twenty hours or
so. Professor Snape will prepare some more if you need it after that. And
Draco, do not worry about Harry. Good night.'

They left, and Draco sat back on Harry's bed as he had before. How could
he not worry? After another couple of hours of not worrying in which
Harry still did not wake, he eventually pulled back the covers, curled up
next to him, and was himself drifting into natural sleep in minutes.

Sleep seemed to come so much easier when Harry was next to him.
                                CHAPTER TEN

                                       ~

                              MANY MEETINGS



It was Dumbledore who shook him on the shoulder to wake him the next
morning, the Monday following the great Snowball Challenge. But was it
actually morning? All sense of time had been totally knocked askew
thanks to the potions and the excitement and the newness of their
situation.

'Tempus,' groaned Draco absently, and the Snitch-clock informed him
politely that it was exactly 4:30am.

'Bloody hell,' Draco fumed, not really taking in that he was still in Harry's
bed and the Headmaster was standing over them.

Suddenly the reality of the situation hit him hard and he sat up like he'd
just been given a jolt of electricity.

'Shit, oh sorry, Professor,' he flustered, 'I mean, sorry, I didn't mean to
disobey Madam Pomfrey, I just fell asleep here, nothing's happened,
honestly...' and he hastily pulled back the covers to return to his own bed.

Dumbledore smiled. 'Shhh, Draco,' he soothed. 'Stay where you are.
There is no harm done.'

Draco opened his eyes and focussed hard, but he was still groggy and it
was some minutes before any productive conversation was possible.

'I am sorry to wake you so early. But Madam Pomfrey and Professor Snape
both thought it would be best if you were not allowed to sleep for great
chunks of time, not yet anyway. They are both asleep now, so I
volunteered for this early morning call. I suggest you rouse yourself until
lunchtime and then take some more potion, if you want it, this afternoon.
We'll build you up to nine hours or so again gradually.'

'Thank you, Professor,' Draco muttered, still rather disconcerted.
'Although I think I prefer real sleep to the enchanted kind.'

'That is pleasing to hear, Draco. But don't be worried about using
enchanted sleep to ease you back into the real thing. Now, I have to ask.
What about Harry, has he woken yet?'

'No,' sighed Draco. He concentrated hard on trying to feel Harry's
thoughts. But all was blank. Dumbledore said nothing.

'I would know if he had woken while I was asleep,' declared Draco
eventually. 'It still feels...like he's in another world. Before yesterday,
when I could feel him asleep, it was different somehow. I thought last
night that it was just deep sleep, but now it feels like he's just not there at
all.'

Dumbledore remained silent, and Draco added, 'am I allowed to start
worrying yet?'

'Will my answer make any difference?' asked Dumbledore, his eyes slightly
glinting.

'Probably not,' smiled Draco, endearingly shyly.

'I want you to know that this matter will have the fullest attention of the
small group of people who know the truth. But I still do genuinely think
that this is not a major cause for concern. And you must worry about
yourself a little anyway. You have a long way to go before you are back to
your old self.'

'I don't think I want to be my old self again, Professor. When I think of
some of the things I have said and done...Potter is never going to forgive
me when he takes in the reality of this situation.'
'That is mainly why I have given you this time together, Draco, so you can
address your differences.'

'I am grateful for it...but the more I think about it, the less hopeful I get.
I'm even sort of dreading him waking up because of it.'

'One thing at a time, Draco. I am sure you will get there. Harry is...decent.
He will hear you fairly.'

'Thank you, Professor. I hope so.'

'Now. To matters in hand. Madam Pomfrey will be attending to you
regularly, and with Harry in this state you will unfortunately receive several
calls from other staff today. I will call each day in the evening. But apart
from that I will not allow any visitors from the rest of the school. This is to
create the space you need to feel strong and healthy again. All your
concentration is to go into sleeping, eating and resting. Your issues with
Harry will arise as and when they do. Oh, and one more question,' finished
Dumbledore.

'Yes?'

'What is this neat little device?' Dumbledore reached for the Snitch-clock.

'I'm not sure exactly, but it's a clock of some kind. It's Potter's. Great isn't
it? I've never seen one before.'

'Tempus,' commanded Dumbledore.

The Snitch-clock said nothing.

'Oh. Did I do it wrong? How does it work?' asked Dumbledore, interested.

'Er...you just say 'tempus' and it tells you the time,' replied Draco, oddly, as
this no longer seemed to be the case.

'Hmmm,' mused Dumbledore, with buckets more meaning than Draco
could define exactly.
Draco took the clock and muttered, 'tempus.'

The Snitch-clock informed him politely that it was nearly 4:45am.

'Hmmm indeed,' pondered the Headmaster again. 'Well, that is quite
enough of your time. I will leave you now. If I were you I would doze for a
while then busy yourself with a book or something. Madam Pomfrey will
be in later with some food. I expect, Draco, when she does, she will want
you in your own bed.'

'Oh right, yes,' said Draco, blushing. 'I'd better move now, in case I drop
off again.'

'Or...' added Dumbledore intriguingly, '...Maybe she will simply give up on
that point in time. Who can say?'

Draco smiled at him, and while Dumbledore left the room, Draco snuggled
down again alongside the unmoving, peaceful warmth of the body next to
him. Natural, unenchanted sleep came again after only a short while.

                                     ***

Lessons proceeded as usual the day following the Great Snowball
Challenge. More snow had fallen overnight, covering the physical
evidence of the previous day's battle, but in the corridors and classrooms
of Hogwarts School the memories were still vibrant and clear, and to
Gryffindor House this had been right up there with winning the Quidditch
Cup and the House Championship. But only a handful of people knew
exactly why Dumbledore had suddenly sprung the idea on the school.

Schools, especially boarding schools, are funny places, where it is
practically impossible to keep a secret. With so many people living in close
proximity day in day out, anything slightly out of the ordinary is jumped on
and run with for a while as that particular week's vital topic of
conversation. Dumbledore knew this of course, but he wasn't known as
the Greatest Headmaster of Hogwarts Ever for no reason. Certainly in
ordinary conditions the news that Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy were
confined under mysterious circumstances in the Hospital Wing would have
been irresistible as a source of conversation. But, on the back of such an
event as the Snowball Challenge, and with the news disguised as a sickness
and then distributed to the school in a long list of deliberately tedious
notices that evening at supper, there was scarcely a batted eyelid. There
was simply too much talk of how Hermione had won the Battle of
Hogwarts for there to be room for any other interesting news.

Hermione herself had of course smelt a rat immediately. A few things
hadn't added up, but she'd kept them to herself, even kept them from
Ron. It was all to do with timing. OK, she could accept that Dumbledore
would want to speak to Harry. But. At the very moment that he was
about to start the Snowball Challenge? And. There had been no need for
Emily de Souza to come into Gryffindor House. The instructions could have
been given out much more efficiently to the whole school when they were
outside. Hermione knew that the only reason Emily had been there was so
she could get hold of Harry and remove him from the rest of the House at
a time it would go unnoticed. And then there had been McGonagall's
curious reluctance to tell them whether Malfoy was also affected, even
though she had actually ventured up to the dormitories to find them, and
had volunteered more information than Hermione could ever remember.
Hmmm. And what was all that rot about a sleeping sickness?

If Hermione was suspicious, Ron was just plain sulky. It had seemed
bitterly ironic that the very minute Harry was again removed from their
company, it was Hermione who had become the talk of the school. And he
was mightily irritated by the fact that within only a few hours of his forcing
a reconciliation with Harry - one of the most difficult and moving moments
of his life - others had stepped in to do the job of helping Harry through his
problems, the very job that Ron wanted to himself. He was still in a sulk
when Hermione joined him at lunch and gathered the rest of the
Gryffindor family around them for a quiet chat.

'Strange things are afoot,' she said to the group.

'What do you mean, Herm?' asked Seamus.
'I'm not sure, but I know it's imperative we don't breathe a word of what
we know about Harry to anyone. Dumbledore has evidently taken control
of the situation now, and he's obviously gone to great lengths to conceal it
from the rest of the school, so I think secrecy is the order of the day. We
are going to have to get on and forget all about it, and trust Dumbledore's
judgement on this one now. We've done all we can for the time being.'

'How has he gone to great lengths, Hermione?' wondered Ginny. 'All he's
done is said they are ill. Which is sort of true.'

'Yes, but to create the enormous sideshow of the Snowball thing, just as a
cover? I call that great lengths. The entire school was looking the other
way, including us.'

There didn't seem any argument to this, and the group went back to eating
and talking about the Snowball Challenge, but Hermione was still
suspicious, and Ron was still in a sulk.

Leaving the Great Hall about twenty minutes later, Hermione was not at all
surprised when Dumbledore appeared almost out of thin air at her elbow,
and without anyone else noticing, asked her if she would be good enough
to stop by his office after Arithmancy that afternoon.

'The password's Worrisome Worms,' he glinted. 'Just come on up.'

Hermione sniggered after he left. Worrisome worms were the latest
sweet craze to come out of Honeydukes'. In appearance they were just
jelly worms about six inches long, but as soon as you bit into them they
wriggled manically until you had bitten them into at least ten pieces. If
you swallowed without disarming them in this way, they churned in your
stomach for several hours afterwards. Rumour had it that the twins had
actually sold this recipe to Honeydukes' for a large sum of money, but so
far all parties had refused to confirm or deny the story. (Both the twins
had been on new brooms that term though.) The image of the
Headmaster trying to talk with jelly worms squirming in his mouth was an
amusing one, and Hermione was still laughing to herself when she got to
Arithmancy.
                                     ***

Dumbledore had been right about Madam Pomfrey's instructions; when
she had entered the boys' room at shortly before 9am with some tea and
toast, she had insisted that Draco return to his own bed immediately.
After the Headmaster had woken him so early, he'd slept on and off for a
little while but still the need for more deep sleep ached though his whole
body. Draco sighed heavily and crawled out from next to Harry, who was
still asleep.

He had picked at a slice of toast and managed half a cup of tea while
Madam Pomfrey fussed round Harry, straightening his bed clothes and
placing her hand on his brow at frequent intervals, and then she had left,
and Draco had promptly got back onto Harry's bed and sat sort of over
Harry's legs as he had the day before. He had a book to read, but his mind
and gaze kept coming back to Harry.

The next visitor was Sirius, about half an hour later, who made no
objection to where Draco was sitting. They had an odd conversation, the
first they had ever had, in which precisely nothing of any real meaning was
said. After about five minutes Sirius had left, with one parting comment to
Draco.

'Draco, whatever happens, please promise me that you will never, ever
hurt him.'

Draco sighed. Sirius was missing the point. But, instinctively, he kind of
liked Sirius, and said kindly, 'why would I hurt him? I can't even bear to be
more than three feet away from him.'

There was a moment of understanding between them, and Sirius left.

The next caller was Snape, who arrived a little after ten. Draco found it
amusing to think that he had just taught the potions class at which he and
Potter would ordinarily have been present. Snape was business-like and
professional, without actually being gruff; no doubt to hide his
embarrassment at this situation, thought Draco. Harry slept on unaware.
Snape tried to make some kind of examination of Harry while he was
sleeping, wondering if any clues to the extension of Harry's enchanted
sleep could be gained from his temperature or breathing rate or such.

When Snape picked up one of Harry's arms and let it drop back to the bed
with a thud, Draco shot him a warning look, and when Snape actually
clumsily lifted one of Harry's eyelids, Draco said sharply, 'is that really
necessary? I am sure poking his eye out isn't the best way to wake him
up.'

Snape looked shocked at this insubordination from his most favoured
pupil, but desisted nevertheless, and left shortly afterwards.

By the time McGonagall arrived about an hour and a half after that, Draco
was beginning to wonder whether it might actually have been more
peaceful to remain in the main school. But as he saw the genuine concern
on her face when she saw that Harry was still not woken, he softened, and
after she had been so kind to both of them only two nights before when
they were out of bounds in the middle of the night, he found himself in a
conversation with her that pleasantly surprised him by its openness.

'Draco,' she sighed as she sank heavily into one of the armchairs, making
no comment that Draco himself was sitting up in bed next to Harry, 'we
think that there is no point trying to understand any more about why
Harry is still asleep until we maybe know a bit more about what happened
beforehand. I know this is very personal, but can you tell me the extent of
your contact with Harry since, well, over the last couple of days?'

'Er, Professor,' Draco blushed, 'the extent of my contact?'

'Oh goodness, Draco,' flustered McGonagall, 'no, I'm not asking for
information that personal. Just, where and when you saw him, and what
his mood was like. I know for example that you two spent some time
together in the rose garden the night before last. How was he then?'
'Professor', began Draco delicately, 'I know that you gave your 'permission'
for both me and Potter to be out of bounds that night, but how did you
know we were in the rose garden?'

'Draco,' she almost laughed, 'I thought you were supposed to be
intelligent. Tell me, what is the subject I teach you?'

'Transfig--' he began. 'Oh! You were the cat. I'd forgotten you were an
Animagus.'

She smiled sort of serenely, but Draco had an uncharacteristic attack of
shyness.

'Were you in the garden that night?' he asked softly.

'Good Heavens, no,' laughed McGonagall. 'I was not spying on you. I just
turned up after a while to remind you of the curfew I'd given you both'.
She carried on sympathetically. 'Was that...an important time for you?
What was Harry's mood?'

'He was amazingly at peace, more so than he had been for weeks. Which
is comforting because...' Draco broke off, not knowing quite how to
continue, 'because in fact that was the most emotionally, er, charged time
we had spent together yet.'

He knew he was blushing now.

McGonagall nodded. Draco spoke again.

'But we had actually spent some time together that afternoon too. It was
only about ten minutes, but that was also peaceful. It was out by the lake,
and it was snowing, but it was the first time we had ever spoken without
animosity. But this peace in him is recent, Professor. Until we spoke by
the lake, he had been in all sorts of anguish. I have been able to feel it in
him for some time now.'

'So, you had spoken together twice?'
'Yes. But there are other significant things that have happened to him
over the last couple of days. He had a very difficult and emotional scene
with Weasley after he came in from the lake on Saturday. They patched
up their friendship, and I know it was an extremely, er, tearful time for
him. For both of them actually. After that I saw Potter at supper. He was
reunited with his other friends and the relief and joy in him were
overpowering. Later that night as you know I saw him in the rose garden.
That occasion was also an emotional one. The next time I saw him was in
Professor Dumbledore's office before the snowball thing. He was tired
and, to be honest, apprehensive, nervous of what was suggested about
coming here. When we got here almost the first thing we did was argue.
Quite nastily. But, we had...' - he was definitely blushing now - '...more
than made up by the time we took the potion. I honestly thought he was
genuinely happy when we were getting ready for bed yesterday
afternoon.'

McGonagall nodded again. 'That is very helpful, Draco. Please do not
think we were prying.'

'Will you tell me something now?' he asked suddenly.

'Of course, if I can.'

'Why hasn't he woken up? Even without the factor of the potion he has
now been asleep for nearly twenty hours. And it's not normal sleep. He
just lies here, unmoving. He's not dreaming. His head is empty. It's like
he's not here. You must have some idea, and I need to know.'

'Draco, as soon as we know we will tell you. I know that will not be
enough for you now, but Professor Dumbledore will be back to talk to you
again this evening, and hopefully Harry will have woken naturally by then
anyway.'

That was obviously the only answer he was going to get.

'Now,' said McGonagall. 'It is nearly lunchtime. How much have you slept
since Professor Dumbledore woke you this morning?'
'Not much. Just on and off for a while.'

'I think you should have something to eat and then sleep some more.
Would you like more sleeping draught, or do you want to sleep naturally?'

Draco made a snap decision. 'Sleeping potion,' he declared. It was the
only way he could get closer to Harry. Maybe he could join him wherever
he was right now.

'I will ask Madam Pomfrey to bring you some shortly.' In standing up again
she became the stern Transfiguration teacher that the rest of the school
knew. 'I expect she will want you to move to your own bed.'

And then she was gone.

Blimey, thought Draco. This is weird. And hardly very quiet and relaxing,
or whatever it's supposed to be. When Madam Pomfrey did duly appear a
little while later with some sandwiches and another goblet of the smoky
purple liquid, she gasped in exasperation to see Draco sitting up in bed
reading next to the comatose Harry. Draco rolled his eyes in full view of
her, and made a big show of getting out of the bed. He drank the potion in
one gulp, left the sandwiches untouched and, when she had gone again,
got back in next to Harry and knew no more.

                                    ***

Hermione sat back and took in all Dumbledore had said to her. None of it
had been exactly new; it was more an extension of what she already had
worked out. The implications concerning Draco's parents and ultimately
You-Know-Who would have been the next logical step in her thoughts, and
as she sat there that afternoon, there was the odd sensation of shock to
her. Like, she had discovered something too early, or that the speed of her
own understanding had been forced. It would take a while to adjust to.
And even as she was sitting there in front of Dumbledore, she began to
think of Ron and how he would react to this. He would be in despair.

Sometimes it just seemed as if Dumbledore could actually see right into
people's heads.
'I would appreciate it if you did not mention any of this to the rest of your
Gryffindor friends,' he said. 'Fair enough, they might simply have these
thoughts themselves, seeing what they already know. But until that time I
would rather that the potential for an outbreak of panic was kept to a
minimum.'

'Of course,' she agreed, 'but in that case, Professor, why have you told
me?'

'Because, Miss Granger, I would very much like you to help. I wonder, how
are your studies going?'

'Fine, I think,' she answered, puzzled.

'Good. Then you might have a little extra time for an additional task?'

'Yes, anything. If it helps Harry, I will do it.'

'I rather thought you would say that. I need you to scour the library - I
know you are very familiar with its contents - for information concerning
how the magic between the two of them might have bonded, and what
the effects might be. It is important that we understand this, and it is not
an area of study familiar to any of the staff.'

'I will do all I can, Professor.'

                                        ***

This was becoming more distressing than Draco could ever have imagined.
When the effects of the latest potion wore off and he was flung
uncomfortably back into consciousness in the early evening of that same
Monday, there was all the disorientation there had been before. But it
was made immeasurably worse by the awful realisation that next to him,
so close that Harry's body warmth was indistinguishable from his own,
Harry just slept on, unaware of the mounting concern in the staff, unaware
of Draco's now almost debilitating anxiety, unaware of anything. Harry's
mind was as blank and as empty as it had been now for - Draco consulted
the Snitch-clock - over twenty-seven hours.
'Wake up!' Draco yelled at him, right into Harry's face, his anguish bursting
out uncharacteristically. 'Bloody wake up, Potter!'

He tried to get his arm underneath Harry's body, then managed to lift his
torso slightly off the bed to shake him in both hands. There was absolutely
no reaction. Harry was heavy, limp, utterly relaxed. He stared at Harry's
closed eyes, trying to see a way inside, but there were no clues.

'Oh Jesus,' muttered Draco under his breath. 'Where are you Potter?'

Then he gently laid Harry back down on the bed, with his arm still trapped
underneath him, flung the covers right over both of them, and held Harry
closer than he had ever held anyone in his life.

Time, which was now utterly irrelevant in his life yet seemingly crucial in
Harry's, drifted.

Presently the door opened and the light from the main ward flooded in.

'Oh what is it now?' fumed Draco from under the covers.

'Ahem,' came a discreet cough from somewhere in the room. Draco threw
back the cover with his free arm and saw Professor Dumbledore standing
there with Madam Pomfrey behind him. Behind her he could see more
bodies entering the small room. Snape, Sirius. Oh God. What was this?
Then McGonagall. Jesus, did they want to sell tickets? Then, inexplicably,
Hermione Granger. Granger????

Hermione closed the door behind her. Of all the newcomers to their little
kingdom, Hermione's reaction was the one that Draco would remember
afterwards with the most enjoyment. She had last seen Draco up in the
fourth floor classroom when she and Weasley had tried to make their
peace with him for Potter's sake by suggesting a cosy little fact-swapping
session. That had been only two nights before, but it felt like it belonged
to another life. She was now agog at seeing him pyjama-clad in a small
bed with Harry cradled in his arms. If things had been slightly different,
Draco would have sniggered and offered some sharp comment. But he
himself was totally bemused by her presence. Snape and Sirius looked to
varying degrees embarrassed at having interrupted, and McGonagall wore
the same slightly stern face that she did most of the time. Draco also
rather enjoyed Madam Pomfrey's reaction, which was immediate and
predictable.

'Mr Malfoy!' she exclaimed, maddened by the sight of him in the wrong
bed yet again. 'How many times--'

'Hush, Poppy,' soothed Dumbledore. 'There is no harm being done here.
Hello, Draco.'

'Hello all', replied Draco pointedly, gently removing his trapped arm and
laying Harry delicately back down. Hermione was struck by the immense
tenderness of his actions.

'How are you feeling?'

'Does it take one-two-three-four-five-six of you to be here to ask that
question?' snapped Draco, then felt a little embarrassed and said, 'sorry,
yes, I am fine. Just immensely tired still. And rather hungry now. And
actually, flipping frantic. Why hasn't he woken yet?'

'We don't know.'

'You don't know?'

'No, not fully.'

'Well how about telling me what you partially know then?'

'Mr Malfoy!' came McGonagall's warning voice. 'I will remind you that,
whatever you predicament, this is still the Headmaster you are talking to!'

'I'm sorry, Professor, I apologise. But please be aware of what this is like
for me. You all just come in here poking around between bouts of
startlingly unsatisfying sleep, and expect me to be all smiles while he just
lies there like he's dead.'

'He is not dead, Draco,' reassured Dumbledore.
'Well, what is he then? You must have some idea. And why on earth is she
here?' he asked, indicating Hermione.

'Miss Granger is helping us,' said McGonagall sharply. 'And you will
afterwards owe her some gratitude because it is thanks to her that we
know what little we do.'

'Ok, Ok, Ok! I'm really sorry. I won't bark any more. But please just tell
me what you know.'

'Draco,' began Dumbledore, 'this may be difficult for you to accept. But we
think that Harry is caught in some kind of magical coma.'

Draco remained utterly silent. Comfort came from an unexpected source.
Sirius walked up to Draco, placed his hand on his shoulder, smiled warmly,
and pulled up a chair.

'Draco,' he spoke softly. 'I admit it seems insensitive of us to troop in here
in such numbers. But you will understand of course that you are not the
only one who is worried about him. And everyone in this room has been
working hard today to try to work out what is going on. And after this chat
I promise you will be left alone.'

'Thank you, Sirius,' he said, the name feeling unfamiliar on his lips, but not
uncomfortably so.

'We must consider that Harry's innate magic is unstable due to er,
circumstances,' continued Sirius. 'Also he has acute insomnia, and
therefore a desperate need for sleep. He has recently been given the
chance for such sleep, in an environment in which he would have been
happier than he has been for weeks. Perhaps the potion delivered him
into deep enchanted sleep and has now worn off, but his disturbed
magical self senses it is safe, and has kept him there because of the severe
need for rest.'

Draco listened intently.
'So we suspect that this sleep has nothing to do with the potion. We think
that there has simply been so much turmoil in his life recently that his
body can't cope anymore. And now two of those issues are partially
resolved for him - the uncertainty surrounding his feelings for you, and the
pain caused by separation from Ron and Hermione and his other friends -
and this resulting sense of safety and relief has enabled him to sleep
properly again. He is resting, Draco. His mind, his body, his magical self.
They are all trying to recover from recent weeks. And when he feels
stronger, he will wake.'

'That makes a ton of sense. But how long till he wakes?'

'We have no way of knowing,' answered Sirius. 'Hermione has been in the
library all afternoon looking up previous similar cases; she even voluntarily
missed both History of Magic and Muggle Studies.'

Both Sirius and Draco smiled.

'But there are precious few such cases to refer to I am afraid. Usually the
Crimson Cloud is not met with such anger and antagonism, so an
explanation of the effects we are seeing in Harry is admittedly more
guesswork than anything else. There are in fact only three previous
instances of magical coma caused solely by psychological trauma that we
have found.'

'How long did they last?'

'One lasted three days, another eight days,' replied Sirius.

'And the third?' asked Draco, very quietly.

'Draco,' said Sirius softly, 'don't be upset. That one lasted two years.' He
finished almost silently.

'Two years?' howled Draco. 'He won't last two years! He'll waste away
before then! There's no fat on him at all! Two years! Bloody hell, I won't
last two years either! I'm frantic after just twenty-seven hours!'
'Twenty-eight actually,' corrected Snape pedantically.

Both Sirius and McGonagall shot him venomous looks. Draco was
approaching a state of high distress, and Hermione, but only Hermione of
the group assembled in the small room that evening, was shocked to see
tears welling in Draco's eyes.

'Hush, Draco,' said Sirius warmly. 'There is absolutely no certainty that
Harry's sleep will last anything like that long. He could wake tomorrow.
He could even wake tonight. We just don't know. But', he continued as
softly as before, 'we all think that it would be dangerous to try to wake him
before then.'

'But what will trigger his waking?' persisted Draco, highly agitated. 'There
must have been some reason that those other cases lasted as long as they
did, and no longer. What was it that eventually brought the comas to an
end?'

Draco was trying to hide that he was close to crying, and doing a very bad
job of it. Sirius put an arm round him, and Draco found himself curiously
thankful for it. Dumbledore took over.

'It is mightily difficult to be specific about what caused those other cases to
become resolved,' said the Headmaster. 'We think that the body just
decides when it is strong enough to resume normal life. When Harry feels
rested enough, or safe enough, or maybe loved enough, he will wake.'

He let this hang in the air, watching Draco intently.

Parting from Sirius, and blushing unashamedly, Draco declared 'he couldn't
be more loved than he is at this moment'. What the fuck, he thought.
After all, they know everything. They've all seen me in his bed. I don't care
about skirting round this issue any more for the sake of politeness.

'Every ounce of me aches for him. Every thought, every feeling, every...er,
everything of mine is bound up with him. That's got to make him loved
enough. There's simply no more of me to give. And he's still asleep. I lie
here, holding him, begging him to wake up, and it's not enough. I
obviously don't feel strongly enough. Oh God, I've failed him again...'

Hermione was deeply moved, and this time she was not the only one.
Sirius rubbed Draco's back gently. Dumbledore continued, very sensitively.

'Draco, all of us here share your concern. But you are too emotionally
distressed to see at the moment that how long he sleeps is not dependant
on you. Please try not to saddle yourself with that guilt. It would only be
destructive, and when Harry wakes, he will need you to be strong.'

Draco sat up further in the bed and flopped back against the head of the
bed. He sighed and looked at the Headmaster. 'But I just feel so
powerless, so helpless. There doesn't seem to be anything I can do. And I
want to help him so much...'

'Draco, we all feel that. Take some comfort from not being alone in that
respect. In fact, wanting to do something, but not being able to, has
forced us to come to the one decision, the only one, that we can take at
this time.'

'What is that, Professor?' said Draco.

'We cannot deny the facts here. Harry is in a state that none of us has any
experience of dealing with. There is no care, magical or otherwise, that we
can actively use to bring him around. So we have decided that if Harry has
not come round within two weeks, I shall arrange for his removal to St
Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies. There, he at least can be cared for
by people who will have a way to feed him. Unfortunately this will
necessitate informing the Ministry, and from there the news may enter the
public domain. But I fear it would be wrong of us to keep him here for
longer than that if it would be potentially injurious to him.'

'Professor,' countered Draco urgently, 'that absolutely cannot happen. I
would not be able to go with him. My parents would find out. He will be
in even more danger if news of his condition reached the Ministry, it would
certainly get to my father from there. He has, you know, certain
contacts...' Draco trailed off.

'Quite,' agreed Dumbledore. 'But there may be no other way.'

'We will have to work out what exactly the advantages of his being in St
Mungo's would be, and provide them for him here. Just give me the
medical textbooks, I will work out how to feed him. I've got flippin' hours
on my hands. Granger could help me, couldn't you, Granger?'

Hermione was about to reply that of course she would, but Draco didn't
give her the chance.

'Or do you not know someone at St Mungo's you can trust? Someone you
could bring here? Or could we not provide a totally separate location,
somewhere secret? Somewhere we could keep him stable far away from
the eyes of the Ministry and my parents and the whole world? Or couldn't
we--'

'Draco!' cried Dumbledore, almost smiling. 'You are gabbling. We will give
those ideas some thought. But I say to you honestly now, I do not expect
such measures to become necessary. I'm sure he will wake soon. I should
not have told you my thoughts on this matter, they have distressed you
further. Severus, can you make a sleeping draught that will give Draco a
couple of hours of enchanted sleep and leave him in natural sleep for
several more?'

'Yes, of course,' said Snape immediately. 'It will require only a minor
adjustment to the one I prepared yesterday.'

He left the room.

'Oh great,' sighed Draco. 'More sleep. Fab.'

'You need it, Mr Malfoy,' said Madam Pomfrey. 'We have distressed you,
and that was not our aim.'

'What I need,' argued Draco, 'is to be able to do something.'
Hermione couldn't help agreeing with him.

'Draco,' said Dumbledore, 'you are doing something. In fact you are doing
more than any of us ever could.'

'What?' asked Draco, surprised.

McGonagall spoke this time. Her tone was warm. 'You are making him
feel safe. Giving him the security he needs to get through this. Let him
rest. Help him rest. And in the meantime, practise your wand skills.'

'Sorry?' Draco said, goggling slightly at this totally unexpected suggestion.
'How on earth is that going to help?'

'It isn't,' smiled Dumbledore. 'But, I think you are going to be surprised by
what you are now capable of. We have inadvertently made something of a
discovery. That charming clock of Harry's, it is enchanted so that only
Harry can use it. Miss Granger confirmed this with a no doubt rather
mystified Ronald Weasley earlier, before we realised that it was actually a
present from Sirius, his godfather. You used it without problems earlier
today. It wouldn't work for me, but your innate magic is bonding with
Harry's and has been for some time.'

'Wow. Really?'

'Yes,' said Dumbledore. 'In time you will both draw on the same pool of
innate magic, but we do not know how quickly this will happen, or by how
much your abilities will be increased. But it will be an exciting time of
discovery for you. And you might as well get on with it while Harry is
asleep, and then you can bring him up to speed when he wakes.'

'That's kinda cool,' said Draco, sort of smiling now.

Sirius laughed. 'I knew Harry would like that clock. How odd it should turn
out to be so significant.'

'Now, Draco, you're going to think I'm fussing again, but what have you
eaten today?'
'Er...'

'Exactly one slice of toast and no sandwiches,' deduced Madam Pomfrey,
eyeing the uneaten food on the table.

'Name anything you would like to eat,' beamed Dumbledore. 'I shall have
the house elves prepare it directly.'

'Er, well, I am quite hungry,' thought Draco aloud. 'How about...oh I don't
know, honestly I really don't mind. What are the school having tonight?'

'Chicken-and-ham pie,' Dumbledore said happily.

'That will be fine.'

'That's Harry's favourite,' put in Hermione, speaking for the first time.

'Is it?' asked Draco, sadly. 'I didn't know that, in fact I don't know any of
that kind of stuff about him.'

'There will be loads of time for you to swap favourites, Draco, when he
wakes', said Sirius warmly. 'Which he will. Soon. You just see.'

'Oh well, chicken-and-ham pie it is then,' said Dumbledore. 'That's easy, it
is already prepared in the kitchens.'

He whipped his wand expertly and murmured something, and a tray
appeared hovering in mid-air. Sirius stood up to fetch it, and laid it in
Draco's lap. Snape reappeared at that moment with another goblet of
smoky liquid, this one a deep green colour. He set it down next to Draco.

'Well, that's that, I think,' Dumbledore concluded merrily. 'A nice meal, a
good sleep, all will seem better in the morning I am sure, Draco. Mmmm,
that pie does smell good; I think we should all go down to supper
ourselves. It's about that time.'

Goodnights of various sorts were said, and Draco was once more alone
with Harry.
'So this is your favourite, eh?' mused Draco, looking down at the still
peacefully dormant body next to him. 'One day we will enjoy this
together.'

He ate more than he had for a while, then moved the tray over to the table
and drank the potion. Snuggling down next to Harry, he realised that
Madam Pomfrey had not insisted on his switching beds. He giggled slightly
and held Harry close, and peace was soon washing over him.
                             CHAPTER ELEVEN

                                     ~

                        A CONSPIRACY UNMASKED

Over the next few days, the time seemed to drag more slowly than he had
ever known. The weeks of indecision and confusion between the lesson
with the fauns and the cigarette by the lake were nothing by comparison
to this constant cycle of sleeping and waking and worrying. And each time
he woke, Harry was still asleep.

Madam Pomfrey was often in and out, bringing Draco food and more
sleeping potion when he wanted it, and she had finally stopped asking
Draco to return to his own bed. Dumbledore was a daily visitor, but after
that meeting when they had discussed the possibility of St Mungo's, he
had not said much at all. He would arrive just before the main school went
into supper, and would sit with Draco for about ten minutes. They did not
speak of much, but Draco felt that Dumbledore somehow needed this time
near Harry, just to check that the situation had not worsened. Hermione
had been once, and Draco had sensed that Dumbledore did not know
about this visit, but Draco knew how much Hermione must herself have
been worrying, and so he said nothing. Neither Snape nor McGonagall had
visited at all since that day, and Draco felt that this was right; after all,
what on earth would be the point?

Sirius was noticeably more edgy though, more worried; he visited each day
at around lunchtime. Draco wondered what he was doing outside these
visits. After all, his presence in the castle must surely be secret; he was
still wanted by the Ministry. But since Draco was still mystified by the
exact nature of the relationship between Harry and Sirius, he enjoyed
these chances to get to know the man a bit more.

Back in a part of Draco's mind that he had promised himself not to
examine until Harry was awake and they had sorted their differences - if
indeed that time ever came about - Draco knew, if things worked out in a
certain way, it was likely that Sirius would be someone he would know
personally for the rest of his life. That was an intriguing thought.
Everybody knew that Harry had no parents, and that his blood family, the
Muggles, were the worst sort imaginable. But in Sirius, Draco sensed
something entirely different. Here was a wizard that anybody would be
delighted to have as a relation - he was clever, funny and caring, had the
total trust of Dumbledore and obviously knew about many important
matters beyond the school. But why Draco warmed to him most of all was
that, however much Sirius actually tried to hide it, he was without doubt
frantically worried about Harry.

As they had a sandwich together on the Wednesday following the
Snowball challenge, when Harry had been asleep for approaching seventy-
two hours, Draco felt bold enough to start a conversation that touched on
more than food and the weather.

'He is extremely fond of you, you know,' began Draco.

'How do you know that?' Sirius's tone was soft and friendly. 'Have you
spoken about me? I understood that you had only had a couple of very
short conversations before he took the potion.'

'I don't need to have spoken to him to know that,' replied Draco. 'There
was the reaction when he saw you in Dumbledore's office, when he went
up and hugged you without a thought. That's not usually his style. And
there was also the way he made sure that clock you bought him was by his
bed before he went to sleep. And also, I don't know if you can understand
this, but it's there in his head as well. When we were all in the office that
time, there was great warmth from him. He was obviously hugely relieved
to see you.'

Sirius was thoughtful. 'That is touching to hear, and you can probably also
sense that I return those feelings.' His words were slightly obscured by a
sudden scrabbling at the window. Draco and Sirius looked up and saw
Hedwig tapping insistently on the glass.
'Oh yes,' laughed Sirius, 'I almost forgot. I saw Hedwig this morning and it
was obvious that she was missing Harry. I know Dumbledore said no
visitors, but I hardly thought that rule would apply to owls!'

He got up and let her in. She glided silently to the head of Harry's bed,
where she perched and took up sentry duty. Another of Potter's admirers,
thought Draco.

Sirius sat down again and hesitated, obviously weighing something up.
Then he began to speak slowly.

'Draco, under these circumstances, there is probably much you should
know about me. On one level I suppose I am just Harry's dad's best mate
from school, but now, in actuality, I am the only link Harry has to his
parents. Though Harry and I have been meeting recently, they have hardly
been the happiest occasions, so we haven't ever had a real chance to
discuss this. But I know we both feel that we are the only family each
other has, even though there is no blood that ties us. I was James and
Lily's best man, and they named me godfather to Harry when he was born.
At the time, we were not much more than kids, but even so it was a great
honour. I couldn't have been more proud.'

Draco remained quiet during this unexpected but welcome insight into a
new part of Harry's life.

'Now, it's more than an honour, it's the most important thing in my life;
I've got to be more than a godfather, I've got to be a real father. And a
mother. Yet I have been no kind of godfather at all to him. I was in
Azkaban for twelve years, when Harry needed me the most, when there
was absolutely nobody to look after him apart from those awful Muggles
he now has to spend the summers with. And just when it looked like I was
going to be able to give him a home at last, Peter Pettigrew - who
committed the murders I was imprisoned for - got away and so I had to go
into hiding again.'

Draco could hardly begin to imagine what that must have been like. The
sense of tragedy, which surrounded Harry in a general sense for most of
those at Hogwarts, was beginning to focus itself into something sharper. It
was an oddly sobering moment.

'So, you have no memories of him at all, between his being a baby and
then seeing him again recently?'

'No. None. And of course neither does he. So there is a lot to put right,
when he wakes. The saddest thing of all is the only thing I can actually
offer him of his parents are my own memories. Another way I failed as a
godfather was that...' Sirius trailed off.

Draco said nothing. These were obviously painful thoughts.

'...Was that I should have been the guardian, not just of him, but of all that
should have been his. But that night, that bloody awful unthinkable night, I
wasn't there. I bloody wasn't there. So I not only couldn't try to save
James, and Lily, or rescue Harry, but I couldn't stop the house at Godric's
Hollow being destroyed either.'

Draco sensed he should stay quiet. Sirius was lost in some awful memory.

'So there's nothing I have to give him, apart from the memories. The few
small things I had of James's since we were at school were lost while I was
in prison. There's money in his vault at Gringotts, sure, he'll be fine there;
but I have no photographs, no personal belongings, not even the smallest
most insignificant thing of theirs.'

'But then, if the house was destroyed...how did he...?' Draco didn't quite
know how to word the question.

'To be honest, we will probably never know all the details. But as far as I
can piece it together, and I have had twelve years to think about it, the
Death Eaters must have gone mad at seeing the Dark Lord vanquished, and
maybe they destroyed the house in anger. But they didn't dare touch
Harry after what had just happened.'

Draco felt suddenly crushingly mortified. Had his own father played a part
in this episode?
'Thank God Hagrid got there quickly enough to pull Harry from the
wreckage. When I arrived - too late! - I wanted to take Harry myself but
Hagrid insisted otherwise. Harry was seemingly a special, magical baby -
how had he survived otherwise? - and obviously Hagrid was right, he
needed to be got to safety immediately. I gave Hagrid my motorbike so
that Harry could be taken to Dumbledore as quickly as possible. That very
night Dumbledore entrusted Harry to Lily's sister and her family.'

Draco shuddered to think of the immense danger Harry had been in at
such a young age. Vulnerability, it seemed, had been something Harry had
lived with from the very beginning. Somewhere in a dark, unexplored
recess of Draco's mind, there was a faint ringing of a small bell. He was
still wondering briefly what this meant when Sirius spoke again.

'As soon as I knew Harry was safely away, I took off after Pettigrew,
knowing that, as their secret-keeper, he was the only one who could have
betrayed the whereabouts of James and Lily to the Dark Lord. I caught up
with him the next day and cornered him, but he made a great show of
wailing about how I had betrayed James and Lily; then caused a huge
explosion in which it was assumed he himself had died. Died a hero's
death too, and was honoured for it, even though he was not a dead hero
but a living traitor.'

Draco was astonished. This part of the Story of the Boy Who Lived was
entirely new to him.

'When the Ministry turned up, they had eye-witnesses that said I'd blown
Pettigrew away together with half the street. It was easy for them to
assume that I had caused this massacre because I was enraged at having
defected just at the moment of the Dark Lord's demise. Very few people
knew that the Fidelius Charm - that's the complex spell of secret-keeping -
had been performed at all. And of those that did, none living except for
Pettigrew and myself - not even Dumbledore - knew that it was Pettigrew,
not me, who had been the secret-keeper. And Pettigrew was long gone.
Everything pointed to my being the traitor. I was taken straight to
Azkaban, and I did not see Harry again until last year.'
'Oh my God,' gasped Draco softly. 'Twelve years in Azkaban, as an
innocent man. They say it's inhuman in there.'

'Yes, it is', Sirius answered, not wanting to elaborate. 'But do you know
what? It's the house that troubles me most now. The house was in ruins.
Everything was gone. At the time it was not important compared to the
awfulness of losing James and Lily, or of being imprisoned. But now it
seems just as tragic. A few presents - that clock, his Firebolt - they hardly
make up for it'.

'Wow! You bought him his Firebolt?'

'Yes,' laughed Sirius, glad that the mood had lightened a little. 'Thirteen
years of birthday and Christmas presents in one hit, from the only family
he has. And do you know what's strange? On the couple of occasions I
have seen him fly, I had to disguise myself as a dog.

'Are you an Animagus?' asked Draco, amazed. 'You're not on the official
Ministry list.'

'Well, I had my own reasons for keeping that fact a secret, Draco,' said
Sirius, enigmatically. 'But even as a dog, I could see that he's fantastic at
Quidditch, just like James was.'

'He's brilliant,' glowed Draco. Sirius thought he could detect a touch of
pride in Draco's voice. 'I've wanted to acknowledge it for years. He's
totally natural on a broom, absolutely no fear at all. I don't know if you
know, but from the very first time he got on a broom he outwitted me.'

Draco was embarrassed now.

'I provoked him into disobeying Madam Hooch's orders, on our first ever
flying lesson. Oh God, I was trying to get him expelled. Think if I had
succeeded...'

'Much has changed since then, Draco.'
'Yes, I know. That seems a lifetime ago now. Well it has changed for me
anyway, I hope it has for him too.'

They both looked sadly at the sleeping Harry, who was sprawled
inelegantly at Draco's side. Harry seemed to move a little from time to
time, or maybe Draco was imagining it: he certainly was repositioning
Harry's body so frequently (casually draping Harry's arm over his own lap
and pretending that Harry himself had placed it there) that he often lost
track of whether Harry or himself had been responsible for Harry's latest
arrangement of limbs.

'You know, when he first got that Firebolt, I was so jealous, but my father
said he wouldn't buy me one till I beat Potter at Quidditch. Now I'm really
glad I know it was you who bought it for him. I can't think of anyone who
deserves one more.'

'Well, Draco, if it means that much to you, it needn't be your father that
buys you one. I am sure we can sort one out another way. Then you can
go flying off together wherever you want.' Sirius smiled warmly.

'Do you really mean that?'

Sirius smiled again. 'Racing brooms are easily available from Quality
Quidditch Supplies, Draco.'

'No, not that,' he gulped, uncertain of how to word what he actually
meant. 'That...you would be happy to see us fly off together?'

'Draco, Harry is the only person in the world I care about anymore. If it's
what he wants, I will do everything in my power to see that he gets it.'

There was a moment of silence in the small room while they both looked
again at the sleeping Harry.

'I hope it's what he wants,' Draco wished softly. 'It's what I want.'

                                     ***
On the Friday morning, Draco woke to find himself disturbingly at ease
with the situation. For five or so days now, this had been his life. He
would sleep and wake and eat a little, and he would do it all within inches
of Harry, but Harry had no knowledge of it. He would worry about a
thousand things, all of which were connected with Harry. But on that
morning, there was less anxiety, and in a funny kind of way Draco was
actually disturbed by how peaceful he was feeling. He didn't even need to
look at Harry to know that he had not yet woken; right inside Draco's head
there was some emptiness that told him he was still unconscious. But he
did look all the same, and ran his hand through Harry's messy hair.

'Yick, Potter,' he sniffed. 'You really need to wash your hair.'

Fucking hell, thought Draco. I haven't had a shower in all this time either!
How disgusting! And these bedclothes: constantly occupied by two people
for God knows how many days. Today will be a day of Steps Forward.

'What's the matter?' asked Madam Pomfrey as she came in with some tea
a little later. 'You look different.'

'I've stopped worrying,' stated Draco. 'Or at least I've tried to stop
worrying. And start waiting. Madam Pomfrey, can we have some clean
bedclothes?'

'There is a bed over here on which the linen appears to be clean,' she
smiled.

'Good point,' said Draco, smiling back. 'Can you help me move him while
we switch the sheets over?'

'Why not just move him into this bed?' she asked, puzzled.

'Because, I'm not sure really, but, well, this one is his bed. We argued
about it. He won.'

'You could have fooled me. He won, you say? Looks more like it was a
draw.'
Draco laughed, and Madam Pomfrey was pleased at his reaction. He's
different today, she thought. She performed a mobilicorpus charm on
Harry and they left him hanging in mid-air in his crumpled blue pyjamas
while they switched the bedding over. That is to say that she did it while
he watched, as Draco had absolutely no idea how to make a bed. When
Harry was settled again, Draco turned his attention to the one piece of
toast that was on the tray. That and the odd sandwich with Sirius was
about all he had managed each day since he had come to the hospital
wing.

'You know, I feel genuinely hungry this morning. Do you think the kitchens
might have a spare bit of bacon hanging around?'

'I can easily find out. How did you sleep last night?'

Draco had tried to go a whole night without sleeping potion the night
before.

'Rubbish,' he sniffed. 'On and off all night. While he's still asleep I've got
nothing to lose by taking the potion, so I think I'll have some more later.
Enchanted sleep makes me feel uneasy when I wake, but at least it's
sleep.'

'Well, try to doze for a bit longer then, and I'll see if I can sort out a bacon
sandwich.'

'Sounds excellent, but I think I'll get up for a while. I'm awake now, and I
want a shower actually.'

Madam Pomfrey laughed. 'About time. It's been horrible in here, with the
two of you just lying around unbathed all week.'

'Eurgh, sorry. I could do with some clean pyjamas too, do you think I can
sneak back to Slytherin house to get some while the school are at lessons?'

'Absolutely not. Professor Dumbledore wouldn't hear of it. Tell me what
you want and I'll make sure the house elves bring them here.'
'I've got some more like this but dark green,' he said. 'They'll do.'

'Very well,' she muttered, eyeing his expensive silk pyjamas with a little
disdain, and then she left.

Draco went to the small bathroom, and fiddled with the shower till it was
just right. It was nothing like as good as the Slytherin showers, but it felt
marvellous to wash away all the worry of the last few days. However long
it takes, wherever we have to be, he thought, I am just going to wait. It's
all I can do. He spent nearly half an hour under the jet of water, and felt
better than he had for some time when he emerged back into the room to
find a fresh pot of tea, some bacon sandwiches and his green pyjamas on
the table. I could get used to this, he thought.

And in the relative comfort of this new-found state of relaxation, another
issue surfaced, almost as if it had been lurking until it was right to declare
itself. Something Sirius had said a few days before was bothering him.
Nothing left, he had said. I should have been the guardian of all that was
his. This special, magical baby boy. Why was this vaguely familiar? And,
coupled with this, there was the awful realisation that his father might
have been present at the murder of James and Lily Potter. Perhaps the
Death Eaters destroyed the house in their anger. Draco allowed himself to
examine more closely the tinkling of the distant bell that had sounded in
his head when Sirius had spoken to him earlier in the week. He tried to
focus on the memory but still it eluded him. Something about...what? But
it was definitely something he remembered from before...before he'd
heard the story that Sirius had told him. Bloody hell, what was it?

He pondered for a little while longer while he had a pretty good stab at a
bacon sandwich.

After breakfast Draco noticed that he was beginning to get twitchy for the
first time that week. He recognised it as boredom. The morning spread
out before him with only Sirius's lunchtime visit to look forward to. It
looked a cold bright winter day outside, with the sun glinting on the semi-
frozen surface of the lake, and he wondered if they would ever be allowed
some fresh air. Even though they had been in the room nearly a week,
Draco thought, Harry had no recollection of that time. For Harry, most of
the memories that concerned their recent er...thing, belonged outside.
Draco thought about the lake, and of course about the rose garden...

It was Hermione who made him snap out of these thoughts. She tapped
on the door and walked in some time later, and Draco found himself
curiously pleased to see her.

'Hello, Granger.'

'Hello, Malfoy. Still asleep is he?'

'Fraid so.'

'You look better, though.'

'Good. Thank you. In fact, could you do me a favour?'

'What is it?'

'You'll think this is weird.'

'Malfoy, nothing is going to seem weird after this,' she sighed, indicating
the room in general and Harry in particular.

'Good point. But, you will still find this weird, I bet.'

'OK. So I am going to find it weird. What exactly is it?'

'I'm bored. I want to do some work. Can you ask McGonagall if she can
take just a few minutes to finish explaining about that Transfiguration
project we were doing last week, and then I could write the essay.'

'You're right. That is weird; coming from you anyway. I'll ask her, I know
she hasn't been here because she didn't want to disturb you and Harry,
but I'm sure she would come up.'

'Excellent. Quills, ink, parchment, that kind of thing would also be useful.'
'Why do I get the feeling I am running errands for you?'

'Don't know, Granger. Must be your natural negative predisposition to
me. I bet if Weasley asked for some parchment, you wouldn't think of it as
an errand.'

'You,' she stated, half smiling, 'are definitely feeling better. Where's all the
blackness gone?'

'Don't know again, Granger. I suppose I just couldn't carry on fretting at
that level. It was too draining.' They both looked at Harry. Then Draco
continued, 'Talking of Weasley, ask him to sort out some clean pyjamas for
Potter would you? It's getting a bit sweaty in that bed. Potter needs
freshening up.'

'Eew,' coughed Hermione. 'That was definitely too much information.'

'Don't be coy, old girl,' smirked Draco. 'Get used to it. We could be in bed
for weeks yet.'

'OK, stop it right there. Ron will be only too pleased to do something to
help. He's driving me up the wall with questions. I wonder if Professor
Dumbledore will let Ron bring them himself. You may have stopped
worrying, but Ron hasn't. He's almost--'

'Not yet, please, Granger.' Draco was serious again now. 'I accept that
Weasley and I will have to make our peace sooner or later, for his sake' -
he indicated Harry - 'but I'm not ready for that yet. Just some pyjamas to
start with. And that message to McGonagall.'

'I'll do what I can,' she said, and after a little while chatting about how
Harry was still asleep, which seemed to be the only reason she had for
visiting in the first place, she left.

Not a bad sort, after all, thought Draco.

                                      ***
'Pyjamas? Is that it? After days of telling me that you aren't able to say
anything, that it's totally top secret, even though I know most of it anyway,
and far more than Harry, and you've been chosen as Dumbledore's special
helper when I want to help too, all I get is, Harry needs some clean
pyjamas?'

'Yes,' laughed Hermione. 'Now, does he have any?'

'I expect so. He's got two pairs. Did he say where they would be?'

Hermione, under Dumbledore's instructions, had not told Ron or the
others about Harry's magical coma. She tried to brush this question off in
such a way so that she wouldn't have to reveal why Harry hadn't asked for
them himself.

'No,' Hermione said. 'He didn't. He was asleep actually. The request came
from Malfoy.'

'Malfoy?' snorted Ron. 'Why on earth does Malfoy want Harry's pyjamas?'

'He doesn't, you fool. Not for himself. He wants them for Harry. I think
he's being thoughtful, giving Harry the chance to change if he wants to.
He's been in bed for six days, must be getting a bit sweaty by now.'

'Malfoy is concerned by how sweaty Harry is getting?' goggled Ron.

'That's about it, yes'.

'Hermione, why do I get the feeling there's something you're not telling
me?'

'Ron, you know I am not able to talk about this. But I will tell you one
thing.'

'What?' Ron asked eagerly.

'Well, it's not really telling you anything. It's more of a sort of a word of
caution.'
'Whatever it is, just say it Herm,' said Ron impatiently.

'Ok. I think you are going to be surprised by...erm, I don't know how to put
this...by exactly how close Malfoy and Harry have become. Well, actually
I'm not sure about Harry, but Malfoy's softened considerably towards
Harry. They are very close now. Be prepared for it when the time comes.'

'Yick,' said Ron. 'Exactly how close?'

'Well,' mused Hermione. 'Close enough I guess for Malfoy to be bothered
by how sweaty Harry is getting. So. Clean pyjamas, as soon as you are
able.'

The look of queasiness on Ron's face actually made Hermione laugh aloud.

                                     ***

The next visitors were Sirius and McGonagall, who arrived at about the
time Draco was expecting Sirius for lunch. Draco found himself rather
irritated that McGonagall was there at all, even though he had requested
her presence; he was tentatively looking forward to another chat with
Sirius alone. Harry, it goes without saying, was asleep.

'So,' began McGonagall. 'How long has it been now?'

'It's now one o'clock on Friday,' Draco sighed. 'He took the potion at about
three o'clock on Sunday, maybe three-thirty. So, practically five days. Or
one hundred and eighteen hours, to be more precise.'

'You look better though.'

'Thank you, Professor. I feel better.'

'So I gather. Hence, your request for some Transfiguration to work on.
Delighted though I am that you have chosen my subject for this great
honour, we feel there are better ways for you to be spending your time.
Have you practised your wand skills like I suggested?'

'No, not really.'
'Well, that's your project then. Charms, rather than Transfiguration. Just
revise all the charms you know, and see if your abilities have altered. Go
on, try it now. Levitation charm, this tea cup.'

Draco reached for his wand. 'Wingardium Leviosa' he intoned.

The cup rose out of McGonagall's hand and hovered about six inches
above.

'Neatly done,' she judged, 'but a second year could do that. Now try the
whole tray, and keep it steady.'

He duly did so. The tray lifted effortlessly from her grasp, and as a neat
trick he raised the plate some way off the tray itself.

'Now that is more impressive. Try the chair.'

Draco was able to raise the chair easily, and he let it rise to the ceiling,
where it bumped gently. Then he turned the chair twice in different
directions, firstly swivelled so it faced the wall, then rotated so it was
hovering legs upwards. 'Where shall I bring it down?' he said, enjoying
himself.

The chair safely back on the floor, McGonagall said, 'now the bed.'

It was ludicrously easy. Draco raised the bed smoothly about four feet
above the ground, then looked over the edge and down at Sirius and
McGonagall. 'Wow!' he cried. 'I feel like I could take it out the window
and around the Quidditch pitch!'

'That is excellent, Draco,' smiled McGonagall. 'Especially as I meant the
empty bed, not yours.'

'Oh!' laughed Draco. 'Sorry!' He let the bed glide serenely back to the
floor. 'This is amazing! I've always been crap at Charms!'

'And Mr Potter has always been excellent. You have much to discover,
Draco. We expect you to have far greater magical ability now. You can do
some more Charms later. Tomorrow you can do some Transfiguration,
which is something Harry is not quite so good at. That will be interesting
to see. After lunch, we want you to take some more sleeping draught, just
a five hour dose, to make up for the rough sleep you got last night. You
can do some more Charms this evening; in fact I'll ask Miss Granger to
come and help. She will be an excellent partner for this kind of thing.'

'OK,' agreed Draco, still quite thrilled at his dramatic improvement at the
Levitation charm.

She left after that, and Draco and Sirius settled down to another light
lunch. Draco didn't eat much though, and strangely enough, neither did
Sirius.

'You seem sad today, Sirius,' said Draco softly.

'Yes, I am a bit. It's just strange to think that I now know you better than I
know Harry. I wish Harry and I could have had a chance like this. I have so
much to tell him, so much he doesn't know, about his parents, about what
they were like, about how much they loved him'.

Draco remained silent. That was indeed sad, but he didn't feel it meant
they should never have started talking.

'I'm still glad we've had these chats though,' he ventured. 'I think Harry's
really lucky to have you as his family.'

'Thank you Draco, that is very generous of you.'

Draco let this compliment hang in the air, but inside he turned thoughtful.
He wanted to say something, even though he had nothing concrete to say.

'Sirius, there's something on my mind.'

'What is it?'

'That's the problem. I have no idea. I can't remember.'

Sirius smiled. 'Well, I can hardly advise if--'
'It's weird though,' interrupted Draco, afraid that Sirius thought he was
joking around. 'At least, it feels weird. If only I could blasted well
remember what it was. But it's certainly something to do with what you
said the other day. About Harry as a baby. It's been nagging in my head
for two days now. But I just can't think why.'

Sirius was silent, as if saying something now might sever the connection
that Draco's mind was trying to make. But Draco remained in thought for
some minutes more, and Sirius decided that the moment had passed.
Draco looked suddenly tired, and Sirius felt it was time to go.

'Well, I'm sure it's not important,' he said. 'And if it is, it will occur to you
soon enough. Now, take this potion, and get some more rest. You are
looking lots better, but it can only help more. Oh, and by the way, these
are for Harry, from Ron, via Hermione and me. How's that for a good
delivery service? We'll work out a way to get him into them tomorrow.'

He placed a clean pair of pyjamas on the other bed.

Sirius watched Draco drink the draught, and then waited till he was deeply
asleep, curled up in the little bed with his godson.

                                       ***

It had been a regular sleeping potion, so there was the usual uneasy jolt
back into consciousness when its effects wore off at about six o'clock that
evening. Oh God, I am never going to get used to this, thought Draco,
feeling slightly sick. He stayed as still as possible, waiting for the anxiety to
pass, gaining reassurance from the warmth that surrounded him. Harry's
arm had somehow got around him while he had slept, and Draco snuggled
lots closer to him to ease the discomfort he was feeling. This was soooo
comfortable. I could stay here like this for the rest of my life, he thought.

His thoughts cleared slightly. Evening. Another attempt at a meal, and
then some extra Charms with Granger. Not an entirely awful way to spend
an evening, he thought. Although, blimey. Hang on, something's different
here.
His eyes pinged open.

Harry was laying on his side, his arm draped round Draco, looking at him
and smiling.

'You're awake!' cried Draco. 'You're really bloody awake!'

'Yes,' replied Harry smiling. 'Unlike you, who was sleeping like a baby till
just now. It was nice watching you. What did you do, sneak in with me
when Madam Pomfrey left? I don't remember you getting in, I must have
already been asleep.'

Draco had so many things to say that precisely none of them came out.

'Er, er, erm...!'

'Can't stay away from me eh, Malfoy? Or were you just bitter about losing
the bed?' grinned Harry.

'Potter, listen to me! You're awake! That's marvellous!'

'Marvellous, is it? Well I do feel better, that's for sure. Although, it's only
six o'clock, so that can't have been a full five hour potion like Madam
Pomfrey said.'

'Potter, shut up! You think it was nice watching me sleep? I'm the flippin'
School Champion at watching you sleep, you git!'

'What do you mean? You've only just woken up. It was strange being able
to feel you become conscious again.'

'That is true. I have only just woken up. But, well, Potter, you might find
this difficult to take in, but it is not Sunday.'

'Eh? Don't be silly. It's evening. We went to sleep this afternoon, after we
changed into pyjamas. It was funny, remember, seeing Madam Pomfrey's
face! You said, you said, blimey I can't even say it. You said you found me
attractive. I can't believe you said that! I've been thinking it about for the
last half hour, watching you sleep so peacefully. And do you know what
Malfoy, I can't believe I'm going to say this either, but I find you--'

'Potter, stop side-tracking me! Save the special compliments for later.
What colour are my pyjamas?'

'Malfoy, what on earth are you talking about? I was just about to say--'

'Potter! What colour are my pyjamas?!'

'Black, you idiot. Black silk. I watched you put them on just this
afternoon.'

'Oh God, are you infuriating!' cried Draco. He threw back the covers that
lay over both of them.

'Or...green,' said Harry, surprised. 'How did that happen?'

'I changed, you moron. Because today is not Sunday! Now, will you let me
speak?'

'OK, speak. It appears we have time.'

'Time? Stop interrupting! Don't say anything; not till you've heard me.'

Harry said nothing, waiting, mildly interested.

'You took that potion on Sunday. We both did. I slept for the duration
expected. You did not wake. There was some alarm. Snape said that it
could not be due to the potion. I got more worried the more I thought
about it. Then after a lot of indecision and ignorance and guessing, they
finally worked it out. You had not slept for ages, and your body was tired.
The potion delivered you to an enchanted sleep; your body and mind liked
it there. You needed to rest, and blocked everything out. No wakey-
wakey. Granger and Dumbledore got to the bottom of it: you were in a
magical coma, caused by psychological distress. I was frantic; couldn't help
it. You slept on and on. I changed my pyjamas, because now it's been
ages. Potter, you won't believe me, but it's Friday. You have slept for five
days. And now thank God you are awake again, and I can begin to stop
worrying.'

Draco, shivering suddenly, pulled the covers back over them, and held
Harry tightly.

'It's Friday?'

'Yes.'

'I've been in a coma?'

'Yes.'

'Hermione worked it out?'

'Yes.'

'Well, at least that bit makes sense.'

'It all makes sense, dummy. And when they find out you are awake, they
are all going to be so happy. Everyone's been so worried. Sirius - really
nice guy by the way, your godfather - he'll be made up.'

'You've been talking to Sirius?'

'Yes. He's nice.'

'I know he's nice. He's my godfather. Did you know that?'

'I just said I knew that. Blimey Potter, keep up.'

'I can't keep up. What you said makes no sense. I can't have slept for five
days, you git. Your brain's distressed.'

'My brain has been distressed, you bastard, I can't even begin to tell you
how much. OK, have it your way. But boy are you going to be proved
wrong! Quite soon, I would imagine. What's the time? Dumbledore
usually comes in about seven. Tempus.'

The Snitch-clock informed him politely that it was twenty past six.
'Hey!' cried Harry. 'That clock is enchanted so only I can use it! How did
you do that?'

'Potter, we have a great deal to talk about. I have about a hundred things
to tell you, and we have many disagreements and tears in front of us. The
clock is about as far down the list as it is possible to get. Now, just
concentrate hard on what I am saying: YOU HAVE BEEN ASLEEP FOR FIVE
DAYS!!! That is a fact. In that time they've all been worried, but none of
them as much as me. Potter, do you get all this? I have been here next to
you for five days. And on that note, you bloody need a shower. And
Weasley dug out some fresh pyjamas for you. Nice to see they're as stylish
as these groovy babies. So, a shower, some clean PJs, and you must be
mighty hungry. I didn't know chicken-and-ham pie was your favourite, so I
tried to eat enough for both of us. That sounds very very soppy now I have
voiced it aloud. I am sure Dumbledore will let you have whatever you
want. He let me, and I had chicken-and-ham pie, because Granger told me
it was your favourite.'

'Malfoy, are you on drugs?'

'No! You're not listening.'

'Well, you're not explaining! Have you really been here in bed with me all
that time?'

'Yes,' Draco blushed. 'I just couldn't leave, sorry, it was so awful, the only
way I felt better was to be right next to you. I'm sorry. Are you upset?'

'Yes,' said Harry, slowly. 'I'm upset that I wasn't awake to enjoy it. I would
like to have known what that was like.'

'Well, you're awake now. And I'm here. Are you enjoying it?'

'Yes.'

'Well, that's what it's been like. Except for five days. And with the most
enormous dose of frantic worry. They were all worrying, even though not
all of them showed it. But I can stop worrying now--'
'Who is this "they all"?'

'Me. Sirius. Dumbledore. McGonagall. Snape. Pomfrey. Granger. And
me.'

'Ha! A regular conspiracy. You said me twice.'

'I was worrying twice as much. I should have said me twenty times. A
hundred times.'

'Snape was worried? Come off it. And why Hermione but not Ron?'

'Snape was worried. Believe me. Especially when he thought there might
have been something wrong with the potion he made.'

'What about Ron?'

'What about him? Did I mention that I was worried?'

'Yes, you mentioned it about a hundred times I believe. What about Ron?'

'He's not in the Inner Circle, it seems. The only visitors have been Sirius,
staff and Granger. Dumbledore's had her researching stuff about comas in
the library.'

'She would have been excellent at that.'

'Apparently she was. Sorted it all out. Even missed lessons to do it.'

'Good on her. But what about Ron? He would have helped her I am sure.'

'Potter, it's secret. You and I being here is secret. The Inner Circle is small.
The rest of the school think we're suffering from sleeping sickness.
Weasley is not in on this one, Potter. Dumbledore's decision.'

'Oh. How cloak-and-dagger. Sleeping sickness? What are we suffering
from?'

'That, as I said to you earlier in the week, is tomorrow's task.'

'Oh. Yes. You said that about five hours ago.'
'No, five days ago, you cretin. Haven't you listened to anything?'

'How worried were you again?' asked Harry coyly.

'Potter, don't make me say it again. Anyway, I've stopped worrying now.
Well, worrying about that, about the coma. I have loads of other things to
worry about.' Draco turned rather quiet. 'Like...whether you can ever
really like me or not.'

'Ha! You're worried about that? Bit late now you've just been in bed with
me for five days.' Harry was grinning again. 'Jesus, five days, I still don't
believe you! Let's call Madam Pomfrey, she'll be able to sort this out.'

'No!'

'Ha! She'll expose your Inner Circles and sleeping sicknesses and clever
pyjama switches and chicken-and-ham pies. Five days! Come on, let's call
her.'

'No!'

'Why not?'

'Because, Potter you moron, because I want to have you to myself for a
little while,' said Draco softly.

Harry smiled. 'Well, you've got me. God only knows how it happened, but
I appear to be in bed with you. And I am surprisingly sort of enjoying it, as
we established earlier. So that would seem to count as having me to
yourself. What do you suggest happens now?'

'Potter, you insufferable git, come here.'

Draco hugged him hard, breathing deeply. Harry could feel a mountain of
tension flooding away from him. He felt so comfortable there in that
warm safe hug with Malfoy, and he instinctively hugged him back.
Something close to genuine relaxation filled the room.

'Don't go away again,' said Draco into Harry's neck.
'I'm not going anywhere, ever.'

They parted and lay still in the bed, aware of each other's breathing,
sensing each other's comfort.

It was twenty glorious minutes before Dumbledore arrived for his usual
brief visit, and in that time Harry and Draco lay quietly together under the
covers of Harry's bed, talking a little more, but not much. There was such
genuine happiness in the small room that Harry kept smiling and laughing
to himself, and then thinking Bloody Hell! Malfoy!

Draco himself was increasingly more sober. After the initial thrill of seeing
Harry awake, he was beginning to feel weighed down by the task in front
of them, but found Harry's mood infectious all the same. As the minutes
ticked by, Draco was torn between trying to enjoy the moment and
worrying about what was to come. And seeing as he had made no issue
about being in Harry's bed all week in front of the whole Inner Circle, why
was he suddenly feeling that their current situation was too intimate to be
seen by the others?

Because, he supposed, before, he knew they all shared his concern, so it
wasn't as personal to him, but now, they had no part of this thing between
him and Potter, so he didn't feel they had a right to see this closeness.
Even Dumbledore. In fact especially Dumbledore. He sat up suddenly,
drawing his knees up close and leaning uncomfortably against the head of
the bed. Harry was surprised.

'What's the matter?' he asked.

'I don't know really,' said Draco. 'It's just...Dumbledore's going to be here
any minute.'

'So what? Dumbledore put us here.'

'Yes I know. But did he put us here so we can do...this?'

'I don't know. You tell me. Why did he put us here?'
Draco was silent.

'And anyway, why are you suddenly embarrassed, if you've been in this
bed for five days? I'm not embarrassed.'

'Aren't you?' said Draco slowly, looking at Harry hopefully.

Harry shook his head, smiling warmly.

'Potter...' began Draco, very tentatively. 'Do you really not know why we
are here?'

'Well...' breathed Harry slowly.

The door opened, and Dumbledore entered.

For a man who, despite eccentricity, always seemed totally in control of
even the weightiest situations, his reaction on seeing Harry awake was
striking.

'Harry!' he cried. 'How terrific! Gosh, all awake and smiling!'

Among the Inner Circle, as Draco had called it, news spread fast once it
was discovered that Harry had woken. Over the next couple of hours each
member of the group called by briefly, and they all looked relieved to
various degrees ranging from Snape's brusqueness through Sirius's warmth
to Hermione's squeal. And when Madam Pomfrey left them for the night
with some more food and, surprisingly, some more sleeping potion, Harry
felt disoriented, as if he'd been overtaken by events.

'Everybody I have seen since I woke up,' he said to Draco, 'has known
something that I haven't. Including you. Especially you.'

'Potter...' said Draco, feeling tired again, and bashing the pillow in the
same way that a dog circles its bed before sleep, 'that's tomorrow's task.'
                              CHAPTER TWELVE

                                      ~

                             TOMORROW'S TASK

The next morning, Saturday, Draco experienced a weird additional
restlessness mixed up with the usual discomfort of rising from enchanted
sleep: Harry was going through it as well. What's more, the unease of both
of them combined seemed to be more than twice as bad as Draco was
(sort of) used to.

They were entwined in their most intimate position yet, a tangle of limbs
and mild nausea.

'Eurghhh,' moaned Harry from somewhere near Draco's neck.

'Awful, isn't it,' muttered Draco, grimacing as his head and insides forced
themselves through some sluggish internal gymnastics.

'You can say that again,' croaked Harry, his throat dry, his body unnaturally
warm.

'Awful, isn't it,' repeated Draco.

Harry punched him half-heartedly in the ribs, a movement which required
more effort than he would have expected, as his arm was crushed under
Draco's body. Draco managed a tiny snigger.

The two of them drifted gradually into full consciousness.

'Tempus,' Harry whispered about five minutes later, once the nausea had
passed.

The Snitch-clock informed him politely that it was almost 6am.

There was another pause, and then Harry said, 'Well, Malfoy, it's tomorrow
now. I think we have some talking to do.'
'All in good time, Potter,' Draco replied. 'How about a shower and some
breakfast first? Pomfrey managed to rustle up some bacon yesterday, how
do you feel about that?'

'Bacon? Er...I'm not sure if I want...we had a huge meal just last night...'

'It was not a huge meal. It was some boiled eggs, and you finished precisely
half an egg and no toast. Come on Potter, you can't do this not eating
forever. You're painfully thin anyway, and I don't--'

'Are you nagging me?' asked Harry, his eyes wide in a surprised smile.

Draco looked at him, slightly sheepishly. 'Well, if I don't, who will?'

'Ha! That's an easy one, Malfoy,' laughed Harry. 'Ron. Hermione. Sirius.
Mrs Weasley. You want me to add your name to that list?'

'No! Definitely not. I don't want to be on any list with two, maybe more,
Weasleys. Eat what you want, Potter. I will have some bacon though.
Probably in a sandwich. Don't whine when you see how good it looks.'

They laughed a bit more and fell back into their previous tangle, their
bodies as closely mixed up as they could get. Suddenly Harry felt decidedly
uneasy, and oh my God...no! He was becoming aroused. Incredibly,
unmissably, rigidly aroused. The nearness of Malfoy's delicious body was
having that effect on him. He broke away from the hug in a panic.

Draco looked at him in amusement.

'What?' said Harry, edgily.

'Can't fool me, Potter,' he grinned.

'What do you mean?' blurted Harry quickly.

'Well, you're forgetting. I can feel these things in my head. To say nothing
of jammed against my leg.'
Harry blushed crimson, but Draco laughed. Harry felt warmed that Draco
was so comfortable with what had happened.

'And I'm guessing it's not the thought of the bacon that's got you so
steamed up,' he added, smiling.

They both stared at each other and burst out laughing, Harry seemingly
losing his self-consciousness in an instant. Then the laughing stopped and
Harry felt the mood swing abruptly to the left. Harry could feel Draco's
intention in his own head.

Draco leaned over and kissed Harry on the forehead. Then on the nose,
then on each cheek. His lips were as soft as feathers. Harry trembled, and
then their mouths met, and the whole world seemed to stop. And this
time, it wasn't one kissing the other, but a natural union of both of them.

It was wonderful.

'You,' stated Draco breathlessly, breaking away, '...bloody need a shower.'

'Malfoy, I...' began Harry.

'Shhhh. Shhh-shower. Now. Then food. Then we will talk, I promise.'

Harry smiled shyly and said, 'OK, Malfoy, it's a good plan,' and then rose
and disappeared into the bathroom.

Draco got out of bed and turned to the window, but as it was so early in
the morning it was too dark to make out whether there had been any fresh
snow overnight. Staring at the shadowy nothingness of pre-dawn, he
heard the water begin to run in the bathroom, and then his thoughts
began to wander. This was going to be the make-or-break day. It was going
to have to be handled very very sensitively and he was naturally nervous,
but he was sort of looking forward to it as well. Here's where we lay the
foundations, he thought. This day has got be...right.

The view was still nothing and the water was still running. His mind
wandered back to what had been niggling him for a couple of days now.
Sirius had said there was nothing left. Why did Draco feel deep in his guts
that this was not so? How could it possibly be that he might know
something that Sirius did not? And if he did know something, what on
earth was it? Blast. This frustration was not exactly welcome considering
everything else that was still to be tackled.

He sighed deeply, and tried to shake off the irritation by concerning
himself with something totally mundane. Hell, it was probably nothing.
Hearing once again the dull hiss from the water in the bathroom, his
thoughts turned to Harry, and he busied himself clearing the table so that
he and Harry could have some breakfast when he got out of the shower.
Madam Pomfrey always seemed to know within a few minutes when the
effect of the sleeping potion had worn off, and no doubt she would be in
within moments hassling them about eating. Leaving Harry's clean pyjamas
where they were, he picked half a dozen objects and moved them to the
spare bed: some parchment and quills, a bag of Hedwig's owl treats, a
library book on Transfiguration and their wands.

And then he stared.

Of course! The recognition became a memory, and the memory linked
itself to several other thoughts in quick succession. Of course! That book.

As he thought about that day years before, the drumming of the water
from the shower seemed louder. And then the moment was gone, as
Madam Pomfrey opened the door and entered, followed closely by Sirius.

'Where's Harry?' he asked, alarmed at not being able to see his godson.

'In the shower,' smiled Draco. 'At last.'

Sirius looked relieved, and Draco warmed further to him.

'So...to what do we owe the pleasure of this visit...' enquired Draco, in
mock annoyance, '...so early?'
Madam Pomfrey looked like she has already tried to ask Sirius the same
question. 'Well, I'm here...so early,' she mimicked, 'to see how you slept.
But as for Mr Black, I have no idea.'

'I just couldn't stay away,' said Sirius, grinning.

'I slept well, thanks, and so did Potter. At least as well as you ever can
sleep with the aid of a potion. And I also have something of an appetite,
and I think I have convinced Potter of the same.'

'Good. I'll see what the kitchens can do,' she said, and left.

'Sirius,' began Draco, sounding rather puzzled. 'You know what I said
yesterday about not remembering something? There's a book.'

'Er...sorry?' said Sirius, slightly bemused.

'There's a book. In the library at home. I've been trying to remember
something for the last couple of days, ever since you told me the story of
how...of you know, the night when Potter was a baby, and the
house...well, it rang some kind of bell in my head.'

'Draco, you're not making any sense. What book?'

'I just remembered. When I was little I used to go and sit with my father in
his library. He used to tell me about a different book each time. I suppose
that's when my education began. There were magical textbooks, history
books, and, well, some others too.'

Sirius did not push the point. What Lucius Malfoy might keep in his library
didn't really bear thinking about.

'And then there was this one particular book', continued Draco, half-
smiling at the memory. 'I must have been eight or nine years old. And my
father told me that this was a very special book indeed, because some
books could hold more than words. They could hold thoughts and feelings
and memories. And this book, he said, held memories of a magical baby
boy. I thought he meant me. But it wasn't me. The pictures were not of
anyone I knew. The words came from voices I had never heard. It was
obviously...a different magical baby.'

'Do you mean...?'

'I don't know. I never thought about it again. Maybe--'

'Happier now?!' trilled Harry as he came out of the bathroom, utterly
naked, despite a towel he was trying (and failing) to secure round his thin
waist. 'I'm completely clean and fresh as a baby and, oh shit, Sirius! Er,
hello.'

Harry gave up on the towel in his haste to cover himself up and grabbed
the clean pyjamas. He tried to jump into them as quickly as possible but in
his rush his leg got caught and he went hopping clumsily towards the bed
considerably more out of the pyjamas than in them. He landed on the bed
in a heap of nudity that was far from elegant.

Draco was highly amused, but Harry was mortified. Harry's intense
discomfort at being caught naked made a powerful and immediate
presence in Draco's head. Not just naked either, but naked in a way that he
obviously intended to be fine in front of Draco but which was way beyond
embarrassing in front of his godfather. He went quickly to where Harry,
whose blush was so angry it looked like he'd been scalded, was struggling
with the pyjama trousers tied in some kind of knot around his ankles.
Draco speedily and effortlessly helped him to a state of decency.

Then with Harry sat tidily on the edge of the bed, Draco placed his hands
on Harry's shoulders and said quietly and warmly, 'steady on, old boy.'

They exchanged grins.

'Er, I think I'm intruding,' said Sirius. 'So I think I'll go.'

Neither Harry nor Draco heard him speak, or leave the room.

                                          ***

It was not going badly, but it was not exactly going well either.
Breakfast lay in a cold, congealed mess on a plate next to their bed, as
Madam Pomfrey had optimistically provided them with enough bacon for
a dozen people. If only the bacon itself had a way of making this easier,
they would have been laughing. But there was no laughing, not yet
anyway.

'So...' said Harry, 'our magic's got mixed up together?'

'Er, in a way, yes.'

'Why exactly? That's the bit I don't understand. And go over that bit about
the fauns again.'

'Potter! Have you been listening? I have tried to explain it hundreds of
different ways. But if you refuse to accept what this is all about, this is
going to get very very difficult, not to say painful.'

Harry looked hurt and turned away from Draco. His world, so newly sort of
patched back together, was falling apart again. Was this warmth between
them not due to anything other than a crazy side-effect of having innate
magic? Was it not actually real?

'OK, Potter, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap. Let's start again;
very slowly. I know this is a lot to take in. When two people with innate
magic meet for the first time, there is the possibility that...'

                                      ***

It was nearly lunchtime. The mood in their little kingdom had been
rocketing around all morning, and Draco was beginning to wonder if it was
all simply going to be too much for Harry to take in. After all, he was still
rather vulnerable.

'So let me get this straight,' summarised Harry. 'A long time ago, on my
first full day of consciously being a wizard, I met you in a shop.'

'What do you mean, consciously being a wizard? Haven't you always been
one? You must certainly have been one when, as a baby...'
'Yes, but I don't remember that. When I went to London with Hagrid that
day, I'd only found out I was a wizard the night before, when I got my
letter. But that's another story. We're way off the point and I was going--'

'You only found out when you got your letter?' Draco was astonished.
'Nothing at all before? No brooms, wands, Quidditch, nothing?'

'No!' Harry was getting irritated again. 'Now it's you who's not listening! I
only found out the day before! My aunt and uncle had hidden it from me,
hoping I would never get the letter, so that they would never have to
acknowledge what I was, what I am. They told me my parents had died in a
car crash, that I got the scar from the same crash.'

'They did what?!' exploded Draco.

'You heard me. Dumbledore knew the letters weren't getting to me - my
uncle was destroying them - and he sent Hagrid to sort it out. The next day
Hagrid took me to Diagon Alley to buy my Hogwarts stuff. It was all
amazingly new, overwhelming. And I met you in that robe shop. Hagrid
was the first member of the magical community that I ever met. Apart
from a few casual hellos, you were the second.'

'I can't believe your aunt and uncle did that! You're...you're Harry Potter!
Famous and everything. And you knew nothing about it? How come I don't
know this?'

'Malfoy, shut up interrupting will you? This is difficult enough as it is
without you getting bogged down with boring past history.'

'But Potter, your past now affects me, greatly. I need to know this kind of
stuff. I'll never truly know you otherwise.'

'Malfoy,' Harry was choking with frustration, 'my past history affects you?
What about yours? What about your father? Do I need to know about your
shameful background too? Do I even want to know?'

It was too difficult to continue. Draco paced the room while Harry fumed
on the bed, and another impasse was reached.
                                     ***

The arrival of some hot soup and bread at lunchtime had temporarily
eased the situation. But only marginally.

'So,' began Harry again, trying to state conclusions. 'A long time ago, I met
you in a shop. Details of that meeting, like for example how you called
Hagrid some kind of servant or something, are for the moment irrelevant--'

'Don't mention them then, if they're irrelevant,' snapped Draco.

'And in that moment,' said Harry, ignoring him, 'we fell in love? At eleven
years old? I hardly think that's credible. I am sure--'

'Potter, listen. Not in that moment, no. Nor in any other specific moment.
But in the shop that day a connection was made. We'll probably never
know why. Maybe because you were more susceptible to new things on
that day than you had ever been. Maybe because I had never really had
any friends. Or maybe because I was simply the first person of your own
age you met in your new world. But whatever, a connection was made.
And since that day, the love has grown a little at a time, a tiny bit more
each day, like stacking up bricks until we had a castle. Until in fact, we
reach a stage where you can be comfortable being naked in front of me,
and where I can't bear it if we don't sleep in the same bed, and where we
can kiss, Potter, like our very lives depend on it.'

Harry looked at him incredulously.

'And they may very well depend on it, in fact,' added Draco casually.

'But that doesn't make any sense! I hated you until last week. I haven't
been stacking "love bricks" anywhere. This is crazy, Malfoy!'

'The connection was made that day,' insisted Draco. 'On that day, we both
took our first step on the path that leads to where we are now. But...there
were complications.'

'What complications?'
'Well, loads; thousands probably. But they all stem from the first, critical
complication.'

'Which was what?'

'Weasley.'

'Leave Ron out of this.'

'I can't. You wanted to know. You've got to know. The next time we met,
on the train, I offered you my hand. You refused it, because of Weasley.'

'Of course I did. You insulted him outrageously. And have done countless
times since.'

Draco softened a little, sighing slightly.

'Potter, we're going to have to split this conversation into two bits. The
first is this one: the facts, and getting our heads round them. The second
will have to be dealing with all the shit that comes out of the first bit, but
which we can't look at now, or we will never ever get to the fucking end.
I'm sorry about Weasley. I truly am. And I'm going to owe you more
apologies than that before the end of the day. But just try to put aside the
ill-feeling for now. Please.'

'OK,' grunted Harry, after a while.

'Good. Now. On that day, you refused my hand. And somehow, because of
that refusal - I don't quite know how, and Granger's still trying to
understand it I think - the emotional intensity between us increased as
hate instead of, well, instead of love. But it increased all the same...'

                                      ***

'That bloody faun! You mean, we've got Dixter to thank for this mess?'

'POTTER! You have understood NOTHING! The fauns did NOT cause this!
They merely brought our attention to it. Well, my attention. You were so
blind you just went off on a six-week moody because you didn't
understand what was going on. Try to understand NOW, please, I'm
begging you! God, you've no idea what this has been like for me! Watching
you night after night creeping closer to the edge of despair, wondering
how on earth I was going to tell you! And your bloody friends! They were
frantic. Weasley was distraught. Granger had it all worked out of course.
She--'

'Hermione knew?'

'Yes of course she bloody knew. And in your heart of hearts you know she
knew. She came to me with Weasley to call a truce for your sake, trying to
make it easier for you to come to terms with it. You don't know how
fucking lucky you are having friends like that. How on earth could you have
put them through all that pain? Have you any idea what--'

'Hermione knows everything? And Ron?' For the second time in his life,
Harry was fighting a losing battle against tears.

'Yes. And all your other mates from the Tower. And all the Inner Circle of
staff, and Sirius. And me. All of us frantically worried about you. And what
did you do? You cut everyone out and try to be valiant and self-sufficient.
Typical bloody Gryffindor.'

'Hermione and Ron came to talk to you, because of me?' Harry's voice was
small, almost terrified. 'They did that for me?'

'They love you, you tit. Even in the face of startlingly shoddy behaviour
from you. Everyone cares about you, moron. Most of all me.'

Such an awful realisation, that he'd thought they would hate him, but they
had actually become even more like a family than he could ever have
hoped, made him feel both indecently blessed and wracked with guilt. The
combination was too much, and tears began to leak silently from his eyes.
Draco stopped talking, and, unable to stop himself, pulled Harry toward
him. They sat for a long while, Harry sobbing into Draco's chest, and Draco
rubbing Harry's back softly and murmuring gentle nothings into his neck.

                                    ***
Harry was edgy now. The range of emotions he'd been through that
afternoon was too much for anyone, especially someone still as vulnerable
as Harry was. He paced the room incessantly, pausing by the window every
few steps to watch the dusk settle over the snowy world outside. Draco
watched him from the bed, eyes never leaving him, trying to work out
exactly what Harry's state of mind was now.

Suddenly Harry grabbed a quill and a small piece of parchment, and
scribbled something in double quick time. He nuzzled Hedwig for about
one second and then despatched her with the note.

'What was that all about?' asked Draco.

'Nothing,' muttered Harry quickly.

'Have it your way then,' sniffed Draco.

Harry paced for a long while more, and then stopped and said quickly, 'so
it's not unnatural then? It's not caused by magic, or fauns; it's not a
disease or a sickness; it's just, real emotions? And what I'm feeling, what
I've been feeling increasingly for weeks now, about you, that's real? It's
true, and decent, and I've not been tricked into it, or anything? And all the
pain I've felt, it's because I haven't dared face up to the fact that I might' -
gulp - 'like you?'

Draco smiled.

'Bingo. We have a winner! And it's the same for me. But the one difference
is, Potter, that I am not afraid to say the word love.'

Harry's shoulders sagged, and Draco thought for a second that Harry might
be about to collapse. He jumped up and steadied him, and held him close
in the middle of the room.

'Potter', he whispered. 'You're exhausted. And I am too. Let's get some
potion, and sleep for a while'.
He laid Harry down in the bed, and then ventured out onto the main ward
to find Madam Pomfrey, who nearly had a fit at him for the effect his
sudden appearance had on a group of Ravenclaws who were being treated
for Quidditch injuries. He asked for two goblets of five-hour deep sleeping
draught, and, refusing food, retreated back to the little room.

'Blimey', said Draco, as he snuggled up next to Harry. 'It was Slytherin v
Ravenclaw this afternoon. I wonder who won? I wonder who we used as
Seeker?'

'No idea. You know something else weird? Apart from Sirius, we've had no
visitors today.'

'I think that was probably deliberate. Give us a chance to talk and such.
You know.'

Madam Pomfrey entered with the smoky potion, and set them down. She
tried briefly - without success - to get them to eat something, then left.

'Come on Potter, down in one, and let Morphia be our companion.'

'I think she'd probably feel like she were intruding, don't you?' grinned
Harry, as they settled down again into each other's familiar warmth.

                                     ***

'It's Hedwig!' cried Ron at supper that night.

Hedwig glided to Ron's shoulder and stuck out her leg to deliver the slip of
parchment. Ron took the note and began to feed the elegant snowy some
of his dinner: cold beef and potatoes.

'Ron!' said Hermione sharply. 'Don't feed animals at the table, it's gross.'

Seamus and Dean ooohed dramatically at this rebuke. Hermione pursed
her lips. Ron didn't notice.

'It's not an animal, it's Hedwig,' stated Ron, reading Harry's words intently.
'Is it from Harry?' asked Hermione, her manner softened again.

'Yes. He wants the cloak. Tonight. I'll take it to him after midnight when
the castle is quiet.'

'Ron! You can't! McGonagall said dire consequences if anyone snuck in
there before tomorrow evening!'

'I don't care. Harry wants the cloak, and he's asked me for it. I'm going to
take it to him.'

'Ron you're so stubborn...sometimes I think--'

'I don't care what you think, not this time, Herm. I'm going to take the
cloak to Harry. So live with it.'

'OK. Well. I'm coming with you then. You're not going to risk anything
without me.'

Seamus, Dean, Neville and Ginny all ahhh!-ed at this moment between
them.

'Oh! So...cute!' cooed Ginny.

'Shut up, Gin', said Ron, blushing.

'Or what?' demanded Ginny.

'Or, I'll tell everyone what I saw you and Seamus up to last night.'

'And what exactly do you think you saw, Ron?'

'You really want me to say in front of everyone?'

'Er...no,' said Ginny, blushing as much as Ron.

Ron and Ginny resumed eating to the accompaniment of more sarcastic
ooohs from around the table.

                                      ***
Harry woke up not far off midnight that night, with the same
uncomfortable feelings he'd had that morning. Draco was still in
enchanted sleep: there was an emptiness in Draco's head that he'd not felt
before. But that is not to say that Harry was not aware of Draco's
presence. Their legs were completely entwined, and their arms were all
mixed up under and around each other's bodies. Draco's (empty) head was
lodged somewhere in Harry's left armpit, and though there were no
thoughts to connect them, each shallow exhalation from Draco seemed to
be in synchrony with his own relaxed heartbeat.

This is what it must have been like for Malfoy for five whole days, thought
Harry. He wanted to hold Draco even closer, but that was not possible, so
he just kissed his hair lightly instead. Who would ever have thought that
Malfoy would have been so warm, he thought. But that was the least
surprising thing about the last couple of days.

Curiously (or was it curious?) it wasn't whatever was going on with Malfoy
that was on his mind the most. It was Ron and Hermione. The thought of
what he had done to them just made him cringe in guilty disgrace.
Doubting Ron and Hermione was something you just never did. Their
loyalty was unshakeable. Thinking of the time Ron had begged him to tell
what the matter was, tears streaming down his face, Harry felt another
wave of shame wash over him. He didn't deserve them. Just give me a
chance, thought Harry, and I'll make it up to him...to both of them.
Properly.

Draco's head remained empty. Harry, still uncomfortable with his guilt
concerning Ron and Hermione, suddenly felt undeserving of Draco as well,
and he gently untangled himself from Draco's embrace and got out of bed.

With a little bit of luck, thought Harry, Ron might get here before Malfoy
wakes. I seem to have only been asleep for four hours, which might well
mean that he will sleep for another hour, perhaps longer. But despite the
enormity of the situation with Draco, and the nauseating sense of shame
he felt for other reasons, Harry wanted to stop living all that for a while.
He wanted to get outside. A nocturnal walk: to digest all he'd heard that
day. It was the only way. He would sit by the lake, and think. So much
needed thinking about...

He was getting itchy now. Come on, Ron, he thought. What time had he
written in the note? Had he put a time at all? It must be past midnight
now. Ron wouldn't leave it too late; he would want to get his usual ten
hours' sleep in somehow. Ten hours! That was luxury Harry couldn't
imagine.

Harry paced the room, and then decided to dress quickly. As he shed his
pyjamas and scrambled into his jeans and a sweater, he felt like he had
energy again. He looked out of the window: good, he thought, in fact,
fantastic. A clear moonlit night, the soft light glinting on the fields of snow.
Just like the night...

He looked over at Draco, whose hair, in the dim gloom of the room,
seemed to glow like the snow outside. That night in the rose garden...how
amazing to think of it now. Their lives had changed, forever, in that one
moment. That one kiss. Nothing would ever be the same again. But would
it be better, or worse? Better, prayed Harry. Although, had he any right to
hope for something even better than the love that Ron and Hermione had
given him unconditionally for years? And which they still gave, even now,
after he had treated them so badly?

Harry went back to the bed and sat down next to Draco. Was his whole
future really wrapped up with this sleeping angel? This son of a Death
Eater, his enemy for four years? I hope so, thought Harry. He gently ran his
hand over Draco's cheek. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was fate, maybe it
was Harry's presence, but at that moment Harry felt Draco pass from
enchanted sleep into an uneasy natural slumber. He moved agitatedly,
turning several times, unconsciously reaching out to find Harry.

'I'm here,' whispered Harry, as he touched Draco's shoulder.

Draco opened his eyes and smiled. Harry looked in on his thoughts at the
very moment Draco emerged into wakefulness.
'Hello, Malfoy,' said Harry.

'Hello, Potter. I was worried. You weren't here.'

'You were asleep. How can you have been worried?' smiled Harry.

'I don't know,' replied Draco shyly. 'Because I can feel where you are all the
time, I guess. Wherever you are, even if I'm asleep.' Draco suddenly looked
upset.

'What is it?' asked Harry gently.

'I...er...'

'What?'

'Nothing.'

'What is it? Come on Malfoy, I'm not going to be upset.'

'It's just...I'm a bit frightened by all this. How am I ever going to cope when
we leave here? I get uneasy if you're even outside touching distance.
That's...not healthy, is it?'

'Shhh.' Harry hugged him as he sat up, brushing his lips against Draco's
neck. 'Shhh. Everything is going to be fine.'

'How?'

'It just is. It's meant to be. The Crimson Cloud, remember? We'll find a
way.'

'You really mean that?'

'Yes.'

'Even though...even after all the things I've done?'

'Yes.'

'And...'
'And what?'

'All the things my father's done?' finished Draco, almost inaudibly.

'Malfoy, one step at a time. That's tomorrow's task.'

Draco smiled. 'Hey. That's my line, Potter.'

'Not any more, it seems.'

They hugged for a little while longer, then parted. Draco's eyes had now
adjusted to the lack of light.

'Why are you dressed?' he asked, concerned.

'Er...'

'What are you doing? Are you going out?' There was mounting urgency in
Draco's voice.

'Hey! Calm down! I'm not running away. I just wanted a walk, that's all.'

'You can't! You--'

But Draco's voice died suddenly as the door opened.

Then closed again.

'What the hell was that?' wondered Draco.

But Harry knew. He bounded over to the door, flaying his arms wide,
giggling.

'Ron!' he laughed, as his arm connected with a Ron-sized lump standing in
front of the door. He was eager to see his friend again.

'Ta-daah!' cried Ron dramatically, flinging the cloak off.

'Lumos!' intoned Hermione, brandishing her wand.
'And Hermione!' Harry laughed. 'Wow! It's so good to see you both!' He
hugged them both in turn, Draco temporarily forgotten.

'How are you, Harry?' asked Hermione warmly.

'Great, thanks. Sleepy of course. And you! I can't believe you're here! Did
you sneak here all the way under the cloak together?'

'Herm insisted on coming,' laughed Ron. 'Wouldn't let me out alone! Good
thing too, as I was being so hasty, we practically walked into Filch. Harry!
You look so much better! You're even laughing!'

'Yeah, I feel a lot better,' answered Harry. 'Today's been a difficult but
good day. Ron, I have so much I need to say to you.'

'It can wait, Harry,' said Ron, kindly. 'There's no rush.'

'How are things going then?' asked Hermione warmly. 'Eating well? You
look more relaxed than you have for ages, that's for sure.'

'Well, not much eating, to be honest, but lots of sleep, yeah.'

'That's an understatement,' said Draco.

Ron and Hermione swung round, noticing Draco for the first time.

'Hello Granger, Weasley', he said, genuinely pleasantly. Harry recognised
Draco's efforts at civility, and felt another rush of affection for him.

'Oh>, hello Malfoy,' sniffed Ron. 'I'd hoped you would be asleep.'

Draco did not react.

'Well, I'm not,' he replied, without malice. 'I'm sorry to disappoint you,
Weasley.'

'Blimey. Malfoy issues an apology. Your presence must be doing some
good, Harry,'

'Ron,' urged Harry, 'drop it. There's no problem here.'
'His presence is doing the world of good, Weasley,' said Draco simply. 'I
envy you for having enjoyed it all these years.'

Ron was speechless.

'What is this anyway?' asked Draco. 'Is this what you used that time at the
Shrieking Shack? An Invisibility Cloak? Wow!'

'Cool, isn't it?' said Harry. 'It was my dad's. It's...the only thing I have of
his.'

'Then...it must be very precious to you?'

'Yes,' said Harry softly.

Ron and Hermione suddenly felt awkward. Hermione tried to lighten the
mood slightly.

'What do you want it for, anyway, Harry?' she asked.

'Er...I need some fresh air. I must get out for a little while, you know, lots
of thinking to do. And I needed the cloak, because, well, I can't really let
Dumbledore down by getting caught, can I?'

'Oh,' said Hermione.

'What's the problem, Herm? Please don't tell me what I can and can't do. I
am going out. Final.'

'It's not that - it's Filch. We can't go back without it. We'll have to wait till
you return.'

Draco was alarmed. 'Potter? Are you really going out?'

'Yes,' Harry answered quickly.

Draco didn't know what to do. In the end he decided he didn't care what
Ron and Hermione thought. 'Please don't go,' he begged, softly. 'Please
don't leave me here.'
Ron snorted. 'We won't bite, Malfoy.'

'It's nothing to do with you!' snapped Draco, then immediately regretted
his harsh tone. 'Potter, I couldn't, I can't...if you're not here...'

Harry nearly kissed him in front of his friends, but just stopped himself.

'Don't be worried, Malfoy', he soothed. 'You're coming too.' He'd not
planned on taking Draco with him - indeed, that kind of defeated the
whole reason for going - but he just couldn't leave him.

Draco smiled in relief.

Harry melted.

'Come on,' he urged, 'get some clothes on. Let's go.'

'Turn your backs, you two?' requested Draco, unbuttoning his pyjama top.

'Why doesn't Harry have to turn his back?' whispered Ron to Hermione.

'Shhh!' hissed Hermione, digging him in the ribs.

'You sure you two don't mind waiting here?' asked Harry. 'I'm sorry to go
out so soon, I know we've got loads to talk about, but, you know, I've just
got to get out.'

'S'OK, Harry,' said Hermione. 'Don't worry about us. Just don't be hours.'

'I promise. Just some real air and some time outside.'

And then he and Draco donned their black winter cloaks. Ron winced as he
saw Harry slip his arm round Draco's waist to pull them closer together,
and then with one big swirl of the invisibility cloak they were gone.

'Well,' Ron sighed. 'What do we do now?'

                                     ***

As Draco and Harry sat in the rose garden some time later, the resonance
with their previous time out at night was almost tangible. That night, as
well as this, Harry had intended to go to the lake, but settled for the rose
garden. Also the weather was practically a carbon copy. And they sat on
the same bench, just as closely.

But the conversation had distinctly more direction. Or, at least, more
energy.

'...but I don't understand how you can make it this easy', persisted Draco. 'I
have done so many things.'

'Malfoy, this is supposed to be tomorrow's task'.

'It is tomorrow. It's well after midnight. We're going to do this now; if not
I'm going to burst with anxiety. I tried to get you expelled in our first
week...'

'But I didn't get expelled--'

'I faked the injury from the Hippogriff and engineered his execution...'

'But he escaped--'

'I tried to get Hagrid sacked...'

'But he kept his job--'

'I betrayed you to Rita Skeeter...'

'But we got the better of her in the end--'

'I pretended to be a Dementor to get you to faint on your broom!'

'But I didn't fall! And I forgive you!'

'I have made your life hell in so many ways! I tricked you by not turning up
for that duel...'

'I forgive you!'

'I sabotaged your work in Potions!'
'I forgive you!'

'And I made those awful POTTER STINKS badges!' wailed Draco.

'I forgive you, Malfoy!'

'How can you forgive me so easily?'

'Malfoy, stop, please! This was supposed to be a quiet time away from that
room. All we've done is brought the room outside!'

'You're too good, Potter. This is supposed to be difficult! How can you
forgive me for abusing Weasley and Granger for so many years? Or what
about...'

                                      ***

'Do you remember, Albus, the day of James and Lily's wedding?' Sirius
asked, as he sat chatting with the Headmaster late that night.

'Of course,' smiled Dumbledore. 'A happy day in the midst of so much
darkness. You, I recall, were rather the worse for drink. As was Remus.'

'As were you,' grinned Sirius. 'You and Minerva dancing the fandango has
remained for me one of the most extraordinary memories a man could
have.'

Dumbledore smiled. 'Yes. Well, I was a bit younger then, Sirius. And
Minerva was quite the showgirl.'

They reflected for a while.

'Why do you bring that up now, Sirius?'

'Well, it may be nothing. But something Draco said to me this morning has
got me thinking, and I want to ask you, in case I've remembered wrongly,
what did you buy them as a wedding present?'

'Ah, yes,' remembered Dumbledore, and became sad. 'How poignant that
seems now. A scrap-book. Well, it was intended as an album of some kind,
I don't know what they used it as, if they ever got to use it at all. Just a
small blue book with blank pages that I had, er...well, you know, enhanced
with a little charm of my own, enabling them to record whatever they
wanted just by leaving the book open on a new page each time, a little like
a Pensieve I suppose.'

'Yes,' Sirius sighed, 'that's what I remember too. A much better present
than the case of champagne that I bought them. Which I think they only
had one bottle of before...' he trailed off. 'We had that bottle at Harry's
christening,' he finished, finding the recollection too painful to look at
directly.

Sirius had had so many years to think over memories of James and Lily, but
even so they were still as difficult to consider now as they were at the
time. He tried to snap himself out of it.

'They did use your scrap-book,' he affirmed. 'I remember it at Harry's
Christening, and on other times we met for dinner, picnics, Quidditch
matches, anything really. And I hadn't recalled it at all, until today, when
Draco said something.'

Dumbledore said nothing, allowing Sirius to piece together whatever it was
he was trying to say.

'He remembers a book from the library at Malfoy Manor,' continued Sirius,
'containing what he called memories of a magical baby boy. But that boy
was not him, it was another baby.'

'What makes Draco think that the book in his father's library might be the
same scrap-book of James and Lily's?' asked Dumbledore, perturbed.

'Nothing. I don't even know that he does think they might be the same. His
reminiscence was triggered by the fact that it concerned a magical baby,
not the fact that it might have been Harry. And he doesn't know anything
about the scrap-book in the first place. But I'm left wondering why he told
me. It had obviously been on his mind, troubling him somehow, and the
crucial thing is that he only tried to dredge this memory up after a
conversation we had about the night...you know, that night...'

Dumbledore sat perfectly still, thinking hard. Sirius ventured another
thought.

'If, as I have always imagined, it was the Death Eaters who destroyed the
house at Godric's Hollow...that would have placed Lucius Malfoy at the
house before it was ruined. He could have picked up anything. Especially
something he thought might be useful to his master, or even to him I
suppose, at some future point.'

Dumbledore remained as unmoving as a statue. Then he spoke, very softly.

'We have no proof that this book of Lucius Malfoy's is the same scrap-
book. It could belong to any member of the Malfoy family, from any point
in time. But it would be utterly like Lucius to display such a trophy to his
son, even if he didn't go into details. The question is...if it is the same book,
could it ever be used against Harry? Could it ever be a danger to him? I
can't see how. Even destroying the book would not harm Harry in any way.
But in that case, why would Lucius have taken it from the house?'

Now it was Sirius who remained silent.

'Whatever the facts, I do not want Draco to be troubled by this,' said
Dumbledore. 'If he speaks of it again, I want you to tell him somehow to
forget it. And Harry must know absolutely nothing.'

'My thoughts exactly, Albus.'

'I think, on reflection, it is too dangerous to assume that it is not a threat,'
said the Headmaster. 'There may be dark methods in which the magic in
the book could be turned in some way. And we know of at least one
scheme of Lucius Malfoy's in which he used an enchanted book, a diary, in
fact, to unthinkable ends. We must recover it.'
'How exactly?' asked Sirius. 'Nobody just walks into Malfoy Manor and
browses through the library. And it is rumoured that the magical
protection around the house makes it into some kind of fortress.'

'You are right,' smiled Dumbledore. 'We cannot walk into the Manor. But
we know someone who can.'

                                        ***

'He put his arm round him, Herm. He watched him get dressed. It's just not
Harry.'

'Oh Ron. Wake up. The Crimson Cloud, remember? Get over it; they
obviously have. And look how much better Harry looks.'

'Yeah, I know. But. It's difficult.'

'How difficult it is for you is not an issue, in fact--'

Hermione stopped talking suddenly.

'What--'

'Shhh!'

'What--'

'Shhh! I can hear something. Oh my God, it's Madam Pomfrey talking!' she
said in a desperate whisper.

'Don't be silly, Herm, she'll be--'

'How many patients were there on the main ward?'

'Herm, I don't remember, you were there as--'

'How many?'

'Two perhaps. Three maybe, or--'
'Only three? That's not going to give us enough time! There's no time! And
she's going to come in here! I can feel it!'

'Herm, stop panicking. Let's just go in the bathroom.'

'No! Then she'll see that they're not here! And then she'll be bound to look
in the bathroom!'

'Herm, calm it. Just accept that we might get caught. There are
extenuating circum--'

'In bed, quick!' she urged.

'OK,' said Ron, seeing the sense in the idea. He threw back the covers on
the bed nearest the door.

'No!' hissed Hermione. 'This one!'

'But you're in that one.'

'Ron, this one quick, I think she's coming!'

Ron looked totally bemused.

'Ron, there's no time to explain, just trust me! They sleep in the same bed!'

'They...they what?'

'They sleep in the same bed! QUICK!' Hermione looked like she was about
to burst with agitation.

Unable to take in this extraordinary fact, Ron stood stock still. Madam
Pomfrey's footsteps could be heard just outside the door.

Hermione moved with lightening speed. She grabbed Harry and Draco's
discarded pyjamas then seized Ron and hauled him to Harry's bed, pushing
him down. Then she jumped in next to him, crammed herself up close and
threw the covers over their heads.

The door opened.
'Settle down you two,' came Madam Pomfrey's voice. 'Stop talking and go
to sleep. Do you want any sleeping potion, or do you want try to sleep
without it?'

Hermione poked Ron in the ribs.

'No...I'm...we're fine thanks,' said Ron weirdly, in a sort of choking
impersonation of Harry.

'Very well. But if you're still awake in an hour I want you to come and get
some more potion.'

'Yes, OK, thanks,' croaked Ron as neutrally as possible.

After a pause of unbearable length, they heard the door close.

'They sleep in the same bed?' boggled Ron.
                             CHAPTER THIRTEEN

                                      ~

                           HEART OF THE MATTER

'It's easy for me to forgive you, Malfoy. I don't know why you've got so
worked up about this. You said it yourself: the intensity between us
increased as hatred instead of as love, which we can look at now as a
positive thing in two ways.'

'How can any of the things I did to you ever be considered positive,
Potter?' asked Draco, still distressed. 'What do you mean, two ways?'

'Easy. First, say we hadn't had the complication of the refused handshake
on the train. We would have been in love, at eleven years old. That's a
gruesome thought. Neither of us would have been able to cope with it. We
would never have understood it, but now, five years later, we can just
about get our heads round it. In a way, Ron was not a complication; he was
a flippin' saviour.'

'Yeah, I guess,' said Draco in reluctant agreement. 'What an awful thought.
Yick, squick, horror.'

'How eloquent you are when you're worked up, Malfoy. Lose two points
for lack of a decent vocabulary.'

Draco punched him half-heartedly, and they both smiled.

'Second,' continued Harry, 'because, as it was hatred, surely we should
have expected crappy behavior from both of us. Funnily enough, hearing
all your misdemeanors in one long list like that, I find it quite flattering.
Each one is a little example of how strong the emotion was. Of how much
you hated me.'
Draco blushed a little.

Harry grinned sideways. 'If we carry on this thinking, those POTTER STINKS
badges might just as well have said Potter is sexy and I want to have his
children, signed Draco Malfoy, oh and by the way, he's got dreamy eyes.'

'I have never once said anything about your eyes, Potter,' said Draco,
unable to stop smiling. 'And besides, all that would never have fitted on a
badge.'

'You would have found a way, Malfoy,' laughed Harry. 'You hated me that
much.'

'But even so, Potter,' Draco protested. 'I don't understand how you are
able to just sweep all the ill-feeling away with a few words. Aren't you
even going to make me grovel? I am quite prepared to; I've been working
up to it for days. Even got a few snazzy moves worked out, designed to
have you weeping in forgiveness.'

'Really?' giggled Harry. 'I don't need to hear them, Malfoy. As I said,
forgiving your crimes has been easy considering the Crimson Cloud.
Although, if you want, I could have a look just to see if they would have
been as effective as you think!'

'Er, I don't think I can perform on demand,' said Draco, embarrassed. 'It
was going to be a...sort of spontaneous type thing.'

'Only you could have worked out your spontaneous moves in advance,
Malfoy!'

They both laughed.

'Oh Potter,' said Draco with so much genuine warmth Harry felt slightly
self-conscious. 'You're just so flippin' noble. You look at things and see the
best in them. You could explain away the worst atrocities with some good
old Gryffindor optimism. I will never be able to think like you.'
'That's just as well, I suppose,' said Harry. 'Anyway, I don't expect you to. I
want you to be you, not something you're not.'

'Being a Slytherin is all about being something you're not, Potter. I'm trying
to cast all that off, for you. And for me.'

'You don't have to change yourself for me, Malfoy. Just be you. Listen, we
don't have to alter the past, or forgive and forget to forge a way forward.
Despite all I've said, it's not really about forgiveness at all, because you've
never done anything to me that can't be explained by our active denial of
the Crimson Cloud. So I don't need to forgive you. And you don't need to
change, because acknowledging the Crimson Cloud has already changed
our perception of each other. It's just about looking at things in a new
light.'

'Blimey, Potter. When did you get intelligent?'

'I don't know,' laughed Harry. 'It must be all those years of having
Hermione as a friend. Some of it's rubbed off.'

'But...' Draco pondered, 'this all feels very one-sided. I thought we were in
this together. Why didn't you ever do any unpleasant things to me?' Then
he added, very quietly, 'didn't you hate me too?'

'Oh Malfoy, I loathed you! Despised you, in fact.'

'Phew! That is pleasing to hear.'

They both laughed loudly, looking at each other.

'Shhhhh!' said Draco, still chuckling. 'We'll get into trouble!'

'I don't care,' said Harry. 'I really don't.'

'Oooh,' said Draco. 'Such disrespect for authority, and from a Gryffindor
too...'

'Malfoy, I don't rate too highly on the respect for authority scale, not for a
Gryffindor - in fact I've broken about a thousand school rules since I have
been here. It's just that you only know about a few of them. And I'm afraid
I am not innocent of plots against you, either.'

'Really?' Draco whispered, mystified. 'What have you done?'

'Well...' said Harry. Now that it came down to it, he was actually rather
embarrassed to own up, even though Draco had just shamelessly itemized
a succession of his own appalling crimes. 'Well...oh yes, when "Moody"
turned you into a ferret, we called you ferret boy.'

'Is that it?' said Draco. 'Is that the best you can come up with? Oh blimey,
that is going to be extremely difficult to forgive. Give me about a week to
get over that one, would you, Potter? Come on, I know that's not what you
were going to say.'

'OK, ferret boy,' said Harry. 'But this is difficult. Really difficult, so bear with
me. You remember in our second year when people were getting petrified,
including Hermione?'

'Yes...?'

'Well, there was all that about the Chamber of Secrets being opened again,
and that only the Heir of Slytherin could have opened the door to the
Chamber.'

'Yes...?'

'Well, I thought you were the Heir of Slytherin, but I had no way of proving
it.'

Draco was silent.

'So I needed to find out somehow. I genuinely feared that lives were at
risk, Hermione's especially.'

'I wasn't the Heir of Slytherin, Potter. The only shameful part I played in
that episode was feeling disappointed when I realized someone else was
the Heir.'
'I know you weren't the Heir,' said Harry. 'I met the real Heir and, well,
there's no need to talk about that. But the point is, I thought it was you.
So, to try to prove it...'

'Yes...?'

'To try to prove it, oh God, you're going to hate me! Ron and I used
Polyjuice Potion to disguise ourselves as Crabbe and Goyle. We got into
the Slytherin Common Room and had a chat with you. During which chat
you proved to be utterly insufferable, but not, ultimately, the Heir of
Slytherin.'

'Blimey. Did you really? Polyjuice Potion? But that's an extraordinarily
complex potion to brew, Potter. Forgive me for being rude, but there's no
way your Potion skills would have been up to it.'

'They weren't then and they're not now. But Hermione's were.'

'Ah...La Granger foils me once more.'

'Why aren't you upset?'

'Because, Potter old boy...I forgive you. Or rather, to put it in Gryffindor-
speak, I have now re-interpreted that episode in the light of informed
hindsight. You hated me, remember?'

They smiled.

'Quite a brilliant scheme, I have to admit,' said Draco. 'Far more daring and
clever than anything I ever thought up. Just compare that plan with one of
mine: I put on a black robe and went 'wooo' in a scary voice. And what did
you do? You produced a flippin' Patronus, the strength of which has
probably never been matched by any student at Hogwarts. That put me
well and truly in my place, Potter.'

'That - that was not aimed at you, Malfoy. I thought you were a Dementor,
remember? Professor Lupin taught me how to conjure a Patronus
because...because, well, the effect Dementors have on me is just truly
unthinkable.'

'What...what happens to you, Potter?'

There was an almost imperceptible shift in the prevailing mood.

Harry looked at him. 'You really want to know? Why?'

'Because...I want to know you better, Potter. I don't know even five
percent of what you're all about. And here we are...in the Crimson Cloud,
and I don't really know you.'

'And I don't know you, Malfoy.'

'No indeed. But believe me, you don't want to know me. It's not nice stuff,
getting to know me. Maybe that's why I've never let anyone get close,
because I don't want to have to own up to what I really am.'

'What you were, Malfoy. You're utterly unrecognizable as the Malfoy of a
few weeks ago, at least as far as I'm concerned.'

'Rubbish, Potter, I'm just the same; that's why I want to change, like I said
earlier. You just see me differently. I still have a thousand shameful
secrets. What the Crimson Cloud's done, among other things, is make me
want to be worthy of you. And it's made me want to get to know you
properly. And when I know you properly, I want to know you better than
anyone else. So I'm sorry, I wasn't prying, but if the Dementors are too
distressing to talk about, then I accept that. But the reason I want to know
is because I want to be able to help you.'

Harry thought long and hard.

Then he said, 'But this has got to be a two-way thing. I want to know, I
need to know you as well as you know me. And if that means we have to
tackle some very difficult shit, then we have to be prepared for it. I guess I
just thought that if I told you about the Dementors, then it would open the
door to some conversations that are more than just personally painful. We
could both get hurt.'

'I know where this conversation is going, Potter. And I am scared of it. But
that doesn't mean I am not willing to go there. We've got to go there, in
fact. Otherwise what we have, what we might have in the future, it will be
founded on quicksand. We will never truly feel that we can trust each
other.'

Harry reached for Draco's hand and held it tightly. He began to speak, very
slowly.

'We're at the beginning of something, right? It might last for the rest of our
lives. We have to be able to trust each other, or our lives will be a hell of
insecurity and suspicion. Whatever there is to tell, it's got to be said before
we become any...closer. Or it could become destructive.'

'OK,' said Draco, squeezing Harry's hand. 'I'm man enough if you are.'

Harry gulped. 'When I get close to a Dementor, I hear my mother,
screaming, just as she is being murdered by Voldemort. Then there's a
flash of green light, caused by the death curse that killed her. After that,
there's nothing. It's not the Dementors that cause me to faint, Malfoy, it's
the power and the terror of the memory they trigger in me.'

Draco felt tears welling in his eyes. He put his arm round Harry and held
him close.

'I can't stop the memories, Potter,' he said. 'But I promise you will always
have someone to hold.'

Harry shivered, tensing slightly.

'Oh my God,' Draco whispered slowly. 'That's it, isn't it? You're not sure,
despite how close we've become, despite the fact that we've seen each
other naked, and slept in the same bed, and kissed, you're not sure that
you want it to be me that holds you...'
'No! I do want it to be you! But...'

'But...earlier you said that I've never done anything to you that can't be
explained by the Crimson Cloud. Me. Not anyone else. But you cannot
divorce the father from the son,' concluded Draco, sadly. 'And why on
earth should I expect you to?' he sighed.

Harry said nothing.

'That's why you didn't want to tell me about the Dementors, isn't it?
Because that wasn't anything do to with me, but perhaps loads to do with
my father. Or in case I might actually give away a weakness of yours to
him. I've been so stupid. Your anxiety isn't about forgiving each other our
past crimes. It's about who we are, and where we come from. And you will
never be able to forgive and forget that I am the son of a Death Eater,
because no matter how you look at it, you can't re-interpret that fact in
the light of the Crimson Cloud.'

'Malfoy...I, er...'

'Shhh, Potter, and let me speak. You need to hear this, and I need to say it.
I cannot imagine the things you have been through. I met the real Heir, you
said casually earlier. I'll bet that was a terrifying experience, but you play
these things down, as is your style. I know you've met the Dark Lord, and
you've even dueled with him. The thought horrifies me. But it doesn't
horrify me because I can empathize with the danger; I can't. It horrifies me
because of the thought of what might have happened to you.'

Every word Draco spoke rang in Harry's head. The rose garden ceased to
exist. There was just the two of them, and the most important
conversation they would ever have. Draco continued.

'I can no longer imagine living without you. If it comes down to it, and it
almost certainly will, I will choose you, not my father. That decision would
have been unimaginable a few weeks ago; my father has always been the
single most dominant force in my life. But that was until I realized what
you were to me, Potter. You've simply got to trust me on this point. Until I
can find a way to prove it to you, I am begging you to believe me that you
can trust me.'

Draco was starting to weep quietly. But he struggled on, staring at the
ground.

'You know what it's like for me. You've seen it. I can't bear to be more than
three feet away from you. I have nothing to gain from betraying you, and
everything to lose. You've become part of me, Potter. Hurting you would
be like hurting myself. Bringing about your downfall would be like
committing suicide. Worse. Because I would have to live without you.
And...that would be unthinkable.'

Harry lifted his own arm and put it round Draco.

'I believe you,' he said softly. 'I do. But...that wasn't my only worry.'

'What is it then?' Draco asked, looking worried. 'Tell me, I need to know!'

'It's not just your father. It's me. I might not be good for you.'

'What do you mean? You're overflowing with good. How could you
possibly not be good for me? You've already made me feel better than I
have ever felt!'

'Because, danger and tragedy surround me constantly.' Harry's voice was
cold, distant. 'I have no parents, Malfoy, because someone wanted them
dead. Someone wanted me dead too, and they still do. Three times
already I have come into direct contact with the Dark Lord, and there have
been attempts on my life even here at Hogwarts. My magic is not powerful
enough to resist for ever.'

Harry took a deep breath.

'I...can't bring you into all that. What if something happened to you, that
was my fault? If Voldemort ever finds out about this, think of the danger
you would be in! He might think to use you as a way to me. I would never
forgive myself if something happened to you, not now, not after what
we've discovered. You are safer, far safer, with your father, not with me.'

Draco was agitated.

'My safety is irrelevant! Do you think this is news to me, Potter? Do you
think I haven't had all these thoughts already? Why is it, do you think, that
I haven't told my parents that I have been in the hospital wing for a week?
Your flippin' concern for me, is deeply touching. But it's my risk to take,
Potter. If I want to be with you, it's my decision. I want to be the person
who holds you when you hear your mother scream, I need to be that
person. Because...'

Harry's arm was still around Draco. He knew what Draco was going to say,
he could feel it in his head, but his heart was in his mouth all the same.

'Because I love you, Harry.'

                                        ***

'They sleep in the same bed?'

'Ron,' said Hermione, 'things have moved on.'

They were still under the covers of Harry's bed, but neither of them was
uncomfortable with the intimacy. That did not mean however that Ron
was not uncomfortable with other things.

'This bed?'

'Yes.'

'Oh God. We are in Harry's love pit.'

'Ron, I don't think it's a love pit. I think they just sleep here.'

'Even so. You told me yourself it was getting sweaty in here.'

'Yes, but that was only because...'
'Because what?'

'Oh Ron, I'm sorry I haven't told you. But I wasn't allowed to. I'm still
probably not allowed to, but it seems so silly, your not knowing. Harry...'

'Yes?'

'Harry has been in a sort of coma for five days. He only woke up yesterday.'

'He what?'

'Asleep. Five days. In this bed. Malfoy slept alongside him. Hence sweaty.'

'He's been in a coma and you didn't tell me?'

'I wasn't allowed to!'

'I can't believe you! You know I care about Harry as much as you do. What
did you think I was going to do?'

'Ron! I'm sorry! Don't take it personally!'

'And Malfoy slept with him?'

'Malfoy feels the pull of the crimson cloud differently from Harry. Or
maybe not, I'm not sure; Harry has hardly been available to talk to. But
Malfoy can't bear not to be within a few feet of him. He gets all panicky.
You saw how he was when he thought Harry was going out without him
just now. He nearly cried.'

'Blimey. Malfoy has a weakness.'

'So it seems. But don't you dare think about exploiting it, Ron. For all we
know Harry may feel the same. And, the closer they get, the more Harry is
going to get upset if he sees Malfoy getting hurt.'

'This is all very difficult to get used to.'

'But you will get used to it, Ron. And so will I.'
'Herm, do you think that one day, don't know when, Malfoy will sort of
be...one of us?'

'Only if we let him, Ron. And if we don't, Harry might drift away from us.'

'No he wouldn't. You underestimate what we've all been through. Malfoy
doesn't share any of those memories.'

'No, he doesn't. But very soon he and Harry will have memories that we
are not part of. They may already have. What do you think they're doing
right now for example?'

'Er...having a walk?'

'Possibly.'

'Or a talk?'

'Yes, maybe. The point is we don't know. And we may never know,
because already lots of what goes on between them is simply none of our
business.'

'This is definitely going to be difficult to get used to.'

'No it isn't. We don't own the monopoly on Harry's life. Just like...he
doesn't know everything about ours.'

Ron blushed, and even under the covers of Harry's bed in the dark room,
Hermione could tell.

                                       ***

Oh God. Had Malfoy really said that?

Of course he had.

He had said, 'I love you, Harry.'

Why had the world suddenly stopped turning?
He had already known Malfoy loved him. It had been tangible; as obvious
as the color of his hair. But to hear it voiced aloud - that was extraordinary.
And beautiful.

And there was something else, something which occurred to him for the
first time at the exact moment he heard Malfoy's words: he was the first
person he could recall saying those precise words to him. Not from his
mother as a child, not from any other family member, not even from a
friend in half-jest. The first person ever to say 'I love you' was...Draco
Malfoy.

Was Malfoy waiting for a response?

There was no expectation in Malfoy's head. There was just - hope.

What was he hoping for? That he hoped to hear the same in return? Or
that he hoped that saying those words would not change anything? Or did
he hope that his almost omnipresent father could begin to be less of a
threat to them?

Of course he had already known that Malfoy loved him. And he knew that
he loved Malfoy. But had he ever thought he would tell him?

If he did, would something alter irreversibly, for ever?

If he didn't, would he regret missing this moment? Would they both regret
it?

He had said, 'I love you, Harry.'

Malfoy was not the first to say Harry to him, though. Harry, Harry, Harry.
Everyone said it. Ron yelled it, whispered it, shouted it, chuckled it; he
seemed to own the right to the name as much as Harry himself. Hermione
squealed it. Seamus hollered it. Ginny purred it. Aunt Petunia bawled it.
But nobody had ever spoken it in such a way that made Harry's heart leap
in his chest.
Had Malfoy deliberately chosen this location, this conversation, this
moment, with those very words, as the perfect time to utter Harry's name
for the first time? Or had it crept out unchecked? Or had they simply
become so close that not to use it now seemed churlish? Or had it seemed
so natural that he hadn't even noticed?

Still he could feel hope in Malfoy's head.

How much time had passed since those words had hung in the air, melting
the snow around them with their warmth? Two minutes? Ten? Was it too
late to say anything in response?

There was only one thing to do. Only one thing to say. And his body ached
in the need he felt to say it. But now, it would seem that he was only
saying it because Malfoy had said it first. Wouldn't it?

He looked into his companion's eyes, and all Harry could see there was the
same hope he could already feel. But Harry didn't need to see anything
because he could feel more now. The level of perception between them
seemed to be focusing into something sharper even as they sat there.
Malfoy was saying to him, somehow in his head, that it was OK, he didn't
have to be scared, that he could say what he wanted, that he didn't have
to feel pressured into saying it, that if he didn't say it Malfoy wouldn't love
him any less, that it was OK to own up to saying it, because nothing would
ever come between them, not even his father, especially not his father.

Harry made a slight noise in his throat, and squeezed the hand he held
tightly.

'I...'

He felt the pressure on his own hand returned. It was supportive, caring,
adoring.

And eventually the words came, as easily and as naturally as anything he
had ever said.

'And I love you...Draco.'
                                      ***

'But that's our business, Herm,' said Ron. 'Harry's not part of that at all.'

'Er, hello, Weasley? Is anyone at home? Isn't that what I've just been
saying? Now there's a part of Harry's life that we have no part of.'

'But that's the bit I don't like. We are never actively going to exclude Harry
from anything. But him and Malfoy, well, they're just going to disappear
off into the sunset and we won't ever see him again.'

'Ron, you are the most melodramatic person I know, and considering I
know Parvati, that is really saying something. It needn't be like that at all.
Harry's not going to forget you overnight, you moron. Look how pleased
he was to see you just before they went out. It's just that you're going to
have to accept that you're no longer the most important person in his life.
And if you can do that, you'll find that he comes back to us happy and
buoyant and just as dippy and unperceptive as he's always been.'

'Hermione, sometimes you speak so much sense it's like listening to my
mother. It's a habit I hope you grow out of...'

'Ron, be quiet,' she said gently. 'Why must we always speak of other
people? First Harry, now your mother - haven't we got things to talk about
of our own?'

'Yeah,' chuckled Ron, 'I guess we have...'

                                      ***

There was a long, uncomplicated silence.

After a while the stars and the snow and the perfect icy stillness of the
garden seemed to slide back into being. Their fingers were entwined in
natural intimacy, kind of loosely and tightly at the same time. Harry could
feel the softness of Draco's skin as Draco gently stroked his fingers with his
own.
'Is it possible to know it so surely after such a short time?' asked Harry
quietly.

'Yes, I think so. At least, I know I'm sure. I've been pretty sure for a while
now, and absolutely certain since that time we sat together by the lake.'

Harry looked at him in wonder. 'Really? Wow. I feel - honoured. I've been
sure since I heard you call me Harry.'

They both laughed.

'But I think I've known for longer than that. To be honest, it's happened so
quickly, I haven't had time to think about it.'

'Well, I've had a bit longer to think I suppose. Five days longer to be exact.'

'But...it's impossible isn't it? I mean, your father and everything? How can
we ever be...together, like we both want? What's going to happen when
everybody finds out?'

'Hey, Harry, so many questions. I don't know the answer to any of them.
And come on, we just shared a special moment. Let's not bring my father
into it.'

'How can we not? He's present in every factor. We can't do anything at all
without considering him. Draco, listen, I'm as elated as I know how to be
over this thing between you and me, but unless we address this, that's all
it's going to be: a special moment. Don't you want more than that? You
just said you can't bear to be more than three feet away from me. How are
we going to get through the holidays, let alone the rest of our lives, if we
don't work out the issue of your father first?'

'Oh Lord. I thought I was going to be the sensible one in this conversation.
You're beginning to sound like my mother.'

Harry was quiet.

'What did I say?' said Draco, concerned.
'Exactly that. I don't know how you can treat this matter so lightly.'

'Harry, you've lost me.'

'It comes down to parents, Draco. You've got them; I haven't. Aren't they
worth hanging on to? Whatever your father is like, whatever he has done,
isn't he still your father? You've no idea how happy it makes me to hear
you say that you would choose me over him. And I believe you. But it
saddens me too. I don't know how you could give him up just like that. All
my life it's what I've wanted more than anything. Parents. And you've got
them, and you're willing to risk estrangement, or things much worse than
we can imagine, because of me? Just like that?'

'That is about it, yes. You are that important to me, Harry. And I know
there will never be a time when that is not the case.'

'But I don't want to be responsible for driving a wedge between a father
and a son! I've always believed that bond to be the strongest, and I envy
you so much for having it, whoever the father concerned is! And now, you
just cast it off, as if it's nothing!'

'Harry! Do you really think that my father and I have a typical father-and-
son relationship? Do you think we went fishing together, and he taught me
how to milk cows and tie useful knots? Do you think he's proud of anything
I do? If you want to make this easier for yourself, don't imagine that my
father is anything like yours would have been.'

Harry shuddered. 'We will never know what my father would have been
like.'

'No, we won't. And that is a grave and terrible injustice.' Draco pulled
Harry closer to him. 'But I bet we both know that he would not have made
you choose between him and someone you love.'

Harry fell silent again.

'Let me tell you about my father, Harry. The great Lucius Malfoy. The last
significant chat we had he instructed me to publicly lose my virginity this
year, and he didn't care who it was with; any pureblood Slytherin girl
would do. Malfoys must have a certain image, he said. The rake, the cad;
be the irresistible bounder with a black heart. Make a conquest and move
on. In short, be the bastard. Above petty friendships and alliances. Just
create an aura of respect, and if you can't do that, one of fear. They come
to the same thing anyway.'

Draco was becoming agitated and Harry was concerned, but he let Draco
talk it out.

'And you. Do know how often he taunts me with your successes? You can't
have a Firebolt until you've beaten him at Quidditch is one of his
favourites. I swear he doesn't actually care whether I beat you or not, it's
the control he likes. If I ever did beat you, he wouldn't be proud, he would
just set another challenge.'

'You might. You're a good Quidditch player,' said Harry.

Draco ignored this kindness.

'Do you know what I am to him, Harry? Not a son. I am his duty. Proof that
he has done his bit, seen that there will be another Malfoy in the Manor to
continue the line. Someone with the Malfoy genes to bear the name,
inherit the millions, maintain the power, engender the fear and respect
that go with it. That is all. Beyond that I am a kind of inconvenience in his
life, the full horror of which I am sure you have more idea of than me.'

'Well, what about that? Isn't that worth hanging onto? Would you give up
your right to the Manor and all the money, for me? Even if you don't think
your father is worth hanging on to, surely that is?'

Draco snorted. 'It is nothing. I would give it up in an instant. I would rather
live with you in the Shrieking Shack than without you at the Manor.'

'It won't come to that, Draco. I have money. Lots, I think. Not a fraction of
your family fortune, but enough for both of us to be OK for years.'
'That is just beautiful of you, Harry; that you would share your parents'
money with me. But you're right; it won't come to that. It doesn't matter
what I do, there is no way on earth that my father would disinherit me.'

'But...'

'You're forgetting snobbery, which is the driving force in my father's life,
even more so than pursuit of the Dark Arts or a craving for power.
Snobbery drives my parents like you wouldn't believe. It defines their
existence. They must have, and be seen to have, the best of everything, no
matter what the cost. And they have a conscious and deliberate anti-
Muggle viewpoint, regardless of whether they ever actually liked any or
not. Which they wouldn't, but only because they would never allow
themselves to meet any. And above all, there is the supremacy of the
Malfoy line.'

'Er, I don't quite understand...?'

'It is everything. My father treats the name like a precious object. It must
be preserved at all costs. Disinheriting me would mean he had failed. It
would hurt him like an arrow in the heart to let the house or the money go
to cousins, of which there are many, all constantly eyeing the Manor,
looking for a weakness. Running away with you would be desperately
harmful to him in the short term, but as an event in the hundreds of years
of the family's existence, it would hardly rate as a blip. There have been
murders, massacres, assassinations and all kinds of carnage to wrest
control of the fortune over the centuries. No way would my father risk
losing face because his son has an unsuitable choice of lover.'

'An unsuitable choice of lover? Is that all I am?'

'Not to me, you tit. To him.'

'I meant to him, you cretin. Privileged though I feel to have been given this
insight into the thinking of the aristocracy, aren't you overlooking one
crucial thing?'

'What?'
'That because of the Crimson Cloud, our magic is bonding. Say the
combined pool of our innate magic tips the balance of power? Say that,
because of your abilities added to my own, I become stronger and more
likely to be a match for Voldemort? Is your father really likely to stand for
that? That his own son has not only run off with an unsuitable choice of
lover, as you so charmingly put it, but actively mutinied against what your
father stands for? How ironic would it be if I were only capable of facing
Voldemort because the only son of a faithful follower had made me
stronger? The danger that would place you in is too awful to consider.
That's what I meant when I said I might not be good for you.'

'No! You're more than good for me; you're everything! As I said, I choose
you over my father. Whatever the danger, for that very reason. Because if
our combined magic can make a difference, I am bound to let our magic
continue bonding to make you safer. And anything I can do to protect you
I'm going to do whether you like it or not. And anyway you're
overestimating this. The snob in my father is as great as the Dark Wizard.
He sees the Dark Arts as the ultimate snobbery, the one area that is not
just inaccessible to Muggles, but to a lot of magical folk too. It's like the
most elite club he can join. But it's snobbery nonetheless.'

'So then...?' ventured Harry, hopefully.

'Yes! If the Malfoy fortune looked like moving somewhere he didn't like, it
would hurt him, sure; but not as much as seeing it go to anyone other than
me. True, he could place some sticky conditions on my birthright, like
forcing me to produce an heir before I inherit. Or he could try to leave me
penniless by fathering another heir, but he himself would see any such
action as a compromise, and therefore a weakness. And anyway, it's only
money; remember it's the name that matters most to him, and he can't
take that away from me, whatever I do.'

'Blimey. Who would have thought money could be so complicated?'

Despite the tension of the moment, Draco laughed lightly. 'Besides, the
family haven't always been dark. It's see-sawed back and forth over the
centuries. Some Malfoys have been utter shits, and some have been
philanthropists and benefactors and general good guys, like any family I
guess. As heir to the fortune myself, the choice, between Light and Dark -
philanthropist and shit, if you like - is mine alone to take.'

'But which will it be?' Harry asked cautiously. 'Why wait till you inherit?
Can't you decide now?'

'That's the point, Harry. I am making that decision now. But Light or Dark,
that's not the real heart of the matter: I will be wherever you are, not
where my father isn't.'

'But, that's not enough, Draco. I need you to think exactly the same as me
on this point, or I can't let it happen, whatever the consequences of our
not being together. The way my parents died is more than just an ache in
my side; it's the whole bloody deal. You've got to be anti-Dark Arts and
anti-Death Eaters, or I'll never know if I can trust you or not. And as I said
earlier, I don't have a right to expect that from anyone.'

'Harry,' said Draco, very softly. 'I think I'm saying more than that. When I
said I love you earlier, that's exactly what I meant. The key words there are
love and you. Not hate and my father. Now, I say again: let's leave my
father out of this special moment. He is not a factor in my loving you. You
can trust me totally, Harry, I promise you. I love you, Harry, and wherever
you go, whatever you think, whichever battles you fight, I will be next to
you. I will be the one holding you when you hear your mother scream.
Light and Dark are irrelevant. My father is irrelevant. It's you that I'm
pledging myself to, and everything that comes with it. And if that means
siding against my father on some unthinkable day of judgment, it is of no
consequence.'

Harry stared into Draco's face for some time.

'Draco, you've no idea how happy your words make me feel,' said Harry,
slightly choked.
'Yes I do,' laughed Draco. 'It's obvious to me. It's all over your face, and all
in your head. And besides, I feel it too.'

Draco felt Harry's relief sweep over both of them, and the hope they dared
have at that moment, hope for a future that they would be able to share,
was infectious in both of them. The foundations are laid, thought Draco.
Now we can build on them. The prospect was delicious and exciting and
priceless.

The gravity of their conversation faded gradually, until once more they
were just two young lovers sharing a special moment in a moonlit rose
garden. Inevitably they shifted even closer to each other. There were no
barriers, no stresses, no pressures. There was just love, alive between
them, like a living, beating force that bound them together, that defined
them.

They looked at each other at the same moment. Draco gently reached to
Harry's face and delicately removed Harry's glasses. Harry pulled Draco
closer to him, his arm under Draco's thick cloak and around his back. They
were practically nose to nose, breathing as one. Draco's lips touched
Harry's cheek and nose and, like a butterfly unable to settle, he began to
plant a hundred slow delicate kisses over Harry's face. Harry moaned at
the profane beauty of Draco's actions. Harry's lips sought to catch Draco's
to lure him into the deeper kiss they both wanted and needed. Inexorably
they were drawn together, and now that they both acknowledged and
accepted and understood the longing that burned between them, they
gave into it totally. When the full contact they both craved became
irresistible, they fell into a fiery, desperate kiss that seemed to fuel their
inner selves, so long deprived of sleep and happiness. Eyes fluttering,
bodies trembling, minds alive with desire, they sank into each other's
souls, breathless, drowning, but neither wanting to be saved.

                                      ***
It was the most powerful moment, the most wonderful kiss that either of
them had ever experienced, and when they eventually parted, they were
both lost for words.

A new understanding had been reached. But it still seemed so private.
After weeks of difficulty and despair, coupled with support and flirtation, it
seemed that neither could now ignore what had just happened.

The power of speech returned slowly.

'Wow.'

'Wow? Is that it? Is that all I get after committing myself so blatantly?'

'Blimey. I don't know what to say! It must be this bed. It's giving off love-
vibes.'

'Ron!' squealed Hermione. 'It had nothing to do with this bed! Don't ruin it.
It happened because we both wanted it to, not because we're in Harry's
bed!'

'Yeah, I guess,' giggled Ron. 'Good job they didn't come back though, eh?'

'Maybe. But neither of them would have minded, Ron. I suspect they are
far too much in love themselves to deny anybody else a little intimacy.'

'I'm beginning to like the idea of Harry being in love. If it feels for him
anything like that just felt for me, I reckon he should just get stuck in and
go for it.'

'That is the least romantic thing you have ever said, Ron Weasley, and
believe me there are a lot to choose from.'

They both laughed.

'Sorry. I'll try harder next time.'

'Oh? So you're confident there will be a next time, then?' said Hermione,
airily.
'Yeah. I was thinking of kind of about now, actually.'

'Oh! Were you? What if I were busy?'

'Shit. Problem. Are you busy? You got to be anywhere else in the next half
hour?'

'Er, no. It seems I am available.'

They both laughed again.

                                      ***

'Shit,' said Harry. 'I promised Hermione we wouldn't be hours. And look,
it's nearly dawn, and you know how early Pomfrey comes in.'

They had eventually torn themselves apart and gone for a walk, which,
Harry had reminded Draco, was the original reason for going out that night
at all. On a tour round the Quidditch pitch and a circuit of the lake, they
had chatted like neither of them had ever chatted before. They had told of
their pasts, and their dreams, and their favourites. They had stopped
frequently to snog without shame every time they reached a new location.
And they had strolled and jogged and skipped without ever losing hold of
the other's hand.

And then, as first light was showing on the eastern horizon, they found
themselves at Hagrid's hut, and Harry could tell that Hagrid was awake
because he could see smoke from the chimney and hear the man
lumbering around inside.

'Well, we should get back then,' decided Draco. 'She and Weasley have
been cooped up there all night.'

'Yeah,' sniggered Harry. 'But I bet they will have found some way to amuse
themselves.'

'Eurghh! Do you really think so?'

'Yes. It's been on the cards for ages.'
'Gosh. The Brain and The Weasel. What a pair.'

'Don't mock them, Draco. They're probably saying the same thing about
us. The Scar and The Ferret, no doubt.'

'That's not fair. How come you get to be something sexy like a scar, and I
get to be a rodent?'

Harry laughed. 'How about because I'm sexy and you're a rodent?'

Draco punched him half-heartedly, and they kissed again.

'Now then, gentlemen,' boomed a huge voice behind them just after they
separated. 'Bit early to be out on a stroll in't it?'

'Hagrid!' cried Harry. 'How are you? You're up early too!'

'Well, I got a bit of a meeting with Dumbledore first thing. Good lord,
Harry, you look better. Can't tell you how worried ah've been. Fancy a cup
o' tea, you two?'

'Well,' said Harry cautiously, 'we're not really supposed to be out, and Ron
and Hermione are kind of stuck in our places in the hospital wing till we get
back, so...'

'No problem. I understand. Best get yerselves back then. But mind you
come down to see me soon, Harry. It's been far too long, but I'm not goin'
to lecture yeh. You're welcome too, Malfoy, if you'd like.'

'Thank you, Hagrid. I would love to meet you properly at last.'

'Hagrid, you wouldn't, er, say anything about seeing us would you?'

'Course not, Harry. Mum's the word. Hurry along now, it'll be fully light
very soon.'

They headed back to the castle. As they donned the invisibility cloak just in
front of the main school door, Draco said, 'Is Hagrid always that nice?'
'Yes. He's great, and totally loyal. But, when he says mum's the word, be
very scared. He'd never give anyone away consciously, but he has a habit
of letting things slip out. And if he's going to Dumbledore before breakfast,
the chances are we'll have some explaining to do before long.'

They couldn't help giggling under the cloak as they turned corners and
hurried down corridors on their way back to the hospital wing, where the
patients on the main ward were thankfully still asleep. Once back in the
room however, there was a strange stillness; Ron and Hermione weren't
there.

'Strange,' said Harry. 'I wonder why they decided to leave without the
cloak?'

'They didn't leave,' said Draco. 'Look!'

He pointed at their bed. A two-body lump was just evident under the
covers in the gloom of the room.

'Who's been sleeping in my bed?!!' laughed Harry as he pulled back the
covers.

'Eh? Wha?' came the voice of a sleepy Ron. 'Hey! Harry! Herm, wake up!'

'What on earth are you two doing in there?' grinned Harry.

'Well, sleeping, mainly,' said Hermione, and Ron giggled. She sat up and
straightened her hair. 'Gosh! It's dawn! How long have you two been out?'

'Hours, sorry,' apologized Draco. 'We just lost track of time. Any
problems?'

'I'll say', said Ron. 'Pomfrey came in to check on you two!'

'What happened?!'

'Hermione saved the day,' said Ron.

'Doesn't she always?' laughed Harry. 'What did you do?'
'Hid your pyjamas and jumped in here and pretended to be you,' said
Hermione, laughing. 'The problem was trying to convince Ron in under
three seconds that you two slept in the same bed! I practically had to haul
in him in here.'

'Oooh, Weasley,' grinned Draco. 'Bet you enjoyed that!'

'Er, I've had worse nights, certainly,' Ron said, blushing.

All four of them laughed.

'Ron,' said Harry, shyly, 'I am sorry you had to find out like that.'

'No worries, Harry. I was more concerned to hear about your coma than
your sleeping arrangements. Are you alright now?'

Harry looked at Draco, glowing. 'I've never been better, Ron.'

'I think,' pondered Hermione, gently breaking the tender moment, 'that we
need a swift change of position. Ron, get up, and you two should get back
into bed before Madam Pomfrey comes back in.'

'Good thinking,' said Draco. 'She usually comes in early. And we know
Dumbledore is up too. He can call at any time.'

'Turn your backs, you two!' laughed Harry. He and Draco shed their clothes
and struggled back into their pyjamas. Ron poked his head out the door.

'Shit! She's already up!'

Harry and Draco jumped into bed and arranged themselves to look like
they had been there for ages. Ron was astonished at the signs of intimacy
between them, they giggled and hugged and entwined their arms and legs
like they had been together for years. He stood just watching them, almost
staring, and Hermione nudged him sharply.

'Ron,' she hissed. 'Let's go, quick.'
'No,' said Ron, firmly. 'It's too risky. She's already on the main ward. We
could hide in the bathroom, or under the cloak in here. Or...'

'Or what?' said Draco, intrigued.

'Or, well, it's Sunday now isn't it? We're allowed to visit. Why don't we just
look like we called by for breakfast? Then we don't have to sneak back to
the Tower.'

'Ron,' said Hermione. 'That is the first sensible idea you've had for ages.
How do we make it look like we just got here?'

'Straighten your clothes and hair and pull the armchairs up to the bed,'
said Draco instantly. 'Lay your cloaks neatly on the other bed. Don't look
overly comfortable, and start with the usual how-are-you?s.'

The other three all looked at him, startled at his level of detail.

'Master of deception, I guess,' said Draco, almost proudly.

'OK,' agreed Hermione, enjoying herself. 'All set. Begin normal level of
conversation...NOW!'

'Hey', began Draco, in a slightly louder voice than they had been using.
'What happened in the Slytherin v Ravenclaw match?'

'Ah,' said Ron. 'You lost, I'm afraid.'

'You're afraid? Aren't you delighted?'

'Well, a bit I guess, yeah, sure,' grinned Ron, 'but it was the right result.
The truth is that with you two not having played in the last two matches,
the results have been skewed. Gryffindor should have beaten Hufflepuff,
and you should have beaten Ravenclaw, so when you two get back to
playing, it'll be a fair contest again. With you losing yesterday, and
provided we each win our next games, the contest should go to the final
match, Gryffindor v Slytherin. Which is just as it should be. We are the two
best teams, after all.'
'Blimey. I'm learning a thing or two about the Gryffindor sense of honour,
that's for sure.' Draco looked at Harry, and they smiled at each other. 'Who
did we use as Seeker?'

'Ah. Therein lies the Slytherin tactical error, I reckon,' smiled Ron.

'Come on, who was it?'

'Parkinson.'

'Pansy Parkinson? Please, please, Weasley, tell me this is some unfunny
Gryffindor joke?'

Hermione and Harry were laughing.

'Quiet, Harry, this is serious,' said Draco, trying his best to mean it.

'Malfoy,' Hermione asked, intrigued, 'did you just call him Harry?'

'Yes, Hermione, he did,' said Harry simply.

'Wow. There have been a lot of developments in the last few hours, it
seems,' said Ron.

All four looked at each other in enigmatic smiles, which became more
laughs.

'Although not as many developments as there seem to have been on the
Slytherin team in my absence. Pansy Parkinson played Seeker on the
House team?'

'Yes. And she was awful. Bad luck, Malfoy.'

'Why on earth did they choose Pansy?'

'Well, Malfoy, it seems that she just begged for the chance to follow in
your footsteps. Apparently you are something of a hero to her. And
nobody's quite sure how it happened, but Snape chose her above all those
who took a trial.'
Harry and Hermione caught each other's eyes at this obviously hostility-
free conversation between Ron and Draco.

'Oh God! Tell me the worst! What was she like? What was the score?'
Draco, with a hint of genuine distress.

'She just messed around at the edge and attempted a Wronski Feint at
about five miles an hour. She even had time to adjust her hair as she
pulled out of the dive, if you could call it a dive. But, Malfoy, honestly, it
was one of the most entertaining matches ever. And you didn't lose too
badly, only 170-90. Your beaters were quite good in fact, if you like
watching grossly dirty tactics.'

'The only way to play, of course,' smiled Draco. 'I expect Pansy's
performance was some amazingly subtle ploy to side-track the opposition.'

'Malfoy, if it pleases you to think that, by all means go ahead.'

They all laughed, including Draco.

'And what on earth is going on in here?' came Madam Pomfrey's voice
from the doorway.

'Er, we've got some visitors for breakfast, if that's OK,' said Harry.

'Harry owled us and said you always give them breakfast early, so we
thought, as this is the first day we're allowed to visit, we'd stop by and see
how they were,' Hermione added, with supreme confidence.

Ron and Harry caught each other's eyes, and grinned. Draco sat closely to
Harry in the little bed.

'Well. Indeed.' Madam Pomfrey seemed stumped, but couldn't put her
finger on any actual wrong-doing. 'Well, in that case, Miss Granger, Mr.
Weasley, if you really want your breakfast at -' she glanced suspiciously at
her watch - 'shortly before seven, then you can help prepare it. We can't
expect the Elves to be at work at this time on a Sunday and I am not
running room service here.'
Later, as they all tucked into eggs and toast - well, rather Ron tucked into
eggs, Hermione and Draco had one each and Harry picked absently at half
a piece of toast - they all sensed that a new chapter had been opened.
Each watched the others in a state of high interest as breakfast continued.
Both Draco and Hermione could tell that Harry and Ron were so glad to be
something like back to normal that their level of chatter seemed to get
louder and louder. Ron himself noticed that Draco's attention to Harry was
almost adoring. When Draco thought that nobody could hear in a
particularly loud moment of talk, Ron was moved to hear him whisper
'Harry, please eat something more than this'. Hermione herself saw that
the body language between Harry and Draco was incredibly intimate, and
absolutely trusting. Even Harry, usually so slow at picking up other's
emotions, could sense that Ron and Hermione had been doing more than
sleeping in their bed. Funny, he thought. What a significant part this bed
has played in the last week, for all four of us.

And all too soon, one of the most important nights of their lives was over,
and Madam Pomfrey was overseeing the clearing away of both breakfast
and visitors, and urging Harry and Draco to take some more sleeping
draught. Shortly afterwards they were all four asleep, Harry and Draco
tangled together in enchanted slumber, Ron snoring in his own bed as he
caught up on hours missed the night before, and Hermione, dozing quietly
in the girls' dormitory, serenely happy for all of them.
                           CHAPTER FOURTEEN

                                     ~

                      DANCE OF THE SEVEN CHARMS

Beginning at not long after 7:00am that morning, Dumbledore opened his
earliest ever meeting. It was surely the also the oddest collection of
Hogwarts folk that had gathered in his office for some time. The usual
suspects, Snape, Sirius and McGonagall, all tried to varying degrees to hide
that they were tired, but none of them could quite hide their slight
surprise at the two newcomers.

'Good morning all,' twinkled Dumbledore with his usual bonhomie. 'Tea all
round, is it?'

Without waiting for an answer, his wand whipped in its customary fashion
and a tray totally overloaded with several pots of tea and a couple of
plates of delicious breakfast things appeared in mid-air, and then, as
Dumbledore looked in vain round the room for somewhere to set it down,
he conjured a small table as well.

Show off, thought McGonagall affectionately.

The serving of tea was never a straight-forward affair at these meetings.
Snape would rather have dispensed with it altogether and got down to
business straight away, but Dumbledore was usually - as this morning -
insistent on it.

'Now,' he beamed, with the look of a mother hen feeding her chicks,
'Minerva. Earl Grey, yes?'

She nodded, and smiled as she realised that one of the pots contained her
favourite brew. Dumbledore made a great performance of pouring her a
cup, and she was not the only one to notice that, although nobody beat
Dumbledore at effortless conjuring, of those present he was perhaps the
least able at pouring tea without drips.

'Sirius. What will it be this morning?'

Sirius smiled. Was this some kind of game? He looked at the tray: there
were four pots, of which one obviously contained Earl Grey. Has
Dumbledore anticipated the type of tea we would all prefer? But - there are
more than four of us here. He regarded Dumbledore closely, then said,
'English Breakfast, please, Albus.'

'Oh good choice, Sirius, one of my favourites,' smiled the Headmaster, and
poured a cup from one of the other pots.

Two-nil to Dumbledore, thought McGonagall idly, sipping her Earl Grey,
which had obviously been brewed for the perfect four minutes, and not
just the 30 seconds since Dumbledore had produced the tray. She
wondered briefly how he had done it. Must be Magic! she smiled to
herself.

'Now,' continued Dumbledore. 'We are one missing, I wonder, where is...?'

At that moment Madam Pomfrey entered and was surprised to see a
bizarre tea ceremony taking place, with Dumbledore kneeling next to a
curious three-legged table with serpents for legs. Good Lord, she thought.
He's losing it. I know we all say he's eccentric, but...

'What's your brew this morning, Poppy?' The brightness in the
Headmaster's voice was quite at odds with the hour.

All the eyes in the room turned to Madam Pomfrey, as if she had just been
asked a question of far higher importance than her choice of tea blend.

'Errr...' she said, looking round the room rather nervously, 'Earl Grey I
think, Headmaster.'

There was a definite shift in the room. Had she said the wrong thing?

McGonagall and Sirius caught each other's eyes.
Once Madam Pomfrey was settled down with her tea, Dumbledore turned
his attention to Hagrid. 'And you, Hagrid?' he asked politely.

Hagrid looked delighted at being offered tea by the Greatest Headmaster
of Hogwarts Ever, and answered, 'Well, sir, if it's alrigh' wi' you, sir, ah've
allus bin a bit partial to a cup o' Darjeeling meself'.

Snape snorted. 'When have you ever developed a taste for Darjeeling?' he
barked, but nobody paid any attention as Dumbledore serenely poured
Hagrid a cup from the third pot.

'Oh I do like Darjeeling,' said Dumbledore to nobody in particular and
poured himself a cup as well.

Three-nil to Dumbledore, pondered McGonagall.

Then he turned to the second newcomer.

'And what would you like?' he beamed.

Dobby could not take it any longer, and threw himself at the Headmaster's
feet. He'd been uncomfortable being given a real chair to sit on in the first
place, but to be offered tea as well was too much.

'No! Sir! The great Dumbly cannot serve Dobby tea! It's Dobby's job to
serve the tea! Dobby cannot accept tea from the great Dumble, sir, no!'

Snape rolled his eyes in exasperation. How long was this meeting going to
last?

Dobby was jumping around in some agitation. 'Dobby is perfectly happy to
drink the tea that drips into the Great Dumbly's saucer, sir!' he squealed.

'Really?' Dumbledore looked mildly amused at this, and protested a little,
but Dobby could not be pressed into tea of any kind and all eyes in the
room turned to Snape.

Snape eyed the fourth pot.
There was a strange air of expectancy in the room. Sirius couldn't suppress
a smile.

After what seemed like an age, Snape cleared his throat.

'Er...I think I would like, if possible, Headmaster, a cup of Lapsang
Souchong.'

McGonagall and Sirius gasped, as if Snape had just bowled an
ungentlemanly ball.

Dumbledore, however, with a sort of distant smile, simply said, 'of course,
Severus,' and lifted the fourth pot.

Four-nil to Dumbledore, thought McGonagall with huge enjoyment.

'Actually, no, sorry, I've changed my mind, I'd rather have coffee,'
blustered Snape, realising his ball had been knocked for six.

'Of course, Severus,' smiled Dumbledore, without altering the pot he was
holding, and suddenly the room was awash with the aroma of deep-
roasted coffee beans as a rich, dark liquid flowed smoothly from the spout
of the fourth pot.

Game, set and match Dumbledore, thought McGonagall, or at least she
would have done had she ever heard of tennis.

The whole room laughed softly, even Snape.

'Very impressive,' said Sirius warmly to the Headmaster.

'Oh, it's nothing really,' muttered Dumbledore, eyes still glinting.

'Er, are we ever going to get down to business?' asked Madam Pomfrey
rather curtly.

'Yes, Poppy, indeed. There are two items on today's agenda, both of which
I consider to be important enough to meet at this antisocial hour on a
Sunday,' began Dumbledore.
The mood changed instantly.

'First, how are our two patients?'

'On the mend, I should say,' said Madam Pomfrey. 'They were having a
party when I went in this morning.'

'A party?' choked Snape.

'Well, Granger and Weasley had turned up for breakfast. But there was
certainly a lot of laughter.'

A look of vague understanding passed over Hagrid's face, but only
Dumbledore noticed.

'I am sure I said that they couldn't visit until this evening,' mused
McGonagall.

'Then they should be punished,' said Snape. 'I suggest--'

'Oh Heavens, no' interrupted Dumbledore. 'There will be no need for that.
I am amazed Weasley has stayed away this long, to be honest. I think we
can take laughter as an indication that they are indeed feeling stronger,
rather than as a cause for punishment. It's a good sign. It is certainly
enough of a sign for us to move on.'

'What do you mean, Albus?' asked McGonagall.

'The two of them are obviously feeling happier about their situation, and
we cannot afford to wait. Even if they are still sleeping and eating
erratically, we must hope that those things will mend in time. The latest
owl from Fudge is distressing. We all know Harry may yet have a role to
play, so it's vital that we begin to assess exactly how their magic is bonding
and evaluate any increase in ability. Whatever we discover will almost
certainly mean tailoring their immediate education to new needs, and we
must begin today. Severus...'

'Yes, Headmaster?' preened Snape, openly delighted that Dumbledore had
turned to him first.
'You will take Harry and Draco this afternoon to your classroom and see if
there has been any alteration in their ability at Potions. You will find that
Harry has the means to get the two of them through the school unnoticed.
Take them through something complex and then report back to me.
Minerva...'

'Yes, Albus?'

'We will deal with Charms together later this afternoon and then you will
test them on some Transfiguration this evening. Anything unusual or
untoward we will all need to hear about. Then Sirius, tomorrow, please
take them through some curses and hexes, and defence against the same.
Steer clear of the Unforgivable Curses...for the time being at least.'

The room had the feel of a secret mission being planned and it was rather
exciting despite the exceedingly early hour.

'I myself will take them for some...special conjuring,' stated Dumbledore
clearly.

McGonagall was suddenly hit with the curious image of Harry temporarily
flummoxing Voldemort by producing a tray of tea things at the height of
battle, and then cursed herself for being frivolous.

'Also, Severus, some Arithmancy. I know it seems peripheral but I want to
know the full picture, and I don't want to expand the group of staff
involved beyond what is absolutely necessary, although...yes, I suppose
also...yes, we really must...Minerva, please take them up to Sybill
Trelawney tomorrow night and see if you can determine if there is any
clairvoyance yet present in either of the pair.'

McGonagall, Snape, Sirius and Hagrid all rolled their eyes.

'Yes, yes,' countered Dumbledore, 'I know what you all think. But we can't
take any chances. There's probably no need for Sybill to know precisely
why we are conducting this survey,' he added, smiling. 'I think it would be
a good thing not to inflame her rather acute sense of drama.'
All present, even those not fully in the picture, smiled.

'And finally,' stated Dumbledore, 'we must teach them how to Apparate. I
know they are underage but I don't think we can justify denying them this
defence. We will begin immediately. Tonight, Minerva, Severus, Sirius, you
will join myself and Harry and Draco in the village for a preliminary session.
Any questions?'

All seemed clear with their tasks, and then Dumbledore altered his
approach slightly.

'Good. Now, we come to the second item for discussion. Sirius, would
you...?'

Sirius cleared his throat.

'There is a book,' he began. 'Draco spoke to me about a book he recalls his
father showing him when he was younger. It seems to contain memories
of what he called 'a magical baby boy'. Draco himself has no idea of the
potential importance of this book but the Headmaster and I think that it is
possible that it is a scrap-book given to James and Lily Potter as a wedding
present. If that is true it may be that Lucius Malfoy has a use for it in mind.
It is difficult to explain his possessing it at all otherwise.'

'It was just an ordinary book,' supplied Dumbledore. 'Enhanced by a...erm,
special charm of my own. The idea was that you just left it open on a new
page and all the thoughts and words and events were captured in the
paper.'

'It was your own present to them?' McGonagall looked worried.

'Yes. And Sirius recalls that it was actually used on several occasions.'

'Harry's Christening for one,' added Sirius. 'And I think a game of
Quidditch, and maybe a picnic too.'

'How on earth did Lucius Malfoy come to be in possession of it?' asked
McGonagall, sounding distressed.
'That's the crucial point,' said Sirius. 'We think...that on the night of James
and Lily's deaths, Lucius may have been present at Godric's Hollow. It
would be utterly typical of him to pick up something that could be used in
the future rather than go mad with grief like the other Death Eaters.'

'Even so,' began Snape. 'It's difficult to see how the magic in the book
could be used against Potter. If it works like a Pensieve, even destroying
the book would not affect Potter in any way. But...'

'Yes,' finished Dumbledore. 'My thoughts exactly. It would need some
powerful Dark Magic to turn the book to advantage. But if anyone is
capable of it, Lucius Malfoy is. And I don't see Lucius being sentimental
enough to pick up a pointless trophy at such a moment. So I have decided
that we must try to recover it.'

There was silence.

'Where is it?' asked McGonagall eventually.

'In the library at Malfoy Manor,' Dumbledore replied evenly.

'Or rather...' added Sirius, 'if it's the same book, that's where it was when
Draco was eight or nine years old.'

'But...the Manor is known to be protected by some highly complex magical
defences... Nobody just walks into the library and helps themselves,
surely?' pondered McGonagall.

The size of the task seemed to dawn on them all at the same time. As did
the reason for Dobby's presence.

Dobby looked terrified, but Dumbledore turned to him gently.

'Dobby...' he started.

Dobby's mouth was opening and closing noiselessly and he was wringing
his hands, wide-eyed.
'Dobby, you know the Manor better than anyone. Nobody here has ever
been there at all, let alone in the library.'

A look of distinct unease passed over Snape's face, but only Dumbledore
noticed.

'N-No!' stuttered Dobby. 'Dobby can't! Please don't ask Dobby to go back
to the Manor!'

'Don't you want to help Harry, Dobby? Hasn't he always been good to
you?'

'Oh yes! Harry Potter has always been excellent to Dobby! He has given
him socks, and even a jumper!'

'So, if Harry was in danger, wouldn't you want to help him?'

'Oh yes! Harry Potter helped Dobby become free! But...but...'

'Dobby, surely you have the best knowledge of the Manor than anyone!
You must know all the secret ways in and out, and how to avoid the
defences! You would be marvellous at this special mission!'

Dobby preened himself slightly but was still far from convinced.

'And think of what you would be doing! Helping Harry out of great danger!
What do you think Dobby? Thirty minutes, you reckon? Maybe just
twenty? In, out, nobody knowing anything? I am sure you could do it...'

'W-well...'

'And with Hagrid to make sure you get there and back in one piece, very
quickly? Does it sound so dangerous now?'

'W-well...'

'Do you know a way in and out, Dobby, a secret way for a secret mission?
Think you could slip in and out without being seen?'

'W-well...'
'And when you get back, I'm not sure, but I think there could be a pay rise!
I'll have to look in the Hogwarts Charter, but I am sure there is something
about special pay for special missions...'

McGonagall raised an eyebrow. She had never heard of the Hogwarts
Charter.

'Really...?'

'Oh yes! And I think socks too. And a new jumper. The Charter definitely
says something about a jumper. Doesn't it, Minerva?'

'I believe it does,' smiled McGonagall warmly.

'But Dobby is scared!' squirmed Dobby. 'Lucius Malfoy is a very bad man...'

'So who better to go take on this task than our own brave Dobby?'

'But...'

'Oh stop yer yammering, elf,' said Hagrid gruffly. 'Dumbledore's got a job
for yeh, to help Harry out o' trouble. There's no point arguin'.'

'Dobby will do it!' cried Dobby. 'Dobby will help brave Harry Potter, of
course he will! It is always Dobby's aim to serve the great Dumbly!'

'Good good,' said Dumbledore warmly. 'I said to my colleagues that I knew
you would brave enough for this secret mission.'

There were murmurs of assent from around the room, although the
Headmaster had said no such thing. McGonagall found herself admiring
the way he had dealt with Dobby, knowing that she herself would have
lost patience some time earlier.

Dobby looked like he was about to burst with pride.

'Now,' continued Dumbledore. 'What do you think, Dobby, dead of night?
It would be easier to get in and out at night, wouldn't it?'

'Oh yes,' said Dobby, delighted at being consulted.
'That's what I thought,' mused Dumbledore. 'When you get in there, you'll
need to be quick. Look for a blue book. It will look identical to this one.'

He whipped his wand and a slim book, dark blue, about two hands across
and about half an inch thick appeared in his hand.

'Now, let me see,' pondered the Headmaster. 'Oh yes...'

He used his wand again and some words emblazoned themselves into the
leather cover.

   For James and Lily, on this Happiest of Days, from Albus Dumbledore

'When you find it, put this one in its place and then get out as quickly as
you can. Hagrid, you still have the motorbike I understand? Take it and get
Dobby as close to the house as you safely can, and some kind of silencing
charm might be in order for the bike. Make sure you choose somewhere
Dobby can find you quickly when he gets out of the Manor.'

Hagrid shifted uncomfortably. He looked at Sirius.

Dumbledore was suddenly aware of a sense of unease in the room.
McGonagall wondered if Sirius and Hagrid had exchanged any words at all
since the night of James and Lily's deaths.

'Hagrid,' began Dumbledore. 'Sirius has risked many personal dangers to
be here. He is here at my invitation and has my complete trust, as you do.
There is no shame in owning up to still being in possession of his
motorbike. I am sure he will be glad to see it used on this mission.'

Hagrid looked slightly relieved. 'Er, fine piece o' machinery, Mr Black. I
takes her out fro' time to time, yeh know, just to keep her ticking over
nicely...'

'I'm glad to hear that it's been in such good hands,' smiled Sirius. 'It's good
to know that at least one thing from...before, is still around and working
well. Thank you for looking after it so well.'
'Fine,' said Dumbledore. 'So, take the motorbike. As soon as Dobby gets
out, go straight to London and deposit the book in the school vault at
Gringotts. With a letter from me you should be granted admittance at any
time of day. If you don't find it, come straight back here and we will talk
again.'

'If the book is there, Headmaster, it will be safe. Think of it as already
done,' proclaimed Hagrid with unusual gravity.

'Good. I knew I could rely on you both. One last thing. I don't think there is
any sense in wasting time on this matter. I would like you to go tonight.'

                                      ***

It was very soon pretty clear to Harry and Draco that Steps Forward had
been taken by the Inner Circle. As they contemplated a little lunch after
waking from their latest period of enchanted sleep, Snape entered the
room.

'Right you two,' he sneered slightly. 'Out of bed. That's enough lazing
around.'

Harry was half-sitting half-lying with his back against Draco's chest, and
Draco was casually eating a sandwich with his arms on either side of Harry,
dropping crumbs in Harry's hair. The two of them looked up with mild
interest.

'My classroom, five minutes. We have a potion to brew, if you're not too
busy...'

There was a definite snarl in Snape's tone that made Harry feel as
uncomfortable as he usually did where the Potions master was concerned.

'Well, we are quite busy actually,' Draco supplied in an offhand manner.
Harry jarred visibly, praying that Draco wouldn't go any further. This
behaviour seemed rather out of character for Draco. Harry wondered if he
was showing off a bit for his sake.
Snape looked rather surprised at this insubordination from his most
favoured pupil. 'With what, exactly?' he enquired sharply.

'Well, there's sleep of course. And the odd sandwich. And of course some
light snogging.'

Draco took a bite from his ham sandwich. Harry looked in utter horror at
Snape's face, which was rapidly turning purple.

Snape's ability at speech seemed to have temporarily deserted him as he
stared unblinkingly at Draco in shock.

'And five minutes is a little harsh,' continued Draco. 'This is rather a small
bed, and it can get quite sweaty in here. Do you want us to turn up in your
classroom unshowered?'

Oh God, Draco, please please please shut up! prayed Harry in his head.
He's going to blow his top!

But Draco had more to say.

'Of course, if you are absolutely insistent, we could always shower
together. That might save a little time, don't you think, Harry?'

Harry closed his eyes and hoped that he was imagining it all.

'It's not a step we've taken yet, actually, showering together, but, I
suppose it had to happen sooner or later. Or would you prefer--'

'Very well, Mr Malfoy,' choked Snape. 'You have made your point. You
have half an hour to finish your lunch and prepare yourselves for an
afternoon of Potion making. Beyond that, the details of your er, ablutions,
are your own affair. Professor Dumbledore assures me you have the
means to reach the classroom unnoticed by the rest of the school. I will
see you shortly.'

He turned with a grand swirl of his robes and left the room.
'I don't believe you!' cried Harry. 'You're...astonishing! If I'd done that, it
would have been fifty points from Gryffindor!'

'Yes, it would,' mused Draco, calmly chewing on his sandwich. 'But that's
because you don't know how to deal with him. The thing about Snape is,
he's absurdly, painfully embarrassed of our situation. He doesn't know
where to look when he sees us snuggled together like this. A complete
prude. He would ordinarily use something like this to make pupils squirm
as if they'd done something wrong. But take away his ability to belittle,
and he crumbles: typical behaviour of your average common or garden
repressed Potions master.'

'Wow.' Harry swivelled his head and smiled at Draco. 'I like having you on
my side.'

'Good-oh, Harry, old boy. Because on your side is where I'm going to be.
And at your side. And...in fact...' he twisted himself and buried his face
somewhere under Harry's left armpit '...in fact, all aspects of your side
appear to be particularly fetching.' He chuckled a bit and kissed the side of
Harry's body.

A little light snogging ensued.

'Did you really want to do it?' Harry asked, after a while.

'Do what?'

'Shower with me.'

'Oh yes, Harry. Of course. If only to wash your dreadful hair myself.' Draco
laughed. 'But I think...don't you think that we'd need a little longer than
the half hour Snape has allocated us?'

There was a little more laughter, and quite a lot more light snogging. They
never did find the time for a shower.

                                       ***
It had been the most extraordinary afternoon either of them could
remember.

'A Perceptivity Potion,' declared Snape. 'It's highly complex, and you will
need to concentrate.'

Highly complex was putting it mildly. There was a list of about twenty
ingredients, at least half of which were unstable unless kept in magical
stasis until the moment they were required. Shredded mandrake root had
to be used within twenty seconds of uprooting the plant. Three of the live
ingredients had to be combined with an ambient temperature close to
freezing which necessitated a complicated spell to lower the temperature
of the room, performed effortlessly by Draco. But by far the most taxing
aspect of the Perceptivity Potion was the Willow sap.

Sap from the Whomping Willow had to be harvested during sunlight and
was then dried and powdered. In such a state it was inert, but it had to be
added to the mixture for only intermittent periods, during which it became
dangerously volatile. After a fixed length of time the active Willow sap
particles had to be removed from the brew using a complex version of the
Summoning Charm, then secured in a second cauldron, which needed to
be kept at precisely the temperature of the main mixture. During periods
while the Willow sap was absent from the main mixture, the other active
ingredients were combined one by one.

After only a few minutes, Harry and Draco were totally enthralled. This
made regular Potions classes seem like simple cookery. And Snape was
becoming more and more animated as the session proceeded. Indeed,
when Harry first successfully raised the Willow sap from the bubbling
concoction - they all watched, bright-eyed, as the particles lifted smoothly
above the steam in a beautiful sparkling cloud of glowing green - Snape
cried Oh, well done, Potter! Ten points to Gryffindor!

Harry was immensely pleased. Potions had never been his strongest
subject, whereas Draco had always had a certain gift for it. But Draco
himself was just as delighted at seeing the increase in Harry's ability.
'Harry!' he cried, on seeing the Willow sap particles hovering above the
main cauldron. 'You're...astonishing!'

Snape was off somewhere in his own world, where incantation and
alchemy all combined perfectly in a blur of potions and ingredients and
boiling points. Harry and Draco felt privileged to be part of it. And after an
hour of constant monitoring and stirring, and Summoning and re-
combining, and ensuring that a dozen subsidiary spells and charms worked
in effortless harmony with each other, Snape declared the potion ready.

And he served up three goblets, and tried it himself first. Draco and Harry
followed suit.

Draco knew in that moment that he would never forget the following ten
minutes. He glanced round the room and immediately he could see the
trees that once gave up their trunks to become the benches and counters,
and could sense - actually feel - dozens and dozens of Potions that had
been brewed in that classroom over the years. He felt light as air, invisible,
transient and ephemeral. Books on the shelves started to cry out their
contents, unused ingredients glowed in their jars, the very air throbbed
with an active combination of Nature and Magic. Without any advanced
knowledge of Potions, he could instantly see how certain ingredients
would blend perfectly with others, or react violently if treated wrongly. It
was like the entire subject and all its associated magic suddenly made
complete sense to him and arranged itself in a logical and beautiful path in
front of him.

He dared to look Harry, slightly wary of what he might see. At once there
was Harry as a baby, and as a young boy, and as the teenager he loved. All
Harry's emotions shone around his head, like the actual reality of Harry's
magic was whirling around him. And amazingly, but also logically, he could
see the combination of Harry's magic and his own swirling together in their
own magical mixture. Harry was smiling. Draco knew that everything he
could see himself Harry was also seeing, and as they sank deeper into the
effects of the Perceptivity Potion, there was the certain knowledge in both
of them that the Crimson Cloud was not just an intangible philosophical
concept, but a vivid, living actuality.

Eventually the effects began to fade, and Harry and Draco found that
Snape was talking again.

'Oh, my boys!' he was chanting, still himself charmed by the Potion. 'Do
you realise what you've done?'

Harry suspected that he and Draco had much more of an idea of what they
had done than Snape did, but still he was filled with a warmth toward
Snape that he had never got remotely close to before.

'I never dreamt you would do so well. I actually chose one of the most
notoriously difficult of potions so that you wouldn't get ideas above your
abilities. But you have totally proved me wrong. Summoning Willow sap
particles from an active mixture is well beyond the ability of most wizards.
It is advanced Potion making of the most complex kind.'

He stopped and looked at them oddly. Then Harry saw his face take on a
bizarre twisted aspect, which, he realised with a jolt, was a smile. And then
Snape spoke again.

'There are only five wizards currently in the country who can brew a
successful Perceptivity Potion, and we, gentlemen, are three of them.'

                                    ***

Harry and Draco were still glowing with this praise when they reached
their little room in the Hospital Wing shortly afterwards.

'Did we really do that?' asked Draco.

'So it seems,' smiled Harry.

'Did you see his face?' laughed Draco. 'He was gobsmacked when you first
Summoned the Willow sap particles. It was brilliant!'
'I can't believe it! It was amazing! All those ingredients blending together
like that! It was just so easy. And I've always been crap at Potions!'

'Well, you're not crap any more, obviously. You're a regular Potions genius
now!'

'So are you, Draco, don't forget you did it all too.'

'Yes. But the difference is I expected to be able to do it...!!' he grinned.

Harry laughed and punched him hard on the shoulder. 'You are
insufferable at times, Draco,' he despaired.

It started with a sock.

Harry walked over to the window and turned back to look at Draco, still
smiling at their success with the Potion. He grasped his wand on a whim
and levitated a sock that was lying on the floor. The sock drifted to Draco
and tapped him on the shoulder, then nuzzled against his ear.

Draco laughed. 'What's he saying, Harry?' he asked.

Harry looked Draco straight in the eye. 'Can't you tell, Draco?' he asked,
coyly. 'He's saying, you are astonishing!'

Draco laughed softly. 'Of course.' He picked up his own wand and the
sock's brother danced next to Harry's shoulder.

'What's he saying, Draco?' Harry asked, laughing.

'Don't you know, Harry?' asked Draco gently. Communication between
them became unspoken as the two of them stared at each other.

'Yes,' replied Harry silently. 'Yes, I know.'

The mood changed. Harry used his wand instinctively to animate several
more items of clothing sending them circling slowly round Draco. Draco
began to levitate small items of furniture and as more objects began to
rotate entrancingly around the room, Harry stacked the chairs and beds
above their heads from the ceiling downwards. Gradually the little room
became their whole universe, and all the contents of their universe
became toys in their hands. When all the fabric of their room was spinning
slowly above their heads, Harry again looked right into Draco's head and
they smiled at each other. Harry set the lamps flickering in complex cross-
rhythms which made the room glow in a soft iridescence, and Draco sent a
cool breeze floating around them, fluttering the curtains and ruffling their
hair.

Time seemed to slow, somehow itself turning in the same alluring, breezy,
flickering way that the furniture was rotating in its curious airborne ballet.
Seconds seemed like weeks, and minutes became an eternity. Draco set all
four pairs of their pyjamas dancing slowly around Harry like a group of
disembodied backing vocalists and Harry laughed aloud, which sent the
pyjamas quivering in sympathetic chuckling. Then they both looked at each
other again, and knowing what the other was thinking, they each
performed a Levitation charm on the other in perfect synchronisation.
Rising slowly to a height of six inches above the floor, they both felt the
same magical intensity flooding their veins.

'My boys!' came a voice from the door.

The atmosphere in the room was immediately shattered. The furniture fell
deafeningly back to earth, and the pyjamas and clothes collapsed into
heaps. Suddenly the light returned to normal, the air was still, and their
feet found the floor.

They turned to face Dumbledore, who was standing at the edge of the
room with McGonagall behind him in the doorway.

Harry felt awkward. Surely they had behaved irresponsibly; but he also felt
that Dumbledore had disturbed a private moment. He shuffled uneasily.

Draco was more direct.

'We're sorry, Professor. We just got carried away.'
'Sorry? Why on earth should you be sorry?' asked the Headmaster, who,
with one movement of his wand, restored the room to its previous order.

'Er...irresponsible use of magic?' suggested Harry.

Dumbledore ignored him for a while and pondered, 'Draco, which charm
did you use on the pyjamas?'

'I'm not sure, I just sort of willed it to happen and it did.'

'And Harry, how did you set the lamps flickering?'

Harry looked nervously at Draco. 'Er...flickering charm?' Harry flustered.

'Really?' said Dumbledore. 'Ever heard of a flickering charm, Minerva?'

'No. It's certainly new to me. What was the incantation for it, Harry?'

'Er...'

'He doesn't know,' answered Draco. 'Neither of us do. We're sorry. It won't
happen again. It's just that we were feeling pretty high after such a good
time in Potions, and--'

'What happened in Potions?' interrupted Dumbledore.

'They brewed a perfect Perceptivity Potion,' said Snape as he entered the
room. 'More stable and much more potent than the one I brewed earlier in
the year.'

'A Perceptivity Potion?' repeated Dumbledore, not able to conceal his
surprise. 'Which one of them Summoned the Willow sap particles from the
mixture?'

'They both did,' replied Snape. 'Potter was particularly impressive.'

'You should have seen him, Professor!' said Draco, with more than a touch
of pride. 'The way they just lifted out of the green steam, it was amazing!'
'Well, I suppose after what we have just witnessed, it is not surprising. It's
a shame you missed it, Severus.'

'What happened?'

'Well, I almost lost count, but I before I stopped it I counted seven charms
being performed simultaneously. Including three complex ones and two
that they cannot have learned yet. And one - a flickering charm, Harry calls
it - that I've never heard of. Have you ever heard of it, Severus? Do you
know what the incantation might be?'

'Seven?' repeated Snape, goggling so much he ignored the question. 'Are
you sure? I can only do two.'

'I can do two as well' said McGonagall, 'although two at once tires me
more than twenty in a row.'

'And I,' continued Dumbledore, 'after years of practice, can perform three
spells or four charms at the same time. But you two, my boys, did seven
without even thinking about it. And who knows how many more you could
have done had I not disturbed you.'

'Why did you stop them?' asked Snape. 'It would have been valuable to see
how they did it.'

'I had to stop them because the build-up of magic in the room was
becoming dangerously high. There was a risk of the charms becoming
confused.' He beamed at Harry and Draco. 'It is still sparking round the
walls now, which you would be able to see if you took some more
Perceptivity Potion.'

Dumbledore was looking distinctly pleased about something.

'What do you make of all this, Minerva?' he asked enthusiastically.

'I think that the programme of Charms we had worked out now looks
rather inadequate.' She also was looking excited.
Dumbledore addressed the boys directly. 'Harry, Draco, you've no need to
be sorry. What we have just seen was astonishing. Evidently your abilities
have increased far more than any of us suspected. Seven charms! That's
almost beyond belief. But we've seen it here, so we must believe it. Tell
me, how did you work together? Have you become telepathic? How did
you synchronise the Levitation charms you used on each other?'

Draco felt bewildered by so many questions.

'Professor, we didn't plan any of it. It just happened. But...seven is an odd
number; I don't quite understand. Was one of us doing three and the other
four?'

'No. I think you were doing seven between you. Your pool of innate magic
now seems to serve you both. On your own you may not been able to
manage anything like seven, we will have to see. But together...together
you seem to be extremely accomplished.'

'I've never seen anything like it,' added McGonagall. 'It was like you
somehow harnessed a vast quantity of raw magic.'

'Nobody knows very much about raw magic,' supplied Snape. 'It's the
preserve of a few highly intellectual theorists; most wizards prefer to deal
in applied magic - spells and charms and potions and the like - rather than
the theory. We just accept that we have the ability, without questioning
where it comes from. But...what I saw in the Potions classroom when I had
taken the Perceptivity Potion, and what Professor Dumbledore could see
washing round the walls of this room, that was obviously real physical
presence of something. It is all rather intriguing.'

'Yes. Well put, Severus,' said Dumbledore.

Harry and Draco looked at each other. Neither knew what to say.

'We will leave you, I think. Take an hour or so off, it's been a draining
afternoon. Then you can have some supper and you will be doing some
Transfiguration this evening; your friend Hermione Granger will be
assisting Professor McGonagall. Then you will have some sleep, and later
tonight you will receive your first lesson in Apparating. Exciting times, my
boys, exciting times. For all of us.'

And with that Harry and Draco were left alone.

'Did we really do that?' asked Harry.

'So it seems,' replied Draco. 'Although, I'm not sure exactly how.'

Harry stepped up and pulled Draco towards him. 'Easy. Crimson Cloud.
Magic bonding and all that. Together, it seems, Draco, we are special.'
They hugged. And kissed. They fell onto their bed, glad to be alone again
after the events of the afternoon.

'You were special before, remember?' mused Draco after a while. 'Scar,
duel with the Dark Lord, Triwizard Champion, and other famous deeds as
reported in the Daily Prophet. I was nothing, just an arrogant bastard.'

'I wasn't special, Draco, it was just circumstances. And you weren't an
arrogant bastard...all the time.'

They both laughed, slightly nervously; they were both aware that the
atmosphere in the room was becoming increasingly highly charged.

Draco ran his hand through Harry's hair as he removed his glasses.

'You were special, Harry, and you still are. And you make me feel special.'

Further conversation proved impossible as they gave in to the crushing
desire they both felt. Harry began to feel close to tears as he saw his whole
life mean nothing, emotionally, magically, physically, if he didn't always
have Draco with him. The temperature on the bed began to rise as they
each sensed their shared experiences that afternoon fuel the flames of the
physical desire they had both repressed for weeks.

'Draco...' murmured Harry.

'Shhh,' whispered Draco, closing Harry's mouth with his own. 'Don't talk.
Just let it happen. Just let our love pull us together.'
The room blurred. To each of them, there was only the other. The
individual details of what was happening were not lodged separately in
either of them, but the rising desire was burning the experience as a whole
indelibly into their very identities. Draco became both tender and
desperate. He pulled Harry's shirt over his head and ran his hands over
Harry's slim lightly-muscled body, breaking the kiss, their vital link, for only
the briefest time necessary. Harry quivered in delight at the exquisite
touch, but for Harry, unused to such astonishing sensual intensity, the
pleasure became unbearable, and he flung Draco away from him with his
back against the bed. Draco looked up at him in surprise, but Harry was
staring at him like he was the only thing that mattered in the world, and he
melted. Tentatively Harry unbuttoned Draco's shirt, and Draco wriggled
out of it. For a moment there was stillness, and then their kiss resumed
more frantically than before. As their naked chests met, the skin-on-skin
contact sent sparks through both their bodies. Harry moaned. This was
too, too, too pleasurable to be allowed, surely?

But this time Draco broke away, and Harry gasped as Draco's tongue burnt
a path of electric sensuality over his chest. Draco gently kissed him
everywhere there was exposed skin, each touch making the heat rise in
Harry to heights he hadn't thought possible. A burning in him caused him
again to pull back up and crush their mouths back together, as Harry's
hands ran all over Draco's torso, desperate for the feel of him. Gradually
the balance of power shifted between them, and as Draco felt Harry's
rising passion as if it were his own, he revelled in the feeling of Harry
beginning to dictate the direction and pace of their love-making. Harry was
on top of Draco, grinding his body into Draco's, wanting complete and
total contact, his previous inhibitions blown away. Oh God, thought Draco,
he is miraculous. He is everything. I want this so much...

Draco himself was overwhelmed. He gently eased Harry off him and they
lay, side by side, shirtless, panting. Speech was not required. They both
knew what was going to happen. Draco propped himself up on his side,
and without taking his eyes off Harry, delicately moved his hand down
Harry's chest until it rested on his belt buckle. He loosened it, very, very
slightly. Harry breathed a deep, stuttering breath, and pulled Draco's head
down to his own. The contact of their lips was this time intensely loving
and delicate. Draco's eyes closed in ecstasy as the moment seemed to last
forever, a moment of exquisite realisation, their most tender kiss yet, the
moment when Harry's kiss gave Draco the permission he was so desperate
for. Draco whipped Harry's belt out from his jeans in a quick flick.

The sound signalled an immediate and sharp increase in their pace. Within
seconds they were tearing at each other's remaining clothes, wriggling
frantically out of jeans, kicking off shoes, peeling off socks, shucking boxer
shorts like they were nothing more than an inconvenience. As their naked
bodies met for the first time, the level of arousal so obviously high in both
of them, Draco felt like he wouldn't be able to breathe unless he had
maximum possible bodily contact with Harry, and even then, that might
not be enough... They pitched into each other, their legs furiously shifting
and entwining, their crotches grinding into each other creating an intense
heat that radiated through them in delicious waves, their arms gripping
their bodies so close to each other, their breath so ragged that kissing
became fuelled by something deep within both of them. Draco felt tears
streaming down his cheeks. He didn't know if they were his or Harry's.

'Harry,' he wept. 'I love you so, so, so much. Never leave me. Never stop
this. Never.'

Harry didn't answer with words. His reply rang through Draco's head like
cathedral bells. 'I'm never going to stop loving you, Draco. You are my life.'

And then their climax was upon them, engulfing them, spinning their
heads, wracking their bodies. They bucked together and clung to each
other desperately, as a force stronger than either of them had ever known
swept them off together somewhere way beyond the Hospital Wing. The
power of it was awesome, beautiful, natural. They collapsed onto each
other, sated. Harry, unable to see straight, reached for Draco's hand and
linked their fingers. But the physical contact of their hands was nothing to
what they both felt in their heads: it was like they were inside each other's
thoughts. After years of denial and oceans of hate, the sense of union was
as vital and warming as the physical pleasures had been ecstatic. Relief,
love, joy, happiness all flooded the room.

It was a long time before either of them moved.

'I could lie here for ever,' Harry whispered eventually.

'Tempting,' said Draco. 'But I can think of at least two reasons why we
shouldn't.'

'Really? What?'

'Well, first, McGonagall and Granger are going to be arriving soon to do
Transfiguration. And second... well, we're kind of erm...sticky.'

Harry sniggered. 'OK. But only the first one of those is a good reason. The
second is just you being picky.'

'Picky?'

They both laughed.

'OK, it was a bit picky. But I really only said that to try to get you into the
shower.'

Harry smiled at him. 'OK, Draco. You're going to get to wash my hair after
all...'
                             CHAPTER FIFTEEN

                                      ~

                             BATMAN & ROBIN



'They must be in there, knock again,' instructed Ron impatiently. He was
carefully trying to balance a tray of food while Hermione tapped at the
door.

'Ron,' she replied calmly, 'there is no answer. Believe me.' She opened
the door and peered round the edge.

'Oh my God!'

Ron desperately tried to see past Hermione and in the process the tray
tilted slightly and one of the four plates slipped off the edge.

'Oh NO!' wailed Ron, as he watched helplessly at it slid off the tray in slow-
motion. 'Hermione!'

Hermione spun round and caught the plate with a neat twist of her wrist
and hips. Ron felt a sudden stab of fire in the pit of his stomach at this
lithe movement, but was then overcome with curiosity as to what
Hermione had seen in the room. He followed her past the door.

The air in the room was red. Crimson.

'Good Lord,' he whispered. 'Why exactly...?'

'Best not to ask, I reckon,' answered Hermione, glancing round the room.
Clothes were strewn everywhere. 'Open the window, would you, Ron?
Let's try to clear the air a bit.'

He set the food down on the table and tried to wave the air clear. 'What
on earth have we walked in on?' he pondered.
'Ron, I would have thought that was rather obvious,' said Hermione,
instinctively wandering round the room, picking up clothes and folding
them. 'We've just walked into the Crimson Cloud.'

'Yeah, but why has it suddenly become visible?'

Hermione looked at Ron with an air of genuine fondness. 'I really don't
know,' she answered delicately. Your naivety is rather charming, she
thought. Just like Harry's. And as she reached the bed on her brief tidy-up
she hastily threw the covers over it so that Ron couldn't see the state of
the sheets.

'I wonder where they are?' muttered Ron. 'Pomfrey didn't say that they
had left the room. I suppose they must have sneak--'

'Shhh!' Hermione held up her hand.

'What?'

'They're in the shower!' she whispered. 'Listen!'

The soft drumming of the water was now audible from the next room, as
was a laugh Ron recognised as Harry's.

'Oh my God!' moaned Ron. 'First they sleep in the same bed, now they
shower together. Where on earth will it all end?'

Hermione smiled to herself, glad that the sheets were covered.

'Who can say?' she mused, lips pursed in delight at Ron's innocence. 'Just
pretend we haven't noticed anything. Supper!' she called brightly.

The sound of the water stopped, and there was some hasty whispering
from behind the door to the bathroom.

Presently Harry emerged dripping wet with a small towel round his waist,
and Draco followed him, similarly clad.
'Ah,' beamed Harry, his shyness at having Hermione see him undressed
easily outweighed by the joy he was feeling on the back of the previous
hour. 'Supper guests! Hello, you two!'

'Better than that,' smiled Draco. 'Supper guests who bring supper!'

'Hiya Harry!' began Ron, 'McGonagall said we could have supper with you
before she comes in later. But what's been going on in here? Why is the
air red?'

Hermione shot him a warning look.

'Is it?' Harry asked, surprised. 'Looks normal to me.'

'And me,' added Draco.

'I wonder why you two can't see it?' Hermione thought aloud. 'Still, it's
more or less gone now anyway. Perhaps the er, heat of the moment is
passed.'

Draco sniggered. 'Maybe, Granger, maybe. But it's sure to be back...'

'The heat of what moment?' asked Ron.

'Never mind about that, Weasley. It's enough for you to know that tonight
you will be dining with two very happy, hungry bunnies. Now, turn your
backs for a moment would you?'

Ron and Hermione looked out of the window at dusk falling over the castle
grounds for a few moments as they heard some more giggling behind
them. Hermione was smiling too.

'What?' hissed Ron.

'This is becoming something of a habit,' Hermione giggled.

'And rather an odd one, too,' he agreed. 'Come on you two or the food
will get cold.'

'OK!' called Draco. 'Now Harry, sit there.'
Ron and Hermione turned to see Harry seated in a chair with Draco
standing behind him, roughly towelling Harry's sopping hair. Both were in
their pyjamas.

'Look, Harry!' smiled Draco. 'It's chicken-and-ham pie. That's your
favourite.'

'How can I look when you're doing that?' moaned Harry from under the
towel.

'Oh yeah,' remembered Ron. 'When we went to pick up the food, the
House Elves said that Dumbledore had changed tonight's menu about an
hour ago. Because of you. Hence, chicken-and-ham pie again. So come
on, what's been going on today?'

The four of them sat round the small table and attacked the food while
Harry said, 'Well. It could be any number of things. Today has been rather
a remarkable day. But I'm pretty certain there's one event that
Dumbledore won't be celebrating. So that probably limits the choice to
two.'

He and Draco laughed, while Ron had his mouth full.

'Could be the perfect Perceptivity Potion,' said Draco.

'Perceptivity Potion?' echoed Hermione.

'Yes. A perfect one, according to Snape,' added Harry.

'Perceptivity Potion?' repeated Hermione in disbelief.

'What's that?' asked Ron.

'An immensely difficult Potion,' said Hermione. 'I simply do not believe
you. You're crap at Potions, Harry. You can't have made one. You have to
Summon--'

'Summon Willow sap particles from the active mixture, yeah, we know,'
interrupted Draco. 'You should have seen Harry do it. He was brilliant.'
'You were wonderful too,' smiled Harry, looking into Draco's eyes, nearly
kissing him.

'Oh pur-leeze,' moaned Ron through a mouthful of pie.

'I just don't believe it,' insisted Hermione. 'There can't be half a dozen
wizards in England who can brew one successfully. It's just too improbable
to--'

'Actually Snape says there are only five,' Draco corrected. 'And he says
that Harry and I are two of them, and he is another.'

'Wow,' Ron choked.

'Believe it, Herm,' confirmed Harry. 'And for proof, check the notice board
in the Gryffindor Common Room tonight. Snape gave me ten house points
for it.'

'Snape gave you house points?' goggled Hermione.

'Yes,' confirmed Draco, 'although thinking about it now, ten points does
seem a bit mean considering the enormity of the achievement. Still, I
didn't get any at all, did I, Harry?'

'No. Perhaps that was because you expected to get them.'

There was more private laughter between them.

'Well,' said Hermione after a while. 'A Perceptivity Potion. Who would
have thought it! You must really be getting good, Harry!'

'What was the other thing?' Ron wondered.

'What other thing?' mumbled Harry through a mouthful of chicken.

'Harry! Don't talk with your mouth full. It's disgusting,' said Draco with
mock disapproval.

They looked at each other lovingly.
'Eurghh,' squirmed Ron. 'Stop doing that, it's really off-putting.'

But Hermione nodded approvingly. 'Thank you, Malfoy!' she crowed. 'I'm
always having to tell them about their table manners. You should see
them at breakfast some mornings. It's like being at a circus.'

'A what?' asked Draco, bewildered.

'Never mind,' Hermione replied. 'Anyway, what was the other thing?'

'What other thing?' repeated Harry.

'Here we go again,' Ron sighed, as he attacked some potatoes.

'The other possible reason for the change of menu,' Hermione despaired.

'Ah!' beamed Harry. 'Yes. That would be the Dance of the Seven Charms.'

'The what?' Ron goggled, thinking it sounded rather risqué.

'Seven charms,' smiled Draco. 'This afternoon we used seven charms to
set the furniture spinning round the room. Dumbledore seemed to think it
was quite exceptional.'

'How many? Seven?' said Hermione in disbelief. 'You learned seven new
charms in a single afternoon? That seems highly improbable, Harry. It
took you weeks to learn the Summoning charm.'

'Not seven new charms, Herm, pay attention. Although some of them
were new to us. Seven charms at the same time.'

'Seven charms at the same time?' repeated Hermione in complete
amazement.

'The echo in this room is becoming more pronounced, don't you think?'
Draco mocked lightly.

'Seven? Is that good?' asked Ron.
'Don't be silly, Harry,' said Hermione dismissively. 'I bet even Dumbledore
can't do more than one charm at once. Seven simultaneously would be
truly astonishing.'

'Actually he can do three spells, or four charms, and McGonagall and
Snape can do two each,' Draco stated. 'And we did seven, which, as you
say, is truly astonishing.'

'Seven?'

'I take it that's good then,' said Ron to nobody in particular.

'How...?' Hermione was having trouble speaking.

'Something to do with the power of the combined pool of magic,'
commented Harry in a deliberately casual manner. 'Crimson Cloud, etc
etc. Apparently we can both tap into it, and when we both tap into it at
the same time, we can do astonishing things. Hence, seven charms.'

Harry couldn't keep up his offhand air and started laughing.

'Oh my God!' spluttered Hermione, laughing too. 'You're Superman!'

'What?' goggled Ron.

'Superman!' cried Hermione.

'Who?' Draco, too, was utterly mystified.

'Superman!' cried Harry. 'Runs faster than a speeding train! Leaps tall
buildings in a single bound!'

'Superman!' yelled Hermione. 'Brews complex Potions! Performs seven
charms simultaneously!'

'What on earth are they talking about?' Draco asked Ron.

'Must be a Muggle thing,' answered Ron, eyeing the food left on
Hermione's plate.
'Just get me a blue satin catsuit and a pair of red pants, with a big H on the
front!' cried Harry.

'Ooh, that sounds intriguing...' pondered Draco.

Ron looked at him and clicked his tongue loudly, rolling his eyes.

'By day, Harry Potter, an unremarkable schoolboy with dark hair and
glasses, but in times of crisis...Superman!' cried Hermione.

'Does the big H go on the front of the catsuit, or on the pants?' asked
Draco innocently.

Harry and Hermione collapsed into hysterical laughter.

'Fair question,' chipped in Ron, who still had no idea what they were
talking about.

'Superman, save me, save me!' squealed Hermione in mock distress as she
fell out of her chair laughing.

Harry jumped up and, kissing Draco quickly on the crown of his head, he
adopted a Superman-In-Flight pose and charged over to where Hermione
was laughing uncontrollably on the floor.

'They're absolutely bloody bonkers,' Ron stated.

'Well, you've no argument from me there,' Draco smiled. 'Pass the water
would you, Ron? Shit, sorry...I mean Weasley.'

Ron looked at him, then smiled back shyly. '"Ron" is fine,' he said. 'That is,
if...?'

'Of course,' replied Draco simply.

'Blimey!' cried Hermione from over by the window where she and Harry
were picking themselves up of the floor.

'What?' Ron asked, alarmed.
'Look!' she was pointing out of the window. 'Talk about Superheroes! It's
bloody Batman and Robin!'

The others gathered round the window and looked out on an
extraordinary scene. In front of his hut Hagrid was standing next to the
motorbike dressed in full biking leathers and goggles. Beside him on the
ground was Dobby, wearing his own flying jacket and matching miniature
goggles with a Biggles-style white scarf. Hagrid was obviously pleading
with him to get on the bike and, after a couple of minutes, he impatiently
grabbed Dobby and shoved him roughly into one of the panniers at the
rear. A moment later the odd couple were speeding out over the lake,
Dobby's scarf billowing behind them.

'Well,' said Harry, quietly. 'Curiouser and curiouser.'

'Where on earth do you think they're going?' pondered Hermione.

'Who can say? Come on, let's get back to supper.'

'Good idea, Ron,' said Draco. 'Harry, please come and eat something
more.'

'"Ron?" Did you just call him "Ron?"' demanded Hermione, astonished.

'When did that happen?' Harry asked, pleased.

'When you two were playing satin-blue-catsuit-man,' replied Draco
casually.

'I feel left out now,' Hermione pouted. 'Am I the only one left to call you
Malfoy?'

Draco laughed. 'That depends on you...Hermione.'

There was a little coy smiling from all of them.

'Shit, I'm going to have to go soon,' moaned Ron. 'I've got a blasted star-
chart due first thing in the morning and I've not even started it yet.'
Harry smiled. Ron was obviously not working any differently to usual.

'You haven't even started it yet?' Hermione despaired.

'There's that echo back again,' observed Draco.

'Remember that if you miss any more deadlines this term you're on
detention, and you won't get any sympathy from me.'

'Shit,' said Draco.

'What?' the others all asked together.

'You said "this term". I'd forgotten all about terms. How much longer is it
till the end of term?'

'Three, three and a half weeks, something like that,' answered Hermione.
'Why do you ask?'

Draco looked desperate, like he was facing a deep trauma. 'Three or three
and a half weeks? Oh my God.'

'That echo really is busy tonight,' smiled Ron, but Harry kicked him.

'And how long is the Christmas holiday?' Draco asked quietly, even though
deep down he already knew the answer. His face was even paler than
normal.

'Same as usual,' Hermione said delicately. 'About three weeks.'

Hermione thought Draco looked like he was about to faint.

'Hey, Draco,' soothed Harry. 'Come here.'

Draco looked warily at Ron and Hermione, but Harry shook his head as if
he weren't to worry about them, and pulled Draco into a hug, gently
kissing his hair.

'Don't worry about it, it'll be alright, I promise. We'll find a way,' he
whispered into Draco's neck.
This was the first time Ron and Hermione had ever seen any real intimacy
between the pair of them, and they felt rather awkward. Or rather Ron
felt rather awkward while Hermione felt all gooey inside.

'Don't worry about what?' she asked gently. 'Anything we can do?'

'No, not really,' answered Harry quietly. 'It's just the Crimson Cloud; it
binds us together so strongly, Draco becomes anxious if we are more than
a couple of feet apart. The thought of weeks of forced separation seems
about as difficult as it could ever get, to be honest.'

Hermione looked thoughtful. She rather thought Harry had understated
the nature of this problem for Draco's sake.

'What about you?' asked Ron. 'Doesn't it make you feel like that too?'

'Well, sort of. The Crimson Cloud affects us both in different ways. For
Draco, well for both of us actually, there is this need for constant physical
proximity. But for me there is also...well, this is difficult to explain; for
Draco the problems are generally when we are apart, but for me, well I
feel them more when we're together, because...I sort of feel, that
sometimes there is a...'

'Oh for Heavens sake spit it out, Harry,' interrupted Hermione.

'OK. I'm constantly aware that by bringing us together the Crimson Cloud
has placed Draco in great danger. And while he gets upset if we are apart,
I sometimes feel as if it's better for him that way.'

There was an uncomfortable silence.

'It's that noble thing that all you Gryffindors have,' Draco said after a
while. 'He can't get it into his head that I don't care about the danger.'

Hermione regarded them both, smiling slightly.

'So let me get this straight,' she began. 'You are unbearably happy
together, except for Harry's worry about danger?'
'Er, yes, I guess so...' Harry agreed.

'Well, Harry, that's what it's been like for Ron and me being friends of
yours. Tons of danger, most of the time. But you don't deny us the right
to be your friends, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Same with
Draco. It's typical of you to care about others more than yourself, but if
Draco doesn't mind it, then you shouldn't let it get in the way.'

'Bravo, Hermione,' cheered Draco. 'It took me ages to try and say that the
other night.'

'Well, you're not as clever as Hermione, obviously,' smirked Ron, although
without malice.

'Oh yes he is,' Hermione declared. 'Because he also knows that he can't
just ignore the danger, however much he pretends it's not important.
That's why he gets edgy when you're apart, Harry, because unless he's
right there next to you he can't actually protect you against any such
danger. It's kind of cute really. Both of you are more worried about the
other. An interesting but totally predictable effect of the Crimson Cloud, I
should say.'

Harry looked at Draco. 'I told you she was like this,' he smiled. 'She just
looks at something and sees all angles of it.'

'It can be rather unnerving,' Ron agreed.

'I'm beginning to see why,' Draco laughed. 'But simply understanding our
feelings won't make them go away.'

'No,' smiled Hermione. 'That will probably take years, just like it would for
anyone else.'

'What a little ray of sunshine you can be, Herm,' Harry stated. 'Years of
insecurity about being both apart and together. How wonderful to look
forward to that.'

'I think you'll find that's called life, boys.'
They all laughed.

'And talking of real life,' she added, 'star-charts don't grow on trees, Ron.
Not to my knowledge, anyway. So get started.'

Ron sighed deeply. 'At least you two won't ever have to put up with
nagging like that,' he moaned.

'I wouldn't be so sure,' Harry smiled. 'Draco can nag like you and your
mother put together, Ron. Have a shower, wash your hair, eat more food,
blah blah blah,' he mocked, glancing sideways at Draco.

'Really?' asked Hermione in mild wonder. 'Ron and his mother combined?
Curiously I find myself rather impressed by that, to say nothing of
surprised.'

'Absolutely not!' cried Draco. 'I just want you to eat a bit more! It's a
wonder you don't fade away.'

'Well done, Ron,' Harry mused.

'What do you mean?'

'You've successfully managed to change the subject from your star-chart to
my eating. A cheapish trick, but not one I blame you for particularly.'

'Oh, was it that transparent?' asked Ron, half-smiling.

'Yes,' the other three chorused.

Just at that moment the door opened and Madam Pomfrey entered and
instinctively surveyed the table.

'Is that all you've eaten?' she despaired at Harry.

Madam Pomfrey, always the true professional, took the outburst of
laughter that followed her question completely in her stride.

'Talk about nagging!' laughed Ron. 'OK, OK, I'm off. Astronomy here we
come...'
He left the room, and Madam Pomfrey started fussing.

'Now, clear these dishes, Professor McGonagall will be here any minute.
You're hardly invalids and the House Elves are busy enough as it is. This
room is a disgrace, and I want this bed changed.'

They noticed she was carrying a bundle of clean bed linen.

'Don't worry about that,' said Hermione, quickly. 'I'll help them change the
bed.'

'Thank you, Miss Granger. That will be a help. This pair will be hopeless.'

'Did you really mean that?' asked Harry after she had left the room. 'Will
you really change the bed linen?'

'Absolutely not,' declared Hermione. 'I just didn't want her doing it,
knowing the state of the sheets currently. And anyway, I fancy a laugh
watching you two trying to do it.'

'Do you really think we'll be that useless?' asked Draco, slightly shocked.
'There can't be that much to it.'

'Oh yes, you'll be totally crap. I'm quite sure of that.'

'Hermione,' said Harry, remembering years of enforced domestic chores
living with the Dursleys, ' I'll have you know I've changed more beds than--'

Harry was cut off by Draco flinging a pillow at him, and Hermione squealed
with laughter.

When Professor McGonagall entered a few minutes later, she was pleased
to see a great deal of hilarity in the room. Harry and Draco were, it
appeared, trying to make up the bed they slept in, but they seemed to
have had more success at wearing the sheets than anything else.

'Enough,' she declared after a few minutes more. 'We have work to do.'
One wave of her wand set the bed immediately straight and put her
without doubt in charge.

'Let's begin, gentlemen. Transfiguration is a complex area of magic. I want
complete concentration.'

                                    ***

They had started small, but very quickly it was evident that there had been
just as significant an improvement in Transfiguration as there had been in
Potions and Charms. After about half an hour, the room was filled with a
completely random selection of objects which had once been the furniture
and the room's other contents. Hermione looked around. It was like being
in a junk shop.

Next to the window were a pair of Chinese vases that had once been
chairs, and between them a large stuffed tiger that Draco had transfigured
from one of the beds. Harry and Draco were both wearing leather jackets
that had shortly before been pyjamas, and Harry was sitting on a small raft
complete with a mast and sail which he had created from the other bed.
Strung from the lamps was a row of small lanterns which had once been
socks, and Harry was still pleased at having changed the table into a large
pile of cushions.

'Enough cushions,' said McGonagall firmly. 'I think we can do better than
that. Let's start with something more complicated. Hermione, hold this
pillow up over there and Harry, see if you can transfigure it into an owl.'

Harry stood up and aimed his wand but Hermione tripped over the tiger
and the pillow became a one-legged dove which fluttered out of the
window while Hermione was left sprawled on the floor with feathers
sprouting from her hair.

'Oh dear,' said McGonagall, waving her wand to amend Hermione's hair,
'you're going to need another pillow.'

'No we won't,' Draco replied instantly. 'We only use one bed.'
McGonagall sniffed slightly at this reference to their sleeping
arrangements, but was concentrating too hard to care much. 'OK, forget
owls. Try working together, like you did with the Charms. Just see what
happens.'

Harry and Draco stood facing each other and Hermione threw the
remaining pillow into the air between them. Draco transfigured it
immediately into a pigeon and it flew to Harry's shoulder. Harry turned it
into a small toad, set it on the ground and watched it hop slowly towards
Draco, who changed it into a large wispy fern in an elaborate porcelain
pot. Then Harry changed the colour of the pot. And then Draco changed
the fern into a cat, then the cat became a balloon with the words Harry
and Draco which drifted towards the ceiling and in turn became a pair of
lively Bludgers.

The speed of Transfiguration became faster and faster. Hermione and
McGonagall couldn't keep up with the succession of objects in front of
them. The whole room seemed to spin as all the objects were becoming
new things so quickly that it was impossible to note all the changes.
Hermione stopped concentrating on the room and turned her attention to
Harry and Draco, who were totally silent, obviously communicating in a
way that didn't involve speech. She instinctively knew that they had long
stopped working separately and now couldn't tell who was transfiguring
what. It was breathtaking, like being caught in a film that was running at
twenty times its normal speed.

Magic started to leak out of their Transfiguration spells and began
randomly affecting other things, as if the spells were no longer affecting
just single objects but were beginning to animate the entire room. The
temperature dropped considerably, as did the light levels. Hermione was
alarmed to notice that the stuffed tiger was definitely beginning to purr.
She looked instinctively at McGonagall.

'Stop!' commanded McGonagall.
The room was still. The array of clutter around them was astonishing.
Hermione gingerly picked her way past a cauldron filled with about two
hundred tennis balls. She had no idea where it had come from.

'Wow!' she whispered. ''I've never seen anything like that before!'

'Neither have I,' added McGonagall.

Harry and Draco were silent. They were still communicating in a way
Hermione couldn't understand. McGonagall was still muttering about how
wonderfully they had done, but Hermione noticed that they were not
listening. At all.

'What are they doing?' Hermione asked.

They stood as still as statues, eyes glazed.

'I don't know,' replied McGonagall slowly. 'Harry, Draco, why are you
looking like that?'

It was as if they couldn't hear her.

Far removed from the hyper-real speed at which the previous
transfigurations had taken place, events now seemed to be trapped in ice.

Harry and Draco each raised their wands, oblivious to the presence of
Hermione and McGonagall. Should they do it? Why on earth not? They
had been advised to work together after all. A faint smile passed between
them. They hadn't discussed it, not at all, but...

They activated the spell at precisely the same time. A cool silvery breeze
blew briefly through the room. And then all was the same. Harry and
Draco stood staring at each other amid the clutter.

Except they had changed places.

'NO!!' cried McGonagall in genuine distress. She staggered slightly, her
usual control knocked totally for six.
'What is it?' yelped Hermione. 'What is it? What have they done?'

'Oh my God!' McGonagall moaned, wringing her hands.

Hermione rushed up to Harry. 'They've transfigured themselves into each
other?'

'Yes!' McGonagall was as white as a sheet. 'Although, Merlin alone knows
how - the spell is supposed to be unworkable!'

'Harry!' cried Hermione.

'It's not Harry,' said Draco/Harry calmly.

'I'm Harry,' said Harry/Draco.

'Reverse the Transfiguration immediately,' ordered McGonagall. The tone
of her voice brooked no argument.

The silver wind whooshed past them again, and Harry and Draco stood in
their original positions.

'Look at me, you two.' The professor's voice was calm and controlled but
with a noticeable edge. 'Never in all my years at Hogwarts... You will
promise me one thing. You will never ever attempt that double
transfiguration again. I am not saying this just as your teacher. I am saying
it because it is a highly, highly dangerous spell. One tiny error in the magic
and you could have been left damaged forever. Forever. The
consequences could have been unthinkable. Do you understand?'

Harry and Draco considered themselves well and truly chastened, and
muttered their agreement with her order.

'Good.'

McGonagall slowly regained her demeanour and eventually said, 'Now. I
have to ask. How did you do it? Which incantation did you use? How did
you ensure you both used the spell at the same time?'
They both looked at her blankly.

'Oh,' she sighed. 'You haven't any idea, have you?'

'No,' said Draco. 'We just did it. Sorry. We just willed it to happen and it
did.'

She looked at them both closely, thinking; then one wave of her wand
restored the contents of the room to its previous condition, albeit minus
one pillow.

'Oh,' Draco muttered sadly.

'What?' asked McGonagall.

'I was hoping we could hang on to the leather jackets,' said Draco.

McGonagall rolled her eyes. 'Right. Enough. Miss Granger will you please
go and ask Madam Pomfrey if she could join us?'

Once Hermione had left the room, McGonagall spoke quickly. 'OK. You
are talented, extraordinarily so. And that is exciting. But I meant what I
said about that double transfiguration. Never again, no matter what the
circumstances. However. I cannot ignore that regular Transfiguration
offers little challenge to you now, and so you'll need something more
exciting to work on. So as soon as the time becomes available I have
decided that it would be unfair if I did not try to teach you the Animagus
transformation. But, we will go at my pace. And you will not practice it
without my being present. And not one word to anybody about it. Is that
clear?'

They affirmed that it was.

'Good. Now when your potion arrives you will sleep for the next few
hours, and then you will be taken into the village for your first lesson in
Apparating. You of course both know that it is not possible to Apparate
within the castle and its grounds, and as you are both underage, we will
naturally need the cover of darkness. I will see you again sometime after
1am. Goodnight, gentlemen.'

Madam Pomfrey entered carrying two goblets of sleeping draught just as
McGonagall was leaving. Hermione did not reappear, and the pair drank
the potion and got slowly ready for bed.

'Professor Dumbledore has indicated that this is to be the last night you
should rely on the potion to sleep,' Madam Pomfrey informed them. 'So
make the most of it: it will be back to normal sleep after tonight.'

She left the room after bidding them goodnight.

'Did we really do that?' asked Harry quietly as they were changing into
their pyjamas.

'So it seems,' Draco sighed. 'And she was pretty clear about never doing it
again.'

'You can say that again,' agreed Harry.

'And she was prett--'

Harry thumped Draco and they fell into bed, snuggling into each other's
arms.

'It was nice being you for a few seconds,' smiled Harry. 'I liked the feel of
silk against my skin.'

'Really? I don't know how on earth you cope with your hair,' Draco said
smoothly. 'I felt a distinct need to brush it.'

Harry sniggered. 'Well if you hadn't been so rough with that towel, it
might not have been so bad. Anyway, that's the last time you'll ever have
to feel it, so you can forget it now.'

'How can I forget it? You're forgetting that I'm the one who has to look at
it all day long. Still, we're going to be Animagi, that's exciting,' yawned
Draco. 'I hope I get to be a tiger.'
'A tiger? Don't be stupid, that will hardly be very useful. You won't be
able to sneak around the countryside if you're a flippin' tiger.'

'Who says I want to sneak around unnoticed?'

Harry laughed, which turned into a big gaping yawn. 'Anyway, I don't think
you get to choose. I think it's something in your character that determines
it for you.'

'Oh God, really?' Draco murmured sleepily.

But Harry didn't answer, and, for the last time, the potion pressed them
both into enchanted sleep.

                                     ***

Apparating was easy. And good fun.

Dumbledore instructed them at first. In principle, the magic concerned
was simple; and the spell was learned in a matter of minutes. Then it was
just a case of seeing the place in your head you were going to, triggering
the magic with the spell and thinking yourself there. Applying it was more
difficult though. There was the danger of being splinched, which was
apparently quite nasty, sort of ending up in two places at once. Harry was
a bit daunted by it at first, and also slightly irritated that Draco seemed to
be a complete natural. After half an hour, Draco could move a couple of
hundred yards before Harry could even manage a few feet. But when they
split up, Harry began to make much better progress.

Draco went off with Dumbledore and Snape while Harry Apparated
between Sirius and McGonagall over ever-increasing distances. Each adult
checked there had been no mishaps before moving further apart and
allowing Harry to Apparate back to the other. After a long session, both
Harry and Draco were able to move over a distance of a couple of miles
and the group met up at the Shrieking Shack just before dawn.
Dumbledore seemed pleased.
'Excellent. We'll do some more tomorrow night, but I think you're both
well on the way. Now we will all Apparate to the castle gates and take an
early breakfast. Minerva, Severus, I think you must then get some sleep; it
has been a long night. I shall arrange for your classes to be supervised
until this afternoon. Harry, Draco, you two will also sleep, and without the
aid of potion. Progress, boys, progress.'

It was a strange group that trooped its way back up to the castle early that
morning. Snape and Dumbledore were at the front, talking in low voices
about the Perceptivity Potion and the next direction of Harry and Draco's
education. Sirius and McGonagall followed, discussing how exactly the
double transfiguration might have been achieved. Finally Harry and Draco
brought up the rear, not really talking about anything, but lost in the
wonder of what the previous day had brought.

Harry felt at ease enough to grasp Draco's hand, and the two walked
closely side by side so the others couldn't see.

At the castle steps, the group assembled again in the half-light of dawn,
but just as Dumbledore was about to speak, there was the sound of a
distant roar and all eyes looked skywards. After a little while Harry
recognised the shape of the motorbike looming into view above the lake,
and then it was right above them, circling over the group assembled on the
steps to the castle. Dobby was waving frantically, obviously hugely
pleased with something.

'Oh look,' cried Draco. 'It's Robin and the bat.'

'Batman and Robin, you tit', corrected Harry lovingly.

Dumbledore immediately left them and hurried over to Hagrid's hut,
calling back over his shoulder that they should breakfast without him.

'I wonder where on earth they've been?' Draco pondered.

                                     ***

'Draco's alright, when it comes down to it,' Ron mused.
'Changed our tune, haven't we?' teased Hermione, as they sat in the
common room after breakfast.

'I mean,' continued Ron, ignoring her, 'he loves Harry. It's written all over
his face. I don't have any sense that he's going to do anything evil. Don't
you get the feeling that Harry is totally safe with him?'

'Yes, I do. In fact, safer than he has been for ages. Funny.'

'What's funny?'

'How we ended up here. Just a few weeks ago, before that lesson with the
fauns, life was as we have always known it. Now, it's as we shall know it
forever more. We'll never be able to think of Harry without thinking of
Draco.'

'I think I can live with that. Wonder what mum and dad will think though.'

'At least your mum and dad will understand the Crimson Cloud. What's
the rest of the world going to think?'

Ron's eyes glinted. 'Oh...!'

'What?'

'The Crimson Cloud! That's why the air in the room was red last night. Oh
God, they'd been shagging hadn't they?'

'Ron! You could have put it a bit less yobbishly.'

'Sorry! But you're not denying it, are you? Bloody hell! Harry and Draco
at it like dogs on heat, and we walk in with chicken and ham pie. Yick. And
talk about bad timing...'

'Dogs on heat? We've no idea how, er, enthusiastic they were. And
anyway, I think they'd, er...finished, if it's any consolation.'

'It's not a consolation. Absolutely not. Oh my God, I can't believe it.'

'Oh get over it, Ron. It was bound to happen sooner or later.'
'That's not what I mean! It's just...'

'Just what?'

'I can't believe Harry lost his virginity before I did! I honestly, truly,
believed that would be the one thing I beat him in!'

Hermione's face cracked into an irrepressible smile. 'Oh Ron!' she
laughed.

'What?'

'Nothing.'

'No, go on, what's so flippin' funny?'

'Well, it's just comforting, I suppose.'

'Eh?'

'It's great that the only issue you have with Harry and Draco er...being
enthusiastic with each other, is that you didn't get to do it first!'

'Herm! I certainly don't want to do whatever they got up to!'

'That's not what I meant, and you know it,' laughed Hermione. 'And
anyway, it's not a race!'

'That's easy for you to say. You're not the only Weasley brother left to
cross that bridge.'

'What?' goggled Hermione. 'Fred? George? When did that happen? Who
with?'

'Sorry, family secrets,' smirked Ron.

'And...PERCY?'

Ron laughed for a long time, smiling at Hermione. 'There's certainly a story
to tell you there!'
'When? When do I get to hear it?'

'Oh, I don't know. I can't betray the secrets of the Weasleys.'

'It's this bloody Boys' Code of Ethics again, isn't it? Oh well, I shall just
have to ask Ginny.'

'Ha! You don't think Ginny knows do you? She'd be horrified if she knew
what we talk about.'

'Well, then I'll have to ask Harry to get it out of you.'

'Harry already knows. He's an honorary Weasley, remember? And no way
will he tell you.'

'I bet he will.'

'I bet he won't. He's still bound by the terms of the Code, whatever he
gets up to in bed.'

Hermione smiled. 'OK, I give in. Gracefully. Keep your secrets. For now.'

'What do you mean, for now?'

'I'm sure I can get you to tell me somehow.' She leaned across and kissed
him gently on his forehead.

Ron blushed a fierce red, and the bell rang for the start of lessons.

                                       ***

On reaching their room in the hospital wing, there was a distinct feeling of
anticlimax for both Harry and Draco.

'Well,' said Harry flatly.

'Yeah, I know,' Draco nodded.

'What is there to do now?'

'Exactly. Just bed, I guess.'
'I mean, we're Potions geniuses.'

'You bet. Willow Sap? Easy.'

'And we set a world record for Charms.'

'Seven? Nothing. I expect we'll do eight next time. And Harry, total
Transfiguration wunderkinds, don't forget.'

'Yes indeed. I'm used to being a wunderkind, mind. It must be nice for you
though,' grinned Harry.

'Blimey. Where did that attitude suddenly come from?'

'Er...perhaps from the ability to Apparate underage?'

'Oh yes. That'll be it. And...' added Draco slyly.

'And what?'

'Well, even better than all of those put together...'

'What?'

Draco smiled warmly. 'We're not virgins anymore.'

Harry sniggered. 'What makes you think I was one before?' he asked,
kissing Draco's neck lightly as they undressed for bed.

'Oh please,' yawned Draco. 'Don't tell me you're the Casanova of
Gryffindor tower, because I simply refuse to believe it. You were as
innocent as a young puppy. Never even been kissed, let alone...'

'Neither had you, you git. You couldn't even get my shirt off without a
right fuss.'

'Well, sure. There's some work to be done on the basics, I agree. Shirts can
be tricky, especially baggy old things like you wear.'

'Silk shirts aren't any easier, you know. They can be all slippy. Remember
that next time you put one on.'
'You mean you want me to start wearing items that are easily removable,
just for your convenience?'

Harry giggled. 'Would you do that for me?'

'Oh yes. That and more. As long as they're stylish, and expensive, I'll wear
whatever shirts you want.'

'I think I prefer you without a shirt, to be honest,' blushed Harry.

'What, you mean, like this?' Draco laughed, as he slipped his shirt off and
tossed it onto the other bed.

'Yes. Exactly like that,' smiled Harry.

'Gosh, Harry. Demanding, aren't you?'

'I could demand a whole lot more, you know,' Harry whispered.

'Like what?'

'Like, maybe I prefer you without jeans as well.'

'What, without these jeans?' Draco looked Harry straight in the eye as he
pointed downwards with both hands.

'Er, yes. They're definitely the offending ones.'

'Have you any idea how much they cost? And you just want me to cast
them off, as if a mere nothing?'

'Pretty much, yes.'

'Well, I take your point,' said Draco, unbuckling his belt. 'But only if you
get rid of those ghastly things you call jeans as well.'

'Right. They're pretty bad, I know. I can't help it if most of my clothes are
hand-me-downs from my stupid obese cousin.'

'Sure you can. You've got a vault full of gold, remember? Why not buy
yourself some gear that fits properly?'
'Er, well...'

'Well what?'

'I hate shopping.'

Draco staggered slightly. 'You hate shopping?'

'Got it in one, Sherlock.'

'Who?'

'No matter. Besides, my aunt would wonder where I'd got it all from. She
thinks I'm penniless.'

'Penniless?'

'Not a Knut.'

'She doesn't know about your parents' cash?'

'Good God no. She'd claim it all in compensation for having to have me
sleep in their understairs cupboard.'

'Weeping as I am for this image of the young Potter growing up in Muggle
penury, I still can't get over the fact that you hate shopping.'

'It's true. Facing Unthinkable Danger, Shopping With Aunt Petunia, I know
which I'd take every time.'

'Ah. How about shopping with someone else?'

'Like who?'

'Like someone who had a ton more taste than you?'

'Sounds intriguing. Can you think of someone?'

'Perhaps, although the sight of those clothes is stopping me considering
the matter clearly.'
'Oh. Best get them off then.'

'Sounds good. Scrawny you may be, and a bit on the rumpled side, but I
can't help thinking you're going to look streets better without them.'

'Blimey. Demanding, aren't you?'

'Oh yes, Harry. Yes, I am. And I could demand a whole lot more.'

'Such as?' Harry stepped out of his jeans so they both stood facing each
other in just their boxers.

'New underwear. For you that is. You look ridiculous in those. There's
room for two in there; it's a wonder they don't fall off.'

'Two?'

'Definitely.'

'Two? Are you sure?'

'Absolutely. I'd bet on it.'

'How much?'

'What?'

'How much money do you bet that there is room for two people in these
boxers?'

'Oh. I wouldn't bet anything as vulgar as money.'

'What would you bet then?'

'Something far more interesting. Like, if I'm wrong, I'll buy you some new
underwear. If I'm right, you have to pay for it. But, whichever, I get to
choose it.'

'Oh. So you'll be my new shopping partner then?'

'Nobody else up to the task, I reckon.'
'Hmmm. You may be right. Hermione's good on books, and Ron's great on
brooms, but...underwear? I think you just got yourself a job.'

'Good-oh.'

'Bet's off though.'

'Why?'

'You're absolutely right. I'm not betting against that. There's definitely
room for two in here,' said Harry, stretching the waistband of the tatty
grey boxers out about a foot away from his body.

Draco peered downwards. 'Oh yes. At least two. Although, there's a little
bit less room in there than there would be ordinarily.'

'Only a little bit less?'

Draco laughed. 'Even I'm not rising to that one, Harry.'

'Rubbish. I can see you rising at this very moment.'

'Well, I can't help it. It's those boxers. They're strangely disquieting.'

'Oh. Perhaps I'd better remove them then. Pass me my pyjamas.'

'No point.'

'Why not?'

'Because I'm going to have you out of them in under five minutes.'

'Five? Make it two.'

'Crikey. Demanding, aren't you?'

                                      ***

They'd had an odd sort of day. After the mad events of the weekend,
coming face to face with the mundane again had left them both a bit flat,
even allowing for the increasingly physical nature of their relationship.
Madam Pomfrey had woken them at lunchtime, thrown something of a
small fit to find them sleeping without pyjamas, and then demanded that
they start behaving like real students again.

'Lunch,' she fumed, 'will be served at lunchtime. And it will be consumed,
not pushed around the plates to make it look less.'

Harry looked rather guilty.

'Sleep,' she continued fiercely, 'will be had at nighttime. Clad in suitable
nightwear. I refuse to have you two lazing around like a pair of decadent
playboys.'

Draco opened his mouth, but before whatever retort he had planned was
even begun, Harry had nudged him and Pomfrey was off again.

'Supper,' she went on, really warming to her theme now, 'will be served in
the evening, not at midnight or whenever you feel like it. And I am going
to start limiting your constant stream of guests at meal times. The whole
point of your being here is to rest and recover appetites and sleeping
patterns. Having Weasley and Granger hang around is not doing any
good.'

Harry looked a little upset. He loved having supper with the three people
who meant more to him than anything.

'Breakfast', she crowed, 'will be--'

'Served in the morning?' supplied Draco, innocently. 'Good plan, I say.
Don't you think, Harry?'

She looked at the pair of them. They were both struggling not to laugh,
and suddenly she softened, sighing deeply.

'I cannot wait until you two are out of here,' she conceded good-
naturedly. 'But until that glorious day arrives, I want you to try and instil
some order back into your lives. If not, I am simply going to get Professors
McGonagall and Snape to instil it for you.'
'Er, I think we'd rather do it your way,' Harry muttered.

'Good. You can start with getting up and dressed, eating lunch, and not
considering returning to bed until at least 10pm tonight. You would have
thought with all your abilities that you could manage at least that.'

In the afternoon, McGonagall had had them taking notes on the most
boring stuff imaginable, which they supposed related to the Animagus
transformation (although it was difficult to see how) and Snape had
requested that they write out dozens and dozens of Potions procedures,
with no aim whatsoever, it seemed, other than to keep them busy.

'This is worse that being in lessons,' groaned Harry as he scribbled messily
on a piece of parchment.

'Your writing's awful,' said Draco matter-of-factly, admiring his own tidy
script. 'Look how neat mine is.'

'That's not neat, that's anal,' said Harry, trying not to envy the easy grace
of Draco's fast and elegant hand. 'Bloody Hell!'

'What?' asked Draco, alarmed.

'You're a Leftie! Why didn't I notice that before?'

Draco sniffed. 'Perhaps because you're not very perceptive. And anyway,
my mother says that left handed people are individual and artistic, with
huge flair and creativity, and that I should be pleased not to be the same
as everyone else.'

'Bollocks,' stated Harry. 'That's just a myth perpetuated by parents of
Lefties. All Righties know the truth: Lefties are misfits and loners, they
quite often spend too long shopping and obsessing over their hair, and
very often they over-compensate for their whole Leftiness by developing a
script which they think of as individual, but which all Righties can see in a
flash is just prissy, anal and a bit poncy.'
Draco's eyes opened wide in astonishment, and then grinned as he saw
Harry laughing silently at his outrage.

'Well, I'd rather have my style than yours. Look at it.'

They both stared at Harry's scroll.

'What, for example, does that word say?' enquired Draco.

'Er, passion,' said Harry. 'As in passion-flower. Obviously. Look, there's
the P, and double S, quite clear.'

'What about that one, then?'

'Steam, of course,' replied Harry. 'Are you blind?'

'And this one?'

'Er, hot...'

'Ah. You sure that's Potions you're doing there? Sounds a bit seedy to
me.'

Something changed in the air between them, as they caught each other's
eyes. Harry realised Draco had been able to read his script all the time.

'Are you trying to make some sort of suggestion?'

'Yes,' said Draco, eyes glinting.

Potions were forgotten for a while.

As soon as Sirius stepped into their little kingdom, later that afternoon,
Harry knew exactly what he was going to say. There was just something
about the look in his eye that Harry recognised immediately.

'You're going away, aren't you?' Harry accused, before Sirius had even
spoken.

'Harry,' said Sirius softly. 'Grab the Cloak. We're going out for a walk.'
Draco was instantly distressed.

'Can I come too?' he asked in a tiny voice, cursing himself for such a
pathetic whine even as he said it.

'Nothing personal, Draco, I assure you. I just want to talk to my godson
before I have to leave. We won't be long, I promise.'

'But...if he's...I can't...'

'Sirius, he gets all...if, you know, if I'm...'

'Have you two suddenly lost the power of speech?'

Harry looked at Draco, and then went over to him, and hugged him tightly.
There were so many things that now made him realise how much he loved
Draco, and this aspect of their relationship was probably the one that
made him ache inside more than any of the others. 'We won't be long, I
promise,' he whispered into Draco's neck. 'Just hang on. And when I get
back, we can have a snuggly ten minutes in bed, whatever Pomfrey thinks.
And remember that for every second that I'm out of this room, I'll be
thinking of you and looking forward to getting back. OK? OK, Draco, my
love?' The phrase 'my love', sat unfamiliarly on Harry's lips, but he used it
all the same, and Draco appreciated this gesture as much as any Harry had
made over the previous days. Harry could feel that Draco was
imperceptibly calmed by this, and offered another, bigger gesture to
convince Draco that he meant what he said.

It had never been a secret of course, how could it have been? None of the
Inner Circle were under any delusions about what exactly the nature of
Harry and Draco's relationship was. Hell, this was the Crimson Cloud, after
all. But aside from being seen to sleep next to each other, they had never
allowed anything more personal to be witnessed by anyone else. And now
Harry thought that it was time for that to change, and he moved to kiss
Draco, deeply, fully, lovingly, with Sirius standing just feet away. The
anxiety in Draco ebbed further as Harry put body and soul into that kiss,
just to show, to try and prove, that he would be back, and that he wanted
to be back as much as Draco didn't want him to leave.

Sirius was not fazed, rather, he looked on unembarrassed. There was so
much of James in Harry that it was nearly heart-breaking to watch, but
watch he did, knowing instinctively that this kiss was important actually
because of his own presence. His mind ventured back years, probing
memories that he preferred not to explore, but the grief he felt at the loss
of James and Lily was always so much more acute when he was with Harry.

How proud they would have been for him. How much they would have
rejoiced in his happiness. Sirius recalled watching James kiss Lily like this,
many, many times, regardless of where they were or who they were with,
because they too had experienced a love that had overflowed into all that
surrounded them. The painful feelings triggered in him by the symmetry
of this couple in front of him and the friends he could never have back
were almost overpowering. He would be proud for Harry now; he would
rejoice in Harry and Draco's happiness. Harry couldn't know those things
from his own parents. Sirius knew that he would have to supply them
himself, and that he wanted to, and that he couldn't not give them if he
tried.

Harry and Draco separated eventually, and Harry rocked back on his heels.

Just a tiny movement, but one which sent another aching stab through
Sirius. James used to do that. It was something he would never have
remembered, never. Perhaps he had never even consciously noticed it
when James and Lily were alive. But seeing it there and then, seeing Harry
being so overwhelmed by the emotions of a kiss that he tilted slightly away
as if knocked by a breeze, Sirius had to turn away to blink back tears.
Years and years worth of tears, that nearly ripped him open right then; all
because the son of his closest friends had so obviously found the same
love that his parents had known, the same love that had caused Harry to
exist at all.
He composed himself and beamed at the pair, who were eyeing him as
nervously as couple of naughty boys caught scrumping apples.

Harry thought that Sirius's smile was more than a smile. It was his
permission. It was his approval. It was...his blessing. And Harry knew at
that moment how he could soothe Draco further. It had to become
official. And only one person could make it so.

'Sirius,' croaked Harry. 'Er...I have something to say.'

Sirius remained silent. He knew what was coming. Draco didn't though.

'I'd like you to meet Draco Malfoy. I love him, and...I'm going to spend the
rest of my life with him.'

Draco was about to say, don't be silly - of course I know who he is - we've
met before - we were talking while you were in a coma, and a dozen other
things, but Sirius stepped forward and offered him his hand, and the true
meaning of Harry's words became obvious.

He grasped Sirius's hand, firmly, masculinely, aware in that moment that
he had to be true, that he mustn't seem the vain, arrogant, spoilt youth
the world understood him to be, but that he had to be decent, and
worthy. And he also knew, that because of Harry, he was indeed becoming
those things, and that he rejoiced in those changes.

'Pleased to meet you, sir,' he responded, in a clear, uncomplicated voice;
one that Harry had not heard before. 'Your godson means the world to
me. I hope that you can be as happy for us as we are.'

Sirius nodded. 'I'm sure I shall be,' he smiled warmly.

Then the odd formality of the moment was over, and Sirius pulled them
both towards him and hugged them both at once. Draco was hit with a
thousand thoughts at once. How wonderful of Harry to have done this for
him. How great Sirius was. How much he wanted to be truly worthy of
Harry. How much he loved Harry, how miserable he would be without
him. How much he had changed, life had changed, in the last few weeks.
And. How much he dreaded the return to the Slytherin dormitories,
whenever that would happen. How little he now had in common with his
Slytherin "friends", and how impossible it would now be to go back to
them, even if he should want to. How ridiculous it was to imagine that a
twin scene to this one would ever be possible. How desperately unlikely it
was that he would ever get the chance to say, proudly, Mother, this is
Harry Potter, I love him and I'm going to spend the rest of my life with him.

Could he ever have Harry to dine at his own home, to sleep with him in his
own bed? Were parents going to be completely absent in both of their
lives, for all time? Were Sirius and the Weasleys the closest he would ever
get to an extended family? Was there even any guarantee that the rest of
Weasleys would accept him at all?

Draco knew that he was going to cry, and he didn't care. But he just
managed to delay his tears until Harry and Sirius had left the room.

Just.

                                    ***

The two of them sat back in the most comfortable armchairs in the office.
The fire glimmered delicately in the hearth, sending a magical warmth
right through to the bones of those lucky enough ever to get to relax in
those chairs. They had reached a comfortable silence in their talk. It was
approaching midnight.

'I can't tell you how much I have appreciated your being here over these
last couple of weeks,' said Dumbledore eventually. 'I am sure the
transition for Harry has been all the easier for your presence.'

'And I'm grateful for the terrible risks you have gone to in allowing me to
be here, Albus. But as we both know, matters outside this magical place
demand that I return as soon as possible.'

Sirius took a sip of his whiskey.
'Actually I think Harry has coped extremely well,' he offered after a while.
 'It's Draco I am more concerned about. His dependence on Harry seems
to be absolute. Harry and I went out for a walk this afternoon, just to say
goodbye, and Draco was disturbingly distressed at the prospect of having
to be apart from him, even for a short while.'

'How long were you out with Harry?'

'Not long, about an hour, maybe a little more.'

'And what was Draco's mood when you got back?'

'I don't know. I didn't go back with Harry; I thought it best not to be
present when they were reunited.'

Dumbledore smiled. 'You are a fine godfather to that boy, Sirius. I only
hope you don't end up having to be godfather to both of them.'

'What about Lucius, then?' asked Sirius after a while. 'And Narcissa? What
do you honestly think their reaction will be?'

'Not one of joy, I am guessing,' mused the Headmaster. 'It will all depend
on whether their love of their son is greater than their love of...other
things. And I have no way of knowing. Perhaps only Draco himself knows.
Perhaps not even him.'

The fire crackled unexpectedly and Fawkes ruffled his feathers in
appreciation. Light shimmered briefly all around the room, and then was
still again.

'Have you seen the book?' Sirius's voice was soft, yet concerned.

'No. It's in the school vault at Gringotts. But Hagrid has seen it. He looked
through it before he left it there. He says that it's more or less exactly as
you remember it, in fact most of the pages were full. But he only leafed
through it; he said it was too painful to look at.'

'What do you think we should do with it?'
'To be honest, I had no plans for it beyond removing it from Malfoy
Manor.' He paused. 'What do you think we should do with it?' he asked
eventually.

'It belongs to Harry, and nobody else. It's his decision what happens to it. I
think we should give it to him.'

'You're probably right. But I shall certainly want to examine it myself
before exposing him to it. And I am concerned that Harry is still so
emotionally vulnerable. Even if it is not a danger to him, such a strong
reminder of James and Lily could be overwhelming. It could set him back
weeks.'

'I've worried about that as well. But I think we'd be underestimating Harry
if we thought that. I know we are all naturally protective of him, but think
of what he has already faced and how he has left us stunned at his
resilience. He has a right to that book, and I think he should have it.'

'How, though?' Dumbledore seemed as old as he had ever looked to
Sirius, the lines on his face set in sharp relief by the flickering of the fire,
the wisps of smoke from his pipe giving him a vague and hazy outline.
'How? At what time? With what explanation?' His questions were
rhetorical, an old man thinking aloud.

But Sirius answered him.

'There's only one person this should come from, if the book is to be
formally returned. Give it to Draco to decide the best way for Harry to
receive it. He knows Harry better than anyone now.'

Dumbledore nodded silently, slowly. It was a nod of agreement, of sad
reservation, of distant regret. But he knew Sirius was right.

'That would have to be handled very sensitively,' he added. 'It would be
difficult for Draco, considering where the book has come from.'

They lapsed into silence again.
'I shall speak to Draco sometime before the end of term,' Dumbledore
said. 'And I shall send Hagrid to fetch it after he has seen the students
onto the Hogwarts Express. And then we shall see. And we shall have to
hope that it does not distress Draco as much as it could upset Harry. But
you are right, you are right. It is the only way.'

Sirius removed the old man's pipe from his hand when he realised he had
drifted off to sleep.

He took one last look around, thinking of the events of the last few weeks.
Harry was as secure as any of them had a right to expect, he was sure.

Other matters required his attention now. He drained his whiskey and
reluctantly left the security of the chairs, and of the fire, and of the school.
                             CHAPTER SIXTEEN

                                        ~

                      THE MOST DIFFICULT THING YET

Professor Albus Dumbledore, the Greatest Headmaster of Hogwarts Ever,
sat and considered this latest matter. It was about a week after Sirius had
left the castle - some time after lunch, but not, he suspected, late enough
for tea.

He turned the news round and round in his head, studying hard the exact
text of the latest message from Arthur Weasley, delivered by owl from the
Ministry about an hour previously. Even so, it was difficult to interpret it
as anything other than horrendous news, and feeling his age suddenly, he
reached for his Pensieve, raised his wand to his forehead and extracted all
the thoughts surrounding Arthur's letter, then set the silvery strands
swimming together noiselessly in the simple stone bowl.

He wandered over to the window and glanced out over the grounds of the
castle for a few moments. Hogwarts was such a peaceful place, so far
removed from the troubles of the world outside. But how much longer
could it remain so? Turning back to the desk, he caught sight of the Orbis
Ardens, glowing fiercely as it always seemed to these days. He drew out a
good number of thoughts about Harry and Draco, and added those to the
Pensieve too.

Suddenly his mood felt a bit lighter.

I wonder whether Minerva fancies a cup of Earl Grey? he pondered.

Idly he prodded the stringy, fluid nothingness in the Pensieve. Then he
picked up a quill and scratched a quick note to Sirius confirming their
arrangement that Sirius would be back to see Harry at Christmas, a brief
reply to that afternoon's message from Arthur Weasley saying that the
latest matter had his fullest attention, and a longer, expertly worded letter
to Lucius Malfoy. He sat back, still agitating his thoughts gently with his
wand in the stone dish in front of him.

The Pensieve didn't seem to be working as it should. The whole point was
that it cleared one's head of clutter, and enabled you to go back to it at
your leisure without being niggled by it in the interim; but it seemed that
he couldn't actually get everything relevant out of his head.

He clicked his tongue in irritation.

Then he raised his wand again and withdrew a vast wedge of silver thought
concerning Lucius Malfoy and the book recently recovered from the library
at Malfoy Manor. The Pensieve was rather full now. There wouldn't be
room for much more, but...had he removed enough to be able to rest for a
while?

No. There was something else. Something still troubling him. He stared at
Fawkes for some minutes more, and then smiled.

Of course. When he'd first used a Pensieve, oh, hundreds of years ago it
seemed, he'd thought that it was simply a case of removing the bric-à-brac
of life from within one's mind until it made sense. But he had since
realised that it was only possible to remove something from your head if
you knew it. And that was what was bothering him now: not something
that he knew, but something he didn't.

I'm going to have to take a look at that book.

He should have stopped there, but his mind went further. Dumbledore
was not afraid to look anything in the eye, but he had a dreadful feeling
about what might be trapped somewhere in the pages of that little
memento.

That would certainly explain why Lucius had taken it.

Hastily he scribbled a short letter to Alastor Moody and then set off with
his correspondence for the owlery. En route he changed direction and
made for McGonagall's office, smiling. It was definitely time for tea now.
                                     ***

Correspondence was on a lot of minds that day.

Draco sat in one of their armchairs, watching Harry sleep peacefully. Since
they'd had to do without sleeping draught, Draco had slipped right back
into his former (pre-faun) sound sleep pattern, and had no real problems
filling the majority of nocturnal hours with slumber. But Harry's insomnia
was taking longer to fade, and he was often so tired in the afternoons that
Madam Pomfrey had consented to let him nap for a couple of hours or so
should he need to, but only on the condition that Draco didn't get into bed
with him.

Spoil sport, thought Draco, smiling, then turned his attention back to the
letter he was trying to write.

It was his fourth attempt; three other abandoned versions were currently
scrunched up on the floor next to him. But it was just no good. He
couldn't get past Dear Mother and Father...

After a while Attempt No. 4 was similarly discarded, and Draco turned to
the other (slightly less serious) matter on his mind, grabbed a fresh piece
of parchment and wrote quickly in his fast and elegant hand:

Dear Sirius,

Please please please help me - what on earth shall I get Harry for
Christmas? It needs to be something that will prove how much I love him,
but short of a complete new wardrobe everything I think of just seems
extravagant or unnecessary. I just wondered if you had any ideas. Hope
you are safe and well,

Affectionately, Draco

He wondered briefly whether affectionately was a bit too girly a sign-off
for a letter to Sirius, but folded up the note and set it aside for whichever
of their owls came to visit them next. Then he thought Sod Pomfrey,
slipped his shoes off and snuggled down next to Harry.
                                     ***

'That,' stated Hermione with conviction, 'is an excellent idea. Needs
refining a bit, and some of the details are yet to be worked out, but,
essentially, excellent.'

'D'you really think so?' Ron asked, rather surprised.

'Yes. Did you think it up all on your own? Clever little bunny, aren't you?'

'No, he didn't,' laughed Ginny. 'And how on earth do words like little and
bunny possibly relate to this lanky git? You two are becoming more fluffy
by the day!'

'Steady on, Gin,' Seamus grinned, lazing with his arms around Ginny on
one of the sofas in the Gryffindor common room, 'we don't want to put an
embargo on fluffiness.'

'Oh please,' yawned Neville. 'Where did you learn a word like embargo?
Find it poking around in Ginny's ear with your tongue, did you? Anyway, it
is a good idea. Well done, Ron.'

'Why aren't I getting any of the credit?' cried Ginny, giggling as Seamus
tickled her.

Neville rolled his eyes.

'Ahh! Wossa matter Nevvy, feeling left out?' crooned Dean. 'Wanna
cuddle?'

They all hooted with laughter, and got up for supper.

                                     ***

Over the time following Sirius's departure, there hadn't been any more
astonishing revelations of Harry and Draco's magical abilities.

Clairvoyance had not been present to any noticeable degree in either of
them, according to Sybill Trelawney, who had made a rare excursion out of
her eyrie to give Dumbledore her verdict. Dumbledore had nodded sagely
and privately resolved to get in touch with an expert in the field, Arabella
Figg, who would be able to confirm or deny this assertion. (Getting
Arabella up to Hogwarts would be tricky, though; she didn't fly any more
and hated Apparating.) Among the lesser areas of magical importance,
Runes and Arithmancy and the like, neither Harry nor Draco had had much
ability to begin with, so Dumbledore wasn't that surprised to find there
was nothing to report. But still, harnessing their wand skills and
controlling their awesome ability at Charms was proving to be a full time
job for the Inner Circle, and Dumbledore found himself daring to be
optimistic about...well, he could hardly even think of it himself, but
optimistic about what Arthur Weasley was so worried about.

Dumbledore had not interfered with McGonagall's teaching the boys the
Animagus transformation. He had agreed with her that it was madness
not to pursue it, but had left it entirely to her; after all, she was the
Animagus on the staff. She had kept him informed of any developments,
but there hadn't been any so far, as McGonagall was going about it with a
meticulousness that impressed even Dumbledore. I want no mishaps, she
had declared. They are going to be thoroughly grounded in the theory
before we attempt anything practical.

Harry and Draco themselves were in no hurry to complete the Animagus
work; they suspected (correctly) that with both of them now much
stronger it was only this bit of unresolved magic that was keeping them in
the Hospital Wing. Their lives had fallen into an easy rhythm: meals and
sleep and private lessons with either Snape or McGonagall. Harry still
wasn't sleeping well, but he was a long way from wandering the grounds
all night every night. His appetite had picked up though, and most
evenings (although not all) he and Draco hosted Ron and Hermione to
supper. A couple of times Seamus and Ginny had come as well, and Harry
had been delighted to see them again. Ginny had been overwhelmed at
the improvement in Harry; he seemed so well, and so happy - and to her
delight she found Draco to be altered almost out of recognition. Ron and
Hermione had told her of course, but she'd not really believed it.
Draco had been surprisingly introspective after Ginny and Seamus had left
that first time; he confessed to Harry that he had always particularly hated
Seamus for reasons that he couldn't even explain then, let alone now, and
he was sorry to think that his eyes had not only been closed against Harry,
but all Harry's friends. This feeling of regret was made even sharper when,
the following night, Madam Pomfrey informed them that they had another
guest for supper.

'Good-oh,' yawned Draco, sitting in one of the armchairs with Harry
sprawled across his lap, going over Animagus stuff for the umpteenth time,
'show them in. Aren't we popular, Harry my love?'

Madam Pomfrey looked warily at them, and left.

'Are you getting used to being popular, Draco?' smiled Harry. 'Blimey.'

Draco kissed him, and they laughed. And when they looked up, Pansy
Parkinson was standing in the doorway.

The speed at which Harry and Draco shot apart was impressive, but, alas,
totally in vain. The three of them stood there, Harry and Draco blushing,
desperately unsure of what to expect, terrified that they had just entered
a new scenario without the slightest preparation, and Pansy, glowering,
stony-faced, incredulous, embarrassed, disgusted.

Draco recovered his cool nearly instantly, which was a great deal quicker
than Harry.

'Ah. Pansy old girl. And what brings you up here? Slytherin House
crumbling without me, is it? Need some tips for Quidditch training?' A
grin flickered across his face.

'Slytherin House,' she choked eventually, 'is, it seems, all the better for
your absence. Draco, how could you?!! He's...he's not even a Slytherin!'

'I'll thank you, Pansy, not to talk about Harry as though he isn't here,'
snapped Draco, with a hard edge to his voice that Harry had not heard
since the day of the fauns.
'"Harry?"' echoed Pansy. 'Since when have we ever called him "Harry"?
What is this, a love-in? Please tell me I imagined you kissing him.'

'You did not imagine it,' declared Draco. 'Although I understand you can't
be that familiar with kissing as a concept, so well spotted. A kiss, and
rather a good one, I thought. One of hundreds.'

Harry winced. There was no going back now.

'You kissed him? Why?'

'Because I love him, you stupid bitch. Why else would I kiss anyone?'

'Obliviate!' gurgled a desperate voice from behind Pansy. The boys looked
up to see Ron frantically brandishing his wand, as if he had lost control of
it. The spell bounced off the wall and out the window.

Pansy spun round and glared at him. 'You!' she fumed. 'Are you in on this
as well? What is this, a conspiracy? What on earth do you think you're
doing? Memory charms are forbidden for students--'

'Obliviate!' cried a determined voice from behind Ron. Hermione's spell
hit its target and Pansy faltered for a moment.

'And you!' she yelled, quickly regaining her senses. Hermione examined
her wand as if it were faulty.

'Spell not up to scratch, eh, Granger?' ranted Pansy. 'That's a first. Just
wait till Professor Snape hears--'

'OBLIVIATE!' ordered a commanding voice from behind Hermione. Snape
pocketed his wand instantly the spell hit home, and then ushered Ron and
Hermione quickly out of the room.

Pansy looked around bewildered, and then cried, 'Draky! How we've
missed you! When are you coming back, sweetie? The Quidditch team's
in total disarray!'
Draco glared. 'Well, to be honest, with you as Seeker, Pansy, I'm not
surprised.'

'Mr Malfoy will be back in the dormitories before too long, Miss
Parkinson,' oozed Snape. 'But he still tires easily, and visits such as yours
have to be rather limited, I'm afraid.'

'Oh Draky, how dreadful! Stuck in this grotty room all this time with only
him for company! It's just too awful! What shall I tell the others? That
you're OK? Or that you're suffering terribly?'

'Tell them whatever you like, Pansy. Whatever it takes to ensure I have no
more interruptions before I am released back into the school - you've no
idea, how intense it's been in here, Pansy. I am quite weak from
exhaustion sometimes...'

'Oh no! Oh how awful - I can just imagine what it's been like!'

'Actually, Pansy, I seriously doubt that you can. But thank you for your
concern.'

'I think that had better be about enough for today, Miss Parkinson,'
declared Snape gently. 'Mr Malfoy, I will be back to speak to you briefly
once I have seen Miss Parkinson out of the Hospital Wing.'

The pair of them left and Harry and Draco stood looking at each other,
neither quite able to take in what had just happened.

'Shit,' breathed Draco. 'I think I'm for it...'

Harry said nothing. It was strange for him to feel grateful towards Snape,
but that was exactly what he felt now. It wasn't that he was embarrassed
about being Draco's lover, far from it - at times, he wanted the world to
know - but since the second he had laid eyes on Pansy he just knew it was
the wrong time for the Slytherins to discover their secret. And so typical of
Draco to rise to the occasion in that way...blast him. Why did Harry feel
both proud that Draco should talk about him that way in front of others,
yet curse his inability to avoid confrontation? Love, I guess, concluded
Harry.

Thank goodness Snape had been there with the memory charm.
Otherwise, even now, the news could be spreading round the castle like a
stiff breeze, and, from there, it was only a matter of time before...

'That,' fumed Snape on returning to their room, 'was the most foolish thing
you have ever done. Bar none.'

'Sir, I...I-eh...'

'It is extraordinarily lucky for you that I was here. You surely know how
much of a gossip that girl is. And Mr Malfoy, ask yourself this: who are her
parents' close friends? How long do you think it would have taken until
your own parents found out what has been going on here? Two hours,
maybe one? Do you think we have gone to such extraordinary lengths to
protect you and Mr Potter from being exposed to danger just so that you
can ruin it because you can't resist a little cheap theatre?'

'But, sir! It was too late! She had already seen us kiss--!'

'The Crimson Cloud may have given you ability beyond the understanding
of many of our kind,' continued Snape, completely ignoring Draco's
interruption, 'but it hasn't increased your intelligence. If you do so love Mr
Potter - as you oh so charmingly informed Miss Parkinson - can you
honestly say that the best thing for you two would be for your parents to
discover our deception? In fact forget yourself for once, and put Harry's
safety first: what do you imagine his immediate future would have held
once your father knew of your situation? Yours were not the actions of a
lover, Draco, but those of an immature show-off. Which is perhaps all you
ever have been.'

Snape looked as if he had a nasty bout of indigestion as he glared at Draco
and muttered, 'twenty points from Slytherin.'

Draco was crushed. He looked at Harry in desperation.
'And,' added Snape, the look of acute discomfort washing him over again,
'twenty points each to Weasley and Granger, who saw the real danger of
the situation a lot quicker than you. Even if their wand skills were
hopeless.'

'S-sir!' spluttered Harry, 'it wasn't his fault - we were both to blame!'

'Typically noble of you, Potter, but you were not the one fuelling the
flames of Miss Parkinson's melodrama. There are issues here of which
neither of you are aware, and it is now more critical than ever that news of
the Crimson Cloud does not move beyond the small group already in the
know. Especially in the direction of Miss Parkinson and her cronies. But
more than any of that, you act as if the Crimson Cloud is a joke. Something
you can boast about and make light of in front of others, others who don't
know and won't understand the real circumstances. It pains me to think
that you have been given this wonderful gift and yet you behave--'

'Excuse me, sir,' interrupted Draco, unable to listen any longer without
responding, 'but I was not making light of it. I am truly sorry for saying that
to Pansy, but honestly, sir, what can you possibly know of what this is
like? Sometimes it gets so suffocating that I feel that--'

'I know a great deal more about the Crimson Cloud than you may think, Mr
Malfoy,' countered Snape. 'You are by no means the first wizard to be so
blessed. So start treating it with a little more respect, and stop mouthing
off in front of outsiders. The time will come soon enough when this news
will become public. Until then, enjoy what little peace you have together.'

Snape eyed them both oddly.

'Now get on with your Animagus preparation, both of you. Professor
McGonagall will be in later.'

There was an over-theatrical swirl of black robes, and then he was gone.

                                      ***
Had Harry and Draco known, they would have spun out their progress
towards a successful Animagus transformation even longer than they did,
because the Inner Circle were rapidly becoming united in their opinion that
no more could be achieved by leaving them in isolation. Dumbledore,
McGonagall and Snape were all decided that once this particular piece of
magic had been mastered, the pair could only further their progress by
learning how to be apart.

But. Our heroes did not know. They only guessed.

Even so. When McGonagall - who herself had insisted on a slow-and-sure
approach - ranted at them that they were being so slow at perfecting this
skill she could scarcely recognise the pair of wizards who had brewed a
perfect Perceptivity Potion and supplied the energy behind the Dance of
the Seven Charms, Harry and Draco knew the game was up. And that
evening, yet another extraordinary series of events was to fix itself near
the top of the All-Time List of Great Shared Memories of Mr HJ Potter and
Mr DL Malfoy. Although only after McGonagall had reminded them of her
authority.

'I think we might need another week or so,' pondered Draco. 'There are
still some areas of the theory that neither of us understand fully. Aren't
there, Harry?'

'Oh, at least a week, I'd have thought. I'm still completely lost on all that
stuff about combining spells with life forces. It does sound awfully
complicated.'

'Stop playing for time, you two,' the professor commanded. 'You are
ready. We will proceed.'

Over the following half hour, she barked a hundred questions at them,
concerning all aspects of the theory of Transfiguration and the nature of
Animagi. They answered all of them correctly and began to sense her
excitement. Harry was smiling, even though deep down there was
something troubling him that he had not even confided in Draco. He knew
he was about to become an Animagus, he could sense his body preparing
for it, and he knew his mind had been ready for some time. And boy, had
he looked forward to this moment. It was a way to get closer to Sirius,
even to be closer to his own father. But, what if...?

McGonagall was pacing the room in anticipation, and realised that Harry
was ready. He was looking at her oddly, as if the only thing stopping him
from performing the spell was the final affirmation of her approval, as if he
was waiting for her permission.

'Go on, Harry,' she encouraged gently, 'I'm sure you are ready.'

She stood stock still as she and Draco watched Harry prepare to undergo
the Animagus transformation for the first time. Draco breathed in, unable
to watch, unable not to. He felt slightly cowardly at letting Harry go first; if
there was a mistake in the theory, they would both have the same mistake
as they had worked so closely together. He closed his eyes to nearly-shut
and concentrated only on Harry's face, praying that everything would be
fine, that there would be no complications...

And then he triggered the spell in himself, quickly, efficiently, on the spur
of the moment, and without time to get nervous. A breathtaking magical
glow spread instantly through his whole body and, once the
transformation was underway, he screwed his eyes fully shut and prayed.
He could feel his body changing, could sense his centre of gravity moving
closer to the floor, was aware that he was now a four-legged creature
rather than a two-legged one. But he daren't open his eyes. Or could he?
Maybe it was OK now? He didn't feel that small...

'Draco!' he heard McGonagall call in surprise from somewhere in the
room. Blimey, his hearing appeared to be amazing. Suddenly he could
hear voices from outside the room, even from outside the Hospital Wing;
and his senses were instantly alive with things he had never noticed
before. There was one smell in the room that drove him crazy; it was so
wonderfully familiar and comforting. Before he even dared open his eyes,
he started to snuffle round looking for the source of this fantastic smell.

'Oh Draco!' he heard McGonagall call again. 'Well done!'
Well done, eh? She would hardly say that if... It might be safe to open his
eyes. Just take a quick peek. Everything did feel OK, he was sure...

His limbs seemed to be working in a way that was new yet completely
natural. They carried him closer to the smell that was pervading all of his
senses, and, before he got to wherever his nose was leading him, he knew
exactly what the smell was.

It was Harry. His very living, loving essence.

Still with his eyes screwed firmly closed, he felt Harry's hands around his
face, mussing his fur. Yes, he had fur. And Harry was down on his
haunches to speak to him, he could sense that. 'Draco', he heard Harry
whisper into one of his ears, 'Draco, my love, is it safe?'

'Yes,' said Draco. Or at least, that's what he thought he'd said. But
instead, all three of them heard a kind of gruff little bark, which was an
odd sort of noise, but, thought Draco, definitely not a squeak.

Oh, thank the Lord.

He bounded away from Harry and into the bathroom, raised his front paws
up onto the sink and stared in the mirror. Hey, Draco, not bad! The same
soulful grey eyes looked back at him, but the face had the chestnut red
colouring of a young fox. His fur was sleek and shiny, his body athletic and
lithe, his demeanour clever and cute. Draco-the-fox felt he wanted to dart
across fields and hide in woodlands, but his most overwhelming emotion
was not animal but human: sheer relief.

Just as he was going to get down from the sink and pad serenely back into
the room, a whirlwind of energetic black fur came bounding at him, half
yapping half barking in a delighted frenzy, all skidding paws and wagging
tail and sloppy tongue. It was a lean black sheepdog, some kind of border
collie, with a white patch on his face and another on his flank, a mess of
black hair over his bright green eyes, an ear that flopped forward that
caused the dog to shake his head madly to try and get the ear to fall
backwards, all wrapped up in a bundle of youthful exuberance. It bounced
round Draco-the-fox who regarded it in wonder.

WOW!

Was that his boyfriend? If I hadn't already been in love with him, thought
Draco-the-fox, I surely would be now... Draco felt a helpless, smiling-too-
wide-for-his-face sort of affection. This was the kind of dog that would be
your partner for life; open-faced honest, totally loyal, utterly trusting,
endlessly giving. Harry-the-dog chased Draco-the-fox around the room
briefly, and then cornered him against the bath tub, where they snuffled
together for a little while in innocent animal inquisitiveness.

Hey, don't mess my fur! thought Draco-the-fox, laugh-yelping in a sort of
foxy way. Communication - in the regular manner - was impossible, but
each knew that the other's happiness was accompanied by a flood of
relief.

Presently a sleek tabby cat, tail high, strolled into the bathroom and stood
watching them in distant feline indifference. Dog and fox stopped their
cavorting and faced her meekly; only one animal was in charge here.
Suddenly McGonagall stood before them, human again, and spoke clearly,
but with obvious enjoyment at what she had seen.

'Change back now, please, both of you, but I warn you that this stage is
just as difficult as the first. Please take care.'

'Oh, thank God!' cried Harry as he grabbed Draco's arm once they were
both in human form again. 'I never told you! I was so scared of doing
that! Scared of what I might end up as!'

Draco had realised in the bathroom that Harry had been as troubled about
this very issue as he had himself, but he hadn't noticed it in all the time
they had actually been preparing for this moment. He felt a sudden pang
of concern.

'What, Harry? What were you worried about?'
'I thought...' he looked straight at Draco. 'I thought I was going to be a
snake.'

'Why on earth did you think that?'

'Well, you're forgetting,' said Harry, now looking away. 'I'm a
Parselmouth.'

'Oh Harry! You could never have been a snake, you tit! Am I right,
Professor, with his dad, and being a Gryffindor and everything?'

McGonagall smiled. 'I certainly never imagined a snake for him. In fact it
was you I was more unsure of.'

'Now I feel really stupid,' laughed Draco.

'Why?' asked Harry.

'I thought I was going to be a ferret!'

McGonagall laughed with them. 'Right, you two,' she snapped, 'look
sharp. We're all going out for a run.'

                                      ***

'I think this chapter is nearly closed,' declared Dumbledore a few days
later. 'We may not know what the next one will bring, but, whatever, I
want Harry and Draco back in the school before the end of term.'

The end of term was less than a week away now. The castle had been
decorated in magic icicles and frosted Christmas trees, and the school was
buzzing with people laughing and packing trunks and making plans for the
holidays. Dumbledore and Snape were wandering through the entrance
hall on their way to supper, and stopped to continue their conversation
before entering the Great Hall.

'Will you tell them of your plans yourself?' enquired Snape.
'Yes. In a day or two. I'm going to London tomorrow, to the Ministry,
ostensibly to see Fudge, but really to see Arthur Weasley. I just want to
know exactly what the situation is before we bring Harry and Draco out of
hiding. I know we can't keep this a secret for much longer, especially after
that scare with Pansy Parkinson. But, if we can just buy a few more days,
or even better, until the beginning of the new term, I think they will thank
us for it.'

'Longbottom!' growled Snape, temporarily distracted as a crowd of
Gryffindors swept past into the hall. 'Don't you owe me an essay?'

Neville cowered slightly and began to stutter excuses at the Potions
master, and Hermione took the chance to have a word in Dumbledore's
ear.

'Professor,' she spoke softly while the pair of them watched the almost
comically predictable interaction between Neville and Snape, 'could I have
a word? It's just I - sorry, we, I mean Ron and the others and me - have
had an idea. It's about Harry and Draco.'

'You've beaten me to it, Miss Granger,' smiled Dumbledore. 'I wanted to
speak to you, actually. Shall we meet in my office after supper?'

                                    ***

When Dumbledore entered their small kingdom in the early evening a few
days later, both Harry and Draco knew instinctively what he was going to
say. They sat closely together on their bed, holding hands. Dumbledore
eased himself into one of the armchairs, and looked at them both.

'My boys,' he began. 'You've achieved more than I ever dreamt possible.
You can Apparate. You're Animagi. You've marvellous abilities at Charms
and Transfiguration, and excellent wand skills to back them up. If I'd
imagined that we would achieve one tenth of this, I would have been
fooling myself. I'm hugely proud of you both. But now I have to ask you to
do the most difficult thing yet.'

Harry and Draco looked at him intently, breath held.
'I want you to return to your dormitories and to regular school life
tomorrow. Tonight will be your last night in this room.'

However much they had anticipated this moment, the actual chill in the air
as the words clunked around the room was not something they could have
been prepared for. Draco gritted his teeth and stared at Harry,
determined not to let the Headmaster see how much the prospect was
unwelcome. Hell, it was more than unwelcome. It was unthinkable.

Draco held his tongue, determined to show his strength.

Harry couldn't though.

'Sir! Only one night's notice? Can't we have a little longer, just to get used
to the idea? This is going to be really difficult for Draco, for both of us,
can't we wait until the end of term? What's the point of making us go back
just before--'

'Harry! Calm down; you're gabbling! It's a most unattractive habit.'

'Well said, Draco,' smiled the Headmaster. 'Now both of you, listen to me.'

Dumbledore took a deep breath and stared idly out of the window for a
short while. When he did begin to speak, Harry and Draco weren't sure
whether he wasn't actually speaking to himself.

'Of course, you see, Minerva had said to me all along, we really shouldn't
meddle in this, and I knew she was right. She is nearly always right, you
know. But I tried not to think of it as meddling, I preferred the concept of
just 'steering' a little...'

Harry and Draco exchanged slightly odd glances and decided to keep
quiet. Who could imagine what the stresses on his mind were? Maybe he
was usually like this, just saving his twinkly grandfather act for in front of
the regular students? Harry found himself slightly saddened by the
melancholy pervading Dumbledore's whole demeanour.
'Dear old Alastor, you remember Alastor, Harry? - you met him very briefly
of course...what a desperate shame that whole affair was - anyway Alastor
sent me a box of his little toys earlier this term, just because we were
worried about the security of the castle, and well frankly - one can't be too
careful.'

'No, indeed,' said Draco encouragingly.

Dumbledore looked at them both as if surprised to find them there.

'Rowena Ravenclaw made this one herself, Alastor says,' the Headmaster
continued enigmatically. 'And on the day the fauns came to the Hogwarts
grounds, it was glowing and buzzing and burning like a forest fire. Hasn't
stopped, to be honest. And when I saw it first, I knew what Minerva called
meddling would be unavoidable. So much was at stake, you see, and still
is; perhaps even more so now.'

He reached into his robes and pulled out a small glass sphere. He passed it
to Draco. The boys regarded it in wonder.

'It's an Orbis Ardens,' he explained. 'A singularly beautiful piece of ancient
magic. And all those tiny little fireflies inside...they're normally lazy and
pale, still and lifeless. Run them past a couple hiding in the grounds, or
expose them to the Astronomy Tower on a Saturday night, and they
wouldn't alter, you know. Because the Orbis isn't fooled by things like
that. Maybe those little flies haven't had anything to do for years...'

Close attention seemed the best course of action to this strange direction
of the Headmaster's conversation, so Harry and Draco said nothing, staring
intently at the Orbis.

'But. With you two in the castle, the Orbis has been reminded of its true
purpose, and it burst into life. Which on one level was a joy of course,
because it meant that the Crimson Cloud was again at Hogwarts. But on
another level it was difficult, because of the blasted meddling...'

'Er, professor...?' ventured Harry.
'It can detect things. Love, mainly. The strong, powerful, magical kind; not
the usual teenage sort. A visual indicator of the Crimson Cloud. What
you're looking at, my boys, is the strength of what ties you together. And
I've looked at it most days, and wondered about how we should go
forward. And I confess, that many of the reasons Minerva and I decided to
encourage the growing closeness between you, rather than let it develop
at its own pace, were selfish. We simply couldn't risk it destroying both of
you, you see, we needed to ensure that it made you stronger. And so, we
meddled. We locked you both in here, and hoped and hoped, and
watched, and hoped some more.'

He paused slightly, reddening.

'And for that, I must apologise.'

'What's to apologise for, professor?' asked Draco slowly. 'Neither Harry
nor I would do these last few weeks differently even if we were offered an
infinite number of attempts at them.'

'No, of course you wouldn't,' smiled the Headmaster sadly. 'But that's only
because our gamble paid off; paid off beyond what any of us dared hope
for. But had it gone wrong, had you been too young to cope with the
intensity of it, had you not been able to overcome your differences, had
the news leaked out and placed unbearable pressure on you, it could all
have been so different. We decided never to tell you of the risks and of
the dangers, because, I say again, we were selfish. We needed you, Harry,
to be fitter and stronger than you have ever been. And we needed you,
Draco, to be even stronger than Harry. Because one day, Harry is going to
be called on to play a major role in a terrifying drama. And he'll need
someone to inspire him and hold him, and someone to pick him up if he
falls. And neither Sirius nor I, nor Minerva, nor even Ron and Hermione
could ever be strong enough for that. But now, you can. But only because
I locked you away in here and took a gamble. So again, I apologise.'

Dumbledore shifted in his chair and looked straight at Harry. His tone
became, if anything, sadder.
'Harry, my dear boy,' he said softly. 'It seems all your life I've been
meddling. I placed you with your dreadful Muggle relations. Despite their
natural objections, I engineered your being educated here. I stopped you
from spending the summers with Ron and his family, and I allowed you to
step into all sorts of danger, hoping, knowing, that you'd come through it
each time. All of which makes it even more difficult for me to sit here and
interfere once more by asking you to leave this small sanctuary you have
built. But I must do it. And I hope you will listen to the reasons why, and
understand them.'

'Sir - bringing me to Hogwarts was hardly interfering!' began Harry, but
Dumbledore held up his hand and spoke again.

'As I outlined before, you both now have many new strengths, of which
you should be justly proud. But you also have a terrible, critical weakness:
you can't exist separately. We know how difficult it is for you to be parted,
how the Crimson Cloud binds you so strongly that you both feel pain. But
that unfortunately is now a chink in your armour, and we must rectify it as
soon as possible. I feel personally responsible for this, for without my
interference - yes, Harry, that is the right word - without my interference,
you would have come to terms with its implications over a longer period of
time, and within the boundaries of a regular life. You would have got to
know one another in smaller bursts, with time in between spent apart so
that this current concern would never have been an issue. But in keeping
you in here for these weeks, I never allowed you that time apart, and so it
will now seem much more painful than it would otherwise have been. So,
I propose that you spend the last three days of this term getting used to
the idea.'

'But sir!' cried Draco. 'It won't be just three days! There's the--'

Dumbledore appeared not to have heard Draco. 'You have to understand,'
he continued, his thoughts drifting like they had when he had first sat
down, 'that I would never have taken these actions with any other couple
here at Hogwarts. Think of your future; you may both have different jobs,
different responsibilities. Time spent apart will be inevitable. I have done
you a disservice by leaving you unable to cope with this aspect of the
Cloud, so these last three days will be as vital to you as any number of
charms and spells. It is, I hope, a small and manageable period of time. I
promise it won't kill you.'

'But sir,' Harry said urgently, continuing Draco's previous thought, 'Draco is
right. It's not just three days. There's the holiday after that, and that's
about three weeks!'

'Ah,' said Dumbledore, the twinkle reappearing in his eye. 'It will be just
three days. Certain, um, arrangements have been made. You will both
spend the holidays here at Hogwarts, where you will be able to be much
freer than you would during term time.'

'But...?' began Harry.

'How...?' wondered Draco.

'Draco, I wrote to your father a few days ago. I have just received his
reply. He is absolutely delighted at your news.'

'Er, sir...what is my news?'

'That you came top in your year's academic standings this term. Your
father was, as you can imagine, rather pleased, as this is the first time you
have ever beaten Miss Granger.'

'Crikey. Did I really come top?'

'Quite so. The list on the notice board says exactly that. Position number
one, top of the year: DL Malfoy, Slytherin. I wrote it myself.'

'But I've not been to lessons for weeks!'

'True. But you have learnt more than you ever could have in class.'

Draco paused, a pang of Slytherin pride rising in his chest. 'I smell a rat.
Did I come top on my own merits, or did you fix the standings? Where did
Hermione come?'
'Ah. I placed Miss Granger second in the year, which is, I admit, slightly
below her usual standard.'

'Blimey,' laughed Harry. 'I bet she's gutted!'

'On the contrary,' smiled Dumbledore. 'She seems highly satisfied with her
own position, and sends her congratulations. And no, I did not fix the
standings, Draco. Your first place is merited. It has been difficult to
compare you two with Hermione this term, with you not being in class, but
one recent crucial spell of Miss Granger's was not successful, not entirely
anyway, and the same cannot be said of you.'

Harry laughed again. 'That memory charm! Wasn't it?!! She looked so
shocked when it didn't work on Pansy!'

'It did work actually,' corrected Dumbledore. 'But Miss Granger, being a
fine student, had never practised an illegal charm before, and she
miscalculated the force required. She did indeed remove some of Miss
Parkinson's memory, but only one or two seconds' worth. Professor Snape
has since helped her fill this gap in her knowledge.'

Draco looked pensive, still not entirely convinced. 'Where did Harry
come? Harry's achievements have been as good as mine, if not more so.'

'Ah. I placed Mr Potter third, and here I must admit some tweaking of the
facts. Technically I should have placed you joint first, Harry, but I thought,
under the circumstances that you would not mind this arrangement; you'll
have to excuse my meddling again. I'm aware that you've learnt just as
much as Draco, but, the order needed to be er...just so, to produce the
desired effect.'

'I don't mind at all, Professor. Third is far higher than I've ever come
before. And I certainly don't mind being third to Draco and Hermione.'

'Are you sure?' asked Draco, marvelling again at the Gryffindor spirit. 'I
don't want you to be denied something because of me.'
'Oh Draco, of course I'm sure! I haven't been denied anything here! And
anyway remember how much more difficult than you I found Apparating?
Your first place is completely deserved, and I'm well pleased with third!'

They looked at each other in silent mutual affection; Harry delighted with
Draco's achievement, Draco admiring Harry's effortless nobility.
Dumbledore coughed.

Draco looked hopeful. 'And exactly what was the desired effect you
mentioned?'

'Ah. Well, with your great academic achievements this term, your father
acceded to my request that you remain at Hogwarts over the Christmas
holiday for some advanced tuition. He seemed pleased that I was taking
this special interest in your education, and wholly approved of the
schedule I have outlined for such extra magical training.'

'You mean...?' Draco was daring to hope that this might work out a great
deal better than he had feared.

'Yes. Advanced Potions, some extra Charm and Transfiguration work, plus
some more useful wand skills. Although there is not, perhaps, the need for
your father to know that these extra lessons have technically already taken
place.'

He smiled at both of them. 'And, it seems, that for one odd reason or
another, I can't quite work out why, not many people are staying here for
the holiday this year. In fact, I think it's only you two and a number of your
Gryffindor friends, Harry.'

'So it will be only three days!' celebrated Draco, looking excitedly at
Harry.

Harry's smile was so wide he thought his face might split. 'Sir, how can we
ever thank you for this?'

'Thank me, Harry? There is no need to thank me. It is I who should be
thanking you, considering my meddling.'
'But sir, there is every need,' persisted Draco. 'We're both immensely
grateful for this time you've given us together. It's been wonderful. Are
you sure there isn't anything we can do?'

'Well,' smiled the headmaster, 'if you feel like that, yes. Easy. Have the
best Christmas together that either of you has ever had. Spend some time
outdoors and get some colour back in your cheeks. Catch up with some of
the lessons you have missed, if you find a spare half hour. Be good to your
friends, who have suffered more than you may imagine during this whole
episode. And...'

Harry and Draco waited expectantly.

'...for Merlin's sake get back on your brooms.'

'Oh!' cried Harry. 'My Firebolt! I'm not even sure I know where it is!'

'I think you'll find the youngest Mr Weasley has been zealously guarding it
these last few weeks,' beamed Dumbledore. 'Hoping that one day you'll
need it again.'

'God only knows,' despaired Draco, 'what those thugs in my dormitory
have been doing with my stuff. I expect they'll have managed to trash my
Nimbus somehow.'

Instantly Harry smiled to himself. He knew exactly what he was going to
buy Draco for Christmas.

'So,' concluded Dumbledore. 'The Last Supper beckons. Would you like to
eat alone tonight, or are you open to guests?'

'We can be alone later,' replied Draco, knowing instinctively that he spoke
for Harry as well. 'Anyone who wants to eat with us, they are welcome.
Within limits, of course,' he added, remembering the Parkinson Debacle.

'Quite so,' nodded Dumbledore. 'And what would you like to eat? You
may have whatever you want, but the school will tonight be dining on
chicken-and-ham pie. Isn't it odd how it keeps coming round on the
menu?'

Harry and Draco laughed and laughed, and Dumbledore could still hear
them laughing as he left the Hospital Wing, hoping, praying, that he had
done the right thing.

                                    ***

When Draco had a moment to think later that night, he sat back from the
table and regarded the three of them.

They had an almost telepathic means of communication. Not like he
himself had with Harry, intermittent magical surges of emotions and
feelings and certainties; theirs was far more specific, rooted in shared
experiences, shared interests, shared loves. A single word would produce
the same reaction from all three of them, triggering the same thoughts.

'Do you remember...?' Hermione might say. They all remembered, and all
remembered whatever it was in the same order. The act of remembering
was taken unconsciously for granted between them, and frequently the
next comment to follow would be three or four steps down the line,
leaving Draco wondering what they were talking about it. 'Do you think...?'
Ron might suggest. Of course they all thought it, so much so that nothing
ever needed explaining. They weren't defined by what they said, they
were defined by what they didn't need to say. 'Couldn't we...?' Harry
might wonder. Yes they could, they could do anything. Anything they
wanted to. They had rewritten the school rules for their own benefit, they
had gained the confidence and respect of all those around them, they had
forged their own way of existing, empowering by its strength and rock-like
in its reliability. They were a unit. They were a family. And they had no
idea they were special.

But Draco didn't feel left out. Because whereas this Holy Trinity were
united by their pasts, their presents and futures included Draco, as one of
them, as an equal, as a link in their chain. And as so often as when he was
with the three of them, he felt a warming sense of privilege, of joy, of
genuineness. He'd never felt like this before. And he loved it.

Harry caught his eye. They were talking about something, it didn't matter
what. Sometimes quiet and thoughtful, sometimes serious, sometimes
overflowing with hilarity, but Harry caught his eye. And he mouthed 'I love
you' silently to Draco, and then grinned and nodded his head as if Draco
needed convincing on this point, and again, 'I love you, I love you, I really
do...I love you'. Draco blushed, and again felt that overwhelming sense of
belonging, and of security. Hermione noticed this little interaction, and
absently placed her hand on his forearm while she was talking to Ron
about it didn't matter what. That little touch, it said as much as Harry's
endearingly over-the-top silent whispers. That little touch, it left a mark, it
branded him; it made him one of them.

He felt that he could easily get used to happiness.

Maybe it was this telepathy that caused Ron and Hermione to leave
shortly after that, but more likely it was Hermione seeing the secret
glances between Draco and Harry and deciding it was time to leave them
alone. But whichever it was, moments after the door had closed, and
Harry and Draco were left together in their kingdom for one final night,
they pulled off their clothes and fell into their bed, cuddled in each other's
arms. No talking, no kissing, no moving. Just holding.

Draco was increasingly in awe of the magic of their relationship. Sure,
there was the physical side, which had been - and continued to be - a
complete and joyous revelation. As their inhibition had faded and their
confidence had grown, they had explored each other's bodies and
delighted in the other's reactions, as happy as two puppies snuffling
around in a garden. And sometimes it was more than playful discovery;
sometimes there was a do-or-die feel to their love-making, as if their very
lives depended on the closest possible physical contact, as if the walls of
their castle might crumble if they didn't constantly prove to the other, in
bouts of anguished, profane pleasure, that nothing else mattered in the
world. And it wasn't any one particular touch or kiss or intimacy that
caused Draco to tremble with desire; for him, the high was Harry himself.

Which made the other side, the emotional, non-physical side to their
togetherness, all the more tender. At moments like this one, when they
lay together perfectly content to think the same thoughts and breathe the
same air, Draco felt as much ecstatic happiness and closeness as he did in
any number of their creative and uninhibited games. The peace of these
moments allowed them both to bask in a glow of belonging, and for Draco,
just looking - for whole minutes at a time - at the crown of Harry's head, or
the line of his cheek, or the curve of his neck, filled him with so much
wonder that he often could scarcely dare to believe that he hadn't spent
the last few weeks daydreaming in delicious fantasy.

It was Harry who gently broke their reverie.

'Three days, Draco,' he murmured. 'That's all. Three days.'

Draco kissed Harry lightly on his neck. 'I can manage three days. Can you?'

'Knowing that when they are up, I will get to hold you again like this, yes;
three days seems just about do-able. I'm not so sure about the three
nights though...'

There seemed no more to say, and curled up together they drifted into a
peaceful sleep
                           CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

                                      ~

                           HEART OF DARKNESS

The entrance of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy to breakfast in the Great
Hall the next morning made quite a stir for a number of people. At the
Gryffindor table a crowd of students rose and cheered and Harry was
immediately welcomed back into the bosom of his family. Those seated at
the Slytherin table shuffled along the benches respectfully to make room
for their returned leader. At the staff table, nervous looks among the Inner
Circle betrayed an awareness that a new, unpredictable stage had been
reached.

Everything felt different, almost unimaginably. They ate separately, on
opposite sides of a vast room. They slept apart; the familiarity of the
return to their own beds no consolation for the lack of the other's warm
body. They conversed with others, constantly thinking of how they would
have phrased things differently or answered more honestly had they been
back on their own in the hospital wing. When they were not in the same
room, they felt the other's distress, the other's need, eating away inside of
both of them.

But being in the same room was scarcely any easier. Lessons were a
strange novelty for both Harry and Draco, none more so than Potions,
where they sat within feet of each other, not even catching the other's
eye, but spending the entire time trying to resist the aching pull they both
felt to reach out for the other. Harry was also experiencing the strangeness
of pretending to be rubbish at Potions again, and oddly this itself seemed
to bind them together a little. When Snape administered an end of term
quiz, which he perversely thought of as something of a treat, Harry felt the
answers leap into his head almost before Snape had finished reading each
question. Even with the distress of not being able to talk to, or touch, or
even just smell Draco, Harry felt himself able to laugh a little inside:
thinking of the magical afternoon of the Perceptivity Potion, he went
through his paper and changed some of his answers to ones which were
incorrect. After all, he didn't want the rest of the class thinking he had
cheated. He watched as, two rows in front of him, Draco's shoulders shook
slightly in silent sympathetic laughter, his body and hair moving in ways
which reminded Harry of situations far more intimate than a Potions quiz.
Oh my God, thought Harry, he knows exactly what I'm doing! Then, kind of
in honour of Draco himself, hoping Snape would forgive him under these
unusual circumstances, Harry made one answer so inept that it was likely
to risk a double-figure point deduction. Hermione noticed what Harry was
up to, and regarded him in complete disbelief; Ron glanced at Harry's
paper too and thought nothing amiss as he filled in a couple of his own
blanks with some of Harry's wilder suggestions. Hermione rolled her eyes
in exasperation.

But Dumbledore had been right. Either in the same room or not, it hadn't
killed them.

One day became two, and two became three. On the last afternoon of the
Christmas term, Harry, Ron and Hermione were walking together in the
grounds as most of the rest of the school were preparing for the journey
home the following morning. The cold snows of the previous month were
gone, and had been replaced by some bracing grey drizzle. It was the kind
of winter weather that can sap the life out of many caught in England in
December, but for Harry, no air had ever felt fresher. He hadn't realised
how much he had missed being outside (during daylight at least) and was
only regretful that Draco, for the sake of maintaining what they both
thought of as an increasingly stupid charade, wasn't there to share it with
him.

Not that there was any lack of affection in evidence that afternoon. As the
three walked round the Quidditch pitch and back towards the lake, Ron
and Hermione, holding hands, would frequently stop and kiss, gently and
with a little embarrassment. Harry felt delighted for his friends, but
couldn't help thinking it would be better if he weren't there. On the fourth
time their walk was interrupted in this way, Ron and Hermione giggled and
looked at each other.

'Harry,' Ron beamed, 'we've got something to tell you. And I bet you ten
Galleons you'll like it.'

'What?' asked Harry. 'Are you going to have babies?'

'Ooh, Harry, don't be silly,' Hermione smiled. 'Missing him?'

Harry rolled his eyes. Missing him? If only it was as easy as missing him.

'You don't want to put an embargo on affection, you know,' grinned Ron.
'Not the way you and Draco carry on.'

'Learn that word from Seamus, did we?' giggled Hermione. 'But you're
quite right, Ron. They don't have a monopoly.'

'We're not that bad!' cried Harry, thinking how fortunate it was that 95%
of his and Draco's affection was kept behind closed doors.

They moved off towards the lake again.

'So if it's not babies, what is it?' asked Harry, intrigued.

'Ah,' began Ron. 'Yes. We've had an idea. A plan, you might call it. We
thought...'

'...that seeing as we are to be a small and select group this Christmas,'
continued Hermione, 'with one new addition, of course...'

'...that we'd try and make it the best Christmas any of us has ever had, you
know, just to try and put all the crappiness from earlier in the term behind
us all, and because obviously there's also a lot to celebrate...'

'...so we've got permission from Dumbledore to do something new. He's
going to let us have a special meal in the Gryffindor Common Room on
Christmas Eve!' beamed Hermione.
'And after that,' smiled Ron, 'you and Draco can sleep in our dormitory,
you know, for a bit of privacy...'

'...while the rest of us are going to have a sort of sleepover in the girls'
dorm, and then in the morning...'

'...we can do private presents in bed, then group presents in the Common
Room. Then a lazy morning and ...'

'...lunch with the staff. What do you think?' finished Hermione, happily.

'What do I think?' laughed Harry. 'I think... how long have you two been
completing each other's sentences?'

They all laughed.

'I think it sounds marvellous,' Harry smiled. 'Just one thing. It sounds like
you've got everything planned, so I won't interfere, but is there any way
we can do something special to make Draco feel welcome in Gryffindor
House? It will be quite odd for him...'

'Don't worry about that,' Hermione smiled enigmatically.

'It's all been thought out,' added Ron, and the two of them laughed a
private laugh.

'I won't ask then,' Harry said, slightly confused.

At that moment, they heard a loud roaring sound from behind Hagrid's
hut.

'What on earth...?' wondered Ron.

They went round the back of the hut to find Hagrid tinkering with the
motorbike, holding an oily rag and a huge mug of tea, wearing a vast
shapeless yellow garment that might at one time have been a pair of giant
dungarees.
'Hello you lot!' he said cheerily. 'Merlin's beard, Harry, it's good teh see
yeh out an' about at last! Jus' fixin' up the bike for a wee trip tomorrow.'

'Where are you going?' asked Hermione.

'Off teh London, on a bit o' school business fer Dumbledore,' he said,
looking rather shifty. 'Once I've seen everyone off on the Hogwarts
Express.' A guilty expression crept over his face, and he added, quietly, 'but
p'raps I shouldn't o' said that.'

'Ooh, secret mission?' grinned Ron.

'Summat like that, maybe,' agreed Hagrid, looking uncomfortably like he
wanted the subject changed.

'Really?' asked Harry suddenly, his mind working along other lines.
'London? Will you have any free time? If I give you a list and my key, could
you get some money out of Gringotts for me and buy some stuff?'

'Sure, Harry. No problems. Jus' mek sure yeh get the list teh me tonight.
Ah'm off very early in the morning.'

'Oh, Harry, what an excellent idea!' agreed Hermione. 'Hagrid, can you do
the same for me?'

'Of course. What about you, Ron? Want anything from London?'

There was an awkward pause in which Ron said nothing and Harry felt his
friend's acute discomfort where the matter of money was concerned.

'Yes,' said Harry determinedly. 'Ron will have a list too. I owe you ten
Galleons, remember, Ron? You were right, I love your Grand Christmas
Plan.'

Ron looked at Harry oddly, and after only a couple of seconds' hesitation,
the pair of them grinned warmly at each other.

Hermione looked pleased at this moment of understanding between them.
'And don't spend it on me,' Harry whispered into Ron's ear. 'Spend it on
Hermione.'

As they strolled back to the castle in the half-hearted rain, all were happy.
Hermione knew that their Christmas Plan was going to work, Ron was
grateful for the seamless way in which Harry had stepped round what was
still Ron's biggest insecurity, and Harry knew that it was only a few hours
before he could be with Draco again. None of them noticed the rain.

                                     ***

Having Harry back in the dormitory had been a good thing for all of them,
but especially for Ron. There had been just one night when they had all
five been there on good terms since the day of the Great Clear Up, and on
that night, the night of Harry and Ron's reconciliation, Harry had been
shepherded to bed by Ron just after supper. Not since the Boys' Book of
Spells (Special Edition) was brought into existence, about two and half
months before, had there been any real hilarity involving all of them, and
in those three days of separation, despite the permanent ache of absence
in Harry's heart, the five found it easy to drift back into carefree
tomfoolery as if the break in festivities had been just ten minutes rather
than ten weeks.

Ron was their captain. There were games and contests, late night chats,
dormitory Olympics, corridor Quidditch, long talks and quick jokes, races,
special Hogwarts-rules wrestling matches, high-spirited debates and near-
the-knuckle teasing. Harry couldn't believe that he had pushed it all away
before. And he knew that much of what Ron was doing went far deeper
than his wanting to be master of ceremonies. It took Harry a while to
realise it, but he knew that on some (probably subconscious) level Ron was
trying to compete with Draco for the number one place in Harry's life. And
to be fair to Ron, much of what he offered Harry in those three days was
way beyond anything Draco could ever have thought of. But there were
other more obvious reasons Ron was playing court jester, which both
Harry and Hermione had seen straight away and been pleased by, as they
all boiled down to one thing: Ron was madly happy at having Harry back,
even given it was only to be for three days, and even given Ron would still
rather look back than forward.

The night before the Hogwarts Express was to take the main body of the
school back to London, Harry and Ron stayed up talking on Ron's bed well
into the small hours, having a conversation both of them knew to be long
overdue. With a silencing charm in place, Harry finally found the time and
place and privacy he needed to apologise whole-heartedly to Ron for how
he had treated him earlier in the term, and to explain what he'd been
going through, what he'd been thinking, and how he had never meant any
of his behaviour to be deliberately insensitive to Ron and the others. Ron
found himself able to accept and understand everything Harry had told
him, but wanted Harry to realize a few things too: that there had never
been any need for Harry to cut himself off, and that both he and Hermione
had felt desperately hurt that Harry had ever doubted their support.
Interestingly enough it was Harry who saw the real truth of this
conversation: that it was necessary for these old wounds to be re-opened
before they could heal properly. But, over a course of several hours and
the odd tearful moment, heal they did.

Ron brought the matter to an end.

'Well, I guess we can finally close this dreadful chapter,' he half-smiled.
'You'll be reunited with Draco in a few hours, and I'm glad we've been able
to sort things out before then. I doubt we'll get another chance to talk like
this for some time.'

'Oh Ron,' sighed Harry. 'Is that what this is all about? You think that as
soon as I can see Draco again I'm just going to ignore you like I did before?'

'Well, not really. But you can't deny that after tomorrow morning you're
not going to want to sit around talking to me for hours.'

'Ron! This isn't a case of either/or. I will still always be your best friend,
even if I live with Draco for the rest of my life. Did you think I only had
room for one of you? Don't be so stupid, you silly tit. Of course I'm going to
spend time with Draco, as much as possible. But that doesn't mean I like
you any less. Moron.'

'Yeah, Harry, you say that now. And I wish you all the best, I really do, I
love thinking of you being happy at last. But just remember: if you ever get
bored from time to time, I'll still be here--'

'Ron!' Harry laughed, punching him on the arm. 'Stop yourself right now
before you begin to sound like a total prick! Think about Hermione. If you
went off and married her and had twenty kids, would you think any
differently about me? This is the same thing! As long as you can accept
Draco, and be happy for us, and as long as we've drawn a line under how
badly I've behaved this term, there's no reason why anything should
change between you and me!'

It was odd for Ron to find that Harry was right about matters other than
bravery and nobility and sheer nerve; that was more typically Hermione's
territory. But that was indeed the case, and sometime after 2am they
reached a point where, to the immense satisfaction of both, there was
nothing more to say. Smiling properly at last, they both turned in.

The next morning, none of the members of the fifth year Gryffindor boys'
dormitory had to get up to leave on the train, but the day began as early as
any other. For one reason, the House was alive with the sound of shouts
and cries and people dragging trunks and cases across floors and down
stairs. Ron especially, usually one to favour a long sleep-in in preference to
almost anything else, seemed to be affected the excitement buzzing in the
rest of the House as he fumbled his way towards Harry's bed to wake his
friend. He'd set his alarm for just after 7am, only a few hours after he had
eventually got to sleep. He knew how much Harry was longing to be with
Draco again, and wanted to make sure that his friend was up and dressed
in good time. As he drew back the curtains early that December morning,
there was just enough light to see that Harry was already sitting quietly on
the end of his bed, fully dressed. He had obviously also showered, and had
a pretty good stab at taming his hair.
'Blimey, Harry!' laughed Ron. 'How long have you been up? I thought you
were sleeping properly again!'

'He's been sitting there since at least half past five. I saw him when
Hedwig's scrabbling woke me up,' yawned Seamus. 'And it looks like he's
spent over an hour in the bathroom. So God alone knows what time he got
up!'

'Harry! Harry? Are you OK?' Ron turned to Seamus. 'Can he hear me?' he
asked.

'Of course I can hear you, you git.' Harry rolled his eyes. 'What time is it?'
he demanded, although he was actually holding his Snitch-clock in his
hand.

'Ten past seven,' said Dean.

'The train leaves after breakfast, which starts at eight today,' supplied
Neville.

'So! Not much longer to wait then!' Ron smiled.

Harry tried not to laugh.

'Now, Harry...' Seamus affected the voice of his oft-imitated Irish mother.
'Have you cleaned your teeth?'

They all laughed, including Harry.

'Ha! Has he cleaned his teeth?' Neville sighed. 'Only about six times in the
last hour. Harry, do you think that will be enough?'

'It has not been six times!' cried Harry.

'Well, tell us it wasn't more than once though,' Dean laughed.

Harry blushed. 'Well, OK. I just wanted to look nice this morning. Don't
mock.'
'Oooh, and you do, Harry! You look gorgeous!' teased Seamus in an accent
even more Irish than that of his mother. 'I don't know how he's going to
resist you during breakfast!'

'I refuse to get embarrassed,' shouted Harry above the din of the others
laughing, but sniggering to himself at the same time. 'One day, all you little
boys, if you're very lucky, will know how I feel right now. Until that time,
don't take the piss. You've no idea. None at all.'

'Er...?' queried Ron, smirking and theatrically rolling up his pyjama sleeves.
'"Little boys"...?'

'Uh-oh,' said Neville to nobody in particular, watching the other three
launch themselves on Harry in a bout of energetic Hogwarts-rules
wrestling. 'Just nobody mess his hair up!'

                                     ***

Having served the tea, Dumbledore looked across the desk at McGonagall
and Snape. They both regarded the book - recently delivered by Hagrid -
which sat in front of the Headmaster.

'It's as bad as we feared,' Dumbledore stated slowly. 'Perhaps worse. But I
suppose at least some questions have been answered. Although more may
have been posed.'

The Headmaster's colleagues sat and waited patiently for his thoughts to
be explained.

'The memories contained within this book are almost exclusively happy,
just the sort we imagined. But the last page is, I'm afraid, not something I
shall want to see too many times. But you must see it. And then we will
have to talk.'

Dumbledore carefully turned the book around to face McGonagall and
Snape, opened it at the first page and pushed it towards them. He sat back
and watched them turn the pages cautiously. Each page was like a small
scene, like a clip of film or a collage of wizard pictures, some just silent
laughing figures, some with voices ringing out. McGonagall caught her
breath at a page containing James flying his broom, and at another with
Lily sitting with the infant Harry under a tree. Snape stayed silent
throughout, until McGonagall turned onto the last page.

They both gasped at the unfolding images. But the pictures were nothing
to the sounds that rang from the book and filled the circular office. It was
no more than a couple of minutes that they sat there both watching in
revulsion and disbelief, but the memory would stay with them for much
longer. McGonagall sat back, horror-struck, sniffing into a lace
handkerchief. Snape, stony-faced, gently closed the book and pushed it
back toward Dumbledore.

There was silence.

'Well, now we know why Lucius took this book,' grimaced Snape,
eventually.

McGonagall choked. 'We absolutely cannot give that to Harry.'

Dumbledore said nothing, but looked to Snape for an opinion.

'I am inclined to agree,' he concurred.

There was more silence.

'If we don't give it to Harry, what do we do with it?' prompted the
Headmaster.

'Destroy it,' said McGonagall immediately.

'Destroy it?' Dumbledore echoed. 'Are you sure? All that happiness; the
kind he has craved and never known?'

'He's happy now, though,' offered Snape, gruffly. 'Isn't that what all this
has been about? So what's to be gained from letting him see this?'
'Nothing,' persisted McGonagall. 'Not that I can see. If you don't want to
destroy it, why not just hide it away? It can go back to Gringotts tomorrow
and stay there till he is older.'

Snape looked doubtful. 'How much older though? Eighteen? Twenty-one?
Thirty? Who's to say when he'd ever be ready, if it all?'

'Let it stay there forever then.'

Dumbledore stayed quiet.

McGonagall looked hopeful. 'Could we let him have it with the last page
removed?'

'But what would we do with the last page?' sighed Snape. 'Destroy it, hide
it, keep it for him? It's the same issue.'

They had lapsed into silence again, but McGonagall suddenly burst out, 'I
can't even believe we're having this discussion! Why on earth should we
wish to put him through this? Don't we all want the best for him?'

After another little while, Snape said to Dumbledore, 'well, what do you
think?'

The Headmaster drew a long breath and began to speak tentatively.

'I understand totally how you feel, Minerva. We all feel protective of him;
we've felt that all his life. And we've gone to great lengths to look out for
him, keep an eye on him, protect him where we can. In short, we've
meddled.'

'Of course we have!' McGonagall cried. 'He's got no parents!'

Dumbledore took a long sip of tea from the delicate china.

'Another thing we're guilty of is underestimating him. Hasn't he always
surprised us with his resilience? With his bravery, and determination? So
much so, in fact, that we have sometimes actually begun to bank on his
qualities. He's much more buoyant than we think, and even stronger since
his attachment to Draco. But apart from his physical and mental strength,
isn't there another issue here? Doesn't he have a right to see this?'

McGonagall coughed slightly but said nothing.

'But these are, I grant you, all inconclusive things. He might be strong
enough. He might benefit from some closure in this appalling matter. On
the other hand, he might be crushed. For all I've learned about him, I still
don't feel I know him well enough to be sure. Short of asking him myself, I
cannot decide what to do.'

'So we do nothing?' wondered Snape.

'No. I think this is too important to ignore. But I think you hit on it,
Minerva, when you said we cannot give this to Harry. I agree. We cannot.
But maybe someone else could, someone who knows him better than
anyone, someone who could judge precisely how it could be done with the
least harm. I'm going to give this book, complete, to Draco.'

McGonagall gasped. 'Are you sure that's wise? Draco is not just a
bystander in this affair. He is bound to have issues of his own to deal with.
In giving the book to Draco, aren't you just going to give a different boy a
different sort of pain?'

'Maybe, Minerva, maybe; you are often right in these matters. But what is
the alternative? Think of this: Draco is as strong as Harry, and is himself
very mature; he knows Harry better than we do, so his gut reactions will
more likely be the right ones. And considering what's in that book, this is a
matter that concerns both of them more than it does any of us.'

McGonagall sighed heavily and Snape nodded. It was the closest they
would get to agreement.

'However much anxiety Draco is going to feel over this,' concluded
Dumbledore, 'I suspect he himself would not want it any other way. I will
call him in to speak to him this evening.'

                                     ***
With only a handful of students left in the castle, and those that were all
being part of the Grand Christmas Plan, Harry and Draco had been free to
behave however they wanted from the moment the last carriage had left
for Hogsmeade station. And they had lost no time.

The second Harry had found Draco idling around the main steps at the
front of the castle, a breathlessness overcame him which wasn't relieved
until the two of them, hearts racing, had fallen into an urgent snog, and
tried to maintain this connection as they proceeded clumsily in the general
direction of the rose garden. Shortly afterwards, anyone looking out of one
of the castle's windows might have seen a border collie and a fox
scampering madly to the furthest part of the grounds well beyond Hagrid's
hut and the Quidditch pitch. Human again, they created a nest of heavy
cloaks and jumpers under a tree where, oblivious to the cold wind and
intermittent downpours, they spent the greater part of the day talking and
kissing and enjoying other intimacies.

About four o'clock that afternoon it began to feel as if they might just be
getting on top of making up for three days of separation, when they
suddenly realised it was dark and they were starving. Just as they noticed
the appalling weather for the first time and were standing up to go back to
the castle, a silent brown barn owl swooped down and perched on Draco's
shoulder, proffering its right foot. He took the message and tore it open
quickly.

'Bugger and blast,' moaned Draco. 'Dumbledore wants to see me this
evening. Will you be able to cope for a little while without me later,
Harry?'

'Perhaps,' smiled Harry. 'Will you?'

                                       ***

The first of Draco's reactions on leaving Dumbledore's office was one of
gut-wrenching nausea. After that, in turn, he went through shame, disgust
and disbelief. He walked, staggering, not knowing where he was going, his
eyes stinging. As he reached the main door to the castle grounds he ran
blindly, in an uncontainable fury, as if by running he could actually distance
himself from this terrible situation. By the time he was half way to the lake
he had arrived at despair; sitting in the spot where he and Harry had both
smoked a cigarette some weeks before, all the emotions of the previous
half hour now assaulted him together, churning his stomach and heart in a
sickening, hopeless chaos.

That cigarette. It had only been a few weeks before, but it now seemed
like another lifetime. In a way it was another lifetime: none of what Draco
had held dear before that day seemed even remotely attractive now. But
even considering the joy of being with Harry, he felt, were it possible, that
it might still be better to return to his pre-faun ignorance and arrogance
than deal with what now faced him. He held his head in his hands as he
dared to let his mind consider what Dumbledore had just told him, had just
shown him. This place by the lake, this was where it had all started. And it
might also be where it all ended.

He sobbed. For Harry, for himself, for injustice, for love.

Draco could recall every thought, every word, every image of his exchange
with Dumbledore with frightening clarity, and it was impossible to tell
which was the most shocking aspect of what he had seen.

At first, coming face to face with such an extraordinary book was certainly
an eye-opener. Realising what the book contained - that was fantastic. He
suspected instantly why Dumbledore was talking to him rather than to
Harry himself - here was something very special to be returned to
someone very special, and who better to make the presentation than that
special person's special person? He loved some of the images he saw. A
picnic. A walk in the country. A family tea by the fire. James and Lily and
Harry, Dumbledore had pointed out sadly. How staggeringly like his father
Harry looks, Draco smiled to himself. He was delighted when he thought
his Christmas present problem might be solved.

But when he began to wonder where on earth the book had come from,
and why Harry hadn't possessed it all his life, he realised there was
something unpleasantly familiar about it, and he was hit by a ghastly
thought. It was triggered by one particular page; one on which there was
someone he recognised. It was almost unreal to think it was him, but
there, staring back out of the page, was a young Sirius Black astride a large
motorbike, smiling and waving. Dumbledore said that this book contained
pages from Harry's past, but of course Draco had no way of knowing for
sure who he was actually looking at until he saw that image of Sirius.
Suddenly this book was linked in his mind with Harry's godfather, not just
with Harry himself, and within seconds he remembered the conversation
they had had while Harry had been in a coma. Draco knew right in the core
of his bones that the book he was looking at was the same book that he
had seen once before: sitting on his father's knee in the library at Malfoy
Manor.

He looked at Dumbledore, who stared back at him impassively.

'How did you get this?' Draco asked eventually.

'I admit some skulduggery,' said Dumbledore gently. 'When we realised
what the book you remembered might be, we set about recovering it. We
were concerned that, in the wrong hands, it could be a threat to Harry's
safety.'

'The wrong hands in question being my father's?' Draco asked without
emotion.

Dumbledore said nothing. And in the Headmaster's silence, Draco had his
answer.

'I'm assuming my father did not just hand it over without question?' Draco
said, as if thinking aloud.

'No,' replied the Headmaster without embarrassment. 'He didn't hand it
over it all. If he has missed it, I doubt he knows where it is.'

Draco was incredulous. 'You stole it?' Quite apart from wondering how it
had been done, Draco couldn't believe that Dumbledore would resort to
such underhand tactics.
'We... reclaimed it,' rephrased Dumbledore. 'It had already been stolen.'

'But... how did you know what it was? Even I didn't know what it was!
Sirius couldn't have known either, just from the conversation we had!'

Dumbledore retreated into his thinking-aloud, staring-into-the-distance
kind of conversation. 'Funny how these things work out,' he mused. 'You're
not the only one to have seen this book before, Draco. Close it and look at
the front cover.'

Draco did so, and read:

   For James and Lily, on this happiest of days, from Albus Dumbledore

'Oh my God,' Draco cried, staring in astonishment at Dumbledore. 'It was a
wedding present from you!'

'Yes, although I had forgotten about it. A small gift in its way, just a scrap
book, enhanced with a charm of my own. But Sirius sensed the importance
of the memory you had, and the circumstances in which you recalled it.
And I guessed what the book was from what he said to me at the time,
although I wasn't totally convinced it was the same book until it was
delivered to me earlier today. But there is no doubt. There it is.'

'It was delivered to you? How exactly... no, don't say. I don't want to know.
Except I must say that whoever ran this recovery mission for you was in
great danger. The wards covering the Library alone are designed to be
lethal. To say nothing of those on the rest of the house, and the grounds.'

Draco leafed through the book again, smiling at the happiness caught in
the pages.

'So, is it a threat to Harry's safety, in the wrong hands?' Draco asked.

'Alastor Moody thinks probably not. However, in the right hands... those
issues disappear.'

'Well,' sighed Draco after a while, not quite understanding what
Dumbledore had said. 'Harry will love it. I'll give it to him for Christmas. My
father had no right to this book, and it will be my pleasure to return it from
my family's illegal keeping to Harry's rightful ownership. But I'm left
wondering why on earth my father took it.'

'Ah. Yes. Indeed.' Dumbledore seemed to lose coherence for a while, then
looked Draco sharply in the eye. 'I had been wondering that too. But now I
know. This will be difficult for you, Draco, very difficult. But I ask you to
look at the last page.'

Draco sensed the reluctance in Dumbledore's voice, and he felt a chill as
he slowly picked up a wedge of pages and let them fall down, revealing the
final page of the scrap book.

Draco guessed the scene was James and Lily's house in Godric's Hollow.
Harry was with Lily in an armchair; she was singing softly to him. James
entered the room, smiling broadly, with news of a Quidditch triumph. The
scene glowed with familial love, Harry at its centre. But then there was a
blinding flash, and the intrigue and wonder of the book were obliterated in
a single moment as the room was suddenly streaming with Death Eaters.
Draco knew instinctively what he was about to witness, and recoiled in
horror, unable to stop staring at the page. At this moment of realisation,
he found himself inexplicably wondering whether the flash was caused by
the Dark Magic necessary to Apparate through protective wards, or the
magical destruction of those same wards. As a way of trying to black out -
at any cost - the awfulness of what was unfolding before him, he tried
frantically to remember what Sirius had told him about the Fidelius charm,
and work out how it might affect the hiding place itself, but he was hurled
back to hideous reality as the crowd of Death Eaters parted and the
gruesome image of a disfigured and twisted man was revealed in their
midst. Under a thick black cowl there was a pocked skeletal face with cruel
glinting eyes, an angular nose and an evil, narrow mouth: Voldemort. The
sweat ran cold over Draco's body and he pulled his robe closer to him. He
watched in repulsion as the thin lips parted slowly and a demonic high-
pitched cackle filled the room. The Death Eaters were chanting, as if in
some kind of religious trance; Lily was screaming; James was shouting
manically, incensed, outraged, blinded by fury, brandishing his wand in all
directions, ordering Lily two, three, four times to take Harry and run.

'Run, Lily! For God's sake, run!' cried Draco in desperation.

Lily was rooted to the spot by the horror surrounding her, maddened by
the futility of trying to hide Harry under her robes. There was the crash of
furniture overturning as the Death Eaters overpowered James, and he was
restrained by some kind of stasis charm. It didn't stop his voice though,
and he bellowed one final enraged cry, one final desperate plea to Lily to
try to get away. They were the last words he spoke, as Voldemort closed
in, his cackling now closer to ecstasy as he extinguished James's life with
the death curse. As James fell heavily to the floor, Lily screamed and her
scream ran through Draco's blood like ice; he wanted to slam the book
shut and burn it, but some inner grit forced him to keep watching. The
monotonous chanting of the Death Eaters was rising in volume like a
thronging, maddened mob and Voldemort's possessed cackling was now
intolerable, but Draco thought he would rather listen to that for a hundred
years than have to hear Lily's heart-rending cries. Her voice wracked in a
desperation Draco couldn't begin to comprehend, she pleaded with every
ounce of her soul, not for her own life, but for Harry's.

'Not my son! Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!'

Tears streamed down Draco's face. 'Oh God, no!'

'Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead--'

Shielding Harry with her body, Lily stood up defiantly to Voldemort, the
certainty of death etched across her beautiful face, at once both terrified
and brave beyond imagination.

Draco struggled in his seat, overwhelmed by feelings of fury and
helplessness. He needed to help her... she was going to die... she was
going to be murdered...

'Not Harry! Please... have mercy... have mercy...'
Draco was falling, falling through an icy mist. He heard Voldemort screech
the words Avada Kedavra in a blaze of vivid green light. A long dying wail
filled the room as she struggled in her final seconds to conceal Harry under
her robes, until she slumped to the floor next to James, Harry still cradled
in her arms. The Death Eaters closed around the couple in excited, morbid
anticipation of the final kill, and Draco saw Harry's face, open, trusting,
miraculously yet tragically oblivious to the unimaginable danger he was in.
As the death curse was cast for the third time, the images on the page
descended further into chaos as Voldemort's spell rebounded from Harry
and back towards the Dark Lord. His cackle metamorphosed into manic,
disbelieving shrieks of agony. The Death Eaters swarmed again, this time in
panic, and Harry was forgotten. As if caught in slow motion, Voldemort's
body vaporised to nothing, the black robe drifting silently to the floor. The
uproar among the Death Eaters reached fever pitch and then there was
one final image: one of them, standing away from the rest of the group,
came closer to the book, regarding it intently. His face appeared on the
page, cold, calm, unemotional, then he reached out his hand and the
images faded abruptly from the page; he had evidently closed the book.
But the face of the Death Eater crushed Draco as much as any of the other
appalling things he had just witnessed.

That face was still with him now as he sat beside the lake in the rain. It was
the face of his father.

                                     ***

'Er... Ron, what exactly are you doing?' mused Hermione, watching Ron
concentrating very hard with a scrappy piece of parchment, chewing on an
old quill. 'Don't tell me it's homework, because I will simply refuse to
believe you. And you've got ink on your lip, by the way.'

They were sitting in the Gryffindor common room, Hermione and Harry
playing cards with Ginny and Seamus, Neville and Dean playing chess. Ron
sat apart, scribbling occasionally.

'Errrrmmm...' came Ron's meaningless reply.
'Steady on, Herm, don't disturb him,' laughed Ginny. 'He's trying to do the
seating plan for our meal on Christmas Eve. So far he's managed to get the
number of chairs right, but beyond that...'

'Oh,' giggled Hermione. 'You mean, this seating plan?' she said as she
fumbled in her bag.

An elaborate and carefully drawn chart was produced from within the
depths of Hermione's voluminous book-bag and Ginny gazed at it. 'Oooh,'
she cooed. 'That's good!'

Harry glanced over, intrigued.

Hermione moved the chart out of Harry's view and passed it to Ron. 'Not
yet, Harry,' she said firmly. 'The arrangements for that night are a surprise.
Wait and see.'

'Oh, Herm, this is good,' said Ron, looking it over in appreciation.

Suddenly Harry felt gruesomely sick and light-headed, clutched his
stomach like he'd been kicked hard and slumped in his chair with a groan.

'What is it?' asked Ron instantly, and all eyes turned to Harry.

'I don't know,' he said slowly. 'I think Draco is upset. Really upset. I'm going
to go and try and find him.'

Ron got up to go with him, but Hermione pulled him back as they watched
Harry exit the portrait hole. 'Let him go,' she said. 'If something is wrong,
they'll need to be alone.'

                                      ***

Still his father's face haunted him, as he sat with his eyes screwed shut,
trying to block out the image, sobbing, terrified, lost.

He was simply overwhelmed by the book's implications. As his crying
began to subside, he was bombarded by a cascade of terrible thoughts,
each suffocatingly worse than the previous one. It was dark and cold, well
after 8pm, and he wore only the light robe he had been wearing in
Dumbledore's office. An insistent and dreary drizzle soaked and chilled him
to his very bones, but he didn't notice. There was only room for one thing
in his mind. And he couldn't bear to look at it.

But, as so often in the way of something too awful to consider, avoiding
the issue only makes the awfulness worse. The thoughts wouldn't go away,
they just wouldn't. Draco stared into the dark water of the lake as the
thoughts besieged him, forcing him to look them in the eye, one by one,
leading him, pulling him on a journey whose inevitable destination was...
unthinkable.

The book had been a wedding present from Dumbledore. Naturally,
Dumbledore had only ever envisaged the happiness the book might offer,
and what happiness it was, for the most part. But Draco couldn't now see
anything positive in the pure, innocent happiness of the rest of the book; it
only served as a hideous contrast to the last page. The last bloody page.

If only the book had been made with one page fewer! If only it hadn't been
open on that day! If only... if only...

If only I didn't have to deal with this myself! This was Ron's territory - he
was Harry's best friend; or Hermione's - she always knew how to deal with
something difficult; or Dumbledore's - he always saw the full picture, he
would know for sure; or McGonagall's - she was Harry's head of House, it
was her responsibility surely; or perhaps Hagrid's - he had known James
and Lily, he would surely resent Draco interfering in this matter; or maybe
Mr and Mrs Weasley's - they had after all practically adopted Harry, they
would have a parent's wisdom; or Sirius's. Yes! Certainly it was Harry's
godfather's duty to sort this out.

I could owl him in the morning, thought Draco desperately. Dumbledore
could give the book to him. After all, Sirius was James and Lily's best friend;
I never even knew them. It's got nothing to do with me. God knows why
Dumbledore thinks I can deal with this book...
This book... an outrageous and appalling violation of an object that should
only have been for joy. The kind of joy Harry had yearned for all his life.
How Draco longed to see Harry's face when he saw the book. He would be
ecstatic! Delirious! Right up until the moment when he would see... when
he would see... NO! Please no! Damn this book... this book...

This book had been made possible by Dumbledore himself; that should only
have made its magic even more special. But it had been desecrated so
horrifically that it now included a tableau of the deaths of Harry's parents.
No! Not even a tableau! The actual images, the actual experiences, the
actual agonies and sufferings!

The real thing. Complete and unabridged.

Oh Jesus, the death of Harry's parents! Parents! Harry's parents! Their
deaths!

All his life Draco had known the story of the Boy Who Lived, which was -
with each passing year, as Harry grew and the time between him and that
awful night increased - essentially a happy story: Harry was a hero to most
of the Wizarding world, he was Triwizard champion, he was the youngest
and best Seeker in a century, he was the pride and joy of a nation and he
embodied the hope of a new era. But because of this bloody book Draco
had been slammed up against the truth so hard that it had left him
winded. Sure, Harry was the Boy Who Lived; but he was also the Orphan
Son of Murdered Parents. Draco had known this all his life too, but few
people ever dwelt on that aspect of the story. Harry did of course, and
Sirius, and Dumbledore, and a few others; but for most people the truth
about Harry Potter was simpler, sanitised, with the pain removed.

Tonight Draco had seen the pain.

James and Lily's deaths, and the attempted murder of Harry himself, were
recorded in the pages of a magical book. Was there anything on earth that
was worse than your parents being murdered? Yes: having those murders
captured in living image for all time. Forever. In a family album. To look at
again. To torture yourself with. To tie yourself into knots with. To taint
every future scrap of happiness with a permanent reminder of a grisly
truth. Oh Harry! How you don't deserve this! It will sit on your shelf forever,
taunt you, haunt you, a macabre keepsake of the parents you never knew,
a heart of darkness in a life dogged by tragedy. It will fester inside you for
years, it will never heal. You will never let it heal. You are too proud, too
stubborn, too noble. And I won't be able to help you with it, because you
will look at me, and all you will see is my father...

My father, who was present that terrible night...

My father, whose presence makes him complicit in their deaths...

My father, who is a murderer.

In this book was incontrovertible evidence of his guilt. Whatever anybody
had ever said, whatever anybody had ever thought, despite Draco's
knowledge of his father's acute interest in the Dark Arts, despite
circumstances, and rumour, and evidence, Draco had never been
completely certain of his father's involvement with the Dark Lord's
disciples. Perhaps he had known it and blanked it out. Perhaps he had
known it and chosen not to believe. Perhaps he had known it and dared to
be proud of the exalted position his father occupied without
comprehending the atrocities that inevitably accompanied it. He had
admitted it to Crabbe and Goyle. He had admitted it to Pansy. He had even
more or less admitted it to Harry. But he had never admitted it to himself.

But now, here it was. Proof. His father was a murderer. His father was a
liar, a thief, a plotter, a schemer, a killer, a torturer, a blackmailer, a fraud.
A façade of a man. The great Lucius Malfoy. Indecently wealthy, ruthlessly
clever, absurdly handsome. But all his gifts and talents and privileges were
exploited to hide the truth: Muggle-killer, wizard-murderer. And what
more did this book imply about his father? How many more unspeakable
crimes did it point to? Blast my father! Damn him! Why?

Why? When he already had everything a man could want, when there was
nothing in the world he couldn't buy? Why?
Draco wept in frustration, in shame, in uncovered denial. The rain, heavier
now, lashed at him out of the darkness, freezing him, drenching him, but
coming nowhere near removing the stain of his father's actions. Oh
Harry... oh Harry... how will we ever get over this book, that night, your
parents, my father...?

My father stole this book. And he did NOT destroy it. He kept it. Draco's
despair was mounting to unsustainable levels. He was shaking, trembling,
unable to stop the cascade of thought that bombarded him almost faster
than he could follow. He must have been keeping this book as some kind of
chilling memento. A trophy. A sickening souvenir of a day-trip to Godric's
Hollow. Draco imagined the scene, he couldn't help it; his mind was racing
in random directions. Hello Narcissa darling, I went to Godric's Hollow
today and I picked up this little book. Charming, isn't it? Look at the happy
little people enjoying their picnic! And then it was stashed away in a special
place in his father's prized library: in the glass-fronted cabinet with the
elaborate lock, along with his books of particular value or rarity. Draco
didn't suppose his father was bothered much by Voldemort's demise;
perhaps he was growing bored with it all. He doesn't care about anything.
Not me, not my mother, so why should Voldemort have been any different?

His father certainly hadn't looked mad with grief like the other Death
Eaters. Draco pictured him, flicking through the book, later in life, idly
recalling that day in Godric's Hollow, the day he was an accomplice to
murder, the day the Potter baby proved so tiresome, the day the Dark Lord
was unfortunately vanquished and condemned to an indefinite period of
existence without the convenience of a body. And on one such subsequent
perusal of this dreadful token, young Draco was summoned to the library:
Hello, Draco my son. Come and sit on my knee. Today's book is a special
book, because some books can hold more than words. They can hold
memories...

Memories that belonged, without doubt, to Harry. Memories that would
form his entire knowledge of his own parents.
Despite what it contained, Draco felt in deep in his stomach that this book
was crucial to Harry. And he was crushed to think that he had seen the
book more times than Harry himself, who wasn't even aware of its
existence. Oh Harry! Can any love, Crimson Cloud or otherwise, be strong
enough to cope? If I love you for eternity, will it mean I never have to
confess? Can any act of contrition of mine absolve the sins of my father?
Draco was caught in an impossible trap, and he knew it. His father pulled
one way, Harry the other. Abruptly, out of the uncontrollable racing of his
frantic mind, a thought crystallised itself so clearly in his head that it
blotted all the others out. A choice. A dilemma. An impasse, beyond which
he couldn't see. A decision, the most important he would ever make.

Destroy the book: live with the shame of his decision for the rest of his life,
maintain the fake reputation of his murderous father, deny Harry his
terrible inheritance.

Present the book: risk losing Harry forever, ruin his father, put Harry
through hell.

Suddenly Draco was aware of the cold and the rain, and he stared into the
intense blackness of the lake, shivering wildly. There was another way out.
Just one moment of mad bravery and he would be released from this
quandary for all time. It seemed logical. Scarily so. And he couldn't actually
be any wetter or colder than he was at that moment. He stood up shakily
and moved in the heavy rain towards the edge of the rock, his robe
sopping and heavy, his fair hair plastered to his face. He stood teetering on
the brink, the icy water just feet below him. The rain continued teeming,
oblivious to Draco's actions and intentions.

Time stopped.

COWARD! screamed his father's voice in his head. WHAT ARE YOU? YOU
WOULD CHOOSE HIS HAPPINESS OVER MINE? OVER YOUR OWN?

Draco whimpered. Please, leave me alone, please!

COWARD! IS HE WORTH DYING FOR? DO IT, THEN! DO IT!
'SCREW YOU!' shouted Draco fiercely into the wind and rain. 'SCREW YOU,
FATHER! I CAN'T DECIDE! SCREW THE FUCKING CRIMSON CLOUD! AND
YOU, HARRY!'

Fuck, what am I doing?

He was a Malfoy. Malfoys don't cry. Malfoys don't throw themselves in
lakes. Malfoys don't have ethical dilemmas. Malfoys don't put other
people first. Nobody is worth dying for. He didn't need Harry; he didn't
need his father. Why should my own life suffer because of this? The
Crimson Cloud can be beaten. I can walk away from this. Screw that book.
Who cares who has it? I bloody don't.

'Draco!'

Gaining a trace of strength, he glanced again into the water and tried to
sneer in contempt at his own foolishness. Would he really have done it?

'Draco!'

Nobody could mean that much to anyone. Enough to die for. It was only
the Crimson Cloud that made him feel like that. It wasn't really him. Surely.

'Draco! Draco, please! Answer me!'

But if anyone in the world meant enough to him, it was Harry. Harry.
Harry. His brief burst of defiance ebbed away as he thought of Harry.

'Draco!'

Harry. Harry who knew what he felt. Harry who he loved. Harry who he
would die for.

'DRACO!'

Harry. Harry who was even now gathering his limp, exhausted, freezing
body into his arms, who was begging him to talk, whose very presence
bathed him in a love he had never known from his father.
'Draco, please talk to me! What's the matter? What on earth's happened?'

Harry. Harry whom he didn't deserve. Harry who removed his own cloak in
the pouring rain to try to warm him. Harry who somehow found the
strength to lift Draco into his arms and struggle under his weight on the
long trek back to the castle.

'Draco!'

Harry. Harry whose warmth flooded through him so that the rain seemed
to stop falling. Harry who held him. Harry who would always hold him.

Harry.
                           CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

                                     ~

                          GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Dumbledore's office was decorated in a way that was both enthusiastic
and refined, but none of those gathered there on the morning of
Christmas Eve were particularly concerned with the hundreds of twinkling
lanterns that were festively suspended from practically every point
possible.

The faces were sombre as the Headmaster began his summing up.

'Things have reached crisis point,' he started. 'And so to preserve the
status quo in the castle, I have stopped all owls delivering messages from
outside these walls to any of the students remaining here. I have let
presents through, and will give them their missing correspondence
tomorrow afternoon. Thank goodness I have stopped the Daily Prophet
being delivered here since the end of term. I think only Miss Granger has
noticed its absence.'

He glanced at that day's headline, the last before the newspaper's two-day
Christmas break:

                 FUDGE DEPOSED AS ATTACKS INCREASE

Dumbledore scanned the columns, and quickly summarised the details for
Snape and McGonagall.

Lucius Malfoy has had Fudge removed as Minister on grounds of
incompetence, and has "reluctantly accepted" the post of Acting Minister
while a replacement is sought.

McGonagall snorted.

Dumbledore approached for Minister's position.
McGonagall and Snape both looked up.

'First I've heard of it,' mused the Headmaster.

Another attack by a group of Death Eaters on Muggles in central London,
near the building Voldemort is presumed to have commandeered as his
new HQ.

'Eliminating witnesses?' thought McGonagall.

Three members of the Muggle cabinet reported missing for six hours
yesterday. Back at work last night.

'Presumably Death Eater replacements using Polyjuice Potion?' pondered
Snape.

'I think we must assume so,' said Dumbledore.

Vast migration of giants in central Europe. Increased numbers of veelas
arriving in London yesterday and the day before. Record numbers of street
brawls in all Wizarding settlements. Six werewolf attacks in the last three
days, and we're a week from a full moon. Three break-outs from Azkaban.
Igor Karkaroff thought to be hiding in Ireland.

'Let's hope he's doesn't decide to hide here,' sighed McGonagall deeply.

Dumbledore flicked through a few more pages. 'There's more,' he said,
'but it all amounts to the same thing. Look through it at some point today
if you have the stomach for it.'

He shuffled some papers on his desk and continued.

'It gets worse. An owl two days ago from Arthur Weasley: the increased
threat of Voldemort rising to power has caused total chaos at the Ministry.
People missing, behaving irrationally, all office procedures broken down,
not enough man power available to administer Muggle memory charms,
Hit Squad wizards dead, Aurors overstretched. Morale low and falling.'

His colleagues were silent.
'Another owl from Arthur this morning. Lucius has sacked him. He's out of
London and at the Burrow with Molly, awaiting instructions from me. An
owl three days ago from Lucius Malfoy demanding that Draco be returned
to him by what was, when he wrote, last night. He accuses me of
withholding Draco's mail. He is right of course. Owls from Brigid Finnigan
and Edna Longbottom expressing worry and support. An owl yesterday
from Arabella Figg detailing a ransacking of the Dursleys' home in Surrey.
Presumably that security has now been broken.'

Snape looked impassive, deep in thought. McGonagall fiddled nervously
with her teacup and saucer.

'But these two are the most immediately problematic,' continued
Dumbledore without emotion. 'An owl from Quentin Parkinson first thing
this morning. He is furious, claiming that what he calls "routine magical
security spells" have revealed that a memory charm was performed on
Pansy some time this term. He doesn't say if he has managed to recover
the memory, but we all know he has the Dark Arts know-how to do so. And
I am guessing he has, from a further owl which arrived half an hour ago,
this one from Lucius Malfoy again.'

Dumbledore held up the paper and read it to his colleagues.

Headmaster. From a frantic correspondence this morning from Quentin
Parkinson and from Draco's failure to arrive at Malfoy Manor last night, I
assume that I have been deceived as to the real reason for Draco's
detainment at Hogwarts this Christmas break. Despite increased weighty
duties pertaining to my new responsibilities as Acting Minister of Magic I
will be arriving at Hogwarts tomorrow morning to remove Draco from the
school, where I can only assume he is being held against his will. He will not
be returning in the New Year, or at any other time. I would remind you that
the post of Headmaster of Hogwarts School is within the gift of the board
of governors of which the Minister of Magic is chairman, and any failure to
comply with my wishes in this matter may result in your replacement in this
role. Sincerely, Lucius, Baron Malfoy, Minister of Magic, Order of Merlin
(First Class).
'When was he awarded the Order of Merlin?' choked McGonagall.

'Second act of his new administration yesterday, I would imagine,'
grimaced Snape. 'Straight after making himself a baron.'

'Yes, indeed,' pondered Dumbledore. 'He always did have delusions of
grandeur.'

There was a moment of quiet as McGonagall and Snape adjusted
themselves to these developments.

'I have taken a number of preliminary decisions.' The Headmaster's voice
was calm and controlled. 'The news embargo in the castle is to remain in
place until after Christmas Lunch tomorrow, which gives us the chance to
put other arrangements in place before we ruin the students' Christmas.
By the end of today we will have been joined here by Arabella Figg, Alastor
Moody, the entire Weasley family, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. Together
with all the staff that remain on the premises and all the students that are
still here tomorrow afternoon we will form the very beginnings of a group
that will ultimately defend the castle against all comers. The castle will
become the headquarters of all those in opposition to Lucius Malfoy's
administration, which we must assume is merely a political front for
Voldemort's intentions. When all are assembled this evening I will resign as
Headmaster of Hogwarts with witnesses so that Lucius cannot have me
removed. You, Minerva, will become Acting Headmistress, and you,
Severus, will be her Deputy, although the posts will be nominal as I doubt
we will be able to reopen the school in the New Year.'

The pair nodded solemnly.

'Between tonight and the arrival of Lucius Malfoy tomorrow we will work
to make the castle impregnable with new wards and security devices.
Alastor has been working on a way to make the castle and grounds
invisible to everyone except those that are within it, which should mean
that Lucius or any others won't even be able to locate us unless we desire
it. We will not be able to hold off the world forever but we should gain
ourselves some time for thought and provide a haven for others
sympathetic to our cause. After lunch tomorrow I will give all the students
the mail I have been withholding and offer them the chance to leave,
although I have already received confirmation from their families that
Longbottom and Finnigan will be staying. The Weasleys will be here
anyway, and Harry will obviously stay as he has nowhere else safe to go
now that the Dursley house has been compromised. That leaves Hermione
Granger, who will almost certainly choose to remain, Dean Thomas, about
whom I have no idea, and of course Draco. We will give him all the facts
and let him choose, with the assurance that if he decides to stay we will
protect him from his father for as long as we are able. If he chooses to go,
we will have to hope that this does not destroy Harry completely. They
managed the three-day trial separation without too many problems but I
have no way of knowing how that blasted book will have affected things. If
Draco goes, he goes. We will have to forget him and make our plans
without him, and hope that the presence of all those that are close to
Harry make the loss less difficult to bear.'

The strength and command of Dumbledore's tone filled Snape and
McGonagall with hope.

'Meanwhile, Christmas, such as it is, will run from now until lunch
tomorrow. I do not know what will happen afterwards. But I want Harry
and Draco to have just one year when they can be together. We will not
mention anything to the students until tomorrow afternoon, and any
guests arriving tonight will be concealed from them. That is all we can do
at the moment. Merry Christmas. We must enjoy it while we are able.'

                                    ***

It was grey and blustery in the afternoon when the students remaining in
the castle went out for some fresh air. Christmas spirit abounded in the
Gryffindors, except in Harry, who had not been able to get to the bottom
of what Draco had been so terrorised by out at the lake on the day the
school had departed for the holidays.
Harry had carried him into the castle and up to the Gryffindor common
room, stripped off his wet clothes and wrapped him in blankets from his
own bed. Then he had sat with him in his arms in a deep chair pulled right
up close to the fire while the other Gryffindors tiptoed round them not
really knowing what had happened. Harry didn't know what had happened
either, and he still didn't, because Draco had said exactly nothing. Not for
the whole of that evening, after which Harry refused to let him sleep alone
in Slytherin House, instead sleeping with him in the chair by the fire. Nor
had he uttered even a single word until about lunchtime the following day.
And although he had eventually begun to talk again that afternoon, he
hadn't once referred to why he had been out at the lake, or what had
upset him to the point of crisis, or even what Dumbledore had wanted to
see him about. He was no less loving to Harry. He was not bad-tempered,
or unfriendly, or unappreciative of the concern for him. But there was a
wall up, and Harry sensed there was nothing he could do to get Draco to
lower it until he was ready and, as frustrated as Harry was, he had had to
try to let it go.

As they lagged behind the others on their winter amble around the
grounds, Harry stopped and turned to Draco.

'There's not one minute passes when I don't rack my brains for some way
to help you with this burden,' he said, before turning away, embarrassed
that he should have said something so silly even to Draco.

Draco's hand pulled Harry's face back to look at him, his own eyes and face
betraying nothing, his mind racing behind the façade. Then he slowly
kissed Harry on the forehead, saying nothing, but thinking how desperately
sad it was that within a day he was going to knock all the happiness out of
Harry without knowing whether he could ever put it back.

As they carried on walking after the laughing group, Draco held Harry's
hand noticeably tighter.

'Quidditch!' yelled Ron, the captain of games.
'Game played on brooms, Ron,' clarified Dean. 'You know, Bludgers and a
Snitch, four hours of rain and so forth.'

'No, I mean, Quidditch!' repeated Ron in irritation. 'Let's play! There are
eight of us, we can play four-a-side!'

It should have been an impromptu bit of fun, but by the time they actually
got around to playing it had become something far more serious. Brooms
were fetched from the castle, owned and loaned alike; and the set of
practice balls was acquired from Madam Hooch. Hermione insisted that
the Bludgers be enchanted so there were no injuries. Instead of playing on
the full-sized school pitch beyond Hagrid's hut, Ginny and Neville marked
out a smaller area nearer the castle with a boundary charm, and Draco
took a pair of fallen branches and transfigured them into a single goalpost
for each end. But these preparations were nothing compared to how the
eight would divide into teams.

'One Beater, Chaser, Seeker and Keeper per team,' offered Neville. There
seemed no arguing with this. But there were plenty of other things to
argue about.

'So do we play with one Bludger, or two?' asked Ginny.

'One,' decided Ron.

'Two,' countered Hermione. 'They're going to be a bit lazy, remember. We
should cope with both.'

'But we'll have fewer players,' said Dean.

'And it will depend on how well each team functions,' thought Seamus.

'That will be down to the two captains,' stated Draco.

'Who will they be?' wondered Harry.

'Not you and Draco,' said Ginny.

'Why not?' asked Neville.
'Too obvious,' said Hermione. 'We're all going to play, not just be
bystanders to the two fastest brooms.'

'No arguments from me,' said Draco.

'You don't want to be a captain?' Ron wondered, bemused.

'No. I just want to be on Harry's team.'

Hermione giggled. 'Really? I challenge you to say that again and not sound
quite so endearing.'

Draco gathered himself up and deepened his voice. 'I'm going to play on
the same side as Harry.'

They laughed and Harry looked pleased. 'I'd like that very much too,' he
beamed.

Ron rolled his eyes. 'That's simply not on,' he declared. 'You two are the
best players here, it's fairer if you're split up.'

'You think I'm a good player, Ron?' smirked Draco casually, causing a surge
of hope to ebb through Harry. This was more like it; Draco had actually
sort of smiled. He almost wished Draco had called Ron "Weasley".

'Well,' back-pedalled Ron, flushing a bit, 'that's the general feeling in the
school, for some unknown reason...'

'Oh Jesus, Mary and Joseph!' cried Seamus. 'We'll never get started! Let
them play together if they want; it's only a game. How about Harry and
Draco play on the same side but neither is captain and neither is Seeker?'

'That should offset the advantage,' thought Neville.

'So couples can play together if they want,' continued Dean. 'Hermione. Do
you want to play on the same side as Ron?'

Hermione laughed. 'Good Lord no. Not if it means being seen to be as
sickeningly lovey as this pair,' she choked, indicating Harry and Draco.
Ron looked surprised. 'Well, obviously I seem to be playing on the team
opposing Hermione's.'

'Got it!' laughed Seamus. 'Ron will captain a side consisting of himself, me,
Dean and Nev. Herm will lead the other side with Ginny, Harry and Draco.
Captains will decide positions within the teams. Tis very fitting.'

'Why is it fitting?' asked Ginny.

Seamus grinned mischievously. 'Boys v Girls, of course!' he crowed, and
the others collapsed into laughter.

'Right, Finnigan, fetch me a skirt,' Draco snorted. 'We'll see who the bloody
girls are!'

Six brooms circled around as Ron and Hermione stood in the centre of
their make-shift pitch, unloading and enchanting the balls. The Snitch was
released, flitting immediately out of sight. The Bludgers loped off at an
easy pace. Ron held the Quaffle in his hands.

'Fair game?' he asked Hermione, going through the etiquette.

'Not bloody likely,' she smiled, as Ron tossed the Quaffle in the air.

Within minutes there was mayhem in the sky in front of the castle that
Christmas Eve. Any positions that had been decided on were soon
forgotten as all eight players concentrated on the Quaffle and dodged the
drunk Bludgers. The sides traded three goals each, and with the score at
30-30, the competitiveness of the match raised sharply.

'Dean! What are you doing?' cried Ron. 'We're basically playing with three
men, with you messing about over there!'

'I'm setting an offside trap!' called Dean, looking pleased with himself.

'You great Muggle eejit!' bellowed Seamus. 'This is Quidditch, not football!
There is no offside rule!'

'Exploit their weaknesses!' ordered Hermione to her team.
'That won't be difficult,' drawled Draco, deftly catching the Quaffle from
Ginny and speeding under Ron's broom. 'Harry!'

Harry caught the Quaffle, dived expertly to avoid a Bludger, and tossed the
ball back to Hermione straight past Dean's left ear.

'Ooh, nice play!' cried Ginny.

Hermione bolted above the crowd of arguing boys with the Quaffle under
her arm and Ginny swiftly followed in support.

'Watch out!' screeched Ron. 'Our goal is undefended!'

Neville, nominally the Keeper, tried to swing round 180 degrees and
pursue Ginny. In the process he knocked Harry's Firebolt and Harry swung
temporarily off balance.

A ninth broom swooped down into their midst.

'This match is appalling!' yelled Madam Hooch. 'You need a ref!
Longbottom, that was either atrocious play or a deliberate foul. Either
way, it's a penalty to the "Girls"!'

'WE ARE NOT GIRLS!' shouted Harry and Draco together, laughing, sharing
a connection that they hadn't for some days.

At the other end of the pitch, Hermione scored unopposed and she and
Ginny hooted in delight.

'HERMIONE SCORES!' bellowed the magically amplified voice of Hagrid,
who was standing on the touchline with a number of other staff. '40-30 TO
THE "GIRLS"!'

'HOW MANY TIMES DO I----' Draco began at full blast, laughing so much he
was having to hug Harry to stay upright. But a sharp blast from Madam
Hooch's whistle cut him short.

'Stay up that end, Miss Granger!' shouted Madam Hooch. 'Penalty to be
taken! Which of one you is supposed to be your Keeper?'
'I'm the Keeper!' cried Ron, Dean and Seamus in unison, all glaring at
Neville.

'Three Keepers? That is rather unusual; but then this is by far the silliest
game ever played on Hogwarts grounds,' said Madam Hooch. 'Very well,
line up!'

Hermione, as captain, took the Quaffle and faced the three Keepers. Draco
casually batted both Bludgers away to prevent them interfering.

'Go for it, Herm!' cried Ginny.

Hermione charged at the three boys and loosed the Quaffle underneath
them. They all three pounced on it, colliding heads and limbs in the joint
effort, but just managing to prevent Hermione's shot from slipping
through.

'Good shot, Herm!' cheered Harry. 'Notice it took three of them to stop
you!'

'PENALTY SAVED!' came Hagrid's voice. 'AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A
BLOODY EMBARRASSMENT IF YOU HADN'T!'

'Hagrid, please!' reprimanded McGonagall. 'And I thought Jordan was bad!'

There was no stopping them now. For a further twenty minutes the battle
heated until the score stood at 90-70 to the "Boys", most of the goals
coming from penalties rather than effective play.

'Come on!' screamed Hermione, urging her troops on. She intercepted a
pass between Seamus and Dean, flung a Bludger at Neville and tossed the
ball to Ginny. Ginny, in her excitement, launched it way beyond the main
crowd of players. Harry and Draco immediately chased after it.

'Think you're fast enough, on that Firebolt, eh, Harry?' smirked Draco as
they raced side-by-side.

'A Firebolt outstrips a Nimbus by some way, Draco,' stated Harry matter-
of-factly, jostling knees with Draco as they pursued the Quaffle. Harry
thought of another Firebolt, the one wrapped up and waiting in the Tower
to be given to Draco the next day. 'Today at least I shall beat you to the
ball. As usual.'

They both sensed a rising tide of competition between them, as if it was
the Snitch they were chasing in a real match, as if it mattered. Grinning to
each other, they suddenly both pushed their brooms to top speed.

This will be the last time we ever play on mismatched brooms, thought
Harry. After tomorrow we really will know who is the better player. He
spurred his Firebolt past Draco, buzzing on the sudden burst of adrenaline
from the competition.

This will be the last time I ever have a chance of beating him, thought
Draco. After tomorrow... after tomorrow, Quidditch is going to become a
complete irrelevance. He urged his Nimbus faster. Just once, just once, I am
going to beat Harry Potter...

Suddenly Harry slowed and dropped behind Draco, leaving the way
forward for him to catch the Quaffle. What on earth am I doing, competing
with Draco? Does this matter? Draco's had something awful on his mind
for days, and all I can think of is beating him in a silly race?

Blast him! thought Draco. What's he doing, behaving like a gentleman? My
one and only chance of some tiny sense of achievement on the Quidditch
field, and he takes it away from me by waving me past him? Draco
dropped back too.

'S'okay, you get it,' said Harry. What kind of victory would it be if I'd only
beaten him because Draco was too preoccupied with something awful to
be able to concentrate?

'No, it's alright, you get it,' said Draco. What kind of victory would it be if I'd
only beaten him because of Harry's integrity, especially the day before I'm
going to... the day before I'm going to...
Draco didn't finish the thought, because suddenly the Quaffle changed
direction in mid-air and was suddenly bolting back in the opposite
direction beneath them.

Draco and Harry looked at each other in surprise, then both recalled Ginny
and Neville's boundary charm. They laughed.

'What the bloody hell are you two doing?' exasperated Hermione as she
caught the Quaffle, which had effectively leapt into her hands. 'You're
supposed to be on the same side!'

Both aware of the competition between them somehow receding, they
laughed at themselves warmly.

'YOU TWO, CONCENTRATE ON WINNING THIS MATCH, OR ELSE!' bellowed
Hermione. 'CAPTAIN'S ORDERS!'

Draco and Harry grinned and headed back into the action.

'Nice flying,' said Draco, sideways.

'Not bad yourself,' conceded Harry.

'Need to work on your turns a bit, mind.'

'Your braking needs a bit of attention, too.'

'GINNY!' screamed Hermione suddenly.

It was the Snitch. It was zooming up the pitch between Hermione and the
others. Ginny saw it immediately and went after it at full pelt. All four of
the boys charged after Ginny. Hermione flew with astonishing doggedness
straight at Ginny with the Snitch midway between them. Harry and Draco,
out of the area, sat on their brooms and watched, amused.

'Well, one of them is going to get it,' observed Draco.

'Imagine. A Quidditch match with you and me both playing, and neither of
us gets the Snitch,' mused Harry.
Ginny was having trouble staying ahead of the boys. They were interfering
with her broom, trying to hold her back.

'FINNIGAN!' warned Madam Hooch.

'Seamus!' shouted Ron in surprise. 'I though she was your girlfriend?'

Ginny, oblivious to the boys' squabbling, reached forward at full stretch,
her hand within inches of the lightning-fast ball. She was nearly there... But
suddenly her broom was knocked away from her, and she was sent reeling
out of the mob.

'NOT FAIR!' she screamed in frustration.

'PENALTY!' yelled Madam Hooch.

But at that very second there was the sound of a hand swiping the Snitch
out of the air, and Hermione went wheeling over the boys, with a huge
'YES!' of victory.

'"GIRLS" WIN, 220 POINTS TO 90!' bellowed Hagrid's commentary.

'WE ARE NOT GIRLS!'

                                     ***

Molly and Arthur Weasley sat in Dumbledore's office and took in the
enormity and gravity of the situation facing them. The news was not good,
not at all; but it was not all bad either. Among the group assembled there
was a feeling that lessons learned from Voldemort's previous attempt to
seize control of the wizarding world were going to be of great value now;
furthermore, Arthur had a list of about fifty names, Ministry workers and
others, who he deemed to be incorruptible and obvious allies. A plan of
sorts had emerged, and all were buoyed by its possibilities.

They would set up a Ministry in exile. Out of London. At Hogwarts in fact.

Arthur's thoughts of recent days had become the kicking-off point for their
discussion. Get the upper hand this time. Instead of waiting until our
friends and colleagues disappear or are turned against us or even killed,
simply remove them from Voldemort's grasp first. Establish a rock-solid
core of opposition, base the Aurors' activities where they cannot be
subverted, garrison the Hit Squad wizards at the very hub of the operation.
Hogwarts is impregnable, the safest place in England. This time, it will be
different. We will be ready. Voldemort won't be able to pick us off one by
one; he'll be forced to deal with a united force. A force with Dumbledore at
its head. That would convince the magical world that there is hope. That
there really is hope.

The circular office buzzed with conversation and plans. It was evening, a
cold rainy grey Christmas Eve, but guests had begun to arrive shortly after
the students' Quidditch match, and there was now, despite the black news
from outside the castle, a real sense of hope. And a sense of Christmas
too.

Fred and George Weasley looked around them. Tricks, jokes, pranks, they
all seemed out of place now. They were aware that they were sitting in on
a meeting of possible historic importance, only present themselves
because their parents, on the morning of Christmas Eve, had inexplicably
told them the family were travelling to Hogwarts, and the twins were to
come along and keep-bloody-quiet-or-there'll-be-hell-to-pay. And for the
most part Fred and George had sat quietly, not saying anything, which was
unusual enough for some of the staff to wonder if they were sickening for
something. Percy and Bill were more at home; both had valuable insights
and observations to bring. Charlie, they were told, was on his way,
currently making progress through the vast network of fireplaces across
Europe. Arabella Figg, she was an odd old sort; the twins hadn't really
known what to make of her. Finicky about some things, like the half-dozen
cats she had arrived with, worldly-wise about others. Alastor Moody
skulked in a corner with Snape, discussing security. And Black! Yes indeed,
Sirius Black himself, mass murderer and escaped convict, he was there,
with the entire trust of all assembled. There he was now, talking to their
mother and McGonagall. Their father was talking to Remus Lupin. Hooch,
Pomfrey, Sprout, Flitwick, Hagrid, they all knew as well. There was a whole
secret movement being born in front of the twins' very eyes. More of their
father's colleagues would be arriving over the next couple of days, more
trusted friends of Dumbledore's too. It was exciting. There was an air of
expectancy. There was hope. And, after all, it was Christmas Eve.

Sirius moved away from their mother and towards Dumbledore. The twins
caught a snippet of what passed between them.

'Yes,' said Sirius under his breath. 'Draco wrote to me. He's going to give it
to him for Christmas, tomorrow morning.'

'So be it. We shall have to wait,' replied Dumbledore.

Fred and George looked at each other, mystified. But they didn't think
about it long, as at that moment another body entered the room.

'Charlie!' called their mother in joy. The twins looked pleased. Weasley
Boys all back together! This could be a good few days, despite the awful
circumstances.

Dumbledore was pleased too, and he also was aware it was Christmas Eve.
As the crowd had expanded to the total he had expected, he had
surreptitiously introduced drinks to the group. The twins watched him
watching them help themselves to some punch. And he had smiled, and
gone off to talk to their parents again, huddling them into a corner. Fred
and George couldn't hear what was said, but they didn't mind especially. It
wasn't as if they hadn't already heard about ten years' worth of interesting
information.

'Molly, Arthur, there's just one more thing you ought to know,' began
Dumbledore. 'It's about Harry.'

'Is he alright?' asked Molly nervously. 'Ron wrote repeatedly about him
being ill this term; I have been terribly worried.'

'He's fine, truly, he is fine. He is well, and getting stronger each day. But...'
The Weasleys regarded the Headmaster with concern. Dumbledore was
fiddling with a small glass sphere.

'Is that...?' wondered Arthur.

'Yes, it is,' said Dumbledore. 'An Orbis Ardens. Molly, Arthur, the Crimson
Cloud has been hovering above Hogwarts for most of this term.'

'Oh how lovely!' Molly cried. 'And who has been blessed?'

'Harry.'

'And...?' Arthur asked, slowly.

Dumbledore coughed. 'Draco Malfoy.'

Molly stumbled. 'Lucius Malfoy's son?'

'Yes. I am afraid it made both of them rather ill, as they both refused to
accept the implications. They had a lot of trouble understanding that the
Cloud is not the cause in its own right, but springs from something that
already exists. Harry in particular was dangerously ill. But he has
recovered, and they have both faced up to their feelings. For a while now
they have been as hopelessly enamoured as you two were when you were
here at school.'

Arthur looked thunderstruck, and Molly's face was nearly scarlet. 'Lucius
Malfoy's son?' she repeated. 'A MALFOY? And Harry is... happy with this?'

'Molly, Arthur, I assure you that Draco Malfoy is not cast in the same
mould as his father. Try not to judge him until you have met him.'

'But...' continued Molly, 'you're sure? Is he really worthy of Harry?'

'Possibly he is the only one who is.'

'And you are sure that this is not a trick, and Harry is genuinely happy?'
stressed Arthur.
'Very much so. But it has taken a long while for him to feel that, and this
been a difficult term for him.'

Molly let out a deep sigh, shaking her head, still stunned.

'Has there been any increase in magical ability?' asked Arthur, more
calmly.

'My word, yes. Quite extraordinary in some instances.'

Molly and Arthur shuffled their feet, looking sideways at each other.

'You will both realise of course that this adds an unforeseen complication
to our plans,' said Dumbledore softly.

'I'll say it does,' said Arthur. 'Lucius must be fuming.'

'Lucius doesn't know. Furthermore, Draco doesn't know his father is Acting
Minister, nor does he know that his father is coming here to fetch him
tomorrow. That meeting, if it goes ahead, is likely to be problematic on
both sides.'

'Lucius Malfoy is coming here, tomorrow?' gasped Arthur.

'Yes. Hence the need to keep this meeting utterly secret. I only hope that
when he does leave, Draco does not leave with him.'

'If Harry and this boy are bound by the Crimson Cloud, they won't be able
to be separated,' said Molly. 'We know that.'

'Indeed. But Lucius is a strong force; yet, I do not know exactly how strong
his hold over Draco is. However, Draco's decision, such as it is, is likely to
be taken before Lucius even arrives. There is one last piece of undiscussed
business between Draco and Harry, one last critical complication. It should
be resolved, one way or the other, by lunchtime tomorrow. Before he even
knows his father intends to remove him from the school, Draco will know
where his future lies.'
'But...' began Arthur, '...if the Cloud has been accurately confirmed, there
is nothing that can ordinarily come between them.'

'Ordinarily.'

'So, are you saying that this last "complication" is actually serious enough
for them to consider even trying to live apart?'

'It may be, I don't know. But I know how crucial it is. If they get over it,
Draco is likely to be turned against his father forever. If they don't, Draco
may well think the rift between him and Harry is so great as to be
unbridgeable, and that he can't be any worse off by leaving with Lucius
tomorrow. Considering whose son he is, Draco's staying would be of
considerable advantage to us, as you can imagine. It all comes down to
this, I'm afraid: Harry is fast becoming more of a match for Voldemort with
the strength he has gained from Draco, but as to what happens to Harry if
Draco leaves, and the Cloud is fought, and Harry becomes low and
magically unstable...well, I really couldn't say.'

'But this is frightful! This affects all of us!' cried Molly. 'Isn't there anything
we can do to tip the balance?'

'No. There are eight students in the castle who have no idea what is going
on outside these walls. They are going to have a trouble-free Christmas, a
happy one, so that when Harry and Draco come to address this issue, the
only factors in play will be their own feelings; I don't want this complicated
by news from outside, or by pressures from third parties. I have meddled
in these boys' lives enough; I have already taken gambles that would appal
you. Quite apart from the Cloud, this is either going to bind them together
or fling them apart, and therefore it has to be down to them alone. We will
wait, and we will hope. Now, Molly, do please have some more egg-nog.'

                                        ***

There was no doubt in Harry's mind that Draco's pain had eased slightly
during the course of the afternoon.
The Quidditch victory, which, Draco pointed out, had been very little to do
with either him or Harry, had given the whole group something to talk and
laugh about for several hours after they had come in from the cold, and
the sense of sad withdrawal that had surrounded Draco since the first day
of the holidays did seem to be partially lifted. Perhaps because Draco was
amused by Ron's poorly disguised irritation at being beaten by the 'Girls',
or perhaps because there was a genuine air of excitement about the
special meal they were all to share in Gryffindor Tower that evening, or
perhaps just because Draco had smiled at him a few times in the afternoon
- smiles which had sent Harry's stomach fluttering with the memory of
their time in the hospital wing - Harry felt, for whatever reason, that Draco
might be getting closer to unloading whatever it was that had tormented
him for some days.

The four or five days between Harry finding Draco by the lake and the
Quidditch match on Christmas Eve had been a cheerless time. Draco had
slept each night in one of the armchairs in the Gryffindor Common Room,
not wanting to return to Slytherin House, not wanting to share a bed with
Harry in any of the empty dormitories in Gryffindor Tower, but preferring
to stare for long periods of time at the seductive dance of the flames in the
grand fireplace - never wanting Harry out of touching distance, but rarely
touching him with any meaning Harry could understand. Harry had not
been physically capable of maintaining the level of distress he had felt
when he had found Draco by the lake, but that didn't mean he was any
less anxious. At frequent intervals in their deep silences in front of the fire,
Harry would whisper, 'Please let me help you,' or 'Draco, my love, I'm so
worried, there must be something I can do,' and each time Draco would
look desperately grateful for this offer, but say nothing, his silvery-sad eyes
meeting Harry's in a look of love but not of relief. Draco would reach for
Harry, and stroke his arm or his hair, or kiss his hand, or his neck, or the
crown of his head, but never his lips, never sensually, never in any way
that might precipitate physical love. And then they would lapse into silence
again, Draco staring unseeing into the fire, his outward demeanour never
betraying his inner sorrow and despair and regret. Inches separated them.
And a million miles.
And there they sat now, after their victory in the Quidditch match. Draco's
eyes smiled softly for the first time in days, Harry lay with his head in
Draco's lap, the silence not quite so impenetrable as it had been before,
and all around them the other Gryffindors were preparing for their meal in
increasingly festive happiness. A table, set for eight in the centre of the
Common Room, proudly and meticulously arranged by Dobby, glinted in
gold and silver and glass, an air of muted magic from the gentle light of the
fire and the candles and the lamps focussing the table in the familiarity of
a much-loved memory of Christmas Past. On a second table to the side sat
a number of bottles of butterbeer - a Christmas gift from Dumbledore -
and other jugs and flagons of lemonade and pumpkin juice. Ron and Ginny
had decorated a tree with magical icicles and twinkling lanterns, cutting
themselves off from the rest for a while, talking of their parents and
brothers and of family meals, both happy and sad. Seamus had appointed
himself barman, and spent a while polishing glasses with a squeaky white
cloth, and Dean and Neville had suspended strings of streamers from the
ceiling, while Hermione offered opinions on the streamers' symmetry from
her foreman's armchair.

Gradually the sense of festivity permeated even Draco, who leaned over
and started to whisper in Harry's ear. It was nothing that any of the other
Gryffindors could hear, but a small stifled giggle from Harry, so unexpected
that Seamus nearly dropped a glass, uncorked the quiet anticipation and
allowed it to bubble over. Ron and Hermione glanced at each other in
relief. Within minutes, Seamus was handing round bottles of butterbeer,
and the group were once more involved in recalling the principal events of
the afternoon's Quidditch match, particularly one incident in which
Hermione had dispossessed Ron of the Quaffle and scored easily past
Seamus and Dean who were disputing whose tail-twigs were the twistiest.
Harry and Draco listened with amusement, smiling to each other silently,
Harry daring to hope that the crisis was past, Draco becoming increasingly
determined that Harry and he should have at least one memorable night
this holiday, at least one more memorable night in each other's company,
at least one more memorable night to last them the rest of their lives. The
chatter surrounding them mounted in volume, and Harry and Draco rose
slowly from their chair and were painlessly enveloped in the group's
bonhomie. Harry watched, delighted, as Draco's eyes began to show some
spark of their former life, while Draco himself, whoever he was talking to,
couldn't stop his gaze wandering back to Harry at the rate of several times
a minute.

The butterbeer had warmed them right through, appetites,
unacknowledged since lunchtime, were beginning to bite, and Draco found
himself drifting towards the table to take a closer look. The place setting
nearest him was adorned with a stiff parchment label, displaying the name
DL Malfoy in a highly elaborate and painstakingly careful script Draco knew
to be the one Ron used for ceremony and apology letters. His hand
brushed the back of his chair as the large clock in the corner struck 8
o'clock.

'Stop!' screeched Hermione, causing Draco to snatch his hand from the
chair as if it might be dangerous. He swung around.

All the Gryffindors save Harry were looking at Draco trying to suppress
smiles and adopt a mood of intense seriousness. Harry looked completely
nonplussed.

'Ahem,' began Ron.

There was a lot of sniggering.

'As clerk of this court, I, Ronald Weasley, do hereby call you, Draco Lucius
Malfoy, to face the Tribunal of the Lion. Her Honour Judge Hermione
Louisa Granger will preside. Positions please.'

As if it had been rehearsed - which, Harry later surmised, it almost
certainly had - Ginny, Neville, Seamus and Dean drew four armchairs into a
line and sat down on one side of the room. On the other side, one chair
was placed by Ron for Harry to sit in. ('Visitor's gallery,' he grinned.) Draco
was indicated to stand in the centre of the room facing Hermione, who
was enthroned on a small sofa with a low table in front of her. Good Lord,
thought Harry. She's even got one of those hammer things. Ron stood to
her right. Ginny was giggling and Neville was whispering to Dean.

Hermione rapped the gavel sharply on the table. 'Silence in court!'

There was immediate attention. Draco snuck a secret sideways look at
Harry with more than half a smile on his face. Harry shrugged, smiling
back.

'Are you Draco Lucius Malfoy, of Slytherin House and of Malfoy Manor?'
asked Hermione in a clear, slow voice.

'I am,' replied Draco, rather bewildered by the whole scene.

Ron coughed.

'I am, your Honour,' repeated Draco with gravity.

'Mr Malfoy, before you may dine in Gryffindor Tower you are required to
face the Tribunal of the Lion. Three questions will be asked. The honesty of
your answers will be determined by four Gryffindors here assembled as
your jury. Do you understand the proceedings?'

'Yes, your Honour.'

'Clerk!' barked Hermione. She passed Ron a piece of paper and a book.

Ron stepped up to Draco. 'Mr Malfoy, please place your right hand on the
book and read aloud the words on the card.'

Draco's palm rested on the top of Hermione's personal copy of Hogwarts:
A History and he read:

'I do solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the
truth, however embarrassing.'

The jury burst out laughing, and Harry had the distinct impression that
they had no idea of this change to the wording.

Hermione rapped the gavel noisily, and the jury were silent.
'QUESTION NUMBER ONE!' boomed Ron.

All eyes swivelled to Hermione.

'When did you first realise you loved Harry?'

All eyes swivelled to Draco.

Draco smiled. 'An easy question, m'Lud. The realisation came about two
hours after the Care of Magical Creatures lesson during which the faun
Dixter was privileged to speak with Harry and myself. I was in the shower.
At the time it was not a happy recognition, but I have since had reason to
alter considerably my perception of this matter. Harry was not so quick to
work things out though.'

The jury laughed, as did the clerk and the judge. Harry tried to stop himself
blushing.

Hermione looked at the jury, who all nodded once.

'He speaks the truth!' judged Hermione dramatically.

Harry applauded, but Hermione silenced him with a stare and a single
gavel-rap as sharp as a pistol-shot.

'QUESTION NUMBER TWO!' came Ron's next announcement.

All eyes were on Hermione again; Ginny was giggling.

'When did you first kiss Harry?'

'Ahhhh!' cooed all the jury together. Bastards! thought Harry, it's all been
rehearsed!

'Your Honour,' spoke Draco. 'Sometime after 3am in the rose garden on
the Saturday night of the day it started to snow, the day Harry had made
his peace with the clerk of the court, the day I myself spoke with you, your
Honour, and you, Mr Weasley, in the fourth floor classroom in the evening.
It was--'
'You went out that night?' blurted Ron, amazed, staring at Harry. 'I thought
I'd--'

Hermione shot Ron a harshly rebuking look and Ron blushed and fell quiet.

'It was my decision,' continued Draco. 'I leaned across to Harry, and he did
not pull away. My lips touched his for the briefest time. The moment is
quite vividly fixed in my mind.'

'Oh!' sniffed Ginny, and a delicate silence hung around the courtroom.
Hermione looked at Draco for some moments, then turned to the jury.

They nodded, immediately, together, once.

'He speaks the truth!' Hermione declared.

An appreciative buzz went around the courtroom. The jury fell back into
whispering and Hermione looked at Ron, both smiling. At length they
nodded imperceptibly at each other and Hermione's face, flushing deeply,
turned down to the paper in front of her.

'QUESTION NUMBER THREE!'

There was a long silence before Hermione could overcome her blush
enough to intone slowly, 'when did you and Harry first have sex?'

'Oo-oo-ooooooh!' chanted the jury in perfect unison.

Harry couldn't believe it. He blushed furiously and stared at the floor as he
heard Draco begin to speak.

'Another easy question, m'Lud.' Then he paused, and looked for a long
while at the top of Harry's head. And Draco smiled, and continued:

'Shortly after the time we set the furniture floating and the clothes dancing
in our room in the hospital wing, on the day we had brewed the
Perceptivity Potion. We were both rather overwhelmed. Afterwards we
went to shower together, when yourself, your Honour, and Mr Weasley
came into our room for supper. We probably seemed particularly content
at that time. Now you know why.'

There was a little pause, in which Harry was sure he saw Hermione mouth
the words 'told you!' to Ron, then Draco added, 'it was a profoundly
beautiful experience; my first, and Harry's. I shall never forget it.'

Harry's face was crimson. Despite his considerable embarrassment, Draco
was smiling broadly, like he hadn't for days, like maybe he never had
before. Hermione looked deeply and seriously into Draco' face, then
turned her head to the jury.

They nodded, as one man.

Hermione stood up to make her final pronouncement. 'He speaks the
truth!'

The jury cheered, and Ron went to shake Draco's hand.

'Draco Lucius Malfoy,' said Hermione gravely, 'you have faced the Tribunal
of the Lion and been judged to have answered with honour.'

To the sound of applause, Draco inclined his head in a respectful bow. He
reached for Harry's arm, and pulled him out of his chair

'Eurghh!' spluttered Ron, watching the pair embrace. 'Avert your eyes for a
second, everyone!'

'Oh!' cried Ginny. 'Is it me, or is the air in here going red?'

They laughed, and Harry, his face burning, managed to look his friends in
the eye.

Hermione smiled at all assembled. 'Draco,' she laughed, 'come and sit
down. You will always be welcome at our table.'

                                       ***

The Fifth Year boys' dormitory in Gryffindor Tower was silent.
Draco woke suddenly. His heart was thumping and he was uncomfortably
hot, but his anxiety and discomfort were nothing to do with his being
wrapped around Harry so tightly that Draco wondered briefly how Harry
could actually breathe. Had he held on to Harry like this all night? He
loosed his grip on Harry's slim naked body and Harry relaxed slightly in his
arms, burrowing his back closer against Draco's chest and stomach. Draco
kissed the back of Harry's neck and, needing the contact again, pulled
Harry tightly towards him, so that they were spooned together on their
sides, each following the contours of the other's body from head to toe.

'Oh Harry,' breathed Draco into the line where Harry's unruly hair finished
and the back of his neck began.

The slow, warm rise-and-fall of Harry's body soothed Draco slightly as his
mind came back yet again to the scrapbook, which was sitting at the end of
Harry's bed, wrapped in green and silver paper. With the other boys all
sleeping in the girls' dormitory, they had been alone; and after days of an
abstinence determined by Draco, he had finally allowed them to be
intimate the previous evening, after they had retired to Harry's own bed
for the first time, the happiness of the Tribunal and the meal still smiling in
their eyes. He had felt guilty at the bliss Harry had brought from his body
while the ominous presence of the book had haunted him like his
conscience looking on from the edge of the bed, but Harry had seemed to
need it so much, to be convinced that Draco was still the one for whom
Harry would do anything, that Draco's resolution had faded to nothing in
the arms of his lover. And Harry had done so much for him, just a few
hours earlier, that Draco was breathless to think of the lengths Harry had
gone to; as if Harry thought by his own actions of love he could tear down
the wall that separated them, as if Harry, although unaware of the book,
could have cast it into oblivion by his adoration and his selflessness in this
very bed.

Draco still felt guilty now, and desperately anxious, and on the brink of
tears as he thought of what was to come that day, that Christmas Day. He
was hot, but he couldn't conceive of letting go; he was sick with the nerves
of inevitability, but leaving would achieve nothing.
The proximity of Harry, as it always did, kept Draco almost constantly
rigidly aroused, intimately crushed against Harry's lower body. He gently
licked the back of Harry's ear, and whispered, utterly silently, so that the
only sound was the faintest movement of his lips, 'Harry, whatever
happens, I will love you forever,' then relaxed his head back onto the
pillow, and snuggled closer to his sleeping lover. Or was Harry asleep?
Harry imperceptibly altered the position of his body, angling himself
slightly more at his hips, and shuffled himself almost unnoticeably
backwards, closer into Draco's hardness. Was this the sleepy, self-
comforting wriggling of a young man who had no more taboos left to
challenge, whose firm body was even now subconsciously brimming with a
new animal sensuality sprung from their latest explorations? Or was this
Harry, awake and desirous to please, offering himself once more in a way
that made Draco feel faint with thoughts of beauty, and rapture, and
unworthiness?

'Harry,' came his whisper, as silently as before. 'You don't have anything
more to prove to me. I couldn't love you any more. Just lying here with you
is easily more than enough for me...'

Draco wasn't sure at first if Harry had answered; so quiet were Harry's
words that they didn't register in his ears but in his heart and body.
'Shhhh. It's not just about you or me. It's about us.'

Draco wept silently, even as he kissed Harry's back and shoulders, even as
their bodies moved so naturally as one on another heart-breaking journey
to ecstasy.

                                    ***

Dumbledore hadn't slept at all.

He had seen his guests to their various quarters around the castle, and sat
with the Orbis and his Pensieve at his desk for most of the night. The Orbis
burned unbearably brightly, too hot to hold, and it kept catching
Dumbledore's eye, forcing him to remind himself that however well-
planned his strategies were, however many good and honest people he
assembled at the castle, it might all count for nothing if the two boys
currently sleeping in Gryffindor Tower couldn't somehow find a way to
overcome the existence of his own blasted wedding present to Harry's
dead parents.

An insipid dawn was just beginning to light the squalls of rain over the
fields and forests to the east of the castle, and once more Dumbledore
slumped into his chair after a brief wander to the windows and back. Dare
he pray for just one more piece of luck in this most urgent of matters?
Lucius Malfoy would be arriving sometime in the morning; he was
expecting simply to remove Draco from the school. Draco would either go
with him, heart-broken, or defiantly stay beside Harry. Dumbledore had
plans for both contingencies, which allowed the security of the castle to be
maintained whether Lucius left triumphant with his son in tow or had to be
ejected, livid and furious at a turn of events he surely hadn't foreseen.

But Lucius was not his problem. It was Harry. What role Harry might have
to play in any forthcoming drama with Voldemort was unclear. But the
effect of the news on the rest of the wizarding world that their champion
was weak and vulnerable would be catastrophic. They might simply think
that all was lost and quick surrender was the easiest option. Or they might
fight on half-heartedly and without conviction, drawing out any conflict
before an inevitable capitulation.

Dumbledore knew that in reality Harry's strength may have very little to do
with the outcome, whoever won. But his weakness could be decisive.

He sighed heavily and went through his papers and plans again. There was
no point going to sleep now, it was nearly day. The students in Gryffindor
Tower will be opening their presents soon. And then we shall know.

                                       ***

Harry looked at Draco inquisitively.
'What is it?' he asked, eyes alive with the excitement of a present, the
intimacy of opening the present naked with Draco in his own bed, and the
memory of the night they had shared.

'It's a present, you tit. From me, to you. Open it.'

Draco had not seen anything like it. Presents at Malfoy Manor were a duty
of excess on Christmas morning. And he had never once got even remotely
as excited as Harry was now, as they both sat up in bed each with one
small parcel to give.

'You're sure?'

'Of course I'm sure! I didn't buy it so you could look at the wrapping
paper!'

Harry looked at Draco with utter adoration as he slowly and carefully
unwrapped the parcel, savouring every moment of it undress, as if the
unwrapping itself was part of the present. Eventually the paper lay open
with a neatly folded pile of black silk at its heart. Harry lifted up the
garment, and swiftly found there were two.

'Pyjamas!' he yelled in delight, and jumped up to stand on the bed, slipping
his arms into the jacket and trying to step into the loose trousers.

For the first time in his life Draco realised the joy of presents was in the
giving and not the receiving. Despite the nagging horror of Draco's other
present, still sitting innocently at the end of the bed, the sight of this
childlike Harry overcome by a pair of pyjamas was better than any present
Harry himself could ever give him. Filled him with a silly happiness, he
couldn't wipe the smile off his face as he watched Harry showing him how
they fastened up, and how they fit, and how much he loved them.

'Mind you,' said Harry, looking a little coy, 'not that we wear pyjamas that
much...!'
'The joy of silk PJs, old boy,' laughed Draco, 'is that they are just as
delightful to remove as they are to put on. Especially if someone helps
with their removal.'

'Well, we'll have to put that to the test sometime soon,' mused Harry
contentedly, getting back into bed beside Draco, and passing him a small
parcel of his own.

It had been lovingly but amateurishly wrapped in shiny red paper and far
too much ribbon.

'What is it?' asked Draco.

'Duh,' smiled Harry.

In one swift movement Draco tore the paper away and revealed another
(less neat) pile of silk. Darkest green, that ran through his fingers like
water. He lifted it up and saw that it was a shirt, beautifully cut, exquisitely
stitched, that fit him - as he stood and donned it - like a glove. Enough
room to move in, yet in no way baggy so that his skin ever lost contact
with the fabric.

'Harry, I love it. I've never owned a shirt I love one tenth so much as this
one,' said Draco, trying to prevent the tears from coming. 'How did you get
it so that it fits so well?'

'Erm, well, Hermione swore that we are the same size. So I had it made
with my measurements, then I thought, if it doesn't fit you, at least I could
have it!'

'Well, I'm afraid for your sake that it does indeed fit me. So the only
contact you're going to get with it is...'

'...when I get to remove it?' laughed Harry.

'Too right. A shirt like this one won't go with your baggy jeans and old
jumpers. I refuse to allow you to wear it until you've got some proper
clothes to go with it!'
'Well, Draco, you appointed yourself my personal shopper. After Christmas
can we ask Dumbledore if we can have a day in London, so you can help
me buy some clothes, like you said?'

Harry looked at Draco in earnest and with a smile so happy that Draco's
heart broke in that moment. It was highly likely that Harry wouldn't ever
want to go to London with him, wouldn't ever wear the pyjamas, and
would look upon Draco's green shirt with a permanent sadness and a
wonder that he had ever wasted that much money. Tears welled behind
Draco's eyes, as he knew that whatever happened, the green shirt would
be the most precious thing he ever possessed.

'Draco! What's the matter? What did I say?' gasped Harry, as he saw how
upset Draco suddenly was.

But Draco didn't answer. With his heart in his mouth, and ignoring Harry,
he reached down to the end of the bed and fetched his other present. The
he sat in front of Harry, and, without looking at him, but, staring at the
bedcovers in a hopeless despair, he began to shake, so uncertainly, so
wretchedly, that the Draco of the Tribunal, and of the meal, and of their
glorious night together, and of the pyjamas and the shirt, was utterly
unrecognisable. This was the Draco he had found by the lake. Harry's
breath caught. This was it. He was going to tell at last.

'Harry,' said Draco, soberly, repressing all the emotion he could, 'I'm going
to tell you a story. And I ask only one thing of you. That you to listen more
carefully than you have ever listened to anything before. And at the end, I
am going to ask you a question. Just one. The Tribunal of the Snake, if you
will. But the answer you give will be a thousand times more important
than the answers I gave last night.'

'Draco, stop this, you're scaring me! What's the matter? Just tell me!'

'Hush, love,' breathed Draco, touching his finger to Harry's lips, wondering
if that touch would be the last physical contact he would ever have with
the one he loved. And he swallowed hard, and began.
'Once upon a time, there was a magical baby boy, whose parents loved
him very much. And his parents were good people, and were very popular;
so popular that at their wedding, which was the happiest day in many
lives, they received many presents from their friends. And a great wizard
was at their wedding, and he gave the young couple a book, which was a
magic book, because it could record all the happiness and store it in its
pages. And the young couple filled the book with images of themselves
and their young son, and their friends, playing Quidditch, going on picnics,
walking in parks and on trips to the coast.'

Draco fingered the book in its wrappings nervously, completely aware of
what he was saying, but unable to stop the emotion rising in his voice.

'But an evil wizard disliked this young couple, as they stood in the way of
his plans, and he decided that they must be killed. And on one awful night,
the evil wizard came to the young couple's house with his band of
followers, and he killed the young man, and he killed the young woman,
and he tried to kill the magical baby boy. But the baby boy was a special
baby, and the evil wizard couldn't kill him, and the evil wizard nearly died
in his efforts to kill the baby.'

A single tear of anguish began a slow sad journey down Draco's left cheek,
and he stared at the bed as he forced himself to continue.

'And the evil wizard's followers went mad at the demise of their master,
and they destroyed the young couple's house, leaving the special baby boy
in the rubble. Two brave men rushed to the house that night. One was a
half-giant, the trusted servant of the great wizard who had given the young
couple their magic book. The other was the baby's godfather on his flying
motorbike, who was beside himself with grief at what had happened to his
friends. And when the baby boy was sent safely away to his stay with his
aunt, no more was remembered about the house, or what it had
contained.'

Despite his previous thoughts, Draco's hands reached instinctively for
Harry's, who held them tightly.
'But the evil wizard had one particular supporter who was cleverer than
the others. And while the others destroyed, he observed. And one of the
things he observed was the young couple's magic book, and he took it, and
hid it away. Maybe he did this because he knew his master would rise
again and the book might be a way to harm the magical baby. Maybe he
took it out of self-protection. Or maybe he took it because it intrigued him.
But he stole it nevertheless. And out of the awful tragedy in that house
that night, only two precious things were saved. The baby, and the book.'

Draco, filling with shame, withdrew his hands from Harry's and gripped the
book instead.

'Years passed, and the magical baby boy grew into a beautiful young man.
And the supporter of the evil wizard still kept the magic book, taking it out
from time to time, and wondering what use it might be. And this supporter
also had a son, the same age as the magical baby boy, and they were at
the same school at the same time, and then the two sons fell in love, not
knowing that the father of one had been complicit in the deaths of the
parents of the other. And one day the great wizard found out about the
book, and that it was still in existence, and he sent his trusted servant to
reclaim it. And the great wizard discovered that the book held a terrible
secret, and he did not know what to do.'

Draco tried desperately to suppress a sob rising in his chest as he
continued to speak.

'And Dumbledore came to me, and showed me the secret that the book
held, asking my opinion on how much the secret of the book would hurt
you, would hurt both of us. And I ran away from the problem, hating it,
and ran all the way to the lake, and stayed there for hours, not knowing
what to do, never wanting to hurt you, but not seeing any way that I could
help you escape the pain. And you came to me, and found me soaked to
the bone, and carried me to the fire, and loved me, and made me realise
that I had to give you the book, that however much pain it would cause, it
was yours by right, that my father had no claim to it, and now, Harry, I'm
going to give you the book back, to return it to its rightful owner, properly,
justly, the only honourable thing I've ever done in my life, with the prayer
that whatever hurt the book causes, you will let me help you get over it.
Because all I want to do for the whole of the rest of my life is stop you
getting hurt, because you mean the world to me, the absolute bloody
world, and that doesn't even begin to come close to what I feel, to how
much I love you, Harry.'

Not daring to look at Harry's face, Draco passed the package into Harry's
hands, then sank face down on the bed, and waited. The unwrapping of
the paper around the book crinkled like the scratch of a quill on his own
execution order.

He heard as Harry turned each page, terrifyingly slowly. Draco hoped
perhaps that he might turn the pages so slowly that he might never get
there... but no, that was stupid. Sometimes there was a sigh, a caught
breath, a laugh, a stifled sob. Then another page turned, then another.
How many pages were there? Draco couldn't remember. Oh God, it
wouldn't be long now. Another laugh, and another sigh. 'Hello, dad,'
whispered Harry. Another page turned. Oh God, any minute, he was going
to see it... he was going to see the deaths of his parents...

The page turned one last time.

Draco tried hard to block out the sounds he had heard once before, in
Dumbledore's office at the very beginning of the holidays, but some part
of him told him he ought to try to live through it again, just so that Harry
didn't have to go through it alone. Half forcing himself to listen to the
James's shouts and Lily's cries and Voldemort's cackling, half forcing his
mind elsewhere, Dumbledore came back to his thoughts once more.
Dumbledore himself had given this book to me. Surely, surely he had meant
me to pass the book on to Harry... if Dumbledore thought that, then I must
have done the right thing... 'Not Harry! Not Harry!' rang Lily's voice from
the page, straight into Draco's heart. Please, please let me have done the
right thing...
At last it was over. There was a long silence, in which he could hear
nothing from Harry. Then to Draco's intense horror, he heard Harry close
the book completely then open it once more.

The scene began once again. The same cries, the same pleas, the same
outcome. How can he bear to watch it again? But he did. Still silent, still
sending Draco into torture, Harry watched it again. I must have done the
right thing, in principal, Draco prayed fervently. I really have... it wasn't
mine to keep, still less my father's... I've made my choice... I've chosen
Harry over the murderer who masquerades as a devoted family man...
Harry will see that, he must, he's got to. Please don't let him hold my
father's sins against me! He won't, he loves me, he gave himself to me last
night, it must count for something, please, oh God, please...

It ended. And then, unbearably, Harry watched it a third time. Draco's
mind knew nowhere more desperate to go. Trembling with his face flat
against the pillow, Draco told himself that this was Harry's right, and if he
wanted to see it a hundred times, he would still be there at the end. I'm
trying to be selfless here, I really am, as selfless as Harry, I could have
hidden it, burnt it, never told him about it, it would have meant I could
have kept him for ever, but that would have been no better than my father,
Harry needed to see it, it was his birthright, I've done the right thing, he
loves me, and I pray that's going to count for something, I myself am
innocent, it's my father who is the guilty one, a father I now loathe, a
despicable, murderous father that I here and now push away forever, Harry
will know that, he will understand the difference... Won't he?

The book closed once more, and this time it did not open again. So slowly
it made his neck ache, he raised his head to look at Harry, hardly daring to,
unable not to. Harry's face was ghostly white, drained, exhausted. He
looked at Draco, unseeing, and Draco felt that the weight of the world was
pushing him into the ground. And then, Harry spoke.

'What was your question?'

'Er...?'
'What was your question? You said you're going to tell me a story then ask
me a question. What is it?'

Draco forced himself to sit up and face Harry, but he couldn't meet his
eyes. Looking down in his lap, he summoned all his strength, and
eventually voiced, 'can you still love me?'

'Sorry?'

Oh God, do I have to say it again? 'Er, Harry, however long it takes, do I
have a chance? Do we still have a chance? Is there a prayer that, in years
to come, you can love me again like you have done until today? Can you
still love me?'

'Can I still love you?' echoed Harry, looking at Draco incredulously.

Oh no! This is it! thought Draco frantically. He can't believe I even have the
audacity to ask! Me, the son of his parents' murderer, of course I don't
have a chance! I should leave now. Take my memories, and leave him to his
pain. I should--

'Draco, now you listen to me. I'm going to tell you a story, then I'm going
to ask you a question. And you are going to listen carefully. Yes?'

Draco nodded dumbly, not comprehending this unexpected turn of events.

'Once upon a time there was baby boy named Harry, and he loved his
parents very much, only he never knew them, because they were
murdered when he was a year old. And for ten more years he still never
knew them, because his aunt and uncle said not a single word about them
that wasn't a lie. And then one day Harry found out he was a wizard, and
that people knew his name, and that people knew his parents' names too.
And these people said things like, 'doesn't he look just like his father,' and
'his mother loved him so much, you know, she died to save him,' and yet
the boy Harry had no idea what they were talking about. And then one day
some years later, Harry realised that he had fallen in love with his arch-
enemy, and his world was turned upside-down, and during that whole
time he kept wishing that he could ask his mother and father what to do,
only they were dead, and nobody said anything about them except 'his
father was a fine Quidditch player, you know,' and none of those things
were ever going to help Harry with his awful dilemma. And gradually Harry
began to realise that the love he had found with his enemy was as deep as
the love he had missed from his parents, and that the boy wasn't his
enemy any more, he was his family.

'And then Harry's former enemy came to Harry on Christmas morning, and
he gave him a book with more detail and information and memory in it
about his parents than Harry could ever have dreamt of. But the boy was
terrified about this book, because it implicated his father in his parents'
murders, and he despaired at the thought of Harry having to see anything
this terrible. And he was sure that Harry would reject him, because it
would seem like one more betrayal in the list of tragedies that popular
folklore says is the sum of Harry's life. But what the boy didn't understand
is that Harry already knew how his parents died, and he already knew that
the boy's father was implicated, and he already knew that the deaths had
been unpleasant. Harry had seen part of his parents' deaths in visions
induced by the chill of Dementors, and now he had the chance to see,
once and for all, what the whole truth was.

'And Harry saw that his parents had loved him right up until the point that
they could no longer love. And Harry saw that his mother's love was so
powerful that the evil wizard was no match for it, and he was near-
mortally burned by something so pure. So Harry loved the boy even more
than ever, for having the courage and the strength to prove to Harry that
he was loyal, and honourable, by giving this book to Harry, and by letting
him know his parents better than he had ever hoped would be possible.
And truthfully, Harry was delighted, because he had dared to have such
great expectations about the life he might live with his former enemy, and
he now he knew for sure that the boy was surely true, and that he loved
Harry, and that he was so determined to do the right thing, that even
though he thought he might have to sacrifice his own happiness, he still
went ahead and gave Harry the book, renouncing his father, and making
his choice in a way that Harry couldn't mistake.'
Harry grasped Draco's head and pulled it up so he could look into his eyes.

'And I know something else too. That we are not defined by the Crimson
Cloud. Because the Cloud serves to pull people together who are magically
in love, and makes it impossible for them to live apart, even if they wanted
to try. But in giving me this book, Draco, you were prepared to risk all of
that, you ignored the pain you would feel with a lifetime of separation, and
acted against the Cloud in a way that neither of us has been able to do
since we became aware of it. You were prepared to try and live without
me for the sake of an honourable deed. And that says to me that your love
for me is something way more powerful than that which is dictated by
some silly Cloud neither of us has ever seen and neither of us understands.
And so in answer to your question, 'can I still love you?' I say, you might
just as well have asked, 'how can I not still love you?' because once and for
all, Draco, you have shown me that you've got rare and wonderful
qualities, that I hope you will let me cherish for ever.'

Harry smiled as tears coursed down Draco's cheeks.

'And now I've got a question for you. What on earth can I do in the whole
world that can equal what you have done for me this morning? And if you
can't give me an answer now, I'm going to spend the rest of my life
working it out for myself.'

Draco couldn't answer. He couldn't even speak.

'No answer, eh?' smiled Harry. 'Stuck for words? No clever quips? My, my,
Draco old boy. I guess I'll have to work out how to repay you myself then.
And, I tell you what, I've got a bloody good idea of where to start.'

He kissed Draco briefly and then leaned down under the bed for
something.

'You're not the only one with two presents to give, ferret boy. Now dry
your eyes and have a look at this.'

Draco looked, staggered, at the parcel Harry fetched up from under the
bed.
'Oh my God!'

There was absolutely no mistaking its shape, even though it was wrapped
as elaborately as the shirt.

'Oh my God!'

'Go on, I didn't buy it so you could look at the wrapping paper!'

'Oh my God!'

Draco ripped madly at the paper.

'Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!'

Harry laughed and laughed.

'Harry! Oh my God, Harry, a FIREBOLT!'

'Worth every Knut for the look on your face, too.'

'Harry!'

'Yes?'

'Oh, Harry!'

'Yes?'

'Oh, Harry! Promise me one thing...'

'Name it.'

'That whatever happens, that however bad things get, that whatever
battles we have to fight, or tragedies we have to face, promise me that we
will always, always be together, because--'

'Draco! Of course. Anything else would be unthinkable.'

                                   THE END

				
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